Monday, December 31, 2007

Awkward things that happen at church

  • Person next to you has eyes closed, you want to get by to take communion
  • You drop the body of Christ in the wine glass. What are you supposed to do in that situation? Always wondered about that.
  • Person next to you tries to lift up his/her arms to Christ, but hits you instead
  • You spot a person who pretended to put money in the offering
  • Singing the wrong words. Funny on any occasion, but even better when people are saying things like “lion and the clam”

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Thoughts from seat 11C

My flight touched down in Philadelphia at "approximately 6:26" on Friday morning. I put the time in quotation marks because the stewardess actually said those words ("...where the local time is approximately 6:26"). This baited the wrath of The Guy Across the Aisle, who was incredulous of her phrasing.

How can it be approximately 6:26? You can say approximately 6:25 or approximately 6:30. 6:26 is not approximate.

Soon thereafter, I heard him talking about the holiday season and inevitably New Years. "Resolutions don't work," he said, "My New Year's resolution is to not make any more resolutions."

Sigh.

Look, I know the guy was just trying to be funny (hunch: saying "see you next year" to people on December 31st is also in his joke portfolio), but it always distresses me when people say things like this. Why? Because it communicates a certain cynicism, a bored acceptance with life. Resolutions don't work. I'm XX years old and I'm not changing.

Here's the deal, folks: resolutions don't work because people don't put effort into them. By the time you've past adolescence, you have to actively work at changing things about yourself. It's the same basic thing with being a Christian: if you half-heartedly ask God to make you more patient (or whatever), it doesn't work unless you put effort into it as well. Doing that is essentially the same thing as resolving to lose 15 pounds in 2008, then continuing with the same eating/exercise habits.

I wholeheartedly believe that God wants to grant our prayers...but He also doesn't want to be treated like a genie. That's essentially what you're doing when you pray for something, then put no follow-up effort into it. So when you're praying for something (or making resolutions) actively commit to following up. God will provide you the strength to change, but only if you hold up your end of the bargain.

(Not that we can ever truly hold up our end of the bargain. But you know what I mean)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A great movie...

So I saw a movie the other night that I really loved, and I just wanted to recommend it, because it's one that looks very weird at first glance.  It's called Lars and the Real Girl (you can find the trailer at http://www.fandango.com/videos_1_204035/v353041 ...I would have put a link to it, but I still don't know how to do that yet).  Anyway, its about a guy with delusional disorder who's had some difficult things happen to him in life and he ends up ordering a "girlfriend" online (who is really a life-size doll)... The whole town is in on his recovery process and treats her as a real person to try to help Lars overcome the delusion; it really is a beautiful thing.  Very quirky, and very sweet movie.  I feel like it is profound because its only by the grace of God that we're not all in Lars' position of being too afraid to be hurt and resorting to delusions to maintain our sanity.  Although we don't have pretend girlfriends (as far as I know), we all have our own things that we hide behind and keep from taking risks out of fear and are held back from being the people that God created us to be.  Just throwing it out there...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Things to think about in Portland while you're alive

I was thinking today about how much I like using my windshield wipers. There's something gratifying in allowing the water to accumulate, then swatting it all away.

Thing is, I find it pointless to have the wipers on rapid fire. I want the water to accumulate, darn it. Wiping the water away as soon as it lands? BOR-RING.

It strikes me that I feel this way throughout life. What's the point of sweeping the floor every day when you can wait a while and feel a sense of accomplishment? Why vacuum regularly when you can put it off and then find gratification in a sucking noise?

I do this on a relational level as well. I need to see the progress. So, when I'm looking at my spiritual journey, I'm frustrated I can't become a "better Christian" (sorry for the cliche) overnight. When I'm sharing my faith, I want the person across from me to convert on the spot.

You already know the flaw in this logic: people are not like windshield wipers. You can't just wait for the "rain" to accumulate, then wipe it away by telling them about the gospel. Instead, we've got to do what we can to show them Christ's love and hope/pray that, over time, the water will be thrown from the windshield (even if it initially looks like the windshield will be wet forever).

I probably mixed at least one metaphor there. Hopefully you know what I mean.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

$122,000!!!

That's the amount of money Imago Dei pulled in during the first Sunday of Advent Conspiracy donations!!! That is so awesome!!! Think of how much clean water this is bringing in worldwide!! And this comes from someone who despises using exclamation points!

If you missed out, you can either donate at Sunday's sermon (put it in the basket on the Communion tables) or do so online online by clicking here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Under the Overpass

I'm reading this book Under the Overpass, which details two young Christians' voluntary six months of homelessness. One of these two was my friend Sam.

