Tuesday, February 27, 2007

In Defense of Religion

In my post yesterday, I made an unsupported claim that the concept of religion, specifically Christianity, seems to have fallen out of public favor. This should not surprise me, as people have taken many wretched actions in the name of Christianity, ranging from war to intolerance to hypocrisy to a lot of other bad stuff. Though I feel these sins are not fairly balanced in the public eye by the immeasurable good done in the name of Christianity, it is still easy to understand why people do not care much for it.

What causes me more concern is the lack of respect that people who claim to follow Jesus Christ maintain for the religion of Christianity. Often have I heard a peer claim that he or she does not have a religion but rather a relationship.

This statement always leaves me wondering when the two became mutually exclusive.

This emphasis on a relationship with God deserves great merit. My friend used to wear a shirt that proclaimed on the front that "Life is all about" and on the back "a personal relationship with Jesus Christ." I always thought this shirt was funny because it was exceedingly cheesy. Plus, the fella was rather goofy and wore the shirt in good humor. Nonetheless, the shirt is correct. God's description of his relationship with us carries too much intimate diction for us to believe that the end of life lies in cold, works-based religion.

Once again, the reasons for deriding religion, even for a Christian, are not difficult to understand. We often have had to attend church out of peer pressure or guilt. A very real temptation exists to read and even memorize creeds and Scripture without them taking any root in our hearts. Church is boring and we "don't get anything out of it." Youth group simply is a place of ridicule and ostracization. I receive enough of that at school, thank you very much.

For all these reasons, I gave up going to church shortly after Jesus became Lord of my life. I had Jesus Christ. I did not need his church or his people.

Excuse my potty-mouth but this thinking is hogwash. Religion supports a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As is so often the case, the issue here is not external. Sure, the church has its problems. However, my guilty attendance, my indifferent heart, my boredom with the Word of God, my insecurities are not the church's fault. These issues are internal. Thus, the major "problems" associatd with religion lie within me and not with religion at all. Ironically, it is this religion with its historical creeds, its biblical teaching, its true worship, and its fierce accountability that equip me to deal more rightly with these internal sins.

This "give me Jesus without religion/church" attitude is a relatively recent phenomenon. The book of Acts implies that faith without church community would be absurd. It is a given that believers are active members of a church body. I fear that our modern-day rebellion against religion emerges from the current attitude which rejects all authority, rejects any notion of submission, rejects the idea that anyone or anything knows what's best for us. So often those I hear proclaiming relationship without religion are the ones spurning the Christian ethic described and modeled by Christ.

Perhaps we flee religion because we prefer our ways to those of Christ, and we do not want anyone to tell us otherwise.

The church, the modern-day poster-child of Christian "religion," is a beautiful thing. It is simultaneously an organization with guidelines and rules while also being a source of grace and love. Jesus founds his church upon the apostle Peter, and Paul spends epistle after epistle writing about church organization and responsibility. Jesus calls the church his intimate bride and Paul weeps when leaving the church at Ephesus for the final time.

Contrary to our over-simplified view of spiritual matters, organized religion does not stand as a hindrance to a loving relationship with Father. The two work together for our God and for the glory of God.

Relationship not religion, the world says.

Relationship with religion, I say.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Request Line

We had a first this weekend for "Redeeming Prufrock": a reader request. Yours truly encourages requests, as it ensures that the topic will possess interest for at least one person. Plus, requests put a big ol' stiff arm in the face of the ever-pursuing Writer's Block - at least for another day.

The caller asked for a post concerning last week's episode of "Grey's A," specifically its depiction of the afterlife. Under normal circumstances, I would have posted about this Friday sans need of request, given that "The A" stands as the only show I consistently watch and enjoy. However, I had an epic tennis match Friday afternoon pitting my roomie Nate and I versus a friend and his girlfriend (we won 0-6, 6-2, 7-6(7-1), by the way).

Beyond inconvenience though, I just had very few thoughts on the episode's portrayal of the afterlife. It was bizarre and seemed to lack authority from anywhere that I could tell. As the requester noted, she/he sat all episode as if watching a bad '80's sci-fi flick waiting for Grey's reincarnation. The episode left me speechless and thoughtless. However, I think this response is noteworthy. Blog-worth, at the very least.

One of the most endearing aspects of the show is the believability of the charcters. They all have major, exposed flaws. I relate to this. My initial frustration with this episode grew from its utter lack of believability. Meredith was in the water a long time. She was frozen a long time. In real life, she would have been dead a long time.

Death does not work like it did Thursday night. We do not get to learn previously unlearned lessons and than return to wallow in our new knowledge. Our best friend cannot enter the ER and scream "Try again!" resulting in resurrection. We do not have a certain amount of time, determined by how long people try to revive us, to choose to come back.

Now we all have assumptions about the afterlife. This episode merely provided the writers an opportunity to display theirs. The difficulty with the afterlife is that no one has been there and returned to tell. Except maybe for one Guy. But word on the street is that he and his followers are full of crap. Accordingly, we really do not know a whole lot about what goes on.

The guess of the "Grey" writers has just as much chance as being accurate as one coming from the imagination of anyone else who ever lived in the history of the world. In short, the odds of the afterlife looking like Thursday night are worse than those that the science of statistics would give to the idea that our universe formed by accident. I'm not saying that it might not be right. I just wouldn't bet the farm.

Herein lies one of the chief advantages to organized religion, a word that has become filthier in our day than maybe even shit (both outside and inside many churches). Take Christianity, for example. It's depiction of Heaven claims the authority of God through Jesus Christ as relayed to humanity in the Bible. You can debate the validity of this authority all day (and probably most of the night), but the religion of Christianity claims it. Accordingly, innumerable Christians throughout history have had similar baseline thoughts on the afterlife, namely that those who believe Jesus was the Son of God and died for sins spend eternity in an undisclosed location worshipping God.

It may not be detailed, but it does not come from my imagination. It puts me in good company that includes Abraham, Paul, Augustine, Luther, Graham, Jeff, Oakley, Esther, Jenn and Chris Pappa. That comforts me and gives me confidence.

Perhaps this perturbed me above all Thursday night. Without grounding a theory upon some authority, be it experiential or philosophical or spiritual or scientific, it comes across as silly, imagined, unbelievable.

