Red Pill? Blue Pill?

…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Eph 6:11)

The battle is real. The stakes are our lives and the lives of the ones we love. The good guys are not always the good guys and the bad guys are not always the bad guys. The tools we use to fight are not the ones we are used to… they are not the ones we have been given by the good guys either. It is time for us to wake up and see the reality that is around us.

red-pill-blue-pill.pngIn The Matrix, when Neo takes the red pill, it destroys the fantasy that he had been living all of his life. He finds out that the world is not at all what it appeared to be. All the pleasures that he had experienced were there simply to mollify him into complacency. The powers in control wanted him to be happy and not ask questions. All the while the “machine world” was literally sucking the life out of him. Here’s how I see it playing out in the present…

For some time, I have been going through a “crisis” in my faith. I have begun to question many of the beliefs that I always took for granted. I was raised in the church and the church was good for me. I have a foundation of understanding of the Bible that I could never have gotten if I had not found a relationship with God until I was an adult. There is something about the things we learn as children that make them stick. They become the foundation that our life is built on. That’s is not always a good thing, but I’m talking about good things. As an adult, I realize that the people who taught me those thing were flawed just like me. When I was a child, I thought the adults knew it all. I saw life in two stages, childhood and adulthood. Childhood is the learning stage where you are working your way into adulthood. Then it is over. As an adult, you have it all together. I was wrong! The ones who were adults when I was a child did not have all the answers. I thought they did, but now I know that they were full of questions and doubts just like me… Many of them, unlike me, didn’t ask the questions, or let their doubts see the light of day. Most of them, if offered, took the blue pill.

The Matrix

This story is about the Church. Just the word, “church” evokes emotion in me and probably anyone who knows the meaning of the word. When I hear the word, “church”, I think of buildings with steeples, store-front buildings, homes that people gather in, meetings on Sunday, meetings on Wednesday, meetings on Saturday night. I think of preachers giving messages, songs sung, acapella or with pianos, organs, drums, guitars, keyboards and let’s not forget the horns and violins. We talk about “going to church”, which (to people like me) means attending an event of some sort on Sunday morning. I have great memories of church and not so great memories of church. I cannot cover every thought I have about church, so what I want to focus on, in this blog entry is the Sunday morning event and how it is of such paramount importance. It was expected that “good christian people” go to church every Sunday. It was (and is) a duty that must be fulfilled.

The Red Pill

The struggles that I have been going through lately are very real and hard. I find that many of my friends from years past and present are going through similar struggles. Some of them have met me here on this blog in their comments. Others are blogging and sharing their struggles. Some have been at it for a while and others are only just beginning to allow themselves to ask the hard questions. While I want to encourage the examination of our hearts, I also want to add a word of caution. It may seem that those who constructed the churches are the enemy. They are not! They are us and we are them. More about that at the end…

The feelings we have are our own. Our feelings come from our values. When I find myself irritated “in church”, I ask myself why. Here’s what that conversation looks like… Not too long ago, I thought this was the most happening place around. What changed? It wasn’t them, it was me. So I ask myself why I am feeling irritated. If it is not about them, then what? What am I believing? What do I desire? Then ask myself if those beliefs are true and if the desires are good desires. I have learned that my irritation comes from a desire for the church to be about the people and not the event on Sunday morning. These are my feelings based on my beliefs and my desires. I own them.

The Church in the Bible is also known as the Body of Christ. It is the group of people who identify themselves with Christ. [Disclaimer: I am no expert in church history, I welcome corrections.] The early church in the book of Acts was a movement of people who were meeting together in their homes and having meals together. I get the feeling that they were friends. They lived in the same neighborhoods, their kids played ball together, they all shopped at the same Harris Teeter. I imagine their time together was talking about what they were experiencing in this new found faith as naturally as we talk about the latest movie with our friends. What I don’t see is an emphasis on meeting every Sunday morning to sing a few songs and listen to a preacher. I see an emphasis on the relationships between the people.

What I am not saying is that meeting for Church on Sunday morning is wrong. Please! Hear me. I am saying that meeting together in a building to worship together is frequently a good thing. Many people would say that the meeting itself is church. I disagree. The Church is not an event. I wish we had another name for the event. I think it would help separate the defensiveness that this topic frequently brings.

country-church.png In the book, The Present Future , by Reggie McNeal, the author tells of meeting with church leaders on Sunday morning at 11:00 in a restaurant. He asks them to look around at the people in the restaurant. While they are taking it all in, he asks, “Do these people look like they struggled with deciding to go to church this morning?” Of course they don’t. Most people today consider going to church to be an irrelevant waste of time. What reasons have we in the church given them to think otherwise?

