The Wonder Report: July 23, 2021
Hello! Another Friday means another Wonder Report. Thanks for welcoming me into your inbox. Let’s jump right in!
We’d gotten out of the car and were heading into the restaurant when Steve stopped and began poking at something on the pavement with his foot. I saw a glint of metal and sharp edges; it was the lid of a tin can. Slowly, Steve pushed it with his foot so it would be out of the path of vehicles, and more specifically out of our path.
“I’m not taking any chances,” he said, referring to the possibility of a flat tire. It would be our second of the summer if it happened. “You’re right. It seems like if something can go wrong it will.”
I’d said as much just before we left the house when a wasp stung me without provocation. (At least that’s my side of the story. I’m sure he saw things differently.) Officially, this line of thinking is known as Murphy’s Law: "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” And this summer, it could be our mantra. Over the past few weeks, we’ve dealt with an air conditioner that wasn’t cooling, a flat tire, a trip-and-fall face plant while walking the dog, a visit to a state park that had to be abandoned because the mosquitoes were so bad, a roof repair that’s not finished after more than a year, the wasp sting and subsequent extermination, and the list goes on. All this while watching my mom fade away in hospice. Let’s be honest: it hasn’t been a great summer.
But over the past couple of weeks, as I’ve made comments about the way things are going, I’ve noticed something else at work. Something that’s snuck up on me and left me vulnerable: I’ve started to conflate Murphy’s Law with God’s character.
Last week I sent a text to a friend to remind her that God has not abandoned her during some hard days. “God is for you today, friend, and he delights in you,” I wrote, but I’m struggling to believe that for myself. If I truly think that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, what does that say about my view of God? Do I believe He loves me, delights in me, and cares about me as a Father? Or do I see him as petty and vindictive, inflicting suffering simply because he can?
In A Habit Called Faith, Jen Pollock Michel writes about the reality that we all “bring a particular set of conceptions to what God is like and how we can expect him to act.” It was quite a conundrum for first century Jews whose ideas about God looked nothing like the carpenter from Nazareth who claimed divinity. Even his disciples, who believed he was who he claimed to be, hardly expected his “preference for ‘left-handed power,’ which is to say weak power,” Jen writes. “He did not arrive on the first-century scene and demand, under penalty of death, that people bow, giving the honor due him as God. He chose a different means of saving the world—even death on a cross.”
Here in the 21st Century, I don’t have the same conceptions—or misconceptions—about God as those in the first century, but I certainly do struggle with my own wrong thinking. In my own pettiness, sometimes I think God is petty. In my own impotence, sometimes I forget about God’s power. In my own inability to love perfectly, I lose site of God was love and everything he does as cloaked in his mercy and grace.
That’s why one of the most important habits of faith, or maybe a hallmark of the habit that is faith, is the need to constantly recalibrate my view of God with his own conceptions about who He is. I can’t know everything about God; I can’t understand all the paradoxes of his character or all the mysteries of his ways. But I can believe him when he says he’s a God who sees, a God who heals, a God who knows all things. I can trust him as a Father, a Shepherd, a King. I can look to my Jesus, and see a great high priest who sympathizes with my weaknesses.
Knowing God isn’t a once-and-done kind of thing. We’ll spend our whole lives trying to know Him, and if we stop trying—if we abandon the habit of getting to know God—then we’ll end up knowing a different god, a lesser god, a god of our own making who is really no god at all.
“There is no day, for the Christian, that doesn’t oblige us to faith,” Jen writes. “It takes faith to believe that God has come in Jesus, faith to believe that all the Jewish Scriptures written before Jesus point to him, faith to believe that all the Gospels written about Jesus provide reliable accounts of his life, especially his death and resurrection. It takes faith to keep following Jesus—even with the lights go dark.”
Summer Reading Club
Let’s discuss Jen Pollock Michel’s A Habit Called Faith: 40 Days in the Bible to Find and Follow Jesus.
This week, we read Days 21-25 of the book. If you’re reading along (or even if you aren’t), consider responding to one or more of these questions in the comment section by clicking on the button below:
Do you believe in Murphy’s Law? How does it contradict or coalesce with your life of faith?
How do you get to know God?
