History Is “Just A Story”

Backstory: I’m feeling apprehensive. I help lead a small group of 20-somethings at my church, and we’re starting out the year in a study of the book of Genesis, which means having the evolution vs. creation “debate”. Like most evangelical churches, mine doesn’t really entertain the notion of a debate in this case: creation is the answer, and evolution is completely debunked and debauched. Not that anyone is particularly militant or overbearing about it, although that would be better in some ways. The apprehension I feel comes because I just don’t see the world that way.

But that’s not the can of worms I want to open right now, at least not fully, just the context for where my mind is.

I want to focus on one aspect of the EvC debate. The crux of the argument against evolution, at least from my perspective with the fellow Christians that I’ve spoken with, centers around it rejecting the literal interpretation of the creation story in Genesis. My question to this has been: Isn’t Genesis so far removed from our own experiences that it becomes “just a story” anyway? Isn’t the real value of the book of Genesis, especially for the believer, in what it means, not that it happened literally just so? In other words, the broad strokes of the what, and not the details of the how? I believe that God created, and that’s what Genesis tells me. How He did it (whether by a process of evolution, or in an instance of creation, or by an instance that’s meant to look like a process) is interesting intellectually, but not spiritually very important to me.

Furthermore, I don’t want to downplay the value of “just a story”. Stories are powerful. Stories are our memory. Stories are our best way to relate to the world and each other. It’s no wonder that Christ himself put stories to use to convey deep truths about the world in the Parables. Does the historicity of these stories (or lack thereof) factor into their value? Not at all. Sure, they could have been “real”, in the sense that they happened here on planet Earth at some point in the past, but that’s not really important. It’s the universal truths behind them that matter. I posit that it’s the very same with Genesis.

Finally, on a personal note, I think it’s a rather beautiful notion to think of the Bible, which as I’ve always been taught is the story of Jesus and His Redemption for us, as beginning by rising out of the murk of the void in Genesis 1:1 and slowly coming into focus, though covertly, in the Old Testament; coming into clearest focus at the birth of Christ and throughout His life; and finally trailing off into the sunset of history through the remainder of the New Testament and the poetic mysteries of the book of Revelation. A romantic notion, I suppose, but one that makes sense to me. Whatever the truth of it is, it’s the middle part of the story, the part that we’re still writing ourselves, that I’m going to strive to be most concerned about.

Happy New Year!

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Reflections on Brazil

I recently returned from a trip to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. I was there for a week with a group from my church. We worked in one of the favelas (slums) — Vila Joaniza — running a medical clinic out of our pastor friend’s church and hosting several soccer tournaments for the children in the community as an outreach. Those are the facts. That’s what happened.

But I don’t really know what to make of those facts yet. I’m still processing them. My week in Brazil is a complete parenthesis to the rest of my life. I could take the whole week out and connect the week before with the week after, and everything would be comfortably, boringly normal.

Everything was different there: physical location (a whole new hemisphere), language (I don’t speak Portuguese), company (my wife did not go on the trip, and I didn’t really know my group very well beforehand). It’s as if my life collided with someone else’s for a week, and while I was there, I was me, but a different me. Is that too sci-fi? Have I been watching too much Through the Worm Hole with Morgan Freeman? I’m probably overthinking it, but the whole experience has become somewhat of a existential conundrum to me. I do know one thing: The week was a quality week. It was a good week.

To a certain degree, this must have been what Peter, James, and John felt after Christ’s Transfiguration. The Bible doesn’t really say what they thought about their quintessential mountain top experience afterward, but we know that the experience was completely unique for them and to them, even differentiating them from among the other disciples.

I would love to ask them, to sit up with them late at night and just let them talk about that day, how it started out as just another hike up a mountain with Jesus, like He seemed to be so fond of. I’m sure they’d all remember every detail: the moment when Christ started to shine like the sun, when Moses and Elijah appeared, when God spoke from the cloud. Peter, if you remember, wanted to stay on top of the mountain, but Jesus led them back down anyway.

Maybe it’s because of our natural capacity for distraction or just the fact of time moving ever forward, but experiences like that — what I’ve come to call glimpses of the Beyond — don’t last long. My time in Brazil only lasted a week, and maybe that’s a long as it could have lasted. Maybe any longer, and I would have turned it into something profane.

Now, I’m back where I began, which is a good place, too. I love being with my wife again. I love my dog and my cat.

