Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Ledge

The story goes...

Once upon a time, there was a businessman visiting the mountains. On his last day of his business trip he decided he wanted to climb one of the mountains. Mid-morning he found a young man who was willing to guide him up the mountain for a day-climb. What he failed to realize and what the guide failed to share with him, is that starting a climb this late in the day was a problem since weather systems tended to come in over the mountain rapidly in the early afternoon. Regardless they started up the trail. As early afternoon approached the clouds moved in and temperature began to drop quickly from the relative warmth of the late morning hours. Neither climber was prepared for the weather change. Both were in hiking shorts, t-shirts, hiking boots and light jackets. They had small backpacks with water and snacks but no weather gear. They continued to climb and slowly the sky darkened and snow began to fall. The snow fell lightly at first and then more swiftly. The wind picked up. Both climbers slowed their pace and the businessman found himself staring intently at the footprints in front of him in the snow that his guide was making. He bundled up the best he could. The guide’s steps became slower and slower. They had lost the trail in the snow. They were above tree-line and the could see barely six feet in front or behind them. Finally the guide’s pace slowed to a full stop.

The businessman asked, “Why have we stopped?” “I don’t know exactly where we are on the side of the mountain,” he yelled back through the wind and snow. “What is the problem,” the businessman inquired. Then the guide announced, “There is a 200 foot crevasse that goes along the side of this trail. I fear we are too close to it and I’m afraid that if we keep going I’ll walk us off the side of it.” The businessman recognized the dilemma they found themselves in. Bad weather; unprepared climbers; lost on the trail; and in danger of falling off a cliff. The predicament was clear. But the solution was simple he thought… “we’ll just go back down the trail.” “We can’t,” replied the guide. “The snow has covered the trail and the crevasse winds along the path, so to go back might also mean walking off the side of the cliff.” The two men stood in silence as the reality of their situation fell upon them as quickly as the snow fell around them.

Suddenly out of the snow to their right came a voice. “You guys are in trouble aren’t you?” the voice obviously questioned. “I’ve been watching you for some while from above you. You are right, the crevasse is about eight or so feet to your right. If you would have kept going you would have walked off the side. I’m on the other side of it.” “But what do we do now?” the businessman yelled into the whiteness. “Well, you can’t go back, because as your guide said, you would also risk walking into the crevasse. I’ll walk down the mountain and send help up in the morning.” After a long pause he yelled back, “I think your only chance for survival is to move to the edge of the crevasse, ease yourself over the edge and drop onto a ledge that is about eight feet down the side of the cliff.” The questions began to spin in the two men’s heads. What ledge? How does he know there is a ledge? Why should I trust him? Who is he anyway? What if there is no ledge?
The men began a deluge of questions for the voice in the storm. How did he know about the ledge? He’d lived on the mountain his whole life. Had he ever been on the ledge? Yes, several times. How big was the ledge? It was big enough to hold them. What was his name again? His name was Carl. The guide recognized the name and knew his reputation as a well known mountaineer from the area. The questions went on and on and then ended with, “Why should we trust you?” The answer, “Because if you choose not to trust me, you will surely die from exposure on the side of this mountain.”

With that Carl’s voice trailed off and he headed down the mountain for help. The two men were left alone to decide what they would do. Knowing that deep in their hearts they needed to trust the voice in the snow, they slowly made their way to the edge of the crevasse. They looked intently over the side when they reached the edge. They didn’t know if they could even make out the shadow of the ledge as the light faded and the snow blew around them. The guide went first. He lowered himself over the side and hung down by his knuckles. Slowly each finger released until he dropped out of sight and landed with a thud on the ledge. Then the businessman, shaking from the cold and nerves, lowered himself slowly over the edge. He too gripped the edge of the cliff with all of his strength until the weight of his body pulled him downward. He also landed on the firm footing of the ledge. There they spent the night out of the wind and snow, huddled together until help came to rescue them in the sunrise of the next morning. And indeed they lived happily ever after.

Too often the world would love to point the finger at Christians and describe our faith as blind and ignorant. In the world’s eyes believers hear about the ledge, then run to the edge and jump off just hoping that a ledge exists. I’ve searched God’s Word quite a bit and I never read that faith is that unknowing. I believe that God wants us to test him and ask tough questions and get to know him in a way that builds an incredible trust so that when He does tell us about the ledge that we willingly follow his lead to the edge. Does it still take faith? You bet! When those fingers actually let go of the edge of the cliff we are exercising a full measure of the faith God wants from us – but we do it knowing the voice in the storm so well that we can trust His word and direction.

What kind of faith do you have?

Monday, January 18, 2010

I signed it and I think he would too...

This morning I woke up with two ideas twirling through my head. First it was Martin Luther King Jr. day and that meant the kids didn't have school. Additionally, I always spend time on this day reflecting on the impact that man had on all of our lives here in the U.S. especially. Second, I had a couple emails last night about my signing the Manhattan Declaration last month. Some of my less than conservative friends were really offended that I had added my name to a document that stood for the sanctity of life (it is clearly pro-life), sanctity of marriage (between one man and one woman) and religious liberty.

The twirling thoughts led to starting my day more convinced than ever that I would sign it tomorrow and the next day and the next. Here's why...

