Thursday, December 2, 2010

Soul Nugget 11: Thankful for Modernism

Well Thanksgiving has come and gone, but I’m still in a thankful spirit. I admit that I am often very critical of modernism, the seeker sensitive movement, megachurches, and performance based worship, but these movements have brought us some really good things. So today, I am thankful for modernism and the positive things it has brought to the church.

1. Guitars in worship – Here’s a great big thank you to my parents’ generation for the Jesus Movement which brought us cooler instruments and praise choruses. Sure, they’re a little repetitive, but where would the church be if we still weren’t allowed to have drums or guitars?

2. Preachers who don’t wear suits – As someone who is going into the ministry, I can’t say thank you enough to whoever it was who first decided preachers don’t need to wear robes or suits every Sunday… well, I suppose I wouldn’t mind wearing monk robes or Jedi robes... but my sincere thanks go out to whoever it was who set us free from from the tyrant that was the "preacher suit!"

3. Powerpoint – Can you imagine having to use overhead projectors in mega churches? Or using praise chorus books like hymnals? Bleck. Here’s to you powerpoint… you make worship more participatory! And it's good for visual learners too! (and I suppose I should also give a shout out to Media Shout, but Powerpoint gets most of the credit because they were first!)

4. That people (women included) can wear jeans to church – I guess this isn’t true in all churches, but I’m glad that people are getting over the whole “you have to wear your Sunday best” thing. Churches today are doing much better than in the past about accepting people as they are, and for that, I am thankful.

5. Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, and other contemporary songwriters – Okay, so not every song you’ve written has been great… but you are the songwriters of our generation, and if it weren’t for you, church would become stale and irrelevant to younger generations. Thanks for playing the role that God has prepared for you. I am thankful for you.

6. Microphones and Sound Systems – Can you imagine preaching three times every Sunday in a large sanctuary, trying to speak loud enough for Grandma Edna in the back row to hear you? Yikes! My throat hurts just thinking about it. Thank you microphones!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Soul Nugget #10 -- Creativity and Control

Today I had the privilege of going into the radio studio with Randy Mahoney and doing a "stories behind the songs" interview and I got to play a couple of songs. It is yet to be determined whether or not it is going to actually get on the radio, but regardless I had a great time doing it.

Anyway, one of the thoughts that I wanted to share that we didn't have time for was this concept of creativity vs. control. Imagine a spectrum:

Control <-----------------------------> Creativity

This spectrum represents two different ways to approach any kind of art or creative endeavor. Good artists live in the tension between the two ends. As a songwriter, I am always faced with the same challenge when I try to write a song. I want the song to be honest, deep, introspective... I want it to arise out of the creative part of who I am. Yet, if it is all just unrestrained creativity, the song might mean something profound to me, but everyone else is going to think I'm on crack. Creativity without control breeds irrelevance.

I've also tried to write songs from the control end of the spectrum. This is when you sit down with your guitar (or paint brush, or a blank word document, or fill in the blank) and say, "I want to say something about (pick a topic)." While this usually makes the song more relevant and relatable, it also has the tendency to rob it of creativity. Christian musicians in particular run into this problem. The minute a Christian musician sits down to write a song, he/she has to submit their art to a certain set of rules/beliefs. As such, it is difficult to raise ambiguity in the mind of the listener, and any "edge" the song may have had is gone because he/she has written a song about something everybody already agrees with. When you start from the control side of the spectrum, you are limiting yourself to a set of rules which relate to the message you are trying to send, and this in turn stifles genuine creativity.

As I said before, I believe that good artists maintain the tension between creativity and control. A good piece of art arises out of creativity, but is directed enough to still be a powerful, interesting song. What do you think? What's more annoying: lack of creativity? Or lack of control?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Soul Nugget #9 -- 25 Ideas for Sunday School Reformation

One of the biggest problems in the church today is a lack of spiritual knowledge. Many claim to be Christians and say that the Bible is God’s Word, yet they know very little about what it means to be a Christian, or about what is actually in the Bible. I think that the best way to go about fixing this problem in the church is to try to revitalize Sunday school. I have a vision of a Sunday school that is relevant, yet uncompromising; interesting, yet stimulating; serious, yet fun and welcoming; a Sunday school that sees the needs in their communities and works together to meet those needs. I see a Sunday school made up of people who genuinely care for each other and provide one another with friendship, love, accountability, and encouragement. In order to bring this vision into actuality, some things are going to have to change. Listed below are 25 things that I would change if I were going to try to revolutionize Sunday school.

