Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The secret to contentment...

I have been reading C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. It is a difficult book to read in the sense that you really have to think about each of his phrases, at times each of his words, and often revisit an entire chapter to be sure that you have the core of his argument. In one section of this work, Lewis states that he believes the very worst vice of all is pride. He is careful to say he does not mean self-respect, or being proud of one's family etc. Lewis very specifically defines the diabolical pride as delighting so much in yourself that you begin to look down upon others. He states pride is "competitive" in nature stating that "it is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise." Have you ever felt like that?

He also describes it as "self-conceit" or the idea of being so enmeshed with your own thoughts, ideas, and activities that nothing else seems to matter. I think to explain this a bit more simply might be to say that it means "you are selfish." We often think of being selfish, in the world of those of us with preschoolers, as meaning that people don't share, or they get mad when someone has all the toys, or that one specific golden toy. But sometimes being selfish is so much more that we actually do not even realize we are selfish.

Being a parent has taught me just how selfish I am. For instance, just in my writing my thoughts on this blog, exercising my brain, reading a bit of a book  I'm interested in,  I am being selfish. Now, don't go crazy yet; hear me out. It is an activity that I am engaging in that really only benefits me in the family unit or at least occupies my time to the point that I am unable (or perhaps unwilling) to do anything else be it a speedy trip to the bathroom, dry the kids off after their bath, or break up a fight over which baby horse is Eliza's and which is Daisy's.

My point is not to dwell too much on the idea of this sort of self-absorption being bad. I don't think it always is. It becomes bad when we focus on it so much we ignore the plight of others, or we resent the fact that others do not allow us to do things we truly desire. We bear the television programs of Nick Jr. when really we want to watch something else. It is "our cross" we often hear people say. As if any of our burdens are even worthy of such a designation.

Strangely, in all this thought of pride, self-conceit, and self-absorption, I feel I have found the secret to contentment. A contentment I have never really known. Since I had kids I have always tried to make them and my wife my priority. But I have other distractions--work, academic interests, tv shows, bigfoot documentaries. You know, the normal things of life that get in our way.

On this particular vacation it would be very easy for me get in a bad way. On vacation you ask? Yes, due to the fact that I have usually approached in the world in how it can please me. Surprised? Having two small children with endless amounts of energy can be a bit overwhelming at times. It's easy for adults to think okay we will do that for the kids, but later that's MY time. I need MY time. I better had get MY time. I will suffer through THEIR time to get MY time.

Well I'm no saint. But this time I have tried and not been totally successful to do something different. I have tried to "go with the flow," do whatever others want, and actually try to be a servant--specifically to my wife and kids. Who cares if I watch my show, read my book, eat at a particular restaurant or whatever. What if I just immerse myself in my family and relax. In this crazy line of reasoning that seems so blatantly obvious to most, I have found the secret to a wonderful life.

When I try to satisfy myself, lots of things get in the way. When I try to live for others (in this case my family) the only thing that can get in the way is..........ME. Conversely, I have found that I feel more relaxed, less tense and actually am enjoying things I didn't think I would.

For instance, I get tired on the beach. Two hours max...I'm done. My family LOVES the beach. I have spent a lot of time on the beach and had the best time with my family. I have talked with my wife, watched my girls champion their fears of waves, learn to boogie board, build castles and memories. If it gets too late in the night, and I haven't had my TV time (which is important to me), I could get upset. But If I would rather hear my girls laugh as I help put them to bed or say their prayers it seems I am really not missing out on anything.

Again, I apologize that these insights are not dramatic to most. But to me they are world-altering. I love my family, but it is only when I really put myself as their servant that I really find that I have no interruptions, I have no distractions, or things that press in for my time. I have them. And in that I have my life. At the end of my life I don't want my kids to say "he was a good man." I want them to say "dang, I miss spending time with him. He was so interested in  us." There is a different. You can be an upright, moral and good man and be very selfish. In fact it is easy to do. But I promise you the other way which I am trying to stumble through is so much better. Now off to help Kristen dry off those wild and crazy girls....

