Randy Greenwald

Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

Author: Randy (Page 2 of 134)

Not in Nottingham

At the heart of Disney’s 1973 Robin Hood is a song penned and sung by Roger Miller (and covered here by Mumford and Sons) which captures the heart’s anguish when life has penned us in with sorrow.

Nottingham was home to the poor people for whom Robin Hood robbed the rich. But even with his heroics, life grew grim. It was unfair.

Every town has its ups and down
Sometime ups outnumber the downs
But not in Nottingham

To escape the despair one might flee, but when the oppression is so deep, the sorrow so profound, even that seems impossible.

I’m inclined to believe
If we weren’t so down
We’d up and leave

Unable or unwilling to escape, an appeal is made for relief, but it meets only silence.

We’d up and fly if we had wings for flyin’
Can’t you see the tears we’re cryin’?
Can’t there be some happiness for me?
Not in Nottingham

Pretty heavy fare for a Disney film.

The sequence over which the song plays is an image of rain falling on a people for whom all hope is lost. It’s an honest prayer of lament asking in despair, “Can’t there be some happiness for me?”

For the many who pray such a prayer, the response, it seems, is never more than the sound of rain on the pavement.

In some ways, it’s a biblical prayer. The psalmist prays in this way:

O LORD, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?
Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your dreadful assaults destroy me. (Psalm 88:14-16)

There is, the biblical writers knew, a time for weeping and mourning (Ecclesiastes 3:4). And yet they did not shrink back from penning such honest laments because they knew, unlike the poor stricken residents of Nottingham, that there would, as well, be a time of laughing and dancing (also Ecclesiastes 3:4).

“Can’t there be some happiness for me?” Yes, they knew there would be. There is resurrection on the other side of death. And for that we long.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation. (Psalm 42:5)

Bookish Habits #7: Bill Gates

[For an explanation of this series, see the post The (Book) Lives of the (Not So) Rich and (Marginally) Famous. I will be asking the same questions of all I interview, with a few followup questions as needed.]

This series has sought to encourage wide reading by pulling the curtain back on the reading habits of a few readers of varying ‘celebrity.’ I’ve wanted to interview the genuinely famous and have approached a couple, but, to date, none have found sufficient time or whimsy to respond.

Image from Time Magazine

Until now.

Well, not really.

No doubt Bill Gates would have jumped at the opportunity to be profiled in this space had I asked him. Instead, Time Magazine, with questions oddly similar to my own, published an interview with him in the May 22, 2017 issue. It’s a fun interview to which I cannot resist adding my annotations. The quotes are all Gates’.

Warren Buffett loaned me his copy of Business Adventures by John Brooks many years ago.

A man who could probably buy Amazon borrows, instead of buys, a book. Maybe that’s why he’s rich and I’m not.

Melinda and I both love the book [The Great Gatsby], and it’s the novel that I reread the most.

Reading is best as a communal activity. To share what one reads, to discuss it, to savor it with another, is part of its joy. If one can do that with his partner, so much the better. Good for Bill and Melinda!

And some books are so rich that they bear re-reading. The experience of reading them does something to us. Returning renews and deepens that experience.

I read the whole set of World Book encyclopedias when I was a kid.

What was I doing when I was a kid? Not that.

My elementary school librarian, Mrs. Blanche Caffiere at Seattle’s View Ridge Elementary School, introduced me to biographies of famous figures throughout history.

Each of our lives is littered with people who simply in doing what they love and being who God made them to be touch us in profound ways, ways they never could imagine in the moment. This librarian no doubt knew she had a bright kid. She never could have imagined that he’d be talking about her in Time Magazine 60 years later.

The biggest problem I have is that I refuse to stop reading a book in the middle, even if I don’t like it.

I get that, and it is a problem. Right now I’m 490 pages into George Elliot’s Middlemarch still waiting to meet a character I care about.

I love the way good fiction can take you out of your own thoughts and into someone else’s.

This is the primary reason I urge those who preach or teach to read widely and wildly. Otherwise, we get stuck with singular perspectives.

I was lucky to have parents who encouraged me to read.

