Ron Woodroof changed in all the right ways

So my infatuation with Matthew McConaughey continued as I observed him in an astonishing performance in Dallas Buyers Club. He and Jared Leto were so brilliant, I was so easily and readily drawn into Jean-Marc Vallée’s drama. They both won Academy Wards for their performances, and even though McConaughey’s Oscar speech was nonsense, he still won me over.

The film takes place in Dallas, Texas and chronicles Ron Woodroof, a gambling, hard-partying, rodeo-addicted electrician. Ron’s drug use and multiple sex partners have led him down the dark road of HIV, all the way to full-blown AIDS. Ron’s disbelief of the condition only lasts for a moment. He eventually starts swilling whiskey and tons of FDA-approved AZT. AZT is toxic and its dosage was extreme, hurting patience more than helping them. Ron travels to Mexico to find more of the drug, and ends up with its alternatives. He meets a compassion doctor with whom he does business. Ron’s wages a war against the FDA and big pharma, which leads him down many paths and it is a delight to watch the character transform, even as his body struggles through the horrific virus that has held it captive.

It’s always nice when the whole thing is based on a true story because it really helps us realize that all of the lessons Ron learned and Vallée dramatized are real and actually happened to a human being.

One of Ron’s main virtues is that he knows when to change and when not to. He knows when to drop his anchor, and his knows when to lift it. The first thing he needs to change is his substance abuse. The doctor he’s befriended in Mexico tells him the hard drugs he is doing are worsening his condition and he needs to get off of them. He cleans up, and he brings that level of tenacity to his friends.

Rayon, a transsexual person that had contracted AIDS as well, is addicted to drugs. Ron holds her accountable until her untimely death (he storms through the hospital claiming everyone in the joint are murderers when he can’t contain his emotions). Ron is learning how to love, but he doesn’t lose his commitment to the truth through it. Ultimately, Ron’s hostility toward Rayon lessens, as does his homophobia in general.

In one scene, in a grocery store, Ron makes one of his drinking buddies (all of whom have abandoned him due to the stigma attached to HIV) shake Rayon’s hand while putting him in a headlock. Ron’s still impolite, out of touch with his feelings, and harsh. But his compassion increases, that’s for sure.

He uses all of the toughness he’s acquired as an electrician and as a rodeo man to fight the FDA and the corporations that support the government agency. He doesn’t lose his edge, but he uses it for good, to help others. He’s transforms, he uses the good in him and changes the bad.  Even the toxic AZT he advocates against is still used today to help people with HIV/AIDS–it’s not all bad. What is?

Ron’s ambitious when he begins the buyers club, which sells memberships in exchange for the non-toxic and effective protein Peptide T. He eventually focuses less on the money ($400 a month), and more on the good work he is doing.

It’s amazing what a tragedy will do to us even when we open ourselves up to it. Ron denied he had HIV and couldn’t believe he have a disease that was so readily associated with all the people to whom he held a prejudice. But he finally opened himself to it, and that changed him. Embracing our suffering is a game changer.

Ron’s attitude toward people different than him, toward his values, and toward his friends changes as a result of the disease that is debilitating him. He lives for seven years longer than the thirty days his doctor told him he had left. But he doesn’t lose everything, he still uses his gruffness, his shrewdness, and his strong will to do the right thing. And I salute him for that.

In some ways, that’s exactly the transformation that Jesus wants us to have. We do become new creations, but more than anything, we are restored to our original forms.  We still have lots of good stuff and the grace of Jesus completes us. Ron wasn’t all bad, even at his worst, and he uses his good stuff to change the world, truly. He knew when to change, and when not to.

What is God calling you to change? When do you need to lift your anchor? When do you need to drop it?

Are you looking for a false revolution this Easter, too?

In John 12, the people of Jerusalem are excited that Jesus is coming to meet them. They are excited that their liberator is coming to save them from oppression. And they really think the Kingdom that he is bringing, as they term him the king of Israel, is going to conquer the Roman Empire that oppresses them. They are in occupied territory, and Jesus is going to oust the occupiers.

