Waiting for God(ot) in Monroe

 

On Oct. 5-6-7 MCCC will put on Samuel Beckett’s play “Waiting for Godot” at the La-Z-Boy center. I applaud this. And, I’ll take the time to thank the MCCC visionary people who are bringing very good things to Monroe in terms of the arts.

I became familiar with this play as an undergraduate philosophy major. At that time I was introduced to it as an example of what was called “theatre of the absurd.” Absurd, because “Godot” stands for “God,” and at the play’s end the characters are still waiting, but no God(ot).

“Waiting for Godot” has been called a “play where nothing happens.” Beckett’s worldview was atheism. If atheism is true, then in life nothing of import or meaning really happens. Life, without God, is absurd. I agree.

A few years ago I spoke at Wayne State University for the Mars Hill Forum on the subject “The Absurdity of Life Without God.” I have always believed that, if there is no God, then ultimately life is meaningless and absurd. The thing I like about “Waiting for Godot” is that it expresses life without God in a way that follows from the assumption that there is no God. “Godot” takes a stance against a “hopeful, joyful atheism” where even though God does not exist there’s still “meaning” in life. Nonsense!

Personally, I like reading things like this. “Godot” reminds me of some of the movies of Ingmar Bergman, who also painted life as a very bleak existence in the absence of God. So I am glad MCCC is putting this on. It will be interesting to see how persons respond to it.

Somewhere in Kansas… the Kingdom of God

On this coming Saturday Linda and I will be at an all-day event of worship and prayer located on a 7000-acre ranch in Kansas. The event is called Prairie Fire 2007, and you can see information about it here.

I will be one of the speakers, and members of our church’s worship team will lead some of the worship. I’m going to speak on “The Real Jesus and the Message of the Kingdom of God.” I will explain the twofold way Jesus taught about the kingdom: 1) by proclaiming the good news of the kingdom; and 2) by demonstrating the authority of the King by healing sicknesses and delivering people out of demonic oppression.

Plus, I hope to get some good pictures of what is said to be a beautiful part of Kansas! (Be back on Tuesday…)

Custer & God

October 1-7 in Monroe is “Custer Week.” For me, this is appropriate, since I live on North Custer adjacent to the property originally owned by Neville Custer, I can almost see the old Custer house from where I live, I (like you) drive past the Custer statue many times a week, I saw General Custer eating in a local restaurant a few months ago (during which time I also one day saw Elvis walking out of Farmer Jack), and I like Danny’s frozen custard.

My question here is: was Custer a follower of Jesus?

Now I am a non-Custer scholar in a land of Custerphiles. Nonetheless, here’s something I found at historynet.com about Custer and his conversion to Christ. As I read this, I realize it’s probably a bit anachronistic to be thinking about how this could have happened and yet there remains Custer’s demeaning attitude towards American Indians. It is a truly radical Jesus-thing to love one’s enemies, and arguably Custer failed at this in some serious ways.

Here’s a report of his conversion, which happened here in Monroe.

“With winter campaigning at a standstill, the Custers took a 20-day furlough in late January, visiting family and friends in their hometown of Monroe, Mich. A fellow traveler on the train to Michigan jotted down a hasty, hero-worshiping account of the general in his diary. “Genl Custar [sic] reminded me of Tennyson’s description of King Arthur,” wrote Lewis T. Ives. “He is tall straight with light complexion, clear blue eyes, golden hair which hangs in curls on his shoulders[,] has a fine nose.” Kingly or not, Custer took advantage of his furlough to put himself right with God. At a Sunday evening service at the Monroe Presbyterian Church, he experienced a religious conversion, one that left him feeling, Custer said: “somewhat like the pilot of a vessel who has been steering his ship upon familiar and safe waters but has been called upon to make a voyage fraught with danger. Having in safety and with success completed one voyage, he is imbued with confidence and renewed courage, and the second voyage is robbed of half its terror. So it is with me.””

