Lessons Learned From Answering “Why?”

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My daughter turns 3 on Thursday.  This brings to a close a wonderful year full of growing and learning.  Last year she had mastered the words “no,” “daddy” and “mommy.”  Now she is an expert at the English language, even beginning to read it.

Last Summer we went through the “no” phase where every hour was littered with the infamous two letter “n” word.  During that phase she tried all kinds of tones and volumes, sometimes screaming, “NO!”, other times lengthening the word to “NNNNNOOOO!” and still other times whispering, “nah.”

Then we went through the “mine” phase where she laid claim to all the objects of our house.

After that her vocabulary broadened and she flled our days with, “let me do it!”

Then last November came, “why” and this phase is not going away.

“Can you please close the door?”

“Why?”

“It is time to go home.”

“Why?”

“Stop strangling your brother with a blanket!”

“Why?”

And so I am learning what every parent learns around this time, that a lot of our lives are not well philosophically thought out.  This has become evident during the 3rd round of “why” when I find myself resorting to a one word answer, “BECAUSE!”  Of course, that is not an answer at all, just a cop out.

It is unclear whether she is genuinely curious about why I do not want her to strangle her brother or if she just wants to keep doing it and knows that the one word, “why” will prolong the enjoyment.

At other times I try to figure out if she knows how annoying the question is and if she is asking it to infuriate me.  Regardless, 2 year olds do tend to be evil geniuses.

Still, I have become fascinated with how many times the answer to her “why?” lies in my personal comfort or preserving the comfort of others.

For example, earlier today we walked in our house and, with full hands, I said, “Can you please close the door for me?”

“Why?”

“Because if we don’t close the door it will let all the heat out and living in a cold house is uncomfortable.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t like the cold!”

A few days ago we had a similar conversation.

“Can you please clean up your toys?”

“Why?”

“Because I really don’t like messes.  They make me frustrated and uncomfortable and angry.”

“Why?  Why do I have to pick up my toys?”

“Because I told you I don’t like messes and also because your mom hates them as much as I do and I don’t like it when mommy gets mad.”

Or consider this conversation:

“Stop hitting your brother?”

“Why?”

“Because hitting people is mean.  It hurts them and we don’t like it when other people get oowies.”

“Why?”

I don’t know if there is actually anything lying under the surface of these conversations but thinking about them has made me wonder a lot about comfort.

Is the impetus of most of my actions the creation or preservation of comfort, either for myself or others?  Is this a bad thing?  Is the chief end of love providing for the comfort of others, or even yourself?

Be that as it may, my children are growing up in an incredibly comfortable world.  They have 3 times as many toys as the average child.  They have a warm house, good food and lots of hugs and kisses from relatives and church friends.  They have coats to keep them warm.  They have parks to play at and coats to wear if the temperature is below average.  They have warm beds and plenty of clothing.  More than that, through the internet, my wife and I have access to thousands of research studies that let us know just exactly how to increase and preserve the comfort of my children.

And I don’t know how much of this is a good thing.

Meanwhile I am reading a great book called “Renovating Holiness” that was just released this week.  The book is a compilation of essays that seek to begin new conversations on Christian Holiness.  Not surprisingly, the essays talk more about love than they do holiness because most of the contributors (myself included) believe holiness is rooted in the love of God, neighbor, enemy and all that is in between.

But I have been mindful as I read through the essays how much our theologies of love takes us back to comfort.  In the book there are upper class hipsters arguing that the 1st world hasn’t done enough to make the 3rd world comfortable.  There are internationals arguing against the evils of apartheid, slavery, terrorism and the like by making the case that those evils made people less comfortable.  And there is my essay on alcohol that considers drinking in light of how comfortable and uncomfortable alcohol makes people.  I argue that alcohol decreases comfort for addicts but for casual drinkers it increases it.  Then I call both to a holy community where their love for each other respect the comfort of both.  Now, I did not use the word comfort in my essay and I don’t think the word appears in the book.  Yet my daughter’s questions have made me realize comfort really is at the heart of the matter.

And I like comfort.  I am a big fan of warm blankets and soft beds and comfy couches.  I hate stuffy noses, headaches and sore muscles.  I like feeling water run down the back of my throat, especially first thing in the morning.  Hot showers are just short of heaven, especially after cold runs.  Caramel Brulee Lattes and Pumpkin Spice Lattes are even closer.

