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Ben's radio show starts today and I'm trying to figure out how to embed recorded audio...

Five Minute Friday: "Nothing"

(Joining up with "Five Minute Friday" for the first time... it's a writing flash mob founded by Lisa Jo Baker where bloggers write on a specific prompt every Friday without editing or planning for five minutes straight.  Today's prompt is "nothing."  Here goes nothing - no pun intended!)



Nothing.

Break it down, it's no-thing.

There's no thing I wouldn't do for my child.

There's no thing I wouldn't give for such-and-such or this-and-that.

In that sense, nothing really means anything and everything.

I would do anything and everything for my child.

I would give anything or everything for such and such, or this-and-that.

And then there is when nothing really means no. thing.

I see no-thing.

I opened the door but there was no thing there.

I stared at the blank page and tried to write but no thing came out.

Tweet: But even then, nothing is something.  There is something there.  Often we just don't see it.  Half of the life around us is invisible.

Spirit.  Idea.  Dream.  Hope.

Even God is invisible.

Yet these things aren't nothing.  These are often the things that are everything.


Five Minute Friday

A Girl's Questions, and a Good Book

"Could he die?" she asks, blue eyes staring intently at me, gaging my reaction.

My 9 year old daughter asks this from time to time when she hears that someone we know is sick (with something more serious than a cold or the stomach bug), or has to go to the hospital.  I have heard it off and on over the years and several times in the last couple months, in connection with some specific situations.

- Could Grandpa die from that breathing-tank he wears?
- Could my cousin die from Kawasaki disease?
- When my friend has surgery, could doctors make a mistake and can he die?


She worries, that girl of mine - sometimes too much.  But at the same time, I'm glad she is thoughtful enough to care about others and brave enough to ask her questions.  Along the same vein is a similar line of questioning that I have also heard from time to time, not when someone was immediately in peril, but after something bad had already happened in or community or close to home.  And I'd be willing to bet that she isn't the only one who asks these - I'm sure other parents have gotten these types of questions as well.


- Mom, could you die from cancer too?
- Could daddy have a heart attack and die too?
- Could someone come into my school and try to shoot me too?

And then there is the third kind of questions, which are usually the most difficult to answer.   These are the "God" questions and the "why" questions:

- If we pray for my cousin, do you promise God will make him better?
- Why do people get sick and die?
- Why didn't God stop the kids in Newtown from getting killed?

The bottom line is, it's hard to know how to answer these types of questions for our kids.  Yes, we'd like to tell them that they never have to worry about anything bad happening and that the world is made of peaches and cream, but we know that isn't true - and so will they.  When life proves your fairy tale false (and it will), they'll do the math for themselves and figure out that you failed the test.  And we don't want to fail, but we will, because lots of us don't even know how to answer the question of suffering for ourselves.  Many of us have no idea how to effectively deal with the reality of pain, suffering and death, and thought we probably wouldn't admit it, most of us would prefer to pretend that it doesn't exist.

The problem is, it does exist, and it's not going away anytime soon.

Might get you some odd looks on the beach, but a great book  all the same.


I just finished reading a fantastic book on the subject called "Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering."  Toward the beginning of the book, author Tim Keller states: "Sociologists and anthropologists have analyzed and compared the various ways that cultures train its members for grief, pain and loss.  And when the comparison is done, it is often noted that our contemporary, secular, Western culture is one of the weakest and worst in history at doing so."

It seems to me that this is entirely true.

Keller posits many reasons for this breakdown, from the successes of modern medicine to shifting societal values and more.  His assessments are accurate, but he doesn't stop by just identifying the roots of the problem.  Throughout the rest of the book he offers a practical guide of how to deal with the reality of pain and suffering, as well as an in-depth explanation of how a good God and the reality of pain and suffering can coexist and how God can bring healing to even the most unbearable pain.  It's not the first book I've read related to these topics, but so far, it's the best, and I'd highly recommend it.

I know that talking, thinking, and reading about the reality of grief, pain, suffering and loss is not what most of us would like to do.  It's not a fun topic to bring up at parties, and it doesn't make for good prime-time viewing (unless we're talking about death related to zombies, which is a whole different topic).  We may find such ideas depressing, or it might open doors in our minds we would have preferred to have left shut, or it might just make everyone else on the beach think we're weirdos for reading a book like Keller's.  But the reality of the situation is that these things are present in our world whether we choose to ponder them or not.  Tragedy happens, often when we least expect it.  We can't stop suffering and pain from entering our lives, but we can prepare ourselves so that when they do, we are not devastated.  It might not be the most fun use of our time, but when suffering hits close to our families, it will prove to be time well spent.

