Monthly Archives: January 2013

Apologetics on a Saturday Night

Faith is something to be shared privately and in safe areas.  Definitely not on a Saturday night on the town.  Right?

Earlier this month I was at a conference that focused on Christian apologetics – the reasons for and defense of Christianity.  At at another conference two weeks later I heard ideas of how Christians can engage the university with some of the big life questions – why are we here, where are we going, does it matter what we do?

At both of these events, everyone agreed that it’s vital to share the Christian message.  The struggle was when and how to do so.  There was an unspoken assumption that because most people don’t naturally talk about these topics, they don’t want to.  That people want to be entertained and steer clear of religion.

With these conferences on my mind, I too was wondering what would be the best venues for palatably bringing up faith in conversations.  I assumed it was going to take some creative and outside-the-box planning.

Then, last Saturday, I saw the play Freud’s Last Session.  Once the lights were off, the audience was captured by unapologetic apologetics for and against the existence of God. In a London office at the beginning of World War II, Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis meet.  One soon to commit suicide after a life of breaking barriers in the field of psychology, the other just beginning a life as a scholar and convert to Christianity.

On this stage big questions were being asked and discussed – not behind the curtain of an apocalyptic tale or satire, but directly.  It wasn’t at church.  It wasn’t over a Bible study.  It wasn’t on Christian radio.  It was at the Ensemble Theater in Cincinnati.  Not only was this play part of the theater’s regular season, the initial run was sold out and additional shows have been added.

Based on the book The Question of God by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., this play  explores what might have occurred if these two men had met in the spring of 1939.  Their writings provide a basis for the dialogue during which they talk about God, psychology, happiness, fear, cancer, living, conversion, suffering. They trade jokes and show concern even as they question each others’ arguments.  Neither cedes to the other, but they do listen.  They respect one another.

The very fact that this play was being shown emphasizes that people aren’t shying away from questions and honest conversations about God – not even Christian apologetics. The conversations may have been between the two actors, but people were attending and hearing Lewis’ arguments for Christianity along with Freud’s arguments for atheism. Such conversations keep us thinking and move us to turn on the music we had been avoiding.

Maybe the world is hungering for this type of conversation more than we can imagine.

It’s time to talk apologetics. Even on a Saturday night in a theater.
“In coming to understand anything we are rejecting the facts as they are for us in favour of the facts as they are.”  – C. S. Lewis – An Experiment in Criticism


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Serving in the Liminal Space

How do you talk to graduate students about serving where they are – especially if you have not walked the path to tenure?  Yet, like most people, I have been in many in-between places in life.  Places in which it is easy to just wait until the next goal is met to do the important things in life.  Once I get the degree – then I can serve at church.  Once I make the next pay grade – then my position will be secure and I can witness more about Christ to co-workers.

However, as I review my life and look at that of others, it soon becomes evident that much of life is lived in liminal spaces – in the now and not yet – and not at the end points. Victor Turner in his study of rites of passage and other rituals, such as pilgrimage, highlights the in-between time as a significant element during such practices.  It’s not merely a time to get through.  Its very structure sets the stage for transformation.  We are not in a comfortable, known place and are therefore more open to change.

At such times the opportunities for a deeper community – one Turner defines as communitas – confront us. As we live in-between and encounter others who are walking along similar paths, traditional barriers to relationships are often relaxed and new connections are possible.  In these communities there are plenty of opportunities to serve – and be served.

From a theological perspective, Christians are always in a liminal space.  We are fully redeemed because of what Christ accomplished on the cross.  We are made right with God.  Yet, creation is not fully restored.  We continue to sin.  So, we wait for that time of complete renewal.  But how do we wait?  Putting everything else on hold, or by fully diving into each moment?

In the Bible we see this is action.  Noah, Abraham, David, the exiles, the disciples – they all leave places of comfort.  Jacob was the home body – but after he deceived Esau for the second time, he must leave his place of comfort.  Not until this departure does he encounter God in powerful and life changing ways.  He could have taken this time and sulked, just waiting for Esau to calm down.  Head down, doing his work. But instead he is aware, meets God, listens, and follows.

