Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ante Up the Cool Factor

Trendiness makes me sick sometimes. And I think the thing that makes me sickest the most is how much I see it in myself when I look in the mirror.

If you have ever been acquainted with the majesty of Stuff White People Like, you may have gone through the list of things that -- gasp! -- white people like, calculated how many apply to you, and groaned at how cool you think you are. I think I took the quiz in the back of the book they published (because I own it) and came out at about 60%. That's just plain ridiculous. 60% of things that are super trendy, hip, and socially acceptable today are things that I am all about, man.

We tend to congregate around other people who are "in" like us, too. I know I immediately feel more at ease as soon as a new acquaintance and I start name-dropping favorite jazz greats, Cohen brothers films, ethnic food varieties, tea shops. (I'm so trendy I could barf.) It's so easy to shape the day around seeing people that make us look and feel cool, and doing stuff that will be fun to look at later in tagged Facebook pictures. Feeling funny and interesting is a high unlike any other, because it seems like with confidence like that, there's no need for anything else in the world.

When this sort of drug wears off though, leaving us as crippled as any crack addict, is when we are alone, with no one laughing at our witty, pop culture laced jokes or admiring our aluminum water bottles. We are who we truly are when we are lying in our beds, too plagued with thoughts and questions to let sleep drag us under its spell. Even after a night spent wreaking havoc at the beach with my friends -- which I did last night -- I can still return home feeling like I have nothing in this world of worth to cling to -- which I did last night.

This might be a redundant thought from me, and you might be tired of reading about it, but chances are that if I have to keep preaching to myself about the lie that this is a Laracentric universe, then chances are that you might be struggling through the same thing. Different facets of this issue, deeply rooted in who I am as a human being, keep hitting the light to be revealed to me at last. All the sources of my pride, however false and alluringly veiled they may be, are slowly being ripped from the soil of my heart to lie on the top for me to see.

Here lies another: the coolness factor.

While I'm busy finding something comfortable enough to keep me from looking like I'm trying too hard but stylish enough to show people my oh-so quirky imagination, I am still looking in the mirror at me, me, me.

"Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, 'If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all." Mark 9:35

People are there to make me feel adequate and satisfactory, not hurting and in need of someone to stop talking to my popular friends and lend a caring ear.

Social causes are there to make me feel aware and guilt people into being less enthusiastic about the world than I am, rather than represent problems that deserve more than a t-shirt, but heartbreak and help that requires true sacrifice on my part.

Blogs and such are there to make me feel like I have deep and important thoughts that everyone needs to hear and admire, instead of simply confessing to the ugly parts of me and sharing the one thing that has the potential to clean even the darkest blots on my heart: Jesus Christ.

If my faith and my life are one, then there's no room for this obsession to be cool, even a "cool" Christian whom outsiders can look at and go, "Hey! That girl is at a hookah bar? Maybe Christians aren't so weird after all!" I mean, being genuine and relatable to people is great and pretty vital, but may these pursuits never become more important than pursuing the cross to lay down my false gods, one by one. I am coming to the point where I don't care if people think I'm weird if I feel the overwhelming need to pray alone or read the Word than go get milkshakes with my friends in Campus Crusade. When all else fades away, the moments I spent in communion and fellowship with my God will surpass the moments I spent making sure I made it to that party so that I would be in on the blossoming inside jokes and bonds.

Let's make this life a deep one. Intentionally seek those who hurt for someone to care about their sorrows. Give up having a touch-screen cell phone to feed those who have so much less than we do. Turn down the offer to take the best job in the world with the best salary and throw yourself into humbly living to serve for the rest of your days.

"The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." 1 John 2:17

Friday, March 19, 2010

Two Masters

One of my most favorite things in the world is when several different things -- books, movies, conversations, whatever -- collide in my brain to reinforce one particular idea.

And you know I didn't just say that for no reason.

In my Microeconomics class on Tuesday, we learned about a man named Edward Bernays, who was one of the first marketing masterminds of the 20th century. Obsessed with how masses of people thought and acted, and what could trigger their emotions and desires, this psychoanalyst became the go-to man for any company in need of a major sales boost. Cigarette companies turned to him to find a clever way to get women to smoke, doubling their demographic -- he staged publicity events and wrote catchphrases all to make it socially acceptable. His propaganda was used for World War II to rouse American spirits, to get us to buy new cars and clothes, and even to make us think that President Coolidge was a hip guy who invited celebrities to the White House. Basically, he took pride in his ability to control the masses.

