Archive for January, 2012

Snowflakes in the Machine

When I drive back and forth from my college class, I often listen to an “independent” radio station.  Because their playlist is not determined by money from record companies (or however that works), they can pretty much play whatever they want.  That means that when I listen to them, I get to hear a number of completely weird refreshingly unique songs.  Sometimes when a song is different, it’s uniqueness draws my attention to the lyrics.  Such was the case with this song I heard the other day, by a band called Fleet Foxes.  The song is called “Helplessness Blues,” and the opening lyrics say this:

“I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see
And now after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me.”

Those lyrics really got me thinking about the nature of our existence.  I was particularly struck by the starkness of the dichotomy introduced by these beginning lines.  A snowflake is beautiful, complex…and useless.  A cog is simple, unoriginal…but useful.

Which would I rather be?  Special, or useful?

After short reflection, I sided with the lyricist:  I would rather be useful.  In many ways, mine is not a romantic personality.  Snowflakes are pretty, yes, but machines get things done.  And I want things to get done.  In fact, what romantic component I do have in my makeup is absolutely enchanted by images of being part of some glorious cause, something bigger than myself.  If I have to be a cog to do that, then I will be the best cog I can be.

It occurred to me, however, that the Bible rejects the dichotomy between “special” and “useful.”  Scripture tells us that we were created to be both.  That’s because the Kingdom of God is not pictured in Scripture as a machine (or a snowstorm); it’s pictured as a body.

Now, throughout my life, my understanding of Paul’s metaphor of the body of Christ has evolved, and each stage of my understanding has been helpful and true in its own way.  That’s what I love about figurative language; its truth breaks free of the confines of materialistic exclusivity to encompass many different interpretations.  In my first interpretation, I viewed the body of Christ as the local church.  That understanding was formed by the nature of Paul’s examples about the hand and the eye and the foot.  After all, if you are talking about body parts as big as hands and feet, then how many body parts can there be in the whole body?  That level of dissection breaks the body into big parts, like limbs and bones and internal organs.  I figured that it broke the body down to about the number of parts that would make up a congregation.  And since it pictured members as hands, feet, and eyes, it stood to reason that as a member of said body, I would be something as big as a hand, foot, or eye.

Later, my understanding of the church as body grew to include all of the congregations in my particular fellowship.  After all, didn’t we work together to provide disaster relief and fund missionaries?  Maybe then, one congregation was the hand, and another the foot, and so forth.

But as I grew, my thinking expanded.  I began to get involved with interdenominational organizations such as Compassion International, or Samaritan’s Purse, or more recently, Amazima.  The organizations and I worked together toward the same goal:  to spread the love of Christ to the world.  It made sense, then, that the body of Christ encompassed more than the congregations in my particular fellowship; it also included all of those individuals and congregations who served served Christ as Lord with all of their hearts.

But wait:  what about the Christians who lived before us, or the ones that will come after us?  Are they parts of different bodies, or are we all one?  I decided that they had to count as parts of the body, too.

By the terms of Paul’s metaphor, my new “super-huge body image” makes sense.  Paul only talks about one body of Christ.  If the body is the local congregation, then Christ has, like, a bazillion bodies.  And if different groups throughout history make up different bodies, then that means the body of Christ keeps dying on us.  Neither of those possibilities really fit my perception of what Paul is saying.  Instead, I now picture the body of Christ as being made up of all the Christians that have ever lived.

Which means…the body of Christ is a giant.  (Or, to think of it in terms of the song’s lyrics, I am part of one big. honkin’. machine.)

So…thus far, I have demonstrated that I tend to overthink metaphors.  (What can I say, people?  I love language.)  Believe it or not, though, my growing perception of the body of Christ has had some practical effects on my thinking.  For one thing, it’s made me more content in the smallness of my life.  My friends, I am not a hand.  I am not a foot.  In the body of Christ, I am more like a part of a cell.  (Maybe the hands and feet are like, all Presbyterians and all Methodists, or something like that.  But I digress.)  It also gives me more peace about my lack of understanding of just what the Sam hill Christ is doing with His body.  When I thought of myself as a hand, I felt more conflicted about my ignorance.  I mean, after all, you would think that a hand would have at least some level of perspective about what the body is doing as a whole.  Instead, my reaction to the church’s actions (including the internal conversations we have)  generally trends more toward wide-eyed confusion than any type of definitive insight.  But if I’m just a little bitty cell part, then my confusion is okay.  It’s even to be expected.

Also, even though I’m just a teeny tiny part of the body of Christ, that doesn’t mean I’m not special.  In a recent guest post for Housewife Theologian, Tim Fall (faithful commenter to this and many other blogs) described God’s intricate understanding of our bodies:

“But God sees deeper than that. He sees the cells that make up my body, and the components of those cells, and the molecules that make up those components, and the atoms that make up those molecules, and the protons and neutrons and electrons and whatever other subatomic particles are in me. Not only does he see them, but he sees them more clearly than we can imagine. There is nowhere that is out of focus to him, nothing hidden away from his sight. He is the creator of the universe and the creator of every single thing in it. (Isaiah 42:5.) Every single thing.”

