It was a monster mash

Happy Halloween. My joke for the past week has been that I don't like celebrating Satan's birthday and therefore can't celebrate Halloween. It's not funny. But kind of. And it's my mom's birthday and I don't like the parallels that could be drawn there. It seems horribly unfair for a joke. And yet, I'm gonna use it again next year.

Happy Xmas.

This month's Relevant Magazine is good. There's an article in there about Africa which is a short synopsis of the state of the continent. A must-read for anyone who wants to.

Today I went to the LA Mission and interviewed a guy there who is in charge of educating "students" who go through their program. They have a pretty good program, it seems, where they provide both short-term solutions for the homeless (ie overnight housing, food, etc) and long-term as well (education, etc.) I didn't see where they approached the societal structures of homelessness, but I'm not sure that their ministry needs to. There are plenty of other ones out there that can.

It was an interesting trip. I realized that I still have some stereotypes that still need to be dealt with. I got lost on the way down and had to drive down what some people would call "bad" areas of town. I found myself struggling to decide to lock my doors or not to lock them. To drive fast or normal. Blah blah blah. I ended up rolling my windows down and driving slow, almost as a rebellion against my cultural instincts, the culture that "teaches us to read and write." (De La Rocha, 1992)

I guess I noticed that I am used to talking about the poor as a clinical group and how they should be treated as though they were a disease. And I know I'm being too critical of myself, but the disconnect in my mind with how to love them (as people) and how to view them (as potential threats). It's very odd and fairly disconcerting. Maybe I should do something about that. I'll look into it.

Not much else. Time for more class. Peace to all.

P.S. I still don't know what to do with my life. Teach or ministry?


Grace makes beauty out of everything.

(The following is a copy of a paper submitted for my spiritual formation class. I didn't include footnotes in this version because I'm not that smart with the ole' hypertext. Oh well.)

In 2000, the popular rock band U2 released a song entitled “Grace” on their “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” album. In the song, lead singer Bono sings what could be, in context, the most fitting definition of this vast theological term: “Grace, she takes the blame / She covers the shame / Removes the stain / It could be her name . . . / What once was hurt / What once was friction / What left a mark no longer stings / Because grace makes beauty out of ugly things / Grace finds beauty in everything / Grace finds goodness in everything.”

The song was the last track on the album and perhaps the quietest song on the album as well. It is comprised of a keyboard, minimal guitar, minimal drums, and gentle vocals. There is nothing overwhelming about the musical talents exhibited or even the quality of the production. But everything about the song points to reconciliation, restoration, reformation, and revitalization, all aspects of grace. It is no surprise that even the secular world finds the power of grace attractive.

Grace is God and God is grace. As Karl Rahner said, “Grace is God himself, the communication in which he gives himself to man as the divining favor which he is himself, since it is he who is imparted. Such grace, from the very start, cannot be thought of independently of the personal love of God and its answer in man. This grace is not thought of as a ‘thing.’” It is an irresistible concept and at the same time, an irresistible feature of Creation. Since creation, God has sought to redeem, reconcile, and restore that which is His. Grace is how God reconciles creation to Himself.

Imagine someone who has never read Genesis reading it for the first time. Immediately after the fall of humankind in Genesis 3, the first-time reader of Genesis would likely be terrified by God’s reaction through verse 20. Not only has He cursed the serpent, He has increased the pain of childbirth for the woman and cursed the man to a life of toil. And to the first-time reader, this might seem fair. God told them not to eat the fruit, they ate the fruit; they got what they deserved. But the first-time reader would proceed to verse 21, when we see the Creator of Everything making clothes to restore the dignity the disobedient couple lost when they discovered they were naked. How shocking, yet simple.

Grace does not yell. It is found in the quiet actions and whispers that restore creation to its original form: “very good” (Genesis 1:31). It is very mysterious, this grace, because it cannot truly be defined. Who would want it to be? Grace is a simple and yet complex concept; it is banal yet intricate. It is simple because it relies solely on God and complex because it has seemingly infinite meanings. It is banal because all of creation is dependant on it, yet intricate because it is original. “…We human beings are who and what we are because we are made in the image and likeness of God, male and female, for unending divine life. . . The mystery of God-with-me and I-with-God depends wholly on God to the extent that there is no ‘I’ without God . . . God is with us. This, simply put, is the meaning of grace.”

