Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Institution

What is the church? How is it relevant to society? How is it relevant to me?

These questions have been spinning around my head for so long now it seems. In the past, I have been a member of the Seventh-day Adventist church and I have been heavily involved at various times with that community. More recently my attendance there has waned to the point of not having gone in several months now and I have been asking myself questions of who my community is and how the church plays a role in that definition.

As a part of experiencing different modes of worship, I decided to attend a church service, but not one of my normal church. A friend of mine invited me to attend the Imago Dei church down on 15th and Ankeny. It was definitely an experience. One that in many was resonated with my past experiences at my old churches. To this, I was greatly disappointed. It was the same old, same old as far as I was concerned. The only thing that I felt comfort in was that I was able to be lost within the congregation. The first time I went, it was with the friend who invited me. The second time I went alone. It was a blessing to "blend in with the pew" and not be forced to be happy, or excited to be there. I was there to worship. Worship is something done without words. I had no words those days. What I had was anger, frustration and a desire to not be a part of this "pack of conformed people."

What is church? Church represents a community of people that gather together to praise God and presence with each other. If that is what church is, then why do I need to go to a 'bring and mortar' place to experience this praise? So much of our spirituality is a personal thing. Beyond that, what is the purpose of a church? It is a place of belonging. And it is a place of belonging where a person much act and dress and believe in a way that conforms to the ideals of that institution. If you do not act, dress or believe in that fashion, go somewhere else. Every church will implore you that they accept all people... and they will do their darndest to convert you at the same time. They are not O.K. with you being O.K. There is a need for the church to make you feel as though you belong to it.

Lover of My Soul FbG6

During the stage of the Warrior, there is a transition that is made. In the language of real life, we find those places that allow us to escape from the mundane. To escape from the battle. These places are so important because they help teach our soul how to live. As we step into the shoes of the Warrior, we also step into the shoes of the Lover.

Through the process of Boyhood to Cowboy to Warrior, there is an undercurrent that pulls at our hearts. It's something that we at first don't recognize because we are in the thick of whatever it is we're doing. But by being where we are; being, exploring, or fighting, there is always this concept of beauty.

As life moves forward, the boy becomes the teen who becomes the young man. Beauty is so often seen in the woman. The woman is important yes but it is what's beyond the woman that is so important. She is the embodiment of beauty but if that is all we (men) see, then we are treating her as a commodity, not as something special and so much more than that. In fact, I would go so far as to say that so often it isn't the woman we see at all the first few times around, it is the mystery of the beauty.

This concept of the mystery I feel is so important and really takes hold of whole idea of beauty in and of itself. It isn't just something that can be bought, it's something that must be discovered every single day that we walk on this earth. For we are not just looking for the beauty or love of a woman, but also the beauty of love of God. And it's only by looking for that beauty, God's beauty, in every moment of every day, that we can find it. Everything in life seems always to come back to the idea of the process, well this is no exception. An individual cannot simply find love, the real thing, on the first go around. It's something that must be explored and fought for before it can be experienced.

So we begin to understand how this process all fits together and supports itself. We cannot transition through these stages, leaving one unfinished and expect to move forward as men in a healthy way. Yes, many of these aspects can be experienced simultaneously and grown men might need to be boys, but the understanding that we do this is what's so important.

In the end, the lover cannot give what he does not have. If he first does not love himself, then how can he give love to another. You see, if he doesn't love himself, he can't know true love of God. That can only be experienced, together. To do this men must be vulnerable with themselves and vulnerable with God. Share in the mystery of God's beauty and learn from his example as a Lover who is pursuing you with every fiber of his being. May that be your example, your template for being the Lover.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

This is not the time... FbG5

"The Lord will march out like a mighty man, like a warrior he will stir up his zeal; with a shout he will raise the battle cry and will triumph over his enemies."

Isaiah 42:13

Does this not speak to you men in some way? Maybe on the surface, maybe deep down. I'm not sure how it speaks to me. I guess part of that confusion stems from the notion that I have, during my entire life, been told of how passive and meek Jesus/God is. He is an entity of peace and calmness. We are always told not to fight, not to be aggressive with people around us. But as men, as warriors, we are made to fight. We are made to have passions and to let them be expressed. Instead, we are told that good Christian little boys don't get angry, they don't feel anything beyond love, peace, joy and happiness. I'm sorry, those people that have built that paradigm are wrong. It says so right up there.

