brittle crazy glass

Bob Jacobs, reflections on life in light of the gospel


Leave a comment

On Remembering 9/11

It hardly seems possible that the horrific events of September 11, 2001 happened 20 years ago. So many people have grown up, or grown older, in the landscape that 9/11 created – a landscape of fear, vulnerability, and also hope for a better world. So many people have selflessly served their countries and others in this landscape, and we are grateful.

Thousands of retrospectives will explore the post-9/11 world this weekend. Our challenge, as always, as followers of Jesus is to live in this world not simply as consumers of media (of any bent), but with a distinctive faith. The world did not change on September 11, 2001 after all. It has always been a place of fear, vulnerability, and hope. A good, but tragically fallen, creation that God is redeeming in God’s distinctive way – often surprising – and in which God’s people can live redemptive lives.

In the looming shadow of the Cold War, C. S. Lewis was asked to address how humanity should live in an atomic age. Who remembers how the specter of nuclear annihilation gripped our lives? Lewis noted that the atom bomb itself was not really the problem. The bomb was “a revelation, an apocalypse, that revealed how fragile the world has always been.” The Cold War, and 9/11, and COVID, and any other tremor in our public or private lives, have the power to awaken us, in Lewis’ words, “from a petty dream… and now we can begin to talk about realities.” (See C.S. Lewis, Present Concerns. (Harvest Books, 2002).)*

As we mark this somber anniversary, let’s remember the reality that while we live in a world where evil is real and active, and fear and vulnerability are all around us, God’s power to save, heal, and renew his creation through Jesus Christ is stronger still. And God calls us, just as much as 20 years ago, to be people of grace, peace, and hope, bright lights in the darkness.

 

*As referenced in https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/march-web-only/on-living-in-pandemic-age.html


Leave a comment

Find Yourself Another Wizard

Can anything good come from a concussion? Well…

This winter, my son Aidan suffered a concussion while snowboarding. He was officially put on “brain rest,” meaning (gulp) no screen time of any kind, and – to our surprise – no reading (a pretty frontal-cortex intensive experience). So we were delighted to re-introduce Books at Bedtime, reading to him each night from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. (Thank you, concussion!)

In The Hobbit, the company of dwarves is making their way from the Shire when a rainstorm drenches them. The dwarf Dori exclaims to the great wizard Gandalf, “Mr. Gandalf, can’t you do something about this deluge?” To which Gandalf replies sharply, “It is raining, Master dwarf, and it will continue to rain until the rain is done. If you wish to change the weather of the world, you should find yourself another wizard!”

This exchange has been ringing in my ears ever since we recently read Luke 8:22-25, where a violent storm suddenly descends upon the disciples in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. The terrified disciples wake Jesus from his nap and exclaim, “Master! Master! We are being destroyed!” (my translation) Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves, and they obey him. He is far more powerful than even a wizard like Gandalf.

But there’s something about Gandalf’s response that should give us a lot to ponder. Mastery or control over the elements of the world is not – and cannot be – our goal, whether meteorologically or otherwise. Our post-Enlightenment worldview is always tempting us to master the weather of the world, to be in control or at least to be drawn in allegiance to those who claim to be.

In another place in LOTR, Gandalf explains to Aragorn, Imrahil, and the sons of Elrond:

“…It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

It’s always struck me that the characters in great epics – whether The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter or the Bible (and I don’t mean to equate them) – even though they are part of something breathtakingly beautiful and ultimately redemptive, and even though good is assured in the end, are not immune to dangers or temptations or discouragement or even to sudden storms.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)


1 Comment

Where the Wild Things Are

Our Imaginations Need to Dwell Where the Wild Things Are ‹ Literary Hub

And when he came to the place where the wild things are

they roared their terrible roars

and gnashed their terrible teeth

and rolled their terrible eyes

and showed their terrible claws

till Max said

“BE STILL!”

-Maurice Sendak

There are several books from my childhood that I still treasure as classics. There’s Rupert the Rhinoceros, Ferdinand, The Contests at Cowlick, Harry the Dirty Dog, Petunia the Silly Goose, anything from Dr. Seuss, and, of course, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.

