Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Shack

Its time to give my personal comments on the popular book by William Young called The Shack. Its been a couple of weeks since I finished it, but I still remember enough to comment on it.

The book is a collection of both tragic, cheesy, mushy and profound moments. Yes, there are cheesy and mushy moments...I even found myself in tears at times (over the mushy and tragic moments, NOT the cheesy moments). Something terrible happens to the main character's daughter (his name is Mack) and he somehow gets to spend a weekend with God (the trinity).

Instead of giving a review of the book, I thought I would offer a few of my favorite quotes instead. So here they are, with a brief comment about each one.

"I don't want to be first among a list of values; I want to be at the center of everything."
-Jesus says this when Mack asks him about making God first in his life. I like the idea of Jesus being the center of everything. It sounds so much easier than making God first. I've never been good at making God first and honestly I don't know that I ever will. Making God the center seems so much more doable.

"I suppose that since most of our hurts come through relationships so will our healing."
-This is said at the beginning of the book by the narrator. Isn't it so true!

"Love that is forced is no love at all."
-God says this to Mack to answer one of his questions about why God allows people to make decisions that are harmful to others.

"Just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn't mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don't ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purpose. Grace doesn't depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors."
-A theodicy (a fancy word for the question of why evil exists if God is all-loving and all-powerful) that I agree with.

After Jesus talks about a diversity of different types of people who love him and follow him, Mack asks: "Does that mean that all roads will lead to you?" "Not at all. Most roads don't lead anywhere, what it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you."
-I actually like this notion that Jesus can travel any road to get to us. It reminds me of prevenient grace, which is the idea that God is pursuing us to have a relationship with Him. I didn't read it as universalistic, even though it could be seen that way. I read it as Jesus' willingness and power to reach us anyway he can.

"Honey, there's no easy answer that will take your pain away. Believe me, if I had one, I'd use it now. I have no magic wand to wave over you and make it all better. Life takes a bit of time and a lot of relationship."
-Yes! Isn't it true that so many people are quick to offer trite sayings and meaningless cliche's when someone is feeling pain. I love that God was not presented as a magician, but as a physician that heals through relationship.

"What happened to Missy was the result of evil and no one in your world is immune to it."
-I often tell people that good things happen to everybody and bad things happen to everybody. We aren't immune to evil, but we aren't immune to goodness either.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

2 Reunions

I was a part of two reunions this weekend. They were both excellent. One reunion was Saturday evening. My wife and I used to attend this church where we led a small group for the people who lived in Rock Hill, SC but drove to Charlotte for church on Sunday. Its been at least 6 years since the group has met until Saturday evening. My wife and I hosted a reunion for the group and most of the people came. It was nice to reconnect and just hang out. I experienced in my own home what I learned this year from a book about creating events as a church leader: Create a space to hang out and just let it happen naturally. It was so cool to see people laughing and cutting on each other and just having fun like we used to do. A part of me wishes I could go back to when the small group started and do things would've been an even better group than it already was.

The second reunion was on Sunday. It was the Tuttle family reunion. For those of you that don't know, my biological father died before I was born. Which means I had lost touch with much of that side of the family. To show my ignorance of that side of the family, when I asked a man if he was a friend of the family, he said no my name is so and so Tuttle. At which my uncle said everyone here is family. It was a strange and wonderful experience. Since I didn't know my biological father, it was really cool to hear a few stories about what he was like as a kid. Even though we got lost and it took 3 hours to get there, I'm glad I went.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Olympics and Spirituality (Part 2)

One of the reasons I love the Olympics is the level of competition. Its incredible to watch the talent of these athletes. But its not just their talent. Its their commitment to the sport. Their work ethic. Their drive. Their passion. And money's not involved. Its all about competing for the sake of competition.

I believe this is what makes people want to watch the Olympics. We are witnessing the very best in the world compete against one another.

I find myself wondering what it would be like to be that good at something. Then I think, unless your a superhero, it doesn't just happen. It takes practice, training and talent. So even if I wanted to compete with Michael Phelps (after all, I'm 6'6" and he's only 6'4"), I seriously doubt I have the natural talent that he has in the pool, so all the training and practice in the world would never get me to where he is. So, I have to ask myself, what can I train in, what can I be the best at.

You know what I came up with? Relationships. If God is calling me to be good at anything, its at relationships. Including my family, my friends, my co-workers, my acquaintances and so on. I can practice being the best husband I can be to my wife by learning from other husbands who are doing things right. I can train myself to be a good parent by paying attention to other parents that have gotten it right and by reading good books on parenting. I can be a good friend and co-worker by relating to them the way I would want them to relate to me.

The sad part is we don't get a medal. The good part is we have more than one chance every four years to love well.

