Aloof: Figuring Out Life with a God Who Hides

Aloof: Figuring Out Life with a God Who Hides

by Tony Kriz

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Overview

"God, are you there?" is a near universal cry of the human heart.

We have all longed for God to be tangible. Some might sway to worship music, others go on missions, others fast from food. The universal quest is to feel the divine . . . and yet the divine seems aloof, even shy. In this narrative-driven book, Tony Kriz leads the reader on a journey of “orchestrated epiphanies” along the eternal quest to tangibly encounter God, including the unpredictable moments that give us hope, and even more so, the long gaps between those moments that challenge our faith.

Written in an authentic, conversational style,Aloof is easily accessible to those who don’t know much about the Bible, yet the message is still theologically informed and culturally relevant. This book will help you process how God acts uniquely towards us, depending upon each stage of life. The chapters include contemporary real-life stories that normalize the experience of an often hidden God, while also aiding the reader to acknowledge the very real moments (rare though they may be) when God has shown up in a tangible way.



Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780849947407
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 01/20/2015
Pages: 228
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Tony "The Beat Poet" Kriz has an earned doctorate in spiritual formation. He is a teacher of faith and culture through the mass media, via social media, and at universities, conferences, churches, seminars, and other speaking engagements. He pastors an imbedded community of life-servants in one of Portland's most culturally diverse neighborhoods.Tony and his wife Aimee have three sons.

Read an Excerpt

Aloof

Figuring Out Life With A God Who Hides


By Tony Kriz

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2014 Tony Kriz
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8499-6404-6



CHAPTER 1

RANSOM


The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That's the deal. —C. S. LEWIS, A GRIEF OBSERVED


"YOUR FOUR-YEAR-OLD CHILD HAS inoperable cancer."

These are words that should never have to be spoken.

In the winter of 2012, my lovely and innocent nephew was diagnosed with a particularly despicable and rare form of liver cancer. The doctors ranted on and on that this obscure type of cancer should never, ever appear in a child. Their defiance was trumped only by their thinly veiled doubt that he would ever be cured. Doubt or not, none of us, neither family nor physicians, were willing to let him die.

This lovely little boy, my nephew: his name is Ransom.


A few months after that fateful diagnosis, my family of five packed our bags and moved from Oregon to Oklahoma to be with my sister, brother-in-law, and their three boys. It was the only response we could come up with. There was nothing in and of ourselves that we could do to heal Ransom. We could not remove the cancer. We could not take away the fear and helplessness. But we could be near. So we moved for the summer, with nothing to offer besides our prayerful presence.

During the moments I was with him, in those early stages of his treatment, Ransom spent much of his time hidden away in his room. Not every stage of his treatment was that way. A young boy's indomitable spirit cannot be contained by sickness. There were many days, maybe most days, when Ransom tore through the chemical fog to run and jump and play with his brothers.

However, on the days that I was with him, particularly those first days, his energy was low. His invasive treatment, delivered though a plastic port in his chest, raged war with his body. His circumstance was inconceivable. To cope, I would have conversations with myself. I would tell myself that it was not really all that bad.

A four-year-old doesn't know any better, right? After all, he is only a child and has never known anything else. To him all this must seem strangely normal. He only knows being tired all the time. He only knows nausea. This terrible existence is, for him, simply "normal." Right?

I wanted to believe it for him. Mostly though, as I think back now, I needed to believe it for myself. It helped me accept the unimaginable.

The first time I really saw him, a couple of days after we arrived in Norman, Oklahoma, I caught him wandering down their hallway. It was a straight corridor from his bedroom to the living space, passing the other boys' rooms, the dining room, and a bath. I stood frozen, maybe forty feet away, watching him. The fingertips of his right hand drug lightly along the textured wall to his right. Just above his outstretched fingers hung pinned-up drawings and art projects, artifacts from a home filled with boyish creativity.

He was almost as bald as me. His face was notably thinner than the last time I had seen him. The skin around his eyes was a bit darker in color.

