Happiness Is a Pile of Cheez-Its

I have before me a (rapidly) diminishing pile of white cheddar Cheez-Its. I say this with no shame. As far as snack foods go, these are the perfection of years of scientific research into the taste palate of human beings. They are crunchy, but not overly so, dusted with the nearly explosive umami flavor of a white cheddar cheese, with the correct amount of salt in each glorious cracker. There is a bliss in placing one on the tongue and letting the cheese dust dissolve for just a wondrous second before allowing the still-crisp cracker to be crushed tenderly between molars.

Do you savor things? Do you enjoy your food, or do you wolf it down as fuel alone? Do you enjoy your reading, or are you so eager to start the next one that words blur together? Do you notice the trees, plants, sunrise or sunset as you drive to and from work, or is that guy in front of you just driving too. darn. slowly…

As I pop another cracker into my mouth, I cannot help but wonder how many meals I missed savoring due to feeling the need to hurry. Savoring actually takes some work in today’s culture. We all feel so busy that taking any time to enjoy something as simple as a Cheez-It or the newly bloomed flowers makes us feel guilty. What is that kind of busy-ness doing to our kids?

I think it’s developing generations that are afraid of boredom. Our phones save us regularly from the tedium of boredom. How did we function before such entertainment was readily available out our fingertips? Well, I guess we used our imaginations. We developed ideas. We reflected on life. We thought through our stories, days, and legacies while staring at the back of the coupon guy’s head in the checkout line.

I think I learned to savor from my family. My mom and I would share a bag of Smartpop White Cheddar (!) popcorn on car trips and enjoy licking the white cheese dust off of our fingers to get that last little bit of flavor. I remember sitting in the backseat of a car and getting passed a slice from a block of cheddar cheese on a Saturday afternoon with my granddad and cousin. I remember sitting in a sushi restaurant discovering that love for the first time with my dad in Las Vegas. Or Sunday afternoon lunches where we’d walk through a grocery store and build a snack meal after church.

We may be losing the ability to savor. Because we constantly seek stimulation, we lose the ability to stop and truly think about the media, food, and other entertainment we consume. I’m not saying we have to write a full break-down of character development and plot criticism for every show or film a detailed video of our thoughts on the scrumptious dessert we found. I am saying that we can unlock a level of enjoyment and pleasure that goes beyond the scientifically designed, pre-packaged consumables that get shoveled into our mouths, eyes, and ears every day. If we’re just constantly shoveling it in, how can we be discerning about what we like, or don’t like? A simple question, “Why?” can help us make some difference. “Why do I like this?” Our answer might surprise us, like with these Cheez-Its!

My small pile of Cheez-Its is gone. But gentle piano/cello/Celtic mix is playing on my office radio, so all is not lost. A beautiful chord resolution just happened removing the well-developed tension in the choral piece, giving me a sense of peace. And what should I find at the bottom of the box? A few more!

Maybe that’s what savoring is: stopping for a moment and asking, “Why do I enjoy this?” See, God made our bodies, made us to enjoy life and the world He created.  Wait, do we savor worship? Do we savor the silence of prayer? Do we savor the rush of singing God’s praises? Do we savor the words speaking to us from the Bible?

We’re encouraged to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Do we savor those tastes, those moments when God meets us in the daily back and forth of life turning a seemingly mundane moment into something holy, and wholly wonderful? And do we model savoring to our kids? Do they see us savor worship? Or are Sunday morning and Wednesday night hassles, full of frustration and clenched-jaw whisper shouting?

Slow down and savor. Teach your kids to slow down and savor – it’s a skill, and too few people know how to do it. So train yourself. Be present. Slow down. Savor. And then teach your kids how to.

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Fragile Faith and a House of Cards

I’ve been thinking about worldviews and Christianity, in particular. In all honesty, the topic fascinates me to no end, despite me being on the receiving end of a profound couple of worldview challenges over the course of my life. There is almost nothing more disorienting than realizing that your worldview is too small, or, worse still, wrong.

I had my own disorienting “valley of the shadow of death” moment back in college. Cliche, I know. “Next, you’ll be telling us the sky is blue and water’s wet.” I mean, sure, it is, but sometimes cliches are there for a reason. Anyway, being a Bible major, meant I was wrestling with theology daily – from all different traditions of Christian history. I found myself at one point staring at a metaphorical pile of cards where what I thought was my faith had been. It had, in my mind, been an unassailable fortress of belief and right doctrine. Everything had a place and answer… and then my professors walked through and plucked out or shifted the cards one by one. My reading began to shift the table under the house of cards, and new forms of worship opened up as I traveled with our choir to different churches and had devotions with an Anglican friend out of the Book of Common Prayer.

