Cuteness and Depth

Samantha has a lot of cute qualities. For one thing, she has this adorable tendency to mix her metaphors. “There’s more than one way to skin a horse, Ben.” “Ben is my light and shining armor.” Another cute thing about Samantha is the way she can ask three questions in the space of ten seconds, and then look at you expectantly for an answer. She has a curious love of biting too, so you know you’re in her good graces when she’s gnawing on your shoulder. Of course, she could be doing that because you’re her flavor of the week. She has an odd tendency to eat the same food several times for a week or two, and then move on to something else for the week or two after that.

Surpassing all these in sheer cuteness, though, is the way she thinks in pictures. If I say to Samantha, “Ok, option A involves this much money, this much time, and this much effort, and option B involves this much of those same things, which would you rather do?” then it won’t mean anything, and she’ll want to know what I think (this creates loooong waiting periods whenever a menu is presented). If she gets a picture in her head, though, of what doing something would look and feel like, she’s sold.

Preparing for our honeymoon is a good example. Samantha had expressed two possibilities. In Ben language, the possibilities were a beach-type place (Caribbean) or a city (Shanghai). So, I figured we could visit Seattle and kill two birds with one stone.

Consider her reaction to my idea: “oh. That could be fun. I'm not really excited about that, though.”

Now consider what she said when she was expressing her Caribbean idea: “I can just see us relaaaxing (she puts a lot of emotion into her word pronunciation, too) in the suuun, with a gentle breeze blowing, looking at the bluuue water. ::sigh:: it would be so beautiful…” She moves her hands back and forth gently, as if the exotic scene is inches from her face.

The thing is, she wasn’t looking for just a beach and just a fun city. She had a PICTURE in her mind… a picture of, on one hand, a beautiful breezy day on a sandy island, looking out at bright blue water and surrounded by palm trees. In another, she was imagining a return to her family’s homeland of China, speaking in Chinese and shopping for authentic Asian foods and goods. Her desire for both of these ideas (pictorial visions, as I think of them) was based on the beauty of the vision, not on the technicality of “beach” and “city”. As you can imagine, Seattle is NOT on our list of possible honeymoon destinations anymore.

Samantha’s ideas have a depth and quality to them… they accept no substitutes. A beach in, say, the Caribbean is different than a beach in the US, though I could probably never appreciate it. The city life of Shanghai has far more vibrancy and significance to her than a trip to the Starbucks capitol of the world. Her ideas are special because they are deep and complete… the experience is good because all the nuances and details are good, too.

Her appreciation for completely good ideas (rather than just good ideas) is an encouragement for me in studying.

Yes, I did actually just say that.

See, if I want to seek real quality in my knowledge (especially of spiritual things), I need to have depth. I need my knowledge and ideas to be strong not just because they are good ideas (let’s have our honeymoon at a beach), but because they are backed by depth (gentle breeze, bright bluuue water, palm trees). When I discuss Calvinism, it needs to be supported by knowledge of Arminianism. When we talk about Habakkuk in class, it would be flat without a knowledge of Babylonian-Israeli history. If I want to praise God for his love and mercy, I had better also be able to praise him for suffering and discipline and wrath.

I think we all have that calling. While there’s no reason for everyone to be like me (the world has plenty of geeks already, thank you), there IS reason for Christians to seek completeness and depth. Don’t just experience God; learn about him. Don’t just have Christian friends your age; play with little kids and talk to old people at church. Don’t just accept what you’re taught; ask questions and work through a concept completely.

There’s a rumor going around that I’m smart. While I can agree that God has given me the gift of gab (also known as silver tongue syndrome), I don’t think I’m any smarter than anyone else. What I do have is a love of knowing things on a deeper level. It’s a love that helps me greatly in teaching… answering questions becomes a matter of sharing something I’ve questioned as well, rather than having a particular skill.

That’s just one area, though. For instance, I’m terrible at knowing people’s feelings or reactions to a certain idea. Poor Samantha has to put up with my callousness all the time. She, on the other hand, is much more acquainted with the range of feelings people go through when something happens. When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, Samantha already knew without even thinking about it how my sister would be feeling about it, and what my family would expect. I, on the other hand, barely had a reaction. I’ve kept such tight discipline on my emotions for so long that I’d forgotten how to allow myself to react strongly to something. Trust me, Samantha is opening THAT particular can of worms back up.

What I’m trying to say here is this; don’t just DO your life. Don’t just go to classes, study for tests, and find fun things to do with friends. Be deep. Cry with people who hurt. Question God with the toughest things you can throw at him. Struggle, fight, question, mourn. Be a deep and complete person. Why? Because you want to glorify God with your life… and God is easier to see in a warm sun, gentle breeze, and bluuue water than he is on a dinky beach in Seattle.


Church vs. State

I took a walk this afternoon. Life at the MHA had returned to a somewhat relaxed pace after a frantic morning of legislative meetings, and I love strolling around, looking at the wide varieties of architecture and planning. Where else can you find 50 year old churches with strong congregations and 5 year old office buildings that are 75% empty? Too, of course, I wanted to see the protesters.

