You remember the story of Elijah on Mt. Carmel, right?
You know, when Elijah poured a bunch of water on the altar, then called down fire from heaven that consumed pretty much everything.
Well, what you may not have realized is that Elijah was actually just grilling up a few steaks.
Couple of ribeyes and a t-bone to be exact.
In one of my favorite episodes of The Office Michael Scott explained why presents are so great….
Presents are the best way to show someone how much you care. It is like this tangible thing that you can point to and say “Hey man, I love you this many dollars-worth.”
There’s an awesome birthday card that plays this quote whenever you open the card.
I got it for my wife one year. She loved it. Which is a big reason why I love her.
Anyway, it looks like Michael Scott went into the church signage business after he left Dunder-Mifflin…..
As I’m always welcoming new people to the blog I sometimes like to revisit an old post or two that sparked a good conversation, but may have been missed by those who weren’t around when it was originally posted. Today I’m finishing up my last paper for the semester. So here’s a post from the vault about learning to live in the tension of the unanswered.
The more I read the Bible the less convinced I am that it was created to be an answer book.
That’s not to say we can’t find answers to life’s questions in the Bible, but I’m increasingly less convinced that the purpose of the Bible is to be an answer book, or perhaps more precisely, a reference book we can turn to to prove our point or prove others wrong.
Obviously, there are any number of passages that we can use as proof texts to make whatever case we’re trying to make. To be fair, sometimes that is a completely valid thing to do. But I think the Bible is more interested in asking questions than it is providing definitive answers.
From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is a collection of questions, questions, and more questions.
Am I my brother’s keeper? – Cain
Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt? – Moses
My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? – David
What strength do I have that I should still hope? – Job
How long oh Lord, must I call for your help? – Habakkuk
Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey him? – The Disciples
Who do you say that I am? – Jesus
What does this mean? – Disciples at Pentecost
These are questions that the people of God continue to ask today, which I think is wonderful, not because it means we haven’t found “sufficient answers”, but because it makes the Bible more “real” and in turn it becomes that much more relatable and applicable.
If the Bible were nothing more than a collection of perfect people who always had quick, easy answers to all of their problems it would be completely unapproachable because we would have no way to connect to those sorts of stories. Instead, what we encounter are people not that unlike ourselves who live lives just as difficult and flawed as our own. Like our own lives, these Biblical characters struggle to find the answers they are looking for.
While some of us find beauty in this openendedness, fundamentalism cowers before it in fear. In their never-ending pursuit of control, fundamentalists, like Job’s friends, demand and then provide final, absolute, and exhaustive answers to any and every question they encounter even when God doesn’t seem to do so.
They do this because they fear unanswered questions. They fear unanswered questions because they refuse to relinquish even the slightest bit of control over their faith, their life, or even God. It is this refusal to live with the unanswered that leads to so much unnecessary conflict, division, and condemnation in the church.
The irony, of course, is that the control which fundamentalism demands is both impossible to possess and antithetical to a faith who’s oldest hymn describes a Savior who’s Lordship is defined by relinquishing control.
But I am convinced that the Bible’s openended questions are something to embrace, rather than fear.
They remind us that the Bible was not written directly by the hand of God. After all, why would God ask so many question God already knows the answer to? Instead, what we witness is a God who has invited God’s people to participate in God’s redemptive work in the world.
In turn, this combination of human participation and unanswered questions allows us to continue participating today in the answering of these important questions while also continuing to ask more questions of our own.
Over time we discover some of the answers to these questions, but this isn’t an invitation to answer every question or solve every case. It’s an invitation to live in the tension of the unanswered, the only place where true growth and discovery can occur.
Having prepackaged answers to everything stunts our growth, while also arrogantly and naively assuming to comprehend the incredible complexity and diversity of the human experience.
Allowing life’s most difficult questions to be unresolved allows us to honor the complexity and diversity of our lives and in so doing begin to address those questions in a more honest and effective way. It allows us to grow into the people God created to be, rather than artificially forcing us into a form God very well may never have intended us to fit into.
To borrow an old movie cliche, rather than using the Bible as a quick reference answer book, I think we should use it “ask the right questions”. Even in doing so, we may not always find the answers or if we do they may not be answers we like, but by learning learning to ask questions, rather than forcing out answers from every page of the Bible we join in the tradition of God’s people who’s relationship with God is, in so many ways, defined by their/our questions. In other words, we become who we have always been.
Once again, I do not say all of this to imply that the Bible doesn’t contain “answers” to the questions we have in life. However, we must be extremely careful in how we glean those answers, for more often than not I am afraid those “answers” tend to be our own creation, rather than the voice of God.
Answer are good, but often times questions are even better. Answers leave us as stagnant, preformed people. Questions allow our relationship with God to be dynamic, open, and honest.
God doesn’t fear our questions. No one in the Bible is ever condemned for asking God questions. Even Jesus asked questions! If anything, the Bible’s immense collection of questions should tell us that God welcomes questions with open arms.
So, don’t be afraid to ask questions. And when you find the courage to ask questions, never stop asking them. It’s ok to ask difficult questions about the Bible. God doesn’t fear your tough questions. And it’s even ok to critique the Bible.
Because as soon as we question or critique God and the Bible, they will turn around and do the same to us. And that is a very good thing. For like Moses or the 12 apostles, it is out of that exchange that we grow into the people God created us to be.
Grace and peace,
You may recall that I started writing a monthly faith and politics column called Church & State for the good folks at A Deeper Story.
If you forgot, don’t worry. So did I. Which is why I didn’t write a Church & State post last month.
Well, I got my act together this month and remembered to write my column.
