June 26, 2007

A Doubting Place part 3

Posted in I wonder, spirituality at 10:29 pm by jimazing

The comments on the previous two installments of this wrestling with doubt have helped me. There’s a natural ebb and flow to life and I’m not exempt. Thanks for asking good questions and for drawing me out without offering fixes. That is what I asked for. My friend who comments as “ded” asks…

“Do you doubt God as an entity (your story of being invited on His lap would say you don’t), His goodness (ditto) or what man has determined is the way you must be before Him?”

Ded, the answers depend on when you ask. I am thankful for a strong faith in God. I was raised in the Southern Baptist church where I received a mix of godly teaching and a lot of other stuff that “shouldn’t” be in the mix… but there they are… I have seen God at work in my life and the lives of so many others, and I just cannot walk away from that. God is faithful. At the same time, I have questions and doubts that are very real.

To my fellow Christians who are very bothered and disturbed by this whole line of discussion, I ask you to be patient and stick with me. I have not abandoned the faith. I am trying to be real. If it is too hard for you to read or to follow, don’t try. Everyone is not at the questioning place that I am at, nor should they be. This is my story. Although I have been asking these questions for a long time on the inside, I’m just beginning to feel free enough to ask them on the outside. My desire is not to cause anyone else to stumble.

My questions and my doubts are RAW because that’s how I am feeling them. Sometimes I have no doubts at all. Other times, I doubt the very existence of God. That usually doesn’t last too long because of the experience I have. God has been faithful to me. He has guided me through so many difficult times.

Another whole class of struggles that I feel are due to the polarization caused by the conservative political front in the US. These people seem to equate conservatism with Christianity and that angers me. God is not a Republican. I think that one reason that I feel such strong emotion about the politicization of Christianity is that I used to do it. I used to be so “in your face” about my beliefs. After all, I had all the answers. Now I find that the older I get and the more I learn, the less I know. The Jesus that I read about in the Bible got upset with the religious leaders for politicizing their faith and weighing down the people with burdens they could not bear. However, He was compassionate, full of grace and forgiveness to the “sinners”. What I see in the conservative Christian movement is just the opposite. I see power struggles and condemnation of “sinners”. I have a question to throw back at them. What would Jesus do? Really?

Being this raw, real and honest is not fun… but I believe it is good. I heard N. T. Wright tell an interesting story about this particular species of ant. These ants follow one another unquestioningly and if they are not careful, they have been known to eventually form a huge circle. Now imagine all of these ants following the one in front of them because that one knows where it is going. Eventually they starve to death because of their behavior. I don’t want to follow unquestioningly. I think that God is big enough for my puny little questions. If not, he’s pretty small.

June 23, 2007

A Doubting Place part 2

Posted in I wonder, personal at 8:22 pm by jimazing

Yesterday, I wrote about my feelings of doubt in the moment. My friend, Anthony, reminds me in his reflection that it is in the dark where we find the light… well, he didn’t remind me personally, but his message was timely. I don’t want to doubt, but I want to be ok with my doubt. Does that make sense? Over and over this God whom I worship makes Himself real to me. I doubt and he comes through. I question and He takes me to deeper depths to reveal Himself to me.

masks1.gifI know I am taking it somewhat out of context, but in John 8, Jesus said that that truth would make us free. I value truth and I believe that it very much does set us free. When we live behind masks, we create illusions that we have it all together. Then others see us as having it all together, so they put on their masks so that we won’t know that they are a mess. So, one by one, the masks go up and we hide behind them. All the while we are dying inside. We want friends we can confide in. We really want to have true confession. We want to live lives of truth, but it is uncomfortable. Scary even. Jesus said that the truth would make us free, but he didn’t say it would be easy or comfortable.

I am not the one to argue what truth is or to come up with scenarios to test the boundaries of truth. When is it ok to tell a white lie sorts of exercises. But I know what I mean by truth. I know when I am hiding behind the mask. The truth is, I am a mess. If you don’t see that, you haven’t really been reading my blog. Do a search for the word, “mess” and see what you see.