*     *     *     *     *

For a blog post by another author with more quotes from Tim Keller's book, click here:

Why I Can't Get Behind "Son of God"

As you may remember, last Spring I blogged through every episode of "The Bible," Mark Burnett and Roma Downey's series that aired on the History channel. Generally speaking, my opinion of the series was mixed.  There were some things that were laudable, others that were troubling, and my conclusion was that while the series may be helpful to some people, if you really want to learn about the Bible you should read the book instead of watching the movie.  (And by "the book" I mean the actual Bible, not "The Story of God and All of Us," the book version of the movie which was advertised after the miniseries ended - ick.)
Remember this?  I wish I didn't...

Now Downey and Burnett are back, this time with a big-screen production of the life of Christ entitled "Son of God."  This movie has been touted by a significant number of famous names both inside and outside the Christian community - everyone from Piers Morgan to Rick Warren - and churches across the country have bought out movie theaters, given away tickets, and promoted this movie as a means to tell others about Christ in a relevant, 21st century way.

I love the idea of using current media to spread the gospel and increase biblical literacy.  I also love the idea of the broader culture talking about the life of Christ.  But despite this,  I can't support this movie, and here is why.

1. The marketing is appalling.

At least with "The Bible" series, you could watch it for free on TV as long as you had the History channel.  If you want to see "Son of God," you have to shell out the price of a movie ticket (or find a local church that will shell it out for you).  Despite all of the good-intentioned sounding talk from Downey and Burnett, this doesn't square with the notion of having the primary purpose of the movie being a means to share Christ.  But even beyond the movie tickets, they are selling a variety of other merchandise, most notably (and most troubling) the items available on www.outreach.com.  Here you can purchase a set of four pre-made sermons for your church based on the movie, a DVD curriculum for small groups (with an additional charge for the study guide), and a large number of movie-logo-centered promotional materials.  Looking at all of this one might draw the conclusion that the creators of this movie have somehow found a way to get local churches to do their advertising for them, and to pay them for the privilege of doing it!  Now maybe that wasn't their intent, but if not, why not give all of this away for free, or for a suggested donation?  And why market a whole separate study on who Jesus is, when you could just be encouraging people to read the Bible for themselves?  (But then again, why did they make up their own book-based-on-the-movie-based-on-the-Bible?)  And yes, it is true that there are also some free resources offered, but even these resources essentially end up promoting the movie, which generates more ticket sales.
For the pastor who wants more time to spend on the golf course - four sermons for only $49.95!

I wish I could believe that this wasn't all just a big money-making scheme, but I can't get past the feeling that Christians everywhere are being had.  Let's not be naive.  Downey and Burnett didn't make "Son of God" as a reaction to the overwhelming popularity of "The Bible" series, taking advantage of a further opportunity to share Christ.  This was their plan all along (don't believe me? Read this Vanity article: The Bible Producers Resurrect Jesus).  Public interest was created with the free(ish) series, then it was followed up with a big-budget movie - and now churches are paying to help pitch it.  Wow.   The image of Jesus throwing the money changers out of the temple pops into my head every time I think of this.   Jesus gave the gospel freely.  Paul refused to take money for his missionary work so that nobody would question his motives.  But when I look at this situation, I can't help but think that this is something entirely different (and if you have evidence otherwise, I'd love to hear it).

2.  The notion of such a movie is spiritually questionable for many reasons.

First of all, whenever you try to cut a book with hundreds of pages down into a two hour movie, you end up leaving out some very important things.  It's one thing to cut out parts of Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, it's another thing to cut out parts of holy writ.  Who gets to decide what makes the cut and what doesn't? There probably isn't a sufficient answer to that question.  And while I haven't seen "Son of God", I did watch every ever-lovin' minute of The Bible series, and there were a number instances where huge details were left out but then other strange, non-biblical side stories were inserted.  Given the common origins, I have no reason to believe this wouldn't happen in the movie.

Second, it's always sticky when you posit a human actor as Christ.  I know this has been happening pretty much forever, but seeing all of the marketing with Diogo Morgado's face as the center point instead of something like the cross or the empty tomb smacks of idolatry to me.  It also reinforces the fact that Downey and Burnett cast a stud muffin Jesus, despite the fact that the Bible indicates that the historical Jesus was not physically attractive.  This is one more evidence that marketing was more important than biblical accuracy, which is disturbing.

