Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Fine Whine

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation. Philippians 2:14-15a

Working at a blue-collar establishment this summer has given me a new appreciation for people who go about their business without complaining. Every day, my ears are filled with whines from my co-workers about topics ranging from our boss (a personal friend of mine) to the government and then on to topics I can't mention on this blog.

My supervisor is notorious around different jobsites for his contentious attitude. When he comes around, the question is not whether conflict will arise, but rather, to what height the conflict will escalate. Sometimes he's loudly lambasting other companies getting for behind on their work and slowing us down. Other times he's covertly confiding in me about the shortcomings of the other employees at our company. I nod and try my best to be polite, but it's hard for a me, someone who's trying to follow Christ, to feel sympathy for someone who is so self-centered that he can't even begin to empathize with others, either about work or about their personal lives.

When Paul said "Do everything without complaining," he was writing to the church at Philippi. I don't know too much about the health of the church, but I do know that Paul spent half of the small epistle focusing on humility as the ticket to unity within the church. That should tell us something. It's the nature of humans to bicker, because it's our nature to be self-centered. As one of my co-workers said today in conversation, "we all want our own way a lot of the time."

On jobsites, the company representing each trade worries about its own work. When talking about the project, no one says "our building." They say "my pipe" or "your duct," but they never acknowledge that whether they like it or not, they're working together to build something, and they're going to have to cooperate to avoid chaos.

Sometimes we're like that in the church. We're trying to build something, the kingdom of God, but we're all looking at different blueprints, and we're complaining about those who aren't matching our agenda. Paul says that complaining and arguing are sins that keep us from becoming righteous and hinder us from showing the nature of Christ to the world. If we keep our gripes to ourselves, we show that we can put others first, and we show the world that we are content in Christ.

By keeping our attitudes like Christ's we won't be laboring in vain.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Haven't Forgotten

For those of you who are waiting for me to resume my China narrative (which is probably not many of you), I just wanted to let you know that I'm planning to make it into a book, so I won't be posting anymore about it. I'm sure China will be a topic of many posts to come, but a detailed narration was becoming too long for blog format. If you're really interested, contact me and I'll be glad to tell you some stories.

C.S. Lewis on Jack Bauer

C.S. Lewis starts his landmark work Mere Christianity with a chapter on what he calls the Law of Human Nature. Very simply and succinctly, Lewis shows that all men in all cultures at all times in history have adhered to some standard of decent behavior. This standard, which is a guiding force existing outside of our actions themselves, governs all our interactions with other people, whether we realize it or not. Evidence for the Law, Lewis says, is obvious in the petty arguments we have with one another. Both parties try to prove the other is wrong, each asserting that their own point of view or course of action more closely adheres to the standard. And what point would there be in trying to prove someone wrong unless there is some kind of "right" we can appeal to?

I reread this chapter the day after I watched the season finale of "24," an action-packed male soap-opera featuring federal agent Jack Bauer, whose exploits make him look like a genetic hybrid of James Bond, McGyver, and Bruce Willis's character in "Die Hard," with a tinge of Houdini mixed in. In every season, Jack is called upon to defend his country from terrorists who, for various reasons, want to inflict mass harm upon the American public. Very often, Jack's duties place him in moral grey areas where he must make impossibly quick decisions while weighing the good of the American people against orders from his authorities, his own personal well-being and the safety of those he loves.

Somehow, Jack always seems to make the decision that ends up saving the most people. He readily sacrifices his body, mind and personal life to protect his countrymen from evil. And when all is said and done, circumstances dictate that Jack receives no praise for his actions. In fact, the season usually ends with Jack in some kind of bind.

America loves Jack Bauer. Why shouldn't we? He's just, loyal, honest, humble, strong, brave, self-controlled and he's motivated more by his desire to save others than he is about preserving himself. We rejoice when Jack gets revenge on his enemies and when he puts villains in jail or in a casket.

