Sunday, July 06, 2014

Is the Bible without error?

The Bible is the most printed book in the history of the world. This will likely be the case for a long time. There are many claims about this much printed and much read Bible that are made ranging from “the Bible is perfect and without error” to “the Bible is creative writing project filled with made up stories with questionable literary value.”

I come to this conversation as a Christian, but not as an expert on ancient texts. So my claims are my own and do not rest on extensive research or scholarly reflection. They come from being a reader of the Bible, a believer, and a community of faith. I have taken college level courses studying scripture and even a course on how to read and interpret the Bible. But I come as a regular to this conversation.
I believe that the Bible has errors in it and that it is without error. And so, as you can clearly see, I have a problem on my hands as I am holding together two views of the Bible – each seemingly not allowing the other to exist.

I guess a metaphor is in order here. Any great work of art, whether the statue of David, the Mona Lisa, or any other revered work or art is in one sense perfect as it is. David is in one sense without error. And yet in another sense if you were to inspect the statue, it has errors. It has imperfections in it.

However, what we are talking about is error on two significantly different levels of observation. A nick in the statue is an error, but it does not compromise the authenticity of the statue. A scribal error or New Testament reference of the the Old Testament that is inexact does not destroy the authenticity of the Bible. The reality is that a document written by many different people over many different centuries in an array of different cultures translated into thousands of different languages is going to have some errors in it.

And here is the place where Christian fundamentalists set themselves up for serious problems. When errors in the Bible are pointed out by someone, their response has to be either denial of the error or loss of faith – or a softening of their fundamentalism.  When fundamentalists hinge faith and even salvation on the Bible being errorless at every single point on every single level, skeptics listen and follow the fundamentalist rules. When a skeptic follows the fundamentalist rules of the  Bible, there is no compelling reason for skeptics to part with their skepticism. There are what appear to be errors.

And when that is the focus of the conversation, it is easy to bring that conversation to a close. If we set up an error hunt, that is just too easy. If we were to judge the Statue of David by whether there was a single flaw anywhere in it, then we would miss the beauty of the statue itself. If we set up the rules of good art as being without a single error, then we can conclude that the Statue of David is not really a statue or not really art at all. No one does this with art.

The way I understand it is that scripture is errorless in its story, not its detail. The story of a creative God who created love and freedom and wrapped it in flesh that was a refection of God and set a physical context for love and freedom to play out over a thing labeled as time is at least compelling. Then, to engage that creative expression relationally when love and freedom waned and were at risk for being eliminated, is at least beautiful. Then for this God to engage even more closely, to actually become one of the created and to live a life of freedom and love is at least intriguing. Then for that God-human, out of love and freedom, to lovingly and freely surrender to hate and oppression for the sake of demonstrating that love and freedom are more powerful than hate and oppression, allow himself to be killed is at least shocking. Then for this God-human to overturn death to show love and freedom are what last beyond the worst hate and oppression have to offer is at least inspirational. Then for that God-human to start a movement of people intended to live love and freedom in community that is both now and on the other side of death is at least hopeful.

The story is errorless regardless of whatever errors may be in it. If faith hinges on inerrancy with every little grammatical mark, then the Bible is hopeless – as is everything else in all of life. If it hinges on the story, then the Bible has much to offer humanity. I would argue, it offers a story so beautiful that it is roomy enough for truth.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Second Hand Smoke

I waited for you

To finish your cigarette

Another drag

Another orange swell 

And everything we ever dreamed of

Had to wait

I waited for you 

To cough it up

Another hack

Another lung convulsion

And everything we ever dreamed of

Had to change

I waited for you 

To catch your breath

Another bench rest 

Another thick wheeze

And everything we ever dreamed of 

Faded on the horizon 

I waited for you

To recover from chemo

Another iv

Another lethargic day

And everything we ever dreamed of

Had to happen in the next 6 months

I waited for you

To jump out of the casket

Another joke?

Another disappointment.

And everything we ever dreamed of

Had to stay buried in my heart 

Monday, June 30, 2014


We come stumbling,
No matter how planned,
Into this life
And stumble throughout
Like children not watching
Where they are going,
Like teens texting
While crossing the street,
We gaze into the future,
That fabricated gonna-be,
And we walk
And we stumble
Because we cannot see
Because we are little
Because walking lessons
Were made for toddlers

We cannot avoid stumbling
But we can stumble together
We're stumblefriends -
If you friend me
I'll friend you
And we'll fall all over each other
We'll fall forward
You and me and gravity
Finding and fabricating
The most beautiful future

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father’s Day For the Rest of Us

Father’s Day doesn’t mean much to some people. Sure, everyone has a father, but there are lots and lots of people who do not have a good relationship with him. So for so many people, what we have here is a day to celebrate a man who has done little worthy of celebration.

