Wednesday, October 1, 2014

STUFF JESUS DIDN'T SAY, Part 2

To tell you the church is pro-life isn't shockingly new information. Had you spent your entire life living in a box (in this country), you would still probably know this to be true. It seems that some religious organization is always battling the government when it comes to this topic. Most recently, the organization to take a pro-life stance and file a lawsuit challenging the federal government was Hobby Lobby. Or perhaps your daily commute takes you by places like Planned Parenthood where protesters hold poster board signs displaying disturbing images of aborted babies. Of course, you are reminded of this every election when one of the candidates jabs the other for their stand for or against the pro-life movement.

Why has the church taken this stance? Because, as Jesus' followers, we have read Scripture and, somehow, discerned him saying "I am pro-life." While this is true--Jesus is very pro-life--we seemed to have added a caveat, "...but only when it comes to babies."

How do I know this? Partly due to the fact that I've been involved in the church for the past 25 years of my life. Given that length of time, I think it's safe to say the impression I get--that death, sometimes, is perfectly acceptable--has at least some validity. I've heard enough sermons based on the Old Testament passage of "an eye for an eye," to justify their stance on topics like capital punishment and war. I've sat in board meetings where decisions were made to ban people from serving in or even attending the church because of their criminal background. But these aren't the only reasons I know this to be so.

Just a couple weeks ago, every local media outlet informed the Sioux Empire that a death row inmate had committed suicide. He was found dead, in his cell, overnight. Although the penitentiary staff tried to revive him, their efforts were unsuccessful.

For a day or two, the talk of the town seemed to revolve around his apparent suicide. Everyone had their two cents to add to the discussion. Customers came into the office informing me that justice had finally been served and the victim's family would get the closure they had been waiting for. Comments on various news source articles ranged from "he took the easy way out," to "hell has a special place reserved for him." Others gave a sigh of relief because, according to them, "he would no longer be a drain on tax payer dollars." The discussion even spilled over to social media--no surprise there. I read numerous twitter updates (and I don't even have twitter). And my feed on Facebook was hijacked with friends sharing the articles and posting their opinions on the entire situation.

Given his long criminal record and the nature of his crimes, these comments aren't that big of a shock to me. He had, afterall, killed another human being--an elderly woman, whose vehicle he stole in order to drive to the capitol and assassinate the president.

I'd be lying if I said those same sentiments didn't cross my mind at first. Truth be told, I have spent far too much of my life making similar remarks. Rejoicing when enemies of America are killed. Breathing a sigh of relief when another murderer breathes his last breath. All because I am an individual who highly values justice. Like most of you (I assume), there is something deep within me that finds solace when people get what they deserve--unless it's me of course. So, you see, I, too, had bought into the lie that Jesus is pro-life, but only for babies. All of that was to, hopefully, get you to see that I'm  not here to cast judgment; because that's the last thing on my mind. However, this whole situation raised some important questions for me.

For starters, all of this makes me wonder if we, the church, are truly pro-life. You see, we have certainly created a culture in the church that is pro-birth, but it seems to fall short of being pro-life. And there is a vast difference. To mourn the loss of one life and celebrate the death of another strikes me as inconsistent, at the very least. This is not what I see when I look to Jesus. I don't recall a single occasion in which Jesus celebrated the death of another human being, even a convicted criminal. He never seemed to condone the concept of casualties of war--indicating that their death was necessary for the greater good. Which brings me to the topic of justice. Namely, are death and justice synonymous? Ever?

It seems to me, here is another example where Christian beliefs have been hijacked by the political right. Where the lines between faith and politics have been blurred. Where we have taken the easy road and failed to holistically approach this idea of pro-life. Because, while Jesus seems to be pro-life, I get the impression it's much more than a stance against abortion.

So, what needs to change about our, the church's, understanding of being pro-life?

To begin with, just as Jesus affirms ALL life, so must we!

If we believe what the book of Genesis tells us about humanity, we have no choice but to believe that all of us were created in the image of God. Male. Female. Gentile. Jew. Muslim. Rich. Poor. Law-abiding citizen. Convicted criminal. While the sin living in each of us tarnishes that image; it doesn't negate the fact that somewhere, somehow, all of us speak to the grandeur of God. That if we look close enough, we are still able to see his imprint on our lives, no matter what state it's in. This is why death, in any form is wrong. Period. Abortion. Euthanasia. Casualties of war. Capital punishment. Not only do they all go against everything Jesus talked about concerning life--which, it seems to me, he talked about an awful lot. But they also suppress the very image of God that resides within each of us. To celebrate their death makes us not only less human, but less like God.

For this reason, according to Shane Claiborne, "We need to be pro-life from the womb to the tomb." And "...to talk about being pro-life," says Cardinal Bernadin of Chicago,  "it has to be a seamless statement of life that reaches all the way from abortion to war to caring for the poor." Obviously, these two gentlemen are more in tune with what it means to be a pro-life follower of Jesus. Which leads me to believe that, we, the church, need to revoke the lines we have drawn. That value the life of the unborn over the born. That view foreign life as less significant. That prefer legal justice over divine justice.

Which brings us to justice. Because that's what we're really talking about, isn't it? When death is and isn't just. But this approach fails to take into account everything Jesus taught us about mercy, forgiveness and loving your enemy.  

Demonstrating his Mercy, Jesus lamented "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God's messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn't let me." (Luke 13:34). And this deep seeded desire to extend compassion to Jerusalem, was only the beginning. Even though Jerusalem wouldn't let him offer the help (and hope) they desperately needed, Jesus still laid down his life for them.

Speaking on forgiveness Jesus tells Peter (and us), to forgive "...not seven times, but seventy times seven!" (Matthew 18:22). Scholars all agree Jesus isn't talking about a literal 490 times. The point Jesus seems to be making is that, as his followers, we should actually follow his example. That example is to not keep score. Not in the church. Not in our relationships. And not even with those who commit atrocious crimes.

