Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An Agnostic Taught Me About Romance

I have been reading Robert McKee. He is probably the most brilliant mind I have ever encountered in any form. As far as I know, he is an agnostic, but somehow God has taught me more through his book than a year's worth of sermons.

McKee has taught me a lot about a lot, but he has caused a major paradigm shift in my idea of romance.

I've read Joshua Harris and Cloud & Townsend and heard from a dozen other older, probably wiser men and women on how romance should be done. I think it's a very important issue, and should not be so often dismissed as some type of adolescent angst. Romance is, essentially, the process of answering the second most important question you will ever face: Should I marry someone, and if so, who?

How you decide to answer this question will define the rest of our life more dramatically than anything else, save your relationship with God. Therefore, deciding the process by which we find the answer is neither trivial or childish, but serious beyond most other activities and ultimately life defining.

McKee doesn't really offer advice about romance, but he offers some profound insights about human nature, and it's rocked my world.

In making decisions about friendships or romantic relationships, most people are entirely trait focused. What are their spiritual gifts? What are their personality traits? Are they introverted or extroverted? What are their goals? What is their calling? Are they Complimentarian? Calvinist? What is their character like? Are they honest, ethical, compassionate, genuine? Do their know the Bible? What are their flaws? What are their strengths? Do I enjoy spending time with them? Do I trust them? Do I think they are attractive?

Knowing someone's traits probably has some degree of importance, and answering questions like those is probably worth doing before you dive in head first, but that used to be my primary basis for deciding if I should date someone, as I believe it is for most people. Then I read McKee.

People's personality changes. They have new life experiences, they have hormone changes, and their personality changes. People's character changes, both for the better and for the worse. People make moral compromises, God convicts and changes people's hearts. For these reasons, everything about a person that is in any way trait based is perpetually in flux, and fundamentally unreliable. As such, personality or character traits are not a good basis on which to make a lifelong commitment.

There is a difference between knowing someone and knowing about someone. As a rule of thumb, everything you could possibly explain to a third party about someone is what you know about them. What you could never explain or articulate, is you knowing them. Everything you know about their traits is stuff you know about them. This is mostly unrelated to whether you actually know them or not.

If you are a Christian, you were predestined before the foundation of the world to be a child of God (1 Peter). You were known intimately before you were created, and you, like everyone else, where created in the Image of God, (Genesis 2) but we were each created in the Image uniquely. That is, you bear a slightly different angle of the Image than I do. We are all created by God with the greatest intentionality, containing at our very core a reflect of the nature of God, but each of those cores is slightly different, showing slightly different aspects of God. (See Grudem's "Systematic Theology")

Furthermore, we each are in the process of being conformed to the image of Christ, which is a process of perfection of our own unique natures. When we have all been perfected, we will all still be different, because God has made us all unique, yet bearing his image.

Beyond your traits and goals and gifts and calling and talent and masks and history and all the layers we all have, you have a core to your being, and inner most self. This is unique and created specifically by God. It may show differently as your character and personality changes, but your inner most self never changes. God does not alter it. It is who you are at the most basic level. It is the epitome of the unique image of God inside you.

People have many desires, both conscious and unconscious. Your unconscious desires are unconscious mostly because they are too fundamental and too complex to be articulated, even to yourself. McKee says your unconscious desires are always stronger than your conscious desires, and that as you grow as a human being, your conscious desires will more closely compliment your unconscious desires.

McKee also as you have one unconscious desire that is stronger than all the others, and in the end, it rules your life. Perhaps you have heard "Character is destiny." I think this is what it means. Not character traits, but who you are at the most fundamental level defines what your life will be, in the long run. The longer you live, the more this "controlling desire" dominates your life. You will, ultimately, make decisions out of your most fundamental and compelling part of your nature.

This controlling desire is generally too deep to be aware of, too fundamental to analyze, and too complex and multi-faceted to understand, let alone communicate to someone else. It is too deep in your inner self to be observed, but I think you can know a little bit about it by seeing its effects.

If God has designed you to get married, your innermost self, your controlling desire, has been designed to compliment and be complimented by the innermost self, the controlling desire of one other person better than any other person. You are designed to fit together at the deepest level with one other person, like a lock and a key, you are made for each other. I believe this predestination to compliment one another applies only to your deepest, truest self, and not to the multitude of personality and character traits, goals and gifts, that are closer to the surface and forever in flux.

Granting all of this is true, the question of romance then becomes how to discern whose innermost self most compliments your own. This is, I think, going to be different for different couples, but I have a few ideas.

  1. Know yourself, or else everything else is useless.
  2. It is impossible to discern the character or true self of a person who is not genuine, honest, and, at least to some degree, vulnerable. Someone who is not this way may be a wonderful person, but you have no way of knowing. Ergo, this person is not ready to date. Period.
  3. Experiencing someone's controlling desire takes a lot of time spent together. I think it is a good idea to spend a lot of time with someone as a friend (both one on one and in a group) before you decide to invest romantically.
  4. Judgment is clouded in a vacuum. It's important to be close friends with several members of the opposite sex so that you can tell the difference between infatuation based on superficial traits or the thrill of getting to know someone deeply, and the potential for lifelong commitment between someone who is deeply compatible with you.
  5. The best measure of compatibility is the effect you have on them and the effect they have on you. Are you closer to God because of the friendship? Are they? Do they merely make you feel good, or do they facilitate holistic growth as a person, not because they are trying to, but just because it is naturally how they interact with you? Do they edify you the way you might most mature Christians to, or do they seem unusually designed to build you up in particular, and you them? You can't see their controlling desire, and you probably won't ever be able to quantify or describe it, but you can see its effects. Do the effects you have on one another suggest you are designed to fit together. This does not mean you get along or make each other feel good as much as it means that you help each other grow.
  6. Watch what actions the other person takes. Actions tell you a lot about who a person is. The more pressure, the more significant the choice, the more the choice tells you about their true self. Pay attention, people make more significant choices than you may realize.
These things said, the methodology of how you date is not terribly significant. Whether you court or date casually is not important. What matters is that you adhere to biblical principles, especially honesty, and pursue someone based on who they are on the deepest possible levels. Mold your methodology around these things. I'll close with this:

"Life teaches this grand principle: What seems is not what is. People are not what they appear to be. A hidden nature waits concealed behind a facade of traits. No matter what they say, no matter how they comport themselves, the only way we ever come to know characters in depth is through their choices under pressure." - Robert McKee

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Someone Like A Rabbit

I know someone like a rabbit
Afraid, and move, who knows of what
And move, twitch, move, freeze
Twitch, move, never never never

Stay, except on the move, and move
Freeze, and move.

I tried to ask her
Why she is so afraid
Twitch, and she's gone
Camouflaged, freeze and move

Corner, catch, squeak, dash
Freeze, move

I don't think she wants
Move, eat, move, sleep, move
Did you know you can be miserable
Without wanting anything?

She is, I think
Freeze, move, twitch, move

I don't like her
She makes me anxious
The best way to get away from
her, is, stillness... or something

Pretend to be a rock
Sit, Sit, Sit, Sit

I'm more like a turtle
Plod, Plod, Danger!
Impersonate a rock
Pull everything in

Sit, Sit, Sit, Sit
Until it all goes away

Carry it with you, your shell
That's important
It slows you down, but
Always safe

Lie, Lie, Lie, Lie
Until it all goes away

The rabbit bounces through
Hide under the covers
Like a little boy
Inside a shell

I know someone like a rabbit
I don't like her
She makes me afraid
How does she do that?

