It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming
Donald Miller, in Blue Like Jazz, tells of ministering to a university in Oregon. Each year the university shut down on a particular weekend to allow the students time to celebrate a festival in which they got drunk and high, and participated in other activities that were unseemly. He and his friends decided to advertise a confession booth on campus, but here was the catch. It was a confession booth where the Christians confessed THEIR sins to the students who came in. The spiritual leaders would say things such as, "We confess the sin of hypocrisy. We confess that we have been unconcerned about people's physical needs. We apologize for the actions of Christians who have severely mistreated people in past events such as the Crusades." And on it went. Ultimately, a number of seekers made their way in to hear these confessions. Their campus ministry attracted the interest of a number of students.
In his book Unchristian, David Kinnaman reveals that some of the major corporations in America are now intentionally advertising their imperfections. They offer their customers an unvarnished view of their products.
Last year, Wired, a magazine that discusses trends in technology, featured an article with the headline “Get Naked and… Rule the World.” The story was not about physical nudity; rather, it concerned smart companies who are growing because, among other things, they are admitting to their failures. This trend in vulnerability is called radical transparency. It is sweeping board rooms across the nation. What Business is discovering is authenticity sells. Transparency wins customers.
The book Unchristian reveals that a number of people in our culture are looking for Christians who are transparent and authentic. David Kinnaman spent a great amount of time quantifying his research. He found that the unchurched, especially those who are young, are turned off by the Christians whom they perceive to be “holier-than-thou.” These unchurched folks are not looking to haughty Christians, but they are looking to humble Christians. They are attracted to those Christians who understand that they have been redeemed by Christ and who now wish to serve a broken world in Jesus’ name.
I think Paul lists in Philippians three his worst sins. He basically confesses that, before he knew Jesus, he was arrogant, he was a legalist, and he was a terrorist. How would you like to admit that?
Paul had this luxury because of one thing—the power of the cross. Paul gave all to Jesus, including his sins. Now those sins were at Jesus’ disposal for Jesus’ use. And, boy, how Jesus could use them. Nothing provides hope to the hopeless like One who can redeem life’s worse moments. When we love people as Jesus did, and let them see us as we truly are, we have a better chance of connecting with their hearts.
No Respect for the Old Man
Last week, my wife found, packed away, a notebook containing photographs and articles describing my participation in high school sports during my senior year. Evidently, it had been stored for 30 years. I do not recall ever taking a look at it. I do not even remember who compiled it for me.
I knew the day had long gone when my two oldest daughters would have wanted to celebrate my exploits. However, I still had two young children. So, last Saturday afternoon, when I was home alone with Timothy and Annie, I decided to pull out the old scrapbook and allow them to relive with me my last year in high school.
With joy, pride, and solemnity, I convened our session in the living room. I sat on the sofa and put Timothy (age 6) on one side, and Annie (age 7) on the other. I opened up the scrapbook and began thumbing through the 8 x 10 photographs that had evidently been given to us by our hometown newspaper, The Winnsboro News.
It took four photographs for Timothy to make a comment. "Daddy, do we have to look at this?"
Me: "Yes son, this will be exciting for you. Look, here's daddy throwing a pass. [I call their attention to more photographs, beginning with number five.] Here’s daddy handing the ball off. Here’s daddy running with the ball. Here's daddy fumbling the ball [quickly I turned the page], and here's daddy scoring a touchdown."
Annie: "What is on that last page? I did not get to see it."
Me: "It was not very important, sweetheart. Look. You can see part of the crowd here. They're cheering for me."
Timothy [closing his eyes, lying down on the sofa, his face pointing the opposite direction of me]: "This is so boring!"
Me [gently lifting Timothy and attempting to call his attention to my scrapbook] : "No, this is exciting. These are the days of my youth."
Annie: "I like looking at this daddy." (I see a brand-new car in this girl's future. Hurry up and get here, age 16, so I can reward this precious child of God.)
Timothy: “Can we eat supper?"
Me: "No son, it's only 4:30. We just had a snack."
Timothy: "But I'm hungry."
