Thursday, September 25, 2003

Eric Keck's recent Blog has stirred quite a maelstrom in me. I find that I am struggling between my firm belief in the importance of individualism, and my equally strong convictions regarding the value of collectivism. In short and as I understand it, Collectivism holds that the individual is not an end to himself, but is only a tool to serve the ends of the group. Individualism is basically the opposite -- every man may live his own life for his own happiness as an end to himself. They are opposite ideals yet equally valuable. I cannot see how any individual or organization can exist without a healthy dose of both ideals functioning at once. I think it is in the marriage of these two ends that the elusive "kingdom" must exist.

Our economic system is based on the ideals of individualism. Capitalism is by definition "a social system where the individual does not live by permission of others, but by inalienable right." Now I know I'm going to start a landslide with this comment, but isn't that what Jesus taught us? I'm not talking about entitlement here -- another topic altogether. I'm not saying that America is "God's Country". I'm talking more about responsibility. In the end, individualism leaves us solely accountable for our own choices. We are by birthright free to choose our own destiny. We are to be everything God created us to be. Invest the talents. Think big. Abundant Life. When we bring the good news, aren't we declaring to the world in short that God loves us? God knows us specifically, individually; has knitted us together in our mother's womb, has counted the hairs on our individual heads, has kept our individual tears in a bottle? "I have carved you in the palm of my hand. You are mine." God is my inalienable right. Just as I am. Me. A sinner. The Good News as I understood it was that God, my Creator, in all of his Divine Glory, wanted to have a relationship with me. Kim Johnson. Despite my sin. So much so that He would die to win me. He did die to win me. Even though I didn't deserve it (and still don't).

Now on collectivism, I absolutely see the importance of the individual to die to self and become a tool to serve the ends of the group. I know that sounds contradictory. ( Hence the maelstrom --cognitive dissonance.) We do this on many levels. The most obvious example is the family. I am a Mom and a wife -- the individual me has had to take a back seat to the ends of the group (in this case my family, my kids). The struggles that Beth has shared are reflected here -- as she opens her home to "other peoples' kids" her own family has had to compromise individual needs to serve the ends of the group -- in this case the community. My education and career have taken a back seat to my children's education (this also reflected in Beth's blog a few entries back). There are many examples on a way deeper level: military service people, firemen, policemen, nurses, emergency workers, boy scouts, pastors, teachers -- you get the point. People give back to the community in a variety of ways: teach adult literacy, feed the hungry, take care of other people's kids, volunteer for PTA, volunteer at the Blood Drive or in a voting booth, clean the beach -- Now comes my big and controversial "kingdom" question --- is it a group for whom we are a tool? a group that we serve? or is it God?

In the end, I believe it is individual's obedience to God's call that makes and keeps any form of collectivism functioning in a healthy way. As soon as we become a tool for the "group", we are less of a tool to God. Herein lies my "discomfort" with the discussion of "being the kingdom" and "advancing the kingdom". (It's all about definition for me, I'm sure -- but please bear with me.) If my motive when I do anything is to "be the kingdom", I am no longer giving out of my abundance -- I'm working with an agenda. I am maybe acting out of guilt, fear or obligation -- or more ugly, self righteousness (yuck). I can think of many things I've done as a Christian with those agendas operating (the ends justifying the means -- the ends of course being the "advance of the kingdom"), and many things that have been done to me with the same origin. I don't think the kingdom is mine to advance. It is God's. And I am born into it, as Bean pointed out. But I agree with Genesis -- I bring it with me wherever I go. I am a piece of it, not all of it -- I see the 'we' in that. And it is thankfully greater than the sum of its parts. Collectivism at it's best -- but in the end, it will be the individual that stands face to face with God.

I am very interested in what you have to say about this. Your feedback helps me understand -- so bring it on!

Monday, September 22, 2003

I live in a place where there are a lot of big churches. Really big churches. Some have thousands of members. (I think Saddleback has over 10,000 now.) Quantity seems to be very important to people these days. The "decision makers" seem to be very focused on being big or getting bigger. The attendees seem to be very cognizant of how big their church of choice is. This seems to be an important measure of the validity of the place of worship. Those who are in small churches seem to be focused on getting bigger. There is an underlying attitude that "something must be wrong with us if we are a small congregation".

I have benefited personally from having access to so many big, giant churches. I have been able to attend HUGE events that people come from miles to experience (or just get to watch on TV.) and I must add that it has mostly all been good. Every one of these small cities of a church have a flavor and flair that is unique and useful to the community. I know a lot of people who are very happy in their church of choice. And I am happy for them. But I like a small intimate church. And every time I find one, the main focus of the church seems to be "how do we become bigger?". Why do we always think that bigger is better?

