Preacher Propaganda

Yep

“The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfil this role requires systematic propaganda.”
Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media

I have a love/hate relation ship with social media which, invariably, bleeds into my love/hate relationship for news media. However, sites, like Facebook, give me easier access to the news stories from the sources I trust more than most all in one place. It’s so hard to type in all the different URL’s or risk navigating away from the page I’m on. So, in my feed, I get to see updated news stories from The Young Turks, Al Jazeera America, Vice News, TED talks, and various bloggers whom I resonate with. There is, unfortunately, a few various downsides to this influx of information and the ability to share it.

Eventually, your friends will post something you don’t agree with or a news story that is obviously biased from the far right to the point of being absurd (like Fox News!). Don’t get me wrong; I love my conservative friends. On top of being really great people, they also give me a point of view to check my ego and my stances against. For someone as opinionated and skeptical of news sources as I, that’s a really good thing to have. I still think they’re wrong most of the time, though.

Once in a great while, though, something will come along that will inflame my sensibilities so much I can’t help but react. Granted, it’s a huge waste of my time, ability, and intelligence to argue with someone over the internet but there are a few things I cannot abide. Some of my more infamous “conversations” lately have been over open carry, concealed carry, and things as recent as the defunding of planned parenthood. Things get pretty heated sometimes but I’ve learned to step away when it just turns into a game of rochamebeau.

Recently, there was a clip of megachurch pastor Matt Chandler from The Village Church going on a six minute tirade calling abortion murder and seemingly vilifying anyone who would consider such a decision. I was floored at first because it was just so vicious and vitriolic I felt sick. There was an ache in my chest because it didn’t feel right; there was something missing from the message. Here’s the clip I saw:

Granted, there is plenty of what he says that is true and good information. But, as I said, it’s missing something. Questions started popping up in my head, the greatest of which was, “How does this message exalt and explain the love of Christ to someone who has made the choice to abort a pregnancy in her past? The size of his congregation matched with the statistics of abortions in the us guarantees there is someone like that sitting in a chair in that building or in one of the satellite locations around the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. This seemed like the kind of actions I’d expect from Fundamentalist nut jobs like Steven Anderson in Tempe, AZ.

Then I saw who was pushing the message out. One of the big ones was the Gospel Coalition, a group of people who are ardently trying to spread the Gospel, acting as a resource for church plants and pastors. I’ve had my issues with the tactics of this group before, mostly because their council includes the culturally inept and John Calvin worshiping Jon Piper and, up until his forced resignation, the browbeating tough guy pastor Mark Driscoll. When I saw they had posted this six minute clip, I started to put the pieces together.

I realized I was being fed propaganda to support the agenda of the religious right as a means of fortifying the anti-abortion stance for all those who would take what they were fed without thought. Don’t get me wrong. I believe life begins at conception and abortion is not a means of birth control; actions still have consequences though I may vote pro-choice. Just like things like drugs, alcohol, or firearms, if you make them illegal people will find other, and usually more dangerous, means of obtaining whatever it is they want. It’s a tragedy that a baby’s life is ended before it has the chance to see the outside of the womb, but it’s even more tragic when the mother dies as well because of inadequate training, equipment, or sterility of environment because she had to resort to some backroom clinic. All life is equally sacred which, incidentally, why I’m against the death penalty. I’m pro-life in the cradle-to-grave by conviction as well. If that’s inconsistent to you, too bad.

So, I did some looking into this particular message because I knew there had to be more to the sermon than what felt like stereotypical angry Christian rhetoric. I found video of the entire sermon, found the point where Matt goes off in the six minute clip then found something interesting at the 30:49 mark:

There! That was the Gospel truth and the compassion I was expecting and was not seeing in this clip that was being exalted by a bunch of my Christian friends. There was truth to that small snippet but, in a sermon that’s 50 minutes long, the message is lost and all you see is the righteous anger which just comes off as shaming when it’s not bookended with compassion in love. Like it says in Ephesians 4:13-16 [ESV]:

…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,[e] to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather,speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped,when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

This propaganda put forth by whomever thought six minutes of shaming people for the sins they committed, likely a Christian, seems to have forgotten this. That and the importance of context in media of any kind. It seems to me like an intentional act to bolster the stance of those who are violently pro-life. I’m a firm believer in the church getting involved in stopping abortion but not through blind faithfulness to a situation they’ve never had to experience. What a lot of people don’t realize the effect of content like this presented to the wrong person is dangerous not only to the souls of those who know what it’s like to make that decision to terminate a pregnancy but, presented to the wrong mind, can result in disastrous consequences and is as dangerous as any firearm:

A woman who bombed an abortion clinic called the police. She gives her reasons for what she did:

Before I got married, I got pregnant. Everyone told me that a fetus was just a little shapeless blob anyway, so I got an abortion.