Halo to Appear Tonight, 12:01 AM

 

The biggest thing happening in Monroe on Tuesday will be at 12:01 AM. Hundreds of people, most of them young men, will be lining up at Game Stop in the mid-evening. They will be in line to pick up their pre-ordered X-Box 360 game, Halo. Hundreds of cars will then hustle home where they’ll play, minimally, for hours, and some for days. Halo is an addiction. Halo is life. Halo is a very cool game. If a new version of Halo came out every day it would single-handedly rescue the American economy. At the crack of Tuesday 2.5 million people will finally clutch the long-awaited thing.

The cover story in Saturday’s freep.com said this: “You can make a case that 12:01 a.m. Tuesday marks another pivotal moment in American entertainment.”

The Free Press quotes Wayne State University “professor and pop culture expert Jerry Herron. “But what we’re seeing with ‘Halo 3′ is something fundamental about this country — loving setting new standards and needing frontiers to exceed.

“We are desperately uninterested in the past, and we demolish anything that reminds us of what we used to be,” Herron said. “Electronic gaming does what people used to do with Conestoga wagons — gather up everything and start a new existence. It’s very much frontier-like living in this new virtual world.””

Here in Monroe hundreds and hundreds of our teen-and-twenties young men live 25% of their waking existence in a virtual world. Communities are formed. Friends and adversaries are defined. Drama is experienced, vicariously. Night passes. The sun rises, again. The Halo players sleep into the afternoon, waking up to a real life which is mundane.

“Halo” is, in truth, a relatively meaningless event. Real-life drama is happening as I now write. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is speaking at Columbia University. The front page of The New York Daily News announces “The Evil Has Landed.” Our state legislators are working to save a failing Michigan economy. We have global climate issues. Americans are pursuing the vacuous dream of building their own little kingdoms. Marriages are failing at record rates. An aura of purposelessness envelops our culture. People just want to be “happy.” And in the midst of it all the Kingdom of God moves, inexorably, like a seed growing secretly, like a fishing net capturing people swimming in the ocean of life.

[When "Halo I" came out I remember enjoying challenging my sons in the multiplayer mode, and getting beaten every time.]

Christians on the Detroit Lions

 

When I worked as a pastor to students and faculty at MSU I had interaction with a number of athletes. Once, e.g., before the football season began, a pre-season All-American defensive end called me and wanted to talk. He told me that he expcted to play in the NFL, that he knew God had gifted him as an athlete, and now he saw the importance of getting his spiritual life together. We met, talked, he already was a follower of Jesus, and during that meeting he got some things right that needed to be straightened out.

In today’s Free Press there’s a nice article on the presence of Jesus in the Detroit Lions’ locker room. It’s led by quarterback John Kitna. Kitna says, “I’m not naive enough to think that my life is about football. God uses football to shape me. But he also uses it to give me a platform to proclai the gospel.”

Linebacker Boss Bailey says, “God is doing wonderful things in this locker room. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Receiver Roy Williams is one who attends the regular locker room prayer gatherings.

Kitna holds Saturday night Bible studies, and about 20 of the Lions’ team attend.

Last week, when Kitna got injured and later went back into the game, he said on a post-game interview that God had healed him. This really got my attention. The FP article says: Kitna “knew it when he told the media last Monday that a miracle had healed his concussion. He knew there are those who find it laughable to suggest God is interested in football, let alone the Detroit Lions. But in Kitna’s view, why wouldn’t he? “He is omnipresent,” Kitna said.”

(The picture is of me watching the Spartans beat Bowling Green a few weeks ago.)

Let Go of Tradition & Follow Jesus

In my last two posts I’ve been talking about two things: 1) you’ve got to let go of old things to follow after Jesus, who has not come to reinforce established traditions but to do new things; and 2) there are times when God moves and it’s strange to us because our experiential default setting is “ordinary.”

Is all tradition bad? No. But I believe it is a great mistake, and a mark of “religion,” to think of Christianity as the keeper of static, ancient ways of doing things. Real Christianity is not an institution, it is a movement. Thus, when you’re on the move, you are ipso facto leaving a lot of things behind. Actual Christianity, in the New Testament, is often described as a war or a battle. When soldiers go to war, they leave the familiar surroundings of home. It’s this leaving of the familiar and the secure for the sake of following Jesus into spiritual battle to rescue persons that I think of when I read, e.g., Matthew/Mark/Luke/John.