Throughout the Old Testament there are multiple figures that are chosen by God, given the Spirit of the Lord and have gone to battle. Othniel, Gideon, Jepthah and David to just name a few. A key point here though, is that they were given the Spirit of the Lord. Outside of that, they were nothing. Take Sampson for example. Who was he when he wasn't the strong Sampson we think of? We see this fight in our everyday lives. I believe men try to capture this idea of the fighting and being warrior in sports. By watching sports we vicariously participate in a gladitorial type system of defeating those us. I don't believe that is a good thing. The reason that John Eldredge promotes for why we must fight, why we must be warriors is spiritual. "Our God is a warrior because there are certain things in life worth fighting for, must be fought for. He makes man a warrior in his own image, because he intends for man to join him in that battle." We are meant to be warriors with a conscience and a purpose. We are fighting for something. Not just for ourselves.

We are given the opportunity to be warriors ever day and beyond that, many times within every day. But we run. We hide. We are passive and it is passivity that kills the warrior, not the scars we acquire through battle. Suffering, for some of us a mainstay, is experienced as a result of not being willing to fight. For many of us, we choose not to recognize when the battle cry is being made. We choose to hide our heads in the sand before the battle lines are even made. In this way, evil is allowed to win almost without even trying. And it is a choice. Each warrior makes a cognitive choice to turn and flee. Why do you make those choices though? I believe this builds off all the previous stages and how men are wounded. We aren't taught or shown how to fight nor how to have the courage to even don the armor. As Eldredge says, "Passivity has no place in the lexicon of true masculinity. None. And to overcome passivity, God has set his warrior heart in every man."

So how is the warrior made? Through hardship. Through trials and tribulations. By proving that he can and will overcome the evil that is so pervasive in every moment of every day, that is how a warrior trains. Discipline. Training. Every experience in life can be seen as training for the day when the skills are needed. When the passion and the adventure come together to serve a purpose. It is through the training and the discipline that the passions are harnessed and allowed to manifest deep within ourselves so as not to be deterred from our mission, from our purpose.

How then, is a warrior unmade? Abandonment. By not having a purpose. Eldredge says that a warrior is wounded when there is "no king to give his allegiance to and no cause to fight for." My questions then are; what am I fighting for? Who is my king? What is worth shedding my blood, both spiritual and physical? How am I a warrior every minute of my day? Because when I do find things that begin to boil my blood, I need to be ready to fight with everything I have. I believe this concept speaks directly to what Paul meant by saying, "fight the good fight."

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sing it!

Over time, man has experienced many different ways of worshipping their deity. These forms of worship have take various shapes and styles to create unique experiences to honoring that deity. I have embarked on a relatively short journey to try and experience various forms that worship so as to broaden my horizons in how I worship my deity as well as to allow for a better understanding of how others worship their deity.

These first few weeks I have spent specific time singing and playing my guitar. I'm not doing this in front of anyone, except maybe the apartment mates who share the auditory space. This is actually a form of worship that I have been partaking in ever since I learned how to play the guitar. Through it, I can express myself through the singing and music created by the guitar itself.  Through the music, I can get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and have time to just play. I don't have to think about it too much which adds to the enjoyment. Just to get lost in the words and the chords allows for a semblance of peace to descend and rest on my shoulders.

Also, taking the time out of what I am doing in a day to pursue God and to view God through a different lens then what I normally do allows for a freshness to my approach to God.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Bring It On FbG ch4

"He wants to learn how to do things - how to drive a car, to hunt birds, to build a loft in his room. And now the Question of a man's soul begins to present itself in nearly everything the boy-becoming-a-young-man does: Do you have what it takes? In the cowboy stage the answer comes partly through adventure, and partly through hard work."

-John Eldredge

What does this quote mean to you? Do you remember being that age? When the work and play started to become one and the same? Or play become something done after work? It seems to me that this is what this stage is all about. Adventuring on a grand scale. As a boy, we adventure and push the limits that we have but as a cowboy, those limits begin to fade into the glory of being independent and aware of the world we are now inhabiting.

