In defense of laughter!

In an effort to keep laughter in your life at all cost I recommend viewing the following websites when you just can’t turn that frown upside down!

my favorite video blogger:

http://brigittedale.com/blog/?cat=24

I call it reverse psychology at its finest:

http://www.despair.com/

stories told to make you feel better about your life:

http://mylifeisaverage.com/

my favorite improv company:

http://improveverywhere.com/

GO FORTH AND STOP EXERCISING THOSE FROWN MUSCLES!

The issue is not Whole Foods

Two days ago I read an article by conservative columnist Cal Thomas reviewing Brett McCracken’s new book “Hipster Christianity: When church and cool collide.” (Strangely, I cannot seem to find the article anywhere online now.)

Thomas passionately delineates the parallels between what McCracken calls “hipsters” and their parent’s gen within the larger Christian culture. From Thomas’ review, I gather McCracken is meaning my culture and generation when he writes “hipsters.” We are 20-somethings who’ve grown up in suburbia and are moving to the city to “make a difference” in the lives of poorer people, as opposed to our parents who lived and are still living their lives largely in the suburbs, occasionally coming to the poorer parts of their city to serve at a soup kitchen or pass out tracks.

I’m not sure if this is what statement McCracken is making, but Thomas criticizes our gens criticism of our parent’s (what we might think of as) separatist lifestyle, pointing out that we’re merely creating bubbles in the city, so as to be “hip,” yet remain comfortable. Our churches, he says, are still suburb churches, but they’re “cooler.” We’re not running from the suburbs to reach out to the poor and downtrodden in the cities, we’re running from the suburbs to plant churches in the city that are more to our taste. We’re no different when it comes to avoiding the call to love the unlovable, the orphan, the widow, the hobo, Thomas writes.

My reaction to this review is conviction, and fear. Conviction, because I struggle (especially as I am living in a new place, trying to make friends, trying to settle down, to get comfortable) with the sins which the article brings to attention. Fear, because the article itself does not address these deeper issues at all; it presents the problem as a basically cosmetic problem, one that is fixable via will power, and not via more time with God in his Word and in prayer.

I’m not writing to definitively disagree with McCracken. I haven’t read the book – it actually does not come out until August. Plus, I’ve shaken his hand in Biola’s cafeteria, and written for the publication he edits. Perhaps this is slightly silly and shallow of me, but I feel definitive disagreement is out of line. Neither am I writing to say Thomas’ review is wrong. I agree. We are building churches that suburban kids moving to the city will want to attend. And maybe we should join already existing city churches. Maybe we should mingle with the poor in places where they feel comfortable. I know that the church I began attending a couple of weeks ago is not a place a homeless person, forget homeless, a person with less than trendy garb, would feel comfortable…

On the flip side, neither would I feel comfortable in a church where people wear less than trendy garb. But not because I’m shallow. I know you’re thinking, “Yea right! You love nice clothes, you love horn rimmed glasses and folk music! And, Brittany, we know you love Whole Foods and have even admitted you not-so-secretly think this chic supermarket is an ideal starting point for an ideal date. You are into what McCracken would call the “hipster” culture.” I admit it! It’s true! It’s true! I do love all of this, and NPR to boot! However, my preferences for these “chic” things are not my sin. My sin is I hate being uncomfortable. Even deeper and more true than this, my sin is my self-consciousness. My sin is my inability to claim and rest in the healing power of the blood of Jesus. How will I ever be able to live as a sheep sent out in the midst of wolves without this power sustaining me?

My application of Thomas’ review of the book, and of our generation, is not to quit loving the things I love. My application is to spend more time in the word, more time studying the life of Jesus in the Gospels, more time in prayer, more time fasting. Only in disciplining my mind and body, my whole being to order my loves rightly will I really realize that I do have food that the world at large has no idea about. This food is richer, healthier, sweeter and provides greater sustenance than the most organic, colorful, cooked with the most expensive extra-virgin olive oil meal from Whole Foods. And this food is the food of love, acceptance, redemption in Jesus. This is the comfort I need to experience daily if I’m to no longer fear the discomfort of diversity – be it in socio-economic status, be it in race, or be it in core beliefs and convictions about the world and about God.

