Saturday, May 19, 2012

Burnout



Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again, rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Phil. 4:4-7

And all of the above is often not as easy as it sounds.

____________________


So I have come to a somewhat painful conclusion to something in my life over the past few days.  I am giving up on my career of being a teacher...at least in the "Normal" sense of the word.  This was not an easy decision, nor am I totally closing the door.  However, I am done with working in a public school.

I have been working in one way or the other with kids with special needs, who are "At-Risk" and so on for over 10 years now.  This year and last, I have been working with "Extreme Risk" kids and their families.  To be blunt, I am exhausted and I no longer wish to see what I see any more.

Let me make a LONG story short...

This was the second day in a row where I woke up from having nightmares about my school.  That is not the best thing to experience.

During this time I have been working two jobs.  At my main job a friend of mine told me earlier this week that she had been telling people that she hoped I did not take the full-time offer that the school was handing me.  She told me that she had seen how much it was affecting me...and not in a good way.  Later that night, I told that story to another co-worker.  I asked her if she had seen a negative affect on me.  Her answer?  "Oh Yeah!" (Again, not a good sign.)


Here is the problem.  I was offered a full-time position for next year at this school.  While that was nice, the golden cherry on the cake was a waiver for my license. (In Minnesota you have to take classes to renew your license every 5 years.  We are incredibly anal about that.) This would have given me time to get take those same classes and keep current.  Without this waver my license is over at the end of June...and as a result, so is my chance to teach in any public school in this State. (Hey, there is always North Dakota.)


Well, I did some checking into all sorts of options.  The problem is complicated, but in the end a large chunk of everything comes down to money.  As weird as it is, I would end up making less money with a full-time school position, and have no union support, minimal insurance, and no guarantee of employment after the school year was over.  So...

But the final straw was what I had to see everyday I went to this school.  I believe in what they are trying to do.  However, I have never seen a place that has such minimal support for what they have to deal with.  There are no mental health services.  No hall monitors.  No immediate consequences for bad behavior.  The teachers and staff are stretched unbelievably thin.

I should also mention that there is no air conditioning in this building, and the district has asked us not to bring the kids outside to play because this time of year the neighborhood is too dangerous.  AWESOME!!!

All of this to work with a group of students who are the most difficult in the city.

All of us have been threatened by parents.  Yesterday, a 6th grade girl wanted to beat up a female teacher.  I get to see the results of incredibly stupid parents on a daily basis...if parents are involved at all.  Everyday, everyday, everyday, I get to see a large mass kids who are so broken and messed up that  the odds of them making it out of the hole that they are in is pretty remote. (And I am being very gentle in my choices of words here.) 

It is heartbreakingly frustrating and depressing.  On a daily basis I get to see kids who are offered help over and over again, but refuse it.  They have been so damaged by their families and the surrounding environment that they know no other way to act other than what the streets, their completely dysfunctional families, and some misogynistic rapper with a death-wish have taught them.  Far too often it is simply like watching a slow motion suicide.  And it takes it's toll on the viewer.

I don't want to see this anymore.


I should mention that there are many, many bright spots.  I have three 6th grade boys that have college and beyond written all over them.  There are a couple of female students that I have no worries about, too.  But the rest...

____________________


I dunno.  Maybe this makes me a bad person.  I just can't handle seeing this stuff every day.  I'm fried.  I have one day off a week...and I seem to spend all of it working on the other stuff that I can't get to during the other days.  Heck, I can barely find the time to write on this blog or other stuff.  That really bothers me, because it is what makes me feel very alive and helps me process.  My friends & family have all noticed what a toll this has taken on me.  I would like to be a stronger man, but maybe that is simply false pride.  I'm just beat.

________________________


I would like to say that I can easily turn all of this over to God.  I would like to simply lay it all at the feet of Jesus.  But the fact is that I can't get most of this stuff out of my head.  Maybe what I need is to simply collapse at the feet of Jesus in a big, sweaty, quivering mess.

The bright side is that it is a door that is closed.  Sometimes those closed doors are more important than the open ones.  I still would like to work in some type of education.  I love the intellectual give & take.  It feeds me. (Unfortunately, I am not fed at that school.  Instead, I feel like an captive donor to a swamp of mosquitos.)

These are the times when you have a lot of questions, but really no good answers.  You just have to sit and wait for God to do what ever it is that he does.  That makes me uncomfortable, but I still have a long way to go when it comes to learning patience.  I do believe that God is at work in all of this.  I just don't know what he is doing or what he has up his sleeve.

Frustrating, to say the least.

In the mean time, I am just tired and burned out...very, very burned out.


