Monday, September 29, 2008

A Slight Misunderstanding

This past weekend, I gave a sermon on the necessity (or lack thereof) of understanding in the Gospels. I believe that Jesus made no distinction, and loved people regardless of their understanding. I connected it to the debate over how old a person must be to receive communion – their age is a factor in their understanding, after all. The sermon is done (for me, this means giving it four times in a 20-hour period, which translates into a few of these: !!!), but I’m still thinking about it.

I’m still thinking about it, because every time I turn on the TV to one of the “Christian” (I use that term loosely) stations, or any time I flip the radio station to one of the three – or 3,000, it’s hard to tell sometimes – conservative talk-show/fundamentalist Christian sermon-hours, I experience a full-on assault of immensely absolute and fundamental knowledge. There’s no room for not understanding with this theology.

They understand all, it seems – and we better figure out how to do the same. And soon. ‘Cause Jesus is coming. And, apparently, he’s super pissed.

I related the story of my mother, who understood close to nothing in the last years and months of her life, yet she could have still received communion. Because it’s not about whether or not she understands. It’s not about what she can or can’t do. It’s about what Jesus does. What he promises in the bread and wine.

We serve an amazing God, a God, I believe, who is quite powerful and loving. You’d never know it from listening to this understanding-based theology on TV and radio, though. For them, the answers are necessary and critical, and we must understand all of God’s innermost attributes and characteristics. We must understand what – and who – God hates, and follow by example.

In this theology (I believe), it is “understood” that we must work towards God, instead of God emptying Godself and coming down to us, to be among us. It’s understood that we must prove ourselves again and again, accepting Jesus into our hearts – instead of Jesus accepting us, and God calling us to be God’s people in the world.

Basically, this theology is so concerned with what we must do – include understand – instead of the amazing things God does. What a sad view of God.

I’m just fairly certain of one thing: I don’t understand much. I’ll never truly “get” God. And I think that’s the only honest thing I can come up with – for who can really understand the truly mysterious?

I realize that this blog post talks about how it doesn’t matter whether or not we understand by assuming that I “understand” that this is the correct way of thinking. But I’m pretty sure God is greater than us. So it makes sense to me that it’s not about what we can do. It’s not about us.

It’s about the One whom we worship. Whether or not we understand what that really means.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wii Don't Live Here Anymore

As time goes on in my internship, I find my eyes straying more and more to the Wii’s advertised on (which is a phenomenal free radio station that personalizes its music selection – shameless plug, I know) or in the window of the Gamestop next to my apartment.

And why? Because I’m bored here in Florida? Not really. I have plenty to do most days, and even when I don’t, I am usually content lounging around and watching movies.

The reason I haven’t bought one yet is mostly because I am extremely wary of video games. This is not a rip into those who have them – I have many myself, and have appreciated playing them from back in the days of the original Nintendo.

What gets me, however, is the amount of time often spent playing them. Time that could be spent doing any number of things. Nintendo has been trying to get around that, however, by pushing their Wii’s interactive and exercise-oriented gameplay. Don’t worry about getting stuck inside staring at a TV screen, they say – you are getting plenty of exercise playing our games.

I hear that – the Wii is not your typical system – which explains my continued interest in it. But then there’s the whole consumerist thing. In a society that tells us that we need certain items in order to be whole and acceptable human beings, I feel like I’m buying into that if I get a Wii.

I know I don’t need it. But I do find myself wanting it. And, again, this is not an elitist, holier-than-thou rip on those who are Wii-owners. I’m just honestly struggling with this.

Whether or not I get one, I want to take my time and not go into such a purchase lightly. I want to make sure I don’t buy one simply because I’m on internship in a new place, and am basically bored. I want to distinguish between an unhelpful distraction and a healthy, entertaining way to relax.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

On a First-Name Basis

It’s hurricane season in Florida, as this state has welcomed me by constant reports and weather warnings focusing on the next tropical storm that is making its way from the west coast of Africa across the Atlantic. These storms, starting with Faye – and working its way down the alphabetical list to the current monster, Ike – are mulled over by tropical weather teams on the local news channels all over south Florida. Where are they headed? Are they a tropical storm, or a hurricane? If a hurricane, what category? And – the most important question, by far – where is it headed?

These are important questions, no doubt. But the insistence of our media to focus on the United States – and the United States alone – is really getting to me. When asked by a member of my church what was one of the interesting things I’ve found living in Florida so far, I told her that I’m amazed how much attention is given in the news to two countries: Haiti and Cuba. These are two places that may as well not exist as far as the U.S. is concerned, but they figure prominently in hurricane talk – and for one reason:

How have they affected the tropical storm/hurricane? Have they slowed it down, or increased its wind? Nevermind that the infrastructure in both countries is shaky at best, and pitiful at worst. In Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti, they continue to be pummeled...without mercy. Cuba gets hit again and again. Food sources are destroyed. People starve, if they haven’t drowned.

And according to Channel 9 News of Tampa, the deaths and misery leveled on these people by Gustav and Hanna, Faye and Ike, matter only in the sense of how they’ve affected the current strength and direction of the hurricane. Nothing more.

The important thing is where in the United States it will hit. Now, I’m not saying that the people in our country don’t matter, or that their suffering (especially in New Orleans post-Katrina) is somehow less important. But as Gustav showed, with enough pre-warning, these people have places to go.

Haitians and Cubans continue to be mercilessly rained down upon this hurricane season, and they have nowhere to go.

It is in this situation that I hear echoes of the occupation of Iraq, when we are given up-to-date, detailed accounts of every American citizen who has died or been injured, but hardly a mention of the Iraqi people who continue to be killed and maimed, usually hidden beneath euphemisms like “collateral damage” or “smart bombs.”

It’s ironic to me that we personalize these hurricanes so much by giving them first names. It’s just more euphemisms. Haiti wasn’t destroyed by a hurricane with winds up to 115 mph last week; Gustav was simply weakened to a category 2 hurricane as it passed over the mountainous region of Haiti.

Mmm. That sounds so much better, doesn’t it?