December 6, 2005

What Dreams May Come

I've been toying with this idea all morning, and I finally decided just to go for it. I want to ask a question of anyone who happens to read my stuff: do you think we are responsible for our dreams? I mean, in a spiritual sense; does God count our dreams for or against us at all? And I'm not talking about those dreams that we sometimes have that we have some control over, like you're half-asleep and you find yourself wandering around in some bar and you can choose which hot girl to talk to and whatever ... I'm talking about the dreams we have when we're truly asleep, the ones that come from the supposed random firings of neurons while in REM sleep, the ones that seem to be anything and everything our imagination can conceive. The ones that sometimes seem a bit too real for comfort, yet we seem to have no control over.

I realize that there are a lot of reasons why God invented "grace" (and I suspect this is one of them) but I figured I'd pose the question - does God's grace need apply to these dreams, or are they simply out of our control? For example, you have a dream about killing your boss in a screaming rage, and you wake up and wonder why in the world you had that dream, something you'd never even considered doing before, let alone ever wondered about. Or another example, you find yourself robbing a bank and it never crosses your mind that it's a) wrong, and b) that you don't need to be doing this, and c) that the circumstances are nothing like what yours are in the first place.

These are not, by the way, dreams of my own that prompted the question, my own dream was far more disturbing and frankly, I won't ever repeat it in type or out loud to anyone save my wife. But all the same, it's a question I've wondered about for some time. Are we responsible for these dreams? I put it out there as a question to everyone, especially those of you who might be more versed in scripture than I am. So all of you, start typing.

November 29, 2005

Factory Life, pt. 2: On Being Ungrateful

It was pouring rain as I walked out the door, tip-toed across a flooding parking lot, climbed into my car, and began the long journey home from work today. I don't usually like the rain, especially driving in it, but today it felt appropriate somehow, like a well-needed cleansing. I mused over the day, exhausted, remembering with fondness the various illegal activities I'd been required to engage in. Well, only one actually. I was asked by my supervisor to pull small stickers off of boxes containing filters, stickers that said "made in Canada", and replace them with stickers that said "Made in the USA". Yes, it was illegal. Yes, I'm sorry to say I realized it halfway through my job. No, I didn't stop. *sigh* My thoughts wandered to the post I wrote yesterday.
As I thought through it, I found myself somewhat mortified at what I'd written. My only consolation was the "good lord, the arrogance" comment, about myself, somewhere towards the end. What I failed to mention yesterday, something that went through my head and never made it to the page, and something that should have been first, was something about the very people I kind of humiliated when I wrote.

While they are exactly as I so brutally describe them, they are also kind people. They accepted me unconditionally, as one of them, without question or reproach (though they did ask me what a guy with a university education was doing "in a place like this"). C, a guy who on the one hand has a daughter, no wife, and two girlfriends, was the first to welcome me, and the first to offer conversation (despite the continued invitations to discuss the various kinds of pornography he and D, ah, enjoy), his gentle running monologue enough to keep me awake on my first day there. S, a cultural Mormon (I didn't know they existed till I met her) and a girl who married her husband after three weeks in Vegas and who seemed to want nothing but to make her life easy by winning the lottery, asks me every day how my lunch break was, and was the person who asked me all about being a missionary on the first day I was there, an opportunity which hasn't really resurfaced since then. Not to mention she's read both the Bible and the book of Mormon all the way through. I can't claim that.

The pinnacle of this is what happened today. As I was pulling "made in Canada" stickers off of the boxes and replacing them with their USA counterparts, I began to talk with my partner in crime, Gene. Gene is an older gentleman, someone who has worked in factories most of his life. He says that Graver is a good place to work, mostly because it's very lenient on the rules (a bad in my book, since we had to use xylene with our bare hands, but no matter) and with policies for the employees. Usually he's a painter, spray-painting the massive filter housings that the welding department gives him. So here we are, pulling off stickers;

"Shit," he said.
"What?" I asked. His reply was to pull, with some exaduration, a sticker off of the box in his other hand.
"So you're a musician, huh," he asked, then paused. "You in a band or something?"
"Yes, well, sort of. I'm a worship leader at my church."
"A what?"
"A worship leader. I play guitar."
"Oh. Shit. Oh my, sorry. I shouldn't cuss around a worship leader."

As our little conversation progressed, I found out that he sincerely wished his life - the decisions that he'd made - had been different. He wished he'd gone to college, majored in some computer science or something of that nature, so he could work on things more interesting than painting, to do something more worthwhile with his life. I felt terrible as I thought about this, thinking that I HAD gone to college and yet, here I was, making gross generalizations about the people of this little world of a factory, people who I thought didn't care about their educations.

All this to say that I found my comments yesterday to be somewhat one-sided and harsh, not offering the humanity of these people who have been forced into working at a factory. I don't particularly regret my comments regarding the factory itself, nor about the church - the only good thing about a factory is its ability to give lots of people jobs, but a church that looks like a factory hasn't fully realized its own potential. I'm just sad to have made myself a part of the church factory with some of my judgmental comments. So, to those people (who haven't actually read this) of Graver Technologies NY, I'm sorry.

November 28, 2005

Factory Life

Nobody was meant to wake up at 4:15 in the morning. End of story. Not for work. Not for vacations. Not for Babies. Not even for Christmas presents. Well, maybe for Christmas presents and maybe for Babies, and I suppose if the vacation were really good, then maybe for that too.

But not for work. Work is something you go to because you have to; at least, it has been (thus far) for me. And when you're not really a morning person, like me, it means that you go to work solely because your survival depends upon it. But how far are you willing to go to survive? Lately, in my case, it has meant giving up the two things I love most dearly next to my wife: my sleep, and my hands. Now, obviously sleep – going to bed at 8pm to get up at 4 is not my idea of acceptable – but why the hands?

My hands are, according to my grandmother, the two most valuable things I have. And today, while at work, her vague warning of "don't mess them up" was wandering through my head as I scraped and gouged them up on chicken wire, burned them on liquid urethane and on xylene alcohol, and glued them together with industrial strength super-glue. My hands are in serious pain right now, cut and bruised in a lot of places.

And I can't help but wonder why I'm there. I mean, I know it's because the temp agency offered me a job there, and silly me, thinking it to be a science lab (with a name like "Graver Technologies," what else could it be?) and told I'd be doing some "small assembly work" (direct quote from the temp agency), I accepted. But having been there for a week, I find nothing small about the work we do (we build industrial filters), and I find myself – daily – almost in tears as I wake up, begging God not to make me go again.

This is the problem with prayer – sometimes it gets answered, but not really the way you wanted, or weirder, you get what you asked for, but there's a catch you forgot to mention when you prayed. I prayed for work. And God gave it to me. I just forgot to mention that I'd rather use my four-year college degree with something I can do, not something that ruins my body.

Not that I find the work beneath me, it can be challenging occasionally. Though I do often find myself wondering why someone "of my talents" (good lord am I arrogant) isn't being used "somewhere more productively" or something like that. During the day, trapped in my plastic prison of protective eyewear, I find myself contemplating just walking out of the factory, away from the pain in my hands and from the junk that goes on around me. I find that the people there are often shallow, their conversation centered around employee gossip and make-believe sexual relationships with one another. Few are married, yet nearly all have children, and none of them see a problem with that. They seem content to go from day to day, looking forward to little else than a break from the tedium to drink and sleep. They don't aspire to anything. They don't feel like working harder than they do, which is, honestly, not that hard, at a leisurely pace.