Eldredge mentions the hard work that gets experienced at this stage. I feel that for me, this is a true statement. I have spent many long days working and learning how to do things that men do. And I have been taught by men. A teacher from high school asked me one spring to help him build a house... a straw house. So we spent the next five summers doing just that. His property is in Central Oregon in a little town called La Pine. It's a three and a half hour drive just to get there and once you're there, you are almost nowhere. During the nights, you can see more stars than there are hairs on your head. The days are hot and long and the nights are cold and beautiful. When we first started the house, we slept in the pump-house. Mornings were cold but we had to get up to go to work. And we had to work to finish the house. This man, now a dear friend, worked with me, coached me and taught me. He taught me the process of building a house (a straw house at least), he taught me how to use certain tools and other building techniques. And then he let me work. And it wasn't just the work, it was working with him that made such a difference.

Another friend of mine was building a house. He is retired and is a vet. We were building his and his wife's retirement house... just the three of us. I think it was here that I learned the most about getting the job done. There were days where we would start at six because of the heat. I learned very well the idea of working hard to play later. I also learned the tangible benefits of coffee! It was learning from a master, being taught how to do something and then being expected to do it. It was here I think that a good foundation was laid that allowed me to believe in myself, to have confidence that I can do the things other men can do.

"Life is hard. While he is the beloved son, a boy is largely shielded from this reality. But a young man needs to know that life is hard, that it won't come to you like Mom used to make it come to you, all soft and warm and to your liking, with icing. It comes to you more the day Dad makes it come to you - with testing, as on a long hike or trying to get en exhaust manifold replaced. Until a man learns to deal with the fact that life is hard, he will spend his days chasing hte wrong thing, Using all his energies trying to make life comfortable, soft, nice and that is no way for any man to
spend his life."

-John Eldredge

Ya, life has been hard. I have struggled. Who am I kidding though, everybody's life has been hard. We all have our own relative struggles that weigh us down and give us cause to turn tail and flee. I believe the crucial variable at this point is having interpreters. My definition of an interpreter in this case is someone who has been through this process and, for the most part, inhabits a further stage than yours. They are someone who can look at what you're doing and see the potential paths, forks and turns you will experience. We each need someone who we can talk to and trust. This doesn't have to be our biological dads but it has to be a man who understands the process and a man we trust. If there's no trust then the structural criticism will be ignored and there will be no growth, or at least it will be much more difficult to attain.

As Eldredge points out, so many men get lost or stuck at this stage. They get addicted to the feelings of freedom and have no grounding principles that bring them back to reality. I think these are men who needed the adventure and maybe got into it with another man, and interpreter, who didn't understand the process and offered a false image what is important. Because it's not the adventuring that's important, it's how we are changed in that adventure. What do we come back with, what do we process when we are in the rawness of the moment. When we are laid bare to the world and to the elements and yet challenge everyone for more. Test me, let me show you I have what it takes!

So go adventure. Go experience your limits, find them and then break them. But come back, talk about it, process it. Share it with those men around you and listen. Listen to their experiences and listen to their wisdom. Then go test it again!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Every Little Boys' Dream FbG ch3

In the book, "Fathered by God," John Eldredge walks through six stages of manhood. It is my journey, and yours if you are reading this, to ask the hard questions in each of these stages. This book was meant for a male audience but I believe that it could have deep meaning for women too because our journey involves them on so many levels.

The first stage is Boyhood.

What images pounce through your mind when that word is spoken. I know for me, a smile begins to show at the edges and I think of Montana. That house made such an impression on me that to this day, I swear I could tell you every square inch (and the last time I was in it was when I was six)! The house, the property, every boys dream! Our house was big and rustic. At this point I would say it was a classic Montana house with huge amounts of acreage to play in and get lost. I would go on adventures to find dinosaur bones (bleached branches) and bring them back to a special tree who's roots made a small hollow that I could hide them in. I remember going exploring but never worrying about finding my way back home or of finding the odd cougar or mountain lion that was seen on the front porch of the house down the road.
When I think of boyhood, I think of when my family moved into the house we occupied for 18 years. We lived on two acres. The house and the managed yard were on the first and a wild expanse of blackberries, doug firs, alders and maple trees enveloped the rest. That was my kingdom. I would venture down as far as I could go. Make trails and campsites that would never be slept in. I would make up stories about slaying dragons or hunting beasts of indescribable ferocity! And always I would win.

