19 March 2007

we interrupt this semi-amusing blog for a serious moment

I promise I'll blog as my usual sarcastic, sorta witty self in the next entry. But I've got a rant and it ain't about Nickelback.

Last night I was invited to a church to watch Facing the Giants, a film involving football and faith (two cultural phenoma the South would be lost without). I must compliment the filmmakers for the fine job they did. Honestly, I was surprised that the actors in the film are simply church members, not professional actors. Maybe one or two I might've pegged, but the leading characters were well-portrayed. Additionally, the visual and audio quality and directing seemed quite professional.

But I have a problem. (SPOILERS ahead for people who are completely unable to predict plot resolutions from the beginning of a film)

The message of this film, despite the characters' resolution to praise and serve God no matter what the outcome, seems to be that if you just have ENOUGH faith, God will be on your side and help you win. Indeed, the protagonist gets everything he ever dreamed of and more: a new truck, a long-expected child, a state championship...it just goes on and on. These people, they pray and decide to thank God for NOT allowing them to have things and then suddenly! tada! He whips out the present He was hiding behind His back.

This is a fairly common doctrine among the middle class American church, isn't it? Isn't it the lighter, feel-holy version of health and wealth? God will be on your side if you just believe?

What a disservice to our Christian brothers and sisters in China, in India, all around the world -- people who suffer and die for their faith. Didn't they believe enough? Are you saying that they would have not died if they simply stepped out and trusted God?

And speaking of trusting God, my 12 year old daughter pointed out that Jesus Himself would not be a "Christian" by this doctrine. He was a simple carpenter at first. During His ministry, He said that He (the Son of Man) had no place to lay his head. In the end He was tortured and mutilated so much that you could scarce tell He was a man. And she, my sweet daughter, reminded me that Jesus came not as a King but as one who suffered so that we would know He understood. She said, "Jesus went through hard things to show us the way to get through hard things."

No, we are not meant for the easy way. We are meant for the difficult journey and we walk the road knowing that suffering produces fruit. When we stumble, He is there to right us so we may continue on - He is not there to move us to the wide and comfortable path.

In a completely unprofound statement, I say: Life sucks. Life sucks a lot.

But oh, my faith grows through all of this hardship. Some people would point and say "Where is your God now?" How can I explain? How can I find words to express the shaping and molding of my faith and my spirit?

14 March 2007

my strength and my song

I visited my former pastor today. He has gone through terrible circumstances in the past few years, events which finally led to the death of his beautiful wife in November 2006, of cancer. This man has watched his wife suffer -- and he suffered along with her. And now he suffers alone. Truly, this man is someone I can look at and KNOW that he knows sorrow and loneliness like few other American "Christians" do. We encouraged one another and he prayed for me something very specific: That I would have a song.

I was known at that church for singing. I have not been able to sing for a couple of months, not really anything beyond a sort of warbling effort with no heart. He didn't know this. I didn't tell him.

I left that church and managed to sing through most of the day, songs which came flooding back to me. Ah, what a blessed gift music is! And then I spend most of my night listening to other songs with a friend (through the wonders of IM's and a semi-common music library).

I just have to share that some of the most praising, most uplifting hymns were written by people who had gone through unimaginable circumstances. This one, a song of thanksgiving, was written by pastor Martin Rinkart soon after he buried 4000 people in one year, including his wife, after the plague swept through Europe. Fifty funerals a day! And one of my favorites was written by a man after marking the spot in the open sea where his daughters had perished in a shipwreck. The opening lyrics "When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll" take on such personal meaning when you know.

Today's hymn for me is an oldie but a goodie:

Come, thou fount of every blessing,
Teach my heart to sing thy praise.
Streams of mercy never ceasing
flow from thy undending grace.
Teach me some melodious sonnet
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I'm fixed upon it -
Mount of thy redeeming love

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
quickly I'm constrained to be!
May thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander- Lord, I feel it-
Prone to leave the one I love.
Take my heart, Lord.
Take and seal it.
Seal it to thy courts above.