Because grace is responsible for our salvation and our existence, it seems possible to divide grace into two different realms: grace brought by our acceptance and grace brought by our very existence. Others have called them common and specific grace. “The offer of God comes to us in a two-fold way: as encounterable neighbors, institutions, and indeed, all of creation and as a power deep within us which opens us and encourages us from within to accept and welcome the encountered offer.”

However, the two types of grace are probably nothing more than classifications of the same thing. It is true that there is a certain type of grace that pervades all of creation, humanity, and life itself. And it is true that there seems to be another type of grace, that which is offered to us for freedom in the spiritual sense. Saint Bernard qualified the two as this: free will and grace. “Grace is necessary to salvation, free will equally so—but grace in order to give salvation, free will in order to receive it.” In this vein, it is easier to view the “grace brought by surrender” as being of same essence as the grace brought by existence. Both graces are born in God’s desire for the world to be reconciled to himself; but it is free will which controls the personal pouring out of grace in the realm of salvation.

This has been a hefty introduction to this topic, but grace so influences our spiritual formation that it deserves the wordy presentation. Of all the key elements of spiritual formation, this is the only which cannot be practiced, fully experienced, or improved upon. In fact, this single word influences all of our spiritual formation and yet it operates outside of anything we could do. As Philip Yancey said, “there is nothing we can do to make God love us more . . . [and] there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.” Grace is entirely dependent on God and him reaching down to us.

As a result, this facet of spirituality dictates the rest of our spirituality. We cannot “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord” (2 Peter 3:18) if the grace of God was never given to us. Oddly, one does not need to understand grace to grow in it. That is part of its mystery: one does not need to even acknowledge, recognize, or comprehend grace (or the Creator even!) in order to experience it. “Acts inspired supernaturally by grace are not confined to the justified. There are stirrings of grace which precede the act of accepting justification in a free act of faith and love. There is also grace outside the Church and its sacraments.” “Indeed, whenever there occurs authentic, loving self-transcendence, there is the occurrence of grace.”

Grace is happening all around us, from the mother working two jobs to feed her children to the sparrows relying on God for their next meal. If one recognizes grace in all of creation, one will come to a deeper understanding of the love and power of Christ Jesus. Grace is “… a conscious object of faith and acknowledged to be the most sublime and divine element in man, his only salutary possession.” This salutary possession has the power to mold us to the likeness of God and gives us freedom from sin. It is through making us more like God and the freedom found in Christ that several dynamics of grace emerge that deeply influence spiritual formation. If one can better understand the role grace has as reconciliator, reformer, reviver, and restorer, one can experience more acute spiritual formation.

Power to reconcile

Paul Tillich said that “sin is estrangement; grace is reconciliation.” Grace has the power to transform lives because it not only reconciles us to God, but it reconciles us to one another. Grace allows God to reach to us and reconcile us to himself. Lewis Smedes describes this as a process of forgiveness that God goes through. “First, God rediscovers the humanity of the person who wronged him, by removing the barrier created by sin. Second, God surrenders his right to get even, choosing instead to bear the cost in his own body. Finally, God revises his feelings toward us, finding a way to ‘justify’ us so that when he looks upon us he sees his own adopted children, with his divine image restored.” Similarly, this process carries over to human relationships, with some modifications to account for our not being God.

If I am wronged, it is only grace which can lead to reconciliation between me and the person who wronged me. First, I recognize that I too am a sinner. Second, I surrender my right to get even, choosing to allow God to bear the cost of this wrong. Finally, I revise my feelings toward the person, finding a way to see him or her as God’s adopted child. This can only happen as a result of grace and the need of this grace to reconcile. “Grace plays in the field of need. It plays there, however, not because it seeks a reward … The most profound reward, and it often comes, is that relationship is restored between giver and receiver.” Edward Campbell. The relationships we have with one another are vital and if these are damaged, we are damaged.

