Pursuing Holiness in the Minutiae

14 05 2010

Just a few posts ago, I wrote about how the prophets are incredibly sensitive to the presence of evil and a period of time in which I felt the same. I’ve been praying about returning to that intimacy, but today I remember why it’s so hard: It’s the little things.

I’ve been doing a kind of spiritual cleansing – taking a week to pray through and repent of evil / sin in my life. It feels incredibly good – in the evening, after an hour of prayer and making some necessary phone calls or emails, I am surrounded by peace. But at those times, I’m intentional: I sit down, I pray for the right attitude, and I’m ready to face it all.

But it’s the slap in the face that is so hard to deal with. It’s the sudden and unexpected.

Situation: there’s been a person that’s hard to deal with. He has a good heart and means well, but we’ve been working together on something and he doesn’t always “get” what we’re supposed to do. He’s got ideas – often great ones, but often beyond the scope of our project (too time-intensive or unnecessary, for example). So, sometimes he gets shot down (usually by the boss, sometimes I try to warn him that it won’t fly). Anyway, I wanted to work on our relationship, so that the “shooting down of ideas” was in no way a reflection of who he is as a person. In other words, spend some time with him to develop a friendship to make our work relationship better.  I thought it was working.

Until today he sent me an angry email, criticizing me and trying to “push my buttons”. Everything about the email was designed to get a response out of me. Even his word choices were purely accusatory and character-oriented (Any basic communications class / conflict discussion will tell you never to attack someone’s character, but to focus on the actions and how you feel. For example, “I felt disappointed when you forgot to call me.” instead of “You’re so irresponsible!”)

Okay, so here’s the real point: I got angry. The button-pushing worked. I hit “reply” and started to (1) justify myself and (2) return with my own accusations. Well, I quickly knew that I shouldn’t write a response while angry, so I stopped. But then I was just reading and re-reading the email. And getting more angry. The sort of thoughts going through my head:

You have no right to say these things!

And I was trying to be nice to you!

I don’t have to work with you. I can be done with this. That’s it. I’m done! I’m going to email back saying I won’t work with you any more. Then see how you like it – I won’t be your buffer. I don’t have to take this!

Well, you get the point. And I’m sure we’ve all been there. I was really starting to get worked up (this all lasted about 2 minutes…)

Then I heard the smallest prompting from the Spirit. Just last night, I made promises about seeking to be holy, pursuing unity and compassion and grace and forgiveness. The memory of those promises tugged at my soul. The Spirit was telling me to stop. To let go of the anger and pray about how to build up this relationship – even apologize for the things the person criticized if needed.

But I didn’t want to. And here is the crux of all of our choices – in that moment, I knew what God wanted and I knew what I felt. And they didn’t line up. And because I knew that so clearly, I also knew I had a choice to make – the knowledge of the difference between God’s will and mine at that moment made me eminently more responsible than if I’d sent an angry email in the first few moments. Because once you know something, you can’t “un-know” it. At that moment, I knew I was wrong with certainty and clarity. Any action I take after that is nothing but clear, direct rebellion.

Still, even as that all became clear, I hesitated. Then I remembered – I loudly commanded the enemy to be silent, and put myself at the mercy of God. I knew the difference between right and wrong, but had no strength to choose the right in that moment. So I told God that he’d better take over.

He did. And now I’ve written this post. And in a moment, I will pray about how to respond – whether to send out an apology, an explanation, to send nothing, or to make a direct call / arrange a time to get together and talk about it. Ultimately, done with the right spirit, any of these could be the right action. Conversely, with the wrong spirit, any of them could just make it worse. That’s why it comes down to guidance. And in the perspective of the prophets, it’s about “Sensitivity to Evil” and “The Importance of Trivialities”.


The System’s Broken

1 05 2010

I have a confession. I have student debt. Significant student debt. As in, enough to buy a house in a small town.

Yes, it was my choice.

No, I don’t regret it.

