My twelve year old self had a violent temper. My fuse was short, and my blasts of anger detonated at insults as unexpectedly as bursts of laughter explode at well-timed jokes. Without the mutually pleasant consequences.
I remember once chasing my older brother Andy around the house with a knife. I don’t remember what he had done (probably something HEINOUS), but I do remember him chuckling as he easily evaded my thrusts. His laughter did nothing to calm my storm.
I hated my uncontrollable anger, and I memorized over fifty verses about the angry man:
- A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.
- A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.
- Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty.
- But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.
When I felt an outburst rising, I tried to calm myself by repeating those memorized verses. It even worked a few times, but not for long. I soon boiled over again.
When I was thirteen, a friend offered to pray for anything I wanted. I asked him to pray for my temper. Six months later, he asked how I was doing, and I realized I hadn’t once lost my temper since his prayer. I hadn’t even had to fight it. My explosive temper had been defused.
It was a miracle.
Since then, I’ve asked God to take away other bad habits, and he’s never acted again so instantly. He usually works slower, a little less dramatically, and (it seems) less miraculously.
I like hero movies. My grandsons love them. Hollywood adores them.
In the last decade, about sixty superhero movies have been released, roughly one every eight weeks: Spider-man, Iron Man, Batman, X-Men, Thor, etc. Not to mention their sequels. (Forget that I mentioned them.)
I probably love normal hero movies even more, the ordinary civilian with a boatload of ordinary problems, facing unbeatable odds. Their stories stir something in me, a desire to go down swinging or to throw myself on a grenade. I see myself sacrificing everything for a greater cause, living a life of significance, having a life that matters.
But I wonder, sometimes, if hero movies insidiously stir the wrong thing. I once asked a hugely successful pastor for the key to his success. He said he just wants to be like his hero Jesus, and then he quoted St. Augustine,
Pray as though everything depends on God. Work as though everything depends on you.
Three years later he was exhausted, disillusioned, frustrated, and embittered. He dropped out of all service, divorced his wife, and—the last I heard—he was installing Invisible Fencing. He was a Super-Saint Burnout.
He had said he wanted to be like his hero Jesus, but he later admitted he just wanted to be a hero himself.
I often wonder if the greatest problem facing the modern world is the loss of wonder.
When we were kids, every day brought awe and wonder.
- Our first trip to the zoo thrilled us with the marvelous, long-necked giraffe, the barrel-shaped hippopotamus (even the name hippopotamus was enchanting), and the shuffling, tuxedo-clad penguin.
- Our first treehouse (make of cast-off two by fours and a shipping pallet) filled us with delight.
- Our first bike trip around the block without a parent was an unparalleled adventure.
As teenagers, we grew jaded. We’d already been to the zoo. “Big deal!” We’d already taken our bike on a weekend camping trip. “Who cares!”
We’ve lost our wonder.
The clouds peal with thunder, that the house of God will be established throughout the world; and yet these frogs sit in their marsh and croak, “We are the only true Christians.” (Augustine)
Like silly past fashions, many stupid, past actions of Christians are embarrassing for us today:
- The marginalization of women
- The coercion of the crusades
- The ill treatment of Galileo, Joan of Arc, John Wycliffe, and more
- The hysteria (and brutality) of the Salem witch trials
- The dehumanization and cruelty of the slave trade
If we examine our own personal Christian histories honestly, we will also find embarrassing excesses in some of the mistakes of our own spiritual influences.
As a kid, I was involved with Basic Youth Conflicts (now its leader has resigned amidst scandal). I was involved in the early Charismatic renewal (but now many of its leaders are obsessed with the spectacular over the gospel). I was involved in an excellent, influential Christian community (but many accused us of being elitist).
Hundreds of Christian movements have helped millions of believers. Yet many—maybe even most—of these movements grew imbalanced over time, exuding a sense of elitism, a touch of arrogance, a croaking, “We are the only true Christians.”
Do you love the Christian movement (or circles) that you are now involved in? How do we protect them from becoming just another embarrassing haircut from our yearbooks?
A few weeks ago, I spoke with someone who felt horrible about forgetting a commitment. She felt her accidental negligence caused unnecessary stress for a good friend. And it probably did.
She felt bad (understandably) and kicked herself (metaphorically) for her mistake. She couldn’t shake the pain of disappointing a close friend. The oversight overwhelmed her thoughts and dreams. She couldn’t find a faucet to turn off the fountain of self-condemnation.
I suggested that her pain was triggered by an unrealistic expectation of her own perfection; that this one omission was possibly not an anomaly; and that she probably makes dozens (maybe hundreds) more mistakes every week. Her problem was a false, high opinion of her perfection.
I’m always good for a pick-me-up when you need it most.
I suggested that she make a list of every sin (and mistake) she had committed in the last week. A month would be better. I partly proposed a list to shake her self-punishing perfectionism, but mostly to help her recognize God’s unshakeable love of her in her imperfection.
That same day—literally a few hours later—someone sent me an email that condemned the “horrific practice” of listing our sins, claiming sin-lists are evils that rob us of freedom in Christ.
Who’s right? At the risk of making a mistake (that I could add to my own list later); I am.
I grew up in a family that camped. My father was a pastor who got four weeks of vacation. We took all four weeks at once, camping the whole month of July, mostly in wooded forests next to lakes. We hauled a small Sunfish sailboat on top of our sagging station wagon.
Williamson family, July 1968
Vacations were a young boy’s fantasy, filled with mysterious forests and stormy seas. Four weeks wasn’t enough. We carried our home wherever we went. It was often hot, sometimes cold, and occasionally rainy. The car always broke down. And I loved it.
I recently heard a quote from the Epistle to Diognetus that resurfaced all those old memories,
The difference between Christians and the rest of mankind is not a matter of nationality, language, or customs. Christians do not live apart in separate cities, speak any special dialect, nor practice any eccentric way of life… [They] conform to ordinary local usage in their clothing, diet, and other habits…
For them, any foreign country is a motherland, and any motherland is a foreign country.
Last week I watched a nauseating, repulsive, and daft TV show. No, it wasn’t The Big Bang Theory or The Playboy Channel. (Or Barney.) I watched a reality TV show on house hunting.
The plot was simple. A couple was looking for a house, a real-estate agent showed them several options, and the couple chose one. Shakespeare it was not.
This particular episode featured a middle-aged man and his younger wife. (The details are fuzzy; I think I’ve suppressed them.) They were looking for a condo in the Caribbean, a place with a little excitement, some comfort, and a bit of luxury.
Each condo came pre-furnished, and each resort offered differing amenities. The man in question (and I do question the “man”) grew increasingly excited with each unveiled nicety. He was thrilled about a zip-line at the first condo, ecstatic about granite counters in the second, and rapturous at the sight of a Jacuzzi at the third.
When he saw lace doilies in the last condo, I swear I thought he would wet himself.
I wanted to scream at this doily man so ecstatic about granite counters. “Can your life grow any shallower? Will the measure of your fifty years be gauged by the depth of your Jacuzzi?”
But I guess everyone is entitled to their fifteen minutes of shame. I mean fame.