Thursday, April 28, 2016

Lost in the Games

We were eighteen then,
Sixteen, twelve, or eight,
Standing on the threshold of life.
Our years had yet to take root.
We had yet to love life and the world and our families,
And we gave it all up for the fight,
Against Nazis, communists, aliens, the Dark Side.

We became the first person shooter, the RPG, the gods. 
And lost in the games, the years burned to ashes.
Cut off from activity, from striving, from progress, 
We believe in those things no longer. 
Only the games, we believe in the games. 

We agree it is the same for everyone who is our age.
It is the common fate of our generation.
The computers have ruined us for everything.
They swept us away before puberty.
The adventures, the danger, the romance.
And now we love them more than life.

We exist here but we do not live here.
There is a distance, a veil between us and this world
For we have become a wasteland,
Cripples, without muscles to lift life’s burdens.
We are strangers in this world 
For we have made our home in the games.

Most of this piece was taken from Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. I have taken exerts and pieced them together as well as changed some of the words. When Remarque wrote these words, he was talking about the generation of boys and men who fought in the trenches of WWI. However, the similarities between that generation and the boys lost in computer games today were striking. I was drawn to make the connection.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

An Apology of Pain

The problem with pain is that it has so many causes. Some pains are caused by inconveniences, accidents, tendernesses, discomforts, and bodily aches. Many pains are specific to each person. The scent of lemon verbena may remind one person of their recently deceased friend and thus cause them to weep, while for another, the scent may cause only pleasure. 

Pain is further complicated by the strength of each physical body. A little boy may cry when a bandaid is ripped from his leg; a man may only wince. The same sort of strength, I believe, is true of the heart. The difficulties of moving house will be much more felt by the person who has never moved than for the one who has moved all throughout childhood and into adulthood. And to add to the complexity of pain are our unique personalities. Our differences of temperament cause one person to gather up the worlds’ pain in their arms and sorrow over it hourly where another is hardly affected by the daily news.

To simplify, let’s divide the causes of pain into five categories: others’ corruption, deserved consequences, non-order, accidents, and growing pains. And yes, there shall be some overlap of these.

Corruption is when we want something good but go about obtaining it our own way i.e. without God’s order. The pain caused by corruption can affect two groups of people: the corrupted and the victims of corruption. In this category, I mean only to include the victims. A man wants a woman; he takes her. A lady is addicted to gaining admiration; she spreads lies about competitors. A mother wants a clean home; she exasperates her children. A nation loves riches; they exploit others. Corruption was first seen when Adam and Eve tried to obtain knowledge apart from God. And because of their first act of corruption, the rest of mankind has been cut off from a relationship with God. So, corruption = victim.

A consequence is the pain we experience because of our own corruption. I stole your car; I go to jail. I eat too much; I become obese. I slap you; you slap me back. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit; they were banished from God’s presence. Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire before the Lord, i.e., not following the instructions God gave them for proper sacrifice, and God struck them dead. The consequences of our corruption often have physical manifestations, but they also hurt our hearts. They deaden our senses to what is good. We learn from the bible that the consequences of our corrupted state is a life without God and all that is good. So, consequence = punishment.

I tend to attribute much of my pain to others’ corruption, which may be true in some cases, but is a fool-hearty way to analyze pain. Why? Because it quite often leads to pigeon holing and self-righteousness. It is to assume in painful circumstances that if I intended no harm, someone else is at fault. I then try to decide who is at fault by making assumptions or asking presumptions questions of the supposed guilty party. In effect, I create a straw man, which I then despise or, if I am trying to be godly, forgive. But quite often this type of forgiveness leads to self-righteousness and making a martyr of myself. 

To live like this, blaming others and assuming that I am innocent, is the best way to reach Pharisee Level 500. It is fault finding. It is playing judge. It is playing God. It is to say, "See, God. I'm not that bad. I deserve your blessings." It is forgetting that everyday we are reaping the consequences of our hearts not being in a unified relationship with God. Watch out! Yes, some pain in the world and my life is a result of other’s corruption, but God alone affixes blame and makes things right.

The third cause of pain I am calling non-order. I suppose this might also be called chaos. Non-order can be darkness, overgrown plants, raging seas, tectonic plates moving, violent weather, predatory animals, and harmful cell mutations. These types of non-order are a-moral. They are not necessarily right or wrong. And they might even be seen as wondrous except that they quite often come into contact with humans and then they seem very terrible. To watch a volcano explode is a wondrous thing, but to have a lava flow envelope your hometown is painful. 

Sometimes this non-order is a result of man’s corruption—some sicknesses and weather changes—,and sometimes God uses non-order as a consequence for man’s corruption, such as the flood in Genesis, the earth opening up in Numbers, and Gahazi’s leprosy in II Kings. However, I don’t think that because God has used some of these natural disasters as consequences that we can assume that all non-order is due to human corruption. 

Much of this non-order seems to be part of how God designed the world to be. Rather, that they follow the second law of thermodynamics: things fall apart. While arguably the second law of thermodynamics didn’t take affect until after the fall of man, we do know that Adam was charged with ruling the animals and cultivating the garden. Pre-fall there was order to be made of non-order. While cataclysmic natural disasters may not have begun on earth until post-fall, they might also be a result of man’s inability to continue ordering and ruling the world that God had given him to finish putting into order or maintain in good order in the first place.

Does this mean that mankind would’ve been able to stop volcanoes and repair cancer cells? I don’t know. We haven’t been told the version of the story where sin never enters, but I have a suspicious feeling that calming the waves and healing lepers is what God had in mind for mankind from the start. So, non-order = things fall apart.