His steps were tentative. His head hung, bowed ever so slightly. His large bright eyes flashed all around as he crept along. He had the look of a forest animal timidly easing into a clearing.

He wore a worn baby blue T-shirt with the emblem of Batman stretched across his narrow chest. This one single image made me smile inside. I can't completely explain where that smile came from. It may have been the irony. The sight of innocent weakness emblazoned with the symbol of a superhero: fragility and power, sickness and strength, courage and, well, courage. I soon learned that this infirm majesty was the boy's very nature. He was a superhero, and at that moment I decided I would think of him as such from that day forward.

Seconds passed. My little superhero made it to the doorway at that hall's end. He stood there, swaying slightly with his hands extended to the door jam on either side. That was when he heard the sounds. His two older brothers and three cousins, five boys between the ages of five and nine, galloping back and forth across the backyard lawn. He tilted his little bald head, let go with his left hand, and swung like a hinge, his right hand still holding the frame of the doorway. His body tilted away from the doorway until he could see the boys out the wide back window.

The sound of the boys called to him. His muscle memory took over, and he trotted the half a dozen steps to the sliding glass door. He grabbed the handle of the heavy door and leaned as if to pull it open and yet ... before it budged, he stopped straining and straightened back up. The glass remained still, sealed shut. He gazed at the giggling boys. Another moment passed and then he turned, apparently dismissing the inspiration to join them, and returned back to the almost empty room.

All the while, I had not moved. Just Ransom and me alone in the broad living room.

"Hi Ransom." I leaned to the side and down a bit, hoping to catch his eye.

"Hi." His voice was soft. He didn't look at me.

Instead of the riot in the backyard, he chose the television. Less work.

Ransom used one remote to click on the large flat-screen. Then he grabbed a video-game controller and climbed up into the soft armchair, all but swallowed by the wide pillowed bowl. He was quickly lost in his game. The quiet tapping on the buttons intertwined with his gentle humming as he played.

The game of choice was, of course, superheroes.

I took a seat across from him on the couch. I listened to his humming. Now and again he would talk to himself, or maybe he was talking to me. His thoughts were not profound, just a detail or two about his pixelated companions on the television screen.

This sweet cherub is probably going to die. This thought unexpectedly streaked through my head. It was not something I wanted to think about. Never before had I sat so close to someone so small whose unspoken probability was death.

I wasn't angry, at least not in that moment. I had certainly been angry many times before. God and I had already gone several rounds about Ransom, but not today. My feeling at that moment was sorrow.

What kind of world is this, where four-year-olds suffer and die ... all pumped full of chemicals ... weak and sick ... no desire to eat ... slowly wasting away and one day ... gone?


I have always been a person of faith, faltering faith maybe, but faith all the same. I was raised in a Baptist church by devout and hardworking parents. I prayed the salvation prayer when I was a young boy, not much older than Ransom. Church had always been a place of solace throughout my childhood. I was not a particularly smart kid and was painfully awkward. Schoolrooms and ball fields had never been safe places, but Sunday school most always was. It was a place where a kid like me could belong.

I had also never known a time when God-words were not a part of my daily vocabulary. That lifelong habit took over as I watched my nephew play alone.

God, my faith is weak and confused. I want to believe. I want to believe that you are caring for this little boy. I want to believe that you could heal him, but my faith is too weak to ask. I need to believe something.

I paused.

The next thought came clear, so clear it felt like it came from outside me.

God, I want you to show up for this little boy.

I stopped praying.

Is that something I can believe? When I say "show up," I don't necessarily mean supernatural healing. I simply wanted to believe that God would be near Ransom. I wanted Ransom to know God's closeness, God's comfort. Whatever time he had left would very likely be full of pain and fear and horrifying confusion. How could a child possibly comprehend ... this? Even then, my words felt impotent.

I wanted God to be present, even if it was only for moments. I wanted God to be tangible in Ransom's times of terror and unimaginable darkness.

I wanted God to hold his hand.

I wanted God to hold his hand.

* * *

What are we to do with a God who hides?

My relationship with Ransom, as his uncle and as a human being, has brought this question to violent bearing. It is fresh for me.