Science isn’t my strong suit, so I couldn’t tell you how small a body part I could reasonably expect to be, given the number of Christians who have ever lived.  But even if I am a subatomic particle, God sees me and knows me perfectly.  He knows my purpose in the body, even if I am too small to see it.  He made me that part for a reason, and my microscopic actions, as tiny as they are, ultimately serve the whole of Christ’s body, the body that has been growing through history.  

I like that.  I like that I don’t have to choose between being a snowflake or a cog; I like that, as part of Christ’s body, I am both special and useful.  Plus, when I think about it, the smaller the role I play, the more glorious is the larger cause.  Because seriously, how great and effective can the body of Christ be if I am a whole hand?  I don’t do that much in the grand scheme of life.  However, if all of my efforts in this life amount to the work of a subatomic particle, then WOW.  Christ’s body does a lot.  And thus, my romantic hopes of being part of something much bigger than myself are realized even more fully.

I’ll leave you with this:  today, in all your actions and thoughts, I hope that you are the best proton or neutron…or mitochondria…or nucleus…or blood cell…or elbow (hey, I could be wrong) that you can be!  I hope that you don’t lose sight, even for a second, that you are part of a gigantic, glorious body that is marching purposefully toward the goal of reconciling all humanity with God.  I pray that you don’t lose faith, even for a moment, that the Head of your big, beautiful body knows what He is doing, even if you don’t have the slightest clue.  And I pray that your faith keeps you going even if your bodily function is difficult, or unrewarding, or seemingly hampered by external circumstances.

Keep the faith, my fellow electrons!*

*or whatever you are.

Given the choice, would you rather be a snowflake or a cog?

Kingdom Voices: Video Edition

On January 10, a spoken word poet named Jefferson Bethke uploaded to Youtube a poem about why he hated religion but loved Jesus.  Sixteen million views later, I think we can safely say that it struck a nerve, particularly with younger Christians.  If you haven’t seen it yet, you can check it out here:

The poem has a lot of good things to say about the nature of Christianity.  It points out that Christianity is more than just a bunch of rules; it highlights the dangers of hypocrisy; and it reminds us that we do not earn our salvation.  All of those points are very true and helpful, and they clearly resound in the hearts of people who have been disillusioned by the hypocrisy of the church.

What is unfortunate to me is that the poem talks about “false religion,” but calls it “religion.”  Now, it’s a poem, and I know that there is such a thing as artistic license and whatnot…but there’s a world of difference between those two terms.  Jesus did not come to abolish religion.  His little brother, in fact, had some powerful stuff to say about religion, as a pillar of the early church.

That’s why I’m so glad that this guy (below) clarified the biblical nature of religion in his own video.  (I tried valiantly to find his name, but had no luck.  We’ll call him, “the priest.”)  Even without his name, I loved what he said so much that I thought I’d put it under the “Kingdom Voices” section of my blog.  Here is his response:

I posted both these videos on my Facebook page, but I decided to post them on my blog, as well, because there is so much to love about this interchange.  This, this right here, is what the generations in the church need to be doing.  We need to be talking to each other.  Each generation has their own strengths to bring to the table.  The burden of the younger generation is to remember to listen to and respect the older generation for their contributions.  The burden of the older generation is to guide the younger without alienating them.  This necessarily includes keeping an open mind when it comes to some issues of theology and ideas about the church.  Also, it means that the older generation needs to be able to speak in a way that the younger generation can hear.  I love the respect that is inherent in the priest’s response.  For one thing, he responds in kind.  I have read several good essays responding to the video, but this man went one step further and responded in the same language as Bethke.  Also, you can tell that he listened very carefully to the poem because their are several call backs.  Both poems, for example, use the imagery of an ocean to describe the church’s work; both use death as a metaphor; both use similar examples involving professional basketball.  There are many more parallels, both subtle and obvious, and what they demonstrate is that the priest took the time to really hear the younger man and to mull over his argument.  Also, while the priest is clear about his beliefs, his presentation is calm and compassionate.  The even-handed tone softens the nature of the interchange; it doesn’t seem like a debate, but like a loving conversation between brothers.  That’s how it should be.