Why did they do this? As outlined in the first chapter (p. 19), they wanted to:
  1. Better understand the life of the homeless in America and to see firsthand how the church is responding their needs;
  2. Encourage others to "live out loud" for Christ in whatever ways God is asking them to;
  3. Learn personally what it means to depend on Christ for [their] daily physical needs and to experience contentment and confidence in Him.
I'm in love with this book's message and, even during an extremely busy period in my life, will probably finish it within three days of purchase. Here are some of my favorite quotes through the first half of the book:

  • "When you're sitting on a sidewalk, you're at eye level with babies and kids. It's a different world down there. As toddlers stumble past holding their parent's hand, they lock you in their unashamed gazes or they peek curiously out from their strollers. They haven't yet learned to ignore what they see, so they can actually take in the world as it is. While kids might pretend people who don't exist do, it's the parents who pretend that unwanted people who do exist don't." (p.65)
  • "I think I often pray 'Thy will be done' not really meaning that...I think I mean more often, in all honesty, 'Thy will be done because I already know what I'm doing today.' "
    (p. 85)

  • "What's your definition of a Christian? Is it broad enough to encompass the drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes, and broken people of the world? Jesus said that he came to heal the sick. Drug addicts are messed up just the same as liars are messed up, just the same as all humans are messed up. We all need Jesus. We all struggle with personal ways in which sin plays out in our lives." (p. 105)

Monday, December 10, 2007

New Pet Peeve

It used to just be wearing nice dry socks and then stepping in something wet, like on the kitchen floor, that was my #1 pet peeve. Then, it was walking by the microwave after someone takes out their hot food before the time was up, leaving, for example, "1:38" flashing on the screen. Today I just discovered a new pet peeve of mine. It goes like this:

You get a hair cut.
You like your hair cut.
You can't wait for people to compliment you on your hair.
You go to work.
You get a ton of, "Oh... You got your hair cut!" comments.

That means they are subscribing to the "If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all" rule. Or, the one that says, "Make your comment totally pointless by stating the obvious and avoiding giving a compliment altogether."

Next time you see someone who got their hair cut and you DON’T like it, just lie. Just say, "I like your hair cut." It will do worlds of wonder for their self-esteem.

How does this relate to the Gospel? It exchanges one principle (don't lie) for another (build one another up). The two cancel out and leave the person with the hair cut a much happier being.

Mis suenos and mis futuras

One of the biggest things I desire in life is to be a trusting Christian, one who knows that God will look after him. This mindset is in opposition to how I've lived much of my life, of course, but I'm desperately trying to stop worrying and instead trusting in Him (hence the SHeDAISY post). This, of course, is not easy. Sometimes I think I like worrying -- at least that way I'm doing something. Taking my hands off the steering wheel, sitting idly in the car as I blindly accept that God will take care of me...I mean, a big part of me just wants to do it for myself, ya know?

I think that's why I sometimes have trouble with dreams -- there's nothing I can do to change them. The closest I can come is to worry about what happened, what it meant and why I can't remember more.

Last night's dream featured a girl whose name I know but who I've never spoken to in real life. She was exceedingly kind and addressed me as Michael -- a term of endearment ordinarily reserved only for close friends, girlfriends and family members.

This situation always freaks me out because when I see the person from the dream-- as I did this morning at church -- I'm wary that somehow they'll know. Worse, they'll confront me about it. Why were you dreaming about me when we don't even know each other? Has this happened before? and that sort of thing.

Fortunately, I've consulted with my resident dream interpretor, Nerg, who assured me that the people in dreams are not actual people. Instead, they're symbols of something deeper. When I dream of my parents, for instance, I'm actually dreaming about comfort, security or socks without elastic. Likewise, when Person X was in my dream, she represented the unknown.

Using that logic, the unknown world was smiling at me, being kind and affectionate, calling me by my full name. I'll take it. Let's trust in the Lord that "the unknown" future will be welcoming and something I should look forward to, rather than something I fear. It's time once again to take the hands off the steering wheel and know surely and clearly that I'll be taken care of.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Please don't let anything happen to her


(Note: This is kinda long but I promise it eventually relates to the gospel.)

Talk to me for long enough and you're sure to hear about my toeing-the-line-between-healthy-and-unhealthy crush on Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles. Beautiful voice, perfect dressy/thrift storey style combination, always seems like she's both sincere and having fun, wonderful stage presence...She even plays the tambourine (how cool is that?). She had me the first time she said "ah" (I). I'm like a PG version of those early 90s black and white Denis Leary commercials on MTV where he would obsess about Cindy Crawford. And you know what? I'm fine with that.

What I'm not fine with is where I fear her career is headed. This girl is about to be wicked famous (not always a good thing). First there was the duet with Bon Jovi. Then the tour with Kenny Chesney. Suddenly they're receiving a standing ovation at this year's Country Music Awards, culminating in the CMA for Best Duet (an award Brooks and Dunn had won six years in a row). Now JN is being picked up in the non-country world, where publications like the Boston Globe are lauding her as being "poised for breakout stardom."

In short, we're only about six months away from google searches where half the results for her name bring back sites called "Jennifer Nettles is hottttttttttt!!!!!!!!!!!!" Sigh.

Have you ever loved someone you've never met? Where there's just something about him or her that speaks to you, that makes you think you could be friends? But the problem is that we're not friends. There's no advice I can give her, nothing I can do to keep her away from the lures of stardom and power. All I can do is sit here and hope that nothing happens to her.

It strikes me that this has to be similar to how parents must feel about children --
Please don't let anything happen to them.
Please let them stay innocent.

On a deeper level, it must be how God feels about us, at least to some degree. We're His children, people He loves, people for whom He desires the very best. He doesn't want anything to happen to us.

Somewhere along the way, we screw it up. We stop believing in His plans for us, we try to go our own way, we squander our lives on things we can't take with us to the grave. We grow proud in our own spirituality and lead others away from their faith. It's not always pretty.

Yet in spite of our selfishness, He extends us the offer: simply accept Jesus as our savior, and all will be forgiven. When I think of passages like the parable of the Prodigal Son, it warms my heart, makes me eternally grateful and filled with hope for others. Even when something does "happen" to us, we can find salvation in the Lord. We are saved.

