Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Demon-Possessed Man: Part 9 - Stay

The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much G-d has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.  -Luke 8:38-39

There are so many things on which I could make little comments in these verses that it's tempting to me to expand this post into two.  I may still do that, as it's incredibly hard for me to leave this series with only 9 installments, but I also have some other things I want to share with you, and it's hard for me to do that with this series weighing on my mind, saying "But you need to finish meeeeee!"  I hope that it's been as enlightening for you as it has been for me as I've studied this passage.

So, here we go... as far as I know, the last part:

I'm going to start with a tidbit, something worth noting.  Please re-read the first ten-words.  Suddenly, our Demon-Possessed Man has a new handle.  In spite of living a significant portion of his life one way, this one incident completely redefined him, and history makes a point of noting that.  So the next time you feel like you're too stuck in your patterns or that no one will allow you to change (or you're doing that to someone else), remember that this man, who was, I'm sure, far more extreme than you, had his moniker changed for all of time in a mere 14 verses.  (Moral of the story: Don't get stuck in your opinions of anyone, including yourself.)

Now, on to the crux of the matter, the confusing way I left you last time.   (Sorry about that.)  

Jesus leaves us when we ask.

But He doesn't.

But He does.

At this point, we've got two very legitimate, very weighty verses competing.  In the red corner:  Luke 8:37 (Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.)  In the blue corner, the double-headed, most quoted option out there: Deuteronomy 31:6 / Hebrews 13:5 (Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.)  And, just for you, I'm going to leave out any contextual, devil's-advocate-type argument I could make here.  You're welcome.
These two verses, I'm sure, cause a lot of stress for those who look at them lifted from their passages.  Because, in this form, they really do seem to be contradicting each other.  But I'm here to tell you today that they're not.  They are resolved in the verse I highlighted today.

Again, today, we see begging.  But this time, Christ does not give into it.  In fact, we see more of the response I was expecting Him to give the demons.  He tells the Man from whom the Demons Had Gone Out to leave.  To go away.  But He also gives the Man FWTDHGO an important instruction more: "Tell how much G-d has done for you."  Essentially, Jesus tells the man to go back to the city and share his testimony.  Christ has been asked to leave, and He complies, but He leaves His messenger, a bit of Himself with the people nonetheless.  We may ask Christ to leave, but he will always leave us with some of Himself, aching for us to accept Him.

But let's turn to the MFWTDHGO for a moment.  This guy knew what he wanted.  He had been drastically changed by Christ's intervening love.  He wanted desperately to drop everything and follow Him right then and there, leaving it all behind and trekking across the country after Christ.  He begged Christ to let Him, and Christ said, "No."  Speaking as one who has heard that "No," that moment is devastating.  It's confusing, it's painful, it's crushing.  It feels like betrayal.  Yet the MFWTDHGO picks himself up and follows orders.  I can't help but think that this was a little easier for him, since he had seen the people reject Christ and knew that He needed a voice there still.  But we often aren't given the big picture while we're still given the command that goes against the deepest desire of our hearts.  That's hard.

We have these life-changing, mountain-top experiences, and all we want to do is cling to them.  We are given new insight into the Word, and all we want to do is study more.  We find peace, and all we want to do is dive into its depths.  But this... this isn't the way G-d works.  That is an entirely self-driven religion, and Christ-following has to do with everything but the self.

We cannot see the big picture, know what G-d knows, or understand G-d's reasoning (usually).  We have to admit this, because this is the first and most crucial step of trust.  If we can admit this and cling to His goodness, then and only then can we trust Him and say as Christ says a mere 14 chapters later, "Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." (Luke 22:42 KJV)   Ultimately, this should be the cry of any Christ-follower.  This is the fullest sacrifice of praise, to cry out the the pain and despair of broken personal dreams and scream NOT MY WILL, BUT THINE!  Until we can do this, we are nothing but self-seekers.  Once we cross the line, we are called, we are sent, and we are crucified with Christ.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  -Mathew 16:24-25

  1. Tombs
  2. Recognition
  3. Familiarity
  4. Impure
  5. Solitary Places
  6. Respect
  7. Fear
  8. Leave
  9. Stay
Thank you for reading.  Please feel free to leave any questions or comments below.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Demon-Possessed Man: Part 8 - Leave

<<Part 7                                                                                                                                    Part 9>>

So he got into the boat and left. - Luke 8:37b

We've all been taught that Jesus stands knocking on the door to your heart, waiting for you to let Him in.  We've grown up staring at the picture in rooms where elderly people gather (I don't know why only older people hang this picture up, but it must be a rule somewhere).  I could write about how I'm not sure that's quite how it works, but that's another post for another day.  My point today is that we were given freewill.  We are free to follow after Christ, and we are free to send Him packing.  The beauty of this, though, is that we now have the ability to legitimately love.  Love is a choice that one must make, so if we did not have the choice to not love, we would also not have the choice to love.  It's a little bit of a mind twister, but I promise it makes sense if you let it sit for a moment.

