Monday, August 25, 2008

The Great Let Down

There is this extremely difficult part about being a youth pastor, or minister of any sort for that matter, when things that people always believed to be true, begun to be deconstructed before their eyes. It's like a horrible break up crumbling before you, something you thought was real isn't. It was fake, a facade, to the point you almost feel stupid for believing it in the first place.
The past month I have been teaching my students about Jesus as healer. When looking for worship music to go along with the teaching I stumbled upon Hillsong's powerful song, titled Healer. I even explained the dramatic story of the writer having cancer, and trusting God for healing in his life... only... to get a rude awakening. He faked his cancer. All of it.
Do I know his motives? No. I have no idea if he was trying to make a quick buck off of a vulnerable crowd with a moving story. I don't know if he just had an extremely bad lapse of judgment. I have no idea. I do know what he did was wrong, and that he is paying the brutal consequences of the choices he has made.
I've read many blogs on the topic. From how horrible it is that someone would defame the name of Christ like that, to how we should extend grace and love to someone who is in a tight situation. I honestly think he's felt enough consequences to his action, and Christ will certainly be the judge of his decisions and heart. Thus, that is not my struggle.
My struggle is, what do you tell a youth group who already struggles with concepts of trust? Who already have admitted to doubting so much about God because church people are hypocrites and liars?
I think I have to take the role Donald Miller took in Blue Like Jazz. Set up a confession both to confess our sins as Christians. We have such a shoddy past. The evils of the crusades and the Spanish inquisition. Tele-evangelist who claim to heal your pain, if only you just send them $20. Those who serve Christ on Sunday, and walk out and deny him on Monday. The fact that the divorce rate is as high in the church as outside of the church. The horrifying truth that the pornography bought on pay-per-view is higher in hotels during pastor conferences than any other time of the year. I just want to apologize for all of it, and add to this list someone's obvious blatant misuse and representation of worship. This isn't Jesus. These are people, who desperately need Jesus.
Such horrible things have been done in the name of Christ. We just have to apologize, look forward, and run the race set before us. Love God and love others. They are going to have to see Christ by our love, not our hate, our violence, our greed. They are going to have to see Jesus through the sincerity of our words, and the truth that even when people fail us, Christ never does.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

God outside the Practical

I've been told, and I believe, that God's timing is perfect. That has seemed a little odd over the last few days, as it seems His timing has been anything but perfect.... if only I had stayed in Illinois through August... if only my class were a week later than it was... if only...
Maybe it's my timing that is completely off. My perspective of His timing is so limited. So finite. What I see as an inconvenience and a frustration, may be God's way of providing something for me that I need that I don't even realize I need. Time, space, distance. Maybe those things aren't bad.
I've had a lot on my mind and heart lately. Trying to sort through these details of timing. Trying to sort through what everything means. Weighing the pros and cons of a life vastly different than the one I have known these last few years. Weighing in the heartache and hard work, as well as the benefits and joys.
What's the right decision? I don't know if there is necessarily a wrong one. Practically, this is a bad time. A super bad time, but I've discovered that God very rarely checks his plan at the gate called practical. That's not how things always work. Sometimes we just have to jump and trust that he's either going to catch us or give us wings to fly.
I think I want to jump.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Church is a Whore

Cynicism tends to plague me. Maybe it's the common thread that binds all 20 somethings, who discover the church, the world, people they love, are so far from what youthful idealism painted them as.
Though I don't think my cynicism is always misplaced, or has come about for no reason, it is often a barrier and a coping mechanism that is effective at its best, and destructive at it's worst.
My cynicism with the church stems back far however. Far into the very reaches of my childhood when I first ever interacted with the church. I understood Christianity to be a faith that follows Jesus. That if you call yourself a Christian, then you look like Jesus. Jesus fed the hungry, so Christians would do the same. Jesus had compassion to the very depth of him (actually the greek word is from the bowels, which is where the Jews thought the center and reality of a person was... we say heart, they said bowels) thus one who follows Jesus must have compassion until it hurts. Jesus wept over the hurting people around them, thus a Christian must weep over the hurting. Jesus was killed because he stood up to a religious and political system that was corrupt and hypocritical, thus a Christ follower must not be silent when the church is in err or political systems are oppressive. Jesus allowed himself to be killed because of his great love for us, thus we must allow ourselves to endure immense pain, ridicule, possibly even death, to illustrate his love to others through us.
