Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Secular Message Christians Should Hear

“There are plenty of people in the world who believe in something and fail to live up to it at times.”

That was the blunt – and surely, the only redeeming – message of last night’s episode of House, the Fox drama about the brilliant, but deeply flawed physicist Dr. Gregory House, who is more prone to popping pain killers than providing any personal comfort to any of his patients during the course of their mysterious illnesses. Last night’s episode should have come as no surprise to anyone familiar with this character or the state of the media’s secular worldview. House does not believe in God and when he comes in contact with a possible miracle, he is hell-bent on proving that there is always – undeniably - a rational explanation for anything that can happen in this life. For those of you not familiar with the program who could give a care less about anything Fox network has to say about God or faith or medicine, please bear with me, I have a point to make. (If you could bear my soap opera references below, I trust you’ll find this equally relevant. One can hope!)

The patient that House comes into contact with is a 16 year old boy who claims to hear the voice of God. As per usual on Fox and any other network approaching such a delicate subject as devout faith, the boy was made out to be more of a cartoon character than a human being and more of a nut than a Christian. This is not surprising. What, after all, has the secular media to offer to debate in the Christian community? More than we realize, I think.

While Christian programming is popular among those who subscribe to the Christian belief system, it is often inaccessible for those who lack faith or spiritual maturity. They are left to get their lessons on God from secular programs that pretend to be religious such as 7th Heaven, which – although it was a program depicting the family of a pastor – was careful not to make any references to God or prayer throughout the course it ran. As a Christian, I sometimes feel it’s important to be familiar with what messages the secular media sends out, if only to be able to rebut the false notions that are presented. I was eager to see how House would frame the issue, though my hope that it would sent any message of redemption dwindled as the program progressed and the main character seemed to become more possessed than convicted.

To sum up the story (so I can finally reach the point I promised earlier) House makes a list comparing his victories to God, and another doctor on the staff who himself is no beacon of morality makes a comment that hits a nerve. He tells House that the reason he cannot believe in God is because that would mean he’d have to admit that he is not in control of everything, that he would have to believe that at any moment, God could exact his will and leave the good doctor paralyzed and incapable of changing the situation. In effect, he tells House that he would have to admit he’s been playing God and give up the power he’s assigned himself. And it hit me that this is a struggle we all go through when we begin to lean on faith, and for a moment I hoped that the character would realize the relief that would come of admitting it’s not all in his hands. But sadly, the story does not end here. It turns out that the “miracle” was actually nothing more than a fraud on the part of the 16 year old boy who in truth had herpes after engaging in pre-marital sex. House concludes that the boy is little more than a hypocrite and the other doctor makes the statement that appears at the top of this blog. That people falter, that people can have beliefs and still fail. Perhaps, not the redeeming message that one might have hoped for, but a start, nonetheless.

And - although it unfairly charecterized Christians - it got me thinking. How often do we really live up to what it means to be a Christian? How often do we behave in ways that diminish other’ perceptions of our faith or cast doubt on the strength of our convictions and then turn around and discuss God? We all fall short, but we still try to send out the message of hope and salvation to a world that is waiting for us to stumble, hungry for more material for late night skits. The example in House is a bit obnoxious and barely conceals it’s skepticism of Christians, but perhaps there is something to be learned from it. We have a duty to respond with love even to criticism and hatred in spite of the fact that we are incapable of leading the sinless life that Christ did. We have a duty to go beyond preaching to the choir and engage those who need better instruction than Oprah’s proselytizing about intolerance or redemptive messages from primetime dramas. We have a duty to admit that we are not perfect but to try our best to live the lives we should. To be an example. (If only it were as easy said as done!)

In admitting our shortcomings, I think, we better glorify a God that does not fail or fall short.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Is there a ONE? Buying into the Lie

Everyday, millions of people are bombarded with ads for dating services such as and eHarmony. They all claim that their unique program can help you find the “one” you are “meant to be” with. With so many singles out there searching for their other half, it got me thinking. Is there really a ONE?

This week, I find myself home sick again, and at one o’clock this afternoon a soap opera that every woman in my family has watched religiously since before I was born, came on the air. The plot lines had barely changed since the last time I’d watched. The characters were still wrapped up in webs of lies and were scheming relentlessly as ever. They were all trying to rearrange their situations and did nothing short of manipulate every one around them so they could get back their one “true love.” In these endeavors, not a single character had any respect for marriage or regard for the truth. They were morally bankrupt to the extent that their driving force was only to reclaim a lost love no matter what the expense to other families. One character repeated the cliché “true love conquers all,” even though it was clear that if true love was what they saw it to be, it surely had failed them.

