I’m still in Tolstoy’s short stories. Again, one particular sentence just struck me as perfect. So here’s the challenge: In the below comments, let’s see if we can write with similar excellence. (One sentence.)
The bonfire was extinguished, the forest no longer looked as black as before, but in the sky the stars still shone, though faintly.
Here’s my attempt: The young boy stopped running, the city moved even faster, but he still felt her hand in his, though now she did the squeezing.
If by ashamed you mean ‘to chuckle’, then “Yes” I am ashamed when I see your eyes notice all the piles as you enter my home.
Immediately to your right, you see what is quite possibly the most random pile. It consists of a bowling ball bag, winter gloves, hats, and ski goggles. You next notice a kitchen table and chairs that reorient the word ‘messy’. As you gather your bearings, you see that under the kitchen counter there is an overstuffed book shelf, upon which sit more books and beside which rest two stacks of even more books. Recoiling a bit, you scan left and conclude that there must be at least one child living here because there is a small chair surrounded by children’s books and a panda bear and a remote control car with two pony passengers. The 88-key electronic keyboard and its bench have items upon them, as does the adjacent Steinway B and the instructor’s stool. Somehow that piano’s bench is without pile.
(Before walking down the hallway you pretend not to notice one more bookshelf and end table too ceased their resistance long ago.)
If your visit surprised me, I may not have had a chance to close the bedroom doors. In my bedroom you won’t see a massive pile of clothes at the end of my bed, because it is under a king size comforter which H- recently managed to place on top.
(If she’s anything like me, carrying something that big and soft from her room to mine was probably a delightful chore.)
In disbelief as you roll your eyes, H-‘s room snags your attention. Though admittedly more pink-themed, her bedding is likewise piled on her bed, and at every spot where the walls meet the floor there are piles. They are either piles of books and papers, piles of junk, piles of stuffed animals, or they are piles of clothes. Piles, piles, piles.
Why? you wonder. Why so many piles? You speculate that surely one of the books has to include both teaching on the importance and the ‘how to’ of cleaning.
Well, you asked, so I’ll tell ya. For me, piles equal happiness. Here’s the mathematical proof. If I begin to clean my piles, I’ll eventually decide to clean H-‘s piles. Half-piles do not exist. It’s all or none. And therein lies the problem. You see, H- and I spend very little time together in this junked up home. But when we do, she behaves like a Tasmanian angel. Whether coloring books, stuffed animals, reading books, or dolls, she is constantly relocating everything as she plays inside. To suggest that she “put them away” as you might think, is not really an option she would understand. And I wouldn’t know how to answer her striving for obedience, though honestly inquisitive, response, “Where, Daddy?”
This entire situation is adorable to me. Just watching her play is endlessly fascinating. How is she determining what to play with and for how long? Does she get a thrill out of not having to “clean” like I do? I’ll never know.
Anyhow, the point is, when I’ve tried to clean these piles in the past, it’s unbearable. I cannot touch her toys without thinking of her and I cannot think of her without remembering, as strongly as fire remembers hot and as ice remembers cold, that she is not here. And I cannot think that, without being sad–very, very sad.
So I maintain piles and I maintain that piles equal happiness.
I’ve been reading Tolstoy’s shorter fiction and almost each story contains writing so good that I want to never make the attempt again. Here’s a few examples.
From The Death of Ivan Ilyich:
Ivan Ilych knows quite well and definitely that all this is nonsense and pure deception, but when the doctor, getting down on his knee, leans over him, putting his ear first higher then lower, and performs various gymnastic movements over him with a significant expression on his face, Ivan Ilych submits to it all as he used to submit to the speeches of the lawyers, though he knew very well that they were all lying and why they were lying.
From The Kreutzer Sonata:
“What is wrong with education?” said the lady, with a scarcely perceptible smile. “Surely it can’t be better to marry as they used to in the old days when the bride and bridegroom did not even see one another before the wedding,” she continued, answering not what her interlocutor had said but what she thought he would say, in the way many ladies have. “Without knowing whether they loved, or whether they could love, they married just anybody, and were wretched all their lives. And you think that was better?” she said, evidently addressing me and the lawyer chiefly and least of all the old man with whom she was talking.
