Cabin Fever Faith

GettyImages_468857481

In light of our recent weather patterns and school closings (and another one only hours away!), the term CABIN FEVER seems quite timely. My guess is that it’s one of those phrases used by teenagers AND senior adults and everyone in between, though its roots have been outdated for quite some time. [Side note: before you go Google Image Searching this phrase, be warned that this is also the name of a recent horror movie series, which I now have even less interest in ever watching.] 

Cabin fever is what we get when we are cooped up too long in the same place, with the same people. A list of symptoms include irritability, restlessness, extreme boredom, prolonged exhaustion, and lack of any motivation whatsoever. You’ve seen this happen in the beach house, in the really long car ride, and most recently, in your own snow-covered homes. Cabin fever causes problems for all of us, as it threatens to chase off any spark of creativity or sense of gratitude. But here’s the thing: cabin fever is an even bigger threat to the Way of following Jesus.

Cabin fever faith can happen just like this:
1. You are a passionate follower of Jesus.
2. You are lovingly surrounded by many people who support, and encourage you.
3. Your thoughts and their thoughts start to align.
4. Your Christianity becomes very comfortable, even effortless. And so, naturally, you get more comfortable, and put in less effort.
5. You further insulate yourself with only those who really agree with you and with whom you have most things in common.
6. You start to resent new people who come in to the group. You’d rather things stay the way they are.
7. You are increasingly complacent and unsatisfied with what you “get out” of your faith. So you focus even more on yourself and less on others.
8. You go to worship and fellowships and projects, but your primary purposes are social. You don’t have time to go beyond the minimum responsibilities.
9. You realize you are no longer praying for anyone other than yourself, and even that’s rare.
10. You make faith a totally internalized, privatized, and relativized thing, just one small part of your public identity.

We’re not spending too much time in cabins off in the woods; we’re spending too much time in the cabins of our own self-construction. Our own phones, our own social games and social media profiles, our own busy schedules, our own rooms, our own earbuds, our own preferences for every single thing in life. We have so many other things competing for our time and attention, and they are all capable of serving us in some way, so why not think the same way about our faith?

Imagine a big snow coming (or just look out your window tomorrow morning). You see a neighbor struggling to shovel her driveway. You have a small instinct that perhaps you should go offer to help. But then you think better of it, knowing you’ve got your own things to worry about and accomplish for the day. And yet, you feel a little less content with your own self in that decision, and become a little less motivated and energized.

A few centuries, English poet John Donne penned the words, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man [and woman] is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” (For Whom the Bell Tolls, 1623). Picking up on this notion and applying it to the deeper calling of Christ, 20th century Trappist monk Thomas Merton writes,

It is therefore of supreme importance that we consent to live not for ourselves but for others. When we do this we will be able first of all to face and accept our own limitations. As long as we secretly adore ourselves, our own deficiencies will remain to torture us with an apparent defilement. But if we live for others, we will gradually discover that no one expects us to be ‘as gods.’ We will see that we are human, like everyone else, that we all have weaknesses and deficiencies, and that these limitations of ours play a most important part in all our lives. It is because of them that we need others and others need us. We are not all weak in the same spots, and so we supplement and complete one another, each one making up in himself for the lack in another.” (No Man Is An Island, 1955)

Perhaps these next few days, you’ll find a new way to avoid cabin fever, and my guess is that it will be found in the decision to venture out. Out of your own doors, perhaps, as you go build a snowman or help shovel the neighbor’s drive. But also out of your own insulated, close-knit group of friends, as you find the courage to go up and talk to someone you usually ignore. Venture out of your own all-too-familiar and routine parts of following Jesus, perhaps by picking up a new practice, like a real Quiet Time in the morning, or reading through one of the entire gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John), or praying for someone else every night before you go to sleep.

Don’t keep your faith locked behind the doors of your own constructed cabin for fear of bitterly cold and uncomfortable surroundings. Open wide your doors of security and selfishness and allow Christ-like love and service to rush in. It’s the perfect cure to cabin fever.