Now, I should point out, these were not your normal protesters. On most Wednesdays (though not for about a month now), a group of 7 or 8 people comes out to the Capitol building (across the street from me) to protest the Iraq war. It tends to be a little odd… it’s not like Michigan’s government started the darn thing, you know? But no, this week a group of about 20 gathered around a peculiar object.

It was only about 3 and a half feet tall, and made of stone. It was blocky and unattractive, and didn’t seem to be serving any purpose. It sat on the bed of a flatbed trailer, and a set of steps allowed people to come up and look at it. The object became even stranger (in my mind) when you found out that it was brought in from Alabama and was the subject of a federal court case.

By now it is dawning on all my news junkie readers… the object was the controversial sculpture of the Ten Commandments that had been set up in the entrance of an Alabama court, and came to be a symbol of the debate surrounding the relationship between church and state in the US.

For a long time, that relationship was a major focus of my life. I devoted years of my high school career to the topic. I fought to show my classmates and teachers that my two great loves –politics and governance- were not only compatible, but mutually beneficial. I was certain that brilliant and convincing arguments would show the world that what we REALLY needed to move towards a happier life is leaders whose personal lives are governed by the unalterable standards set forth in the bible. It culminated in my senior year, when I did multiple reports on Constantine, an emperor who used Christianity as a force for strengthening and organizing the flagging Roman Empire. This was my vision for the country and for my life… to bring religion and governance together in such a way that lives would be changed, existence would be simpler, and all would be well with the world.

My life was all about Church vs. State.

In college, though, all that changed. I came to see how my pride was too great a motivation; I wanted to fight for church and state to be closer not because I wanted them to be closer, or because I wanted to honor God, but because I wanted to lead the fight. I wanted to be the one at the front lines, articulating arguments that I knew would fall on deaf ears and wildly different worldviews. It was like the question of what a general should do in peacetime; I wanted a fight so I could lead the fight, not because the fight needed to happen.

I sauntered past the Ten Commandments and continued my walk.

One of the beautiful things about walking in almost any city is the opportunity to see the same thing from multiple perspectives. When I went on a mission trip to Alaska we all got to see Mt. McKinley… but we all saw it from the exact same perspective that MOST people see it, because the distances are so great. In a city, everyone can see the same building or view from different places and perspectives. As I walked through Lansing, I stopped for a moment and admired an interesting view.

The corner I stood on was the corner of the capitol building’s property. I stood at a 45 degree angle to the cross-street, looking at the capitol building. To my left and across the street was a city block that had several sophisticated, box-like buildings. These contained the Lansing City Hall, the police station, the offices of the state representatives, the MHA, the department of civil rights, Comerica Bank, a few law firms, and the inevitable coffee shop. To my right stood a couple blocks of beautiful old church buildings; Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, you name it. The architecture was old and creative, and gave you that sad-but-lovely feeling you get when you hear a beautiful song or watch the sun set at the end of a long day.

In the center of my vision stood the majestic capitol building, with a few people and a lectern-sized sculpture on a flatbed dotting the front lawn.

I had to ask myself: Is this where we meet? Is our destiny to show up in small numbers, protesting a world that isn’t interested in our life of absolutes? What should embarrass me more; leaders who don’t care enough to listen or Christians who don’t listen enough to let people know they care?

In my last post, I talked about the importance of being content in the place God has brought you too. That’s still true. However, I can see more and more that we are still called to be God-centered in the way we live our lives. We cannot become complacent. We are to honor Him above all… above ALL.

Do church and state meet in the middle to duke it out? No. The problem with declaring church vs. state is that we give equal honor and credibility to both. We act as though they are two evenly matched fighters (often with a slight edge for state) trying to knock each other out. We put government on the same level as God.

That can’t be for me. Some people can spend their lives walking the line between governance and public service, keeping a right perspective on public service as having a higher purpose of service to the people God has created, and so being glorifying to him. I know a man who is a policeman; his work can unquestionably be for God’s greater glory.

If I persist in looking for fights, though, I will be failing my purpose here on earth. Should we be content with where God brings us? Yes, but that doesn’t mean we should flag or become lazy in pursuing His glory. My life should always be striving to know him and honor him more; if that means that I need to give up politics, so be it.

See, my life is still about Church vs. State. This time, though, it’s about which I will honor. Will I glorify governance or service? Compromises or absolutes? Bottom lines or mercy and compassion?

I don’t know what details my life will contain, but I hope they will show that Church beats State every time. I hope they show that God’s glory was of first importance in my life. I hope they show that I served my King, rather than made myself a king through public service. I hope my life commitment displays the glory of a sovereign God.

What will you commit to?

What will your life display?

( BONUS! If you'll notice, my blogspot ends every post by saying, "The monk published this discourse at...

The thing is, monks are SINGLE! And I'm getting married this summer!

So, faithful reader, if you made it this far... please comment on what you think my new nickname should be... or at the least, what my blogspot should call me. ;-) )