Monday, June 27, 2011

One Word 2011.6

I need new glasses.

The last time I went to the optometrist was almost three years ago. And I'll be honest: the only true motivation I had for going was that Ashley found out she was pregnant. Not only because I wanted to be able to see the little critter as best as I could, but also because I knew that after she gave birth, finding the time to actually go anywhere, let alone an office where I could sit for an hour or so, was going to be next to impossible.

As my fellow optically challenged can attest, there's something refreshing and almost magical about the first time you put on a new pair of glasses (or contacts) after your prescription has changed. Things are clearer. You're able to focus better. And ultimately, you're not putting as much strain on your eyes, so you feel more relaxed.

So with that in mind, I'm trying to take a fresh look at my One Word for this year.

Part of my issue has been that at the outset, after God said "Yep. That word right there. That's yours this year," I just accepted it. I took it and started applying it to my life to where I thought it should go without actually trying to see where or how it fits into my puzzle. This isn't to say that there's not power in nor Biblical precedence in claiming something and acting on faith with it, but there is much, more more to it than just taking a word, phrase, or even Scripture passage without working on and through it.

It's like how, with every head bowed and every eye closed, you say a prayer to "begin a personal relationship with Jesus," but don't ever go further. You can say as many prayers as you like, but there's a reason that the Bible says we are to "Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear." (Philippians 2:12, emphasis added). The prayer can begin a good work (and a redemption) in you, but without actions evident in your life to illustrate your change, you not only malign the image of your fellow believers (how many times have we asked to not be lumped in and considered like "those" Christians?) but it also brings into doubt what actual change has taken place in you.

I am claiming shalam in me. I am claiming I am in a covenant of peace; at peace; complete; sound; and made whole and restored. But if I am honest with myself, what am I doing to make sure these claims are a reality? Am I truly wrestling with my past, laying oh so many ghosts to bed at last, or am I just spiritually spackling over things, without digging out - and letting the Spirit dig out as well - the old and rotten parts first?

So here I am, putting new glasses on my heart, and looking through this windshield anew. Let's start working.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Diversity Symphony

Can't think of a better way to close the week out - and if you like the video, you'll love reading Scott Williams' CHURCH DIVERSITY

Diversity's Symphony from Emanate Media, Samson Varughese on Vimeo.


Monday, June 20, 2011

When Worship Isn't

Without meaning to, my wife challenged me on my writing this past Friday. We were discussing another person's blog, and I remarked how they had clearly been writing about the same basic thing for a few weeks now. This was not a condemnation, as I bloody well know that there are things we have to wrestle through again and again. But she took the opportunity to tell me that she felt I had grown atonal in my writing as well. She didn't state this to imply I'm simply a one-trick blogging pony, but it did hit me that maybe I needed to skew a bit away from some of my writings of late.

So, here's a post that goes against my thematic grain.

I secretly used to love the Sundays when I was working with the church tech crew, children's ministry, speaking on stage myself, or otherwise occupied during the service. Not because I have such a mega-servant's heart, but because it meant that nine times out of ten, I could skip the worship music. The worship leaders (for the most part) were great and Godly women and men who have incredible talent, so I didn't want to avoid the music because it sounded like a Nazgul rave.

I didn't then, and still don't now, just feel completely comfortable with worship.

When I was in elementary school, our Sunday school teachers told us that Heaven was going to be this time when all we did was sit around worship God. I almost decided at that point to become an atheist, because nothing sounded more dull and more intimidating than that. Now, if God would like for me to worship Him by writing Him a nice story, doodling out a sketch, or maybe doing some yard work or something, that would be fine. But to sing worship songs all the time? Yeesh. Thanks, but no thanks.

Paradoxically, my Bachelor's degree is in music. Performance. Theory and composition. Therefore, one might presume that belting out some Passion and power chords should be in both my musical and spiritual natures.

The truth is, engaging in worship of God is a very intimate, personal experience, and even if everyone and their momma is standing there with arms high and heart abandoned, I feel like I am the only one remarkably open. Vulnerable. Which, yeah, I get is the point. It's not that I disagree with this or even doubt that I need it. I just feel very self-conscious about it. I also honestly don't get how someone can walk in, say hi to a few people, and then immediately close their eyes and go from zero to God in just a few seconds. It's not that I don't enjoy or want to worship God - although, to be perfectly honest, there are times when this is NOT high on my priority list. My heart and soul crave it, and maybe this has as much to do with how close I feel to the Creator as it does with anything else.

And I love that I am fighting through this, and not just keeping on keeping on with being comfortable in my discomfort.

So - I open this to you. I'll debate theology and spirituality until I'm hoarse, but this? This genuinely leaves me stymied more often than not. I welcome any and all advice, insight, and discussions you might want to bring on. Has anyone else ever felt this way? Or is this just another line item of my ever-growing list of personal quirks?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Evangelegalism

A few weeks ago it was apparently National Tract Week, as I had no less than three different varieties of door-to-door missionaries come to my house: a pair of Jehovah Witnesses, a pair of Mormons, and a pair of Evangelicals. I know, I know; it sounds like a setup for a really corny joke, but that's the order in which they came by. Regardless, as I was later discussing my series of visitors with a friend of mine who happens to be a pastor, he asked what for him was, I suppose, a logical question, but one which honestly did not cross my mind at the time: "Well, how did it go sharing the Gospel with them?" (I presumed he meant the first two groups; one might comically argue that the third group may or may not need Jesus more...)

