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.