The Most Unsatisfying Things In The World

I saw Twitter filled with clips from this video this morning, and much thanks to Jason Kottke for sourcing a source for the original video. I felt anxiety from almost everything in this video. Now if they would only do a follow-up of the most satisfying things in the world…

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ūüĒó What Romance Really Means After 10 Years of Marriage

Over at NYMag, Heather Havrilesky writes on notions of romance a decade plus into a marriage:

And it’s another thing entirely when you start to grow an alien in your belly, one that makes you sharp-tongued and menacing, and then one day it finally comes out, all covered in white slime! That is next-level romance right there! And then, suddenly, all you do is talk to the hairless alien and feed it with your own body (a miracle!), bragging about how you make food from thin air like a GOD, and then, once the alien goes to bed, you say JESUS I‚ÄôM EXHAUSTED and OUCH MY BOOBS HURT and then you pass out in a smelly, unattractive heap. That‚Äôs survival! Once you have kids, even in a first-world country, you enter a kind of simulation of third-world living. You‚Äôre feeding one kid with your body while your husband crouches on the floor of a dressing room at the mall, wiping excrement off the other kid‚Äôs butt. You and your spouse are slogging through the slop of survival together.

And it’s romantic. Mark my words.

There’s truth in this article; the daily grind eventually takes us all to the grave, but joy and romance can be found when someone’s willing to walk down that road with you.

While there’s always a place for flowers, going out for a nice dinner, and the other “nice” gestures of romance, once you’ve been with someone for a while, the suspense will begin to go away. You realize this person is committed to you. One of the central ideas of this article is that North American concepts of romance are heavily influenced or based upon the suspense of the unknown. Once you accumulate years of shared experience, a confidence in your togetherness, and the pressures of work, raising a family, and getting old, if the notion that romance is rooted in suspense of the unknown can’t be changed, then of course it will feel like the romance has left the relationship. To be married is to be known. After even 10 years, you will know a shocking amount about your partner (including what they look like when they first wake up when feeling sick, which is never particularly flattering for any of us).

Find romance in the day to day. Find romance in complaining that your body is beginning to ache. Find romance in the transition to a semi-third world squalor that happens briefly after the arrival of a new baby. Find romance not in the unknown, but in the motions of surviving together.

And take your wife out for a fun evening once in a while!

A Tiny Part of Loving Like Jesus

Lately I’ve been thinking about Jesus a lot. ¬†Who he was and all that. ¬†And know what I’ve decided?

It is really hard to understand and comprehend Jesus as a human being. ¬†I mean, this is God; Jesus was perfect. ¬†But so completely significantly, Jesus was also human. ¬†What does it mean to be human? ¬†What does or doesn’t God do when He takes on the flesh?

I’ve been trying to look at it through a particular filter: love. ¬†I strongly believe that it’s the whole point; we are designed to love our Creator and to love those around us, including those on the fringes of society. ¬†Love. ¬†Sounds very easy. ¬†And if there’s anything I do know, it’s that Jesus loved mankind more than we’ll ever understand.

But what did that look like? ¬†What was it like to be walking around with this electric new Jew who was proclaiming all sorts of things about God that really were rubbing some of the established religious leaders the wrong way? ¬†How did Jesus react when the Disciples just couldn’t quite grasp what it was that he was teaching and it’s huge implications?

We see it in a few places in the New Testament: Jesus can get frustrated. ¬†And I can’t help but feel that there were times that he was incredibly frustrated with his Disciples. ¬†They were trying hard and doing all they could, but sometimes they just didn’t get it. ¬†Jesus’ frustration wouldn’t have been born out of resentment, superiority, or any sort of self-centeredness. ¬†No, He would get frustrated because he loved these people so much, ¬†and he wanted more than anything for them to grasp what it was that he was teaching.

So he kept trying; he kept telling them parables and kept revealing to them in new ways the Good News.

So where does this all fit in with me? ¬†I’m getting married soon, which is a pretty big change in life. ¬†I’ve been told by many people that some days when you wake up you just have to choose that in the marriage is where you want to be. ¬†I hope to be able to do my best to love my wife like Jesus. ¬†Ultimately, if you wake up in the morning and you decide to stick with someone out of love, despite any frustrations you may have or issues that are straining the relationship, I don’t think that’s a weakness or a sign of a problem. ¬†I think that choosing to stick with someone because you love this person so dearly, choosing to stick with someone because you made a promise to love them and be with them until the day you die, choosing to be there and work through tough problems and challenges in the relationship no matter how difficult it can be at times … I think that is one of the ways in which you can love someone exactly how Jesus would.