Friday, November 13, 2009

1 John 1

A lot of times, I feel like I'm missing something in the Christian life. Jesus came and promised this abundant life, but I don't really feel like I'm living it. I feel like I'm sorta living it. Maybe about 60% living it. But I read in the Bible how it talks about joy in Christ and abundant life and all that kind of thing, and honestly I have a lot of trouble resonating with that.

I have my mountaintop experiences like everyone else, but I don't think that's what the Bible is talking about when it talks about joy. It seems like the original Christians had this kind of ongoing experience where, even when things were hard, they really enjoyed life. “Sorrowful but always rejoicing,” you know. (2 Corinthians 6:10) I feel like something is just a little bit off. Not way off, mind you, but a little bit off, and I have trouble expressing it.

And I feel like if I told Christians about that, they'd say something really cute about finding my joy in the Lord or being faithful in quiet times or something like that. I don't mean to sound arrogant, but I do decent with that sort of thing. I really don't think that's the problem.

And honestly, I don't think I'm alone. I live in this Christian community and I see a lot of things, and I feel a lot of us have this Godly contentment—sort of. We have joy in the Lord—sort of. You ask people how things are going and they're like, “life is rough but God is good,” and that's fine but something in the way they say makes me feel like we're all missing something.

First John is my favorite book in the Bible. John wrote it around 90 AD. At this point, stuff has been pretty hard. John is really old, probably in his 80's or so.

When I think about John's life, I feel like this should have been a really sad time for him. Like, John is a teenager or so and this incredible teacher named Jesus shows up when he's fishing with his brother. So, the teacher wants them to come with him, and John and James follow Jesus around for about three years. And I have to imagine those were the most incredible three years of John's life. He sees the transfiguration. He sees all these miracles, he gets to talk with God incarnate and learn from him and he has this totally life changing experience.

Then, Jesus dies and it's awful, but he comes back from the dead and it's incredible. And they hang out with the Risen Jesus a couple times, and then John sees him go back into heaven. Then John's in the upper room and the Holy Spirit falls on him and all the other apostles at Pentecost, and that had to be incredible. Then all these people start getting saved, and John and Peter are doing miracles and teaching in the temple.

And then John's brother gets stoned to death in public, and all the Christians flee from the Jewish persecution. But then the leader of the persecution (Paul) becomes a believer in this amazing appearing of Christ, and stuff is going pretty good again. And then the Holy Spirit says that Gentiles are to be included in the Kingdom of God too, and there's this awesome period of evangelism led by this guy, Paul, where churches get planted in most of the known world within about 10 years.

Then Paul gets murdered. And then Peter gets murdered, and everything kinda falls to John. And then the headquarters of the Church in Jerusalem gets destroyed because the Romans burn the whole thing to the ground. So John has to flee his homeland and he ends up in this pagan city of Ephesus. He starts pastoring a church there that Paul started, but apparently after Paul died things just went sideways, and the Ephesian church is having all these problems, and Christians are getting tortured and killed left and right.

So, I imagine old man John sitting in his house, and all his friends that he started with in the Church are dead. The ones who didn't get themselves lit on fire or boiled in oil just died of old age, and there's hardly anyone left who remembers the earthly Jesus or the Holy Spirit falling at Pentecost. And John's sitting there and he's probably thinking:

“You know, I'm probably not going to make it much longer. The Romans have already tried to kill me, the Ephesian silver guild tried to kill Paul and they don't really like me either. I get sick all the time now, it's hard to travel, I can't stand up straight. One day they're going to knock on my door and drag me out and burn me to death, and if that doesn't happen, any night I might go to bed and just die in my sleep.”

So he sits down and he writes this letter, except it doesn't seem to be written to anyone in particular. There's no addressees, there's no greeting. It doesn't have a lot of structure like the other epistles. I read it and I feel like John just sat down one night and started writing. It's like people who write a letter to be read at their funeral or something. It's like he's saying, “I'm going to die and there's some things you Christians need to remember when I'm gone.”

So, he sits down and he basically sums up all the essentials of the Christian faith. And that's why I like it so much. John doesn't seem to have some specific problem in mind. He's just telling all the Christians who are going to live after him what's really important for them to remember. So the first thing he says is this:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you.”

And basically all that's saying is that John wants to tell the Christians about his personal experience with Jesus. It must seem like a lifetime ago that he went around the Judean countryside with the Rabbi Jesus, but that's the first thing that comes to his mind. He wants to tell them about it.

Then he says two things that really confused me. He says, “so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”

So in two sentences he has two purpose statements, and it took me a long time to reconcile those two together, and this is what I got.

He tells them about his experience with Jesus, and then right after that he says “so that you too may have fellowship with us.” Now, some people are going to tell you this that means that the recipients aren't Christians, and that John wants to have fellowship with them by them getting saved and being included in the universal Church together.

In the next chapter, John specifically says, “I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.” Apart from that, he talks about the readers being his children, and having the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and an intercessor for their sins, so it's pretty clear to me that you have to side with commentators who say that this is referring to people who are already Christians. The Bible just doesn't use phrases like that to talk about nonchristians.

What John is demonstrating is that every Christian can experience deep fellowship with other believers if they choose to follow specific practices, and in this text John gives us two specific practices that develop deep fellowship between believers.

I already talked about the first practice. John says that he is telling them about his personal experience with Jesus so that they will have fellowship with him. Honestly, I don't think that's very hard to apply, but to be really honest I don't see it a lot within the Church.

How come no one talks about their quiet times? I mean, seriously. We talk about our day and our classes and our girlfriend or or a book we ready or even some theological issue, and we talk about all of that because it has a level of importance to us. But sometimes, (not always, but decently often, I think) we have a really good quiet time, and there's some kind of a eureka moment, and the Holy Spirit speaks to us through the Bible, and when that happens it's a big deal, but we don't usually talk about with out friends. Maybe if there's like a testimony night you might say something or maybe you put it on your blog, but somehow it never makes dinner-with-friends conversation.

And I don't do this too much either so I think I get why it doesn't happen. At least for me, I'm afraid of being seen as arrogant or 'that super-spiritual guy' or like I'm disclosing too much or something. And it does seem like there's this cultural attitude that your time in the word and your prayer life and your interaction with the Holy Spirit are private things. That somehow it's not okay to talk about them at the in an informal setting, when you're just hanging out with your friends in the cafeteria or whatever.

But honestly, that's not Biblical. In the Bible, when God says something to someone, or the Holy Spirit moves in someone, they share it with their brothers and sisters in Christ. Because it's good for them. Believe it or not the Holy Spirit doesn't speak to you just for you. He speaks to you so you can take that word and build up other people. And when you share that truth that you got from your time with the Lord, it lets that truth sink more deeply into you. The Bible is not your personal manual to the spiritual life. It's meant to be understood in community. It's supposed to be shared and discussed and explained and proclaimed and sometimes even debated and all of that is good.

