Work in Progress

Baseball, Seminary, Wrestling, and the Dreams and Days of one Mike Work's Angeles experience

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

To all wrestling fans, esp. WWE fans:
Just wanted to mention that I've been really impressed by John Cena's work over the past six months.
The rap gimmick is working, largely because he actually can work the mic and oozes cred.
Superstar in the making?
Word Life.
As of 8/12, Missy and Evan are engaged. Wow.
Amazing. Cool. Great. Regeneration. Real. Love.

Those are the words that come to my mind as I think of what has been, what is to come, and what will be with and in them.
Alternate plausibility structure
All that was is no longer of consequence
A new lens calls what was known as vision to reconsideration

"No particular religion matters, neither ours nor yours. But I want to tell you that something has happened that matters, something that judges you and me, your religion and my religion. A New Creation has occurred, a New Being has appeared; and we are all asked to participate in it...Don't compare your religion and our religion, your rites and our rites, your prophets and my prophets...All this is of no avail. We want only to show you something we have seen and to tell you something we have heard...that here and there in the world and now and then in ourselves is a New Creation, usually hidden, but sometimes manifest, and certainly manifest in Jesus who is called the Christ."
Buechner, quoting Tillich, alluding to Paul (Now and Then 14, The New Being 17-8)
Began reading/studying scripture again, after not really reading much over the past few months, mostly from lethargy, combined with fear.

I just began reading the Epistles, specifically Paul's letters, and was struck by how practical his theology is; when controversial issues arise, it's not just for the sake of intellectual rigor, but in regards to specific problems and questions within the church (ex - spiritual gifts at Corinth, the second coming at Thessalonica). Knowledge and wisdom are not necessarily the same, and wisdom may involve not engaging in what I might consider 'stimulating conversation,' if the conversational goal is to knock God off God's throne, and set another up as king.

Downloaded an excellent sermon from Mars Hill Church Seattle on Bible Study methods/motivations. Very sound, and highly recommended.

One can read the Bible 20+ times and be able to quote chapter/verse/incident to prove a point in conversation/win an argument, and still completely miss everything. Transformation, not information. God's glory, not my own. Let the Word speak to you, cut your chest off, and offer healing. That is the call; Michael, repent.
Many other stray thoughts.

Summer of death;
A brother in Clemson, a good friend's mother, a former student, a friend of my siblings, gone.
Scary and true.
Not Final, alhough it seems to be.

What have been helps?
Job: how and how not to counsel
Lazarus (Jn 11), Jesus wept
1 Corinthians 15
1 Thessalonians 4
Resurrection of the Dead
Jesus, the firstborn from the dead
Going back to my post of August 18th, less than three weeks away from moving, and I am excited about it. One anticipation is moving into a supportive Christian community. Especially over the past few months, I have been so hesitant to say what I really think, what I really believe to be true, around anyone, even around others within my church, for fear that what I constantly see will happen to me: marginalization, mockery, being written off as a whack-job, and never being taken seriously again. And I'm looking forward to seminary in that respect, in that the church acknowledges an alternate plausibility structure, one where Jesus Christ, not the modern nation-state or the rational knowing self, is the standard by which the world is viewed, and where my real whack-job stuff is cut to shreds, that which suggests that Mike is the standard by which Mike is to judge all he encounters. Where God speaking is not insanity, but reality.

It's a complete re-education, and one I anticipate, made possible by grace. The grace of God in crushing my old everything and giving me new life, the life of Christ. Grace in the form of scholarship money that I did not earn/deserve, but that will ease financial burdens and facilitate transformation. As I see it, pursuit of a Master's Degree isn't just an academic venture, but is holistic, in which every aspect of me will be challenged, stretched to be stripped, and re-clothed. And I can trust the faculty, that they want me to love and follow Jesus, and that while they will be used to break me, re-making me is part of the process.