Where does God call us, today?  He calls us to live where we are now as He serves us. During these uncomfortable times when we are waiting to reach the next step, we are whole people in relationships – with God and with our neighbor.  Moreover, it is through people that God continues to restore his creation, build his kingdom, as we live out our vocations in work, family, society, church.  Therefore, even in times of liminality, when we haven’t yet reached that next end point, we are living in vocations in which we are serving others.

Whether or not you are a graduate student, and finding yourself in a liminal space, consider the following:

  • Be aware of the many times of transition ahead along with the opportunities they bring.
  • Consider how God calls you to serve others through your unique vocations.
  • Most importantly, know the ultimate story, God’s story, toward which you are moving.  It puts everything else in perspective.
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Lessons from a Jigsaw Puzzle

Jigsaw-Puzzle4My mother did it.  She bought a jigsaw puzzle – 1500 pieces – for the family to put together as we gathered over the holidays.  Well ‘the family’ became me.  Even though it’s probably been over a decade since I last put together a puzzle, it wasn’t long before I was in puzzle mode again.

In this state of mind I sit down to try a handful of pieces.  I pick up one, find a place where colors and patterns match, and turn it around to see where the shape fits.  When I find a match and the pieces click together, a feeling of satisfaction rolls over me.  Then my hand reaches for another piece.  Quickly ten minutes become half an hour becomes two hours.  I am engrossed in the process – getting to know the shades of blue and gray of the area on which I’m working.  The shapes of the pieces.

Usually it takes me at least an hour to really get into this state of mind.  The intensive focus allows me to differentiate small gradations in shades and shapes.  As I sort through the pile of pieces, I start to intuitively know where to try each piece.  This light grey piece with a slight fleck of pink goes over here in the upper right corner.  That more taupe looking piece with a faint white line will go where the ocean meets the shore. Eventually over a week of these moments, I finish.

This creation took time.  Piece by piece a final picture came into view.  But it wasn’t merely the quantity of time that was important, but how this time was dispensed.  I didn’t take five minutes here and five minutes there throughout a day.  Instead, uninterrupted hours of time allowed me to get into this groove.

When I finished it hit me how important it is to make space for this use of time within other areas of my life.  Often I take shortcuts to finish a project.  Or, I think I can get by with scraps of time here and there.  So, I leave half an hour to put together a graduate student discussion.  Or, sit down to write for only 15 minute stints.  Or, think that I can finish a quilt one afternoon.  Then I wonder why finishing large creative projects eludes me.

A book revision needs some in-depth attention.  Those quilts – well the picture just doesn’t come together in only 15 minute increments every other month.  Each time I site down in these short spurts of energy, it’s like I’m starting all over again.  Before there’s a chance to really become attuned to the project and make significant progress, I stop.

It’s time to get into puzzle mode and allow myself to be carried away by the creativity needed in the large projects before me.  There may not be a picture on a box to direct the completion, but that only makes it more inviting to begin.


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What gets you out of bed?

What gets you out of bed in the morning?  It recently hit me that I’m often waking up to a task list.  No wonder that I’m not inspired to get going.  Breaking down projects into manageable tasks is not a bad process to meet specific goals.  However, lately the tasks on the list don’t seem to be related to any larger vision.   Even when I see where the tasks are heading, I often don’t want to go there.  That larger story is lost.

On any given day for work I’m picking up food, sending e-mails, meeting students, planning events, and even facilitating Bible studies and conversations.  On the personal side I’m exercising, reading, writing, eating with family, and doing all manner of things that are necessary to keep going in a 21st century world. Nothing bad or even onerous, but to what end?

If I’m honest, it’s often to meet the expectations of my employer, to build a comfortable life, to keep going, to be accepted. I want to tell stories others want to hear – that we’re making progress in developing a campus ministry, that I’m happy.  So I keep doing.  Doing to fill up time.  Doing to be someone.  But that someone is at times a stranger to me.

