Friday, June 26, 2009

What's the Cost?

A quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer,

When a man really gives up trying to make something out of himself-- a saint,
or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called clerical somebody), a
righteous or unrighteous man, . . . when in the fullness of tasks, questions,
success or ill-hap, experiences and perplexities, a man throws himself into the
arms of God. . . then he wakes with Christ in Gethsemane. That is faith, that is metanoia and it is thus that he becomes a man and Christian. How can a
man wax arrogant if in a this-sided life he shares the suffering of God?

Metanoia according to Wikipedia:

Metanoia in the context of theological discussion, where it is used often, is
usually interpreted to mean repentance. However, some people argue that the word
should be interpreted more literally to denote changing one's mind, in the sense
of embracing thoughts beyond its present limitations or thought patterns (an
interpretation which is compatible with the denotative meaning of repentance but
replaces its negative connotation with a positive one, focusing on the superior
state being approached rather than the inferior prior state being departed

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

To Be a Child is to Be Dependant

Tonight I went to the summer RUF meeting for college students in Nashville. At the beginning of his talk the speaker had us open up to Matthew 18 and Mark 10 (see below) and the topic was essentially what I've been meditating on and what I wrote about in the last entry. He also quoted C.S. Lewis, a different quote though. I thought it was a cool God moment.

He made some points that I need to add.

The main thing about children is they are dependant, completely dependent on their parents. And the word Luke uses means infant, not just child. So Jesus is even more radically turning the image around on the disciples. For one children were essentially discounted as not worth the time to teach high matters. But when Jesus tells them you must be like a child, he's saying you must be completely dependent on God. In a world where independence is so valued, dependence feels like a burden, but Jesus is saying the opposite: you will not be free unless you completely dependent on God. This seems the exact opposite of how we would think normally. An infant cannot feed themselves or care for themselves or move themselves. Infants can't walk (I'm realizing how the name of my blog fits in here). Infants can't change themselves, but rely on their parents to clean their messes.

We cannot help ourselves. We are completely helpless. To become childlike and dependant on God is to recognize our own helplessness to change ourselves, to be the ones who can work our way up, to be able to come to know the world solely by our own reason. We are infants. Becoming childlike is only recognizing that we are still children.

This is sobering but it is freeing at the same time. We can do nothing, but we don't have to. It's not up to us to be the ones who earn righteousness. Christ has gifted it to us, so that we, discounted children, might have a place as sons. Think about that, we can do nothing, but God has made us heirs.

Being childlike means we don't have to show ourselves righteous, but can be humble and show our mistakes, to boast in our weakness. It frees us to just live, everything is being taken care of. It changes our perspective not just in how we see God, but also the world; its all new and wonderful. The staleness of thinking we have this faith thing figured out would be gone, because we would know we are children and we are still learning and it's amazing.

What if we could live with the same wonderment children have towards the world around them, towards God and his coming Kingdom and what he has worked through Christ? What if we didn't care who saw us as we delighted in the Father and his wonders everywhere we went?

I have a 6 or 7 month old nephew. Having him around puts this more into perspective. I'm going to start watching him more closely to understand more of what it means to be like a child.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

You Must Be Born Again

I've been meaning to write on this for a while, but I finally figured that it would be especially good to do so now, considering it is my 21st birthday, and I feel like these thoughts apply. I don't presume to know completely what I'm talking about, but they seemed worthwhile enough thoughts.

I'm 21, an adult by all standards, and I now have the freedom to do pretty much whatever I want. And yet, that doesn't really seem freeing. That freedom isn't real freedom (maybe more on that later). I'm grown up, according to most, but what does that really mean growing older?

