Future Vision

My cousin Cliff usually posts silly jokes on Facebook. For example, he offered one that said, “If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving’s not for you.” Hilarious. But today he posted something that really got my attention.

Anyone who has never heard “The Vision” by David Wilkerson should check it out. It’s from the 70s and details what he saw in a vision about events to transpire in the not to distant future. I remember thinking I would never see such things. Today I am seeing those things. At the end he said there were 5 words that kept running thru his mind: “God has everything under control”. Indeed he does. I pray that those I love are on board when that train leaves the station. Time is truly short.

I have to admit that I had never heard of Wilkerson’s book or anything about the writer. Looking into him, I discovered him to be the author of The Cross and the Switchblade, which I had heard of but hadn’t read.

Since I had some work to do on the ramp to my deck, work that involved driving 384 screws into floorboards, I decided to give The Vision a listen. I found an updated version of the 1973 book on YouTube and listened to it as I sent those screws into the wood.

Wilkerson claimed to have a vision of the future, but it’s not entirely clear where his vision ends and the apocalyptic portions of the Bible begin. Still, he nailed a number of things that either suggest he had some divine insight into the future or was simply very good at reading the signs. For example, would he have known in the 1970s that pornography would be streaming into our homes or that hotels would be making serious coin by selling that stuff on their TVs? Who would have guessed that open hostility toward anything Christian would begin to gain such a foothold in our society? Maybe somebody would have, but Wilkerson seemed pretty spot on.

So was Wilkerson prophetic in the sense that Nahum and Habakkuk were? I’m not sure, but he was prophetic in the sense of proclaiming pretty clearly the words of God.

One of the things that really struck me was the great danger that affluence and comfort hold for today’s Christians. As I sit in my comfortable home and look at my dazzling wife, I know that I could easily think that something I’ve done has made me deserve the blessings that have come my way. When we do that, then we can be lulled into either inactivity or pointless, self-serving activity.

Then, as my cousin suggests, when that train leaves the station, we run the risk of looking out the window and seeing people whom we might have helped to get on board. I don’t worry about end times, since God can work those things out. But I do hope that when I stand before my Creator, I don’t have to be ashamed of the things I failed to do before “the train left the station.”

Jesus: Introvert, Part 4

And your point is . . . ? I saw somebody recently wearing a hat that carried that snarky question. Tuesday night, as I sat in a meeting and listened to a member of our group rambling on about things that almost made sense, I wished that I had 25 such hats for everyone in the room, on signal, to put on.

People do tend to go on and on. In fact, you might be thinking that I have gone on and on about this whole Jesus as an introvert thing. So far I’ve tried to convince you that Peter was an extrovert (easy), that John tended toward the introvert side (a bit less easy), and then that Jesus himself was an introvert (harder yet). But let’s imagine that you agree with me on all of these previous claims. You might find yourself asking, “And your point is . . . ?”

To answer that, let’s first consider what Jesus as an introvert does not mean. It does not mean that he had some debilitating social anxiety, that every encounter with people beyond his inner circle was endlessly painful. Introversion is not a sickness, although, as Susan Cain, in Quiet, argues forcefully, it is sometimes treated that way by many in American society. We sometimes hear people worrying about their child who won’t “come out of her shell,” but we never hear about kids who won’t go into their shells.

The introvert tends to need alone time and tends to value time with a close circle of trusted friends. The introvert tends to spend more time in his or her own head, working out complex ideas. The introvert is more apt to listen to opposing ideas and to make those holding such ideas feel valued. Contrary to popular opinion, introverts can take bold and decisive action, but they’re more apt to have thoroughly evaluated the situation before charging into action. Introverts can be terrific leaders.

Extroverts can do many things well also. It’s not as if Jesus didn’t know what He was doing when He selected Peter as a key apostle. Without those extrovert qualities, the church probably would not have exploded onto the scene as it did. Yes, I know that the Holy Spirit had a little bit to do with that early success, but God nearly always works through people.

