Saturday, February 25, 2012

Love Is Not Exciting Unless It Involves John McClane

I have had the same awkward interaction with Chris, the associate pastor here in Nelson, about three times. It starts when he asks me, "Now that you're with this girl who could be the one, aren't you excited?"

As soon as he says it, I immediately shift into awkward mode because I realize that my answer is going to sound terrible. I pause and then say, "...yes?" It is not even a statement. It sounds like a question. The question being, "How do you define 'excited'?"

I feel awkward answering the question, because that is the worst response to that question. It should be a definite "YES!" shouldn't it? Or if you are more reserved, then a solemn, but distinct, "Yes," would suffice. It should not be an uncertain maybe-type answer. And a question mark should not be on the list of punctuation used in the sentence.

I really do believe I love her and I absolutely love spending time with her and I feel connected with her, but I don't know if I have ever been excited about the prospect of her being the one. It troubled me that I was not.

Perhaps, that was one of the reasons I was reluctant to get too close with her in the first place. I wasn't excited. As I reflected on Chris' question, I thought that I needed to figure out why I wasn't.

People who know me, know that I can get very excited for things. The upcoming seasons of Lost or 24. Or the potential of the new Batman movie or for an upcoming show that I'm performing. When I was younger, it would be releases of certain video games or the potential of a game of Gold Rush or Mission:Impossible at camp. Yes, very nerdy things and usually events. I was reflecting on the things that link all of these, it is the element of mystery and uncertainty. I don't know what the show will hold and I love stealth and plot twists and story. I love using my mind to interact and solve the mystery or at least take a guess.

Now, before people get too concerned and call Kyla and tell her that she should not be with a guy who is more excited by TV shows than her (and I do know that her mother reads this), let me explain.

Mystery is what gets me excited. Fast-paced action is exciting. The idea of a future with Kyla does not. I am definitely looking forward to it, but I'm not excited by it. Some of you may say that there is plenty of mystery in a relationship as you discover more about a person. That there is a lifetime's worth of mystery. That there is the mystery of where life will lead you with this other person. Now, all of this is true on a certain level. However, it is not on the level of intrigue and layered unravelling as in the examples I mentioned. The mystery of life is the act of living your life. There may be things you don't understand, but uncovering the mystery of life is what we do on a day to day basis. It is not the kind of mystery that gets the blood going and the imagination into high gear. It is a rather necessary and mundane mystery that you uncover more and more over time through reflection.

The mystery that prompts action in order to avoid disaster, the kind that really excites me, is not present with my relationship with Kyla. In my reflection, I realized that that was a really good thing. I don't want to have some supernatural or super intense mystery with Kyla. As Demetri Martin talked about, there are not really any positive mysteries. It is always, "Who killed the butler?" or "Who stole the jewels?" In the same way, the intense mysteries that have the possibility of being found out in a relationship are almost always negative. When someone is acting mysteriously, it could be that the person could be cheating on you or they are in a lot of trouble.

I suppose that some positive mysteries are usually about surprise parties or special dates or the nature of the marriage proposal, but once again, those are not the deep and layered mysteries that get me excited.

Some may say that I should be excited, but I disagree. What I have found to be the thing I've always desired in a woman and what I have found with Kyla, is a sense of stability and reliability. There is already so much in life that is unknown and uncertain already and in the midst of all that you want to know that the person with you is not hiding from you some intense, layered mystery. Let the world be mysterious, let love be known.

Really, if you can find love from whoever it is in your life, not just a significant other, whether it is from family or good friends then a sting of life's pain and anxiousness of life's mysteries does not bother one as much. It will still be a challenge and may even overtake you, but at least you are not forgotten in the midst of it all. I find that the moments I appreciate most with Kyla is when we are simply together and put the worries and distractions aside for a while and just be. She allows me to relax when normally I would be stressed.

I may not be excited about the future with Kyla, but that is a good thing. Excitement for me involves action and dire consequences and life and death scenarios and complicate mysteries and I don't want a life of that kind of excitement.

However I am definitely in anticipation of what will be. I am expecting to bring along with me, an ally that I can trust. I don't want to be excited by the idea that she may be secretly a government agent or is a werewolf or is waiting for the opportunity to kill me for my life insurance (which she will be severely disappointed if that is what she is thinking) or that what comes with her is some action-packed life as we are on the run from the mob. I don't want her to be the life's mystery itself, I want her to be my Watson as we solve it together.

