Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Jack 101: Unconventional Trip Preparation

I saw this helpful little presentation a few weeks back called "The Art of Packing" from the kind folks at Louis Vuitton.  (Don't ask.)  I guess they feel guilty about liberating 3,000 clams from you in exchange for a loud vinyl gym bag.  They're trying to give something back, man.  I digress.

Hey, stuffing junk into a bag is not as intuitive as you'd think.

Jack's packing up several times a day now to go "camping."  We've no idea where he got this idea from, as per usual.  Majesty won't be caught dead in a tent unless it's pitched inside a chilled and tastefully appointed hotel room.  I can take it or leave it.  It helps to have (1) a place nearby featuring nice weather in which to camp and (2) people that would likely go with you if you ever found such a place.  So let's see... that's a no, and er, another no.

But Jack's gearing up for his trip to Nowheresville anyway.  He stuffs a spare (adult-sized) orange daypack chock full, adds a black duffel that nobody ever uses over his shoulder and parades around like he's on safari in 1926.  Minus the pith helmet.  Because he left that at Grammy and Grandpa's.  Seriously.

LV notwithstanding, Jack has his own method of packing up.

If you're almost four, are intent on blowing town, and/or are certifiably crazy, here is your official packing list:
1.  13 T-shirts
Thirteen.  Apparently he's planning on either sweating a lot or eating plenty of oatmeal.  Or both.
2.  1 pair of shorts
That's faith, right there.
3.  1 pair of underwear
...and THAT'S faith to move mountains.
4.  Caroline's pacifier and clip
Was wondering where that went.  And uh, it's getting a bit weird, Jack.
5.  Spider-Man jammies
I totally get this.
6.  Paper towels
Unconventional, but practical.  Well played, sir.
Last night, Majestad was narrating as she unloaded his wares.  "There.  There's your blog post, right there."

Thanks, babe.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Quick Update Written out of Pure Guilt

I've already burned all this week's writing time on the last post.  But I feel compelled to provide a quick family update so nobody forgets who we are and whatever is going down over here.


Caroline looks more grown up every day.  Yesterday it was just striking how much she had changed.  Or maybe I'm just not paying attention.  That's a possibility.

We've got quite the little relationship going on, we two.  I can gawk at her from across a room and get a coy little smile back.  Irritates Majesty to no end.  "I'm the one that gets up with her three times a night!" she says.  Tough cookies, I say, while reminding her that Jack didn't have any use for me for about a year there in aught-8 or aught-9.  Doesn't really help.

Have I mentioned the littlebitty gal is LOUD?  I mean, deafeningly loud.  Horn on a cruise ship loud.  Neon green socks loud.  Everyone's got a talent, I suppose.

We're trying to keep Jack entertained and constructive this summer.  Despite no school.  Despite all the rain.  When it's not raining, mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds fly around like CIA drones.  But I'm not complaining, since my trees are all alive and well less than 12 months after the worst drought in Texas history.  The pool remains open for SCOOOBA DIVING, Jack says.

We just returned from a little family get-together this past weekend in Dallas.  It was particularly great seeing all the cousins and half cousins and cousins in laws and relations of every other sort.  It's something that we don't do enough.  My 1st cousin Kelly and her hubby Bill were good enough to let us invade and almost completely destroy crash at their place.

My side of the family lives generally in Texas, but as most know, the state's sort of a big place.  A few of us live over 9 hours apart.  Theoretically, I could fly to London before my car could hit the Lubbock city limits.  Dallas still evokes some pretty strong memories for me, and simply driving through it feels just plain weird.  Hard to believe we've been gone over five years, now.  The weather was great, no matter what anyone tells you.  When we hit town, it was 107 degrees.  And it felt GREAT.  I'm telling you, for us it was like being in Phoenix.  SWEAT ACTUALLY EVAPORATES AS ORIGINALLY INTENDED.

We had it in our minds to visit Wild About Harry's, the most ridiculously good frozen custard/hot dog joint in the known universe.  A Captain America milkshake was in my future, I thought.  Didn't happen, as we bolted town just a hair bit too early and the chilrun were already settled in on the drive.  Ah well, next time.  But I say that every time.

