Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Wild Things

I was FINALLY able to see Where the Wild Things Are this week and I was not disappointed. I have been looking forward to this movie for a long time. When I found out that Spike Jonze was writing and directing the on-screen adaptation of my favorite boyhood book, I was as giddy as a school girl! I have been following Jonze since the 90's and the glory days of MTV (a la Weezer, Beastie Boys, and Fatboy Slim). I use to sit in front of my Mom's TV for hours, knowing exactly when a Spike Jonze video was on and studying its every layer. Believe it or not, MTV once housed and supported creative artists. How the dismal tide has turned!

Nevertheless, this movie was surprising. From viewing the trailers and sampling the soundtrack, I sort of guessed in advance that it would be more adult than expected and it certainly is. Wild Things traverses themes of fear, anger, love, hope, divorce, and despair. It forces introspection and causes anyone who has lived through a divorce to face the painful past. Even with all of the heaviness (my wife Allie described it as unexpectedly sad), I still walked away with faith, hope, and love in my heart.

The main character, Max, is an angry boy. The opening scene finds Max chasing his dog with a fork and you sincerely wonder whether the family pet has met its end at the hands of a child monster. As the movie progresses, however, it is clear that Max is simply "acting out." His father is absent (due to an assumed divorce), his mom is busy with work and a new love interest, and his sister largely ignores her annoying little brother. One night, when Max has reached his wits end, he runs away to a nearby forest, finds a conveniently-placed sail boat, and then catches the nearest trade wind to a far-off island.

By this point in the movie I had already shed more than a few tears. I cannot tell you how badly I wanted to run away from my world as an angry, young boy. My parents' divorce put what often seemed to be unbearable strain on my soul. I remember screaming, yelling, crying, and even carving hateful slogans into the wooden base of my race car track, all because I was hurting. I hated the hate and I was angry about the anger. In short, I understand Max.

Once he reaches the island, Max meets a number of wild beasts. Suddenly an incredible tension enters the film. I spent much of the film wondering what these monsters might do to the little sojourner. However, Max befriends the wild things and the adventure really begins.

It seems the monsters represent much of what is going on inside of Max. In fact, the monster to which Max best relates is one with an anger issue (Carol). The other wild things have different personalities, all of which could be allegorically linked to the world from which he came. In order to save himself, Max tries to become king over the wild things. The creatures respond with glee because, after all, they long to be held in check.

Max does everything to help his new friends. He dances, makes great claims about his kingly power, and even tries to encourage playtime so they can blow off some steam. Even so, the reign of Max the Great does not last for long. The monsters find out that their king is "just one of them" (an interesting observation) and even more tension fills the film. Max cannot control the monsters. Consequently, the wild things all but abandon Max and return to a familiar sense of despair.

What happens next changes the nature of Max's interactions with the wild things. Max starts to come clean about his true identity. He begins to see the damage his feigned reign has caused and starts listening to more of what the monsters are saying. Max begins to realize just how similar the monsters are to himself. Despite his attempts to mend, however, Max ultimately decides it would be better to leave the island. When he does, the monsters are actually sad to see him go.

The best thing that happened to Max, and to the wild things for that matter, was honesty. As an outsider on the island, Max had two options: (1) Reshape himself to be whatever he wanted or (2) face the reality of his world and the wild things'. When Max finally embraced the latter, love was born. No longer could he or the wild things hide, instead they had to accept one another exactly as they were. In fact, Max gave the divisive and distraught creatures with more love than they had ever known. And when migrant Max returns to his homeland, he hurries home to embrace the family he left in hate. Love wins.

What can children of divorce learn from Wild Things? Simply put, I cannot reign over the monster(s) inside of me. Try as I might to put on a show, do my best impression of powerful governing, or recreate myself, I am still me. I know that sounds a bit cliché, but sooner or later we all must face the mean ugliness inside. Once we can admit our despair, the question then becomes: "Am I willing to allow love that is waiting on the outside to come in?"

For a very long time I believed I was allowing true love into my world. I sought love in the club/bar scene, in relationships, and even in the dark world of pornography. The love I found, or I thought I had found anyhow, only pacified my anger and hid my hurt. Furthermore, it all depended upon my efforts to receive love. "If only I can look good enough, be funny enough, or spend more time online, then I will know the love and intimacy I crave." The love I was pursuing was completely conditional and it had nothing to do with the real me.

