Scrutiny

NGC_4414_(NASA-med)In a very far-away corner of the Universe, billions of light-year away. There is a galaxy. Light from this galaxy has never reached Earth, so there is no human name for it. As galaxies go, this one if quite unimpressive. A frumpy galaxy that probably was not popular in high school.

Circling this galaxy, on the end of one of its most unfashionable arms, is a lone, small star. Circling this star at a distance of about 15 light hours is a small clump of ice whose only distinguishing feature is its utter ordinariness. A small spike protrudes from the center and at the very tip, there is a water molecule.

The oxygen in this water molecule is a rather selfish habit of keeping the electrons to itself much of the time. As the electrons attempt to escape the powerful magnetic force the binds them to the nucleus, an even stronger force presses the neutrons and protons together. The glue that hold them together is also the force that created them. The quarks inside the protons attempt to leave, but the force holds them together with unimaginable strength.

Scrutinizing this amazing dance is a Creator who watches and waits. Every circle of the electron is watched and guided. Every rule in the depths of the atom is enforced by the God who make the atom. He watches and delights in the amazing symmetries. The particles try to run and to stay, to disappear and to create more, but he holds them firmly and shepherds them into their destiny.

He watches each atom in the whole ice crystal. He guides the slow 498.76 year orbit of the crystal from its distant star. He watches the star as it slowly marches through the frumpiest of galaxies. In fact, despite it’s frumpiness, He has a special affection for this galaxy that no human being will ever see or know of.

He takes a special delight in knowing things that he alone will ever know. It’s not that he is secretive, but that he does have his secrets. No one will ever know of his favorite boring star in the frumpiest of all galaxies because no one will ever think to ask. He chuckles as he considers this.

His intimate understanding extends through all the nearby galaxies. He knows every secret of every particle and wave in all the depths of all space. Every last one stands at attention to his command and every last one immediately obeys his instruction.

The immensity of his intellect and power make this intimate knowledge effortless. He could create a million such universes and know them just as well. He did not struggle to hold this together, he enjoyed holding it together. He loved knowing what he had made.

As he stares across the cosmos and feels the ebb and flow of hundreds of billions of galaxies, he has a special attention to a little planet and a moderately more fashionable region of the universe. This planet, green with life, is not his favorite, but the people who live on it are quite special to him.

One of his better kept secrets if why, exactly, he cares for these little creatures. He made them in his image and that is a remarkable thing, but many have wondered why he would do this. Even making them in his image, why does he love them so much. There are many more fantastic and remarkable things happening in the Universe at any second, yet he watches with a special attention for these ants on a little iron ball.

His explanations of why he loved them were never satisfactory to the questioner. This was another thing that made him chuckle. He could decide to love them and he had decided to. The questioner always seems to think there needs to be a better reason, but this is reason enough for a finite questioner with a finite questions.

He even finds it remarkable in his own thinking that he loves them. A testament to the type of God he is, one who loved children and not just clocks in a wound up Universe.

So let us, those very children, take a moment and realize that while he scrutinizes that atom in the depths of space, he is watching us: he is watching me. He is taking the time to love me and know me. He is the sort of God who wants to know me and be known by me. What sort of God is this?

Certainly a mysterious one.

-Chip

Against Againstness

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Inside my generation is a gnawing need to be part of something. To belong to something greater than ourselves, to be part of something great.

The problem is that belonging to great things involves a lot of work and determination. We aren’t really into working or determination, so we choose the next best thing.

Againstness

You see, it is easy to belong to a growing mass of critics. You read watch a video of Ray Rice punching his wife. You are filled with outrage. You tweet a nasty denunciation of Ray Rice, Roger Goodell, The Baltimore Ravens, the Western Culture, Men, and the spiraling failure of humanity. If you are especially industrious, you even wrote a blog post about it.

Take a deep breath. That was hard work. You did something.

But you didn’t. What you did was join the large mass of humanity in agreeing that Ray Rice had done something terrible. You aren’t a lone voice bringing attention to a terrible situation. You are part of a large self-congratulating mob patting each other on the backs for how much they are against domestic violence. Againstness gives you the illusion of doing something. As Barnabas Piper clear shows in his article Defined by What We Aren’t, againstness is at its best laziness and at its worst Pharisaical.

Throughout my teen years I traveled with an organization called Teen Missions International. Every year, the great Bob (he has a last name, but we all just called him Bob), would stand in the darkness on commissioning night. We were all ready to have a pizza party that night as we headed out to our overseas work, but Bob would solemnly say.

