Thursday, December 9, 2010

Unseasonal Needs

It’s somewhat of an awkward feeling sitting at your desk early in your day fighting back tears. My legs shake as I read a well written news story about a local happening. Quaking legs are an effect the rising tension in my body cause. I imagine and/or empathize with Jesus sentiments as he flipped over tables and methodically wove together a whip in a temple back in the day. It’s a maddening feeling to see something and want to fix it but the task is overwhelming and requires much more than your best could ever do. I realize I cannot accomplish much alone so I suppose I’ll use my gift to inspire others, a rally cry for help.

If you have the time and are willing please read the following article:

Volunteers for kindergartners top wish list at IPS School 61

Dear Santa,

Please bring my sissy a toothbrush because I love her.


“When she considers her wish list for School 61, she dreams about a church or some other organization that could come in and run a character-education program -- during lunch, after school, whenever… The children need thoughtful adults to come into the school and be mentors -- to listen to them over lunch and talk about things going on in their lives, to help them think about goals and to get them thinking about careers and worlds beyond the neighborhood.”

I like to think I have become and am becoming a very practical person, one who tries to look past ideology and into relevant application. I owe all this practicality to my wife who has been used to mold me into a better man. Although I am becoming more practical I will always remain analytical, it’s something I know I have been wired with for a reason. Once I was very interested in the medical side of things. I was a firefighter, but what drew my interest more than going into a burning building, which is still something I love and miss, was the medical side of the job. It interested me to see symptoms and take actions to treat them, ultimately to treat the essential problem. Like the body people also show only symptoms of an unseen dilemma. It is by studying these signs and symptoms that we learn the cause of them. It does no good to only treat symptoms though, eventually you have to treat the actual underlying illness. My first thought after reading this article was why do we see communities and schools like this?

That’s a very deep and intense point of concern. Life is cyclical. We live in cycles until or if something comes along and breaks it, which starts another cycle. A child is born into a poor and uneducated family. To make ends meet the single mother works the most she can to provide. Her patience his exhausted at work so by the time she gets home she has none for the kids. The kids feel no support from mom and are deeply affected by the absence of a father. They look for acceptance in other capacities. Education becomes of little importance. Unprotected sex becomes frequent. Kids having kids is no longer something startling. These kids turned parents don’t have appropriate education because they dropped out of school to continue seeking that support they missed at home. The cycle goes on and on from here. Along the way these beautiful children of God run themselves ragged through drugs, disease, violence, gangs, poverty, lack of education, and many other symptoms of their essential need. I believe our essential need is met by reconnecting to the way we were created to be. I don’t think we ever will get back to it while here, but believe there is a journey God is taking us through to bring us closer and closer. I’d imagine there are a lot of people who would agree with me. They may say something along the lines of, “All they need is Jesus,” as a reduction of ideas though. I’d challenge that though. Is just a message of Jesus spoke by a successful person who has either survived the urban existence or never been a part of it enough? No, ideology alone cannot do much. This message of Jesus is so much more than just being saved from hell. It is lost in that simplicity in my opinion. This Jesus thing offers life. It offers help to the helpless, hope to the hopeless, and so on. Jesus left and in his absence gave us his Spirit. Those of us with the spirit need to understand that God’s work is done through us, humans, now.  That work is a lot more than just trying to convert people to a religion, it hasmore to do with helping people live a life they are intended to live, one with education, love, hope, etc.  That requires mentoring, paying bills, providing clean uniforms, tutoring, and so many other very simple and practical things.

What does that have to do with this article that has me so pumped? The church is a community that is supposed to be this group of people living in such a way that they make a positive impact on their world, their direct surroundings or environment. Because I know this and truly believe this I did a little Google search for church organizations listed within several miles of this school. That’s what the picture above is about. 9 church organizations show up within 4 miles of this school. That is just church organizations that are listed, who knows how many are actually around there unlisted. 9 communities who would attest to trying to live a life in such a way that they show the life Jesus talked about to the world. 9 communities surround this school yet the principle says they need volunteers and that mentors would be nice. Do you see something wrong here?

It is the holiday season now. Hearts swell with good intentions and sentimental ideas. Red kettles get filled with loose change and homeless shelters get overwhelmed with volunteers who want to serve. Church organizations and businesses fill baskets with food and boxes with toys. Our philanthropic sense of nature if bursting at the seams. Everyone wants to give during this time of year. My wife is a volunteer coordinator for a homeless shelter. She is overwhelmed with request of good intentioned people who want to do good this season. Small groups of people are brainstorming each week at how they can give back and make a difference. There is no harm or foul in this seasonal sensationalism. The questions is after all the halls are un-decked, the jingle bells stop ringing, and the fat men with white beards take off their Santa suits and return to the farm, where will these people be January through next November? When a local school is literally drowning in failure and poverty 9 churches down the street fill baskets with predictable goods to meet needs and fill good about themselves. What if we stopped trying to save the world through baskets, presents, and once-a-year volunteering? What if we narrowed our focus to our own neighborhoods? I believe schools would no longer need the press to advertise their needs because our community of people would be so involved that there wouldn’t be much. I encourage you to give this holiday season, as it is a great thing to do, but I challenge you to keep your hands and feet going after the smells of furs and pines have evacuated the air. We have kids asking Santa for toothbrushes and principles asking for committed mentors to children in need of more than toys provided by well-meaning middle-class citizens.

