Lessons in love from Dexter and Breaking Bad, prt. 2

You are more like Dexter Morgan than you think.

In fact you are very, very much like Dexter, and like Walter White. They both have family that they care about, just like you. They both are struggling with who they are, just like you. They both are hiding something, just like you. They both fear that people will find out who they really are, just like you.

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Lessons in love from Dexter and Breaking Bad

If you have not watched either Showtime’s Dexter, or AMC’s Breaking Bad, chances are pretty good you have been living in a hole, but I’ll begin with a quick summary. Dexter tells the story of Dexter Morgan,  a handsome, charismatic blood spatter analyst who moonlights as a serial killer, killing only the guilty who were for various reasons never imprisoned. Breaking Bad is about a man named Walter White, diagnosed with terminal cancer, who begins cooking methamphetamine in order to be able to leave a small fortune behind for his family when he dies.

The objection many raise to these shows is that they, in some way, glorify evil by sympathetically portraying those who do evil things. Indeed one of the strange things about Dexter, at least, is that as a viewer you do quickly find yourself rooting for him. But is there anything wrong with that? What exactly are people afraid of?

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Staying Open, Choosing Life

Today I was thinking about all the different perspectives people bring to the world. Some people are happy and optimistic. Some are always negative. Some believe if they work hard they will eventually succeed. Others believe in fate — that life is already laid out for them and there’s nothing they can do to change it. I could go on and on, but I realized that ultimately there are really only two ways of being in the world. You are either open, or you are closed.

Open people, first and foremost, have shunned fear. Open  people have decided not to allow fear to be a factor in the way they live. When an open person is angry at someone, she has already decided to stop blaming other people for her emotions and for her life, and instead starts working on letting go of anger. When an open person experiences loss, she does not just immediately suck it up and move on. She allows it to be what it is. She is open to what it can teach her. (Of course she does not just descend into chronic self-pity either — this is actually a way of closing up to experience and getting stuck.) When an open person experiences joy, he does not allow himself to sink into depression because it cannot last forever, but remains in the moment and appreciates what is there. And perhaps most important, open people do not look to other people to norm their behavior for them. They do not say, “I think most people would be angry in my situation,” or “You’d have done the same thing if you were me” (notice how both of those statements focus on others instead of one’s own responsibility). Open people have decided who and how they want to be, and set out to become that person, whatever the challenges. As they continue on this journey, they learn there is really nothing to fear, no one to blame, and no reason to despair.

Closed people, of course, are the opposite. Closed people allow the majority to determine what is acceptable and what is not. If they are offended, they will say that since most people would be offended in their situation, it therefore does not need to be examined. They accept that their negativity and brokenness are “the norm” and fully expect to just continue being negative and broken.

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Heartquake

A gift Brittany made me for Father's Day

Until the moment my first child was born, I didn’t have the capacity to love a child. I know this because of the magnitude of the heartquake I experienced when I first saw her. In that moment, everything began to shake. All of my assumptions about myself. All of my selfish worries that I couldn’t fit a child into my life. Layers of prickliness that had enshrouded me for years. And along with the shaking was a kind of melting. In just a few seconds, the person I was melted down and ceased to exist. In its place was a brand new man — a man capable of feeling extremely deep emotion, even of crying; a man in love with a tiny baby; a man swept away by something he had never known before, and quite okay with that; a man who was suddenly able to see himself in relationship to a child; a man connected to this child in a way he had never been connected to anything.

Yesterday another heartquake began as we helped her move into her room at college. Only this heartquake is different. The heartquake when she was born felt amazing and liberating and joyful. This one aches. The first one felt like I had just gained the world. This one feels like I have lost so much. In the first heartquake, I attached effortlessly to this child. With this one, I will fight a great battle to let go. The first one brought fulfillment. This one is a struggle against giving in to a sense of emptiness.

I keep reminding myself that we’re not the first parents to do this. My own parents did it. This morning I was startled to realize that when you walk through any public place, many of the people you see have waved goodbye to a child as they left the nest, and have lived to tell about it. Most people have carried that wound. I take comfort in this, but of course my struggle remains.

