November 30, 2007

Onward and Upward

I wrote this paper for VOM. Sorry it's been a while, but I've been busy with papers, reading, thanksgiving travels, more papers, more reading, the usual. Thought you all might like a peep into my recent line of thinking. Actually, what I've really been thinking about is due next week, and I'll post that when I'm done (decentralized church ... don't worry, it's way more interesting than it sounds). Cheers!

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What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if people claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save them? ... In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. ... As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
[James 2:14, 17-18, 26, TNIV]

It seems that a lot of people like to read theology, talk about theology, write about theology for other people to read and talk about. They go to church on Sundays; they are good volunteers on the worship team or in the church office. Sometimes they like to tell the occasional coworker why they give up Wednesday evening for a small group bible study. But it seems there are fewer and fewer people these days who live out what they say they believe. I can say this because I think that a lot of the time, I’m one of those people – I’ve done all of those things. I’m not sure if it’s simply because I’m a human being and it’s just built into the structure of the world I live in, or maybe it’s because of some inherited sin condition, or maybe it’s just me. What I do know is that it’s there and it’s something that has to be dealt with in the most final of ways in order to be moving closer to God, not away. But to ‘deal with’ this problem, however one speaks of it, is no small matter, for movement towards God is about moving towards the character of Christ [1]. This life of integrity can be summed up along a path of four virtues: Wisdom, Fortitude, Temperance, and Justice. They are expressions, if you like, of three virtues described in scripture: faith, hope, and love [2]. If personal and social holiness are to be found, it is in the outward expression of these virtues, and it is from these that one develops a life of integrity.

Wisdom

I remember, as a teenager, praying for wisdom almost nightly. Not that the two are equivalent, but this might explain why I have spent so much of my life searching for knowledge; I was taught that knowledge leads to wisdom, through experience. I always loved Solomon’s story, how he prayed for Wisdom and how God told him that this was a right and true prayer, and granted his request [3]. Then I found out that God would answer that prayer with a very definitive ‘yes’ to anyone that would ask it of Him [4].

It strikes me as ironic, that after all of Solomon’s mistakes, after all of his experiences experimenting in different religions, with different sorts of living, that he still came back, in the end, to God. After all his searching, God was still the answer to all of his questions. In the end, all of his experiences, all of the things he had learned about the world, still pointed back to the truth of God, the I Am. And after all my years of learning (ok, all twenty-four of them), of seeking new understandings of the world, I too continue to turn back to God with my questions. If this be the bud of wisdom beginning to bloom, then I don’t know if I’m ready to accept it yet: like Solomon, I feel like there are still more places to search, more questions to ask, a sense of “not knowing” as Dr. Martyn so eloquently put it [5]. And yet, I think this also marks the true disciple; a person who seeks truth all of his days. Jesus said, “go and make disciples of all nations [6].” What is a disciple if not a seeker? One who is not contented with merely knowing of God, but wishes to know God, who in faith steps out beyond the boundaries of what his elders have told him to be true and seeks God with all his heart and soul and mind and strength. This, I believe, must be the beginning of my walk towards holiness. It will never be the end (for it is a lifetime journey of itself), but it is a glorious place to start.

Fortitude

As my wife and parents can attest, I am a terrible liar. You’d think, by now, I’d have learned not to lie at all because I’m so bad at it. It might be because my emotions tend to be written all over my face. In a journey towards God, fortitude – strength of character, honesty, integrity, and ultimately the courage to do what is right – is next. With wisdom, even in its infancy, comes an acute awareness of one’s responsibility. Yes, there is responsibility with wisdom, for what one does with it shows his character! It is through the experiences that foster wisdom that one will learn to trust God.

I lived in Melbourne for a year, and in that year I believe I experienced the true nature of fortitude far more than I ever had in my previous twenty-three years on this earth. In my time there, I depended on God far more than I ever had before. I remember the first two weeks there, how scared I was, to the point I refused to leave the house of our host family unaccompanied. It’s remarkable how fear can grip a person, bind him until he can’t even move. I remember one day, my wife wanted to go buy something at a local mall, and it took me two whole hours to work up the courage to go with her without our Australian friends to guide us. It took everything I had – and I’m quite sure, lots of God’s energy – but I went (after two hours sitting idle on a mattress attempting to garner the courage to even stand up). It was a turning point for me. I realized that I could depend on God. It’s something I had known, in my head, but I hadn’t really known. For all of the times when God had come through financially for us in the past, for all the times somebody had said it to us in a sermon or over coffee, for all the times I’d read it in a book, I had never really known God’s faithfulness.

