Eyewitness News

Posted: March 24, 2014 by Lincoln Brunner in Uncategorized

Image

Walking through the ancient remains of Memphis, Egypt, last week provided a solid reminder of just how important on-site documentation is for the preservation of history.

The sphinx shown at left is a well-preserved artifact of ancient Egypt — one of the best outside of King Tut’s tomb, in fact. There’s one small problem: Nobody knows who this depicts. Could be any one of the ancient kings of that era. We do know that the statue was carved after this pharaoh died, because his beard is curled at the end (unlike some of the straight-bearded statues of Ramses II at the same museum site). It would have taken very little time for an eyewitness to engrave the name somewhere on the statue. Alas, the historical record remains incomplete.

I’m really glad the Bible isn’t like that. I was reading Acts today, and was hit afresh with just how beautifully articulate and accurate Luke’s reportage is.

In Chapter 27, Paul and Luke and perhaps some others are in a ship headed for Rome when they get swept into a bad storm called a northeaster. In Verse 18, it says, “Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. And on the third day they three the ship’s taking overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.”

What detail! What splendid writing! And why should we care? Because it reveals that Acts, as with almost all of the Bible’s historical documentation, is the work of first-hand reporting done by people watching the action unfold themselves. Luke’s depiction of life at sea in the first century gibes with other sources from that era. And by making it clear that he was there, recording the dialogue and the details and the people involved, he lends enormous credibility to his story.

That’s what great reporting does. It carefully details what happens, where, when and to whom, and then lays the details out in a narrative that seizes the imagination of its readers. That’s great documentation. That’s great storytelling. Though we know our work falls short of canon scripture, we love it that our job is to report God’s work as it unfolds today, aspiring to that same level of craftsmanship. Striving for anything less would be an injustice to God and to history.

 

We’ve moved

Posted: February 17, 2014 by Jim Killam in Uncategorized

We’ve moved our blog, and changed the name to “Go Tell It,” to reflect a new focus in our work. Find news posts there every week. Find us at http://gotellitblog.wordpress.com/

Diving Deep

Posted: June 3, 2013 by Jim Killam in books, nature, safety

shadow-diversJust finished “Shadow Divers,” by Robert Kurson, about the discovery and eventual identification of a World War II German U-boat wreck off the coast of New Jersey. The true story centers on two divers who take insane risks, and sacrifice much, to solve a mystery and conquer a challenge.

It’s a fantastic book, lent to me by a friend who understands why people, especially men, gravitate to these kinds of stories.

Near the end, diver John Chatterton reflects on what drives him to repeatedly risk diving deep shipwrecks. It’s not about recovering souvenirs, or identifying a long-lost sub.

“When things are easy a person doesn’t really learn about himself,” he says. “It’s what a person does at the moment of his greatest struggle that shows him who he really is. Some people never get that moment.”

Chatteron’s moment just happened to involve scuba tanks, a drysuit and a fantastic discovery. For others, it’s running marathons. Climbing Everest. Hiking the Appalachian Trail. Or even, quitting your job because you know you were made for more than this.

In a culture that places supreme value on safety and comfort, men find a need to test themselves. I’m convinced that God wired us for adventure and that most of the time we settle for far less. If we can’t find adventure in our careers, we look for it in our leisure time. What we find can be temporarily thrilling … but it’s usually not about the hike, or the climb, or the run. There’s something much deeper going on, and it’s worth taking a risk to find it.

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” That’s often attributed to Henry David Thoreau. It’s actually a mashup of a Thoreau passage and a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes … but it doesn’t make the thought any less powerful.

May we break free of that quiet desperation, dive deep and discover a story worth telling.

“We do not have time to waste our lives coasting out casual, comfortable Christianity.”

— David Platt, author of “Radical,” addresses the Urbana 2012 conference.

“What plan or dream will you give your life to that is more significant than this?”

Friends of ours were talking about their daughter. During lunch periods at her public high school, she’s befriended a girl who’s pregnant. Eventually, she invited the girl to youth group at church.

“Will I be judged?” the girl asked.

