Monday, June 30, 2008

The Hitch

I may not actually think I'm better than someone who doesn't know Jesus. Or at least, I may be realising that sometimes I do think that, by accident, and I may be starting to get a clue that it isn't true.

But here's the hitch. After the startlingly offensive tirade on Friday night, the non-Christian present said (even though we both agreed that the tirade was offensive and the tirade-giver was in error to have behaved that way), "The thing is, I just don't get what the deal is with Christians feeling like they have to tell people what to believe."

I tried to explain (again) why I am intent on sharing my faith. I love Jesus. He told us "make disciples" for Him. I want to obey Him. Also, I have experienced Him in my life and I know that He is the one who walks through the tough times with me and who will get me to God in the end, in spite of all my mess-ups. The more I care about someone, the more I want them to experience this life, too.

"Okay," said the one objecting. "That makes sense if you're talking to someone who doesn't have any system going that works for them, and they're actually looking for something. But what about people who are all set? People who have something that works for them? I feel like you're telling me I'm wrong."

I didn't know what to say. I tried to say something about how it's just that it's not about a system, and that really, all the "systems" are wrong, including Christianity if it's just a system and not a Person, and without that Person, nothing really works in the end. But he wasn't convinced, and I have to confess that even to me it sounds like I'm telling him he's wrong. And actually, I guess I kind of am. This makes me feel like not-a-nice-person, and I think it makes him feel like I actually do think I'm better than he is.

I don't think I'm better (in some ways, he exhibits Christlikeness more effectively than I do--although he said it's silly to make those comparisons, and I guess he's--hey! he's right!). I don't even feel like I'm "right" in this area--just chosen and grateful and blessed. But I can't escape the idea that at least, playing some kind of semantical game, I think he is "not right" about his system. And I don't know what to do with that.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Better Than You?

The church I go to here has a chapter of Celebrate Recovery, a 12-step ministry developed out of Saddleback Church. I think I may have mentioned not preferring programmes--quite possibly because I am not very organised myself, so organised things make me feel skittish and boxed in, even if that's not truly what's happening.

But I have a lot of "room" for Celebrate Recovery, partly because I went through one of their step-studies one year and somehow (though I still can't explain how, exactly), God used it to break some patterns and stuff that needed to be broken in my life. And partly because the people in my church who are regular participants in the programme are some of the most genuine and grace-filled people I know.

One of the things I particularly appreciate about the programme and my friends in it is the acknowledgment that no one is better than anyone else--that we've all messed up pretty royally, and that we don't have any greater merit than someone else who may not know Jesus and who is maybe tangled up in the same sins we are working to get rid of. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and about how somehow I, and I think Christians in general, accidentally slide into thinking that I (or we) are better than people who don't know Jesus yet--even though it was miraculous grace that saved us, and not anything we did.

Last night a few of us went to hear a local Christian band play. They were actually really musically excellent, and the band members seemed genuinely humble and had a straightforward but appealing way of presenting their own faith in the Gospel. Unfortunately, their host's approach was not nearly as winsome--and, I don't think, as theologically accurate either. At the end of the gig, after the band had set up a good atmosphere for considering the claims of Christ, the host got up and began to rant. In his rant, which went on for a good fifteen minutes, I think, he bashed Muslims (of whom there were none present) and non-Christians in general (of whom there was at least one present). We sat cringing for most of the diatribe, until the guy said, "If you don't accept Jesus, you're stupid!" (Yes. Complete with exclamation mark.) It was at that point that I stood up and walked out of there.

The resulting impression was pretty terrible, although I don't think any of us blamed the band. I left imagining a little more clearly maybe, some of what people who are not Christians must go through when they're around Christians. There's absolutely a call to share Jesus with people--but when I feel like someone's putting themselves above me, I don't necessarily think of Jesus, and I don't know how I expect someone who hasn't gotten to know Him yet will get any kind of accurate impression of Him if they feel like I think I somehow have more merit as a person than they do.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I Can't Explain It

When I was little--like, in kindergarten--sometimes my mom would ask me what we did in school that day. Being fundamentally lazy, I never really wanted to go into it--not to mention that I don't think I was really sure what I was supposed to tell her about. After some prodding I'd sometimes start to describe something, and then get bored or frustrated or whatever, and say, "Oh, I can't explain it." My brother had his own version of this excuse, which was, "I'm too tired to." (When he was even littler, he used to say, "But I don't want to," which was more honest, but amounted to the same thing. It always ran together and sounded like, "BuhdaidohWAnoo.")