Next business trip up there, I'm hiring a cab and going, even if I miss my flight.  I'll post pictures of me in a dark suit by the giant (smiling) hot dog outside.

Some day, H.M. and I will sneak into town and spend an entire opulent weekend hitting every awesome restaurant up there that we miss.

Uh, assuming they're still open.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Very Large Question

Ron asked a question about my post from last week.  A really, really big question.  It’s one that deserves an answer.
I don't understand why Jesus' death was 'necessary'. It seems like an extremely cruel act just to get our attention. Not that there is any shortage of cruelty in the Bible condoned or ordered by God. How do you explain all this to the layman?
This covers a lot of theological ground.  For Christians, it covers nearly all of our theology, in fact.  I’ll do my best to be concise and hopefully clear.*  A quick caveat, too:  I’m just a schmoe with a (non-religious) desk job, and by any definition a true “layperson.”  I won’t parse that definition here, but I will say that Protestantism generally obliges even ordinary folks to have Christian doctrine down cold, and to be able (and willing) to teach it to others.  Here we go.

For the sake of argument (and time), we’ll assume that there is a thing called ‘sin,’ and there’s clear, objective, knowable right and wrong (truth), and that God has communicated truth/morality/what he wants from us via the Bible.  For some that’s a lot to swallow, but this isn’t the place to take on apologetics and Postmodernism and relativism and all that.

If you sin, you’ve broken God’s rules, transgressed against his law, done evil/wrong, or however you want to phrase that.

The Bible says sin is punishable by death.  “For the wages of sin is death,” Paul says in Romans 6.  There are many more, like Ezekiel 18:20.  (“The soul who sins is the one who will die,” which isn’t really arguing this point but it’s certainly implied.)  Sin equals death.  
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.  – James 2:10
It gets worse.  You sin once, you’ve broken the whole law, and… wait for it… you die.  We’re talking about any sin.  Let that one soak.  Every sin is a capital offense.  You swear when you stump your big toe.  You sucker punch a guy in a fistfight.  You imagine what a chick at the grocery store would look like naked.  You fudge your taxes.

So you’ve broken the law.  What now?

Well God, we find out in the Bible, is loving and forgiving and patient (1 John 4:8, Ephesians 4:32, 2 Peter 3:9, oodles more).  Finally we get some good news!  But what many forget is that he’s also imminently just and fair (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, Romans 2:11, many more).  That is, he’s not your favorite uncle that smiles and slips you the occasional twenty and doesn’t know or care what you do.  He’s the arbiter and judge of right and wrong.  When sin happens, it’s a slight against him personally.  (In an interesting twist, and in case you were headed there already, God simply letting all sin or even some sins slide would be patently unjust and unfair, would it not?)

Assuming we don’t want to get crosswise with the Creator of, well, everything, how do we make sin right with God?  How do we fix our mess?  The short answer is that we can’t.  What can we give God?  Money?  Nope (various groups have tried almost exactly this to predictably awful results).  Doing good deeds?  Or just plain obedience?  Can you obey your way into goodness?  Nah, that’s really only not sinning – and it doesn’t square what you’ve already done.  And besides, you can’t obey perfectly all the time.  You cannot avoid sinning indefinitely.

So we’ve got a huge problem.  And we can’t fix it.

Early on, the Bible gives a hint as to an incredibly valuable substance that can actually pay for sin:  blood.  Don’t ask me, “Why blood?,” because I don’t know why.  Genesis 9:4 says, “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”  Later on, while we’re hearing more dietary laws, this time for the Israelites, Leviticus 17:14 is particularly direct:  “…[T]he life of every creature is its blood. That is why I have said to the Israelites, 'You must not eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is its blood; anyone who eats it must be cut off.'" There’s something special going on there.  The way to pay for sin, apparently, is through blood sacrifice.  It's a good explanation for why we see the incredibly detailed regulations about animal sacrifice under the Law of Moses.  To modern sensibilities it all sounds off-putting, but hang with me for a minute.

So the people sacrificed animals for hundreds and hundreds of years.  But we’re told that it never did them much good.  The animals didn’t have any idea what they were dying for, and the people that actually did the sinning generally got off scot-free.  The next year, they would do it all over again.
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. – Hebrews 10:1-4
Yet another problem.  Animals weren’t cutting it.  We needed a better sacrifice.

