I. Am. Job.

Mrs. DoubtfireIn what can now be considered a “classic” comedy, Robin Williams invents a few hilarious characters on the phone before concocting the iconic Mrs. Doubtfire. Consequently, his wife’s initial inquiries into a nanny for her children are met with lines like “Are your kids well-behaved, or do they need, like, a few light slams every now and then?” and “Oh, I don’t verk vit da males… ‘cuss I used to be vone.” And finally, “I. Am. Job.”

“Do you speak English?” she replies.

“I. Am. Job.”

It’s pretty doubtful that Mrs. Doubtfire intended any deeper meaning to be implied here. But I’m going to do it anyway. Because last night in our Art of Conversation group with four Saudi guys, we were talking about jobs and occupations. One of these young men was telling me how he planned to study accounting, even though he hated math. Since he still had plenty of opportunity to change his mind, we talked with him about his other interests, and what other occupations he might enjoy.

It turns out he was very interested in computers, especially the hardware aspect. But, despite his limited grasp of English, he was able to communicate to us that only jobs in banks and hospitals are respected in Saudi Arabia. “I want to have a job at a desk, in an office. People ask you what kind of job you have… it’s the first question they ask. That way I can have a wife, have children. And I have money for them.”

Whether or not my new friend’s perspective is a perfect match with Saudi reality, I was disheartened to hear it. Although it doesn’t make sense for everyone to pursue a career that reflects their ultimate passion, we should all at least be able to do something we’re good at. Especially if we travel overseas to study for it, like this young man is doing. People who hate math should not feel pressured to be accountants, any more than people who can’t stand the sight of blood should feel pressured to be surgeons.

And yes, it’s easy for us Americans to look askance at foreign cultures, especially middle-eastern ones, and lament the lack of freedom in one area or another. But when it comes to careers and the workforce, I’m not sure the situation is a whole lot better here.

I’m sure we’ve all observed the “I Am Job” identity crisis; perhaps even in ourselves. Either we wrap our personhood around our position (“I am ________), or we sink it all into our dreams for the future. (“I am an aspiring ________”, or “I am a ________ major.”) And others, at that point, can have us mostly figured out.

I understand this might be a tired point; that you are not what you do. So I’m going to wrap up this post by taking it a different direction, in other words, the way we choose our careers. As in many things, I think there’s an error on one side, a different error on the other side, and an ideal path down the middle.

CHOOSING A CAREER: THE ERROR OF PASSION

Music TherapyThis is the more common error amongst Americans and other Westerners; choosing a career or major based solely on one’s passion. This, of course, would apply to most (but not all) music, art and theater majors, along with students of philosophy, literature, history, or Latin. (Don’t be mad, I got my degree in music.) Of course the error is not limited to these areas. Many people choose majors or career paths based on all kinds of interests, and find out later that all it takes is two years of intense study or productivity to rid them of that passion entirely.

And that’s the less obvious problem which arises from following your heart into the workplace. (The obvious one being that you’re not likely to make a living at it.) It’s not unlike the pitfalls inherent in dating your best friend. There’s a chance it might work out romantically, but if it doesn’t, you’ve got a lose-lose on your hands. Likewise, even if you do find your passion does translate into a short-lived dream job, you may end up ruining both a career, and a hobby.

That being said, I’m still very glad that some people choose to pursue studies in music, the arts and the humanities. We need them. Maybe just not so many of them.

THE ERROR OF PRAGMATISM

The ProfessionalThen there are those who stray in the opposite direction, either at the prompting of their parents, or at the urge of their practical nature. They want a job with a future, with good prospects, with market demand, and yes, a good salary. On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with this. But it comes back to my Saudi friend who is about to spend every day doing something he hates. At this point, I don’t care how lucrative or secure the job is, it’s not sustainable. Someone in this position will be lucky if he makes it to his mid-life crisis before breaking down and/or bailing out. And the wife and kids will wish they could trade the 4000 square-foot house for a non-disgruntled husband and father. Of course, the same thing happens with wives and mothers who make these kinds of choices.

