Monday, August 11, 2014

Faith in Dwight is like Faith in Me...or You...or Anybody



Dwight, Dwight, Dwight...can't he see that Jim is only pushing his buttons?   It is ludicrous that someone would be so driven to prove that he doesn't take a moment away from 100% concentration on his duties.  In fact, it is so obviously a ridiculous and impossible suggestion, that for Dwight to be manipulated in such a way makes this scene very hilarious.  At least to me.

But how would it feel if someone like Jim actually followed you around with a stopwatch, or a yellow highlighter, or a hidden camera...ready to pounce on any little iota of "liberty" that you might take with any of the various rules in life.  First...it would be crazy...but second, it would also probably become pretty glaringly obvious that everyday life has a tremendous amount of built in "gray areas" when it comes to rules.  Broken the speed limit lately?  Said something that was "embellished" to make the story funny?  Pretended to be offended by something a celebrity did when sometime in your life you thought or did something fairly similar?

If you're having trouble relating...maybe you're a bit more like Dwight than you think.  He doesn't think that he can't do the impossible.  In fact, when Jim sarcastically discusses the details of Battlestar Galactica and completely butchers and combines the plots from different movies...Klingons and Wookies, Dumbledore Calrissian taking the ring back to Mordor...Dwight can barely contain his righteous indignation...and I can hardly blame him.

And that's where we end up...either justifying/ignoring our limitations, or relishing in our virtue.  Both produce righteous indignation...because in those circumstances, what is wrong then with the world is outside of us, not in us.

I have learned not to do this and if you watch this short video I can give you the seven steps to stop doing this too.  NOT. (hello 1993 - Austin Powers, Basil is calling)

So, I hear myself saying this and my own argument in my head is...you're being an idiot...nobody is perfect and nobody expects you to be perfect...being a good, kind person who is compassionate and caring and giving isn't about perfection.  Well, that makes sense and works to a point...but then the world intervenes...and atrocities happen, and really serious suffering happens that I have no control over.  But on a more personal, everyday level...people that I see all around me are suffering in ways that I could make a difference...but I don't.  And I would recognize that I should care more about things that are wrong...if only I actually did care more than I do.  Maybe it is only me...but then again, that's what I am saying.  It IS me.  Not society, not ideology, not corporations, not hypocrites, not my enemies, not reality television, not global warming, not recession, not rock n' roll, not hippies, not yuppies, not politicians, not celebrities and really not saying 'nobody is perfect'.  It is not that I am personally responsible for all that is wrong with the world...but that I bear all the marks of the imperfection that characterizes a world that contains suffering.  The idea is really that if one person suffers, the whole enchilada is bad.  Not that if only a few people suffer then we can all relax, we are doing a pretty good job...every chef knows...one booger in the soup and nobody can eat...or nobody SHOULD eat.

If this sounds like a mountain out of a molehill, remember that the next time a molehill circumstance seems to ruin your day...or week...or year.  Or better yet, take a look at the mountains that are devastating people in all parts of the world and remember that eventually a mountain falls on all of us.

The Good News is deeply embedded in the realization that the really, really deep problems with this blue marble and the humans on it is way, way, way beyond us to fix...(that means we can't fix ourselves or the world without justifying our fixes, being unaware of the problems or having our own level of righteous indignation because "at least we are doing all that we can").  The irony that I personally struggle with my own righteous indignation whenever I encounter people who exhibit righteous indignation is just one of the humorous ironies that prove my point...every...single...day.

This Good News can actually be quite freeing.  In AA it is called Step One - admitting that you are ultimately powerless and that something other than your inner fortitude/willpower/strength/determination is required.  And there is a basic term for this that many people hate...faith.  That simply means that you don't know it all, don't have all the answers and even if you did, you recognize that you need help.  Simple as that.

We all use faith in everyday life...but I think it helps to be aware...it makes the big problems of the world seem more like a job for something much bigger than you or me...and that is better than the alternative.  I mean...would you have faith in me to fix any of your problems?  Me neither.



        

Friday, June 27, 2014

Those New York Minutes




I watched the NBA Draft tonight.  Something that happens at every draft is that one or more athletes turned instant-millionaire describes that moment as a dream come true.  Being selected to an NBA team is the beginning of a life change that is quite dramatic.  It is one example of a possible story-line in life that moves a person from one kind of life to another...or one perspective of life to something very different. Of course, we all know that while one person experiences this kind of plot-twist in their life, every person in the world is experiencing plot twists of their own in a myriad of ways.

God is so often thanked for being the author of the positive story-lines, but he rarely gets credit for the ones that seem to go bad.  At least not in most christian circles.  I'm comforted that I am not alone in this dilemma, John the Baptist questioned if Jesus was the Messiah from his prison, those closest to Jesus surely felt the story-line that they had expected was not going the way they hoped.

