Saturday, April 23, 2011

This Is Your Brain on Western Christianity

In the movie A Beautiful Mind the main character played by Russel Crowe is beset by inner imaginings and imaginary characters that convince him of a world that is under attack, a world that only his mad scribblings mathematical diagrams can save. He spends his life becoming more and more enslaved to the fantasy of what his mind presents him with. In my last post we saw Morpheus speaking to Neo about the mind being enslaved and freedom lying in the truth. And how Western Culture has decided to delude itself on the blue pill of fantasy rather than reaching out for an authentic life. Western culture has presented us with a fantasy that has only served to enslave us to it's own desires. We are Russel Crowe, our minds have become enslaved to the American Dream. We need to wake up, arise, and cast off these temporal bonds that drive us to live trapped within ourselves; enslaved to everything people say or think about us; listening to those voices in our heads that have been programmed by society to be driven to live for nothing more than glitz, glamor, and retirement.  And the even deeper and darker fears that live inside us, that speak to us constantly, trying to get our ears. Some call it Satan, but by and large it is self. Our own greatest enemy is ourselves. Satan's only power is to deceive and he takes what we think of ourselves, our weaknesses and uses them against us. For if we had no weakness, Satan would have no power, nothing to exploit.
So why do we do the things that we don't want to do? Is that just our lot in life? To keep on sinning so that grace might abound? Do we have no power to REALLY change? There are many who have answered this differently over the ages. Some say we have all the power in the world, that we are a blank slate and can freely choose to do right or wrong. Others say we are powerless to do anything good except that God should make us do it. Others take a middle road that I am to work as hard as I can and God will work with me changing me along the way. I think as much as America was built on a strong work ethic we have lost that when it comes to our spirituality and many other things. We are currently experiencing an obesity epidemic across the nation like never before. I recently read a news article that did a study on the growing obese population and how these obese people viewed themselves. The findings were strikingly shocking. Across the board they all felt like they weighed significantly less than they actually did and that they were normal. It seems that as obesity becomes the norm people don't see anything wrong with it and perceive themselves in a false light. I would suggest that we are also experiencing a spiritual epidemic in Western Christianity. We are hemorrhaging out and no tourniquet can stop the bleed. We have become un-radical and been so spiritually lazy for so long that it has become the norm and we perceive ourselves just like the obese person as being normal when in reality we are way off the mark of authentic Christianity. We have written a how to book on how to grieve the Holy Spirit. I will lay out what I think this authentic Christianity looks like in further posts, but needless to say one only has to go back to the roots of our history to see how far off we are. We only need to look at the lack of impact we have on society anymore. Christianity used to shake empires, now the only thing shaking is our boots when we even think of radically sharing and living out our faith. A lack of a changed life makes Christianity a who cares thing. We have believed in a lie. The airwaves carry the curse of easy believeism.   For my next post I am including a paper I wrote on this subject as to how I think we've got here, and how maybe we can get back to a beautiful mind. Towards the end of the movie, Russel Crowe's character chooses to stop listening to his imaginary friends and believe what they would say to him. Though they never went away, they were always present, he ignored them and walked on firmly in what he knew to be the truth. So will sin ever be a part of our condition but one that we don't need to listen to or let rule our lives. We can walk on and become who we were meant to be. More than just an American Dream.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Red Pill or the Blue Pill?

