Tuesday, July 31, 2007

6, 5

6. Community matters.

Perhaps the most abrupt change from college to non-college lies in the overnight shift from communal immersion to individual isolation. This seems fairly obvious, but I found it rather difficult to prepare for and negotiate through once it arrived.

Despite the university's general disregard for Christianity, you can always have Christian community around you in college if you so choose (and often, even if you do not choose). UNC's chapter of InterVarsity carried 350 members with it my senior year. A brotherly community, Campus Crusade, pushed into the 600's. You could not go anywhere on campus without encountering a fellow pilgrim.

Then I graduated. An apartment complex awaited where my roomates arrived home three hours later than me and where I went to bed two hours earlier than them. Often, I worked weekends, the very days which they were free. Nearby apartment doors always seemed closed in sharp contrast to the entrances to dorm rooms. Very few people at work possessed a similar worldview to mine, so though we laughed and complained together, it became difficult to connect. Even groups of friends which hung out weekly, I only saw for two to three hours a week. Similar with my church community.

Having always cherished my alone time, I found myself surprised by the effect this isolation had on me. I had envisioned lots of time to read, to pray, to run, to do all those things in life that I "never had time for." Instead, I found myself alone, feeling stale on a couch, isolated with my thoughts which quickly turned to doubts and having nowhere but bitterness, pity, and unbelief to turn.

I found out this year that it is true what they say - Satan loves to divide and conquer.

Interestingly, I found myself encouraged in my faith in silly places like trivia nights in uncouth bars, sand volleyball courts, and even blogs. The presence of people, the body of Christ, made such a spiritual difference for me.

In fact, my favorite place of all this year (besides Redeeming Prufrock, of course) was my church. I loved church. I laughed there. I cried there. Most of all, I felt safe there. Some weeks, it remained the only place where I felt entirely safe.

There really is something to this community thing. It matters.

Though I find it hard to explain, the Bible supports my experience from this year. You never see an isolated Christian. Jesus, the perfect god-man, still carried along 12 of his closest friends with him. The early church has garnered great fame for the way it broke bread together. Paul, while on his missionary travels, consistently brought along companions with him. And in our final picture of Heaven we see THE MULTITUDES praising and worshiping God in the early chapters of Revelation. For all eternity, we shall exist in community.

And yet perhaps it is not so hard to explain. Our God, the One in whose image we are made, exists as a communal God, the Holy Trinity, three-in-one. Our God is not isolated but functions in a perfectly loving relationship among the three members of the Trinity. Perhaps our need for community flows straight from Him whose image we bear, the One who is love and by definition must have an object of that love. Perhaps, as mind-boggling as the doctrine of the Trinity is, we very simply find our need for community in it.

Community matters to our God. No wonder then that it matters to us.


5. World-changing generosity begins at the cross.

I have a friend who loves people. As a result, he gives his money to them, particularly if they find themselves in poverty, in ministry, or in both. I have met few people tied less to their mammon than he.

I recently asked him why he gives so freely of his wealth. He responded instantly:

"Guilt."

Honesty came through in the quickness of his response, though he sensed the reaction indequate and began backpeddling like a nickel cornerback.

I get the sense that most Americans feel this way. We have lots of money and live out of our wants. The rest of the world does not have lots of money and lives (and often dies) out of their needs.

This makes us feel guilty. We usually respond by giving to charity. Hooray us.

The difficulty is that guilt is an insufficient motivator. Yes, it does motivate but not fully. When we act out of guilt, we do so primarily to appease ourselves. Guilt makes us feel bad. We want to feel good. Donating money makes this happen.

When this selfishness motivates our giving, we will give only up to a certain point. This point consistently lies just left of "where it hurts." If we give to make ourselves feel better, logic demands that we stop when it ceases to feel good.

Meanwhile, the poor still remain hungry, AIDS still ravages Africa, and ministers lose the opportunity to share the Gospel because of insufficient funds.

So what shall be the response? Shall we cease giving entirely? Shall we begin masochism and self-flagellation? What now?

The answer lies at the foot of Christ's cross. Our sin is terrible. Imagine it as terrible as you can, almost as bad as dogfighting if your imagination is good enough, and then know our rebellion against the Lord does not compare. We deserve nothing but separation from God. Yet, Christ bore that punishment, that separation, that Hell on the cross so that we might not have to. Instead, we have peace, joy, life, laughter, Heaven, purpose, reconciliation, freedom. A free gift, that no one may boast. Quite a deal for us.

When we begin to understand what God has given us in his great generosity, giving away our money, even beyond a 10% tithe, ceases to seem an unspeakable request. God has given us so much more than we could ever give anyone.

Hear John Stott:

"For, whether we like it or not, we are involved [in the cross]. Our sins put him there. So, far from offering us flattery, the cross undermines our self-righteousness. We can stand before it only with a bowed head and a broken spirit. And there we remain until the Lord Jesus speaks to our hearts his word of pardon and acceptance, and we, gripped by his love and full of thanksgiving, go out into the world to live our lives in his service."

And so the radical power to feed the hungry, to heal the sick, to battle racism and sexism, the power to advance so many causes often most championed by those who care not for Jesus Christ, lies precisely in his cross. Here we find how to become that joyful giver which God loves so much. Here is where our world can change, not in the ungrounded good works which make us feel good, but in the power of the cross. Here is where the world-changing generosity lies.

Because there is no guilt in Jesus Christ. But there is that cross.

Monday, July 30, 2007

8, 7

8. Ease defines my generation.

I wrote a post around Thanksgiving in which I wondered how history would look upon my generation. I received a couple thoughtful responses, one which argued that we would enter history as the age of technology and another from my friend Alex Kirk which argued that 9/11 would define us, just as war has defined generations which have preceded us.