1. Give extra incentive to go to Sunday school – People usually like to learn and want to learn, but they don’t have enough time to do it. If there were urgency to go to Sunday school, they would probably be more likely to come. If I want people to come to Sunday school, I should give them some added incentive or goal to work toward so that they have an end in mind that they are working toward.

2. Change the meeting place – Humans get bored. It is important to continually change things up to keep people guessing. The last thing I want is to be predictable.

3. Assign homework – People always learn more when they are involved in the learning process. By giving them some responsibility, they will be more likely to take “ownership” of the class. I would be insulting the intelligence of my class if I thought that they were unable to do a creative, thought provoking, and realistic assignment.

4. Let them tell you what they want to learn – Instead of just preaching to the class on whatever topics I feel like talking about, I should ask and probe to find out what it is they are interested in learning, and focus on that.

5. Make the purpose of Sunday school more specific and clear – People often do not even know what the purpose of Sunday school is. I should make it very clear up front that the goal of Sunday school is discipleship, obedience to Christ, and transformation.

6. Make it more interactive – Give the class more opportunities to participate. Have more discussion, less lecture, more in class activities, less talking.

7. Have a broader focus – What if a Sunday school class had a broader focus than their immediate context? What if they were outward focused instead of inward focused? Think of the potential for outreach and evangelism that exists in a Sunday school class! In my Sunday school reformation, I am going to see if we can focus on serving those outside our group, and being actively engaged in issues of social justice and acts of benevolence.

8. Give handouts – Although some people are auditory learners, there are a large number of people who are visual learners or kinesthetic learners who need something to see or hold in order to learn. By giving handouts, I could make it easier for the class to take notes (note-taking guides), stimulate discussion (controversial articles), give visual aid/background to the passages of the Bible we are covering, and many other things.

9. Stay flexible – Some Sunday school teachers get frazzled when their lesson plans are interrupted. I am going to try to stay flexible and roll with it if the discussion goes someplace I did not expect.

10. Have a big ultimate purpose for the group – There is nothing that unites a team more than a shared vision. If that vision is not big enough, however, people often lose interest. I am going to set a purpose for the group that is bigger than just an increase in Bible knowledge. Some ideas could be: a) A missions trip at the conclusion of the class, b) writing a Sunday school curriculum/devotional book and seeing if we can get it published, c) make journals to sell to raise money for AIDS orphans, d) anything else like that.

11. Do things together outside of Sunday school – Here at Indiana Wesleyan, it is commonly accepted that if you do not hang out outside of class, you are not really friends outside of class either. If I want my Sunday school class to bond, we need to do some fun things together outside of class.

12. Clarify the benefits and necessity of Sunday school – Many people do not even know about Sunday school classes, or if they do, they do not understand the importance of them. By communicating the potential benefits for a Sunday school class, we will get more eager students.

13. Provide and require better education for teachers – Learners in Sunday school (children in particular) are very impressionable in their faith. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that the impressions we are leaving them with are correct and orthodox. Some of the peskiest heresies are kept alive by well-intentioned volunteer Sunday school teachers. In order to leave the right impressions, we must provide and require education in basic Christian doctrine and teaching skills before subjecting our learners to their influence. As Howard Hendricks said in his book Teaching to Change Lives, “To teach children that two plus two equals four, you need a minimum of four years of higher education. To teach the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ, anything (tends to be) good enough (for us)… and that’s why it too often degenerates into a ministry of mediocrity.”[1]

14. Have classes at different levels of spiritual development – In college, there are varying degrees of difficulty when it comes to classes. There are 100, 200, 300 and 400-level classes, which are intended to be taken by freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors respectively. An adviser would never put a freshman in a 400-level class, for it would be far too complicated, and seniors typically do not take 100-level classes because the content would not challenge them enough. This is how it ought to be in Sunday school. People are all at different stages in their spiritual development: some need the basics of the basics, others are ready for complex doctrines and in-depth, exegetical Bible studies. In the Sunday school reformation, there will be varying degrees of difficulty of the classes being offered, and they will build on top of each other, like at a university.