They are looking for a political revolution and as far as they think this is it. In fact, for generations, they’ve been looking for another Exodus. And that story is what’s given them and their children the pulse to survive even the darkest periods of occupation.

What they don’t realize is two things. Jesus is coming to save them—but he’s coming to save the whole world. And the way that he is going to do that is the most backward way they could imagine. Surely, they don’t think that their King is going to save them by dying. I’m not sure anyone would believe that.

The way Jesus saves us is often different than the way we were expecting. It’s so easy to try and go the easy way. And I’m not saying that overthrowing the Roman Empire is easy, but the cycle of violence and counter-violence that Palestine and Israel are currently gridlocked in is still an easier choice than finding a third way.

Jesus is doing that very thing here. He knows he’s walking into a deathtrap, but his disciples and the people that are praising his name don’t realize it. If you read the entire book of John, you’ll know that Jesus is working toward death the whole time. He is slowly revealing who He really is, and the Roman officials and Jewish leaders around him are becoming for cognizant of who He is. In just the previous chapter when he raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus knows the nail is in the coffin, so to speak. He’s done the impossible: raise a man from the dead and it is at that moment that the plot to kill Him begins.

His disciples might be aware of what’s happening theoretically, but they aren’t really grasping it yet. Truly, how often do we grasp the call that Jesus has for us before we just start inventing it on our own? Americans have specialized in this, I think. So often being a Christian is such a minor life change—we can basically do everything we did before, except now we have the hope and encouragement of Jesus and the fun of a new social circle.

Our thinking doesn’t venture far off from thinking of the oppressed people here. We actually think that the result of following Jesus is a government that makes sense and a world without oppression. I’m ready to work toward that with you, but for many of us, we won’t see an end to evil by the end of our life—but  life in Christ offered us the hope, the perseverance, and the energy to live through our  oppression.

Jesus’ revolution is so significant, it’s unrecognizable. He’s doing exactly what was predicted and the people around Him, who are actually hoping he might fulfill a prophecy and his disciples whom he warns about this very moment, still don’t get it. Instead of a grand military entrance, Jesus rides in on a colt. His disciples don’t get it. But his reputation precedes him to such a large degree that a large crowd gathers around him.

The people that are plotting to kill him are dumbfounded of course because his entrance was more climactic than they thought—the signs he’s been showing in Gospel of John so far are so compelling and so outstanding, that the movement is already beginning.

Jesus isn’t just trying to build a movement, mainly because he knows another political organization, however “spiritual” and noble it is, isn’t going to be the answer. He’s doing much more than that. Jesus unpacks his actions a little more and leads us to our own lives as we continue to change the world.

Jesus calls his death glorification. He is inverting the meaning. He’s changing how royalty is seen and with that statement he changes the whole world. It’s not necessarily a novel idea in literature and otherwise, to die for a cause, but Jesus signs his own death sentence. He’s dying so that kernel of wheat that he is can multiply and a real revolution can start. Jesus’ death are the reason we are doing this today.

All of his lessons about self-sacrifice and no longer serving ourselves come to fruit in this moment. Jesus is telling his disciples not to hold on to their lives, their possessions, they hopes and dreams too tightly. We might need to change in a more radical way then we expect to when we follow Jesus. If you love your life, you’ll lose it. But if you hate how the world lives and you don’t want to live like it, well then, your place is secure forever.

Jesus is paving the path for Christians everywhere. And he’s not saying it’ll be easy. In this account, he says his soul is troubled—but he is doing it for His father’s glory. He and the Father are one.

Jesus is dying to show us to die to all of things that we treasure in this world, and begin a new way of understanding. It puts our suffering all in a new context, of course. We’re suffering with Jesus. We’re suffering with the ultimate Sufferer, whose suffering saved the whole world.

The way Jesus is going to save the world through death is resurrection. He’s going to do battle with the prince of death and through his resurrection, he’s going to defeat death once and for all.

