Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Looking Back and Forward

Wow. If I post another 21 times before midnight, my post count for this year will equal the post count for 2010, which up until now was the year with the fewest entries. Yeah, I don't think I'll even try.

However, I do want to make one more post before ushering in the new year. One of my assignments for school this last semester was to write up my core values - that is, not ideals I aspire to, but what other people who know me would be able to put their finger on and say, "Yes, that's her. That's what drives her."

With a few tweaks, it's something I'd like to share, as an appropriate way to see out the year gone by. Rather than making resolutions, which I don't do anyway, I will end the year by reviewing what is constant. By understanding this, I can prepare for all the changes that are bound to happen in 2014. By verbalizing what holds sway over me, I can be aware of both my strengths and weaknesses, and decide what to do with them.

1. I value family

God has blessed me with an incredible family that I love and respect very much. The strong roots that my family has helped me to grow continue to connect me to my family even when we are separated by distance. Presented with the choice, I take my family over friends or other commitments pretty well every time. There is little I would not do if my family needed me to do it. I thank God for my family and consider it one of the greatest, if not the greatest, gift he has given me.

2. I value community

People are social beings and the people I choose to associate with are very important to me. Unity, harmony, and strong reliable bonds provide security, and this is something that many people sadly lack. Even when relationships come to a natural end, such as relationships with summer campers or team members on short term trips, I give my heart knowing I will be leaving part of it behind. The times I have most closely encountered God have been the times when people in my community showed him to me. Deep relationships with people inspire me to become more Christ-like and I believe that where community is strong, it can change a culture for the better.

3. I value service

I have made a conscious decision to serve God, people, and the world around me. I seek to contribute, rather than just benefit, from the people and places I find myself. Toward this end, I make a point to volunteer for various tasks and positions. Sometimes it is a formal role, such as being active within my church, and sometimes it is informal, such as regularly editing the school papers of my peers. In serving others, I learn that the world does not revolve around me and I come to appreciate all the more the things that people do to serve me.

4. I value commitment

When I join a group, that group becomes a priority for me. It is rare for me to miss meetings or shifts or services, or whatever form of gathering the group utilizes. More than just attendance, I aim to be a reliable member that starts off enthusiastic and ends well – someone who can be trusted to see what she started through to completion. Once I have given my word to do something, I see it as my duty to follow through.

5. I value respect

I work with the basic assumption that all people deserve respect and seek to give them that respect. This happens in various ways. For example, I dislike gossip, and seek to point out the good in someone when the conversation is negative. I prefer to use the titles that people have earned rather than assume that I may use their first name. I treasure the diversity found in other cultures and respect the ways they are different from mine. If and when I see someone being mistreated, I get truly angry - insofar as this goes, it could be said that I value justice. Further, I wish to be on the best possible terms with the people I encounter, and so I seek to recognize and respect both our differences and our common ground.

6. I value compassion

God has compassion on his creatures, and I seek to be one of the tangible ways people experience that compassion. Where sometimes it is easy to see merely right or wrong, I see hurt and suffering. When others talk, I listen, so that if I am unable to do anything else, then I have sat with them a while and shown them that they are not ignored or forgotten. I seek to understand the trials of the people around me because when I can see the larger picture, I can see how we are all one family. When someone allows me to share in their emotions, I consider them to be affording me one of the highest possible honours.

7. I value contemplation

There is so much to experience and learn and I do not wish to have someone else tell me what I am supposed to understand from it all. I seek to be open-minded and see things from the point of view of others, without being so open-minded that my mind figuratively falls out. I search for wise guides, and consider carefully the things I have been taught and the things that culture tries to instill. Spending time just thinking is not uncommon for me, and it is often time well-spent.

8. I value learning

I strive to learn more about God, about people, and about life. I am called to grow to be like Christ, and growth cannot happen without learning. Reading books, having good talks, and learning about the viewpoints of others all play a large role in my life. Whether I am in a formal educational setting or not, I endeavor to never stagnate, but always to be growing in knowledge and wisdom.

9. I value personal excellence

When I choose to do something, I apply myself to do it as well as I possibly can. Sometimes this means deep cleaning the fridge when it would be easier to do just a quick wipe-down, or it means re-editing multiple times something I have written. I strive to improve whatever I am working on, so that when something is declared finished, I can feel proud of my effort. I feel that I am cheating others when I do something for them that is less than I am capable of.

