March 3

From Culture War to . . . ?

The writings of James Davison Hunter seem even more timely now than when he first wrote more than twenty years ago. Indeed, there is almost a prophetic quality to them not only as a prescient glimpse of decades still future when he wrote – a “foretelling” of what was to come – but also as a “forthtelling” of truths we too often forget or neglect. In Before the Shooting Begins: Searching for Democracy in America’s Culture War, he writes,

We Americans would like to imagine ourselves to be somehow above and beyond the possibility of serious civil strife. The very idea of the civil unrest that has torn apart nations like Yugoslavia, Ireland, and Lebanon happening here jolts the mind. Total nonsense, we are inclined to say; we are much too civilized for that sort of thing.

Perhaps so, and perhaps we think this with good reason . . . But then the idea burrows into the mind, suggesting some uncomfortable parallels. Here, as there, nonnegotiable claims about the ordering of public life are in conflict. Here, as there, the claims made (even if thought of as secular) are religious in character, if not in substance . . . Here, as there, the conflicting claims trace quickly back to competing ideals of community and national identity. Finally, here, as there, a culture war with deep historical roots has festered just barely beneath of surface of public life . . .

He warns, as a Christian sociologist:

[S]urely we are unwise to minimize the significance of the challenges our culture war presents to American democratic life and institutions. The challenge is not just the potential volatility of particular controversies. The challenge is internal as well, in the ways the normative ideals that democracy itself depends upon have been weakened . . . The ‘center’ can no longer hold; the older faiths – Judeo-Christian and Classical – that once amidst great diversity provided a set of common, if not always coherent, assumptions for the ordering of public life (seen most visibly in Western law, literature, arts, and the like) no longer play . . .

The central premise of this essay is that in a democratic society the [core beliefs] cannot be imposed from the top down but must be generated from the bottom up, in the dialectical process of generating new working agreements out of a serious confrontation with our deepest differences.

If there is a national character, millenarianism is certainly one of its defining characteristics. Democrats, independents, and Republicans; conservatives, libertarian, and liberals; religionists and secularists – we all want America to be a ‘city upon a hill’ . . .

What is even more problematic about this underlying utopianism is that it operates upon what Max Weber called an ‘ethics of ultimate ends.’ In this ethic, the ends always justify the means. What are the means of which he speaks? Weber, dogged realist that he was, said the ‘the decisive means for politics is violence.’ The ends, in other words, always justify forms of coercion . . .

Clearly there is a need to temper the expectations built into this tenacious exceptionalism . . .

The call, then is for modesty about our political objectives. For one, this means a recognition that America will never really be a city upon a hill and, if it is, it will be by necessity a city whose walls are crumbling and always in need of repair; America will never be a beacon, except one that is not so bright and this is periodically prone to go out. Modesty, then, means a recognition that America will always be flawed. For Christians and many Jews, this is not compromise but a frank recognition that the world will always be marred by sin, and that the believer’s true citizenship is in heaven . . . Such modesty does not require the abandonment of one’s ideals, however utopian, narrowly defined and/or partisan they may be, but rather their interaction with what Weber called an ‘ethics of responsibility’ . . . Once again, without abandoning one’s ideals, the credo changes. No longer is it ‘today, we will remake the world’; rather, it is ‘today we will try to make the world just a little bit better.’

August 22

On Missing Drive-By Friendships

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot
Wouldn’t you like to get away?*

The world I grew up in was very different from the one I live alongside of today. No internet, no cell phones, no car phones, no cable television, no mp3 players. It was a quieter, slower pace. I lived for a couple of years in a cabin 20 miles outside of town, a one-room wooden structure on the edge of a deep wood. A stream ran clear and cold just a short walk down its bank and it was there that I would bathe when the weather permitted. It was an existence that allowed for reading, listening to music, and thinking.

But cabin life, as wonderful as it was most of the time, got a little too isolated after a while and so I would drive into town to visit friends. Not having a phone at the cabin meant I couldn’t call to see if anyone was home or find out what they were doing. But that didn’t matter: I just dropped in on my friends unannounced and was invited in and made to feel welcome. Friends didn’t try to entertain or feed me; we sat around and talked, laughed, and threw a frisbee now and then.  

At times a friend or two would take the risk of driving out to the cabin in hopes that I’d be there. That was cool. Sometimes I’d go to a bar in the evening where my friends gathered to shoot pool and the breeze. I’d just show up and so would my friends. And we didn’t have an agenda other than enjoying and getting to know one another.

