God, the Impressionist

My mother has a theory that the great Impressionist painters were all near-sighted. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be near sighted, stand close to an impressionist painting, and you’ll get the idea. Everything is blurred, colors and fuzzy shapes take the main stage in order to give an impression of the scene being painted. Detail isn’t important, but rather the state of mind and emotional interaction with the painting.

That said, I had a thought this morning. As humans, we often get frustrated and angry with God because we can’t see why he’s doing what he’s doing. We find ourselves in difficult circumstances, struggling with relationships, or trying to muddle through life. Even those people who have a clear-cut purpose and goal can find themselves shaking their fist and wondering what God has in mind. But, what if God’s an Impressionist painter?

See, Impressionists would paint with bold brush strokes, often leaving amazing textures on their canvases. If you get up close to the canvas, shapes disappear and everything looks like a chaotic mess of brushstrokes and color. Nothing seems pretty or artistic, but the further back one steps from the painting, the clearer the subject becomes.

Our lives often seem chaotic, unruly, uncontrolled, but I think much of that is a lack of perspective. Yes, tragedy happens and there is no discounting that fact. Those times are especially difficult. Sometimes, though, I think we are looking at the brushstrokes, the valleys and chasms created by the master strokes of a brilliant painter creating a masterpiece so amazing we would have trouble truly comprehending it.

God does want us to enjoy life, to enjoy the creation he spoke into existence. He does love it when we smile, laugh, sing, dance, and eat together. He also knows that we will have trials and struggles and teaches us through those.

When have you had a time when you went through a troubling period and discovered after the fact that you had grown in the process? How has that struggled allowed you to speak comfort and strength into the lives of others?

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How hard is too hard to smack my brother?

Those of you with siblings know the struggle between wanting to smack your sibling and wanting to hug them into a coma. The question going through many sibling minds is, “How hard can I smack this person before they cry and I get in trouble?” So the mental math ensues and generally older siblings always overestimate the amount of force it takes to silence a younger sibling, crying ensues, and suddenly one (or both) siblings find themselves at the receiving end of a stern talking to.

Ok, but what’s this got to do with real life? Well, lately, I’ve noticed that Christians and parents have a lot of good things to say. (Not that those groups are mutually exclusive…) What tends to happen though, is the way things are said tend to intercept the good message and replace it with a bad Google Translate version of whatever we were trying to say.

There are several big talking points floating around right now, one of them being gun laws vs gun rights. (Put those down, I’m not picking sides on this one, hear me out.) The way we have the discussions often changes the meaning of those discussions. I don’t know about you, but when one of my beliefs are challenged  I can sometimes take it personally and end up angry at the other person for attacking me. What I tend to forget is that my opinion is not me, it’s an idea. Now, if someone were to poke me with a sharp stick, that’s a different story, but simply having an opinion attacked is a very different story. Lashing out at the other side rarely wins them over, instead, it tends to make the other side that much more determined to hold their own opinion rather than to consider a different one.

Let’s get personal for a second. When one of these talking points comes up, how do you and the people in your household talk about them? Now, imagine those same words coming out of your child’s mouth. If it sounds perfectly logical and loving and cute, great. If it sounds out of place, perhaps the way we discuss these issues could use some work. Kids learn how to interact with others and their opinions through their parents.

So the question stands, when I see someone who seems to have a wrong opinion, how hard should I bring the book down on them? Depends. Do you want to have a fruitful, engaging discussion that could end with the two of you understanding one another and perhaps winning a friend or a fellow believer in whatever opinion it is, or would you rather have a heated argument that leads to broken friendships and not being invited over for tea ever again.

How do you have discussions at your house? Are your disagreements spoken with a mind to the other human beings involved? Are they spoken with the idea that the other human beings involved are children of God?

Book (Author) Review: Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase (and more!)

So this is probably my first book review on this blog. I was hoping to do more of this type of thing, but current events and my own easily distractible mind had me hovering over some more pressing topics. Today, we revisit the whole “talking about a pop culture thing and how it works into our own faith/life” thing.

Let me begin by stating my biases right up front: Rick Riordan is a fantastic author with a unique penchant for wit, sarcasm, humor, and the ability to weave a tales that are so different and at the same time familiar. I am one of those adults who have, I admit, had one of his books on pre-order for months and then read the entire thing in less than a week (with a busy schedule.)

Riordan’s unique characters include a startlingly diverse range of family situations, personalities, and voices that can easily spark discussion with each new chapter. He also draws heavily on mythologies including (at the moment) Greco-Roman, Egyptian, and Norse. The protagonists are well-intentioned, flawed individuals who give nothing else than their best while learning the value of companionship, courage, and even sacrifice. These characters feel startlingly real at times as they struggle with single-parent homes, death, poverty, and race, all while battling against forces of evil that are seemingly unbeatable.

Riordan also does a great job at setting, I would say, recommended age levels for when to read these books, in a similar way that J.K. Rowling did with her Harry Potter series. The issues covered and the challenges faced often coincide with the maturity level of the protagonist of the book, so an 11-year-old Percy deals with struggles that an average 11-year-old might deal with (aside from battling the occasional monster.)

So you’re probably wondering, “Well, you seem pretty positive on the books. Why write a post about them?” Fancy that, I was just about to answer that question.

