church

Exit 249. I like consistency.

The TV show The Goldbergs is one of the most relatable shows to me in the history of television.  The show is about growing up in the 1980s with a crazy family.  That was my life (except that we’re not an East Coast Jewish family).  The show’s creator, Adam F. Goldberg, is the same age as me, and he basically just wrote a sitcom based on his actual family and childhood friends.  Many of the episodes’ stories themselves are based on true stories.  (“Adam” and all other names in this writing related to The Goldbergs will refer to the characters, not the actual persons on whom they are based, since this distinction may be relevant at times.)

By now, I’ve seen almost every episode from all six seasons (so far) of the show.  Every now and then, though, I’ll turn on Goldbergs reruns and see one that I haven’t seen before.  That happened a few weeks ago, with an episode from season 3.  One of the recurring story lines throughout season 1 involves the preteen Adam’s interest in a girl named Dana, who becomes his first girlfriend.  At the end of season 2, Dana tells Adam that she and her family are moving across the country because her dad got a job out of the area.  The beginning of season 3 finds Adam and Dana in eighth grade and attempting a long distance relationship (which in the 1980s could only be done with expensive long distance telephone calls).

Dana comes to visit a few times that year.  In this episode, the one which I saw for the first time recently, Adam is excited for Dana’s impending visit; he prepares to do all the things that they loved to do together before she moved, including going to a Weird Al Yankovic concert.  (Yankovic himself guest stars, wearing his hair as he did in the 80s.)  But Dana is unenthusiastic about doing all of those things.  Adam and Dana realize that they have grown apart as they have grown up, and they break up at the end of the episode.

As I’ve said before, I’ve had a hard time dealing with this kind of thing happening in my own life.  I like consistency.  I didn’t really have a group of friends in childhood, and when I finally got one late in high school, we all dispersed and moved away soon after, and I lost touch with most of them.  And I’m going through it again.  The group of friends I’ve spent the most time with over the last several years is shrinking.  Many of the others have grown up, gotten married, had children, and in various other ways taken on new adult lives, leaving them less time for game nights with friends or staying up ridiculously late.  Some have jobs that limit their social time.  (I have a job, but I manage to make socializing happen anyway, to some extent.  That’s probably why I’m tired all the time.)  Others have drifted out of my social circle for numerous other reasons.  And some people have moved away; I have had an unusually large number of friends move away in 2019, or plan to do so soon.

Why is all of this happening?  Some of it is just a natural part of life.  People grow and change, and their friendships and relationships change as a result of this, much like the story of Adam Goldberg and Dana.  This might not be what I want, but sometimes there’s just no way to stop it.

Or maybe, just maybe, God is clearing out my life to prepare me for something new.  Maybe I myself will be moving out of the area as well.  (God answered a prayer about that in the negative a few months ago, and I have no plans to move at this point, but who knows what will happen in the long term.)  Maybe I will become involved in a time-consuming way at my little 10-person church, as we find ways to grow.  Maybe there will be a new activity or a new relationship or a new hobby of some sort, or something I can’t even imagine right now.  Or maybe I’ll just make new friends, or for some reason shift my priorities to one of the other social circles of which I am on the periphery.  Not much I can do about it.  I just have to figure out which parts of my life to hold on to and which to let go of, and not stay stuck in the grieving phase when parts of my life are ripped from me through no fault of my own.

Exit 222. Celebrating what we have in common and working together.

Recently, I was invited to a large worship and prayer event at a church about 40 miles from me.  I found myself a little nervous walking in.  I had no idea what to expect.  I had never been to this church before, I didn’t know how big of a crowd there would be at this thing, and most importantly, I didn’t know where to go off the top of my head.  The person who invited me described where she would be, and I found her pretty easily, and the rest of the night was great.  But this got me thinking, trying to figure out why I was so nervous in that situation.