So the first practice John gives us to create deep fellowship is to share your experiences of God with other people. Then he says:

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

What I want us to get from this transparency. That's the big idea of the light and dark metaphor. Walking in the light doesn't mean you never sin, and it isn't as much related to the idea of living rightly as it is to the idea of living in a manner that is open and vulnerable. It means talking about sins and struggles. When I was doing my research for this passage I came across a commenter who said it really well, so I'm just going to read what he said about it because I think it's helpful.

“The symbolism of light as knowledge also implies that when Christians 'walk in the light' their lives will not contain hidden sins, falsehoods, or deception. Such walking 'in the light' results in deep divine and human fellowship.”1

I have a friend at a nearby college who is kind of like a little sister to me. Some of you know I'm an only child and I always wished I had siblings, so this girl kind fills that void in my life a little. We have a very, very open relationship in which we feel comfortable talking about issues that we need some masculine or feminine perspective on.

She has a pretty serious boyfriend, and a lot of the time she talks to me about issues relating to their relationship. Before I started talking to this girl I didn't really realize how hard it is for girls to understand guys, but apparently it's really hard.

Recently, she's been struggling because her boyfriend used pornography. And she came to me out of the blue and she said, “Matt, why do guys use porn?”

And the little sensor in my head that tells me when to step carefully started going off, because, you know, it's kind of a touchy issue. And so I kinda hemmed and hawed because I honestly there's no easy answer to that question and I wasn't really sure if it was the kind of thing that I should talk about with her, and she cut me off and said,

“Is it for masturbation?”

And I was like, “Well, yea.”

And you know I could tell she looked very sad because of her boyfriends issues with that and so forth. And so she started asking me all these questions about why he would want to do that and what that says about her and if it's an issue to break up over and so forth and so on, and I did the best I could to help her understand what was going on from my personal experience with it and the experience of guys I know who are struggling with it. And at the end I gave her some Christian websites that might be able to give her a little more information.

At the end of our conversation she said something that just burned itself in my memory, and I thought I would share it with you because I think it really illuminates this passage. I tried to get it down word for word after our conversation, but I may have paraphrased it some.

She told me, “You know, I think we need to talk about issues like this in groups of guys and girls. I know that most girls would freak out if they heard me say that, but I think it's really important for girls to understand the struggle that's going on and understand where they can help and where they need to let the guy handle it with his guys friends, because most girls know that almost all guys have used porn, but they don't know what to think of it or how to deal with it, so they just pretend like it's never been a problem for their husband or their boyfriend, and that's not healthy. And the same thing with girls. Girls have all kinds of issues with body image and eating disorders and masturbation and things like that, and I think guys need to know what they are doing to make those problems worse and what they could do to help. And I know that it's not really socially acceptable to talk about those things in the SDR or whatever, but I think we need to change that because I think it's really important to get those issues out in the open, especially between guys and girls.”

And as much as what she said scares me, and as much as I cringe away from the idea of talking about those things in mixed gender groups or even just in a group in general, and I think she's right. I'm sure you've all heard “Sin grows in the dark and dies in the light,” and there's a lot of truth to that.

And so, this is really the second practice that John is advocating: He's saying, if you want deep fellowship, be open about your sins and your struggles. That's what it means to walk in the light.

I've been using words like open and transparent, and I want to clarify what I mean by that. Being open or transparent or walking in the light does not mean that there's one or two people who know all about your dirty laundry and you put on a clean, shining face in front of the rest of the Church. It also doesn't mean you dump your issues on everyone. It means that, when stuff is really bad, you bring it before a community. Or, when someone brings up a topic that you have struggled with or do struggle with, you're okay talking about those personal issues with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

And I know that's a really scary thing, but I'm pretty darn sure that this is the Biblical model.

So,in the beginning I told you that I felt like I was some kind of joy missing in the Christian life. And then I told you that John says that every Christian can experience deep fellowship through two practices, and that those practices are talking about how you have experienced God in your life, and being transparent about your sin and struggles.

John says, “indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”

John has joy because he has fellowship with God. But the twist is, the thing we wouldn't expect, is that his joy isn't complete. Here is an apostle, who witnessed the transfiguration, saw the risen Christ, was indwelt with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, wrote a large section of the Bible, and his joy is not complete.

And you notice, he doesn't say that his joy will be complete when he gets to heaven, and he doesn't say that is joy isn't complete because not everyone is a Christian, or because people are turning away or there is persecution or something.

He says that he is writing this letter so his joy will be complete. He also says he is writing the letter so he will have fellowship with these other Christians. I already told you that you can have deep fellowship with other Christians, and John already told us how. This is the why.

Because when we have deep fellowship with Christians it completes the joy that we already have in our fellowship with Christ. And I think that's what is missing.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Most Beautiful

The king was reflecting. Presently, he was reflecting on what he should reflect on for the next half hour. If he had been a less disciplined man, he wouldn't have reflected at all, but reflection was in the schedule for today, so he sat and reflected. You don't get to be king by avoiding the things on your schedule.

At this thought, the king decided to reflect on how he became king. It was a good story, which he told himself often to remember how very clever he had been in becoming king. He always talked to himself out loud when he told himself the story. It went something like this:

Many years ago, before I was a king, I was lord over the modest city of Roskilde. Though the people of my fair city where relatively happy under my lordship, I desired better things for them, and set about building that future. Through my wisdom, we developed a water management system, that allowed us to generate three times the crop yield we had in previous years. I surveyed the land and found good places to open mines for silver, copper, and iron.

The construction of an iron mine proved my greatest stroke of genius, as it allowed my people to construct weapons of unparalleled power. My city became the industrial center of the region. My people labored tirelessly, producing unbreakable armor, longspears, and iron chariots.

Some the other cities in the region began to fear me, for they knew that at a whim I could crush them under my heel. But I was both wise and and merciful, and using my skill in diplomacy, I instead invited the other cities to unite with me and form my first kingdom. (Naturally I would be king, for who else had the wisdom to to govern such an alliance?) All the cities gratefully accepted my offer, and we began to build a consolidated force.

We expanded quickly for some time, with more and more cities joining our kingdom. Eventually, we met the borders of other kingdoms, and I graciously allowed them to ally themselves under me, as I had with the cities before. But these people where proud and stiff-necked, and they spurned my grace and killed my emissaries. So, of course I sought to discipline them, because though I did not know them, I loved them, and wanted them to experience the bounty and peace of my reign. I was like a father to them, disciplining children whom he loves.

There were many wars with many nations after that, and I lead my troops fearless from the front, slaying thousands with my own spear. My cunning strategy and raw courage lead my troops to stunning victory after victory, and soon my kingdom stretched from the Western Sea to the Eastern Sea, and from the Southern Desert to the Northern Wastes.

Of course, one cannot discipline a nation in the same way he disciplines a single person. Because I loved them, I burned many of their cities. And some men I slew in battle, and others I had executed, and still others I disfigured. Though the discipline was painful for them, I know it did them well, for now they are my loyal subjects.

Of course, it would be dishonest of me not to admit that those conquered peoples benefited me as well. The treasures those lands had horded from other conquered peoples, I redistributed to the benefit of my entire kingdom. I built a spectacular palace with gold from the East and gemstones from the West so that all who ventured to my capitol might appreciate the splendor of our kingdom.