True love requires honesty, exposure, and unconditional acceptance. This, my patient readers, is the gospel of Jesus. The second I start performing to receive love or painting my face to become appear more pleasing, I am outside of the gospel's radical love. Jesus allows us to be exposed in the light so we can live and love in freedom. He is not safe because he speaks the truth, but he is good because his love is divine. My prayer for you is that you would remain comfortably exposed in the person of Jesus, daily seeking to rest in his love. Join me in the struggle to believe that Jesus loves us and the wild things within.

Up from the ashes

Today has been an incredibly tough day. My idols were screaming out to me all day, swelling to a size that seemed much larger than God himself. I had to break away, go outside, and listen to some music to simply drown out the noise in my soul. I found that as loud as my idols may shout at me, they are not louder than he who calls me by name. I hope the lyrics to this song bless you as they have blessed me and reminded me of the gospel.

You and I meet
On the shores of the broken
You swallow the ocean
I Swallow my pride
Only to see
The way that I need you
Is more than I knew
I ever could

In between the ashes and the flames
Is a cry an awkward silence
Could never contain
And the falling of my hammers
And the writhing of my pain
Is just not as real as the way
That your calling my name

I cant help thinking
That the way that you want me
And the ghost that haunts me
Are one and the same
Cause you stand at my window
At night wile I'm sleeping
There's not a promise I'm keeping
That could ever repay you

In between the ashes and the flames
There's a song that burns brighter
Than Radio waves
Bout the remnants of my Idols
And the shadow of my shame
About how they scatter like the rain and I can't stop crying
Cause you wont stop calling my name

Calling my name up from the ashes

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A cure for the Terminally ill

When Tom Hanks isn't rockin' the mullet and chasing down the Pope's evil henchmen, he is actually a fantastic actor. Tonight we watched "The Terminal" (Directed by Spielberg) and I was reminded why I so respect Hanks as an artist committed to his craft. In this post-9/11 romantic comedy, the airport is not simply a traveler's purgatory. Victor Navorski (Hanks) is unable to leave JFK for complicated reasons and somehow finds a wandering Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Love fills the stale, airport air. Soon the entire airport, staff included, begins to feel the love.

Every subtle move, every twitch, slip, fall, wink, and laugh from Victor convinces you that he is indeed a friend. Amelia's character, however, leaves much to be desired. We couldn't tell if it was her character or just Jones' acting, but Amelia is downright annoying. Then again, maybe that's the point.

"The Terminal" is a love story, a movie about love's life-altering effects. It's also a movie about humanity. Amelia is a flawed flight attendant who cannot keep herself from the arms of married, middle-aged men. Victor is a fun-loving, easygoing foreigner whose social and verbal faux pas are simply cute. You find yourself almost hating Amelia for her, how do I put this, flakiness. She constantly runs from Victor and he constantly pursues her. Is that stupidity or love, or both?

Victor is unmistakably Christ-like. Everyone who comes into contact with Victor can't help but melt in his presence. Even the hardened Homeland Security chief learns compassion from the pesky outsider. Despite the heavy hand of the law and countless setbacks, Victor is on a mission. His entire purpose for coming to the US is to fulfill his father's will and obtain one final autograph for a Jazz collection. The journey away from home is a labor of love.

Even though he is stuck in an airport terminal for some time, Victor does not lose sight of his mission and loves along the way. He helps to arrange a marriage, he befriends his Indian enemy, and he even sacrifices himself for his friends at the end of the movie. Furthermore, Victor pursues Amelia in all of her imperfections. He woos Amelia, but she can only run. He builds her a fountain and offers her new life, she receives Victor and then runs some more. Amelia tells Victor to "stay away" because she is poisonous. Victor does only what he knows to do: love and pursue.

Towards the end of the movie, even while Amelia is in the arms of another, Victor sacrifices himself for his friends. His friends, following his example of love, reciprocate and it seems the entire world takes notice. As Victor passes from the somewhat torturous airport setting, Amelia passes him on her way to yet another flight. The look they give each other is one of, "We'll meet again." Amelia is not in Victor's arms by the movie's end, but love still wins. Although she is still a wanton women painfully moving through life, her encounter with Victor clearly changes her.

