Life is suffering.
If life is suffering, then what is true in life is true in suffering.
Whatever you believe, it must be coherent with suffering.
I’m on break from school and have done a lot of web-surfing. Good stuff this month so far, and many are worth sharing:
From the BBC –
“A Point of View: Churchill and the birth of the special relationship” on the Churchill’s stance on the relationship between Britain and the US.
Also found a significant article on the Chinese economy and need for reform China is one of the most influential nations in the world right now, so an economic reform there would surely affect the world.
“Encylopedia Brittanica ends its famous print edition.” Thus ends a 244 year era of those precious volumes of knowledge. This made me sad. No more pulling out random volumes and flipping through pages to peruse any article that catches your fancy. They continue their digital version and online prospects… but it’s not the same! 😦
LED bulbs: The end of the lightbulb as we know it? LED is being demonstrated as a much better lighting option. It looks like Edison’s 150-year old invention is going the way of the dinosaurs. End of an era! This makes me sad too… Am I too sentimental?
Other News and Views
From The Economist, The rise of evangelicalism is shaking up the Church of England. The article implies that this new fervor is influenced by America, which may be true, but it ignores that this is really the fruit of British Evangelical intellectuals like the late John Stott and Lesslie Newbigin.
Nice piece from CNN, Saudi Women: Pampered or oppressed?Do the restrictive laws on women painfully violate their rights or does it pamper them and make “men the slaves of women”? This article challenged my prior opinion a bit, and shows there are varied viewpoints even among women… Oh, and sorry, can’t help but link to singer M.I.A.’s strong opinion on the issue in her song, “Bad Girls.”
“Eyewitness India” from World Magazine. An upstart news agency is giving the people, even some of the rural poor, the power of journalism.
Seth Godwin youtube video, says, “Be curious!”
From the Christian blogosphere:
Tim Nichols at Full Contact Christianity has an excellent series on the necessity of the ordination of women, part 1, part 2, and part 3 Some will say he goes too far; others, not far enough. But it’s exegetical and made me think.
“Some Preach from Envy and Rivalry” by Nick Bogardus. Very pertinent points in light of the severe problem of sharp polarization in Christianity right now.
Jim McNeely “The Life of Jacob According to Grace” The last few paragraphs really took me. Grace is a powerful thing.
An article on the fact that the atheist gathering, “The Reason Rally”, invited Westboro Baptist Church to their conference (but not legitimate Christian groups). This is yet another example of my long list of disappointments with atheists today.
Parchment and Pen featured Paul Copan on “Longings and Needs as Reasons for Belief in God.” Despite its brevity, I haven’t read anything this good on longing/reason relationship to God’s existence since the hefty bio article on George John Romanes I read last year.
The White Horse Inn posted a thoughtful article by Brooke Mintun in honor of National Women’s Day analyzing Dorothy Sayers on men, women, and humanity. Yes, there is such a thing as National Women’s Day, and must have trended big this year since this is the first I’ve heard of it. Maybe that’s why so many of these links here are women-related.
Clay Jones, Why I Look Forward to Eternity is a fun read to end with.
I’ve been kind of silent here. I just haven’t had anything to say. Or at least, anything worth saying or ready to say. Or better, I don’t know what’s worth saying and what’s not, which equals the following post. In fact, I might advise you to skip this one, and not waste your time reading this long self-absorbed rambling (and it is a rambling this time). Other posts here are much better than this!
Quiet desperation – reflecting on life since college
“Most men live lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them” – Henry David Thoreau.
That seems to describe me a lot right now. Quiet desperation. I have wanderlust again. Since my teenage years, I’ve loved to keep moving – packing lite, experiencing new things and places and people, trying to find something true and authentic about this world, about life, about God and God’s world. That’s how I panned out as a teacher overseas. But even here, now, things feel stuck.
Funny, when I graduated college I had this deep-seated, hard-to-explain, gut feeling. A feeling that my fate was locked into a certain, determined destiny. That I would fall into a chain of events by the mighty hand of God, events over which I had no control. But that was okay with me. A few months after that fateful graduation ceremony, it didn’t seem like that happened. Rather than being caught up in a great adventure, I was bogged down in an unfortunate, random waste of time, even until now. A few of my friends are finishing grad school this coming spring, and I’m nowhere close.