After that, so much began to fall into place; little things, like trying new kinds of pizza that wasn’t simply plain cheese (it turns out that Hawaiian pizza is my favorite, followed closely by a BBQ-sauce-based Chicken pizza), and bigger things, like volunteering at a social poverty alleviation center in the central business district, a place way outside my comfort zone [7]. But through all of this, God was faithful, and I learned a thing or two about Him I hadn’t known before; and with that came fortitude, courage: the knowledge that fear cannot drive me. I still struggle with this but when I do I can look back on my time in Melbourne and remember, and know that the present trial will soon be conquered (that this too shall soon pass), and God will once again prove that He is faithful [8]. Fortitude is the act of looking back to the past to remember God’s faithfulness and allowing it to build a hope for the future by driving away fear, that He will once again prove His faithfulness.

Temperance

From fortitude comes temperance, an awareness of the need for balance in one’s life. It is with this that I currently struggle the most. God has proven faithful, but now I must prove myself faithful to Him in my personal life. Do I take four courses next semester or three? Will I ever exercise again? Will I have time for the job to which I’ve committed myself? For my family? For my music? For silence? For God? [9]

Reflecting, I have always struggled with balance, as do we all. There are often days that are filled to the brim with activities, and I simply cannot spare a second thought for anything outside those tasks. But there are also other days abundant in time. Balance, I’ve learned, must be achieved holistically, over time. My wife and I agreed that Sundays will not be spent with schoolwork of any sort, nor with jobs of any sort. Earlier this year, I quit my second job because it was interfering with this policy, and I must say, it has helped immensely. But still, balance often eludes me. It is easy to fill the void left by jobs with something else, anything; stillness is so hard to come by in American life. I detest silence. But as a musician I should know better; the only reason music can be moving is because there are times without music, without sound. Each note is surrounded by silence, making the note special, unique, pure. It is from the balance between sound and silence that art, beauty, and truth emerge. The path of holiness must then incorporate temperance into its fold; for example, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve stopped working on this paper to help my wife with one thing or another. Pardon me, I have to go help her with something else.

Justice

There’s this family, good friends of mine, who uprooted themselves and moved to Thailand to work with the Karen refugees out of Burma. When I think of justice, I think of Ruth and Colin and their four kids; they, every day, live out that passage in Micah that has become so famous these days but so meaningful to the six of them [10]. I remember hearing Ruth say that verse, with her wonderful Aussie accent, and wondering what it would look like to see such a person. And then the Harrisons just up and did it.

I think justice is probably the hardest of the virtues to live out. That’s not to say that wisdom or fortitude or temperance are easy – by no means – but that is to say that justice deals with an area of society – especially American society – that is very uncomfortable for me and for a lot of people [11]. It is through justice that the other three virtues find their way beyond the self; in fact, it might be said that justice is so hard for the very reason that it deals with people that are not ME. But a life of holiness means death to self. If I were to characterize the imitation of Jesus in one word, it would be “justice” because of the four virtues, justice is most like the accounts of Jesus in the scriptures. Sure, Jesus is described as wise, as being of noble character, and of achieving a balance in his life equal to none. But Jesus, more than anything, practiced justice with every waking breath. He healed lepers and forgave prostitutes and ate with tax collectors in a time when those were socially forbidden. He practiced an unconditional love towards anybody within earshot, and ultimately, for everyone on the planet, who ever was, and will ever be. A life of justice is this sort of life; a life of faith, lived outside of myself trusting that God will take care of me as I take care of others with little regard for my own safety. It means a life of hope, allowing hope to kindle inside of me as I bring the hope of the gospel – tangible and in words – to the world. And it means a life of unconditional love, loving those who are unlovable, loving even my enemies.

As Erwin McManus says, “we die first, so that we may then live [12].” For me, it means that I have to stop thinking first of myself before I think of others, a daily process at which I more often fail than succeed. As little as two months ago, it meant little things like getting out of bed at 4am because the baby was crying (so my wife could sleep). Now it means spending more time with my family when I haven’t had a day to myself in weeks. In the future it may mean more than this: it might mean uprooting my family of comforts to spend time with the poor in the inner city, it might mean moving to Bangalore or Changdeh or San Francisco or Bong Ti to work with the poor or with refugees [13]. Sacrifice is a part of every calling, but as a Christian, I am called to practice justice wherever I go.

