A Boastful Rant: 2 Corinthians 10 – 13

“I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting.”
2 Corinthians 11:16 (NIV)

I did a few musicals in high school against my better judgment. Most people would follow that statement with some clarifier like “It’s not that I have a problem with musicals, but –“ or maybe “Musicals are great, I just -.” Not me. I don’t like musicals. I like my theater voyeuristic, and so I never really bought into the premise that supposedly relatable people would suddenly break out into song and dance. The self-effacing ones are okay, I guess. There are a few exceptions; Les Miserables is pretty spectacular when done correctly.

But still, I fell into the theater nerd crowd early on, and so I jumped up on stage when the spring musical came around. My best friends were always the leads, and everyone admired them while simply acknowledging me – usually backed away somewhere in the chorus. I had no issues with the dynamic – it’s not like I wanted the spotlight.

So I always avoided the lobby after the show finished out. It felt disingenuous – like I would walk around in my stage make up begging everyone to tell me how great I was, even though I knew it wasn’t true. There were always the enthusiastic stage moms wandering around, throwing compliments at everyone in sight. I remember one mom… her son always landed the lead. She was the odd one out, because she refused to follow the pattern of group encouragement, telling each little performer just how amazing he or she was. Instead, she went around to the parents, telling them how amazing her son was, how much talent he had. In four years, I never once saw her give another male performer a compliment, particularly if that actor had somehow snuck a role bigger than her star son.

It drove everyone crazy, and we all talked about it. What an asshole, we thought. It was just unadulterated bragging.

The biblical word for this is “boasting,” and Paul spends over two chapters doing it. This isn’t a value judgment that I conjured up. That is his (translated) word. He says:

Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast.” (11:18)

Interesting. Paul goes on to list all of his trials and how amazingly terrible they were. He has been “flogged more severely” and has “worked much harder” (23) He has been beaten and shipwrecked three times, pelted with stones once, and received 39 lashes five times (24-25). Do you want labor and toil and sleeplessness? (26) Look no further than Paul.

But Paul has a good reason for his word. You see, he only boasts about his weaknesses, which reveal God’s strengths. On top of that:

I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the ‘super-apostles,’ even though I am nothing.” (12:11)

Your fault. Not the least. “Super-apostles.”

I like the idea that we are at our strongest when we are actually our weakest – that weakness in itself is an overlooked state of being – that maybe we can learn something from being the least.

But something feels wrong about the delivery here. Seems sort of like a mom talking about how awesome her son was in a school play.

Completeness, Pt 2: 2 Corinthians 7 – 9

Everything’s Alright. And Paul Thanks You for It. Socialism, Parts 2, 3, & 4.

“I have said before that you have a such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you.”
2 Corinthians 7:3b (NIV)

(This is the second part of a two-part entry. Read the first part here)

There is a far-reaching obsession amongst my generation to “find purpose” in life. We get told many things on the subject. Your 20s are the time to explore. You don’t need to have one career, but many. Some people don’t find their purpose until their 50s. Do what is happy and healthy and fun! At my middle school, the teachers were already hitting us hard with this topic – exemplifying the dangers of seeking out completeness without God. See, we all have the God-shaped void in our hearts – I heard this often growing up – and while we can try to smash worldly interests into it, nothing will really fit. We can try and try and exhaust ourselves, but it will never feel right without God.

The imagery of the presentation may have been hokey, but it was also enormously effective. Maybe that will be our lifelong struggle – that we will always try to shove a square peg into a round hole – that if we abandon God, then this will have all been for nothing. That we need God to fill that void, and nothing else will ever fit.

Cue the adolescent snickers about God filling our “voids” and move past it.

The anxiety of completeness is exhausting. It’s a mish-mash of questions whose stakes continue to evolve: Am I wasting time? Am I doing good? Am I missing opportunities? Will I know what all of this is for? I have spoken with some older folks about this, and it seems like this esoteric fear either heightens or fades with age – and more often than not, this lines up nicely with how convinced someone is in God.

We really all do what the same thing. Completeness. It’s a variation on a question.

What’s all this for?

What is it, what is it? Are we meant to merely keep ourselves busy, to do good, to take opportunities?

What is it, what is it? Is it God or country, duty or honor? Do we find our purpose, push forward through life, and then just fade?

What is it?

What is it?

 

Love.

 

I mean, it’s gotta be love, right? Loving God or neighbor or self. Whatever it is, it’s gotta be love.

Right?

I constantly fear the idea of the end. Even as a “complete” individual, just to have it end one day, either expected or sudden. Completeness gives me no solace. Eternity makes it worse.