But as I contemplate what has happened since college, I’m starting to think this God-directed chain of events did happen; it was valuable. Just unexpected…
After graduating in 2010, I had a thrilling time in Thailand, got a CELTA certification there, then come back to the US trying to figure out a living. I did beekeeping a few days a week initially. Got a part-time office job earning just above minimum wage, then another part-time job doing homecare a few nights a week for a quadriplegic gentleman. But I was living in quiet desperation. I wanted to be in school full-time, and or find a set mission in life to launch into. Everything was temporary and in a state of flux. I was discontent then, but right now I miss the mobility I had. I lived in three different places in seven months, and spent a few overnights a week somewhere else for homecare. I practically lived out of my leaky car. It did leak! There was always a roll of paper towels in the back to lay out on the seats whenever it rained.
I see the value of that time, and I regret not enjoying it more. I was sort of like a vagabond, hanging out with friends, finding work here and there, fulfilling my bent for poverty (see below), and enrolled part-time in seminary (taking Hebrew from my favorite Greek professor). The FGA alliance I trip I went on by bus gave me a wind of inspiration. Working in homecare was a tremendously humbling and meaningful experience. My office job, as much as I hated data entry, brought many nice conversations and I had a hilarious boss who let me wear flip-flops and flannel shirts to work. Those 11 months of spinning in San Diego taught me a lot.
But then I ended up here in Kurdistan! Out of the twenty places I applied in so many countries, I got a job here, which was perfect for me in numerous ways I won’t enumerate now. I have a great job, great pay, great coworkers, and the work of teaching is meaningful. I’m living in this spacious apartment for free with utilities paid. I’m getting the money I need for paying my loans and/or going to school again. By the looks of it, life is good. And by how it worked out, more God-ordained than I initially thought. But I feel out of place…
The not-really vow of poverty
I’ve always been tight on money since graduating High School and going into “the real world.” Going through college was tough, as it is on most people. In the summers I worked 60 hour weeks so I could focus on my education during the school year, and filled the semester with plenty of extra-curricular and side-jobs too.
Somewhere along the line, I made a certain commitment, or mindset of some sort. I didn’t think about it much at the time, but it was forged in experience – I didn’t have a lot of money, but as I worked with homeless people every week, I saw people with a lot less than me. Furthermore, in my summer Thailand internship experience, I was shaken by poverty far more severe than the American homeless. In my Church History class at college I was disgusted by the obscene corruption and unholy greed of the Catholic Church yet profoundly impacted by St. Francis of Assisi and other monks who made vows of poverty and devoted their existence to helping others. I watched the movie on St. Francis “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” twice, humming along with that song “For Sister poverty we give thanks / For brother want we give thanks.” By choosing poverty they showed their authenticity. They’re not in it for money, but for weightier things like love and mercy and God’s glory.
I made a commitment, or a bent, very slowly over my college years, which was basically this: I will never be monetarily rich, but live simply. I will use the money I earn to 1)Support my simple existence 2)To help others, and 3)To finance my further education to enable my gifting to help others further.
It’s not really a vow. It’s not really poverty. And I didn’t follow it perfectly. But it did influence how I lived and thought. I made a rule for myself to not eat out unless I was going with someone else, thus if I’m to spend the extra money on take-out I will use it as an avenue to share life with another person. I didn’t always follow this. I was often a combination of alone, hungry, or lazy, and going to the Taco shop was too easy, assuming I happened to have cash in my wallet. Oftentimes having a lack of money helped me follow my commitment a little better!
