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.

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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???

What Dogs Smell

For Emma.

When dogs smell, they smell in vivid color. They smell every hue of days past and days to come. When dogs smell, they smell the eons, every forefather and foremother who has ever peed. When dogs smell, they smell the beginning of time, the history of their race and of humanity, too. When dogs smell, they follow every trace of the Creator’s touch. When dogs smell, they do not smell rot or stench or death. Even bad smells smell good, for dogs smell redemption.

Grad School Musical

A beautiful but aimless poet falls for a boring chemistry research assistant with hot career prospects. Their semi-mutual friends stumble and fake their way through various feats of academic prowess. Featuring such hit songs as “There Must be a Way to Read Three Books a Day,” “Can I Date on this Stipend?” and “Don’t Diss my Dissertation!”

Post-Apocalyptic Eco-Joy

A vision from Isaiah 34

Many times I read parts of the Old Testament without being gripped by the passage.  I take an already fragmentary book like Isaiah and look at its verses in isolation, which makes it even harder to figure out what’s going on.  Today was different.

The first half of the chapter contains a warning of God’s coming judgment.  “The Lord is angry with all nations; his wrath is upon all their armies….  He will give them over to slaughter” (v2).  There are many familiar apocalyptic images: “All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll” (v4).  Then there’s even more blood and gore, even for a Braveheart guy.  “For the Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution to uphold Zion’s cause” (v8).  Then something strange happens.

God gives the desolate land back to the animals.  “The desert owl and screech owl will possess [the land of Edom]; the great owl and the raven will nest there” (v11).  The passage goes on to describe thorns, nettles, and brambles overrunning the old battlements.  Jackals, hyenas, wild goats, and night animals will “find for themselves places of rest” (v14).

Some would look at these animals and, because they were ceremonially unclean (i.e., unfit for sacrifice), see them as symbolic of God’s judgment.  Maybe.  But what if God is simply returning that particular patch of land (Edom), back to its original inhabitants?  The language Isaiah uses is not unlike that used for the people of Israel, for he says of the above animals:

“None of these will be missing, not one will lack her mate.  For it is [God’s] mouth that has given the order, and his Spirit will gather them together.  He allots their portions; his hand distributes them by measure.  They will possess it forever and dwell there from generation to generation” (vv16-17).

Those are some happy animals.  God be praised!

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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St. Louis vs. L.A.

On our honeymoon, my wife and I ended up stranded in L.A.  We didn’t see many sights, but we saw the hundreds of miles of sprawl on the way in.  The numbers don’t lie.  There are a lot of people living in L.A.  Roughly 10 million people.  That’s almost 1/4 of the people living in California and 10x as many as live in St. Louis.  A lot of people either choose to live in L.A. or choose not to leave L.A.  But how many are trapped either by circumstance or by ignorance?

It part it was the pushing and shoving, the five-hours stranded in line, but ultimately it was the L.A.P.D. bomb squad evacuating our terminal that forced our conclusion: we hate L.A.  Seeing celebrities and eating expensive food wouldn’t change our minds.  My best friend from 5th grade lives in L.A.  He hates it too.  Yet he stays.  Hollywood has a stranglehold on many innocent lives.  L.A. is big and busy without being the great city that New York is and possessing a certain sun-burnt superficiality that the Big Apple lacks.

And then there’s St. Louis, our some-time home.  It’s the biggest small town in America.  It’s small enough that I’m guaranteed to run into someone I know unexpectedly at most large-scale events.  It’s big enough to have a small, crappy version of whatever you want (as opposed to New York, which has the best version of whatever you want).  This is a great town with hidden glories.  The “City Museum” is an urban playground for grown-ups, with huge slides, a three-story outdoor jungle gym, and two sets of man-made caves.  Forest Park is larger than Central Park in NYC.  The art museum and zoo there are free.  So is the Shakespeare festival and the summer jazz festival.  The Cardinals and the Rams are worth cheering for.  And the gateway arch is the last great man-made monument.  St. Louis is one of America’s best kept secrets.

A friend returned to live in St. Louis after living in California.  He had decent job prospects and great wine, but there were two things that he especially lacked: a community of friends and places to think great thoughts.  Few things are more important in life and St. Louis provides a healthy context for both.

I don’t right this to convince you to leave L.A.  But if you’re already here, love where you are.

Published in: on August 5, 2008 at 9:14 am  Comments (6)  
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