I remember growing up watching this show with my mom when I was just a little girl. I grew up wishing I could have a marriage someday like Bo and Hope, wanting for someone to come rescue me at every turn like John and Marlena. For those of you who’ve had the misfortune of watching “Days of Our Lives” or ever had the delusions that a soap-opera romance was possible, you know what I am talking about. And it got me thinking, that THIS is exactly what’s wrong with the world. We’ve somehow all adopted the soap-opera mind-set. Deep down, we all want the fairytale. Whether or not we’ve yet resigned to the fact that life is seldom like that, deep down we are all dreamers to some degree.

How many housewives sit home everyday watching programs such as this while their husbands are at work, wishing to themselves that their marriage had the passion or drama as their favorite soap couple? How many husbands are needlessly belittled or undervalued because they cannot live up to the hype that their wives are absorbing day after day? Forget about the Young and the Restless, whatever the age of these viewers, deep down they are all wanting for more, believing the lie that romance, passion, danger and adventure are all there is to life. And when they have to undertake the mundane tasks of preparing supper or washing the dishes or getting the kids ready for bed, their hearts are growing colder, their minds are wandering, their situation seems more and more helpless. These are the real Desperate Housewives.

No one ever told them that the honeymoon eventually fades into the lull of everyday life, that marriage has it’s share of suffering, that the 24-7 soap-opera romance is impossible once the realities of life set in. That’s why people take vows for richer or poorer, sickness and health, good times and bad. Because it won’t always be exciting or fun, it may sometimes be unbearable. Yet the plots of these daytime dramas don’t show that part. When the marriage gets tiresome, when the passion fades, it doesn’t mean it’s time to tackle the problems that have weighed it down, it means you’ve settled down with the wrong person. It means your spouse is not the one! And if you are with the wrong one, then the right one must be out there somewhere, and it’s your duty in life to make sure that you find that one. The vicious cycle goes round and round and I’ll bet my bottom dollar that few of the women who undertake this attitude in real life ever find true happiness. They will always want more. They will always think they’re missing something. They’ll continue to buy into the lie like a sick addiction.

So is there really one person out there for each of us? In a world as big as this, it’s hard to imagine that it’s possible, and it does seem like an awful lot of work, doesn’t it? I do believe that God has a plan for each of us and so I do think it’s possible that there is someone special out there suited for each of us, but I guess there is no real way for us to ever find out, is there? We can either make the most of what we have, or we will be fated to the circular path of Sammy Brady, trying, scheming, manipulating and lowering herself whenever necessary to get the “man of her dreams” which, I assure you, varies from month to month.

Life with M has its share of problems from time to time. Surely, there are days when it feels like a fairytale but there are still days that bring their problems and challenges, but that’s just life and part of the process is learning to get through the hard times and making the most of the good times. Thinking that we can be happy 100% of the time or that any impasse means it’s the end of a good thing can only bring pain and regret. And I’m not a big fan of either.

Surely, we all eventually must realize that there’s more to life than candlelit dinners, spontaneous getaways and long walks on the beach. Though those don’t hurt either… "Like sands through the hourglass..."

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Greatest Lesson

Every now and then, I wonder: Where is my walk leading me? Where am I going and am I staying the course God intends for my life? There are times when it feels that I’ve drifted so far off track that there is no going back. There are times when I feel like I’m just standing still, too stubborn to care. And there are times when I feel like I’m walking so strong in my faith that the fiercest storm couldn’t move me an inch. But what troubles me most is the lack of consistency. And this is where I struggle.

Today is Good Friday, the Christian holiday that remembers the day Christ was crucified. We label it good because in fulfilling His destiny, Christ saved us. Earlier this week, we celebrated in rememberance of the Last Supper, when Jesus broke bread knowing that it would be the last time He’d be with His closest companions before facing crucifixion. Did Jesus wonder these same things that have occupied my mind today?

I think that we often overlook one of the greatest lessons of Christ’s journey to the cross. Though we spend Easter focusing on how Christ conquered even death to free us from sin, there is another story that I try and focus on. And it’s the one that is easiest for me to relate to most times, as I’ve certainly never had to bear any burden as great as His! It’s the fact that Jesus wept.