In reflecting on this, I believe both of these thoughts exist as details which point to this overarching sense of ease with which my generation lives its collective life.

I must begin with the caution of generalization. Speaking in terms of an entire generation always brings with it exceptions and generalizations. Please allow me the wiggle room, as I know many of my peers have very surely not lived a life of ease to this point. Nor does it seem that it awaits them.

It may prove helpful to define this term "ease" because, on some level, we all have hardships and difficulties in our lives. After all, 'tis a sinful and broken world for us all. When I say that my generation lives a life of ease, I mean that no one has ever called us to any kind of selfless sacrifice. We have never had to think of anyone other than ourselves. We have had no depression; in fact, we cry foul when the Dow dips below 10,000. The current war our country fights affects most of us only at a distance. We lost over 50,000 people in Vietnam and had to ration gas, among other things. Our death toll in Iraq sits in the 3000's, and the government has yet to ask the citizenry to sacrifice anything save for 20 minutes at airport security.

What's more, we would not stand for any demands made on us. The greatest noose a politician can currently make for himself exists in the hemp of that thing called "draft." If any politician mentioned the possibility, they would be finished. Hear me out, as a 23-year old male, I want nothing to do with the draft, but that is irrelevant for this conversation. Or maybe, and revealingly, not. What remains relevant is our complete unwillingness to be called into sacrifice. Let a volunteer go fight, we say. Let someone else make the sacrifice. Historically speaking, the current war against terror affects us little, if at all.

We have no economic depression. We have no societally consuming war. We have no necessary sacrifice. What we have in a historical sense is ease.

We have freedom to sit in coffee shops and become bitter about politics, we have time to drink and dance a bad week away on Friday night, we have limitless hours to spend on youtube, ESPN, and Comedy Central (and dare I say it, blogs) all because we have little incovenience.

To make this pesonal, could I imagine a post-Great Depression 23-year old taking a "year off" when a paying job sat available? Of course not! He or she would remain concerned about whether or not they would eat, not whether he/she could find a job about which he/she was "passionate." No way one could turn down gainful employment. To do otherwise would be imprudent and may, in fact, cost the Depression Era American his/her life.

All that to say, we have opportunities that preceding generations have not had because we have not been called from our life of ease.

No wonder the Gospel of Jesus Christ is foreign to us. Take up our cross? Love our enemies? Submit?

Uh, excuse me Jesus, could you quiet down a bit? I'm trying to watch my third episode of Sportscenter today.


7. The decisions of our youth remain with us.

It amazes me how often I refer to my high school days. My reputation as Dad, my academic achievements, my cross country days, they all seem to pop up in conversations more often than I would expect.

In reflecting on this, I have found myself in awe of how the decisions we make as children really can have marked affect on our futures. I spoke with a co-worker recently about a son's teenage arrest which continues to follow him into his adult years. I think of the statistics I hear on the sexual activity of teenagers and think of the emotional and interpersonal consequences this will have on their adult lives. I think of the foolish and sinful immaturities of youth which has led so many of us to recognize sin and thus the Gospel.

I have no suggestions, merely observations.

I really thought that the foolishness of our youth would leave us, consumed by a flood of wisdom and maturity which comes with adulthood. Yet, good or bad, our decisions - and those of people around us - as children mold us. This scares me to think that decisions we make when we are least equipped to make them can have such long-reaching consequences. So much is influential during a time in which we are so ill-equipped to properly influence anything, much less ourselves.

I still cannot get past the effect two stress fractures had on me, the desire for acceptance which middle school unpopularity has ingrained deep in my being, the difficulty in grasping grace and love because of years of uber-ambitious high school drive.

My adult life has not replaced my childhood. It merely responds to it. In this sense, the decisions made in my youth remain very much with me.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

10, 9

10. We all live by faith.

Dear reader, I pose a question: What gave you confidence that the chair in which you currently sit would hold you?

You may reply with physics, that the force of the chair pushes back on you with an equal and opposite force while the feet of the chair exert an equal and opposite force on the earth to uphold the entire system. You may reply that chairs hold people up; it's just what they do. You may reply that this exists as a stupd question and move on to greater intellectual pursuits.

I propose that you cannot have complete confidence the chair in which you sit will hold. Logic and reason may say it will, but you can never know for sure. What if some vile insect has penetrated the wood and weakened it to the point of collapse? What if the wage laborer who helped construct it decided to take a smoke break instead of inserting a crucial bolt? What if your roomie has stealthily pulled it out from under you?

Regardless of all purported logic and reason, you can never know for sure that all the bases are covered, even with something as simple as a chair.

Expand this a little. We eat at restaurants in faith the kitchen remained clean. Yes, the governement inspects, but Hepatitis B still occassionally rears its deadly head. We drive our automobiles in faith that they run as they should. Yes, they always have, but tires still shred. We hop on an airplane in faith that every airline employee has done his/her job correctly. Yes, people work hard so they do not lose their jobs, but I know my work ethic during hour 7 at Borders.

One cannot define life apart from faith. If one lived a completely faithless life, it would drive one mad. Too many uncertainties exist. The details would consume and overwhelm.

I do not write this for fear's sake but to embolden you, loved ones, in faith. If you have entered a bookstore over the past year, you will have noted a rise of anti-faith books written by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. They are smart men and compelling writers who purport to argue against faith, specifically in this concept of God.

This is not new. People have always claimed that faith is irrational, illogical, and unintellectual.

Yet faith exists in our everyday lives. One can claim that the term "faith" is mindless. I shall contend that to say we can live daily life completely devoid of faith exceeds this mindlessness. Faith, the hope in things unseen, permeates our entire day. Science may provide evidence for or against faith, but it cannot eliminate it.

