Friday, October 17, 2014

Pumpkin Spice Rantings

There is an ongoing obsession with the pumpkin spice latte. Some hate it, some love it, but everyone from comedians to market analysts are talking about it. What’s the big deal about a flavored drink?

I blame cultural existentialism.

We live in an era of post (post post?) modernism. Our culture is marked by pluralism and existentialism. We’re told it gives us freedom and makes us be nicer to each other by erasing differences. (Hint: It doesn’t seem to be working very well.) Within this whole construct, significance has been erased from everyday life, most notably in the passing of time. We’re expected to create our own meaning, and without any cultural guides, we turn to whatever is marketed to us.

Western culture used to have all sorts of ways to mark the passing of time, most notable within christianity. We had feast days and colors associated with certain blocks of the year, liturgies and spiritual disciplines. We meditated on certain stories at certain times of the year and took part in well know rituals in a structure established for that very purpose.

Before that, the pagan world believed in gods of all kinds. Seasons and solstices were times of worship and mankind took great joy at not being the center of everything. Submission to higher authority was instinctive, even if the gods themselves were a little doubtful.

But all these years later, in the aftermath of Freud, Nietzsche and Marx, we’ve suppressed our instincts towards the gods. Meaning and significance have been erased. Life doesn’t mean anything, it just is. If you don’t like it, make something up. You are the center of your universe.

As hard as we try to swallow it, we can’t keep it down. We crave significance. Even in the passing of time, we feel a void. It is not enough for the seasons to come and go, we need to mark them, pay tribute somehow. Our culture feels the need for a ritual imbibing of a certain blend of flavors. The pumpkin spice latte doesn’t actually have pumpkin in it, it’s filled with all sorts of unhealthy things and it doesn’t actually taste all that amazing but it’s all we have.

It’s all the more important to those of us who don’t actually get to witness the changing of the seasons. We don’t get a taste of fall or winter but we couldn’t possibly let them go unworshiped. Like the pagan festivals of old, stores offer all sorts of fake leaves, squash and pumpkins and cinnamon with which to fill our homes. I recently witnessed a woman purchase $150 worth of fall related items that served no other purpose than to pay tribute to the season.

All this comes right before the holiday during which otherwise normal individuals place plastic replicas of skeletons and other disturbing objects in their front lawns in preparation of the night in which the local children will arrive in traditional garb, recite a ritual phrase in order to receive a specific type of edible associated with the time.

Which is nearly a month before the ritual slaughter and consumption of a specific animal for a feast day commemorating a previous event in our history.

Which is a month before the holiday nearest the winter solstice and all the well established pagan rituals we’re all very familiar with.

We can’t handle the lack of significance and ritual. The godless world is haunted by immanence. We’ve tried to erase the pagan superstitions but we never will. The default mode of the human heart is religion, however much we deny it.

So that’s why we buy pumpkin spice lattes.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Reflections – London

I'm waiting at a bus stop in London as I write this. It's starting to dawn on me that the Lord has been playing chess with me. What I mean is that I am a pawn in His hand. He has sovereignly opened certain doors for me that have led me to believe that I am called to serve the British people in some capacity. I'm still not sure to what extent but I do believe the Lord is calling me to help bring the gospel to this country in some way.

I've come to this conclusion because of the fact that I've always had an appreciation of the British heritage that America has received from England, the fact that I lived and studied there for a year, and the fact that my own wife is British at heart. For proof of my last point see her thoughts here and here and here.

But at the end of the day I believe God's Spirit is stirring inside of me to devote time to this place. I'm still not sure how all the details will come about but I know that I'm suppose to be a small part of the resurgence here. This whole week I've been reminded of the truth that less than 2% of the people here are evangelical Christians! Our friend Rob Peabody was telling us how the huge baptist church right in front of his house has about six people in it every Sunday and that they just meet in the church hall. The doors of the building have been locked because they haven't used the sanctuary for over a decade or so.

What has been encouraging is the church that Rob has been attending. The vicar (pastor) is a man by the name of Paul and he is doing some really great work at this Church of England church. He has built a huge facility and grown the congregation to 600 people (in the UK that is a megachurch!) and they are doing really great things in the community.


I want to see the gospel flourish all over the UK. Please pray for our Christian brothers and sisters there. America owes a big debt to our English forefathers. Would you pray with us about how you can be a part of changing the spiritual landscape in the UK?

Friday, May 16, 2014

God writes fantasy novels.

I love the book of judges. It reads like a book of violent fairy tales.

The chosen people go crazy and get themselves into all sorts of trouble and oppression. Then comes a series of wildmen who conquer and kill to give peace for a few years.

The crazy stories begin with a left handed man who violently (and very messily) murders a very fat king and may have escaped through the toilet. (The meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain.)

