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Monday, September 24, 2007

decoding Christianese

is tough, because i grew up in the culture. how does a fish explain what water is? chances are it's never not been in water. it probly doesn't even know water exists. awkward.

but thanks to my analytical, over-critical mind, and thanks also to a high-quality theological education at VUSC, and thanks lastly to my fallen anti-Christlike nature, i am now capable of looking at my faith from the outside.

this post's term to decode is spoken a little differently by each person, in each situation, but the core of it could be expressed like this: "rely on God's strength, not your own."

to this admonition the young, naive, devout Christian will probably respond, "ahh yes... what profound spiritual wisdom. i will do my best. Father, please help me to do this." but a more skeptical, questioning, annoying Christian will respond, "what the heck is that supposed to mean?" and if there is some combination of devout and critical, the response will probly be something like "teach me how, and i will."

fortunately (for all types of Christians), this phrase has biblical roots. i'll let you find them yourself, since you need to be studying anyway. try Proverbs, to start. anyway, its lofty origin makes it a trustworthy statement, as long as we decode it in some useful, practical way. here's how i did it:

i am in a constant war against myself. sometimes i win, sometimes i lose. recently i've been losing some critical battles, and it came to the point where my country was about to be completely overrun by barbarian hordes. first i tried just letting them loot, hoping they would leave. they didn't. then i tried fighting for the cause of freedom (for my country's inhabitants). that didn't work either. i tried giving my allegiance to a greater nation, one that could bolster my own forces. failed again. i even tried building huge walls... that one was probably the funniest attempt, since i ended up building gates in them. without locks.

a few days ago i thought to myself, "there has to be some solution. i can't keep living like this, letting the barbarians ravage my land, as well as the land of my neighboring countries. i need to protect myself and my loved ones. but i feel i've tried everything!"

the solution turned out to be a pretty simple one. i thought back to the first time i ever knowingly, willingly gave my allegiance to anyone/anything else. i was a freshman in highhomeschool, sitting alone one night, when i suddenly realized, "i can't do this alone. i need God." that's the first time i prayed to Him and actually knew Who i was addressing. and i said to Him, "i need You, and i will always need You, and right now, i promise to seek and serve You."

my oldest contract, and my strongest. it strengthened and weakened, back and forth over the years... but over time, as i grew more knowledgeable and more independent, i came to rely completely on myself. the old allegiance was completely forgotten, still binding, but out of sight and out of mind.

back to the present: i pulled it out the other day, and read the last line of the contract. it says, "Jesus Christ is LORD."

the oldest confession of the Christian church, spoken at a time when Caesar was considered Lord. and not just king, or ruler, but God Himself. when i think of the title "Lord," i think of the one who owns it all. i think of the one who always gets his way. i think of someone who is to be obeyed unquestioningly.

the first time i related to God, the first way in which i related to God, is wrapped up in that confession. Jesus Christ is LORD. He owns me. even if i completely reject Him, or forget Him, or ignore Him... in the end, He still owns me. in the end, i still bow.

that night as a 9th grader, i knew for certain that i needed to give Him my total allegiance. i knew i would lead a worthless, useless, pointless, foolish life, unless i became subservient to Him. i had never been more sure of anything in my entire life. i look back on it now and see that i was convicted of the truth; i didn't just realize it. it was branded on me, at the core of my being.

over the years i forgot. kind of like Israel. i'm... i don't have a strong enough word. i would tear my clothes and put ashes on my head if that were my culture. i'm distraught, or horrified, or dejected, or ashamed, or intensely sorry... all those things. i feel so bad that it took this much ruin for me to finally choose redemption, to finally return to that initial promise i made, but i'm glad that it happened, and so far i've found that it's the only claim on me that beats everything else. it's the trump card; it's my M.O. i've tried everything else, and failed every time. Jesus' LORDship is the only allegiance i care about, enough to continually deny myself.

so every time the barbarians attack, i say, out loud: "Jesus Christ is LORD."