I don't really feel any older than the day before, or the day before that, or than a couple years ago. I'm different, yes, but a lot of times I still feel like a kid, and I don't really mind. Some time last semester I just went down on Davis field and swung on one of the swings for a while and that was one of the highlights of my day. Other times I've found myself simply exploring the woods and perhaps seeing a tree that would make the perfect fort, or feeling the urge to just run around for a bit, or in general just being silly (possibly involving dancing). Then I remember that I'm in college and there is someone nearby who may think me crazy or highly unusual if I continue, so I usually stop. Something in my head, good or bad, tells me that I shouldn't still be like a child or want to be like a child, especially if I want to be taken seriously. Now that I'm 21, I should start being more professional and composed, as adults are.

And yet at the same time, I see that there is a pull to hold onto things of your childhood. I've heard my friends reminisce excitedly, maybe more so then about other things, on memories from their childhood, such as favorite t.v. shows or video games. Perhaps some of these things may be worth letting go, even then it seems that everyone has a desire to be a child again, or to at least be childlike.

But then we also want to be grown up, to reach that age of freedom, 21, when we can do anything we want. We want to be smart, intelligent, and taken seriously and so take ourselves seriously. But is this true growth, is this freedom?

What does it really mean to grow older?

C.S. Lewis wrote about growth in an article entitled "On Three Ways of Writing For Children". Although he's speaking in reference to literature, it still seems to apply.

The modern view seems to me to involve a false conception of growth. They accuse
us of arrested development because we have not lost a taste we had in childhood.
But surely arrested development consists not in refusing to lose old things but
in failing to add new things? I now like hock, which I am sure I should not have
liked as a child. But I still like lemon-squash. I call this growth or
development because I have been enriched: where I formerly had only one
pleasure, I now have two. But if I had to lose the taste for lemon-squash before
I acquired the taste for hock, that would not be growth but simple change. I now
enjoy Tolstoy and Jane Austen and Trollope as well as fairy tales and I call
that growth: if I had had to lose the fairy tales in order to acquire the
novelists, I would not say that I had grown but only that I had changed. A tree
grows because it adds rings: a train doesn't grow by leaving one station behind
and puffing on to the next. In reality, the case is stronger and more
complicated than this. I think my growth is just as apparent when I now read the
fairy tales as when I read the novelists, for I now enjoy the fairy tales better
than I did in childhood; being now able to put more in, of course I get more
out. But I do not here stress that point. Even if it were merely a taste for
grown-up literature added to an unchanged taste for children's literature,
addition would still be entitled to the name 'growth', and the process of merely
dropping one parcel when you pick up another would not. It is, of course, true
that the process of growing does, incidentally and unfortu­nately, involve
some more losses. But that is not the essence of growth, certainly not what
makes growth admirable or desir­able. If it were, if to drop parcels and to
leave stations behind were the essence and virtue of growth, why should we stop
at the adult? Why should not senile be equally a term of approval? Why are we
not to be congratulated on losing our teeth and hair? Some critics seem to
confuse growth with the cost of /growth and also to wish to make that cost far
higher than, in nature, it need be.

So growth itself does not mean that we should necessarily throw out all of our childlikeness (I'll qualify this later), but that adulthood is building on what was good as a child, so we may grow and add the rings of learning. This means that even as we learn more, and grow in faith, and expand our tastes of reading to include thick volumes of theology, we are still able to have carefree moments and a childlike wonder at the world and are still able to play (I’m thinking more in heart than necessarily in action; old people may not physically be able to play but they can be playful), finding that we cherish these moments all the more now that we are older. When we lose the good childlike part of ourselves we take ourselves too seriously and lose enjoyment of simple things.

Oscar Wilde, once wrote, and G.K. Chesterton quoted him on it in, that "Life is much too important to be taken seriously"

Why should we cease to be like a child just because we grow older? I suggest that it is possible to be both, to be fully grown and wise yet childlike in heart. Some of the people who seem to be the most grown, loving, and enjoyable people I know are those who are still childlike in their hearts, and don't even try to hide it.

There is a huge distinction I have to draw here though. Being childlike can have two different extremes. Either one it can be the negative type of childishness that refuses to grow up and to change. I think it's probably evident to most that this is a problem without me needing to explain. On the other hand, fixating on adulthood and all that is supposed to come with it, however, may be just as much a form of childishness.

