TUESDAY, DECEMBER 11, 2007
Ken is one of those friends you make in life that just sticks. I haven’t heard anything from Ken (or him from me) since we were marines in the ‘80s. He is now in New Mexico. We recently reconnected via the web and were interested in who each of us have become in the last couple of decades. I sent this blog address and a brief description of life with Karla (http://www.marinekar.blogspot.com/) in reply. He responded with starting his own blog http://theluskreport.com/ . He also shared that he was “curious about the story of what moments or events led you to Christianity”. Friends are awesome. No fears, just ask. Ok, friend, here is the straight up account as I remember it. I will write it in a series to keep it in short, readable bits.
It starts with a simple observation. Life hurts. It hurts because we sense it should be beautiful and wonderful, and in fleeting moments it is more beautiful than we can describe. But those moments only make the other moments, moments of frustration, misunderstanding, emotional and physical pain, tedium, anxiety and general dissatisfaction so much more painful. Why do we have such a longing for beauty and such a hard time satisfying that longing?
This question, along with many others, set me searching. Ken, when you met me I was testing a possible answer. “We long for beauty because we were gullible to stories told by wishful thinking people.” I went into the USMC in part because I believed life had no meaning and nothing really mattered. Beauty had ceased to be my hope. I was willing to just try living on adrenaline. It didn’t work. The question of beauty and belonging would not leave me alone.
Part 2 to follow…
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2007
So, Ken, the story brought me to Spain. I lived for adrenaline, like partying in general, running with the bulls in Arcos, getting in bust ups with CBs at El Rancho’s. When there was no adrenaline I used cynicism and sarcasm to hold me over to the next fix. Occasionally it made for great stories; some quite funny if the people in them would have just been cartoon characters. Too often it was just lumpy and unsettled. I don’t mean to betray the past; I just can’t forget the toxic side of it all.
1985 in Israel things started changing. There were personal things that were my fault but also my pain. There were also events that made me more aware than ever. We were going to the sigint for a hostage rescue. While deployed the Israelis hit the PLO in Tunis with a surprise air raid. That made things tenser. During that time I was able to travel down from Haifa (Mt. Carmel) to visit Bethlehem, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Jordan River and more. The whole Bible shifted in my awareness. Suddenly the question was not about religious people I had met; it was about Jesus the man. Even if the Christians were wrong about who he was, he still was somebody. Who was he? Why was such a poor, unimpressively educated, politically dodgy character such a big deal so long after his death? That got me willing to learn about the man.
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 14, 2007
KenQ1 – atheism did not account for the craving for beauty and meaning
KenQ2 – being in Israel got me thinking: Who was this man Jesus, really?
Now, the messengers to me were quite diverse. Do you remember Deon Stauffer? He was big as a tank and gentle as kitten. He used to talk with people about God and all during mid watches. I loved to give him a hard time and ask him complicated questions I had developed back at Catholic school. He would just smile real easy and say something like “Russell, that’s a tough question. I don’t really know how to answer it right now. But I do know this, Jesus has meant everything to me and he loves you.” That was frustrating, and a little uncomfortable. I didn’t let on that it affected me, but it did. It kind of rattled around inside me, but I worked hard to ignore it and get back to the Cruzcampo.
As I was getting out of the Corps I had a couple of weeks leave so I took off for Amsterdam. Karla arranged to meet me up there a bit later, so I just kind of wandered around enjoying the improved beer. It got weird, though. Everywhere I went people stopped me to talk about Jesus: rednecks from Arkansas, Asians, African; even people from places that don’t start with “A”. I tried to ignore them, pretended I couldn’t speak English, but they were everywhere, even singing on the tram cars! I later found out that it was the Billy Graham world evangelism conference and I was one of gobs of people with encounters like that.
Then there was Greg. I got back to Texas and saw him right after he graduated with a degree in anthropology. He talked about going to church and I couldn’t believe it. He was a black belt in some really hardcore off brand Japanese martial arts, wore clothes like an Arapaho and played guitar in a surf-punk band downtown. Didn’t seem like a church guy. I challenged him as a scientist (anthropology degree and all) about Noah’s ark and all that stuff. Surely he couldn’t be serious. But he was. He basically said he had some good answers but to those questions, but he had a better question. What should be done with Jesus? Well, that depends, what does Jesus really mean?
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2007
Ok Ken, sorry for the delay. I am traveling in China right now, but that’s not what is holding me up in answering your question about how I became a Christian on mission. The problem is that I became more conscience of the fact that I am speaking through you to a variety of audiences. I imagine you knew that since I am using a blog instead of e-mail. The point is supposed to be to have a greater responsibility of integrity by being public and open. Actually, that is the cause of the delay.
