Children and Miracles

Karen and I are reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking On Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. L’Engle comes up with some interesting points, but one of the most intriguing for me in the first two chapters is the idea that miraculous events no longer take place because we no longer have a child-like faith.

I’ve heard theologians argue why there are no longer overt miracles such as there were when Christ was physically among us, and I’ve seen this become an enormous obstacle to belief for many. Certainly we wonder why, if these amazingly supernatural things occurred in the time of the ancients, they no longer take place. Ted Dekker poses a similar question in Showdown: adults prove woefully inept to harness the supernatural power given to them, but children can exercise it at will.

I’ve worked with many cases of psychosis in the past. I’ve found myself wondering at times if psychiatric dysfunction is an accurate diagnosis of the problem, or if something far more sinister is at work. All of us, whether or not we claim to be Christ-followers, have experienced the supernatural realm at some point, at some level, whether obvious or subtle. So, I wonder if miracles don’t occur around us daily, and perhaps we’ve just gotten really good at explaining them away?

I’m not disregarding science or digressing into the realm of nouthetic stupidity, but perhaps, just perhaps, we’ve analyzed a bit too much, and we’ve reached conclusions that make too much sense to us too often.

Perhaps it isn’t intended to make that much sense.

Perhaps it’s more obvious than we think?

And if it is, and if we can’t perceive these miracles, is it because our faith has been usurped by a love for empirical data, a passionate desire to be able to cross-reference every experience to a natural phenomenon that we can understand? After all, we’re afraid of what we don’t understand.

Has our fear over-ridden our faith?


I’ve written about this before, but I had a great conversation with a friend last night about this, and so I had to share today.

There’s this ageless debate about whether art imitates life, or life imitates art. Do children become more violent after playing violent video games, or watching violent movies? Or are these artistic portrayals that are reflecting the state of our culture? Can we blame artistic expression for our societal woes? Should we enforce limits on artistic expression in order to assure our safety?

The debate last night specifically came from discussing the television show, Sex and the City. The show is extremely suggestive, even in it’s primetime incarnation. Would I feel comfortable letting my (future) children watch it? No. I recognize, however, that some of the dialogue is very well-written. The conversation became, though, when did television begin to permit this type of material to become viewable? I remember when Married With Children became a hotly debated television show during my freshman year in college. Later, it was the Simpsons. Ironically, for all of the debate that surrounded the Simpsons, and now South Park, both offer (not with every episode, but in general) very true commentary about our society. These are artistic portrayals of our culture. Edgy portrayals, and accurate.

The same principle holds true with hip-hop culture. I loved rap during college. I find rap today less inviting. However, you can trace the content of rap changing dramatically from “old school” Run DMC, to Ice-T’s “Cop Killer,” to the development of “gangsta rap.” I’ve come to the conclusion that I dislike modern rap more because the violent urban culture it reflects has become less inviting. However, my friend thinks that it has contributed to the cultural shift. Having lived in L.A. several years ago, he said that the “gangster” phenomenon was squashed until rappers began rapping about it, and then a resurgance occurred.

Having never lived in L.A., I can’t offer any knowledge on that. But if there is a cycle that occurs, I think it happens because we as a culture, and as various sub-cultures, have to look into the mirror that artistic expressions provide. Paul TIllich, articulating his theology of art, claims that artists are gifted with the foresight to recognize societal problems, and the calling to state them. Artists, writers, and musicians are the first to recognize or predict cultural crises, and place them in the public eye. I agree with this. I think that art imitates life. I’m not ruling out that the reverse can happen, but I think it is the exception rather than the rule. Our culture has become gripped be increasing angst, and so has our art and musical expression. This can be seen in the migration from “old-school” rap to “gangsta” rap, and from “heavy metal” to “hard-core” rock.

Scripture performs the same function more authoritatively, but we all too frequently ignore the warnings from both.

“For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror,” James warns. “You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like”(James 1:23-24, NLT).

Perhaps, instead of attempting to censor Scripture and the arts so passionately, we as a society should attempt to see the warnings which they present. An even more radical thought? Perhaps we should even heed those warnings.

Buck The System

Have you ever noticed how all those movies about amazing life changing teachers are always stories about people who buck the system? Why can’t I be one of those people? Now, granted most of those films have been time compressed, so that what you get to taste in your living room is usually the result of work done by an individual over several years, such as Jaime Escalante, a man who taught inner city rejects how to do college level math–his program was developed over about ten years. The teacher in Dangerous Minds has also had a long and arduous career in education learning how reach her inner city students. The latest film out, Freedom Writers, looks to be of the same nature as its predecessors, though set on the west coast this time. And there are so many others, all with one thing in common: they truly teach by bucking the system.