The Issues: When one strips away the policy, the opinion and the emotion from the issue of abortion one is left with one of two value presuppostions - if I am pro-life then the value of physical life is paramount. If I am pro-choice then individual liberty is the paramount value. Side-note - this is precisely why the two sides will never even have a debate no less a resolution. The MD (Manhattan Declaration) makes it clear that when the two sides come into conflict one cannot have both at the same time - one must be foundational for the other. In my own thinking I cannot see how a culture established on the premise that individual liberty is more important than life can survive. Without the value of life, there is no value of liberty. One does not have the chance to even choose liberty if one is not alive. It also seems abundantly self absorbed to make those value decisions for others who are not given the right to make the decision themselves. Now, before someone points the finger at my ideology - may I point out that I have been apart of an abortion decision - so I do indeed know what is involved and how it feels. That is not absent from my thinking for one moment.

The second issue is that of marriage. Marriage is one of the building blocks on which culture is founded. It is not a man-made institution that one may willy-nilly (I've always wanted to use that phrase while blogging) re-define. The Prop 8 court debate that is happening as we speak is a testament to the high value our culture puts on fallacious logic and evidence. If those challenging the constitutionality of the voter's decision can come up with one more expert to say that same sex marriage is somehow not detrimental it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Does it strike anyone else as odd that the arguments (for the prosecution mind you) are all about defending that which has been outside the "norm" in our society, not providing evidence that it is somehow indeed positive to our culture. The research done in the secular world for over 50 years points out that when communities have the traditional model of marriage that a number of benefits occur for the individuals, the families and the community at large. The same research does NOT say that if we allow same-sex marrige we have a bunch of horrific things happen - but it DOES say that we are absent the benefits. Do we actually think that has anything to do with us (man) or might it be an institution that comes from a higher power?

Last issue is religious liberty. I can't tell you the number of people I meet who find out where I work and immediately assume I am against liberties when it comes to thought and to freedoms. What an absurd thought! We live under a set of founding documents that allow for and flourish on those freedoms. Nothing could be further from the truth. I want to allow people of all worlds of thought to have the opporutunity to share, believe, and fight for their beliefs. If we miss that one, we have just taken a step back in ideological history, and not a positive step. What shocks my students occassionally - is that I am very much a free market idea guy. Let all the ideas into the marketplace - the best ones will find their way to the top because they are true. Now, I happen to believe (both historically and practically) that ideas that derived their foundations from God are the best ideas. But I want to hear them all - I want to engage in them all and I want to see our culture honor all, but follow the best.

That is why I signed the Manhattan Declaration and as we remember a great civil rights leader today, may we see that based on his own beliefs he probably would have signed it too...


Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I can't even make a resolution on time, much less blog about such events. Here it is two weeks into the new year and I have yet to address this issue. It might be because of being busy. It might be because of being lazy. It might come from being tired. It might come from the thousands of ideas swirling in my head on which to write. So my resolution for the new year is to not be as busy, lazy, tired or non-focused. There... that should keep me going for an hour or so and then it will fall the way of most resolutions.

And come to think of it. I have really wondered where the background for making resolutions at the beginning of the new year came from. Yes, there is a freshness to the new calendar. There are "do-over" attitudes that abound. But to call it a resolution?

The tradition as it turns out has both ancient and modern roots. In ancient times (we're talking 2000 b.c. or so) the Babylonians began a "new year" celebration in what we would call March today (makes sense since that is the new birth of creation in spring time, etc.). They celebrated for 11 days - which would mean that ball in Times Square would fall REALLY slowly. If you read some of the history - you'll see that today's celebration is a far cry from the "party" that went on then.

Rome finally did away with that tradition when they redid the calendar - somewhere around 150 b.c. and when they named the first month - January, it was representative of the god Janus.
The Romans named the first month of the year after Janus, the god of beginnings and the guardian of doors and entrances. He was always depicted with two faces, one on the front of his head and one on the back. Thus he could look backward and forward at the same time. At midnight on December 31, the Romans imagined Janus looking back at the old year and forward to the new.

So where did the concept of the resolution come from? Both the ancient and Roman cultures used this date (regardless of what actual day it was) to look back on the time past and ask forgiveness and count blessings. They made a commitment not to repeat their poor behaviors and to do better in the future. For some it was really big stuff like forgiveness of enemies of the state or large financial obligations. Clearly that went by the way-side as we reached more contemporary times.

I wonder how committed those Romans were compared to today. Most stats indicate that just under 50% of the adult population make some sort of resolution (most popular - weight loss, stop smoking, better financial planning). What is interesting is that about half keep them up for a week, that number splits in half by week two, then in half again by week three and then levels off until six months when it drops again. Hard to imagine the Roman Empire forgiving a state enemy on January 1 and then a few weeks later invading their territory. Fickle Romans! :)
I don't know what your resolutions where/are but my encouragement is to make some resolutions that make a difference not only in your life, but the lives of others. What am I doing to serve those around me? In this morning's paper alone - Haiti gets pounded by an earthquake, a teacher is accused of abusing her students, the homeless in our area are freezing to death, and more people spent time in front of American Idol last night than gave time, talents or treasure to serve the widow and orphan.

I DON'T want to be lazy. I DON'T want to be too busy for others. I DON'T want to be preoccupied with myself. Most of us don't, but we fall into patterns in our cadence of life that are incredibly self serving.

So in the end I resolve not to have any resolutions - but to look back on last year, count my blessings and look forward to this year in terms of the joy of serving others. Yeah, yeah, I hope the gym rats and I will once again become acquainted and I might visit the fresh produce aisle more... but that needs to be secondary in my heart and mind. May I be the hands and feet of a heart committed to the Greatest Commandment.

Happy New Year!