I don’t do any of that anymore. In fact, I stopped doing it when my wife and I moved to Colorado for graduate school. It wasn’t the same as the midwest where I had grown up. When I moved to Texas, it was more of the same: no one just dropped by and I didn’t pop in on friends without warning. It had somehow become rude or impolite over the years and the miles.

I don’t know why it changed. It could have been that phases of life pulled the welcome mat from so many front doors. It also might have been the ramped-up busyness that began with 24-hour news and the explosion of electronic media. Then again, it might have been just a midwest thing: I have friends here in Texas that grew up in the midwest and on rare occasions I show up at their door and they’re glad to see me. But that doesn’t happen a lot.

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came,
You wanna be where you can see our troubles are all the same,
You wanna be where everybody knows your name.*

Nowadays everything is planned well in advance. People have parties and gatherings but there’s usually a point to them: watch a football game, celebrate a birthday, or some other special occasion. Nobody throws a party for nothing. Nobody says, “Hey come on over and we’ll sit around and think great thoughts!” It just doesn’t happen. Maybe nobody thinks like that anymore.

I understand part of it, but only part. There have been a lot of cultural changes over the past fifty to sixty years. Homes are more self-contained and self-sustaining. Friends are online. Pretty much all needs  can be met without leaving home or having someone come to your home. Or so we think.

It wouldn’t bother me so much except that, as a Christian, I had hoped for and expected more spontaneous fellowship than what I’ve found. When Christians get together, there’s always something to talk about. And it should be something – or Someone – that doesn’t involve sports, gossip, business, material things, or money. We should talk about life and God and love and the hard things about living. We should be involved in one another’s lives more than just seeing one another at church and having lunch together once in a while. For those who go to church.

Part of it could be me, of course. Who invites in individual and marital therapist to just show up without warning? Even though I tell people that I don’t do it without an invitation, I suspect people wonder if I’m evaluating and assessing them when they’re not looking.

Or it could be that I won’t sit around and talk about meaningless bullshit. I want to talk about things that matter, things that can be troubling, things that require thought. Not all the time. But a lot of the time. That could be a turnoff for a lot of people who are pretending to live life but aren’t really experiencing it. Or maybe it’s that I use the word “bullshit” around Christians.

I don’t know what it is, just that it is. It’s sad and leaves me wishing it were the old days again. But that can’t happen and I know it.

Hopefully, in the afterlife, there will be more casual, impromptu gatherings. Kinda seems a shame to have to wait until then.

___________

* Gary Portnoy – Where Everybody Knows Your Name 

August 19

Lincoln United, Obama Divided

Whatever precipitated the Civil War in this country, it ultimately became a war to free the slaves.  President Lincoln, a Republican, understood this and stubbornly refused to yield to the Confederacy.  With the Emancipation Proclamation, he freed the slaves and continued to fight for the unity of the nation.

It is ironically tragic that President Obama, a Democrat, who has benefitted more than any other black man from Lincoln’s presidency, has become the most divisive president in our 200+ years of being a nation.

Lincoln unites, Obama divides.  Very, very sad.

August 5

Being “Unconformed” To This World

Before I ever heard Paul tell me that I am not to be conformed to this world, I got the same message from Pink Floyd. It may well be that the Floyd got it from the Bible but I didn’t hear it from Paul first. It was in the songs of Pink Floyd. Songs like “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2” and “Us and Them” and “Welcome to the Machine.” In fact, one of the major draws Pink Floyd had for me was the brilliance of the lyrics and the beauty of the music itself. What Roger Waters wrote, David Gilmour transformed into unparalleled piece of music memory.

In Rom 12.2, Paul saw ahead to what is in store for believers at the end of the present age and told us not to be conformed to the world. Waters looked at the evils of the present age and tried to warn us or awaken us, pleading with us to reject the culture and live differently. Pink Floyd identified specific pressures from culture that quietly and hideously transformed us into something or someone we were never meant to be.

To choose not to be conformed to this work involves, first and foremost, a rejection of the culture or philosophy that drives us. Aided by the distance and perspective provided by drugs – marijuana in my case – I was able in the early ’70s to first question and then reject what I had been raised and taught to believe. And to believe in.  I ate the meat and spit out the bones as best I could. Not everything was rejected or needed to be.  There were still vestiges of a Christian culture influencing the U.S. in the ’50s and 60s.

Through a haze of reflective clarity, I heard the message of Pink Floyd: the culture, the system, the spirit of the age did not work for us but actually sought to get us to work for it. You need look no further than “Welcome to the Machine” on Wish You Were Here.  

Welcome my son
Welcome to the machine
Where have you been?
It’s alright we know where you’ve been.

