Twitter and towers

Among the better decisions I’ve made this year has been to get off of Twitter. I gave it up for Lent, but once Easter came and went I realized that the best move might be to remain in the twitterless Lenten Lands for a while longer.

I have no beef with Twitter. I follow good, smart people (well, good and smart people plus the President who I also follow for some dumb reason) and I have learned a great deal and had my thoughts sharpened and even changed through the content of the tweets and threads I’ve read and with which I’ve interacted. It was fun; while I never had a large following, one of my tweets was actually liked by Lin Manuel Miranda, which was definitely a highlight.

The problem isn’t Twitter. It is me. As an active user I found myself in spare and not so spare moments scrolling scrolling, scrolling, searching, searching, searching.

Why is that? I think it’s because I live and participate in a culture that fears silence; a culture that reveres activity and controversy and hot-takes and making a name for oneself.

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” – Genesis 11:4 ESV

Comparing social media and the Tower of Babel; kind of a stretch, right? Possibly. But perhaps not.

To be honest, one of the draws to social media for me is the technological fascination with the platforms themselves, and the promise of things that are truly good: connection, interaction, mutual support, creativity, community. These are good things. Just like building a city and a tower is a good thing, in itself. God isn’t against ambitious construction projects.

The Tower of Babel was somehow seen by those who built it as a protection against solitude and disconnection, “lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole Earth.” Desiring to be connected and together is a good thing as well.

Unfortunately it is the human condition to take good things and twist them, to attempt to take the reins of our lives from the hands of our Creator, to make a name for ourselves. It’s the human condition to desire independence from our God and to run from his face, avoiding the silences and the solitude where he is, desiring autonomy in theory but then just clumping ourselves together in our tribes, allowing ourselves to be under the boot of the loud and the strong and the ruthless while declaring ourselves free; free to be at war with the other tribes with whom we go to battle, stick and stone and tooth and claw.

Dispersing the people, confusing their language, and leaving the Tower of Babel an empty husk was, like all of God’s actions, wise and good, though we may not understand it com poll letely. It would do us well to study it and learn from it.

I’m not sure how long I’ll be off Twitter. But I’m learning to love the new silences and unoccupied moments in my day.

Closed doors and Hempstead Highway

The HOV is blocked by a stalled bus, so we’ll be taking Hempstead in. Nice.

Being blocked is part of life. Unless you’re sitting still all the time, you’re going to have obstacles at times  between where you’re at and where you’re wanting to be.

Sometimes the way is impassable. What do you do? What are your options?

Some people plot their spiritual course relying on the Urim and Thummim of what I call Open door/Closed door theology. “Look for the open door”. Sometimes they add the modifier “when God closes a door, He opens a window.”

It’s not ridiculous to think this way. There are solid Biblical examples: Paul’s closed door to Asia and open door to Macedonia, for example. However, Paul didn’t approach his situation by simply saying “closed door, must stop.” In fact, if you read the applicable text in Acts 16, there is no mention of contrary circumstances standing in Paul’s way at all. It was the Holy Spirit who forbade him and his team to speak in Asia, and the context suggests they were striving mightily to do so, because they had to be forbidden again by the spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:6-10).

This is one reason among many why setting your path based upon whether there are obstacles in your way, or “closed doors” if you like,  can be both a cop out and a good way to miss out on the better plan. Sure, sometimes the Lord Himself is the obstacle and in that case the path is clearer. Sometimes, as in Paul’s case, the Lord really does open another door.

But sometimes he wants us to bull through the obstacle. Sometimes he wants us to sit and wait by the obstacle. Sometimes we have to take a detour. And sometimes he has other plans entirely.

Sometimes when God closes a door, he doesn’t open a window. He wants you inside when the building collapses. – Jared Wilson

Read Scripture and watch the main characters struggle and strive to get where God is taking them. Take the aforementioned Paul, for example. One might consider being stoned with rocks, dragged out of a city and left for dead to be a “closed door.” But it wasn’t. See Acts 14:19-23 and this old post of mine.

The HOV lane is a “closed door” this morning, but I’m still supposed to go to work. So my bus will crawl down Hempstead highway to get to the Transit Center, and I’ll pick up the 33 there and be on my way. I’ll get where I’m supposed to go, a little later than I would have liked, and that’s OK.

Turning around and going back home to get in bed because I hit a “closed door” was never an option.

Instructions

When it feels like the wheels are coming off . . .

Stop the car.

Take a deep breath.

Call in the family.

Call your closest friends.