Then, after it was too late, a friend gave me some literature one day showing how the baby developed at different stages. I never realized at that stage, a fetus is so much a baby that some of them have been born at that point and LIVED!

Well, you cannot imagine what that did to me, knowing I had not just had an “unwanted intra-uterine growth “removed” but had KILLED my baby! It just about ruined my life. Even today, several years later, I lay awake at night sometimes crying about it.

So maybe you can understand my reasons for doing what I did.”

Leonard Stern “Abortion Wars” The Ottawa Citizen Sun 28 May 2000

I guess the lesson in all of this is to be careful what you consume and be as skeptical as possible when presented with any kind of clip strongly supporting any stance. Do your research and save yourself from looking like a fool or, in this case, a woman-shaming misogynist. Remember everyone as an agenda, especially the church and that agenda runs the spectrum of far right to  far left just like politics which is really sickening when you think about it. We, as the church, could be doing so much to be part of the solution but the majority of us are ardently stuck, and okay with, being part of the problem by approaching problems with their mouth instead of their heart.

Jesus never resorted to violence. Why? Because, if he did, he would not have been offering anything new.

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The Monastic Life

August 19, 2012

There are days I wished I lived in a monastery.

There are days when I cannot stand the way I feel, much less control it, that I want to go find a cloister somewhere and lock myself in with nothing but a lot of good books, my Bible, a notebook and pen, and my reading glasses. Just give me a small place to sit, read, pray, write and ponder and I think I’d be set for decent amount of time. That is, as long as you give me food and water and maybe a space to workout in.

I don’t ask for much. But sometimes I feel like I’d be better off alone and my needs would be met that way. Everybody has their schedules and I’m more of a reclusive type so it’s hard for me to request some of their time. I always feel like I’m imposing or that I’ll get in the way. All my friends have other friends or wives or kids these days and here I have, well, nothing.

That is not to seek a pity party. Far from it. But I wanted to entertain the idea not just in my head that I feel like like some days I would be better off in my own personal cell where I could read and create s I saw fit and I wouldn’t have to worry about bills, expectations, schedules. And there wouldn’t be so many things to trigger my sometimes out of control emotional responses that, even at 26, I have not quite managed a way to control them.

For instance, I’ve been depressed almost all day. I passed the time by watching about 5 episodes of Supernatural and then read some of Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns and See a Grown Man Cry, Now Watch Him Die by Henry Rollins. I may have played a little guitar too, which will probably be a whole other entry in itself. But the point is I had the house to myself, completely. I could do whatever I wanted free of everything and everyone.

And that took off some of the stress for the day.

While it may be Tuesday the 21st when you read this, know that classes began the 20th and my schedule is going to be hectic. It’s making me consider being monastic even more so. I don’t know. I’ve been begging for someone to get me out of here for a long time.

It just hasn’t happened yet.

Reflections of a Church Planting Intern: Week 1

Why am I writing this? I was asked to do so. As some of you may be aware for the summer, I will be serving as The Acts2 Church’s first ever intern. It’s an exciting opportunity for me to obtain some really practical experience in the world of church planting which has really captivated my heart over the last year or so. It sounds like a glorious and fantastic role that comes with all the crazy benefits of working at a church plant that is 2-2.5 years old. Firstly, I must say I am very fortunate to have someone leading me in this internship who has been mentoring me over the past couple of years. He told me he wanted to see me continue in what he knew was the strongest extension of my thought process and that was writing. So, naturally, I said that I would do so. You’ll have to forgive how unstructured this is as I’m really not sure how all of this is going to work or look like yet. Thank you in advance for your patience and grace in all of this.

There was a lot of unknowns going into this and there are still quite a few unknowns. The timing for my start last week was fortuitous but for reasons that were unfortunate yet providential all the same. The week I was supposed to start was hijacked by a hospital stay and surgery for my “boss” Ben’s wife and good friend Heather. I call her mom. Perhaps I should count that as my first week of my internship after all since it consisted of visiting her in the hospital. That’s what you do as a pastor, right? Of course, I joke.