The fictional universe of this book does assume that the gods of Greek, Egyptian, and Norse mythology are very much real and capable of affecting the world by their actions. This can be both a challenge and a tool for Christian families. On the one hand, this will need some careful discussion to talk about the difference between fiction and reality (a conversation probably already covered) and also the difference between these gods and the God of Christianity. The gods depicted in these books can be selfish, fickle, and hold long grudges against specific characters, whereas we believe God is loving, faithful, and forgiving. The characters also have to struggle with faith (read here also “trust”) in their godly fathers (or mothers) in order to help them get past certain struggles or challenges. What better kickstarter to a conversation about prayer and our relationship with our Father in Heaven than to read about preteens and teens who have to work that sort of thing out during a battle or some perilous trial?

The latest book Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer dives into the life of Magnus Chase, a 16-year-old orphan living on the street. (A great conversation starter on how we interact with and treat those who are living with homelessness and what Jesus commands us to do about that problem!) He meets friends who are very different from him, including a girl who is still in the midst of dealing with the repercussions of being a Muslim interacting with Norse gods. The usual wit and humor are present in this novel, alongside some more mature themes such as arranged marriage, violence, and death. There are some wonderful moments where violence proves to not be the best option, which is always exciting to see, especially in a novel about Viking/Norse culture which thrived on many forms of violence. (And can I say, it is painful to write this much without mentioning a single spoiler for any of these series!)

I would encourage seeking out different points of view to challenge us, especially through books and subsequent discussions. These book series (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Kane Chronicles, The Heroes of Olympus, and Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard) can give kids adventures, relatable characters, and an opportunity to think through how they approach life and faith.

If you haven’t given these books a chance, yet, I highly recommend them for late elementary and preteen aged students. I also recommend reading along with your children so that you will be prepared when those conversations do come up, and because you might just find yourself enjoying them as much as your kids!

What books or series do your and your family love? Which ones have challenged you or your kids to think hard about life or faith?

He’s Not Correct, He’s My Brother

I love humor, maybe more than most people. In fact, as unhealthy as it might be, it’s one of my coping mechanisms. I am a believer that in difficult circumstances, we have two main options, laugh or cry. Now, some people fall along the area between those two, but I prefer to laugh. My love of humor and comedy have been a point or disagreement between my wife and I because she tends to shy away from pure comedy movies and shows, while I tend to gravitate toward them. (However, if we can find a show/movie that has a few laughs along with a good number of explosions, we’re both happy for the most part. And, yes, she’s the one that needs the explosions and action.)

I have noticed a growing trend

I have realized more and more that Christians have a tendency to rib one another from time to time… forcefully… with verbal knives… to the heart… And I have grown to have some issues with this. Yes, there will be brothers and sisters of ours who have their differences and particular beliefs and practices that we disagree with, but we’re still siblings.

“That’s all fine and dandy,” I hear some say, smugly, with a cheeky grin spread across their faces, “but we can’t all be right!” The assumption here being that these smugly smiling siblings are correct… And, no, I’m not going to preach about which group is most inherently correct on a particularly minute theological point that seems so insurmountable compared to the resurrection and subsequent Kingship of Jesus Christ and His command and prayer for His people to be one as He and the Father are One – Oh wait, that tiny point doesn’t seem so massive anymore…

We can all learn from our fellow believers. We can learn a sense of awe, wonder and reverence from the Catholic and Anglican liturgies. Lutherans’ focus on grace is exceedingly admirable, as is the Reformed traditions reliance on Scripture. We could all benefit from having at least one Charismatic friend, because, goodness knows, we don’t talk about the work of the Holy Spirit much in most groups. And we can certainly learn something about fellowship from Baptists. (I know there’s so much more to each of these groups, but if I kept going, we’d be here… well… longer than I care to type today.)

So instead of constantly putting down our siblings, why don’t we work together? First, let’s start with our commonalities (Jesus being the primary one) and work out of the command to be unified and take care of others. And, second, if we must deal with our differences, let us learn from former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and use those differences to better define our own beliefs. Hearing how someone else believes can certainly allow us to think through our own belief and explain to ourselves why we believe the way we do.

So, Internet (I’m looking at you specifically Facebook), let’s show a little more grace toward our fellow Christians. If you truly feel someone is wrong, maybe go to them in person, or with a phone call – public debates don’t usually end with the statement, “I sure am glad you called me out in front of the entire Internet, my mind is completely changed now!”

I seem to recall Jesus saying something about this… *cough*Matthew 18:15-16*cough*

Working with kids, this is especially important. Kids will pick up on prejudice very quickly and often in shocking ways. The way we talk about other believers in our homes and in our churches will impact the ability of the next generation to look at a fellow Christian and see Christ instead of an enemy.

How do you talk about other denominations in your home? What were you taught about other denominations? Do you know anyone from another Christian denomination?

(Full Disclosure: Being from the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ [Stone Campbell Movement] means that my own group’s biggest focus is… wait for it… unity. Also, if anyone has any Stone-Campbell movement jokes and would like to share, please do. I’ve heard so many about other people’s groups, but never about my own… We might have more jokes if more people knew about us, but that’s ok, too!)