Highlights from 2005

December 31, 2005

Here are some of the events/experiences that defined 2005 for me:

1. The Winterfest Accident. I still mourn with the family that lost a child in this accident, and I continue to pray for the child who continues with surgeries in an effort to restore functionality to his leg. But I have also been inspired by the kids and parents who survived the accident – they have continued on their journeys when they could have easily stopped or slipped, trusting that God will be faithful to them even through tradgedy.

2. Into the World. This was a year for our family to start moving into the world more, partnering with others in bringing good news to the poor, feeding the hungry, helping the homeless, and forming relationships with people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. We were only small parts of each of these efforts, of course. But we were surprised, I think, at how much joy can be found even in the smallest acts that are done in the name of Jesus.

3. Rediscovering Revelation. Its been a sheer joy getting a chance to look at and talk about this book again this year. Problem is that, like Al Pachino in the Godfather movies, every time I try to move on to something else, it keeps pulling me back in for more. Sheila and I are now slated to do another seven weeks in this book in another bible class this Spring.

4. Blogging. I’ve posted over 200 times this year – a record for me by far! And I’ve loved watching for and reading your comments. I’m amazed that people actually care about the things I write about. Its been great, not only for developing my writing skills, but as a spiritual discipline. I like having a forum where I can have conversations with my friends about such deep subjects as spirituality, politics, and – of course – television that is worth watching.

5. Speaking of Television – I have loved watching the new Battlestar Galactica every time I get a chance. I also recently discovered that it is now available on iTunes. The TV critic for Time Magazine says its the best show on TV. He notes that some of his readers will think he is crazy for saying that and that the rest of his readers “have actually seen it.” Its that good.

6. Civ IV. The gaming highlight of the year – by a longshot – has been Civ IV. This isn’t just a fun game – it is actually a beautiful thing to play, once you get “into” it. Other great games this year include Battlefront II and The Movies.

7. Several great albums came out this year – including Jeff Deyo’s Surrender, Kutless’ Strong Tower, and Lincoln Brewster’s All to You Live.

8. McClaren. I’ve enjoyed reading several books by Brian McClaren, not so much because he is a brilliant scholar and theologian, but because he has a way of putting into words things that I’ve been observing and thinking (but not articulating) about culture, the story of scripture, and Christian spirituality. He gives a voice to things that I know, but can’t say.

9. Kids Activities. Its been a great year for chess watching, soccer coaching, and attending ballet recitals. Each of my kids have enjoyed some success in their various activities – but, honestly, the best part is just watching them grow and play and have fun. In spite of the occasional headaches that are involved in rushing them around town to various activities, I know that some day I’m going to miss all of this.

10. Revenge and Narnia. What a great pair of movies for nerdy guys like me! I was especially pleased by the way Revenge of the Sith explored not only the decline and fall of Anakin, but the corruption of the entire Jedi order itself. Anakin, it turns out, did not fall as easily as I had expected he would. Instead, he had a lot of help from his friends and mentors, who were all too eager to use him to hang on to their own influence and power.


The Kingdom and the Law: A Preliminary Confession

December 26, 2005

Okay, boys and girls. Christmas is over and I can delay this no longer. Time to talk about the relationship between the Kingdom of God and the civil justice system.

But before I get started, I should get a confession out of the way. I have a very hard time talking about the interaction between faith and my occupation. There are two reasons for this. One is fairly innocent. The other is…well, I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, the relatively innocent reason: client confidentiality. The things that happen in my office or in isolated corners of a deposition room or a courtroom are confidential. My clients trust me to keep them to myself, and I do just that. I can’t afford to kiss and tell, even if I think it is for a very good reason like illustrating the interrelationship between the need for God’s redemptive work and the things people go through in litigation. For this reason, the stories I tell in connection with this series are complete fiction. They aren’t anything that has ever happened to me and they won’t even be based on (loosely or otherwise) something that actually happened to me. I’m going to fictionalize the stories from square one (names, events, facts of the cases, etc), hoping only to capture some of the broader aspects of my experiences within them.