Some people have fathers who they have never met. Others have fathers who ditched out when the going got rough. Some have fathers who traded in their mother in efforts to solve some sort of mid-life crisis. Some have fathers who abused, neglected, and otherwise mistreated them. Some have fathers who they had to parent in order to survive. Some had alcoholic, drug-addicted, workaholic, narcissistic, etc fathers who invested their energy into anything else but their own child. Yes, there are many ways fathers have found to let their children down.

So, for those of us who have a good relationship with our father, today is a good day, but for the rest of us, today is something else. It can feel like Valentine’s Day for single people, Christmas for an atheist, or Thanksgiving Days in America for recent immigrants – that’s a nice holiday if it applies to you, but it does not apply to me. 

So, what does Father’s Day mean for the person whose father has done little or nothing to deserve a day of celebration?

Here are a few ideas for how to redeem Father’s Day.

Celebrate your “back up dad.” A back up dad is a man who was not your father, but was a good man who invested something into your life. He is a good man who had a little extra time for you. Maybe he is a neighbor, an uncle, a man at your place of worship, a coach, or a teacher. He may or may not have known your father did not meet up to your needs, but it did not matter – he took a piece of himself and gave it to you. Go tell him thanks and tell him why it meant something to you.

Celebrate a father. There are a lot of good fathers out there who go about being awesome and never seek out or even expect praise for the awesomeness. At the same time, it does not mean that a genuine expression of appreciation would be meaningless. In fact, he might not even know how much it would mean to him to have someone tell him how great he is. He may not be your father or your “back up day,” but he is a father who is making a difference in the life of his children. Give him some kudos and make his day.

Forgive your father. Many people whose fathers were not there for them have already grappled with this one, but many have not. For many, there is a lingering, simmering, smoldering hatred for their father that is alive not too far under the surface. They try to manage it, but it is toxic. It is hoped that this festering wound could be contained and not spread to other relationships, beliefs they have about men, and their own beliefs about themselves, but in most cases even the best efforts at managing the hurt eventually fail. Plus, it takes a lot of psychological energy to manage such a bundle of unfinished business. Forgiving a father of his wrongs is the pathway to liberation for you and opens the door for reconciliation, at least on your end. Unforgiveness, though understandable, is allowing him power in your life that he does not deserve. Unforgiveness is not justice, it is unfinished business, it is a self-inflicted wound, and it has no redeeming value.

Be a great parent. Having a father who failed to be the kind of man you needed him to be has a powerful influence on a person. Sometimes the worst in a father is intergenerationally contagious. If you are a parent who had a poor relationship with your father, be aware of what you did not like about him trying to reproduce itself inside of you. Then be proactive to replace that with something far more life giving for your own children. The joy of redemption is knowing that intergenerational contagion ended with you. 

Be a “back up parent.” You do not have to look too far to find children whose father is not there for them. They are in your neighborhood, your place of worship, and your area schools. Finding ways to invest into children whose father is so important and can be very powerful. How? Be a good neighbor who knows your neighbors and their children. Volunteer to chaperone that youth trip for your place of worship or even local school. Get connected a the local YMCA. There are many ways to be a “back up parent.”

Father’s Day may be a difficult day for you, but it does not have to be meaningless. You do not have to endure it, ignore it, or dismiss it. You can redeem it. With effort and intentionality, you can still make this a happy Father’s Day for you and for someone else.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Before you become a father

Being a father has been one of the most important processes of my life. It is not the only way to be a man (Jesus was not a father and neither was the Apostle Paul), but it is a way of manhood.

When I was a boy and became a young man, I always knew I wanted to be a father, but I was also terrified of it. Would I be any good at it? Would I make the same mistakes of my own father or grandfathers? What was a good father anyway?

Now that I have been a father for over 16 years, I have a learned a few things about being a father. I have also learned enough to know that being a father does not end – ever. Once a father, always a father. I have also learned enough to know I have so much to learn about being a good father, but at the same time have learned enough about being a good-enough father.

Below are some things I have learned about being a father. It is uncertain how much these learnings could be grasped by a young man considering fatherhood (or terrified by it), so I offer these seeds of understanding that have the potential to grow in the hearts and souls of young men and become something much greater than the understanding itself.

Fatherhood is a process. It is not a one time moment of passion with a genetic contribution. It can start there, but it most certainly cannot end there. The word for that is not “father.” Instead, fatherhood is a developmental process of constant growth and change and investment. As your children grow as people, you grow as a father. The process ends not at genetic contribution (or adoption), not at high school graduation, not at the death of your child (God forbid that happens first), and not even at your own death. This process of fatherhood outlives you in the lives of your children and grandchildren.