Though my understanding of the church is one in which most people would nod their head in agreement, most people don't exhibit a life that agrees at all. The most common question I get as a youth pastor from youth is "if church people supposedly follow Jesus, then why do they hate so much? Why are they so critical? Why do they back stab and gossip? Why are they pro-war? Why do they scream at women who are about to have an abortion versus embracing them? Why are they so cruel to homosexuals? Why do they think God loves America more than everyone else? Why do they believe they are better than everyone else? Aren't they supposed to love? Aren't they supposed to embrace? Aren't they supposed to turn the other cheek, walk an extra mile, give someone their undergarments when someone asks for their tunic? Aren't they supposed to change the world with the faith of a mustard seed? With the love of God? With the faith and obedience of a child?"
What would you say to that? I tell them I'm sorry. That they are right. That Christians have done a really horrible job of exhibiting the love of Christ. That Christians really don't exhibit many of the qualities that Jesus spoke of... that Christians are rarely poor of spirit, that they rarely hunger and thirst after righteousness, that they rarely do good unto the least of these (unless it's for a tax right-off), that they would rarely sell all they have and give it to the poor, that they very rarely are 100% dependent on God, for material, for emotional, for spiritual, and for physical needs, and that they are often back biting instead of being part of the redemptive work of Christ.
However, I also tell them that I have seen it though. Rare as it is. That people like Mother Teresa lived that way. People like Dorothy day. Martin Luther King Jr. was preached against in the church all the time as sinning for not "submitting to the authorities", but was carrying on a tradition of speaking for those who could not speak for themselves, something ingrained into the message of the OT. Shane Claiborne lives in Philadelphia, and has been arrested on multiple occasions for caring about the plight of the homeless, for pushing for affordable health care and housing... he's even went to Iraq at the start of the war, to show people that Jesus is the prince of peace, even amidst the bombings of their homes and hospitals. It is rare... very rare... but I also believe that when scripture says the way is narrow, Jesus didn't mean "until you come up with seeker sensitive movements to make it wide so that all may enter!" I think he truly meant that it is a hard road. That it is easier to jump on the bandwagon of a Jesus who saves us, and forgives us, without taking up his cross and following in his footsteps which lead to a place where we must die.
The imagery of carrying Christ cross isn't a mistake. An instrument of torture was never meant to be a pretty necklace we wear around our neck, but a tool of which we would die on. Something that we carry, not to carry, but with the intention of dying for the same reasons, the same causes, the same heart that Jesus had. A heart that cries and mourns over lost people. A reason that all people are of value and madly loved by God, regardless of their sexual orientation, their nationality, their choices in life (remember, ALL have sinned). A cause that says we will not bow down to the constructs and systems of Rome, but will usher in a new kingdom, a kingdom that doesn't end, a kingdom that can be experienced here and now, and one day will be fully actualized, the kingdom of God. Dying for a freedom that transcends nation, creed, value system... to pledge allegiance to the ONLY person worth pledging allegiance to, the King of Glory.
But like I said... I'm cynical. A lot of times I doubt if its even possible to see the church reformed in such a way. To see Christians actually be... well... Christians. Because most Christians disregard me. They tell me I'm idealistic, and that that will wear off with time. That Jesus only said to sell all and give to the poor to one man (keep in mind he only said John 3:16 to one man too, but everyone seems to like that a lot more than selling everything, but like Rich Mullins said, that's why we have high lighters so we can keep the parts we like and ignore the rest). They tell me I'm radical, or too liberal, or too literal. That I may have a degree and have taken a million bible classes, but I'm missing the point. I've even been told that my belief and pursuit of holiness is more radical and set apart than even the church (which claims to be a holiness church) wants to call people too. I've been told that drinking on occasion is a greater sin than being a shopaholic and buying shoes that support a system of systemic evil, in which that kid was beaten and bruised so I could have my awesome new kicks, and then not buy my kids food because I spent it on shoes. I've been told that being gluttonous and eating so much accompanied with laziness, is not as great a sin as having dancing at a wedding.
