Vulnerability

I’ve been on a journey the last few months that really started for me at an event called Men at the Cross (crossmg.org/matc.php) It’s been a predominant theme in a lot of my thoughts and interactions with people since then, and today a friend of mine posted a TED talk on facebook that just reinforces it all.

I’ve always been taught that true community only comes when people are open with one another. Light-hearted expressions like “nudity builds community” have been tossed out and hopes of “authentic community” have been expressed by participants of various groups in which I’ve been a part. But it wasn’t until the weekend at Men at the Cross where I really experienced how quickly and easily true community can be created when people are given a safe place where they can have the courage to be vulnerable.

Brown doesn’t go into a lot about where this shame and fear come from or why everyone experiences it. How sad that the scientific community is no longer allowed to use ideas like ‘sin’ because it, more than any other theory, completely explains the feeling of not “measuring up” that is universal to humankind.

The answer to this issue that Brown comes up with is for people to “believe” that they are worthy of love and connection. But she doesn’t really give any concrete evidence about why we should believe that. Naturalism doesn’t give any evidence for it, in fact it gives just the opposite: that eventually those people who fail to have this mentality actually aren’t worthy of it and will just get bred out of existence. But religion does give evidence for why we humans are worthy of love, and I believe Jesus gave the most succinct evidence when he said, For God so loved the world that He gave is only son. We are worthy of love because God loves us.

In fact, no other worldview fits the reality that we see around us as well as does the one that says we are all broken individuals who cannot experiencing the abundant life we were meant for until we recognize that we are worthy of it simply because God loves us.

The Principle of the Thing

Listening To…

A Role is a Role…

Roles play a huge part in the way that I interact with other people. I see every relationship I have in terms of the respective role that I play in that relationship. With my manager, I am the employee interacting with the boss. With my sister, I am the big brother. With my parents, I am the son and the eldest child.

And with each role, there is an nebulous set of rules that guide how I act in each of those relationships. As an employee, I do my best to do everything that my boss asks me to do, taking orders with a smile and providing feedback when asked for it. As a big brother I am supposed to be supportive and protective of my sister. I’m not at all theatrical unless I’m in the role of an actor.

It is what allows me to be totally mellow and go-with-the flow when I’m not in charge, and completely focused and driven when put into a leadership role. I am equally at ease being the center of attention on a theater stage and completely anonymous at a party. But all of these norms that allow me to thrive in a variety of situations is a double edged sword.

A Toll is a Toll…

These roles are how I have learned to function socially and any time those roles are mixed or confused, I don’t know how to respond. I’m out of the house now and all of a sudden my parents are also people who want me as a friend. There is the possibility that girls who I have been friends with for a while could become romantic interests. I feel like these things are a normal part of human experience, but for me, the lines don’t blur easily and the “rules of engagement” that development in my interactions hold me back from behaviors that don’t fit the roles I play in my relationships.

If it Don’t Take no Toll, Then I Don’t Have no Role…

I usually don’t make a post like this unless I have some idea-ribbon to tie it all together and make a neat little package, but this is something I’ve grown up with and some insightful comment isn’t going to suddenly change my perspective. And while it can cause me to feel trapped or alone at times, it is the only framework I have for interacting with people. But I guess knowing is half the battle and by recognizing occasions when my behavior norms are holding me back from something I can take chances to step out of those norms.

Poverty

There’s a power in poverty that breaks principalities;
that brings the authorities down to their knees.
There’s a brewing frustration and ageless temptation
to fight for control by some manipulation.
 
But the God of the Kingdoms and God of the Nations,
the God of Creation sends this revelation
to the homeless and penniless: Jesus, the Son!
The Poor will inherit the Kingdom to Come!
 
Where will we turn when our world falls apart
and all of the treasures we’ve stored in our barns
can’t buy the Kingdom of God?
 
And who will we praise when we’ve praised all our lives
men who build kingdoms and men who build fame
when Heaven does not know their names?
 
And what will we fear when all that remains
is God on the throne with a child in His arms
And love in His eyes,
and the sound of His heartcries?
 
 

I’ve been re-re-reading Crazy Love and Chan mentions a question that one of his professors in college would ask: “What are you doing today that requires faith?” That question resonated with me because honestly, there isn’t anything going on in my life right now that requires me to have faith. I have a steady income, good health insurance, a grocery store down the street, and the biggest anxiety I face is if it’s going to be good hiking weather this weekend.