What's more, we all must make a decision of faith in terms of death. One can maybe argue that everything in this world has proof from empirical evidence, but no proof exists as to death. Science has no definite answer. Experience has no definite answer. Even religion has no definite answer. As my friend Mr. Phillis put it, death is the "certainty of uncertainty."

So let them not belittle faith. It must exist, if only in this question. If only in this question, though I suspect and argue more, we all live by faith.



9. Good things exist in every phase of life.

I have often heard it said that college was "the best days of your life." This means I have peaked. I refuse to believe this.

I learned this year that pro's exist in every phase of life, even that which exists outside of the carefree days of college (O, how quickly we forget the stress of study, the lurk of loneliness, the pressure of peers, the questioned questions which accompanied those "best days"!).

A few cheap examples from this year:

-I never had a weekend ruined by the ominous cloud of Sunday night homework.

-When I left work, I left work. It never came home with me like class always did.

-I had cash flow.

I have fond memories of college, yet given the good which came with my exit, I remain uncertain whether or not I could return.

In all seriousness though, the difficulty with the "best days of our lives" theory is that it forgets that the best thing in our life remains with us always. His name is Jesus. He is the same today as yesterday as tomorrow.

The Shorter Westminster Catechism asks the universal question: What is the chief end of man?

The response: to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

This charge does not merely apply to youth. It does not merely apply to college students or newly weds or retirees or whatever phase of life one wishes to apply the title "best." In every moment of every day, we have the opportunity to glorify God and enjoy him forever. We do this by seeking the Lord's will, submitting to it, and following in obedience. This is the abundant life Christ promises in John 10:10, and it should not surprise us given that the One who made the rules of the game also made us.

This life is for all ages, stages, and phases. God, the Best, is with us always. What's more, he is with us now. In that sense, now is the best day of our lives.

And this Good Thing exists in every phase of our lives.

Top 10 Year Off Lessons

On Thursday, I work my last day at Borders. The following Monday, I load up the Penske truck and begin the trek to my new home in New Hampshire. Times, they are a-changin'.

As this most recent and rather brief phase of my life comes to end, I have begun to reflect back on lessons learned this year. My generation seems to label my past year the "year off" - that is, the one which stands between the final year of college and the beginning thrust towards some semblance of that thing called "career."

The term "year off" implies rest, lethargy, and (let's be honest) waste. Many generations preceeding mine had no option to take a "year off," given the existence of things like depressions, world wars, and the like. I shall get to this later.

At times, I have thought this year a waste. Transition and instability can often be. I found it difficult to solidify in a community outside my apartment. My job at Borders provided no financial gain beyond survival. My faith even met challenges, violent and deadly ones at that, which it had never before seen.

What a waste! I might say.

Perhaps, I might respond.

As I reflect back on my last 11 months since I drove home from Boston, Sentra full of my life, I see that I have actually learned a great deal between that time and the literal U-Turn I make on Monday. I have found it difficult not to. The world outside of college forces lessons upon us. Life simply does not allow a year off.

If nothing else, we must learn the value of health insurance, no longer grafted into the family plan.

So what do we do with important reflections on a life-changing time here at Redeeming Prufrock?

That's right. You guessed it. Top 10 List. And not just any old regular Top 10 List. A week-long Top 10 List.

In honor of this week o' closure, I will spend it blogging about my Top 10 Year Off Lessons. Cease the verbosity! Let the countdown begin!

P.S. Oddly enough, I currently only have nine lessons. RP cannot have a Top 10 List with only nine entries. If anyone has any suggestions, you know where to find me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

"Like New Year's Eve, Only Better"

As I sat in Chick-fil-A eating a value sized #1 combo, I realized that I had not prepared properly for the night. True, I had only a shallow understanding of Harry Potter, our guest of the night, and I had not properly revved myself up for the task of emceeing a large crowd. But at the moment, this did not worry me.

It hit me at dinner that I had forgotten an undershirt for the night. Oh, and socks. On a night in which I stood inherently unprepared by my lack of required reading and my overall lethargy, I had dropped the ball on even that which I could control.

Thirty minutes later, I used the diaper station in the Borders bathroom to change into my rental tux. I had never used a diaper station in my life. A lot of firsts would occur tonight. Like, wearing rental tux shoes without socks.

Now before your barf on your home row keys, let me put your mind at ease. When you grab a pair of rental shoes, bowling or tux for example, you do not fear the shoe. You fear the people who have worn the shoe before you. The ones with the nastiness. Well, dear reader, I am that person you fear. I have nasty feat, most of which I blame on my years of cross country which induced fungus, black toenails, blisters, calluses, broken toenails, toes with no toenails, stench, and that yellow stuff that accumlates at the base of your toenail for which you have no explanation. For this reason, I did not fear what the shoes would do to my feet because I knew what my feet would do to the shoes.

Still, not a comfortable way to enter the night. Unprepared.

By 8:15pm, I had begun the trivia competition. Teams of 3-5, two rounds, top two teams from each round advance to the finals. Winner take all. I explained the game and started reading the questions. Easy enough.

Until I reach question ten. My supervisor had thought it a good idea to include occassional non-Harry Potter related questions into the trivia game. I knew this is trouble but, like John Buford said before the Battle of Gettysburg, I could do nothing but help this fail. I prefaced the question with some garbage about us desiring them to have a well-rounded education before dropping a question on them about "Lord of the Rings."

The place went silent, except for the crickets. You know, the awkward crickets. Too bad I did not have an undershirt because I immediately began to sweat. As murmurs and frustrations began to come my way, I responded with strength. I stood there like an idiot. I could not have made up a Harry Potter question if I had wanted to. I had no way out.

