Tentatio

struggle, spirituality, absurdity

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Shaving my Beard

Given the opportunity, I figured I would try out a few different beard styles as I shaved it all off:

Here is the full beard. I look like I spend waaay too much time alone.

 

This is my favorite style. 19th century British gentleman, like a boss:

I call this the hard-ass handlebar (I look like an idiot):

And to top it all off, the porn ‘stache. Dear God, I look awful with a mustache.

 

I don’t have a final pic clean shaven, but I have to say, when I got rid of that big beard, I did feel like a new man. I think this will be a tradition for a long time as it was a great way to add a little more of the experiential to Easter. Next year, I hoping an army of men from my church will grow beards with me.

My Lent Beard

my Lent beard

I am so ready for my beard to go away. I can no longer eat chips and salsa without needing to change my clothes and scrub my face – salsa goes everywhere. Bagels and cream cheese? That ends in disaster. Cheesy, cheesy disaster.

I started letting it grow wild for Lent as a new tradition. A few guys are doing it with me, and I hope next year we will get a small army of scruffy-faced Lent observers.

Martin Luther wrote these words:¬†“Original sin is in us, like the beard. We are shaved today and look clean, and have a smooth chin; tomorrow our beard has grown again, nor does it cease growing while we remain on earth.”

For me, a beard like this is a sign of repentance. It itches, gets in the way, and generally annoys me. And, I did not even ask for my wife’s input for this post – you can imagine what she might say.

However, I’ve noticed that I am anticipating Easter more this year than in the past. Yes, I want this stupid beard gone, but that has created a bit of energy in me as Holy Week approaches. When I shave for Easter, I will feel like a new man. And since I believe in the Resurrection of the dead, that’s what it is all about, right? A new man indeed…

My Friend’s Suicide

So I just got word that an old friend from high school and college killed himself last week.

Obviously, my heart goes out to his family. I didn’t really know anyone that knew my friend and didn’t like him. He was absolutely brilliant, but he was so kind that you would never know it unless you got him near a computer. Then you would realize that his brain functioned on a different plane – he was *that* good as a programmer and thinker.

What I can’t help but think about right now is how much I hate death. I absolutely hate it.

Whether I am mourning and grieving along with everyone else, I am ministering to the family and friends of the deceased and officiating a funeral, or even if I am just doing the music for a memorial service, I am always struck by how much I hate death.

It was never really meant to be this way. Death is a curse on humanity. Granted, it is a deserved curse… but it is a curse nonetheless.

My fear is that, in our attempt to alleviate the pain we feel when someone we know dies, we try to explain death away. “It’s natural – just a part of life” or “God took them home” or “God wanted them in heaven with him” or some other nonsense. The Christianized versions of these statements aren’t actually Christian. Did you know that? The concept that God brings people up to him in heaven and that is where they reside forever doesn’t come from the New Testament. It comes from Plato and Socrates.

The Christian response to death, and my response to my friends death, is that I hate it. A lot. I feel sad and angry.

Now, that isn’t the end of the story, of course. Just like when Jesus died, that isn’t the end of the story. It’s odd that we call Good Friday good, when in fact it was a dark day for humanity. In and of itself, there really isn’t anything good about it.

But then Sunday comes, and there is Resurrection. New life. Physical life. The literal reversal of death itself.

That, my friends, is death redeemed. What is powerful about Christian spirituality is that I can call a bad thing bad. Death is bad.

But God redeems, just like he did on Sunday…

Not as gloomy…

Over the past three years, I have noticed that people like to make excuses for suffering in their lives. They are usually similar, like “well it’s hard, but it will work out for the best,” or “I just have to stay positive.” We even have our Christianized excuse: “God will work good out of it.” However, the vacuous look in peoples’ eyes as they share something horrendously painful, while excusing or explaining it away, tells me that a dreamily-positive response is not always helpful. It seems that the substance has almost been sucked out of this important area of someone’s life.

I don’t intend to give you a brilliant psychological/therapeutic remedy for pain in our lives. Your best bet would be to talk to the ‘resident counselor’ for that. There is, however, an important part of our spirituality that speaks to struggle in our lives, and even though it is somewhat subversive to how our culture tells us to think during the dark times of life, I have found that it is always well appreciated.

Suffering is suffering. Struggle is struggle. Pain is pain. Ignoring it will not make it go away, and positive thinking by itself will not change the fact that we hurt. Be honest about it. As I began to get used to life as a cancer patient, I found a lot of strength is saying “terrible” to someone who asked how I was doing. It felt good because it was the reality of the situation, and it usually frightened the person that asked. An honest, raw answer is not very common in polite conversation.

But but but….

There is more to the story. The power in Christian spirituality that I hinted at above does not come from us moping around all the time telling people how terrible life is. That kind of brutalizing view of life is all too common around us, and it never represents the full picture. Neither does our faith have us pretending that everything is “peachy.” Sentimentalized living is a fairly empty existence. Instead, the Christian life is all about Redemption. Our God redeems. As I struggled with cancer and the depression that came with it, I noticed that a byproduct developed: a strong relationship with part of my family with whom I had not generally interacted during my adult life. And until insurance and related issues were resolved, the manufacturer of the chemo drug that saved my life shipped it to us for free. At $3000 a month, that was a significant help! In other words, God redeemed a tremendously difficult time in my life, because that is what He does.

I love explaining this to people, because the idea of redemption is so attractive. During the dark times in life, honesty and the hope of redemption reaches out to people in powerful ways. Outreach is all about living, after all…

NT Reader

NTReader – A freeware app to aid in translating the New Testament.

It features:

  • Tischendorf’s 8th edition Greek New Testament (with Morph Tags)
  • Strong’s database
  • Intuitive parsing for passage lookup
  • Copy functioning for the Greek Text (great for reports and research), using Mac native Unicode.
  • Lightweight (approx 2.5mb download)
  • Minimalist¬†UI
  • Automatic Updates.
Requirements:
  • At this point, it requires Mac OS Leopard. My hope is to change that over time to allow previous versions of OSX.
It is freeware, though I may release the source in the future. However, please do not distribute it (anyone can get it here).
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