Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What Do You Really Want?

She was wearing a tight black skirt and loose turtle neck with a gold medallion around her neck. Her makeup, though thickly applied, was perfect. Her heels clicked against the floor as she strode through the café, shaking her long shag of neatly coifed hair once down her back. John noticed my reaction and smirked into his coffee.

“You and every other schmuck.”

I heard his voice faintly, but gathered enough wits to glance at the other men around the tables. He was right. Surreptitious glances followed the woman as she ordered and even as she waited at the bar for her latte.

“You’ll never get her. She’s out of your league.” He said, this time with a chuckle.

“What are you talking about?” I said.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Do I look like an idiot?” He said. “Money, Burns. You’ve got to have money for that.”

I bent back to my keyboard, and didn’t respond. He was right. What woman like that would be interested in a man like me? A man who worked with disabled children and made less than forty thousand a year, a man who thought that the hopes and dreams of people were more important than financial success, a man who firmly believed that understanding God loved His children was the key to understanding life. What chance did a guy like me have with a woman like that?

“Yeah. You’re right.” I said.

But my gaze followed the woman as she left the café. It was hard not to want that in a significant other, hard not to be attracted to such a beautiful prize.

“She isn’t for you, anyway, Steve. She’d just drive you crazy with her demands.” John said, scratching his goatee.

I nodded again, only this time I wasn’t sure if it was out of understanding or despair. I’d been single for a long time. Seeing a woman like that made your heart stick inside your throat. Maybe it was cultural; maybe the modern version of what made a woman appealing had arrested my heart. But it was still difficult.

John studied me from across the table.

“C’mon man, what do you really want? Do you really want a high maintenance chick like that?”
I almost told him off. Easy for him to say. He was happy with his girlfriend. But me, well, I’d been down this path so many times before, so many times every new relationship had begun to bleed somehow into all the rest, and lately, well, lately I hadn’t really wanted to even look at a new relationship.

My hope, I think, bordered somewhere between reality and fantasy. The only problem was that I never bothered to answer the important question. What did I want? Not just from a woman, but from life? What were my hopes? My dreams?

It was odd, but as I sipped my coffee, I realize that most of us have a hard time these days seeing that end goal. We have a hard time seeing our dreams as something attainable. Something real. Maybe we don’t think that God can deliver. Maybe we think that God has disappointed us so many times before that it’s pointless to dream about what we really want. Or maybe we’re just so lonely that we’ll settle for someone, anyone, to validate our existence. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that he was right.

I didn’t want to settle. And while I wanted a woman I thought to be attractive, I desperately wanted a woman who loved God, a woman who believed in people, someone who believed that a life without compassion was a life not worth living. It was the oddest thing. The more I thought about what I really wanted, the more the beautiful girl began to fade from my memory.
We all want things. We all want better houses and cars and relationships. But maybe God is asking us what we really want. What is our deepest desire? It strikes me that our world is full of quick solutions, but rarely gives us fulfillment. Perhaps we should look more at those things we have pursued (for some of us, since the time we were children) and instead of selling out to what the world offers, standing back and waiting.

Maybe then God will give us our heart’s desire. Maybe then, we’ll understand why we’re really here…


Tuesday, February 13, 2007


“What did you pick up?” The girl asked, with a quick smile for her friend.

The man, who looked to be somewhere in his late forties, was wearing jeans and a long sleeved rugby shirt. He rustled through his Chapters bag and pulled out a couple of books.

“Let me show you.” He said. He handed the books over, one to each of the young women sitting at the next table. The girls were wearing low cut jeans and fitted tops. I guessed that he was one of their Professors from school, obviously well liked.

“The books outline the nature of biblical translation. They detail why the Bible is inaccurate, and why it’s so impossible for any religion to declare itself to be inspired by God.” The man shook his head. "Irrational drivel."

I raised my eyebrows but turned back to my laptop. It was impossible not to listen. The professor was only about ten feet away and spoke in a stentorian voice accustomed to lecture halls.

The girls asked him a few questions, but the professor did most of the talking, waiting for the girls to nod in agreement with him, before continuing his rational diatribe against the Bible and religiously inspired texts.

It was a startling conversation to witness, on so many levels. Unfortunately, it brought with it a lot of sad memories. The professor said his good byes. The girls went back to their homework, and from what I could gather, a conversation about the previous weekend. I stopped listening and dragged myself out of my chair.

I moved to the magazine racks, slipping in between a few patrons to pick up a writing magazine, and idly listening to the light jazz filtering through the speakers. No use. I put the magazine back and strolled through the store.