“Do you see this darkness. It is better to light a candle than it is to curse the darkness.”

He would light a single candle in that large tent. We would see the outlines of people even in that large space, with the lighting of a single candle.

Darkness cursing is easy. Candle cursing is even easier. Wouldn’t a bigger candle be better? If you really want to light that space, why not get some big halogen bulbs? Candles are bad for the environment. That message he spoke after lighting the candle wasn’t that inspiring.

Bob did something. The rest of us are just critics.

Hating sin is not loving God. Hating the effects of sin is not caring for people. We need to define ourselves by what we are FOR.

Yes, I know. This sounds an awful lot like work. We need to make a hard choice, stop pretending we are loving people by being critical of their enemies. Don’t pretend you love God because you hate his enemies. We need to actually love our God and love his people.

Ironically, this is really mundane. Loving God looks quite boring, even domesticated. For most, it means living a quiet life working their jobs and loving their families. It means we complain less and compliment more. It means looking at God and asking why I don’t delight in him more.

The greatest sinner you know is reading this article right now. Is it possible that you are so critical because you feel your own sin. It is easier to justify my sin if Ray Rice and Chris Brown are evil. At least I don’t do that! But that nagging knowledge that you have failed your God won’t go away.

The cure for againstness is to look deeply at what God has done FOR you. If you are so screwed up (and you are, much more than you realize) and God loves you so much anyway, WOW. That is good news. When you look out of your broken heart and see other sinners, the bent of your heart won’t be to condemn, because if I condemn them, I condemn myself. God does not condemn me, even though he really should.

I want that for others too.

We stand with the God of the Universe at our back and in front. With that kind of security, we have so much to be for and too much work to do. Sometimes that means being against evil. Most of the time it means proactively teaching and training and loving and building. It means being rather boring most of the time. If we don’t build, the world will fall apart.

So let’s do some building.

-Chip

I would also like to recommend the excellent book Facing Leviathan by Mark Sayers. In its pages, I discovered much of my own againstness and where it came from.

The image above is courtesy of Acid Pix and is used with permission.

Ebola, Christians, and the Plague of St. Cyprian

1280px-Ebola_virus_virionIn the year 250 AD, something terrible happened. A previously unknown disease was unleashed on the Roman world. For the next sixteen years cities were decimated with up to 5,000 deaths a day at its worst. Wars were halted due to the crippling effects of the plague.

No samples of the disease remain, so we are left to guess what it was. It is possible that it was the original smallpox outbreak which hit an unprepared world with deadly force. Everywhere the disease went, death reigned. Commoners and royalty were both ravaged with even Roman Emperor Claudius II Goithicus dying from it.

We know of the plague because the Bishop of Carthage, Cyprian, recorded his messages to his followers as they dealt with the death surrounding them. He described the plague like this:

This trial, that now the bowels, relaxed into a constant flux, discharge the bodily strength; that a fire originated in the marrow ferments into wounds of the fauces; that the intestines are shaken with a continual vomiting; that the eyes are on fire with the injected blood; that in some cases the feet or some parts of the limbs are taken off by the contagion of diseased putrefaction; that from the weakness arising by the maiming and loss of the body, either the gait is enfeebled, or the hearing is obstructed, or the sight darkened;—is profitable as a proof of faith.

Cyprian had the unenviable job of shepherding his people through one of the worst catastrophes to ever happen in the Western World. He counseled that Christians should live as though we have a hope. He felt that because Heaven awaits us, we can risk our lives to care for others. He describe the courage a Christian should have like this:

What a grandeur of spirit it is to struggle with all the powers of an unshaken mind against so many onsets of devastation and death! What sublimity, to stand erect amid the desolation of the human race, and not to lie prostrate with those who have no hope in God; but rather to rejoice, and to embrace the benefit of the occasion; that in thus bravely showing forth our faith, and by suffering endured, going forward to Christ by the narrow way that Christ trod, we may receive the reward of His life and faith according to His own judgment

This is not the words of a man who is simply thinking out loud, he watched as people died all around of him of this terrible illness. Not very long after writing these words, he had to live them out. He was killed by the Roman authorities in the year 258 AD.

He faced his death with courage.

In light of Cyprian’s example, we too have a dangerous plague to face. I want to challenge you, Christian, to be willing to die. Not to be cavalier and stupid, but to be courageous and wise. Cyprian’s hope and ours is that the moment we die, we go home. We stand with Jesus forever, never to suffer again.