"It's better to burn out than to fade away."
Neil Young



Anyone have any good ideas?

Peace

Joe

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The simplicity of Jesus


"I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me."
John 14:6


"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."
Acts 4:12


About a week ago I was talking to a friend who was having troubles with the whole "Christian" thing.  There are issues that many christians bring up that bug him in one way or the other.

There is plenty of stuff that christians bring up that bug me a lot, too.  Honestly, a good deal of what we seem to spend so much energy on are simply not issues of day-to-day faith...if they are issues at all.

So I told my friend to "Stick with Jesus, then work your way out from there."

That has become my answer more and more for almost all the stuff that seems to worry Americanized "Christians."  Just stick with Jesus...work your way out from there.  I find that to be an incredibly satisfying answer.  It seems to drive some people nuts, but it works for me.  And it really is that simple.


A few weeks ago, Pastor Scott asked me about how I viewed dinosaurs Adam & Eve and all that Genesis stuff.  He leans a little more towards a literal interpretation generally speaking.  I lean towards the three different creation stories (And I do mean different...because they are.) as being parables & poetry.

I told him that in the long run I really don't worry much about that debate.  I just stick with the reality of Jesus.  He is the center.  He is what matters.


____________________


Think of it like this: Any & everything about Christianity rises or falls on Jesus being who he claimed to be, the visible image of the invisible God, that he was crucified & resurrected in his bodily form, that he ascended into heaven, and that he will come back someday, and that he insists that you offer him your broken & contrite heart so that he can be both your savior AND your Lord/Master because he is the only, only, only way to salvation.

It also helps that scores of eyewitnesses saw all of that and were willing to, and often did, pay with their lives to testify to that.


It's really that plain and simple.  That is Christianity in a nut shell.



And now for my awesome analogy!
SO, if you think of the church, body of Christ, etc. as being like a target, Jesus has to be dead center.  Pull him out and everything else falls apart.  He is central, period!  (Insert my paragraph from above in here if you are confused.) Then you can get to the other issues.


I would argue that basic orthodoxy would be the second ring after Jesus.  The creeds of the early church, like the Nicene & Apostles Creeds, offer excellent summaries of what historic, orthodox christianity has believed and taught for almost 2000 years now, and they obviously compliment our understanding of Jesus.

BTW: If you would like to take a gander at those creeds, simply click these links.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicene_Creed
AND  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostles'_Creed


Personally, I would look to issues of personal piety as being the third ring.  I mean, if you really believe that Jesus is who he said he was, and have committed your life to following him, then living a life that is pleasing to him out of love & gratitude really ought to be up there...even before other theological issues.  That would include everything from how you love your neighbor, show mercy towards others, interact with almost everything in this world as the salt & light that you were called to be, etc.

In truth, this area is so massive that it could keep you discussing it's issues for ages...and maybe that is why we so often seem to skip it to get to other rings.  Most of the time you work using principles, not solid rules.  The bible doesn't speak much about how you change the oil on your car.  However, showing respect to God's creation implies that you do not dump it in the river.

Most of the time these principles are pretty clear, they are just difficult to live into.  Let's say you have a colleague at your job who is a raging "A** hole," (Bet you might know one or two folks like that.) how do you show love and mercy to that person?  The insistence of Jesus that you do show love is absolute, but it's very hard to do...and often confusing.


I would say that some deeper theological issues come about the 4th ring.  Issues like what all that sanctification stuff is comes into play around here.

But now comes the fun part.  We are already at the 4th ring on that target.  That is three levels removed from the central importance of Jesus.  So now we come to level 5, and that would be the area of doctrines such as Predestination vs. Free-will, Eschatology, etc. (For those not in the know, "Eschatology" is the study of "End Times" stuff.  You get some great ideas for movies with this area.)


I find it absolutely fascinating that there are churches out there that have their entire ministry built on Eschatology.  That goofy Rev. John Hagee spends all of his time and preaching on essentially the book of Revelation. (When he isn't praying for the U.S., England & Israel to bomb Iran.) Or you get that sad old man Harold Camping, spending time and money worrying about when the Rapture might occur.

I'm not sure how any of that helps me live in love towards some of the folks I know who are trapped in some truly horrible sins.

Also, and this is not to pick on the Young, Restless and Retarded...I mean Reformed!  But since they like to slap around everyone else, I would like to point out that the church existed for 1600 years before Calvin got that ball rolling.  Seriously, it's a great debate over coffee, but other than that...

I desperately need to love some very unlovable people at that school I am working at.  I simply do not have the time or energy for silly philosophical/theological debates that really don't mean all that much.  Especially when flawed human reasoning always worms its way into those mixes.