And yet I've learned something here. I worry that this factory can be more than a tragic part of a fallen world, but a symbol of a problem. The church has become like this factory, its workers blinded by their own desires or lack of direction. The church's purpose has become little else than to intake materials and produce identical products as fast as possible, yet the workers slack off and put out their half-assed work to just get by. I find this disturbing. I'm sickened by it. I see myself often enough as a solution to this problem, yet nothing changes – I’ve become part of the system, and I'm disturbed by that too. Evangelicals, not to mention the rest of Christendom, have corrupted the gospel into a political agenda, into a means to their own profit, the church into a factory meant to produce endless copies of the same product – the self-centered half-hearted mindless drone of a filter that goes on to be used up by the world around it and dumped into heaven, exhausted. We've made the gospel about ourselves, not about everyone else.

I will be returning to the factory twice more, for two more days of work. Unfortunately, the other part of factory life is that they have no respect for the schedule I gave them when I was hired. Since I made other commitments for two weekends (some nearly six months old), ones I can't drop, they said they'd rather me just not come anymore. Which is fine, my hands are already happy about this.

I keep wondering if there's more to be learned there, if I'm giving up on something that was placed in my hands (busted up as they are) for a reason, or if I've already learned all I can, and if I've already been all I can be for them. Should I be sticking it out, for their sakes? There aren't really any other Christians there – have I made it all about my own comfort, all about myself? After all, the sacrifice Jesus made for me - for them - was far greater than just his hands. What are my hands compared to his?

November 18, 2005

The Evolution of the Pot

I shall begin at the beginning, or rather, at the end: it was the year 5023, and scientists were sorting through the grime of the past ages when they uncovered a unique find: a small piece of hard clay. After analysis it was concluded that the clay was a remnant of a larger creature that they deemed “pottus firmus.”

Around the world, paleontologists continued to discover fragments and sometimes complete skeletons of various devices that appeared to be related to the first fragment. Other full skeletons of newer creatures were discovered buried in various strata of rock, dirt, and sometimes, in fields of ice. Genus and Species were assigned. One bold paleontologist posited that not only were these pots related, they were links in a chain, one creature leading to the next.

Pottus Firmus, he said, was in fact the original, a creature formed from the dust of the earth itself. Firmus evolved, over time, into Pottus Bulbus, with its larger bottom and smaller top that better contained water. As evolution progressed, Bulbus’ outer shell became more ornamented, and, unable to mate with like creatures, became Pottus Decorum. Over time, it gave way to Pottus Amphorai, a larger and better adapted creature to the harsh Mediterranean environment where it was found.

It is here that his theory lost some credibility, because he could find no link between Amphorai and the next most recent skeleton in the ground, Pottus Tremendum, a smaller but fearsomely sturdier creature suited to the harsher environment of a warring world. Finally, Pottus Moderna was the final link in the chain, but after which the race went extinct after the large thermonuclear disaster of 2158.

Eventually it was discovered that they were not creatures at all, but kitchen pots. The study was abandoned, and the paleontologist gave up his study of population biology in favor of basket weaving.

I know I should leave well enough alone, but for those of you who know me, you know that I can’t resist talking about two things, both of them former thesis projects: postmodernism and the evolution/intelligent design debate.

First we must separate a problem: evolution isn’t a single unified theory, rather it is a conglomeration of a lot of different ideas, and like creationism, no two scientists hold the exact same view of it (though I will admit that lots more scientists come much closer to holding identical beliefs than religious proponents of Intelligent design). The most easily distinguished categories are micro- and macro-evolution. The two do not depend on one another to exist, or rather, macroevolution depends upon microevolution, but not vice-versa. Microevolution, then, can be an independent theory in and of itself (sui generis, you might say), the driving force to the more controversial theory of macroevolution.

No matter how hard scientists try, they can’t seem to get away with the one major problem with their theory of macroevolution: probability. It seems to keep throwing a wrench in the works, because while they can often show that evolution is technically possible, it’s never been shown that it’s any more probable than any other theory of origins (partly because evolution makes no claim to know how it all started, just that it did at some point). Simply because a bunch of things look the same doesn’t mean that they evolved of … what force? What is the driving force of evolution? It’s not the laws of thermodynamics, they prove that evolution shouldn’t happen, but they also show that life shouldn’t happen either. Yet it does.

For example, the probabilities involved with the evolution of the first protein are astronomical. To get from a random batch of primordial chemicals to one protein, fully formed, are so high it’s not really worth talking about. The number of chemical reactions required, the forces working against those reactions happening, and then for the protein to not denature within moments of its formation in a hostile environment makes its un-guided evolution next to impossible. The cell (of any organism) has so many chemical stabilizers (mRNA and rRNA, transcription proteins, etc.) for creating proteins because proteins, especially the complicated proteins required for complex life, do not naturally form – they are created. It is against the laws of nature (especially thermodynamics) for proteins to form (for example, the shape of a protein is dependent upon the interaction of various parts of the protein, which are easily disrupted by the presence of other chemicals, ions, etc, and the chances of this happening in a primordial environment are slim).

Another example: let’s grant that nature defied the odds (for what other driving force can we give evolution but the sort of ethereal “nature”?), and somehow a little critter evolved from the primordial goo. It’s single-celled, and eventually multiplies into a plethora of different single-celled organisms, and eventually into multi-cellular yet mitotically-replicating organisms (organisms that divide themselves into two identical pieces). Yet as soon as an organism evolves that requires mitosis to divide (sexual reproduction, meaning it needs two of that organism), the species would have died immediately. First, there’s only one of this thing (let’s say it’s a fish or something) around because it’s so improbable in the first place that it evolved. Second, even if another did evolve, the odds of it being at the same time and the same place as the first one are huge!

Ok. So if macroevolution doesn’t work, yet microevolution does, it still doesn’t explain where it started. This is, in fact, what distinguishes intelligent design theorists from creationists: microevolution is acknowledged (as well as all scientific evidence) as a valid source of data. And alternately, what distinguishes ID theorists from Evolutionists is twofold: denial of macroevolution and acceptance of a higher power / deity / god as the source and explanation of a created universe. In most instances, this is really just political cover for a Christian who would rather not mention the title “God” in scientific circles, for fear of retribution by his or her unbelieving colleagues.

As it turns out, most scientists would rather shoot themselves than commit the scientific heresy of admitting the existence of a God who might have things figured out better than they do, and they’d rather get angry and upset and violent than admit that they might – might – be wrong. I guess my point in writing this post was not to say that I hate all evolutionists, but to say that I think it’s time that evolutionists gave up their self-righteousness and listened with an unbiased mind for a change. After all, I bought their evidence. I’m a proponent of Intelligent Design; I used to be a scientist, and can’t deny the evidence for microevolution, and frankly I can easily buy the insubstantial evidence for macroevolution – but only the evidence. I can, like many, offer an alternative explanation for it that is really just as probable and just as valid. It does require that I admit the existence of an all-powerful God, but that’s ok with me. I’m a Christian too, so it works as a worldview. I mean, evolutionists are going on a lot of faith too, why is God so hard to admit?

November 12, 2005

Intelligent Evolution

I am amused to share with you all my latest discovery: The Dilbert Blog. Not only does Scott Adams share with us his innermost thoughts, but every so often, he writes a gem of such magnitude that every theological student should read it. And every scientist.

This is what I'm talking about.

That's right: Scott Adams writes about the debate between Evolutionists and Creationists. And it contains the best thoughts I've heard on the subject in ages. My favorite comment was "Scott: This was all just a ruse for you to prove yourself correct that any debate about Evo-ID just turns into angry posts and name-calling, wasn't it?" ... and something tells me he's right, but that's why I love the post so much, because he's so right.

Enjoy the article. It's worth the read.