Sometimes I think this is why I don't blog. I have these thoughts. Or someone else has them and they strike me as interesting. Then I think about sharing them here, and it seems too complicated or too confusing or like too much work and I think something along the lines of, "Oh, I can't explain it." After which, I have a backlog of ideas which I wish I had written about after all. Sigh.

I say this because there are one or two things I was thinking about back in January or something, which fall into the above category. It's a warning, maybe, that I might just drag them out into the light of day after all. I could do it right now. BuhdaidohWAnoo.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

They Have Arrived!

A funny thing happened on the way back from London . . .

My publishers sent me six free copies of my book, to me care of the friends I was staying with in the UK. I can have more copies at a discount, but these six were already designated in my head: one for my parents, one for my brother and his family, one for each of my grandmothers, one for the Milk Guy and one for me.

But then there was a little mailing mix-up and so my parents actually got a couple of free copies, too (by the grace of the publishers), so I could give their copy to my London hosts. But then one of my friends asked if she could buy one off of me. And then another friend, to whom I was showing a copy, thought I was giving it to her. And then I needed another gift for someone else . . .

By the time I got on the plane to return to the US, the only copy I had was the one for the Milk Guy. Which I gave to him when he picked me up from the airport, and then that was it. It didn't matter how much church and Starbucks friends clamoured--I could not show them my book, because I didn't have it. But it was okay, because even though my book isn't quite out in the States, I had ordered some at my discount, and they would surely be arriving soon.

"Soon" would be the wrong word to describe how they actually arrived. But they did arrive interestingly. This evening when I returned home from an afternoon out, I noticed two rather conspicuous mailbags on the front step. There was one box of books in each bag, and each bag was tied up with all sorts of tags and markings. Inside the boxes was a whole lot of shredded paper and . . . my books!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Messiah Complex

The other confusing thing about a "missional" bent is that it really does look like arrogance at some point. I already blogged a little about how I don't think it ultimately is arrogance to say, effectively, "I have Good News for you that you can't live without" (well, it might be arrogant to say it that way), although I definitely see how it can look like it is.

If there is a God, and He's the God portrayed in the Bible, particularly through Jesus, then the Good News surrounding that comes from Him, not from any of His so-called representatives, and so there's not a lot to do with arrogance there.

It's the so-called representatives part that seems a little off. I mean, I can say that I used to pray for movie-stars after movies when I was a kid, so in some sense I'm "wired" to pray for and care about whether or not people have a relationship with God through Jesus. And it's sort of hypocritical to say I care about something if I'm not going to try to do something about it, I suppose. But at some point I have to wrestle with the question about why I think I'm the one God wants to use to help other people get to that point. Particularly when I haven't seen Him actually do it very often, to my knowledge.

It might be a better question than "Where or to whom am I called?" More like "Am I called?" Who do I think I am? Seriously. I have lots of questions in my faith, and not a lot of answers, and the answers I feel like I have don't translate very well into dialogue with people who are disinclined to agree with me on this to begin with. Besides, my attitude is very often not "the same as that of Christ Jesus," and so I'm not sure how excellent my witness-by-example really is.

I would like to assert here in all honesty that this question did not arise from an outside source; I've been mulling it over a little (and avoiding it a lot) for quite some time now. What kind of messed up Messiah complex did it take to make me think I myself had something to offer the people of East London--or does it take to make me think that somehow the Milk Guy or the people of my city in general need me in their lives to show them that Jesus loves them?

I really do think sometimes this ends up being more about me than about Him--or even about the other people I care about.

On the other hand, one time, within my first few months in London, I messed up. (I don't mean I only messed up once in London. I wish! I'm just talking about this one time.) I honestly don't even remember all the specifics, but I know that I ended up looking somewhat hypocritical and I was keenly aware of how that was, in that moment, going to make all my nice words about Jesus up to that point, sound. I walked home that night feeling all self-flagellating and I remember articulating in my head the words, "I don't deserve to be a missionary!"

And suddenly it was like my brain stopped and Someone else thought into it, "Bingo!" Or "You sure don't!" Or, "Well, duh!" Or, "Seriously? Is that why you thought you were here?" Something like one or a whole bunch of those. And then the thought went on to assure me that, regardless of my inherent merit or ability to do the job, He was the one who had brought me there, and I just needed to keep going.

Even saying that sounds a little arrogant. It's a weird position, this one that Jesus puts us in. As soon as I'm humble enough to go there, I notice . . . and then I'm not humble anymore.

So strange.

Can I get, um, a witness?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Weird Trends

Since everybody's talking about The Economy, I feel that I should get on the bandwagon (though I don't like bandwagons) and tell you how The Economy is affecting my Starbucks.

