Photography Challenge Week 17 – Something Tiny

This week’s theme is something tiny. While tiny may be a bit of an overstatement, the idea was to focus on taking pictures of small things. My thought was to try to get as close as I could get to some smaller objects and see how they’d turn out.

At first I didn’t really get as close as I would have liked. As is shown with this picture.

Something TinyI still like this picture, but then I remembered that I had some macro filters that I bought awhile ago for situations like this. So I decided to try them out and see if they made a difference. Sad thing was I couldn’t get my penny to stand up again though.

Something Tiny-2Even though I was closer, I didn’t really like this picture as much as a my first one. I definitely did get closer to the penny though. Which was what I was going for. After the penny I decided to try it out on something even smaller, a Cheerio, since well it’s a well loved snack around here.

Something TinyI was able to get a decently close picture here, so I was fairly happy. It maybe wasn’t the absolute best, but I think it still achieved the goal I was going for this week.

So here were some of the small things I found to take pictures of. Next week the theme will be round. So come expecting to see some round things next week. See you then.

Attack of the Terrible Twos

Our first child spoiled us. We had heard the stories about the terrible twos and were rather worried about what they would bring. Partly because Ryan has always been a rather easy going, happy little boy and we hated to have that change. The other part was well, if that many people brought up the terrible twos, it must be pretty bad.

As we entered the twos with Ryan very little changed. At least, very little changed regarding his temperament. At that age of course there were all kinds of changes going on, but he remained an easy to get along with little guy. The worst things about age two that stick out to me were dinner times (he was a very picky eater and we tried to get him to try some new foods with little hard won success) and the time after our daughter Anastasia was born and he regressed a bit to get more attention.

The same can not be said about Anastasia though. Admittedly, she has always been a bit more temperamental than her brother, so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. While Ryan tends to mope, pout, and act sad when upset; Anastasia has always had a bit more temper to her when she was upset. So needless to say, now that we’re entrenched in the twos, it has been some hard going.

If you look at some parenting websites, they’ll say that the terrible twos aren’t really a thing and that all ages have their unique challenges. That may be the case, but it certainly has seemed that two has been rather difficult for us. The crying over minor issues, that even a couple months ago she wouldn’t have cried over. She can cry over these issues for so long, even after being comforted, that she forgets what she was even crying over.

This doesn’t even include her being contrary, trying to find countless excuses to not go to bed, or thinking that “I don’t want to” or “I can’t” is a valid response to everything and anything she doesn’t want to do. All together is just becomes rather exasperating. It’s extremely hard to be patient through countless fits that seem to bleed together into one never ending fit.

Even worse, is that I kind of hate feeling so flustered by the whole thing. It’s not like she can’t be adorable. In fact it is quite possible to go from adorable to frustrating and back again a number of times a day. This is better than the days that seem like she’s done nothing but throw fits, but at the same time it just makes it hard to know exactly what to expect.

It’s not all bad. There are days where she is more happy than frustrated and frustrating. Also both of our kids are typically good in public, thankfully, so we haven’t had to worry about too many public meltdowns. These are the good moments, but sometimes those good moments feel buried by the times that aren’t so good.

The terrible twos may not really be something that every kid goes through, but it certainly seems to describe what we’re going through at the moment. As much as I don’t want my kids to grow up any faster than they already are, I will be happy to be past this time and hopefully be moving into more stable times, at least for a little while.

The Sting of Death

Death.

We don’t really like thinking about it too much do we? I know I don’t.

I also feel that as a Christian death becomes even more complicated to deal with. The belief in eternal life makes the idea of death difficult to know how to react to. I believe it, but have a hard time echoing Hosea 13:14 and 1 Corinthians 15:55.

Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

To tell the truth, even though I believe in the idea of eternal life, death still stings quite a bit. Part of this is just the fact that even though eternal life is available, we don’t really know the ins and outs of who will be granted it. We aren’t the judge of that, God is. People we may think are in, may not be. The opposite could be true as well. It presents an uncomfortable unknown.

Death also stings because you have to deal with missing the loved ones who have died. Even if there is the idea that one day you will meet again, the reality is that you still miss them here and now. It’s been hard in our lives to move past the death of my grandmother at the end of last year.

It’s hard in the getting used to planning and doing family gatherings without here. It’s hard when you realize that you’re able to move on even though she’s no longer there. It’s hard when you hear your four year old brings it up every once in awhile and realizing it had a larger impact on him than you have realized.

