The Child’s Drawing

There was a kindergarten teacher who made a habit of giving her class free time to draw. She felt this encouraged her students to use their imaginations. She made a practice of going around the room and asking the kids about what they were working on. On this particular day, one of her students had a very serious expression on her face as she drew. The teacher could tell she was drawing something that meant a lot to her. When she came around to the little girl's table, she asked her what she was drawing.

The little girl looked up, smiling, and said, “I'm drawing God!”

The teacher was a little surprised. “No one knows what God looks like…”, she reminded the little girl.

The girl, not looking up from her intense art session, replied, “That's because I'm not finished yet.”

Of course God is unseen. He is bigger than our human categories. How do we present a picture of this God to others? For Jesus, the answer had to do with the way we live our lives. Christ lived his life in such a way that the character and nature of God was unmistakable and he challenged his disciples to do the same. “Be therefore perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect…” Being made in God's image gives us the responsibility of bearing that image to others. As disciples, we are called to live in such a way that people come to see God in us that through the power of the Spirit we are conformed more and more into the likeness of Christ each day. You may think that impossible but I, for one, am not finished yet.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

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The Face of God

Rabbi Joshua Ben Hananiah had a peculiar relationship with the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Rabbi Joshua would often go to Hadrian's court to advocate for the rights of his people against oppressive policies. Hadrian was not used to being talked to quite so boldly but he tolerated it. In fact, he enjoyed these visits because he liked to make sport of trying to stump the Rabbi with questions about his religion. Occasionally, Hadrian called Rabbi Joshua to his court for the sole purpose of questioning him.

One such day, Hadrian summoned Rabbi Joshua to his court. There in the room he had three statues depicting the Roman gods. He said to Rabbi Joshua, “These are the statues of but a few of our gods. We have many more. Look at their faces! This one, Venus, has a beautiful face that her devotees worship out of love. This one, Mars, has a terrible face that his devotees worship out of fear. And this one, Jupiter, has a regal face that his devotees worship out of respect. The face of a god tells its worshipers who it is. Tell me… what is the face of your god like?”

Rabbi Joshua dutifully responded, “The Torah teaches that no one can see the face of The Lord and yet live. We Jews worship the unseen God.”

Hadrian laughed. “How can you worship a god whose face you cannot even see?”

“Follow me,” said Rabbi Joshua, “and I will give you an answer.”

So the Emperor, enjoying having fun at the Rabbi's expense, obliged him and followed him out into the courtyard. It was a hot summer day and the sun was shining very brightly. Rabbi Joshua said to him, “If you want to see the face of God, you must stare directly into the sun.”

Hadrian's mood suddenly changed. “You fool,” he shouted, “You know very well I cannot look directly into the sun! Do you scheme to make your emperor blind?”

“Of course you cannot stare into the sun,” said Rabbi Joshua calmly, “but the sun is only a servant of our God. If you cannot behold the splendor of one of His servants, how could you possibly hope to gaze upon the face of God?”

Hadrian was speechless. He had once again been outwitted. Without a word, Rabbi Joshua departed to go back to his people and join them in their worship of an unseen God.

There is a whole tradition of Jewish parables that involve Romans questioning the Rabbis about their faith only to be outwitted in the end. The stories reflect the very real skepticism that the Romans had about monotheism and the extent to which Jews (and Christians) constantly had to defend themselves from mischaracterizations about what they believed. It was in this context of suspicion that the writer of 1 Peter told followers to “always be ready to defend your confidence in God.” Modern disciples live in an increasingly suspicious and skeptical world. Some people make sport of trying to make religious people look silly. While God does not call us to be trolls ourselves, we are called to be ready to defend, with patience and humility, our confidence in the unseen God.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

The Man and the Lion

The man and the lion were walking through the forest debating which creature was superior to the other. The lion argued that lions were clearly greater than men because they were faster, more ferocious, and kings of the jungle. The man argued for his kind pointing out that men were far more clever and were able to fashion weapons. Eventually they came to a clearing where there was a statue depicting a man triumphing over a subdued lion.

“See,” said the man, “look how this man easily defeats this lion! Surely this statue must convince you once and for all of man's clear superiority!”

“No,” said the lion, “The statue proves nothing for it was made by a man! Had a lion sculpted that statue, it might tell a different story alltogether!”