Maybe that's why I'm cynical. Maybe I'm cynical because the church seems so full of incongruence's to me. God loves those we say he loves. God punishes the sins we say are sins. God blesses us the way we want blessings....
St. Augustine was right "The church is a whore, but she is my mother." Thus, I will love her. Thus, I will cherish her. Thus, I will strive to see the church become what it should always be. Despite my cynicism I still believe the church is the avenue through which God works, and I still believe for all its faults there is still hope that the bride of Christ will wear white at the great wedding.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cheap Grace

There are many heroes of the faith that I have. Among them are Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jim Elliot. One such heroe, spoke often of Cheap grace in his now classic literature. I admire Dietrich Bonhoeffer for his non-violent resistence to the evil that pervaded his home in Germany during the Nazi regime. Even though being a part of a plot to kill Hitler, he knew that to kill another was wrong and begged for God to forgive him, before he was executed by the Nazis.
Cheap grace, is something Bonhoeffer speaks of a lot. I've been astounded in my many years as a Christian how much it prevades much of what we do.
The concept of cheap grace is that, grace is given freely (which is correct), but we can do whatever we want once we have it, because salvation has absolutely nothing to do with how we live.
However, that concept of grace is so contrary to scripture. It is difficult to read scripture and say that our actions are irrelevant. I don't believe God saves us due to our actions, but actions defintitely have a connection.
Jesus is preaching in Matthew at one point. I imagine a large portion of dedicated Jewish followers, who love God surround him. He begins speaking of sheep and goats. How the goats didn't serve the least of these, so they will go into damnation. How the sheep did serve and thus they would enter into paradise. The funny thing about this story is that neither the sheep or the goats expected what was coming. The sheep didn't expect to go to heaven, they were just living out of the overflow of their hearts. The goats, EXPECTED, to make it. They thought they were in. They didn't make it. The versus don't talk about praying a 3 sentence prayer for salvation, it talks about a lifestyle. A way of living, that is so engrained in them, that neither group knows what they are doing.
It's exciting to read about the sheep. How they make it to the kingdom without even knowing, that part is awesome! We hate however to read the part about the goats. Sadly, I equate them with many church people. Who think they can enter heaven on a wing and a prayer, without having a true transformation of their lives.
Without the transformation, we are residing in cheap grace. Without having a change of heart, that ultimately overflows into action, it's difficult to say if grace was truly embraced at all.
I like to say it this way, Jesus didn't die to make nice Christian people. If that's all he died for, we might as well chuck the church out the window, turn it into a social club, and I might as well go back to school and become the english teacher I intended to be. There would be no point! He suffered an excrutiating death and endured humanity just so we could achieve what public school systems have the ability to achieve? No! He has so much more for us. He died so that we might be transformed. That we might have life and have it abundantly, which means being crazy, which means being radical, which means stepping out and caring for everyone. Not because it is the right thing to do, but because we can't help but live out of the overflow of a grace that is anything but cheap.... it cost Christ his very life.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Romance as it Should Be?

A friend of mine is doing this project about how to truly be a man of God, one must love their sisters' in Christ self-sacrificially. There are a lot of proponents that go into it, but mainly he's focusing on how men need to exhibit more modesty and chivalry towards women. For example, in order to be a modest person, a guy would be careful about the words he would say to girl, so she would feel loved and valued, without being played.
I honestly give him a huge amount of respect, and think that he is on a great journey to discovering what it means to be 100% devoted to the cause of Christ. Ultimately, it should have an effect on every relationship, even what you say, how you dress, and how you act around people of the opposite gender.
Thus, he has been asking me all of these probing questions, about how to be a better man of God. What are ways to be more cautious, etc.? So, he asked me yesterday to talk to him about the inner workings of a woman's mind.
To be completely honest, I have no idea how the inner workings of a woman's mind is. Guys think they don't understand women, and what they don't understand is, it is so difficult to understand yourself sometimes. For example, it's not like I choose to freak out at awkward moments and get really emotional about things, it just happens sometimes, and I constantly have to try and sort those emotions out.
