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Archive for May, 2012

Purpose-full

This post will be a meandering stream of consciousness. It may not be cogent, coherent, or correct. But, it will, at the very least, have alliteration in the first paragraph.

I was speaking recently with someone who had renewed energy and a more positive outlook on life. Why? Recent months had been mired in a sense of purposeless-ness. And that saps motivation like almost nothing else.

With the immense and unstoppable human drive to find meaning in life, it’s hard not to conclude that we are hard-wired for purpose. This creates a curious conundrum for those with a purely naturalistic and evolutionary worldview, however. Because when you boil that perspective down to its core philosophical inevitables, a seeking of purpose is a vain attempt to assign meaning where there can (ultimately) be none.

Yet we do seek purpose, and those who accomplish much in life are driven by a sense of purpose. What a different historical view we have of World War 2 – which was brimming with noble purpose – and the Vietnam War, which seemed to have little real purpose, meaning, and direction. Companies like Apple and Google set out to change the world, and attracted people loaded with zeal (or created them!). Dying, legacy companies may have traded their purpose for mere survival in a shrinking market. The difference is palpable.

One of the appeals of a religious worldview is the framework of a greater purpose. So much in life seems random, counter-intuitive, or downright evil. A will to press forward can come from a sense of overarching purpose, which is hidden in the mysterious mind and heart of a benevolent God. And when it comes to the evil part, the mysterious element pops out in bold and italic type. Believers can be just as perplexed as unbelievers by the flow of events. They are sustained by the hope that something actually makes sense on the other side of the tapestry being woven – good sense. Sometimes that greater good is actually seen in the shorter-term, sometimes it is not. Faith is most seen when the mists of mystery are still around us.

Of course, that sounds like a total fantasy-land cop-out to others, and I get that. If God has been locked out of one’s worldview prima facie (at first blush), then appeals to sovereignty simply look like escapism. The alternative is self-created temporary purpose or, if you go the full philosophical mile, raw nihilism. Which, actually, is another way of saying honesty within one’s chosen worldview. And I respect honesty even if when I disagree on first principles. I’d far rather talk to an honest believer in god-less-ness than a disingenuous and corner-cutting “believer” in God.

But then, how honest is it to hold to a position that leads to purposeless-ness, when every intuitive element in our souls cries out for and seeks purpose? We all seek, and desperately need, love; yet shall we say that such a need is a mere artifact of superstition, a defect of evolutionary process? Or a mere survival mechanism for passing on genes to another generation? Really? Is that our higher purpose – genetic reproduction? I don’t know about you, but in my mind, that doesn’t carry a whole lot of motivational weight. “I exist to survive and propagate.” How ennobling is that?

I fully realize that there all kinds of mysteries and complexities to supernaturalism. I came to faith with a critical and analytical mind, and I can’t stand here and say that I have some buttoned-up, 100% airtight, fully-explained worldview. Actually, with each passing year, I feel more ignorant than ever. But purpose seems so deeply stamped into our souls, that I cannot believe it is other than the image of God in man; not some temporary app to help us survive, but the operating system that reflects a brilliant programmer who means for us to do much more than, “eat, drink, and be merry; for tomorrow we die.” Perhaps others will dismiss such a perspective as wishful thinking – but then again, where do even get the imagination, the capacity, the soul-ish drive for wishful thinking?

I believe it’s hard-wired. I see it at the operating system level. To try to divorce ourselves from purpose is to try to divorce ourselves from inescapable, existential reality. The seed produces, inevitably, the plant buried in its genes. Pluck off the pedals, chop off the leaves, spray paint the stem – a sunflower remains a sunflower.

And we seek purpose. Even when our purpose is, ironically, to deny our purpose!

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On Memorial Day

He trains. And trains. And trains.

The pay is low. The frustrations are many.

He hasn’t been deployed to a war zone…yet. But he is ready not only to be deployed, but to risk all for his country and his fellow Marines.

