Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Fruitfulness of Falling Back

"People aren't confused by the gospel. They're confused by us. Jesus is the only way to God, but we are not the only way to Jesus. This world does not need my tie, my hoodie, or my denomination of the bible. They just need Jesus. We can be passionate about what we believe, but we can't strap ourselves to the gospel because we're slowing it down. Jesus is going to save the world, but maybe the best thing we can do, is just get out of the way."

- Various voices
"What This World Needs"
From "The Altar And The Door" by Casting Crowns

"I want to be Your hands and feet/
I want to live a life that leads/
To see You set the captive free/
Until the whole world hears/
And I pray that they will see/
More of you and less of me/
Lord I want my life to be/
The song you sing"

- Casting Crown
"Until The Whole World Hears"

Peace and blessings,

Wow God is truly amazing! For the longest I have been grappling with a particular issue, and it seems like recently, I've received a level of clarity regarding the situation that I have never had before. This is not to say that I've "arrived" or "figured it out," because (1) there's always something I don't understand or need to learn regarding my faith and (2) I know better than to assume that my interpretation of anything i'm not clear about is the "best" one. With that said, here are my thoughts on the clarity I feel I have received recently, and how it contributes to both my understanding of my relationship with God and with others.

The development of my Christian faith (in particular from my undergraduate years until now) has been interesting, in that the more I learn about Jesus and what His life meant not just to me but to humanity as a whole, I also learn about how many injustices have been perpetrated by people in the name of Christianity. The more i'm drawn to Jesus' love and try to understand what it really means to live out this love, the more i'm bothered by those who perpetuate hate, also in the name of Christianity.

While in Cambridge, the pastor of the church I attended gave us a vivid illustration that summed up the life of a Christian. He referred to the structure of a cross, and how it consists of two simple lines (or sticks or whatever, lol). One is vertical and the other is horizontal. The vertical reflects our relationship with God, and the horizontal reflects our relationship with others. Both relationships were important to Christ, with His relationship to God being first and foremost (of course Jesus had a lightweight "unfair" advantage given the whole 100% man and 100% God thing, lol). For us who follow Christ, we are also called to both relationships, with the relationship to God coming first.

Since that message, I guess you could say that I've been paying more attention to how I am being obedient to God with regards to both of my relationships. I've realized that during the times when I'm "dropping the ball" with regards to the horizontal aspect (e.g., having that holier-than-thou/judgmental steez going on), it's because I've been having so much "tunnel-vision" with regards to the vertical relationship (i.e., what would God say about this person or behavior), that I'm missing the big picture. Interestingly, my behavior during these times resembles those of the pharisees during the time of Jesus' life (although I'm not generalizing and assume that all pharisees were resistant to Jesus' teachings). Appropriately enough, for now on I remind myself to make sure I don't approach a particular issue or situation with a "pharisee" mindset but with the mind and heart of Christ.

Enter Casting Crowns. Through these quotes, I believe that God has showed me how and why many people either dislike Christianity, don't trust it, or don't have the time for it. When looking throughout the course of history, mass killings and slavery have been perpetuated in the name of Christianity. Currently, there are Christian groups who are either extremely judgmental, show hate to those they should be loving, or both. My experiences (first and second hand) have provided evidence for the notion that people are not so much resistant to Jesus as they are to people who do certain "un_Christ-like" things in the name of Christianity. In these quotes, Casting Crowns (and this is a huge theme throughout their music) is stressing the importance of "falling back" so people can move toward Christ. In other words, I'm becoming more convinced that the reason why many non-Christ-like things have been perpetrated in the name of Christianity is because we show more of ourselves and less of Christ. Although we belong to Christ, we are still human, and therefore we have to constantly keep certain tendencies in check, as they can not only minimize the effectiveness of Christ in us, but also can result in us treating people unfairly, turning them away from Christ as opposed to pointing them towards Christ.

When real change happens, when the gospel is spread and Jesus' love is made manifest, I have noticed that it is during the times when I fall back and let Jesus be Jesus. Sometimes I want to "steer the ship" so to speak and during these times it's like i'm literally telling Jesus "chill JC, I got this one" or "let me handle this." We need to first fall back so Jesus can use us how He see fits, not the other way around. The more we humble ourselves and fall back, the more Jesus guides us in our interactions with and love for others. It is then that we as followers of Christ are truly living out our purpose in life, which is summed up in the Ten Commandments, and is the overall theme of the bible: To love God and to love others.

What do you think? Take care, stay blessed, and speekonit...

A Few Thoughtz: Archangels: The Saga

Peace and blessings,

Given that the last time I discussed a Christian comic on the blog was about a year ago (see my posts on Ted Dekker's "Black," "Red," and "White" in October 2008), I figure I'm beyond overdue to get back on my Christian comic book grind. I've recently found a few other Christian comics and comic book companies, and I plan on reading and discussing those comics in the near future. The topic of today is Patrick Scott's Archangels: The Saga (1995). The story is best characterized as good vs. evil, but what I like about the approach to this battle that distinguishes it from other comics (the good vs. evil theme is common to most superhero-type comics) is that the battle takes place on the spiritual battle ground. Namely, the "major" battle is not one fought by humans in the story per se, but between the heavenly angels (referred to as "the Host") looking over them and the demons/evil angels seeking to destroy them.

"Destroy" in this sense takes on two meanings. In one sense, there are times where the devil's angels succeed in "influencing" people to make decisions that leads to their literal death. In another sense, and more importantly, the devil's angels are working around the clock by trying to influence people to make decisions that turns our attention away from God, the complete manifestation of this turning away resulting in a form of spiritual death. In both cases the devil's angels are fighting on behalf of causing and perpetuating death, and the Host are fighting on behalf of abundant, purposeful, and eternal life.