I think the obstacle that often gets in my way is the delusion that I feel in control of my life.  I feel that I can have a choice/outcome story in my life - if I decide to write it the way that I want.  But it has a way of subtly slipping through my fingers, and the more I grasp for it, the more I feel the weight of failure, pressure to achieve, a lack of security in what defines my life.  In other words, my faith in this world is almost exclusively in myself.  The only thing that manages to penetrate this deep reality, that I cleverly hide from myself, is when something out of my control completely knocks me off balance.  It is the same thing that is happening to everybody, all over the world, at different times and in different ways.  And it is scary at those times to continue to believe that it is all up to you, all in your hands.  Being the master of your own fate can feel very empowering when your name is called at the NBA Draft...but when those other twists of fate come calling...it can be a different experience.

The question to ask is whether God is in those times as much or more than the positive times?  Is God in control, involved and writing my story when that New York Minute happens?  Because if you've only heard that God can bring blessings to you and has a fun plan for your life (because you're so faithful), you might not have anything to turn to in that 'New York Minute' when 'everything can change'.

I am not saying you will handle it any better or have a wonderful strength of faith when that happens, many of us wither like a flower in the sun.  But I am saying that you can recognize that you are not as strong as you might think...that you are not as in control as you assumed...and that feeling of helplessness might be just where God is waiting for you...even though you don't like that any more than I do.  

Friday, May 30, 2014

Tippin' the Scales

I was listening to a podcast today while driving.  The story I was listening to was about a woman who had been the victim of a violent attack, and had identified her assailant who was subsequently given a 32 year prison sentence.  18 years into his sentence, DNA tests proved that she had identified the wrong man.  Her shock, guilt and shame over this was pretty heavy and very understandable.  A friend tried to console her by reminding her of the good things she had done in those years by counseling others and telling her story to prisoners to convey the pain that victims live through.  Her response to this attempt to console her was this..."if I add up all the good things I've done in my whole life, they don't even begin to tip the scales against what I did in identifying and condemning an innocent man."

Scale tipping in my favor is actually something I do on a constant basis.  It's really like breathing or blinking.  One of the major ways of tipping scales in religion is to focus on what I do for God.  How much I love God.  How my heart burns to accomplish the good things he wants to do in the world.  It is really difficult to be honest with myself that I have frustrations, resentments and issues with God Himself.  Can my interests be so self-centered that in spite of knowing what God has done for me, I can still feel that He doesn't really care?  Apparently so.

I have this idea of how I should feel about God but it is intermingled with who I want God to be.  And that want is intermingled with how I want my personal story to go. And that personal story is intermingled with feeling a value and a worth that is based upon my own accomplishments/talents/virtues etc.  It is essentially me putting my hands upon the scales to get them in my favor.

Listening to that podcast today, I felt a connection with the woman and the scales.  It isn't just the scales of good and bad deeds, it is the scales of what I want my life to be and to have been....and who I actually am.  It is the weight of how thankful to God that I should be...and the bitterness that I actually have.  It is the scales of how much I should desire to serve Him....and how I expect Him to serve me.  It is how much I should be forgetful about my own life and circumstances....and how much I obsess over them.  It is how I should trust God in all things...and how I have trouble believing that He is truly on my side in the here and the now.

I think what the Gospel offers...what it must offer...is that the scales are gone completely.  Not that they are reset to zero so that now they measure me "as a Christian"...but they need to be gone.  Completely. It must offer this because even when I feel the scales are pretty good (although usually unaware that I am using the scales at all) the reality is that they are not tipping in my favor, at least not based upon me and who I am.

Sanctification is a big issue in certain Christian circles, and likely will always be...and I am bumping into all the time it seems.  What I can't seem to figure out, is how really smart, well educated people can seemingly convince themselves that they don't use 'doing good works' for God as a way to prop up their own sense of righteousness.  It can be described in a lot of different ways, creating your own identity, being your own savior etc.  But I just find it totally impossible to intentionally perform "for God" without it being basically all about myself.  I'm not self-deprecating here, but if I am it is only because it makes me seem more humble than you.  And deep down, that is really what my heart wants, whether I will it to or not.