This aspect of death has also been the topic even in a book and show that I’ve been watching. I’ve been making my way through Wizard and Glass the fourth book of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, and it is largely an extended flashback of the main character, Roland,  recounting the loss of his one true love. Even though her death was a long time ago, it still haunts Roland. Part of this is because he blames himself, but I don’t think it is all of it.

Another source of my thinking about death lately has been the anime Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day. This story is about a group of childhood friends and how the accidental death of one of them ten years ago has impacted this group. The friends have largely all drifted apart and are dealing with the pain, guilt, and grief of this incident in different ways. It’s a sad story that shows that the sting of death can have deep roots.

So I feel I live in tension with death. On the one hand I do believe it is something that has been overcome. That God has sent the means to overcome it and that this way is available to anyone. On the other hand, death is still painful. Death is still hard to deal with and the loss of loved ones is not easily glossed over. It can leave scars for long after the actual loss. This tension is not a particularly comfortable one, but it is where I am regarding death.

The Death of Abraham

The final transition of the Abraham story is understandably the death of Abraham. Genesis 25:1-18 presents us with Abraham’s death and begins to prepare us for moving on the Isaac. While this is a fairly significant event, it may be hard to view this with much interest.

After all, the account of Abraham’s death isn’t very long. Most of the account isn’t even directly about his death, but rather about what he did after the death of Sarah. Abraham remarried and had a bunch of other kids. In case anyone worries about the status of Isaac though, the story shows that Abraham left Isaac everything and gave gifts to each of his other sons and sent them away.

After all that we’re told Abraham’s age, and that he lived to a good old age (as if we needed that affirmation) and that he died. We’re then told rather briefly that both Ishmael and Isaac bury Abraham beside Sarah in the land that he bought a couple chapters ago. The direct account of Abraham’s death ends with God blessing Isaac, as if to complete the transition that we know is coming.

From there we move to the genealogy of Ishmael, which if you think too much about it is a strange thing. Ishmael is not the son of promise, and yet he we are shown his descendants. One wonders why such an account was included. It largely seems rather matter of fact, except for the closing verse that describes the descendents of Ishmael as hostile towards all the tribes near them. It is a bit surprising to see the account here since Ishmael was sent away.

It’s hard to draw too much out of these rather short accounts. The only thing that I can really think of is that life goes on without us, no matter how important we may be. Abraham was and still is viewed as the father of the faith. He is a man who displayed great faith in God, even while he still had the messy human tendencies of doubt. Even though Abraham was no doubt an important figure, he died, life went on and the following generations took up this journey of following God.

That thought isn’t necessarily a comfortable one, but it makes it no less true. My life no matter how important will come to an end and the following generations will continue life. The cycle will continue. Our impact may be written of in history books or only extend a few generations after us, but life will still go on.

This is true with Abraham. He lived a life in relationship with God. We see him act with great faith in some places, and in doubt and worry in others. Yet he still died. We then turn to his son Ishmael, and the time of his death is also recorded in this chapter. The story then turns to Isaac and will follow him and his sons through the next portion of the story. That’s where we’ll pick up next week.

Photography Challenge Week 15 – Hands

This week was somewhat challenging to pull off. I found hands to be a difficult subject to pull off. It is hard to take a picture of your own hands, while taking pictures of Ryan’s and Anastasia’s hands turned out to be difficult in getting them to keep still for a decent shot. At the end of it all I feel like I wound up with a couple decent shots, but it was definitely not the easiest week.

Here they are:

Hands Hands-2Those are the ones I took for this week. Next week’s theme is something tiny. That should be interesting. See you next week for some new pictures.

Success Is Such a Slippery Concept

Do you want to be successful? I imagine that most people, myself included, would answer that affirmatively. It seems like such a simple question, but I have been struggling with this simple question lately. The reason for this struggle is that upon reflection, I’ve found success to be a hard word to define.

What is success?

To me this is not as easy of a question to answer. Is success having lots of money? Is it having a career that is meaningful and fulfilling? Is success having a healthy well-adjusted family? What is this elusive success?

The reality is that I think that we all define success a little differently. Also, success is not as one-dimensional as we might like to make it. I often think our ideas of success involve a number of different accomplishments rolled into one term.

Let’s use myself as an example. If I were to truly say what I think success is. It would primarily involve having a job that I enjoyed and felt was meaningful (this could even be just having more impact with my writing); being highly involved with my family; and living out my beliefs as a Christian the best as I’m able. Now these are just what I would view as primary to my view of success, at least at this moment.

Success for another individual could be completely different. So it makes the whole question of success rather relative. Even with similar goals, say your idea of success was being wealthy, what may be the viewed as success could be different. Somebody may not feel successful until they’re making a six figure salary while other people may attain “success” at lower or even higher amounts.

