Thursday, January 17, 2019

God Can't: A book review

by Thomas Jay Oord
SacraSage Publishing, 2019

For the last few years, a group of people from my church have hosted a theology discussion group. It meets every summer, and we invite people with expertise in theology and philosophy to share with us on a theological/philosophical topics. Several of our members teach at one of our local Christian universities, and between them and the network of people they know, we have had a wealth of perspectives on topics ranging from Open Theism to Pacifism to Violence in the Old Testament and so on. These summer discussions have been very formative for me. One significant effect of these discussions is learning how many very different views there are of what the Bible has to say on many, many subjects. I don’t always agree with what our speakers have to say, but I have learned to listen and engage with many different ideas without feeling threatened by them.

I say this because God Can’t by Thomas Jay Oord will most definitely make some people uncomfortable. He is well aware his premise there are things that God cannot do pushes against long-held conventional beliefs about the nature of God.

I heard Tom speak last February and again last June about the topics he writes about in God Can’t. I had lots of questions for him, the most significant one being if what you say is true, how should I pray? He responds to that question and many others in this book to reach anyone who has ever been through difficult times and was not satisfied with others’ response as to why God “let” this happen or God “made” this happen.

The book is directly and thoughtfully written, born out of a desire to help those affected by the evils of this world. Tom brings a wealth of both scholarship and lived experience to his message. Several times I found myself writing down questions in the margin only to have him address those very questions later in the book. He also provides questions at the end of each chapter for reflection or group discussion. My personal recommendation is to read the book one section at a time. Wrestle with each chapter before moving on to the next. I also suggest reading it and discussing it with others in a group setting. As Tom uses his own and the experiences of others as examples, the experiences of others in a group setting can be beneficial to absorbing the concepts in God Can’t. Finally, I encourage you to look through the chapter questions before reading the chapter. Not every question provided will work as a pre-reading reflection, but a lot of them will. I think in doing so, you will be more prepared for his assertions as he makes them.

I want to leave you with one of his ideas that is resonating most with me having finished the book: God needs our cooperation to make a difference in this world. In chapter five, Tom quotes Teresa of Avila,

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Tom does not suggest this in a literal way. Instead, he says, “the Spirit who has no physical frame calls us to use pour physicality to express God’s love. Like a mind influencing a body without controlling it, God influences us” (p. 157). When we listen to that influence, we have an impact on the world around us. That idea calls to my spirit. God not only loves me, But He also needs me, and I can work with Him to make the world a better place.

I can’t guarantee you will agree with Tom’s vision of God’s character and how that impacts how we understand the terrible things that happen to us. I can assure you will think about your beliefs about it.

God Can’t is available for purchase now in bookstores. Currently, the ebook format is only available for Kindle. However, it will soon be available in all ebook formats.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Memory Snapshot

I am participating in the UCI Writing Project Summer Institute for teachers. In addition to learning about the best methods for teaching writing, the summer fellows also work on their personal writing. Over the next couple of weeks, I plan on posting here some of the writing I am doing. Some of it will look familiar as I have reworked a couple of posts from years past.

