Saturday, November 27, 2010

"Birthday", or A Thanksgiving Close Call

Every once in a while, it's good to take a step back from my life to take a look at everything. It's not meant to "measure my progress"; while I do have some long-term goals, they are either activities that will occur when the opportunity/time arises (like "knit a sock", "travel to Ireland", "learn how to juggle flaming torches", etc.) or desires that will hopefully become reality someday (have kids). I prefer to live by achieving small goals and being flexible to go where life takes me. Still, it's helpful to stand back, see what I've learned from the past, and ponder the path that I'm currently walking. 

Different things trigger these intermittent life-evaluations. The most recent time was elicited from a song. A friend introduced me to a band called The Cruxshadows, which I like very much. Their music videos are a bit disturbing, but I like the style of music and the lyrics a lot. My favorite song that I've heard so far is called "Birthday". Here it is:

"Roll out of bed, look in the mirror
And wonder who you are
Another year has come and gone
Today is your birthday
But it might be the last day of your life
What will you do if tomorrow it's all gone?

You won't be young forever
There's only a fraction to the sum
You won't be young forever
Nor will anyone

Look at your life, who do you want to be before you die?
Look at your life, what do you want to do?
Look at your life, who do you want to be before you die?
Look at your life, you haven't got forever

And tell me what really matters
Is it the money and the fame?
Or how many people might eventually know your name?
But maybe you touch one life
And the world becomes a better place to be
Maybe you give their dreams another day
Another chance to be free

Happy birthday 
Happy birthday

Look at your life, who do you want to be before you die?
Look at your life, what do you want to do?
Look at your life, who do you want to be before you die?
Look at your life, it all comes back to you."

After listening to this song obsessively for a week, I began to think about the words more. Who do I want to be? What do I want to do? I really want to make a difference to people and the world around me. Is my current road allowing me to do that, in whatever capacity I am able? If I lay dying tomorrow, would I think back on my past and wish that I'd done more, or done something differently? 

On the night before Thanksgiving, Chris and I were driving through the steep hills on our way to Cincinnati, with only forty minutes left to our drive, when we were in a car accident. The weather was foggy and wet, which caused a truck driven by two college kids to skid into a guard rail on the side of the highway. They were off to the side of the road, but the truck was facing oncoming traffic. Its lights were on for safety; the kids were standing a little ways in front of their truck on the side waiting for the police. I was driving my car, and saw them in plenty of time to know that I wouldn't hit them; there was a semi-truck in the lane next to me, so I didn't change lanes. But a guy driving a white car came flying down an on-ramp that was right before the broken down truck, so as we were passing the truck, the white car did not merge in front of us or behind us. Instead, it stayed beside us in my blind spot. It plowed into the truck then ricocheted off it into my car. 

After skidding all over the road, I was able to pull off to the side about a hundred yards away. While Chris jumped out of the car to go see what happened to the other people, I had a massive asthma attack (Chris made sure I took my inhaler before he left, don't worry) from fright. It took a little while to get that under control. The police arrived with a clean up crew and a tow truck. Miraculously, there were no injuries aside from a few stiff necks. The truck and the white car were totaled from all the damage. My car suffered some considerable passenger-side damage to the door panel and a few dents to the front right side, but was completely drivable. 

We were the only ones of the party who had all the information we needed for the police, our vehicle registration, insurance paperwork, and licenses. After a long, freezing cold time with the sheriff, who was extremely frustrated with the idiocy of the driver of the white car, we were able to finish our drive to Chris's family. Chris drove; I was too shaky from the stress and asthma medication.

It was certainly a very close call. There are lots of things to be thankful for. The entire accident was not our fault. Nobody was hurt. My car will make it back home (hopefully; we'll see how that goes tomorrow on the drive). It could have been "the last day of my life" as the song said, but it wasn't. 

Throughout this holiday weekend I have been acutely aware of the fact that I am very privileged with my life here. In one of my favorite movies, "The Village", they say a blessing: "We are grateful for the time we have been given." I was able to echo their words many times during this season of thanks.

This morning I woke up in Chris's grandfather's house and looked out the window to see snow falling. If I had died in the car accident, I wouldn't have been able to see my first snow of the winter season. I wouldn't be curled up with Chris on the couch drinking iced tea and knitting, watching football with his family. I wouldn't be hearing the good news of my friend's new guitar that he purchased today (the picture of the guitar he sent by text was exciting; I can't wait to hear it!). There are so many things to be thankful for in life, great and small.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am grateful for the time I have been given. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Is It Possible to Do Away With Religion?