Max, a young boy, is being a real stinker. He talks back to his mom and so is sent to his room without dinner. Banished there, he is transported across the sea where he is crowned ruler of the beasts in the place where the wild things are.

I wrote yesterday about Jesus’ preference for the name “Son of Man” (81 times in the New Testament). Much of that self-designation underscored Jesus’ descent into humble humanity. But it also shimmers with a direct reference to Daniel’s ecstatic vision in Daniel 7. There, Daniel sees a succession of horrible beasts:

“The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a human being, and the mind of a human was given to it.

“And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, ‘Get up and eat your fill of flesh!’

“After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule.

“After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast—terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns.

The beasts roar their terrible roars, and gnash their terrible teeth, and roll their terrible eyes, and show their terrible claws. Gallons of ink have been spilled over discerning the identity (both then and now) of the beasts in order to gain some power-through-knowledge over the terrifying spectacle. But as tantalizing as that exercise may be, it ultimately is beside the point, which is the certain victory of the One who comes next: the Son of Man.

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

This world – achingly beautiful and tragically fallen – is where the wild things are. Systems, institutions, principalities, and powers that menace with intimidation, violence, and chaos – each worse than the last. And then comes the admission that each of us is capable of being a beast ourselves. But there is One who commands “BE STILL!”

It seems to me that the power of Sendak’s poem comes at least partially from these deep biblical themes. I was disheartened to learn that Sendak was in fact a caustic atheist his whole life (HERE’s a link to a series of fascinating interviews with him before his death in 2012 at the age of 83), but that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t also a genius with his finger sometimes on the pulse of a heart we was unwilling or unable to accept.

The world is full of beasts, but the Son of Man is greater. He himself cannot be tamed, but he can make us human again.

…and [he] tamed them with the magic trick

of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once

and they were frightened and called him the most wild thing of all

and made him king of all wild things.


Leave a comment

The Depth and the Height

[from the “Hopefully I can say this better on Monday than I did on Sunday” department…]

Emily Dickinson wrote:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all…

That hope, which John the Baptist struggled with in Luke 7:19 – “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” – lingers through every human life, and certainly throughout the Bible. Who is the one who is to come?

  • In Genesis 12, Abraham is told that his offspring will bless the whole world.
  • In Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses says, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.”
  • In 2 Samuel 7, David is told that someone from his lineage would sit upon his throne, and his kingdom would never end.
  • Psalm 22 speaks of an innocent righteous person who suffered on behalf of others.
  • Several passionate passages from Isaiah tell of a suffering servant on whom all our sins fall, and somehow those sufferings are redemptive.

These are all like golden breadcrumbs, demonstrating the breadth of the hope that Scripture invites us into. And certainly the Christian tradition, and even Scripture itself, makes the connections between Jesus and this hope.

But consider for a moment that Jesus had a preferred way of referring to himself, used 80 times in the gospels (and 25 times in Luke alone): “Son of Man.” Jesus is the only one who uses this title (with the single exception of Acts 7:56).

“Son of Man” seems, at first, is easy to pass over – just biblical jargon, the kind of religious-sounding thing that Jesus would say. But it is highly significant, in at least two ways:

  1. First, it is a way of emphasizing Jesus’ utter and thorough humanity (as in Psalm 62:9). Jesus has descended to the deepest depths of humanity, and because of that he fully experiences and understands every aspect of our existence, including the deepest darkest parts.
  2. Second, it is a clear reference to the Son of Man seen by Daniel in a vivid vision in Daniel 7. After a parade of increasingly disturbing beasts, Daniel looks up…

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

All the other golden breadcrumbs reveal the breadth of our hope. The “Son of Man” reveals the depth and the height. Jesus the Son of Man descends all the way down into our darkness, sin, pain, and death – even among all the “beasts” in the world and in us (more on this tomorrow). And Jesus the Son of Man is exalted to the highest place, where he reigns. This exalted One is the same as the one who is with us in the depths, and he assures us that everything is in his hands. And the place where both of these realities come together is the Cross.