Now for redemption, which I believe exists in everything. I love Meredith's comment right before she returned to earth: "It all seems so unimportant now," referring to her problems with intimacy. Perhaps we do not get a second chance like Grey. Perhaps the depiction of the afterlife was hard to swallow. A good word still radiated from the shadows of the haunted hospital halls. So many trivialities prevent us from loving, from really living, from sucking the marrow out of life, as Thoreau would put it. Good for the show for warning us to avoid these silly hindrances. Regardless of the route it took to convey the message.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Devil Not Named K

My buddy Sean and I were challenged to a 2-on-2, best of 3 basketball series Sunday afternoon. Our opponents: his brother and sister-in-law. The former stands 6'4" while the latter could have played Division 1 basketball had she wanted, I was told. Well, I could be a fish on a bicycle if I had gills and wheels, I chuckled to myself, though, in retrospect, the thought lacked any semblance of rational coherence.

So on a beautiful Sunday afternoon we suited up and threw down. Sean and I won the first game 11-9, with Sean proudly pronouncing, "That's how we do it in the South!" to his midwestern family members. Apparently in the South, we also lack consistancy because our opponents had us one point from a 7-0 skunk in Game 2. In the rubber match, they took an early lead and eventually had us at 10-7 in a game to 11. Sean and I battled to overcome the deficit and won in "overtime" 14-12.

It fascinates me how seriously I take pick-up basketball. Throughout Game 3, Sean and I wore our gamefaces, looking everywhere with great intensity. We spit motivating jabs like "Let's go" and "Man up." I bled a little. We were fierce, playing as if our fates depended on this game when only our pride did.

What really fascinates me is not that I get excited in a competitve setting. It is when these emotions are juxtaposed with my relative indifference to important spiritual matters that my eyebrow raises.

Why do I get so excited about a pickup basketball game but am so quick to spurn Christ Covenant Church for Bedside Baptist?

Why is it so easy to sit on the couch and watch television for hours on end but so difficult to go read my Bible and pray for a couple minutes?

Why is it so easy to believe that nothing exists after death but so hard to believe in God's promises for eternal life?

These inconsistencies argue for the existance of some kind of spiritual resistance in my life. They argue for an enemy.

From Genesis 3 to Revelation 20, the Bible depicts an enemy - Satan, Beelzebub, the serpant, the dragon, the deceiver. I think Satan's existance in large part explains the resistance I feel to so many spiritual disciplines. When I open the Word of the God, it threatens Satan's territory. He scoffs at my name but flees at the name of Jesus. Accordingly, it should not surprise me when I feel some intangible hesitation to opening my Bible while a frictionless path leads me to a basketball court. I'm NOT saying basketball is bad, but I think you get my drift.

Ignoring the existance of the enemy deters me from serving God. It also feeds me incorrect answers to the above questions, lies that have no source in anything but the opposition. This makes it exceedingly difficult to battle these doubts if I refuse to recognize their source.

"Ben, you prefer basketball to church because you prefer the flippant to the eternal. You say you care about the things of God but your actions speak otherwise. You are lazy. I bet God is pretty pissed with you right now."

"Humphries, you don't read your Bible because you think it is boring. You'll just get distracted and fall asleep anyways. What's the point? It really won't make a difference. Trust me."

"My friend, reason dictates that nothing exists after death. Show me experiential evidence to the contrary. Surely God made reason, a reason that does not substantiate his claims. Ignore what he says. He is a liar and has never wanted what is best for you."

When I deny the existance of the enemy, these thoughts must either come from God or myself. I often mistake them for Truth or for conviction. What a sad lie.

Thomas Jefferson once removed all the miracles from his Bible. You can find this Jeffersonian Bible in the gift shop at his home in Monticello. He actions portray our society's increasing resistance to anything that transcends reason. As if the pursuit of reason were the only purpose in life. As if reason were God. While reason is a good and redeemable gift, utter reliance on it makes it easy for us to ignore spiritual realities that have a very real effect on us. We feel silly for believing in the devil when the Bible clearly talks of his existence.

We ignore the things unseen, and we do so at great peril.

Ignoring the enemy keeps us from understanding the root of much evil that exists in our lives. Ignoring the enemy keeps us from fighting against his consistent attempts to separate us from our loving Dad. Ignoring the enemy keeps us from praying divine and crushing power down upon him.

In short, ignoring the enemy keeps us right where he wants us.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Vader, The Emperor, and Me

In my defense, I did not actually engage in any of these behaviors - well, most of them anyways. I only entertained the ideas. They simply crossed my mind, which may end up being just as bad.

I have had some interesting encounters with my bad angel in the last couple of days. They may compel you to look unfavorably on me, dear reader, but these instances are true. And I have always tried to be honest with you.

So without any further introduction, here is my week walking on the Dark Side, as my friend Oakley so lovingly calls it.

1. I spent two hours of work on Monday riding around Charlotte looking for disposable coffee lids. When I told this to a fellow bookshelver who had noticed me missing, he laughed out loud. He said it sounded absurd. We ran out in the Borders cafe, and rather than simply driving twenty minutes down the road to another Borders location, I was sent on a wild coffee lid chase. I visited Dean and Deluca, Target, Harris Teeter, Exxon, and BP. Each place had lids that just barely did not fit. Some were too big. Some were too small. None were just right.

None, that is, except for the ones at BP. Though hideously green when combined with our red cups, they fit perfectly. I asked the owner if I could offer him a buck or two for a sleeve of them. "Give me some sugar, er, coffee lids. I am your neighbor," I said (and it's true; the gas station is right next to my apartment complex). The owner's response: "I don't think I can do that." What? Don't tell me what you don't think you can do, man! Tell me what you are going to do!!! Regardless of his limp response, I got the point. Alas, life lesson #4652 learned: What works for Outkast does not necessarily work for BHumps.

I finally found the lids at another Borders location two hours later. It hit me in the parking lot there that I could very easily call back to work, say my car broke down, and get paid for doing nothing. I could eat a sandwich from Harris Teeter. I could sleep in my car. I could not work. The plan was fool-proof. My battery died, it took a while to get a jump, and I returned to work as quickly as possible (read: two hours later) - mysteriously full and well-rested.

After pondering this a while, I realized I was beginning to breathe like Vader, that the Dark Side was closing in on me. This scared me, so I went back to work immediately after picking up the lids.