None of this is to say that Christ ever stops loving us.  I don't believe that He does.  But it's just like any other relationship.  A man may love a woman, but that doesn't mean the woman will return his love.  She may actually hate him.  No matter how many things he does for her, no matter how many times he professes his love, she only pushes him further away and tells him to leave her alone.  Eventually, someone will take that poor man aside and say to him, "If you truly love her, let her go."  Jesus loves us more than any man can love any woman, and He chooses to leave when we ask Him to, because He wants us to experience the fulfillment of loving Him freely and wholly.  

Some of you have been reading my blog since it was a Xanga (whoa.) or it was a LiveJournal (Can you believe those websites still exist?) or it was in the notes section of Facebook.  (The only one of those that still exists is on my Facebook.  I was going to try and link you to the old ones, but they've been "purged".)  If you're one of those people, it may surprise you to hear me take this view, since I vehemently espoused in the past the Christ will never leave us.  I still believe this.  I truly do.  Let me take an excerpt from the Facebook rendition of the blog to help me explain.
We talk about how we "walk away from G-d" or how we need to "return to G-d."  But I don't like it.  G-d promises that he will never leave us.
"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of [your enemies], for the L-RD your G-d goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”  -Deuteronomy 31:6

"G-d has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'"  Hebrews 13:5
This is not just semantics.  The Bible is not saying, "G-d will not leave you, but you can leave G-d if you want."  The Bible is saying "G-d will not ever leave you."  So what of our times of sin?  What of the times that we fall short of the glory of G-d?  I answer this question with the parable of the ant.

I have always been fascinated by ants.  They're really cool.  They don't seem as dirty as other bugs.  They're so strong but so fragile.  They are incredibly organized and seem to appear out of no where.  They climb up the steepest angles and make it seem like no problem.  They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors... some breeds also have incredible super powers.  I could sit and look at them all day - perhaps that's why I've been attacked by them so many times.  Regardless of the reason why, however, I can now add to the list one more fact about ants:  I am also allergic to them.  Yes, one bite from any kind of ant - red, black, brown, big, little, it does not matter - and my body is red, puffy, and annoyingly itchy.

Think of G-d in terms of the person watching the ants, and us, in turn, as the ants themselves.  We run around and fascinate Him.  He could sit and watch us all day.  In fact, He does.  Sometimes we run away from Him as fast and as far as we possibly can.  When we realize what we've done, we say, "I've come so far!  Look at me, I'm a thousand ants away from G-d!  How could He possibly be with me now?  How could I possibly get back to him now?"  But think about this.  If you stay still, and an ant runs away from you a thousand times its length, you can still reach it.  The same is true with G-d.  No matter how far from G-d we run, we are always within his reach.  This is the joy of having a G-d who is so much bigger than us.  He truly never does leave us, even if we attempt to leave Him.
But that's not the end of the parable.  See, I didn't talk about my allergy for no reason.  Just as I am fascinated by the ants, G-d is fascinated by us.  Just as the ants get scared and bite me (and in turn, attempt to kill me), so do we turn and bite G-d, and we succeeded in killing Him.  Every sin is another bite, another strike to the nail.
I went to visit Kyle [Funke's grave] while I was in Raleigh recently.  There were ant hills all around his grave, and I saw them.  While I was talking to him, I allowed some of the ants to climb on my arm.  I like them a lot, so I didn't think much of them.  It wasn't until after they got scared and started biting me that I realized the sound of my voice, though I was talking softly and tenderly in the moment, was probably too much for them and their tiny ant senses.  So I returned them to the grass.  I watched my arm start to swell, and thought, "It wasn't their fault, really - they didn't realize what they were doing."  So I didn't hold it against them the next time I ran into some ants.  I still sat there and watched them go about their lives.  I know the same is true for G-d, because He said so.  As He watched his arms and legs swell around the nails that had been driven through them, He called out:
 "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do."  -Luke 23:34
 Don't think that the situation is any different for you.  There is no grudge that is held.  The fascination has not been tapered.  G-d absolutely adores you, and chooses to be with you, knowing that you may very well bite Him.  He has already forgiven you, so forgive yourself and move on.
He leaves, but He doesn't leave.  He is G-d, after all.  We are always within His reach.  I know it sounds like I'm contradicting myself, but I'm not.  I'm going to show you how this all fits together, but you're going to have to give me just one more blog post to do it, because this is getting entirely too long.  I will wrap it up in the next one and tie it with a nice, pretty bow.

