Thursday, July 11, 2013

Thoughts on Mixed Messages

First, I need to give a shout out to my friend Mark Anthony Chase for the assist on this post. I think reading his Facebook post on the contradictory nature of the Bible probably planted the seed for this post. It also, gives me a chance to plug one of my favorite TV shows of all times Pushing Daisies. Why? Because every time I think of Chase, I think of a line from that show that said, “Mark Chase was no stranger to murder.” It’s hysterical really, because TV Mark Chase, and my real life friend Mark Chase are nothing alike, but I now always think “Mark Chase was no stranger to murder” when I read his posts about the Giants, basketball and his love for Aaron Cho.


I love Pushing Daisies. So pretty.
Also, an assist goes out to the boys of our Thursday morning Panera men’s group. This morning we were talking about fear and Psalm 56. It was a good convo and kind of was the water to the thoughts presented here. So, without further ado: thoughts on the mixed messages I received growing up with religion always around me in American culture.

So first things first a quick list of values espoused by Church and American cultures (at least the forms I grew up with)

Church                                                  America
Humility                                                 Pride
Generosity                                              Consumption
Community                                            Solidarity
Faith                                                       Reason
Belief                                                     Skepticism

Okay, admittedly things look like I am quite down on America, and a lot of older Americans will probably challenge my thoughts on American values. I’m down with that. I understand. But, I am talking about the America I observed growing up. The America that said, pull yourself by your bootstraps, you will never make anything of yourself riding on someone else’s coattails. You are the only solution; don’t depend on anyone to help you. There are no handouts, there is no free lunch. Take all you can; you never know when it’s going to run out. I think when I talk in the clich├ęs that we use, you can see why my list is as it is for America.
My involvement in Lion's Club once led me to wearing this suit.
And for a lot of “good church folk” the response has been to bring those beliefs into their daily life while giving mouthplay to ideas of faith and humility. It’s like the business owner who in church says that “You know God has really blessed me,” and in Lion’s Club, “I’ve been busting my hind end to make this work.” Now, while both statements are true, this type of thing leads to duplicitous living. (Yes, dudes of small group if you read this, duplicity must be my word of the day!) In other words, we use the statement that advances our cause in the moment. So, in church I use one language and present a different face than in my other social organizations.

Is this a condemnation of that sort of living? Sure, but not a harsh one. I understand the realities of church and world relationships. The reason you join Lion’s Club (I still proudly own my purple and yellow!) or Rotary is to establish good professional relationships. If the nature of your organization is not expressly religious, you watch your tone. It’s plain good business (Scripture: shrewd as serpents, innocent as doves).The reason you join a church could be the same reason, but I hope it wouldn’t be. I hope the reason you join a spiritual community is actually, you know, to take of your soul/spirit (but we won’t delve deeper here!).
And the deal is these ideas merge and become married so to speak. I think the very nature of most “American Christians” is quite duplicitous. We say that we trust God and then make all the plans ourselves. We say that we praise God for our successes, but people better pat us on the back when we pull something off. In other words there is a disconnection between word and action. And that is the culture I grew up in. And so did most of you. To me it make sense why I get so “screwed up in the head” so often. Everything I am taught has a counter point.

I think what presents itself then is the opportunity to work out our faith with fear and trembling. Odd transition, eh? But I think there is truth in it. When we are raised in contradictory belief, we can begin to search out truth. When we are taught have faith and work hard, we get to search out what that means. The Proverbs for example say that someone who loves sleep will go hungry, and Matthew says that the birds of the field and flowers are clothed by God’s provision. Contradiction! Work hard in one scenario, trust God in the other. Again, it presents an opportunity for working through this to find out how to live.
Which presents me with a unique situation this week. I have been trying to sort through life. If you’ve known me for any length of time, you’ve probably notice I transition a lot. I am always changing this, doing that, wondering if I should go there. It’s just what I do. I’m a mover, a gypsy of sorts. I don’t know why that is. Most of my family is settle in, rooted people. So, it is strange, to always be looking for the next thing. For example, my step-mom asked when I was moving back to Texas, and my response was classic James: I feel like there’s still one more adventure first.

So, in the midst of another, “should I stay or should I go” season, I felt this simple prompting from God: what do you want? Now unlike the Spice Girls, I can’t “Tell you want I want, what I really, really want” (Mims, that is for you!). It is a bit unnerving. And I realized why. I have been so caught up with an understanding of “following the Spirit” that I have forgotten the teaching of Jesus giving us the desires of our heart. Because even that phrase we stop and say, “But Jesus will show you what your desires should be.” So, in other words, I have kind of removed my own humanity. I have made life such a responsive thing that I have forgotten to take account of what it is that really brings me joy.
So here I am at this crux of trying to follow Jesus and know what my heart desires. It’s a strange thing. It’s almost like a new frontier for me, and I’m having to look at Paul’s words and think, “I guess I need to work this out.” So, if you see me with my head in the clouds, you can remind me that there is still this earthy, natural part of me that God is working on…and maybe you can help me figure out what I want…what I really, really want.

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