So did I. I wish I could thank them for it.

Slightly Alive

Contrary to what you might have imagined, this blog is not dead. At least not all dead. If it were all dead there would be nothing left to do but to go through its clothes and look for loose change. As it is, it is only mostly dead, which we all know means slightly alive. And we hope, soon, that it will be again fully alive.

Life for its author has taken on a busy-ness that cannot be averted, delayed, suppressed, or avoided. This has left little room for ruminating much less for writing. So, don’t change the channel or unplug your set. We will in due time return this blog to its regularly scheduled programming.

Thanks for your patience.

What Is a Sabbatical?

My church has scheduled a sabbatical for me beginning in April, 2018. In order to build understanding for this the church has started a blog for which I was asked to write the following in answer to the question, “What is a sabbatical?” Published last week it interestingly generated attention outside the church. This suggests that others not associated with the church might find value in it. With that in mind I am posting it here as it appeared originally on the church’s sabbatical blog.

Talk of my taking a sabbatical spawns the question (thought, though rarely spoken), “Why are we giving Randy a 13 week vacation?”

It’s a great question. ‘Sabbatical’ can easily look like ‘vacation.’ After all, I will stop coming to church. I will stop preaching, stop planning and moderating meetings, stop visiting the sick, stop mentoring or discipling others. I will stop doing my job, and that looks like a vacation.

But sabbatical is more than stopping. It is a period of intentional rest, renewal, and re-imagining.

In engaging ‘rest’ the sabbatical most resembles a vacation. Rest for people in ministry is essential but hard to find. Jesus commanded his disciples to ‘come away and rest’ (Mark 6:31) because ministry depletes the minister. Ministry demands an intentional period of disengagement so that strength for the work can be renewed.

The minister’s body needs rest and renewal, but so does his soul. Over time, though the pastor fights to retain his passion for Christ, the demands of ministry can deplete it. This leaves some ministering weakly on the fumes of their prior devotion. Churches end up with pastors merely going through the motions of ministry. A sabbatical, as a part of a pastor’s regular routine of spiritual health, can renew the depth and vitality of his walk with Christ restoring his ability to give needed spiritual care to his congregation.

Such intentional rest and renewal can refresh a pastor’s vision. Men and women from all professions report that disengagement from their regular responsibilities allows them to imagine a future they might have been unable to see before. A properly planned sabbatical (and much planning is being given) can give a renewed enthusiasm for the vision God has for the church.

The sabbath year in the Old Testament law required that farmers let a field lie fallow for a season. Obedience to this was an act of faith by the farmer and an act of renewal for the field. During that year nutrients drained by prior use would be restored to the soil. Similarly, a pastoral sabbatical is a congregation’s act of faith, hoping for the restoration of their pastor’s depleted spiritual resources.

“Okay,” you say, “It’s not a vacation. But will you come back?”

Stories of pastors leaving their churches after a sabbatical are dramatic but rare. The opposite is the norm. Pastors return invigorated and anxious to continue to serve. CPC’s sabbatical policy is structured to ensure my return, but the concern is really moot. I love this church. My desire is to return to serve you as a better pastor.

When all is done I hope to be able to report in a fashion similar to this:

“I returned with more energy than I can remember having since I was fifteen years old…. The experience of my maturity was now coupled with the energy of my youth…. The sabbatical had done its work.” (Eugene Peterson)

Please pray to that end.

Great Scott! Gadzooks! Television and Reading Books!

Life has been busy for me recently, with little reading, less writing, and no posting. As I make the necessary in flight adjustments to my life’s trajectory I am lifting a post from 9 years ago and pasting it here. It seems appropriate to reprint this post, given we have spoken much about reading recently in these pages (and given that I’ve just finished binge watching my favorite detective show, Amazon’s Bosch.)

So, enjoy the wisdom of Roald Dahl, appearing here first on August 29, 2008. And then go pick up a book.

The simplest explanation for the lost passion for reading is to blame the television. My favorite presentation of this charge comes from Willie Wonka’s Oompa Loompas as they sing regarding the demise of poor Mike Teevee. This is especially fun to read to children. But there are plenty of us adults who might need to pay attention to it as well.

