Gift 57 – The World (As We Knew It)

So…where exactly are we?

I love exploring how human beings have answered this question for the last few thousand years or so.

Ancient people groups had all kinds of ideas about the world and just precisely how it all worked. Some folks imagined the sky was some kind of celestial canvas separating humans from the gods, and the stars were merely holes poked into the tarp-like divider that revealed the glory of the heavens beyond. Others (including the ancient Hebrews and their neighbors) pictured the world like a massive snow globe supported by view of worldgreat pillars below and covered by a vault that kept out the waters above (except when the floodgates of heaven were opened and the waters came down…we say, “hey it’s raining!” today).

The oldest discovered maps show how our human ancestors imagined the world to be flat.  That is until those clever Greeks figured out that we’ve been living on a ball all this time (Mind. Blown.). Even so, their very best maps looked something like this:

posidonius map

Eventually, this dude named Pomponius divided the earth into five separate sectors (only 2 were habitable, he thought) and discovered an invisible belt that separated northern and southern hemispheres. Now we’re getting somewhere…

Pomponius map

Jump forward about 1500 years (and a whole bunch of crazy looking maps) later and we have southern Germany’s own Martin Waldseemüller (it took me forever to figure out how to make the u do that) who compiled Waldseemuller map 2information for years and years in order to develop a clearer vision of the earth.  First ever shout out to “America” on a map. Looking familiar yet?

 

The progression went something like this: “There’s way more land than we thought” and then, “There’s way more water than we thought” and then, “So apparently this thing is round?!?” and then, “Believe it or not, there’s more land on the other side of all that water!” and on and on, all the way to the pictures of the earth we have today.

And then, of course, our perception of earth’s place in the universe has radically (like radically radically radically) transformed as we started dabbling with high-powered telescopes (uh oh, here we go again…). Come to find out, there’s a whole lot of universe out there.

Watch this video if you want your head to explode:

 

When I think about our ever developing understanding of the world—how we’ve gone from thinking the earth is a snow globe in the very center of the universe (which isn’t very big anyway), to the realization that our puny planet is smaller than a single punctuation in the vast realm of the Internet—I can’t help but think about our ever growing understanding of God.

In one way, God has made himself known through what we call “revelation”: The Scriptures, and the natural world, and most importantly, Jesus. But in another way, I believe with all my heart that we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of just who God is.

In the Bible, after talking about how incredible and overwhelming God is, Job concludes with this: “And these are but the outer fringes of his works; how faint a whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?”

And earlier in the Bible, when Manoah asked an angel for its name, the angel replied, “Why do you ask my name? For it is too wonderful for you to endure.” AHH!  And that’s just an angel! Imagine what God’s Name sounds like! Actually no, don’t even try.

And through the prophet Isaiah, God said, “I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Who then is like me? Let them proclaim it!” Yep, God is being sarcastic there at the end.

My point is this…just like how our concept of the world is ever unfolding like an always-budding flower, so too our understanding of God blooms and blossoms as we make new scientific discoveries, explore new places, uncover new species, and even tell new stories. This is why learning can be a thrilling form of worship!

Maybe heaven will be a sort of exploration into the never-ending glory and goodness of God, and we’ll have to constantly make new maps as He shows himself to be even more and even better than we thought the day before.

The Eastern Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware said, “It is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a Mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.”

My prayer for you, Rea, is that you begin this God-discovering process at a young age and continue to your last day when the journey will begin in earnest. I love you.

– Dad

 

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Gift 50 – The First Three Words You Ever Heard

Before you were born, I thought long and hard about just what I wanted to say to you in your first minutes of air-breathing life. What should be the very first words your brand new ears ever hear? Your mom didn’t think it mattered too much; after all, you won’t be able to understand human speech for a long time yet. But to me this was important.

Part of me knows that words are just words. But deep down I still secretly think that words—all words—are incantations of a sort, doing things to those on whom they fall. And so I’m praying these words, three little words, do their work in you until you become like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaves never wither (Psalm 1).

photo (27)I wanted the first words you ever heard to be like good soil for you to grow in. I want these words to be a firm foundation under your feet, allowing you the freedom to try and fail, the liberty to trust, the strength to be yourself in an age of pretending. And though you won’t understand their meaning at first, I will take you back to these first three words often—on good days and on bad ones. When you’re navigating identity issues, or celebrating a birthday, or hurt by the words of a classmate, or getting ready for a date, we’ll revisit these words together. I’ll say to you, “Do you know what the very first thing ever said to you was?”

Whether you feel like it or not, these words are truth. Fact, even. No matter what you do you will not be able to shake the whole worlds of meaning they hold, brimming just beneath the surface. You are stuck in these three words, and I’m sorry but there’s nothing you can do about it. Whatever shape your identity takes in the years ahead, it will forever be building off of your base, your starting point, the irrevocable, unalterable, irreversible reality that

you

are

loved.

Gift 45 – Your Mommy

So let’s talk for just a minute.

Your mom, there’s no one like her.