The Blue Pill

We are missing the boat when we make Church all about a building and an event. I think of it as creating a box for us to fit in. The box is made up of our corporate beliefs and expectations of one another. When we are in the box, we feel safe because there are so many others just like us. Even worse we have also turned the Great Commission of Jesus to reach the world into “getting others into the box with us.” This irritates me because it seems to me to be so not what Jesus would do (read pharisaical). Who creates the box? Who maintains the box? We do, when we love the safety of our common belief systems more than we love God. That is hard, I know and it leads me to questions about myself that I am uncomfortable with. When do I create boxes? What boxes am I living inside today (very comfortably I might add)?

I belive that well meaning leaders throughout church history have created many boxes in order to give people a place of refuge, a sense of belonging and a common faith in God. These are noble motives and great, positive desires. Many if not most of the original leaders of these movements were sincere and hearing from God in their calling. But their followers over the next generations followed the leaders rather than the Lord. Over time, it became about defending their faith (the box) rather than seeking God.

There are many reasons for the boxes that we have created, but I want to stand up and shout. The boxes are not the point! Jesus said that the world would know us by our love for one another. To me that means breaking down the walls that divide us including denominational walls. Not that there are no differences, but because our love (Christ’s love) transends the differences. We love one another and honor our differences. What a concept!

Concerns

In closing, I want to share some of my sincere concerns for myself and for my brothers and sisters who are seeking God and seeking to understand their hearts.

  • I want to avoid passing judgement on others who do not believe as I do, or deliberately using my “liberty” in such a way that it causes someone who is not ready to hear it to stumble.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. (Romans 14:13)

  • Creating division as in “us and them”. My desire is for unity, but not at the cost of being the person God created me to be. If the cost of unity in the body is everyone-being-an-eye, then I am not interested. Like my buddy, Curt says, Christ is calling us to unity in our diversity. I won’t say what body part I am, but I will say that it is necessary.
  • Beliving in nothing. I am becoming more and more aware of how easy it is to criticize what exists. It is easy to tear down. It is much harder to build up. I find myself disenchanted with the church as it exists today in 21st century North America. However, I want to be about helping to define what it should be rather than pointing out what it shouldn’t be. I love Jesus, but I do not identify with much of what is done in the name of Jesus today. I want to be known as one who is helping to reshape the church and redefine what it means to be a Christ follower or a Christian today.

Getting Un-Stuck

Impasse

A few months ago, I was stirred as I read this article, Feeling Stuck? Getting Past Impasse by Timothy Butler. Sometimes I like to try things out before I share my opinion. As I have applied the lessons, they rings true for me. It has changed my outlook and the way I approach life greatly. As I shared the lessons with my church group this morning, I realized it was time to share it with my blog community too.

Getting Unstuck

mudpuddle.jpg The first step in getting unstuck is realizing that I am stuck. It comes to me as a frustration or irritation. It feels like I’ve been here before many times and I didn’t like it. Yet, at the same time, it feel inevitable. Maybe I am doing something for the millionth time that I know I shouldn’t… but I just cannot help myself. Or maybe I am avoiding or procrastinating something that needs to be done. Maybe it feels like outside forces are pressing in on me, forcing change that I didn’t ask for and I do not want! I feel powerless to change me or the circumstances.

I feel stuck, (like my son-in-law, Mark with his jeep in the mud, but it isn’t fun). Just spinning my wheels. Going around in circles and never getting any closer to what I want. The most important life lesson, I have learned from this is that, as uncomfortable as the feeling of impasse is, it is necessary in order for me to grow. If I don’t feel the discomfort, I will have no reason to make adjustments.

Climbing the mountain

impasse.jpg Picture a narrow path around a mountain as an upward spiral of growth. As I move along the path, I am moving upwards towards a healthier life (physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally). Along the way, I encounter difficulties. I can ignore them for a time… but by choosing to ignore the impasse, I am also choosing to ignore the upward path. I may travel along happily around the mountain and be surprised to find myself back at the impasse. The impasse is unforgiving. It will not let you progress untill you deal with it. Like the person driving the car up the road in this photo. They are not getting up the mountain until they get past the bus that is sideways in the middle of the road

I can change plans, or I can just go around the mountain again, but when I return, there it will be. I can only go up the mountain (grow) by dealing with the impasse. How many people spend their whole lives running up against the same impasse over and over and over and… I don’t want to be like that.