A little.

My first actual week was this past week which was actually really convenient. Not really for me so much but for the church because we moved into a new space. I took part in the move which was done pretty efficiently. We had maybe 10-15 people assisting in tearing down and moving everything we had from one end of the building to the other. While we didn’t have a long way to move we did end up having a lot of stuff. I don’t think anyone really calculated just the amount of stuff that we had once it was all moved out of its proper space. So, as a church we moved and it was a beautiful thing almost. It wasn’t the most efficient or professional move but it was people on one focused mission volunteering their free time out of their Sunday to work together. There’s just something about it that makes me look back and wonder…

Why can’t we coexist like this all the time?

The remainder of the week for me was completing one specific task. Ben and I went up to Lowe’s, picked up a Rug Doctor and brought it back to the new A2. My job was to clean all the carpets. I know some might complain or whine that their’s no glory or honor in that or that it’s beneath me because I have talents that could be put to better use, etc. I recall pondering this stance, not because that’s what I thought of the task but because I know there would be the temptation to grumble because of thinking like that. So, my response to the voices in my head that thought it was a menial job and I could be better utilized?

“Exactly”

I put in my headphones and got to work. No complaining, no whining, no grumbling. If I have learned anything from the service trips and projects I’ve been on is that it complaining profits nothing and humility is everything. After the first few rooms I even found that I found a fair amount of joy in what I was doing. It’s a strange feeling for me to be content with anything but with the music going I fell into my own rhythm.

I thought I could clean carpets and be completely content.

We were supposed to have a cleaning night early in the week that no one showed up for, save one. Two if you count myself but I was still there cleaning carpets and moving stuff. Three, if you count Ben who’s always there. When our one volunteer arrived, the three of us moved couches and other items from one side of the foyer to the other so it could be vacuumed and the carpets cleaned. You can take a wild guess who got the job of vacuuming and cleaning the carpets. Not that I minded. I think Rancid said it best in their song, “Radio” when they said, “When I got the music, I got a place to go”. I was able to get the downstairs completely finished and I would have finished the upstairs too if Ben hadn’t told me to go home. I think it was about 8:30 PM. I’d been there since 10. No worries. I knocked out the last room the following day. I’m not complaining, not looking for pity.

It’s not like I had anything else to do that day.

In the Proverbs it’s repeated a couple of times that humility comes before honor (Proverbs 15:33, 18:12). Although I avoid sounding cliché I do have to say that there is a lot of wisdom to that. I try not to view myself as anything special in the sense that there is nothing I can do well aside from when the Holy Spirit is working in me or when I submit to his call or his instruction. I truly want to be of great service somehow and I’m really starting to see the height of the mountain I’ve approached. Part of me is really excited at the opportunity but then there’s that nagging doubt.

I don’t know what I’m doing.

What if after what if…

There have been times when I feel like the enemy has been at the gates of my heart just rattling them. I am an anxious person by my very nature and it has been a small fight already trying to maintain focus in all of this already. On top of my internship I’ve been invited and have accepted the honor of speaking at York E-Free in June and have been offered to share at another church though no date has been discussed or anything. While I feel my ability for communication has vastly improved over the last few months I am still feeling a bit unsettled about it because of my less than favorable experience in my homiletics class where I learned more how I can’t preach like most.

It’s all about the experience though, right?

Right.

So, since this is sort of a record of the training I’m receiving I thought it would be good to give a short rundown of some things. A brief summary of influence and such in the last week.

Music:
Goo Goo Dolls – “Dizzy Up the Girl”
B. Dolan – “Fallen House, Sunken City”
Third Eye Blind – S/T
War of Ages – “Eternal
Bible:
1 & 2 Corinthians
Joshua
Verse:
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
(1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV)
Podcast:
The Table – Kearney: Weapons of Mass Distraction – The Idol of Control
The Table – Kearney: Weapons of Mass Distraction – Sex
The Table – Kearney: Is Jesus Messing With You?
Key words:
Humility
Love
Service

Worlds and Dreams

When we were young we were filled with dreams and those dreams defined us. We were not afraid to imagine beyond the boundaries of space and time because the world had not yet shown us its limits. As we grew older, the boundaries of reality began to compress these hopes and aspirations under the disparaging guise of the rules and laws of the real world. Our dreams started to conform to the reality we were shown and our discontent grew into this claustrophobic idea that our dreams could only be understood under the terms of what the world told us was possible. Our youthful ambitions finally just gave up and gave way; our hopes we began to acquiesce and our dreams fell to the ground to become the dust under our feet.

