So I’ve discovered that New Zealand lacks the 3 crucial elements that define America and make it great – Smores, Lucky Charms, and Twinkies. Smores represent our ingenuity – crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows are already great in and of themselves, but only we can put them together and triple the goodness. Lucky Charms represent our capitalistic diversity and unity – yeah, there are some that rise to the top (the marshmallows) and everybody likes them more, but it takes everyone, even the average boring middle-class cereal, to complete the fabric of society. And finally, the Twinkies represent our resilience – with all the preservatives injected, those things could survive a nuclear holocaust. It’s a shame these foods are non-existent here, they would both increase national morale and nutritious health. No one knows what I’m talking about, and those that have heard the rumors think it’s some sort of exotic ethnic food.
Well, I’m a little past half-way on my break. Obviously, I haven’t done as much research stuff as I had hoped, but I did some. It seems as though I’ve wasted my days away with sleeping, watching movies, and staring at my computer screen. I went for another mountain biking ride with some friends and totally wiped out again. The paths are just too freakin narrow and curvy, and the turns are too sharp. Plus a vicious cheetah/bear creature jumped out in front of me. The pic is the aftermath – it hurt a lot more than it looks. Really.
The other day was the winter solstice (in the Southern hemisphere), the shortest day of the year. When someone mentioned that to me, it got me into one of those reflective thinking moments, which is always dangerous. One of those “What have I done with my days?” kind of reflections.
Other than the first week or so of arrival, my days here have been…well, normal, which can be expected after the initial euphoria of entering into a new environment. But maybe I was just hoping for a romanticized version of the wild Africa experience. Rather, my days have consisted of going to class, doing homework, going to church, going to the gym, and the endless entrapment of Facebook. I’m somewhat frustrated and disappointed in myself for allowing life to become so routine, mundane, and predictable. There is such an abundant variety of learning experiences that I could participate in here that I would never have in the U.S., and yet I forfeit the opportunities for the comforts of the internet. In many ways, this is more a reflection of my faith.
This was my chance to retreat from the distractions of a 9-5 job and all the other trivial activities back home, to take a year to just meet with God and really seek out where He wants to take me next in life. Yet I’ve realized that the past few months, even in a new country, have been an eerie replay of the majority of my Christian life – cluttered with activities while devoid of true intimacy. It’s easy for me to go to church, play in worship, go to Bible studies, etc. – all outward expressions of a supposedly healthy faith. Yet in seclusion, there is a complete lack of Scripture reading, prayer, or simply sitting in peace with my God. Of course, I’ve had moments of deep intimacy with my Creator throughout my life, I KNOW what it is to be fully enraptured by His presence, or do I? Because if I really do, why wouldn’t I devote every second of time and energy into experiencing that again? Or is it that I just play off those experiences as mere human emotional highs? Or more, perhaps, that I know I can do certain “Christian activities” to fool myself into believing, if only for an instant, that I am really “experiencing His Spirit” when deep down inside I know it is not authentic.
See, that’s the problem with Christianity. It’s not a logical formula that can be executed within the frames of a religious belief system. It’s too dynamic, too organic, too……real. Performing the basic Christian duties of reading my Bible, praying (or more just regurgitating the same lethargic phrases I’ve learned), going to church, all of that stuff doesn’t result in genuine relationship with God. And since I fail so horribly at even attempting the solitary activities of reading the Bible and praying, I try to make it up by excelling at public activities – like expressing my thoughts in Bible study, praying out loud in groups, or playing in the worship band. But none of these acts of Christianity result in the expected “spiritual feeling,” and I come to grips that I am not dealing with a set of moral guidelines of a religious institution, but rather God, an infinitely powerful Creator with a will, a character and a personality, who doesn’t interact on the basis of action and consequence.
During my undergrad, I took a missions class with a professor named Murray. There we were, a bunch of ignorant and over-excited freshman eager to go out and change the world. But he made one emphasis that reminded us of our place. I still have the notes from one particular session: “More important than what you will ever do for God is who you are before Him. God is far more concerned with who you are than what you end up doing; being precedes doing.” I have wrestled with those words ever since, trying to find the balance between reconciling my relationship with God and reconciling the grave injustices of this world. Is it more important to know God, or to obey Him? Can you even isolate the two? I wish that Christianity were a linear sequence of actions that would result in an expected consequence that could be easily reproduced, or in other words, reading Bible + going to church = spiritual high. But it’s not. It’s a living, growing connection with the Creator that, like any earthly relationship, requires not so much investment of time and energy, but a giving of self. In any case, I often find myself in remorse of how I’ve wasted the precious moments I’ve been given, yet not repentant enough to make any worthy attempt to change that. A few weeks back, I tried to commit to reading a chapter of my Bible everyday during breakfast. Yet what I found myself doing was reading it quickly just so I could check it off my to-do list and get to the important stuff – reading my email.
This blog took 3 days to write, because in the middle of it, I caught a stomach flu that made the room keep spinning and me keep puking. Though biologically there is no correlation, I feel it was God telling me how attached I was to my laptop. In any case, I plan on taking a 4-day trip next week to the South Island. I’ve committed to leaving behind my laptop and iPod (which is huge if you know how pathetically dependent I am on them). I am hoping it will give me the opportunity to just quiet the rest of my life down enough to actually hear Him speak; to discard the foolish human attempts at emotional feeling and for once allow the living God to reach down and touch my soul. Well, that’s enough incoherent rambling for now.
One last thing – I am currently trained in 2 forms of martial arts. That’s just another way of saying I took 2 years of Kung Fu when I was 8 (FYI, I did make it to yellow belt) and my past month of Karate lessons, but it sounds cooler. I could say that I’m taking the classes to gain confidence or relieve stress, but really I just wanna be able to beat up little kids and steal their candy (I could do that before, but Karate offers a more efficient way of doing it). My first lesson was a little intimidating, because the whole class was brown belts and black belts, and I walk in wearing sweats and a t-shirt. But I’m gradually becoming skilled in the art of butt-kicking. In Kung Fu, all the hits and blocks were relatively simple and straight-forward. But in Karate, there seems to be all this pointless waving and twirling of my hands. Maybe it’s for intimidation, but I feel like I’m performing a violent interpretative dance.