The story centers around Justin, who, after losing many important people in his life (e.g., parents, friends), decides he has nothing to live for and is seriously contemplating suicide. In a demonstration laid out by Jesus in Like 15:1-7 about the shepherd who leaves his 99 sheep who are "in His care" (quotes are mine) to go find the one that is lost (i.e., "not in His care"), an angel is sent to Justin's aid to prevent him from making a fatal decision. However realizing that the devil's angels are aggressively trying to "broker" this deal (i.e., succeed in influencing Justin to take his life), Cameron (Justin's angel) receives help from his "patnas" from the Host, and a huge battle ensues between angels on both sides.

In sum, there are three things I really enjoyed about the approach of this comic book that I wanted to highlight.

#1: The importance of our choices. The series (which is nine issues) does a good job in my opinion of demonstrating the consequences of our choices. By showing the angels' reactions to the various decisions made by the characters throughout the story, the series serves as a reminder that the choices we make often have consequences that reach farther than our awareness or comprehension.

#2: God's concern with the "minor" details of our lives. The fact that there's a whole battle going on over one person is a prime example of God's love for us. He cares about every decision, struggle, and detail of our lives, regardless of how big or small we make think it is at the time. Talk about some great news...

#3: The "relatable-ness" (yeah, I made it up) of the Host. I really liked how they depicted the heavenly angels as having concerns and struggles that we as humans deal with. It was interesting that much of Cameron's determination to protect Justin stemmed from the guilt and remorse he felt over the death of Daniel, someone he felt he was not able to protect. So it's like Cameron's on a redemptive journey in trying to save Justin.

What do you think? If you've read it, what are your thoughts on it? If you haven't read it, are you considering checking it out? Take care, God bless, and speekonit...

Click here to read the series online.

A Few (Quick) Thoughtz: The Shock Doctrine

Peace and blessings,

What do the Bolivia, China, Indonesia, Iraq, Poland, Russia, and the U.S. (New York & New Orleans) in common?

According to Naomi Klein (2007), each of them, at some particular time and in some particular form, have been hit with what she refers as the "Shock Doctrine." Building off of the work and principles of CIA-affiliated/supported Psychiatrist Ewen Cameron, Klein argues that each of the above countries have experienced debilitating shocks, all in the name of "economic progress" and "stability." Just as Ewen Cameron once believed that through intense procedures of sensory deprivation and other techniques that he could "wipe an individual's slate clean" and "build them up again from scratch" (my quotations, not his), Klein argues that this principle was applied in each of these countries. Before I proceed, I want to make it clear that I am aware of my lack of understanding of economics as a discipline (I still have "memories" from the Econ classes I took in undergrad, lol). These are just my opinions and in no way are they meant as an indictment of the discipline per se. The following is just my interpretation of Klein's interpretation of a particular type of economic practice (i.e., the "Shock Doctrine.")

One of the things Klein points out about the Shock Doctrine is that in each of the countries in which it was implemented, it's implementation was preceded by some kind of "shocking event." The event could be political (a coup or new election), natural (Tsunami, Katrina), military-related (War on Terror), and so forth. The idea is that times of rapid change, confusion, and devastation are "ripe" opportunities to push through an economic agenda that if pushed through in "normal, stable" conditions, would likely be met with much opposition.

Two of the primary characteristics of this economic agenda is that it includes limited to no government intervention/regulation, and relatedly, it is "purely capitalistic" in that privatization is key. For instance, a common theme in the non-U.S. countries hit with the Shock Doctrine is that a primary goal of its implementation is to sell off the assets owned by that particular country to private, and in many cases, outside (foreign, multinational) corporations. This often results in major profits for the few who either work for or are "in good" with such corporations and massive employment for a significant portion of everyone else. In the U.S. (9-11 in New York and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans), this primary goal manifested itself with regards to a select number of major contractors taking up most of the major rebuilding efforts, leaving many people who were affected by the catastrophe unable to participate in rebuilding the rebuilding efforts.

Another interesting point she addresses is how the theoretical "weight" behind the Shock Doctrine came from Milton Friedman, and the school of thought he "groomed" amongst his former students and associates (referred to as the "Chicago Boys" or the "Chicago Mafia"). In most of the cases that the Shock Doctrine was implemented, it was either proposed or managed (in some capacity) by a "student" of his idea of capitalism free from government involvement pursuing privatization as if it's an end in itself (i.e., worthy or pursuit in its own right). Now I'm not hating on privatization in general, but I tend to believe that too much of anything (except Jesus' love of course, lol!) can begin to yield detrimental consequences.

These are only a few quick thoughts on the book, as I don't have the book with me to expand on any point mentioned in more detail. All throughout reading it, one thing kept coming to mind. Out of the many warnings the bible gives with regards to how to treat others and how to live, one warning, in my opinion, rings true time and time again: The love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Now I'm not saying the perpetrators of these Shock Doctrines as identified by Klein are evil, or even that they even love money. I'm just saying that as I read Klein's book, I became more aware of the ever-present dangers of putting things (e.g., money) over people. On that note, I'll close with the words from a rapper Styles P, whose line in a song a few years go sticks to me to this day, and remains one of the most relevant lines I've ever heard. It goes something like

"...[the love of]money is the root of evil/how can we say in God we trust [referencing the printing on U.S. money]/knowing what it do to people/"

What do you think? Have you read the book? If so, what are your thoughts? Can you think of any other instances where things (esp. money) are prioritized over people? Until next time, stay blessed and speekonit...