Thursday, July 27, 2006

re: the individual

When I think of what I’ve been taught in what it means to “share faith,” one of the passages that quickly comes to mind is Romans 10:14-17. If you’re not familiar with it, you can click on the link or you can read. Paul is basically setting up the importance of preaching the word. If one does not hear of Christ, then logically, one cannot believe in Christ.

Far be it from me to argue against the scripture.
What I do argue against, however, is the form in which many view “sharing faith.”

The change in me has been brewing for years. Part of it is the struggle against feeling as if inaction is wrong. Part of it is the struggle against feeling as if the action in its processes and intentions are wrong.

The form in which I have learned to “share faith” is such that it boils everything down to a particular problem that all of man kind is struggling with – namely, death and hell. So then, we write out a few verses proving that man indeed does deserve hell and draw a bridge showing the way out.
What has really jettisoned me out of that presupposition (that all men fear hell and therefore want to seek Jesus) is reading about Christ’s life through the book of Mark. I have been given the opportunity to teach with 4 other guys in our “Young Couples Community,” this summer (which may be another blog all in itself) and I just finished my last week of teach. We have been skirting through the book of Mark. What Mark tends to communicate about Jesus is that what Jesus did to and for people was never the same.

You might call that active listening, in a sorts.

Christ met individual needs. He saw that different people had different problems and would help those people in such a way as to communicate, “you are special, and you are different.”
What has really gnawed on me, then, is that the form by which I have shared my faith so often in the past does not communicate that. There are times when it may well affect another person. By and large, however, people don’t worry much about hell (I do, but many don’t).

People are afraid of being alone.
People are afraid of being unsuccessful.
People are afraid of global warming.

Most people fear something. Most people’s fears aren’t the same. That being the case, Jesus would never talk to me as if I were you – as if you and I had the same question.

The times that I have been able to share Christ, lately, have sort of come out of nowhere. One such occasion was talking to a woman I worked with at a hotel. One of her best friends had an abortion, and she said that Christians that she knew hated her friend for it. The brief of it is that she asked me whether or not I thought the Christians’ hatred was right and whether or not her friend’s actions were wrong.

How does Christ answer to that?
He meets the specific need with compassion and understanding.

How did Gene answer to that?
I said that both of them are wrong and I took some time to explain how Jesus is the friend of sinners.

Thank God that He is.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Of note...

If you haven't noticed that there is a new header on the page, then someone must be reading this to you because you are obviously blind. Laura looked over at me tonight and said "Let's make a header for your blog!"

A little information: the city you see in the back ground is Chicago, one of the most architecturally rich cities of our nation. The figure to the side should be familiar to those of you who live in my fair city. Why yes, it is the god of the forge.

I promise that there will be another adventure posted soon. For now, however, please enjoy the view.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

He wasn't much of a runner...

My father wasn’t much of a runner. After a bit of time, he wasn’t much of a walker either. I remember going to my sister’s softball practice in Huntsville. You probably didn’t know my father, but he loved to play games. At my sister’s softball practice, we played a game that I assume he had made up. We would take out a bat, a ball, and a glove. The idea is that he would hit the ball with the bat and I would catch it or run after it. Then, as I’m running towards him, he would drop the bat. As soon as the bat would hit the ground, I would have to stop. At that point, I would roll the ball to see if I could hit the bat with the ball. Almost invariably, I would miss the bat altogether. But, on the rare occasions I did hit the bat, we would switch. Almost invariably, he would hit the bat.

I really don’t think too often about my dad. I dream about him (as evidenced) but don’t really think about him. Over the years, we had some pretty hard conversations. I found out later (from my mother) that a few of the conversations we had while I was in college actually made him cry.

He was a man who tried to seem so hard on the outside. He had a penetrating stare. He had a smile that could melt your heart and a grip that could crush your hand. He seemed so tired so often.

He never knew, but I learned a lot about how to love my wife from him – whether good or bad, I learned. He taught me a lot about what it means to be a man. He taught me a lot about a lot of things.