My childhood church was up the block from my Grandmother's house (in NY). It was a haven in the middle of a very big world. It was a place where we were replenished from our busy weeks and sent off with a full well from which we were able to drink until our journey brought us back again next week. It was very small. But oh how big it made us. When it needed paint, we painted it. When the lawn needed mowing, we mowed it. When it needed more space, we built it. Ourselves. We the people. The church. And it sheltered us, shared Christmas with us, watched the children grow (and knew each child by name) -- if those walls could talk .... I don't remember ever worrying about how big we were. I don't remember ever worrying about the imperfections. I don't ever remember feeling like that place wasn't entirely mine--as much as my home or my Grandma's home. And we never felt superior or inferior to neighboring churches -- we simply were. We assumed that they existed in the same way. Happily. A family.

I can't remember the last time I stepped into a church and felt replenished. I feel like every pastor I hear on the radio is beating people with their words. Their voices grate against my very soul. "You're not doing enough. God will come back tomorrow and everyone is going to hell (but us, the chosen church of God). Everyone is unclean. You are unclean. You're not spending enough hours. Church in the morning, church at night, church on Wednesday. Give more, do more, run harder. We're not big enough, the world is not good enough, your offering is not grand enough -- more, more, more, more, more! It's not enough that you are in church -- no. You need to be in MY church. MY church is the chosen church of God. MINE. We need to compete with the church up the block, and by God we need to WIN." Their words are crashing around inside my head. Instead of peace, I come away with anxiety.

I watch the mess that is the California recall election and the subsequent 115 candidates and see the church. Special Interest groups abounding, common ground impossible to attain-- "I don't necessarily want what you have --- I just don't want you to have it" -- It's like an impossible pack of dogs fighting over meat.

I know that there are a lot of very happy people extremely blessed by the ministries of the big churches. I am so glad they exist and I too, benefit from the programs they offer. My kids have access to the best Vacation Bible Schools and the Best Youth Group excursions. I can attend great bible studies. I don't want the Big Churches to go away or change. I just want those that are called to be something different to be that without shame. What is a body if all the parts competed to be the eye? (1 Corinthians 12:12-29)

"Lord I know that YOU are my hiding place. YOU are my haven. But I am so disgusted with the Church. The body of Christ. I know your body was beaten and hung on the Cross---is that where we are right now? It hurts to be a part of it. Resurrect us in your image, Lord. Give us new life. Forgive us. Heal us. And bless the church. The whole church. The whole body. Help us to live Phil 4:8-9 -- set my mind on that which is worthy of respect."

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Cognitive Dissonance. This is a term that keeps popping up lately. A phenomenon I find fascinating, really. In short, on a cognitive scale something I feel strongly in favor of would be a 10. Something I feel strongly against would be a 1. 5 is a neutral zone. We assess incoming information on the basis of our personal scale. For example, you may read something you like a lot. You give it a 9. You find out something really negative about the writer. You give the writer a 2. Now the 2 you gave the writer diminishes your love of the writing. It has fallen to a 7. Simple concept. Black and white turning to gray.

A pop psych example:
To a child, God, her parents, teachers, siblings (okay, maybe not the siblings) fall high on the Cognitive Scale. The intensity of the positive feelings toward the object of the child's affection doesn't easily diminish. It takes years to accumulate enough dissonance to diminish these feelings. (for some less years than others) If the scale 10 Mom says something scale 2 to her beloved child (you're stupid, you're selfish etc) in these early years, the child will a) diminish her opinion of the Mom, or b) diminish her opinion of the self. You do the math.

A grown-up example:
If I tell you I love God, you will all jump to certain conclusions. Likely you will feel strongly about whatever picture this comment brings to mind. You can not possibly know what this means to me, but you will relate it in a way that is meaningful to you. If you are from a non-Christian point of view, you are likely diminishing your opinion of me even as I speak. Why wouldn't you? When someone tells me they love God, I tend to back up a few steps myself. Interestingly, the non-Christian will tend to like me, even trust me at first. But as soon as they learn that element of who I am -- the "I love God" element -- the dissonance chimes in and they are suspicious of me. I am less "lovely" and less trustworthy. On the other hand, the "Christian" (or at least the group that tends to go by that name) will be fearful and suspicious of me first -- generally assuming I am of the enemy camp. All people have the potential of being "non-believers", and thus are to be feared. "Non-believers" have seriously low numbers on their cognitive scale. When this type of person hears me say "I love God", their opinion of me increases. Fascinating. Now, however, I am walking on eggshells with the "believers". They watch for any evidence of my humanity. They excuse some of my sins: "she's from NY (that explains a lot)" "she went to college (poor dear)" "she's, well, FEMALE (enough said)". But certain sins are unforgivable. Voting for a democrat, for example. Reading Harry Potter (to my children...). Attending an Episcopal church (to some), Attending a Vineyard (to others). Eventually, the sins accumulate and the diminishment (is that a word?) is complete.

