Justifying Fashion for the Church

Often in Christianity we have to categories. Those things that are sacred, and those items that are secular. Recently I have been seeing more and more how this dichotomy is dangerous and even harmful to the Christian church. There are many perfectly good enterprises that are given up in pursuit of a life that is only sacred.

                God created a world for us to enjoy. We are called to follow Christ wherever we are at. Are plans are to be committed to the Lord whatever they are so long as they are in the character of Christ. When looked at this way, there is a great deal of life that is free to be enjoyed that is normally considered secular.

                Fashion for example. I have had the past had a great deal of difficulty spending money on anything related to clothing. I am more than my clothes and none of it will fit me for very long anyway. I never knew what to do with my friends who invested in a hundred dollar pair of pants, or three hundred dollar shoes. We are very quick to judge this as a waste of money that could be given to the poor.

                But, even a slight comparison to our other judgments will find this lacking. Do we judge the individual who spends three hundred dollars on a ski trip? Or buys a car with leather seats and A/C instead of a minimalist design with no power windows or air conditioning. Do we judge the one that remodels their kitchen? I have never heard of that. These are all things that are ‘expected’ as normal and good. But the judgement is arbitrary.

                Furthermore, I categorize fashion and clothing as one of the arts. How we dress and present ourselves can be as much as a form of art as a canvas. Matching colors, styles, seasonal clothes all with your particular body type in order to convey an image is an art. Especially if that dress conveys an image of your personality in line with who you are. I would be curious to see a fashion guide based on personality.

                Finally, how we present ourselves is important in ministering the gospel of Christ. Just as overtly expensive clothes can make those who are less ‘fortunate’ feel bad, so too cheap of clothing can cut off certain peoples. If you want to minister to the wealthy or LA and Hollywood culture, you had better dress like it. Clothing can also spark conversations.

                Use your money wisely, and follow Christ. In some cultures, it is considered rude not to wear your best. We are the ones that have to look at you all day, not you.

Philosophy, Country, and Love

I talked in my previous posting about being caught up in these dreams of grand adventures and perfect Disney movie lives. This is more of a revealing of my own internal dreams than a specific critique of culture. I often get caught up in the perfect moments. The right lighting, mood, events, and words said at just the right time.

Not only that, but I am a philosopher at heart and have this constant yearning to find meaning in events. Though it more comes from a heart that is trying to figure out its own path in a world that has yet to be made right, it is still searching. I want to know that what is done is significant and has meaning. Whatever meaning means.

You cannot find the solution to a problem on the same level that the problem is found or created. The answer to my own philosophical nightmare of meaning and significance I found in the very lofty views and words of Luke Bryan from two of his popular songs, “rain makes corn, corn makes whiskey, whiskey makes my baby feel a little frisky… rain is a good thing” and “A huntin, fishin, and lovin everyday that’s the prayer that a country boy prays”

The lyrics from these two songs are good examples of how connected to life that country music is. Country singers always sing about what is tangible. What they see. What they feel in response to specific things, like a girls smile or hair. There are no complicated metaphors or layered meanings within meanings. There are no hints and jabs from other parts of culture. There is a country boy or girl singing about what they see, touch, taste and know. And it is beautiful.

The same could be said for a lot of LA culture. The artisans of LA create from what they see hear and touch. Though there may be a bit more meaning, you cannot escape the direct connection from the lives that they live.

This is why I listen to country. Because although I am always caught in the dream of a tomorrow that will never come. Even though I want to create these extravagant adventures and believe in a love story worth sharing. Really life is simple, and I love the simplicity, but I need help staying grounded. So hand me the gluten free beer and the rustic guitar and lets talk about the cheese in the fridge, the mice in the barn, dust on our boots, and the sun on her hair.

Love is Simple

Hollywood produces a steady stream of movies that portray stories of fantasmagical proportions. Heroes such as James Bond and Captain America are both larger than life, but are portrayed in a very rapid carefully strung together story line with a seemingly endless rising action. Even true to life stories are cut and edited to grip the audience. Even the most mundane become spectacular.

A simple father becomes a hero to find his son. A child becomes a king. Several ordinary men save a country. Most significantly love is built up to almost scripted perfection. Though some hero stories are based on real life, and some real life love stories are worthy of the big screen, these are few and far between, and are, in actual life, more filled with the mundane than the spectacular.

In real life we eat pizza, cook soup, walk past stores, sleep, clean, drive, make coffee, and work for most of our lives. Love is involved in simple flowers, chocolates, a smile, a clean dish, a folded article of clothing, a short walk and a hand picked flower, kisses on the cheek, and even a slice of cheese.

