Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Fight Club Philosophy

“I wasn’t the only slave to my nesting instinct. The people I know who used to sit in the bathroom with pornography, now they sit in the bathroom with their IKEA furniture catalog.”

I used to worship the IKEA catalog—that is, before they built a store in Portland so I could actually go worship on site. But I don’t care so much anymore. Maybe it’s because I have my sofa issue handled. Maybe it’s because I’m not a slave anymore. Either way, when I heard that line from the opening of the movie Fight Club I knew I was going to love this movie. I just saw it this week and I can’t stop thinking about it. I keep asking people if they’ve seen it so we can discuss it. But I’m a little late—most people saw it eight years ago and got it out of their system, so I decided I’d just write about it. I don’t know if I can recommend it because it’s completely raunchy, but I loved it still. And the thing I loved about it (besides it being totally trippy) was that it showed the meaninglessness of stuff, of success, of achievement—of all the things we put our hope in that fail. It’s all going to burn. Very Ecclessiastes-esque. Having been a slave to consumerism and image myself, I appreciated the premise—the call to let go, to surrender, to not be slave anymore to stuff, to things that bring false security.

Here’s a taste for the basic philosophical footing of the movie (minus the f-bomb):

“You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you're satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you've got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you're trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you.”

“We're consumers. We are by-products of a lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty, these things don't conce
rn me. What concerns me are celebrity magazines, television with 500 channels, some guy's name on my underwear. Rogaine, Viagra, Olestra… Martha Stewart.”

“You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your … khakis.”

“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy [stuff] we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. A
nd we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.”

“I say never be complete, I say stop being perfect…”

Kinda biblical I think. At least in some sense. In fact, one line reminded me of something I read in the book of James very recently. In the movie Tyler, the main character, says, in reference to Martha Stewart, “Martha's polishing the brass on the Titanic. It's all going down, man.” I thought of James 4:5, “You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.” When I read that in James it really made me think. In what ways am I fattening myself with things that don’t matter? What am I wasting my time and money on? It made me think again about the kingdom of God and the idea that it’s not about me and it’s not about now.

Almost reminds me of Jesus’ own words in Luke 6,
Looking at his disciples, he said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when men hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.

But woe to you who are rich,

for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will m
ourn and weep
Woe to you when all men speak well of you,
for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.”

This is Christ’s reminder to us that there is a spiritual reality that is far more important than the material reality around us. It’s gonna burn, but the kingdom of God is eternal. Best cling to what is lasting. In one of my conversations about the movie this week, my friend shared with me a poem he wrote that includes quotes from the book Fight Club. I like this one, “Only after disaster can we be resurrected.” It's a common literary theme. Sounds like the Gospel to me. Die to self and be raised to new life.

Of course, Fight Club doesn’t quite draw the same conclusions about God and new life, nor does he see anything as lasting or meaningful. Tyler recognizes the futility of maintaining image and holding on to things, but he becomes totally masochistic about it. He promotes accepting failure and giving up control (which are Christian concepts), but he doesn’t identify anything or anyone to surrender to (“…God does not like you”), so it all becomes very hopeless and abysmally self-destructive. He just wants everyone to recognize their own worthlessness, and he destroys things to show the vulnerability of it all. But with Christ, there’s hope when we come face to face with our worthlessness—he offers more (because he does like us—he loves us). A friend’s blog just reminded me that God is more concerned with our character than our comfort. So, will God do whatever it takes to bring us to the end of ourselves, the end of false-security to show us our need for him? To give us true hope? To show us our value in him? To reveal what really matters?

I don’t know… it’s got me thinking about my view of God again. Is God like this? In a way, is Tyler a Christ-like figure? Would God burn us with lye to free us from fear? Would God frighten us at gunpoint so we move forward with our lives? Would God destroy our homes to show us what really matters? One of my friends says God is not that manipulative, but I wonder if manipulative and sovereign could be synonymous when it comes to God. Tyler, though, he destroyed for no other purpose but to show something’s meaninglessness and to shake people up, whereas God destroys to bring life. It’s always for our good. Like the phoenix rising out of ashes. The more we lose, the more we live. Really living comes through surrender. But that’s only when we surrender to something, to Christ.

I guess it comes down to the question that all of philosophy asks: what is the good life? What is truly living? Luke 6 seems to indicate it’s not what we thought. But that’s for another post…

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Advent Conspiracy II

Christmas has changed since I entered the story. I guess I've changed. I’m starting to get it. I’m learning to worship Christ at Christmas instead of bowing to the gods of consumerism. I heard someone say recently that consumerism is individualism on steroids. And we tend to build our individual kingdoms of self most at the very time of year we ought to celebrate Christ’s kingdom. If Christmas is really a Christian holiday, why does it look so much like bowing at this culture’s high places of idolatry? Even efforts to “Christianize” Christmas seem to be no more than the same old thing with a Christian veneer — we pad the pockets of Christian retailers or really take a stand for Christ by having the audacity to only buy from retailers who will use the word Christmas to promote consumerism. (Using Christ’s name in vain? Hmm…)