It’s easy to respond to this action by living free and living excessively. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant. The question that needs to be answered is why didn’t he just have a regular political revolution if he was just looking to make us all prosper? Because that isn’t true freedom, of course.

An addiction to material possessions, to earthly love and companionship, to all of these things that will invariably disappoint us not only leads to a life that isn’t very well differentiated, but a life that will eventually torment us. Paul channels this as he is learning how close he came to Jesus when he spent time in prison. He says,

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

When we die to ourselves and to all of the things we’ve been talking about this Lenten season. When we die to death, we don’t live forever. On the contrary, we simply are free to die without fear, without remorse, without worry. The path before us has been set. It isn’t about living forever that’s the appeal of our faith, it’s about being free from death. Like Paul tells the Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Live for Jesus, die with Him.

So as we venture on this Holy Week, let’s dare to feel the pain that Jesus is feeling here as he walks toward his death. The death that frees us all.

Walk with us this week. Be a part of our Holy Week as you are able. It’s a serious time and it’s worth prioritizing. There are many things that make it inconvenient and many ways that it’ll be easy to overlook. But don’t just go about your routine. Let Jesus disrupt you, as he was disrupted on your behalf.

Let go of your pride. Let go of your legalism. But also let go of all the ways that you feel entitled to feel earthly completeness as if that’s going to happen. Embrace the suffering that Jesus has around you. Don’t just cope with it, actually feel it and know it—remember you are a human being, just like Jesus, and you’ll feel some pain along the way. But don’t be afraid to attach. Don’t be afraid to connect. Make a relationship. Make a commitment. It won’t work out. That’s OK. Be real. Be vulnerable. Be open. Be honest.

Following Jesus is almost assuredly going to get you to experience the difficulty of being human. Let Jesus do the unexpected in your life. Let Him move. Don’t write out the story for Him. Let Him write your story.

I love Jesse and Céline, but here’s where they could improve

I used really be into indie films in college. Richard Linklater was a hero of mine. I remember sitting at Temple Towers on Weegie’s bed watching the Before Sunrise and Sunset movies and swooning over Julie Delpy and enamored with Ethan Hawke as they had a beautifully romantic, random interaction. Though they are dialogue-heavy, Hawke and Delpy do such a great job, it’s hard not to be mesmerized. I loved them.

The first of the movies, Before Sunset, surrounds a random meeting of Jesse and Céline on a train, and the subsequent 24 hours they spend together. At the end of the passionate day, they agree to meet again in six months. Jesse shows us, and Céline doesn’t—that’s the start of Before Sunset. Céline’s grandmother dies and she misses the appointment; meanwhile Jesse (who is unhappily married) has written a novel chronicling their first encounter. They meet in Paris and enjoy an afternoon before Jesse catches a flight.

I was really excited to finish the accidental trilogy when Before Midnight came out. It takes place in Greece with a married Jesse and Céline and their twin daughters. Jesse’s son, the one he had with his ex-wife who now hates him, who was visiting for the summer, is now leaving. This causing Jesse to have interior conflict about living in Paris with career-minded Céline (she’s actually supposed to be the leftist) and not being with his son during his most formative years.

The romance and idealism of the first two were a little missing in this film, but I was still charmed. There is still rich dialogue (and this time more characters), but still that faithful dialogue between two lovers that is fun and engaging. This time, the conversation’s end up being more practical—but still sex-obsessed. The movies climaxes with a major conflict that’s been brewing for months, apparently. Jesse desires to be in Chicago (or as he puts it, he just wants to talk about the possibility), meanwhile Céline wants to pursue her “dream job” in Paris (it wasn’t her dream job earlier in the flick).

They question their love for each other and have a genuinely heated argument that feels real and genuine, and familiar to many of us. I liked that they got together and started living a life. I loved the European landscape they were vacationing in, and I enjoyed how they made up. They eventually decide that their relationship is good even if it’s not as romantic as it once was (sex gets interrupted by a phone call that Céline jumps up to get right in the middle of the action).

