Monday, July 25, 2011

No Guarantees

I am writing in my blog again, because I have time off. Forced time off. Right now I should be at Covenant Bay Bible Camp in Alberta, but due to circumstances beyond our control, we may or not be going there and we may be looking at other options as how to end our summer. At the very least, this week's camp was cancelled which is too bad for sure but at the same time I taking advantage of this time to reflect. And when I reflect I have to let my pretentiousness out into the internet. After all, the internet needs pretentiousness in order to work.

I have been thinking about dynamics between people and trying to unravel what makes me frustrated and what can I do to help my relationships be better. I think the that stands out to me that makes me frustrated is guarantees.

We want everything to be guaranteed. We want our things to be guaranteed to work for forever. We want jobs to be guaranteed. We want people guaranteed to never change. We believe relationships (at least the ones we are apart of) are guaranteed to bring us happiness.

The big problem that I have with guarantees is that really nothing is guaranteed. Even the highest quality items break down. The economy can change. People will change. Relationships have never been guaranteed. At the same time, we are surprised when the guarantee falls through and angry or frustrated that it did. We lean heavily on the guarantees in life and can often be neglectful because of them.

I get why people like guarantees. They can rest easy. They know that things will be okay. A guarantee can align their world right.

But isn't a guarantee merely some words used to convince someone to go along with whatever the plan is? A guarantee requires nothing of us and yet should we really be so angry when the guarantee turns out to fail? I live as though there is no guarantee. I have never trusted guarantees because I don't believe they exist.

Remember when Jesus forbade oaths in Matthew 5 because of the reason that you don't know the future. There is uncertainty in the future. Instead we are told to simply make your "yes" "yes" and your "no" "no". Oaths in that time was a basically a way of saying, "Trust me". I remember reading somewhere that the lesson is to be honest all the time and that the use of an oath implies that they rest of the time you might be lying. There are a couple of ways of looking at the passage, but for me it comes across that it boils down that there is uncertainty in the future and that it is wrong to claim certainty.

I think that is what bothers me. When people are certain and perhaps they shouldn't be. They are going to be devastated when it turns out that it is not. That their certainty has led them to stop thinking because in their mind they don't have to think anymore. They are certain. It's fact. You are either uninformed, willingly ignorant, or looking to pick a fight if you are not lining up with their definitive statements.

You see it when people treat their jobs with a cocky attitude and are surprised that a worker of their caliber is so foolishly let go or they treat their relationships with a carefree attitude and then are devastated when their spouses leave them and no one wants them.

It's the world of black and white. It's the world of children's stories. It's the world of comic books. In a word, "fantasy". There is little that is certain and to make things simply black and white in a world of complex colours will only bring conflict and you see it.

I suppose that I have an equally difficult time with black and white in regards to faith. People still love their guarantees and especially in the realm of the fate of their souls. Accept Jesus as your Lord and savior and know that nothing can separate you from your home in heaven. That's one of the biggest guarantees out there. Unfortunately, our treatment of guarantees still transfer to this one. Since it is a guarantee there is little reflection on it, there can be neglect of it. Things become black and white. Eventually more and more becomes black and white and soon our lives of faith are dull and meaningless. The only thing left for black and white faith is to eliminate the colour and make things line up and if that means some relationships are destroyed, some people declared 'heathens' or some lives are taken then so be it.

If faith is treated like a guarantee, then I fear that faith is dead. If a Christian cannot see the life-giving value of the way of Christ without heaven and without a guarantee, then you will be like the disciples and abandon Christ when the darkest times come. They also guaranteed Christ that they would never deny him or abandon him, but they did because they were certain in their mind about Jesus. They thought he wouldn't be captured and killed. They thought he was going to establish the earthly kingdom of God. They were certain and because they were certain they did not consider that the bigger issue at hand was that a religious system that suffocated it's people needed to be broken. But in the face of the loss of the guarantee of God's kingdom, the loss of the guarantee of eternal life, they could not see the value of being faithful to something bigger than themselves.

My question for those of you who follow Christ: If there were no guarantees in your faith, can you see the value of living faithfully? Is it possible to have the truly wonderful, full life-giving life that Jesus speaks of without those guarantees?

