Posts Tagged ‘Relationships’

Addie Zierman wrote an article I appreciated in Relevant Magazine about rethinking Christian cliches.  The funny thing is, I wasn’t overly familiar with the cliches she referenced in the article, but I know that in every environment, not just Christian communities, we use these verbal shortcuts as part of our common language, for connection.  I’ve attended three churches in six years (lived in different places, that’s why), and one of the most interesting parts of entering a new church community is figuring out the local Christian cliches.  I think they are unavoidable.  But I connected with this article because I’m constantly trying to teach my students about why cliches suck the impact out of whatever they are trying to say, or generally, they do.  Overused language allows the listener/reader to pass by ideas without much thought.

I really like this connection Zierman makes with “fresh language” and Jesus as God’s Word:

But at the heart of the Christian faith is this: we were broken and we couldn’t figure it out and, instead of sending us some tired cliché, God sent Christ. The Word, John called Him. He had hands and feet, dust-covered from all that walking.

Here is what happens when the Word of God brushes against humanity: Stories. Discussion. Fresh metaphor, strung together like so many beads on a string. The Kingdom of God is like this … and like this … and like this other thing over here. It’s a seven-mile walk to a place called Emmaus without a Gospel tract in hand or the Roman’s Road paradigm to quote—just the messy truth of it all, hashed out among new friends.

Stories, fresh metaphor–sounds good to me.

Going back to the theme I’ve been sort of mulling over lately, about how Jesus’ teachings help us to live better in relationship to God but also to our neighbors, I like this idea of choosing language carefully, paying attention to how we’re communicating ideas, and attempting to prevent, through word choice and storytelling, our own indifference to the things we see and know about God’s work in this world.


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This week has been dragging a bit for me, especially in terms of confidence.  It’s astounding to me because I started off so strong and now I’m getting discouraged at how quickly confidence can slip.  Here are some ways I’m trying to deal with it:

My confidence slips when I allow myself to repeat negative ideas throughout my daily conversations.  If I’m telling everyone about how bad a discussion went in class, it means I’m thinking about it a lot.  Those of you who read the testimonies I posted on here a while back know that I believe in the ability to change thought patterns through prayer.  I’m losing sight of that idea.

To battle this, I’ve had to remind myself of what is going well with whatever I’ve been complaining about.  My students are bright and interesting and have a lot to offer me.  I love reading their short assignments and I believe they have a wealthy perspective that I can teach them how to bring out in their writing.  If I say this sort of thing in my conversations, I won’t forget it or get distracted by the silences that sometimes permeate the classroom.

I can also be realistic about what’s not going well and learn from it.  I can make these things a factor in my definition of the classrooms or projects I take on, rather than make them the definition itself.  I hope that makes sense.

It’s healthy to give ourselves pep talks, to battle negative thoughts with sentences that begin with, “yes, but…”

My attitude goes negative when I allow myself to go through a day without noticing things.  When I walk down the streets and I don’t look at what I pass, or think about where I am moment by moment (instead of where I hope to be by the end of the day, or week, or by the end of my life.)

Noticing the small things helps me to grasp the bigger things.  For instance, today I realized that the weather is exactly the kind I missed while I lived in the tropics–cool but sunny.  I like cool air and blue skies.   I also noticed a sign on the garbage dumpster that said “This is a private container.”  The sign was further explained by the plea to keep the dumpster full of the trash from the people who live in our building; “No outside dumpings.”  But I read into the first part and thought about its truth on another level: our garbage bags are full of private information that we might not necessarily want other people to know about.  My cousin wrote a poem about this once.

Once I get this kind of alertness down, I can start concentrating on the larger truths of my life:  I have the opportunity to learn, I have people reading my writing and my writing is going to improve, Salman Rushdie is coming to campus and I’m going to hear a master in my own backyard.  Then I can think about the largest truths:  I have people in my life to love and a God who loves me, who wants me to redirect everything I’m learning into some way to love people.  And He’s going to help me do it.

Going along with the last note, let me bring up my Spanish class.  I failed my first Spanish quiz because I misread “indefinite articles” and filled in a bunch of “definite articles,” which made me lose 8 points out of 20.  This really set me off on the wrong foot with learning Spanish.  Suddenly it became all about grammar and avoiding stupid mistakes– less about loving the language, less about wanting to speak Spanish.  After thinking it through, I ask those of you who pray to pray that I will approach my Spanish class with a different perspective.  Pray that I’ll learn to love the Spanish language and that I will be able to redirect that love for Spanish into opportunities where I will be able to communicate with Spanish speakers.  Because they are who this endeavor is really about–the opportunity to interact with a broader base than my current language skills currently allow me to interact with.   I’ve already seen how knowing some Thai helps me to cross a barrier with a wide range of Thai people.  Noticing this makes me want to learn every language I have within my grasp.  Spanish is a language that I can use here in the States… Pray that I’ll be able to approach my Spanish quizzes with this in mind.