When I first became a Christian, I’d been so anxious to share the gospel. In those days, handing out pamphlets and talking to strangers was not only encouraged, it was expected. After a few years, however, I was thoroughly discouraged. I felt guilty all the time because I didn’t want to share my faith anymore. It wasn’t that I didn’t love people or want them to hear the gospel, but I was tired of fighting this uphill battle, always giving reasons why I believed in God’s existence, why Jesus was the Son of God, why the Christian faith was the only way, why church was important, and why my life was better than their own. I guess I was just tired of carrying this weight on my shoulders. I was tired of hearing people in the church tell me that I was “the only Jesus they will ever see.” The pressure was enormous. Soon my joy left, and within two years, I followed my joy and walked away.

The memories flashed through my mind as I strolled through the shelves of books. I moved to the large window at the rear of the store. The sun was bright today, and it reflected off the snow covered parking lot like a thousand little crystals. The vehicles coughed into the cold winter sunlight, and people scurried between their car and the building, anxious to be out of the wind. Two men in toques were having a cigarette out back, but the cold doesn’t seem to bother them. They laughed between puffs, although from the window it was difficult to tell the difference between the smoke from the cigarettes and their breath frosting in the icy winter air.

I tried to let go of it but I couldn't. I couldn't stop thinking about that conversation between the professor and his two impressionable young students. About how desperately people wanted to get along, how the professor’s search for approval from the younger generation was mirrored by the girls’ expectations of respect from their more experienced, and more learned, professor.

I was thinking about that because I knew how much I wanted to get along with the people around me. How I hated being in conflict. And as a young Christian, I always felt so much pressure to pound away at people, people I didn’t even know. Instead of enjoying this journey God had put me on, I was more concerned about saying the right words, about having the right words, about somehow working the word ‘Jesus’ into every conversation like it was magic syrup.

I moved back to my chair and threw on my coat. Time for a walk. I headed over to the entrance and pushed the door open, momentarily surprised at the burst of cold air. I readjusted my toque and jammed my hands into my pockets. It no longer surprises me when I hear that Christians have stopped sharing their faith. Or that too many Christians seem more concerned with people inside the church than outside the church, why churches engage in so much bickering. It makes sense. I never used to understand why, but I do now.

What most Christians don't understand is that when they bicker and pick on other Christians, they're at least arguing from the same perspective. The culture around us does not share our world view at all, so arguing with them often feels like your having a conversation with a block of cheese. God? Who is God? Can you prove He exists? It's the reason why at one time I might have approached this professor, and why I no longer did so. What would that professor had said if I had told him that I thought he was wrong, had engaged him in a rationalistic debate about the reasons proving God’s existence? I can tell you what would have happened.


He would have answered me, argument for argument, debate for debate, and in the end neither one of us would have been convinced of anything, except perhaps that the other person was completely wrong. And for me, like most Christians, it would have been another stake in my willingness to even try and share the gospel. Another loss. Another person outside the church “not willing to hear the Truth.” And it only would have strengthened my resolve not to share with “those people” any more, since they obviously didn’t want to listen.

The wind was cold, and the sun was so bright it made me squint. I’d forgotten my sunglasses, but I wasn't ready to go back in yet. Slowly I headed back towards the entrance. Since the 18th Century, Western society has defined itself in scientific terms. We explain everything. Where people originated. How the body works. The reasons we get sick. The sociological importance of certain cultural structures. We make numbers out of everything. God is not part of the hypothesis of Western thought, not anymore.

We don’t think about it much, but it is, as my professor says, the soup we swim in. Maybe we forget that our hypothesis -- as Christians -- actually includes God. That God is not an appendage to our beliefs, but the very core of who we are. Oh, we say that He is, but if that is true, than why do we feel so much pressure to share our faith or not share our faith. Why do we get so angry when people do not listen to our reasons… our proof?

A woman pushing a stroller walks past. Her baby is dressed in a red snow suit. She smiles when I hold the door open for her, gurgling at her young one the way mothers do. It’s all kind of a miracle, isn’t it? A mother and her child. People laughing and sharing their lives. Science helps me when I get sick, but this world, this great, crazy, sad, wonderful, broken world we live in, what part of that is rational? How much of it is natural?

Maybe our problem is that for too long we have tried to answer the world on their terms. Maybe our tendency to either hide our faith or angrily confront those who disagree, with no middle ground, happens because we’ve forgotten that this God we serve is not natural. I can’t explain Him any more than I can explain the way I love my mom and dad, or the way I love my friends, or the reason a movie about loyalty and dreams can move me to tears.

God is supernatural, far above our 'scientific' proofs and reasons. And we aren’t the Savior, but His children. And as His kids, maybe He doesn’t want us worrying about our words so much as He wants us to experience the joy He brings to our lives. Maybe it is His joy, and not the words, that he wants us to share with others. A joy unconstrained by the rigidity of finding a numerical solution for everything we believe.

The sun has begun to set. The horizon glows like a ridge of fire lilting into a smoky mass of orange and pink, splashed against the fading twilight. My cheeks burn from the cold, but I find my gaze locked onto the sudden swirl of natural beauty. Science may explain how the sun sets, why it sets, where it goes, and the exact number of rotations the earth makes in a year. But as I stand there, absorbed into the moment as if my soul had suddenly fit itself into a special place, somehow I know that God exists, and that He loves me.

