Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Letter to the Church:

Dear Church:

I am often left to wonder to myself what makes us different from everyone else. I wonder, besides the angry protest signs and outrageous acts of deference, what distinguishes us? What makes us peculiar, unusual, extraordinary?

I'm reading Bonhoeffer, and I have to say, the man is a genius. He's opened my eyes to so many things in my faith that I really need to re-ground myself in. But I think what's really hit me is this: Jesus came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it.

I've often struggled with the Old Testament, wondering what its main purpose was in relation to Jesus. Well, here you go. God set up in Israel a "nation" - which became a political entity with rules and regulations - and it was under these political terms that Israel became known. And this nation struggled - as every flawed human does - and contrived these rules and regulations to "get right with God."

Jesus, however, said that he was the fulfillment of the law. And you know how He did it? He severed our political ties to an entity, and directed our political allegiance instead to God. When we become Christians, we have severed all ties to the political systems of this world, and are tying ourselves to God's, and His alone. And it is through this lens that we should be living our life.

So what is this new political allegiance? And what does it entail? Well, it's not all that appealing, although it is beautiful. It calls us to put aside our possessions and wealth, our definitions of "success," our quest for self-aggrandizement, our need to assert our "rights" and "freedoms" (which we no longer take up as part of the world), and instead, come and die with Christ. We are called to a life where we actively love our enemies, set aside our pride to glorify God, and to actively remember Christ's cross. The cross on which Christ endured the greatest pain and suffering because He loved you. The cross which symbolized our own cross which we should be taking up alongside Him as members of this new kingdom. Where we come and die to ourselves to bring God's love to those around us. We show mercy to the same extent that Christ showed us mercy on the cross. We are peacemakers to the extent that Christ said "Forgive them Father, for they do not know what they do," while we mocked him as he wreathed in pain on the cross. We are persecuted to the extent of Christ, who did not resist a punishment He never deserved. We love our enemies to the extent that Christ loved us in the midst of putting Him to death. We are called to love and serve the poor to the extent that Christ was homeless, and served the needy, the sick, the lame. We are called to reach out to the untouchables to the extent that Jesus ate dinner with the man who haunted island folklore, the naked man possessed by an army of demons, who lived in a cave and breaks chains with brute strength, and who caused a whole herd of pigs to drown tragically in a river for the number of demons that were living inside of him. This is the extraordinary, the unusual, and peculiar kingdom of Christ. And it is ours to grasp.

We cannot link ourselves to our nation-states of Canada or the US or wherever we live. We are more than that - we are Christians. And our kingdom has a much higher calling. We do not fight wars - we love our enemies. We recognize that the failings of our society, that the call for social justice, can only be fully realized through Christ's kingdom, which sees the faults in all and the value in everyone despite these blatant failures.

What a Church we would be if we recognized our true political allegiances to Christ! It would be revolutionary! Instead, we have people protesting homosexuality, abortion, and turning away the homeless from the doors of our churches. Put down your signs and your pride, and love the people that God loves just as much as you. If you aren't picking up your cross and dying to yourself everyday, then you need to ask yourself whether or not you are really following Jesus.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Comfortable Sinner

Oh comfortable sinner, with so many woes of life, who do you belong to?

When did you last go hungry, fall ill, face persecution, go naked? When did you last wonder if you could make it to tomorrow?

We are so blanketed by our wealth and our comfort. We have the covers pulled over our eyes, and the world remains veiled to us. We've never struggled, we've never suffered, we've never had to.

Perhaps we've never lived.

Instead, we eat our fill. And then we eat more to find pleasure or comfort.
We get sick, but we get well just as easily. Science and money solves all, and we rarely face death until our age bends us and wears us down at the end of the journey, and takes us into eternal rest.
We have a home. We have a warm place to go in the cold, a cool place to go in the heat, and a bed to sink into at the end of the day.
We have clothes. So many clothes. They express our "style" and our "personality" - we keep up an image, our status and class, and judge others accordingly. The "blue collar" and "white collar" workers. The hippies. The homeless. The middle-class. The upper-class. The professionals.
We have "rights." We need not sort out conflict between ourselves. I will sue you instead. I need not take violence and aggression. I will hit you back.

Our senses have dulled. We trust in nothing but ourselves, though we truly struggle with nothing but ourselves, blaming everyone and everything else for the faults found within our world.

We don't all live like this. We struggle for food in areas of famine. We struggle to survive in areas of conflict. Our children are dying. We are sick and unable to get medicine. We are refugees of conflict, of climate change, of persecution. We struggle. We survive. We know what it is to live and to die.