Take a look in the mirror and ask yourself “What are you doing in your community?”

Monday, November 29, 2010

Animal Troths and Trees

My hands gently maneuvered an instrument fashioning strands of words, visual representations of my inner thoughts and reflections, together. My pen met paper this morning in my journal for the first time in almost a month. I’ve been preoccupied with completing a lean six sigma certificate for work. I’m a green belt now (hi-ya!) and have some mental space to actually think. It was refreshing to actually write in my journal. I wrote that, “I hope I can be inspired by something that will lead me to creative words and expressions.” I suppose it could be coincidence, but I also suppose it could be some sort of intended happening. I closed my journal and opened up this little daily devotional by Chambers, which is very much out of the ordinary for me because it is difficult for me to do the devotional readings. It’s difficult because I find that sometimes it is tough to just take a verse out of its intended environment and interpret it with commentary, which is why I typically don’t do devotional type readings. So, call it what you may, but I curiously came to this devotional this morning that talks about, in a round about way, the idea of being reborn.

Yesterday at our church gathering we, as a community, not Julia and I personally, participated in the ritual of baptism. Ritual may be a little off-putting, but you should call it what you like, practice sacrament, holy symbol, physical metaphor, etc, whatever will make you comfortable with the idea. A room full of people, most who do not know each other that well, sitting around listening to personal testimonies and watching people get held under water seems a little odd. Is it possible that others had this thought as well, but will just not state it out of respect or fear of being labeled something negative? That’s not the direction I want to take this though, I’m not looking to bash the awkwardness of the entire situation, but more looking to take an unadulterated look in the mirror, ask, and hopefully answer a couple tough questions.

In the Christian faith most accept that water baptism, in whatever form you agree with (full immersion or sprinkling), is a symbol of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Before the holy-dunkings yesterday our pastor, Todd, brought up a scripture (Romans 6) regarding baptism. He focused on the resurrection part of the baptism symbolism. I’m sure most comprehend at a basic level the symbolism of baptism. What I am not sure of is how often we, more specifically I, think about it more in depth. Death, burial, resurrection. Why is it necessary that I die, be buried, and rise in a pool, or animal drinking troth, of water? I get the ideology of dying to self…at least I think I do…dying to your old self, the old ways of life, the old habits, etc. The rise part is where I begin to doubt my easily assumed understanding. We are supposed to rise to new life after we have accepted the faith in Jesus right? Well, what is that supposed to mean? Rebirth isn’t something only we have struggled with, there was a character documented in the gospels’ accounts named Nicodemus. He was troubled by the idea of someone being born again. What does this mean to you? Ask yourself honestly and write your answer on a sheet of paper somewhere. After you’ve summed up your answer reflect on whether or not that is reality in your life. I’m not talking lip service or simple good deeds done to assure you stay within the lines of your “normal faith” though.

My definition of rebirth is living out the new nature of your being after you were given the Spirit’s (nature). That is loaded prescription, full of theologically intriguing ideas. It is my belief, based on what I’ve been taught and read throughout scripture, that once one commits oneself to faith in the Christ that the Spirit of God, the advocate or helper as Jesus put it, is given to them. This instigates the new nature/old nature struggle. We’ve all heard the negative thrashing “the world” has taken from a religious stand point. Many have heard (some unfortunate and others possibly fortunate) from the men on TV that “the world” is evil. It would only be fair to define what that idea of phrase “the world” means before taking that as fact though. What is the world? Are they talking about the physical world, like trees, bees, and fleas? That can’t be true can it? If that were true than God created evil, that is an argument I’ll allow you to have with some caffeinated college-aged student for fun. I don’t think “the world” is fairly defined as the physical, rather, I see “the world” as a mentality or nature. Think of all the ways we are taught to be, all the ego-centricity we are overwhelmed with daily. As a child I remember being taught and even having the natural thirst for self satisfaction. I was the center of the universe and unfortunately still can be fall back into that belief. The belief that I am the center, I am the point, I am the god, carries heavy implications. How I go about my life, how I behave, think, respond to circumstances, etc is all a response of my foundational understanding of myself or my nature. To borrow a wise parable from a judicious educator I would say that we, as humans, can be compared to trees. We will bear fruit based upon what kind of tree we are. Meaning, in my chemical makeup somewhere, as a tree, I have it in me to grow, say an apple, therefore I can only bear apples, never oranges. What if though, somehow, through a magical John Deere farming tool I was able to go in an enhance a tree’s chemical makeup to change it’s very nature, like change it to grow something drastically different? I would think that overtime the tree would have a rough time adapting to growing this new fruit. Of course that is probably due to the fact that it was born to make apples and now all of the sudden it’s been rewired to grow coconuts. As you can imagine an apple tree and coconut tree need starkly different things in order to produce their aforementioned fruits. “The world” is like the chemical makeup that makes an apple tree produce apples. It is our natural nature, the one we are born with, our very essence. We are born in the world with the nature of “the world.”

When we run through this faith thing we are rewired and given a new nature, we are told deep inside somewhere, our DNA, our neo-cortex, our hearts, our souls, maybe even a mixture of all those things, that we are now something very different. Now that I have this new nature, it will take a lifetime to adjust to producing what I am now wired to produce. It would be easy for me to slip back into old habits, “the world.” I don’t remember any lights, voices, or other dramatic showings when I came up out of the water when I was baptized. Maybe this is something that has held me back from experiencing or admitting to the possibility of the dramatic or miraculous. There is also the possibility that this very dramatic experience some have had has become some sort of a model for others and when they fail to reach this emotional pinnacle of miraculous experience post-baptism they feel empty or like it didn’t work. This tension is where I typically just shrug my shoulders and side with my own opinion. I’ve been challenged as of late to reevaluate my opinion though.

