He looked like a rabbi right out of a textbook on orthodox Jewish culture, but he taught at an Evangelical Christian Bible School – Old Testament Major and Minor Prophets – and does so still today. I remember wrapping up a semester with him teaching Isaiah and thinking when it was all done, “That man has a big God.”
The rabbi also had these quirky little one-liners that left one wondering how much he listened to Bob Dylan. One I remember quite specifically was, “Life’s a blast… and sometimes, it blows you to pieces.” How true… how true.
These past few months have indeed been a blast. I’ve been allowed the opportunity to do much of something I so love to do. It feels in some ways as though I’ve busted out into the open – like a hobbit scrambling out of the tangled mess of Fanghorn Forest and into the wide-open spaces of the Shire. And perhaps because of that, I’ve run too far too fast. For now I find myself short of breath, my legs cramping up – figuratively and literally – and it seems I may be coming down with a case of Shingles. But boy, was it a good run.
My trip out to Washington went exceptionally well – all things considered. I had to cancel two of seven scheduled speaking engagements because I was either too sick or too tired, but only two. The week I was there ended up being the only stretch of days this side of October to see so much sunshine, or at least so little rain. I saw Mount Rainier from the freeway three days in a row – and this in the middle of the wettest November in the books.
Sunday night I did my first concert in more than two years. It was only six songs long, but I did plenty of talking to fill the gaps. And it went well. I learned a song that Gonzo sings in the original Muppet Movie to close the evening, and I think it’s a new crowd-pleaser. Or maybe it’s just me. I really like singing like Gonzo. And I like wearing blue beaks. (Please know when not to take me seriously).
I spent the weekend there speaking for a camp full of youth groups from the Pacific Northwest. We were at “The Dunes” near Ocean Park, right on the Pacific. Our topic was what I have been speaking on all fall: keeping faith through hardship – the lynchpins of enduring faith being the belief that God is God (big, strong, powerful, sovereign) AND that God is good (wise, generous, just, loving). The general consensus everywhere I’ve been is that it wouldn’t be a bad idea for me to get some of my stories and teaching materials into a packet or a book of some sort, which could be used as a follow-up or a stand-alone resource.
Sounds fun. It also sounds fairly time consuming. I think I’m ready to give it a shot, however. Since resigning from my job in August, I’ve been busy speaking partly to help pay bills while waiting to hear from Social Security regarding my disability claim. Well, now we have heard from them. I’ll be receiving just over half my previous salary, with a cap on additional income that limits me to a total just under what I earned as a youth director. This is okay. It’s great, really. It means I can speak when I can (without running myself ragged), while taking the time necessary to complete my treatment and heal. It also means I can spend my downtime writing. And I’m hoping that means more than just regular blogs on this site.
We are still dependent, to a certain extent, on the benefit fund Emmaus has set up for our medical bills and the like. So we continue to appreciate those of you who feel led to fatten it up from time to time. With the exception of a few months of unnecessary worry last summer, it has been an incredible experience to be so free of anxiety regarding finances through this whole ordeal. We thank God and you for being source and means in that regard.
I’ve been reading an entertaining little book by Bill Bryson lately, with this remarkably audacious title: “A Short History of Nearly Everything.” In the first three chapters, I’ve learned more than I thought I could know about our solar system, the Universe, and stellar fireworks displays called supernovas. It just BLOWS MY MIND how infinitely huge space is. Bryson helps unfathomable numbers of distance and size take tangible shape in artistic heads like my own, and the resulting (in)comprehension is akin to a contextual supernova of the brain (hear MWS singing “my place in this world… my place in this world…”).
For instance, did you know that to travel merely to the edge of our solar system (Remember: there are billions of solar systems in a galaxy, and billions of galaxies in the Universe, and a whole lot of “nothing” or “dark matter” in between) in a spaceship like the Voyager, at roughly 35,000 miles per hour, we would have to cruise for 10,000 YEARS BEYOND Pluto (from which our Sun appears as a tiny dot in the sky) to be at the place where our solar system ends and another one begins (bet you could watch every season of “Lost” and “24” a couple times over on that trip – assuming you found a really good battery for your iPod).
The story of Christmas says the Maker of all this space (who is Himself outside of it all, holding it all together) stepped into our world as an embryo in the womb of a teenage Jewish girl, from a tiny village in the Middle East, during the reign of a relatively insignificant empire called Rome, several thousand years into what we now know as recorded history.
So not only at a specific place in the Universe, but at a specific time in it, God, who exists quite comfortably outside of time (a restrictive dimension of this Universe), subjected Himself to time, and the Maker of it all stepped into it all as a part of it all. This is what we call Advent – the coming near of God. And this is Christmas: God, who is very big, shows Himself, and in showing Himself the way He does, shows us that He is good. Very good.
My bride made the point recently, in an article for our church’s newsletter (she writes in a few paragraphs what I take four pages to say), that God could have devised a system by which people were born into this world as fully developed, fully matured, adult human beings. Now we’re not going to work out the details of how that might have happened (or what it might have looked like) we’re just saying that He could have done so. But He didn’t. We are born, and we grow, and we mature (and we die) in a process. A process that is life. A process that this world itself is involved in and is undergoing.
And in Christmas, God vindicates the process of our lives and our world by stepping into it Himself. And He rewrites it. He now not only ordains, orchestrates and observes our world – He becomes part of it. In doing so, He is bringing His life into our lives (or better said, our lives into His life) in more ways than we can fathom.
And He does this still. He brings His life into our lives through things like love, marriage, parenting, play, vocation, friendship, betrayal, tragedy, charity, sickness, and death. And that is why, though cancer is a part of this process that is much less than fun, I trust that even in this, my life can be (and is) infused with God’s life, whereby I see God (and perhaps others might, too) in a way I hadn’t before, and His glory is manifested here just a little more because of it.
So when I overwork myself and suffer the consequences, or somewhat mysteriously come down with a case of Shingles that suspends my chemotherapy (when life blows me to pieces), or I look back at a year full of weeks worse than these and see that I’m on this side of it all, celebrating my boys’ birthdays and curling with my family up north (life is a blast), I thank God that He stepped into this world two millennia ago. And I thank Him that He does so still today. He is God. And He is Good. And I trust Him to redeem the process, as we seek and stumble into knowing Him.
Praying we might know Him better this Christmas…
Belonging to a Big God,
PS. My CT Scan was clear. Another 6 months of remission!
PPS. Great folks out West! Many thanks to Ivar, Lars Coleman, Mark Johannesen, Jesse Lee, Dave Pierce, Pastor Brad Hoganson, Mike, Paul, and Tyler from Word of Life, the crew that came over from Elim for the concert, Lyle, Lois, and Noelle Forde, and the staff at Sunset View Lodge in Ocean Park! Can I come again?