Giving us examples on what it looks like to truly love, Jesus says "You have heard the law that says, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike." (Matthew 5:43-45). And, just in case this one wasn't clear enough, he offers other examples, just in like: "turn the other cheek," "if a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles," or "if you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too."

So, you see, this Old Testament attitude of "an eye for an eye" will not do anymore. Gandhi seemed to recognize this truth so easily, admonishing us that ,"An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind." This is not justice. At least, not according to Jesus. Perhaps it's time we read the Bible, not through the lens of retributive justice, but restorative. Because when we understand justice from this perspective, it takes on a much different meaning. I assert that, to Jesus, justice speaks of our failure to embody God's concern for the well-being of all people. Justice requires that we turn back to God and away from the injustices society finds acceptable--that favor the wealthy, powerful over the vulnerable, poor. Jesus' call to justice is not for judgment, but the way to overcome it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

STUFF JESUS DIDN'T SAY, Part 1

Growing up, church was a vital part of my family's life. If the doors were open, we were there. Every Sunday morning my mother would drag my brother's and I to church. I quickly learned that she would not tolerate us being a distraction to her or anyone else sitting within ear shot. That meant we had two options: we could either sit still in the uncomfortable wooden pew (which the church still has to this day) and listen to the sermon; or let our father deal with us when we got home. Recognizing that fighting was futile, unlike my brothers, I accepted my lot and chose the former. Needless to say, at a young age, I was engaging with the sermon every Sunday morning. I would take notes and mark various things in my Bible. At home, I would look up each and every verse--obviously, to make sure the pastor wasn't preaching heresy. Yes, I'm kind of nerdy; but that's nothing new. In Sunday School, I was the annoying kid with all the answers. Every summer I went to camp and lead my team to victory with the most points for Scripture memorization. I was a leader in our youth group and even had opportunities to present the lesson on Wednesday nights. I've read the Bible from cover to cover a handful of times. Most of my college electives were filled with Bible classes from The Old Testament to The Letters of Paul and everything between. I'm even known to listen to sermons while I work.

Having this insight, you would think I rarely walk out of a church service confused. But I do! It's not that the teaching is too theological--if you'd like to talk, I can explain the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. Nor do I find the messages to be too removed from every day life. Truth be told, the church seems to have come a long way in making the Bible not only understandable, but relate-able. What, then, leaves me perplexed?

Jesus. But not Jesus himself. It's the way we have portrayed Jesus in the Church. This is nothing new. It's obvious the world thinks we are a bunch of hypocrites, but that's another discussion entirely. You see, sometimes, those of us in the church have a way of making Jesus a bit more palatable. A little less offensive. We find our way around his more difficult and politically incorrect thoughts on life. We dismiss it as a metaphor. And, just like the expert in the law, referenced in The Parable of the Good Samaritan, we will look for a loophole--"who is my neighbor?". And sometimes we are guilty of putting words in Jesus' mouth. Words he never said. Words he never alluded to. Words that can't even be found by reading between the lines. It seems that many of us have mastered the art of Biblical Twister--using Scripture, out of context, to support our own take on what we think Jesus really meant to say.

In case you need a little convincing, I've put together a few popular sayings that have (at one time or another) been attributed to Jesus (or the Bible). "God helps those who help themselves." Where can you find this one in the Bible? Trick question. You can't find it because it's not there. Or how about "God won't give you more than you can handle." Nothing like this crossed the lips of Jesus according to Scripture. And while I tend to agree that "Cleanliness is next to Godliness." Jesus doesn't come close to teaching anything of the sort.

Which is why I have chosen to start this series of posts. To set the record straight on some things we, the Church, might have you believing Jesus actually said.

"Establish a church, purchase a building, and gather together with like minded individuals."       -Jesus

In case I've already lost or confused you, Jesus never said that. From my estimation, he never encouraged his followers to set up a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization. Nor did he encourage any of them to purchase a building in order that they can hold weekly worship services. And oddly enough, Jesus never really mentioned that his purpose was to create a community of like minded people.

Perhaps you disagree. You might be inclined to think that Jesus came to do away with the religious system and start a new church. But, you'd be wrong. Jesus clearly points out that he didn't come to abolish the current system, just to set it straight. Maybe you question how the church could gather together in the thousands to hear the apostles preach without their own building. You could point to the fact that the meeting place of a large church in Jerusalem was the temple (Acts 2:46). The fact remains, these instances were the exception, not the rule. Furthermore, that is the only reference to Christians meeting in the temple after Pentecost. Or maybe, after reading the biography of Jesus' life, you have concluded that he drew crowds of the like minded. While that was certainly the case to an extent, I hardly think that was his purpose. And the record clearly shows, those who were drawn to Jesus came from all walks of life.

Now that we've cleared that up, let me start off by saying that I don't find anything wrong with establishing a church. Partaking in the worship and community most churches offer is a vital aspect to the Christian life. Neither do I believe churches that purchase buildings are inherently evil. There is no doubt in my mind that property ownership can be a fiscally responsible thing--and Jesus does admonish us to be good stewards. And I can attest to the fact that when the church is unified and acts like the church, there is no entity on earth that can bring about greater good. When put into the proper perspective, churches, buildings and unity are useful tools. They are the means by which we are able to establish the kingdom of heaven here on earth.

But, I can't get around the blaring truth that Jesus didn't tell us to create a tax exempt institution. Yet, from the founding of this country, the church has had a contractual agreement with the government granting them exemption from taxes. All under the premise of keeping the church and the state separate. Today, a vast majority of churches operate under the umbrella of a 501(c)(3) organization. While it seems this is a great benefit to the church, the reality may be quite different. Being extended tax-exempt status by the government requires an organization to jump through certain hoops, so to speak. There are rules and requirements that must be adhered to in order to maintain the right to claim exemption. One such requirement is that any 501(c)(3) entity must not be an action organization--in other words, they shouldn't attempt to influence legislation, nor are they allowed to participate in any campaign activities. Lately, this has been more than evident with the volatile political debates taking place on marriage, health care reform, abortion, immigration law, and our involvement in the war overseas (just to name a few). For the church to uphold this contract with the government requires nothing short of silence regarding all of these issues (and more). Unfortunately, it's tough to be a light in the darkness by remaining distant and silent on topics such as these. Which is why I have to agree with Mike Huckabee that, "It's time for churches to reject tax exempt status completely; freedom is more important than government financial favors." Whether we believe it or not, it is our responsibility to stand on the truth of Jesus Christ and affect change in our world. And sometimes that means we need to get involved in the political arena. But it's tough to do so when we are dependent on handouts from the government for remaining silent.