Sacrifices had to be perfect.  The animals couldn’t be lame, or blind, or injured.  They were the best of the best.  And blood-wise, your only step-up option from sacrificing an animal is to sacrifice a person.  But again, we’ve got a bit of a problem.  There are no perfect people walking around.  That’s sort of the point.

The Bible argues that because Jesus, God’s son, was deity, and yet was human at the same time, he could and did live perfectly (i.e. he didn’t sin).  Christ, and Christ alone could be that perfect sacrifice to finally, truly, fully pay for all sins.  For all time.  For everybody.  More from Hebrews 10: 
 ...[W]e have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.  Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.
In other words, we finally got the only sacrifice that would do us any good.  If you believe that Jesus was who he said he was, then he’s able to take care of the sin that animal sacrifices couldn’t.  There’s no more need of a sin sacrifice.  Ever.  We were under sin’s control, and we were bought back at incredible cost (“redeemed” is the proper term).  Now we belong to God again.

So we can be saved, because our sin has been paid for.  But hold on.  We’re not righteous (i.e. square with God) because we did anything great, or because we gave God anything of value.  We’re righteous because of what Jesus did on the cross.  We can “use” Jesus’ righteousness, if we’re in him.  Paul sums this up in really gorgeous language:
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.  He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. –Romans 3:21-26
So no, Jesus’s death wasn’t a morbid stunt to get humanity’s attention.  It was the completion of God's plan to reconcile humanity back to himself.  A plan, the Bible says, laid out before the founding of the world itself.  That one should really bake your noodle.  Does mine.

Another summary, this time from Peter:
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.  He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.  Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. – 1 Peter 1:18-21
But I’d be an idiot if I didn’t say that all this is academic if you don’t do something with it.

If you haven’t become a believer in Jesus by turning your back on sin and by being baptized into his name (thus participating in his atoning death, and even better, in his resurrection, Romans 6:1-14, Acts 2:37-39, Acts 8:26-40), then this is meaningless to you, and you’re on the outside looking in.  There’s no nicer way to put it.  And there’s nobody else to fix the fix you’re in.

The idea isn't complex, but it is hard.   And it’s a lot to think about.  Anyway, I hope this is helpful in your journey.

*Cruelty/violence/unpalatable stuff in the Bible (a.k.a. “The Problem of Evil,” etc.), its origin, and exactly who’s behind it is an altogether separate issue that I’ll skip for the time being.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Epicurus and the Centurion

You know how radio hosts will toss out an old pre-recorded show on the days when they're sunning themselves in Maui?  Today is a bit like that.  Except for the Maui part.

So it's another transcript, this one from about a month ago.  I hope you like it.  More than that, I hope it's genuinely helpful.  No, really.  I ran across a quote yesterday that really struck me.  It's like so:
"Vain is the word of that philosopher which does not heal any suffering of man."  -Epicurus, 4th Century BCE
June 17th, 2012
I love watching thunderstorms.  I grew up east of Dallas, and these huge thunderstorms would come out of West Texas in the afternoons when it was just appallingly hot, and they would pound everything with rain and wind and hail and there would be lightning and thunder and tornadoes.

I just loved it.  Still do.

I don’t get to watch storms anymore, really.  And they’re different here.  But as it happens, I got to watch the big storm we had here on the Tuesday when the family was over in Alabama.  I just stood there in my dining room and looked out on our back yard and I watched the sheets of rain come in, and saw my trees whip around and twist.  The rain was so thick that it whited out the green of the trees.  It was amazing.  I read later that the wind got up to about 80mph, just over Cat 1 hurricane strength.

About the time I thought, “Wow, this is great!” the biggest tree in our back yard, this huge water oak, comes down right in front of me, about 40 or 50 feet away.  At the time, I was trying to think about what to talk with everybody about during the approaching Sunday’s communion service.  (This will be a little disjointed, so hang with me.)

It occurred to me, I didn’t have anything to do with that storm.  I didn’t do anything to make it happen.  I didn’t say anything to bring it on.  It was weather; it just happened.  And I watched it.  I was a bystander.

