Saturday, May 31, 2008

Culture in a Petri Dish

Jeremiah is known as the 'weeping prophet,' and even referred to as a whiner sometimes. People at work, where we proofread Bibles, skip over Jeremiah and Lamentations on the sign-out sheet because 'he's so depressing.' He's constantly crying out over his people's destruction, calling for them to turn back to the Lord, interceding with tears before the Lord.

I like reading Jeremiah. It makes me think. A lot. Israel had turned its back on God and followed after worthless gods. Today, people in the 'church' like to say 'America has turned its back on God! They kill babies and worship sex and use foul language!'

Well, first of all, America never was God's chosen nation. There were several Christian principles upon which the country's laws were roughly based. But it was not a theocracy. There were many Christians among those who made up the young new country. There were also many people of varying degrees and types of faith. (Thomas Jefferson wrote his own selective version of the Bible!) If our country's culture has become increasingly degraded (which I believe is a false perception), but if true, perhaps it is because the church has become increasingly detached, irrelevant, and defensive, rather than lovingly engaged, current to God's kingdom plan, and confident in our God's holy love.

We should be transcendently concerned with fixing the health of our churches and families and not with fixing our culture.

Culture, that elusive term, is not so bad in and of itself. Culture is people. And aren't people, the people around us, in our culture, the ones Jesus calls our neighbors? The liberals, the conservatives, the gays, the bigots, the rich, the poor. Christianity, after all, is not independent of its culture. God uses the culture to grow and challenge His church. And he uses healthy, growing Christians to spread life into the culture. The difference is we live blamelessly within our culture, not disdainfully apart from, or even indifferent to, our culture.

Jesus came into His culture and surrounded Himself with the least religious people, and if they let Him, He changed their lives. If America has 'turned its back on God,' it is because the church has turned its back on God's way of touching the world and changing lives.

For more thoughts on what God's way might be like, pick up Blue Like Jazz or Searching for God Knows What. Excellent thoughts, great writing!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Sticky Thoughts

If it's been forever since I've written here, it's not for lack of things going on. I do keep relatively busy with 2 jobs, youth group, friends, church stuff. But I never thought I was extraordinarily busy.

Suddenly aware of tension headaches and a constant stiff neck, I realized, This isn't normal. A kind friend gave me a neck and shoulder massage at work and asked me if I was stressed out about something. I thought, I have nothing to be stressed about--I'm not that busy. But why would my body be reacting like this?

Then I realized: It seemed for a while that I was not so much busy doing things, as busy thinking about and planning things. I realized I had so much on my mind, afraid if I let anything go I would forget about it and it would catch me unready, unprepared. So after my massage, being the tactile person that I am, I got out my pad of mini sticky notes at work and wrote down each thought like shot rattling around in my mind on individual stickys. I covered my desk with them. Then I grouped them into categories. I had the essentials: get to work on time, work out, etc. Then the urgent things: helping plan a baby shower for a friend, checking the next step to apply to grad school, etc. Then the important, but not urgent things. Then of course, those things I realized I was spending energy thinking/planning/dare-I-say-worrying about over which I have no control, or which I have no obligation or commitment to keep. Like this blog, for instance.

I would get stressed out because I hadn't checked my email recently, or because I hadn't looked something up that had piqued my interest, or because I hadn't updated my facebook status lately. I know it sounds so silly, but for some reason, when I start something for my free-time, down-time, de-tox time, I feel like I have to do it. Like it becomes another appointment on my schedule. Bad habit to get into!

So, that was a couple weeks ago. Over Memorial weekend, Andrew and I took a trip up to the mountains to stay in a cabin overlooking a valley and ridges beyond. That was just the kind of relaxation I needed. No agenda, wake up with the sun, read all morning, forget about technology, and just soak up the quiet. Beautiful. We did some fun things, like walk around the Arts in the Park Festival in Blue Ridge, go to a double feature at one of 5 drive-in movie theaters in Georgia, and eat at a riverside restaurant tucked in the winding valley of the Toccoa River. By the way, we saw Indiana Jones and Ironman, both of which were enjoyably good.

So if you're ever stressed out and don't know why, get out a pad of sticky notes and just write what's on your mind, whatever you can come up with; it might surprise you how much you have weighing on your shoulders.