Welcome my son
Welcome to the machine
What did you dream?
It’s alright we told you what to dream

Culture, sang Floyd, prepares you to be just one more cog in a self-perpetuating machine. You’ve been in the pipeline/Filling in time/Provided with toys and scouting for boys.  The song anticipated and perhaps in part inspired the movie The Matrix in its grim, 1984 outlook. We are entertained to avoid facing the reality of life. Echoes of Pascal. 

When I discovered that rejecting the culture was commanded for all Christians – in fact, to love the world reveals that the love of God is not in us – I found it relatively easy to do, at least intellectually and philosophically.  The world should hate Christians; if the world doesn’t hate us, we might want to do some soul-searching. I know I need to.

The problem with not being conformed is being blind to all the ways we are conformed and conforming. “Does a fish see water? Does a fish know it’s wet?”  Do I realize how immersed I am in the world and how deeply the world has infected me? What motivates me? What angers me? When I get right down to it, what does my life say that I really believe in?

I’m not advocating or even suggesting some type of aesthetic, monk-like existence for those of us in the rank and file. But I am strongly encouraging each of us to examine our lives and make changes. (I’ve listened to culture’s siren songs, letting them mesmerize me and lead me deeper and deeper into the spirit of the age. I’ve written about here: Losing My Way . . . Again.)

I know what most of us believe. Or, I know what we say we believe. But sometimes it’s really hard to distinguish a Christian from a non-Christian without bumper stickers, necklaces, tattoos and other visible declarations of our Christian faith.  If the only thing to go on is behavior stripped of visible symbols, I honestly cannot think of anything in my day-to-day life that sets me apart from any other person in my culture. Or from others in my Christian subculture.

There’s something wrong here, obviously. It calls for drastic action: anything short of that will not effect the kind of change necessary to be labeled as a Christian by others. I don’t want to be known by what I’m against – although there’s no shortage of cultural outrages to oppose.  I want to be known for what I do and, especially, how I love other people.

That means sacrificial living. It means knowing when I have enough – that is, what I need – and when I can bless other people. We pray that God will give us our daily bread – and He does! But sometimes it looks like He’s unloaded the entire bakery at one house. When that’s the case, we need to understand that God has given us more than we need so that we might give to others who don’t have enough of what they need.

If Christians were to do this If I were to do this, people might notice. But that’s not the reason to do it. The reason to do it is twofold and quite simple: I should do it because I love God and because I love people. If enough of us gave like that, I think the world would notice. Frankly, I think the world be baffled if this became routine for Christians. Not just a one-time extravaganza for the world to notice but a 24/7/365 lifestyle. Sharing. From each according ability, to each according to need.

It wouldn’t be a great start, maybe, but it would be a good one. Now all I have to do is do it.

August 3

What’s A Christian Outlier?

As you may have noticed, the title of this webpage has changed again.  Just a few days ago it was “Outside the Camp,” and a few days before that it was “Me and My Thoughts.”  Obviously, something has prompted me to change the title and even my own unofficial description as a Christian living in a time of variety and variations.  This post will explain that.  It will also, hopefully, explain what a Christian Outlier is and what makes it different from other expressions of Christian faith.

First, the title.  I backed off from “Outside the Camp” simply because it was redundant: the phrase is taken from Heb 13.13, which appears directly below the title. It seemed banal and insipid.  You know what I mean: vapid. [For those of you who need to read more – and better – books, those words can serve as your vocabulary list for the day.]

But on top of that, being outside the camp would make me an outsider to the Christian faith – which I am not.  (For years I somewhat sarcastically and derisively told people I was a free agent when they would ask me where I attended church. It would get a bemused  smile but didn’t communicate a whole lot.) Besides, I’m definitely not outside the faith, although I am definitely outside the church.

Over the past month or so I had taken to referring to myself as a “Done.”  This came as a result of reading Church Refugees . . . Why People Are DONE With Church But Not Their Faith by Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope. As sociologists, they called such people DONES and looked for reasons why such a significant number of people have walked away from church. Not just any people but people who had been very active, held church offices, and sought to minister through the church.  That sounded like me so I decided to be a DONE.

In spite of the term DONES also being banal, insipid, and vapid (see above), I began to visit websites that were produced by these so-called DONES.  I read articles and commented on a few but eventually sensed that something was missing: the term or appellation “Christian” was used prolifically but the name of Jesus was pretty much absent (it may be in there somewhere but I didn’t see it). The people at the sites called themselves Christian – for the most part – but some talked of having “lost their faith.”  Almost everybody else said they wanted to know God through community:

[T]hey emphasized community from a distinctly religious perspective, explaining that they understand Christianity through interactions with others and a commitment to share life fully and honestly with a group of people. Community was fundamental to their understanding of God. They understood community as a manifestation and extension of their understanding of the divine . . .

