Tuesday, December 27, 2011

In Haiti

A week ago a friend asked if I was busy, today I'm in Port-au-Prince with a group of people I've mostly never met before. I'm curious to see what happens next. If I were to judge a place by its sunsets this one would get high marks, if by traffic, not so much. Looking out over the orphanage we'll spend the next week at, I wondered what it could look like with a few more repairs, construction, and upgrades. A bit later I realized God was wondering what the place could look like if he had his way with the people. It's not the first time I've failed to see the big picture, you know, the one that matters.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Not talking about George Michael or Limp Bizket

Faith is a strange mistress. She is different for everyone and her complexities hide her from our attempts to box her in. I don't think I'd have it any other way.

Over the past few days I've talked with a couple friends about their faith walks (sorry for the christianese, sometimes it's just easier). Both times I've wanted to be the wise sage able to fix everything with the turn of a phrase. Only problem is I'm not that smart, spiritual, or lucky - I think I managed to keep from fouling everything up, you know, so I've got that going for me.

Everyone is different, their situations are different and their relationships with God(Faith) are different. With a bit of hindsight, and put in context with all the other similar conversations I've had over the years, as well as my own Faith introspection's, I'm starting to think each of our relationships with Faith reflect as much about our self perception as it does about our perception of God. This makes it like every other relationship we have. Weather we realize it or not, how we respond to other people reflects our self image. The more comfortable we are with people the more likely we are to relax and "be ourselves", the strange thing is we are different people in each of our relationships. Have you ever been in a group composed of two different factions of friends? You may like and be comfortable with both, but all of a sudden you are in a strange limbo. It's like you don't know how to act. What mannerisms do you use? What sort of language do you use? Do you finding yourself trying to explain inside jokes or direct conversations into safe areas?

As it turns out, relationships are... wait for it... interactive. Crazy, right? Who we are changes and adapts to each relationship. The other half of the equation changes and influences who we are, at least in part. This matters to Faith because, in the same way we feel uncomfortable in every other relationship when we become unsure of who we are, what we believe about ourselves impacts how we relate to what we believe about God. When we become insecure in our Faith walk, whatever that may mean, it rarely has much directly to do with what we think about God. The insecurity comes when we lose sight of who we are. This often means we pull back and try to find some safe space, we hide ourselves from real relationship.

The catch 22 of this whole thing is, no matter how much time we spend looking at ourselves trying to create a self-image we are comfortable with, any twist or buck in the plan has the ability to destroy what we think of ourselves. As long as our self-image is anchored to self, we are ultimately unsecured, we are a climber with our safety rope tied off to ourselves. The jenky and unnatural thing is, in order to secure ourselves we need to look at God. We need to see ourselves through His eyes, to believe we are who He says we are. Unlike every one of our other relationships, our Faith relationship depends on our ability to deny or disregard what we think about ourselves and believe into the identity God claims for us. Until we do this, our Faith will be influenced by ignorant voices and impotent forces. If we pull back, we pull back from the one thing able to make us truly secure. Being a part of a Faith community, church oriented or otherwise, is critical because it is in relationship that we get broken out of the fiction created by our self-doubt, it is in relationship we get reminded of who God is and of who we are in relationship to him, it is in healthy relationship that we get reminded of who we are regardless of all the other noise. God's commitment to relationship, Trinitarian and otherwise, isn't an accident and it's not without purpose. Even though each of our relationships with Faith are unique to us, they are ultimately founded on the same truth. We are who God says we are and He likes us.

For those of you who need a little pick me up of awesomeness: Enjoy

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

An odd little huccup, and why media can be kinda cool

The disclaimer:

I don't think I've ever written about a movie, I mean this was never meant to be a media or pop-culture blog. That said, almost a week after watching it, I can't get Drive out of my mind. Not the characters, the cinematography, the music, or the deeper heart of the thing. I watched Moneyball a few days ago and walked out of it thinking about how good Drive was.

This is not me recommending the movie. Though brief, the violence is grotesque and the awkward silences are exactly that. I don't expect you to like it and I doubt most of you will watch it, which is fine. I don't even think it's a "movie" it really does fall into the "film" category of pretentious art house criticism and consumption.

Everything else:

I love Drive. It is a beautiful compelling piece of work, one that got under my skin and made me think about the beauty and complexity of life. Life together and life alone, sacrifice, chosen commitment, and the ability to change behavior without changing nature all wrapped themselves in an unrelenting stylized story - one intentionally modeled in the tradition of Aesop. I want to make deep observation about it or what I learned about myself through it, but the truth is it simply connected with something in me.

Perhaps that's the "deep" observation I was hoping for. Something in this decidedly non-christian move (not anti-christian) reverberated. It came back as an echo because it found something to bounce off of. We are inherently communal and there is something real in us that a stupid little art house flick can touch, and in doing so become ironically relevant. As much as we can learn about ourselves in monkish isolation and meditation, it is only in community and relating to others - good and bad - that we learn the truly important stuff. Who we are is much more than what we think about ourselves, or even that we think; who we are is revealed as we relate to others. Ideally, it is in relating to the divine Other that who we are is perfectly revealed. The cool thing is it can happen imperfectly in a movie theater as well.