2. Yesterday, a frequent shoplifter came into Borders. The call went out through our trendy ear pieces that the guy was chillin' in the cafe. This fella must be in his middle-50's with a wispy white comb-over. He was wearing a navy sweater that only I or Mr. Rogers would wear. He really looked harmless.

We've caught him a couple times though, leaving behind an empty CD or DVD case to avoid the security system in the exit. We even caught him on the security camera once. Due to the litigation-happy society in which we live, we can do nothing about this. We can't touch him or he'll sue - apparently for his right to steal shit. We can only yell "Stop" as he continues to go. How different the world would be if Washington D.C. were populated by booksellers instead of trial lawyers. All that to say, we are utterly helpless to his schemes. All we can do is stare at him until he is uncomfortable enough that he leaves.

This is just what we and he did.

After he left, I eschewed noble thoughts and dreamed of what I wanted to do in that situation. When the powers that be won't protect you, there is only one solution: vigilante justice. Forget the fact that our society would crumble if everyone took matters violently into their own hands. I was angry. Any grown man that steals CD's from Borders is a turd. CD's do not feed hungry children, and they provide only a six-inch diameter tube of shelter from the elements when held over one's head. No noble reason exists for this crime.

My idea: Walk up to him next time he was in the store and just whisper, "I know what you do here," just loud enough so that only he hears. Then proceed to tell him what horrible thing I would do to him if he ever came in the store again. I would never do anything to him, obviously. But he does not know that. If he's stealing CD's from Borders, he must be a coward and would not want to try me. Especially if I gave him the krazy eye. This would solve the problem since we have no means to do it through government channels.

As these thoughts went through my head, I noticed the skin on my hand beginning to get pasty white and wrinkly like the Emperor, that the Dark Side was closing in on me. This scared me, so I dropped the thoughts and went back to mindless work.

3. Last night, I came across this on the Internet. Tired of fighting it, I finally gave in to the Dark Side.

I laughed.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Passing Over the Past

On Sunday in my "learn-about-the-church-before-you-join-it" Sunday school class, we made a list. Since everybody loves lists, save for cruiseline passengers, I want to share it with you all.

We were discussing stewardship, the responsibility we have to use the gifts that God has given to each of us. The teacher acknowledged that money is the most-talked about aspect of stewardship. He added time and talent as other items of which we need be good stewards. Thus, we had the Killa' T's - Tithe, Time, and Talent.

If there's anything folks love more than lists, it's alliteration.

He then proceeded to ask us what else we are stewards of. Wha?!?!?! I thought to myself. I was enjoying a good ol' pat on the back for thinkig of these three; surely nothing else could be out there. Everyone thinks about money in this discussion. Great thinkers such as I come up with time and talent. Surely there can not be anything else! If there is, it better start with T, which makes it all the more unlikely the list contained anything else.

Forcing humility on me, the class began to list:

Physical Body
The Earth
Our Past

These all refreshingly broadened my view of the subject, as I was utterly ignorant of these responsibilities before the discussion. The last one really caught me off guard though. As a general rule, I do not like to deal with my past, especially the part of it that happened before I began to know Jesus. Come to think of it, I do not like to deal with things that happened last week.

On the surface, Christian thought argues that I do not need to. Jesus died on the cross, forgiving me of all the sins I have done, do, and will do. On the cross, he dealt with my past, so there is no need to dwell on it. Guilt, after all, is a deadly thing. It is more pleasant for me, and seemingly biblical, to simply erase it all and move forward with my new self, clothed in Christ.

Yet, there on the white board sits "Our Past."

'Tis a trustworthy statement that Jesus died on the cross for sinners, among whom I am foremost. My past sins are forgiven. Guilt is dead. Yet, our God not only forgiving, he is redemptive. That is, he brings forth good from bad. Not only does he erase the bad that we have done, he uses it for our good and the good of those around us.

We see this very practically in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 where Paul writes of the "the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." Our past experiences help us to care for those around us. For example, my historical lack of faith in God's sufficiency has often led me to over-exertion, stressful anxiety, and functional atheism. This past, while painful and embarrassing, helps me to recognize this tendancy in others and convey to them that God has better things for them than stress, that he is actively working for them, that he has shown this to be true in my life. It is easier to empathize with and care for those limping down a familiar path.

Stewarding our pasts also teaches us of God's character. Observors were amazed at Christ when he claimed to have the power and authority to forgive sins. Divine forgiveness is a big deal. But our God does not cease at this miracle. He does not only defeat sin. He routs it.

God takes our hideous pasts, forgives us of them, and turns them for good. That is unexplainable power. That is unsearchable goodness. That is unspeakable holiness. These things are God.

Forgetting my past causes me to forget how great God is. The deeper I understand my sin to be, the more amazing grace becomes to my limited sight. And nothing reminds me of my sin more than my past. Freedom, love, and eternal life are great things. How great is our God that he brings forth these things from the hopelessness of anxiety, lust, and death.

God does not forget our pasts. He enters into them, engages them, and rips forth goodness from that which we thought lost. Let us, made in his image, do likewise, embracing our past to care well for others while being moved to worship a God who claims a victory beyond that which we can imagine.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Stupid Technology

My computer blew up mid-post and deleted everything I had typed. This happened one time after I had authored a couple pages of a paper in college. Worst thing ever for a writer. Nothing feels more awkward than trying to re-create exactly what you had before the catastrophe. It is never exactly the same, and you can feel it.

My computer blew up mid-post, and I have lost my flow. My apologies. I will return with a vengeance tomorrow.

Computer willing.

Friday, February 16, 2007

A Plug for Alliteration

Today's million dollar question:

Can one of television's hottest shows really kill off it's title character?!?!?!

Shocking. Simply shocking.

If they choose to do so, let me be the first, or at the very least the most passionatie, advocate for a new name: Addison's Anatomy.

Man, she is great.

Almost as great as alliteration.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Cookie Monsters

In a rectangular room with three pale walls and a mirrored one sits a long table. On this table sit nine dinner plates. On each plate sits a chocolate chip cookie, a soft, warm, freshly-baked chocolate chip cookie. The aroma floods the room.

In front of each plate sits a child, nine of them, one for each plate.