We’re used to interpreting and gauging our lives based on how we are doing on any given day. Are we having a high or a low? But the Son of Man reminds us that the most important thing is whether we are connected to a bigger story, placing our lives in the hands of the One who is both low and high and in-between.


Leave a comment

Losers Complain?

There is a saying etched into my memory just as it was etched into a plaque on the wall of my 7th grade shop classroom: “Winners do more than they have to; losers complain.” My shop teacher, Mr. Wig (I’m not kidding), drove this point home on a regular basis. There’s certainly something to be said for this, as indelicate as it is. And, as you would expect, this did reduce the number of students who braved coming to him with a problem.

There can be a spiritual version of this saying etched into people’s minds when it comes to coming to God with what’s going on in our lives and in the world. We can assume, as many people do, one of the following:

  • God is very busy, and doesn’t like being bothered.
  • There are lots of people with much more serious problems than mine; who am I to complain?
  • If I’m going to be a “winner,” I’ll do it by working harder and being tougher.
  • Coming to God with the things that break my heart makes me weak; I’m just whining and complaining.

Some of those might sound familiar, but they’re all wrong.

Instead, the way of biblical wisdom is a way that makes plenty of room for lament. Lament is the honest (even brutally honest) crying out to God in the face of all that is painful, tragic, unjust, infuriating, depressing, and inexplicable in our lives and in the world. More than half of the Psalms are lament. Much of the writings of the prophets is lament. Most of the biblical wisdom literature (like Job, Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations) is lament. And as Jesus hung on the cross, he spoke words of lament – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

To do for yourself the best that you have it in you to do—to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst—is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you and in you that is more wonderful still. The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against being opened up and transformed.

Frederick Buechner in The Sacred Journey

In a religious culture that celebrates strength, absolute certainty, flawless faith, self-realization, and self-sufficiency, there’s no place for lament (unless it’s secret and to be ashamed of). And without lament, there’s no opportunity to grow in maturity and resiliency.

This Holy Week is an opportunity for us to practice genuine lament along with Jesus. Lament isn’t the entirety of faith, but it is indispensable to be a biblically-shaped person.


Leave a comment

I’ll Show You a Fun Time

Something really ugly happened on Tuesday. A video surfaced on social media in which Miama Heat center Meyers Leonard can be heard saying some dreadfully profane and anti-Semitic remarks. It was awful. Leonard apologized in an Instagram post, and he will be away from the Heat indefinitely, according to the organization, while the NBA conducts an investigation.

It quickly caught the attention of New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, who is Jewish. Then something really awesome happened. Edelman posted an open letter on Twitter to Leonard, inviting him to a Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner so they could talk.

What a class act. In a culture where, it seems, most people slam, insult, ridicule, and belittle their opponents, Edelman – in a way that doesn’t let Leonard off the hook at all – extends a hand of potentially transformative grace. It even makes me think that maybe I shouldn’t dislike the Patriots so much…

It’s Edelman’s last statement that really strikes me: “Let’s do a Shabbat dinner with some friends [sic] I’ll show you a fun time.”

This points to an important aspect of God’s intention with the Sabbath: it is to be a day of delight. The people who envision the Sabbath as a day where you have to sit around in a marathon family devotion are the same people who might envision heaven as a never-ending boring church service while the birds are singing, the sun is shining, and your friends are hanging out at the window, asking you to come and play.

Sabbath certainly includes time to stop and contemplate God and God’s word; but that is not inconsistent with engaging in sheer delight. And for this there are no rules (see Galatians 5:23). Be honest: what brings you true delight? Psalm 37 tells us to “delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” God is the author of pleasure, and the Sabbath is a time to reconnect with it. Is it cooking? Then cook. Is it woodworking? Taking a walk? Reading a book? Calling an old friend? A good game of bocce? Being trounced by your 13-year-old in a game of chess? Some ancient rabbis prescribed making love on the Sabbath. I daresay, if mowing the lawn gives you delight, then mow it!