As far as property ownership goes, Jesus never said it was necessary to spread the Good News., like some churches would have you believe. And to be honest, we read very little about the church, as a centralized institution, owning property. There were indications that, in Rome, early Christians met in various public places such as warehouses or apartment buildings. But, for the most part, the church was dependent on members who owned property to provide places for their gatherings--i.e. the house of Mary, the house of Lydia, the house of Justus--I think you get the picture. The New Testament church also reveals that property and possessions belonged to individuals (not the church), but were sold in order that the church could provide for those in need (Acts 2:45)--something the church seems to have lost sight of today. It seems to me, a vast majority of church budgets is being directed toward property ownership and upkeep. I've seen some incredible, state-of-the-art, church facilities. And it's no secret, religious institutions own a lot of real estate. In the United States alone, the estimated value of un-taxed church property lands somewhere between $300 and $500 billion. I can't even wrap my head around that much money. If only some of that were redirected I can't help but think it would go a long way in providing basic necessities for so many in our world that go without. Sadly, many churches have the propensity to equate their success with the former as opposed to the latter. Perhaps this is why Jesus and the early apostles seemed so unconcerned with creating extravagant worship centers. To focus on a building seems counter-intuitive to what they were trying to do. Not only does it perpetuate the idea that this building is where ministry happens--which is a hard theology to teach considering "the Son of Man had no place to lay his head." But it also fuels the competitive spirit of comparison and has a tendency to lead to a church where comfort and complacency reign supreme.

Last, but certainly not least, I don't really recall Jesus requiring everyone who followed him to think exactly like he did. Have you read through the Gospels? Do you recall how many times the disciples--Jesus' closest followers--completely missed the boat on what he was doing? James and John were known as "The Sons of Thunder" for wanting to strike down everyone who got in their way with lightning from heaven. Peter denies Jesus three times in one night. The sight of the resurrected Christ wasn't enough proof for Thomas; he had to feel the actual wounds. And I can't even begin to tell you how many times Jesus chastised all of them for their lack of faith. Yet, in spite of all their shortcomings, he didn't reject them. He never turned any of them away because they didn't uphold a certain standard. To my knowledge, they never went through any sort of ceremonial initiation to join his crew. I'm certain he didn't ask them to sign a membership agreement. It's unfortunate that many of us have taken the exact opposite approach when it comes to joining the church. Instead of Jesus' "follow me" mentality, numerous churches seem to have an "agree to this" approach. The "my way or the highway" attitude. You're in or you're out. We have mistakenly majored on the minors. Unfortunately its doctrine--not dogma--that is dictating what it means to follow Jesus. And that very doctrine is alienating those who most desperately need what Jesus and the church have to offer. In the words of one of my college professors, "We have made it more difficult to join the church than God made it to get into Heaven."

What a sad state we find ourselves in partnering with the government for financial gain; all the while remaining distant and silent from the atrocities we are called to address. In promoting the church at the expense of the kingdom; under the premise that it equips us to serve the community better. In valuing conformity at the expense of unity; thinking we are weeding out the heretical. But it makes me wonder. Have we missed Jesus' most important mandate--to go? Would he have something to say about the state of the church and our current understanding. Or, better yet, would our churches even welcome Jesus into their body with open arms?





Friday, May 16, 2014

TO THE DYING CHURCH: OFFER US THE HOPE YOU ONCE DID

My Dear Friend,

It breaks my heart to be the one to tell you this. But I figured you might be more receptive hearing this from me. I think you already know what I'm about to tell you--it's nearly impossible you couldn't know with how loud everyone's whispers have become.

Something is terribly wrong! You are sick.

I know this isn't the news you were hoping for, but it's the truth. With this in mind, I feel now, it is more important than ever that I lay things out for you--no matter how much it pains me. I will no longer stand by and watch you suffer. I will not allow you to continue living in denial, hoping everything will fix itself. What you are facing is very real. It requires much more than the superficial bandages you are currently using. And no matter how much you believe you are in better shape than everyone else, pointing out their weakness will not bring you healing. 

Now that the tough part is out of the way, I want you to know there is hope. You can pull through this. You can get better--even better than you were before the diagnosis. But it is going to require you to make some drastic changes. Nothing short of your own blood, sweat and tears will reverse this tragic disease.

For starters, you can no longer reject the input of everyone around you. Even when you don't like what they have to say. You must stop "[following your] own desires and [looking] for teachers who will tell [you] whatever [your] itching ears want to hear." By doing this, you have driven a wedge between you and those who love you dearly. I don't understand how you could turn your back on them--the very people who have stood by your side all these years. And then to condemn them and cast them aside for offering help? It's not making things better. You have to stop isolating yourself from everyone just because you disagree. I know that criticism is hard. I realize everyone doesn't hold the same world-view as you. But that doesn't mean they are inferior to you. Nor does it give you the right to simply write them off. Believe it or not, there is a lot you can learn from your critics. If only you would learn to take the good with the bad. To see things from their perspective. You just might be able to gleam some invaluable insight about your condition.

Furthermore, it is time you get past all this negativity. Everything isn't all bad, is it? Can you not find a single ounce of good in anything? I think it is time you admonish the words of our dear brother Paul. "Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." Surely you can find these things, even in the darkest places. Is God not at work there? Didn't he create all that we see? If he did, certainly you can find the good he once saw. Perhaps it's time you just look a little harder, that you may find the work God has started and partner with him in redemption. 