A little girl sits on her mother's lap not three feet in front of me. She is probably two. She is cute, as two year old girls are wont to be. She also probably speaks with that Tiny Tim lisp; when you're the bad guy, that's just how these things go. After a minute of deliberation, she looks up at me and asks, "Sir, why did you ask a question not about Harry? Why?"

I had nothing to say (though I directed a lot of mental cuss words at my supervisor who had made up the questions). I felt like the Grinch when confronted by the cute little Who girl. She had an innocent, holy question. I had no answer. I was stealing Christmas.

You're a mean one, Mr. Bench.

The trivia did swing back to a high point later in the night, however. A competitor asked me if I could change a question since his team did not know the answer. "I can't do that," I replied. "I'm only a muggle." Inside, I pulled a Tiger Woods fist pump. Relevancy! Coolness! Social Acceptibility! I confess, loved ones, that I was exceedingly proud of this.

Trvia ended well. The final four teams got all five final questions right which impressed me and speaks volumes for the dedication of the Potheads (as if more volumes needed speaking). We broke the tie with a spelling contest. "Alohomora" won it for Team Pigworts.

My night proceeded on smoothly with only three major bumps:

1) I missed the dance competition due to work. Not that I wanted to compete. I just hate missing a chance to get the jiggles out.

2) Due to long line, I did not dye my hair.

3) In an attempt to make conversation with a teenage customer, one of those know-it-all 12-year old types, I asked her whether she believed Snape was good or bad.

"He's good," she replied. "I'm sure of it. I've researched. [pause] What do you think?"

I froze.

"I, uh, well, you see, what happ. . . ."

"You're not that into this, are you?"

"Haven't read a word. [pause] I agree with you though. Snape's good."

[pensive pause] "Thanks!"

And she walked away. I had survived my exposure as a fraud.

Midnight struck. Word on the street was a broom in the parking lot turned into a pumpkin. I have no pictures to confirm though.

We counted down from ten. A great shout went up when we reached one. Boxcutters came out, and the books began to fly. A couple thousand books went out of the store that night, keeping us open, despite our best efforts, until 2am.

They gave me the microphone one more time that evening, a little before HP-Day around 11:40pm. I informed the mob about the count-down and made the comment that tonight "felt like New Year's Eve, only better." That statement met with the loudest pre-midnight response we heard in the store.

Well, I said it, and the mob concurred. Consensus! How then shall we sum up Friday night's Grand Hallows Ball?

Like New Year's Eve, only better.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words. . .

. . . though writing is a higher art form. I shall compose a recap of my night with the Potheads soon. But do not fret, I shan't use thousands of words. I fear I must disagree with the cliched conversion ratio; words are far more precious than that. If you cannot capture a moment with the pen, you possess little hope with a camera - no matter how many megapixels you hold in your possession.

Love words, dear reader. It shall change your life.

That being said, the beginnings of a photographic montage of Friday night:


"Spell 'spell.'"
"S-P-E-L, spell."
"Wrong again, Chris Pappa."



I could have been one of Barker's Beauties on The Price is Right. I guess I shall settle as one of Harry's Honies instead.



Blog friends Tasha and Erin (who, I shall add, were real friends well before they became blog friends) made the pilgrimage to visit Redeeming Prufrock in person and to partake in the evening's festivities - namely laughing at me.


More to come soon, as some photographic precincts have yet to report.

Coming to a Blog Near You!

Pictures will be posted by tonight. I just got a hold of them this afternoon. Hopefully, a recap of the evening shall follow. My apologies for the tardiness. Alas, life. . . .

Friday, July 20, 2007

HP-Day

If you find yourself stuck in an office today, you may not feel it. Similarly too if you sit in a summer school classroom or library. Boredom acts as a bad conductor. But something electric courses through the air today. Even in the wet, thick, heavy summer air of North Carolina, one can sense it.

'Tis not the colossal effect of the British Open, the third of golf's four majors currently hacking through its second round. 'Tis not the colossal noise of the PETA protest currently roaring into the ears of accused dogfighter Mike Vick, Roger Goodell, and NFL fans everywhere.

'Tis Harry Potter. He releases himself tonight. No one releases Harry Potter except himself.

Officially, Harry Potter does not come out until tomorrow, but millions will not see the inside of their eyelids before they feast their eyes on Mr. Potter and some rather dangerous hallows.

Many have already begun the pilgrimage to their local bookstore to grab their bracelet which allows them to later purchase the book. Others have already finished their pilgrimage, anchored in a line from which even a pack of Death Eaters could not move them.

I do not take my spot as worship leader until 8pm tonight. Borders has provided me, the Harry Potter trivia game emcee, with the rules of the contest and the questions I should ask. My only job: execution.

I shall take pictures and do my best to post them here on Redeeming Prufrock Sunday night. I have never done such a thing, but in response to demand, I shall try.

In thinking over the worst case scenarios, I have decided that a tie in the trivia game ranks high on the list. I will not have enough prizes for more than one team of winners. More importantly, I will be out of questions with which to break the tie. In this case, we shall turn to a spelling bee. As my friend Chris Pappa told me yesterday, just tell them to spell every word I hear.

"Spell Hufflepuff."

"Spell Voldemort."

"Spell Potter."

"Spell spell."

I have decided the final tie-breaking question will not be a question concerning Harry Potter. It will be something more along the lines of "Who was President during the Civil War?" or "Name a broadway production of the last ten years." or "Who wrote 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'?". I want hearts broken, not over a lack of Harry Potter knowledge, but over a lack of historical, cultural, and literary knowledge. This shall exist as my subtle but stark rebellion.

