Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Are You Relevant? seems that "relevant" is the current buzzword among preppy theologians and church people these days.  We have to "be relevant".  Traditional forms of church just aren't "relevant" to young people.  That's nice, but is it "relevant"?  We're a community that strives to be "relevant".  And so on.

Now on the one hand, I understand this.  The world is not the same as it was.  There is no real social pressure to attend church.  There are lots of other options for things to do on Sunday morning.  Unless we "do church" in a way that doesn't seem hopelessly out-of-date, many people (especially the young-ish, unchurched, and dechurched) probably aren't going to show up.

Fair enough, point taken, so on and so forth.

But I still have a problem with this.

Expending so much energy to make sure we are "relevant" grants the culture's premise that we aren't naturally relevant.

But we are.

The Church, and the Gospel she proclaims, and the Jesus she lifts up, are always relevant.  They always have been, and they always will be.  

And if you don't believe that, deep, deep down in the marrow of your soul, in a place that exists past the point of intellectual assent on a bad day, past your ability to exegete Hebrew, past your tolerance for apologetic debate with the most hardened of hearts, then "being relevant" will never matter.  If you don't believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ is the most relevant thing this universe has ever known, then all the "packaging" in the world won't get people in the door. 

And also, I think it's lazy.  It looks only at the surface of this culture and sees its obsession with i- and e-everything, its need to be constantly entertained, its multitasking brain-flitting-ness, etc... It's a stance that doesn't connect the decline of the church with the fact that today's "young people" are the first to be raised post-sexual revolution and post-Roe v. Wade, they're the first to be raised in a culture where divorce and absentee fathers (and mothers) are barely mourned (let alone frowned upon), they're the first to be raised in a setting where the existence of absolute truth is questioned or outright denied.

To spend so much time trying to "be relevant" capitulates to the culture and allows the Church to continue to be pushed to the margins as just one more option for "spiritual fulfillment".  It refuses to fight the assumptions of the culture with the truth of Jesus.  It refuses to say, "there is so much good in the tradition that's been handed down by the saints that have gone before, and let me tell you about it."  It says, "sure, we can give you everything you want" instead of "I know what you need."

Now, to be sure, changing times and cultures require this message to be communicated in different forms.  There are different challenges today than there were 50 or 100 or 1000 years ago.  We need to take that seriously, and make sure that we're doing everything we can so that the message of Jesus is actually being heard.  It makes no sense to walk into a room full of Hearing persons and start "reading" the Bible in American Sign Language.

But the minute you declare that you're trying to be relevant, you've already accepted that you're really not.  And that's unacceptable.  So lift up your heads, Church.  You are relevant, because Jesus is relevant.  Start believing it, and start telling the world.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Needs of a Christian

I've been struggling lately (ok, for a long time) with what, precisely, are the needs of a Christian. 

Because on the one hand, Christians are humans.  We have a need for air, food, clothing, etc, just like non-Christians.  And Matthew 6:8 seems to suggest that Jesus knows that we have needs - and so does the Father! 

But then there's all those verses about not needing food or drink once you have the Bread of Life or Living Water.  There's Luke 10, where Jesus sends the disciples out with absolutely nothing.  There's the definite New Testament sense that a person literally has no needs if he is following Christ. 

So what am I to do with the fact that I need more income than I currently have?  Or that I need somebody to let me lay my head on their shoulder or just hug me for a few minutes?  Or that I need somebody to listen to me say every crazy scared mixed up thing that's in my head and then tell me that even though it's not okay, I am okay. 

Every time I try to articulate those needs, the voice in my head says, "Why is it always all about you?  You need to get it together because you are a Christian and you have no needs - Jesus is all you need.  There are other people who have much bigger problems and needs than you, and some of them aren't even Christian." 

On my better days, I know that's not a healthy approach, but still...what's the right balance here?


