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Telling Secrets

faith, fatherhood, and culture


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Ancient Mariner” tells the story of an Albatross that his fellow sailors adopted as a pet and believed to be the source of their good luck. His inner two-year old told him that it would be a good idea to skewer the bird with his crossbow. As bad things began to happen, the sailors got their revenge by hanging the decaying Albatross from the Mariner’s neck.

I like this story because it’s about me – sometimes I kill what brings me the most joy. Just last week, I was in charge of our two-and-a-half-year-old boy, Malachi, and 6-month old twin girls, Acacia and Ameena. It was bedtime, Malachi and Ameena were already half asleep and I didn’t expect Acacia to be a problem. An evening to myself is a rare and blessed occasion – I was heartily looking forward to a time of cookies and The French Connection.

Acacia, however, was callous, not giving two hoots about me. She wanted to scream. It was the scream that clenches my throat and makes me want to pick up and move to Nebraska. I took some deep cleansing breaths, this is me breathing, but my center was way off and I couldn’t find it. What I found was my primitive id gathering strength.

This is the dark underbelly of parenting. You scare yourself with thoughts about what you would really like to do to your kids. Images come unbidden and leave you afraid to ever be alone with your kids again.

I tried to love Acacia to silence. I shushed and cooed and rocked her back and forth. It didn’t work. So I tried shame. “Listen,” I scolded, “you are going wake up your brother and sister if you keep screaming like this, so stop it!” But Acacia was too selfish to care. Then I heard Ameena whimpering and I practically tossed Acacia onto the couch in disgust so I could get Ameena back to sleep. Acacia of course grew more upset and wailed pitifully, but my heart was hard.

At this point, every parent self-flagellates. “What is my problem? She probably has a tummy ache and I’m being ass because I want to watch my movie. Who’s the child here?”

Returning to Acacia with a contrite spirit, I tried again to love her to sleep. It worked for five minutes. I sang a Sunday School song about how much we all need Jesus, because at this point, I figured we both did – especially her. I began, “As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after you…” Another scream, louder than the rest.

A voice I’d never heard before came from somewhere near my bowels, full of bile. It both growled and hissed from my mouth, “Acacia!” The girl I loved more than life was terrified.

I punished her for not letting me have the evening I wanted. I withheld my love and gave her fury. Jesus once equated this kind of anger with murder. In early A.D. Tarsus, if you murdered someone, you were punished by having your victim’s corpse bound to you, face-to-face and limb-to-limb. You carried around this decaying corpse, staring death in the face. The decomposing rot would slowly seep over you, into you, until, at last, your victim killed you. The Apostle Paul, who was from Tarsus, used this imagery when he wrote, “I don’t do the things I want to do, and I do the things I hate. Who will save me from this body of death?” That evening, I felt the decomposing rot of me seep into my skin.

I collapsed onto the couch, holding Acacia close, defeated and low. I kissed my daughter’s head and said with true repentance, “I am so sorry, Acacia. I am so sorry.” Nothing humbles you more than apologizing to your baby for being an ass. Her little fist clung to my shirt and I embraced her long after she stopped sobbing and had fallen peacefully asleep.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

After chewing on the Doctrine of Predestination and the Elect for a week, my mouth is tired and sore. Whoever said masticating rocks was a good source of nourishment? I keep returning to the simple question, “so what?” It’s clear that God acts first to save the Lost, that Jesus’ sacrifice is critical for salvation, and that the Holy Spirit does the work of regenerating a “dead” spirit. Does it really matter if there’s something called the Elect? I don’t believe Paul or Peter or the writer of Hebrews ever refer to themselves as “one of the Elect.” Paul begins all his letters by referring to himself and his audience as being “called” by God, but my understanding is that this calling is to the Lost, which is everyone. Jesus told stories about this: he leaves the 99 sheep to look for and call the 1 lost, he spends countless hours on his hands and knees on a hard packed-dirt floor looking for the 1 lost coin. Referring to ourselves as the Elect sets up an “us versus them” dichotomy that the Bible clearly warns against. We are all of us lost in the darkness, unable to make a fire to warm ourselves and find our way. Some of us have been found by a sweaty someone who has seen our tracks and doggedly pursued us, tapping our shoulder until we finally turn around to face the sunrise. Then we are invited to join the pursuit, changing as we run, fanning out across the land to bless the world as the Israelites were to do, bringing light into darkness. We are the Lost, known from the beginning, and somehow, by no merit of our own, found. This tastes sweet in my mouth and goes down smoothly, yet my stomach turns a little. There are so many like myself who are still stumbling around, trying to make sense of life, doing the best they can with what they have been given. Sometimes they don’t turn to face the light and that is bitter. But the sun still rises – may it shine on all of us.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Malachi and "Mine Sisters"


I’m slowly coming down off of Tuesday night. The event was a success – 85 people came, the discussion was good with only a couple of minor flares. The Issachar group that Jeff Johnsen brought were the highlight, providing color and a perspective the rest of us whiteys in the room lacked.

Pastor Larry Brown was filled to the brim with the Spirit before the speech and delivered an impromptu speech to set the foundation for our conversation – what is our responsibility as Christians to love our neighbor and take care of the least of these my brethren. Several of the more staunch members of the Master’s Church held vehemently whispered conversations in the back of the church during the sermon, their disapproval crackling all around.

I was a little uncertain about his speech just because I’ve never heard him preach before and he is a little bit of a loose cannon. But that is also what I love about Pastor Brown, and honestly, I couldn’t disagree with anything that he said. He ended by saying we are all on the same boat, the carrier USS America, and there are gaping holes in this boat. Whether we agree with the politics of our leaders or not, if we don’t pitch in and get active, we will sink along with everyone else. (Kind of reminiscent of the verse in Jeremiah I used to promote this event: "But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you… and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare" (Jeremiah 29:7). If there is injustice, we’ve got to patch it up. If there is hunger…patch it up. If there is poverty…patch it up. And on he went.

What’s been bugging me about Pastor Brown vs. Staunchists is the doctrinal issue. I believe Pastor Brown is speaking the Truth as it has been given to him, as he understands it. He is not one to do things half-assed. To that end, he is one of the only pastors I know who is doing God’s work in the community – taking care of the least of these my brethren. He didn’t bat an eye when I asked him out of the blue years ago to start a food bank in the permanent housing program for chronically homeless folk I was running. Because of that ministry, about 4 people in the building started going to his church Sundays.

So how important is it to have your doctrine exactly right? Who is to say who’s doctrine is right, especially when the doctrine in question results in works that most of us don’t dare to do. Who’s more faithful? The one who studies the Bible ad nauseum unto losing the capacity to love or the one who studies the Bible but focuses more on doing what it says, even though there may be some inconsistencies or incorrect doctrine that results. Did Jesus call us to good doctrine or good works?

I guess the “$64,000 question”, as Russ says, is this: are they mutually exclusive? It often seems like it, but why does it have to be? Why doesn’t sound doctrine motivate one to good, incredible works powered by the Spirit and a savior who promised never to leave us? I think that sound doctrine MUST move you out of the book and into the world to do God’s work. If it doesn’t, then your doctrine isn’t that sound after all. It’s mental masturbation of the most despicable kind. It’s religion that eventually turns to oppression and self-righteousness.