The Year of Living Biblically IV

I just finished A.J. Jacobs book last night (which will also be a confession of how long it takes me to finish a 330+ page book).

There weren't any major surprises along the way. I guess at times I was surprised at how much a self-proclaimed agnostic got out of following the Law. I admired him for being able to see the benefit in following some of God's commands.

There wasn't a big religious conversion in the end, which I knew would be the case. But, Jacobs does call himself a "reverent agnostic." He says, "whether or not there's a God, I believe in the idea of sacredness--that rituals can be sacred, that the Sabbath can be sacred, and there's a great importance to that."

Jacobs, in my view, is missing out on the greatness of the relationship that God offers us. But he's on the right track. He wants to make it a point to continue in observing the Sabbath, praying, giving thanks. Even if he isn't addressing God, he's seeing that these rituals have something deeper to them than just their actions.

At points, I wish that most of us in the church could get some of the things that Jacob was getting. I think we miss out on a lot because we don't think about our rituals (or, even worse, we completely neglect those important things--like the Sabbath and prayer--that God gives as commands). Sometimes we in the church place to much emphasis on the moment of conversion, and we neglect the process of discipleship (including weighing out the commands Jesus and Jehovah give). Whether or not we believe every command in the Bible is meant to be followed (and the degree of literalness in folowing each one), to call ourselves "Christians" is supposed to mean that we are walking in Jesus' footsteps (not literally, of course, but in striving to be His disciple--learning everything He did, said and believed and putting that into action in our own context).


Palm Sunday

We drove up to Iowa on Saturday night. The church I grew up in isn't overly liturgical, but it tends to celebrate more Christian holidays than just Christmas and Easter. We tried to arrive a few minutes early so that the boys could be a part of Palm Sunday--Nils has never gotten to wave a palm branch and Anders hasn't done it since we lived in Canada, so he didn't even remember it.

Neither boy wanted to even take a palm branch at first (even though we had talked it up earlier and they seem interested in participating). I did eventually talk Nils into holding one and he went forward with it, but I had to accompany. Anders has the same stage-fright I had when I was his age. I always fought going forward in church--whether it was to wave a palm branch or say a Christmas piece or sing a song. I remember crying vehemently trying to avoid going up. That did change as I got older (I even had some lead parts in high school plays!).

So, I can't blame Anders for not wanting to wave a palm branch. He knows the story, anyway. I doubt he gets the significance of "The King of the Jews" entering Jerusalem on a donkey. (Do I fully grasp the significance of Jesus' humble entry?) But he knows that children waved palm branches, praising Jesus with "Hosannah! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!"

I remember riding on a donkey once when I was young at my cousin's house. It wasn't a smooth ride by anymeans. There's a reason when kings don't ride them into battle or that they're not big headliners in the Rose Bowl Parade. Horses have power. Donkeys don't. But maybe humility isn't a bad thing. Especially in a Messiah who calls us to follow Him and immitate Him in His love, mercy, kindness and compassion toward others.



Garbage in, Garbage out

I was listening to an interview on NPR tonight with a British couple who kept their garbage output to one can-full last year. Total. This year, they're trying to not have any garbage. When they shop, they look at the packaging (or bring their own packaging, such as to the butcher) and see if it can be reused or recycled.

It's easy to look at people like that and think how environmentally crazy they are. I mean, they must really be sold out to the cause in order to put all that work into it. Or maybe we think it's an admirable feat, but not attainable for the common person.

At the same time, I was thinking about our ancestors. In many ways, garbage is a fairly recent phenomenon (and look at the impact it has had on our landscape in the last century since it's become prevalent). When my great-grandparents settled in Iowa from Sweden, everything they purchased was used. Nothing was thrown away. There wasn't packaging that didn't get reused in some way.

Am I ready to change all my purchasing habits? There are somethings that may not be practical in our economic status, but that doesn't mean I can't be more conscientious of what I do. Even just letting companies know that I would like to see less packaging--or more recyclable packaging is a step in the right direction.

Of Cell Phones and Other Things

I first got a cell phone only two years ago. A few years before that we had gotten rid of our land line and gone to just one cell phone, but that was largely in the hands of my wife--as I had little desire to be tied to one. We got rid of our cell phone when we moved to Canada, but when we moved back to the US, we opted to have two cell phones.

At this point in my life I have realized I need to be connected to people more. I get unhealthy when I'm isolated. I need to keep in contact with those who can keep me accountable and who care about my well-being.

