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.