10. I value confidence

Confidence in myself is rootless, but my confidence is found in God. Because I know who I am in his eyes, I have confidence to live and act as I believe I should. I am not easily pushed around by those who surround me. I have not succumbed to pressures that so many struggle with, such as substance abuse or empty relationships, nor am I afraid to think against the grain. Since my identity in rooted in God, he helps me to stand strong in the face of winds that try to blow me in many directions.

11. I value potato chips

God has called us to be salt and light in the world, so I take my inspiration from salty, light potato chips. While others crave sugar, I crave the seasoned goodness of deep fried vegetables. I am known to do homework while curled up on my bed, my hand in a bag of Lays. Through snacks like these, my mouth has been prepared for the culinary tastes of cultures that prefer savoury flavours to sweetness. My preference for potato chips has made me ready to go boldly forth into the far reaches of the world where there is no chocolate.*

We live in uncertain times. I don't know what the next year is going to look like for me or for anyone, but there is something comforting about knowing who you are and who you will strive to be, regardless of circumstances.

May God walk with us all into the coming year.

"It is a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." J. R. R. Tolkien

*If you're wondering, I turned in number 11 only on the first draft, which was ungraded. 

Sunday, 22 December 2013

I am a Christian

A lot has happened during the relative silence on my blog. If I had to pick out the most important thing I can share with you, here it is.

One of the youth pastors I used to volunteer under has a young family; they’ve been a favourite of mine ever since his girls first sat on my lap in church. In addition to loving his family, I found that we agreed on many things theologically – more so than I usually agree with other Christians. Generally speaking, he impressed me. However, his family fell on hard times; I don’t know the details, but he and his wife were hurt by the Church. He swung more liberal and stopped putting up with conservatives. It made me sad to see the hurt and anger he was carrying, but everyone has their own journey. As he cut off ties with a lot of people in my church, I was still welcomed into their home.

A little before Remembrance Day this year, he made an announcement. “I’m not a Christian,” he posted to his blog and Facebook. This wasn’t a bait-and-switch thing that people online seem to love, one of those scandalous-title-with-an-inspirational-message articles. He renounced his faith. My brother saw it first and texted me to let me know.

Our friend has since blocked or deleted his blog and disabled his Facebook, so I can’t check the quote for accuracy, but the thrust of his message was that he still believes in God…for now… but as far as Christians are concerned, he said, “If it comes down to being with them or against them – I have to set myself against them.”

I cried inside all that day.

In chapel just that morning at school, our deacon had given a sermon on cynicism towards the church. He pointed out that as we study and develop critical minds, we also often develop critical spirits. We have higher expectations of our Christian compatriots than of random godless schmoes from the street. When we are disappointed by those in the Church, the result in us is cynicism and arrogance. He spoke about how Christian cynics isolate themselves from the community of the Church and end up becoming functional atheists.

He also spoke about how the antidote to cynicism is an active prayer life and more, not less, fellowship and worship with those in the Church. It’s not a matter of blinding yourself to the problems within the church, but a matter of being willing to learn and grow together. It’s a matter of being willing to serve the ones that drive you crazy and seeing that your distaste can turn into love.

I have noticed a tendency in myself to be critical and cynical towards the church. I came back to my dorm thinking, “I needed to hear that.”

And then our friend made his announcement.

It’s not that I don’t understand why he made the choice he did. I do. I understand so well that I guess I had to hear that sermon just before it all hit the fan. He and I tend to think a lot along the same track, though I’m not so far along the trail as he is. Our minds work in similar ways. But here, I guess, we diverge.

He renounces being a Christian. I choose to continue being a Christian - because I still love the Church, I still hope for it, and I still want to rise with it to be what it’s called to be. I can’t do that while I’m busy condemning it. In the past, I’ve tried to steer clear of labeling myself a Christian to the general public, not because I’m not one, but because I am ashamed of the baggage that goes along with the term. Yet, this season I have decided that I am not going to keep that distance anymore. I am a Christian, and both as tarnished and as blessed as the holy Church.

There is so much more I could say, but today I am first and foremost thankful for the people who surround me, challenge me, and encourage me in my walk. This semester has been incredible.

"Christ is the salvation of cynics and fools. Of all people, he had most reason to be cynical. He is the one who suffered in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane and he is the one who gave himself over to a community that would only abuse his body. The salvation that Jesus brings to cynics is…that we meet Jesus himself as we persist before God and in the midst of the people who bear his name.” Dustin Resch