"When a boy has this confidence, this security and safety created by masculine strength over him, the whole world opens before him. He is able to live as a boy - an explorer and adventurer."

John Eldredge

There, I was a boy. But life isn't always that simple. Eldredge speaks of being wounded. Every man has experienced this. Some of us know what it is, others haven't yet identified the source of pain and heartache in their lives. When we are wounded, we end up living out a terrible lie that has settled deep into our hearts: you are on your own (pp53). Just think of those words. I am on my own. You are on your own. No one is there for you, no one cares enough to be there for you. No one has time for you. It is now live and let die. There are many things that happen at this point. The naivety of the boy is lost. My naivety was lost. I began the long arduous process of growing up, but it wasn't long anymore. It was every day. I got a job. I went to school and participated in school sports during the week and then worked on the weekends. Soon enough, I got two jobs, then three. No longer was life fun. Sure there were and are fun things about it. But the adventure, the peace, is gone.

Growing up, dad worked. He worked all the time. Ya we'd play catch, and rough-house on Friday nights. But the affirmation that Eldredge speaks of wasn't there.

"Without this bedrock of affirmation, this core of assurance, a man will move unsteadily through the rest of his life, trying to prove his worth and earn belovedness through performance or achievement, through sex, or in a thousand other ways. Quite often he doesn't know this is his search. He simply finds himself uncertain in some core place inside, ruled by fears and the opinions of others, yearning for someone to notice him. He longs for comfort, and it makes him uneasy... A young place in his heart is yearning for something never received."

John Eldredge

Now, today, I feel that some of that affirmation has come. Just the other day, I was in class and got a call from my dad. When I got out of class to answer him, he said he just wanted to check in, see how I was doing. "It's been a while Greg." What he was really saying was, "I love you and I have been thinking about you because you are my son." Eldredge claims that, "the heart of a boy can be resurrected." It's a process. It doesn't just happen over night and we have all experienced enough life to have mistrust be a reality. But it is a process that continues every day in my life. I have begun to better understand the love my dad has for me. The pride he has in the way that I lead my life, the choices I make. Deep down, this is all I want. I want to be a little boy again with dad, except this time, he won't go to work, and we'll play catch all day and go camping, and fishing and work in the hard together. Or do remodeling on the house together. But I don't get that wish. Instead, I get to understand the love he has for me now.

Eldredge asks a question that I believe all men should attempt to answer every day. "How would you love to be fathered these days?"

Saturday, February 16, 2013

We Are Unfinished Men FbG ch2

"The deepest search in life, it seemed to me, the thing that in one way or another was central to all living was man's search to find a father, not merely the father of his flesh, not merely the lost father of his youth, but the image of a strength and wisdom external to his need and superior to his hunger, to which the belief and power of his own life could be united."

Tom Wolfe
"The Story of a Novel"

How true this quote can be for so many men. Just a little later, Eldredge points out that in Hebrews, God is about finishing his work in us. We are a work in progress and should take that into consideration as we walk the walk and fight the good fight.

Throughout this chapter, Eldredge uses the example of fathering found in the movie "Kingdom of Heaven" where Balian, the young man who has recently lost both his son and his wife, is told by a traveler that he is his real father and he wants his son, Balian, to join him. He wants to give him a purpose in life. In my own life, this calling is something I could experience. Maybe I have and I was just not able to recognize the words. But to be called to a great purpose, my purpose in life, is what I have been searching for these past many years.

My question is then, who is calling me? Is it God who will call me and I must listen for the voice that cannot be heard? Or will be a man of flesh and bone here in this world that will somehow pull me to action, pull me to be the warrior and to fight for something I believe in? I have a father of the flesh, and I love him and respect him for what he has done in his life as well as in mine. I have mentors who challenge me and push me places I couldn't go on my own. And I have a concept of a God who is supposed to transcend both of these and who will satisfy this deep, craving hunger that is present every day of my life. But as Eldredge says at the beginning of the chapter; perhaps the hardest thing is for us to believe from the deepest, darkest Jungian pools of our hearts that that I am the son of a kind, strong and engaged Father who is there for me in my journey.

So how do I cognitively believe in something that doesn't exist?