Because there are things more important than Harry Potter.

Of course for the sake of my physical safety, I won't be saying that tonight.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

They Would Do Anything For Love

With a nod of the head to Meatloaf. . . .

I have begun reading John R. W. Stott's book "The Cross of Christ." You will certainly hear more on this later. I recently came across a passage that I enjoyed greatly and wanted to share. Note the simultaneous gravity and delight with which Stott writes of these men who love the cross:



"The verdict of scholars has understandably percolated through into popular Christian devotion. Allowances should be made for Christians who at Christ's cross have found their pride broken, their guilt expunged, their love kindled, their hope restored and their character transformed, if they go on to indulge in a little harmless hyperbole. . . .

Justin Martyr, the second-century Christian apologist, confessed that wherever he looked, he saw the cross. Neither the sea is crossed nor the earth is ploughed without it, he writes, referring to a ship's mast and yard, and to a plough's blade and yoke. Diggers and mechanics do not work without cross-shaped tools, alluding presumably to a spade and its handle. Moreover, 'the human form differs from that of irrational animals in nothing else than in its being erect and having the arms extended.' And if the torso and arms of the human form proclaim the cross, so do the nose and eyebrows of the human face. Fanciful? Yes, entirely, and yet I find myself willing to forgive any such fancies which glorify the cross.

My modern example is the most eloquent description I know of the universality of the cross. . . . Brought up in a Socialist home, and familiar with Socialist Sunday schools and their 'sort of agnosticism sweetened by hymns,' [Malcolm Muggeridge] became uneasy about 'this whole concept of a Jesus of good causes.' Then:

'I would catch a glimpse of a cross - not necessarily a crucifix; maybe two pieces of wood accidentally nailed together, on a telegraph pole, for instance - and suddenly my heart would stand still. In an instinctive, intuitive way I understood that something more important, more tumultuous, more passionate, was at issue than our good causes, however admirable they might be. . . .

It was, I know, an obsessive interest. . . . I might fasten bits of wood together myself, or doodle it. This symbol, which was considered to be derisory in my home, was yet also the focus of inconceivable hopes and desires. . . .

As I remember this, a sense of my own failure lies leadenly upon me. I should have worn it over my heart; carried it, a precious standard, never to be wrested out of my hands; even though I fell, still borne aloft. It should have been my cult, my uniform, my language, my life. I shall have no excuse; I can't say I didn't know. I knew from the beginning, and turned away.'

Later, however, he turned back, as each of us must who has ever glimpsed the reality of Christ crucified. For the only authentic Jesus is the Jesus who died on the cross."



What is it they say, that love makes us do silly and foolish things? And yet I find myself willing to forgive any such silliness. . . .

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Holding On

A couple friends of mine invited me to the lake on Saturday. Early in the day, we threw the water skis into the aqua and had at it.

I had only tried to water ski once in my life before Saturday, and I did not get up. Thus, I have never actually water skied, only tried but fallen before ever getting my body vertical. I attempted 11 times this weekend, making some improvements but only getting close to vertical one time. They say when I did my eyes got real big. Unfortunately, the position of actually water skiing felt so unusual and out of place that I panicked - and fell within two seconds of actually standing up.

The odd thing about my attempts is that I generally fell the same way for the same reason. Rather than letting the boat pull me out of the water, I would pull hard on the rope in an attempt to pull myself out of the lake. This created slack in the rope. When I leaned back, no rope tension caught me, and I would fall backwards.

One time, and one time only, I fell forward. I do not know how this happened, but within seconds of the boat speeding up, the front of my skiis went under the water, and I catapulted forward out of my skis and faceplanted. It was fun.

A lot of power exists in the act of water skiing. I could feel the power of the boat when it started to take off, a power a lot greater than me. I could feel the power of the force between arms and rope, skis and water. I could certainly feel the power when my mismanagement slung my helpless body to the water. So much power remains involved in this whole process that it makes it silly, ludicrous, and downright unintelligent that I should even think to pull myself up. Enough energy exists in the process that all I need to do is hold on for the ride.

So goes my relationship with the Almighty Sovereign. My shortcomings in water skiing paralleled my shortcomings in my relationship with the Father, those shortcomings being that I refuse to acknowledge my shortcomings and allow The Power to do the work. So often I refuse to pray, I work myself to a pulp, I stress over things I cannot control but want to, all because I neglect the role God plays in the work in my life. I speak as a Christian, work as an Atheist. I am constantly pulling back on the rope. More often than not, I fail to stand and topple backwards. Occasionally, I faceplant.

"BECAUSE YOU HAVE TRUSTED IN YOUR OWN WAY, in your numerous warriors, therefore a tumult will arise among your people, and all your fortresses will be destroyed, as Shalman destroyed Beth-arbel on the day of battle, when mothers were dashed to pieces with their children." -Hosea 10:13-14 (emphasis mine)

Praise God that he continues to circle the boat to pick me back up when I try to do things in my own stregnth, fall into the lake, and miss the boat. The Fisher of Men has picked me up all 11 times, nay 111 times, and has promised to do so again.

We have a lot of power out in front of us, my friends. May we submit ourselves to it. May we pray to it. May we not fight against it. May we simply hold on tight so that we may stand.

So that we may take off on the rides of our lives.

Friday, July 13, 2007

More Potty Mouth

Today, I encountered Harry Potter for myself. It tasted terrible.

Odd Encounter of the Week: serial comments

I have had a record number of comments the last two posts. This confirms my theory that Harry Potter is popular, though my readers maintain only a small portion of the larger world population. My biased sample could skew results.

