Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Death is a bastard

Aunt Thelda, my dad's aunt, died last week of a stroke at 85 years old. Wife of one husband, widow for decades, member of one small country church her entire life.

I wondered how the funeral would be. Would the gospel take center stage? Would harmful cliches and corrupt eschatology win the day?

Well, I was blessed beyond all anticipation as this missionary baptist pastor seemed to strike the perfect balance between honoring the faithful life of a dear Woman while pointing to the only basis by which Aunt Thelda will be resurrected.

Here is the summary. I would be very satisfied if this were my testimony at the end of my life:

1.) Aunt Thelda loved children. Despite the disapproval of many whom had seen Halloween as "the devil's holiday", Aunt Thelda not only supported kids enjoying the fun day - but she actually DRESSED UP every year with the children of Prairie Grove, Arkansas and took them trick or treating. Little first and second grade kids would ask their mommy's and daddy's if they could sit with Aunt Thelda during Worship. She taught, loved, hugged and kissed children until her final days. Wow. Do you really need to know more?

2.) Aunt Thelda cooked constantly, untold number of meals, for family, friends, and neighbors. She had dishes and deserts for which she was famous. Her nephew talked about certain dishes specifically with as much admiration as (perhaps) Albert Eisenstein's early descendants talked about his unique intellectual accomplishments. And indeed, it was easy to see how her hospitality has had more effect for the Kingdom than the atom bomb.

3.) Aunt Thelds cared deeply for the church.
They called her little white country house a "communication hub". Now, the reason they can call it that and everyone laugh and cry is because she wasn't a gossip. Rather, she was women with a life dominated by prayer- and she wanted to know what to ask Jesus for.

But the most beautiful thing was to hear the pastor say that none of these things are the basis for Thelda's redemption. In fact, Thelda was a sinner till the day she died and it took the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ to guarantee her salvation, and his victory over the grave to give her sure hope of resurrection.

I love good funerals. Death is a bastard. And I need to be reminded of how essential the gospel is.

Monday, January 28, 2008

How to raise a racist

Do nothing.

That's right, its that simple.

If you have the admirable goal of teaching your white wealthy children that they are superior to all other races and socioeconomic classes - you are probably in a situation where you can just sit back,
and let it happen.

While driving through Tulsa's poorest neighborhood on Sunday my five year old son, Addison, remarked "Look dad, that person is brown."

"That's true", I casually agreed.

"Dad...I don't see many brown people"

"Hmm, how many different races (you know son, like kinds and colors) of people do think there are on the earth?" I was on a mission now to find out some key things about my son's heart.

"Uhhhh, I'd say white and brown...and thats about it." Addison replied confidently.

"Hmm, let me ask you another question. Which color do you think is the best color to be?"

"White, we're white." he replied quickly like he was answering "A" to a question of which letter started the alphabet, or his name.


"Dad, Brown people are better?" he asked skeptically. (I'm serious. His tone was skeptical, as If Id just declared "Addison, the sky is never blue." and he replied "What?")

"Nope", I replied again.

"It's a trick question, Addison", Stephanie interjected as a loving mother trying to rescue her son from too difficult an intellectual exercise.

"Dad, are we normal?" Addison's 5 year old intellect was at work.

"That depends on what you mean by normal.... What if I said 'yes we are normal'?" I replied

"Well...if we are normal, then white people are normal and brown people aren't."

The conversation went on and I was amazed at every turn. I took pains to explain how Jesus loves his creation and all the variations of it - which is what makes it beautiful - and how that reflects the marvelous complexity of our Creator, etc.

But you know what? I am convinced that the real teaching, the stuff that is going to keep my son from being a supremacist at heart is only going to happen by attacking the root of Addison's initial observation; "I don't see many brown people"

If I convince my son by the way we live, and where we live, and where we go to school that the entitled superior separate themselves from the non-white poor, then I should expect to raise a racist. period.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

"I can't marry this man!!"

In response to a story I was posed a question.

The Story: The story was about a married couple. The details are not relevant to the following points.

The Question: Will they make it?

I found this to be a provocative question. I wondered if he was simply asking if I thought they would be able to avoid divorce or if he was asking something more. Something like, "Would this become a healthy marriage?"

So I began to think about what it meant for a marriage to "make it."

I think there are basically 5 different levels or categories of maturity that a marriage can be in, with plenty of overlap:

1. Level One: Avoiding legal divorce. The first level of maturity in a marriage is simply to keep from legal divorce. Now, I’m not necessarily knocking this level. It’s a big deal to find a way to live together in relative peace and harmony.

Here's what happens: At some point in the first week after the "I do's" you are struck with the staggering realization that you married "a sinner". Your heart really told you that you had married the most perfect person, and you loved them. And even if you were to eventually find a flaw or two you wouldn’t mind it so much. In fact, you would probably think that it was "cute". But then it’s discovered --- selfishness.

