The Problem of Pain

This afternoon one of my co-workers stood in my office sobbing.  Every few seconds she would catch her breath, sort of gaining composure, only to drift back into tears.  She poured out, between the bursts of sniffles, her gutwrenching story of an inexplicable break up.  The boy she loved claimed to no longer love, or even worse, no longer to need her.  It was actually more complicated than that really.  I suppose it always is.  As she neared the end of her story, she asked candidly, “What do I do?” 


And what do I say? My mind is a perfect blank slate.  I just sort of stammered something already obvious and then offered a hug.  What’s amazing about that encounter is that I see it happen often enough.  All of our high flying talk about “the cross” and “suffering” and “love” and “the impossible” and “miracles” and “resurrection” and “choice” disappear in the face of pain. The problem of pain for me isn’t the inability to explain its existence. The problem of pain is simply knowing how to love the person who doesn’t NEED the explanation. While we can glibly say that the hug is enough, and it may be for some, there is still the expectant look on the other’s face waiting for the words that will irrevocably release them.

I have no such Word.
While I can say something pious such as “God sees when even the smallest of sparrow’s falls to the ground,” the inevitable response is simply that the sparrow still falls…now what?

It’s then that I’m left with saying the most honest thing imaginable, “I don’t know what to say.

The Impossible Now–Part Four

This is the final installment of an introductory position paper I’m calling “The Impossible Now” or “Towards a Theology of the Impossible.”  There are three previous parts.  You can find them here, here, and here.  In this final installment I talk about “the religious question.”  Cheers!

…The im/possible is refusing, as it always does, to be pinned down and become a part of someone’s strategic planning. It will always retreat from our view, from our expectation, from our massaging of what is possible, and back into the realm of the unexpected and truly unimaginable….

The Event of the im/possible cannot be prepared for and at the same time cannot be depended on. These are horrible words to hear for strategic planning! How then do we live with such (non)knowledge? If authenticity, imagination and experiment are the tools that we shape the relative future with, what are the tools we use to embrace the wildcard future—the im/possible? What can we possibly do or say or prepare in reference to something that lies so completely out of our ability to do or say or prepare for? It is for this place, this absurd, unexpected, undeterminable place that a different set of internal reservoirs are needed. Religion, good religion, seeks to address this sort of question.

Having done all to encounter the present in a meaningful way, we are still often left with seemingly meaningless events that continually take us by surprise, disturbing our best laid plans. This realization is, at its highest, a religious experience. It doesn’t require belief in a Personal Origin, or First Cause. But it does require something of us. That much is certain. The “what” is actually rather well-known. The attributes I’m going to mention are in many ways universals. They’re what philosopher’s might call “un-deconstructables,” in that they are ideals—almost always un-fully-realized urges that keep us reaching toward them. The most famous of Jesus’ early followers, the apostle Paul, said it best, in my opinion, “…in the end, these three things remain: faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these is love.”

This simple three word formula provides the basis for the intersection between the im/possible and the real. Faith isn’t so much a mental adherence to theoretical propositions about the nature of truth, but rather living today in the light of the future as it should be. Faith sees the idealized Peaceful Tomorrow, the future where swords have been beaten into plowshares, and tanks made into tractors, and determines to live peaceably today, even while the world is filled with wars and rumors of wars. Faith is an active, aggressive leap forward toward the Good, the Just, and the Best in spite of evidence contrary. Faith is an investment in particularity and locality, refusing to be theoretical and (merely) universal. Faith is always personal, though hardly private.

Hope isn’t the spindly sickly stuff of fantasy; it’s longing contentment. Hope sees the possibility of renewal and resurrection where others see lifelessness or death. Hope believes in commonality, compassion and a desire for connection with the Other where fear informs us that only Strangers and Monsters await on the other side of the unknown.

And love…Love is the greatest of these. Even faith and hope must give way before love. What can be said of love? Those who have known both Love and God have said that God is Love. If God can be spoken of and said to be anything at all, God is spoken of as and said to be Love. The substance of the divine is bound up in love. Concrete love. Active love. Visible, tangible, touchable love. Love, which covers a multitude of sins. Love which walks the extra mile. Love which gives up the second coat. Love which willingly lays down its life for another, for the Other. Love, of whom we may sing a thousand songs.

Our deep need to account for the unaccounted for, forces us to build up, to work on, a different skill set entirely. The things that are simply cannot prepare us for the things that are not. For those sorts of im/possible occurrences we must draw on the deep fountains that lurk at the corner of our being, not quite yet realized, still in formation, and dependent on some previously unforeseen happening to unleash their potential in our lives. In some strange way, these too, carry the stamp of Artistry. Art, in all of its forms, somehow allows to us to look upon, and hint at, those things which we cannot view in a straightforward way. Artistry gives birth to the Encounter of im/possibility which we are able to meet with arms open, acting out of faith, hope, and love.


