And Coming...

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden" is an allegory for children of all ages, written and illustrated by Ellen Gillette. Order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

March 28, 2012 The Unspeakable Thing About God

When times are good, be happy; 
but when times are bad, 
God has made the one 
as well as the other. 
Ecclesiastes 7:14

Nothing so captures the heart of a community as the death of a child. Just two days ago, the death of a nine-year-old boy in Fort Pierce, Florida has done just that. A memorial service was held today for Aaron Beauchamp, the only student to die aboard the France K. Sweet Elementary School bus that crashed.  

At this time, five other children remain in critical condition. The bus driver, a man whose driving record has been impeccable throughout his driving career, will never forget that tragic day, or the tragic decision to turn in front of a semi. An accident. Certainly the family and friends of all who were involved will never forget the day either. March 26 will live forever in their minds. It will haunt them. Perhaps even the number 26 will do this, or the number of the bus. Details, details.

I would venture a guess that somewhere tonight, even as I type this, someone is asking why God allowed such a thing to happen. Going so far as to say that God must not exist, because if a loving God existed, this kind of thing could not happen.

It's a point well taken. A loving God would want his children to prosper, succeed, do well, be happy, be healed. Right? 

Many years ago, just months after my own son died following a car accident, I sat in a Sunday school room listening to a testimony. I was visiting the church for the first time -- our former church home, the one we had helped start, had become less than nurturing, less than friendly due to judgmentalism and legalism and all the other isms that man-made religions (or man's interpretation of Christianity) historically inflict -- and was hopeful of finding a welcoming place. 

I was still raw from the loss of our son, so it was unfair, really, to expect a new church to meet my needs, but one testimony in a Sunday school sent me packing.

The woman sharing so enthusiastically had almost had an accident, you see, but God had intervened. God is so good! He is so loving! He protected her! This near-miss proved that God is sovereignly watching over his beloved, that all is as it should be.

Bullshit. And no, I'm not going to ask you to pardon my French. That's an honest, heartfelt assessment of that particular brand of God-gushing, and it's in plain English. God is God. He does whatever the hell he wants (she said ironically) and for whatever reasons he deems best. Sometimes he protects and delivers and heals. Sometimes he lets people die. He's still God. We're still not.

See, we can't have it both ways. We can't rave about God's love and care when things go right, and then say, well, God didn't have anything to do with a tragedy. Of course he did. He either is God or he isn't. 

Could God have prevented my son's death? Aaron Beauchamp's death? Abso-freakin'-lutely. He also could prevent the death of innumerable children and others slightly less likely to pull on our heartstrings...every minute or every hour of every day of every week of every month of every year of every decade of every century of every millennium.

Why doesn't he? I have no idea. I've been fed the same tired stories of his not interfering with human will that you have. I've heard the "It's God's will." I've heard the "God's permissive vs. perfect will." I've heard the cries of "unfair God" or "no-God-at-all" when things go bad, oddly unaccompanied by the "fair God" and "praise God" when things go well.

Every day that we live, we owe allegiance to the Creator of the universe. He created us. He breathed life into us. There is no blessing we receive that has not come from his hand. If we worked for it, he gave us the ability to work, the talent to perform. Grace. Unmerited favor. We're born in our father Adam's sinful likeness, yet he lets us live because he loves us and wants us to get to know him, wants us to find the way back to him.

And sometimes...always. Always. ALWAYS, there are tragic times. The woman in the Sunday school class had apparently not had hers yet or she wouldn't have babbled on about proof of God's love in her life when she escaped injury in a freaking car accident. Her time is coming. "In this world you will have trouble," Jesus said in John 16:33, and he was talking to the guys he loved best.

Did you catch that? YOU WILL HAVE TROUBLE. Maybe it will be a physical problem. Mental illness. Financial woes. Marital difficulty. The death of a loved one. Career setbacks. Crimes against you. Crimes perpetrated by you. You will have trouble. It doesn't mean there isn't a God, any more than a (temporary) lack of trouble means that you are blessed.

We have finite minds. We can't understand. We don't fathom the mysteries of God. But I am convinced that God exists, and that his plan for us is good. The best, actually:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21, New International Version).
He is able to do more than we ask or imagine. That he doesn't always DO  what we ask or imagine is his business...and by extension, his problem. We don't have to like it. We don't have to approve of his methods. He's still God. I believe that we can trust him to work, as Paul wrote, all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes (Romans 8:28).

All things. All. Things. Even the really horrible ones.

The friends and family of Aaron Beauchamp are going to have some questions for God. I would be surprised if he answers them. Lord knows, I'm still waiting for answers to MY questions. 