When you think about it, it is quite a gutsy move to make such a film only three years after the Twin Towers fell. In 2004, people still stopped and looked up when an airplane flew over and the airport was still a place of great anxiety. This movie, however, was filmed at a time when our country needed hope. We were involved in a gruesome war overseas and, despite our government's best efforts, our homeland did not feel so secure. The idea of an outsider revealing his love and irrupting into our world with compassion, not hate, gives us peace.

I worshipped tonight while watching this movie because I am Amelia. I have the hope that love wins out over all of my mistakes. I believe that an outsider can teach me more about my world than one thousand insiders. I hope you can watch this movie soon and find the person of Jesus in Victor Navorski.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Christian Celebrity (Part 1)

I feel an immense amount of pressure to become a Christian celebrity. Ever since I chose to enter full-time ministry (or ever since it chose me), I have struggled with how I should define success in ministry. I know that Jesus says, "Anyone who wishes to find his life will lose it, but whoever seeks to lose his life for my sake will save it," but does that really apply to the Western world? Aren't the truly successful pastors in the US those who have the most podcast listeners, who are invited to the most conferences, and who have published several books with Zondervan? It doesn't seem like the truly successful pastors are exactly disappearing into obscurity in an effort to lose their lives for Jesus' sake.

I don't mean to knock today's pop-pastors because many--and certainly not all--are outsanding men of integrity. The great irony in all of this is simply that my favorite speakers, writers, thinkers, and theologians did not choose to be celebrities, but their popularity is somewhat indicative of their effectiveness. In fact, it would be nearly absurd for someone like Mark Driscoll or Rob Bell to simply give up their place as a public leader to pursue a life of private service. Can you imagine the difficulties their churches would face if they just up and left one day because they were tired of being celebrities? What about all their hard work and tears shed over their congregation and their city? Isn't that worth something?

I feel that my generation is facing an unprecedented challenge in the allure of Christian celebrity. Sure, there were Televangelists in the 70's and 80's who made megabucks off of millions of viewers, but my generation is different. The Christian subculture is growing rapidly and is effectively creating a potent cultural atmosphere within the surrounding culture. Relevant Magazine, Christian radio, Christian publishing, and Christian podcasting has helped fashion the Christian subculture as a planet in its own orbit. It is, therefore, incredibly difficult to ignore the potential for publicized success in the world of Christian ministry.

Lately I have had minor panic attacks when I realize that I may never have podcast listeners or write an article in Relevant. I am 26 years old and I already feel like somewhat of a failure. I have not yet planted a church in a major city that can grow into a mega-gathering of hipster Christians who write down my words in their journals on Sunday mornings. If I'm going to attain celebrity status, I need to get started early and so far I am moving at a snail's pace.

In fact, my upcoming trip overseas for two years seems like a step down the ladder. I always assumed that I would start speaking at youth camps after grad. school, gaining a cult-like following and making a reputation for myself. Then, at a moment's notice, I would get the call. "There's a church that needs to be planted in the heart of a major city and you are just the guy for the job!" Soon thereafter I would write a tell-all book about my harrowing experience and how God moved in my city. Of course, none of the stuff I've just mentioned is inherently wrong! The only evil in all of this is my desire to accomplish it.

Instead of wanting to enter ministry to see lives changed by Jesus, I want a wireless mic and an interview on Larry King Live. Rather than a small community of faithful servants, I wanted a burgeoning metropolis of tattooed and talented twentysomethings. These are the thoughts that bombard me. I know that I can teach and I love Jesus, but somehow my definition of success is terribly intertwined with that of the kosmos (see 1 Jn.). Instead of saying, "less of me and more of Jesus," I'm saying, "Let's see how big Jesus can really make me." So far, these are simply confessions and there are plenty more to come...

Monday, August 24, 2009

A long post...a beautiful-though hard-revelation

The past couple of days have been frustrating. I have found myself becoming very anxious and worked up about many things. In particular, I cannot seem to shake my doubts. God has created me to be a person who asks lots of questions. As such, I often work myself into a tizzy with queries, hypotheticals, and scenarios related to God and his scriptures that are very unsatisfying. Secondly, it seems I am constantly reminded of my inadequacy. I constantly compare myself to other people's spiritual life, education, and achievements. All of my comparison is exhausting, eventually leaving me feeling very down.