Yet, it has got me thinking a lot about relationships, and what it truly means to have a godly relationship. That doesn't lead someone on, because that isn't godly at all. That puts the others interests before you own.
Today, I went for a hike to clear my head. I ended up writing my friend 3 pages of how I feel things have gotten so messed up. This is what I told him:

You asked me how you could be a better man. If there was a way you could genuinely care for the women in your life, without having them interpret your actions as having to do with ulterior motives.
I would never claim to be the right person to ask that question. I've interpreted affection from men wrong so many times, that when they do have genuine motives, I'm so closed off, it never goes anywhere.
I've been thinking about your questions a lot. About the conversations we have about changing the world, and how I can't stop laughing when I talk to you. Ok, so the latter is probably sleep deprivation, but you get the point.
For whatever it amounts to, you put far too much pressure on yourself. You are far more a man than most anyone I've ever met. The fact that you care enough to ask accounts for something.
However, like i said last night, it has to be a two way street.
I'm sitting here, on your rock, and the rain is starting to come down. It's beautiful, and the hand prints of God are everywhere.
In moments like these I feel very conflicted emotions. I feel so loved and close to God, in ways that only happen in nature. I feel 100% confident and completely independent, yet dependent on God at the same time. Yet, there is this huge part of my heart that wants to share these memories with someone. To be able to process information and love in a tangible way.
that is why I wonder, if I get so conflicted about how I feel at times, and yet I am perfectly content to be single, what must someone, some girl, who truly hasn't felt the greatness of God feel? One who doesn't feel completely loved? Wouldn't she desire to find that love elsewhere?
That would be a truly dangerous place to be in, because suddenly the love and wholeness we are supposed to feel in Christ gets wrapped up in a person other than him.
Donald Miller says that we often mistake a desire to be loved for love. I can't tell you how many times that has happened in my own life. But, the problem is, you can't put two half people together and make a whole person. You have to put two whole people together to do that. Which seems like a completely illogical thing, but is completely true.
The issues you talk about often stem from the fact that both men and women are seeking their fulfillment in something other than Christ, each other.
Some of these people may even love Jesus, but when society tells you you are incomplete without someone attached to you, even Jesus doesn't seem like enough. That's where things fall apart.
If we truly understood what it is like to be loved by the creator, all other relationships would pale in comparison (editorial note: not to mention the change in how we interact with one another).
The fact that so many of the people we know rush to get married stems more from a misconception of who they are and the true purpose of marriage than anything else.
Marriage isn't for us. Well, not entirely. It is to be an example of Christ's sacrificial love for his church. If we viewed marriage that way, it redefines a lot of what we hear.
Even sex would be an action, not of exploitation or self-fulfillment, but a genuine giving of oneself for the other in the most intimate way possible.
It would be striving to show Christ's love in a small way, not only to the one we love, but to a world that is so desperate for love.
Until Christian universities, parents and churches start teaching that, it will be difficult for things to change. For girls to stop looking for love in all the wrong places, and for guys to be the men they need to be.
I've heard far too many girls say they would die if they were single (editorial note: I'm not really sure what that means for me!) There is this desperation that one doesn't exist without a mate. No, it is without the creator that we don't exist! It is supposed to be a desperation for Him we are supposed to have.
There are plenty of times I long for the deep intimate relationship marriage offers, but if it isn't in the proper context, it isn't truly what God wants for me. He wants me to experience His love, and self-sacrificially reveal His love to another. I can't do that unless the man I marry and I are 100% desperate for God.
That's why I am content to wait. For as long as it takes, which could honestly take me to the true wedding banquet when Christ returns. That is also why I strive to have my teens understand their relationship with Christ and the radical love he has for them.
You can only be a radical, if you experience the radical love of Christ first.