15. Encourage more student leadership – In the upper level Sunday school classes, there are bound to be people who are experienced enough in Sunday school to be able to teach adequately. I should encourage student leadership so as to get others involved and introduce new viewpoints into the discussion.

16. “How to Teach” Sunday school class offered at climax of classes – After a layperson has gone through all of the different levels of classes, there should be a “how to teach Sunday school” class offered at the apex of the pyramid. This will enable more laypeople to teach Sunday school classes, making more classes available to the congregation.

17. Offer an intergenerational Sunday school class – Too often in the modern era we have separated the age groups for the sake of age-appropriate discussion and things of that nature. I think that this is a shame. We should offer an intergenerational Sunday school class in which grandparents, parents, teens, and children are all able to learn and participate, thus bridging the generational gap in the church.

18. Spend class time practicing what you learn – Howard Hendricks introduced a four-stage model for learning in his book Teaching to Change Lives.[2] He said that in order to learn how to do something, there are for stages that we need to progress through. Those four stages are (in order): telling, showing, doing (controlled), and doing (uncontrolled). In Sunday school we are very good at the telling stage, and to some extent the showing stage, but we are terrible at the later two stages. By spending time practicing what we learn, we are fulfilling the third stage. For example, if we are talking about prayer in Sunday school, let’s take some time to actually practice the discipline of prayer in a controlled environment.

19. Arrange the classroom for maximum interaction – It is often the little things that do us in as Sunday school teachers. Even something as small as arranging the room in a way that is conducive to discussion and adjusting the thermostat before people enter can make a huge difference in the outcome of the Sunday school lesson.

20. Always provide visual aids – This goes along with the “handouts” point. Because many people tend to learn visually, it is important to provide some kind of visual aid whenever possible. I can mix it up too: Power points, handouts, marker boards, puppets – anything visual.

21. Teach students how to learn – One mistake that I’ve seen many Sunday school teachers make is that they try to teach the students all the answers to their questions. While this can be helpful sometimes, it is usually a better idea to teach them how to go about finding the answers themselves. Like the ancient Chinese proverb says, “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

22. Don’t do the students’ work for them – This one is closely tied to #21. Many teachers also make the mistake of doing all of the work for their students. They have all the answers to all of the questions figured out, and they (somewhat condescendingly) nudge and prod the class along until they all come to the same conclusion. True teaching encourages students to do the bulk of the work themselves – to think through crucial issues without receiving a spoon-fed answer from the teacher. If a math teacher was trying to teach her students their times tables, would she really be doing them any favors by doing all their math problems for them? No! In order to learn, the students must do most of the work themselves.

23. Use a variety of media –One way to provide a spark to class is to use different kinds of media. Rob Bell’s Nooma videos are usually very good for generating discussion, as are Veggie Tales for little kids. Clips from popular movies are also an excellent way to relate to a congregation.

24. Utilize the gifts of your students – Everybody has their own gifts and talents. In order to maximize those talents that your students already have, I should provide opportunities for them to use their gifts to make the class better. If someone is very artistic, have that person paint a picture as a visual aid for class. If someone is good at arts and crafts, use that person to come up with creative activities for kids.

25. Appeal to the senses – Humans are very sensual beings. We love to taste, touch, smell, hear and see things. When giving a Sunday school lesson, use descriptive language that can create an image in the minds of the learners. Don’t just talk about abstract concepts like “sanctification,” talk about a concrete example of sanctification that they can imagine in their minds. I should try reading a Bible story, asking them as we go to imagine and describe the different tastes, smells, sounds, sights, and feelings that the Bible characters must have been sensing.