As always, it’s good to be here…

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One thing that I really like about Rob Bell is when he said that we shouldn’t make our children fear academia–that we should encourage kids to understand that it’s okay to find something “Good” that isn’t in the Bible. That finding something good that we haven’t talked about in church is good, because God is big and the more good, the more God. Something like that.

I am one of many who grew up in an environment that told me to be on my guard for when I went off to school. And I went to school in Ann Arbor–that’s like the laundromat of brainwashings. I’m not saying that all my professors were excited to hear that I believed what the Bible said about Jesus being the Christ, but I am thinking, in this period of getting ready to go back to school, that I wish I had been more encouraged to seek while I was getting my education. The word “seek” freaks lots of Christians out. Indeed, people think that Bono can’t be a Christian when he sings “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

The truth is, most of my professors didn’t really care whether I had faith. I had a good friend/grad student that occasionally would try to reason with me about why I should stop believing the Bible, but I know (like I knew then) he was just trying to tell me what he knew the most. He did it because he thought it was what was best for me. I could find love there, too.

Because I’ve found a loving God, I can keep seeking a loving God and I’m finding that this loving God wants me to recognize him so much, that he doesn’t really care where I look. He will show up if I am looking. So the danger isn’t that we’d go to school and look for truth (God) in the wrong place, but that we’d stop looking. To me, that is what losing faith really is. Faith is active. Faith is seeking God and moving towards him with every bit he gives us. Once we have decided that we’re done seeking, that’s where we go dead.

My friend’s words sent my brain spinning, that is for sure. I’d walk back to my apartment sometimes feeling like I didn’t know what hit me. But God is alive and didn’t abandon me. It’s very hard to change my mind about the existence of God and his relationship with me because, even if I tried to stop believing he was there (and I have), I just can’t do it. It would be the same to me as saying that my brother doesn’t exist. It’s just at this point where I don’t think God’s presence hinges on what I believe.

I wish this is the type of thing I knew before I went to undergrad. I wish someone had said to me that I should approach my classes with my ears perked, because God is talking anywhere I’m listening.

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Almost a month ago, while waiting in line for immigration at the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, a couple of British guys standing behind me had a short conversation during which they revealed more personal information than most people do in… well, larger spans of time.   The first mentioned he had a Thai girlfriend and the second mentioned he had a Thai wife.  The first, from Manchester (he said–but that doesn’t really mean anything to me) said he was afraid of being married, not really into that whole marriage thing and the other guy replied, in his lovely British accent that would make anything sound lovely, “Be careful you don’t fuck her over.”

I wrote down this anecdote as soon as I got onto the plane that would land in Kolkata two hours later.  It fixed my mind on a question that tends to show up every now and then, which is, do the Farang men know what (many of) these Thai women sacrifice for them?  I heard once that over 90% of the men who visit Thailand are there for the sex industry.  After being there for a stretch of time, I’d say that over 90% of Thai people would rather forget that the sex industry exists.  I can’t know that for sure, but I do know that Farangs don’t exactly show up with respect and honor written on their foreheads.  But maybe they should have that man’s quote projected over the luggage carousel on the way into Bangkok.

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…and the Gospel.

Yesterday I went to the homeless shelter connected to the church fellowship I grew up with. I’ve been back in Detroit for four days and after living in Bangkok for about six hundred days let me tell you, Detroit is really empty. I’m zipping along freeways again and all I can see is space, space, and more space. P’Nui was here and she was really daunted by the old train station. In Bangkok, that beautiful old building would have been preserved like it was built this morning. For tourists, but still…

What would it be like to be homeless in Detroit?  Something like going to the Detroit Public Schools.  The city looks like God took a pen and scrawled “Tough Times” over the asphalt and carved the same message in all the rickety desks. So, even when we hear the words that change is possible, salvation is available, and we’ve still got a chance to turn our lives around, there’s not much evidence to back it up.

