Saturday, April 20, 2013

Elementary, Part II

You know what's crazy? When you're scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed, and an update catches your eye. It's a Bible verse. And it makes you go, "--wait."

I mean, I don't know about you, but my newsfeed is full of Bible verses. Probably because a large percentage of my Facebook friends at least pretend to be interested in the Bible. And a large percentage of that percentage actually are interested in the Bible. 

I see a lot of the Bible in my newsfeed each day, but you know what makes it crazy? When that same update is from a friend that doesn't fall into the aforementioned percentage. Maybe you met them at libertarian camp. Maybe they go to your school. Maybe they used to be all about the Bible thing but flipped the truth the finger and left it behind. 

But in your Facebook newsfeed, so innocuous but so out of place, it's your hardcore partier friend quoting God on the internet. 

What is going on?

So you do some Facebook creeping. And then stuff gets crazier! You see that they're in a recovery program. You see "C.S. Lewis" under "Recent Likes." You see a picture of them tagged with what appears to be a Christian-esque small group, or sometimes even a picture of their baptism. 

And then you're like, this is so crazy! You get all excited like you've discovered an Easter egg convert in a sea of Facebook friends. You're astounded by whom and how God has drawn to Himself. You're encouraged by the substantive change and genuine transformation they've experienced. You grin with joy at this crazy random happenstance!

But don't you feel a wee bit sad, too? 

That person is my Facebook friend. However weak our connection, this internet archive testifies to the fact that our paths crossed. And yet, I can recall no instance where I asserted the truth to that person. I can think of experience or conversation with them in which I pointed to Jesus. I can't even comment as to the difference I noticed in my newsfeed with that Bible verse update, because I have no real relationship with that person.

That person was too different from me.
That person made me too uncomfortable.
That person was spiritually too far away.

It's not a mindful neglect, of course not, but a spiritual passivity. I forget sometimes that God is working. (In my network of Facebook friends, of all places.) And I forget that God wants to work through me. (To reach the people that may become my Facebook friends, of all people.) What does it look like to view every interaction as an opportunity for relationship? I'm thinking that's pretty creepy. (But then again, so is Facebook stalking, but we do it anyway!)

I love seeing these updates, but I hate seeing them, too. Because as much as they bring me joy that God is working all the time in unexpected placed, these updates also bring me regret that I have missed out on the blessing of being part of the process because I am too lazy, selfish, or scared. And that conviction stings. But it hurts so good

*Please forgive the use of the plural pronoun in lieu of s/he. I'm not a grammar rebel, I'm just colloquial. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

It's elementary, Nicodemus

Kimberly Fleek spoke to our Perspectives class, and told us about a gutter in Bangladesh. She told us how she had been seeing that same gutter everywhere she went (over 27 different countries) ever since she'd been traveling (since 1997). She described how she just kept wondering, "God, why haven't you done anything about this? Why is global poverty increasing? Why is the world so dark?" She told how simple the question returned to her was, "Kimberly, what are you doing about the gutter?"

When the sun goes down you cannot fault your house for being dark. When it's nighttime, everything is dark and we don't find this strange. Instead you ask, why has no one turned on the lights? We live in a world pervaded with darkness. We cannot be surprised when evil seems ubiquitous. Is the brokenness not to be expected? Oh, but He is making all things new. And oh, He wants to use us as His hands and feet. And so, instead we must turn the lights on.

But how do we turn those lights on? Sometimes Jesus drives me crazy. I read stories about His life and I totally jive with the disciples, who always ask Jesus the same exact questions I'm thinking. They need a to-do list, they need it spelled out for them, and I need that, too.

So when it comes to serving God and building bridges of love and crushing evil under my feet, you'd think I'd take that literally, too.

Not so much.

I was driving home from a friend's house last week when we passed the women's prison in Cranston. And I drive past it relatively frequently, but somehow I saw it differently in the twilight and was struck with a curiosity about prison ministry. Actually, not even that, I really just thought to myself, "I was in prison, and you came to me." And then I thought, "Huh, maybe I should go there."

But hold that thought for a minute.

