Work in Progress

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

Friday, November 25, 2005

Thanksgiving Conversations

It's been a really good extended thanksgiving; i've really enjoyed spending quality time with friends and eating all sorts of tremendous food (like stuffing with two kinds of sausage). The conversations have been life-giving, and i've heard kind words from trusted friends, who have been quite encouraging.

Sometimes the little things, the things that probably aren't intended as encouragement, tend to be the ones which connect, and that was the case. My friend Michael has just returned from his practicum in Singapore, and it was great to see him again. Sitting around the table and talking with us about his future plans, he used the term 'marketplace ministry.' I don't know what that is, so when we were talking one-on-one, i asked him. Here's the response:

"It's a christian word; more or less, it means, 'working in business.' It's like 'secular,' a 'christian word' that doesn't mean anything."

Hearing that was so encouraging to me, especially since i know so many people who use the term 'secular,' which i've intentionally expunged from my vocabulary, since it has no meaning (outside of a subculture which i don't live in).

My friend's words confirmed a hunch that i acted on three years ago. Shortly after beginning to follow Jesus, i found myself immersed in the 'christian subculture' (which i presume is an extension of youth groups, but can't confirm, since i've never been involved in that world), and began learning all the language. I was starting to get pretty good at it, and i was learning how to manipulate words to get my way, or to get people to like me, since i had mastery of a few stock phrases and could throw about religious terminology without much trouble.

The summer of 2002 was a time of questioning for me; i saw the road i was called to walk, and realized that i wasn't going to get everything i wanted, and that the lifestyle of james bond didn't mesh with the commitment to learn life from jesus. My first reaction was 'i don't like it.' So i gave god the finger, and said, with my actions, words, and thoughts, 'i want your spot; i want people to worship me, not you.' Crazy? Yes. Delusional? Yes. Arrogant? Yep. Guilty as charged? Yes, but if i overthrow the one in charge, that's a non-issue.

That lasted about a month.
In that timespan, life humbled me sufficiently, and it became pretty clear to me that i was a fool. An early August road trip was a pivotal experience in learning to settle in new territory, and to consider myself a servant, rather than a king.

I came back to Clemson convinced that authenticity was the only option for my life, realizing that a lot of starting over was needed, and that it involved peeling off some of the clothes that i'd learned to wear, but that didn't fit. I began to understand Jesus' words about becoming like little children, then seeing the kingdom of God, which now looked a lot different. The first session of training at church cemented this, and i began to make a conscious effort to be authentic in my use of language. So the 'christian phrases' began to go, as well as all the other cliches and words that didn't mean anything outside of the circle of people who knew the code.

That's led to all sorts of awkward moments over the past four years, which continues to today. Every time i hear echoes of that world of consumer christianity which i left, i cringe, and i really don't know how to engage, outside of strong visceral reactions that usually tend to stop conversation cold (moreso than profanity).

Have i over-reacted at times?
Probably, and it's a challenge to learn how to speak truthfully and honor god with my speech, yet to speak honestly about life without inserting pious phrases that don't really mean anything.

Things would be a lot easier if i hadn't gone through that shift, but i wouldn't be much use to those kindred spirits who haven't come from that world and don't know the code words.


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