Riveting article that I read this article in the Op-Ed section of the Los Angeles Times, almost ten years ago. It’s as true now as it was then, and speaks so clearly of the consumerism and materialism that has many of us by the throat. Here’s a snippet, but do read the whole article, here:
“So why the ceaseless search for stuff? In a word, competition. It’s worth it to stay ahead in the rat race. Researchers have asked people which they’d prefer: a world
in which they made $50,000 but everyone else made half that; or one in which they made $100,000 and everyone else made twice that (prices are the same in both worlds). The majority preferred the first world. They would happily make less money, as long as everyone else made even less money.
“Surveys have returned similar results for houses. Most individuals prefer a smaller house in a world where their neighbors have even smaller houses to a bigger house in a world where their neighbors have even bigger houses. Winning the competition is more important than having a yard, it turns out. Which is why economists call these ‘positional goods’ — goods whose worth is deeply tied into their position vis-a-vis your direct “competitors” (which is to say neighbors, friends, etc.).”
I took my morning run today at 5:30. I was tired. It was cold. On this particular morning, I thought true thoughts.
I thought of my two legs—I have two legs. I thought of my three children—I have three children. I thought of their health—they have health. I thought of my warm home—I have a warm home. I thought of my incredible friends—I have incredible friends. I thought of my mother and father and three sisters—I have a mother and father and three sisters. I thought of my three brothers in law—I have three brothers in law. All good men. I thought of my faith—I’m grateful for my faith. I thought of my car—I have a car. The heater works. The brakes work. So does the radio and the GPS and the generator and the battery and the alternator and the rear window defroster. It gets great gas mileage.
I thought of my ten fingers and ten toes—I have ten fingers and ten toes. I looked down and thought of my New Balance 993′s—I have New Balance 993′s. Two pairs, in fact, one gray, one black. I thought of my books—I cherish my books. I thought of my trial—trials turn to gold. I thought of my freedom—I am nobody’s slave. I thought of those living under oppression—I am not oppressed. I thought of my education—I am grateful for opportunities to learn and grow. I will always grow.
I panted in the cold air as I ascended a daunting hill. There are many hills in this life. I have a will and a body and faith to get over hills.
The sun broke through these dark clouds and I saw radiant beams of sun. I thought of my eyesight— I can see.
I had no pain in my body. No pain in my body. I had no pain in my body.
I thought of my children again—they are healthy and funny and grounded and happy. They are tucked in their beds, secure, warm, content. I thought about later taking a picture of the four of us. On Martin Street. Where I grew-up.
My lungs work. My heart works. My mind works.
I am loved. I am accepted. I contribute to the wellbeing of others. My friends mean the world to me. And they care for me. My family means the world to me. And they care for me.
Many of my problems are in my head.
I never want to complain about another thing as long as I live because there are just too many things to be thankful for.
I got to Kéan. Italian Cappuccino. In a brown cup that I want to call neither a cup nor a mug. Mug sounds American; this cup seems Italian. It’s smaller than a mug.
I sit. One of the tables along the window. So I could face the people in line. The line is always very long at Kéan.
I write. Then I watch them. Then I write.
I have this thought: Each person is like a movie.
My life is a movie. So is yours.
Then I have this thought. Some people believe in free will. They believe we can direct our own movie, in the same way Steven Spielberg directed Jaws.
I think they are wrong.
Because things happen to us, along the way, during the film. Stuff we can’t control.
So our movies — to a certain extent — are written by outside events. If you have doubts, think about something that happened to you. You didn’t choose your parents. You didn’t choose where you grew up. You didn’t choose your health, or that of your loved ones. And you didn’t choose your age or your height or your complexion or your body shape. But these are all part of your movie.
Yeah, I know, we can choose how we respond.
And sometimes we just react to events without even thinking. We yell at our kids. And those who think we can choose how we respond, every single time — in the same way we choose from a restaurant menu — are guilty of oversimplification.
Firemen. Two of them. In line. Two thirty-something men with the fluorescent yellow stripes on their baggy mustard colored pants. The pants with kneepads. With their names in fluorescent letters on the leg. All caps. KIM. MCCART. And walkie talkies.
We respect firemen. People who save people.
And then little girl ballerina in her little pink tutu and her bear and her and mommy reaching for her hand as they rush out the door.
Each person is like a movie.
Then I wonder where she’ll go.
