Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Symbolism in Christmas

Symbolism is a great thing. I've always had a tendency to think in terms of drawing analogies, and in my Bible reading I've discovered with glee that God seems to enjoy communicating important messages to us by way of symbolism. The Parables Jesus told are extended metaphors. And various important moments in history are themselves symbolic of future events, seeing that God controls history from beginning to end and can arrange it this way. The Ark of Noah was the only means of salvation from the Flood, and this is considered by theologians to be a "type" of Jesus Christ, who later said (in John 10:9) "I am the door; if any man enters by me he shall be saved."

I found that I could assign symbolic meaning to many typical sights from the "Christmas holiday season," such as these:

* evergreen tree. Symbolic of eternal life, one of the gifts God promises to us through Christmas (in the sense that God's arrival on earth in human form was necessary for His death on our behalf that would enable us to receive eternal life). The throwing out of the Christmas Tree at the end of the season can symbolize either that Christ, who is Life (John 14:6), and was cut off for the sins of God's chosen people (Isaiah 53:8), or it can symbolize man's life, which is like a "fading flower" (Isaiah 40:6-8), and while it wears a veneer of eternity, apart from God (the roots of the tree, one could suppose), the tree dies, and is destroyed.
* the lights can symbolize the "Light of the World" that Jesus is (John 8:12), which enables us to see and not walk in darkness.
* the significance of red, the other main Christmas color, can be taken to contrast with green (eternal life) to represent the blood of Christ. It reminds us of His death on the Cross, and its intertwining with green is a memorial of the fact that His death is what makes possible our future life.

And on and on and on. But these comparisons are not my preference, for a twofold reason: One, I can't be completely certain that these parallels were the original intent of the designers of those aspects of the present celebration, and I prefer to honor original intent. Two, the holiday today is so far removed from anything having to do with Christ that I've been treated to commercials of salespeople singing "Go go go go go, shop shop shop shop," boxer-clad (otherwise undressed) 20-something males doing hip-thrusts as "we wish you a merry Christmas" plays as if their testicles were metallic bells, and an ad campaign featuring "the Gifter," an imaginary movie trailer about a woman who "never settles, but always saves"--money, on gifts. 

This isn't what the holiday should be about, as I see it. Consumerism, porn, selfishness...What does this have to do with the free gift of God to save people from their sins? Only that they represent the very things that God wants to save us from: idols. The lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16).

What I was intrigued to discover was that the first gifts on Christmas were not simply objects of material wealth. Instead, they THEMSELVES were also symbolic.

Gold is symbolic of the splendor of royalty, and was given to Christ to show that the wise men recognized Him as their KING.

Frankincense is a smoky substance which was used in Temple rites, where the High Priests would offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of the People's sins, and it was given to Christ to show that the wise men recognized Him as their HIGH PRIEST (Hebrews 8)

Myrrh is an embalming agent used on corpses to make them smell less worse, in preparation for burial, and it was given to Christ to show that the wise men recognized Him as their SAVIOR, who had come to be born so that He could one day die, giving His life for theirs.

In light of this knowledge, considering that giving gifts in the sense of granting objects of desire to people was not the original intent of the gift-giving at Christ's birth, I am resistant to making it a staple of my future life when I have a spouse and children. Giving items to one another is a thing that can be done year round, and is more joyous when done spontaneously, not as a requirement. When a special occasion comes around that offers reflection on the past and the future, I think memories are the important thing to create. And I believe that any gifts I do give are going to be symbolic gifts, to serve as mementos and reminders of the important things in life. I'm still thinking out the specifics, but the general outline of how I want to do Christmas, if we even do a celebration at the same time as the rest of the world does, has taken shape in my head.

Symbolism, not traditions that aren't understood by those keeping them. A focus on the intangible gifts God has already given to and promised to us, rather than an eagerness for material blessings, which fade away.

