Tuesday, March 31, 2009

No More Gymnastics

"How do I reconcile that in my mind?" is a question I've been asking myself a lot recently. To systematically and regularly be forced to reevaluate many things in my life that I have long placed in the "untouchable" has been painful and lonely. How can anyone honestly enjoy that sort of thing? I think that much of my life has been spent trying to analyze my surroundings in a continual effort to come up with things that are true and will always be true. In a world and in a psyche that are ever-changing, I look for something to be my bedrock, my base of operations. I thought that I had already done this back in 2000-2003 when I first began to investigate the claims of Jesus. It was a long and arduous road that left me exhausted and confused more than it left me enlightened or content. But I did find what I was looking for. So the bedrock of my life became these things of church, Christianity, conservatism and occasionally Jesus. They were settled and untouchable.

Now I find myself in that old mode of asking lots of questions and getting torn in two directions between what I know to be true and the exposure of that truth to be something much more debatable. It feels like I'm on a waterbed and no matter what I do, I can't get things to settle down. I've lost my base of operations and it feels like life is taking me on a ride that I have no control over. I can't reconcile some things in my mind and its forcing me AWAY from many things that I have known and have held dear for many years now.

I can't reconcile my own zealousness for scriptures, and my claim to live by them, when my life does not look like the one shown in the scriptures. For claiming to be Jesus' follower, I find very little of my life that parallels the lives of the 12 or of the young church. If I were to list the traits of Jesus and his early followers I would come up with words like compassionate, selfless, giving and patient, or phrases like 'willing to suffer for others who don't deserve it' or 'thinks of others as more important than self'. But I don't live in a world like that, and I am certainly not like that. My life as a follower is defined by things like 'outwardly moral', 'opposed to this or that', or 'doctrinally sound'. There's nothing in there that suggest I am anything revolutionary or world-changing. My life does not bear witness to the limitless love of our creator and it certainly does not communicate that love in the way the master showed us. His love is shown by giving his life for those that he loved. And those that he loved included those that hated and murdered him. On the other hand I show his love by telling people about his love in story form and retreating to my comfort zones. How can I reconcile this in my mind? How can I conclude anything other than the fact that I am unwilling to live the radical life that Jesus calls me to? I am unwilling to jettison the comforts and general easy-living of my culture in order to show Christ's love by giving of myself for them. Now I know many will say that we have the opportunity to spread God's kingdom in our everyday lives, but I just don't get that from the scriptures. The book of Acts shows a group of people that lived for others and each other. Did they have jobs? Sure. Were they concerned with the lifestyle of their family? I don't see any evidence of that. Did they intentionally set up their lives where they never had to be confronted with the true plight of the poor and oppressed (white suburbs)? To the contrary! It looks as thought they took great joy in announcing Jesus' good news to the poor and marginalized. They sought out the poor and gleefully gave all they had in an effort to show the hurting and suffering people in the world that God cared about them in an amazing, counter-cultural way. But not me. I'll go to certain lengths to 'share the gospel', but any analysis of my time, thoughts, finances and plans shows a life that is 99% dictated by the culture around me and the demands that it puts on me, and 1% devoted to a Jesus that I've 'worked in'. I am being controlled by things that have nothing to do with Jesus.

When I go to church on Sunday, I can no longer reconcile what I see. How much of our effort is spent on Sunday mornings! Is it too much to say that 90% of church activity is related to the show we put on Sundays at 9:00 am and 11:00 am? It may be even higher than that! We put all this time into 'church' and we assume that this is how god's kingdom is advanced. Where did we get that idea?!? When I read of early Christ followers, I see people going out into the cities and pouring themselves into their communities. We, on the other hand, set up shop and invite others to come to us. Jesus came to the sick and the poor, but we ask the sick and the poor to come to us! We 'serve God' by opening a door for someone as they come into church on Sunday, or by mowing a church lawn. How is God being served? He is very clear that serving him done by serving the least of peoples! But we see serving God as serving other people in our 'club'. How backwards! I sometimes wonder if we would even know if Jesus came back. Because there is no doubt that he would be in the darkest places of our world, and us Christians have set up our lives to avoid such places all together! Who knows, he may already be here. What a tragedy it would be to find out that the King of Kings had returned and was in a place where we had never been! Doing things that we had never done!

The scriptures tell of the first Christians and how they gave all that they had away and took great joy in leaning on God for their every need. They left nothing for themselves because they knew that God had given everything for them. The writings tell us that the people loved them! The poor loved them! People had never seen love like this; so selfless, so unbelievably pure. This was the earthly representation of the love of God, and it was beautiful. But I don't see that in my church today. We are not loved by the people. We speak of the love of god in one breath, and then completely invalidate that love when it ends with words only. We tithe, give to causes and contribute to things, but do we ever really sacrifice? Do we even look at our homes, our cars, our stuff and even take a moment to think of what those resources could ahve done for the poor and the oppressed? Instead we talk of hard work and how we've 'earned' these things. I cannot find precident in the life of Jesus where he tells us to work hard and enjoy the rewards that come with it. This is an idea of our culture and not of the kingdom. But I live it every day.