C.S. Lewis believed that there is a physical realm and a spiritual realm, with many battles taking place, unseen by human eyes, yet still having a great effect on us. Lewis did not view ideas such as "sin" and "wickedness" to be outdated or obsolete. All that the modern era has to offer, the technological progress, equality campaigns, humanistic utilitarianism, and so on have not solved the world's problems. We still have wars and crime. There is still extreme suffering. Yes, there have been major breakthroughs in liberties (the abolishment of slavery, the destruction of corrupt governments, etc.), but society as a whole does not seem to be gaining ground in the areas of moral growth, or even happiness. 

Some might say that religion is one of the causes of constant hostilities, therefore if we got rid of religion, then we would eliminate a major factor in human conflict. It would be just as easy to do away with love, or a justice system! As long as there are humans, there will be human emotions, thoughts, and beliefs. Humans have a particular knack for finding something to intensely focus on in their lives. Whether it is an object or idea outside themselves, or their own self, everyone has something they "believe" in. Any sort of creed or "-ism" fits the bill: environmentalism, naturalism, Christianity, Mormonism, atheism, agnosticism, Islam, Judaism, materialism, Catholicism, postmodernism, spiritualism, Wicca, minimalism, feminism... the ways of thinking are endless. 

In the end, everyone has a theory of who they are, how they got there, and what they are on planet earth to do. Some people just throw their hands up in the air saying, "who knows!" or "does it matter?" But you'll find those people, too, are wrapped up in something they value, whether it be a cause, a life-style, or personal gain. That is their religion. So it is foolish to say that we can "get rid" of religion. It is much more beneficial to focus on ending the hostility between religious factions. Even if I have a different faith than my neighbors, that does not give me the right to kill them. 

Lewis described the world as being "invaded by powerful evils bent on destroying all that is good". He saw the message of Christianity as the truth that would set the world free. While he clearly had a strong imagination, as seen in his books about Narnia, he was also a practical theologian. His book "Mere Christianity" is a rational exploration of the basic tenets of the Christian faith. I am excited to re-read his thoughts at this time; I first read the book several years ago during college but didn't have much time to seriously ponder anything. This will be a good journey.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What is Success?

Everyone feels pressure to be someone. The influences around us, in the form of people, media, and culture, scream and push and pull us one way or another. One of the main things we feel the need to be is successful. But what defines success? How do we know if what we do, who we are, is successful?

This is what Everett Bogue, a minimalist blogger, wrote about what our society thinks success means, as seen by the barrage of advertisements:

"- Coca Cola wanted us to think success was sitting at the movies chugging cokes watching Tom Cruise dodge explosions.

- American Airlines wanted us to think of success as once a year taking an expensive flight to the caribbean.

- Nikon and Canon want you to believe that you'll be a famous photographer if you just buy one more camera lens."

Is success the size/style/make/ability/newness of your car, or house, or clothes, or gadgets?

Is success equal to your education level or grades?

Is success a job?

Is success a family?

Success to me, at its root, seems to be finding a goal or goals and setting out to accomplish them. But what should our goal in life be?

When I was little (I have no idea how old exactly, but sometime around middle school), I read a verse in the Bible that went like this:

"He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"
- Micah 6:7

As I read those words I felt a great relief. I often felt bogged down as a child with the weight of wanting to do "right", but not knowing exactly how to do it. Yeah, obey your parents, don't steal, don't fight, blah blah blah... I felt like I knew the basics, but if that was all there was to being a God-follower, then that seemed pretty boring. It gave no direction on what I was supposed to do with my life! I knew that music was my talent, but how could I use something that seemed so mundane to "do right"? 

The answer came in looking deeper into Scripture. Over and over, the command to serve God came up, all through the ages. The nation of Israel was called to serve Him as their leader and God. The prophets were told to serve God as an example to the people when they went astray. What really struck me was the many stories of regular people, men and women, who were called to serve God in the life situation they were in currently. Sometimes they knew they were in a place to serve Him, other times it only became obvious later. There are dozens of stories all through the Old Testament that show individuals in the middle of their everyday lives being given the opportunity to serve God by following His commands to do right. 
I won't list out all the instances I'm talking about, because they are readily available for anyone who is interested in picking up a Bible and reading it with the intent of searching for these people and their stories. My church is going through the book of Ruth right now; it's a tiny book that most people forget about, but it focuses on one woman and the impact she had on history because of her desire to do what was right in the ordinary, common life she led. 