Even more than the presentation of the material, I loved the second poem for its content.  His biblical examples are right on, I think (even though the Judas one is a tad harsh).  And on a practical level, I think that of course, Christianity is a religion.   In terms of denotative, dictionary definitions, that is simply undeniable.  The heart of Bethke’s attack, however, wasn’t on the dictionary, but on the church–particularly, on the flawed, often hypocritical people who make up the church.  And I happen to be madly in love with the church.  It is, after all, Christ’s body.  It is the means through which He chose to bring His kingdom to this earth.  Yes, it is also full–absolutely loaded–with hypocrites and sinners.  I am one of them, for sure.  And sometimes I even question the strategy of using a bunch of selfish, imperfect humans to spread the divine love of God…but then again, how can I question what is clearly God’s will?  Yes, I have been hurt by the church.  I’m sure everyone in the church has been hurt by the church, has been disappointed and disillusioned, probably many times.  That’s what happens among groups of humans.  But the church has also truly been the embodiment of Christ to me, time and time again.  They have loved me, carried me, taught me, fed me, and soothed my hurting soul.  I could never imagine walking away from it.  Frankly, I owe it too much at this point.  I owe it to both the church and to its Head to be the body part I was designed to be, so that I can love, carry, teach, feed, and soothe others.  I could go on about it, but I think I will stop and simply share the lyrics from one of my favorite Derek Webb songs, “The Church.”  You can listen to it here on Youtube.  It’s a beautiful song, and even though some of the images on the video are a little strange, I would recommend hearing it with the music.  Here is the first verse and chorus:

I have come with one purpose 
to capture for myself a bride 
by my life she is lovely 
by my death she’s justified 

I have always been her husband 
though many lovers she has known 
so with water i will wash her 
and by my word alone 

So when you hear the sound of the water 
you will know you’re not alone 

Chorus:
‘Cause i haven’t come for only you
but for my people to pursue
you cannot care for me with no regard for her
if you love me you will love the church

I especially agree with the chorus.  And I know that Bethke ultimately says that he loves the church, and I believe him.  But the responses I have seen on Facebook are very different.  So many people have said that this video explains why they turned their backs on the church.  I cannot tell you how sad that makes me.  I don’t deny the hurt that these people have experienced, and I hate that they had bad experiences.  My prayer, though, is that God brings them back into His body.  After all, we need them!  We need their hearts, their passions, their talents and skills and gifts to help us share God’s kingdom with the world.

That’s why I rank the words of this priest as a “kingdom voice,” even though he and I likely disagree on a host of other theological matters.  I have found that I disagree with just about everyone on a “host of other theological matters,” and yet many of those same people speak truth to me about God’s kingdom.  So I see the “kingdom voices” section as a highlight not of specific people, but of specific words those people have spoken.  And the words of this priest remind us of the obvious fact that you can’t have a king without a kingdom, and that it is not finished here on earth.  We Christians have a mission to live.

What did you think of the videos?  And what is your view of the church?

Beyond Evangelical??

On Rachel Held Evans’ blog yesterday, she shared links to three articles that were all very interesting to me.  The first article, a blog post by an author named Frank Viola, was the most fascinating to me.  In his post, he breaks down young evangelicals into four major “streams,” or categories.  Out of interest, I clicked over and started reading.

The first stream was the Systematizers, and I could relate to them because they “seek strong discipline and order in their daily lives” and live “in quest for theological certainty.”  I could relate to those desires.  I no longer believe that I am going to find the systematic, theological certainty that I’m looking for, but I still want it.

The second group was the Activists.  I could relate to them because  they are “attracted to social causes like acts of mercy, social justice, helping the poor, caring for the environment, etc,” and I kind of am, too.

The third group was the Emoters.  I could relate to them the least, but I have become increasingly less skeptical to the idea of “supernatural encounters,” so that kind of connected me to them.

As I read about all three groups, though, I congratulated myself in not fitting neatly into any one category.  I felt proud of my ability to “think outside the box” and to make up my own mind.

Then I came to Category 4.

The “Beyond Evangelicals.”

I kind of think his whole post was skewed toward this category, as he talked much more about it than any of the others.  And also, the name of his blog is “Beyond Evangelical,” so there is obviously some sympathy there.  That said, I was blown away by how well this guy–a man that I had never even met–described me.  I found myself nodding, “yes,” to just about all of the characteristics of a “beyond evangelical.”  Here is what Viola wrote about this 4th “stream”:

*politically: tend to be apolitical, believing that the local ekklesia (body of Christ) is the new polis and the kingdom of God is the true government. Beyond that, their political positions are enormously diverse.

*appeal: believe that there has to be something more to Christ and the church than what the first three streams present.

*search: discovering and displaying Jesus Christ in authentic, deep, and profound ways.

*identification: Most have come out of one of the other three streams. They belong to no particular movement, tribe, or denomination. And they do not belong to any single expression of church. “Beyond Evangelicals” can be found in all church forms and structures.

“Beyond Evangelicals” are not seeking a theological system (stream 1). Concepts and ideas don’t appeal to them. They are seeking spiritual reality. They view Scripture as fully inspired and true, but approach it as a narrative rather than a system of propositional ideas.