From The Devil:
During coffee, as often happened, a peculiarly feminine kind of conversation went on which had no logical sequence but which evidently was connected in some way for it went on uninterruptedly.
Well done, Count.
As for myself, I had a coffee date with a young lady the other day, something I have not made an effort to do in years. As is often the case in situations like mine, I told myself that I was willing to re-enter the dating world for several clear and distinct reasons. Firstly, it is not good for the man to be alone. Secondly, the idea of sexual congress with a woman has not yet become altogether repulsive. Thirdly, and ever present, there is in me still some remnant of fire, quite incapable of scientific scrutiny, that wants to prove–or fail trying–that I might yet possess some quality desirable to a member of the fairer sex.
As for her, she was highly educated, well-spoken, and cultured. And beautiful. On these points there would be no dispute. Not wholly unlike the much publicized cases of celebrity progeny, however, her parents’ more modest wealth still seemed nearest the root of her inability to properly arrange cause and effect. On this point there may be dispute.
Today my pizza delivery adventures took me (on a delivery) to a hospital with an automated, high-tech, and brisk revolving door. *I think* this sign is supposed to warn parents that the unmanned, potentially lethal object (UPLO) may not “see” children as surely as it does us big people.
But I also couldn’t help notice that this sign looks like the famous scene from the Sistene Chapel–if viewed through the eyes of the pizza-loving, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Michelangelo.
After falling flat to his face, he did not stay down. He would not stay down. The voice was unmistakable. He knew where he had to go and he knew he must run.
The door tried to stop him but failed. Once outside he ran unbridled. First the parking lot then the field then across the river that was too wide.
Nimbly dodging any cars that refused to slow, he made it past the last man-made obstacle. Only one voice could stop him now.
Beauty was unable to keep pace.
Like the periphery that faded with focus, his memory too was stunted by his remarkable speed.
He did not hear the cheetah give up. He did not feel the eagle miss.
Eyes fixed onward and upward, he did not see the blades of grass become shards of rock or the blood with which his path now painted.
His shirt lost to the wind. He welcomed the new freedom and speed.
The rocks grew bigger as he ran higher. His hands coated the terrain with their own hue as they helped climb.
Above the clouds, the sight tripped him. He tucked, rolled, and landed in stride, not even slowing enough for sound to catch up.
Closer closer, higher higher, he bounded from one boulder to the next, leaving behind more than his mark.
All false summits forgotten, his focus sharpened for the last time. Plans filled the remaining moment.
He saw the rock. He saw color become colors. He saw round become flat. He saw smooth become textured. He saw now become ancient. He saw high become low.
His fingertips reached skyward as he powerfully planted his right foot. All creation below searched in vain to see what he grasped as he pulled himself high into the air.
Chest out, shoulders back, fists balled at the end of arms flexed behind him, his body reached its summit. He cried out one word.
As his blood-drenched toes felt the earth once again, his legs did not have the strength or desire to fight the fall. He heard his flesh smack as he crumpled to his knees.
Covering his face with his pained and bloodied hands, he sobbed.
Then he prayed like a sinner.
H- answered, “Officer Judy is from Zootopia.”
“Zootopia, eh? When were you watching that?”
“So you wake up early enough to watch movies before school when you’re at your mom’s?” I asked.
“I wake up when my alarm goes off.”
“What time does your alarm go off?”
“I go down stairs and eat breakfast and then I change clothes.”
“You change clothes downstairs? Why downstairs?”
“Well, my mom throws down my clothes, and then I put them on and watch tv until it’s time to go.”
“I see. Where is your mom while you are watching tv?”
“She’s upstairs with C-.”
“Oh,” I said, cutting myself off quickly. Unable to resist the pull to follow inquiry further, I rejoined with, “What is she doing with him?”
“I think they play with each other.”