"On bended knee is no way to be free
Lifting up an empty cup I ask silently
That all my destinations will accept the one that's me
So I can breathe
Circles they grow and they swallow people whole
Half their lives they say goodnight to wives they'll never know
Got a mind full of questions and a teacher in my soul
So it goes...
Don't come closer or I'll have to go
Holding me like gravity are places that pull
If ever there was someone to keep me at home
It would be you...
Everyone I come across in cages they bought
They think of me and my wandering
But I'm never what they thought
Got my indignation but I'm pure in all my thoughts
I'm alive
Wind in my hair, I feel part of everywhere
Underneath my being is a road that disappeared
Late at night I hear the trees
They're singing with the dead
Leave it to me as I find a way to be
Consider me a satellite for ever orbiting
I knew all the rules but the rules did not know me
- "Guaranteed" by Eddie Vedder from the "Into the Wild" soundtrack

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Great Expectations

Hopefully the title of this post doesn't get your hopes up that this will be a fantastic piece of writing like the book of the same name. Although if that were the case and you were disappointed at the end, it would oddly be fitting. At which point, my post would in some way be brilliant. There you go literature nerds, something that you can appreciate while the riff raff read through the rest of this unenlightened (unless they have Google).

Another thing I should point out before I start is that some of this may be repetitious of posts previous. It seems like I remember writing a little bit of what I want to write about and so I guess... I'm sorry? I don't know why I feel like I need to pretext the fact I may repeat myself. Maybe to at least recognize that I can be a broken record but ultimately I hope I am adding new insight.

I should also point out that this is also the first time that I had two pretext paragraphs. Oh, wait this is a third. Alright, let's get this ball rolling. Here we go:

This summer as a whole has been one that's been good and yet challenging. I will only make a brief comparison to last year (because I don't want to muddy one experience with the memory of the other) and that the challenges this year are ones that strike a little closer to the centre of my lifelong wrestling with finding connection with others. Last year, the big challenge was simple. Get as much high-quality done and give insight to situations between other people. This year, I feel like my expectations of what I thought I would find this summer are not lining up with reality.

From my days of working at Rogers I have learned that what makes people more disappointed in a given movie is not the quality of the movie but rather the predicted content of the movie not lining up with reality. If the trailer of the movie inferred it was going to be an outrageous Will Ferrel comedy and it turns out it was "Stranger than Fiction", people will say the movie sucked despite it was actually was a fantastic movie that was simply different from the trailer's portrayal of it.

In the same way, I think that that is what is happening this summer. This summer has been great but the expectations and what I wanted to have were not happening. I should point out that I am speaking of my summer as a whole, not specifically camp or the team or a certain situation.

I suppose I am handling my disappointment not too badly being that I have simply turned back to what I do so well and that is putting my head down and doing a pile of work.

I wish I could have aligned my expectations better so that I wouldn't be disappointed but I then wonder, isn't it okay to have expectations? Maybe even ones that may not be fulfilled? Is disappointment a necessary endeavor? This I believe relates to my earlier thoughts on being present and living fully. I want to find passion in this life and not just glide through not caring. My challenge is finding that balance between hopeful expectation and realistic expectation.

I broke a dear friendship I didn't think I would lose. I was wounded when my expectation of a relationship did not turn out my way and in fact turned out in the least favorable way. I was frustrated that I still have a hard time drawing close to people and I don't know how to change it. I was disappointed in myself and losing my patience with a kid and in some regards not living up to my own bar of quality that I have set for myself in years passed.

In my reflection and in a conversation with my mentor for this summer, Chris, I have wondered if it's because my expectation is not what fits who I am. I have sometimes compared myself to a person like the prophets of the Old Testament in terms of one who was outside the community and could speak into it, but has a hard time actually fitting into it. Probably more accurately and like many people, I perhaps expect far too much out of my relationships and thus I break them under my own pressure on them. Maybe it's both.

The answer I believe lies in the simple manner of being content with what you have and continuing to hope that following in the sacrificial way of love that Jesus displays will continue to refine me and bring peace. That my expectations will be reasonable yet hopeful. That I will embrace the good things and learn to be content when life is not what we wished it was. My ongoing prayer for myself and ultimately for all, is that all things are put back to the way they should be and that if we are able to bring realization to the hope of mankind who seek peace, then we will.