I go out of my way to say these things because it occurs to me that some of my clients may read this space, and I don’t want them to be nervous that I’m going to talk about them or their problems directly or even indirectly (changing only the names or some superficial fact, etc). That is not going to happen.

Now…for the second, harder reason: people have much loftier expectations from the civil justice system than what it actually delivers. People have this idea that the system is capable of reliably sorting out right and wrong, good and evil, black and white, truthfulness and lies, etc., etc. In actuality, as I will discuss in some detail, it isn’t nearly as good at these things as you would expect. Being told the truth about what is happening in the civil justice system can really cause a lot of dis-ease with those who aren’t involved in it on a day to day basis. For that reason, most lawyers, I think, are accustomed to keeping those truths to themselves rather than speaking it to outsiders who – in the infamous words of Jack Nicholson – “can’t handle the truth.”

I would like to tell you that I refrain from correcting people’s perceptions about the system because I want to spare other people the unpleasantness of those realities. But my motives are less pure: I have a fear that if I tell that truth, people are going to conclude that I’ve become Jack Nicholson’s character myself, overly jaded, and not nearly the kind, gentle person that they think me to be.

On the surface, the things that I want to (but don’t) say will sound like the kinds of observations that would be made by someone who is distrustful and eager to justify his own cynical manipulation of the system. But the truth is that I’ve become comfortable with this perspective for the opposite reason – I’ve come to understand that there are certain ways that only God can judge, and for that reason, I don’t have a strong need to put great trust in human institutions. I can (somewhat) comfortably accept that such institutions are imperfect in their efforts to administer civil justice, knowing that a merciful, loving God is ultimately in charge of the universe and of people’s lives.

So when people start talking about how great it must be to be a Christian lawyer because I can be involved in “justice” first-hand, I cringe a little and don’t say much. It is – quite honestly – because I don’t think there will be time to fully explain my perspective. More specifically I won’t be able to explain why – though it sounds harsh – it is a perspective that is actually quite spiritually awake and healthy. I’m afraid that, instead, I will only get enough out for people to conclude that I am a bona fide jerk like Jack Nicholson.

And I’m not. I promise.

Next up: Why I ain’t Perry Mason either

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Methodist for a Day

December 24, 2005

Every year, I am a member of the Churches of Christ for 364 days. For one day, however, I get to be a Methodist.

Tonight, we made our newly traditional trek to St. Paul United Methodist in Abilene to attend their Christmas Eve service. It was wonderful. There is something very beautiful about Methodism. Its power is that it feels both evangelical and liturgical at the same time. It is deeply reverent and yet relevant at the same time.

We lit candles, took communion, sang Christmas carols, recited scripture and other liturgy, and listened to a message about how Jesus is present in all of the people in the world who need our help. There was even a small “Children’s church” segment. Everyone smiled and laughed. We felt right at home.

My only problem was resisting the urge to raise (or at least stretch out) my hands during a couple of hymns. But quiet restraint seemed so much more appropriate in this context. We’ll get around to being a little more charismatic when the Passion Week gatherings come along in a few weeks…

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The Miracle of Incarnation

December 22, 2005

[Note: The lyrics that follow come from the song Emmanuel, God With Us, which can be found on the Point of Grace CD entitled A Christmas Story. They are written by Nathan and Christy Nockles.]

She lit a candle in a downtown cathedral
Quietly confessing
Counting on a blessing
She looked as if he had nowhere to go
I cound see her weeping
Hands together hoping
You would hear

The incarnation of Jesus was not only unabashedly political, announcing a change in the order of things in this world. It was also a miracle. And the miracle of the incarnation is not simply that something happened a long time ago which was really warm and fuzzy and made a lot of Shepherds and Wise Men feel good. It is also a miracle that continues today.

