On Brokenness, Part 5

So in our last installment, poor Cartoon Chris was having all his self-justifications systematically mutilated by Jesus's famous Sermon on the Mount - only a few self-justifications remain:

Hey Chris, don't despair - there's lots more where these come from!

Hey Chris, don't despair - there's lots more where these come from!

I wonder, what will happen to them?  (Hint: bad things, very bad things)

I'm Good with God Because I'm Better Than Those OTHER People (Matthew 7:1-5)

Recently, the Research Institute for Confirming the Extremely Obvious reported that moral indignation stimulates the same pleasure centers in the brain as using heroin, eating "Hot Now" Krispy Kreme donuts, and dreaming about Jewel Staite.  That is to say, it's hugely addictive and extremely fulfilling.  It's no wonder it's such a huge temptation for evangelical Christians (along with the entire world, just to pick one relevant group) to divide the world into good guys and bad guys and dwell a lot on how rotten those bad guys are.

I've been in Sunday School classes that were mostly dead as far as class participation went:

"I hope I never hear the words 'hypostatic union' uttered without irony ever again?"

"I hope I never hear the words 'hypostatic union' uttered without irony ever again?"

Until:

Probably for expressing emotions in church.  We all know where that leads eventually.

Probably for expressing emotions in church.  We all know where that leads eventually.

Substitute whatever group of "bad guys" you want for "Pentecostals": liberals, conservatives, Baptists, Catholics, foreigners, your fellow citizens, whatever - the point is the same.  Thinking about how bad someone else is gets us high because it makes us feel like good people without us having to do anything.

No wonder Jesus goes to town obliterating this particular line of thought (and Paul, and James...)  It's extremely toxic, and very hard to root out.  You can't root it out just making a stance against judgmentalism, however.  That just makes you do this:

Yeah, and people who judge others for being judgemental, they're ESPECIALLY horrible!  Wait a sec...

Yeah, and people who judge others for being judgemental, they're ESPECIALLY horrible!  Wait a sec...

The opposite of judgmentalism is not antijugmentalism, but moral humility - admitting you're not a decent human being, and you have no right to look down on anyone at all.  In fact, if you are not morally humble, you WILL be judgmental whether you realize it or not - maybe towards other people, maybe towards yourself, maybe towards God, but it's in there, and it will come out, and it will be gross, and it will probably annoy all your Facebook friends:

If that politician had just changed his party affiliation, he probably wouldn't have raped that assistant.  Just sayin'.

If that politician had just changed his party affiliation, he probably wouldn't have raped that assistant.  Just sayin'.

The only way out is to stop focusing on the sins of others and focus on your sins, as much fun as that is.  Imagine how hard it would be to be self-righteous if every condemnation of someone else was required to be followed by an admission of guilt on your part:

Hey, they're BLIND not CRIPPLED.  Yeesh.

Hey, they're BLIND not CRIPPLED.  Yeesh.

Moral humility is really hard, and I don't claim to be an expert at it.  But working towards it certainly seems better than what many people do: dilute Jesus's words on judgmentalism until they mean nothing:

It's sort of like adding a smiley emoticon after something like, "You're ugly, so we're breaking up :D"  That makes it all better, right?

It's sort of like adding a smiley emoticon after something like, "You're ugly, so we're breaking up :D"  That makes it all better, right?

Or what other people do: wield Jesus's words as a weapon against others in order to justify their own behavior:

The alligator looked bored.  What was I supposed to do?  Let it be bored?

The alligator looked bored.  What was I supposed to do?  Let it be bored?

Both radically miss the point.  Take stock of your own sins, look them square in the eye, and forget about everyone else.  Your condemnation of bad people doesn't make you good - it makes you self-righteous.  God does not grade on a curve.  You can be a little better than someone else and still be a terrible human being.  There's plenty of room in hell for everybody.

I'm Good With God Because I'm No Worse Than the Majority of Humanity (Matthew 7:13-14)

Speaking of God not grading on a curve, consider Jesus's sobering admonition about the wide and narrow gates.  We tend to think that life is a lot like a Disney movie - most of the characters are good guys, except for the one villain and his henchman.  The villain gets what's coming to him but everyone else gets to celebrate and dance around to Alan Menken music as the credits roll.  We think, I'm not any worse than the vast majority of people, so everything seems good.  We don't mind failing a test if everybody failed.  We don't mind being lost if we're in a big crowd.  But Jesus flips this on its head - most people are taking the wide, easy path to destruction.  There is ZERO comfort being in the majority, going with the flow, etc.

And listening to people whine about their opinions of poetry is not?

And listening to people whine about their opinions of poetry is not?

I'm Good with God Because I Called Jesus Lord (Matthew 7:21-23)

And then there's the most terrifying passage of all - there are many people who will bang on God's gate, having all done all kinds of things that would seem to guarantee them a spot in God's kingdom, and he will say, "Depart from me, I never knew you." That's horrifying, and humbling.

When I read this, and let down my guard, make myself truly vulnerable to God, I become nothing but a quivering mass of guilt and self-loathing:

I was fresh out of sackcloth and ashes.

I was fresh out of sackcloth and ashes.

But it's only there, in that dark crevice, in that place we desperately don't want to be, that I believe we can really be changed by God.  It is only there that we understand how God could promise paradise to a criminal on a cross.  It is only there that we can understand the rank absurdity, the unfairness, the illogic of God's forgiveness, and having understood and felt that forgiveness, when we have NO reason to expect it or feel entitled to it, that we can then turn and show that radical forgiveness to others.  It is only there that we lose all inclination to judge our brothers and sisters.  It is only there that we actually repent, and start to change.  We have to let ourselves get there - and I don't claim to have gotten there nearly enough myself.  But once we're there, God will take us out.  He will show us love beyond our comprehension, and we will, more and more, turn that love to others.  And having been given something valuable beyond life, we will understand the value of what it is we have to offer the world - a real, honest-to-God redemption - a redemption available to all through Christ.  To me, this is the Gospel.  So I challenge you (and myself), to let yourself go to that place, and let God pull you out.

Build your hope on things eternal...

Build your hope on things eternal...

The Difference Between Me and a Two-Year-Old

There's supposed to be a dining room table on that carpet, but I couldn't figure out how to draw it, so for this cartoon, it got eaten by termites.

There's supposed to be a dining room table on that carpet, but I couldn't figure out how to draw it, so for this cartoon, it got eaten by termites.