Thoreau said that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. Yet for the wealthy, our desperation comes not from need. It comes from a lack of challenge. We've never had to trust or to have faith in anything bigger than ourselves, and yet, we cannot find within ourselves enough to satisfy the cravings of the heart. We search for it. We search for it in relationships - in family, in friends, in lovers, in sex, in marriage, in raising children. We search for it in food - in sweet comforts and delicacies. We search for it in money - in power and the sense of control it brings. We search for it in success - in defining ourselves by how well we're doing in society. We search for it in power - in asserting our power over others through racism, sexism, violence, ageism, homophobia, and discrimination of all sorts. But we never find it. It is our elusive quest for the unattainable satisfaction.

It is truly only God, only Jesus, that will give us that true life. Everything else in this world blinds us from who we are in Christ - we must die to the word, and the things in it, to truly find a life worth living. Because it's not by "getting things" that we come to find ourselves, that merely serves to clutter our lives into such a mess that we lose our very identities. Instead, it is by giving everything up, dying to these things of the world, that we truly understand who we are. - God's beloved child, lost sheep, the least of these that is loved by the best, the beloved bride that will be united with their Saviour someday. This is my core, and all else is but a faded image in the light of it.

Luke 9:23-25: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?"

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Passionately waiting, diligently seeking

God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
    to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope,
    quietly hope for help from God.
It’s a good thing when you’re young
    to stick it out through the hard times.

 When life is heavy and hard to take,
    go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions:
    Wait for hope to appear.
Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face.
    The “worst” is never the worst. 

Why? Because the Master won’t ever
    walk out and fail to return.
If he works severely, he also works tenderly.
    His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.
He takes no pleasure in making life hard,
    in throwing roadblocks in the way.

Lamentations 3:25-32

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Informed but inactive

We live in the age of information. We have access to widespread information to every daily newspaper, radio show, television show at our fingertips via the internet. We can look up scholarly papers, journal articles, books, documentaries, amongst other media, on basically any topic we wish. We should be the most informed public ever.

There seems to be this great ideal that people desire to take action when they hear about a certain catastrophe, to mobilize in unity for a cause as information is disseminated across the globe. Indeed, this is the reason why many journalists investigate and report, why writers write, why documentary filmmakers film, why charities send flyers about their needs and global disasters. Maybe I am cynical, but I am wondering where the change-makers are now.

There is little else more frustrating than the ironies I often find myself in, listening to conversations about helping the poor, about the injustices in the world, about how children are killing people as part of the military, about the lack of love and selflessness and generosity, and then just sitting there. It seems a bit conflicting for me.

You see, I am just as guilty as everyone else. I get angry about these things. I rant about them. But what right do I have to do so? What right? Here I am, sitting at my fancy laptop, writing down my worries right now, and I don't deserve to. I don't deserve my full and satisfied belly. I don't deserve my extensive wardrobe that allows me to wear a different shirt everyday. I don't deserve my cellphone. I don't deserve the Masters education that I've been given. I don't deserve my family and friends, and perfect unfettered life. All of these are my luxuries - they are the products of an unchallenged life that has never fully had to trust in God for everything she's been given. I am a spoiled, frightened little girl that is unwilling to give up her daily comforts to trust in God's provisions and actually do something.

I recognize that I can do something in the place I am now. I certainly can. But I often question whether or not I have been called to something much greater - or lesser - however you wish to view it. Or do I continue in the patterns of this world, and never question the fact that God called me to give up everything and follow Him? Is that what I am doing with my life right now? Or am I lying to comfort myself that it is okay to live the way I do in my comfortable Western life - whether or not I complain, I am still living at this standard - and continue in it?

Sometimes, I think about what Jesus did on the cross. He gave up everything, he endured the greatest pain - a pain that He asked God to take away from him if possible - and followed God's will anyway. Because He loved me that much. And I think about the fact that I have trouble praying in front of my non-Christian friends because I fear offending them. And I am ashamed that I am so below His grace and love, as He paid the ultimate cost, while I can barely pay the very simple ones.

If faith is the embodiment of belief through obedience and action, then I must take up my cross and follow Christ, the one who paid everything so that I could follow despite my weakness. Now the time comes to actually do something, rather than simply say that I will and never follow through.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Here, I find myself, Here - I am.

There are a few times in our lives that we question our identity. We question who we are, and our purpose on this Earth. And we question why we are where we are, and how we got here, and whether this place, which includes our very selves at this moment in time, is where we should be.

Such questions are good ones, I believe, for they make us question ourselves, our place, and our purpose. We must question the things that we've made important, and question whether or not our priorities are good.