Fast-forward to now – I have a professional white-colored job. I don’t go to work in a frayed work shirt anymore, ready for bees, as I used to in summers; or show up like I did to the quadriplegic’s home in my winter San Diego uniform of cargo pants, flip-flops, beanie, and sweatshirt. Now I show up in dress-shoes, button-up shirt, and slacks, making more money this year than I ever have in so short a time. I don’t know what to do. My lifestyle has burgeoned accordingly in some ways. I’ve been buying more music on itunes now. I’m buying clothes that fit me instead of waiting for random hand-me-downs. I eat out more. My apartment seems so huge and I have a room to myself… I don’t even pay my own rent! I’m not comfortable with this. I’m changing my modus operandi, not because my bent has changed, but because the opportunity is there due to this new environment. I’m no St. Francis right now. This is something to work out yet…
Dark Nights and Flashlights
As the Rooster sang in Disney’s Robin Hood, “Every town has its ups and downs. Sometimes ups outnumber the downs but not in Nottingham,” or in this case, this particular life recently. I’ve been through some rather low points lately. It reminds me of the idea of a “Dark Night of the Soul” perhaps, to quote the medieval mystic St. John of the Cross (I keep referring to medieval mystics. Billy Graham! There, I broke the trend). A lot of it is re-opening questions on things, re-examining various beliefs. I’m starting to come out of it… or better, I at least my soul has a flashlight now. I am really seeing a good view of how messed up I am, as if I’m taking advanced level course. In college is it was “How messed up Paul is 101” but now it’s “How messed up Paul is 307.” I better not find out there’s a 401, or I might cry. Anyway, “dark nights” like this are a valuable experience – I re-thought many things, was further shown my own ignorance and deficiencies, am more careful in coming to conclusions, basing beliefs on better foundations… stuff like that. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” as the old saying goes.
But the really unfortunate thing is I’m lagging in the close communion with God I once had. Sometimes no matter what you do doesn’t work, and you have to wait it out, knowing your perceptions are flawed and God exists outside your mind, walking with you even though you don’t know it. He never left, but I’m trying to figure out how to get to enjoying God’s presence again, which de facto leads to enjoying life again. God and life are inexorably connected. The less awareness I have of God the less awareness I have of life. I’ve also found that absence from God leads to nihilism pretty quickly. And nihilism has got to be the most un-inspiring philosophy of life ever (Don’t be a nihilist. That’s my advice for the day).
What to do with this blog…
I’m trying to figure out what to do with this thing. I just know I need an avenue for writing. If not, I’ll go crazy… maybe write on walls or something (oh, already did that, but it’s okay, I erased it). I can’t figure out a title I like, so they keep changing. Right now it’s called “Paul’s Blog,” which is very dull and uncool if you ask me. I want to get focus away from me and onto the ideas that are so much bigger than me. But, it’s changed a lot since I started in in December, 2009 (I was still in college then), and I’m unsure of what direction I should take it into. If you have any ideas, I’m all ears. That is, if you’re still reading this boorish monologue!
Everybody is making New Years Resolutions – those things we make as a fresh year begins, then don’t do after a month or two. I’m as bad as anyone else (I don’t even remember what I resolved last year), but can’t help making some every year.
Since a few years ago when I read how young Jonathan Edwards made a long list of life resolutions which he would read frequently as reminders, I made a list of my own. I would add more resolutions as lifed happened and I learned more things, regardless of what time of year it was. But that list has since become rather dusty – haven’t even glanced at it in almost a year. It’s a new year, so what a good time to resurrect the whole idea!
I won’t post them all here, but here are a few ramblings that have been hard on my mind this past week. I will turn into resolutions on my list when I figure out how to say it more succinctly!
Humility. There is too little of this in the world – it’s lack in my own life not excepted. Reject one-upmanship. Don’t make people feel inferior to you. If you suspect this happened, do and say things that will remove this.
Build Trust. Lately I’ve been thinking of a concept I heard from Marvin K. Mayers. In our interactions with others, Mayers talks about something called “the prior question of trust”: Is what I’m doing, thinking or saying building trust or undermining trust? Trust is a heavy thing. We all need people in our lives we can trust, but too often they can’t be found, or could be but we don’t know it. I hope for people to trust me – and I be trustworthy enough not to let them down. So this year I hope to build more trust with every person I meet.
Be present. Don’t dwell on the past, which is done, or suffer angst over the imaginary future. Every moment of life is a sacred gift to be kept. But don’t forget the past or ignore the future. Everything in balance!
Read more. That explains itself after looking around this blog a bit. I love to read and even review books here, but I keep starting books without finishing them. I’m in ten or so now. Time to get cracking on this! Many new books await me besides.
Who God is. It’s amazing to me how we believe in God, but lack in seeking to find out more of who he is. This is the Supreme Being here. He’s more intriguing than everyone else on earth combined, because he’s the source of it all. He formed the universe. He made you and me. He invented love, or is love. Fascinating. I’ve got to get to know this Person better.