"As for me, well I'll find someone who's not goin' cheap in the sales,
A nice little housewife who'll give me the steady life and not keep going off the rails,"
- "Say Hello Wave Goodbye" from the David Gray album "White Ladder"

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Someone Else Should Write This Blog, Why Do I Have to Do It?

Am I strange to think that if you want something done, that you should take up the initiative? Maybe, it's because of the nature of many ideas I have that has made me become one that takes initiative. When I get an idea of what to do for one of my 24 days (you read about it here) or if I get the itch to do one of my live shows, then I start planning and working on it and making the appropriate arrangements. If I get an idea for a party or I think I'm due to have one, I put it together. Obviously, there are times when I may have an idea that will not go anywhere because I lack a certain resource (it is a 100% of the time money) but if it requires things that I have such as time and imagination, then I will do them.

Since I have been involved with the work of the church for a long time now, even before my formalized position here at Nelson, I often have conversations about what the church should or should not be doing. I'm not talking about with the pastors, although I obviously have to talk to them about that because that's a part of my job. I am not a pastor and am often viewed as a volunteer or at least distant enough from the decision-making positions in the church that I am seen as one that you can safely talk to about the life of the church without ratting you out. Which is true. I know people often need to vent and sometimes you share opinions about what is happening and I usually operate under the idea that this is in confidence.

Some complaints are more legitimate than others, but one type of complaint I find interesting is the "the church should start some sort of..." and then proceed to speak of some age group that is possibly neglected or some project started. Then the person will proceed to say that the leadership doesn't do enough or has their priorities misplaced or what have you. It is made to seem that the church is holding back whatever the project is.

I often find myself in these situations saying to myself and sometimes even to the person, "What do you expect the church to do? Are you wanting someone from leadership to step forward and start up the thing? What if they can't because they're too busy? Is it because they aren't being reasonable?" The question I'm getting at is, "Why can't you do it?"

It may sound harsh, but it's not supposed to be. Just because you see a spiritual component in the event that you would like to see happen, doesn't mean that the church should automatically be in charge of it, does it?

If I would like to see one of my plays performed, does that mean that the local theatre is obligated to stage it because I go to the theatre all the time? Is the management obligated to go and find a director and actors and stage crew? No. If you say, but the church should be different, because we are a spiritual family, then I would submit that the theatre world is a community with a lot of similarity to the church.

What I am saying is that so often in our lives, both in the church and even in the broader sense of life, we look to see someone else to do something about whatever issue we believe needs to change. That it's the government's responsibility to take care of the poor or that it's the teacher's responsibility to teach my kid or that it's the church board who is responsible for ministering to people or that it's God responsibility to make me be a peaceful, loving, joyful person who forgives.

It's hard because in society, it is easy to see whatever the problem is and it easy to think that it should be someone else's responsibility. After all, isn't this the modern age? Haven't we advanced enough now that all our needs can be met easily and if they're not, then someone above is falling asleep at the wheel.

I wonder if we are getting frustrated with our unrealistic and perhaps inappropriate expectations of whatever organization is above us. Maybe we look at them to solve problems that we're supposed to solve.

It goes back to that idea of instead of thinking that our wellbeing is someone else's responsibility, maybe we should focus on someone else's wellbeing is our responsibility. Maybe instead of that someone filling that need you think needs to be addressed perhaps that can be you. If I think that a choir is something the church needs, then I should call people together and get a choir together. Why does the church need to do that for me if it's something I would like to see? Why do I need the church to appoint someone and to make the announcement and to make the arrangements?

If you're thinking, but I'm too busy to do it, then maybe you could put the idea in someone's ear who is looking and is able to take on the challenge. If you can't, then it's strange to force someone else to make it their priority.

The fact is that not everything we wish that would be done will be done. We, both as individuals and as communities, are not capable of it. I may wish that someone resolve the energy crisis, but it is not that easy. I may want a rocket boots, but no one owes them to me. If I want rocket boots, then I should go to rocket school and learn boot technology.

In the end, we are the ones that have to live our lives. We have responsibilities. We often can't control the big world, but sometimes I think we worry too much about what is outside our control and perhaps we should be concerned with our sphere of influence. What can you do? You can't solve all the world's problems and you can't. Perhaps we shouldn't spread ourselves so thin fighting to get everybody to fight every fight, but instead focus our attention on those matters that we are drawn to the most.

I believe passion comes from God and when used correctly, it can fuel us to do things far, far better than peppering complaints about everything which in effect is doing nothing.

I do not believe that the government owes me anything. They can't give me a fulfilled life. The church owes me nothing. The church can't give me a fulfilled life.