The bastard son of a ruler (by a prostitute) is driven out by his brothers. He gathers himself a motley crew of vagabonds and then all the leaders of his clan ask him to come back and defeat their oppressors. And he does. Then he gets in a skirmish with the tribe of Ephraim and ends up killing men on the basis of how they pronounce the word “Shibboleth”.

A mystical messenger shows up and prophesies the birth of a child with strange rules about the things he is allowed to eat and drink and how he must never cut his hair. If he ever breaks the rules, he’ll lose his hulk-like superpowers. He had another kryptonite: beautiful pagan women. This man burned down ALL the crops of a pagan people group via flaming fox’s tails and then bashed in the skulls of a thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey. He was eventually captured, had his eyes plucked out and died in a suicide mission in the temple of Dagon. He took a few thousand men with him.

A woman had to scold the leader of Israel’s armies because he didn’t want to go to war when God told him to. He only consented to go if she came with him. They won the battle, but the enemy general escaped and hid in the home of a friend. The friend’s wife drove a tent peg into his head while he napped. Then everyone sang a song.

This stuff happened! These stories are more interesting than game of thrones and marvel movies combined! When is the sermon series on the book of judges?

No, no sermon series on Judges. We Christians like to talk about things that are realistic. Stay away from escapist fantasy (especially if it actually happened and it’s in the bible).

Who are we to say what’s realistic? The Creator decides and The Creator has come up with some pretty fantastical stuff.

Do you know where the first wizard battle in recorded literature is? An old man saunters in to the court of a king leaning on his magic stick… Exodus chapter 5.

First mention of superheroes or demigods? An afterthought in genesis 6.

Or what about modern history?

A land, wild, vast, and sparsely populated, began to be filled with people. These people somehow chose to move from a heavily civilized society into a lonely wilderness filled with predators, where they would have to learn not only to live without a basic structure of commerce, but figure out how not to die. They somehow survived, declared themselves a nation and somehow became a dominant world power without fighting a war to topple the previous world leader.

Years after the crazy pioneers spread across the continent, a wealthy business man fell in love with a barely inhabitable, barely accessible swamp that lies on the bottom on a strange peninsula. It was unpleasant, filled with mosquitoes and the heat was intolerable but he decided to market it as “paradise”. It was only after mankind made machines that manipulate the temperature with a combination of moving air and magic liquids that people began to believe him.

As unlikely as it is, I was born in that swamp and I write from there now.

Compared to some of the stuff God dreams up, things like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are hard realism.

For instance, did you know that narwhals exist?

(Yup, unicorn whales.)




Friday, May 9, 2014

Introversion and cultural bias

I recently started working as a special ed. teacher. As I take part in these meetings that evaluate the needs of a child, I am struck with how biased our culture is against introverts.[When I use the word introvert, don’t hear me saying shy, quiet or sensitive. It’s a matter of how your brain responds to external stimuli, most notably social stimulation. An introvert is drained by external stimuli and extroverts are energized.]

There is a section within an official document where we write in the social and emotional behavior of the child. Every single time without fail, when we want to portray a child as normal and well adjusted, we say things like “He/she is sociable and interacts with everyone. He/she has a lot of friends. He/she is very talkative.” It doesn’t seem to ever be a good thing if we call a child reserved.

That’s messed up.

It is in fact possible for a healthy normal child to speak infrequently, have a few close friends rather than be friends with everyone, prefer to function independently and dislike noise and hype.
But the introvert kids are not always going to be the quiet ones in the corner with a book.

Let’s look at one of the children I’m working with. We’ll call him Benjamin. This child is reported to cause disruption, throw food during lunch, struggle to keep up with the class and display defiant behavior. He never wants to do homework when he comes home from school.

 If we take a closer look, the disruption and food throwing only occur during lunch and dismissal, a time when he is surrounded by a noisy, crowd. The teacher claims he struggles to keep up with the class, but when he is allowed to work independently, he works brilliantly. The defiance happens when the teachers scolds him for not being on the same page as everyone else in the class.

If Benjamin’s teachers would realize that he is hardwired differently, they would give him some help with overstimulating places like cafeterias. They would not scold him for getting ahead of the group. They would realize that being with people all day has drained rather than energized him and they would let him finish his homework at a time when he has more energy. They would let him function within his strengths rather than insist he look like the “ideal” kids.

Our culture has idealized the gregarious, overly forward extrovert. We equate it with stability, competency and even leadership ability. Politicians need to appear to be a classic extrovert in order to be taken seriously.
Every study on the subject had shown that this is an absurdity. Constant, excited interaction with people is no measure for competency.

Everyone needs to know how to be polite and properly interact with those around them. We’ve been taught to be friendly and kind to others but I propose that this includes extroverts being respectful of an introvert’s space and preferences.

