12.16.2011

Letter

Dear friends,

A lot of my friends here at Lipscomb are Bible majors. I was actually one too, for a while, and they talked about things like eschatology and liturgy. Anyway, all that stuff becomes rather intimidating for the outsider or layman. It isn't really explicitly stated, but it kind of seeps into your subconscious that you are perhaps less fit to minister if your theologies have not been carefully built on hours of exegesis. They talk about callings and vocational ministries and you might feel just a little bit worthless if you haven't at least gone on a month long mission. It can be intimidating, really.

Anyway, I have the opportunity this Spring to travel to Ensenada, Mexico with Lipscomb University on a mission trip. But before I ask you for money, I really want to say thank you for investing in me. I think people raise a lot of eyebrows and give a lot of credit to those who got "trained" for this stuff or go for years at a time. And they deserve it, they really do. But I also think our vocation is pretty simple, and doesn't take a doctorate in theology or anything like that to act justly and to love mercy. And these things are good, God says so.

So if you can give joyfully to this mission, please do so. Otherwise, I am still incredibly grateful to have witnessed the way that you have ministered here and now to your neighbors and myself, and I cannot emphasize how much of an influence that has been to me growing up. It's the people that get this letter that let me know that faith isn't backed by an education or a degree but simply lived out.

If you would like to give monetarily you can do so at http://www.lipscomb.edu/development/Student-Mission-Gifts. You would type "Caleb Townsend" in the participant's name field and select "City of Children" as the trip name. If you cannot give, I'm sure the good Lord will provide should it be his will.

Oh, and sorry if that was too preach-y.

peace.

Caleb Townsend

10.22.2011

Listen

I don't suppose many of my more recent posts have been very encouraging. Maybe this one will change that.

I'm home for a couple days, which is always strange. I had planned on getting in some real "me" time, you know, where you sit in front of the fire and do nothing for at least half an hour. That never really happened because I had to do errands all day.

But finally tonight, I read a little of Through Painted Deserts and I creeped some people's blogs. Deserts is certainly not one of Miller's most profound works, but he's honest, and that counts. The blogs are what gets to me, though.

Sometimes, I'll think about who might have an interesting blog and I'll go look at their Facebook and see if they have one posted. Then I'll go read it. I know that sounds dumb, but don't hate until you try it. It pretty much blows my mind what some people say. It beats watching a tacky movie, that's for sure.

Anyway, I was creeping some girl's blog, and it really just touches you deep inside what people say on these things. I think she writes on this blog specifically hoping that someone will read what she has said and then just hold her for a moment and say "you aren't alone in any of this." I probably would speak some encouragement into her life, but I don't know her well enough, so loving her when I see her will have to do.

To be honest, I think sharing the human condition is one of the purest ways you can serve someone. That's why listening is so important, and that's why I think this girl's blog is so important. I also think that's a lot of why Jesus hung out with all the people who were bogged down in the human condition. He really didn't want to talk to the guys who were already fine anyway. It must have meant a whole lot to all these people to have someone who was willing to deal with the brokenness of life at its core and not walk out the door.

I can't speak for everyone else, but I spend a lot of time making sure I look okay so that when people ask me "how are you?" I can tell them fine and not have to deal with a second battery of questions. But I can tell I feel safe with someone when I let the acting drop for a moment and tell such a person I'm not fine.

I'm not completely sure why, but when I listen to others' and share my own life's failings, I feel very much less alone. God may or may not have wired me like this on purpose. But I'm going to try to be gentle and listen.

10.14.2011

Blessings

How much do I really give?

I am not very good at moderation. But, I really doubt God wants moderation.

A young woman spoke in chapel yesterday. She lives in Africa with 12 orphans, giving them a house and a home. The most interesting part in her story was how she got to where she is now. She has no "road to Damascus" story.

She went for a week. Then the minister there asked for maybe a summer or a year. So she went for a year. Then she saw the needs of these little ones, so she began taking care of them. Now she has adopted twelve and placed hundreds.

She had no leap of faith (that is not to say that her faith or works are not extraordinary), but rather God asked her for a little, and then a little more, and his requests became increasing in magnitude until she was no longer herself but Jesus. Although I must admit it is a little frightening because my faith is so weak, it is encouraging that I only double my talents once at a time. Perhaps God apportions just enough grace so I am able to submit to his requests when they are asked of me. I pray that it is so.

I wonder sometimes how Job looked at all of his stuff when he got it back the second time. I think sometimes that his milk might have tasted sour or he looked at his daughters with a tired bitterness. Or, maybe the opposite is true: he dove into his blessings, understanding he should enjoy what has been given to him but that these things too will pass.

When I was an infant, I thought that we are to try and collect all of life's blessings from God's stream of abundance. But then I realized along with Job that the water becomes stagnant and it rots if you try to hold on to it.

So when I was a little older, I thought that we should simply swim in these blessings, letting the flow of possessions run over our hands and pass through them. I enjoy them now, but I understood to let them go. I would picture walking along, simply letting the water go between my fingers. It is the hopeful view of the late Job. But then I realized that other people's rivers of blessings are not as excessive as mine.

So today I think that we are to use our hands and bodies and push our rivers over as much of the earth as possible. If I am given much, what I have is to be apportioned deep and wide. If my blessings are but a trickle of a stream, then I am to place my thumb in the groove and spread the water a quarter-inch to the two people on my right and left.