What will you celebrate in years to come, and how? ~ Rak Chazak

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Grind

Life goes on, and while it's a slow phase as concerns getting to where I want to go, I'm content with everything because of my confidence that there is value in everything that is happening, whether it is something I make happen or something that happens to, for, or around me. In the meantime, I'm putting in the groundwork to do well at my workplace so that if and when the opportunity arises, I could move up and earn more money than the bare minimum wage. My manager told me that he'd asked his bosses "what is the maximum raise I can give someone?" Their response: "Maximum? Don't you mean minimum? Why do you want to give someone the maximum raise, lol?" As it turns out, it's only $0.20. The expectation is, if you're good enough to warrant a raise, you're not going to stay at regular crewmember status and just get 20 cents in raises every 6 months, you're going to get promoted up the ladder, which carries with it bigger raises--and heftier meal discounts. It's a waiting game, but it doesn't mean I'm idling in the mean time. I'm putting in the hours, literally and figuratively, to build up what I need to in order to be prepared for the next phase of my jolly little life-experience. 

Church-wise, perhaps you guessed that my last post about young married couples was related to that. Correct. Another musing: I suppose a "beautiful couple" is one where both the man and woman are attractive people? But more than that, a harmonious (beautiful) relationship is probably strongly implicit in that designation. Otherwise it would just be a "cute couple," I suppose. Of all the random times for me to attend, I had popped in to see the budget meeting, but I was late by two weeks. They were simply getting a quorum to vote on it. What happened after was more noteworthy. The pastor announced that he was leaving to go to SC, and everybody gathered around him and his family and prayed, and more than a few people got teary-eyed. So it turns out that I've come around at an interesting time. One of the assistant pastors who's going to seminary is likely going to become the head pastor soon, consequently. The guy who's the youth pastor had talked to me before, and now in my hearing spoke to another guy (the husband of a girl I knew from school--7 months married, 6 months pregnant :D ) to say that he was hopeful that more people would be taking leadership roles soon, to lead Bible studies, etc. He had 'interviewed' me a couple of weeks ago, and the essence of the meeting was that he seems to think I'm ok theologically, and recommended me attend the membership class that starts in January, because as a matter of 1 Thessalonians 5:22, the reasonable church policy is to keep adults who are not parents away from the youth in the youth ministries. This is because if a person is not a member, then 'church discipline' can't be done on them. They're not under that contract. Further, a legit background check is done on anyone who will work with the youth. I wasn't quite anticipating being ushered into that--the youth pastor guy, who's 28 himself, frankly seemed eager. xD But I wouldn't have any problem with it, and I think I could be 'of use.' I remember my time in the Boy Scouts. I'll have to tell of those stories at some future time on the blog. 

I got a ton of stuff done today. Very pleased with myself. Washed all. the. laundry. And the kitchen is spotless--or at least it was when I left, who knows what my brother's done to since I've been out, haha! He has a tendency to not wash bowls he microwaves eggs in right away, and it leaves a residue that's hard to scrub out and the dishwasher is useless on. I have had some experience with different cleaners at work and made the decision last week to buy a spray bottle of bleach of my own initiative, and it made the floors look beautiful (linoleum. I didn't use it on the wood). My mother is coming home after having been away for a while, and I definitely appreciated the experience of having to budget my time so that I could manage living essentially alone without letting things pile up and not get done. I think she'll be pretty pleased with the house she'll walk into this evening.

I ate at Chick-Fil-A today (to be polite. You don't just use wifi without getting some food). I decided to leave a nice comment for a few of the staff members on CFA's website, to "pay it forward," since I know personally that nice compliments like that can make you look good for your managers. I spent the day "internetting," and even had the time for 3, count-em, 3 blog posts, haha. No 3 hour time limit like at the library because of the in town parking restrictions. And not to forget, I downloaded some Wretched podcasts that I can listen to at home for my education and edification. And on top of it all, I finished off a "special-occasion-cake" (it's not just for birthdays anymore) to surprise mom with when she comes home. Today will go down in recent history as one of my most productive and satisfying ones yet. Despite that I still haven't done any further career-searching to date. But now might just not be the best time for it, after all. So I'm trusting and praying. Life is good.

