Theology for Grasshoppers

grasshopper-3(For the uninitiated, “Theology for Grasshoppers” is my attempt to tell my story of faith to my grandkids.  I hope I’m around long enough to tell them personally.  But just in case I reach the finish line before I get the opportunity, these letters will be the record of what I believe and why I believe it…in words and stories they can understand.)

Hey there, Farrasprouts!

I’m going to tell you something today that lots of people will probably disagree with, but I’m your Papi and this my letter to you.  Not anybody else’s.  And you won’t be able to use this information for another 12 or 13 years.  And even longer for you, Tatumonster!

There will come a time when your parents will have no influence over your decision to be part of a church family.  Most people call this “going to church”, but I’ll explain why I don’t ever call it that some other time.  Anyway, it will totally be your choice.  100%.  All on you.  When your daddies lived at home with me and Mimi…long before they met your mommies…we made the decision about church for them.  If we went to church meetings, they went to church meetings.  It’s what we did as a family.

They could whine, argue, fake being sick, or negotiate, but in the end, they pretty much did as we told them to. (Even though they sometimes complained about getting up early on Sundays or having to stay late because I was usually the last one to leave, they experienced many of the good things about church life and most often enjoyed being part of it.  We only strung them up by their ears, occasionally.)

But once they moved out on their own, they got to do whatever they wanted to do.  And that’s the way it should be.  And it will be that way for you guys, too.

So I want to tell you something while it’s fresh on my mind.  Here’s my advice for choosing a church family:  Find a small one.  Close to where you live.  Don’t get all excited about the things a church provides for you.  That totally misses the point of “church”.  Be part of something where you can help it to grow strong and healthy.  Don’t be part of a church family where you are not truly needed and genuinely noticed.  

Make sure it’s a place that poor people feel welcome.  There is a special place in God’s heart for people in need.  The more people of different races, the better.  Oh…and make sure there are old people and young people and they have lots of ways to become friends with each other.  Rubbing elbows and lives is the real stuff of church.

Don’t ever be overly impressed with the skills of the person that does most of the preaching.  It’s not the important thing.  In fact, he’s not really all that important!  And I should know…  Be impressed with the kinds of conversations people have with each other.  Listen carefully to the way they talk about people who are different.  Find a place where loving others is not just talked about, but it is what people actually do.

Make sure it’s a group of people who respect and teach the Bible, but they also make room for differing opinions.  None of us are smart enough to have the whole Bible figured out. Church people seem to have the tendency to believe they are the only “right ones” and that they have more understanding of “truth” than the other guy.  There are always going to be disagreements.  People are not always going to see things alike.  Be with a group of people who listen carefully and who make room for doubt and questions.

Choose to be with people who respect women.  History has not been kind to women, especially in the church.  So find one where women stand on equal footing with men and they are challenged to explore and express every bit of their giftedness for the good of others.  

And this is especially true for the three of you:  Find a church family that doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Be with people who love to laugh.  Find some people to stand beside and link arms with.  Make sure that Jesus is their example.  

That’s my advice.  I hope it serves you well, someday.  There are lots of other important things, but I’m pretty sure you’ll be smart enough to figure them out as you go along.  How do I know that?  I know where you come from!

Be wise, Grasshoppers.


Theology for Grasshoppers

grasshopper-3(For the uninitiated, “Theology for Grasshoppers” is my attempt to tell my story of faith to my grandkids.  I hope I’m around long enough to tell them personally.  But just in case I reach the finish line before I get the opportunity, these letters will be the record of what I believe and why I believe it…in words and stories they can understand.)

Good morning, Farrasprouts!

I gotta tell you, Mimi and I are still recuperating from the sleepover with the three of you this past weekend.  It’s crazy.  The moment you see each other, it’s like thunder and lightning crashing in a Texas summer storm!  The amount of energy and sweat and volume and messes and fun you guys produce is almost more than our house…and our hearts…can hold.

Every time we are with you, I am amazed by how much you are like your parents.  You are little expressions of who they are.  You are all three so smart, just like them.  When I see your creativity and problem-solving, I see them.  When I see your fire and competitiveness, I see them.  When I see your strong wills and push-back, I see them. When I see your genuine love and soft hearts, I see them.

When I hear you scream with glee or shout with frustration, I hear their voices.  When you pull pranks and manipulate and negotiate, I see the same mischievous looks in your eyes that I saw in theirs.  When you drop with exhaustion, I feel the same dead weight I felt when I laid your daddies sleepy bodies in their beds at night.  (I can only imagine what your mommies were like at the end of their days when they were little!)