Now we come to the last two causes of pain: accidents and growing pains. Accidents are the human version of non-order. Meaning they are pain caused because our minds are not ordered properly. There’s a rift between human minds and the laws of the world. I miscalculated or forgot or didn’t know about something in reality that could’ve prevented this pain to myself and others. Yes, human irresponsibility and carelessness causes accidents too, and thus accidents overlaps with corruption and consequences. But there are some accidents that are unavoidable. Meaning, because we live on planet earth where all things fall apart including the human brain, people are going to make mistakes. We can’t help it. We are not what we should be. If all of mankind were in perfect relationship with God, we would not have accidents. But because we broke off that relationship in the garden, our minds and bodies are not functioning in God’s order. Thus, accidents happen. So, accidents = non-ordered brains.

Again, when an accident happens, I have a tendency to want to blame someone. In fact, after a day of mothering children who are prone to falling and spilling milk and trekking dirt into the house, I have a tendency to want to blame Phil. “I hope you enjoyed yourself at work today, because I've had it awful here!” Or when I find out I have bad teeth I want to point back to some gene in my family tree and say, “Aha! That’s why! I’m not to blame.” It’s the age old “The devil made me do it,” excuse. But if I am human, I am to blame. I am part of the problem. I don’t think God sees each man and measures out an appropriate portion of blame. I think he sees us more like one big living organism with a type of cancer that has corrupted all our hearts. Unless that relationship with God is restored by someone somehow, we will continue to carry that blame on ourselves for all of mankind’s faults. 

I think it is apparent that we need a savior. Someone to abolish the blame. Only then can that right relationship with God be restored. Only then can we stop blaming and say, “Christ took the blame. I have no need to be angry anymore.”

The final cause of pain is growing pains. This is when what I think should happen doesn’t happen. Someone parked where I was hoping to park. Motherhood isn’t quite what I expected. I fail at conquering some physical feat. Growing pains include inconveniences, disappointments, and unrealistic expectations. They are caused again by our being out of relationship with God. We don’t know how God would have events unfold. But we think we know how things should go. We are wrong. We are pained. 

The interesting part about growing pains is that it overlaps into every other category. We don’t think it’s fair that we are a victim of another’s corruption, but God lets it happen. We don’t think we deserve such a harsh punishment for breaking the law, but apparently God does. We don’t think it’s fair that so-and-so has cancer, but God would have it so. We think we could’ve avoided those accidents if we’d just tried harder, but God knows we couldn’t. 

It’s the conflict we experience when we look at this world and see the pain in it and try to justify it with a good, loving, all-powerful God. Either it’s God’s fault or wicked mankind’s fault, but it certainly couldn’t be my fault. Growing pains. Our view of God doesn’t seem to match up to the God we see in this pained world.  So we struggle. So, growing pains = fighting against God.

Now I don’t mean to say that to feel pain is to fight against God. To feel pain is to be human. But when the results of our pain create more corruption, consequences, non-order, and accidents, then we are merely doing as we would be done by.  

We have a choice: to change our view of God, i.e., grow, or to be stunted. To be stunted is to continue playing God, to assume that my way must be God’s way. To grow is to adapt, evolve, if you will. It is to say, “This pain too is for the re-ordering of my heart. Thy will be done.”

Friday, April 8, 2016

Women's Bible Study

When I first started women’s bible study in September 2015, I hated it. My heart was in discord with the wizened smiling faces, the pleasantries, the organized program, the style of lecture, the small group discussions, and the questions on the homework that felt a little too much like my high school bible class homework. 

I was coming to bible study hoping to be met on my own terms, like a millennial, and WOW began with a generation very different than mine. That generation, the one that became known as the Greatest Generation, speaks another language. They are a generation of manners and class and duty and privacy. 

Mine is a generation that makes songs about our feelings, delving deep into our emotions, inventing new word pictures to describe and discuss our thoughts. I am of a generation that has become its own paparazzi, airing its victories and complaints. We are a generation that does relationships differently, without pleasantries, without rules, without customs, and often times without consistency.

And here in this bible study, the clash of the generations was happening in my heart as I saw an older generation doing something that I, if I were to do likewise, would be guilty of fakery. 

But they are not fake, that generation. They are doing what they ought despite what they feel. They are modest and courteous and kind. And they care deeply about God’s word and how it effects their lives, although they use different words to describe this experience than me. 

What became quite clear to me in my fifth month of bible study was that I had to stop expecting others to alter their methods for my learning experience. And I had to allow that their differences weren’t wrong, and in fact were quite meaningful and proper for them. Most importantly, I had to stop expecting to be listened to or understood perfectly. That is no one’s job but God’s.

I was tempted to give up WOW. Perhaps this was just a thing for the older generations and not me. But the desire to conquer compelled me not to give up. How do I make this thing work? It’s like a big machine, one that’s been running for years quite well. All the gears and levers fit together and run smoothly. The ladies know their jobs and do them duteously.

It was my burden to discover how my cogs could fit into theirs. We are, after all, one body. And these ladies, these sisters in Christ, are ones that I will be with for eternity. I must learn to love and respect them. We are all in the same boat. They are on my team, part of the same fleet, the same family. I’m sure I could go elsewhere and practice religion with people more like myself, people who practice being real like its a religion. But I think if I were to do this, I would be like the rich young ruler who went away sad because he wasn’t willing to sell all his possessions. 

I have been asked to sell all my possessions. Yes, even this, comfort in worship. And there is a promise that when I give all that I have, I will gain back much more than I have given away. I gain a more multifaceted picture of God, reflected back in the faces of the ladies who do things differently than me.