<<Part 7                                                                                                                                 Part 9>>

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Demon Possessed Man: Part 7 - Fear

<<Part 6                                                                                                                                 Part 8>>

When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left. -Luke 8:34-37

Boo Radley.  If you don't know who that is, I'd highly
recommend turning off your computer and finding
your middle school English teacher.  I'm positive
he or she can help you out.  I'm also positive that he
or she would like to retroactively fail you on a
good portion of your homework assignments.
Picture the craziest, scariest Boo Radley of your town.  Now, make him strong enough to break chains and overthrow armed guards.  Also, take away his abilities to speak and hear.  Next, have him regularly tear his clothes to shreds.  Finally, make him possessed by a legion of demons that no one can banish.  Got that picture?  

Now, let's say that one day your friends dare you to tiptoe up Boo Radley's sidewalk and knock on his door.  You know you shouldn't do it, but it's a dare, so you have to.  You creep up to the porch, you raise your hand to knock, but just as you're about to finish your task, you hear voices coming from the other side of the door.  This is confusing to you, since Boo Radley clearly can't carry on a conversation.  You peek in the window just in time to see Billy Graham cast all those demons out of him.  Clearly, your first choice is to run screaming through the town, announcing what had just happened.  By the time you get back, Boo Radley is fully clothed and making lemonade to share with the townsfolk now gathered on his porch.  He's as sweet and docile as a newborn lamb.

What would you do?

Well, I know what I wouldn't do.  I wouldn't ask Billy Graham to leave.  There are a whole lot of other things I think I would ask him (What the heck just happened?  Who are you?  How did you do that?   Would you mind taking a look at my rabbit?), but certainly not, "Hey... umm... Could you get out of here, please?"

No one wanted you anyway!

I mean, I get it.  They were scared.  I would be scared, too, but I don't think I would jump straight to kicking Him out.  But that's what the people did to Jesus.  They asked Him to leave.  Maybe they were nervous about what He might do next.  Perhaps they were worried He may ask them to be His next test subjects.  I naturally try to find some reasonable explanation for them so I can say to myself, "Okay.  That's not so bad.  That's pretty understandable, actually."  But here's the thing.  The Bible never explains why they were scared, which means that it doesn't really matter.  What mattered was that they asked Him to leave.

We justify things in this way all the time.  We say, "Oh, well, her dad hit her when she was a kid, so I understand why she's slowly becoming an alcoholic."  "His parents didn't connect with him emotionally as he was growing up, so it makes sense that he's brash and distant now."  "But she was molested that one night; I think it's natural to go through a promiscuous period when you're trying to deal with that."  But I want you to hear me and hear me well right now:  The Bible doesn't say, "They were scared because they didn't understand what had just happened, so, in the moment, they asked Jesus to leave."  The Bible says that they were scared and they asked him to leave.

Their reasoning for their actions didn't matter.

So what did Jesus do?  Did He follow that idea that I somehow got in my head?  Did he stick around and beg them to let Him stay?  Did He draw out specific models of how having Him in their lives would do wonderful things for them?  Did He give them lots of money to make them feel more secure about having Him there?  Did He make their broccoli taste better and their chocolate non-fattening?  Absolutely not.  He left.

That's the unfortunate part of freewill, friends.  When we tell Him to get lost, He does.  Now, if you're anything like me, you're probably shaking your head right now, and there's a knot in your stomach, but please hear me out.  I promise I'm going to make it all make sense, but, for the sake of your time and the length of this post, I'm going to continue it tomorrow.  Honest.  Tomorrow.  It's already entirely written and on a timer to go up tomorrow at noon my time.  So look for it.

<<Part 6                                                                                                                                       Part 8>>

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Psy's a Gentleman?

This is my preemptive strike at your questions, dear American friends.  You just can't get enough of Korea these days, can you?  Let me assure you, they're loving that over here.  Frankly, it's about time, too.  Korea is where the 90's went to hide from you.  90's music is over here.  90's clothes are over here.  90's computer games are over here... All of you 90's kids who complain because you miss that decade... How come you're still over there?  So Korea just had to leak a little Psy onto the scene.  Now, I don't think that Psy is an accurate representation of the full scope of Korean culture these days, and I know I'll be slaughtered if I even try to suggest that he's anything like the 90's, but I love that you're getting into him, and I hope that you'll use him as a gateway to other aspects of Korean culture.