Who am I?  It seems like such a nebulous question. I feel as baffled as Alice did when the caterpillar asked her the same question; lost down a rabbit-hole in my own life. I could say that I am Andrew. But what is in a name?  It means strong and manly. And I often joke that I was named very appropriately. All joking aside I am left with the same question.  When asking ourselves that question I think many of us have chosen to take the blue pill rather than the red pill for fear of what we might find down the rabbit-hole of an authentic life not lived in fear.  We swallow the blue pill of forgetfulness and create our own truths which are only but a dream; an illusion, much like the matrix. I don't know about anybody else but I am tired of taking the blue pills and sleeping life away. Western culture has become synonymous with laziness, lethargia, and obesity. We have an epidemic on our hands. Not only is a major portion of our population physically obese there are also far more who are spiritually lazy. We have a spiritual epidemic on our hands. We have been lulled to sleep by the Gods of greed and gluttony. What has happened? Fundamental Religion has told us that we suck which doesn't inspire anyone to change. The world and liberal theology has told us that we are great just the way we are. Didn't Lady Gaga just release a song like that? Yeah, well the danger with that is if we are great just the way we are then there is no need to change. Frankly, I need to change a lot, I want to change a lot, I want to be more than what I am right now. I want to not be afraid, I want to walk boldly in this life, I want a real authentic relationship with God. I want to love people better. I want to use the gifts I have to make a difference. I think if we want a different life we have to be willing to lose the one we think we have. We have to, like Neo, choose to leave this behind; because the reality is that we are slaves to it. We are all slaves to our fears, to our desires to have a nice safe life. But it's false, just like reality TV. It's not real. Sorry for those of you who think it is. It's even worse than the world. It's a fake show about fake life. So it's twice the fake. When are we going to stop trying to be filled with junk? When are the dreamers going to arise and wake up and start living a radical life of a Christ follower. I mean, think about it. How many hours of our lives have we spent being programmed by the world. If any western Christian had to measure their time spent walking and talking with God to the hours of TV they watched they would be embarrassed. I know I would be. So how do you expect to be any different if you don't live differently. What is going to come out of you is what you put your time into. If we are to ever be different we have to become radical and start saying no to western philosophy and yes to loving the Lord our God with all our heart mind body soul and strength. This is not just a philosophical idea like we have made it. It is not just a proposition or something we say, it is something we live or we are nothing at all but a bunch of hypocrites. When faith is only a proposition there is no truth in it. The truth is in the life that follows. The life that knows the way, the truth, and the life and lives like it. Like Jesus. The reason why you know he's true and real is because nobody would make up such a ridiculous story about God who was birthed out of an unwed 16 year old virgin, grew up, and was framed as a terrorist and hung on a cross and rose again though you only have our word to take for that. I mean, it's crazy. But this story continues to captivate because the truth will always win, it will always break down the walls of our hostility. It is a beautiful magic. Let this magic take hold of your heart and create you anew. Be who you are, who God created you to be. Your life matters. Christians seem to think that it is all about the next life. That is heretical. God is at work restoring this creation, this life, this place. It starts here, with us, right now. If you think that you are a messed up sinner and that is all you will ever be then that is all you will ever be. 
Life will never be perfect, but you can live life well; waiting for the time when there will be no more pain and sadness.  It can be done.  Life can be lived well.  I never would have thought my life would be like what it is.  I have bad days and good.  I struggle with trusting God and allowing him to work in my life.  I feel angry at times and confused because some days nothing makes sense.  I want to run and hide from the world, but I can’t. We don’t have to be afraid of these feelings.  But we do need to acknowledge them and why they are there. 
How well I know what’s hiding inside the caverns of my soul.  And yet I think there is still more to come as I continue to unravel the twisted tapestry in which I exist.  Our dark strangers that lurk within us are free to seize control without our realization.  They are the shadows in the backseat of the car whispering in our ears where to turn and when to go.  The fear and pain of which the shadows are formed take on a life of their own, as they slowly become the master of our souls.   I can say I have been mastered, yet I say no more and begin to walk in the light.  I don’t have all the answers nor will I ever, but I do have hope.

I have wanted to forget my past.  In my forgetfulness I have lived as a practical atheist, believing that I was in some way more capable than God.  I have done so much damage in my relationships through this hypocrisy that always quickly crumbled.  Only in my brokenness can I rise again.  I keep coming back to my brother’s memorial service when I said, “I’m going to live.”  The truth is that I had no flipping idea how to live.  I didn’t live, I just kept building sandcastles on the shore only to have them swept away when the tide came in.  You think I would have learned my lesson, but there again the next day I would be out at the same spot building up the turrets and walls of an inevitable breakdown.  I am a little child shaking his fist at God wondering why everything always has to come crashing down, shouting that this is my life; it’s not a game to me.  I always thought it was enough that I believed I could survive.  But I realize that survival isn’t any kind of life if it means living a shallow distant life from everyone. We need to realize that our chaos and hurt is a gift in that it unfastens our death grip on self-reliance and self-trust shattering our illusions.

