Wednesday, July 30, 2014

New Beginnings: Breaking and Remaking

I'm settled into my new home on the east side of Michigan, and I think I finally have something to write about.

My writing desk...
This is a blog post, not an essay. I don't have a driving thesis here, I'm just confessing my thoughts, asking questions, and probably writing more than necessary.

My spiritual growth seems to come in sudden spurts that steadily build on variations of the same theme. My last growth spurt was in Asia, where the world suddenly expanded to shocking proportions and I realized the very small space I utilize in this enormous environment: I call it the "de-centering" effect.

Before I left for China/Thailand, I was involved at my church and campus community. I wanted to know everyone and pour myself into as many lives as I could. I signed up for volunteer programs, campus events, whatever I could manage. Post-China, I did nothing. Community outreach and fund raising seemed meaningless to me, even absurd.

This question haunted me: How could it ever possibly be enough?

I began to believe my lifestyle was insulting. I understood who I was, in a way. I was born into privilege, caught up in a highly Westernized Christian culture, attempting to reach down over my life-hedge to spread Christ's love. I saw this as ridiculous. I understood that even saving the whole country of China couldn't possibly satisfy God, that's not what He wanted from me. In this way, I grew. I set my mind to find joy in the monotony of life, being thankful for the small space and timeframe I occupied. Still, it hurt my heart to think about my purpose too deeply (or the lack thereof), so I stopped trying and pretended it didn't matter. In the mean time, I was drawn to other, less Westernized religions in search of a better way to live.

I stopped hearing the pastor's sermons. I'd listen and walk away wondering, "did he really believe any of that? Do I? Do any of these people?" I couldn't help thinking if we did, our lives would look different. I wanted to give up and, amidst my search for meaning, came to embrace a humanistic pursuit of pleasure and happiness. The pursuit of happiness in itself can be a great reward, and is enough for many people.

It wasn't that I had lost my faith, it was that my faith had lost its former meaning. I wanted to cling to what I had always believed, but the tighter I held on, the more it seemed to dissolve in my hands. Along with the disillusioning of myself, China had broken through the holes of my Christian lifestyle.

Now, I am living on my own and once again feeling growing pain. A dear friend has been challenging me to reevaluate my life and what I want--or rather, what the Christian Way looks like. What should I want? I don't want success if success means taking one step after another on the ladder of illusionary goals masquerading as a sensible means of purpose--an ideal career, money, material wealth, and/or a happy family. It's not that such a climb is wrong, but it easily can be. It has the potential to draw us away from our need for God and people. There can be beauty, Truth, and goodness in the mundane, ordinary things in life (even while climbing the ladder), I know, I've seen glimpses, but...

I have to believe there is something more. The de-centering showed me that it isn't about my individual works and good heart (i.e. trying to be a good Christian and save China). I alone shouldn't be the focus or center, that is a very individualistic, American way to understand Christianity. Christianity is a body of people centered around Christ, I am a part of the whole--the whole body of Christ. This is where it can get tricky, and a little too abstract.

People complain about the church, Christ's body, everyday, multiple times a day, so there's no need for me to add to the white noise. However, I know that I need people, God's people, who will challenge me and lovingly demand that I live rightly and give of myself. I need people further along in their own understanding of God and life, who can challenge my lifestyle and provide a clearer picture of what Christ looks like. Such people draw attention away from themselves and point instead to a better Way of living. Without mindlessly climbing or consuming, they are beings who are active in the body, allowing the body to move as a body should. They need the body to live as much as the body needs them.

Maybe these people aren't necessarily "reaching out" (or down) amidst their business to help the church or community. Instead, maybe these people are building their lives, their lifestyles, around the network of the body, so how they are living is directly connected to and reliant on everyone else rather than hedged in and fenced off and self-supporting. Together, as one body, we are stronger and able to reach and continue reaching beyond ourselves.

I suspect much of my thoughts revolve around idealistic notions, but I don't mind being an idealist. At least I have a clearer understanding of what I intend to run toward, evening if I never will completely arrive.

As I look for a new church to attend, I don't care about the institution. I'm looking for God's people, and I will know them by the way they live.  


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