I think the most trouble arises when we start to hope other people view us as successful. We start to use this nebulous idea of success to compare ourselves to others. This leads us to trend towards ideas of success that are easily measured. We compare salaries, number of kids, importance of ones job, and in doing so limit our definitions of success.

What I’m trying to say in all of this is that we need to be careful how we deal with a concept like success. Having dreams and goals are admirable. We all have things we want to strive for and an idea of the success we want to accomplish.

This is a good thing, but the idea of success is also a dangerous thing. We can limit success into one-dimensional categories and pursue one aspect at the expense of everything else. We can also chase after too many things at once and leave ourselves exhausted and discouraged. We can also turn success into a competition. Where we stop defining success by what we want and more on how we’re viewed by others or how we compare to other people around us.

I do still want to be successful, but if I’m honest many times I’m worried about how I appear more than working towards my own goals. I worry that my status as a stay-at-home dad will create a bad impression to those around me. I compare myself to other classmates and feel like my accomplishments to some of them just don’t match up. It is when I do this that I am the most discouraged. Yet, even where I am I can still be successful. It just depends on the success that I’m chasing after.

What is the Purpose of Preaching?

“What is the purpose of preaching?”

This is a question I was asked a number of times by my mentor and friend during our weekly meetings years ago. While I think it was a question intended to initiate thought on the topic, I also felt that it was a question that he too asked. Regardless, this question has stuck with me over the years.

I imagine that it is a question that many people would answer in different ways. The sheer volume of books that are about the topic indicate that there is no agreed upon one way or purpose behind preaching. I don’t even really feel that I know the answer to that question today.

While I don’t feel that I have what constitutes a complete answer, I have managed to come up with a few thoughts over the years.

The first of these thoughts is that a sermon is a reflection of life. What I mean by this is that a sermon should reflect the messiness of life. Far too often sermons I’ve heard tend to be prepackaged and engage life more from the vantage point of life as it should be, rather than life as it often is.

This can be done a number of ways in my mind. You can include stories from real life, both our own and from other sources (books, magazines, articles). Nothing reflects real life like a story from real life.

Even if you don’t want to invest the time in collecting stories, simply reading many of the stories in the Bible will present you with a picture that is not always an image of the ideal. Take the story of Abraham that I’ve been going through for some time. You have a story that presents a man of faith and trust in God alongside of doubt, lying, struggle, and selfishness. Simply making an effort to put the people of the Bible in the light they are presented can present a reflection of real life.

In addition to these, another way is to avoid overstatement, unless you’re trying to use hyperbole or a similar technique. I don’t think a sermon reflects life if we are making statements that don’t really reflect life, even spiritual life.I know Jesus employed hyperbole at times, so I think that’s fair, but too often I don’t think we’re really using hyperbole. We really believe some of the conflated statements that are placed within sermons, and that has troubled me over the years. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be difficult statements that come out of the Bible, we just have to be careful how we try to connect everything.

Moving on to my second thought regarding the purpose of a sermon, is that it leads more to God and the Bible than to answers. What do I mean by this? I’m simply meaning that too often sermons can come out as a list of what to do or not to do. Sometimes these lists can be answers that more reflect the person who is preaching the sermon than it does the conclusions (or sometimes lack of conclusion) that the Bible presents.

I think that the best sermons lead people to some answers, but maybe they lead to more questions than they do answers. I think in these cases the sermon itself doesn’t quench a thirst and hunger for God, but fuels it. Do we trust people to be able to wrestle with God and the text of the Bible? Or do we feel that we have to force feed the answers from the pulpit? Of course this often assumes that the one preaching has all the correct answers.

As I’ve already alluded to, most sermons that provide too many answers tend to be very moralistic in nature. It is more about doing the right actions and avoiding the wrong ones. As I’ve said elsewhere I worry that our focus on morality can hinder our focus on God and his grace. So continually hearing sermons on morality can too easily reduce our faith into rules to follow.

My third and final thought is that sermons will also bring light to the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is another phrase that can mean a number of things to different people. The way I’m using it here, is simply the work of God in the lives of the congregation: individually, corporately, as part of the larger local community, and beyond.

A sermon, in my mind, will seek to reveal God and his kingdom and challenge people to see God at work in the world around them. This is definitely connected to the first thought of a sermon reflecting life. If we adequately, by God’s grace, reflect life and reveal the kingdom of God, then we present the reality that God does really intervene in this world. He is present, even in ways we don’t understand, which is often the way God intervened even in the lives of those recorded in the Bible.