My classmates were discussing immigrants today, and one girl remarked, "Whenever my mom drives past Hispanics hanging out in front of the Seven-Eleven looking for day jobs, she says to me, 'Bonus points.' Which I know is racist, but it's okay, because they're illegal." Judgenotjudgenotjudgenotjudgenot, I tried to breathe to myself, as I exchanged glances with my friend, who started talking about a TED blog he read about illegals. "It's hard," he said, "Because technically undocumented immigrants are indeed illegal, but they also have no path to become legal if they wanted to." And I breathed a sigh of relief to myself, that he said what I wanted to say. 

I want to be an immigration lawyer 1) because I love liberty, and I love justice, and I think it's unconscionable that the immigration system we currently have is the seat of so much controversy and disrepair, but also 2) because I love Jesus, and He has called His followers to love the alien in our land. I am convinced immovably that I need to take a part in caring for immigrants, and that my career can be the same thing as my ministry.

But this way of thinking, though it's confirmed a lot for me about the trajectory of my life, has created some cognitive dissonance. If I feel that way, what am I doing to love the immigrant population around me right now, sans law degree? And furthermore, I'm not just supposed to care for the foreigner, but also the widows and the orphans and the hungry and the sick and the oppressed and . . . the prisoners. 

On the one hand, that's a lot of caring for just one person to do. Especially one person who has trouble even giving her friends a phone call to catch up. On the other hand, the caring is not the end unto itself. Focusing on the need is the fastest way to burn-out. Instead, caring for these demographics is a way for bringing Him more glory. And I love Him! And because of that, I want to love others in His name!

The darkness of this world makes my heart hurt. It is overwhelming and almost immobilizing. It is not always easy to see how God is actively at work redeeming this world. But what if instead of asking a heart-heavy "why" I pursued a love-driven mission to share light in this dark world? It's surprisingly basic, an incredibly literal understand of what Jesus said and did, it seems too easy. All the people. Love them. Turn on the lights.

So when school finally ends in two weeks, I'll have a few extra hours to spare. (When I'm not working, studying for the LSAT, catching up on Perspectives homework, and attending to the laundry list of things I ought to give some attention to . . . I guess overcommitment is another post for another time.) If you know a good prison ministry in Rhode Island that I could get involved in for a month or two, let me know?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Doing is better than thinking

Our next door neighbor passed away today.

If you think of it, you can pray for his surviving partner, that he would be comforted in his grief and that God would meet him through this. And for our family, that we would be able to support him and love him and be a testimony to him through this. 

So our next door neighbor passed away today. I only know because I was running a half-hour behind schedule today, and I was headed out the door when I saw the gurney in my neighbor's driveway. My stomach instantly wove itself into a million knots. I had just gotten off a Skype call with my apologetics student, talking about how people need support in their pain. I thought to myself, "I should go over there. Just check if he needs anything." In an instant a million excuses jumped to mind. Better to call my parents, who had been visiting our neighbor through the progression of his illness. Better to leave comforting to the friend that appeared to be visiting, the car that was in the driveway. I was supposed to be at school. I had to leave. I stood in my living room, paralyzed by the spinning rolodex of thinking about doing.

I think a lot about doing things. During winter break I drove to campus almost every day for my J-term class, and almost every day I passed a kid with a backpack headed towards school. The first time I saw him I thought, "I should ask him if he wants a ride." But there was always a reason not to. Either there were cars behind me and I couldn't pull over, or he had headphones on and most assuredly wouldn't hear me, or I was running late to class and couldn't spare a moment to stop, or he was already almost up the hill and giving him a lift 0.25 miles wouldn't make a difference. Some days my excuse was as feeble as, I'm too tired, or my backpack is in the passenger seat. Every day I thought to myself, "Tomorrow is the day I offer him a ride." But that day never came.

I think about making phone calls to check in and catch up with people. I think about scheduling coffee dates and meeting people for dinner. I think about smiling at and making eye contact with people I walk past. I think about making conversation with my classmates. I think about stopping for those cars on the side of the highway. I think about getting treats for the kids at the Wal-Mart RIPTA stop. I think about prayer-walking the places I feel burdened over. I think about making grand romantic gestures. But I don't do. I just think about doing. Like someone exhausted after twelve hours of sleep, I think about how I have been blessed in order to be a blessing, and I hog the blessing all to myself. 