It's so odd how the church, something that was meant to be completely different than the world around it has adopted so much of the world's attitudes when it comes to how we treat the opposite gender. Romance isn't about the good feelings you get, it's about the feelings you give to another. Remember, it says in scripture that we are to love each other the way Christ loved the church. If Jesus died for the church, that really changes what it means for us to be in relationship with one another.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

American Pop Christianity

There is nothing that makes my blood boil more than what I like to call "American Pop Christianity". Basically it works something like this. "If I am a good American, I'm a republican, hold up good American values, submit to the government, have a car with a fish on it, and say the pledge of allegiance while saying God bless America, I am a Christian". Not to mention that individual wants God to bless them as well, in very material ways.
Interestingly enough, Jesus wasn't an American. He was middle eastern. He probably looked a lot like the terrorists we see emblazoned on the news. Dark skin, dark eyes, dark hair. Scripture says he was unattractive. At times I find myself questioning if the Jesus American Pop Christianity serves, and the Jesus I serve are the same person. Then I begin to wonder if the Jesus I claim to serve, is just a version of Jesus I feel aligns with my ideals, instead of learning to align my ideals with his?
I remember reading somewhere that it is so much easier to serve a god we have formed into our own image, than to be formed by the horrifying, amazing, all-powerful God of the universe. Often, we just take what we've heard about Jesus, and warp it into our own image.
Renowned Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann goes as far as to say "the contemporary American church is so largely enculturated to the American ethos of consumerism that is has little power to believe or to act (The Prophetic Imagination, 1)." What a sad day. To not have the power to believe or act because we have so enmeshed ourself into the ethos of society, rather than transform it by our presence.
The oddest part about it all is, we are supposed to look radically different. To be the image of Christ to the world, yet are we the image of Christ when we look exactly like it? I sometimes find myself staring in the mirror for long amounts of time. I kick myself sometimes for being so preoccupied with my appearance; obviously there are levels of concern that should be taken into consideration, it's ok to brush one's teeth for example (please, please brush your teeth) or comb your hair. Those aren't vanities, just hygiene. However, I have been known to go to a rally opposing war in Uganda where kids are kidnapped into being children soldiers, and then go spend $100 bucks to get my hair done, for no other reason than pure vanity... i want to look good.
The Nazarene church, at its inception, began in downtown LA. The goal of the church was to reach a community that no one else was reaching, with a message of hope. This message of holiness, that God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and the death and resurrection of His son Jesus, has given us the ability to live free of sin. What an amazing message for those on skid row, who have seen nothing but darkness for years! The church, however, got some flack on this holiness mission because of the standards they placed on those who were a part of the church. They were too "legalistic" many would say, and for better or for worse, many still say. They made a rule (not a doctrine... it's not a biblical statement about who God is, but a guideline for living a life in better relationship to Him) which said that women (and I suppose men) couldn't wear jewelry. Though this may seem silly, they had a deep reason. There reasoning was that Christians look different than other people, and they spend their money in different ways. They don't flash vanities, but live humbly, in order to give to others. After all John Wesley said "Earn all you can, Save all you can, in order to give all you can" and died with only enough shillings to pay for his funeral expenses.
Thus I ask again, if the goal is to be set apart, different, why do we strive to look like the nation we live in? Aren't we resident aliens? Citizens of a higher nation? A nation who calls us to do more than vote, but to die to our own wants and desires for the sake of a Christ who loves all nations? Not to mention, if we truly lived as 100% sold out citizens of this state, wouldn't our daily choices and actions (and maybe even our dress) be completely different?
Shane Claiborne says it this way in his book "Jesus for President" which I highly recommend (if for no other reason, than to begin thinking, especially before the upcoming election), "The church is a people called out of the world to embody a social alternative that the world cannot know on its own terms. We are not simply asking the government to be what God has commissioned the church to be. After all, even the best government can't legislate love. We can build hundreds of affordable housing (a good thing by the way) and people still might not have homes. We can provide universal health care and keep folks breathing longer (another nice move), but people can be breathing and still not truly be alive. We can create laws to enforce good behavior, but no law has ever changed a human heart or reconciled a broken relationship. The church is not simply suggesting political alternatives. The church is embodying one (Claiborne, 228)."
