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.