If this were a DVD, this post would would be the scene added back into the director’s cut. For anyone who has been reading and remembers my original list: this topic was not on it. At the end of the last post about wisdom, I realized this was an important step along the way, especially in terms of being a Christian in America.
The “weight” was metaphorical, but the idea comes from Hebrews 12:1, “let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up.” Lest the last post indicate that wisdom I came by easily, I think it only proper to include the things that were in my life standing in the way.
I spoke before about being a great reader when I was in grade school and even high school. I had few other options, books were my main source of entertainment.
When I was in high school, I got a job that I considered amazing: I went to work in a movie store. There aren’t many around now, but it was the epitome of that industry in the 80s and 90s: a good-sized box store, filled with shelves containing VHS tapes. I sat at the counter and took money, asked people to sign a rental form and sent them along.
I didn’t watch many movies growing up. Occasionally we went to the theater, sometimes we would rent stuff. Not often, really. But now, working at a movie store, I found myself surrounded by thousands of titles and a manager who didn’t mind at all if I wanted to take some home. I did. Piles of them. I stayed up late at night, watching all the movies I had ever wanted to. New releases, old releases, everything. I kept that job through most of college, and never ceased my enjoyment of this incredible benefit.
I developed a deep love of film. I looked forward to weekends on the couch with a bag of movies and a pizza.
shiny plastic discs
When DVD came out, I went to Circuit City and talked a salesman into selling me a shelf model at a reduced price. I drove home, glancing over my shoulder often to look at it. I was amazed I owned one. I plugged it into my tiny television, handling the machine with reverence and care. The first film I ever purchased was, “A Knight’s Tale,” starring Heath Ledger.
And then I bought thousands more. That is not an exaggeration: thousands. I discovered pawn shop movie shelves where I could get discs for $2 – $5, I took them home in armloads. I watched Netflix and Amazon Prime and Hulu. I used Redbox and borrowed movies from the library. It was an obsession that I cultivated with great fervor.
I stayed up late at night watching movies. I quoted movies (and still do) often. I watched release schedules like a hawk.
I’m telling you this, because it’s what I was doing instead of spending focused time with Jesus. People still have idols today, and this was mine. Not movies themselves, but watching and having and lending and quoting and shelving. Those were my idols.
I realized I needed to cut this obsession loose when wisdom came to find me. The amount of time I’ve spent watching a screen is not something I ever want to know, I think it would be a source of great sadness. The movies themselves were not evil, but my attitude toward them was. The time I gave them was robbing God. It is something God started phasing out of my heart when he started phasing more Jesus in.
The eviction of the obsession wasn’t dramatic. I didn’t take boxes of movies out to my yard and set them ablaze. I didn’t throw them all in the trash. I have sold and given away many, and continue the purge. It wasn’t a sudden, jarring action. It was a slow one, the real Christ creeping back into my heart like a vapor. I found I wanted him there so badly, I wanted to make room for more of him. Since that area was already full of want and greed, I had to make a focused effort to clear space for him.
the other castoffs
The “vapor” of Christ, gently pushing things out, brought a few other things with it.
John Wesley said, “I want the whole Christ for my Savior, the whole Bible for my book, the whole Church for my fellowship and the whole world for my mission field.” By this point in the story, I was mostly over the anger I had felt at the church we left. Now I was at a different place: looking at everything I believed in the light of Christ, trying to illuminate the beliefs that existed only because I had been among people who did not often question anything.
The first thing that had to go was my attitude toward other churches. By that, I mean different denominations. My attitude toward Catholics and more traditional, liturgical faiths was pretty awful. I would rapidly discount the opinion of an author if I found out they were a pastor of a church in a denomination outside my experience.
The polar opposite is true now. I look for people whose experience is different than my own, and I’ve also found a growing affection for believers from the past. I have to give a lot of credit for this to Brian Zahnd, a pastor from Missouri. I listen to his podcast, I have read his book, “Water to Wine.” So much of what he says makes sense to me, it causes me to move in the direction that Zahnd appears to be going. It’s been for the enrichment of my own spirit. His story is also where I found the experience of praying liturgy, and the unsurpassed value of the connection to the Christian past that comes with it.
This is the part where my previous post, The Finding of Voices, is cross-pollinated.
Years ago, I heard Chuck Swindoll preach a sermon. In that sermon, he mentioned that he had, for a short time, known Corrie Ten Boom. Ten Boom said this to Swindoll concerning possessions: “Hold what you have loosely. Then it will not hurt so much when the Father takes it away.”
That informs both sides of this post. Not only does materialism shackle us and cheat God of his rightful place, but the things that we have should be held openly for the taking by others. Of course we need to survive, that goes without saying. Most of us are doing far more than surviving, I think. Most of us are throwing more money at hobbies than the majority of the world has available for basic human needs.
When we allow what we have to flow freely away from us, we allow other things to flow freely to us. It’s not always material. Sometimes it’s just other people, other believers, even non-believers. Those things need to flow toward us because that’s what the Church is. God doesn’t break up the logjams that we make, he allows us freedom of choice; by having that freedom, we must exercise our freedom to release things. Otherwise, we have no freedom at all.