Monday, June 29, 2020

On Being Back In Church

Being back at church Sunday didn't feel too weird, even with the masks and socially distanced seating. It felt normal compared to not being there at all. On the way in, I reminded my kids not to hug or kiss anyone. Dad, we never kiss anyone at church!

The weirdest part was the recorded message after the service. A familiar voice used an airport tone to tell us to get outthe sooner you get out, the sooner the people who have to clean all the pews can go home. She didn't actually say that. Maybe she should have.

Our church even asked us to leave the whole building immediately. I get it, but that's a hard ask. Visiting—next to singing with people singing all around youis the chief difference between worshiping at church and watching at home. We stopped for just one conversation in the lobby, and I was rushing us through that one. I try to play by the rules, I guess.

How Long?

In the service I found myself wishing we would celebrate communion. That was the last thing we were going to do. But, it would be the first thing to do if we were going all the way from watching in homes to worshiping in one house. Going all the way was never the plan for the first Sunday back. When will it be? That reminds us of the psalmist's inquiry, How long?

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
   and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:1–2)

Sure, I know it isn't as bad as that. For one thing, we're the ones hiding our faces. If we worship in person, but file in and out like automatons, are we living with the virus, or hiding from it? Granted, I don't bear the burden of making these decisions for my church. I imagine those who do would say, Yes, we're living with the virus; hiding from it is telling everyone to stay home.

What Do We Do?

I guess I'm feeling ready to live in spite of the virus. That I feel as such doesn't make it wise. So, what do we do?

We look to heaven and say, How long?  How long until the Spirit gives our leadership confidence that it's time to meet and greet? We trust our leaders to listen to the Spirit for that guidance. In the meantime, some of us will wear mask, and some of us won'tliberty in the non-essentials, right? It's the same policy we've always had for instructions like this one:

Greet one another with a holy kiss. 
(2 Corinthians 13:12)

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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

On The Air That We Breathe And The Water That We Filter

It's a decision every dad must make. Do I write a blog post on my children's fish?

Should I really compare us—you and I—to nine-dollar Danios? Am I, too, going to see something in an aquarium about the fragility of life?

It's a decision often made too lightly, including this time.

But! What if I told you this post isn't about the choice to get out from behind the plastic plant and explore your world? What if this post is about a prayer—not the prayer of a father, but of a mother? Now, you're reading [likely, something, somewhere, if not this].

I was taken aback by Sarah's prayer Saturday when she first saw these fish in the plastic bag from the pet store. With no forethought or pretense, she pleaded for their perseverance. She petitioned the Ruler of the universe to fix their gills aright for this water we have filtered and heated for their home. She prayed so earnestly that I cannot think it was for the life of the fish, but for the feelings of our daughters. But, it was for the life of the fish—two sides of the same coin.

What struck me the sharpest was her confession, You made these creatures. Now I'm tempted to ruminate more deeply than the outset of this post should allow.

They are genetically engineered to make their color more eye-catching, but You made these creatures.

They were taken from their previous tank, seemingly at random. We just as easily could've gotten any other two from the twenty, but You made these creatures.

We moved their new home out from under the air conditioning vent. We bought different water conditioner and we're following the instructions more closely this time. We hope for the best, but You made these creatures.

I think about the refrain, "the Lord giveth"—from Job—repeated so mechanically in As I Lay Dying that it loses the spirit of Psalm 100.

Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. (v. 3)

It goes for now, and for virus time, and for all times other. Whatever we think we own, and whatever rights we like to holdwe are his, same as the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the tank.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

On Hymns We Used To Sing And Hear

Years ago I started looking for a good CD (that's how long ago it was) with all the hymns we used to sing in church. I wanted my children to know Blessed Assurance, Sweet Hour of Prayer, The Old Rugged Cross, All Creatures of Our God and King, and a hundred others, and I knew they wouldn't learn them at our church.

Yes, hymns make appearances at our church, but precious few get sung even in consecutive years, and those often have new-fangled praise choruses forcibly inserted.

I know I'm once again sounding like old, bitter grownup church kid. But, I do have something positive to say. I have finally found that CD—albeit not physically, but on Spotify, which I hadn't heard of when I began this quest.

The answer proved to be Baptist Hymnal Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 by Tony Weeks. These recordings are not what I set out to find. I wanted something that sounded close to how the hymns were sung at my home church. I thought that would be easy to find. It was not.

Tony Weeks' recordings are not close to my hymn-singing background either. But, by the time I discovered him, I was desperate. And these acoustic-guitar renditions are very listenable (after all, who really drives to the park with a pipe organ and choir as the soundtrack). They reflect the same spirit as congregational hymn singing. These albums don't so much sound like the Sunday mornings of my youth, but they feel like them. They stand in the stream of tradition.

That's really the crux of the matter, right? I want my children to know the songs I sang as a child in church, in part because my parents and grandparents and beyond sang the same songs. And, if you'll permit my bitter traditionalist persona to pose a question:

When was the last time we sang Awesome God? When was the last time we sang Oceans? We sang the hymns for generations, but when a song is written for the moment, that's exactly how long it's good for.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Why Don't Baptists Say The Apostles' Creed?

Will Willimon says he didn't think much of Dogmatics in Outline when he first read it, just that Bart sounded like "some kind of conservative." Well, sure. Dogmatics in Outline is Barth's brief commentary on the Apostles' Creed, and anyone doing right by the Creed should sound like a conservative, because the Creed is so faithful to Scripture. One might respond, Yes, but the Creed is not Scripture. That line of thought must be why I never heard of the Creed—at least not at church—in my evangelical upbringing.