THE MIDDLE WAY

I’ve had the opportunity to talk to quite a few people lately about their career choices, and I don’t pretend to be able to give them professional guidance. But I do like to encourage them to combine their skills with the needs of the market, and use their imagination. I may loooove music, but I don’t think I’d want to do it (or profit from doing it) professionally. I really like graphic design, however, and it turns out that the graphic design market has a place for me. And I can do it every day without spoiling an intimate passion of mine; I can still enjoy music all I want.

I guess we have to back up and remember that Career and Calling are two different things. God has made us for both, but there’s still a line to be drawn between them. We’re created for a Calling, certainly; to pursue our spiritual purpose through prayer, study and worship. Maybe that calling will be of a practical nature, or of a more mystical nature, but either way it’s straight from God, intended for the benefit of his Kingdom.

But amongst all that, we’re also created to contribute to society around us. Don’t think of it as a market, think of it as a community. What does my community need? Where are the gaps? What skills can I apply to those gaps to be a blessing to the people around me?

If I choose a career based on my interests (even if I’m only interested in a big paycheck,) Then 40 hours or more of my week is centered around me. But if I look at the needs of my community, then I have an opportunity to spend half of my waking hours every weekday making my life about others. And that’s a Calling that we all need to embrace.

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Posted in autobiography, culture, guidance

Top Ten Terrible Ideas for a Themed Party

Lately I’ve been astounded by the sheer ubiquity of the “Themed Party”, to the point where it’s become unthinkable to have a party without a zany theme. So as you’re planning your next shin-dig, allow me to help steer you clear of some potential pitfalls as I offer my original “Top Ten Terrible Ideas for Themed Party.” Fore-warned is Fore-armed, so if I see any of these parties in my Facebook Events, you can expect to find my name under “Not Attending.” Here goes…

10. “Drinking for Two” Baby Shower

9. Carbon Neutral Surprise Birthday Party! (everyone stay home, do nothing)

8. Holocaust Halloween

7. “Beer” Party

6. Prima Nocta Bridal Shower

5. “Night of the Motionless Dead” Masquerade

4. Glee

3. Free-Beer-but-Ten-Dollars-at-the-Bathroom-Door Benefit Show

2. “Presidents of the 80s” Decade Dance

And the Number One Terrible Idea for a Themed Party…

1. “Super Bowl”

High Five!

Posted in humor | 1 Comment

St. Valentine’s Revolution

heartsOf all American holidays, none seems to receive a wider spectrum of observation than Valentine’s Day. Some people dread it, some people forget about it, and some people plan for months in anticipation of it. Very few are complacent about it.

You won’t find too many holiday-themed posts on my blog, but I’ll make an exception today, in order to predict what sort of Valentine’s Day you’ve had.

For the most part, people fall into one of four categories on the day of love, and I think the kind of day you have on February 14 is predicted with some accuracy by these categories. So here goes…

1. You love nobody, and nobody loves you: UNHAPPY; BITTER

2. You love somebody, but they don’t love you back: UNHAPPY; FRUSTRATED

3. Somebody loves you, but you don’t love them back: UNHAPPY; ANNOYED

4. You love somebody, and they do love you back: HAPPY!

V-day may be recognized as an opportunity to celebrate love, and spread it all around, but it seems that the only people who enjoy the holiday are those who receiving love from a specific person. The unrequited lover isn’t celebrating.  The adoring parent, child, sibling or friend might be feeling left out as well.

So it would seem that the measure of Valentine’s Day doesn’t have anything to do with LOVING, after all. Rather it has everything to do with being adequately desired by the individual of one’s choice. Which begs the question: Where does actual Love come into all this?

I’ve seen a few interesting solutions to the “problem” of mid-February solitude: “Stupid Cupid” parties, girls/guys nights out, speed-dating, etc. But all of these, in my opinion, either miss the point, or stomp on it. The fact is, no matter what your romantic situation may be, you can celebrate love. Namely, by loving.

The key to this is to realize that the man/woman of your dreams is almost certainly not the person who is most in need of your love. Rather, it is the child living in a broken home, the widow in assisted living, the forgotten co-worker or student or neighbor. What if Valentine’s Day were seized as a revolution of real love, and the revolutionaries who seize it are the ones normally left behind by the commercial spectacle?

Because it may be that the happiness you seek is nothing, compared to the happiness you are capable of giving away.