I collected beautiful virgins from every town in my kingdom for my harem, so every city and village could be represented in my children. The women were exceedingly beautiful, and I took much pleasure in them, and indeed, they were my prized possessions. I cannot imagine how much they adore me, after I rescued them from their families' mud huts and hopeless futures in farming towns, introducing them instead to a life of fine food, silk clothing, and gold jewelry, with no work to do whatsoever, bearing children to the king himself. Many of them do not speak our language, but I can see their worship in their eyes.

Suddenly the king was greatly troubled, for he began to reflect in earnest. He recalled the former days, when his harem pleased him, so that whatever troubled him in the managing of his kingdom during the day could be soothed away by evening. As the king thought, though, he realized that now he went to bed anxious, sleeping little and waking early.

And yet,
he thought, the management of the kingdom goes well, and there is less strain on my leadership that in the old days of constant war. I have brought peace to the world and yet I am less at peace than when the world was at war. Could it be that I have lost the strength I used to have? Am I growing old and weak?

The king shook his head of such notions. Was he not still strong enough to fight in war? Surely he had not weakened. Perhaps it was his harem that was no longer as soothing as in the old days. That seemed to make sense. He remembered his first wives being more beautiful than these new women they were always sending him. Not that he didn't still have the pick of the crop, but they were what he thought of as commonly beautiful. It had been many years since a woman's beauty had taken his breath.

he concluded, it was seem that women of great beauty are harder to find these days. Perhaps I shall have to attend to this issue.

At the evening feast, he dined with the generals of his Northern Armies. The king heard many strange tales from them. It seemed a group of rebels or savages had taken refuge in the Great Forest in the far North, for no patrol that went into the forest ever returned. Only a few weeks ago, a company of several hundred men had vanished mysteriously into the forest. One of the generals darkly suggested the rebels might have a sorcerer.

Though the other generals shushed him, the king noticed that they all had similar expressions of fear when the forest was mentioned. Feeling in a gracious mood, the king ordered that the Northern forces be doubled, and that the realm's best magicians be sent to assist the generals in stamping out the rebellion. The generals seemed relieved to have avoided punishment, and the king smiled at his own benevolence.

That night, after the feast, the king ordered that some of his first wives be sent to him that night. Usually, the king preferred the younger women, but he hoped that night he would be able to see again the beauty that stole his breath so many years ago.

The king was disappointed, in his memories, his first wives seemed to be some of the most glorious creatures he had ever seen. When they were brought to him, he reeled in shock. They seemed... common. Undoubtedly their features were faded with age, but even so, they did not seem to have any remnant of the splendor he remembered from his wedding nights.

The king slept restlessly that night and awoke early the next morning. For the first morning since his youth, the king did not want to get out of bed. He hid under the covers, fearing he knew not what until his attendants came to dress him for breakfast.

The king maintained a jovial facade through the following days and weeks, insisting that he was doing better than ever, but the ulcers forming in his stomach told another story. The king woke each morning in a despair that he only covered up for the shame of it. He went through each day in a fog of anxiety, becoming increasingly disconnected from the events in his kingdom. He slept less and less.

The court magicians and doctors were unable to help the king. He took to heavy drinking, but gave it up because of the terrible hangovers. The managers of his harem did everything to attempt to send pleasing women, but the king was no longer amused. He took to spending a great deal of time on the roof of the castle, pondering questions which he could not articulate.

Even so, the king kept his schedule rigorously. It is the mark of a great man: to keep his schedule rigorously, regardless of whatever personal storms he may be enduring. The king applauded himself for his endurance. Indeed, such pride was one of the few joys left to him.

One afternoon, he had scheduled to be entertained by one of the court storytellers. Originally, the king was bored with the story, which was a tragedy about one of the Northern Kingdoms he had conquered a decade or so ago. This particular kingdom had been easy to conquer because the entire royal court, including the king, had suddenly vanished. The storyteller recounted a myth of their disappearance.

The tragedy began with the death of the queen of the realm. The king in the story was so distraught by her death that his counselors feared he might take his life. In desperation, they encouraged him to go on a quest to tame a a fabled spirit. It was said this spirit inherited the beauty of every woman when she died, and, for the man who could tame it, would become the most beautiful and loving woman in the world. Should the king be able to tame the spirit, not only should his grief over his deceased wife be assuaged, but he could take the spirit as his wife, and her power would bring great blessing to the realm.

However, the spirit was guarded by some unknown creature or force. No one knew what guarded her, for none had ever encountered it and lived. Some suspect the spirit had an army of loyal followers, others thought a dragon or some worse beast, others a warlock and still others some kind of fell demon or spirit. All that is known is that those who go seeking her are found dead with no injury whatsoever, without weapons drawn or any sign of danger except an expression of shock and horror on their face.

And while the story of the king who sought the most beautiful woman in world lagged on, stopping for an adventure here or a soliloquy there, that was his eventual end as well. Eventually he tracked down the forest she was said to hide in, went in, and was never seen alive again. Months later, a search party found his body and the bodies of all that were with him, untouched by animals or decay, uninjured, but dead. Surrounding them were hundreds of other bodies of other adventurers who had set out to find the woman.

The king was on the edge of his seat by the end of the tale. He questioned the storyteller in detail about every aspect. The storyteller was able to provide little more detail, except the say that the forest the spirit resided in was about a month's ride from the city of Bera, and that it was large enough to be mostly unexplored.

That night, during the time scheduled for the king to study in his library, he pulled out a map of the region of Bera, and using a compass, drew a circle encompassing the ground that could be covered in a generous estimate of a month's ride. The story said the royal party had passed thorugh numerous small towns and country but made no mention of any large cities, so the king systematically eliminated all routes from Bera that passed through a large city or exclusively through wilderness. He worked quickly, with fervor like a man possessed.

He circled all forests along the remaining routes and then pulled out reports on these lands from his library. He carefully eliminated forests that were regularly hunted, traveled, or used for timber, supposing that the forest in question must be largely unexplored. After his work, only three forests remained as possible candidates. Two lay to the south west, about ten miles apart, moderate in size, but large enough to hide an army or a dragon. The third composed the entire northern boundary of his empire. Pondering this, he realized this was the same forest in which his patrols were regularly disappearing due to a rebellion on the northern perimeter.

He disrupted his schedule to send urgent dispatches (for which a disruption in the schedule was allowed) to the effect that his generals report immediately on the success of the new army against the rebellion, that aggressive measures be taken to quell the uprising, and that a thorough survey of the two southwesterly forests be undertaken at once. Impressed with his efficiency, the king dined briefly with a few of his noblemen, and retired for the night.

He slept well for the first time in many months, dreaming of the peace and joy that would be brought if he could tame the spirit into a woman and bring her home as his bride. He imagined a glorious battle against a formless dark enemy, which he heroically conquered to free a woman of unspeakable beauty, who fell into his arms, overcome with gratitude and longing for him.

A few weeks later, a dispatch returned, reporting that the northern generals had sent a contingent of cavalry to map out the two southern forests as ordered. Companies had been sent in to probe the Northern Forest at 10 mile increments across a 150 mile line, and all of them had gone missing. The generals had now consolidated all their forces into an army of more than a hundred thousand soldiers, and intended to move into the forest in one well defended blob. Furthermore, the soldiers were to leave a wide path of downed trees to indicate their progress, and deploy a group of scouts every day to report where the army made camp. The king replied that he was pleased with the decision.