I have met a lot of people who are fearful of new things when it comes to their Christianity. Surely it’s true that “new” does not mean “it’s from God.” But remember that Jesus did not declare, “Behold, I am doing an old thing!” I think this: when there’s not fresh water flowing and fresh bread baking and a fresh wind blowing then things are rotting. That’s stagnancy. Medieval Christians called it “accedia,” which can be translated as “spiritual stagnancy.”

If you are a Jesus-Follower, embrace the new things God is doing. It’s better to be weird and strange and with Jesus than “normal” and dying.

(The picture is of an old barn here in Monroe on N. Custer.)

Lifting the Veil of Ordinariness

When God reveals himself to people in the Bible a common human response is fear. Sometimes the person experiences cognitive disorientation due to the essential “otherness” of the God-encounter. This is, partly, what happened to Peter, James and John in Mark 9 when they saw Jesus “transfigured” in front of their eyes (the biblical Greek word for “transfigure” is metamorphe; literally, “transformed”). He had a God-encounter that was extra-ordinary.

I believe we all have a “veil of ordinariness” that covers our experiencing. At the transfiguration this veil was momentarily lifted off of Peter, James and John. Peter is so shook up that he blurts out some irrelevant things, so irrielvant that Mark adds, parenthetically, “he did not know what he was saying.”

If we can say anything about God, it is surely that God is not ordinary. God, instead, is “glorious.” This word “glory” refers to the attributes a person or thing has. For example, a fw days ago a hummingbird flew within 3 feet of my face and hovered in front of me. I heard its wings and felt the wind from them. In other words, I experienced the “glory” of the hummingbird. Unfortunately, because I’ve never had a hummingbird hover in front of me like a blackhawk helicopter with its beak pointed at my eyes, I did the wrong thing – I waved my hands and yelled “Get away from me!”

For me, following Jesus is an extraordinary thing that includes extraordinary encounters and revelations from a supernatural God. I’ve met some who, when encountering this, tell God to “Get away from me” because it doesn’t fit their small world of ordinariness. The good news is that God wants to meet you and reveal his glory in you and through you. God wants to transform your experiential default setting from “ordinary” to “extraordinary.”

A Coffee Cup & Letting Go of the Past

 

I got this coffee cup in 1983 as a gift from an MSU student who was in my church. It is, by far, my favorite cup to drink java out of. To me, coffee IS better when sipped out of this cup.

The handle broke off some years ago. On one side a crack is forming, and there are a few chips. Minimal coffee stains adorn the cup’s bottom. I like the red heart against the cream white. The size is perfect for my hand. This cup holds exactly the amount I want. To me, a “cup of coffee” = the precise amount that fits in this cup; no more, no less. An average blend, once it sits in this cup for a while, is transformed into a premium blend. I’ve drank coffee out of this thing for 24 years! I was sitting on my front porch having a cup a few days ago when I thought, I hope I don’t accidently drop this. I will miss it.

Life is a series of “letting go’s.” So is being a follower of Jesus. I have met so many people who say they are Christians but who want to hold on to their religious past, like I want to hold on to my coffee cup. I can relate to this. But, this kind of religious mentality produces spiritual stagnancy. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul writes, “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new had come!”

To experience spiritual renewal, old things have to be left behind. To follow Jesus is, precisely, always to leave something behind, like the fishermen left their nets to follow Jesus. Real Jesus-followers are always leaving things to follow Him. The truth is that Jesus is still doing new things. He’s doing them right here, in Monroe. I love following Him into these things, and it often means letting go of the ways I have always done things.

Years ago an author named Ralph Neighbor write a book called “The Seven Last Words of the Church.” Those words are: we’ve never done it that way before. If we older, experienced Christians don’t let go of the old container we’ll be in danger of losing a generation of young people who need Jesus just as much as we did and still do.

Mark Farris & Shiloh Stevens Bring Their Irrational Fears to Monroe

 

In today’s Monroe News Article “Searching for Truth,” Shiloh Stevens and Mark Farris are quoted as saying they believe there is a conspiracy theory behind the 911 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center Towers.  Quoting MN: “Mark Farris of Monroe had a theory about the Pentagon videos. “It was probably a cruise missile that went off (by the U.S.) and they didn’t want anyone to see that,” he said. “They did it so they could justify attacking Iraq.”” 

