Today was a completely fantastic day! God is at work in West Plains and especially through the fellowship of Township Line. I still am amazed and thrilled that He brought me into this group to see Him grow bigger and more incredible with every week. And this weekend has just begun.
Thursday we went to the West Plains Motel to hand out some flyers announcing our meeting at the park on Sunday night. The motel is almost all low-income residents and many of them need a little hope in their lives. Our family was the only ones going around and we decided that it might be prudent to ask the office if it was okay to knock on doors and hand out flyers. The lady at the desk didn’t give us approval as she wasn’t the owner, and I was able to leave some in the office. We walked around and talked to some people outside their rooms and told them about our gathering. (If you didn’t know, Township Line is gathering in several different places around the community this summer for meal and services, to get to know people and stretch out our leadership/relational skills.) Many people’s responses were positive and I hope many can come and see a people blessed and sharing the blessing of love and grace He has given us.
Today was another adventure with this group: A woman in our fellowship wanted to have block parties in differing places where some of the members live and serve and present the gospel to children. This was the first morning she had it and it was at her house. She was nervous about getting everything together and that kids would even come. There were a few kids that came and a little late at that. But she needn’t worry as God is at work in His people and what took place honored God and I believe got some of the kids thinking.
The puppet group was invited to do a song and skit that was supposed to be the majority of presentation of the gospel. The puppet group we were involved in at our former gathering, sort of dissolved after the leaders of the team started going to Township Line. (God has seasons in mind not only for His people, but also for those gathering in His name. I have no ill will towards the former fellowship we gathered with, it was just time for us to move on. I’ve never considered it a severed relationship, just a different one. I still love and see many of them and hope for growth and love to grow there.) So we have a few puppets and a new stage was built, so this was the trial run. It was a lot of fun as my wife and two youngest daughters helped out for a song. (My oldest, who started out in the puppet group with me, was taking the ACT, so she wasn’t able to make it.) My wife and I had a skit planned where she stood out front and interacted with a puppet in talking about “Whosoever” shall be saved. Well, since we had such a late start, my wife had to go pick up our oldest from The Test at the time we were going to do the skit. We had a back up plan of one of the guys replacing her. He stood in and was great. He did some ad-libbing; of which my wife was adverse too, and did a great job talking to the kids at the end.
Tonight we had a community dinner that we provide once every few months or so, that people from all over come and enjoy a free meal, and we get to meet them and find out what is going on in their lives. We got there a bit early and people were working and trying to get things prepared. Some kids were underfoot and I proposed to give them all a little walk before people started showing up. Walking down the block, we heard some loud shouting and raucous behavior down a blind alley. Three very tall, shirtless college basketball players came out and I put myself between the kids and these “boys”. As they were past us, I called to them, “Are you guys hungry?” They turned and looked at me and hesitated, then answered the obvious, “Yeah.” I told them we’re having a free meal of steak and hamburgers just down the street and they were invited to come. They said okay, but I wasn’t sure if they’d show. They did show up and brought one of their friends with them. It was great. I got all their name, although I don’t remember any of them, and found out one was from Dayton, another Pittsburgh, and another Atlanta. I wasn’t able to talk to the other one, but I find it incredible when I find out where people came from and then find themselves in little ‘ole West Plains. Some of the other guys from our group got to talk to them and it was wonderful that they came. At the time of their leaving, (with bowls of fruit cobbler and ice cream in their hands), one of them gave me a hug. It was incredible and I’m tearing up now as I type thinking about what a blessing it is to be blessed by someone you don’t even know, nay barely let them pass by as God used my voice to call out an invitation to them. What fun! I met lots of regulars who come to these community dinners and many new faces. This is such a great opportunity to meet people. There was an announcement about tomorrow’s services and some woman I was talking to asked me what denomination we were. I told her we were non-denominational and that we believe in the bible and that Jesus is our savior and died for us and we don’t have to do anything but accept His gift of mercy and forgiveness to be with Him forever, but that doesn’t mean we can do what we want, our lives should reflect the thankfulness we have and shared with those in the community and that is why we have these dinners. She was smiling and very interested, then told me she was a Catholic. I told her a little bit of my background, growing up Catholic in SLC. I told her she should come tomorrow and she said she would hope to.
God is so good. I’m reeling with joy. My cup overflows. I am so thrilled to be part of this work and I am continually praying for His Spirit to move in and through His people here in West Plains. I have shared with some of those in our former group about this summer movement and invited them. Many are enthusiastic and say they will come, some worry that it will look bad to gather with those not of their group. I praise God that one day all division will be wiped away and we can come to Him under His banner and praise His Name forever and always. Amen. And please continue to pray for this time, thank you.
Even in this dark time when there is so much uncertainty, and I watch the news and feel depressed and distressed, I know God is at work in the little things, the small bits, and it grows and grows. Thank you God.
(Author’s Note: I won’t be writing Sunday Scrutinizations for the summer because in addition to my flyer/dissemination leadership duties, I will also be with the kids during the actual sermon time, but I will be writing about what is going on and hopefully interview the people in leadership in this movement.)
Question 10, inspired by this article.
Amherst College: “Sartre said, ‘Hell is other people,’ but Streisand sang, ‘People who need people/Are the luckiest people in the world.’ With whom do you agree and why?”
Ah! Well done Amherst College, well done. Use your questions to discover our stance on two of the most outstanding politically left philosophical, as well as artistic minds of the last century and their seemingly contradictory “statements.”