If American culture placed a high value on introspection and reserve, then I’m not sure I would have much of a point in saying the Jesus was an introvert. But we place great value on the person of action. And we tend to discount the value of the person of thought. If Jesus was an introvert or, perhaps a more palatable formulation, he possessed the best qualities of both introverts and extroverts, then shouldn’t we, as the body of Christ, take efforts to value both tendencies?

If I’m right, then without valuing introverts we wouldn’t have these words from John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through him,and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it.–John 1:1-5

Can you imagine Apostle Foot-in-Mouth Peter sitting still long enough to frame these words? But can you imagine the contemplative John stepping up to preach on Pentecost? We need our introverts and extroverts together.

What’s my point? That’s my point.

Jesus: Introvert, Part 3

Dog person? Cat person? To my mind this split in the human psyche is one of the great moral indicators of our time. I’m an unapologetic dog person, and frankly I’m not sure how much to trust cat people. Regardless, though, I’m almost certain that Jesus was a dog person. Why? Well . . . it’s because I’m a dog person.

While I might be joking in the paragraph above, it is certainly true that people tend to see in Jesus many qualities that reflect themselves. I’m not saying that a coward will think Jesus a coward as well, but that person might tend to stress the passivity of Jesus, the turn-the-other-cheek teachings.

It’s for this reason, I think, that extroverts tend to think of Jesus as an extrovert, and I must admit that my assumption that Jesus is an extrovert probably derives my own inward-looking tendencies. Still, I have evidence to back up my position.

We’ve already considered the possibility that Jesus had at least one prominent extrovert disciple, Peter, and one who might be classed an introvert, John. I’d like to emphasize that neither of these personality traits should be looked at as a weakness or a flaw. So with all that stated, let’s look at the introvert evidence on Jesus.

In Luke 5:15-16, we see a perfect example of Jesus showing his introvert stripes:

But the news about him spread even more, and large crowds would come together to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. Yet he often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.

The extrovert would have reveled in the crowds, yet rarely if ever do we see Jesus getting energized by the crowds. Even at the Triumphal Entry, when we can imagine Jesus really getting into the excitement of the day, we don’t get that sense. But in this Luke passage, we see the Savior not just praying, but withdrawing to pray. And he didn’t just withdraw into a house but to deserted places. And he didn’t just do it this one time but “often.”

In the next chapter, Jesus chooses His disciples in 6:13-16, but before that he spends the night alone on a mountain praying. In Matthew 14:13, upon hearing of the death of John the Baptist, Jesus does not seek to grieve with friends but gets in a boat to withdraw. In John 7:10, Jesus sends his disciples to Jerusalem for the festival but then attends secretly and alone.

By contrast, can we think of a case in which Jesus seeks out crowds? He often pulls his disciples away to teach them separately. He sends them out in pairs to do the work that he could have done better and then he sends out even more pairs to pursue that same work. Would an extrovert have been able to be such a hands-off manager?

Look at the images of crowds in the 2014 film Son of Man. Jesus seems to be thrilled to be among the hustle and hubbub of the crowds.That makes good film, but is it an accurate portrayal of the Man?

Okay, I’ve convinced you that at least Jesus had some introvert behaviors. But so what? We’ll take up that question when this topic concludes tomorrow.

Jesus: Introvert, Part 2

“Blake just doesn’t say much.” I must have heard my mother say this 20 times about my taciturn nephew. Indeed, Blake is not a big conversationalist. He’s not one for big parties with loads of different people. He hangs out with a few friends, and actually has conversations with them, which would surprise my mother. Blake, unlike the extrovert Simon Peter, who we considered yesterday, is almost certainly an introvert.