I think that one of these days God will ask of me something, and I will say yes. And maybe I'll find after a while he asks for my life, and I really won't mind giving that away either.


9.26.2011

Public/Private

I don't like to do good things in public.

I know Jesus says we should pray and do good works in private, but I unfortunately don't think my reason is the same as Jesus'. I should think that Jesus said this so it doesn't go to our heads and so that he receives the glory and because his love is always focused on others and not ourselves.

But for me, I like to do them privately because I know who I am, and I don't want you to get confused about who I am. I don't want to do them publicly and have people think I'm a saint, because I'm not.

I think this is why I like to serve with people that know me. They know who I really am, and that I've got a heart of pride and I'm as lazy as a sloth, so it's a really big deal when I overcome those things do what's right. I don't mind them seeing me doing the right thing because I think they've got an accurate picture of me, and I'm as human as can be.

But our gift is unfathomable grace. It is much too deep for me to comprehend, but perhaps just within my faith to believe.

God's picture of me is both accurate and somehow faultless at the same time.

I guess that would make me a saint.

9.06.2011

Forgiven

Forgiveness has tremendous implications on how I am to treat people.

It is not that I hate it, or resent it, it is just that a person who is actually sorry for what they did but then is forgiven will act differently, and sometimes that is a little uncomfortable.

Or a lot uncomfortable.

8.11.2011

Old Navy

I think the mall is a pretty funny place. I feel like when I'm in the mall I'm in this primordial game of sex appeal, and everyone is trying to look as attractive as possible for each other. Perhaps the the lean, tan adolescents will spontaneously mate with each other outside Abercrombie.This is especially true in those upscale malls where people pay lots of money for clothes that have holes in them.

I get tired of this game after about ten seconds. Instead, I like to sit down and people watch.

I went to Starbucks and ordered a decaf solo misto. The barista was upset that she had to put on decaf. And you know what? That's the difference between a good barista and a crummy one. The good ones are interested in your drink. They are fascinated that you would order such a drink, and they will take certain pleasure in making it for you. This one was annoyed she had to make decaf. Lame.

Then I went about my business that was people watching. For some reason, observing all these people made me think about the time in Nashville when I went to this concert at Cafe Coco and the singer in the opening act could not have been older than nineteen years old. He wore one of those Old Navy t-shirts with the swoosh-looking underline and Rebok tennis shoes. My ex girlfriend and her friend were making fun of him. I suppose its alright that we broke up, because I had immediately thought of the kid as my hero for wearing an Old Navy t-shirt onstage.

I'm not sure why I liked him for that reason, to be honest. I'm not at all fashionable; my wardrobe consists of clothing from Target and Old Navy and WorldSoccerShop. Perhaps it is because in our primordial game of find the suitable mate he was obviously not a threat to my vastly superior masculinity. Or maybe it was because I could relate. But I really didn't think about making fun of the kid.

To be certain, as I sipped on my misto, I am always in awe that God forgives everyone the same. This is one of those things that I am very thankful for. Because I am not a genius, nor an athlete, and I'm more likely to wear Old Navy than Urban Outfitters.


8.05.2011

Work

I treated myself at my lunch break today; it was my last day of work so I figured I would slip down to Starbucks and get a latte. To be honest, I thought the summer would never end. My job is very stressful. Actually, and it is with great pleasure that I correct myself, I can amend that statement to "it was very stressful." I'm done now.

It scares me for a few moments. I would get up and put on my dress shirt and grab my thermos of coffee and slide into the office. Then I would deal with bipolar customers and uptight QA managers for 9 hours.

I think I almost got swallowed by the American corporate machine.

But then I would come home and see myself in the bathroom mirror, my long hair nearly to my brown eyes. And I would play my guitar next to John Nolan's labored yelling. I'm not quite a young professional, not if I have anything to say about it.

My pops said it was a good experience and I made bank, and those statements are true. What's strange is how lame the summer felt.

I'm not ordinarily one to put a whole lot of stock into feelings, but this summer just stunk. I don't even really think God wanted humans to live like this. Generally alone, with nearly no community and a whole lot of money. How awful is that?

But I also think God likes hard workers. So that is also confusing.

Summer used to be so awesome when you were young. Now it's no fun at all. The trick is finding out what you're supposed to be doing at all of these silly seasons that change more often than I can keep up with. I'm 20. Yikes.

My only consolation was that the espresso was very rich. And I also stumbled on this verse.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

8.02.2011

Daily

When Jesus said to take up your cross daily, I'm starting to think that he means to do that in the morning, and not at night after your day is over and done.

7.31.2011

Treasures on Earth

This is one that I hope becomes something that I believe when I write it.

It is strange to want a spirit that is righteous but still function in a manner otherwise.

Similarly, it is strange to recognize one's vices and still return to them. I do not condemn these behaviors, for I am found in both of these statements. Somewhere along the way the challenge switched from cognition to belief. I've said it before; I guess that's where faith lies.

Do you suppose that what is offered by him is better than what is offered by the world? Certainly, as such is a pillar of what we believe...

But I am starting to realize that writing it down does no better for me; I still am not completely convinced.