He was a little taken aback when I told him (SPOILER ALERT) that I didn't. At least not in the traditional sense he was referring to. To some, my lack of knee-jerk witnessing probably makes me a bad Christian. Perhaps I should keep a stack of pamphlets and tracts on the table next to the front door besides the bowl where we keep our keys so that I can hand them out to missionaries, the mailman, kids selling cookies or whoever comes to the door. Or maybe, I should do exactly what I did: talk. Engage them in a conversation and not a conversion.

I will admit that internally, I wrestled with what to do at first: do I shoo them away? Do I try and engage-née-debate them on the finer points of their theology? Do I not even answer the door? Part of the problem is that we as Christians (well, those of us from a certain era and/or geographic region) have been conditioned to confront and save those who have a different set of beliefs in some kind of broad, sweeping, quasi-militaristic style of evangelism that pays less attention to the people we are with and instead cares about just getting the Word out and to them. We know that the Word won't return void, but we oftentimes don't let the other person even get A word in edgewise. We want so badly to drive them down the "Roman road," we don't realize we're herding them more like cattle and less like people walking on a journey with us.

The practice of the art of hospitality was how the early Christians illustrated their love for one another as well as their love of God. Acts 10 gives an illustration of this when Peter, a devout Jew, clearly violated one of the sacred tenets of his faith by entering the house of an "unclean" Gentile to eat with him. To engage with him. It would have been well within his "right" as a Jew to refuse to enter this house, but in doing so, he would have done more damage to his witness and to the credibility of the faith he professed by not showing love, courteousness, and general respect for this man and his house. I can't think of a single instance where even Christ, when offered anything - be it food, drink, or maybe even a copy of The Book of Caesar: Another Gospel of Caesar - refused it and instead either screamed out or held up a large protest sign that just said "REPENT!" Quite the opposite in fact: in Matthew 25, Jesus speaks directly to showing hospitality to strangers, to the least of these. And in terms of evangelism, if we're honest with ourselves, we sometimes consider those who are different to be somewhat...lesser.

While I did not share with any of my visitors a five-step-plan for their salvation or a detailed description of how wrong they were about everything, I shared myself. I shared my beliefs. We shared a few laughs. We shared some smiles. We shared stories about our kids. We shared some handshakes.

And in doing so, in the end I shared my faith. And maybe, just maybe, entertained a few angels.

Monday, June 06, 2011

God/dog. Dog/God. Part III.

(NOTE: I know the old saying about how the sequel is never as good as the original, so if you want to read Part One or Part Two, they are hyperlinked for your reading enjoyment.)

Bacon.

Seriously. Bacon as a spiritual metaphor.

Just keep reading.

The other weekend, I did something I haven't done in a long time: I made a full breakfast for me and Ashley. In the bygone days before Kai was here, I would usually wake up early on a Saturday and go into the kitchen to fix a relatively sizable breakfast/brunch for us. So much so that we probably wouldn't eat again until dinner. These days, we're lucky if we have the mental or physical energy to be able to pour the Special K into a bowl, let alone COOK anything in the mornings. But, for whatever reason, I was feeling particularly culinarily-driven. So, armed with my frying pans and a desire to empty the fridge of food that was on the edge of expiration, I marched into my preheated battlefield to claim victory.

After the eggs, turkey bacon and biscuits were cooked, and once Kai was settled/hogtied into his chair, I brought the food into the living room so we could enjoy a meal together as a family. So, of course, the literal second that I settled onto the couch - before even I had the first sip of coffee that day - Maggie, clearly feeling neglected and left out of this feast - reached up and grabbed a whole slice of bacon off the edge of Ashley's plate. The very same strip she was in the process of tearing apart so Kai could eat it.

I. Felt. My. Head. About. To. Explode. Seriously - I got insanely, inappropriately, over-angered by this. And to this day, I still can't tell you why.

Instead of going with the gut fury instinct of grabbing her and dragging her into the bedroom to sequester her, I took a deep breath, got off the couch, called her to me, and walked her to the hallway - where I put up the baby gate with her on the side opposite of us. That way, she wasn't isolated behind a closed door, but she was still not in the vicinity of the food we were trying to eat. Yes, it may have been a little cruel for her to still be able to see us eating, but whatever.

After we finished eating and I cleared the dishes away, I walked over to the gate to her. When I looked down, I saw she was laying down with her nose between her front paws, eyes looking up at me, tail wagging slightly, and with an "I love you, daddy" look on her face. What's really bad is that when I saw her, some of the anger came back. Despite that she - as best she could or ever would - looked like she was sorry.

Then, reason slowly began to fill my mind. It wasn't her fault, I thought. The bacon was right there. Yes, she should have known better. But, she acted on her nature and instinct, and I really shouldn't hold that against her.

And then my brain/heart REALLY kicked me in the teeth with the thought "Just like it's a good thing God doesn't hold my sins against me, when I act according to my sin nature. Yes, I should know better, but God doesn't drag me away and force me into separation from Him. And even though I cast my eyes heavenward in apology, He knows that if 'bacon' is again put before me at my eye level, odds are I will either want to or will try to snatch it away. Even though I shouldn't. Show mercy, as it has been shown to you."

Ouch.

This was, and remains, a hard lesson for me to swallow. It's weird, because I always cut Kai slack when he does something...repeatedly...after he's been told not to. Maybe it's because I see him as still learning, whereas Maggie is 10, and should - in my eyes - already know better. The whole dichotomy of where one is a human and the other is a dog? Yeah, not a factor in my logic. I didn't say it made sense.

Thankfully, God is both more wise and more forgiving than my failed self. He never tells me I should know better, He never jabs at me with a comment about how at my age I should have learned by now, nor does He ever lock me away from Him.

Even when I go for the bacon. Again.