This hit Stephanie, my wife on about day 4 of the Honeymoon. We rented a car and began to drive all over England and Scotland. It wasn’t long until she found out that I was addicted to squeezing the last mile out of every tank of gas. You see, when in High School I had calculated how much time I would save over the course of my lifetime given the elimination of only 4 unnecessary fill-ups per year. What I failed to calculate, however, is what would happen if I didn’t marry a woman who shared my enthusiasm for this efficiency to the extent that she would rather run out of gas prematurely in another country than fill up too soon. Within just 4 short days of marriage I showed an unwillingness to change something small about my life so that my wife could enjoy her honeymoon.

So level one ends up being the maturity and ability to AT LEAST look at my spouse, see clearly that they are sinners with serious defects, take a deep breath and say "I will continue to live with that".

2. Level Two: Managing your roommate. In Level two maturity you actually kind of like this sinner. They make a pretty good roommate actually. You each determine what each of you needs to do in order to make the marriage function and you do it. This level is all about making a household "work". You’re basically roommates who have the biblical authority to be intimate. You manage each other and train each other we do our pets: treats for being a good boy and no affection for being bad. You’re basically waking up everyday with the goal of continuing to manipulate and shape this person into the kind of spouse that will make you most comfortable.

I remember one roommate I had: Dan Agosto. We would take turns doing the dishes because we both hated the work that it took to keep the kitchen clean. I remember one time it was Dan's week to clean the dishes and (you guessed it) they began to pile higher and higher until every last glass, cup and plate we had was stacked in and around the sink. Now, I decided the way to motivate Dan was to keep buying glasses and cups and using those until Dan finally couldn’t take it anymore, and finally did some cleaning. To my surprise, this only discouraged Dan and he simply made the adjustment to eating only fast food until his week was complete. My attempt to manage Dan had not worked in the least. It had only resulted in Dan eating more unhealthy food that he had before.

Something interesting happened, though, at the end of that week. We had a dear friend to each of us who stopped over to visit. His name was Nathan Electric Weber. And when Nate walked into our apartment and saw the kitchen totally dominated by a sea of dishes he began to laugh. And looking at us without words he seemed to have figured out what the issue was. His response was remarkable. He chuckled as he said “You guys…” and simply walked over to the kitchen and started to wash dishes.

And then a miracle happened: Dan got up off his lazy ass, walked in and began to help. And then a bigger miracle happened: I got up off my prideful ass, walked into the kitchen and began to help. Nate showed me that I had been so busy trying to prove a point and manage Dan that I had failed to love Dan.

3. Level Three: Loving each other sacrificially. At this level of spiritual maturity the husband says to wife in all they do: "Your happiness is my happiness." And so, each really starts to serve and submit and sacrifice so that the other can be happy.

Within the first few months of marriage my Dad and Mom were adult sponsors on a church youth trip from Arkansas to Florida. They took a large bus full of kids and embarked on the long drive. Now, my dad had a list of kids that he was responsible for and my mom had a separate list. Following a restroom break after the group re-boarded the bus two of the youth on my dad's list (a boy and a girl) were found to be missing. So, my dad asked my mom to come back into the restaurant where they stopped since the girl may be in the restroom. Well, my mom told my dad that she would go into the restroom to look for the girl and that she needed to use the restroom as well. Subsequently, my dad found both the girl and the guy while mom was in the restroom, boarded the bus, and then told the bus driver that everyone was on board. As the bus turned on the highway ramp and began to build speed a kid in the back of the bus exclaimed, "Stop the Bus!!! Mrs. Dees is running after us on the highway!!" When she got up to the bus and got on she walked up to my Dad and said "What's wrong with you? Why did you leave me?" And he replied, "You weren’t on my list."
Now, at level three your spouse is always on your list. In fact they are at the top of your list. Their wants and needs begin to take priority over yours. You begin to live to see them satisfied and happy.

4. Level Four: Caring about the other's soul. Wow, so many marriages never make it here. To have a marriage that actually cares about the others' relationship with Christ is rare indeed. The reason is that it takes a Godward focus rather than an inward one. Suddenly, there is something that is more important to me than my comforts, and there’s something more important to me than my spouses enjoyment of a meal or evening. What are important now are things of eternal consequence. What matters now is that redemption actually occurs in my spouse’s life.
It's waking up in the morning and asking/praying; "How can I be a means to the redemptive work in my husbands life today?"
Its believing that God is in the business of re-creating my wife to be the way He wants her to be, then waking up and saying "How can I work for and with this purpose and not against it?"

5. Level Five: Leveraging all for the Kingdom. Investing everything together for the Advancement of Christ's Kingdom. Here the husband and wife leverage themselves, their marriage, their influence, and their assets all for the advancement of Christ's Kingdom.

This is a marriage that believes the Big Story, while living the Little Story. You believe the Big Story that God is transforming His Creation, for His Glory, for His Church, By His Church. You believe this while living the little story out: God is transforming you (now as one) to be means of Redemption and bring His Kingdom to bear in this culture.