I suppose I need to more regularly ask myself if I believe baptism is a symbol of resurrection then do I really believe I have the Spirit of a risen God in me? This does not mean that I should swing to an extreme and become exceedingly emotional and unrealistic; this doesn’t mean I need to be all about the miraculous, however, it doesn’t mean I should swing to the other extreme of apathy and intellectuality as well. So what does it mean when I see the symbol of people coming out of the water in a baptismal or animal watering troth, what does it mean to you? Do you live life in such a way that there is a resurrected Spirit, a living God in you? I consider it to be a life long process of analytics, a venture worth all the effort to try to resolve. I suppose the same should be true of yourself, what does it mean to be reborn, what does it mean to you that the Spirit of God lives inside you, that you have been given a new nature?

Friday, November 5, 2010

I’ve Missed You

Here I sit with a very similar glow reflecting on my face.  The glow from my computer screen is almost invigorating, like the sun rays beaming down on vacation.  Many people find peace in the serenity of music or reading a good book among many other things.  I find my peace in front of this screen, it is my dumping ground for thoughts that fill my mind.  Recently, infrequent is the best description of me finding this place, this peace, this sweet release.  I’m not sure why I avoid or do not intentionally create time and space for this when I know it is my happy place, but I know when I do it is well worth the wait.  It’s like when I’m sitting here my fingers fly across my keyboard methodically like that of a pianist.  Even playing basketball doesn’t compare to when I write and if you know me at all you know how much I love the game of basketball.  As much as I fantasize about being a professional athlete discovered in the obscurity of the local community gym the hair on my neck stands thinking of writing.  Simplicity at it’s best is what I find here.  It is here when all the complexities of the world can be simplified and purged from my mind and soul.  I’ve missed this place and am working on getting back here more often.  If you are one who prays for others and remembers to after you say “I’ll pray for you,” I’d appreciate your prayers for me spending more time writing.  When I write I feel like I thrive.

Life’s Equation(s)

I help mentor and tutor in a program at a local domestic violence and homeless shelter in the city every Monday night.  As much as I am there to teach and mentor and be some kind of wise adult to these broken children when I meet them in the environment they’ve unfortunately come accustomed to I find I am more a learner than teacher.  I think I get more out of it than the kids do some nights.  Last week I was helping a 4th grader with his homework.  The question that taught me an important lesson in life is as follows:

Jack has 2 pencils.  If Mr. Young has 200 times as many pencils as Jack does how many pencils does Mr. Young have?  If the entire school has 5 times as many pencils as Mr. Young how many pencils does the entire school have?  Does the product of this equation have 2 zeros in it?

The child I was tutoring, let’s call him Sam so to protect his identity and privacy, started guessing at answers immediately.  His hands covered his face in frustration as he exhaustively pronounced, “this is too hard!”  I asked Sam if he understood the questions of the problem and requested him just read the paragraph sentence by sentence.  Again, he just started guessing and clearly communicated his irritation with this equation.  It is easy to assume as a mentor/tutor.  We often find ourselves assuming the child knows certain things or is even at a certain educational level.  We also assume that these children who are enrolled in one of the worst public school systems in the nation are receiving the direction necessary to complete the work.  To overcome these assumptions is a piece of work in itself, beyond trying to teach the child the best way they can comprehend.  I told Sam that he was thinking too hard and making this more difficult than it was.  I told Sam that he was letting it overwhelm him and that I know he can do it.  I told Sam to just go step by step.

How many pencils does Jack have?

Jack has two pencils.

If Mr. Young has 200 times more what does that mean?


Yes, now if he has 200 times more than Jack what would you multiply 200 by?  How many does Jack have?

2 x 200!  That’s easy, 400!

Great, Sam, see I told you that you could do this.  Now if the entire school has 5 times as many pencils as 

Mr. Young what does that math problem look like?

Uhhhh…5 x 400?

Yup, you got it!

OK, that’s 5 x 4, which is 20, then add two zeros, that’s 2000, right?

Perfect!  See how easy that was, you just needed to slow down and take it a step at a time and solve the little problems first.  Once you did that the whole problem was easy right?

I gave Sam some multiplication cards to help him improve his math skills.  I noticed that he was a very smart boy, but his frustration at wanting the answer all at once stopped him from seeing the simplicity of the small details involved in the problem.  I hope to see Sam next week, I hope I can help him with more of his homework and help him know that he can do it and that he is smart.

