Friday, April 19, 2013

"Can You Still Say God is Good?" A Response to This Week in Our Country

As a kid, I used to sit in his big La-Z-Boy chair. In my grandpa Jack's lap, he and I talked and played. To the outside world, he was "Brother Jack" or the "Pastor," but to me, he was always just Jack. We chatted about everything from ice cream to getting married to television shows. But one question he posed to me all those years ago still circulates back into my mind from time to time:

"Courtney, could God make a rock so big that he couldn't lift it?"

The easy answer is to say "both" and explain the theological rationale of each side. But that's not how I was raised. My dad surely did not coach me on long road trips to "play debate"--urging me to give a rebuttal explaining why we needed a dog in the house--just for me to answer "both."

Of course, my stubborn, debate-fed, strong and first-born will wanted to give a solid answer to Jack. And of course, in my strong will I thought I knew the answer.

"No." Because there's nothing too strong for God to lift.

Years later, my answer changed. Surely I now knew more about God's sovereignty (wink). Jack was still an active grandfather in my life, although he no longer teased me with this question I still pondered.

My answer changed to, "Yes." Because God can do anything He chooses to do. If he chose to make a rock too heavy, He could. This was factual to me, not stating we have an emotionless God who just does what He pleases without love. This was a belief in a loving God who is able to do anything, plan anything. He is God of all, after all.

The shake of America occurring in Boston reminded me again of this question. Because we now hear whispers and shouts of another hard question. Some people ask it out loud; others in their hearts.

"How can you still say God is good? Is He?" 

I want you to know where I sit. Really. I'm not blogging from a tragedy-free life. This post is not from someone who claims to know everything (although I probably used to as a pre-teen!) I'm not writing this as if I never doubted or questioned God. This is from someone who grieves with Martin's parents this morning, whose been praying specifics for his Mama, who is sad for the death now associated with an event containing much spark of life.

It's late April. We're about to embark on a season of tourism. Everything---everything-- becomes an attraction. Families take monumental steps into Graceland, Mickey Mouse's house, and the Home of the World's Largest Peanut all in the name of vacation. I love it. Many vacation markers such as these come with a tour, a place where you can say "this is where this was made or began--right here!" I'm a sucker for where a famous person stood or the origin of something great.

What if we could tour God's heavenly "factory?" Essentially, this is what we mean when we ask if God is good. Our minds wonder if any of these evil outcomes on earth can be traced back to God. Questions pop up--- Was this His plan? Why didn't He stop this? Does He still love? I thought He was good.

It's important that we note that God does not need our PR. He doesn't need me to defend Him because of the attacks or disasters. But we ask and answer the question of God's goodness because we need the answer. Not as a crutch or feel good, flowery words to help us do good deeds. But because our souls need to know. It's the oxygen to our hearts.

We can get tangled up in this one, much like the "rock" question of my childhood. But they both have answers. Fast forward to the present, and I changed my answer to the rock question, yet again. This time, I think, for good. Reverting to childlike faith (distinguishable from childish), I believe that the answer is no.

He cannot make a rock so big that He cannot lift it.

This has everything to do with how we answer our adult question of if God is good.

Because the truth is there are things God simply cannot do.

He CANNOT lie.

God's Word says this as simply as I just stated. This answers that God is good because He "does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth" (1 Corinthians 13: 6).  He is good because when evil tries to end something, it's not the end of God's story. He has the final word. And it's a word wrapped in grace.  To those who believe in Him, there will be a giving back in abundance the years the locusts have eaten (what's been robbed from us).

He cannot make a rock so big that He cannot lift it. Because this is a question of His strength, His character, neither of which can be altered. And the created is never stronger than the Creator.
The question really was never about the size of the rock. It was about the  person behind the rock and if the characteristics of the person could change. We all long to know this. In every story, is He always the strongest? Most loving? Perfect? Not just good, but the best?

Is He still good when tragedy strikes? Yes.

It's just this--- He is good, and this world is not.

If there's anything He can't do, it's that He cannot lie, which means He can't change His character, or be anything less than so much more---than we could ever dream up.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Appetite: Bread and Wine

If you've been around me lately, I've probably brought this up in discussion. I've brought this book, Bread and Wine, to share with friends everywhere from a lunch date with a friend at La Madeline to couple's night out at City Center. It's my sister-in-law's birthday present (surprise, Samantha!). I've also carted it around Texas in my purse anywhere I thought I might have a spare moment to get in a chapter. Because few things simultaneously wet the appetite of the soul and stomach. In a world where everything points to satisfying one's personal appetite---this is a unique sell. Yes, it speaks to the appetite of serving spoon and fork, but it equally spurs the reader on to use more than eating tools--the doorknob of hospitality, the art of words aptly spoken and a table as the centerpiece of meaningful conversation and friendship.