A man walks in wearing khaki pants, a white buttoned-up shirt with the top button undone, and a gray tweed sport coat, unbuttoned. His black loafers click off the tile floor as he positions himself in front of the table, where he introduces the following covenant: If they refrain from touching the cookie over the next ten minutes, they will receive a second cookie.

He then exits the room. The clock starts.

Immediately, three of the children attack the cookie. The smell overtakes them. The memories of past cookies invades their wills. They gorge. They smile. They are satisfied. The three cookies are gone in sixty seconds. With nine minutes remaining and nothing left to do, the children begin to pick at the crumbs.

The rest of the children wait. Minute after minute ticks by. Two of the children begin to move their noses towards the cookies, stopping within centimenters, gasping at the aroma which makes their mouths water. Another child licks the cookie, giving himself a taste but leaving no paper trail.

Finally, one of the two whiffers breaks. He breaks off a chunk of the cookie and swallows it. Recognizing what he has done, that all is now lost, he spurns partial victory, or partial defeat, and devours the entire cookie.

Giving into peer pressure, the other whiffer follows suit and downs his cookie.

The other child takes another lick and squirms, trying to muster the willpower to abstain.

Two other children patiently sit watching the others. The distractions help them to avoid that which sits in front of them. One of the two sits on her hands.

The ninth child has removed himself from the table. He sits facing the corner, refusing to watch his peers or his cookie. Yet, he cannot avoid the cloud of scent. He becomes antsy.

With 2:14 left on the clock, the hand-sitter lifts up her thigh, releases the hand, and bends off a piece of the cookie. She immediately returns the hand to its original position, chews slowly, and waits.

At ten minutes, the man in tweed returns. He bestows three freshly-baked cookies upon the two children who had not touched their cookie - one as the promised reward, one to replace the lukewarmedness which had consumed the original, and one as a gift.

These final two eat while the others look on.

What differentiated these two victors from the other seven? Certainly not their desire for cookies. They simply understood the exceeding value, desirability, and beauty of what was to come. More than that though, they trusted the administrator of the gift to come through on his promise.

(Ed.'s note: I ripped this scene from a science experiment my friend recently described to me. No great origianality here. I simply enjoyed re-creating the story and sharing it will you all.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Song of Soloman

Odd Encounter of the Week: Love Post

In deference to today's holiday, I attempted to change my blog font and background to some combination of pink and red. Nothing says "Happy Valentine's Day" quite like the colors pink and red. Turns out I remain too ignorant to accomplish such a technological feat. Alack and alas, all I have is black and white.

If you peruse back through my "RP" posts, you might notice that I have abstained from writing about romance/relationships/love/whatever you want to call it. This probably does not surprise those of you who have known me over the years. I have been called a lot of things when discussing this topic, the most recent being "stick in the mud." I kind of like this one. The image fascinates me. Most other labels tossed my way are too embarrassing for print.

The reason for this is partly due to my historic cynicism. I once made a 15-minute biblical argument against marriage - to a woman in whom I was romantically interested, no less!. Hey, we were all young and naive. Some smoked weed. Some wore alternative clothing. I said marriage was bad. I have since been rebuked and had a change of heart. I have also outgrown the need to say crazy things in order to get attention.

So this may be the oddest encounter for "Redeeming Prufrock" to date. In fact, it may be shocking to some. However, out of respect for Valentine's day, I present a few thoughts on my love life.

I can't imagine you are still reading. But in the event you are, here we go.

You can count the number of dates I went on in college on one hand - even if you've had an amputeed digit or two. It is a known fact that women do not like men who use flatulence in similes (see yesterday's post). Herein lies the primary reason for my sticky nicknames. The reasons for this abstainance would take books and interviews and more self-examination than I can handle to explain. Suffice it to say the reasons would take one of three adjectives:

d)combination of 2 or 3 of the above

Note: the events taking these adjective do not lie in proportion. For example, cowardice probably explains 50% of the situations while unknown reasons may only be the case for 20% of them.

This makes me quite unusual as a guy and even moreso as a young Christian guy where a lot of us seem to think that dating is a spiritual discipline less important than prayer and scripture reading but slightly more important than fasting. The college fellowship I attended was, in some circles, known as a Christian dating service.

Now this is not to say that I do not, or have not, desired a relationship. This is a mistake my friends often make. Given a choice, I would choose love over bachelorhood any day of the week and twice on Sundays. I like companionship, making out, and being normal. Purportedly, all three of these things come with love.

What I desperately desire to avoid is cheapening these things, along with all the other beauty that comes with this crazy little thing called love. Diving in too early, diving in when it does not feel right, diving in just for the sake of diving in would do just that. For the most part, nothing has felt right and that which did proved not to be so. Thus, I'm still chillin' on the pool deck.

The blunt reality of this bachelor life is that it is, gulp, a gift from God. I can't believe I just said that. I think I may have just swallowed a little bile. Excuse me a moment.

Ok, I'm back. As hard as it is to stomach, the Lord has willed that I be as I am at this moment. That's hard, and on most days, this makes me bitter and combative. Yet, the Father does not withhold good from his children, so my irritation must fall away.

Being single has provided me a lot of opportunities that the alternative would not have. The reality is that my life is a 24-hour pie chart, not a line graph where the final point may be plotted as far east as I please. Relationships take time and energy. Not being in a relationship frees time and energy, a lot of time and energy for me given the obsessive nature I have when new things enter my life (hello, fantasy basketball). For instance, were I in a relationship, you, my dear reader, and I would not be able to spend as much quality time together. But do not think on this thing, for it is far too terrible.

My singleness is a gift the Lord has given me, a gift, like money, which he expects me to return to him for the good of those around me and for his glory. I try to live expecting the future grace of a wife but knowing that, if the Lord plans othewise, there is still future grace in that it was for my earthly and eternal good. I am utterly thankful for the grace God has given me to begin to understand this truth, destroying the futility, despair, and hopelessness that can often accompany long-term bachelorhood.

So there you have, my blog friends, the odd, perhaps oddest, encounter of the week.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Exposed in The Sextion

An old saying likens a horrifying scene to a car wreck, so terrible that one cannot help but stop and watch. 'Tis true, as the backed-up traffic will attest even after the police have moved an accident to the shoulder. The early episodes of "American Idol" purpotedly defend this statement as well, though I have never watched. I suspect this cliche also explains ESPN's constant coverage of Terrell Owens. Hopefully, reporter Ed Werder has just up and moved there by now, if not already hailing from the Dallas area.