An example of the reconciliatory power of grace can be seen in Christ’s parable of the prodigal son. The father whose son has run away and squandered his inheritance and returned is greeted not by harsh words or punishment, but instead a party. The father’s words are words of grace that reconcile the son to his father: “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:24) The relationship is brought alive by grace. This example of grace forms what God desires in our relationships with one another: that we forgive one another because we are forgiven, or, as C.S. Lewis puts it, “to be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” If we fail to do this, our spiritual growth will be severely stunted because we are denying the part of humanity that is divinely influenced by the people around us. True community between gracious people allows the community to grow closer to God, whereas ungracious people create individuals who are more intent on their piety than their neighbor. Closely related to reconciliation is restoration, something else which grace offers us.

Power to restore

Because creation in its original sense was “very good,” it is grace which restores creation to that state. “If God is the source of everything, and if human beings especially bear the image of God, then there is nothing foreign in grace. People who live by grace have their humanity perfected, not abolished or diminished, by the presence in them of the Holy Spirit.” The restoration to perfected humanity gives us a glimpse into the intent of God, into his original design of life and creation. When even only one act of grace occurs, God rejoices because it indicates the creations to whom he has given free will are choosing him. “God rejoices. Not because the problems of the world have been solved, not because all human pain and suffering have come to an end, nor because thousands of people have been converted and are now praising him for his goodness. No, God rejoices because one of his children who was lost has been found.” We become partakers of His will when we show grace and live grace, when we consciously act to restore creation to its original flawless state. Ultimately, Christ Jesus is one who restores us all to our original state and is the cause and end of our salvation.

In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul wrote in chapter 1 verse 16 that “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Jesus) and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” The word reconcile can be understood as the intentional action to restore creation to its original state. This is precisely what grace does. It slowly chips away at the fall of humankind that ushered in sin of all types to restore it to what it was intended to be. When we begin to start fighting our fallen nature and the world’s, we work alongside God in his attempts to restore us all to our state in the Garden of Eden. As we work with God, we must allow grace to take hold of our lives so we can continue to be formed anew by the Creator.

Power to reform

Grace has the awesome power to reform (or form again) a person’s heart, soul, and mind. “Few souls understand what God would accomplish in them if they were to abandon themselves unreservedly to (God) and if they were to allow (God’s) grace to mold them accordingly.” Instead of being proud of growth and maturity in Christ, the believer will recognize his or her utter dependence on God for everything. The believer will see that he or she has been reshaped by the power of grace and has ultimately submitted to Christ and his authority. Similarly, the treatment of others will be impacted. Instead of focusing on self, the believer will be able to focus on others. “It is the fruit of grace that frees us from the prison house of self concern.” This understanding of grace will profoundly shape one’s posture before God.

The Apostle Paul is a good example of one whose life was reformed by grace. As Frederick Buehner pointed out, all of Paul’s letters to his friends begin with him wishing his friends grace before anything else. No matter what else he had to say, it could wait until he wished them God’s grace. “Grace is the best that he can wish them because grace is the best that he himself ever received.” The grace which Paul knew had absolutely changed him, so much so that he had to change his name entirely. “The cross and grace which flowed from it produced in Paul a deep humility which cause him to say, ‘I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle . . . But by the grace of God I am what I am (1 Corinthians 15:9,10)” By allowing grace to reform us, we will not be mired by our own ambitions and vein conceit. Instead, we will find a freedom to live each day in communion with God as people constantly discovering their worth to Him. Not only will find that freedom, we will be able to see and encourage that freedom in others.

Power to revive

Left to our own devices, we tend to veer toward legalism to reach God. This is dangerous, because legalism carries so many potent side-effects like judgmentalism, pride, and heresy. In short, “Legalism wrenches the joy of the Lord from the Christian believer, and with the joy of the Lord goes his power for vital worship and vital service. Nothing is left but cramped, somber, dull, and listless profession. The truth is betrayed, and the glorious name of the Lord becomes a synonym for a gloomy kill-joy. The Christian under law is a miserable parody of the real thing.” God is not a law and a relationship with him is not a formula. Grace has nothing to do with legalism and is diametrically opposed to it. Grace revives the believer after legalism has brought death. The recognition of this overwhelming, undeserved life brings much spiritual maturity and its fruits, including humility, selflessness, and joy.