This morning Allison and I spent some time in the scriptures, reading a passage from the OT about Elisha and Naaman, King of Syria (2 Kings 5). Naaman had leprosy and heard of a prophet in Israel who could heal him. When Naaman goes to Elisha for healing, he does not like what Elisha tells him to do. "Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean" (v.10). Naaman desires to meet the prophet and become healed on his own terms, not on God's. Nonetheless, Naaman reluctantly obeys Elisha's instructions and is mercifully healed by YHWH, the God of Israel.

After reading the story and swapping observations with Allison, I still felt very inadequate. "Man," I thought, "I wish I could see the scriptures the way Allie does." I also identified with Naaman in his frustration. I often want God on my terms, not on his (which I think is indicative of Modern man's problem). Furthermore, I was doubting the accuracy of these miraculous OT stories and couldn't concentrate on what God may have been trying to communicate. Feeling even more discouraged than before, I asked Allison if I could be alone with God for some time.

I walked out to a swing and sat down with my bible for a while. I looked around for almost 30 minutes, just taking in my surroundings and searching within myself to see what was going on. After finding nothing but more frustration I decided to read from the NT to see if Jesus could shed any light on my situation. Just to give all of you a tip for your own spiritual life: reading Jesus doesn't always produce peace in a difficult situation.

I turned to John 6 and following a quick reading of the chapter I felt as if I had been punched in the face. If you pick up Jn. 6 at v. 22, you find Jesus addressing the crowds and many of his disciples (there were more than just 12 at this point). The crowds who had just been miraculously fed by Jesus (Jn. 6:1-15) seek out Jesus once more. "Rabbi, when did you come here," they ask him in a manner that seems to imply, "We weren't through with you, why did you leave us?" Jesus then tells them that they are seeking him because they are still hungry for bread, not because they are hungry for the Son of God. Jesus then moves into a powerful--yet difficult to understand--discourse about eternal life, the bread of life, and what it means to believe in Jesus.

Jesus compares himself to the bread that Moses gave to the Israelites in the dessert when they were starving for sustenance. Jesus explains that such bread fades in the stomach, but his bread--his own body--offers eternal life. The crowd and some of the disciples are confused and frustrated. Just when you think Jesus would clear things up and aid the crowds in their understanding, he says this: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (v. 53). The response to this by many of the disciples is that "this is a hard saying; who can listen to it" (v. 60)? Only the twelve disciples stick around and Jesus continues to call out his followers by informing them that "one of [them] is a devil" (v. 70).

Now, come back to how I was feeling before I read this passage. I expected Jesus to squelch my doubts, fears, anxieties, and feelings of inadequacy. Instead, I see him confusing crowds and calling out his disciples. At this point, I was incredibly aggravated because I knew that I identified more with the frustrated crowds than with the twelve disciples who stuck it out with the Messiah. The next 30 minutes I cried out to God in sheer anger, pulling on my hair while I was praying and grinding my teeth. I just couldn't figure out why I wasn't experiencing the eternal life I had just read about.

I decided to read through the passage again because something was just drawing me to do so. All of a sudden, like a giant Acme anvil hitting a cartoon character with unapologetic force, God hit me with some truth. The first time I read Jn. 6, it felt like I had been hit in the face and it hurt. This time it felt like I had been hit in the face and it quieted my soul. I realized that I identify with the crowds in Jn. 6 and Naaman in 2 Ki. 5 because that's exactly how I see my interactions with God. I want a therapeutic, consumer-friendly God who will make me feel better all of the time. No suffering or hardship for me, just give me the pill that will make it all better!

Look at Jn. 6 again. Jesus calls out the crowds because they simply want more bread to fill their stomachs. Jesus is trying to show them that he is the Son of God-the revealed Messiah-and all they are concerned about is another meal. When Jesus explains to them about eternal life through himself, the bread of life, they quickly say, "give us this bread always" (v. 34). They aren't even concerned with what Jesus is saying about himself or the fact that God is in the midst of them; they just want the benefits of eternal life. No wonder Jesus comes down so hard on them. The language of eating Jesus' flesh and blood refers to the sacrifice one faces when following Jesus and the hunger one must have to pursue Jesus. The crowds wanted neither, they just wanted full stomachs. In other words, they wanted the end without the means to get there. It is also no wonder that they say, "this is a hard saying." The people up to this point have had it easy with how Jesus has provided for them and shared great love. When sacrifice enters the picture, however, hard sayings are just too much. This, my patient readers, is me.