Here’s a graph that’s been floating around:

A lot of people are noticing that college is far more expensive than it used to be, and probably than it should be as well.

I don’t have a solution. I’m just saying there’s a problem. A lot of people are saying there’s a problem.

So, how do we address this? I think we’d better figure out a theology of education, then take a look at economics, politics, sociology, even psychology.

In other words, the answer’s going to take a whole lot of brilliant people in a whole lot of important fields. Well, that’s also true of global warming, international relations, poverty…

The Church’s role? (1)Prayer. (2) Having a theology to ground the answers we seek. If our theology says God created the world and it was good, then we have a starting place to deal with environmental issues. If our theology says that humans are made in the image of God, then we begin to address poverty.

The answers aren’t easy, but first, we need to see that there’s a problem.

Keep it Simple

30 04 2010

Been watching TED Talks on my lunch break at work. This one has given me something to think about.

The point: simplicity.

The definition: something functional, reliable, cheap, and inter-connectable.

The best quote: “Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This is all in reference to design, the Keep It Simple and Stupid (KISS) principle.

But isn’t great writing equally elegant in its economy?

And our faith? A theology as simple as possible, but no simpler? (Paraphrase of Einstein)

Some Teenage Wisdom

20 03 2010

As a teenager, I came up with my motto for life: No regrets. Now, that’s not so unique, but I went further. I named two corollaries. Or rather, two applications of this rule.

First, the past. Whatever has happened is in the past. It’s over. Sure, we’ve got to live with it. But there’s no point crying over spilled milk. You just get a rag and clean it up. Particularly in my life, this meant there was no point being angry about a screwed up childhood. Others made their choices and I have to live with it. But I’m not going to regret it.

But then this also applied to the present and future. I’m eighteen and I’ve got a life to live before me. Choices to make. Life choices. “I don’t want to stand with the setting sun and hate myself for the things that I’ve done.” So I won’t. I’ll make my choices with care and consideration. If I do this tonight, will I regret it tomorrow? Yes. Then I’m not doing it. Simple as that.*

At least, it all seemed that simple. No regrets. Move forward. Look forward. Watch where you step along the way and keep moving.

Those steps led me to God. Then there was a whole world of other mottos: Love God. Love others. Serve God. Keep the Sabbath. Meditate on the word. Ask everything of God. Be humble. Be gracious. Loving. Kind. Honest.

Frankly, I forgot about the “No regrets” rule. There were too many other things to worry about. But now, as I’m hitting 30 this year, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting.

And you know what? I think “no regrets” pretty well sums up where I am in life. And I’d say that’s pretty biblical.

*Yeah, I’ll make some mistakes along the way, but then it falls under the first corollary.

Cleaning Traffic Cones

18 03 2010

Saw something odd the other day: A man was cleaning the traffic cones with a high pressure water spray. In Korea, these traffic cones are permanently installed everywhere to prevent U-turns. They’re thin and tall, with reflectors on top. Pretty nondescript really. As I approached, I wondered, why? I mean, I can see them, they’re stopping people from U-turns, I’d say they’re doing their jobs. Besides, no one walks there or touches them, and they can’t really be that dirty.

Then I pulled up alongside and waited for a red light. I watched as the man moved the hose up and down in long sweeps to cover the side, then slowly walked around to get all angles. The water streaming down was black as ash, looked like he was washing away a layer of charcoal graffiti. 

Ok, so they were really dirty. They sure didn’t look it all lined up together. But it was only later that night, when I was returning home, that I understood. 

See, there were two long rows, but he’d only done one side. In the dark, suddenly I could see. The washed cones were bright and clear, while the dark ones were … dark. Sure, I could see them, but they might as well have been trees compared to the glowing reflectors of the others. 

In between the washing and the night-time observations, I heard a sermon on holiness. As Christians, we’re supposed to be traffic cones. But so often, living in the dirt of this world, we get a coating of filth over us. It’s not so noticeable – it builds up gradually and all of us are covered in the same soot, like the matching cones in a row. And, at some level, we’re still standing out and doing our jobs. 

