Maybe it’s too much college, maybe it was that sorta watered down Calvinist church my family went to for a while, maybe it’s something else, but I think I’m a bit of a determinist.
What’s funny is that theoretically speaking, I don’t agree with determinism, and whenever it came up in its various forms and in various situations, I’d often go into these nice little diatribes about it, and how it was plain wrong.
Because, I (usually) argued, without choice we wouldn’t be human.
But here’s another thing that makes us human: we often think we believe in things, but we don’t actually put these things into practice.
So what happens is that when life is pretty happy and good and everything, I think I’m in control of things, and I take more initiative, and everything’s awesome, and it’s all down with the determinism or predesination and all that.
And when life is pretty not-happy and not-good, I think I’m at the mercy of the forces of the universe; maybe I did something to deserve these bad things to happen, maybe not, but regardless, I’m screwed. I’m a victim. I’m the ant under the glare of some mean little kid with a magnifying glass, and there’s no way out. I can crawl around trying to get away, but ultimately, that kid with the magnifying glass is bigger, and I can’t get out.
To sum it up: I’m not the glass half-full kind of person.
My experience is probably the result of many years of baggage, but I don’t think that my response to bad things is necessarily unqiue to me. I think this response is probably common.
I recently asked someone what I should do in the face of this bad-stuff; when I’m feeling discouraged, frustrated, and like my life is going nowhere, and Someone told me that when it comes to the bad stuff in my life, and the bad feelings I have, basically I have 2 choices: 1.) Man Up. 2.) Get Help. Someone said that’s it; I don’t get a third choice, even though I want one.
I’d like to posit that Someone was still wrong, because there is a 3rd choice: Do Nothing. I think that’s the choice I wanted.
Now I know Someone was actually right; Someone was saying that I only have 2 worthwhile choices. Two Hopeful Choices.
I wanted (and I’m used to) the Hopeless Choice. And really, we’re all making choices; the choice to not act is a choice, whether you’d like to admit it or not. And part of why we’d like to admit that is because of the other thing that has now defined humanity: we’re sinful, and we choose sins because we humans have choice (see above); and we also don’t like to take responsibility for things because we’re human, and we’re sinful, and we choose not to, and it just turns into this circular and non-productive reasoning.
So there’s this comedian (Tig Notaro) who I find very funny; she has this dry humor and monotone voice, and she’s awesome. And she recently did a standup that Louis C.K. said was one of the best performances he had seen in his 20 years in the business.
And she gave this performance the night following a Stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis.
This also followed what she described as the worst 4 months ever: she had some health problems that put her in the hospital for a while, her mother died in a freak accident, and a relationship she had been in ended. Then she found out she had cancer.
She had those same three choices, and really, most of those things that happened to her really weren’t under her control; she didn’t have much choice. But she did have a choice: she could Man Up. She could Get Help. She could Do Nothing. Or to simplify, she could: 1.) Do Something or 2.) Do Nothing. She did something, and it may have been the defining moment of her career.
At the center of my beliefs as a Christian, there is supposed to be Hope and Faith; by doing nothing, I ignore that center and let my old self take over and tell me I’m beyond help or even action. There’s this trendy saying that the opposite of goodness or holiness is not evil but apathy, and I guess there’s something to that. But maybe it’s more like apathy=evil.
I guess what I’m getting at is that this whole Choice Campaign business we’re doing is so essential: we make choices every day… or we choose not to choose. And I don’t want to be that apathetic person unwilling to do anything anymore.
(If you’re interested in Notaro, here’s a clip from Conan where they talk about what happened):
Here are some ways you can live our Sunday’s sermon this week:
Go to your Choice Small Group this week: Make sure your group goes over the group values on page 52 of the leader’s guide. We want to make sure our groups are safe places to share. And then share openly.
Think about this Vision Exercise: Reflect on Past Desires. What did you use to want out of life? What did you use to want to be when you grew up? What did you use to love doing? Often God has planted seeds of our future vision in the past. Look to your past this week and then share with your Choice Small Group.
Identify Uncontrollable Feelings/Thoughts/Actions: Paul struggled with these issues. We do too. What negative/destructive feeling do you consistently experience over time that seems beyond your control? What negative/destructive thought do you consistently think over time that seems beyond your control? What negative/destructive behavior do you consistently perform over time that seems beyond your control? Identify that hurt, that hang-up, that habit that you seek to overcome. Naming it decreases it’s power.