By the time you’re reading this I’m sure you’ve already realized that she’s the prettiest woman in the world (but for real), that she’s an extremely hard worker, that she loves gardening, loves watching thunderstorms, and loves animals as much as St. Francis of Assisi (before we were married she once abandoned me on a date to rescue a lost kitten). You already know that she is a thoughtful gift giver (you have an Ewok costume waiting for you for your first Halloween), an amazing muffin-maker, and that she thinks the people on the Today Show are her friends. And of course, you know by now that she loves you more than anyone in the entire world.

But I want to tell you a few things about your mommy that you might not know. I want to tell you why I love her so much and why she will always be my best friend…

  • I used to have a lot of really bad dreams. Before we got married, I knew I could call her even in the middle of the night and she would pray for me. She did regularly. After we got married she would often read to me from the Bible or from books she knows I love. Here’s a journal entry from Nov. 2012: “I woke up in the middle of the night after having a bad dream. My sweet wife got up and read The Lord of the Rings to me until I could fall back asleep. How blessed am I? Thank you, Lord.”
  • She’s always game for an adventure. We’ve already had several wonderful camping trips in the three years we’ve been married. Your mom is always ready for a road trip (though be warned, she’s a terrible D.J.). There are few things I love more than exploring Michigan with her. Even more importantly, she’s always willing to step out in trust when we believe God is calling us on an adventure. I remember sitting next to her in church the morning we heard about a foster care opportunity through Bethany Christian Services and her eagerness to find out more about the program. Though we felt like kids ourselves, and were by far the youngest foster care parents at any of the meetings, the seven weeks spent with our first foster daughter were unforgettable. I remember thanking God countless times during the process for such an organized (there’s lots of paperwork involved), compassionate, and patient wife.
  • Your mom does way more than you know. I’m sure of this because she does way more than I know. She is always giving of herself to ensure things are just right for you and me. Even though she has about 20 more jobs than I do, she also sacrifices at home by making us wonderful food, cleaning our clothes and the house, and by picking up after the dogs (and let me tell you!). The reason you might not realize all that your mom does is because she doesn’t talk about it. She doesn’t even complain or draw attention to all her hard work!
  • One time when we were dating her little brother got sick and started puking. While I was gagging in the background, I remember her getting down on her hands and knees in the bathroom to rub his back.  Wow, I thought, she’s the kind of person you want to marry. 
  • Your mom goes out of her way to make me feel special. Our love languages are different, and yet when she found out I value words of encouragement she started putting notes in my lunch. She often writes me little messages or emails during the day to let me know she’s thinking of me. Speaking of going out of her way to show love, did I mention that she came with me for the midnight showing of Harry Potter and all three Hobbit movies?!

The truth is, while I am so so excited to be your dad, I’m also a little bit afraid. Having your mom by my side gives me so much confidence and joy for all that lies ahead for us as a family. We make a good team, and we can’t wait for you to join us.

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Gift 43 – Dangeruss Questions: What do you want?

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.                                                                                      – C.S. Lewis

My Dear Daughter,

I want to begin this series of notes with one of the most important question you will ever be asked: What do you want?

I remember a short story I once edited as an English teacher. The story, written by a young female student, was all about a freshman girl who wanted more than anything to be invited to a party by a cute senior boy. I was so sure a redeeming moral would shine through on the last page, when the character would realize that there is more to life than high school parties and cute boys.

But nope. That part never came. The story ended with the cute boy finally noticing the main character and asking her to the big party. She went and had a wonderful time. The end.

I wrote a little comment at the bottom of the page: As a reader, I don’t care about your character because she’s driven by such a superficial desire. She wants too little.

See, a character is what he or she wants. To a large degree a person’s motivation = their identity. What you desire deep down fundamentally drives the decisions you make, the ideas you value, and the things you pursue. What you desire is what you become.

You are what you want. So what’s underneath the things you do and say? What’s your motivation?

I so look forward to having this conversation with you someday when you’re old enough to wrestle with your own heart. I will give you a piece of paper and a pencil, and time to think. And when you’ve written down just what it is that you really want, I’ll ask you one more question:

Is it enough?

Gift 42 – Confession

Daughter,

Confession is a gift, a way of setting yourself before God’s holiness for untangling.  John the Baptist calls us to “keep with repentance.” In part, I believe this means inviting the posture of confession into every act and attitude so that the seed of God’s Word may send its roots down deep into well-tilled soil.

I scribbled a short confession last night after spending a few hours learning from an Anglican priest.  He spoke a lot about “the rule of life” and demonstrated a powerful focused-ness on Christ, as though he was just a spoke revolving around a center.  Being exposed to this kind of life stung like salt water in an open cut.  The prayer below was the result of the healthy stinging.

I pray that you would learn to love confession as a way of opening your little hands to the grace of God.

God,

I confess my idolatrous pace,
my resistance to Your rhythms,
my tangled heart and mind.
 
You want to speak; I say You’ll have to yell over the crowd.
You want to move; I am not good at this dancing.
You want to heal; I desperately cover the wound.
 
I fear You have become a footnote in my day, and therefore my days, and therefore my life.
I fear You have become a heartless habit before meals, a line before bed.
I fear You are one of many tabs.
 
You say to take off my shoes, but I know nothing of Sacred.
You say to receive, but I am too production-oriented for Your Sabbath gifts.
You say to speak, but I still microwave my prayers.
 
But I have seen You in Your sanctuary
and beheld Your power and Your glory.
Because Your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify You.