Posted in culture, spirituality

The Genuine Jesus

I spentRav Yeshua: The Genuine Jesus some quality time with my buddy Photoshop a few weeks ago, and this is what came out. It’s a title graphic for the series we recently started on Sunday mornings at the Front Porch called (as you can see) “Rav Yeshua: The Genuine Jesus.”

I struggled with the choice of image to represent the Son of God, not finding much in the way of a young Jewish rabbi that would actually fit the mood of the piece. The photo I eventually used was of a friend of mine named Kenny Kalinowski, an up-and-coming actor and film-maker who lives here in Springfield. I had to add the yarmulke, of course, and I seriously thought about adding some Hassidic curls, but decided against it. What gave me the most trouble, though, was the color of his skin.

I made several attempts to darken his face a few shades, and make him look swarthier and more Semitic. But the results only looked like a week at the beach. Finally I called it good and decided he looked enough like our traditional image of Jesus to be recognizable as such, but also different enough to challenge our perceptions.

Because I really am convinced that our visual image of Jesus is a factor in our understanding of him. This series is called “The Genuine Jesus” for a reason… I have a passion to figure out, as a congregation, who he really, actually is, and to dig deep into everything that makes him God, and made him human.

The reason this is so necessary is all the misconceptions that have been thrown at us throughout the centuries. Why was Jesus depicted by the European masters as European? Why was he depicted by the hippies as a hippie? Why is he depicted by American religious conservatives as a red-blooded patriot? Because we love to imagine Jesus as one of us. After all, we’re taught that he left the throne of heaven for that reason. So why shouldn’t he sign my petition, join my cause, or fight in my army?

So the danger becomes apparent of creating Jesus in our own likeness. We Americans need to be aware that he did not have blond hair and blue eyes like the Sunday School felt boards led us to believe.

Except… he did. And he does.

Jesus has blond hair and blue eyes. He also has brown hair and green eyes. He is both short and tall, thin and heavy, Semitic, Arabic, Latino, Balkan, Polynesian, Inuit and Welsh. Maybe there’s a reason why we have no way of knowing his physical appearance from his days on earth. And this is where the Rav Yeshua series takes a decidedly different turn than I’d expected when I began it.

Jesus has blue eyes because I have blue eyes. What do we think he meant when he called us… you and me… to be the Body of Christ? It wasn’t any kind of concession, you can be certain. He wasn’t tired of being a human… tired of the itching and pooping and bathing and foot blisters and headaches. He wasn’t bailing out and grabbing the first people he could find to keep an eye on things for him. Quite the contrary, he was giving his body an upgrade… a promotion. He told them they might be amazed by his accomplishments, but they had no idea what the Body of Christ was yet capable of.

We are a nation of priests. Peter told us so. You are not meant to be a cog in the machine, or a laborer on a chain-gang. You are a minister of the gospel, certified, and ordained by the blood of Jesus to work miracles on his behalf. No concessions here, just an eternal calling that starts now.

I thought Rav Yeshua was going to be a showcase for my studies about Jesus as a Jewish Rabbi. Instead, what it’s become is a gallery of our own stories, and a workshop of experiences to show the Front Porch family how to collaborate in our priestliness, and drive home the fact that we are all pastors, we are all evangelists, and we are all called to exhibit the truest nature of the Son of God.

That is the Genuine Jesus.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Bridezilla of Christ

BridezillaI’ve had weddings on the brain lately. Mainly, because four couple-friends of mine recently asked me to marry them. But also because two new bridal shops just opened on the same block as the print shop where I work (in addition to the two already in our neighborhood.)

Occasionally I’ll wonder what it’s like to spend your whole career working with brides, especially the inevitable “bridezillas“. Fortunately, I can’t imagine any of my four bride-friends falling prey to this kind of behavior. Unfortunately, as the Bride of Christ, we in the Church seem to fall into it all the time.

Maybe you’re engaged, and worried about becoming a bridezilla (or groomzilla!) Or maybe you’re just a Christian who’s prone to tarnish the historically positive reputation of the Church. Either way… I’m here to help. Jeff Foxworthy style.

You might be a Bridezilla if…

you believe you’re entitled to the best of everything.

Money is no object… even when it is. Why should only the wealthy enjoy the designer gown? or the 7-tiered bridal cake? You’re an egalitarian! Every bride deserves the very best on her special day! Right?