[1] Howard Hendricks, Teaching to Change Lives, Multnomah Books © 1987, (20)

[2] Hendricks, (105)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Soul Nugget #8 -- On Cogs and Mechanics

A machine is made up of all sorts of parts, gears, and cogs, which all mesh together, serving the one purpose for which the machine was created. Usually the point of a machine is to produce something. With a machine, there is always an end goal which it is trying to accomplish. If a machine does not fulfill its purpose, it is considered "broken," and is either trashed and a new one replaces it, or it is taken to a mechanic who knows how to fix it.

The church is like a machine, and there are two kinds of people who make it run: cogs and mechanics.

Cogs are positive thinkers who have utmost faith in the machine -- that it works and achieves the purpose for which it was created. Sure, the machine may be flawed (no machine is perfect, is it?), but overall, the machine does more good than bad. They happily accept their role in the machine, meshing together with the other gears and cogs, because they are optimistic about the effectiveness of their system. If the machine seems to not be fulfilling the purpose for which it was made, the cog's response is typically to "work harder" and telling the other gears and cogs to pick up the slack. They believe in staying the course by completing their role in the system and getting others to do the same. Why? Because they believe in the effectiveness of the course.

Mechanics, on the other hand, are improvers. They make their living off of fixing broken stuff. They look at a machine, and it could be running fine without much of a problem at all, but the mechanic's mind is constantly looking for a problem and/or ways to improve the effectiveness of the machine. As a result, they come across pessimistic. Sometimes, they take one look at a broken, obsolete piece of machinery and decide to trade the whole thing in for an upgraded version of the machine. Mechanics are big picture thinkers who will look at a machine and ask, "Is this machine achieving the goal for which it was made?" If the answer is no, the mechanic will try to improve the machine on a systematic level. His response is not just, "work harder! Persevere!" His response is, "How can we make this machine more efficient and effective in accomplishing its goal?"

I've noticed that in the church, cogs and mechanics tend to butt heads sometimes. Cogs point to the mechanics and say, "You arrogant Mechanics are always trying to fix what ain't broken! It's easy to criticize when you're standing so far off, but you don't know what it's like to be in the middle of the action. The church is not about grand schemes and strategies, it's about the gritty, day-to-day lives of people and building relationships. It's just about loving God and loving people. Why do we have to complicate things so much?"

Mechanics fire back, "Well, you Cogs are just part of an obsolete system! You have become entirely irrelevant! Times are changing, and we have to change as well. Look, it's really simple: all we have to do is change this part, move that gear, tweak that gizmo and there you have it!"

I think we need both Cogs and Mechanics in the church. Without the cogs, the machine couldn't run. You need someone who will buy into a system and run with it. However, the mechanics are necessary too, because machines get old and break down. Can you imagine what Indiana Wesleyan University would be like today if they still tried to run the entire university using typewriters? In the same way, the church needs to be changed and adapted on a big picture level if it is going to remain functional, efficient, and effective.

I am a mechanic. I naturally see things through a critical eye, not to cut down and discourage, but so that we can improve the machine. I'm watching as all the cogs are spinning and turning, working their butts off trying to make a system work, only to watch as the end result does not meet the goal for which the machine exists. I see people coming into the church, getting saved, but staying at a shallow level spiritually for the rest of their lives. I see teenagers graduating from high school, then going to college only to have their faith pulled out from under them like a rug, and because their faith was not deep enough, they could not withstand the storm. I see all these things and I can't help but think, "What could we do to improve things on a systematic level?" Most of the cogs aren't to blame; the system is. And so if you are a cog and I have stepped or am going to step on your toes at some point, I sincerely apologize, it's nothing personal. I'm just being myself.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Soul Nugget 7: Some Thoughts on Unity

Today there are 38,000 Christian denominations. For the first 1500 years of the existence of the church, there were only two: Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. When I was working in Harlan, KY a couple of summers ago, I was shocked to find out that there were over 500 churches in Harlan county alone – 500! The biggest church in the entire country was 150, and most of them ran between 10-20.

Harlan is one of the most impoverished places in the United States. 35.4% of residents in Harlan live on incomes below the poverty level.[1] While we were there doing ministry, people would constantly come up to us and ask us to help them with things. We became overwhelmed by the sheer number of requests, and had to turn many needy people down because of our limited time and resources.