But maybe love has this strange property, and rather than a cut to black, we transition slowly, and what we think of as heaven is in fact… love. In its purest form. What if there is nothing else that matters at all, and whatever we do in life without love does not matter?

And maybe love is the pathway to completeness.

Completeness: 2 Corinthians 4 – 6

Changing Focus. Clothed in God. Commending One Another. Unequally Yolked.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.        
2 Corinthians 4:18 (NIV)

I saw this skit in middle school. A teacher came out on stage in all black with a giant cylinder protruding out her front. It was a low-budget costume, just a black shirt with a rolled piece of cardboard taped right over her chest. Some boys behind me snickered – “It looks like she had one boob.” It sort of did, so I laughed as well.

It was like a Good Samaritan Tale without the beating from the robbers. Ms. Cylinder sat sullen on the ground. Another teacher – dressed in blue – arrived on stage holding a giant blue cube with a legend written across the audience face: “MUSIC.” They talked for a second. She was feeling down, because she had a hole in her heart. He said he had something that might help – he tried to shove the MUSIC cube into her cylindrical tube. It didn’t fit. He moved on.

Another teacher – dressed in green this time – approached her. She carried a pyramid with the title “PROFANITY” along the bottom. She told him her problem; she felt empty inside with a very specific hole in her spirit. They tried to see if the pyramid would fit.

What do you think? Bye Ms. Green.

Another teacher. Ms. Yellow. A rectangular prism named “PROMISCUITY.” I had heard that word before and pretended to know what it meant. It didn’t fit.

And then finally. Our principal. Dressed in white. His shape – a perfect cylinder labeled “GOD.” Ms. Cylinder had all but lost hope at that point. She sat with her knees in her chin, he thighs squeezing the sides of her cardboard into an oval. She said nothing could fill the void in her heart. Our principal sat next to her. He explained that we have a GOD-shaped hole in each of our hearts, and we try all of our life to fill it with other things. But nothing fits. We are incomplete without God.

She sat up, taking down her legs. The cardboard popped back into its shape. He put the God cylinder into the void. It fit perfectly.

She was complete.

More tomorrow.

I Once Knew: 2 Corinthians 1 – 3

Some Passed Time. Trips and Plans. Always Forgive. “The New Covenant.”

“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you?”
2 Corinthians 3:1 (NIV)

Everyone needs a leader.

I had several throughout my childhood – from football coaches to shop teachers to charismatic church leaders – but besides my parents and family, I never had that years-long adult to child mentorship. I wanted one. I really did, more than anything. I envied those students adjacent to me who had found seemingly lifelong relationships with wise adults dedicated to building into them.

I had Mr. C, my gym and chess teacher in middle school. He never favored me and treated me just as every other student. I joined his basketball team even though I wasn’t very good. I made one double-double in the entire tenure of my basketball career – that is, I made ten points and ten rebounds in one game. Beyond that, I played baseball as well, and again, I was never very good. But our real passion was for chess. We would play throughout the day at school during free periods and lunch, and even online on Yahoo at night. He trained me in higher level play – creating “off book” scenarios for my challengers (that is, playing in a way that my opponent couldn’t predict my next move) and even had me play blindfolded. I won some tournaments and lost others.

And then I graduated middle school and entered the public high. We fell off from then. I saw him maybe a handful of times after that – not at all in the past 10 years.

The loss never stung. I don’t like goodbyes – never have – but I rarely process them with outward emotion. It’s an anxiety of mine – what will life look like without this person or in this new place. Sadness does not make me feel down. No – the edges of my vision get blurry and objects look unfamiliar. It’s like my life is a crib mobile, spinning slowly and indefinitely, and when someone important leaves my life, it’s like one of the strings gets cut. Things get wobbly. They get unsure.

I have made a side career out of being a “leader” for others. I have acquired other titles – nanny, therapist, teacher, mentor. I prefer that last term. I mentor teens and young adults, when kids tend to take those first steps away from their parents. I teach drama classes and lead social groups and “outings.” We work on interpersonal skills and socializing in real world environments where the lessons are most applicable. I tell parents that I work to make my input obsolete. The hope is to wean them off of me until I am no longer necessary.

If I am doing my job correctly, then one day, the student will say, “Oh yeah, I once knew that guy, but not anymore.”

I wish I had had a steadier source of leadership throughout my life, particularly someone within the Christian community. There is no blame – it is simply the way that it worked out.

Hopefully, I’m not screwing it up on the other end.