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House Plants

May 17, 2024

Perhaps you know someone whose faith is alive and thriving… or perhaps the opposite: dead. As a potentially living entity, we also use language that describes faith's capacity for growth. We have small faith, mustard-seed-sized faith, great faith, faith enough for others, etc.

I like to think of faith as a house plant, as a palm-sized gift from God that's relatively hardy, but not immortal. It's not too difficult to keep alive. Sure, it needs light and water, but not very much. It's tolerances are far greater than a human's. It sits there, requires minimal maintenance, and simply is.

House plant by a window

A house plant is a living thing, and that means that I didn't create it. I can tend to it, and there's even a chance I germinated it from a seed or propagated it from a clipping, but of course I can't make a living thing. Its life—the spirit, the animation, the spark that set it going—is from God, not me. I did not create it, I steward it. I keep it alive… or I don't. I nourish it, or I kill it.

Ideally, I learn its needs and tend to them. Even better, I nurture it so well that I need to repot it, then repot it again, and again. At some point, it begins propagating. But of course, we know that many people don't have green thumbs. Even with diligence, their plants will die. For others, demise will come through neglect, or being forgotten about, or hidden away, or who knows. If we kill our plant—our faith—what then? Is all lost? Will God give us another? Are there second chances? Thirds? More?

Of course there are. One day there comes a knock on the door and a friendly neighbor holding a tiny plant for you. Is God working through this person, maybe sent this person? Now enters a Christian to share faith, revive yours, and help maintain it.

Dry, shriveled leaves and adust soil are sad sights, but they're neither the last page of the book, nor the end of the world. Faith ought to be kept alive, but even when it dies, there is hope. After all, isn't the whole thing built upon resurrection in the first place?


April 8, 2024

The church is meant to be a collaborative body of complementary parts and skills. No one member is supposed to do everything, and just maybe no one member is even meant to be independent—at least in terms of gifts and abilities. Interdependence, then, best describes the church, perhaps best exemplified by tongues.

Sailboat on the water

Speaking in tongues is encouraged by a few denominations, and avoided by most; notwithstanding, the act is mentioned several times in the New Testament. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit enabled those gathered to "speak in tongues," that is, speak in foreign languages the speakers themselves didn't know. Miraculous!

Elsewhere, speaking in tongues—glossolalia—is described more like random babbling. (Maybe that's why psychiatrists use the same word to refer to just that.) Paul addressed this topic at length in 1 Corinthians 14. He said that speaking in tongues is helpful for the one speaking. Tongues are prayers from the spirit rather than the mind, and Paul said that he did more speaking in tongues than all the rest of them.

He was also quite emphatic that the practice did nothing for the rest of the church. At church, he said, it is better to speak five intelligible words than 10,000 unintelligible words in tongues. The one exception is if there is someone who can interpret. When that's the case, the gibberish becomes a prophecy for all to hear and benefit from. Paul prescribed an orderly approach wherein a small number of people can take turns speaking in tongues—if that's their gift—and wait for other church members—with the gift of interpretation—to translate.

Make it not tongues, but teaching or healing or good-idea thinking or any gift that can benefit the church. No such gift or skill is intended to operate independently of another. Masts work alongside sails, and soap complements water. Coins have two sides, and you don't throw a handful of them into the air and expect a meaningful result; you count them, stack them, and in doing so realize their true worth.

At Hand

March 11, 2024

In "The Kingdom of Heaven", we asked what heaven looks like. In "Parousia" and elsewhere, we noted the timing. Heaven's impending arrival is somewhere between soon and a long way off. But didn't Jesus say, "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand"?

New construction of a home

Belying what's depicted at the end of Revelation, most of the rest of the Bible indicates that heaven's arrival will be a gradual process. Jesus brought it and started the work, and he left it for his followers to complete. It's like laying a home's foundation and exclaiming, "It's underway!" Is the house here? It's at hand. When will it be finished? That depends on the builders.

Speaking of builders, there are varying skillsets. (We talked about this a little in "Corpus, Part 1") Some are good at framing; others are skilled plumbers. Some are great interior designers; others don't really have a skillset but are great at odd jobs and assistance.

Not only is the kingdom of heaven at hand, but we are called to build it with whatever we have at hand. This doesn't preclude augmenting one's skills or vocation, but it does mean that we can't wait until some future time to begin the work. We need to start contributing with whatever's at hand.

Juvenilia is a hell of a thing—it's the collection of works produced while one is young or novice. In many ways, it's like looking back at old yearbooks. Maybe your freshman picture is quite charming, but maybe it's awkward and embarrassing. The point is that we have to start somewhere; we can't wait for personal perfection, all the answers, or any other delays.

I mention juvenilia because Practical Advice for a Better World, Stories of Symmetry, and especially The Symmetry Podcast are all part of mine. At times I wish I had stated something differently or had better speaking/writing skills; at other times, I disagree with my younger self. Nevertheless, I'm proud of the content I've created even when I wish I could go back and redo some of it.

It's important to use what I have at hand to build the kingdom that's at hand. I encourage you to do the same.

In the Name

February 2, 2024

To an alms-seeker at one of the Temple gates, Peter said, "I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have, I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk." Contemporarily, it is not uncommon to hear a prayer ended with "in the name of Jesus, amen" or similar words. These, however, often make me smile bemusedly, and here's why:

Hello-my-name-is sticker

Invoking the name of Jesus is only part of doing something "in the name". The other part is doing something characteristically of the one invoked. Indeed, more important than using the words "in the name of Jesus" is praying for something that Jesus would have prayed for, in a manner that reflects him. In the name calls-to-mind that named person's character, personality, motivations, intentions, and overall quiddity.

Don't get me wrong—there does appear to be power in the name—in the word—"Jesus". We talked about this in "What's in a Name?" Part 1 and Part 2. "Is anyone among you sick?" asks James 5:15, "[Anoint] him with oil in the name of the Lord." In John 14, Jesus says, "Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that I will do . . . If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it."

Considering again the beggar whom Peter healed through invoking the name, praying/doing "in the name" is never wrong; it's just not an abracadabra or incantation designed to make things work. It's better thought of as an outward sign of an inward stirring. In the name arises with the act and its motivation, not the words spoken.

Pray boldly "in the name", but as you do, remember to do it in the name.

All Notes, No Music

January 8, 2024


"I hear all the notes but no music." This is the old piano teacher's complaint, at least according to David McCullough in The Course of Human Events. This sad verity is, I assume, the unspoken refrain of so many Christians: I hear all the notes but no music, know the stories but they don't resonate, quote the verses but hear no voice of God.

Sometimes, we become too familiar with our surroundings. We talk about Supreme God assuming a human life to sympathize with us, then dying to redeem us . . . and we say it with no more thoughtfulness than we give the time to a passing stranger. We cannot hear the unfathomable idea just uttered. Some people can recite every list Paul devised for teaching his congregations, yet we might completely miss the objectives of the lessons.

Perhaps, if you don't yet have a New Year's resolution, consider enjoying the music. Approach what you read and hear and relay with less scrutiny. Instead, step back and listen to the symphony. Let the awe-filled story of the Bible resonate within you and awaken newfound appreciation and wonder.

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