So what do pencils, Mr. Young, Sam, and some charitable mentoring/tutoring have to do with me?  Like I said earlier, some nights, I walk away from that group feeling a little guilty because I got more out of it than I think the kids did.  My epiphany, I am Sam.  We are all Sam.  There’s a little Sam in us all.  I get so overwhelmed with what life throws at me that I try to process it all at once, but get frustrated because it’s too much to solve all at once.  I put my hands on my face, cover my eyes, and voice my frustration, then quite.  I give up because it’s too hard.  Life is hard; I think we can all agree on that.  I truly believe that we were made/built with an intended way of life.  I think we as a creation, man, have fallen far from that and we squirm our way through life as we know it.  It seems so complicated, too many variables to calculate.  My finger math just doesn’t do.  In reading the Bible I’ve learned the life God intended for us to live, not because we will burn in hell if we don’t do exactly what it says, but because when we do we get to live this beautiful inspired life, as intended by our creator.  That complicates things further though because what I read isn’t what I see.  The world operates in a certain fashion and how I experience it is much different from what I read.  Trying to figure that out paralyzes me daily.  It’s too hard, this life equation is too much to ponder upon so I quite.  This Jesus thing is too much so I give up.  I sit with my face buried in my hands, defeat fuming from my overwhelmed mind, eyes staring blankly into the very thing I am consumed with trying to solve, life.  I felt this overpowering sensation the next day when trying to sit down and read the Bible.  I didn’t want to do it, why bother, it’s too much I thought to myself. Sam instantaneously popped in my mind.  What if I just slowed down?  What if I just approached this life a step at a time, detail by detail, rather than trying to conquer it all at once.  Instead of becoming frustrated and quitting because of my obvious inability to solve such complex equations what if I just focused on one thing at a time?  As I drove to the gym I offered up a simple little prayer to a God I believe is listening, “Please help me be kind tonight, help me be gentle when playing basketball.”  I wasn’t trying to solve the world’s problems, I was simply asking for help to be kind when my competitiveness wanted to be dreadful.  I find hope in that kind of thinking.  I find hope in the reality that I don’t have to figure it all out.  I just need to work on the problem one sentence at a time, one little detail after another.  May you find peace in knowing you only need to worry about what is right in front of you.  You don’t have to save the world or figure it all out, you just have to take the next step.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Judge Judy is Sad

As much as I dislike Facebook at times, it is an interesting way to view the social temperature of your current society. It reads as a social commentary that reveals the good and bad and everything in between. This morning was no exception, revealing people’s hearts through their words, an interesting exposure. The following is an exchange of responses to someone’s initial status update. Judge Judy, the celebrity day-time TV judge, isn’t truly my friend and not the author of this status, but I typically refer to overtly judgmental folks as Judge Judy. Makes me laugh and I suppose that’s enough…


Me: Wow, harsh much?


Me: I don't think teen pregnancy is wise, however, I also don't think anyone should think their morality is superior, typically leads to destructive lifestyles.

Another person: Oh my…I with you Adam…so rare to find that pov!

This still has me a bit shaky. That’s not some obscure figurative language either. Literally, my hands are shaking because this exchange bothered me so much, at a level that cuts my soul. There are some interesting details that I feel are necessary to mention to better illustrate the tension of this exchange. “Judge Judy” is a homosexual male. Typically I would never say anything about sexual preference because I think it is an unnecessary detail to mention, much like eye color, but in this case I mention it because it makes his statements somewhat hypocritical. The homosexual population has long cried about injustices, some rightfully so, and how the world and the cruel heterosexuals are so judgmental. A plight I can understand and agree with at times. I’ve never been a huge fan of the cross-bearing, wrathful, jugular vein-extended yelling religious guy standing in strong opposition and making harsh judgments on homosexuals. I have a friend that is homosexual and one of the coolest and nicest people I’ve met before and I’ve seen, heard, and felt his pain as he has had to read about and even deal with bigots like this. All these details are important to me because they create this uncomfortable tension in this situation. It is pretty realistic to anticipate “Judge Judy” has encountered such injustices before, morally pious bigots who lash out in self-righteous rants.

What upset him so much was that teen mom’s were being celebrated on TV rather than having scarlet letters burned to their chests. Seems awfully harsh doesn’t it? Not sure how, but something in that wrinkly mess of muscle in his head led him to elevate his morality above others. He sees teen pregnancy as such an offense that it warrants public humiliation and cruelty. I see this capricious attitude as alarming and hypocritical because you would think he, especially, would be one to sympathize with the idea of not judging and being seen by some as immoral. Not saying I do, because I really don’t care about people’s sexual preference/orientation.

As I said in my response to him, I don't think teen pregnancy is wise, however, I also don't think anyone should think their morality is superior, typically leads to destructive lifestyles. Much like cooking, creating a reduction sauce, after everything has been combined and reduced down you get the product. In this case, the quintessential ideology is judgment. I’m not sure why I keep returning to read a particular newspaper in my city, but I do, and they are one of the most liberal papers I’ve ever read, so, naturally many articles are about protests and marches and other forms of people judging. Judging doesn’t work from the top down either. By the top down I mean that the majority judging the minority is not always the case. The minority more often judges and criticizes the majority. Equality or a level playing field is not the true desire of anyone judging, it is conformity. Most seek to simply conform others to their form of morality, one that they view as superior to others. More often than not I find it ground breaking and difficult to read into and live out what Jesus was about and taught. Jesus said not to judge. I don’t think Jesus was the type of guy just to makes rules up either, he actually disliked rules.

