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Yesterday I received an email from my son’s teacher. It said something to the affect of:

“Thelonious asked a very good question during our Bible lesson yesterday that takes a higher level of questioning than I usually see in a 5th grader. He asked how we know God is real. And, how do we know the Bible is real and not just some thing the authors made up. These questions are a little beyond what the other 5th graders are asking, so I couldn’t get into it with him very much. I thought you might like to give it a go.”

Well, as a matter of fact, it just so happens that I do hold a masters degree in theology. So, I guess I’m actually fairly qualified to broach this topic.

As Thelonious and I lounged around last night, wasting a few minutes before bed, I laid down on his bed and we had a little conversation. “Your teacher says you’re asking annoying questions in Bible class. Stop it.” I kid. “I hear you’re having some pretty serious questions in Bible class. Want to talk about them?” See, sometimes, my kids bring up life altering issues at school but they don’t really care about the answers all that much. Questions of existence can simply be a passing fancy in the Fox household. But, he remembered the questions. How do we know God is real? And, how do we know the Bible just isn’t made up?

So, like any properly trained pastor, I asked him, “what makes you think that God isn’t real?” His answer was simple: if God is real, bad things wouldn’t happen. Great. 10 years old and I have to deal with issues of theodicy (the first of many vocab words he learned during this conversation). So, like any properly trained pastor, I asked probing questions that steered the conversation towards issues of choice. But, apparently, free will isn’t very important to Thelonious.” Why doesn’t God stop me from doing bad things?”  “Why doesn’t God stop me from being mean to Ione?” Pretty soon the conversation degraded into “why don’t you stop me? why doesn’t mom stop me? why doesn’t the playground monitor stop me?” Apparently, there is only one person who is not responsible for Thelonious’ personal choices – and, that person is Thelonious.

Our conversation went on and on. It was pretty fun to get inside his head and mess it all up and see how he thinks. The dialogue was far reaching and bounced back and forth from one corner of his cynical little mind to the other corner of his agnostic little mind. Every time I looked over at him, his little face was all twisted up and distorted. It was (literally) a look of pain. A look of deep, deep thought. His brain was working so hard that it actually couldn’t send messages to his face telling it to keep it looking the way it is supposed to look. I won’t bore you with all the details, just the conclusion…

“Dude, let me tell you about the only philosopher that really matters: Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard said that when it is all said and done, we just don’t know for sure. You can’t know for sure. And, nothing anyone says can make you know for sure. Kierkegaard called it “the leap of faith.” Sooner or later, you’re just gonna have to take a leap of faith.”

I may have been a little too esoteric (another vocab word he learned last night). I may have been a little too ambiguous and non-committal. I may have been lacking in anything that could actually be called an answer. I may have been way too comfortable in the grey world of “I dunno.” But one thing is for sure. I kissed him good night and said, “I love you.” And, for the first time in a year and a half, he replied with, “I love you.” See, he gave up that little kid gesture of verbally communicated affection long ago. But, apparently, a parent who will sit with you in the unknown (and introduce you to the depressed Dane) is irresistibly lovable.

As I got up from his bed and started to leave the room, Thelonious wanted to ask me one final question… After the conversation at school, the teacher asked the rest of class: “class, what do you think of these questions?” One little girl raised her hand and said that she knew the Bible was true because what it contained was so amazing and wonderful that it was beyond human ability to imagine or make up any of  it. (Anselm… that line of reasoning is so 5th grade.) Thelonious continued: “but, ya know what? I think that doesn’t make any sense. I mean, the stories in the Bible really aren’t  all that amazing.” Letting him read comic books was a very bad idea.

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In honor of the oppressed who gained some level of voice and empowerment in last night’s election, I decided to wear my Clash “Know Your Rights” t-shirt today. Ione and I were brushing our teeth (actually, I was brushing my teeth and she was just hanging out on the toilet) when she saw my shirt and asked, “Daddy, does your shirt say ‘now your rights’?”

“No, sweetie, it says Know. Know your rights.”

“But, daddy, you’re a left.”