I don't know about you, but I really need the freedom to be fickle towards God.   I need the freedom to fail Him on a regular basis.  And yeah...sometimes I wallow in that failure...so that's not allowed either, huh?  But if I am "prone to wander" then I need God to pursue and corral me, not to try to think that I don't wander or that I can get things "under control"...more scales.  It isn't that I have never experienced any of the things that I know I should have as a Christian...I just think that most of the time there has been (and still is) a lot of scale-tipping underneath of it all.  But all of that too is covered...if the scales have truly been removed.  And that has to be ok.  And if the Gospel is the Gospel...it is.
  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Rescue-ee Meets Rescue-er

A lot of what I think about and have thought about over the past 10 to 15 years re: "the Gospel" and what Christianity is all about...I think, can be synopsized (if that's a word) in this way.  It is about rescue.  It is about a helpless kitten that is scooped up in the hands of a fireman.  It is a goldfish being retrieved from off of the floor and slipped back into its bowl of water.  It is the helpless meeting the helper.  It is the powerless meeting the powerful.

It is not about the contentedness of the one being rescued, the gratitude of the fish or the kitten.  It is not about whether the fish becomes a powerful marlin or the kitten becomes a leopard.

It is about the kitten not burning to ashes.  It is about the goldfish not drying up and gulping its last breath of useless air.

It is about rescue.  It is about rescue if I become a preacher and a missionary, it is about rescue if I become a drug dealer and a pimp.  It is about rescue if I become kinder and more forgiving, it is about rescue if I am selfish and egotistical.  It is about rescue if I let go of my past, it is about rescue if I carry bitterness throughout the years.  It was about rescue 30 years ago and it will be about rescue 30 years from now.

Because in all stories of rescue, it is the Rescuer who does the thing worth talking about, not the one being rescued.


   

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tippin' the Scales

I was listening to a podcast today while driving.  The story I was listening to was about a woman who had been the victim of a violent attack, and had identified her assailant who was subsequently given a 32 year prison sentence.  18 years into his sentence, DNA tests proved that she had identified the wrong man.  Her shock, guilt and shame over this was pretty heavy and very understandable.  A friend tried to console her by reminding her of the good things she had done in those years by counseling others and telling her story to prisoners to convey the pain that victims live through.  Her response to this attempt to console her was this..."if I add up all the good things I've done in my whole life, they don't even begin to tip the scales against what I did in identifying and condemning an innocent man."

Scale tipping in my favor is actually something I do on a constant basis.  It's really like breathing or blinking.  One of the major ways of tipping scales in religion is to focus on what I do for God.  How much I love God.  How my heart burns to accomplish the good things he wants to do in the world.  It is really difficult to be honest with myself that I have frustrations, resentments and issues with God Himself.  Can my interests be so self-centered that in spite of knowing what God has done for me, I can still feel that He doesn't really care?  Apparently so.

I have this idea of how I should feel about God but it is intermingled with who I want God to be.  And that want is intermingled with how I want my personal story to go. And that personal story is intermingled with feeling a value and a worth that is based upon my own accomplishments/talents/virtues etc.  It is essentially me putting my hands upon the scales to get them in my favor.

Listening to that podcast today, I felt a connection with the woman and the scales.  It isn't just the scales of good and bad deeds, it is the scales of what I want my life to be and to have been....and who I actually am.  It is the weight of how thankful to God that I should be...and the bitterness that I actually have.  It is the scales of how much I should desire to serve Him....and how I expect Him to serve me.  It is how much I should be forgetful about my own life and circumstances....and how much I obsess over them.  It is how I should trust God in all things...and how I have trouble believing that He is truly on my side in the here and the now.

I think what the Gospel offers...what it must offer...is that the scales are gone completely.  Not that they are reset to zero so that now they measure me "as a Christian"...but they need to be gone.  Altogether, for all time, gone. It must offer this because even when I feel the scales are pretty good (although usually unaware that I am using the scales at all) the reality is that they are not tipping in my favor, at least not based upon me and who I am.

Sanctification is a big issue in certain Christian circles, and likely will always be...and I am bumping into all the time it seems.  What I can't seem to figure out, is how really smart, well educated people can seemingly convince themselves that they don't use 'doing good works' for God as a way to prop up their own sense of righteousness.  It can be described in a lot of different ways, creating your own identity, being your own savior etc.  But I just find it totally impossible to intentionally perform "for God" without it being basically all about myself.  I'm not self-deprecating here, but if I am it is only because it makes me seem more humble than you.  And deep down, that is really what my heart wants, whether I will it to or not.

I don't know about you, but I really need the freedom to be fickle towards God.   I need the freedom to fail Him on a regular basis.  And yeah...sometimes I wallow in that failure...so that's not allowed either, huh?  But if I am "prone to wander" then I need God to pursue and corral me, not to try to think that I don't wander or that I can get things "under control"...more scales.  It isn't that I have never experienced any of the things that I know I should have as a Christian...I just think that most of the time there has been (and still is) a lot of scale-tipping underneath of it all.  But all of that too is covered...if the scales have truly been removed.  And that has to be ok.  And if the Gospel is the Gospel...it is.