The legacy of Cyprian is closer to you than you realize. His work was instrumental in the spread of Christianity. The Christians were the ones who ran toward the sick and helped them when no one else would. The growth of Christianity after that can be traced ot their response to the Plague of Cyprian.

Let us, too, be the sorts of people who run to the need and risk our lives to do it. Let us “stand erect amid the desolation of the human race.” The only risk we take is that we might die and be with Jesus. The benefit is showing a world how precious Jesus is to us.

-Chip

People Die Just Like They Lived

dying gaulThere is a belief out in the world that people who are dying are different. They look back and see their lives in the sunset and the perspective offers them fresh insight and changes them somehow. It looks really good in a movie and makes a touching story at a funeral.

The reality is both better and worse than that.

As a hospice nurse, I have seen many people die. I tried to understand what drove them in their last days. Many have died with a grave and firm dignity that I envy. Many have died desperately clawing at their lives. Many have died forgiving and being forgiven. Many have died more bitter than they were in life.

For years it perplexed me what they had in common. What does death do to all of us? What do the bitter man and the kind man have in common as they see their lives ending?

The answer, they became even more themselves.

Death really isn’t that transformational. The anxious woman is even more anxious. The caring lady is even more caring. The brave man exhibits previously unknown courage. The coward is even more afraid.

This really shouldn’t be surprising. Dying people are regular people under a great deal more stress. With the rust blasted away by the heat of the moment, the metal below is exposed. Death is, after all, the great equalizer. The rich die and the poor die. The happy and the sad die. The wise man and the fool are both going to die.

That is not to say that these people die the same. Far from it. In death, I want to be the couragious, faithful, and caring man. My hope is that I will be at peace with my own death and will be able to serve those who are going to suffer through my death. The moment I die, my suffering is truly over. I will look my God in the eyes and finally, after many years of waiting, go home. The wait will have been long, but worth it.

Why would anyone feel sorry for me? I get to go home.

Those left behind, on the other hand, will have experienced a profound loss. Doesn’t it make sense that I should make doubly sure that all debts are paid, all that needs to be said has been said, and that every support for those I love will have been attended to.

How do I become that person? The man who serves in death. Because in death I will be just that much more of what I already am, the answer is to work on the me of today. Am I a servant today? All the more so when I die. Am I kind and generous today? I will be that much more when I die.

Don’t treat today like it has nothing to do with your death. If you are unprepared for your death, those you love will suffer the most. Have the courage to face your death today so that when it comes tomorrow, you will be prepared.

We are all becoming more of what we are every day. Age accelerates this change and dying perfects it. Be very careful who you are becoming today. One day you will become that person. I hope you can look at that person in the mirror.

Or maybe I should say I hope you can look your God in the eye on that day?

-Chip

The image of the Dying Gaul is courtesy of Anthony Majanlahti and is used with permission

Twenty-Seven Years Ago Today

birthdayI know that most of you think of July 21st as the day that Herostratus set fire to the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus. Or maybe you think of it as the day Belgium won independence from the Netherlands. The Battle of Bull Run was fought on July 21st. For the TV enthusiast, July 21st is the first day in 1931 where TV was broadcast seven days a week in New York City. NATO was founded in 1949 on this day. In Sri Lanka, Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the first woman to be an elected head of state on July 21st. In 2007, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released.

I know that’s what all of you think of when I mention July, 21st, but that’s not what matters to me. On July 21, 1987 I was no doubt enjoying the summer. I had just turned four and had recently moved to East Tennessee. Maybe I picked blackberries that day. I was probably looking out at the “cow field” in our back yard.

Far across the country, a little girl was born. She was adorable, the second daughter of the family.

Of course, I had no idea that this birth mattered. I hadn’t heard of the city and probably didn’t even know of the state she was born in. It would be almost 13 years before that little girl made any difference to me at all.

We met shortly before both of our birthdays in late June of 2001. We met in a circus tent on a sweltering Florida day. She was a very thin little girl and I was an oaf. Maybe a friendly oaf, but I am under no illusions that my stunning looks and boyish charm had anything to do with our friendship.

A little over four years later, I married that little girl who was no longer a little girl.

This is her eighth birthday as my wife. Certainly this birthday is better for me than it is for her. If you consider how we have aged, I am getting my first gray hairs (a sparse few) and my earliest wrinkles. She, on the other hand, still has smooth skin, sweet eyes, and a…ahem…foxy body!