My hope was that Christ would be communicated to him through the way my wife and I interact and through the way we would interact with our [future] children. I think that it was always hard for him [on so many different levels] to hear of Christ from his son. He had seen my struggles. He was there to see how much of a hypocrite I was while growing up. He saw my vanity, my arrogance, and my inconsistencies.

Was I his stumbling block?

Maybe not.

Part of what scared him was how Christ was changing my life. I know because we talked about it. Part of what scared him was how much of a different man I had become than what he had expected. Part of what [I think] scared him was that he took me seriously.
Sometimes I wonder if part of what made him proud was that I wasn’t going to grow up to be like him in so many areas of life and yet so much like him in the areas that mattered.

I miss him.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

When did we become so angry?

One of the things that I notice and love to hate about myself and others is how angry we can be about…well…everything.

We can say that the root of it all is sin. Yes. I agree.

Still yet, there is a sin behind the sin, isn’t there? I mean, at some point someone is wronged, that one then retaliates against those who wronged them. The one who has committed the initial wrong maybe feels like the one who was initially wrong went a little too far in their wronging of the one who initialized. The next thing you know you have two countries drawing on international powers to commit war because two men in one of the countries were kidnapped.

But I’m not writing about that – it seems that so often we take matters that seem to be somewhat simple and make them into an absolute and awful quagmire. You see, two men (2) were kidnapped in Israel by Hezbollah based out of Lebanon (as if you haven’t heard). As of 19 hours ago, over three hundred (300) Lebanese were reported as being dead. Additionally, nearly thirty (30) Israelis are dead.

Meanwhile, George Bush speaks out of both sides of his mouth. On the one end he says no to stem cell research due to his belief that embryos are indicative of the formation of human beings and have a right to life. On the other hand, Israel has the right to destroy life for the sake of self preservation.

Right. The ratio of 30 to 300 sounds like there’s a fair fight going on.

My point? All of this because two men were kidnapped? At this point, Israel has lost 15 times that amount, Lebanon has lost 150 times that amount. At this point, our countries representative to the United Nations is standing firm in that Israel should not call a cease fire until Hezbollah does.

My point – All of this because man is, in his very core, prideful. All of this because man, in his heart of hearts, is more afraid of seeming weak than he is of being truly strong and consistent.

Along the way, every day of my life, I see little microcosms of the IsraelLebanon conflict. This anger that seems to well up. Maybe it was someone who was wronged by CO and they decide to rail against the ministry. Maybe it was someone who felt like they were wronged by Briarwood so they rail against the church. Maybe it was someone who was wronged by their manager, so they interrupt an entire meeting to seethe their hatred and communicate their anger.

Along the way, every day of my life, I see character dying. I see life disappearing and bitterness taking over. When did we all become so very angry? Ah…that was the question, wasn’t it?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

When dreams belie reality...

Laura has told me of reoccurring dreams where she’s losing her teeth. I’ve heard others talk about the same. Sometimes, our dreams are so outlandish that you know something’s up even while you’re having them.

I’ve had a few dreams involving my dad as of late (He passed over a year ago). None of them are reoccurring, but he is. What’s funny is that it’s not that he’s in my dream that seems so out of place – I don’t think of him being dead when I see him in my dream. What is so bizarre is that he’s usually performing some sort of action that I just know he would never do.

Take last night, for example.

I dreamed that we kept driving past this restaurant in a dumpy part of town. It’s a place that I had never been to, but it was a place that everyone seemed to know in the dream. The restaurant was called “The Privates,” and it was supposed to be a real swanky place.

Aberration number one is that my dad never went to a swanky place, as far as I know. If we ever went out, it was to a buffet.

So, we were in luck. The Privates was not only swanky, but a buffet. I walked in and looked at what they had – all I can remember is steam pans full of roasted chicken thighs and strawberry cake and white icing. No, not at all appetizing.

The deal with the Privates is that you had to be a member, which costs $9. This was aberration number 2 as my dad would never have paid to be a member just to eat at a place.

