January 26, 2010

The Face of Humility

Yesterday, I drove a 27-foot truck to Bowling Green, KY for work and found out what humility looks like. I started working for a document destruction company this summer called Knight Horst Shredding. I drive a truck and shred paper. We're based out of Nashville but sometimes we do runs to cities within a few hours of us. So I was given the KY route yesterday and I met a guy who showed me humility.

I was standing outside of the GM plant in Bowling Green loading and unloading some trash cans of full and empty paper into the truck with one of the maintenence workers for the plant. I forgot his name. His job was to take care of trash and to help maintain the physical structure of the building. I could tell that he was in his late thirties and he didn't have a hint of presumption in him. He was a really happy, too--he told me that GM was the best company he had ever worked for. They bought him $180 boots every year, and when some of the "higher-ups" came to town, his boss invited him to get beers, too, not just his supervisors.

"When you have something to say, they do it," he said. "If you've got a good idea or need tools, they'll support you... they listen," he summarized. As we were talking and un/loading, he asked me if I liked my job.

I told him, "No, it's just a job for me right now." It has been just a job for me over the last six months. Then, I told him something good about the job: "But it's taught me humility."

And his response caught me off guard completely: "How's that?"

My job is basically a glorified trashman, I was thinking. I remember reading that MLKJ said even if you're a street-sweeper, be the best street-sweeper you can be. Paper-shredding became my street-sweeping this summer, and I told the GM worker that it had taught me humility.

By the way he asked the question, I realized in that moment that I had just said something about his job too--that it was subpar and benneth me. My words hit me in the face through his piercing question. I could tell that he understood what I had said, but he didn't even know what I meant when I said that this job had taught me humility.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I read part of C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity. I say "part" because I had to stop at his chapter called "The Great Sin" in reference to pride. I had to read it a few times. It haunted me that I could have every virtue and still have the greatest sin, pride. So I resolved to define and understand pride so I could avoid it like the plague. I was never satisfied with any effable definition; instead, I decided that I could only recognize it in myself and others, not define it.

That day I saw the opposite of pride in the GM worker who was helping me unload trash cans from the truck. I have been humbled but I'm not humble yet. He was humble.

January 20, 2010

Sticks and Stones, Love (Positive Theology: v)

There’s great irony in my writing this blog entry.
I want to talk about the power of the spoken word and I’m typing. Hear me out though, metaphorically speaking. My whole life I’ve heard, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Recently, I’ve given it a second thought.

Commuting from Nashville to Lexington every week last semester game me a lot of time to think about the words I’ve heard and spoken.
Then, this week, I lost my voice and I couldn’t speak for about three days, so I had time to think about life without words. I went through an entire day of work without my full voice. It was amazing how differently life happened without the ability to speak. My job requires that I go in and out of offices picking up paper for shredding. Then, I’m required to put the paper in a truck and shred it, ‘Mobile Shredding,’ it says on the side of my truck. There’s a small constituent of receptionists in Nashville that know me only as “The Shredder.” I’ve never met the ninja turtles, but maybe if I keep this identity, they’ll find me. Going in and out of these offices without the ability to speak made me realize that they probably think I’m mute! I had the thought—how much different would I be if I could never speak? I don’t really know, but I’d probably be a better person... maybe worse.

I am making a verse in Hebrews 3 one of my life verses: “Encourage one another daily as long as it is called today.”
I don’t know how to encourage someone without using words. Okay, I guess I could write letters and give pats on the back, but I’m not sure if there’s a more powerful way to encourage someone than to speak. I guess that’s why preaching is powerful. I say preaching not in a negative way but in the true meaning of the word. Preaching, when done well, is encouraging. Everyone thinks about God, but it’s completely different to talk about him. I used to think that preaching meant coming up cool, new ideas about the nature of God every week. But I think preaching is different. Preaching doesn’t require innovation but simply using the spoken word to remind the people of God the content and meaning God’s story.

It’s kind of like when you know someone is holding something against you and they just need to say it.
You wanna scream: “Say what you need to say?” But John Mayer’s words would only make the elephant in the room more awkward. I think God wants me to confess more... out loud. Not just to Him but to people I’ve hurt. James told the early Christians, “Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Something happens when we speak the truth even if it’s about sin.

There’s something about talking to people that we tend to avoid: confrontation.
It’s so easy to talk about people, but it’s hard to talk to people. I have this theory that I’ll never be able to prove. It’s that every war, divorce and broken relationship comes from bad communication—words spoken rashly, words spoken in hate or words never spoken at all.

January 5, 2010

Positive Theology: The words of Jesus (iv)

I stopped blogging a few months ago in the middle of a series about words because I got swamped with responsibilities. During last semester I was overwhelmed with life but God’s word sustained me. Literally. I started to have physical manifestations of stress and it was only God’s truth and his Spirit that kept me going both physically and spiritually. I learned the importance of receiving his words, ancient and new. So, if you would, allow me to pick up where I left off—with the words of Jesus.

In the letter to the Hebrews chapter one, the audience was told that Jesus upholds the universe by the power of his word. When Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God, he did it with his words: 1) He healed a paralytic by a word (Matt. 8.8). Did you catch it? His word changed the physical world. 2) And he cast out demons with a word (Matt. 8.16). Jesus came preaching the kingdom (reign) of God and this reign came through his words. Words have the power to change both the physical and spiritual natures of the cosmos (borrowing Platonic language, sorry).

Words do something in physicality whether in the creation event (i.e. God spoke creation into existence) or in the recreation events, ancient and new. Simply put: Jesus’ words bring life. The same power that was in God’s words of creation was in Jesus’ words too as he re-inaugurated the kingdom brining new creation to earth.

If any words have sustained me over the past few weeks, they are the words of Jesus Simon Peter talked about in John chapter six. Jesus had preached the crowd down from 5,000 to twelve. Then he turned to the twelve and asked, “You don’t want to go too, do you?” And Peter said, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have believed and have known that you are the Holy One of God.”

That’s a real question that we all get asked in one way or another: “Are you going to leave Jesus when his call it gets confusing?” I’ve thought about alternative options at various times in my life, but the truth is that I have nowhere else to go besides Jesus. He has the words that give real life. It’s true life in the sense that it’s full and never stops—it's both immense and continuous. I don’t know anyone else who gives that kind of thing away. I’m here to stay.

More to come on the power of the spoken word. Next is a discussion on the typology with which the (the body of Christ) should model Jesus’ use of the spoken word.