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Beach and a Father's love

Since becoming a father, I have realized many times how this has taught me about God's love for us. Today at the beach, I spent a lot of time with my daughters crashing through the waves. Sometimes I let them stand by themselves and tackle the gentle wave on their own. Sometimes if the wave looked too big, I ran over to help them and to make sure that they didn't get too swamped. And I noticed that when I let them handle a wave on their own, even one that looked big to a loving dad, I laughed to myself and even felt excitement when they conquered it and their fears. And I discovered that as I let them experience the waves, even with the hint of danger in the seas, they seemed to enjoy life more fully and even the occasion dunk under the waves was met with laughter. 

Now, I view my children as the most precious cargo. However, I did let them get banged around (a bit) by the waves. In it they seemed to get stronger. Now sometimes they became so brave that I had to pull them back. But I was always there for them watching, loving, and sometimes even laughing. 

I wondered if maybe sometimes that is the way God views us in our ups and downs. Now to be clear, I am not suggesting God delights in our suffering; but I do wonder if sometimes he smiles when he sees us realize that he was there all along watching, loving, and sometimes even laughing. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Speaker's Corner, Facebook, and How we should love....

I love all things English. In a corner of Hyde Park in London, there is a famous historical spot called Speaker’s Corner. At this corner near the Marble Arch, speakers gather especially on Sundays and tell the world what they think. This is a tradition that dates back to the mid-19th century and originally began as a method to exercise free speech. Nowadays, the park attracts those who are serious and not so serious and the crowds love to heckle speakers unmercifully.

I wondered why we don’t have something like that in America. Then I thought we do! It’s called Facebook. Just a few days back I posted a status update where I stressed Christians should just let the statement to love one another stand alone. If we did that it would be a grand marketing strategy for the Church.

It didn’t take three minutes before someone posted something hateful about my status. Hateful about how we should love others unconditionally? About how that is a good idea for the church? Stop judging so much and start loving?

Yes and it was posted by my Christian friends, not my atheists ones. Immediately some people become very uncomfortable when I mentioned unconditionally loving others. Why? Didn’t Jesus say that?  People have said: “Well does that mean we don’t take a stand for what is right? Does that mean I love everything you do? We still need to be able to make statements on what is right and what is wrong?  We need to love the sinner but hate the sin, right?”

Or maybe folks will tell you that this is a dangerous world nowadays. You can’t simply just love and expect to make a difference. Christians need to be strong and stand up for injustice and against immorality in this world. We need our voices to be heard! In the immortal words of Dr. Phil: “How’s that working for ya?”

 As a historian I realize how complicated and dangerous this present time is. However, I will tell you that this message of love was just as radical in the first century. In fact to be quite honest, the first century was a more hostile field to try to sow that seed than today.

For instance during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero, he persecuted Christians unmercifully. Fed them to lions, blamed them for the fire in Rome, even put them on crosses in his personal gardens with shirts of wax and set them on fire to be night lights for his night time parties. And this was the setting for a message for love. Surely that won’t make a dent in the evil Roman Empire. We have to stand up, picket, organize and protest against this religious persecution. 

But strangely enough that silly na├»ve impractical message of love gradually transformed the Roman Empire. In a little less than three hundred years Christianity went from an outlaw religion to the official religion of the Empire. All because of love. Not because of protest groups, not because of the power of the press, not because of any other reason than they stayed true to their message. They loved. Tertullian, one of the early church fathers from the 2nd Century, wrote that even the common folks looked at the Christians and said “see how they love each other.” They said this in amazement. Christians were different than the regular world. They didn’t say: “Wow they are strict. Or wow they are super moral. Or wow they judge too much that bothers me.” Many still felt Christians were weird but were impressed with the way they treated each other. The way they loved was attractive and threatening at the same time.  

