Forgetting: Philippians 3 – 4

Evil Everywhere. Paul as an Example. No Anxiety. Closing Thoughts.

“…One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.”
Philippians 3:13b (NIV)

I am really good at forgetting.

I lost infancy instantly – don’t we all? My parents picked up our family and moved within the first year of my life. It was a small house on Juniper Street in one of the less seedy sections of Norristown, but they wanted something bigger. I don’t remember anything about it – the layout, the colors, the lawn. I drove by it once when I was grown to see if it stirred anything within me. It didn’t. The grown visit didn’t do anything for me – I don’t remember what it looks like now.

What does anyone really remember about being a toddler? That must have gone right when I hit middle school or something. I have an initial memory (don’t we all?). There were tarps hanging all around my kitchen and strange men wandering through. My mother stood above me as the strange men went in and out of the tarps. She fed me mush on a spoon. I recalled this later, and my mother said that when we first moved into our new house, they had a wall removed and a counter put in its place. That must have been it.

Childhood left somewhere in college. It must have been the seriousness of it all – suddenly thrust into adulthood, even though we acted like children. It left in pieces. Long bike rides that led to solo trudges through the woods. Playing James Bond against imaginary Dr. No’s with a plastic cap gun. Sure, the information of the memories remained in tact, but the emotions departed. And what is memory without emotion? Akin to personal news reporting. I am not interested in the facts, ma’am. I want them spun so I don’t need to interpret. Send me a pundit.

I gave up on pictures in college; I never cared for mementos. Seriously, ask me to take a picture, and… well… I’ll begrudgingly do it, but I doubt I will ever look at the results late. They’re posed, are they not? Are they reflections of reality? Maybe I ought to reconsider them – they are a reality spun into optimization. This is how we want to remember it, we say.

I don’t meant to be pessimistic – crap. No, not all pictures – posed or not – fetishize reality, and I know that. But they sure as hell look fake to me. If you’re looking at the camera, that means you saw it coming. I’ve never seen reality coming. Have you? I’m just trying to keep up.

Paul sets the tone for the entire Christian movement. He says, forget the past and look towards the future. We all know what he means, right? He is not telling us to think optimistically about the next fiscal year or the perfect girl who is just around the corner. No, he means forget this life and think about the next one.

I am maladjusted. I am unprepared. I am so good at forgetting when all I want to do is remember.

We’re in a constant state of loss, Paul. Do you really need to remind us to forget the past?

Why am I so scared of eternity? Why am I so focused on it? Why does my heart stop when Paul tells me to look forward to it, when everyone else rattles off their blessings, pounding their heels into the carpet of the church, overjoyed at the salvation offered to them for the small price of 80 years (or less)? They close their eyes and pray, speaking in languages dead, gripping the sides of their dresses out of the love, the love, the love, and wonder how they could ever be so lucky as to receive it. But here I am wondering and and sweating and pounding my heels. Is it love? Is this what love looks like? 

Faith and Works: Philippians 1 – 2

A Letter from Prison. A Desire to Move Beyond. Imitating Christ.

I have had Philippians 2 memorized for over a decade now, so I think it will be stuck in my mind for the long haul. I would love to say that the verses are poignant to me in a spiritual way, which would explain why I have held onto them for so long. But the truth is that I had to memorize them in order to go on a high school Mission’s Trip to the Dominican Republic, and for some reason, they just never went away. Give me a pedestal, and I will proudly recount the words to you today (although admittedly, you may not want that).

The passage asks us to imitate Christ through a number of behaviors, such as avoiding selfish actions and “vain conceit.” (2:3) We should not argue, should not grumble. Remember that we are reflections of Christ himself and if we act like it, we will shine like stars in a “crooked and depraved generation.” (15)

We memorized this as a way to focus our minds on that task at hand – Christ-minded service in a foreign country.

The trip went well – long days traveling across the small country, going from village to village, setting up Vacation Bible Schools and services for the locals. We spent a week in a hospital, entertaining the kids before surgery and in recovery, and of course, setting up a Vacation Bible School. Every night, our group found ourselves wandering the streets of some little town, trudging towards a hotel no one else would dare enter under normal circumstances.

I learned shortly after that these trips were meant almost exclusively for our benefit. Sure we did some good, but any significant change that would occur would be within us, not the Dominicans. We were practicing for a life of imitating Christ.

By the end of the trip, each of us had proclaimed “the change.” We would never turn our backs on God.

I remember getting on the plane. They had us all seated in the back, and a Bible Study had formed amongst some of the teammates. They were discussing this very passage, the verses before it and after for some context, and about what it truly means to imitate Christ. I turned from my seat, one of those large exit row ones, and tried to join. Just then, one of the leaders got my attention. He asked if I would switch with him, so he could sit next to his wife (who I happened to be seated with). He had a normal-sized seat.

I said no. I was tall – I needed the leg room. I got anxious on flights. He should understand.

He didn’t. He said I ought to act more Christ-like.

Earlier in the letter, Paul says this to the Philippians:

“I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” (1:23-24)

I looked around the plane at my bouncy teammates, and it felt like they all held onto this perspective. They longed for Christ in Heaven, and this life on Earth meant little to them. I couldn’t even consider it without getting short of breath. And I think that was when I knew.

I knew I was addicted to life, and I would only go kicking and screaming into Heaven. I’m not sure how Christ-like I could ever be.