All of you can can remember Harry Potter today, but I have something much better. I have my delightful, beautiful, wise, and thoughtful friend. I love you Sam. I’m so happy to have you!

Oh, and Happy Birthday!

-Chip

The cake above is courtesy of Will Clayton and is used with permission

A Dream for Kitty (on her High School Graduation)

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Kitty,

I know you don’t like to be called Kitty any more. You have grown into a young woman who has the world in front of her. A sea of expectations, hopes, fears, and dreams. A commander of your destiny who will choose to battle the storms and find a new country for herself. Bold, curious, and determined, you have a bright future.

Such a person really shouldn’t be call Kitty.

But I don’t see you that way. To me, you will always be, to some degree, that little girl sitting in that van with a ridiculous number of pets in it. With brown hair and tender eyes, that little girl’s sweet disposition shined through. A tender soul who looked at life with curiosity and a healthy dose of caution.

That little girl visited us often. I remember when she visited us in our apartment in Knoxville. I remember when she lived in our basement, when she drove a car for the first time, when she pursued her first job. Soon, I will remember when she graduated High School and moved into a strange and exciting world.

Please permit and old man like me to see you as a little girl and, because I love the name, to call you Kitty.

What should I say to you? How do I encapsulate all of the hopes, fears, and joys I feel for you in a single letter? Even for an old man like me, this is too grand a task. Your life cannot be wrapped up in a few fumbling words, even if I wish it could. The tender affections I feel for you and the deep hopes I hold for you could fill volumes and yet would not fully describe them.

When God sat down to create the world, he had many things on his mind. The molding of atoms and galaxies. He hand-carved the Earth and threw it gently into its orbit. He formed the first seeds and scattered them over the whole Earth. He then worked on men and women. Even as he gathered the dust up to make Adam he pondered the people who would come from what he was doing. God has a nostalgic side.

He thought of you. Deep in his enormous heart a fountain of joys poured out as he considered the way you would walk and the funny things you would say. He cried quietly about your hurts and laughed with you at the joys you would have. He chose to love you deeply and to hold you close to his heart.

He also took a bit of that affection and was kind enough to give it to me. What a sweet gift!

From that tender place in my heart, I see a future for you. That future has not happened, but I pray for it. Allow an old man like me to show you what I hope for you.

Love Jesus (Choose your God Well)

Kitty, give your heart wholly to Jesus. My affection for you is a tiny spark that was flung from the inferno of his affection. He walked through a dark and painful world out of his love for you. He died for you. One of the stunning revelations we will experience on crossing into Heaven will be the deep and tender care he has for us. Love him!

Love Your Husband (Choose your Husband Well)

God knows I am very pro-marriage. There are few more beautiful things in the world than a sweet marriage. But there also few uglier things than terrible marriage. Most awful marriages could have been prevented while only a few of them can be fixed.

The fact is, most people don’t change. I mean the core of them. Sure some surface things are refined in life, but most of the deepest parts of us are fixed and we cannot change them, even when we want to. Most people do mean to be faithful when they marry, but they are then are unwilling to deeply and truly love when the challenge is put to them.

Kitty, one day soon a young man will walk into your life and will see you and see a glimpse of how precious you are. He will honestly and deeply desire you. This is a good thing! He will pour his creativity and heart into winning you. This too is good! He will be sincere and it will feel really good that he wants you that passionately. This is wonderful as well!

But his sincerity and desire are not good enough. It takes more than good intentions to be a good husband. Please be careful. Take your time. Bring in trusted adults with stable marriages to look him over and to see what substance there is to him. It will be so wonderful to see you happily in love. I want that to last a lifetime. Be careful.

Love Your Life

Soon you will have the wonderful privilege of making big decisions. As you stand at the crossroad you will realize that when you choose one path, you are choosing not to go down another. If you want to become a doctor you can’t simultaneously become an interior designer. God gave you a limited life in this world and you will have to let things go to fully embrace what is good.

Don’t be afraid. We have all faced this.

When you choose, throw your heart into that choice. None of the choices are wrong, but give yourself to your choice and pursue it with passion. Pray about it. God gives wisdom to those who ask.

Holiness and Joy are the Same Thing

You will be presented choices that will look like God is holding a joy away from you: that if you do the right thing you will be choosing misery.

That is a lie.

Certainly you will suffer for doing the right thing. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hung from a gallows naked for his choices. The Apostle Peter was crucified upside down for his choices. Were they fools?

