Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Me, My Problem With People

"Man in his pomp will not remain;
he is like the beasts that perish.
This is the path of those who have foolish confidence;
yet after them people approve of their boasts.
But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol,
for he will receive me." - Psalm 49

I feel a little defeated today as I write. Perhaps it's just a sugar hang-over from the stuff that I was shoving into my mouth last night. It is definitely not food!

At one point I was arrested by my daughter who asked me, "Did you get that Tootsie-Roll out of my bucket?" I did the smart thing and chewed with my mouth shut for a few seconds. In biding my time, her sugar-crazed mind was unable to focus on her interrogation and my indescretion. I watched in satisfaction as her heels became blur and she took off for the next house/candy-dispenser. Then I was alone with her bucket once more. It was a beautiful thing.

But what has me feeling a little defeated today is this: I'm moving from a place in a couple of weeks that I've never reconciled myself to. And it feels like escape. And last night was a confirmation of that it is in fact escape.

As we strolled the streets of our community last night, I was struck by the affluence, the posturing, the plastic cups full of alcohol everywhere and the keeping up of appearances. But most disturbing of all was my not so subtle feeling of superiority.

"I'm not like these wealthy snobs," I thought. "I'm a supported missionary for crying out loud." Where we're living right now seems to have many of the elements of the movie "The Stepford Wifes" - just the right combination of affluence, good-old boy connections and religiousity, to just make me feel like a real outsider. And since I don't like feeling like an outsider, I simply place myself on top of the heap.

This morning I was talking with my total-stranger-friend "Starbucks lady." From what I can gather she is an introverted thinker, philosopher and widow who feels deeply and has tried to make a go of it in this community. Her frustration and disgust for what I just described was thinly vieled.

I'm cringing even as I write, because many of the folks I know and love, friends and family are part of this community. And while they slot in just like I expect they think I do, they probably have much the same struggle with this place.

Basically what I'm getting at is how do you love the world when you feel rejected by it and at the same time "better" than it? Melissa, my wife turned to a group of women last night, attempting to engage them in conversation, only to literally have them turn their backs on her. You tell me, how are you supposed to love that?

So I'm discouraged, both at the beast within and at the uglyness of the culture without. I have not resolved myself to where I'm currently living. And now I'm moving in two weeks, and it feels like an escape. In many ways, I haven't lived well here, and now I'm moving.

The truth is that while this may seem like a indictment of where I live (some of you may know the place), I believe it's an indictment of both where I live and me. There's something in me, namely self-righteousness, that doesn't approach my culture with love, respect and empathy. Where's the humanity Philip? Where's the humility Philip? Where's your God-life Philip?

Melissa and I were trying to process this last night, and I said that what I believe God wants from us is to be aware of the "foolish confidence" and fakeness, but to love deeply because of our own realization that we are in hiding as well. We have the tendancy to be just as fake, the desire to be included at any cost even if it means shunning or making fun of others.

Thus my discouragement. Rather than doing the above, Melissa and I, a community of two, were attempting to make ourselves superior by pointing out the flaws of the community. We had no God-given agenda of change, just a restless feeling of rejection and lack of acceptance spurring us on to judge.

The Gospel is a deep salve to this very issue. "God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol. He will receive me." As others have reflected, what God thinks about us is the most important thing about us.

So when tempted to respond to a rejecting culture in kind, what should I do? Cling to a God who is my accepting culture. Then both God's awareness and humility will be my guide, enabling me to be a positive force in a hurting world. The same awareness and humility that enabled him to eat with sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors.

Can we be fountains of refreshment in "Stepford Wives" cultures? I believe we can. But first we need to be so rooted in the Good News that we really believe that we're sick and we're in this together with other sick human beings. Perhaps this is the attitude that had Paul considering himself the chief of sinners.

As a child of God, I will never be any "better" than anyone else. That's why I can echo with Chesterton, that the problem with the world is me.

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