Good Old Fashioned Suffering

I Once Thought I Would Enjoy a Lifetime of Easy Living. How Good it is that I was Wrong.

Since 9/11 it seems that so much of America has been struggling to regain its lost sense of comfort. Economically (and some would say politically) this has become even more difficult. Many wonder: Will we ever regain our ability to buy maximum quantities of stuff?

So what it we don’t? Now is the prime time for us, as a nation, to relearn the values of hard work, perseverance, community, simplicity, and — dare I say? — suffering. The present crisis can either kill us culturally and morally…. or it can make us stronger. We stand at a crossroads.

The message of the cross is this: Jesus died to pay a debt you could never repay… but to receive that gift you, too, must take up your cross and follow him. Faith was never supposed to be easy. We need God’s help. We need each other. We need to accept that in this life there are no quick fixes, but that’s okay because there are fixes in the end. Whether you , in this body, will live to see that end is beside the point.

Christians + Rules = WTF?

A few days ago, a reader asked, “where  [did] the church decided to adopt a code of ethics of its own, and for what?”

I was stumped a bit, because there should be a simple answer… but there’s not.

From the outside, Christianity can look like it’s dominated by rules, especially by a long list of don’ts. Shoot, from the inside, many people feel oppressed by all the restrictions. Some people rebel and do whatever they think is right without any deference to authority, while others remain tied to a long list of shoulds. How did it come to this?

Commandments have always been part of faith in the God of Abraham. In the beginning, God gave humans a very short list (one item!) of what not do to, knowing that, as long as they obeyed that one thing, they would be responsible in living in the best possible way in everything else. Well, they screwed up, so God took things up a notch.

God gave Abraham any number of commandments throughout his life, but all of them were preceded by God’s promises — and all of them were for Abraham’s ultimate good, even if they didn’t make sense at the time (sacrifice Isaac!). Those promises were in the context of a trusting relationship.  Commandments without faith are dead. Obedience to commandments is part of a healthy faith, but it is not the be all and end all.

Jesus came to set people free from themselves, from each other, and from the deceptions that can weigh each of us down. With this comes great freedom, but in this life, there are some things that God – and responsible religious leaders – will warn us against because they will harm us or others spiritually, physically, etc.

If people claim to be Christians, but demonstrate their faith through rules more than through love, other people have the right to question their faith. But, on the flip side, if people claim to be Christians but demonstrate no self-control or concern for living out their faith in purity and responsibility, ditto. If you don’t feel like you have a cross to bear…. Faith is joyful, liberating, healing, and many wonderful things, but no one ever said it was supposed to be easy.

And your fantasy is… football?

Reflections on the phenomenon of fantasy football.

It’s that time of year again.  A crisp breeze is in the air after even the balmiest of days.  It’s almost football season, time for the people of America (but especially the men) to celebrate the act of brutal, strategic team ass-kicking.

I appreciate football, but I do not enjoy football.  There are many reasons for this.  Much of it has to do with the fact that, in my rootless youth,  I never had a home team to cheer for and now I am a man without NFL loyalties.  But the bottom line is I’m a man, I’m not afraid of the dark, I eat red meat, and I’m one of the most athletic people I know.  While I have a multitude of ways I’d rather spend my time than watching other people being athletic, I certainly understand those who appreciate a good game, especially in such Olympic times as these.

What I do not understand are the men, many of them my friends, who devote countless hours to the crafting of imaginary teams.  Real players.  Fake teams.  You’re the owner/coach.  This is your opportunity to play God… and this is how you’re going to spend it?  Really???

Sex vs. Batman

Once upon a time there was a man named Batman. He had lots of money, lots of skills, and kicked some major booty. He fought injustice. He ruled minds of many men, young and old. But one thing he lacked: he did not rule their hearts.

Now sex does not equal love, but when a man and a woman do pledge their love to each other in marriage, sex is a physical expression of that love.

Batman is imaginary. Sex is concrete. Batman is about me. Sex is about us. Batman evokes my inner child. Sex evokes my inner and outer man. Batman is an expression of untamed masculine striving. Sex is an expression of my masculinity meeting my wife’s femininity (as we tame each other?).

