We’ll believe anything… Especially well-worded memes.

So today I was scrolling through Facebook (an increasingly dangerous activity these days). And I came across a meme (picture) posted by a friend of my parents who is a baptist missionary serving in a former-soviet country in Europe. I had many serious problems with the message of this post and REALLY wanted to write a comment. But Luis, being the kind-natured and gracious person that he is, advised against that. So I decided to rant here instead. Much better! 🙂Continue reading “We’ll believe anything… Especially well-worded memes.”

Obsessive Love

In reading through Francis Chan’s book “Crazy Love”, a thought suddenly hit me.

Earlier in the book Chan equates a life with Christ as a constant swimming up steam or running up a downward escalator. It seemed as though he was comparing a life in Christ with a works based salvation. Further on in the book he says:

“Do you give to those who could never repay you? To those who would do you harm if they could? To those who have already done you harm? This is Christ’s love. He gave us something for which we can NEVER repay him, and then He asks us to keep giving to others like He gives.” – Francis Chan (Crazy Love)

I remember many years ago I heard of Christians referred to not as receptacles of Christ’s love, but conduits. We were never meant to receive Christ’s love and store it up for ourselves. But instead to pour it out as it has been poured out on us!

What if we began to see the Christian life not as constant service to God, but as constant service to others?

What if instead of fastidiously keeping good Church attendance we concerned ourselves with regular attendance at the hospitals, homeless shelters and orphanages? What if, instead of being sure to drop our money in the offering basket, we made sure to help a family in need, or donate to a food bank, or someone who really needs help?

So many of us are so focused on what we need to do to “make God happy” or to “please him”. Yet while driving our cars to fellowship together in Church every Sunday we drive right by the people who really need Him (and His love) the most.

People who are obsessed with Jesus give freely and openly, without censure. Obsessed people love those who hate them and who can never love them back. – Francis Chan

 

Addiction

A friend of mine recently posted a quote by Fredrik Nietzsche on Facebook.

“One loves one’s desires, not the desired.”

My response was to comment on the correlation between desire in this sense and addiction. Since most would agree when someone desires alcohol, chocolate, cigarettes or drugs it’s not the actual, physical thing that’s drawing them to it, it’s their desire that compels them towards consuming it. Inanimate objects do not have the power to force or coerce us to do anything. Instead, it’s our own state of mind that convinces us that we want or need that particular thing.

Now, I have noticed this same correlation between addiction and religion for many years. But at the risk of being labeled a heretic (more so than I probably already am) I’ve kept my mouth shut. But my friend’s post got me to thinking about that connection again and I haven’t been able to get it off my mind. In Church and in the Bible we are told to love God, cherish him and desire him above all else. I would agree.

In my own life I’ve found that when I’m “close with God” that he is all I can think or talk about. But in order to maintain this “closeness” I must listen to Christian music, read christian books, read the Bible, pray, go to church and bible studies and countless other things to “keep me focused on God”. And the longer I go not reading the Bible, listening to other music and not constantly filling my mind with religious things then the less I think about it until God is no longer that important. So my relationship with God becomes a cycle of addiction. I want to think more about God so I start focusing more on Christian things that keep me thinking about God, I keep thinking more about God so I continue to focus on those things. When something breaks the cycle and I “drift away”, “backslide” or get distracted, the cycle begins to crumble.

For years I’ve felt very guilty for thinking about my relationship with God like an addict to cocaine. But maybe that’s exactly what belief is- addiction.

But is this such a bad thing? We as humans need addiction to stay alive. One could go so far as to say that humans have an addiction to oxygen or food. But these are things we need to survive so we never think of our addiction to good things in a negative way. Call me bitter and cynical but even our desire to love and be loved could be called an addiction. We crave it, we want it and we fall into fits of depression when we don’t get it. I think in one sense that’s what Nietzsche was talking about. But getting back to the point, even if a belief in God is an addiction, is that really a bad thing? I’ve found the times in my life when I was most focused and centered of God I was more calm, at peace and in a better state of mind. Never has my addiction to God left me empty, disillusioned and broken like so many other addictions in my life. I’ve gone on drinking binges in which I lost count of the bottles. I’ve gone through weeks of sex and hookups that were nothing more than notches on a belt. And none of these things ever left me at peace, centered or satisfied. Quite the opposite.

