Thursday, February 22, 2007

As I sit in a coffee shop in West Salem, my mental agenda is constantly interrupted by a very loud group of high schoolers "studying." Really, it's just the girl that is the really loud, the two guys aren't all that loud. Overhearing bits and pieces of their conversation, I hear them arguing over the validity of Christianity. One of the guys is fighting alone and attempting to defend Christianity. The girl and other guy are clearly on the other side of the coin, almost laughing at him for believing what he does. The two are attacking the historical accuracy by discussing the canonization of Scripture, the Council of Nicea, and other events that, to them, "clearly didn't happen," or "were simply events manipulated by the leaders at the time." They even brought up sad, yet true, events such as the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition.

I don't bring this up to say, "Oh, children, your zeal is admirable but you are still wrong," because in many ways I've had (and still have) my own questions and criticisms.

The reason I bring it up is because it has caused me to flash back to high school. Many times I found myself in the place of this lone guy, the one "defending" his faith. Many times my friends tried to "attack" the history (or the science) of Christianity in an attempt to get me to open my eyes and realize how ridiculous it all is. Those were hard situations to go through, but I'm better for it. And even if there are still questions and doubts, I've always been able to fall back on the sometimes incomprehensible thing that is ... faith.

I just hope that as hard as that conversation may be for that guy, faith may override the confusion that is going on inside his mind. May God shine through that confusion and tug on his heart in a way that trumps all logic. May God also tug on the hearts of the two who disagree so strongly. I pray that despite all their self-assurance and logical "superiority," may God still find a time to speak to them, to be revealed to them.

Thanks God, that I've had to go through hard situations like the one I encountered today, and thank you that there are more situations like that to come.

Monday, February 19, 2007

I didn't get his name. I'll call him Jim. He needed a ride from Salem to Portland and I was going that way. As we started along in our journey we began talking about life and why he was on an on-ramp with his thumb out.

Jim started into the story of how his dad just died. He's from a Native American family and was coming back from Grand Ronde but didn't have a car. His license had recently been taken away for some choices he had made.

Hearing the pain in his voice about the death of his father was pretty moving. Hearing him tell me about the choices he had made that lost his license and the changes he is now making to redeem those choices was also moving. I could tell that what hurt most was the lack of trust people now had in him, enough broken trust that he wasn't even allowed to visit his dad's old home to collect some of his own stuff.

And then we got on the subject of God. Apparently Jim grew up in a Pentecostal home. He had never heard of Quakers (not surprising) but was open to talking about the differences. Jim claimed to not be a "religious type" anymore, but we at least were able to talk about God for a bit before he changed subjects. The one thing he said that struck me was, "They never forced it on me. My mom always let it be my choice to go to church, and the church never forced nothin' on me. I think if they had done it differently I wouldn't view Christianity the way I do today." It was very insightful of this obviously broken man. He recognized the damage that some types of "evangelism" can do. I'm glad Jim was part of faith community growing up that didn't completely harm his understanding of God. And I pray that wherever Jim is right now, God will continue to be revealed.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

I ran across this article today that tries to address 5 questions heard by almost everyone who actively practices non-violence from a Christian perspective. I was in the minority at George Fox by being a Quaker student, so I was faced with these questions many times, more than I can count. I even remember one situation where I felt I was being aggressively attacked by those who disagreed with me. These are all questions I often don't like to address, probably because it's easier for me to give a "non-answer," but I'm glad I was able to revisit them today.

Why, thank you...

I have a friend who has asked me a funny rhetorical question twice recently. “Can I give you a really good compliment?” she says. (Which of course I can’t turn down. Who would turn down a compliment?) The first time she asked me this question it led to a compliment about the relationship I have with Melissa and one aspect of our marriage she respects and admires. So, on the second time around, without giving me time to answer, she simply states, “You are completely normal.”

A compliment?!? My mind immediately went to a “glass half empty” mentality. Normal? You think it’s a compliment that you think I’m just average? I know I dress to fit in and don’t have any interesting hobbies and watch 24 and American Idol with the rest of them, but AVERAGE?

Once I got beyond my internal mini-crisis, I calmly asked, “What do you mean by that?”

She began to dive into a story about an experience she had at a small group she is a part of. At that small group she shared a funny spiritual metaphor that she had read out of a book of mine at work that day. The metaphor pokes fun at the “feel-good” nature of modern Christianity. After she shared the metaphor with the group, some thought it was funny, but some thought it was offensive.

So, when she paid me that compliment she was actually meaning for it to be positive. As she saw it, I was “normal” because she perceives me as a person of faith, a follower of Christ, that isn’t weird and socially inept; a person who is able to integrate ALL of life, both the spiritual and the secular. She and I discuss funny, inappropriate movies as well as deep and meaningful topics. We are able to jump from the surface to the deeper issues almost instantly. She sees that I have made an attempt to not compartmentalize my life and she sees that is lacking in the community that she is involved with in that small group, and Christianity on the whole.

The next line she spoke struck me deeply. Deep enough it actually almost hurt. Not just because I felt for her as she said it, but because I felt an entire generation crying out in the words she spoke. She said, “I just feel like a misfit…”

You see, this friend is a person of faith, a person longing to pursue Christ and longing to be a part of community. But this person also enjoys those other parts of life, the parts that don’t just happen in small groups or church. She enjoys hanging out with not-yet-Christians and seeing movies or going on adventures. She, like me, does not want to compartmentalize God into one, or maybe two, days of her week. She desires to pursue God in all that she does, and because others in her community aren’t practicing that as well, she feels abnormal and almost on the verge of giving up at times.

And I think that frustration, that resignation, is the attitude of many people my age. They desire to follow Christ, to be a part of an authentic community, but they desire to do it holistically and with all of who they are. My friend is not the only one that feels that way and she may not even name these frustrations herself, but that is the sense I got that day. She is not a misfit. She is a beloved child pursuing a loving God and she is much more normal than she realizes.

Saturday, February 10, 2007