When Jesus was calling disciples, He knew He would soon be telling them to

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. –Matthew 28:19-20

Doesn’t it make sense that, knowing He would give them such an instruction and depend on them to carry the good news to far-flung people and places, he would pick extroverts like Peter? Perhaps, but as Susan Cain’s book Quiet explains, extroverts are not the only ones who can get things done. If she is right about how introverts and extroverts can complement each other, then we should expect that Jesus would have selected some introverts for His team. I want to suggest that we need look no further than John to find such a follower.

Now before I make my case, I’d like to take up a couple of details that would seem to argue against John as an introvert. In Luke 9:54, brothers James and John ask Jesus if they should call down fire on an unfriendly village. Is that the action of an introvert? This question misunderstands the nature of introverts. They are not always passive or gentle or silent. I can easily imagine John talking with a close friend, his own brother, and then, after consideration, bringing this idea to Jesus. The same sort of thing could be said about John forbidding someone not of their group from casting out demons in Jesus’ name (Luke 9:49).

But what positive evidence do I have for John as an introvert. My first and strongest argument would come from his gospel. John’s gospel is remarkably different from the others. Mark, traditionally the gospel most associated with Peter, is almost all action. Where Peter the extrovert was drawn to events, John the introvert thought things through carefully and thoroughly. There are, of course, events in John’s gospel, but they are placed amid much more of Jesus’ teaching and preaching. No other gospel writer has anything approaching the philosophical altitude of John’s first chapter.

John also, with those exceptions noted above, is willing to stand back and let others act or speak. He’s with Peter in a number of situations, but he always lets Peter take the lead.

John is known as “the Beloved disciple.” Why? Was he being vain when he referred to himself as the disciple Jesus loved? I’d like to think that maybe Jesus was drawn more closely because John, unlike Peter, knew how to shut up or have a thoughtful conversation.

None of that, of course, proves anything about Jesus being an introvert. I’ll need to wait until tomorrow to deal with that.


Jesus: Introvert, Part 1

The job applicant, K., came in and made such a tepid impression on me that I assumed we were wasting our time listening to her for the next hour. By the time she finished a teaching demonstration and answers to our questions, she’d moved to the top of my list.

K., you see, is an introvert, doing her best work inside her own head, relating to the world in quiet but profound ways. The glad-handing and networking necessary to get a good academic job are things that she simply has to grit her teeth and struggle through. She’s far too smart not to do that, but it does not come easily.

8520610I’m an introvert as well, although you wouldn’t know it from my teaching. When I walk into the classroom, I bring the bells and whistles, but that is a studied act. I, like K., do my best work inside my own head. It was this aspect of my personality that drew me to Susan Cain’s book Quiet when a friend mentioned it. Cain discusses the powers of introverts and the way that they are misperceived in (especially American) culture.

As I read the book, a question bounced around my mind. Was Jesus an introvert? I almost feel heretical suggesting such a question, but that feeling gets to some of the thoughts that Cain explores in Quiet. We have a tendency to assume that Jesus was an extrovert and to think that introversion is somehow problematic, even pathological. So maybe we can sneak up on the question by rephrasing it: Did Jesus have introvert tendencies or behaviors?

To begin to answer that question, let’s all agree that Simon Peter is definitely an extrovert. Peter is the guy who, on the Day of Pentecost, does not seem to hesitate a moment before jumping up and launching into his famous impromptu sermon beginning at Acts 2:14. I can imagine the other eleven standing there and looking at each other, knowing that somebody had to say something. I can also imagine the introverts among the eleven being greatly relieved when Peter opened his mouth.

Peter is the guy who, as a former pastor of mine said, “Only took his foot out of his mouth long enough to put the other one in.” Peter’s motto seemed to be “Speak first; think later.” He’s the one who tries to lop off a guy’s head in Gethsemane. It’s Peter who wants to step out of the boat in Matthew 14:28-30:

 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter answered him, “command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus.

No introvert would have done that. They might have thought it. They might have even envied Peter his boldness, but they wouldn’t have done it.

