Counting your Blessings

How often have I heard the term Blessing used? That’s a number I can’t count! When I hear the term the song Counting your Blessings from White Christmas immediately pops into my head.

What exactly is it that I’m counting?

A blessing is God’s favor and protection. Those who are blessed are those who “live with God in heaven”.

So, when I count my blessings… I count the many instances where things have simply worked out. Despite my fears or concerns. Regardless of how hard I try to manipulate situations one way or another… in the end they work out and often in my favor. Those are blessings and when it happens I’m blessed.

I’m fortunate. I guess one could say I’m blessed to have enough blessings in my life to be able to fall asleep while counting them.

Learning to Listen

I didn’t grow up in an atmosphere where prayer was talked about much.  It was expected that we did it as individuals, and we occasionally did it as a family, but there wasn’t much emphasis on it at all.

In my church life as an adolescent prayer was mentioned often, but there were no instructions on how to pray.  And, the vibe of the place certainly discouraged asking about it.  You were expected to already know.  Asking would simply blow the whistle on your ignorance.

Over the years I paid some attention to what other people… people I admire and/or respect… had to say about how to pray.  I learned.  I came into my own way.  My own method.  I can’t even really explain it.  It’s not like what I hear most people doing.  Actually, now that I think about it… I’ve never heard anyone pray the way I pray.

But that explanation is for a different day.

Today I want to talk about my journey to learn how to listen for the answers to prayers.  For the longest time I felt that my prayers were never answered.  In a lot of way’s praying seemed pointless.  But as I thought about it I began to realize that it wasn’t the praying that was off.  It was my awareness of what constituted a response.

There’s a scene from the movie “Evan Almighty” that I think sums up how to listen for answers to prayers.  I think that if I learn how to listen for the answers in our opportunities, rather than for specific events or moments I’ll find my answers.  When I apply that lens I see and hear answers to prayers everywhere!

For example; I’ve always prayed for financial stability.  Not necessarily for wealth, but for enough to not be in obvious need.  Did I find a boat load of money?  Nope.  But I have found that I’ve been provided with opportunity to be financially stable.  I’ve accepted that opportunity and things have worked out.

I’ve discovered that when we pray for a loved one to be released from pain we have to be prepared for the answer to be something other than healing.  Healing happens.  But so does death.  Both are a release from the pain.

Want more friendships in your life?  Pray for them.  Then look for opportunities to be a friend.



Hear, Hear, Mr. Mclaren!

I often wander.  In the cyber sense.

I have done my share of wondering in the physical sense as well, but those are different stories for different times.  Back to my recent cyber-wandering.

I was recently discussing the relevance of the need to have an understanding of the Old Testament Hebrew world in order to frame the stories and accounts of the New Testament world.  During this discussion I wanted badly to quote Rob Bell, who I incorrectly remembered as having written a book about Old Testament exodus experiences and why they are so important to framing the intent behind the words we read in the New Testament.

I first searched my bookshelves at home for the book which in my creative imagination was called Exodus.  I had a picture of a green cover with a pattern of multiple shades of green checks across one quarter of the cover.  Either the top left or top right.  Under that pattern was the word “Exodus” in all caps with the leading letter in a larger typeface.  Under that and left justified it said “Rob Bell”.

I’m telling you – I saw that book in my minds eye.

Weeks went by.  Months.  I never did find it on my bookshelf despite looking at every book.  I look through my ebooks on every device I’ve used in the last year.  Even those I was certain I’d never read an ebook on.  I Googled it and found no reference.  I checked Wikipedia, and Rob Bells own web site which seemed to have an exhaustive listing of his publications.  I couldn’t find it.

Then… I decided to give it one more try and bingo!  I found it!  In 2006 Rob did a study series at Mars Hill called Exodus.  It was in four parts.  When I saw the post I realized that was it.  I’d stumbled across it on the Mars Hill site at some point, downloaded, and listened to the series. There was very little chance I’d find those downloads again so I coughed up a few bucks and downloaded them again.  Whew!  Found at last.

But that’s not what this story is about.

This story is about an article I came across while doing that Internet search.  It was written by Brian Mclaren as a rebuttal to an article entitled “We’ve All Seen this Before”.  A criticism of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins, published by prominent Southern Baptist leader, Dr. Albert Mohler.  In Mr. Mclaren’s rebuttal was the following paragraph which I quote here.  In an attempt to provide some context – Mr. Mclaren was addressing the motivations that compel those of us who sometimes question the things we’ve been taught we need to believe…

We’re seeking – imperfectly at every turn, no doubt – an incarnational theology, a theology that brings radical good news of great joy for all the people, good news that God loves the world and didn’t send Jesus to condemn it but to save it, good news that God’s wrath is not merely punitive but restorative, good news that the fire of God’s holiness is not bent on eternal torment but always works to purify and refine, good news that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.

— Brian Mclaren

Hear, hear, Mr. Mclaren!

Fear and Free Thought

I recently read a blog post by Brain Mclaren in which he responds to criticism about many of his views.  It is not my intent to delve into the details of the debate that is being hashed out in the blogosphere and elsewhere regarding the writings of Mr. Mclaren and others with similar thoughts and/or ideas.  Rather, I’d like to follow my train of thought that was brought about as I pondered the state of discussion today.