Me [ignoring my rude son]: "Look. Here we are playing Hughes Springs."
Timothy [closing his eyes, lying down on the sofa, his face wanted the opposite direction of me]: "This is so BORING!"
Me [gamely attempting to ignore him]: "Here is where we were playing Terrell...”
I finally knew it was time to surrender when even Annie said, "Daddy, how much longer is this going to take?" As a parent, you have an opportunity when your children are young to enjoy them as they look at you as a hero. They want to admire you and proclaim your name is great. As of Saturday afternoon, I knew my window of opportunity had closed. However, one of the advantages of being a parent is you can always have the last laugh. In a few weeks, Timothy will be playing T-ball. I cannot wait. That first game, when he is up to bat, I am going to yell out, "This is so BORING!"
This week I finished the book Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer. It was written by Fred Kaplan and was published last year. Kaplan served for many years as a professor of English at Queens College and at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is also a past winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize.
Much has been published through the years on Abraham Lincoln, especially in the last year as the world has anticipated the 200th anniversary of his birth. What makes Kaplan's book unique is that his focus is on Lincoln the writer. Kaplan, who has also written biographies on Mark Twain, Gore Vidal, Charles Dickens, and others, probes deeply into Lincoln's life and how it impacted him as a writer. Kaplan joins Lincoln with Thomas Jefferson as our finest literary presidents. I do not disagree.
My favorite section was when Kaplan describes Lincoln writing his first inaugural address. Although, Lincoln typically did most of his own writing, his soon-to-be secretary of state, William Seward, contributed a paragraph that Lincoln found meaningful. Lincoln then rewrote it in his own words, which are what we remember today. Let me share with you what Seward wrote, and then what Lincoln wrote.
Seward: "The mystic chords which proceeding from so many battlefields and so many patriot graves pass through all the hearts and all the hearths in this broad continent of ours will yet again harmonize in their ancient music when breathed upon by the guardian angel of the nation."
Now, observe how Lincoln rewrites this: "The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living hearth and hearth-stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the course of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
Sheer genius! As Kaplan wrote, "The changes transformed the adequate to the brilliant.” I never cease to be amazed at how such a gifted man as Lincoln could live virtually his entire life without his gifts being fully recognized.
Last week I shared with you about the book and movie The Railway Children. This week I have to recommend the movie to you. I finished showing the 2000 version to my Bible class at ETCA. It originally aired on Masterpiece Theatre on PBS.
This is a movie that will be enjoyed by your entire family. As I told you last week, when I show this movie to my college or high school classes, I always get groans when I shut it down for discussion. The kids want to see more. And why not?
The acting is the finest. The movie is clean, so your little children can watch it. The story contains adventure, tragedy, suspense, and ultimately, redemption. Your heartstrings are tugged and you leave your living room feeling satisfied.
I show this movie to my students because I think it embodies much of Luke's description of Jesus. You have a concern for the poor. You have grace demonstrated by those with great riches. If you show this movie to your children or grandchildren, I think they can find many more biblical themes to discuss.
I actually owe my middle daughter, Abby, credit for discovering this movie. She found it at the Abilene Public Library book sale a few years ago. I think she had read the book when we were homeschooling her. However, the video we purchased, once belonged to the Abilene Public Library. My point is, perhaps your local library has a copy. If not, you can purchase it online at websites such as Amazon.
Another book that I finished this week was Einstein His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed this book. Isaacson is an excellent writer who has also written on other subjects such as Benjamin Franklin.
I am particularly indebted to this book because it revealed to me how spiritual Einstein was. I had always heard his famous God and dice quote; however, I did not know how truly spiritual the man was. He was not a Christian and many would say he was not religious. He was spiritual, though, and his spirituality played a role in much of his life and scientific pursuits.
On the last page of his biography, Isaacson provides a quote demonstrating this worldview of Einstein. "A spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe -- a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which, we with our modest powers, must feel humble. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort."
Einstein, contrary to most people, was not inspired by the supernatural. It was the order and consistency of the cosmos that inspired Einstein. Indeed, as I have written before, it was this consistency that he saw in the universe that frustrated him with quantum theory.