Let’s start with what Sartre said and why: “Hell is other people,” was a line in Sartre’s play “No Exit.” It is a play about three people who have been condemned to Hell. This Hell that they are in is a room, with no exit… forever. These people only see themselves by how others see them. In the case of only being able to understand yourself from how others may see you, is perhaps the Hell that Sartre envisioned. Sartre himself probably did not “hate” people as may be suggested by the question posed, because of what you are trying to contrast, but may have in fact hated the idea that what people see, by our actions or words, is what they judge us to in fact be. There is so much more to us than our actions or words. We are made up by our history, by our thoughts, by the way we interpret the world, its people and it’s culture. We all have come to conclusions about who we are by everything we have observed and decided how we see these things. How shallow, in fact, what a Hell it would be to live and be judged by people who don’t really know all these things you have seen and how that has made who we are now. You cannot understand from these statements that I believe we all have excuses for our behavior, for we should come to the conclusion that we should not act on every impulse, but be able to control ourselves, that is true humanity, true relationship. If it wasn’t, we’d be all going around killing each other, and stealing, and demanding, and destroying; for there are some philosophies that espouse the notion of doing what thou wilt. Anyway, Sartre does not believe that people are the poison that makes our life Hell, it is just Hell when we don’t know each other; a thought I say “cheers” to, and raise my glass high!
Now, on to what Barbara Streisand “said.” The statement here is from the song “People” from the musical “Funny Girl.” The musical is based on the life of a comedienne from the Ziegfeld Follies days and her turbulent romance with a gambler. Now, I haven’t seen the play “No Exit” or the musical “Funny Girl” so I am surmising a bit about what each of these quotes might mean in the context of a small amount of research I did on the two. What I see from the time this song is sung and the lyrics therein, is it is kind of sad song about how as adults we have lost our childlike ease of entering into a relationship, and that we get to a point of either admitting we don’t need anyone or we have an unhealthy co-dependency towards anyone who shows any interest towards us. Consider this lyric: “We’re children, needing other children / And yet letting a grown-up pride / Hide all the need inside / Acting more like children than children”. The song is filled with regret about how we betray each other, how we don’t really understand that we do need each other, and how lucky those people are who have that knowledge. Those people who have a healthy need for others are finding those of the same need. How horrible it is to have an unhealthy need that you go to those who hurt us the most. It is much like a Hell that we have developed around ourselves, because of those we attract.
You ask me who I agree with and why, when each of these statements are, at the core, almost saying the same thing. Superficially though, I would agree with both. Dealing with people sometimes is like Hell, if Hell were a temporary situation, but it is not. We have to have patience and love for those we deal with, because we never know what they have been through. I have a really hard time with people who are going way under the speed limit in front of me, or those who come up way fast behind me and stay there, on my bumper. However, I do not know their situation. Maybe they just lost their husband, or are hurrying to that meeting they have hoped for in the last 5 years. We never truly know each other at the core of our being. What made us do those things that may so drive others insane? Have patience. Have compassion. Have control. We are not an island dealing with self and self alone, but we do have to deal with how we react to situations. Many people choose not to know why others do the things they do, they just want to stay angry. I know there is differences in our beliefs, but do you just believe by tradition or have you worked out things in your own mind? Have you closed your mind on something solid, or are you still open to what others may say?
You people at Amherst College, have you done your best to understand why others believe the way they do, or do you never give the opposing viewpoint an opportunity to voice their experience? I would hope that as a college considering someone whose view is Christian and conservative, would not reject me outright because I’ve come to my conclusions through the experience of the life I have led. I understand your possible progressiveness. I would see to it that I sought out to understand of all my classmates, professors, and faculty by hearing about who you are and how that came to be, and that you would give me and those of similar ideologies equal opportunity. Let us not break down the structure we have built our “Universities” around; the one from many. You have asked a question that revolves around people and our relationship with all, give all the chance to learn, from all.
Strange Confessions: I am petrified that I am being forced into a position to make another wrong choice in my life, as well as the fact that I think it might be God working in me for another major transition ahead.
Since I’ve been a Christian there have been some decisions in my life regarding a major purchase or job change or how we raise our children that I attempted to listen to what God would want me to do, but ended up feeling the pressure of a deadline or dissatisfaction or I just plain didn’t have the patience to wait for a clear picture. So I found myself in many peculiar positions of getting what I thought I wanted, yet it turned out to somehow be a cosmic joke played on me with added strain added to reveal the impertinence of my actions. I won’t go into it all now, because A: I’m not sure if I’ve already told you about some of these situations I’ve put myself in, and number 2: the stories behind these decisions is not the point.
My point is that these last two sermons I have absorbed these past two weeks have revealed in me the perilous point I now find myself in. I did not write at all week last week because of a funk I’ve been under. Let me just say it outright: I’ve been selfishly depressed.
The Perspectives course I have been taking, which started out grand, has rusted the gears in my mind because of the view I hold of myself. Who am I, that I could possibly begin a journey that would lead myself and my family to a point of excitedly getting to experience a culture that would be both a challenge and a blessing, to share our lives with people outside of the framework of our own wearisome culture? That is my thoughts my friends. Yes, don’t start convincing me of the argument that God uses the weak and the foolish and the blind, for I know all that. It is my Performance Record that gets in the way.
Work has been the other great “sign” or “challenge” or “prompt” that has given me the idea that things are pushing me to another change. Yet is it just me being more and more dissatisfied with work that I want to leave or quit or even get fired just so I have an excuse that it really was God pushing me? I really do believe that the way things are going at work, things are going to quickly come to a head and a decision is going to have to be made about what are we going to do next. Then I look at my Performance Record, and I see that maybe things aren’t as light at the end of the tunnel as they seem.
My 16-year-old daughter has been driving more and more lately, and she is very unsettled in the way it is so difficult in planning for her to work some, earning extra money for the college degree she is planning on and we have outright told her there is nothing for her from us in that regard. I failed out of the high school all my family went to, lost the grant I had in college due to selfishly staring at my navel through the drug-induced haze pouring through my mouth, couldn’t do well enough at the community college to strive and push myself into the betterment of who I always thought I could be. Then I jump from job to job, not climbing any corporate ladder I always convinced myself wasn’t for me and find myself in a managerial/design position I knew was a home run, but is drowning in the excess of poor communication and a series of managers not close enough to delve into the whys and hows of the complexities I have tried to convince them of, but find that every issue I bring up is my fault and my problem to handle, because after all, didn’t I take a class for that? I want to provide to my children the means to succeed if not the funds, but it seems that the mists of my poor Performance Record is finally catching up with me, and is convincing me that it is too late to do anything about it.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, the sermon recently had something to do with a performance record of sorts. We have gotten into a series on Galatians, and last week was about the “Reversed” gospel. There were people going to the territory of Galatia convincing the new Christians that there were things they had to do to earn God’s favor. There were 4 points or acid tests that summed up the focus of the sermon, things that we had to take and see if they were true in our lives, to see if we were following a “reversed” gospel:
- Fear of man: Who am I trying to impress? Where do I gain my approval, acceptance and security from?