In addition to that, you must learn to stop with all this hatred. You may think you are taking a Biblical stand. You might even be right about some of this. But why do you always feel the need to prove your knowledge? It only comes across as bigotry and ignorance. I know the world is full of "bad" people. Don't forget that you, yourself were once just like them--on the receiving end of the hatred you now spew. Singling them out and condemning them isn't helping; it's only making things worse. All this hatred is driving away those you, at one point, so desperately wanted to offer hope. When will you realize that hatred only begets hatred? In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." So, if you think the world is such a dark place, perhaps the problem doesn't lie with the world...perhaps it's because you have stopped shining the light. Of all people, you should know "it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick."

A professor once told me "People don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care." There is a lot of wisdom to this statement. Until you learn, like Jesus, to put yourself in their shoes, they won't listen to a word you have to say. Wasn't it his practice to "[not] be selfish," and "[not] impress others." but to "Be humble, thinking of others as better than [himself]. [Not to] look out only for [his] own interests, but to take an interest in others, too." Isn't that what drew you to him? How quickly have you forgotten the example he set for you? If you want to be well like you once were, look to Jesus. Imitate him. The man who offered his life for a traitor race. The one who bled only love and forgiveness for us all.

Which brings me to my last point. Over the years I have noticed a change in the way you talk. And it's not just the negativity. It's even the way you share your story. To be quite honest, it's downright depressing. I don't find much hope in your words anymore. From my estimation, in order to attract the masses, your message has become reminiscent of the numerous self-help books that fill the used bookstore down the street from my work. Five easy steps for a better marriage. Three ways to financial freedom. How to boost your self-esteem. Seven habits of successful leaders. I know these are problems facing the world today, but your message used to be so much more life-giving than all of that. Your words used to inspire me to be a better person, to make the world a better place, to love not just my neighbor, but even my enemies. Lately it seems like all you talk about is how Jesus came to die for your sins. Not that this isn't true. He did, in fact die for your sins. Willingly, might I add. In obedience to the Father. But somehow you seemed to forget the broader truth. Not only did Jesus die for your sins, but for the sins of your agnostic neighbor. And the sins of the drunk, abusive father down the street. And the sins of the inmate on death row. Until you turn from this narrow-minded, self-centered message and make this about the community and restoration, your health will continue to decline. And the more you promote yourself and build your kingdom, the quicker your demise will come.

Offer us the hope you once did. Spur us on to be a beacon of hope, love and compassion. Share again of what God will do through us, for the world. Challenge us to wash the feet of those who will betray us. Remind us how it all ends..."After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: 'Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'" Do this, and surely you will be on the road to recovery.

I know there is so much of this I still need to work on myself. Perhaps we can do this together. Until you're reawdy, know that I pray for you everyday. Hoping that one day you will quit pushing away and shutting out those of us who love you. That you will listen and accept the help we desperately want to give you. I know the healing process will be difficult. It will require you to, in humility, acknowledge you were wrong. To recognize that you alone don't have all the answers. Although it will be painful in the beginning, it will eventually lend itself to healing. This is the only way for you to survive this ordeal and be whole again. I hope you will heed the words of this letter. I would, once again, like to see you in all your grandeur. Regardless of the outcome, know that I will always be grateful for the love we once shared. It has made me who am I today.

With all my love,

Jordan

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

ALLEGIANCE

After spending the better part of Sunday afternoon letting the weight of the sermon sink in, my friend decided to give me a call. The tone of his voice revealed the level of frustration he was experiencing. I tried to coax out of him why he was upset, but he remained vague. He maintained that he'd like to meet in person to discuss it further. We decided to meet up for lunch Monday afternoon.

I always hate going into conversations like this--completely blind. They make me anxious! For years I had a boss that was notorious for doing the same thing. He would come into my office to tell me that we needed to talk. Usually this was followed by a request for coffee or lunch later that day. Before I could even press him for details, my boss would be out the door and down the hall. Immediately, my mind would jump to the worst case scenario, thinking I was getting fired. I would work myself up. Worry would set in. My stomach would get in knots. And I'd make myself sick dreading that conversation until it was over. Nine times out of ten, my boss just wanted to reaffirm something I was doing and tell me how much he appreciated me. All things considered, you think I would be used to these kinds of conversations by now. But I'm not! You think I wouldn't get so worked up. But I do!

From the time we hung up until the time we met for lunch, I agonized over what the conversation might entail. I knew he and his wife were going through a rough patch. So, instantly, I thought he was going to tell me they were getting a divorce. I spent hours trying to think of things to say that would offer him some sort of solace. Having been there myself, I knew there were really no words that would do this experience any justice.    

I was the first to arrive and made myself comfortable in the corner booth. A few minutes later he walked in. I grabbed his attention and he made his way to the back of the restaurant. He sat down and initiated small talk. After the waitress took our order, I cut to the chase and asked him what was going on. He was upset about something his pastor said in his sermon the previous morning. Quickly, he gave me a recap of the sermon. I'd be lying if I told you I heard much of what he said. I was too relieved to focus on the words that were flowing. However, he caught my attention when he quoted the pastor as saying: "If you aren't willing to die for this church, it might be time for you to find a new place to worship. We could use the seats."

Apparently, his pastor wasn't messing around. Not only was he challenging the church to take Jesus' call to be "all in" to an entirely different level; but, in fewer words, he told the congregation that he didn't really want some of them there. Maybe the whole statement was taken out of context. Perhaps his pastor got a bit worked up and didn't really mean to say it the way it came out. But then again, I can't entirely dismiss the fact that he meant exactly what he said. I can't help but think this mentality might be infiltrating our churches today. It might surprise you to know that pastor's statement doesn't shock me. Not because those sentiments resonate with me, but because I've seen this attitude present in the church for quite some time. To be honest, it's probably nothing new to my generation either.

While I haven't heard those exact words uttered on a Sunday morning, the same message seems to be popping up more regularly. For a time it seemed to be reserved for debates with "un-believers." But anymore, it seems they aren't the only ones we've gone to war with. Even in our fellowship (or lack there of) with rest of the global church, there is sense of pride. The church seems to be rearing it's smug attitude of superiority all over the place. I hear it in sermons, when pastor's brag about their denominational affiliation. I read it in books, when the author bashes any and every dissenting theological view. I see it posted on social media when my friends confess their love for their church. That's not to say I haven't been guilty of any of this. I have! However, I like to think that I'm now more aware of it and trying to fight against it in my own life.