Third, just because something gets people talking about Jesus, or talks about Jesus itself, doesn't mean that churches should promote it.  There are lots of secular authors, actors, and other types of famous personalities who talk about Jesus but are not committed to a biblical understanding of who He is.  Gandhi talked about Jesus.  Kanye West talks about Jesus.  A-million-and-one chachy TV specials talk about Jesus.  But just because someone or something talks about Jesus does not mean that what they say jibes with biblical Christianity and should be supported by the church.  Let's not blindly jump on a bandwagon in the name of evangelism without checking to see if the wagon is sturdy first. And, just because God can use a movie to bring people to Christ doesn't mean that the movie itself is necessarily a good thing.  God can use anything he wants to bring people to Christ.  He can just as easily use a holocaust, drug addiction, a cancer diagnosis, or a car accident to point people toward him.  He doesn't need a movie to accomplish his goals.

3. The source is fishy.

I'm willing to bet that many of us remember when Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ came out.  Seemingly overnight, Christians around the world became very enthusiastic Mel Gibson fans!  But wow, did that enthusiasm ever dwindle when the world began to see the dark side of Mel.  Oops.  Putting him on a pedestal without ample investigation of his personal beliefs and other aspects of his life proved to be a huge egg-on-our-faces mistake.  But will we learn this time around?

Despite what is said in interviews pertaining to The Bible and Son of God, there is significant evidence that Roma Downey, while she may be a lovely person, is not a believer in biblical Christianity.  Yes, she talks about Jesus and yes, it sounds like she says many of the things that a Christian would say.  But what hasn't been mentioned in interviews (as far as I can tell) is that she also believes in New Age teaching and even graduated from a New Age school in California about the same time she and her husband started working on The Bible series.  In addition to this, she has collaborated professionally and participated with the widely-known psychic John Edwards, whose practice of necromancy defies biblical doctrine.  Roma may be a fantastic person and she is certainly entitled to her own beliefs, religious and otherwise.  However, she should not be mistaken for a Bible believing Christian, nor should it be assumed that her work is biblically sound.

Think I'm being harsh or paranoid?  Here are some links to back up what I just said.

A 2009 interview where she demonstrates New Age thought and expresses support for New Age author Eckhart Tolle (who also talks about Jesus a lot, but his own version of Jesus, not the Bible's one):




The New Age school from which she graduated in June of 2009, where they teach (amongst other things) that we are all Divine (which may explain why she has no objection to saying that Jesus is the Son of God... because she believes that we are ALL sons of God):



A recommendation she wrote for a book written about Spiritual Psychology, published in 2010, which displays her New Age understanding of angels and alludes to other unbiblical beliefs:



A 2013 interview where it is stated that work on The Bible series began 4 to 4 1/2 years ago, which would mean she started working on this project right after graduating from USM (which doesn't allow much time for her to form a whole new set of religious beliefs before creating The Bible):



A link to her collaborative work with John Edwards:



A link to an article outlining how Roma believes she talked to her dead mother through John Edwards:



I don't see how anyone who understands what the Bible teaches about the nature of humanity, what angels are, and how God instructs us to interact with the spiritual realm could possibly look at this information and conclude that Roma Downey is the bible-believing Christian that she appears to be in interviews.  These are discrepancies that cannot be ignored.  If this information is no longer valid and Roma now rejects these beliefs and practices, she owes it to the public (first and foremost to God, really) to tell everyone that she has changed her views.  If she has done this somewhere and I am just not aware of it, please let me know and I will eat my words (not really - but I will delete them).  But if not, Roma Downey has no business passing herself off as a follower of Christ and Christians have no business promoting her material as if she is someone who holds to the same tenants of faith that they do.  Because she doesn't.


So, this is why I can't get behind "Son of God."  I'm not saying that you should not see it, but if you do, realize that it's entertainment based on a true story, not the true story itself.   Personal viewing aside, though, I will say that if you are a part of a church and you are hoping that this movie will be your big evangelistic thrust... yikes.  And if your pastor preaches four pre-prepared sermons that he bought online for $49.95 and came out of a box that looks like a movie poster, it's time to find a new church. 

I wish I could support it.  I really do.   But I just can't.

Sorry, Diogo.



CS Lewis, YOLO, and Why you Think the Way you Do

As many people in my life know, I am a big admirer of the author C.S. Lewis.  I frequently recommend his books to friends, and have become somewhat predictable at book group because whenever it's my turn to offer suggestions for our next book choice, you can pretty much guarantee there will be a Lewis title in the mix!  I fell in love with Lewis about six years ago when my son and I were reading (or more precisely, I was reading to him) the Chronicles of Narnia series.  I had known about the book series as long as I could remember and had never had any interest in reading myself it because witches and talking lions weren't really up my alley and I thought it was just for kids, anyway.