For this season in his life, he is a warrior. Waiting to prove himself in battle.

He’s my son. As for his courage, he has nothing to prove to me.

This weekend, we remember the dead who gave their all.

We also remember the living who continue to answer the call of duty.

Semper Fi, David.

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Grass and Galaxies

The evil in this world – and the influence of evil people – can seem overwhelming at times. Even for those who say they don’t believe in evil.

This morning, I read in Psalm 37:1-2, “Do not fret because of evildoers, do not be envious of wrongdoers. For they will wither quickly like the grass and fade like the green herb.”

In other words, we really do get things way out of perspective.

Click on this picture, and just marvel for a moment.

Evil people and their schemes are here for a moment – a blink of an eye – and then gone. They oppose God, but with all the effectiveness of a gnat taking on a bulldozer. A bulldozer the size of Texas.

But even that analogy is inadequate. When we look at the Andromeda galaxy, we see thousands upon endless thousands of stars, sprinkled in orderly array – no, stunningly beautiful array – across breathtaking light years of space. And this is just one of countless millions of galaxies.

Our amazingly powerful sun is only one of billions of stars scattered across creation; our intricate planet a glorious but tiny speck. And our lifespans? A mere breath.

Yes, it is easy to fret because of evildoers. But every rebel against God will wither away. Whom do we oppose? A mythical figure from the pages of a regressive book? No – we try to stand against the God who designed every astonishing thing that surrounds us, who is perfectly capable of communicating with his feeble creatures, and who is fully intent on dispensing justice in His universe. He is present and all-knowing. What? – He can make a galaxy and a planet and a human and a flower and a cell and an atom and somehow can’t figure out how to reach down to earth and be involved in our everyday lives?

Of course, the unbeliever must take a huge leap of faith and just believe that all of it “happened,” and with that dogma in place must fret continually – in a world which began in randomness and ends in meaninglessness, there can be no ultimate justice, no hope beyond this fading life, no rest. Though isn’t it curious that even the God-denier has moral impulses and yearns for justice? Perhaps just as astonishingly wonderful as gazing at the galaxies, is gazing within our our souls to find the fingerprints of a moral and personal God. The God so vigorously denied is the One who made us in His image.

Let’s regain perspective. Read verses 7-11 of the same psalm. Evil is real. God, however, is surpassingly great. Rest in the Lord.

Photo: GALEX, JPL/CalTech, NASA via Astronomy Picture of Day

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It was an unwritten understanding in the home where I was raised – growing up meant learning independence. Parents weren’t hovercrafts, and kids weren’t treated as helpless babies.

To this day, in our home, we have imported one of the famous sayings from my parents’ house: “Get it yourself!”

During my college years, I was going through quite a bit of personal and worldview turbulence. Not uncommon at that age. My Mom was always there, supportive, ready to help, even if some of my thought processes were perplexing. Mom and Dad had let go, but they were still there. Supportiveness on-call.

Now, with three children 18 or older and two others that refuse to stop their slow march into adulthood, I see how difficult this trick is. It is agonizing at times for a Mom and Dad to let go, to give their kids space, especially when you know that some very hard lessons are ahead. My wife, like her mother and her mother-in-law before her, is learning well the lesson of letting go while still being there. I don’t think my kids ever have a shred of doubt in their minds about their mother’s love and support.

Yesterday, at a baseball game, a little girl got her pants all wet and muddy. Her mother, in a fit of pique, said, “I’ll kill you for that!” No, she didn’t mean it literally, but in the malleable psyche of that wounded child, I wonder what seeds of doubt are planted by words like that. Kids need space to be kids. And space to become adults. With a Mom, though exasperated at times (many times!), always there, but slowly giving more and more room.

I love my Mom. She’s the same way with her grandkids, and they love her too. I often exhort my boys to be very, very deliberate about whom they’d consider for a wife.

Because I want their kids to write something like this some Mother’s Day in the future.

Photo by Chris Wightman via Flickr

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