What is so wrong with dreaming big?

I have to wonder about the idea of creation. I know there are arguments stacked upon arguments about the creation of the earth and how God did it and how long it took him. Let me be completely honest and tell you those sort of questions don’t concern me as far as my understanding goes. But let’s consider some of the very basic information. Consider the vastness of our universe, the number of stars, the different forces acting in different ways just to hold the universe together. The amount of complexity, beauty and perfection just screams and begs for us to see it as more than just a happy accident. The Apostle Paul says something to this effect in his letter to the Roman church (Romans 1:20). What’s even more interesting is that out of all that space out there we still have the only planet that can sustain life.

When God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them he created them with a specific function for them to carry out. When he was done with each phase of creation he calls it good. The land, the plants, the sea, the bird, the fish, the clouds in the sky all created for a specific reason and they were good. The word in Hebrew is tov and it means “good”.Then he created man and woman and calls it very good. The intricacies of the human body alone are enough to make you wonder just who could design something just so perfect. Down to some of the most bizarre of details like eyelashes to keep things out of our eyes and earwax to keep dirty and things out of our ears. Think about the human brain and the complexity of the personality and just how different everyone you know is. We have the ability to recall things, we have memory. It’s just so amazing to me to think about it. As the Psalmist says, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

I think that God has a perfect imagination.

We don’t know the how or why of creation for certain but we know that from the beginning God, in his infinite everything, imagined creation and spoke it into existence.

We were part of God’s dream for creation. He created us with a much more limited ability to imagine and create though. I see this every day in the work of my artist friends and in the words of my poet friends. But it’s so much bigger than that. After the Fall in Genesis 3 the first people were expelled from the garden of Eden. Sin entered the world and sin created doubt. Doubt, I’m convinced, is one of the greatest sins next to pride. While pride tells us to seek ourselves rather than God. Doubt tells us God can’t do something, it’s too much to ask and it tells us we are nothing. It tells us our dreams and our aspirations, if properly driven and motivated, are not ever going to be realized. It tells us it’s not worth trying.

But I think that’s all wrong. Because when man fell God already had a plan to redeem his creation. Paul said to his letter to the church in Ephesus:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:7-10 ESV)

A plan to unite all things in heaven and on earth? The word in Greek also means “task” or “something that requires management or stewardship”. Management and stewardship are active processes, things someone continually does.

A good friend of mine tells me that when he dreams he dreams big. I think that’s amazing. Honestly, I don’t know how to dream big myself. My dreams come to me in my sleep and they feed my aspirations in life. Sometimes they ruin my life. I believe, though, that I can rely on God for anything because, though on a much larger scale, God’s plans are big and I fit in there somehow. So, I ask myself why I let my dreams be so small? Is all that I want really contained within the schemes of academia? Do I want to be a pastor in a church and try to use my story to bring people to God’s story? Yes. Those are big dreams in themselves, perhaps the biggest because it’s God’s biggest plan that everyone become part of his story. That is my dream.

But you can get there many ways. Pastor, professor or musician, the dream is the same. It’s how you get there. It’s what you dream.

My dream is to turn the world upside down. What’s yours?

The Things I Know

Listen, if I didn’t have so much of this life all wrong… I would have gotten it right by now. I talk a whole bunch but I really only know a few things so I ain’t saying to follow along verbatim here. I’ll just tell you the things I tell myself, the things I know. You can see what sticks. – Buddy Wakefield, “The Information Man”

I spend a lot of time being wrong. I’ve spent a lot of time with my nose in books and researching things that seem to catch my eye and finding out that my preconceived notions about a topic were incorrect.  The customers I talk to on the phone at my job spend a lot of time telling me I’m wrong or I will look into a problem and find out that what I told the person was incorrect.  It is then up to me to swallow my pride and let my customer know that I was wrong. It’s not easy to do but it’s a lot easier because I don’t have to do it face to face. I purposely stay quiet out of what I call humility during conversations and classroom discussions sometimes but I’m not really humble, I just don’t want to be wrong. I think everyone has, to a greater or lesser extent, an innate fear of being wrong. It’s just part of being broken and prideful that we, as the center of the universe, cannot be wrong.