We recently switched carries. We now get more minutes and free texting for a cheaper price. So I've been texting now. I still find little need to do it all the time, but it does come in handy. And, as convenient as short hand may be, I refuse to use it to save time. While I get frustrated with the English language at points for its inconsistencies and non-sensical rules, I won't bring it down further. So, I'll be typing out "to", "before" and "later" instead of using 2, B4 and L8R. There are all ready too many people who don't know the difference between "your" and "you're" or "they're" and "their."

So, feel free to text me now--I don't have to pay for it anymore--but expect my return texts to be a little longer as I type things out. Or maybe we should just talk.


A Year of Living Biblically - III

Indulge me in letting me share a few more thoughts from my latest readings in A.J. Jacobs' book, A Year of Living Biblically. It's been giving me some good laughs and some interesting thoughts (that's the author at right, displaying his beard-growth journey as he obeys the command to not cut the hair at the side of his head or his beard).

One of the things I appreciate of Jacobs is that he does take the time to reflect on what he's learning from following the Law. He also doesn't resist it affecting him. Jacobs mentions how in trying to follow the Law all the time that it helps him to live more in the moment. In doing so, the mundane becomes sacred. "I thought religion would make me live with my head in the clouds, but as often as not, it grounds me in the world."

I've mentioned a few times in previous posts my desire to practice the presence of God--what Jacobs called making the mundane sacred. I envy him that he has been able to experience that--not at the level of Brother Lawrence, of course, since he is missing out on a relationship with God, but he still gets to a point where he is thinking about God as he tries to be prudent in keeping the commands. I'm trying to be more mindful--being intentional about taking time to pray while I'm in the shower or washing dishes or other routine tasks that enable my mind to focus elsewhere.

I think that part of what helps Jacobs connect in his legalism is that he has to be mindful of being intentional in all he does. That's the key--not the legalism, but in being intentional, being mindful of the intent in all I do. Not just my intent, but God's intent for my life.

At one point near the middle of the book, after traveling to Israel, Jacobs reflects on how one of the downfalls to his experiment is that he's doing it all by himself. One of Jacobs' spiritual advisers told him, "The people of the Bible were 'groupies' . . . Only the crazy Europeans came up with the idea of individualism. So what' you're doing is a modern phenomenon."

Jacobs isn't the only one going about this religious experiment by himself. Most of us do it. Yes, there is a big part of faith that is individual. But there's an even bigger part of faith that is communal. And we're missing out on it. That's how Judaism and Christianity were lived out up until sometime after Constantine: faith was lived out in community. Not just lived out, but shaped and believed. It's more than just going to church and worshiping with others. It's sharing our lives together, sharing our doubts and struggles and revelations.

We've been exploring that at church some recently: how we connect more and experience community in a large church. It's not easy. But little in life is--at least the worthwhile stuff. It's a shame that we got away from church being a corporate, daily-lived-out way we practice our faith. It's also how we keep faith on track as we don't just develop our dogma in isolation. It is shaped by everyone else around us, and everyone else who has come before us. That doesn't mean we all end up believing the same thing, but that we have respectful dialogues as we wrestle with issues.

There's another page I bookmarked with some thoughts to reflect on, but I'm apparently too tired to remember what it was on that page. Which probably isn't a bad thing right now. It's time for bed--and probably a few more pages from the book before I shut my eyes.


More than Beer and Parades

We did very little, other than wearing green, to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day. Anders' teacher had told them yesterday about a leprechaun who was going to visit the class today. This morning he had left a trail of notes through the school that led them to a treat. So, because of the leprechaun story we watched the story of St. Patrick on the Veggie Tales Sumo of the Opera DVD last night (you can watch it on YouTube now).

Believe it or not, St. Patrick's Day hasn't always been focused on beer and parades. That didn't come around until chiefly the last 100 years after the Irish immigrated to America (though, of course, drinking beer has long been customary in Ireland). Even before St. Patrick's Day became a feast day of the church in the 1600s, it was chiefly a religious holiday, celebrating the life of Patrick--a life of evangelism, loving all of God's creation and of steadfast faith.

If all you know of St. Patrick (outside of Guinness beer, leprechauns and parades alongside green rivers) is legends of snakes and shamrocks, dig a little deeper. Even if it's just the Veggie Tales short on his life. I also recommend Stephen Lawhead's novel about Patrick's life. While it is a work of fiction, he has carefully crafted it with historical facts.

