Tag Archives: restoration

Reorientation — education is not the key to your future

[I had a short offering to give last night at the “Re:Orientation” event. I thought I’d put an even shorter version out here for you to see what you think. We were presenting an alternative to what universities usually say during orientation.]

Friday we were going out to 69th St. to buy a birthday present with my 2-year old grandson, who loves to ride El. A nice man got on the train and started talking to him and I ended up talking a little, too. He ended up saying, “I like Obama, but he said he would bring the young people home. And that is not happening. Instead he wants to send more to Afghanistan. “ Like every president,  Obama says he wants world peace and then sends 18 year olds, mostly poor ones, to die to protect Citibank and Exxon. No wonder there were well-organized anarchists in Pittsburgh on Friday to represent the angry 18-year-olds. We have more un-kept promises from a new president (who makes a lot of promises!). The future looks like more of the past.

Is education the key to your future?

But that is generally not what the University teaches. Long before we go through the college orientation, the institution of “school,” in its many forms, has generally taught that the future will be better and it belongs to the educated. The omnipresent president was telling that to elementary school kids a couple of weeks ago.

Washington University in St. Louis was orienting physically-challenged students this year with this statement. “Work-based learning experiences can help a student make career decisions, network with potential employers, select courses of study, and develop job skills relevant to future employment. Through the interaction of work and study experiences, students can enhance their academic knowledge, personal development, and professional preparation.” That’s a standard statement of common sense in the university world. Of course they gave a shout out to acquiring knowledge and developing personally, but the big reason to go to school is to prepare for your future job, to make yourself into something that is employable. The future is all about getting a job so you better get the education to get the job.

reorientation

Education is the key to your debt

But there is a lot more to education these days than they tell you. It is like this: the real future is about desperately needing a well-paying job to pay off the huge debt you incurred to get the education to get a future.

The Wall Street Journal on Sep 4 had an article about student loan debt. For instance, Zack Leshetz, a 30-year-old lawyer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has $175,000 in student loans from his seven years in college and law school. Lately he has had his eye on the real-estate market. “Everyone says that it’s a great time to buy a house,” he says. But that is not an option right now, thanks to $800 a month in payments—and another chunk of student loans in forbearance, which means payments are halted while interest accrues. “I find myself living paycheck to paycheck.” He has also been engaged since March, but has held off on marriage. “There’s no way I can pay for a dream wedding, or even just a regular wedding,” Mr. Leshetz says. “I feel like I’m putting my entire life on hold.”

This is not all the university segment of “school” says about your future, but this is certainly in there: education is the future – it won’t be cool if you don’t stay in school. But the secret message is that debt is your future – get the education and then become a slave until you pay for it.

Reorientation toward the alternative

I want to present an alternative. Using a university to gain wisdom and skill is fine, but Jesus has a lot more in store for us than university education provides or than we can afford to pay for.

The quote below is part of an account in the Bible in which Jesus and the disciples are talking to a man who has “made it,” so to speak, but who is still intrigued with Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!
[The kingdom of God is where God rules and Jesus is followed]
Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
[The “Eye of the Needle” is a small gate in old Jerusalem that is a challenge to big camels]
Those who heard this asked, (If it is that hard) “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus replied, “What is impossible with people is possible with God.”
Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said  to  them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God  will fail  to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”
Luke 18:24-30

The university makes promises it does not keep. Jesus keeps his promises. But that is not my basic point. Jesus is calling for a basic reorientation.

The promise of Jesus

Your future is taken care of; live your life now. Jesus doesn’t ask you to wait until you get an education to be someone. As you know, education can only be a useful tool in the hands of someone who is someone; it doesn’t make you anything. Jesus makes you someone who can use an education.

You don’t have to wait until you pay off your debts to engage fully in life. If you had to pay off all your debts, financial and spiritual, you’d never get finished, and you would just incur more debt, anyway. Jesus forgives you your debt to him — the heart-debts you owe to God for turning away from him and pursuing education and career like they can save you, or pursuing anything else. He gives you the future free of charge.