Where was the church in all of this? Why did the burden of the poor in Harlan county fall squarely on the shoulders of small short-term missions organizations like Adventures in Missions? By and large, the most important reason why this was the case was the church in Harlan was so split and splintered that real ministry was impossible. Most of the churches didn’t even have enough money to pay a pastor’s salary, much-the-less minister to the poor.

Why do we have so many denominations?

In 1843, the Wesleyan Methodist Connection was established that eventually came to be called “The Wesleyan Church.” We broke off from the Methodist Episcopal Church because of the issues of slavery and episcopacy. After the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery was abolished and our primary reason for leaving the M.E. Church was gone.

Should the Wesleyan Methodists have returned to the M.E. Church when slavery was abolished?

Many Wesleyan Methodists went back to the M.E. Church, including famous Wesleyan abolitionists Luther Lee, and L.C. Matlack. But others stayed out, citing reasons like church government, weak positions on holiness issues, and other issues as reasons for not rejoining with the M.E. Church

If they had all gone back to the M.E. Church, there would be no Wesleyan Church today, but would there be more unity in the church universal?

I don’t know the answer to this question. I know that there were some very important issues with the M.E. Church that made the Wesleyan Methodists withdraw in the first place. Yet, I still feel like the very people who are called to a ministry of reconciliation should not be causing division after division in the church until we are too crippled to do any good.

I’ll leave you with this:

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort in his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” – Phil 2:1-4

[1] US Census Bureau 2007;

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lyrics for Burden of the Blessed

Here's a song I wrote called Burden of the Blessed which goes along with the previous post:

(listen to the song free without signing up for anything at my myspace)

Burden of the Blessed

We put on our Sunday smiles as another church bell tolls,
but while we bathe in serenity, outside the chaos grows.
Showered with an abundance of gifts from God above,
we've used for selfish gain the very things he meant for love.

Don't ask where God is when you hear the people cry.
If Jesus lives inside of us, with whom the blame lie?
Don't ask "where was God?" Instead ask "where was I?"

We toss our spare change to the homeless man, but deep inside he knows
that when we think he wants to buy some beer, what he really needs are clothes.
We're drowning in the excess, we're gluttons full of pride,
maybe we wouldn't get so fat if we saw their starving eyes.

Don't ask where God is when you hear the people cry.
If Jesus lives inside of us, with whom the blame lie?
Don't ask "where was God?" Instead ask "where was I?"

God, you gave us a purpose, we are your hands and feet.
You've blessed us with abundance so our gifts can meet the need.
Now we face the crossroads, the moment of truth:
will we use our gifts to serve ourselves, or humanity and you?

Soul Nugget 6: Where is God?

One of the questions I hear over and over again, especially on a college campus is "where?"

Where was God when the earthquake happened in Haiti?
Where is God when young girls are stolen and forced into prostitution?
Where is God in the genocide?
Where is God in (fill in the blank).

These are certainly good questions to ask. It gets us thinking about real issues, and challenges some of our presuppositions about God.

But if you think about it, these questions are also self-convicting.

As the church, we are called to be the Body of Christ... to be his hands and feet on earth. If someone asks, "Where was God?" it leads to another question, "Where was his church? His body?"

In other words, if you're a Christian, instead of asking "Where was God?" you should be asking, "Where was I?"

Now obviously its impossible for any one individual to be Christ to the entire world, but together, we as the church can. There are definitely many Christians who are living out this call. Most of the first responders in Haiti were Christians groups. There are plenty of organizations like World Hope which are fighting to end human trafficking. But if we were to take an honest look at ourselves, I think we can agree that we could do a lot better.

So the next time some tragedy strikes and you wonder, "Where was God?" turn the question around and ask, "Where was I?"

Soul Nugget 5: Smells Like Community part 3

We are relational beings... created to be in relationships with others and with God. To live a life of loneliness and isolation is to live a life that is less than God intended for you.

Please hear what I'm saying (and what I'm not saying). What I am saying is that no one should be an autonomous person, separated and isolated from others. I am not saying that humans must always be around others, or that those who like to have time alone are living lives that are not pleasing to God. Not at all.

We need community, but we also need solitude.