Is it a rational thought? Do I have scientific proof of these things? No. But then, my God doesn’t need to be explained. Not like that. I know that my faith isn’t rational. Not completely anyway, and that’s the way it should be.


Friday, February 02, 2007

Losing Sight of God

The snow falls softly, so softly I can feel the snowflakes as they rest gently on my nose and my face. My feet tread lightly over the freshly whitened landscape as I make my way to the path along the river. In the summer I like to run here, watch the kids splashing in the shallows with their parents, listen to the sounds of the teenagers playing over on the basketball courts, and smile at the people riding or running along the path. In the summer, the river is busy, but now, as I walk along the path, it is quiet and empty, the only sound coming from a chain dangling from one of the trees like a small wind chime.

It’s been difficult lately, these last few days my life has felt like I’m on endless treadmill of routine. Even worse, I can’t seem to find God. It’s not abandonment I feel so much as it feels like there are so many layers between God and I that I can’t seem to get through. The condition isn’t critical, and I understand that there are always times when God ‘disappears’, times when He is nowhere to be found. Even still, it doesn’t help me. I’m afraid that I’m losing sight of God, that my life has become an impediment to my faith somehow, and that I’m in danger of routinizing the most precious gift in the world.

I hear a scrabbling along a tree next to the path and I stop. The squirrel stops when he sees me. He’s a small, gray thing, with a worn looking tail. Nothing like those squirrels in those Pixar movies. It’s funny, I know he’s watching me, but he doesn’t look directly at me, keeping his body turned to the side so he can see me out of the corner of my eye. He reminds me of my elementary school principal.

I smile and keep walking, not wanting to scare him. I know that there are times when I make other Christians nervous, especially when I ask questions for which we have no answer. But the more I learn, it seems, the less I know. I’ve read countless books on theology (yes, I read them for fun) and philosophy. And in my grappling with these brilliant minds, there are times when it is the simple questions that don’t make sense. For example, if Jesus was the Son of God, why didn’t He appear to more than one culture at one time?

There’s a bend in the path, and when I turn the corner, I’m surprised by a family of ducks, honking along the riverbank. I hadn’t realized they spent the winter here. I watch them dive for food, as another few families come splashing in from farther down the river. I start thinking about our marvelous Creator, and wondering why He would be so specific about One Man in One culture in One time. And then I start thinking about the history of Jesus.

Jesus was born at a time when most of the world had coalesced under Roman rule, and His Story was written in the universal language of the day. All of this happened at a unique time in history when the Roman roads (a revolution at that time) connected the world, even more than technology has connected our world today. But still, for God to assume one incarnation along the great, wide swath of humanity seems… small. Not enough, somehow.

I shake my head as I watch one duck chase another through the shallows. More and more these days I understand why our society prefers Universalism. Why it prefers the idea that as long as “we’re good”, than we don’t have to worry. I understand why it finds Christians (and Muslims) intolerant, like a group of people in a lifeboat celebrating while the ones in the water drown. No, I understand it, but it strikes me that I could never agree with them.

I pause beside the tennis courts, now covered in snow. Maybe this summer I’ll take some lessons. It’s ridiculous, but I’ve never played tennis much, even though I love it. I played the major sports as a kid. Tennis was for rich people and geeks. I never realized how much I enjoyed it until a few summers ago. I turn and head back home. No, I could never agree with Universalists, because in terms of religion, I think they have it right, but in terms of following God, they have it wrong. If God was a Person, a Creator who loved and felt as we do, wouldn’t He want His Creation to seek after Him. I think about my parents and my friends and the romantic relationships I’ve had. And at the top of the list for those relationships is the knowledge that I was worthy of pursuit, worthy of effort and attention and affection. Not an intellectual nod like I was a pole.

God lives. He is alive like you and me. And that is what makes following Him so exciting. I do not follow a cause. I do not follow a set of rules or religion. I do not even follow a faith. Instead, I pursue the Living God, who longs for my company even as I long for His.

I stop at the end of the path, and look back to the river, watching the snow as it falls gracefully to the ground. I love this weather. For whatever reason, a gentle snowfall has always reassured me somehow. I wish I could say that my walk along the path has restored my faith, that I see God clearly once again. It hasn’t. It has reminded me however, that the One I seek is there, even when I don’t see Him.

It has reminded me that He longs for my company, my willingness to push through these times when He is quiet. And instead of anger or bitterness, I sense an overwhelming urge to reassure Him that I am still His, no matter how I empty I feel this week. I turn to head home, longing for a sign from the heavens, but understanding the silence. Through the years, God has always been there for me. And in my heart, I can almost sense His longing.

"You're worth the effort, Lord." I mutter, and as I walk, I begin to pray.