Love can be very simple. All of the large plans, carefully thought out trips, and adventures lose their luster if we cannot say I love with the very things that we touch and do every day. And that is why, I love country music.

To be continued…

Listening to God

I have asked many pastors how we know when we hear the voice of God. We are encouraged to seek him and desire him and to follow his will for our lives. Most of those who profess to be Christians want to follow his will.
Maybe I am alone in this, but often I find it difficult to differentiate between what I think may be the pulling of the Holy Spirit, and the weird food and hot sauce I just ate. Or simple mood swings. Sometimes I am told that I am just not close enough to God and that I will ‘know’.
There are times when I will admit I have felt the move of God. The actions I was lead to do and the “crazy-random-happenstance” that ensued that was more than just coincidence was evidence. I don’t discount that. However, the very next day I have moments where I am just not sure and I will never know. It could just be a gut feeling.
Generally we are encouraged as evangelicals to spend more time on our knees in prayer until we have a solid answer. To pray and listen until God moves. Usually the implication is you will just ‘know’, it sounds rather mystical to me.
I posit that God works in much more mysterious and wonderful ways than just providing a feeling.  He talked to Adam and Abraham face to face, to his kinds through prophets, to his prophets… well not sure how, to Moses through a burning bush, and to Balam through an ass.
Our God is creative. He can communicate a direction or a message through a friend, a book, a thought, a prayer, or even a prophetic message. Perhaps we should expand our faith, and importantly, our view of God’s communication and creativity to include, however he wants to communicate. When you seek to hear God, remember to look for him in whatever way he chooses to show up. The Israelite’s were expecting a warrior, and he showed up humble lowly.

Spirals, Doors, and Feelings

Have you ever noticed that every time you hold a door for someone who is more than four feet away? They always smile, look at you, look down and rush the open door avoiding any awkward human contact. Or when you stop in the car and wave someone across the street: smile, look down, and then run.

I do the same thing when someone holds the door open for me or when I cross the street. I do not want to make them wait. Which, is silly and insulting. I feel insulted when I am holding the door and others rush. Excuse me, but do you really think that my kindness and charm is so petty that I would not be willing to wait? I did offer. At the same time I feel bad that I caused them to rush.

Am I the only one thinks this way? That there is a slow downward spiraling trend towards bad feelings? The door opening recievee, (the walker? Wait… no.) feels bad that someone has taken the time to hold the door and must wait. The person holding the door feels bad for the one who ran. Both feel they did a good deed. The one holding the door knows they held the door. The runner feels they saved the door opener from having to wait longer. But for why?

Why cannot we, or I, graciously except the offer of an open door just as we are? Walking whatever speed we are at. Do we not believe they are gracious enough? They may have offered yet still are burdened? As though their lives are so poor that waiting a few minutes longer would mean a mental breakdown later that evening.

But it is the same thing most anything we are offered. When parched and given water we suffice with one glass when we could have four. When fed we eat a meager portion when we could eat the whole pig.

If you ask me a question for which I have a ten-minute energetic answer, I shorten and deprecate my own answer. I do not have faith in the other person’s patience. I do not want to be a burden. I am afraid that if I talk to much I will not be liked. Living through fear and belittling my own voice I am depriving them from an experience of life, listening. I am depriving both of us the relationship developed from experiencing me more fully. I sink myself into a deeper isolation.

I am not a hero when I do this, and even if I was I am not the Hulk. I am not endless in my patience and long suffering. I am human and need a friend to speak with, share with, to be free to talk for five hours strait with (I have done this when I was little). I will take the risk. If you ask I will answer, and if I wear your patience thin I learned more about you and we are both better off.

So I commend you, when someone opens the door for you do not rush. Walk at the same pace through, smile, and look up. Look them in the eye with all the time it takes you to get to the door. Make it a real connection, and say thank you.

From belief to doubt to love part 1

From belief, to doubt to love part 2

I care deeply about people and want them to feel loved. One of my principle ways of doing this is thoughtful intentional listening and probing questions to help them open up. My goal was always to console past hurts and pains.

I had many experiences pouring time and energy into others in this way. I was always happy and joyous about the opportunity and saw the blessings and the fruit. It was a signature part of who I was and how I loved people. Then I met Eric.

Eric had previously been known to be a very happy go lucky energetic individual. Everyone on campus knew who he was. We had very opposite upbringings. He was raised mostly by a single mother from divorced parents just above poverty. I was raised by two married parents in a middle class home. However, we always respected each others point of view and enjoyed our conversations that stretched our previous beliefs. I was looking forward to my year with him as a roommate.