I know it's cliche to write words like this but that doesn't make them any less true. It is so freaking awesome to feel that love. That's the most important thing of all. After all, if God is for us, who can be against us?

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Get Rich This Instant!

I don't know. Is it breaking some un-blogged rule to post a post in one blog that links you to another blog? Well, hey, at least they're both hosted by Blogger.

I wrote my most recent This Instant! as I was thinking about the madness of the Christmas shopping season that is taking over my coworkers' lives. Not my church friends' lives, of course, as we are all (with a plumber still on the fence) 100-percent Advent Conspirators.

Anyway, it affords one an interesting perspective...watching the spending frenzy from "the outside" while sitting contentedly on the sidelines, just watching my bank account hold steady through the month that it typically dips dangerously low. I can't help but ponder the meaning of the word "rich" and how misunderstood it truly is.

Read my post if you so desire. And may your life be rich this Christmas.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Mars, Venus and me

So Sunday marked the first time that a woman has ever given a sermon at Imago. I didn't find this to be a particularly big deal, which is almost definitely because I wasn't raised in a slow-moving church culture. Apparently it is kind of a big deal (much like Ron Burgundy).

Anyway, I bring this up because I noticed a striking gender difference in the way Sunday's sermon was received (at least among my friends). Some of the ladies I talked to mentioned that "it was so amazing", that they "loved the message so much" and that "you could feel there a special energy in the audience today." When I talked to guys about this...let's just say I don't recall hearing anything about a "special energy" in the air.

To be completely honest, the sermon gave me more trouble than usual. I understood the basic thesis statement: God is with us. He's with us all the time. This is a good thing. This makes all the difference in our lives. I do feel like I missed the deeper meaning, which is troublesome.

I've had a few days to ponder why and here's what I've come up with:

If you buy into the whole "most women and men communicate differently" thing -- and I do -- you probably also buy into the idea that women tend to talk more about feelings and are more inclined to want the listener to read between the lines. Thing is, I'm not good at reading between the lines. I like things to be straightforward and linear. Basically I want each sermon to be a big outline. What had never previously occurred to me is that, with having only heard male-style sermons before, I was really only being exposed to one way of presenting the information.

Which means I hadn't thought for even two seconds about how difficult it must be for women to always have to cross-over to the male communication style for sermons,
Which means I'm plainly not thinking about how others perceive things,
Which means I'm only thinking of myself again.

Darn it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

I think, therefore I am confused

Imagine you're reading along, and suddenly a common word catches your eye. Let's say, "stove," for instance. You might even ask yourself, is that the right way to spell stove? But of course it is. So why does it look so odd? You consider it, maybe read it over a few times. Every read, though, makes it seem more and more absurd.

It's funny how this can happen with the most mundane of words—think about it too much, and it just starts getting weird on you. Stove. What gets me, though, is that I do the same thing with real-life situations (and I imagine I'm not the only one). I have an uncanny ability to induce "analysis paralysis" by over-analyzing things, items that often don't even deserve a second thought. I'm not saying it's bad to be thoughtful, but obviously there is a point of excess—once again, you CAN have too much of a good thing.

"But I really need to figure this out!!" Shush. Maybe I don't.

Take this post, for example. I actually came up with it last week, but I thought about it so much on my run that I didn't bother to put it writing.

Feel free to draw connections between this and the previous post about worrying (sorry for omitting any supplementary country lyrics).

Lastly, a statement that I think applies here, from John the Baptist, about Christ: "He must increase, but I must decrease."

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Inspirational Country Music Lyrics of the Day

Courtesy SHeDAISY:
Life is funny, life's a mess
Sometimes a curse, sometimes a blessing
Don't worry 'bout a thing, don't worry 'bout it

Life gets sticky, life can bruise
Sometimes you win sometimes you're losing
No matter what it brings
Don't worry 'bout a thing
Rather than "bla bla bla bla" being the next line, as in the actual song (seriously...gotta love country music), I'll add this: instead of worrying, pray. As we're reminded in Matthew 6:25-27, all the worrying in the world cannot add a single hour to our life.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Things I learned in the barber's chair

I love my barber (hair stylist?) Carmen at Rudy's in the Pearl. If she were taller, single and a Christian, I would marry her. Alas, she is none of those things, though I guess I could be wrong on the Christian bit. Haven't quite broached that conversation whilst in the barber shop.

Regardless, she's my favorite barber ever. I told her this two days ago. My supporting evidence was as follows:

• When I ask her what I should do with my hair, she gives me a legit answer. It's not "well, what do you usually do?" or a conservative response. She takes ownership of her opinion.

• To my knowledge, she's the only barber in Portland who takes a straight edge to the back of your neck. Guys LOVE this in a haircut.

• She doesn't force me to talk. The whole patterned so what's your name/what do you do/where are you from bit drives me nuts. For years I've dreaded the barber shop based on the likelihood of this conversation template. Thing is, since Carmen doesn't do the small talk thing, I'm much more likely to engage in genuine conversation. Funny how that works.

