Thursday, March 20, 2008

Random Bulletpoints of Honesty

  • I still get misty when I rewatch movies like Titanic and Armageddon.
  • I am secretly addicted to YouTube.
  • If there were an election for candy bars, I still hold that Whatchamacallit with Twix as it's running mate is the way to go.
  • Sometimes I wonder if the indie scene isn't just a little bit overrated.
  • Occasionally I wonder, "What if...?"
  • And other days, "Why?"

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Like A Ship Without A Sail...

That's pretty much how I've felt as of late, like that proverbial ship floating in the ocean without any impetus to get him anywhere. It's one of, if not the, most frustrating thing in my life right now. All through my life, beginning about halfway through middle school, I've had something to push me on, to pursue, some vision to hope to see fulfilled. Then it was to become the best volleyball player I could. Yeah, it's kind of basic and simple and a little bit childish but that simple drive pushed me to so many cool experiences and, in the meantime, I got to be a pretty damn good player too. Moving alongside that as I got older was a passion for God and the Church, ministry in particular. While that journey was a bumpy one, I eventually found myself in a ministry position and pursuing what I was after.

But somewhere along that journey, my vision shifted. It wasn't that I took my eyes off of God, as some will and surely have suggested, but rather that as I encountered more of Him along with thinking honestly and openly about the things we tend to ascribe to Him via the Church that I began to see things in a different perspective. I began to see the emperor's new clothes for what they are and, as I began to call into question some of the shaky dogmatic foundations of my faith, I found my perspective shifting. This is where things get dicey.

The circumstances that propelled me out of direct "ministry" are such that have been tossed around more than once here and aren't worth going into again. And I'll admit that it's an easy solution to simply say that my lack of vision, my frustration with everything I'm doing, is due to the fact that I'm "out of God's will," that His will is for me to be in some regular ministry. And, I'm not discounting the idea that this may be true. But the corollary to that is that, perhaps, my dissonance with the modern Church is actually based upon something of substance and that is what prevents me from diving wholeheartedly back into the pool. Either way you cut it, I'm left adrift, not sure which way to turn and feeling unfulfilled and at times like a failure at most junctures.

One of my thoughts regarding regaining some sense of focus was that I need to reclaim or rediscover what it is I'm truly passionate about. What are the things I want to focus on or do in my spare time? What subjects truly interest me? So, I began to think about what books are on my to-buy shelf at my workplace. Now, keep in mind that I work for a full-bore Christian retail outlet so that'll be reflected but, just for kicks, here's what there:

Postmodernity by Lakeland
Shopping Malls and Other Sacred Spaces by Pahl
The Prymer by Webber
The Jesus Creed by McKnight
What Does the Bible Really Say About Hell? by Klassen
The Suburban Christian by Hsu
Practitioners by Russinger and Field
Letters to a Diminished Church by Sayers
Selected Writings by Eckhart
Divine Nobodies by Palmer
Hood by Lawhead
Penguins and Golden Calves by L'Engle
Everyday Theology by Vanhoozer
Entertainment Theology by Taylor
Jesus for President by Claiborne
The New Christians by Jones

It's a decent list and within the simple content there I see a thread of love, of hope, and interest in the Church. Yet, like many, I can't return to the church of my youth. As much as I'm thankful for the experiences there, I can't go back. I want to be part of the bigger picture, of the true vision Christ has set out there. And, something tells me, that doesn't take place in big buildings with flashy lights and all the glitz and glamour. Rather, it takes place in the trenches, among the least of these. I long for direction. I long for courage. I long for peace and rest. I long for Him.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Great American Equalizer

For the most part, I'm not a guy who really puts on airs. I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and have, by and large, maintained a fair disposition with those from all walks of life. Race nor sexual orientation really play a part in those that I call friends or defend. Essentially what I'm saying is that I pretty much get along with everyone and don't think too much of myself in the meantime.

There's only one place that this tends to slip, and that's at the great American equalizer, the flea market, a place my wife, daughter, and I chanced upon for the first time in a long time. I'd forgotten the joy that is the local flea market, the greasy-fried smell of food in the air, the more than eclectic array of wares for sale, and, oh yeah, the people. I can honestly say, and I'm not particularly proud of this truth, that the flea market is the one place where, no matter where I'm at in life, my pride gets a little adrenaline boost. It's a rather harsh statement but it's true. There are some, ah, unusual folks that can be found at the flea market. In fact, it's not even the customers that are the most interesting. Rather, it's the vendors themselves.

Like a carnival that's dropped it's tent stakes for the last time, those that man the booths possess a certain quality that just sets them apart. They're out making an honest, in most cases, living and are by and large hard workers. But, I don't know, some of them are just, weird. Consider the guy selling new, and yes, used spas. Or what about the guy on the corner with the handwritten sign on orange construction paper that reads, "Stun Gun Sail!" These are not your average folks. It's a sideshow element that appears when you can buy a "God Bless America" t-shirt from the Chinese vendor and homegrown produce from the young man who looks in dire need of a green card. What an experience.

Now, just as a disclaimer, I don't honestly think of myself as better than any of these people. They're doing the best with what they have and are doing very well. But there are obvious differences in us all as a human population and those differences make for some great stories!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Shifting Perspectives...and Rambo

It continues to amaze me as I grow older how much my perspectives on life and all it's assorted adventures have continued to shift. Everything from my view on politics, theology, love, and everything in between seems to be susceptible to the charm of change. Recently, I saw this in how I viewed two bits of media that I came into contact with.