I think that understanding the ideas of Jesus’ teachings isn’t complex. The complications and difficulties begin when you attempt to apply them to your life. Jesus knew that and I think that’s why he told us not to judge. I have a very hard time not being a very judgmental and critical person, actually it is what I do best if not watched closely. I, and others, noticed that when I allowed myself to judge others I became this little ball of destruction, very unhappy, and discontent. I allowed the little things in life to bother me so much that what I thought I was putting myself above (by judging) actually was controlling me. Every little thing would set me off, jerks cutting me off in traffic, dumb employees, incompetent servers, etc. I found myself living an awfully angry life and didn’t like what I saw in the mirror, the person I had become. I had a meeting with a friend who very kindly told me that I was good at criticizing others and that made me not a fun person to be around. I took this critique pretty seriously and did a lot of, and still do a lot of, soul searching. I decided to try not to judge. Truly, my life has been transformed and freed up. I feel much more liberated without the burden of being the judge. By learning to accept things and not allowing my ideas of what is right and wrong, my morality, to become superior I have noticed I am a much nicer person. I think that living into this beautiful freedom is what Jesus had in mind when he warned to not judge.

Food for thought for sure. When you think something I’d invite you to consider the other angel. I’d also invite you to question yourself and whether you are deciding superiority over others in your ideology or morality. I hope you find the freedom that I have found when I decide to not judge. It’s a daily battle, but so worth it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Talkie Talkie

Dialect inconsistencies beckon authenticity with a familiar stranger. Brown eyes look into mine as we stare at each other, thinking of what to say and how to respond. The reflection I see in the mirror demands genuineness and an explanation of idiom conflictions. The divergence of my tongue beckons analysis to resolve why irregularity exists at all. What are these contrary words I observe? Do these words translate into actions or lifestyle?

I received a text message several days ago. As I reviewed my own words I was struck with the reality that they were spoken in a much different dialect than I would normally respond.

Text received:

“Good to see you this a.m. How’s marriage?”

My response:
“…marriage is amazing, truly a God thing I’m getting to enjoy…”

There is nothing in itself inerrant in my response. There is no evil in attributing my wonderful wife as a gift from God. This was a friend from the church community I would call myself a part of. I wonder if this were an atheist friend of mine would I respond the same. This quandary led me to think about the language I observe daily and within certain environments. Again, this I not villainizing (an awesome made up word meaning to attribute bad qualities to something) giving God credit for providing me an awesome wife, this is focused more on the consistency in which I would say something like this and what that implies.

This thought makes me also think of what my life looks like as far as outwardly appearances. I go to a church community gathering on Sunday mornings. I attend a gathering of a church community on Thursday night as well. I know it’s odd that I refuse to call these gatherings church, but there is a lot of theology behind the non-use of familiar terminology. I find it odd and awkward that people ask if you went to church or say things like you need to go to church because of what the word church actually means. If you were to go back in time several thousand years and ask the early disciples of Jesus these type of question I think there would be a lot of face scowling, tongues coming out of mouths, and eyes rolling the upper right hand corner of heads. I think there would be a physical look of confusion of the faces of recipients of this question. Church is a description of a community, almost more of an adjective than a noun. Church is a community of people living in a way, like they actually believe Jesus way is actually life and living into it changes things. The organizational aspect of what the community requires and needs is unfortunately what it has come to be known for, instead of an organic community. It is necessary to organize and some of the things the organization provides at its capacity, but that does not mean it defines what church is. Ok, time to evacuate my position on that soap box; getting back to the idea of outwardly appearances being questioned as well as inconsistent language.

I suppose all this reduced down to me asking if the church organization and all that comes with it did not exist and I were to go mute would people be able to tell I actually was one who believes in God and is trying to follow Jesus example as the most abundant type of life available and what we were meant to be? If I didn’t have stories to tell about church or small group and couldn’t say I’m blessed by God and such and such would my lifestyle be enough to show others that I was a Christian. Would people even care if they did not have this religious culture and language to gauge others by? If there were no moral code, no theology or right and wrong would I do right?

I would like to say I would and that my life would be a reflection of my spirituality. It has been challenging for me to consider this though. My words and religious affiliation seem to validate my spirituality, it lets others, and myself at some point, know where I stand. What if those validating variables were taken away, were missing from the equation of life? My reflection cannot smile back immediately because I’m left thinking, contemplating whether or not I could stand alone, if my faith were good enough to just live and not have to say or show it (in a religious way, like church activities). The old sage had great parables, one of which parallels man and trees, lifestyles and fruit. The saying goes that a good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit, a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Pretty simple to follow right? I suppose I just wonder if a good tree is good if it doesn’t say it is? Isn’t the evidence the fruit, what it bears? Should the same be true of man? No religious affiliation or language should or can identify what you are, it should be what you bear, your fruit, your lifestyle. It’s kept me thinking and humbled all day to think about it, what if there were no Christian-talk or church-world to validate identity, would it be enough to trust one’s lifestyle?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Prayer Shenanigans

I was reading the news today (Fox News), national news, not just local, and came across a bizarre story. City tax payers are seeing what their money goes toward in Vernon, Florida. The Holmes County Pee Wee Football Association is a private organization that has the players and coaches participate in a voluntary pregame prayer before each game. One of the coaches thinks this a violation of his son’s First Amendment right. The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. The amendment prohibits the making of any law "respecting an establishment of religion", impeding the free exercise of religion, infringing on the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. I’m unaware of how this case will progress or what the outcome will be, nor is that the focal point of my concern. We’ve all heard cases of outrage and seen too much media attention paid to institutions and individuals battling over prayer, to a point where most people roll their eyes when reading the headlines. I know that I just smile and shake my head sometimes. Again, some people have great cases pro-prayer and some even have good anti-prayer arguments, but my mental appetite to critically think isn’t wetted by the politics behind the cases, but found at the core, within the entire ideology of prayer. Before allowing emotions, heritage, political or religious affiliation, or schools of thought to rule the day and away your opinion I’d ask first that a clear definition of prayer be established.

