Saturday, June 30, 2012

Discovering Christ in Rome, by M

Hey everyone! Sorry for the hiatus… W and I had a FABULOUS time in Italy with our family and now I find myself typing this on hour 6 of our long 10.5 hour flight back to the states. Although, I’m not really sure that anyone reads this thing, so maybe no one even noticed the hiatus since I’m pretty sure the two of us and mom are our only regular readers. Haha!

Anyway, our Italy trip included visits to many of the major Italian cities, including Pisa, Florence, Siena, Rome, and Venice. I could write for days about how beautiful everything was or how much pasta I ate, but what I want to talk about for the moment is my experience in Rome. I actually went to Rome twice during the trip, first with the BF (yes, he came with… big deal kind of!) and then later with the family. While I can’t say that Rome was my favorite of all the Italian cities, it did leave me with a distinct spiritual impression that I thought would be appropriate for this blog.
I’ll cut to the chase and just say it: people in Rome and in the Vatican really act and talk like Christ existed. Now, those of us who are Christians should not be surprised by the knowledge that He existed. His very existence and resurrection is the foundation upon which we build our beliefs and live our lives. Moreover, even totally secular history books confirm that a man named Jesus lived, died, and that Christianity was born out of his legacy. However, here in America at least, it’s still easy to think of Jesus more as a myth than as a man. It’s easy to think that Jesus (along with the other Biblical characters like David or Paul) was a magical guy that didn’t really experience earth the way that we do. What I loved about Rome was that I came face-to-face with actual history that was shaped largely by the actual existence of Jesus. It was incredible!
(I also learned a lot about the Apostles Peter and Paul, who came to Rome after Christ’s death and were imprisoned and eventually martyred there. I will save my additional thoughts on that for the next post!)
One of the favorite sites we visited in Rome was the Church of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. I don’t remember all of the specifics, but long story short is that Saint Helen went to Jerusalem and collected all these relics from the time of Christ and brought them back to Rome to be kept safely there while the Middle East was experiencing all this conflict. Anyway, at the Church of the Holy Cross, we got to see these relics, which included a bone from “doubting Thomas’s” finger (that he put into Jesus’ side), a nail that was driven through Jesus’ hand or foot, a thorn from the crown of thorns, a piece of wood from the cross, and (definitely the coolest) the actual sign that hung above Jesus on the cross, which read “INRI” (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews). There was also the world’s only exact replica of the Shroud of Turin, which has the image of Christ divinely burned into it. (Pics below). Now, there is certainly speculation about whether these relics are legit or not… and there are a lot of conspiracy theories about the Shroud as well. However, I don’t really care if it’s the actual nail or the actual shroud… Whether they are the real deal or not does not take away their suggestion of the reality of Christ’s life and death. This is especially significant when paired with the myriad paintings, mosaics, and sculptures dedicated to Him throughout all of Rome. It is glaringly obvious that this man lived and died according to what we’ve been taught to believe.
Take the Shroud for example… As you can (hopefully) make out from this picture, you can see how Christ’s body was laid in the tomb. You can understand his humanness by seeing his height, the width of his pelvis, and the cross of his arms, limp in death. You can also understand his suffering, making out actual stains of blood coming from this scalp, abdomen, running down his arms, and pooling at his hands and feet. Then, of course, you can understand his divinity by questioning how the image of his face and body came to be “burned” into this fabric… something that, to this day, no one has been able to figure out or replicate. And to me, the question of whether this is “the shroud” or not is unimportant… the reality is that there was a shroud, and Christ laid in it, limp and bleeding as this suggests. I was blown away by how real it all became.

All of this really makes me want to go visit Jerusalem sometime. Can you imagine?? How cool would that be!?
For now, my hope and prayer is that I don’t lose this feeling of awe and conviction. I want to live my life like I truly, sincerely believe that Christ Jesus walked the earth, suffered a bodily death, and rose for me… just as the Bible says. I hope that I can be inspired by the sacrifice of time, energy, and life that the early church made for their deep conviction of Jesus’ divinity, which is so evident in the culture, art, and history of Rome and probably throughout other major cities that were once in the Roman Empire. I don’t want to take for granted this gift we have of the evidence of Jesus… both within the words of scripture and the history of our world.
I also want to watch a documentary on the Shroud. Anyone want to join me?!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Abundant Gifts, by M

Hey everyone!

Sorry that I have been totally MIA lately. To say that things have been busy is a total understatement. I honestly do not remember a time when my life has been quite as crazy as it has been here in the last two weeks! Luckily, I have only one more 13-hour workday standing between me and two glorious weeks of vacation in beautiful Italy. CANNOT WAIT!!!!

On that note, here's advance warning that you may not hear from me and W for a while... we're planning on being relatively "unplugged" and just enjoying so much time being together and with the family. FYI!

I honestly don't have too much to say (and certainly nothing all that profound) because I feel certifiably brain dead at the moment. With that said, I decided I will share a brief thought/question I had earlier this week and perhaps invite you to weigh in on it with me.