Along the Journey…
CC

1 out of 10

I was a failure the first nine times I drove by Rarity Mountain, TN. Maybe it was raining, or getting late, or I was pressed for time [you know how so many guy in particular like to “make good time!”]. One time it was snowing. But often, the weather was fine, and the view from my rental car was just breathtaking, even at 75 miles per hour on I-75. Sadly enough, I was heading to and from Louisville, KY for classes related to Christian ministry, ethics, and theology. But though I would feel some sort of internal desire to take the exit and just stop
for
a
moment,
I always found a reason to keep on going.
Until that last time, which was after my final class, just a few weeks ago. Finally, on my tenth time driving through that part of those Tennessee mountains, I decided to stop. I took the aptly named “Rarity Mtn” exit and just parked my rental car on the ramp.

SIDE NOTE: if you’re ever driving by Exit 156 on I-75, you should stop. There is literally no reason for this exit except to stop; otherwise, the exit ramp just becomes the entrance ramp and you’re back on the interstate again.

I climbed the grassy hill and took the highest vantage point I could find. A time or two, I considered how this would be an opportune time for some troubled person to come and end my life. But for the most part, I just took took those moments are (unfortunately) rare occasions to breathe in God’s breath of beautiful life, and to breathe out true gratitude and praise.

IMG_3696

And the picture doesn’t begin to do justice to the view.

It was here that I realized I may most often be like the 9 lepers who forgot to give thanks to Jesus after being healed. While staying at a distance from him, as lepers were required to do from all who were clean and whole, they yelled out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” He then told them to go and show themselves to a priest, which was the necessary way for lepers to be pronounced clean and welcomed back into community again. Of course, for that to work, the leprosy would have to be cured. And on this fateful day, without any real explanation other than their encounter at a distance with Christ, that’s just what happened! But high on the hype and excitement of newfound life and acceptance, 9 of the 10 lepers get on with their life, neglecting to return to Jesus and give thanks.

Only 1 came back. And, in typical, unexpected fashion, that 1 happened to be a Samaritan, an outsider (according to 1st century Jews). Jesus says, “Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner? Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.” (Luke 17:18-19).

Honestly, maybe we’re all like the 9 lepers most of the time. Though we may get small hunches to do something unexpected, to stop from our self-made busy lives, and go out of our way to recognize the work of God, we rarely do. That’s the lesson I learned for myself on Rarity Mtn, that one time when I actually took the time and acknowledge the ever-present work and blessing of God.

Here’s how I ended my own journaling entry on that lonesome and divinely encircled grassy hill:
Sunset is only a half hour away, and to my purposeful car I’ll return and speedily go my way home. But I’m grateful for this time and this place and this relentless call to PAUSE, TURN, & GIVE THANKS.

Along the Journey…
CC

Our Painful Past

69162221-2

Two days ago, 20 of our youth went to see Selma, a film that is in no way a “feel-good” kind of movie. It was painful to watch, at times tearful, and while there were persistent elements of hope and progress, the overarching storyline was the tragic and persistent degrading of black Americans in our nation’s history. The events of Selma in the mid 60’s were just a small snapshot of the widespread injustices in our nation’s Civil Rights movement, and even though the facts and pictures and gravestones have been telling these stories for decades, this cinematic portrayal gives new life and testimony to the often stark realities of our shared American past. When the movie ended and our youth all remained seated for several minutes more, it was clear that the call to painful remembrance must be followed with a personal and collective response: for silent confession, for compassionate grieving, for heightened present-day awareness, for Christ-like solidarity with the suffering, for prayerful commitment towards the realization of the Kingdom of God.

Right now, my alma mater, Clemson University, is also dealing with the stark realities of their painful past, as students, faculty, and Trustees engage in a heated debate about the the potential re-naming of Clemson’s most iconic building, Tillman Hall (see picture above). Without going into all of the history, what must be known is that the namesake for this iconic building, Benjamin Tillman (US Senator for South Carolina from 1895-1918), was an unabashed white supremacist responsible for the murder of several black men, the frequent degradation of the black race, and a leading advocate for the Lynch Law. He was also a founding trustee for Clemson University. Interestingly, I sat in class with one of his descendants in my college speech class. She  had decided to do some research into her distant namesake, expecting to find proud connections of which she could boast; instead, she painfully uncovered Tillman’s hate-filled legacy and was deeply ashamed.