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Part III

I'd been meaning to get to this third part for a while now, and Clayton (in the comments of Part II) inspired me to get to it "sooner", rather than "later."  I've had friends in town, and lots going on, so but goes:

My point with Parts I and II re: Church and Politics is not not not to suggest that Christians should completely remove themselves from the public square.  Far from it.  I absolutely think that Christians should vote, discuss the issues of the day amongst ourselves, avail ourselves of our rights (and responsibilities) as citizens, and yes, even run for office and serve in any and all branches of government.  We desperately need the witness of Christians in every aspect of politics, without a doubt.  We need Christians who understand our Lord's concern for the world, and who understand that He works in the world in ways outside of the institutional Church.  We need Christians who will challenge the status quo about the very way that politics works.  Any Christian who feels that he or she has been called to serve in that arena should do so.

My quarrel is with those who see politics as being an effective means in general for accomplishing the Church's goals.  When "The Church" uses the political process as the primary means to achieve her ends, she is rarely successful.  This doesn't mean the Church should be politically stupid, shouldn't know what's going on and how the game works, and so on.  Not at all.

But so often we as "the Church" get caught up in this game of "there are poor people out there who don't have enough to eat - we should yell at the government to do something about it."  No.  We, the Church, should do something about it.  Jesus tells us to feed the hungry - he doesn't tell us to tell other people to feed the hungry.  If and when we can partner with the government in a way that maintains our confessional integrity, then certainly we should.  But politics is not our Savior - when the road that Christ calls us to seems tough, Congress isn't going to appropriate money to repave it.  Although the President may share similar (intermediate) goals as us, he will never be our confidant, because his job is wholly different than ours.

Like I said in Part I, the Pope didn't go to the Kremlin and beg the USSR to tear down the Iron Curtain.  He went to Poland and started praying with the people.  

Ultimately, the Church's goal is to proclaim - in what we say and what we do - that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  The concreteness of "what we do" may at times overlap with the state, but our ultimate goals and motivations are different, and therefore we must always be careful that Jesus doesn't get lost in the shuffle.

If that makes sense...

Finally, a word about pastoral care to the politically involved/connected:

To pastors who have Presidents, Congressmen, Senators, state legislators, governors, mayors, city councilmen, etc... in their congregations: know who those people are, be aware of them, and love them.  From an elected dogcatcher to the President of the United States, these people are under pressures and temptations the likes of which the rest of us might never know.  Think about it this way: If you had a major sports star or entertainment figure in your congregation, and the opportunity to build a relationship with/care for him or her, how would you do that?  Do the same thing for politicians.  Do not think that this is your route into getting her to vote the way you think is best - this is not an opportunity for you to make a power play.

When your Congressman is home on recess - take him out for coffee.  When things are getting crazy at the state capitol, invite your state legislator to lunch and tell her it sounds like things have been a little ridiculous lately and you want to make sure she's doing okay.  These are people who desperately need someone in their life who cares about them and is guaranteed to not have an agenda.  Be that person.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A plea, part II

Part I

Eventually, though, you start to get a little tired, and a little hungry.  It occurs to you that perhaps you should change the sheets, even.  And for the first time since you stumbled into the bedroom that night, you start to look around.  You notice that Politics seems to be little more than a high-maintenance mistress.  All around you are the discarded remnants of Money, Alcohol, and Sex - the three things you'll need to survive a long-term relationship with her. 

And make no mistake about it, you're in it for the long haul.  Because you're in it for the right reasons.  For "the poor" or "God's creation" or "preborn babies" or whatever it is that stirs your heart and passions.  And Politics promised you the keys to the kingdom.  All that needs to be accomplished, you can do with her.  "Don't worry about the bottles on the floor, baby," she purrs.  "Come back to bed..."

From far away, you hear a quiet voice: "Follow me."  What is that?  Did someone leave the TV on?  The walls in this apartment are so thin.

