An Unimaginative Lot

I.

Are we an unimaginative lot?

Yesterday I shared lunch with a good friend. He is a creative fellow, a man with a third eye who sees beyond the is of the mundane everyday and straight into the beautiful heart of life. Sitting on a bench in a crowded park, he can identify the decisive moment. He can capture the moment with his camera, slap a frame over it, and make you want to spend a week's salary to call it yours. He is a fine photographer. It is his gift.

We sat in the diner and he asked me how I knew that God is good. I was stumped, but not stumped in the "if God is so good, what about the starving Indian children," kind of way. Instead, I was definitionally stumped. What is "good," anyway? Isn't good, after all, subjective? Isn't it notional? Isn't "good" a subjective measuring stick?

For the first time, I thought about the term "good." For the first time, I wondered whether we all mean the same thing by it.

II.

"'Good' is a known quotient, a thing around which entire catechisms have been written," you might say.

Really?

I've been considering my dear brothers in the developing world. Would the day-laborer in Rajpur call a warm cot and a loaf of bread good? Most certainly he would. Would we in the developed world call a warm cot and a loaf of bread good? Perhaps not. Be honest. Don't you wan't a little better than mere good?

Good is a matter of degrees, see.

"Didn't Jesus call God good?" you ask. Yes, he did. But even then, he didn't provide us any definition of "good," except to say that God was it.

"Seth, do you believe God is good?" you ask. Yes, I do. But does good to me mean the same thing that it does to you?

III.

I wonder whether we're asking the right questions. It seems for all of our creativity, we're still mired down in vague, un-nuanced visions of God, and so many are still coming up empty. Perhaps it's difficult to see God as good when life takes a hard left turn. How do we know God is good then? What is good? I wonder instead, whether we ought to be asking a more imaginative, more creative question. I wonder whether we ought to be asking whether God is, in fact, God, and if so, whether he is in us, and for us, and through us. If we come away with the eternal yes to these questions, maybe we should just leave it at that and live in gratefulness.

This year, I'm moving on, wrestling less with the questions of God's goodness and more with the mystery of God's Godness. I'm trying less to define all of His undefinable contours and accepting, instead, the reality of his indwelling.

Where does that leave me?

Perhaps it leaves me with a God who is bigger than my smallish notions of an acceptable Him.

IV.

Language Limited

Consider recovery from language limited, from the constraints of ever and always, from dualities of tender or capricious. Consider throwing off the yoke of subjectivity or objective knowing; instead, reach for the mystery of the air around you of everything that is eternal, un-understandably yours.

*****

Photo by Capt' Gorgeous.

For My Son, Isaac

Yesterday I watched Isaac in the front yard. He was kneeling in the driveway working with three rocks. The large and flatter rock was his platform. The square-edged rock in his right had was the grinder. The rock on the platform was an emerging arrowhead. He ground the stone for over an hour, and beamed when he said "look Daddy! It's just like the Native Americans used to make!" Isaac is taking the overlooked things of the earth and putting them to use. I was proud to call him my son in that moment, but that pride was a far cry from what I felt later that night.

We have friends who live in India, good folks who work with the less-than-privileged in an effort to build an intentional "artisanal community." Dave and his artisans build some of the most exquisite guitars I have ever seen. Mel and her artisans create coveted fabrics.  Last night, they came to town and hosted a gathering of friends to discuss their work. I took Isaac, and he listened intently, drank in their words (and his fair share of Chai tea to boot!).

On the ride home, Ike couldn't stop talking about India, how the community collects wood and wool, how they create things from the stuff of the earth. He asked whether we could go visit, whether he could make friends with the boys his age that lived in the village. He asked whether he could save his money and whether we could buy plane tickets soon. He said he'd like to understand what the world really looks like outside of Fayetteville.

As we pulled into the driveway and walked toward the house, the cicada songs were near deafening. On the old table by the door there were spent cicada skins collected, and I asked Isaac whether these were his.

"Yes," he said. "Some people think that molted cicada skins are gross, but I think the things God makes are worth saving."

Isaac is awakening to the nuances of the world. This is one of the better gifts God could give a father.

*****

The Economies of Our Sons

On the white metal table by my front door are spent skins of cicada nymphs.

Brittle,

translucent,

they have been collected by a boy of eight who’d rather store nature’s leftovers than hoard the first fruits of man’s

coarser

labors.

He is a gentle one, a simple son who says he’d like to friend the fellows in Rajpur who spend mostly imagination, save mostly their kin, and play mostly with the stuff given by the God of the earth—stuff like

wood,

wool,

rock,

and other things overlooked by the

too busy and

least curious.

*****

The Overcoming Kingdom

When life upends you, it’s tricky to balance human suffering and the goodness of God. It’s tempting to default to cliché tautologies–God is good because he is God–but these kinds of pat answers seem unsatisfying in the moment, and the starkness of our personal suffering seems to heighten awareness of the plight of all humanity. There are wars, famines, diseases, injustices, and where, pray tell, is God?  

Today, Tanya Marlow has graciously asked me to share words at her blog regarding the goodness of God in times of suffering. I hope you'll join me there.

*Photo by my lovely bride, Amber Haines.

**For regular updates, follow me on Twitter or like my Facebook page.

The Best Blessed Season

He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me. ~Psalm 18:19

The season lights us up, for unto us a child is born and we believe that he will undo all the broken, sick, divorced and distressed mess that is ours.

The new theologians tell me it is worthwhile to cast insults to God, for he is big enough to shoulder them, they say. This is thing to do-- curse the seasons.

Arkansas has gifted us with a second spring, the weather having broken and pulled everything verdant from the grave. There are tender shoots of garden Kale here.

These seeds didn't sprout in the late summer, and I was frustrated by their stubbornness. They are new purple, now, four arms reaching from my depleted garden soil.

These are the tenderest shoots I will see this winter, and I leave them for the deer that will sniff them out and bless me for mercy, even in the starving season.

This is the best blessed season, the one with kale, prayers, and mangers. The one with baby ornaments, and tidings of comfort and joy. This is the season of metaphors.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8fZU6qbkxOQ&w=640&h=360]

The Goodness of God (A Song)

I was called a man of faith not too long ago, and it seemed ironic to me in the moment. Lately, faith is hard. When I was a child, I recited my mass responses in a sing-song manner--"I believe that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." In those days, it seemed little more than a repetitive practice perpetuated by the Sisters of Mercy, nuns who struck the fear of Christ in the fourth-grade hearts of the non-participating. Some might say this kind of rote memorization is little more than manipulative programming; others might say it is training up a child in the way he should go. I'm not sure about either of those sentiments, but I have come to find the words of Psalm 27 in the granaries of my memory lately, and they have been a comfort.

It's been a long five months. We've been through the ups and downs of raising a sick child and there are days when I go back to the Psalms to remind myself of the goodness of God. It is a constant effort to recall the truth, to speak it to myself even when the easiest notions of God trend more toward agnosticism or deism. It's a constant effort to remember the power of the Gospel--that Christ is all-sufficient.

I've written this piece as a reminder. It's simple, much the way my faith feels these days.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MyQnIfyzYY&w=420&h=315]

*Amber is sharing a brief Titus update at her site for those of you who are following along.