A Good Person is not a Perfect Person

source: bjornstar via Flickr

source: bjornstar via Flickr

“If I have walked with falsehood
    or my foot has hurried after deceit—
let God weigh me in honest scales
    and he will know that I am blameless—”
Job 31:5-6 (NIV)

Wendy, Suzanna and I stood in the kitchen this past Sunday night and had one of those really important conversations about life. It wasn’t chit-chat. It wasn’t casual. We wandered into some deep weeds and talked about why it is we all do things we know we shouldn’t, and why it is we choose out of doing things we know we should. We talked about the process each one of us must go through of figuring these things out so that we can successfully move forward in our life journey.

On Tuesday night and Wednesday we were blessed by a visit from Madison, who came home from Colorado to see the family for Christmas (she’ll be on-call at work next week). Sitting around the dining room table late into Tuesday evening and again in the afternoon on Wednesday, Wendy and I waded once more into deep weeds with our daughter. We had honest conversation about old scars, misperceptions, and miscommunication. We acknowledged the ways we have hurt one another over the years, whom we love deeply.

So, here’s the problem I have with Job. I get that he feels his suffering is unjust. I understand feeling that the scales of justice are out of whack when you do your darnedest to be an alright guy and life takes a dump on you. I’m a good, midwestern protestant boy of hardworking Dutch heritage. I’ve tried hard to serve God and walk the straight and narrow since the days of my youth. Reading today’s chapter, however, leaves me scratching my head at Job’s claims of piety:

  • I haven’t looked lustfully at a woman 
  • I haven’t walked with falsehood
  • I haven’t been enticed by a woman or committed adultery
  • I haven’t been unjust to my servants
  • I haven’t denied the poor or refused to share with the needy
  • I haven’t been greedy
  • I haven’t rejoiced at my enemies misfortune
  • I have no hidden sins

I get that Job is a good guy, but no one is that good. When I go down this list I realize that I (or my wife, daughters, family, friends, neighbors, employees, and etc.) could provide you with specific examples of  ways of committed each of these wrongdoings somewhere along my journey. I’m not proud of this fact. Maybe I’m just a rotten person, but that’s the point. No matter how good we try to be, we all have tragic flaws. We all make mistakes. Each one of us repeatedly finds ourselves choosing to do the things we don’t want to do and refusing to do the things we know we should. Each one of us causes hurt to the ones we love the most.

The ultimate theme of the epic poem of Job are the questions which arise when good people who lead good lives experience tragic and inexplicable suffering. I get from a literary perspective that Job’s lofty claims of righteousness serve to heighten his climactic argument in this cosmic debate just before God breaks His silence. Still, I read the claims and think to myself, “I think you left something off the list, Job: Humility.”

And, I think that’s exactly where God will enter the debate.

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The Eternal Question on this Temporal Earth

source: h-k-d via Flickr

source: h-k-d via Flickr

Yet when I hoped for good, evil came;
when I looked for light, then came darkness.
Job 30:26 (NIV)

Why is it that bad things happen to good people?

Why did my friend and his wife get hit by a drunk driver? He was a great husband and father. Why did he languish in a vegetative state for years? Why did those six sweet kids have to endure that loss?

Why does my friend have to endure such deep mental illness? He’s such a great guy. So full of life and so much to offer the world. Why did he end up getting stuck with crazy?

Why was it that marriage was such a struggle from the start? How did I end up the victim of this piece of false advertising? Two young people who love God and have nothing but the best of intentions, desires, and love for one another find that there is a deep fissure in the bedrock of relationship that drains life rather than filling it.

How is it that he ended up with a rare brain tumor? Why did his whole family have to endure the fallout of his messed up brain and behaviors?

Why did their baby die?

Why did she have to die? How on earth can someone so young and so full of life and potential end up with terminal cancer? There are so many who deserve death more than she does, and so much life that she has to offer the world. Why her?

Why would he lose his job? He’s the most genuine man of faith and has more integrity than any other three friends combined. He works harder than most anyone I know. Why did he lose his job and have his entire life put at financial risk while those other materialistic, lying, cheating sloths continue to rake in the big bucks?

Why is it that her womb remains empty? Why didn’t our babies ever make it? How is it that a homeless teen crack addict gets pregnant, repeatedly, and it just won’t happen for us?

Why do bad things happen to good people? Each one of these examples stems from experiences on my own journey. The further I traverse the path the more examples I add to the pile of experiences that lead me back to Job. That’s why Job’s story has resonated with humanity through the millennia. His question is our question. We all seek to understand the answer to this simple, unfathomable query.

