Religion — at least Western religion — is forced to use a language which is double-edged. That is, it must represent the Transcendant in the most accessible of human terms as possible. And — ever since the 17th century, at least — religion’s terminology and constructs must not do violence to the older canons and/or newer discoveries of scientific investigation.

The Judeo-Christian scriptures have barely met the first of these goals, since most of the books of the Bible, from their beginning, were intended to speak to the uneducated as well as to the learned.

This near-success of the first demand, however, does not diminish any “modern” failure of religion to keep up-to-date with the latest findings of science — especially when you consider that even yesterday’s science itself wraps fish!

Let’s say the ground before us is strewn with multiple kinds of fruit — apples, peaches, pears, and such. Whereas religion would seek to describe all the “phenomena” on the ground before us, science tends to organize only the apples, only the peaches or only the pears, and then dismisses the remaining “phenomena” as being incredible because it is “un-apple-ific.”

Before modern science discovered its voice, and its methodology, we can believe the measurable universe was nevertheless always measurable. Time and curiosity and the evolution of ideas eventually revealed to the human mind this systematic way of organizing much of the reality around us. But, from the beginning, we were never promised that science would (or could) achieve an exhaustive taxonomy of all that is “real” within the universe of human experience.

The everyday reality which surrounds us leaves a lot more to be explained by science than does the somewhat limited number of apparent “inconsistencies” or “non sequiturs” in the Bible. Some of the ancient “mysteries” behind biblical religion, in fact, have already been explained by modern science — such as the primitive Jewish practice of circumcising an infant EIGHT days after its birth, instead of seven or nine days after (cf. S. I. Macmillan’s “None of These Diseases”).

Other mysteries of the Christian faith — such as the need or reality of a Trinity, or the need or reality of the Virgin Birth, or the need or reality of the Resurrection — have not yet been subsumed under all of science’s canonical discoveries.

Indeed, science would not be science if it teaches that the ultimate principles behind reality have already been discovered and are finally established.

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In his 1908 religious classic, “Orthodoxy,” prolific English writer G. K. Chesterton observed the following:

“Theosophists . . . preach an obviously attractive idea like re-incarnation; but if we wait for its logical results, they are spiritual superciliousness and the cruelty of caste. For if a man is a beggar by his own pre-natal sins, people will tend to despise the beggar. But Christianity preaches an obviously unattractive idea, such as original sin; but when we wait for its results, they are pathos and brotherhood, and a thunder of laughter and pity; for only with original sin we can at once pity the beggar and distrust the king.”

In thus comparing Christianity to one of its competing faiths of that day, Chesterton stumbled into describing one of the more clear-cut ways of distinguishing truth from error.

In recent years I have come to see that the difference between truth and falsehood can be discerned by asking the question: “For how long will this “fact” endure?”

A child’s fabrication as well as a comedian’s punch line are both lies — short-handled truths, if you will. We chastise the one and laugh at the other. Long-handled truth is genuine because its propositions endure for a very long time.

And far from being a redundant expression, “eternal truth” is what we seek most of all. As Blessed Theresa Benedicta (born Edith Stein) once wrote: “When you seek truth you seek God whether you know it or not.”

Wrong? Or Unsettled?

What is wrong in the world and what is unsettled in the world are two different issues. As children, we unconsciously imbibed two educational dogmas: (1) the basic tenets of every subject are inviolate, that is, unquestionable and without exception. And (2) every question has a neat and immediate answer.

Illustrating #1, did any of us learn more (or fewer) than 26 letters of the English alphabet in grade school? Did any of us learn more (or fewer) than 10 numerical characters for the base-10 (i.e., decimal) numbering system? Illustrating #2, does anyone remember being assigned a homework question in a grade school textbook, in which the author gave his answer in the teacher’s manual: “We don’t know”?

Only in high school, and later especially in college and grad school, are we introduced to “foundational facts” which can be questioned by other experts (see #1 above). We are also later asked to question / discuss / research issues which have no quick or agreed-upon answers (see #2 above).

There are, to be sure, details and explanations about the Christian faith which are agreed to by the majority of believers. There are other “details” about our faith, the answers to which are as diversely dogmatized as there are denominations.

As perceived radicals of our generation, Christians should be aware that the world’s disagreements with our faith don’t always make the world’s opinion wrong. (Consider certain findings of astronomy, literary analysis, paleontology and ecology, which have provided secular correctives to Christian thinking.) On top of this, some theological questions are so large that their final answer is still unsettled.