Here, though, I have a tendency to fall into the same-old same-old, so I’m trying to look back and see Brazil as a kind of mountain-top in my life. In this way, normality can be useful. The sameness of my day-to-day life highlights all the more when my life follows a brief path that is not the same. From one point to the next, the change in elevation may be sudden or slight, but when I really take a look around, I can see my mountains and valleys flowing seamlessly into one another. The valleys make the mountains accessible, and the mountains bring the valleys a little closer to the sublime. Looking even further, I can see my life’s landscape intertwining with the lives of others, and their lives with others still, on and on in a maddeningly infinite continuum of experience….

Like I said, I’m still trying to process it all. For now, I need to go mow the grass. Tchau!


Transformation

Taking a fresh look at my previous three posts, for me, has punctuated the changes of my life over the past two years more than anything else. Back then, I was referring to my “girlfriend”, but now she is my wife. (Hi, love.) I was a “multi-churcher”, but since, I have absorbed myself into just one of the three.

My friends’ trip has become somewhat of a legend among us, even for me who wasn’t really there. Ben Folds might say that we “get nostalgic about the last ten years before the last ten years have passed“. The two of them have now wandered into serious relationships with their female counterparts, one even to the point of marriage. (Much love to Adam and Amy, Tyler and Lindsey.)

Time flies even when you’re 25.

Our sense of transformation develops only as we grow older. Any span of time seems interminable to children, because they don’t have enough experience dealing with time yet. I don’t remember being cognizant at all of any personal changes either physical, mental, or spiritual before the age of 13. I had only a dull sense at the very best. Other people had to tell me: “Look how much you’ve grown” or “You’re such a big boy now”. Now that I’m older and such facts are mostly obvious, to point them out would be tremendously rude: “Wow! You’ve gotten fat”.

We were changing before we ever were aware of it of course—immensely—as we continue to change now, but either our self-awareness was lacking or our presence, our “now-ness”, completely overshadowed our past. I tend to think it was the latter, and the more past we accumulate, the more it can and does occupy our minds in place of the Now.

For me, the fact of my younger self’s obliviousness to change presents an odd contradiction, because as a kid, I was tremendously preoccupied with cartoons—particularly, The Transformers.

Transformers: The Movie (Poster)

Tagline: "Beyond good. Beyond evil. Beyond your wildest imagination." Indeed.

Transformers, for a six-year-old boy or (who am I kidding?) a 25-year-old boy, is the coolest premise for a cartoon. Ever. Nothing could be better than giant, sentient, alien robots who can transform into race cars, tanks, helicopters, and every other awesome thing that occupies a boy’s imagination.

But I’m realizing, there’s a problem with The Transformers. The transformations are too easy and too complete; Optimus Prime goes from being a tractor trailer to a 30-foot-tall robot in a matter of seconds. No bugs. No glitches. No misfires. And all fans of the show have wondered this: where does his trailer go? (Seriously, where the hell does it go?)

Perhaps this is obvious, but real transformation is a process, and understanding the nature of this process is crucial. As Socrates is quoted, “The unexamined life is not worth living” (Apology 38a). The process renews itself continually. Every destination is a new starting point or a new branch, which means no matter where you are, that’s where you must start. The challenge is to be aware of the process—where you’ve been, where you are, where you’re going—without being obsessed with it, to properly balance the Process with the Now.

I know the previous paragraph is very vague. I apologize. This has been rattling around in my head in some form for years, so maybe the way I’ve put it only makes sense to me. I’ll try to be more concrete. In light of the on-coming new year, for example, take New Year’s Resolutions. Most of us make them, but deep down we hate them, don’t we? It’s as if we give ourselves the gift of failure come every January. What’s the problem? Why do most resolutions never see the hearts of Valentine’s Day? I’m proposing it’s because we do not understand how/are not aware of the true process of transformation that is inevitably occurring in our lives.

The new year doesn’t make us different. Our life is not a book with neatly divided pages, even though it may be convenient to think of it that way. We’re not algebra. We are calculus—beings of continuous and infinite transformation. The choices we make are not on/off switches or ones and zeroes; they’re rubber balls that we have to keep bouncing, spinning plates in the air—destinations in the process. We see them off in the distance, and they get closer and closer, and we may even get to where we thought we were going, but there’s always a little bit more father off. So we keep going.

Happy New Year.

P.S. – When I started writing this, I was thinking mostly about Transformers: The Movie from 1986. I recommend it. It’s fantastical, but it’s complex. Orson Welles is the voice of a giant, planet-eating robot god of destruction, and Leonard Nimoy is the voice of the resurrected Megatron, named Galvatron. Need I say more?