But seriously, Drive is a sick (in the awesome context) movie.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Like a Jerk

I felt like a Jerk the first time I said it, though the more I thought about it the more I believed it: Poverty is relative.

I recently read two articles/blogs that echoed my statement but articulated it in ways not "Jerky". If you want to hear people say things better than me, check these out:

and especially http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/projecting-poverty-where-it-doesnt-exist

(Sorry if these don't link right)

Both authors had their own takes and reminded me of stuff I didn't want to think about. What gives me the right, in all the Starbucks WiFi clean water wealth of my culture, to determine what poverty looks like and who is in "need" of my help? I've met a few families, living in bamboo and mud huts respectively, who lived better happier lives than many wealthy Americans. It's nice to compartmentalize, stereotype, and judge based on our feelings of "should", but real life is much more complex.

Real poverty exists, the stuff with war, famine, diseased water, mass corruption, nonexistent resources, etc., and if we can do something about it we should. Passion, ingenuity, moral imperatives, christian ethics all come into play. But not having a T.V., "career", new car, secondary education, or living in a green construction house out of necessity rather than some Eco-friendly politically correct mindset, doesn't mean you need the beneficence of the West to come in and save you.

We all have the disgusting ability to evaluate life according to our own standards rather than God's. We evaluate quality of life according to our own expectations rather than anything with eternal significance. We like to think of "happiness" and "love" as the highest standards of a life well lived, yet we expect to find them in places incapable of creating them on their own.

We think the mentally retarded (sorry if this has become an inappropriate term, I honestly don't know what's politically correct anymore) are broken and deserving of sympathy and pity, as well they may be in some real ways, but we refuse to recognize they may in fact be healthier than us "normal" people in many ways that matter more. The few mentally retarded I've known and spent real time with have a childlike love of life and ability to give and receive love that probably comes closer to mirroring God and his desires than anything found in most "healthy" people.

Much like with what we call poverty, the impact and real quality of life for those with miss-formed brain systems varies greatly. For all the things I intend to do, the one I don't is downplay the challenges or hardships of others. Real poverty sucks and is demonic, literally or figuratively, and retardation is rarely if ever a gift. At the same time, we the healthy and wealthy, may be more broken than many - our ignorance worthy of pity. If happiness and love really represent high values in our lives, it's time we started acting like it and looking at what actually stimulates those things, at what actually matters.

I hope I never stop caring about and for the poor and broken, but I pray I never do it in the fiction I'm not one of them or that I know best. Humility may be the first casualty of "success", but asking God, "What does loving you look like in this situation?" and "How do you want to love in this situation?" are probably good ways to avoid meaningless and destructive behavior.

In the end, none of us are the ones who set the standards, we are the ones hopefully walking towards God. Socioeconomic and mental health don't dictate the journey, I hope we never act or think as if they do.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Maturity? #2

In the midst of a recent two day road trip with my dad he asked the question. Most men still on speaking terms with their fathers know what I'm talking about. He did his part to keep it from sounding "disappointed father nagging-ish", which I appreciated. The paraphrase went like this: Don't take this the wrong way, I don't have any problems with the way you live your life, but I'm curious. How do you feel about being your age, unemployed, without money, and having no plan?

My response: That's a fair question.

Five years ago, I'd have been defensive in my response. Now, not so much. It WAS a fair question, and it wasn't meant to be confrontational. Oddly enough, my life is a lot less "together" and I'm more at peace about that then ever before. It isn't that I've given up caring, it's that I've slowly figured out what I care about. Letting go of, as best I can, the other stuff I do care about but have no real control over has helped as well.

In the movie City Slickers, Jack Palance's crusty old character Curly offers some advice to Billy Crystal's character Mitch:

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
[holds up one finger]
Curly: This.
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean shit.
Mitch: But, what is the "one thing?"
Curly: [smiles] That's what *you* have to find out.

At 14 I wanted to know what the answer was, what other people said the "one thing" was. At 34 I get what Curly meant, and it's true, you do need to figure out what it is for yourself. As a christian, I believe the true answer is ultimately the same for all of us, but why it's the same is different for each of us. Being told what I should care about more than anything else, while convenient, defeats the purpose of actually caring about it.

In the past, the defensiveness creeping into my response was anchored to split relationships. Worldly expectations and values mix with everything else, Christian and otherwise, to create a picture of a "normal/respectable/successful life" that may or may not have anything to do with who we are. We end up tearing ourselves apart and undermining our happiness and identity by walking down three or four paths at the same time. We embrace insecurity by pretending to be all things to all people, rather than figuring out what the "one thing" is and living as if it were true.

My life might look more a mess than ever before, but the foundation is more secure. I can't help but think this is a good thing, perhaps even a slow creep towards maturity.