On Recognizing Truth

I’m going to keep this fairly short, as I’m not quite sure I have a huge coherent essay or anything planned for this.

The past year has been an interesting one. ¬†I moved away from home. ¬†There’s a lot more to that then I thought there would be. ¬†I moved away from my family. ¬†I moved away from my friends. ¬†I moved away from¬†acquaintances¬†and coworkers. ¬†I moved away from things I was involved in outside of work. ¬†I moved away from the map in my head that let me get around very quickly. ¬†I moved away from that coffee shop I like so much. ¬†I moved away from my past.

Moving is actually a pretty traumatic loss if you think about it. ¬†Especially if it’s the first time and you do it alone. ¬†I found it really difficult. ¬†Shift work also complicated my efforts to re-establish all those things here in Winnipeg. ¬†It’s hard to build relationships with people when you’re not on a Monday to Friday, 9-5 schedule.

As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time doing two things: playing guitar and talking to God. ¬†We’ll leave the guitar for another time.

Moving has probably been the #1 best thing for my faith ever. ¬†The intense loneliness that I struggled with forced me to really explore my prayer life and really open up to and talk to God. ¬†I learned how guarded I was against God in what I would and wouldn’t tell him. ¬†I had to open up to Him, and it’s been one of the best things to happen to me.

God works if you let Him, and He did a pretty good job of fixing the whole lonely thing. ¬†I still may not have had a lot of people around, and I was lonely in a “I miss people” way, but not in a “I’m completely alone” way. ¬†This new depth to my faith introduced a lot of new struggles that I have had to deal with and that I am still dealing with, mostly centered around the balance between serving and taking time for myself, where things fit in my life and what I should be spending my time on, and greater issues of inequality around the world. ¬†Being a Christian is not an easy thing.

I’ve been searching for answers to these questions. ¬†Listening all the time for something that might help me figure it out, and this, this here is what I want to share.

No, I’m not going to tell the answers I’ve found. ¬†I think the journey of finding some of those answers is equally important to the answers themselves. ¬†I’ve found some of the answers in the Bible. ¬†I’ve found some of the answers in Donald Miller’s Searching For God Knows What. ¬†I’ve found some of the answers in conversations with both Christians and non-Christians. ¬†I’ve found some of the answers at one of the churches I attend, saint benedict’s table. ¬†I’ve found some answers while taking walks around the city. ¬†I’ve found some answers on the side of the highway. ¬†I’ve found answers in my relationship with my girlfriend. ¬†I’ve found answers through prayer. ¬†I’ve found answers in music.

The point is, I’ve found a lot of answers in a lot of different places. ¬†Pieces that fit together and help make sense of everything. ¬†How these pieces are given look drastically different. ¬†Lyrics in a song are very different from a beautiful tree. ¬†Words on a page are very different from giving somebody a piece of your heart. ¬†A conversation over coffee is very different from driving alone down a highway at night. ¬†Going to Church is very different from watching a T.V. show with friends. ¬†However, one thing that is the same is that God is present in all these places, and he speaks through all these places.

And here is what I’ve learned.

There is a part of us that is hardwired to hear God. ¬†Sometimes we need to work to dust it off and get it working again, but it’s there. ¬†And it is the coolest thing ever. ¬†God’s word is Truth. ¬†And the neat this is that since we’ve been created in such a way that we’re wired to hear God, we’re wired to hear Truth. ¬†And that’s what I’ve learned. ¬†I’ve found answers in all these places because God has spoken in all these places. ¬†He’s been walking with me and listening to my questions and prayers and He’s responding to me. ¬†And despite how drastically his voice has sounded, be it words on a page, a random thought that pops into my head that has no way of being my own, a fun evening with friends, or a melody in a song, there is that part of me in the deep regions of my soul that just knows that it’s Truth. ¬†Just knows that that what I’m hearing is right and I need to pay attention to it.

It doesn’t matter what it looks like, you’ll recognize Truth when you hear it. ¬†We’re made to.

When I came to this realization I started thinking about the church I go to that I mentioned earlier, saint benedict’s table. ¬†It holds a very special place for me; I have fond memories of my first time going, and they spoke to me in a way that I desperately needed to be spoken to when I initially went. ¬†I look forward to going every time I can. ¬†I seem to meet God there almost every time I go, and I find the teaching incredibly spiritually nourishing.