No, they suffered because they believe that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Jesus commended us to not “store up treasure on Earth where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal, but to store up treasures in Heaven where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in and steal.”

The fact is, your God loves you and the rules he has placed are there because he loves you. The guard rails at the Grand Canyon are not limitations for you, they are guides to keep you safe. Remember, holiness and joy are the same thing.

In Closing

Well, I seem to be rambling a bit. Kitty, you have a bright future that is full of joys and sorrows that you cannot imagine. I don’t know what they will be but I promise you this: as long as I am able to, I will walk them with you. To the extent I am able to support you and care for you as you strike out in this world, I will do it.

In this way, I am acting like my Father. He too will walk with you. Unlike me, he knows what is coming and is already preparing you for it. Unlike me, he is never out of resources to help you. Unlike me, he will not die and cannot be stopped. He will never be sick and he will never sin against you. Trust me a little bit. Trust him a lot.

Kitty, I am so excited to see what this life has for you. Permit me to take part in your journey.

-Chip

The lovely image above is courtesy of Ephriam Ragasa and is used with permission

Why I Love Godzilla (and you should too)

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A statue of Godzilla in Hibiya, Japan. The first city he ever destroyed.

Ever since I was a wee lad sitting in my parent’s living room, I have loved Godzilla. The King of Monsters has been turning Tokyo to rubble to my great delight for over 25 years of my life. My love for him is not simply a love for destruction, any disaster movie can meet that need. Godzilla is special.

A little history may help. Godzilla was born on August 6, 1945 when the United States dropped the first nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. three days later another bomb was detonated of Nagasaki. Over 100,000 people died in those blasts and the psyche of the Japanese people was forever changed.

The trauma from the sudden and irresistible destruction lead to a feeling of powerlessness. The creative minds at a Japanese production company named Toho developed a metaphor for this destruction: a 150 foot tall amphibious reptile that no military might can stop.

The name of this monster, Gojira, is a combination of the Japanese words from gorilla and whale. The film was released in Japan with great success and was later released in the United States in a much edited form (whole characters and plot were added). The American version, called Godzilla, was also a success and led to 28 films created to date and the 29th to be released Friday (I refuse to count Godzilla 1998 even though Toho did license it as a Godzilla film).

Godzilla is strange in the sense that he is neither good nor evil. He is more like a hurricane which has destructive power, but not moral accountability. Godzilla is often territorial and throughout many films he has defended Japan from the onslaught of other monsters. I guess he feels like leveling Tokyo is his job and no one else’s.

Godzilla has always been created/awakened by the US nuclear tests in all of the films. He has always himself been radioactive and breathes a radioactive fire that destroys just about anything. Godzilla can breath underwater and spends most of his time in the ocean. Generally, Godzilla likes to do battle with other monsters in cities. Why fight in an open plain when there are buildings to be toppled and helpless Japanese business people to step on?

One strange quality of some of the best Godzilla films has been the very personal touch they carry. In Godzilla 1954 (the original film), there is a scene with mother holding her little girl as Godzilla approaches. She is whispering, “It’s OK, we’re going to your daddy soon.” She is then crushed by a falling building. It is a reminder of all the real people who were killed in the nuclear blasts over Japan.

He is more than just a mindless beast who creates rampant destruction. Godzilla represents the deep feeling in all of us that our actions have serious consequences. The argument is always that man’s hubris in using nuclear weapons has created so much destruction we never intended. You can feel however you like about nuclear weapons, but the overarching theme remains. We are more powerful and more foolish creatures than we ever realized. Godzilla is our judgement. Godzilla is our rescue from ourselves.

And that is why I love Godzilla.

-Chip

The picture above is from the Wikipedia Commons and used with permission

Five Ways My Mom is Ordinary

Mothers DayMy mom is really ordinary.

No, seriously. She is!

A middle class lady who grew up in Wisconsin, she eventually married an introvert from Georgia (my dad) and had five kids. We grew up in East Tennessee (one of the lovelier places in the country) living our ordinary lives. Now that I have children of my own, I can clearly assert that my mom is extraordinarily ordinary. Let me give five examples.

5. She Did Not Murder Me in My Sleep

Most mothers don’t murder their children so my mom is very normal to have not murdered me as a teenager. Despite my efforts to be a bull-headed and argumentative child, I never once feared for my life. You may say that failing to kill your eldest son is easy, but I beg to differ. She had many an opportunity to take a look at the arrogant boy in front of her and wonder what terrible mistake she had made in bringing me into the world.