We have become 'morality police', patrolling our country for anything that god would call sin, with the insane assumption that god wants us to rid our world of the sinful and the perverse by overcoming it with laws and restrictions. Where we stand on certain 'issues' has become the mark that allows us to identify each other as Christians. How can I reconcile this in my mind with the fact that the world around the time of Christ was every bit as perverse and evil as today? Jesus lived in the midst of some of the most savage barbarism known to man, and yet he never made it an issue. GETTING RID OF IT WAS NOT HOW THE KINGDOM WAS TO BE ADVANCED. It seemed as though he was more concerned with people understanding the kingdom of god, how they each had a place in it, and how it was the complete opposite of the system of life going on around them. We have been given this through the scriptures, and yet we go as far as DEFINE ourselves by our opposition to immorality. When I hear of a christian leader fighting for more morality in schools, the marketplace and society in general, I can't see where Jesus calls us to build his kingdom this way. How does this show the love of god? It doesn't. Jesus wants people to know that he is FOR them, and we show that by dying for people. The removal of sinful things from their lives comes AFTER they experience God's love. I can only surmise that the reason we don't do this is because it gives us the feeling of righteousness but without the need for sacrifice. We get to feel like we're on 'god's side' while spending the majority of our time seeking the progress, success and comfort of our society. I feel like I've had it all wrong for all these years. I've been unbelievable selfish, and I can reconcile it with what I know to be true.

Is it possible that we are hurting the cause of Christ? Is it possible that we feel like we've got it all figured out, but in reality we're taking the kingdom backwards with our version of the good news? That we're reproducing Christian who are terrible representatives of Christ? I can't reconcile it any longer. I can come up with a thousand excuses why I shouldn't live the radical life of a Christ Follower, and I can probably even find some vague biblical references to back up my assertion. But I can't read the gospels, the words of Jesus, the stories of the first Christians, and the letters of Paul, and say that my life looks anything like what I read. And so, I am blowing up these things and starting over. I can't think of anything worse than coming face to face with my maker and knowing that my life was more about me than about him and his kingdom. And sadly, that is exactly what I would feel if I met him today.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It was good to see you again my friend

Hello old friend,

I can't tell you how good it was to see you again this morning. Has it been five months since the last leaves fell from the trees, the days became too short, and we last walked the ground together? Has it been that long? I've missed it; more so this year than any I can remember. It's been both a winter to remember and a winter to be forgotten, and I'm more tired than excited this time; which is not the way it should be. Looking back to October its a wonder that you even recognize me. I feel like I've grow old while I was away. I'm learning that its not the toils of life that take their toll, but rather the endurance of the transitions; effervescent high to desperate low to high again. Sometimes I think that I'd prefer a life of the mundane, if for no other reason than to spare my heart the grind of changing direction so suddenly.

I've had a son since our last time together, and he has brought a new definition of joy to my senses. The very thought of his smile can bring me to my knees in an instant. Its wonderful and frightening at the same time. To know that the whole of my existence lies in the breath of a 13-week old, and to know that I have only a fool's control over that breath's continuance, reminds me that I am truly helpless in all things. There are days where I only get to hold him for a fleeting moment; before work, before bedtime. And those days add up quickly. And in the blink of an eye a month has passed, and I have missed it entirely.

My family, somehow, self-destructed in front of my eyes this winter. And I could do nothing about it. Something happened, and then some people got mad, and then some people decided that it wasn't worth it, and then it was over. People who seemed to be at home in the core of my being, are now unfamiliar faces and occasional emails. Those of us who are left are holding on by a thread. We're hurting because some people decided, for this reason or another, that we weren't enough to keep the family together. That is a rejection that I've never felt before. And to make it worse, I don't think we ever crossed their minds. The issues and discontent were the only dynamics to be considered; the rest of the family and their feelings were overlooked. And now those left behind look at each other and wonder what the hell just happened.

Business was good while I was away. Remember how I'd go on and on about my dreams of being something big in the office? Remember how down I was at this time last year? Well, it all turned around. That big case went through, and a few other good things went my way and I made it! I actually made it! Brandy is so proud of me, and the company is so proud of me, and I am proud of me too. But I never thought that there would be a day when I leaned on my career accomplishments to get me through a day. There are some days that I've felt so alone that I would cling to my recent successes as though they were all I had. That, my friend, is a scary place to be. And so I feel a certain sort of resentment because I got exactly what I wanted, and it turned out not to be what I had hoped for.

Of course there are other things that have taken place, like my Dad almost dying in front of my eyes, that have added to my weariness. My faith in people is almost gone. My desire to passionately pursue anything is dwindling by the day. I don't know why. And just when I was settling nicely into my melancholy, you showed up again. Or, should I say I came back and you were still there. In all the insanity of things, I must be honest, I had forgotten about you. So, to run into you so unexpectedly this morning was a shock to the system. But it was good. I shouldn't be surprised, really. You've always shown up; each and every year about this time. And you're just the same as when I left you. You started with me in the manic days of my youth, when each day was a struggle for identity and validation. In those days you were my safe haven. You were my only true friend as we walked the ground. Later, I found you in all parts of the country, showing yourself in different forms and lessons, but always the same at the core: dependable, soothing, personal and grand. It has always been as though you were there for just me, as though you needed me, or as though I was needed to be part of something much bigger. I tried to make you something else for a while there, and I hope you know that my intentions were pure. I had taken so much refuge in our time together over the years that my idea of making you my nine-to-five seemed logical, but it didn't work out that way, did it? And I'm happy it didn't. The way our relationship works in relation to seasons and time is what makes it special, and I needed to try to make it something more than that to understand you better. And now, in my imitations of maturity and adulthood, we've come full circle. I found refuge in you again this morning, like I used to as a boy. But different. I've learned so much from you and you've been such a big part of my life that its almost as if we've come to our final resting place. We've seen it all together and you've proven that there will always be a place for you in my life.

So now we meet with something approaching transcendence. There's safety and familiarity and predictability there. It feels good. And I need it. I'm tired my old friend; really tired. I'm going to need your uplifting and calming ways more than ever this summer. I hope that you won't mind meeting every once and while to continue our conversation; a conversation that moves toward no end, but fits its purpose in its very existence. Is that OK? I'll see you next time, out in that fresh air. We'll walk the ground again together, just like old times.