So "Gentleman."  Let's hear it for the man that knocked Justin Bieber out of a record-holding position!  In just 24 hours, Gentleman had over 18.9 million YouTube views, as compared to The Biebs' then record-breaking 10.6 million views for his collaboration with Nicki Minaj on "Beauty and the Beat."  It's been a horrible week for that kid, and I can't help but feel slightly bad for him... that is, until I realize that it's pretty much his ego that's been causing all his troubles.

I'm hesitant to post the music video for Gentleman, considering the outrageously vast number of Americans who have already taken it upon themselves to watch all four minutes of the video before jumping to conclusions about what it means, but, since you're here at my blog, I'm assuming you're looking for a slightly more Korean perspective on the Korean singer's song that came out of - where? - Korea, rather than the perspective of an American who may or may not have even bothered to translate the lyrics before jumping into an in-depth analysis.  (Yes, that is an actual article.)  I'm going to put the video here, trusting that you will continue reading it even after you watch it.

Even as I put that here, this thing has a jaw-dropping 137,001,850 views.  Holy crap.  Sadly, it looks like we're going to have to put up with drop-crotch jeans a bit longer, because if that many people have watched the video, I don't think we're going to have able to keep them a secret anymore.  Seriously... why are you people wearing those things?  They look horrible.

Okay.  Let's start where it's easy... well... easy-ish.  The translation.  Thanks to a tip I got from a comment on an article with a translation, I realized that most of the translations you're going to find are missing a lot of the nuances of the song, going for word-for-word translations instead.  The best translation is (unfortunately for you, fortunately for Psy) found in the video of Psy's press release of the song.  Way to go marketing team, right?  So... if you want to get a good feel for the lyrics, you're going to need to listen to the song again.  Sadly, I've heard that there are some word plays in the song that I just don't have enough Korean language under my belt to be able to point out if there are any in the Korean of the song, but most of the English (like "mother-father" and "party mafia") is punny in Korea.  Here you go, listen away:

Now, did you notice the other difference?  Without the video, the song seems... less confusing?  Less poignant?  That's on purpose.  If you paid attention to my other Psy post, you already know that Psy loves the satire.  So I don't think anyone should be surprised when I say that he's done it again.  Let me clarify.  Psy is not condoning this mistreatment of women.  Psy is protesting it.

I've seen an article that I'm pretty sure is out of Canada mention that it could be a slam against rappers and the culture of violence (especially toward women) that seems to spring up in association with them.  Maybe he is, but I doubt it.  I've surveyed about 40 of my students (yes, for those of you who know my class sizes, that means I surveyed the one class I've had since I decided to make this post), and not a single one had any clue what was going on in the song.  They all knew what the word gentleman meant, and they all acknowledged that the words in the song didn't seem to match that.  But when I asked "So, why would Psy write it that way?"... crickets.  I gave my opinion, and they agreed it could be an option, although, I don't know how much of that was just a teacher-pleasing tactic.

Basically, I see it like this:  In Korea especially, there is a big problem with the inequality between genders.  Certainly, Korea isn't the worst country on this front, but it's far from the best.  Koreans my age and younger are really beginning to speak out about their distaste for this.  Based on his history of tongue-in-cheek exposés of topics he felt needed to be addressed in Korea, I think this song could easily be about the way men treat women in Korea.  There are many men who parade around, claiming to be gentlemen, while terrifying their families into submission, abusing their wives, and having affairs.  This is, unfortunately, somewhat normal, showing up even in one of the most popular dramas in Korea - My Daughter, Seo-Young - with quotes like "No normal man stays in love with his wife for three years."

Similarly, the general word out of Asia seems to be interpreting the song as a commentary on celebrities and their lifestyles.  It could easily be this, too, and, as I am in no way, shape, or form Asian, I would be more than happy to submit to that option, however, this is the word out of China and not yet the word out of Korea, so I am still waiting before resigning my opinion.  (Korea has remained rather silent on an interpretation.)

Now... that phrase you hear over and over - "mother-father" - is exactly what you're hoping it's not.  He is, in fact, saying "mother-father" and not some slurred/mumbled/un-enunciated version of "motherf*****", but these days "mother-father" has become a Korean euphemism for it's more colorful counterpart, much like dang or darn can be substituted for d***.  So, all these people who are wondering if he's trying to say he's the kind of man you can take home to mother and father... well, they're apparently not up on current Korean culture.