There are thousands of issues in today’s world that the writers of Scripture couldn’t have anticipated, and thus never addressed. Relativism — a term often used pejoratively by Fundamentalists — is simply the changing of political or cultural opinion regarding a life issue which has not yet been settled among secular authorities, in part because it was never commented on by early sacred authorities.

The best way for a Christian to address the unsettled issues in life is to bring to the table a credo which links together more foundational principles in Scripture and Christian tradition than the world — linking anecdotal, political and historic evidence — can usher.

Yet this one caveat remains, as given by French moralist Joseph Joubert: “It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.” In such cases, we may have to wait until the Kingdom comes, before everyone knows what the final answer will be.

Loving God and fearing God are not mutual exclusives.

If you are a new Christian, it’s probably best to nurture one’s love for God, although this can sometimes mask one’s innate fear of the unknown.

After one has been a Christian awhile, we begin to understand how it is possible to fear the God we also love. I re-learn this lesson every time God takes my life down a different path than the one I had imagined for myself.

We can base our dreams and personal resolves on good advice, or on past personal experience, or even on the precedents of human history. But human beings cannot plan the details of their tomorrows without additional guidance, because we can’t see the future clearly enough to factor it into our daily decisions.

God DOES see the future, and weaves it into his answers to our prayers. But his pathway may lead us through turns we hadn’t anticipated — including the experiences of loss, delay, illness, grief, and persecution. These are not the typical “Kodak moments” evangelists like to talk about when preaching a “gospel of love.”

I have seen God take his children through some sharp turns in life, because God knows what each of us needs to experience in order to grow in our trust, whereas we don’t. It’s the (as yet unknown) pain and loss awaiting me in the future that makes me fear God.

I suspect this same fear might have also been felt by Moses (Exo 3:6), or Job (Job 9:34f), or the rich young ruler (Matt 10:21f), or by the women at the tomb (Mark 16:8), or even by the twelve (Matt 14:27; Luke 24:36f).

I love God and trust him because of the evidence of his mercy and grace in my life.

I fear God because I have learned my imagined remedies to personal problems may not always be God’s remedies.

Some people know at age 5 what they want to be when they grow up. Others spend their entire lives just growing up.

It never particularly worried me what to do with my life after high school and college. I just knew I wanted to learn as much as I could, about as many subjects as I could, before deciding on a life’s calling.

This outsized goal was soon trimmed back after I came to a personal religious faith at age 16. After that, I wanted to learn as much about God and the Bible as my little income could afford, and for as long as I could still climb into a vehicle that would carry me off to school.

That was nearly 50 years ago and, since then, I have been amazed at the gentle adventures God has brought me through, year after year and season after season of life.

Shortly before his premature death in an auto accident, Christian youth ministry pioneer Mike Yaconelli was quoted as saying: “If I were to have a heart attack right at this moment, I hope I would have just enough air in my lungs and just enough strength in me to utter one last sentence as I fell to the floor: ‘What a ride!’ My life has been up and down, careening left then right, full of mistakes and bad decisions, and if I died right now, even though I would love to live longer, I could say from the depths of my soul, ‘What a ride!’”

Amen, Mike!

My own life story will likely never make it to prime time TV, but in my heart I share the same testimony as Yaconelli. God has been kinder to me than any member of his covenant would have had the right to expect. At times I have shaken my fist at heaven — and lived to tell about it!

They say that, in any contract, “The large print giveth; the small print taketh away.” But when it comes to the Christian faith, I have learned that the “fine print” reveals more about the kindness of God than most ever take the time to read, or to discover for themsleves.

Now having reached an age of more sober reflection, I realize at last what my life calling has been. I have lived to clear away the brush at the base of the mountain of God. And I climb that mountain for reasons I can’t explain, except to say, “Because God is there.” What an adventure it has been!

Giving Blood

Yesterday, June 25th, I visited our local Red Cross and donated my 120th pint of blood. In return, the staff nurse presented me with a 15-Gallon donor pin.

I have a little statue in my study at home. The caption on its base reads: “I never expect much out of life, and so far I haven’t been disappointed.” I purchased this little novelty when I was in my mid-30s. Now, some years later, I find I resonate with its sentiment more than ever.

As we grow older, and hopefully also wiser in our chosen field (or at least more accomplished in our skill-sets), we might expect the later years of life to be more like a harvest than a winter. Yet many of us become more invisible with age — that is, less recognized by others in our lives than we once were.