I think we as humans judge the severity of the addiction by the mess it leaves the addict in. A sex addict may end up with a warped view of the opposite (or same) sex and at worse could end up with numerous STD’s or even HIV. A drug addict may lose their own life to an addiction. Most negative addictions come with severe consequences. But few would argue that an addiction to love has life threatening consequences. Sure, there are casualties and people have died, been killed or committed suicide from a negative experience with love. But we have yet to see love being banned for being harmful or destructive. I think the same is true of a belief in God. Never have I experienced a harmful or destructive repercussion from my belief in God. On the contrary, through it I’ve avoided some very bad paths and mistakes in my life.

But just to clarify for some who may already be thinking about all the harmful, evil, wicked things that have been done in the name of God and religion- I believe there is a difference between a genuine, deep faith in and love for God and a fanatical devotion to a religion, organization or certain way of thinking. We are too often quick to judge God based upon the people who say they follow him. For example, if an American goes to Brazil, gets drunk and gets into a car accident and kills a bus of children, we would say it’s absurd if the parents of those children wanted President Obama to answer for the deaths of their children. Yes, the drunk was an American citizen and yes maybe he voted for Obama. But Obama didn’t tell him to get drunk and kill those kids. Just the same I don’t believe God tells people to do half the shit they actually do. But in order to justify their actions and to make themselves feel better they use some imagined idea of who they think God is as an excuses to do some of the most horrendous things.

So is it wrong to say that I have an addiction to God? It may sound strange and I may still be called a heretic. But when I come to understand that this is one addiction that won’t leave me broken and empty then I find comfort in that. In Scripture Jesus compares himself to a lot of things; one of those is a well that never runs dry. A drug addict can run out of drugs or the money to pay for them. A sex addict can lose all excitement and interest in “normal” sex and frustrate himself looking for something to arouse him. The reason bad addictions are dangerous is because we don’t abuse them, they abuse us and drain us until we have nothing left. But what if we were addicted to something that never ran out, that always kept us satisfied and always gave more than we took? That’s an addiction I can live with.

“Damsel, Arise” An article by Jeff Chu

I just read this article about Megan Phelps-Roper, written by Jeff Chu. Megan was a member of the Westboro Baptist Church until late last year when she finally left.

What struck me most about the article was what she and her sister who left with her are going through right now. About leaving the Church and rethinking everything she has been taught, Megan said, “Think of how hard it would be to have a fortress of faith built around you, and to have to dismantle it yourself, brick by brick, examining each one and deciding whether there’s something worth keeping or whether it’s not as solid as you thought it was.” While not to the same extent, I can relate to what she’s going through.

In 2006 at the end of my fall semester at Clearwater Christian College I was expelled for drinking which was against the colleges policy on alcohol and their own interpretation of scripture in relation to christian life. When I was expelled I didn’t just stop matriculating at a University. I lost my job and in a very real sense I was shunned. The college even when so far as to forbid their students to come to my apartment under penalty of demerits or expulsion. I lost my friends and my social network. For the past year or more I had been asking questions about christianity and trying to decide what I really believed. In the summer of 2006 I finally decided to abandon God and not believe in anything anymore. In a way, I was an atheist attending a Christian college.

To this day I tell people that my expulsion was the best thing that ever happened to me. For the first time I had to decide things for myself. I had to make up my own mind and learn what I was really, truly going to believe; not because someone told me what to believe but deep down, in my core, what was I holding on to.

I could continue and make this a much longer post. But that’s a post for another time. For now, my thoughts are with Megan and here sister as they go through this time of soul searching and rediscovery. It’s not discovery, it’s always been there, it’s just taking the time to stop, be still and find it.

It’s a great article I would definitely recommend giving it a read!

Damsel, Arise: A Westboro Scion Leaves Her Church

Like me

So I just saw this video on Youtube and the fact that it’s dated 2010 shows how incredibly behind the times I am. Add to the fact that I didn’t even know who Chely Wright is and you may be wondering what I’m even doing writing this post.

Well, regardless of how old these words are they still ring true in my life. Yes, I grew up as the son of a baptist missionary in the UK and yes, I’m gay. And while that may seem like some sort of cliche’, what often makes me stop to wonder if there’s anyone like me is not my past, it’s not who I was but it’s who I am now. Too often I feel like I’m straddling a barbed wire fence- a fence that was never meant to be straddled. I have one foot in the gay community- supporting gay rights, marriage equality and on the never ending search to find someone to spend the rest of my life with. I have the other foot in the christian community- attending church, studying theology, spending time in prayer, meditation and reading the scriptures. There are plenty of people on either side of the fence who would call me a fool. Maybe I am. Perhaps I’m a fool who can’t make up his mind and leave one side of the fence behind. But regardless, there is woven within me both sides of this battlefield. I’m as much a believer as a homosexual. So I wonder, is there anyone else out there like me?

