Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Niceness Isn't Everything

From Storylineblog, by Allison Vesterfelt

When you can’t tell the truth about yourself, you cease to exist as a person. 
Being “nice” kept me from doing what I was made to do. 
Trying to manage my “nice girl” image kept me trapped, working to control other’s opinions of me, rather than doing what I knew was right. I couldn’t send an e-mail or even a tweet without hours of deliberation. I stayed on the margins of my life, scared to get into the thick of things, terrified that I was going to hurt someone, or offend someone, or mess everything up. 
I avoided jobs I wanted, parties I wished I could attend, and friendships I longed for, with the excuse that they could be the wrong job, wrong party, wrong relationship, or that I would make a mess of them. 
If I didn’t do anything, I couldn’t do anything wrong. Right? 
I’m starting to see how doing nothing is sometimes the worst thing you can do.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Holes and Transplants

CC Image Courtesy of Stephen Poff on Flickr
Most of you know that I was born with a hole in my heart (a congenital condition called Tetralogy of Fallot) that, due to the conditions that I grew up in, went untreated until I was 6 or 7 years old. This hole prevented blood from receiving oxygen; therefore this unoxygenated blood would flow through my body, unable to give my body's cells the nutrients they needed.

Clearly this is a problem.

Eventually, I was put into the care of an aunt and uncle who cared for me properly, ensuring that I received open heart surgery and had a healthy recovery process. The surgery was an all-day event that required surgeons to crack open my chest, sew up one hole and patch up another. And these holes were no small divots. One was the size of a quarter. In a 7-year-old heart. This was a big deal.

It was such a big deal, in fact, that I remember being a young Christian using this surgery as an analogy for what Jesus did to our spiritual hearts. "Just like I had a hole in my heart that needed to be closed, I had a hole in my life that needed to be filled with Jesus." Which, I admit, as a pious 12 year old, that sounds like a pretty neat analogy. Especially when I have scars on my chest to help give my point some more punch.

But this isn't how God works.

The prophet Ezekiel is given a message from God to pass on to Israel:
I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God (Ezekiel 11:19-20, NRSV).
From an early age, I made the mistake of thinking that all God wanted to do with me was stitch up some issues with my personality (my spiritual, emotional, soulish heart, the seat of my impulses and desires) and send me on my way. 

But God doesn't mess around with stitches and patches.

Our God is the God of heart transplants.

It would be nice if we could reduce God's work in our lives to that of a finger against a leak, a plug in a hole. It would make the Divine work in our lives a lot easier to manage. Shuffle some issues over here, move over some problems over there, make some time every once in a while on a Sunday, and voila, a Life Improved By God.™

But God is not really into life improvement. God desires - demands - much more of us than this. And not just because He is a needy or demanding God. The fact of the matter is that our hearts are far more screwed up than a few holes or some blockage or a little too much cholesterol. No, our hearts have turned to stone. They can't pump blood at all. Which means, in spiritual terms, they can't even begin to be aware of God's presence and work in our lives, much less respond to His presence.* Remember, it was Jesus who said we had to born all over again (John 3).

What must happen is not just a plug-the-hole kind of spirituality that has just enough room for God. It calls for a complete transplant, a removal of the old, and a replacement with the new.

*This is the theological idea of total depravity. We'll talk about that soon.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Thoughtful Inaction

There was one these ancient things in the apartment
 I lived in from a very early age.
Recently I have spent entirely too much time thinking about writing more than actually writing more. I suppose that this is a touchstone of the human experience. We spend exponentially more time thinking - dreaming, wishing - about the things we'd like to do - experience, achieve - than we actually spend time doing those things.

Is that all bad? I would argue that, up to a point, no, it's not all bad. I think we're all well aware that if we acted on each impulse or "great idea" we came up with, then we'd all be in heaps more trouble than we already are. Ideas take processing. Thoughts need chewing. Sometimes the wisest action we can take is a well planned moment of inaction.

But - and I'm preaching to myself here - "thoughtful inaction" can soon become an excuse for well-pondered lack of effort. I've enjoyed writing for as long as I can remember. I have journals that I started keeping from second grade. As my brother reminded me today, I began writing science fiction since fifth grade (ripping off character names and plot ideas from someone else's creativity; Hollywood calls it a "reboot"; my critics called it "lack of imagination"). 

When I was fourteen or so I bought "The Writer's Guide to the Christian Publishing Market" and began submitting unsolicited articles to magazines. Boy, I was pretentious back then. (But not now, no, of course not, don't be silly). 

I've been published exactly once and it was a great feeling; a really great feeling in fact. But pretty much ever since then I've stopped writing for anything but what has been assigned to me ("Write this paper"; "Turn in this this assignment;" "Craft this sermon"; "Sign this birthday card"). And while that has only further helped craft my skills (my birthday card signature is awesome), it is not always the most life-giving thing to write only because someone else has asked you too. 

Even brownies, when forced to eat them, lose their sweetness.

And so I think it's time to put a little sweetness back into this whole writing thing. To attempt to write well, not because a grade demands it, but because it's what I would like to do.

Enough thoughtful inaction. It's time for thoughtful action; action in the form of well-crafted words. 

Here goes.