Thursday, June 1, 2023

"Well, I Didn't MEAN To!"


When Carrie Fisher found herself on the set of the first Star Wars movie, part of her plan, in addition to working hard to learn the techno-babble dialogue of George Lucas, was to have a Hollywood romance. As she explains in the diary she kept at the time (later released as the book, The Princess Diarist), she DID have at least one self-imposed standard:

"It's difficult to imagine a childhood less likely to make one pro-adultery than mine. When I was born, my par­ents, the handsome singer Eddie Fisher and the beautiful actress Debbie Reynolds, were known as 'America's Sweet­hearts.' The gorgeous couple with their two adorable little babies (my brother, Todd, came along sixteen months after I did) were the American Dream realized, until Eddie left Debbie for the recently widowed gorgeous actress Elizabeth Taylor, who, just to pile it on a little more, was a friend of my mother's from their early days at the Metro-­Goldwyn-Mayer Studio. For those too old to remember or too young to care, it was one of the great midcentury tabloid feeding frenzies, and I watched it at very close range.

"So when I was contemplating having an affair on this movie, I wasn't going to include married guys. One of the things I knew when Harrison and I met was that nothing of a ro­mantic nature would happen. It wasn't even an issue. There were plenty of guys out there who were single whom I could date without needing to dip into the married guy pool. He was also far too old for me -- almost fifteen years older! I would be twenty in a matter of months, but Harrison was in his mid-thirties -- old! Well into adulthood, anyway.

"Also, he was a man. I was a girl -- a male human like him would have to be with a woman. If Harrison and I went to the prom together, no one would believe it. 'What's he doing with her? Captain of the football team and president of the cool literary club? What's he doing with Cutie-Pie Sweetcheeks, with the troll doll collection and Cary Grant obsession? Must be a glitch in the machine ... '

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It should come as no surprise that the end result of Fisher thinking more and more about not having an affair with Harrison Ford is that she kept thinking more and more about him...and they did indeed carry on a sexual affair during the making of the film.

Truth the Old Testament account of Potipher's wife trying to seduce Joseph, Joseph made the wisest decision he could have. The minute he saw that reasoning with her was having no effect, he turned tail and ran away. Standing on the brink, wondering how close you can get, will almost always end in falling off the cliff.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Gator Gets Wise


Every once in a while, Stephan Pastis' comic strip, Pearls Before Swine, declares actual pearls of wisdom. Take for instance the recent Sunday strip that had Larry the Alligator focused on his normal gotta-kill-me-a-zebra reason for existence.

And then his wife drops a truth bomb that stops him in his tracks.

The good news is, Larry has an excellent reaction to this new information.

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Truth is...we all could take a lesson on priorities from this cartoon gator.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Prayer Posture Poem


In response to the 8-part series on prayer that finished last week, a co-worker of mine passed along the following humorous-but-accurate poem about the non-importance of what posture we assume when talking with God.

By Sam Walter Foss

"The proper way for a man to pray,"
Said Deacon Lemuel Keyes,
"And the only proper attitude
Is down upon his knees."

"No, I should say the way to pray,"
Said Rev. Doctor Wise,
"Is standing straight with outstretched arms
And rapt and upturned eyes."

"Oh, no; no, no," said Elder Slow,
"Such posture is too proud:
A man should pray with eyes fast closed
And head contritely bowed."

"It seems to me his hands should be
Austerely clasped in front.
With both thumbs pointing toward the ground,"
Said Rev. Doctor Blunt.

"Last year I fell in Hodgkin's well
Head first," said Cyrus Brown,
"With both my heels a-stickin' up,
My head a-pinting down;

"An' I made a prayer right then an' there -
Best prayer I ever said,
The prayingest prayer I ever prayed,
A-standing on my head."

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Truth is...The attitude of the heart seems to be the place to start  -  more than standing, bowing, or what to say  -  whenever we set out to pray.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Reasons to Pray: There's Only One Way to Get It Wrong


More from Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools by Tyler Staton:

Pray Because the Only Way to Get It Wrong Is by Trying to Get It Right

I find it so helpful that when teaching his disciples to pray, Jesus included this line right in the middle: "Give us today our daily bread."

What a simple request! Bring your felt needs to God  -  the needs of this day  -  and talk to him about them. How should we pray? The most straightforward response is to talk to God about what's on your mind. That's it! You talk to God like a friend. You vent. You ask. You laugh. You listen. You unload. You just talk. You don't try to sound more holy or pure or spiritual than you are. Prayer isn't a monologue; it's a free-flowing conversation, and the only way to get prayer wrong is to try to get it right.

In the wise words of Candler School of Theology professor emerita Roberta Bondi, "If you are praying, you are already 'doing it right.'"

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Truth is...this may be the hardest truth about prayer to actually live out.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Reasons to Pray: Complaints Are Welcome


More from Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools by Tyler Staton:

Pray Because Complaints Are Welcome

God isn't nearly as worried about our mixed motives as we are. I can prove it. Here's a few prayers that made the cut as part of the inspired, inerrant, canonical Scriptures:

May burning coals fall on them;
may they be thrown into the fire,
into miry pits, never to rise. (Psalm 140:10)

I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail,
looking for my God. (Psalm 69:3)

I pour out before him my complaint;
before him I tell my trouble. (Psalm 142:2)

Anger, depression, complaint. Whoever wrote those needs to see a professional.