Why delight in God? Because he delights in you! And how can you realize his love for you if you don’t enjoy his gifts in the way he intends? I love these words from Zephaniah 3: “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

It’s like God is sending us the invitation: “Hey, let’s do a Shabbat dinner with some friends; I’ll show you a fun time.”


Leave a comment

You can get used to anything.

In Washington State, it’s against the law to kill Sasquatch.

You can get married by proxy in Texas (even if you’re not in Texas).

Eavesdropping can get you arrested in Oklahoma.

It’s illegal to ski while drunk in Wyoming.

Until 2015, you could only play Bingo twice a week in Minnesota. (Now things are just craaaazy up there! And who was the courageous legislator who finally confronted this draconian law?)

Weird, I know. But you can bet there is a unique story behind each one of these laws. In fact, that’s the case with every law. Laws and rules don’t make sense until you understand the setting that called for it. That is certainly the case with the Sabbath.

To most of us today, the idea of Sabbath is quaint, unrealistic, or just downright irrelevant. We conceive of the Sabbath in terms of limitations: you can’t do that, or that, or that. Or that. For 24 hours.

I’m trying to teach our dog, Maggie, to practice “staying.” I pour her food into her dish, then tell her to sit still and “stay” for a moment before she’s free to dig in. It’s just a few seconds, but every atom in her body is in torment. (Next we’ll work on the concepts of delayed gratification and mindfulness.) I wonder if lots of people think of the Sabbath like that – I can’t believe I’m so restricted! That’s doesn’t sound like heaven on earth, that sounds like hell!

It’s worth considering an important piece of historical context: the Sabbath command, given explicitly to the Israelites in the wilderness (see Exodus 20), was given to people who had never, ever, experienced anything other than slavery.

It’s worth considering an important piece of historical context: the Sabbath command, given explicitly to the Israelites in the wilderness (see Exodus 20), was given to people who had never, ever, experienced anything other than slavery.

Imagine not even being able to conceive of a day of rest, because all you’ve ever known is the relentless whip of a taskmaster. If you had weeds to pick, or laundry to do, or repairs to attend to, much less meals and family matters, it was over and above the unending work that was exacted from you by someone else. For better or for worse, I think people can get used to anything, and this was the unquestioned given of life that the Hebrews had known for 400 years.

And then the God of Israel rescues them from slavery and tells them:

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.” (Exodus 20:8-10)

Maybe it’s just me. It seems like commandments about lying, cheating, and killing are pretty self-evident. But while I can imagine the immense relief a rhythm of rest might bring to exhausted slaves, I wonder if the Sabbath command wasn’t the hardest one to understand and keep – at least at first. You can get used to anything, and they were used to being slaves.

Sometimes we still are.

This is not to downplay or spiritualize the very real practice of slavery in the world, even under our very noses (https://www.ijm.org/), but we can also be enslaved to our own work and self-importance, to the idol of hyper-activity, to our subtle and not-so-subtle attempts at control, and to the avoidance of what happens in our hearts when things are finally quiet. It makes you think about Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah 61 in Luke 4:18: “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.”

Can you imagine changing the only life you’ve ever known?

You can get used to anything.

Your Freedom: What Will You Do With It? • Tim Hill Psychotherapy


Leave a comment

Get (and Stay) Out of Control

If all the Ten Commandments were contestants on a TV show like Survivor, the Sabbath command (see Exodus 20 & Deuteronomy 5) would probably be the first to be voted off the island.

The very idea of the Sabbath is controversial, and for different reasons. The Pharisees, who were very serious about applying the Bible to every detail of life, had lost their way when it came to the Sabbath. They lost sight of the forest for the trees. They nit-picked Jesus over infractions of some of the thousand Sabbath-keeping traditions that had accumulated over the years. Read about it in Luke 6:1-11. When Jesus defended his disciples’ eating a snack of ripe grain, and healed a man whose life had been devastated by a withered hand, they “were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.” (Luke 6:11). Literally, they were out of their mind with rage. Mark says they went out to plot how to kill him (3:7).