“Beyond Evangelicals” are not seeking any specific cause (stream 2). Religious duty doesn’t appeal to them. They view “good works” as being the natural outflow of living by Christ. They regard pursuing Jesus Christ and seeking causes that are related to Him as being two different things.

“Beyond Evangelicals” are not seeking a supernatural experience (stream 3). They believe that the emotions (as well as the mind and will) can either reflect or hinder the work of the Spirit. One’s feelings are not synonymous with the Spirit’s leading. Miraculous demonstrations don’t appeal to them either, unless they supremely unveil and glorify Jesus Christ.

“Beyond Evangelicals” are in pursuit of a Person above and beyond ideas (stream 1), activities (stream 2), or feelings (stream 3). They emphasize God’s work in and throughthe human spirit, and believe that mind, will, and emotion are to be governed by the Holy Spirit.

“Beyond Evangelicals” want to know Jesus Christ in reality and in the depths. Yet they aren’t quietists or passive mystics. Outward activity is important, but it’s like fruit falling off a tree. It’s the natural result of living by the life of Christ.

Wow.  That’s me.  Apolitical?  Check.  Ekklesia as new polis?  Check.  Oriented around the Kingdom of God?  Check.  Seeking to “discover and display Jesus Christ in authentic, deep, and profound ways”?  Check!  People, that’s what this whole blog is about!

Now, like I said, I do think he kind of rigged it so that the reader would fit himself into this last category, and it’s not like I thought that I was the one who first started focusing on the Kingdom of God (I’ve kind of given credit for this resurgence of the Kingdom to Dallas Willard, who, in his 1997 book, The Divine Conspiracy, quotes many scholars views on the centrality of the kingdom to the gospel.  One such scholar ponders, “I cannot help wondering out loud why I haven’t heard more about it [the Kingdom of God] in the thirty years I have been a Christian…Where has the Kingdom been?”  Oh, buddy–it’s back.)

Anyhow, it is always interesting to see one’s worldview laid out so flawlessly by a complete stranger, and it makes me wonder, yet again, exactly how it is our particular views are formed.  Sociology is so interesting to me, especially when I see these kinds of trends in human thinking.

As for whether those views make me, “beyond evangelical,” frankly I have no idea.  Also, I don’t really care.  I believe in sharing the gospel with others, if that’s what you mean be evangelical.  But, I don’t really believe in doing it with tracts or with hellfire sermons.  But that’s not a unique belief, either.

Anyway, I just thought I’d share that interesting take on evangelicals in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s.  If you fit into that age category (and even if you don’t), I’d be interested in your thoughts on Viola’s analysis.

Which, if any, of the four streams best describes you?  Or do you find any fault with his choices of categories?

Update on my Love Life: Speaking a New Language

In 2012, my major “resolution” was to live a life of love.  I know myself well enough to know that I cannot simply will myself to be loving, and so this resolution is really a request for God to transform me.  I also know, though, that there are some things that I can do to try to realign my life with Jesus’ standards.  Here is a little “update” on my attempt at an Eph. 5:2 style “love life.”  (You can only imagine how I lit up when I came up with that little phrase.  I couldn’t wait to use that title:)).

So I have this theory that kids get yelled at regularly.  Even my own kids…and they both have parents who save yelling for the moments when they are about to get run over by a car.  But even though Greg and I generally don’t yell at them, I know for a fact that Luke has an art teacher who is a bit of a yeller.  Luke describes her as “grumpy,” and he doesn’t like to go to art (which is so sad to me).  The other day after he had art class, I asked him how it went.  He perked up and said it went well because, in his words, “I think the other kids are starting to figure out that if they aren’t bad, she won’t yell at them so much.”  Also, I have eaten lunch with him at school, and I have seen a very large and very intimidating lunch lady holler at the kids who are stepping out of line.  It seems like the more that children are in a group setting, the more likely it is for them to get yelled at.  Apparently, it is often too tempting for the person in charge of the group setting to use yelling as a means of control.  Sometimes, it might be practical:  if the kids are being so loud they can’t hear the leader, maybe yelling is simply used as a way to get their attention back.  At the same time, I can’t help but think that yelling is a tool of control that can be very easily misused.

It doesn’t stop in group situations, though.  Just the other day, I heard a parent absolutely reaming her kids out in the parking lot.  The fact that she didn’t skip a beat when my two small children and I came into view made me think that this was a regular behavior for her.  And from the stories that Greg hears from kids at Y.E.S., I’m beginning to think that yelling is a regular behavior in many homes.

Now, here is how that all applies to my love life.  In the rowdy world of children, maintaining some semblance of order is challenging.  The temptation when managing children is often to resort to yelling, or at least to speaking harshly out of frustration and anger.  As a parent, I can tell you that there is something about children’s outright and repeated rebellion that is such an affront to one’s sinful pride.  That “insult” often makes it very difficult to respond with patience and love.  My impatience is magnified in group settings.  When a child repeatedly disrupts the whole group, I personally find that very frustrating.