The doubt that’s in their relationship though might have been cured by a few things.

1)    Faith. Céline calls Jesse a “closeted Christian.” Perhaps a little faith in Jesus would have done them good. They are so often left to pursue their lives without much motivation beyond their children (who seem like a burden most of the time) and their careers which are stressful (mainly because they are so different—an environmental lobbyist and a writer). I suppose any marriage is doomed if it’s all about kids and your job. Jesus and community give it more.

2)    Marriage. This might seem small, but they aren’t married. They live together, act committed, and are virtually married. But they haven’t made that commitment in front of their family, faith community, friends, and God. That little action of seriousness changes how we relate and bonds us a little closer. There is some insecurity in their relationship that might have been cured by more of an overt commitment. Sure, plenty of people get divorced that are married, but I think they could’ve used the promise.

3)    Reality. I don’t know how they got back together or what their experiences were like, but a relationship that’s built on idealism and infatuation is tough to maintain. It only starts getting real when we start having the conflict. In some ways, the Before series is unrealistic in its infatuation (who would actually get off of a train with someone random?), but even in its conflict. The level of intensity exhibited here is possible, but the writing usually isn’t this good, if you know what I mean. It’s a little unbelievable.

The cost of all of this is minimal, so long as we don’t take the films too seriously and enjoy them for what they are. But if you expect your relationship to look like Céline and Jesse’s, you may be missing something.

I couldn’t keep watching Cosmos

My buddy told me I had to watch Cosmos, the new science TV series that’s a follow up to Carl Sagan’s 1980 TV series of the same name. I recently watched the pilot episode and I knew I couldn’t enjoy it any longer. I prefer the softness and the joy of Planet Earth.

I really like some of the ideas, some of the imagery, and I love learning—so I was looking forward to the TV series. I didn’t think it would be perfect, but I didn’t expect it to be so godless! Of course, I didn’t expect it to be evangelical or something, but it was so passively hostile toward faith at all, I could barely stomach it. Apparently Neil deGrasse Tyson is a hardcore atheist (I actually didn’t know who he was or that he was so religiously atheistic until my friend told me), but I could tell how aggressively he disdained those with faith. This quotation was unfortunately confirming of my suspicion: “God is an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance that’s getting smaller and smaller and smaller as time moves on…”

The pilot episode features a basic summary of the history of the universe both in terms of space and time. In the middle of the show, Tyson makes Giordano Bruno a martyr to science. While acknowledging he is a man of faith, it seems to me like he was highlighting a dark age in the church’s history in order to elevate his point that those who rely on faith for any sort of explanation are weaker than the rest of us. I suppose to Tyson, God is dead. But I think Nietzsche was wrong, and I prefer Kiekegaard’s existential leap of faith.

Tyson makes the point that the only way to go on his odyssey is to agree with the premise that the scientific method is the perfect way to find truth, and that we need to question everything in order to find the real truth. I like asking questions, but I don’t think he would take so kindly of me questioning his method to begin with. If we keep using the same method to get test the truth, we might be questioning the wrong things.

The material he is trying to wrestle with is too humungous for human understanding. To envision the infiniteness of the universe and then to suppose that a multiverse exists proves this, right? Space is too hard to understand, but time is even a greater mystery. He tries to explain the history of the universe by representing it in a calendar year (what Carl Sagan calls a cosmic calendar)—the part that rubbed me the wrong way, of course, is when he lists Jesus being born five seconds ago while listing other religious figures (Moses, Muhammad, Buddha, etc.), and he arrogantly praises the advent of science as occurring .5 seconds ago and explaining everything we’ve just viewed.

I suppose I could’ve tolerate Tyson’s smug arrogance and absolute certainty if he didn’t take shots at people who think differently than him seemingly every other second. If he just didn’t overly praise his method, while also devaluing mine, I might have been able to enjoy the show a little more. It just kept smacking me in the face every time I tried to give it a chance.

