Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Letter to 2011

Dear 2011,

Before you go, I just want to say thanks for being so good to me. You're older brother, 2010, walloped me in the face, kicked me in the shins, and wrenched my guts into a thousand knots. Then you came in, bandaged my wounds, and poured out goodness upon my head near to the point of drowning. What I have done to earn your favor I am uncertain, but my gratitude is yours.

It is doubtful that I can select one instance you brought to me that was best. You returned to me my kitty! You showed me BaltimoreCaliforniaChicagoWashington D.C. You shed a new light upon my own city. What once was dull, grey, and cold is now a mural of color and wonder worthy of the Sistine Chapel. Book Club, education, roommates, family, old friends and new...these things brought to me joy astounding. And this other particular someone might just be tops as well. Frosting on this already sweetened cake. So many more blessings you dropped at my feet go unmentioned. I stand in awe at the goodness and cannot say thank you enough.

When the clock strikes twelve and Auld Lang Syne resounds through the crowd, I'll be a bit sad to see you go. Your little sister, though? 2012? She's waiting just outside the door and her gifts are already piled high. I see them peeking through the window. I've heard her knocking. I think she's getting anxious and wants to come in. I shall receive her with open arms.

Farewell, friend. Thanks for everything.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Balancing Humanity

I've been going to yoga on Monday evenings lately. Last night as I was there, somewhere between my downward dog and pigeon, I decided once a week may not be enough. It occurred to me that I love yoga. My friends have been proclaiming its wonders for years, and I've gone with them from time to time. But it hadn't really clicked until recently. I discovered the poetic nature about it. The fluid motions mimic dance, giving the body both wellness and art. At the same time, I am both weak and strong. My muscles quiver as they work to sustain my posture, feeling both that they will collapse at any given moment yet continue to hold me upright. As I ache to return to a relaxed state, I feel my body grow stronger. Sweat drips from my brow and my body thanks me for the challenge. Afterward, I feel strong to the core and balanced both physically and mentally.

It is the notion of balance that strikes me, I think, and more than just that which I experience from yoga. In several matters in my life, balance has been playing a more important role, and I am oh so grateful for it. I want to say that Christians are terrible at balance, but I am hesitant to throw a blanket statement out there. It could be simply my personal experience, but really, I think that I am not alone in this. Please, correct me if I am wrong and am the only one who has felt completely off balance as a result of modern evangelicalism. 

Here are my thoughts. Christianity, at least as portrayed by modern evangelicalism, scarcely allows for balance. To allow for balance allows for being human, and we certainly can't be having that now, can we? For years and years, my perception was always to strive to "be holy because I am holy." (Lev 11:44/1 Peter 1:16) and to "put to death the self." So, I'm still working out the theological implications of these verses, but from what I've seen and recently experienced, modern evangelicalism has taken them way off course and used them to beat the bloody hell out of those who seek to be holistic followers of The Way. Obviously, "being holy," and "dying to self" aren't bad ideas. The bad idea is that somehow we are able to, and should, do these things on our own. 

This leads to nothing but loss and devastation.

We (Christians, collectively, or perhaps just me) are told repeatedly that we are not doing enough. So we strive continually to do more and more to put to death the self. In the end, we wind up doing just that. When we attempt to kill the self in us, death of self is achieved. Our "self" becomes corroded in our quest for holiness and we end up hallowed shells of who we could and are meant to be.  However, when we stop striving, seek balance, and allow ourselves to be the self God created us to be, there is life...abundantly.

This is something I've been mulling over for quite some time now, but recently has been in the forefront of my mind. It first caught my attention when I was reading C.S. Lewis. I believe it was in Mere Christianity when he states, "We were never intended to be purely spiritual beings." When I read that, it was like a previously unknown window had just been opened in a dingy, barricaded cellar. Fresh air filled my lungs and I suddenly had an inkling that it was possible to be...normal. To be human. To be me.

Despite the fact that our created bodies and minds have needs, modern evangelicalism tells us these needs are bad. We are taught to keep ourselves constantly in check for fear of "falling away." Again, keeping one's self in check is not a bad idea. However, often "keeping yourself in check" ends up simply denying the self most things and starving our physical and emotional selves to near anorexia. Moderation is not in the vocabulary of many evangelicals. The verse "Don't give the devil a foothold," gets thrown around a lot. So in order to keep that darned devil away, it's best to just avoid anything that remotely looks like it might be something he's dangling in front of our face. It's best to just live our lives in a little sheltered box, making sure to stab whatever aspect of human nature dares to raise its ugly head in us and kill it dead. 

Don't do that!

Live! Find balance! Go to church. Pray. Worship. Fellowship. These are good things. But then...Eat. Drink. Be merry. Taste. Touch. Feel. Listen. Love. Be moved. Experience this life as it unfolds before you. Be yourself. It's okay, it's who you were created to be.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Ahh, a return to blogging.
So long it's been, friend. It's nice to see you.
I just posted my final paper for my media administration and management class, which means I have no grad school to worry about for the next few weeks. It also means I can return to my normal granola self. It was a quick and unsurprising lesson that business classes and I don't mix. But fortunately, it's now laid to rest and I can spend my sleepless (due to work) nights finally pondering this season of Advent that has sneaked up upon me.
Because, inevitably, this time of year, I'll occasionally catch a fleeting thought of the weight of it all and need to just sit and contemplate the wonder.
I didn't grow up in a church that talked much about Advent. My experience of it was limited to little chocolate treats taken out of colorfully decorated cardboard calendars. But then something marvelous happened: I started studying theology.
During my time as a theology student at the University of Sioux Falls my brain often took in more than it could handle. I would often walk out of classes barely able to speak, in total awe of this new found wonderment I was suddenly allowed to question and mull over. One such class that consistently had me walking out, mouth agape, needing to simply sit and process was a class on Exodus with Dr. Brian Gregg. Thinking back on it, this may have been the most formative class of my entire education and perhaps entire life. There was Israel, an entire nation, wandering in the desert with nothing but some manna and the hope of a promise. Those that know me know well that I suffer from the blessing of wanderlust. Needless to say, Israel and I seemed to have a lot in common.
It was near the end of that semester when I found myself singing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" in church on Sunday evening. It was a song I had heard countless times before. But this time the lyrics hit me like a truck barreling down the highway. The theological weight of the song bowled me over and it has since become my favorite Christmas carol. Nay, Advent song.
Ransom captive Israel. Mourning in lonely exile. God, come be with us.
What a thought, that God, this unknown, imperceivable, inconceivable, distant thing, decided to become one of us, so that we might have light. We might have hope. We might have home. I'll never understand it and will most like simply sit, this time each year, and contemplate the beautiful madness of it all.

What great Hope is this
That finds us here
In mourning and lonely exile
And tells us to
For though we are captive
We have been ransomed
By nothing less than a
Light that shreds the darkness
Turns mourning to dancing
And brings the exiled home

Shall come to thee, O Israel

This, my favorite version of my favorite Advent/Christmas song. I hope you enjoy it and allow yourself to simply sit and contemplate the idea of God made man.