I think I was mostly just afraid of the possibility that I was going to wander into the wrong room and find myself horribly out of place.  I’ve seen that happen from both ends, wandering into the wrong room myself and having to excuse myself and go find where I’m supposed to be, or being in some sort of group, meeting, or class, and seeing someone else wander in thinking that they are in a different group from the one I am actually in, and discovering it much later.

I specifically remember one such experience along these lines, although technically I was in the right place that time.  It was 2005, during my four months on the road.  I was in a rural area in the Ozarks in southern Missouri for several days. I was visiting two people in the area who lived about 10 miles apart but didn’t know each other.  Let’s see, I should give these people names… “Pherkad” is a friend from college, and “Rho Serpentis” is someone I knew online and had not met in person before this trip.  (We lost touch a year or two later.  I don’t remember exactly why… I think she met a guy and stopped being online all the time.)  For much of the time I was in the area, I went back and forth, spending some of the time with Pherkad and her husband, some of the time with Rho Serpentis, and some of the time alone, depending on who wasn’t working or in class (Rho was a college student at the time).

One of the more interesting experiences of my travels of 2005 was getting to experience so many different kinds of churches.  If I was staying with friends who went to church on a Sunday, or on a Wednesday if their church had a mid-week service (which apparently is very common in the South and Midwest but rare among the churches I’ve been to in California), then I would go to church with them.  Otherwise, I’d just kind of randomly pick one.  But that’s not part of this story.  I was going to go to church with Pherkad and her husband on Wednesday night, and Rho was going to come with me.  But Pherkad and her husband weren’t going to be in the service, because they were going to be volunteering with children’s church.

So we got there, Pherkad and her husband went off to go work with the children, and Rho and I sat down.  A couple minutes later, I knew something was not normal.  Apparently this week wasn’t a regular service, it was the church’s annual business meeting.  And being that I was just visiting, I had never been to that church before, most likely never would again, I felt very out of place.  The meeting dragged on and on and on for an hour and a half, and when Pherkad and her husband finally got back, they apologized profusely for making us sit through all of that when we didn’t really know much about what was going on with their church.  I probably should have said something, or left, but I didn’t want to make a scene or look any more out of place than I already was.

I did learn something from that experience, though.  One of the major issues being debated by that church at that time was whether or not to use Awana as their children’s curriculum.  I hadn’t had a lot of experience up close with Awana specifically, but I had heard of it, and I knew that a lot of churches used it for their children’s programs.  I didn’t see why anyone would have a problem with it.  But a number of people in this church’s business meeting kept bringing up the fact that Awana was a separate organization not specifically affiliated with their denomination.

This all made me kind of sad.  My experiences with Christianity up to that point mostly had not included such toxic nitpicking over the minor differences between denominations.  The different branches of Christianity have so many important things in common, but Christianity as a whole is torn apart by people who argue over the things that aren’t really worth arguing about.  And many people tend to treat any little disagreement as a line separating those who are real Christians from those who will burn in hell.  They don’t realize that all of this does more harm than good and turns people away from Christianity as a whole.  And the situation hasn’t really changed… in the 13-plus years since this happened, I have seen many other times where Christians disagree over issues that do not affect how they respond to Jesus’ message of salvation, and mistreat each other because of it.

So all of that didn’t really have anything to do with the event I attended last night.  I didn’t end up in the wrong room, and it didn’t end up being a church business meeting.  And appropriately enough, this was an event that had people from many churches all over the area.  But all of that just got me thinking about denominations and different branches of Christianity… and how maybe we need to spend more time celebrating what we have in common and working together, rather than calling each other names.

 

Exit 215. Time to tear it down.

Something came up this morning at church that I had never noticed before, something very relevant to my life currently.

Moses delivered the nation of Israel from slavery under Pharaoh, but because of their unfaithfulness, God did not let them enter and conquer their rightful home for 40 years, until all the unfaithful have died. They don’t learn their lesson, and at one point, they complain to Moses about the living conditions in their nomadic state.  God punished the unfaithful by making some of them die of snake bites.  The survivors asked and prayed for forgiveness, and God told Moses to make a bronze statue of a snake and put it somewhere for people to look at it, to remember God’s faithfulness to them.  Anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and live (Numbers 21:4-9).