November 8, 2005

A Servant's Heart

I’d like to respond to a comment made on my last post, a post I wrote to explore my own feelings towards the poor. After I wrote it, and then read the comment, I went and did some research. Here’s the comment:

Where exactly do you read that Jesus tells us to feed the poor?
Jesus touched those that came into His way, His life or His walk. He never went looking for the needy. And just because He restored the sight of one blind man, didn't obligate Him to restore the sight of all who were blind. I do not believe in setting up soup kitchens under 'Christian' leadership. If governments want to head up such a project, go for it, but for Jesus Followers to invest such time and resources and grief (and it is grievous for those with their whole heart in it)...I just see it as a losing battle because Jesus already told us "The poor you will have with you always". [that sounds pretty definite]. Besides, Jesus said "My yoke is easy and my burden is light" and housing the homeless and feeding the poor is neither of those things. And it's an impossible task right from the get go when He said it would be so.
I believe that if someone, such as a Susie, asks us for help, we are obligated to do what we can do for them. In Matthew 5, Jesus was pretty clear on how to treat a non-believer, or even an enemy. Whatever they ask, give it to them and then some. [How much more so for a fellow follwer?]

Jesus’ exact words might not have said “feed the poor” (but how often did he say things directly about that sort of thing, rather than saying things like “feed my sheep” and other metaphors – if you think about it, He could be pretty confusing), but from that, two comments. First, I’m not comfortable basing my entire lifestyle about what the gospels never said in explicit detail, and second, history tells us that Jesus’ followers, immediately following His resurrection, sure thought that taking care of the poor was a part of His teaching. Paul mentions it a number of times, but even more compelling are the complaints against Christians in first- and second- century Rome. Emperor Justinian is noted to have complained bitterly against the Christians, making comments about how they kept showing up the Roman government by taking care of not only their own poor/destitute/sick/plague victims, but also taking care of those of the Roman Empire. So Christians weren’t following the law (they wouldn’t follow the cult of the Emperor by making sacrifices to him), but they still went out of their way – into considerable danger, in fact – to take care of those in need. The people who were closest to Jesus when he was actually here physically walking this earth believed that taking care of those in need was important.

Which brings me to the very character of Jesus himself. Jesus came to this universe not to make us focus more on ourselves, but for us to focus more on Him, ergo on others. Jesus is not the kind of guy who says “you are more important than your neighbor,” and it’s been my experience that faith is never comfortable, nor is it easy. In fact, I’d say that being a child of Christ is both harder and less comfortable in the current world than not being one of his children. Why? Because Jesus said lots of stuff that goes against the grain of the world; “My yolk is easy and my burden is light” is followed by things like “I tell you if you think impure thoughts about a woman, you have committed adultery” and “anyone who says to his brother ‘raca’ [a word of hate] is answerable to the Sanhedrin, and anyone who says ‘you fool!’ will be in danger of the fires of hell.” I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure this is not exactly an easy thing – how often is our first instinct (and the one we often follow) to say “I hate you,” or “you suck” or whatever your choice of language is … instead of showing compassion and mercy?

He said “whoever wants to be greatest in the kingdom of heaven will make himself like a child, humble and obedient” – something that human beings are often incapable of. Not only that, but are you saying we are only to follow Christ’s words, not his actions? He spent so much time in the gospels healing and aiding the poor that it’s a wonder he found the time to teach!

To extend this further, there is lots of the three years of Jesus’ ministry unaccounted for in scripture. The gospel writers only give us examples of what He did, not everything he did. There’s a verse in John (30:20) that says “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book;” there were more we don’t even know about because the disciples and gospel writers got tired of writing down so many examples. Most of his miracles follow a pattern of healing, generosity, and dedication to those less fortunate. And if I may infer something, since Jesus is God, all of us are less fortunate than He is. He owns everything, he has been given authority over heaven and earth by God the father, and what did he do? He gave away freely to those that needed it (five thousand men and their families, for example, or think of his parable of the wedding banquet where the king goes and invites all the people off the streets instead of the people who didn’t have time for him).

I don’t see a Jesus who thinks that the poor and “unclean” are a waste of time and energy and grief, I see a Jesus who cares for the destitute most of all – his compassion is limitless! He cares for people – all people – more than he cares for himself, i.e. the cross. He gave everything he had, even his body and his life, for those less fortunate than he. The gospel is not about me as an individual getting to heaven and not wasting my time and efforts on my neighbor (and yes, feeding the poor is part of that), it is about giving up myself and my wishes and my desires and my comforts to follow a God - in mind and in deed - who loves us all.

November 1, 2005

A Mile in Their Shoes

After waking up this morning, my wife turns to me and says (after good morning), “honey, why don’t you come to downtown and volunteer instead of sitting around?” Now, I wasn’t sure what to make of that, because when I’m there I don’t really feel like I sit around all the time – I do help out when she asks – so I said so; “I do volunteer … why would you think I don’t?” And so she says “well … yes … sort of … but you really just kind of sit there until I have to ask you to do something.”

While I was glad we were on the same page, her tone of voice bothered me – she sounded like she thought that was bad. “What’s wrong with that?” I asked. “You sit there,” she said, “and play on your little shiny laptop while all these poor people come in to get food. Well, maybe not play, I know you’re doing work, but it’s still on a shiny laptop.” After I realized what she was saying, being the gallant man I am, I told her I’d think about it.

And the more I thought about it, the worse I felt. I usually feel pretty good about being there, because I don’t get in the way, and I get to be near my wife while I write the music I’d otherwise be writing alone at home. I felt like I had a pretty good deal. And yet, whenever she asks me to work with a client, it usually ends up being the part where I get their food and not the part where I have to talk with them. And then I thought about compassion – what do I feel when I see these people that makes me want to get their food and not talk with them like another human being. I mean, I’m not a shy kind of guy usually, but for some reason, in these settings (which are in some ways just like the coffee shops and restaurants that I’ve worked in), I get nervous to the point where I’d prefer to focus on my laptop and shut out the world around me.

And I came to the conclusion that I really don’t feel much of anything for those people; no compassion, no kindness, no mercy … not really even pity. In fact, I feel disdain towards many (not all, I’m not a monster) of them, looking at their bad choices and thinking that if they really cared, they could always go get a job and they wouldn’t need our help. They must just be lazy and trying to take advantage of the system instead of working for what they want.

And many of them are – I see people come from Eddie O’Brien’s (a bar and restaurant across the street) where they just had lunch, over to the food pantry to get food, where they annoy the volunteers by telling them exactly (to the brand-name and flavor) what they want, and that nothing else will do. They carry cell phones and wear nice enough clothing (not usually very stylish, but sometimes). I see those people and all I think of is that justice is not being done, that they shouldn’t be getting food from us, that the food should be saved for people who really need it.

And the more I thought about it, the more I began to hate my attitude. They’re God’s children too, just like me, only their bad choices focused around their finances or their education or maybe – just maybe – they didn’t make a bad choice at all and yet the world still chose them to be the brunt of ill luck. Maybe lots of those people really are just doing what they know and have never had anyone to invest in them – parents, grandparents, friends, anyone – to show them that there’s a better way, a more satisfying way to live life.

And it occurs to me, after reading
Greg’s post, that (as I said in my comment) it takes the relationship to understand a person’s true needs – and to walk a mile or maybe a few in their shoes. Maybe the reason that people like me have no compassion is that we haven’t walked in the shoes of these people at all. We’ve never been poor, not really, and we didn’t grow up in the sort of homes they did, we didn’t lose the sort of things they lost, we didn’t not-have the sorts of things they didn’t.

We’re spoiled.