I'm guess I'm hoping that somewhere along the way some wires got crossed or I got hung up on some bitterness, and then I will go back with ferocity in believing that the word of God is what man lives by. Or perhaps God is showing me what it is like to live in want, so that contentment might make itself apparent in me.

It is so weak of me to ask God for riches, counting on His ability to fit pack animals through the heads of needles.

7.26.2011

Moments

It was one of those April Nashville days when it feels like summer in the sun and winter in the shade.

I remember clenching the wheel with both of my hands, as though I were a sailor fighting for control of his vessel during a tempest. In a sense, I was.

We skipped church, and instead we went to CVS and bought Wheat Thins and a pint of Welch's, and then we took communion in my Camry on the side of Nolansville Pike.

I also remember preparing food for the children on Jimmy Carter who live in the America Extended Stay. They are like ghosts, plodding up and down the hallways of hotels and the baking Atlanta roads, searching for something. They might even be looking for the same things as I am. I was packing little milk cartons when the woman in charge looked at my high school cross country coach from three years ago and asked him if I was his son. He said no, but he'd sure take me.

There are so many speckles of memories like this, like creases on my palm. I realize now that much of who I am comes from events such as these: they define me.

I think that sometimes I should write them all down. Other times I think that I really shouldn't, because the ones that are truly character defining will stick without me writing them down.

7.22.2011

Value

I didn't get off of work until very late today, which is always very sad on a Friday. It hit me as I rounded Sugarloaf onto the comforting I-85 that I really hate money. That isn't to say I don't wish I had more of it. But I really loathe it.

I've got all this stuff, too, and I don't really like it either, but I want more of it also. I suppose that's a bit greedy, but admitting that I hate it has to be moving in the right direction. So step off.

Relationships are valuables. And that's it.

I've got this creeping suspicion that God uses our realization of the worthlessness of all of this stuff and money to bring us nearer to him. I cannot be sure, because turning to God because our worldly things are worthless seems as an elementary motivator to faith as can be, on multiple levels. I am sure the romantic in me would hope that love and grace or some other noble virtue would make up the primary motivators toward righteousness.

But at the exact same time, and I can see myself in this sometimes, someone may fall into God because this world is just lame.

I feel sometimes that this faith is like a Maslow pyramid balanced upside-down, wobbling like a spinning top. It is quite a sight when lived in truth: precarious, illogical, and full of passion.


7.20.2011

About Showing Up

Sometimes, I do what I want to do. The rest of the time, I do what I have to.

7.16.2011

Plans and Directions

I wonder what God thinks about my strivings.

I should add that I mean those strivings that are neutral in regards to their morality. I would assume it that God frowns upon our sin and delights in uprightness.

I mean that I wonder what he thinks about when we cheer for a certain team or make plans to go here or there.

It frightens me greatly, because all at once I realize his utmost authority and can't help but question how much he cares about the things that I care about. I can understand, with a childlike reluctance, that the things that I hope for are probably not quite as high on the agenda as the spiritual obligations of the Father.

But to be honest, I don't know how much he cares. Maybe he thinks these plans are funny. Maybe God likes Barcelona and hates Real Madrid and the Yankees. Maybe God is neutral to my intentions of heading to the beach for my last weeks of summer.

I honestly do not know, and that scares me. Because I have a vague thought creeping in the back of my mind that perhaps I shouldn't care about these things as much as I do.

But I know that I do care, because sometimes, when its very late and I am worn down, I will earnestly ask God to care about these things also.

7.05.2011

Verdict

They say a murderer went free today in my country. I am not sure why everyone cares. I wouldn't even know she was declared innocent except for the torrent of angry, hateful tweets and posts.

I do not know if she was guilty. Maybe she was.

And if she was, what she did was a grotesque, morbid deed of unbridled evil. Her release would represent a poor excuse of a miserable justice system.

But I don't desire that this woman go to hell or die, and I, too, will take a verdict of innocent when it is undeserved.

6.19.2011

Bread and Milk

Wow! Sorry for the heat in that last post. I feel as though I am obligated to write something super encouraging this time around.

The only thing I've really got is this, though:

God's love is sufficient.

You don't even have to say for this or for that. It's just sufficient.

And I swear I have the hardest time believing it out of everyone, but I hope that I'll be able to bank on it when everything goes down.

Sorry that isn't much, but it is a beautiful truth.

6.18.2011

Band Aids

I'm apologizing in advance for this rant.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

This verse makes me sick. It really does. Sorry (and I really am sorry if you like this verse. You can. It doesn't hurt my feelings).

It makes me vomit because of how people use it like some theological band-aid for very real, human problems.

So you are sick and dying and you haven't got a job and everything you want is out of reach. Let me help you with that: God knows his plans for you. Thanks.

I would probably punch someone in the face if I was really struggling and someone tried to apply this remedy to a loss I have had.

I have to believe that my faith is applicable and relevant. I've wasted too much time to believe otherwise. And I also believe that throwing this verse on the fire of sin and suffering is like offering candy to a starving man when you have milk and bread in your backpack. You might kill him, because he might hope for all the wrong things.

Because a lot of people place the word "prosper" squarely in their terms and forget that God's view of the word may only mean eventual salvation. Should he bless me while I am here, praise him. If not, may I be as faithful as Paul to admit that grace is sufficient.