Again, the dechurched value relationships and community above everything. These are the primary ways they encounter God and understand their own spirituality, develop a deeper understanding of their own faith, and put their beliefs into action. In short, they see their human relationships as an extension of their relationship with the divine. Their relationships are sacred to them—not because they replace God, but because it is in relationships that they find God. – Church Refugees

That struck me as being too much or too little of something.  The book describes one person’s experience as “an example of how our understanding of God is informed by our experiences. When our experiences change, our understandings change. Sociologists call this a phenomenological approach to understanding the world.”  But is that the same thing as understanding God?  I don’t think so.

So I was no longer a DONE.  That put me back to where I was: a Christian in search of description. Finally, the word “outlier” caught my eye – I’m pretty sure it was in a book I was reading about Tolkien – and I looked it up. According to dictionary.com, an outlier is:

noun
1. something that lies outside the main body or group that it is a part of, as a cow far from the rest of the herd, or a distant island belonging to cluster of islands . . .
2. someone who stands apart from others of his or her group, as by differing behavior, beliefs, or religious practices . . .

Origin. n.  c.1600, “stone quarried and removed but left unused”

That sounds a lot like me – except, maybe, for the cow thing – but especially the last part: quarried, removed, left unused.  The Savior dug me out of the pit in which He found me – not a miry pit but a stone pit – and removed me from it. But the church . . . well, things haven’t worked out as I had hoped or imagined.  The responsibility for being “left unused” by the church is shared: it was them and it was me.  I haven’t been left unused by God by a long shot, at least if my clients are to be believed.  But most of what I’ve accomplished as a Christian has been outside the camp of organized religion.

Since becoming a Christian a little over 40 years ago, I’ve been in pursuit of God.  Sometimes I’ve had more passion and energy than at other times and sometimes it may have appeared that progress had stalled or even been lost, but the overall direction has been and continues to be toward Christ.  Seeking and knowing God are at the core of Christian discipleship and sanctification, the goal of each being conformation into the image of Jesus Christ. But the organized church has not been much of a factor in my journey.

Even though “Christian Outlier” is a group of exactly one member (at this point), I know there are a lot of others out there.  We’re serious about our faith and committed to living it out in love but we don’t seem to fit into the typical Evangelical church categories and subcategories of “tolerated believers of variant views.”

Which makes me a Christian Outlier. One of a kind, just like all the rest.

January 7

“Aren’t We Just Talking to Ourselves?”

Almost forty years ago I was fortunate enough to hear a sermon by someone whose name is now only a fuzzy memory – it was something like “Tim Timmons” or “Tom Tommons” or some variation thereof. The phrase he kept coming back to – because it was the point of the sermon – was “Aren’t we just talking to ourselves?”

The speaker was addressing an all-too common practice found in people generally and believers specifically, i.e., talking to ourselves and thinking that we are talking to others. He said things like,

“When we preach the gospel in hopes of winning the lost, but fill the message with jargon and theological terms that only believers understand, aren’t we just talking to ourselves?

“When we stand our ground on moral issues but base our arguments on realities and authorities than only Christians hold to, aren’t we just talking to ourselves?”

When I first heard the sermon I was a senior in college working on a degree in communication theory. Understandably, the message struck a responsive chord within me, setting me on a course of avoiding jargon, irrelevant arguments, or abusive words that would do more to prevent communication than facilitate it.  I’ve failed miserably at times; I’ve succeeded when I’ve taken time to evaluate my message. How successful I’ve been, though, can only be determined by others.

If, as Haddon Robinson once said, communication is “a meeting of meanings,” then no real communication will occur if a meeting of meanings does not take place. Until we present the gospel or our positions with clarity and a grace that dissolves barriers, we’re just talking to ourselves.

This matter was brought to mind recently by an open letter that came across my screen. The author, with whom I agreed on pretty much every matter, made important points and expressed a legitimate concern over practices and positions of others with whom he strongly disagreed.

But he used some words that would result in praise from those who already agreed with him but would likely cause others to dismiss his arguments before giving them a fair hearing.  Words that are inflammatory and insulting; words that would cause many to become defensive.  Those on the other side of the issue, who very much needed to hear and give heed to what the author was saying, might very quickly stop reading or begin arguing back given the smallest excuse or provocation. And he was providing them with a easy out.