I think the big truth behind Jesus' call to take up our cross and follow him, is that we take responsibility for ourselves and put others' well being ahead of ours and if we are all doing that, then strangely enough, we'll all be taken care of. The thing is, no one wants to pick up a cross, so few do it and the ones that do do it are the ones that die and have no complaints about how someone else failed.

"You say that money isn't everything
But I'd like to see you live without it,
You think you can keep on going living like a king,
Ooh babe, I strongly doubt it,
Very hard to drink
Very hard to drink
You gonna wait too, fat boy,
Fat boy, wait 'til tomorrow
You gonna wait too, fat boy,
Fat boy, wait 'til tomorrow,"
- "Tomorrow" from the Silverchair album "Frogstomp"

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Miracle Worker

One of the hardest elements that I've had to wrestle with in my faith is the nature of miracles. I'm sure that is a common thing, especially in a modern society where miracles in the sense of supernatural acts like those recounted in the Bible are practically unheard of. Even when I am told by people who earnestly tell me they have witnessed some form of a supernatural miracle, I can't help at the back of my mind thinking, "There is more to this story and it can be reasonably explained." The bulk of the people I know who are Bible-believing Christians and I believe are sincere in their faith have not witnessed a miracle.

Now, this could normally be easily overlooked because miracles were just a thing for Jesus' time and thus we can overlook the lack of them now or that they were unique to Jesus and his closest disciples and that was that.

Then you read something like Matthew 17:20 that if you had the faith of a mustard seed, you can tell a mountain to move and it would do it or that in John 14:12 that you could do greater things than Jesus if you believe in Him. You are left with this feeling that some how we're not cutting it. That either you as an individual or that Christians in general do not have enough faith. If fact, you don't even have the amount of a mustard seed, you dirty, lowly worm! Of course, then we have to take comfort that God has grace on us and that we have faith bestowed upon us by God and that ultimately God does everything and really you doing anything is just a waste of time like a little kid who really is getting in the way more than he is actually 'helping'. Even if you believe that we actually need to be active in bringing about ideals of God like justice, love, mercy and forgiveness, it is easily construed as trying to earn your salvation or that it has nothing to do with you at all and you are the lowly worm that God chose to use.

It then brings me to my biggest frustration about supernatural miracles and why I am always on guard against anyone who apparently does miracles. Even the ones done in the name of God. By someone with the ability to do supernatural miracles, it is then seen by some people as that God has given this individual the stamp of approval and that we need to pay attention to this person. Now, it's great if that person is on the up and up. However, I know that there are so many tricks that can be employed by an individual to emulate supernatural events.

Indulge me for a moment (although I am aware you're already indulging by reading my blog and thank you for that) and let me give an example outside of the church. Speaking with the dead is an ability that some claim to have and others whole-heartedly believe that these people can do. However, time and time again, these people are exposed as frauds and use a technique called cold-reading where they gather a crowd together and they ask a bunch of a special kind of vague, probing questions that will hopefully get someone in the audience to actually tip the medium off to what the audience member wants to hear. There are certain topics and ideas that people feel unresolved with the family members that have passed on and mediums can take chances and guess at the topic and then low and behold, it is simply unexplainable that the medium knows such things and they must be able to do it, when in reality, they know how to read people and are adept at drawing out people's willing manipulation. I say willing manipulation because people so deeply want to have that last conversation with that person they miss. (Even now, tears are coming to my eyes that I want to have that last conversation with my dad) That willing manipulation is what allows them to want to validate this as a supernatural ability. It is also what makes this form of trickery one of the most horrid and vile cons that a person can pull on another.

I should point out that these mediums are well-intentioned. They see what they're doing as a service to humanity. They see it as bringing closure to those who need it. In the end, they are short-circuiting the real work of grieving which involves the hard work found inside ourselves.

After learning about the nature of cold-reading, I was once approach by someone a long time ago when I first moved to the city who came up to me with a word from God. He said that the word 'acceptance' came to mind. I thought it was very convenient that that was the word because I was new to the area and had only been there for a couple of months. I responded, I've felt accepted already. The people in the area were good to me and I felt like I fit in. Then he tried to dig in a little deeper. He said he got the sense that this was a fatherly kind of acceptance. I guess it turned out I was mistaken. He wasn't talking about the kind of acceptance of new guy in a new town, but rather the acceptance of a father. Funny, because that is often a topic that many people go to a medium for. Also, many artists (as I was kind of viewed as) have had issues with their fathers. Usually they're distant because they left their families or are workaholics or divorced or dead. Unfortunately, I fit the mould perfectly. I responded with that's nice to hear. I'm not one to bring about conflict with someone I just met or barely know or someone that I'm uncomfortable around. He pushed and we talked about my dad and how he died and how that sucked. The man with the word from God then reasserted his claim of God's fatherly acceptance of me.