Unfortunately, the happy bubbly individual I had known went through an identity crisis and began wallowing in all of his childhood daddy and family issues. I was happy to help despite my own identity crisis where I was terrified of who I would become and that our conversations were rarely conducive to my sleep cycle.

He believed that he was a sham on the outside pretending to always happy. Now he was going to live in each moment honestly. He wanted so bad to have some sort of female affection. And many things like that. On several occasions I gave up what turned out to be a whole letter grade in order to spend time listening and sympathizing with him. Worth it.

I was falling into my own pit of depression, but still I made it a point to share in his life. A girl he had been good friends with had written him a letter saying he was sexy. Most of the conversation I do not remember, but this, “You know what she said, she thought I was sexy. Sexy? Me?” He was rather overweight. “She has a boyfriend and yet she has been my friend and encouraged me. She wrote me a note. The only bit of encouragement I have had all semester. No one else has tried to be a part of my life or encourage me or understands what I am going through.”

Of course not. Especially not the guy sitting across from you two hours past his bedtime who was in the middle of spiraling towards thoughts of suicide. Nope no one.

It was at that moment that I realized… People suck. People will suck you dry of all of your energy. Then, in return. They just sit there and do nothing. No growth. No life change. No progress. Just a black hole sucking up all of the attention.

My identity was wrapped up in my ability to help effect a positive change in others. I had always been able to be some sort of a blessings in others lives, regardless of how small. And now someone who I thought was going to be a close friend threw out all of my loving efforts. My care was rejected and the seed of doubt was planted. If they can just throw away all of the care and attention, why bother?

Developing from belief, to doubt, to love

The next several postings describe my journey from love to doubt and back again. I started off principally and without effort believing in people and my ability to love them towards that which is good. Various experiences broke down my faith people and my belief that my life makes a difference.

This has some bearing on an argument that I had been having with my sister and my mother for some weeks now. According to them there is a specific point in time when someone comes to a self-realization. A moment when they become self-aware of who they are. This point marks when they are an adult and able to make wise decisions and frankly, in a place to choose a spouse and significant life choices. My position has been that one is always continuously changing and growing. The moment when you believe you have arrived you have no longer arrived.

However, looking back I do see a distinct change in my beliefs that is a better mark of maturity. I observed and believed that my actions, feelings, beliefs, and entirety of life effects those around me. From something as simple as frowning or smiling in public, to larger items such as telling the truth verses lying. The mark of our life is how we respond to God’s love.

I am still developing towards that. The temptation is to view the mark of my life as how much good change I can effect in others. This is a falsehood for whether or not there is a good effect in someone else the good action I choose is before God.

Teach Those in the Church to Serve Outside the Church

I have almost always been involved in some sort of church service or activity. As a small child I attended Sunday school. When I was in college I helped with a small youth group, and after graduation I taught high school and Jr. High. During the week I brought all of my bible college education to the bible studies I attended and attempted as much as possible to help share what I had learned. When I stopped teaching high school and Jr. High I began teaching a young adults bible study.

In total it was three to four years of being involved (with some gaps) directly in church ministry where I got to see the Lord work and people grow in their understanding of God. Then I got promoted to a full time position at UPS. The work hours have since prevented me from being very involved in any sort of small church ministry. Made worse I stayed in hotels at least two hours away for work during the week making attending the same bible study as my home church impossible.

I feel the pull and the desire to see the work of the Lord in the people of God. I love seeing the growth and sharing the truth of God with others. But at times that has turned into an idolization. Serving in church was a standard by which I judged my life. Since I was not directly involved I judged my life inadequate. Lacking. “God what would you have me do?” I would constantly ask. If my actions weren’t directly connected to his body where organizational growth and change was visible, I had problems seeing the value in my actions.

The idolization of being involved in church as the ideal work of the Lord is unhealthy and wrong. Do we need to be involved in “church” yes. We need to have deep close caring relationships with brothers and sisters in the Lord. It is a biblical expectation. The church is supposed to support and lift each other up, bear one another’s burdens and love each other deeply. However, judging my contribution to the Lord’s work based upon my involvement in church is false and unhelpful.

“Lord what shall I do?”

“Feed my sheep” is always the reply. Been that way for years. I always thought that meant his sheep in the structure of the modern church. Ironically now that I am still and listen, the pull I have on my heart is to teach those in the church how to serve God outside of the church.