Hundreds of years later, Israel is an established nation with a king… well, briefly. They plunge into civil war and divide into two nations. The northern kingdom did not follow the commandments of God, and the southern kingdom mostly did not either, although there were a few southern kings who did bring the people back to following God during their nonconsecutive reigns.  One of those was Hezekiah, who lived about 700 years before the coming of Jesus.  The Second Book of Kings says that “He [Hezekiah] did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his [ancestor] David had done.  He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones, and cut down the Asherah poles.  He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it.”  (2 Kings 18:3-4)

The bronze snake that Moses made was still there, over half of a millennium after Moses’ time. But its original purpose had long since passed. All of the people who looked at it to heal their snake bites had been dead for a long time. For the new generation, it was not helping them to look to God and worship him, or to remember what God had done for them and their ancestors; instead, it was doing the opposite, serving as a focal point for the worship of other gods.  God himself had completely disappeared from the worship that was happening at the snake.  So Hezekiah finally realized it was time to tear it down.

God does not always work among us in the same way.  God’s work in one place at one time might not work in another place and time, and God might have not intended it for that place or time.  At first, this didn’t really seem right to me.  Isn’t God constant and unchanging?  Well, yes, he is, but these two statements are not necessarily in conflict with each other.  God can still be constant and unchanging while working in different ways specific to certain times and situations.  God worked through the reformers of the 16th century to bring knowledge of the Scriptures to the common people and work against corruption in the church.  But in the USA in the 21st century, most people know how to read and have access to the Bible, and taking down the kind of corruption that churches today may see will require God working in a different way, even though the ultimate principle of turning people back to him and away from corrupt and fallen earthly institutions remains constant and unchanging.

Another example just came to me now as I was writing this.  Many people who have not studied Christianity in detail tend to think that God was so different in the Old Testament compared to what he is like in the New Testament or now.  In the Old Testament, God often told his people to make war with and destroy and kill neighboring countries.  And, as we just saw, once he sent snakes to bite those who questioned him.  How does one reconcile this with all of his commandments about love, or with Jesus’ self-sacrificial love?  The short answer is because in the time of the Old Testament, the time had not come yet for God to send his Son to Earth.  First, he had to prepare a nation through which Jesus would be born, and in order to this, he had to remove all the corrupting sinful influences from this nation… hence, the making war with neighboring countries.  God no longer tells us to make war with countries that have different beliefs, because this is a different time.  Jesus came to bring the message of salvation to all, and we can send missionaries to teach other cultures about Jesus, and we can lead by example.  God is no longer preparing a nation to give birth to the Messiah; that happened already.

This concept extends beyond the idea of Christianity, and it makes me think a lot of my struggles in trying to figure out life and adulthood.  Twenty years ago, I made friends by being involved with two college-age Christian student groups.  That was good.  Some of my closest friends over the years have come from doing that.  But that does not work anymore.  I now live in an area where most churches are geared toward families, not college students, because that is who lives here.  And very few churches have youth groups for 42-year-olds.  So I have had to look for other ways to make friends.  Nothing has changed, and I don’t have to change any of my core beliefs.  But what worked in one place at one time doesn’t always work for other places and times.

Sometimes I feel like the last one standing for God, like I am desperately hanging on to God’s truth while the world descends into chaos around me.  But maybe it’s not that black and white.  Maybe some of what I hold on to is ways that God isn’t moving in my life anymore, and maybe it is okay to let go of some of these ways without having to compromise my core beliefs.  Maybe this is what is getting in the way, why I feel like my life isn’t exactly progressing in the right direction.  But how do I know what to hold on to and what to let go of?  As always I will only know with prayer, and listening to the Holy Spirit, and knowing God’s Word.

Exit 201. Bullet points and thoughts about the weekend.