I think we all crave direction. We crave a sense of knowing, understanding, and being. We crave a sense of "place". To not have something that gives us direction is to not have something that gives us the motivation to wake up and face yet another day. We need something to live for, and we need something that tells us how we should live.

C.S. Lewis said that "If I find within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

I believe that the only identity and direction that will ever satisfy us truly is the one we find as a child of God. And isn't that a beautiful picture? A child, gripping their father's hand, trusting him completely to guide them where they need to go, to mold them into who they will be, and to love them when they fall, mess up, or need a shoulder to cry on. And that is who we should be.

I remember being a small child, and getting lost in a clothing store. My mom thought my dad was taking me, and my dad thought my mom was taking me, and I was left without either in the women's bra department. I was so scared that I started to cry, because I couldn't find my parents, I didn't know what would happen to me, and large frilly undergarments were hanging around me in all directions (what little child would not find this horrifically frightening?). Little did I know that my father was two aisles away from me - and he definitely would have come back to search for me if something happened. Eventually a kind woman with her own children came along and helped me find him, and I was happy once again.

Think about how many times our own lives seem like this story of the child who seems so lost, so scared, without direction or guidance, and seeking something that they don't know how to find. God is near though. And He's always searching for us. And more than that, He loves us, and in Him, we find the assurance of who we are, the call to be exactly who we're supposed to be, and the love to inspire us to be so.

So, whilst I may find myself in a new place, with seemingly few friends and guidance and constant questions about my future, I embrace the fact that Christ is holding my hand and fathering me in this very place.

Here, I find myself. Here - I am.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

So human

“And Lot's wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes.” - Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five

There's a part of my heart that is tugged by this quote. I think it's beautiful, and I think it's real. Here is Lot and his wife running - running from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah - and God asks them not to look back. But the wife does anyways. As if, in a moment of despair, she turns around because she knows that she will never again see the place she once called home. She will never again see the people that surrounded their family. She will leave everything. And she looks back one more time.

I almost want to ask her if she knew what was going to happen. If she knew that when she turned around that she would die, if she would have done it anyways.

I think there's a lot of times in our own lives when we cling to the things that we've left behind. We cling to our place, our family, our friends, our homes. And it's so easy to do, because part of us is built for relationship. And we build these relationships and make memories and stories that then attach us to a place or a thing or a building. And it breaks our heart to leave it behind.

I don't think that Lot's wife was leaving a really good thing. For anyone who knows the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, just prior to fleeing the city, the following happens:

"Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom —both young and old—surrounded the house. 5 They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.”

Basically, all the men in the city wanted to gang rape the men (who were really angels) visiting Lot's family. Not exactly the most pleasant of cities to live, not in my opinion at least. It seems a bit similar to that of an abusive relationship - where the woman keeps taking the man back because she really does want him to change, she really hopes that he will, that despite his faults, she wants to redeem him. Yet he never does, and the abuse continues.

Yet, we would never blame the woman. I think we'd like to call it misguided grace, broken hope, or forgiveness that's been extended one too many times. At some point though, there is a need to not turn back. To leave it behind.

Looking back one last time at the object you used to love, that you wished to redeem, is indeed something that is so human. But when the time comes to let go, we must let go and trust that something much better is in store.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The only life worth living

What would it mean if we truly tried to live? What is the only true life?

Jesus gives us grace. Most people understand this concept - for the most part. I think we can all think of examples where this isn't true, but generally, this is understood. I actually think this concept is misused, because we use "grace" as an excuse to continue in our sins, knowing that Christ loves us unconditionally and will forgive us.

While such grace is truly the only thing that can save us, the only thing that makes us worth anything, and surely, we are all the prodigal Son and the elder brother who can never ever earn our way into full relationship with our Father, what is grace worth if there is never a response? And that is what our lives have become! Self-indulgent lives that lean back on "grace" and never count the cost.

Bonhoeffer said that "grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life."

Think of an activist who believed that we should not be supporting big corporations. Now imagine such activist shopping at Starbucks, Wal-Mart, GAP, buying Coca-Cola and Kraft products, and living the high life on fast foods. I think we would all say that he is no activist at all. Even more blatant, imagine an anti-poverty activist who had never even met the poor, never donated to or served at a food bank or drop-in, living the high life in a million-dollar mansion in Hollywood. What do you think of such a person?

The life worth living is the one that aligns itself in full with its faith, and with the grace of the gospel. And this grace is not free - we are bought at a price, and we are called to likewise pick up our own cross to follow Christ. If we cannot count the cost, then we are not living.