When Jesus prayed in the garden and asked God to let the cup pass from His lips, He too was shaken and confused. I’m sure He was thinking of how much He’d miss his family and friends. I’m sure He was somewhat afraid. Nevertheless, in spite of that moment of extreme honesty, when He poured out His heart before God, He immediately acknowledged that He would do His Father’s will no matter what. There are few of us that face difficult commands – though they pale in comparison to this - with such grace and less still who vow to do God’s will no matter what it means.

I wish I had the wisdom that I often lack. And I guess that’s all part of the journey for a Christian. Trying to walk as He did, trying to be strong and good as He was. But the sad reality is that we will all fail. We will all fall short.

But the good news is that it doesn’t matter, because Christ’s blood, which was shed on the cross, washes away the stain of sin on each of us, no matter how deep and dark that stain can be.

On Sunday, we will shout “He is Risen. He is Risen, indeed,” and I will remember that even our Perfect Savior had moments of doubt and despair. And I will trust that God will guide me through, even the difficult times. He’s certainly gotten me this far!

God's Grace...

Monday, April 10, 2006

Healing for a Broken Heart: More Than Words

“Healing for a broken heart.” That - for what it’s worth - is the most common search that brings newcomers to my blog every month and has been ever since it was first launched. Ironically enough, it was my search for that very thing that prompted me to start this site back when I did. I thought then that if I could put all my rants and ramblings – however incoherent they can be at times - out there in one place for others to respond to, I would be able to sort through the confusion in my heart, I’d be able to unload some of the baggage of my past and leave it behind, regardless of the fact that it would undeniably be preserved somewhere in the blogosphere for others experiencing similar circumstances to stumble on from time to time. And in so many ways, it’s worked.

But the question I find myself asking is whether or not I ever really answered the question I posed for myself – whether or not I ever got it “all figured out.” And I realize now that there are seldom times when we really do have anything all figured out, but I’d like to say, it’s definitely given me some insights.

How many times has it been said that “time heals all wounds?” It’s the ultimate cure-all. Just wait, sit tight, have patience and time will take care of the rest. What about: “This too shall pass?” Is there a grandmother on the planet that hasn’t fallen back on this turn of phrase? But how many times have we heard it said and rolled our eyes before reasoning away as to why it didn’t apply to our specific situation? (“You just don’t understand…” / "It's easier said than done.") Was grandma really just trying to shut us up and force us to move on with our lives rather than cry in our coffee? Or was there actually something at the heart of what she was saying?

After countless failed attempts at happiness, relationships with shelf lives shorter than skim milk – long-distance, short-distance, hardly-any distance scenarios that never seemed to work out, going from fearful to fearless and back again in a matter of months, it certainly seems I’ve run the gambit and shored up for myself a wealth of life lessons before I found a way to make it work with the right person. And if I learned anything it’s that it takes a lot more than time to heal old wounds – though time is certainly a factor. It takes perspective. It takes wanting to be over the past, being ready to give it up and get back up again. It takes a lot of patience and a lot of prayer.

So maybe there really is no prescription out there to be found. Maybe the search terms entered will not yield anymore of a cure-all now than the clichés I referenced earlier. But sometimes, that's just life. And it’s like anything else. Some of us can fall down and get back up again without a whimper, others are more fragile and require some time before they can get back on their feet, and sadly there are some that fall and never walk again. But the key isn’t to just let time pass and rely on that alone to make all wrongs right. It’s to acknowledge that time has passed, realize what has changed and accept the things you can’t control, allow yourself the necessary time to grieve, but find the stregnth to carry on, to try and be prepared to fail again, and keep a positive outlook that - of all things and as corny as it sounds - there will be “a better day,” even if it’s not tomorrow. So even if it seems it only comes full circle to another list of to-do’s, another stockpile of comforting words that do not yet seem to apply, it may not matter at the end of the day, if it gets you through. One day at a time.

I’ve learned to trust God with the things I can’t control and take responsibility for the things I can. It’s been a long battle and I’ve fallen away more times than I can recall, but in the end - no matter what the outcome - I’ve something much stronger to fall back on than mere words, a source of comfort and strength more enduring than the most ancient of adages. And my heart goes out to those who stumble and fall, and find themselves broken, never knowing the enormous healing power of a little faith. I can only hope to share it in these feeble entries. And pray that those who search for healing will also find it.