When I pointed this out, I was accused of being critical. It was a fair accusation and my only response was to plead guilty as charged:I was being critical, but constructively: I criticized the tone, not the content, because the net result would be that we were once again just talking to ourselves.  Too many of us quickly seize upon an offending word or statement in order to ignore the essence of what is being said.

We all tend to read and believe those things that support our biases and to avoid threats to our positions. (Psychologists call this confirmation bias but it really means bias confirmation.) When we do that, when we only address or read those that we know will agree with us, aren’t we just talking to ourselves? If we deliver a much-needed message to others but do so in a way that all-but guarantees that it will not be heard, aren’t we just talking to ourselves?

And if I, in pointing out this very real problem, am labeled as a critic, aren’t we just saying that we prefer to talk only to ourselves and that we really don’t care if others hear us or not? If we have become so entrenched in our own “rightness” that we need to engage in ad hominem defenses (“you criticize everything!”) and shoot the messenger, have we lost our love for our enemies? And aren’t we just talking to ourselves?

If our messages are only designed to prove to ourselves how right and righteous we are, is that in keeping with what God has intended us to do as ambassadors of Christ and His Kingdom? Of course not, and I do not think for a minute that offending and alienating those we are trying to reach is the intent of those who defend divisive and unproductive letters.  But it can be and too often is an unintended effect.

Our calling is higher than this (I preach to myself as much as to others).  We are to “speak the truth in love” and to have “speech that is gracious and attractive.” It is good to take a stand on important matters. It is good to defend biblical positions and beliefs. But it must not be done in a manner that offends others and comes across as unloving or uncaring. We are called to love people – even our enemies – and not to push them away for the sake of less important matters. The gospel is an offense; we are not to be.

As my wife has told me, it is possible to be so right that we’re wrong.

And when this happens, aren’t we just talking to ourselves?

 

November 17

The Two Great Disappointments in Life

It’s been said that there are two great disappointments in life: not marrying the love of your life – and marrying the love of your life.

Thirty or forty years have passed since I first heard that truism and, perhaps because of the arrogance of youth or the ignorance of the same, I thought I knew what it meant.  Now I know I was wrong back then, or at least partially wrong.

The pain and disappointment of not marrying the love of your life is fairly obviously.  He or she is “the one that got away” or left you or was taken from you somehow.  The disappointment grows out of the rich soil of fantasies and illusions you have nurtured and still nurture over the years.  You harbor a longing love for the memory of a person frozen in time, a golden aura of beauty and bliss surrounding them and expanding with age. Powerful feelings radiate from this memory every time you reflect on him or her.  A part of your heart and a willingness to be unashamedly naked before them – emotionally far more than physically – remains locked in a precious vault of comforting dreams with the memory of moments that now exist only in the deep recesses of your being.

It is this latter development that creates such a painful disappointment.  So tied to the dream are you that you can never really be fully present with the person you do have.  It matters little to you whether or not you are the love of your partner’s life.  You are haunted by the soft memory of the love of your life that no longer is within your reach, lost to you except through a veil of reminiscence.  You may look upon your actual partner with compassion and sympathy or with disgust and scorn because they do not possesses the intoxicating power to make your head swim, to bathe you in a warm flood of endorphins, to submerge you in an ecstasy that is more remembered than real.

You are certain that your life is diminished because of the disappointment of not marrying the love of your life.

But it is the second great disappointment – that of marrying the love of your life – that I was wrong about or ignorant of.  I originally thought it was disappointing because he or she, for all the promise and presence of unending love, did not turn out to be who you imagined they would be in your happy fog of youthful romanticism.  Failures and disappointments that can only be known or revealed or developed in marriage insidiously begin to spread throughout you, eating away at the joy you were certain you’d possess without limit on the other side of the altar and beyond the excited words spoken in unfounded confidence before a witnessing crowd that included God Himself.

Finding out who that love of our life really is, however, is not the second great disappointment. This is where I was wrong.

The second great disappointment – and it is the greater of the two – is marrying the love of your life and then discovering that you are not the person you thought you were.  You fail the very person you only and always wanted to care for and make happy. This is a tragedy that they suffer and you witness.  The mirror reflects your face and it is the face of someone who has failed, who knows they have failed, and lives with regrets and sorrow.

Your love – which felt so inexhaustible and unchanging in your mind long ago – fails you at critical moments, lost like a shadow in a dark room of pain and sorrow.  You stand as a tragic perpetrator and witness to the disillusionment of your partner even as he or she watches the recurring train wreck with you from the other side of the tracks.  There is no undoing the pain suffered and inflicted, no rescuing the promise of true, enduring love.  It is death by a thousand paper cuts to the heart.  It is felt within and seen without.