Enjoy!

The most important thing we’ve learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set —
Or better still, just don’t install
The idiotic thing at all.
In almost every house we’ve been,
We’ve watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.
(Last week in someone’s place we saw
A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they’re hypnotised by it,
Until they’re absolutely drunk
With all that shocking ghastly junk.
Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don’t climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink —
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?
IT ROTS THE SENSE IN THE HEAD!
IT KILLS IMAGINATION DEAD!
IT CLOGS AND CLUTTERS UP THE MIND!
IT MAKES A CHILD SO DULL AND BLIND
HE CAN NO LONGER UNDERSTAND
A FANTASY, A FAIRYLAND!
HIS BRAIN BECOMES AS SOFT AS CHEESE!
HIS POWERS OF THINKING RUST AND FREEZE!
HE CANNOT THINK — HE ONLY SEES!
‘All right!’ you’ll cry. ‘All right!’ you’ll say,
‘But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!’
We’ll answer this by asking you,
‘What used the darling ones to do?
‘How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?’
Have you forgotten? Don’t you know?
We’ll say it very loud and slow:
THEY… USED… TO… READ! They’d READ and READ,
AND READ and READ, and then proceed
To READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!
One half their lives was reading books!
The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
And treasure isles, and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants,
And cannibals crouching ’round the pot,
Stirring away at something hot.
(It smells so good, what can it be?
Good gracious, it’s Penelope.)
The younger ones had Beatrix Potter
With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,
And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,
And Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and-
Just How The Camel Got His Hump,
And How the Monkey Lost His Rump,
And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,
There’s Mr. Rat and Mr. Mole-
Oh, books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago!
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks-
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They’ll now begin to feel the need
Of having something to read.
And once they start — oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hearts. They’ll grow so keen
They’ll wonder what they’d ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did.

(With gratitude to Roald Dahl.)

VP Pence and My Mom

I didn’t know it was the ‘Billy Graham’ rule. I thought it was just sage advice from my mom.

Twitter, at least, has been all a-flutter (a-twitter?) with the surprising and shocking (?) revelation that Vice President Mike Pence operates with a policy of not dining alone with women other than his wife. I’m stunned that this is in the least bit controversial. I’ve not heard his justification for his policy. I’ve only heard what others, some bitterly opposed, have said about it. But since this was my policy for many years, I want to toss a few words into the fray.

After college I had the wonderful privilege of spending three years teaching English to seventh-graders. I liked that age. I loved their energy and enthusiasm and I loved seeing their minds begin to engage the world around them. They were old enough to begin to have intelligent conversations but they had yet to inhabit the cynical, cool world of the older adolescent.

My mom had for many years taught that age, and as I began my career one piece of advice she gave me stuck: don’t let myself be in a room alone with a junior high girl. In her experience, even in the 60s and 70s, all it took to ruin a man’s reputation was a girl’s accusations. True or not they could stain and ruin a male teacher. She wanted to protect me from that.

As I transitioned from teacher to pastor that counsel stuck with me, magnified by the terrible track record  of male pastors staying out of emotionally and sexually charged relationships with women. To not spend time alone with a woman – either in my study or over a meal (Starbucks was not a thing back then) – seemed at the time like a wise policy to adopt.

This policy did more than to protect my own reputation (and by extension that of the church). It gave my wife needed security. The tale is old as time, that a pastor under the guise of regular counsel of a woman moves from pastor to confidante to lover. And though I saw no reason that that would happen in my case, who does? It seemed wise to erect barriers that would give my wife an added layer of confidence.

My role was no where near that of a US Senator or Vice President. And I would never presume to demand that others embrace the rules by which I steered my life. But I understand how important reputation is and how easy it is, no matter who we are, to be careless in the preservation of it.

But as a policy it proved unsustainable for me. I pastored a small church in which I was often on site alone with a female administrative assistant or financial manager. Is there any greater stereotype than that of the pastor running off with the church secretary? But it was unavoidable, really, and so we did it. Not the running off, mind you. The being alone.

