Thursday, July 16, 2009

Going Back to Squares One

Have you ever gotten so familiar with a skill, discipline, game, profession, or something thereof that you forget how to reduce it down to its most basic rules and elements? So when someone new comes along and says, "explain 'X' to me," you find you really can't just basically explain "X" anymore without going into the whys and hows of how it all fits together. My "X" in this area lately is music. I can't just tell someone a rule to memorize without telling them precisely why it works this way. And quite often, I almost can't put it in words. The things I used to know as patterns and acronyms have become part of my intuition, and I'm so interested in the revolving music planet that I can't explain to someone what a tree looks like on that planet. Now, let me stop right there...I AM NOT AN AMAZING MUSIC THEORIST OR VIRTUOSIC MUSICIAN. But for my part of it, and for the youth that I try to teach how to play in a band, I'm finding it's hard to recapture from my mental reflexes, and from acquired intuition those initial rules that build the musical world. I bring this up because I am interested in honing an important skill: the skill of passing on something I am passionate about to those who come after me.

I sometimes have also found this same trouble for me in explaining the gospel or Christianity to young people. Again, I am not claiming to be an amazing, wise spiritual person. But, I'm just simply saying that it's hard to tell someone how to take their first steps on the journey when you are aware of every obstacle that could come, every turn that could lead astray, every oasis on the path etc. You can't just explain ALL of that from the get-go.

I used to be able to give the textbook answer for why we forgive, or why we believe in Jesus. I used to be a great apologist, coming up with theologically sound arguments for how God works and how the Bible works. I feel that I'm not good at explaining any of that anymore. It's no longer rules or statements or mental gymnastics for me. It's my deliverance, my passion, the air I breathe. Kids ask why I believe: I used to cite maybe the chances of Jesus' story being true or other incidental things, but now I can only say, I've never encountered any other faith that so accurately describes who I am as a sinner and how I am delivered from it. I can only share about what's happened in my life. I used to see God/faith as making sense; now I see it as truly beautiful (which to many probably seems like pure nonsense).

That's all good for me, but the balance I want to strike is how to continue where I am in my walk of faith, but still know how to speak the language of those who are just starting. I hate to sound condescending-- trust me, I have a loooong way to go! I just wanted to share my current thoughts and see if you've felt the same. How do you explain something that has become so integral to your life and actions?

I'll try to write more...sorry for the long delay!!!!! Patrick

Saturday, May 23, 2009

When It Gets Real

My normal work is the facilitating of spiritual growth in teenagers dealing with-- mostly-- petty issues. No doubt, these issues are important because they shape the adult that that young person will become. So patiently and wisely (uhh, really?) I parse through their emotions and get to the nugget of the issue, apply the biblical/ life principle that they need to pick up on and try to tell them how to move on from there.

But this week, twice, I have had to deal with kids going through...well...real stuff. Stuff that requires legal authorities type stuff-- you get me? So I was thinking in mid-conversation tonight, "Man this is getting real, son." In the middle of trying to take care of the spiritual welfare of these persons I am also thinking of my legal obligations to report what they are telling me and what is the proper next step. It's odd, because at first I take moment and think, "Wait, is this one of THOSE situations where I need to notify authorities etc?" And then looking at it in every possible shade I come to the conclusion, "Yes." It later seems odd that at first I question like this, because in hindsight it just seems obvious.

Anyways, these two moments from the past week have made me think about "when it gets real", when in a serious situation you question what you should do. At first you think "Oh well, that car looks abandoned." But then you realize, "But it could be a recent crash and I really should check it." When stuff gets real we want to rationalize, take any other way out but the hard one. But finally, after a little wavering, you know what you have to do: act.

I hope if I'm ever in a "real" situation that requires quick action I won't question or rationalize, but just go with what my gut knows to do. It's hard to say if I would. This week I had the luxury of time when confronted with hard situations.

I learned a few years ago, when it comes to not making trouble, don't do anything that you have to justify to yourself. Like when I was a kid, "It was ok to bash up that car with a rock because it looked abandoned." In general, that initial pause in your consicence is a good meter. Don't do anything stupid.
But on the opposite end, the end of response, I have found this week that it gets more complicated. You have to take in the details, interpret them, and then plot a course of action. Also, you think of the personalities involved, how likeable they are, or are not, what they stand to lose by you acting.
But I believe my maxim for my repsonse to others' stupidity, neglect, abuse, criminality, (insert attribute here) should be similar to how I govern my own actions: Don't justify others' actions to yourself; their actions speak for themselves. This isn't profound, really. But when you are faced with having to make someone face the consequences of their actions, you (or I at least) can start to think, "Oh but this is a nice person who messed up" or "this was maybe a momentary mistake".
Evil is evil. You can't reduce it. You can't appease it. You must bring it to the light. You must do the hard thing.