I don’t want to abandon what makes me me to conform to another culture to love others. How will we ever learn to handle much reality if we change ourselves to be like each other in order to like each other. It is an elementary view of love. I want to be okay with what makes me me. More than okay, I want to embrace it, and embrace, enjoy, exalt God for his creative power in what makes another another, and love from this place of humility.

All I know is that, though times change, and hipster trends come and go, these times, these trends, are rarely not indicative of the deeper issue of the need for the love of Jesus to transform us and make us effective instruments to “seek first the Kingdom” and find that all else we find ourselves so anxious about is added unto us.

Ten things I did not think St. Louis would be:

  1. Friendly. I stopped to get gas before work last Wednesday. I went inside the station market to get some coffee and spearmint Altoids. The man at the counter greeted me with a smile and a cheery, “Good morning. How are you?” He was an older man. I replied, “Good. Tired, but good.” He said, “It wouldn’t be because you were staying up late watching a game, would it?” I said, “Actually no,” I took the risk of assuming, “…the Cardinals?” He acted as if he was truly appalled by my ignorance, chuckled, and let me know he was referring to a Lakers game. I asked if they’d won. Of course they’d won, was his reply, accompanied by an additional chuckle. He then said they play again Thursday (I now know, for all of you who are similarly appalled at my ignorance, that the NBA Championships just finished up and the Lakers won in Game 7). I smiled and said I’d try to watch. He returned my smile and, in a distinctively father-like way, told me, “You do that. And then come back here and tell me about it.” Another chuckle. Somewhere in the course of that conversation I found out his name is Ron. And that’s St. Louis. The checker at the gas station starts your day off right with warm smiles and laughs.
  2. Old. The homes. Oh my, so many nice homes. I grew up with cookie cutter neighborhoods and, what we call track homes. You pick one out after walking through a series of models and then they build it for you. Five houses down the street, your neighbors live in an exact replica of your own house. Not here. Here homes are not stucco, they are brick and packed with character. At least this is how my mom described it while walking back to the car one night after a jazz concert in the St. Louis Botanical Gardens (which we enjoyed under a setting sun, lying on a blanket eating strawberries and chocolate, and sipping Old Vine Zinfandel).
  3. Noisy. My apartment complex, my apartment in particular produces the strangest noises. I’m nine floors up. Sometimes the wind up here has me fearing it is going to become so angry it will just blow my building over. Then I look down at the trees in the courtyard below, and they’re barely moving. Thus, I have truly learned, in the experiential sense of the word, it sounds windier higher up. There’s also this random loud clicking noise that my walls make periodically at night. I’m sure they do during the day too. My sense of hearing is understandably heightened to the noise at night. There are also a couple residences on my floor that normally get home pretty late. The unlocking, opening and closing of their doors pierces through my thin walls. The first few times this occurred I had trouble placing the sounds, and I’m going to be honest, I was a bit scared someone was unlocking my door…
  4. Easy. The freeway system is perfect for a girl who still needs to make an ‘L’ shape with her left index finger and thumb to tell her left from her right.
  5. Beautiful. All this humidity not only makes for incredible spontaneous rain and thunderstorms (after which the sun breaks right on through again, full shine), but it makes for a lot of lush green grass and trees. I laughed to myself as my mom and I made our way across Missouri at how surprised I was to see grass that grows naturally. It truly is a beautiful state. As we drove toward St. Louis, the sight of verdant pastures, complete with big red barns, cattle and horses lifted my slightly nervous spirit. I thought Missouri would be flat but the land rolls and is spotted with patches of rock. I thought the green would be monotonous, but the shades are, to my very finite mind, infinite. Some of the trees have leaves on the top of which are deep and rich maroons. Juxtapose all this green against a vast blue sky (that, some days I almost think someone painted) and I’m so stunned some days that I’ve had childish epiphanies that God must have been intentional about color choice.
  6. Free. There are fun, free things to do here – things like jazz in large botanical gardens, things like Hamlet in Forest Park, things like a zoo in Forest Park, things like what Pope John Paul VI called “the outstanding cathedral of the Americas.” There are also not-so-free things to do here that I want to pay for – things like an exhibition at the St. Louis History Museum called “Vatican Splendors,” with relics on display that have not yet been on display before (ever), and relics that have not been on display outside of Rome. Yes, I went and enjoyed three slow, poignant hours of this splendor yesterday afternoon.
  7. Young. There are two large universities in St. Louis, and a smattering of smaller ones. This makes for a lot of young people. I comment on it not necessarily because I am excited about it. I’m not not excited about it. I just didn’t expect it. (There are also a lot of babies. Or maybe I’m getting to an age where I am keenly aware of babies. Oh, that biological clock…)
  8. Sticky. Yes, it is very sticky. I am quickly becoming use to it, and am of the opinion that the dry, one hundred and twenty-five of Las Vegas is a fair exchange for the humid ninety of St. Louis.
  9. Slow. It’s a strange city. I don’t see a ton of people walking on the streets. Not that they don’t. There’s just a significantly smaller street strolling population compared to, say LA or NY or even LV. And, although there are joggers, there certainly are not as many. Perhaps that has less to do with slowness than it does with my number eight, stickiness.
  10. And finally, fanatical. I arrived on the night of the Cardinals, Brewers game. The Cardinals won. There was an after party on the patio of Starbucks complete with draft beer and karaoke. Most wore jerseys. Granted, the Starbucks is connected to the Hilton but it’s still Starbucks. The fountain in the middle of the business district of downtown St. Louis, right next to the Federal Reserve, flows with pink water. I suppose if they made it Cardinal red tourists, it could easily and creepily be mistaken for blood. So, it’s pink. I have not yet asked if this is temporary, as in, just for baseball season, or if they honor their most beloved red birds all year-long. However, perhaps it’s snobby of me, perhaps it is objectively endearing and the fountain’s not eliciting in me the proper emotional response, but I hope not. I just like clear water, whether it’s coming out of my tap or on display in the middle of a city center.