A Family Meal
I felt different—special—dressed in my cousin’s red and white sun-suit. Just an hour earlier, I was in my own mismatched hand-me-downs playing with my sister and cousins before my aunt started shooing us to the bath.
Bathe. . . here, wear this. . . hurry-hurry-hurry--we have to be on our way.”
This wasn’t the usual course of events—this interruption of a routine summer day. We usually kept busy pumping the pedals of the player piano, swimming in Mr. Harvey’s pool next door, finger painting, and watching Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Full of activity as they were, those days seemed to last forever as we waited for our mom to pick us up at my aunt’s three-bedroom home on Starbuck Street in Whittier. Efficient as always, Aunt Margaret had us ready, herding us into the station wagon. Soon, we were at the parsonage of the Huntington Park Free Will Baptist church for dinner with Grandma, Grandpa, and the rest of the family. Get-togethers like these were common enough for weekends and holidays. This was definitely not the norm, but for a chance to see my other aunts and uncles and play with my cousins? To get a patented Grandpa Hug that squeezed the breath out of you in the best possible way? To have Uncle L.T. swing us around and joke with us? I wasn’t about to question the why. I was going to seize the day!
At this usual-but-not gathering, the wooden picnic table, made smooth by years of people dining at it, was covered with our traditional dishes: fried chicken, crunchy, greasy and salty; corn-on-the-cob, crispy and buttery; and brown-n-serve rolls. I am sure there were other dishes there like macaroni salad and fried okra. However, my unsophisticated palette only watered for the corn, chicken, and rolls. The hand-crank ice cream maker sat out on the grass waiting for the grandkids to take turns sitting on it, freezing our little behinds off, while Grandpa or one of the bigger kids cranked it, so the ice, cold and salty, could fulfill its purpose of turning milk and sugar into vanilla ice cream.
My cousins and I ran around and played, laughing and talking. The adults split their time between setting or cleaning up the table, keeping an eye on the kids, and laughing and joking in that way adult siblings do as they relive the antics of yesteryear. An opportunity presented itself. Quick! I said to myself. No one is on the swing! Hurry before someone else gets to it. The tire swing was hung by a thick rope that rasped as the swing moved. My little arms reached over the top of the tire, gripping to hold on. My legs were just long enough to push myself without help. The black rubber tire was cool and smooth to the touch, except for the patterned crevices that had allowed it to grip the road once upon a time. Eventually, it’s time to go home, this time in my mom’s 1972 Ford Maverick, featuring three-on-a-tree manual transmission, pale blue paint, and no air-conditioning. We are tired and quiet as my mom drives the Maverick home. We get out of the car and get ready for bed. The next day, we would go back to the regular summer routine.
Years and years later, going through my mom’s picture box, I find a picture taken that day of my mom, her siblings and my grandparents. All of them dressed in shades of red, white and blue and me on that tire swing in the background in what might now be called a photobomb. We were—and are--a laughing, smiling family, and their faces reflect that as the Kodak Instamatic 20 clicked. Memories of that day come flooding back of an unexpected and joyful time with family. Someone, I don’t remember who, told why we had that mid-week gathering. My Uncle L.T., 18 years old, was leaving for Vietnam. We were having one last family meal together before he went. We were saying goodbye.
Anytime I look at this picture now, I see more than my six-year-old self’s memory of that day. There is a then-future-now-past filter laid over the photo. My grandmother’s anxiety for her baby boy. The concern of my aunts and uncle for their baby brother. I understand now why we gathered on a weekday and didn’t wait for a weekend. I understand now that we wouldn’t see Uncle L.T. again for over a year. I understand now how fortunate we were to see him again. So many families didn’t get that.

I am glad I didn’t understand that then.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Procrastination: Periadolescence and Stereo Projects

I have LOTS of grading to do:

All those piles aren't ALL grading. Some of the papers are graded papers to return, copies of handouts, and administrative papers. Those books are copies of the selections for my class book club. I am still missing two books, so I will post pics of those later. If you look closely, you can see a small, white bottle of ibuprofen at the far end of the table.

I think ibuprofen should come with a teacher discount.


My daughter is almost 11 and 1/2 years old. Things are happening to her body. THOSE things. Along with THOSE things come the moodiness, fits of temper, and the prerequisite acquisition of knowledge superior to adults in each and every way. Might I call it periadolescence? Between HER hormones and mine, I am pretty much aggravated at her every waking moment.

I have little reminders, though, of the actual PERSON she is in the midst of all of this. I bought some mini pumpkins the other day for her to decorate. This is what we have scattered around our living room right now:

 Harry Potter pumpkin

 Traditional Jack-O-Lanterns

 I think this is a girl pumpkin.

 Angry pumpkin. Grrrrr!

Another girl pumpkin. Apparently the long bang, swept to the side is popular right now.

When I see these, strategically placed around our living room and entry way, I remember that underneath all that pre-adolescent angst and know-it-all-ness is my crafty, hands-on, creative girl.

She thought very carefully about WHERE to put each pumpkin. "Which one goes with a horse, Mom?" Here are the results of her contemplations:

Please note blue plaid curtains from Target. The folks at Wrath of Mom are quite fond of them.


My husband has worked on a few projects around the house lately. The results of which mean I can listen to music on two different systems in the living room or one in the dining room--RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER from the living room.

System One: Please note directions. This isn't my husband being overly picky. They are necessary so that I am able to listen to music when I want and so that I do not blow up the precious amps.

 System Two: Good for listening to music and for listening to the television. Please pardon the blurry picture. It is what it is. The truly spectacular part of this system is the volume control. Done with the device pictured below:

Even more special is that it is connected to Sound System Two via this lovely cable: 

And now, System Three:

   This system features an extra fancy "Now Playing" indicator:

Extra fancy tech. That's how we roll in the LUE household.


Well, that was truly a decent amount of time spent procrastinating. Mission accomplished!