I had been told since I was a boy that God loves us. My theological training had taught me that God is a good communicator. God had spoken to the Bible writers. God had appeared to Scripture's holy heroes. God had appeared time and again through the characters of history as my missionary biographies had showed me. And those TV preachers were quick to say that God spoke to them, telling them what to proclaim each week.

Yet God seems silent to me.

Have I just lost the courage to look for God's tangible presence? Can I trust God to show up when I need him?

Can I trust God to show up for Ransom now?

If I hope to answer these questions and more, I fear I need to go back to the beginning. I need to explore the roots of my own beliefs and doubts, and I need to ask, why does God hide from us? And if I dare to be consistent, it is also necessary to ask, why do I hide from God?

CHAPTER 2

FIRST CONTACT


Father, lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord, my soul to keep. —A CHILD'S PRAYER


MY FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH God happened when I was not much older than Ransom. That feels somehow poetic to me now. It happened in my Grandma's family room one summer afternoon. My parents were off on some vacation, and my sister and I were left in Grandma's care.

You would have loved my grandma.

Grandma was the most honorable of matriarchs. My entire life she has loved our rather large family with integrity and consistency. She has one daughter and four sons, ten grandchildren, and a gaggle of great-grandchildren. Like her pioneer roots, she was hardworking, wise from a life well lived, and not one to waste words. I loved my grandma very much. I miss her. We all do.

In my eyes, as a small boy, my grandma had two great superpowers. I was too young to appreciate her gifts as a schoolteacher or as a loyal churchgoer. My sense of superpowers came from a far different set of values.

Her first power may not seem like much now, but at the time it was nothing less than otherworldly. That supernatural gift: breakfast cereal. Odd, I know, but you see I came from a home strictly defined by "twig and pinecone" breakfast cereals. But not my grandma. After my parents dropped us off at her house and as soon as their car disappeared around the corner, Grandma would gather us into the backseat of her sedan and take us to the largest supermarket in her town. Once we arrived, she would whisk us past the vegetables and wholegrain breads and take us directly to the Emerald City of groceries, the rainbow-colored, sugar-covered land of euphoria. She would stop at the end of the aisle, calmly look down at us, and say, with a whoosh of her hand, "Choose."

I was just learning my letters, but even then I knew that only a place as magical as the cereal aisle could produce fantastical words like froot and puffs. It would be irreverent to treat such a sanctuary cheaply. My decision could not be made quickly. Every option must be considered. Time was lost in sugar-coated, multi-colored, marshmallow worship. And Grandma? She was content just to watch our lingering decisions of delight.

Eventually we made our selections, be they Smacks, Pebbles, or Krispies, and it was back to Grandma's house for a late morning snack. Within a few days, the boxes would be empty, and we would return to worship once again.


My Grandma had two superpowers. Her other superpower was stories, or to be more accurate, storybooks. She wasn't particularly good at creating stories. I have no idea if she ever wrote stories. She wasn't even much of a storyteller (at least not as I recall). However, she was the family's great dispenser of stories. As a lifelong schoolteacher, my Grandma loved books. And she made sure that my childhood was surrounded by her favorites. Every birthday found new volumes added to my personal library of imagination. Shel Silverstein, A. A. Milne, and Dr. Suess were my grandma's gift of story-guides.

Did I mention that I miss my grandma?


I PRAY THE LORD, MY SOUL TO KEEP.

Grandma's home was an unimpressive ranch house in Newberg, Oregon. It had a style and look appropriate to its time. Entering through the front door, I was met by golds and oranges, bulbous lamps and dark wood-accented furniture. To the left was a hallway to the bedrooms and one bathroom (it contained the toilet that my uncles repeatedly threatened to "flush me down"). To the right were the living spaces: first an open living room, then kitchen, dining room, and family room zigzagging into the house's rear.

