Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"...but having seen them from afar..."

So admittedly and apologetically this will probably turn into my 2nd of 2 recent posts that are pretty morbid, death-focused musings. They are more serious than my demeanor would indicate most of the time, but it's been a topic that I've been confronted with a good amount recently for some reason. I really haven't been hanging out in graveyards or reading Poe and Kafka at all, I promise.

What I have been doing is questioning when my day will come.

"Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back," Maximus says.

Last year I had some pretty crazy moments where I was sure I would die within minutes. Most of them took place on crickety old Asian airplanes with pilates who looked no older than 16 years old.

Some of the others occurred after the Earthquake in Sichuan Province that killed so many people. One afternoon lying in bed, it was swiftly swept across my room, prompting me to run half naked into my roommate's room and scurry outside for a place where I could at least meet my Maker in the sunshine, not in my musty apartment room, clothes and papers strewn everywhere.

To be honest, I think that's why I was perpetually afraid of death, unable to smile back at it. I didn't want to be caught looking narrowly into my own life of disorganized papers and dirty laundry. It wasn't that I was necessarily convinced that I would cease to exist, foregoing the Biblical view of Heaven, but more that I would have died without experiencing lots of meaningful things in life.

Recently, I've felt like I'm just kinda treading water until I can start ministry again in East Asia. And without remembering those before me who have already died honorable, suffering-filled, spirit-fulfilling deaths for Christ, I will probably continue fretting about the day I breathe my last.

To be honest, if all I have is a bucket list where I want to get married, get promoted, get a house, have awesomely-athletic toddlers who are sports prodigies to groom, and get respect from important people, then I'll probably even feel that way when I start my job where I serve the Kingdom for a living.

But this is something that helps me: rereading Hebrews 11 and the "Hall of Faith" recounting how flannel-graphed Bible characters are given praise in the Heavenly places for the faith they demonstrated specifically. Many were martyred, but all (ok, except Enoch...he is almost ruining my point here...) died a physical death where they stopped breathing, their heart stopped beating, and brain synapses stopped firing.

This is what the author of Hebrews has to say about them (the long list of faithful men): "These all died, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one." Hebrews 11:13-16.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

We are all dying in a Sylvia Plath kind of way

The inspiration for the title of this blog post can be attributed to Edward Norton's character in the movie Fight Club, which I think I've already used up my quota for "number of Fight Club spiritual analogies in a year."

It's when Norton and Marla Singer run into each other at several support groups for various diseases neither of them actually has that this idea is presented. Norton goes to these groups because they are the only things that can help him cry and therefore help him sleep. Marla's reason is unknown, but Norton knows that seeing Marla's lie by also coming to these meetings with cancer patients exposes the lie he himself is caught in.

"Marla did NOT have testicular cancer," Norton says.

When he finally confronts her lie he states that Marla was not dying,

"In the Tibetan philosophy, Sylvia Plath sense of the word, I know we're all--we're all dying, all right? But you're not dying the way Chloe back there is dying."

I know it wasn't the intention of this scene to do this, but I think recently I've found comfort in knowing that we are actually dying in the Tibetan philosophy, Sylvia Plath sense of the word." On one hand it's a little depressing thinking that we will all have 5-8 minutes less than we did after we finish reading this than before we started. On the other hand it seems that our mortality is a gift that keeps us humble and grounded in something otherworldly and eternal. Each second our body is decaying, our skin dying, our organs losing their strength, but it does not have to be despairing.

I started reading Safely Home by Randy Alcorn today (thanks Carol for lending it to me!) and was really moved by one character "Ben," who is the VP of a big microchip company. He apparently was a committed follower of Jesus in college at Harvard, leading his Chinese roommate to Christ while there. But now, he is successful in business, and divorced, lonely, alienating even to his cousins and family.

Every Monday morning he reads a list of goals he compiled while at a convention 6 years ago. The first was to integrate his business' assets into the Chinese market and infrastructure. The 2nd was to be President by the time he was 48. Within reach. The 3rd was to accumulate enough wealth to do anything and go anywhere he wanted.

I really hope I never lose sight of what God is doing in me and showing me in my 20's. I hope that remembering we are all slowly, but surely dying will keep me from making professional or ministry goals the Lord of my life.

It's a sad existence to leave