The simple answer of the message is in fact Jesus. Not that helpful of a statement by itself, I agree. Let me expand. Life felt like (and still does frequently) a nauseating crush between the Ideal and the Real. I want to live in beauty, hope, nobility, fascination, energy, joy, etc. That would be the ideal. Reality? I eat more than my body needs. I get confused but hide it by being more assertive (or just withdraw). I have to make a living. There is traffic. My body is moving toward death and my mind can’t quite figure that out. The Ideal and the Real intersect, but not in satisfying ways. The message I locked onto was that in immediate and ultimate ways Jesus is the hope for bringing the Ideal and the Real together. In him Heaven and Earth, Justice and Mercy and all things real and wonderful meet and arrive at shalom.
I wish that cleared everything up J! So, why not just spell it out? Religious complexity and social complexity. Some ‘insiders’, fellow Christians, are full-time quality control freaks (I am a recovering one). If I say part of the message, but not in the right words, proportion etc., they will lose it. Sorry religious control freak friends! But the social complexity is the cliff on the other side of the road. If I am clear and say what I really believe, that Jesus is uniquely the Lord that integrates the Ideal and the Real in legitimate ways, my out of control stay broad control freak friends will lose it. Fact is I hold to a narrow road. But, here goes.
Starting point: We were created by a Creator to be in the Creator’s image: creative. That is why we love art, or if we are unable to love art directly, we love sports. Sports are an accessible form of art. The creativity of motion, expression, drive etc. excite us. Why? We are created by a Creator.
Enter the problem: But nothing is ever enough. Beauty and wonder excite us but fear and irritations incessantly invade us. Some would deny this, but hey, read your e-mail again, anyone. We all have struggles in relationship (giving and receiving appropriate love) and in general well being (money, health, etc.). The creation is broken. We are broken. We need help.
Intro of solution: Religion is the basic old story of frightened humanity looking for hope and escape. As prosperity and sophistication developed thinkers arrogantly deride that fact. Western positivism and and scientific/economic confidence has led us to a world of Realism that guts the hope of any Ideal. “Get REAL” ends up ringing in my ears as: there is no Ideal. But what if we are frightened and really do need hope? Moreover, what if there really is a way of hope that provides escape from despair and entrance into wholeness? Well, that would make sense out of our (humanity’s) chronic striving for spirituality. But how do we know which solution is a solution and not just wishful thinking? What I came to pay attention to was the idea of the prophets of old.
The Hebrew prophets stand out among spiritualists. As one who has lived in the far East for over a decade, I have to say that most prophets outside of the Hebrews are more Ideal than Real. Kongzi (Confucius) is the exception but he was all about pragmatism with no transcendent Ideal to offer, by his own admission. No offense to Hindu friends intended but the essence of their thought is that the Real is in fact Not-Real. Everything we struggle with, mucked up relationships and irregular health and well being, they are all an illusion according to Hindu based thought. Hmmm. I don’t see an integration of Ideal and Real, I see the Ideal smothering the Real.
The solution revealed: The Hebrew prophets point to the need for life to work and that the answer will come in a man. This man will show how life works and pronounce judgment on what is broken and salvation (rescue) on what was intended to be. The message I got hooked on was that Jesus was/is that Man. He was so much an integration of the Ideal (Kingdom of Heaven) and the Real (the creation) that he even blew the minds of those waiting for him. He was tricky. He showed power and grace in ways that were so very other to what spiritualists often went on about and he did it with people tangled in very immediate, real problems: insanity, sickness, chronic bad choices and more. All the while dealing with individuals Jesus proclaimed a view of how life should be shifted back to understanding that the Creator never left the creation, the creation has gone blind and worships among itself as if the Creator were absent. Jesus’ message: Change your view of reality, God is actually in charge here and now. He developed that message with what you may have heard more often.
The solution executed: Jesus proclaimed the victory of the Ideal Reality over the less-than-ideal realities of this world. That is the cross and beyond. Here is how it works. Broadly, religion (the priests who conspired to kill Jesus) and politics (the Empire who expediently gave Jesus a dose of reality) were confronted head on. Jesus asserted that he was the Ideal (contra religious control systems, Hebrew or other) and that he was the Real (contra human efforts to control this life). Familiar saying of Jesus: I am the way, the truth and the life. The religious (human effort at controlling the ideal) and the political (human effort and controlling the real) set to prove him wrong. They humiliated him, tortured him and killed him. The cross was the human rejection of Jesus as the hope of the Ideal and Real.
