Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Oh yeah, church! Part 2

In incredibly timely fashion considering my last post, we discussed the concept of "church" in my theology class yesterday and there was a big connection point between my thoughts from Monday and our class discussion (if you didn't read my last post, just scroll down you lazy bum!)

One concept we talked about in class was the difference between the visible church and the invisible church. The visible church is the human institution. It's the building, the people, the activities. It's anything that is available to your senses. The invisible church is something different.

And the evidence supporting the existence of an invisible church is that the visible church is so far off the mark of what church should be. All the critiques people (non-churchy people and churchy people alike) make about church, valid or invalid, are proof that there is something wrong with the church. It's not what it should be.

I really like the definition given in class for the invisible church. While the visible church is what we see when we look at the church, the invisible church is what God sees when he looks into the church. And despite all the church's weaknesses and failures, God sees potential and beauty and creatures He loves. He sees a church that though imperfect, he can work with to do some amazing things

And that gives me a lot of hope. Because that's not just the story of church. That's the story of me. The fact is, I'm pretty messed up. The visible Seth is not what Seth should be. I'm proud and selfish and lazy and a bunch of other things that fall short of what a decent human being should be. The amazing news? There's an invisible Seth, that maybe I don't see and other people don't see, but God sees. A Seth with potential and beauty. A Seth that is loved unconditionally without having earned it or deserved it. A Seth that though imperfect, God can use.

And it's my belief that that's not just the story of church and the story of me. It's your story too.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Oh yeah, church!

Today I arrived at church just as the service started. But instead of my normal semi-close parking spot being open, the parking lot was full and I had to park in the back corner. Instead of looking for someone we know and sitting by them, Julie and I had to take folding chairs set up last minute at the very back of the sanctuary. The place was packed to overflowing, which means one of two things: either tomorrow is Christmas or today is Easter.

Many are aware of the Chreaster (kree-ster) phenomenon: The fact that a huge amount of people only come to church on Christmas Eve and Easter. The reasons for this are many. They are, of course, the most important Holidays on the Christian calendar. Jesus' birth and resurrection, those are the biggies. Going to church is part of the tradition on these days. These are also the days that moms with the best of intentions tend to lay on the extra layer of guilt for children and children feel most willing to appease their mothers. And churches, anticipating the crowds, bring out the big guns for these holidays. Candle light services and cute kids singing and lots and lots of hope in the message. All this stuff brings the crowds out big time.

And don't get me wrong, I am happy to park in the back and sit in the back if it means a whole bunch of people we don't normally see have decided to come and worship with us. That is awesome, seriously. Please keep coming! But as happy as I am to see these people twice a year, it makes me wonder, "Where are they every other Sunday? Many, many people have made a conscious decision to go to church twice a year and that's it. Framed differently, why are these people, who are willing to go to church twice a year, so unwilling to go the rest of the time?

Recently I heard someone say something very much like this: "Church is just a place where people go to judge other people."

It made me sad.

It made me sad for a couple of reasons. One reason is that it's a true statement. At least for some people. There are plenty of people that see church as a way of setting themselves morally higher than others and while that's not my reason to go to church certainly I am guilty of judging others.

But it also made me sad because for all of the bad/unspeakable/tragic things that "church" has stood for in the history of Christianity, there is so much good.

It made me sad because when I think of "church," I don't see a building or a tradition or a ritual. I see something that it so much more beautiful to me and I fear so many Chreasters may never get to experience it.

So, that said, here is what "church" is to me:

-Church is hearing a person tearfully confess the weaknesses she hates most about herself and having a group of people (who have suffered directly as a result of those weaknesses) show her unconditional love and acceptance.

-Church is thirty people filling a tiny living room with the sounds of one guitar and loud, unembarrassed, off key singing.

-Church is publicly weeping out of simultaneous joy and sorrow at the thought of being loved so much but deserving it so little.

-Church is being called out on the inconsistencies between what you say and what you do and being truly grateful for it.

-Church is being fully known, dirt and all, and yet fully accepted.