And so you close your eyes to mess on the floor, and snuggle in again.  But what you don't know is that you, the one invested in the relationship for all the right reasons, are the only one committed to it.  Politics, she's one sexy babe, but she's got the commitment skills of a 16-year-old male.  You see, when the Money, Alcohol, Sex, or - worst of all - Votes - dry up, she's out the door.

The kingdoms you were promised?  Well, kid, sometimes things just don't work out.  It's not you, it's me. (Remember that - it's the one true thing she's ever said, and you'll need it now.)   What about the poor?  Or creation? Or babies?  Or anything else?  All the dreams you dreamed and hopes you hoped together?  You had plans - together, the two of you could do anything!  You were going to take on the world!

So she starts to tell you all the reasons it'll never work, at least not the way you planned it.  She needs her space, a little more freedom.  Can't you see it has to be this way?  She doesn't want to leave you, per se, it's just, we can't keep going on like this.  You listen, and you desperately want to believe her.  But she's done this before.  She'll probably do it again.  And slowly it starts to dawn on you.  She never loved you.

In fact, that voice that once had the power to seduce you, now sounds like an annoying clanging cymbal.

And from far away, underneath her shrill tones demanding that you'll do it her way or not at all, you hear that quiet voice again.  You've heard it before.  You know it from somewhere.  Or seems, somehow, to know you? 

Please, my fellow "Christian public leaders", listen to that voice.  I know - yes, I know - how hard it is not to walk out with Lady Politics.  Believe me.  I know "sexy" when I see it, and it's darn hard to resist.  But the world has already been conquered.  You already have the keys to the Kingdom.  And you've got a job to do.

1 Praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD, my soul.
2 I will praise the LORD all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
3 Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD their God.
6 He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
he remains faithful forever.
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free,
8 the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
the LORD loves the righteous.
9 The LORD watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
10 The LORD reigns forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the LORD.

A plea to my fellow church-members

Psalm 146

1 Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD, my soul.
2 I will praise the LORD all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
3 Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD their God.
6 He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
he remains faithful forever.
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free,
8 the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
the LORD loves the righteous.
9 The LORD watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
10 The LORD reigns forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the LORD.

Blogging-when-angry is not usually a good idea, but I don't think I'm so much angry right now as frustrated, sad, and upset. I just got back from a meeting where someone shared that he had just recently learned about this crazy notion that the Church could be involved in politics, and this would be great, because we could do more and better things and help solve problems and aren't we supposed to be out there among the people not just stuck inside our sanctuaries blah blah blah.

No.  No no no.  No.  The answer to the world's problems is not (or maybe very, very rarely) the Church getting involved in politics.  Perhaps occasionally.  But more often than not, when the Church attempts to get involved in social, civic issues, she is most successful when she simply does what she's supposed to be doing and an attitude of "who cares what the state thinks, we'll die for this if we have to".  Look at the major victories of the Church in the name of freedom from oppression and injustice in the last 150 years: Ending institutionalized slavery in the West, increasing civil rights for women and racial minorities, tearing the Iron Curtain from top to bottom, and destroying South African apartheid.   What made these churchly ventures successful?  Was it Harriet Beecher Stowe testifying before Congress, or was it because she wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin?  Did John Newton go storm the halls of Parliament?  Or did he minister to William Wilberforce, a member of his flock?  Did the clergy supporters of Martin Luther King, Jr. cozy up to the politicians of the day, or did they engage their neighborhoods in strategies of integration and preach Colossians 3:11 from the pulpit?  Did Pope John Paul II go to the Kremlin to meet with Soviet leaders?  Or did he go to Poland and pray?  (While it's true that anti-apartheid efforts required a greater degree of direct political involvement from leaders such as Desmond Tutu, I think it can still be argued that the Church was the Church, rather than the Church was political.  If that makes any sense at all.  Which it probably doesn't.)

Anyhow, my point is: Politics looks sexy from the outside.  She looks fun and hip and cool and star-studded and successful and powerful and central-to-everything.  She looks exciting and glamorous and covered in bunting and fireworks.  She looks influential and important and professional and ready to fight the good fight.