Remember – this has happened before and you made it, all of you, intact.

Get a wrench.

Lift it to the sky.

By God’s grace, work on tightening the lug nuts. Even though you know the whole axle may yet come off. You have a duty to do that’s right before you.

Thank the Lord that you still have firm ground underneath . . .

Heartbreaking implications

A friend of mine posted on facebook: “Our President is new…the Great Commission is not. As our President begins his new work, it’s time for Christians to get back to their work.”

Here was my original response. The only part I left in the comment is the part in bold below but I’m posting my full thought below.

I fear for many of our American Christian brothers and sisters, the “work” they think they’re supposed to be doing is furthering political agendas, garnished with Jesus-talk to give the facade of spirituality. I came of age in the 80s and the early days of the religious right and was an enthusiastic partaker for many years. In this election the mask was finally taken off. Principles that they swore were unshakable (and that they used to bludgeon past Presidents) suddenly were discarded. So I really appreciate the sentiment, Mark. But I don’t believe it anymore. Lord, we need a generation of Kingdom-minded, not Nationalistic, Christians who will have their focus on God’s kingdom and not on political idolatry.

The Republican party is not now and never has been the answer. I repent for ever thinking it was.

Implied in your post is a heartbreaking truth – so many devoted so much time in service of a political idol while the great commission calling on their life languished,and the witness of the American church suffered greatly. Unpopular opinion, I know.

Not knowing

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

I don’t know what to do. I’m coming out of my skin right now because so much of me wants to do something, anything. Oddly, most of what I want to do would be a distraction from the decision/problem/heartache/fear we’re looking at. Because about that, there’s not a lot I can do other than offer advice and love and push down, down, down the fear that I feel.

I want to create. I want to dig in. I want to make a difference, to play music, to construct something. I want to push back on the strange feeling of being twenty five in my head and fifty three in my body. I want to do ministry, and to give ministry away, all at the same time.

I passionately want everyone in my family to flourish and thrive. I’m pushing back on the feeling of the unknown, of ticking through every second of twenty seven years of parenting looking, searching, scouring for the reason that not everyone is. It has to be my fault. It’s always the father. But I don’t know the root cause. Maybe I’m blind to it because blindness to obvious things is the root cause.

I know that the future is all we have. I know, I know, usually we say “all we have is the present” but that lasts an infinitesimal slice of time and inexorably leads to the immediate future of the next tenth of a second and all the daisy-chained ticks afterwards. The present doesn’t stand alone – it’s the tail that wags the future’s dog. Choose Carefully.

I am stuck in the not knowing. I’m fighting against fear and the background noise of despair and learning patience in my old, tired, weary soul because while I believe the promise, with all my heart, that all things will one day become as they were intended to be, I know that we are often compelled to wait years or lifetimes for that one day. I’m tired.

I’m writing this because I have to. I’m writing it publicly (not that this will be read, but because it can be read) rather than in a closed journal, because I need to risk.

Lord Jesus I need you. I need my distracted mind calmed. I need to know if it’s OK to just go to bed and pull the covers over my head and rest tonight or do I need to take action? The future has a million different paths. I know the fork we’re standing before only looks dire because of the events of this summer and the awful scourge of this sickness that I hate with the fire of a million suns that has attacked my family. Was I not supposed to protect my family? But how can I fight against an attacker that I can’t see, who always, always sneaks up on me by surprise?

Do I know I would choose the right path?

I don’t know. I’m covered, buried in Not Knowing.

What would have been a simple decision in May now doesn’t look so simple. I don’t know. And it ultimately – if my words are to be believed and I’m to stand true to them – isn’t my decision. And maybe both paths have their merits and ultimately this will be no big deal. If I described the situation to you, you probably would think so. But that’s not how it feels. Perhaps being held over the edge of the cliff so recently has me afraid of heights of any kind.

But listen: God is sovereign.

Lord, this is what you meant when you said we needed to have faith. Faith isn’t believing the Bible to be true, though that’s a good foundational starting point. Faith is believing, leaping, trusting, falling, burrowing into the YOU that your true word speaks of.

It is resting in the not knowing,

knowing that you know.

How has he loved us?

The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.

“I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the LORD of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the LORD is angry forever.’” Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!”

– Malachi 1:1-5 (ESV)

“How have you loved us?” The answer to this question is an interesting one. God doesn’t answer by listing all the ways he has loved his people. He doesn’t talk about preserving Jacob’s family in the famine, or making Israel into a nation in Egypt, or freeing them from slavery, or giving them a land, or freeing them from Babylon. Instead, he compares them to their brother Esau. “I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated.”