“Yes, by some,” our friends’ daughter responded. “But there will be a lot of others who won’t. They’ll be glad you’re there.”

That’s the most real, honest answer I’ve ever heard to that kind of a question. No one finds universal acceptance in any social situation – even at church, where we should. Kids who are told to expect total grace from a church youth group will be disappointed, and maybe disillusioned.  I’ve seen it happen too many times.

At the same time, the answer promises this girl that she will indeed find a measure of love, acceptance and yes, grace.

The girl is thinking about it. A lot of us who don’t even know her are praying for her. We’re praying that she’ll see Jesus.

I think maybe she already has.

(Warner Brothers)

(Warner Brothers)

We got a GPS this past Christmas. We call it Mildred. If we’re going somewhere and we need directions, we just type our destination and hit “Go.” And Mildred sets to work, bouncing signals off a satellite and back, calculating the perfect route (usually) and then – the best part – speaking that route to us, turn by turn.

My friend Lincoln and I took Mildred to Southern California a few weeks ago, where she performed like a champ, guiding us through the freeway system. A few times when we couldn’t get to the exit ramp because of heavy traffic, we’d miss a turn. And Mildred would simply gather herself, recalibrate and tell us the new directions. Once in a while, she would get confused momentarily – especially on cloverleafs, where one road was directly above another – but we could always count on her to figure things out.

Sometimes I wish my life had a GPS, where I could plug in a destination and receive turn-by-turn instructions from Mildred’s firm, confident computer voice. Instead, life usually seems like I’m stuck in a tunnel and Mildred can’t find the satellite. I’m left to take my best guess about the next turn. Sometimes that proves to be the right path. Sometimes I have to recalibrate.

That can be frustrating when all I want is clarity. But then I remember: No great adventure was ever a sure thing. What makes it an adventure is risk – risk of getting lost, risk of failure, risk of letting a lot of people down, even risk of death. The bad thing about a GPS is, it can turn a journey into a boring list of instructions. Sure, you don’t get lost. But in the process, the adventure gets lost with it.

I tend to wander, and I tend not to follow instructions (just ask my wife). I’ve been lost many times, without a map or GPS: In a forest preserve two miles from our house. On a remote national park trail as the sun was setting. In a ridiculously bad neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side, where I could only think of Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold character. Even in Beirut, Lebanon, where we’d wandered much too close to a Hezbollah rally.

Each of those situations became a good story we still talk about – usually in the context of how dumb I was for not carrying a map or GPS. Point taken, if we’re talking about a hike or a drive.

But when we’re talking about life decisions, then I’m back to that adventure thing – how it requires an ever-growing trust in someone I can’t see. Brennan Manning writes in “Ruthless Trust” that he believes that trusting God is, in fact, what it means to love him.

“Why does our trust offer such immense pleasure to God?” Manning writes. “Because trust is the pre-eminent expression of love. Thus, it may mean more to Jesus when we say, ‘I trust you,’ than when we say, ‘I love you.’”

Those words help. I wrestle with doubts about my faith all the time. The bottom line, though, is that my wife and I have loved God enough to trust him, and to take a big risk, not knowing where the road leads. We’ve sold our nice home and I’ve left a comfortable career – certainties in life – in order to pursue something crazy, something great. We have no idea how this story will turn out.

I watched “Argo” last night, the Oscar-winning film about the rescue of six American diplomats from Iran in 1979. Ben Affleck’s character, CIA agent Tony Mendez, is laying out his crazy-sounding plan to the diplomats: They’ll pose as a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a sci-fi movie. The six are less than convinced. Mendez tells them it’s their best hope.

That’s why I’m here,” he says. “I’m gonna help you. I’m gonna be with you the whole way. This is what I do. I get people out and I’ve never left anyone behind. I’m asking you to trust me.”

Sometimes, a film that has nothing to do with God can bowl me over with a God moment. Right now, if our lives were a movie, we’d be at that critical point where the audience isn’t sure whether the heroes are going to make it.

And I can sense God saying to me the exact words Mendez used.