Finally, to answer MTV, he is most definitely saying "Wet Psy," not "West Side."  Although Psy did go to college in the States, he would have no reason to yell out "West Side" for his predominantly Korean audience.  Let's stop being ethnocentric and thinking the world revolves around American culture.  Simply because we chose to borrow a song from another does not mean that its writer will kowtow to ours.  "Wet Psy" has nothing to do with what you're fearing it is, incidentally, and everything to do with his sweaty armpits.

And that, friends, is my preemptive answer to your upcoming Psy questions.

Incidentally, if you're interested in looking at several hilarious-looking (I haven't watched any yet) parodies of this song, you can find a bunch here.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Even still...

Words cannot express how deeply saddened by what happened in Boston. This is all I have to offer.

Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
-1 Thessalonians 5:15-18 (NIV)

I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
-Psalm 34:1 (KJV)

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.
-Hebrews 13:15 (ESV)

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
-Zephaniah 3:17 (ESV)

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
-John 1:4-5 (NIV)

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
-1 Peter 2:9 (NIV)

The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
-Romans 13:12 (NIV)

O G-d, who brought us to birth,
and in whose arms we die,
in our grief and shock
contain and comfort us;
embrace us with your love,
give us hope in our confusion
and grace to let go into new life;
through Jesus Christ.

Common Worship: Pastoral Services (p238)

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Demon Possessed Man: Part 6 - Respect

<<Part 5                                                                                                                                       Part 7>>

Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss. A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

This is a section of the Bible that is incredibly near and dear to my heart.  I find it so profound that it's hard for me to add my own thoughts to it.  It's one of those things that I think loses its luster if I try to break it down.  Nevertheless, I recognize that what I see as obvious in these verses may not be as obvious to other people, so I will do my best to explain what I read in it as eloquently as possible.

It all starts with four simple words: "What is your name?"  That's where personhood begins in our minds.  It's easy for us to ignore others, to devalue them... until we know their names.  Then everything is amplified.  (This isn't as strong if we don't already have a face to attach to the name, but I think the name is what gives it definition.)  Don't believe me?  Say these sentences out loud:
That guy makes me sick.
Joseph Kony makes me sick.

That man gives me hope.
Pope Francis gives me hope.
Of course, this exercise works better if you know who these men are, but let's just assume you do (and, if you don't, substitute in the names of people you do know).  Now, ask yourself, which sentence elicited a stronger response?  Names make a difference.  It becomes infinitely harder to dehumanize someone after you have a name for them.  (The reverse is true, too, a tactic employed by Ralph Ellison, the Nazi army, the Borg, and many others... Although the true unnamed protagonist is the only complete example I can give you.)

So what's so profound about that?  Well, the profundity is found in the speaker (Christ) and his addressee (a... demon).  By asking the demon for his name, Christ is essentially saying, "I don't want to de-value you."  [Insert the sound of my mind blowing here.]  We've all heard it said that we should love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), but I think even the most G-dly of us only took this imagery to that of Christ praying for those who were try to kill Him.  Seriously, who has ever pictured this to mean that Christ loves, and even prays for demons (possibly even Satan?!)?  And yet, there He is, showing respect and value for a demon.

"What is your name?"

But wait.  There's more.

My mind would be blown even if He left it there.  But, in true Jesus-fashion, He doesn't.  The demons turn around and beg Him to not throw them back in the Abyss.  They even say, "Please, please, please, please let us experience drowning rather than make us go back there!"(Side Note: How horrible must hell be for them to beg Christ to let them drown rather than return to it?)  Every time I read this, there's a part of me that expects Christ to reply, "Away from me, you vile creature!  Have you not brought this upon yourself?  Return to your prince of darkness."  I think there's ample Biblical evidence that would allow for eyelids to remain un-batted at this response.  But that's not what Christ says.  Christ turns everything about human justice on its head with His answer.

"...He gave them permission."

So let's review:

  1. Christ meets a demon.
  2. The demon recognizes Christ.
  3. Christ doesn't assess the demon as a purely evil, lost cause.
  4. Christ is polite to the demon.
  5. The demon is polite back to Christ.
  6. The demon begs for mercy.
  7. Christ gives the demon the mercy it wanted.
All this with the henchman of the guy who tried to take over Christ's Kingdom, failed, convinced a third of the angels to abandon Christ with him, and continues to try to take over/get even by swaying Christ's beloved children to follow him.