The king received reports regularly that the move into the forest was encountering no resistance, nor any evidence that anyone was living in the forest. They occasionally came upon perfectly preserved dead bodies, as seemed to be the magic of the forest, but all of them seemed to be dressed as in ages past, and none wore a soldiers uniform.

On the tenth day, the army came upon the camp of one of the companies sent into the forest previously. Unlike previous camps they had come upon, this company had their weapons drawn, and seemed to have formed a line of defense against the beast. There were arrows lodged in tree trunks near where the beast seemed to have approached, and the magician who had been with them had left scorch marks on the ground where he had landed spells. Still, all the soldiers were dead, without any sign of injury or decay. The colonial in command commented that it appeared all the soldiers had been frightened to death.

On the fifteenth day, no scout was dispatched to report on progress. The command outside the forest sent cavalry in to check on the army, and found they had been massacred in the same way as all the others, except that this time it seemed that some had tried to flee, and had gotten many leagues before the beast had caught them. As before, many had draw their weapons or fired arrows before their death. Furthermore, some of the more powerful magicians were still alive, but seemed to be in a deep sleep, from which it was impossible to wake them. The cavalry had returned with the comatose magicians and were awaiting further orders.

The king declared a state of war against the “rebels” in the North, allowing him to muster the entire army of the Empire, which he ordered to rally at Bera. He himself departed from Roskilde, taking with him his Imperial Guard, and arrived at Bera ahead of his armies. He gave further orders that every magician in the Empire, whether battle trained or not, was to meet the army at Bera and join in the war.

Numbering more than a million infantry and a hundred thousand cavalry, with additional knights, paladins, elephants, and siege weapons, and army of the empire took many months to organize. During this time the king spent many months with his counselors and magicians, analyzing what type of beast the army might be facing. After much effort, they were able to awake the sleeping magicians and hear their report. It went like this:

We sensed a presence approaching us through the trees. It was more magically powerful than any entity I have ever encountered. We alerted the commander, who gave the call to arms. As the entity drew closer, a certain awe seemed to fill us, a mixture of fear and a strange affection. We could not turn away from it once it got close enough. The men fired their arrows to stave it off, but I do not believe it has a physical body, so the arrows did no damage. We began to cast spells at it, but they seemed to have no effect. We continued to try different spells, hoping one would drive off the spirit. There were very many of us, and the trees obscured the view of the whole army. As soon as a soldier saw the entity, they froze on the spot, seized, and died. The troops in the rear broke ranks and fled. We watched the army collapsing like grain at the harvest before us, and we pooled out strength, casting the most powerful spell we knew. The strength of the spell was such that some of us died, and the rest of us fell into a coma, face down. I believe that is why we survived, because we never looked at it face to face.

The king's counselors were deeply troubled, and they encouraged him to to abandon the effort, but the king was reassured.

He said to them, “Do you not understand? The power of the beast is fear. It is so fearsome that any who look on it die of the spot. But I fear nothing at all! I will be able to conquer the beast. Indeed, I am perhaps the only hero who can. I will lead the army from the very front. My courage will inspire the whole army, and we shall destroy the fell beast.”

That night the king searched his heart, to examine if there was any fear in him, but he found none. He did not fear death, for he knew a man as great as he should have a fine afterlife. He did not fear losing his kingdom, because life as a king had become so unbearable. All his hope for joy hung on finding the most beautiful spirit and bringing her home. Failing this, he had nothing to lose.

The army set out with the king in front. Entering the forest, they found an exceedingly old man blocking the path. He had almost no hair, with wrinkled skin that sagged all over his body. His knuckles were swollen and purple veins were visible across them.

Yet, the man wore richly colored robes, only a little frayed, with gold and silver inlaid into them. His staff was a nobleman's, inlaid with diamonds and rubies. With great effort, the old man raised his hand, palm outwards, toward the king.

“Hail to The King of Roskilde!” he called in a horse voice.

The king looked down from his horse, “Hail, stranger! Who are you, and why do you block our path.”

“I am the prince of the north, I come to warn the king of the south about the forest he is about to enter. I bear this message to the king: 'There are more dangerous things than fear.'”

The king was angry that this old man would presume to be a prince, but he decided to ask more questions before he killed the wretch. Yet, as soon as the old man had finished his message, he seemed to evaporate in a multi-colored mist, which drifted into the forest.

The men nearby muttered to each other.

“Just a magicians trick!” the king called out loudly, and lead his disconcerted men into the forest before there could be any further sign of mutiny.

Weeks went by of riding through the forest. Nothing happened. The men began to relax, the king grew tense. He wondered what could be worse than fear. All his being was bent into this last adventure to slay some great beast and win the woman who would finally bring him happiness. Each day of monotony hardened the king's resolve.

The forest was thousands of years old, with trees taller than Roskilde's turrets. Summer turned to autumn, and the forest seemed to blossom rather than die. The cool green surrounding the army turned into brilliant shades of orange, as though the roots of the trees drank in fire rather than water. Strange birds the men had never seen filled the skies. Berries and autumn flowers covered the ground.

All this was lost on the king, who forged ahead with the greatest possible speed to meet the beast, not stopping to look upon the forest. Eventually the forest became so thick they were forced to abandon the horses and go on foot.

Weeks turned into months, and the leafy trees turned into pine trees. The undergrowth was replaced by bare ground covered only with a thick blanket of needles. Fall turned to winter, and snow began to fall, first in occasional flurries, then in a steady pour.

The forest seemed to retain warmth, and the journey under the trees remained fairly comfortable. The trees were so think that almost no snow made it to the ground, rather, several feet of snow formed a ceiling above them. Little sunlight penetrated the snow, so it seemed the forest was in a perpetual dusk. The party began to make torches out of pine branches. The king felt they were exploring a cave.

It was dark, and the party was preceding only by torchlight. The king did not bother to carry a torch because he had good eyesight in the dark. He forged ahead of the company by about ten yards, his eyes casting about eagerly for any sign of the beast.

At first he thought it was just the torchlight flickering off the snow, but as he stared into the darkness he became more sure he saw a green light in the distance. Perhaps the eyes of the beast? Did it have green eyes? Perhaps a camp of rebels protected by the beast? The king took off towards it at a run.

The king crossed through the forest at a dead sprint for two hundred yards before the light seemed any brighter. He was no longer aware of whether his men were with him or not. He drew his sword.

The king went through a clearing and into the trees on the other side. Then he could see clearly that something emitting a blue green light was moving through the trees. The light glistened off the ice crystals on the trees and broke into a thousand different hues. It formed a slow rainbow on the snow above him, and he remembered watching the sun set over the ocean as a boy, with his father standing next to him.

He shook the memory from his head and ran on, but the beauty in the clearing continued to distract him. Trails of luminescent mist in ran across the snow ceiling like ants on the ground. It wrapped itself in spirals around the trees and pooled on the ground.

Suddenly he saw her. His sword fell to the the ground. He had never seen a woman so exceedingly beautiful. It must be true that the Spirit inherited the beauty of all the women who died. Her garments were translucent, and light shone through them so strongly it was difficult to look at her directly.

There was a veil over her face, but through it he could see her mouth. It twisted up in a cocky smile. “Why have you come here?” Her voice was high and breathy, full of concern.

The king's heart filled with joy. Surely, this was the trophy that would complete his reign. Surely he would please him beyond all the other women he had seen, and he would allow her to appear in his court on occasion, and other rulers would surrender cities for a chance to see her.