Which brings me to a boy named…well…we’ll call him Frog.  In a lot of ways, Frog is a great kid.  He’s smart, he’s energetic, he’s got a lot going for him.  At this time in his development, though, Frog’s special spiritual gift seems to be driving adults out of their ever-lovin’ minds.  Trying to lead a group in which Frog is a part inevitably proves very difficult, as he continually talks, disrupts, and repeatedly ignores all warnings.

Because of this consistently disruptive behavior, I have a feeling that Frog gets yelled at a lot.

So I was thinking about Frog the other day.  I began to try to see things from his perspective, as a child who was continually in trouble, and I wondered if, in the cloud of yelling that envelopes Frog’s life, Frog was able to tell the difference between grumpy-selfish-adult-yelling and loving-Christian-yelling.  It occurred to me that maybe he (and most children) couldn’t make those distinctions.  That…maybe it all just sounded like yelling.

And then I decided to try an experiment.  I decided to try to speak a new language to Frog.

My experiment was partially inspired by my brother, Mike, who was very good at speaking differently to children.  I remember clearly a time about…seven?…years ago, when Mike came and visited me in South Carolina.  I was teaching 5th and 6th grade Sunday school, and Mike sat in with me.  There was one boy in class, a repeat visitor, whom I really didn’t know very well.  I honestly don’t remember much about him, but I remember he was always very disruptive.  This one Sunday, I was trying to get the kids to turn to the front of the Bible to go over the books of the Old Testament.  It was a large and rowdy class, and I was having kind of a hard time keeping control of it.  Anyway, this kid simply would not participate in turning to the books of the Bible.  He wouldn’t cooperate at all.  In frustration, I sent him out of the class.  He went without a fuss.  A few minutes later, Mike quietly ducked out to join him.

I heard the two of them laughing in the hall, and honestly, part of me felt annoyed.  I didn’t want to be the bad guy, and I started mentally justifying my actions to Mike.  At the same time, I was kind of relieved that the kid was gone, and that I didn’t have to worry about what trouble he might be getting into in the hall.  A few minutes later, class ended, and I looked out in the hallway.  Mike and the boy were sitting beside each other, going over the first five books of the Old Testament.  The kid was cracking up because Mike was giving him silly mnemonic devices by which to remember the books.  I still remember his shortcut for Deuteronomy:  Doo-doo-ronomy.  The boy thought that was hilarious…and, full disclosure, I still chuckle every time I turn to Deuteronomy.

Afterwards, I thanked Mike for taking the kid under his wing.  Mike loved the kid, and told me, “Kim, I don’t think he was trying to be bad.  I honestly don’t think he knew what a table of contents was.”  Ohhhh.  Clarity came flooding into my mind.  Faced with a chaotic situation, I had made a snap judgment and been too harsh.  Mike, on the other hand, took the two seconds to actually see the kid and get to the heart of what was wrong with him.  As a result, the kid fell totally in love with Mike.  All through church service later, he would repeatedly turn around to beam at Mike…to the point where it was, of course, disruptive:).  I watched him get in trouble with his mom.  The boy really couldn’t win for losin’, as we say in the South.

Thinking about Mike’s approach to kids, and about my desires to mirror Christ to others, I decided to speak a new language to Frog.  I decided to reject any type of harsh words toward him and instead to gently discipline him in a clearly loving way.  Or…at least to try.

My first test was last Wednesday night.  In a group devo, I happened to sit in a chair right behind Frog, who was sitting on the floor with his friends.  They talked and cut up constantly.  It was truly a problem and a disruption.  Just to let you know, this type of behavior drives me crazy.  But…I didn’t want to let my personal frustration and impatience cloud my witness.  This kid was loved–absolutely adored–by Jesus.  And I didn’t want that message to get lost…especially not in church.

I tried gently and lovingly correcting him.

No dice.

I tried to inspire him to be an example to others.

He laughed.

But he did stop…for two seconds.

As always.

What I found worked the best was, when he was talking, to gently put my hand on his shoulder and say nothing.  No harsh looks–sometimes I didn’t even look at him, but continued listening.  It was easy and somewhat more effective than trying to whisper corrections to him.  When we prayed, I briefly opened my eyes (a natural function of having small kids) and saw him looking at me.  I smiled at him and closed my eyes again.  After the closing prayer, I said, “Hey, Frog.”  He immediately started getting defensive, apparently thinking that I was about to light into him for his behavior.  Instead I just put my hand on his shoulder and said, “I’m glad you’re here,” and went about my business.