Or maybe they’re “underprivileged” or whatever. Political-correctness aside, I’m to the point where I have a choice to make – do I walk in their shoes or don’t I? It means putting a lot of stuff aside (my shiny laptop maybe?) or getting rid of altogether. It means wandering way out of my comfort zone and doing stuff I’m not used to and I don’t think I’ll like very much – like going hungry; like humiliating myself by searching for low-level fast-food jobs or garbage-jobs or things like that. I can’t take away my education, sadly, but I don’t have to mention it when I interview.

Or maybe I’ll keep on doing what I’m doing and after this all passes, find myself back where I started, no more humble and no more patient and no more compassionate than I was when I started … or maybe I’ll learn something from all this and find my God-given compassion.
"As for those who seemed to be important — whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance — those men added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do." [Galatians 2:6-10]

October 9, 2005

Part II: A Nicer Place to Live

I would like to propose an alternative to debate: discussion.

With this, I clearly mark myself as a postmodern Christian. I think that “debating” someone (aka “winning” by “proving” your point) is pointless – never once have I seen anyone leave a debate having changed their mind about the issue, from either side. The only way it works is if that person actively looked for the debate to see if the beliefs they held were correct (say, for example, Lee Strobel). In which case, the debate is no longer a debate: it is a discussion, a place where both sides of the issue come to the table to honestly and non-hostily present their opinions and, over time, come to an understanding. This does not mean they will agree.

And that is the solution. Simple, elegant, and somehow, impossible for anyone with any grain of humanity within them. Now why is that?

As it turns out, people don’t like to be humble, and that’s what this requires: humility. People are stupid, as a general rule (and yes, I include myself in that broad, sweeping statement), and stupid things don’t tend to learn too quickly, especially stupid things that don’t think they’re stupid, i.e. the human race. I mean, come on, I’m writing about it, and yet I still probably don’t do much of it at all. I’m sure that, because of the rather amusing laws of probability, I might occasionally stumble into a humble moment (and I’m pretty sure this isn’t one of them), but it’s rare.

Anyway, so the idea is to talk about things with the humility to know that you’re probably not quite right, and that you should listen to the other person who is also probably not quite right. And so we’ll end up with a lot of people who are probably not quite right, but it makes for a much nicer place to live. At least, I think it would …

October 5, 2005

Broken Earth

I was raised in a Presbyterian church. Small place, average age of 60 or so, organ, choir in robes, the works. And so last night was this rather interesting time for me, and I found myself back to my calvinist origins having a proper chat with God - feeling entirely inadequate.

The reason? I was planning out my worship set for the coming month. We just finished with our weekend for October and I, being a good planner (and realizing I have but three more services to plan before we leave for Melbourne), planned out all three services so I'd know what brass parts I have to write and can knock them off while I've got all this free time.

[side note: currently I'm essentially unemployed, which really sucks. I arrived at these circumstances against my will through channels that had nothing to do with me, but with my employer, who decided 40 hours was too many and cut me back to 4-10 per week. So factor that frustration into this, and add to that the fact that I cannot seem to find another job at this time of the year.]

Anyway, so I have all this free time. But last night I found myself head-in-hands on my desk, near tears, pleading with God to show me what in the world He's got planned for these next three worship sets: my plans, in my mind, were wholly inadequate. And it got me thinking about our position as human beings in the face of a God the size of the one who Is: what are we but dirt? What are we but the depraved pond scum on the bottom of God's boots?

I stared at the worship sets I was writing wondering why I bothered. Nobody is going to understand the significance of these songs anyway, or nobody will care, or it'll be too much of a performance for people to worship, blah blah blah. And so my mind began spiraling downwards into the doldrums, my depravity quite obvious to my broken mind.

And it's true, right? We're but shadows and dust, as it were, in light of God's purity, His holiness, His righteousness. And yet somehow, to my calvinist-raised mind, this didn't help. I've known Calvinists who were comforted by that, though I'm not sure how. Maybe it was self-pity gone wrong, I dunno.

But as I'm wallowing, I started listening to Crowder's new CD again to try and find a different song, and this is what I found:

"A certain sign of grace is this:
From the broken earth, flowers come up,
Pushing through the dirt."

I almost cried - for I am that broken earth, and despite my uncleanliness, my Lord has seen fit to use my feeble efforts to produce flowers of staggering beauty. Not because of my efforts, but in spite of them. He's that good.

August 26, 2005

Lamb to the Slaughter

I was at the Minnesota state fair today and as we were leaving, we happened to walk by a booth where a tall strapping guy with a Brittany Spears headset microphone was engaging a slightly shorter slightly older guy holding an ordinary microphone in a debate. As we walked past, the first thing I heard was “well according to you, they don’t sound too different, I mean, one is with an ‘e’, the other is with an ‘I’, what’s so different?” As the debate progressed, it was fairly clear that “e” was for “evolution” and “I” was for “intelligent design”.

What turned my stomach was not the shorter guy’s explanations on evolution. Rather, it was the way the creationist treated said shorter guy: like a hostage. The poor evolutionist was clearly not entirely sure why he believed in evolution, only that it seemed to make sense when they explained it in biology all those years ago. The creationist, on the other hand, was adamant about his heavily-researched position, very sure that he’d gotten it right.

Lemme tell ya: lamb to the slaughter.

And as we left the fair (very full of corn dogs, caramel apples, lemonade, and the like), all I could do was shake my head and fantasize about running the creationist through the ringer, how I would’ve answered his questions, defending the evolutionist; a reaction which sorta took me by surprise. I’ve been a creationist since my freshman year of college, and, like the creationist at the fair, I’ve done a lot of research on the two positions (which really ends up being about ten positions, but that’s for another time). And so I’m pretty sure that I believe what I believe and there’s no turning my mind, save God’s own revelation.

And yet instead of saying “amen, brother”, I felt pity for the evolutionist. Not because I thought he was right to blindly believe something (though I also find myself an advocate for that sometimes), but because of the way the creationist was badgering him, needling him, provoking him, and generally making him look (and probably feel) like a fool.


It was humbling. I used to do that - I was the creationist, out to badger every heathen at my very liberal university about why they were wrong about evolution. I was going to single-handedly, in one short debate with each person, turn the campus around, win it for Jesus, all by proving them all wrong. Obviously, they'd see it my way if I proved them wrong, right?

Wrong.

As Christians, we are to defend the weak and oppressed, and that is exactly what came to mind today as I watched the helpless evolutionist succumb to the oppressive “Christian”. On our way home, my friend Kirsten and I talked over the subject of debate: is it worth debating? While I’m amused that we almost debated the idea of debate, we agreed in the end that it’s not really much of a debate. Translation: debate, as we know it, is not very helpful. Most of the time it turns out to be just what we watched on our way to the car: a lamb to the slaughter, some Christian itching to prove his faith superior who actively mangles some helpless bystander.

It wins nobody.

Just like the tract we received from some guy at the exit on the way out, “debating the issues” in this fashion wins nobody for Christ. For one, the evolutionist did not leave home that day seeking a debate over the issue. Second, the manner in which he was treated was down right rude and obnoxious. Third, while I didn’t see him leave, I can’t imagine he left feeling very good about himself or the guys that solicited his opinion. Kirsten said it best: debate only wins enemies.

[Stay tuned for part 2: a proposed solution to this problem]

August 23, 2005

Links for 8/23

I posted three times today, and they're all interesting (at least, I think so). Just in case you can't see the other two, here are links to all three:

A Persecuted People

Live Updates with Chris

One Year and Counting ...

A Persecuted People

So I just saw this on msn. Imagine my first reaction: appalled? frightened? worried? irritated? disgusted? horrified? all of the above?

oddly amused?

Truth be told, I'm never quite sure what to make of people who make it a career to talk about politics and religion on public-access broadcasting. In my family, we always avoid two subjects at family gatherings: you guessed it, politics and religion.