And you think you can't be civil to the annoying person at the desk next to you?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." -Matthew 5:43-48

<<Part 5                                                                                                                                       Part 7>>

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Demon Possessed Man: Part 5 - Solitary Places

<<Part 4                                                                                                                                       Part 6>>

...he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places. -Luke 8:29b

I sit here, writing to you as a self-acknowledged introvert, currently sitting in the beautiful relief that is the solitude of my office (one of my office-mates decided he's going to eat earlier than everyone else and spend his lunch breaks in the office with me... Needless to say, I'm feeling a little frazzled right now), I can't help but find this verse poignant.  I am the queen of solitude.  I go on vacations by myself and weeks will go by without me speaking to anyone.  I am well on my way to a promising career as a hermit.  That's not to say that I'm not out-going.  I'm the most outgoing introvert you'll ever meet.  I talk to people; I socialize... But I do prefer to spend my Friday nights working late then curling up with a good book.  And I definitely need time to myself, or else I find myself on the verge of a meltdown (Thank you, Sensory Integration Dysfunction).  In my world, solitude is one step from Heaven... until it's not.

Like all people, I get lonely.  Sometimes, even in the midst of a SID attack, all I want is people (well, specific people) around me, assuring me that everything is going to be okay and I will make it to the other side of this attack, just like I have every other attack before it.  Frequently, I regret my pattern of solo Friday nights, especially when I try to call friends and they all have plans - who can I blame but myself for that?

A while ago, I began to wonder why this was.  "Clearly," I thought, "G-d made me for solitude as a general rule."  G-d would be my all, and I would follow him.  Why else would He have made it so hard for me to be around other people?  But then, I joined a small group, and that small group was studying Christian communities.  I was quickly exasperated by the topic.  I didn't want anyone telling me I needed community, especially not the kind intimated by the group.  Sure, I wanted friends, but not ones who had rights to my time as they pleased and certainly not ones who felt it acceptable to speak into my life whether I wanted to hear from them or not.  That was the kind of community we studied, and I'd had enough of it within two weeks.

But slowly, ever so slowly, I began to wonder if they were right.

Here's the thing, G-d Himself is always in perfect community.  He never leaves it.  He's never left it.  He never will leave it.  Because He Himself is perfect community.  There's G-d the Father, G-d the Son, and G-d the Holy Ghost.  They're the 3-in-1: The Perfect Community.

Do you understand what Christ gave up to come to us?

He left a perfect community that He had known for all of eternity to come to a world that thrived on alienation.  He left a perfect community that had to turn its back on Him at the most trying part of His life, because He became tainted by our sins while on the cross.  He left a perfect community that was, in essence, the definition of who He was to face the cruelty of humanity on His own.

It's no wonder He was always surrounded by His friends.  He had His followers; He had His disciples; He had the apostles; and then He had the inner circle of Peter, James, and John.  Only on the rarest of instances did He set off "alone," and, when He did, Luke reports to us that He wasn't really alone, but, rather, "full of the Holy Spirit." (4:1)

In American culture, we're tempted to call this a weakness.  What?  He couldn't even handle being on His own for a bit?  I remember when I had to...  But, I ask you, when is it ever easy to constantly be around people (and keep them coming back for more)?  This is one of those moments when American thinking is just flat-out wrong.  Community isn't a sign of weakness; it's a sign of G-dliness.

We are called into perfect community because G-d is perfect community.  When we accept G-d into our lives, we become part of Him, and He becomes a part of us.  As He does this for all believers, we become a part of every believer as well, just as they become a part of us.  We are designed to crave this; that is why loneliness happens at all.  We aren't supposed to be alone.  That's the first lesson G-d ever taught us:

The L-RD G-d said, "It is not good for the man to be alone..." -Genesis 2:18

So... Why are we so intent on it, then?  Simple.  Satan knows we can't handle a lack of community.  He knows that "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." (Ecclesiastes 4:12)  He brings us apart on our own to try to pull us away.  There is nothing to sharpen us, to challenge us if we're on our own.  No ways to show love; no ways to show Christ.  Without the body, how can we be in G-d?

Thoughts to think about.

<<Part 4                                                                                                                                       Part 6>>

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Demon-Possessed Man: Part 4 - Impure

<<Part 3                                                                                                                              Part 5>>

For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains... - Luke 8:29

It's interesting to me that most Bibles translate this word as "impure."  I'm not going to go off and do a word study here.  Don't worry.  I've never looked at this passage in Greek, and, therefore, have never even begun to analyze if that's a good translation of the word or not.  But I do know that impure/unclean is the vast preference of translation, leaving only three that I found with "evil" as the translation, one "vile" and one "foul" (the latter two, I found later to be closer synonyms to impure than evil).  I think it warrants a pause there that most people agree that Luke did not refer to Legion as evil, but rather impure.  It makes a big difference.

