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Telling Secrets

faith, fatherhood, and culture


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Fifteen minutes before I left for the Q conference in Georgia, I discovered that our newly finished basement was flooding. The rain should have been Denver's April blizzard, except that it was about 15 days too late and winter had already turned to spring. The grass was green, the trees were blooming and budding, it had been warm. I was enjoying the rain for the first time in almost 2 years--it had been that long since our last flooding. I thought I had fixed the problem and so we finished the basement. God provided us exactly the right amount of money to pay for it and a friend to do it quickly and in time for a good potential renter to look at our townhouse. It all seemed in the bag and we would move in to a communal house with another family. We want to be good stewards of our resources, spend only what we have to take care of our house, share resources with another family, keep downsizing and living as un-consumer lives as we possible.

Two days after the basement was done and 2 days before the potential renters would look at our house, the rains came down and the floods came up; the rains came down and the floods came up; the rains came down and the floods came up and the house on the sand went SPLAT!

So 15 minutes after I discovered the water and the wet spot on the carpet, I kissed my wife and kids good-bye, drove to the airport, and flew to sunny Atlanta for an exciting and potentially edifying (not to mention profitable time of networking) conference.

On the plane, I was trying my hardest not to be bitter about the flooding that had started at home. I read about the Jesus Prayer in the Eastern Orthodox tradition--you pray it over and over to train yourself to "pray without ceasing." The prayer goes - "Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." I also read a couple of Fred Buechner's old sermons about watching for the wonder and work of God to show up in your life, in the humdrum, amazing, ridiculousness of it. So I tried it. I prayed the Jesus prayer. I told God that I was sorry about being bitter about the water and that I knew that if it was his will that he could move a few grains of dirt to block the water from coming in the basement and that I would really appreciate it if he would do that. I imagined seeing a thumbprint squashing dirt next to our foundation and was sure he would if he wanted to. Maybe.

I went to dinner with a potential author and had some of the best tapas I've had in ages...actually since I last had tapas, which was about 7 years ago. I also had a pretty decent mojito and half a carafe of sangria.

When I got back to my hotel, I talked with Angela again. Her anxiety was rising in direct proportion to the amount of water that was doing the same - that is to say, by the gallons. She was also trying to get the kids to bed. We talked about every 30 minutes trying to figure out where the water was coming from and what to do about it. The answer was "who knows?" on both counts, except for Angela to shopvac up the water every half hour through the night while trying to keep the kids nursed and asleep.

The next day, I sat through about 8 presentations and shook hands with Andy Crouch and Rick Warren. Then I talked with my tearful and exhausted wife about how the rain stopped but the flooding hadn't. Then I sat through 5 more presentations, joked around with Chris Seay, made lunch plans for the following day with the founder of Wired magazine, and had lunch with the business consultant for Sam's Club, Meijer, and other megastores. Then I talked with Angela some more about who to call to swing by and figure out what to do with an increasingly soaked basement. I made a few phone calls to our construction expert friends, but had to leave frantic messages with them. I was feeling completely helpless about the flooding, angry at God and the previous owners, and more than a little guilty about leaving my wife to clean the house, show it to the possible renters, manage the flood, take care of the kids, and plan a birthday bash for the weekend--all by herself.

Then, I sat through 5 more sessions, learned about how slavery is alive and well in the world (including in the United States, even in some churches), how sex trafficking works, and about people doing something about it. I talked with an executive producer from Lionsgate Films (Saw 1-3, Hostel, Pride, The U.S. vs. John Lennon) and we agreed to keep in touch in order to trade book/movie ideas and leads. I heard from Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOM's Shoes, and his passion to put shoes on the feet of at least a million kids in third world countries by this time next year (and it looks like he just might pull it off). Then Jeff Johnson, a producer at BET, raked the good-intentioned but still racist-minded white and multi-ethnic churches over the coals.

I was beginning to feel a little overwhelmed and torn. Angela called and said that the office was now wet too and that the water was coming in faster, even though it was a nice sunny day. She also said that she just got an email from the potential renters saying that they found some other place, thanks anyway. We now had no leads for renters, our newly finished basement was being destroyed by flooding we thought we had prevented by an unseasonal, highly unusual, and long rain storm. The kids were cranky, my wife was going crazy, no one who could help was calling back. Meanwhile, I was having tremendous success at networking, I was learning a lot about this new movement of culture and social justice creators in the Church, and eating well. I was also bitter about the flooding and despairing about being able to afford the repairs.