Thus I pose this question, how do we separate true Christianity from the look alikes that seem to wander around in sometimes very convincing clothing, alluring us into a conformity we were never meant to belong to? I pose this question first and foremost to myself, because I tend to talk a good game, go to a few good rallies, talk to a few homeless people, allow the occasional person to live in my home, volunteer time to support women with unwanted pregnancies (instead of just holding a sign and condemning abortion), yet those are meaningless if they are just empty things to appear edgy, or compassionate. If they aren't born out of a true love of God and others, and a true allegiance to this community we call the church (also known as the kingdom of God) then I might as well just stay at home and watch another mindless television show, eat, drink, and be merry, because all of it is meaningless.
The nice thing about being angered with American Pop Christianity (creating a Jesus to fit our own political agendas and lifestyle) is that I have discovered I am not alone. Donald Miller, for all of my extreme words and attitudes, sort of just throws it all out there when he says "if I weren't a Christian, and I kept seeing Christian leaders on television more concerned with money, fame, and power than with grace, love, and social justice, I wouldn't want to believe in God at all. I really wouldn't. The whole thing would make me want to walk away from religion altogether because, ... their god must be an idiot to see the world in such a one-sided way. The god who cares so much about getting rich must not have treasures stored up in heaven, and the god so concerned about getting even must not have very much patience, and the god who cares so much about the West must really hate the rest of the world, and that doesn't sound like a very good god to me. The tele-evangelist can have him for all I care (Searching for God Knows What, 28-29)."
So maybe it isn't Christianity non-Christians aren't attracted to after all? Maybe it's this cheap watered down lukewarm version they are so repulsed by. Maybe they see the inconsistencies in us (myself included) that we are so unwilling to see in ourselves.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Disclaimers Don't Work

I try to put disclaimers on things I think will offend people, hoping they will just not read it and move on to the next post... however, human nature steps in and the minute you tell someone not to read something, that's the first thing they want to do.
I'm not criticizing anyone because I do exactly the same thing. A door says, do not open, and my first inclination is to open it. I really have to refrain myself from doing things I shouldn't, quite often, because I always thinking I'm missing out on something somwhere. (I tend to be the last one to leave parties, because I hate thinking that if I leave before someone else, then the fun will really begin without me... yeah, I'm strange like that).
However, I often think people open doors of being offended without every processing what that means. I do it all the time. Jump to conclusions, label people a certain way because I don't agree with them, and that's always a dangerous thing.
You have to follow through to understand what's really going on, and grace must be exhibited, because if you are anything like me, I'm constantly thinking and reforming opinions, and more often than not, have more questions than answers. That has to be ok.
The odd thing is, I read a lot. Too much sometimes. I go to too many classes, and talk to too many people. It is true, the more you know, the more you wish you didn't know. Knowledge is an amazing thing, and we should continue to be life learners, but when we only know in part on earth, it can get really messy really fast.
My attitudes toward the attitudes of the suburbs didn't come from no where. It came from studies of the history of the church, looking at the lives of people like Martin Luther King jr., Mother Teresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jim Elliot, and Shane Claiborne. It came from reading lots of sermons by Jesus where he accosts the rich (because he didn't love them? of course not! But because of their attitudes towards their need of God!) Where Zacheus gives so much money away to the poor. The story of the rich man and Lazarus. The story of the sheep and the goats; a story which shows us that both the righteous and unrighteous do things out of the overflow of their life (read the story again... the goats thought they were going to heaven... it was sort of a shocker for them not to go).
I process all of these things in my mind, and I still ask the question of why we strive so hard for material wealth? I love rich people, don't get me wrong. They need Jesus as much as anyone does. My students and friends and neighbors in the suburbs need Jesus as much as the kids in Africa do, but showing them that need is so much more difficult. Often I encounter goats, who think they are going to heaven, but don't live out the lifestyle christ calls us to. Often I encounter people who love the life of Mother Teresa but are unwilling to live like her. And that is where i reside in deep question. How do you enable people to see the discontinuity between their attitudes and actions?
It's not that all rich people are going to hell (because honestly, not a single American would make it to heaven then, according to the world's standards on wealth). But, I still have to reconcile scripture in my head and heart where Jesus is harsh towards the comfortable, and comforting to those who don't have anything.