So, how's your relationships? Are you working on them? Just like an Olympic athlete, the best way to work on your relationsihps is to work on yourself. Remember, the only person you can change is yourself.

Olympics and Spirituality (Part 1)

IS anyone else watching and keeping up with the Olympics? The Olympics are a big deal in our household. My wife and I both enjoy watching them. I fell asleep last night while we were wathcing them and one of my first questions to my wife this morning was "how did the US team do in Gymnastics?" "They got Bronze." She said excitingly. I didn't understand. Until she explained that no one gave them a chance to even get a medal. She said they were so proud to get the Bronze and were all smiling and cheering and celebrating on the podium.

I thought, what if Michael Phelps received a bronze? That would be considered a failure. The expectations are so high for him, that anything less than a gold is considered a failure. So as I thought about this, I asked myself what is the difference?

I think the difference is a simple matter of expectations. Nobody expected the US men's gymnastics team to even medal, so they were as proud of the bronze as the Chinese were of the gold (probably moreso). Everyone expects Michael Phelps to get gold in every competition he's in, anything less is considered a failure to meet expectations. There was one exception to his gold medal run, the 400 meter medley. Why? Because it was a team event. The announcer, a supposed expert, basically proclaimed France as the gold medal winner before the event started. The US team pulled a miraculous upset to win gold. Guess who was cheering more than anyone else...Michael Phelps. When he wins an individual gold he's happy and smiles, but when the team one the gold medal he took celebration to a whole new level? Why? Because the expectations were lower for the team than for him as an individual.

What do you expect out of life? What do you expect out of relationships? What do you expect from God? Make the expectations high and work hard to meet them. If you expect a healthy and happy marriage, that's what you will aim for. If you expect to have loving and disciplined children, then that's what you will work for. If you expect to be successful in your career, then you will strive for excellence in what you do for a living. Healthy expectations help us move towards good things. What are you moving towards?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Out n About

I just returned from an event with the Good Shepherd Out N About group. The O&A is a group of men and women over 55 years old who accompany each other on field trips almost every month. Today we went to Discovery place to see the "A Day in Pompeii" exhibit, watched an Imax film titled Greece: Secrets to the Past, ate at Brixx and rode the Lynx. It was a nice trip, I find myself sleepy and I'm not sure why.

The exhibit focused on the city of Pompeii and the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. The eruption allowed the city to be preserved for many years. In fact, the tag line of the exhibit is "what nature destroyed it also preserved." The last part of the exhibit was a room with eight body casts, or plaster molds of the cavities left by the victims' bodies, depicting the people of Pompeii in their final moments of life.

It felt like sacred space. The presentation seemed so matter of fact. I suppose that's because its easy to accept the death toll of a natural disaster almost 2,000 years ago. It still felt like sacred space and a part of me grieved for these people. The hardest one to see was of a man and a woman lying down. It looked as though the man was trying to protect the woman.

While I'm glad I went, I felt like the Pompeii presentation and the Imax film on Greece failed to be totally accurate. They did not mention either culture's obsession with sex. They do have a section on religion in the exhibit that has Bacchus and Diana and they do mention Athena in the film, but their failure to talk about their cultic rituals and practices bothered me for some reason. I'm sure it was intentional because they knew kids would be there, it just seemed like a huge part of their culture was completely ignored.

I still enjoyed it and would recommend it to those of you who are interested in world history.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

August Thickness

The air in the Carolina's seems thicker in August than at any other time. The humidity and heat make it feel like you're walking into a heaviness that clings to your body as soon as you step outside. Then, the heaviness penetrates your skin and makes you sweat. I often wonder why I even shower some mornings. If you've never lived in the heat and humidity of the Southeastern part of the United States, just know that it is often an overwhelming experience.

I'm one of these people that have lyrics to songs pop into my head quite often. Conversation just catalyzes (is "catalyzes" a real word?) this phenomena. I think there are a lot of people that experience this, they just don't talk about it much. Its not forced at all, it just sort of happens. As I was talking to someone this morning about how thick the air is outside, I was reminded of some lyrics to this song by Flyleaf called "All Around Me":
"I can feel you all around me
Thickening the air I'm breathing
Holding on to what I'm feeling
Savoring this heart thats healing."

I love it when something in music reminds me of something in nature that reminds me of our relationship with God (I'm sure there are countless reminders in music and nature). As uncomfortable as the thickness of the Carolina air can be, it can also serve as a reminder of how God wraps himself around us and penetrates our skin. Sometimes we need a God who reminds us of His presence, even if it its an uncomfortable and overwhelming experience. I believe God speaks to us and teaches us about Himself through the beauty, spontaneity, restlessness, overwhelmingness, uncomfortableness, power and mystery of nature.

So...may you you be reminded of God's wrapping and penetrating presence the next time the thick Carolina air wraps itself around you.