Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Amen

God spoke to me today.

I am not usually one to view coincidences as a sure bet that he is telling us something, but today I may have to change that. Especially given what it was all about. I was talking with my co-worker, Kristen, about stories from different trips people we know took over the summer. Some of them had amazing experiences. One person in Bangladesh encountered a woman who was half dead under a tarp. They picked her up and took her to a place where they ended up taking care of her. This person lived the parable of the Good Samaritan. I only read about it. Another person who spent the summer in the garbage city of Mokkattam in Cairo wrote a journal about how the faith of the people she met changed her forever.

Kristen then said to me (and herself I believe) “I don’t want to waste my life! And I don’t want to live the suburban life and I don’t want our students to either!”

We are in college ministry so we have students. I couldn’t disagree with her. My job involves giving students an experience with Jesus while they are at school. My hope is that this experience will change their life. More and more I come to see what that can mean. I want people to graduate and go live in the inner city. I want people to move to Cairo to work with refugees or the poor people that everyone else forgets about or ignores. I want people to work in one of Mother Teresa’s homes for the dying. I want people to ditch the things they wanted for their lives and embrace what God wants for the world. Call me crazy or na├»ve, but I just can’t see how the pursuit of the American dream fulfills that. I can’t see how a life comprised mainly of working all day and then spending 3 hours watching TV is what God has for us. I don’t want that for the people I encounter. I want them to live radical lives of following Jesus. I want to live a radical life of following Jesus.

In keeping with being an ENFP, I quickly was distracted by the fact that a singer I really enjoy had a free download on I-tunes. I downloaded “When the Saints” by Sara Groves and Kristen and I listened to it. The song absolutely moved me to tears. I listened to it again. I think I am going on seven or eight listens today. The song is about how, after being exposed to the reality of the world we live in, it is easy to get overwhelmed. She thinks about those who came before and it gives her strength and she wants to be like them. She thinks of Moses going before Pharaoh proclaiming freedom for his people. She thinks of the Sisters of Charity in Calcutta who stand beside the dying and give them dignity. She thinks of the girls trapped in prostitution and those who fight for their release. And mostly, she thinks of Jesus and how he carried the sins of the world on his shoulders as he walked the road of the cross.

It was as if Sara decided to join us in our conversation. Yes Sara, you are welcome any time.

Then it was time to prep a Bible Study for my Church Group. We are studying Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Paul is in prison facing the reality of execution. He writes to encourage the church that he is actually having a great time because the Gospel is going forth. In the particular section we studied, I noticed a few things that really got to me. “To live is Christ. To die is gain.” Paul’s singular focus in his life was Jesus. Nothing else. Given all the things I was just thinking about earlier in the day, this verse took on a new meaning. Faced with death, Paul decides that it is better to live. Well, obviously you might think. But the reason he wants to live is so he can be of service to the church. The only reason he wants to stay alive is so he can build up other people and help them grow in faith and joy. That is intense. Also, he implores the Philippians to live a life worthy of the Gospel. The more I think about it, the more I think that very few people actually do this. The few that do really stand out. We know about them. We know about Mother Teresa. We know about Francis of Assissi. They ended up doing great things, but did not start that way. They began with a simple idea of taking Jesus seriously. They ended up changing the world.

I began the study by saying something I strongly believe the Holy Spirit gave me to say. I said something like (I can’t remember it verbatim) “we all too easily look at Scripture and simply try to understand it. This isn’t entirely wrong, but if we stop there, we miss the point. This is meant to change our lives. It is meant to transform both us and the world around us. This thing is a powder keg if we use it right. So tonight, let us focus on what we should do with it, what it requires of us and what it means for us.” I think it really connected with people and it was one of the best studies we have had in a while. I think God is up to something. I don’t know what, but I want in.

I want in because I don’t want to settle. I don’t want to settle for a “good life.” I don’t want to settle for anything less than the abundant life Jesus promised to his followers. This, I am sure, is not about abundance of possessions or wealth, or even relationships. This is about the Kingdom of God. This is about new life. This is about the redemption of the world. This is about Justice and Righteousness for all people, not just the ones who can afford it or get away with it. And we enter into it by following Jesus where he went. By doing the things that he did. He is out leader.

I have caught glimpses of this abundant life here and there and I like what I see. I read the Gospels and I am challenged by Jesus. I am compelled by Jesus. I am amazed at him. I also have a hard time seeing how the church got so messed up and did so many dumb things if they were trying to follow him.

So this is my prayer: O Jesus, to have your heart. To love like you loved. To give of myself for others as you did. To pick up my cross and die. To know the joy of your suffering. To know the power of your resurrection. Do not let me settle for anything less than you.

Lord, have mercy.


Amen.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Just a Little More on Books and the Effects Thereof

I am having a lot of fun. That may not seem a surprise to some, but it is a nice relief from previous autumns. I have been hanging around a lot of college students in a predominantly freshman dorm at OSU. Inside said dorm are 355 human beings who are entering an entirely new phase of their lives. Why am I there? I am a campus minister. A spiritual mentor if you will. My job is to build relationships with students and encourage them in the development of their spiritual lives. And just so there is no confusion, I try and influence them toward Jesus.