As a fairly inexperienced teacher driven by test scores and “No Child Left Behind” legislation, I am frustrated that I can’t be one of those “buck the system” types. I believe that the irony of these films, based on the True success stories of teachers throughout history, is the key to real learning. Many of these films have inspired my pursuit, and others, of a place in the field, and yet in reality the pressures to conform to a curriculum that pushes students through leaving an almost one room schoolhouse feel in every classroom–except that each student is roughly the same age chronologically, is nothing short of death to the true teacher.

And it seems that on top of all this bucking the system is the sense that these methods are most successful in the inner city. How does one effectively and truly teach the students in between. The county school systems, where students are from the farm, to students from small city low-income housing areas, and everyone in between, are all in one room.

I daily witness the same hateful prejudice, which permeates the schools of the inner city. But there are so many forms, so many guises which this intangible thing takes on. It appears that the most recent teacher to come to the silver screen discovered that this was the issue she had to first address, before any standard curriculum could be learned by her students. I wish that I could buck the system somehow. That I could confront my students with their petty and unreasonable hate for one another. But I am stuck presenting boring information to an apathetic group of beings who would choose not to be there if they could. How do I buck the system safely, acceptably, in a way that will not shake or ruffle the person who could have me fired?

I want to. But I don’t think I can.


I stumbled onto a new perspective on screwing up this morning.

I was reading Romans 6 and 7, trying to break out of the mode of looking at the Scripture analytically and theologically, and reading the flow of thought about us in relation to messing up, our old selves, our new selves in God, and the inability to reconcile the two. I guess I was thinking about habitual hang-ups (which all of us have at some level), and pondering the question that many Christ-followers ponder: if I know Him, why do I keep (insert repetitive problem here)-ing all the time?

A few weeks ago, I read part of Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy. Not a great book, but he does make a point about the habits of our physical selves opposing the desires of our spiritual and emotional selves. Exactly what Paul speaks of in the Romans passage. Willard interperets it (Paul’s langauge is difficultly phrased even for seminary grads, depending on how formal a translation you read) like this: our spirit hates whatever this hang-up or bad habit or addiction might be, but our physical selves (what Paul is describing as “the flesh”) returns to it habitually. It’s almost dissociative, like the dream where you’re standing outside of yourself watching yourself screw up.

And it occurred to me that God sees us in much the same manner as I used to see my clients when I was in the counseling field. They kept messing up, but I kept encouraging and supporting, hoping that they would have more and more time between the mess-ups. Eventually they did. I guess I had never seen God this way before. I’ve always seen Him pounding His desk in rage everytime I would drop the ball in this way. He’s not, though. He’s disappointed, certainly. But He’s encouraging, supporting, moving me along in successive approximations.

I suppose that, because I came from a denomination, I was so steeped in concepts of God’s wrath and subcultural exclusivity that I’ve never seen God as loving me and being in my corner on things. Makes me want to try harder.

Part of my church baggage, I guess. It’s amazing how our perspectives can be slanted away from the truth when church is done wrong.

Discovering a Vision

For those artistic thinkers out there, I’ve stumbled onto this great podcast called The Kindlings Muse. Typically it consists of interviews with great thinkers and cultural innovators. Right now the series is a Dick Staubs interview with the late Stan Grenz.

I was listening to the latest installment today (occasionally groaning because Grenz was a theologian…let’s not go there again), and I was struck with this idea of being “someone who transforms culture.” As a writer, as a communicator, that’s my goal…to effect and infect our culture for the better, for God. But I’m trying to understand what that looks like. I’m trying to reconcile that with writing for money. Certainly, one must make a living, and my perspective on that has certainly changed now that I have a wife to support, and at some point (although the idea scares me beyond belief) will have children in the picture as well.

So, how am I influential? I’ve always enjoyed helping people. I’ve been a youth minister, I’ve been a counselor. I enjoyed all of the above. Somehow, though, working with people directly has lost its appeal, at least in those settings. Perhaps I don’t want to be encumbered by titles or positions. I think, though, that, if I have a calling from God, it is to be a communicator of truth. That communication can occur in many forms, whether interpersonal or as public address. But I know that I am drawn to do that, that I have a passion for it. I know that I will have a hole inside if I don’t.

Now, I just have to discover how…