A Much Better View of the Moon

moon_gal I was googling around the other day and I came across a live version of one of my favorite songs, by George Wurzbach and Karen Taylor-Good. Here's George and Rob Carlson (and friends) performing "Much Better View of the Moon":


If I lose my job... I'll sleep 'til noon. If the news is bad... I'll watch cartoons. If my house burns down... I'll have lots more room and a much better view of the moon.

It's a song about improv, which is something I've been thinking about a lot lately. Life is just one big improvisation, isn't it? Even meticulous organizers like me know that deep down, planning is akin to rocking in a rocking chair: it gives you something to do---and there's something soothing about it---but it's not going to get you anywhere. Things happen that you didn't anticipate, and you have to adjust. With luck and grace, you "yes-and" the thing, accepting and building on whatever gets thrown at you. Accepting something doesn't mean you have to like it, by the way. But a spirit of improvisation leads us to be curious, to ask, "Well, OK. Now what?"

We are made in the image of God, and God is a master of improv. This I believe. I don't know what that means when stacked up against sturdy preacherly words like eternal, immutable, absolute, all-knowing, perfect. I just know that when I look at the sacred texts I see a God who iterates. Who pivots. Who encounters the world as it is, not as God planned it to be. Who yes-ands all over the place.

When I spoke to NEXT Church in Rochester last November, I described this God not as a planner, but as one who is reactive, who sizes up the situation and engages. Someone came up to me afterwards, bristling at the term: "Reactive sounds like a knee-jerk position. What about responsive?"

Maybe. Maybe. No, he's right, responsive is good. The family systems folks would approve. Still, I like reactive because there's something automatic in the term. Instinctive. Unpremeditated. If God is love, then love jumps into the mess without a lot of careful consideration, using whatever's on hand. A socially awkward ex-con. An unwed teenage mother. Twelve Galilean knuckleheads.

Our congregation was rocked last year with the death of eight year old Jacob. He died of ALD, which took his older brother Eric's life just three years before, also at age eight. The family grieves, the church grieves, and different people wrestle with the loss in different ways. From where I sit, there's no making sense of something like that. It's terribly sad. It's a planet-sized loss. And no God I want any part of willed that to happen.



What happens next in that family's life is not my story to tell at this point. It's still unfolding anyway. But let me say, it's a hell of a yes-and.

It's a brand new view of the moon.

I used to walk through this world cautious and oh-so-serious 'Til the life I was living was merely a near-death experience. Then I changed my story when I finally saw Where I was wasn't where it was at And now I'm alive, I let destiny drive And I'm stretching out in the back.

Image source

Dobson's God is a Feckless Narcissistic Thug. Now What?

My Facebook feed is ablaze with righteous anger and defiant opposition to the god preached by James Dobson and others. (Google his remarks if you want.) The sentiment is rather consistent, at least among my gaggle of mostly mainline Protestant/Episcopal friends: This is not the God I recognize and not the God I pledged to serve as a minister of the gospel.

It is good and right to shout No to the Dobsons and their distorted god. As I said on Sunday morning:

No, by the way, to the idea that God let this madness happen because we no longer pray in school. Like clockwork, the political and religious pundits have suggested exactly that. Imagine what kind of a god that is. A narcissistic thug who would allow such carnage because we don’t pray in the time and place and manner that god specifies. No.

And if I were ever to find out that that’s the kind of being god is, I think I’d have to renounce my ordination and go sell insurance, because that god and I would be finished.

So, No to that.

But what do we say Yes to?

The answer I'm hearing, and affirming myself, is that God weeps with us in the wake of what happened in Newtown. That God's was the first heart to break that blood-soaked day.

But that's not enough. Not near enough.

God is more than the Chief Griever.

So what are we willing to affirm? I hear loud and clear the god we reject. But after Friday, and after so many other tragedies that we can't even name them all... who is the God that we preach?

This is what I'm thinking about almost constantly.


Here is the thing that has come into focus for me since posting this.

Many people are rejecting Dobson's comments altogether by saying, "God did not allow this to happen."

And yet, if God is an omnipotent deity---if God has the capability to intervene in human history and in our individual lives---then technically, God absolutely did allow it to happen. It's just that we reject that God allowed it to happen for the reasons that Dobson et al put forth.

But God allowed it to happen.

Unless we're also willing to reject or mitigate God's omnipotence.

Which is what I'm pondering so strenuously, and have been really since little E died three years ago, and certainly since his brother J died in September.

Friday Link Love

A few fun/interesting things from the last few weeks: Social Networking in Its Oldest Form -- BBC (video)

A man in Canada has released several thousand bottles into the ocean, and received thousand of responses from all over the world.


Women Own 1% of the World's Property: Occupy That -- Huffington

Maybe it's because girls and women:

  • Don't get to go to school when their brothers do
  • Get married off (don't worry, at a good price)
  • Are deprived of food when it's scarce
  • Aren't allowed to own anything themselves
  • Don't inherit
  • Aren't paid for their labor
  • Are property. Duh.

I'm reading Ashley Judd's biography right now (really, it's good) and through her advocacy work she has met women all over the world who are subjected to sexual slavery and engaged in prostitution because there are not other viable options. The stories will make your skin crawl, yet she somehow manages to see hope.


Generation Gap: How Age Shapes Political Outlook -- NPR/Pew

Interesting stats; I'll let them speak for themselves.