- Internal Power: God called you. Are you forgetting that when God speaks, action follows? Whose power are you relying on?
- Illumination: Do you truly understand what the gospel is? Where are you gaining your understanding?
- Relationship: Are you delving deeper into a relationship with the one who saved you, or abandoning it because it is a duty to serve Him, and not a delight?
When he spoke about who I am trying to impress or gain approval, acceptance, security from, I thought I don’t care about what other people think about me… but that isn’t true. I either want people to know me better from reading what I write and approving of it or, I dismiss them altogether if there is any semblance of rejection. I realize that even as people gain what they need from other men, avoiding them so that you don’t have to face rejection is another way of saying you thirst for man’s approval and not God. Sometimes it is even the case when you feel superior and reject all others as dumb or uneducated or filthy, that you might not be giving people the opportunity to reject you, and thus, you respect the opinion of man… in a roundabout subconscious sort of way.
My Performance Record is terrible in this instance.
And thus, we come to it. Yesterday’s sermon also had 4 points. We looked at the question of how do we really know if we’ve been converted. The four points in this instance were:
- Performance Record: Are you concerned more with what you are doing than who you are?
- View of God: Are we putting our idea of who God is and putting against what we see in the Bible, or are we accepting the change of view in revelation of Him. If God is a god we have created in our hearts than that god cannot change who we fundamentally are. We will always struggle with our “mistakes” rather than our sins. Paul understood that God would never become a man, that God would never cease the sacrificial system. When Jesus came to Paul, he asked the question that held it all for him, “Who are you Lord?”
- Relationship with Christ: There is no try in Christianity, there is just be one. Our failures don’t make us who we are, our relationship with the one who declared, “it is FINISHED” makes us who we are, and we should start behaving like we believe it is done instead of always trying to please Him.
- Who gets the glory? Are you taking the credit for what God has done in your life? It is the man who understands the Weight of His Glory who has been converted.
Understanding the concept of the Performance Record really resonated with me.
Our entire society is based around the concept of what we’ve done, and we believe it is the same with God. God reveals our performance record in the sermon on the mount. Have we killed anyone? No. But have you hated or gossiped about someone? Have you committed adultery? No. But those who have looked upon a woman with lust has already committed adultery in his heart. And it is about our heart, right? Not our actions. All of us have sinned and there is that chasm that separates us from Him. I look at the performance record of my life and it is the failures that are glaringly obvious. It overshadows all. Light should light up the darkness, but the darkness of failure seeps in like an oily smoke, distorting the view of all the successes, the things that should be my focus. Oh, what a terrible, tortuous thing it is to compare ourselves with others. To see friends and family going past me, the weight of failure keeping my eyes downcast, only seeing the shadows that could have been. I need a Scrooge or a George Bailey moment to see the light… no, I need a God moment everyday. I need a wonderful wife moment, a beautiful children moment, an incredible fellowship group moment, a home with a roof moment. Woe to the weeds of life that are so tall and out-of-place that the eye is drawn there, and this change that is just over the horizon makes my sorrowful performance record give weight to all the doubt, fear, hatred, dismay, discouragement and failure that is the past.
LORD, take this weight from me. Work in my life and through your word and through your people to renew the hope I know is just under the surface, waiting to sprout again. Bring about the reminder of a life that is eternal with You right now. The weight of weariness I see in the world everyday is not reflecting your glory, it is the beauty life in your people who I need to reflect on. The thoughtfulness of my wife, the joy of my children, the concern of a friend. You are in them all, reflecting the things I need to see. I know this weight is a lie. You are the truth, You are the Way, You lead me to comfort and peace. I take over and lead to failure and sorrow and You stand apart, waiting for me to look up into Your face. I love You for showing this truth to me in the way You have given me. Thank You for Your Spirit, alive and living in me. Show me Your way, that I may walk with You, and be where You are, no matter where that is. Thank You God, Thank You!
I am disillusioned by politics and I wish more people would become as disillusioned as well. The opportunity is there, they just have to snatch it and hold it close. There is no shame in that. I’m not calling for people not to participate in the political system, but to just not expect that your particular party is doing what you voted and/or expected them to do. I have been disillusioned since the middle of George W Bush’s first term. I would have considered myself a liberal by the time I became politically aware; sometime in high school. Calling myself, at the time, politically aware is a misnomer. The only thing I was aware of was that Reagan was evil, at least that is what I heard, or thought, or understood. Come to think of it, I don’t know where I got that idea. I just somehow knew he hated the environment, women, poor people and peace: of course he was evil. Opinions change.
My political understanding eventually came under the influence of my new-found faith as well listening to talk radio. I regarded life, and accountability and responsibility above all things when it came to politics, and I saw liberals as having none of those qualities. I went from one political spectrum to the other in a matter of months. When on one side, I dismissed any ideals of the other. That all started to change after GWB began throwing money at stuff to try to fix it. I soon realized that Republicans were no champion of the nation, the state, the individual. They didn’t provide the hope or ideal that they were supposed to be propagating to their constituents. Now that I see such a perceived failure of the other side, I expect many who follow the personality in charge to fall away in droves, following the tact of a reasonable person to realize no political party can truly accomplish what the ideals are set apart to be. It seems, that this is not the case. Many are sticking like the stubborn symbol representative of their party. Come on people! Step away from the politicking mass and fight for reason! Alas, in my disillusion, I seem to be standing alone. Nothing really changes, just the names and whether or not there is a D or an R following.