I love your parents.  I love the kind of people your parents have grown to be, and when I see you, I can hardly contain my joy and anticipation of seeing what you will become as you grow up.  I see their handprints all over your little lives.  Their images are woven into yours.  It is one of the great mysteries of creation and science and how families grow.

There’s an amazing truth that has been around since the beginning of time, but it was made famous in another language many hundreds of years ago.  In another part of the world, they speak Latin, and in that language, the truth is called Imago Dei.  In English (the language you and I speak), “Imago” means image and “Dei” means God.  In English, Imago Dei means “the image of God”.

In the beginning of the Bible, it says:

So God created mankind in his own image, 

in the image of God he created them;

   male and female he created them.  Genesis 1:26-27

What that means is not only do you guys have the handprints and likenesses of your mommy and daddy on your lives, you also have the likeness or “image” of God stamped on you.  Human beings have the image of God.  Nothing else does.  We can see the greatness and genius of God all around us…in mountains and oceans and stars and clouds and forests and animals and birds and fish…but in people, all people, everywhere, throughout all of history, is where we see the image of God.

When I look at you guys, I see love and compassion and desire and spirit and purpose and joy and goodness.  I see trust and forgiveness and hope and tenacity and sorrow and patience (though not much of that right now).  When I look at you, I see freedom and choice and creativity and possibilities.

When I look at you, I see the image of God.  I hope you see that when you look at me, too.

Be wise, Grasshoppers.


If at first you don’t succeed…

keep-calmI’ve been thinking long and hard over the past month or so, about why it has been so hard for me to write (as some of you have noticed).  Some days I feel like I have real clarity.  Other days I’m just swimming in my personal abyss of uncontrolled thinking.  

Tonight is a little clearer, so I’ll give it a shot.  Here are some reasons why I think my writing here has been so weak and sporadic:

  • Writing a new sermon every week has become more difficult.  Maybe some post-surgery concentration issues.  Maybe due to trying to figure out a new routine to stay fresh after 44 years of weekly preaching and teaching.  Who knows?  But it’s a grind.
  • Some days I feel like, “Why bother?  Everything’s already been said.”
  • I don’t read Facebook much anymore.  Mostly when I get notified if people write something directly to me…or about me, sometimes.  It just feels wrong that I would want or expect someone to read what I write, but I’m not taking the time to read what they write.
  • I feel as if I’m busier now than I’ve ever been.  How did that happen?
  • I’m reading more than I am writing.  This has been good for me, though.  I’ve got six new books that are sitting on my end table and night stand waiting to be started.
  • Some days, I take late-night, rabbit-trail, web surfing to unknown levels of greatness.
  • My old buddy, depression, has shown up frequently in the past year.  It most often takes the form of staring, accompanied by undisciplined thinking.  Talk about a picture of productivity!
  • For the first time ever, I’ve let myself get sucked into following the circus of our presidential election process.  I have never, ever, done that.  It’s not who I am.  I have so many more important things going on in my life.  The majority of the time I think about writing, I have been drawn to react to things related to the issues of this political season. That generally stops my writing cold.  Dead in the water.

Most often, though, I find myself getting two or three paragraphs into a potential blog post, and then I get the feeling I don’t really have anything important to say.  I suppose it’s that simple.

So it’s time for a change.  After eight years of blogging for, essentially, the same audience and the same reasons, I’m going to try and breathe some fresh life into my writing.  For me. If you get something out of it, even better.  This is I want to do for my heart.  For my spirit. For my well-being.  Totally selfish.

Well, sort of.

I’ve decided to do the majority of my writing to my grandkids.  In the past, I’ve written occasional blog posts to them.  That has not been enough.  I really want to leave my story for them…to them.  I don’t expect them to read it anytime soon.  They’re too busy growing up.  But maybe someday they’ll want to know my story.  Maybe it will matter to them what I believed, what I felt strongly about, what my life was all about.  They deserve to hear it in my own words.

I wish I knew my dad’s story.  He wasn’t much of a talker.  Not a writer, either.  He was a hard-working man who showed his love and dedication to me and my mom by getting up early every day, putting on his work boots and his work ethic, getting in his Dodge pickup truck (three speed on the column), and earning a life-giving, life-sustaining paycheck for us every week.

There was never much time for storytelling.  I wish there was.  Oh, how I wish there was. There is a part of me that I will never know.  There is a part of me and a huge part of him my boys will never.  We all lose.