My internal monologue has better punctuation, for one thing, and that's not nothing.

My internal monologue has better punctuation, for one thing, and that's not nothing.

This panel spiked my insulin just drawing it.

This panel spiked my insulin just drawing it.

On Brokenness, Part 4

Previously, on Brokenness... When we last left our hero, Cartoon Chris was having all his rationalizations and beliefs in his own human decency obliterated, one by one, by chapter 5 of the Sermon on the Mount.  At last count, he was about here:

This is going to end well.  I can already tell.

This is going to end well.  I can already tell.

Surely, Cartoon Chris believes, the rest of his excuses will stand up under Chapters 6 and 7 of Matthew!  Ha ha!  Cartoon Chris is naive and foolish.

I'm Good with God Because I Give to the Poor (Matthew 6:1-4)

Isn't giving to the needy one of the things that everyone agrees is nice and good?  Shouldn't I get a big, cosmic pat on the back every time I sign a check to a charity (like, oh, say, Teen Challenge New England, or the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation)?  Well, Jesus says, not if your heart wasn't in the right place.  If you give for selfish reasons, it's not bad exactly, but God isn't gonna throw you a party.  It's easy to imagine why when you look at it relationally:

Because nothing says "I love you" like buying your spouse a car without consulting them first - at least, according to obnoxious Lexus commercials.

Because nothing says "I love you" like buying your spouse a car without consulting them first - at least, according to obnoxious Lexus commercials.

The press corps frequently hides behind suburban sofas for precisely this sort of occasion.

The press corps frequently hides behind suburban sofas for precisely this sort of occasion.

The more you try to prove you're a good person to yourself and others, the more distant you get from actually pleasing God.

Unfortunately, it's easy to take verses like these and turn them around to make ourselves feel better when other people give more than we do:

Yeah, well, I'M not a judgemental looker-on, so I guess that makes me... wait a minute.

Yeah, well, I'M not a judgemental looker-on, so I guess that makes me... wait a minute.

This can go on, ad infinitum.  (And does, if YouTube comments are anything to go on - and we know they are.)  There's always a way to feel morally superior to someone.  One big theme of the Sermon on the Mount is that the trying to justify oneself is offensive in and of itself.

I'm Good with God Because I'm Very Religious (Matthew 6:5-18)

It's probably not news to most of us that religious showboating and legalistic list-checking don't make us righteous before God.  But does it help to turn the Sermon on the Mount into another reason to showboat or another list to check off?

The key feature of the famous Lord's Prayer, I think, is not the pattern or its brevity or the specific words that Jesus speaks (although there's lots to learn from these things, of course) -- it's the humility.  This is a really humble prayer.  Its shortness and its language and its simple choice of requests all point to the heart of a person who knows he's relying entirely on God's mercy - there's no pretense, no bombast, and no willfulness.  It is all part of the message of moral humility God is trying to get across, so anyone who thinks:

I don't think God would be too upset if we set an egg timer for group prayers, do you?

I don't think God would be too upset if we set an egg timer for group prayers, do you?

... has ENTIRELY missed the point.  Religious practices don't make you righteous if you do them out of selfish desire to justify yourself or win praise - therefore, wielding the Sermon on the Mount as a tool for belittling others or uplifting yourself is 100% foreign to the spirit God intended.  (And I oughta know, having thought similar thoughts quite frequently...)

I'm Good with God Because There's Nothing Wrong with Wanting Stuff (Matthew 6:19-24)

None of us really thinks of ourselves as greedy.  I mean, we never go around introducing ourselves like...

And there's nothing morning commuters on the Red Line like more than having complete strangers introduce themselves whilst revealing awkward personal information.

And there's nothing morning commuters on the Red Line like more than having complete strangers introduce themselves whilst revealing awkward personal information.

... even though it's, well, you know, true.  We imagine we would give it all up if we had some unambiguous sign...

Clearly I'm hallucinating after watching Monty Python.  After all, if you REALLY don't want to do something, NO sign is unambiguous.

Clearly I'm hallucinating after watching Monty Python.  After all, if you REALLY don't want to do something, NO sign is unambiguous.

Not that any of the various Bible verses telling us to do so qualify as an unambiguous sign, of course.  We're all pretty sure those are intended for someone else.  Not that we have a problem with giving anything up.  Not that it's an idol or anything.  We just really really think God meant the Sultan of Brunei should give up his wealth for the kingdom and not me.  Well, we really really hope.  Well, I really really hope.

I'm Good with God Because I'm Just Trying to Make Ends Meet (Matthew 6:25-34)

People keep trying to get this part of Matthew 6 to sound comforting, and there is a lot of real comfort there, but I have to be honest: I've always read the "consider the lilies" passage as one of the most cutting and horrifying criticisms in all of Scripture.  Why?  Well think of it this way:

"I'm scheduled to be tired that night" was a frequent rejoinder to my requests for a date in high school.

"I'm scheduled to be tired that night" was a frequent rejoinder to my requests for a date in high school.

Wouldn't want to spend myself and die at age 33 or something, after all.

Wouldn't want to spend myself and die at age 33 or something, after all.

If I ever had to grade papers again, I hope I could get to a place where I could wield a red pen with similar relish.

If I ever had to grade papers again, I hope I could get to a place where I could wield a red pen with similar relish.

Doing good beats the Sabbath?  Really?  Oh yeah, I forgot about Matthew 12:9-14.

Doing good beats the Sabbath?  Really?  Oh yeah, I forgot about Matthew 12:9-14.

It's not just working extra hours for a bigger house that God perceives as sinful - even working normal hours to survive, when it excuses a failure to work for the kingdom, is sinful.  And that's harsh.  That's really harsh.

Except that it's not, of course, when you remember that God promises us he will take care of us if we live the lives he's called us to.  He tells us "all these things will be added to you" and we don't believe him.  How do I know?  Because we don't act like it.  The way we spend most of our time is a testament to our total lack of trust.  I wonder sometimes if God feels like this:

I'm probably working on something involving JavaScript in this panel.

I'm probably working on something involving JavaScript in this panel.

Yikes.

Yikes.

How is it that I think of myself as a basically good, decent human being again?

And there's a whole 'nother chapter to go!  The excitement just never lets up, does it?