“Hmm. What do you mean? Like play games? Maybe play video games?”
“No,” she held the note, “not video games.”
“I don’t think I understand, H-. What are they playing?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
As if Truth’s gateway, the rear-view mirror reflected that her searching eyes did not notice mine.
Finding no satisfaction, H- concluded, “More like wrestling, I think. I don’t have the word.”
But who can explain longing to my child?
The teardrop tries but fails,
For it carries many.
The silenced voice is unheard,
The pounding heart, muffled.
The knotted gut is unseen,
The lumped throat, concealed.
But who can explain longing to my child?
I could explain longing to my child,
But for it is not when I am with her.
1. Somebody once wrote (believed) that only the fool has said in his heart, “There is no Triune god.”
2. If we deny claim 1, we devalue whoever it was that wrote it (believed it) to an inhumane level.
3. A human being is more than flesh, a human being is capable of belief.
4. Therefore, (a) if we admit claim 1 above, we necessarily endow the human who wrote it with their humanity and we realize the Triune god lives.
5. Therefore, (b) the Triune god is worthy. We should glorify the Triune god.
Here’s President Obama’s self-absorbed response to Mr. Trump’s self-absorbed bombas-ticary.
Assuming you don’t have 25 minutes to spend on the above video, I’ve done my best to clarify the arguments below.
Mr. Trump is arguing that
A – American leaders need to use the label “Radical Islam” in order to stop terrorism.
B – Implicit to Mr. Trump’s argument is the argument if we don’t label the enemy accurately (know who/what the enemy is) then we cannot possibly defeat the enemy.
C – If we don’t elect Mr. Trump as president, then no one will say “Radical Islam.”
A + B + C =
D – Without using the label “Radical Islam,” we cannot defeat the enemy (whatever the enemy is).
Since B and D are the same, then Mr. Trump is using circular reasoning. All Mr. Trump has actually argued is, “Without me, we cannot defeat the enemy.”
In response, President Obama is arguing that
A – If we use the label “Radical Islam,” we don’t really mean the adjective “radical”. In other words, if we say “Radical Islam,” people only hear “Islam.”
B – Extremists successfully recruit new extremists by telling the lie to young Muslim men that the West believes Islam is the enemy.
C – If the number of extremists grows, we cannot defeat the enemy.
D – If he were to say, “Radical Islam is the enemy,” then he’d be doing the recruiting for the extremists (ISIL/ISIS).
A + B + C + D =
E – If we use the label “Radical Islam,” we cannot defeat the enemy (whatever the enemy is).
Since C and E are the same, then President Obama is likewise using circular reasoning. All President Obama has actually argued is, “Without me, we cannot defeat the enemy.”
In sum, Mr. Trump believes we must use the label “Radical Islam” to defeat the enemy and President Obama believes we must NOT use the label “Radical Islam” to defeat the enemy. But each man clearly believes that without him, the enemy cannot be defeated. Can we agree that besides being self-absorbed and redundant, their argument is depressing?
For a different, encouraging argument, try mine.
I am arguing that,
A – I wanted to fight or I did fight terrorism (Wait. Terrorism? Who are we kidding? We’re at war with Allah) with violence from Sept. 11, 2001 until March 1, 2012.
B – It’s now 2016. 4 years after stepping off the violent path, it is apparent that terrorism (Allah) is still a growing threat.
C – Terrorism (Allah) cannot be defeated by violence because it is an idea.
D – Only ideas can defeat ideas.
E – Due to internal inconsistencies not much different than President Obama and Mr. Trump’s circular reasoning, neither naturalism, nor deism, nor Buddhism, nor scientism, nor atheism, nor Mormonism, nor Tom Cruise-ism, nor patriotism, nor nationalism, nor globalism can defeat terrorism (Allah).
A + B + C + D + E =
F – Christianity’s Triune God, in all of His mystery (tell me again, how was Jesus fully human and fully divine at the same time?), in all of His reality (the concrete resurrection of Jesus as proclaimed by the New Testament writers and its subsequent 2000 year witness of manifest grace) is the only idea that can defeat terrorism (Allah).
