Not So Much a Warning Sign

Greetings to all who enter.

I read a disheartening article recently, having already had my fill of heartening ones.  The article told the story of a former pastor who decided to try a year as an atheist in order to get his feet wet and then weigh in on the decision one year later.  As you might have noticed, your old hardcopy calendar has made you a day early for all your appointments and is woefully inaccurate in its moon cycles, meaning that this new year is already upon us and our friend the pastor has reached his decision.  Hold onto your keyboards, folks, for he has chosen atheism.

I’m sure that by now you’re reading on a newly purchased smart phone or computer, having thrown your old one across the room in absolute shock at the statement.  A person can give up faith for a year and then not be immediately redrawn to it once the ball has dropped? It is a true and sincere decision, and I mean him no disrespect for I am willing to grant that it was through much soul-searching and trial that his conclusion was reached (though, to be honest, soul-searching might not be the most accurate term for a new atheist. Mind-crunching? Oh, well).   I understand his decision and I pray for true repentance, but at the same time this was hardly a curve ball to someone who understands our role in the great cosmic caper of salvation.  I hope to show that this man’s ultimate decision was not made on January 1st, 2014 and that it was all but set in stone on January 1st, 2013, the year before he entered into his transformation cocoon (I’m really trying to supplant soul-searching with a more secular frame of reference. Not there yet.).

I want to lay out a road map first for where I’m going to be getting my terms, just to make sure we end up in the same theater together. The largest swatch of articles that you find online that cover this story are going to be painting tones in the secular view (we can say atheist in the truest sense of the word). That’s not an indictment, it’s just a matter of fact.  When you write a story while intently trying not to take a side, then you have in reality taken a side that is at odds with someone. There’s more than one color to paint a room, and a wholly Christian understanding of a story must take into account Christian beliefs and preferences, thus painting the room a different color.  Yes, Christians have bias and a methodological framework just like anyone telling a story, and we need to be honest about it. If we don’t understand the sides we play for then we will be like the fisherman and the gardner- always looking for worms but always with different intent. I’m looking for the Christian worms.

Christianity, unlike a host of material and immaterial philosophies, is inherently personal and is in every way framed with God as the provocateur of the relationship.  That’s not to say it’s so simplistic as the “relationship, not religion” way of thinking, which is unfortunately catching the snitch but missing quite a few quaffles (Look it up). What it is to say is that you must have more than an intellectual assent to or against Christianity. You can’t pick it up and drop it with ease, not if you know what you’re handling.  Epistemology in and of itself doesn’t bid you come and rest.  Daoism cannot know our innermost being, even if it attempts to prescribe antidotes to our existence.  Nihilism has never offered anyone a drink, though many who drink are nihilists. Naturalism cannot accurately tell us why we are empty.

There is a personal Godhead at the center of Christianity, one who can control the entire universe and who knows every human to their core and back out again.  He feels both our pain and his own whenever we run.  He desires no one to turn and no one to perish.  He is from the beginning of our existence until the end working things through and weaving a grand story. The catch to all of this, however, is one that any lover can plainly see.  To love much is often to be spurned all the more. He is a fire, and he can both burn and warm.

The Bible uses a few different analogies in describing the relationship between God and believers.  Some of the more prominent usages show him as loving father, caring after a wounded and abandoned child.  Others show a shepherd tending to and sacrificing for his sheep.  More still depict God as a lover, wooing his betrothed and courting her.  One of the chief depictions of God to New Testament Christians, though, is that of the spouse awaiting his Bride.

This is unmistakably emotive and evocative language; there are multiple parties involved here and neutrality isn’t an option.  God has asked you to the dance.  To any young man who has voice-cracked his way through a dance invitation to his prima ballerina, there is no such thing as a neutral response.  You get to be elated or devastated. An “undecided” or a “no thanks” is still a rejection. Oh well, this lip isn’t going to overbite itself.

In Christianity, you can either reject the offer put forth or you can humbly accept it while all the while understanding that you weren’t ever worthy of it.  If you accept it, the more you get to see that the invitation was unprovoked, unexpected, and leads to a dance far more spectacular than you imagined. If you feign acceptance, and then kindly circle “no thanks,” and walk away, then you didn’t know who was asking you.  There are no other choices.

We can conclude with our friend the ex pastor, and I mean “friend” with all sincerity, since I can no longer in good conscience use the term “brother.”  When a “Christian” begins to feel the need to stretch their metaphysical legs and check who else is available, this is not so much a warning sign as a “base jumping without a parachute- be back in one hour,” sign.  The only proper Christian response is to point the fellow back to the one courting him, to remind him of exactly how great this dance will be, and to reinforce that the other girls smell a lot worse than they look from this distance.  A believer can have doubts aplenty, they can even wander lost for stretches, but in the end you have to look your lover in the eye and tell her whether or not you want to go to the dance- and not that you’ll get back to her in a year.  Pray that you do not forget who is asking you.