A Lonely Dog's Story

So my housemates have been gone on vacation for the last week, leaving me alone in a big house with their various four-legged dependents.  Naturally, in such a situation, I follow my standard procedure for ensuring a healthy, pleasant time for myself - I start thinking all the saddest and loneliest thoughts I possibly can. For example, when you're a part of a very small, new church, you're subject to lots of people coming and going.  When the goings start to outweigh the comings, your internal soundtrack starts to match "Not in Nottingham" or "Baby Mine" (from the more uplifting Disney movie moments), or maybe "Coldplay as Sung by Eeyore."  People move away, they decide to go to a church more in line with the tradition they knew growing up, etc etc.  When your church is your family, it tears at you.

I was thinking these thoughts on the way home from the grocery store tonight, and as I was carrying the bags in from the car, I observed some interesting behavior from Morgan, my housemate's puggle (a cross between a pug and a beagle, similar to a Shnocker Spaniel or a Pugweiler):

I love you!  May I cover you with hair?

I love you!  May I cover you with hair?

And now I shall poop in distress.

And now I shall poop in distress.

I may consider you warm furniture more than I consider you people, but you should be flattered! I love furniture!

I may consider you warm furniture more than I consider you people, but you should be flattered! I love furniture!

This went on two or three more times as I finished getting the bags from the car.

Man, I thought, what a dumb dog.  Didn't she know I was only going outside for ten seconds to get more bags?  Didn't she pick up on the pattern here?  At this point, it occurred to me rather forcefully:  Why am I mocking Morgan?  I am Morgan.  When good things happen, I become deeply convinced that life is going to be awesome forever.  When bad things happen, I become similarly convinced that life is going to be horrible forever.  I might as well be whimpering at the empty driveway.

She doesn't understand things from a people-eye view - that her owners didn't abandon her to my general indifference for the rest of her days, that they're coming back tomorrow, etc etc.  Similarly, I don't understand things from a God's-eye view, even though God has told me that he loves me, that he's going to take care of me, that the story has a happy ending if I turn to him.  So I'm even worse than Morgan - I have no excuse.  She's a puggle.  I'm a people.  And I'm far more valuable to God than Morgan is to her owners.

Oh me of little faith.

Patience Fail

I know patience is a fruit of the spirit, but there are plenty of times when I feel like I'm coming up short, for example, whenever I'm crossing the Neponset River bridge into Dorchester.  I imagine, that some time around 2115 AD, the view of Boston from Quincy will look something like this:

Also, on a nearby bridge, a Red Line train is experiencing delays due to signal failures at JFK/UMass.

Also, on a nearby bridge, a Red Line train is experiencing delays due to signal failures at JFK/UMass.

In spite of the fact that I consider myself a laid-back, easy-going sort of person (in fact, I'm often overheard announcing "I'm a laid-back, easy-going sort of person" to perfect strangers on the T), I've started realizing that I handle adversity pretty poorly.  I suspect that the only reason I've seemed laid-back to myself is that I haven't generally experienced much adversity.

It occurs to me that in the back of my mind I've been defining patience wrongly - as though the secret to contentment is to "turn off" one's desires as soon as they become even a little frustrated.  As in, "Oh, I can't have an ice cream come now?  Well, I guess I didn't really want ice cream that bad anyway."  This works fine for silly, little things.  It works terribly for big, horrible things.  Or even moderately horrible things.  As in, "Oh, I have to endure excruciating pain in my left kidney for four more hours?  Well, I guess didn't want to have the slightest will to live for that period of time anyway."

What if patience isn't the dehumanizing and absurd elimination of one's desires, but the holding to one's desires in eager expectation of their fulfillment in spite of pain and suffering they cause in the here and now?  ("Yeah, Chris, we already knew that.  That's kind of the definition of patience," you are all probably thinking.  Well, y'all are such jerks!)

Well, if that's what patience is, I think I'm mostly awful at it.  But given the state of traffic around North Quincy at 7 am, can you blame me?

A Cinderella Story

Have you ever noticed how practically every time they interview the creators of an animated feature film, they say something like:

If they really wanted to be unique, how about "Our heroine will have a nonzero quantity of body fat..."

If they really wanted to be unique, how about "Our heroine will have a nonzero quantity of body fat..."

I think I understand why they do this, though, even though as best as I can tell, every animated heroine since 1988 has been feisty, strong-willed, and independent.  The stories of the old-school princesses still loom large in the societal imagination - Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella.  So understandably, folks are loathe to perpetuate the absurd gender discrepancies in the stories we tell our kids:

This would be a hilarious actual title for a smarmy, modern autobiography with a smiling celebrity's face large on the cover.

This would be a hilarious actual title for a smarmy, modern autobiography with a smiling celebrity's face large on the cover.

I'd read that book.

I'd read that book.

The boys got stories about heroes and warriors who saved the day with pure awesome.  The girls got stories about demure and virtuous women who waited to be rescued by men.  Society has tried since then to rectify the situation.  If the boys get Achilles and the girls get Cinderella, maybe the answer is to give the girls some Achilles-figures to look up to!  The men didn't always seem to mind for some reason.

Midriffs don't need protection.

Midriffs don't need protection.

From a Christian standpoint, however, I wonder whether this is actually the right solution.  It's American to praise "standing up for yourself" as a virtue - but is it necessarily the Christ-like way?  What if the right answer to gender discrepancy is not more female Achilles's, but more male Cinderellas?  Why must patience, self-control, and remaining faithful in the face of injustice be strictly female virtues (or, nowadays, not virtues at all)?

Given how important the male power fantasy is to storytelling, it seems absurd that anyone would ever write a male Cinderella story, but in point of fact, we have a very rich source of them - the Bible.  (Ta-da!)

Consider the following stories from the Old and New Testaments:

  • Joseph - horribly mistreated by his brothers and sold into slavery, he remains virtuous and learns humility, ultimately being rewarded by God with the means to escape his imprisonment (interpretations of visions)
  • Joshua and Gideon - win tremendous battles by means of absurdly non-violent approaches mandated by God - patience and trust prove more powerful than human arms and armor (don't worry - the stories end plenty violently)
  • Christ and the NT Martyrs - remaining innocent and holding true to God even to the point of torturous, horribly unfair death - Christ is the ultimate exemplar of humility, patience, self-control, and faith

You could include Noah, Daniel, and a host of other characters in the list as well.  You can see God at work in all of them, subverting the traditional male metanarrative - "You don't get to fight and win - you get to be still and I will win."  It seems to me that our society would do better to celebrate the Cinderella figures - male and female alike!