On my end, Harry Potter continues as the most relevant force in my occupational life. He dominates customers and, by extension, Borders. I feel as if I have a front-row seat for perhaps the biggest story of 2007.

This supply-and-demand situation leads us to an inevitable conclusion: another Harry Potter post. More Potty mouth from your humble hack.

So we return to my opening statement. Did he finally read part of a book and hate it? one might ask. Is he proclaiming Optimus Prime's superior existence once again? one could query. Does he now, in fact, hate Harry Potter? a cynic could postulate.

None of the above. In an attempt to open my mind (and let's be honest, be "cool"), I encountered Harry Potter today. I bought the jelly beans which carry his name. All $6.50 of them. Apparently, putting the name "Harry Potter" on anything inflates its value, oh, 6.5/.99 X 100% = 656.56%. The flavors: dirt, soap, rotten egg, pickle, earthworm, vomit, black pepper, sausage, booger, and earwax.

Once again, can anybody explain this to me?

My Harry Potter experience tasted terrible. I thought the flavors were a joke, but the flavors tasted as labeled. I tried them all, and each possessed its own distinct part of bad. All except the booger flavor actually. Man, I had not tasted boogers since I was four, and I had forgotten how delicious they were!

Needless to say, I now have in my possession some great, um, "resources" with which to produce more vomit flavored ones if Jelly Belly feels so inclined. Dear reader, do not buy these. I tried them in your sted. I sat on the grenade. Do not buy the Harry Potter jelly beans. And don't say I never did anything for you.

I tried another experiment at work today. Upon hearing two teenage customers discuss their excitement for July 20, I broke conversation with a nearby co-worker and loudly interjected into our conversation: "I hate Harry Potter!" (remember though that I do not). I pulled a Mrs. Lot just to gage their reactions. In my quick glance, I saw a glare no man should ever see. I turned and sped my way to the sanctuary of the back room. I cannot lie, I smiled.

Speaking of the back room, the books have arrived. Lots of them. I stand under orders not to reveal how many, only say "enough" when customers (and presumably blog readers) ask. In their black, cubed packaging, they remind me of the final destination of the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.

On a related note, a co-worker of mine walked into the back room on Wednesday, bowed to the box, and proclaimed: "I am not worthy." I would not kid you about this thing.

The level of security around these things is rather impressive. The books are boxed, boxed again, wrapped in some rubbery stuff, tied with plastic string, and who knows what else. We all had to sign a release form saying we would not open the box or sell any of the books before release day under penalty of receiving a pink slip and presumably a mob hit. 'Tis a shame, in my case. Five of those books on the black market at this very moment could support me for my three year commitment in New Hampshire. Heck, it could support InterVarsity's entire ministry in New Hampshire for three years. Alack and alas, integrity.

Come to think of it, I actually did not read the fine print that I signed. Hopefully, it did not say anything about the taboo nature of talking about the shipments. Or describing them in detail.

Apparently, the in-store policy is only the tip of the wand when it comes to the security measures being taken. Our manager tells a story of a buddy of his who drives a truck. His company loaded him up with a shipment of HP books, then ordered him to take them to "New York."

New York is a big place, he said. Where in New York?

Can't say, they responded. Call when you hit the state line, and we'll guide you from there.

I would love to continue on, but I just popped a rotten egg-flavored jelly bean. My stomach turns. Here I thought I had a Potty mouth simply because I spoke on Harry Potter. Given that these candies taste like poo, perhaps one may say I have a potty mouth on a very, very different level.

Maybe washing it out with a soap flavored jelly bean will do the trick.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Headlines

By mid-morning, I had purposed to blog about our need for a holistic gospel, one that incorpoarted the need for both a personal relationship with Christ and a passion for the things about which God has a passion. I would have titled it "A Holy Holistic."

But then Harry Potter would not leave me alone. Perhaps this is telling, symbolic, and/or microcosmic.

HPot met me everywhere today. He found me in conversations with co-workers about last night's opening of Harry Potter 5. He found me in the arrival of the actual shipment of the final book installment. He even found me above the heading of the Charlotte Observer, smooching some character from the aforementioned movie. I did not know Harry was a mack.

Now my last post may have implied that I hate Harry Potter. I do not. I love things that allow people to get caught up in something bigger than themselves, which is why I love football games, water beds, and Christianity. However, I do find our culture's response to this phenomenon rather curious and oftentimes silly which accounts for much of my jest. Particularly harrowing is the lunacy to which it seems to drive some people. Case in point:

In today's Charlotte Observer, a writer quoted a nine-year old boy waiting in line to see last night's movie opening:

"Harry Potter can beat up a transformer and he's way cooler."

Coolness remains subjective, so I shan't argue my man on that point. But one thing must be made very clear:

There is no way Harry Potter EVER beats up Optimus Prime. Not once. No way. To say so is sheer ludricosity (or ludicrousness, for the less creative of you).

Now admittedly, I remain unfamiliar with the fighting styles of each combattant, having last watched Transformers in 1912 and having never read Harry Potter. So what evidence do I have? you might ask. Well, this is Harry Potter. And this is Optimus Prime.

'Nuff said.

This imagainative battle got me to thinking what the headline in the paper would be the next day if Harry Potter and Optimus Prime battled to the death. I dwelled on this for hours at work. Here is what I got:

"OPTIMUS CRIME: TRANSFORMER MURDERS POTTER"

"WHICH POTTER? HARRY FIGHTS LIKE BEATRICE IN DEFEAT"

"PRIME SMOKES POT IN EPIC BATTLE"

"A HARRY SITUATION: PRIME PUMMELS POTTER"

"PRIME-TIME: OPTIMUS TURNS OUT POTTER'S LIGHTS"

"POTTER PUMPS PRIME, STILL GETS MOWED"

"HOGWASH: POTTER'S TRAINING NO MATCH FOR PRIME'S BRAWN"

"PLANTED: POT UNABLE TO RISE UP AGAINST PRIME"

"POTTER TRIES TO DIVIDE PRIME, CANNOT"

Any other suggestions?