At the same time, I am afraid of the change that is to come, knowing that in areas such as pride, self-sufficiency, hatred, arrogance, autonomy, and individualism, I'm going to have to die. And yet I will rise, better. That in itself is faith, knowing that what has not been seen is going to come to pass, and that the second world is real, and better.
American Education
On a side note, while thinking about the ed. system, a potential thesis topic in the field came up in a comparison of the high school where I student taught v. the one I attended, with radically different philosophies of education, one stressing a pragmatism in guidance, and understanding that 'college isn't everyone, and that not everyone should go', and another priding itself on high test scores/90+% of graduating seniors going to college. The question is: what happens to those students?

In Georgia, the HOPE is an added incentive for schools to push students to go to college, as anyone with a B average can qualify for free tuition at any in-state public university, provided they meet admission requirements. But do those students who are guided towards college want to go, and is it best that they go? In some situations, HOPE is just a semester-long party pass, with education being optional, not optimal. While the scholarship fund does provide economically-deficient students an opportunity to earn a university education and enjoy the attached benefits, does it function as such? How much tax money goes into this?

My example here is this: even with HOPE, my younger sister did not go to school full-time last year, and didn't see any need to do so. Now, she's getting back into school, and wants to go. Financially, HOPE will be of help. Yet had she taken advantage of it last year, without any desire to do so, would the scholarship have necessary have benefited her, or simply created a sense of duty/obligation to use the taxpayers money?
Would a clear statement of purpose, or an interview/essay, serve to make HOPE more than a handout, or welfare for the 18 year old?

These thoughts come from returning to the area I grew up in after four years out-of-state, and seeing/hearing that quite a few of my fellow graduates have lost their scholarship, dropped out of school, transferred due to bad grades, and/or seen a reality different from that they were told of in high school. Could some of these been avoided (for the taxpayers interest=$ saved) if the school system were more realistic in preparing students for life? What do guidance counselors do? Do they really get to know students, or simply recommend based on blind test scores, without taking into account person, motivation, and goals? Do teachers account for reality, or do we teach a myth of 'you can do anything you want to do,' without taking into account that while I'd love to play professional sports at the highest level, that was not going to happen, and that realistic alternatives should be presented (In this regard, I am fortunate to have had high school coaches who recognized this and offered me a chance to stay within the athletic realms as a student coach instead of constantly pursuing discouragement)?

A project such as the one I'm thinking about would involve massive follow-up interviews with graduating classes, possibly tracking student groups from high school through 4-5 years afterwards, and crunching numbers, not the ones provided with each graduating class to create a stunning ceremony/commencement speech, but the real ones, which don't emerge for several years and tell the story of lives. At this moment, I don't see myself undertaking it in the near future, so if there is interest, I'd love to know of anyone working along this vein.

What would this accomplish?
Re-evaluate the educational system and its purposes (on the secondary as well as the university; related question: is the university's primary goal vocational training/preparation, or an educated member of society?), better use of taxpayers resources, and hopefully prepare the next generation for life, instead of preparing people to enter a world without sin and being shocked when planes crash-land into buildings. The lyrics below, from 'The Kids Aren't Alright' by The Offspring, sum this concern up fairly well.

When we were young the future was so bright
The old neighborhood was so alive
And every kid on the whole damn street
Was gonna make it big and not be beat

Now the neighborhood's cracked and torn
The kids are grown up but their lives are worn
How can one little street
Swallow so many lives

Chances thrown
Nothing's free
Longing for what used to be
Still it's hard
Hard to see
Fragile lives, shattered dreams

Jamie had a chance, well she really did
Instead she dropped out and had a couple of kids
Mark still lives at home cause he's got no job
He just plays guitar and smokes a lot of pot

Jay committed suicide
Brandon OD'd and died
What the hell is going on
The cruelest dream, reality

Monday, August 18, 2003

Move-In is now set, and I'll arrive in Pasadena on September 15th. As the beginning of seminary approaches, I find myself anticipating it more and more.

While student teaching this semester, my grievances against the public school system and the goals of public education became readily apparent to me, as well as what I perceive to be lip service given to Foreign Languages, my content area; while all one hears is about the importance of learning Spanish and creating a society where difference is welcomed, resources are not allocated in this direction and we wind up with 'Anglo-dominated' Spanish where an 'us/them' mentality still pervades. And this is just a microcosm of cultural lip service (lip service as a way of life), not just to language study, but to difference in general, what I would refer to as American hypocrisy, in that while the society is supposed to welcome difference and diversity, in practice, this does not happen, and those whom are different are simply marginalized, or paid lip service in hopes of appeasement.