To think that we have Christianity figured out and to garner a sense of pride in our church or our theology is to lack the humility Jesus so adamantly encouraged. Wasn't this the same pride that was foundational to the attitude Jesus condemned in every encounter with the self-righteous Pharisees? Aren't we the same as them in that regard--that our pride says to others, "My Christianity is superior to yours."? When we propagate this mind-set, we cease to partner with Jesus in the work of reconciliation and restoration. Thusly, we cease to truly be the Church.

There! Now I'll step off my soap box, and offer some insight--the same insight I offered my friend.

Everywhere we turn, someone, or something is vying for our allegiance. Sports teams. Car companies. Television networks. Politicians. Political parties. Flags. Countries. And of course, the church. Many of us will readily admit that Jesus taught our allegiance is to be, first and foremost to God. That is, until someone steps on our toes and throws our church into the mix. For many, their allegiance to God and their church are so intertwined it's difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. But what does Jesus have to say about all of this?

From my estimation, God makes it pretty clear that he does not want to vie for our allegiance. Isn't that the whole point of the first commandment? Jump ahead to the New Testament and we find Jesus teaching the same thing. At one point Jesus goes so far as to tell us that our allegiance cannot be divided. Either we will love the one and hate the other, or hate the one and love the other. According to Jesus, serving two masters isn't just difficult, it's impossible. To further illustrate this point, he even turns away a would be disciple. From reading the story, this man seems to have a legitimate concern. All he wants to do is bury his father before taking off to follow in the foot steps of this rabbi. But from Jesus' perspective, his allegiance is divided, so this won't fly.

Today is no different. God doesn't want to vie for our allegiance. Yet he must, because our allegiance is divided between church attendance, theological stances and denominational commitments (among other things). As if these things take precedence over following Jesus. Paul seems to address this all too common attitude in his letter to the Corinthian Church. To them he writes, "When one of you says, "I am a follower of Paul," and another says, " I follow Apollos," aren't you acting just like the people of the world? after all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God's servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it. but it was God who made it grow. It's not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What's important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work."

Who cares if you follow Wesley? What difference does it make that you are Baptist? Does it matter that you adhere to the teaching of Luther? Are these the distinctive things that make you a disciple of Jesus? Of course not! What's important, according to Paul, is that God is doing something. In spite of our varying beliefs, God continues to cause that seed to grow. But, from time-to-time the church would have you believe something entirely different. They will make it a point, perhaps indirectly, to major on the minors. Various churches will seek to exclude others from the kingdom of God based on a person's preference on worship style, which translation of the Bible they ready, or any other issue in which they don't see eye-to-eye.

Just because someone has a differing view on something doesn't mean we have to bring their allegiance to Jesus into question. This point was so eloquently made by Rob Bell. During an interview, he took a particular stance on a particular issue that lead many to question if he even believes in Jesus. "...You have a particular conviction," he said, "and all of the sudden your orthodoxy or your faithfulness to Jesus is called into question." This should not be the case. Jesus made room for the Church to be much more inclusive than all of that. According to Galatians 3:28, "There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For [we] are all one in Christ Jesus."

Let me be clear on this one thing: we cease to be the church when our divisiveness makes much of theology and little of Jesus. Being the Church has never been about agreeing on every little piece of doctrine. It has been about throwing aside our individual identities, in order to take on a new identity in Christ. One that no longer differentiates between all of this, but validates the work God is doing. It seems to me, that's why Paul specifically admonishes us to "never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." Perhaps it's time we again listen to the words of the old hymn that remind us "...[our] hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness."

So, you see, no matter how great, how biblical, or how Christ centered our theology, our church, or our denomination is, they are still fallible. And no matter how we spin it, to make much of them is nothing short of idolatry. These things, in and of themselves, do not make anyone a disciple. Just hear the words of Jesus "I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life."

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

TRUST, Part 2

To answer that, lets start by addressing the elephant in the room. All of us has baggage that keeps us from trusting God. We equate the way we are treated by the ones we love with how God treats us. To those of us with a stern, abusive father; we see God as a dictator. Anyone with an inattentive mother might view God as someone who is distant and unloving.  If we have an unfaithful spouse, God becomes a heartless cosmic being. The list goes on and on in which our interactions with one another are projected onto God.

Now for a a disclaimer. God is not a Genie! We don’t just come to him whenever we want, rub a lamp, and have our wishes granted. That’s not how faith works. That's not how God works. Scripture is very clear that God will provide for us. It is even pretty clear on what He will provide for us. He will provide us with everything we need, not everything we want. Again, some of our baggage has to do with the fact that a majority of us find it difficult differentiating between our wants and our needs.

Now that we've cleared that up, let's take a look into the story of father Abraham--who had many sons (I can't read this story without that song popping into my head; so, you're welcome).

But before we do, let me give you “The Story of Abraham for Dummies.” God made a covenant--just a fancy word for a pact--with Abraham that He would bless his descendants. However, at the time God made this promise, Abraham and his wife Sarah didn't have any descendants. Actually, they couldn't even have kids. Abraham was past his prime and Sarah was barren, so it makes this promise kind of unbelievable. Being human and becoming overwhelmed by circumstances, Abraham and Sarah did what most people in their situation would do. They took matters into their own hands. Sarah gave Abraham her servant Hagar to have a child with, and Abraham wanting to keep the misses happy--my assumption--agrees. Hagar became pregnant, Sarah got ticked off (which always happens when a marriage involves more than 2 people), and 9 ½ months later Ishmael was born. It is here God reiterates the covenant with Abraham, and informs him their son--the one he was going to bless the world through, which isn't Ishmael--would be joining the world in about a year. Abraham and Sarah, at the young ages of 100 and 91 (respectively) welcome Isaac into the world. From here, we will jump ahead to pick up the story in Genesis 22:1-14:

Sometime later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called.

“Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”

“Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”

The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”

So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”

“God will provide a lamb  for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.

When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice.

At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!”

“Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.”

Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son.  Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

Why did I recount this story from thousands of years ago? For several reasons. One of which, being this story, no matter how archaic, has a lot of lessons for you and me. Namely, it illustrates the apprehension we have with trusting this God.

Before we get to that, I feel it's necessary to address the common misconception that the point of this story is Abraham's great faith. A faith, so extraordinary, that it would allow him to even consider sacrificing his son. In all reality, Abraham did nothing extraordinary. Abraham was a product of the culture in which he lived. A culture where sacrificing children was a pretty common practice to appease the god's. Abraham was only doing what he knew. Through that lens, we see that his faith wasn't that extraordinary afterall. I won't disagree with you that it would take a certain amount of faith to follow through with this act. Neither will I negate that this would be an incredibly painful reality for Abraham to come to grips with. I'm just making the case that's not the point of this story. Making that the point unwittingly gives the starring role of this drama to Abraham; when clearly, it doesn't belong to him. The spotlight is meant to be on God. Not because he is an egotistical being. Not because Abraham is unimportant. Rather, because this God is different from all the other gods.

While God may have asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, it's safe to assume he never intended Abraham to actually go through with it. We see this in the details. Don't believe me? Have another look at the story. God gives Abraham the exact coordinates where he should go to perform this sacrifice--a mountain in the land of Moriah. And when Abraham and Isaac finally arrive, God tells them this is the place. And it just so happens there is a ram caught in the brush at this exact spot. Coincidence? Or, divine intervention from a God that has already provided the sacrifice--which is a little foreshadow of what will eventually come? All to make the point abundantly clear that he is not like the other gods. He doesn't require you to sacrifice your only son.

Now, how this story relates to us. If we look hard enough, we can see a lot of ourselves in Abraham.

For starters, Abraham shows us that trust does not come naturally when you have been wounded. Abraham's default setting, especially with this God, was not trust. Up to this point, I think it's safe to say Abraham was a bit skeptical. For years this God has been making promises to him. Promises that, up to this point, have remained unfulfilled. Promises that, given their old age and the fact that Sarah was still barren, seemed even less plausible now. I can't help but think that every time Abraham looked at his wife, he was met with the stark reminder that God hadn't come through. That God hadn't upheld his end of the promise. Not only would Abraham never bless the world or lead a great nation, but he would never even experience the joy of fatherhood. Talk about painful! No wonder Abraham doesn't trust this God. No wonder Abraham responds the way he does. No one who has been wounded that deeply responds with trust. It was that wound, which lead to their lack of trust, that directly resulted in the birth of Ishmael--Abraham and Hagar's son. Although I can't blame them for trying to force God's hand, no matter how you spin it, Ishmael isn't Sarah's son--the blessing won't come through him; that wasn't the promise God made. While it's easy to point the finger, don't you and I do the same thing? When we are wounded and God doesn't come through in a timely manner, our tendency is to put God on the spot and manipulate the situation. I've done it. You've done it. We've all done it. Probably more times than we can even count. If only we could heed the lesson Abraham had to learn the hard way.

The next truth Abraham reveals to us is that our ability to trust is often clouded by our current circumstances. Abraham seems to have become accustomed to the fact that he was going to have to take his own son's life. Look back at the passage and we see that Abraham tells his servant's "we will worship and we will return." This is an indicator that Abraham at least has some level of trust that God is up to something. But then, just beneath the surface, there is something stirring and doubt creeps in. The two of them arrive at the mountain. And here, Abraham gets caught up in all that's about to transpire. He unloads the bundle of wood, begins building the altar, arranges the wood, ties up Isaac, places him on the altar, pulls out the knife, and, with his hand trembling, lowers the blade to Isaac's throat. Blinded by his circumstances, Abraham doesn't even notice the rustling in the bushes off in the distance! He doesn't even stop to discover what that strange noise is! Clouded by doubt, Abraham misses the ques from this God. Which is why this God intervenes with an Angel. When Abraham finally looks up, it is then he is able to see what was there all along--a ram caught in the brush. At this point, it becomes clear to Abraham that this God can be trusted. It's unfortunate that so often we, no different than Abraham, become so self-absorbed that we are blind to what God is actually trying to do around us. If you don't think it's possible to be that oblivious to your surroundings, just try talking to me when I'm watching a good movie. My wife will attest to this fact.

Finally, this story reveals that we don't always have to understand in order to trust. It's safe to say that Abraham was a bit confused by the request to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Let me reiterate the fact that this was to be the son of Abraham's that God would use to fulfill all the promises he had made. And now, Abraham is supposed to off him? In case you were wondering, this is a big problem! At least from the perspective of Abraham. Logically, this makes about as much sense as going to McDonald's for a salad. Not to mention how difficult that would be to explain to his wife. "Hey Sarah, you know how God blessed us with Isaac? Even after we were too old to have children? Even after you were barren? Even after we took matters into our own hands? Great! I'm going to go kill him now, 'cause that's what God said to do." Somehow I don't think that conversation would have ended well for Abraham. But if they had that conversation, Sarah must have trusted her husband enough to take Isaac alone on this journey. And while it appears that Abraham trusted this God enough to make the journey to sacrifice Isaac, I'm certain he had his share of doubts. But seeing as how this God had blessed him with the promised son; there was something stirring in Abraham that made him think this God would still come through on his promises. While he didn't understand why, and he couldn't fathom how, it's clear that in this instance, Abraham had some sort of trust that this God would still fulfill all the promises he had made--he came through once, even when things seemed impossible. Why not again? Maybe God would bring him back to life. So many maybes, yet Abraham was willing to follow through. Perhaps someday, we too, will come to the realization that God, however unbelievable it seems, knows what he is doing.