I heard on a Christian radio station recently a plug for a book about how to keep Christ in Christmas. I expected something new, but I was appalled that the strategy seemed to center around innocuous decorating ideas—using more nativity scenes and spelling out Christian words with lights. Is that what entering the Christ story looks like? If so, I’d rather bask in my own brand of debauchery! (Which, I think, is the attitude of many in my generation, and is why so many are opting out of a Christian religion that only seems to offer platitude and pretense—but that’s a whole other post…)

But there’s a way of celebrating Christmas that doesn’t just include Christ, it is Christ-centered and Kingdom-oriented. It involves acknowledging the advent, or arrival, of God incarnate coming to earth to rescue us from ourselves, to redeem our brokenness, to set us free from captivity, to transform our warped ways of living, to give us life, and to bring his righteousness, peace, and joy. That is a story worth entering.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Advent Conspiracy

I'm remembering today how my past efforts to include Christ in Christmas fell sadly short because it was no more than an obligatory inclusion. Like, oh yeah, isn’t this materialistic orgy supposed to be all about him? We better read the Christmas story before we indulge in this gluttony of gifts. I knew it wasn’t supposed to be all about me, but didn’t know how to make it all about him without giving up the me, me, me part. Getting (and of course giving) was what Christmas was all about. All the anticipation built up to that moment. All of the talk was about getting and giving… stuff. To give that up and change the focus, that would be a little over the top, a little fanatic. It wouldn’t be Christmas.

So a few years ago my pastor asked, “What if Christmas could change the world?” Of course this appealed to my sense of idealism and the wannabe-radical within was alerted to the potential opportunity. Then the realist chimed in with, “You’ve heard this before. It can’t happen. Do you know what kind of fanatical living it takes to change the world?” Still I knew the way I had always done Christmas was not fitting in with my new understanding of Christ and what he was all about when he came to earth. If he was a homeless revolutionary who told us to give up everything and who himself gave his life for us, how does giving an X-Box celebrate this? How could it be that stampedes in retail stores and consumer debt and overspending is a way of honoring Christ’s coming to earth to save us from ourselves? Isn’t this, in fact, what he came to save us from?

My pastor asked—what would it look like if we resisted the pressures of consumerism? What if we made Christmas more meaningful and less cheap? What if we made it about relationships? What if we entered the Christ story? Christ brought redemption and new life. Christ became poor so that we could be rich. That year, Advent Conspiracy was born. That year, I entered the story...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Far From Home

Only a remnant of our royalty remains.
Now daughters of the King
roam like desperate beggars
in a foreign land.
forgetting who we are.
Searching for sustenance
in a wasteland.
Impatient in hope
for the palace prepared.
Frustrated from futility
brought by the bondage of decay.
Drawn to doubt the glorious freedom
the King’s children receive.
Wait, O daughters!
Persist, you sisters in slavery!
For our betrothed nears,
and he will cleanse the stains of vagrancy.
He will clothe us anew
with splendor profound.
We will feast with him,
feast from the guarded tree
on the day of our new song,
the day of completion.

Hosea 6:3 "Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

It's Not About Me: Spiritual Eating Disorders

Most of my life I’ve had spiritual anorexia. Recently I started to swing toward obesity. Both are killers. My friend Hannah spoke at church a couple of weeks ago on consumerism. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. She was talking about it in the context of Christian consumerism, and she gave this metaphor: if all we’re doing is taking in, feeding on God, receiving from the Lord, we will become spiritually obese. But if all we’re doing is giving, constantly active, doing things for the Lord and others but never feeding, we will become spiritually anorexic. We must be receiving and giving to be healthy spiritually.

She made me think about what I have received from God—faith, hope, love, acceptance, freedom, forgiveness—and think about how I am giving it away. By giving it away we are proclaiming Christ, bringing the Kingdom to our families, our jobs, our neighborhoods and all of our interactions. I just read the same concept in a book that deals with forgiveness, The Peacemaker. He compared it to breathing—we breathe in God’s forgiveness and then breathe it out to others. It reminded me of the necessity of abiding in the Vine, feeding on Christ—daily—in order to be able to give, to proclaim Christ in all of life. And it reminded me to give intentionally instead of just receiving from God.

It also reminded me of something David Benner wrote in his book Surrender to Love. He says that our focus should not be so much on obedience as on knowing God’s love because once we get that, obedience begins to take care of itself. Obedience is our response to God’s love. If it is not, it is anorexia. They must go together. Receiving and giving.

Again, the idea that “it’s not about me” surfaces here. God doesn’t give me love, faith, joy, and all his blessings just so I can get fat. He wants to make me his instrument of righteousness, a display of his splendor and beauty so I can give it away—so others can be healthy.

On the other hand, if I’m just giving, but not receiving from God, what store am I really giving from? It must be from the store of people-pleasing or image-bolstering because that’s what’s in me. But spiritually, I’m starving.

John 6:56-57
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.