I missed last week.  Sorry.

And I’m not sure what to write about this week.

But I had a great weekend.  So I’ll just share some bullet points and thoughts about the weekend.

Friday night, a friend went out for sushi and issued an open invitation.  Three of us plus her showed up.  My mom noticed that my friend had tagged me in a Facebook post and said that she didn’t know I liked sushi.  I don’t know when I tried sushi for the first time, but it was definitely in adulthood.  I probably would have thought the idea of sushi was disgusting as a kid, but it’s good to try new things, because sometimes you like them.

Saturday morning, I played Pokemon Go and helped some friends move.  I watched exactly none of the royal wedding.

Saturday night, I had people over for another one of my retro gaming parties.  It was a small crowd, only 10 of us, but we had fun.  Sometimes a small crowd is a good thing.  I feel more connected to everyone.

This morning, I went to my old church in Davis, because the youth pastor, under whom I volunteered in my early 20s, is leaving the church staff and changing careers after having been there for over two decades.  They had a reception for him after the service.  It was heartwarming and uplifting to hear so many stories about his work in youth ministry.  I shared about how, in addition to having such a heart for the young people of the community, he invested in the lives of the volunteer leaders the same way.  It was also inspiring for me to be greeted by so many old friends who are still at that church, and some who came just for that event as I did, almost 17 years after I moved away.

Then I came home and took a long nap, so I hope I’m able to fall asleep tonight.  If I’m not, I have plenty of cleaning to do to tire me out.

How were all of your weekends?

Exit 185. Church isn’t supposed to be this stressful.

Church isn’t supposed to be this stressful and upsetting.

I’ve been hopping around between at least three different churches the last few months, and I don’t know if I’m going to stay at any of them long term.  The church I’ve been going to the last two years (which I’m counting as one of these three) just doesn’t feel like it’s for me anymore.  They have a new pastor, and I think he has some great ideas for how to bring Jesus to the trendy urban neighborhood surrounding the church.  The problem is, I’m not in the trendy urban neighborhood surrounding the church.  I’m 12 miles away in the suburbs.  I have a very different lifestyle and very different views than most of the people there, and this has manifested itself in ways that have been making me feel uncomfortable lately.  The other two I’ve been going to are very different from each other, and I don’t know if I’m going to stick with each one.

It’s not supposed to be like this.  Singing the praises of God, having fellowship with my brothers and sisters in the faith, learning from the Bible, all of those important things shouldn’t be overshadowed by my frustrations with the culture of Christianity in the USA and my difficulty finding a place in it.  But it’s hard when I don’t feel like I belong anywhere, and it’s also hard when people from churches I haven’t been to in a while ask where I’ve been.  Most of the people I know at these churches know what’s going on, but that doesn’t make it easy.

But I’m doing the best I can.  I’m not going to leave my faith behind.  That’s not who I am, and that’s not what faith is.

If you live near me, just be aware that you might see me at your church sometime, even if I don’t normally go there.  And I might disappear for a few weeks.  And I might show up again sometime.  That’s just how things might be for a while.  But that’s ok.

I need to go spend some time in prayer tonight before I fall asleep.

Exit 181. The one time out of the year.

Last night, I was at Christmas Eve Mass at the Catholic church where I grew up.  I was thinking about how Christmas is the one time out of the year when I still attend Catholic Mass, despite having left Catholicism for evangelical Christianity at age 20, and I thought, that would be a good thing to write about this week.  But in looking at old posts about Christmas on this site, I realized I already addressed the topic two years ago (click here to read).  In that post, I focused primarily on how all the prayers and rituals of the Catholic Mass are so much more meaningful to me as an adult, now that I know more about the Bible and the history of Judaism and Christianity.