Simply, prayer is communication with a higher power, God.

Most recently I visited a catholic church for a wedding. The priest requests that everyone put their hands out towards the couple at the alter and pray with him. I like to do this sometimes in other settings, but I didn’t close my eyes and just looked around. I wasn’t the only one with that idea though. My friend standing…

…sitting…well, standing…no, now sitting…wait, now standing…my knees hurt now…sitting…now standing…

…you begin to think we sat and stood a lot right? If you’ve ever been to a Catholic Church service then you understand clearly what I am describing. I’m not bashing the Catholic Church either, there is some beauty to their traditions, but this is just an experience I had that helps me process this whole idea of prayer. Like I said, I wasn’t the only one who decided to keep my eyes open and look around. As I looked around my eyes met my friend’s who was sitting beside me. We shared a bewildered expression and went back to our observing. The priest was praying for this couple in a particularly odd fashion though. I suddenly began to think I may be dreaming or having some kind of uncanny hallucination because it seemed as if this wedding had become something right off the set of the hit series Glee! The priest was singing his prayer! I’d never experienced something like this before so out of discomfort laughter erupted as a natural reaction. I also noticed while we were “praying together” that my friend and I weren’t the only ones not caught up in a deeply intimate trance, but even the priest didn’t have his eyes shut. Have you ever tried to read with your eyes shut or closed? Unless reading brail I doubt that you could do it. There was an altar boy holding a huge book standing in front of the priest and the song/prayer he was singing was actually being read out of a book. This was a pretty long song/prayer so as I shifted arms to relieve shoulder fatigue I wondered if this was what prayer was meant to be.

A friend of mine was getting married and for his bachelor party we decided to do something simple that he’d enjoy; food and golf. After we’d, I should say they, finished 18 holes we met in the country club to discuss where we’d eat. I say they because I typically throw my clubs more than I actually hit the ball. Golf, to say the least, is not my game. We didn’t rent out the country club that day, so it was open to the public. We sat in the café of the country club and had finally come to a decision on where we’d feed our appetites. As I was standing to leave one man just broke out in prayer. As you can imagine, this was an awkward feeling, me standing and trying to go, while they are praying. In those circumstances it’s not worth being disruptive so I sat down and didn’t close my eyes, I just looked around. Here sits a large group of men in a public place praying to God loud and lengthy. I watched as people awkwardly try to walk through the room or would take a peak in to see what was going on and felt my forehead rise in temperature which is a sure sign of me turning as red as a beat. I wondered if causing discomfort to others in a public place was a good thing, I wondered if this is what prayer was meant to be.

I moved to Indianapolis to start a church so naturally my environment was very religious. I constantly found myself within groups of fellow religious people so my environment shaped me and defined what “normal” was, at the time. Praying was something we did not something that defined us as beings though. It was an outward expression. Years after being involved in that church community my life began to take different shape and head in another direction. No, I wasn’t losing my faith, just growing and being lead in other directions, down a different path than I had been on. My circles of friends changed as we did not all share common places any longer. I now live 30 to 45 minutes North of where I used to. I do not feel like making a living within the church organization any longer. Things have changed. Although circumstances and lifestyles have changed and time has passed I still value several people from my past experiences and circles so I try to keep in touch and occasionally hang out. I called one friend and asked when the next time we could get together was and his response threw me off a bit and has actually changed our relationship a bit. “Let’s make sure we are intentional in our time together, what can we pray about together?” Well, I actually had no intentions of praying with him, nor do I have anything specific in mind that we need to pray about. I envisioned having a little fun, throwing around a football or laughing or something less intimate than prayer. Then again, I wonder if the understanding of prayer is intimate. Is this what prayer is meant to be?

Recently one of the shows I enjoy had an interesting plot and storyline. One girl has a pretty religious family and now attends a non-Christian affiliated school, or as the rest of the world sees it, a public college. She has a big event that has the weight of extending or ending her scholarship coming up on a Saturday. Her mother tells her that they are getting together to pray that day and quite nastily says that she has to essentially pick between her college career/scholarship and meeting them to pray. The girl practically chooses the big event and keeps her scholarship. Her mother sees her choosing over God because she did not pray. This girl personified what I will eventually reduce all these experiences and stories to. At the time her family is praying together she goes away by herself away from the event temporarily and prays to God. Later she sees her family and says she has been praying to which her mother gives a nasty facial expression in response.

Going back to the most simplistic definition of prayer as being communicating with God what does all this mean? Why do news stories of football coaches opposing team prayer, golf outings turned prayer vigils, friends only wanting to pray together instead of play catch, and dramatic family dilemmas capture my attention and get the wheels turning in my mind? They all carry a uniquely unifying theme, people’s expressions and understandings of prayer.