This makes me think of the story of the woman caught in adultery in John chapter 8. I have had recent discussions with Christians who actually use this story to justify why the Church need to stand up to homosexuals who seek civil rights in America.

One early remark I had made was: “Well even if it is a sin (homosexuality), it isn’t the unforgivable one.” I felt this was a pretty tight answer. However, someone responded that if they continued in persistent sin with no desire for forgiveness that separated them from the love of Christ and would eventually, in their judgment, lead to an eternity in Hell. And they cited this story of this woman caught in adultery as exegetical proof. Jesus clearly said “Go and sin no more.”

Well if he really meant that, I submit we all are in trouble. I am telling you that I don’t think that is what Jesus meant. Take a look at the situation. The Jewish religious leaders, aka the “church folk of the day” you know the ones with perfect attendance in Sunday school, brought a woman to him that had been caught in the VERY act of adultery. Really?

Where’s the man? Did they set her up? Odds are this woman was a prostitute. Probably a well-known one and may have been well known to them. Someone they didn’t care about and someone in their mind who was expendable.

Their treatment of the woman is cold-hearted and derogatory in nature. If she had committed adultery, it most likely was done during the night before (which is perhaps more likely than around dawn, v. 2). Therefore, it safe to say if that is the case these religious types had quite possibly been holding her hostage all night and early in the morning waiting on Jesus to show up so they could trap him. She would have been terrified. And they further added to the humiliation by making their accusations public. 

 A certain attitude of male-chauvinism comes across in their statement that the law of Moses commands the stoning of such women (v. 5). To be correct, the TORAH actually says both the man and woman should be stoned. (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22-24). The religious elders are also being quite dishonest in their accusation. There is no historical evidence that this punishment was carried out on a regular basis by the Jews. The Romans simply would not have allowed that form of vigilante religious punishment. So they test Jesus with a situation in the name of upholding the sacred law given by Moses with a section of it to which they most likely didn't even subscribe. 

Well-versed Christians know the rest. Jesus saved her but at the end told her to “Go and sin no more.” That is literally what the text says but it leaves out an important part—how Jesus actually treated her. We know from the text that all the religious leaders had left. However, I wonder if others were there who had been listening to Jesus’ teaching and were watching to see what Jesus would say to her.

So Jesus gets his big step to show mercy but also to make his point that her lifestyle was wrong. And what did he say: “Neither do I condemn you.” Jesus lets her off scot free. He doesn’t look at her as I have looked at my kids many a time and asked with a very pointed stare…okay…why are you in timeout? Explain to me what you have done wrong. And now say you are sorry. Do you repent?  He doesn’t ask any of that of her.

The text leaves so much out. But I am sure that Jesus probably looked at her and perhaps even smiled. And said I don’t condemn you either. You are my child. You are precious in the sight of God. He gives her forgiveness unconditionally. He forgives her before she says anything.

But wait you may say. That’s not the end. But what about the second part of verse 11? How are we to take, “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again”?  

Misguided Individuals will typically reference this story and specifically the go and sin no more part as a basis for the belief that it is their duty to tell others to stop sinning. Jesus said to her don’t sin anymore. If you keep sinning like that Jesus can’t forgive you.

When we read this first century story we get no background. It like the difference between reading Shakespeare (brutal in my mind) and seeing it acted upon a stage (wondrously moving). It’s like a text message from a friend when you ask “Are they mad?”  

I imagine that Jesus looked at her and might have even smiled, maybe he winked at her. Remember Jesus was a charismatic fellow who attracted crowds and children loved him. No kid wants to go hang on a stern disciplinarian’s arms and lap.  