A brief example: same-sex marriage, a flashpoint for the next Presidential election. As I read the law, there is not really a valid argument for a secular state to prohibit benefits to partners of homosexuals other than the will of the people, and recent polls (re. Atlanta Journal, 8/25/03, sec. A) suggest that the majority is against providing such benefits. If that's the case, the obvious argument is that Americans are hypocrites in regards to gay rights, and 'difference' is a strong point in this manner.

I think it's the same way with the church, in that the gospel is paid lip service, but the radical change that it means and the challenge it poses to all of our presuppositions and indoctrinations are not teased out. While this exists within the church, corporate and individual, I believe that it is not restricted to the church, but that the message of the crucified and risen Christ, and all this entails, is simply not given proper place in our society, and that is where I want to focus here. All claims/ways of life are welcome, as well as they don't challenge the dominant worldview, or, as Lesslie Newbigin writes (Foolishness to the Greeks 18), "The claim that is massively presented in the Fourth Gospel, that in the man Jesus there was actually present the one who is the Creator and Sustainer and Lord of the entire universe, that he is the light of the world, and that it is only in that light that both the world religions and the whole structure will ultimately be seen for what they truly are - this belief is excluded." The Christian faith is not strongly considered, and as I've seen it in the university level, it is usually caricatured, nodded at, marginalized, and dismissed without consideration.

And I really want to focus on this here, what an authentic encounter with Jesus in the western world consists of, and what parts of the western worldview, such as its most sacred principle, the autonomous rational self, are called into question by the gospel. More thoughts in a later post, with this blurb at its logical break point for the moment

Jesus changes everything...

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

The Nature of Worship...

After catching the tail end of a well-known comedian's TV special involving the 're-writing' of the Decalogue several weeks ago, his words on coveting stuck. Not because the analogy of advertising that he sardonically incorporated was striking and original; in fact, it was the exact opposite. I'd heard that exact same metaphor used several months ago in a sermon online from a church planter whom I respect and whose work I support.

The exact same words, more or less, from two different guys, with entirely different purposes/intended meanings.
One in a context of glorifying God, calling people to re-evaluate themselves in light of the Gospel
One in a context of mocking what he deemed 'religion' by pointing out how foreign the idea seemed in this culture.

And it was this morning when it really sunk in, what worship is, and what sin is, and how miniscule focuses on certain things are. Worship isn't an act, but a life; a life that belongs to Christ Jesus and is directed towards his glory.
And the same applies to sin, just applied to me, with my glory as the focal point.

And how a neo-gnosticism which focuses on a matter/mind dualism is just off-track, and wrong.

How does this apply to Mike?
Re-evaluation of my thoughts/opinions.

I'm quite skeptical of fitness centers and gyms with high membership costs, especially with a perfectly adequate high school gym and track within minutes of my house. Part of this, no doubt, is a reaction against my past, where I was overly concerned myself with body image and physical appearance, and didn't concern myself with anything that might not fuel my self-projected 'image.' As such, over this summer, I've been overly cautious while in my hometown in regards to such a narcissism, and anything that might encourage it. And it's really been bizarre, in that I've taken precautions to make sure nobody knows if I go for a run, or to create excuses not to lift.

At the same time, keeping God's creation in a healthy condition where it honors the Creator, through working out and running, can just as much be an act of worship as singing during a church service. Is Gold's Gym inherently evil? Not necessarily (yes, it's just now sinking in; rebels are quite dense). While I very well could use my boy as a bragging point, or a device to attempt to convince women to worship me in the bedroom, working out could become worship, and the gym could become a contact point, heck, maybe a jumping-off point for a new community of faith.

And so I'm considering using the free passes my mom has available, and going in today.

As I reached this point in the post, the passage from Acts 10 occurred to me, Peter's vision and the subsequent application to the household of Cornelius, and the thought is whether this change is an outreach of the voice that said 'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.' A ripple effect, a metanoia caused by God's great invasion of God's planet, as evident in that amazing first chapter of John's gospel, where the Incarnation and its effects are made known.

