There’s something I need to say, something I need to get off my chest: I’m a dummy. Not a stiff, immovable mannequin (although I’ve been accused of that), but rather a dummy with regards to the raising of offspring.
 
 Now what I’m talking about here isn’t so much about the inculcation of values, moral instruction, family rules, etc. Because there are non-negotiables: don’t cheat, don’t lie, tell the truth, clean up after yourself, help out around the house. What I’m talking about is the staggering realization is that, yes, while the goal is to (hopefully) one day raise responsible adults, children are not adults.
 
 You see: that’s how I was raised. Kids were mini-adults, expected to be interested in adult things. And it’s just what I did with my own kids: expected them–instead of being their own people with their own likes, dislikes, prejudices, interests–to share my likes, etc.
 
 I’ve spent a great number of years trying to uplift them into my world; instead of meeting them where they’re at. I’ve been such a dummy! Parenting doesn’t necessarily mean that ones kids will follow you into all of your interests; rather, it often means taking an interest in theirs. It means playing video games (even if you hate them), playing dolls, or ball, even if there are a thousand other things to do (like reading through that ever-growing stack of books). It means training them up in the way they should go–not necessarily in the way you would have them go.
 
 The quickest way to shut someone down, whether kid or adult, is to show no interest (or outright indifference) in something they care about. Conversely, showing an interest shows that we care, that we’re invested, in not only the activity, but in them as well. Because the fact is that quality time doesn’t just happen.
 
 It happens in the midst of a quantity of time. It happens via an intentional investment. So folks–men, women, moms, dads–how can we be more intentional today? Because I’m thinking I’m not the only dummy out there.
 
 
 

Author Frank Pretty was arguably the Left Behind of the 80s. His books, This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness got nearly everyone reading about spiritual warfare. It was into this climate of heightened sensitivity that the late Edgar Whisenant emerged. Whisenant said that Jesus was definitely, positively, absolutely coming back on Rosh Hashannah 1988.

It was also the year I came to faith.

I didn’t know the books of the Bible from a shopping list. Although I was baptised as an infant, my family was so Protestant we didn’t bother going to church. In fact, I was so sheltered as a toddler that my only exposure to African American people was via television; I thought they were all called Sanford. In any, God wasn’t a part of my life in any discernable to me. I was an atheist by default.

As I got older, I didn’t bother to investigate these things; I just accepted evolution as the process by which we all arrived here. There was no need for God. I was a ship in the night, adrift on the winds of time. My role models were: an emotionally distant absentee dad, a workaholic mom, and later a pot smoking psychologist. I share this as background to simply illustrate that my upbringing was entirely secular, and that when I came to faith I was for all intents and purposes a blank slate.

I believe things because I didn’t know better. Kenneth Copeland? Awesome! I can write a blank check with God! Kenneth Hagan? Same deal. Benny Hinn. Yep! TBN? Good stuff! In fact, at the church I went to one night I was surrounded by sweaty-faced elders, who prayed for me to receive the evidence of the initial indwelling (that’s tongues). I was all for it, because Hey! I wanted all of God I could have.

When it didn’t happen in the accepted time, one kindly gentlemen suggested that I “Start muttering. It’ll happen.” Sure, why not?

This is the ecclesiastical milieau into which I had come when Edgar Whisenant arrived on the scene with his assertions that Jesus was absolutely, positively, most assuredly coming back. What did I know? If somebody in the know said it why it must’ve been true. I didn’t yet know Jesus’s words that “No man knows the day or the hour.”

I wasn’t the only one left disillusioned when Christ didn’t come back. Scores of (naive) people:

Racked up credit card charges

Euthanized their pets

Gave in to gluttony

Because none it mattered anymore. Jesus was coming back, ans glory! We’re going to get new bodies, someone else will assume this debt, and we’ll see poor Fluffy again up yonder. A kind of quasi-Christian fatalism took hold. Nothing we do matters because Jesus.

A lot of people woke up disillusioned on Rosh Hashannah 1988. Up their eyeballs in debt, with dead pets…

One wouldn’t think that folks could be so naive, but the simple fact of the matter is that by and large there’s a great swath of Christians who didn’t then (and who don’t now) know their Bibles.

I was but one of them. And it has taken years upon years to eradicate the disillusionment and fatalism from my soul. God never has, nor will He ever, conform to our timetable.