I see though that a healthy dose of disillusionment is what sets a reasonable, accountable, responsible person apart from a fanatic. Democrats are, it seems for the most part, fanatics. Yes, there are some Republican fanatics, but they are not trying to shut down the voice of the other side. Liberals are viciously trying to shut down conversations on abortion, on creation, on rights, on health choice, on religious liberty. They are unwittingly shutting down our freedoms. They don’t see that forcing people to accept what they are offering, that they are shutting down choice, and freedom. They are amazingly proud of their president, but can’t really say why, but don’t ask them, for it is an attack and you’ll be deemed a racist. You think perhaps I may be exaggerating a bit? I visit many popular culture websites, ones that deal with science and science fiction, fantasy and the “Con” life, movies and television, discoveries and history, comedy and the drudgery of life. Some headlines of articles that deal with the political stance of a cultural issue have words like “Idiots,” “Evil,” “Hate,” “Stupid” forgoing to end an argument by calling the particular conservative names. If you are any type of conservative you know what I’m talking about.
I really try to stay out of the arguments. In fact, on that one site, I have chosen to stay out of politics altogether, except for this one last political blog that I will link to. I’ve had some rather unfortunate situations occur with relatives and friends that I never intended. That one site is not necessarily the forum for civil discussion. So, what I want to say, needs to be said, then I’ll try to keep my peace.
First off let me say that I don’t hate anyone. I may get furious at the driver who is intent on not following any rules of spacing between cars at any miles per hour, but I don’t hate them. Nor do I hate your lifestyle choices. I don’t hate the person who believes life is less important than casual sex. In the same way I don’t hate the person who finds my belief in God and His creation, insane, and at the same time insults and degrades Him. No one is trying to stop you in your lifestyle or beliefs, at least no one who is reasonable. I want to encourage healthy debates. For me those choices are meted out on a personal and individual level. If you ask me what I think or feel or believe, I’ll tell you, and I’d like to know more about why you have chosen the way you think, feel and believe. If there is one thing I am, it is open, to hearing about you. I find it the most interesting thing, to find out why people believe what they believe; it is a part of our heritage, our culture.
Setting the healthcare issue aside, as well as foreign policy, wealth redistribution, immigration, non bi-partisanship, education, and Constitutional issues, this current president has done a fine job. I’d commend him on something specific that was worth standing up and cheering for, but one alludes me right now. The actions taken on the issue of marriage, of the current government, is what has brought me out of my political bomb shelter.
A conservative such as myself, may be seen by history as such a one as the KKK is seen now, if we do not bring the argument to a reasonable transcendence as to why we understand marriage in the way it was created. Within that statement lies the main problem: “created”. “One man, one woman,” we shout from the trenches. Others are more calm and willing to reason, but are rarely heard. For me, marriage is a sacred word. God gave it as a gift for mankind, as a symbol of what our individual relationship to Him is to be like as well as to propagate the species of man. If two women or two men are born or develop a strong sense of oneness between each other, and feel that someone of the same-sex will fulfill a purpose or completeness within them, then I am happy for them. I will not disparage or fight against what they deem fulfilling. Let us set aside why they may have come to be this way, for this conversation is about the term: marriage. Call their relationship what you will, make a new term, for marriage has already been taken. Yes, I understand the desire for acceptance of society and co-opting the word will hasten the day. The abuse that many have suffered in the name of religion, morality and normality is shameful, within all aspects of race, culture or creed. We should be just as loving and forgiving as our heavenly Father. Yes, I believe that actions and thoughts regarding what many a couple do behind closed doors or sometimes even out in the open is sin. I, am a sinner. A sinner who has been given Life and Life abundantly. God has and is still dealing with me in many areas of my life marred by my choice to sin, whether in action or thought. He deals with me on an individual level. What may be something I accept as good in my life may be seen as sinful to someone else. I fully expect God to deal with me or the person who sees me as sinning, to change our hearts and attitudes to His right and true way of thinking. If He does not do it here, than He will definitely in the life to come, when we will finally face Him. Many of my fellow Christians would never see a homosexual having the ability to truly come to Him, but I do not. God draws whom He will and those will have a choice, and God will accept them into His family, as they are. If God sees it necessary to change people after they come to Him, He will do so, or they will be in rebellion against Him. He is accepting and willing that all will come to Him and He has made it ultimately possible because of Him coming as a man and facing all temptation as man faces. It is on an individual basis that God changes, not corporately. He will never force you to come to Him, for that is not love.
Speaking of forcing, it seems that is what is happening to us conservatives. We are being forced to accept that what God has given as sacred is being used as political fodder to force an acceptance of what is sin. I hope I am not the only one speaking in such a way, trying to reason, to present our side. What I do think is happening is that some may see an article on homosexual marriage, find out the author’s perspective is conservative than dismiss it out of hand. I saw a video the other day of a conservative group on a college campus trying to interview participants of a Feminist conference. Someone found out the interviewer was from a conservative group and started telling everyone not to talk to her because of her background. She was followed around and as soon as she found someone to talk to, participants would tell the interviewees and mouths would close. Was that reasonable? It was a disgrace is what it was. That is what is happening today. Civil dialogue is being thrown out the window for shouting down your opponent. Battles are being won by insults. It makes me sad, very sad to what our freedoms has brought us: bondage. There is coming a day that what I say here will be marked as hate speech. It is already in some progressive European countries. Woe to us who have for so long given ground in the culture war, because of apathy and poor arguments, yet this is the way it was dictated to go. We have suffered too long contemplating self. This country was so great our only opportunity was self-examination. Let us look to the opportunities of not staring at our own navels. Go into the world and see what we so take for granted. Show the love God has poured out to us, if not for God than whatever you are thankful for and put it toward… not focusing so much on ourselves.