The thing I’ve discovered about being wrong a lot of the time is that I only know a few things. The things that I know are things that I can always be certain of and maintain my confidence that at least in the things I know I can’t be told that I’m wrong.  I was thinking about this today after I shook the sleep out of my eyes at the crack of noon today after staying up too late watching a movie.  I can’t tell you how I got down this road of thought because it’s just more proof that I’m wrong a lot of the time but I decided to entertain the thought process that followed.  I was able to come up with three things that I know with great certainty, without a doubt, 100% foolproof. Just do me a favor and don’t try and prove me wrong with these three things.  They’re all I’ve got.

The first has a lot to do with my personality and talents.  First of all, I’m really good at being overly analytical.  I will scrutinize something down to its most basic molecules if I have to. I will understand what I am analyzing and I will make sense of it even if it drives me to the brink of insanity. I’m pretty sure this is why I’m single but we won’t go into great detail about that.  Second, I am really good at reading people and sometimes even empathic.  I can’t tell you how many times this particular portion of my gifting has decided to rear its head.  I can’t really control it, per se, but I can decipher the signals it sends to my brain however I sense things. I have been able to tell when people are depressed, anxious, or just trying to lie to me.  It’s just been something I’ve always been able to do. It’s like that scene in Good Will Hunting when Skylar (Minnie Driver) asks Will (Matt Damon) how he figures things out in minutes that takes her hours to comprehend. He goes into this long explanation that used Beethoven and Mozart’s understanding of the piano about how they could just play and when it came to the understanding the difficulties produced by Ivy League academia he says, “When it came to stuff like that, I could just play”.  That’s the best I can describe it: I can just play.

Now when you combine analytical abilities with my interpersonal skills and severe empathy and you get a man who has easily been able to discern what a person is like, things they’ve done or something as weird as how many siblings they have and what gender those siblings are. It’s weird, really, really weird to me sometimes when things like that come to me so easily especially when, just by looking at one of my friends, I was able to tell that she had been a part of a mutual friend’s infidelity.  It is stuff like that I really don’t want to know.

What’s really frustrating is that there are times and there are people when these abilities carry absolutely no weight. It’s like someone just emptied my head or flipped off some kind of switch.  Some people are just really hard to read.  I would like to think that through my abilities I have gained some sort of insight into the inner workings of the human psyche and, to some degree, it has. I know a lot more about people than they realize a lot of the time.  But then I will see things that make absolutely no logical sense and it becomes unbearably frustrating.

This leads me to the first thing that I can tell you that I know without a doubt: There are some things I will never understand.  I will never understand why people who had a horrible go around when they dated will break up and then get back together. I will never understand why at the age of 25 I was diagnosed with a heart condition that’s typical in people in their 50’s.  I don’t understand why people hate, why people can’t be honest and why it took me so long to figure this out.  Some things just will not make any sense.  But at least I know it and someday, if you don’t, you might understand this particular truth.

Which provides absolutely no segue in to my next paragraph so I’ll just bumble into it.  I’m not a pro at this, I just speak what’s on my mind and heart and hope it makes sense.  I’ve always been that way, I guess.  I’ve been writing prose and poetry since 7th grade.  That was when the ability to communicate via paper and pencil was really unlocked. I had the most fantastic English teacher in Miss Fischer, a woman whom half the guys in the class had a crush on. I came to know her as more of a friend because she treated me like a human instead of the freak that everyone thought I was. I was a loner back then and writing was kind of my gateway out of that mindset.  Just as I’m doing now, I would write down how I was feeling and eventually I found someone influences that really altered and gave me a stronger voice. Self-expression is necessary, I think, for everyone. It manifests itself in many ways but it’s always there.

I’m still a loner now and I still write as is evident by the 1,200 words I’ve spewed forth thus far. And I still retreat to a form of writing to make sense of things in life. I’m really good at feeling alone in a room full of friends still.  It just goes to show you that some things never change.  And that is the second thing that I know.  I know that no matter what happens in your life, my life and everyone else’s life there are some things that will never change.  In a world where “the only thing that stays the same is change,” there are actually a few things that are not blanketed by that statement. Autumn will always be marked by the colors changing of the leaves, the tides will always be affected by the moon and even though their positions may apparently alter slightly, the stars will always shine in the sky when the sun sets.

