Wednesday, August 24, 2011

One year

One year ago from today, I was moving into my new apartment in Minnesota. I had emptied the contents of my beetle and discovered that all of the belongings I brought with me from California fit into my closet (which was good, because my room wasn't much larger than that anyway).

After almost a year of battling the most difficult case of culture shock I've ever had (and I've made some big moves in my life) I came to terms with my new surroundings when some good friends of mine came to visit this summer. The words that solidified my home here in Minnesota (how ever long or short that may be) came from a group of church planters that said, to no one in particular, but to everyone there, "You are sent exactly where you are." That week my car had broken down, my attentions between ministries were split, but by the end of it all I was sent to exactly where I stood.

Up until this evening, I had forgotten that today was my one year anniversary in Minnesota. In fact I spent most of the day bemoaning Twin City drivers, and bad Christian radio stations (is there a good one?). I found myself in a deeply cynical place, that I didn't fully realize myself to be in until I started criticizing a regional church community effort that I was excited about two days ago. Thankfully I have started to build deep relationships with people who can call me out on my cynicism when it gets too heavy, or let me air out my frustrations knowing that I'm not fully committed to what I'm saying until I've heard more than two points of view. So when it suddenly dawned on me this evening, just before youth group, that I've lived here for exactly one year I was able to count it as growth no matter how dark some days (or months) have been, because I found myself surrounded by people who are starting to know me well enough to not let me take life so seriously.

One year ago I was sent to exactly where I am. Though being sent meant leaving, it also meant coming. Coming home to a new community that I am learning to love as they learn to love me. Coming to a new understanding of belonging that transcends any one particular group of people. Coming to a place that offers growth in new ways that I may have never allowed myself to grow.

Tomorrow I will sit outside in my new apartment with a good cup of coffee, my Bible and a journal and start a new year of living in the present with the knowledge of the past in mind and hope for the future at heart.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

a focus of longing and the image of fulfillment

In search of some information on the National Endowment of the Arts, I ran across this quote:

"The orgasm has replaced the cross as the focus of longing and the image of fulfillment." -Malcolm Muggeridge

Clearly, this quote had no relevance to my search, but it caught my eye non the less. I know very little about Malcolm Muggeridge, other than knowing his profession as a journalist and writer in the 20th century, and his late conversion to Catholicism. I also acquired the book "Instrument to Thy Peace" by Alan Paton to which Muggeridge wrote a forward to, however, back to the quote:

"The orgasm has replaced the cross as the focus of longing and the image of fulfillment."

Is it just me or does reading that make force you to do a mental check of where orgasms fall into your list of longings and fulfillment. Ok, maybe not orgasms per say, but replace that word with any particular misplaced focus sitting between you and God, and you've got yourself a potential idol. The funny thing with idols, that I'm discovering, is the stuff they are made of is generally not inherently evil. Often they take form in something seemingly good and healthy, like sex, or marriage, or pleasing people, or getting good grades. I've also noticed that idols do not emerge fully formed, rather they grow slowly and sometimes unintentionally encouraged by good people. The hardest part with idols made of seemingly good things, is figuring out how to extract idol from the goodness... but I think I'll leave that topic for a different day, and get back to discussing the idol of the aforementioned quote.

I've spent some time in correspondence with a peer that is considering the priesthood. All theological differences aside, I am impressed by his choice to pursue such a specific calling that requires a significant amount of self sacrifice. Unlike his protestant counterparts, he will be taking a vow of celibacy as part of his commitment to his chosen vocation.

To most 20 somethings, I'm sure, the idea of celibacy is not a "calling" most of us seek. In fact, it has been my experience, and observation that the Protestant Church as a whole, tends to veer away from the idea of life long celibacy as a potential life choice, and keep with the abstinence party line. Just wait until marriage to have sex (which the Catholic Church is equally agreeable with... unless you've taken vows of celibacy). Unfortunately, I've seen that party line, "Just wait until marriage," backfire into something akin to Muggeridge's quote. Instead of the all mighty orgasm, the focus of longing and image of fulfillment, in many christian circles, has become the shrine of marriage... Marriage, " has replaced the cross as the focus of longing and the image of fulfillment." Marriage is what many (but not all) young Christian women are taught to revere and strive for. Young Christian men are socialized similarly. By college age, it appears that those who haven't given into the social norms around them, have internalized marriage as a step in life that must happen and if it doesn't they will never be complete. They will never feel fulfilled.

Please don't misread me though, by no means am I making a blanket statement that all who desire to be married one day (and hopefully enjoy a vibrant sex life too) are making these things an idol. I'm just struck by the amount of my peers seeking to be married more out of fear of not leading a vibrant fulfilling life outside of marriage or having sex. Like most things good - sex (and orgasms), marriage, intimacy, etc... - there is the danger of it replacing our primary focus of longing and image of fulfillment. Perhaps it is in the end of St. Francis of Assisi's Prayer of Peace that we can find direction in how to rightly order our longings and recognize the idols that have replaced the cross.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Friday, August 12, 2011

He's going to be ok, right?

