justbarelymadeit

We will get there…

Category: Retro Post

RETRO POST: Space, the Inevitable Frontier

-April, 2007

If you have never read Isaac Asimov, shame on you. He is one of the best science fiction writers ever to pen a manuscript. Quickly now, go and purchase or borrow a few of his robot novels, or if you are to only read one story, choose the Foundation series.

I recently finished The End of Eternity, one of his shorter books. In this, we are presented with the plot that man has enabled himself to step outside of time. An organization has developed outside of time that Asimov, interestingly enough, calls Eternity. Eternity exists outside of time, and has the ability to send its agents into time to make adjustments here and there to prevent catastrophe, disease, war, drug addictions, ect. Their purpose as an organization is to better mankind by changing time and reality to avoid anything that compromises the greater good of mankind. In the different realities that come and go, people and personalities come into being as easily and quickly as they pass from reality. Risk has been eliminated and mankind slowly settles into comfort and contentment.

Into this is introduced the main character who is an ‘Eternal’ and a part of the whole process. He undergoes much change and is introduced to love unexpectedly. This upsets his whole equilibrium, and through a long set of orchestrated events, finds himself with the decision to destroy Eternity. He wrestles with the whole concept of contentment and safety existing in too great an amount. Security is paramount, and out the window goes risk, and also abnormal achievement. Asimov argues in this story that by removing abnormality, risk and danger, mankind has robbed itself of the drive to succeed. Man has slipped into a comfortable setting in which nothing threatens and nothing really challenges.

I won’t ruin the story and reveal how it ends, but Asimov is a master of the written word, and it ends with an interesting moral and closure. It made me think, and brought me back to a concept I have often wrestled with.

I make a good amount of money. I live in a secure area, with low crime, and a relatively secure government. I drive a dependable car, and have good friends who support me. My life has a minimum of risk or dangers, and I have done many things in my life to establish this. I have put structures in place, worked hard enough at my job to secure my spot there, and fostered relationships with mostly stable people in hopes of creating a warm safe place for me to exist. I don’t wonder where my next meal will come from, I don’t fear walking out my door, and I can express my religious beliefs in a public and open setting without fear of retribution. I have my own Eternity right here. I can step in at any time and protect my security and never have to fear the upset of the balance.

The Church is little better, and has often left me wondering if we would be better off with a little persecution. What if we had to fight for our beliefs? What if going to church, or carrying a Bible could end you up in jail, or dead? What is more difficult, fighting a physical enemy opposing your faith or battling your own leviathan of contentment and laziness?

So, I guess I am a little ashamed. I am ashamed that in such a safe place I find my weakness.

Asimov idealizes space exploration in his book as a focus for the anti-thesis of Eternity, always showing risk and danger, and as such any movement towards space is always reality changed and avoided. Space begins to form into this frontier that is avoided because of its supposed inevitable push towards catastrophe for man. Without the expansion and exploration of space though, mankind begins to withdraw and stagnate.

So what is my Space? What should I be stretching for, and where can I find it? I think I know, and yet do I have the strength? Do I have the wherewithal to step away from what is comfortable, be it physical, mental, or emotional safety, and risk? Can I stretch out my hand and grasp for space?

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RETRO POST: Torn Between the Two

November 2006

Everyone says it. I hear it all around me. I am inundated with the same self-help message time and again. Psychology informs me that I cannot be fulfilled anywhere if I am not fulfilled inside. It is often preached from the pulpit and from the street curb. God helps those who help themselves. Be a good steward of the body, mind and heart that God gave you. Protect yourself so you can protect others. These are statements I am given. I am surrounded by books written by famous authors and even theologians that plead with me to focus on myself so I can one day become a whole being, who can then nobly be strong for others. Such are the rationalizations for self-focus.

Enter stage left: a young couple, new joined, and forging ahead in matrimony. He brings with him a deadened past and a starved heart, while she struggles with ugly ghosts of a broken history. They love each other and they love God, and all they want is health for their fragile marriage. They see a counselor, they read books, they focus on themselves and sorting out their own pasts, convinced that they need to reach some level of mental health for their marriage to be acceptable. And yet the more they focus on themselves and the more they struggle the further they get from each other…and worse, from God. Now he is gone, and she is left destitute lying on the ground.

How does that even happen, when all their desires and strivings were only to make it better? Shouldn’t it have worked? Shouldn’t this have done the trick…?