Speaking of rights, this morning I came to the realization that I don’t have to be friends with anyone – on facebook that is. See, I’ve been getting riled up about what some people have entered as their “status.” I rile easy, and I de-rile with much work over a long period of time. So, avoiding the initial riling is important for my spiritual health and well being (not to mention the class project due tomorrow). After my blood boiled over one particularly shameful jingoistic “status” I read this morning, I was prepared to explode – figuratively and literally. And then, it occurred to me. I do not have to be facebook friends with individuals who express their vitriolic fear through jackassery. So, I deleted them and feel much better.

Speaking of jackassery, for many years I thought that word had been invented by my friend, Bill Power. Just a few years ago, I discovered it is a real word! I read it in a scholarly theological work on sin by Cornelius Plantinga. Who knew?

Speaking of Plantinga, he understands sin as the lack or absence of shalom (or, “the way things God intended them to be”). I think in last night’s election, a little bit of shalom was restored and the kingdom of God was made visible.

Erika left early this morning to go to her sister’s baby shower in Southern California. That means it’s the Saturday after Halloween alone with dad – this can not turn out well.

Ione cried for 27 minutes because she wanted me to go get her donuts for breakfast. I finally convinced them both to eat some waffles and sausages. The difficult part was convincing them that they did not need chocolate chips on the waffles or powdered sugar to dip the sausage in.

After breakfast, the kids were counting their candy and Thelonious said, “Hey, Dad, I got a joke book while trick or treating. Check it out… Why do gorillas have big noses?”

“I dunno.”

“Because they have big fingers. ha ha ha. What is the laziest mountain in the world?”

“Hmmm, I dunno.” 

“Mount Ever-rest!!! ha ha hee hee ha. Dad, dad, listen to this one… Who will everyone meet someday?”

(this is a weird set up for a joke) “I dunno, Thelonious. Who?”

“God’s son, the Lord Jesus Christ! Hey, here’s another… Will everyone go to heaven?”

“Wellllll…different people believe different things. Some people think everyone will go to heaven. Ya see, Jesus loves everyone –

“Nope! Says here: The Bible, God’s book says, ‘those who don’t believe and obey him shall never see heaven!'”

Ione laughs hysterically.

Thelonious continues, “Will the bad things I have done (sins) keep me from going to heaven?”

“Well, geez, son, these are kinda complex -”

“It says here: ‘YES! God hates sin! He will not allow sin into heaven! That means I’m in a lot of trouble!'”

Now I know why people think Halloween is evil.

Thelonious finishes with, “I’ve been wearing the same underwear since Wednesday.”

Why am I wasting all this time and money on grad school? Apparently, all truth can be learned by trick or treating.

Erika: Thelonious, you’re so smart, funny, handsome, creative, and fun. Who do you think you get that from – me or daddy?

Thelonious: (pause) Neither. I got them from that cool dude who’s name is spelled G – O – D.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking this week about being a Christ follower. Unfortunately, a lot of this thought was triggered by some unpleasant blog exchanges about whether or not Rob Bell is a heretic. My more conservative brothers and sisters pushed me to a place where I had to ask myself what I consider the very basics (as far as doctrine or theology) and what I consider to be “electives” (not “elected” – I don’t believe in that crap). For instance – can one follow Christ and not believe in Hell? If you answer that question “no” then my question becomes, “what saves – the acts and words of Jesus or belief in Hell?” Then, I ran across this cute lil quote…

There are two views concerning the Gospel of Jesus Christ. First, there is what we call Calvinism. Then, there are varying degrees of unbelief.

In the end, my answer was that one only need believe that Jesus is both God and human and that He died for our sins.

Does our salvation depend on anything else?

This week, I am preaching on the healing of the bent-over woman and the parable of the mustard seed from Luke 13 as we continue a series on the Kingdom of God. So, I’m in the middle of my typical process of preparation – obsessively mulling thoughts over (and over and over) until they are beat into a pulpy mush which has the possibility of producing a semi-tasty and semi-nutritious drink.

Prompted by a post from Jeff Keuss, I am considering using stage diving to shed light on what this text is saying to us. Now, here’s my quandary. I know a large percentage of the congregation will not have the same personal connection with “stage diving” that I do. But, I think that it will work on multiple levels because it is also an object lesson: “the good stuff of the Kingdom is for the people – it’s not meant to be locked up behind cultural norms and religious sanctimony. It’s not to be kept safe from the messy masses and only used by and for the powerful elite .”