As luck would have it, Frog also sat directly in front of me in church this past Sunday morning.  As usual, he talked and made noise constantly.  I followed my same three-step pattern:  gentle admonition to start, hand on the shoulder after that, and a word of affirmation at the end.  His behavior hasn’t changed much, and for all I know, he may think I’m totally crazy…but I think I’m going to play this out as long as I can.  Also, I really just want to get to know the kid.  I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.  If nothing else, this experiment functions as a great practice in self-discipline for my impatient heart.  It is also good practice on not using what I am coming to consider the verbal “weapons of the world.”  It helps me not only with kids like Frog, but also with my own kids.  I really want to do everything out of love.  And I can only speak for myself, but I know that I am not full of love most of the times I speak harshly.  There are sometimes where I do think it is called for…but those times are in the small minority.

So that’s where I am in my love life so far.

How are your new year’s resolutions going?

Keep Calm and Carry On

Apparently, I like to begin my blog posts with a confession.  I just think it’s a good way to clear the air.  Anyway, today’s confession is that I love cheesy music.  I like “cool” music, too (Mumford and Sons is cool, right?  I don’t even know anymore), but I also love a good, cheesy song, with a nice beat.  For example, I am always happy when Kris Allen’s “Live Like We’re Dying” comes on the radio.  It’s peppy, it’s upbeat, and it’s a great reminder that life is short and that we need to make the most of it.  The other day, I heard a song with a similar premise.  It’s a song by an artist called Pitbull (as I just found out while googling it), and the chorus says this:

“Tonight I will love love you tonight
Give me everything tonight
For all we know we might not get tomorrow
Let’s do it tonight
I will love love you tonight
Give me everything tonight
For all we know we might not get tomorrow
Lets do it tonight”

See how it’s similar?  Both songs are written in light of the premise that life is short–that “For all we know we might not get tomorrow.”  And thus, Pitbull advises, the best course of action is to,

“Grab somebody sexy tell ‘em hey
Give me everything tonight
Give me everything tonight
Give me everything tonight
Give me everything tonight.”

Now, you may notice there are some obvious differences in the content of the two songs.  Granted, Allen’s advice is a little vague, but basically, he counsels us to examine our lives (“start thinkin’) and to “turn it all around” instead of “throw it all away.”  Given his well-known religious beliefs, it makes sense to interpret the lyrics in the light of our need to follow Jesus and live “life to the full” (John 10:10).  On the other hand, Pitbull advises the listener to drop all social inhibitions and to embrace mindless hedonism.

It strikes me as I listen to these songs that you can tell a lot about a person by seeing their reaction to the idea of imminent death.

You can tell what’s important to them.  You can see the heart of their beliefs.  You can see which of their ideals are real and concrete, and which are merely abstractions to be dismissed when push comes to shove.

The first song, for example, holds onto ideals in the face of death.  The second one seems to let go of all of them.

Which do we do?

Our current culture seems to be obsessed with our imminent doom.  As an American and a Christian, I am forever hearing that my way of life is in danger, that the foundations of my country are in peril, that my economic system is collapsing, and that my religious freedoms are eroding.

Maybe they are; I really don’t know.  Or maybe all generations are so fearful.  I don’t know that, either. I’ve only been on this earth for 31 years, so I can’t tell you the atmosphere of past generations.  I only know that since the beginning of my memory, I have heard these predictions of doom from teachers, preachers, politicians, and others.

I guess I’ll see the truth of these predictions soon enough.  In the meantime, I am fascinated by the reactions to the idea that we might lose everything we’ve ever known.  In particular, I’m intrigued (and often saddened) by the ideals that we Christians are willing to shed when “push comes to shove.”

When we are threatened with dangers from every side, real or perceived, we find out what we truly believe in, and what we are really capable of doing.  In those times, we face the temptation to compromise our Christian ideals for what Lee Camp calls “the idolatrous conviction that our survival is more important than any other value.”*  We face this temptation as we talk about politics, online or in person.  We face it when we decide whether Ephesians 4:2 and 4:29 are real truths to be observed or whether they are irrelevant to something as “important” as an upcoming election.  We face this temptation as we think about our country at war and what behaviors we will support as Americans.  We are rightly appalled by the idea of countries who torture their citizens and who seem willing to use nuclear weapons if they had them…and yet, do we also support torture and joke about “nuking them all and letting God sort them out”?  We are faced, in other words, with the temptation to become like that which we oppose.  We are faced with the temptation to throw out Jesus’ fairly clear words and to instead become more like our enemies.  We are faced with the temptation to use the weapons of the world and to try to drive out Satan with Satan.  It doesn’t work.  All it does is make the fight irrelevant.  If there are no more good guys, then what does it matter who wins?