“Do not seek for anything, do not perform anything: do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted. If that happens to us, we experience grace.” In simply accepting that we are accepted, we find tremendous freedom to live our life as beloved by the Creator. The woman caught in adultery in John 8 exhibits the revitalization of grace, the reviving power that brings new life. This woman was brought before Jesus having been caught in the act of adultery, an offense punishable by death. She was probably expecting to die. Instead, Jesus sends away her accusers after rebuking them and says to her, “…neither do I condemn you.” Instead of finding judgment and death, she found new life. There is little doubt to me that this event profoundly impacted her. She was only moments from death, then snatched from its grip by an act of grace.

In the movie Fight Club, the main character Tyler Durden holds a gun to man’s head and asks him what he wanted to do with his life before he became a clerk in a convenience store. The man (Raymond) responds, through tears, by detailing plans for veterinarian school. Satisfied by the man’s fearful response, Tyler tells him that he will check up on him in six weeks and if he is not on his way towards being a veterinarian by then, he will shoot him. But for now, he may leave. The man runs away, and the narrator asks Tyler why he did that. Tyler responds by saying, “Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond’s life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever tasted.” This is what grace does. It brings new experiences to old routines, it revives tired circumstances, and renews that which seems mundane.

Grace is an incredible thing, with the power to reconcile, restore, reform and revive. By understanding the role of grace in our lives, we can continue to pursue God’s best for us and grow in him. It is no coincidence that the Bible begins with God creating something “very good” and ends with him gracefully redeeming that Creation. It is possible to work to redeem the Creation if we choose to focus on what has been given us: the grace of God. There can be no more fitting blessing than the Apostle John’s conclusion to the Book of Revelation. The last words in the Bible contain our hope and prayer: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.” (Revelation 22:21) May it be with us indeed.

She changes your mind

Today I went to Mater Dolorosa for three hours of meditation and prayer. It was hard for me, because I expected that I was more sensate than it turns out I am. I needed some kind of intellectual stimulation to associate with my spirit. I was always taught that I needed to spend time "alone with God," but I think it's more important that we spend quality time with him. And I'm not sure that I know exactly what that is for me.

I've been trying to fast on Mondays. I have noticed that I love legalism and while good at not eating, still trying to figure out the spiritual aspects of fasting. Today was the third Monday I fasted, but it only lasted until lunch. I'm not sure why. We had communion at the retreat center and here was how the inner dialogue went when I saw our professor pull out the elements:

"You shouldn't have that. It's food."
"But it's Holy Food and that means you should eat it."
"Great point. In fact, how could there be a better way to break a fast?"
"There couldn't be. When's lunch?"

So I ate lunch and dinner and tried to convince myself that the day was about restraint, not abstinence. Oh boy. What logic. I guess I'm still trying to find that balance between legalism and grace. Oh my goodness I want to know grace more. I'm still thinking about the tattoo.

Wayne and I had a good talk today. I love him.

I think I'll post my paper next. Go team.

Love to me.


I guess we'll just have to adjust

I no longer care about the World Series. How does a team who is at the top of their division for 85% of the year lose to the Wild Card winner? I'm just a little disappointed, boys.

Life is good otherwise. I had a profound sense last night that I was loved by God. It was neat. Toby and I went to the park and it was dark and had just rained and it smelled like burning wood. I just breathed really big and just knew that I was loved. It doesn't happen to me a lot; usually I find that intellectual talks and studies and readings bring me closer to God.

I'm thinking a lot about grace. I'm also writing a paper on it. And thinking about a tattoo of it. All that to say, grace is wonderful.

My wife and I had our 2 year anniversary yesterday. I can't believe that it has already been two years. If the faster you travel, the slower time goes, then the slower you travel, the fast time goes. I'm not sure if that's how time works, but I agree with whatever Einstein(?) said about it.

Time for more class. I'm learning about Latinos in the U.S. Who knew that I would someday be learning about this?