It got me thinking about one guy in the Bible specifically, a person that really intrigues me.  One day, he had a very different experience with weather – and with the world itself.  He was a Roman soldier.  The Bible further tells us he was a centurion, so he had some measure of authority.  And on this particular day, he was tasked with commanding the detail that would execute this Jewish rabbi agitator person.  Now I don’t know if he knew who Jesus was beforehand or not.  It doesn’t really matter.

While he was doing his job, and the three soldiers with him were doing theirs, some very strange things started to happen.  At some point, it got dark.  It got dark in the middle of the day.  It got dark in the middle of the day for three hours.  From about noon to three o’clock, we're told.  Luke says that the “sun’s light failed,” which is a really spooky way to render it.  

The centurion saw that.  How could he not?  Later on there was an earthquake, and the centurion certainly felt that.  It was so explosive that it split rocks open – I think we’re talking about boulders and such, here – and the centurion saw that, too.  He was close enough to hear everything that Jesus said, and what was said to him.  Other things were happening that maybe he heard about as well.  There were reports of dead people coming out of the cemeteries, the tombs, or about the big curtain in the temple ripping from top to bottom.  Maybe he heard about all that, too.

But at some point during that day, I think there was a moment where he realized that he wasn’t just a spectator in what was happening.  He realized that, either directly or indirectly, he was causing it.  He was causing the sun to not shine, causing earthquakes to happen.  And that’s a frightening way to experience the world.  I think I know all this because  of what Matthew tells us:  “Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’”  Mark puts it a little differently, with the centurion himself as the speaker, and that he “was facing [Jesus].”  Looking right at him.  Luke gives it yet another way, telling us that “[the centurion] praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent,’” or some versions have “was a righteous man.”  The KJV says he “glorifed God” when he said this.

I find the centurion really interesting for a lot of reasons, but I’ll just give you a few.  First, he’s a really good vantage point from which to see the crucifixion.  You can stand right there and experience it with him.  You can stand with him and see what it all must have looked like up close.

But the centurion plays this really negative role in the execution.  He’s giving the order for the death of Jesus.  You can’t get much closer to having blood on your hands than that.  And at the same time, we can stand there with the centurion, just as guilty as he is for causing Jesus’ death.  Our sin made the crucifixion necessary.  Again, a very negative role to play.  But almost at the same moment, the centurion plays a very positive role in what’s happening.  He sees all that goes on, he sees the signs, the wonders, what’s said, how Jesus dies, and as Luke puts it, he “praises God.”

What exactly did he do?  Well, he simply told the truth.  He said Jesus was an innocent man.  A righteous man.  He says then that Jesus was the son of God.  And we can participate in the same way.  We can, in our own lives, tell the truth about what Jesus was, and is, and will be.  About his perfect life, about his death, and about how he lives still, offering salvation for each of us.  We praise and glorify God when we do this.

Note:  I wish we knew more about the centurion.  I like to think he became a believer.  Chrysostom has a late (4th century) account that he did just that.  Some churches sainted him as “Longinus,” a Latinisation of the Greek word for "spear" or "lance," λόγχη.  That’s probably direct confirmation that that wasn’t his name (it would be like calling him “Commander Spearman”).  In the legends, the soldier that pierced Jesus’ side is identified as the centurion himself, but it’s unclear if they were the same man.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Thoughts on Approaching the Number Four

Little Caroline doesn't get her share of press around here.  That's to be expected, since she doesn't talk or walk or sit up on her own yet.  Mastery of your own body gets you more publicity.  That should change as she grows, but Jack's sort of the easier subject to write about because of the whole (mostly?) rational interaction thing.

I mean, The Dude does interviews and stuff.

So Caroline's lack of coverage round here won't change with this post.  But you probably should expect it to soon.

I was thinking the other day about Jack pushing up on the four (FOUR!) year mark and the things he's taught me.  In no particular order, and off the top of my head at this very minute, a few lessons Jack E. Coyote, SUPER GENIUS, has helped teach his old dad:

Absolutely anyone is approachable.  I would have rather chewed my own hand off than go up to strangers 4 years ago.  Now we willingly interact, for fun.  For fun, I tell you.  Okay, so Jack still usually takes the lead.  What of it?