I don't think it is always the issue of possessions (I have to be careful, or I'll become Shane Claiborne, and people will be very angry... so just read his book "the Irrisitible Revolution" and we'll call it even). There is more to it than just possessions, it's the purpose of our possessions. It's the attitude we have towards our possessions. It's the level of our dependency on God.
That's why I think Jesus says it's so hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of Heaven, because they have forgotten how to depend on anything but themselves and the value of a dollar.
To clarify, this is where I am afraid of going. I'm afraid of becoming too comfortable with things, and not comfortable enough in relationship with God and others. The danger for me, is that as I am transitioning (I'm not saying where I am is a stepping stone to the next thing... I'm saying I just moved here 3 weeks ago, and have to learn how to live in a different state, different socio-economic area, etc. People didn't get that last time, so i need to clarify) I will get in a routine that places me in a virtual island where I forget to reach out to those around me. That I will become what I am trying to teach people to come out of.
Like I said... there are usually more questions than answers :)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Disclaimer: If you Offend Easily... you Probably Shouldn't Read

Whenever I enter back into an academic setting a couple of things happen. First, I am always challenged. Second, I always covet something I don't have.
I tend to have super big dreams for my life. I want to change to world. I'm not really content not to change the world, and I'm always striving for bigger things.
However, you must understand that when I say bigger, the sense in which you understand that word may be vastly bigger than what you think. Unlike many youth pastors, I have absolutely no desire to have the biggest youth group as far as numbers. I want kids to feel like they can bring their friends, not because I want glory, but because they see Jesus in my students. I want the youth group's impact to be big, that doesn't mean that their numbers are big. There is a huge difference between the two.
But, my dreams aren't limited to that of a local church, or even being a youth pastor in a church. As odd as this may seem, I don't really see myself as a very good youth pastor in the commonly understood way youth pastors are good. I don't like lock ins. I don't like big games. I don't like meaningless events. I don't like separating the youth group from the larger church all of the time... to be completely honest, I tend to long for the small churches I grew up in, the intimacy and family feel that they bring, and the hard core faithful disciples they tend to cultivate. That said, I believe that can happen in a big church, but it just takes more work, and I still am wrestling with how it is done.
When I come here though, in a safe, theoretical environment, I am suddenly re-filled with dreams I once had. Often impractical dreams and goals, of what it means to truly be the hands and feet of Jesus to the world.
To be completely honest, I hate the suburbs. Hate, is actually probably too nice of a word for how i truly feel for them... but it's the best I can come up with. (This is where you may want to stop reading ;) I tend to feel like they are the key place of mediocrity. It's sort of like someone can't decide whether they want to live in the city or the country, so they live somewhere in between. I have always thought I was going to live in the city. I love the city. I love working with inner-city kids, I love hanging out with homeless people, I love constantly being reminded that grace is all around us, and we must depend on God every second of every day, for our very survival. Since I don't feel called to Africa, the inner-city is the closest I get to that.
I've had a dream since I was a small child, that I would one day move into the heart of a dangerous, hopeless, poverty stricken city and live there until it is completely transformed. Doing my best to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a practical way.
That's probably why when I moved to the suburbs, my friends all asked me if I was selling out. Am I selling out?
I don't really think I am. The passions for the city are there. The passions for loving, for evangelism, for compassion, are all still there, I just think it's odd living in transition, and if I'm not careful, I could end up residing there.
People need love in the suburbs. People need, in the words of Walter Brueggemann, the constructs of the imperial mindset gradually broken out of them, and for better or for worse, that's what I'm gifted in.... prophetic preaching. But how did the prophets of the old testament live among a community, preaching the truth of God, without being absorbed into the culture itself? That had to be a struggle.
A struggle I am finding myself struggling with every day. I told a friend the other day, that the suburbs are seeping into my soul, and quite frankly, will steal it if I'm not careful. It's too easy to be comfortable there. I have a great pool, new flooring. I'm not killing roaches every day like I was in Kankakee. I haven't seen people selling drugs in my front lawn like I used to. The cops have yet to knock on my door looking for someone. ... so... I lay by my pool, instead of picking up trash in my neighborhood.... Not that the things I do are inherently bad, but it is becoming so easy to forget where my dependency must lie. It's getting easy to close myself into my cubicle apartment, and forget that just above me is someone who needs the grace of Christ. I've done little to reach to my neighbors. Little outside of my little comfort zone.