The Way We Teach Math and Language is All Wrong -- Freakonomics Blog

If we learned our first language like we usually learn second languages, it might look like this. A young child says, “I am hungry.” The parent replies, “Wait! Before saying am, you first must learn to conjugate to be in all persons and number, in the indicative, imperative, and subjunctive moods, and in the past, perfect, and future tenses.” After a few months, or maybe weeks, of this teaching, the child would conclude that it has no aptitude for languages and become mute. And human culture would perish in a generation.

If we taught math or science like we normally teach languages…oh, wait, we do! (And I believe, although with less direct knowledge, that we teach most subjects this way.)

Caroline has had a harder time with math this year, not because she doesn't understand the concepts, but because of the wording of some of the questions, and perhaps, the way it's being taught. We've been playing with the Kahn Academy videos.


What is God? -- Andrew Sullivan

My heresy - and I concede it - is in rejecting the traditional view of the atonement issue. For me, Jesus's death was not the downpayment on our salvation. He was the way, the truth and the life. His horrifying crucifixion was not some unique necessary sacrifice. It was a commonplace punishment in his time. What singled him out was the manner of his death, his refusal to stop it, his calm in embracing it, his forgiveness even of those who nailed him there, with that astonishing sentence, "Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do."

I don't read that as an affronted "they don't know they are executing the Godhead himself". I read it as "they are so consumed with fear and the world and violence and power that they require forgiveness and mercy, not condemnation". It is this very composure, this sadness born of indescribable empathy, this inner calm and stillness, that convinces me of Jesus' saturation with the Godhead. He was not the human equivalent of an animal sacrifice; he was the light of the world, showing us by his example how we can be happy and at peace and in love with one another and God itself.


Lots more there.

God is Not Gigantic

Kenda Creasy Dean has a new book out, Almost Christian, which is generating a lot of buzz, even in the secular press. This CNN article provides a good summary, but the gist is that young people today who call themselves Christian are largely inarticulate about their faith. For them, following Jesus amounts to being nice, and God is like the Mental-Health Professional in the Sky who wants them to "feel good and do good." Dean and the other researchers call this shallow theology "moralistic therapeutic deism." Dean and others place the blame on this squarely with adults---parents and other adults charged with teaching children the Christian faith. The problem is that many adults have the same shallow theology that their children do. We are captive to, in Dean's words, "a 'gospel of niceness,' where faith is simply doing good and not ruffling feathers. The Christian call to take risks, witness and sacrifice for others is muted."

Incidentally, I struggle with moralistic therapeutic deism every time I lead the time with the children during worship. What does it mean to "love your neighbor" when you're in first grade? Helping people when they've fallen on the playground, sharing your toys, being kind---this is all stuff you can and should do whether you follow Jesus or not. That's why I try in the children's sermon (which we call "sharing the faith with the children") to emphasize the sacred stories of our faith and let them speak for themselves. I don't always succeed at this---the pressure to deliver a "message" is very strong in our culture, and it's so hard to resist a clear, takeaway, which always feels so trite.


I am wondering what can be done about this watered-down Christianity, and an image came to me that may have outlived its usefulness.

Many of us have heard it said that God is 'bigger' than we can possibly imagine. There's even a classic book, Your God is Too Small. The idea is that we restrict God's grace to people who think and act like us, when in fact the love of God is way more expansive than we can possibly imagine, and is inclusive of people we'd like to keep out. We "put God in a box," which became such a cliche in seminary that it was practically the Free Space on Buzzword Bingo.

That God's grace is inclusive is a great message and one we cannot bear to lose. And it seems to have taken hold, since 80% of Christians believe that it's not essential to be a Christian in order to be saved (however people define "saved")

However, that "big God" thing has consequences. (One is that it makes the deity into a physical giant, which is just weird. I heard a preacher say the other day that he's realized that "Jesus is way bigger than I ever imagined" and I'm picturing a gargantuan Palestinian Jew duking it out with Mothra.)

The major unintended consequence of the "big God" is this moralistic therapeutic deism that Dean talks about. In our effort to be inclusive and loving in our pluralistic society, we have lost the edginess, the distinctiveness of the Christian faith. All that matters is being nice.

I think we need another image.

My kids have a lovely picture book called Zoom. There are no words, just a series of drawings by Istvan Banyai. As you turn each page, you find that the previous image is actually part of a larger picture. For example:

(Sorry this is so small)

In the first picture, two children are looking out the window at a rooster. In the next image, you see the rest of the house and the yard. In the third, you see many more houses nearby. In the fourth, you see that the houses are actually toys being played with by a little girl. In the next, you see that the toys and the girl are really on a magazine cover being held by yet another child.

Wait... is it an actual child, or yet another image-within-an-image?

The book continues like this for pages and pages, and it's dizzying and exhilarating to be immersed in such detail.

I think we combat moralistic therapeutic deism not by going broader, but by going deeper. Instead of making God bigger and bigger, we need to drill down: to better understand our own faith, to delve into the intricacies, to live more fully inside them. I suspect the outcome would be the same, and maybe even better---a God who is not blandly inclusive, but radically so. That God who is not who she appears at first glance to be, whose grace is present in the miniscule moments of our lives, transforming our vision of them. That God is very very small, a being of intricate and excruciating detail---and is everywhere.

I like this idea of a Zoom God.

What do you think?