The Road That Leads to Me

Where have all the twentysomethings gone?

I think there is an all-consuming black hole that opens up the minute traditional youth group kids graduate from high-school. Occasionally, the black hole delays its swallowing of said kid until midway through their freshman year of college, after college group loses its luster. It isn’t your traditional science book black hole….it is actually far more treacherous. It is the hole of apathy.

I swear that I hear Michael Stipe singing when twenty-something previous church kids walk by. “There’s me in the corner. There’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion.” And they do. Once they’re done with the barrage of camps, retreats, and Wednesday night (meat-market/whiffle ball/dancing on your chair to worship songs) church services, they disappear from churches, and do not re-emerge until they reproduce. Apparently God has no place in the lives of single college kids and couples without children.

Why do twentysomethings stop caring about God? There are several excuses commonly given…1)My church doesn’t have a good college group/singles group/young couples group. For me, this excuse doesn’t cut it. My college group was NOT a place where I necessarily fit. It was full of lots of granola type girls, guys who ALWAYS had to have deep theological discussions, and floaters that had extremely small amounts of Bible knowledge. It was very hard to relate, but I went, and I was active. I taught at my college group, and knew that it was important…fellowship is vital to a Christian, especially fellowship with fellow Christians. They understand you in a way non-Christians never will. And, another of my churches didn’t have a young couple’s group, so instead of perpetuating the problem and sitting around whining about it, I started one. You have to make it happen. Don’t use this excuse.

2)I’m so busy. This INFURIATES me. EVERYONE is busy. EVERYONE. We all worked, went to school, and had a social life. And you know what, if you don’t have room for God in your busy life, you have cut out the one thing that actually matters. If you can’t pull your butt out of bed once a week to honor your Savior and meet with other believers, you have your priorities all out of whack. “I’m so tired.” “I really need a day off.” “My Sunday is sort of my day to relax.” Give it a rest….I hope your extra hour of sleep means more to you than a relationship with Jesus.

3) We’re just always out of town. Again, you planned your trips…And, I find it hard to believe that you are gone EVERY single weekend during the summer. There are couples at our church that I literally have not seen since May. I guarantee that they will re-surface the first rainy weekend in September.

I could go on. This is obviously something I feel strongly about. Mostly because it just makes me sad. Of my youth group of 50 or so, only a  dozen or so still attend church on a regular basis. Our new church seems to be plagued with young couples adhering strictly to one of the above excuses for not attending regularly. Even as a pastor’s wife, I will be one of the first to admit that it is not all about church. Its not…Your relationship with Jesus is really the only thing that matters…However, if you are not a part of your church family…if you are not fellowshipping with other believers, experiencing corporate worship, serving in some way…how are you getting fed? How are you developing your walk? I have read my Bible every day for the last eleven years, and if that was all I did, I would one hundred percent stagnate in my relationship with God. My husband and family are Christians..but if they were the only Christians I interacted with…I would never grow, or learn, or get to serve. My faith would not be challenged.

So, I say its time for the twentysomethings to climb out of the black hole of apathy, and face the real reason they aren’t a part of a church body. They don’t care. One of my all time most-convicting verses in the Bible is found in Revelation 2:4-5, “You have forsaken your First Love. Remember the height from which you have fallen.” I want to go up to some people and say, “Don’t you remember the fire you felt?” “Don’t you remember what it is like to be right with Jesus?” “Wasn’t it awesome to have such a solid group of Christian friends to uplift you, support you, and keep you accountable?”

I can’t make my friends and others around me crawl out of their hole. I can’t make them care about God, and I can’t make them fall in love with Jesus again…But I can throw them a rope…I will be there…desperately praying for the black hole to go away.


Self-Deception: Social identity vs. personal identity and its relation to politics and religion

A wholly truthful and authentic life necessitates thoughtful self-examination, that is, the willingness to recognize even the most difficult of truths present within our lives. When the avoidance of truths about certain aspects of our lives extends beyond a single choice, and develops into a pattern of avoidance, self-deception is born. This conscious choice to avoid reality, prevents us from facing difficult facts and certainties, and allows us to remain consistent. In this purposeful distancing of oneself from reality, one adopts a policy of avoidance, which he or she uses as a shield, defense mechanism, or self-created blinder to the sometimes harsh and bitter truths of reality.