Onward and Upward: Towards Humility

Ultimately the quest for truth is never a linear process. One does not stop growing in wisdom as one begins the journey towards fortitude; all four are simultaneous, feeding off of one another (for example, I can both practice wisdom and learn it as I practice –and thus learn – justice). In this quest to imitate the triune God (and in so doing grow in relationship with Him), the greatest ally will be humility. In humility we reach beyond ourselves to God [14]. In humility we deny ourselves and serve others. It is in humility, I believe, that the four virtues are fully expressed. In humility, we stand naked before the throne of God, all our faults and sins laid bare, and in that place we are made whole, and take a step closer to the life that is the imitation of Jesus.




[1] Ephesians 5:1-2.

[2] 1 Corinthians 13:13.

[3] 1 Kings 3:1-15.

[4] James 1:5.

[5] Martyn, Stephen. Vocation of Ministry, lecture dated October 17, 2007.

[6] Matthew 28:19.

[7] The place was called “Urban Seed,” and they give a free lunch to anybody that will come. It’s a remarkable place, and you can regularly see lawyers eating with heroin addicts.

[8] I could tell you of India, a trip I’m going on in January, and how nervous I am on some days. Sometimes I worry that it will be just like Melbourne was, at the start. But I also remember that I have learned much from Melbourne, and that usually is enough to help me assuage my fears, to pray that God will once again work within me, to transform me, to show me His faithfulness again in new ways that I can once again remember for the future.

[9] I found a statement of Ruth Barton’s most comforting: “When we pay attention to our longing and allow questions about our longing to strip away the outer layers of self-definition, we are tapping into the deepest dynamic of the spiritual life. The stirring of spiritual desire indicates that God’s Spirit is already at work within us, drawing us to himself. We love God because he first loved us.” Sacred Rhythms, pg. 25.

[10] Micah 6:8, TNIV: "And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

[11] While my current struggle is one for balance, I do find that, since justice is somewhat dependent upon a balance in one’s life, expressing this virtue has yet eluded me in conscious thought and deed. This is not to say I haven’t practiced justice, but it does mean that I’m not entirely aware of the times I have.

[12] McManus, Erwin. “The Character Matrix”. Willow Creek Leadership Conference DVD, 2003

[13] I can’t say for sure what it will mean, since God has not yet revealed my calling.

[14] Ethridge, Shannon. Every Woman’s Battle, pg. 139.


November 17, 2007

November 15, 2007

Mother India

I've been listening to the Caedmon's Call album "Share the Well" a bunch lately. There's one song in particular that's been resonating with me, and I thought I'd share the lyrics with you.


Mother India
by Caedmon's Call

Father God, you have shed your tears for Mother India
They have fallen to water ancient seeds
That will grow into hands that touch the untouchable
How blessed are the poor, the sick, the weak

Father, forgive me, for I have not believed
Like Mother India, I have groaned and grieved
Father, forgive me, I forgot Your grace
Your Spirit falls on India and captured me in Your embrace

The Serpent spoke and the world believed its venom
Now we're ten to a room or compared to magazines

Father, forgive me, for I have not believed
Like Mother India, I have groaned and grieved
Father, forgive me, I forgot Your grace
Your Spirit falls on India and captured me in Your embrace

There's a land where our shackles turn to diamonds
Where we trade in our rags for a royal crown
In that place, our oppressors hold no power
And the doors of the King are thrown wide

Father, forgive me, for I have not believed
Like Mother India, I have groaned and grieved
Father, forgive me, I forgot Your grace
Your Spirit falls on India and captured me in Your embrace

November 13, 2007

Dangerous Videos

Ok, so I know, I'm very busy and have no time. Liz is gone in Indianapolis this week and so I'm spending the week working hard. I got two papers back, major papers, and am happy to say that I'm pleased - ecstatic, actually - about the grades I received on both of them. Dr. West even wanted a copy of my cultural journey paper for future class discussions. I might edit it based on his comments and post it here eventually. Anyway, in the absence of time for decent writing, here are more videos I've discovered recently you might enjoy. I leave their interpretation up to you. Cheers.

[The Management]



Via Hamo


And other dangerous videos I've seen lately:








November 3, 2007

Uber Cuteness

Rori had her first playtime today. By that, I mean today was the first time she played with any of her toys ... and somehow I was lucky enough to have my video camera on hand. Seriously, this is huge, I never have my video camera ready for this stuff. Anyway, this is mostly for the Grandparents and family, but I reckon there are a few others out there that'll find this more cuteness than they can handle.

You've been warned.