I’ve met other gay men who were brought up as sons of pastors, missionaries, deacons, etc who have left the ideology they were brought up with behind them and put away their faith and love for Christ and the scriptures. And I’ve met some men who are very dedicated, devote believers who will never admit to themselves or anyone else their attraction for other men. So is there anyone else straddling this painful fence?

Or am I alone?

There is nothing new under the sun

The wise King Solomon was quoted as saying:

“What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.”

Ecclesiastes 1:9 Old Testament Scriptures

In Sonnet 59 Shakespeare muses that if there is nothing new under the sun, how can the mind not realize this? And if we could go back through the history books and see our lover’s identical twin and read the things which were said of that person then, would it be the same descriptions we use today, or would time have changed the way we talk about the same things?

I’m beginning this blog under a very skeptical note. I’m stepping into this realizing that there really isn’t anything new under the sun. And because of that, there is absolutely nothing I can write here that hasn’t already been thought, written, and discussed at length by many different people in different places throughout time.

But like Shakespeare, I wonder, if the passage of time may change how we feel about the same old things. Maybe, or maybe not. But regardless, writing is cathartic for me and maybe at some point the things I say and write won’t just be of some benefit to me, but maybe to one or two others somewhere out there.

So here goes the start of something fresh, new and completely unoriginal!

A dull knife makes for a terrible cutlery companion!

There have been many things that have surprised me during my time in Ukraine. But one thing that has truly caught me by surprise is the continuing decrease in my vocabulary and articulation skills.

A few weeks ago I began to notice in conversations with other native English speakers and while writing emails that my mental capacity for forming logical arguments and illustrating my points with a respectable vocabulary seems to be diminishing. Case and point would be the amount of time it took me to write that previous sentence! Now, one could make an argument that the above problem is a normal occurrence with age. And having entered my 3rd decade, a point could be made for that being the cause. However, I feel the reason could simply be that for the past 4 months, and the past month especially since leaving my training site my conversations as a whole have been very shallow. That’s not at all to say the Ukrainians with whom I’ve been having conversations with are shallow. I don’t believe that to be true at all. But I think that for most of them, their ability to understand what I say, and express their thoughts and ideas to me is caged within a limited vocabulary. And as far as my ability to speak in Ukrainian, well that cage is all the smaller! So day after day my conversations are of the events of the day, the weather, my job, my family, America, my travels and other normal social conversations. But what I wouldn’t give for the spirited conversations I would have with Drew and Sarah Vacca during my visits, or the discussions in Lifegroup with Kris Green, Oscar Gomez and others in the group! Topics of theology, philosophy and cultural nuances are to a conversation as sparks to a pool of gasoline! They create debate, arguments, animated discussions and cause the parties involved to think logically, reason and articulate their words to adequately convey the depth of what they are trying to communicate. But the vocabulary of these topics is a difficult thing to master. For many folks it takes years of higher education to achieve a proficiency in these topics.

Now while I’m sure I’m in no danger of losing my ability to speak on these topics completely. I do fear that without some work, I will fall out of practice of the ability to logically discuss, argue and navigate my way through deep conversations.

Truth be told as I look back on this post, it seems rather silly and perhaps it’s more worthwhile to delete it than for anyone to read it. But this is a post of my thoughts and experiences during my time in Ukraine. And this is one of my thoughts. So take it for what it is. Perhaps I’ll soon find something to post that is at least a tad more interesting!

So, until next time…

Welcome!

It was a cold, Friday afternoon in the town of Vyzhnytsia [Vizsh-nit-sya] but the welcome I received from the locals warmed me all the way to my heart.

I stepped off the train at close to ten in the morning. I was surprisingly refreshed after a long sleep on the 14 hour ride from Kyiv central train station. My Ukrainian colleague, Nadiya Senchuk located our driver and the three of us hauled all 8 pieces on my luggage to the car waiting across the street from the Chernivtsi train station, loaded it up and started our journey to my new hometown.

After about an hour we approached Vyzhnytsia; a modest town of 5,000 nestled at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains in west Ukraine and roughly 60 kilometers north of Romania. It felt as though my eyes couldn’t soak in my surroundings fast enough. I was craving to absorb every sight and sound. I wanted to know what was inside every shop and the names of every person we passed. This was my new town, and one can’t live as a stranger in his own town.