I might not see the new movie any time soon and that’s okay. Married life is grand.

House-Husband

Newly-married, my wife and I figuring out how to make our household work. Since I am a full-time student and she is a full-time graphic designer, our typical days look very different.

She wakes at 6:30am and works from 9am-5pm.

I wake at 8am, in time to eat breakfast with her, and do “whatever I want” for much of the rest of the day. There are times when I have a lot that I must do… and there is always a lot that I should be doing.

The bottom line is that she has 40 hours of scheduled work each week and I have 10 scheduled hours with 10-60 very flexible, very variable hours. This means that I am the one who is shopping for groceries, washing the dishes, cooking dinner, and doing the laundry much of the time. We attempt to share these duties whenever possible, but it’s more possible for me than it is for her most of the time.

How has this affected me?

It’s not like I’m a stay-at-home Dad and home stuff is all that I’m doing. That would bring with it its own challenges. We dream of the day when — should we be so blessed as to have children — we will have the flexibility to both spend time at home on alternating days, managing childcare/working from home. We’ll see.

The biggest difference I have noticed is that I goof off less than before. If I’m not doing “housework” (can include “fixing” things), I should be doing “schoolwork,” even if that tangentally includes such interfaith-dialog/prose-style-honing pastimes as blogging. No time for free cell or mid-day movies.

At the end of the day, she comes home and I clock out. That’s the best part. This is far from being thankless work.

pickle + mustard + tomato = sanity

I once ate plain sandwiches for the sake of speed and efficiency. But I can barely describe the great delight and peace I now feel because I eat my sandwiches on toasted bread, heating the chicken or other lunch meat, putting on mustard and a slice of tomato, with a pickle on the side. It might cost a few cents more, but it’s even better than I can get in a restaurant.

So often I feel we treat ourselves to second best when, with a little bit of extra effort, we could have the best. I want to eat the best sandwich I can possibly eat given my means (and need to spend/save for other things). I want my sandwich to glorify God, if only by the praises it elicits in me as I eat it.

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

Published in: on August 6, 2008 at 9:45 am  Comments (2)  
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The Problem Is… Jesus

Post #2 in direct response to Avant Garde’s comments on All Roads Lead to Heaven? (Newcomers, please join the conversation.)

Avant Garde: “…in the guise of questioning the denominations/churches of christianity, and saying “no religion but God leads to heaven”, you really meant “your” God the Son alone leads to heaven!”

You are correct. I really meant that only Jesus – God the Son – leads to heaven. Can Jesus reach people through religions that aren’t Christianity? I address this specific issue under C* below. Faith comes from God but “religion” and religiosity are human constructs.

Meanwhile, I should tell you why I believe what I believe. Maybe you will write me off. Maybe you will continue reading. I respect your decision and point of view regardless. I do not expect you to change your mind. That would take a miracle. But I do hope that you will understand me.

A. Someone is “wrong” from everyone’s perspective

Everyone assumes that someone is wrong when it comes to religion. There are the obvious examples of Christians saying that Muslims are essentially wrong and vice-versa. But what about “All religions are true”?

Even the claim that “no one is wrong” assumes a group of people who are wrong: those who deny that claim and typically implies “everyone is wrong” about the ultimate realities of eternity.

To claim “I don’t/can’t/shouldn’t make claims” is a non-committal cop-out… and is often, in fact, not true of the one who says it.

Christians make ridiculous claims, but that does not mean that these claims are either untrue or more ridiculous than the claims that everyone else is making.

B. The Bible tells us what Jesus claimed

Not all those who profess to be Christians accept the teachings of the Bible in the same way. There are many issues, such as a six-day creation, which seem to be open to a greater deal of interpretation. But on the issue of Jesus, there is much clarity. The Bible deserves fuller treatment, but I can summarize my basic belief: if God exists and he is good, then he would have used just such a means as the Bible to reveal himself to humanity. (Re: Bible’s self-testimony, “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless…” Psalm 18:30).