Now, this could be because my immediate family and my extended family have somewhat different ideas on the subjects in question. My immediate family is pretty center/conservative, while my extended family is (for the most part) pretty liberal. While nobody except me is officially registered for a particular political party [side note: I only registered republican so I could have more power - in NY you can only vote in primaries if you register with the party ... not that I ever use it], pretty much everyone tends towards certain party lines. It makes for a lot of fightin' words - so we avoid it.

The reason we avoid talking about religion is because - inevitably - it leads back to politics. This both confuses me and pisses me off. I want my family to know the joys of following God and serving Him and fellow man. I want my family to understand grace and - to be blunt - I want to see them in heaven.

And yet they want nothing to do with the kingdom of heaven.

Why? It's because of the people that make religion - especially Christians and Muslims, as of late - into a joke. They make religion into something political, something involving the state, instead of something involving other people.

Now, it used to be that this was how it was supposed to be. In ancient Israel, church and state were invariably tied together - the sovereign ruler was also supposed to be the mouthpiece of God to His people. As it turns out, that's not always what happened, so God had to appoint prophets to talk to the ruler when the ruler strayed away from God. Case in point: David and Nathan (check out 2 Samuel and 1 Kings for the stories). Anyway, things have changed a little. Jesus came and knocked the whole system onto its face and said that a new age had dawned. No longer did the priests intervene for the people; rather, the people had to work out their salvation with God on their own (to find that God made it quite simple, really).

With this transformation, the state and church were separated. And then Constantine had to go and mess it up - Christianity became Christendom. My opinion? The church functions best when being openly persecuted. If someone in power decides that Christians should fight lions for the entertainment of the pagan masses, then in that state you'll find that those that declare themselves Christians really mean it.

I'm not suggesting we elect officials who will take away our religious freedom, it's quite a gift. But with that gift comes responsibility, a responsibility that Pat Robertson and his kind seem to have forgotten about. We are responsible to - without condemnation or judgement - be Jesus to the world. I can't imagine that includes condemning an elected official to assasination.

I feel bad for people like George W. Bush - they have the horribly complicated job of separating politics from religion in their own personal life. I respect him for such a struggle, for struggle he must. I'm also glad to find out that the white house called Robertson's comments "inappropriate" - the understatement of the day, for sure.

The irony? We're still being persecuted. The problem is that it's so much more suble these days. As in the first century, when persecution-by-lions didn't work, evil turned to persecution-by-power. Offer them pain, and if their faith is strong, good will prevail. Offer them power, and their greed will consume them.

Live Updates with Chris

So I have a bit of updating to do. I am currently writing on my new laptop which came about three days after the post where I worried about getting it. Yes, patience is a fickle thing, but well worth it: especially if you think you're going to get something in three weeks and get it in three days. Word.

Also, yesterday (August 22) was our first anniversary. It was of the flavor only Chris and Liz could devise: errands all morning, but dinner Australian-style (chicken, avocado, butter, and fries on bread - tasty beyond all reckoning) on the site of our first date - a hike in the woods at Onanda park. A-freakin-mazing evening.

Moving right along, I am the proud ... um ... owner ... of a new job. I've left my job at Cole & Parks to pursue my coffee-creating career at a slightly more local dining venture: the Muar House Cafe. Some of you might be wondering, "how does one pronounce this 'muar house' anyway?" If anyone isn't wondering, they should be - nobody is quite sure how it's pronounced, including the owners (all three say something different, and each is quite sure they are right). And so I leave you to ponder while I continue my tale.

I took the new job because my old one was getting a bit stuffy - you can't advance too far in a coffee shop, especially if you want lots more hours (from 10 per week moving to 40 per week). I had put in an app. to Muar House (didja get it yet?) a few months before on a whim, and, just when I thought I'd have to get a second job, I got a call from Mary at Muar and she asked me to take 40 hours a week. Can you say "perfect timing?" Can you say "Muar House?" Anyway, after agonizing over the decision for like, a day (hey, gotta be sure of these things, especially over an offer so tempting), I took the job. The bonus: it's ten minutes from home, instead of 30. Save on gas, get more hours, see my wife more (I know, weird right?). The only downfall is that Muar's espresso isn't nearly as good, not to mention that they have no idea how to make espresso drinks. Really. Don't go there for a latte; it doesn't taste as good as at C&P and yet costs the same.

But come there to visit me, I'm there from 9am till like, 2-6 (depending on the day) from M-F.

And that concludes today's updates with Chris. Back to planning for the worship team.

One year and counting ...

August 22, 2004 - August 22, 2005 ... and counting!
Happy first anniversary to the love of my life: Elizabeth, I love you!

August 1, 2005

Rushing Patience

You may recall a week or two ago, I wrote a piece about being patient. I talked about waiting to order this new laptop I want so badly. At the time, I figured that once the time was right, I'd order it and the waiting would be over.

I was wrong.

I ordered the laptop last tuesday when I discovered a one-day deal where I could get it 40% off. It was a once-in-a-great-while opportunity, one that my wife and I discussed and finally agreed to take. So, at the end of volleyball when my wrist was killing me from one too many (albeit amazing) serves, I pulled out my current laptop (yes, soon to be my wife's) and did the deed.

And it's still not here.

I went on the website thinking "What's up? I was patient, I waited a few months, why isn't it here yet?" Turns out that it's not scheduled for delivery until roughly August 16. I mean, damn, what's a guy gotta do to get what he wants without waiting forever?

So I guess my lesson on patience has been postponed ... or perhaps extended is a better word ... for a few weeks. Apparently I didn't get it quite right the first time.

July 26, 2005

Putting Money into my Mouth

So I've been doing a little thinking. I was in Crosswinds Downtown today, and got seriously pissed off. Ok, time for a little background.

Crosswinds Downtown is a pregnancy resource center and food pantry run by our church. People can come in to get food once a month, peer counseling, free pregnancy tests (walk-in or by appointment), take classes with a counselor to earn fake money to "buy" stuff from a large selection of baby clothes, diapers, formula, etc, OR any combination of the above. It's been growing a lot, at least in the number of clients that come in. It's open during the week for three hours each day, M,Tues,Thurs from 11-2 and Wed from 1-4.

That being the case, we were talking (after it closed for the day) about the volunteer situation. Or lack thereof. There's a ton of people going on vacation, which I understand, but the bad part is that there is nobody to take their place. We have a church of 1500 regular weekend attenders, and there aren't enough volunteers to take the places of 5 people for a month. As it is, they don't have any volunteers on mondays, and the people that do work there are burning out, bigtime.

Including the director and office manager, one of whom is my wife.

I couldn't help but notice that none of the staff of our church serve down there. I think two, maybe three of them served once each. But not regularly. This from a church that is a self-proclaimed "evangelistic" church. So I spent a lot of time getting really angry about it, ranting and raving with the director and office manager (and a volunteer who happend to be there, someone I'm pretty close to).

I got upset that the staff doesn't care enough about it to make regular visits (except our senior pastor, who goes down to meet with the director once a week) because they're always in meetings - lots and lots of meetings. I got upset that there aren't more volunteers. I got upset that there's so little funding being put into the place that they have to scrounge for money to buy groceries to even keep the food pantry running each day.

And then something happened which really upset me. God barged in on my little tirade and decided to put in His two cents. And ya know, it was one of those reality-checks for me (coming from God, it usually is). I suddenly realized that I must not care enough, because I don't really do a thing about it. I tell myself "you sacrifice your wife working there, isn't that a lot?" when really, I don't do anything about it at all.

So I'm going to start putting my money where my mouth is. I've decided to volunteer there once or twice a month (maybe more if I can manage it). But for those of you who read my blog and live in the area (whatever you do for church or religion or whatever), I urge you - please please PLEASE consider volunteering at Downtown. These people come to us because they need our help, and I ask you - do you care enough to spend even ONE day a month helping out?