So yes, Peter was an extrovert, and I believe that Jesus chose him for those qualities, but that really does not answer the question suggested in the title. Before we do that, we’ll need to look at another disciple who, I’d suggest, shows more introversion. But that’s tomorrow.

The Needle Detector

Confession Time: I fled my house today in order to avoid a visit from the mother of my former son-in-law. Actually, I wasn’t exactly fleeing. I just didn’t want to be there when she arrived. (Wait–that’s pretty much the same thing, isn’t it?)

Not to waste the time after vacating the house, I headed to one of my favorite haunts, the Midwest Genealogy Center, a top-flight genealogy library that just happens to be about two miles from my house. My current research is not so much tracking down the various ancestors who explain my presence on this earth as to learn the history of my new home and the land on which it stands. Today’s quarry was obituaries for the people who, I’m pretty sure, built the barn that now houses us: Fred and Bessie.

Having done some poking around, I knew death dates for both of these people. With that information in hand and given that they were Independence locals, finding the obituary shouldn’t be tough. I went to Fred’s death date, 27 November 1958, in the Independence Examiner and began scrolling forward through the microfilm. I gave up around 4 December with empty hands. Trying the same thing with Bessie’s death date, I had similarly crummy results.

Eventually, following this same process in the Kansas City Star, I located entries for both of these people, but I couldn’t help but think there might have been a fuller account in the hometown paper. On my way out of the library, I asked one of the expert staff. “We don’t have anything like an index for the Examiner do we?”

It turns out that we do. Punching in the appropriate surname, I received a quick 81 hits. That’s not to say that there were 81 articles since Bessie, for example, appeared in Fred’s obituary as well as her own. Still, by clicking on a link, I could see the date, page, and column on which the item appeared.

So here’s my choice. Spend an hour or more scrolling through a bunch a random pages and discovering the price of grapes at Milgrim’s in 1957, or talk to a librarian for two minutes and get easy and efficient access. You’d think that with all the years of research I’ve put in, I’d know better.

In Proverbs 11:14, we realize that my folly isn’t a new issue:

Without guidance, a people will fall,
but with many counselors there is deliverance.

The same idea is picked up a few chapters later in 15:22.

Plans fail when there is no counsel,
but with many advisers they succeed.

Our culture encourages self reliance and rugged individualism. My maleness and introversion combine to make me even less inclined to seek out help. But with some outside help, my needle is suddenly located in a considerably smaller haystack.

Frosties or Sugar Puffs?

I only got a couple of minutes into Bandersnatch, the dark Black Mirror-related interactive movie on Netflix, before I had to pause it and sit, paralyzed, staring at the screen.

You see, when the main character–I haven’t gotten far enough in to even learn his name yet–is sitting at the breakfast table and offered a choice of cereal, Frosties or Sugar Puffs, by his father, I’m convinced that everything hangs on that decision. I chose Sugar Puffs. Then, a few seconds later, I had second thoughts. I backed up and chose Frosties. In the aftermath of both, the neighbor’s dog was barking and digging in the garden. Dad was yelling out the door. So far, there’s no difference, but who knows what cosmic chain of events was set in motion by the choice of cereals? That’s why I hit pause.

Decisions are important. They have consequences. One thing leads to another. If I hadn’t made an offhand comment about needing to get a job, maybe my high-school friend Dan wouldn’t have suggested that I work with him at Taco John’s. Then I wouldn’t have met Penny. Then we wouldn’t have gotten married and had four kids.

Ready for the topper? In the minutes since I started writing this entry, I learned that my youngest child’s first kid has made her entry into the world. And if it hadn’t been for saying something about needing a job back in 1980, then maybe she’d be a gerbil instead. (Don’t try to make sense of that. I’ve always thought the whole parallel universe thing was kind of ridiculous.)