Now, let me make sure and get this in. I have rebelled against the True Ideal and the Genuine Real by being foolish. That’s what sin is; being spiritually stupid and mean. I have made fun of people who needed kindness. I have grabbed for what was not mine. I have shut myself off where I should not and imposed myself where I should not. I have done nice things, and I’m certainly not the worst guy to ever live, not even close. That’s not the question for me, though. My question was: How can I enter into the Hope if I am always undermining the Hope by my selfishness? The short answer: Jesus not only did the macro-thing, he was also extremely personal. What I came to understand from the Scriptures was that he died with my foolishness on his soul and received the just punishment for my abuse of the heart, mind, soul and body the Creator entrusted me with. Translation: Jesus died for my sins.
The Ideal is Real: Dead Jesus meant that even his followers needed to try and find another hope (or just give into despair or delusion). But Jesus stunned everyone by showing the he was the Ideal and that he was Real. He came back from the dead, not in some ghostly way. He walked, talked, ate and made it clear: we have not been crazy to dream that there is an Ideal that could overtake our Real. There is HOPE. Jesus told his disciples: It has begun. Now carry it forward to others. Relive the story of the Ideal invading the Real by being vulnerable, rejected, but amazingly victorious in actual (real) success of hope. That’s the missionary thing. Talk with people about the Ideal/Real question and explain how I believe Jesus is the answer to that question with words, yes, but most importantly with reenactment of the way of love over selfishness in the Name of the Creator.
The Real will be Ideal: Where does it end? I used to have a view pretty much like the famous/infamous “Left Behind” series. I don’t anymore; too much speculation. I believe that Heaven (the Ideal, the reign of the Creator) comes to earth (the Real, the visible creation) and things will work better than even our wildest spiritual gurus have imagined. I believe that Jesus is the way to that reality (and will be revealed in his own time) and that he is the Lord of that Ideal Reality, the Kingdom of the Heavens right here among us. Not so sure about all the details but sure enough to invest my life in that direction.
That is my effort at explaining the message this morning. Lots of room for clarifying; so feel free to ask, add, challenge etc. (on the blog or in e-mail: email@example.com).
May the Shalom of the Ideal, the God the Hebrew prophets promised, be yours in Christ!
TUESDAY, JANUARY 01, 2008
That is my account of how I became a Christ follower, and a bit about what I understand his message to be. The final part of your question was regarding me being missionary about my faith. I am on a mission, but I don’t know as much about it as I wish I did.
When we started off signing up for the Marine Corps we were converts to the Marine way. We were hooked on the idea of being the best, the toughest and so on. I remember showing up in Rota and being hit with cynical Marines. The dream and the reality weren’t working out so well for quite a few. To some degree I became like that. I enjoyed being the short-timer with the stick of dog tags at the end of my term reminding the retention NCO that not all of us were buying into the whole story: once around the block was enough.
For many in the US Christianity has been like that. It may have been a broad part of cultural understanding, or even a very strong part of childhood. And then, somewhere along the way, the vision lost its allure and we turned our backs on finding any meaning and fulfillment down that road. To some extent that happened to me very early (13). But, as I shared, I really caught the vision for Christ in a way I had never previously understood when I was 21. That vision has been matured, even battered a bit, but it has strengthened through adversity. I am more convinced than ever that God revealed in Christ is the answer to the mystery of life.
Since I want to live out the mystery of my life well, I keep plunging forward in decisive times, plodding forward in others. I have not maxed out the depths of wisdom, beauty, justice, mercy and hope found in the life of Jesus yet. So, part of my mission is to live in such a way as to learn and grow more. That is usually through service.
What service do I have to offer? My specialty is in asking the fundamental questions about life:
Where did we come from? – origins
Why are we here? – purpose
Where are we going? – destiny and the afterlife
How can we know? – epistemology
I find that there are people everywhere who are either asking these questions or looking for questions like these to ask. I listen to what they have discovered and I tell them what I have discovered. I offer my understanding of the answers to these questions. When people want to learn more about the answers as I see them, I train them in reading Scripture and at reading their life and the world in which they live. I invite them to journey with me and others who see Jesus as the Hope worthy of our full confidence.
Practically that has meant forming small communities. In Dallas I formed a church for Spanish speakers who were trying to get a better life. We shared life together. When in need we shared food, found work together, had celebrations, prayed, learned and lived. The same happened when I moved to North Carolina for graduate studies; this time with migrant workers. I came to Asia and did similar things with communities without access to the way of life in Christ. We have seen a decade’s worth of changed lives as people have learned Christ’s way of love and peace, the Shalom of contentment through serving others.
Now my kids are growing up and I am looking at the world and seeking to see my place in it. The common phenomenon of aging is happening to me like it happens to most: the more I learn the more I realize how much I don’t know. I am still on a mission. I want to know Christ and do that by seeking to live more and more like him. I want to be appropriately loving toward God and people, and I am prayerfully considering how to do that next. As I discover what is next I will let you know.