sometimes the barbarians retreat, and i feel a sense of peace. sometimes i feel nothing. sometimes they continue beating at the walls. sometimes they scream obscenities and hurl corpses over the walls, reminding me of all their victories, blaming me for the deaths of my subjects and my friends. sometimes, instead of fighting, they send forth their diplomats and public speakers to make persuasive arguments; they tell me they've already won, or that they have a right to enter my domain, or that the simple act of acknowledging their presence has already compromised my kingdom's safety. sometimes they tell me that if i just send all my kingdom's treasures out through the gate, they'll depart quietly and never tell anyone of my defeat.

regardless of whatever else happens... every time so far, my spoken allegiance to the only rightful ruler has kept me from failing. please understand this: my love for Valerie has proven insufficient. my stubborn strong will (no one is more stubborn than me) has proven insufficient. my fear of consequences has proven insufficient. my desire for a virtuous character; my friends' support and encouragement; my parents' constant prayers for me; my lofty goals in life... all insufficient.

~ ~ ~

for me, right now, to rely on God's strength is to know without a doubt that He is LORD over me. i have to add those last two words to the ancient Christian confession because if He is simply LORD, then i can still defy/disobey Him and not care. for some reason, that initial promise i made has survived brutal raids and countless defeats. i am His, and no one else's... not even my own. He tells me what to do. if there is anyone to give allegiance to, it's God: the One Who will never force you to give it, the One Who deserves it most, the only One Who can be trusted with it.

again, but put differently: to rely on God's strength is to be obedient to Him, regardless of your feelings, thoughts, situations, or any other convictions or loyalties. when i say it out loud, i realize (even or especially when i don't want to realize!) that no matter who i think i am, or what i think i can do or get away with, He is simply, unquestionably, eternally, independently, uncompromisingly LORD.

hear me clearly: as a Christian, you cannot give your allegiance to your family. you can serve them, but serve Christ first, and then your family. neither can you serve yourself, unless you are foolish enough to think yourself an autokrator. you cannot be His subject on some days, but not others; obviously you can disobey Him, but if you're a Christian, you disobey Him as His subject. there's no trial period, no 2-year-plan option, no free night minutes. if you give yourself to Him, you are His. period. no qualifications, no provisos, no fine print.

how did this become a sermon? crap...

well. just pretend i'm preaching it to myself. because really, that's exactly what i'm doing.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


i know what comes next.

they say there's that rut in the road immediately following graduation, which some people use as a springboard to the rest of their lives, while others get stuck in the mud and spin their wheels for awhile. i'm one of the latter. i probably earned it for myself by way of laziness and other character flaws-- i've spent enough blogtime on those already-- but, strangely, i no longer feel the need to dwell on those. i guess i have more important things to think about.

"what things?"

oh, you know... plans... for the future...

"what plans? i thought you had no clue."

well, see, that was true for a long time, and i called that long time a 'transition phase'... which is not only strange but comical as well, since a transition phase only comes before some 'next phase,' and since i didn't know what that 'next phase' was, i had no right to assume such a thing even existed. =D

but now that i've discovered / decided my future, i do have that right, and i intend to take full advantage of it.

~ ~ ~


part of the tension i feel about deciding how much time to spend in so-Cal this next trip, comes from the feeling that i owe myself to this phase. i have responsibilities at church, relationships with family members, friendships with people here-- friendships i've waited 3 years (@ VUSC) to return to.

but now i see how i've set myself up. i so looked forward to coming home that i never looked past it. there were other reasons for my short-sightedness as well, of course, but this one is particularly significant now. i had subconsciously resigned myself to the idea of being 'in-between' in life, and my over-developed sense of responsibility (to many people, ideals, etc.) guilt-tripped me for staying put. but i had nowhere else to go! volunteering at church was a mistake, in that regard, because i may have taken that opportunity not just to serve others, but to avoid an uncertain future.

my personality is such that i refuse to move forward until i know where i am going. but, just as in our relationship, i needed to take a few steps forward before discovering my destination. that first one-on-one conversation with your dad was my chance to wake up and realize where my life had gone. i hadn't even realized it until he asked me. i know what my destination is.

of course, i couldn't have known until after you cast your spell on me. enchanté, indeed... i should have defined it more fully for you, on the phone last night.

