Sunday, March 25, 2012

Theology Is Like a Kayak Trip

God speaks to each of us in slightly different ways, depending on how He wired us. Just as people speak different "love languages," so also people hear God in diverse ways. Myself, I hear Him best through the voice of nature. I also think in metaphors, so God frequently instructs me in life's tougher lessons through what I call "living parables."

I am currently taking a course in basic theology and have been asked to examine how I "do" theology. Here is the metaphor I have chosen to use to illustrate my understanding of the way in which God reveals Himself to me:

Theology is like a kayak trip. (Yes, I know, that is a simile not a metaphor. Work with me, people.)

The water represents my life experiences

Y-E-S Send?

Well, I’ve done it. Three little letters with the potential to change my entire life: Y-e-s. And then the ultimate commitment: send. A life’s ambition ruined in less than ten seconds.
This afternoon, stuck without internet or email access, and too low on cell phone battery to wait out the interminably long message on my employer’s voicemail service, I sent a text. Yes, I texted. If you’ve read my bio, you know that it was my goal to die without ever having done so . . . I wanted my epitaph to read, “i nvr txtd.” Alas, that is now impossible.
I fear, however, that having once done the dirty deed, I will now be expected to continue doing it. I am no longer a virgin; I have become “textually active” (if you will excuse the pun). My friends will now demand that I respond to their texts and will take offense when I don’t. No longer can I hide behind the eccentric but respectable excuse of total abstinence. People will not accept it. “You did it once,” they will say, and then they will ask me to prove my love for them by doing it again. And again. And again.
Is this right, I ask you? Should someone be expected to continue in a self-destructive behavior just because of one slip? If this rationale, so often applied to sexuality, were to be extended to other areas of life -- for example, alcohol consumption and over-eating -- institutions such as AA and Weight Watchers would have to close their doors. So would the church, for at the heart of the gospel is forgiveness of sins and repentance. This is the first message Jesus preached: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Over and over he told those he forgave, “Now go and sin no more.” The Apostle Paul wrote, “Should we go on sinning so that grace may increase? God forbid!” and the Apostle John warned that no child of God can live in sin. 
So now I find myself torn. Should I repent of my momentary weakness -- the fact that I texted “Yes” rather than give up a paying kayak job -- and resolve never to text again? Or should I sigh and admit that I was a fool to imagine that I could hold out against the pressures of society to conform?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Consider the Crabs

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made... (Romans 1:20)

God speaks to me through Creation. He always has, and I'm guessing He always will. That's just part of the way He wired me, one of the few things I have in common with Annie Dillard and John the Baptist. (I'm assuming JtB was a nature boy. How else could he have managed to live out in the desert all those years?) Whenever I am stressed, I head for the woods or the beach, the two places where I am most likely to hear a clear word from God. I even bought a waterproof Bible so I can lie in the surf while I read.

Last week I was preparing to lead a group of nature lovers on a kayak tour of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (or "MinWir" as we guides say), an evening paddle where our goal is to spot bioluminescent organisms in the shallow waters of the estuary. Just after sunset but before the twilight had faded to black, I spotted something large moving along the bottom of the waters just off the shore where we launch our kayaks. I waded out and came ashore with this beautiful creature:

Yes, it's a hermit crab. I catch a lot of hermit crabs in the estuary, most of them living in the shells of Florida Crowned Conchs or Florida Banded Tulips. Two weeks ago I caught a hermit crab whose shell was the size of a pinto bean -- its legs were as fine as hairs. The average MinWir crab, though, is about 2-3 inches in length, and once in a while I find one the size of my fist. The guy in this picture is living in a barnacle-encrusted banded tulip, but it's difficult to judge his size from the photo, so let me step into the picture with him to give you a better idea of the scale:
My first thought upon seeing this crab was, "I didn't know they could get that big!" Hermit crabs will continue to grow as long as they have bigger shells to move into, and according to my research some species of hermit crab live over 30 years. I would imagine that the older ones have to deal with something of a housing shortage. It takes a long time for a mollusk to grow to the size of a watermelon, after all. While I don't know how long this guy (whom I christened "Gojira" after the Japanese monster lizard) has been living in this particular shell, he was filling it up pretty well and looked about ready for a new home. Where is he going to find one? No one I know has ever seen a banded tulip shell this size before; they aren't just lying around waiting for hermit crabs to move in. And a hermit crab without a home is vulnerable to predators . . . in other words, there are no homeless hermits; there are only dead ones.

As Jesus reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount, though, God has the situation under control. He feeds the birds (Matthew 6:26) and clothes the grass (Matthew 6:28-30), and he provides homes for hermit crabs. That's particularly encouraging to me . . . I'm looking for a home right now and I will confess, the process is stressful. But if I consider the crabs, I'll have an easier time trusting God to work it all out in time.