 

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Occupied

source: kungfuji via Flickr

source: kungfuji via Flickr

“Oh, for the days when I was in my prime,
    when God’s intimate friendship blessed my house,
when the Almighty was still with me
    and my children were around me….”
Job 29:4-5 (NIV)

I had to be careful when I came up to my office this morning. Madison flew home yesterday for a brief pre-Christmas visit (she has to be on-call for work next week), and both bedrooms upstairs across from my office are occupied with sleeping angels. As I tip-toed up the dark stairway my mind was occupied with thoughts of the days when that was a regular morning occurrence. I remember going through a period of grief right after Madison moved out and the nest was truly empty.

And then, in a moment of vague synchronicity, I get to my office and open my MacBook to read Job’s words pasted at the top of this post. I get that Job is lamenting a loss that was far more extreme and infinitely more dire. That’s the cool thing about God’s Message. It meets you where you are in the moment.

In this moment I feel the bitter-sweetness of aging.

I watch my girls riding the roller coaster of young adulthood. One moment they express to me the excitement of independence and adventure that accompanies that stage of life’s journey. After years of parental guidance (and/or repression), they are living their own lives. They can go where they want and do what they want, whenever they want to do it. And, they can legally drink adult beverages while doing it (except for our acquired young adult, Suzanna, who still has a year or two for that one!). And then, the next moment they express to me the terror, doubts, and insecurities that accompany the realities of finishing school, finding jobs, navigating the health care system, and making ends meet. Welcome to life, sweetie.

For the record, I look at my life currently and realize that I’m on the same roller coaster ride. My car is just over-the-hill. One moment I express the excitement of independence and adventure that accompanies this stage of life’s journey. After years of parental responsibilities with children and teenagers, Wendy and I can once again go where we want and when we want whenever we want to do it. We even have the added blessing of financial resources to enjoy a few things for the first time in our lives. And, we can still legally drink adult beverages while doing it. And then, the next moment I experience the terror, doubts, and insecurities that accompany the realities of a body that doesn’t work the way it used to, hanging onto a job, and planning for retirement that suddenly doesn’t seem so far away. I carry concerns about the parents ahead of us on life’s road, and carry more concern than I thought I would about those young adult children following behind.

C’est la vie. It is what it is.

On this particular December morning, however, both rooms across the hall from my office are occupied with sleeping angels. And, while I miss the one angel who slumbers across the ocean, this morning feels a lot like “old times.” And, for that, I’m thankful (and hanging on for that next hill).

 

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Treasure (in Black and White)

There is a mine for silver
    and a place where gold is refined.

People assault the flinty rock with their hands

    and lay bare the roots of the mountains.
They tunnel through the rock;
    their eyes see all its treasures.
They search the sources of the rivers
    and bring hidden things to light.

But where can wisdom be found?
    Where does understanding dwell?
Job 28:1, 9-12 (NIV)

I read the other day, and I’ve heard it said before, that younger generations are choosing to ignore black and white films. We live in a world of three dimensional, Ultra HD technology in which anything you can imagine in your mind can be visually generated by a computer. I can understand how masses of younger viewers would foolishly conclude that there is nothing for them in an old black and white movie. I suppose the same masses would find no value worthy of their time in an epic poem about one man’s suffering rooted in the depths of history and carried through the ages by oral tradition and religious scribes.

In today’s chapter, that epic poem reaches an interlude which asks a simple question: Humanity will search the depths of the earth for gold and treasure, but where do you mine for wisdom?

This made me think of a classic movie filmed in black and white. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a 1948 film starring Humphrey Bogart and it tells the story of two American men, down on their luck, who go prospecting for gold in the mountains of Mexico. The men find their gold, but begin to lose their wits and their souls in the process. In the end the gold is lost, but the men may just have gained a treasure of greater weight in wisdom.

This morning, I’m thinking about that which we value as compared to that which is treasure of real worth. I’m thinking about the treasure of an ancient, epic poem, the treasure of an out-of-fashion black and white film, and the treasure of wisdom. Wisdom, our interlude reminds us, is not mined in the depths of the earth like the precious metals we value, but is found in the depths of our valuable and precious suffering.

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To Tell the Truth

source: Ashley Rosex via Flickr

source: Ashley Rosex via Flickr

“as long as I have life within me,
    the breath of God in my nostrils,
my lips will not say anything wicked,
    and my tongue will not utter lies.”
Job 27:3-4 (NIV)

I am what is known in general and colloquial psychological terms as a pleaser. It’s always been my nature to desire relational peace with others and to want others to “be pleased” with me. Like all personality bents, being a pleaser has both its strengths and corollary struggles. On the plus side, I tend to be amiable and easy to get along with. I’m not usually given to strong public reaction, rather holding my emotions in check until I can process and thoughtfully respond. I’m generally diplomatic and tend to be sensitive to all sides in a conflict. The downside is that I will sometimes stuff my emotions until they begin eating away at my soul like corrosive acid. I respond to others in the way that will make them happy rather than responding in a way that is true in expressing what I really think, feel, and believe. Throughout my life journey I have been guilty of suppressing and submitting my own thoughts, will, and emotions to the thoughts, will, and emotions of others in order to please and placate. For the record, that that never turns out well¹.

