Everything Happens for a Reason? Review

Review of Bowler, Kate. Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I Have Loved. Random House Publishing Group.

By Gary Furr

Kate Bowler begins her book in the doctor’s office.  “I had lost almost thirty pounds by the time I was referred to a gastrointestinal surgeon at Duke University Hospital.” And then, the thud of reality.”

ONE MOMENT I WAS a regular person with regular problems. And the next, I was someone with cancer. Before my mind could apprehend it, it was there—swelling to take up every space my imagination could touch. A new and unwanted reality. There was a before, and now there was an after. Time slowed to a pulse. Am I breathing? I wondered. Do I want to? Every day I prayed the same prayer: God, save me. Save me. Save me.

There are plenty of books about the problem of suffering, but every now and then one Bowler_Kate_AIF2019comes along that makes us feel it. All humans eventually suffer in life somewhere along the way—but it is undeserved, unfair and untimely suffering that is the most crushing variety. Enter Kate Bowler, a professor at Duke Divinity School and church history. Bowler’s first book came from her dissertation, a study of the Prosperity Gospel, entitled Blessed: A History Of The American Prosperity Gospel. She befriended and studied the world of name it and claim it Christianity, embodied in the megachurch worlds of Kenneth Copeland and Joel Osteen.

This book, though, is a personal one, a wilderness wandering through the most difficult and intractable questions all religious people face: why suffering, why now, why me? She gets my vote for the most interesting title of the year and she does not disappoint. Kate is a wickedly funny writer but also gut-wrenchingly honest about her journey through Continue reading “Everything Happens for a Reason? Review”

Four Echoes of the Divine

From Sunday’s Sermon

“In his book Simply Christian NT Wright says there are four traces of the call of God in every human being. They are the echoes of the Creator’s voice in us.

  1. The longing for justice
  2. The quest for true spirituality
  3. The hunger for relationship
  4. The delight of beauty

These four echoes are truly the best of what it means to be a human being. Since if they truly represent God‘s highest purposes in life, then those of us who aspire to that life should see evidence of these things as we make progress.”

If you would counter the ugliness of the present moment and avoid the despair of our violent culture, consider making these four things the focus of your activity and choices. What leads you to one or all of them?  Take these paths and you will have a plan to resist the darkness and shallowness or our current culture.

N. T. Wright has been one of my favorite scholars through the years, and I read everything of his I can find.  Samford University is hosting him in its first Provost Distinguished Lecture Series, featuring two public events with Dr. Wright, a lecture on, “Space, Time and History: Jesus and the Challenge of God,” in the Wright Center at 7 p.m. On Sept. 11, Wright will debate Messianic Jewish theologian Mark Kinzer on the meaning of Israel in the Wright Center at 7 p.m.     Information

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Grace

I live in the vulnerability of my need for grace.  Grace I ought to give, grace I hope someone else will extend to me. Undeserved kindness, mercy, love. Most of all, the grace of God. Pure, unmerited, unsettling grace.

Grace, finally, is not dependent on anything more than the nature and reality of God. It is not what this or that preacher says it is, or what some friend tells us that comes out of their own need.

God is love.  This is the highest statement of the revelation of God’s being in the New s_s_hopetestament. Count on that more than any other statement about the Christian gospel. It does not free us to live as we please.  Damage comes from our refusal of grace, consequences to our self-destructive alienation. But if the gospels are right, grace can restore a prodigal who had wasted everything, a woman with five marriages, a tax collector who was a traitor to his people, a murderer like the apostle Paul, and a woman caught in utter shame of adultery by a group of lascivious onlookers. It can reclaim even a thief nailed next to Jesus who barely knew his name. And if this is so, then there is hope. Continue reading “Grace”

The Rememberers– for Mothers’ Day

Mothers Day is a happy day, and also a sad one for many.  Mothers are both biological and spiritual. They find us as divine grace in life. If we lost one too soon, God seems to put strong, caring women in our lives somewhere to help us survive and grow up into life.  I have been blessed with a loving Mom who loves her children and stood by the four of us as we meandered toward adulthood. I am grateful. But I have known extra mothers–my wonderful mother-in-law, teachers, mentors, and an unfair overabundance of wise older women because of my vocation as a pastor. My wife is the greatest mother on the planet.  I still learn from her.  I am grateful for them all.

As my mother has battled cancer (and is now in remission, thankfully) this last nearly two years, I have become more grateful for the journey with mom and moms everywhere.  For all of us, thank you.  And so, a poem I wrote not long ago while thinking of my mom as the “teller of stories,” and women in churches who keep the stories that Continue reading “The Rememberers– for Mothers’ Day”

The Harrow

The Harrow

Gary Allison Furr

 

In the years I lived among the peanut farmers,

I breathed October dust and prayed for their harvests.

The church and all of the town waited for the yield,

To tell us what sort of year it would be.

Only a few restaurants, drugstores and movie rental places

No movie theaters, theme parks or malls,

But we had a John Deere tractor dealership out on the bypass

Where the farmers’ trucks had to pass by.

On the most prominent corner, right by the road

the latest double wheel model

with the air-conditioned cab and stereo system.

Plowing without dust and sweat! Hard to imagine

we were so far from the farmers with their mules in the old days,

on a forty-acre farm, working like the Devil to survive

lest the mule be repossessed or die.