Yet we love to run to those 5th, 6th, 7th et al issues.  Maybe we are just trying to show how religious we are by doing so.  So for all intents & purposes, we look at that target and rarely aim for the center, the bull's eye.  We seem to think that hitting the other rings are good enough.

Sure.  Ignore the words of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount.  Ignore his interactions with the most marginalized members of society.  Ignore his calls to sexual purity, for not looking at others as simply a sex object.  Ignore the fact that he had furious concern for the poor.  Also, be sure to ignore the fact that he seemed to get the most worked up over people who thought they had God all figured out and could put him in their pockets.

It's much more important to get all bent out of shape over the need to speak in tongues...or that this gift is no longer "Dispensed."  Obviously, making sure that Adam & Eve road dinosaurs in the garden like Fred Flinstone is central to the faith.  And let us not forget that the debate over the rapture being pre, mid or post-tribulation is a must...especially if you have books to sell.  Finally, how could you possibly call yourself a Christian if you do not subscribe to the newest theology that is all the rage?


I think I'll just stick with Jesus and let him worry about that stuff.

____________________

It seems so easy to take our eyes off the prize and get lost in lesser things.  I highly doubt that I am overstating it when I say that Jesus is the center of everything.  Ultimately he is all that matters.  You lose him, what have you got?  When we keep him in the center of our target, everything falls so easily into place.  I think that we might resist that because it means our giving up control...which is what he wants, too.

It really is that simply, though.  HE is that simple.  Keep him first in all things.  Keep him at the very center.  Stick with Jesus and just work your way out from there.  It's that simple.


Turn your eyes upon Jesus.  
Look full in his wonderful face.  
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
 in the light of his glory and grace.


I love those lines from that song, so I suppose it wouldn't be right to end my post with out it.



Peace

Joe

P.S.  As an added bonus, for those who need a little pick me up after such a relaxing hymn, I now offer a musical commentary on Paul's letter to the church in Galatia.




Saturday, May 5, 2012

You will have me


You shall have no other gods before me.
Ex. 20:3


Love YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Deut. 6:8


"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." 
 Matt. 16:20


So this morning I was finally able to go to breakfast with some of the guys from Living Waters.  Normally we get together every Friday.  However, due to my teaching job I have not been able to attend.  Even thought I pulled a long one yesterday, working two jobs among other tasks, I made myself go.

Boy, did I need that.

One of the topics on hand was my frustration with the stuff I see going on in the lives & behavior of the students I work with. (I'm good at hogging the conversation.  So I did.) We talked a lot about how each of us would handle given situations, what the solutions might be, etc.  Most of them were perfectly logical.

An example would be that certain individuals simply need to be sacrificed in one way or another for the good of the majority.  Get rid of them.  It's for the greater good.

Pastor Scott pointed out that something similar had been said by Caiaphas, a high priest, when speaking of Jesus; "You do not realize that that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." (John 11:49)


The fact of the matter is that from an earthly point of view, there really are some easy, practical and incredibly brutal methods of dealing with failure.  If we enacted them we would have a much more efficient society...with a considerably smaller population.

Politicians, pundits, and regular people all come up with catch phrases, slogans and seemingly wise remedies.  In many respects, they probably work very well in the short run.  Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and now North Korea, all had societies that were very well ordered.  They work great...so long as you are on the top.

Personally, everyone should be very happy that I am not an all-powerful dictator.  I am fairly convinced that I could create order out of chaos.  I really think I could.  I could make it work.  But there might be a rather heavy price to pay for many who do not line up.

I, I, I.

You, you, you.

We.

But is that what the kingdom looks like?


The truth is that I really have very few, if any, answers to the problems of this school or this world.  Sure, I guess I have a few.  But most of the time, the best I can come up with are short-term band aids.  And as I get older I am realizing more & more that that is exactly how it is supposed to be in the kingdom.

Maybe the very thing we need is a desperate dependance on Christ.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Perhaps there should be no other answer. 


____________________

A while back I read a book by the N. Irish philosopher, Peter Rollins, titled "Insurrection: To believe is human: to doubt, divine."  One of the points of the book is about how we are to engage in the frustration of dealing with a God who calls us to very deep & painful experiences as a way of identifying with him.  He made a point that I think applies to my frustration...and it got me spinning.

"It is easy for us to take the experience of God's absence as a rejection of God's presence...but a properly Christological reflection should lead us to see the felt experience of God's absence as the fundamental way of entering into the presence of God...in Christianity when one is crushed by a deep, existential loss of certainty, one finds oneself in Christ."