I went to the conference's "Quiet Space" to take a time out. Gazing at the Atlanta skyline, I tried the Jesus Prayer again, but it quickly turned into a plea and a diatribe. God gave us exactly the right amount we needed to finish the basement--he needed to give us what we needed to fix it up again. Then I sat on a hard bench and tried to ignore this yahoo yelling into his cell phone.

A fly buzzed loudly in the window behind me and I turned around to see that it was trying to escape from a spider's web. I have never seen a frantic, panicked fly before. It's hindquarters were already cocooned and its legs seemed paralyzed. It did have full use of its wings, though, and they were beating the air with all the desparation a doomed being could have. The spider had a firm grip on the fly and was pulling it back into the crack of the window and out of sight. The fly gave a good struggle, but the force of its wings could not prevail over the spider's eight powerful legs. The fly was yanked back into the crack where I could still hear its wings beating against the wood of the pane until they stopped and I swore I could hear a munching noise. Sickened, I left the room.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Beginning this September, a new line of books from NavPress--Deliberate: Become What You Believe--will hit the streets. Deliberate books explore the mystery of faith and how to actively live it out. As we plumb the mystery, we use Jesus as our guide—a man who, after spending 40 days of solitary contemplation in the desert, announced:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and the regaining of sight to the blind,
to set free those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
— Luke 4:18-19

So began a career that is a study of profound faith in action, a perfect blend of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. He broke firm Jewish mores when he talked to the Samaritan woman alone at the well. He upset the unholy money making in the temple. He left everyone speechless when he defended the woman who slept around. He helped everyone he came across on his way to visit a dying friend. He taught through stories and riddles. He told his followers to love their enemies. He treated party-goers at a wedding reception to the best wine late in the evening.

Jesus told us to live like he did and to do even greater things. He told us to live deliberately, combining faith and action.

Deliberate about global Christianity
Deliberate embraces the “whole world” aspect of God’s love. The world’s cultures and economics are globalizing—distances between people are shrinking. We must listen to the experiences of other cultures and learn about God’s work in them. We must embrace a global Christianity without losing the specificity of God’s work within our own context. Deliberate explores voices from around the world, and from other worlds within America, as they tell their tales of God’s grace in the harsh light of real life. We need to hear from African-Americans struggling in “post-movement” urban America, indigenous pastors living in Muslim Asia, European female artists, and Sudanese countrymen struggling with “post-colonialism” and the continued effects of civil war and genocide.

Deliberate about art and culture
Deliberate explores the confluence of art and faith. Art has held a key place in the expression of faith through the centuries and its role in this new century, in all its forms, is more crucial than ever. It has the ability to communicate the truth about this world in profound ways that printed or spoken words cannot match—truth about injustice, beauty, hate, love, and the human condition. Art can also communicate God’s grace and love for the world in equally profound ways and often can bridge cultures and people better than any other form of communication. It can even bypass the unconscious autopilot many of us live by and promote conscious living and deliberate action. So it is important to acknowledge the expression of faith through art and to develop its role in God’s work in the world.

Deliberate about theology
Deliberate is theologically grounded. While exploring the mystery, it is important to be mindful of the signposts God already has placed for us through Biblical doctrine and Church tradition. This grounding is not wholly limiting, however—it pulls from many traditions, readings, and expressions of Scripture, but it will also “test the spirits” to remain as faithful to God’s Word (both written and incarnated) as possible (1 John 4:1). Deliberate follows Saint Augustine’s guiding principle:
“In essentials, unity;
in non-essentials, liberty;
in all things, charity.”

Deliberate about God’s Kingdom work
Deliberate follows Jesus’ example and explores the timeless nature of God’s work, such as loving the whole world (John 3:16); caring for the poor, orphan, widow, prisoner and foreigner (Micah 6:8, Matthew 25:31-46, Isaiah 58); and redeeming the world—everyone and everything in it—through reconciliation of people and a renewal of nature (Colossians 1:19-20 and Romans 8:19-23).

about holistic, active faith
Deliberate encourages readers to embrace a holistic and vibrant Christian faith that is both contemplative and active. It bridges the mystery-embracing, active faith of emerging churches with theological rootedness. It breaks down the sacred/secular divide and explores all aspects of creation and culture and our role in doing God’s work through them. It dialogues with other faiths and worldviews and embraces God’s truth found there. It explores art and culture and uses them to unflinchingly tell the truth about this life and God’s redemption of it. It fosters a faith bold enough to incarnate the gospel in a shrinking and diverse world. There is something here for everyone on a spiritual pilgrimage to know God and live like Christ—Christian and non-Christian alike.