This fable from Aesop is a clever reminder that stories can be vastly different depending on who is telling them. As human beings, we often depict ourselves as the heroes of our own narratives to the point of deceiving others and even ourselves. Pride blinds us from our flaws. As disciples, we are called to walk with humility in the knowledge of our limitations. We are also invited to be a part of the story God tells. The Gospel does not glorify humanity with false flatteries but tells us the truth about who we are whose we are.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

Majority Rules…

Rabbi Eliezer was famous for his extraordinary powers of persuasion. One day, he was arguing his theological position in front of a group of 10 sages. After Rabbi Eliezer had finished making what he had felt was a logically airtight argument, complete with many eloquent rhetorical flourishes, and an overall sense of Holiness, he was satisfied the sages would agree with his argument. He had shown a mastery of scripture, appealed to all the great Rabbinical traditions, and had brought in the world’s great philosophers to bolster his case. All that was left was for the sages to vote. Eliezer was shocked when, after the vote, all ten sages rejected his position.

“I’m sorry Eliezer, it is 10 to 1. Majority rules and your position has been rejected.”

Rabbi Eliezer was dumbfounded that his great logic and rhetoric had not changed any minds, but he resolved to use more powerful means of persuasion. He said, “if I am correct, let this fig tree uproot itself and move to the other side of the yard.”

No sooner had the rabbi said this than the fig tree miraculously uprooted itself and moved to the other side of the yard. However, the sages were unmoved.

“No proof can be found in a fig tree,” they said.

“Fine…,” said Rabbi Eliezer, “If I am correct, let this stream we are standing by flow backward!”

No sooner had the Rabbi said this than the stream that they were all standing by began to flow in the other direction. However, the sages were still unpersuaded.

“No proof can be found in a stream,” they said.

Undeterred, Rabbi Eliezer bellowed in a commanding voice, “If my argument is correct, let God , Himself, say so…”

Suddenly, the clouds parted and a great shaft of light fell on the rabbi and the ten sages, and a voice, ancient and eternal, sounding like thunder and many rushing waters said, “My servant Eliezer is correct, listen to him!”

“Alright, Eliezer,” said the sages, “Now it’s 10 to 2…”

This humorous Jewish parable illustrates a profound truth: some people will never ever change their minds. Many times we expend a great deal of time and energy trying to win over people who are just not going to be won over. Disciples are of course called to share their faith and try to persuade others to trust in God but sadly some people will never be moved no matter what you say or do. In these cases we must pray that God will do in their hearts what we cannot, and then move on.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Deep Theological Discussions…

Everyone wants something different in a church and the way we choose to worship can be deeply personal. The irony though is that for such a “deep theological discussion”, Sally and her neighbor never really scratched the surface. Lost in the discussion of HOW we worship is WHO we worship. During the time of Jesus, the Samaritans and Jews had profound disagreements about the correct way to worship. They couldn’t even agree on what mountain God resided and therefore must be worshipped on. When Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well, he addresses this argument by telling her that a time will come when people won’t worship God on either mountain but will worship Him “in spirit and in truth…” As disciples, this is the kind of worship we are called to. But it also doesn’t hurt to take up money in envelopes…
Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

When I Heard The Learn’d Astronomer

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns

before me;

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add,

divide, and measure them;

When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he

lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;

Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

This classic poem by Walt Whitman is a profound reminder that knowledge of something and the experience of it are two very different things. It is indeed one thing to listen to lectures about the stars, it is another entirely to look up at them in wordless wonder. All description of God pales in comparison to the experience of God. Our theology and our arguments may be met with much applause in the lecture room, but if we are not connecting people to the presence of the living God, chances are they may leave our church tired and sick.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

 

 

Calvin’s Dilemma…

In this classic Bill Waterson strip, Calvin is certainly on to something. If God turns out to be a big chicken, his dinner choices could indeed prove to be consequential in the afterlife. The way one imagines the divine is profoundly important. Were we to die and discover God was not the old bearded Caucasian male depicted on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, would we have a harder time defending our actions? Would our choices be harder to defend to a minority God, a third world God, or a female God? The truth, is that God is beyond human (or poultry) categories. God is just God. He cannot be limited to the value systems of a single tribe. He is the God of all creation and all human beings our created in his image. Perhaps this is why the God of the Bible is so adamant about not being depicted at all. When asked to describe himself, God simply says… “I Am!”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

Origin of the Teacup

Suppose you walk into a room and find a hot cup of tea on the table. You ask aloud, “How did this teacup come to be here?” In response to your question, I might tell you one of two stories:

Explanation #1- The process starts with the the molecular compound known as h2o pouring in its liquid state into a steel vessel, which is then sealed and heated by an exterior source. As kinetic energy passes from the exterior source to the liquid, the temperature of the liqiud rises until stabilizing at the boiling point (which in average atmospheric conditions is approximately 212 degrees Farenheit). At this point in the process, the h2o begins to convert from a liquid state to a gaseous state. As the vapor rises, it fills the steel vessel and it attempts to expand. Restrained by the shape of the vessel, the vapor forms a jet which then passes through a cylindrical tube situated at an angle at the of the top of the vessel. At the end of the tube are two small holes. As the jet of vapor passes through the first hole, so too do the sound waves formed during the boiling. As the jet passes through the second hole, the sound waves spin off in vortices at a high frequency. At this point in the process, the steel vessel is removed from the exterior heat source and tipped at a 90 degree angle st that the remaining hot liquid flows freely through the tube into a second smaller vessel. At the bottom of this vessel is a packet of herbs and leaves which combined with the hot liquid forms the solution commonly referred to as tea.

Explanation #2- In the beginning, the table was empty and bare. But your wife loves you. She knew you had a tough day at work so when she arrived home before you did, she decided to make you a nice cup of tea to calm your nerves. She went into the kitchen and got out that old red stainless steel tea kettle you two bought on your honeymoon in the smoky mountains. She filled the kettle about halfway and set it on the stove then she spent a few minutes checking messages on her phone. One of them was from you. You told her you were sorry for snapping at her on the phone earlier; you were just having a real stressful day. She thinks of a couple different responses, but finally just deletes the message and decides to let it go. After she heard the whistle she poured the water into a teacup and put in the last bag of Twinnings Irish Breakfast Tea, stirring in a teaspoon of honey just the way you like it. She also blew on it slightly and took a sip. She doesn't really like tea but she always takes a sip to make sure it's not too hot and in case her tastebuds may have changed their minds. Just then, she heard your car pull up so she put the teacup on the table and went to the bedroom to rest.

Which of these stories would you say is the most true?

This is my embellishment of an analogy used by John Polkinghorne to describe the relationship between science and faith. Each story answers a set of questions the other cannot. Your level of satisfaction with the respective stories will depend on what you are really asking when you ask “how did this teacup come to be here?” If you are inquiring into the process of how cold water becomes hot tea, the first explanation will be the most satisfying. If you are wondering more about who poured the tea and for what reason, the second story will be more satisfying. The writer of Genesis didn't know what we know about the scientific process by which the universe was created, or by which life evolved on our planet. But he did know a story about who created us and for what purpose. A story that is true. Likewise, the writers of our current scientific models can tell us a great many things with stunning accuracy, but there are a great many intangible things that cannot be explained through mathematics and observation. Things like: who created us and for what purpose? Religion and science are both plentiful wells and we can draw from both so long as we understand the difference between “how?” and “why?”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

 

Sherlock Holmes and Watson Camping

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson go on a camping trip. After a good dinner, they retire for the night, and go to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes wakes up and nudges his faithful friend. “Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”

“I see millions and millions of stars, Holmes” replies Watson.

“And what do you deduce from that?”

Watson ponders for a minute.

“Well, astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful, and that we are a small and insignificant part of the universe. What does it tell you, Holmes?”

Holmes is silent for a moment. “Watson, you idiot!” he says. “Someone has stolen our tent!”

This old joke is a favorite of mine and I do think it serves as a wonderful parable about human nature. Sometimes we human beings make things way more complicated than they need to be and we miss the obvious. Religion and theology are supposed to help us connect our everyday experiences to a God that is beyond our comprehension. These tools do help us to make sense of the night sky but if we're too busy looking up at the sky and pondering to notice our neighbor in need of that our own tent has been stolen then we are severely missing the point. The book of James reminds us that true religion is this: “to look after the orphan and the widow in their distress and to keep oneself unpolluted by the world.” Pure and simple… One might even say: “elementary”.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

 

Snoopy’s Theology Book…

“Has it ever occurred to you that you might be wrong?” Snoopy’ title in this classic Peanuts strip is pretty appropriate. Theology is simply the way we humans try to put the wordless wonder of God into words. Such an undertaking is like trying to contain the Atlantic Ocean in a paper cup. When we talk about God we should do so with the humility that we may not be 100% right and that those with whom we disagree with might not be 100% wrong. Certainty is the enemy of faith.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…