Minimalism: Life as a Story

shire

We are all born with a journey to make.

Your life is a story.

Is it a good story?
boring story?
event-filled story?

The point of a story is not to win. Money or success or accolades. A great ministry.

The point of every story is the character arc.
The protagonist has to change or it’s a bad story.
He has to go from stingy to generous.
She has to go from shame-filled to confident.

And here’s the part nobody likes: pain is the only way we change.

If you’re a writer and your story is all happy and no pain, your character can’t change, and therefore it’s not a great story. It might be slightly entertaining for a second, but it’s not transformative. Cotton candy story.

If you’re a human and your story is all happy and no pain, you can’t change, and therefore your life is not a great story. It might be peaceful and comfortable, but you won’t transform, you won’t grow. Cotton candy life.

The biggest thing that I’ve found that helps me get any traction on this is to throw off everything that hinders. Minimize. Streamline. Focus on one thing at a time, get rid of anything that isn’t contributing to who you want to become.

This is hard. It’s a narrow path.

But the amount of life you receive is closely tied to the amount of meaningless pleasures you’re willing to let go of to pursue a better story.

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God’s Name is Surprise!

“Forgive me, but I’d like a catchphrase that captures both the responsibility I feel to do good and the freedom I have to get it wrong. Because when I’m feeling stuck, which is kind of a lot, it’s usually because I’m paralyzed by fear of doing the next wrong thing. I need someone to tell me, ‘Do the next most practical thing after careful exploration of the facts, so that even if it turns out to be the wrong thing, at least you can say you made a solid decision based on sound research, and if after a period of evaluation you find out it wasn’t the right thing, then you can try something else. God will handle the rest.”
–The Very Worst Missionary

Christianity is often hard for me, and by that I mean life is often hard for me, since being a Christian is supposedly and understandably a full-time thing. Even sleeping like a Christian is mandatory.

But fundamental to living a flourishing life, a whole, healthy life, is EXPLORING. Deep in a human’s DNA is a desire for a journey, a quest. Why do car commercials take place in the wild, in mountains? All we really need is a vehicle that 90% of the time will be used to get from home to work to home to soccer to Chipotle to home to work, but Ford and Jeep are appealing to (hu)man’s natural need to explore the wild.

It’s no different for worldview/religion. If you go to church regularly or have been passed down a belief system and it stops working for you, congratulations you’ve entered spiritual puberty. Ha. But seriously. If the belief system you’ve been handed down is working for you, and you see no reason to make any changes, then a few things:

1. Great! Carry on with your good, stable life!

2. You may be squashing a spirit that longs to take you into uncharted territory.

3. Is it possible God is calling you to a new place of belief or unbelief?

4. If it doesn’t make you feel alive, if it doesn’t cause your pulse to rise at least sometimes, if it doesn’t inspire you to try new things, if it doesn’t implant in you a sometimes inexplicable desire to sacrifice yourself in big or small ways, maybe it’s not a Christ-y thing.

5. A fundamentally conservative posture towards life (not necessarily politically or theologically) goes against the natural grain of your own human spirit and the God inside you whose middle name is Surprise! In the same way that the universe is expanding, the universe inside you is expanding. God in his gracious freedom has given us the ability to say No Thank You to this natural evolution and growth towards new possibilities, but that means saying yes to stifling. To continue believing the things about God in the same way you did last year or last decade is to lock yourself into the God you believed in when you were four or twelve or twenty-three. But God is more like the mysterious wind than he is like a text to memorize or a list of rules to obey.

Evolution of Sin

bullseye

I spent a lot of time as a Baptist.

Baptists love to quote Paul. The wages of sin is death, all that jazz.

That’s interesting, because earlier Jews wouldn’t have understood that. Sin meant something else several hundred years before Paul. But he updated it. That’s because he was speaking to people in his time, in his culture, not people hundreds of years earlier.

The bible describes sin as a weight.

Then it describes sin as debt.

Then it had archery imagery: missing the mark.

But why freeze it? What is sin in 2018?

It’s been described in Jonathan Merritt’s book Learning to Speak God From Scratch as:

“Anything that robs us of the fullness of life.”

“Anything that contributes to less than what God intends.”

“Death dealer.” (Dementor?)

“Life stealer.”

Sin is excessive internet use.

Sin is Netflix binging when your conscience is telling you there’s something else for you.

Sin is wishing you had someone else’s Instagram life and not being able to live your own, the one God graciously gave you.

Sin is saying no to God’s endless invitations to taste and see that there’s something more than that thing you know is robbing you of life.

God’s Not Loud

silence

I always thought God was somewhere “out there.”

Loving us, sure. Patient, kind, creator, powerful.

But, out there.

I’m reading Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, along with some other contemplative authors who talk of God being “in here,” inside of us. Teresa says God dwells in the castle of our inner world.