There is something else that never changes.  You know, as much of a heathen as I have been through the span of my life I have always believed in God.  He may not have looked or acted like the God that I’ve studied and believe in now but he has always been there. In theological terms, people like to say that God is immutable, that is, he is not changing or able to be changed. This is something I know about God.  It’s hard to comprehend but it is indeed the truth.

My friend Ben says he’s wrong 20% of the time but that’s only because the other 80% of the time he’s talking about Jesus. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.  I believe Jesus came down in the form of a human and was tempted like we are tempted every day. And I think even worse because Satan himself really went after him first in the wilderness and then through Judas Iscariot who turned Jesus over to the authorities to ultimately be crucified.  In theological terms, Jesus’ nature can be defined by the hypostatic union, that Jesus is fully man and fully God.  Because of the former it was written in the letter to the Hebrews, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”  Jesus is that high priest.

With all of this in mind, I think there’s really only one more thing I can say I truly know.  While I know that some things I will never understand and there are some things that will never change, I think I’ve discovered something that is ultimately far more important. I know that God understands and he never changes.  That’s something, above all else, that I can cling to and tell people I know.  All other issues are unimportant by themselves.  When you add them up, however, and lay them like bricks in front of you the end result, because what I’m telling you is the truth, the road you build will lead you to the God I speak of.  I know that it’s narrow and there are few that will find it.  If it’s truth you seek, if it’s understanding you desire, then there is a God who knows you more intimately than any person ever could because he knew you before you were formed in the womb and before you were born he called you out and he wants you to know him.

Things I’ve Learned or 7 Years Spent Eating My Words

I don’t know what anyone else’s senior year of high school was like but when I was getting ready to cut loose from the bonds of state-funded education I remember there being a lot on my to-do list.  Aside from the monumental decision of which college to go to and how I was going to pay for it there was the business of getting measured for the cap and gown and getting those fantastically goofy and ridiculous senior pictures taken.  Those were especially fun for me because my mom would not let me grow my hair out until those stupid pictures were done so I ended up with this Beatles-esque dome of hair that didn’t go past my ears. I had to look nice for the yearbook, my senior yearbook.  That was something else I had to deal with. Our school wanted us to turn in pictures with a quote that best suited us or how we felt.

I don’t remember what was going through my head but I recall thinking how righteous it would be for me to quote something from the Bible because no one would do that, ever. Seriously. It had to be one of the most original thoughts I have ever had. All these other people who were going to be businessmen and women and engineers and doctors and then there was me. I never fit in when I was in school and I really thought I was okay with that. In fact I was going to show all those robots, posers and fakes who jeered me my entire school career by going to college and getting a high paying job.  I was smarter than all of them for sure because I had lived a life so much unlike theirs.

So, I was charged with coming up with a small blurb  for my senior yearbook and I had decided I wanted something out of the Bible.  Seriously, I could have come up with song lyrics or something because music was my life at that point? I don’t know why I decided to pick something from the scriptures because, at that point, I was a nominal Christian at best and very light in my knowledge of… anything, really. But I was entirely convinced that I would be different just like everything else and so I went on the search for something that would say something about me.  After some digging – and a little help from my mom I think – I settled on 1 Corinthians 13:11.  It’s rendered a little different in the ESV but it’s my Bible o’ choice:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13:11 ESV)

Now see if you can read that through the lens of a very cynical 18 year-old boy flooded with teenage angst. I thought this verse was a great big middle-finger to my classmates because I thought I was just so much more of an adult. I had survived high school with my moral high ground of never having done any drugs, drank any alcohol or even been invited to one of the big parties that supposedly went on when I was sitting in the basement of my best friend’s house playing Super Nintendo Friday nights into the wee hours of the morning.

Looking back, I think God has a perfect sense of humor. I think he had me put that verse down just so I could spend the next 7 years eating those words hard.  I thought I was so extremely grown up at the age of 18.  I thought I was going to hit the world with all the confidence and I was going to show all those people who treated me like I was nothing more than a weird guy who wore black clothes and listened to really weird, loud and heavy music .  Yeah, I’m here to tell you that not a whole lot has changed since then. I turned 25 a few weeks ago and I’m still learning to put this kind of childish, prideful nonsense to the wayside.