I live in a bubble where there isn’t room for faith. Faith is risky and it’s so much easier to settle into security, comfort, and status quo. We congratulate ourselves for not being like those silly Israelites who went around worshipping wood and gold statues immediately after witnessing God’s work in their midst, but how quickly do we lay our offerings at the feet of Retirement Plan and worship Flat Panel Screen?

What would it look like for an American Christian to truly live in a way that required faith? My mind goes first to money because we are filthy, stinking rich, but there are certainly other things that require faith of us. It takes faith to step into situations where you could be in trouble if God doesn’t come through. That could mean standing for justice at my job or speaking truth that might cause me to lose relationships. But mostly it’s about money, because that is what we have faith in in this country.

The Blind Men and The Elephant

The Blind Men and The Elephant is a poem adapted from a very old Indian story by John Godfrey Saxe about a group of blind men who stumble across an elephant. They go about trying to describe what an elephant is by examining it with their hands, each one touching a different part and making vastly different claims about what it is. One grabs the tail and says it’s like a rope. One touches a leg and says it’s a tree. Another feels it’s tusk and proclaims it to be like a spear. The obvious point of the story being that while each was correct in describing one aspect of the elephant, none were correct in that the elephant, taken as a whole is not like anything they put forth. It hints at the relativity and inexpressibility of truth.

The Subtle, Reasoned Harmony

Often this story is used by those who would say that all religions and worldviews are basically saying the same thing. That the aspects where they differ are simply the result of each religion taking hold of a different aspect of the same god and making it central. On the surface, this sounds really good. How better to bring the world religions into harmony than to help them to understand that they are all speaking about the same thing seen from different perspectives?

There is a flaw in this proposal that is just as apparent in the story and it is that in order for the story to make any sense it must be told from the perspective of one who can see. Once we realize the narrator is actually an actor in this drama, the moral has a completely different tone. Instead of being a humble statement of, “Who can know with all these different views?”, the narrator (and we by extension) look down on these blind men and say, “Actually, we have the absolute truth and all of you are only seeing aspects of it.”

The Religion of Modern Man

And now we see the modern man, like the condescending narrator, in order to unify the religions of man, must actually put forth that he has been able to grasp what all others have missed and that his religion has claim to absolute truth. If he does not, his views must be evaluated on exactly the same plane as the religions he is purporting to unite. His claims mask themselves as tolerance, saying that your religion and mine are simply seeing different aspects of the same thing, but it is extremely disrespectful to look at two people well versed in differing religions and essentially say to them, “Actually, I know both of your religions better than you do and neither of you are seeing the whole picture like I am.”

If we truly want tolerance, it must be in the respect found when a person of one worldview can meet a person of another worldview with the understanding that neither comes to their beliefs flippantly. To ignore that there are irreconcilable differences in major world religions is to treat them with the same patronising manner that this modern unity theory purports to do away with.

Minami-Sanriku

I had the opportunity last week to visit Japan and provide whatever small help I could to the victims of the tsunami that happened last month, as well as to my friends in Tokyo, who have been coordinating relief efforts from the beginning. Grace City Church is a small church that started meeting less than a year ago in Tokyo and they have joined with another church in the neighboring province of Chiba to make over 50 trips into the hard hit province of Tohoku. The day after flying into Tokyo I got to sit in on a meeting with the main organizers of what is turning into a full fledged organization they are calling Grace City Relief. It was such a great opportunity to really comprehend their vision for the future in Tohoku.

They are looking to gain official non-profit status in Japan and are hoping to establish a community center in the town of Ishinomaki. It’s through this that they want to bring the community of those remaining in Ishinomaki together so that they see that they are not alone. It was awesome to see their desire for a long term endeavor. What was described to me and what I saw was that the Japanese government is doing an excellent job of reestablishing infrastructure, but what is lacking is the rebuilding of people, both emotionally and mentally. Some of the towns that were hit by this tragedy lost half their population, and those that survived have lost their whole livelihoods. It is essential that they see that the others in their community and those outside it are all standing with them in order to give them the courage to actually start rebuilding.