So, the big question is: should I? Will it A) have value, B) just be lame, or C) distract from the larger point? And, if I do, should I also show this video? Warning: turn your volume off, there is offensive language coming your way. But, this clip gets realllly good about 12 seconds in.

Tell me what you think…

For better or worse, I read a lot of theology. And, I admit it – for the most part, I really enjoy it. Part of the way I express, or make sense of my faith is to think and one of the things that helps me think about God is reading what others have thought. Much of my praxis has been shaped and reshaped by the writings and thoughts of theologians (some great, and some not so great). But, no matter how much I enjoy a good think session, theology does have some problems.

Theology, intrinsically, does not have a lot of comedic value. In fact, I think I might even be less funny after a few hours pondering the humanity of God with Karl Barth. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t deny that “double predestination” will always get a laugh or two – guess what? God knew you in your mother’s womb and decided right then and there you were good for one thing and one thing only: damnation and punishment in hell for all eternity. Ha ha ha. Man, I can’t even type that without chuckling inside. But, aside from Calvin, theology is not funny.

Problem #2: vocabulary. How many “ologies” can one person keep track of? Epistemology, soteriology, ecclesiology, eschatology, christology, ontology, whocaresology. OK, I get it – you know a bunch of words most people don’t care about. Good for you. And, while I’m here, one more thing – just cuz you can spell “efficacious” and “expiation” doesn’t mean you should use them conversationally.

And, chicks. Aside from mega-churches in Ballard, theology never gets you hot chicks.

I’m open minded. I’m secure in who I am. I don’t care what you think about me. So, I’m not afraid to admit I have friends who identify as Calvinist.

But, I read this and wondered what they would think…

First, it is clear that salvation, like the reign of God consists in human participation in the very life and power of God… Salvation is our human participation in the being, life, freedom, and love which is God.
— Luttenberger from An Introduction to Christology

Hell, I read that and wondered what I thought!

I don’t know, man. Is the reign of God reliant on the participation of humans? Can salvation be defined as my participation with God – instead of 100% the work of God?

Jesuits will jack with your head.

Last week I read Jesus the Liberator for my Christology class. The assignment was to read it and then create a poster about it – as opposed to writing a paper. What’s this? An assignment that actually caters to my strengths?!?!

I juxtaposed an image of a Latin American style crucifix (meaning bloody) with some comic book art. In the early 70’s, Green Arrow joined up with Green Lantern in issue #76 for a long run as a duo. This was an amazing time in comic books. The work of Neal Adams and Dennis O’Neil was groundbreaking. It wrestled with the issues of social justice, the poor, systemic violence and prejudice. The creative team used the two Greens to explore both sides of the issues: Green Arrow was an outspoken and strident advocate of the underprivileged in society and the political left wing while Green Lantern was a cerebral, sedate model citizen who followed the rules as an establishment conservative figure, serving existing institutions of government and law.

Using art from the first Green Lantern/Green Arrow story seemed appropriate – the two sides of one conflicted mind in constant tensions about the problem of the poor.

Get the picture? 

Here are a series of quotes which helped me summarize the book…

Liberation and crucifixion provide the basic tension for Christian faith and also the basic objective tension in christology…By faith we know clearly that where there is a poor person there is Jesus Christ himself…The poor are a sort of sacrament of the presence of Christ… If the Kingdom of God is “good news,” its recipients will help fundamentally in clarifying its content…The Kingdom belongs uniquely to the poor… By the mere fact of being poor, whatever the moral or personal situation in which they find themselves, God defends them and loves them, and they are the first ones to whom Jesus’ mission is directed…The poor are those for whom life is a heavy burden on the basic level of survival and living with a minimum of dignity…The ultimate definition of God is not power, nor thought, nor judgement, but goodness… What underpins reality is not an absurdity but something positive, and this something positive is not an impersonal force, but something good and personal, a God whom he called Father…Doing the will of God is treating people with justice, not observing religious rules…Jesus’ practice and teaching demand absolutely the unmasking of and a resolute struggle against structural injustice in the form of institutionalized violence.

No wonder liberation theology never caught on in the States…