When he explains the great mysteries of science (where the matter came from for the big bang or how life itself began), a little humility and less artificial certainty would go a long way. For one, thing, its bad evangelism. I suppose if he wants to convert people who worship God to science worshipers, he should be a little nicer. Even Bill Nye was more respectful to those with faith when he debated Ken Ham at the Creation Museum. A little courtesy goes a long way.

I understand that Christians haven’t always been so courteous (burning Bruno at the stake, for example), but we’ve also been radical examples of faith and have done a remarkable amount of good in the world. It would be nice to be considered thoughtful, as opposed to fools, and not to be pitted against another group of people. Subdividing people is foolish anyway, but causing a fight between two people that didn’t need to have one is even worse. I’m not even sure I disagree much with Tyson’s approach and his thoughts. But it kept feeling like a lecture about vegetables from a holier-than-thou vegetarian–can’t I enjoy vegetables and still eat meat? Can’t I learn about the universe, supposedly from an expert, without my faith also being questioned? A little less arrogance and a little more gentleness might cause me to tune in next week.

Is it a sin to fear? Well yes and no.

Lent changes how we approach sin—especially the “sin” of fear. Let’s talk about sin for a little. The big question is: what is the cost of sin? Romans 6 is great summary of Paul’s teaching. We won’t read the whole thing, but you might want to read it this week. You can flip to it in your Bible, or on your smart phone if you choose.

Paul is making the argument that the grace of Jesus overcomes our sin and redeems us to our true nature—children of God and heirs to his promises.

Jesus died for us, and with him our old selves died. Now we are new creations. We are offering all of ourselves to God in new way. Paul says we are no longer an “instrument of wickedness” but “righteousness.”

That doesn’t give us an excuse to sin, but rather it sets us free from the shackles of sin and onto something newer and better. We are slaves to Jesus now, not our bodies, not sin.

The summarizing verse is at the end of the passage. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The point then is that our sin kills us, but if we accept Jesus’ truth and follow Him we are freed. He helps us not just overcome our wrongdoing but all of the wrongdoing of the world. The cost of sin is death. And we feel that the oppression that’s both inside and outside of us. The grace and love of Jesus frees us from death and offers us eternal life—and that eternal life starts right now.

As you will see if you read all of Romans, Paul starts out his book with some real fierceness. In the beginning of the text saying that we are all accountable to our sin, and because of it we will ensure the wrath of God. He actually is saying here in Romans 1 that we are all without excuse because the truth is revealed in the created order around us. We are so easily made wicked. Often the thing that blinds us most is our fear, worry, and anxiety, right? So at the very least, we are building the argument that fear is in fact sinful, if not a sin by itself.

With that said, Paul says that despite our immense wickedness, God’s grace changes us so radically, restores us so complete to his original plan for us, that nothing in the world—even our stubborn evil—can separate us from him love. This of course is the endlessly encouraging passage that makes all of the harshness with which the Apostle Paul make some sense.

So you could say that fear is a sin, then, or at least the cost of our internal sin or the systemic sin around us, right? If we are reading Paul is Romans, it’s clear that are no longer slave to sin, death, wickedness, or fear. Jesus has overcome all of the evil in the world, right?

That’s what John is talking about in his first epistle. You’ve heard this phrase before, I am sure. Perfect love drives out fear.

policeWhat John is talking about here is the fear of death, so it can’t be universally applied to the anxiety might feel when you see those flashing red and blues in your rear view mirror as you await your fate (you can tell that I’ve been in this situation more than once). I’m not sure that I can really relate to John when he says that perfect love drives out fear—because no matter how many times I recite that phrase, I can’t get rid of that knot in my stomach. .

John’s point is much more specific because in some sense he is talking about a cosmic fear of sorts, not necessarily the localized fear you might feel each day. Not the regular and consistent worry that you might feel. So when we begin to fear God’s punishment, we might be venturing into a sinful pattern.

