Introspection

Living Presently

Well 2014, here I am. Unfortunately, I have had some blog issues recently and I am seeking to get those resolved sometime soon, but in the meantime I thought I would continue writing. Also, there are some new additions to the site that are currently under construction but be sure to check those out in the near future! Ok, now to the topic at hand…

I have been finding that living in present moment has become increasingly arduous. Instead, I have become entranced by an elusive future that my imagination creates and sustains as if that were the antidote to the discontentedness that I am currently facing. Don’t get me wrong, it helps, but I am not convinced that it is always healthy.  I am consistently confronted with the temptation to simply escape my current life and swap it for something else. Thinking and praying about the future is not harmful in and of itself but I believe it is when we allow ourselves to live futuristically in such a way that all of our hopes for fulfillment and contentedness are wrapped up in an uncertain future that things can get unhealthy.

One of the most profoundly simple quotes I have ever come across was in The Journals of Jim Elliot, which reads this:

Wherever you are, be all there.

Talk about profoundly simple. I forget the context of Elliot’s writing here, but I think it is safe to say that context isn’t necessarily needed–that is, we get the general point without knowing the context. The point that Elliot is making is that there is no moment like the present moment. He admonishes his unknown readers (considering the fact that he had no idea that his journals would be published) to be all there so that our whole being is engaged in the present moment. 

Again, I do not think that allowing ourselves to dream or have hope that is placed in the future is a bad thing, but when we wish away time because of the difficulties and tensions that life presents instead of engaging wholly then we miss out on  all that the present moment has to offer us. The problem arises when we face a difficulty or a desire that leads us to discontentment and therefore creates the inability to live presently because of the pain that we feel. The same thing can happen in referring back to the past to a time when we felt perhaps more peace, love, and affirmation.

We must learn to be people who engage wholly in the present no matter how difficult or how painful the scenario.

Patience plays a large part in this as well, for we live in a age that tempts us to take what we want for ourselves now! Therefore, whatever we want that exists in the future becomes this commodity that we simply wish to purchase at a moment’s notice in hopes of bypassing all of the present circumstances.

By doing this, we miss the beauty of walking with God and friends on this journey! Yes, even a journey that leads through all the crap!

There is a letter in the New Testament that speaks to this tension rather candidly. James is said to be one of the first letters written in the NT and in chapter 5 James writes this:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there doing business and making money.” Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.

James gets to heart of our failure to live in the present. We have all these lofty ideas about what the future will bring, but the only time that can be promised to us is the one we currently inhabit. This feels unsettling, as it should I suppose. A few verses later, James writes this:

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop front the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Indeed we call those blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

We certainly are to be future-oriented in our hope to which James refers to here, but it can be an unhealthy endeavor to place our hopes in moments that are not necessarily promised. Not only is the quantity of those moments not promised, but the quality is not promised either. My friend once told me that expectations are premeditated disappointments and it sounds rather cynical, but I think he is right. The expectations we hold in our hearts about the next few months or about the next year have the potential to never actually become a reality.

We must learn to make the most of the time that has been graciously given. As Sleeping at Last states in their song entitled Jupiter:

Make my messes matter; make this chaos count.

In that lyric resides the call to live engaged even amidst the mess and the chaos.

 

Facing our Finitude

After seeing Gravity last night, Psalm 8 has taken on new meaning and depth for me.

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Lord, our Lord,how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?[c]

You have made them[d] a little lower than the angels[e]
and crowned them[f] with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their[g] feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

The magnitude of this movie’s artistry and depiction of space was incredible. So incredible that I can confidently say that my stress level was at an all-time high (for a movie that is) at every moment throughout the entirety of its ninety minute airtime (and for two hours after I left the theater).

Encountering space in this movie was surprisingly frightening to me. I was overwhelmed by the reality of the universe and how truly foreign it is to us who reside on Earth. Not only did its foreign nature scare me, but how it made me feel afterward was particularly palpable. It sounds silly, but space it not something that I think about all that much. I don’t tend to bring it up in conversation and I think there is a reason for that (besides the fact that I know next to nothing about the universe we live in). I think that when I talk about it I am faced with how small, limited, and finite I am. As I watched this movie last night I could not escape from encountering these feelings.

The consistent undercurrent throughout this movie was the obvious lack of control the two key astronauts had over an untamed universe. Every scene in the movie seemed to contain some sort of catastrophy where the astronauts were faced with their finitude and ultimately death. “What is man that you are mindful of him?”-I ask that question with sincerity after seeing this movie.

