Saturday, April 21, 2007

Covenant Confession

Seven years ago when I was graduating from Covenant College I was elected to give a “senior talk” at a student assembly. What I gave was a confession. I wish that I could say I have matured so much that none of this still applies to me, but most of it does:

Four years ago I decided to go to a little Presbyterian college on a mountain. I was convinced I had chosen the best Christian college in the country, and the school was even willing to give me a scholarship for being a "Christian Leader."

Now 4 years later I am graduating from this school. I am more intelligent and more thoughtful than when I arrived. I have a better conception of my faith and I am much more capable of giving reasons for that faith intellectually. My actual faith in Jesus Christ, however, is weaker after four years at Covenant College. My “first love” has dwindled into weak flicker, well-concealed by intellect and apathy. I have not been alone in this coldness. I have sat with some of you and laughed at the naive idealists within each incoming freshmen class. We assure ourselves that Christian zeal must be a sign of either stupidity or hypocrisy, embarrassed that once we were that naive as well.

Yes, I have contributed to this attitude here on campus. Covenant’s goal of producing intelligent, thoughtful Christians gives us the perfect opportunity to feel self-righteous. We look down on our zealous, conservative evangelical brethren and label them as unintelligent or intolerant. We look down on the rest of the world as heathens and sinners, although we envy their ability to sin so freely. Our tolerance and open-mindedness is not the Christ-like sort, but a justification for excusing our own sinfulness. When we are forced to acknowledge our own apathy toward truly loving and serving Christ, we turn Reformed theology into a scapegoat, and blame those who teach us for our own sinful attitudes.

I have fallen into the common mistake of forgetting that our project of making Christ preeminent in our thinking is only a small part of our calling to love and serve Christ with our entire being and live a life of total dedication to Him. Too often at Covenant we are intellectual Christians for the sake or our own pride rather than to truly glorify God. The intellectual mission of the college is not the problem. The problem is that we are usually either hypocritical or apathetic (pick your poison). It is no wonder that so many among us have lost their faith, when we try to stand up before each other by our own power rather acknowledging our total dependence on Jesus.

So did I choose the wrong college? No, I chose the right college. I still believe that Covenant is one of the best educations in the country. I cannot blame my sins, my apathy, my pride, or my lack of prayer on “the system” here at Covenant. My attitude is not the fault of the chapel program, or reformed theology, or contract, or the influence of you my fellow students, or of intellectualism, although I have blamed all of these things. It is my own fault. I have not loved Christ as I should. I have judged myself against my fellow Christians, and used their sins to excuse my own. It is easier to look at myself in the context of other fallen people. But if I see myself as judged against the righteousness of Christ, I am forced to admit my dependence and look only on Him for mercy. This should not only force me to “integrate my faith and learning.” It should pervade my entire being and move me in ways that right now it does not. Thankfully Jesus Christ is faithful even in my faithlessness. He has seen my heart both in the good and the bad.

So, I must come before you and apologize. In a couple weeks I will graduate and leave Covenant. Over these 4 years I have received a substantial scholarship for supposedly being a “leader for Christ” here, but my attitude has often been contrary to the cause of Christ. Yes, I have kept contract for the most part, and I was a leader in the Homeless Ministry, and I have integrated faith and learning, but these things are only filthy rags to carry away with me. In retrospect I wish I had been more open and honest about my sinful tendencies, and I wish I had been more zealous for Christ. I wish I had counted all things loss for the value of knowing Jesus Christ.

In my apathy I have often realized that many confessions from Christians have elements of self-congratulation and false-piety. I fear that this senior testimony is no exception. But I pray that Christ’s grace is what you see. Please do not fear being zealous for Christ, do not fear acknowledging your own sins and asking for forgiveness. It does not make a Christian anti-intellectual or hypocritical to love Christ that deeply. I beg you not to look back at graduation and realize that you have not loved Christ, even though He has loved and sustained you this whole time.

Dear Covenant, I must thank you. I should be grateful for this fine education I have received, and the professors who regularly put up with our apathy and self-righteousness. I must thank my brothers on Catacombs, I have learned more from these last 3 years with you than all my core classes. I am sorry that I have often not been Christ-like to you. I must also thank those of you who have been my dear friends here. You know who you are. You have shown Jesus to me in so many ways that you may not even know. I have admired you and been reminded of this faith to which I have too often been faithless. I have loved you all, or loved you as best I could through my pride and sin. I wish I would have been less interested in impressing you, and more in serving you. As I leave this place it is you who I will carry with me.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Wages of Nihilism

Today's news is sad but not surprising. It seems that meaningless violence is the hallmark of our generation's nihilism:

"The ideal young revolutionary of our generation is like an uncaged animal that unleashes blind lust or fury at anything that nears it. What other kind of revolutionary could we expect in a world with nothing worth believing in? It is only the insightful revolutionaries who truly identify... the oppressor within themselves, in their own unrestrained passions. What else to do but turn that limitless fury in on itself? So they unleash all fury on their own angry selves, often killing a schoolyard full of random classmates with them, creating a horror so beautiful and rebellious that the rest of us can only watch with awe and envy. The school shooter is not an isolated phenomenon, he is the final product of the Revolution."

Continue reading "Generation X and the Revolution"

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Blind Mechanic

A few weeks back, I saw a very thin man being wheeled into the ER. I nodded toward him and smiled. He nodded back. He was not my patient so I went back to work on my own patients. About an hour later I noticed the monitors and said to a nurse, “You should check him, his pulse is dropping.”

The nurse looked up, “Oh, that's okay. He's dying. Terminal cancer, he just came in for pain control. He's comfortable now, so we're letting him die with his family.”

I noticed several young women around him who I assumed to be his daughters holding the man's hands. “Overall not a bad way to go, painless and being loved,” I thought and returned to my work.

Physicians see death so often that it becomes familiar. We are Mechanics of life and death, tinkering with the machinery of the body everyday. We intervene to keep the machine running, but eventually the mechanism always becomes unstable and breaks down.

Contrary to what you might imagine, doctors have no deepened understanding of death.

Doctors talk a lot about their own deaths, but not like you might talk about it. They don't discuss the meaning of death, or how it makes them appreciate the beauty of life. Seeing so much death, doctors mentally amass large collections of different ways people die. Doctors discuss the pros and cons of different ends to life, like other people might debate which car or computer is best: “Not a bad way to go.” “I hope I don't go like that.” “I want to go quickly.” “No, I want to go slow so I can set things in order.” “I want to feel nothing, just load me up with pain meds.” “No I don't mind hurting some so I can be aware of my family visiting me.” “I won't let them run a code on me if I'm old.” “I would prefer a sudden heart attack, dead before I hit the ground.” “No, I want to fade into dementia and never know what's happening.” “Renal failure isn't so bad a way, you just fall asleep and don't wake up.” We actually have such conversations, pulling various deaths from our collections and comparing them. Since we tinker with the mechanism of death we think we understand it.

Doctors mistake familiarity for understanding. We mistake the end of our job for the end of the matter.

Even we physicians of faith often think like nihilists. I struggle to remember that I know more than what I see. Every time I recite the Apostle's Creed I affirm that “I believe in the resurrection of the dead, and the life everlasting.” Still I must tear these blinders from my eyes to see with the eyes of faith. My perspective is limited, and my blinders that help me in my work sometimes make me blind. There is so much more to life and beyond life than this these faulty machines and ways the are repaired or broken.

*Note: information about the patient mentioned above is intentionally inaccurate to protect identity and privacy.