This week, a teen that grew up at the church I work at went into cardiac arrest while playing disc golf with his friends. His heart stopped multiple times before he got to the hospital and is now hanging on to his life through prayer and well trained medical professionals who are working to keep him stable enough to find out what's causing the problems with his heart.

Though he and his family no longer attend the church that I work at, he is very much a part of the extended community. He is no stranger to most of our youth group, and those who have attended the church for more than a few years. On Wednesday, our youth group was updated on his condition. He had been in and out of consciousness, but had started recognizing people. Though his heart wasn't working by itself he was able to be taken off of intubation and say a few words - enough to show hope that his brain may not have severe damage from lack of oxygen.

As we were discussing his condition one of the 9th grade boys asked "But, his going to be ok, Right? I mean, he'll recover?" The honest, and only response we, as adults, could provide was, "We don't know."
That moment was heavy, it forced everyone in the room to grapple with mortality, the character of God, and a sense of helplessness. It led us to do the only thing we could... pray. For the first time that I can remember the same 9th grader, who asked if Ben, the boy he may have met just a handful of times was going to be ok, offered to pray. It was a short but honest prayer, one that communicated his concern, faith, hope, and fear.

Something else struck me about his prayer - he wasn't just going through the motions, praying because it was expected of him - he seemed to be praying not from an emotional place but a deeper place of the soul. I step carefully into what I'm about to say, because it's topic that can feel over spiritual or emotionally manipulative in some circles. So I speak cautiously, but honestly. As he prayed for Ben, I could physically feel the presence of God working out fears, doubts, and the implications of Ben's condition in the youths' lives. Though God may not have instantly healed Ben in the moment that we prayed, there was a true sense of God in all of this, as scary, and painful as it has been for everyone who knows Ben personally. I can't say that there is much peace in what is happening for Ben and his family right now, but I do believe that God is present.

We continue to receive updates on Ben's condition. He is still in the ICU as tests are being run. His heart stopped twice two nights ago, and we still don't know what will happen. Family, friends, and communities are still praying, and doctors are still working hard. If you have a moment please pray for Ben and his family, as well as the doctors who are committed to his care.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Thin People

This is not a post about what you think it might be...

Over the past two months I've been meeting with a small group of people affiliated with the MacLaurin Institute at the University of Minnesota, to discuss N.T. Wright's book "Surprised by Hope - Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the mission of the Church." Let me say, if you're not interested in being challenged in at least one or two thoughts you may or may not have about being a Christ Follower, don't read this book. It wrecked me! Every week as we talked about Wright's thoughts and words to describe the profound reality we are asked to live in as Christians, I wanted to jump out of my seat and live into the beautiful mess that is life here on Earth.

Though I could probably go on and on about some of the ideas that Wright eloquently discussed, once sentence nearing the end of the book renewed my faith and hope in what I believe the Church (a community of committed Christ followers) both individually and collectively is capable of accomplishing in this "Kingdom here, but not yet," lived reality.

"The renewal and reclaiming of space has recently involved, among other things, a fresh grasp of the Celtic tradition of "thin places," places where the curtain between heaven and earth seems almost transparent."

Wright goes onto speak of church buildings, not as places to escape the world, but as "bridgeheads" into the world. All of which you couldn't convince me otherwise. However, the idea of "thin places," got me thinking. If the church, as a physical space is called to be a "place where the curtain between heaven and earth seems almost transparent," shouldn't those inside the church, those who profess with such zeal (or in some cases not nearly enough zeal), be "thin people?" People, who reflect the goodness of God in the light of the resurrection of Christ! Those engaging in justice (locally and internationally), those who seek beauty in the mess of it all, those who live out of such a place of hope that people can't help but be drawn nearer to the king of a kingdom that is here but not quite yet?

Perhaps this is in part how churches become "thin places." When a place, just as a container, is filled with what ever it maybe filled with, it takes on the identity of what it contains. If we truly desire to see churches and other places where groups of Christians gather, become "thin places" it must be filled with those committed to figuring out how to be thin people. This of course, is where life and being the church gets a bit difficult. If you've ever had to lose a significant amount of weight, the time and discipline that it takes to physically become healthy again can be really really hard. In the same way, becoming thin people in regards to Christ's kingdom, is not an easy endeavor. Churches don't instantly become thin places, because the people that fill them aren't all that thin. Thank God, we don't have to be thin in order to come through the doors, but shouldn't we be better about figuring out how to be thin, individually and collectively? Now, I don't think that's going to look the same for everyone and every church, but wow... to become thin people and create thin places "where the curtain between heaven and earth seems almost transparent." ...that gives me hope, that gives me direction.