Paul gives us the ideal circumstance of course. He tells the Philippians (and of course, he’s writing from prison—so his bailiwick might be fear and anxiety) that be never be anxious in anything. He moves from John’s cosmic anxiety to a localized fear. He says that we shouldn’t be anxious because through prayer and petition God might remove your fear and anxiety. I love how he admits the whole operation is irrational—this peace of God surpasses all understanding, gives comfort to the most anxious people.

Again, Paul feels entitled to say this because he’s gone through the worst of it. Generally, Paul feels entitled to say almost anything because he’s ventured down so many difficult roads—not least of which is the Damascus Road where he was violently converted. So even if we can’t seem to relate or believe his idea that prayer can conquer all fear, he doesn’t expect us too—it is beyond our understanding. Not all of us are serious prayers, not all of us believe that it works, and some of us might have a distance from God, while still having Paul’s entitlement. At the same time, there are those of us who still have the negative feeling of anxiety, but still do not lack faith, we’re just human. Sinning or not, it doesn’t matter because we still feel it and it still traps us.

Jesus is concerned about fear too. In one passage, he tells is disciples that the opposite of faith is fear. He asks them where their faith is when all he can see in them is their worry. Jesus offers more of an explanation of his thoughts on worry in the Sermon on the Mount. He ties together (or at least Matthew does) his thoughts not storing our treasures in heaven with his thoughts on not worrying. A little philosophy. If you look at verses 19 to 24 of Matthew 6 you’ll notice that Jesus doesn’t mince words when it comes to accumulating wealth.

Now that you have that down, look at how he frames worry. These two passages are certainly connected.

Remember, by and large, Jesus is speaking to a poor audience here. And so a lot of their stress has to do with making ends meet. Jesus isn’t assuring them prosperity, but freedom from anxiety about money and finances. How many of our stress has to with our money? Is it possible that our society enslaves us to our fear by perpetuating a system that requires us to worry for it to function. It seems to me like the United States requires at least some level of “anxiety” for its economic system to work. We are always concerned about jobs, production, the value of the dollar, the stock market, and so on. It doesn’t work if no one is worried, it doesn’t work if everyone is provided for.

The Kingdom of God is the opposite. Jesus is telling his followers that anxiety limits how God can work in our lives. It limits how we rely on God. When we worry, we are focusing on “worldly” things—which is translated here as “pagan.” God provides for all of his creatures, even the birds, he’ll watch out for us too. But he leaves it a little open at the end of the passage—worrying about our future, our security, and especially about our money seems to be wrong here because it questions our faith. But he concludes that “each day has enough trouble of its own.”

So ultimately, it seems like trouble—or any negative emotion at all—isn’t necessarily sinful. Just like anger, or sadness, or anything else, we are all human and we experience a wide variety of emotions. Fear, I suppose is among them.

Utlimately, though there is clearly sin involved with our anxiety and fear, and it is something that we shouldn’t be victims of or enslaved to, the first step to overcome that negative feeling is simply to have it. If we just repress it, if we just ignore it because we think that’s what Jesus, John and Paul are telling us, then we might be in trouble, right? It’s better to feel even a bad feeling then to not feel at all.

How much more real and relatable is Jesus in this passage than he would be if he was just head strong

Jesus’ fear, trouble, and nervousness as he approaches death, is an unbelievable testimony to all of us who have suffered with the pain of anxiety. It’s real. And looking at it, we’d be hard-pressed to say he is sinning here at all. The sinners are actually the avoiders. Say what you will about the disciples and their potentially wine-soaked feast that they’ve just enjoyed, but falling asleep when your mentor, rabbi, and savior is about to be resurrected, is totally understandable, but still totally wrong.

Jesus is praying that God might take away his burden. The spirit is willing he says, but the flesh is weak. And isn’t that the point of what we are saying? It’s a process. Should fear just be one thing or another? One thing we know is that fear isn’t the end of the road. We can have dialogue about it. God is listening and responding. We might be fearing the wrong things, we might be fearing because we don’t have faith, we might be fearing because we’re addicted to money—but we might be fearing just because our world can be scary. And for me? As long as that’s not the end of the journey, it’s OK.