Actually, I don't know. I'm only kidding. This is a barista's-eye perspective. All I can do is tell you about The Line these days.

Last week was hot--like the time I went to India--at least, as far as I remember. Only it didn't last as long. I don't think I have ever brewed as much iced coffee consistently in my entire life. The ice machine could scarcely keep up with the need for ice. There were lots of Frappuccinos . . . but not as many as there were iced coffees. Which makes me think that either people are a lot more refined in their tastes than I thought, or they are going crazy for an iced drink to make them feel better, but they can't quite find it in their wallets to fork out for a whole Frappuccino.

Apart from the hour-long iced-coffee-extravaganza each of the hot days, no one came in at all. It could have been that everyone was at the beach or something . . . but most schools didn't get out here until this week, so I find it a little unlikely.

This week, on the other hand? Yesterday, it was as if everybody had just found an extra $20 in their jeans pocket that morning, and all decided that the most fulfilling way they could spend it was to visit Starbucks--all at the same time--and buy three drinks a piece. Today was much of the same, but they were obviously all spending the change of the day before, because we didn't sell a whole lot of lattes, but we went through more hot brewed coffee than I've ever seen.

I'm sure none of this actually interests you, but when you spend six hours of your eight-hour shift "spoodling" coffee, you'd feel the need to comment, too. (I might be exaggerating a little bit about that hourly ratio, but not too much.)

Also, this just in: although most Starbucks stores are still only brewing a "bold" option until noon, our store--yes, ours--is now being permitted, yea verily commanded, to brew it until 5 p.m., along with the usual Pike Place Roast. People will love us even more now . . .

Sometimes I Should Just Take a Deep Breath . . .

. . . and not post anything. The post called "So . . ." was a bad idea, and although you have all now read it, I am deleting it, although please don't delete your prayers.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Here

is something I keep forgetting to post:

This crazy-cute photo of my glam niece.Not to mention some other cuteness.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

This Time It's Personal

I grew up reading missionary biographies (as well as a lot of other things, but they're not immediately relevant here). These people were amazing followers of Christ who gave up things that were really hard to give up, so that they could tell a bunch of people they had never met before that Jesus loves them. I found these stories daunting and inspiring, and knew I wanted to "be a missionary when I grew up." So I did, for a while, although I never felt like I was quite giving up as much as I should have been.

For example, in the 1800's, this dude Henry Martyn broke up with his fiancee so he could go to Asia Minor and translate the Bible and make the Gospel known. He did, and people who would otherwise not have heard about the truth of Jesus, actually did, even though Martyn himself ended up dying very young. I think I always thought eventually I'd go overseas and get martyred or something dramatic, too.

If God actually called me to be a missionary, shouldn't I be doing something like that? So what am I doing at Starbucks? Particularly when, in the course of the last year and a half, I've hardly had the opportunity to share the Gospel with anyone?

Then I got to know the Milk Guy.

Someone said to me recently, "If you were once a missionary, I would find it very unlikely that you would date a non-Christian." I considered this, and thought that actually, in some ways it might make perfect sense, because a missionary (or an evangelist, or anyone like that) ideally already loves the people who haven't met Jesus yet--that's why they tell them about Him. If there's already that initial caring present, and then some sort of "chemistry" is added to the mix, there's nothing very surprising . . .

I suppose some would say that, whether surprising or not, my actually deciding to consider a non-Christian "romantically" is out-and-out disobedience to the Gospel. I guess I think it's a little more open to debate, but I certainly don't want to be disobedient. Which is why my brain is getting all mixed up about this "just one person" concept. I know that we are called to put Jesus above all other loves. I truly want to do this. But if I have a missionary call, does it mean I should start investigating international options again, and clear myself out of here? Or would that, in this case, be like running away, and am I being called to reach out with Jesus' love to this "just one person" who happens to be in the place Jesus most recently brought me?

Either way requires a sort of sacrifice, and I don't know for sure which is the one Jesus is requiring of me. I don't know what the end result will be. According to the law of averages, I'd be better off going and doing "official" missions again, because I'd have a broader base of people to share Jesus with than "just one person." Also, shouldn't I be going someplace where people have less access to the Gospel? On the other hand, as I said to Jeff in the comments previously, I'm not sure God's all that concerned with the law of averages, even though He created it. And who am I to say who God should send to, say, the Turks, and who He should send to the Milk Guy.

Meanwhile, oddly enough, since I've been seeing the Milk Guy, suddenly I'm having all these other Jesus-conversations, too--at Starbucks, where I hadn't had one in ages.