Monday, July 09, 2007

On the Pot

Odd Encounter of the Week: uncoolness

I almost got fired a couple weeks ag. . . .

What's that you say? Uncoolness isn't that odd at all for me? Ha, good one.

Anyways, I almost got fir. . . .

Wait, you say hanging out at Civil War battlefields isn't cool? No one wears V-neck undershirts anymore? And reading is out now? Man, all the rad dudes loved to read back in my day!

Fine.

(sigh) Usual, Consistent, Expected Encounter of the Week: uncoolness.

I almost got fired from work a couple weeks ago. I did not punch a customer nor did I sneak $25 out of the register to, uh, fundraise. I did worse.

I admitted I had never read a word of any Harry Potter book ever published. Nor had I seen the movies. Nor did I care.

My boss looked at me with part disdain, part disgust, and immediately stormed from my presence.

You can imagine my surprise, dear reader, when my supervisor told me they wanted me to work the night/morning of July 20/21, the night we release Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to a ravenous crowd of all ages that would make Clay Aiken's fan club look like they belong in a convent. Not only would I work that night, he told me, but they wanted me to emcee the Harry Potter Trivia Game from 9:30-11:00 as well. As if this were not bad enough, I also "am responsible for the teenagers." I do not know what this entails, but I imagine I, or anyone for that matter, will fail at this duty.

A little background: Borders intends to throw a large midnight party on July 20/21 to celebrate/worship the release of the final chapter in the Harry Potter epic. They call it the Grand Hallows Ball. I confess I do not know what this title means, but scheduled activities for the evening include:

-revealing your Hogwarts smarts at the Potter Spelling Bee
-silencing foes at the Great Snape Debate
-dressing in ball attire or as your favorite character to enter our costume contest
-More!

I confess again that I do not know what any of this language means.

Except the part about dressing up. One does not miss a scary detail like that. Especially when it applies to one's own life.

Having heard of the need to dress up as my favorite character, I immediately panicked, expressing the fact that I had no favorite character. In fact, I knew no character at all.

After some intense research (read: asking my ex-roomate and Harry Potter afficiando Nate), I discovered that certain characters in the Pot series exist as "muggles." Once again, wtf? Turns out, these people called "muggle" cannot perform magic. In a word, they are normal.

Imagine that, something normal associated with Harry Potter. Who knew?

I had my heart set on dressing as a muggle, that is, dressing like myself and wearing a sign around my neck proclaiming "MUGGLE."

Ha, I win. Nothing weird or silly here. Well played, Muggle Humphries, well played.

That victory lasted until today when a co-worker informed me that the store had rented a tuxedo for me to wear that evening. Plus, a company had agreed to come and spray paint kids's hair because apparently that's what kids like to do these days.

Well, kids and Harry Potter trivia emcee's, that is.

Apparently, the hair spray company will do mine for free. What a deal. The night of the 20th, I will wear a tux to work with some kind of colored hair. I'm guessing brown will not be an option.

The whole night reminds me of the nights when the new Star Wars movies came out. I played uncool those nights too and slept. From what I hear though, people showed up early, days early, all decked out in Star Wars costumes to be the first to see the new old movie. I expect the same the night Harry Potter comes out - crazed fans dressed up like characters from the books bursting with months of excitement finally coming to a head.

For this reason (among many), I approach this night with great dread. Can you imagine the consequences if the mob finds out there is one among them who cares nothing for their idol? Pummeled by 5-year olds with hand-crafted brooms. Exiled as a muggle (assuming this is what the people do to muggles) by intolerant adolescents. Turned into a hogwart (I don't know what this is but it sounds awful) by the hand at the end of a wand.

If I do not post on July 21, you and you alone loved ones, will know what has occured.

From what I gage, the whole world cannot wait for July 21. I guess that means Harry Potter is cool. As one who has no desire for HPot, I stand relegated to the realm of the uncool. It's middle school all over again.

If you hate me, show up at Borders the night of the 20th because I will look uncool. If you like me but like laughing at me, show up at Borders the night of the 20th because I will look uncool. Honestly, how cool can one look wearing a tuxedo with spray painted hair while trying to hide indifference and embarrassment?

About as cool as one looks not caring about Harry Potter in the 21st century.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Christ-likeness of a Nation

The 4th of July reminds me of my grandmother's basement. During the mid to late '90's, TNT would annually show the five-hour long movie "Gettysburg" on Independence Day. My family's summer vacations always seemed to take us to Grandma's in early July where my brother and I would play ping-pong in the basement while "Gettysburg" proceeded across the television. To this day, "Gettysburg" stands as my favorite movie of all-time. My second favorite, whatever it might be, stands as far from it as the east from the west.

The battlefield in Pennsylvania from whence the movie draws its name has become my favorite place on this earth. Even before I knew Christ, something spiritual always met me there. I remember traversing the battlefield before dawn when the combination of fog and dark made the scene as eerie a one as I have ever experienced. I know ghosts do not exist because, if they did, I would have seen one that morning. I remember long summer runs, side by side with my brother Brian. I remember sitting on Little Round Top during a Spring Break afternoon, looking down into the adjacent valley where 7000 men and boys lost their lives in an hour and a half in 1863. I remember thinking that on the morrow I would return home to my family. I remember remembering that those 7000 never again went home to their wives, children, and mothers.

This place, these thoughts, never stray far from my mind on our nation's Independence Day.

