Monday, March 31, 2014

I'm an Occupier, but Learning

Two men play chess a table away from me. Another reclines on his ice cream cart. He might be asleep. Lazy waves reluctantly meet shore a few yards behind him. The unmistakable sound of a small engined motorcycle--the liberator of the third world--moves closer and then past me. It's 1:30pm on a Tuesday, but weekday and weekend blend together in the Philippines. This year for Lent I have been trying to give up, to truly allow God to be in charge of the future and to not worry about things so much. 
A lot of people claim to take the Bible literally until it gets to passages that make them uncomfortable, then they will tell you what Jesus really meant, instead of what He said. The people He was talking to had a lot more in common with the guy asleep on his ice cream cart than they have with me. I am not one of the opressed. No matter what the preacher on TV is saying, Christians in America aren't being persecuted. I am not a member of those living on the fringe of society. 
In fact, I'm a citizen of the empire. I live in the most affluent society in the history of the planet. My country is in charge of global politics and bends the world's resources towards its wishes. America has little in common with first century Palestine, and I have less in common with a first century Palestinian Jew who has been living his life under Roman occupation than I do with the Roman soldiers doing the occupying. 
So when Jesus tells people who are worrying about being clothed tomorrow not to worry about anything, how do I read that? I have never once worried about not having clothes to wear. I have never once worried about not being able to feed myself. Fundamentally--literally--this passage has nothing to do with me. I worry about things like not having the right clothes, about not eating the best food, and about not having the most fun all of the time. 
Many of the 99 million people who live in the Philippines get by on 50 cents a day. I can't even begin to think about trying to do that. Poverty as they experience it doesn't really allow for financial planning. They are rarely guilty of storing up treasures on earth. One of the problems found among the extremely poor is an inability to save extra money when they do get it. They spend every nickel they make because that's all they've ever known to do. For them, currency is current. This is one of the hardest things for middle-class people to understand when working with the financially impoverished. I was always taught to save, but I was always under the impression there would be money coming in tomorrow. 
Jesus literally tells us not to be anxious about anything at all. For us, clothes and food are minor anxieties, but for his listeners they were major worries. Jesus makes it clear that our motivation should be gratitude for the provisions of God. If the motivation for saving is worry, then you're out of line. Action is never the point of Christ's teachings because He isn't concerned as much with the external attributes of man as He is with the heart. Your motivation for action is His biggest focus. If gratitude, selflessness, and love aren't the reason for doing something, then it is probably wrong. If the reason for doing it is worry, even if the action is moral, then it is wrong. Worry sucks the life out of life. It robs the joy from the miracle of existence. 
The lesson I learn from the Filipinos is a lesson of gratitude. They don't wear worry on their faces. They smile every moment of the day and make the most of the life they have. I may not worry about whether I am going to have clothes tomorrow, but I do have worries. I am still guilty of acting out of that worry, instead of acting out of a full, grateful heart. I'm thankful for lessons like these and for the pace of life in the Philippines that allows me to learn them. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Why I'm Giving Up For Lent

Today is Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, which means some of you may not be able to read this because you're seeing two laptop screens right now. No judgements here. It also means tomorrow is the first day of the forty days of Lent. I'll admit, until about five years ago I really had no clue what Lent was or how to properly observe it. I knew people who spent the season not eating chocolate or meat or not watching TV, and thought they were weird for their obsession with self-denial. More often, I was just put off by them telling me about how hard it is to not drink sodas for 40 days every single time I saw them. They basically were doing Lent just to do it. And to tell me about it. 

 Now that I understand the beauty and importance of the Lenten season, I love it. It is one of my favorite times of the year, and I think it's an important discipline for all followers of Jesus to observe. I'm convinced self-denial is extremely important to practice, but not because God demands it, requires it, or expects it. It's important because we need it. We need to learn to be content without certain things. We need to learn to be amazed by God's provision. We need to learn to be patient and trusting. 

That's why I'm giving up for Lent this year. You read that right. I am giving up. I'm quitting. I'm retiring. I am sacrificing my own plans and desires for Lent. I know God provides, and now I am going to live like I know it. 

Seems like a cop-out thing to give up, right? That's ok, I'm giving up some other things too, but I don't want to tell you about them. The point is trust. The most important weapon in the arsenal of a Jesus follower is unyielding trust in God for His mercies and provisions. Like any weapon, sometimes you need to do some maintenance on your truster. You need to keep it sharp, keep it clean, and make sure you can use it when it hits the fan.

Stress is the antithesis of trust, so practically this looks like eliminating stress from my life completely. How I do that is personal to me, but it involves a lot of reflection and meditation. Being mindful of my stress-level is going to be key for this exercise, but I think it's possible because the God who gives endlessly and erternally is in my corner. I have an unfair advantage over stress and He is gracious and kind. 

One of the hardest verses in the New Testament is when Jesus tells His follwers to "Give no thought to tomorrow..." Don't worry about what you're going to eat, drink, or wear. Give zero thought to it. Our human nature is to be always aware of things that threaten our comfort level. We are animals who look to remain fed, clothed, and sheltered and will go into survival-mode if any of those are threatened. Jesus' teachings are completely opposed to this aspect of our nature. If it was easy, there'd be no fun in trying it. 

Unlike most Lenten practices, I don't plan on getting stressed again after Easter. I see this as 40 days of hard work that will bear fruits for the rest of my life. Forty days surrendering to the One who is in control of the whole thing anyway. Giving up for Lent. 

About Drew

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A follower of Jesus, trying to build myself and others up from the inside out.