~ Rak Chazak

A Comparison of Single People to Young Children

Here's the main idea I had, which came to me this Sunday after getting to watch young married couples together for the second time that day:

                Young children observing their parents/adults are like single people observing young married couples. The shared way in which they observe and learn is this: it is an instinctive directional growth, to mature into that which you are inherently geared to mentally absorb everything you see about.

Kids are not destined to always remain children. It's commonly known that children notice things that their parents or other adults don't expect them to. And besides simply observing that they pick up on things that they're not often given credit for, I want to posit that the reason kids are like this is because God has geared them that way from the very start. It's in their spiritual DNA (nothing mystical is meant by that) to be influenced by and model behavior of adults. They're made this way so that they'll grow up instinctively, as opposed to growing up being a conscious decision for them to attempt to begin to do. Of course, I'm not denying that children exercise their moral agency in acting out what they imprint from adults. But ask a child why he does what he does, and good luck! They just do. It isn't conscious. 

This brings me to my parallel. While the child might not be conscious of their inherent predilections, I'm older and have spent much time analyzing why I do things, think things, and how and why circumstances are and ought to be. Absent a conversation partner, in moments of solitude I have ample time to devote to introspection. I am, perhaps uniquely among most people my age, or people in general, very capable of psychologically analyzing myself on multiple deep levels. [Caveat: certainly, my conclusions are colored in part by my experience] This is just to preface what I say next: I have noticed myself observing young people in relationships, whenever possible, and I've pondered this and suppose that I'm interested in learning anything--not anything in particular, because I don't know what there is to learn--that I can, by watching how the husband and wife interact with each other, and how they talk about each other in the other's absence, for instance. Body language. Etc.

I settled on an analogy with the young child, because I recognized that it wasn't a primarily rational choice, but an instinct. And also, I have not noticed this with younger people, or people who are clearly in inappropriate or destructive relationships. That led me to hypothesize that I'm naturally geared toward "looking up to" young people who are a few years older than me (3-10), and are married, in a seemingly healthy and joyous relationship. Ah, and that they are or appear to be Christians of sound theology. As you can see, these are all things I yearn for myself--perhaps the child does not know that he yearns to be an adult, but perhaps he does. That's an interesting thought in itself, worth exploring--and so it wouldn't be unreasonable to me at all, if I were to find out that single people do "imprint" on married people. I have some sense of this already, in that unmarried women, perhaps Hollywood-stereotypically, obsess over bridal catalogues and weddings/dresses, because that's what they're drawn to; they want to be a bride. Maybe I'm just experiencing a male version of that. And more low-key, because Hollywood hasn't told me what to think (something to be grateful for, and if I find a lady who hasn't been influenced by the modern conception of what a wedding must be like, sparks may fly...is that phrase usable in a positive way?). 

Keeping an eye out for a good relationship by keeping an eye on good relationships, 

~ Rak Chazak

Follow-up Spurgeon Quote on Calvinism

This was what I was actually looking for when I posted the block-quote text of Spurgeon in the previous post.

Born, as all of us are by nature, an Arminian, I still believed the old things I had heard continually from the pulpit, and did not see the grace of God. When I was coming to Christ, I thought I was doing it all myself, and though I sought the Lord earnestly, I had no idea the Lord was seeking me...I can recall the very day and hour when first I received those truths in my own soul—when they were, as John Bunyan says, burnt into my heart as with a hot iron...
One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher's sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me, "How did you come to be a Christian?" I sought the Lord. "But how did you come to seek the Lord?" The truth flashed across my mind in a moment—I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, "I ascribe my change wholly to God" (AUTOBIOGRAPHY, pp. 164-5).

~ Rak Chazak