Wednesday, April 16, 2008

why can't you be more like me?

ok, let me set the scene for you...

date- april 6, 2008. it had been winter for like 8 months- a relatively short winter for michiganders. during those 8 months, if it hadn't been snowing, it had been about 2 degrees outside. so, on the first REAL day of spring, when this odd thing called the sun came out, i met a friend at the local park (or the duck pond as the kids call it.) picture the placidity of this park- trees swaying in a light breeze, couples cuddling in the freshly cut grass (except for one couple that was totally taking pda to a new level- it was disturbing), bicycles whimsically passing, dogs frolicking, squirrels chattering and children squealing with joy because the temperature had finally released them from their wintery prison. it was so beautiful that i'm pretty sure i even saw a unicorn flying by and some elves making cookies in a nearby tree (but not harry potter- he is from satan). despite all this beauty, as we walked her dog and chatted, we found ourselves completely enthralled by something that i can only attempt to describe. my description may never fully allow you to capture the awesomeness of what we witnessed, but i will give it my best.

this summer playland was totally invaded by the last group of people i expected to see that day- emo kids. that's right- long sleeve-wearing, black jean-clad emo kids. keep in mind it was like 65 degrees out. but these kids refused to allow a hint of summer to change their wardrobe choice. and to make it even better, these emo kids were wielding homemade swords, presumably made out of cardboard and duct tape, or pvc pipes and duct tape for the more advanced fighters. additionally, amongst all these battling young lads was one queen giving instructions, her green hair flowing in the gentle wind. so, imagine this upper class suburban community being juxtaposed before our very eyes with the running and screaming and fighting of emo kids. (things got even more interesting when one very pale emo kid decided to take his shirt is all i can say.) we were able to take in this wonderful dichotomy until the emo kids called it a day to head for the land of the frosty- wendy's.

i wish as a 'mature' Christian i could say i did not make fun of these kids, but i did. it was so funny to me that this whole group of 15 kids would choose to spend their day running around, sweating and whacking each other with fake swords. i don't know if there was a point to this game. i was not able to determine what kind of role the green-haired queen was playing. oh, yeah and i forgot to mention they were taping some of this, which puzzled me even more. were they taping it to review later? did they sit on the couch during the week and critique their form like nfl players watching game film? anyway, my friend and i laughed at this. in fact, i am laughing now as i recall this event, because it was ridiculous to me.

making fun of these kids made me realize that i have a tendency to belittle or ridicule the things i don't enjoy. for example, i live with two guys- riley and clay. riley and i like a lot of the same things, such as sports, sports video games, certain movies, eating, etc. clay and i have music in common, but beyond that, not a whole lot. the biggest difference is clay's involvement in a game called world of warcraft, which i maliciously call zelda because it makes him mad. he plays this for hours. riley and i make fun of him pretty consistently for this because neither of us think the game is at all appealing, let alone cool. so, clay becomes the nerd in my mind because i do not like the thing he is spending his time doing. the other day clay was playing and riley made an insulting comment about it. clay's reply was completely in jest, but it really made me think. riley was settling down to watch a show on our dvr called the most dangerous catch, which is about extreme fishing, etc. when riley made fun of clay for playing w.o.w. clay responded with the following- "i am playing a game that 9 million other people are online playing right now. you are about to watch a recorded fishing show by yourself on the couch. why am i the loser?" i laughed out loud pretty hard on my way to my room to go to bed. when i got to my room, i started thinking about this comical exchange. i came to the conclusion again that we really do have a tendency to make fun of what we don't like, don't we? granted, clay plays this computer game that i do not play, but why is it any different for me to play nba 2k8 for an hour or read espn articles for hours on the couch? why do i think of him as the nerd and myself as normal? because manly men like to watch sports? guys with chest hair and muscles can't possibly suspend reality and play a role playing game? and this made me think about the emo kids at the park. why is my attire right now of khakis, a shirt and tie and a sweater more normal or acceptable than long black jeans, long-sleeved black t-shirts, lip rings and dyed hair? who defines normalcy? has normal become whatever media portrays as normal? do individuals or communities or nations decide what is or is not normal?

then, as i always do, i began to really internalize this and think even more about how this applies to my relationship with God. have i included a place in God's kingdom for emo kids? is there such a thing as a normal Christian? where is the bullet point list of qualifications for that? should the church have an "in crowd" or the "popular people?" (i think james addresses that issue, does he not?)

then i thought about how this influences my views on salvation and sin. ok, just do this little experiment with me. i want you to think of the 3 worst sins in the world. sins that just make you cringe and uncomfortable and must certainly be painful for God to see in the world. ok, go ahead and think of them (cue jeopardy music). now, i can guarantee with amazing accuracy that i can identify the three sins you just listed in your mind. ready? they are three sins you do not struggle with. am i right? we can throw stones with the best of them, but we hate looking in the mirror. i don't like to think that having wandering eyes or lustful thoughts is a sin, because i struggle with that. i don't like to think that lacking discipline or overeating is a sin, because i participate in those. but pre-marital sex? sure i'll condemn that all day because God has given me the strength to not fall into that. enjoy hell, drug users and alcoholics- i'll be in heaven because i never used drugs or got drunk. such a twisted logic, isn't it? yet we all fall into it in one way or another. in fact, there have been times that i have had thoughts that my sins "aren't all that bad" or because i was raised in church i don't have as much stuff to repent for. God forgive me for that! sometimes i wish God hadn't put stuff about david and saul/paul in the bible. i think we use examples of the broken people God worked through to make ourselves feel better about our sin. the result is that we do little or nothing at all to change. "well david had a man killed after he slept with his wife and scripture called him a man after his own heart. saul killed christians but paul's writings fill the new testament! what i am doing isn't nearly as bad as those things, so i don't need to worry about it. God can still use me." there are a few problems with that line of thinking. 1. we are not called to just do the bare minimum. instead, the language scripture uses concerning our call as Christians is "to have not even a hint of the following list of sins" and "live lives that are above reproach" and "live such good lives that people would never believe false charges against you." there is no room for apathy and laziness there, and we cheapen grace when we ignore or minimize our sin. 2. as good as they were, we are not called to follow david and paul and others. we are to be a "little Christ." that's what it means to say we are Christians- that we are a smaller version of Christ. 3. loving the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength leaves me no part of my life untouched by His cleansing fire. there is no compartment in my life labeled "acceptable vices." God does not owe me a few slip-up areas so i can cope. instead He calls me to "be holy as He is holy." a compartmentalized life doesn't fit into that call.