To summarize my experience with this book, I keep returning to the word appetite. The author, Shauna Niequist, points our palates to the most important things in life. If I'm thinking along those lines, I can't help but to think of my life-long friend and mentor, Maci Barnett. She has consistently taught me about life, including what to savor.  Some of my first memories of our friendship surround the theme of physical appetite. Maci is one of those people you learn from, and she probably don't even know it because you learn just by the way she lives. The richest and the most authentic way to teach someone, by the way. When she and her husband were in medical school, she talked about her nutritional guide---a bigger than two-telephone book reference guide--from the Mayo Clinic. She had me so interested in nutrition and exercise that I ended up reading this for enjoyment. Sounds a little insane, but it taught me about what was good to put in my body, and Maci made it sound so exciting. On the flip side, one night Maci hosted a slumber party for some of the girls at my high school. She didn't blink an eye to serve (and eat herself) waffles TOPPED with Blue Bell Cookies 'n Cream ice cream for breakfast. This is just how she rolls, people. I think I even have a picture of this early morning concoction somewhere. To me, this was a novelty. To her, this was just life--you ebb, you flow--you have discipline in the most important areas, and you live a little.

She taught me the musts of life like learning to salsa dance, that the best meal of my life will be at Christopher's World Grill in College Station, and that when you love, love passionately and hard---especially when it's hard and difficult. Even to those who are hard and difficult. Oh, and when you're paying off student loans and you have very little square footage, just pretend you're in Spain, put the folding table up against the wall, and remake the living room into a dance floor. Just for a night. There's no other way to live.

You see, I could be one of those readers who thinks about me and Shauna being friends. And, yes I'll confess I do that. You can't read her chapters and not think of her as you make your grocery list or plan your next dinner party. But as I write this, I'm more convinced that she and Maci would be such kindred spirits. Both love life, food and love the people who are around their tables.

The stories in Bread and Wine are rich with detail and raw emotion we all encounter. Each chapter a different story, a distinct memory. But the best is yet to come. The chapters conclude with a recipe corresponding to the theme of the personal essay. And these aren't your typical recipes. They've been tweaked and loved on by the author herself. Fun flavors and explanations of her tweaking is included. I love it. I still can't believe I haven't seen a book with this essay-recipe match before. Seamless and brilliant.

Shauna's writing has inspired me to cook more, travel more, and worry less. Fling open my door more for imperfect and impromptu dinner parties. Love my friends and neighbors and really anyone--better. And (I didn't think this one possible)---to love my Pottery Barn dining room table even more. I've always loved that table. It's my favorite piece of furniture in the whole casa. When I grew up, my family had a huge wooden table. For years we sat there for breakfast, after school snack and dinner. Anytime our family had an important decision to make, we sat there together and called ourselves the "Knights of the Round Table." This table was huge. The chairs were made of thick, chunky, solid wood. The table alone sat 10 people and the lazy susan was the size of a small table top. But it could have been the smallest table known to man with very little construction to speak of. What mattered was we were together at that table. When Shauna writes about how much she loves the dining room table because of what happens at the dining room table--I get that. I connect with that because it's exactly how I've felt for a very long time. It's where the meat of community happens. Important words. Cheers. Decisions. Tears. Prayer.

In so many ways her text is "so me." And in a lot of ways it's laughably not. I'm laughing to myself because I know how little I've been able to cook since the Littles have been born. And if you know me, you know I don't really drink wine, so the pairings of food and wines aren't my strong suit. But, if we're talking on bread AND wine, I figure my love for carbs compensates completely.

The best part is it has pushed me to be more instead of do more, which is exactly what I think Shauna and God would want to accomplish. However, I will say, if you don't try to make risotto within two weeks of reading this book, you might want to get your pulse checked.

She makes it sound that good.

And one of my close and dearest friends, Erin, actually made it taste that good when she attempted it for the first time the other night at our "Shauna-inspired" dinner party. Risotto Rockstar you are, you are.

Happy cooking, reading and people-lovin' around your table if you take up this one!