"Words you say never seem to live up to the ones inside your head,
The lives we make never seem to ever get us anywhere but dead,
The day I tried to live"
- "The Day I Tried to Live" from the Soundgarden album "Superunknown"

Thursday, July 14, 2011

It's an Inside Job Today

Today was my first day off in the camp stretch of the Summer Ministry Team and it was very much needed. I have been a little sick and a little frustrated. When I drove away from the camp, it was nice to have a chance to breathe and not worry about the next sketch or the next big game. I didn't even prep for what was next. I checked email, Twitter, read my Bible, listened to music, reflect.

I think what made me relax was, strangely enough, an article that Mark Driscoll wrote. Let me say that he is not a usual source for me, but he did say something that struck me. He talked about when big things like someone stealing his car or something hurting his family that he would have a Christian kind of reaction, but it was the common annoyances that he would have an atheistic reaction. His reaction would not be consistent with what he believed. It was a good thought. I've thought about my perspective on the world and holding onto things loosely and the big things in my life don't bother me such as what am I doing in the future because I know I will go where I am needed. The area that slips through is the common annoyances that can add up and even in those situations my patience needs to endure.

It goes with my idea of the heavenmind and the hellmind. I'm sure someone smarter has come up with a similar idea and this can be misconstrued as ripping that person off, but I did not talk to that person. The idea can be easily summed up in the picture of a traffic jam where the heavenminded person sits peacefully and enjoys the opportunity to reflect while the hellminded person is losing it in the next car over. The heavenminded has patience and has the perspective to not get wrapped up in minor things while the hellminded person is so focused on their little kingdoms that when their expectations are not met, it derails them.

I think that's why humans are supposed to have Sabbath or a day in the week to step back, rest and reflect on who they are in relation to God, themselves and the world around them.

Anyway, another great moment was finding a book at a store in Onanole called "Poor Michael's". The book was called "Why Christianity Must Change or Die" by an Episcopal bishop named John Shelby Spong. I flipped through it and read something that made me want to buy the book. So I did. It was a book that he writes to, as he calls them, "believers in exile".

This is what stood out to me:
"I have no interest in a system of rewards and punishments. I do not see the purpose of life after death to be that of motivating behavior in the here and now. I can live without any sense of heaven as a place of reward or hell as a place of punishment... I do assert that one prepares for eternity not by being religious and keeping the rules, but by living fully, loving wastefully, and daring to be all that each of us has the capacity to be. I also assert that making it possible for everyone else to live, to love, and to be is the only mission that Christian people possess. Our task is not to convert; our task is to call people into the depths of their own capacity to be... In that faith I believe that I discover life that is eternal. Is that sufficient to say that Christianity redefined, freed from many of its supernatural claims of the past, but still recognizable, will survive the exile? I think it is. But time alone will conclude whether or not my judgment is correct. I, however, will live my life as if it is."

I think I will find the rest of it to be an interesting read, but this gave me excitement.

As I got back to the camp, I had several conversations all in a row that made this day significant. I talked with the director of the team about the how the team was going and she encouraged my work with the churches, the camps and the team. I talked with a camper about how a major step in maturity is knowing when to ask for help as opposed to expecting others to know when we hurt. I, along with Rob, talked with another camper about how it is important to live with integrity and respond with peace and honesty in the face of those who mock us or lie about us. I had another talk with Bryan, the director of the current camp, about what it means to follow Christ, the grace of God and that life change is not in a moment, but rather requires us to participate in it.

It was very convenient that the day that started me off ragged and frustrated wound up strengthening me and reminding me that this life of faith is bigger than the here and now, but rather through the grace of God, the example of Christ, the refining of the Holy Spirit and our compliance that we will grow into our heroic selves with a heavenmindedness that will call humanity out of the darkness.

"I will not lose my faith
It's an inside job today
I know this one thing well,
I used to try and kill love, it was the highest sin
Breathing insecurity out and in
Searching hope, I'm shown the way to run straight
Pursuing the greater way for all human light
How I choose to feel is how I am
How I choose to feel is how I am
I will not lose my faith
It's an inside job today
Holding on, the light of the night
On my knees to rise and fix my broken soul again.
Let me run into the rain
To be a human light again
Let me run into the rain
To shine a human light again."
- "Inside Job" from Pearl Jam's self-titled album

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Difference that a Year Makes

I am halfway through this year's Summer Ministry Team and that is sad to say. I am currently in the chapel of the camp I grew up going to as a kid and am sitting here in a moment of quiet. The others have gone to bed and I could see why. Junior camp frequently leaves me sick at the end of it and it can be a long week. The kids are so young and you are essentially their temporary surrogate parent. I had a challenging kid in my cabin who eventually found a way to fit in with the others, I had another who would wake up in the night, (on some nights, several times) and just panic about where he was and I would have to scramble before he woke the others to take him outside and calm him down.