I'm tired of discussing things. We do that so much. We do that in class, we do that with friends, we do that at fancy charity dinner parties, we do that on Sunday mornings. That's great for a time, but if all we ever do is discuss ideas and thoughts, then nothing ever gets done. We are only sending our voices to a wind until it eventually dissipates into nothingness.

We just need to live. Truly live. Struggle, hurt, love, weep with someone whose just lost a friend or been hurt. I want to be poor. I want to live with the poor. I want to know what it is to take up the cross of Jesus and truly suffer like He did. I want to stand up for myself instead of trying to please people. I want to live as if I was living for no one else but God. I want to love a child and watch them grow up and see and understand the world, to see good and evil, and strive towards the very best good. I want to cry and dance and dream and share and be present.

The only life worth living is the one that costs us our life.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Idols in the closet

I made a beautiful friend this summer. Beautiful in the truest sense of the world - where you look at them and think that they are a very rare gem in the midst of a cloudy, smokey haze. He rubbed off on me, and I think he challenged me with my own personal "idols in the closet." It's through conversations with him, reading Timothy Keller's Counterfeit Gods, and through a vision or dream that God was humbly teaching me about "idols" - something that, I believe, often seems irrelevant today without "graven images". ha.

All of this to say, well really - to confess - that I believe that I have made romance/a need to feel love/having a husband/getting married/whatever you want to call this - into an idol. It's something that often consumes my time, that I get wrapped up in, or at least, I used to. It's definitely something I've started to break free from, but it was also something that controlled me for a while too.

I think it's dangerous to say things like, "There's no greater thing than to have loved and to be loved." You know - perhaps there isn't, but it's not from another person that you'll get the greatest love. It's from God. And when we start trying to put other things in the way of that love, then they become a distraction from our truest selves, from our truest life, from the only life worth living. And the only husband worth having.

See - I wrote down a dream I had a while ago, and interpreted it in a way that I don't think quite fit. Here's my dream once again: "In my vision, I saw a figure. Misfigured, made up of layer upon layer of fat, covered in smoker's stains, abused, beaten, tainted, dirty, unwanted. It was so hideous and ugly that I could barely make out the gender of it. Yet I knew that the thing was me - it was me "in my sin".

I carried the burdens of a thousand years of guilt, yet as I looked upon this figure of myself, I was sorrowful. And I realized that I was sitting at the foot of the cross. And my soul longed to be rid of who I was, of this body that I felt did not belong to me.

Suddenly I began to shed. The layers of skin and fat and grime and dirt and bruises fell off of me. Everything fell off of me until there I was. I was me - only better. I was the most perfect version of myself I'd ever seen. And I was naked and beautiful and dancing while laughing and smiling in the glory of the cross. I felt as if this was perhaps what my soul looked like when I first fully accepted Christ and delighted in him completely.

And then Jesus looked on me and smiled. He held me in his arms and I felt as if he desired me... ahem... sexually. He wanted me to be united to him completely. I felt as if this was the kind of desire a husband would have for his wife on his wedding night, only it was God's desire for me.

But I was scared. I didn't think I was worthy enough and I resisted. I ran away to someone else and tried to marry him instead - but I was so unhappy. It didn't satisfy me in any way that I wanted it to. It felt so... it felt like a dimmer version of what I had with Christ. As I fled Christ's glory for fear that I was unworthy of it, I fell into a darkness from being away from him, and a new layer of my old skin fell on me.

As I looked upon this new self, I became disheartened and sad. I realized that while I was scared of returning to Jesus, that I felt completely unworthy of his love, that I equally knew that I didn't want this extra burden upon me - and that a part of me longed for the joy I felt in his arms. So I returned. Only this time, it took a bit longer to get off that extra layer. Jesus had to scrub me, and I had to scrub too."

I think this dream reveals the heart of an idol. How the quest for our "soulmate" or the "perfect person" comes up so short. We will never be our truest selves when we pursue something besides Christ. We must be fully united with Him in order to come to understand everything else around us as Christians. It is only in our fullest unity with Him that we will become our fullest selves and thus live our fullest lives. Without that, we are nothing.

I think a second lesson can be taken from this dream. That the disappointment I suffered from the man I fled to - I think this is representative of the disappointments people experience in marriage when they discover that the person is not the "god-like" person they thought they would be. They aren't perfect, they make mistakes, and it's really super hard to love them and stick with them. I don't think that it makes marriage a bad thing though, just hard. And often worth it if you're willing to put in the effort - although it's certainly not easy. And it will hurt, and you may end up hating yourself and the other person for all the struggles you go through.

I think marriage and relationships are easily idols - idols of our culture and family and church even. And we must be willing to recognize that they can never ever ever satisfy us like Christ can. And He will satisfy you like no other.

Bring it on.