The first was when my darling wife and I headed off to our local metroplex in order to catch the latest installment of the Rambo series, aptly entitled, Rambo. Now, I'd done my homework going in and knew that, if anything, this was going to be a slightly more grisly Rambo than the films I'd grew up with. Now, it's important to note that those films played a huge part in my adolescent development. Perhaps that's a sad statement but it's nonetheless true. Sylvester Stallone and David Morrell's lonely yet deadly Vietnam vet helped to shape the young man sitting at this keyboard before you. Deal with it. Anyway, we headed into the film. Wow. Not quite the film we were expecting. From the get-go, this is a film that is rife with violence, gore, and tragedy. Truthfully, it's tough to find a sense of hope anywhere within. Now, that's not to say that I didn't find worth in the film. As a matter of fact, I think it's a powerfully anti-violence manifesto that sends it's message across with it's graphic images. But, it's definitely not the hero of my youth.

The second media encounter was somewhat different. At work I took home a damaged copy of a book by author Robert Liparulo entitled Deadfall. I'd read some of his stuff earlier and enjoyed the fact that, while it's written by a Christian author, it offered up stories that were both exciting and honest without being preachy and bland as much Christian fiction can be. Deadfall is a fantastical tale of a town overcome by a band of bloodthirsty young men and women who are in possession of a lethal weapon of futuristic proportions. A band of friends out camping are all that stand in the way between them and the complete annhiliation of the town. It's a riveting read, fast-paced and tailor made for the silver screen. Yet, as I finished, I found myself wrestling with a thought or two.

The problem I encountered in both these works of fiction was that both tales portrayed the bad guys as nothing but that, just bad. While Deadfall at least allowed for a few of it's baddies to show a sense of reality, the chief bad guy is simply an evil man, continually starved for killing and violence. Likewise, Rambo portrays it's bad guys, the Burmese occupiers, as cold-blooded and evil through and through despite the fact that it also shows the all-too-true reality that many of the soldiers fostered into service are forced into that very service. And the chief baddie? Not a redeeming quality is to be found.

Two retorts come to mind as I ponder these thoughts. The first is simply that these are movies, works of fiction that, for all intents and purposes are designed to entertain their consumers. And, to some degree or anther, they do. Yet, while entertaining, movies do influence us if we stop thinking about them. I've no beef with interacting with popular culture; my beef is when we begin to interact with that culture without running it through the proverbial sieve. The second question to ponder is the idea that these are depraved people who are portrayed here who have committed remarkable atrocities. This is true and this thinking is not to in any way condone or belittle those atrocties. But, we must face the question, what are we teaching ourselves to think?

And this, finally, is where my shift of perspective rolls in. There was a time when I would be cheering for the bad guys to get theirs. In fact, I even experienced a bit of a rise of that in me as I watched this latest Rambo. But then I got to thinking (always a dangerous endeavor) of what I was really encouraging in my mind. Was I willing to cheer for and celebrate the violent takedown of another human life, no matter how evil they were perceived to be? Now, you might be saying to yourself that I'm simply going soft and that I just can't understand true evil. False. I do get what I'm saying. I understand the depravity of the heart of man quite well for I understand, to some degree, the depravity of my own heart. Yet, I also look within and see that within me, as I believe is within all of us, is a desire, albeit fleeting at times, to do right and to do good. I also lean to the idea that, like it or not, we are all created in the "image of God" and that this very image resides upon the meek, the humble, the proud, the powerful, the good, and yes, the evil. I've come to a place where I can't speak for what God is doing in the life of another because I honestly don't know what He's doing. Yet, I can stand up for that life, loving them unconditionally as He has me, showing them grace even when they don't deserve, because that's exactly what He's done for me. Would it cost me my life if those things were real and the threat were before me? Perhaps, but it seems as though one far more wise than I once said, "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends."

Monday, March 10, 2008

Trying to See in the Dark

There was a time when I, to some degree, thought I had some things figured out. I had nailed down some points of religion and faith, had settled down with a wife and kids, and seemed focused on something ahead. But, somewhere along the line, despite all those things, it feels like someone turned the lights out. And now, like some figurative Helen Keller, I feel deaf and blind, immune to any outside input to share direction. In a way, it feels like I've lost the ability to dream.

I've had some friends ask me that recently, that one-time easily answered, "If you could do what you want right now, what would that be?", but now, I'm not so sure. Of course, I have some simple things I'd like to do but, ultimately, they still feel hollow. It's a weird place to be in, of having no direction and no GPS to guide me. I've prayed, I've read, I've sought counsel and still, to this day, nothing. A few friends suggest that perhaps this place of frustration and confusion is just where I'm supposed to be, that it's a place I've been put in to help develop my character, my integrity, and eventually draw me closer to God. That may be true but it doesn't take the edge off in the meantime.

It's a scary place, wandering in the dark. I'm constantly trying to attune my senses to those things around me, trying to feel my way around and find some handhold on something tangible that I can touch and feel. Every now and then I latch onto something only to have it quickly slip away, almost taunting me with it's going. I'm not exactly sure how one regains the ability to dream, to think big thoughts and to pursue them, but I'm pretty sure I need to figure it out. If I don't, I'm afraid of what will happen.