What’s Pastor Kevin Reading: A Theology of Luck

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Now I know what you all are thinking.  You all read that title up there and immediately assumed that in what follows I would not miss one opportunity to tell jokes and makes puns concerning the word “luck.”  But have some faith people, I am more disciplined than that, albeit not much more.

Actually that is absolutely what I intended to do until I looked at the one sentence reviews inside the front cover of this book and saw that they all did the same.  You just need to know they stole the idea from me.  Or maybe my brilliant ideas are not that original or maybe I am just that.  .  .wait for it.  .  .unlucky.

Still, I should open this review by noting that, like the authors, I believe luck is a thing.  By all indications when God put together the structures of the cosmos, God seems to have done so by programming a fair amount of random number generators.  We have just about proven this to be the case.

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Now let me back up right there and note that us Christians have to account for the fallen nature of creation.  Paul seems to imply that all creation was subjected to futility or chaos because of human sin.  So the random number generators and the chaos they bring about could have been the result of our sin or they could have been all part of the plan from the beginning.  Or some could be one and the rest the other.  Either way, luck, or if you prefer “randomness,” is a reality and seems to imply we don’t have a micro manager God on our hands.  I personally love that considering I loathe micro managers, especially ones that randomly decimate towns in the Bible belt with tornadoes every Spring.  I mean, after all, a God of the Bible would know those lousy liberals in the north deserve those tornadoes way more than those devout Southerners!  (Yes, I am joking there.)

So the question is:  What does all this say about God?

That is precisely the question the authors of “Theology of Luck” try to answer.  I don’t want to spoil the end for you, because I hate spoilers more than micro managers.  So let’s just be brief and note that according to Fringer and Lane, a macro manager God is also a relational God.   This God seems to prefer to partner with us in order to bring about good purposes in spite of the randomness and chaos and luck that abounds.

They make this argument in enticing and provocative ways, using a fair amount of relevant Scripture passages, examples from every day life and references to fictional pop culture.  In fact, the amount of Scriptural and cultural exegesis is remarkable given the extremely low page count.

On that note, it is common knowledge that there is a growing disparity between the church and the universities.  The pews are frequented more and more by less educated, blue collar types who either don’t want to study or don’t have the time.  The classrooms are full of people who love to study and get paid sums of money so that they have time to do so.  The problem, some argue, is that the academics seem to silo themselves off from the pews and embrace ever greater concepts using an ever expanding vocabulary.  At the same those in the pews silo themselves off from the university and get stuck at “Jesus loves me.”

If that is a real problem, than what we need are more mediators.  These people will frequent the classroom and the pew in equal measure and be able to write in ways that explain deeper concepts but using a more common vocabulary.

“Theology of Luck” is such a book written by such people.  It explains higher concepts of God’s nature without trying to sound overly smart.  Its examples are rooted in the world of the pews and its exegesis is simple enough that any sixth grader could follow along.  We desperately need more books like it.

In closing, I was involved in a Facebook discussion awhile back with some academic types.  We talked a bit about the bare minimum education pastors should be expected to have.  One of the things we eventually agreed on is that every pastor should be able to teach the equivalent of a Sophomore level theology and bible class.  Since then I have used that as my standard for teaching and preaching.  I want my congregants to know what every Sophomore Bible student knows.  (Actually I want them to know more than that, but I am willing to compromise.)  “Theology of Luck” fits that criteria precisely.  It is readable, fun, accessible and still deep and provocative.  Any run of the mill pew sitter could read it and interact with it and learn a lot from it.

And if they should do so, they should consider themselves so lucky! (Okay couldn’t resist that last one.)

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Dead Mice in the Kingdom of God

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Last November I began running on a beat up old treadmill in my garage for 4 days a week.  As I spent an hour running my legs to the rhythm of the treadmill’s clangs, I noticed another sound in the background.  It was similar to a scratching or clawing.  Now I am usually a very curious person, but my curiosity failed me.  I blame the treadmill.

At the end of November we pulled our Christmas tree out and found mouse droppings.  .  .a lot of them.  So we bought two traps.  They were the new confangled kind that sought to bait the mouse with food and then enclose them in a round container.

We set them, placed them in the garage, waited for a month and caught nothing.  I assumed the mouse had died or moved on, though the scratching sound did not go away and the droppings increased.

In January my wife finally saw the mouse run across the floor.  She insisted we do something about it, claiming there is a disease you can get from mouse droppings that infects you by breathing.  Considering the majority of droppings were right beneath the treadmill, where I spent a half hour breathing hard every day, I decided to look into it.

So I researched it and found that %15-%20 of mice are infected with the hafta-virus.  The hafta virus is especially sinister.  It is an uncurable flu that can kill people if it gets into the lungs.  The virus itself is killed by direct sunlight but still very lethal if inhaled.  After reading about it, I panicked and bought the old school spring-load traps.

I set one with peanut butter one evening and left the garage.  I came back five minutes later to find a mouse.  “That was quick!” I exclaimed before I realized the mouse was still living.  Its ear and the side of its head were caught in the crossbar but the rest of it was fine.  It looked at me trembling and frightened and immobile.

“Oh, no, poor mouse,” I muttered.  My daughter, who was standing behind me, repeated it.  I stood there looking as equally terrified as the mouse and also immobile.

After ten seconds I knew what I had to do.  I grabbed an old dusty broom and a plastic bag and sought to sweep the trap and the mouse into the bag.  It didn’t work.  The first time I moved the trap, the mouse pulled its ear free, spurting blood onto the garage floor.  It shot like a lightning bolt underneath an old television stand.  For a second I thought it had run clear through it and emerged into the maze of boxes on the other side.

I muttered, “nuts.”  My daughter repeated it.

I turned to go inside when it occurred to me I should at least check under the television stand.  So I carefully pulled it back and there was the mouse, on its side, breathing heavily with the trembling eyes.

I knew what I had to do but I didn’t like it.  I lifted up the broom and brought it down swiftly to end the mouse’s life.

For the rest of the evening, my daughter repeated, “aw, poor mouse” over and over to remind me of what I had done.

The whole event brings into clear focus the true brokenness of creation.  In Genesis there is a wonderful picture of all animals living together in harmony.  In that world mice didn’t carry lethal viruses that could be spread by breathing the same air they do.  At the same time, humans didn’t have boxes of junk sitting in dark garages that mice could chew up and destroy.

But now our world is less than that utopia.  It is full of things like disease and death and boxes of junk.  Still, the Apostle Paul teaches us in Romans 8 that all creation is groaning while it waits for the children of God to be revealed.  I think that includes mice.  The hafta virus and the destroyed Christmas decorations and the disgusting smell are all signs of a groaning creation, waiting for redemption.

As I stood over that mouse and the trap that (let’s face it) is less than merciful when it works properly, I found myself groaning as well.

As I brought that broom down to mercifully end the life that I myself had all ready mutilated, I longed for a better world.

Poor mouse.  Poor humans.  Poor creation.

Come Lord Jesus.