C.S. Lewis writes on this idea in the article as well.

Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely
descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown
up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of
being childish; these things are the marks of child­hood and adolescence.
And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms.
Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even
into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested
development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been
ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly.
When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of
childish­ness and the desire to be very grown up.

So being grown may be exactly the opposite of what we think it should be. Instead of being a release of childish things which are embarrassments and an embrace of all things mature, true grown upedness seems to be a recognition that we are childish and we ought not to take ourselves so seriously.

Jesus placed a great importance on childlikeness.

In Matthew 18: 1-4
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in
the kingdom of heaven? He called a little child and had him stand among them.
And he said: “I tell you the truth unless you change and become like little
children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles
himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 19: 13-15
Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to
place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who
brought them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder
them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed
his hands on them, he went from there.

In Matthew 18, the disciples are worrying about who the greatest among them will be. No doubt they want to know what mark they need to aim for, so they can try to be the greatest. But Jesus turns their question around on them, and calls over a child in the middle of them who was probably shorter than their waists or maybe their knees. Here is this little child and, Jesus tells them you must change and become like a little child to enter the kingdom of heaven. That must have been a bit of a shock. To great you do not have to do anything, to be the super serious religious people, the Pharisees, who followed all of the laws who everyone would think would win favor in heaven. But Jesus says the greatest is the one who humbles himself like a child. For one, a child does not try to be humble, so it’s not about even making yourself abject. Children are simply just humble. Even in trying to make yourself humble that would miss the point if it was to make yourself great. Jesus is saying don’t worry about being great, just be like a child.

Little children are dependent on their parents, who they trust to take care of them, so they are without worries. Instead they can just take time to play and seem to find almost everything to be wonderful and amazing. They do not hold back, they are not self-conscious, or at least not enough to prevent them from saying and doing ridiculous things. The world doesn’t have to be rational, because to them it’s amazing.

If we are to become like little children then that God is our Father and we are his children is crucial.

God doesn’t want us to earn greatness, but to put our trust in him, our Dad, as little children trust theirs, to protect them, take care of them, and to teach them. What would it look like if we truly saw Him as our Dad and could rest knowing that our Dad is in control of all situations that come and that he truly gives us what we need? We can just be free to play, to rejoice, to not place our worth in our success or failures; we can be bold and not care about looking childish, since we are childish and do childish things including making mistakes. But even in mistakes we can take heart that our Dad loves us and wants what is best for us and will not leave us in a mess. We can trust his answers that he tells us and that he’s not making them up, yet we can also delight in that which is still a mystery without having to dissect it. We can have a childlike faith. We don’t have to be afraid, because our Dad can take anybody.

To grow in life we must build on our childlikeness.
To grow in faith and relationship with Christ we must become like a child again.

In John 3:3, Jesus told Nicodemus “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

We must be born again. That is said a lot, but I’m not sure how much we think about it. To be born again, you become a new thing, a new creation in which the old has gone and the new has come, who has received a new name. Yet, also to be born again, there is the picture that you must reacknowledge you are a child, you become a child again. But this time rather than an earthly father who makes mistakes you have a heavenly father who will not mess up or let you go. He will never leave you or forsake you.

Psychologists will tell you that childhood is when you are most impressionable, you develop the way you approach life, according to your family who may pass down fears and negative thoughts to you.

In being born again, there is redemption of the lies we started to believe as a child the insecurities, the brokenness within our own families, and freedom from them as our true father passes down life.

We are not left to achieve this on our own though.

In John 3: 5-6 Jesus answers Nicodemus question of how this is possible with, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. ”

We become sons through the Spirit, the Spirit of the Son who God has sent into our hearts by which we call “Abba, Father.” He is the one who enables us to become sons, who are at once have faith and humility like little children but who are fully grown heirs.

If anything's unclear, just ask me. I'll try to clarify if I can.