I hate to say it, but I didn't. It's a bit embarrassing to say, but what matters is that I do now. Mondays and Tuesdays are the hardest days and are the days with the least amount of volunteers. You don't have to do too much, just come, there will be at least one other person there to teach you the ins and outs. Email Liz at downtown@crosswindsonline.org if you think you can help.

See you there.

July 21, 2005

A Picture of Beauty

So here it is ... the computer I'm waiting for. It's shiny. Shiny and beautiful. And shiny. And beautiful. Here are the specs, because I'm a nerd:
-2GHz Intel:Pentium M Centrino Processor [on a side note, I did a lot of research on this processor, and apparently this thing is amazing - it rivals the Pentium 4 3.2GHz processor, and works with lots less power to conserve battery without compromising performance. boo-yah, I can't wait to get this thing ...]
-1GHz 533MHz Ram [aka really fast]
-DVD/CD Burner/Player
-Firewire and USB-2.0
-15.4 inch widescreen [note: freakin' amazing]
-Windows XP: Media Center Edition, complete with remote control for the DVD player and media player
-Adobe Elements: Photoshop and Premiere (amazing picture and video editing software)


I can't wait. I get to do video editing, networking, watch movies, play games, and in general, enjoy myself way too much. Be jealous of me - very jealous (especially you poor apple users who have to suffice with the Mac OS and its wimpy one-button mouse). Ok, I'm really done now.

Summer Reading

I'm not used to reading a book and then highly recommending it to people, but I just finished one that really inspired me. So I thought, hey, I could make a nice little list of the books I really liked recently ... and so here I go:

Stephen Lawhead: Patrick
Amazing book, and the book I just finished this morning. Lawhead, once again (go find his Arthur series), takes history and tells it in his polished and thoughtful prose; this is the story of Saint Patrick. I've only heard it once before on a Veggie Tales video, but somehow this felt a little deeper. It's compelling, it's enriching, it's lots of other "-ings," and so you should go buy it. Now.

Donald Miller: Blue Like Jazz
The book that made me actually start to like my senior thesis. Before I read this, my thesis was just another project. Afterwards, my thesis became a piece of self-expressive art (maybe not good or comprehesible art, but art nevertheless). If you're having trouble understanding the postmodern shift, or if you're just up for a good read, find this and buy it. Miller takes us through his own transition from just another guy to a loyal disciple of Christ in his creative (if somewhat random) writing with story after story.


C.S. Lewis: Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold
Lewis is a master of storytelling, and this book was no different. I've always been a fan of Greek and Roman myth, but Lewis drew me into the story in a way I didn't know myth could. It was believable (it might have happened, the way he tells it), it was creative, and the metaphor fell into place as pieces of a puzzle reveal an intricate painting.

Stanley Grenz: A Primer on Postmodernism
The reason my thesis makes sense. Really. Miller made me buy into it and eventually consider myself a postmodern thinker, Grenz is the one who made me able to understand what in the world the secular postmoderns are saying. If you're really curious about the postmodern shift and want to read a concise explanation with all the theory (and don't feel like reading through Miller's occasional rambling), this is the book for you.

So there you have it, my four favorite books of the spring/summer so far. Next project:

Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch: The Shaping of Things to Come
It's by a pair of Australians who decided to write about the postmodern shift in their home country. Seeing as how I'm going to Australia to help start a postmodern church, and seeing as how Ruth (the pastor we're working with) highly recommended it, I'm going to tackle what looks like a long book. But I read fast, so ask me again in a month, and I'll tell you if I liked it.

July 13, 2005

On Patience

It's been far too long. I think I'm suffering from lack of writing time - sometimes I find myself considering all the things I could give up (food, sleep to get another job, my only phone, etc.) to get internet service back. Then I remember that I get it free if I just drive five minutes to church, I repent, and try to remember that this is really for the best.

And then I start the cycle again.

It's a funny thing, saving money. To fill you in, I've been trying to save up money to buy a new computer. The problem with my current computer is that it's just not cool enough anymore - my eye caught a new, shinier model on the Dell website and I can't resist. And, as it turns out, I want to learn video editing, which my current computer can't handle. So I made an excuse - I'm going to help plant a church to a tv-inspired generation and have to learn how to edit - and am trying to save money.

It's slow going. I mean, technically, I could just buy the stupid thing now (I'm sorry lappy, I don't mean to call you stupid! forgive me!) and be content with it. But that's if the money we have was only mine. It's not. I'm married, and that means I don't make decisions in a vacuum. Well, nobody does. But at least in my world, I can't even pretend it's a vacuum, because she'd get mad at me for telling her she sucks or something. In any case, the mandate is that we'll try to get it, but it'll have to be later when we've saved the money.

The good news is, we have some of it already. The bad news is, we don't have all of it, so I have to wait. Patience is not something I'm too keen on. I mean, if you're not born with the gift of patience, trying to learn it is like trying to carve a path wide enough for my santa fe through dense rainforest with only my swiss army knife.

I love my knife, but it's just not up to that one.

If anyone knows how to get some patience fast, it's information I'm willing to ... um ... ok, I really just want you to tell me. And quick, I don't know how much patience I've got.

June 19, 2005

To be a Worship Pastor

So as I mentioned in my last post, I got the chance to be a worship leader last weekend. Whether or not our church is desperate for people should be obvious, since I was onstage, but that's not the issue - I really enjoyed it, for the most part, and it was way cool to be back on stage playing and singing and leading people to worship the God of the universe.

That said, as I'm sitting in the worship arts office this morning, it made me think about the role of a worship leader. Why are we here? What are we supposed to do? What are our responsibilities?

I think the first thing is that worship leaders are here to not be noticed - it's on the list of "least prestigious jobs" ever, somewhere just ahead of "nursury worker" or "janitor" or "building committee secretary." At least, it's supposed to be, which doesn't (of course) mean that it always works out that way. Another way to say this is that worship leaders are here to point to God, to say "there's God, watch/worship/adore/praise/love Him!" and then go about what they were doing as people do that.


This means that people will never notice a worship leader. Just as my piddly attempt at composing in theory III pales in comparison to a Mozart symphony or a U2 concert, so does watching a worship leader (or even the whole worship team) pale in comparison to worshipping and watching and being loved by God. Why, then, would people want to watch the worship leader? Only one thing comes to mind - that the worship leader isn't pointing people towards God as he or she is supposed to. But they really look like they're leading worship.

It worries me that I got a lot of compliments last weekend - "oh you did so great!" or "it sounded phenomenal!" or "you guys looked so great up there, thanks for being back and leading worship again!" I mean, I felt great at first - who doesn't like compliments? - but the more I thought about it, the worse I felt. I was like ... did what I did detract from people noticing God? I mean, if I'd really led people towards God, I would think that I'd have heard comments like "man, worshipping God was awesome this morning, you wouldn't believe what He told me!" or "thanks for showing me towards God today, I got to talk to Him."

Or even ... "I hate you, why did you have to go and ruin my little secure bubble by allowing God into the room?" I think anything could really be better than "YOU did a good job" ... and no mention of why we were there.

What would a church be like if its worship leaders were dedicated to getting out of the way? What if they went into a service asking God "how can I point people towards you and not towards myself?" What would it look like if they did?

Just so we're clear, I'm not saying that it's always a show, nor am I saying that what we do doesn't impact some people in a positive way, inspiring them to meet God. I know of some people who really do meet God with the way we tend to do things.

I'm just saying we should always be striving to do it better.

