Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A New Heart and a New Spirit

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

~Ezekiel 36:25-26

Wham! Pop! Boom!

Here's another photoshoot I did in Dubai for Sephora for MBC Haya Magazine.  The photographer is Tina Patni.
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The Failure of Romantic Love

We look to sex and romance to give us the transcendence and sense of meaning we used to get from faith in God.  Talking about the modern secular person, he [Ernest Becker, author of the Pulitzer-prize winning book The Denial of Death] wrote:
He still needed to feel heroic, to know that his life mattered in the scheme of things.... He still had to merge himself with some higher, self-absorbing meaning, in trust and gratitude.... If he no longer had God, how was he to do this?  One of the first ways that occurred to him, as [Otto] Rank saw, was the "romantic solution.".... The self-glorification that he needed in his innermost nature he now looked for in the love partner.  The love partner becomes the divine ideal within which to fulfill one's life.  All spiritual and moral needs now become focused in one individual.... In one word, the love object is God.... Man reached for a "thou" when the worldview of the great religious community overseen by God died.... After all, what is it that we want when we elevate the love partner to the position of God?  We want redemption-- nothing less.
~Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, p. 28.  Emphasis mine.

   I am currently reading Dr. Timothy Keller's Counterfeit Gods.  John Calvin, the sixteenth century French theologian, wrote “The human heart is a factory of idols... Everyone of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.”  What he means is that instead of worshipping the one true God, we each invent something else to worship-- it's the one thing you think you need that if you lost it, you'd feel like your life would be over.  For a long time, when I was younger, I think I idolized beauty, and specifically my own.  Thankfully, I don't think that's as much a big deal to me anymore.  Rather, my current idol, and boy does it have a grip on my life, is love.  I didn't realize how much I was internalizing it, but I bought every lie that Hollywood (and the occasional fiction novel) had to offer.  If you dig deep down into my mythos, you'll find that I believe (and I wish I could write that word in the past tense) that if I can just find a man to love me, my life will be complete.  Moreover, it'll mean that I'm okay.  That I'm loveable.  Romantic love is my idol.  Of late, I've pinned that romantic love to a particular man, and wow, what a royal mess of things that has made.  It's led to me compromising on values that were important to me, and, as Keller writes (pg. 38), if you put "the weight of all your deepest hopes and longings on the person you are [in love with], you are going to crush him or her with your expectations.  It will distort your life and [his or her] life in a hundred ways."  And that is exactly what happened.  Keller quotes Becker again:
The failure of romantic love as a solution to human problems is so much a part of modern man's frustration.... No human relationship can bear the burden of godhood.... However much we may idealize and idolize him [the love partner], he inevitably reflects earthly decay and imperfection.... After all, what is it that we want when we elevate the love partner to this position?  We want to be rid of our faults, of our feeling of nothingness.  We want to be justified, to know our existence has not been in vain.  We want redemption-- nothing less.  Needless to say, human partners cannot give this.
    In Counterfeit Gods, Keller recounts the story of Jacob from Genesis 29 in the Bible.  Jacob falls in love with the beautiful Rachel, but is tricked into marrying her homely sister Leah instead.  Jacob makes an idol of Rachel and "apocalyptic sex" and Leah makes an idol of Jacob and his love.  Keller writes: 
   We may wonder how Jacob could have been so gullible [his father-in-law switches Leah for Rachel on his wedding day], but Jacob's behavior was that of an addict.  There are many ways that romantic love can function as a kind of drug to help us escape the reality of our lived... Our fears and inner barrenness make love a narcotic, a way to medicate ourselves, and addicts always make foolish, destructive choices.
   That is what had happened to Jacob.  Rachel was not just his wife, but his "savior."  He wanted and needed Rachel so profoundly that he heard and saw only the things he wanted to hear and see.
He continues:
...(T)hen what do we learn from this story?
   We learn that through all of our life there runs a ground note of cosmic disappointment.  You are never going to lead a wise life until you understand that.  Jacob said, "If I can just get Rachel, everything will be okay.  And he goes to bed with the one who he thinks is Rachel, and literally, the Hebrew says, "in the morning, behold, it was Leah" (Genesis 29:25).  One commentator noted about this verse, "This is a miniature of our disillusionment, experienced from Eden onwards."  What does that mean?  With all due respect to this woman (from whom we have much to learn), it means that no matter what we put our hopes in, in the morning, it is always Leah, never Rachel.  Nobody has ever said this better than C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:
Most people, if they have really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world.  There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise.  The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy.  I am not now speaking of what would ordinarily be called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers.  I am speaking of the best possible ones.  There was something we have grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality.  I think everyone knows what I mean.  The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job: but something has evaded us.
   The solution to all of this is to fall in love with Him who can fulfill all of our desires and needs.  It's to fall for the one true bridegroom who has already proven His love to us by dying for us on the cross.  This is the prayer of my heart these days-- that God will remove the idols of my heart and that I will worship the one true God.  I love this quote from Paige Benton Brown: "Can God be any less good to me on the average Tuesday morning than he was on that monumental Friday afternoon when he hung on a cross in my place?"  I'm still working on sacrificing those idols-- and trusting Him to provide for me that which I seek for myself-- and I would do well to remember that monumental Friday afternoon.  On Sunday at church, my pastor (mis)attributed G.K. Chesterton and said, "Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God."  I don't know who actually said that, but I think it's true.  As the song goes, I've been looking for love in all the wrong places.  Or, in the words of Augustine, "Fecisti nos ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te."   You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.  If you're the praying sort, pray that my heart will find it's ultimate satisfaction in God.  I pray the same for you, dear friend.  Place your hope in Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Loving the Unloveable