“I have come to make you my wife.”

“And what if I do not wish to be your wife?”

“I do not want to have to force you.”

“Oh, but you do want to.”

“Either way, you will not be able to resist me.”

“Why are you so sure, man, that you will be able to resist me?”

The king expected himself to laugh out loud, but instead he shuddered. Some hidden power displayed itself in the spirit's statement.

The spirit pulled on her veil, and her clothing tore noiselessly and fell to the ground. Her nudity was crushing. Though he had seen plenty of women, looking at this spirit being destroyed his will. He could no longer rule nations. He could no longer govern himself. He fell to the ground and groveled.

He would take her back to Roskilde. He would give her his kingdom. She would be queen and have all he could give her, and he would serve her until he died. It was not fitting that such an ugly creature as he should exist in the same world as she. He tried to tell her all this, but the speech caught in his throat.

All he managed was, “Your face is so beautiful.”

She laughed at him and a strange look came over her. “But, you have not seen my face.”

He looked her in the eyes and tried to ask the question, but he could not. As if in answer, she reached up and pulled on her nose.

The king watched in horror as her skin wrinkled before him. She aged eighty year in a few seconds. Her perfect skin blemished and paled. Her veins bulged out, and her back hunched. Her firm body sagged and bloated. Bruises appeared under paperthin skin.

She continued to pull at her thinning skin, and it stared to come off. With a tremendous but soundless tear, her skin slid off in one smooth movement.

Standing where the woman had been was something like a man in a robe. The robe seemed to be woven out of charcoal and flame. It shifted as though in the wind, and it was sometimes black and sometimes aflame.

Out of the darkness in the robe stared hundreds of pairs of eyes. The eyes would blink and become a different pair of eyes. And all the eyes were fixed on the king, who still lay on the ground. Pinned by wonder rather than fear.

And one by one his eyes locked with the eyes in the robe, and each time memories flooded into him. He saw the faces of women he had violated, saw them clearly for the first time. He watched again as he destroyed beautiful creatures and laughed at their misery. He saw the faces of the people he burned to death in their homes, one after another he watched their suffering, but this time, he loved them. With each death crushed him anew. He watched mothers grieving over sons and fathers over daughters. He saw a hundred years of history in an instant, as a whole city grew and struggled to survive and then burned at his command.

He saw the shame of stable girls he had slept with and never loved. He loved them now and sobbed as he saw them stoned in the public square carrying his unborn child. He watched people starve to death by the hundreds. People he had taken food from to finance his conquests. He felt their hunger and their love for their dying family and yearned to undo the evil he had done. The suddenly the thought occurred to him that all of this was set. It had already happened. The people he had killed were dead. The women he had raped were forever injured. There was no recompense possible.

The king felt pain beyond anything he had ever felt. He lay on the ground body intact, craving anything to stop the pain. He drew his knife to plunge it into his heart, but he locked eyes with yet another pair in the darkness of the robe. When he looked into those eyes he saw himself, dead by his own hand on the forest floor.

He saw the beauty in his own pale face. The nobility of his clothing stained with blood, and it was a wretched image of ruined beauty. He threw the knife from himself, unable to take his own life. Writhing in the agony of his wickedness. It did not get better. Image after image came to him, and he saw greater and greater beauty, and he loved the beautiful things, and he hated himself for the way he ignored it and the way he marred it. He lay moaning on the forest floor as his regret undid him.

After what seemed to be a lifetime, the man in the cloak spoke. His voice was no longer high and light. It rushed from him like a storm's wind among the trees or waves crashing on the beach, a thousand pitches in one terrible sound.

“What do you want.”

The king's mind was blank. Seemingly on their own, his lips formed words.

They said, “Show me your face.”

The man in the robe nodded, and he lifted his hood, and the king beheld The Most Beautiful, and he died.

“Moses said, "Please show me your glory." And he said, "I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name 'The LORD.' And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live." And the LORD said, "Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen." -Exodus 33:18-23

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Way I See It

I wrote this essay a few months ago for a class in which I had to articulate my worldview in general and in several specific areas. I read it again today, and started elaborating on and editing it. I thought I would publish it here so I might get some feedback. I wish to give the warning that God deals differently with everyone, and it is unreasonable to read this story and expect God to reveal himself to you in the same ways he met me. If you seek God, he will meet you on his time in the method he wishes. From talking to other Christians, I have gathered that my experience with God is somewhat atypical, so please bear that in mind.

It is also worth saying that suicide is a foolish and cowardly thing to plan or do or consider doing, and generally gains you nothing whatsoever. Though I was suicidal for a significant portion of my life, I'm not proud of it, and I don't recommend that anyone venture into that particular darkness. Suicide or attempting suicide is not a good way to encounter God or get love or help. The fact that it worked out okay for me doesn't mean it was a good plan, and once again, I don't suggest it. There are much better ways to encounter God, and if you want to know about them, you can talk to me about it.

The Way I See It

Søren Kierkegaard once said, “Listen to the cry of a woman in labor at the hour of giving birth -look at the dying man's struggle at his last extremity, and then tell me whether something that begins and ends thus could be intended for enjoyment.” I could not make the argument that my life has been made for enjoyment. Growing up in a very christianized city, I have had an intellectual understanding of the Gospel since I can remember. Though I wasn't raised in a church or a Christian home, a propositional gospel filters through when you are raised in such an environment. I'm sure I prayed the sinner's prayer several times, and had a fair understanding of the Bible I acquired from some extended family members.

As I grew up I lacked the baseline happiness that most of my peers seemed to have. I was chronically ill with a then mysterious medical condition, my parents considered divorce afresh every few months, and my peers didn't like me. Being a dramatic seventh grader, I decided there was no joy in life worth living for and my life could not foreseeably ever get better, so the best course of action was to kill myself. I had plans to synthesize a poison by mixing some household products, pretend to be sick, and drink the poison after my parents left for work and I was alone in the house.

The night before I was intending to kill myself, I had a dream. In the dream, I was standing in heaven, looking down at the earth. God was next to me, but I couldn't see him. He showed me my life from heaven's perspective, and then he showed me another person's life. The other person had what I would have called a 'normal, happy life.' After he had shown me this, he said to me, paraphrastically, 'I could have made you any way I wanted, but I made you and your life the way it is for a reason.'

This existential experience would be the cornerstone on which my life was built. I was and am very unsure about very many things. Nonetheless, I had now experienced something first hand that was irrefutable and irrevocable. I knew certain things must be true about the universe. I knew that there was one God, who created me and the universe and was in complete control of it all. I knew that I was made with a specific purpose and had a part in God's plan. It's hard for me to know whether I was saved at that point or not, but I didn't think in such terms. I wasn't sure exactly who the God I met was, but I knew that He was the God who inspired the Bible.

I would still not claim to know much about this God who wrote the Bible. He is transcendent and mysterious, and I certainly can't know the whole of him. All I can know of Him is what he has chosen to reveal about himself. He revealed some things to me in seventh grade. He revealed he had a plan. He revealed he was in control. I learned I could know more about this God I had met in the Bible. Studying the Bible on my own, I learned that God had not only supernaturally intervened in my life, but that he had intervened in history. For a long time I had doubts about the historicity of the Bible.