This month’s post is called “The Problem Of Evil Is Hanging In Your Closet.”
Check out a preview below, then click through to read the rest of the post and find out why your closet may be scarier than you realized.
In the midst of all the scandalous news surrounding the IRS, Benghazi, and AP phone records, chances are you’ve already forgotten about the clothing factory collapse in Bangladesh. Between a 24-hour news cycles and our natural penchant for news that directly affects our lives, it’s really no surprise this story has all but disappeared from the news cycle.
But therein lies the problem.
That clothing factory collapse on the other side of the world is actually more directly connected to your life and my life than any of those other high profile American-centric stories.
Because the clothing factory in Bangladesh collapsed because of what is hanging in our closets.
After 2,000 years of refusing to take a political side, Jesus has finally given his endorsement to a mayoral candidate in North Miami.
And you can trust this is true because politicians would never use faith to win votes.
Also, there’s a picture of Jesus on the flyer so you know it’s legit.
UPDATE: If, like me, you were wondering what “Suk Sou Bonbon” was all about, here’s your answer. It’s a song she wrote and the video is pretty amazing.(Thanks to my friend Adam for the heads up!)
If you feel the urge to do a little evangelism on your local college campus, there are plenty of YouTube videos available to show you how not to do it.
To save you the time of watching them, I’ll go ahead and tell you, they’re all the same – someone screaming at college students, telling them they’re all going to hell.
While, that’s one approach, here’s another.
And I kinda like it.
Not because I have plans to grab my own “Jesus Talk” t-shirt and set up shop on Yale’s campus, but because I appreciate this guy demonstrating that not all Christians who want to share their faith are completely bonkers.
BY DANIELLE KELLEY
LSU student writer
“Jesus Talk” is emblazoned across his T-shirt.
Thousands of LSU students pass him daily in Free Speech Plaza, where the rules are simple: Say whatever you want, however you want to say it.
Political groups stand by colorful tri-fold boards. Volunteer groups lure students with free coozies, pens and T-shirts. Planned Parenthood offers free condoms. Students for Life hands out flyers. The occasional traveling preacher and his uniformed family shout threats of hellfire.
But Jesus Talk — as one man’s commonly known by students — is different.
He sits stoically at the end of the alley on a cushioned, fold-up, metal chair and speaks only when spoken to.
His chair faces a matching seat with a laminated paper bearing the words, “Prayer requests questions?? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org”.
Sometimes, his bespectacled eyes dart across newspapers and books. His wrinkled hands swim through puzzles. Relaxed in his open-air office, he prays and observes the young adults chatting, texting and darting in and out of the shade of the stately oaks.
But most of the time, Ivan Imes talks about Jesus.
“The key is, I never approach anybody,” Imes said. “They have to approach me.”
Not being homeless there are a lot of basic things I take for granted in life; like a hot shower, a bed to sleep in, a clean change of clothes, or a mailing address to use when I’m applying for a new job.
Another thing I can add to that list which, to be honest, never really crossed my mind before yesterday is a haircut.
A haircut is a pretty simple thing that I think a lot of us take for granted or perhaps even see as something of a luxury. But think about why you get a haircut in the first place. Is there some element of vanity is all of it? Sure, but try going several months or even years without getting your hair cut, let it get good and shaggy like it hasn’t seen a comb that entire time, then try applying for a new job and you’ll quickly see just how important that haircut really is.
But “proper” appearance for job interviews aside, a new haircut makes us feel good about ourselves, it gives us a sense of a fresh start, and for someone who may not have experienced either of those emotions in a long time, a hair can nothing short of a godsend.
Which is I was so happy when I stumbled across the story of Anthony Cymerys, or as he’s better known as “Joe the Barber.”
Cymerys is an 82 year old retired barber who got inspired by a sermon preached at his church many years ago.. For the past quarter of a century he has gathered together his barber supplies, grabbed a car battery to power his clippers, and setup his barber chair (a lawn chair) in the open air of Bushnell Park in Hartford, Connecticut.
Every Wednesday for the past quarter of a century he has cut hair. For free. For anyone who might need it.
All Cymerys asks in return is a hug so he show his “customers” that he loves them.
Now, I know it’s easy to be cynical about an old man handing out hugs in a public park, but frankly if that’s your response to this story you can take it somewhere else because I’m not interested.
What I am interested in is the sort of genuine love for neighbor it takes for someone to return week after week, year after year, decade after decade to serve their community, to offer a simple helping hand to those the rest of drive by and go out of our way to ignore.
Sure, this isn’t the traditional feeding of the hungry, giving the clothes off your back, or visiting someone in prison. What this is is a man looking at the gifts he has been given and finding a way to use them to serve others in need.
It’s a simple, but genuine act of selfless love.
It’s a holy haircut.
Over the next several months, probably longer, I’ll be going out of my way to highlight moments like these because they perfectly capture the sort of holy living I’m trying to describe in my upcoming book, The Scandal of Holiness (due this September). It is this sort of simple, but creative, boundary crossing love that I think perfectly captures the sort of holiness embodied by Jesus. It’s a more authentic version of holiness than the sort of legalism many of us have experienced. More importantly, it’s a form of holiness that not only can each of us actually live out, it’s one which we must live out if are really going to be followers of Jesus.
So, for the near future I want to highlight holy moments like these and I ask that if any of these moments cross your path, please share them with me.
Because as a church, we need examples like Joe the Barber to remind us what it looks like to be the holy people of God in an unholy world.
We need these reminders because the simple, but tragic reality is that there is something holier going on in Bushnell Park on Wednesday afternoons, than there is in many of our churches on Sunday mornings.
This must change.
Grace and peace,
Hilarious or horrible?