July 30, 2012

I Know You: An Ethic of Meeting pt. 2

It’s been about a month since my last post on this subject, the content of meeting, of meeting someone for the first time (and I'm talking about meeting people in general). My reasons for neglecting this post is, I suppose, irrelevant, so I’ll just get to it.

First of all, let’s talk about the title. In my previous post I mentioned a few times about the possibility--actually the inevitability--of being wrong in the event of getting to know another. People have preconceived notions about others all the time, before, as and after they meet them.

“She’s boring.”

“He’s ignorant.”

“They’re sheltered.” Whatever.

People (and I’m included) think they know another, even before they introduce themselves. Only to ourselves, because we are obviously the great epicenter of knowledge and understanding, we proudly proclaim “I know you.” They become the embodied replica of the image we pronounced them to be in our minds. In other words, we snuff out any possibility of truly knowing them. Thus, the ironic, “I Know You.”

So, how should meeting go down? I think a lot could be said here, but I’d like to start my humble and simple reflection off by asking another, different question: How confident are you that your prejudgments of people are sound, even before you meet them? In other words, are you surprised when you’re wrong?

If you are surprised that you were wrong about a person, after realizing that your prejudgments were poorly founded or misconstrued, this may be because you understand, even on a subconscious level, that you are superior. You may believe that your interpretation of others are correct even before meeting them. This is prideful because, when surprised, you reveal that you had little room for error or being wrong. You thought your view was airtight and built strong, when actually you built on sand. You weren’t leaving any openness, possibility of change or instruction--particularly from the person it mattered most, the other person. In a word, you weren’t willing to receive.

A person and the elements of the Eucharist, here, are in common. You never take Communion. You always receive it. So it is with people.

This is actually the only way you can know another person. You must receive them, as they are, as they give themselves to you. A person is a gift they give to you.

Pride says, I do not want your gift, I do not want you. Pride proclaims--proudly, sinfully and all alone--I reject you. I reject you as you and instead, I insist in my prejudgments. I will remain steadfast in what I thought before, though, now, I have evidence to believe otherwise.

Or maybe you weren’t being intentionally closed-off. Perhaps you just built a nice conceptual structure, a framework to understand someone--which is difficult to move, by the way. To usher a metaphor, you put that person in a box. But what does this mean?

When I think of putting something or some things in a box, I think of organization and categorization. I want to put like items together. After, I label my box and put it away somewhere out of the way.

Employing this metaphor, it seems that to put someone in a box means that you (think you) understand them, categorize them and label them. Then, you put it all away, down in the depths of the mind’s abyss. You think you know someone or how they will react or what they will say and--Bam!--then they do something you weren’t expecting, something out of the your ordinary, something out of the your box.

Then you are, again, surprised.

Now I don't think the goal is to become dull to where nothing surprises. Getting to know--receiving--another is, if nothing else, surprising. People's stories shock and their histories astound. But the surprise is sprung from a recognition that the other is a mystery, a complex world, an awe-inspiring beauty.

I can't help but wonder if the handshake is no help to us anymore (and this is coming from a firm believer in the handshake). What if, instead of clasping hands, we, following the picture's example, opened our palms and lowered our arms to one another as an embodied reminder what getting to know another is all about. It's about, I think, receiving.

July 25, 2012

Remembering Jamie

A week and three days ago, the day before my 26th birthday, July 15th, the day I returned from San Jose, Ca, from attending Scott and Tamara's wedding, while being driven home from Sea-Tac, I received an odd text message. Odd it was because 1) it was from Andy--which he, in the text message, clarified with "from Radiance"--who was apart of a youth group I was heavily involved with years ago and who I rarely see or speak and 2) Andy told me to call him when I had a chance because there was something important he had to tell me.

While riding in the backseat, I flipped through the possibilities of what he had to tell me. Did he need someone to talk to? Did he have a question about something? Was he alright? What about his family? I didn't know. Flattered or worried, I didn't know what to be.

Radiance was an amazing place, or people, or night. Whatever it was I'll never forget, something words will not be able to capture, something at the intersection of earth and heaven.

It was started at a tiny church in La Verne, Ca, ten minutes away from my college at the time. Sometime around halfway through my freshmen year, before I had planted myself solidly in a local church, I attended a conference on youth ministry and culture. I don't remember much, but what I do remember is having an overwhelming sense, even breaking down and crying once during a service, that I needed to plug myself into a church and youth ministry. My heart was reaching out for it. I couldn't stop it. I asked God to helped me and show me where.