What would prompt such a violent reaction? Someone challenging their sense of control (even if it was righteously intentioned).

Before we villainize the Pharisees too much, we (and I) have to stop and admit that our own senses of control (over others, over outcomes, over the chaos of the world, over our work and ministries, even over God) are seriously challenged by Jesus. In fact, that’s been the case from the very beginning. It all started when Adam and Eve stopped trusting God and took matters into their own hands. If we haven’t read Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” we have certainly absorbed it. This is why God gave the Sabbath.

The Sabbath isn’t a list of restrictions, it’s an invitation to discover, learn, and remember that we are not, in fact, in control. I’ll write later this week about observing a Sabbath day, but for now here is a tool, inspired by Peter Scazzero’s book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: the Daily Office. The idea is simple: take a couple of minutes at least once per day (you can add more as you’re ready) to stop. Remember and celebrate the fact that God is holding the whole universe together. It doesn’t come easy to us, but it’s how God mercifully gets us out of control. More on this in upcoming days…

Daily Office/Mini-Sabbath

Read Psalm 46:10-11

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;

    I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Be still before the Lord (30 seconds) – no need to say or think about anything, except God’s presence with you

Read Colossians 1:15-20 (or any other Scripture)

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Be still before the Lord (30 seconds)


Leave a comment

A Unified Story that Leads to Jesus

A few years ago I became aware of a grass-roots, crowd-funded phenomenon called “The Bible Project.” (www.bibleproject.com) It’s what happens when you put combine a lost skateboarder who meets Jesus and goes on to get a PhD in Semitic languages, and an graphic artist who also loves Jesus but who has lots of questions. The Bible Project has become an international ministry (still crowd-funded) that has helped make more sense of the Bible to lots of people who have puzzled over it for a long time (like me, and maybe you too). Their main conviction is that the Bible is “a unified story that leads to Jesus.” I have found it to be an immensely interesting, challenging, and helpful partner on my spiritual journey.

Case in point: Here is a video that starts to plumb the depths of the meaning of the Sabbath:

This week in my blog, I’m going to reflect more on several of the themes we find here. But please, go check out The Bible Project. There’s a treasure to explore!

Wouldn’t it be something if it could be said about us that our life is a unified story leading to Jesus?

Tim Mackie and Jon Collins - The Bible Project | OnScript
John Collins & Tim Mackie


Leave a comment

Batter My Heart

John Donne (1572-1632) is the pre-eminent example of the Elizabethan metaphysical poets, known for, among other things, striking theological insights and literary devices. Donne’s insights were hard-won; while deeply religious, he also struggled his whole life with many worldly temptations and weaknesses of the flesh.

Sound familiar? I’m guessing that’s true for you too. Yes, conversion to Christ is a real thing; we truly are made a “new creation” in Christ. Followers of Jesus really are given a new nature and see real change in their lives, and there is progress in our Christian “walk.” But any honest follower of Jesus will also tell you that we do not cross the finish line in this life. As we learn to submit our lives to God, we continually discover and rediscover the depths of our need for him and the depths of his persistent, patient goodness, like the ongoing uncovering of an archaeological site. (As Timothy Keller has said, the gospel isn’t just the ABCs of the Christian life (i.e. how to become a Christian and start following Jesus); the gospel is the A through Z of the Christian life.)

Case in point: Luke 5:1-11. Jesus tells Simon Peter, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Far from a miracle of successful fishing (How to Fill your Boat with Fish in Three Easy Steps), this passage tells of how God calls people out over their heads. Out where the regular rules don’t make sense anymore. Out where there’s nothing to hold on to on but God himself. Out where even success can be threatening. It can be scary, confusing, overwhelming. But it’s the only way. It’s God’s way.

Enter John Donne, whose poem “Batter My Heart, Three-Person’d God” tells this story. Donne was aware that the only way his heart could belong to God was for it to be overwhelmed. It had to be conquered in order to be saved. We would all do well to meditate on this paradox…

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you

As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend

Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

I, like an usurp’d town to another due,

Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,

But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,

But am betroth’d unto your enemy;

Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.