Sometimes, Lazarus is meant to die, and that was still God's plan even if you were not on the same page.

6.14.2011

Love

I can't believe I haven't written about love yet! That's really strange to me, because it's summertime now, and everyone is walking around in the heat like they are going to fall in love tomorrow. Not only that, but I really enjoy music, and I think 75% of all songs ever have to do with love. That just seems to be what people are looking for, you know?

I feel as though I have no mandate to talk about love, but I'm going to anyway. I haven't had much luck with love, you see. I remember when the only girl I've ever dated in my short life walked out on me because I didn't use the word, among other things. She told me I had run out of time to tell her I loved her, so that was it. I was really sad, but I'm alright now; that was a while ago.

I remember when she said this that I asked her what love was, and she couldn't tell me. I did not think it was fair for her to demand my love when she didn't know what it was.

Which led me to think about what love means for a long, long time.

I'm choking on cliches, but I have found myself completely unable to define love outside of God. Or, at the very least, love in its purest form is exemplified by him.

Because after thinking, the best definition I have come up with is this: Love is when you have been with someone long enough to know who they really are, with all of their crud and after passion has faded, and decide that their innate worth is priceless even with these faults.

And the only way I know this is because it's how God figures with us.

6.07.2011

Selfish

I've been having these dreams lately. Or really, they are probably fears.

I'm imagining that I am old and grey, and possibly dying, and I am regretting not living for myself.

Not that I am a selfless person now, but that there is an endless duel between serving self and serving others. It is wearing me out, in all honesty. I would like to acquiesce to every desire of the flesh sometimes, not even for the sake of slaking of my selfish drives but so that there is no internal conflict within my tired heart.

It all reminds me of an old Ray Bradbury tale in which all of the men on a spacecraft are cast out into space and left to die.

One of the other men, Lespere, was talking. “Well, I had me a good time: I had a wife on Mars, Venus, and Jupiter. Each of them had money and treated me swell. I got drunk and once I gambled away twenty thousand dollars.”

... Hollis craned his face forward and shouted into the telephone. “Its all over, Lespere!”

Silence.

“Its just as if it never was, Lespere!”

“Who’s that?” Lespere’s faltering voice.

“This is Hollis.”

He was being mean. He felt the meanness, the senseless meanness of dying. Applegate had hurt him; now he wanted to hurt another.

...

“What good does it do you?” he cried to Lespere. “Now? When a thing’s over it’s not good any more. You’re no better off than I.”

“I’m resting easy,” said Lespere. “I’ve had my turn. I’m not getting mean at the end, like you.”

“Mean?” Hollis turned the word on his tongue. He had never been mean, as long as he could remember, in his life. He had never dared to be mean. He must have saved it all of these years for such a time as this. “Mean.” He rolled the word into the back of his mind. He felt tears start into his eyes and roll down his face. Someone must have heard his gasping voice.

‘Take it easy, Hollis.”

There is no resolve to this post, other than I cannot be either Hollis or Lespere. There is a third character, who was selfless, but also sweet and rich in the soul and not bitter.

I need to find him.


Altar

I gripped the leather harness. It was an object of comfort, really: consistent, steady, true. It had been misted with the Great Mediterranean Sea in the West and and further East than the Jordan. Aram had gotten to the point were he did not mind it, even though it signified a journey must be undertaken. He shook slightly to settle the harness along his muscled back.

The steady harness was unlike this Yahweh: irrational, foreign, anything but consistent. He was full of promise one moment, and pronouncing judgments the next.

The sun was now just starting to rise. I could feel its warmth, but my heart was pumping cool blood through my veins, and I was weak as though I had been telling lies. "It isn't far, Aram," I said as I rubbed behind his ears.

The donkey made a little sputtering noise as if to say It isn't me who's worried about this.

We set out an hour later, and we had passed the road to Shechem by midday.

Kenan had come with us. He had tried to show me the lambs that were young and unblemished, and I could see the confusion on his face when I told him we wouldn't need them. But that was the thing about Kenan: soon after, he nodded and questioned me no further. And as we walked along these dusty roads he did not let my apparent lack of preparation trouble him. I surely love this servant; he is like a son to me. I do not think it was by chance that he had finished his weekly duties early and was therefore ready to accompany myself and Issac.

The land began to roll about, as though to prepare us for that terrible mount ahead.

I don't suppose Kenan understood his role in this story, because I never told him. And perhaps I am making more of it. I may have gone through with these plans anyway had Jared or Shem come along. Surely, though, Kenan helped enable myself to perform such a confusing deed. Kenan understood my authority, and did not question it, although oftentimes (and I readily admit) I lack the foresight or wisdom to make prudent decisions. I cannot suppose that he figures I have some master plan. I am not sure why he trusts so much, truthfully.

But it was his example that propped up some spark of desperate faith to continue on.

We had reached Moriah. "Kenan, wait here." He nodded, and sat facing away from the sun, literally at the foot of the mountain. Aram sputtered again, punctuating the ensuing silence.

Issac was clearly vexed at this point. But he followed me up the trail. It was worn, strangely, as though many had recently passed through. But we had seen no one on our journey.

Issac blurted "Where is the lamb?"

My heart thundered, and my head screamed do not hesitate. So I allowed myself only a moment to think. "Yahweh will provide it himself." I choked on the "provide" just like those times when your mouth and lungs are ready to speak but your tongue thinks you are swallowing and the words get hung up.