I think we can all agree on things that come from evil.

The employ of child soldiers comes from evil.
School shootings come from evil.
Death camps come from evil.
Serial killings come from evil.
Genocide comes from evil.
Slander comes from evil.
Torture comes from evil.
Abuse comes from evil.
Rape comes from evil.

These are all decently straight forward.  I've left some off the list on account of thinking they may be more accurately traced to selfishness or fear... which is another post for another day.  I think we all have taken time to wonder if the people who committed such atrocities were demon-possessed.  But Luke seems to hint here that "evil" isn't the usual M.O. of demons.  (After all, Legion is called Legion on the claim that it is not just one demon but many.)  Rather, Luke appears to be indicating that the impure is a more accurate indicator of possession.

What if I were to make a list of things rooted in impurity?

Just for kicks, I went to my favorite thesaurus and looked up the word "impure."  This is what I found:
admixed, adulterated, alloyed, carnal, coarse,common, contaminated, corrupt, debased, defiled,desecrated, diluted, dirty, doctored, filthy, foul,gross*, grubby, immodest, immoral, indecent,infected, lewd, nasty, not pure, obscene, polluted,profaned, smutty, squalid, sullied, tainted,unchaste, unclean, unrefined, unwholesome, vile,vitiated, weighted, wicked
I've highlighted a couple of those in bold, hoping to attract your attention with them, whereas I want to focus in on two of those words myself.  If Luke is suggesting that it is demonic influence that brings about the impure, then it would indicate that he is suggesting in turn that that which is common, that which is diluted (read: watered-down) is based upon the demonic.  As followers of G-d, we are called to be set apart from the world, to be uncommon, to be concentrated in Him.

As I type this, I can't help but think about the orange juice my mom used to keep in the fridge at all times when I was little.  She's one of the few people I know that would make juice from concentrate; perhaps that's why that word always triggers the image of orange juice for me.  I remember one time, I was convinced I had found my way around the system of healthy eating:  I would get to the juice before she added water to it.  That was sure to make it taste better. (Honestly, I didn't think it tasted all that bad to begin with, but I thought I liked sweet things back then.)  So I got the can from the freezer, let it thaw, and tried to drink it.  Oh, I was definitely in for a surprise on that one.  I could barely keep it in my mouth.  The flavor was too much.  I couldn't handle it.

These days, our society encourages us to conform, to act in ways that make the people around us more comfortable.  (Seriously, just try going out for breakfast with your friends and telling them that you don't want to eat bacon for religious reasons.)  They don't mind us following G-d, they may even like that we do, but they do mind when we "take it too far," or become "a little much."  Faith is fine, just as long as it's mixed with the amount of water recommended on the nice, neat, little package they've wrapped around us.  If I'm right, Luke is telling us that to give into this encouragement is to give into the suggestion of demons.  We are supposed to be making people uncomfortable.  We're supposed to be making them think.  We're supposed to be using our every move as a witness.  We're supposed to be presented still-concentrated.  (And we're supposed to be spit out. "You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved." -Matthew 10:22)

For many of us, this becomes a burden that we are unwilling to bear.  I suppose if juice concentrates could talk, they might tell us they feel similarly.  They might call from the freezer, "HEY!  YOU!  Get that pitcher out; turn on that water!  Drink me!  I want to be a part of you, of your life!  I want you to love me!"  Or... Maybe we just call that out every day by our actions.  We want to be liked.  We want everyone to love us, and, as a result, we feel the calling to be uncommon as chains holding us back from the world that rejects all things different.  We fail to see that these "chains" are nothing more than the demarcation between G-d and the world.  We see them as chains, when, in reality, they are the hands of Christ.

