Monday, March 26, 2012

The Gospel?

What is the Gospel? No, really, what is it?

Now that it’s been a few weeks since I read the book, The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight and have had time to digest it more I think I can be ready to put up my thoughts here. So, back to my question: What is “The Gospel”?

Many Christians will tell you that the Gospel is that Jesus died on the cross to save you from your sins and eternal damnation in a fiery pit called Hell. While I believe that there is truth in it, I also believe that this statement is incredibly short sighted and largely misses the target.

Gospel is defined by many as meaning “good news”. What about the above statement is good news? Salvation, sure, but saved from what? Our sins? What does that even mean? What about Hell? You expect me to believe in some ultimate destiny that no one really cares to think about? Honestly, how often do you think to yourself, “When I die…”? I know I am often distracted by the present to think too deeply about an expected 50 years in my future. Obviously, not all of us alive today are going to live another 50+ years, but I think it’s safe to say that we all expect and hope to. So this good news often feels irrelevant to John Doe who works in a corporate office from 9-5, whose wife is threatening to divorce him, whose kids hate him, and whose dreams are slowly slipping away. John doesn’t need to be saved from death; if anything, death might feel like a relief. No John needs to be saved from fear, pain, worry, and despair. There is no better way to break a person’s soul than to make them fall into despair.

This is a little bit like where Israel was around the time Jesus showed up: Romans had taken over the government and frequently levied taxes on the people; Their deity, I Am, has become silent for over 400 years; the people they trust to direct them in the ways that honor their deity have become corrupt; and there is general unrest. You might even say that this was Israel’s form of The Great Depression. I do not know about you, but I can almost feel the darkness that surrounds this era of earth’s history. So many things go on in the shadows.

In comes Jesus, born of a virgin, Mary, and raised by an earthly father, a carpenter, Joseph. On the night of his birth an insane amount of Angels shout out in joy (and scare the crap out of the shepherds they are speaking to), there is excitement in the air (certainly wasn’t a “Silent Night”), and YET, this kid enters the world largely unnoticed, and would not really make a name for himself until he reached the age of 30 and began his ministry. For 3 years, Jesus develops a relationship with and intensely invests in 12 men, which we know as the 12 disciples. As a closure to this time spent with the 12 men and the crowds that followed to listen to his teaching, Jesus is accused of blasphemy (rightfully so according to the religious leaders at the time) because he did, after all, claim to be the Messiah and God Incarnate. The penalty for Blasphemy is death, but by this time the Jewish religious leaders were so angry they decided stoning was not good enough. The man needed to be crucified as the show of ultimate shame. Thus Jesus was killed, on all accounts blameless and sinless. The story doesn’t end there though, according to his followers, this man decided that he did not want to be dead any longer and revived on the third day. After spending a few more months with his disciples Jesus finally ascends into heaven and is never heard from again, or at least, not in the physical sense like he was for those 33 years.

A couple of decades later we have Jesus’ disciples writing about the events that happened in his life. These accounts are known as the Gospel. We have all heard the story, but have we all grasped the fullness of it. Looking at Matthew alone I find there are details that I often overlook; for instance, the constant use of numbers to emphasize a point. 12 disciples, 3 days, 5 loaves 2 fish (7), and on and on it goes. Each number means something to the Jewish reader; each one sticks out like a sore thumb.

All that to say, the Gospel is – so – much more than the story of the death and resurrection of a Jesus, Messiah. It is a completion of a story. It is the Resolution of a long history, and the beginning of a sequel. The story of Jesus is the story of God restoring Israel, and all of creation with her, to that has been longed for since the first sin of Adam and Eve. It is freedom. Freedom from legalistic law, freedom from the worries, stresses, and hopelessness experienced by people under the rule of a Roman Emperor, and freedom from themselves in some sense. No longer are they enslaved by the law, but freed by it. How many times did Jesus say something that had to do with life? Jesus’ death allowed for people everywhere to live. He was the “ultimate sacrifice” as I’ve heard it called sometimes. I tend to think of it as the ultimate communication.

“I love you, come be with me.”

And I think that is what he would want today as well. Yes, we are saved from a wretched existence, enslaved by the very things we often do not want to do. But even more importantly than that, we are given a freedom and a life that we can experience here, now, in the “today”. I believe that in the death and revival of Jesus, there is peace that can be found, and a relationship that can be established with a very real and involved deity that we simply call “God”.

I believe this for so many reasons both intellectual and intuitional. I would even argue to be a Christian you cannot have one without the other. And even if I’m wrong, to paraphrase Puddleglum in C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair, I would rather believe in a place that has peace, freedom, life, and emphasizes this concept of altruistic expression to others and to a creator being than in this hopeless place we are in now. I do not mean place in the physical sense (heaven, hell, or earth); I mean it in a status sense. I would rather follow a standard that tells me to make my current location as much heaven on earth as I can. To let people know that I love them, even if no one else will.