Lastly -- and this is the point of this post -- she trims my eyebrows. Why is that such a big deal? For a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I would never think to do it myself. I guess I would have replied "yes" had you asked "Mike, do you think you have bushier eyebrows than the average bear?" but I would never have considered it on my own accord. Carmen noticed that about me and suggested a change. This makes me think of all the times
in life where someone so clearly needs something, but we just let it go because "they'll figure it out themself." People have probably been saying that about me and my eyebrows for 29 years.

So...in whose life have you noticed a need for change, but haven't vocalized a suggestion? Who needs help but might be too afraid (or proud) to ask for it? Whose eyebrows can you trim today?

(Metaphorically speaking, of course)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Friday, November 23, 2007

Everyday Love...In lieu of country music metaphors...

I have a perpetual need for change… I used to call them “commitment issues”…I tried to resolve them by getting a tattoo about 5 years ago. While I felt I had accomplished something profound by committing to something for a lifetime, and do not regret my tiny tattoo, I still have this urge to be constantly in the process of change, and forever on the verge of something new… This leads to a lack of decisiveness for fear that I’ll make the wrong decision and end up stuck in something (which makes career choice infinitely more complicated, hence my still being in school).  I was really afraid to get married.  The thought of it used to make me literally feel nauseous, and I nearly vomited on a handful of occasions that I can remember when the thought of it was too overwhelming.  This was coupled with the fact that I did want to get married and have a family eventually, but I didn’t think that would be for a long time... but low and behold God put someone in my life that I wanted (past and present tense) to be with forever…So I got married…commitment issues solved for good…go me…  Ok, not quite that simple… I still have this need for change…no, not in my choice of spouse, I’m very happy with that decision, but I still feel this restlessness in life that keeps me wanting to be going new places, seeing new things, meeting new people, and when I’m not doing that I get restless.  I have this deep down feeling that if I lead a “normal life” I’ll have failed… Weird, right? (can anyone pick an idle that fits this description?) I remember listening to the song “This Everyday Love” by Rascal Flatts on my wedding day, and tearing up because it was that love that I was about to embark upon, and it was that love that I wanted…The “ordinary, plain and simple, typical, everyday love”.  No need for anything too fancy, just the everydayness in itself is beautiful.  The wedding was great, but it wasn’t just the event that I was really looking forward to, in fact it was a relief to have it over.  So I get that love…everyday…and it is truly beautiful… Yet still in life, I feel restless, and while now I have someone that will share in my adventures, I still get frustrated when we’re not having one.  I’m like that in my faith too.  I want to be on the verge of something, learning something, doing something cool for God like moving to a different country or something (is that really for God or for me?..).  This gets to the point where I forget to receive his everyday love.  If I’m not doing something profound I feel abandoned by God.  When I’m not on the mountaintop, I wonder where He’s gone.  I know its me that spins in circles and I forget to pay attention to the daily blessings.  I get too focused on what I’m not able to do right now (or on what I am doing that seems meaningless) that I don’t even do the things that bring me closer to God on a daily basis.  Just because I am where I am doesn’t mean I have to be stagnant in my faith.  I can be still without being stagnant.  I really need to learn how…We can talk about our idols all we want, but naming them doesn't make them easy to fix I guess...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

So Small

If you were expecting this post to be about the Carrie Underwood song with the same title, I like the way you're thinking. Fantastic song, great message and as is often the case with country music tunes, I find myself relating to the gospel through it.

With that said, this post is actually about feeling small in life. Chase and I were talking about this on Friday night: sometimes that feeling is nice. I doubt if I'd appreciate it at all times -- I'm small quickly becomes I suck, I'm not good at anything and I doubt anyone would notice if I vanished forever -- but once in a while it's comforting to feel small.

I know that I tend to feel this way any time I'm in vastness. Whether hiking a mountain, driving through the countryside or staring at the sky above, I love looking around and feeling the size of an ant.

Realistically, it's as much about things being so BIG as it is about me being so small. It's like, I look out on the open ocean and am reminded that there's an incomprehensibly large God who has created this world. It's great -- and fairly mind-boggling, when you think about it -- to have his love felt by li'l old me.

All of which leads to this thought --

If people experience God in this same way, does all of our urban sprawl, overpopulation and general lack of open space make it harder to feel His presence? Does our tendency to spend money on technology and other indoor activities lead us away from God?

That's my theory.

Required (or at least suggested) reading if you're feeling bad about yourself

Czech it out here

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Confession

When I'm taking communion, I try to take as big a piece of the body of Christ as possible.

Does that make me a bad Christian?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Comfort Idol and Social Justice

I agreed to speak at Imago Dei Kids about a month ago. The topic was "God is Just". As I began to prepare, I realized that justice, as a concept, is easiest to explain through the idea of injustice. So, in lieu of talking in terms of criminal justice, I spoke about social justice. In the beginning God created enough for everyone, enough food, water, shelter, etc. In modern day times, though, millions suffer and die from starvation, lack of access to clean water, and exposure, clearly not what God intended pre-fall. The kids totally connected with the message and gave great answers about ways they can impact this injustice.

Then, in between services, I began thinking about the kids I know in the slums of Nairobi and Dodoma and the war-ravaged villages of Southern Sudan and Northern Uganda who live in this injustice every day. If I were given the same assignment to talk to those kids about the just-ness of God's character, what examples could I give them? In a world where children have seen their families slaughtered by militants or waste away from malnutrition and disease, where is God's justice in their lives?