I write these things because I am crazy in love with my city. MY city. Call me an American and I’m not sure what that means but I am 100 percent sure I am a Detroiter. It’s because I know that even though there is a lot of empty space, the people who are left are frighteningly beautiful. I know that underneath the tough times there is potential that, if called upon, would smite all the ugliness in one breath. God’s creation is here, people made in God’s image, and where there are people, there is the possibility for Love, which is God, with whom nothing is impossible.

But the gray braid of freeways up-outta-here aren’t reminding us of this. So we have rescue missions.

The mission is less than a mile away from Tiger’s Stadium ((a) to be torn down before the year is out and b) another building the Thais wouldn’t have let go to waste). It’s a men’s mission. They get a gospel message, a meal, and a bed every night. My church goes once a month and by that I mean, my dad cooks a massive meal in our kitchen and we usually bring it along with Bible teacher and a few songs because we have lots of musicians in our fellowship. My aunt and uncle both write songs and it is their ministry to take their music to anywhere God wants it to be heard. I have two cousins who sing and my parents sing in the choir and I have been raised to believe that God likes our music to be heard in jails and rescue missions and things. It’s like family tradition to have a music ministry.

So yesterday my dad made his mostaccioli and his salad and asked me if I wanted to sing one of my songs at the mission and I didn’t really, but what am I going to say, no? And then it turns out that my aunt and uncle couldn’t make it for whatever reason so it’s just jet-lagged me and Chris the guitar player (the easiest person in the world to play music with because he is that sort that doesn’t need to rehearse.)

The mission resembles the city outside: it’s  a large, underfunded room, mostly empty, set up like a church (with pews) and has Christian messages painted on the wall beckoning sinners to drop to their knees. There’s a wooden, shelf-like table running along one of the wallswhere they put the food once the Gospel message has been delivered. My boyfriend helped me bring in the four foil-trays of mostaccioli and I see Dave–he’s the Bible study teacher I studied under the first time I heard the gospel and understood it. His ideas shaped the early forms of my faith. I asked him what he’d speak on and he said, “The Cross,” and I sighed a little because for a long time, my relationship with God hung on a cross and I had to learn that I must let Jesus come down off the cross if I want to be resurrected.

The singing would come first, and I wasn’t really sure what I’d sing. I just bought my book’o’songs and hoped one would jump out at me. Prayed one would. And like God usually does, the prayer was answered and a song I wrote for a friend suddenly seemed to have been written for a room full of tough-timers, desperate enough for dinner that they we willing to sit through the Gospel message. And isn’t that how many of us come to know Jesus? We’re desperate enough for a good meal that we’d sit through anything.

And I’m not good at evangelism. I don’t even know for certain if I want to be good at evangelism. But I have this song I wrote a friend and I say, “Honey I know life is hard, I’m not always sure who deals the cards. I have no words of comfort to give–just that He died, so we both could live,” and suddenly it occurs to me that the final line is the Gospel in it’s simplest form. It begins with His death, but should always end with some form of the word “Life.” And I laughed a little because I had the opportunity to say those words to the guys at the mission. I changed the Honey to Hey Man, which made it even funnier and more true: “Hey man, I don’t know why you are where you are–it might be your fault, it might be the fault of a handful of rich guys who don’t care about you, really, I have no idea. The only thing I can say to you is Jesus died because he wants to see you living. That’s all I know.”

I didn’t look at them when I sang. I closed my eyes and hoped that they’d get it. Then Mailman Dave preached that Jesus will always accept them, no matter how many times they reject Him and then I remembered, as Israel remembered every Passover ceremony, how Jesus delivered me even though I rejected him a few times. And I remembered my version of the Gospel: God did not wait for me to notice He was there, but he hounded me down. It wasn’t because God is just a nice God and it’s his duty to love me, but because He made me, and sees something in His creation worth hounding down.

When we finished the guys seemed touched.  One man came up to us and asked us to pray for him and it was good to hear Dave thank God for this man’s life.  We need to thank God for lives more.

The Gospel God taught me was that I look an awful lot like Detroit. He gave me everything I need to flourish, but I followed my instincts and ran away, frightened of distorted image of myself that no good could ever come out of me. For a long time I could only see myself as a shell–emptiness, depression, and a negative spin on every good and perfect idea. But God saw more than that. It’s only when we start to see that glimmer of worth and potential, which looks an awful lot like Jesus Himself, that we begin to understand the Gospel enough to respond to it. He died so we could live. He desires to give us Life. That is the Gospel.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the  word conversation and so here are some of my thoughts. They are vague and philosophical thoughts, but hopefully I’m hitting on something concrete here.