We’ll see how this goes. What are your New Year’s resolutions?
The basic premise of the book is that there are five “postures” of life in relationship to God: Life over God, life under God, life from God, life for God, and life with God. He details everything wrong with religion (including Christianity) with the first four prepositions in relation to God:
1) Life over God is an attempt to make life controllable – follow certain principles and God will automatically bless you. “The mystery and wonder of the world is lost as God is abandoned in favor of proven formulas and controllable outcomes.” The “Church is a business” mentality fits nicely into Life over God. 2) Life under God “sees God in simple cause-and-effect terms – we obey his commands and he blesses our lives, our families, or nation.” Just find what God wants and do it so God will do good things for us. 3) Life from God is essentially an interest in God only to gain benefits from Him, not God Himself. How God can bless me is the first concern. Health and Wealth/Prosperity Teachers view God like this. 4)Life for God is a posture bent on serving God in some way, working hard for him and being “expended accomplishing great things in God’s service.” God himself is lost for the sake of the work.
The book points out the flaws in making these four postures the primary postures in life toward God, and advocates for the fifth posture – life with God. Adam and Eve were created to be with God, but the fall severed this. Then the whole story from Genesis to Revelation is God reconciling humankind back to being with Him as companions again. Jesus died and resurrected for us that we may be with him. Revelation ends with God dwelling with his people forever. Life with God is the point.
The fundamental premise of the book is so appealing: God wants a relationship with us. This isn’t something a posse of postmoderns cooked up; it’s a very ancient, biblical idea. It is amazing how frequently “with” and God are coupled together in the Bible. I noticed this little preposition more in my Bible reading since starting this book, and God “with” people is definitely very common.
At one point in the book, Skye spends some time on the “New Atheists,” writing that they’re really attacking these other religious postures, but refuse to grapple with the idea that God desires to be with us. Many objections to the Christian way and oddities in the Bible are given a hearty rejoinder when you have this perspective (as I’m finding from reading The Christian Delusion alongside With, but that’s for another day).
So many parts of this book are just beautiful. I loved the chapter “Life with Hope.” He brings out the ancient imagery of the sea representing darkness, chaos, and evil — then how God demonstrated His power over these forces, whether by saving Noah’s family from the flood or opening up the Red Sea for the people of Israel.
This book is more than about the various postures people have toward God and the one you should have. It is a book about what God is like. It portrays God as an incredibly Grand Character, whose love is big, whose desire for a real friendship with us is deep, who is the kind of friend we really need. And when you see what an incredible Being God really is, the correct posture – with God – is easier to slip into.
I think he left out some qualifiers in discussing the various postures. Some of them are clearly found in the Scripture – people are to live lives for God (2 Corinthians 5.15), and under God (1Peter 5.6). Those are completely valid prepositions to describe human relationship with God. Yes, God’s goal may be “life with God,” but this is accomplished to its fullest by living our life on purpose for God, submitting under God, etc. I wish Skye made this clearer.
For example: the “Life over God” people’s focus on principles. He criticized the view that if we follow xyz principles found in the Bible, God will automatically bless us. He contends the Bible is NOT a book of mere principles. Skye is right, but the Bible does contain principles! Cursory reading of Deuteronomy, Proverbs, and Pslams reveals this. Principles aren’t bad. The problem becomes when we make it all about principles and not about God. God has ordained reality to be a certain way, and many principles are generally true even when practiced by pagans. For instance, the Bible contains principles for a strong family. The early Roman Republic didn’t have the Bible but still gained a great and strong empire, in part because they so happened to follow good family principles.
Also, there’s repetition and a great bit of overlap between the four postures. A lot of times the chapter on “Life over God” sounded a lot like the chapter on “life from God.” But this is not a big deal. He’s using these phrases as a simple but powerful teaching tool, and there is a good bit of overlap in these concepts anyway.
Last, some parts really could have used more interaction with the biblical text. For instance, he has a marvelous section on how eternal life’s experience starts now, not when we die. He could have looked at John 5.24 or 11.25, or at least put it in parenthesis to back it up.
But in the end, I highly recommend reading it. I got this as an e-book for free from Nelson Publishers through the Booksneeze.com program, in exchange for a review of it on this blog. (I wasn’t required to give a positive review). If you have a blog, you can apply to get the e-book free. If not, get it anyway. It’s a book you will want to read.