To close, I leave you with one thought, in the form of one of those obnoxious internet memes:

Belle's a little hotter, and definitely self-sacrificing, but she is kind of smarmy, isn't she?

Belle's a little hotter, and definitely self-sacrificing, but she is kind of smarmy, isn't she?

Reconciling Mercy and Justice

The idea that God is both completely just and completely merciful is hard to fathom.  But yet God is both, and both abundantly - after all, mercy without justice is meaningless, and justice without mercy is intolerable.  I've got plenty of ideas on how to live at peace with these two ideas at the same time (I don't think you can ever fully "reconcile" them without losing the truth in the tension between the two!), but unfortunately, I think a lot of us tend to reconcile them like this:

I wound up deciding not to draw the mountain of empty bottles and pile o' unanswered mail.

I wound up deciding not to draw the mountain of empty bottles and pile o' unanswered mail.

Ah, such a beautiful thought, how God likes me more than you.  Tears me up every time.

Ah, such a beautiful thought, how God likes me more than you.  Tears me up every time.

I mean, we know grace is real 'cause it's in the Bible and everything.  I just figure it only applies to me.  That way I can still beat you with the guilt-stick and feel morally superior, which I enjoy.  I mean, why take ALL the fun out of my faith?

I mean, we know grace is real 'cause it's in the Bible and everything.  I just figure it only applies to me.  That way I can still beat you with the guilt-stick and feel morally superior, which I enjoy.  I mean, why take ALL the fun out of my faith?

A Brief Note on Narratives

Is there anything more powerful than a meta-narrative?  To quote Oscar Wilde, "no."  By meta-narrative, of course, I mean the big story that we all tell to explain our place in the universe - usually making sure to cast ourselves as the good guys, and people who use the other brand of smart phone as the bad guys. We need narratives to make sense of the world around us - it's why so much of the Bible is written in narrative. But that's not important right now. What is important is that a lot of video game developers seem to be REALLY bad at narrative lately. They don't know how to keep the stakes high and increasing, to illicit sympathy for characters, to keep the pacing brisk, or to keep players' brains from spilling onto the carpet in a puddle of boredom.

Imagine if modern game developers had written the script to the first Star Wars movie ("Episode 4: The One With the Sand People"), instead of George Lucas's ghostwriters. Instead of an exciting laser battle in space and a mysterious girl putting a mysterious device into R2-D2, this is how the first two hours of the movie would have gone:

Similarly, the first two hours of Raiders of the Lost Ark would involve Indy doing fetch quests for the unversity staff.

Similarly, the first two hours of Raiders of the Lost Ark would involve Indy doing fetch quests for the unversity staff.

Or even worse, imagine if they had written the King James Version of the Book of Exodus!

Moses, like most Egyptian royalty, dresses out of the Sunday School resource room.

Moses, like most Egyptian royalty, dresses out of the Sunday School resource room.

"To move forward, press forward.  To move left, press left.  To move right, press right.  To breathe, pull air in with your diaphragm, and then push it out again.  Do you understand what I just said?"

"To move forward, press forward.  To move left, press left.  To move right, press right.  To breathe, pull air in with your diaphragm, and then push it out again.  Do you understand what I just said?"

Geez, Moses, don't you realize how important it is to establish that this little tutorial guy is a full, well-rounded character with a personality?  What could possibly be more important?

Geez, Moses, don't you realize how important it is to establish that this little tutorial guy is a full, well-rounded character with a personality?  What could possibly be more important?

Come to think of it, maybe they DID have a hand writing the Book of Chronicles...

Brokenness, Part 3

I'm a huge* fan of Jesus's "Sermon on the Mount," and not necessarily because it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, as though I had swallowed a live beaver -- in fact, rather the opposite.  I like this passage because it can be seen as an (almost) systematic demolition of all the excuses and rationalizations we use to convince ourselves that we're perfectly fine, decent people (and also God likes us better than people who vote for the other political party). The uncomfortable fact is, I do, deep down, believe myself to be a perfectly nice and good human being, and to that end I present to you a list of excuses (one litany):

How polite of me to state my excuses in the same order in which they are demolished in Matthew!

How polite of me to state my excuses in the same order in which they are demolished in Matthew!

This is a huge problem, as I have tried to outline in my previous posts on Brokenness (Part 1, Part 2, Part 2.5).  So now I take you through the Sermon on the Mount, step by step, excuse by excuse, as they all fizzle away in the acid bath of Jesus's teaching.

* fat

1. I'm Good with God Because my Life is Going Pretty Well (Matthew 5:1-12)

Jesus starts off the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes - a passage intimately familiar to most folks who grew up in the church.  And yet, I think a lot of us (meaning me + some unspecified number of the rest of you) seem to believe Jesus said this:

You think I'd be more alarmed I'd found myself in a crowd full of clones...

You think I'd be more alarmed I'd found myself in a crowd full of clones...

Instead of what he actually said:

"Blessed are those who mourn" "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness" "Blessed are those who are persecuted"

And in a similar passage in the book of Luke:

"Blessed are the poor" "Woe to the rich"

Jesus handily undoes a central (often unspoken) tenet of our self-justification - that our ability to manage our lives well means that God is totally fine with where we are.  We avoid certain big sins, handle things with common sense, and believe that the resulting nice life is a sign from God that everything is hunky dory.  Jesus would not seem to agree.

Instead, he presents us with what I believe to be the thesis statement of the whole Sermon on the Mount:

"Blessed are the humble, for they shall inherit the earth."

2. I'm Good with God Because I'm a Member of the Right Group (Matthew 5:13-16)

Jesus's teachings about salt and light are often taught like this to kids at church camp, shortly before they are summarily wedgied by the older boys:

These are my emergency marshmallows.

These are my emergency marshmallows.

This is a good message, but to Jesus's audience, I think it was not news.  The Jewish people already believed deep down that they were the salt and light of the earth.

The secret ingredient is salt.

The secret ingredient is salt.

This always bothered me as a kid.

This always bothered me as a kid.

Maybe Jesus should have used a simile.  Or synecdoche.  Or something.

Maybe Jesus should have used a simile.  Or synecdoche.  Or something.

For the record, the analogy section of the GRE was horrifying for me.  That's probably a clue.

For the record, the analogy section of the GRE was horrifying for me.  That's probably a clue.

We all have our tribe - maybe our race or ethnicity, our education level, our denomination, our political affiliation, whatever.  We want credit for having the right membership card in our wallet.  No dice, says Jesus.  He wants your heart, and he wants it humble.

