Remember This.

There is something about turning middle age that causes many of us to focus like a laser on our own mortality. And with that comes the almost irrepressible compulsion to share our maternal or paternal wisdom with our children. The blog “Shit My Dad Says” is devoted almost entirely to this phenomenon.  There’s just stuff we’ve learned along the way and it seems like such a waste not to share these things with our children. And so we do. Early and often. To our children’s dismay.

But I have often wondered, if I only had a few more days or weeks or months left with my children, what would I choose to tell them?  What are the really important things I want them to know?

Surely Jesus must have asked himself this question during the forty days between Easter and his ascension into heaven.  He had spent his entire ministry imparting wisdom to his friends and followers. But his ministry was coming to an end.  Of all the things he had tried to teach them, what were the most important things that he wanted them to remember?

As far as I can tell, it looks like we have about nine recorded accounts of Jesus talking to his disciples during that forty day period after Easter.  So what did he say?  Of all the many things that Jesus tried to teach his disciples, what were the essential things he wanted them to remember?

Well, it turns out that Jesus says about what we would probably say if we had just a limited amount of time left with our children.

He tells them not to be afraid.  That everything is going to work out okay.

He tells them to love each other and to take care of each other.

And he tells them that he loves them and that he will see them again some day.

I guess Jesus knew that his parenting days were over. There was no more time for speeches, lectures, or even parables. It was time to boil an entire ministry down to the very basics. And so he did: Don’t be afraid. Its going to be OK. Love each other. Take care of each other. I love you. I’ll see you again.

Words to remember.

Peace.

Peace

There He is.  The Prince of Peace.  Watching our chaos:  A country at war for nearly a decade; a government so dysfunctional that its leaders have taken the economy hostage and are threatening to throw it over a cliff; a town completely heart broken, busy preparing twenty precious and bullet riddled children for burial while the rest of us look on in shock and horror; families in constant conflict, with husbands and wives arguing endlessly over meaningless things while brothers and sisters are at each other’s throat one minute and united in open defiance of their parents the next.  And then there’s me, and maybe you, with our chaotic and stressed out minds, wracked with doubts and regrets and indecision and constant worries — so conflicted that we can barely move, much less act with any real conviction.  And in the midst of all this madness stands the Prince of Peace, watching.

I desperately wish He would do something.  Fix something.  Fix me or others around me.  Instead, it seems like everywhere He goes, chaos follows.  But in my better moments, I know it’s the other way around — everywhere chaos goes, He follows.  I know He’s been there amidst the fog of war, the heat of those political battles, the stress of family conflicts and the utter despair of the grieving parents of Newtown.  And He’s been there with you and me as we wrestle our stressed out thoughts struggling to keep it all in the road.

I get it that the Prince of Peace is needed most at scene of chaos.  And I get it that we are supposed to follow along.  But honestly, I wish He traveled with a giant spotlight — one with enough amperage to allow us to see clearly for miles and miles.  If He did, I think I would still follow but, no doubt, I would occasionally run ahead — either in search of the next adventure or at least in search of the next exit so that my family and I could get the hell out of some of the chaos around us.  But this is a Prince that travels light — with just enough light that we can see little more than our feet in front of us and then only if we stay close.

I suspect the Prince of Peace is more comfortable with chaos than I am. He was both made for it and born into it. I guess in that way, He’s the perfect travel companion. And so we travel with Him. Lugging our chaos from place to place.  In the dark.  Barely able to see the ground in front of us.  Following a Prince who is in search of more chaos, another place that could use His peace.

I know He is in Newtown this week.  I hope and pray that the people there can feel His presence and that they stand close to His light.  They are surely experiencing a chaos I can only imagine.  But the Prince is comfortable there.  He’s there right now.  No doubt.

Where Was God in Aurora?

The stories coming out of Aurora, Colorado are horrific. The victims included a catcher on his high school baseball team who wore a mullet and played in the school orchestra; a six year old learning to swim; and a U.S. Navy veteran who served three tours overseas only to come home and get gunned down in a movie theater. In all, twelve were killed and fifty eight others were injured.  And God said nothing.

I don’t understand senseless tragedy. And I struggle with God’s role in these events. I am confident that God doesn’t cause tragedy; but I am bothered by his failure or unwillingness to prevent it. And I’m not alone. People have struggled with this issue for a long time and have posited many theories to help explain this vexing question about the nature of God’s role in tragedy.

One theory says that we simply must trust God –that tragedy must be part of God’s plan and that God’s ways are not our ways. The implication is that God has the ability to prevent tragedy but, for whatever reason, chooses not to. And while today we don’t understand why that is, someday we will. But for now, it is not our place to question God. This seems to be the “because I said so” message offered by God to Job in Job 40:1-5: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer Him!”