Issac stopped walking. I turned around to look at him. I wanted to apologize, but instead I thought of Kenan, and of promises, and of stars in the sky and sand by the seas, and I spun him around and bound his wrists behind him. He had gone completely limp. I do not understand. I cannot fathom how this is being asked of me to be faithful. But perhaps there is some plan.

I hardly remember the next few minutes. But I will never forget when I drew the blade and how the sun glinted in my eyes. I remember the nerve endings firing and my heart protesting my actions. It is funny how the head does not ask the heart for permission to proceed in these testing times (though one can certainly defer control to it). And I remember that short circuit, as though the synapses shrunk away from each other to halt time.

The Malachim stopped me, for those who do not know the story. And really, Issac and myself are the only ones that know it, because everyone else knows the story with the resolve guaranteed. Issac doesn't die. Period. Issac is right here, with us. What a lovely story. But I was really going to kill him. By some shred of faith I was going to give up my world. Issac knows also, and he has barely an ounce of faith but what I have passed on to him.

We settled in Beersheba for the night. Issac was completely silent. Kenan, bless him, remained his normal self, even though he surely knew that something significant had transpired. He is like a child full of faith, confused at what his eyes are showing him but still believing in eventual resolution.

They are both asleep now. I, however, have found it impossible to rest. My hands are still trembling. It is so hard for me to believe that Issac was asked of me, and harder still that I was willing to offer him. It is only possible, I think, because I believe in this Yahweh's authority. It is so difficult, but I offer all to Him. Surely he is more just to me than I am to Kenan, and his promises are better than what I can see with my own eyes.

6.03.2011

Excess

I had the opportunity to feed some children who had no food at an extended stay down the road from my church. Without school lunches, a lot of kids in this part of town have no food to eat during the Georgia summers.

As I handed out the food, they all said "thank you" to me. I wasn't doing anything, really, for these little ones who had nothing to eat. I am like a rich man postponing my selfish festivities for a moment. I wonder what it would take for me to give at or above my means, instead of out of excess.

always love
hate will get you every time

6.01.2011

Samson Syndrome

It is a boring afternoon, and at a friend's suggestion I sat down to read The Samson Syndrome. I should say that the book itself was not recommended by my friend, but the rather the noble activity of reading.

I had my doubts when I read the blurb on the cover: "What you can learn from the baddest boy in the Bible." From this statement, I hoped that the author might give some profound revelation as to why Samson behaved in the particular manner that he did (that is, driven by lust and prone to rule breaking), but he offers very little besides citing "testosterone flare-up[s]" or that the ten commandments turned out to be too restrictive for larger than life Mr. Samson. How insightful.

He gives a whole big list of failures, included pushing boundaries and ignoring good advice. I remained more interested in the psyche of these "strong men," but that was all he said. Strong men are simply prone to make these mistakes, and he never explains any of the tendencies but just assumes his statements to be true.

I grew very tired of the author's authoritative generalizations that strong men tend to blah blah blah without saying why. I skipped through the later chapters, but no insights were to be given.

I don't actually know anyone like this Samson character, to be honest.

He wasn't strong; no, he was inhuman. He was larger than life.

So, I decided that I this book wasn't worth completing not only because the author only talked about the behaviors and not the mindset, but because I am not interested in Samson. He's kind of like an animal, a brute of a machine. I don't care too much for him.

In all honesty, I would rather read about some Shakespearian tragic hero of the Bible. Someone who is virtuous but has the potential to commit wrong.

Because I feel as though anyone who actually acts like this Samson guy is still a baby, sipping on spiritual milk that is spoon fed to them by the preacher man. But anyone who is serious about their faith has moved on from this, and a long time ago. And now they are trying to be good soil in earnestness. They are tragic heroes, saints of lost causes, and prone to error but who are, as Aristotle notes, virtuous.

From what I read, the author never even defined the word "strong," even though he uses it for the title of every chapter. The fallacy of the book is that strong can be replaced by sinful, and the book would make more sense.

Sorry if you wrote it, but I do need a different book now.

5.28.2011

Faithful

God is always faithful.

This phrase has become very significant to me the past three months. As I was driving home today I had the slight suspicion that the words acted as sort of a blind, shielding me from happenings that may throw the validity of the phrase into question.

Perhaps when I repeat the words, I am convincing myself of their accuracy or maybe "speaking them into truth." If he isn't faithful, would I even know?

I do not want to be a naive child wearing a blindfold, uttering words I cannot trust.

But I have found myself repeating them, and then trusting them. I am not entirely certain why. I love these words.

I suppose that in the long term I believe that God will see his promises through, and things will be redeemed. If they are not, then when I am old and gray or veiled with a tombstone I take back my words.

But for now, I believe them.

_____________________________________________________________


On a completely different note, it is with great pleasure that I can say that FC Barcelona defeated Manchester United in the Champions League final. There are many reasons why I like the Azulgrana.

It could be because they win with finesse, possession, and guile, instead of the rapid, direct, counter-attack style of many sides today. It could be because 75% of the players have gone through the youth academy la masia instead of being expensively purchased from around the world. Or maybe it's because all of the players are tiny in comparison to most footballers. Maybe it's because they have no sponsor, but instead sponsor UNICEF themselves. Maybe it is the underdog stories of Lionel Messi and/or Eric Abidal. Who knows.