I’m gonna help you. I’m gonna be with you the whole way. This is what I do. … I’m asking you to trust me.

We want an airtight plan with guarantees. Or at least we think we do. God says, “Trust me.”

Do I love him enough to do that? I want to.

Manning writes:

The reality of naked trust is the life of a pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise.”

And So This is Christmas?

Posted: December 18, 2012 by Jim Killam in books, disillusionment, doubt
"The Slaughter of the Innocents," Tintoretto, 1587

“The Slaughter of the Innocents,” Tintoretto, 1587

“When the heart-strings are suddenly cut, it is, I believe, a physical impossibility to feel faith or resignation. There is a revolt of the instinctive and animal system, and though we may submit to God, it is rather by constant painful effort than sweet attraction.”

– Harriet Beecher Stowe, writing to a friend who had experienced tragedy.

I haven’t watched one minute of TV news since last Friday. That’s certainly not because I don’t care about the people of Newtown, Connecticut. I’ve been reading newspaper accounts and praying for those families. But TV images are more than I want to deal with.

Almost five years ago, on Valentine’s Day 2008, a disturbed young man walked onto an auditorium stage at Northern Illinois University and started shooting. Before he took his own life, he’d shot 23 people, killing five. One of those killed was Dan Parmenter, a student of ours at the Northern Star, the daily student newspaper where I was the adviser.  Several other students who I knew well, either through the paper or the classroom, made it out of Cole Hall physically uninjured.

I accompanied a group of student journalists to the immediate aftermath, and took photos that would appear the next morning on front pages of newspapers all over the world. We all wish we could “un-see” what we saw that afternoon.

Where was God in all of that? Where was God last Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School? Honestly, I have no idea. And I think anyone who thinks they have a lock on it has probably never experienced something like this up-close. Sure, I can find theological answers about how we live in a corrupt and evil world and how God has indeed made the ultimate costly provision to save us. I get that.

But what about those kids?

I’m still not sure where God was 20 years ago when my wife’s sister and her husband were killed by a drunk driver. I vividly remember a woman at the funeral telling our family, “God needed them in heaven more than we needed them here.” That’s idiotic theology and if anyone really believed that, they’d absolutely hate God.

Not that I’ve felt any great love for God in the immediate aftermath of tragedies. Just helplessness. We want to understand, to make sense of it all. This week, we want to blame guns, or mental illness, or video games, or our violent culture in general. And all of those things may play some part. We might make some strides with legislation and increased knowledge about what makes people do things like this. But there will be no satisfaction in trying to make sense of evil when awful things keep happening to innocent people.

So where does all of this leave us with God, a week before Christmas?

We don’t like to focus on this, naturally. But Christmas, from the beginning, has been tragically connected with the murder of innocent kids. King Herod, feeling threatened by the presence of the baby Jesus, ordered the slaughter of all boys age 2 and under in and around Bethlehem. (Matthew 2) Imagine what that must have been like for those families.

Faith doesn’t always come easily for me. I want it all to make sense, to be able to reason it through logically and come to an inarguable conclusion. Tragedies like last Friday’s throw all of that into a tailspin, and our response is to quickly look away rather than confront an ugly reality. Horrible, evil things happen. God for some reason allows them to happen, and the scales of justice never really seem back in balance.

I do know that God is present in pain – much more visibly than during the good times. I read the Psalms and see David crying out to God about the unfairness of it all. And I now that God knows, and cares, and loves, even when I can’t understand.

Brennan Manning wrote in “Ruthless Trust”: “Anyone God uses significantly is always deeply wounded. … We are, each and every one of us, insignificant people whom God has called and graced to use in a significant way. In his eyes, the high-profile ministries are no more significant than those that draw little or no attention and publicity. On the last day, Jesus will look us over not for medals, diplomas, or honors, but for scars.”

Incomplete as that answer seems to me, it’s all I’ve got. Rather than avert my eyes to pain in this world, I can lean into it … and at the same time, lean into the God who can be trusted, and ask him to use me in some small way. It’s a change in focus, and changes my question from a futile “Why?” to a hopeful “What?”