Of course we want to think about the consequences of our actions, but much of the time, like in Bandersnatch, we have to simply make a choice without knowing where that choice will lead. As the great theologians of Rush sang, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” That’s deep, eh?

Where would my life be if I had decided to seek a job at Burger King instead of Taco John’s? Or was I always fated to make tacos and marry Penny? I just don’t know.

As I cast my mind over the Bible, I note how many stories seem to revolve around snap decisions, determined choices, that lead to a very good or a very bad outcome. Let’s think of a few in Bandersnatch fashion.

  • Eve: Eat the fruit the serpent is offering / Barbecue the serpent
  • Cain: Clobber your brother / Go fishing with your brother
  • Noah: Build a big boat in the backyard / Use the gopher wood to host a big pig roast for the neighbors.
  • Abraham: Sacrifice Isaac / Go out for falafel with Isaac
  • Joseph: Get revenge on your brothers / Forgive your brothers

You see how this is going, and I’m not even out of Genesis. Of course other choices, in the Bible and in our lives, are not so clearly ones that involve obedience and loyalty. They don’t come with a clearly defined “right choice.” Some of them are as apparently random as working at Taco John’s or what breakfast cereal to eat. Or are they?


¡No Va!

They say that when the Chevy Nova was introduced, it didn’t sell as well as expected in Latin America. Why? The name means “doesn’t go.” The fact that this little legend is pretty much 100% fictional shouldn’t get in the way of a good story. But the real reason I’m thinking of it tonight is that my car, my cute, sporty, paid-for Audi A4 is in the no va category.

There’s one thing that’s good about having your clutch go out. Nobody without a tow truck is going to be able to steal your car.

Coming home from school Friday, I noticed that somebody at a stoplight was stinking the place up, burning something that shouldn’t be burned. I pushed the “recirculate” button on the heater to keep the outside air out and drove on home. As I exited the vehicle at home, I realized that the car that had been burning something was mine.

The next morning, as I tried to get the Grey Ghost in gear to drive to a shop, I heard the engine rev and got absolutely no motion. The nice folks at AAA sent a tow truck before our latest snowstorm hit. Right now, I’m waiting on a quote from the shop as to the repair cost. I’m hoping for $39.95, but I’m prepared for it to cost about as much as the car is worth. Yuck!

As I mull over this unpleasant development, it occurs to me that people can have bad transmissions as well. You know these people. Perhaps sometimes you are that person. I know I am now and again. They have an engine. You can hear it respond to the gas pedal. They have wheels that turn, but somewhere between those two, something isn’t making a connection. Somehow, despite a lot of horsepower, these people just don’t get anywhere. ¡No va!

As I drive this analogy into the ground, I realize that sometimes we should prefer being without a transmission. Think about it. If you’re pointed toward a cliff, then aren’t you better off with a clutch that doesn’t engage? So we have some people who are making great time headed in the wrong direction and others who don’t seem to get anywhere.

The ability to make our way down the road is a positive thing, but the necessity of steering and the wisdom to know how to get somewhere worth going cannot be ignored. Right now, I’m just getting ready to spend that $39.95 for the repair.

Stop Being So Awesome!

From time to time, I get to sit on hiring committees, looking for new professors to swell the ranks of English teachers at my school. You start with perhaps a hundred applications, winnowing out the less qualified, and then you interview a handful, offering the job to whoever rises to the top of the pile. The goal, of course, is to hire the best person we have available to us. And over the years, I’ve helped to hire some pretty great colleagues.

group of women sitting in front of table
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Why is it then, since I set out to find an excellent co-worker, that I find myself sometimes annoyed at the success that these people enjoy. I look at people I’ve voted to employ and find myself thinking them just a bit too awesome.

That’s what I think of when I read about Saul in the aftermath of the whole Goliath encounter. It’s in 2 Samuel 18:5 and beyond. Let’s pick up the story, already in progress:

David marched out with the army and was successful in everything Saul sent him to do. Saul put him in command of the fighting men, which pleased all the people and Saul’s servants as well.