Also, I was thinking about what the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17 and in Romans 7:24.


Divinely Connected

Finally, the last post from my old blog. My OCD to have everything in one spot is appeased. This was originally posted July 8, 2008:

Today is the first day of my three weeks of isolation.

No, I haven’t taken a vow of solitude. I’m not totally isolated either, but almost. My two best friends left today on a three week road trip. I, being the one with the job, did not get to go, but I’m not bitter or jealous at all. On top of that, my girlfriend has moved back home for the rest of the summer. She’s only an hour away, but it’s just far enough that we can only see each other on the weekends, which is far less than I’ve been accustomed to. I’m basically an introvert, so taking away the three people closest to me effectively leaves me socially marooned, but I’m trying to make the best of it. I’m trying to be productive with the extra time. Blogging is productive, right?

Perhaps I’m being melodramatic (I am), but this situation nevertheless has reminded of something I read in the book of Romans the other day:

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I want you to know, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
Romans 1:8-15 (ESV)

Paul loved the church at Rome, and wanted to go to them, but at the time that he wrote the previous passage, he had not been able to do so. However, take note of the phrase “For God is my witness.” We might just pass over these words, as the phrase has become somewhat common, even to the point of being thrown about flippantly. The phrase when used for comic emphasis can also be really hilarious, like when Kevin from The Office exclaimed “I will quit! As God is my witness, I will quit if this is not fixed!” (He was commenting on being displaced from his regular parking space to a more far-away one. They should really feature that character more, but I digress.)

What you may not realize about the phrase is that the Greek word translated as “witness” is the word “μάρτυς” (pronounced mar’-toos). This is the word from which we get our word “martyr”, but in this case, the word does not mean what we would normally take it to mean. It takes on a more generalized meaning: a record or witness, one who can give information, enlighten, or confirm.

Though he had never been able to go and meet with them physically, Paul felt a strong connection to the Romans. Why? Because they were linked to one another in Christ, just as all Christians are linked. Paul invokes God as his witness in a judicial sense; God could corroborate the fact that Paul had prayed for the Romans in the way that he said he did. But more so, Paul is referring to God’s witness in a communal sense. God linked Paul with the Romans and vice versa despite their physical distance. In a broader scope, through our mutual relationships with Christ, all Christians everywhere and throughout time are linked in such a way into a single community: the body of Christ, the Church.

As Paul did, I hope that we all live in full knowledge of our connectedness through Christ. I pray that it will encourage and empower us to live as full citizens of the Kingdom of God, doing the work of that kingdom, no matter where we are.

And to Adam and Tyler, safe travels. I hope to see you in three weeks, but if I don’t, that’s okay, too.


The Limiting of Worship

This is post 2 of 3 from my old blog, originally posted on July 1, 2008:

Recently, I became a multi-churcher. I go to three or more different churches for various services throughout the week. I learned the term from Matthew Paul Turner’s The Christian Culture Survival Guide, in which he cites ministry options and differences in faith among the reasons for multi-churching. My reasons for multi-churching however are mainly logistical. Mainly, but I’ll get to that.

I grew up in a small, small town about an hour north of Jacksonville, Florida. It’s called Boulougne (pronounced Buh-lone’, not Baloney). It’s not even big enough for a traffic light, if you are familiar with the standard metric for town smallness. Technically, it’s not even a town anymore since the mayor was busted for counterfeiting or some shenanigans like that, but whatever it is, there one can find a package store, a gas station that sells fishing bait, and a church.

I love this church – the First Baptist Church of Boulougne or Boulougne Baptist Church, depending on who you ask. I grew up there, and I love the people. For just a little while, my family left and went to another church, but we came back, and it felt like coming home.

When I finally realized two years ago that the cost of fuel to commute to school and work in Jacksonville was the same per month as rent, and I moved to the city, I still did not quit going to church at Boulougne. It was more than an hour’s drive down US-1 one way to go to church on Sunday, but I just did not feel led to go anywhere else yet. I did start trying out different churches on Wednesday night to save a mid-week trip – the beginning of my multi-churching.

I should also mention that, like everything else around, the church was also small, that is, until a few months before I started thinking about leaving. Boulougne had just finished a building program, and everyone was really amped about the big, new sanctuary where we wouldn’t have to alternate leaning forward and backward to save on shoulder room. Nevertheless, with all the newness in surroundings came a certain apprehension and anxiousness about keeping it that way. I’m all for taking care of the blessings God gives you, but how much should we really care about carpet?