I hate that I do that. 

Back to my neighbor. I approached the front door and rang the bell. A man I didn't recognize answered, I guess he belonged to the car in the driveway. He indicated my neighbor was in the backyard processing, so I offered my condolences and hurried away. And as I drove to school I thought to myself, "So this is what obedience feels like?" And let's be clear, I didn't actually do anything. I never saw my neighbor, didn't give him a hug, didn't drop off some bread and milk. On the one hand, my visit was fruitless. On the other hand, I visited. This is where my thinking frequently interferes with my doing: I have spirit that insists on justifications for actions and demands proof of outcomes. There is a stubborn streak in me that answers with an insolent "why?" to any invitations outside my comfort zone. 

I have a rebellious heart that is just too comfortable. 

I'm very weary of baby steps, of struggling to do small and simple things like ring a neighbor's doorbell. I'm discouraged that every gesture I make outside of myself is buried under a mountain of selfish gestures. I'm frustrated that I can't seem to tap into this strength Christ gives us, to set aside the old self and walk forward as the righteous. I hate doing things that aren't easy, and doing what I'm supposed to do is not easy, and I hate it. How many times will I find the joy in obedience before I choose obedience with consistence? When will obedience become the rule and not the exception? When will I be free of the indecisive excuses that justify my inaction and instead step forward confidently with wisdom? I count this struggle as divine discontent; I grimly grasp the plow. Okay. Let me keep at this. He is faithful. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

If Anne can, so can I

I have a horrendous Peter Pan complex. When did it start? When I was six years old and solemnly walked upstairs to my parents' room to inform my mom that I would no longer be watching Barney each evening? When I was ten and read a juvenile fiction book about turning eleven, and decided right then and there that eleven would be a miserable year? (Fun fact: I'm turning 22 this year. Ugh. My favorite number times my least favorite number. And my golden birthday. Watch out.) Could it have been when I was thirteen and sat abandoned on the state house steps, and watched all the lobbyists and activists who I would never be? Was it when I was sixteen years old and decided I was unprepared for college and had to take a fifth year of high school? When did it start, really?

It's like this pattern of thinking just crept into my mind and I took it as a given. And so I've minimized the milestones as inconsequential, and labeled the emotional duress as typical, and framed my little life experience in the context of a meaningless childhood . . . All for the sake of my mantra, "Wait! You're not grown up yet." With each new experience, fear gripped my heart and it whispered to me, "This is too uncomfortable, you don't want to grow up." But it's too late, my twenties are upon me. I cannot stave off the passage of time; adulthood has already taken residence in my life. Now the fear is more overwhelming than ever, because with each passing day I realize that I have no freaking clue what I'm doing. 

Regardless, I still want to do it right. This is one thing I love about reading Penelope Trunk. She tells you how you should live your life. This is, of course, entirely counter-intuitive to how life theoretically ought to be lived. If learning is the process of discovering what it is you don't know, following the life plan of someone who's lived and succeeded is not necessarily the most fruitful path to take. But I want to age successfully, you know? It's a field of academia that's exploding right now, as our society realizes that we've been doing aging clumsily all along. I want to be a competent, vibrant human being who brings glory to Jesus and not to herself. I want to be well-adjusted. Is that too much to ask of myself? Of sanctification? I don't think so!

Peter* told me once that growing up isn't about milestones and threshold-crossing. I was so incredulous. I thought growing up meant paying your own bills and living on your own and making appointments and having a real job that gets taxed and being separate and individualist and on your own. It seemed to me that if I was to learn to be an adult, I had to fake it by acting like one until my brain caught up with me. Instead his comment reminded me, if growing up is about maturity and responsibility, you can't force these things by going through the motions of being an adult. There is no "do this, and then you'll be grown up" checklist. There is no formula. There is no point of arrival.

There are so many things I just don't want to deal with. Making new friends (I like the ones I had in high school!), trying new things (I like the things I'm used to doing!), challenging myself by stepping into a world I've never visited before (I like the world I knew!). How curious that though my mind wants more than anything to be freed from itself, my heart wants nothing more than to stay the way it is. As though I trust Him only to be faithful in the here and now, and not in the future. My youth is my comfort zone, and as it has been yanked away from me, I can't help but wonder, am I blowing it? After all, I've only got one shot. What business have I messing around with things I know nothing about? I find myself panicked in a world that is demanding that I live well. How can I rise to this provocation?