Yet, occassionally an environment is so terrible, so painful, so gruesome, that we simply cannot hold our collective gaze upon it.

Borders has a section of books that flies the banners of "Sex" and "Erotica." I do not know the difference and do not care to. The place contains any and every book on sex you could ever stomach - how to, varieties, stories about, picture books, novels, history of, essays on, children's books (gotcha!). I call it "The Sextion," pronounced "sex-shun." The pictures on the covers of these books may fall into the category of soft-core pornography, although I remain unsure where one draws that line. The place is rather unpleasant; while it contains lots of sex, the pictures lead me to believe there is little love. None of us employees enjoy shelving in there, and I argue that it remains a dangerous place for a lusty 22-year old guy to enter. I avoid it when I can and try to remember to pray when I cannot. A real raunchy place. I do not recommend a browse if ever in a book store.

So today, I am walking up to assist at the register when I hear one middle-aged woman say to another, "Well, look who we have here!"

A third woman, kneeling in The Sexion, looks up with a look of utter horror in her face. "Oh no," she groans. "I'm so embarrassed. I'm so embarrassed."

I immediately recognize what has happened, two friends coincidentally stumbling upon a neighbor looking at sex books. Now under normal circumstances, I would linger like a stale fart, finding "work" to do in the area in order to watch the adventure. My long-time readers have read of these moments which include shoplifters, Kris Jenkins, and floor-pissers.

Today, however, my stomach dropped, and I fled. I chose work's boredom because the scene was just that horrible.

I do not know what happened next, although I suspect the two approaching women acted with grace. The one glance I made from the registers revealed the three of them standing in what seemed like easy conversation. Good for them.

In her novel "Beloved," Tony Morrison describes a phenomenon in which events that take place in a certain location never actually leave that location. They are a part of it forever. She calls this "rememory." My mind is too finite to grasp this concept, but I received a glimpse of it today. Everytime I walked past The Sexion, the scene remained. Seared into my mind, it greeted me everytime I drew nigh.

A few hours later, this oppressive fog of awkwardness seemed to have dissipated, and I returned to investigate the scene. When exposed, the customer was either browsing through "Guide to Getting It On!" by Paul Joannides and Daerick Gross, "Sex for Dummies" by Ruth K. Westheimer and Pierre A. Lehu, or a book about 101 nights of great sex except the word "great" had, like, six r's.

Oh, the horror, the horror.

What that woman hoped to accomplish in The Sexion, I do not know. Despite the stigma associated with the area, her motivations may have been noble. After all, Valentine's Day assaults the American public tomorrow. Still, she wallowed in utter embarrassment at that moment and probably still feels it right now. In moments like these, we have no choice but to come clean and try to look on the bright side of things.

At least she wasn't wearing a diaper.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Unfolding My Arms

Ten minutes into his sermon, my pastor said we were quieter than usual this Sunday, that he thought he would've upset us with his tithing sermons the first week of the series and not the last. He did an impersonation of us - eyes squinted, arms folded, hunched over, not happy. He then changed positions and told us if we did not like what we were hearing that this position was more effective - cheeks puffed out, forefingers in ears, eyes closed, head to the floor.

Heh, heh, I chuckled to myself. Funny impression.

As I recoiled from my giggle, my eyes noticed something when they moved from the floor to the pulpit. They noticed my horizontal forearms. My arms were crossed. Dr. Ross was impersonating me!

Though I looked like the Joe Layman he was imitating, nothing he had said so far had really disturbed me. There is nothing inherently wrong with the arm fold anyways. A lot more appropriate than other things I could be doing with my arms such as a Terry Pendleton cup adjustment or The Wave. Regardless, there my pastor stood, directly talking about me, and I was oblivious.

It dawned on me that perhaps this happens more often than I admit. As a general rule, I really enjoy what's commonly perceived as straight talk and hard words. This explains why I've actually enjoyed the recent sermond series on tithing. How we manage our money reveals a lot about our heart condition, yet money is perhaps the most defensive area of our lives, making biblical truths about the issue hard to accept and even harder to preach.

The real reason I like hearing about this topic though is because I usually think the words are directed at everyone but me. I do believe this is partly true, as I have prayerfully made a conscious effort to be released from the bondage of materialism. Regardless, what I'm really doing is patting myself on the back, even if subconsciously. This motion cannot be healthy for the elbow and shoulder, and certainly does detriment to the soul.

The realization in all of this is that I really do not like hard words. If words are pleasing to my ear, if what they move me to do is easy (or ever worse, to inaction), they are not hard at all. Last week during a post-sermon prayer, the associate pastor prayed that we would be generous with "our money, ourselves, and our time." Alright, cool, no big. . . . Wait a minute! What's this time thing doing in here! I'm a busy guy, and my time is mine! Who is he or God to demand that I give away my time?

Herein lie the hard words. My arms fold.

I am fanatically jealous of my time. I hate giving it away, moreso than even my money. But let's be real here for a second. I'm a single dude, working 37.5 hours a week at a low-stress job. How busy can I be? The answer: not that busy. Regardless of this, my time is just as much God's as my money is. I must be just as generous with it - whether it be praying, reading my Bible, listening to people, allowing people listen to me - as I am with my money. Failure to tithe robs God but so does failure to give my time to him.

Hearing these things hurts. It literally hurts in a physical sense. I can feel resistance to them in my head and in my gut, as my auto-piloted brain immediately converts into defense mode, producing excuses with the efficiency of a Ford assembly line.

As it turns out, I do not really like hard words after all. They make me feel bad. Yet, the arrow must be painfully pulled out of the wound for healing to occur. So here's to the loss of pride when socially deemed hard words are spoken. Here's to prayerfully standing in the pain when hard conviction comes my way.

Here's to unfolding my arms.

Friday, February 09, 2007

A News Peruse

Reflections on a wild week in the newspaper:

-As Mr. Oakley rightfully reminded us Wednesday, the Tar Heels systematically wore down Josh McSoberts (photo courtesy of espn.com; nickname courtesy of my brother) and the Dookies Wednesday night, even though Dook outplayed them for a large chunk of the game. Regardless of the boisterous claims coming from ESPN and Chapel Hill, this Carolina team is currently flawed. A good team would have buried their staggered half-court offense and lackadaisical perimeter defense during Wednesday's first half and not allowed them to comeback. They do this often enough that one has to think some team will get them over the 6-game run needed to win it all. Still, if they get hot at the right time, the potential is there for them to be the best team in the country. You can't ask for anything more than a chance.