Bury it/Toss it/Cast it out in Christ’s Name: Words have power. Action have power. Words and actions together have a lot of power. So have a burial service for that feeling/thought/action. “May ____________ Rest in Peace in my Life from this day forward in Jesus’ name.”
Here are a few things for you all to do during your first small group meeting:
Show up. It does no good to plan on going to your small group if you don’t actually go. Don’t miss out: show up to your small group this week!
Go over group values. There are a list of group values on page 52 of the leader’s guide. Read them out loud in your group. Don’t summarize them. Don’t skip them. Read them and agree to them. That’s the first thing to do in your group.
Talk about Vision Exercise #1. Reflect on Past Desires. What did you used to want out of life? Do this immediately following group values. Do this before starting the DVD lesson.
Play the Video and discuss it. There are discussion questions in the leader’s guide. Pick out the best one or two or three. You won’t have time for all five. That’s OK. So long as people are engaging the material, your group is doing great.
I’ve never protested anything before.
It’s not as though I’ve never had something to protest against; there are plenty of social, cultural, and political things that I find upsetting or wrong. And I’m not the kind of person who’s too shy to share her opinion on something. So there were definitely (and probably still are) things I could probably protest against.
But I already know why I don’t ever protest anything. It’s two-fold.
1.) I don’t see how it improves things. There’s this funny British (Irish?) comedy where these priests are told to protest a film that is offensive to the Catholic church, but instead of steering their parishoners away from the film, they end up spreading the news about it instead, and it becomes the big hit of their little area of the world.
Protests happen, and they may have something good or important to say, but their immediate effect on “the issues” are kind of hard to pin-point. Sure, it’s all well and good to raise awareness, but most protests seem to be saying: “Change this for me/us right now!” Call me cynical, but this doesn’t seem like the most proactive way of getting what you want…
Which leads me to the next reason:
2.) Who is responsible for the problems in this world, anyway? It’s usually “them” whoever “they” are. I was recently rereading Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz, and in it he asks himself this question in the light of his own desires for social justice:
Do I want social justice for the oppressed, or do I just want to be known as a socially active person? I spend 95 percent of my time thinking about myself anyway. I don’t have to watch the evening news to see that the world is bad, I only have to look at myself… I am only saying that true change, true life-giving, God-honoring change would have to start with the individual. I was the very problem I had been protesting. I wanted to make a sign that read “I AM THE PROBLEM!” (20)
I’m not saying that social justice is a bad thing to work towards, not at all. What I am saying, though, is similar to Miller’s thoughts: when it comes to the bad stuff in the world and in other people, we’d do better to start with ourselves, because the sin and brokenness that hurts the world and hurts other people, is the same sin and brokenness that hurts us and the people we come into contact with.
I am the problem.
The sad thing is, my protests against the sin in my life are usually kind of sad in comparison to my protests to the sins around me. It’s more along the lines of “Down with this sort of thing,” rather than “This has to change right now!”
But we need to be diligent in our self-examination/self-protests. And of course, this is scriptural; as Jesus instructs us in Matthew 7:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
And I think this is what the first week of the Choice Campaign is all about: to get at the problems in this world, we need to acknowledge our helplessness outside of God, and allow change to happen in our hearts, just so we can see what is happening around us more clearly. Our own sin and our own problems make the problems worse; we need to remove these things from our lives, and we can only do this by relying on God to heal and change us.
We are the problem. But the good news is: Jesus is the solution.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit”
Happy are the Helpless. This is contrarian wisdom. It’s contrarian because it sounds wrong. It’s wisdom because it is actually true.
All humanity is helpless. We are bound by sin. Jesus came to help. He rescues us from sin. This is basic Christianity.
We are helpless: We struggle with uncontrollable, disordered feelings. We struggle with uncontrollable, divided thoughts. We struggle with uncontrollable, destructive behaviors.
We are helpless: This was Paul’s experience. This is our experience. This is reality. But human helplessness is not the last word. It’s the first.
Happy are the helpless: Happy are those who admit their helplessness. Happy are those who ask God for help. Happy are those who accept help from God’ people.