Barca forever.


5.26.2011

Hip

Here it goes:

I am not going to be hipster anymore.

DISCLAIMER: I never really was hipster anyway.

That is such a burden off of my shoulders! Ever since living in Nashvegas I feel as though I have had to shoulder this burden of refined taste. Well, I'm tired of it.

Sorry if I let you down, and you were one of those few people who thought I listened to cool music and wore nice clothes.

I wear soccer jerseys and free t-shirts full-time now.

What if God was hip? Or, maybe, what if there was some neat guy who was all classy and he made God his "refined taste"? I've actually thought about this before. Is real Christianity "hip"?

Maybe I'll wake up one morning and Jesus will be my MacBook and God will be my plaid button-up and the Holy Spirit will be my Chacos.

But no.. God isn't hip either.

It makes me think of a frustrated Martin Bashir, with a dribble of saliva peeking out the corner of his mouth, yelling "You’re trying to make the gospel palatable for contemporary people!"

What makes the gospel appealing at all then, if it isn't classy or hip? Only love, but you can't be selfish with it. Love everyone, friends and enemies.

Taking up your cross isn't hip.

5.23.2011

Typical

I try not to be a person that holds on to stereotypes. Despite my best attempts, I have found that I have a few of them.

I have decided that South Africans are singularly attractive. This is because of a grand total of two South Africans that I have seen. Based on this (certainly exhaustive) heuristic evidence, all of them must be attractive. They must be tall, slender, pale, with exceptionally dark hair and proud, defining faces. I suppose it would take a multitude of unremarkable South Africans to undo this stereotype.

Furthermore, I have decided that Death Cab for Cutie makes everyone sad. I have arrived at this conclusion because they make me sad; ergo, they make everyone sad. Touche.

I hope the reader has caught my sarcastic tone. There are any number of huge flaws with my preconceptions. Stereotypes are largely unfounded, but proven at least somewhat. It is, of course, narrow-minded to believe that one individual's experiences can be universally applied. However, at least for me, they seem to naturally seep into my subconscious and render the world through strange lenses which subtly change my perceptions.

It also blows my mind that God cannot be guilty of having stereotypes. I assume this because I also assume his omniscience is a given, therefore rendering any notions he has of an individual not a stereotype but a truth.

I guess what I'm saying is that if I was God, at some point it would become a given that
  • the Israelites are dumb and don't know what they want
  • Moses is a wimp
  • Peter talks too much and doesn't do enough
  • Humans are just generally inept at everything
I'm pretty sure I would have a whole big list of things that would say "At Risk:" and then have a ton of people under, and then another that was like "Don't even allow any responsibility:" with more people under that. And it wouldn't be just Bible-time stuff, it would be for people right now, and myself. The Smith's can't be trusted to share their faith with others, the Johnson's family will inevitably split and set bad examples for their kids, and the Davis' are okay but they represent the definition of lukewarm. I would have some adjectives for myself.

God doesn't work like that, though.

It is very hard for me to grasp that through righteousness by faith, God does not count sins against man (Rom 4, 2nd Cor 5:19). To God, I have no stereotype that proceeds in front of me. My sins go uncounted as I try to let my faith and actions work together.

It is amazing that my history does not haunt me, that mercy triumphs over judgement, and that God does not count on me to conform to my past failures.

There is so much hope in that knowledge.

5.19.2011

Fundamentals

I always thought I would become super liberal religiously after I went to college. I thought that I would go and see all these people talking about their faith and I would be this hipster with chacos and talk about the spirit that I could feel in my gut.

What actually happened was that I lost a ton of weight at college, so even if I did feel the spirit it wouldn't exactly be in my gut. College dining aside, I became more conservative in my views of God. I am actually a little intimidated to write about this, because I know a lot of people could disagree. That's cool, take it easy.

When I got to college, I got really worn out by all of this "spirit-moving," feel-y stuff. I remember I went to a small group the second week of school, and the student leader said in a breathy voice "where did you see God today?." People would say "I saw him in nature," or, "I see him in the student body."

I don't really get things like this. Or, I do, but it is very rarely. That day was not one of those days, but I did not want to be a pessimist know-it-all and remark that I didn't see God anywhere; not in the trees or my friends or chapel. I didn't feel like faking it, but I did anyway.

And a lot of these worship services are like emotional events. I am not emotionally touched that often, and even when I am, I do not show it. Forgive my opinions, but I cannot help but sometimes think that a lot of these people worship to have an experience. And I have thought long and hard about this, and I have decided that if God blesses me with spiritual emotion as I present my sacrifice, then praise be. If he does not, which is more often the case then not, praise be anyway; I hope with such incredible desire that my sacrifice is just as pleasing.

To be honest, I think he actually is even more pleased.

I do not know, of course.

It is in this sense that I have become more conservative: I firmly believe that doing what is right is not always accompanied by feel-good warmth (in the gut, of course). I believe it is difficult, and that being righteous is more difficult than being selfish. I have to believe it.

Otherwise, Christianity would be like breathing, and natural, and everyone would be doing it.