-The political cartoon in the "Charlotte Observor" yesterday portayed two young girls walking down the street. The caption: "Well they wouldn't let us into the movie without our parents. Let's go get an abortion."

-From the You-Would-Call-Me-Silly-If-I-Made-Up-A-Story-Like-This-Up-But-It-Actually-Happened-In-Real-Life file, a former astronaut drove 900 miles from Houston to Orlando to confront the woman whom she believed was romantically involved with her husband. Her inventory for the trip included a trenchcoat, a wig, a BB gun, pepper spray, a four-inch knife, a steel mallet, rubber tubing, and large trash bags. She also wore a diaper (Ed.'s note: This is not a typo.). In her defense, it was well thought out. The diaper allowed her to avoid time-consuming bathroom stops. This story is rather sad if it weren't so bizarre. You just couldn't make something like this up.

-A recent headline in a New York newspaper concerning the astronaut situation: Lust in Space.

-I had heard that a man had bought a 30-second Super Bowl ad for the purpose of proposing to his girlfriend. I never saw the commercial and wondered what happened. According to today's paper, it turned out he discovered his girlfriend would have turned down the proposal, so the commercial was pulled. Mystery solved.

-I almost spent my whole post today on this last article, but I would have been angry by the end. Plus, I have learned that political rants are exceedingly unattractive, so many of you might have stopped reading. A columnist for the "Washington Post" named William Arkin wrote an article on his blog in response to our solidier's frustration with opposition to the war in Iraq. In the article he calls our troops "mercenaries" who are the beneficiaries of "obscene amenities." The overall tone of the article implies that the soldiers owe us, the American people, something.

Now Mr. Arkin, an activist with ties to Green Peace, has the right to write whatever he pleases, but these sentiments reflect poorly on him as a writer and a citizen. First off, I have yet to hear anyone claim to know what these amenities are that he speaks of. If you want to see obscene amenities, watch the Grammy's. Perhaps Mr. Arkin would prefer our volunteer soldiers to be under-clothed in Valley Forge or barefoot at Gettysburg in order to earn their keep.

The other horrifying thing about this whole situation is that Arkin's opinions may not be as rare as they seem, evidenced by the hesitation of the "The Post" and NBC to distance themselves from the comments. Also, recall only a few months back when John Kerry warned an audience that they must pursue higher education so that they don't get stuck in Iraq, directly insulting the intelligence, among other things, of our troops. For whatever reason, certain elite liberals possess little respect for those fighting on our behalf.

I try hard to understand multiple sides of issues and feel like I do a decent job of at least understanding where people are coming from. But, for the life of me, I cannot understand this attitude of disdain and disrespect that Arkin seems to hold for our troops.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

I Can't Even Imagine

My imagination lacks sparkle. It exists and acts through similes, puns, and problem solving, but it always ends there. This partly explains why I've never read a lot of science fiction such as "Lord of the Rings." Yes, "Lord of the Rings." It explains why much of Vonnegut's "Slaughter House Five" was lost on me when I recently read it. My mind just cannot keep up in a world the operates according to different rules than the one I live in.

We all have our weaknesses, and no one does everything well. Still, this imaginative inadequacy blinds me to certain realities, especially in my relationship with God. In his book that seemingly every Christian under the age of 25 has read, "Blue Like Jazz," Don Miller writes:

"Too much of our time is spent trying to chart God on a grid, and too little is spent allowing our hearts to feel awe. By reducing Christian spirituality to formula, we deprive our hearts of wonder. . . . I need to be somewhere else after I die, somewhere with God, somewhere that wouldn't make any sense if it were explained to me right now. At the end of the day, when I am lying in bed and I know the chances of any of our theology being exactly right are a million to one, I need to know that God has things figured out, that if my math is wrong we are still going to be okay. And wonder is that feeling we get when we let go of our silly answers, our mapped out rules that we want God to follow. I don't think there is any better worship than wonder."

This wonder is what I miss when I fail to imagine, when I confine my thinking to the world that I experience, when I think that God must circulate only amidst the realms which I can understand.

This lack of wonder and imagination has a multitude of implications, but I've been recently thinking about in the context of the fall of man when Adam and Eve first chose to sin and were expelled from the Garden of Eden. It occurred to me yesterday while on a jog (I don't run anymore, I just jog - and there is a difference) that I sell the fall short, that I don't give it it's proper signifigance. A friend of mine recently wrote to a co-worker that we were slightly different creatures before the fall. I believe we were radically different creatures before the fall, that everything was radically different.

I do not get much of a taste of the Edenic world. Like Martin Luther, I cannot say the Lord's Prayer without sinning. Except in rare cases such as the observance of the starry night sky or an act of love motivated not by the famililar condescension, guilt, and duty but by empathy, sacrifice, and joy, I do not experience the pre-fall world. And maybe I do not even in these fleeting moments. This is a problem for one who lacks imagination. I assent to the fact that the fall was huge with my mind, but the life change and world view change that should accompany this assertion requires wonder, to think outside of what I experience.

Can I imagine this, a world where:

Nakedness was the clothing of the day, and we never thought otherwise. Death did not sit right over our shoulder. I never felt like I had to prove myself. Childbirth was painless. No relational awkwardness existed. Motivations were pure, lacking self-interest. Our work week was not a source of misery. Depression and cancer never existed. Infants did not die in sleep. I never worried. We never understood the concept of war. The environment was subdued but not destroyed. We interacted and did not hate. Poverty and competition were utterly foreign. Our purpose in life was always crystal clear. There was no fear on more than just bad mid-90's t-shirts. Wolves dwelled with lambs. Leopards lied down with goats. Calfs and lions sat together. Nursing children played safely near the hole of a cobra. Quiet times were unnecessary because perfect, consistent communion with God happened.

And this would only be the beginning. The world may not even physically look like it does today. We might not eat the same foods or look the way we do. I believe everything would have been different, that death-filled sin had that great of an effect. My imagination cannot grasp this.