Instead, she loved me. She discussed and talked and pushed and cared through many difficult years. She tolerated my lack of respect and laziness and foolishness patiently. She loved me well.

4. She Sacrificed Working to Stay at Home with Us

Mom chose the life of an ordinary house-wife. Life would have been easier for her had she worked and sent us off to school. The pressure through the 80s and 90s was constantly valuing the working woman and demeaning the homemaker. But mom stood firm in her ordinary-ness. She stayed home with us and ignored the fad of the day that said women must work.

3. She Pursued an Education for Us

My mom homeschooled us. We were one of the earlier families in our area to be homeschooled but certainly not the first. She had that very ordinary notion that her children should be educated and she worked to make that happen. She dealt with the ordinary pressures felt by the homeschooling community of the day such as the heavily over-blown notion that we would be unsocialized. By the time I graduated High School there was a thriving homeschool community in East Tennessee.

I have a particularly fond memory of going to Roane State Community College with my mom to start my first classes. I had no idea how this college thing worked and mom went with me and talked to the staff and basically held my hand through it. I wonder if she hadn’t been there that day how differently my life would be today. But, you know, this is ordinary mom stuff.

2. She Worked Hard for a Strong Marriage with My Dad

Mom and Dad have been married for almost 35 years now. They haven’t had the perfect marriage, but a sweet one. They are very dedicated and sweet with each other. Their marriage isn’t flashy. You won’t see Dad get up on a stage and sing some Sinatra to my mom. It is just a steady, kind relationship. Very ordinary.

Of course, half of marriages don’t make it at all in the first five years, so you could argue that 35 years is an accomplishment. You could even remind me that even those couples that “make it,” some of them don’t like each other. Mom and Dad clearly like each other. But I’ve never known anything different from this so I will confidently assert that their marriage is also quite ordinary.

1. She Showed Us Jesus

We attended church throughout my childhood. This is not an easy thing to do with three young children as I am discovering when I bring my four young children to church. We regularly listened to the music of Steve Green, Michael Card, Keith Green, and Patch the Pirate. The music in our home dripped with mentions of Jesus, grace, forgiveness, and the cross. All of these things were not unusual for a homeschooling family growing up in East Tennessee.

There is a particular song that has stuck with me named Answer the Call by Steve Green. As I look back on this song, it is the journey of my adult life.

I answer the call, I take my stand
I choose to live my days on Earth a faithful man
And to that end, I give my all
And in the strength and grace of God, I answer the call
The call to dedicate our lives to nurture our children and love our wives
A call to guard our heart and eyes, to press toward the goal
To win the prize!

Far from living up to these words, I see my own strange and difficult journey. A journey I may never have started but for reminders like this song.

As I look back at a childhood of a million ordinary things my mom did for us, I still know they are ordinary. There will never be a news broadcast saying that a mother fed her children dinner every day for twenty years, but just because a thing is ordinary does not mean it is not a very hard thing, even a commendable sacrifice.

The fact is that a million ordinary things over many years adds up to an extraordinary sacrifice that will pay off for myself and my siblings The debt that the generations of will owe my mom will grow to become incalculable in the decades and centuries to come.

So today I don’t Thank God for the several extraordinary things my mom did because those things had more impact in the moment, but less in the long run. Far more powerful is the endless tide of ordinary things. The legacy of my mom’s life cannot be adequately described by simply hanging onto the flashiness of the extraordinary but in the real power or a lifetime of hard, steady, and ordinary things.

I love you mom. Thank you for the ordinary things.

-Chip

The “Requiem for a Dream” Problem

Requiem_for_a_dreamAs anyone in the pornography recovery community can attest, there is a real challenge in determining what is safe to watch at the movies. There are bits of culture that are more difficult to avoid like commercials and billboards, but what we pay for at the theater is very much in our control.

The classic case of this is what I call the Requiem for a Dream Problem. The movie, Requiem for a Dream, is the story of how heroin addiction destroys the lives of four friends. Everything about the movie appeals to me. I have struggled with pornography addiction myself (not heroin, by God’s grace) and I love the raw nature of the movie. By all accounts, it is a classic film and worth seeing.

Unfortunately, it also has graphic sexuality and nudity which is only aggravated by the fact that I find Jennifer Connelly to be one of the loveliest actresses out there. So this movie is my equivalent of  an alcoholic walking into a bar. I should not watch it.