Photo by jennw2ns: Sheep by water, Dingle, Ireland. 2008.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Procrastination Tips

I am not domestically-inclined. One might even call me domestically-challenged. However, I have discovered a fail-safe way for me to get stuff done around the house. I simply have to have an even higher-priority project hanging over my head.

My next community profile article (on Kennebunkport, story out in August) is due on Wednesday. I have today set aside as the day to write it, because . . . it's my day off, and the next couple of days are busy.

But first, you know, it's weeding season again. I mean . . . there are weeds everywhere, and once again my parents are returning soon, and things should probably look a little better around here than they do. (Besides which, it is gorgeous outside.) And then, you know, I have to do laundry. I even hung it on the line today, which, admittedly takes a little longer, but I'm trying to conserve. And I ate lunch. And I really should probably vacuum, now that I've found some vacuum bags that fit the appliance . . . And then, of course, I'm back to blogging, so I should probably check in today.

Article? What article?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Just One Person

I've been thinking about the aforementioned Christian cliche, about "just one person" becoming a Jesus-follower, and whether that really makes it all worth it.

I think I've already mentioned that when I was very little I wanted to be a missionary. Because I went to Christian schools my whole life, there was a dearth of obvious heathen to evangelise early on. I'm not sure, but I suppose that's one reason I used to write down the names of the actors and actresses in the credits of movies and pray for their salvation. (Not regularly. My intentions were always much loftier than my actual practice, but I really did do this. Another reason might have been to justify praying for the one or two actors per film on whom I had crushes.)

I tell you this, not to highlight what a freakish adolescent I was (though it does that, I realise), but to reinforce the idea that this sense of wanting other people to get to know Jesus has been with me pretty much since I found out that not everybody did. It's been a long time since I've had a really specific sense of calling, but I do feel like getting to love Jesus and trying to share His love with others so that maybe they'll learn to love Him, too, is at the core of who I am and what I've been called to do.

So here's what I'm mulling over right now. Is the "one person" assertion really true? Do I really not mind if I spend my whole life praying and crying over people and only one of them acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God who has everything to do with his or her life? I think I might mind. I think I might feel like a failure. I don't really think I'm the only one who, under similar circumstances, might feel that way, either.

But how does God feel about it? I live in the United States, and everybody knows that here, we succeed-by-numbers. And let's face it. Nobody says that "one person" thing about witnessing to just one person. As far as I can see, we only say it when we're putting on some big event (or, if we're kind of skittish about talking to crowds, we've been trying to tell a whole lot of people about Jesus over a period of time) and we're trying to make excuses for ourselves, or even God, about why we had such a measly response. There's got to be a pretty big pool to draw from, and then, if only one person becomes a Christian after all that, well, it wasn't our fault, and God knows what He's doing, so clearly that one person was worth it. (But seriously? we think, it would be nice if the financial and/or emotional outlay wasn't so extensive, because worth it? Just barely.)

Is that how God sees it? The "right" answer is, "No, of course not," but you have to wonder. If God doesn't actually want any to be apart from Him, how can "just one person's" salvation really be acceptable?

On the other hand, if there's a heavenly party over "one sinner who repents"--well, that must mean something. I believe God wants all people to relate to Him in love. But I also believe He wants individuals to relate to Him--not just "all people." We're each "just one person," in the end. Just one person getting to know Jesus, and just one person trying to introduce Him to other people.

So here's what else I've been wondering about this: Does the Great Commission ever work backwards? Instead of spreading out to the ends of the earth, what if it narrows to a point? Say you know you've been called to share Jesus' love with the world. And you start out far from home as a missionary to a ton of people from all the ends of the earth. And then you return to your home country, though not a part you've really known before. And then you return to your home state. Is it possible for it to work like this? Is it okay? Is it worth it, when the pool of potential "converts" gets smaller and smaller? Is there even a chance that you might, sometime, be called primarily to share Jesus' love specifically and intentionally with "just one person"?

Friday, June 06, 2008

By Way of Explanation

Or excuse.

In case you are pining for lack of words from this particular url, let me apologise. There are things to say. Or at least to think. Things are "going on"--let's put it that way. But everything's kind of up in the air and strange, and while I have thoughts in my head, so far it has seemed fitting for them to stay there for a while, instead of broadcasting them across the WorldWideWeb.

I haven't had much room in my brain for broadcast-able thoughts lately. One of these days, I think things will come to light. In the meantime, I have a sidebar of very excellent friends and bloggers you can read to occupy your time, if you're feeling deprived. Just make sure you come back when I start saying stuff again, okay?
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