Thought it's a small part of my heritage, I love my Irish roots. Celtic Christianity has much to teach us today (see George Hunter's book The Celtic Way of Evangelism). I love Celtic culture, as well: music, art, dance. So, though I didn't get around to making some bangers and mash, soda bread or even some cabbage today, I did sport the wearin' of the green (as did all of us--Anders had at least three different shades on) in remembrance of Patrick's life and his impact on the world. Whether you're Irish or not, his life is worth celebrating (after all, everyone's Irish on March 17).


A Year of Living Biblically - II

I'm just beginning the fourth month of Jacob's year of living biblically. I'm still finding it quite entertaining, yet thought-provoking. He admits that another part of his reason for the experiment is to show how silly it is to take everything in the Bible literally. Even if you consider yourself a biblical literalist, you're not. Trust me, there are plenty of things in the Bible that you're not doing that the Bible tells you to do. Even if you say Christ's sacrifice fulfills all the Hebrew Laws, there are plenty of commands in the New Testament you're not following literally (do you greet everyone with a holy kiss?).

I consider myself to be fairly orthodox in my theology (though I believe that if we follow Jesus' teaching that we'll end up being fairly unorthodox in traditional religion). I do treat many events in the Bible as history (with the acknowledgment that history is always told from a certain point of view). I tend to take a good chunk of commandments seriously (and literally), though I also know there is plenty of symbolism, allegory and analogy in the Bible. I do believe the spirit of the Law is more important than the letter (though I believe most of us--myself included--fail at both ends. We are sinners after all).

Jacobs writes about following Ecclesiastes''s admonition to "always wear white." Though people in New York City (where drab browns, blacks and navys are the norm) are constantly leering at him, Jacobs finds himself feeling happier, more spiritual. He notes that the outer influences the inner. The things he does shapes his feelings. In this case bright, pure clothes make him feel happier and more spiritual.

At the same time, Jacobs often notes how he's not there. All of his obeying hasn't "converted" him to anything. He's hoping that the more he does, the more spiritual he'll become. There is truth to that . . . sometimes our faith is bolstered by our actions, our religious routines. Sometimes our habits carry us through. But usually the faith has to be in place first.

Several years ago during a trip Beth and I were listening to a book on tape about a woman who spent a year with the Amish to learn from them. It was a fascinating look at Amish life, but at the end she leaves with little transformation in her life. I believe that her time with the Amish didn't really change her because she never embraced the reason behind the Amish beliefs: chiefly God. What the Amish do doesn't make sense if God is not in the equation.

Likewise, the Law doesn't really make sense if you don't also seriously investigate who the God is behind the Laws. It's one thing to read about Him. It's another to rigorously learn who He is.


A Year of Living Biblically

I recently picked up the book The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs at a thrift store recently. After seeing it in book stores I had been interested in looking at it; some friends' recommendations reminded me of it again. So when I saw it for a couple bucks, I thought I'd pick it up (as if I needed more books for our library--why can't I just be content with checking them out from the public library more? I guess this way I have them to share with others, too).

Jacobs is a self-professed agnostic Jew (he admits that he's about as Jewish as The Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant) and editor for Esquire Magazine. He decided to try an experiment (partly to find out what he was missing by not being religious, partly to have better answers as a parent and mostly to have a new book to write) of following every command in the Bible--the major ones like those in The Ten Commandments, but also the lesser-known ones like not trimming your beard and not wearing clothes of mixed fibers.

I'm just starting the book, but it's quite fascinating (not to mention humorous in many places). Jacobs talks about trying to put into practice the commands about disciplining children. He has a hard time jumping in headfirst and "not sparing the rod." But he also realizes that his hands-off (so to speak) discipline isn't good for his son, nor is it fair to his wife.

He realizes how much he lies (just little, white lies often meant to have a good outcome--like get his son to eat his veggies) and how his son has picked up on lying. He realizes how much he covets (others' speaking fees, clothes, cars, etc.), and how distracting that is in his day as well as taking away from happiness in life.

He has a great outlook where he manages to find the good in each law--the underlying reasons why God created some of those laws for ancient Israel. While his wife isn't too fond of being considered "impure" once a month, and gets frustrated with Jacobs for not being able to sit on any furniture she has sat on, Jacobs learns that a week hiatus from touching his wife in any manner can actually strengthen their marriage (though his wife might need more convincing) and it is embedded with a respect for life. He has done the footwork in setting up mentors (rabbis and pastors) who can answer his questions and provide encouragement.