Interestingly enough, I am married to a woman who lies at the opposite end of the personality spectrum. “Holding emotions in check” and “suppressing strong reactions” are not apt descriptors for Wendy, but “emotionally expressive” and “forthright honesty” definitely hit the mark. This, of course, makes for some really interesting conversational choreography when it comes to conflict in our house, but we’ve learned a few steps from one another which has ultimately made us better relational dance partners.

So it is that I really appreciated reading Job’s honesty in today’s chapter. Job reveals the same qualities that I admire and appreciate in Wendy. He will not suppress, submit his thoughts and emotions to please or placate his wife or three friends. He is compelled to be honest and true in expressing his thought and emotion, realizing that it would actually be wicked of him to be dishonest about his anger and frustration with God. It would be a lie to plead guilty to some heinous sin that precipitated his suffering. It would be untrue to say that he’s okay with his lot when he honestly feels that his suffering and circumstances are utterly unjust.

This morning I’m realizing that, if I were in Job’s sandals, I would be tempted just to say to my friends, “Yeah, you’re probably right. Thanks for setting me straight, guys.” I admire Job’s honesty. It challenges me. I appreciate his willingness to tell the truth about what he really thinks and feels, even though it’s not what the others want to hear. That’s a trait that this pleaser has been striving to develop over time.

I think I’ve made progress. I’ve got a good coach! :-)

 

¹See exhibit A: the divorce decree.

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The Dickensian Men

2014 12 USP Men of Christmas Carol LR

It was Spence Ver Meer’s idea to get all of the men from Union Street Player’s production of “A Christmas Carol” together for a photograph in costume. I’m glad he did because they turned out to be fun photographs. I set up my trip-pod and remote control before Sunday afternoon’s closing matinee for this group shot. I used Snapseed to rough it up and give it a vintage, old photograph feel.

2014 12 USP Men of Christmas Carol 02LR

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The Sarcasm of Job

How you have helped the powerless!
    How you have saved the arm that is feeble!
What advice you have offered to one without wisdom!
    And what great insight you have displayed!
Who has helped you utter these words?
    And whose spirit spoke from your mouth?
Job 26:1-4 (NIV)

In case you didn’t catch it, Job is being sarcastic. And, I might add, he’s doing a nice job of it. Funny to think that through big chunks of history it was popularly believed that humor was at best ungodly and at worst sinful. Constipated medieval scholars liked to point out the fact that the Bible never speaks of Jesus laughing. Of course, it never speaks of Jesus going to the bathroom either, but even constipated medieval scholars have to go once in a while. Believe me, if you take thirteen guys camping out under the stars and fishing on the lake like Jesus and the boys, there’s going to be laughter.

I believe God has an awesome sense of humor. And Job’s sarcasm in today’s chapter is a great example.

Sarcasm is an ironic or satirical remark that seems to be praising someone or something but is really taunting or cutting. Sarcasm can be used to hurt or offend or can be used for comic affect.

- I’m trying to imagine you with a personality.
- I work 40 hours a week to be this poor.
- Is it time for your medication or mine?
- Well, this day was a total waste of makeup.
- Whatever kind of look you were going for, you missed.
- Not the brightest crayon in the box now, are we?
- Nice perfume. Must you marinate in it?
- Earth is full. Go home.
- Suburbia: where they tear out the trees and then name streets after them.
- This isn’t an office. It’s Hell with fluorescent lighting.
- I majored in liberal arts. Will that be for here or to go?
- Don’t bother me. I’m living happily ever after.

Sarcastic Quotes by Famous People (Other than Job)

“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.” – Oscar Wilde

“Sometimes I need what only you can provide: your absence.” – Ashleigh Brilliant

“I feel so miserable without you, it’s almost like having you here.” – Stephen Bishop

“I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll be glad to make an exception.” – Groucho Marx

“The trouble with her is that she lacks the power of conversation but not the power of speech.” – George Bernard Shaw

“I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.” – Mark Twain

“Weather forecast for tonight: dark.” – George Carlin

“You see, money’s not everything in life is it? But it keeps you in touch with your children…” – Johnnie Casson

“The early bird may get the worm, but it’s the second mouse who gets the cheese.” – Steven Wright

“What’s on your mind, if you will allow the overstatement?” – Fred Allen

“I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific.” – Lily Tomlin

“Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” – Mark Twain

“I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.” – Fred Allen

“Children really brighten up a household – they never turn the lights off.” – Ralph Bus

“Honesty is the best policy — when there is money in it.” – Mark Twain

source: yourdictionary.com

Hope you have a good laugh today! :-)

 

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