Strength.

I highly doubt I’ll be going to see the film Religulous – for the same reason I’ll probably never read The God Delusion – I do a good enough job coming up with doubt on my own and don’t need the help of any overly prideful intellectuals (and certainly not any stand up comics – have I mentioned my total distaste for stand up comics?)  Anyway, I get the point.  Religion is the opiate of the masses.  Sure.  Sure it is.  That’s why I just spent the whole day amongst some of the most service-hearted people I’ve ever encountered, and they didn’t seem stoned at all on dogma or blind-obedience – except maybe obedience to Christ’s call to love the world.  So if you’re going to attack the church, that’s fine, just don’t do so on the premise that nothing good has ever come out of organized religion.  If that’s your argument, prepare to be made a fool.  

Anyway, in this horrible place where I go each week to be brainwashed into loving my neighbor, they’ve begun a sermon series on Deuteronomy which the pastor insists will not be boring.  Furthermore, for people who strive to be like Christ, Deuteronomy is a necessary study since Jesus loved Deuteronomy and quoted it more than any other Old Testament text.  So there is this passage which I suspect we’ll return to with frequency which reads, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)  I tend to focus on the more abstract elements of that passage – my heart and my soul.  But what does it mean to love God with all my strength?  That is a physical, measurable thing, and I never really think about what it means.  But today I got a taste.  Because last night I didn’t sleep well, and today I have a cold, and I had committed my entire day to manning a table at a volunteer fair at Black Hawk Church.  This meant an early morning, a long drive, and almost non-stop physical and social engagement on a very shallow reserve of energy.  Today I loved God with my strength, a lot of it, if not all of it, which was an easier proportion to reach considering that I didn’t have much strength to begin with.  

So what if I gave God every ounce of my strength on a healthy, well-rested day when I had so much more strength to give?  What if I went to bed at night exhausted, as I no doubt will tonight, because I had depleted the oxygen in ever fiber of my muscles, every neuron of my brain, every cell in my body, from the exertion of loving God and my neighbor so completely?  And what if I didn’t stop there?  What if I trained my body to have more strength, adopted a healthier diet, pruned away anything toxic in my life, so as to cultivate MORE strength which I could turn around and use for love?  I would actually be a healthier person for it.

I know it’s all theoretical at this point, but when I imagine the upward trajectory of this kind of living, when I imagine the entire church moving and growing in this direction of strength (to say nothing of the dimensions of heart and soul) I have a really hard time seeing the church as the dangerous downward pull that Bill Maher claims it is.  I’m not talking about the mistakes we have made and still make which lead division, I’m talking about what is possible, if we really live like Christ, who gave every ounce of his strength.  Literally.  Every last drop. 

 

***

My friend Alex wrote a few pretty amazing words on the whole absurdity of defending our faith, which might be interesting to read as a parallel to this.  You can point out all of the ways that I don’t quite live up to Jesus’ standard of living our faith instead of defending it, even right here in this post!  :)

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I don’t know the man.

I had my first Peter moment when I was about 13 years old I would guess. This was the first time I can remember denying Christ, that is, and it’s not a pleasant memory. Prior to this I remember being bold and even reckless in my faith conversations. I remember asking neighborhood kids if they believed in Jesus. I remember being on vacation and asking strangers. Maybe I lost that spirit long before 13 years old, but it was at 13 years old that I distinctly noticed its absence.

I was at Art Camp at the local university. I was taking a photography course and there were a handful of kids I felt the need to impress. Looking back I’m not even sure why. One girl, a few years older than me, lived in my neighborhood. Another girl had, at age 13, already chosen her wedding dress, not to mention the boy she was going to marry. There must have been other kids, a crowd, enough to make me feel threatened, although I’m sure in reality they wouldn’t have cared one way or the other. We were all sitting around the courtyard eating our lunches in the shade. I was cross-legged on the paved ground with some of my camp-mates, and someone started a conversation about God. I was used to conversations about God–I attended a Christian school and we talked about God every day, it was curriculum. But here I was out in the world, unprotected. Here I was among artists and poets and philosophers, and they made it very clear how they felt about any Divine Being.