I'd like to point out that this guy could use the exact same defences as mediums. He could say that he doesn't quite understand the nature of the message or why it works, he's merely the humble messenger.

He also gets the benefit of having spiritual authority because clearly he brought a message that meant something to me and the only way he could have known that I needed to hear the word "acceptance" is if God gave him the word directly. Then he leaves it for everyone else to fill in the blank that he must be in right standing with God in order for God to speak to him so intimately and thus he has spiritual authority and thus if he says anything, it must be from or at least ordained by God.

I should point that this guy is well-intentioned. He is trying to bring about positive change and encouragement to people, but it's under a very dangerous pretence.

For the sake of the argument, let's pretend that he really did receive this word from God. Then the question becomes why are you highlighting that it came from God aside from any other reason than to give yourself more spiritual authority. He could have easily had the same conversation and encouraged me that I should feel accepted (because who doesn't want to feel accepted?) without the reference to God. He could have had the satisfaction of knowing that God is using him in positive ways and that is obedient to God's call. In fact, I think it would have made him look like someone who actually cared about me. It would look like that he noticed me and wanted me to know that I was noticed and so I would feel appreciated and loved. In other words, accepted. He didn't do that though. He instead established his spiritual authority and made me feel like he was politicking and that he was trying to win me over to see him as such. Ironically, him saying that I was 'accepted' made me feel far more alienated than had he said nothing at all.

Unfortunately, people want to see divine signs from their spiritual leaders. People want to see proof through miraculous healings and speak words from God and see that stamp of God's approval. This then leads people to be willingly manipulated.

So, am I saying that I don't believe in supernatural miracles? No, I am not saying that. I'm saying that they do not matter. Miracles should not be the reason that we believe someone. Even Jesus was rather dismissive of miracles. In Matthew 12:38, teachers of the law asked Jesus to perform a miraculous sign and Jesus responded that "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign".

Every time that Jesus performed a miracle in the Bible, it was always paired with some teaching. When he walked on water, it was to teach the disciples about being faithful in the face of danger. When he fed the five thousand, it was to teach that God can take the little we have and do more than we could possibly imagine with it. The best example comes from the story in Luke 5:17-26 where he says that the paralyzed man was forgiven of his sins before he healed him.

I believe that we are often allow our situations determine our lives and performing miracles doesn't actually impact any significant. Some people use their disadvantages as their crutch and if you took the crutch away, they'd try to find a new crutch. It is vitally more important for a person to not allow themselves be defined by their disadvantages otherwise taking away the disadvantage leaves them the same person. The guy who wishes that his leg wasn't taken away from him because he would have been a big time athlete will only complain that he is too old to be an athlete if you gave him a perfect leg right then. Unless his heart is right. If his heart is in a place where he is not allowing himself to be defined by the limitation of his disability or his identity, then healing would be fantastic for him, but the funny thing is, he wouldn't even need it healed.

Let me clear, this doesn't mean that we shouldn't have compassion on those with disadvantages, we should be helping all people to not be defined by their circumstances. People are defined by how they use what's given to them.

I believe that there is an inherent worth to people because they already have the ability to impact the world. I go back to Bruce Almighty, in the closing scene with God (played by Morgan Freeman) talks about how people are always asking for a miracle, but that just maybe He's already given it to us. God has been faithful to us, but we don't realize that we need to be faithful and we will see miracles that matter the most to God.

You see, although I am distrustful of supernatural miracles, especially in the modern contexts, I absolutely believe in miracles. I believe that many of us see miracles often. I believe I have seen true miracle workers. I have seen mountains move. I have seen greater things done by those who have been faithful to the spirit of Christ than Christ did while He was on earth. Yes, Jesus impacted several lives with his time on earth, but because people were faithful to his call, that impact has been multiplied.

The mightiest miracles are not that food was conjured up or that someone walked on water, but that people have changed their lives. I believe that is the miracle that matters most to God. God along with people faithful to His call are performing miracles everyday by bringing signs that the Kingdom of Heaven is here with acts of love, justice, mercy and forgiveness.

"Baby burst in the world
Never given a chance
Then they ask what went wrong
When you never had it right
Oh, the letters have dropped off
Though they say you got them all
I finally figured out some things you'll never know
Take back your life and let me inside
We'll find the door if you care to anymore"
- "Desperately Wanting" from the Better Than Ezra album "Friction, Baby"