Perhaps this is why life is so hard. Perhaps this why, as I wrote Tuesday, life rarely seems to be just right, and when it does, it quickly changes. It's almost like the people we have been made to be are not suited for this environment. It's almost like we were made for a whole new world.

In the best book ever written other than the Bible, C.S. Lewis writes, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." I think this is true and might explain a lot in my life.

If only I imagine.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Grinding Away on Coffee

Josh McDowell once wrote that man has three options when it comes to our opinions concerning Jesus; he must either be Lord, Liar, or Lunatic. His outrageous claims really leave us no other options. Jesus's words bring us to a point of decision because he left no room for indifference.

Similarly, everyone in America must come to some kind of opinion concerning coffee. Next to Opera, coffee stands as the greatest force in our culture. Could you imagine America without coffee? Me neither. It stands so prevalently that everyone over the age of 18 must come to some opinion on it if he/she engages our culture at any level (socially, occupationally, educationally, etc.).

Here is my story.

Most folks succumb to the temptation of coffee in college. Lots of classroom material combined with lots of social interactions equaled lots of early morning hours studying for exams or completing lab reports. I rarely drank coffee in college though. If I found myself sleepy or knew I had a long night waiting, I committed the unthinkable crime: an eight-hour night of sleep. One night, I went to bed at 10:30, only to hear my hallmate knock on the door at 10:40 looking to play Mario Tennis on the Nintendo 64. When my roomie and the dark room revealed my early nocturnal decision, he cussed out Nate and eventually the walls as he returned to his room. Under the covers, I smiled. A chuckle or two slipped out.

Occasionally, I gave in to peer pressure and had a cup. Hey, everyone else was doing it at 11p.m. Why not me? I had exams tomorrow too. Given my 160-pound frame and lack of tolerance, sweet tea and Coca-Cola could easily get me going. A cup of coffee would never let me stop. After one particularly late night, I had a morning cup of coffee before heading to a three exam day. The caffeine finally hit during the second exam. I started shaking and did poorly on the exam because my excited hand could not fill in the precise answer bubbles.

I was one of the minority who made it through college without a coffee addiction.

Enter Borders. Borders does not pay a whole lot, but it does provide me with two things: health insurance and free coffee. There is a book I recently shleved in the Travel section. It's called "The Cheap Bastard's Guide to Boston." If I were to make just one cover of a book in the whole store, I'd be the guy bending over to pick up the penny in front of Fanueil Hall. I may or may not be a bastard, but I'm definitely cheap.

So I started having health insurance and I started drinking coffee because they were free. If it's there, it would be financially irresponsible not to take advantage. Plus, it's more fun than water. I usually indulge in a cup while shelving in the morning, sometimes in an iced version with my lunch, and on occasion in a cup for the road. Never all three but sometimes a combination of two. It's free. I'm cheap. Fill 'er up.

Last Saturday, they were late filling up our pot. I had a headache. I said as much to Paul, my boss, and he responded with a deep and haughty chuckle. "You didn't drink coffee before you got here, eh? We've converted another," he bellowed. I didn't know it was a religion, but I am learning. You see, Paul thinks caffeine is a drug. He says we all have our drug of choice. He also says coffee is the gateway drug, that pretty soon I'll be doing heroin. He's kidding, I think.

The really odd thing about coffee is that it tastes really, really bad in its purest form. Now, I have decided that someone who drinks his coffee black cannot complain about its taste. It's like complaining about the cold weather while refusing to wear closed-toed shoes in the winter. Ergo, this is a mere observance and not a complaint. The stuff is nasty. It tastes like burn. This should not surprise, as coffee really isn't much more than dirt water. We take dirt that has smoothly clumped together enough to be renamed "bean" because it sounds cleaner. We pulverize it back to dirt form, and we run hot water over it. The result is coffee.

Still, drinking black coffee is an easier way to establish my, er, one's masculinity than, say, ripping off clumps of chest hair, Snickers.

I'm finally hooked on coffee. When I put sugar or flavor shots in it, I genuinely desire it. I get headaches on my days off, days which are still incidentally better than days at work. So there you have it, my unavoidable encounter with coffee. I drink it.

Oh, and I think Jesus is Lord, too.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Getting off the Sine

I've noticed recently that my emotional state has been rather fickle. As I reflect back, it has been this way for most of the time since I returned from Boston in September. People often ask me, "How's it going?". Well, that depends on the hour of the day you want to know about.

Take last Wednesday. On the way to "Theology and Pop Culture" class, I stopped in at Borders to pick up a book. I was in a great mood at this point, heading into a night of biblical discussion followed by trivia. My recent purchase, as well as the pretty girl I spoke to in the check-out line, did not hurt things either. I floated out of the store in excitement. Even the obscene traffic failed to phase me.

By 8:00pm, I had crashed. Not my car, mind you. I have a horn. I was just exhausted, hungry, and grumpy for no discernable reason. I ate Chick-fil-a in the mall by myself, and liked it. I proceded to trivia where I half-engagedly participated but mostly tried to follow my fantasy basketball team by watching scores and stats roll across ESPN's Bottom Line. After two rounds, I went home and went to bed. Good ridance, Wednesday.

I find this fluctuation frequents my life these days. In a matter of an half hour, my mood can flop from bad to good or vice versa. I think it's always been this way. From my real world perspective, college looks like Eden right now, but it really was not. It had it's great moments, but a lot of times in college were exceedingly hard. I usually lied about that though. College is marketed to us as the "best days of our lives." What does that mean if I have dreaded waking up for the entire semester? Not much hope for my future, I guess. So I told myself over and over that excessive reading, insecurity, and loneliness were fun because I was at college.

Even in college, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

All of this reminds me of a talk my friend Alex Kirk gave during an Intervarsity Large Group last year. He spoke about our perceived relationship to God, how we see ourselves in this grand spiritual hierarchy with Billy Graham at the top and Serial Arsonist at the bottom (at that point, I was somewhere at the top on his chart since I coordinated Large Group; I'm sure I've dropped a couple notches, currently being only a bookseller). We feel as if we fluctuate up and down the ladder depending on our spiritual deeds.

He debunked this myth though, that our identities are stable in the sight of God. That is grace, that no matter what we do God still loves us with tax-like consistency. As the author of Galatians writes, we are clothed in Christ. Every time I read that sentence, it is in the present tense. My Sunday school teacher said this week that, according to Presbyterian doctrine, we are all saints because of Christ's work on the cross. Again, that beautiful present tense.