Only He knows the day and the hour, and He’s not sharing. The question is: are we okay with that? Can we live with the tension of not knowing, or must we exert control? Because I think that’s what a lot of the “word faith” movement amounts to: trying to control very natural fears by manipulating God.

“All right, God, I said it. You better show up.” As if He cares about our reputations. It’s lunacy. He’ll destroy our puny reputations to create in us an ounce of humility. It’s not reputation He’s after, but rather character.

Holiness.

As Chesterton said, “Our Father is young. We have sinned and grown old.” He only seems capricious and distant because of the sheer amount of baggage and abject lack of perspective we bring to the relationship. He doesn’t owe us anything, and yet we demand–thinking somehow He owes answers, lives of ease and comfort. How quickly we forget this is the same God Who spared not His own Son.

There’s tension, and mystery, we must live in.

The question becomes:

Do we trust that Father knows best. Despite all the BS, trials, tribulations, stings, disappointments, betrayals, injustices…

When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth?

Will He?

It’s up to us. God help us.

The late Sigmund Freud, progenitor of the Freudian school of psychology, is famous for making everything about sex. He is also known as the source of the aphorism, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” and thus by implication not a phallic metaphor.

This got me to thinking.

Is it possible that sometimes a cake is just a cake? That, regardless of our convictions about marriage, perhaps the mere fact of baking a cake isn’t an endorsement of something we don’t believe in? Allow me to lift the (metphoric) veil and show you how I came to that conclusion.

In his first recorded miracle, Jesus after some strong urging from His mother (despite protestations that his “time has not yet come”), transmutes water into wine. This, after all the wine at the wedding feast had been drunk. Is He here, by making wine available, endorsing inebriation? (Remember: the people had already consumed all the wine, hence the need for this miracle). Can we even begin to lay the onus at His sainted feet? No, the responsibility was that of those there imbibing.

The point being that Jesus, essentially, had no qualms about providing alcohol for party people. Think about that for minute. He was also, as He progressed in His earthly ministry, known as a “wine-bibber (alcoholic), a “glutton (overeater), and a “friend of sinners (He hung out with the wrong crowd).” Insofar as my experience goes, I’ve heard of–and seen–Christians accused of the two former sins; namely, over consumption of the juice of the vine, and over consumption of life sustaining food.

But when’s the last time you, I, or someone we know had that charge levelled at us? That we’re a “friend of sinners?” How can it be if we don’t know any, or wouldn’t be caught dead hanging around them? What would the pastor think?

Which brings me back around to cake. If we, right at the outset, shut someone down, how can we expect them to listen when we try to share the Gospel? It’s cliché, but true: people don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. And what of Jesus statement “If someone compels you to go with them a mile, go two?” The fact of the matter is that baking a cake, or two (or catering, for that matter), gives us an inroad into someone’s life, gives us a chance at interaction we wouldn’t have if we start simply by asserting our rights.

Jesus didn’t seem to have a problem hanging out with sinners. Why do we? His presence in their lives wasn’t an endorsement of those lives; rather, an invitation.

How are we to be His witnesses if we never come out of our holy huddles into the great, messy fray of life? We must engage people where they’re at…

Every cake is an opportunity.

thomascovenant1-6

These days, there’s one name which readily comes to the tongue with regards to adult fantasy: George R.R. Martin. It’s no wonder. First, his book series–A Song of Ice and Fire–took the nineties by storm; then came the HBO series, Game of Thrones, which is a cultural juggernaut. Fantasy as a genre goes back much further, of course. Just how far do we go back? Gilgamesh, The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, Beowulf? Certainly not children’s stories. For brevity’s sake, let’s here confine ourselves to select works of the past sixty (or so) years.

Now in a sense all fiction is fantasy, as it’s all made up. But we shall here confine ourselves to what is contemporaneously termed adult fantasy. As I said above, George R.R. Martin is the name du jour in adult fantasy (there are others: Joe Abercrombie, Neil Gaiman, the late Terry Pratchett), but Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (though it evolved from a children’s work, The Hobbit) certainly qualifies. As does Stephen R. Donaldson’s excellent Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.