And sure enough, like the cheesy "God-moments" you read about in cheesy books by overly-spiritual authors, before the conference was done and over, God answered my prayer. Reid, a senior at Life Pacific, introduced himself to me, though we had seen each other before at school. I told him my heart quickly, kind of in passing (if I remember right, we were outside Angelus Temple, where the conference was held, waiting to cross the street), and he mentioned that I should join the ministry he and three friends started. It was called Radiance. One of the guys moved back home and they needed some help. Bam!

I threw myself into Radiance. I didn't really know what I was doing, but I didn't care because I was there and was doing to learn, to stumble and fumble my way into ministry and youth and any other opportunity that would crop up along the way.

Radiance absolutely had me. This is where I fell in love with ministry, with being a co-laborer with Christ in the lives of messy high schoolers. These kids didn't hold back. They showed up buzzed and high, and we didn't have any "formal" rules, which, looking back on it, had massive advantages and gnarly disadvantages too. Though back then, I thought it was cool. Not having rules kept the kids there for a little longer, which meant we could love the hell out of them (maybe even literally?) a little longer.

There were many scene kids, with their tight black girl jeans (whether they were girls or boys), metal-heads, who wore black sweatshirts with big band print logos or skater kids and other outcasts. For a lot of them, this was their nook, as safe and loving as we could, by God's grace, make it. I don't know how much I would still want to do ministry with my life if it wasn't for that place, and for the leaders that opened the doors for me to serve there.

Andy was a kid I took interest in soon after we met. He had charisma and zeal, though on the day we talked over the phone, a more serious side and tone from him is what I got.

It was several hours before I was able to call him back, but when I did he answered and we conversed with small-talk for about a minute. He continued to ask me if I had heard anything from Reid or Spangler (leaders from Radiance who, apparently, already found out about that which I was about to hear). I told him no. I hadn't heard anything. I pressed him to tell me.

"Do you remember Jamie, from Radiance?"

"Of course I remember Jamie. What's going on?"

"Jamie passed away last night, dude."


"Ya man, he overdosed."

Sometimes I wish I could teleport. Andy told me he was with the old crew and they had visited Jamie's family earlier that day to pay their respects. Everything inside of me wanted to be there. I was stuck, perfectly paralyzed, like my body had froze. Movement left.

At one time in Jamie's life, from what I remember, he had taken Jesus' call to discipleship serious and wanted follow him. I can't help but wonder what happened. Life is slippery, I know this.

Jamie loved others. I remember his hugs, how he would grasp me, as if it was going to be a good long while before he saw me again, lift me off the ground and let out a deep Jamie groan. A hug that big would be strange done in silence. And his grin. Sweet Lord, he would smile so big I thought, surely, his face must hurt. I wish I remembered more so I could honor him, in this little corner of the internet.

Though I hadn't seen or spoke with him for over a year and I know not the state of his life or soul, my heart goes out to him and his family, friends and all who have been impacted by his life and love and laugh.

A prayer for Jamie and all those he left behind, family, friends and far-off rememberers:

Loving Father and Great Judge of Man, send your Spirit to Jamie's family and friends now that the Spirit may comfort, counsel, and intercede for them since, most likely, prayer, for them, has dried up amidst this tragedy.

Teach us, Lord, how to properly grief this lose. And teach us, also, to remember properly, to remember Jamie and his family in our thoughts and prayers as the days pass, taking us, ever quickly, farther and farther from the day of his passing.

Nothing is too great for you, so I ask that you would, by your love and grace, bring forth life, by the word of your mouth, as you did in Genesis one, out of this death, this void, this chaos. Though tragedy is the material at hand, you are the great potter, so mold and shape this lose into something it could never be on its own: a source of salvation, redemption and recreation.

Have your way. Only and forever in the name of your Son, Amen.

July 20, 2012

A Writer's Curse

Have you ever heard someone say that outrageous and nonsensical phrase, “I like to write”; as if writing is enjoyable? Or God forbid someone declaring with embarrassing benightedness, “I love writing.” What foolishness and certain monstrosity has overwhelmed such a person? Can I get a witness?!

Writing is that grotesque, zombie-like state of paralysis, or better, that exhausting mental moil engaged when only under the cruel pressure of a tyrant, someone who's been emptied of heart and soul.

Someone once said that a writer is one for whom writing is difficult. Yes, well, this is the bright-side of things, the nice way of putting it. For me, writing is an impossibility. It is asking for what one does not have; taxes from the broke, time from the CEO, openness from the fundamentalist. Alas, it asks; no, demands!