I need to remember this in the last days such as these. Though my life feels like it travels along a sine curve, that is only a mirage of this world and my broken physical body. The reality is that the x-axis, comprised of God's love and my true identity, has been super-imposed and does not change from now unto infinity.

Even on days when I'm giddily goofy in the morning at work and then diagnosed as having PMS by a blog reader later that afternoon.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Super Bowl A 7-10 Split

Pontifications concerning yesterday's above-average Super Bowl:

-I finally got tired of Super Bowl hype on Saturday. That's the day before the game, Humphries, what's the big deal? you ask. Let me clarify: I finally got sick of Super Bowl hype LAST Saturday, eight days before the game. ESPN led "Sportscenter" with Super Bowl stuff for what seemed like ten days, and every afternoon program proclaimed: "Live from Miami." They may have been live in Miami, but I was asleep in Charlotte. A game only has but so many story lines. You can only talk about Grossman's inconsistencies, Manning's legacy, and the coaches's skin color but for so long before you have to start repeating yourself. Or start saying dumb stuff to fill the time.

-While not an instant classic, the game was competitive into the fourth quarter - which is more than we can say for a lot of Super Bowls.

-Most shocking part of the night (slightly beating out Viniateri's missed field goal): watching the Coca-Cola commercial that parodied the infamously violent video game "Grand Theft Auto." I kept expecting to see the character steal a car or run over three people in a cross walk to receive bonus points for being extra murderous. Instead, he just kept helping people. A really smart, witty idea by the folks at Coke. It was my favorite commerical of the night.

-Biggest disappointment of the night: the cable going out right as Prince began his halftime show. I talked excitedly about Prince all through the second quarter, only to be let down by faulty technology. His performance may not have been able to make the Super Bowl a strike, but it could have risen it to the level of a spare.

-Speaking of commercials, this might have been the deepest Super Bowl I've ever seen in terms of entertaining commercials. They had me laughing well into the fourth quarter.

-We knew Manning had to be the MVP because the NFL, like all major sports, is superstar-driven. In a just world, Colts RB's Addai and Rhodes would be making the famous trip to Disney World. Any attentive viewer knew it was the Colts's power rushing that dominated the entire game. The entire playoffs, in fact.

-Above all though, this Super Bowl stayed out of the gutter because of the smile on Tony Dungy's face when the clock hit 0:00. Dungy's peerless reputation is well-documented (see first bullet point). He struck me last year with one of the more memorable lines I've ever heard from a sports figure. Immediately following his teenage son's funeral, who had taken his life the previous week, he proclaimed to the world, "We also understand that we have some tremendous promises from God and God promises to be with us. He's with us in the great times. He's with us in the tough times." I was awe-struck watching the video clip on Sportscenter. He did it again last night saying that, above all, Bears coach Lovie Smith and he were Christian coaches, showing that people could win "the Lord's way." Dungy lets his candle shine before the world without burning others. He speaks and seems to live humbly and with strength. Watching his joy last night was beautiful.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Celebrate Good Times, Come On

While I shivered amidst pyramids of canned meat, bottled water, and Wal-Mart flashlights yesterday for fear of what unspeakable disaster Winter Storm '07 might wreak upon the beleagured city of Charlotte, my roomate, Mr. Shaw, received one of the more important phone calls he'll ever get in his lifetime.

After years of working, after even more years of dreaming, after a year of waiting, he received acceptance to UNC Dental School.

In terms of practical consequence, this may not seem like that big a deal. He had already been accepted to a dental school in Indiana, so he would have worked hard there and become a successful dentist. Staying in state will save him a lot of money, but as a dentist, he would not have had much trouble paying off even out-of-state tuition. Going to UNC will provide him better basketball tickets and a few more opportunities to see his Charlotte-area family every year.

All this is good, but the reason we celebrated like whoa last night was because Nate risked desiring to go to UNC.

Yesterday was awe-inspiring because of the worry that comes with a poor exam grade when you want to go to competive grad school. Yesterday was awe-inspiring because, unlike your roomate of three years who has no aspirations to go to grad school, you had to care about your GPA for four years. Yesterday was awe-inspiring because of four summers spent working ten hour days in a dentist office. Yesterday was awe-inspiring because of the will-power it takes to study for the DAT five hours each summer day when all of your college buddies are off playing frisbee golf. Yesterday was awe-inspiring because despite all this sacrifice and despite having more than adequate numbers, you were unexplainedly denied admission last year.

Yesterday was awe-inspiring because Nate risked failing in an endeavor about which he cared a great deal. And this, my dear reader, is rare.

Nate told me that when he received the unknown call from the 919 area code, he simply sighed. What else can you do? There will be time for excitement, for screaming, for Tiger Woodsian fist-pumps later. In that moment, years of work, years of investement, years of emotion came thunderously crashing to one single moment. What else can you do but release a sigh of relief, contentment, and gratitude.

These moments do not come along often, partly because we dare to risk so much so little. Even sometimes when we do risk, we lose - or at least we think we do. Yesterday though, a risk was rewarded, and that is worth celebrating.

Our God is a God of celebration. I think we miss this a lot of times, but God's people have always celebrated from the Old Testament times of David and Nehemiah to the New Testament times of wedding feasts to the current times when the prodigal son's return prompts Heaven to party like it's 1999.

So yesterday we celebrated. We ate, drank, and were merry. We skipped "Grey's Anatomy." We hugged and counted how many times we could say "UNC Dental School" in conversation (our goal was 100; we made it to 7). We wore UNC paraphanalia even though they weren't playing basketball. We sent text messages with lots of cuss words because we needed Nate to know just how damn excited we were and "Good job" just didn't seem to cut it. We celebrated his years of work. We celebrated his willingness to dream. We celebrated God's faithfulness, which is always constant, but seems oh so real in moments like this.

We acted like God's people last night. We celebrated good times, come on. What delight our Father must have taken to give his beloved son Nate that gift yesterday. I can't help but think he was celebrating along with us.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Snowed In

The radio reported this morning that all bloggers in the Charlotte metro area should not report to work this morning due to ice, snow, and the dreaded wintry mix. Thus, I will be out of the office all day today.

See you all tomorrow. Weather permitting, of course.