Then the Holy Spirit reminds me of my conviction from last week's sermon. I see every luxury and every indulgent comfort in my life with fresh eyes. I see glimpses of the walls of my Comfort prison, padded and soft though they be, thickening with every idolatrous act of worship. The words of the very Scripture verses I'm using in my lesson about justice echo through that chamber: "Always be generous, open purse and hands, give to your neighbors in trouble, your poor and hurting neighbors...Your job is to stand up for the powerless...Speak out for justice!" The longer I serve the idol of Comfort, the thicker the walls of my prison become and the more isolated and apathetic I become to the cries of injustice, the more unable I find myself to live sacrificially on their behalf.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Article on Imago and the Advent Conspiracy

Here it is. This is especially funny if you know Jan Carson, who is singled out as being, well, single and who says "stuff" three times in a matter of like nine words.

999 conversations to go

I think I once noted at HC that the average person needs to be asked seven (7) times before they'll go to church. Seven freaking times.

If that's the case, my friend John snuck in at just under than the average. I've been trying to persuade a friend to attend Imago with me for a while and finally it happened today. True story.

Without giving much of his background away, let's just summarize John by saying that he grew up in the deep South, went to college with me in Virginia and somewhere along the line lost his faith. I don't think he'd mind me revealing those things.

At any rate, I have total ADD right now, and when this happens I like to eschew paragraph form in favor of bullet points. I also like to pat myself in the back for using the word "eschew."

Some things I thought about today:

• How frightening it is to walk into a big church for the first time. Even at a place as seemingly hospitable as Imago, the sheer number of people in attendance is staggering. It's easy to feel small and lost in the crowd, which is yet another reason why greeting people (and simply smiling at passers-by) is important.

• How thankful I am to have friends who will stand there and get to know a stranger, rather than just introducing themselves to him and moving on to a different conversation. That means so much to me I cannot put it into words.

• How easy it is to feel marginalized when you're not accustomed to a church's way of doing things. Thank Heavens that Imago makes announcements about the offering, has Communion in the front and doesn't sing hymns. I cannot emphasize this enough: these traditions do not make sense unless you've previously been to church. I remember my first few times at church wondering how everyone else knew what to do. How did they know the words to these songs? What was I supposed to do when this wicker basket was passed down the aisle? Am I supposed to drink this plastic cup of purple liquid right away, or am I meant to wait until everyone else has received it?

• How great it is to have a pastor who a) preaches from the word; and b) fesses up to being broken.

But what I'm choosing to remember most today is a conversation about Pink Floyd. John's band lists them as a major musical influence. When he mentioned as much aloud, he was asked if they were a bunch of stoners. John and I have a similar opinion on Floyd: their music is phenomenal and it's a shame so many people associate them with drugs.

It occurred to me how similar I feel to Jesus' message in relation to Christians. I love Jesus' message and it's a shame so many people have chosen to distort it. Here's hoping we can all work to communicate Jesus' message, not our own warped opinions.

Comfort = Stress Avoidance = Ignorance

My quickest way of summarizing the "comfort" idol is to say that it's about self-selecting every facet of your life. You only see certain types of movies, you only do things you like to do, do whatever you can to avoid stress and so on.

It also means that you self-select your friends. By extension, you self-select your conversations. Since most of us choose friends who share our opinions, we tend to be in situations where we're really only hearing our own thoughts coming from someone else's mouth. Rarely do people align with those who would present a conflicting opinion. Ultimately, then, the comfort idol stunts people's communication and growth.

And that, my friends, is why it's most important to share your faith with others. They've likely self-selected who they talk to, their conversations, etc. and in the process have subconsciously removed any possibility of hearing what the gospel is really about. That's where we need to come in. Who's up for that challenge?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Insanity

You know how people say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results? According to some people, Albert Einstein said it; I've mouthed it myself at least once in the past. It certainly is an effective rhetorical device if you want someone to change their behavior (arguments are so much easier to win when you define the terms), despite being sort of an ad hominem approach ("you're just being crazy").

Today, though, while thinking about the saying for no particular reason, I realized what a poor adage it is. First of all, it's not the literal definition of "insanity." Go ahead and take 30 seconds to look it up. Secondly, it's not a good functional definition, either. Not even close, actually. Most actions, if repeated, can produce different results, and many do. Think about it: playing slots; speeding on the freeway; petting a leopard; eating food from the thrift store; asking someone out; beachcombing. In fact, it seems to me that expecting different results indicates a measure of faith--at the very least, faith that something else will happen this time--and that, unlike insanity, can be a positive quality. And Einstein's probably been misquoted on faith, too...


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Maybe it is Easy Being Green

I found this article today. It made me happy to see, for once, positive press for "evangelicals." Well, I guess that's open to interpretation, but positive according to me:


http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21656644/

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The God of hope

In the past two days, I've had my car sideswiped in the middle of the night and the light stolen off my bike. My immediate reaction in this situations is always one of disappointment and mini-depression. Who sideswipes a car and fails to leave a note? Who steals my crappy bike light? Is this why there's a lack of trust in the world today? Is this the way the world is headed? Is this what Portland is really like?

But then I do myself the favor of remembering that I'm being looked over by the God of hope, that my current disappointments are not the end of the world and that, during the valleys of life, God is building me up for a peak.