There is another question I did not answer… why do I still attend Catholic Mass on Christmas, instead of attending my own church or a church more like the ones I have attended as an adult?  Part of the reason is practical.  I am always visiting my family on Christmas, and my mom, grandma, and some combination of other relatives who are here or visiting always attend Mass on Christmas.  This year, we attended Mass on Christmas Eve because my mom does the Scripture readings at church, and that was the time that she was asked to read for.  Depending on when exactly I come to see my family, I am occasionally able to attend Christmas service at my own church as well.  This year, the church I’d been attending the last two years had an early Christmas service last Thursday, and I was going to go there as well, but I decided not to at the last minute for reasons that this isn’t the time to get into here.

I guess the other reason I haven’t stopped going to Mass on Christmas Day is because I haven’t felt a need to.  I’m worshiping Jesus and celebrating his birth with my family.  The fact that this particular group of worshipers has other views regarding transubstantiation, for example, really isn’t that big of a deal to me.

I’m going to keep this short this week and emerge from my old bedroom to see what the family is doing.  (We already opened presents last night.)  Merry Christmas to all of you.

Exit 173. Finding my people.

A few months ago, I saw an invitation on Facebook for a reunion for 1990s alumni of the UC Davis chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  IVCF is an international para-church organization (i.e., not affiliated with a particular church or denomination) that runs Christian groups and ministries on university and college campuses, and I’ve mentioned before that I was involved with this organization during my university years.  It was through this group that I first came to know Jesus on a personal level, that all the stories I’d heard as a child about Jesus and God’s people really started to mean something to me and affect my life.  Some of the people in my life from this group I’m sporadically in Facebook contact with, but there are many others with whom I lost touch long ago.  So when I saw last summer that the couple who led the group from 1992 to 2002 would be flying out to California in October and speaking at an IVCF reunion for alumni who were part of the group during those years, I signed up right away.  In fact, I was told that I was the first one to register and buy my ticket.

The event happened at the end of my school’s fall break.  I was hoping for the fall break to be low-key and relaxing, allowing either for a spontaneous adventure or two or lots of time sitting around doing things I enjoy.  Some of that happened, but the week ended up being much more full of adult responsibilities than I was hoping: car maintenance, bike repairs, my phone dying unexpectedly, and its brand new successor stopping working after a day, to mention a few.  In the days leading up to the reunion, my mind was rapidly heading into a downward spiral of negative thoughts and stress.

But this day was exactly what I needed, emotionally and spiritually.  It felt like I was getting back to my roots as a Christian, worshiping the Lord in the same environment that I did twenty years ago, before I became so disillusioned with church culture and jaded by the various ways I’ve been mistreated since then.  I enjoyed catching up with so many old friends, getting to share stories about what I’m doing today and hear their stories.  These were the people who were here for me at a very difficult time in my life.  Things weren’t always smooth, as I shared last week, but is it ever?

Nine days later, as I write this, two conversations stick out the most in my mind.  The first was with a woman a few years older than me who was on staff with InterVarsity during the time I was there.  I found her on Facebook a few years ago, when she commented to one of my friends from this time period who I’ve stayed in touch with, so she has seen a lot of my Facebook posts about my tabletop game and retro video game friends, Kings games, and partner dancing.  But this was the first time we had spoken face to face in a long time.  I didn’t have a social life anything like this twenty years ago, and that was something I often felt discouraged about.  She told me, “I’m really glad you found your people.”

I didn’t respond to that comment in the best way I could have.  I should have thought about how she’s right.  For the first thirty-plus years of my life, I never had friends who understood the things I enjoy doing to the extent that my friends now do.  I was never able to invite people over and get a good response and have a good time.  I really have found my people, in that sense.

But that wasn’t my response.  Instead, I took a negative view of the subject.  I said, “But it doesn’t feel like they’re completely my people.  Most of those friends are either not Christians, or way younger than me.”  True, but this isn’t what I should be focusing on.  I really need to stop being so negative.