As I read about the disciples, something changed. I read about their fear of following Christ at the crucifixion, and then read later that they willingly died for speaking of this Jesus, as did many of those who had not ever met Jesus. I understood that this gospel must change lives. I knew that these people had had a real encounter with the Risen Lord, in some form, the way I had.

I also learned that God is Love. All other attributes of God can be ascribed as subsets of his perfect love. Since God was the greatest thing in the universe, it seemed best to me to understand him as well as I could. It made sense to value the things He valued, since He had the perspective to know what was and was not important. One of the first books I read in the Bible was 1 John. John is pretty clear that love is the priority of the Christian life, but the more I read the Bible, the more I find it all over Scripture. I find the imperative of love in the writings of Peter and Paul, in the teaching of Jesus, in the admonishments of the prophets, and the construction of the Law. Love is the value of the Christian life. Everything else follows logically. Faith comes when we see the power of love and trust Love. Hope comes when we have the faith to know that Love will win in the end. Justice comes when we love those damaged by injustice. Love is behind and under every other value in the Christian life.

In my life, this means I drive towards overcoming barriers between people so that love in the body of Christ can be stronger and purer. 1 John 4:11-12 says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” It has always been God's plan to display Himself in the loving relationships between those who know Him. When God creates man in Genesis 2:18, He said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” On this topic, several Biblical “scholars, seeing the pattern of male and female, have concluded that humanity expresses God's image in relationship, particularly in well functioning human community, both in marriage and in wider society.” (Alexander, 51).

As such, I spend a tremendous amount of energy (proportionally) attempting to build relationships that are not merely pleasant, but edifying: manifesting the image of God. I take serious issue with gossip, slander, malice and the holding of grudges within the Church. I feel I am seriously intentional about developing spiritual intimacy with people around me, being open and genuine, and attempting to include and love people who seem isolated, especially incoming freshmen.

On the flip side of this, I have a lot of fear. I am afraid of opening up and being rejected. I am afraid of trying really hard to build a relationship and being ignored. I am afraid of being devalued or rejected. I am afraid that is these things happen, they may destroy me.

I know this is not a rational fear, but it remains. I know that people probably will do all of this things to me. It has happened before and it will surely happen again. I know that, when it happens, I will be okay. I know that I do not need their affirmation or respect or acceptance. I know that I have what I need in Christ, and the more I rely on it, the better my life runs. Yet I am still afraid of their power to destroy me by rejection, knowing they are powerless.

People seem to think hate is the opposite of love. I disagree. You can both love and hate something. You can hate because of love. I think fear is the opposite of love. John says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.”

Being an existentialist, I have little to say on the ontology of the universe. I know the God of the Bible exists. I know I exist. I am fairly sure other people exist. The physical world as I perceive it is probably here too, although if it were not I would not be very concerned. It is, at the very least, the least significant of the realities in existence. There is another reality that might be called the spiritual reality, although I dislike this phrase because it implies something ephemeral, and it is the physical world, not the spiritual, that is the less real. In C.S. Lewis' vision of heaven, the unnamed narrator gives a description of the reality of heaven compared with the reality of men, “The men were as they had always been; as all the men I had known had been perhaps. It was the light, the grass, the trees that were different; made of some different substance, so much solider than things in our country that men were ghosts by comparison.” It is the spiritual world that is underlying, fundamental, primary, and ultimately more real than the physical world. As Hebrews 11:3 says, “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.”

I have already said much about my Epistemology. I believe knowledge can be obtained through direct revelation from God and the illumination of the Holy Spirit in tandem with the study of the the Bible. There are some things which God has revealed to all mankind, as Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” An absolute God demands there be absolute truth. The question is not whether truth is relative, in fact such a question is inherently paradoxical. The question is of access to the absolute truth that is out there. The question is also not one of certainty. Uncertainty is merely where I rent a room when I haven't decided what house to buy yet. Having made a decision, my certainty lies in that decision. The question is on the nature of our access to absolute truth, that is, whether our access is objective or subjective.

It is now necessary to clarify these terms. By objective access to truth, I mean knowing truth in a way that this knowledge can be empirically expressed and proved, either scientifically or logically, to be internally consistent. There are a number of objective truths in the Bible as well as in science, nature, math and elsewhere. These truths are useful in providing a concrete basis for a worldview.

By subjective access to truth, I mean access to truth in which the truth is the subject (origin) and I am the object. Essentially, subjective truth is truth that accesses me, rather than the reverse. When I encounter God in a dream, am convicted by the Holy Spirit, encounter the image of God in another person, fall in love, or experience the awe of God's majesty in creation, I am learning truth subjectively. Ultimately, truths that will matter most are those I understand subjectively, because ultimately God is the subject, and I am not. Everything of great significance in my life has happened to me subjectively. As Kierkegaard has said, “The highest and most beautiful things in life are not to be heard about, nor read about, nor seen but, if one will, are to be lived.”

Salvation is not me going to God, understanding Him, and signing up with his program. Salvation is God knowing me, entering my world, and changing me as he sees fit. This is a subjective, existential experience, and it will always carry more weight than anything I could do on my own. Jesus said that He is, “The Way, the Truth, and the Life.” When Truth encounters us, happens to us, we are the object, and Jesus is the subject. This is subjective Truth. I echo the sentiments of Donal Miller, who said, “I want Jesus to happen to you the was He happened to Laura at Reed, the way He happened to Penny in France, the way He happened to me in Texas. I want you to know Jesus too. This book is about the songs my friends and I are singing. This is what God is doing in our lives.” (240).

I believe that God has an exciting plan for my life. It may not be enjoyable, and it may be very difficult, but because I know the God who created the universe and planned my life, I know that my life will be an adventure if I will live it. I know there is great joy and sorrow and challenge and all epic things in my future, because I follow after a God who is grand and wild. As John Eldridge would say, God has an adventure to extend to each one of us. We are, as people, called into God's creation in a epic adventure. There is wrong to be righted, joy to be had, beauty to be discovered and delighted in, challenge and hardship and and patience and action. These are the things that people, male and female, are made to do, occasionally solitarily, generally in community. I understand a man not by what he is or what he is made of, but by what he does. That is, I believe people are best understood functonalistically. In the Old Testament, 'good' does not refer to niceness or enjoyability, but well-functioningness. A good sword efficiently takes life, a good shovel digs holes of high quality, and a good man follows hard and well after God in the adventure set before him. A good community follows after God in the adventure together. This is what I understand it means to be human.

Logic is important in this quest. Good intentions are insufficient for success, as we have often heard the road to hell is paved with them. Logic guides us to wisdom, to doing things rightly so the work out as we would like. Passion is the strength to run hard down the path God has set. Logic provides the light to see the right path. God is not a God of confusion nor one who hides our path from us, for 1 John 1:5 says, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”

I feel that God is calling me to minister to youth. I am not certain what that will look like yet. Perhaps I will be counselor, a writer, or a pastor. I am confident he will show me what to do when I need to know. My primary motivation for desiring to do youth ministry is that I see a lack of discipleship in the church, especially among the younger generation. For my understanding of the Bible, discipleship, and especially discipleship towards the younger generation, is an imperative command from God to his followers. God told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6:6-8, “these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” When I am old enough, I would like to train parents to integrate their spiritual lives into their parenting so that parenting becomes discipleship, which is rarely seems to be. On a more general level, Christ commands us in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." I feel called to fulfill this command and teach other to do the same.