This is no less true or tragic even when you did not marry the love of your life. They were the trusting lover, the innocent believer, the collateral damage of your immature and misdirected love. They did not know, at least at the outset, that they would compete for years against a memory of love lost, against a ghostly other who was perfect only in your foolish beliefs and star-struck eyes.

Even so, the disappointment is not only or primarily the pain of discovering your failure. It is the penetrating realization of the damage you’ve done to another human being who trusted you. It doesn’t matter if your partner is the love of your life or not: the damage done is at times overwhelming incredible. And while there is forgiveness and moving forward and hope and every other positive thing you can come up with, you can’t undo what you’ve done. Their pain looms in your memory as a horrific monument to your selfishness and smallness.

Perhaps, in the end, there are two great disappointments in life, but they are not what I once thought them to be. It is not disappointment in another but in yourself s that is so disturbing.  Knowing better but failing to do better. Failing, in short, to love another for who they are.

Is it really possible to love another so deeply and completely that you do not inflict your dreams and hopes upon them?  In this life?  Is it in itself sufficient for a felt joy that travels with you through life? No, no, and no.

You are made for relationship: a deep, abiding, flawless relationship with another “that answers back to us,” to use a biblical description. It stands within your grasp in your mind.

But not in this life. One day, maybe, but not today.

 

 

August 13

A Rideabout to Start a New Phase of Life

Next January, at the age of 65, I will enter into semi-retirement – or, as I like to think of it, I’ll be put out to stud.  To mark the occasion, I’m planning a two-week, solo motorcycle ride to the Southwest, with one or two side trips outside that territory.

Here’s my tentative agenda:

Las Vegas, NM:

IMG_2059My wife and I have stayed at a KOA near here in the past and really liked it.  It’s on I-25 but can be reached with only a few short stretches on interstates.   It’s also en route to my next destination, but on the way I’ll ride the

Million Dollar Highway:

million-dollar-roadHard to find a prettier stretch of highway anywhere.  That is, if you’re into mountains and such.  That will take me to

Ouray, CO: 

Winter Twilight over OurayProbably my favorite place in all of the Centennial State, Ouray is at the northern end of the Million Dollar Highway, which winds its way up from Durango.  I’ll have to make sure that I get to Ouray before nightfall: I don’t want to be riding at night in the mountains.  Since my next stop is not that far away, I”ll be able to enjoy Ouray a little longer than some of the other places.  From Ouray I’ll head to another familiar and favorite town:

Moab, UT:

moab utI’ve been here a couple of times but there’s so much to see that I couldn’t think of being so close without going there.  It’s the northern-most destination on my rideabout but the Arches National Park is an incredible introduction to the canyonlands.  From Moab, I’ll backtrack a bit and stop at

Dead Horse Point State Park, UT:

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAUntil a few years ago, I’d never heard of this place.  After seeing some photos of Dead Horse Point, though, I’d be crazy not to stop by.  The Colorado River runs through here and does some amazing carving in the landscapes.  I’ll likely have too short amount of time at the park, unless I decide to stay another night in Moab.  When I leave, I’ll ride south on U.S. 91, skirting Canyonlands National Park, and turn left on SH 95.  I’ll have a long ride ahead of me: my next destination is

Capitol Reef National Park:

capitol reefThis would be an ambitious ride for a single day: from Moab to Cedar City is 431 miles through some amazing country..  Capitol Reef National Park is about halfway and would be a logical stopping point.  Not a bad place to spend some time.  The next day I’ll ride to a familiar town in southwest Utah:

Cedar City, UT:

IMG_0453

Cedar City is one of the gateways to what is (so far) my favorite park: Zion National Park.  I saw it for the first time last year and was stunned by the beauty and hands-on feel of the place.  The road that winds through the changing landscape is perfect for a motorcycle and I look forward to being on it again.  Cedar City also marks the halfway point in the trip, in terms of distance (but not time).  I’ll head south and east for Arizona and spend the night in

Page, AZ:

DCF 1.0Page is well-known for Lake Powell but not so much for Antelope Canyon, where I plan to spend some time.  You’ve probably seen the pictures without knowing where it was but the formations are unlike pretty much any place else.  I’ll take a lot of pictures.  Then it’s back to Las Vegas, NM, where the rideabout started.