Have you ever been woken up consistently by something really annoying while you were absolutely exhausted? Something like a fire alarm going off every half hour in the middle of the night after you worked a double shift. It would make you very grumpy, cranky and upset. That’s what an introvert feels like when they don’t get their space. Except we’re not allowed to say anything or even let on that we are upset. Otherwise we are told we are “antisocial”, “stuck up” or worse "boring".

(Side note: Most people are not either an introvert or an extrovert. It’s more of a spectrum.)

As you may have guessed, I am an extreme introvert and I didn’t always know that it was ok to be me. I was often scolded or called a “wallflower” for not being social enough or needing to take breaks from noise and people. Discovering my innate hard-wiring  was so freeing.(Introvert brains actually function primarily with a totally different neurochemical than extroverts I could finally stop beating myself up for not being able to “keep up” and not thriving in jobs others would have found easy. I have plenty to offer the world, but it’s definitely going to look different from my extroverted friends.


So I totally understand this sweet little girl



Susan Cain has brilliant a ted talk about the power of introverts and how we need to change our cultural bias: 

http://www.ted.com/talks/susan_cain_the_power_of_introverts#

Friday, May 2, 2014

Comfort Trap

I saw the following pins (or many similar) on Pinterest, both posted by the same person.
Things like:

 And



The two seem a bit contradictory to me. Here’s why:

Most people in this country will never travel, but most people would like to. That’s why the movie “The Secret life of Walter Mitty” was so successful. So many dream of doing something like traveling but instead spend their lives working. I think it’s also a very American trap to fall into, having seen the way people live in the rest of the western world. For example, most people in America are unfamiliar with the concept of a ‘gap year’, where young people take a year between high school and college (or sometimes after college) to travel and explore. Everybody would love to do that right? If only we had the money…

The thing is, nearly all of us have the money. Just by living and earning a wage in this country, you have far more money than most of the rest of the world. The problem comes when it goes to things we think we need.

Most children and pretty much all teens own a cell phone. Many of them have smart phones. The data plans alone cost a crazy amount per month. If you cut the cell phone bill for a single year, that’s a plane ticket.

But it’s not a matter of knowing how to save. Americans know how to do basic math. What we don’t know how to do, is to deny ourselves. Every luxury is deemed an absolute necessity.  I heard a story of one woman seeking help at a church to pay her bills. When asked to present the bills, she handed in her cable bill along with the others. What’s worse, most people reading that sentence will not have found it shocking. How on earth can a person deem television such a necessity that you need to ask for charity to pay for it?

We have no idea what we actually need, and as a result are spending our whole lives slaving away for things that are completely unnecessary. It becomes a trap.

What we really need is a safe, clean and stable place to live.
What we think we need is a large house with separate bedrooms for each person in the family (that need to be individually decorated), a huge kitchen (that will probably need to be updated), several bathrooms (why would we share one?) a lawn (that we now need to pay bi-weekly to get cut). Then comes new furniture. We’ll need a lot more of it to fill all this extra space, most of it will be decorative (unnecessary). Then new appliances. Dish washers and clothes dryers are necessities right? (They’re not.) We need an entire little room dedicated to laundry as well won’t we? (Not really.) Pinterest will help you spend money to decorate it. Now the home feels empty without large flat screen televisions. We’re going to need a few tablets and laptops too. Let’s bundle the cable and internet bill so we’re only paying over $100 a month (only!). Everything in the house will be thrown away and replaced with brand new items every few years.
Don’t forget the landscaping.


This house is in the suburbs, miles away from anywhere we need to be. Now we need cars, multiple ones, maybe one for each driver in the house. And nobody wants an ugly one, or one you may need to repair. Let’s buy brand new ones that will keep us in debt for years, then trade them in for new ones (and more debt) as soon as we pay them off.


Or maybe it’s not a house or car. Maybe it’s the newest apple device. Or maybe new clothes. Most of us have to actually get rid of bags and bags of barely worn clothes to make room for the new ones we buy. Or maybe it’s food. For the sake of comfort or convenience, we feel we need to spend 10-20 times more on a meal than if we had made it ourselves.
No wonder we have little money to spend on (or save for) anything else!

Not only are Americans not traveling or pursuing dreams, but the majority of them are living paycheck to paycheck, even those who make over $100,000 a year!
Most people my age think “If I ever make that much, I’ll have plenty of money for traveling.”

I’m sorry, but you won’t. If you buy things you don’t need now, your expectations for your standard of living are only going to grow as your income does. Your idea of “need” will get bigger and more absurd.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with big houses. There’s something wrong with the idea that you NEED a giant house filled with unnecessary brand new things. If you’re idolizing that big house and all it entails, there will not be room in your life for much else. We are raised with the idea that buying and buying and buying will make you happy. That idea needs to be destroyed.