I have to be honest. I feel like I am doing a disservice to church. Church is so much more than these five bullet points. I also want to be clear that I'm not trying to de-spiritualize church or anything. All of these bullet points I'm talking about are happening in the context of a community of people who share the most important thing in their lives in common: loving Jesus.

I guess what I'm really trying to get at is this: I know that a lot of people have a lot of different perspectives on church. Those perspectives come from experiences and conversations and lots of other places and they are certainly valid. If a person sees church as a place of judgment it's probably because he has felt and probably been judged by a church or a person/people who represent church in his mind.

I just wish they could experience church like I have experienced it.

So what is "church" to you? (good or bad)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tonight I went to the screening of a documentary called "The Race To Nowhere." I'd put up a fancy link to the documentary site but I'm too lazy and oh yeah, ever heard of Google?

The gist of the documentary was that our education system is messed. up. There's a lot of different directions to spring off from a comment like that and the movie hits on a lot of them. Homework doesn't actually help students learn. Students are overscheduled. Even the highest-acheiving students go to college and don't know how to think and solve problems (they only know how to memorize and regurgitate). There was lots of material to chew on.

One remark made by a high school student in the documentary stuck with me. She said that high school is no longer about preparing to go to college. It's about preparing your college application. College is when you BEGIN TO LEARN.

Yikes.

I remember my freshman year of college I had a class (perhaps the first of my life) in which a teacher asked me to do more than just memorize and regurgitate; he actually wanted me to think (imagine that!). He asked our whole class of college students, future teachers no less, to explain what caused earth's seasons using a diagram of the earth and the sun. None of us could do it. We guessed but none of us got it quite right. College students. Many of whom are now teachers. Couldn't do it. That's information that I had memorized and regurgitated before. But now it's gone.

By the way, that teacher that asked me to think, he was Israeli, not American.

What is it about our culture? Why do we put so much value on the almighty A? To get into a good college? To get a good job? To make a lot of money? To....be happy? Does that sound about right? My end goal is to be happy therefore I will need lots of money. We would never say that to kids but is that what we teach them?

A couple weeks ago a close friend of mine told me that if the 17-year old Seth could have seen into the future and observed the life of the 27-year old Seth, he would have asked why I wasn't writing more. Like, a lot more.

What does that have to do with education? Well, writing is one pursuit that has always made me happy. But somewhere along the way I ditched writing regularly. Why? It's not that it had stopped making me happy. I was just too busy acheiving to be happy.

Okay, I've overstated my case...probably by a lot. I really like school, I always have and the fact is I'm pretty happy these days. But I do want to write more. And I wonder what would happen if we taught students to pursue those things that bring them joy in life instead of those things that bring them money or success.

Don't worry, be happy (cue whistling).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Conversation

I was reading this book yesterday and at the end there was a page of acknowledgments. I'm usually the kind of guy who skips all dedications/prologues/epilogues/introductions/conclusions. My thinking is, if it were truly important, it would have earned itself a bona fide chapter. However, against my better judgment I read the acknowledgments and was really struck by what I saw.

A lot of times in these types of pages there is a broad sweep of thank yous. From editors who looked at "draft after draft after draft" to family members who put up with the absence of their loved one during the writing/publishing process to the barista at the local coffee shop who "saw my face and didn't even have to ask to know I wanted a grande mocha-frappe-latte-hemi-cino." But this page of acknowledgements was (at least a little) different.

Instead of a general thank you to a person, many of the thank yous were regarding a specific conversation with a person. Thanks, Jimmy, for that time at the coffee shop. And Shlaniqua, what a great conversation we had on that road trip to Vegas. Stuff like that.

It struck me because some of the most cherished moments in my life were conversations. Real conversations have the ability to draw people closer and closer together. Furthermore, great, intimate discussions are a fertile place where ideas form and from which creativity and change can emerge.

I thought back to some of the great conversations I've had so far in my life. So, in case I never write a book, here are my conversation thank yous.