Hold that thought.  More on that later.  The second conversation that sticks out to me was with someone who had been a freshman when I was a senior.  She eventually moved back to the area where she grew up, about an hour and a half drive away, and somehow the topic came up of how often we’ve been back to Davis since then.  I only live 30 miles away, and I go to a lot of UC Davis football and basketball games, and I have met a few other friends who live in Davis over the last few years who have no connection to my time living there, so I have been back to Davis more often than most of the students who attended the reunion, except for the handful who actually live in Davis today.  I mentioned to this friend that I think about moving back sometimes, even to the point that I’ve sent job applications at two distinct points in my life.  But I don’t think that moving back is a good idea for me, given what I know about myself.  Truthfully, this thought isn’t about wanting to move back so much as as it is that I just want my old life back.  And that just isn’t realistic, because so much has changed in the last twenty years.  The world is a different place and everyone has grown up, and if I were to move back to Davis, I would not get my old life back.  None of these were really new thoughts for me, but it seemed like I explained it a bit more clearly than usual.

Later, we had a sharing time, about things that we learned during our InterVarsity days that have borne fruit in our adult lives.  Someone was talking about how at one point as an adult, she was looking for the kind of community she had in college, only to realize that as adults, we have to make our own community.  I’ve been struggling with this for a long time, spending decades of my life trying to find a church that has a group like InterVarsity for my age, only to realize that this group doesn’t exist.

I will always have my InterVarsity memories, and these memories will always be precious to me.  But life moves on.  Which brings me back to the other conversation about finding my people.  I’m glad to be in touch with people I knew twenty years ago, but my people in 2017 are the game group friends and my other current social friends.  God put me in this place for a reason, and I still have work to do where I am right now.  And although it doesn’t hurt to embrace nostalgia to some point, looking backward ultimately is not the answer when I can’t find the way forward.

Exit 172. But it isn’t pretty.

As a new Christian and a youth group leader in the ’90s, I listened to a lot of Christian music.  Since 2001, when I was no longer working with youth, that has tapered off, to the point that I do not recognize many Christian songs anymore other than the ones I hear at church.  There are a number of reasons for that.  I don’t have a social group at church that purposely introduces me to new Christian music.  I have also matured to the point of realizing that some Christian music just isn’t very good.  I can’t reverently express to Jesus how much I love him when singing or even hearing others sing phrases like “Heaven meets Earth like a sloppy wet kiss.”  (Besides, didn’t you people tell me back in the Josh Harris era that kissing was bad, because it leads to temptation and babies and stuff, so I shouldn’t even think about kissing until my wedding day?)

But, as unfortunate as this is, another part of the reason I haven’t been as much into Christian music is because sometimes I feel like I can’t relate.  A lot of Christian music is just too overly sappy.  Sometimes I’m feeling angry at the world, and there is very little angry Christian music.  I’ve even been told my some ill-informed Christians that the reason for the lack of angry Christian music is because anger is not a Christlike emotion.  (Right… I’m sure Jesus was feeling all happy and cheerful when he turned over the tables.)

The other day, I was in the car, and I heard a song that I realized sums up my history and experience with Christianity pretty well.  But it isn’t pretty.  And it isn’t a Christian song.

This isn’t a new song; it was released in 1991.  It isn’t a new song to me either; this was a huge hit when I was in high school, and it was on MTV all the time back when MTV still played videos for part of the day.  But apparently it has taken me over a quarter century to really appreciate the song.

New blood joins this earth
And quickly he’s subdued
Through constant pained disgrace
The young boy learns their rules

Late ’90s.  I’m a new Christian, and that’s great, but I’m quickly scolded by peers for telling dirty jokes and having lustful thoughts.  I learn the rules… there are cliques within the group.  Sometimes, from my point of view, the people who go serve Jesus in other countries during the summer seem more respected than those of us who don’t feel that calling, for example.

With time, the child draws in
This whipping boy done wrong
Deprived of all his thoughts
The young man struggles on…

Early 2000s.  I’m in small groups at Church I With The Problems where pretty much all we do is confess our habits of masturbation and looking at porn and talk about ways to stop that from happening, or have long discussions about exactly what minute of the night we should leave our significant other’s house so that other people don’t see us there and think that we’re having sex.  When I share my thoughts that maybe there are more important things we should be concerned with, everyone just tells me I must not be mature in my faith.