In my opinion, no other show crystallizes the battle between good and evil as well as "24." It's like the directors have read Lewis's work, and they plan the scenes in such a way as to bring the Law of Human Nature to the forefront. In season four, the writers introduced us to President Logan, a fearful, hesitant man driven more by his desire for a presidential legacy than the good of the country. The fact that we had President David Palmer, an unswervingly virtuous man, for two seasons only amplifies Logan's faults.

I can't compare the two much more without giving away some of season 5, but I will say that watching the finale with a large group of people made Lewis's arguments come to life. By hissing at the TV when evil characters got their way or when Jack's plans were temporarily thwarted, we showed we believe that Jack's cause, the protection of America, more closely aligns with the moral standard than the objectives of the terrorists or other selfish characters.

With the show's
ratings still strong after five seasons, it's refreshing to know that even when it seems like America's moral consciousness is deteriorating rapidly, we still have a beating heart that loves virtuous heroes and happy endings.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Serpents' Lair

I posted not too long ago about a new hobby I developed during the last few weeks of school, when obligations had died down and spring was rising to life. While my roommates were studying for finals, I began taking lonely walks around some of the public nature parks in Athens. My adventures had been fruitful, giving me time to think, pray and read as well as giving me occasion to hone my observation and note-taking skills.

The Wednesday of finals week, I decided to head out to the Oconee Forest Park, located next to the UGA intramural fields. I think I've been there once before for a short jog, but I had never taken the time to slowly walk the trails or take in the scenery. Inside the forest park, which is used to educate forestry and wildlife majors, the criss-crossed web of trails winds over ridges and streams, making for a great leisurely hike. On the back of the property, there is a pond that is currently being restored. Here my newest tale begins.

My encounters with wildlife at the parks had been tame up to this point, limited mostly to harmless creatures like box turtles or blue herons, those known for beauty and tranquility rather than ferocity. I thought today would be no different. An element of risk or danger is essential for any adventure, but aside from the slight worry that comes when you venture out into the woods without telling anyone, I was pretty carefree.

I had crouched down at the edge of the pond to take a picture of two turtles in strange sitting positions, each on his own rock. Their back feet extended out like a motocross racer getting some huge air, while their front feet were clutched tightly to the rock. They sat like this motionless for as long as I had stood there, one next to the other. It was only when they heard my approach and plopped into the water that I was really convinced that they were alive and not just statues set up by some weird forestry students.

Climbing the bank, I stepped over one of those black vinyl land barriers they put around construction sites, and I heard a rustling in the gravel to my right. About four feet away from my right foot was a small snake, about two feet long. Startled, a slowly moved behind the barrier he was coiled up against. I'm no Jeff Corwin; I had no clue whether the thing was poisonous or not. And the fact that he was poised to attack made me not want to find out.

At this point, I hadn't even made it to the woods yet. So I took a left on one of the trails and ducked into the forest. It seems like there were cardinals everywhere, but they wouldn't let me get a picture. Until I started this new hobby, I hadn't realized there were so many of them in Georgia.

With the initial shock from my snake encounter over, I thought I was in the clear. Almost dying once is enough for one day. I called Katy and told her about the experience. Understandably, she wasn't too excited. Back on the grounds of the IM fields, I closed the phone and kept walking down the path that runs next to Lake Herrick. As soon as I hung up, my eye caught some movement where my my right foot was about to fall.

Before my brain could even process it fully, I drew my foot back and jumped backwards to let the intruder, a four-foot snake, cross the path. He hurried into the brush looking as frightened as I was. As far as he was concerned, I was the intruder.

Flustered again, I crossed a bridge over the lake and saw yet another snake swimming in the lake. Quickly, I (with a lot of help from Katy) decided it was time to go. Strange, I went all the way to an uninhabited island in the Pacific and didn't see any snakes, but here in Georgia on a leisurely stroll, I saw two and almost ended up with their fangs in my feet.