“Probably that happened?” You have got to be kidding me!   

Here’s the “thinking”: 

  1. Probably a cruise missile sent by the U.S. hit the Pentagon.
  2. The U.S. government didn’t want people to see that.
  3. So, they suppressed the videos, which actually showed a cruise missile hitting the Pentagon. (That’s why we have not seen any more videos of the incident.)
  4. The motive: The U.S. did this deliberately to justify attacking Iraq!

Right.  So – what then happened to flight 77 and the 60 passengers on board 77? Probably they’re now in Area 51.  This is the kind of “reasoning” that emerges when one is paranoid about government. Farris’s willingness to believe an urban legend like this is in inverse proportion to his trust in President Bush. It’s simply a function of that, nothing more. 

Quoting MN: “Another hot topic of discussion was the World Trade Center towers. Mr. Stevens said that a fire has never caused a steel frame building to collapse, especially in a vertical collapse at a freefall speed. “A professor (Steve Jones of Brigham Young University) did research on the building. He found thermate. It’s the same thing they use in controlled demolitions,” he said. Esther Thompson, Mr. Stevens’s mother, is concerned about the alleged deception and lies by the government. She believes it will eventually lead to a loss of Americans’ rights.”

According to Jones (and, it seems, Stevens, who has bought into this), the WTC collapsed because of a controlled demolition, not as a result of being hit by a huge airliner. The destruction of the towers was actually not caused by Al-Qaeda terrorists, but was an “inside job.”   Here, it seems, is the “reasoning”: 

  1. Yes, big airplanes hit the WTC.
  2. But the WTC did not collapse because they were hit by big airplanes.
  3. The WTC collapsed because someone planned a controlled demolition of the WTC. (“Someone” = President Bush. Therefore, be very afraid.)

I now feel sorry for Stevens’s mother, who has taken on the irrational fears of her son. I want to tell her that she need not worry, because Steven Jones’s conspiracy theory has been thoroughly rejected and debunked. She need not go free-falling down the slippery slope her son has created with his logically fallacious reasoning.

For a thorough, rational debunking of these fear-myths see, e.g., Popular Mechanics here. 

One more MN quote: “Shiloh Stevens is fed up with the U.S. government. Alleging that the government deliberately covered up details surrounding the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Erie resident wanted to share his opinion. “I just want to make people think,” he said. “There are a lot of questions.”” 

This kind of “thinking” should not make you afraid of anything except this kind of thinking. Avoid it.

Life After a Funeral (For the Person Who Died)

 

I’m doing a funeral this morning, here in Monroe. I am also aware that, this afternoon in Florida, a memorial service will be given for Dr. James Kennedy, who just died. Kennedy was a well-known pastor who has influenced a lot of people. The funeral I’m doing today is for a woman named Ginger, who was not famous, but who was a follower of Jesus, and used to read the Bible to people who went to a certain bar and talk with them in the bar about God and Jesus. 

Before Ginger died she once told her sisters – “When I die don’t cry for me, but cry for yourself because you’re still here on earth.” Before he died James Kennedy stood before thousands of people in his church and said:

“Now, I know that someday I am going to come to what some people will say is the end of this life. They will probably put me in a box and roll me right down here in front of the church, and some people will gather around, and a few people will cry. But I have told them not to do that because I don’t want them to cry. I want them to begin the service with the Doxology and end with the Hallelujah chorus, because I am not going to be there, and I am not going to be dead. I will be more alive than I have ever been in my life, and I will be looking down upon you poor people who are still in the land of dying and have not yet joined me in the land of the living. And I will be alive forevermore, in greater health and vitality and joy than ever, ever, I or anyone has known before.”   

Both Ginger and James Kennedy said the same thing. Both had the same hope. And both now are in the same place, a place where people are no longer famous and idolized but where God, all his essential attributes shining before them, is worshiped in awe-filled wonder.

If you want to hear the audio of Kennedy’s message, go here, and be hopeful!