June 15, 2005

Broken

Deliver me out of the sadness
Deliver me from all of the madness
Deliver me courage to guide me
Deliver me Your strength inside me
[David Crowder]

I wonder sometimes about the outcome
Of a still verdictless life
Am I livin' it right?
[John Mayer]

Two songs that have been high on my listening list as of late. It's been a few very trying weeks, and I'm not quite sure why. In some ways, its the uncertainty of the problem (meaning I have no idea what in the world is bothing me) that is so hard.

It makes for a very tense lifestyle ... I go to work slightly depressed, and I come home moreso, to be compounded by the fact that I just did about an hour of dishes (in addition to my other duties) and find that I have more to do at home. And life spirals farther downhill.

Why do we - I - as people get fixated so strongly on our emotions? I know that lots of guys tend to be very emotionless, but who are we kidding, right? We just bury them deep, hoping nobody will notice how sensitive we can really be, and eventually it will all come out in whatever form we tend to favor.

For me, it's moping. And I'll admit it, occasionally I cry. Like a girl.

Please stop laughing at me.

I feel terribly sorry for my wife right now, because I know she's been entirely puzzled by my mood for the past three weeks. And so I begin a new journey forward, struggling with the brokenness which I unwittingly prayed for and now find myself desperately recanting. How could I have been so dumb? I felt so secure in my relationships with God and family and friends, and then I went and ruined it by wanting something deeper.

Trust me, if you ever find yourself praying or singing about brokenness, please know - it's going to be hard, and that goes for everybody - because brokenness leads to wisdom, and that's a request that God always grants.

June 14, 2005

An Update

So lots has not happened (and continued to not happen) since the last time I posted. Honestly. I feel like I've done very little in a week. I've done some unpacking, a bit of graphic design, led three worship services (this past weekend, with my wife), mostly worked my butt off at the cafe, but ...

We have our first (official) donor! Which is absolutely fantastic, the couple are friends of ours, and so it's always nice to know you have the support of your friends.

Anyway, that's where we are right now. Mostly busy running around with the randomness that is my life. Time to focus on some important stuff now: back to web design.

June 6, 2005

Pining

Lack of internet access is going to be the end of me.

My new apartment is in the basement of my inlaws' house, and that means no readily available access to the internet. At least, not on an instantaneous basis like I've been used to for the last four years. I've become soft or something.

It's amazing what getting used to having something does to a guy. Suddenly you start feeling like this isn't just a perk, isn't just a benefit of being where you are, isn't a luxury item ... it becomes a need. Suddenly you feel like hey, I deserve this, I can't live without it, I'll give anything for five minutes online!

Pathetic, isn't it?

And I really feel like that sometimes. And so begins my trial by fire, my "burning" (as
Stace calls it). How long can I go between times online? Aka, how many hours can I go without pining to check my email?

...

June 2, 2005

Moving Day

My function in life has decidedly changed as of late. Before, I was a husband, a student, a part-time employee at a coffee shop, and every so often, a musician, in that order. But since graduating, my priorities seem to have taken a bit of a mix up, sort of a “shaken, not stirred” kind of deal.

These days, I’ve noticed my life revolving more around the husband, lifter-of-heavy-things, carpenter, slightly more part-time employee of a coffee shop (now we call it a “cafĂ©”), an amateur musician, and a student of … life … (a scholar?) in that order.

Even as I’ve written this, I’ve done all sorts of things – I’ve hung a flyswatter (“honey, I need a nail!”), I’ve taken the materials out and put them away, I’ve thought about my next project (installing some shelves into the bathroom), decided to ignore said project, tried to help with dinner, gotten in the way, and hoped my wife will finish dinner soon because my stomach can’t take it much longer.

Moving is not easy.

To begin with, you have to put everything into boxes. No, check that, to begin with, you have to go get a lot of boxes from your local whole-sale store (for us it was BJ’s), cart them home, get them into the house, and then put your lifetime accumulations of stuff in them. Then you have to put all those boxes back into your car (and three other of your finest friends’ cars – finest friends because they helped you move the heavy boxes) and cart them off to your new abode. Then you go get the rest of the stuff that doesn’t fit into boxes, like the couch, the bed, the bookshelves, the table … the list goes on … and bring that down.

Then you try to cram it all in. Space is short, as are tempers and emotions, and you pray to God that your marriage survives something as simple as moving from point A to point B.

The next two weeks are spent asking “do we really need this?” through everything you own, and trying to look as far down the road as possible to see if you do, in fact, really need that. Then you throw out or donate all the stuff you decide you don’t need, and probably a few other things.


And then you spend all of monday afternoon slacking off. It's a beautiful thing.

May 23, 2005

Provisions

So it's been a while. And there's a good reason for that - I've been away. It started with graduation (yes, I'm actually a B.A. with honors now), and then we had a trip to Indianapolis for some training at Global Partners because ... we're going to Australia! It's official! Then to Rhode Island to my Aunt's surprise 50th birthday party. And let me tell you, it's been a killer week. Not so much in the "hey, I loved this week, it was killer" sort of way, but ...

I spent the week mostly tired all the time. I got very little sleep starting the night before gradgitation, and it turned into a theme for the rest of the week. [sidenote: I can't believe I just typed "gradgitation" for public consumption]. But while I'm still very tired, I've spent the week constantly amazed at God's amazing ability to just ... provide.

It started with the lack of sleep thing. I almost fell asleep during Graduation because a) I'd gotten two hours of sleep the night before, and b) the speakers droned. Really. I mean, they just talked about nothing for about an hour and a half while we had to sit there in the sun instead of playing in said sun (for those of you who don't live near here, Rochester doesn't get much sun - second only to Seattle in the nation when rated for cloudiness, FYI). Then the rest of the week I got maybe 5 hours a night because of the various elements of being on the road, working on "homework" for training, etc.

And yet I stayed awake. Even better, I managed to learn a TON at the training.

Next I noticed that God's got this habit of providing for me in lots of other ways too. Mostly I noticed it financially. We have to raise this butt-load of money for our mission trip. I mean, a real whopper of a check to write; apparently the cost of living is repugnently high in Melbourne, at least by Rochestarian standards. Which is not to say they live extravagant lives, just to say that everything costs too much, sort of like Boston or LA. But then we find out that my wife's old mission fund is still open and has almost 1/6 of our goal already in it! [sidenote: this doesn't mean we don't need your help, so if you feel like donating to the cause, we'd love your financial support.] [other sidenote: we also need prayer support and help with communication to our sponsors, so if you'd like to do that, we'd love that help too.]

God amazes me. Seriously amazes me.

It's like He's whispering the whole time "just wait, I'll give you great reasons to trust me." If I had any doubts that we're supposed to go to Melbourne, they've been summarily eilminated, one by one, as God continues to pull one miracle after another from out of His seemingly endless sleeve. It's quite the feeling, knowing God is on your side. Exhilerating, captivating, and entirely motivating - I can't wait to start on the mission trail.

But first, this pesky business of moving has to bee taken care of. So without further ado, I go to pack more boxes ...

May 12, 2005

By Their Love

So just to follow up with my last post, I've been thinking some more about it (including a few mental pokes from Greg) and I'd like to clarify something.

What I wrote was an investigation into why it is that men don't tend to find themselves involved in the institutional church. What's interesting is the self-fulfilling prophesy that happens. Guys are told "you're not Christian because you don't come to this event we call 'church'" and what happens? The guys think they're not part of the church, think they're not Christian, and perhaps begin to stop BEING Christians. Because Christianity is not a religion - it's a relationship. And if these guys stop pursuing that relationship with God because they think they're not a part of it, whose fault is that?