Growing up is not something you can just jump into.  I’ve learned that I am not able to snap my fingers and turn myself into an adult. In fact, I’m still trying to get there.  But it’s amazing to see what is different and just how much I have changed in so many and so few years.  Lately, I’ve been noticing a lot of this change in myself.  I’ve gone through a lot in just a month that has grown me (and aged me) in great leaps. I can’t count how many times I’ve reacted in ways I didn’t expect and in a very positive ways at that. All of it stems from the work that is being done in me through the very Godly amount of hammering that I’ve had to endure.

I can tell you with great amount of assurance that I  have been humbled severely in the time since I submitted that snippet of scripture to whoever the school. I still feel the pangs of being an outcast in my dealings with people sometimes. But just in the last few days even my mood has been completely different. I’m starting to see after a really long time that all of the garbage that I was tortured by in the last 7 years was all worth it now because I am finally starting to be what I thought I was back before I was even out of high school – an adult.  Granted, I still have my problems and fights with myself but I think I’ve learned a lot.

I’ve learned that you’re never as grown up as you think you are. You’re always going to have the scripts you’ll import from your past until you learn to overcome them and eventually, by the grace of God you do.  If you’re an outcast, you’re always going to be an outcast in a sense but you have to learn that people are going to treat you how they do based on their perception so this mistreatment they inflict on you may partially be your fault too. I can tell you that all the hell, grief, pain and sorrow will make you into one of the strongest people in the world if you understand there is a purpose to it all and there is an end in mind.  That you don’t know what it is right now cannot be of any consequence. I know Jesus said it best:

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:34 ESV)

So, what can we gather from all of this? I don’t know, exactly.  I think my biggest point is that God is funny and sometimes he makes us eat our words a letter at a time not to be cruel but to carry out his plan in the course of his time, not ours. Our pride will always get the best of us in the end and irony is one of the hardest things to endure when it’s your life, not some clever plot device in a movie, the fiction we live.  And life cannot be contained within some pithy statement or some mis-quoted Bible verse because God’s word is so much bigger than that and so are the things he has planned.

Finally , I know that I am a work in progress.  And so are you. And it’s amazing to see things come together one piece at a time. Just watch.

Why I Will Never be a Theologian

Let me start off by telling you that I spend a lot of time reading books.  I’m a full time student at Nebraska Christian College and I like to read books on the side.  If you look in the messenger bag that I tote around everywhere you’re likely to find at least two or three books aside from my Bible that I’m reading concurrently.  I just love to read.  I’ve given up trying to count how many books I’ve bought in the last year so much so that I’ve never even attempted to count the number of books that I’ve read.  Truth be told, I’ve always wanted a library of my own and one day maybe I’ll have a nice office or house to do that in.

Being a student, I’ve been forced to read some – not a lot – but some things that are irritating.  I go to a Bible college near where I live and, for the most part, I try and do my best to soak it all in and learn as much as I can.  I breezed through the first year without a whole lot of difficulties (at least academically) because it was mostly stuff I already knew or had picked up in my reading in the six or 7  months before I actually enrolled. But at my school there’s something I was told to expect sometime in my career at the college and it’s been affectionately titled my Hell Year.  And this is where the fun really starts because this is where this whole thing was going.

This school year is my Hell Year.  It’s been tough and it’s only gotten tougher as the months go on.  This year has consisted of my theology course and Hebrew for both semesters and then the classes I’ve thrown in with it. I spend a lot of my time, probably 12-20 hours a week just reading and working on homework so I feel that my brain is going to swell and spill out my nose with all that I’m being required to absorb.  The killer has been my theology class not just because it’s a class on Systematic Theology because Systematic Theology is interesting to me.  However, in reading for the class I have run into a certain conflict and it’s been souring my thought processes these last couple of weeks.

Let me just preface this by saying that I don’t think I could be a theologian as a career. I don’t think I’ll ever write books or commentaries that will open people up to the scriptures in some new and exciting way. I’m just not wired that way. “But, Jeremiah, you’re such a smart young man!” you might say.  That’s neither here nor there. So far, this semester I have been subjected to what seem to be two rivaling ideas in the realm of hermeneutics and its use constructing, supporting and creating large and expansive writings in the form of Systematic Theology.  I know that sounds wonderful and exciting to you. I’m actually writing this to put myself to sleep.