In other words, A + B + C + D + E =
F – We can defeat terrorism (Allah). And we can defeat terrorism (Allah) without me! We just need to submit ourselves to the will of Christianity’s Triune God.
In sum, my argument (Christianity’s argument), unlike Mr. Trump and President Obama, is, “Without me, the enemy can be defeated”–emphasis on “the enemy can be defeated” and “without me.” There is hope people. His name is Jesus.
Do you see?
Last week I found myself in a fairly odd conversation with a nonChristian friend. For good reason, he has been hired to advise preachers how to keep Christians in church. Naturally, this is something we seminarians talk about in class all the time. I say naturally to both illustrate that the seminary is fully aware of the reality that many, many “Christians” are leaving their churches, and also to own up to the interrelated facts that most seminary students are hoping for a professional career in ministry after graduation and that they see that the future isn’t exactly promising.
Church attendance is clearly down in America; that’s just a fact. My problem with this is that my conversations with nonChristians have led me to believe that I think they are rejecting Christianity for invalid reasons. These reasons stem from simple ignorance about the purpose of church attendance all the way to people claiming that they are so educated, so informed, so wise that they can see all the holes in church and Christianity.
As a white American, as a firm believer that Christianity is the only religion that is true, and as a seminary student, I am most concerned with your soul. If you’re reading this blog, chances are that you’re white and not exactly impoverished. Chances are you’re not a Christian. Chances are you used to attend church. And chances are you stopped believing for weak reasons. Spending eternity in hell because you didn’t bother to investigate why The Da Vinci Code is fiction, or because you can’t see how evolution and Genesis aren’t at odds is unconscionable to me.
Bluntly, I am most concerned with heaven and hell. The Bible makes it clear that hell is a reality. Some people are going to end up there. My goal is to ensure that no one is surprised upon their arrival. So what follows is my best attempt to give you as many valid reasons to spend eternity in hell as I have developed over the last two semesters in a Masters of Divinity curriculum. I can only think of two so far. I’m sure I’ll share more as I discover them.
First: You are not a sinner. Hear me clearly. I am not saying that a valid reason to reject Christianity is that you do not believe in the Christian doctrine of “sin.” That would merely be circular reasoning. However, I am saying that once you understand the Christian doctrine of “sin,” if you believe you are not a sinner, then you have no reason to convert. So don’t.
Second: You serve a god that is more powerful than the triune God. Again, hear me clearly. When surveying some Roman Catholic theology, I came across the idea that it seems to be impossible to believe that Jesus of Nazareth concretely rose from the dead after his crucifixion and then not convert to Christianity. Put another way, I recently wrote to a friend, “I am not expecting you to convert, I am asking you to admit that the historical record demonstrates that Christianity began because Jesus of Nazareth actually rose from the dead.” (I wrote this because I do agree with my Catholic brother and do want my friend to convert).
All this to express that if I was asked to figure out a way to prove the Catholic theologian’s assessment that 100%-of-people-who-believe-the-resurrection-occurred-are-Christians is wrong, the only idea that I can come up with is the following. If a person believes that Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead, but that the triune God which this event reveals is actually not the most powerful God, then don’t serve the triune God. Again, if you serve a god that is more powerful than the triune God, there is no reason to convert. So don’t.
I left Christianity because of misinformation and misunderstanding. I also left because white suburbanites drive me crazy. These days I’m better informed and white suburbanites still drive me crazy.
If you left because of white suburbanites, it’s time to reconsider. If you left because no one could or would answer your questions, it’s time to reconsider. If you left because you doubt God still exists, it’s time to reconsider. If you left because you doubt the triune God is powerful enough to forgive you, it’s time to reconsider.
Maybe all of this is simply the result of spending a lot of time on Psalms 26 and 27 recently. So be it. But in Psalm 26 we discover God has unfailing love and that God is faithful. The triune God does not break his promise or his character. And Psalm 27 tells us, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.”