For the better part of my life, I have felt drawn towards American history, specifically the Civil War. I love reading about the people and events. Even more, I love visiting the grounds where these people acted out the events. I often try to describe my affinity for the time period, but I have never found the word to communicate my emotion.

"There is just something so ____________ about what these men and women did that moves me like nothing else," I say, though in lieu of a blank, I offer frustrated silence in hopes that my verbal constipation might convey the intensity of my feelings.

I have tried many words there. Sacrificial. Tragic. Beautiful. Emotional. Sad. Honorable. They all portray a part, but standing alone, they do not convey the whole.

As I have reflected on today's holiday, a word came to me that may, in fact, explain it all.

Christ-like.

There is just something so Christ-like about what these men and women did that moves me like nothing else.

Run with me for a second, friends. The sacrifice of our nation's ancestors draws out my emotions because they placed their lives on the line (and sometimes lost them) for my sake. Insert whatever cliche you prefer here - "be free," "have the life I have today," "live the American dream," whatever. People sacrificed, bled, and died for my sake. More than anything, this is America's story.

Even today, people exist in the world who would murder me on the spot if given the chance. They did so to people not so different than I six years ago September. What stands in their way from hunting me down and ending my earthly existence? The women and men fighting to prevent that from happening.

In related news, an accuser of the brethren exists in and beyond this world who would drag me down to the depths of Hell on the spot if given the chance. He has done so to people not so different than I. What stands in his way of adding my company to his misery? The god-man Jesus Christ who fought to prevent that from happening. And He is not defeated.

Now please do not think I place our national ancestors and military on par with Jesus Christ. Only one has ever been found worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing. He is the Lamb. Though both may stand in my church's sanctuary, I shall never submit to the flag before submitting to the cross.

However, the men and women who have given up so much for my sake point me to my Savior who gave up all for my sake. Through their sacrificial actions, they become Christ-like as the Scriptures implore us to do. "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." Their stories point me to The Story.

Perhaps this explains the unexplained emotions I feel when I read of Pickett's Charge or think about Wesley Culp dying on the hill that bears his name or stand by Plum Run where men took their last drink before passing into eternity. The sacrifice of the one for the many may just be the story of my life. It may just be the story of the world.

God has blessed America over the centuries with men and women who have made Christ-like sacrifices so that we might live as we do now - freely. What's more, He has blessed America with these same folks whose lives point as fingers to the One who sacrificed all so that we might have all.

May He continue to do so for our own good and for His glory.

Happy Independence Day, everyone.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Take Away

At the end of most retreats, conferences, and large meals, a discussion always begins about what we will "take away" from the prior event.

"What did you get out of this week?"

"What are you taking back home with you?"

"Would you like a to-go box for your pasta?"

I had to answer this "take away" question in Madison last week as ONS wound down. My initial response: a Santa sack full of information. Ten days worth, to be exact. How one extracts a tangible, relevant "take away" from such an deluge exists beyond my imagination and ability.

Yet, as the information continues to settle in the aftermath, some of it settling in and some of it settling out, I have realized that I somehow managed to wrest Failure as my "take away" from a week of encouragement, victory, and propaganda.

"Humphries, quit being such a Debbie Downer!" you might think - or say if you are of a bolder persuasion.

Oh contraire, loved ones. Let me explain why I could take away nothing better.

During the last week at ONS, I failed. What's worse, I failed at something I am supposed to be good at it. Maybe even gifted in. I must abstain from revealing the details because of the lack of intimacy a blog provides. Suffice it to say I messed up in an area in which I did not think I should have.

This crushed me, as most attacks on my identity will do. The questions begin. Why did you blow that, Ben? Really, if you can't get that one thing done, what good are you?

And as is wont to do in a world spiritually at war, the questions do not stop but spiral. Are you sure this ministry thing is for a clown like you after all?

For the better part of two hours, I wandered around Best Western and Madison oscillating between wanting to dump my mind onto someone and wanting to be utterly alone.

Amidst my oscillation, I ran across 1 John 1:8-9: "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

I had hit the x-axis, and it had stopped me.

I have spent the better part of the past nine months choosing to fight battles I could not lose. I work a job that never requires anything but average effort. I blog on whatever I want and avoid what I do not. I even beat my roomates in tennis when I had no business doing so. Subconsciously, I had begun to think that I would never failed. Sure, I messed up from time to time, but I never did anything that bad. I never SINNED.

That afternoon, the Lord refused to allow this deceit to carry on any longer. He exposed my pride and my cowardice, ugly sins, not the kind we like to stand up and tell our friends about. I had begun to act as if I did not sin, as if I could stand self-reliant. In doing so, I deceived myself. What grace the Father provided in tearing that deceit away from me because I do not want to live in deceit. Though the truth may hurt like hell, I do not want to live in deceit.

Failure drives me to God like nothing else. My friends may show me Jesus. My pastor may exhort me to Him. The Bible may broaden my view of Him. But only failure drives me to the foot of the cross because I have nowhere else to go. This is the place where I MUST die to self because the efforts of my self have died.

Herein lies the explanation: God could have given me no greater take away than failure because it drove me to recognize my weakness and His sufficiency made perfect in that weakness. And there is nothing better than encountering God.

I need to remember this when I head to the campus of UNH next year, when the temptation to work ethic and pride trumps the necessity of prayer and humility, when the opportunity to claim credit for victories floods my psyche, when the desire to make myself look good muddies my responsibility to reflect glory to the Father. I believe this position of prayerful submission to the power of Christ is the best way to complete the duties of ministy.

And lest I need more motivation, I have learned that the Lord does not balk at teaching the same lessons twice.