3. I'm Good with God Because I Follow the Rules (Excepts For the Ones That Don't Matter Anyway) (Matthew 5:17-20)

In one fell swoop, Jesus demolishes both the idea that my rules-following makes me righteous and that I don't have to follow the rules.  I couldn't think of a funny way to illustrate this one, though, so here's a picture of a hippopotamus juggling penguins:

A challenge for youth ministers - how does this actually relate to the Sermon on the Mount?  You have ten minutes.  Go!

A challenge for youth ministers - how does this actually relate to the Sermon on the Mount?  You have ten minutes.  Go!

4. I'm Good with God Because I Don't Do Anything Really Bad (Matthew 5:21-28)

I think sometimes we want moral credit for going our whole lives without stabbing an RMV employee with a barbecue fork, despite the temptation:

This was followed by the book tour, "How To Go Your Whole Life Without Hand Grenading Senior Citizens."

This was followed by the book tour, "How To Go Your Whole Life Without Hand Grenading Senior Citizens."

But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reveals that God is not fooled - he knows the murder and adultery in our hearts.  We want credit for being smart enough not to plunge a knife into someone's chest or run away with the mail carrier (and hence reap the repercussions), but we do exactly as much as we think we can get away with.  And we want moral credit for that?  Imagine telling your spouse:

I've decided to try necks on my characters for the first time ever.  What do you think?  Still crappy?

I've decided to try necks on my characters for the first time ever.  What do you think?  Still crappy?

She carries around a party hat and blower all the time precisely for moments like this.

She carries around a party hat and blower all the time precisely for moments like this.

Have you tried on the words "murderer" or "adulterer" for size?  They don't have quite the same ring as "decent human being," I've discovered.  But make no mistake, in God's eyes, as well as the eyes of anyone who knew what we were really thinking deep down, those are our titles to own.

5. I'm Good with God Because I Try My Hardest (Matthew 5:29-30)

We really want God to believe that we're "doing our best."  Maybe our actions are beyond our control - maybe it can't be helped!

Chris's proportions are quite strange, aren't they?

Chris's proportions are quite strange, aren't they?

I WOULD be good, God, but the internet is full of smut, and I have to have the internet to do my job.  I WOULD be good, God, but my hand just goes places and I can't help it.  Of course, if my hand really WERE doing evil things against my will, shouldn't I chop it off just like that guy from that execrable horror movie, Idle Hands?  The fact is, my hand has nothing to do with it.  I do evil because I want to.  God knows it, and I know it.  I'm not trying my hardest.  I'm not removing myself from situations that I know tempt me.  I'm not fleeing temptation - I'm trying to toe the line so I can innocently fall over it from time to time.  That's not trying my best.  Not even close.

6. I'm Good with God Because I've Been Treated Unfairly (Matthew 5:38-48)

I think Americans have a REALLY hard time with the last part of chapter 5.  We can't believe Jesus is actually saying what his words seem to be saying.  This is because, to an American, "standing up for yourself" is a cardinal virtue, regardless of your side of the political aisle:

Data taken from an exhaustive study consisting of all the prime time television I've watched throughout my life.

Data taken from an exhaustive study consisting of all the prime time television I've watched throughout my life.

America is all about fighting bad guys.  Whether it's British tyranny, Southern slavery, Nazis, Commies, carbon emissions, or the lack of global access to Coca-Cola products, Americans believe in standing up to evil, wherever it lurks (even if -- sometimes especially if -- it's other Americans!).  That's how we know we're the good guys, dang it.  And there's nothing quite as satisfying as mulling over just how rotten those other people are.

And then here's Jesus - "Do not resist an evil man."  Our enemies become excuses to strut around self-righteously - whether in deed or even merely in thought.  We are to be completely, utterly innocent, even if that means letting honest-to-goodness jerks walk all over us.  That's really hard for me.  If I'm in the right, why should I suffer?  Isn't being right what matters?

Well (I try to remind myself), how do I know I'm right?  And on the off-chance I am right, it didn't matter for Jesus on the cross, did it?

And we're just getting warmed up!  Chapters 6 and 7 are even worse... I mean better!

Happy holidays, everybody!

Who Doesn't Love Ambiguity?

Sometimes I pray a certain frustrated prayer to God.  I wonder if His response might go like this:

Well, I guess this is less a prayer and more me talking to the wall.

Well, I guess this is less a prayer and more me talking to the wall.

I'm probably reading II Chronicles or something in this panel.

I'm probably reading II Chronicles or something in this panel.

See James 1:27, Luke 12:33, and about 17,000 other verses.

See James 1:27, Luke 12:33, and about 17,000 other verses.

"I might be thinking "That sounds hard."  Or I might be thinking, "I was just addressed by a very poorly drawn dove."  The face works for either.

"I might be thinking "That sounds hard."  Or I might be thinking, "I was just addressed by a very poorly drawn dove."  The face works for either.

Rationalizing... 76% complete.

Rationalizing... 76% complete.

Or maybe I just saw a squirrel or something.

Or maybe I just saw a squirrel or something.

Not nice taking away my self-righteous complaints...

Not nice taking away my self-righteous complaints...

The trouble is more that we find Christ's teachings hard to obey, not hard to understand.  Deep down, we'd rather do just about anything else.

That Memorial Day Feeling

As the church struggles to figure out what to do with young males, sometimes it's helpful to plumb the depths of the male psyche in an effort to understand just what the heck is going on in there, because it's seldom apparent. I believe that a substantial chunk of the male existence is dedicated to recreating the happiest moment in all of boyhood:

The orange jumpsuit didn't fit me anyway - they didn't come in 2XL.

The orange jumpsuit didn't fit me anyway - they didn't come in 2XL.

I call this "the Memorial Day Feeling," and it was one of the best feelings in the world - no responsibilities for a full three months, which, in elementary-school-kid terms, is approximately 485 years.  Male humans spend an extraordinary amount of time doing whatever they can to recreate that feeling on a permanent basis.  This sometimes confuses female humans, who imagine that males work largely because of ambition or pride.

Yeah, yeah, sure thing.  Just let me get to a save point.

Yeah, yeah, sure thing.  Just let me get to a save point.

This is because the female sometimes imagines that the male is in many respects like her, and sees the world like this:

How about Sim babies and Sim houses?  Do those count?  I can do those.

How about Sim babies and Sim houses?  Do those count?  I can do those.