Wait… boomers are blaming millennials for their spiritual disillusionment?

A friend sent me this article from Christianity Today recently. It was stimulating, so I was thankful.  A problem with it is that it’s written for a periodical that, by and large, is read by boomers (at least none of my friends really read it). The author talking to an audience, boomers, that it presumes are still there. So are they? So what’s really going on? Is the author trying to start a generation war? Are boomers blaming millennials again?

First of all, her claim that boomers are marginalized is a joke. My friend Aaron noted that boomers are the most powerful and wealthiest generation of all time, and incredibly influential voting bloc. Calling them marginalized by the institutions they run–since 60 percent of pastors are boomers and, moreover, they are the only generation that hasn’t declined in seminary enrollment–is ridiculous.

Statistics can be manipulated in lots of ways to make whatever point we like. They are crafted to tell a story, naturally. And Barna’s studies have problems, of course. The example is this Pew Research study, which shows that that Americans who do not identify with any religion is on the rise, and particularly among millennials. The church might be failing everyone altogether–losing boomers and never including millennial to begin with. I think the author points out why here:

Once they’d cycled through years of running or supporting the church programs created for their children, planned and attended women’s events, and perhaps had even moved into mentoring a younger woman or two, a number of midlife women told me they felt there were few meaningful opportunities for growth and service in their congregations. One respondent put it this way: “I’m tired of same programs year after year. I want deeper relationships with fewer people, more spiritual exercises like prayer and meditation than the canned studies my church offered.”

I agree with her. I can totally see why a boring, repetitive, unoriginal church can be unattractive. In fact, I’ve left churches like that. Most millennial don’t even show up because they can smell the crap from a mile away.

Churches need to be real, and get rid of all of their institutional, impersonal programs (like what Frank Viola says), not just the repetitive ones. I prefer a cell-based church (as you know). And in my circle of ten, we have deep relationships, prayer, and meditation (not to mention stimulating Bible application and generally good vibes). Ideally and often our cells are committed to a mission and that’s what makes us work–we want to include people into what God is doing among us.

We have to get rid of the entitlement that the church is supposed to solve our problems and make us feel good. If we keep burying any group of people and blaming them or the people that cater to them for our problems, we are entitled jerks, to be frank.  If we are looking for the church to feed us, we might starve to death.

First of all, Jesus is our Savior–He is our ultimate sanctification. If we lose that, then we’re done anyway. Second of all, we are the church. If the church becomes something that’s suppose to entertain us and sedate us, then just watch Netflix–there are much better shows for entertainment then there are worship services. The church needs to be more than just fun for us though. More than just a dog-and-pony show. It needs to be our life, it needs to be our vocation, our purpose!

We all have a place in the body, and we need to be working on a community that disciples others. We need to help people become long-term, real Christians. Those who find their purpose in building the church, not just to reacting to how it isn’t satisfying us. I want to include everyone in what we’re doing, that’s for sure, but I am committed to make a new generation of the church, because as of late, the same, old program-y church is killing me. We need to be forming a real community around the person of Jesus Christ and a mission for His sake. It’s not just about consumption and satisfaction–it’s about the main job of the church.

If we lose site of the Great Commission, we’re dead. If the Great Commission is no longer a meaningful opportunity for growth and service then what are we doing? If Christians of all ages can’t evangelize and don’t make it elemental to their existence, but can only complain about not being catered to, then we’re way dead.

Jesus gives us an alternative to an up or down vote

How do we find a third way? As the culture war seems to continue to rage between the modernists—with their absolute certainty—and postmodernists—with their self-involvement, in a world that creates these straw men and relates to them as if we actually know them, the question of a different way persists.