How to be creative

“How do I become a creative genius?” I ask myself this question every morning when I wake-up. Ha. Just kidding; but I do ask myself this question sometimes. Maybe not the genius part, but I do ask the “How do I become more creative?” question. The last year has taught me that becoming more creative happens in the process of coming to understand. The last year has revealed to me how blind I am to my limits – the ones that are, and are good, and then the superficial, illusory ones that I impose on myself and allow others to impose on me (the ones I, to my chagrin, impose on my neighbors).

I find that I’m motivated by two very different desires in my quest for creative – the first, more depressing desire (I’ll say it first to get it over with) is for others to exalt me in recognition of how awesome I am. Ugh. Such a wish that will take me on a long journey with, from what I imagine, a lonely end.

The other desire, the one I want to move from, the one I think will actually enable me, free me, unchain me from “myself” to create as creatively as I was created by the most creative Creator to do, is just a simple aspiration to express me – all the ins and outs, all the ups and downs of my journey. I long to express myself in a way that unites me to my community. But to actualize this vision I have of human connection, a vision built from intimate experiences with God, with family, with close, close friends, I must be able to embrace diversity – all the shapes, colors, sizes, all the ideas that sometimes excite, and sometimes offend. What I don’t mean: I don’t mean laying down the offense of the cross. That would be to loose everything. This is the one offense I will always and forever keep. Indeed, it is my foundation for forgiveness, for love of God, love of myself, and love of others. I’m thinking John 17 and 1 Corinthians 12.

Romans 12, somewhere in the middle, speaks of rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep; right after this verse, Paul exhorts the Romans to “Live in harmony with one another.” But men rejoice, and women weep, and some fume in anger, and some sway with exhaustion, then still others feel the tingle of irritability crawling up and down their spines. How do we live in harmony? I think it’s connected to how we learn to live creatively. We learn to embrace the diversity of ourselves and the diversity of others – personalities, opinions, emotions, etc…

Eliot writes in his poem Burnt Norton (part of the four quartets) that men cannot handle too much reality. How I resonate with this observation, both in my personal experience and in my own observations; yet, at the same I long for, and have great hope to grow to a greater capacity to handle much more reality than I can today, at a mere 22 years of age.

“You caught me,” I said to D. Willard.

Willard writes, “Why do we insist on talking as much as we do? We run off at the mouth because we are inwardly uneasy about what others think of us. Eberhard Arnold observes: ‘People who love one another can be silent together.’ But when we’re with those we feel less than secure with, we use words to ‘adjust’ our appearance and elicit their approval. Otherwise, we fear our virtues might not receive adequate appreciation and our shortcomings might not be properly ‘understood.’ In not speaking, we resign how we appear (dare we say, how we are?) to God. And that is hard. Why should we worry about others’ opinions of us when God is for us and Jesus Christ is on his right hand pleading our interests (Rom. 8:31-34)? But we do.” (Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines)

Of course, sometimes my meaningless babble isn’t because I’m vain, but because I am concerned that the person I am with feels comfortable; awkward silences can be, well, just awkward.