The word “Emmanuel” means, simply, “God with us.” To speak that name, therefore, is to declare that God is here, in this world, among us.

This is the time of year
We hold our families near
But God let us be a friend to the hurting

Jesus has now ascended to heaven, of course. He no longer walks the Judean countryside as he did two thousand years ago. But there is a sense in which “Emmanuel” continues to walk the earth.

Before he was crucified, Jesus made a promise to his disciples – a promise that even after he was gone from the earth – he would continue to live within them. “Remain in me,” he promised, “and I will remain in you.”

The incarnation, it seems, was to continue in the lives of Jesus’ followers.

I moved in closer just so I could see her face
Maybe she was a mother
Someone’s only daughter
Her silver hair shimmered like the snow
Christmas bells were ringing
Now beside her kneeling I asked her name

Much later, Paul the apostle would pick up on this same theme in many of his letters. We are not merely a religious order that is trying to do something that God tells us to do, he reminded the Christians of his day, we are ourselves the body of Christ – the very continuing presence of Jesus in the world.

(And she said)
This was the time of year
I head my family near
But they’ve all gone
And I have been so lonely

Perhaps, then, to believe in the incarnation of Jesus – to truly embrace it as a thing of beauty and hope and joy and peace – is to also, in a sense be the incarnation of Jesus – to continue what he began – to abide in him and to offer something of who he is to the people that are around us.

So with my family that Christmas day
A girl of sixty years would laugh and play
As we watched her dance
Our eyes were full of tears

The incarnational presence of God today, of course, isn’t necessarily announced by angelic choirs. It isn’t always punctuated by the presence of royalty from far off countries. It doesn’t involve virgins giving birth to Kings. But it is miraculous, nonetheless – because it announces again to the world the hope of something that is coming, a world much better than we could otherwise possibly imagine.

Every time a stranger is befriended, a hungry person is fed, or a blanket is given to someone who is cold in the name of Jesus – God’s presence in the world is again affirmed.

Oh Emmanuel, God with us
Spirit revealed in us
That we may be your hope
To the world
Oh Emmanuel, God with us
With a light to break the darkness
That we may show your hope
To the world
Emmanuel, be God in us

Amen. May the grace of the Lord Jesus be upon you this Christmas season and throughout the coming year, as you seek to be Emmanuel to the world around you.

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The Politics of Incarnation

December 21, 2005

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom [God’s] favor rests.
– Luke 2:14

Funny thing about this verse. It is quoted in Christmas cards and in Christmas carols. Its words are imprinted on all manner of Christmas-related stuff: ornaments, banners, trees, plates – you name it. The phrase “peace on Earth” is probably the most widely recognized biblical saying relating to Christmas. It epitomizes the warm, sentimental holiday buzz that we all like to get about this time of year.

And yet…

The tidings of peace that were announced to the shepherds on that day have yet to be fully realized. God, it seems, offered peace for our world – but we have flatly rejected it. Jesus would later say something quite the opposite of the angelic greeting that coincided with his own birth:

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Mt. 10:34).

The following verses make it clear: Jesus will be a dividing force in the world, ripping apart even the most intimate of family relationships. And an upheaval of violence is expected to follow the arrival of his Kingdom.

It seems that we have been given a choice. We can choose our own way (that is, the way of our own “little kingdoms”) or we can choose the way of peace (that is, the way of the Kingdom of God). The two can’t coexist. They are like matter and antimatter, two Betta fish in the same tank, or – to be more biblical – light and darkness. Where they meet, violence follows.

To be sure, violence was exactly what followed Christ’s birth. The violence of a thousand male babies, butchered and silenced. The violence of the mob that tortured and crucified Jesus. The violence of the stoning of Stephen, and the repeated attacks on the apostles who brought the “good news” of God’s kindgom into a wider world. The violence that martyred Peter and Paul and sent Christians to the lions den or which burned them alive to light up Rome during the night.