Naturally, this fear is not constructive. It is paralyzing instead of promotive. It makes me cling to my Peter Pan complex instead of embracing the challenge of running the race with endurance. How do I begin to convince myself that I love change? Is there not a thrill in the calendar whipping forward, in the days ticking away? Isn't it a wonderful thing to see children grow into teenagers and your friends get married? Don't you love the satisfaction in completion; another year survived, another semester earned? Does not time and change bring depth with dynamics, that make us wiser and richer with experience and history? Is not the greatest joy found in seeing what it is God has done? And the picture of His plan for the world is revealed bit by bit every day. If in nothing else, I comfort myself with testimony. 

He has always been there. The little girl who told lies and stole rings. The whipper snapper who was afraid of demons in the dark. The teenager who could not bring herself to pick up the phone. The college student who is cowed by routine. He has never washed His hands of me. In this is responsibility to make Him famous. Surviving this long is testimony to who He is; our Father God, eternally faithful. And He will get me where I'm going.

*Not Peter Pan, in case that was unclear.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Grave Dressing

As some of you may have heard, I've accepted a part-time year-long position teaching English abroad. Um, there's lots to say about that. Forthcoming, perhaps. But because of the duration of this, thing, and because I'll be headed (hopefully) to law school when I return state-side, I'm coming to the realization that maybe I should start taking inventory of my worldly possessions. Having been alive for almost 22 years, I've actually accumulated a lot stuff. Clothes, trinkets, books, papers, gadgets. Et cetera. And I'd really like to have just one cardboard box to carry through life with me. 


What am I to do with the mementos from outings with friends and inside jokes and teasing conversations that remind me of happy and heavy times?

What am I to do with the folders and nametags from various conferences and seminars that enriched me mind and soul, teaching me lessons I want to remember? 

What am I to do with the pages and pages of notes, diagrams, and projects that have been turned in and graded over the course of my undergraduate studies?

What am I to do with the numerous volumes detailing the mundane events and angsty crises dating from the present all the way back to when I was eight and first discovered what a joy a diary was? 

Tell me, what am I to do with it all? Right now I have a bookshelf and a Tupperware bin filled with what I've deemed my memories: debate flows, and musical programs, and wedding place cards, and ticket stubs. My journals and notebooks keep stacking up, and bookshelf space is prime real estate. 

I thought, if only I could some how digitize it all, have all these memories at my fingertips within some computational hierarchy on my hard drive or the cloud. (Readily summoned at a time of homesickness or nostalgia, useful too for cross-cultural English teaching, as in, "What's a Slip'n'Slide? Here, let me show you!") Then I could always have my memories with me, wherever I ended up, without having to lug around binders and folders and portfolios. But what is there, really? Picasa, Pinterest, Evernote, Springpad, Instagram, Tumblr . . . none quite right. 

When I was eleven I was a horrific packrat. I saved everything. Candy wrappers and stickers from doctor's visits. I like to think I've come a long way since then. The cycle broken when my mom made me hold up my volcano model created for KONOS, snapped a picture, and put it in the trash. "When in doubt throw it out," she said, and I'm always in doubt of these worldly goods that weigh on my soul. I'm a minimalist now. 

Oh, but the memories! It's one thing to pass on my favorite shirt to my sister, or downsize my jewelry collection, or throw out old makeup, but it is painful to part with sentimental value. The day I threw out all of my NCFCA ballots (and I mean all, from my very first tournament competing in OI with Robert Lawson's "Rabbit Hill" in 2003 to that final round of DUO during the 2010 national tournament, it was a stack three feet high, and I tossed them all) I felt disturbed. I still regret not saving just a few. Lilly is devoted to making meaning. And I get that, because similarly, I am devoted to memory.

I blame Lois Lowry's The Giver. I can't help it. I'm obsessed with remembering. I'm a slave to nostalgia. So what's a minimalist to do?