I hate (or at least dislike) when this happens

So I just watched this movie Breach the other night (courtesy Multnomah County Library system). This film features a devoutly religious character...who also winds up being the evil, betraying-the-country type. Yawn. It's a decent enough movie (though I find it questionable to giving away the ending within the first two minutes) but for Pete's sake, can we find a new stereotype? The whole "hypocritical religious guy" bit is overdone. Shawshank, mob movies, Saved, Boondock Saints, etc. have all tackled this theme at length. When will a movie plot include an admirable Christian character? Does such a character seem too far-fetched for the general public?


(Note1: I'm now realizing this movie was actually based on a true story. But still)

(Note2: I was once told A Walk to Remember has a worthwhile "religious" character. Never did see that film, though)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Random thankfulness

I’ve been to the dentist three times in as many weeks.

After the first time, they told me I needed a root canal. It’ll cause some pain for a day or two, they said, but you’ll get used to it.

After the second time, they told me I would in a few days get used to the pain where my second bicuspid used to be.

After the third time, they told me I would have to wear this $400 mouthguard every night for the rest of my life. Apparently I grind my teeth at night – who knew? – and that’s a big reason why I needed a root canal in the first place. I should be used to the mouthguard within a few days, which is good because right now I sound like I have a lisp with it in. When you already listen to Carrie Underwood and Faith Hill, adding a lisp to the mix, even at night, is NOT a good way to emphasize your heterosexuality. Here’s hoping I can “get used to it” sooner rather than later.

Having written out all of this, I’m seeing that I kept saying/thinking/writing about “getting used to it.” I’m thankful we can get used to things – weather, smells, sounds, $400 mouthguards, people who talk incessantly, all of it. That's a nice little gift from God, now isn't it?

Monday, October 29, 2007

I'm kind of a big deal

If you go to the Imago Dei website right now -- I'll even make it easy for you. Click here -- you'll see your fearless leader under the "A Deeper Look" section. Oh yeah.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Life according to Kenny Chesney lyrics

My man Kenny Chesney (who even three months ago I would have derided but who I'm now comfortable calling my man) sings this song "Beer in Mexico" that's been fairly constant in my head over the past couple months. The idea is that Chesney is at this crossroads of his life (he even says as much...actually those are his exact same words) and is trying to figure out where to go next. He's too old to be wild and free but too young to be over the hill. He's asking all these questions before feeling overwhelmed (my interpretation) and saying "screw it, I'm going to sit on the beach, have a beer and worry about this tomorrow."

Anyway, the song builds to a point where Chesney asks "Should I settle down and get married or stay single and stay free?" I'm not sure if I'd ever admit it, but I've totally felt these lyrics before. Marriage = social death. No more friends, no more staying up late. Buying houses, having to spend like $200 on things like blinds and shower curtains. Dinner parties. Pot luck. Shopping. Talking about my day. Was it a good day today or a bad day today? Well what kind of day was it?

Staying single = freedom. Doing what I want. Spending money on me. Eating foods I like, never devoting more than 11 minutes to preparing a meal. Coming home and watching four straight episodes of Prison Break not because I think it's a great show, but just because I can. Emailing for hours. Reading blogs. Occasional loneliness but it's certainly offset by the freedom.

Um...what has become very obvious to me (and which is even more obvious on e-paper) is that "freedom" isn't so much being free as it is being self-centered. Me me me. I can't get outside of myself. Yikes.

This is not to say that marriage is the answer to avoiding self-centeredness. As I learned (or at least heard a sermon about) long ago, marriage is not the answer to all of life's ills. Instead, I need to focus on drawing closer to God. True freedom lies in giving my life to Him, not in being able to play video games whenever I want. What I'm doing is not good enough.

Friday, October 19, 2007

He died and rose because...?

In the sermon last Sunday (10/14), Rick started off by asking: "Why did Jesus have to die?" He then proceeded along four major assertions, saying Jesus' death and resurrection 1) gives us victory over the Enemy, 2) frees us from slavery to sin, 3) releases us from guilt, and 4) provides belonging/takes away our alienation. These are all excellent points, showing some fine, nay, wonderful effects of Jesus' death and life. But they don't answer the question. What about our relation to God, eternity, and salvation? These kinds of things were hardly touched on. I also wish Rick would've extrapolated from point (4) more--what exactly are we belonging to? Why did Jesus have to die? Not to make our earthly lives more comfortable. I don't think Rick was trying to say that Jesus died to make us happy, but I think if he had focused a bit more on the really really big picture he could've done a better job of answering his own question (or maybe he just asked the wrong question?).

Of course, it's entirely possible that I missed some significant pieces of Rick's message, from spacing out, poor memory, bad note taking, or what have you. Did anyone else hear the sermon this way? Is there something I left out? Please share.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Creating vs. Discovering

On a rather long road trip this weekend, I was involved in an interesting conversation regarding "creating" art. As a designer, I've often gotten frustrated that it seems like there are very few new ideas left out there. Fashion has been on it's cyclical repeat of past trends, silouettes, colors, patterns, etc. for quite some time. This extends into music (sampling past artists, remaking songs, greatest hits albums) and dozens of movie remakes and overused storylines. The concept came up that as God has been the actual Creator of everything, than any form of art, invention, scientific notion, etc. is really just a discovery of part of God's being. While God has certainly blessed people who don't really know Him with some of those discoveries (I'm not sure of the inventor of the Ipod or the Iphone's belief system, but that would be a big one), it certainly translates that we as Christians can worship God through artistic mediums as a way to reveal a piece of Him for the rest of the world. I found this freeing, that in no way should I be prideful of any clothing I've designed as it was all God's idea, but also that God's creation is endless and perhaps we need to tap into it a bit more and really pursue Him better in order to come up with new art and ideas. Also, this idea I cannot claim to be my own since it was a collaboration of a few people inspired by God.