Luke 5:16 says, "But Jesus would often withdraw to desolate places to pray (ESV)."

Why does he do this? Obviously if the Son of God thought it necessary to spend time in solitude, so should we! There must be some fundamental reason why we need both community and solitude. But what is it?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote a great little book called Life Together which talks about Christian community. In it, he points out that people often try to deal with their feelings of loneliness and insecurity by trying to find a "cure" in the community of others. Bonhoeffer observes that these people "are generally disappointed." Such a person, he says, "is not really seeking community at all, but only distraction which will allow him to forget his loneliness for a brief time." Ironically, this leads to more loneliness and kills a community.

Bonhoeffer goes on to say, "Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community."

We need to be able to separate ourselves for a season from the community so that our identity comes from God and God alone. If we look for some deep soul "cure" in others, we will be disappointed. All humans are fallen. We all have our jagged edges, personality flaws, and shortcomings. They cannot cure our need for love and relationship; only God can. That is why we must balance community with solitude.

Of course, we only go into times of solitude so that we can return to the community. Like a person who finally breaks a long fast, when we return to the community we receive the gift with a profound appreciation and thanksgiving.

Solitude and community... it's really a balance isn't it? Somewhat paradoxical. The tension between the two poles is a good thing. As Dr. "Umfundisi" Jim Lo says, "A holy life is a balanced life." And there in the balance between solitude and community is where we should strive to be.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Soul Nugget 4: Smells Like Community part 2

There’s this song that my dad really likes (I think it falls under the category of southern gospel) called “The Jericho Road”. The chorus goes something like this:

On the Jericho Road

There’s room for just two –

No more, and no less –

Just Jesus and you.

Now, I apologize if this is your favorite song, and I am probably biased against it because I can’t stomach country gospel music, but the first time I heard that song, I had this feeling in my gut that something was wrong… no not necessarily wrong… something was missing.

There’s room for JUST two.

No more.

No less.

What I find funny, however, is that when I had my week of involuntary solitude, it truly was “just Jesus and me.” No more. No less. And yet… I felt empty… as if “Jesus and me” wasn’t quite enough…

What if…

What would you say if I were to tell you that God alone isn’t enough for us to live the way we were meant to live? What if… I were to tell that the worship song “All I Need is You, Lord” is incomplete? What if… Jericho Road is a dead end?

What if we need more than God alone?

Sounds like heresy doesn’t it? But before you fetch your torches and pitchforks, let’s look at what the Bible has to say. (Always a good idea, right?)

In the book of Genesis there is a pattern for the way that God creates things…

Step 1. God says “Let there be _____.”

Step 2. There is ______.

Step 3. God sees that _______ is good.

Now, Genesis pretty much stays consistent with this pattern throughout the entire creation story. Except for in one place.

Gen. 2:15-18 says,

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

“Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Now, at this point your mental processes should be coming to a screeching halt… “Wait, just a collar-pickin' minute!” you should be saying, “the Fall, that thing that happens when Adam and Eve eat the fruit, that doesn’t happen until chapter 3. Surely God didn’t mean that, right?”

But he did mean it. Even before the consequences of the Fall, there was something in God’s creation that was “not good”: aloneness. You see, we have an awesome, gracious, loving Creator, and he loves what he created. He loves us so much in fact that he wants to share us with each other. God alone isn’t enough for us, because God alone decided not to be.

Do you see it? Can you feel the implications?

Mankind was created to exist in perfect balance and relationship with:

1. God

2. Human Beings

3. The Created Order

In reality, the consequence of the Fall was not "well, now we can't it on our own 'cause we're fallen, so I guess we need each other for accountability partners."

Want to know what the consequence actually was?




The perfect balance between God, one another, and the created order was thrown off, and now we still live in the wake of the Fall. We are all lonely… isolated… craving for acceptance and love. We are all damaged goods, but we don’t want anyone else to know that. So we keep our barriers up. It’s better, we think, to be alienated from one another than for someone else to know who we really are on the inside. John Ortberg says, “Everybody’s weird… because we know in our hearts that this is not the way we’re supposed to be, we try to hide our weirdness. Every one of us pretends to be healthier and kinder than we really are; we all engage in what might be called ‘depravity management.[1]’”

At the same time, all people long to be connected. We are starving for community. And so we go out to try to find it. One goes to the bar on Friday night to meet some people… one goes to Starbucks to meet up with a friend… one goes to the high school football game to see people they know. Why do we do these things? Well… why did I go to the grocery store after 54 minutes of isolation? We are looking for some kind of community; we want it, yet we’re terrified of it. We are all broken with the desire to be connected.