I was disgusted as I watched this documentary, because I saw the values he taught us in myself. I've been convinced that my clothes needed replacing merely because they were no longer in fashion. I have far more shoes than I'll ever need for all different occasions. I lust after material goods, knowing they will lose their luster moments after I spend money to have them, just because this guy has the media telling us that these things make us happy, we need them, they'll make us more popular, blah blah blah. I don't know about you, but I can't stand the thought of people telling me how to think, and look how easy it is.

Fast forward to today. I was doing a bit of light reading, Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand (that was irony, by the way), which details the author's experiences in communist Russia as a preacher of the gospel in hostile times. He's been thrown in prison and tortured for a total of 14 years, and the doctors he saw upon leaving prison the first time told him it was a miracle he was alive. He talked about young men being thrown into prison for approaching the prime minister and sharing the gospel with him, and being killed nearly immediately afterwards for it. (Interestingly, the PM did accept Christ just before he died, remembering their words before they were dragged off.) Secret police officers were converted to faith and then put in the same cells as the people they persecuted before, beaten in the same way, regardless of their rank. Beautiful young Russian girls were abducted on their wedding day, the moment when they were at the peak of their radiance, to be mutilated and distorted through torture by the prison guards. These people gave anything and everything for what they believed. They would rather have their teeth kicked out or be put in a box with nails driven through the sides than sell out either their fellow Christian brethren, or their torturers. They would be taken mid-preaching to be whipped and kicked and burned with a hot poker, and come back bruised and bloodied asking where they had left off.

These kind of people find that nothing is too precious in this world to be traded for the majesty of Christ. Rather, they refused to trade their steadfastness in Jesus for steadfastness in physical beauty, money, status, popularity, or comfort. I was absolutely moved by their refusal to buy into any lie that there is lasting joy to be found in anything, but hope in a love that transcends life itself.

It's pretty obvious where these ideas intersect and fuse, and these two things combined to become this fire in my heart about what I waste. I waste money on things that I don't need and won't care about in five years. I waste time on things that I'll forget by tomorrow and that won't have changed a thing on the face of this earth for the good of anyone. All of my selfish, short-sighted thoughts were like chaff in my soul, and the Holy Spirit began to burn it up as I meditated on Bernays' mass consumption and Wurmbrand's rejection of anything but the hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ.

I'm sick and tired of being complacent with planning for a comfortable job in an office, waiting to be courted by a financially-comfortable man to live in a comfortable suburban house, living a comfortable life with our children, living out my faith by making snacks for vacation bible school and then spending the rest of my time deciding what color to paint my front door.

I feel God is preparing me to step out after graduation with no idea where I'm going, to marry someone as crazy as I am to live our lives for the gospel (or even go it alone if I absolutely must), and to think every day: "A year ago today, I had no idea I'd be doing this."

If I profess something to be true, I want no contradiction between how I live and how I think. And I have found no greater hope than this gospel. May our hearts be purified of this culture we live in that tells us we can compromise giving Jesus our entire beings for any lesser thing.

Father, forgive me for making it about the clothes, the make-up, the car, the music, the grades -- everything but You.

"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." Matthew 6:24

"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:21

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Pleasing Sacrifice

Wow, it's been a while since I wrote last. Between mid-terms and other varying obligations, it's been difficult to find time to write without feeling that I am betraying some other duty with my time and efforts.

Heh, duty. (I am still six years old and crack up at that word, but only most of the time.)

(And when people say, "I do do that!" Bahahaha!)

Anyway, this is not to say that nothing noteworthy has been going on in my head. I often wish I could take a break from the barrage of questions and struggles and revelations -- an endless cycle, it seems -- but I can say without hesitation that the wisdom I have now would have been useful several years ago, and I'm thankful to have it. That's two millimeters farther on the endless road of stuff left to figure out, though.

I find that we as human beings have trouble sacrificing things that are dear to us. If something is fun, important, or comforting to us, we have a hard time seeing any reason to let it go, even if such value that we put on it is only temporary. That momentary satisfaction or thrill is enough to keep running back to, even if the long-term results are very clearly harmful.