Trying to imagine space and then trying to imagine God is incredibly difficult for me. The ever-expanding universe is already too much much for my imagination to consider, but then to imagine a God who created that by speaking it into existence is on another level. It would seem logical to state that because the universe is vast and unknowable that its creator must be even more unknowable and uninvolved in the existence it created. Though this seems logical (maybe it doesn’t for you), we see in Psalm 8 that God is not logical in the way that we think He should be (cue verse 2).

While God is vastly different than us, he is not unknowable. Yes, all creation (including the universe and infinite galaxies) was crafted by a God who spoke it into being. The God who created all things also decided to reveal himself through a baby. It was through a very particular Jew named Jesus that we see the God who created the universe putting on human flesh and pursuing humanity. Absolutely unfathomable isn’t it? Hence, in verse 2 of Psalm 8 it says, “Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.” While there is so much of God that remain mysterious there is also so much we can know through this particular God-man named Jesus. He became one of us, identifies with us, knows us, and rescues us.

Befriending Weakness

Are you befuddled by the title of this blog? That’s appropriate. I know that in the world we live in this sounds rather counterintuitive, but doesn’t the term weak aptly depict us humans? Aren’t we fragile people who are naturally dependent beings? We do not like to think that we are, but perhaps it is a more accurate description of our true state. I can presume that not all of you who read this will agree with that statement but hopefully by the end of reading this you will understand what I mean.

Vulnerability is not something we like all that much, even when the circumstance consists of vulnerability or honesty with ourselves. Weakness is a horror to some and not able to be tolerated. It is hard to tolerate the weakness and fragility in ourselves because people have told us that 1) we are not allowed to weak/we won’t make it in this world if we are found to be fragile or 2) that we must compensate for our weaknesses by becoming strong and powerful in order for society to accept and make use of us. Above all of this is the haunting reality that many of us have not been shown love when we have openly borne our weaknesses (instead we have been rejected when we have shown our true selves). When we realize that we cannot tolerate our own weakness we will also soon find that it is impossible to rekon with the weakness in others (be it our friends, family, spouse etc…). Sadly, we see this only when we first recognize that we judge others by the same hoops that we force ourselves to jump through. The aim of our culture is to ignore or relieve ourselves of all weaknesses we experience so that we are left with nothing but strengths. But again, fragility is not something that can be turned on or off but rather something that exemplifies our humanity.

I love this article by N.D. Wilson in Christianity Today. In it he states that the world we live in is “at odds with human self-importance”. Wilson takes a look at the intellectuals of today and uses them to show our delusional attempts to make the world about us. He uses intellectuals as an example to show that humans are desperately afraid to find out that they are far more weak and fragile than they ever dared to realize. Wilson proposes this because intellectuals often partake in the work of intellectualizing in order to tame, not the world (for it cannot be tamed), but rather “their perception of the world”. We philosophize and fixate over the smallest of matters to feel in control and escape to fantasy of reality. This is Wilson’s point. The fact that fantasy is reality scares us and contributes to our feelings of smallness and helplessness. Those feelings torment, but those feelings point the reality that we are often to afraid to face: we are far more weak than we ever dared imagined. In essence, Wilson states that our world is one where humans live out of control and it is our attempts to tame the world that point to our inability to stare into the face of our fragility.

We are afraid to find out how weak, fragile, and dependent we are but it is only logical when you begin to think about it. Maybe words from the Apostle Paul will help, “For what makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you did not?” Paul is right, I think. We did not choose to be born, nor the parents or siblings who surrounded us. We didn’t get the choice to exist not will we get the choice of death. It is going to happen and we have no choice in the matter. We flaunt our accomplishments and accolades as if that makes us safe from the inevitable reality of our fragility, but it doesn’t. We will never escape the fact that everything we have has been given to us and thus by nature we are dependent/weak beings. We aren’t as autonomous as we’d like to hope we are.

It is strange, but Jesus and Paul (and other New Testament writers) both seem to explain that Life comes from the realization that we are indeed weak and fragile beings. It is a realization that the delusional regimes of being in control and being strong are not actually true even though they may be attractive. True life and true humanity come from surrender and a recognition that we need help. It is interesting when we truly begin to see Christianity in this light. It changes how we interact with our weakness and with the weaknesses of those around us.