Selma is not just about feeling sorry or shame for those whose lives and deaths precede us. Likewise, neither are the sins and short-failings of our own personal and family histories. Shame and guilt do not lead us any closer to abundant living. When we find ourselves in such moment of painful vulnerability, we should hear Jesus say to us as he said to the woman caught in adultery and publicly dragged before the stone-wielding judgment crowd: “Let the one who is without sin throw the first stone!” Moments later, as the judgment stones begin to drop to the ground, Jesus continues, “Do not one of them condemn you? Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” (John 8).

Proverbs 28:13 offers this instruction: “People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.” We all need to hear these words and realize that a painful look into our past (individually and communally) is a part of being faithful to God. It is necessary, for we all must take responsibility for our own mistakes and our own contributions to larger societal sins (sadly, racism still does exist, but it is not the only prejudice and cause of injustice). 

“Lord, we confess our wickedness
    and that of our ancestors, too.
    We all have sinned against you.” (Jeremiah 14:20)

“If we claim we have no sin,
we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.

But if we confess our sins to him,
he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

If we claim we have not sinned,
we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.”
(I John 1:8-10)

I pray that our families, our youth group, and our church can always be places where we can honestly confess our sins and short-failings with one another, not so we can feel unworthy, but so we can live in a way that recognizes the God-given worth of each human life. That’s the conviction Baptist preacher and prophetic leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was embodying years ago in Selma. And it’s what all Christ-followers all called to embody all around the world, including right here in Asheville.

Along the Journey…
Casey

CAT Service

Our youth-led worship service last week has been uploaded to the FBCA vimeo page. The various elements are the result of 10 weeks of our CAT classes (Creative Arts Training) this fall and all those who participated (on the platform and in the background or even the A/V room!) did a wonderful job communicating our desire to move from the Shallows to something deeper in life and faith. Most importantly, this was not a talent show or performance geared towards grandparents and posed photos; it was a true time of worship. So thanks to all who made this possible, including our wonderful instructors and teachers!

Beginning in the Deep End

177860671

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…”

Holy Scripture begins at the deep end.  It’s where God’s purpose is first on display, where God’s own breath first stirred the waters and a newly imagined Creation was spoken into being. As far as the book of Genesis is concerned, our grappling with the work and identity of God in this world begins in the Deep End.

Our students have heard me talk a lot about The Shallows since my arrival to Asheville. It was the theme of our recent fall retreat, the theme of our youth-led service tonight at church. I first found myself stirred with the culturally-chilling imagery well over 18 months ago, and its effects are still resonating somewhere within my deeper self. When we take any given week of news headlines and pop culture into honest perspective, our own cultural tendency towards the shallow end is clear. To be brutally honest, many of us are often drawn to it.

Click here to read the latest hollywood gossip! You’ll never believe what this actress/politician was caught doing…check out the embarrassing YouTube video now going viral! Listen to this catchy song talking about (you guessed it) body image! Come to the newest megachurch where crowds of people pile in for a rock concert and entertaining message sure to offend anyone old, lame, uncool, or generally not like us!

We can all trace our beginnings back to a shallow end. It’s the natural place to begin: in our curiosities, our education, our habits, even our own faith. Just think about your own first encounters with a pool. That one day when you bravely walked those cold, drenching steps from the kiddie pool over to the shallow end. Compared to where you’d come from, the shallow end was deep enough! Eventually, promoted by courage or curiosity, we all start edging a little closer to the deeper side, to where we have to bob up and down in order to keep our heads above water. This shallow end serves a helpful and needed purpose for a long time in our lives.

But then there comes a dare. An instinct. [Or, in some cases, a push.] We see those words “Deep End” and defiantly jump past them, allowing ourselves to sink deeper and deeper, toes outstretched, anxiously awaiting impact with the rough concrete floor. Can you recall those vivid moments of Deep End Inauguration? Can you feel that painful pressure on your ears upon reaching a new level of submersion? Along with the prideful elation “I touched! I touched!” We find new beginnings in the Deep End of the pool.

And in faith.