As Christians, we often seem to be keenly aware that we are the Children of God. The Elect. The Chosen. A Peculiar People. We’ve been told to expect “life more abundant,” so why shouldn’t we live it up? We see this especially borne out in the prosperity doctrine movement, where it’s literally taught that God has promised us the best of everything, and we’ll receive if we believe.

But even outside this niche movement we see far too many examples of entitlement. It really is true that God blesses those who believe in him, and often gives us far more than we deserve in a material sense. But if we fail to respond to these blessings with generosity and grace to those around us (and fail we do) then we are liable to experience the fate of the Unmerciful Servant.

In other words, God loves to lavish gifts on those who know they don’t deserve them.

you live entirely in the future.

It’s all about the big day. Months and months and months of planning are invested in the proceedings of a single 24-hour period: where everyone stays and stands, what everyone wears and eats and drinks and speaks and sings. And on and on. All compacted into the single most important day of your life that you can later relive ad nauseam through photographs and videos and mementos. And the value of each day during your engagement can be accurately calculated by its productivity in preparing for The Coming Day.

I’ll have to admit, I like the song “I’ll Fly Away”, especially when sung in full harmony and accompanied by some Sufjan-style banjo. But that’s just the tip of a gigantic iceberg of songs sung by the frozen chosen who can only look forward to the Day of the Lord, while the present flies by unnoticed.

Jesus loves talking about the Kingdom of God, and when he does, he always uses “already/not yet” language. It’s here and it’s coming. It’s within you, and it’s ahead of you. We run afoul of the real gospel when we neglect either one, because God has given us genuine good to do today, and he’s given us something genuinely amazing to look forward to. Let’s enjoy both.

you’re convinced that it’s all about you.

And for the most part, you can get everyone to agree with you. “Well, it is her big day, after all,” or “She’s been dreaming about a fairytale wedding since she was a little girl.” Perhaps you began as a humble bride, but were egged on by a mother or a maid of honor to stick to your guns and bend others to your will. And now, anyone who forgets to make you the absolute center of attention is going to get a little reminder…

I know there are mixed feelings about Rick Warren, and his book The Purpose Driven Life, but the first line of that book is poignant: “It’s not about you.” The question is, why would Warren feel the need to begin his book that way? If we’re honest, we’ll admit that we’ve been living like it is all about us. We can often see this in the church when we build buildings to suit our needs, sing the songs we like, and occupy the neighborhoods that appeal to our own sensibilities. Obviously there are exceptions, but I often worry that even my own church body projects to the world that the people we mostly care about are ourselves. Reaching out is good, but we’d really rather reach in. And we’d appreciate a little help, thank you very much.

you have precise expectations for everyone you know.

All the people you really like are expected to attend, with a gift off your registry. All the people you’re really close to are expected to pay for their dress/tux and their travel expenses to stand on the stage with you. All the parents and grandparents are expected to chip in to pay the bills. And everyone, no exceptions, is expected to agree with your tastes, behave themselves, and gush about how they’ve never seen a more beautiful bride than you.

Since we, as Christians, have been given the Truth, we naturally feel the responsibility to provide “guidance” to everyone around us, Christian or otherwise. If our fellow church-goers are somehow failing to live up to our interpretations of scripture, they should be made aware of it. If the “pagans” out in the world are so bold and thoughtless as to behave like “pagans”, then we have a divine duty to protest their behavior. After all, if the “People of the Book” don’t give a correcting word before it’s too late, who will? Certainly not the Holy Spirit.

you feel free to neglect and discard important relationships.

When there are plans to be made and tasks to be accomplished, who has time for friends? or family? There will be plenty of opportunities for that after the wedding, right? Let’s just hope there are still a few people who can stand you when it’s all over.

I believe that relationships are actually the most important thing about life. And that the value of everything you encounter, every job, every activity, every experience, can be measured by how well it contributed to the health of one or more relationships.

That’s why we need to take a hard look at the way we “do” church. We may be worshipping, and we may be learning, but how is it likely to benefit our relationships with one another if we aren’t allowed to talk to each other throughout? or ask questions? or add comments? How much are we really getting to know the people we share a pew with?