Hence, the Requiem for a Dream Problem. At what point does the artistic merit of the film fail to outweigh the sexual temptation it will cause me. I suppose it could be called the Black Swan Problem or the American Beauty Problem, both of which are thought-provoking movies with serious sexual content. I wish I could watch them, but I can’t.

As with most problems, one should first look at the Bible. I looked for the movie watching guide in there and wasn’t able to find one. But there are important principles that apply. I should be cognizant of my own weaknesses for lust and considerate of the harm the film may do to others. Requiem for a Dream might make put a friend with a history of heroin addiction in a terrible position for entirely different reasons.

We should remember that movies are just stories and storytelling is an important art in all cultures. There is real artistic value that serves my soul in many films. We should be looking for the good in them. The Passion of the Christ may have an attractive woman in it, but the merit for honoring God is so profound that I should resist temptation and enjoy the wealth of God-honoring praise this movie brings to my heart.

There are also many foolish ways to approach this problem. For anyone who struggles with lust (read men), the idea of flipping through channels or going to a movie with no research is foolish. No plan is a plan and in this case, it is a very bad one. Our art culture is far to saturated with sexual imagery for us to march on with no plan. If you’re going to a movie, check it out online to see if it meets your conscience’s standard.

This begs the question, What is my conscience’s standard? How do I determine when a film (or any piece of art) crosses the line from being flawed but acceptable and when it becomes too harmful to warrant watching at all? This is a very personal line, but I want to discuss some ways to think about the issue.

Redeeming Value vs. Tempting Content

To be sure, images and movements are not evil in and of themselves. Sins only happen in my heart. A nude image of a women is not inherently evil (in fact, she was created “very good”). What if that image were of my wife? It would be good and even holy for me to drink deeply in delighting in her. The Bible in unblushing in its recommendations to enjoy one’s spouse (Pro 5:18-19).

Additionally, there is merit to the idea of redeeming value in a film. The Shawshank Redemption is one of the greatest films ever made and yet it opens with a sex scene. It holds out such virtues as perseverance, hope, kindness, and justice. I love the line that Andy Dufresne gives, “Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And a good thing never dies.”

I don’t know if Andy is right, but it is a great quote in a wonderful movie. Is the film worth the temptation I face in the opening scene? I think so. I often skip the opening entirely as it is not that pertinent to the rest of the film.

But I must be careful. More often than not, I am tempted to find a movie I want to see, then I go scrounging around for artistic merit so I have an excuse to watch it. I am not an unbiased observer. Many men are looking for excuses to see these films and it is not in a search for holiness, but in a search for cute girls not wearing much.

We are like a kid at the grand canyon. We don’t ask what is a safe distance to view the canyon from, we ask how close we can get to the edge without falling.

What is tempting to me?

Another important consideration is what specifically tempts me. Obviously, nudity is very tempting and I almost never watch films with nude women. I had to give up the shows House of Cards and Game of Thrones for this reason. I really like both, but it was simply not worth the temptation and sin it was causing.

I can’t watch any movie where girls kiss other girls. For whatever reason, this is a weak spot for me. A film need not have nudity or even sex scenes to be problematic. So when you are determining what is acceptable for you, know your own heart and steer clear of your own weaknesses.

What is loving for the actor or actress?

If 1 Corinthians  6:18 is right and whenever an actor or actress sins sexually, they sin against their own body. It would be unloving in that case to support their efforts to hurt themselves. The fact that it is consensual is irrelevant. I recently had a compelling discussion with a friend who said that he will not watch a movie where an actress had to undress in front of the camera crew even if no nudity is shown on screen. He argues that it is unloving to her to support her exploitation by men.

A more compelling argument is to ask, What if she were my daughter? I love my daughter very much and it would break my heart if she were to be ogled by a whole camera crew (who, by the way, would immediately go an jack off in the bathroom). It would break my heart.

To be honest, I don’t know how far to carry this standard, but I found it very compelling. If you want a more clear discussion about it, check out Cap Stewart’s excellent article Sex, Lies, and Star Trek.

Is it Lawful? Is it Helpful? Is it Enslaving?

In the book Real Marriage by Mark Driscoll makes the case that many of the wisdom decisions we make need to not simply ask, “Is this a clear sin?” There needs to be a higher standard. He suggests 1 Corinthians 6:12 as a guide. In Paul’s argument, he asks whether something is not only sinful, but helpful. Pastor Mark then applies this more broadly to ask the following three questions.