In the midst of these fears, I want to tell my fellow citizens in God’s kingdom to Keep Calm and Carry On.  I have loved this slogan, used briefly by the British in World War 2 (according to my five second research via Wikipedia), ever since I first heard it.  It really encapsulates something I love about stereotypical “British” behavior: the idea of staying calm in the face of disaster, of not panicking.  Sometimes, when I hear dire predictions of what is going to happen to this country if so-and-so is elected or such-and-such law is passed, I just want to look at my the doomsayer and say, “That makes it all the more important that we do not compromise our values.  We cannot throw out the words and teachings of Scripture.  We must continue to strive to imitate Jesus in all that we say and do, just as we always have.  Keep Calm and Carry On, my friend.”  I mean, really, if we really are on the brink of some sort of major collapse, do you want to go out looking just like your enemies?  Let’s do it like Jesus and die right.  

In the face of the fear of losing everything, let’s not take Pitbull’s approach and throw out all restraint, trusting our survival instincts to guide us into truth.  What really strikes me about the Pitbull lyrics are how hopeless they are.  There are no ideals behind his song; the lyrics don’t reflect a belief in anything. And I honestly think that same thing when I see Christians (including myself) act in ways that are totally worldly…and then act like those ways are justified by our extenuating circumstances.  When I catch myself wanting to fight fire with fire, I often have to stop and think, “Am I really that hopeless?  Do I really have that little faith in the power of Jesus’ words?”  It’s the sad truth that, according to my actions, I sometimes am that hopeless, and I sometimes do have that little faith.

Instead of the Pitbull approach, I want to take the approach of the Mumford and Sons lyric, which tells us to,

“Hold on to what you believed/

In the light/

When the darkness has robbed you of all your sight.”

In this tense election year, we will inevitably discuss and examine what is best for our country, both internally and abroad.  My prayer is that we do this in a way that doesn’t negate our beliefs in Scripture.  My prayer is that we continue to live lives of love…real, self-sacrificial love.

My prayer is that we Keep Calm and Carry On.

*Quote from:  Camp, Lee.  Who is my Enemy?  Grand Rapids:  Brazos Press, 2011.  91.

The Art of Moment Counting

“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”  Psalm 90:12

I have a confession to make.  I started reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, which is an amazing, revolutionary book (or so I had heard from everyone and their sister).  I got through chapter three before I nonchalantly concluded that I knew where she was going and that I pretty much already do what she is advocating.  And then I stopped reading.

Wow.

Sometimes I hear my own thoughts and just have to chuckle in disbelief at their arrogance.  In repentance, I did start chapter four today and enjoyed it.

That said, it does seem to me that the heart of her book seems to be about being grateful for every moment…which is a lesson that I have been trying to learn since the beginning of 2009.  That’s when I started a scrapbooking endeavor called, “Project 365,” where I took a picture every day.  One thing I discovered that year was how much looking through the lens of the camera helped me truly see my blessings.  Now, don’t misunderstand:  I am no photographer.  I am a strictly point-n-shoot type of girl, and for the past month, I’ve been relying on Greg’s phone for most of my pictures since my beloved camera broke.  So it was not the art of photography that taught me gratitude.  Instead, it was simply the discipline of keeping my eyes open for the special moments, and pausing to record them.  That discipline has been an incredible gift to me.

Since 2009, I have kept some variation of the same scrapbook.  I always use Becky Higgins’ format, which is called Project Life.  In 2011, I did a digital version of Project Life, finishing up on New Year’s Eve.  Two days ago, I got it in the mail.

Since then, I’ve been greedily poring over it and finding myself flooded by memories of all the sacred and wonderful things that happened last year.  Of course, there were big things like birthday parties and first days of schools, and those were duly recorded.  But there were also little things:

This moment with Anna absolutely melted me.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  The euphoria of having her sleep in my arms was like a drug.  Seriously, I felt high.  She doesn’t usually do that anymore.

There were also moments, like this one, that I had forgotten.  Seeing the picture revived my memories of the whole evening.  We wanted to have a fun family night, and I thought up an Italian theme.  We would make homemade pizzas and watch Lady and the Tramp.  But everything went wrong.  I couldn’t find Lady and the Tramp anywhere, our pizzas messed up, and Greg and I were both in testy moods.  I remember sitting at the table eating my still-doughy pizza, and staring out the window at a beautiful summer evening.  I wanted so badly to go running instead of watching the movie.  But I gritted my teeth and continued with family night.  We made inflatable beds and watched Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  It was surprisingly funny, and we all ended up laughing and laughing and had a great conversation afterward, snuggling on inflatable mattresses and giggling about our favorite parts.  I went to bed feeling like my heart would burst with happiness.  I am so glad that I stuck out that tragicomic family night.

One evening, we tried out a new restaurant, Sesame Burgers.  While we waited outside, we entertained ourselves by trying to get a good family self-portrait.  The results were hilarious, and this one was the best of the bunch.

This was one of Anna’s many silly outfits.  I think I took pictures of almost all of them.  She had quite a fashion sense that year!

Luke went through a brief phase of trying to give his family “the best night ever,” by turning down all of her beds at night.  I had totally forgotten about this little practice of his, but it was so sweet.