It is comfortable in chaos says the victim of hurt and pain who has known no other way of life for so long.  How should I leave what is comfortable?  The myth is that my life is comfortable now.  It is anything but.  I spend my time searching for things to fill my time and thoughts so that I forget just how uncomfortable I am.  I find people to tell me I’m wonderful so that I can forget how messed up I am.  I do everything and anything to avoid having to face reality.  The reality is I’m not the man I thought I was.  I think this is the curse of our culture.  The drive to be something other than what we are, desire things we don’t have, and envy those who have what the media says we should want.  I have fallen prey to this mindset and lived my life in a daze of self-medication and pain avoidance.  The opium dens of the new millennium are our own living rooms lit up by the constant blast of images from a glowing television set where we silently tune out the world and our lives pass us by as we take the blue pill and turn out the light…

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Lack of Character Study

Have you ever woken up one day to the feeling that your life was all wrong? That you were somehow in the wrong story; that you needed to pull up from the typewriter of your life, pull the page out, crumple it up, throw it away, and start all over. It's like the epiphany Jerry Maguire had in the beginning of the popular movie when he realized that his priorities were all messed up and if he could do things the way his heart felt he should they would be done way differently. So he wrote his mission statement for a changed life and way of doing things. I had one of those moments when I turned 33.  The age Jesus was when He died and rose again.  The age my father was when he died and rose to be with Him.  I wondered if this might be a defining year in my life.  That in some way a resurrection of sorts would take place as I pick up where I left off with my studies several years ago.  I am confronted every day with reminders of how short life can be, how ephemeral and fleeting our existence is.  I think upon this often as I remember the time I served at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington DC and my current service at Brooke Army Medical Center.  My job has in large part been to care for the wounded warriors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan as well as work major local trauma incidents.  Some of the warriors are dealing with the limbs they have lost, some, the horrors they have seen.  I see young men, much younger than I am, pushing themselves in wheelchairs; bereft of legs they possessed only weeks ago.  I wonder what they will do, and how they will survive in their radically changed life.  What would I do in their place?  What is their mission now? What is their story now? And then I ask, what is my purpose in this life? If I could write a mission statement for how I really wanted to do things, what would it be? How would things be different if I stopped listening to the voice in my head saying that these things I dream of just aren't possible? It seems like life is full of questions until we have the courage to answer them. If we stop living in fear and start walking into the dreams that God has placed on our hearts we will find the answers. They may not be the ones we think we want but they will be the ones that change us in an unmistakable way. The mundane existence we mire ourselves in for lack of faith in something magical happening in our lives threatens to slowly choke out any real living we might do. Around the corner there is something magical that just maybe rests on us to choose to believe. The tragedy is that we have lost our imagination in our rise to the seriousness of adulthood. The rite of passage we think is to leave our childhood behind while we lament the fact secretly for the rest of our lives living through our children and grandchildren's ability to see life as fresh, new, and magical everyday. Children hold a faith that is so purely held that it affects those around him or her bringing truth and life. Is living through others lives a drug or addiction? It may be. Hence the rise of the rule of reality TV shows. They are all ways we try and create life and bring vitality to our own empty existence. Are we all just parasites looking for our next fix from people and things around us? Hello, I am Andrew, and I'm a parasite. But my mission statement is to be one no more; to recover my imagination, my childlike faith and walk this world in a pure radical belief that He who has brought me here will get me there and back again. That there is one way, one truth, and one way to get the life I so crave. I will believe that dreams do come true, that the desires of our heart that God has planted within us from before time are meaningful and a calling which we should all listen to if we are to truly walk in freedom from fear; fear of pain, fear of hurt, fear of failure. And I will walk free of this because I realize that this life I talk of was never mine to begin with. I was created for a purpose and a story beyond myself, something much grander than I could even imagine. I have limited myself by chaining my expectations to this earth and all it has to offer. I have become the Bob Marley of my generation dragging the chains of all I have done in this life. Lucky am I that a Savior came and rescued me from the living hell I was trapped in within myself on this earth. Why is it that this world is full of billions of people yet one person can feel so alone sometimes. We do it to ourselves though. Our fear is what forms the bars of our internal prisons. Prisons from which we never let out true selves out to see the light of day because we can't handle the truth. So Western Culture creates the great escape for us. All of life is about escape. Get away from it all the ads say. Follow after the American dream. Spend your life accumulating wealth so you can run away from it all in the end. We have manufactured electronic marvels to plug in our attention 24 hours a day. Video games give us the chance to live an adventure in our living room. We never even have to leave our house to become a conqueror, a king, anything you want. We manufacture reality to satisfy our deepest desires. But pseudo reality can only cover up and never fulfill, you always need more. We run in vain when we try to escape. All things are lost if this is our dream. Maybe we should shut everything off and just listen to ourselves and God for awhile. and just maybe we should walk out our front door and ride off into the sunset of adventure in the real world living life to the fullest by being filled with that which is the greatest. As we walk we begin to see it, then we jog and it becomes clearer, then we begin to run. And we run into the arms of a mighty God, creator of all things, in whom we truly live and have our being; where perfect love casts out all fear and our tears are no more...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lost in Translation

