My wife's dad passed away this past weekend, and I'll be flying south to be with the family and perform a small memorial service on Friday, back in time to preach on Sunday.
Ed was the only dad I had during my adult life. I loved him, and he changed me. He was a practical man, a contractor who knew how to work with his hands. I spent a couple of summers working with him and he frustrated me because he never explained what he was doing, but instead just assumed that by watching, I'd learn. The funny thing though, is that I did
learn - and have been able to do some things w/ my hands just because we spent time together.
He also took me skiing, and also didn't teach me how to ski; the same thing with fishing. His educational theory was that if a person would just start doing something, they'd learn how to do it. PHD's in education would have a field day with that! They'd argue the merits of affective and cognitive styles of learning and teaching, plead for learning objectives and feedback loops, consider where on Maslow's pyramid of needs a person is, and how to move he/she higher. But not Ed. He would just jump in and do...and invite me to join him. He wasn't perfect by any account - none of us are... but he invited me in, and for me, someone who'd not been invited into a man's life since my own dad died years earlier, that was huge.
I could write a eulogy here, or a bit about grief, but it would feel too personal for this blog. Instead, I'll just ponder for a moment the strange intersection of my sermon preparation for Sunday with my memories of my father in law. I'm preparing to preach about the importance of encountering the Bible on a regular basis, because it seems that among Christians, Bible ignorance is on the rise, and devotional habits in a state of decay. This wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the reality that it's encounter with God through the Bible that shapes us. Take away that force for shaping in our lives and we're left with a host of other cultural forces to shape us, but I have deep doubts as to their capacity to shape us for the better.
People avoid reading the Bible for a whole bunch of reasons which I'll cover Sunday (and you'll be able to download that sermon here
, one week from today). For now, can I just note that many have stopped encountering the Bible because they've been thinking that it was a textbook, and it's disappointed them. It hasn't delivered the snappy, easy answers they'd hoped for. Instead, it's introduced, at times, more questions, some mystery, even some contradiction. At other times we come away from our reading wondering if we've gained anything at all of value.
Our problem is that we've been wishing the Bible would be a textbook, and it isn't. Instead, it's often a window into a relationship; and often that relationship is as frustrating as my relationship with Ed. I want to learn about carpentry - he has me stapling insulation under a house. I want to learn about skiing - he points his skis down the hill and goes, shouting, 'see you at the bottom' as he disappears. That's not teaching.
Not traditional teaching at least. But it is
a form of relationship. The reality is this - it's because of Ed that I picked up a hammer and learned to use it. Eventually I built my own deck. It's because of Ed that I started to ski. To this day I use my Fridays, many of them at least, with either skis, or snowshoes, or hiking boots on my feet, depending on the time of year. It's because of Ed that I still breathe most deeply when I fish, though it's been a while since I've been able to break away and do so. Ed didn't give me instructions manuels. Frankly, that wasn't his strength. He just invited me into his story - and by God I'm glad he did. My life is richer for it.
The Bible is often the same in what it offers. I know: the Bible does teach - does offer commands and precepts. I get it. Sometimes though, our obsession with the letter of the law has crushed our spirits, and we've ended up justifying genocide, slavery, and a boatload of other crimes in God's name because we're hanging on to a fragment of the Bible. If the Bible is only precepts...it's frankly a little confusing. But there's another side too: It's less of an instruction manual than we'd sometimes like it to be, and more of an invitation to step into a grand story. God's inviting us to enter in to a cosmic redemptive work, and if we wait until we've figured it all out, we'll wake up dead one morning and realize that we were among those that were 'always learning'
but never really making a blessed difference in the world because we frankly missed the big picture, missed the point. I hope we can come to see the Bible for what it is - a way of relating to a Person - to One who invites to join in the work He's doing. Then our job is to simply trust that He'll keep shaping us along the way. I often relate to the Bible the same way I related to my father-in-law -- I listen for the invitation to jump into the story, and just go. That's how we grow and learn - that's how we're transformed.
I'm grateful for this man who invited me to enter into his story... It is, I think, very similar to what Jesus does.
I'll be offline for the rest of the week... Please visit again... I'll be back Monday