1) A relationship with God is a conversation

In that book I read, Eat Pray Love, the author (Elizabeth Gilbert) says that prayer is the act of talking to God and meditation is the act of listening to God. I have never really meditated in the way she speaks of (the yoga way, I guess)–I really wouldn’t know where to start. I am willing to learn, but I’m not sure what I think of the concept. Actually, I don’t really know what it is. P’Nui says she counts her steps to meditate. I’ve done that before, and I like doing that, but I wouldn’t call that meditation, I’d call it concentration, which is extremely valuable for me as a writer, or for anyone who needs to concentrate on anything. 🙂

But sitting down with my hands cupped and breathing–I just don’t understand it. I’m willing to take on the challenge of shutting off my mind, but I don’t see the difference between that and sleeping. And to tell you the truth, I have so many wild and vivid dreams that I don’t believe my mind ever shuts off. Maybe I should learn how to meditate, to stop the chatter. Any thoughts or words of advice on this would be appreciated…

Yet when it comes to meditating on things, this I feel like I understand. My brain is constantly grappling with ideas–working things out. I guess this is the closest experience I have to listening to God. Sometimes it seems that I can feel God’s words. The ones that bring me peace–that’s how I know it’s God. Sometimes words settle me and I say He is the one doing the settling. At other times, I just get a great idea that seems like a piece of the puzzle in trying to figure out who God is. This great idea sometimes comes with days or months of grappling with all the evidence. This is another way God speaks to me, answers prayers, and adds to the conversation He’s having with me.

2) There is a conversation going on

One of my favorite things about Jesus is that he invites us to seek after truth. When we read literature, watch movies (with substance), experience any kind of art, and talk to the people around us, we have an opportunity to be alert, to listen, and to learn something true. I like to think that Truth is tangible, it’s not always relative, but there is something concrete to grasp that is true for everyone. And the closest humans have gotten to experience this universal truth is love, which Christians (and tons people belonging to other schools of thought) often equate with God himself. When Jesus says “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” I think He is revealing himself in all that we seek. The Good Way (which is in Buddhism as dharma) is apparent to everyone–we all have a sense of right and wrong. This way, just like Truth, and Life, is for everyone. It is not as restricted as we often like to restrict it (maybe through denominational/religious doctrine). I want to live as though my life is a conversation that will reveal these three aspects of Jesus to me.

3) Art is the limitless way we express ourselves in the conversation

Conversation isn’t limited to artists or bohemians, or talent for that matter. Any time we interact with someone, we have opportunity for the conversation. But I believe that God, out of love, put the gift of creativity in the world so that this conversation can be interesting and dynamic. And even if we’re not the creators ourselves, art is there for us to experience. Some people express themselves through food. Others on a canvas, a page, a stage, a screen, a vegetable garden. And music! Music is probably the most fascinating way we experience this conversation. God can reveal his truth in all of these things.

This helps me to understand what I mean when I say I want to create art. Lots of times, my creation is writing non-fiction, which, to me, is the same as talking on a page. Or on a screen, like I’m doing now. But when I craft a fictional story, I am taking the conversation to a new dimension. But the goal is the same–to seek, to learn, and to express everything I know to be true so that I may add it to the conversation.

4) The conversation isn’t limited to creative-types.

We can work at an automotive company (ha!) and contribute to the conversation. It’s really just the act of expressing what we know and listening for a response, all the while seeking, seeking, and seeking after the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Or Love. Or God. Or all of it together. We might progress further in this conversation on a trip to the gas station than we would reading an entire anthology of philosophical or religious thought. All it takes is the ability to know when to speak and when to listen.

I definitely need to improve my ability to listen. Maybe this is what meditation is all about. I hope one day I will find out.

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On their own, these two words don’t bother me much, but put them together and I feel like ripping my hair out. “Gay Agenda,” “Gay Agenda,” it’s like what the Ultra Conservative Reich has decided that this concept is the root of all our present day evil… Can I smell a scapegoat?

Somewhere I read that Rob Bell (Mars hill Pastor that I appreciate a ton) said that the only ones who have the capability to have a position about homosexuality are homosexuals or people who have at least one homosexual friend. I am a theater person, so I have plenty of homosexual friends and I assure you, not one of these people have an “agenda” to destruct, demoralize, or deJesus the United States or the World.

Why are so many of my fellow Christians so terrified of homosexuality? Is it to preserve a sense of masculinity? Why is it so much a “Christian Agenda” to fight against this sin that, the vast majority of those who are passionate against it would not even think about committing? Can we please re-read the words of Jesus and find better things to do with our passion for Him?

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