Sunday, February 23, 2020

"Confessions" Confessions



I just finished reading Augustine's Confessions. It took me 35 years to finish. No kidding. I bought the book at a used book store in 1985 at the recommendation of a mentor, Mark Corts. I may have started reading the book right away, but I'm sure it was over my head. Much of it is still over my head.




So I have some confessions to make about this book. A classic, it has endured for 1600 years, being called "The Greatest Spiritual Autobiography of All Time." Clearly a worthwhile read.

I confess, first of all, that it took me approximately forever to finish it.
There were many parts of it that I really liked and understood. He expresses his heart with all his doubts and questions. Some parts were repetitive and tedious.

I confess that I wonder how anybody had the time, centuries ago, to write so voluminously.

I confess that I must be lazy. I like to write, but can barely hack out a blog post occasionally--with electronic word processing. Augustine, sure he had fewer distractions, but he had primitive writing tools. Maybe he had a scribe, but even dictating his works would be a major feat.

I confess that finishing Confessions became more about checking it off my list than really gaining wisdom from it. I did gain some wisdom, but mainly I just wanted to get it off my partially-read list.

I confess that I remember very little of it, especially the parts that I read decades ago. But it still counts. I did read it, whether I remember it or not.

I confess great admiration for Augustine. He boldly expressed his struggles, doubts, ideas, and insights. He left a great legacy of Christian thought, and he has shaped Western thinking more than we realize.

I confess that I wish I were more dedicated to writing. Nothing endures like writing. Through writing we can communicate directly into the ages. I confess that I hope that I have something worth communicating to someone else, today or tomorrow.

But I doubt that I'll ever have a species of grass named after me.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Twenty Amazing Years

As our church celebrates its twentieth anniversary this Sunday, nostalgia pulls at my heart.
So much has changed in 20 years.

My heart is softer. I cry a lot more these days.
My children have grown and married, fully embracing adulthood.
Stokesdale is growing. There are many more homes and neighborhoods in our community.
While people are more digitally connected, many feel more relationally isolated.
The good news about Jesus still hits us right where we live, bringing us wholeness and well-being.
More people are more anxious. The good news is really good news for the anxious.
Anxiety plagues younger and younger people.
Technology has grown exponentially, and it is changing our lives more than we expected.
There are lots of new buildings, new roads, new businesses, new schools, new parks and trails.
Stokesdale has more than doubled its number of stoplights (from 2 to 5).
I count four new shopping centers in the NW Guilford area.
We moved to new house in Stokesdale.
Little pine trees along the road now tower over fields and highways.
Stokesdale now has a new town hall and town park.
Churches in the community work together more closely than ever.
Genuine love in the church lets people experience God's presence.
Worship music breaks through all the clutter of a hurried life, bringing us into Jesus' presence.
I really need reading glasses now.
I don't feel like I have to fix the world any more.
I believe that Jesus transforms us when we surrender to him.
I can trust him more now to use imperfect people (like me and you) for profound purposes.
I can now let go of a lot of attitudes and preferences that I thought defined me.
God is building his kingdom, and it's fun to step back and marvel at all he has done.


Sunday, January 12, 2020

Meghan, Harry, and History

The British royal family provides pop culture with a look at real-life royal majesties. While it looks like a storybook way of life, Harry and Meghan appear not to like the story.

The Royal Couple has decided to opt out of responsibilities associated with the British monarchy. I have always wondered how conscience works in the mind of a prince or princess. From infancy these heirs are addressed as "your royal highness." Most, it seems, come to believe in their own highness. Some take this belief to such an extreme that they believe they can do no wrong. Others use their highness to bring about justice and hopefully prosperity.

But the British monarchy has been built upon untold generations of exploitation. The subjects have always been in service to the crown. And the British empire has reached to every continent on the planet, colonizing along the way. The little people of the undeveloped lands have been organized for their own improvement, and, of course, for the benefit of the empire. Everybody wins when the empire exploits.

As an American, I can see how colonialism can have desirable long term results. But, unfortunately, we Americans have taken too many pages from the imperial playbook. While we have no king, we understand the advantages of building empires and exploiting others.

So, Harry and Meghan sit on the top of the heap of history, enjoying benefits of royal oppression. What is one to do? We can speculate about how much influence the now-princess had on the life-long prince. But I wonder if Harry has experienced pangs of conscience for quite a while. It certainly looks like he has found a soul-mate in Meghan. We may never know if they plotted their defection from royalty all along.

I suspect that Meghan's egalitarian perspective has helped to open Harry's eyes to some absurdities he has always questioned. Why is one family to be so revered? Why must royals adhere to such arbitrary rules, such as the way one crosses her legs? Does any of this seem, well, silly to you, Harry? Do we have to keep playing along?

Does the royal role of highness really bring more justice? Is there any way to correct the wrongs of colonialism? Can monarchy truly be reformed, or is it a lost cause?

If Harry believes that the monarchy is a lost cause, how miserable he must be. To follow his conscience, he would have to turn his back on his family. What a wretched choice he must make.

It seems that Harry's relationship with his brother William has become quite strained. This saddens me the most. As a casual observer, I have always thought that the brothers shared an unbreakable bond. But the tension in Harry's heart seems to be pulling the brothers apart.

What a grave responsibility has been given to these men at birth. May they find wisdom to do what is right.

Maybe it is time to ask some fundamental royal questions. And maybe the empire can really set people free, all around the globe. Meghan and Harry are boldly stepping out and away to experience that freedom.