The temptation is to focus so heavily on education, outreach, worship, etc, that we’ve decided we don’t have time to actually build these relationships. What we may not notice, is that all of these other things fall apart, or never even come together, unless we develop a strong heart for our brothers and sisters.

And if you forget about them, chances are also good that…

you ignore the groom.

I think most grooms have been trained to expect it. The dating period was great (or else he wouldn’t have asked you to marry him!) And he assumes the marriage will be great (or else he wouldn’t have asked you to marry him!) But he’s fully prepared for the engagement to suck, while you spend all your time on “wedding stuff” and nearly forget that he exists. He knows his job is to simply “show up”, and he’ll feel lucky if you can at least pick him out of the groomsmen’s line-up. Fortunately, he can focus his attention on planning the honeymoon, where the two of you can re-kindle your acquaintance after that year apart.

Perhaps the biggest difference between your everyday bride and the Bride of Christ is the role of the Groom in the whole thing. Modern weddings relegate the groom to a glorified participant. But our spiritual Bridegroom (also known as the “Lamb”) expects not only to be involved, but to take the lead.

The earthly bride picks out a white dress that the groom is not allowed to see yet. The spiritual bride is clothed in the Groom himself, as we accept Jesus’ forgiveness, and allow the blood of the Lamb to cleanse the Bride’s soiled robes and make them dazzling white. (Revelation 7:9)

The earthly bride plans a reception, and arranges every detail. The spiritual bride is simply invited to attend the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, where he has made all the plans, and everything reflects his glory, including the gowns and tuxes he gives us to wear. (Revelation 19:7-9)

The earthly bride is the center of attention, as everyone stands to see her walk down the aisle. But the spiritual bride gives way to the Lamb of God, as the Spirit and the Bride say “Come!” (Revelation 22:17)

I believe God has given us the institution of marriage chiefly to paint a picture of his Son, and the amazing future (and present) that he’s given us to be united with him. So as we plan weddings, or attend weddings, or try our best to live healthy married lives, let’s not miss the point like so many Bridezillas. Because it really is all about HIM.

Posted in culture, humor, jesus, marriage, spirituality | 5 Comments

Dogma

I’ll admit to being way behind on this one, but I just saw the 1999 film Dogma for the first time last night, 11 years after the Catholic League boycotted it, and 10 years after the controversy was completely forgotten (as it always is… think about the anti-semitism accusations surrounding The Passion of the Christ.)

As one might expect, Dogma opens with a disclaimer. Actually it opens with a series of disclaimers that get increasingly ridiculous (inspired, no doubt, by Monty Python and the Holy Grail.) The purpose of the disclaimer is to try to neutralize at least some of the controversy, and reduce, if only by a fraction, the quantity of inevitable hate mail. But as much as a disclaimer may claim that everything you are about to see is a complete joke, and that God does indeed have a sense of humor and would probably think our movie is hilarious, it’s obvious that the makers of Dogma have a serious message to deliver, and that the humor is intended for two things: a) fun, and b) deflection of criticism. My point being, if you have a beef with the theology of Dogma, you have a right to express it, and even to be offended by it. And if you feel inspired or enlightened by the message, you have a right to ponder it and allow it to influence your belief system.

Because nothing… nothing… is ever “just a joke”.

And if there were just one scene from the movie that impacted my theology, it would be found in a conversation between the two semi-fallen angels Loki and Bartleby (note the choice of name for the latter, as an exile from heaven, supposedly derived from Herman Melville‘s Bartleby the Scrivener.) Here’s the script from that conversation, which occurs just after they realize that the agents of God are tracking them in their effort to “beat the system”, and re-enter heaven on a technicality.

Loki: Are you all right, man? Your eyes are kind of–
Bartleby: My eyes are open. For the first time, I get it. When that little innocent girl let her mission slip, I had an epiphany. See, in the beginning, it was just us and Him–angels and God. Then, He created humans. Ours was designed to be a life of servitude and worship and bowing and scraping and adoration. He gave them more than He ever gave us. He gave them a choice. They choose to acknowledge God, or choose to ignore Him. All this time we’ve been down here, I’ve felt the absence of the Divine Presence, and it’s pained me, as I’m sure it must have pained you. And why? Because of the way He made us! Had we been given free will, we could choose to ignore the pain, like they do. But no! We’re servants!
Loki: Okay. You know, all I’m saying here is that one of us might need a little nap.
Bartleby: Wake up! These humans have besmirched everything He’s bestowed upon them. They were given paradise, they threw it away. They were given this planet, they destroyed it. They were favored best among all His endeavors, and some of them don’t even believe He exists! And in spite of it all, He has shown them infinite f***ing patience at every turn. What about us? I asked you, once, to lay down the sword because I felt sorry for them. What was the result? Our expulsion from Paradise. Where was His infinite f***ing patience then?! It’s not right! It’s not fair! We’ve paid our debt. Don’t you think it’s time? Don’t you think it’s time we went home? And to do that, I–I think we might have to dispatch our would-be dispatchers.