So I guess I'm fundamental in that I think I should proceed righteously even when the emotional rewards are absent. I do not think that God has forsaken me when I cannot "feel" him. I pray that grace is sufficient to empower me in these valleys.

5.17.2011

Grace

I can determine who really loves me when I tell someone I don't understand grace.

I think that surely something has to be done, or earned, or something. The ones that don't really care will tell me that "nothing needs to be earned." That is quite unhelpful. I already know this.

Those that love me will simply ask why I cannot grasp it.

Of all the principles of Christian spirituality, grace is probably the one I have the most trouble with.

This confusion also serves as one of the greatest proofs that God exists, for me anyway.

On the whole, it isn't so bad: because I am frequently puzzled by the persistence of grace, I am frequently reminded of this proof.

There is quite a difference between knowing, understanding, and believing that grace is a one-way transaction. I was caught somewhere between knowing and understanding, and then after that believing is still a ways off.

I think that this is where faith manifests itself. That is, when one is willing to persevere even when the spaces between knowledge and belief have not yet been traversed.

Really, though, God doesn't owe anybody anything, because he has everything, and is everything. So it would follow that him extending grace doesn't make sense at all. Oh sure, God loves us because of his investment in creating.

Does that explain why God's grace and love would persist so fully as to sacrifice the lamb and refuse to give up on humans?

If yes, then God is smugly placed in a box of reason to be understood by rationals, theologians, and religious scholars. Of course God would extend grace, he made us!

But if not, God sidesteps rationality and proofs cannot apply.

And, just as I find grace to make no sense, I do not think his sacrifice and persistence made sense. And, with utter authority, this display of irrational altruism is a proof by which God is shown to be beyond human comprehension.

I do not understand God, and I am glad.

So then, I go on my way, hoping that faith can proceed in such a fashion that I work out grace in my life. I am confused by its presence, and I do not really understand it, but it is quite a mysterious, wonderful thing, and it shows me just how awfully incomprehensible our graceful God is.

5.16.2011

Encourager

I have decided that I think encouragement is a big deal. And I mean, like, huge.

I think this is so because I know what it can do. I know that every so often, someone can say something that will give hope for days or weeks.

Ironically, I think that everyone needs it, but the only thing you can do is give it away.

5.13.2011

Reason

There is this ever present tension in my mind that tries to balance action that arises out of feeling versus that arising out of duty. I’m sure I will post about this later, because it represents a conflict of colossal magnitude in my current view of christian spirituality.

I only feel like being upright every so often. But I am quite certain I should be upright all the time. I have no interest, let alone a need, for a part-time religion. But if I were a christian when I felt like it, well, I wouldn’t be a christian very often. So here duty steps in, with a weary return, and fills in the cracks in the pavement where "feeling" is incapable of propping up my morality.

I guess I’m just saying the obvious: the way is narrow. Doing what is right is traveling uphill. So what else is new? Sometimes the reason for persevering, exceeding, and improving is so hard to find.

It’s kind of like Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. He’s a brilliant genius with a terrible childhood, and he is quite defensive. Consequently, refuses to take any risks, whether with his career or relationships. The life he leads is selfish because he sees no reason to do better.

When his friend (who is more like a brother) Chuckie asks him about the opportunities that have arisen for him, Will informs Chuckie he just wants to stay right where he is and continue laying brick for a living.

Chuckie : Look, you got something none of us have.

Will : Oh, come on! Why, why is it always this? I f*in' owe it to myself to do this or that. What if I don't want to?

Chuckie : No, no, no. F* you. You don't owe it to yourself. You owe it to me.

'Cause tomorrow I'm gonna wake up and I'll be 50, and I'll still be doin' this shit. And that's all right. That's fine. I mean, you're sittin' on a winnin' lottery ticket. You're too much of a pussy to cash it in, and that's bullshit. 'Cause I'd do f*in' anything to have what you got. So would any of these f*in' guys. It'd be an insult to us if you're still here in 20 years. Hangin' around here is a f*in' waste of your time.

Will : You don't know that.

Chuckie : I don't?

Will : No. You don't know that.

Chuckie : Oh, I don't know that.

Let me tell you what I do know. Every day I come by your house, and I pick you up. We go out and we have a few drinks and few laughs, and it's great. You know what the best part of my day is? It's for about ten seconds: from when I pull up to the curb and when I get to your door. 'Cause I think maybe I'll get up there and I'll knock on the door and you won't be there. No "good-bye," no "see ya later." No nothing. You just left.

I don't know much, but I know that.

It's funny how much I love Will in this movie. He's a good kid, hence the title. But really messed up. And he never felt like he had to try at anything, just because he never had a reason to.

It takes his friend flat out telling him to realize that there are other people in the world besides him.

I forget all the time what my friends, my family, and my God has done for me.

What I do does not represent only myself. It is also a manifestation of the investments made by those that love me.

So, to all the lovers: thanks for all the reasons.

5.09.2011

Fear

I get scared around people who love God.

I'm not sure why. I think that maybe they will judge me, or they will scoff at my ways. I know it because when I go and worship and the person next to me lifts up their hands and sways with the music, and I lower my head and whisper the words.

I wish sometimes I was Harry Potter, and I could take my invisibility cloak with me to Sunday worship. I would wrap it around me and stand in the back, sipping my butterbear instead of black coffee. I don't think I would go crazy and start dancing. It's quite likely I would still lower my head. I'm not sure what I would do.