Applying the principles

Dr. Butler has divided getting-past-impasse into six neat phases. While I don’t think life usually works out so elegantly as to fit the phases, it does give us a lens through which we can observe and learn… and grow. He starts with recognizing the impasse, moves to learning other ways to view and deal with it and ends with acting on what we have learned. I encourage you to read the article to understand all six phases and begin to give them a whirl.

There are two tools that Dr. Butler does not mention that, as a Christian, I feel are very important. The first “tool” is prayer: When I climb up on Daddy’s lap and tell him my troubles, He is faithful to listen and extend grace in my life. Grace in this sense is both forgiveness and help. That grace/help leads me to the second “tool”: My community of faith helps me to get through impasses in my life (I Pet 4:10). When I am vulnerable with Jeanie or one of my close friends and share my problems, they can listen, understand my situation and share their thoughts and advice. With their perspective, I can see things very differently, which helps me to rethink my approach. They also hold me accountable to do what I say I want to do. (“Accountability” sounds legalistic, but I don’t mean it that way. The difference between legalistic accountability and grace accountability is that with grace accountability, my community is merely encouraging me to do what I said I wanted to do. Legalistic accountability is telling me what I ought to do that I didn’t agree to).

So there you have it. To keep moving up the mountain is to get through the impasses that we face. It takes willingness, insight, faith, vulnerabilty and courage, but it is worth it. I encourage you to name an impasse in your life, imagine yourself on the other side of it, write it down, pray, seek counsel, courageously face the impasse and lastly, leave a comment to tell me what happens.

Back on the Horse

When I was a little guy, about 5-7 years old, I was visiting my grandparents in Southside, West Virginia. Their house was right across the road from a farm owned by the Hopson’s. I honestly don’t know what drew me to Hopson’s farm beyond the fact that I was not from the country, but I was drawn to it for sure. They had cows and pigs… probably a lot more animals than that, but cows and pigs are what I remember. The cows would graze near the road and “look in our eyes”! I don’t know if it was me or my brother who was scared of the cows “looking in our eyes”.

jim-on-pistol.jpg One day, I went for a ride on their horse, Pistol. Someone led me because I was not an experienced rider. I don’t know for sure who was there. What I do know is that they walked Pistol and me across the pasture to the other side, near the highway. What I didn’t know at the time (that would have been extremely valuable information) was that Pistol had a habit of running as fast as he could to the barn. That’s it. No particular reason, but to run as hard as he could to the barn where he would just stop running. Sounds like Forrest Gump.

Somewhere along the ride, the person who was leading Pistol had either let go of the reigns or didn’t have a tight grip. Pistol decided to take advantage of the situation and go to the barn. He wasn’t interested in a leisurely stroll, but bolted for the barn and I didn’t know what to think. Here I am, a little boy on the back of this horse running like his tail was on fire. Panicked and not knowing why he was running or how far and long he would run, I began to reason that I must jump or fall off. I started scooting to the side so I could get off. Fortunately, falling off of a running horse is much scarier than staying on, so I stayed put. Pretty soon, Pistol reached his beloved barn and stopped.

The whole ride couldn’t have lasted more than two or three minutes, but it was indelibly marked in my memory. I am so thankful that I was not successful at getting off while he was running. If I had been, that day might well have been remembered for something else.

Family, do you remember that day? What do you remember? Who was there? What time of year was it? How old was I? Did you see me on the horse? What did you feel in that moment? Afterwards?

Life goes on

lifegoeson.gifMy last post has been up so long that one might think I am in mourning. If you thought that, you were mistaken. I am doing well. Erin and Justin are on their way to Berkeley. Mel is getting settled in Med School at SLU. Kat is doing well making her home in the mountains and Danae is turning the music therapy world upside down.

Jeanie and I are figuring out what life looks like with the offspring out of the house. Yes, life goes on.

Empty Nest

emptynest.gifI am full of hope and expectation for the empty nest thing to be good. It is the right time of life for our daughters to be on their own. It is wonderful how they are all so independent and full of life and expectation. I am very proud of each of them. But right now, the silence is deafening!

Twenty six years ago, our house became noisy and our lives began to be centered around someone else. Startinig today, it is just the two of us again. Like so many things in life, I can see the good, in the long run, but right now, it hurts.