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Surprised by Waltzing (A LUE Rerun)

Somehow, on the first day of my Tuesday night class, the subject of my favorite band came up. Without hesitation, I said, "The Band." Then I had to explain to a group of people, who were mostly under the age of 22, who The Band is. To be absolutely truthful, I don't know that The Band is truly my favorite band. It might be The Blind Boys of Alabama. However, The Band, as featured in the documentary, The Last Waltz, represents so much more than just music to me. Here is a post I wrote about that movie a few years ago:
Sometime in the first year after I graduated high school, I read Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by C.S. Lewis and his definition of joy as "an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction" captivated me. Joy, to Lewis, was a feeling inspired by any number of things from encounters with nature to the sound of friends' laughter. Eventually, as he sought out these moments of joy, he began to believe the emotion he was experiencing was a recognition of the divine which creates in us a longing for God.

At 18, I sensed the truth in his words. I knew that joy as he described was different than the happiness we are often taught should be our life's aim.

At 18, I felt I had experienced those longing glimpses into the divine.

I'm sure I had, but as I reflect on my life with its grown up burdens and responsibilities... as I consider the sad and tragic circumstances that can befall people, those glances of joy are more poignant to me. Sometimes they are almost boringly obvious: the heart-bursting ache that comes with a glance at my son or daughter; the gasp that comes with the sight of the local mountains, freshly covered in the snow after a storm. I think these are universal experiences which don't lose their depth of meaning in their prevalence.

Sometimes, though, I get that sense of Beauty and Longing in places I wouldn't expect. Today, Sober Briquette* picked up on a recent post of mine in which I chose a shopping cart to represent myself in a transportation metaphor. Her choice is great and the options she eliminates along the way are very funny. At the end she embedded a You Tube clip of Van Morrison singing with The Band from The Last Waltz.

The Last Waltz has been on my mind of late. We have the DVD and Colin recently purchased The Band's Greatest Hits (along with The Best of Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett's Greatest Hits and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band--this kid has great taste in music). The film brings back fond memories. The first time I watched it was the first time Paul and I discussed forever. But more than that, the film and the music in it evokes in me a sense of the sublime. It is just so good it almost hurts--that good hurt.

Here's where my descriptive powers will fail me. How do I go beyond the Valley Girl-like "It's so awesome!!!" to communicate how the interviews with the members of The Band, along with the footage of amazing musician after amazing musician singing and playing with the band is just a little slice of heaven here on earth? How can I explain that I see God in the community these men had with each other or that the musicianship seems to be the quintessential example of being in the moment with the music? I don't know.

I'm not really a music person. I like lots of music but I don't pursue music in my life and I'm not musically literate. I can't tell you anything about what makes a good song. There's something more than music going on in The Last Waltz, though, and it surprised me with joy.

*Sober Briquette is no longer blogging under that name or I would link to that post for you.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dipping my toes back into the blogging waters...



Is this thing on????

It has been months and months since I blogged. Recently, though, I've been reconsidering getting back into the swing of things. With a little encouragement from some Twitter friends, I thought I'd take it slow by republishing some former posts. Maybe it will inspire me. At the very least, I know enough people NOW, who I didn't know THEN, it will give them a chance to read some words I wrote before I went to grad school and started teaching. This first post is one I have republished before. Someone liked it enough to nominate it for a Perfect Post, an award I don't think exists anymore. I am reminded of this post every time I read or hear about someone sending his/her first child to kindergarten. It was such an emotional experience for me; one for which I was completely not prepared. Well, you'll see HOW unprepared I was when (or IF) you read on.



She walked into the classroom, son’s hand in hers, and looked at all the desks, searching for his name. Colorful and inviting, the walls were decorated and the room ready for its new students. Today was the kindergarten tea, a time for her son, along with his classmates, to see his classroom and to meet his teacher so that he would be more comfortable for his first day of class. She didn’t anticipate any trouble. He had attended preschool on that campus for three years and she worked at the church office just across the parking lot. He was in comfortable and familiar territory.

As she showed her son all the room had to offer, a wave of emotion swept over her. Afraid she would start crying, she made excuses to leave early. Hurrying out, she took some deep breaths and the emotion subsided.

"What was that?" she asked herself. She was confused by the strength of feeling and unable to identify the specific emotion. She knew some mothers became emotional as their children started school but surely this was too strong a feeling to be that. Besides, she told herself, he had been in preschool for so long and would just be across the parking lot from her. She hadn’t thought this would bother her.

Pushing the thoughts and emotions aside, she went about her business the next couple of days. The first days of kindergarten were uneventful. Her son was fine. She was able to suppress any overwhelming feelings yet was never completely at ease. Friday came, and with it, the first school chapel. This was the only day the children had a specific dress code: shirts with collars and pants for the boys, skirts or dresses for the girls. No shorts allowed. The no shorts rule presented her with her first power struggle of elementary school. He only liked jeans or shorts and t-shirts. No collars on his shirts and no fat pants--his name for anything other than the hand-me-down Wrangler jeans he favored.