We, as the people of God who follow Jesus, organized as Circle of Hope, have never waited for college-age people to grow up before we invite them to show up. They are welcome to be a full part and to own the church. We are not looking for people who have paid off all their debts and come in with no encumbrances of doubt, sin, and other baggage, we can forgive you, too, and let you get on with it. We don’t want anyone to use all their energy on serving a false hope and end up a full-on slave.

We invite you to join us in doing the most important thing you can do in your twenties — even while you are getting an education, or struggling to pay for your apartment or to pay off your debts. You are valuable to God. Together, our resources make a huge difference in God’s hands. This is what we always say — Re-orient with us and see. Come along and be yourself in Christ with us and see.

Do You Get Harry Potter?

As of today Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince has grossed $461,318,990 worldwide. Gwen and I contributed to that last week at the over-priced Bridge Deluxe near Penn (but how nice to walk to the theatre!). Do you get what is going on here? Just what is selling all these tickets? I have not been able to get into the books and I have been caught looking at my watch during the movies. What is the attraction?     

There is something going on. A bazillion people are concerned that another youngster is threatened by unseen forces and fighting overwhelming evils. Is every movie required to have this plot this year? — By use of some kind of magic (a transforming car, the Starship Enterprise, etc.) young people enhance their developing, misunderstood awesomeness to overcome the evil with the help of their friends, but not at the expense of their own self-esteem and uniqueness.

This propaganda is getting to be old hat. But, if the trailers are any evidence, the expression of it may be getting darker and even more dire. I felt quite educated by the previews before Harry Potter started lumbering into its 2-1/2 hours. I can’t remember them all. The next Twilight was one of them (Bella leaves vampire boyfriend with werewolf boyfriend; danger ensues, but will true love save even the undead?). 2012 was another (John Cusack and Woody Harrelson survive global catastrophe). And there was a creepier, Potteresque something I can’t remember. I was not encouraged, but perhaps enlightened.

This generation has some high expectations of success and happiness and it secretly blames insurmountable, possibly evil, forces for the inevitable shame they feel about their deprivation. That is my lesson du jour. Voldemort gets Dumbeldore killed. My boyfriend wants to suck my blood. We’re all about to be killed by a natural disaster and only John Cusack will survive. Anxiety. Fear. Unfulfilled dreams. Pass the prozac. Or please, pass the gospel. You people need a savior; Harry’s wand is not making it (and it is make-believe, anyway, btw).

The other strand that might be running through these movies is this (OK, this is lesson du jour deux): “I really want someone to love; I want community.” — Life-long school chums who are as weird as I am and know me, and accept me, as I am; the boyfriend who is wild and crazy but who will resist killing me (he’s so awesome) and may kill others for me; the brave survivors who restart the world from their little tribe. Connection, Hope. Restoration. Pass the church.

Pray for the sifted

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you [all] as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32

 wheat and stormSimon (Peter), one of the core disciples of Jesus, did get “sifted” like chaff getting separated from wheat. He got torn apart. You might even say he got broken up. His courage failed him; his anxiety controlled him; his weak heart couldn’t take it. He betrayed Jesus and he betrayed his true self. But, ultimately, his faith did not fail. God held on to him. Just as Jesus prayed, Peter did go on to strengthen the other followers who got sifted and were getting sifted.

 I am particularly interested, today, in the idea that he got broken up. We use that term when we get separated from our intimates. I am surrounded by people experiencing being broken up. They are getting sifted. It is a spiritual battle. I pray for their faith not to fail. I pray that one day they will be through it and will strengthen us.

 I could be speaking directly to a few people, but I do that personally. So many of us are experiencing this brokenness ourselves or experiencing it in someone else that it bears admitting in writing. Intimacy breaks us and builds us. Our connections come with and cause suffering. Today, I’m thinking of being broken up in two ways. Someone is getting sifted because they were let go. Someone else is being sifted because they can’t let go, even though the person is gone. For others, it is both. I don’t have great definitions or solutions to share, but I am feeling the brokenness, too.