What is he saying here?

Here’s what he isn’t saying: he isn’t saying that Esau is somehow worse than Jacob. Edom is not worse than Israel. But upon Israel the favor and love of the Lord has rested. “How have you loved us?” His wrath has fallen upon those outside the covenant, those outside the family. The same wrath we all deserved has not fallen upon us. There’s a bright contrast. A love so bright everything else looks like hate.

As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”

“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” And as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
we would have been like Sodom
and become like Gomorrah.”

– Romans 9:25-29 ESV

This is amazing love. Questioning it, as the questioner in Malachi has done, and as we so often do, is just a symptom of our spiritual blindness.

How has he loved us? He has loved like one who has given his life to save the life of his enemy. He has loved us like one who rushes into a burning building to save those in danger from the fire, and lets the building fall on top of him. He loves us the way a King does who adopts a poor, unlovely child no one else wants and raises her with honor and love and the rights of full inheritance.

How he has loved us!

President

This, by my friend Phil:

The term “president” was chosen by our founding fathers intentionally as one that did NOT mean “powerful.” The term had never been used of a head of state before. It originally meant “one who presides over an organized body”. It is a term akin to “moderator”. The modern American Presidency has unfortunately changed this original meaning. We now expect our “president” to be a powerful fixer, and candidates for a hundred years have fed into this. Do you know what happens to honest Presidential candidates who answer the question “What are you going to do about that?” honestly by saying, “I can’t” or “I won’t” because that’s not the president’s job? They don’t even get nominated.

I would love to have a president who had the following as his/her presidential philosophy:

  • He would do only what the Constitution says the president can do.
  • She would only engage in war if she could get a full declaration of war from the congress. Otherwise, engagement in violent activities against other countries would be reserved only for absolute emergencies (and I realize that’s a large loophole – a declaration of war would still be required after the fact).
  • He would veto any bill that had hidden in it a bunch of regulations or spending not specifically related to the bill’s purpose.
  • She would work for all the people in our country, not just those who voted for her.
  • He would set a tone that encouraged limitation of government activities and a shrinking of the cost of government.
  • She would avoid lavish vacations; of course the president needs a break now and then like all of us, but extravagant, expensive trips would not be a normal behavior, especially in hard economic times.
  • Once done with his term or terms, he would go back to a quiet private life and do something worthwhile and useful, quietly and without fanfare.

I can dream, can’t I?

“In order to make sure”

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. – Galatians 2:1-2 ESV

Paul has a sometimes deserved reputation as a firebrand,  for reasons that this very letter to the Galatians will demonstrate in a bit, but I love the humility in this passage. Paul heads back to Jerusalem with his friends (and encouragers) Barnabas and Titus for the purpose of getting his preaching and theology checked out by the other apostles. You sense a real readiness to change or adjust if he finds he has not been delivering the correct message. A spirit of respect and deference shines through in his desire to meet privately with those who were influential.

Paul knows it isn’t about him. It is about getting the message of Jesus right.

Thanking the universe

More and more I read people on social media “thanking the universe” for their new job or their new relationship, and also sometimes expressing hope that the universe will come through for them – sort of smooth their path to whatever it is they want. I’ve seen this expression way more than I’d like to in the posts and tweets of the formerly churched – and as a former student lay-minister I know a lot of formerly churched people, unfortunately.

I’m not exactly sure what’s with this, but I think it has something to do with that stubborn Imago Dei in each one of us. Reverence and loving fidelity to the God of the Bible (the giver of all good gifts) and in his only begotten Son is anathema in many of our subcultures, but that stubborn, programmed-in desire persists for something outside ourselves to worship provide help and salvation. This spiritual habit of the formerly churched doesn’t pass away easily, evidently, so perhaps re-branding its object is the path of least resistance.

I have an idealistic and at times even poetic mindset and even I know that “the universe” is for the most part a howling void that not only doesn’t care about me, it doesn’t have the ability to care about me. It is a created thing, in fact the sum of all created material; marvelous and awe-inspiring and glory-declaring but in no way, shape or form is it sentient.

One who wants to believe that there’s something in the universe to be worshiped or supplicated is obviously not a materialist but is more like a pantheist – here in the midst of our supposedly sophisticated and advanced post-modern times.

I can’t help thinking: how much more rational it is to worship and call out to the Maker of the universe rather than to what he has made?

. . .because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. – Romans 1:25 ESV