I am torn between two. Do I focus on self-healing…or do I focus on God. Are they mutually exclusive, or can I do one, as well as the other? Sunday school told me to only focus on God, and life told me to focus on myself. Logic tells me to find a happy medium. Scripture is clear that a tree by the water will flourish, and otherwise will dry up and wither. The story of the Israelites is rife with examples of their failings when they allowed themselves to focus on something other than Jehovah. Peter started to sink the moment he took is eyes of the Messiah. So, with that in mind, how connected is spirituality to mental health? Can one be close to God and pursuing His unwavering heart, while being a mental basket-case…Can I be borderline disorder, and yet live each day by faith? Can God still use and touch me even though my tortured past haunts me every dark night?

The clock is slowly ticking its way closer to midnight, and my souls quavers at the darkness that is sure to come…the darkness that is not always washed away by the sun. I yearn for closeness to Him, and I know that He can bring miraculous healing, but that is not the norm, is it? Perhaps that is sometimes why He permits mental anguish. Perhaps that is why depression is so prevalent. Perhaps He wants to teach us something. Perhaps, it is because as soon as I feel strong I run out on my own. Perhaps that is why He allows this cripple to stay this way. Perhaps, some of us might need that. Perhaps

But pondering that only brings frustration. Regardless, I cannot be far from God. I know that. He is my Sustainer, my Water, my Bread. He is the Sun that can wash away that darkness…He can do that, and until He does, I know I need to stay close to Him.

So how much do I focus on God, and how much do I allow myself my selfish pleasures of self-examination and focus? I know now that I cannot ignore the former, and I also know the danger of too much of the latter. Unfortunately, as the clock ticks, and the gloom settles, I find myself sitting here in front of this keyboard, still undecided. I don’t have that answer, yet.

RETRO POST: Ignorance is Infuriating

Sept 2007

Sometimes I see red.

Sometimes I seethe and sweat, righteously angry with it. Nothing seems to really get under my skin sometimes than ignorance and stupidity. These two things fuel such concepts as racial prejudice, discrimination, fear of what is different. Ignorance, a force to be reckoned with, can be brought to bear fully and in its manifestation can destroy so much. It can affect so many people on so many layers. It can get people killed, fired or just hurt, physically and all too often, emotionally. It can hurt people you don’t even know or might never see, but more significantly it can hurt people who know and love, and care about you.

Call me callous, call me insensitive, but right now I don’t care two shakes of a rattlers tail about the first group. I don’t really mind a whole lot that is hurts people who are unknown. I know I should, but now all that consumes me is how much we can hurt and damage the people close to us, the people who would give their right arms for us. THAT is what really gets my goat! I guess that is what really makes ignorance and bad decisions so significantly horrifying. It is when you stop to make that bad decision. You chose to sleep with her. You choose not to pay a bill. You choose to keep at that addiction, or to cheat on your taxes, or to overdraft your account, or to say that ignorant statement that will scar a heart, or a myriad of other ways we can royally screw things ups. It isn’t just you that you hurt. You get the STD, you get sent to collections, you throw your life or love away, you are arrested or bankrupt…these are all such horrible things that can happen to us, but they pale next to what you do to your parents, siblings, spouse, and friends. It is those that have to stand by in anguish and watch it happen. Those have to pick up your pieces when it is all done, because you know they will. They love you, and that is exactly why it hurts them the most.

So what, you ask? Why this maddened rant? This is why…

So I can plead. My rant of fury leads steadily into my pitiful plea. Please learn. Educate yourself from any source you can. Your friends, your school, your Bible, whatever God places in your path, just learn! It is only through some form of education that you can overcome this. Sin is the root of all conflict and suffering…and sin has a heyday with ignorance. Proverbs spends itself on the subject of wisdom and what can be considered educated living. I am not just talking about going to school, or college, but any form of education that elevates you out of your own cesspool of ignorance. Cleave to this, pursue it, and educate yourself if only for the simple reason of saving those poor souls around you that happen to care about you!

So sit down, pick up a book and start reading. Shut your mouth and start listening to your elders, friends, siblings. Wake up and pay attention in class. Try to puzzle out what the preacher man is talking about. Read your Bible, and learn. Trust me, you will not regret it.

RETRO POST: A Good Recipe for Fighting

– November 2007

Pow! I staggered back, reeling from the blow I had expertly blocked with my jaw. I found myself squared off against Bobby. He was a large boy, significantly larger than me, and he had decked me for some reason I couldn’t quite dredge up at the moment. I only knew I needed to hit him back. I did, and we traded a few blows before we were dragged into the principal’s office. Bobby was actually a friend of mine, and by the time we got to the office the reason for our scrap had been forgotten and we were both grinning sheepishly.