I think that the best sermons will try to give you glimpse of the kingdom of God within the messiness of real life, and have you hungry for more. It will challenge us to look beyond just ourselves as well, and see how God is at work building his kingdom around us. This moves us from simply trying to adhere to a moral checklist and challenges us to bring attitudes of grace, forgiveness, and humility into the world around us. That is a big challenge as I don’t think many of us do these things well naturally.

Those are my three ideas. As I said I doubt they’re comprehensive. They’re simply the best answers I’ve thought of over the last few years of thinking about this question. My thoughts are that the purpose of preaching is to reflect life, to lead us to seek God and His word more than simply seek after answers or morality, and finally to bring light to the Kingdom of God that is at work around us. Anybody else care to share what they think the purpose of preaching is? Feel free to share or to disagree with or add to my own thoughts.

Is God Really Involved in the Day to Day?

Last week I mentioned that we are in the transitional part of Abraham’s story. The tension of Isaac’s birth has been resolved and the transition began with the death of Sarah. We now move to the second transition, which is the finding of a wife for Isaac in Genesis 24.

As I’ve thought about this passage, I’ve found that it strikes me as a bit odd. Here we are looking at a rather lengthy account of Isaac getting a wife. While on one level this seems expected and natural. At the same time it seems so common.

I think that part of the reason it seems so odd is because we don’t have a lot of expectation for God to show up or be involved much in the everyday. God may show up on Sunday morning for worship, a missions trip, during our efforts for social justice, but it’s easier to doubt that God has anything to do with the things we don’t label as spiritual.

Even Abraham’s story has an odd element to it in this regard. God is directly connected to something as simple as the birth of a child. Sure it was done in a rather miraculous way, but even Abraham and Sarah showed they could find ways to produce a child, as they did through Hagar.

Looking at the story of Abraham’s servant finding Isaac a wife, we see a story that sees God close even in the rather mundane details of life. Even though God doesn’t appear to take quite as active a hand in this story, as with the birth of Isaac, there is a sense that God permeates the air of the story. Walter Brueggemann in his commentary on Genesis says that this story is “…a presentation of how it is to live in an ethos in which life is accepted and perceived as a gift from God.”

I think Brueggemann is onto something with that description. We see this reliance on God throughout the story. Abraham starts it off by having his servant swear an oath in the name of the Lord. Abraham also doesn’t want Isaac to go back to the land of his father because of the promise that God had relayed to Abraham. The servant also prayed to God when he reached his destination, and expected that prayer to be answered. The servant also praises God when he finds that Rebekah comes as a seeming answer to his prayer. We continue to see this reference to God as the servant tells his tale and in the reactions of Laban and Bethuel. The point as probably been hammered enough, right?

Even though God is not directly active, the story presents God as being involved in the finding of a wife for Isaac. I suppose a push back to this is that God is simply being involved in the promise coming to pass. For Isaac to have descendants he needs a wife. At the same time the promise did not hinge on just the right woman being found. So it seems strange to pass this off as just God involved in his promise.

The question that arises out of this story that sees God in every action, is does God really work this way? Is God involved in our daily lives to such a point? It’s a tricky question. On one level yes may seem to be the obvious answer, but I wonder how many of us would struggle to give examples of this in our own lives. I also wonder how many people who would be able to say that they’ve been looking and longing for that, but God just doesn’t seem to be there.

Sometimes we miss God’s activity, because we just aren’t really looking for it. We just write everything off as perfectly natural or coincidence and think nothing of it. Other times we are looking for God. We are searching desperately for God to be found in the midst of our daily lives, but God seems to be missing. I wish I had a simple answer to gift wrap, but I don’t.

I do believe in a God who is active and surrounds our daily lives. I believe he can be found in interactions with family, friends, and complete strangers. I also believe that sometimes he seems very distant. Sometimes we realize that this distance wasn’t real, and in hindsight we can see how God was with us even when it seemed like he wasn’t. Other times we don’t know, and may never know what God was doing during certain periods of our lives.

Maybe part of the problem in all this is that we expect God will work certain ways in our lives. We expect every story will be in the vein of how God was involved in finding my spouse. However, we don’t seem to hold that same expectation in the stories of burying a spouse (my thought goes back to last chapter with the death of Sarah). We seem to be more comfortable with God’s activity in the good times and the difficult times. This is no criticism of that fact, just that is the reality I have experience personally.

Even so, I think that this story encourages us to trust that God works in our daily lives. To live in such a way to be expecting God to work. This doesn’t mean we’ll see or hear God directly intervening in our lives, like this story doesn’t show God directly involved (at least compared to the earlier parts of the Abraham story). It simply means that God is active in the world. In the common everyday aspects of life we have the chance to see God at work. I all too often miss those chances I think, I hope to have eyes that are able to see them more often.

