“Don’t Mess with My Tinkertoys!”

TinkertoysDo you remember Tinkertoys, that set of wooden sticks and spools you could build things with, wonderful things as tall as you were when you were a kid? I talked about Tinkertoys at church last Sunday, when I facilitated a question-and-answer session following Art Wright’s three-week lecture on “Heaven, Hell, and the Afterlife.”

I talked about how all people build a “framework of understanding” to make sense of their experience. If you step outside and a bird flies past you say, “That’s right; birds fly,” and you hang that experience on your framework of understanding (this is where I always picture a Tinkertoy framework, with experiences hanging from it like Christmas tree ornaments). But if you step outside and a cat flies past you’ve got a problem; there is nowhere on your framework of understanding to hang that experience. You have to decide: “Did that really happen? Did a cat really fly past? Or did someone throw a cat across my field of vision? Or am I hallucinating?”

Birds? No problem. Cats? Big problem.

I said, “You’ve spent your whole life building and re-building your framework of understanding and it’s precious to you. You don’t want anybody to mess with it. But somewhere in there is your understanding of heaven, hell, and the afterlife, and I get the feeling that for some of you Art Wright’s lecture was troubling, that some part of it messed with your Tinkertoys.”

I saw heads nodding around the room.

That led into an interesting exchange about what we use to build our frameworks of understanding in the first place, and we acknowledged that much of what we have heard about heaven, hell, and the afterlife comes from books, movies, songs, and popular theology. Not all of it is authoritative. For believers, the Bible is authoritative; it’s that one source we can gather around and study together with general agreement that what’s in there is true.

My guess is that much of what Art Wright was teaching in his three-week lecture was biblical. He is a New Testament professor, after all, which means that he’s spent a good bit of time studying the actual text of the New Testament. I’ve done that myself, and I’m often surprised by what’s not in there as well as by what is. Sometimes it “messes with my Tinkertoys,” and forces me to rebuild some part of my framework of understanding.

I don’t like that.

My framework of understanding is precious to me. But it’s more important to me that it be right than that it be easy, and Scripture is the best way to ensure that. It is, in almost every way, the “blueprint” by which my framework must be built.

And I mean all of scripture: not just the parts I like.

Sharon Parks has a name for that framework of understanding: she calls it “faith.” I think that’s a good name for it, and even though there are ways to build frameworks of understanding that don’t include God, those are not ways I’m interested in. I want to build a distinctively Christian faith, one with Jesus right at the center of it. As far as heaven, hell, and the afterlife are concerned, I’m content to follow him. If I can trust Scripture on this (and I think I can), the Way that he is is the Way that leads to life abundant, overflowing, and everlasting.

Why would I follow anyone else?

KOH2RVA: Day 113

Amish BuggyThis is how it happens sometimes:

  1. A shooting takes place at an elementary school in Connecticut.
  2. You feel the pain the whole nation is feeling, but don’t know what to say.  On one side are all your liberal friends, screaming for gun control.  On the other side are all your conservative friends, pleading the Second Amendment.  All you know is that you don’t want one more child to die.
  3. Over the Christmas holiday you take your family to visit your parents at a nursing home in Franklin, West Virginia.
  4. On the way your daughter spots an Amish buggy whizzing down the road, and wants to know more about these fascinating people.
  5. You do a Google search when you get home and find a whole website about the Amish and the Mennonites.
  6. You find this section that seems eerily relevant to Number 1 above:

Q: I understand your belief in nonresistance and pacifism. Does this principle extend to personal situations where you are confronted with imminent evil, say a known murderer confronting you and your family in your home? Can you use force to preserve your life in this situation? To what extent? What is the Biblical basis for your position?

A: Both Amish and Mennonites are committed to a lifestyle of peace and non-violence. Yes, this pervades every aspect of life. However, no one can predict with certainty how anyone would really react to an absolutely unprecedented crisis such as described above. Emotions as well as thoughts are involved and the situation is personalized. Having said this, we would hope that as people who have practiced a lifestyle of peace, we would not resort to force and violence in a crisis situation such as the one described.

We must briefly make several points:

  1. There is no assurance that use of force would save my life or the life of my family if confronted by an attacker.
  2. We could recall many accounts of unhoped for deliverances, whether by mediation, nature, or divine Providence, when Christians refused to use force when confronted by an attacker.
  3. If the result is death at the hands of the attacker, so be it; death is not threatening to us as Christians. Hopefully the attacker will have at least had a glimpse of the love of Christ in our nonviolent response.
  4. The Christian does not choose a nonviolent approach to conflict because of assurance it will always work; rather the Christian chooses this approach because of his/her commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord.

Some of the Biblical references for peace and non-resistance are: Matthew 5:38-48; John 18:36; Romans 12:18-21; and I Corinthians 6:18.

I still don’t know what to say about the shooting in Connecticut, or what our response as a nation should be, but I’m impressed by the way the Amish and the Mennonites approach the subject.  I love their line, “If the result is death…so be it; death is not threatening to us as Christians.”  That sounds gutsy, and a whole lot like something Jesus might say.

As we work to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, this year, maybe we can remind people of that—that faith in Christ can set you free,

Even from the fear of death.