There’s still 700 miles or so to go before getting home but northwestern Texas doesn’t have a lot of beautiful scenery.  If I have time, though, I’ll be sure to make one last stop at

Palo Duro Canyon:

palo_duro

Never been here but it looks to be a good place to wind up the trip.  It’s a little bit southwest, a little bit Texas.  A final place to soak up.

A man can dream, can he not?

August 5

Losing My Way . . . Again

(The following was written more than a few years ago; I really don’t know when. Maybe ten years ago?  I started writing about this topic some years later and then realized I was merely re-writing what I had already said.  So rather than reinvent the wheel, I offer the wheel once again, with some more recent thoughts and observations to follow.)

____________

I have lost my way.   Again.

Back in the ’60s and ’70s, before I became a Christian, I was a Freak.  A Freak in those days was not merely someone who smoked marijuana and perhaps did other drugs; a Freak was a person who had rejected the culture and lifestyle of the day and was now living a quite different existence.  Hippies wore the clothes and did the drugs, but they were part-timers: they didn’t reject the lifestyle but continued to value the same things they had previously.  Freaks looked down on Hippies, considering them to be insincere and inconsistent.  Hippies were the Samaritans of the drug culture.  Freaks, we told ourselves, were the real deal.  Stoned snobbery.

As a Freak, I lived a pretty austere lifestyle.  Along with a roommate whom I rarely saw, I lived in a one-room cabin in the woods with no running water and no telephone.  Whenever possible, we took baths in a creek that was a hundred yards further into the woods and down a hill; in the winter, we showered at work, a friend’s home, or at our parents’.  We had an outhouse with a fingernail of a moon cut in the door.  No telephone meant visitors were rare: if someone wanted to see me, they had to drive the 25 miles or so out of town and hope that I would be there.

I drove a simple vehicle – a VW Bug, of course – and had few possessions.  When I moved to Colorado once, everything I owned fit in the back of my VW.  My primary possessions were a huge collection of select albums – vinyl – and a stereo system with speakers the size of a file cabinet (I still have them, 30+ years later, along with the turntable).  My wardrobe was simple: jeans, t-shirt, boots, and an old, dark, drab sports coat.  I didn’t spend any money on haircuts: my mane was past my shoulders and my mustache was thick and long.  Long hair was a badge of defiance and a celebration of freedom.

Although I had three or more years of college behind me, I pursued no career, had few ambitions, and prosyletized anyone who would listen to me.   I believed in marijuana and the lifestyle associated with it.  This was before it became the focus of “venture capitalist” and other criminals driven by profit.  We were outlaws, not criminals, wanting to live outside the law and selling drugs at cost.  Marijuana missionaries.

I was an atheist and a nihilist, finding no basis or sense in the morals and values of the culture.  If tomorrow we die, why not eat, drink, and be merry? Why spend so much time trying to “do something with my life”?  I was Koheleth with a bong.  I stayed stoned for more than five years, usually all day every day.  I liked my life and the rejection of culture for which it stood.  I didn’t make much money but it was more than enough.  I had all I wanted and wanted all that I had.  I traveled light.

Then came Christ; on His heels, like a spiritual carpetbagger, came Christendom.

Once I overcame my resistance to Him – or, rather, once He overcame my resistance – I was deeply committed to Him and His kingdom.  I found in Him a meaningful substance for the form I had been living: Jesus had placed little to no value on the worldly priorities or culture of His day; further, He encouraged His followers to do the same.  The lifestyle He called for resonated with me: I had rejected the culture because it seemed to be stupid to work so hard for something that was meaningless.  Now, however, Jesus was telling me to reject it because of a different, higher, eternal set of values and purposes.  I liked this concept a whole lot.

But with Christ comes Christendom, or so it did for me.  I was welcome in the kingdom but it was obvious that I didn’t understand some of the basic niceties about being a follower of Jesus Christ.  Christians didn’t have shoulder-length hair or ponytails.  They didn’t live in cabins in the woods; they didn’t wear boots and jeans to church.  They didn’t listen to Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, or Emerson, Lake & Palmer.  My education and indoctrination were about to begin.

(Not having grown up in a Christian home, there was much I didn’t know about what was appropriate or acceptable behavior in the church.  Shortly after becoming a Christian I learned that tithing was expected.  The next time they passed the plate in church, the smallest bill I had was a fifty or hundred so I made change from the plate.  I quickly learned that this was not done, although no one could tell me why not.  I still don’t know why not.)

The long hair was the first thing to go, followed shortly thereafter by the Army fatigues and ratty sports coat.  The mustache got trimmed and thinned, jeans and t-shirts were replaced by khaki pants, dress shirt and tie for church, and – for the first time in over five years – I began wearing socks and shoes in the summer months.  Most of my music “had to go” since, as I was to learn, it was demonically inspired if not downright possessed.  I also began listening to music at a much lower decibel level, which was fine since I didn’t like most of the Christian music anyway.