Often times, I feel like minority within the Church. I feel we are not doing things well, but it seems most everyone else thinks we are. When I try to deal with my concerns, it seems to upset people that I am rocking the boat or criticizing the way things have been done. I get much disrespect and hurtful indifference when I am passionate about issues I care about, and it would be much easier for me to blend into the crowd. When this happens, I feel a strong urge to leave the ministry or the church in general. I often become bored and disdainful of the way things are being done.

If I am going to speak the words of truth and address deep rooted problem in the church, it is not realistic for me to try to prevent criticism. I am going to say what I have to say and attempt to address the problems as I see them. I will not mince words, and I will not be other than I am. If someone can show me error, I will certainly modify my views and opinions, however, I will not sit down, shut up, back down, or temper my words because I make people uncomfortable or offended. There is much difference between causing someone to stumble and offending someone. In the American church, I think a lot of people need a rude wake-up in the same way Jesus was a rude awakening to the Pharisees.

However, it is not feasible for me to withstand such pressure on my own. I need to build a strong support structure to live this adventure and fight this battle with me. My main strategy to do this is to pray consistently for such a strong support group and make building intimate spiritual friendships with like-minded Christians a priority. I am also currently seeking a mentor.

In conclusion, my worldview stems primarily from my experiences, and especially those subjective experiences I have had with the Absolute Truth of Jesus Christ and his subsequent work in my life. I feel through this experience I have developed a strong heart and call towards discipleship, especially towards youth and eventually parents. While this may be a difficult road because of my strong and unorthodox views, I believe I have a lot to offer the Church, and that God has sent me to speak prophetically into a sleepy church. If I do things right I will undoubtedly encounter much opposition, however, if I am able to cultivate a strong support group of friends, mentors and a wife, I feel God will use these relationships to strengthen me for whatever he calls me towards.

Works Cited

Alexander, D. T. "Genesis." Holy Bible English Standard Version : the ESV Study Bible. Ed. J. I. Packer and Wayne Grudem. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles, 2008.

Eldredge, John. Wild at heart discovering the passionate soul of a man. Nashville, Tenn: T. Nelson, 2001.

Holy Bible English Standard Version : the ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles, 2008.

Kierkegaard, Søren. Concluding Unscientific Postscripts to Philosophical Fragments : International Kierkegaard Commentary. Ed. Robert Perkins. New York: Mercer UP, 2004.

Lewis, C. S. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. New York: HarperOne, 2007.

Miller, Donald. Blue Like Jazz : Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. New York: Struik, 2001.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Love Song

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—

-T.S. Elliot

This is one of my favorite poems, and I return to it perennially to soak in it yet again. Recently, it has made me wonder about how much of my life I waste.

I do not mean how much time I waste, as in how much of the time I am doing something unproductive. I wonder how much life I waste by living life asleep. There is so much excellence all around me, all the time, and I am consistently bored of it all. There are astounding colors and tastes and new experiences and delightful people and invigorating challenges, and while I partake in many of them, I miss the glory in most of them.

And because of that I do also waste time. I make choices that are, honestly, boring. There is neither merit nor challenge or joy to them. A few minutes ago I refreshed my inbox, took apart a pen and put it back together, and they were worthless decisions. If I had taken joy in the wonder of mechanical pen, and taken it apart eagerly and wondered at the glory of God in making man to make something like this, then perhaps it would have been worthwhile.

But I didn't. I did it to have something to do. I didn't enjoy it particularly. I was killing time. And that's just it. I am destroying my time. It is worth so much, it has so much potential for excellence in so many ways, if I would only do any of the millions of spectacular things that God has made open to me... but I am content to do nothing in particular.

How long will I hide from challenge? How long will I delay the adventure? How long will I wonder if I dare taste the fruits of dealing with a problem or reconciling to a person? Why am I content with this paltry life when my God has poured upon me an abundant life? My window is open, it is warm outside, and raining, and that is glorious. Why don't I care?

And really, I'm afraid. But I don't really know what I'm afraid of. There's nothing to be afraid of. I'm like a little kid about to go on his first roller coaster ride. It is big and scary. And the world is big and scary, so big it frightens me to look over the edge and see the vastness of it. Dare I live a big life in a big world?

I want adventure and challenge and depth and richness and intimacy and excitement in my life, but so often, second my second, I walk slowly away from these things rather than towards them. Some voice tells me to be safe and protected and reasonable. This voice seems wise, but it is actually a foolish voice.

I've had enough of that. I want all the excellence of God that he himself has built into my life for me. I want to seek it and not run away. And more and more, I'm okay with not being safe. I'm becoming not afraid.

I want to be enraptured with my Father, wooed by the life he has given me. When will I fall in love with Him enough to accept all the gift he has given me? When will I see His glory in His gift? Father, help me! Pull me into your abundant life!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Is Lying a Sin? (Food for Thought)

When I was a new Christian, I was taught that lying was a sin like murder or adultery, and that it was one of the Ten Commandments. I have been reading the Bible, and like so many other things, what I was taught by the church as a new Christian seems to be contrary to what the Bible teaches. The ninth commandment says, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." I was told that this meant that it was a sin to lie. However, there are some issues with that.

"Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, "When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live." But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, "Why have you done this, and let the male children live?" The midwives said to Pharaoh, "Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them." So God dealt well with the midwives." -Exodus 1

Here the midwives lie to Pharaoh, and it seems that God approves, because He, "dealt well with the midwives."

It seems to me that if it wasn't a sin for midwives to lie to Pharaoh, then lying is not a sin. I have been taught that things that are sins are always wrong, there are not 'extenuating circumstances.' When we claim there are extenuating circumstances for our sin, we call that justifying ourselves. Surely lying, like anything else, can be done in sin, with sinful intention or the like, but can we say that it is inherently a sin? If it is, why does God approve the midwives?

Perhaps you might say that the midwives were lying to Pharaoh, who was a foreigner, in favor of the Israelites, who were their neighbors, and this makes the bearing false testimony okay. Consider this:

"And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, "Go, view the land, especially Jericho." And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there. And it was told to the king of Jericho, "Behold, men of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land." Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, "Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land." But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. And she said, "True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them." But she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof." -Joshua 2

In the New Testament, both James and Hebrews say that this act was righteous, even though Rahab lied to her own people to defend foreigners. In addition, the false testimony Rahab bore was definitely against her neighbors: Because Rahab protected the spies, everyone in the city of Jericho (except her family) was killed! Yet, the Bible seems to honor Rahab for lying, even though this lie seems to clearly break the 9th commandment.

Perhaps you will say that Rahab was a Gentile, and therefore not required to obey the 10 commandments (and I would agree.) But if we say this, how then can we say that Gentile Christians are under the 10 commandments? We cannot make a distinction between and Rahab by saying that Christians are 'regenerated' or a 'part of God's people' and that Rahab was not, because both James and Hebrews consider Rahab to be saved, so she must also be 'regenerated' or 'a part of God's people.'

So my immediate question for you is: Is lying a sin? If so, how do we know this from the Bible? What do we do with Rahab and the Hebrew midwives?

But this raises another interesting question: Are Gentile Christians (or unbelieving Gentiles) required to obey the 10 commandments? If not, why not? If so, are they required to obey the other parts of the Mosaic covenant? Why or why not?