I had other kids who I knew had no respect for my authority. To be fair, they thumbed their nose at any authority, but it was aggravating to know they came from nice lives and they didn't even realize what they had.

It was one of the most challenging weeks at camp I've had in a few years, partially because I think that I have a hard time knowing how to deal with wildcard kids that are dealing with some sort of social or developmental issue who operate outside the typical rule of thumb. Generally, if you have a solid system thought out to bring a sense of structure to a group, the kids actually prefer to follow the system and you can have fun with them while still maintaining leadership despite being a surrogate parent. However, the wildcard kids tend to upset the whole cart unless you devote all your time to the one kid and that is difficult when you have ten others to worry about.

I'll interject to point out that the week was still great. I had a ton of fun with the kids, doing puppet sketches, being a fake eastern European bad guy singing the national anthem to the glorious nation of Davisamistan, doing commentary for the nukem games at the volleyball court, doing a pretty good Neil Young impersonation singing "Whip My Hair", and pretending I was morphed into a monster and being saved by the work of the kids. A lot of laughs had.

The biggest difference for me this year than last is the state of mind that I am in. This year has involved a lot of working out the faith I believe in. Last summer, I had just come out of one of the darkest points in my life and I had an energy that spurred me to push hard and lived out of inspiration. This year, I am fueled more by a sense of purpose. That I realize how well designed I am for a ministry like this.

However, the challenge to me has come out of this growth. As I had cabin devotional times with the kids, we had questions from our speaker who was fantastic and engaging, I had issues with theological stance. Not that he was vastly out of tune with Christianity and saying unorthodox statements. Rather it was the opposite. He was very orthodox. His theology and eschatology that he presented was traditional evangelical conservative Christian. The brand I grew up with. I should point out that this was not the crazy extreme seen in the movie "Jesus Camp" but a very sincere and hopeful presentation. He was not the one out of place here. It was me.

As I looked at some of the questions that were suggested in being asked, I knew what the answers were supposed to be and I realized that I believed little of it in the same way the speaker did. What was more difficult was the questions from the kids about what heaven and hell is like, or what about evolution, or what about natural disasters. I knew what the answers were supposed to be and that I did not agree with any of it. I didn't know how to suggest that there are many thoughts about those things and that even Christians disagree about them without confusing them too much. At this age, the kids see the world in very much black and white and to try to give them the huge explanation of my many years of wrestling with those questions would be difficult.

That's not what bothered me. What bothered me was that the Christian homes that these kids came from are just as black and white in their explanations about God, the world, and the end of it all. That they had a child-like understanding of these things and that even thinking deeper about those things is pretty much unnecessary and potentially dangerous to faith was hard.

How do I say that I believe that there is a strong chance that people may have evolved and that I am perfectly okay with that and that does not change the power of the story of Christ? How do I say that I don't particularly think the afterlife is not the point of being a Christian and that I am comfortable with there being no afterlife at all? How do I tell them that I don't believe that the reason natural disasters happen is because of human sin that broke the world on a fundamental level?

It reminded me of a conversation I had a couple of months ago with another who grew up in a similar tradition and had wound up disagreeing with much of the traditional understanding of Christianity. After discussing many things in regards to what we believe, she asked me the simple question, "At what point does all of this stops being Christian and is in fact something different?"

I could see what she was getting at. But I still believe in the story of Christ and that it is the example that we should follow if we are to find the Way, the Truth and the Life. I just see it differently.

My issue is, how do I stand up for it?

"You, who are on the road, must have a code that you can live by.
And so become yourself because the past is just a goodbye.
Teach your children well, their father's hell did slowly go by
And feed them on your dreams, the one they picked, the one you're known by."
- "Teach Your Children" from the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album "Deja Vu"