My opinion changed while reading it as I, like Lucy in the story, stepped through the wardrobe and into a strange and beautiful world beyond my imagination.  It was a series intended for kids, true, but one so replete with deeper themes, artful prose, emotional credibility and subtle genius that it left me curious about what Lewis had written for adults!  Since then I have read a number of his works, both fiction and nonfiction, and my affection and respect for him have grown with every one.  He is creative without being childish, intellectual without being highbrow, relevant without being trendy, and spiritual without being preachy.  I love all of these things.  

His body of work is fascinating to me, but I am almost equally intrigued by the mind and thought processes of the man himself.  What type of person could create such a vast and diverse collection of literature?  What sparked his creative genius?  What shaped his interests?  And what piqued my curiosity the most was, what influenced his spiritual journey from atheist Oxford professor to one of the most articulate voices for Christianity in the last century?  Imagine my delight when I discovered that a new book had come out on Lewis, one that would give a thorough analysis of his works as well as satiate my curiosities about his personal life!  I got it as a birthday gift (thanks, Johanna!) and devoured it.  400-some-odd pages later, I am here to say that if you are interested in a well-researched but highly readable study of the life and work of C.S. Lewis, you should check out "C.S. Lewis: A Life. Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet." by Alister McGrath.  I thoroughly recommend it.

Me and this guy are going to have some interesting conversations in heaven someday.  
I'm pretty sure my part is going to start with "you're awesome" and "thank you."

One of the things that McGrath did to prepare for writing his book was to read through Lewis' entire body of work in the order it was written, as well as myriad letters that Lewis had written to friends and associates, which are now kept in archives.  This allowed him not only to track the physical facts of Lewis' external life, but to also track the trajectory of his internal life and identify the relationships, ideas, and life experiences that changed him as a person.  He examined not only what Lewis thought and did, but why he thought it and did it.  It was a very tedious process, but one that yielded noteworthy results.  

I'm not going to tell you what he discovered about Lewis, because if you like Lewis you should read the book yourself and if you don't like him you probably don't care.  But, I am going to tell you that the process of study that he used on Lewis got me thinking about a few things that I ought to ask myself.

If 50 years after my death someone were to go back and read through all of my personal correspondences with other people, my journals, and everything else I had written, what manner of person would they discover?  Would I be proud of what they saw?

If 50 years after my death someone were to attempt to track my major thought patterns on various subjects, what influenced my opinions and what motivated my actions, what would they find?  Would I be surprised by their conclusions?  Would I be content with my choices or would they foster regret?

If 50 years after my death someone were to critique the integrity of the people, literature, and ideas that I allowed to influence me, would they be impressed?  Or would they think me desperately shallow?

I am, of course, not under the delusion that I am on par with C.S. Lewis and I know that probably nobody will ever write a book about me.  But, I think these questions are important to ask anyway.  Because really, how often do we step back and examine our inner selves in this way?  I suspect it's probably not very often.

We live in a culture that values a catchy sound bites over a thoughtful argument, a slick presentation over credible information, and an effervescent personality over personal integrity.   None of these factors work in our favor when it comes to selecting sources with integrity from whom we can ingest solid information, nor does it help us make sound decisions or form consistent and respectable values.   In our live-moment-by-moment, seek-happiness-whatever-it-costs,  "YOLO" world we can't rely on the media or the culture around us to prompt thoughtful self-examination.  We have to do that ourselves.

So, if you looked at yourself the way McGrath looked at Lewis, what would you see?  What, and who, have been shaping you?  Are those sources trustworthy?  Why do you think the way you do about the important things in life?   Those are certainly questions worth your time and reflection, even if you aren't some sort of eccentric genius or reluctant prophet.


*****


Incidentally, if you are looking for a good book, allow me to recommend some Lewis.

My favorite fiction book, ever.:  Till We Have Faces

My favorite fiction series, which you can share with your kids and also contains the most satisfying final chapter of all time (don't read ahead or I'll smack you):  The Chronicles of Narnia

A smart and accessible book on the basics of intellectual Christianity, for Christians or Pagans or pretty much anyone else:  Mere Christianity

An honest, brutal and painfully beautiful account of what the inside of a grieving person's brain probably looks like:  A Grief Observed

(To my book group friends, especially Penny... you know I had to do it!) :)


Art for Oklahoma - THE RESULTS!

I have to admit... when I put up the last blog post about my daughter's desire to sell her art for Oklahoma tornado relief, I didn't know what to expect.

I mean, maybe a few relatives would do it, and also possibly a few friends.  But I didn't really think anyone else would...

Boy were we wrong!  You guys blew us away and we couldn't be more thankful!


At the end of our art sale, we had raised $235!!