This is all fairly incoherent. None of this is easy for me. But I wouldn't trade what I'm doing right now for anything. We, as Christians, are called to bring freedom to the captives, to release the ones in darkness, to bind up the brokenhearted. Noone said it would be easy.

These kids will rise. They will overcome. They will be free.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Sums of Our Parts

I went to the doctor the other day for my first physical since I was a kid. I'm now on insurance and therefore can get onto the mainstream medical grid. Yes , I can now say goodbye to my homemade treatments of kerosene and vinegar for infections and rashes, and chaws of tobacco and saliva for, well, everything else. True medicine has arrived.

Anyways, they weighed me, hooked me up to an ekg, took my blood pressure, drew blood, and the doctor felt different nodes checking for lumps, and made me did the "cough thing" while I stood there naked. Not pleasant.

As I was talking to the doctor I realized his vision of me was strictly a physical one: white male, 27, 163lbs., etc. To him, whatever virtues I may have, and whatever qualities there are in my personality were inmaterial. The issue was were my parts working or were they not.

I realized this is the opposite ethic and focus for what I do day to day. I try to look past physical stature and appearance and see what's happening underneath. A person, after all, is much more than just a physical body. However, I was reminded of a truth about our spiritual lives by these thoughts. We are indeed spiritual AND physical beings and the two worlds certainly do tie together.

I came to the realization that a spirtual discipline I have never considered was thinking on and coming to grips with my physicality's ultimate failure. I'm not being macabre, it's just the the world death rate holds pretty close to 100%. So I started to think, how will my spiritual life work when these physical parts stop working? Will I still have as much faith? I know I focus mainly on the spiritual in people, but I must acknowledge the physical's role.

In our day and age, when 60 is the new 40 it's easy to bury thoughts of death and mortality, but a short time ago people had to face death more suddenly and more often. I remember seeing in Europe paintings of saints done in the 17th century-- as they prayed some would be holding a human skull. It was a common practice in art, showing that the saints often meditated upon their own mortality in light of God's eternity:

I recall another art piece where there were skulls hidden in the image-- you could only see them from a certain angle. Anyways, it just seems that where we try to bury, deny, and outrun our own mortality, there used to be more of an honest acknowledgement of it. They were comfortable enough with death to show people praying with skulls in their hands, for goodness' sake. I think such an acknowledgement today would be a good thing.

So as I went running that night, I was thankful for the legs that carried me, and having clear lungs with which to breathe. But even in that jog I thought of my doctor's visit, St. Francis praying with the skull, and the day ahead when I will be able to run no more. I must remember to be thankful for health and yet acknowledge my health's eventual end. But this isn't pure tragedy--we are much greater than the sums of our parts.

Friday, March 6, 2009

I love you, I just don't like you right now

Is it ok for a youth pastor to admit when he is annoyed with one of his students? Well, I think yes and no. I guess I can admit it to myself, and admit it to you (dear reader), but beyond that I won't go. No need to mention a name, or to even go into detail. So this isn't a "You wouldn't believe this person..." stream of thought. I'm not harping on their wrongness and my gleaming example of right. It's really me more observing the reality and how I feel about it.

As a minister, you try to identify a group of students who can lead as an example to other young people. You hope that their lives will spur others on to righteousness, to rising above circumstances, to rising onto a plane above pettiness and short-sighted interests. However, this, my friends, is not how it always works out. People are people, and teens--God knows-- are teens.

So with one such person, I realized the other day, "this person does not get it." I had not been appreciating this person's attitude as of late, and when I pushed a little and made him start to come to terms with it, the underlying truth was evinced: the maturity that I hoped for in this person-- the discpline, the love, the vision that I want to see-- just wasn't there. Intead I saw exactly what I want all of these young Christians to grow out of: pettiness, bitterness, anger, and pride.

So I love this person. I love his personality and what he can bring to our group. But at the moment, God forgive me, I don't like him very much. It's not really because all of this immaturity is still there, but more the smugness with which this person holds all of it. He gave the impression that he had no interest in changing anything no matter how obviously prideful, bitter and mean it may be. And it...bugs me.

I'm still new at this church. But as I train these leaders I'm ready-anxious-desperate for a strong foundation in our group of love, self-control, humility, and maturity. With this person, I don't know where to go next in this vision. Hence my state, I love this person, but don't like him very much right now. This is my confession.