I am an American who consumes. I consume to fill my stomach. I sometimes forget to chew because I just want to become full. I am a product of my American environment. Just listen to what most commercials about food will tell you (especially fast food). "No other product will fill you up like ours!" In fact, the other day I heard a Domino's pizza ad. that told me I could order 3lbs. of food to eat in one sitting. All of this to say, I am a consumer of goods to the point of excess. The reason I have been so frustrated with Jesus lately is because he does not allow me to simply consume him for the feeling of being full. Jesus does not want you or me to simply eat of his bread to become full, instead he desires we eat of his bread because it is from him.

From my reading of Jn. 6, all Jesus wants from his followers is devotion to him--the incarnate God of Israel. Such devotion requires sacrifice. For so long I have associated Jesus with good, fuzzy feelings and comfort. I have food on my table and so I thank God, but do I even care about God? Is God a Father or a vending machine (see Derek Webb's "The Spirit v. the kick drum")? When doubts plague me and I become frustrated, I just lash out and expect to have the faith of the disciples. What I often fail to realize is that the disciples struggled and suffered to become who they were in the end. Ultimately, I realized that Jesus wants me to want him and not just his benefits.

Is the pursuit of Jesus and the sacrifice that comes with it (taking on the cross that tore his flesh and spilled his blood) worth it? The answer to this question comes from the mouth of Peter at the end of Jn. 6. After the crowds and some of the disciples leave Jesus, he turns to the twelve and asks if they are going to follow the dissenters? Peter answers, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (v. 68). Walking and abiding with Jesus will eventually lead all of us to a point where we ask if it is worth the cost? At such a point, we must turn again to Jesus himself and observe God in the flesh. Yes, it is experiencing doubt, frustration, anxiety, fear, and even death to follow Jesus because he has the words of eternal life. He is the great "I am" and is constantly saving us from being comfortable creatures who would sell our souls for a meal. He moves us beyond the faint desires of our flesh and into true life, eternal life (or "the life of the ages"). I am reminded of the Robbie Seay song, "Rescued Ones," where he sings, "Oh our mouths are full, but our souls are starved for you!"

Jesus is worth following because of Jesus himself and no other reason at all. The love, hope, joy, suffering, hard sayings, and discomforts that come with Jesus give us true life. In summary, I am trying to follow Jesus anew, as a follower of him and not just his benefits.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I'm losing faith in coincidence

Allie and I have been preparing to go overseas for the next two years. Part of our preparation has included packing up all of our belongings, moving stuff into storage, and deciding what we will keep and what we can sell.

This morning we had a garage sale and it was better than we could have hoped for. We earned almost $90 for stuff we had little or no regard for. We did, however, have two couches that we didn't know what to do with. Eventually I looked up and jokingly said, "Father God, would you please find someone who can take these couches." We didn't want to haul them off and we both knew they could find a good home. I figured, "God answers his children's prayers, even if they are silly, so why not?"

As the garage sale was winding down, Allie and I decided to throw some signs up that read, "Free Couches." We were tired of waiting and quickly lost interest in trying to earn a profit off of the old couches. It wasn't long after the signs went up that we had a visitor.

I walked outside to meet the person looking at our couches. "Hi, are you interested in the couches," I asked the woman dressed in a business suit. "Oh yes, my husband and I could use them for our home," she answered and then followed by asking, "why are you giving them away?" I told her that Allie and I were going overseas to tell people about Jesus and the woman's face lit up. "I'm a born-again Christian too!" She went on to tell me that she is originally from Kenya and that she helps with a church down the road. After we talked for a while and shared some much-needed air conditioning, our Kenyan sister said that she and her husband had been praying for couches! "We just moved here and we don't have much at all." Allie and I were delighted to help her and were moved by God's provision for both of his children.

As we made arrangements to get the couches to our new friend's house, I couldn't help but wonder, "Is this coincidence or is God really working to provide for us?" It seems like the entire situation is pretty incredible. Allie and I were a few minutes away from hauling the couches off to the dump and all of a sudden this Kenyan sister in Christ shows up, telling us that she has been praying for couches. I could chalk up this experience to coincidence but it happens to us ALL THE TIME! At this point in my life it takes waaaay more faith to always believe in coincidence, rather than a God who provides for those he loves. It's not that coincidence cannot exist, it's just that God has revealed himself over and over again as one who interrupts daily life with grace, provision, and love.