We finally pulled up in front of a modest glass door that seemed almost a hole in the wall. Out of nowhere the landlord appeared. She was a young lady, friendly but stern, eager and yet business like. The last suitcase had barely touched the floor when the principle of the school arrived. She seemed a bright, authoritative, stout woman with an affinity for red and a commanding presence. Following close behind her was Misha, a young slender music teacher at the school. He has only one year under his belt but makes up for it with a smile almost as big as his enthusiasm to help. We complete a quick tour of the apartment and Nadiya and I decide to rest for a while before trekking to the school, meeting the students, teachers and touring the facilities. So the two tired travelers say goodbye to the landlord, principle and music teacher as they hurry out the door and we pause just a second to breathe and take everything in before we set out for Nadiya’s house which is just over halfway between my new apartment and the school.

After a short walk through the town and a nice relaxing lunch it’s time to set out for the school. As we round the corner towards the school I’m confronted by a sight I will never forget. What at first I mistook to be just school children hanging out in front of the school turned out to be the entire student body, all of the teaching faculty and several parents from the town gathered outside waiting for me. As soon as they saw me the children started to clap and cheer. I was at a loss for words. My feet were walking towards the front gate but my eyes were glued to this massive welcoming committee; a red carpet of eager hearts and minds. At the last second I thought to video this moment so as to prove that my story is true and this seemingly unbelievable sight can be believed!

I was greeted at the front gate by the Principal and two of the school children in traditional Ukrainian dress and holding a large loaf of Ukrainian bread sitting on an embroidered white silk scarf. Before I know it I’m ushered onto the front steps in front of over one hundred students, plus teachers, parents and others taking pictures, videotaping and tape recording. What followed is still hard to remember. So much was a blur of emotion. Two young children came forward with prepared speeches in Ukrainian. Then two parents came forward to say a few words and welcome me, then two older students came forward and welcomed me in English. They turned the microphone over to me and asked me to say a few words. I tried my hardest to muster up as much Ukrainian as I could without sounding like an ass. So I said what I could that was appropriate then stumbled something out in English and Nadiya kindly translated for me. Just when I thought it was over the entire crowd being aware it was my birthday the day before began to sing “Happy Birthday” to me in English.

From there I was hurried inside as the entire student body raced in behind me to get to their classes. Nadiya then introduced me to what seemed like an endless line of faces; smiling, welcoming, hand shaking, “hello’s”, “pleased to meet you’s”, and every other polite Ukrainian greeting that came to mind. From the teacher’s lounge it was on to the principal’s office. So in walked Nadiya and I and there sat the Principal and a reporter from the local newspaper eager to interview me. So there I sat, shell shocked ten times over answering questions of who I am, where I’m from, where I’ve taught, and of my impressions of Vyzhnytsia so far. And for a brief second it occurred to me that it had only been 2 hours since I caught my first glimpse of the city through the frost covered car window. I’m not entirely sure that the interview had even ended when a knock at the door announced the arrival of the heads of the region’s Education Administration who had come to meet me. More hand shaking, smiling, nodding, greeting and quick pose for a photo by the reporter of me, Nadiya, the principal and the three visiting ambassadors from somewhere in Administration land. Then it was back to the teacher’s lounge, a few words of welcome, then another round of “Happy Birthday” sung by the three visitors and all the school’s faculty.

What followed was a somewhat whirlwind tour of the school which consisted of every single room in the building –yes, even the cafeteria kitchen and the bathrooms-. Upon leaving the school Nadiya, who in 24 hours had gone from the Peace Corps title “Ukrainian Counterpart”, to my colleague, to translator and finally to friend and personal hero, led me around town and personally introduced me to every store clerk, and friend she came across. She showed me where to buy the freshest foods and which stores offer the cheapest prices. Though she was more exhausted than I was, she never faltered for a second as she proudly introduced me as “the Gymnasium’s new English teacher from America”. She ended the tour by treating me to coffee at a local café and then saw me safely home where, five hours after walking through the door and over six hours from when my train came to a stop outside Chernivtsi station, I was finally home!

It was a crazy day. But never in a thousand lifetimes would I trade a second of it. Because I believe that no amount of money can make you as rich, and no amount of fame can make you feel as loved and no amount of heat from the hottest furnace can make you feel as warm as a genuine, heartfelt WELCOME!

з днем подяки!!

