Archive for November, 2009

All Your Base Are Belong to Us

November 10, 2009

Alright.  Enough downers for now.  How about something to make you smile?

From time to time I like to check a website called for a good laugh.  This site is devoted to snapshots from Asian signposts, labels, warnings, etc which mistranslate the English in funny ways.   Some of the funniest would probably offend some of my readers (whoever they are), so I won’t post them.  But here are a few samples of some that crack me up.


That’s all you have to do.  Isn’t that comforting?





People in Japan seem so polite.  I should visit there some day.





Well, somebody has to connoct our poopie.





Not gonna do it.  Wouldn’t be prudent.





Well, I suppose that’s a logical name…





For people with really stubborn nails…





It’s clean and blue!





That’s why you gotta keep off the grass!





I don’t know which to start with… the chicken-brown fungus or the fungus of old people’s head?





I like number 9.  I think some of my students have “stupid disease.”


My Place in this World

November 7, 2009

now-whatMy blog posts are not often intensely personal. That’s as it should be, I believe, because cyberspace is no place to broadcast your deepest struggles. People get hurt that way. But I want to share something very current that I’m struggling with because someone out there might identify with it. Plus, at some level, it helps to put it into words.

I have a calling of some kind, but I don’t know what to call it — how to label it. I can describe one aspect of it his way: Something drives me to ask hard questions, think deeply, and do my best to get to the bottom of things in order to understand them. Along the way I also feel compelled to verbalize what I am discovering. Back before I learned to pathologically distrust myself, I would have told you that I have a knack for taking what I find and expressing it to other people. I also discovered early on that I can pretty comfortably address a large group of people, even numbering in the thousands. It came very natural to me and I was told that I was pretty good at it.

So I should be a preacher, right? Well, not so fast. As I look around, I find that what we call being a preacher doesn’t work for me at all. The popular version of the pastoral office flies right in the face of many of my most deeply held convictions about the priesthood of all believers, and about the need for the whole Body of Christ learning to function rather than a handful of specially certified people.

For another thing, I never got officially ordained. My childhood pastor, Frank Pollard, didn’t believe in ordaining people for ministry. He considered it the Holy Spirit’s job to do that, and it was the job of the local church to recognize it. Since he had been a seminary president and a mainstay on the Baptist Radio Hour, I figured I was on safe doctrinal ground listening to him about that. I’m comfortable not having a piece of paper to prove my calling (although I do have a seminary degree–does that count?).

All that aside, a calling remains. I have things wired into me that could be of great benefit to the Body of Christ. But I see no place in most churches where my gifting fits. Most places, it turns out, don’t respond very well to people “thinking deeply” about stuff. On the contrary, if you question enough things, you just disturb the status quo. Folks don’t appreciate that, it seems. It doesn’t matter how gently you do it, how nicely you put it, or how articulately you express what’s on your heart. Most seem to prefer what Brian McLaren once called “the massage of familiar words.”

Well-meaning people often advise that you should pick your passion and pursue it. They say you should find work that you would do for free and find a way to get paid for it. That’s a fine idea, really. I’d love to actually get paid for what I’m good at. But there’s hardly a place for what I’m good at in most churches, let alone an actual paycheck. I reconciled myself to that reality a long time ago, but I still have to make a living. So I teach high school. I don’t teach what I love because my real expertise is in Bible, and you can’t teach that in most public school settings. I have to support a family of six, and I can’t get by with a private school teacher’s salary. So I’ve had to learn to teach Math, History, English, and Science–four subjects about which I know just enough to “fake it.” As a school teacher, I’m mediocre because my passion lies in teaching stuff that nobody pays you for, or at least not enough to pay the bills.

In the end I feel ill-fitted for the kind of work I do. It probably doesn’t help that I’m also teaching a population of students whose cultural world doesn’t value school for anything other than providing social connections. In fact, many of the kids I teach only come to school in order to stay connected to their drug supply chain.

I could live with professional mediocrity a whole lot better if that were it. But it really eats at you after a while if your passion is the church, yet your church environment doesn’t value your gifting, either. Before long you, too, learn to devalue your gifting. That leaves you pretty deflated. It’s no wonder I’ve become so bad at accepting praise from other people (see my last post). I’ve fallen into the habit of thinking that people could only approve of me or my actions if they are either misinformed or delusional. That sounds more like an insecure teenager than a grown child of the King of Kings.