See, the dirty cone stands out compared to the trees and poles. But the effectiveness of the dirty cone is nothing compare to the effectiveness it could have.  The cleaned cones reflect the light more truly, more brightly. So, I guess we’re supposed to pursue holiness.

What’s in a ring?

10 03 2010

Just found my class ring. These clumpy rings mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. The best years of their life. A time when they thought being on the swim team was their greatest success. For some, it’s the awkward reminder of the geek in band. A first love. A petty fight. Friends and growing up.

Not mine. High school was a bleak time with a few bright spots. But mostly it was a time of tears. Not the tears of a broken teenage heart. The tears of a broken soul in the night. Tears of hopelessness and homelessness. These are the tears shed in silence. In darkness. In solitude.

But the ring… that was pure defiance. I was forbidden from purchasing it, so I got a secret job and did. It was an extreme act of self-definition, of independence. I didn’t know it at the time, but the message I was trying to send was this:

“I’m not a bad kid. I want simple things. I want normal things. And I’m willing to do what it takes to get them myself, because I know no one’s handing them to me. So, lay off. Back off. Keep your distance if you’re not going to help me. Because I’m not a bad kid. The things I want aren’t bad things. I want a class ring. I want to graduate high school. I want to go to college. So stay out of my way, because I’m doing it. With or without you.”

Just a few months after this, I finally moved out of the house: A teenage run-away for all the right reasons.

Now, I know this blog is supposed to be about God. About the academics of faith. But you see, I don’t come from ivory towers. I wasn’t born to this life I live. I wasn’t raised to this faith I profess.

I’m not the same person that bought that ring. But if I’d never been that person, I would never be who I am today. The anger and defiance, the yearning for something more – those drove me on. And that, that was God. That’s my theology.

More than ten years have passed since I bought a ring. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll be putting it on again.

Discovering Tegu: The Next Generation in Blocks

7 02 2010

I discovered a new toy: blocks!

When I was a kid, blocks looked something like this:

They were simple and easy to use. And. while we enjoyed them, we all knew Legos were better. In fact, as a kid, I remember think blocks were pretty boring and stupid (and not colorful and plastic).

So, why sell these boring toys? They’d been around for ages… kids played with them before plastic with all its wonderful colors was invented. Plus, they’re hardy – they last a lot longer. Still. . . I was kid. They were dull.

Then, a few years ago, a lot of adult friends started purchasing… blocks! Ok, well, technically they’re planks:

These are Keva planks. They look pretty awesome, right? The thing that made these different was precision. These planks are milled to be highly precise – perfect 90 degree angles, exact length and width for each one. This means they balance better. You can stack them end to end pretty high. It’s impressive. A new take on an old toy.

Well, I thought that was about as innovative as plain old blocks could get. Until I discovered the newest version:

These are Tegu. Notice they’re doing something blocks shouldn’t be able to do? They’re defying gravity! That’s because they have magnets inside. Pretty awesome. They’re also sold out at the moment.

So, what’s the point of this evolution of blocks? It makes me think of the evolution of theology. First, we start out simple and plain. Then we add a little color, some nuances. Eventually, we refine it to a precise set. See, we couldn’t do that before because we just didn’t have the technology to cut it so precisely (the archeological, sociological, historical, literary advances that allow us to cut with more precision).

Now, it seems like we’re learning how to put magnets in our theology. We’re making it do things it never did before. It’s kinda scary. And it goes against everything we think we know. It starts doing things like saying races are equal… and women can preach… and maybe homosexuals can marry. We’re seeing theology developed to support things we never imagined it could.

I don’t know where this takes us. Are Tegu magnetic blocks still blocks? Are they just re-defining how blocks act? How far do we have to go to lose the name “block”? Are Legos blocks? For my part, I respect what people are doing with theology. They’re trying to keep the value and still make it work for our modern, media-distracted, plastic-toy loving society. Sure, sometimes we’ll get it wrong. But at least we’re trying.