Sunday, September 03, 2006

Fear, belief, cynics, other words

So I've been thinking about a couple of things that I used to think were related and now I'm thinking might be alien concepts. I'm talking about motivation and desperation. Now there are some, I'm sure, who believe desperation is a good motivator, and when they bring up their vast experience of last minute crunching for tests or jobs, big deadlines or extremely important events, I have to conclude there is probably something to it. When you suddenly look up from the couch and realize you have the next ten hours to prepare that presentation that could possbily decide your entire future for you and somewhere in there you expect you'll need to sleep, that's a desperate moment and it gets you up out of your seat. You stop watching Matlock, get out the crayons and get to work.

Here's the thing: a lot of people make that the norm for their life. We see it in our Universities and in our workplaces; we see it in our social lives and in our mid-life crises. People take a look at where they're at, and if they're desperate enough, then maybe they'll go about actually changing things. It's come to such a point that we even sing about it in church, and we tell each other that we want to be desperate, that we'd really like to work ourselves up into such an emotional state that we'll have the motivation to do something about our apparently desperate situations. As Christians, we want to be desperate for God, so that we can have the passion to live for him like we know we're supposed to and like we'd really like to but can't seem to work up the energy and discipline to actually do. So we turn to desperation. To some extent, it works. People lose everything, and they turn to God, the only place they can turn, because they've lost every other avenue. The poorest of the poor seem to be the most faithful of the faithful. And we rich American type Christians shake our heads and wonder if we'd be much better off without so much stuff, if we could really live lives of faith.

I've talked about this with several people. There are a few of us who feel that's it's a copout. It seems strange to think of it that way. Because I know there are numerous examples in the story of Jesus and the apostles about giving up all your possessions and devoting yourself completely to God. But I've been thinking, if I gave up my entire life to do missions, it just seems like a copout. I wouldn't be doing it because it's my calling; I'd be doing it because it would be easier. Because I want to serve God a lot, more than I am, and I can't seem to be able to do it right in this affluent nation I live in, so if I get up and go somewhere else and I don't have all this stuff around me to distract me and disintigrate me, I could be whole and strong and right with God in this world. I could live by faith because I'd have nothing else to depend on. This is something I've struggled with for a while. I am confident that my recent excursion to the "dark continent" (it's not dark, really sunny) had nothing to do with such notions. It was right and it was good, and I was sure of doing it for the right reasons. I like to travel a lot, and I want to do more of it and I want to continue to do things that bless people throughout the world, but I have not thought of myself as a missionary (per se) and I do not intend to be one. But I've struggled with this idea of living this life in this affluent nation.

There seems to be a disease, and I think I might be coming to understand it better. A lot of conservatives talk about the degeneration of our society. These are things I've been hearing about all my life: how television is ruining children's minds, how prayer was kicked out of public schools (yeah, I know, :(>), and how morality has gone down the tubes, from abortion to divorce to perversion to politeness. You name it, American culture does it and loves it. At least that's what the conservative mindset seemed to be constantly jamming down our little throats. (I know, it sounds harsh - I may be exaggerating a bit to make my point). Some time ago, I came to the conclusion that I don't really think we're any worse off than we were two hundred years ago. The church and the world have always had problems, and they've always coincided with one another. It's not surprising and I really don't see it getting worse. What I see is a cancer that not enough of us are really addressing seriously, and I believe it is a cancer that has a cure.

This disease I speak of is, namely, cynicism. Now before you shake your heads and raise your eyebrows, going, Jake? I know, I have a tendency toward it. I find the bad in so many things around me. But argue about me as you will, I define myself as an equillibrist. You praise something, I'm likely to point out a flaw. You criticize, I'm likely to point out some redeeming qualities. And overall, I actually do have an optimistic viewpoint, in terms of my worldview, if not always my attitude. Anyway, I'm really not talking about myself, but nor am I talking about the funny cynicism that makes fun of everything that's wrong and finds the humor in it. I'm talking about the truly pessimistic cynicism that doesn't believe in the good. The kind that looks at our world and says that the whole of society and the entire world is in the process of being flushed down the milky way toilet. We're not. It's not.

Here's how all these things are connecting in my mind. Desperation. It is cynicism that gets us to believe that only if we are desperate will we have the motivation to do anything to make a difference in our lives or anyone else's. There are other ways - better ways. For my own life, desperation just seems to get me so far. It get's me up off the couch, but only until I don't feel desperate any more. That's the main problem. Once the desperate feeling fades, so does the habit. Once we've relieved our guilty consciences and once we've relaxed our worried muscles, we slip back into previous patterns. None of us ever wanted it to be that way. But that's why we keep thinking maybe we'll move to India and live with poor people. Because then we'd always be desperate and we'd always be able to live the way we're supposed to, the way we've always wanted.

We keep wondering, how then can we conquer this cynicism? It's not like we haven't tried before. It's not like we didn't go to weight watchers to lose those fifteen pounds; it's not like we didn't do the forty days of purpose with our church; it's not like we didn't start reading our bibles every day. We didn't do all those things just because we were desperate. Or did we?

I don't know how it can be manufactured. There's really no formula I can think of to living by the Spirit and living a life of faith. I'm actually quite certain that none exists. But I have found, and I am by no means an expert or even all that accomplished, but I have found that belief - true belief - is a much better motivator than desperation. We may scoff at those naive individuals who keep telling their kids that they can accomplish whatever they set their minds to (remember, we're cynics). But the fact is that they can and they will, and all our cynicism won't stop them. When we hear pithy sayings like "The only thing to fear is fear itself," we may think of all the bullets and crazy ax-murderers there are out there, but it's not just a cliche or propaganda (it is both those things, but not just). Fear is the only thing to fear, because it's our fear that keeps holding us back. It's not our possessions. It's not our affluence. It's not our comfort. It's our fear. Let's recognize the enemy for who it is. We lack love, we lack strength, we lack faith, we lack hope, because we're afraid. And those who believe are the ones who get healed. It's as simple as that.

Okay, well it might not be simple, and I'm sure there are exceptions. it's not a formula. And there's always the need for balance. But I think the balance has been tipped on the side of desperation. We've been taught for so long to believe in God, that we forgot what it really means. We seem to constantly forget how important it is to trust God. But you can't stop someone who believes in what he's doing. You could shoot him, or take away all his money and everything he has. But because he believes, he's immortal.

Yeah, I think that's nice and poetic, and I'm going to stick with it.


Anonymous said...

never stop believing.

Jake said...

haha, anonymous - that's a funny name!

Anna said...

I think I've been living in desperation for going on two years now, ever since my dad got sick, and it has made my faith stronger. But at the same time, it is equally hard to trust God because things just seem to keep getting worse. I mean, is there a point of too much desperation? Can people pray for just the right amount of desperation?

Jake said...

yeah, I don't know. I'd be wrong to suggest that no one ever benefited from it. But I'm just no longer sure that it's the mental state to be desired. There is something to brokenness as well, but faith hope and love are supposed to make people whole, and just talking from the place where I'm at right now, it seems we would benefit much more from faith, hope and love in the end if we can turn it into a faith hope and love that believes.

Do you think that adds up? I mean it seems like some people actually do change their lives around because they're desperate to do so, but I don't believe it's the optimal state for us to be in for us to be living lives of faith. So we don't need to pray for it. If we feel it, then that's what we feel and we should let it prod us toward faith, but we shouldn't try to conjure it so that we'll stop being stupid with our lives. I think. We should be praying for belief and strength of purpose and joy and peace for our lives so that we can walk in the way of Jesus. That's how I'm seeing it right now anyway.