Now comes the temptation to trail off. So, I’ll be done.

Grace and Peace

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Value of the Game

Something that I have been encountering a lot recently, more than ever before, is this question of the value of video games. This appraisal of value comes across in many forms: is it a legitimate form of art? Does it incur violent feelings? Is it good for the mind? Etc. I am a little amazed at the sheer volume of questions and varying opinions that are produced by this topic, and to that end I want to add in my two cents (and I want to be consistent at these posts), by attempting to procure my own view on at least two of these questions; the artistic and mentally stimulating value of video games. I dare not touch on the behavioral values of video games as I believe that the idea is mostly absurd and boils down to, in my opinion, parental disciplines and not the games themselves (as is true for any form of art).

Artistic Value

I wanted to touch on this one first as I feel it is the most passionate topic of the two for me. The short answer opinion is that I believe video games are completely and totally valuable as art.

Art is by definition meant to express something. According to art is defined as:

The quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.

If nothing else, video games have certainly become aesthetically pleasing. However, graphics are not the only thing that contributes to the art value of video games. I would even go so far to say that the most significant aspect is the principle of engagement. Every work of art has to engage the target (I say target because art can be heard and felt as much as it can be seen) in some way. More traditional art such as paintings engage the appreciation for beauty and engages the mind. When the person is looking at the painting, sculpture, etc. one thing that is commonly asked is: What was the artist trying to say? We ask this because we know that art, in any form is an expression.

What about music? There is no denial that music is beautiful and often thought provoking. Studies have been conducted that show how music affects us as a society, and it is surprising some of the results you’ll find. Music is completely an engaging form of art; to feel and understand the emotion behind any musical expression one must be engaged.

Story, either written or cinematic is also beautiful. How many times have you read a particular aspect of a story and thought, “Wow, I love how that turned out!”? Or how about when watching a movie and a particular nice angle occurs? Can you honestly say that you were not impressed by some cinematography? Same is true for still shots. Stories are engaging too in a very obvious way; they draw you into the world they are creating and make you a part of it, if only for a time.

So, what about video games? I think that video games are the epitome of these other venue of arts. Video games are often full of stunning and beautiful landscapes, incredibly interesting characters in a dynamic story, portrayed in perfect cinematography, and accompanied by astounding soundtracks. Are they engaging? I think that point argues itself. The very mechanics of a game demand that the player be able to engage and interact with the environment of the game. Then if you get into some of the mental stimulation that many games present through use of puzzles and dungeons and it is hard to argue that these works of art are not engaging or expressive.

Back to my short answer: should video games be considered art? To us a phrase my wife would say, “Most indubitably!”

Mental Value

I believe I have already touched on this a little bit in the discussion of the artistic value. Like I said, many games are very puzzle oriented and require the player to use problem solving skills to complete these puzzles. Some prime examples of larger games that require puzzle solving would be The Adventures of Zack and Wiki, Prince of Persia, Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy just to name a few. Some others of course are more recognizable like Bejeweled and Solitaire. I guess what I’m getting at is that video games can be educational and good for any person’s mind even if the story is fantasy or otherwise. Even Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto (which I don’t really care for) require quite of bit of strategy from time to time as the challenges become progressively tougher to overcome. I’ve even played games that have taught me how to solve a few math problems that I had no clue even existed before I played the game!

A prime example is in a game called Knights of the Old Republic. It is a Star Wars game that allows you to travel and explore these different worlds in the Star Wars universe as a Jedi Knight. The story of the game is great, but the example actually has to do with a side quest. On the desert planet of Tatooine, there is an individual who has been trapped by his hunting droids due to his scorned wife. To save the man you have to deactivate the droids by figuring out the mathematical solutions to different algorithms. As simple as it sounds, some of these questions are not easy, and I’m pretty sure I only succeeded it by guessing correctly on at least 2 of the 4 or 5 droids that were there. That example is not singular to my own personal experience in any way either.

You could probably search for these things on Google. I know I am not the only one who believes that video games stimulate your mind. In fact, I read an article recently that stated that senior citizens who played video games tended to be more lucid than those who did not. This is evidenced even in my own life as my wife’s grandmother was a sharp woman up until the day she died, and this is largely in part due to the time she spent playing Bejeweled.

I think another important value that video games have is this ability to relieve stress. I place this under mental because many times our stress is started by, continued through, or relieved through mental activity.

What I mean by this relief is that, just like a good book, or listening to your favorite cd, or even watching a movie, a video game allows the player to –escape if you will permit the term –from the stresses of the day for a little bit and allow some time to rest. I believe that rest is essential to human existence, and I know very few people who might argue otherwise. Every form of art I have encountered can aid in resting from time to time, and I see why video games should be any different. This is why I say that video games have value.