C. This is what Jesus himself claimed

Jesus was crucified for claiming to be God in ways that were true of himself and of himself alone. He spoke with authority over the written scriptures. He healed, loved, served and led others as if he were the ruler of creation.  For example, “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58).  ‘Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6-7).  His sacrificial death on behalf of humanity could only be done by him, for he alone is fully God and fully human. If humanity needs saving, then we have never had a clearer savior.

D. Jesus saves in mysterious ways

Some churches give the impression that all you have to do is say his name in a prayer. The truth is more personal. We are saved by faith. But this isn’t any sort of will-power that we muster up. It’s a relationship… which God himself initiates. Jesus himself said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Paul, one of the first generation of followers, wrote, “”For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…” (Ephesians 2:8).

*Some have suggested that there are “invisible Christians,” who have a personal relationship with God through Jesus either without publicly professing such faith or without even consciously knowing this. For example, a Buddhist or a Muslim could be a Christian without knowing it by loving God and loving others. Many Buddhists and Muslims find such ideas highly offensive. The idea is convenient those of us who struggle with outreach to members of other religions and with the idea of hell.  The idea has strength in the precedent of Jews before Christ clearly having access to God the Father and being “saved.”

E. Either Jesus saves and he alone, or Jesus does not save at all.

If Jesus died for the sins of the world, then we need him, because we all fall short of deserving to be with God forever. If Jesus did not die for the sins of the world, then no one needs him except as an example of how to die for a fictitious cause. Either Christianity is the truest truth or it is the biggest lie. There is no middle ground. Maybe other religions have the possibility of being partially true, but because of the claims of Jesus, Christianity does not have that option.

F. These issues are a matter of faith.

I can testify but I cannot prove. (See previous post.)

Caution

There are people who profess to be Christians who disagree with virtually everything I have just said (including a particularly nasty group of radical Dispensationalists who do not believe that there has ever been spiritual salvation for the Jewish people).

Conclusion

I don’t know if I have convinced anyone, but I hope that answers the question.  If I have not, or if anyone has further questions, I am, as always, open to your input.

Faith vs. “Knowledge”

Post #1 in response to Avant Garde’s comments on All Roads Lead to Heaven?

“…how did you come to conclusion that jesus is ultimately right – was my question. I am not saying he is not right, all i am asking is how do YOU know that?”

Before I wax philosophical, let me give you the most personal answer I can give (the short version, at least). I came to the conclusion that Jesus was right because he saved me from myself. I was raised in a church-going, though not especially churchy family. During middle school, at the encouragement of the youth pastor, I began reading the Bible on my own. Convinced that, if God exists, he could and would use just such a means of conveying his truth, I became open to Christianity… and to the fact that I was an egotistical bastard (you know the type: the one who looks down on others for getting B’s). During this time, I had a vivid dream in which (abbridged) I was drawn through darkness into the light and warmth of God’s love in Christ. Since then, there have been many cogent moments of experiencing his presence, such as my near-death in a car crash and my one serious, multi-month bout of manic-depression. But, most importantly, he has transformed me into a more compassionate and loving person (though I still have a long way to go).

But that might not be what you’re asking. What I believe, I cannot prove. I can give you my reasons, my doubts, and my areas of relative certainty. Yet these bits of information are of a different quality than the fact that I exist today, depending on how you define “I” and “exist” and “today,” because Descartes can build a pretty-much air-tight case for the existence of me. No one can build an air-tight case for the need for Jesus. Such is the nature of faith. Many have tried. But this looks less like a science experiment, rooted in things tangible, and more like a court case with a preponderance of evidence, much of it circumstantial, from which you, the jury, must arrive at a verdict.

“Faith is the evidence of things unseen.”

People usually believe in Jesus first in a personal way and then grapple intellectually with the implications of this. In light of my personal faith, why have I concluded that Jesus is ultimately right? Because of the faith the he has planted in me. This is a circular argument, no doubt. But I don’t mind that, as long as you don’t. Circular arguments are only a problem if I’m trying to convince you… and I’m not. Only God can do that. But like any decent, anonymous cyber-friend I can shoot back attempted answers and counter-questions to your questions.