I found out

Wayne. WAYNE. WAYNE!!!!!!


Gold teeth and a curse for this town

Here's my new favorite guy. This cheese puff claims that God hates fags and all kinds of things. He also says that God hates America. Which is in direct competition to this group this group, who claims that God loves America. Oh, who to believe?

Here's to faith, hope, and love. Clink.


Who are you, who, who, who, who?

I got back from Fresno today. What a crappy place. I'm sure a lot of people like it and it's great for some, but it didn't seem that fantastic to me. But the Best Western is wonderful. I'd recommend it to anyone who asked where they should stay while going through Fresno. Check it out when you get the chance.

My friends' band is opening for The Bravery on Monday. This is a big deal for them. And I hope they keep getting bigger. If anyone deserves it, they do. And they have a new website which is cooler than their last one.

I wish I had more philosophical things to ruminate on. I'm just tired.

I passed the CSET. That's big. Now I need to figure out what to do with my life. And someday, I will.


When you bite the hand that feeds

Today is the greatest day I've ever known. Can't live for tomorrow, tomorrow's much too long.

Or so said Billy Corgan, over 12 years ago. And he might have been right. Or so said me, thirty seconds ago.

Yesterday I took my CBEST. I'm almost positive I passed it. It's odd that there is only one test you have to take before being judged competent to teach students aged K-12. I think there should be a test to prove you're smarter than them in life, not just in a classroom. I digress. Well, not really, but no one cares.

Nothing is new. I haven't showered in 3 days. I feel gross. And peace to all.


Boris the spider

I've chosen the title to be a Who song. Why? Well, because it's stuck in my head.

I feel alive this week. I just got back from YS in Sacramento and it wasn't too bad. I got to read, relax, and work a little. I have some issues with it and here goes:

There is a lot of money spent by Christians on things. In the exhibition hall, there were over 150 booths where merchants peddled their crap (MO included). I wonder how much of it glorifies God and how much of it props up a sub-culture's economy. I really don't know the answer, but I continue to pray that money will be a struggle for me. Likewise, my struggle can only be mine, and unless I hear otherwise, I am not to judge other people's treatment of money.

So here is my response to YS: I don't think I can keep my current job. I would rather run away from another YS than have to change it from the inside. And I also realized that I'm just surrounded by Christians. Here's my map of that:
56 hrs/week spent sleeping (with a Christian, but it doesn't really count)
40 hrs/week at work with Christians
15 hrs/week in seminary with Christians
15 hrs/week alone
3 hrs/week hanging out with Christians after work or school
1 hr/week interacting with the public (primarily shopping)

The point is, the only interaction I get with non-Christians is when I am purchasing things with them or from them. It's very odd and I'm not too sure what it means for me, but how the hell am I seeking first God's kingdom when I'm surrounded by people who look just the same as me? It's frustrating, apparently.

In other news, I really enjoyed going to Revolution two Sundays ago. It was rad. I can't remember if I blogged on that or not, but I felt a lot of hope while there. There were about 10 people there and we talked about God's love. We didn't sing any songs or have any confession time or anything like that. It was like a big church (but without the singing) and great discussion instead. It wasn't forced intimacy or anything like that, just comfortable discussion and growth. Right now in class I'm learning about small groups, and it's interesting to see what elements fit into Revolution.

It seems like a great introduction to church for Danielle and I and I have a lot of excitement about it. I actually felt bad that I missed it on Sunday night and I haven't felt that in a long time. Danielle hasn't gone yet and I really want her to like it. I really want her to like it, but I'm having a hard time not pressuring her to like it. I know it's not about "liking" a faith community, but I want her to want to go. It might not happen soon, but I hope that her heart is full of desire for community.

It excites me to think about church being a group of small people meeting and trying to grow closer to God. And Revolution is a church plant of the SoCal Free Methodist Church, and something about that is encouraging, like someone big is endorsing it. That's nice.

Anyway, life is good. I really want my desires about money and small groups and intergenerational community to be consistent with my actions but I guess that's the goal of life. Someday. Someday.

God may my life be congruous.