When I take communion, I always picture Jesus at a table, and he is gesturing toward a seat. I have to ask him many times to make sure he wants me to be there; that it is okay I'm sitting at this table and eating his body and drinking his blood. Because on my right is the swaying, hand-raising girl, and on my right is the prayer-leading guy from small group, and I'm afraid that if they see me at this table they won't wonder and question just how real my own faith is.

A lot of people tell me I'm too hard on myself. But the fact of the matter is, I'm just fearful people will see me at their place of abandon and judge me. Or that they will see that the life I lead is in stark contrast to what they perceive Christianity to be.

I think this is why I try not to say anything. Love is the best voice I have, even though its utterances are rare. My posture in worship, my declarations of faith, even the service I try to so humbly commit to, remain so quiet when compared to love. Love speaks for itself, really.

I think that if I knew the people who loved God also loved me, I wouldn't be so fearful of them.

I love the people who know me and still love me. Their love drives out fear. They set a huge example.

Like them, I want to love people enough to drive out their fear.

5.08.2011

Steady

I really, really love Spiderman 2. I feel the overall theme is quite powerful, although fundamentally flawed. I love it to death.

In the film, Peter Parker eventually finds that he is loosing the love of his life because he is unable to invest significant time in her. Rather, he finds that his call of duty to serve is taking up more and more of his life. The responsibility that came with his power is requiring much more than he thought.


Aunt May tells this to Peter at the height of his confusion. The obvious inference is that Peter must give up Mary Jane to do what is right and good. Peter later delivers it to the film's villain, Dr. Octavius, and I actually think Tobey Maguire does a much better job of delivery than his aunt when he says it at the film's climax.

Of course, this incredible conflict between what is right and what is desired is redeemed at the end of the movie when Mary Jane sees the true identity of our hero Spiderman and is still shamelessly in love with him, even though it seems as though Peter has acted selfishly.

Spiderman got lucky. He did the right thing and got the girl. In fact, he probably got the girl because he did the right thing.

It is, of course, overly romantic in the idealist sense. Giving up your dreams to do what is right is not only counter-cultural but also the epitome of human sacrifice. The truth is, the girl will probably love you more if you go to her play. Honest.

I wonder so often where I come into this, because I have many hopes and dreams and desires that are all swirling about with thundering passion, but they commonly interfere with what is undoubtedly right and true. From the most mundane conflict of watching TV instead of serving my neighbor to the titanic struggle of being distracted by a girl and conducting all of my relationships with utter selflessness.

I think that God asks for the right thing with no guarantees. He wants it all. The girl is still a maybe, and you aren't given a movie script ending when you are righteous. Sure, some girls like good guys, but you can't be a good guy just for the girl. You will get mixed up real fast. He wants you to be a good guy to show love to the world. How gutsy is that?

When Jesus said that the rich man needed to sell all he had, I don't think he requires it of me. But I do think he means I should be willing, should he ask of it, to give up the time, the money, the girl, the vacation, the friends, the social status, my whole life. It reminds me of when Jesus talks about that guy who wanted to build a tower, but he really underestimates the costs. He set his tower's foundation, but then he found out that his undertaking was just too costly; it was too expensive. And all of the people ridiculed him for not being able to finish what he started.

I sort of wish I had read this passage before becoming baptized. I decided that it couldn't have been someone showing me, because then I would have decided this Christianity thing was too elitist and that person was a real jerk for bringing up this little parable right as I decided to follow God. But, truth: this whole thing is really expensive. There's no way getting around that.

And all of this is so hard because I want to be good and I want to be good soil. But I also would like a simple home, and little car, a steady job, and Mary Jane. I earnestly yearn to reach the point where I can gladly offer these things up, and still say it is well. I am not here yet. God help me; may grace increase.

That Peter Parker guy got so lucky.

5.07.2011

Anticipation

Easter meant a whole lot to me this year. I gave up espresso for lent. I'm not even Catholic, but I thought that it would be a good thing to do. So I did. The barista thought it was hilarious that I gave up espresso but not coffee.

I really don't think God was disappointed with me even though she thought it was dumb.

I had a talk with a close friend of mine a few weeks before Easter. We both admitted that we were struggling with certain issues: me with self-worth, and her with believing God's love. I knew that I was a broken man, but it became very real to me then. I saw that our intrinsic brokenness runs deep. The difference between who I was and who I wanted to be formed a chasm deeper than I had realized.

I anticipate, then, when I will only worship him. Not that I wish death upon myself, but that this brokenness weighs so heavily upon my soul. It can drench me in cold jealousy, or swell up a festering pride, or cast a goodness-halting doubt in an instant. I do not wish it; I hate it very much. This is why I anticipate when my only desire and duty is to glorify.

The Saturday before the red letter day I went down to the coffeehouse five minutes to midnight and ordered a double latte, and then I sat on the steps of my school's student center. A magnificent storm was in the distance, and lighting occasionally lit up the warm air. I very much anticipated twelve, not because of the hot steamed milk and espresso within my hands, but because the resurrection was a proof to me this year:

That my brokenness was not final, that brokenness and death can be overcome.

The latte was good, and rich and sweet. And the resurrection was real, just like any other year. But this time I anticipated it, and needed it.