This doesn't really have anything to do with anything we've discussed in Home Community or the sermon series, it just made me think and I thought I'd throw it out there.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Whole or Compartmentalized?

I (Jodi) know I've had weird dreams before that seem to predict something before it happens, but I've never written a blog along the same lines of a sermon two days before it was preached - until now. Here's a link to my This Instant! blogspot. The title of the blog is Orange or Dip This Instant! and it's about how we tend to compartmentalize our lives.

The guy who spoke on Sunday (forgive me for only remembering Rick's name...and it wasn't Rick who spoke on Sunday) was encouraging us to let the whole Gospel affect our whole lives. Do we let missionaries be missionaries and not take any part in that because we're not "called to the mission field" as they are? Do we just go to church on Sunday and let that be our token Christian action for the week?

My blog is more about living with integrity and letting the character of Christ dwell in us fully. But who am I to preach? I recently went to a conference for work that I thought would be a secular conference. When I found out it was Christian-based, the thought went through my head, "Shoot. That means I have to be nice to people."

And that's about all I have to say about that. (copyright: Forrest Gump)

Notes from the pre-Christian life

A few things stood out as we had our little heathen focus group downstairs:

• The fact that, for every single one of us, there was at least one specific person who led us to faith. We all could name Christians who either served as good examples or who specifically told us about the gospel. This is certainly worth remembering the next time you have scruples about sharing your faith. Yes I just referenced an 80s board game (that's apparently still being produced)

• We all talked about how intimidating church was those first few times. No idea what to do during Communion (a couple of us mentioned specifically trying to avoid church on Communion days), couldn't figure out how everyone else knew what songs were being sung, hating when the pastor would make you shake the hands of strangers near you and a general feeling of being unwelcome (if that's a word). Kind of important for us to note.

• I asked the question about whether any of us would rather have had a Christian upbringing than the one we had. The overwhelming response was something along the lines of this: No one regretted how we grew up, per se, but at this point in our Christian lives we all feel somewhat "behind." We don't have Bible stories and verses ingrained in our minds. Some of us haven't even finished the New Testament let alone the entire Bible. Maybe it's flawed logic to assume we'd have greater Biblical knowledge had we grown up Christian, but...it seems like we would have. I think we'd all like to get to the point where we can recite Biblical passages, know who famous people in the Bible are and so on. I wish this all worked like The Matrix, where that knowledge could simply be planted in our heads the way Neo was programmed to know kung-fu. Sigh. I guess we'll just have to settle for the all-seeing, all-knowing Creator of the universe.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

People I (Leisha) wish I could apologize to

Rick's sermon this past Sunday was about how sometimes I am the biggest obstacle to the presentation of the Gospel. (I am using the pronoun "I" in a general sense...Rick did not preach about how Leisha is the biggest obstacle to the Gospel...although, to be honest, sometimes I feel like that could be the case.) He talked about how it is impossible for us to represent the Gospel when we don't really practice Jesus being the Way, the Truth, the Life.

I grew up fully immersed in the conservative Christian culture, and was very fully trained in evangelism from an early age. Most of that training happened in interactions with strangers, because my world was totally and completely devoid of people who were not believers in Jesus. I have gone door-to-door in the neighborhoods around my church, I have wandered the boardwalk at the beach searching for that foolish person who would agree to take my short survey that worked into a presentation of the Gospel, and I have shared my testimony countless times in gatherings of all believers (sometimes embellishing slightly to make it more interesting). For all that training, however, I was completely unprepared for my first actual spiritual conversations with people who were hurting.

It started when I was 16 years old. My first job was in the children's department of JCPenney at Washington Square. I worked with a cast of women, most of them a couple of years older than me, and a few of them many years older than me. Over the course of the year that I worked there, several of those women stand out in my mind. They are the witnesses to my utter failure to connect to the Gospel in a relational way in my own life, and therefore in their lives. One of my co-workers was a woman who, in retrospect, probably had a drug problem. She was thinking of leaving her husband and two-year-old daughter for a male friend of hers. She would frequently talk to me, an unmarried, never dated, 16-year-old virgin, about the problems in her marriage. Another young woman confided her personal and professional anxiety and struggle with depression. One of the older women in my department spent several hours discussing her worries for her son, who was a few years older than me. Then there was the girl who, after deciding to keep her pregnancy, was abandoned by her boyfriend, and faced the impending hurdle of single motherhood alone. Each of those conversations and relationships make my personal Wall of Regrets because of the opportunity I had to speak peace and comfort to them, to represent and present the love of Christ, to speak of the transformative power of the Gospel, and I just couldn't do it because I didn't have a relational experience with God...only a knowledge-based understanding of the Christian faith. In fact, I was so disconnected with their struggles that all I knew to do was invite two of my co-workers, one of whom was the pregnant girl, to my youth group, where I made them sit in the front row with me, in all her nine-month-along glory.

That was one of those moments that I cringe to remember. One of those moments that I allow to prevent me from engaging people with the Gospel - I was and am such a poor representative of Christ. I was challenged and encouraged by Rick's message that I have the story of how I experience Christ and His power, and that's enough.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Review of the Wednesday night party, cause the Wednesday night party don't stop, no

And when I say "party" I mean "discussion of the sermon."