Whatever it is you've got going in Superduper Important Adult Land, gushing blood, uncontained poopy, and bouts of The Throwups take priority.  The presentation can wait.  Roll up those French cuffs and get to scrubbing, pal.

It's important to mark the little firsts.  We bigger people fool with our iWhatever and fritter moments away without even noticing.  First banana split.  First time watching The Rabbit of Seville.  First time getting a shirt buttoned BY YOURSELF.  First real deal, sticky floor, guy talking behind you movie theater trip.  I think that accentuating the small helps delineate the large later on.  If that makes sense.

Discipline teaches us as much as it does the little people.  Probably even more.  You can explain in great detail (charts and graphs available upon request) why you're absolutely livid at a person that has been alive less than 48 months.  You can be righteously indignant, and turn red in the face and threaten to strangle them with their little backpack straps.  But none of that matters two bits.

The bad stuff can be tempered by adding just a little good stuff.  So that Mary Poppins chick beat me to this.  You put a little sweet potato on the same forkful as the asparagus.  If you can sprinkle even a little enjoyment in with the daily grind, you'll end up okay.

We are just as scared and insecure as kids are.  We just have way cooler names for it all and have better defense mechanisms.  Seriously, I've seen grown men that live in more fear than Jack ever has.

It's no accident that the Lord uses kiddos as illustrations.  Trust me, becoming like little children is different after you've actually lived with the little turkeys.  And with children, God also illustrates our relationship to him... and exactly who knows what the score is.  Sometimes Jack screws up his face and says "I'M BAAAAD!  I'M A BAAAAD GUY NOW!"  I know he doesn't really want to be bad or evil, because he knows nothing of what that even means.  He's a sweet little maniac.   But I wonder if God looks at me when I'm sinning and shakes his head, just like I do at Jack.  "Little idiot."

If patience was easy, it wouldn't be a virtue.  I'm terrible at patience.  Terrible, terrible, terrible.  But am I less terrible than I was about 4 years ago?  Don't answer that.  Seriously, shut up.

Now, keep squarely in mind that none of this intended as AHA!  I've now conquered that whole patience/selflessness thing.  Child's play, really!  Nah, we're still working on all of this yonk, and will be for decades hence, I'm sure.  All of us will.

But I have to think that the (at times) supreme irritant that kids can be is all part of some bigtime pearl making.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Merica and the War Against (Mosquito) Tyranny

I'm typing on the incredibly useful Blogger's Drug/Stimulant Cocktail of Champions today (4 espressos, sugar, my very favorite Schedule III opiate) so who knows what you'll get.  I don't even know what language this is in.  Woke up with a wee headache during the night and tried feebly to sleep it off.

The mosquito that was buzzing loudly in my right ear, and then in my left, had other plans.

Listen, swatting your ears repeatedly (with murder in your heart) to crush a tiny, cursed, undead? parasite that lives only to feed off the living isn't great for the pain in your head.  Finally, after downing some meds and getting pretty darned irritated overall, I went to my garage at about 4:30am.  I found my bug spray.  I applied said bug spray.  I stumbled back to bed.  Really, I did this.

How bad is the mosquito problem in Houston?  WEARING MOSQUITO REPELLANT IN BED, THAT'S HOW BAD.

Was the fresh tropical scent (in our non greasy formula!) wafting from my side of the cama pretty appealing?  Sure it was.  But I'm getting quotes to mount DDT misters on each of our four bedposts anyway.  Pretty reasonable prices so far.

Silver lining:  I can only IMAGINE the trippy vision quest that little sucker took when she got hold of my sauced-up blood.  I'll bet she saw Hendrix's entire Woodstock performance flash backwards before her little bug eyes.

I know it's not August, and in all deference to the Dog Star, the dog days of Summer are already here.  Jack and I are swimming a lot, and looking like idiots in our swim goggles.  We bob in and out of the water like we're looking for apples.  We wave at each other's little gomer glasses under the water.  Again, like idiots.

There's nothing else to do.

Majesty cooked some ribs (usually my purview) on the 4th, along with fresh green beans and corn.  She cut up a watermelon.  She made buttermilk pie.  Why?  Cause it's Merica, that's why.  And in Merica, you eat Merican.

Disturbing fact:  her ribs were far superior than mine.  In about a third of the time.  Don't tell her any of that.