We were in luck, however, as Privates had a special – buy one dinner, get one free. The third and forth aberration are coming up. Three is that the meal cost $29, which is about $20 more than my dad would have ever paid for a buffet. No worries, however, as it was (as stated) buy one get one free. The fourth was that my dad said that my sister and I could pretend like we’re married to get the discount. Enough said. Thankfully, that wasn’t required as you didn’t have to be married to participate.

So, we fork over the $100 ($94 if you want to be exact) and start moving. We were all given dinner passes in order to eat. I walk towards the buffet and a woman in an orange dress stands up and asks in a snooty tone as to the location of my dinner card. I start searching and she tells me that it’s obvious that I have it since I’m looking for it. She decides to start leaving and I yell at her, “No, you’re staying right hear until I find that card.” I find it, and show it to her. My dad told me that I didn’t have to do that.

I’m not going to pretend that I have a clue as to what any of this means. But what interests me is that I’m not alarmed by the fact that my father is walking around posthumously. What disturbs me is that he’s paying $29 for some swanky buffet called “The Privates.” Strange, isn’t it?

Friday, July 14, 2006

We can sound smarter...really.

A large portion of my job is typing what people say into a little box to kind of give an idea of what happened in a car accident (if you’re reading this and you don’t know me, I work for a large insurance company as a claims adjuster). One day my old manager walks by and asks me why I type everything in Word and then transfer it over to our narrative box.

“I like to make sure that everything I type is spelled correctly.” He thought it was a good idea. I still do.

When I read what people write and their words are misspelled, I really do get the impression that:

1. These people don’t really care about what they’re trying to communicate, or
2. They’re not as educated as I would have hoped or imagined, or
3. They are as educated as I imagined.

Of course, spell check doesn’t catch everything. As I was reading through the Blogosaurus Rex I noticed that I typed “but” instead of “buy.” I am by no means what one might call a perfectionist, but grammar and spelling are areas that I can be pretty snooty about. You might imagine how embarrassed I was by this grammatical gaffe…or not.

In any case, I mention this for a few reasons as will be numbered below.

1. We live in an era of ubiquitous, liberated, and public discourse by means of inexpensive publication, and yet so many of us write as if we were illiterate. I’m refuse to complain much upon the point, but consider this a shepherding hand pushing you towards the usage of your own spell-check. If all else fails, remember (for those of you who are putting your junk out on the blogosphere) that there is a button with “abc” over a check mark – this is a spell check provided by blogger.

2. I have been utterly dismayed by the fact that a few of the last books I’ve read that are put out by Christian publishers have been filled with misspellings, inaccurate and improper quotations, and poor grammar. WWJD? He would use better grammar, or at least a better editor.

3. It’s hard to take anyone seriously who doesn’t take the time to take themselves seriously.

I’m not really all that angry about it. The real fact is that I have a writers block and I don’t know what to talk about this Sunday. I do, but I don’t. What a horrible predicament.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The mother of misunderstanding…

Without context, what we say and write and communicate seem to be bastard children running on empty streets looking to place meaning somewhere. I thought about this on a plane ride from Atlanta to Birmingham.

Without context, there is no content.
Without content, there is no meaning.
Without meaning, there is no purpose.

The greater conversation here is about the existence of God. He provides the context that moves us (eventually) to purpose in our lives.

I find, however, that I must first apply this argument to what some have referred to as my bashing or my tirade against Wal-Mart. So now, I place forth the context to sort of try and realign the content – unto meaning, and then unto purpose.

My desire was not to bash Wal-Mart. The context is that there is this argument amongst some circles (often heard on my favorite radio station in B’ham - WBHM aka NPR) that Wal-Mart is bad. The argument continues that Wal-Mart destroys the fabric of neighborhoods and the culture of geographic locales by chasing out small business. So then, those who argue the evil of Wal-Mart say, “Down with Wal-Mart.” There are more facets of the argument, but for simplicity’s sake, we’ll leave it here.