“You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.” (Hebrews 5:12-14)

Let’s not settle for a spiritual lifetime in the shallows. Or a cultural one, for that matter. Let’s do the difficult but holy work that awaits us under the face of the deep. Be sure, it can be quite painful. Jarring, even. But it can also be rewarding in new ways. Drenching to our core. Two-dimensionally, we won’t be able to cover nearly as much ground as when we were in shallower waters. And from the by-stander, we may seem less active, less engaged. But under the surface, there is a whole new dimension of experience taking place.

Here’s a very simple but potentially fruitful exercise: next time you’re in your own room, open your Bible up. No, not the Bible app on your phone, or BibleGateway on your computer. Your Bible made of paper and ink and binding. Open up to one of the stories you’ve recently been thinking about, or one of the passages that recently showed up in a Bible study or church worship. Open to the decided page, and then read the entirety of what’s before you. But don’t turn back, and flip ahead. Stay on those pages, and let yourself read, re-read, and re-re-read (?!?) again. For a day, a weekend, even a week. Don’t be tempted to cover the whole book or to try to tackle the whole sequence of what’s going on; instead, resolve yourself to find the depths before you. It may be challenging to settle for such a narrow scope, but you’re not aiming for width; you’re going for depth.

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…”

Holy Scripture begins at the deep end. It’s where God’s purpose is first on display, where God’s own breath first stirred the waters and a newly imagined Creation was spoken into being. And as far as our own encounters with God are concerned, it’s where a new dimension of faithful living can begin.

Along the Journey…
CC

Behind the Scenes

Yesterday was not just a day out of school (for many of you). It was Veteran’s Day, and on such a day, it’s important to be mindful of those who’ve come before us and helped make the present moments possible–through veterans military service and sacrifice, but also through other types of services and sacrifices. Very often, these people remain behind the scenes in our society, as we are largely oblivious to all that goes on locally and around the world which enable us to live the American experience.  This is certainly the case with military personnel who serve on bases and enlist for tours of duty around the world. And it’s also the case for people who serve alongside us everyday yet remain mostly unseen, like janitors in your schools. While you are up to your eyeballs in learning new scientific theories and memorizing math equations, they are busy cleaning up the messes in cafeterias, bathrooms, and hallways, rarely for any word of thanks or admiration.

It can be a very healthy thing for each one of us to spend some time working behind the scenes, offering services for little-to-no recognition. Sure, do this long enough and you’ll likely end up bitter, angry, or isolated. But from time to time, we need to find ways to do something good simply because it needs to be done. As we roll up our sleeves and stoop down to serve someone else for no real incentive (“Will work for NO pay!”), we may find ourselves in a better position to live into Christ’ example [“For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45)]. And we can more truly hear the words of I Peter 5:6-7: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that God may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on God, because God cares for you.”
 
Our adult choir recently sang an incredibly moving work called Requiem for the Living. Though vastly all of the lyrics are in Latin, this challenging piece of music delivered a profound message that needed no translation. It’s definitely one of the choral selections I’ll long store in my heart and mind. Last week a video recording of Requiem was shared online, with all five movements added sequentially.  If you haven’t seen the video, you can access it here.  And when you watch it, you’ll see how much thoughtful camera work and videography went into the recording, all from folks who were floors below, carefully fulfilling their work behind the scenes. Though their work is unseen by people in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings, it in fact becomes significantly viewed across the area (and even the globe) once each video is posted. Some of our own Youth have recently helped in the broadcast room (see pictures below).
We are entering a joyful season of gratitude, and I hope that each of us find ways to not only enjoy the blessings in our own lives, but also to be blessings to others simply by doing simple but thankless work behind the scenes.
  • Mow your neighbor’s lawn or rake their leaves—and then don’t ask for or accept a payment!.
  • Return the stray shopping carts in the parking lot back to where they belong.
  • Clean up the messy bathroom/cafeteria table even if you didn’t make the mess.
  • Instead of buying another expensive snack or treat for yourself, spend that money at the Advent Conspiracy table at church.
We need to do these things not because it’s seasonally appropriate, and not so we can earn service hours or brownie points with our teachers/family/neighbors. We need to do these things because they are exactly the kind of things for which Christians need to be known.
Along the Journey…
CC

FBCA broadcast youth 2 FBCA broadcast youth 2014 IMG_3298 IMG_3299

IMG_3300

IMG_3305