Most I know who practice prayer or live a lifestyle of prayer would call themselves Christians. As Christians, people who believe Jesus is God’s son and offers us reconciliation back to God, the book in which knowledge of God/Jesus is found in the Bible. This is where my mind spins a bit and ponders where all this stuff came from. Jesus teaches many things to his followers, including prayer. I am of the belief that Jesus’ teachings are still relevant, applicable, and powerful today. I think they should be handled with care and should be interpreted historically, within context, understood scholarly, and applied gracefully. This is what Jesus had to say about prayer:

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. "This, then, is how you should pray: " 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’(Matthew 6:5-13-NIV)”

A brief scan of this reveals several things to me about what Jesus taught about prayer, don’t do it for show, it is to be intimate and private, don’t be exhaustive in your words, acknowledge him as God, trust that he is in control, depend on him for guidance and forgiveness, and forgive others. I think that is pretty simple and can be worked out in simple ways. The culture in Jesus’ time of teaching was hyper religious and ultra-sensitive to opposition of respective religions. Sounds a lot like our culture don’t you think? I find it a bit baffling that of all the assumptions Christians make about themselves and the church one of the least made is that religion still looks a lot like the one Jesus stood against and called onto the carpet.

I’m not calling anyone’s expression of prayer evil or bad here. I’m not to judge anyone as I cannot maintain that capacity as flawed anyways. I do think that much of the hoopla surrounding prayer is misguided though. The complexity of what prayer has come to represent is actually simpler than many think. Maybe you have felt similar sentiments. Within small groups often times what takes the group well past the agreed upon ending time is prayer request time. You get this villain-like feeling as people pour their guts out as you watch the clock and become increasingly aggravated at the lack of punctuality. You play the game though, you sit there and listen as everyone around the room talks about what they need prayer for, which most of the time are genie-like wishes, and then it comes to you, or in my case me. “I’m fine,” I respond. This is not because I’m actually fine and have no needs or reasons to pray in my life, but more a statement of time awareness and difference in ideology. After the sharing session is over you all leave feeling like you are being prayed for. Maybe this hope is good for you, but realistically we all know and all are guilty of forgetting to pray for them or even remembering what their prayer request was. This is not to say praying for others is somehow not good or even something we should do. This is simply saying that the ideology behind prayer time and sharing space in groups like these typically is fruitless in the realm of actual prayer post-group. There are different ways people have done things in the past that help create authentic communities where prayer is actually very real and intimate, where members of the group actually go home and do it, but I’m just calling out the obvious and probably most frequently experienced case.

My question to the football association that prays publicly before each game is not the value of prayer; it is more the practice of public show. Does the priest actually believe that people are not thinking about what’s for dinner or the pain in their knees and shoulders form this sing-a-long prayer? Does the group of men in the middle of a public country club think about the people in the country club that may not hold the same belief? Is it so much to ask we reflect upon the teachings of Jesus to find the simplicity and beauty in all this? I think Jesus would say that prayer is a daily lifestyle and a private practice. Jesus actually spoke against those who publicly prayed and even said deep down they were truly putting on a show for others. Maybe something has been taught to you through heritage, political or religious affiliation, emotional dependence, or specific schools of thought that are more complicated than it needs to be. Maybe you are one of guys or gals not closing your eyes and feeling awkward while these prayer practices go on and feel it’s all so complicated. Accusations are not what I’m throwing around here and I only seek to lead or guide or challenge others to think about the reason you do what you do.

Simplicity is beautiful. It is not easy to unearth beneath layers upon layers of complication life, individuals, and institutions can bring. At the core their lies simple principles in which Jesus actually did pray for and teach that God intended for us to grasp. Maybe all the stuff is drowning out the essential idea; maybe simplicity is too complex right now. May you see the prayer for what Jesus taught. Simply be, simply live, and simply pray.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Justice Wanted?

What is justice?

The question reverberated in the back of psyche as my eyes explored written words on the screen in front of me. Indy Star reported today that the man, who is a suspect in the case of the Hovey Street Slayings, as they’ve come to be known, is expected to plead guilty to murdering 2 adults and 2 children back in 2008. I don’t think that I am above or better than our justice system so do not write with an arrogance or anger, more out of curiosity and self reflection. His partner in the botched robbery says that he watched Davis (Ronald) gun down the family. Not sure what the definition of botched robbery is exactly, but it implies a robbery gone wrong. Weed and cash were the focus of their breaking and entering at the time. My question lies beyond the robbery aspect of the case and more so how a man switches from desiring weed and cash to killing four innocent people, 2 mothers and 2 children under the age of 2. I can see maybe popping off and going out of control and shooting one person maybe, but the idea that he killed 4 people in the same moment is outrageous to me.

My candid response to hearing about the story is a thirst for blood and a craving for retributive death. My emotions are soon overridden by a logical sense and moral identity. The scene above is neighbors’ response to the slayings, leaving stuffed animals at the doorstep. The neighborhood and city were overwhelmed by this crime. Emotions surely ran and run high and mighty reacting to a certainly evil act. I have to wonder if many contributors of the huge display of stuffed animals ask themselves what justice is. Is it just for a man who admits guilt to receive lesser consequences? I suppose to biggest risk is not being able to prove beyond any doubt that Davis did murder these four lives and getting off with no consequences. Justice seems to be a large gamble in this capacity. Is it acceptable to allow this man to sit in prison, although rough, with a decent life? He will enjoy air conditioned facilities, balanced meals, a library, fitness facilities, and access to media. My emotions say that justice would be to cut his life short as he did the four victims, but my logic questions even that. I just sit here, speechless, looking at his picture wondering what justice is and depending on the definition, if it’s something I want in this case.