If we begin to see that weakness is actually a way unto life then it is no longer a horror but something through which we can meet God. We no longer have to live under the presumption that we are our own creator nor that we are strong when we know that within the deeper recesses of our heart we actually aren’t. Human weakness and fragility is the way unto the cross of Christ and it is where we meet Jesus. Like Wilson says, our attempts to run from this reality are many. Why not sit and allow yourself to know that you are weak and simultaneously loved by God. That reality should trump all false illusions about who we in age that tempts us to act as our own god and flee from our own fragility.

For further thoughts on this, check out this video.

Our Attempts to be “Somebody”

“Our worst sins arise out of the innate human fear that we are nobody” -Stanley Hauerwas

I read this quote a few weeks ago in a book by my friend, Stanley Hauerwas. This quote hit me like a ton of bricks when I really began to think about the truth imbedded in these simple words. Are we deathly afraid of being nobody? For me, the answer is an over-resounding yes. Maybe the more apt questions in regard to this inquiry begin with the words what and why.

What/Who the heck is a nobody? Perhaps this is what you are thinking right now. What comes to mind for you? Is it the person who has few friends, makes little money, and works at a job that is hardly desirable? What I mean by somebody is probably obvious to most, but if it is unclear let me begin by briefly explaining what I mean. This ever-elusive somebody is usually described in our culture as someone who is known by a wide array of people, but not just known, but also valued or esteemed in some way, shape, or form. Celebrities and politicians are a good but extreme example that give form to this abstraction. Not many of us will attain the “value” that celebrities and politicians evoke in our culture, but we will try to seek it out in smaller ways through self-promotion and by refining our image for the world to see.

The reason for this? One author writes that humans tend to operate out of scarcity. By saying this he means that our soul operates out of needs (be it for love, attention, care, value etc…) that are often left unsatisfied or only temporarily sustained. Thus, people increasingly invite their identity or sense of self to be determined by those around them. We are sick with this fear that everyday we have the potential to be a nobody and we desperately want to escape that by being deemed a somebody by our culture. The same writer who talks about scarcity also says that we are a culture of people with a case of hurry sickness. Ever heard of it? I have a case of it myself. It is this busyness that finds its roots in a lost sense of self. We have become professionals at conquering the fear of becoming a nobody by making sure that we are always doing something and never allowing for rest and recuperation because we are afraid what will find when we sit still. Perhaps we will find what we truly are in those silent moments, but who needs that…

We want someone or something to tell us that we are valued and we often will fixate on that goal until it comes to fruition or until we are left disastrously disappointed and lonely. We are confused about who we are and simultaneously afraid to wonder what we might find. We want to be a somebody and Hauerwas speaks to this by saying that our worst sins are actually attempts to be a somebody. We will lie, cheat, scheme, and lust in order to feel the fleeting warmth of someone who validates us and justifies us before all of creation. When stated in this way, it sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. One pastor says that “we want someone who we think the world of, to think the world of us!”. This could not be more true, but we are still left striving and in bondage to those who we think the world of and their opinion of us, which is often not what we hoped it would be.

I am not sure what you think of Jesus, but let us just assume that he was indeed who he said he was for one moment (that is, very God and very man). The apostle Paul wrote this about Jesus, “who, though he [Jesus] was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Paul goes on to write that this Jesus humbled himself and was obedient, even to the point of death on a cross. Jesus, who was very God and very man, made himself a nobody. He intentionally became a servant to humanity even while being the form of God. If there ever was a somebody, it was Jesus. Yet, in this text, we find that he made himself nothing and a nobody. Yes, it is indeed nonsensical.

Perhaps our attempts to be a somebody are not only arrogant, but also a result of a misplaced and misguided sense of who we are in an age that tries to define us through materials, accolades, and what numerical value others place on us. We need someone who we think the world of to also think the world of us and only then will our hurry sickness and our fear that we are a nobody slowly begin to heal.

Jesus became a nobody. What might that mean for us in our attempts to be “somebody” in this day and age?

Poem by George Herbert

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Read this poem this morning and wanted to share it…

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin,
But quick-ey’d love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d any thing.

“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
Love said, “you should be he.” “I, the unkind, the ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply “Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says love, “Who bore the blame?” “My dear, then I will serve.”

“You must sit down”, says love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.

FINIS
Glory to God on high, and on earth peace, good will towards men.