[1] Orteberg, John. Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them. Zondervan © 2003. (17)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Soul Nugget 3: Smells Like Community (part 1)

The summer before last I spent a few months in Harlan, Kentucky working with an organization called Adventures in Missions. I basically led youth missions trips and set up ministry opportunities for them and facilitated their trips. It was a few weeks into the job and I was just starting to get the hang of it and was feeling comfortable with the friends I had made there. After those first couple of weeks, however, there was going to be a week when no youth groups were coming. All of my co-workers with whom I had grown so close over those first few weeks were going to be gone for that week. But I was unable to go home for that week, since I lived 20-something hours away from Harlan. I had been enjoying reading a few books while I was there, so I thought that a week of solitude might be good for me. After all, taking care 70-something hormone driven teenagers and 12-exasperated youth pastors per week takes a lot out of you. In all honesty, I was pretty excited for the opportunity to be alone for a week.

As I watched all of my friends drive out of the parking and out of site, however, a powerful feeling of loneliness swept over me. Everything was quiet. No Donnie strumming on his guitar… no Addie telling funny stories… no Anna laughing at her funny stories… no Ben looking at everything in a positive light. I was all… alone. I decided to try to read a book until I got bored with it. When I got to that point, I looked up at the clock and to my despair I realized that only about 14 minutes had passed.

Something I had been taking for granted had been taken away, and I missed it. Before long, I think I literally started to go crazy. I tried calling every contact on my phone – they were all busy. I went on Facebook looking for someone to chat with… no luck. Eventually I began talking to myself – I’m not kidding – just trying to break the deafening silence. Panicked, I looked over at the clock; it had been 54 minutes since they left. “Great. Only 167 hours and four minutes to go.”

I craved human interaction. I ended up going over to grocery store just to be around people. Just being in the presence of other people… breathing the same oxygen… hearing their voices… studying their facial expressions… it soothed me. I started a few insignificant conversations with grocery baggers and fellow shoppers, but even those apparently meaningless conversations helped me to keep my sanity.

The rest of that week passed slowly and I got pretty bored and almost had a panic attack on many occasions… but it was good for me. You never the value of something that you always have until that thing is taken away. When Donnie and Addie and Ben and Anna came back, I was more happy to see them than I have ever been to see anyone else! I think I learned something that week that I think everybody knows, but rarely thinks about: humans were created to be relational beings.

Recently a Standard Operating Procedures [SOP] manual for Guatanamo Bay was leaked to the public and picked up by newspapers such as the Miami Herald and the New York Times. There is a practice detailed in that manual that describes a particular method of torture. When prisoners would arrive at the camp, some of them would be sent into isolation chambers for the first four weeks of their stay at Gautanomo. They were given only the most basic comfort items… a blanket, a bar of soap, toothpaste (no toothbrush – they had to use their fingers). They were allowed absolutely no human interaction, and they were not allowed to have any reading materials or things to keep themselves occupied. Eventually what would happen was that the prisoners’ minds would grow soft and they became more and more desperate for human interaction until finally… when four weeks had passed, they brought them out of their cells and immediately proceeded to interrogate them. It worked like a charm, and they would tell their interrogators everything they wanted to know.

Judging by how nutzo I felt after only 54 minutes of solitude in Kentucky, I think I would have spilled too. I don’t know exactly how, what, or why, but it is obvious that there is something within all of us that craves for human interaction.

Soul Nugget 2: The Greatest Poverty

35.9 million people... 35,900,000 people live below the poverty line in the United States. That's approximately the same as the entire populations of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, Detroit, San Francisco, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Austin, Columbus, Fort Worth, and Charlotte combined (US Census Bureau).

That's just the United States. And we're doing pretty good.