This started out as a statement I just needed to say regarding the horrifying political climate of today, but has grown into something I did not expect. I pray for this country and the relationship we have with each other, that we can talk again, share ideas and thoughts and why we do what we do or believe what we believe. It hurts me to think that so many relationships have been severed because of who is elected or what laws have been passed, but it doesn’t surprise me because even within the Christian community divorcing each other over the color of the carpet. I look toward the day when all will be made right. I look to the day where I am shown the error in my thoughts and deeds. I look to the day when all nations and cultures will gather at His feet praising Him and His works and His justice and His righteousness, in true unity and true diversity. I pray that we Christians will look beyond our own personal preferences and just desire to share the love that God wants us all to display, because He made us and loves us just as He intended us to be. Thank You God, thank You!
My wife has been a constant reader of Jeffrey Overstreet’s blog, Looking Closer, for a few years now. I generally don’t like reading movie reviews unless there is a specific movie I was confused over and wanted a bit more information. I’ve always considered myself a “movie” guy except for the last 10 years or so, since I’ve grown a bit more discerning on what I choose to view. Since reading JO’s blog my wife has been more interested in film and it’s concept as art, although she hasn’t increased her movie watching time. She got herself one of his books, “Through a Screen Darkly” and has been opened to Jeffrey’s beginning love of film and some of the many reasons he has loved many types of movies and his view of the decline of film as art. She has compared JO to Francis Schaeffer; as Francis sees art as creation and that relation to the creation and humanity’s relationship to the Creator, in the same way Jeffrey sees it in film. My opinion of him is changing because of the transformation I went through last year regarding legalism.
I read an article of his a couple of years ago that she urged me to peruse. I angrily disagreed with his point of view. I called him an idiot and thought he did not see the world as a “good” and responsible Christian should, he even linked and agreed with some liberal writer regarding the film. I don’t remember what film he reviewed, but it completely changed my opinion about him and I quickly disregarded anything she might say about any film he reviewed. That is, until she started telling me about his reviews on the Hobbit films and subsequently the LotR movies. I think the choice of going with a three film release for The Hobbit was Peter Jackson’s first mistake. I saw the first film and felt it was way over the top and it was just aiming for a prequel of LotR rather than the beautiful stand alone story Tolkien meant it to be. The second release was even more so, just a prequel. Although, a bit shamefully, I still went, and enjoyed them as they were: a slightly better than average action/fantasy epic.
Which brings me to a film that Jeffrey Overstreet reviews in his book, “Through a Screen Darkly”. My wife asked if I had ever seen Born Into Brothels, a documentary that JO really liked. She gave me a short description and last night I looked it up and found it so she/we could watch it. I don’t watch a lot of documentaries, except for the occasional nature ones. I’ve always felt that most of them had a particular agenda they wanted to sell, which usually went against my personal beliefs. But, I’m open to any documentary people recommend, especially my wife.
The film was about a female American photographer who went to Calcutta to photograph women in the Red Light district. She became interested in the children who were born into this lifestyle and were expected to become a part of it since they were born. She soon starts a photography class for a group of children and the film interviews and presents the photos they have taken. The way these children see their world is captivating and the woman begins to explore options for them to escape from the life they were born into. One of the more gifted children loses his mother in the progression of filming and you can see in his eyes and bearing that he has given up on life, he says that life is hopeless. The process of getting these children into a boarding seems a more difficult task than she has thought. These children are the offspring of criminals. The caste society they are in sees no way out for those who are born into a situation. This is a huge difference in our culture: we pull ourselves up by the bootstraps to get out of situations we find ourselves in. In India, there is no way out. The woman, incredibly, is able to get almost all of them into a boarding school, and get the gifted boy to represent India in Amsterdam at a photography exhibition. The boarding school is strict in its standards of not involving yourself outside of the school even if there is a death in the family. The parents can pull them out anytime, but with no hope to get back in. The ending tells what happens to the children. All but one of them are taken out of the school, to be brought back into a life of prostitution.
It is a dark and depressing film, but tells of someone who sees this darkness and tries to get them out of it through art, through creativity. It makes you want to act, to do something yourself to bring hope into a world filled with hopelessness. Who cares for those who have no hope? If not us, then who?
In the Perspectives class, this is what we are learning. Go to places where the gospel needs to be heard and share it, share the hope. Sadly, so many choose or are forced back into a life of darkness rather than hope, but the Christian can and should offer hope that is willing to go back into the darkness and share that light. One of the things my wife says that Jeffrey laments over is the lack of review Christians have given the film. Sure, it has a lot of angry, horrible swearing in it, and much directed toward the children, but that is the culture we are witnessing. It is part of the darkness they are in. It is part of the drama that makes us want to act. Where are the type of films like this sold to Christians? Part of what we do as Christians is stay in our little part of the field of the world, cozy and comfortably together, why should we do that when we look at film? It is such a feel good thing for us. We either need to see the sufferings of Christ or feel good about what we just saw, feel justified about our lifestyle.
One scene that truly effected me was when the woman took them to the beach, probably something they’d never seen in their lives. With joy and shock they tromp through they cold waves, joyously photographing one another. I thought that it was such a false hope: that they would just have to go back to the Red Light district after such a grand time out. How can you enjoy anytime away from what is so dark, knowing you’ll just have to go back. I thought that is the way I feel many times. My work is so joyless and needlessly complex, that it depresses me, just the thought of having to go back no matter where I am. I thought that I live too much in the future, I need to embrace the now. I look back and think how careless life was and write about it, then think about the dim near future and get depressed. I need to focus on the (possibly) far future, when God will set all things right. I also need to remember not to be so thankless in what he has given me in such a supportive job. I see a film like this and know how good my life is, that I go to bed just glad that I have one, but know that there are people out there who need true hope, the hope of a future with God… forever, and if I have to live for a time like these people, if God calls me, then so be it. I just pray that I, and especially my family is ready, wherever, whenever He calls us.