If we neglect the Creed simply because it is not Scripture, we might ask whether we need any theology at all. Why not just read the Bible, and only the Bible? We can answer that question with one wordTrinity. It's a word not found in the Bible, but it helps us understand what the Bible teaches about God. The same is true of the Apostles' Creed.

The Creed concisely states fundamental Christian beliefs that are taught throughout different places in the Bible. The ESV Following Jesus Bible has a page on the Creed that matches up 23 biblical references to specific items.

One might argue we would do better to memorize the 23 Scripture passages. OK, but, the Creed is easier to learn and easier to share. If we learned the 23 passages, we'd also need to learn some way to understand and communicate how they fit together. Given this usefulness of the Creed, we again ask, why don't Southern Baptist use it?

In answering this question, Google reminded me that Al Mohler wrote a book on the Apostles' Creed just last year. In this interview, he says Creed aversion usually stems from a fear that we'll emphasize the Creed above Scripture. I get that. I respect the concern that we not confuse anyone on what is authoritative. At the same time, this position brings us back to the difficulty of a "nothing but the Bible" approach. If that's our stance, we need to throw out the Hymnal. [My church already did that, but that's a different story.]

Mohler also says that if we don't use the Creed, we'll need to make up some other summation of our faith. Mohler warns against that. The Apostles' Creed has stood the test of time for good reason. That reminds me of Stanley Hauerwas' comment that Christianity is something we receive, not something we make up as we go along.

I enjoyed Dogmatics in Outline. I don't know if I'll read Mohler's book, but I do plan to read Ben Myers'. I used to enjoy his blog. (It's still here, but someone else posts on it now.)

If you don't know the Creed, I encourage you to learn it. It's a good thing to carry around with you (in your head). You'll find yourself remembering it on occasion. You'll read or hear something and think about how it connects to the Creed.

I can't predict how referring to it may go over in your Sunday school class, but, if you run into Dr. Willimon, maybe he'll think you're some kind of conservative, like Karl Barth.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The 3 Times I Met Pat Dye

I've known the legend all my life. I didn't know the man personally, but, with Coach Dye, you felt like you did. It seemed like the man in the arena was the same as you would find him anywhere else. I always hoped that was true. They say not to meet your heroes, but in the times I met Pat Dye, he never disappointed that hope.

The Dinner Party

It was either my second or third year in school. Matt and Sam and I went out to eat at some restaurant on College Street, out past the interstate. Why we went to this place, I have no clue. We may have been the only ones in there when they seated us. We were already eating before anyone else came in. I was facing the door. Matt and Sam sat across from me.

I told them Coach Dye just walked in. They didn't flinch. They thought I was joking. [They knew me well enough to know I don't joke about Pat Dye. But, sometimes you know someone too well.] The host seated Coach and his family at the table next to us.

He must have seen that I wanted to shake his hand, but I had wing-sauce all over them. [That must've been why we were there. Matt was into getting wings for a while.] Instead, he put his hands on my shoulders just like he knew me. It was so cool. He must have seen the way I looked at him. He had seen it a hundred thousand times. He knew I had watched games sitting in the floor. He knew what my first Iron Bowl meant to me.

He could see that I hadn't played football, but that I played more years for him—in my mind—than any letterman.

After they sat down, Sam immediately started recalling all manner of Auburn football games and events from the 80's. Was he saying all this loudly enough for the next table to hear? Maybe.

Whatever you think of that move, know this: Sam just as likely would have done that any other time we went out to eat, or got pizza, or went to a movie, or church.

He wasn't acting differently. He was just being himself for a different reason.

I don't remember whether we said anything to them when we left. I hope not. They probably chose an unpopular restaurant for a reason.

Game Day

The next encounter must have been the following football season. We had just entered the stadium at the student-section gate when Matt exclaimed, "Hey, Coach Dye!" I looked over, and there he was, coming right at us.

This time there was no wing-sauce, and he shook my hand. I think he said something like, "I gotta find where I'm supposed to be." He was looking up, trying to read the signs that tell you which way to which section. One of his teams was being recognized on the field before the game. It was funny. You'd think he would have an entourage, or a handler, a bodyguard, something. Nope. He was on his own, looking as lost as any freshman (or senior) trying to find a class in Haley Center. The next time I spoke with him was at Haley Center.

War Eagle

I wish I could date this one precisely. I think it was the 2006 Washington State game. Sarah and I were milling around the University Bookstore when we saw people in line in the courtyard. What's this for? Coach Dye was signing copies of his new children's book, War Eagle. What! All I have to do is stand in line for a little while, and buy a book [surely I can think of somebody with a kid who would like to have this book—oh, yeah—Matt!] and I can speak to Pat Dye? Show me to the end of the line!

I was a little nervous. They had us fill out slips for how we wanted Coach to autograph the book. I wrote something very original, like "War Eagle, Sam!," and asked the student managing the line if that was appropriate. He said it was perfect.

What do I remember from the front of the line? Not much. He said something to me that I thought was quintessentially Coach Dye, and I told everyone, but now I can't remember what it was. Mostly, I just remember it making me happy.

Coach made a lot of folks happy over his 80 years. Of course, the man I "knew" wasn't the only side of Coach Dye. That's reality for everyone. We are sinners. We await the full revelation of Christ's work to make all things new. Thankfully, in the here and now we already see some fruit of the redemption.

I think we see a redemptive arc in Coach's life—something of a move from work to grace. That idea exceeds the scope of both this post and my insight. Nonetheless, it is something I hope. In 1986, Alabama led Auburn by 10 at the start of the fourth quarter. It was an era when points were harder to come by—especially in the Iron Bowl. It didn't look good, but with Pat Dye on the sideline, you never lost hope.