Today is Easter, by some accounts.  And I’m reminded of new life.  More specifically I’m reminded of life that survives, in spite of.  That is the Big Story, I think.  The Christ life can’t be held down.  The Good, the Just, the Beautiful, is a force that cannot be killed–for long.  It is a promise.  There’s a flip side–the Ideal also can’t be contained, just as it can’t be killed.  The Resurrection doesn’t end with Triumph, it ends with a disappearance…another promise.  The Ascension takes the Perfect away again (40 days later), towards an undisclosed future and invites us (yet again) to get on with living with(out) God’s Presence…

Easter is about, at least in my opinion, longing contentment, hopeful resignation…that Darkness is never quite so dark as we imagined, and that Light is the promise of the Empty horizon.

How (Not) to Write a blog

I have a thousand things I want to talk about…consequentially I can’t talk about any of them…I believe this is what Pete Rollins calls hypernimity…the abundance of content leads to an inability to speak of it. 

1) the difference between organic and organic

2) looking at the (un)knowability of God pictured in the Exodus story.seen trough the name of Moses

3) the parable of the prodigal God

4) how true community seems like it is more or less experienced in the process and the journey rather than sought after or arrived at

5) the grudge match between the uber minute hair split of “presumptuousness” and “certainty”

6) defining that “fundamentalism” is NOT exactly interchangeable with the word “conservative”…just with being “narrow minded”

7) why television is a bigger glut than it’s ever been and why that’s ok with people–why do we keep on watching? And how a Spanish Romantic Game Show is the best hour on TV from 7-8pm PST, M-Th.

8) faith without doubt is dead

9)  why I increasingly feel out of sync with churchianity–and what to do about that.

10) The pretentiousness of music snobs like myself–not being able to craft a better pop song and calling that art

11)    The CHOICE of “the dark night of the soul” versus the EXPERIENCE of it

12)  Why I’m cranky these days

13) Sufism and spinning

14) Enneagram and why every person serious about a personal journey needs to question their motives and acknowledge their shadow

15) the fact that empiricists (Christian, secular, and otherwise) sound idiotic at best.

17) being hearers of the word and doers

18) how I sold my soul for 2.50 in 9th grade to a guy who later went to Fuller (it really explains so much in retrospect)

19) why having an agenda is a guilty pleasure–no one admits they’ve got one but we all do…and maybe we should…

20) …there’s a lot more where these came from…

Which side of love?

There’s a parable I’ve found particularly beautiful in recent days.  Pete Rollins shares it in his book “The Fidelity of Betrayal”.  

A man dies and and appears before the gates of heaven.  There is St. Peter ahead of him, welcoming him in.  The man is giddy and thrusts part of himself through the doorway into paradise.  As he does however, he turns ever so slightly and sees a great throng of people standing nearby…on the outside of heaven.  They are Buddhists, Jews, killers and crucified, Muslims, Catholics, kind or criminal, homeless, Eastern Orthodox; they are ugly or beautiful, gay, atheist, poor and rich alike…and he also saw many of his own friends.  Looking up at St. Peter he asks, “What about them?  Are they coming in too?”  Sadly St. Peter shook his head.

“No,” shrugging his shoulders, “you know how it goes…only the right people.”  The man thought about that for a minute.  He allowed a thousand faces and feelings to well up inside of him.  He considered the words of Jesus, his teacher and savior: a bastard, homeless, drunkard, heretic, traveling companion to terrorists, lover of prostitutes and priests alike, and in the end one who died as a common criminal. Knowing what he had to do, he looked up at Peter, withdrew his one foot from the threshold of heaven and said,

“Then I can’t come in either.” And he walked away, joining his friends.  As he walked away a faint smile broke out over St. Peter’s face, who whispered,

“At last…at last…”


Along the same lines, a news anchor who gets “love” more than most Christians I know.  This is called “the love speech”…and regardless of issue (though it is an important one), the words and thoughts remain the same for any friend of Jesus. Which side of line will we stand on?  Which side of the threshold will we choose?  The heart of Christianity–the core–the best of Jesus and his earliest friends, encourage, always, the choosing of the powerless, marginalized, minimized, and disaffected.  

I hope this clip is refreshing to you also.  Thanks for sharing it with me Ryan:

Pro-Life…womb to tomb

Dualistic thinking abounds during election years…both from the right and the left. I think we’re better than sinking into single issue choice. It’s been a struggle as a follower of Jesus to imagine a way to be faithful to beliefs during this campaign season. To be honest I’ve wrestled with the notion of even voting…sort of a, “would Jesus even vote?” mentality. I’ve thought about writing in Jesus for President as a demonstration of my frustration. And recently, during the last debate, I was disappointed that in both candidates stump like speeching there was a lot of talk about rich and middle classes, but not one word about the poor. One person informed me it was because the poor don’t pay taxes; I suppose some think that means they don’t deserve to be heard about or from…that doesn’t seem like the Way of the Kingdom to me. That having been said, I’ve been open, among friends, of my support for Obama. Interestingly, but not exactly surprisingly, that has drawn outright rage from my more fundamentalist friends. One shook their head at me and looked at me like I had just burned an American flag AND spit on the Bible. Another peppered me with anti-Obama rhetoric they must have picked up from Governor Palin, or an air wave ideologue. Still someone else openly called into question my faith commitment. To me, that’s sad.