It’s an Anglican service done in an Anglican church that follows the Anglican liturgy. ¬†Jamie Howison, the priest who ministers the service, has loosened the bolts in some places to allow for a few other ideas to be integrated into the service, but it’s an Anglican service. ¬†The thing that amazes me is that I’m pretty sure that Anglicans are probably in the minority there. ¬†It truly is an interdenominational service there. ¬†I started wondering why that is. ¬†Well, I wondered until I considered that maybe the connection I feel to God’s word there isn’t unique, that other’s feel it as well. ¬†Then it hit me. ¬†Truth is preached at that service. ¬†And Truth is bigger than the lines we draw in the sand to define our Christian denominations. ¬†People who come see that Truth, and they respond. ¬†They put themselves where they can hear it.

It’s not just me.

It’s all of them, and you too.

Truth can look so, so different and come from so many places.

But you’ll without doubt recognize it when you hear it.

The Secular and The Sacred

I live in a place of tension.  My faith is very important to me: it is why I do what I do and it is what my life focuses on.  This is not the tension in itself.  The tension comes from where I come from.

I was not always a Christian; or, rather, I didn’t always take my faith seriously.¬† I was baptized as a child and attended church until my parents told me that I didn’t have to go if I didn’t want to.¬† Naturally, I didn’t once they gave me the option.¬† Now how I Christianity become central to how I life my life is a story in itself that won’t be told here.¬† What is important is that it didn’t happen until the end of High School, and moreso into University.

I grew up in a secular culture.¬† I grew up with some people who thought about themselves exclusively, I grew up with some people who strive for material things, I grew up with some people who drank far too much.¬† I’ve held hair out of faces while people throw up after far too much to drink, and I’ve fought people who made me angry.¬† I’ve seen a huge spectrum of what a “secular” life is and while there are things in it that I see as hugely misguided and damaging, I see a lot of good things within it too.

And this is where my tension comes from.¬† I feel that I cannot abandon the secular.¬† While I can guard myself from the dangers that lurk within it, I feel equally that I should embrace the good things in it as well.¬† Simply because it isn’t what we would define as “Christian” doesn’t automatically make it bad.

One foot rooted in my faith, one foot in the secular.  Most of the time it works pretty well; sometimes it can be a struggle.

I read a really interesting article yesterday that answered the question: Is it acceptable for the Church to reinterpret secular songs for use in worship?

I won’t sum it up or anything, it’s pretty short so if you’re curious what exactly says, just give it a quick read.¬† One point the author brings up is one that I had never really thought about before, but it’s very obvious when pointed out.

Christians have a bad tendency to become an introverted community that only looks to each other for everything except missional work.¬† We tend to try to “avoid” secular culture based on the dangers that it can pose.¬† When we teach our faith and lessons to others, we stick to established theology.¬† We tell stories about Jesus telling stories.¬† Which is incredibly important.

I had never given too much thought to the stories Jesus told.  Or rather, I always thought about the message and not the story itself.  Jesus only occasionally quotes the Torah.  His parables involve the culture that the communities lived in at the time: he talked about families, he talked about farming, he talked about fishing.  His parables used the secular world that He was teaching in to deliver a message.

This is huge.¬† Jesus himself was telling us that God isn’t just in established religious systems.¬† God isn’t just in Christianity.¬† God is everywhere, and I think that many Christians ignore a lot of what He’s doing by avoiding the secular.¬† Jesus himself showed God’s work through the secular.¬† Jesus made the secular sacred.¬† This is not an uncommon transformation.¬† I find it quite beautiful.

This leads me to where this all culminates for me.¬† I think that a Church needs to be contemporary.¬† The Church needs to continually evolve and adapt to maintain it’s ability to speak to the community and the culture of the day.¬† If a Church can’t do this, then it will have huge difficulties in speaking to it’s community.¬† Culture is as much a language as anything else, and the Church needs to be able to speak it.

This does not mean Churches should try to be trendy or abandon tradition.  Tradition is hugely important, and when seeking to be contemporary and relevant to a quickly evolving culture, it is more important than ever to ensure that the leadership of a Church seeks to change in ways that honor and uphold a tradition thousands of years old.

Through prayerful effort and careful planning and communication with the community, a Church can be contemporary and relevant.¬† It will be able to take the secular and make it sacred.¬† It will be able to speak God’s truth to a whole new generation with startling clarity.¬† It will connect members with the new Christianity and the Christianity that is far, far older than us.¬† It will show people the unquestionable relevance of God in today’s world while allowing us to understand and be moved by the traditional sacrments.¬† If, with God’s leadership, a Church can take parts of today’s secular culture and make it sacred, it will reveal the truth and fill people with passion for Jesus Christ.

I stand one foot on each side.  I desire to take the secular and make it sacred.  How much of that will I be able to do?  Probably not much.  Perhaps if I can better articulate and share my thoughts with others, I might be able to make a small difference somewhere.