The sermon from last week focused on common objections to Christianity, specifically identifying its relationship to both science and violence. The long and short of it?

1. Christianity does not have to work in opposition to science. Realistically they're not on the same spectrum for comparison; science attempts to explain the physical world whereas faith is trying to tell us the meaning/value of that physical world. The problem is that both the church and science act with a great deal of hubris; science believes it can somehow disprove God's existence simply because by conquering certain complications of the physical world. Meanwhile, the church attempts to explain every bit of biology using the Book of Genesis, a document that is thousands of years old.

2. Yes, there have been a number of violent acts committed in the name of Christianity. We can't change that now. We can only apologize. There will always be a certain amount of violence associated with any strong belief (think environmental terrorism) and events like the Crusades (as an example) are not those we should be proud of. Jesus did not preach a gospel of violence. His reaction to violence would be one of forgiveness.

On Wednesday night we added more objections, based on our own conversations and on things that, quite frankly, we have trouble grasping ourselves:

• History -- the Old Testament reads like a fairy tale sometimes. People living to be hundreds of years old? Women having babies at age 75? God physically wrestling with Abraham?
• Authority/free will -- it's easier to live life if you're the one who's ultimately in charge
• Christians not setting a good example for the religion
• Putting off conversion, thinking "I'll become a Christian later", overly valuing the me-centered life
• Just maintaining a diet is hard enough...Christianity asks you to change your entire lifestyle.
• Christianity seems hokey
• Christianity and the church in general does not seem safe. You need someone to interpret everything for you, traditions don't make sense, and it's intimidating to enter a new culture within the same physical area where you already live
• "I'm already a nice person" so why do I need Jesus?
• Stale, legalistic churches for people who are more artistically-centered churches
• Lack of human interaction with Christians (so perception is derived from the media, rather than interpersonal relationships)

Before I became a Christian I remember thinking about how arbitrary Christianity seemed. If I'd grown up in India, I would have been Hindu. In China, I'd have been Buddhist; in Jamaica, I might have been Rastafarian. Somehow it seemed improbable that the dominant religion -- the one deciding the world's calendar, days to celebrate holidays, etc -- would be the "right" one. Of course, little did I realize that God and Jesus work through the improbable. The tomb was empty, after all.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

1000 Conversations, part one

Last week's sermon (notes available here) centered on the idea of witnessing and whether
a) It's a legit thing to do in a society where truth is relative; and
b) It's legit to convert people in this same society

On Wednesday night we discussed a number of reasons why we have trouble witnessing. Among them:

• General fear
• Seems like most people know the gospel already, so we should really be able to witness simply through the way we live our lives
• The belief that people should be able to think/do whatever they want and I shouldn't push them in any particular direction
• Feeling as if we can't witness unless our life is somehow "complete" and impressive. This is basically saying that we can't witness unless we feel like our life is not broken.
• Unsure of actual motivations. In other words, are we witnessing for God or for personal satisfaction? Are we trying to add a star beside our names because we saved someone when the focus should not be on US in the first place?
• Unable to find the right time/place to bring it up
• The whole witnessing thing feels salesy. Not exactly the word you want to associate with your deepest values and beliefs.
• Lack of immediate gratification/satisfaction. In our now now now society, it's somewhat counterintuitive to simply be a seed-planter

We also challenged each other to think of a deeper reason why we don't witness as much as we "should." People talked about having to shoulder the load of successful conversion, about general fear, about feeling like it's a lost cause. On a personal level, I think my witnessing weakness occurs because the whole idea of having serious conversations is somewhat foreign to me. As I said the other night, I live in a world of jokes, video games and Anchorman quotes. As such, the problem isn't as much witnessing as it is about being serious.

Anyway, if you're looking for an end conclusion...Well, we didn't exactly come to one. I do think if you recounted the night's discussion, though, what we'd agree upon would sound something like this: our most effective witness is one that's based on being relational -- not on "winning" a sale, not on a scripted persuasive speech, but on actually listening to the other person and reacting to their needs. We'll always screw up -- we are human, after all -- but if we're aware of the Truth, we should probably share it. Ya know?

Giddyup

So here we are. It's true.

I begin a lot of sentences with "so" these days. I'm not sure when this whole disproportionate pattern began. When I studied abroad nine years ago -- that was nine years ago! -- I was all about "well" as a sentence starter. I remember sitting around a Tasmanian hostel with some buddies and noticing that they, too, had begun their journals with "well" as in "Well, this is it", or "Well, I'm 30,000 feet up" or "Well I sure wish the guy next to me had packed some deodorant." Sometime in the last decade, I cut the length of that transient word from four letters to two. Score one for minimalism.

Anyway, this is post #1 of hopefully many for the Northwest Home Community at Imago Dei Community Church in Portland, Oregon. Yes, there are churches in Portland and yes, we occasionally try to broadcast our beliefs to the outside world. We're like AM jazz stations in that way.

The purpose of this blog is to allow community members to express themselves on paper (or e-paper) anyway. While many of us live in a world of talk talk talk, there are others of us who function better through reflection. This is not to say that people are either mute and writery or loud but allergic to the keyboard. It's just meant to say that this is a blog for HC members and they can do with it as they please. So there.