It’s always hard to navigate relevant choices in a way that is faithful to deep beliefs that are often black and white, while acknowledging that the options to choose from are usually gray. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’ve languished over the possibilities here. For the most part I’ve known where my vote was going, if I was going to cast one. Still, I’ve had to answer to many people as to why I might support someone who is, pro-choice. It seems that’s the clenching reason that many people lean towards the Republican posture. I’m sure there are other reasons…but in Christian circles, none that draws so much criticisms as that, I suspect. I reply, truthfully, that I am NOT pro-choice, and actually wish that Obama would change his perspective on this issue. I also try and point out that my being PRO-LIFE also forces me to view the world through more holistic lenses than simply being Pro-Fetus (which I am). Life, I try and remind my friends who are asking, is more than simply cradle…it’s also to the grave–womb to tomb. That’s the sort of pro-lifer I am. My belief in life extends towards being pro-public education for our children, improving their quality of understanding and integration in society; for me, being pro-life also involves being Pro-Peace…not Pro-War. Jesus, I feel, said, blessed are the peacemakers. This begins with being peacable individuals, but also extends to being peaceful people groups and nations. That precludes the option of war in my mind, especially unjust war. Pro-life also means the taking care of living things…all of creation, which is filled with the glory and image of God. Isaiah tells us to speak out for those who have no voice (including unborn children)…I take this to also mean creation, who groans for the sons and daughters of God to join them in reflecting God’s good dream. I love creation and I’d rather serve and protect it than rape and pillage it. I also believe that life extends into the basic ability for people to secure health care coverage. I have also always thought that to be pro-life I also cannot justify the vindicative killing of others…even if they’ve killed others themselves. God not only loves the innocent…His love, grace, mercy and care also extends to the guilty. And, in many ways I would argue that He seems to even be drawn towards those guilty all the more. He did, after all, come for the sick, not only the healthy. This, for me, involves what some have called an entire culture of life. That’s why, while I do not support some of one candidates initiatives, I do support most of them. One person called this, “my support of Robin Hood socialism”. He meant that as a slam I suspect. Funny thing, literally, Robin Hood was the hero of that story, not the villain. I’m fine with identifying with Robin Hood…better Him than prince John.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m trying to find my way in His Way through all of this. It’s my love of Christ that compels me towards these questions and choices…I’m willing to say that many of my more conservative friends also feel the same way. I’m even willing to say that they’re following what they clearly believe to be God’s will in who they vote for. I respect that. I vote for it. Hopefully they’ll allow me the same latitude.

Recently I read some great articles that I identify with. They clarify some of the muddle of my own thinking. Maybe you’ll enjoy them also.

Cheers, as each of us try to apply our faith into action, knowing that no one candidate or issue will move us towards the kingdom any more than we must do, ourselves, daily.

A Nexus of Fascinating Perspectives

Voting, an idolatrous pilgrimage?

Pro-life/Pro Obama

Former Right Wing advocate comes out for Obama: The Moral Choice

Former Right Wing advocate comes out for Obama: Pro Life/Pro Obama

McLaren, why he’s voting for Obama: part 1 (there’s several parts here)

Don Miller’s running weblog, including reasons why he supports Obama

Cannabilism…and other optimistic thoughts.

I’m all for apocalyptic futures and all (just finished watching a crazy Matrix on crack movie called Casshern out of Japan–check it out!!!)…but really…I’m not sure if this is what are next 50 years holds in store for us.  What do I mean?

Ted Turner–the mouth of the South–was talking about global warming and overpopulation recently (all of which I recognize as reality)…when he made the jarring prediction that within 50 years most of the world population would be decimated and the survivors will have deevolved into cannabilism.  Really?!?

I just don’t know…that time line seems pretty hazy to me. 50 years?  Wow…I guess if I survived that would put me at close to 80 years old…hmmm…I clearly will not still be around…

What do you think? Is it this bad? Have we conspired against ourselves in such a way that we are past the point of no return? The price of wheat and rice have directly doubled even trippled. Curious since the prices have risen because of a higher demand for bio-diesel ingredients…interesting that our desire to conserve one resource causes us to gluttonize another.  And it’s not really me who’s getting hurt here–it’s the 3rd world who will directly be unable to buy grain any longer. One analyst I listened to suggested that we were about to witness “the perfect storm of social unrest”.

If that’s all true–even if it’s only half true–what hope do Christians provide for the world? What is our response and responsibility?