I stand one foot on each side.  Part of my life will be finding those connections between the secular and the sacred.  Part of my life will be realizing and (hopefully) sharing how unbelievable relevant God is and how He speaks to us in many languages, from ones thousands of years old to ones yet to show up.

I stand one foot on each side.

God Knows What

I was thinking of Paul recently when I saw an evangelical leader on CNN talking about gay marriage. The evangelical leader agreed with the apostle Paul about homosexuality being a sin, but when it came time to express the kind of love Paul expressed for the lost, the kind of love that says, I would gladly take God’s wrath upon myself and go to hell for your sake, the evangelical leader sat in silence. Why? How can we say the rules Paul presented are true, but neglect the heart with which he communicated those rules? My suspicion is the evangelical leader was able to do this because he had taken on the morality of God as an identity with which he was attempting to redeem himself to culture, and perhaps even to God. This is what the Pharisees did, and the same Satan tricks us with the same bait: justification through comparison. It’s an ugly trick, but continues to prove effective.

This is an excerpt from Searching For God Knows What (SFGKW) by Donald Miller. I loved his book Blue Like Jazz, and I’m continuing to explore the thoughts that he has on faith and God and religion. At a quiet retreat day yesterday, I was able to finish SFGKW and was thoroughly fed in the spirit. But first, some backstory.

In SFGKW, Donald Miller spends a lot of time exploring the stories of creation and the fall of man. He meanders back and forth in and out of ideas, just trying to generally introduce and reinforce the idea of our faith be relational, not just lists and bullet points. I found the lack of focus frustrating in many ways, but continued to get through it. It was worth it. In the last third of the book he brings it all together and passionately makes a very strong case for how in many, many ways, we have the habit of missing the point and simply put, we need to stop doing that. I couldn’t help but feel that so many of the things I read at the end of the book are truth; they are views that God has about our relationship with Him, and they need to be shared. We need to stop missing the point.

A moral message, a message of us versus them, overflowing in war rhetoric, never hindered the early message of grace, of repentance toward dead works and immorality in exchange for a love relationship with Christ. War rhetoric against people is not the methodology, not the sort of communication that came out of the mouth of Jesus or the mouths of any of His followers. In fact, even today, moralists who use war rhetoric will speak of right and wrong, and even some vague and angry god, but never Jesus. Listen closely, and I assure you, they will not talk about Jesus.

In my opinion, if you hate somebody because they are different from you, you’d best get on your knees and repent until you can say you love them, until you have gotten your soul right with Christ.

I can’t say this clearly enough: If we are preaching morality without Christ, and using war rhetoric to communicate a battle mentality, we are fighting on Satan’s side. This battle we are in is a battle against the principalities of darkness, not against people who are different from us. In war you shoot the enemy, not the hostage.

Love. Christ loved the world. God loves creation. Our morality is not right versus wrong; it is a sincere attempt to imitate Christ, to imitate God. We are to attempt to be like Christ. Christ loved the world. He loved the sinners and prostitutes and the sick and the broken. He did not condemn them. Christ had a very righteous anger at times, anger towards the people who knowingly blasphemed God for their own motives, but had nothing but compassion and love for those caught in the wages of sin.

We are to love those who are trapped in the battle.

We are not judges.

The greatest comfort I can feel in the middle of this is that Jesus did not lend Himself to war causes, to tax issues or political campaigns. For that matter, He did not lend Himself to raising money for education or stumping for affirmative action. It was as if He did not trust us to build a utopia. He kept it very simple; in fact. Follow Me, He said. I have no opinion about what color the paint should be in this prison. Follow Me.

Is Jesus angry? Sometimes. Does He speak of sin and morality? Yes, quite frequently. Does the contemporary evangelical model of sin and morality reflect the teachings of Christ? As a flea is part of a dog, but not to be confused with the dog itself. Is Jesus frustrated with sinners? Yes. Is He frustrated with religious zealots who use His Father’s name to build businesses or support agendas? He is violently frustrated. Is there a penalty to pay for rejecting Him? Yes, apart from Christ we will die and are dying. Does Jesus like liberals more than conservatives? He will be nobody’s flag.

Jesus is not a political party. Jesus is not an excuse to support what you think the world should be like. Jesus is not a…tool to justify your beliefs. Jesus is who we follow and who we set our eyes upon. Following and imitating Jesus does not have a political affiliation. Jesus did not mix his faith with politics.