I guess maybe my point is that we've started excluding lots of people - mostly guys - from the body because we make the church to be a place/event instead of that organism of people, and so we say "ah, you go to a lot of church events, you must be Christian" instead of "ah, you live the life, you have a relationship with Jesus, we know you're Chrsitian because you love so well." Church is not an institution - it's a group of people, a community of believers who all have relationships with Jesus. We've given up communicating to build community and instead, gone and started categorizing people, which really just boxes God in. We've created our own formula instead of being as inclusive as possible - like Jesus did.

Now, I'm not arguing for relativism here. Relativism is saying "everyone is in, because every path goes to God!" It's just as judgemental as saying "you're not going to heaven" because it claims to have the answer. I'm not saying that. We've been told the answer - Jesus is the way - but frankly, we don't know WHO knows Jesus. I'm saying we shouldn't judge - we don't decide who gets to heaven, we just know how they get there. There's a whole lotta difference (and yet a fine line) between "judging" and "discerning." Our responsibility is NOT to say "you are a good/bad follower of Jesus." Really, it's not.

The problem comes when we have to decide who is supposed to do X for the "organization." Does Bob lead worship this weekend, or does Vivian? Do I ask Jane to do the finances or do I ask Freddy? And in light of the fact that suddenly we're not supposed to say "you're a Christian" ... what do we do?

We discern. We love. We obey.

Great Chris, thanks for trying to confuse me, I'm going to go read another blog.

I don't mean to give the same old answers, but frankly, there's more to them than meets the eye. I think discernment has more to do with making your best guess than some strange divinely-revealed formula. I mean, you ask God, and assuming He tells you "this is what you should do," you go with that. But that's more like letting God do the work, and so if you can get away with that, sweet. But if God says "you pick," you have to discern - use your best judgement, as long as you don't judge. And it might work out, it might not. But it's not going to be 100% certain - because I don't think that certainty is the point anymore.

God is all that is certain.

We are told we can know Christians "by their love." And "love is patient, kind, never vaunted up with pride, never thinks of itself, always sides with truth." So maybe instead of judging people, we're supposed to love them unconditionally, as Christ did. You can't judge someone if you're too busy loving them unconditionally. And when we love, we obey. And the world suddenly gets just a little better.

May 10, 2005

The (Fe)male Church

So I've spent some time thinking about it, and I'm still no closer to a conclusion as to why in the world there are more women in church than men. I talked with Greg about it a bit, and he said that church isn't really a time or place, but a group of people. Ok. It's a good answer, a correct answer, and a good start, but not quite what I'm getting at. And so far, nobody else has tried their hand at answering the question: why is it that this group of people (a good start, again) is made up mostly of women these days, not men? I'm told this is true for the first century church as well, and for the church through history in general: women make up a larger portion of the body of Christ than men do.

And it makes no kinda sense to me. I mean a) I'm a guy, b) I believe in Jesus, and c) I have plenty of guy friends who are Christians too. But plenty more that are of the female persuasion. So I figured I'd try to sort it out by writing about it.

Ok. So let's see. Here are the options that I could think of:
1) women are smarter than men, and are naturally drawn to the truth because, well, it's true.
2) men are more rebellious than women, and will therefore run from truth more often.
3) God likes women better, so He predestined more of them.
4) there's something about the church that attracts women but not men. aka women are more relational than men, and find those relationships in the church, whereas men need solo time with God and find it on the golf course.
5) there are just as many men as women that are part of the church, but the men just don't go to an organized religious gathering but women do.
6) Christianity is false and women buy into the whole "connection" mumbo-jumbo that Jesus supposedly taught easier than men do.

I think I'll stop coming up with bogus ideas, because while those are certainly possibilities, I'm killing myself to find a legitimate answer. Ok, so let's go through them and maybe some new (better) ones will flush out as I think.

1) women are smarter than men, and are naturally drawn to the truth because, well, it's true.
Lots of discussion has been had about this, mostly at coctail parties and in high school cafeterias. And at weddings, lots of this at weddings. Because you have to wonder, is it something about the people? I don't think so, most researchers would say that women and men have about the same mental capacity in a relative sort of way. I mean, I'm not nearly as smart as most of my women professors, but then again, I'm not as smart as most of my men professors. In fact, UR has about a 50/50 split of women and men in academic careers. Ok. Next.

2) men are more rebellious than women, and will therefore run from truth more often.
A distinct possibility. In Eden (not to be confused with Edam, a sort of cheese), Eve was tempted by the serpent, but Adam was asked by Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit. He had a choice - does he refuse and know that something will come between him and his woman, or does he agree and drive a spike between him and God? Obviously we know which one he chose, and that legacy has been a problem for men ever since - and this could certainly play a role in the truth. Ok, so maybe a better label for this is "men inheret a legacy of rebellion from Adam". Moving on ...

3) God likes women better, so He predestined more of them.I like women better than men too, but for a different reason. Right. So this is totally bogus, since I don't really agree with the Calvinist definition of "predestination," but rather with C.S. Lewis' understanding of it: Predestination is the same as free will, which is way confusing and frankly causes more mental problems than any other theological debate I can think of. Point being, I think God likes everyone, and so women are just as important as men are just as important as women and so on and so forth.

4) there's something about the church that attracts women but not men, aka women are more relational than men, and find those relationships in the church, whereas men need solo time with God and find it on the golf course.Possible. Very possible. I'd make this argument more valid if I had asked the question in a local context, rather than the historical context in which I framed it. If the church lately had been more laden with women (which it is), it would make sense, because the new culture IS very relational and women ARE very relational and it all kinda works out. Guys like golf, I'm pretty sure that it's got nothing much to do with God when they go out and swing clubs at little white balls. Maybe God likes golf too, I dunno. But the church, as of late, has made a much larger appeal to men because it offers a sort of ritualistic feel that men tend to find appealing - "just come on sunday and that will fulfill your religious obligations for the week." This is the case for evangelicals AND catholics AND orthodox AND mainline protestants alike. But the church hasn't been that way always - the medieval church was very much like that, but pretty much everyone was "Christian" (by force, I guess), so that's not very helpful. The first-century church was very relational and communal but not very ritualistic, and it appealed more to women than men - case in point, Perpetua and Felicitas, especially because Jesus treated women way better than his contemporaries. I'd say this one has a lot of weight to go towards the explanation.

5) there are just as many men as women that are part of the church, but the men just don't go to an organized religious gathering but women do.
Again, maybe. I guess this is a question of definition - how do you define "religious" or "Christian" or whatever. Furthermore, how do you tell if someone is really into their faith or not. Some people are way into "Jesus-talk" but really don't show too many spiritual signs (they just like the lingo), and some really aren't into "Jesus-talk" at all but live out their faith every day and do so with incredible stamina. So which is it? I'm thinking that this is again, a possible explanation - men really don't tend to like the community thing as much as women do - but only in part, because lots of organizations (like in business) have more men than women.

6) Christianity is false and women buy into the whole "connection" mumbo-jumbo that Jesus supposedly taught easier than men do.
Um, no.

Ok, so that's all I've got. Here's what I'm thinking: men are less relational than women are, and combined with their inherited legacy of rebellion from Adam, men are less likely to be a part of the church. The small-group entities appeal to women because that's what women (in general) really like - a place to be with friends. Guys don't like talking as much, they like doing - and so they won't want to be part of small groups, they'd rather be part of a habitat for humanity project where they get to help somebody. The question is, which is more spiritual? Frankly, I'd say you need a little of both, but if you got a guy to come to a project, he'd probably be more likely to come to a small group occasionally.

To be sure, the church has been very much a theoretical entity as of late - they talk a lot about love and such things (which women like to hear, and then get together in small groups and talk more about it), but don't necessarily SHOW such things (which is how men tend to function - on a DOING level).

I've written too much already, so please, I'd like to continue this discussion, but I need input - what do you all think?