My response to the argument is that “Down with Wal-Mart” is a fine and dandy argument…for those who can afford it. My point is precisely that it is easy for us who have the financial means to shop elsewhere to say that Wal-Mart has the capability to destroy our cultural fabric, but it is much harder from the point of view of those who have no alternative. The whole idea is that the problem of Wal-Mart is multifaceted and when we don’t think of the people who need to shop there, then we do them a disservice. Buying local is not always an economical alternative for lower income families, and that’s just the fact of our modern economy.

I hope this clears up the muddy waters some. I don’t think it will, but I can hope.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

X really can't afford anything in Homewood...

In a recent conversation, Laura and I were talking about a report she had heard on NPR regarding China, Wal-Mart, and the practices to bring low prices to consumers (if anyone has a link to this, I’ll post it here). The fact of the matter is that the last time I went to Wal-Mart was probably the last time I’ll go to Wal-Mart in a long time (we’ll just say I got a free oil change out of the deal).

You see, it’s easy for me to say I won’t go to Wal-Mart. I’m not rich, but I can afford to shop somewhere else.

I raised this comment and question during our conversation: it’s easy for us (and many of our friends) to despise Wal-Mart and their practices, but what about the single mother with children who can’t afford to go anywhere else?

In fact, Wal-Mart and other big box stores allow people who have nothing to enjoy many of the luxuries that people with disposable incomes are allowed to enjoy. The general argument against Wal-Mart and their practices is not usually very comprehensive. This raises quite a dilemma since the problems of people aren’t necessarily met with a template answer.

One of the arguments against Wal-Mart is that they aggressively destroy the local competition in certain geographies. In retaliation, many set forth the somewhat popular mantra “Buy Local” (in our area, there are even billboards up that advocate purchasing from outlets that sale Alabama produce).

There’s a bit of a conundrum here – at least where I live.

Near where I live, there is a community (or municipality – they have a city hall) named Homewood. 18th Street is filled with popular local shops, has a couple of local grocery stores, and quite a few local restaurants. 18th Street is considered local and it runs down the middle of Homewood. We like to shop here on occasion because it is a sort of unique place to go and it’s “quaint.”

An average person in our United States (especially in that impoverished state of Alabama) cannot walk into Cahaba Cycles (local bike shop) and buy a $500 Trek 18 speed Mountain bike. Your average Alabamian doesn’t have the disposable income to walk into Tria or Red Rain (local grocery stores) to buy fresh, organic, locally grown produce. It is certainly unreasonable for someone struggling to get by to walk into O’Henry’s (local Coffee Roaster) to purchase a pound of coffee for $12.

What makes Wal-Mart successful is that it takes what’s popular in food, clothing, sports, or electronics and makes it available to everyone…everyone.

Wal-Mart and other Big Box stores are the great equalizers of sorts in our economy.

The truth is that you can’t just eliminate Wal-Mart without also developing a solid plan to combat poverty in an area. Remember, Wal-Mart isn’t making places poor, they’re going to where the poor, or needy, or bargain savvy shoppers already are. What makes our argument so weak so often is the same argument levied against us (referring to myself and others like myself as Christians) in abortion – that is, we care for the unborn child until they are born.

Now, the problems are exponentially larger than first imagined. We aren’t only referring to temporary corrugated metal buildings raping the landscape and laying wasted to natural areas in their development of seas of concrete to accommodate the traffic in their respective stores, we’re also now speaking of bringing dignity, availability, and purchasing power to those who have none.

A further argument may be that purchasing power is a product of the consumer culture.

Again, the products I purchase from Tria in Homewood, or V. Richards in Forest Park are going to run me about 4 times what they would at Wal-Mart.

In this case, it is no longer about sustaining a consumer culture, but about providing food on the table. Unfortunately, your local produce or shop or restaurant probably cares nearly as much about the bottom line as Wal-Mart does – that’s the truth of business.

The argument is just too often simplified. There’s more to say on the matter, but it’s late and my wife is probably angry that I’m spending time on the computer rather than spending time with her.