David  -  that's who wrote those prayers. You've probably heard of David  -  ancient Israel's most famous figure, the king who set an unreachable bar for all subsequent kings, the man after God's own heart, the one whose bloodline was promised to lead to the Messiah. He's the psychotic nightmare who wrote those prayers. They were collected into the Psalms, which have framed Christian worship and prayer since before the church's inception.

The psalms reveal a garden variety of motives. Some of the words in those prayers go directly against the teachings of Jesus and the character of God (What happened to loving enemies and a God who is rich in love and loyal in faithfulness?), meaning some of the psalms are technically heretical. So why would those prayers be included in the Bible?

Because they're honest. That's what makes these psalms exemplary. God is looking for relationship, not well-prepared speeches spoken from perfect motives. God listened to overreacting rage, dramatic despair, and guiless joy, and he called David a man after his own heart. When it comes to prayer, God isn't grading essays; he's talking to children. So if God can delight in prayers as dysfunctional as the ones we find wedged into the middle of the Bible, he can handle yours too without you cleaning them up first.

If the Bible tells us anything about how to pray, it says that God much prefers the rough draft full of rants and typos to the polished, edited version. C. S. Lewis said of prayer, "We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us."

The way your motives change isn't by working them out in silence; it's through such brutal honesty with God that he, by prayer, can refine your motives. Complaints are welcome.

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Truth is...not only does Yahweh know what we need before we ask, he knows how we feel before we admit it. For our own good, we might as well be honest about it all. Pouring it all out is the only way God will clean it all up.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Reasons to Pray: Trust Comes Before Faith


More from Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools by Tyler Staton:

We Pray Because Trust Comes Before Faith

We fear silence. But the thing that calms that fear isn't faith; it's trust. Faith is the assurance of what we hope for. Trust is confidence in the character of God.

Before we can have faith that God will answer a given request, we simply have to learn to trust the character of the God we're talking to. In my experience, trying to will faith into the equation doesn't make the possibility of silence any less terrifying, but trusting the character of the listener certainly does. Trust allows us to say, "I don't understand what God is doing right now, but I trust that God is good."

What if I pray and the cancer doesn't disappear? Or I don't get the job? Or she doesn't come back? Or he's still addicted?

Without trust, we suppress the disappointment that God's silence leaves with us. We build a wall to protect ourselves from the very God we pray to. We carefully nuance our prayers, guarding ourselves against allowing God to disappoint us like that a second time.

With trust, we can come to the God whose character doesn't seem to match his silence, saying with brutal honesty, "Where were you? How could you? What were you thinking?"

Jesus hasn't revealed a God we can perfectly understand, but he has revealed a God we can perfectly trust. Trust is the certainty that the listening God hears and cares. I trust the God who, even when he doesn't make the suffering go away, wears the suffering alongside me. Trusting the God revealed in Jesus means silence is real, but it's not forever.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...believing in the existence of God is one thing, but experiencing his unwavering love is something else. Something else entirely.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Reasons to Pray: You're Overwhelmed


For the previous four weeks, we've been contemplating some reasons why we tend to not pray, as discussed in Tyler Staton's book, Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools. Now it's time to turn those hindrances from praying into inducements to pray.

I Give Up!

Pray Because You're Overwhelmed

The great social sin of the modern world is naivete. Belief is out; cynicism is in. Where did that modern phenomenon come from?

Historically, the Enlightenment set forth the great myth of human progress, which assumes that with the passing of time, everything is improving, people are becoming more whole, and the world is getting steadily better. That assumption, which served as the backbone of the developing world, was deflated by two world wars and the bloodiest, most barbaric century in recorded history. The balloon was popped on the optimism of human progress, leading to an equally widespread sweep of disillusionment.

You and I have been groomed by a post-Enlightenment story of deconstruction that doesn't trust God anymore but has plenty of reasons not to trust people either. The result is multiple generations of people who find safety in pretending they don't need either one  -  I can trust myself, guide myself, be enough for myself.

Jesus once wisely said that we'll know a tree by its fruit. So what's the fruit of that story of self-sufficiency in the life of the modern person? We're overwhelmed. Everyone I meet is drowning in "their thing." It doesn't matter if "your thing" is an artistic endeavor, profit margins, wining and dining clients, or raising children. We can't see past "our thing" because "our thing" (whatever it happens to be) is all-consuming.

We've avoided becoming naive, but we've done it at the cost of becoming overwhelmed. The story that was supposed to free us is really just swapping jail cells. If the story we thought would free us is trapping us, the logical thing to do is look beyond it. Instead, even in the church, our prayers don't exchange overwhelmed lives for transcendent peace. They simply drag God into our overwhelmed lives, and the only way we can make him fit is to shrink him down to a reduced size. We keep on praying, but we lower the bar of expectation and power in prayer.

We kick like mad to keep our heads above water, all while talking passively to an imagined God who is powerless to do most anything except give us the right perspective to make it through the day. We dwindle God down to a divine Being just as overwhelmed and powerless as we are, and our prayers to that God are understandably vague and infrequent.

Constantly overwhelmed lives should drive us to prayer at its purest and rawest, but the tendency for many of us is to pray safe, calculated prayers that insulate us from both disappointment and freedom.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...Who else can we turn to when there's nobody to turn to? If I can't handle all the "stuff" flying around me, it only makes sense to put it all in the loving care of The One who is ALSO all around me. It's time to get positively Davidic and cry out to God. Perhaps the most honest and effective prayer we can ever utter is a single word: "Help!"