In reading through Hosea the word prostituting caught my attention.  Israel was running after other gods, yearning for acceptance from those around her.  She was prostituting herself – straying from God and from her truest self.

I see myself in this description. Even if it seems to be for good and for the church, some of the tasks I do are a form of selling myself.  Subsuming my interests and ideas to fit into the mold that I think others expect of me – whether at work or with friends.  I don’t want to say or do the wrong thing.  I do what I think is expected – and task after task I lose myself.

However, neither do I want to prostitute myself to doing my own thing. When an activity or opinion doesn’t fit with my viewpoint, I often want to walk away.  Instead of listening to what others have to say about a project, I just go ahead and do it my way. This is yet another idol.  A self doesn’t mean a lot without the community around it. In the end it has no more substance than selling myself to others.

So, getting back to the tasks.  I want to see the life behind the tasks.  For campus ministry the larger vision is to help students connect with God’s Word.  But does this mean constructing a series of programs, or something deeper that breaks from typical structures?  And there must be something more than numbers.  What about God’s redemption of the world?  The renewing of creation?  How can the ministry be a lived expression of the new clothes we are to put on as followers of Christ?  And then there is life beyond campus ministry – which would be a whole other post.

All of this leaves me with a deep desire to be ravished with God’s love and not reduce it to a set of beliefs.  To see it in meetings with students, in writing blog posts, in exploring the university, in reading great literature, in teaching.  To wake up with the longing for God’s new creation in the world today.

Now that’s something to get a person out of bed!

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Opening up to Wonder

IMG_1118Wonder.  Is this a dying concept in our world today?  Looking at myself, I don’t want to wonder – I want to know.  I want to be in control and not be caught off guard by the appearance of something miraculous, something I may not understand.  No one can put something over on you if can see behind the curtain.  So true wonder lies dormant.

Yet, during the Christmas season, we are asked to believe in wonder.  Isaiah prophesied that the coming messiah would have the name – wonderful.  The One people would look at in awe, as miraculous. Whether from the Christian story – a virgin birth, angels, God becoming human – or from the secular world – Santa Claus, children opening gifts, the Nutcracker ballet – elements of wonder are all around this time of year.

In many ways I protect myself from wonder during Christmas – at least I have for many years.  I have kept myself distant from this uncertainty so I wouldn’t be disappointed once again.  When I have opened myself up to wonder-filled expectations for the season, they always seemed to crash – appendicitis, loneliness, parents’ cancer treatments.  But maybe the problem hasn’t been in the wonder itself, but in my expectations of the wonder needing to take place in the world I desire.

This year I decided to step out into wonder.  First I watched. The excitement my nieces had at seeing gifts under the tree was contagious and I started to look forward to giving and receiving them.  The awe that international students expressed at the Cincinnati Zoo’s Festival of Lights drew me in.  Usually I just want get to the next exhibit.  But they stopped – took pictures with the snowman, walked through the candy cane forest, and watched the dancing lights on the lake.

Slowly I started to see wonder in more places.

  • Children looking at a display of moving elves.
  • Lighted Advent candles
  • Friends sharing a Christmas concert
  • A marathon shopping experience
  • Christmas lights on neighborhood homes
  • Lyrics of carols – old and new
  • Children laughing at puppet play

My natural instinct throughout the past weeks was to put up a barrier and watch from a cynical stance.  However, I soon realized that in a posture of wonder I am not wrapped up and fearful – having to know everything and figure out what’s behind it.  Instead I can be present with others.  As the angels come and declare fear not – they are asking us to be open, and not hide in the small, safe spaces we create for ourselves.  Fear not, come and wonder at God, at the Word he has to share. There is a freedom in wonder.  An opening of creativity.  An opening to God.

I want to continue to stand in awe at creation – and in the miracle of the people around me.  I want to relish the Christmas stories – especially the coming of God to earth.  Really – this is something to insight awe.   With each ‘wow’ I sense a deeper peace.  Not because everything is going how I want, but because I’m finally opening up to the larger reality, good around me – the God of Wonder.

Where have you seen Christmas wonder over the past weeks?

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