We all spend money on what we think is important. So decide what is really important to you and don't spend your life wondering where all your dreams went.



Friday, April 25, 2014

Withdrawls

I feel cramped and anxious like I’m trying to walk a tightrope in shoes too small. Why? Seventh months and 18 days later, I figure it out. 
 There was this road in Oxford that ran through the little heart of the outlying village of Wolvercote. If you followed it all the way to the canal and along the river some, you would come to a big arching bridge over the water. Now on a bicycle, which is the best way to see it, it’s a bit of a struggle to pedal to the top and avoid any nearby cars. Since there are thick trees on either side, all you can see is the crest of the hill, but once you get to the top, miles of meadow suddenly open up before you. The sky is vast, the meadow stretches wide and your soul feels like it’s never been free before this very moment.
You roll down the hill and see the wild horses that wander this side of the meadow. There are footpaths crisscrossing the green, and willows line the water. In my mind I can see past the little pub, down the road , over the stone bridge to the ruins of an abbey on the banks of a very old river. It’s like slipping into a comfy chair by the fire on a cold night.
 The oldness, the quietness and the vastness make you feel small, and it’s the most wonderful feeling you can have. It’s the closest thing I can say to describe C.S Lewis’s joy. Others used words like pain or longing to describe it but nothing quite pinpoints it.






Back to my problem. The only thing that makes me feel this way is to be immersed in something ancient, still, vast or wild and green. There is none of that in the city in which I live. In fact, the culture disdains the first two and the third isn't really possible, being as the city at it’s essence is a barely inhabitable swamp. I can’t sit in a pub older than my country and marvel at the ephemeral nature of our lives as I laugh with friends. I can’t listen to robed youth sing songs in a dead language by candlelight while gazing up at images of a faith that spans millennia. I can’t take a short cut to the library through a winding cobblestone alley where uncounted feet have tread since medieval days. I can’t even find a wild, overgrown green space where I can wander with my thoughts all to myself.
Instead, I have modern ugly buildings that house churches that avoid most symbols of the faith if they possibly can. I have overly manicured and crowded public parks. I have traffic. I have noise.
My insides are going through joy withdrawals and there’s nothing I can feed it. I try anyway, with fairy stories, sci-fi novels and Netflix but obviously to no avail.

The only thing I have is God. He is beyond the concept of ancient, He knows stillness. He is wildness and he is more than vast. It is hard to see sometimes and I would very much like some physical manifestations of the things that cause me joy but I can hold on to the fact that I have and serve and love and know the Source.

Friday, February 14, 2014

"LOVE" IS A LIE

My husband recently preached a sermon on marriage. Afterwards, a young man came up to him and told him it was a good sermon, but he didn't think romantic love could really exist. More and more people of this generation are thinking like this, and I think it warrants discussion.

What do we mean by romantic love? Is it the fluttery heart and magical infatuation that most romantic comedies are based on? Because that most definitely is not something to believe in. That most definitely is a lie. If you want to get jaded about something, by all means attack that.

I have a sneaking suspicion that this person who does not believe in romantic love is speaking out of hurt.

These women who hurt you, did they do so out of a lack of faith in love? Did they not follow their hearts enough?

No. People hurt others in relationships not out of failure of love, but of failure of character. When you fail to respect the other person fully, to guard their reputation, to protect their decency, to leave the appropriate distance in place until you are ready to commit, that's when people get hurt.

Romantic love does not thrive on magic or feeling, it thrives on covenant. The promise to care for someone always, then actually doing it. Always. Even when you don't feel like it. If you're not willing to do that for someone, stay away. If you don't, you're just using them. That's the big problem with our culture's notion of romantic love. It's rooted in selfishness.

Let's take one of the biggest 'sermons' on love, the movie "The Notebook." Boy meets girl, they get all infatuated, they cross boundaries before the commitment is in place, then they get separated. During the course of the story, boy starts sleeping with his best friend's widow and casts her aside as soon as he has another chance at girl 1. Where is the honor in that? Girl 1 gets engaged to someone else but throws it all away to spend a naked weekend with boy. She didn't even bother to break off the engagement first. I'm supposed to believe that such selfish honor-less children make it through the years to become the sweet old people at the end? Nope.

This is preaching that we don't need strength of character, we don't need to keep our word no matter what, and we don't need to respect the boundaries of others. We just need to figure out the object of our selfishness and destroy all else to serve that. Their idea of love is a sort of feeling, and “I feel like it” is not a good enough reason to ruin someone’s life.

So to those who are jaded in their view of love, I get you. Please by all means disbelieve in most portrayals of romantic love. Go ahead. Write it off.

BUT

If you can manage to believe in men and women of character, then maybe true love is possible.

“It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer


Lauren Spallone