I hope you can believe in a big God who answers seemingly insignificant prayers. Amen.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Birthday Post

Birthdays are great for a lot of reasons. For one thing, I will most likely overdose on sugar and butter this evening while celebrating with my family. Secondly, I will have people post on my facebook wall that I haven't heard from in forever. I love hearing from friends, both old and new. And of course, people will give me gifts. As much as I try not to be consumed by clothes, books, and shiny things (see previous posting), I still enjoy receiving gifts. Call me human.

On the other hand, birthdays are also great for perspective. I woke up this morning to find an email informing me that a longtime friend of the family has pancreatic cancer. This friend of my Dad's has a wonderful family and much to live for. On a day when I am celebrating the joys of life, I am at once confounded by my own. Why am I not the one with cancer? I know that my life has not been entirely easygoing, but why am I healthy and so many others are hurting? The "why's" and "what if's" are endless.

However, if I were to obsess over these thoughts then I would miss my own life and give death the spotlight. Today I have the opportunity to see good friends, break bread with family, and breath again. Furthermore, I am more alive now than I ever have been because I know my God and he knows me. Even though the heartache, darkness, and injustices of the world are more apparent to me now then ever before, God's redemption of all this is all-the-more real. Four or five years ago I would not be able to tell you that God is bigger than our unbelief or that he has never seen a righteous man go hungry (Prov. 10:3). I would not have been able to tell you that God breathes life into broken relationships and protects the marriage of his children. Even two years ago I would not have been able to tell you that I was perfectly loved by a real, living God who is constantly irrupting into our world. There is so much I have learned from being in pain and I can tell you that it does not have to end there.

I'm not sure what else to say because that about sums it up. I hope all of you give meaning to your days and learn to trust in the God who does not let death have the final word.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Grumpy dispatches from a domesticated American

I'm feeling a little overwhelmed and awfully grumpy today. Allison and I moved to Dallas recently, waiting for our overseas training to begin in September. My anxiety has little to do with raising funds for our trip, making a big move to DFW, or even leaving behind my friends and family for at least 3 months. Now that I am out of my normal element--my hometown of Houston--I am seeing things much differently. I am becoming more aware of my surroundings and the many influences on my behavior. I have come to conclude that I am thoroughly domesticated.

While we have been in Dallas, Allie and I have been watching a lot more TV. I say "a lot" because even one hour of TV today is way more than we are use to. Nevertheless, the more TV we watch the more advertisements we see. Whereas I studied commercial marketing ad nauseam (pun intended) and am use to my grandfather muting commercials, Allie's family tries to enjoy them. In many ways commercials are as much a part of the TV experience as the featured show itself.

Maybe its because I am in a different social setting or because I am not use to watching so much TV, but I have noticed one strong theme in TV ads: Buy this and you will be happy! Everything from car commercials to ads about Trident gum to bargain deals at Kohls promise to make us shinier, happier people (see REM). This narrative is repeated over and over again and we have all bought into it.

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann once delivered 19 theses at an Emergent Conversation conference in 2004. His first thesis was that "Everyone lives by a script." His fourth thesis statement summarizes one through three and goes as follows: That script (technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism) enacted through advertising and propaganda and ideology, especially on the liturgies of television, promises to make us safe and to make us happy.

It's not as if I have been blind to this sweeping script. I do think, however, I am just now realizing its effects on me. Here I am, grumpy and frustrated about the consumerism that so plagues me and my countrymen and the only thing I can think about is going to Barnes and Noble. Why? Because I am upset and I would feel better if I could buy a new book, something glossy and new for my bookshelf. Something that people could look at when they enter my home and think, "Wow, he must read a lot" or "what a lovely collection of books." This, my friends, is simply idolatry via consumeristic ideology. I can manipulate the system of consumerism to get people to worship me and then I will be satisfied. Consumerism=therapy.

I don't have much else to add because I am still working through this garbage. But let me at least thank God for the Holy Spirit because I would lose my mind without some sort of guidance in all of this. I pray that you are also discerning your surroundings and looking beyond that which controls and enslaves. May we worship the one, true God and leave our idols behind.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Suffering, in full color

I use to wait tables during the Summer. Actually, I started off as a busboy and food runner, eventually working my way up to waiting tables. Being a busboy was much easier than waiting tables because you never had to interact with the customers--or people really. 