So what does this have to do with books? Well, I recently read a book that really didn't tell me anything new. It simply reminded me of things I already knew. It is called, "They Like Jesus but Not the Church." It was written by a pastor down in Santa Cruz, California named Dan Kimball. The while premise of the book is that people nowadays have been rubbed the wrong way by the Church and "organized religion" but they still like Jesus and are very open to talking about him. He discovered this by spending a lot of time at a local coffee shop and befriending the people he met there. I won't go into it much more than that except to say that it was the kick in the pants I needed to go meet people who don't already consider themselves Christians.

And I am having a lot of fun.

First of all, there are some really great people in this dorm. I have truly enjoyed getting to know them and I am genuinely starting to care about them as people. we play board games and eat meals. We sing Karaoke, dance DDR, and watch Heroes. And it is a blast.

Each week I help lead a Bible Study in the dorm. It is a really low-key time where people from all different backgrounds can study a passage of scripture, try to figure out what it means, and then see how we should respond. I was surprised by who showed up at our first one. People who would not have been there unless I had taken the time to get to know them were there. And they always have some of the best things to say.

I am starting to love talking to people who don't follow Jesus about spiritual things. They really love to have a chance to be heard. I think that their impression of most Christians is that we are all quick to "share" our opinions and unwilling to hear what other people have to say. I want to listen first. How can I possibly know what is going on in someone's life if I am not willing to listen to them?

I want people to encounter Jesus because I want Jesus to change their life and then I want them to go change the world. Jesus was about changing the world, and he did it. He is still doing it. I want to study his life to find out how he did it. I want to invite people along on the journey. But people are not going to just jump in and sign up for a club of people they feel are judgmental, arrogant and just downright mean. I have to build trust with them. I have to show them by my interactions with them that they are loved. I must never judge them. I must accept them and challenge them to look at Jesus more closely. He is really cool when you pull him out from underneath the 2,000 years or crap we have thrown on him.

So tonight, I am going to go play Settlers of Catan (best game ever)with some people who I think would love Jesus.

And I am going to have a lot of fun.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Books are Dangerous

I have been reading.








In the last few months, I have been trying to expand my literary horizons by reading books that fall in a very different genre than my usual IVP non-fiction. Yes, I have been reading ACTUAL fiction that goes beyond the standard Harry Potter adventure. And you know what? It's great. I started with "The Kite Runner.", a wonderful book by Khaled Hosseni. A few months after that, I read his next book, "A Thousand Splendid Suns." And just yesterday, I finished maybe one of the most interesting and unusual books I have ever read. It was called, "Life of Pi." To finish my brief list, I began an older fantasy trilogy called "The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever." It came highly recommended by a close friend.



I don't really want to go into reviews about all of those books so much as I want to say what reading good fiction is doing for me. It is reminding me of what it is to be human. Good fiction can take a few aspects of humanity that you always knew were there but couldn't quite put your finger on and make them so accessible. Good fiction can hold up a mirror to the reader and allow them to see themselves more clearly than they could before, a potentially humbling event. Good fiction can show us that even though we live a world away from someone, deep down we are basically the same. We share the same struggles, hopes, dreams, fears and desires. They just manifest themselves in different ways due to our location and culture.

Mix all this in with my eye-opening experience in Cairo this last summer, and you will begin to see a somewhat new worldview shaping in me. It is fun and a bit scary all at the same time. I am beginning to see the world as a much greyer (I am choosing the Bristish spelling here because it feels more poetic) place than it was before. I don't mean grey as in color, but in terms of who is right and who is wrong, who is good and who is evil, who is on to something and who is way the heck out there.

Cairo was an interesting place. One thing that struck me the most was how all the different types of people felt about everyone else. We spent time with roughly five different communities, if you can call them that: Sudanese refugees, Egyptian Muslims, Egyptian Christians, American missionaries who live a culturally Muslim lifestyle to reach Muslims, and our team of American College students. Each group had something to say about the other, and it wasn't always nice, nor was it always right, and nor was it always wrong. "You shouldn't trust this person, he is a ______," or, "When you get home, you should speak out against _________," were common things to be heard. I didn't really know what to do with them. What made it weirder was that I was the outsider looking in and have a tendency to give people the benefit of the doubt. I just couldn't understand why people felt the way that they did. What I mean by that is, and this is from a Christian perspective, why people couldn't have grace for each other, and why I couldn't have grace for them not having grace. I think that makes sense. Right?

So what does this all have to do with books? Why are they dangerous? They challenge our preconceived ideas. They make you deal with the bigger world. Then it all gets confirmed when you go out into the bigger world.

It gets me thinking about God. It gets me thinking that the ways that I have experienced spirituality, religion, and even God are totally shaped by my cultural upbringing. The things that American Evangelical Christians tend to be concerned about are molded and manipulated by American Culture. So how do we get down to what God is really about? How can we hope to see beyond our cultural conditioning? I think a good place to start is to befriend people who aren't like you and read lots of books. Then ask God where he is in the midst of all that. Then we will start to see the God who loves the whole world. The God who can speak to us through the story of Amir and Hassan, Mariam and Laila, and Pi and Richard Parker.

As an afterthought, I agree with Pi. God is the better story.