I apologize if this raises more questions than it answers. Faith is about the Person more than it is about the ideas of theology. Questions drive us closer to the truth and a good question is better than any half-assed answer.

Now I still need to address the elephant in the room. Avant Garde further exclaimed: “[you write] in the guise of questioning the denominations/churches of christianity, and saying “no religion but God leads to heaven”, you really meant your God the Son alone leads to heaven!” In my next post I will address the exclusive claims of Christianity.

Hellboy vs. Spawn vs. Ghostrider vs. Batman

hellboy 2

Includes a review of “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” without blatant spoilers.

There have been other heroes who are caught between heaven and hell. Spawn: “Born in darkness. Sworn to justice.” Ghostrider: “He’s the only one that can walk on both worlds.” Batman, in a less literal sense, is equally torn between the forces of light and of darkness. But they have a way of taking themselves way too seriously, to the point of being silly (Ghostrider), or lame (Spawn – there’s a reason there hasn’t been a sequel). But not Hellboy.

It’s not just that he knows how to crack a good joke. It’s that he integrates action, comedy, and supernatural suspense, while wrestling with his own humanity (or lack-therof). Batman has become super by becoming more than merely human.

Yesterday, I finished reading Frank Miller’s graphic novel “The Dark Knight Returns.” In the introduction, he describes a bar far beneath the streets of Gotham, a place where the old heroes go to tell there stories. They laugh and drink and reminisce. But there is one hero whose name they never mention, the thought of whom makes them all shudder, who in sheer force of will bested them all: Batman. But his glory came at a price: the sacrifice of his humanity.

Hellboy, on the other hand, has become great by becoming human. Sure, he struggles to find acceptance and to embrace humanity. He is a demon. But not in the biblical sense.

He’s a bumbling sort of hero. When faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, his favorite catchphrase: “Oh, crap.” He gets into trouble, makes a big mess, and usually only manages to get out with the help of his friends.

He’s a bad boyfriend/husband type. “I would die for her… but she wants me to do the dishes!”

Yet, somehow, in the midst of such ineptitude, his dedication and wit shine through, and he reminds me of what it means to become a better man.

Don’t get me wrong. Hellboy II is no Schindler’s List. It’s a great movie, but not a deep movie. Fun has always been Hellboy’s strong suit. Nonetheless, there are moments of depth (why has magic faded from the world?) and, paired with Del Toro’s stunning visuals (creatures galore!), this should be the new summer blockbuster to beat.

But I wouldn’t know. I haven’t seen a movie in the theater since April. Then again, I haven’t wanted to. This might be the first movie in the summer so far truly worth seeing.

Netflix/Cable: Do you own them? Or do they own you?

Two of our grandest pre-marital achievements have been the establishment of a Netflix account and the harassing of our apartment management to set up the cable service that is automatically included in our rent. (We’ve been paying for it for over six weeks now and we want to see some results, dang it!) The effects have been as follows.

Netflix: We giddily rush through movies and t.v. shows, watching for entertainment but also for the sake of speed. As much as I might want to watch the Godfather (which I own), we’d better watch
Love Actually so that we can get the next disc of Lost! I find myself drawn into an entertainment rat race. We watch so that we can experience adventure… or do we watch so that we can watch more without asking why?

Cable: I turn it on, flip through all 80 channels with amazing reception and turn it off. I’d rather watch Netflix. I guess it’s worth having for those 5/min/day. I might watch a whole (5 min x 7 days x 4 weeks) = 2.5 hours each month, so is it worth it? It was automatic… but it’s still sort of mind numbing and lame. (I know I won’t still be saying that in two months when fresh episodes of the Office are back on… oh wait, didn’t need cable for that.)

Which leaves me with the lingering question: Why do we watch anything? Or is it like popcorn at the movies: you eat it because it’s there?

Published in: on July 10, 2008 at 5:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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