To A, thanks for the late-night sneak out walks through our neighborhood in high school. I can only remember a handful of things we talked about back then but I can remember how much meaning I found from them.

To J, thanks for hearing me out after a game of racquetball. Believe it or not, one of the scariest conversations for me ever. Thank you for responding with grace.

To R, that late night conversation in my car felt like it came out of nowhere! Thanks for trusting me with the details of your life.

To C, thanks for taking the time at Wright Food Court to teach me how to crave the Bible. There are few lessons, if any, I cherish more than that one.

To J, I didn't really want to stay up that morning, but how could I say no? Also, I'm so glad I did. I can make those noises too.

To G, who knows if you even remember our trip back from the wedding, but I began praying a prayer that night that God answered in a marvelous way.

To S and L, thanks for asking to hear my story.

To M, T, C, L, and W. Thanks for all the late-night conversations over cereal in the kitchen of that God-forsaken house.

I could go on. Here's to lots more of those conversations. Anyone want to talk?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Springskis

Although it was not my intention, my last post was a bit of a downer. I wrote with thoughtfulness, not sadness, but the feedback was pretty much that it was Depressfest Twentyeleven. Sorry about that. So this time around I thought we'd go a little lighter: Spring!

Is there anything better than the emergence of spring? Well, probably, but spring is pretty great. Here is a list of all the stuff I'm thankful for with the emergence of spring.

-The smell of fresh-cut grass. If someone figured out how to bottle this as a cologne I wouldn't just wear it, I'd drink it.

-Baseball. I've already hit the bleachers this spring and it was bliss. I don't care if baseball is a slow game. Call it boring if you want. I'll call you boring. I'm glad to spend three to four hours outside enjoying the relaxed pace of a game with strategy and class (especially when the Indians are 8-2. WHAT!?).

-It actually feels reasonable to listen to country music. Let's face it: country music is not an all-season experience. I'm not blasting country on a snowy winter evening. But you give me a sunny spring afternoon and country turns into mood music. My one requirement is that the song somewhere mentions the word, "Fu Manchu"

-Flip-flops. The only thing better than flip-flops are bare feet, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Bare feet are reserved for summer. Flip-flops are a good warm up. And let's be honest. Who doesn't love a solid flip-flop tan line?

-It stays light out longer. I know that the tilt of the earth or the movement of the jet stream or whatever it is that actually gives us daylight later in the evening doesn't actually change how many hours are in a day, BUT when I have several hours of daylight remaining after getting home from work, it feels like I'm living a 28-hour day. LOVE. IT.

Welp. Those are mine. What are your favorite things about spring?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Seth behind the Seth indeed

It's difficult to be vulnerable. It's difficult to be real. I spend a lot of my life trying to get people to like me or to think good things about me. A lot of my daily effort goes into presenting the best Seth I possibly can. Let's not let anyone see the "real me." God forbid I have weaknesses, struggles, problems, and flaws. Who am I kidding? What, really is the point of that? One result of this fakeness is that I miss out on the value of authentic relationships. I miss the beauty of exposing my fears and failures only to learn that I'm not the only imperfect being around. I miss the comfort of being truly known, dirt and all and yet still accepted and loved. Another result has just occurred to me as I've been tossing this stuff around lately. This practice of trying to create a more perfect version of myself to show others has actually clouded my own vision about who I am. When I read the words "real me," I have to admit I'm not really sure who that is or what that means. I spend so much time focused on the fake me, that I tend to lose touch of the real me. Recently I sat down with a friend of mine who has known me for a long time and who has walked through a lot of significant steps of life with me. After telling him about my life recently and stuff I've been thinking about and praying about he said I sounded lost. And that sounded strangely correct. How is it that I can have so many wonderful, wonderful blessings going on in my life and still feel lost? I'm still chewing on this but I have a hunch that it might have something to do with my focus on what people think about me instead of focusing on what is truly meaningful to me. What do you think? How do you experience the struggle between who you feel you truly are and the image of yourself you try to "sell" others on?