My first encounter with God happened on what I remember to be a sunny afternoon. Forgive me, I was very young, so aspects of the memory are even more hazy than most. For instance, I don't remember what day it was. Years later a Sunday school teacher tried to convince me that "it must have been a Sunday." I don't think she could imagine an encounter with God happening on any day other than the "Lord's Day." Out of respect for her station, I chose to believe it was a Sunday. Truth is often sacrificed one small detail at a time.

One thing I can remember for certain was this: I was alone. Alone, that is, except for the ever companionship of grandma's mutt dog, appropriately named Budd. He was ragged and orange, really more Lorax than canine, reasonably friendly, and a good source for childhood entertainment.

I wandered into the family room from the dining room and quietly stood there facing the broad windows, looking out into the backyard. This was the moment when God spoke to me. I offer no greater explanation; I have none. I simply knew it was God. The voice-thought appeared out of nowhere. As near as I can remember, the message was uncomplicated. God plainly said, "It is time."

I knew instinctively what God meant. There was no ceremony. I did not ask for further description. I had no concern for doing it "right" or that screwing it up was even an option. I simply responded.

Next to me was Grandma's tired couch. I knelt down against it and folded my hands on top of the coarse cushions. I closed my eyes. Then I asked Jesus to come into my heart. It only lasted a moment. My prayer may have been no more than a handful of words tossed silently into the sky. It was the business that God had for me. It was brief and intimate, just me, God, and Budd the Lorax-dog.

It may have been my last moment of pure, uncluttered religious freedom.


It was in my Grandma's family room that I came to believe in magic. (Or, if it makes you more comfortable, the "supernatural.")

Writing it now, at forty-two years of age, it seems strange that I was so comfortable with such a magical encounter. It seems odd that I could have such innocent freedom to invite Jesus into one of my organs. But that is just it; it was simple. In fact, it was the most natural thing in the world.

I wish I could return to that sort of simple and exposed freedom. I imagine that this is why Jesus invited us to come as "little children." The decades have added untold layers of ceremonies, critiques, theologies, validations, insecurities, and "maturities" over that once pure surface.

* * *

Thanks to my Grandma (and others), I was raised on a canon of stories. These stories included wild things and a giving tree. These stories included Luke Skywalker and Prince Caspian. These stories included a floating zoo and a rabbi-healer. Like many children, the manger and the North Pole shared the same breath and the same winter holiday. Aslan and Father Christmas could even be found in the pages of the same formative book about a lion, a witch, and a freestanding upright closet.

The stories of faith and fantasy were so fused that I actually believed that a person could be swallowed by a whale. Seriously. One of these formative story characters performed a great act of disobedience. He ran away from what he knew he must do. He boarded a ship to escape his responsibility. Then, in his darkest moment, he was cast into the sea where he was swallowed by a whale. Yes, a whale! Only then was he fully willing to understand his desire to become a "real boy" ...

It is odd, isn't it? Can you can see how stories get fused? Pinocchio and Jonah, while it seems confusing now, even amusing, it was not then. It was perfectly natural for a puppet and a prophet to share the same adventure.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Aloof by Tony Kriz. Copyright © 2014 Tony Kriz. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Author's Note xiii

Introduction xvii

In the Beginning xxv

Part 1 Children's Stories

1 Ransom 3

2 First Contact 9

3 God Games 17

4 Superhero Serum 27

5 Make Believe 37

Part 2 Into the Dojo

6 A Wolverine, a Donkey, and a Mime 51

7 One Degree of Separation 61

8 Of No Earthly Good? 69

9 The Other Side 79

10 Blessed Are Those Who Mourn 91

11 Walk a Mile 97

Part 3 Into the World

12 Mercenary 105

13 Buccaneer Maps 111

14 Repeater 123

15 Traveling Mercies 131

16 The Call 141

Part 4 Reanimation

17 The M-Word 151

18 Father Time 161

19 Ten Virgins 169

20 Shy 177

21 Buffet Faith 181

22 God Is Black 185

23 That Which Is Common 195

24 Repelled 203

25 The One Behind Everything 207

Conclusion: Beginnings and Endings 217

Scripture References 223

Kickstarter Contributors 224

Acknowledgments 225

About the Author 227

About the Illustrator 228

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