I am one for whom writing is difficult (actually, truly, it is a pain in the ass! A true thorn in the side). Does that make me a writer? I don’t know, who cares! Being a writer isn’t a light-hearted journey into a profound vocation, existential satisfaction or deeper psychological ease. No! It’s toil, torture and strife. It’s the luck of the draw, the lot I’ve been given. I am its slave, and its yoke is heavy and burden rude.

I write not because I am desirous for its fruit, but because I am told to, I must. The pen has chosen me. I, like Adam, have been cast out and must work--though wielding a different instrument. Adam, with blood, sweat and tears, ripped open the earth to make the ground produce that which would nourish him. I, with tears, sweat and blood, rip open my heart and mind to enflesh my thoughts in words, which turn out to be the very nutrients and sustenance my slavedriver feed. Adam was, and I am, trapped.

Adam’s existence was its own curse. The longer he worked meant the longer he ate and stayed alive meant the longer he would regret and live in that aching aftermath. In other words, his pain and toil only furthered his curse. So it is for anyone seized by the pen. God be with us!

July 17, 2012

Today A Quote: Life Together

Scott Kleinman let me pick up his copy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together. This is from the first chapter:

"It is true, of course, that what is an unspeakable gift of God for the lonely individuals is easily disregarded and trodden under foot by those who have the gift every day. It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God's grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren."

July 10, 2012

Post-Kenya Notebook: Community: It's What's for Dinner

A meal is never just a meal. It's always something more. Catholics believe that, in the Eucharist, bread becomes body and wine, blood. Yes, precisely!

Eating with others mediates something beyond dinner plates and casual conversation. Unknown activity is at work (or play) among our belly-filling. Meal-sharing tethers souls, knits hearts, and even dresses wounds, in such a seemingly magical undergoing that it yields community (or seeds that, soon, will become community) and a sense of togetherness (I've talked about this before). As with plants, patience is a virtue in common meals, giving way to--hopefully, prayerfully--a bountiful harvest. This is why families who eat together are better off.

But as with partaking in Christ's holy body, eating in community can be abused, yielding, instead, grave consequences, an anti-harvest. Luckily though, our Kenyan dinners stirred clear. I would even be so optimistic to say that dinnertime in Kenya, usually eaten at Mountain Rock Hotel, being some of my favorite memories, brought about more than full tummies, but actually mediated unity.

Our meals always started the same way, with the same question--after having taken our seats at the long wooden table perfectly set: 'What do you want to drink?' Paul, our main dinner host, would ask. Typically, the answers were Coke or Fanta (pineapple being favored), which came in glass bottles; none of this cheap can stuff.

We ate well. None of our dinners were 'far out' by any means. They were buffet-style with some form of beef or chicken, rice, potatoes, carrots and broccoli kept warm in metal heaters. We served ourselves.

Tired of my dank dress clothes, I would always change before dinner. I like to eat comfortably. Stiff, sticky dress shirts don’t exactly complement the informal and relaxed dinners I was going for. So pass my sweats and zip-up, I'm hungry!

I remember praying the first couple days of our trip, asking God to unify us, to make us a family. That will be, most likely, the only time that group of people will ever be together, for that specific cause and mission. We are from different parts of the world, with diverse upbringings, family cultures and friends. And although I didn’t know many of my teammates before, we came together--I’m thinking of that ending scene in Iron Giant.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but it usually takes me a long time to get to know people, but especially vise-versa, to make myself known. And I didn’t want to be just some cog in some grand machinery doing my part as a member of this team outside of genuine community, and apart from brotherly and sisterly love. Right? Who wants that? It took a little while (a couple days), but my prayer was answered. Our team learned community. Maybe not perfectly. Were there holes? Probably. But it started to happen nonetheless. And how did it happen? Of course you know, over dinner!

Now I’m not saying that everyone felt this way. I am, after all, biased. I am more social at night and thus love being around people after sunset, and this was when we ate. But I still think it’s mostly true.

The first couple dinners, we ate then left. But slowly, our plates would be empty of the food that, just earlier, rested atop and we were still sitting, chatting and laughing. See, this is how you know. This is the marker. If being together ceases once the meal is finished, once the food is down and gone, then community and togetherness may be scarce. But when a meal becomes just the beginning, the starting place, for being together, you know you are onto something good, something beautiful, something right.