There is an old stereotype that when women fight they hold it in for 6 months, until it explodes into a catastrophic explosion of tears and professions of mutual friendship and love. There are variations of this, but it is always a juxtaposition against men, who will immediately throw some blows, then put their arms around each other and go out for a beer. Of course, this is not always true, but it brings up a thought in my head.

Is fighting bad? Is conflict bad? We are sort of taught that our whole lives in Sunday school, in grade school, in church quite often, on tv, with our brothers and sisters. We are always told not to fight, and that it is harmful and bad. I wonder sometimes, though. Fighting is inevitable, and so is conflict. Where you have two individuals, there will always exist some form of conflict. God has made us different, with the ability to form our own opinions and beliefs. You will never agree totally and completely with another person, and yet we are called to live in close relationship and proximity with these other individuals. So what do we do then? Should we instead, examine conflict itself? What is it about conflict that is so negative, really? It is usually the things said, and the way the conflict is expressed. When you are arguing with your friend/spouse/sibling what really makes you angry and less rational? When you feel hurt, when they insult or attack you directly. There are variations of reasons for hurt and offense, but the fight itself is rarely, if ever, the cause for that hurt.

I look back at my first marriage, and I realize that many of the discussions had to happen. That conflict had to be faced, but oh, how I wish to God that I could have done it differently. So much pain and hurt I caused, because I was an inexperienced fighter. I didn’t know what to do, so when my button was pushed, I turned around and pushed her button right back. What would my life look like if I had stopped trying to avoid fights, and instead tried to learn how to fight? If I had only found a way to fight in a manner that was respectful and Godly, where would I be now? I am not disillusioned enough to think that my marriage failed just because I was mean, but I can’t help but wonder what would have been different.

So next time conflict pops up, where will you be? Are you the type that runs at first sign? Will you come out with all of your guns blazing, in hopes of tearing the other up before they can touch you? Next time try this, stop running, put the guns away, and walk with your head up towards the conflict, and deal with it in a way that God would approve. Fight, and hell, fight well!

RETRO POST: Emerging from a Modern Past

March, 2007

What pops into your head when you hear the term Emergent Church?

Most likely you are like me, and the first thought is, “The what, now?” Honestly, it is a relatively new movement, only gaining momentum in the last ten years or so. Better men/women than me will give a more full description of what the Emerging or Emergent Church is, but for the purposes of this article, I will say it is basically the Church’s (or portions of the Church) response to a society that no longer thinks modernistically. The problem is that the Gospel thrives within an absolutist modern mindset, but withers unprepared in the onslaught of a postmodern take. The Emerging/ent Church is attempt at an answer to this.

Put simply there are two major area where this movement has sought change, methodology, and theology. Many contemporary theologians have discussed and critiqued the changes in theology that the Emergent Church, in particular, has introduced. These I wish to sidestep for the purposes of this piece. I want to look at the methods with which the Emerging/ent Church has implemented. While many of a more conservative nature may react somewhat to the Emergent Church taking a more postmodern view of interpretation of Scripture, we cannot ignore the drive to change how we do Christianity.

Theology should never be compromised, methodology should always be compromised.

It cannot be denied that the Emerging Church has begun to answer a question that must be answered and address by the church. If we seek to maintain the modern status quo, and refuse to change our methods, we will become outdated and ineffective. This is a day and age where preaching life change from a pulpit will not reach a seeker like it did 50-75 years ago. Standing on that corner, handing tracts out to perfect strangers will get you dirty looks. One of the Emerging Church’s main points is what they like to call ‘Missional Living’, which seems to be an amped up and focused version of friendship evangelism. They emphasize the importance of establishing the trust and friendship with someone long before presenting them with your faith. I grew up among Native American people where the gospel would fall on deaf ears as long as they didn’t trust you, and trust was years in the making. There was no need to shake the dust off of our feet as I realized they weren’t rejecting the message, they were rejecting the messenger. How could they, or any postmodern person, believe in an exclusivist faith pattern, when the person telling them means next to nothing to them. The Emerging Church movement has recognized this and seeks to affect change within this church to work with this. Through service, friendship and love we will reach those seekers that would never listen to a preacher, or tract.

