Good Luck? Bad Luck? Who Knows?

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen 50:20 NIV).

If you were to take a number of images of particular scenes from the story of Joseph from the Old Testament and see them in a gallery, you might wonder if this was the same man you were seeing.  One painting might show a joyful young man, engulfed in a beautifully colored coat, with his proud father looking on adoringly. You then see a photo graphically depict a blood stained garment, wrapped around a scared boy, at the bottom of a muddy pit.  You notice a model of a man, mighty in power and managing a large household with competence and authority. You continue to browse the gallery and watch a dramatized video that could be described as nothing less than a graphic near-miss sex scene where the man ends up in prison.  And the up and down and diversity of the images continue. Joseph’s story is hard to characterize in one concise sound bite.

Joseph’s story reminds me of the following Chinese proverb:

There is a Chinese story of a farmer who used an old horse to till his fields. One day, the horse escaped into the hills and when the farmer’s neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?” A week later, the horse returned with a herd of horses from the hills and this time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?”

Then, when the farmer’s son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

Some weeks later, the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer’s son with his broken leg, they let him off. Now was that good luck or bad luck?

Who knows?
Author Unknown

We could quickly construct a similar tale:

A young man was given a special gift from his father, an honoring as his favored son (Gen 37:3).  Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?

This young man’s brothers hated him because of their father’s partiality and took him and threw him into a pit and had him sold to traders from a distant land (Gen 37). Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?

This man rose into leadership and management in the house of a prominent figure and was put in charge of the household (Gen 39). Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?

While in this management position his master’s wife approaches him and wants to sleep with him (Gen 39). Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?

This man is then thrown into prison (Gen 39:20). Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?

While in prison the man is discovered to have gifts of leadership and Divine understanding and blessing. He rises up in leadership within the prison as well as interpreting dreams for his fellow-inmates. (Gen 39 and 40). Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?

When one of his fellow-prisoners, and a recipient of his dream interpreting, gets released from prison he puts in a good word for the man and he is released from prison and asked to interpret a dream for the head of the land (Gen 41). And from there our young rises in power and leadership and in the end is able to help his brothers and father and family who would have starved in the famine had it not been for his help (Gen 41-50).

This story is a poignant reminder to me that in any snapshot of my life I can categorize my experience into a box and label it as positive or negative. Or I can look up to God; accept it as part of the journey, look for the blessings, learn the lessons and with trust step forward.


For You Have Little Strength

“’For you have little strength.’ This symbolically means, because they know they have no power of themselves. People who are governed by truths springing from goodness derived from the Lord know that of themselves they do not have any power against evils and falsities, thus against hell. Moreover, they also know that they cannot from any power of their own do good or introduce themselves into heaven, but that all power is the Lord’s. (Apocalypse Revealed 178, Emmanuel Swendenborg)

I read this reading today for my work in Apocalypse Revealed and it jumped out at me as the text to base my weekly task on. I resonate with the statement “For you have little strength”.  My first reaction to that statement is: “Yes, that feels true in this moment”. I feel the ups and downs of transition. I’m navigating the elation of classes and new adventures, new people, in amongst the vulnerability of being in a brand new place, without anyone I know, stepping out with trust and faith in so many areas. The task I want to hold in awareness this week is to use the line, “For you have little strength” as a mantra. Reminding myself that no wonder I’m tired, grumpy, frustrated, happy, joyful, in transition, etc. I’m human. All power is the Lord’s. To take a deep breath and be wherever I am at the moment.

Reflections on: “The Avowed Irrelevance of Christian Preaching in the Contemporary Word” by Paul Tillich

This morning I read a lecture by Paul Tillich that was offered during the Earl Lectures at Pacific School of Religion in 1963 titled: The Avowed Irrelevance of Christian Preaching in the Contemporary World.  Tillich talks about preachers and theologians and philosophers throughout history who asked the questions of how can we present Christianity, the gospel, good news in a way that is relevant and how that might show up in our world today.

Here are a few of the quotes that especially jumped out at me and some brief reflections:

“These thinkers and movement have become chapters in the history of Christian thought. In terms of my theme; I propose looking at them as bearers of the history of trying to make the Christian message relevant to the always changing human situation.” (Paul Tillich)

I’m struck by the brief history lesson that proceeds this quote. People throughout the ages that are wrestling with the same questions we are today. It is a reminder to me that we will never “arrive” at the perfect way to worship, preach, lead, or be in spiritual community. It is an ongoing process, evolving, unfolding, changing and morphing. The question is less about arrival, and more about movement. Are we stagnant or are we fluid and alive? Am I stuck in a way of thinking or am I asking the questions and exploring what is being reveled?