 

On the following day, we loaded a moving van with fresh vegetables donated by a grocer in Tokyo, as well as an electronic Organ (the couple I was staying with were both accomplished musicians and Roger wanted to bring music in to a place that hadn’t had it for weeks). It took 7 hours to drive from Tokyo to Minami-Sanriku (which is about 10 miles from Ishinomaki) and we finally pulled up to a ritzy hotel that missed the tsunami as it was high on a cliff overlooking a bay. The hotel was giving much of it’s space to relief and cleanup workers and had also given space to the full time members of an organization called OGA for Aid. We met up with this group and stayed in the room next to theirs in the staff dorms above the hotels day care center.

 

The following day we loaded our van with more supplies they had gotten previously and headed out on a round of delivering provisions to a number of unofficial hinanjos (evacuation sites) in the area. There are a few large government run hinanjos as well, but many people have chosen not to live in the cramped spaces and are relying on the aid of grassroots organizations like OGA and Grace City Relief for help.

 

Many of these hinanjos are the homes of people in the highlands of Minami-Sanriku who have opened their doors to their neighbors. The hinanjo pictured below is housing 18 people and they are taking care of the distribution of provisions to about 180 other people in nearby homes.

I was amazed by the complete destruction of the town. I saw the pictures and all the before and after shots, but it was when I was standing in the middle of a field of rubble the size of a town where only 3 buildings were left upright that I really glimpsed it. The residents had been warned that the tsunami would be about 6 meters high, but when it hit land, it rose to over 23 meters and swept away even some of the evacuation sites people had fled to. This car was lifted and set on the roof of a three story building, and this was a quarter mile inland from the coast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was some good to be seen, though. As I said, the Japanese government has worked quickly to reestablish roads and power to most of the area. We even past this amazing, operating gas station in town amidst all of the debris. The attendants were manning the stations while the suit-clad owner stood in front of the metal skeleton of what used to be his garage. It was amazing how much hope that one spot gave amidst all of the wreckage, that rebuilding and restoring is possible.

What Church?

Why do our churches not look like the early church? Why do we gather on Sunday mornings and maybe small grops once during the week. We talk with our friends, share the latest news and gossip and then sit in a lecture hall to sing emotionally stirring songs and hear intellectually stimulating sermons, then say goodbye and have our weeks to ourselves with our other friends.

Why doesn’t the church act as our life and health and unemployment insurance? Why doesn’t it share meals every day? Why have we relegated mercy ministries to para-church organizations? I feel like if my church were to disappear tomorrow, I could easily replace it with some other social club. I could join a bowling league or a community chorus and fill the niche that the church currently fits in my life.

It would be so easy to pass this problem off to “the Church”, but the Church is its members. We are the church and if we see problems, they are only the manifestations of our individual issues. If the Church is not caring for the poor or seeking social justice, it is because the church’s members are not seeking to be imitators of Christ in His ministry to the outcast and downtrodden. If the Church is hostile and accusatory towards those outside it’s walls, it is because the church’s members have failed to see themselves in the chastised religious elite gripping stones to throw at the adulterous woman. If the Church’s main concern seems to be gaining political power and legislating a comfortable situation, it is because the church’s members have become like Jesus’ disciples on the road to Jerusalem; expecting Jesus to ride in and overthrow the Roman oppressor, all the while missing Jesus own words “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” (Luke 18:31-33).

The Christians of Acts shared everything and depended heavily on the community of the Church for even their basic needs. I don’t depend on my church at all. In fact, I often catch myself thinking about how much the church relies on me! Certainly I should be ready to help those in the church (or else how would anyone be able to depend on the Church in the first place?) but if the degree to which I bear the burdens of those in the Church does not cause me to turn around and lay my own burdens on other brothers and sisters, am I truly bearing any burden at all?

Doing Unto Others…

In college, the a cappella group that I was in often had a booth on our quad to publicize various auditions and concert events and I spent a lot of time manning that booth. This usually meant sitting for an hour or two at the table waiting for the occasional passerby to take notice and come up to ask a question or get a ticket. That is, unless we happened to be placed in a booth next to the one that the Mormons were using.

I dreaded sitting on those days, because I knew they would want to talk to me. I dreaded it because in everything they said, I felt like they were positioning themselves to share their beliefs with me, even if it was the most innocuous “Hi, how are you.” This always put me on the defensive because I didn’t want to hear their beliefs. I didn’t want them trying to convert me, and yet here I was publicizing a singing group whose sole agenda was to share the love of Christ to the campus.

I don’t bring up spiritual things with people because I am afraid of being like those Mormons. I’m afraid that people will react to me the same way that I react to people of other faiths who try to share their beliefs with me: by clamming up and going on the defensive. I don’t want to share my faith because I don’t like other people sharing their faith’s with me.