Friday, December 13, 2019

We need a Greta Thunberg

Time Magazine's person of the year, Greta Thunberg, created a stir when she spoke to the United Nations on September 23. She received a wealth of media coverage for her challenge to world leaders who are failing to address climate change. She spoke with conviction and passion. She also spoke at the 2019 Climate Action Summit, where she declared that failure to stop climate change has robbed her of her childhood. She spoke with urgency and conviction.

She called out leaders who care more about public appearance than actual solutions. She has some good points, although she seems to believe that changes in human activity can completely solve the problem.

I think that we need a Greta Thunberg to speak out against the U.S. debt. The debt is entirely within human control. It has possibly reached the point that it will never be paid off. Every president since Jimmy Carter has sounded the debt alarm while campaigning. And every president has allowed the debt to grow. Obama said that deficit spending was irresponsible, yet the debt doubled on his watch. Trump criticized Obama, yet he has proposed a budget with an annual deficit of $1 trillion.

How dare these politicians spend our money this way? How dare they waste dollars on anything but essential government services?

And a trillion is a lot. A million seconds is about a week and a half. A billion seconds is about 32 years. A trillion seconds is about 32,000 years. In other words, all of history has not yet seen a trillion seconds. We are $20 trillion in debt.

How dare our leaders not take this seriously? How dare they ignore this threat to our country?

What will happen when the dollar collapses?

Unlike climate change, we know that this is entirely our fault. And everyone wants to ignore it.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

God's Helping Hand

So often we think of God as the cosmic cop, looking for all the ways you mess up. We hide from that kind of surveillance. And we resent it.

But God is not really like that. The word "satan" actually means "accuser." God is not our accuser. He's our helper.

"For I am the Lord, your God,
who takes hold of your right hand and says to you,
Do not fear;
I will help you." --Isaiah 41:13

With divine tenderness and compassion, God reaches through all the clutter, busyness, sin, rebellion, fear, and anger in our lives. He reaches through and takes us by the hand. He is for us. He is with us. He longs to help us, right where we are.

God is reaching out his hand to us in the midst of all the pressure, travel, temptation, expectation of this holiday season.

Take his hand. He is with you. He is for you.


Monday, November 11, 2019

Tears for America

This morning I was reflecting on Veterans Day, and I thought of all my friends who have served in the U.S. military. I thought of the great privilege of living in our country. It really brought me to tears. My father, grandfather, and other ancestors fought for our freedom.

In our land, we live in peace. I don't have to worry about marauding gangs coming through town, breaking into houses and businesses. Soldiers don't stand watch on the corners because we don't need them there. People from all around the world long to live in the U.S. because of the great opportunities, resources, and freedom here.

We celebrate innovation in America. We allow creative minds to benefit from their inventions. Inventors can patent and market their new creations, bringing new products and technologies to the rest of us. We expect every gadget to be improved every year, from cars to vacuum cleaners to cell phones. And we also expect to be able to get any item in the world delivered to our door, often overnight. Our culture is all about better, faster, cheaper.

We are also a generous people. As charities thrive, our country shares love with all kinds of needy people--those with medical needs, financial needs, emotional needs, spiritual needs. When there is some disaster, we respond with food, medicine, equipment, workers. We do that across the country and around the world.

Our great blessings bring tears to my eyes. But there are also other kinds of tears. We incarcerate more people than other countries. We don't always live up to our belief that "all men are created equal." Our free market has rewarded greed. There are high rates of suicide and addiction. We can monetize virtually any endeavor. We tend to be materialistic. We claim to value life, but often fail to protect people until they are born. We believe in equality, but minorities find that some are more equal than others.

We long for society to be just, fair, and free. Our highest ideals are lofty, and we often fall short of them. In spite of our imperfection, we also like to "encourage" other cultures to take on our ways of life and government, assuming that our way is best for everyone. Doesn't everyone think like we do?

At home, too many are at each others' political throats. The "gotcha" culture sets a trap for everyone who takes a stand. Our principles say that everyone has a right to free speech, no matter how absurd or offensive that speech may be. But some self-appointed guardians have created arbitrary rules of political correctness.

There is a gap between our principles and our reality. But our principles really are worth fighting for. Thank you to our Veterans for taking that stand and putting their lives on the line. May we seek to honor that sacrifice by living into the real American values of truth, honor, and justice.


Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Big Itch

Yes, it's a big itch. Somehow this stuff finds me. My last two bouts with itchy plants have been particularly severe, and I never saw the offending plants.

I am rather an expert at spotting poison ivy and poison oak. Poison sumac, I'm not so sure about. Apparently it was sumac that attacked me in August. Then last week I was pulling out kudzu when again I was exposed to urushiol, the poison in those poison plants. The gap between my work gloves and my long sleeves provided plenty of room for skin contamination.

I did wash my arms, but not soon enough, not thoroughly enough. Sigh.

I have heard that the reaction to these poison plants worsens with each exposure. And I've been getting the rash since childhood. I have gone for months and years with no breakouts, but this season has been brutal for me.

I want to find some spiritual lesson in this, or maybe a Bible verse about no itching in heaven. In the meantime, I can only try soaps and lotions to treat myself.

I promise to be more careful. I promise to wash my skin, way more than necessary. I promise to keep looking for something good in these plants. No, that's a lie. I just want to kill it.

A severed poison ivy vine by the farm creek. 
I blew through this vine with my 12 gauge one winter.
Die, hateful plant.