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?