It was not only unsustainable, it was in the end unfair to women in need of spiritual and pastoral care. One could theorize that they could get that from their husbands or from other astute and wise women, but that was theory and not reality. My policy caused the neglect of sheep in my congregation in need of care. And so, eventually, I abandoned it.

I now meet with women, preferably in a public place (my mom’s voice is still in my head) when possible. Most of the time, my wife is aware, and she has the right and responsibility to speak to me should she perceive that any one relationship is receiving more attention than she thinks it should. I still am concerned about her sense of security.

Being Vice President invites the spotlight, and Mike Pence will no doubt have many things to answer for. But this should not be one of them. I can’t say if in his case he should or should not hold on to this policy. Looking in from the outside I’m inclined to say that it is impossible for him to do so. But I would never imply that his decision is reflective of weak character. It may be reflective of wisdom.

Or of listening to his mom.

Time to Read

I was speaking with a woman after church a couple of Sundays ago about a book she had read and which I was reading. In that conversation I started a sentence, “The book you really should read…” and she stopped me protesting, “Don’t give me another book! My list is already too long! I don’t have time!”

I gave her the recommendation anyway, and she dutifully wrote it down.

But time is an issue, isn’t it? The question I most often hear in discussions about reading is, “When?” We are busy people. When in the midst of our busy-ness can we pause to read? I get that. So when I received the answers to my survey questions from Staci Thomas I followed up with a question along those lines. Her answer deserves a post all its own.

When, Staci, do you find time to do all the reading you do in the midst of a life that would by itself exhaust most of us?

Staci: I don’t have to force myself to read. I love reading. I only read books that I will love, I enjoy the process, and it’s not an activity like, say, doing the dishes, that I have to make an effort to do. Now, making the time to do so is another story. To make the time to read, this is what I do:

– I only pick books I like so it’s not drudgery to read.

– I always listen to a book when I am exercising (so, a minimum of six hours of book listening happens each week).

– I always turn my current Audible book on in the car when I’m not driving kids places.

– I turn the Audible book on when I’m getting ready for the morning or cleaning or making dinner.

– I’ll pick up the hard copy of the book I’m reading and read while I’m blow drying my hair.

– If I am stirring something while cooking, I have a book in my hand.

– I never leave the house without a book so when I am waiting somewhere (there is a lot of waiting when living in the city and raising four kids here) I pull it out and read.

– I read aloud to my kids for at least 30 minutes every night (kids are 17, 14, 13, 11). (Some parents bond while hiking or playing video games, but we read.)

– I read every night before I go to sleep…sometimes it’s only a page, sometimes it’s 30 minutes.

– I read when I’m waiting for a file to save that I’m uploading for work.

– I read when I’m on a plane for work, which is happening more frequently lately.

– I HEAVILY limit time on social media in favor of reading a book.

The before bed reading is the time of day when I am the most free to read. I try not to get in bed to read, as that lends itself to falling asleep quickly. I try to read in the family room before bed so that I can get a few more pages in before sleep. I read so many articles about reading in the early morning before the day starts, but I save that time for devotional/Bible reading so that is not free-type time for me. And – I’ll add this – there was a time when I slept about four hours a night. I cannot do that anymore. I sleep about six hours each night now, and I’m reading more than ever using the above techniques.

Thanks, Staci. I have only this to add:

©Stephen Pastis http://www.gocomics.com/pearlsbeforeswine

 

Bookish Habits #6: Staci Thomas

[For an explanation of this series, see the post The (Book) Lives of the (Not So) Rich and (Marginally) Famous. I will be asking the same questions of all I interview, with a few followup questions as needed.]