Worldwide, 842 million people are undernourished. 15 million children die from malnutrition every year.

1.3 billion people worldwide live on less than one U.S. dollar a day.

The tragic thing is... it's not like there's not enough to go around. In the United States, we throw away 100 billion (that's billion... with a "b") pounds of food per year.

[Okay. Now let these statistics sink in for a second, then take a deep breath.]

When you look at numbers like these, how can you not feel overwhelmed? I can't even comprehend one million. How can I even come close to comprehending some of these numbers? 1.3 billion... 100 billion... 842 million... If we can't even grasp the magnitude of these problems, how are we supposed to fix them?

I'm a college student. I am currently thousands of dollars in debt to the U.S. government. I barely have enough to pay for books, gas, and school bills. How am I supposed to solve world hunger? I mean, it's not like I can just box up my broccoli and send it to Africa. It's not like I can scan a group of starving children into the school cafeteria using meal swipes.

Perhaps someday I'll have the resources to be able to undertake some of these problems, but as for right now, I am ultimately powerless to really make that much of a difference.

But there is another kind of poverty that is even more pervasive... there is a hunger that is greater than physical hunger. And this kind of poverty, I can do something about.

Mother Teresa once said: "Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted and unloved is the greatest poverty."

Hm... if this is true, then I think I'm living in poverty as well. If this is true, I'm sure you know someone that you see every day who is living poverty, and you have the resources (yourself) you need to do something about it.

Physical poverty is pretty bad. Actually, it's downright evil and it seems hopeless. No one individual can overcome these problems. They're simply too big... too complex...

But we can do something. Here's another Mother Teresa quote: "In this life we cannot do great things, only little things with great love."

Hey. I can do that. I think you can too. And by doing so, I think we'll be able to do our part in ending both physical poverty, as well as spiritual poverty.

Just remember: little things... great love.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Lyrics for Fool's Gold

In keeping with the theme from the last post, I've decided to post the lyrics for a song I wrote called Fool's Gold (you can listen to it for free, no sign-up required, at my myspace:

Home is a place I can't find on a map
the Kingdom is something that I can't comprehend
I am a stranger to these pyrite shores
with a fool's hope that someday I might find what I'm looking for.

And it's true that sometimes the stars look like my brothers
lonely in the dark with no one else to blame.
And it's true that sometimes the moon looks like my mother
looking for a light to rival with the day.

Searching for answers in this question-riddled world,
spinning out in circles with my pale white flag unfurled.
I am a stranger to these pyrite shores
with a fool's hope that someday I might find what I'm looking for.

And it's true that sometimes the stars look like my brothers
lonely in the dark with no one else to blame.
And it's true that sometimes the moon looks like my mother
looking for a light to rival with the day.

Soul Nugget 1: On Appreciating the Mysteries of the Universe

I love looking at the stars on clear autumn nights. If you're ever feeling dead or stuck in a rut of the ordinary mundaneness of life, just go take a look outside on such a night and if you're anything like me, you'll feel an awakening happen in the deepest part of your being.

For me, it always give me an overwhelming feeling of insignificance mixed with purpose... that somehow I have an irreplaceable part to play in The Great Story of the Cosmos.

It makes you wonder, doesn't it? What am I created for? Why am I here?

What blows my mind is how far away stars really are. The closest star to Earth (other than the sun) is over 4 light-years away. Think about that. The light of the closest star to us is more 4 years old by the time it reaches your retinas. Think of all that has happened in the last 4 years. When the light of that closest star that I saw tonight was first emitted, I was 17 beginning my senior year of high school.

Oh, how much has happened since then! I've experienced so much since then... I've found love and lost it. I've had my heart-broken, and I've broken someone else's heart. I've done things that I'm proud of, and some things I'm not. I've learned so much - enough to realize that in reality, I actually know less than I thought I knew back then!

Well, here's to you starlight. Kudos. Mission accomplished. You traveled over 4 light-years... about 24 trillion miles just to enter through my pupils 1.5 millimeters in diameter. That's a long journey just to be noticed casually by those who actually take the time to look. I think that considering how long that starlight traveled to get here, the least we can do is pay attention to it every once in a while!