Do you have doubts? Are you ok with that? Do you see others as having it all together? I haven’t read this book, but I love its title, The Only Normal People Are the Ones You Don’t Know That Well. I say, “Let’ s take off our masks and be real.”

June 22, 2007

A Doubting Place

Posted in I wonder, spirituality at 10:20 pm by jimazing

In what I am about to write, I do not want to be fixed. I want to be heard. I welcome responses with questions that will help draw me out.  I welcome affirmation of me and my heart’s cry. But save your fixes and your answers for another time. I just don’t desire that right now.

doubt.gifYesterday, I heard a story about a young artist whose father is a pastor and his sister is a missionary, but he does not follow Christ. He says that he can see how God is real to his father and his sister, but he cannot see that for himself. I had to raise my hand and say out loud, “Me too.” I told the two men I was with that it is easy for me to see Christ in them. It is easy for me to see what great men of faith they are. It is easy to believe for them. In me it is hard. I doubt. I question. And when I doubt and question… I do it hard. I am so full of questions. I won’t list any of them here because I asked to be heard, not fixed.

I used to know all of the answers. I used to be able to quote chapter and verse quite literally to answer all of the questions I find myself asking. Those answers ring hollow to me. I am living a depth of real life that I never imagined 30 years ago. The easy answers don’t work at this depth. There’s a part of me that wants to answer all the questions and move on. But there’s another part of me that recognizes that the questions are essential. I ask them because something inside of me compels me to ask them. I ask because I want to know (but not right now:) )

Right in the middle of my doubting thoughts tonight, I saw the Lord move in a mysterious “coincidence”. I took Jeanie down to see Area 15 in Charlotte. (I’ll explain Area 15 later… hopefully tomorrow). It is in a pretty bad part of town, but Jeanie and I rode down so I could show it to her. We drove past and were heading out through the neighborhood. A few blocks away, there were two cars blocking the road and I was uncomfortable with the way things looked. I didn’t know if this was a drug deal or what, but I backed up into the intersection I had just ridden through. As I backed, I saw another car wanting to enter from my right. Thankfully, they stopped and waited for me to back up and turn. As we passed them, Jeanie said, “That is Greg and June.” I could hardly believe it. I turned around and followed them. They stopped at Area 15 and we pulled in behind them. Here we are in one of the worst sections of Charlotte, visiting with old friends and they also have two of my good friends whom I went to France with in 2004, Frankie and Alex.

I didn’t realize it but Charlotte 24-7 (part of Area 15) was open for prayer, so we went inside. The atmosphere was welcoming and peaceful. It was as if the God that I doubt so much was inviting me to sit on his lap and tell him what was on my mind. That moved me. Charlotte 24-7 moved me. The circumstances moved me. Being with my friends moved me. Being in an atmosphere of prayer and worship moved me.

What an enigma I am. I worship the very God that I doubt.

June 19, 2007

Fire and the Unknown

Posted in life at 9:29 pm by jimazing

A good friend who lives in Charleston wrote to me on email this morning. He was telling me about his plans for the day and yet admitting how little he knew about how it might turn out. He said, “I don’t know “diddly squat” about what’s going to happen today and I’m OK with that.” He sent the email at 8:18 AM. Unbeknownst to him, a fire was raging just a few miles away that would take the lives of nine fire fighters. According to a spokesman from the U.S. Fire Administration, it was “the worst loss of life for firefighters since 9/11 .” We really don’t know “diddly squat” do we?

My heart goes out to the families, friends and colleagues of those nine men. Nothing I can say makes any sense. They gave their lives to protect others. I don’t fully understand that… Many people do that for me every day… I don’t understand it at all. Low pay. Hazardous conditions. I don’t have to understand to be grateful. I am full of gratitude. I am full of sorrow.