Is it lawful? This excludes everything the Bible forbids and that the state forbids.

Is it helpful? This asks if the film benefits me. Is there a good reason to consume the film beyond the fact I have an evening free.

Is it enslaving? Will the image of that girl follow me around the rest of my life? Will I have to use extra self-control later because I won’t use it now? Will I sin because I watched this film?

Will your freedom cause others to stumble?

Let’s say you set a clear standard and have satisfied your own conscience. You are fully convinced in your own mind what is safe for you and are comfortable with a film. Wait, there is a final consideration.

Romans 14 is a whole chapter about how Christians should give deference to the weaker brother. We should always ask if this will cause another to stumble. This is strange for me to say because I may be the weak brother. I am asking you not to put me in a tempting situation. Almost every time I see someone cite Romans 14, they assume they are the stronger believer. Not so this time. I am the weaker brother.

We need to be very cautious and respectful when recommending and watching films that we are not setting up a brother to sin. Practically, this means no one should ever watch any of the Transformer films (they are so sexualized and they are just awful movies anyway).

So What do I do?

If you have asked all the above and your conscience is still uneasy about a film, you probably shouldn’t watch it. The solution to the Requiem for a Dream Problem is that I will never watch the movie. I want to. I really do. But it is not safe for me.

-Chip

The Movie Poster above is under copyright and is used under a Fair Use.

Make Her Glad You’re Home

3473338897_889e375ae0_oI sit in the car after a hard day’s work. The engine turns off and the interior light blinks on. Looking into the passenger seat, I pull up the mental energy to head into the house.

I’ve read the books. I know what to expect. My wife is just now pulling a delicious home-cooked meal from the oven. The children are playing thoughtfully and respectfully in the living room. My wife comes over to me and, with glowing affection, gives me a kiss and asks about my day. She looks radiant having just taken some time to freshen up.

Then cold, hard reality sets in. My real wife in my real house caring for my real children. She has made the hard decision to stay at home and home-school our kids. She doesn’t work outside the home even though she excels in the working world. She uses her tremendous gifts to care for and raise our children well. I am very grateful.

But with that gratitude, I better mix in some understanding. She has been working since the kids got up at 7 AM. No real breaks and always on call. With my four kids, she is essentially running a day-care (except she doesn’t get off at 5 PM). In addition, she has managerial functions of acquiring and delivering food for this hoard of little mouths. She is handling deliveries of mail and supplies and paying the bills. She then also coordinates the frequent home maintenance and repairmen who come and go.

And she often packs my lunch in the morning.

Far from the books that have so many recommendations for her about how she should take care of me when I go through the door, maybe I should consider how I should care for her.

Many men, including this man, feel like once we’ve worked hard all day, we are entitled to a little rest and relaxation at the end of the day. For that matter, I’m entitled to some good sex as well. I’ve worked hard. I deserve it.

But this attitude is not biblical at all. The oft-quote sections of scripture speaking to men never explain what I can expect from her. Far from it, every time the Bible talks to me, it reminds me of what I should be doing for her.

It’s called servanthood.

Loving my wife as I love myself means that as I sit in the quiet of my still car, I need to be aware that she is tired too. She has been working harder than I have in a poorly defined job without the accolades of employment. The hard-working employee gets a pat on the back from his boss. The hard-working homemaker gets the occasional dirty look at the grocery store and the periodic blog post reminding her that she is a second-class woman.

Her job is harder than mine.

Despite the books reminding me that my wife should greet me at the door with a smile, a warm hug, an understanding ear, and a hot meal, I am the chief servant. The question I should ask is what can I do for her. Far from demanding that she act glad to see me, maybe I should care so well for her that she will be glad to see me. I don’t need to see how much I can take from my family, but how much I can give.

As the daddy of four little people, it is completely unrealistic that my wife will be refreshed and thrilled to see me at dinner time. She will be at her most harried. But, rather than think of how terrible it is that God made things this way, what if this is an opportunity? You see, I can be the hero. What if I told her she could take a break and I cooked dinner? What if this is a chance to haul the kids all into a bath? What if I could help her and not drain her?

So, when I step out of that car, I will walk through that door not asking what she can do for me. No, I will walk into that house and help where I can. If I do this right, maybe she will actually be really glad to see me.

And sex, hopefully nice sex afterwards.

-Chip

Photo by Tiffany Terry and used with permission