Really though, the fastidiousness over appearance did not eat at me too much, and neither did the half dozen or so other little irritations that arose. That’s not very many afterall. In hindsight, I realize that such minor annoyances should be viewed as reminders to care about more important matters (or at least make an attempt). Maybe some people just worship by being obsessive, regardless of how it gets on my nerves. I can live with that.

As it turns out, however, a problem did arise that, when combined with the distance issue, ultimately lead me to leave the church. For several years, I had been the “first-chair” percussionist in the church’s orchestra, meaning that I was the only percussionist. Mainly, I played the drum set because it let me cover the most parts as one person, which is typical for the size of orchestra that we were (about 8-10 people, given a particular Sunday).

I absolutely loved ministering in this way, even though it can sometimes be a challenge to play the drums in a small-town, conservative, Baptist church. Percussion reminds me of God’s power. When I hear a cymbal crash or the boom of a bass drum, I think about how God made lightning and thunder to scare the rain out of heaven. A solid rhythm to me sounds like a stampede of horses, and honestly, at times the feeling of it would make me cry while playing because of the awesomeness of God.

Moving into the new sanctuary initially did not change the orchestra much, nor did it change my passion for playing. There were some growing pains of course, mostly about whether or not the piano’s lid should be up or down, and other little things like that. All of these issues either became settled (someone decided on half-way up) or were generally relegated to the tolerable minor annoyances category. But then, a few months before I left, the pastor talked to me about ordering some timpani’s for the church orchestra. He had found some on eBay that he was thinking about purchasing for the church, and for the price, they were a miraculous bargain. He told me at that time that he wanted to start moving the orchestra to a more “orchestral” sound. I did not exactly realize it at the time or I might not have been so cooperative, but that meant phasing out the drum set, pretty much entirely.

Some short weeks later, the timpani arrived, and thus began the physical and metaphorical crowding out of the drum set. (Despite the large size of the new sanctuary, the stage has remarkably little room.) The arsenal of percussion instruments continued to increase thereafter to include a big, sparkly-red concert bass drum, a concert snare drum, a set of orchestra bells, and various other little noise-makers to bang around. I added in a smaller drum set as well, so it could still fit, though playing it really wasn’t allowed.

As the size of the percussion section grew, my enthusiasm for playing diminished, as did my ability to cover all the parts. My very gracious and talented girlfriend joined me, but even then it was a struggle. The two of us just could not properly fill out the section. Sunday mornings were blur of sheet music, on top of the hour-long commute, and Sunday nights (typically, more low-key) were not very much better. The percussion section needed at least three musicians to be decently covered. This was not the ministry that I fell in love with. What happened? Sometimes, I feel as though I was being terribly whiny about it, but I really did pray that God would adjust my heart and make it work. I stuck it out for those few months, but in the end, this incident proved to me that it was time to leave.

What was it that bothered me so about the situation? I could point out a number of particularly stressful thorns: coordinating a section with too many instruments and not enough musicians, doing so while living over an hour away (meaning that mid-week rehearsals were out of the question), not getting to play the one instrument that I love so much. Each of these certainly contributed, but for me the real issue was the close-mindedness to anything but one form of musical “worship.” Worship is not anything outward anyway, but inward, so to even speak of music as worship is a complete misnomer. The gospel of John says that “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (4:24, NASB). At best, music is a tool (and I wholeheartedly proclaim it as a wonderful tool) that leads people to worship, but it is not the worship itself, because worship happens in our humble spirits as they commune with God’s glorious Holy Spirit.

I understand the pastor’s vision. Though he did not understand the full details of making it happen, he wanted the music to be grand and majestic. God can most certainly be honored in that way, but what I absolutely cannot agree with is that church music – or any other worship-leading device – must needs be done only one way. God is so worthy to be glorified in infinite ways, so should it not be the other way around? Should we not be seeking for more and more ways to worship God? I have certainly found many creative ways to sin against Him, and still do, so should I not desire to creatively glorify His name as much as I desire to repent of these sins? I do not see how one can legitimately separate the two.

So now I go to a medium-sized, contemporary, non-denominational church on Sunday mornings, an extra-large, Baptist church on Sunday evenings, and various small college group Bible studies mid-week (all much closer to my house I might add. Bonus!). I have stumbled upon the joy of multi-churching. I can see the beauty in the whole spectrum of Christianity from Catholic to Pentecostal. It’s not about one church having better programs to be involved in or a fear of commitment to one church or denomination. It’s all about worshipping the One Being in the universe who deserves to be exalted in each and every way that we can exalt Him.