Some say that tragedy occurs because of original sin. Before the sin of Adam and Eve, all was good. There was no sin, no death and no tragedy. After the fall of man, there was death and disease and tragedy. The pain of childbirth, a woman’s fear of snakes and her subjugation to her husband, thorns and thistles in the garden, earthquakes in Haiti and violent rampages in Aurora, Colorado are all the result of original sin. Or so says the Genesis account.

Billy Joel offered a different theory.  He told Virginia not to wait, because only the Good Die Young. This theory says that God takes the good among us –his loyal and faithful servants — early while they’re young and before they are polluted by the world.

But still others say the exact opposite. These folks opine that it’s actually the bad that die young. They would say that tragedy in the world is the result of personal sin and that God takes the sinful out as punishment for the sinful and protection for the rest of us.  Perhaps that’s what Pat Robertson meant when he commented on the tragedy in Haiti and said the following:

Something happened long ago in Haiti and people may not want to talk about it but they were under the heal of the French and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, “we will serve you if you will set us free from the French.” And the devil said, “It’s a deal”. And they have been cursed by one thing or another ever since.

Or maybe that’s what Jerry Falwell meant when he said:

I really believe that the pagans, the abortionists, the feminists, the gays, the lesbians who are trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, all of them have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their faces and say “you helped this happen.”  The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked.

And maybe that’s what we’re to take from Exodus 20:12 which says “Honor your father and mother so you will live long” — I suppose the corollary to that is that if you don’t honor your father and mother, God will take you out early. Or maybe that’s what Job’s wife was trying to tell him when she said:  “[If you] curse God, [you will] die.” (Job 2:9)

Peter had his own theory.  He said that we suffer grief in trials of all sorts so that we can “prove the genuineness of our faith” and that will result in “praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”  (I Peter 1:6-7)

Some would suggest that tragedies happen because there is no God. Shit happens. Tragedies happen. God is dead. God doesn’t cause tragedy. God doesn’t stop tragedy. Because God doesn’t exist. One need only look at the comments to the CNN articles on the tragedy in Haiti and elsewhere to understand the prevalence of this particular theory.  Like this one, for instance:

It’s cute how religious people are so quick to point out supposed miracles when it suits them and supports their irrational beliefs but the lack of those same miracles doesn’t seem to matter to them.  Just keep praying to your sky fairies and drinking your kool-aid while the rest of us rational people actually do something that will help these people.

Deism, I suppose, is the belief that God created the world and set it in motion but then God left and hasn’t been seen or heard from since. God doesn’t cause tragedy or prevent it because He is unaware that it has occurred.

Still others believe that God exists but is changing, learning and evolving. This God doesn’t coerce and doesn’t intrude in human affairs nor does He violate the laws of nature. This God gently persuades with a vision of a better future but allows His children to deviate from that vision at their choosing.  And sometimes when they do, tragedies happen.

I suppose each of these theories have their appeal.  But I think the most interesting discussion I have seen on this topic comes from a man forced to grapple with his own unthinkable tragedy: the death of his son.  Rabbi Harold Kushner said that before his son died unexpectedly, he had believed that God was omnibenevolent — His love for his children was complete and without limitation; and that God was omnipotent — His power was likewise unlimited and included the power to alter the forces of nature and the course of human events; and that God was omniscient — that God knew of events before they occurred and even before they were conceived in the minds of men.

After his son died, Rabbi Kushner chose to believe that God can not be all of these things — two of three perhaps — but not all three. Kushner chose to believe that God was all knowing and all loving but not all powerful — that he knew of the unspeakable tragedy of Kushner losing his child and that he loved Kushner enough to prevent that from happening, but he lacked the power to prevent it.  As Kushner said in an interview with Time Magazine:

Given the unfairness that strikes so many people in life, I would rather believe in a God of limited power and unlimited love and justice rather than the other way around.  Why do we worship power?  Why do we assume total power is the most wonderful thing we could ascribe to God even if it means compromising His fairness and His love?  I believe God is totally moral but nature, one of God’s creatures, is not moral.  Floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and disease are all equal opportunity offenders.  They have no way of knowing whether it is a good person or a bad person in their path.  Some feel obliged to defend God’s omnipotence even if that means holding God responsible for every retarded child, every flood, every earthquake and plague.  They have to twist themselves into theological pretzels to explain why God is good.  I do not.

I’m not sure about all this, but I think I fall closest to Rabbi Kushner.  Unfair and inaccurate as it may be, I like to put skin on God and make Him look a little bit like me (sans the white flowing beard and cloud like body habitus).  That makes Him a bit easier to comprehend.  I can then make Him a Father (albeit a heavenly one) like me.  I can then imagine that He loves His children like I love mine.  Actually, with some effort, I can even imagine that He is capable of loving His children even more than I love mine.  That allows me to consider how I would deal with tragedy affecting my children.  In that regard, I try my best to allow my children to make their own decisions — really I do.  But I will not allow them to make choices that will imperil their lives or the lives of others.  And if I can protect them from the catastrophically bad choices of others, I will.