The natural tendency to maintain consistency compounds man’s inclination to self-deceive. A lifetime of commitments and experiences can lead men to ascribe to ideas and realities which indeed have changed or ceased to be present. In efforts to uphold a certain sense of stability and self-awareness, the tendency to self-deceive, ignoring obvious changes and truths grows strong. Towards this end, it is those who are good and sincere by nature, that are most prone to self-deceive. The serious tone of these people’s lives holds them in fear, lacking the courage to face reality, and therefore the possibility of their own shortcomings and inabilities.

In an image-based society, where appearance and status make or break one’s individual quality of and outlook on life, it becomes necessary to some to retain a certain self-image. Fear of losing a particular sense of identity disallows a full embrace of the whole of reality. Towards this end, the language, labels, and ideas that surround a person’s sense of self become highly important, as there has become a desperate search and push to “know oneself,” and to gain a firm grasp of who you are as a person. Consequently, identities adopted are not quickly changed, despite changes in the person.

The link between personal identity and social identity has grown increasingly, concurrently pushing the need to maintain certain types of social roles. Often, our actions are sharply influenced by the social group to which we ascribe ourselves, or find our identity in. Actions that are perhaps against our own sense of morality are performed, and subsequently rationalized, simply due to our assumed or presumed social role. Additionally, values and ideas may be professed which are against our own, yet personally heralded, in efforts to remain consistent with a social role. Essentially, it is the fear of change, and the subsequent fear of losing a grip on one’s sense of self-identity, that provides the primary cause of self-deception.

Marked as a defense mechanism and coping device, self-deception can be perceived as either positive or negative. At times, self-deception proves to be necessary in order for existence. Often, one must self-deceive by means of blocking out painful images and memories, in order for healing to become a reality. Overburdened by pain, grief, or negative self-imagery, self-deception becomes nearly compulsory, as the burdened individual seeks to temporarily avoid reality in order to establish a positive outlook. However, when this temporary self-deception used as a coping device develops into a permanent life pattern, it moves beyond a coping device to a destructive pattern of thought and avoidance. Illusion cannot be the dominating force within the mind. The extent to which self-deception can be considered healthy, is the extent to which the mind concurrently holds a grip on reality in some sense.

In consideration of and reflection upon self-deception, I am forced to evaluate my own life, and the extent to which I avoid reality. With a personality dependent upon stability, order, and routine, and a concurrent strict and traditional upbringing, the factors which perpetuate the need or drive to self-deceive are highly present in my life. Additionally, the labels I have come to associate with my identity suggest that I ascribe to certain social groups, requiring an additional reflection of the genuineness and originality of my actions.

In consideration of my self-image, several dominant features surface as irremovable and essential to my being. I cannot imagine living a life void of my “Christian” label. However, the stigma of religion often yields a wealth of attached assumptions and social roles. Attacked and marked as a fundamentalist, I recognize that in my youth I overemphasized my conservative beliefs, in attempts to both uphold my controversial label and to stir up dissension amongst my peers. However, as time has passed and the attacks grown more intense, I found myself proclaiming a “more liberal” mindset to old friends, in efforts to gain their respect while detaching myself from the assumptions surrounding Christian fundamentalists. This active proclamation of a “newfound liberality” was due primarily to a subscription to a new social group. Several years ago, the large majority of my friends were those which maintained similar sets of values and ideas as I did. However, upon my attendance at a liberal and Catholic institution, I had been brought from a position of esteem, where my ideas and values were respected and shared, to a place of scorn. Nearly weekly, my fundamental Protestant and Bible-based beliefs were openly mocked and looked upon as intellectually inferior to those not only of the Catholic church, but of the so-called philosophical agnostics, too intelligent to buy into the idea of “God” and a necessary dependence upon Him. Towards this end, I had systematically quieted my beliefs, moving those things which are intrinsic to my being from the forefront to the shadows. Classroom participation in heated religious debates has ceased, arguments with friends surrounding political and moral issues have dramatically decreased, and my promotion of “my new liberal beliefs” has risen.

Some may survey the situation and decide that the changes made in my life were positive, removing enmity with friends while concurrently opening my mind to differing viewpoints and ideas. I myself have heralded this false adoption of liberal ideas as mentally expanding, self-promoting as one willing to move outside of a “narrow” mental perspective. However, reality remains. Despite the repercussions which may follow, I am not and most likely never will be a liberally minded person. Towards this end, I do not hold that liberal ideas bring about mental expansion any more than other schools of thought do. Additionally, I feel that those who prescribe to liberal ideas as strongly as conservatives, are as “narrow” as fundamentalists. My false ascription to a set of ideas, through both silent acceptance and active denouncement of conservative ideas, had served to perpetuate a form of self-deception, in that I had been avoiding the reality of the ever-present existence of my conservative ideals.