Included here are a few of many great quotations. I cannot provide a page number due to the format of the e-book, but I’ll note the chapter.
“Fear and control are the basis for all human religions.” (Ch. 1, Life After Eden)
“Although fear and pain were not originally part of God’s creation, he nonetheless uses them to call us back to himself. These unpleasant realities of our world make us long for something better; they make us search for a beauty behind the shadows.” (Ch. 4, Life From God)
“God may be shouting with his megaphone through our pain, but consumerism would have us put on our headphones and crank up the volume on our iPods.” (Ch. 4, Life From God)
“This call to dwell or abide is an ongoing state of being, not an invitation to chat once in a while.” (Ch. 6, Life With God)
“Identity is not something that can be fully revealed in this age, and it is not a quest that we can complete on our own. Identity is something that our Creator alone can bestow on us. As we journey through this life, we may catch glimpses of who we are – sinner, servant, manager, or consumer – but these are only broken images in a dim mirror. Our true selves cannot be discovered by living under, over, from, or for God. It is something that will only be revealed when we are fully with God.” (Ch. 9, Life With Love).
I was struck by something while reading in I/II Kings. You know that in every story you have the protagonist – the hero, the person(s) you identify and sympathize with. The antagonist is the one(s) who opposes the protagonist and does bad things – the villain. For those of you who’ve read the Book of Kings, it is very short on heroes, and very high on villains. It’s very depressing. Israel is divided into two kingdoms, evil reigns, kings follow injustice and evil, foreign powers keep attacking and oppressing the Isrealites, the men of God are persecuted, and the population has forgotten God to follow perversity and idols. The characters are mostly either bad guys or really bad guys. The good guys are few and far between, and prone to failure themselves.
What surprises me throughout is that God frequently helps wicked Israelite kings for the sake of His own Name. He helped Ahab win military victories over the Arameans because they were diminishing the God of Israel, so that they will know that He is who He is (1Ki 20). He helped Israel yet again under the wicked Jeroboam II because He saw all their afflictions and desired to show mercy (2Ki 14).
It struck me that the hero of this story isn’t Elijah, Elisha, and the other men of God in these stories. God is the hero. The prophets are just sidekicks. But God is the one doing the action, and powerfully working despite the vicious sins and failures of His people. He is the one who’s honor is on the line, who shows mercy and delivers people from trouble, causes kingdoms to rise and fall, and meets out justice to the wicked. God coolly deals with rebellious humanity with their salvation and His glory in mind, in total control of the situation.
God is the hero of your story too. Your life story isn’t about you. God is the one who gives your life significance, who delivers you out of trouble, forgives your sins, and befriends you in the best and worst of times of your life. By faith in Christ, all of this is granted to us. But too often we don’t live like this. Our life story was ordained by God, but we live as though it’s all about us. If that isn’t ridiculous I don’t know what is. Recalibration is necessary. Let’s recognize God as the champion — then our story will go as it’s supposed to go.
That’s the big question in the young Christian community. Usually we mean something specific: should I go to this college or that college or not go at all, or marry so-and-so, or which career, where should I live, etc. But it’s illuminating to survey where definitions of the “the will of God” appear in the Bible:
- “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” Jesus, John 6.40
- “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality;” 1 Thessalonians 4.3
- “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5.18
- “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12.2
- “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5.15-17
- “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him . . . For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.” 1 Peter 2.13-15.
God’s specific calling on your life (career choice, marriage, etc.) is irrelevant if you’re not staying in Jesus’ teaching – something you can do whenever and wherever you’re at. God has already shown his will in the most important things. Believing in Jesus for eternal life and making that truth known, giving thanks to God, staying away from sexual sin, walking in wisdom, renewing our minds with the things of God, submitting to the government and other commands of the Bible are essentials, whether you’re a plumber or a pastor, if you live in San Fransisco or San Juan, whether your single or dating or married.
To know God’s will we need to look to God’s Word. He makes it clear. So why are we so worried and anxious about it? We have great freedom in Christ. And all those specifics? That’s a topic for another day, but as my old college pastor Steve Griffin said: “Focus on being a passionate disciple of Jesus Christ. Everything else will follow in on its own.”