Like I said, the truth is that I really have very few, if any, answers to the problems of this school or this world.  Sure, I guess I have a few.  But most of the time, the best I can come up with are short-term band aids.  And as much as it leaves my mouth empty because I have no handy catch-phrase, this really is exactly how it is supposed to be in the kingdom.  Simply a painfully awkward and frustrating dependance on Jesus in which we sit in silence a good deal of the time.

____________________


According to the story of the Fall of Humanity in the third creation tale, I am always trying to be God.  I want to have all of the answers.  I do.  We do!  We want to be able to fix things.  We want to have remedies for problems that we see.  We understand that things are not as they should be, and so we are always trying to correct every problem, wether real or percieved.

The impulse might be correct in most respects, but there is also a problem buried in it.  We always seem to try and fix these problems on our own.  We might say that we are trying to do the will of God from time to time, but I am really not sure if we mean that.  I think that most of the time we are simply doing it on our own with a little bit of lip service given to Christ.

So what would happen if God gave us a bunch of problems with no human answer available?



What would it be like to be given a situation in which there was no answer at all, 
nothing to be said or done, and no remedy seen?  
What would be left for you?  
What would you still have to lean on or cling to?

____________________

In Ezekiel 24, YHWH informs his prophet that he was about to take his wife from him.  In other words, God was going to kill her.   If that were not harsh enough, God forbids Ezekiel from mourning in any way.  "Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes.  Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears.  Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead."

God was making a point to the people through Ezekiel about the loss of their kingdom, temple and freedom.  Everything they had placed their lives, joys, dependence and certainties upon was gone.  All they had left now was YHWH.

In reality, that was all they every had to begin with.



All of that popped into my head as I was driving back from breakfast.  I have no answers for the stuff I see at that school other than YHWH.  Short term answers and fixes do not work in the long run.  I do not like that.  But it does force me into a corner.  It forces me to admit that in these circumstances, all I have is YHWH.

Jesus takes away everything that I can cling to for support.  All of the man-made remedies and fixes are torn from my hand.  The ideas and theories I lean on are yanked out from under me.  All that I have left is him.

I don't like that.  But in the long run, that was all I ever had to begin with.  When everything else is gone...and in reality it was never really & truly there, I still have him.  He is still with me.

And so it is with us.


When everything that we cling to is gone.  When we have no answers.  When Jesus points out that nothing we come up with will solve our problems.  When we are forced to put our face in the hard reality of life because there is nothing left, Jesus says; "You still have me."

And that is exactly how it is supposed to be.

____________________

My re-edit of an early portion of Revelation:

To the angel of the church in America write: 


I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up!  Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete.  You are neither hot nor cold, and I wish that you were one or the other. Therefor, I will take away the gods you worship, the gods in whom you find your strength and refuge.  I will tare them from your hands and leave you naked.


I will take from you your economy, wealth, 401K, Roth IRA and job security.  I will take away the money that you lean on for support.  Capital-ism, Social-ism, Libertarian-ism, I will take them away because you look to them, these little gods of "Isms," to stand on instead of me.


I will take from you the political gods you bow down to.  You who look to candidates, issues and voting records to save your country.  I will humiliate you with them, because you have not trusted me and instead whored yourself out to these lesser gods and so humiliate me.  They cannot save you.  Only I can.  And this is what I will prove.


I will take from you your military.  You look to youth to protect you and keep you safe.  I will take them from you.  I will defeat your armies and you will weep at the sight of your scarred and mangled youth.  And the men & women you sent to fight for you will curse you for what you did to them.  Your armies cannot save you.  Only I can save.


I will take away your popular pastors, your "Mega-Churches," your men who think they desire me because they have written many books and can promise you your best life now.  I will destroy your theologies!  I am God!  There is no other!  What you place your faith and mind in cannot save you.  Only I can.


I will take from you your friends & family, your support.  They will desert you.  You will be found alone, frightened and scared.  As you abandoned me, they will abandon you.  I will take your health & strength.  You will age.  You will get sick.  Your very being will groan and go to the dust.


I will take from you your philosophies, theories, PhDs, and wise & learned men.  I will strip you of your Dr. Phils and Oprahs, your talk shows on TV and radio.  I will take from you every answer that you thought you had and thought would help. 


I will take away everything you depend upon until there is nothing left...nothing at all.


But you will still have me.


There was nothing before me.  There will be nothing after me.  There is only me.  You will come to understand this when everything else is gone.  Your eyes will finally be open...finally.


You will have me!



"Holy, holy, holy
is YWHW God almighty,
who was, and is, and is to come."
Rev. 4:8




Peace

Joe