I never knew the degree to which Einstein strove to formulate a theory that would unify both relativity and quantum mechanics. He spent decades pursuing this goal. It was his great white whale. He died not succeeding.
Although Einstein did not believe in a God who desired to be known by people, he did see a divine design in the universe that regulated its laws and determined the way the universe worked.
I think Einstein was on to something. While I see some wholesome aspects to quantum mechanics (and I am a novice and I reserve the right to change), I agree with Einstein in seeing quantum theory as expressing an extreme view of defining reality in terms of randomness and uncertainty. Einstein remained convinced that an objective reality existed, whether or not we could observe it.
To summarize in my own words, an emphasis on random chance really bothered Einstein. Frankly, it bothers me to.
I am new at this, and I reserve the right to grow. Nevertheless, I find it fascinating that I have occasionally read that the fall of morality in the 20th century is related in some way to Einstein's theory of relativity. Einstein's theory certainly helped create the environment, which ushered in quantum theory, but I see quantum theory and quantum mechanics contributing much more to a worldview that brought us to this point today.
This is a blog and not a journal article or paper, so what I am about to say needs to be thought out more. Perhaps you can enlighten me on this.
I speculate that in the Western world from 1000 AD, more or less, through the mid-1800s, science was primarily driven by a view that God was creator, he was involved in this world, and that the world acted according to the universal laws he set. The pinnacle of this worldview was Newtonian physics. Theologically, this can be summed up with this idea – God and/or his work is here.
In the mid-1800s, science began taking a turn in the opposite direction. Certainly Charles Darwin was a major player in this effort. Suddenly, God appeared less involved in the creation. Indeed, some grabbed a toehold in Western culture by propagating the view, God did not exist and the world, as we know it, arrived by random chance. In the early 20th century, this view was emphasized even more with the arrival of quantum physics-- a scientific discipline that found random chance intrinsic in the very core of its teaching. Theologically, this view can be summed up with this question – Where is God?
One thing I would like to do some day is spend some time in study on the history of civilization. I would like to investigate whether or not there is a correlation to moral behavior and a culture’s perceived proximity to God. For I do believe there is a correlation over the past thousand years between public morality and the view of scientists regarding God's presence. The greater the immanence of God—the more order and morality of a culture. The more distant the presence of God—the more chaos, morally speaking, within the culture.
I believe that quantum theory was one of many factors that contributed to the decade of the sixties. It was not the only factor, but it helped lay the foundational groundwork within the intelligentsia to allow a decade like the sixties to occur.
Ideas have consequences.
Five things I think I think (a tip of the hat to Peter King for this idea)
1. I saw the first trailer this week for the new movie Where the Wild Things Are. It comes out this fall, I believe. Looks good. The thing I am most proud of is the song playing in the background. It was a cover of the alternative rock band, Arcade Fire’s, “Wake Up.” I latched onto this song two years ago and played it for family and friends. My oldest girls looked at me like I had two heads. If this song sticks to the trailer, it's going to be cool to be ahead of the teenage curve.
2. If the University of Kentucky fires their Mens’ basketball coach, Billy Gillespie, after only two years, then they are going to get what they deserve. Gillespie grew up in a small town in Texas—Graford. He has a tremendous coaching record turning around programs at both UTEP and Texas A&M. To give him only two years at Kentucky is insane.
3. Last week's Time magazine had a review of Dambisa Moyo’s new book Dead Aid. I think it would be an interesting read. Moyo is a Zambian-born, Harvard and Oxford educated economist who says that -- Bono aside -- the $1 trillion that the U. S. has poured into Africa has not helped. All of this aid has played into the hands of the corrupt governments. Best quote -- "The notion that aid can alleviate systematic poverty... is a myth." Moyo argues that smaller loans to more individuals, particularly those who are creating small businesses, ultimately do more good.
4. Sunday night I begin a study of the book of Philemon. I think it will be interesting. Will the people who are in my audience find it to be so?
5. I still miss Johnny Cash.
Have a great weekend!