When I started waiting tables I began to learn how I responded to adversity. When you are "in the weeds," you can either freak out and start yelling at the Kitchen staff (not a good way to get your food out faster) or you can focus and work fast. You also learn how to take the good with the bad. You are going to drop a plate or a glass, your manager is going to get on to you about something and you are going to have great customers along with really awful customers. 

My best and worst story from waiting tables is when I received an $.86 tip--there's a decimal point in front of that 86--on a $76 tab. I remember grabbing their cash and "tip" after they had left, entering it into our computer system and then cursing out loud once I found out what they had done. First of all, I was amazed at how quickly curse words come to my lips in a frustrating situation. Secondly, I was overwhelmed by how much I let one bad customer affect me. The entire night following the "tip," I was a jerk to everyone around me. It didn't matter how many outstanding patrons came into the restaurant that night, one inconsiderate couple had effectively ruined the evening. 

In retrospect, things didn't have to go down the way they did. I could have asked God to give me the strength to love my newfound "enemies" and treat those around me with the grace I had not received from Mr. and Mrs. Moneybags. I could have just let it go and let my ego die a little, but instead my soured sense-of-entitlement ruled the day. I'm not writing because I have always wanted to "get back" at that couple via blog bash. I am writing because I am just now noticing how much I let evil and negativity crowd out goodness and love. 

Have you ever been in a really difficult place and thought to yourself, "Why are things always so bad?" I wasn't always this way and certainly have not viewed the world in such a dark light my entire life, yet as I grow older I am seeing how easy it is for me to drift into that mindset. Lately I have been blaming God for almost any and every bad circumstance or happening that intrudes my safe, little world. As it was when I waited tables, I have been choosing to let negativity and evil color my world grey. It's become much harder for me to see the goodness of my God and the love he has shown towards me as I advance in age. 

At issue here is not the quality of my life. I have a roof over my head, shoes on my feet, food in the cupboard, a car to drive, an education, a wonderful wife, clean water and so on and so on. In light of the world's greater--and at the same time poorer--population, what the hell am I complaining about? Simply put, what has been tainting me and turning me cold is an ungrateful, unthankful mindset that refuses to see the world in full color. 

Chuck Swindoll, a well-aged and wise pastor, is quoted as saying, "I'm convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I respond to it." I can either play the part of the wounded victim or respond in love and faith because I know the character of God to be good. I am not calling for dishonest responses to crummy situations. In fact, we should be entirely honest with how bad our day might be going depending on whatever might be happening in our world. We should, however, be honest enough to look outside of ourselves and recognize the beauty, love and truth that is manifested on our big, blue planet. A well-shaped worldview stares empathetically into the teary eyes of injustice and laughs along with a side-splitting joke, "weep[ing] with those who weep" and "rejoic[ing] with those who rejoice."  Life isn't all black, all white, or even all grey--it's full color. 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The gospel according to blinds

They’re called blinds. Righty tighty, lefty loosey. We grab tightly and turn to the right, so the string that holds them together pulls so tightly that no light can come in. Yet, that’s not exactly how it happens is it? Even the cracks between them cannot hold the light that begs, even demands, to enter. When the dust has gathered long enough and the cool air accompanied by darkness has chilled us to the bone, we are moved to action.

We grab hold of the instrument that once kept the light out and turn in the opposite direction. Righty tighty, lefty loosey. The strings once pulled taught by our objection to the sun’s brilliance are now loosened in sweet release. The blinds lighten up and so does the inside. The dust once at rest is tossed into the air like flour in a bakery. We have changed our minds and thus rerouted the destination of the light’s warm glow.

Now, a name change is in order. What were once called blinds would now be more aptly described as tiny windows, for they allow us to see clearly into the world. The temperature begins to rise within and so our senses also rise to the occasion. The once gray world of an indoor domain is blasted by the illumination of full Technicolor. Blues are bluer and greens are greener. Though we may choose to dim the light by adjusting them again, things will never be the same. We have seen too much.

So, each day we arise and choose to let sunlight shine or darkness depress. The clouds may cloak the sun and we may not always feel the warmth, but the fire continues to burn. Will we keep the blinds open on days of rain or twist tightly in darkness, refusing to acknowledge what we cannot see? Will we hope for what’s beyond our vision or let our memories slip into the dull pattern of forgetfulness? Rise, turn, shine and believe.