“I don’t really believe in God,” announced Ashley, the girl with the wedding dress, who was perched casually atop the brick half-wall. Noted, I thought in my head and continued to munch on my sandwich. “What about you?” Ashley asked, and all eyes were on me. It was the question I had been quietly dreading. “Are you a very religious person?” My heart began to race and I thought about a million different ways I could deflect the question, or answer with something “cool” like, “I have a soul and I know it’s connected to something greater, so yeah, sure, what’s it to ya?” In actuality I believe I took the world’s longest swallow on my peanut butter and gawked stupidly at my shoes for a few moments before muttering some embarassed answer. Maybe it wasn’t even a denial, I can’t remember my exact words. Isn’t an ashamed, “Yeah,” as bad as an outright, “Absolutely not!”? Maybe I said something about believing in God but not being religious (it’s always religion that is truly unpopular, rarely God), maybe I said something about my parents making me go to church (they have never made me), maybe I was simply noncommital: “I don’t know. Maybe, sort of, sometimes.” I don’t remember. I remember feeling a little sick afterward, I remember feeling guilty. The point is, I was not proud to align myself with God.

I think I heard a rooster crow that day.

Since then my life has been a series of denials and half-hearted admissions of my faith. It’s really sad to type that out. I would like to be bold again. I guess you could argue that this is bold, writing this here, on the World Wide Web, but really it’s not. This is easy. I want to be bold in my neighborhood, in my workplace, in my every day. I want to be that kid again, the one who bumps into another kid at the campground swimming pool and shares a laugh and then just puts it all out there. Or at least answers a question with confidence. I could be that kid. But it takes time.

Everything takes time.

Maunday Thursday.

What percentage of blogs are titled "Random Thoughts" I wonder?

Gmail is inviting us to share our Gmail stories. This is dumb, I think. They are just an email service. Or at least they used to be. I guess these days they are trying to be the next social monster. Everyone wants a cell phone that can play music and cook a turkey and knit a sweater. Gmail, you haven’t changed my life, you’re just an email service. But that’s all I ever wanted you to be. Stop changing on me.

I tried warming a cookie in the microwave just now but I burnt it. It smells pretty awful, like singed hair. Tomorrow I am leading a Christmas sing along for middle schoolers and senior citizens. I will be playing the guitar. I’m continuing to develop my new blog–I hope you’re getting excited. We’re supposed to have another snow storm tonight, which means I’ll keep my job for another day. I went to a Lutheran church tonight and it felt so comfortable, when we sang the Doxology and paused in all the right places, when we said the Lord’s Prayer and confessed our “Trespasses” and not our “Debts.” O Familiarity!

Stay warm, friends. Winter is long.

What "To circumvent Lent" meant:

Last year, as you may recall, I gave up blogging for Lent. I’m not quite sure what I was trying to prove by doing so, but my intentions had little to do with meditating on Christ’s sacrifice. Here is what I wrote last year on Easter Sunday, when my Lenten blogging fast came to a close:

In these 40 days (okay, 39, you caught me) that I’ve given up blogging, yes, I’ve had more time to paint and write and play guitar and, yes, even read the Bible, but that isn’t the real reason we give something up for Lent–to free up time for other things. What a mockery I’ve made of it. And so I’ve decided that until I find the right reason, and the right sacrifice, I’m going to stop throwing it out there, like I’m something holy, like, “This year I’ll give up ___, my biggest sacrifice yet to date!” Honestly that isn’t why I do it, but until I can offer the real reason, I realize that is what it comes off as. And there I risk hypocrisy, which is insulting to everyone, especially to the people
who take the practice of fasting for Lent very seriously, and have the right heart about it.

I needed to remind myself of that this year, as my first inclination was to give up soda, with the unfortunately primary reason of, well, kicking the soda habit. Fewer calories, fewer cavities, one less addiction. But it’s still not the point of Lent. Nope, it’s still not. So what I’ve decided is, instead of some arbitrary withholding, this Lent I will be proactive. I will spend more time in devotion, more time in prayer. And when I realize that, for all of my effort, I still come up far short of earning my own salvation, I will reflect on the mercy and grace which culminate on Easter Sunday when we celebrate the resurrection of Christ.

With all of that said, tonight I was reading in the fourth chapter of Ephesians and came across the thirty-second verse which took me immediately back to the summer of third grade. I was at summer camp and had just been taught a song that went thus: “Be ye kind one unto another! Tender-hearted, forgiving one another! Even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you. Doo doo, doodly doo. Ephesians four thirty-two!” And there are finger motions! But I can’t very well type those out here. Perhaps some day, once technology has progressed a bit.

Also, my subject line exists merely for the sake of the rhyme. I do enjoy a good rhyme.

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