In the end, Abraham comes to the realization that this God can be trusted and names this place "Yahweh-Yireh" or "the Lord will provide." He even took it one step further and set up a memorial to remind him of that truth. Every time he traveled by Yahweh-Yireh he would see that pile of rocks and be reminded of all that transpired. It would bring back the memory of how in that seemingly lose-lose situation, God came through. God provided exactly what he needed. At exactly the right time. If doubt ever crept in, Abraham could look to that memorial and realize that God could, in fact, be trusted. Which is something we all need to be reminded of today.

To each of us, God says this: "I can fit everything into a pattern of good, but only to the extent that you trust me. Every problem can teach you something, transforming you little by little into the masterpiece I created you to be. The very same problem can become a stumbling block over which you fall, if you react with distrust and defiance. The choice is up to you, and you will have to choose many times each day whether to trust me."

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

TRUST, Part 1

Do you love God? I think many of you reading this blog would answer that question with a resounding "Yes!" So let me ask you a more pointed question, do you trust God? Before you answer that, here's a story.

A man was hiking in the mountains, alone. After hours of hiking, he reached the summit. Before making his way back down, he decided to take a few moments to take in the view. Thinking he could get a better view of the scenery below, the man walked right to the edge of the cliff. The closer to the edge he got, the more fragile the ground became. Then it happened! The ground crumbled beneath his feet and he fell down the cliff. It just so happens there was a tree branch jutting out from the face of the rock where he fell. In desperation, he extended his hand and grabbed hold of the branch. As he hung there reviewing his options, he began yelling, “Is anyone up there?” He was surprised to hear a voice respond, “Yes, this is God.” The man was greatly relieved, and quickly stuttered, “God, can you save me?” “Of course I can," responded God. The man, excited now, shouted out, “Great! What should I do?” The answer from above was not what he was expecting: “Let go of the branch.” After a long period of silence, the man replied faintly, “Is there anyone else up there?”

More often than not, we are that man! Or at least I am. I can't begin to tell you the number of times I have asked God for help, only to reject the hand he extends. I seek his counsel, but fail to implement his advice. I turn to him for guidance, but walk away confused. Why? I'm glad you asked. Allow me to be brutally honest. I have a difficult time trusting God!

I know this, because I have a difficult time trusting people. To be quite honest, a lot of the time it's easier for me to place my trust in things. Things do exactly what they were created to do--for the most part. Except technology. I trust technology less and less. And I have this suspicion we are heading toward a world that looks eerily familiar to the world in the movie i-Robot. But that's another discussion altogether. As I sit here, I trust that the chair will continue to support my weight. Pressing the keys on this keyboard, I trust that the computer will display the characters I am typing. I trust that the bottle of water on my desk will quench my thirst. All of these things I do based on trust. All without even giving it a second thought. But people are different.

People don't always do what they were created to do. They lie, they cheat, and they steal (which, in case you were wondering, isn't what they were created to do). That reason, in and of itself, is enough for me to second guess my trust in them. I lend something of value to a colleague and it gets returned in pieces. My trust begins to waver. I confide in a friend, only to discover those personal details are being shared with others, behind my back. My trust diminishes. I give someone my heart and they rip it out of my chest, toss it on the ground, stomp all over it, dig their heel into it, pick it up, and place it back in my hand, smile and walk away. The trust I had left quickly evaporates. The result is that I become jaded and trust no one.

If it's this difficult for me to trust the people around me--the people I see--how much more difficult is it for me to trust a God I cannot see? The answer to that is exponentially. It is exponentially more difficult for me to trust a God I cannot see. A being I have never met in person. Which brings me to an important thing about trust. It has to be earned; which is pretty tough when you can't see someone. Fortunately for us, God knows this. He knows that we will never trust him without proving himself faithful. That is why God doesn't just part the skies, and in a booming voice tell us to trust him. That is why he doesn't lead with the 10 commandments. He knows that won't work. Instead, he earns the trust of his creation. We see this play out in the Old Testament when he walks with Adam and Eve in the garden. He earns the trust of Abraham by making a covenant of blessing with him. God delivers his people from slavery, earning their trust again. All of this leads to the biggest demonstration of God's trustworthiness by offering his only son as an atoning sacrifice, doing away with the bloody sacrificial system once and for all.

Unfortunately, that isn't enough for many of us today. In theory, it's great; but in reality, we want to know if God is still worthy of our trust today. So, we look to him for personal demonstrations in our lives. Since the only tangible experience we have of God is the people created in his image--which just so happens to be everyone--this proves to be quite difficult. Friends and family let us down, and that reflects on God and affects our ability to trust him. The people who claim to follow God sway our trust one way or another by the way they portray him. The institutions that claim to represent him help us decide whether or not he is, in fact, trustworthy. As you see, our trust in God has far less to do with his faithfulness and more to do with our unfortunate perceptions. He's got his work cut out for him.

To think, we haven't even begun to address the fact that our lack of trust is motivated by fear. Fear that brings up questions about my self-preservation. Will God come through? I know he did last time, but what about this time? Can I count on him? Will he provide? Does he have my best interest at heart? Or is he just trying to get me to obey and fall in line? What will all of this mean for me, my loved ones, my hopes, and my dreams?

So, I ask again, do you trust God? And I’m not just talking about when things are going well. Do you trust him when it seems he's not even there? When everything isn't going as planned? When your marriage is falling apart? When your health is failing? When the finances come up short? When life isn't how you pictured it? How we answer this question is very telling. Because, according to Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel, “It means more to God when we say I trust you, than when we say I love you; because trust is the preeminent expression of love.”

So, the big question that needs to be answered: Can I trust God?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

CHOICES

It's true what they say--God does work in mysterious ways! If you had asked me just a few years ago where I would be right now, I certainly wouldn't have painted a picture like the one I see today. Scratch that; it's not a picture at all, but an ever-evolving story. While the beginning and end have been written, I get the pleasure of co-creating the plot-line with my Creator. Through the ups-and-downs, the twists-and-turns, the story we are creating is one of adventure and hope. While life may not go as planned, and circumstances aren't always ideal, I have discovered I still have the ability to choose. Above all, I can choose which path my life will take. I can choose to get bitter or get better; I can choose to give up or get up; I can choose to hold on or let go; I can choose to "forget" or forgive. And while I have found the latter of each is always a much better way to live, that doesn't mean it's always my default choice. 