Pastor Greg Laurie. Right next to me. This morning. Ordering coffee. He’s one of America’s most recognized Christian evangelists. And I don’t know what to think.
Because for decades, from the lips of Pastor Greg, and a whole slew of Calvary Chapel pastors, I heard of some of the most vitriolic slander. Public castigation. From their pulpits, on their radio station, in their books.
I haven’t listed to them in decades. But I remember them.
They usually sounded mean. Angry. Arrogant. Very certain about a faith that is full of mystery.
Many of their issues were against other Christians.
Chuck Smith was the leader of Calvary Chapel. He died a few years ago. I remember listening to KWVE, the Calvary Chapel radio station. I was in my early 20’s. “Pastor Chuck” hosted a call-in program. Callers would ask him questions about theological issues. They would also ask about Christian leaders, and Christian denominations, and Christian movements.
Chuck never embraced the ambiguities of faith. Uncertainty is not a hallmark of the Calvary Chapel movement. Neither was intellectual humility. Pastor Chuck would tell callers, in no uncertain terms, which people were right, and which people were wrong. Which movements were good, and which movements were bad.
He always had a Bible verse to backup his opinions, including the ones about Jesus coming back within a year or two.
Jesus never came back.
It never occurred to the callers that the Calvary Chapel leaders had appointed themselves to monitor the practices of Christians around the world.
I remember callers asking about my church. They’d ask about my pastor, John Wimber. John was the leader of The Vineyard movement, a group of hundreds of churches around the world. I happened to work for John’s music publishing company, Vineyard Music Group.
The Vineyard was a charismatic denomination. It didn’t just adhere to a theology of supernatural reality; it practiced a spirituality that prayed for and expected physical and emotional healing. John Wimber saw such healing as a central part of the ministry of Jesus — relieving human suffering.
John saw physical and emotional healing as central form of social justice.
But faith in miracles confused a bunch of Christians; the supernatural world can be weird. And when you welcome broken and emotionally damaged people for prayer, they show up. In droves. And they can act weird.
For years I remember listening to KWVE. I remember Chuck Smith ripping into John Wimber, and the Vineyard movement. I remember the prominent Calvary leaders, including Greg Laurie, doing the same during their Sunday sermons — sermons which were broadcasted on KWVE all day long, 7 days a week, across the country.
The Calvary leaders didn’t just go after The Vineyard. They went after outsiders, people who practiced a Christian faith that just happned to be unlike the Calvary Chapel version.
Jesus was different that Pastor Chuck. One day his closest friend, John, got bent out of shape: “Master, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he does not follow with us.” John was looking for Jesus to launch into an attack on those other Christ followers — the ones that weren’t doing things “right.”
The beloved disciple was looking for Jesus to criticize the outsiders.
Jesus didn’t take the bait: “But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not forbid him; for he that is not against you is for you.'”
One time I was in a meeting with John. A staff member was very upset. He had just heard a KWVE broadcast. One of the Calvary pastors was, yet again, attacking John on the radio. “John, can you believe these guys? Why don’t you respond? They are slandering you to millions of people, week in and week out.”
I knew what was coming. John had his flaws. But he never hated anyone. And he was for church unity. Behind the scenes, I knew a gentle, humble man, one I’d see cry in private meetings, when he’d hear of the tragedies of life, of death and disease.
One who often stood in front of thousands and admitted when he had made a mistake.
An authenticity that was contagious to me, and that I try to replicate in my own faith journey today.
John, tears in his eyes: “Pray for them. They are not our enemies. Your brother or sister is never your enemy. The enemy is the enemy.”
End of conversation.
We then walked into the warehouse on the church grounds. Tens of thousands of square feet, packed with food and clothing for a ministry that the Anaheim Vineyard pioneered to serve the poorest of the poor in Orange County. On Sundays, there’d be lines of people, hundreds upon hundreds, given food and clothing. Every Sunday vans would be loaded to disperse care packages into the poorest apartment communities.
John saw a sick child. Just a few months old. It was cold. She was coughing. She was held by her Hispanic mother that spoke no English. With this gracious smile and crystal clear loving eyes, John looked at them. He gently reached out a hand and prayed for the child. The mother cried.
No Bible verse. No slander. No radio station.
I’m not sure what those Calvary leaders talk about these days.
But I hope they’ve chilled.
He that is not against you is for you.
That’s the kind of Christianity I want.