They dedicate their lives
To running all of his

A few years later.  I’m at Church II With The Problems, where everything I say or do feels micro-managed, and every slightly socially awkward behavior or comment is treated like a sin I have to repent from.

He tries to please them all
This bitter man he is

After I move in 2006, I spend the next decade trying to live the good Christian life, but only becoming more and more bitter, as I see others who didn’t live the way I was taught find happiness and success, and my own life leads me to be more and more of an outcast.

Throughout his life the same
He’s battled constantly
This fight he cannot win
A tired man they see no longer cares

This has been going on for many years.  I’ve been looking for a place where I can find other people who live the way I’ve been trying to.  But I can’t win, I’m not going to find one, because I’m not 20 anymore.  There isn’t a youth group for 41-year-olds.  I don’t know how to live in my current situation, and I’m becoming more and more tired and bitter about it.

The old man then prepares
To die regretfully
That old man here is me

And this is the direction my life is heading if nothing changes…

What I’ve felt
What I’ve known
Never shined through in what I’ve shown
Never be
Never see
Won’t see what might have been

What I’ve felt
What I’ve known
Never shined through in what I’ve shown
Never free
Never me
So I dub thee Unforgiven

Unforgiven… ironically, that is the complete opposite of the gift that Jesus Christ gives us.  Am I unforgiven?  Have I not truly received the grace of Jesus Christ?  I don’t think so.  But I might be looking for the wrong things.  I might be trying too hard to do all the socially acceptable right things instead of just living in the grace of Jesus Christ.

But that is not who God made me to be.  I don’t want to fit in that box.  But I need to figure out how to do that.  I need to look to Jesus, not church culture.

And if I’m now hearing God speak to me through Metallica lyrics, I suppose I’ve taken a step out of the box already.

Exit 166. And know they love you.

The title of this week’s post, of course, is a line from this song.

I’ve known of this song for decades.  It’s older than I am.  It’s one of CSN-and-sometimes-Y’s most well-known songs.  I heard it on oldies and classic rock radio growing up, and I think they used a mediocre cover of it in a commercial for potty training pants or something like that at one point.

But I had never really thought deeply about the song until I heard it a few days ago and, well, started thinking about it.  The first verse and chorus seem pretty straightforward.  Teach your children well.  But then the second half of the song always confused me.  I had no idea what they were saying.  You have Graham singing the melody, but then David and Stephen are harmonizing on ENTIRELY DIFFERENT LYRICS at the same time.  I’ve always had a hard time understanding songs that do that.  I’m trying to listen to the lyrics, so it would be nice if everyone was singing the same thing at the same time, although it is kind of a cool effect.  And then the final chorus, now it’s “teach your parents?”  The title of the song is “teach your children,” so why the sudden reversal?  Was that just something that the guys thought of when they were on drugs?  And what the heck does “God knows the fears that you held the screw by” mean?  I can’t be hearing that line right.

So I looked up the lyrics.  It’s actually “can’t know the fears that your elders grew by.”  And all of a sudden, the song makes a lot more sense now that I know what they’re saying.

The song was released in 1970, during the Vietnam War.  Much like today, tensions were running high in society, particularly regarding the generation gap between the baby boomers coming of age, many of whom were being drafted to fight this war, and their World War II-era parents.  These parents and children grew up in very different worlds, and what worked for one generation does not always work for the next generation.  The same thing is happening today.  The young adult millennials who are at the forefront of today’s social and political activism grew up in a completely different world from the world that Generation X and the Baby Boomers grew up in; they can’t know the fears that we grew by, as Graham Nash sang.  The Soviet Union collapsed 26 years ago, so people in their 20s and younger do not understand why communism and socialism are viewed so negatively by those old enough to remember the Cold War.  Older people tend to criticize the younger generation for spending too much time staring at phones, laptops, and tablets, instead of interacting with others, fearing that the younger generation will produce more and more people who can’t function in society.  While some of these concerns are justified, it fails to take into account the fact that society is different today, and social media often strengthens friendships and relationships in a world where people cannot always be with their friends and loved ones face-to-face, so this also serves a useful purpose, particularly for people who are not always comfortable in face-to-face social situations.