If one ages well, however, there comes a time when one wants to give back to society some of the good which has come to him through the years. For me, one of those little ways of giving back has been the regular practice of donating blood. Not everyone can do it. Of those who can, not many do. So the fraternity of those who donate regularly is voluntarily small.

I am reminded here of a quote which I first encountered some years ago, and which has since formed an increasing part of my philosophy of life. As I recall, it goes:

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not fail to do the one thing I can do.”

May you recognize your own gift to the world on this day.

Evaporating Evil

June 13, 2010

I have reached the conclusion that wickedness, idleness and hours wasted in our youth tend to evaporate with time. What remains are the positive memories, the lasting achievements and the seasons well-spent. (That’s why we call them the “good old days.”)  If we cultivate enough of the good within our early years, time will winnow out the rest, so that old age becomes, not so much a winter, but a harvest.

Changing Churches

June 12, 2010


Still puzzled over J---. I think that he must have had a mini-stroke.
I wish he could have talked to our Sunday School teacher, who came out of
the Catholic church. He is a very smart person.... I have several Catholic
books and just can't see how J--- can endorse that doctrine. I pray that he
sees the light soon.  -Marianne


Hi Marianne,

I appreciate your honest concern about J—’s seeming conversion to Catholicism. I myself could never become a Catholic — although I have read about more true Christians within Catholic history than a lot of others I know. But I have seen patterns of conversions INTO the Catholic Church which are only now beginning to make sense to me.

I knew of one leader within his Presbyterian denomination who had an answer to every doctrinal question ever asked. But his very learnedness had created a spiritual sterility within him. The God of his own faith had become too predictable, too rational, too ho-hum. He ultimately found the unfamiliar postures, practices and doctrines of the Catholic church filled with a much greater awe and mystery than he had known in his own denomination. And so he converted.

In J—’s case, I think joining the Catholic church was a lot like taking an ultra-barren (Quaker) past, with no sacraments, no ornamentations — nothing really beautiful at all, outside of one’s own mind and person — and exchanging it all for a faith of richer and more colorful heritage, a tradition which has maintained its authority and great outward beauty, such as nearly every human soul craves within some higher dimension of their life.

I am personally grateful that the New Testament Evangelists included the story of the “Wheat and the Tares” (Matthew 13:25ff) in their recording of the parables of Jesus. What that story tells me is that NONE of us belongs to a Christian denomination wholly free of “weeds” (i.e., inadequacy, taint and error). You and I just happen to believe that the Catholic Church contains more visible error within its beliefs and practices than do the denominations to which we belong.

It would be good to remind us both that the Catholic church is FOUR TIMES as old as the major Protestant traditions. If WE, who claim to be of so pure a doctrine and practice in our faith, can prevent non-biblical superstitions and absurd logic from creeping into our own denominations when WE are 2,000 years old, then I think we’ll have greater reason to sing our own praises than we have at present.

But my point is, the Catholic Church is NOT a cult. It is NOT a sect. It is the ONLY valid, continuous back-story of Christianity that the last two millennia have ever produced. It is the very mother church out of which 99% of all our Protestant denominations today derived. You and I may reject Catholicism’s more discomfiting practices, but right now I think J— seems to need a very palpable scaffolding within his soul, which is being provided by that church’s ornate liturgy, historical (if old-world) symbolisms and other unapologetic practices.

Personally, I do not regret my own Quaker upbringing, for it taught me the fundamentals of the Gospel, and how to condense nearly all outward “show” of our faith to the space within our head, our heart and our soul. But as I get older, I recognize increasingly that not everyone has this kind of discipline nurtured into them. And so I hold no grudge for any friend who finds a more exciting “dog and pony show” of faith within a more effusive denomination.

BTW, Marianne, do you know what the definition of a “fanatic” is? It’s someone who loves Jesus more than you do.

May the Lord help you carry your laundry today,


We pray many prayers, Lord, that never come true.
They inhabit our tears and our song.
But You heal our despair with your cadence and rhyme,
And it makes our heart want to sing on.

We fight many wars with temptation and pain.
We’ve longed for the night — or the dawn.
But You bind up the ache lying deep in our soul,
And reveal where our foothold belongs.

Someday all our wounds will be healed by the Spring —
Our torments and trials all flown.
Toward that day teach our spirits to pray when we sing:
“Father God, it’s so good to be home!”