What we as conservative Evangelicals need to begin doing is embrace what we can of the Emerging Church, making it our own, and pursuing this postmodern method of showing the world Jesus. I encourage perhaps that maybe we should shelf the theological issue for now and address some of their methodological changes. Learn about their drive for Authenticity, how they live out their Non-legalistic Conduct, the building of their Unstructured Ecclesiology, their artsy forms of Creative Spirituality, their presentation of Conversation/Dialogue. Honestly, there are many aspects of the Emerging Church Movement that beg to be studied, and offer many things that need to be implemented. Read Rob Bell, definitely read Mark Driscoll, read Brian McClaren, and even take a chance on Donald Miller, as he has much to offer on the subject as well.

Perhaps we should take what they are doing right, instead of rejecting what they may be doing wrong. Just a thought.

Reminder: This was written 7 years ago, and each of the people mentioned in this article have continued to evolve since then. Take that with a grain of salt.

RETRO POST: For the Sacred

I will be periodically posting retro articles from an online Magazine that I wrote for a few years back called The Brew, in an effort to shake things up and possibly laugh a little more at myself. Enjoy!

December 2007

I remember standing in the circle with our hands joined, heads bowed, and quietly listening, as a 15-year-old boy poured his heart out to his Creator and periodically you could hear a grunt or sob of agreement. Our youth group had gathered to worship and now found itself engulfed in corporate prayer. The boy finished his prayer and Ray began to pray. Ray was different, he was mentally handicapped, and had quite a rough unique voice. His conversation always revolved around sports and movies. He couldn’t tell you anything about any of his friends or what he learned in school, but he could endlessly spit out stats from sports or what the latest movie was rated.

As he began to pray, his rough and raspy 14-year-old voice recited his simple, almost comical prayer. He mentioned things that no well-practiced Christian prayer would mention. He honestly sounded like a 4-year-old praying with a 70-year-old voice. As I listened to this boy pour out his heart so unabashedly to his God and noticed how spiritually naked he approached. I began to weep in shame at how false and self-righteous my prayer itself tended to be. He rattled off his sins with pure regret asking God to help him not do them any more. As my tears fell I began to hear it. I heard snickering. My head snapped up as I heard more and more kids glancing at Ray and giggling. One boy shoved another and pointed at Ray almost laughing out loud. I quickly looked to Ray to see his reaction, and true to Ray he was oblivious of their mockery, and my heart settled with an intention to give those boys a talk.

Then I began to get angry, Ray may not know or get it, but God sure would recognize the slight to Him. I thought of His holiness, and how sacred prayer is. These teens had the nerve to approach their God directly in prayer and then to laugh and mock the one boy who was so blatantly pure in his approach to prayer? I got so angry I was unable to focus for the rest of the prayer. I couldn’t believe that these teens who had grown up in church and all claimed a serious relationship with Christ didn’t even understand how holy our God is, or how sacred it is to commune with him. I calmed down as the prayer finished, and quietly apologized to my Creator for letting myself become so distracted from my communion from him, and finished off the night with the kids.

I pondered this event over the next week, and couldn’t shake how disturbing it was. In the Old Testament, before the New Covenant, there was only one person among all of God’s chosen, that could approach Him directly. The High Priest was the only person, allowed, and only on the Day of Atonement could he actually enter the Holy of Holies and be in God’s presence. On top of that, if the priest was not properly prepared and had sorted his own sin out with God before hand he would be struck dead in the presence of God. In light of that how can we approach this jealous and holy God, with anything but awe and trepidation? In Amos, we have a recounting of God’s disgust with the worship that His chosen were offering up to Him. It was following all of the right steps, yet was still soul-less and false. He described his disgust with their clanging and noise, and plainly we see here God’s reaction to a people who show no reverence to His holiness. This indicates it is not just form and liturgy that show proper respect for the sacredness of God’s presence, but rather the spirit behind it.

I later went back and spoke to the youth group on the holiness of God and its primary role in how sacred prayer must be. I had to keep it under 15 minutes and that ended up being the toughest part, but I had several teens come up to me afterwards and ask further questions so I had hope that something had set in.

Our culture has encouraged a buddy Jesus and played up the “friend” aspect of our relationship with God. Coupling this with the serious lack of sermons or studies from the Old Testament in churches today, we find a sad misrepresentation of who God is. We forget that he is Creator and wholly other. He is holy and interaction with him is sacred and never to be taken or treated lightheartedly.

Stephen Mattson

Inspiration. Faith. Christian Culture. Writing.

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