She imagines her job is to give the male a little push through the obstacle to help them both reach their shared ultimate goal.  However, the male actually sees the world like this:

Why can't societies expectations ever involve Madden NFL?

Why can't societies expectations ever involve Madden NFL?

In the past, males HAD to reach for the stars because that's the only way they could afford the "Memorial Day Feeling."  Now that technology has improved and society has become obscenely affluent, males can achieve that feeling in the here and now with little to no effort.

So how do we go about fixing the problem?  Well, I'm sure the Holy Spirit will have to be involved somehow, because I can't see much of anything else (short of an EMP shockwave taking out all the electronics in the US) solving this problem.  Now, if you excuse me, I have to go play Halo until my burrito is warmed up.

A Very Serious Note on Sentimentality

Esteemed theologian Stanley "H-Dawg" Hauerwas is known to have blamed a great deal of society and the church's problems on "sentimentality."  (I'd provide a link, but that seemed like work.)  Well, I couldn't agree more, especially when it comes to the critical social issue of the portrayal of prehistoric fauna in modern children's programming.  Too many cartoons and plastic toys favor the following depiction:

On the other hand, this dinosaur IS probably the scarier of the two...

On the other hand, this dinosaur IS probably the scarier of the two...

A truly considerate and accurate depiction that gets at the nub of what makes these creatures so appealing to children might appear more as follows:

80's toy commercials are really the gold standard on this front.

80's toy commercials are really the gold standard on this front.

The same applies likewise to dragons, fighter jets, and also penguins.

Penguin Riders would have made an excellent 80's Saturday morning cartoon as well.

Penguin Riders would have made an excellent 80's Saturday morning cartoon as well.

That is all.

Pish-tosh

Sometimes faith is a matter of saying "pish-tosh" to different things, like the internet.  The internet gets a really big kick out of ramping up folks with medical anxiety, such as me.  First, there's the symptom - new and just a little weird...

It can't possibly have anything to do with spending my entire life starting at a monitor...

It can't possibly have anything to do with spending my entire life starting at a monitor...

When specialists ask for my primary physician, I put "Google."

When specialists ask for my primary physician, I put "Google."

The blurb in tiny font reads "Mild stress."

The blurb in tiny font reads "Mild stress."

Sometimes, the internet turns me into a kabuki performer.  It's a risk we all must take.

Sometimes, the internet turns me into a kabuki performer.  It's a risk we all must take.

Of course, the internet is full of two kinds of people - (1) professionals trying to prevent a lawsuit by making sure they've warned you of every possible thing that could go wrong (except needless anxiety, of course), and (2) cranks and scaremongers taking time from commenting on YouTube videos to post on medical forums.

She could probably get a job on a cable news network.  ("Next on Fox: Breakfast foods that are slowly killing you!")

She could probably get a job on a cable news network.  ("Next on Fox: Breakfast foods that are slowly killing you!")

I should say that while the opinions of these people are entirely valid (which means "wrong" in postmodern-ese), the best answer to such blatant scaremongering is...

See also: "bah"

See also: "bah"

Life whispers all sorts of lies to us - the trick is remembering what's true and deflating the rest, not that I'm terribly good at it (although I'd like to think I've been getting better).  Having faith in God also means saying pish-tosh to a lot of things we very dearly believe - that we can only rely on ourselves (not God), that the suffering of following God won't be worth the reward, etc etc etc.  I sometimes find comfort in Scripture, in times when I feel afraid of worldly things.  Here's a particularly relevant quote from Jesus:

"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." - Matthew 10:28

Oh wait, did I say "comfort?"  I meant "perspective."  Not every verse can be Chicken Soup for the Soul (although the next couple of verses are pretty comforting).  And if you disagree, well, your opinion is very valid.

On Brokenness, Part 2.5

Ok, so I'm not quite ready yet to go into the Sermon on the Mount, like I said I was in the last installment... there's a metaphor I wanted to talk about first (and nothing sells a post like knowing there's a metaphor coming!). It's something I like to call the "moral plateau," and it's how I viewed the world for most of my spiritually immature years (1982-present).  Basically, a lot of Christians (and non-Christians for that matter) see the world kind of like this:

The "Wall of Church Attendance" may not be as fierce-sounding as "Death Mountain," but I think it would still strike fear into Link's heart.

The "Wall of Church Attendance" may not be as fierce-sounding as "Death Mountain," but I think it would still strike fear into Link's heart.

We divide the world into two general groups of people - those on the moral plateau (which always includes the person doing the division, naturally), and those off of it.  The nature of the wall varies from person to person - it might involve membership in a church or other tribe, acceptance of a particular lifestyle, belief in some set of propositions, the purchase of one or more trendy brands of organic coffee, etc.  But whatever it is, it invariably divides the world neatly between me and my tribe, and "the other" - the bad people!

Evangelical Christians like to put that wall somewhere around baptism + church membership + living a basically moral middle class lifestyle.  Some problems can arise, however.

It's like the "Great Valley," only crappier.

It's like the "Great Valley," only crappier.

I'm just glad you validated me by climbing the wall.  Now don't go back down or you'll hurt my feelings.

I'm just glad you validated me by climbing the wall.  Now don't go back down or you'll hurt my feelings.

Some of us play parcheesi all day. The rest of us bungee jump off the side of the wall periodically.

Some of us play parcheesi all day. The rest of us bungee jump off the side of the wall periodically.

I remember growing up in a church youth group that put a lot of emphasis on getting baptized and committing yourself to church - but I never really knew what was supposed to happen AFTER that.  Nor, for that matter, did anyone else.  Nor did it seem to bother anyone.  After all, we're on the moral plateau, where else could we go?

This worldview also leads to a certain lack of mercy towards those not on the plateau...

I'VE never been addicted to huffing aerosols, therefore, logically speaking, you must be down there for some stupid, incomprehensible reason.

I'VE never been addicted to huffing aerosols, therefore, logically speaking, you must be down there for some stupid, incomprehensible reason.

And then, of course, there's the endless arguing about where the wall is and how big the plateau is.  Is the wall baptism?  Saying a certain prayer?  Some quantity of good works?  Or, if you're especially sentimental, maybe just not being a genocidal maniac?  That is, some of us would like to keep the walls low enough so that EVERYBODY can get in...

And maybe the most recent American president from the other political party.  They can go too.

And maybe the most recent American president from the other political party.  They can go too.

But what if the whole concept of the moral plateau is wrong, wrong, and more wrong?  What if the actual moral landscape looks something like this...