For anyone who have studied hermeneutics then you’re familiar with the concept of studying the text within the realm or culture of ideas that it was created first.  My OT professor described it as being etic but getting as close to emic as humanly possible, a desire that is essentially as possible as reaching zero by dividing a number by two. You’ll approach it but you’ll never completely reach it.  That is, if you’re speaking of a text thousands of years removed from your own culture like the Torah. In that realm of thinking the text starts to unfold and make more sense in its own purpose and then you can begin to bridge all the gaps between then and now.  What I’m learning in my class over the Pentateuch right now is basically an extension of what I learned in my hermeneutics class and it actually makes a lot more sense with some application.  But I really dig that approach and it’s really been helpful to know some of the language as that helps in the process of becoming more emic. What does that have to do with my being a theologian? I’m glad you didn’t ask but probably made the logical next step while you read this ceaseless rambling.

Anyway…

My conflict arises when I read things from my theology textbook or things that are provided by my theology professor.  I love my theology professor. He’s a genius in many respects and comes off as extremely staunch and conservative (of which he is the latter… very much) but he’s got a really warm personality once you get to know him. He goes to my church so he also has to look me in the face almost every Sunday. So, perhaps it’s easier to acquiesce to liking me than anything else.  Whatever the case may be, he has provided us with a wonderful textbook (can wonderful be perjorative?) by Dr. Jack Cottrell of Cincinnati Christian University called The Faith Once For All.  What I am told about this particular author is that he is the big voice of the “Restoration Movement” of which I’ve been absorbed into. Just as a sidenote, my professor was a student of Dr. Cottrell some years ago.

But what I’m starting to see a lot of – and I’m not entirely sure why I missed it before – is theologians including my professor and his mentor, the Apostle Jack, is doing some wonderful exposition on the text then taking some very odd leaps into applying their studies and writing to the current culture.  A prime example would be an article that I was given to read as an assignment to be discussed in class.  It began as what could be a simple explanation as to why Jesus, as a Jew and the Son of God, would not have a literal “tattoo” on his thigh as described in Revelation. Fine, I can accept that even though one could take the logical step of asking who would have the opportunity to get that close to the Messiah with a tattoo gun before he come back and exacts His perfect justice? But what I did not like was the next “logical” step I was asked to take in the verses in Leviticus that somehow apply to my life.  According to what I was given, tattoos, piercings, long hair, colored hair and trimming my beard are all wrong because they are all somehow degrading to my image bearer of God.

And it’s not just that article. I don’t want you to think my theology professor is a nut or something just because of one article that he provided to me because really, I think he’s an OK guy and he hasn’t said anything to me personally about the things I have chosen to do to my body and, really, that’s not the point I’m trying to make.  So, let’s move forward.

My problem is that I’m seeing this more and more in the theology that I’m reading. Either I’m entirely jaded and they are explaining how they got from point A to point B and I’m just glossing over it because I think I know it all or they’re making some serious jumps into pools of water they ought not be jumping into quite so hastily.  Dr. Jack does this quite frequently at least that I’ve read so far in his section on Anthropology.  It goes from a basic overview of what the Bible says which is what you’re supposed to do in Systematic Theology to a rant on Calvinism and their view on the sovereignty of God and how that affects people’s free will  and  it gets to the point where I really want to throw the book against the wall just out of sheer frustration.  Is it so wrong to want to learn something without having to be fed someone else’s view on yet another party’s doctrinal views?

**Deep Breath**

So, right now that is affecting my view on what I’m going to do once I’m done with my undergrad work. If I keep doing as well as I have been I probably have a good shot at getting into a decent seminary which would take me out of the God foresaken state of Nebraska. But do I really want to spend more time being frustrated or go into doing the things I’m actually good at.  I’m an introvert by I have a lot of extroverted tendencies.  I like people and I think they’re sinners like me which puts us on even ground no matter what inferiority complex I feel I may have.  I like to keep to myself so I like to study a lot and I’m really into studying original language which, right now, is Hebrew. Next year it will be Greek. I just don’t see why people with such heart and so much intelligence feel the need to take stabs at people when they’re trying to teach.  I guess I’m just a stickler for doing things the right way and the ways that make sense which is usually the right way and that’s why I’m feeling so affected by it. It’s the word of God we’re talking about, ultimately.  Isn’t it?