I could even go into the “Evangelism” aspect of video games, but let’s be honest. No one plays games to get preached at, they play to relax; and, in all honesty, that should be a separate post if I really wanted to pursue that topic (which I don’t, at least, right now).

Grace and Peace

Friday, March 16, 2012

Introverted Extrovert

I have not been getting much rest lately. I don’t know if it is because I’m always busy, or because I’m not getting the refreshing interaction I need from God and others.

A friend of mine posted recently that an introvert gets their rest from being left alone. To use his words: “…To the extrovert, this would be infuriating and make them feel run down. To the introvert, it's like heaven after a hard week…” I don’t think he could have nailed that truth any better. What I find interesting about this is the fact that the vast majority of my friends and acquaintances end up being introverted. I on the other hand, am probably one of the most extroverted people I know at the moment. It just got me thinking, what really gives me rest?

I think that it is safe to say that everyone, not just those who are introverted, need to have those times when they are left alone for a few hours just to be. That being said, I also know that as an extravert there are times when being alone is actually more stressful than restful. I think in a lot of cases extraverts get just as much energy if not more, from being around people, than they do being by themselves. It’s tricky though because there is a limit to how much that is true.

For instance, I could be ridiculously tired after working all day at my job, but the moment a friend comes over to hang out I am immediately awake and aware (for the most part). However, if I go to a family gathering I am typically one of the first to be drained and ready to leave. I think the key difference here is actually a preference to crowds vs. individuals. I can’t truly invest into a crowd. Too many people, too much energy required, and not near enough time. I think that is why I get tired; I’m an extrovert who needs to be able to invest in the relationships he is developing.

Another thing that I specifically need, and I think many extroverted people need, is a sense of camaraderie when performing tasks. This, however, might actually be more of a masculine trait than one of an extrovert. Regardless, it is something I have commonly witnessed in myself and others. This is why I constantly (even to the point of aggravation I fear) ask for assistance that really only requires one person, and why I feel somewhat bummed when things don’t turn out the way I hope. This week is a prime example. I’ve been trying to get a desktop computer built, and while I know a couple of people I could have called to help me, I really wanted the help of one particular friend. He could not make it and, naturally, I have proceeded to assemble the computer on my own. This left a feeling (and I hesitate at the strength of these words) of betrayal. Now, to clarify, he never said he could make it, and I do not truly believe that there was any malice hidden in the fact that he was busy. Still, my heart felt hurt. It was silly, and I knew it, and I would never ask him to apologize for something like that. I wouldn’t have even brought it up if I weren’t exploring this portion of who I am and how it relates to those around me.

To offset that example, and to get back to what I am trying to portray is the example of this past weekend when a friend from the church I go to came over to help me clean. I had asked him jokingly, but he said he had “nothing better to do” and so he came over and we spent 4 hours cleaning up around the house. The whole time I was with him there was no sense of unrest or stress on my spirit. All that to say: companionship is important.

I realize that at this point, at least for some of my readers, it may seem like I’m pointing fingers, or writing out of anger. I have tried my best to keep that tone out of this posting because it is entirely against how I feel. I’m not angry at all, but rather exploring not only the idea of extrovert, but myself as well through the use of a social medium known as a blog.

Something else about this sense of companionship, sometimes there doesn’t have to be any action together. In fact, oftentimes I am content with doing my own thing, as long as I am within the vicinity of another human so that interaction can be had if desired. This plays out many times when at home with my wife. I cannot even begin to count how many times during the week we will both be doing something separate from each other, but just being in the same room feels satisfying.

I’m still amazed at how many of my friends are introverts (even my wife is)! I love it though. Sure, there are times I get frustrated with that conflict of interest, but I love having them around me because it forces me to get out of the areas of my life that are natural, and put into practice the parts that are not very natural at all. When everyone wants to be left alone, as this week has largely proven, it forces me to be alone. This is a practice that I do not do well in, and being forced into it allows me to become progressively more comfortable with the silence that being alone induces and the wandering thoughts that go with it. The truth is there are times when I use the good aspects of being an extrovert to stay hidden from my thoughts and examining myself. But, as you can see (I hope) being left to my own devices actually allows me to learn more about myself which is very healthy and essential.

One concluding thought, introverts and extroverts are not really all that different. In the end we are all just humans who happen to have different strengths. Introverts revolve around one half, extroverts the other, and in the middle is where the beautiful unity occurs that is human relationships.

But that’s just my two cents.

Grace and Peace.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Is Work Life, Real Life?

It's been too long since I last updated. So much for keeping posted every week... What am I going to do with myself? I can't seem to do anything consistently.

Moving On...