What other influences give you incorrect information about what God is like?
How easy is it to believe in God’s generous love for you?
Which is most intriguing to you about the identify of Jesus as illuminated in John 1: that he is the Word, the Creator, the eternal God, the Life, the Light—or simply a human being?
It’s not too late to read along. Here’s the Reading Schedule for the rest of the summer:
Week 6 (July 24-30): Days 26-30
Week 7 (July 31-August 6): Days 31-35
Week 8 (August 7-13): Days 36-40
Finally, let’s get together live to talk about faith and habits.
Join me at 3 p.m. ET on Wednesday, August 4, via Zoom. If you haven’t already, send me an email to let me know you’re interested in attending (firstname.lastname@example.org), and I’ll pass along the Zoom information. You don’t have to read the book to benefit from the conversation.
This and That
Stop by here for articles, essays, and more to give you hope, to make you think, to grow your faith, and as always, to help root you in love.
After weeks of feeling overwhelmed, distracted, and on the verge of burnout, I began to dream about starting something new, something that would allow me to tap into my creativity and experience the thrill and angst of being a beginner. It’s not quite time to make this move … yet … but even the idea of it has energized me. Maybe that’s why these two essays and one poem about hope, newness, and creativity caught my eye. The first essay is really long, but I’d urge you to make time for it. You won’t be disappointed.
Mortality and Natality in the Pandemic: Our tragic world needs beginnings. What, now, are we beginning? by Jennifer Banks for Comment
Research Suggests We're All Getting Less Creative and Scientists Think They Know Why by Jessica Stillman for Inc.
Good Bones by Maggie Smith at The Poetry Foundation (Be sure to listen to Maggie Smith read it. So good!)
What I’m Reading
Check out these books I'm currently reading or have just finished. I'll only share resources I highly recommend ... and I'd love to hear your recommendations, too!
Hannah Coulter a novel by Wendell Berry
I’ve been a Wendell Berry fan for years, and this is not my first reading of Hannah Coulter. But I came to it again this summer during a season of sadness and loss, and it was the right book for this time. Hannah Coulter is a woman who’s outlived her time. She’s twice-widowed, leaving alone on a farm she helped build with her second husband, and her children have all left for what they can only call “better.” But for Hannah, her place and its people and history are as good as it gets.
From the publisher: Hannah Coulter is Wendell Berry’s seventh novel and his first to employ the voice of a woman character in its telling. Hannah, the now–elderly narrator, recounts the love she has for the land and for her community. She remembers each of her two husbands, and all places and community connections threatened by twentieth–century technologies. At risk is the whole culture of family farming, hope redeemed when her wayward and once lost grandson, Virgil, returns to his rural home place to work the farm.
When I Write …
Finally, check out this section for a summer series just for writers called When I Write. I’ve invited fellow writers from The Redbud Writers Guild to join me with a brief explainer from their own writing, along with a prompt for you to try — even if you aren’t a writer.
This week, welcome Nilwona Nowlin.
When I write, I try not to rush the process. Experience has taught me that my best writing comes as a result of letting things marinate. So, when I receive a writing assignment, I read through all the details carefully, making note of the topic/theme, related Bible passages, etc. Then, I tuck it all away into the back of my mind and go on about life.
After a while, ideas start to find their way to me. Sometimes, it may be a line from a television show, a random image in nature that catches my eye, or even the recollection of other information I've filed away in my mental library. As the ideas come to me, I jot them down. After an appropriate period of time, I finally sit down with my notes and begin to write. Usually, the piece mostly writes itself! I have to caution you, this method works best when you're not working on a short deadline.
Now you try it. The next time you have a writing deadline that's more than a week away, try letting it marinate. Keep your eyes and ears open for ideas, and be sure to jot them down! (While this works best with longer deadlines, you can try to modify your timeline for shorter deadlines.)
Nilwona Nowlin is a redemptive artist, someone who uses the transformative power of the arts to help bring individuals and communities closer to God's shalom. She writes in multiple genres, but fiction is her passion. Nilwona is also a chaplain and minister in Chicago. You can connect with her at http://nilwona.com/ and on Facebook or Twitter. Check out her TEDx talk here.
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Until next time,