The contentment I find in eating a rather bare salad for dinner, or avoiding pizza and pasta like the plague, and finding my comfort in body image, is enough of a drug to which I keep running back. I know I don't want to live my whole life this way. I hate feeling tears well up in my eyes sometimes in dressing rooms, or feeling like I want to hurl after giving in to a bowl of ice cream, being disgusted with myself. It's comforting to cling to the idea of looking thin, even though it is never enough. It can't be the ultimate happiness in the world.

(By the way, I hate talking about this, but there's no point in pretending I don't have problems.)

However, I think that just about anyone can see the value of giving up things that hurt us; it's overriding common sense. Otherwise we wouldn't have rehab clinics or therapists. Anyone with a brain can understand that there are things with no immediate consequences, but that will bring ruin in the end.

I used to think this was the only kind of sacrifice I would be called to make. Obviously, God doesn't want me to do things that grieve him. Therefore, life is all about handing over the ten commandments I break -- these sins -- to him, saying, "Never mind all that, God. I'm done." Being clean of breaking the rules, I would be set, right? That's what I thought, until I read a rather challenging verse:

"You must present as the Lord's portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you." Numbers 18:29

The context here: the Lord is laying out the sacrifices that he wants of the Israelites, in the fashion that has been laid out since Genesis. Abel's offering was pleasing because it was the best of what he had. God continues to admonish -- rather, command -- the best that they have, because there is no better use for it than offering it back to the Lord, and not becoming greedy or attached to worldly things. When did we decide to be the exception to such a heart towards God, choosing what's his to control and appropriate and what isn't?

Take, for instance, the desire of 99% of Christian females, thirsting and pining to get married to Prince Charming (aka Jesus of the 21st century). This is obviously not contrary to God's word; in fact, marriage is very good! It was the Lord's design for unity between men and women, the ultimate form of service and intimacy, loving someone else more than yourself and letting your needs die so that theirs can replace them. Ideally, of course. This is one of the holiest, most sanctifying, and difficult things God uses to teach us to follow him better.

Do most of us want marriage because it's hard? Not really! We watch Disney movies and expect these perfect guys to come wait on us hand and foot, and have a void filled with mushy honeymoon love for the rest of our lives. We tend to put matters into our own hands to make this happen, because from all that I have ever been told by real people who are really married, everything is not magic and sparkles every single day. It is our inclination to be in control of such matters and delude ourselves into thinking that if God loves marriage, then he is okay with sitting in the backseat and letting us drive all over the place, off the road and swerving wherever seems best at the moment.

Because that makes a whole lot of sense.

A new and dear friend of mine named Elisabeth Elliot has really shed light on this in my reading Passion and Purity, which is quite the book! She says: "A good and perfect gift [is love], these natural desires. But so much the more necessary that they be restrained, controlled, corrected, even crucified, that they might be reborn in power and purity for God." I had never thought about that before. We have the capacity to screw up perfectly good institutions and gifts for our own glory and self-fulfillment, when both of those are only meant to be byproducts of a different motivation, which is to make God's magnificence known above all else.

So we put all kinds of things on the altar. The sins we hang onto. The gifts we keep tightly gripped in our hands. The things that we selfishly guard for ourselves, wanting to be in control, wanting to bring all attention and praise to ourselves, wanting to be blessed by and wanting it for ourselves alone. This covers just about... everything! Haha. As a self-attested control freak and perfectionist, and self-centered being extraordinaire, I can think of almost nothing that I don't want to take care of for myself and for my own good.

There is good news, though, for that which we give up to God's control: he controls it.

"Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall." Psalm 55:22

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [food and clothing, basic needs] will be given to you as well." Matthew 6:33

God has a more than reasonable track record for fulfilling promises and remembering his faithful people. We might envision different blessings than what he gives, but in remembering that God is sovereign and good, it becomes less difficult to imagine that he could possibly have a more accurate idea of what I need and what will take care of me.

Therefore, offer up to God everything that cannot be pried from your hands, because he loves you too much to rob you of the freedom to control things if you want to, and keep it all for yourself. But give back to the Lord, and see what he does with the offerings. Jesus multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish into food enough for five thousand men and all their accompanying women and children.

Challenge him to do the same with the things you place on the altar.