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December Happenings

Ahh yes. A few minutes to write without little greasy fingers clawing at my keyboard. Here is a quick overview of what has been going on with the Googers.

1) Lots of birthday-ness. Casper’s, mine, and Jesus’ all within 12 days. We had hot-pot at my parents’ and it was ohhhhh so good. Seriously, sometimes, I feel so bad for people that aren’t Asian and don’t get to fully experience the wonderfulness of Asian food.

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Stealing the show

Hot pot, by the way, is NOT very toddler friendly. Think: people slowly cooking their food while they eat, raw meat on the table, and a big pot of boiling broth. Oh but we tried…and when you don’t have another booster seat on hand…just grab a pillow and a belt…

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…though I can’t guarantee this will last longer than 2 minutes.

2) Dawnette has been introduced to this revolutionary, magical drug:

3) Dale and I perpetually try to read together. We have quite a stack of books we have started together but just can’t get through (Note: G.K. Chesterton does not make great read-aloud books), but alas, we have finally made it through one! It was, of course, The Hunger Games. We finished it on New Years Eve because Dawnette was sick so we had nothing else to do. I guess we will have to read Catching Fire next, since the ad for it at the end of the book claims that “SPARKS WILL FLY.”

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4) I have been able to see a lot of my family lately, as Timothy has been back from seminary in Illinois (girlfriend in tow), and my aunt, uncle, and cousin have come in to see my grandma, who is in hospice care at my parent’s home right now. In case you have never met my grandma, she has suffered multiple strokes in her lifetime and has declined gradually over the years.  So this isn’t a shock to any of us, but it is still hard to believe her time will come soon.

As a result of her strokes, she hasn’t been able to communicate well with us for a long time, almost as long as I have known her. However, my family has recently been able to catch glimpses of her personality and spunk in random spurts. She was very fashionable before her strokes, and a few weeks ago, she suddenly asked my mom, “What am I wearing?”

Here’s also a fun moment we got to capture of her playing with Casper, who absolutely adores her:

That’s all for now. I hope God shows you great and mighty truths about Himself this year, and rocks your world with His grace.  Happy 2014!

Happy birthday, Casper! Why we gave you a funny name.

Well, Casper turned 2 last Saturday. Part of me thinks, JUST two??? I feel like I’ve known him my whole life, and I can’t imagine life without him. He is also a very big 2 year old, so that might do it too. The other part of me thinks, WHAT? TWO?? Already??? Where did my chunky baby Casper go?

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We love this boy. We love that while he still tries to carry as many toys in his arms as he can, he will still drop his toys in front of Dawnette for her to play with them. We love that he barely has a morsel of artisan in him, but loves order. Instead of coloring, he just grabs the green crayons first, then busily lines up the crayons in a neat line. He also loves to take his shoes out of his shoe drawer and make “trains,” and during bath time, lines his ducks up in a row and yells, “DUCK TRAIN!”

He has this super sweet smile when he thinks Dawnette is being cute, and sometimes, he yells for her from his crib, “Mei-mei!!!” He’ll also crawl around with Dawnette and babble like her, and she has a special laugh just for when he cracks her up.

Casper loves to chew on his blankets and hum as he is falling asleep and as he wakes up. He loves to read, and loves to take his time pointing at every little thing on the page, asking, “Buh-dah!?” (What’s that?)

During dinner time, he loves to put food/utensils/cups on his head and yell, “HAT!!!” and dinner time is never complete without him asking Dale and I to do “woh-bot” (robot) impressions, whereas Dale and I often pretend to be robots short circuiting because of our newfound feelings of love for one another. He also loves to eat Dawnette’s leftover baby food for dessert, which is gross to me, but it’s healthy and the food doesn’t go to waste, so I won’t complain.

Sometimes people ask us why we named him “Casper.” Sometimes people don’t, because they are afraid we named him after the friendly ghost, and they would rather not offend us. Casper is named after a Dutch man, Casper Ten Boom, who hid Jews in his house during the Holocaust with his daughters, one of which is the popular Corrie Ten Boom, who wrote The Hiding Place. He raised his daughters to love the Lord and to love people with all their hearts, even if it meant losing everything.

Our prayer is that God develops our Casper to be passionate for the Lord, to defend, protect, and speak for those who can not speak for themselves, and to be a father who teaches generations after him to do the same.

Happy birthday, sweet Casper!

The Googers cook de pues.