Beyond this case justice can be pondered in all aspects of life. Do we consider justice always or only when activated by emotions? When I reflect on my emotional speculation I would like to say I would consider justice free of emotional ignition. I’d like to think I would be an advocate of justice in my world and environment. Am I willing to consider justice daily and allow my thoughts to be more than written words? Is justice something I’m willing to do? I’d like to say yes, but cases like this make me reconsider what I even think justice is and if I want it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

God, Reese’s Pieces, and Malai Kofta

Revisiting similar experiences with a new perspective seemed to be the theme of the day. I sat in a very foreign place eating very foreign food. Naan, Vindaloo, Shahi Korma, Makhni, Malai Kofta, Kulfi, Gulab Jamun. I sat in a room with a friend who reminded me of something I was familiar yet uncomfortable with, a similar experience in ideology with a different application. Simplicity is beautiful for sure, yet overcomplicated, even within your own mind. Emotional experiences leave a lasting impression and finger print on our souls. I’m reading a book right now, Buyology, and in my most recent reading the author discusses how effective and ineffective certain advertising is. His example comes from E.T. The boy lures E.T. out of the woods behind his house with Reese’s Pieces candies. Soon after the movie this candy was everywhere and can even be found in theatres today. There were other brands advertised in this movie, but none quite as effective as Reese’s Pieces. Its effectiveness had much to do with the emotional connection it provided and how it made the product a part of the plot and experience in the movie. The product was in a very special moment in the movie thus our brains remember it the most, even though other products were advertised in the movie. Similar scenario with Coca-Cola and American Idol. Neither Ford or Cingular wireless had as close to a fraction of the success Coca-Cola had in its advertising because the product is involved in an emotional plot, an experience we, as viewers, remember, the judges giving feedback, with the brand sitting on their desks. I’m discovering brain science has a lot to do with our souls, which gives me renewed hope and encouragement.

Yes, my new fascination with brain science is heavily influenced by my culture, but is validating the fascination I once and somewhat still do with my faith and the church. My brother and I talked until around 2am two days before my wedding. He was telling me how it has been interesting to watch how much I’ve changed since moving to Indianapolis. His one area of concern was to not let my new fascination crowd out my old fascination. He said that he thinks it is very interesting that I’m into reading about the brain and such, but lamented that he worried I would allow that to overshadow my interest in my faith. I think his unease was well intended and timely for me to hear. Since returning to reality from my time off for the wedding and honeymoon I’ve been reflecting on my faith, reading more about brain science, and trying to allow my mind to process it all.

I hate Indian food. I tried it once when I first moved here and thought it was detestable. It all looks gross and the textures aren’t too pleasing. The only thing I like is the bread. I like Indian food. It was very flavorful and interesting. The only thing close to mediocre is the bread. It’s funny how things change. The latter was said in 2010, four years after the preceding unenthusiastic rant. It was a very similar experience; even the restaurant was the same as I tried previously, just in a different location. I was meeting friends that I knew through my church in both settings. I discussed faith in both settings. The experiences were very similar yet converse in their applicable comprehensions.

“Remember, same thing Adam, just a different experience this time, for a different reason.” These words inspired my mind to organize and my hands to write again. A friend says it as I leave after we have lunch together. I’ve wrestled with my faith since I had it. Early in my faith I was zealous, all about doing, doing things for the church, acts of faith, works, and very much sold that the organized church as I experienced and was involved in was the entire point of it all. I worked tirelessly to do ministry, study the bible, and explore my faith. 4, almost 5, years later I find myself in a very different world, even though my experiences are similar. Now I sit in an Indian restaurant, enjoying the food, discussing how I dislike the church as I’ve experienced and how I don’t just want to study the bible, do ministry, and how I am not sold on the church as I experienced being the point at all, even going so far as to consider its necessity.

Over lunch my friend and I discussed the simplicity of what following Jesus and having faith means. Maybe some will disagree, and that is ok, but we basically came up with living a good life by trying to live by what doing all that stuff exposes. The stuff (church, ministry, the bible, praying) is not the point, it is the application of what they reveal that matters. So I don’t worship the bible or read it only to fill my head with knowledge anymore. I don’t want to read it for those reasons. As I ate a food I once despised with a friend from the church community I call home, we agreed that I needed to find balance in doing the things I dislike because of my experiences so much, but not doing them for the reasons I once did. No longer is it ok for me to just criticize and point out what is not, my growth now looks more like living my life while reading, praying, giving back, being a husband, etc.

My struggle often comes from feeling like I’ve abandoned who I am, but more appropriately, who I used to be. My most emotional experiences in my faith thus far have been when I was involved in doing instead of being. So when I am focused more on being than doing my mind reminds me of my doing stage because that is what emotionally stained my mind. It makes perfect sense. If it works in advertising I propose it easily translates into faith struggles. My emotional experiences seem to stick out most in my mind and seem most normal to me. When I stray from these experiences I feel some kind of guilt that I am walking away from the right and entering the wrong. Rather than seeing it that way though my friend over lunch and other meetings is helping me shed new light on where I stand in regards to faith again. As I digested what he said to me as I walked away from his office I smiled and was greatly encouraged. I was encouraged that my place of peace, one where I find contentment in my faith and journey, is not too far way. My similar experience of being involved in faith, church, the bible, and such looks a little different now, for different reasons. I can live with that, I can say I have peace with it.

I suppose the simplest of questions is, “What is the point of it all, life, religion, and church?” I think everyone has different answers at dissimilar times and in diverse places. I would encourage you to find out your reason and be at peace.