I sat across and between great people who, only days before I hardly knew. Now we were becoming family. We reminisced of the day’s adventures, of Tav’s charismatic preaching, of Amanda’s grandma shoes, of demon-bird’s blood-curdling squawk.

Though, for some Christians and ministers, eating lies outside normal sacred duties, I find myself more and more wanting to take meal-eating seriously. Maybe we too could ask, alongside the Pharisees (hopefully, though, with a humble heart) in Matthew 9:11, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Yes, why?

July 8, 2012

Great Minds Think Alike? (he said it, not me): A Similar Post with Richard Beck

You may have noticed along the right side of my blog, just after my blog archive, a list of links shining in their light blue hue under “Blogs I Like.” If you have never taken my invitation to explore, you should probably do so soon, or now even. Yes, stop reading and do so...

Ok, you can keep reading.

Anyway, I put this lovely list here so I had a permanent place to keep my favorite blogs. Typically, I check them daily to see if, say, Peter Enns has again written on the brokenness of the Bible or if Ben Myers (Faith and Theology) has typed more theological inspiration or if James Smith (Fors Clavigera) has expanded on his new book. I feel connected with them, like my blog is just one among a big blogging cul-de-sac.

Richard Beck is an experimental psychologist (whatever that is) at Abilene Christian University. He blogs at Experimental Theology and has his own shiny blue link.

Like I do, I cruised over to his place, to peer around and see what was new--hopefully I wasn’t intruding. Only this time I was stunned. The title of his most recent post was Welcoming Bianca?...

Why does this sound *so* familiar?

I know this.

AH, yes! I remember! It sounds like something I wrote awhile back.

In January I watched a movie called Lars and the Real Girl. I liked it and blogged about it (you can read it here).

I was struck by the similarities between our posts, though he had a different twist. I wrote about Bianca being a Christian practice of sorts. Followers of Jesus who find it difficult to extend a welcome to sisters and brothers could practice hospitality with Bianca. Much of Christianity is not natural. Actually, most of it is exceedingly difficult. So practice can help I think (this has been something I’ve wanted to explore).

Our experimental theologian, Dr. Beck, wrote about Christians being vulnerable and carrying around or wearing their own Bianca so to speak, a frankness about their own brokenness, hurt and failure. There are many ways of seeing and reading this movie, though Dr. Beck would have me know that credit for his post goes to Mark Love (read his reply to my comment, toward the bottom).

I know it’s nerdy, but I’m a little starstruck. It’s cool when someone you respect notices you, talks with you or replies to your comment on his blog.


July 6, 2012

Fire in the Sky

Though no consistent tempo can be discerned and drumsticks are rendered superfluous, it’s the boom, crack, pop that make the strange music of July 4th a drummer’s delight.

Every year, where it is legal, people spend their hard-earned money on explosives. I would never do such a thing (since it’s just a stylish money-burning shenanigan), but I sure am glad others do so I can partake in the experience and be taken in by our nation’s evening ritual on the 4th of July: a firework show--or, in our case, a firework warzone.

We gathered on the church property last night around 9pm, though we were late. The parking lot was packed. And so was the sky. People from across town and down the street littered the slanted lawns surrounding the church building to watch in awe as streaks of orange fire soared up high blowing up in reds, greens and golds. You could hear the crowd’s approval: “Woah!”

After finding friends, I sat in a lawn chair, leaned my head against the back and watch the mayhem unroll. There was no structure or program to the show and little regard for the others lighting their fireworks. Everyone was igniting at the same time. It was a perfect chaos, like a dysfunctional family affair that is so amusing the only thing left to do is sit back and enjoy.

Some flew into the air quietly. Others roared upon ignition, barrelling up, then in a screech exploding like a kamikaze. The strands of color faded downward like a wilting flower.

It seemed like the fire swelled in each long slender tube, like an enlarged heart too big for its chest. It was as if it begged to be set free. After the flame blazed down the wick, and all at once, BOOM! It was gone, like a modern-day exorcism. As quickly as it came it left, leaving no trace of its life, no lasting memory. No matter. It was replaced by another, and another. That’s how firework shows go. They are perfect for the ADD.

I could have sat there for another hour. It’s mindless, watching fireworks. The night started with fire in the sky and ended with fire in my mouth. Scott gave me the last of his Filipino cigar. I swirled the smoke around in my mouth, letting it burn. I opened my lips, watching the smoke rise up into the air. The cigar smoke was like the fire inside those fireworks. You can’t quite keep it in.