It’s not that I’m afraid that they may be able to ‘convert’ me or ‘defeat’ me in some way. I’m very confident in what I believe. The trouble is, I have a sense that other people are just as secure in their beliefs, so trying to talk about them in a persuasive manner is an exercise in futility. Why should I bring up a topic like faith with someone who is as set in their own ways as I am in mine?

Perhaps the issue is how much emphasis I place on persuasive speech. If my faith were as much a part of me as, say, my love of snowboarding, why should talking about my beliefs with other people be any different than talking about the gnarly slopes I hit last weekend? Any time faith or beliefs comes up in conversation, my mind immediately jumps into ‘debate mode’ (which is sad, because I’m kind of terrible at debate and I know it so ‘debate mode’ really turns into, ‘say nothing of significance so I don’t mess up other people’s witness in the future mode’). Perhaps I need to train myself to not jump into that thinking and instead just talk about my experience of faith. I could take a lesson from Paul about staying away from subtle argument and persuasive speech and leaving room for the Holy Spirit to work, because He’ll do a much better job of it than I ever could.

Pointless Babbling.

That title wasn’t meant to be ironic or suggestive of anything. I just got a new keyboard and figured I should test is out on my blog. It’s been an awesome Christmas time here in Charlotte. Had a white day after Christmas, which is more than I can say for Denver, unfortunately. Denver has been dry for pretty much all of winter so far. Hopefully that will change in the near future. But at least the mountains have been getting hit pretty good. Best early ski season in years from what I’m told.
I think it’s about time for me to make another post with some meat on it. Be looking for that in the near future.

Stasis

I feel like the last few months I’ve been in spiritual stasis, alternately drifting through short waves of interest and disillusionment. I’m waiting for something, but I’m not sure what that is. I want to be more passionate about my Savior, but I’m not sure how I can do that of my own accord. I have been taught that it is God who both wills and works in me (Phil 2:13), but whether because I don’t believe or am not obeying, I don’t see God working the passion in me that I desire.

My current situation in life has left me with a great deal of free time, but rather than utilizing that time for constructive endeavors, I so often just squander it in front of the television or browsing the internet. I like to say that I”m not passionate about watching tv, but for the amount of time I tend to spend on it, that is really not true. I have not reached the point where spending time in prayer or in the Word is really more desirable to me than vegging out on a video game.

The Church

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Church and her position, commission, and mode of operation in the story of time. This song has become one of my favorite hymns because every time I sing it, I can catch a glimpse of the Church as Jesus intended. It is the Church firmly rooted and fully dependent on the Holy Spirit, eagerly anticipating the renewing of creation at the coming wedding feast with the Son, and passionately seeking to glorify the Father in defending the poor and destitute.

I also heard an great sermon by Francis Chan called “Is This Really Church” in which he goes into detail about exegesis and eisegesis. Being the high and might Bible School graduate that I am, I felt very good about knowing what he was talking about already, but he took it a step further than I’d ever thought about and talked about exegetical living. Basically eisegesis is taking preconceived ideas, notions and norms and finding texts that support those norms outside of the context of the passage. It’s generally considered a bad thing. Exegesis is the opposite, where you come to a passage and without any preconceptions, say “What can I learn from this passage of scripture.”

When we think of the things that make a Church a church here in America, there are a few things that stand out. Worship Music (4 or 5 songs with some prayers by the Worship Director interspersed), followed by 20 to 30 minute sermon by the Pastor, then the offering, another song, and then everyone gets to leave. Of course, this all takes place in some big meeting space with auditorium style seating so that people don’t have to look at each other and breakout space so the kids can go with the Youth Director. But if we look look exegetically at the model for the church that is laid out in the New Testament, I think we’d come out with a vastly different picture.

The Church that the Bible talks about is one centered around a community loving one another, providing for each others needs and sharing the Gospel. It was about breaking bread together and taking communion regularly to remind each other of Christ’s sacrifice for us all. Can we really call it Church on Sunday when most of us find an inconspicuous place to sit, soak up some knowledge and bolt as soon as we’re excused?

Not that Sunday services aren’t good things, but we as the American church need to recognize that we are called to so much more than the 3 hours we put in on Sunday mornings. We’re called to administer our spiritual gifts to one another in communities that are interdependent.