But one thing I know: God loves us. We are created for eternity. My son, and little Aaron, are there right now. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

March 10, 2012 Spamming Heaven's Throne Room

Spam, as you must know, is unwanted e-mail. Junk e-mail. E-mail sent to bulk lists from people who do not know you, about things you probably want no part of. Today I saw that I had accumulated over 200 entries in my spam folder since the last time I emptied it; a quick look reveals the usual satellite tv promotions, large amounts of money waiting for me in the Central Bank of Ghana, loans, sweepstakes, various helps for erectile dysfunction, assorted coupons, and invitations from hot local singles who want to meet me.

Spam is named for a comedy routine, oddly enough. Says Wikipedia:
According to the Internet Society and other sources, the term spam is derived from the 1970 Spam sketch of the BBC television comedy series Monty Python's Flying Circus. The sketch is set in a cafe where nearly every item on the menu includes Spam canned luncheon meat. As the waiter recites the Spam-filled menu, a chorus of Viking patrons drowns out all conversations with a song repeating "Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam... lovely Spam! wonderful Spam!", hence "Spamming" the dialogue.The excessive amount of Spam mentioned in the sketch is a reference to the preponderance of imported canned meat products in the United Kingdom, particularly a brand of tinned ham (Shoulder Pork hAM = SPAM) from the USA, in the years after World War II, as the country struggled to rebuild its agricultural base. Spam captured a large slice of the British market within lower economic classes and became a byword among British children of the 1960s for low-grade fodder due to its commonality, monotonous taste and cheap price — hence the humour of the Python sketch.
Whatever. But today it dawned on me that a lot of what we call "prayer" may be perceived, in heaven, as the spiritual equivalent to spam. Jesus instructed us how to pray in the gospel of Matthew, chapter six:

  Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
God is appropriated addressed and reminded of his holiness. The desire to see his will accomplished is stated. A request is made for provision (surely it didn't sound so much like a demand in the original language!), forgiveness, guidance, and protection, followed by another reminder to the Almighty of how awesome he is. be it, in other words...and that's it. Very concise, as are most of the prayers that show up in scripture. Either that's what he prefers, or some editor has a lot to answer for someday.

Jesus also instructed us that less is more, prayer-wise. His introduction to the "Our Father" tells us that we aren't to think that public praying or lofty-sounding words hold any merit:  5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him "(Matthew 6:5-8 NIV).

I've changed the way I pray over the years. After our son Adam's death in 2000, it struck me that God is God. He does whatever he wants without regard to our timetables or preferences. He does things for his own reasons. His plans are top priority, and regardless of OUR plans, his are the ones that eventually unfold. His reasons are superior to ours, don't get me wrong! But we don't always see it at the time. We don't always understand what he is doing or why. Still, he is God, and we are not. So I stopped praying for things the same way and started reminding him of this fact.

"You are going to do what you want to, anyway," I will say. "And I trust that what you want is the Best...but I do ask you to be merciful here. Show yourself to be strong and loving in this situation." I'm convinced that affirmation is the Lord's love language, so I tell him how wonderful he is. A lot. It's true, and I'm convinced he enjoys hearing it.

I also tell him what I hope he does in a situation, the answer that seems to  me, in my very limited capacity and understanding, to be ideal. As if I had a clue, but I remind him of that also. Not trying to tell you your job, obviously, but if I were you... He's my Father, after all. What dad doesn't appreciate honest communication from his kids, even if it is childish and foolish?

A man recently shared with me that over the last year, he has adopted the practice of praying the Serenity Prayer each day, and that it has transformed his life so much so that he puts it right up there with the Lord's Prayer in terms of personal significance. Originally written by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, it has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and various other 12-step groups:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Since then, I've found myself reflecting on these simple words more often. Maybe it's because there are so many, many things around me that I've finally realized I have absolutely no chance of changing! What a freeing revelation this is! It's not up to me! Yay! There are things about others, my life, circumstances, my own heart...that I am powerless to control or change.

OK, so I don't take xanax.
It's still funny.
Granted, there are other things, especially within myself, that I need to address, correct, develop. But most of the things that overwhelm me are things I can't do anything about anyway. I need to recognize this on a daily, sometimes an hourly, basis. And I need God's help even here. I am powerless even to recognize what I am powerless to change.

Simple pleasures are often the best, and it seems from scripture that simple prayers are most pleasing to God. I need you, I love you, I want your truth to grow in my life. You're the greatest. If not for you, I'd be dead. Thank you for your mercy, without which I couldn't hope to approach your throne to thank you for it.

I have a feeling that if we go much beyond this, if we beg and plead and show up with our wish lists as if to approach the great  bearded Santa in the sky, it's regarded as so much spam. 

Which isn't, after all, even kosher.