And it is about Thomas Covenant that I wish to talk today. Coming on the heels of the release of Terry Brooks’s The Sword of Shannara, Donaldson’s book ushered in a era of renewed interest in, and popularity of, adult fantasy. We’re talking 1977 here, folks–the year of Star Wars–and Donaldson wrote about about dyspeptic former writer turned leper who awakes in a mysterious world known as the Land. Unlike, for instance, Aragorn son of Arathorn, Covenant is no hero. He is a deeply conflicted man at odds with both himself and the world around him. At one time, he knew his place (knew who he was in relation to himself, others, and the world around him): he was a husband, successful writer, and father to an infant son.

Then he contracted leprosy, and his world imploded. Taught at the leprosarium in Louisiana to do a V.S.E. (“Visual Surveillance of Extremities”), Covenant built a new reality. Then the bottom dropped out again when his wife, Joan, left him citing contagion. Cut off from life, from those he loves, from others on his farm outside a small New Mexico town, he becomes embittered. V.S.E. becomes his life.

Leprosy is his only reality. And so little do others want him to be around that someone has paid his utility bills in advance. No one wants any contact with Thomas Covenant. Then it happens: he deliberately heads into town to pay his phone bill, only to find that it, too, has been paid. Enraged, he leaves the Bell office only to swoon in front of an advancing car.

The he awakes in the Land. He of course disbelieves all that he sees around him, chalking it up to a fever dream.

Reality, as it so often does to us, has gobsmacked him. He is in denial. All of his carefully constructed realities have gone whoosh! with the wind. With a name like Thomas Covenant, he is contractually obligated to doubt! And doubt he does–forcefully and actively. To the point where he, and bear in this is well before it became de rigueur to pen tales about antiheroes, does despicable things because “none of this is real.” His only reality, as stated above, is his sickly flesh. As he says, “dead nerves don’t regenerate.”

But in the Land, they do.

I don’t want to allegorize, but instead make an application to our real world: the Bible says that we are dead in our trespasses and sins until Christ makes us alive. And are we not like Thomas Covenant, holding onto our unreality–because there’s no such thing as a free lunch? It seems to good to be true. Dead things can’t live again. So we hold onto our sin, because it’s all we know. Moreover, even after coming to Christ, how long and hard do we work to hold onto our carefully crafted selves, and our comfortable lives? God comes in, has a work for us, and we like Covenant figuratively put our heads in the sand, saying “La, la, la can’t hear you, God.”

Allow me to circle back around here; what I believe The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant to be about is simply calling. And he gets himself into the most trouble by stubbornly denying that calling.

How very much like us. “There’s no way God could use me,” we often say. Like Thomas Covenant himself, God doesn’t call the equipped–He equips the called. In Covenant’s world, he has the wild magic, bound up as it is in his white gold ring (symbolic of commitment, purity, purpose); we in ours have the Holy Spirit–the very mind of Christ available to us. “We are more than conquerors,” as the Bible says. Yet why is it that we don’t live in that place? Because, like Covenant, doubt.

Friends, it’s time stop denying, and embrace the calling placed upon you. If it feels too large–good! Because it is.

But you’re not on this journey alone.

The very Creator walks with you. Lean into Him today.

And read The Chronicle of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. I guarantee the books, with the questions of life, faith, calling it poses, will hit you where you live.

Facing Down Fear

randomlychad  —  April 9, 2015 — 2 Comments

Lately, when I sit down to write, soul seizes up inside; I sit there numb, not knowing what to say. I have stories, and paths to take them down.
 
 But I’m not sure. And I second guess myself into inactivity. I sit there, hoping to show up, have the words come, and instead surf the Internet, or game the time away. When it’s finally quiet at night, when there is time to think, instead of working I watch T.V.
 
 Because I’m afraid. Afraid of where the stories will take me, afraid of investing so much of myself into something no one will likely ever read, afraid of rejection, of my work being scorned. None of the accolades, or encouragements, I’ve received in times gone by seem to count for much these days.
 
 I want to break, as Jim Morrison sang, on through to the other side. The only way I know how is to make myself work.
 
 And the only way to do that is face my fears. Practically speaking, this means imposing a deadline. I’m putting it out here, friends and readers, so that you may hold me accountable:
 
 By hook, or by crook, I will have a book of short stories done in two month’s time. You heard it hear first.
 
 Though it drive me crazy, “so let it be written, so let it be done.” And please don’t hesitate to ask me how the writing’s going.
 
 Thanks!