We heard from people in almost every area of our lives as well as bloggy friends and people we had never even met!  My sweet girl couldn't believe it.  We feel so blessed that so many people helped to make this effort a success, that she wrote you a thank you note!



And yes, I know that some of you didn't just do it because she was cute, or you liked her art.  I know that some among us were probably planning on giving to the disaster relief effort anyway and just decided to do it this way.  But I think that's awesome too, because you took a chance on us, and you didn't have to do that.  So thank you for that, too.

Oh yes... and the proof of our donation!  Here it is, for those who are skeptical (like me). :)





So, thank you again.  Thank you to those who who gave, thank you to those who shared our message, thank you to those who sent encouraging notes.  Thank you to those who did any combination of those things.  Thank you all around.  And, I have to think that the people of OK thank you as well.

You guys are awesome.







Art for Oklahoma

My 9 year old daughter came home from school a day or two after a massive tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma and said that she wanted to do something to help.  Her school was collecting money to send there for aid and she wanted to give to it, too, but she didn't have any money to give.  She was very concerned about this state of affairs.

Frankly my first thought was just to give her some money to bring in since we probably would have contributed anyway, but before I could offer to do so, she asked if she could have a tag sale for Oklahoma like one of her classmates was going to do.  Her classmate was going to sell art projects at her tag sale to help raise money.  A tag sale did not fit into our schedule and neither did a whole bunch of crafting (sadly, I am NOT that mom!), so I asked her if we could think of something else that she could do.

She could draw pictures.  But would anyone buy my pictures, she asked?  

Oh, I bet someone would, I said.  I figured that someone would probably just be me, but that was fine, because at least she would have felt like she had done something to help.

She sat down right away and started working.

Copying my Wilton pewter pitcher for her still-life

Drawing these pictures is hard work!

It was so cute that I had to, of course, put a picture of her drawing on facebook and instagram.  I mentioned what she was drawing pictures for, and within a few minutes, a few friends and relatives commented that they would like to buy one!

When I told her that people were interested in buying her pictures, I thought she was going to explode with excitement.  I said she ought to draw at least 4 so that people could pick which one they like best, and if she did that, I would help her sell them.  A little while later, my bloggy friend Marc said that he would purchase a digital copy if I could scan one and email it to him.  What a great idea!  I told her that, once she finished her pictures, I would put them online and do my part.

Well, one thing led to another because it was her birthday week, and we had lots of baseball, so it took her a little longer to finish the pictures than she had hoped.  A week went by and she still hadn't finished them.  I thought she had lost interest, but when I asked her if she was abandoning her project she vehemently insisted that she still really wanted to do it.  I think being a very active 9 year old who can't sit for long and just got a new bike for her birthday got in the way of her good intentions for a little while, but her good intentions were most definitely still there.  We reminded her that it's not enough to just say you want to help, if you don't follow through then it won't really help anyone, and a couple days later she diligently finished her pictures.

Now it was my turn, but I had a lot going on so it was hard to find the time and then it ended up being more difficult to make the digital versions made than I had anticipated.  But now, as of this morning, they are ready to go!   We would have liked to have them available sooner, but I'm pretty sure the folks in Oklahoma can still use our help and it's not too late.  So if you would like to help support relief work in Oklahoma via a little girl's artwork, here are your choices:

"Butterflies"

"Hope"

"PBJ" (This one is for people to put in their kitchen, she said.)

"Pitcher Still-Life"

Digital copies (jpeg) are $10 each.  Originals are $25, first come, first serve (please contact me thru my facebook page to check availability before purchasing).

To purchase online, visit paypal ("send money to a friend") by CLICKING HERE and enter my email address: pjrichardson@snet.net.  (Please note: there is no fee for this service if you pay out of your bank account, but paypal charges a small fee if you use your credit card.)  Include a note stating which picture(s) you would like as well as the email address where you would like them sent (or your physical address, if you purchased an original).  If you are local to me and would rather not use paypal, contact me and we can set something else up.

Pictures will be available for purchase through Wednesday, June 19th.  After that date, I will total the funds and donate the money to Samaritan's Purse, designated for Oklahoma Relief.  I will post the total amount collected, verification of the donation (for those of you who may be wondering if I am an internet scheister - hey, don't worry, I'm a skeptic too), as well as the first names of those who contributed in a follow-up post by the end of the week next week.

I will do my best to fill orders as quickly as possible, and all orders will be filled by the end of next week.

Thanks for helping a little girl see that her efforts can matter, and thanks for helping the people of Oklahoma!

(If you want more information about Samaritan's Purse and their relief work in Oklahoma and elsewhere, CLICK HERE.)