The story I'm about to tell you, as do all stories, begins with a choice.

I just graduated from college and before me were a limitless number of choices. However, the $20,000 in college debt loomed above like a dark cloud ready to release a torrential downpour if I didn't take shelter soon. In this case, soon was a 6 month period of deferment before I had to start repaying the loans. Seeing as how I had no money, and the only things I owned were a Dodge Intrepid inching toward 200,000 miles, a few pieces of dilapidated, dorm room furniture--purchased at Good Will--and a plastic set of drawers containing all my clothes, the number of choices I actually had seemed a bit more limited than I originally thought. 

So, the first choice I made was the same anyone in my shoes would make. I took up rent-free shelter in my parents basement. Considering I was getting married in a few months, it seemed the most prudent choice. Its' not like I had a job or any money that would afford me the ability to make a different choice. Besides, this way I could save money and start planning out my future. At least that's what I told myself.

Then came the choice to get a job. Due to the fact that church jobs I was qualified for were few and far between, I made the next best choice. With the help of my brother, I landed a job at the telecommunication company he was working for. While there wasn't necessarily anything wrong with the job, working at the help desk, doing Internet tech support wasn't part of my 5 year plan. The hours weren't that great, and most mornings I dreaded waking up and heading off to work. I'm sure being at my desk in the call center by 5 in the morning had something to do with it. Even the sun had enough sense not be up by then. But the paycheck made up for all that. Which was good since I wanted my choices to prove that I was financially stable.

Which lead to the next choice I made--to marry the woman I had been dating. Although you could argue this choice came almost seven months ago when I bought the ring and planned the details of my proposal over Christmas break. Either way, the wedding was soon and I would no longer be taking care of one, but two. Which meant there were many more choices I would have to make. Like trying to start a family. Buying a house. And eventually getting a divorce.

The problem with all of this is that I was unsure. I was unsure about what to do with my life or how I even wanted it to look. And when you're unsure, you don't normally make the best choices. However, due to the ever increasing responsibility, the choices I had to make seemed to become more and more urgent. For that reason, most of the choices I made were uninformed and haphazard, without any regard to the effects they would have years to come. In other words, the choices I made lacked a sense of desire and had little direction.

Over the years I had become accustomed to the belief that this is how life was meant to beThat pursuing my dreams was no longer an option. That my wants and desires were required to take the back seat to responsibility. That somehow, being an adult meant joy and fulfillment always had to be secondary. That growing up meant I had to choose between living a life and living a life of significance.

Looking back, I see that many of the choices I made were for the wrong reason. I can't begin to tell you how many choices I made out of necessity. Moving in with my parents. Settling for a job I didn't particularly care for--not just once, but three times (that I can currently remember). Then there were the choices I made out of obligation. The choice to get married--because that's what you do when you've been dating someone for an extended period of time; especially right out of college. The choice to try to start a family. The choice to purchase a house. Each of these choices I made required other things to be put on hold. Things I wasn't ready to let go of.

Inevitably, all these choices lead to resentment. I didn't like where my life was headed. Every morning consisted of a Starbucks run--where uttering a word was no longer necessary for my grande white-chocolate mocha with an extra shot of espresso to be made. Pulling out of the Starbucks parking lot, I finished my 3 minute commute to work where I would spend the next 8 hours, my fingers mindlessly pecking the keyboard while my glossy eyes stared at the screen in front of me. From there I would go home, eat dinner and sit in front of the television to unwind before heading off to bed. Just so I could get up and do it all over the next day. Because I now had to pay for all the wrong choices that had enslaved me.

I felt trapped. Trapped at my job. To quit would spell financial ruin. The loss of income would result in the loss of the house, the car and my excellent credit score. To take that new job was risky. Packing up and moving was irresponsible--even though it was my dream job. At least that's what I was lead to believe since it came with a much smaller paycheck and required moving across the country. Then there was my marriage. If I'm at all honest with myself, I had some doubts about this marriage. Nobody knows this, but I almost broke it off after we were engaged. I was unsure marriage was the right choice at the time, but I chalked it up to a case of 'cold feet' and trudged forward. From the beginning, there were indications it wasn't going to work out; I was just too blind and too stubborn to see them. But again, I made the choice, so I lived with the consequences--good and bad. Which eventually lead to the choice to get divorced. While it was a tough choice, it was a choice that, according to her, needed to be made to 'right the wrong we made five years ago.' Then there was the house. It walled me in--literally and figuratively. To sell after the market went south would be a financial disaster. And uprooting myself in the middle of the divorce would essentially be giving up and she would win. So, I continued to make choices I didn't want to make, but felt I had to.

I have a feeling that's where most of us find ourselves. Feeling trapped. Trying to make ourselves believe this is what life is all about. That these are the responsible choices to make. Please understand, I'm not saying every choice I made was wrong. I'm not suggesting that getting married right out of college is a terrible idea (but it might be). I don't think buying a house because it's cheaper than rent is a bad choice. Neither am I advocating for skipping out on responsibility. Sometimes taking any job is the best choice because bills have to be paid. But that choice starts long before the bills are even due; and begins with choosing not to incur that debt in the first place. All I'm saying is those weren't the choices I was ready to make. And they weren't the right choices for me at the time. For where I was at in life. For where I wanted to go. And for what I wanted to do. 

I believe there is a different way. That life can be much more. That we can find joy and fulfillment. If only we would have the courage to make different choices. To take our time, assess the outcome, and make good, informed choices. To stop allowing others to dictate the way our lives need to be lived. Because, in the end, the choice is ours. We can continue to make choices out of necessity. We can keep letting society dictate the trajectory of our life. We can continue to buy into the lies the media tells us. We can always settle. Or we make the difficult choice to do what is right--for us. Where we have been. Where we are. And where we want to go. That's what I'm doing. And I have to tell you, it's much more enjoyable making these kinds of choices.