The title of the originating post in this series makes mention of the rich and famous. My friend Staci is neither, if measured by dollars in the bank and widespread name recognition. She is, however, rich relationally, with a husband and four adopted daughters and friends scattered over many states and several continents. And to those who know her, she is famous for her passion for Jesus and for representing him with integrity by loving the world around her. She should be famous for being a consumer of books. Her volume of reading is such that it will take two posts just to keep up with her, and then we will have to stop and catch our breath. If you like to read or want to begin to read more widely, I commend Staci to you. To Staci I owe my introduction to some of my favorite books (Gilead and The Elegance of the Hedgehog, to name a notable two.) It is to be lamented that this homeschooling mom who also works as an engineer and as an advocate of adoption (currently Family Program Director with Chosen, and for some reason, long ago, gave up trying to find time to continue her blog (last updated in 2014). I’m happy to introduce you to Staci and her reading habits.

Randy: In the past year, approximately how many books did you read for ‘enjoyment’ (that is, books outside your direct professional interest)?

Staci: I read 42 books for enjoyment in 2016.

What motivates you to read books outside your profession?

Simply put, my life is better when I’m reading profusely. I’m a sharper employee, a more compassionate mother, a more connected wife, a better friend, and a kinder person. I would rather read than do anything else, so it’s not too much of an effort to make profuse reading occur.

How do you choose what books you will read?

The Sunday New York Times Book Review – I read it every Sunday and if there is a review of a book that sounds good, I add it to my TBR list, which I keep on a spreadsheet.

You sound like an engineer. The answer to every problem involves a spreadsheet. What other sources add to your spreadsheet?

What Should I Read Next Podcast – I listen to this podcast and read this website daily for book recommendations.

Book lists – I am obsessed with reading book lists, and if I see a title that repeatedly shows up on various lists, I add it to the spreadsheet. Every year I read the New York Times’ Top Ten Best Books of the Year, and then I’ll work through their top 100 picks for the year if I need something else to read. Last week I found a list that took all of the best of the year books and put the most frequented books on one list. All 20 of those books went on the spreadsheet.

Author Ryan Holiday sends out a monthly email of the best books he’s read each month; he recommends quality non-fiction titles.

Slate has some great book reviews and lists that I look at.
I do not read fluff; I know what I like and so it’s extremely easy for me to choose books that I know I’ll love. I rarely read something that I don’t like because I research pretty heavily.

How do you choose what books to read next?

I look at my spreadsheet and figure out how to read each book the most economically. Every day I look at Modern Mrs. Darcy Kindle Daily Deals. She does the hard work of putting together the quality titles that are on sale, and if I can get a book on my Kindle for $2.99, I’ll download it that day. If I have credits to use on my Audible account, I’ll download a book there that is on my spreadsheet. And if neither of those options are grabbing a book on the spreadsheet, I’ll reserve from the library. If the list at the library is too long, I’ll order it used from AbeBooks or used off of Amazon.

I always make sure that I have two fiction titles and at least one non-fiction title going at the same time. I despise reading only one book at a time unless it’s a classic, and then I have to only concentrate on the classic.

What book or books are you reading now? [Note: I asked this of Staci in December of 2016.]

The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan (on Kindle)

Evicted by Matthew Desmond (on Kindle)

The Nix by Nathan Hill (on Audible, so listening when exercising and in the car)

Emotional Agility by Susan David (hard cover)

The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart (aloud to my kids)

Counter Culture by David Platt (aloud to my older teens)

What three or four books do you find you most often recommend to others?

Anything by Marilyn Robinson to people who like deep stuff and who want their lives to be changed – Home is my favorite

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery for people who want to laugh and like beautiful writing;

Anything by Stewart O’Nan for people looking for not so deep but quality writing;

Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra because life is too short to not read a book this good (note: R-rated material and very sad);

Bonus pick for Christians: The Grammar of God by Aviya Kushner because I LOVE this book and I think every studier of the Bible should read this as soon as possible. Get this one in hard cover because you will want to visit with it more than once.

Bonus kid pick: Mysterious Benedict Society series because this is a great series and a lot of parents don’t know about it.

A great list! Thanks, Staci. I will follow up soon with a question about finding the time to read.

The Great Motivation

Often discussions of what a church should be and do and look like are informed by references to the last few verses of Matthew’s gospel, a portion known as the “Great Commission.”