This is yet another reminder of the brevity of life. I don’t know how much time I have left, and I don’t know “diddly squat” about what will happen to me and around me. What I do know is that I want every moment to count.

June 17, 2007

Father’s Day

Posted in family, hope at 1:42 pm by jimazing

andersons-1970.jpgIt is Father’s Day in the US. I am blessed doubly today because I am a father and I have a father. I can celebrate in two ways. It is great to be able to bless my father. Dad, I will call you later today, but I want you to know that I wish you the very best of Father’s Day. I pray that you receive the things that you want from life today including peace and prosperity.

reading-charlottes-web-1986.jpgIt is great to be the father of four lovely ladies of whom I am very proud. Each of them is following their hearts’ desires in their own ways. That makes my heart sing. My desire, as a father, is to partner with my daughters to get what they want in life. God has given me gifts, strengths and talents and I can think of few things that I would rather use those gifts, strengths and talents for than to help my girls to succeed in life. That does not mean that I have no desires of my own. It means that one of my great desires is to be an active part in their lives.

I have seen fathers who want to run their kid’s lives. My idea of being a good father when they were infants and toddlers was to be in control and run their lives. But that is not my current vision. A graphical representation of healthy parenthood to me is expressed in the figure below:


We have no control over the horizontal axis. As the saying goes, time marches on. Our choices lie in the vertical axis. The choices of whether or not to give up control.

I saw that my job as a father was to prepare my kids for adulthood. When they were little bitty and could not take care of themselves, Jeanie and I did it for them. As they grew, we let them do more things for themselves. That is a gradual process of training, encouraging, being there for them as they fail, encouraging, helping, prodding, creating boundaries, saying no, saying yes (when our feelings tell us no). It isn’t the training that is so difficult. It is giving up control.

Now I see that “loosing control” is really a process of learning that I never really had it anyway. When they were babies, Jeanie and I could decide when bath time was, but we never got to decide when they should get pneumonia, or runny nose or fall and bump their heads. We sure never got to choose the timing of dirty diapers or cuts that required stitches. If I had had any input, none of these things would have happened on my watch!

How quickly we moved from these kinds of issues to homework, friends and dating issues. And of course we cannot forget driving. No one has truly lived until you are riding shotgun with your kid behind the wheel for the first or second time… or for that matter the 50th time. They should create a father’s upgrade package for cars. It would include a passenger’s seat rollbar and either an extra brake pedal and steering wheel or at least a reinforced floorboard to keep our feet from punching through when we push the imaginary brake.

Control? Ha!

I started thinking about the control-over-time graph when the girls were very little. But I didn’t put a lot of thought into what happens after adulthood. Moving into this stage seemed to happen overnight. I find myself moving from the giver of permission whether you want it or not into the role of an adviser if you will allow me. Instead of telling them what to do, I find myself helping them think for themselves by asking questions and telling them the kinds of things that I think are important to consider. It isn’t about my being the “all knowing dad”. The truth is that I do know some things they don’t. After all, if I haven’t learned a few things about life along the way that they don’t know yet, something would be very wrong. Experience does matter. I want to share my experience and knowledge with them to help them, not to control their lives.

What is next? I look forward to being the grandpa and I have a desire for my partnership with my girls and their families to grow both ways. As I said before, I am not all knowing. I have a lot to learn and my girls can be my teachers. As partners in life, we can encourage and build into one another’s lives to make the best of what we have. We only get a few years on this earth. I want to suck the marrow out of life while I am here and leave nothing undone that could have been done.

June 7, 2007

The New Site

Posted in writing at 8:52 pm by jimazing

Although I hope it doesn’t look any different to you, the fact that you are reading this means that my web server has been switched over successfully. It is never as easy as it ought to be to move from one server to another. I would think that it would be a matter of just moving the files and the database and wammo! But there was a new version of WordPress that I just had to try and of course they changed the database just enough to keep me from being able to merely import the database directly. It is Thursday evening as I write this. My hope is that it will be live on Friday.