This self-deception suggested that I placed my identity in things other than self. This altogether negative habit speaks of an over-emphasis on the opinions and thoughts of other people, as well as a fear of losing this social identity. Reparation of these wrongful avoidances of the truths concerning my true self and ideals can be found in the willing embrace of my belief system, regardless of the reaction of those around me. With or without social esteem or the acceptance of my peers and professors, I am without question, a conservatively minded, Christian fundamentalist. I must forget about survival within a particular social group, and value self-survival as of higher value. Self-deception will breathe no more, as I now willingly face the reality of my true self. Yes, I voted for Bush. Twice. I’ll vote for McCain, and I don’t care what you think about it. I am who I am.

Under a heavy load
July 14, 2008, 4:32 am
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God often gives us a “truck-load” of burdens, and things we must carry  as we travel through life. These burdens and weights we must carry are often necessary to our existence and survival…things we are unable to drop. Often we don’t receive help, and the load can be heavy. However, as we move on, though often slowly and with pain, we slowly make progress…our “truck” keeps moving. We do what we have to do…going on even when it seems to hard, and that our weary bodies can’t move another inch. We must keep moving, knowing that the pain we are bearing now will lead to something else…something for our good. It is in these times that we must remember that ALL things work together for the good of those who love God. What seems unbearable in the moment is often a blessing in disguise…something we might not be able to see or understand, unless we are willing to assume God’s perspective and dare to look at our lives in an unconventional way. We CAN make it. Nothing we are given is beyond what we are capable of bearing. He may bend us, but He will not break us. We have to remember that if God is behind it, it is worth it. He heaps on us things that may be difficult, but which can also build our strength, determination, and faith in Him and His perfect plan. We must press on, forgetting what is behind, laying hold of the goal which is ahead…God is God, and we are not. We won’t always understand, and sometimes it might take us years to be able to look back and say, “Ohhh, that’s why that happened.” But we can’t allow our fears, doubts, and sinful perspective to prevent us from carrying on. We have to remember that our troubles are light and momentary, and that Christ carried the ultimate load..all of our sin…He allowed us the chance to trust Him…the ultimate privilege..the ultimate reward…We MUST be faithful. He will protect us, and lead us to the place He has for us. Keep going….

Riding the Jesus Couch

“What I believe is NOT what I SAY I believe. What I believe is what I DO. ” ~ Donald Miller

Christians have a tendency to ride the Jesus couch…lounging in their own comfortable bubble of isms, mantras, and other media-ized “spiritual” propaganda. We’re purpose driven-coming back to the heart of worship-opening the eyes of our hearts- prayer “mmhmming”-“Jesus has a plan” Christians. We’re great actors really….It truly is amazing how much we can pull off..The question is, “who are we fooling?” The only answer that matters is, “not God.”

Is this the life we want? Do we want to fake our way through the only relationship that truly matters? Is it enough for us to profess and not act? We can close our eyes during the songs all we want, take as many sermon notes as possible, and even skim our Bibles every single day, and NEVER truly know the God we claim to love. Imagine if we treated our spouse, our children, or our family the way we treat our relationship with Jesus? Imagine if we only spoke to them once a week…on Sundays? What if we chose not to listen to 90% of the things they said to us? What if we took for granted all of the things they did for us?  Would the relationship last?

We get busy. We get tired. But building and developing our relationship with Jesus is not what we need to take a break from….its the vacation. But, we don’t care. We know all the right answers. Most of us can look to a time when we were right with God and remember the way we felt..we remember the fire…we remember what it was like to rely on Him…to trust Him…to really and truly LOVE him.

So why are we still on the Jesus couch? Why are we sleeping through this life? It may be comfortable…its certainly easier. Any relationship takes work, and the Jesus couch often looks more inviting, more entertaining….The thing is, He won’t give up…Even when we refuse to even glance His way…when we talk about Him one way and behave another…..when we refuse to pay any attention to Him…The question is, how far do you want God to go to get YOUR attention?

Its time to get off the Jesus couch.