I’ve changed my mind

With formal retirement just over a month away, I’ve been pondering a half-century of adult life and all that has come with it. For example, folks around my age often identify major events that have shaped our human experience–the Cuban missile crisis, the JFK assassination, the Richard Nixon resignation, the Challenger disaster, and the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I can tell you where I was when those events took place, and I have vivid memories of each.

I’m also fascinated by things about which I have changed my mind. I bet you’ve heard politicians and others brag about how they have never changed their minds. That always scares me because not changing one’s mind at least about some things tells me that you are not open to new evidence or better ways of seeing what you believe and live by. Changing your mind about something now is much harder than it was 50 years ago simply because all of us are bombarded with so much information that we have little time for disciplined thinking about things that matter.

So here is a list of some things about which I have changed my mind. It is not an exhaustive list. Some are trivial; others more important. Some are matters of preference; others a matter of conviction.

  • When I was a young adult, I used to think that preserving and building institutions was the most important thing I could do, especially within American Christianity. Now I’m deeply skeptical of institutions because way too many Christian (and secular) institutions strip the very life out of persons. Persons and communities of persons are far more important than our structures, and our structures should be framed by justice, compassion, and flexibility.
  • In my twenties, John Denver was my favorite musician. In my late sixties that honor goes to Paul McCartney.
  • When I graduated from Seminary, I thought it was important to get people to believe rightly about the right things. Now I see that Christian faith is both affective and cognitive, and in the words of the Apostle Paul, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” You cannot divorce knowledge from love for others.
  • In my younger years, I thought that pets were luxuries that detracted from serving God. Wow, have I changed. Now my cats remind me of God’s purposes for all of creation, and like C.S. Lewis, I will not be surprised if my favorite pets, Marbre and Tuptim, will be part of New Creation that the New Testament describes in various places.
  • When I first started voting, I was a registered Democrat. Now I’m a political independent who thinks that both the D and R parties are dangerous to our Republic.
  • I used to be skeptical about climate change. Now I think the evidence for climate change is overwhelming and that we face hard choices in terms of how we address it.
  • Once upon a time, I was sanguine about megachurches. Now I’m deeply skeptical of the celebrity culture they foment.
  • A long time ago, my favorite beach was Santa Cruz, CA. Now it’s Pawley’s Island, SC. (Let’s hear it for “arrogantly shabby!”)
  • Have you ever thought that you could preserve happiness by keeping everything the same? Yeah, I was there. Now I realize that joy comes as we follow the Triune God in our unique journeys through life.
  • Like a lot of Christians, I went through a big prophecy kick in my teens and early twenties. Now I don’t care about any of that stuff. I simply know three things: Our Lord Jesus Christ will return. Only God the Father knows for sure when that will happen. When it does, it will be beyond my imagination!
  • Family and friends can no longer be taken for granted; they are valuable in and of themselves and are God’s gifts to us.
  • In my early twenties, I was concerned for Civil Rights for African Americans but lived in my own racial bubble. Today, my historical studies have convinced me that African Americans have faced brutal realities long ignored by white folks like me (the evidence is overwhelming), so I’m reading more American history (especially African American history), listening to my African American friends describe their experiences, and looking for ways that I can influence church and society to come to terms with our horrid racial past (which spills into the present).
  • Fifty years ago, I was proud to be called an evangelical. Now I avoid the term like the plague; and prefer the simple term “follower of Jesus.”
  • I used to like labels like “Reformed,” or “Pentecostal,” or “Wesleyan,” or “credo-baptism” (and others). Now I reject labels like these and refuse to be pigeonholed by them. Life is far more complex than labels.
  • In college, I used to think that some ideologies were bad. Now I see all ideological thinking as essentially corrupt.
  • Forty years ago, I found myself mostly reading American theologians. Now I ignore most of them in favor of British theological scholars like N.T. Wright, Alister McGrath, John Stott, and others not as affected by the “Modernist-Fundamentalist” controversies that split American Christianity in the 1920s.
  • In the 1980s I did not think NASCAR was even a sport. Now, I love it especially since I’ve seen a few races in person at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
  • Growing up, my favorite teams were the San Francisco Giants and the San Francisco 49ers. Now my favorite teams are…you thought I was going to say some other teams? Sorry.

That’s an incomplete list, but you get the picture. Changing what we think about some things over time is normal and natural. You know what? I’ll probably change my mind about more things. But the one eternal reality on which I stake my entire life is Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from death. On May 1, 1965, I gave my life to Christ and started on this amazing journey of faith. It is hard and challenging; there are times of deep sorrow and pain as life takes unexpected twists and turns. But ultimately, to turn a phrase from C. S. Lewis, it “surprises me with joy.”

Tule Fogs and Lament

Week three of the great isolation is nearly complete. The novelty has worn off, and we’re confronted with realities that seemed impossible six weeks ago. And, we have that nagging in our stomachs telling us that all of this has just begun.

Growing up in Northern California, several times a year we would experience what weather geeks called “tule fogs,” times when the fog was so thick that you could not see even six feet in front of you. I remember a time when Renee and I were driving from LA to San Francisco on Christmas morning 1981 for dinner with friends. We ran into a tule fog near Bakersfield, and it was so dense that you could not see three feet in front of the car. We crawled to the next exit and waited it out in an overflowing Denny’s parking lot where everyone else had the same idea.

These last three weeks have felt like a California tule fog. We are forced to drive blind without any sense of where we are, where we are going, and what the path ahead looks like. We are disoriented and unable to get our bearings. All around us we find sickness, death, job loss, and we wonder if we’re next. It is easy to wonder where God is in all of this.

I’m not here to offer cheap platitudes or easy bromides. I don’t claim to offer a magic Bible verse or theological argument that will suppress our anxiety and fear. Frankly, anyone who tries to offer things like that should be ignored. Instead, I think Holy Scripture points us in a radically different way. That way involves sorrow and lament. I agree with N.T. Wright when he writes that at this time, the way of lament is the best, perhaps the only authentically Christian response we can make.

Lament is found throughout the Old Testament, but especially in the wisdom literature (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes). It is seen in the cries of prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Even Jesus laments over Jerusalem in Matthew’s gospel and in the Father’s absence as he suffers on that Jerusalem cross.

Lament is what we do when God seems absent. Lament is how we respond when we find ourselves in sustained times of suffering, isolation, even death. Lament recognizes that evil is truly evil, and not a mere illusion that we see on our screens. Lament is what we express when justice seems absent. Lament is what we do when the future disappears right in front of us.

A lot of Christians, especially evangelicals, have a difficult time with lament. We’ve been conditioned to think that we must always show victorious Christianity, lest others think that there is something wrong with us or that somehow God is not to be trusted. American culture teaches us to strive for “your best life now” and even many Christians have bought into the lie of prosperity. No, we don’t do lament very well.

Perhaps it is time for us to learn. This is a season of deep sorrow, one that should drive us to our knees in dependence on the Triune God. This is a time when we should mourn the suffering and isolation that has come upon millions of our fellow human beings throughout the world.  This is a moment when we offer our plaintive cries. “I say to God my Rock. “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:9-10).

As I write Easter is less than two weeks away. This year, we will mark the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in a season that few of us in Canada and the United States have ever known. Perhaps we will identify more with Good Friday this year. We will lament not only our present world, but the very death of our God and Savior. But for us, it is always sorrow and lament tinged with hope. Way out in the distance, I can hear a faint roar. Aslan is on the move, and he is coming one more time to Narnia.