Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Journey Continues - Overcome by Guilt

As I continue on this Journey of Faith, one thing that hits me the hardest is my lack of generosity and concern. Now, some of my friends who read this might think to themselves "What? John's often concerned if I have a need and offers to help." And to my friends and family, that is true.

But to those who are outside that circle, that is far from the truth. For it is those who I see almost daily that need my generosity and concern more than my friends. It is those people who live out of a shopping cart, who stand at the freeway exit or major intersection with a sign asking for money. It is the person walking down the street who might be slightly, well, off, talking to himself or maybe even gesticulating in a way that indicates that he or she has a mental problem. I live a mile from Disneyland, and yet, see this flotsam of humanity within the sounds of the Mark Twain whistle.

And I don't do anything about it. 

Why is it that we - that I - shy away from these people? People in need for so much that I cannot fathom it. While I might complain about how my mortgage payment is going up, or how it takes me an hour to get home from work, my "needs" are so meager and so insignificant to the needs of these people. Yet, I don't DO anything! 

Never have I felt this more keenly than this past week, when I was running late to get home with some dinner, and stopped at Arby's to get something for me, Justin and Colin. It was 6:30 PM, and I had to get dinner for us, eat, and leave to get to a choir rehearsal in an hour. As I stood near the door, waiting for my order (it's a small Arby's), a man outside was asking for money to be able to buy food. And I said I couldn't help him. I had $15 in my wallet. I COULD have helped him. But what I should have done was brought him in, taken him to the cashier, let him order, and paid for it. THAT'S what I SHOULD have done.

Instead, I did nothing. And the guilt and the conviction of that has been with me for these last few days.

I know that as kids we are told to not speak to strangers, and those that are living off the street, or are poor and need food, are total strangers to us. We put up our defenses. We guard ourselves against them. We look down on them. And if they're acting strange, or look repugnant, we avoid eye contact or outright ignore them. We're conditioned to believe that if we provide them with money, they'll "go buy drugs" or "go get a bottle of booze". We're conditioned to think that way, even if we are (like I was) brought up in a Christian home and a church environment. 

You know how people say "What Would Jesus Do?" when they have some kind of problem or crisis? I've thought about that sometimes, but then I realize that it's a lie. Because that concept is based on thinking how would Jesus react or respond to something happening TO him, so we need to act like he would in that situation. 

But when you REALLY think about what Jesus did, he often did things that were not reactive, but proactive. He didn't wait for the opportunity to help to come to him, he sought it out. He went among the sick, the needy. He reached out and touched those in need. I am sure that the Touch of Jesus was enough to physically heal those in both body and spirit. Our touch today may seem meager to his, but it can be effective. 

So, if Jesus were still physically on this planet, where would he be? Not in our houses of worship. He'd be in the homeless encampment in the Santa Ana river bed, under Chapman Avenue. He'd be talking to the woman in the Orange Circle, with all her belongings in a Target shopping cart. He'd be sitting next to that teen who's contemplating suicide because he or she is gay and scared to tell their parents. He'd be with those that are around us each and every day that we ignore.

And the guilt of this is real to me..... 

Sunday, May 01, 2016

The Journey Continues: the Mystery of Faith in Worship

For those of you who are following me on this journey of faith (or sometimes a lack of faith), I wished to reveal that I had a moment of even further confusion today.  

As I have shared about my disbelief in specific aspects of the bible, and how I struggle with the truth of God, or even the historicity of a man named Jesus, I find that there is a paradox in all of this for me. The paradox is in the act of worship. How can I, going through this journey of doubt and questions, continue to worship that which I may doubt? 

The answer is - I have no clue.

Maybe it's because I have a flair for the dramatic, and in the traditional liturgical worship environment, there is drama. There is a script that we follow, printed before us. There are actors in the clergy that are robed (costumed) for the play. There is a story that goes along, from our corporate act of confession and forgiveness, to the act of listening to God's Word read and preached, and then our response to that in the offering and Communion. You see, it all is an act - a play. And we are all participants. And, with that aforementioned flair for the dramatic, that appeals to me. 

Yet, I don't feel it's an act. I don't sit there or stand, or sing, or recite the liturgy, feeling that I'm acting. And that confuses me. I write that I sometimes doubt the very core of my faith, yet I willingly, joyfully, and with reverence, come to the Table with a sense that I belong, and I'm not being untrue to myself, or to my doubts. 

But why?

As I pondered this thought this morning - and as I write this - I can only think of two answers: 
  • I was raised in worship. Thankfully, I was raised in a home of faith where church was mandatory (as a child), and I continued with as a youth and young adult. And now as my kids are teens, I avoid the mandatory attendance rule. But I am pleased when they do attend, or perform the duties of an acolyte, which they both do so well. More than that, I am hoping the by attending they get that core Truth, and that when they hit their time of struggling with what they believe and why, the core is there. That being said, the worship experience has been part of my life all of my life.
  • Maybe there's something real in the worship that transcends my disbelief, and reaches out for something that is intangible, and my worship - despite my doubts - is fueled by that Unseen. My MIND may have its doubts, but my soul does not. 
I am often critical of those who say "I didn't get ANYTHING out of church today", as if church was entertainment, and their sole reason to attend was to be entertained. But I think we only get out of worship that which we put in. It isn't a "God, I'm here. Entertain me. Feed me. Answer MY prayer" type of thing. Instead, worship is us saying to God "I am here for YOU", and allow ourselves to be open to His Word and to His Voice within that experience.

We NEED to worship. It is in the listening of His Word revealed, and finally, in our response to that Word that we find something that is both elusive and real. And even with my doubts, my soul understands, and reaches out for something that is familiar, yet never the same. The paradox of my life, my faith, is not completely satisfied in the liturgical worship experience, but for that hour, the focus of my life is not on MY life, but on my relationship with the One whom I seek the answers from. And for that hour, the paradox is revealed and welcomed. Because it is within that paradox that I find the Truth.

Soli Deo Gloria