I've been working through a problem lately, and I feel like it might be good to share with my few readers.
This problem can be wrapped up in a simple question: How can we do the same thing over and over again with no variety for 20, 30, or even 40 years? What I am referring to hear is largely career oriented, but I suspect there are other facets of our lives that this could apply to. For now, I will remain on the career aspect of it.

I live in a society that emphasizes a strict adherence to time; a place where punctuality is considered to be a great ethic virtue. Some might even say that to not be punctual is morally wrong. Not only is time a strict measurement, but there is this sense that if you aren’t working 40-80 hours a week (as a student or otherwise) for at least 8 hours a day then you must be a lazy slob who will never get anywhere in life. I will allow that there are exceptions to this rule, and I will also note that I am exaggerating a little bit for effect; but only a little. I just have to wonder, how do people do it their whole lives? How do you get up, work 8 hours, get maybe 4-6 hours with your family, and then it’s back to sleep and again out the door? It feels broken and wrong.

I think there is something to be said about Latin cultures. It is a place where time is very loosely followed, and even work days are filled with an opportunity to rest from time to time. Having travelled to Latin America several times, I came to realize that this loosely based time structure was actually very freeing. Initially, it caused some duress because of how I’ve been raised, but then, as I got used to it, I began to enjoy it and maybe even crave it. “Got a party at 8:00? All right see you at around 8:30.” In fact, in some places, you are not considered late until after a full hour! Their work environment is a little different I’m sure, but not by much. When I had gone down to help build a larger building for a church I found that it wouldn’t be uncommon to take a mid-morning break for coffee (or tea) and maybe some fruit. It’s just the way it was. You started working at about 7 or 8 in the morning, stopped for about a half hour to socialize and snack and then back to work. Repeat this scenario for lunch and mid-afternoon. Yet, as I look back on that trip, I can honestly say I think we got more done in a week, than I see even in construction zones here in the United States. What makes the difference? I think it is a couple of things.

They are not in a hurry

They aren’t. You spend some time with that culture and you realize that though they have dreams, and plans, and goals, they aren’t in any direct hurry to get there. As an old adage goes, “It isn’t the destination, but the journey that’s important.” I believe this is true for these Latin cultures, and should be true of humanity. Sure, strive to get things done quickly if you need to. There is nothing wrong with having a sense of urgency, but I think there is something wrong when we get to the point of stressing out about the little things because it “slows us down”. To this I say, let things happen at their own pace. This is especially true for those who claim the title Christian. How many times are we told in Scriptures to “be anxious for nothing”? Or in sermons, how often are we reminded that we need to, “just let God have control, and you follow”? There is truth in there somewhere.

They take time to rest

Like I mentioned earlier, when I was helping build this church, we had frequent breaks during the day. I think this, in-turn, actually boosted efficiency rather than detracted from it. The more I think about this, the more it makes sense. When you take time to rest throughout the day, you actually allowing your body to recover from the exertion it has been experiencing, thus allowing your stamina to go for longer periods of time. In opposition to this, we have a society that works for 4-5 hours then gets (maybe) an hour lunch, followed by another 4-5 hours. This will tire anyone, and it leads to sloppy mistakes because people have a tendency to want to “hurry up and finish” so that we “might be able to go home early.” Truly, we might need to re-examine our work ethic if this is a consistent “problem”.

Admittedly, this is the area I am having the most trouble with. I just don’t feel like I’m getting the rest I need over a weekend. Part of this is due to the fact that sometimes I need to get a lot done on Saturday, which is my only true “lazy day” in any week, and part of it is due to the fact that I am an avid church goer; though this is out of pure desire to be taught and learn more of scriptures than some obligation because it’s what “any good Christian does”. Suffice to say, I am feeling very tired lately, and this is partly the reason I am writing this post now. The other part, of course, is related to everything else that I’ve been writing.

I think it is important to note that I do not believe that the Latin cultures have work down perfectly, but it certainly is better than what we do here in the US most of the time.

Alas, I’m back at my original question though: How have people done this for past 100 years? How can you get up day after day after day in the slow grind of routine? Is the motivation to provide for my family really that strong? How about my desire for job security (if it even exists)? What about… you fill in the blank.

Unsurprisingly, I don’t find the “just stick it out, it will get easier” answer to be very helpful or consoling. I also don’t really care for the answer of “just find a job you enjoy.” This proves to be an often untrue solution for me. I actually really enjoy my job; it is arguably one of the best jobs I have had in my entire career, and there are very few things I would like to do more. Of course, this all leaves me stuck wondering if this type of lifestyle was what God wanted for us when he created everything.

I don’t have an answer. I just have thoughts, and now I leave space for my readers to share theirs. Let me know what you think, or don’t, it’s up to you. Thanks for taking your time to read what I have to say.

Grace and Peace