Don't get me wrong. This phenomenon is not only evident in the church. Everyone must judge each other on their own cognitive scale. My college education causes me rejection in the church, yet my husband's lack of education causes us rejection in other circles. Being from NY tends to hurt my credibility in California or Iowa, but it is equally difficult to maintain credibility to a group of New Yorkers when they find out you live in California!!! My life is a symphony of cognitive dissonance. It is actually funny sometimes.

But oh, how many weighted questions we face day to day. If I challenge your belief or interpretation of the bible, you may ask me "what church did you grow up in?" You may truely be interested in my response. But more likely, you are looking for a way to justify your negative feeling about me. Episcopal, Presbyterian, Catholic, Lutheran, Vineyard, Calvary Chapel --- (oh that explains it...). Do you work outside the home? (wow, that one is a powder keg) Do you recycle? (no comment).

I wonder how many of these weighted questions I ask in a day? I am certain it is more than I think. I have become that which I hate. I no longer engage in relationship with hope and trust. I am suspicious of your motive. I am defensive about who I am. I say -- "I have enough people in my life" -- and I reject you. Gray. It's all gray.

I am inspired by Matthew 22:15-22. Jesus always managed to manuever around the landmines. Never trapped by the weighted questions. Loving the sinner. Hating the sin. Cognitive dissonance. "Lord, I want to like people again. I want to be immune to rejection and small thinking. I want to manuever around the landmines. Infuse my blacks and whites with bold colors"

' show me your ways, oh Lord, teach me your paths ' (psalm 25)

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

There are so many things I want to say these days. I actually have to stop to organize and prioritize my thoughts -- all battling to be first on the page. I even have this bizarre sense of urgency--as if time is short and I'd better hurry and get all my thoughts down before I am no longer able. Anxious. I don't like that very much.

Life frustrates me. A lot. To the point of distraction. My head is filled with protests regarding that which is not fair, not nice, not intelligent and not remotely what I want or wanted. Angry. All the time. I don't like that very much, either.

I can look back from where I am sitting today, and remember a happier, prettier, nicer me. Full of hope and a complete enthusiasm about life. So untethered. So happy to be alive. So much to live for. So eager to review the new days adventures. It was all good. I was once what you would call a "free spirit". I don't remember if I didn't care what people thought and did, or if I was simply too young and ignorant to notice. I was too busy enjoying life to care about the things that bog down the middle aged. Ah, youth. Wasted, as they say, on the young. But I don't really think I wasted it -- I just think I miss it. Depressed. Disillusioned. I really don't like that at all.

Blame. I suppose I could find a million things to blame it all on. People, places, circumstances, bad choices --- but the fact of the matter is that my life is quite nice. My choices, although not always inspired, weren't so bad. My blessings overflow. Good Health, great kids, nice home, plenty of food, great weather all the time, great extended familiy. I know what some of you are thinking: "This woman needs God" Well, I know that, thank you. In fact, I'm even adding Him to my "Blame Pie". "How come I don't have that 'Joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart' anymore?" I ask Him this everyday. I, in fact, don't get out of bed in the morning without calling on Him and making sure I feel His presence so I can face my day. No, I feel bad despite my faith. And this is what I hate the most.

I guess I expected eternal peace and happiness to go along with my committment to Christ. "The Peace that passes all understanding". I never really cared about the material stuff in life -- I just wanted to be happy. And happy is the thing that eludes me.

So now I blog. Maybe someone out there can relate to my own personal "valley of the shadow of death". Maybe you have something to say to me that will help the old happy me come back. And maybe my documentation of this journey may speak to someone else. I don't know. I just know I have to write it down.

My bible verse for this week's blog is Matthew 25:24-30. My question: "Lord, have I become the wicked servant? I'm so tired. Even my bones feel tired. I fear tomorrow. I disdain today. My sword is too heavy to pick up. I wait. Yet I know you are near me. I hear you breathing."

Monday, September 08, 2003

I'm finally ranting on my own blog. This is a test.