We spent an incredible weekend at Lake Whitney at Steven’s lake house with the DePue’s and the Cook’s. The only thing that could make it better was if Steven was able to make it, which sadly he couldn’t. Here are some pics from it.

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Notice the vultures in the corner…there were so many, we were pretty sure something died in that house.

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The boys on their own little “adventure.”

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“Buh-dah!?”

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On a “knit hat” date with Josiah. Dale did a good job scaring Josiah with his pre-date threats.

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Looks like someone tried to carve something and then got frustrated and left. Well, let’s hope it wasn’t Steven…and if so, let’s hope he doesn’t read this blog.

Halloween Things

Last night, we brought Casper trick-or-treating for the first time. This was also my first time doing it too. This is how it went.

Well, we first dressed Casper as a rebel-without-a-cause. He fit the character quite nicely by having a tantrum-without-a-cause as we were trying to leave the house.

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Off to a good start...

“HUMILIATING, MOTHER.”

We made it out the door, popped Dawnette in her stroller, and started. Once Casper realized that we were ringing doorbells and people were giving him fistfuls of candy, he perked up quite nicely. He didn’t quite understand that we weren’t going in the homes though, so we had to restrain him from just running into houses.

Being creepy...

Being creepy…

Sadly, our neighborhood was pretty dark and bare, and only about 1 out of every 15 houses was handing out candy.  We weren’t surprised though, since last year we only had about 4-5 groups of kids ring our door bell. I think everyone goes to “nicer” neighborhoods now. It’s sad, since this is the one time a year it isn’t too weird to ring a doorbell and meet a neighbor. And ask for candy.

So naturally, we had to walk a good bit to get to the lighted houses, and Casper was so worn out he just started prostrating himself on the sidewalk. We missed getting a good picture of it…but this is him looking like he is drunk and puking on the sidewalk instead. The tacky horse on the back of his vest and diaper hanging out sort of kills the rebel look.

Casper just stated prostrating himself on the floor he was so tired.

His drunken face fits the costume.

Drunk rebel back at home.

So Dale carried the little guy the rest of the way home…where he finally got to see what those little crinkly things everyone was handing out contained…

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I think I like this Halloween thing.

“Why don’t we do this everyday?”

Even Dawnette got her fair share.

Snickers are wonderful first foods for infants.

Snickers are wonderful first foods for infants.

The end. Our good friends Matt and Rachel were throwing a Halloween party tonight, and we were all dressed up ready to go when Casper puked (for real this time) all over himself in the car. So we turned around and just went home. What were Dale and I dressed up as, you ask?

Undercover cops. In hopes of winning the COP-out prize that they hand out. We basically looked a little slicker than normal, and had wires running down our backs with badges to show. Dale also had a small nerf gun in his pants. Too bad.

Why I Don’t Trust a God That Looks Like You

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“When we started out and we were talking about the origins of the universe and the physical constants, I provided what I thought were cogent arguments against a supernatural intelligent designer. But it does seem to me to be a worthy idea. Refutable–but nevertheless grand and big enough to be worthy of respect. I don’t see the Olympian gods or Jesus coming down and dying on the Cross as worthy of that grandeur. They strike me as parochial. If there is a God, it’s going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed.”

-Dr. Richard Dawkins

My brother is the pastor of a church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  He’s a good pastor to a faithful church, and he mentioned something in a sermon a few weeks back that struck me.  He briefly tackled the oft-heard complaint that begins with, “I simply cannot believe in a god who would…” and you can fill in the blank.

“Not save my children.”

“Allow hunger and genocide.”

“Kill my goldfish.”

“Permit reality television.”

I’ve certainly played those games before.  What my brother so correctly pointed out was to ask what kind of god we could believe in.  It’s a meaningful exercise.  If I were to dream up a god, to start fresh and invent one of my own fancy, what sort of attributes would he have?  Would he be loving?  Would he be kind?  Would he be a he?  What kind of powers does god have?

If we let this thought experiment play out I think we will find that “god” ends up being a sort of thing that we would wish ourselves to be.  He’s not so much a god, but a superlative human, capable of not falling into the temptations we fall into or battling the same vices.  The problem with this god, though, is that he still looks a lot like us.  

Maybe he looks like a very good us, but he’s altogether humanly in nature.  He’s only as powerful as our minds can imagine him to be, and the most imaginative of us already comes with preset limits. JB Phillips, in his great book Your God is Too Small, says the following:

“Man may be made in the image of God; but it is not sufficient to
conceive God as nothing more than an infinitely magnified man. There are, for
example, those who are considerably worried by the thought of God
simultaneously hearing and answering the prayers and aspirations of people
all over the world. That may be because their mental picture is of a harassed
telephone operator answering callers at a switchboard of superhuman size. It
is really better to say frankly, “I can’t imagine how it can be done” (which is the
literal truth), than to confuse the mind with the picture of an enlarged man
performing the impossible.”