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

This comes to us as a command to engage the non-Christian world with the truth of Him in whom all authority resides. It focuses the attention of disciples, to whom the commission is given, to reproduce themselves, to make more disciples. And it is so succinct that it is often extracted and made the priority for the church, with evangelism as its core. It easily resolves to a motivational slogan such as “His last command our first concern.”

Oddly, though, using these verses as motivation is apparently a modern innovation.

Anglican scholar Michael Green, in his book Evangelism in the Early Church, points out the (to our ears) oddity that these words of Jesus, influential though they were in other ways, were not invoked as a motivation for Christian outreach.

“In point of fact, it is quoted very little in the writings of the second century.” (239)

This was a time when the task of evangelism and of making disciples was fraught with serious difficulty.

“Wherever they went, Christians were opposed as anti-social, atheistic, and depraved. Their message proclaimed a crucified criminal, and nothing could have been less calculated than that to win them converts…. To Jew and Gentile alike Christians were offensive, on account both of the doctrines and the behaviour credited to them. All this they had to live down if they were going to win anybody at all for Jesus Christ.” (29)

If not Jesus’ ‘last command’ then what drove them to persevere against such odds? Green suggests it was rather love and gratitude. It was grace, not law, that moved them.

“They did it [evangelism] because of the overwhelming experience of the love of God which they had received through Jesus Christ.” (236)

People inevitably pursue, and point others to, what they love. The “Great Commission” is a great summary statement of the direction Jesus expects his church to move. What motivates the church to respond is never the command itself but the love of the one who issued it

It is the heart that is freed that is freed to follow, and to proclaim, the Liberator.

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray;
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light:
my chains fell off, my heart was free:
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me? (Charles Wesley)

When the church is misdirected or moribund what is needed are not more sermons detailing our Lord’s final command. Better would be more outlining and revealing his amazing love.

The Decently Religious

The other day my son shared with me a picture taken at his workplace. It showed two publicly posted pieces of Jehovah’s Witness literature which someone had defaced with a sharpie, marred with images and words ridiculing the content of the postings and those who posted them.

We seem to live in a day when no one group is immune from hate, nor one group alone capable of perpetrating it. Christians have shown themselves more than capable of defacing and ridiculing the positions of others and Christians receive ridicule in return. And in both directions, it is tiresome. It’s why I so long for recovering the virtue of decency as a fundamental Christian, if not human, virtue. If we are to be attacked, let it be for our righteousness. And if we are to attack, let it be with kindness.

In expressing that longing, though, I reveal that I have bought into the public perception that Christians are in fact “Hate Filled Hypocrites“, to borrow the ironic title of one provocative book. That Christians are not decent is such a prevalent image of Christians that we all come to accept and believe it.

Stephen King is a wonderful writer with often marvelous characters. His Christian characters, however, such as those in Under the Dome or Needful Things are cardboard cutout stereotypes of fanaticism and bluster. I’m currently reading Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy novel, Elantris. Sanderson’s gift is in world building not character development, but in his world the really obnoxious, plotting, cynical characters are the religiously fundamental. We assume that commitment to a religious faith by definition means annoying.

Current controversy does not quell that supposition, especially when news outlets would rather quote the provocative outbursts of a Franklin Graham rather than the thoughtful expressions of a Tim Keller.

Public representations of Christians as extreme and hateful will never go away, especially as we Christians play to type. But I wish I could introduce to the world the large numbers of Christians known to me who have been and are decent men and women, though unknown apart from the few people around them. These are those who face struggles and cares, and yet find joy in the midst of them. They look for ways to serve, and they stoop to pick up others when they fall. None are perfect and all fail in particular ways. But they are genuinely decent people. I have been blessed by such people. I wish more people could know them.

These are not those who are measured and calculating in their religious life and expression. They just live pouring out love for God and for one another. These are those spoken of by the prophet Malachi.

Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name. (Malachi 3:16)

These are the quiet ones walking humbly with their God and, it follows, loving mercy. They are the decent ones, the truly religious, of whom God says,

They shall be mine…in the day when I make up my treasured possession. (Malachi 3:17)

They are the apple of God’s eye. I wish you could meet them. I think you’d like them.

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