True happiness comes from being a blessing to other people, benefiting others by serving them according to your unique gifting. My problem these days is that I’m having a hard time finding, as Michael W. Smith once sang, “my place in this world.” I’m starving from a lack of opportunity to function in the Body of Christ according to the shape of my particular calling. There once was a time that I felt I was heading toward a fulfillment of my calling, but circumstances changed. It’s a long story, one that will have to wait for probably a long time. All you really need to know is that either God closed some doors on me really slowly, or else I just didn’t notice they were already closed until recently. Ultimately, I know that his hand is behind it, and now it falls to me to trust him in what he is doing. I hope I can hold on to that one responsibility.

All this introspection is meant to serve a useful purpose. As long as I can remind myself that God has his own reasons for putting me in all these circumstances which are so incongruous with how he wired me, then I can find comfort. I can try to take a deep breath and trust that God hasn’t shelved me permanently. Maybe I’ll be like a wine that gets better only after it’s had time to collect dust in a dark cellar somewhere for a long time. I only hope he sees fit to pop the cork and let me breathe once in a while 🙂

Hide It Under a Bushel? NO!

November 5, 2009

diggingI’ve discovered that I have an addiction. I am addicted to self-criticism. As is often the case with addictions, it was not obvious to me, the addict. It became apparent first to someone close to me, and it didn’t demand my full attention until I discovered it was hurting someone else.

Some people think more highly of themselves than they should. I’ve never understood those people. I suffer from the opposite problem. I look at things God has put in me and I downplay them like they are of no value at all. My insightful wife explained to me yesterday how that dishonors God and ultimately robs others of the benefits that could have been theirs if not for this compulsive commitment to self-deprecation.

If you have ever tried to compliment me (or the book I wrote), you probably have no idea how quickly I dismantled your praise in my own mind moments later. Without your knowing it, I found multiple reasons to discount what you said, almost as fast as you could put it into words yourself. That’s sick, isn’t it? I’ve been doing this for a long time, but somehow I had never seen a legitimate reason to curb this compulsion because it seemed to serve a useful purpose for me. I figured it can’t be a bad thing for someone to keep their ego in check. And how embarrassing it is for someone to have his bubble burst after thinking he was “all that” only to discover he’s not! I’ll explain in the next post how this came to be, in case it could be helpful to someone else. But here’s what my wife helped me realize yesterday:

It does a kind of violence to God’s creation when you excessively disparage the good things about who you are and what you do. It dishonors him because it implies that he has done a bad job in making you who you are. I suppose that’s a failure to follow the first of the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God. Then again, it fails on the second one, too: Love your neighbor as yourself. When someone gives you something, it is rude and uncaring to immediately throw it away like it isn’t worth anything. I suppose a compliment is no different.

And maybe it goes deeper than that. When you repeatedly discount some skill a person has (including you yourself), he or she learns to bury it like the money that guy buried in the parable of the “talents.” That gifting could have brought life to people, but instead you stuck it in the ground. I think I’m in danger of doing the same thing myself.

To some degree, my circumstances have led me to this point. But I don’t imagine I’m free from responsibility here. There’s a strange self-gratification in being down on yourself. It ultimately keeps your attention on yourself, when you could be asking how you could be spending yourself and your gifts to benefit others. You prefer the safety of burial. If your gifts were to see the light of day, then you would risk the exposure of your all-too-sensitive ego. Someone could find a flaw in you that you missed yourself (how awful!). Or maybe you could become susceptible to pride, which, let’s face it, would totally ruin your perfect state of humility, wouldn’t it? I suppose even humility carries with it a kind of pride in being so humble. “At least I’m not like all those other cats who think they’re something.” Whoops.

Well anyway…For the next little while it looks as if I will need to take on a new discipline. I will be attempting to check my own tendency to dismantle the praise of others. I am going to try to see me the way other people are seeing me, even if that means admitting to myself that I did something right. How else will the good things ever be reinforced? If I denied my students all positive reinforcement, then how could I ever expect them to keep doing it right? I’ll have to learn to think the same way about myself. I’m no super human after all.

Perhaps God will be honored more by that, after all. So I’ll give it a shot.