 

But always there was the harrow, evolved from ancient times,

At first, only a tree branch, sharpened to punch open the ground,

The Romans first made them of iron to mass produce

And now they are rows of teeth or knives neatly arranged

Or deadly discs, sharp enough to kill a man, but modern

in their symmetry of tearing open the earth,

They rip open the crust so the seed can go deep, down

Into the moist fertility, then burst open and seek the light above.

 

“Harrowing” is near-death, danger, all our protection

Torn away from us, some sharp and deadly threat

Gashes open the layers of careful habit and insulation

until death and I stare back at one another

waiting for one of us to make a move.

 

The medieval Christians said that on Saturday Jesus,

Punched down under the tomb, all the way to the underworld

and preached to the souls in hell.

He led out all those who had no chance to know Easter,

Satan, surely, filed an immediate lawsuit against God

for breaking the rules and letting a dead man breach the underworld

to claim souls Satan thought were a sure thing.

“The Harrowing of Hell” was kept in the Creed

We shake our heads

at the primitive believer thinking He “descended into hell”

Even as we still survive by eating the bounty of earth’s puncture wounds.

Farmers still dig down to the only place where life can emerge.

We are deluded by surface coverings of asphalt and wireless noise

“Virtual” cannot feed the hungry or raise the dead.

For that, earth must be broken, hearts pierced, nails driven.

 

Down went the Son of God, into Hell itself.

I’d like to think a little disc-plowing is called for,

Some holes punched in hell still on this earth,

Right through hard-hearted souls who deny

there is anything under here worth looking at or saving.

I’d like to think the Son of God, even in the grave,

Cannot help but vanquish every poison weed and pestilence

that threatens the Garden that God put here for us all.

 

Spy Wednesday

This is a poem I wrote two years ago.  During National Poetry Month, my youngest daughter, who teaches middle school in NYC, and I write poems to each other.  Many of mine should never see light of day, but that year I wrote poems each day of Holy Week about the events of that day.  I stumbled across the tradition of calling this “Spy Wednesday,” after the plotting that was going on that day.  Treachery, using, selling out–they are the deepest pain that wells forth from human beings. The deepest pain of Holy Week is the revelation of betrayal of the innocent Jesus by his friend.

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The Last Supper by Carl Bloch (Wikipedia)

What a great name for the day

A friend’s fate was sealed,

Sold out by the man for whom

Dante created an ice rink on the lowest level of hell.

 

Betrayed.

The word sends icy shivers down the spine

Because it requires loving trust as its precondition.

People betray love, not hate.

Enemies try to kill you.  It’s what they do. No surprise.

Only friends, lovers, teammates

Sisters, brothers, colleagues betray you.

It has to rip a hole where you felt safe to do its work.
It’s a sordid business—

Traitors sell you out, stab your back

Let you down, break your trust, turn on you

Ruin your faith in people and undermine your capacity to trust again.

Only double minds and hearts, labyrinths of secret compartments

With cracks in the walls, broken floor joists and low light,

Can pull it off.

A loyal spy is still a patriot

But a double agent is up to the highest bidder

At the cost of a soul

 

Thirty pieces of silver for Jesus puts the condemnation at Simon’s house

In an even more painful contrast. Hers was of love found

His was of love disdained.

 

His only hope now is “all have sinned and fall short of the glory”

A tiny speck of hope that his wretchedness is but one more evidence

Of what stares back at us in the mirror sooner or later.

So the drama unfolds,

which character, bent, long before it would be set in motion.

Callings That Find Us: Dan Haseltine

This Wednesday evening we come to the final of four outstanding speakers in our 2019 Speaker series.  Each week, a speaker has taken us inside the journey of Christian calling.  Too often we have turned the Christian faith into a series of ideas or reduced it to a buttress against our fears and anxieties rather than what Jesus revealed it to be: a dynamic and life-changing adventure.  Our final speaker is Dan Haseltine.

For more than two decades, Dan Haseltine has been the founder and primary songwriterPublication1 for the Grammy-winning music group, Jars of Clay.  From a band formed among college friends in Illinois, they skyrocketed in the mid-90s to crossover fame.  Their self-titled debut was released in 1995. When the single “Flood” began to climb the charts on mainstream radio stations, Silvertone Records started to heavily promote the song, turning it into one of the biggest mainstream hits ever by a band on a Christian label. The album has since reached multi-platinum certification according to the RIAA. Over the next decades came touring, more Grammys and successful albums. 

I met Dan a few years ago while on an interfaith advocacy effort in Washington.  We were paired together to talk to congressional leaders about the importance of global health and hunger funding, so we spent a day together. He is one of the most engaging and thoughtful, down to earth people I have ever met. Many years ago my youngest daughter, then in high school, pressed me to go down to the old Boutwell Auditorium, May 2, 1998, to hear Jars of Clay. I had never heard them, pretty well being into acoustic music and bluegrass then, but I went along.  I liked them. I didn’t know I’d ever end up walking around DC with that young singer someday.

Dan visited Africa in 2002, which in turn inspired the founding of Blood: Water Mission, a non-profit organization created to raise awareness Continue reading “Callings That Find Us: Dan Haseltine”