Because I come from Baptist roots, I’m quite familiar with how awful humans are. We heard it regularly. And there is truth to that.

But Teresa says that the soul is far from odious, in fact it is beautiful. It’s where the universe-making, all-powerful god chooses to spend his time.

Which means we have free access to God any time we want.

It’s hard when beautiful Apple products are available to touch and notifications from Facebook and Instagram are pinging our ears and eyes. But I’m learning very slowly and failingly, that just sitting for 5 minutes a day and focusing on my breath and becoming aware of this Presence, changes things. Not drastically, not Damascus-road-like. But slowly. As Teilhard de Chardin says,

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.

Internet is not slow. Notifications are not slow. My driving is not slow.

But the work of God is often slow.

And God is not in the thunder, or the rain cloud, or the tornado, or the loudness, or the quickness, or the striving to get more followers or more likes or more more more more

God is in the whisper, and the silence. And we are invited into that place.

Reading is Like Eating

flowers musing cs lewis

I am always chewing words and rolling them around in my mouth. All the time, I am reading. Until a few minutes ago it has bothered me for about 16 years that I don’t remember a tenth of what I read. A tenth of a tenth, if I’m being completely honest.

But then I had this thought: I don’t remember many individual meals I’ve eaten, either. And yet I keep eating. All the time, I am eating. The food nourishes me until the next meal. I don’t have to remember all these meals. I eat them and enjoy the taste and texture of them in my mouth — even the broccoli — and then I walk on the earth and put my hands to world and work and play while the food’s nutrients distribute throughout my body, until the next meal.

This morning I read about Tim and his morning routine. Tim runs in the morning, and a delightful task he’s added to his morning routine the past couple years is to find a flower to photograph every time he runs. “It’s amazing how many different blossoms there are, and when you look for a new one every day, you see the change of seasons, the immense beauty of nature, and the beauty of things that you might otherwise pass by.”

Years ago Tim read a C.S. Lewis parable about a man who, after death, is walking along a road and realizes that the flowers simply appear like colored blobs to him. He is met by a spirit guide who explains that this is because he’d never really looked at them when he was alive. “I don’t want to make that mistake,” Tim said. Reading poems and philosophy can infuse the ordinary work of the day and the world we live in with meaning and are an important part of his everyday life.

Everybody eats. And if you can read, you read. And the words you eat nourish you while they’re in your mind and then you probably forget them until you have to eat again. You don’t have to remember every meal, you don’t even have to remember any meal, you just taste and enjoy and delight and consider what’s in your mouth and eyes right here at this moment, and you work and play and then you do it again, and if you don’t have a flower to photograph then you pay attention to something else near your body, and your paying attention infuses the ordinary world with meaning, and you give thanks until your next meal.

Famous Christians and Me

rob bell heretic famous christian

I’ve read a lot of religious books.

Specifically, I’ve read a lot of Christian books. (Can a book really be Christian? When did it convert?)

When I think of the authors of these books, I think of what faithful, interesting lives they lead. In order to write about God, I tell myself, you have to first be walking with God, talking with God, hearing him call you his own.

So as I sit here on the third floor loft of this 115 year old Michigan home, watching the wind whip snow through the street, I wonder how I could ever write about God. I don’t tour the country like Rob Bell, teaching people about how everything is spiritual. I haven’t sold a million copies of books like Lauren Winner. I don’t give away 90% of my income like Rick Warren.

In a sense I know this is OK. It’s unhealthy to compare yourself to others; everyone has their own thing, their own unique ministry and individual life. I know better than to get into the comparing game because even if I win, I lose.

But I can’t help but wonder about the seemingly large gap between myself and these other people. Perhaps it’s my grass-is-greener mentality coming through.

I’m looking out my window at a tree, an Indian restaurant, an ATM, a coffee shop. Where is God? Shouldn’t I be talking to him? Shouldn’t I be listening to him? Shouldn’t I go into the neighborhood and talk to people about the love of God?

Can I know God, worship God, have a meaningful life, a meaningful evening, a divinely-soaked experience here and now? In this ordinary life?

Jesus Wants to Know What You Want

What do you want?
–Jesus

That’s my favorite quote from Jesus. Every time I hear people talk about the interconnectedness of desire and God, it lights me up a little bit. Religion is often seen as repressing desire, but that’s because stingy, stuffy, type A personalities have become the face of religion. The root of good spirituality is diving deeply into your desires.spg

Religion and faith at their best lead us down the road of our strong desires, it doesn’t repress them. True religion is considering Jesus’ and the Spice Girls’ question: What do you want, what do you really really want?

In the book Wholeheartedness Chuck DeGroat says we don’t even begin to live our true lives until we are awakened to our deep hunger and start living from that strong inner current running through our hearts.

Maybe stop striving for more and climbing the ladder and trying to get people to like you and start sitting still for a few minutes a day and listening to Jesus ask you,

What do you want?