Let us, as Christians, see the bigger world as we need to: a dark place with created beings who need love and hope as we all do. Let us embrace this type of film and open up the world. If you are 18 or older, watch this and see how it may affect you.
“We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer.”
-2 Thessalonians 1:3-5
We started studying 2 Thessalonians last night in our fellowship/bible study group, when one of our members started on how he was saddened by what he sees in the church today regarding the lack of love displayed among the believers. There was some discussion about the lack of persecution we suffer. The thought from the one discouraged is that the manifestation of love should just be something we strive for, and that is an obvious thing to me as well, yet still we find ourselves lacking. If we love Jesus we will obey his commandments, and He also prayed that we would love each other. So in our love for Jesus are we loving each other as we should? I haven’t felt much love from the brethren here, but what have I given out? Another thought was that our love is in not leaving each other over trivial matters, or divorcing as the word that was used. Would we, as a group that had been together for two years be strong enough to see each other through the next 10 years, or 20?
As I listened to the group I pondered my connection to these people. We started being with these people 2 years after we moved here. It was still a very difficult time for us, not only in the things we had left, but in seeing some of the ways Christians treat each other. It was a powerfully rough time. This group formed through some of this hardship and depression I was suffering. I was glad we decided to have it at our house, because it is a rare excuse I can come up with in not coming. Many a time there was that I would sit in silence most of the night, not wanting to share my thoughts of feelings. My belief in my lack of importance contrived itself to shut me up. It was noticed, but not pushed. Eventually I would give myself over to opening up, denying the feelings of not trusting people, and it was rewarding. The culmination was two Emergency room visits last year that allowed me to be myself, open up and start loving these people.
I shared that the way I feel about these people would keep them in my hearts for years to come, no matter where I end up. But it was only through the tribulation I went through that I felt this way. Even in the verses above it seems that their love, in some way, grew from the trials and persecutions suffered.
The other thing I shared is the idea that we aren’t really holding onto the idea that we are part of a way bigger thing than just living and dying. We have a grand hope and a kingdom to share. Our lives are truly supernatural and that makes us realize that what happens here and now is just so stinking temporary. Our goal is not in being happy here, but looking forward to the grand green pastures of being with our Lord and Creator forever!
One of the things I ask the children here, when I get the opportunity to hang out, is, “Does God want us to be happy and never have a hard time in this life?” All of these kids would say that God wants us to be happy and never suffer. Eventually, when we grow up, and if we remain in the faith, we are given the idea that suffering is for our good. That only the loving parent will discipline their children. We don’t get the idea that tribulation brings perseverance brings character bringing hope until we are “ready” for it. We may understand this concept, but the teaching or perhaps hope as a child that everything will be easy stays with us, and we don’t give ourselves to each other because dealing with other people is hard.
I also brought this up to some guests we have and she said that when going through a hymnal that was about 150 years old, she found in the topical index, “hymns for when a child has died”. Can you imagine that being in our hymnal today? How much is death such a common thing when we are doing hip replacements to 85 year-old people today? We hear in other cultures that when you are ready to die, you take your mat away from the village, lay on it and wait for death. We know that where love and hope and faith grows is where death can be just around the corner. We do not suffer in this country if we are not facing hardship and disease and death on a daily basis. We may believe we are, but in contrast, are we really?
Lately, to me, it seems that we are losing a lot of ground, culturally, to the amoralist society. I wonder about how much we fight these issues and wonder if we should. Especially when we should be looking at people changing on an individual basis and not an entire culture. The fight is right, but is it worth it? I ended up hoping to run into more sinners (of whom do not know Jesus), so that I can share the kingdom I am looking forward to. I pray that God gives me the words, but I have a life I lived in sin and now I am a child of God, and this is what I need to share. It’s not me who changes people, a culture, but God who changes lives. I still sin, why should I try and stop sin when some segments of my life is defined by it? Our world is turning upside-down and we are all here for a purpose, for this time, to this generation. May we grow in love and hope and faith through the trials now and the tribulations of the future.
Strange Confessions: I once chanted snottily a girl’s last name from a tree house at Wheeler Farm. I felt a firm hand on my shoulder from a larger, older boy who turned me around and told me, “Don’t make fun of people’s names.” I said sorry and squeaked meekly away.
I remembered this story after reading a chapter from “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” to my girls tonight. I stopped reading this to my oldest several years ago because I absolutely hate books or movies about prejudice and its many faces of hate, jealousy and fear. There is a scene where Mama brings her children to see a man burned by a store owner. Mama had been telling them not to go and had to take a different tack when circumstances brought them there. I slowly read the description of his wheezing and noseless face, burnt skin and the reason why Mama brought them there. I paused and my girls asked, “Why would someone do something like that?” I explained that we, as Christians, have the only answer to what is wrong with this world. We were watching the debate between Nye and Ham earlier and it seemed that Nye did not understand the fundamental purpose that Ham was coming from a different point of view. Creation is the only viable answer to the problems that this world has and the answer to the problems as well. I am not going to go into all the details of why, as many others do so much better, but I will say that if you are not a Christian, you will not understand. The prejudice that arises from jealousy, hatred and fear are a result of sin, and it makes me sick. Explaining this to my children in their terms is a difficult thing. We have to relate it things they may see, or things I have done. I once explained to you about how I sneered “No!” to a girl who asked me to skate with her. I didn’t know her. I didn’t ever participate in making fun of her with the exception of the skate incident.
Telling my kids I did nothing to stop injustice or jealousy or hatred going on around me is hard. We have a purpose in this world, many purposes in fact. But one unifying purpose: to glorify God. Part of glorifying God is proclaiming His kingdom, declaring the gospel, the good news that there is a new King in this world and He brings love and mercy and grace and hope and, what I’m talking about here: justice. There is so much injustice going on in this world and us standing by doing nothing, does nothing to glorify our God. Even if it is just someone making fun of someone else. We are to bring justice to this world as part of proclaiming His kingdom. It is a just and right kingdom. We have to do what’s right even if we are to be maligned, mocked, disdained, hated, hurt or even killed. We are so focused on this short time we have, on being comfortable, on taking care of the stuff we’ve acquired, that we forget our purpose. We forget what is right and what is true. A good friend sent me this video of Francis Chan explaining our life and the perspective we should have about it.