Throw the old ideas of turning god into a superhuman away.  A god that looks like we would prefer to look and acts like we would prefer to act is a god utterly confined to our own thoughts and aspirations.  He’s a rouse, a people pleaser, and he’ll tell you anything you want to hear because you didn’t invent him to tell the truths that you don’t like. Get rid of him, put him away, because I don’t want anything to do with him.

This brings us back to the quote by the esteemed Richard Dawkins, all the way at the top. He said this at the end of a relatively informal debate between he and the evolutionary evangelical, Francis Collins.   What I find so striking about this quote is how much of it I agree with while I still see a great many missed points. Richard Dawkins, like many of us, can’t believe in a god that looks like the god of the scriptures because the god of the scriptures already fails to fit what he has predetermined to be “a whole lot bigger and more incomprehensible”  than what’s already out there.  I might suggest that the idea of an all powerful diviner of the universe becoming a human man while simultaneously sustaining the cosmos and saving humanity is already bigger and more incomprehensible than any of the gods I’ve invented in my mind.

Two modern day habits for contentment

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When I was about 6, I went with my mom to the movie rental section of Kroger (Remember that?!). Of course, they also sold all sorts of candy for the gluttonous consumer, and they put some out on the lowest shelf, less than 4 inches off the ground. Now, my mom rarely bought candy for us growing up, and if she did, it was because she probably had a coupon. So, fully aware that my mom would never buy it for me, and I had no coupon to show for it, I grabbed as much as my little hands could hold. I soon realized that I was in a bit of a predicament, as I was wearing tights, which meant I had zero pockets. So, I did what any other kleptomaniac wearing tights, besides Robin Hood, would do…I stuffed them down my pants.

Just then, my mom came cruising casually down the aisle, as did the cashier right behind her. I felt pretty smug in my lumpy tights and took a step forward. Well, now would be a good time to mention that another nice thing about my mom is she was always kind enough to buy us clothes significantly larger than our size so that we could grow into them. She did an excellent good job, considering I still probably wouldn’t be able to fit in some of them to this day, even after having 2 kids. So, as I stepped forward, candy slid down my legs, out of the pant holes, and plopped right onto the floor. Before I could even think of an escape plan, my mom was already giving the look that sentenced me to years of torment. The rest is history.

I was fiercely covetous as a child, probably because, well, I was a child, and also because my parents were wise enough to never spend money on things that were simply unnecessary. Thankfully, as time passed, I naturally became more aware of the pettiness of material things, and became more satisfied with my life.

However, in recent years, the influx of social media, namely Facebook and Pinterest, I am bombarded and flooded daily by images of what my life should look like, and what I HAVE to have to be happy. The coveter in me has reared its nasty head back up and I feel as wanting as I did when I was 6, though now I covet refined things like Anthropology-type homes, fancy vacations, hipster toddler clothes, etc. Once a coveter, always a coveter.

And then I just find myself discontent. What is the problem in discontentment? Well, two things:

1) God hates it, because it shows that I am not fully satisfied with Him and what He has ordained for my life, and I don’t trust Him and His love for me.

2) It leads me to be cynical of the people who do have what I want.

There was one major realization though, that allowed me to exercise contentment:

The more I saw, the more I coveted.

So, there are two habits I practice to safeguard myself when I am tempted to covet.

1) I remind myself when I see something that makes me covet that what I see online is mostly an illusion. Sadly, people are not as happy as they look online, and naturally, we only pick and choose what everyone else sees. It’s not wrong…it’s just the fact that no one wants to see me mopping the floor or washing dishes in my PJ’s, and I’d prefer not to show anyone either. I saw a couple at a restaurant take pictures of their meals with their respective smart phones. The rest of the time, they were both just sitting there on their phones ignorant of the other partner. I’ve also seen moms take pictures of their kids at the park, and then just sit back down and play with their phones the rest of the time. What we see on our screens is a filter of a bigger, more complicated life.

2) I also realized that I DO have control over what is set before me. There is a button on Pinterest I’ve learned to love, and her name is “Unfollow Board.” Never seen her before? Well, you can recognize her because she looks like this:

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Because I don’t need to wish my son’s birthday party will be better than your kids’, and I don’t need to think I need to be more fashionable, and I don’t need to be making Chocolate Chip Lava Cookies. (Mmmm…) There are people on Facebook that it wouldn’t kill me to unfriend.

Because the less I see, the less I covet.

I want to be satisfied with the life God has given me, with its perfect imperfections…and to be more satisfied with Christ Himself…because true contentment isn’t having what I want, but holding Christ as my highest treasure even if I have not.