Fatherhood is opportunity. There are many diverse pathways of  manhood, but there are some unique opportunities in being a father. The door is open to fathers to reproduce their own best qualities into the life of another. This is not accomplished by force, of course, but by being the best person you can be day and day out in the presence of your child. It also allows for ample opportunities for self-correction as well.  Fatherhood has a unique social context that can be an opportunity to influence another person to be a great person.

Fatherhood is presence. Being presence both physically and psychologically is at least half the the job of fatherhood. Fathers who are physically present, but psychologically absent or physically absent, but psychologically present create ambiguity for their children. Chronic ambiguity can be traumatic for children. Being present in a calm and safe way with your child has a powerful effect of preventing so much negative that can happen in this world.

Fatherhood is formational. Under the ever present eyes of a child, there is a constant context of accountability that requires self-confrontation in order to grow. Being in the presence of a child, your child, forces the question of your own growth and development as a person. The reality is that a father’s growth trajectory is experienced by the child as a highly influential lesson on how to be a person. It does not determine the life course of the child, but it is what the child sees most.

Fatherhood is earned. Engaging in the process of fatherhood  as a way of living creates the accumulated credibility that the label “father” is a legitimate label. We used to use the term “illegitimate child” to refer to children who were born outside of marriage. What we really had was wide spread “illegitimate fathers” who did not raise the children they helped create. It is earned by being present, being calm, being kind, being attentive, being patient, being honest, being forgiving, being forgivable. You do not have to be the best father; instead, you do have to show up and be good.

Fatherhood is exposing. Just about every flaw, imperfection, and failure you have or will ever do is exposed when being a father. This is probably terrifying to some young men and may make them run for the hills, but it is one of the great mercies of being a father. So many times when I have felt like a failure as a father, it has prompted some corrective effort. In short, fatherhood is like an early detection mechanism for poor choices and inadequacies that, left unchecked, could have become way worse and hurt a lot of people, or resulted in self-destruction.

Fatherhood is redemptive. Although fatherhood has a constant social context that exposes shortcomings, it also provides a social context for making things right. It is a context for apologies and forgiveness, for humility and clean slates – it is a context for constant redemptions little and big.

Fatherhood is vulnerable.  Being a father is a vulnerable position to be in. The responsibility is huge and the stakes are high. Your reputation and name is carried around by children who have free will. But that is the easy part. Each day a father must make the choice to let the forming and vulnerable heart of a child into his own heart or to put up walls and not let the child in. It is a vulnerable feeling to let someone into a place where they could hurt you, but it is also one of the most amazing things in life. Being vulnerable with a child is the context the child needs to grow.

Fatherhood is power. The power a father has in the life of the child is essentially impossible to calculate. What the father does is the reality in which the child lives. Father create reality! That is power. And yet power and vulnerability are two sides to the same coin. Fathers cannot not create reality for their children. The question is: what kind of reality will the father create? Even the absent father has created a reality for his child – the reality that fathers leave. The resent father who leans toward virtue creates a reality that makes it easy for his children to lean the same way.

There is so much more to fatherhood than this scratching of the surface. These a just a few things I have learned and am learning. May these seeds of understanding land and grow somewhere.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

You’re Ghana Love it

I arrived back from Ghana a couple days ago, so my jetlag is just about resolved. My soul-lag, however, lingers. I love children who live half way around the world, and they love me. My soul is stretched across the map as part of me lingers in Ghana while the rest of me is back here in the states.

I had the privilege of leading a group of Lipscomb University Marriage and Family Therapy Masters students on a Mental Health Mission trip to the Touch A Life Care Facility in Kumasi, Ghana. The trip was epic. We learned so much from this venture and bonded as a team. We also developed relationships with children and adults in Ghana that are going to last a long time.

The mission was to provide some clinical assessment, inquire about important relationships in the lives of the children and to listen to their story. WOW!!! Our eyes were opened and our assumptions rattled as we got an amazing and tender look into the lives of these children. What we found was a resilience that was strong and the incredible ability to hold in tension what might seem like conflicting attachments.

I am inspired by the children and Touch A Life and the incredible staff on site. There is so much love in that place.

I am also inspired by the Lipscomb MFT students who took two weeks of their lives to invest into this mission. The two weeks’ investment resulted in a lifetime of memories.