 For every Christian who got attached, who gave themselves physically, who made the commitment (some by getting married) and then broke up, it is a spiritual battle. Some of you did not have a tough time moving on; you might be good at hardening your heart, now, as a result. I am not really talking to you. I am feeling for the people who are still being sifted and they feel the brokenness. You are in a spiritual battle. Don’t lose your faith. Don’t let your suffering turn you. Turn back.

 Some people are struggling to let themselves be let go. Pray for them. I won’t tell a story, but it is a common one: “I did not intend to get connected to this person, much less have sex, but I did. Now they are with someone else.” Or “It never crossed my mind that they would go out on me. I feel so stupid and embarrassed.” Or “I don’t know why I still want them after what they did to me, but I do.” They are getting sifted. I pray that one of the results is that they accept their true value before God and escape the power of the betrayal.

 Some people are struggling to let go. Pray for them. Again, I won’t tell a story, you can tell your own. But they are common: “I repent of the immorality, but I long for the intimacy.” Or “I want two people for different reasons.” Or “I can’t believe that what I am or what we had could have been this damaging.” Or “Maybe there is a way to work this out if we just get away from the family and all these people.” They are getting sifted. I pray that one of the results is that they turn away from hunger and find true sustenance.

 Whenever I am talking to people sifted by the betrayals of love I often make surprisingly little headway in convincing them that it is a spiritual place to be. For Christians, in particular, they often think that they need to keep their pain or their desires secret from people who won’t understand, and they often act like it is all a secret from God. Even though they see Jesus discerning the secrets in the heart of his intimate friend, Peter, they fall under the spell of their feelings and can’t get loose. They seem to think that if they admitted that the situation was about more than their attachment, they would lose the attachment, and they either think that is impossible or undesirable. Pray for them. Being betrayed or betraying is about more than the two people involved. And “in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)

 Broken up people often don’t imagine that what they really need to do is strengthen their brothers and sisters. They are so wrapped up in being sifted, it can become an identity. They are so wrapped up in how they have sex or not that they forget about everything else. Satan would love that.

 They often think their loves and lusts are happening in private, but their actions usually end up as tools for sifting us all. Pray that in being let go and letting go they let us all go.

 Pray that their faith does not fail — because that failure is a distinct possibility for them. You who are enduring this or who have honestly endured it know what I am talking about. But having been sifted, it is also a distinct possibility that they, and all of us, will develop true strength to share.

Collision in the ruins

 

I will always show you where to go.
   I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
   firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
   a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
   rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
   restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
   make the community livable again.
(from Isaiah 58, The Message)

 

Last week felt like a great collision. Some people, some cells, at least one clique, were just plain falling apart, going to ruin. At the same time some people were rising from the dead, some cells were overcoming all obstacles and getting ready to multiply, in the middle of things falling apart people were finding faith for the first time, and then there was the Men’s Retreat.

 

At the Men’s Retreat I was heartened to be an eye-witness to so many springs coming up in the middle of rubble. I told a couple of people that, apparently, we could put 90 Circle of Hope men on a desert island with no planning at all and good things would happen. It made me kind of dizzy to watch it. What happened in me was good too – God was doing some rebuilding with the rubble of my past, as well.  

 

Like Isaiah’s promise of a glowing future to those who pay attention to the poor (and I include my own poverty in that), I saw a lot of full life being acquired in the emptiest of places all week – especially at the retreat. New, well-renovated, lavishly-irrigated life was colliding with some old, weak-boned, dried-up faith that was not withstanding the onslaught of unbelief and immorality.

 

It was so painful to see people go to ruin! — but, then, against all odds the community showed signs of becoming even more livable – in the same week! That brings such great joy.

 

I keep finding that it makes sense to hold on to the Lord’s promise: “I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places.”