Just in case it matters someday, I want my kids and their kids to have the opportunity to know.  There is no guarantee I will get to tell them personally.

So I’m going to start writing to them, my little family tree.  I think I’ve got lots to say and right now I feel like I’ve got an audience, even though they don’t know it yet.

You can read it if you want.  It may feel a little like eavesdropping, but that’s ok.  Maybe you’ll read something that will be of value to you.  I know I will throw in some random posts along the way that might be of more interest to you, so it really might be worth your while to stick around.

I hope you do.

Btw…do you like the new background theme?  I think I do.

I’m not stupid.

Republican DemocratI have acted out of character the past couple of weeks.  For the first time, maybe ever, I have spent a significant amount of time watching both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions.  On top of that, I have spent time listening to, and reading, commentary given before, during, and after the Conventions on CNN, Fox News, and PBS.

Hey.  Just doin’ my due diligence as a citizen.  Here’s what I’m thinking tonight…

Listening to those who are profoundly entrenched on the far left or the far right is an exercise in absolute bewilderment for me.  Each sees the other as the epitome of lunacy.  They are both repulsed by the ideologies and policies of the other.  They both see the other as manipulative, deceitful, self-centered, and bent on destroying everything good about America.  Neither side trusts the other any further than they could throw them.

They each speak of the other, not only as ill-informed and deluded in their thinking, but as simply stupid for thinking and believing and behaving as they do.  Each side sees itself as vastly superior.  To hear their supporters talk, one would have to conclude the other side is not just incapable of leading our country, but wholly destined to lead us into economic and moral oblivion.

For these, the extremely opinionated, there is no hope of middle ground or compromise, because there is no trust, no respect, no listening, and no shared values.  Each side stands smugly with their arms folded and backs bowed, believing they are smarter, wiser, and better people than those they oppose.

The thing that makes this attitude so nauseating to me, is both convention crowds are full of the best and brightest our country has to offer: grade school teachers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, business owners, corporate execs, college professors, scientists, engineers, architects, artists, financial advisers, military, law enforcement, parents, civic leaders, and maybe even a few pastors.  I assume each of them is experienced, educated, well-read, and thoughtful. The last thing I would ever think of doing is to call them “stupid”, because of who they are going to vote for.

What an incredibly naive and insulting thing that would be for me to do.

It saddens me to witness our inability, or stubborn unwillingness, to embrace those who are politically different, as people of value, virtue, intellectual worth, and shared hope. Instead, lines are drawn deeper and judgment is cast.

And anymore, this thinking, this attitude, this way of interacting with people, has spilled over into most every other area of our lives.

I feel like I want to pray about it tonight.

But I just don’t have the words.

Maybe tomorrow.

The fruit of my randomness

BloggingSome things I’m thinking tonight…

Do I believe every non-criminal, non-terrorist, otherwise law-abiding gun owner in the US is a careful, moral, mentally stable, disciplined, responsible, and well-trained gun owner?  Not on your life.  Or my life, for that matter.  But it is their right as an American citizen to own guns.  This is a reality I accept.

I understand the sentiment behind the statement, “Guns don’t kill people…people kill people.”  But if I were a gun guy, I would never use that statement as support for my position.  It’s weak, illogical, and easily opposed.  There are much better arguments.

Do I believe the majority of alcohol drinkers have driven a vehicle while they were drunk, impaired, or even slightly buzzed?  You bet.  Probably the overwhelming majority.  Do I believe they are a danger to people when they do this?.  Definitely.  But it is their right as American citizens to take that risk and as long as they don’t get caught, no harm…no foul.

Do I believe every adult (18 and over) who has sex, is prepared to be a responsible parent? Of course not.  But it is our right as American citizens to pursue our own happiness, no matter how reckless, selfish, or irresponsible it might be.  Including making babies they are ill-equipped to love, train, and provide for.  And we all know condoms never fail, right?

I hate that our rights and freedoms as American citizens are our most treasured values.  I wish our care and concern for the common good was just as treasured.  My perspective may be skewed on this, but it’s certainly the way I see it.

I have no doubt that God does not recognize borders…at least in the way we see borders. Through the Word, I know that God loves everyone.  God does not show favoritism.  God is not willing for anyone to be rejected and perish.  God sees everyone equally in need and equal in worth and value.  I have always prayed for God to help me see with his eyes and feel with his heart.  Do I dare pray that I would see borders the way he does, also?

I hope not, but I think Kevin Durant may have made a huge mistake.

I have been using a “digital” Bible as my primary Bible for the past six years.  I am beginning to think it would be better for me to go back to carrying and using a printed, physical copy of the  Bible again.  I’ll tell you why sometime soon.