But she is a whore-ible Bride of Christ.  Because Politics will sell herself to the highest bidder every time.  Politics will tell you to put your faith in handshakes and yard signs and fundraisers to win, to "save the world".  Politics will tell you that one more speech, one more phone call, one more door-knocking trip around the block; one more email, one more conference call, 1, no, 5, no, 10 hours more in a week is the difference between life and death, between life on top and total nuclear meltdown.

This is hard to see from the outside, I'll grant you.  Because Politics is seductive.  She winks at you from across the room with "bedroom eyes" and tells you that you are needed.  She tells you that you can "be like God", that in fact you already are like God, "knowing good from evil", and the world needs your knowledge.  She tells you that for a night with her - just a night, or a fortnight, a month, a year, a lifetime with her - she'll take you places you've never been, baby.  Places where people treat you right and respect what you have to say, places that sparkle like the bubbles in champagne on Election Night.  She leans over, just close enough so you can smell her perfume and and feel her breath on your neck when she says, "Come on, Sexy.  We both want the same thing.  I know how much you care about poor people/the environment/unborn babies/freedom from tyranny.  Come with me, and we'll fight together.  I can give you all the kingdoms of the world."

You want to go home with her.  Heaven knows, you want to go home with her.  She's beautiful and charming and really just absolutely enchanting.  Your skin tingles just being near her.  The way she tucks that lock of hair behind her ear and lays her hand on your shoulder damn near melts your socks off.  And nobody's made you feel that way in a long, long time.  So with one last "Am I crazy for doing this? Stop me now!" text to a friend, and a gulp of liquid courage, you lay your jacket across her shoulders as the two of you step out into the cool night air.

And at first, it's marvelous.  Like honeymooners, you can't get enough of each other.  The carefully crafted language, the sexy-as-hell question dodging, the late night philosophizing.  The Secret Service and adrenaline rushes and polling data and new ad buys.  Like first-time lovers languishing over each other's bodies, you savor every moment.  Yes, you think.  This is real, this is good, this is productive.

(Part II here)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Surgerized surgery last month went great, at least, as great as I guess these things can go.  Long story short, it's over. 

My mom came up the day before, and we scoped out the day surgery center and the best route to get there.  The day of, we got there about 6 am, checked in, waited a long time...and finally got in.  I'm such a lightweight - the Ativan alone knocked me out.  I remember about a minute and a half after the nurse gave it to me, and nothing thereafter.  Also, I hate general anesthesia.  A lot.  I don't like the foggy "what's going on??" feeling that comes afterward, and it always makes me nauseous. 

Interesting note, though: I told the anesthesiologist that I always get sick after general, and his first question was, "Do you get carsick, too?"  Well, golly gee, yes I do.  I'm the only person I know who can get carsick while driving, in fact.  (Only my parents' car, that they are about to get rid of, thank goodness.  But still.)  Also, side note: when I was on chemo, the worst drug they gave me, adriamyacin, always made me sick, but "carsick".  I remember that it wasn't straight-up nausea, I really did feel motion-sick, to the point that I couldn't even read because that just made it worse.  Huh.  Brain chemistry = weird.

Nevertheless, I was under for less than an hour, and afterwards, I managed to avoid taking vicodin or anything else wonky for pain, just a strict regimen of ibuprofen for several days.  I came home and slept the rest of the day, most of Saturday, and a decent portion of Sunday.  I have a couple totally fantastic friends who came over to keep me company, bring me coffee, and help me stay up late so I could sleep better.  Friends are the best. 

By Monday, I was even (mostly) ready to go bridesmaid dress shopping, so my mom and I traipsed all over town doing that.  (Long story, more later.) 

Upshot of the surgery is: they burned off "seven or eight" spots of endo, and everything else looks really good.  So that's good.  Of course, I was terrified that they were going to tell me my whole body was encased in this crap and there was nothing they could do and I would never have babies blah blah blah.  And, of course, none of that happened. 