I love my children and want to raise them to recognize the complete and utter privilege we have to serve our God in the places He puts us. We see doing His will as such a burden, that we sometimes discourage our children from following His will, or so I’ve heard from many people lately. I hope that if and when my daughter comes and tells me that they are moving my grandchildren to the remotest place on the planet, I will thank God that I raised them right and not regret seeing my grandkids on a regular basis. Reading a book like this affords the opportunity to show the absolute depravity of the human race, but gives us a chance to again tell them there is hope that all will be made right, and we have an awesome privilege to do something of purpose here and now. Don’t let it slip away. This time of learning for me has been an eye-opener for me. May I not waste it.
Strange Confessions: When we left Utah, we told people we’d never come back. I regret ever saying that. Totally.
Our family has had the wonderful privilege of hosting our niece over her Thanksgiving break from college. She is going back to Mississippi tomorrow. I just put my youngest daughter to bed and she started to act like she usually does when we’ve had guests and they are about to leave. She gets very emotional, tells me she is sad about them leaving, but usually doesn’t cry until just after they leave. Then the next few days I expect one or another of my daughters to just start crying and say how they miss Utah, our family there, the friends we had. It makes me sad. Makes me regret ever coming here. I don’t want to put my family through this kind of regular heart-ache.
We have some truly wonderful friends living in Kansas City. We have been friends with them for about 19 years. They moved from Salt Lake City about 13 years ago. Lived in the San Francisco area for a while, then moved to KC. Being friends with them after such a long time of geographical challenges is a real testimony of their loyalty and patience with our family. We see them at least three times a year now, and I love every minute they are here or we are up there. We are travelling to KC soon, and the one thing I don’t look forward to is leaving. Having to deal with the kids’ state of mind, and even my own is very sad. I counsel the children that this is not the end of seeing them, it’ll happen again, we had fun here now, why ruin it with sad feelings? I’m really talking to myself. This happens when anyone who stays for more than a night comes for a visit. They especially miss my mom, as I do.
This Thanksgiving marks four years since we moved from Salt Lake City to West Plains. In a lot of ways it has gotten easier. We knew this wasn’t going to be easy. We knew that God wanted us to get out of our comfort zones and look to new challenges of trust and empathy. I accept His sovereign will in my/our lives in this matter. Our cousin posted this picture you see on that one site, and it has been very helpful in the last few days. All the things on this list are true. I usually dwell on the things I don’t have, which is, I believe not the way God would want me to look at things. There is one thing I would add: “I really miss my family who is miles away, because that means that I have family who still live in this country.” I have a friend, I’ve told you about him before, who has no family. Well, that is not entirely true, but his parents and only other sibling are gone. He does have an ex-wife and stepdaughter. I don’t know him intimately, we were friends only for a summer back in high school, but when I wrote him on that one site, we talked quite a bit and still maintain some contact, at least I haven’t driven him away for good… yet. In my lame little way I contacted him over Thanksgiving to see how he was doing. I know it can’t be easy for him, but how do I know? Maybe he can take it. I know I couldn’t. Anyway, I hope he’s good. I don’t want to feel like I’m sorry for him, just let him know I’m there, if it matters…
I am thankful for what my wife and I have found here: a deeper, more intimate and trusting relationship with the Lord, my beautiful, loving and smart wife, my wonderful children, a great fellowship group that meets at our home that is fiercely diverse, a good church family where His word is brought to my ears to challenge me, and all the other things that make it possible for me to have a job, home, and means to get from here to there.
There is some things that sometimes seem to be missing. I say sometimes, because I do have occasions that I am completely fulfilled by Him in His glory. I also want to point out that I am not complaining, or at least I am trying not to. I just know that there are things, of this world, that make difficulties a bit more… easy. Again, that is not to say that I shouldn’t look beyond God to fulfill me, but, you know… that it would… help. “He never said it would be easy,” is the occasional mantra of the Christian, and I know that. I just miss my family, my wife’s family, the best Awana club with the best group of kids ever, and to a lesser extent, the mountains, the roads and valleys, the buildings, and yes, the familiarity of it all. I do want to go back to Utah, or at the least 2-3 hours away from the Salt Lake valley, or even a maximum of 5 hours.
My mom will call me and say something like, “when are you going to come over and fix my faucet?” I tell my wife, after I am done talking, about what she said. I say that of course it is all in jest, but then my wife says in many ways it isn’t and I see the truth in her words. My mom would very much like me to be home, in Utah. I would very much like to be there for her. Perhaps, someday, God will see fit that we would go back there. Perhaps not. I really pray in these times of realization, that I want to be a teacher, that I want to be a full-on missionary, that I want to be closer to my mom, that God would do a miraculous work here to get me to face those situations head-on. If God wants me to stay here, until He comes back, so be it, and praise Him for it.
When I moved here I was astounded that so many people came here, and of their own free-will! “Why?!” I would ask them. Many of the answers that came back were, “family.” Sometimes that answer rips my heart out. I want to cry out, “I know, I know! Why do we move so far from those we love.” But then, I consider the full-time missionary. They sacrifice what they know, to be with those who they… love. See that? Because I just did. We need to love the people we are with. Does that mean we forget those we left behind that we love? May it never be! You must love them all the more. Hope that they know God has laid on your heart a people who need to see clearly the love of God and His sacrifice.