Right now I'm reading Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts. It's a New York Times Bestseller and it received a lot of attention when it first came out (in late 2011, I believe?)... mostly for the stream-of-consciousness prose that she writes in. I'll admit, it takes a bit of getting used to. Anyway, the whole deal with the book (spoiler alert! haha) is that it's her experience of trying to live a life of "eucharisteo" or thanksgiving; she accomplishes this by writing a list of 1,000 gifts. Of course, she learns many good lessons along the way, and invites all of her readers to try the same gift-identifying exercise and see what happens in their heart and faith journey as they do it. For what's it's worth, I'm enjoying the book (even if it is a departure from the things I typically read).

So I'm reading this book and having crazy long day after crazy long day and I've been honestly trying to have a moderately better spirit of thanksgiving. I say moderately because I haven't actually written any gifts down... and I'm pretty sure the whole point is to actually do it (haha)... to make the writing of the gifts a discpline. I'm pretty sure it doesn't work quite the same way if you don't. Regardless, this idea of having a spirit of thanksgiving has been floating around in my mind at least, and that's a start, right?

Now, after recognizing about 4 gifts, a pattern became very clear that started to intrigue me. I noticed that all of the gifts that flowed easily into my brain were all "negative gifts," if you will. Meaning, all of my gifts sounded like this "I am so thankful that it is not raining today." "Man, it is so great that I don't have to ride the bus to work!" Or, my personal favorite: "God, I am just thrilled that I don't have to squat over a dirt hole to pee." These are all really great and awesome gifts, don't get me wrong! I am thankful for all of these things! But, it also revealed something in my heart: why is it that, for whatever reason, I'm only able to recognize these gifts in the context of comparison? Why is it that it doesn't come naturally to just think to myself  "I am thankful for sunshine... for a car that works... for a toilet"? A toilet, for gosh sakes! Is it that strange to be thankful for a toilet in and of itself!?

Apparently my instinct is to only recognize gifts in the context of being better off than someone else. And you know what, that reminded me of the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:11-13... "God, I thank you that I am not like other men..." said the Pharisee. Hmmm, something about that similarity seems like bad news to me.

I think that true eurcharisteo happens only outside the context of comparison. Much has been made about the dange of comparison when you're on the losing end... however, this is teaching me that there is danger, too, in comparing when you're the one "winning." It is not for us to know all the ways in which God blesses others; maybe that hole in the ground is a blessing to someone else. Actually, I am sure that it is. So, all of this to say... I feel a conviction that true thanksgiving means recognizing the actual gift, and not recognizing simply the absence of something worse. For our God is one who gives abundantly! He should be praised rightly for that abundance, no?

Have you all ever noticed that tendency within yourselves, to give thanks for what you don't face instead of giving thanks for the abundance of what you have? What are your thoughts about it?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Mark 12 : 30

Mark 12:30:

"Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this...the Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength."

Haven't we all heard this verse a million times? Heart, soul, mind, strength. Heart, mind, strength, soul.We know, we know; love God above all else. 

If you're like me, you've never really given much thought to the fact that loving God with your mind is very different from loving God with your strength. I pretty much just bundled the four pieces together and decided that love is love. Today's message at church made me think otherwise. Here's the breakdown:

To love God with all your HEART, you have to allow His heart inside of your own. It's this whole, "Break my heart for what breaks Yours," idea. To love God with all my heart, I must love the people around me ("That which you do unto others you do unto Me"). The heart is the center of connection and emotion-- to love God with all my heart means to connect to my neighbors through and with empathy, grace, truth, and compassion.

To love God with all your MIND, you have to train your brain in the ways of the Lord. This means thinking about him often, learning about the life of Christ, reading the scriptures, doing book studies, talking rhetoric and theology with friends. I must fill my intellectual self with the stuff of God rather than memoirs of Chelsea Handler and Huffington Post news articles. The mind is the center of logic and decision-making-- to love God with all my mind means to fill it with knowledge about what's important and how it came to be so.

To love God with all your SOUL, you have to give the Lord time to feed it. We cannot love God with our soul if we never offer it to him and keep it closed off because we're too busy working out or having coffee with friends or sleeping in late. And none of those things are inherently bad. But I must allow God to create the longing for Him in my soul through reflection of His great works and my own great need. The soul is the center of self-awareness and values-- to love God will all my soul means to dedicate the quiet time necessary to allow Him to reaffirm who I am and what I believe.

Finally, to love God with all your STRENGTH, you need to allow the Lord to show you the ways in which you can help others. Not only does this 'strength' mean our own available energy, but also the spiritual gifts that the Lord has given us. I must figure out the ways in which the Lord has blessed me so that I can pour that blessing upon others. Strength is the center of talent and resources-- to love God with all my strength means to spend myself in the service of others using the gifts that He made me to use. 

Kind of life-changing, right? The idea is that each of us has one or two areas which are natural and easy places of love for us, and one or two more that could use serious development. For me, I'm pretty good at the heart and strength, but seriously lacking in the mind and strength categories. This knowledge will allow me to target my own weaknesses and figure out how I want to develop them. It's easy to say, "Of course I love God. I'm active in my church, I was baptized as an adult, I've said the salvation prayer, I sometimes give money to homeless people..." but in looking through this list, do our actions really reflect that we love God wholly? 

Food for thought. Also, major credit goes to my campus pastor Steve Gillen for bringing to our congregation's attention the framework for truly loving God with our hearts, mind, soul, and strength. Hope it's as impactful for you guys as it was for me this morning!