Photography Challenge Week 15 – Textures

When I read that this week was textures, I was a little worried. I believe I remember that I added this one at the start as a challenge to take pictures of things from a closer perspective. I actually enjoyed doing this, and feel that I wound up with some decent pictures. Here’s what I shot this week.

TexturesThis first picture is a close up of a cape that my wife made for our daughter out of a shiny silky material. While not too exciting it does show some of the texture of the fabric, so was actually a bit more interesting than I expected.

Textures-4This picture was a close up of a fuzzy bunny Easter basket. It didn’t maybe turn out quite as nice as I had hoped, but I think you can see the fuzzy/furry texture going on here.

Textures-3This last picture was my favorite and showed the texture of the leaf of one of our plants. I thought it turned out to be a pretty cool picture, and was my favorite of the three.

So those were the results from my week of texture pictures. Next week I’ll be working on hands. I guess we’ll see what I can come up with for that. See you next week!

Final Thoughts on The Wounded Heart

Sexual abuse is not a subject that people really enjoy talking about. It is a complicated, messy, and very painful subject. However, that is also the subject of the book that I’m looking at today. I’m looking at The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Dr. Dan B. Allender. So fair warning that we’ll be talking at least to some degree about sexual abuse, since that is what the topic of the book is.

The Wounded HeartBefore getting into my thoughts about the book I feel I need to make a couple things clear. First, this is a book geared towards those who have experienced sexual abuse, and that is something that I have never experienced. I have also never known anyone who has divulged such abuse to me. So I’m coming at this book from a very outside perspective.

The second is that this book is geared towards Christians. The title doesn’t really indicate that in the least, but it views belief in God as the ultimate way to have hope. I am a Christian so this doesn’t bother me, but I simply think this needs to be made clear at the beginning. With these out of the way let’s proceed.

To be honest, I had very mixed feelings about The Wounded Heart. I found some of it useful, but other aspects of it very troubling. I’ll start with what I found helpful and move to some of the things I disliked.

First, I give him kudos for tackling such a difficult topic. Reading some sexual abuse stories over the past few years, Christians tend to be pegged as people who avoid the reality of sexual abuse and offer few resources to help those who have experienced it. Yet, here was a work that was originally published in 1990. So I give Allender a good deal of respect for offering this resource, even if the execution didn’t set well with me for the most part.

The other aspect of the book I found helpful were the sections where he was focused on the psychological and very little of his theology was evident. I found learning about the dynamics of abuse and also the damage that sexual abuse could do enlightening even while difficult to read and comprehend that such abuse and damage to others happens. When he focused on the psychology side of things, I found him to be more professional in tone. That said, these positives give way to the negatives way too quickly.

The major problem I have with the book is the way he injects Christianity into this process. It seems that his major goal is to make the victim of abuse realize that they are sinners who need God. While admittedly we are all sinners and I understood where he was coming from, the way it was presented troubled me. I could see people who have experienced abuse recoiling from the way it was presented as more burden being placed on them. I also questioned some of the things that he was labeling as sin.

One such example was regarding a woman who was waiting for her father at an airport. They had agreed to meet during a two hour layover she had at the airport. She was looking forward to this meeting and was disappointed that he didn’t show up. This led her to be ashamed of getting her hopes up in the first place, because it appeared this was not new behavior for her father.

Dr. Allender declares this exchange idolatry. That the woman’s worth was being tied up too much to her father’s appearance. I found this very troubling. To simply look forward to a meeting with a parent is idolatry? To feel bad and silly for looking forward to it when it falls through is idolatry? This seems dubious to me. Yet so often this is the way he handles the theological side of the book, with questionable connections like these and a heavy hand. As I said it is not that I disagree with certain aspects. It is just the way he presents them that I find troubling given who he is trying to help here.

I think his work would be much more helpful if it focused on the positive aspects of God’s love for us, his grace, his mercy even for those who have experience abuse. He seems to focus on the victim understanding their sin as the only path towards receiving God’s healing. I don’t find that in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus healed, but you don’t see him requiring a confession of sin before he acts. That doesn’t mean that our sin never needs addressed, it means that God can heal us before our sins are realized. It may even be from that healing that we are able to then confront our sins.

All this to say, that while I found The Wounded Heart helpful in understanding some of the dynamics and damage from abuse, I wonder if it is really that helpful of a book. You may find healing in the pages, but you could also find more pain. I probably wouldn’t really recommend it, but unfortunately I have no other books on the subject I can offer in place of it as of now.