i guess what i am saying is that i need to quit looking at everyone else and determining how they need to be different or more like myself. my sins are no less sinful than those of the people around me. my hobbies and interests are not abundantly cooler than those of others. so i ask you to join me in trying to get the compartments out of my life. no more categories of people i can and cannot accept. no more sins i lock away and refuse to give up. no more bad sins and really really bad sins- let sin be sin. no more labeling people based on my very relative definition of normalcy. instead, i will attempt to embrace holiness and repentance and acceptance. amazing what emo kids and world of warcraft can spark inside, huh? just further proof that diversity is a beautiful thing which God uses every day to teach us lessons...

Monday, April 7, 2008

messianic math

i love a good ol' cliche. it just makes me happy for some reason to hear a cheesy phrase thrown into a speech, or better yet, just a random conversation. one that i love (maybe this is just on the tip of my mind because it is almost 70 degrees out today) is any variation of this phrase-

"it may be raining outside, but the S-O-N is shining in here."

how can you not at least smile at that? not because it makes me think deeply about the presence of Christ in our hearts and minds at all time, but because it is just so corny.

here's another of my faves-

"let go, let God..."

note the dot, dot, dot at the end, because it never specifies what you are letting God do. so cryptic, yet so applicable to all situations. i can just see people's reactions to professionals using this advice tactic in their jobs. imagine going to a dermatologist and hearing the following...

don't know what to do about your dandruff problem? don't turn to head and shoulders- let go, let God.

or to a motivational speaker or seminar and hearing...

having issues passing that test or getting ahead in the corporate world? don't try harder- let go, let God.

or to a therapist and hearing this...

now i know you struggle with depression, anxiety, amnesia and dementia, so here is your prescription- let go, let God.

now with all due respect to those who use these phrases with good intentions, i do not mean to poke fun. i just think they have little value. i will gladly explain why i think that. life circumstances are too complicated to be explained away by black and white, cliche answers. furthermore, being a Christian is far too complex to be reduced to a rubric comprised of platitudes, sins that are a major "no-no" and helpful hints. while these inspirational sayings grandmas around the world cross stitch onto pillows lift the burden of the soul momentarily, they by no means have the spiritual girth to carry people through real spiritual crisis. in my mind, we practice theological reductionism by trying to use quips and quotes to negate lament and pain. for instance, how can we believe that Christians are supposed to be smiling and happy all the time and still have the story of the prophet jeremiah in our bibles? how can we say that bad things should not happen to good people and thumb through the pages of job? and how can we say that it cannot be God's plan for a Christian to suffer? do we not then have to ignore the path that took Jesus from gethsemane to the cross? that's why although i am entertained by these phrases, they really do nothing for me. it seems that these little nuggets of wisdom some people throw around are more like bandaids being placed over a gaping wound.

we are equally guilty when we try to reduce living a life of discipleship to bullet points and highlights we pull out of scripture and slap onto a track we pass around the neighborhood. (and here is where i get into trouble) following God is so much more than voting a certain way. it annoys me to no end when people think that someone is a good candidate to run this country just because they claim to be a Christian. it also annoys me when people think someone who is not a Christian will send the country straight to h-e-double hockey sticks and must have no morals at all. it's as though the sermon on the mount included a checklist of voting pro-life and anti-gay union. now before i get lambasted, please read this next part... do i believe abortion is ok? no. do i support gay marriage? no. but i think there is a big difference in standing up for Jesus and standing up for issues. when we stand up for issues, we ignore the people involved in the issues. God's creation- our neighbors and co-workers and friends- become statistics. how do we love a statistic? how do we extend grace to someone we view as "just another homosexual" or "that tramp who got an abortion?" where is the heart of Christ in that? i believe there is a way to stand up for God and the statutes of His kingdom without pushing others down and labeling them as projects, rejects or defects. there is a way to love the sinner while hating the sin. i believe God invented that when he saved you and i, and we are to follow Him in the way we live. i am not saying i have this figured out. what i am trying to point out is that we cannot just make God into an equation.

don't have premarital sex + pray before meals + go to a church building every sunday + vote correctly = heaven

that's not what i believe God had in mind for His plan of salvation. what i do think He had in mind was for us to be like david- to be after God's heart. i mean not only to reflect God's heart but to chase after God's heart. to never get enough. to never be close enough. to never settle for a watered down faith, but to always seek to learn more and be sharpened. i believe he sent Jesus to the earth not only to offer the gift of His death and resurrection, but to give us the gift of His life. to see how God would interact with people. not with judgment and malicious evangelism, but with love. not with blind acceptance and no accountability, but with a call to more than we often settle for.

so i know i went on and on, and even talked about politics for the first time on here, but i hope you can hear in my words my heart to be more than a cliche-wielding, bible thumping Christian. i am not nearly as interested in fitting the mold of a western Christian as i am in fitting the mold of my Savior and my God. i pray for His strength and mercy as i shave off the sins of apathy and reductionism that keep me from fitting that mold.