Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How we get there

The love commands found in scripture are universally accepted ideals of Christianity. For all the bitterness towards Levitical passages, I’ve never heard atheists or those of other faiths criticize the “love your neighbor” passages or condemn Christianity based on the Sermon on the Mount. Not that this couldn’t happen, I just haven’t heard it. But these aren’t simply “good advice” passages, they don’t tell people “It’s nice to be nice, so be nice.” The Beatitudes take good advice, ratchet up the expectation setting to perfection, and make God the standard. This turbocharged vision of love is annoyingly unreachable for those not God. If the driver of a Yugo (45 horsepower with a top speed of 70mph) was expected, and in fact commanded by God, to drive according to the speed and standards of a Bugatti Veyron (1,001 horsepower with a top speed of over 250mph), everyone would consider it ridiculous, ignorant, and unfair. We would think God insane for thinking this was possible. The only way a Yugo can do anything remotely like a Veyron is if it’s strapped to the Veyron’s back. In a sense, this is exactly what God expected people to realize.

The standards are simple and the expectations great. Throughout the New Testament God commands, “Love like only I can love.” For some insane reason we find ourselves saying, “Okay, lets do that.” Yet, we are surprised when we fail? We see God giving commands to be like Him and we think it’s about performing the behaviors right. Our minds simplify these passages down to “expected behavior”, and we completely miss the purpose of God’s call. When we reduce Christianity to a template of behaviors we find a stagnant and spiritually repressive religion. Not repressive in the headscarves and female circumcision sense, though it can find its way here, but in the “I failed again, I suck at this” sort of way. If you want a child to fail, fall into depression, and emotionally shrivel up, give him or her an impossible tasks and let them judge themselves for failing.

God’s command to live and love according to His standard, and the example set in Jesus, is not intended to call attention to our behavior and inability, but to hone our attention on Him. Sure, we see our failures when held in contrast with the beauty and perfection of God, but when this happens we are meant to look at God rather than dwell on self.

Friday, June 17, 2011

On the Enigma of Hell and Bakersfield

I am the Boogie Man. It's a fact. This used to bother me, I'd say and think stuff like, "I don't want kids to fear me, why couldn't their parents have chosen something else, you know, like a nice mythical beast. Something with wings and horns would have been classy, maybe a vengeful ancestral spirit?" But no, it's the white guy, he's the one who comes and gets you when you are disobedient and disrespectful to your parents. It's not that he wants to cannibalize the flesh of young children out in the villages, its just his job, kinda his community service. I've come to accept it, little kids running from me screaming because their parents told them stories about the pale-skinned people. Parents, politicians, and priests are the same all over the world; if logic, reason, and education are too much effort, use fear.

Of all the evangelistic techniques used, the trusted standby "You're going to Hell" has always struck me as a copout and made me wonder, "Really, that's your angle?" I don't fully disbelieve the truth of the statement, for all I know it could be true, I just don't understand the surety or the justification for the statement. Are Gandhi, Muhammad, and Judas in Hell? How should I know, I never saw the guest list. The question I'm more interested in is how, in light of all the restoration, rebirth, adoption, validation, new life, healing, deliverance, good news, etc. throughout scripture, does "not going to Hell" become the big sales pitch? It's like using pictures of Detroit to convince people Fiji is a worthwhile destination. I've never been to Detroit but I believe it exists; I've even herd people live there... of their own free will no less?! I don't understand this, but having spent time in Bakersfield, Ca. and Montgomery, Al. I believe it's possible. I don't mind Montgomery, I've just never been in a place with more people eager to leave, free to do so, and resigned to the fact they never will. Bakersfield, Detroit, and Hell represent their own enigmas.

I might get around to reading one of Rob Bell's books, but until then I'll stick with the belief Hell is a real place people will end up in. That said, I've never considered it relevant to any of my beliefs or actions. I might be in denial, but I'd rather live a life geared towards the positives, you know, like that whole God kinda likes us thing and has put a bit of effort into helping us become a bit more alive, a bit more free, and a whole lot more like him. I don't need a Boogie Man to make me like Jesus, I fail to see the point of getting freaked about noises in a closet when there is a party raging outside.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What is value?

I wonder about myself sometimes.