But I don’t always have that power.  Maybe God doesn’t either.  Or maybe the God that spoke the universe into being does have that power, but God is not omniscient, and therefore can’t act prophylactically to prevent tragedy.  I don’t know.  Perhaps “because I said so” or “His ways are not our ways” will have to do for me.  As unsatisfying as that may be in the wake of the senseless tragedy in Aurora.

Care to weigh in?

Swing Changes and Life Changes

I’m sitting here watching the Bay Hill Classic and right now Tiger Woods has the 36 hole lead.  It’s been a long few years for Tiger, but he seems to be getting things together just in time for this year’s Masters.  I hope so; I’ve always been a Tiger fan.  I started following Tiger when he was a 15 year old phenom.  By 1997, then just 21 years old, Tiger Woods was on top of the golf world.  He was destroying golf courses like no one had ever seen before.  That year, he played in 21 tournaments, made the cut in 20, won 4 and finished in the top 10 in five others.  He won the Masters by a record 12 strokes over Tom Kite, playing the last 63 holes in an incredible 22 under par!  Who can forget the patented fist pump on the last hole?

After Tiger’s amazing 1997, I couldn’t wait for the 1998 golf season to see what he would do.  So what did he do?  He spent the entire year deconstructing and completely overhauling a golf swing that had just produced one of the most successful seasons in golf history.  I thought he had gone completely crazy and so did much of the golf world.  And, as it turns out, 1998 wasn’t a great year for Tiger.  He won only one tournament and his earnings for that year remain the lowest of his career.  What in the world was he thinking?  Why in the world would he overhaul the purest swing in golf, a swing that was good enough to win the Masters by 12 strokes?  Although Tiger has never really answered the question directly, others have speculated.  But his results since that time have proven his decision to have been a wise one.  In fact, a year after Tiger’s swing overhaul, he put together what are almost certainly the two most dominant seasons in golf history — in 41 tournament starts in 1999 and 2000, Tiger finished in the top 10 in 33 and won 17.  Now that’s strong!  The product of the swing remake was a swing built for even greater success and one that was built to last.  Today, Tiger’s in the midst of yet another swing change.  Apparently, he thinks an overhaul is warranted every 10 years or so.

I think he’s right.  Sometimes what’s gotten us to our happy place, becomes suddenly insufficient to keep us there.  What has worked in the past, suddenly no longer works in the present and is of no help for the future.  Said Laura Winner, in her book, Still:  Notes on a Mid Faith Crisis,:

My friend Ruth’s mother once told her, ‘Every ten years you have to remake everything.’ Reshape yourself. Reorient yourself. Remake everything. What struck Ruth about this was not just the insight but the source: she had imagined that her mother, her steadfast loving mother, was static, was always the same. She didn’t know that her mother had remade everything seven times, eight times. Sometimes the reshaping is not big, not audible; not a move, a marriage, a child, a heroic change of course. Sometimes it is only here inside, how you make sense of things. Sometimes it is only about how you know yourself to be.

Sometimes, swing changes are forced upon us. Death and divorce, for instance, force us not only to come to terms with our loss but to redefine ourselves in relation to the loss. Becoming an empty nester forces us to redefine ourselves in relation to our adult children who not only are not as physically present in our lives but probably don’t need us (or think they need us) as much as they once did. Who are we under those circumstances? How do we define ourselves? Certainly not as we did before the circumstance change.

Sometimes, our spiritual life is in need of a swing change. The nature of our relationship to the devine is dynamic, rarely static. We respond to some of that change with minor tweaks. But there generally comes a time when we realize that the aggregation of change requires a complete remake of our relationship to our higher power. The stories of our youth are no longer compelling, inspiring or even believable and our faith takes a hit and we lose our confidence and begin to sink.

And sometimes, it us that needs a remake.  Sometimes what got us this far, suddenly won’t get us any farther.  Our relationship with ourselves begins to sour and we find ourselves lost and not sure exactly who we are any more.

I think we generally know when it’s time for a remake.  It’s something we can feel. But that doesn’t make it easy.  It’s not easy to remake ourselves.  It’s hard to fix that which isn’t truly broken.  It’s not easy to overhaul a swing that has won us millions of dollars and lots of tournaments or a life that has made us very happy or a faith that has carried us through some really tough times.  But sometimes we have to.  And sometimes we have to do it again and again.

Are you due for a remake?  Am I?  What’s holding us back?  If what got you here won’t get you there, consider overhauling your swing.  It’s hard work.  It’s scary.  But often, it’s necessary.  It’s worked for Tiger.  Several times.  Tee it up.  And let it rip.

Your Turn:  What about you?  Have you made a swing change recently?  Are you in need of one?  What’s holding you back?  Share your thoughts.