But is holiness really helping other people experience this level of comfort?  At its heart, is love really about forgoing a warm shower or an expensive latte so that someone else can have one?

I think, probably, yes.

But I am not quite so sure I could tell you “why?”

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What’s Pastor Kevin Reading: What About Hitler?

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Reading is a difficult thing for a pastor.  First, there is too much to read and the internet age has multiplied it exponentially.  Second, to know what to read you have to rely on the suggestions of friends, co-pastors and mentors who all recommend lousy books from time to time.  Third, some books have wonderful ideas but are horribly written, making them painful.  Other books are wonderfully written but have horrible ideas (or worse, no ideas) making them equally as painful.

With all this mind, I believe there is only one type of worthless book.  It is the book that agrees with everything I all ready think.  Those books are a waste of time and money.  I would rather read a book that infuriates me by arguing that all dogs should go to hell than read a book that merely substantiates my belief that all dogs end up in heaven.

With that said, it was with no small amount of fear and trembling that I downloaded and read Robert Brimlow’s “What About Hitler: Wrestling with Jesus’ Call to Nonviolence in an Evil World.”

After all I am self described what about hitlerpacifist, though I have reservations with that exact word.  Still, I wholeheartedly believe that to follow Jesus requires opposing violence and embracing peace.  These views have been shaped over a long period of time which involved much prayer, Bible study, reading, reflection, conversations with friends and the like.  Therefore, reading yet one more book about pacifism would only harden my opinions and waste my time.

The title of the book is what trapped me.  “What about Hitler?”  Every war monger asks a pacifist that question, “Well then what about Hitler?”  Then they watch the now former pacifist hem and haw until they admit that they probably would kill Hitler if given a time machine.  That question so annoys and frustrates me that I had to read the book to see if maybe there was an answer.

So with all trepidation I downloaded the book and began reading.  And what followed was not a passionately argued philosophical treatise on pacifism that hardened my opinions.  It was a call for renewal among pacifists to embrace peacekeeping in their very lives.

This call came in many forms.  At times it certainly was passionate, philosophical argument.  At other times it was devotional as Brimlow inserted written prayers that wrestle with Scripture passages.  At other times it was honest autobiography as Brimlow struggled with his own testimony and setting.  Then, suddenly, the last chapter was fiercely spiritual as Brimlow argued for a renewal of the spiritual disciplines among Christ’s followers.  That chapter held the most wonderful paragraphs on prayer I have yet read, and I have read a lot about prayer.

With all this said, “What About Hitler” is perhaps the most self aware philosophy book out there.  Every time Brimlow begins preaching he takes several steps back and honestly confesses, “Yet I am still not quite sure.”  At one point near the end Brimlow says he hears trumpets pronouncing victory behind his argument and then tries to silence them by bringing fully into bear what he has argued.

I wish myself and other theologians and philosophers had the humility he does.

In the end he answers the question “What About Hitler” by claiming that if Christians had followed the peacekeeping commands of Jesus in the centuries leading up to World War 2 the Nazis would not have happened, or at least not been able to so easily convince the German citizenry to annihilate the Jewish people.  In such thinking Hitler was the punishment for Christianity’s disobedience, not the cause of them.

That is certainly a bold argument, but it is persuasive because right after the claim, Brimlow admits his own efforts to keep peace are often thwarted by his own anger and hatred.  This simple-spoken humility speaks volumes about peace.  It turns out, at least according to Brimlow, that peacemaking and peacekeeping are useless without humility, something many “pacifists” just do not have.

On every page Brimlow humanizes and speaks love for those who disagree because he fully believes that loving those who disagree with you is what keep wars from happening.

This ends with a lovely chapter on prayer.  Brimlow argues that every Christian from just war theorists to pacifists to taxpayers to soldiers and to those who won’t even kill spiders must renew their prayer.

He brings this to bear by saying, “Instead of trying to fit prayer into my busy schedule, I should try to fit my schedule into my busy prayer” (p. 184).  I could not agree more.

In the end, this did the opposite of what I suspected.  Instead of becoming more passionate about pacifism, I have become more loving towards those who disagree with me.  Just maybe that will prevent a war one day.  But who really knows?