The Lord is seeking to redeem all aspects of our lives. Our work, our play, our words and even our social media. I want to be one that shows the church (that is all my brothers and sisters that profess faith in Christ) how we are to redeem our lives before God. Now I often become overly technical and analyze every little deed and word, and I will write to that end. However, it is also true that to an extent we must commit our ways to the Lord and let him work in our lives. Enjoying his creation is just as important as carefully choosing how we live.

Tuesday will be blogs on redeeming every part of our lives.

My Broken Crown: Pride

In my crown I have found another large crack. Pride.

I have always thought myself humble. Even though I am loud and will quickly express my opinions, I am generally (at least believe I am) quick to change them when I am presented with sufficient evidence to the contrary. I act confidently (in most areas… except relationships… then I cower) in what I believe is true because that is all I have to go off of. When I turn out to be wrong; thank goodness for grace.

Although I perceive that I do not think that highly of myself in the present; I often do not understand when people compliment me. When I think about myself in the past I am arrogant.

I am one that is prone to regret, guilt, and a rehearsal of what could have been. Whenever I think back on my mistakes, sin or just choices, I always think, “I knew better” “I should have known better” “that isn’t like me” or “It is just because I didn’t try” and “I knew what to do, I just didn’t care”

Under this is the presupposition that I am better than my choices. Rather than giving myself grace because I am flawed, I prove my arrogance by believing that I was better… and just made a slip up. I could not come to believe that I am dishonest. My arrogance could not except such a flaw. “I was caught up in such and such” “It is because of this” or “I deserve more patience” What I should have done was admit: This is where I am at. These are my flaws. I may be 24 years old but I still have not grown up to such and such a level of maturity.

It is only when I can accept the truth of my flaws being who I am (not some restrained version of a better me that needs release from society, family, or the like) that I can then accept grace in a way that allows for growth. Without this truth, grace leaves open the door for laziness and licentiousness.

I have made many mistakes as of late. I have a lot of growing up to do. I have been humbled by those younger than me who are more honest, have more follow through, are better time managers, love others better, and show wisdom far beyond what I have been able.

My crown is not one of someone who has arrived. I talk about how I could do this or that if only I cared to. No, regardless of reasons who I am is who I am. So I present that my crown is that of a child slowly waking up to the world. Embarrassed, crawling, I sit up and spin the propeller on top and say, here I am, this is me: thank goodness for grace because I am still growing.

My Broken Crown: Confession of Dishontesty

I am probably most proud of my first post on broken crowns. I love the imagery. So I choose to continue it here.

We all live as though walking through a room dimly lit. Regardless of how much we try we will never be able to see our external, internal, and the spiritual world perfectly clearly. In this room we wear our crowns with an only partial understanding as to what they are. I perceived mine to be shining, and with gems in place. Several scratches and dents, but on the whole perfectly wearable. My fault, I believed, was that I did not always wear it. That is to say I know many things that I ought to do, but simply do not do them.

I was approached by two lights that revealed to me the true state of the world, and my crown I proudly wear.

I am deceitful and lie. Four times now I have lied directly to my family. Countless other times I lead them to believe that which is not true. I tell one version of a story to one group of friends and edit that story for another. The person who I present is ever changing and morphing beyond just situational wisdom. The person I present myself to be does not exist.

Even more with the men that I profess hold me accountable I partition different faults to each. I speak of this sin to this man, and this other one to this. In doing so I prevent any of them knowing just how wretched I am.

When I finally have seen my crown in the light it is not polished, it is dented and malformed and the gems are but shards of glass. I sided with satan and wore a deceivers headpiece.

There truly is only one light that reveals to us the state of our crowns. He is Jesus. He does choose to allow his light to be reflected off of those whose crowns have been tempered, fixed, and shined. I met one of these individuals with a crown shined in honesty. I stubbornly would not bring my tarnished crown to be repaired. Instead I continued to hide behind the covers and fake paint applied to it. By the time I finally came to admit my crown is in need of repair, my dear reflector of the light had gone.

It pained me to see my sister post a meme, “A real man will be honest no matter how painful the truth is. A coward hides behind lies and deceit” It was painful. But pain sparks growth.

So I humbly speak as one that must become worthy of trust. In order to see myself repaired and made whole I must do the very thing I avoided. That is with complete honesty present myself to others and to God. It is only in my last counseling appointment that I was able to speak out and say all of the wrongs I had done, and I pay him to listen to me. The journey is slow and tiresome. Lord have mercy.

Thankfully Christ has a plan for my crown and myself who wears it. This plan included realizations as to who I am, who I am not, that my life affects those around me, that I must speak the truth, that close loving relationships require vulnerability and complete honesty.