Later in the talk Tillich speaks to the idea of learning from outside observers and critics of Christianity. He states:

“Of course, often those who are entirely outside do see the situation more clearly than those who still have ties with Christianity. But more often they lack any real understanding of what is going on in the religious realm. Nevertheless, they too must be heard by those who try to make Christianity relevant for those inside and outside the churches. Thus I made it a principle of my whole vocational life to listen to them eagerly—to find out why they not only deem Christianity irrelevant but totally deny it. In any case, it is encouraging that the churches have become officially and earnestly concerned about the possibility of a post-Christian period.” (Paul Tillich)

I really like this call to the broader conversations and individuals and groups reaching outside our comfort zones and our specific communities to engage in conversations with people of all sorts of backgrounds, faith and non-faith traditions, belief systems or not, etc. This is something I’m already appreciating about my time at ESR, a built in opportunity to be in conversation with a broad spread of people.  This quote also reminds me of the work Peter Rollins ( has been doing through his Dis-course seminars (which I mentioned in a previous post), programs that create spaces for dialog and space to explore beyond our comfortable boxes.

“Compounding the problem is the confusion between faith and belief. Faith is the state of being grasped by something that has ultimate meaning, and acting and thinking on the basis of this as a centered person. Beliefs are opinions held to be true, which may or may not really be true. We need beliefs in practical affairs all the time. But they are never a matter of life and death. One of the worst things making the Christian message irrelevant is the identification of faith with belief in doctrines. Especially bad is the demand to believe the unbelievable.  It would greatly help to use in all our preaching the gift of the English language—not available, for example, in German or French—of the two words “faith” and “belief.” We need to say clearly that faith is being grasped by a power that concerns us ultimately, and belief is being not certain, but accepting something preliminary.” (Paul Tillich)

I’m especially struck by Tillich’s statement: “Especially bad is the demand to believe the unbelievable”.  This resonates with my desire to build my deep faith, trust, connection and relationship with God, while simultaneously breaking down the boxes of rigid thinking, stagnant tradition and fear-based thought patters. It strikes me that the power of separating these two concepts gives space to receive the awe and wonder of an omnipotent and omnipresent God, while using and honoring the rational brain we’ve been given. Swedenborgian or New Church theology might refer to this as the gift of “freedom and rationality” and that this is a God-given gift to be used within the context of human existence and inter-connection with our Creator.

Morning Snapshot

The room was set in a circle—tables and chairs–all facing inwards, around a simple table with a candle burning. Students’ trickled in and gentle conversation eased around the room.

At 8:30 Dawn, one of the two co-professors of Preaching and Public Discourse, took a breath and began.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night to the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

“I have a dream…”

As she talked about the power of words and the depth of their beauty, and responsibility of those who venture to speak them, I found tears coming to my eyes.

Creator God, filled with endless wisdom and love.
Mould me. Shape me. Form me.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart,
Be acceptable in your sight oh Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

New Beginnings


I am now officially an Earlham School of Religion (ESR) Masters of Divinity Student—and I’ve got the student ID to prove it. It has been a wonderfully exhausting and energizing day. I’ve been oriented to campus, met my new fellow students, got set up with all the ID’s, gym passes, emails, etc. and have finished up my readings that are due for class in the morning.

It feels so good to be here. Already I’m finding connection with the people, the community, the spiritual climate, the conversations and God’s presence in this place. I simultaneously feel that I should be pinching myself to see if this is really real, while feeling like I’ve been here for years and it feels so normal and comfortable. I feel comfortable in my own skin today. Free to show up and be myself and see where the Lord is leading and what He will show me next. I’ll keep you posted…


Embracing the Questions | Learning from One Another

This evening I participated in a webinar (online audio/video/visual presentation) by Peter Rollins ( on a practice that he calls the Evangelism Project.  The purpose of the Evangelism Project is to visit different faith communities in order to BE evangelized. The basic idea is to gather a group of people together who are interested in truly learning about and experiencing people and faiths that are different from what they are used to and comfortable with. To purposefully enter into situations where people hold other faiths, other views and other ideas then we have held. The experience is about listening and observing. Not about defending or explaining one’s faith.

I’m intrigued and inspired by the conversation and find myself energized by the thoughts. Peter talked a lot about the process of doubt and humility and the willingness to let go of being right and to be open to being changed. This is a theme that I want to take into my seminary time. And a theme that I feel God has been working in me over the past 8 months particularly.

As I have allowed myself to question more, to doubt, to wonder, I am finding my spiritual path and awareness of the Lord growing and strengthening and unfolding. I am finding that as I embrace the questioning, I am simultaneously feeling more sure of and present with the Lord and with God’s presence in the Word. I am finding myself willing to open up to the Word being full of paradox AND being God with us. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God… (John 1:1). I am growing to see the Word less as a rulebook, and more of a Divine Narrative of how the human race and the Creator interface.  And for me, it’s coming alive with a growing Vibrancy and Life.

I find myself fearful at times, particularly as I put voice to pieces of my process. I wonder if exploring the paradox might break down the careful construct that I have built for exactly how I should build my life—and then what? And then the Still Small Voice comes… It’s in those moments where I let the Lord take over and surrender to all He’s revealing and creating in this present moment that I get a glimpse. A glimpse of I’m not even sure what. But it seems to be good.

This evening’s discussion was good. I’m intrigued to see what ideas and experiences the Lord will bring tomorrow.