So my plan is simply to feel the pain, and allow the fire to rage for a while. I realize this heartquake hurts as badly as it does because it is fueled by the same explosive that caused the first one. Love. It just burns in a different way. And I realize that just like hundreds of millions of other parents, I too will learn not only to carry this wound with grace but to take joy in it. I know it will make me stronger, more compassionate, and grant me deeper wisdom.

I know I’ll get there. But for now I must respect the size and significance of this quake and not attempt to minimize it or make efforts to control it. My mantra for now is those famous words of Martin Luther: “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.” And I cling to what I teach those in my congregation. We must live in the expectation that what is on the horizon will be greater — not lesser — than from where we have already come. That is my hope and my expectation. But right now, I’m in the middle of a quake, and all it is appropriate to do right now is hang on tight and wait until the shaking settles down.

Love Wins? Count On It!

Rob Bell's Love Wins book

What’s the Big Deal?

I just finished reading Rob Bell’s latest book, Love Wins. I did this because so many people have asked my opinion about it. Love Wins is the first Rob Bell book I have ever completed. His material normally is not challenging or enlightening to me on any level whatsoever. Love Wins was the same. However, people are not asking me if I find the material challenging or enlightening. They are asking me if I agree with it. And I can say, for the most part, yes I do. In fact I don’t see what the big deal is.

Shaping God

There’s something people really need to deal with that they often do not deal with. Christian people often refuse to deal with the fact that, as Bell stated, we shape our God and then our God shapes us. A huge number of Christians will tell you that at their church they just teach the Bible, not the “opinion of man,” as if the Bible and our opinion of it can truly be separated. That’s simply absurd. You pick up the Bible. You read it. You think about it, but you tend to think differently about certain things than I do. You see nuances I may not see, and miss ones I may catch. You read with different eyes, different understandings, and even different needs and a different heart.

This is what it means to say you shape your God. You read into the text the God you need to believe in. I know. I do too. We all do. The question is, who do you need God to be? In order for God to “save” you, bring you peace and joy, and assure you that you are safe in this universe, do you need to know beyond doubt that millions of other people have missed the boat and are burning in hell? If so, that’s the God that appeals to you. The thing that’s important is that we stop this shell-game of insisting that this or that opinion of the Bible and its meaning is completely drawn from the text itself and is therefore the authoritative version and any other opinions or ideas must therefore be not only wrong but heretical.

Questions

As far as I’m concerned, the very best thing about Love Wins is the number of questions it asks. If someone simply reads all these questions and then sits with them for a while, I think the truth will make itself clear. They will make Bell’s basic point appear necessary, which I believe it is if we are to really believe God is who we have always said God is.

In the meantime, why is this book controversial? Does Rob Bell ever once make the claim that he knows what happens to people after they die? Nope. Does he ever claim there is no such thing as hell or that no one is going there? Much the opposite. Does he ever claim that anyone other than the risen Christ is working to bring people to the knowledge of God? Never.

Objections and Responses

“But it leans toward universalism.” Definitely — at least compared to the “turn or burn” version of things. And still, leaning toward universalism and being a universalist are very different. “It’s terrible theology.” Well certainly it is for those who reject his ideas. C.S. Lewis would beg to differ. Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary, defends the book. “It’s heresy.” So you say, but you didn’t even really read the book, apparently — after all, you still think Bell’s a universalist.  🙂 “But millions of people in hell has been the established position of the church for two thousand years.” Yeah. They thought burning people alive was a good idea too. They’ve had a lot of bad ideas. They’ve been wrong a lot. Don’t be offended by that, it’s just facts.

It’s always funny to me how good Protestants will rail on Catholics like crazy for not really getting the whole God thing, but when Protestant B departs from strict orthodoxy, Protestant A will start saying how “the church has always believed…” (which must mean the Catholic Church since they were the only game in town for so long). Personally, I’m not in the least bit anti-Catholic, but the double-standard is funny. Which is it? Do the Catholics always get it or not? I think they’re like me. And like you. And like Rob Bell. Sometimes they are right, sometimes they are wrong. Hopefully they continue to pray for the wisdom and humility to know which is which.

Conclusion

I’m sure Rob Bell prays for the same. In the meantime, Love Wins said things that need to be said and I applaud Bell for his courage. Of course Love Wins. Isn’t God love? Doesn’t God win?

Rule for commenting on this post. You must have actually read the book.