[After a Priest asks a friend of Donald’s if he thought that Christians were “right”;] Asking whether my friend thought Christians were right was really a question about the questioner and his identity, not about God. My pastor friend was asking my other friend to admit we were right and he was wrong — his journey was wrong, his experience was wrong, his heart was wrong, his mind was wrong. He was asking my friend to join our party in the lifeboat. That’s a lot to ask of a guy. The sad part of this story is, my friend who isn’t a Christian was hurt and politely changed the subject, and we haven’t talked about God since. I apologized to him later, and, unfortunately, the subject has yet to come back up.

The ever-overquoted C.S. Lewis said it this way in his book Mere Christianity: “Most of us are not really approaching the subject in order to find out what Christianity says: We are approaching it in the hope of finding support from Christianity for the views of our own party. We are looking for an ally where we are offered either a Master or — a Judge.”

And that’s the thing about being religious; it isn’t this safe place in the soul you can go, it has just as many booby traps as any other thing you can get yourself into. It’s a bloody brothel, in fact. Jesus even says there will be people who will heal other people, but when they die He is going to say He didn’t know them. It is somewhat amazing to me, once again, that all of Christianity, all our grids and mathematics and truths and different groups subscribing to different theological ideas, boils down to our knowing Jesus and His knowing us.

Through the knowledge of Christ comes the Fruits of the Spirit. Paul says that if we give away everything we have, but have not Love, we gain nothing. All the knowledge of scripture and laws and religion, without having love, without having Christ; and we gain nothing. In this age where information is truth, it can be hard to see. Relationships aren’t formulae or lists or bullet points or graphs or tables. But we are called, ultimately, into relationship with Christ. And there is a joyous truth inside that relationship. There is love inside that relationship.

Without it, we have nothing, we are lost.

Jesus, by instigating what we call Communion, and disciplines such as fasting, and the sacrament of baptism, takes the spiritual disciplines from the abstract realm of religion and places them within the meaningful realm of relationship. As I’ve mentioned, fasting is mourning Him, baptism is identifying with Him, Communion is remembering Him. It all comes down to our thoughts and feelings and faith in Him. If our minds are not on Christ and we treat Communion like a little religious pill, or baptism like a woo-woo bath, or fast to feel some kind of pain about our sacrifice, the significance is gone. It is the trick of satan to get us to go through religious motions divorced of their relational significance. It is the trick of Satan to get us to perform religious actions without meaning them.

All I can say about this is that when you go to Church, try not just reading what’s printed on the bulletin, but try saying those words from your heart. Repetition can lead to familiarity and indifference, and it is so important that when we perform our sacraments, we have at the forefront of our minds what the significance of the words we are saying and the actions we are doing mean. In doing so, not only do we avoid the spiritual dangers that come from the divorce of actions from relationship, but we also receive deep spiritual nourishment and abundance from God in Heaven who is overjoyed that his Children are striving and deeply thirsty for a relationship with Him. He is overjoyed that His Children have recognized his sacrifice to rebuild our relationship with Him and want to celebrate, honor, and remember it. He is overjoyed that His Children, like the prodigal son, want to come Home when it is time; to come back to their Father.

I’ve a friend who has a leather-bound day planner, and on an inside page of the planner there is a space for facts about a spouse: her dress size, her favorite foods, her favorite music. Amazingly, this is not a page my friend created on a blank sheet of paper; rather, he bought it from the company that makes the time management system. We laughed together at the oddity of the idea of trying to calculate, plan, and structure knowledge that would be meaningful to a woman only if her husband knew it, as a consequence of his love. The whole point of intimacy is that you want to know things, random facts; you are driven to them because this woman has taken you captive, not that you would willfully write them down as a matter of discipline. Imagine calling your wife to tell her you love her and then hanging up the phone to check off the action on your to-do list. I don’t think she would be pleased in the slightest. She would probably rather not have received a call at all. No, in romance, as in spirituality, your motives have to be selfless, driven from an authentic love for the other person.

Also, it bears repeating that Jesus told the Pharisees the greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. I would think the Pharisees of the day would have dismissed this as a kind of affective theology, mushy talk, not very rational, and yet the whole time Jesus was extending an invitation to a spiritual marriage, our oneness with Him allowing God to see us in Christ’s righteousness rather than our own. It would most tragic for a person to know everything about God, but not God; to know all about the rules of spiritual marriage, but never walk the aisle.

I feel that there is substantial truth, truth that needs to be heard by more people, within the quotes I’ve pasted here. I’ve tried to keep my commentary to a minimum; as my theology is my own, and your theology is your own. I hope that only I’ve been able to spur some thoughts in you about these topics. Feel free to leave comments on the Tumblr entry for this post if you have any!