companion on the shared journey

I had an experience I haven’t had for a very very long time; I had a chance encounter with someone who shared my faith.

Now, being a Christian in America, that doesn’t sound like it would be such a rare thing, but it is. To meet a stranger who is on their own unique dialect of the intentional journey you’re on, seeking God and spiritual formation passionately and honestly, not doing it for recognition or favors or obligation… what a privilege to meet someone like that.

He came in the form of an old man walking into my shop to ask me if I knew anything about the little church next door. One moment later, we were swapping church in the area recommendations and I was telling him about the best church I’ve ever attended. Two moments later, we parted as friends, as brother and sister, with a “God’s blessings on you.”

It was such a small thing, but it moved me. In a time where sarcasm is praised and authenticity is condemned as naivety, camaraderie is truly precious.

I hope he comes back to my shop someday.

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Planning Your Way to Enlightenment

I’ve been trying to manage God.

I want enlightenment so badly. I want to merge and disappear into the Holy Spirit so much it’s almost a physical ache. So I had been trying to plan out how to achieve that, keeping a strict eye on the horizon to make sure that I’m staying on course and that I’m progressing fast enough. As though developing a relationship was as simple and linear as reading a book. But it isn’t.

The only way to achieve intimacy and enlightenment is to do as that old Christian song says and let Jesus/the Holy Spirit drive the car.

The only way to take the next step is to let go. We are finite and we don’t know the path to enlightenment. God does, and he wants us to reach it even more than we want to reach it ourselves.

So do what you know is good for you (ex. pray, meditate, learn, practice), but do it without keeping an eye on your progress.

Trust that if you go where God leads, he will lead you where you are meant to go.

American Church and the “Real Christian”

I’ve been going to a new church with my friends and it is unlike any church I’ve been to.

We lovingly call it “hipster church,” but jokes aside, seeing a church thriving that holds different cultural views than the ones typically associated with church is refreshing. It’s nice to see a church that is quite liberal and still just as serious about seeking and knowing the truth as the conservative ones.

When it’s come to Christianity, I’ve been disheartened by how pervasively sticky culture becomes, how it saturates what we call truth and is then spread around with it as universal, objective truth.

It has been a mission of mine, by spending times outside my culture, to see what in Christianity is purely cultural, and what is true no matter where you go. The two are very different.

There’s nothing wrong with the cultural aspects to religion, but they shouldn’t be welded irremovably to each other. When they are, churches start creating oddly specific sins, saying things like “Real Christians will boycott Disney for this or that reason.” They end up making the price to enter too steep, so eventually people stop entering.

Never mind that God has already invited everyone to know him deeply, even those who like Disney.

Devoted but not Loyal

I’m starting to get burnt out on church again.

I’ve been going to church every week for the past two months: compared to my previous record of once or twice a month. It was great for a while, but the last few weeks I’ve just felt stagnant. And I don’t know if it’s a stagnancy I need to wade through or one I need to change.

When it comes to Christianity, I’m devoted, but I’m not loyal. I believe that, if God/the Universe/the Life Stream is everything–is the beginning, middle, and end of all that exists–no religion, and definitely no church, owns him. Therefore, if a method of connecting to him isn’t working, there’s no shame in leaving and trying something else.

Before I returned to church, my Sundays were spent quietly with coffee and toast, listening to a sermon or other spiritual teaching while playing video games. On mornings when the weather was nice, or when God had something particularly pressing to speak with me about, I would go on a walk or go to the woods to meditate.

I miss those mornings. But at the same time, when I had those mornings, I missed meeting with other Christians and the spiritual stability that church brings.

I need to find a balance.

For now, I think I will continue going to the church I found in Tokyo because I do have good friends there. I’m only here for four more weeks and I want to make the most of the time I have left.

 

Envy

I am reading through a book my friend lent to me and while it is a great read, it has also been stirring up uncomfortable feelings surrounding an already uncomfortable topic for me.

Among other things, the book is about how evangelism isn’t about converting people to a list of doctrines so much as just being there to do life with them and help them in any way you can. That’s great. Totally agree.

Except, I’m not a “hanging out” kind of person. I’m not a talk-with-strangers-on-the-bus kind of person. So…what does that mean for me? What do I have to give?

While I’m not good at being friendly and inserting myself into people’s lives, I am better at other things: like learning, listening, and creating.

Part of being okay with being a good listener and not a great befriender is accepting that I can’t be good at everything. To have a healthy view of myself and others, I need to be okay with my own failures and my own embarrassments. I’m not a god in skin. I’m just a human: one that has trouble relating to other humans a lot of times.

Envy comes when you feel ashamed because you aren’t good in areas other people are. And while self-improvement is good, that self-improvement can’t come from a place of shame. It has to come from a place of acceptance, love, and curiosity.

God’s Little Gifts

All spirits have their own trademark qualities and God, being a spirit himself, is no different. It is an interesting exercise pondering which characteristics God has, especially those that aren’t explicitly listed in literature.

One that I am continually reminded of is how he likes surprising his church/hosts with little gifts. These are often unnecessary and unrequested extravagances. Just little gifts to surprise us and make us smile.

Some branches of religion get caught up in these gifts, which is sad because it misses the point. Following God for his gifts would be like marrying someone for their house.

But the fact remains that God likes to give those little surprises. Like a mother who picks up chocolate bars for her kids while grocery shopping, even though her kids are at home and weren’t expecting anything. The gifts are an expression of love. And, though he doesn’t give expecting anything in return, his love makes us want to surprise him back.

Grounding

I’ve been going to church every week for the first time in many years. There was a period of time where I could hardly stomach anything Christian. Right around the end of college. Church, then, was out of the question. Why would I give up one of my few free days to go somewhere I didn’t want to be? Somewhere that taught things I didn’t agree with?

The answer was obvious: I wouldn’t. And I didn’t.

However, even though the Church has many faults, one thing it does well is providing a safe and caring environment in a cold, distrustful world.

While I am here in Japan for three months, an ocean away from all friends and family, I thought finding a church would be a great way to quickly build a safety net and give me people to hang out with. (It has been good for other things as well, such as learning about God etc, but I admit that was the main draw.) Now, three or four weeks in, going to the same church, I find it has a grounding effect as well.

Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. Some people are too grounded and they have trouble focusing on things outside of this current world.

Other people, like myself, aren’t grounded enough. Without an anchor keeping us tethered to the ground, we float away into a void where nothing matters but the spiritual and nothing has context. Without an anchor, it’s extremely hard to care about anything that’s going on on earth. It breeds apathy, boredom, dissociation, isolation, and sometimes depression.

Church is the remedy for that, no matter what “church” means for you. The act of meeting with other people, other physical, living people, who are interested in the same thing as you is important. Where you study God together, but then eat and chat together as well. Reminding you that, yes, the spiritual realm is important, but so is the physical realm.

I had never realized the importance of grounding yourself in this manner. But now that I have, I wonder how I ever managed without it. I wonder how I didn’t just blow away altogether.