So, for the time being, I'm just chilling out and seeing what happens.  My doc said to let him know if I want to take Lupron.  I don't.  So, we'll see what's next.  At least some symptoms do indeed seem to be better already, so praise God for that! 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

These Men

There's an absolutely fantastic scene from Season One, Episode Five of The West Wing.  The episode is titled "Crackpots and These Women", and the scene comes toward the end of the episode.  The video is here (sorry, it won't let me embed it), and you should watch it.

I was thinking about this scene this past weekend as a friend and I were doing the typical girly thing of talking about guys - and wondering if there's an equivalent scene in a movie or TV show somewhere.  Given some specific circumstances, my friend and I started from a point of "boys are dumb: throw rocks at them".  But with old black-and-white movies on in the background, our discussion came 'round to how much we actually really like guys (frustrating though they may be at times).  We talked about how we missed the "good ol' days" of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra - back "when men were men".

When there were clearly defined gender roles, and it was okay to like them.  When women could (and did) appreciate what men "brought to the table" and like them just for being men, and vice versa.  Aah, who knows?  Maybe I'm over-romanticizing the past and there never was such a day.  But it just seems like in generations past, men and women behaved in a more civilized fashion towards one another, their interactions were bathed in respect (even if not "like" or "love") and propriety.

It seems to me that feminism - as the movement has played out - has destroyed much of this.  No one I know is against the "novel idea that women should be treated as equals" (or whatever that snarky quote is).  No one I know thinks that women should be denied the vote, or the right to own land/property, or the opportunity for education or a career.  But unfortunately, feminism has devolved into something that is not about lifting up women so much as it is about tearing down men.  And that's unhealthy, unhelpful, and unScriptural, and yes, we are reaping the consequences.

From what I can tell from my own interactions with men, many of them are awkwardly trying to suppress their natural instincts to care for/respect/protect/serve/sacrifice for women in general, because a door held open or a warm jacket offered or an inappropriate remark confronted would imply that a woman is not able to care for herself - that she "needs" a man, and "everybody knows" any woman would find that offensive.  I know many men who withhold making remarks in class or meetings because their contribution will be dismissed as "the white male perspective".  I know men - good, solid, honest, strong, faithful men - who are terrified of asking a woman out or even complimenting her, lest it be construed as an oppressive attempt at objectification.

And that's a darn shame.  Because men aren't all losers - in fact, most of them aren't.  Most men aren't so busy watching football that they miss the births of their own children, or so concerned about beer that they're too distracted to feed the kids vegetables at dinner, or so entranced by a hot woman in the store that they proceed to talk about her to their wives later that evening.  Most guys aren't objectifying every woman they meet or thinking that women are incapable of managing their own lives or interested in oppressing and subjugating the local womenfolk.  Most guys are great - because God made them after his own image, and it was "very good."