I was learning to be a Christian.  I was “fitting in” with the Christian subculture.  Being naive, I thought I was doing the right thing and honoring God.

Thirty years later I sit in my professional chair in my professional office, typing on my professional laptop and looking out my professional window.  I have four cars, four televisions, four computers, and an mp3 player; in the garage is a lawnmower, a weedeater with attachments for edging and blowing, power tools, and a dismantled trampoline.  I have a mortgage, two graduate degrees, three tennis racquets, and three sets of golf clubs.  Two digital cameras.  Indoor plumbing.  I am a well-respected man about town, one of the acceptable people.   I am a Christian.

In short, I have conformed to the world.  Not just “the world,” though: I’ve been conformed to the “Christian world” system.  I left my cynicism at the gate of the kingdom, believing that there would be no need for it in the community of God’s people.  It never dawned on me that the values and priorities of the church might be harmful to my spiritual health. Continue reading

June 30

Missing the Point of the Faith

If I were to describe my experience in evangelicalism over the past forty years – the duration of my Christian life to this point – I could sum it up in two short statements:

  • Believe the right things.
  • Don’t sin.

I don’t think my experience is unique; in fact, I suspect it is commonplace across evangelicalism regardless of whatever denominational tribe we might find ourselves.

These two dimensions of our faith are obviously important and not to be minimized.  It is obviously important to know the essentials of the faith and to adhere to them.  These are doctrinal matters and critical for understanding God accurately – to whatever extent that is humanly possible.  Included are topics such as the triune nature of the Godhead, what God is like, what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross, the nature of spiritual life, why the church exists, and the trustworthiness of the Bible.

Just as obvious is the admonition not to sin.  It was sin/Sin that caused our separation from God in the first place, a separation that – left unchanged – would have resulted in an eternity away from God’s presence.  Even now sin can separate us from God: not for eternity but in our daily experience of and walk with Him.  Not sinning – to whatever extent we are capable – is a very good thing.

Believing the right things and not sinning are necessary dimensions of our Christian life but they are not sufficient: that is, these two things alone do not accomplish God’s will for us in our remaining time here on the planet.  They may be enough for salvation but there is yet another dimension that proves whether or not they actually are enough.

The third thing that is missing – at least for most of my life – is loving.  Loving God, loving other believers, loving all people.  Love as a verb, something we do, not something we necessarily feel.  “Walk in love,” Paul tells us (Eph 5.2); “love one another, even as I have loved you,” Jesus tells us (Jn 13.34).

To be fair (to myself), I am a loving person unless I think about it.  What I mean is that I love people when I’m not paying attention to myself but the minute I begin trying to love people I miss the mark horribly.  I get caught up in the first two directives to believe the right things and to not sin.

When my head gets involved like that is when my love is no longer from God but is, rather, a product of my self-righteous or self-confident flesh.  Probably more of the latter.  To say that I have tried too hard might be too generous but it might be true, too.

John gives us a broader understanding of love:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.     – 1 Jn 4.7-11

Here is a definition and application of love: it is sacrificial, giving even when there may not be any advantage for us in doing so.  God gave his Son; he gave him as a payment for our sins so that those who believe would not have to pay with their own lives.

Writing about the Cross, Marshall says,

God sent his one and only Son into this world in order that we might obtain life through him.  Here we see the two factors which determine the nature of love: on the one hand, self-sacrifice, and, on the other hand, action done for the benefit of others . . .

There can be no explanation or definition of true love which does not start from God’s love. We cannot begin to understand love by considering the nature of our love for God.  Rather, love is to be seen in the prior act of God who loved us and expressed his love by sending his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. In this phrase we find the deepest meaning of the term “love”: love means forgiving the sins of the beloved and remembering them no more.  This is what God has done for rebellious mankind: he pardons their sins against himself at his own cost.

That is how we are to love one another; that is how we are to love everyone.  Love is doing the right thing for others every time.  God defines what the right thing is and what love is, not us: our response is to obey and give even as he gave.

I miss this when I think about it; then again, I miss it when I don’t think about it, but at least when I’m not paying attention I’m more likely to fail in the right direction.  What I need to do – what so many of us need to do – is to be a loving person even when consciously thinking about it.

I need to understand that – as Francis Schaeffer wrote – the mark of the Christian is love.

Conscious or unconscious, deliberate or spontaneous.

Because the greatest of all is love.