Notice some key facts here. Where did David find success? He found it in “everything Saul sent him to do.” It’s not like David is going into a shameless self-promotion tour. He’s doing what the king told him to do. And how does that king respond. We’ll find out in a moment. After one successful military expedition, David and Saul make their way back home in triumph. Here’s what we find in 2 Samuel 18:6-7:

As the troops were coming back, when David was returning from killing the Philistine, the women came out from all the cities of Israel to meet King Saul, singing and dancing with tambourines, with shouts of joy, and with three-stringed instruments. As they danced, the women sang:
      Saul has killed his thousands,
but David his tens of thousands.

Saul doesn’t like this one bit. He doesn’t hear the praise directed at him but instead is obsessed with the greater praise directed at David. Never mind that the women came out to meet King Saul rather than David. Never mind that no matter what David does tomorrow, Saul will remain the king. Saul simply cannot stand the accolades that flow at the guy who is only doing what he was hired to do.

Jealousy is an ugly thing, and that’s what Saul felt toward David and what I, in a weaker moment, feel toward those excellent colleagues whom I, after all, selected to be excellent. There’s nothing new about this emotion. Envy probably lay at the root of Cain’s murder of Abel. It is singled out in the 10th commandment. Proverbs 14:30 warns us that “envy rots the bones.”

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:4 that love “does not envy.” When I envy that successful colleague, it’s pretty hard to simultaneously love him or her. And like Saul, I need to recognize that the success of a colleague means, to some degree, a success for me as well. After all, I did help to hire this person.

More Out of Life than What?

As an English teacher, one of the phrases that I have known for a very long time is “unclear pronoun reference.” That’s when a pronoun in a sentence could refer to more than one antecedent. For example: “When I put the pizza in the oven, it was hot.” What was hot? It was! But was that the pizza, already hot before it went into the oven, or the oven, preheated and ready to go?

But besides unclear pronoun references, there are words that, while not pronouns, still do not mean quite as much as they are supposed to mean. Often they don’t mean as much as their speakers think they mean.

Case in point. I recently heard a song, “San Marcos,” by those masters of autotune, Brockhampton. At the end of the song, we hear a gospel choir singing “I want more out of life than this. I want more. I want more.” This lyric is repeating six times, meaning that choir expresses their desire for more a full eighteen times. Clearly they want more, and I would like to assist them in acquiring it.

But that’s where those imprecise words come in. First, there’s an unclear pronoun reference. I want more out of life than this. This. What, exactly, is “this”? Is it the singer’s relationships, community, job situation, philosophical underpinnings, cold ramen, or what? I have no idea of what “this” represents, and I rather guess that neither the London Community Gospel Choir (who sang on the recording) or the eight people who have writing credit for the song know.

Then there’s “more.” What does it mean to want “more” out of life? Since we can’t be at all sure of what “this” is, there’s not much hope of being able to identify “more.” Even if we could make that measurement, how much more is wanted? If what I have today is X, does the desire for more find itself satisfied with X+1 or does it require X+100? I’d really like to help, but when you use such fuzzy lyrics, I can’t know.

On the other hand, I think that the writers might be intentionally vague. They’re hoping to tap into an ill-defined sense of dissatisfaction and desire that inhabits their restless, adolescent audience. How many teen girls will hear “I want more from my life than this” and feel as if the song was written for them? “It’s like they know me!” those listeners will say.

Of course it isn’t just teen girls who “want more out of life than this.” We all have longings and restless feelings. Don’t we all want more, at least part of the time, for as long as we live? Jesus promised more to us in John 10:10. When we hear him promise life “in abundance,” we probably think something different than those who sing along to Brockhampton, but we also think something different from what God offers us.

Do you want more out of life than this? More than what you now enjoy? Perhaps you should, but perhaps what you really need is not what you really want.