In the New Testament, I saw more evidence of regular people being called to serve God. Now, the twelve disciples of Jesus were called to a life of ministry out of their jobs as fishermen, tax collectors, etc., but I don't think that the average person is supposed to leave their job and fly to Africa to become a missionary (although that IS the calling for some people, so I'm not just dismissing it!). The disciples, after Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension, didn't just sit around. They went out to the world and talked to ordinary people, young and old, male and female, slaves and wealthy. They taught many things, the central message being the saving grace of the God-man. What amazed me was that the people who were became believers were not told to drop everything and live a "Christian" life: they continued in their current vocation; all that changed were their intentions. 
Success is defined in the dictionary as "the accomplishment of an aim or purpose". It is safe to say then that having a purpose in life and working to fulfill that purpose is vital to being successful! The men and women in the Bible had found their purpose in life: to follow God by serving Him with their abilities and doing right, which meant doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. It went beyond following strictly the Laws of the Torah or the Ten Commandments. It was a purpose that transformed their entire lives, thought, word, and action. 

I firmly believe that every person has been given abilities to do particular things in life. They are gifts, because we can use them to help others. Unless something is particularly directed at doing wrong (people who steal, murder, cheat, lie, and so on), any vocation and any person's life can be used to serve God. 

When I look back on my life as I reach death, no matter how soon or long that may be from now, I want to be able to say that with the Lord's strength in me, I was successful. That by His power I was able to bring a tiny bit of justice to the world. That I sincerely loved kindness by showing it to others. That I walked with God and wanted to follow His will for my life. There would be nothing but failure and inevitable despair if I tried to do any of that on my own. I see in my heart the selfishness that sabotages my attempts to do right every day. But with God's spirit at work in me, there is the promise that I will not be broken, that no matter what happens, I will always see the purpose of life and do whatever I can to fulfill it. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Why Believe in God?

I've always tried to figure out why I believe what I believe about God. The study in Genesis right now is good because it is helping me understand more of the theme of the Bible, and thus see the continuous melody running through variations and harmony throughout the book. In the darkest times of confusion, I've wondered why I don't renounce Christianity like so many of my friends have. Maybe it's because even when I question and become angry at God, I am still drawn back by the evidence of His work both in history and in my life. Also, there is the part of my mind that says belief in God is more logical and more suitable to the human heart, soul, and imagination than non-belief. I'm going to be re-reading C.S. Lewis's book "Mere Christianity" soon. It's an interesting trail tracing the steps of inherent moral knowledge up to the tenets of belief in God and Christ. 

Here is a quote that affected me very much when I was a child wondering about whether God was real or not. It still impacts my thoughts.

"Suppose we HAVE only dreamed, or made up, all those things- trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours IS the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by a play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's a small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."
- From "The Silver Chair", by C.S. Lewis

Adam and Eve and the Beginning

The women's Bible study I've been attending is studying the book of Genesis. We've been meeting for two months and are only now getting to chapter six! At first, I thought that we'd be zipping right through. I mean, it's Genesis, the very beginning... how long can you discuss Adam and Eve and the six days of creation? But as we've been delving deeper into the verses, I see that I was wrong. 

From the very beginning of the Bible, the themes of justice, love, mercy, failure, redemption, and temptation are evidence in the struggle between good and evil that begins when the first humans are presented with the choice of rebellion or obedience. I always wondered why God didn't just STOP Eve from giving in to temptation, or give Adam a little nudge to do something about the situation. Then none of it would have happened; they would have continued to live in Eden in perfect harmony with God. But that was not the ultimate plan. God had a bigger picture in mind. By giving humans free choice instead of creating them as puppets or robots, God allowed them the possibility to mess up. And they did. Thus the story of the universe began, the story of God as the redeemer of a broken world, a God whose power transcends culture, time, generations, and languages.

"Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on Him, and He will proclaim justice to the nations." - Matthew 12:18

The question in my mind is still there, though. Why go through all this trouble to demonstrate absolution? Why all the wars, the natural disasters, the centuries of conflict? There are some days when I look at the news, become overwhelmed with grief at the amount of suffering in the world, and think that it would have been better if God didn't let mankind continue past that first transgression. Maybe I will be searching for the answer all my life. 

I do know a few things, though. Without sin, there is no concept of forgiveness. The greater the wrong, the sweeter the taste of mercy. Evil is real; with evil comes the need for punishment, and in a society with so much wrongdoing I can't imagine what life would be like if there wasn't the hope of Someone who could provide us with justice.

"Listen to me, my people; hear me, my nation: The law will go out from me; my justice will become a light to the nations. My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm." - Isaiah 51:4-5

There are many more unanswered questions I have. The foundation of my beliefs, though, is that God IS good, and despite the confusion and lack of understanding in my human mind, I will trust in His goodness through my studies and search for truth. Even if I never fully see the eternal plan (I don't even know if I could grasp it without my mind exploding!), I am confident that God is working everything together "for good, for those who are called according to His purpose." - Romans 8:28