I am thankful that the relationships I get to have repeatedly show that Paul really did know what he was talking about when he was talking to the libertines and legalists in Corinth—those that adhered to the law, as if that were their salvation, and those who thought they were super spiritually above the law. Today, we have law abiders that are ready to impose their will on the whole world, because they are the arbiters of morality. Not only are they certain that the path they’ve selected is right for them (as if they are experts on themselves), they even think it’s right for others.

Want proof? Sign up for Reddit. The dialogue that engages, if you can call it that, consists impersonal statements and arguments between people who don’t know each other, which is bad enough—add to that that “karma” is given to posters whose thoughts are most loved by the audience. Democracy. It is a joke, of course. I’m not even sure how to relate to someone without knowing them, so I’ve always had difficulty posting on Reddit—at least at my current age. (There was a time where I was ready to discuss, with absolute authority, all of the nuances of the video game industry on a web forum—I think I did it about 4,000 times, actually.)

I guess my issue with Reddit is two-fold: first, the posters don’t each other. So “iron sharpening iron,” doesn’t really apply because I need to see your eyes in order to improve myself. I don’t even like getting into Email discussions with people I already know. And who are you? You even have an anonymous username! It’s cowardly! This problem exists all over the web world, though, you’ve regrettably read the comments after a news story I am sure.

And of course, without the relationship with someone, we lack a connection that makes our dialogue fruitful. Even if I reach the same point with you as I would with everyone else, I’d rather not just make an absolute statement. I’d rather reach it especially and individually with you—in love, in a relationship, with some decency.

I want to relate to you, and I want to connect, I actually want to convince of something too. But I don’t want do it without knowing you, and without being willing to learn from you. It seems so hard to convey compassion, empathy, and humility digitally (at the same time, it’s hard to be truthful in person too). In general, i seems so hard to do something other than react. You post an article and then all of argue about it, using the ocean of information and data that is the Internet, where there are peer-reviewed studies to prove every point you’d want to make.

I suppose that option, that lack of certainty, is why we might venture to the libertine extreme. Truth is relative. Our conscience merely tells us to be who we are, so rather than trying to convince of something—on the Internet or otherwise—I’m going to give you the same indifference the universe gives me. We might engage in a dialogue, but in general, it is just to benefit me. I’m the center of the universe, and relating to others and God is just an additional experience that augments our perception of the universe.

I was discussing a movie with a friend recently, and he was talking about the point of the movie in his perspective. I asked him if he thought that the creator of the movie intended that. He said he wasn’t sure, and he was convinced that it didn’t matter. The creator doesn’t need to be the interpreter of his or her creations or creatures. They have a life of their own, and it’s a life that we can deconstruct. Again, the entire world is subject to our interpretation, anyway. Of course, I thought, what’s the point of the movie? It is just stimulus for you? If we extrapolate this even further—what’s the point of love, grace, peace, and intimacy? Just for you?

For me, such a perspective is so challenging to navigate. But it wasn’t always the case. I just read through some of my deeply (and annoyingly) postmodern history and sociology essays my undergraduate career. I’m guilty as any millennial.

I want to be held accountable. I want the meaning of the world, as I live in it, to be greater than just my interpretation or my logic. I don’t want to be the source of it—whether it is just experientially relevant for me, or absolutely true. Whether I’m a legalist or a libertine, a modernist or a postmodernist. I’m committed to something greater than I am. I am committed to my Creator. I’m committed to Him because he’s personally and specifically committed to me.

I’m committed to Jesus. He enters the world as a person, to relate to us, to love us, and to die for us. And when we follow him, we are not only given purpose and meaning, it is direction that is personally delivered. It is not absolute in its function for each of us, but it is just as true for each of us. It’s dialogical, it’s revealed in community. It requires a body to express, and in that body with its singular faith, baptism, and God, we are function as different parts—none more valuable than the other.

Sometimes counts, and that is a relationship with Jesus and His church. And that thing is totally different. Paul says, “What counts is the new creation.” “What counts is faith expressed through love.”