And that is how I became a multi-churcher.


The Truth & A Confession

This is something I originally posted on May 24, 2008 on another blog I never really did anything with, and I wanted to try out WordPress anyway. The other blog only had three posts, so I’m moving them here just to have them all in one spot:

I was listening to one of Derek Webb’s podcasts the other day. It was the one where this girl writes in and asks Derek why he lists “secular” artists as influences for his “Christian” music. Basically, his reply was that the terms “secular” and “Christian” are really just categories invented by the music industry, and that they are far too course to address the nuances of the real question at hand: what makes art true, good, edifying, and beautiful? He went on to quote Francis Shaffer, saying, “There is no truth but God’s truth,” meaning that if anything is true, then it is from God. The same goes for goodness, edification, and beauty as well, because God is the origin of all these things. Thus, to judge art based on an imposed category only shows an ignorance toward real truth, goodness, edification, and beauty.

That discussion goes right along with something that I have been rolling around in my mind for quite some time: the fact that I want to believe in the truth, and nothing else.

A lot of debate occurs over the nature of truth in our world, whether it is relative or absolute. Certainly, both kinds exist. There is absolute truth – laws of the universe – physical, mental, and spiritual. These are the truths upon which the universe functions. (Oddly enough, the existence of relative truth is an example of absolute truth.) We all have some sense of this absolute truth. Some call it science, but this makes it out to be too cold and uncaring. Science is only a small formulation within the larger truth at hand. As a follower of Christ, I believe that this truth is His nature, for Christ said in John 14:6, “…I am the way, and the truth, and the life….” (NASB)

What then can we make of relative truth? Every person was made by God, and each of us has some spark of His truth and creativity within us. The way we relate to this spark, the way we relate to the absolute truth of the universe, is the basis for relative truth, for our reality. This is a lesser truth, but it is still a form of truth. Because I love Christ, I aspire to be like Him. Thus, I want my reality to align with His nature as closely as possible. This brings me back to my original premise: I want to believe in the truth and nothing else. If I believe anything that is not true, then what good is it to me? It is a delusion, so why I believe it? And if I encounter anything that is true, then I must believe it. I am a willing slave to the truth, and must be, because I am a willing servant of Christ.

The beginning, middle, and end of truth in me is a continual confession. If I am not willing to confess where and how I believe in what is not the truth, then how can I ever learn to believe what is the truth? Confession is my compass. It leads me to truth and away from lies. But confession is scary, because it goes against my pride, which is at the heart of my human nature. It means that I have to be willing – and even eager – to admit my faults and shortcomings of truth to Christ so that he can exchange them for a portion of Himself. In that way, confession is a map to all my secret hiding spots, all my refuges of self-indulgence.

That being said, in the face of all fears, here is my confession:

I confess that I know all the right words to say to hide my flaws, neatly tuck away my frayed edges, and make you think that I’m a half-decent guy, that I have it all together. I’ve gone to church my whole life nearly, and maybe that’s how I learned not to disclose my truest nature, or maybe I just learned it on my own. Either way, I’ve become very good at it, the best even.

I confess that I do not know how to live in poverty or abundance. I look around at my life, and in moments of clarion introspection, I marvel at the decadence that I see. What lack do I have? What do I not have an over-abundance of? Certainly, I lack for nothing at all. Despite all of my claims to love God wholly and love others as myself, the evidence of my life indicates only a singular desire to accumulate for myself what I apparently do not believe God is sufficient to provide me. Arrogantly, I look to bank accounts and college degrees for my security, and ultimately for my worth as a person, when I actually have so much more in Christ. I hide behind these things like a little boy hides in a couch cushion fortress, complete with an imaginary and inflated sense of power.

I think you know what I am talking about, because this sense of false self-security and self-hope is really just self-righteousness, one of the few traits common to us all, even if we each are at different levels of realizing it.

I confess that my actions proclaim that I believe that following Christ means hurling myself from footstep to footstep. Though try as I do, the steps are just too big. That’s fine though, because following Christ is not about obtaining a goal so much as it is about pining after a far-away lover.

I confess that if I do not forgive myself and move on to the work of the kingdom of heaven, then that is just a symptom of my unbelief in the gospel of grace, and that I do this very thing.

I confess that if I really mean to do anything about all of this, the time is now. Right now.