Brethren, let each one remain with God in that state in which he was called. ~1 Corinthians 7:24
One of the reasons I called this blog “Stranger in Rebellion” is, I like the connotation of the word “Stranger”. I am a stranger to you, but I am also a stranger here on this planet: this world is not my home. I call Salt Lake my home; I was born and I lived 40 years there, but it is not my True Home. That is heaven, where I will be with my true Father forever. The feelings I feel for the people and the place that is Salt Lake City, are just a dim shadow of what I will or should feel for my home in heaven. I long for SLC as I should long for heaven. People I’ve known and loved there for years are there, maybe they are not waiting for my return, but I am. I am also longing to be in heaven, so we shall never know the pain of ever having to say goodbye… ever… again.
Matthew 9:36 “But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.”
Being a sheep can be very wearisome. And, in the second half of my youth I had discovered new ways to stray as far as I could from my future, true shepherd. I had found many wolves to follow, to be a part of, to give my life over to. I had no purpose, no path lit up guiding me, showing me the way. My parents never forced me to finish anything. I failed at school, sports, music. Whatever was attempted was never important enough to see through. So those things never became important, never became purpose. Yet because of what I learned growing up Catholic, I knew there was a God. Perhaps He wasn’t impressed by the ceremony of Mass. Maybe, He wanted us to find out for ourselves the way we should go. I had heard many things about how drugs opened up parts of our mind we never even use. This was the way for me to go, to figure out a prime purpose. I had always believed myself to be destined for some amazing purpose. I had narrowed them down to two choices: to be abducted by aliens, or be in prison my whole life. Some picks, eh? But, drugs offered me so much more.
I started in with the cool kid in elementary school: smoking weed before baseball practice in 6th grade. Moving on to hanging out at the mall, carrying paraphernalia, getting busted. High school was well met with more divergent groups, leading me further astray from school, from family, from what was decent and right of my moral learning in the private schools I’d attended. They were all seeking some way to escape from lameness or to be badder or it was just who they were. I was seeking a purpose, seeking solutions, trying to expand my knowledge, in very many ways to escape from what I saw as a hopeless life leading to abduction, imprisonment, death, or worse: priesthood.
Failing out of Judge Memorial High was a conundrum of the highest proportions. I had failed where everyone else in my immediate and extended family had succeeded. The connection with this Catholicism was broken. My God was gone from me. He no longer had this hold on me that kept the slightest check on my behavior. Yet, where was He, why had He allowed myself to go this deep, this far away from Him? Maybe I needed it. My parents were definitely upset, but it didn’t seem as earth shattering as I thought it was supposed to be. It was some sort of release. I had more freedom. To go where no one else in my family had gone: public school. (I believe part of my parents attitude was relief: JMCH was expensive, and sending four children there was quite a drain on their meager finances.)
I began at Brighton High School meeting a friend from St. Vincent: Kenneth F. He was a slight outsider at St. Vincent; people thought he was dirty and shaggy. He was called the Bushman. I don’t know why he left, I liked him, but forgot about him when he was gone. He only went to school there to about the 6th grade. It’s strange how people disappear in our lives. I didn’t think about him for years, and now here he was, needing a friend as much as I did. The experiment in expanding understanding continued in new and unusual ways. This was soon a part of who I was, my identity. We’d get high before, during and after school. His mother had rented a room to someone who turned out to be a drug dealer. We’d break into his room and steal stuff. He’d have weed and mushrooms. Getting high and staying high was my main goal this year, this single year I had with Kenneth. It was marked with drinking, with wandering the neighborhood at night, with climbing the nearby mountains in the frozeness of night, but we didn’t care. We had no feeling. We were getting rid of feeling. No discussions, no learning, no building, or growing occurred this year. All memories fade from this time. It was all a frenzy of acquiring and consuming. Then Kenneth moved to Maine.
In this time I soon started perfecting the art of my depression. All depression is, is the art of self gratifying inwardness. At least it was for me. With Kenneth gone and not much drugs to be had, all I had, was myself. I had no God. He had deserted me. I went from full awareness of filling my time with a friend in need of me as much as I was of him, and the drugs and alcohol that kept us laughing, ignoring what I sought through the beginnings of drugs, to complete awareness of what a failure and how lost I truly was. My time in high school continued, with a friend here or there that provided me what I needed, never continuing the pursuit of meaning, of purpose. I got drugs or alcohol from them or my brother. My brother saw what was going on inside me, at least I think he might have gotten a glimpse, but he had his own life to lead.
Going to Utah State University, entering into the Forestry department, didn’t help matters much. When I was in high school, the mountains were my true escape. I would go up there with the intention of getting high, then feeling all paranoid and getting depressed, I’d go home and seek solace with food. It was the times that I went hiking, without any drugs, that I truly felt something fit, that I belonged there. I filed it away in the lock-box of my selfish brain, not really knowing what to do with it. What could I do with it? What purpose did it fulfill? Besides solitude, it gave me some exercise, some challenge. But, to fulfill what? It wasn’t until the college choices came up that I thought, I like hiking, I like the mountains. Maybe Forestry is what I ought to get into. Besides, USU was some distance from Salt Lake City, but not too far. So, I went. Deeper in to self I dived. I needed people, yet no one needed me. I was disillusioned by the Forestry department, I was depressed and isolated in the dorms. I went to the place where I could find people: the Fraternity my brother was a part of. It was a brotherhood, right? So, I did what I knew. I took drugs when I could find them, drank whenever it was offered and isolated myself in my room. Here all sense of purpose was gone. My main focus was finding something to eat, someplace to sleep, and get away from all the failure in my mind that I knew this was headed toward.
No part of this University experience was right. It was the wrong time, the wrong place, the wrong people, the wrong me. College was not a gateway to a brighter future for me. It was a confused place of darkness and mockery. Where people pretended like they cared, then they left you lost, alone, depressed, directionless.
From the 6th grade to a few years after losing my grant at Utah State University, I was so deeply involved in who I was, I had forgotten there was a world outside. Year after year grew more wearisome then the past one. My mind was scattered and I needed guidance. I needed purpose. I needed God in my life. And this is where Part 3 will take up. Hope comes home at last.
Luke 15:4-7 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lay sit on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.”
- My Life, My Testimony: Part 1 (strangerinrebellion.wordpress.com)