I mean, it's conceivable, right?

I mean, it's conceivable, right?

That is, what if the "moral plateau" is so high, that nobody ever has any real justification in feeling complacent with where they are morally?  What if the only thing that saves us is God's mercy, and the only thing left for us to do is keep climbing?

That is, what if we have no cause for looking down on anyone, since on the grand scale of things, we're all towards the bottom of the cliff?  What if we have no cause for complacency because we have so far to go?  What if we have no cause for despair because God has offered extravagant mercy for those humble enough to recognize where they are on the wall?  Consider this parable from Jesus:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” - Luke 18:9-14

The trick is understanding and actually believing - internalizing - how sinful we actually are - that we are nowhere near any "moral plateau," if such a thing even exists.  And for that (hopefully) we turn to the Sermon on the Mount...

Nerdy Kids Can Help Too

Beating Dragon Warrior II ought to be worth $100, easy.

Beating Dragon Warrior II ought to be worth $100, easy.

Hey, why not?  Not every kid can handle Relay for Life, after all, without dying of an asthma attack.  (Donate to the fight against Cystic Fibrosis here)

Chris vs May in Boston

Today, mercifully, the highs are in the 80's, so it may be hard to remember that, all of a couple weeks ago, it was in the 40's here in Quincy.  In case you were wondering (and we all know you were), this is how I felt about that:

Attention Red Line passengers...

Attention Red Line passengers...

... the next Red Line train to Alewife ...

... the next Red Line train to Alewife ...

... does not take passengers.

... does not take passengers.

Because we hate you.

Because we hate you.

Due to disabled trains at JFK, South Station, Kendall, and Porter...

Due to disabled trains at JFK, South Station, Kendall, and Porter...

... we are experiencing 80 minute delays, or until you die of frostbite, whichever comes first.

... we are experiencing 80 minute delays, or until you die of frostbite, whichever comes first.

I didn't actually do a lot of leaf jumping as a kid, but that's what delusions are for.

I didn't actually do a lot of leaf jumping as a kid, but that's what delusions are for.

45 degrees isn't so bad when it means you're getting a PlayStation 2.

45 degrees isn't so bad when it means you're getting a PlayStation 2.

... this automated voice regrets any inconvenience.

... this automated voice regrets any inconvenience.

But not enough to really do anything about it.

But not enough to really do anything about it.

Thank you for trying to ride the T.

Thank you for trying to ride the T.

May wins. Fatality.

May wins. Fatality.

Have a happy Memorial Day everybody!

On Brokenness, Part 2

(This post was edited June 26, 2011) It has been my observation that, deep down, a lot of American Christians - regardless of the language we use or the bumper stickers we affix to our vehicle's rear ends - believe ourselves to be perfectly decent, reasonably moral human beings.  I say this with some authority because I, deep down, believe myself to be a perfectly decent, reasonably moral human being, so I figure everyone else must be just like me - always an awesomely valid assumption.

This is a problem because it leads to complacent, unchanged lives, arrogant judgmentalism, and tepid, purposeless evangelism, as I explain in minimal detail in my previous installment.  These problems persist in spite of the language favored by us conservative evangelicals, which I would like to rip open and dissect for you now, because I just love you that much.

A lot of us Christians are perfectly happy to admit we're sinners.  After all, we say, "Nobody's perfect!"  We hope people will think we mean it like this:

That's a Scott Adams hand gesture right there, in case you were wondering what I'm trying to do.

That's a Scott Adams hand gesture right there, in case you were wondering what I'm trying to do.

When we actually mean it like this:

Clubbing baby seals gives one enough warmth to not need a parka, I guess.

Clubbing baby seals gives one enough warmth to not need a parka, I guess.

For every "Nobody's perfect," there's usually a "That doesn't make me a bad person" following close behind.

Us evangelicals are perfectly good at confessing that we're sinners in some broad, abstract, metaphysical sense.  Sure, we're generally good people, but we've had some understandable slight foul-ups and maybe had a few technical difficulties along the way.  The upshot is, among other things, that this makes the gospel narrative we claim to prize so highly seem faintly ridiculous:

The angel didn't actually have to look in the Book of Life to know that first fact there.

The angel didn't actually have to look in the Book of Life to know that first fact there.

I figure angels don't need pupils because they're pretty much "God mode"

I figure angels don't need pupils because they're pretty much "God mode"

Aw, man... I never get to pull the red lever...

Aw, man... I never get to pull the red lever...

Secular-type people have been quick to pick up on this.  There's a certain hostile question I get from non-believers on a fairly regular basis:

Can I get back to you in the form of several lengthy blog posts?

Can I get back to you in the form of several lengthy blog posts?

It's an irritating question, and in the past, I would have just said, "Look. You have to accept that God is God and you're not," and that's true enough.  But their question hits at a real problem - the nonsense at the core of a faith that's based on "saving us" from being slightly-less-than-perfect human beings.

So I'd like to argue that Christianity makes little sense unless we understand the following 2 major points:

(1) My behavior is extraordinarily, awesomely immoral - I chase after what God hates, and want what God wants very little, if at all. (2) God values me, loves me and forgives me in spite of Point 1 - even to the point of dying for me.

Accepting Point 1 forces me to admit my life has to change.  Accepting Point 2 prevents me from peeling my face off with a fork in despair at Point 1.  Not only is it hard to change my life when I think I'm fine the way I am, but Point 2 is really only meaningful if I understand Point 1 (otherwise God's love is a nice thing that I'm entitled to).  Point 2 is easy for many of us (not all), but plenty of folks have trouble understanding Point 1, in spite of the fact that the Bible - especially the New Testament - is full of extremely horrifying passages vaporizing the foundations of our pride and self-justification.

One of the most horrifying is Jesus's famous Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7.  Growing up, teachers often focused on the peace-and-love aspects of the Sermon on the Mount to the exclusion of everything else.  The resulting image in my head was not unlike this:

According to the illustrations in children's Bibles, the Levant at the time of Christ was infested with multiethnic schoolchildren.

According to the illustrations in children's Bibles, the Levant at the time of Christ was infested with multiethnic schoolchildren.

Later, when I read the Sermon on the Mount for myself, I had a rather different reaction:

Hey, imitation is the sincerest form of plagiarism.

Hey, imitation is the sincerest form of plagiarism.