“It’s the rules. You have to wear this.” she stated patiently.

“No! I want shorts!” he demanded.

“You can’t wear shorts. It says in the student handbook. No shorts. I read it. You have to respect the rules even if you don’t agree with them,” she attempted to reason with him. Eventually, she won the battle but not without losing her patience and it was exhausting.

At the chapel hour, she headed over to the auditorium to sneak a peek at her little boy. The students filed in, class by class. She noticed one student, then another and another in shorts.

"Wait a minute. What is going on here?" she thought. Spotting Karen, the school vice principal and a good friend, she made her way over to her.

“Karen, so many boys are wearing shorts. The handbook said no shorts.”

“Dress shorts are allowed,” Karen answered matter-of-factly.

“I read through it more than once. I’m sure it said no shorts at all. I would have let him wear shorts. He wanted to wear shorts,” she began to get distressed.

“No. It says dress shorts are acceptable,” her friend reassured her.

She did not believe this and wouldn’t accept it until the manual was brought out. There in black and white were the words she had missed for some reason.

“For boys, acceptable dress includes collared shirts including knit polo shirts tucked in, pants, dress shorts, belt, sneakers...”

The dam burst of tears was released. All that fighting and struggle for nothing. Her friend tried to console her but she wasn’t in a place to be comforted. The emotion that began the day of the kindergarten tea was released now like a tidal wave and it had to run its course. She made her way back to her office sobbing. She would get the tears under control until someone would walk by and ask her what was wrong.

“I made him wear paaaaaants! I’m a horrible mom!” she wailed.

The men in her office, while sympathetic, did not quite understand this response. They humored her and gave her hugs, reassuring her that she was a wonderful mom. Although the shorts issue didn’t make sense to them, they were dads and knew not to reason with a mom in this state.

After she calmed down, she decided to try to at least alleviate her mistake. Rushing home, she picked up some suitable shorts and took them to his class. After asking permission from his teacher to help him change, she took her son into the class bathroom. As she helped him, she apologized tearfully.

“I’m so sorry, honey. I read the handbook wrong and you are able to wear nice shorts.”

He was happy to have shorts but otherwise seemed none the worse for wear. Obviously this was an experience that scarred only the mother and not the son. Over the next few days, with a little distance, she began to recognize the emotion she had been feeling: grief. That first shocking emotion that day in class was grief. She realized it now. It was the same feeling she experienced at the death of her grandfather, her brother, her grandmother. It didn’t make sense to her, though. Nobody had died. Her son had just started school.

Eventually she realized it wasn’t about being overprotective or nervous about her son’s readiness for school...

It wasn’t about being a horrible mother...

It wasn’t about shorts...

It was about what his beginning kindergarten represented: the death of his unencumbered life and his entering into a world of expectation and responsibility. He was no longer a child free of the world. Her baby was hers alone no longer. He was part of the world now.

He was ready. She was not.


That boy, whose entry into the world of expectation and responsibility I grieved, is 19 years old now! He's faced many more milestones. As with kindergarten, I was usually not ready. Often he was. Sometimes, though, he wasn't. Growing up is hard. At 5. At 19. At 46. Lest you worry for my emotional sanity, let me reassure you by the time my second child went to kindergarten, eight years later, I practically skipped out the door--with nary a twinge of grief.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Chutes and Ladders

Right now my life feels a little bit like that game of chutes and ladders. One day, I find myself flying down a chute to some new destination. I have to reorient myself to my new locale and then move on. Another day, I may be looking at the bottom rung of a ladder, facing a long climb up to the top. Now, I am not sure that I remember which one of those scenarios is better in the game: down the chute or up the ladder. I just know that life seems like quite an adventure these days, for all that it might seem mundane to an outsider's eyes.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Um... er...

Well, it's been almost three months since I've written anything here. I think that is a clear sign that it is time for me to hang a "Closed Until Further Notice" sign up.

I WANT to write but there is just too much going on.

I will tell you that my experiment in self-binding (see last post) was successful. I finished my master's project and now have a M.S. in Education, Reading. I am also teaching four classes this spring--two at the community college and two at the state university. With that load, I seriously doubt I will have time to write here.

You can find me on Twitter ( I have a protected account, so you will have to ask me to approve you. I am also blogging every other Monday at Sleeping with Bread, my blog for doing a form of the Examen.

It's been great, but sometimes you have to take a break from writing about Life, the Universe, and Everything to experience Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Until some unknown time in the future. . .