Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mental Pinball & the Hamster Wheel

I've been watching a lot of TV lately... ok, I've been watching the Olympics every night. That's how I ended up standing on our coffee table late Sunday, yelling & cheering at the TV as the U.S. 4x100 freestyle swim relay team defeated the favored French team in world record time. (And when I say "world record time", I'm not kidding - the fifth place team broke the world record.)

A side note (and, btw, this post/article is gonna be full of side notes & rabbit-chasing... you might as well get used to it): my excitement about beating the French team is not so much a product of anti-French sentiment (I really like Du Balai & Droles de Zebres, even if I can't pronounce them) as it loving when people brag ("We're going to smash the Americans") and then have to eat their words.

So, when you watch this much sports television, you learn some important life lessons:
  • Beer is magic: it makes horses act like Rocky & abnormally beautiful women make goo-goo eyes at you (or at least at the camera).
  • I know that computer company is trying to make a point, but all I think about every time I see their "lost data" ad is "Man, a little person with a fruit basket is a whole lot more than I got when my laptop's hard drive shattered."
  • Budweiser actually has an ad in which the essential message is "I believe in beer." (Which, because my mind is bouncing around like a pachincko ball, reminds me of that old wheezer of a joke: "Everybody ought to believe in something... I believe I'll have another beer."
  • It doesn't matter that Visa has co-opted the Derek Redmond story to sell credit cards - it still makes me tear up when I see his dad run out onto the track.
  • It's August & I'm already tired of political ads... what will I be like in late October?
  • I like McD's Southern Chicken sandwhich - well, at least until the REAL THING gets here when they finished converting the dead Krispy Kreme at Riverpark into a Chick-Fil-A later this year - but their ads are oopidstay.

Anyway, there's one other ad that's been running which is the whole point of this game of mental pinball. The University of Phoenix has a series of commercials with purposeful looking people and pithy taglines on the screen. (I don't know much about the University of Phoenix except that one of the two Andrew Jones' I know - not the emergent Kiwi church planter but instead one of my former youth group members - used to work for them. Of course, in the words of the film Airplane, "That's not important right now.")

One of those taglines blew me away:

I am not a hamster and life is not a wheel.

The first time I saw that, I wanted to jump up on the coffee table and cheer... I know they're trying to sell you on self-improvement & higher education, but whatever marketing firm they hired ended up reminding me of Biblical truth: people are valuable (Genesis 1:27; Romans 5:8) and we are not doomed to remain the same (Galatians 2:20; Deuteronomy 30:15-20) - we are not hamsters & life is a not a wheel. Thank you, Jesus.

Another side note: for the Calvinists out there in blog-reading land, please be careful not to toss out parts of Scripture as you rightly defend the sovereignty of God... allowing people freedom does not undercut His lordship.

And if the guys from U. of P. are right (and I think they are), then we have some big, wonderful, crazy stuff ahead of us. What we do (or don't do) matters. A lot.

Sadly, we've let the traditions & rituals of religious behavior talk us into a very weak way of living this out. (Yet another side note: all you prideful evangelical folks should be real careful about looking down your collective noses at liturgical churches at this point... my own denomination has enough rituals & traditions to drown an elephant.) Erwin McManus says it well in his book, Seizing Your Divine Moment (now republished under the title Chasing Daylight.)
You would think that having unlimited options would be the platform for freedom, but that is often not the case. We have put so much emphasis on avoiding evil that we have become virtually blind to the endless opportunities for doing good. We have defined holiness through what we separate ourselves from rather than what we give ourselves to. I am convinced the great tragedy is not the sins we commit, bu the life we fail to live.

You cannot follow God in neutral. God has created you to do something. It is not enough to stop the wrong and then be paralyzed when it comes to the right. God created you to do good. And doing this requires initiative. There is a subtle danger of hiding apathy behind piety. Getting rid of sin in your life? Great. Now it's time to do something.
If we aren't hamsters, we can get out of the plastic ball of our lives & go free-range... we can touch people's lives, go to the ends of the earth, talk about what we believe and love with abandon. If we aren't on a wheel, we can follow God wherever He leads (Jeremiah 29:11-13) rather than huff & puff on some religious Stairmaster in a vain attempt to look spiritually fit & trim.

Everybody ought to believe in something... I believe I'll chase God with all my heart, soul, mind & strength. Join me, won't you? (1 Corinthians 11:1)


Dave Vander Ark said...

You wrote: "for the Calvinists out there in blog-reading land, please be careful not to toss out parts of Scripture as you rightly defend the sovereignty of God... allowing people freedom does not undercut His lordship."

I hope I'm not the only Calvinist reading your blog, but I'll take the bait and try to explain this as I understand Calvinism.

Predestination does not mean that people don't have any freedom of choice. That's not the way Calvin intended that petal of the TULIP to be interpreted, at least, not the way it was taught to me at Calvin College.

To paraphrase Paul, the good that I want to do I don't do, the evil that I don't want to do I do. After reading some of Paul's more obvious statements about predestination in Romans (I just finished reading that book), this comment clearly shows that Paul is not taking the position that our lives are programmed, or that we have no freedom of choice.

There are some churches with a Calvinistic tradition where things are interpreted a lot more tightly, where "a hair can't fall from your head without God knowing about it" somehow ends up meaning that God pulled the hair out. That's an extreme interpretation of Calvin that is not the mainstream.

Viewing God as a puppet master minimizes the impact of our redeemed lives as ways to glorify God. If we don't have the choice to do wrong, then choosing to do right means little to Him, and hardly shows to anyone around us that we are new creations. We're just little "Godbots" being manipulated by Him to brighten a small corner of a yucky world.

I believe an accurate Calvinist interpretation of your statement is this: Allowing us to freely choose our actions doesn't "undercut" His lordship, it validates it!

nashbabe said...

There goes that McManus dude again. And there you go quoting him again. Thx.