So to honor that, I've put together a list: 100 Things I Love About Men:
  1. when they roll their shirt sleeves up halfway between their elbow and wrist
  2. they know how to build a fire 
  3. watching them drive a manual transmission
  4. they get excited about a sporting event and start discussing it passionately
  5. they make fun of women for doing dumb woman things - peeing in groups, etc...
  6. when they take voting seriously
  7. when they volunteer to lead a prayer 
  8. making a special point to hold the door open for a woman - or another man
  9. that they know stuff about cars
  10. not needing to ask for directions
  11. being secure enough in their masculinity to recognize when it's time to ask for directions
  12. that they kill bugs and rodents - even at 3 am
  13. when they take their families to church
  14. holding a woman's coat to help her put it on
  15. being patient when women take a long time to get ready
  16. being manly and protective of all women, even ones they aren't married to
  17. when they don't add sugar or cream to coffee
  18. they will eat practically anything
  19. they love to play with babies
  20. they are a little bit afraid of babies
  21. when the elevator smells all manly after they've just been in it
  22. when they are not afraid to follow a woman's instructions to look in her purse to find _______
  23. when they refuse to look in a woman's purse out of respect (and a little bit of fear)
  24. that the good ones don't seem to know how good they are
  25. they are good at fixing things
  26. mocking - but secretly liking - chick flicks
  27. asking permission to kiss a girl
  28. not asking permission to kiss a girl and just doing it instead
  29. when their hand gets a little bit sweaty holding a girl's, because they're still a little nervous
  30. that they lend a girl their jacket when she is cold, even if it makes them cold
  31. patiently explaining the rules of a particular sport...again...
  32. when they play "football" with folded up pieces of paper and their thumbs
  33. playing actual sports with friends
  34. finding ways to be competitive about absolutely everything
  35. when they aren't afraid to admit that they can only focus on one thing at a time
  36. winking at me from across the room
  37. knowing that I need a hug and obliging for as long as necessary
  38. when they chop wood for a fireplace
  39. they know how I take my coffee - even if it's different from theirs
  40. when they offer to carry a woman's luggage
  41. they know how to pack the trunk of a car
  42. when I announce that chivalry is dead and they go out of their way to prove otherwise
  43. when they are really good at listening, especially when it's stuff that's hard to talk about
  44. that they are moved to tears more often than girls would expect
  45. they will sacrifice anything for their families
  46. when they can speak a second language
  47. they know when it is therapeutic to offer someone a beer
  48. when they can cook
  49. when they have dirt under their fingernails from working hard 
  50. watching them tie their ties
  51. watching them loosen their ties
  52. most of them are secretly really smart about at least one subject area
  53. when they are so proud to have a son
  54. when they are incredibly protective of their daughters
  55. when they take care of their pregnant wives
  56. when they teach their sons how to treat women
  57. when they teach their daughters to demand proper treatment from men
  58. they know how to grill meat
  59. when they are manly enough to cry
  60. when I haven't talked to them in a year and they still remember my birthday
  61. washing the car in the driveway on a summer afternoon
  62. they can change their own oil
  63. they can build stuff
  64. they stand up when a woman enters the room
  65. when they refuse to work on Sunday
  66. when they work on Sundays so their employees don't have to
  67. "Hey Lady!  How are you?" (said with a big smile as they walk into a room)
  68. shoveling snow
  69. when they change their plans just to be with you
  70. that they can be "crazy dumb boys" and still, I care about them
  71. when they can charm the socks off any woman from 3 months to 85 years old
  72. they try to make me laugh
  73. they are often more likely than women to simply say what needs to be said
  74. when they gently touch my shoulder in an anxious situation, as if to say, "it's okay, I got this"
  75. they're not afraid to make fun of themselves
  76. how little tolerance they have for female drama
  77. that they truly have no idea anything on this list makes them attractive
  78. when they ask "How are you?" and "How is your family?" and actually care about the answer
  79. when I discover that they have quietly adopted my opinion about something as their own
  80. when they are honest enough to admit that they simply don't care about something
  81. unexpected hugs
  82. when they turn me on to a new food or drink
  83. the lengths they will go to in order to solve a problem
  84. when they know how to pronounce my last name correctly - and do it
  85. shuffling cards
  86. first thing in the morning text messages
  87. when they tell me my geekiness is cute
  88. they want to see women use the gifts God has given them
  89. when they use my name a lot when they talk to me
  90. when they're willing to admit their weaknesses and confess their sins
  91. they stretch out their entire bodies so as to take up the maximum amount of space possible
  92. when they take responsibility for organizing activities/hanging out
  93. they ask a woman's father for permission to marry her
  94. firm handshakes
  95. when they respect my sex/violence comfort levels in the movies
  96. they take being manly seriously, and work to be seen as such
  97. they take care of their sick wives
  98. they "don't get sick"
  99. they like stuff that blows up
  100. they're made in the image of God - which must make God pretty awesome