1 : to influence by or as if by charms and incantation : BEWITCH
2 : to attract and move deeply : rouse to ecstatic admiration <"enchanted her to the point of tears" -- Elinor Wylie>

so now i have been moved, and now i can move forward of my own volition. and i have decided to move towards... well. you know. ;)

but getting back to the point of this blog: the realization that inspired me to write, has very simply to do with the fact that i'm almost done transitioning. the inner struggles, and even the relational struggles, that characterize my life right now make even more sense, when i think of it this way. i shouldn't be surprised; life has always made more sense to me when i've thought of it as a story.

the tension is this: i feel a responsibility to my life here, especially after waiting so long to return to it. but now, with you, and because of you, and for you, i feel other motivations and goals pulling me away again, and that sort of tension gives me pause when i pull up my calendar and weigh all of my options. don't get me wrong, i want to move on! i want... my future. ours. it's just that i have only just finished settling into this rut, and it will take some time and some contemplation on my part before i'm fully ready to leave again, despite the fact that i never wanted to be in a rut in the first place, and despite the fact that i've been suffering a very sullen, pitiful state of discontent with regard to my uncertainty concerning the future. aside from those negative conditions, i sort of like it here, being provided for by my parents, and being with friends and family, and having plenty of time for dark brooding, and being justified in that brooding... or so i mistakenly thought.

but as i said: i'm being pushed & pulled forward. i can't stay here. i don't even
want to stay here. not when it comes down to decisions. i want to keep moving.

you came to me at just the right time, too. right when i needed you most. i should probably add that fortune to your magic box. you don't mind having 122, do you?

it's difficult to be my usual depressed self, right now... i guess i now look forward to you in a much fuller, even a much brighter way. but perhaps the best adjective would be 'unhindered.' so when you say, 'i look forward to...', i can respond not by criticizing your optimism, but by sharing in it. unhindered.

talk to you tonight.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007



i hope you're still subscribed... i suppose i could check, couldn't i? i am still deciding whether i would be hurt, if i found that you had decided to stop caring about me and my life. i think i would be more disappointed than anything else, not that i expect you to care about me, but i do very much expect you to care about other people. (of course, when i say i expect it, i say that as someone who knows you, not as a parent or even as a peer.) i suspect that aspect of your personality will never change, but will only be strengthened and sharpened as life goes on.

your recent dream, significantly more pleasant than you would've expected (at least at first glance), has caught me by surprise: firstly because it breaks the pattern we've conversed about before, and secondly because this brightening of the situation didn't encourage you at all. can you find nothing positive about the fact that your heart is healing? or at least that your memory has seemingly realized the danger of poisoning itself repeatedly.

i've been living with a paradox lately (surprise surprise). i seem to be learning how to be depressed, and through that, learning how
not to be. it makes sense because i understand that certain things can only be conquered by being embraced and accepted, rather than fought; but at the same time, i have to wonder how it's possible. and now i'm hoping that it's possible for others besides myself.

i may have made the mistake of thinking that i could help you become yourself. if i was mistaken, i wasn't entirely mistaken; all of our life experiences can be our good and wise teachers, if we wisely reflect on them. the mistake may have been trying to teach someone who learns best on lor own. maybe i am more of a rest-stop than a GPS device.

i have a request. it is not advice, although i hope you take it to heart. it is not a correction or a judgment of your character, of your choices, or of your personality; if anything, it's an admission of my own. i don't expect you to grant it, and i'm not the hopeful or optimistic type, but i would lack integrity if i didn't make the request at all.

please don't hold a grudge against me for any of my failures with regard to our friendship, whether they were mistakes or shortcomings on my part. i am not entirely sure what to ask forgiveness for, but every time i think of you, i wonder if you have any hatred left for the 1,000 miles between us.