He told her she was free to go. She was free from her judgment but also she needed to be free from that lifestyle that was going to cause both her spiritual and physical death. “don’t live like this anymore.” Maybe he meant stop her life of prostitution. He had better things in store for her than that. Go live a better life. It wasn’t a conditional forgiveness. Because please let’s be reasonable here. How practical is it for him to tell her to go on her way and oh by the way don’t do anything bad ever again. That can’t be what he meant. It wouldn’t be possible and it wouldn’t make sense in the context. To rescue someone from death and judgment and then say live a perfect life and all will be well. Thanks a lot. No pressure.

I have only found one other instance where Jesus commanded someone "to stop sinning." In the Gospel of John 5:1-15, after he healed a man of a physical problem, he later found him and told him to stop sinning so that something worse doesn’t happen to him. Once again, this command ringed more like a warning to live a better life than an unreasonable command to be perfect. And it also was given by Jesus after he too healed the man and altered the very course of his life. 

So I would say it could be a warning to this lady. She was almost stoned to death. If she keeps living that way, they may try to stone her again or other bad things may happen to her. Her lifestyle was dangerous. This was not some kind of moral judgment on her. It was helpful advice. It was loving advice. 

And we need to remember when Jesus said to her to stop her sinful behavior. It was after he saved her life. After he stood up to the entire town’s leaders, the religious leaders of the day. Do you think that that made them mad the way he embarrassed them? lOh yes. Jesus preserved her dignity and in so doing was able to connect to her in such a way that she would probably do anything he asked. And his treatment of her surely opened the door for her restoration to the community as well as gave her the opportunity to follow him. Who wouldn’t want to follow a guy like that. What Jesus did was bold, it was dangerous and it was all due to love.

So the next time you want to throw down that Jesus said: “Go and sin no more.” Remember the context first. Have you shown unconditional love and forgiveness to that person? That’s right love with no strings attached. That is why the true message of Christianity is scandalous. It was then (to the religiously confident) and it still is. But in it are the words of life. 


Friday, September 11, 2009

Eliza's first birthday..

Well we had a little family type party at the house for Eliza's first birthday. We cooked out and had cake. Eliza was joined by momma and daddy, Mamaw and Granddaddy, Nana and Papaw, Aunt Eden, and Aunt Christan and Uncle Brock. We had a great time. Pictures to follow.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Pig Pickin 2009 and Eliza's Bday

We went to the annual Pig Pickin in Lee County at Kristen's Aunt Judy's farm. They dig this big hole and pile lots of burning wood in it. Then they wrap up tons of meat and bury it over night. Then the next night we eat, and dance. Pretty awesome.

Kristen, Crystal, Christy, and Christan.

Eliza and Momma cutting a rug on the dance floor.
On the way to Judy's farm.
Eliza's birthday cake. With a puppy dog theme.

We sure do love that kid. Next year Daisy Kate will join us.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

a post....

Well it has been a while. Sorry to my faithful readers, especially Mary Jane. In the meantime we got a new van. A 2008 Dodge Caravan and we love it. It has built in car seats and tons of room. With two babies anymore it is hard to cram everything in. We think we got a good deal and it has low low miles. It drives really nice. And the best part are the built in car seats. So Eliza has been turned around and despite the look on her face in this picture. She loves it. She thinks she is a queen now that she gets to see everything.

And here is a picture of Eliza and Grandaddy doing their thing. Do you think he minds watching her during the week...we are very blessed to have such family. But I do think they like least a little bit..

In other news I am CPR and first aid certified. Part of the orientation process in my new job. Hopefully I am a last line of defense in that matter. But I think I will like my new job even though I will miss my students. So many have emailed or facebook messaged me that they will miss me this year. But hopefully God has led me here for a reason to help others put their lives back together. Cheers.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Amber's baby..

Kristen's friend Amber had been staying with us because her husband Brad had to start a new job out of town and Amber was still just a bit pregnant. (9 months to be exact). So we have grown to think of Amber as part of the Booth family. Well, on Thursday August 13, little Kaelyn Belle Cary arrived and we all were so excited. So here are some pics.
we are all excited about Eliza and Daisy getting to play with her someday soon!