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Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Short Break While I Lose My Mind

I haven't posted in a while. So, here's a post explaining a past and future lack of posts with some pictures of a posts.

I'm doing my comprehensive exams to graduate from my current master's program. It's a little crazy right now. But I thought I'd take a moment to explain to the three people who read this stuff where I've been and where I'll be for the next few weeks.

Don't get me wrong: there are all sorts of things I want to be blogging about. However, I need to at least act like a grown-up and prioritize a bit.
So for now, adieu, and I'll probably see you guys around the end of March. Toodles!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Self(-ish/-less) Prayer

I'm job hunting. I wish I had a clever pun to relate the title to the book of Job, but I don't. In fact, my clever pun to job hunting desire ratio is 1:1. I don't like job hunting. I don't know anyone who does. But today I had an interview. I feel it went pretty well (I've got about a 50% chance of getting it, as they're only interviewing one other person for the position). I made this obvious on Facebook, and told people to keep their fingers crossed.

[Drastic Subject Change!!]

Over the summer I did a little research on Hebrew/Jewish lament, and I came across a few interesting things in my readings on prayer. There were bits on how Jews used to lament (which was my primary focus), but I discovered one thing I had never heard before: for Jews it is not right to pray for oneself in a way that would negatively affect someone else.

I tried taking this to heart. In a strange way, it has caused me to think more about people I don't know. When I told people on Facebook today to keep their fingers crossed, it was intentional. I meant to avoid asking people to pray for me to get the job. Why? Because it's as if they're praying for the other person not to get the job.

There are things I can pray for myself that have beneficial or neutral effects on others. If I pray for safe travel, it should be as much for myself as everyone else on the road or airport. If I pray for God to help me academically, my good grades would not cost someone else their own. If I pray for a good relationship with my wife, it does not mean I hope for other husbands to not love their own wives.

Some prayers, however, are more tricky. Can I pray for my church to grow? Would doing so be positive (nonbelievers coming to know Christ) or negative (believers leaving their own congregation for my own)? If I pray for good health, does that come at someone else's cost (as in the case of organ transplants)? Should everyone pray for a future spouse? For many Christians, but not all, there is the assumption that a limited number of people will be saved. If those in this mindset pray for a certain person to be saved, does this result in someone else being condemned?

I must confess: this business of prayer is becoming rather complicated. There's more to it than I would ever have imagined. But maybe that's the point. To a certain degree, it's simple: Pray, and pray often. God wants to hear from you. Praying for blessings is not bad, because supply and demand are not an issue.

Here's the point: Think about what you pray for. If difficult questions come up, don't shy away from them; difficult questions help us figure out who we are, even if we never find answers. Pray for yourself, but do not do so at the expense of the rest of God's creation.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Marketing Jesus

I have yet to hear an argument against the claim that we ('Murica, that is) are a consumer society. There's probably a good reason for this: there is no evidence to the contrary. We live in an age when everything is up for sale, and anyone can be sued for it. Even ideas are bought and sold. But what does it cost to convince people that what you're selling is worth buying? This is the realm of marketing. I don't have a whole lot of experience in the area, but I like to think I can convince people to listen to me. It could be my dashing good looks, my charming demeanor, my excellent sense of style, or my quick wit. It's likely a combination of all the fantastic elements that make up, well, me. (This is why I wish there were a specific font for sarcasm.)

But what happens when someone attempts to sell something that cannot be bought? There aren't many objects on display for which there is no price. Even Christian bookstores make a killing off of selling Bibles. People even joke that it's been the bestselling book for 2000 years (but let's be honest: it's probably only been 1600 or 1700 years). How have we been marketing Jesus?

Jesus cannot be bought or paid for (or off), nor is he an idea to be sold on the ideational market. But in the midst of a consumer society, has the church tried to sell Jesus? I think we have. In an epoch when the market is the most lively place around, we don't know how not to sell stuff. We're drowning in ads from a myriad of sources, and we feel that the only way to get people to consider Jesus is to sell him. In many places, prostitution is illegal, yet we have tried to sell Jesus. This might be a problem.

What happens, though, if we stop selling? How can a church possibly grow if it doesn't advertise? Where would we be without our "Salvation Sold Here" signs? If the purpose of the church is not to sell a product, then what is it we're (supposed to be) doing? Can we avoid treating the church as a marketplace? Is our place of worship the very area into which Jesus would walk with a whip in hand and drive us out because of our sales work?

I'm afraid I have no answers right now. I'm a bit stuck, actually. I cannot answer the questions I have posed.

But I can imagine a community.
I can imagine a community where people do theology together.
I can imagine a community where prophecy stirs in the hearts of the many rather than relying on the education of the few.
I can imagine a community where grace is not bought, or sold, or traded, or marketed, but given.
I can imagine a community where this grace is transformative, where it does not leave a person unscathed.
I can imagine a community where salvation is less important than justice and mercy.

I don't know what would happen if we stopped marketing Jesus. But I am inclined to think it has the potential to be beautiful.

What do you imagine?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Secret Rooms

This morning my wife and I got on the topic of architecture. Not that either of us has any experience with such, but she started imagining how our apartment could be different (moving the living room closet to the hall, for example). So I began thinking about building a house. I don't know the first thing about building a house, but I wondered about secret rooms and hidden passages. Maybe I'm creating more of a castle in my head than a house, but I can dream, right?

She and I talked about such secret rooms, and she thought it was a bad idea. I replied, "How cool would it be to move into a house and, after living there a while, to find a secret room, especially one that didn't have any dead bodies in it?" The lack of corpses is very appealing to me. So I wondered about what I would do to such a room if I had (a) built it, (b) sold the house and moved on, and (c) expected someone else to find that room eventually. Here's what I've come up with:
  1. Create a "Narnia Space" – Make the room look like you've gone to another world entirely.
  2. Creepy Halloween Room – Scare the bejeebers out of the poor soul who stumbles upon this room. I'd rather not reveal how morbid my sense of imagination is here, so I'll leave this one up to your minds.
  3. Secret Agent/Superhero – Make it look like James Bond, Tony Stark, or Ezio Auditore da Firenze hid their cool stuff there.
  4. Beanbags – Beanbags everywhere. That's it.
  5. Time Machine – Collect (or recreate) artifacts from history and make myself look like a time-traveller. This could also be considered a variant of Narnia Space, but within Earth's history rather than Narnia's.
  6. Hidden Library – Stacks of books from floor to ceiling, most of which would really just be worthless, but enough so that the next person would think they'd found Alexandria.
  7. Alchemy Lab – Produce ruined attempts to turn other metals into gold. Maybe one success. Include journals detailing the history of attempts and processes used.
  8. Toy House of Horror – A room of terrifying toys, like Furbies or Elf on a Shelf. The things that creep me out are those dolls whose eyelids were weighted and they opened and closed based on their body angle. *shiver*
  9. Massive Aquarium – Imagine it: you walk into a room you didn't know was there, and the first thing you see is a shark behind (what you hope is) bullet-proof glass. Awesomeness.
  10. Nothing – They walk in, and either think, "Hey, a secret room. Neat-o," or "Why is this here? Why is this here?!?" (This is where you imagine me doing an evil villain laugh.)
What would you do with a secret room that you had to leave behind? An elaborate prank, or an awesome gift? Let me know in the comments!