Interesting enough, my thoughts were clarified while attending a small group Bible Study that his hosted at the home of some fellow parishioners  every Monday night.  During this most recent study cycle we’ve been reading and discussing Mark Batterson’s book Circle Maker.  

By way of background I should probably mention that I’m a member of a Lutheran congregation.  Of course, I can’t just though that out there.  It’s become important that I mention that my congregation is a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  One of several major synodical divisions of the Lutheran faith.

As the evening wore on we found ourselves discussing Mr. Batterson’s ideas regarding prayer, and circling our promises in prayer.  These ideas and concepts are not controversial within the ELCA at all.  There is really nothing in what Mr. Batterson presented that was or is contrary to the doctrine of the ELCA.  However, they are not concepts that have been widely discussed.

At one point near the end of our discussion one of our members said something to the effect of;

“I feel I can choose to not buy into all this stuff and just be a good Lutheran.”

I thought about this and realized that his statement was in a very small way illustrative of the broader discussion going on regarding the ideas presented by Mr. Mclaren, Rob Bell, Don Miller, and others.  The individual in our group had become defensive regarding the nature of our discussion.

It occurred to me then that I need to take responsibility for what I say when in the company of other people who may not have the same views.  When I learn that there are people in the world that have been asking the same questions I have been I get excited!  I can’t wait to explore what they thought; how they puzzled out the question; what conclusion they arrived at.  All while usually staying within the broader Christian context.  Although, I have to admit that I’m not afraid to venture outside that context from time to time either.

What I learned was that there are others who are not prepared to be confronted by thinking within their religious community that is not lock step in line with what they were taught to believe all their lives.  I’ve also come to understand that this isn’t their problem.  It’s mine!

I need to learn how to explore the questions I have and think freely while being sensitive and respectful of those who don’t share my desire and/or ability to follow the train of those thoughts.

Perhaps that’s what has brought about the reaction to what Mr. Mclaren, Mr. Bell, and others have written.  For some, their ideas are so different that they bring about a fear response.  And that fear causes people to entrench.  To dig in.  To prepare for battle.

As followers of Christ we should not be battling each other under any circumstances, regardless of the issue.  We should be willing to evaluate everything that we’ve been taught in new light.  Lutherans should be in the front of the line when it comes to free thinking; radical conceptualizing; and challenging the status quo.  We are members of a religious denomination that takes it’s name from a man who challenged the status quo at a time when it was dug in deeply into all facets of the society of western culture.

I’m going to continue sharing my less common thoughts and beliefs during our small group study sessions.  However, I am going to be more sensitive to the simple fact that some may find my ideas threatening to their status quo.  I’ll work to introduce them while still supporting the foundations of belief that prevail.  

The Data Says So … Doesn’t it?

The Data Says So … Doesn’t it?

The paradox of alternate realities

Be careful out there!  It’s been a very long time since I slogged through my social statistics classes as an undergraduate Sociology major.  But, one thing I learned that stuck with me is a simple truth.  If you’re good with the math you can make the data say whatever you want it to.

Case in point…

The ongoing, regular and constant conversations about disparity in gender and race amongst the ranks of elite classical musicians in American orchestras.  When you look at the data you see a world dominated by white Anglo Saxon men.  Sure, you can debate and argue nuances involving the rise in the numbers of Asian men and women, or whether or not you should make distinctions between western and eastern European origins.  But why bother?

The fact is – most American orchestras have been practicing blind auditions for decades.  This means that auditions are held behind a curtain.  The path to the performance spot on the stage is carpeted to avoid the sound of heals on wood.  The applicant is not allowed to speak to avoid exposing their gender through the sound of their voice.  The applicants audition is judged on artistic merit only.

Yet, the numbers aren’t wrong.  Facts are facts.  So, the pundits go on and on about the glass ceilings that cause the social inequity that is enumerated by the data.  But, they make a very common mistake.  They confuse correlation with causation.  The data certainly correlates.  But that doesn’t mean that one thing causes another.

For example – the number of African American women is disproportionately low compared to the general population, and the magnitude of the difference is statistically significant.  There is a data correlation.  Many may assume that there is a social barrier that exists that must be influencing the balance which results in the data we see.  But, it’s equally possible that the real culprit is not a negative limiting factor, where one group is actively excluding another.  It’s possible that the root cause is sociological and a result of a simple fact.  The underrepresented group has less desire to be counted among the group being measured.  They exclude themselves because they have no interest in being included.

Of course, we can debate why this is so, and I’m sure someone will propose that the reason they don’t aspire to be among elite classical musicians is because some other group in society oppressed them systemically which resulted in a shifting of cultural values that plays out as a lack of interest in the classics.

As you see, we can paint the picture any way we like using the existing data if we’re clever and committed to proving our position.

Outside the realm of data analysis and statistics we often see that this same phenomenon holds true.  Reality is dependent on the perceptions of the observer.  Multiple people can behold the same object or event yet ascribe completely different meaning to it.  Much like elusive quantum particles that can only be detected when observed – the act of observing disturbs and influences the particle – reality can be disturbed by observation.

Multiple possibilities.  Multiple observers.  Multiple realities.  All in conflict with one another, yet all correct.