My next installment will go into excruciating detail on how the Sermon on the Mount accomplishes this flesh-eradicating feat.  In the midst of the mercy, there's some scary, scary stuff.  To actually take Jesus at his word requires looking at your own real guilt square in the face and owning up to it.  I can tell you're already excited!

I'll Need That in Writing

Sometimes I wonder whether, when we ask this:

I worried about this a lot when I was a kid

I worried about this a lot when I was a kid

... God kind of hears it like this:

Nothing says "I love you" quite like "Specify your minimum requirements!"

Nothing says "I love you" quite like "Specify your minimum requirements!"

And how much can I play Starcraft before it becomes loving the computer more than you?

And how much can I play Starcraft before it becomes loving the computer more than you?

Like the question of the rich, young ruler to Jesus - like so many of our questions to God - the answer seems frequently to be "Wrong question!"

Protocolphobia

Back in October, the Broadway-blogging community was peeing on itself with laughter over a Frequently Asked Questions page from the play Lombardi.  Evidently, the producers felt that they would be attracting a different sort of patron to the theater - one who didn't know the basics of theater behavior - and so included helpful tidbits of advice such as:

What is expected of me once the curtain goes up? Please don’t talk! The actors will be performing live for you. It’s important that you listen very well so that you don’t miss anything and so that you don’t disturb others around you. Let the actors know that you appreciate the show: Laugh at the funny parts, applaud when you like something, but remember to respond respectfully and appropriately. The actors are right in front of you and their performance will be affected by your reactions.

People particularly latched on to the quote "laugh at the funny parts," as though this were something that people would not do unless so instructed.  Well, as bizarre and kindergarten-teacher-like as this is, I can pretty much understand where the FAQ authors are coming from.  Sometimes I want to be told that I can "laugh at the funny parts."  You see, I have a severe case of protocolphobia, defined as the paralyzing fear of being in a situation in which I don't know how to behave, where there is a high chance of someone thinking poorly of me or, even, (heaven forfend) looking sternly at me.  I imagine I'm not the only one.

There are lots of situations where a FAQ could come in handy.  I often feel like I would appreciate having a big sign explaining exactly what it is I'm supposed to be doing.  Like rotaries, for example, which are somewhat terrifying to those of us who grew up in places where roads go in straight lines:

A lot of people seem to think that yield signs are yellow.  They are almost always red and white.  I imagine that hardly anyone pays attention to them...

A lot of people seem to think that yield signs are yellow.  They are almost always red and white.  I imagine that hardly anyone pays attention to them...

To the protocolphobic, a rotary can look a giant morass of free-flowing ambiguity and chaos.  A giant green sign labeled "FAQ" might help ease the situation, perhaps something like this:

ROTARY FAQ: Welcome to a New England-style rotary!  You poor fool!

How do I enter the rotary? It's customary to wait for a gap vaguely large enough to contain your vehicle, but it is not mandatory.  When entering, it is considered best practice to floor your accelerator while screaming like one or more samurais charging into battle.

How many lanes are there in the rotary? As many as you need there to be!

How do I get out of the rotary? Technically you have the right of way when you are on the rotary, but no one else knows or cares.  So trust me, your life will go much more smoothly if you just accept that you will not be getting out of the rotary for some time.  Why don't you listen to some nice Enya while you wait for the traffic to move?

Where does this rotary take me? All exits lead to Route 3 south.

What if I don't want to get on Route 3 south? Tough noogies.

I imagine that folks checking around a church website (like this one) might want to know what to expect, in case they, too, suffer from protocolphobia.  But would you want to be told to "laugh at the funny parts?"*  What do you think?

* Me singing "May the Lord Bless You and Keep You"

On Brokenness, Part 1

I've noticed the church in America has a great many problems. I've noticed this sometimes while I was personally contributing to them. In the process, however, I think I may have realized a central root cause of these problems. With any luck, you'll agree with me wholeheartedly and then we can all go out to Gennaro's for fettuccine alfredo. (If you don't agree, well, maybe we can still eat alfredo.) Consider the problem of legalism - defined (by me) as the self-righteous clinging to doctrines and practices that flagrantly don't matter to God, with all the useless arguing, divisiveness, and toxic pride that goes with it:

Or maybe they had a problem with ochre.  I would sympathize.

Or maybe they had a problem with ochre.  I would sympathize.

Or consider the other side of the coin - a pervasive complacency that turns American subcultures into the same subcultures but with more God language.  That is to say, people's lives with the Holy Spirit look an awful lot like their lives before:

Maybe God hates both GM foods AND slovenly clothing on Sunday mornings...

Maybe God hates both GM foods AND slovenly clothing on Sunday mornings...

I might be paraphrasing a bit here.

I might be paraphrasing a bit here.

For a lot of us in the evangelical world, this starts to look like something called "Game of Life" Christianity.  A lot of us tend to perceive life as a generally linear pathway - a few deviations here and there but largely taking us past the same milestones, towards the same end goal - fulfillment, comfort, success, lots of little pink and blue pegs in the back of our plastic minivans.

I've been around that circle quite a few times already...

I've been around that circle quite a few times already...

We expect God to help us out a little bit along the way, perhaps...

I feel like this whenever the Red Line runs express to Harvard.

I feel like this whenever the Red Line runs express to Harvard.

But we'd rather God not interfere with the general flow of the game...

Harsh.

Harsh.

I actually can't whistle, but I think I would fake it in this event.

I actually can't whistle, but I think I would fake it in this event.

We're all perfectly willing for someone ELSE to draw that card - "spend themselves" on the poor, the hungry, and the lost - but not us.  We're content to lead lives of utter self-serving mediocrity, as though we can take the spiritual equivalent of "the gentleman's C" and still get to retire to Millionaire Estates.

Or consider the state of evangelism.  Our strategies generally take one of two styles, and while they can sometimes work out fine, the results are frequently tepid.

That's supposed to be a city block in the background.

That's supposed to be a city block in the background.

This is not intended as a slight against donuts.

This is not intended as a slight against donuts.

So here's my epiphany, for whatever it's worth.  All of these problems are caused to a large extent by the same thing:

Deep down, regardless of the language we use, a lot of Christians believe ourselves to be perfectly good, decent people.

And it's a huge problem.  I'll go into more details in later posts, but I believe we won't get our lives or our communities straight until we allow ourselves to be entirely broken and defeated at the feet of God.  Until then, we'll keep singing choruses to our favorite hymn:

I once was found but now I'm found, could see but now I see.

I once was found but now I'm found, could see but now I see.