I took this picture after a disastrous morning, where the kids and I barreled out the door, late for Anna’s gymnastics…and found out that the battery on our van was dead.  We had to hastily load carseats into a Jeep (NOT fun) to get there, but by the time Greg and Luke worked on the battery that afternoon, I was able to take the long view and laugh at the whole situation.

I have found that capturing the “small” moments of joy helps me to keep the moments of frustration in perspective:

I capture these moments because I want to remember them.  Remembering them helps me to appreciate them.  And appreciating them in retrospect reminds me to also appreciate the present moments.  It helps me to fully live each moment that God sends me.  That’s my goal, at least.  I guess it’s how I “seize the day.”

I read an article yesterday, in which the author related how the concept of carpe diem intimidated her.  She felt that it put this pressure on her to have every moment full of giddiness and joy…when truthfully, her life was not like that.

Whose life is like that?  I know mine is not.

The article coincided with a conversation I had recently about the degree to which we can truly “seize the day.”  Basically, it was questioned whether we really could maintain such an intense level of existence moment-to-moment…or if the most we could reasonably hope for was a few good moments throughout each day.  Maybe I’m ridiculously naive, but I truly do believe that we can live each moment fully.  And I definitely don’t believe that living each moment fully means feeling non-stop ecstasy throughout each day.

I have the same moments that everyone else does.  Right now, I’m battling a cold, and my head feels like it’s going to explode.  There is fluid in my ears, which magnifies all sound, so I have spent the past couple days repeatedly asking my kids if they could please be a little quieter.  I think they think I am losing my mind.  I also started a part-time teaching job this week, which has been great, but it has made me readjust my routines to figure out how to fit everything in.  We also have quite a few house guests this week, a circumstance that brings a whole other level of housework and meal planning.  There have definitely been moments of exhaustion, which have led to confusion and inefficiency.  But I don’t think that being exhausted and inefficient necessarily means failing to live life fully.  One result of my exhausted inefficiency this afternoon was that I realized that the most efficient thing I could handle with my current level of brain functioning was to sit and find Waldo with Luke in the Where’s Waldo book we checked out yesterday.  We found Waldo, the Wizard, Wenda, Woof, and Ogwald in all the pictures.  And I’ve got to say, I’m a master at finding Woof:)!  I even found the scroll a few times!  That was seizing the day.  It’s really not so hard.

Seizing the day for me is really just to embrace each moment for what it is.  That’s how you make the moments count.  I try so hard not to resent my hard moments or wish them away.  Instead, when I embrace the exhaustion, the difficulty, the frustration, and the pain for what they are…I often find that they are strangely beautiful:

This was taken the evening we found out that Greg would probably lose his job, which was one of the biggest blows of both of our lives.  I can’t even describe to you how much pain I was in when I snapped that picture.  And yet, something compelled me to seize the moment, to make it count, to remember it.  There just seemed to be something sacred in the fact that Greg continued to read the kids their Bible stories, as always.  Even though everything had changed for us, nothing had changed about the God we serve.  There is something sacred about pain, just like there is something sacred about joy.

And so I continue to try to cultivate the art of moment counting.  I try to see the meaning in everything…honestly, because I really want there to be meaning in everything.  I’m not sure that anything is more fundamentally depressing to me than meaninglessness.  Pain, tragedy, heartbreak…it is all manageable if I can believe there might be meaning behind it.  It’s unbearable otherwise.  The same is true, to a different degree, of the rest of my life.  I want it all to have meaning, every second.  Maybe that sounds horrible to you, or unrealistic.  But it sounds like heaven to me–truly!  And the more I seek God, the more He gives me the meaning I long for in every second of the day.  Seek, and ye shall find, right?

And that’s how I count my moments…and make my moments count.

How do you do it?

Shut up.

“Be still, and know that I am God.”  Psalm 46:10

My mind generally races throughout its day:  it reacts to the surrounding stimuli of its world; it plots and plans the practicalities necessary for a smooth daily existence; it ponders the many things I read and hear; it mulls over its own thoughts.  This is normal for it.

And then, sometimes, it gets stopped.

Sometimes, like yesterday, it will be humming along as usual, as I sit on the  back patio, listening to the children play, reading a good book, thinking remotely about my plans for the rest of the day…when I look up…

…and shut up.

Something about God’s world–so often, it’s trees, but it can really be anything–fully quiets my soul.  My thoughts are absorbed completely into the beauty of the moment, and there is no pondering, or planning, or meditating, or mentally describing.  There is simply silence, as the beauty of God’s world, and the immense Love reflected in that beauty, pour into my heart.  Such inward silences can stretch into minutes, which is no small feat for my overactive, ever-thinking mind.

Eventually, something will snap me out of it, and the thoughts will pour back in, and my day will proceed.  But as it once again moves forward, I remain deeply grateful for the times that God simply shuts me up.

How does God shut you up?

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