I overheard a conversation recently about how, within the culture of Christianity, Baby Boomers often put down Millennials as being lazy and undisciplined, and that this is doing a disservice to the Church as a whole.  Millennials grew up in a different world, in which many of them did not have both parents at home like the Baby Boomers did, so their needs are different than those of older generations were at their age.  The Church wants to give them more discipline and structure, but they really need to be loved.  All of that seemed to fit well with my thoughts about this song.

Yes, society is divided along generational and cultural lines.  But we all have something to learn from each other.  And we all have something to teach each other.  We have something to contribute to our collective children, and our experiences can teach something to our collective parents who did not live in our world.  We’re all in this world together.  We don’t always understand each other, but making our best attempt to is an important first step.  So, if you want to make the world a better place, be open to learning about others around you, and teaching them about you.  Others usually aren’t as different or hostile as you’d think sometimes.

Just look at them and sigh, and know they love you.

Exit 156. More than I’d like to admit.

Yesterday at church, the topic of the prodigal son’s older brother came up.  For those of you who don’t know the story (Luke 15:11-32), Jesus tells a story of a wealthy man with two sons.  One of them tells his father screw you, I don’t want to wait for you to die, give me the inheritance so I can go blow it all on booze and hookers (paraphrased).  After doing so, he eventually runs out of money, finding himself poor and doing a humiliating job just to stay alive.  He decides to go back to his family, apologize, and offer to work on his father’s farm to make up for wasting his share of the family fortune.  But before he even has the chance to beg his father for a job, his father rejoices that his son has returned and prepares a feast for him.

The man’s other son does not share in the joyful mood, however.  He says, essentially, hey, wait a minute, I’ve been loyal and faithful all my life, so why don’t I get a party? Why are you celebrating this jerk who abandoned the family fortune and blew it all on hookers?  Dad replies, essentially, I still love you, but we have to celebrate because your lost brother is found.

The story is an illustration of God’s love for his people and his desire to bring us back into relationship with Him, even with all our sins and mistakes and mess.  God sent Jesus to die for the sins of all human beings, not just the Jews.  The brother in the story represents the Pharisees, the leaders of the Jews in Jesus’ time who were obsessed with their rules and their way of life.  They were unable to accept Jesus because he did not fit their narrow-minded idea of what the coming Messiah would be like.  They resented the fact that Jesus was reaching out to tax collectors, prostitutes, and those on the fringes of society, while criticizing the Pharisees’ narrow-minded views despite their outward, yet empty, displays of devotion.

I was thinking about this, and I realized that I’m more like the prodigal son’s brother than I like to admit.  I often find myself a bit resentful when people’s lives still involve all the things I was always told was wrong, yet they manage to be happy and successful and find the kind of church involvement and fellowship that I’ve been struggling to find for the last decade.  Hey, wait a minute, I’ve been loyal and faithful, so why don’t I get all that?

If I’m ever going to be happy, I need to put an end to this kind of thinking now.  I have no right to feel this way, and my attitude is exactly that of the people that Jesus criticized most harshly.  For one thing, I haven’t been loyal and faithful.  I’m not perfect.  I am a sinner saved by grace, just like everyone who has made me feel resentful, and I should be thanking God for this.  My supposed outward signs of piety aren’t what is important here.  And I can’t keep comparing my life to that of others.  I have to let go of everything I had once hoped for that isn’t going to happen now.

I know in my head exactly what is wrong with this line of thinking.  The hard part is actually changing the way my mind works…