Stranger Than Fiction - I've Devised A Test
Tags: Stranger Than Fiction - I've Devised A Test
I started my blog with the video above to illustrate the fact that I think we are all a lot like Will Ferrell's character Harold Crick. We are trying to find out what kind of story we are in. We all are currently in some kind of story. It could be a Romance, or a tragedy at this moment. The stories change from day to day and moment to moment. It seems that though we walk the same path everyday we never walk it quite the same. Something is always changing.  Because we are mired in the middle of our story we are muddled about it.  Have you ever felt this way? That we are stuck in a story and there is seemingly no way out. We've played out all the options in the Choose-My-Own-Adventure and none of them end up satisfying. If all we have is individual stories then what makes one more desirable than another? And for that matter, can I change my story if I desire to do so? And what is so important about my story anyway that I would even blog about it. I mean, really, am I so self obsessed that I need other people to validate my life in cyberspace because I'm not getting it in the real world? I tell myself I am writing this just for me, but really what is the purpose if it doesn't speak into other's lives? What am I to do? Well, just as Harold did, I think I have to figure out what kind of story I am in before I can know what to do.
      The first step towards finding out what story I'm in I think is the realization that it is not so much my story as it is the story of mankind, the story of the universe, the story of the God who made it all. In this day and age a lot of the Western mindset is that we are all little planets which the sun, moon, and stars revolve around. We have built up a backwards world, topsy turvy, in order to feed our own insatiable lusts for glory. How small the world becomes when it is all of me, another dash of me, a sprinkle of me; mix it all into a me mud pie of self indulgence we gorge upon eventually causing us to vomit ourselves all over everyone around us. Is this to be our legacy. It seems to me if we have to let everyone around us constantly know we exist because most of us including myself don't do anything really lasting eternally speaking, then when we are gone we won't exist at all because there won't be anybody to speak our praises of the nothingness we have done.  Fear and focus on the here and now have sidelined so much of what I had hoped to do by this time in my life. It is not to late, never to late to carpe diem. Maybe it is time to dig up the talents we have buried and multiply them for the greater glory, knowing that what lays in store is far better than what we have now.
     Am I dreaming, is it possible to transcend the bounds of a self-centered world? Or is that thought just a fairy tale? Though my masculinity might be called into question for saying it I have always liked fairy tales. If I had to be part of any tale it would be a fairy tale. They are so magical and mystical. And who doesn't like magic? I find myself wanting to live in one. I think I might like to be an Elf. They seem so wise and they have mad skills with weapons. I could even have a liger for a pet in my own fairy tale, and eat green eggs and ham.  So, besides the fact that they are fun and creative why are fairy tales so great? J.R.R. Tolkien once said that the most distinguishing mark of a fairy tale was "eucatastrophe." It simply means: A sudden unexpected turn towards the good. We see this when Belle kisses the Beast and transforms him, when Aslan is resurrected after his brutal death on the stone table, and most famously when Jesus appears to the disciples after his crucifixion. Yes, even the Gospel is a fairy story. These stories speak to us because they point to something beyond ourselves, something we can hope in and take meaning from, something that tells us that even though things seem beyond help good will always win. We need this hope to get us through the middle of this life, to the end, and back again. Just like Frodo and Sam; we cannot succeed if we do not see that we are a part of something more than just our own story. So I end this first blog with Frodo and Sam trying to find the strength to go on in their story when things seem darkest. The answer it seems is not me, but a good beyond myself worth fighting for.