Shame on me! My best friend always says that people move to the suburbs to forget. Forget that people have real needs. Forget that God is the one who provides everything for us. Forget that we must be thankful for every crumb we receive. Forget that the sole reason we are blessed is to bless others. Forget that it is harder for a rich person to enter the kingdom than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. To forget what it's like to be uncomfortable.
I think I forget sometimes, whose I am. That my life is not my own, but to be spent on others. I think I forget to reach out sometimes, that my hands and feet are not my own. I think I forget to be bold sometimes, because it will so upset the comfortable nature of the world I currently reside in.
However, like we talked about in class today, we aren't called to comfortable faith. We aren't called to stay in an infancy level of relationship with Christ, we are called to trust God, to question the constructs around us, and to have the wisdom to tear down the evil constructs around us, even if for most of our lives we saw that evil as Christian. (I know... I'm stepping on toes... hey I could come out and name things... leaving it obscure for a reason :)
It was a sad day when the church of the Nazarene forgot it's heart and moved to the suburbs, I just pray that I don't forget mine. It has to be possible to still remember, in spite of location... just have to learn how.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Lessons from "Penelope"

The credits just stopped rolling... The curtain fell on a beautiful story. For fear of ruining a great story for you, I will leave out the details, but tell you the essence.
It was this story of a girl who was born under this curse, that caused her to be... well... not the prettiest girl ever. Her mother didn't really help, because she hid her from the world, and her only goal was to rid her of this curse. This ugliness that, she felt, consumed her daughter's life. Instead of instilling in her a sense of freedom, of hope, of love of self, she instilled in her fear and doubt.
Though the tale is fictional, the story is so real. A story of how when you truly love yourself, or someone else, there is something magical that happens, that goes so far beyond what is skin deep. Maybe that's why I am so drawn to the story. Drawn in by characters who though fantastic in the film, are so familiar. The boy who loves her despite what she looks like, but looks deep in her heart. The mother's fanatical ranting about looks. Those girls who always make fun of you no matter what. And one timid girl, who lives her whole life thinking she is unlovable.
I know all of these people. In one way or another, I've encountered them, and at times, been them. It's on odd thing how the beliefs we instill in others are so crucial to what people believe about themselves. Because the mother believed her child was ugly, and repeatedly told her so, the daughter couldn't break the curse, which could only be conquered by the love of self.
Donald Miller talks about this in "Blue Like Jazz". He writes this chapter about romance, which is so deeply poetic and real, that i remember my eyes misting up the first time I read it. Don's friend is talking to him about marriage and how God shows His love for us through marriage. He then goes on to talk about loving others. How, for whatever reason, we seem to gauge the love God has for us, by how much others love us. He says that is why God tells us to love one another so often.
As beautiful as those words are, they are also extremely convicting. Honestly, it's a lot easier to make fun of the "fat girl" or the "smelly kid" then it is to embrace them, see beyond that, see beauty, and love them.
And I don't mean that "I have to love them, but I don't have to like them" type love. I mean real true love. The type of love that changes people. The type of love that makes your heart hurt when they hurt, or makes you laugh when they are happy. That type of gut wrenching love, that turns you inside out. Where you would die for them without thinking, but more difficultly live for them.
That's the type of love God has for us. This agape, never ending, deep in your soul, you are the most beautiful thing in the world even when you are stepping on my heart, kind of love. That's the type of love He asks us to have for one another. To look past the horrors that may lay on the outside, to the deep pools of the heart.
Honestly, I am so far from there. I can love the smelly kid, the prostitute, or the homeless man, but I have a real hard time loving arrogant people, lazy people, and rich people. Yet, I'm called to love all of them. We are called to love all of them. Whether our country calls them enemies of the state, or our friends call them enemies in the lunch room. We are supposed to love like Christ loved the church....
what would that look like, considering he died for her?