I just got to spend the better part of four days with my dear friends from India.  I am amazed, encouraged, challenged, and convicted by our similarities in thinking and practice regarding the church.  And we live out our faith in two dramatically different cultures.

My post surgery focus-attention-thinking-writing-creating deficit disorder isn’t really getting a whole lot better.  But it has to.  Soon.  A twist on the whole “necessity is the mother of invention” thing may have to come into play in the next few weeks…

I’ve been alive over 62 years.  62 years!  I wish I were smarter.  Wiser.  Stronger.  Deeper. More compassionate.  More faithful.  More loving.  More forgiving.  A better friend.  A better husband.  A better father.  A better leader.  A better example.  But, hey.  Look at it this way:  I’ve only been at it 62 years.

Until the next time I get inspired…

I’m tired.

TruthNot physically.  I get enough sleep.  My muscles get stronger every day.  No.  I’m tired in a different way altogether.

I’m tired of working so hard to find out if people are speaking the truth or not.

Years ago, I took most everything at face value.  Honesty was a value I was raised with and came to expect from others.  It was especially a value I expected from people in positions of power and influence.

Unfortunately, those days are long gone.

These days, I now know I can’t really trust anybody that I don’t know personally.

I can’t trust any news outlet.  I don’t believe that any of them are fair or balanced.  They say what their audience wants them to say, otherwise they would lose their audience. They may believe what they are saying is the truth, but anymore, even a casual fact-check will call their reporting into question.

(I realize that fact-checking sites and watch-dog blogs are equally subject to bias and need to be carefully researched and cross-checked for truth.  And I have developed the habit of doing this. Thus…the reason I am tired.)

I cannot…no, will not trust a politician.  Things have changed.  I cannot consistently believe the words that come out of their mouths.  Maybe they truly believe what they are saying.  Maybe not.  Either way, they are saying what they feel they need to say to get…or stay…elected.  They say what their constituency wants to hear.  Whether it is 100% accurate (or a complete fabrication) is completely irrelevant.

There was a time when coaches, ministers, teachers, police officers, military brass, counselors, social service officials and others, could be trusted to tell the truth, simply because of the honesty and integrity associated with their position.  Well, that’s a piece of distant history.

And let’s not even go down the road of the collective wisdom that is flippantly (and carelessly) traded on the world wide interweb.

But this isn’t all bad.

There was a time I was leading a high school Bible study and for the whole time I was teaching, I told lies and half-truths.  I made everything sound really spiritual.  I taught with deep conviction.  I made sure my facial expressions and body language were sincere and convincing.

After 20 or 30 minutes of teaching (complete with questions and answers), I came clean. And then proceeded to teach them the truth I really wanted them to grasp.  Don’t believe something just because someone in an influential position says it.  God gave us brains and we are to use them.  Think.  Ask questions.  Don’t trust a religious “expert”, just because they have a title or a following.  Study.  Research.  Use the gifts God has given you.  Diligently seek the truth.  Above all, take responsibility for your own spiritual journey.

Honestly, I think we may now be living in an era where truth and honesty in the social setting is gone.  The ends justifying the means is now the standard we have come to accept in almost all areas of public life.  Yeah.  I believe the bar is that low.

But it doesn’t have to be that way for the seeker of God’s truth.

The fruit of my randomness

FruitSome things I’m thinking tonight…

I’m a Christian who happens to live in America, not an American who happens to be a Christian.  This statement prioritizes my loyalties regarding Church and State.

People are going to believe what they want to believe.

It will be much, much harder for my grandchildren to grow up believing that “honesty is the best policy” than it was for me.

They will, however, grow up in a culture that values “the ends justify the means” above everything else.

I hate what is happening between people who love (and are loved by) Jesus, because of politics.

There are things I have very strong opinions about, yet I have very little knowledge of. This is embarrassing.

I don’t think a person can truly pledge their allegiance to multiple loyalties.  Ultimately, it will result in unresolvable conflict.  Choices will have to be made.

Although the sins of Baylor University are heinous and the victims and perpetrators are finally experiencing the appropriate justice, I am sad for the hundreds and hundreds of decent and honorable members of the Baylor family, who are absorbing the calloused jokes of heartless critics.

I’m pretty sure the Bible verse “…do not give up meeting together…” (Hebrews 10:25) has very little to do with attending the weekly Big Show.

I’m not much of a pro basketball fan, but the OKC – Golden State series was over-the-top amazing.