So today was Thanksgiving! And what a day it was! I awoke at 7:30am and actually felt good as opposed to exhausted and groggy like I have been the past week. I had my tea and some breakfast and headed off to Ukrainian language class at 8:30. Upon arriving I found out class wasn’t supposed to start till 9… So I decided to walk back home and grab my trusty T2i and take some great Thanksgiving Day pictures! So I did and when I arrived back at our LCF’s apartment a few minutes before 9 the cooking was well under way! Pumpkin Pie and Pumpkin Bread had already been made the night before and the stuffing was already in process! Class didn’t actually end up starting till 10 because we were all having so much fun cooking, listening to music and having fun. But alas, the time for learning began and we went to studying. There are some days when I am tired, my brain is fried, I’m either hungry, exhausted or both and language class seems pointless because my brain feels like a brick wall that’s getting a Ukrainian melon thrown at it. But today was different. Today I was rested and engaged, everyone’s spirits were up and we had fun. I was conversing and stringing out full sentences and conjugating like a madman! It was a wonderful thing! Before we knew it, class was over and the fun could begin! I still had to have tutoring but the LCF and I were working on my Self Directed project (Which I’m really excited about but more on that later) so it went pretty smoothly. After I finished tutoring I presented my Thanksgiving day present to the group- a full 2 hour video of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade! … Ok, so it was last years but that didn’t matter. Several girls in the group kept mentioning how much they missed watching the Parade on Thanksgiving and were really bummed that they wouldn’t have that particular tradition this year. So I surprised them and it was a success! We watched the parade while we cooked dinner. We didn’t have enough stove space and cooking the meat (turkey and chicken) was my job so I walked home and cooked at my host mom’s house. It was my first time really cooking here in Ukraine and I forgot how much I missed it! I fixed Lemon pepper chicken breasts and then I sauteed some turkey cutlets with onions and garlic (they were 2 separate dishes, don’t worry…). I finished up cooking just as the girls were finishing up in the LCF’s apartment. I hurried back as they were setting the table and it all came together beautifully! Chicken, Turkey, Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, Carrots, Biscuits, Creamed Corn, Pumpkin bread, Salad, Pumpkin pie and Egg Nog! All enjoyed with Christmas music playing in the background! It was fantastic! (and it’s Thanksgiving so Christmas music IS allowed!). We prayed together, we ate together, we shared what we were Thankful for together and after hours of eating, talking, and having fun, we cleaned up together. For almost half a day we created a little American bubble. But all suspensions of reality sooner or later must come to an end. They serve their purpose and they drift away. Now it’s back to doing homework for tomorrow, working on our SDL presentation tomorrow as well as preparing for our Site Placement interviews tomorrow! It’s going to be a long and stressful day just like yesterday and the two days before them! But in the middle of it all, we took time to stop; to breathe, to smile, to laugh and most of all, to be thankful!

A Little Hilarity

So today was just an ordinary day. Alison and I had Lesson planning Tutoring with our LCF in the morning and finished around 930. And since we weren’t having Language class until 1130, I found myself with 2 glorious hours all to myself. So since my host mom was at work, I decided to go home, do some reading, take a shower, have a nice breakfast and have a relaxing morning by myself. So I did just that. Got home, did some reading and decided I was going to make some coffee. So I light the gas stove, put a full pot of water on the burner and went to the bathroom while it boils. Now you’ve heard the phrase, “A watched pot never boils” and in Ukraine, even unwatched pots seem to take forever to boil. So after going to the bathroom I went on the internet for a while. Then I decided I had better take a shower before too much time passed, so I leisurely got ready, and hopped in the shower. After a few minutes in the shower I suddenly remembered that I had left the water boiling. Now for those of you familiar with gas stoves the reason for my panic will be obvious. But for those who are not, let me explain. Gas stoves deliver a constant stream of gas into the stove when the knob is turned which is why it’s important to light the stove as soon as you turn the knob. And also, it’s important to turn the gas off should the fire go out because even though there is no fire, the gas will continue to pour through the stove into the room. One of the things that often makes fires in gas stoves go out is if for example…. a full pot of water boils over and the water puts out the fire. So I’m in the shower freaking out for 2 reasons, 1. If the water has boiled over then gas is leaking into the kitchen and 2. the water heater (lit by fire) is in the kitchen also… (fire and a room full of gas… very bad thing!). So I jump out of the shower soaking wet and in my birthday suit. I grab my towel and run towards the kitchen. It’s at this moment rounding corner in the hallway I’m reminded that wet feet and a wood floor don’t make for a great combination! My feet fly right out from under me and I land smack on my side and slide across the floor sprawling like a buttered up cat thrown onto an icy lake. I scramble to my feet and get to the kitchen half cursing half laughing only to find that the water still hasn’t started boiling yet…
So I turn off the water and trudge back to my shower. I must have laughed for several minutes at the whole thing. So to sum up, I suppose today I learned that wet feet and wood floors don’t mix and that Ukrainian water takes a really, really long time to boil!
That’s all folks! 🙂