I read a poem once that purported to represent the angels’ point of view, as they covet the humans’ capacity to feel both pleasure and pain, success and failure, blessings and curses, and as they long for tangibility and sensory experience. Bartleby here adds to that an envy of our gift of free will, accompanied by God’s infinite mercy and forgiveness.

Like most blessings, we as humans take free will for granted. This is partially because we don’t feel we have anything to compare ourselves to. (Think about how the wealthy forget they are rich when surrounded only by the rich. Or how the talented forget how unique they are when they are in tight competition for a top spot.) We don’t compare ourselves to animals because they don’t even have spiritual cognition. And we don’t compare ourselves with angels because we don’t understand them.

When we do consider the angels, we might be tempted to envy them, because of their glorified state of being, and their immunity from pain, disease, strife or disappointment. But I appreciate the insight of director and screenwriter Kevin Smith, as he supposes that the reverse is also true. (Isn’t the grass always greener?) And whether or not a single angel has ever felt this way, doesn’t it benefit us to suppose it?

Shouldn’t we spend more time appreciating the supreme love of God that would give us the choice to ignore him? Because true romance can only result from a choice, and God created us to participate in his divine romance, that occurs when neither He/She* is required to love us but does, nor are we required to love Him/Her*, but do.

What better reason is there to love God than that? God has thrown a party (the way Jesus tells it) and has not given us a mandate to attend, but rather an elegant, personalized invitation. Because he wouldn’t want a party without you.

*See first comment

Posted in movies, religion, spirituality | 7 Comments

ALL NEW Wednesdays!

So the FroPo has been closed for a few weeks (although, during that time we’ve had three Sunday Gatherings, two going-away parties, a birthday party and a generalized get-together. Maybe “closed” is the wrong word.)

At any rate, most of our normal weekly activities have been on break, along with the students. But before we took said break, the Wednesday folks sat down to discuss Wednesday stuff: what we’ve been doing, whether it’s working, and why not try something completely different?

So here’s our “completely different”, in numerical order:

Art Class1. Art Class w/ Brian Hudson – 6 pm

I like “art class” because it reminds me of the fun part of my day in middle school. Brian Hudson is currently our Wednesday evening House Manager, so he was more than happy to get out his art supplies and teach everybody how to draw/sketch/sculpt and make jewelry (precious and semi-precious gems not provided.) This is for everybody who wants to make better art, no matter your current skill level, or lack thereof.

Rotating Workshop

2. Rotating Workshop w/ Ruth Thompson – 7 pm

Ruth is good at a lot of stuff. In particular, she’s good at knowing about nutrition, since she’s been studying it non-stop for years. So we’re going to kick this one off with a Nutrition Workshop for Young and Expecting Mothers. Learn how to eat for the best health of you and your little fetus. Or, if your baby is on the outside already, learn how to feed it so it will grow up and become a star running back, master gardener, or benevolent dictator. Because you are what you eat, right?

Also stay tuned for workshops about knitting!

The Art of Conversation3. The Art of Conversation with Ryan Wiksell (me) – 7:30 pm

This may not seem like a far cry from Socrates Cafe, which I used to lead, but it’s pretty different. Just two blocks from the Front Porch is Missouri State’s Morris Center, where many international students take classes, and congregate. We’ve determined that this is a very underserved group, which often has trouble making connections with the Americans they’ve suddenly become surrounded with. Also, lots of those Americans are seeking opportunities to get to know more people from varied cultural backgrounds (especially in a fairly homogeneous city like Springfield.)

If you’re reading this, I hope you can join us for one of these groups!

Posted in Uncategorized