I will be processing this trip for the next several weeks. Some of that processing will make it here to the blog.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Lazarus Has Something to Say

The Green stirs stories;
Fires neurons;
Leans full on into hope
Like Pisa for the uninitiated
The Green induces amnesia;
Snow and slush?
Soulflooding aspiration
"Maybe I'll run a marathon"
The Green rallies redemption;
Losers win!
Death is shocked again;
All of nature resurrects

Monday, April 14, 2014

Pondering the Old Testament

Reading the Old Testament is an exercise that raises lots of questions for any reader. It is a complicated, multi-genred collection of books that carries a raw and beautiful story that must be understood at 50,000 feet and where the feet hit the ground.

The question I pondered this morning was why there are so many ups and downs in the life course of God's people. Why not a simple, "God wins and we all go home" story? Instead we get: Sometimes things are good; sometimes things are bad. They are victors. They are losers. They are good. They are bad. They are faithful. They are faithless. They are kind. They are ruthless.

It was when I listed these things above that I realized two things:
1) It is easy for me to relate, in principle, to so much of the inconsistency of God's people in the Old Testament. When I become critical of the OT, I find that were I to hold myself to the standard I hold the text to, I find myself seriously inadequate. I could plot similar lines of ups and downs, successes and failures (big and small) in my life.

2) There is something in the story of God's people for everyone. It is not merely for the winners whose life seems to go well no matter what, it is also for the losers who can't get ahead to save their life. It is not only for the heroes who capture all the fame for their acts, but also for the nobodies who seemingly don’t accomplish much. Almost every Israelite is a nameless nobody, but is part of the story. The rock stars are complicated and flawed (Moses, Abraham, David), the wimps are elevated and also flawed(Gideon), and the generally unimportant matter.

I have had my fights with the Old Testament – perhaps you have had them as well. In fact, I hope you have. But for every part of the Old Testament I find difficult to reconcile (there are many), I find many more reasons to embrace it. I am grateful for a text of a people so generous to be as flawed as I am.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Grief is entering eternity piece by piece

In grief, there is no closure. There is no end. There is no coming to terms and there is no recovery. When someone who you let into your heart and let them tie strings between their heart and yours, who you allowed the psychological and spiritual privilege of connecting with you – when that person dies you do not recover. You never get back to where you were. In grief, you are forever different.

Those strings get pulled tight with one end of the string on this side of eternity and the other end of the string on the other end of eternity, only there is no way to fully or even faintly see what the other side is like. Those strings pull so tight wrapped around the heart it can feel like you’re carrying the weight of not only your life, but that of the other as well. In grief we try to live for two when we do not have the strength to live for one.

Ambiguity is as much a part of grief as pain. Knowing where the person you love is used to be easy. There they are. In loss they cannot be accessed in any way. It is not satisfying to gain logical truths about what the dead cannot do. Even if the mind can grasp permanent absence over time, the heart refuses to be convinced – because the heart believes there is life after death. The heart is right. The physical absence and psychological presence of those who have died creates incongruence between heart and mind. This ambiguity is difficult to reconcile and impossible to close. Closure is actually foreclosure on the heart. We are not successful in our grief to come to closure, but rather we are successful in our grief to hold together the seemingly impossible realities that this loved one is dead forever and also alive forever – forever.

The psychological and spiritual privilege you extended came with risk and in loss that risk is realized. It hurts like Hell. “I let you have a piece of my soul and when you died part of me died as well.” That pain is the evidence not of permanent loss, but rather of living in two worlds. The more people I love who die the more I am divided between here and there. Grief is entering into eternity piece by piece.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Grief Strings

People go about their lives tying strings to each other. From heart to heart strings are tied, some of them tied forever and some of them for a season and then untied. Sometimes the strings are cut and it hurts.

Really good people, the kind of people who have really figured out how to love, these people go about tying strings to the hearts of everyone they meet. They are contagious people who cannot help but be good to others. They have so many strings tied from their hearts to the hearts of others that their life is a web of connections that is dense and beautiful.

It is these beautiful webs of connection that help keep each other from plunging into the depths or falling off the edge. We need as many of these connections as we can get in our lives.

And then when we lose someone to death, it hurts so bad. The tug of those strings pulls tight and stretches our hearts until they bleed, and then more. We do not cut these strings in death. If we did we would not feel the pull. Instead, we feel the meaning and importance of the strings more in death than in life.

When someone dies and leaves from here to there, we do not lose connection; we maintain it. We feel the tug and pull and ache not because they are dead, but because they are more alive than we are. Everyone that goes on ahead of us is pulling us toward them. At the right time, whenever that is, we will join them.

Grief is the short time (even thought it never feels short – ever) that exists between the time we lose someone and the we join them.