This to say I still cling to orthodoxy (“right doctrine”) and orthopraxy (“right doing”), but the object of my trust has shifted. To say that I trust God now would sound, to most of us, a little odd. But, looking back, I think that was my problem. I trusted the system I had, rather than trusting the One that system described. When my system was challenged, and my house of cards fell, what was left was a person, a God who was smiling at me like a father whose child has just realized playing cards don’t make a sturdy house. And so I began wrestling – which has a long Biblical tradition in Jacob, whose name was even changed to “God struggles with” or “struggles with God.” That wrestling took me through church history, through modern theological thoughts, back to the church fathers, and through recent discoveries and scholarship on 1st Century Jewish life.

I’ve heard of so many Christians that have a trust in God based on a list of “provable facts” and some basic apologetic work who found themselves in a dark place when confronted by a worldview or counterpoint that challenges these basic beliefs. Many overcome this by realizing that our trust is in God, not in rhetoric or some tightly-constructed system of thinking. Some, though, if challenged on one belief, begin to question other beliefs and can drift into agnosticism as their house of cards collapses around them.

It’s okay to doubt, to question, to dialogue with God and others. The Bible isn’t particularly concerned about doubt – see Abraham, Job, David, etc. What the Bible seems to care about more is who is being doubted. Notice that the names listed above are still heroes celebrated for their faith, despite their moments of doubt. These people and many in the Bible like them are examples that God can take doubt, He can handle questions. God works with insecurity. One of the biggest complaints from naturalists of religion is that we believe regardless of facts. I take issue with this, a little. We believe because we trust, the other way around can lead to shaky ground.

Is your trust in a system of theology, or in the One that system describes? It can be hard to confront when we realize our theology is getting in the way of our trusting God. I may not subscribe to someone else’s theological blueprint, but I can celebrate those commonalities that we can affirm together as we worship, praise, and serve as one Body.

If you had to really think about it, where is your faith (read trust) centered: on a system of belief, or on the One that system describes? What do you model to your children? How are you introducing your children to God, and not just a system of belief?

The Nashville Statement, Injured By Lateness

Being raised in a small business family meant I heard the pithy idioms of business such as, “What are the three most important things for any business? Location, location, location.” The point being that where a business is located can make or break it – considering things like entrances, ease of vehicle traffic, easily visible, etc. To this day I will pass by businesses and even some churches and think – “does anyone even know this is here?” Or “I’d love to stop there, but I’d never be able to get back out onto the road!”

On top of those business concerns, timing is everything. When to launch an advertising campaign – or for real estate people, when to purchase property and when to sell. Buy too early, and you’re stuck paying property taxes for years before any profits are made, and buy too late and your profit margin is cut precipitously.

I say all of this to make a broader point about timing and making broad statements like the now “infamous” (in secular, and some Christian circles) “Nashville Statement.” If you haven’t read the Statement, and would like to before I spoil the ending, click here.

Personally, theologically, I agree with the statement. See this post. And also this one. I think the language could probably use some tweaking to be less… I don’t know… legal-sounding? This document is trying to come off like some new Declaration of Independence, and might have seen more widespread acceptance even five years ago.

Here’s why the timing was off on this one. Many LGBT+ individuals and those who support them are feeling pressure from the current government. They feel attacked by recent Presidential statements and orders, such as the military transgender ban, and suddenly the Evangelical branch of the church decides to release this statement that they have seen as attacking them and their way of life. I realize that it takes time to write what some may feel needs to be an ironclad statement covering every single base, but the timing feels almost as if the church is backing up the government’s efforts to push against this group. And if these groups that feel attacked already distrust the church, they will certainly not love it more now.

I realize that there are some who will come back at me with verses that talk about the world hating Jesus and the Church. I understand that there are some verses that talk about people hearing what they want to and disregarding truth and orthodoxy. I am aware of the verses that talk about contention between the Church and the world. I understand the concept of “tough love.”

I am also aware of the the commissioning from Jesus to be “fishers of men.” And a good fisherman knows you don’t fish without bait. Right now it seems like we’re trying to catch fish with dynamite – which most certainly kills the fish in the process.

I am not saying to toss out orthodoxy. I am not saying to disregard Scripture for the sake of comfort. I am not advocating that the Statement itself is wrong – just the timing. Do we, as the Church, want to be seen as colluding with the government? (I don’t think the Church is, particularly, but it may seem that way for those outside the Church.) Christians need to be very careful feeling safe under any government. Christians need to be especially careful of feeling in control of any government, which is the moment Christians tend to become targets of manipulation.

To sum up – I don’t disagree with the affirmations in the Statement, but I disagree with the timing and feel it has been put out during a time when Evangelical Christians feel safer to say things boldly, instead of during a historical moment when it would have been more costly, say, during the previous presidency. In other words, this Statement was a little late, and may have come across as tone-deaf and lacking tact.

How do you live out your affirmations in a way that is bold, grace-filled, and backed by Scripture? When have you had a situation that waited too long before being addressed and became more difficult to discuss? How did it turn out? What conversations about faith or life have you been putting off with your kids?