More to come soon, especially in regards to recent events...

Monday, August 04, 2003

Final thoughts for the moment rest upon the most recent book I have opened, Jonathan Edwards' 'Religious Affections.'

Written over a century ago, the work is still penetrating. Edwards deals with affections and emotions, their importance in the Christian's life, and the nature of true grace-filled emotions and what could be termed emotions of the flesh. To do so, he sets out a series of 'proofs' which, although they may be related to valid emotions, are invalid as proofs of the validity or invalidity of an emotion/religious experience. After explaining how these are invalid proofs, he proceeds to the second part of the work, in which he points to twelve guidelines that can distinguish between true and counterfeit counterfeit experiences, while immediately setting forth the disclaimer that these are not proofs, but guidelines only, and that reading the book is in no way a manual as for reading the hearts of others.

And in this section (of which I've only read four sections), the focus is on God as the source and recipient of such emotions.

Point two reads as follows The basis for all spiritual emotions is God's nature; rather than our own; spiritual feeling focuses on God and is not concerned with the self.

- Self-examination and its importance/time for action (JE, MD, JC)
- What does this look like?
- Planning to get away/take Saturday away and withdraw for 36-48
- do you want to get well?
- and knowing that this is impossible on my own. I need God.
- counterfeit focus on God is impossible, as I immediately withdraw and think about myself, or baseball, or anything but the Holy One of Israel.
- and yet I've been there, and I've seen the world through those eyes, those of another, that are greater than my own.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Other recent occurrences (I'm splitting by incident for readability/sortability purposes)

After spending last Sunday at Clemson and Keowee, I drove back to Atlanta and I could only think about my inadequacies, whether physical, athletic, social/comment-related, attitude, etc. The dominant thought was 'how can these people ever put up with me?' especially after recognizing my interpersonal impatience, which usually emerges in avoidance of people whom I don't want to be around/speak with, furtive mockery, or minimizing such interactions to the point where I can't be annoyed beyond my 'limits.'

And my frustrations with my society, whether it be individualism or consumerism, to name the two most prominent, are microcosmized in myself. While stressing the importance of community, I isolate and withdraw when it comes to putting it into practice. Is this hypocrisy? It seems to fit my definition, which, in short, is 'sucks.'

The realization is that my life is not just for my personal pleasures, but that it is rather to be shared, and that I'll never reach that point where all of my felt needs are met and I can go from there, content with myself, but, yes, I am truly in need, and I'm not the only one. Hurt, and pain, and suffering are real, on levels which I have never felt, and to which I cannot compare. And yet I have something to offer, no matter how inadequate I consider myself, and that it is clear from such consideration that I am not it, Mike is not a panacea.

These thoughts are very jumbled, and I would like to revise/tie together/elaborate, and may do so soon, but for now, I want to put everything on-screen as the first step.
It's been ten days since beginning this, and in the interim period, a myriad of bloggables have come through.
Such as these:

Tire goes flat on Monday, same day that RVM comes undone, and what I remember is sitting in the Parkview parking lot by the football stadium and being struck by a memory of a sideline experience from several years ago, after returning home for a weekend and being given a sideline pass by my former coach. A friend made a brief comment about people being on the sidelines that hadn't played, in reference to other former students who, to my knowledge, had not played, but had been given passes. Something just seemed wrong about the comment, as I couldn't say that I'd earned the pass, as coach had given it to me upon request, when he had the right to refuse to do so.

And it wasn't until last week when it clicked, when I was stewing over the mirror and tire (which lost a nut in the wrench when I began replacing it) and waiting on my mother to come with tools. Why should I complain about someone else's generosity? If the staff wants to give away ten passes or one hundred, why should that bother me? It's their call, and if they want to give someone else the same thing as me, should I necessarily be opposed to this?

The connector here is Matthew 20.1-16, when Jesus teaches about the kingdom of heaven using a parable about workers in a vineyard, and while I would never say my experience was what that was pointing to, the 'that's what he meant', these events seem to be a concrete application in my life. And while I can apply that to that situation, the pressing question is 'how do I react to God's generosity towards others?' How do I react to grace shown to others?