Even though I'm just at the beginning, it's evident that this year-long journey of following every commandment in the Bible isn't going to "convert" Jacobs (plus, I read some additional material at the end of the book in which Jacobs outright states that he still isn't a practicing Jew or Christian). But it's also very clear that he is being changed by this. He sees the value in moral absolutes (even coming from a moral relativism background) and wants to raise his son up with morals. He knows that following the commandments makes him a better person.

If anything, though, being legalistic about following the commandments actually causes Jacobs to think about God more. Now, I'm not advocating that we all become legalistic believers, but I wonder if we've gotten too lax in keeping the commandments (after all, in order to keep the commandments, you have to KNOW the commandments). I'll keep you posted as I continue reading--he's only into the second month of this experiment, so I'm sure there'll be more to reflect on.


Liberals, Conservatives and Common Ground

Okay, so I admit I'm not up on the news that much. When it's on I'm either making supper, eating supper or getting ready for bed. I learn a lot about what's going on through facebook.

A current thread in several of my friends' posts center around Glenn Beck, Fox News commentator. I, personally, didn't even know who he was until today. Apparently, he said some things regarding "social justice" (it's an explosive phrase, I'm aware) and the church. One of the quotes I've come across in several places (not having heard him say it, I'm taking this quote as truth since I haven't come across anything that denies it) is this:
“I’m begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them . . . are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words ’social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”
Many people have already responded to this quite well (including Eugene Cho and Bread for the World). I mainly heard about it through my friends who are more into "social justice" issues in the first place. So I posted a comment on my wall asking for those who may have seen Mr. Beck say these things to respond. Needless to say, the dialogue that followed between my more conservative friends and my more liberal friends was passionate.

The thing is, they all pretty much agree. They all agree that the Bible calls us to help the "orphan and the widow (James 1:27)" and "the least of these (Matthew 25:40)." It's pretty hard to refute that (though I know many try). While we tend to agree on what we believe, we don't agree on how to live it out.

The problem is that politics is linked too closely to this issue. Some hear "socialism" when they hear social justice. Others cringe at the phrase because one side isn't doing enough or the other is doing too much. Faith is very difficult to separate from politics. What we believe spiritually often influences (at least I believe it should) how we want to see things acted out politically.

What if we could throw off our labels for a while and just love as Jesus loved? What if we could get past see each other as conservatives or liberals and see each other as followers of Christ, made in the image of God? I'm wondering if such things are even possible with our sin-tainted brains and eyes. Yet, wondering if it's possible or not doesn't mean I shouldn't try.

And maybe "try" is the key word in all of this. We shouldn't just talk about social justice, but we should be trying to live out what we believe. Maybe in doing so we would make debates over comments by people like Glenn Beck a moot point.


Extraordinary Life

Our sermon series at church lately has been titled "A Life Less Ordinary." Our last three Sundays have focused on living lives of worship, growing deeper in community and living with purpose. The messages have been good and challenging.

An extraordinary life is something I strive to have, something I desire to be living. Ordinary life is draining and purposeless. Extraordinary life is filling and is Kingdom advancing. Ordinary life goes through the motions; extraordinary life is intentional, living out our credo to love God and love others as ourselves.

Extraordinary life sees everyday as a chance for worshiping God--even in risky circumstances and challenging times. Extraordinary life develops as we seek to grow more spiritually mature.

Extraordinary life seeks out intimacy with other believers, bringing redemption and reconciliation. It develops as week find our identity in Christ and live out His love to others--even others who are difficult to love (including ourselves).

Extraordinary life is lived with purpose. It interacts with others in a way that they are empowered to live out their God-given purpose as well. Extraordinary life has a testimony that needs to be shared, giving others the opportunity to be transformed in light of God's work in our life.

So, that's what I'm wrestling with in the last three weeks (and the weeks to come). If you find yourself also desiring a life less ordinary, maybe we can encourage each other on this journey.


In Like a Lamb

The boys and I got out to take a walk in this beautiful weather, so we headed over to the nature center. It had been a while since we went. The sunshine and warm temperatures (well, warm for what we've been used to the past few months. If we had these temperatures in October, we'd all be bundling up and staying indoors instead of shedding some layers and heading outside). We weren't there too long, but it was enough time to get some Vitamin D and enjoy the birds and squirrels running through the woods.

I loved the glow the sun gives the cattails.

I can actually wait a little while for spring if we can keep this weather for a while. It reminds me of winter in British Columbia--snow on the ground, not needing a coat, just a sweater, 40 degrees (I think that's like 4 Celsius). But it's a great time of year. Get out and enjoy it.