I'm not the only one who feels this way, so I feel confident that I'm not writing from way off in left field (Which reminds me: Baseball Season is back!  Can I get a "Hallelujah!"?!).  C.S. Lewis was writing about this idea back before my grandparents even knew each other.  In fact, he spent the entirety of The Screwtape Letters one this subject.  Let me share one of the more quoted passages from the book, because I feel that Lewis can make my point far more eloquently than I'd ever be able to.  (In case you've never read the books, they're written from the perspective of an old demon (Screwtape) writing to his young nephew (Wormwood) on how to better further the cause of their "father below.")  It's brilliantly written:
Then Sunday morning came. The Enemy reappeared. Suddenly, he was alive. Death could not hold him. But it was even worse than that. He had become an innocent sacrifice for the sins of all those humans. He had paid their penalty. He had died in their place. Now death could not hold them either. They could be forgiven and reunited with the Enemy. They can now live forever. For all practical purposes, death has died. There has never been a more disastrous day in the history of the universe.
That, my dear Wormwood, is the whole sad truth.
There is only one thing we can do. We must redouble our efforts. We must do everything we can to make sure that these humans do not believe in Jesus. And if they do believe then make them lukewarm and too busy with other things to be of any use to him. 
We have some reason to hope. Much of the media help us. And there is such a climate of pleasure-seeking and materialism that often the Christians aren't any different from anybody else. Many Christians are uncommitted. Some are hypocrites. And we have got many sincere people convinced they are so guilty that they have no hope. Others are bitter and have closed their ears to the message of the Resurrection. Others are just self-satisfied and only care about now.
This was Lewis' message in 1942.  Can you believe that it's possible for a message from then to apply so directly, word-for-word to today's people?  What's more, John writes the same thing in Revelation 3:14-22 (ESV) 2,000 years before Lewis:
And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: "The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation. 
“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor,blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire {I talk about this halfway through this post}, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock.If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
It is painstakingly obvious to me that we are called to a life outside of the comfort zone - both our own and that of those around us.

Do NOT misinterpret me, though.  There is a fine line to living outside of your comfort zone and alienating people from Christ.  Be passionate and undiluted, but do so with respect and love for your fellow creations of G-d.  (Note: Showing respect does not mean that you don't offend the people around you.  Christ offended people frequently - Check out Matthew 15 for starters on this - but He still had perfect Love.  Find a balance.)

I feel I could probably write more and more on this, but we'd probably start going in circles at this point, so I'm going to leave you here.  Hopefully I'll get back to you soon with more.

<<Part 3                                                                                                                              Part 5>>

Friday, April 5, 2013

Dear everyone,

I love you, and let me preface this by saying that while this is an incredibly sarcastic post, I'm not mad... I'm just banging my head against a wall while I'm writing.

Will you PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE CALM DOWN?! Please please please please please please pleeeeeaaaaaaaaaseeeee?

Yes, I know the tiny country full of starving people and World War II era planes (Read: North Korea) is super scary, but please rest assured that I'll be okay.  (Really. I write you only the truth.)

Furthermore, take a step back and look at who's giving you the information that is freaking you out so much. Who is it?  The news media.  And the news media has NEVER blown ANYTHING out of proportion before... right?  (Grab your kids, grab your wife!)

Lastly, before you get all worried about me, you should know that North Korea is far more angry at the U.S. than it is at South Korea, so, if you must frantically text someone, will you please frantically text your friends in Hawai'i and California?

And just in case you're not convinced yet, here's what's REALLY going down, here in South Korea:

(Note, the people interviewed in Pyeongyang are the elite, rich (fed) people of North Korea.
Furthermore, I'm still at a loss to understand how exactly they plan to crush anyone...
Like, really, think about it... most people in North Korea get to eat meat at most twice a year, supplementing their diets with grass, bugs, and tree bark when things get desperate.
I'm pretty sure they're going to be more focused on continuing to stand upright than attack anyone.
And... need I point this out again?... They're focused on crushing the U.S.)

And, as my friend Ashley pointed out, this is happening, too:

Hye Yoon would also like to share that this is happening:

And Megan and Michael are being mauled by dinosaurs:

Finally, I'll leave you with one more video:

So would you please please please please stop watching/listening to the American news for a little bit, because I love you, and I know you're only worrying because you love me, but you're kind of stressing me out more than North Korea is.


Monday, April 1, 2013

What The DPRK is like, from the mouths of its leaders and its former citizens.

A couple years ago, BBC News gave an comprehensive review of life in North Korea (DPRK).  It's fascinating to see the differences between the life of the elite (or that which they present) and the contradictions presented by DPRK defectors.  In light of the recent propaganda video hoax, I'd like to encourage you to watch this report and get a better idea of what the DPRK really is telling its citizens and why people are so anxious to leave.

** Defectors reveal the truth about life in North Korea **
Sue Lloyd-Roberts travels from North Korea to South Korea to talk to defectors who explain what life is really like in the North and talk about their shock at leaving a land of austerity, poverty and isolation for a land of plenty and fast-paced change.

Unfortunately, there is no legal way for me to embed the video to my blog, but I do want to encourage you to watch it by clicking here.