In that sense, the incarnation of Jesus was the most revolutionary political event in human history. It announced the beginning of a different way. A way that says “we’re all in this together” rather than “I’m on top, and you’re not.” A way that seeks to serve rather than conquer – to love rather than use and abuse.

And it wasn’t welcomed.

When faced with the prospect of the beginning of God’s kingdom of peace and justice and, hence, the end of their own, the Kings, Emperors, Dictators, Prime Ministers, yes, and even the democracies of the world can still react as Herod, the Sanhedrin, and (later) Rome did many years ago: use the sword (or any other “weapon” – the pen or the law or economic influence) in a vain attempt to destroy the kingdom of Peace.

But it never, ever works. And history, it seems continues to inexhorably plow toward the day that the powerful instinctively dread:

Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Rev. 6:15-17)

Peace may be the promise, waiting at the end of the story. But until then, the revolution of the Kingdom of God can expect draw all of hell to itself.

Far from a pleasant, fuzzy, etherial event that immediately changed the world, the incarnation of Jesus was unabashedly and unapologetically political in nature: challenging the authority of every Kingdom that men had (and were yet to) establish on the earth.

Our calling, then, is not so much to bask in the warm, sentimental glow of the holidays – assured that God wants peace in the earth. The implications of the incarnation reach much, much farther than that.

How much farther? Stay tuned.

Next: Why Jesus’ ascention was only the beginning of incarnational life on earth.

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The Christmas Season Can Do Without This

December 20, 2005

For those of you who haven’t yet wandered over to Addison Road (or haven’t made it recently), you are missing out on something really special today: a very, ummm, unique rendition of the holiday classic O Holy Night.

WARNING: Do NOT listen to this while driving or operating heavy equipment.

The Christian Book Formula

December 19, 2005

In Searching for God Knows What, Don Miller writes about attending a seminar called Capturing Literature for the Glory of God (because, he remarks, after all, “we can’t have literature running around doing anything it wants, now can we?”). At the seminar, he was presented with two “formulas” for a successful nonfiction/Christian book.

Formula #1:
1. Describe a crisis. Not a problem, not a nuisance. It must be a crisis that will result in something terrible if the reader doesn’t act now.
2. Describe and vilify a clear enemy that is perpetrating the crisis.
3. Spell out the ramifications of the crisis if it goes unchecked. Paint a picture of a war against “evil forces.”
4. Set out a three to four step plan for dealing with the crisis.

Formula #2:
1. Paint a picture of great personal misery. Describe a time where you experienced failure or felt no control over a situation.
2. Talk about where you are now – how you have control of the situation and how wonderful and fulfilling it is to feel control over the “problem.”
3. Give the reader a three to four step plan for getting to where you are.

Its sometimes difficult to tell just how serious Miller is when he describes things like this, but the formulas he is spelling out are – for sure – the ones that seem to be selling a lot of books these days. And the thing that, to me, is striking about this is that these are the same basic formulas that (1) drive most of the rhetoric behind radical political ideology (right or left) OR (2) lie at the center of most self-help psychobabble (Dr. Phil, Oprah, etc.).

But should Christianity boil down to making sure we know who we’re against (and why, and how we’re against them, and how we’re going to “get” them).

Similarly, is Christianity really about identifying some simple, universal steps that will make us happy? Miller reflects on the latter question with these words:

The truth is there are a million steps, and we don’t even know what the steps are, and worse, at any given moment we may not be willing or even able to take them; and still worse, they are different for you and me and they are always changing. I have come to believe the sooner we find this truth beautiful, the sooner we will fall in love with the God who keeps shaking things up, keeps changing the path, keeps rocking the boat to test our faith in Him, teaching us not to rely on easy answers, bullet points, magic mantras, or genies in lamps, but rather in His guidance, His mercy, and His love.

Perhaps its high time that we all trade in the anger-filled language of hate politics and the me-centered language of self-help for something that more closely resembles an authentic relationship with God…

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