God wasn't kidding when he said that snakes and humans weren't going to get along.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Middle Country CD

If you haven't already heard, I'm planning to return to my favorite overseas country this summer. It's a large one in southeast Asia, and if you know me, you'll know which one I'm talking about.

So here's the deal. I need money for travel expenses as I do whatever it is I'm going to do over there (again, I think you know what I mean). We're supposed to get cash by sending out letters and other conventional methods. But I'm thinking about raising money a different way. I want to record a CD, play some shows, sell those CDs and donate all the money to my trip(s). Some of it may even go to cover other folks on the team that have not yet raised the money.

Sounds good, but here's the catch. I need to know whether this is feasible. While I have most of the songs recorded already (on my home software) I can't risk spending capital on CDs or printing cases if no one's interested in buying it. If you're acquainted with my music and you think you would even possibly be interested in buying one, please leave a comment on this blog or email me.

Above is the proposed album cover. Let me know what you think of it as well.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Mopping my Heart

Sometimes people just get under my skin.

Don't you know the feeling? If you're reading this, you're a human, so I'm sure you do, especially those of you who have a job involving some kind of customer service.

As you know by now, I'm a shift leader at the Blimpie inside Wal-Mart in Athens, Ga. Every so often, a certain lady comes in, orders a turkey sandwich, and then stands by the register and begins a conversation with whichever on-duty employee she can get ahold of.

She annoys me on a lot of different levels. For one, it's my job to make sure these employees work efficiently, so I don't like the fact that they're standing around listening to this woman gab. But at the same time, the lady is a frequent customer and she's come to expect talk time as a part of her experience here. I don't want to order her away and tick her off. Then she may never come back. While I wouldn't be disappointed about that, I don't think my bosses would like to hear that I scared away someone who spends money at their store on a regular basis.

It's not only the fact that she's talking that gets on my nerves; the subject matter of her conversations makes me gag a little. Her rants are almost always political in nature, and her commentaries on the issues are some of the most liberal I've ever heard. Being pretty conservative and having voted Republican in the past, it's hard to listen to her tirades without snatching her across the counter. Throw in a few "f-bombs" and the fact that all signs point to her being a homosexual, she starts to try my patience after a few minutes.

She came in yesterday and ordered her "usual," expecting one of our newer employees to know what that is. Then she sounded off. Her first qualm was with the immigration policies of this country. Surprisingly, she wanted the administration to be stricter with its admittance of illegal aliens. Hmmm, I thought, a semi-conservative viewpoint.

But just as I thought she might be seeing the light, she started talking about why she was no longer a practicing Christian. I cringed as I heard the words:

"I was just tired of the hypocrisy." she said. "I was raised Roman-Catholic. The religious right is up in arms about abortion, but why aren't they out there fighting the death penalty? Why aren't they fighting for social justice?"

She wasn't talking to me, so I didn't want to barge into the conversation and say something like, "So you think unborn babies are on the same level as convicted murderers?" or "If you loved Jesus, you wouldn't abandon his church!" I just went on sweeping, fuming inside while maintaining a calm exterior.

It came time to mop the store, and she was eating at a booth near where I mopped. I watched her eat for a second, and God began to work on my heart as only he can. I thought about my attitude toward this woman. Why had I gotten so angry? Why had I directed such animosity her way? I think it's because she had attacked my identity on both a political and religious front, and I reacted with my sinful nature rather than with my redeemed spirit.

God spoke to my heart. It wasn't audible, but this is how I interpreted what was going on within me:

She's a precious person that I have made and that I love. You, who I've saved from sin, have no right not to love her as well and do your best to bring her to me.

With that, my attitude changed completely. When I made my way to her side of the store, we began to talk, and I was free from any ill-will or resentment. In her lostness I saw who I used to be--a child whom God made and loves, but who has not chosen to surrender life and will so that both can be changed.

Thank God that when my heart spills over with pride and judgment, he mops it up with humility and grace.