But it is true that, just as often, I speak in defense of myself, even when I am not being accused of anything. Though I’m not being accused, I am also not receiving praise, and, so, I am unsure – unsure if I am okay, if I am accepted, welcomed, etc… Because I have not sufficiently trained my mind, my heart, and my body to live out of the knowledge and experience of the love of God (which Willard reminds us are things the spiritual disciplines facilitate), because I lack the constant remembrance of the complete acceptance I have by virtue of the blood of Christ, I sometimes resort to living on the love and praise of my peers. (Which paralyzes me from loving and accepting them as Christ would; oh, how all of this is so intricately wound and bound up together…)

P.S. –

Another “Ah-ha!” on my morning run:

I was thinking… perhaps all the “creative” people in the world, are really those that, when they truly are themselves (where the only genuine creativity emerges…) they are still accepted and praised by society. Perhaps, society cannot handle the crazy, eccentric selves that call themselves dull accountants today. Think “Dead Poet’s Society,” Mr. Keating, and Todd Anderson, and the impromtu poetry bit. Perhaps, the world possesses an astronomical amount of repressed creativity, repressed by cultural boundaries, social formalities…  If only, if only we could find the strength and courage to embrace our true selves and the true selves of others! What a vibrant world I insufficiently imagine (because the world does not accept my true self… haha) it would be.

our motivating factors

As I was running this morning, I had an “Ah-ha!” moment. I tend to have my best “Ah-ha!” moments when I’m running, though I tend to think they’re better than they are during the run than I do post-run; such is the case today. But I’m going to write about it anyway.

So, I was running and reflecting on the past year, and on life in general, as I often do when I run (I suppose most people probably do this), and I began to wonder why I run, what keeps me running? I suppose I run to stay fit and to stay healthy (yes, in that order; perhaps I’ll grow into being a good human being who values her health above how good she looks in a swimsuit; I’ll admit for now, though, I am not there yet).

However, I find that I run faster and longer when personal fitness and personal health are not my motivations, though these are valid motivations, respectable, even. When I run with Sarah, a sweet, sweet girl who lives down the hall from me, I run for her – to motivate and encourage her to run faster and longer; I adjust my pace for her, be it faster or slower. When Sarah is my motivation, running at least feels like it has greater purpose, even if we are both just running to stay fit and healthy. Do you recognize how strange this is: the goals have not changed. I’m just striving for them with another person. Even more, I begin to strive for, not my own goals, but for hers. And this at least feels more purposeful than my lonely pursuit of my personal goals.

Such a train of thought led me back to a couple of summers ago when I read “Through Gates of Splendor” by Elizabeth Elliot. Mrs. Elliot writes about her deceased husband Jim Elliot, a man whose heart absolutely burned for God; he eventually died at the hands of members of an indigenous tribe while attempting to share the Gospel with them (you can read/watch his story in the book and movie “The End of the Spear,” as well). Prior to becoming a missionary, as a young man, Jim justified and found motivation in his athletic pursuits because he was aiming toward being physically prepared for missionary work. Everything Jim did, in fact, was very overtly for the glory of God.

I’m not proposing that we always run for others, or that we shouldn’t lift weights, etc… unless we are lifting for the Kingdom of God. (I do believe, though, in a specific way, that it would be ideal, even for our own sakes, if we were able to do this.) It’s a difficult exhortation to heed; it’s a tiring train of thought to keep up, if only because it’s so contrary to human nature. Self-motivation isn’t as mentally exhausting as selfless motivations can be.

My “Ah-ha” moment was merely an observation of how much easier it can be to follow through with our work in life when our motivations are somehow outside of ourselves. It’s strange, and not necessarily logical, but, at least for me, experientially true. I think it has to do with the hunger for meaning and purpose. Ecclesiastes echoes these emotions, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain…”  And I think this is one of the big reasons why I just can’t buy into the Nietzschean philosophy, or any other self-motivated systems of living; it’s fruitless, precisely because you end up lonely with whatever “fruit” you do gain.