Living in Africa, especially at a school with 800 kids, means your belongings are always growing legs. Usually it's food, sometimes it's coins, and every now and then it's something you kinda really wanted to keep and is hard to replace.

A few day ago the reading light for my Kindle "dissipated". I'm choosing to believe someone picked it up and misplaced it somewhere in the apartment, but I know this is wishful thinking. Someone stole it. What's strange is in light of everything else I've "lost" over the last almost two years, this is the one that pissed me off the most - I have no idea why.

I got this email from my brother this morning:
Hey fella, hope you are doing well. today I was driving to work and I heard a pop!! And lost power. After getting black towed I found out that it slipped the timing chain. Something that is typical i guess. Because of that it bent a cylinder and now it will cost about 3,000 to get her back on the road. My question for you is.... What do you want me to do with the black beauty?

My response was:
The BB is worth less than half the 3,000 to fix it, I'd go with the old standby of selling it for scraps. That or the old flaming cliff dive.

The thing is I had no emotion about my car. You know, that thing I'll actually need when I get back to the states in a few months, that thing I have no money to replace and no way to make money without it. Yeah, I was like "Oh well, I wonder who'll win game 5." I wouldn't have even thought about it past the minute or two it took to process and respond to the email had it not struck me as odd that I really didn't care about a freaking car, yet was ready to go on a Richard B. Riddick, death to all Necros and bug-like aliens, rampage though a school because some kid pocketed a glorified nightlight. I wonder about myself sometimes.

I wonder why I value the things I value. It doesn't seem to have anything to do with actual value or need, I question if it even has anything to do with the physical item itself. If a friend borrows 70,000 shillings, and I know he'll never pay it back, I'm like, "Whatever". Yet some kid with crappy shoes and almost no real belongings pockets 500 shillings and breaks for the door and I'm ready to throttle him. I'd like to say it's because little kids learning to steal is a curse that will destroy their relationships and eventually ostracize them from their community - this is probably some small part of it - but how that behavior effects me probably has a larger impact on my reaction.

Am I that selfish and shallow or is something else going on? Is it an identity thing? I have no idea.

Friday, June 3, 2011

"Winning" and the death of embarrassment

My "spirituality" owns a strange trajectory... sometimes you know what follows a statement like that before you make it, other times you make it and expect previously unknown stuff to follow, sometimes you got nothing but awkward silence.

Strange trajectory, strange trajectory, strange trajectory, spirituality... oh yeah. So I was praying this morning, something that doesn't always happen, and I had one of those little "God moments." Like ended up on my knees and the Sun literally broke through the clouds at the prime moment... moments. It wasn't overwhelming or anything, it was just nice God decided to join the party.

I've prayed for people more or less my entire life, I've seen God show up and do some amazing things, I've seen God use seemingly meaningless things to transform people's lives, and I still feel awkward telling people "So I think God want's to tell you that..." Understand, it is difficult to make me feel awkward. Most of my capacity for embarrassment, and desire to showoff, was slaughtered on the cafeteria floor of Henry Hudson Elementary, circa 1982, when I stood shivering and dripping buck, and butt, naked next to a small clump of soaking wet clothes in front of the school nurse as she answered a question from a 3rd grade girl who walked in as the last of my skivvies hit the floor - that's not what Charlie Shen would call "Winning". Fifteen years later my mom taped a recent picture of me, again in all my glory, on the fridge door - where it hung prominently for several years - the only discomfort I received from it was when my grandma took a prolonged and unnatural interest in it - much closer to "Winning" but still not there. In other words, it seems strange that talking to people, under almost any circumstances, should make me feel awkward - yet it does.

So God shows up, the Sun breaks through the clouds, and, mixed in with a bunch of other stuff, I get a word for someone else. My responses you ask? In close succession, "Cool" and "Well... shoot, I don't want to be "that" jerk." I know, right? So mature and spiritual, nothing but professional Christians work here folks. A little while later, right around the time I wrote up the email and sent it off, I heard the question, "Would you rather be "that" jerk, or the jerk who ignores God?" If you haven't figured it out yet, me and God don't always use "appropriate" language when we communicate, not sure if that says more about me or him?

It's a good question though, which would you rather be? The person who clings to the last dregs of your supposed dignity and class, or the one who gives God the chance to be himself? And once more, why is this even a question? I mean dignity is way overrated, just ask Charlie Sheen.