"Love means loving the unloveable-- or it is no virtue at all."

~G.K. Chesteron, Heretics, 1905

Monday, July 8, 2013

More Water Please

I'm turning 34 on August 1st... yeah, I'm telling you my age.  I've been blessed these 34 years.  My parents are still married (woohoo-- 42 years so far)and I was born and grew up in the country with the world's largest national economy (the United States of America).  Even though my family wasn't always so solidly middle class, it is fair to say that I have never known what it means to truly be in want.  In short, you could say that there is nothing else in this world that I truly need.

I wanted to do something different this year for my birthday.  I have a friend in NYC who started a charity back in 2006 that provides clean drinking water to developing nations.  His story is pretty inspirational-- he went from a partying playboy who had a crisis of conscience to now being the founder and CEO of Charity: Water, which has raised over $40 million and helped 2.5 million people have access to clean drinking water.

Did you know that nearly 800 million people worldwide do not have access to clean drinking water?  Did you know that more people die from lack of clean water and sanitation than from all acts of violence combined, including war?

This year for my birthday, instead of presents and well wishes, I want people to donate $34 towards a water project.  Together we can help people less fortunate than ourselves get access to clean drinking water.  Every penny of the money raised will directly fund clean water projects in developing countries. Even better, charity: water will show us exactly which projects we funded once they've been fully completed (which takes about 18 months). That means we'll know the locations and names of the communities we helped.  How cool is that?!?
Click here to make a donation:

I've set the goal for $3,400.  If just 100 people donate $34, we can hit our mark.  So, what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Love and Lust

Mmmm... mocha latte at Book Munch
I'm finishing up the last little bit of packing for my morning flight tomorrow.  It's been a good day in Dubai-- one for me to remember.  This morning I went with my friend Mark to Yohaan and Raahail's house where their mom served up breakfast for fifteen people.  Afterwards we headed to the Emirate of Sharjah (where I unwittingly broke the law by wearing shorts... oops) and rented jet-skis which in my mind is the perfect way to spend my last day here.  Afterwards, I met up with friend Romana and had a lovely salad at Book Munch, which we've been meaning to visit together almost since the day I arrived four months ago.  The evening concluded with a dinner with my dear friends from my weekly Monday Bible study.  We went out for Thai food, and I enjoyed chatting and laughing with these new(er) friends (Jason, Bev, little Sam, Lays, Leo, Maged, Candice, Jimmy, Ellen, Rahel, Romana, and Keren).  It's been a wonderful day.

Romana and me at Book Munch in Jumeirah 2

Now I'm entering receipts into my spreadsheet-- one last act of procrastination (well, this blog entry is as well) before I figure out how to jam those last little sundry items into my overflowing suitcase.  I'm listening to sermons by Tim Keller, and well, I just listened to this one:

It's great.  It's called Love and Lust.  The description reads
The Bible presents a more attractive and comprehensive view of sexuality than is generally understood.  The headings explored in this sermon include the integrity of sex, the challenge of lust and the future of love.
It's good.  It's hard stuff to hear but also so very convicting and also makes me look forward to marriage and what God has in store for me.  I recommend giving it a listen.  If you haven't heard Keller preach before, he's really interesting to listen to and very relatable.  Give him a listen.  And I pray that as you listen to this sermon that God will open your ears to the message and change how you view sex, love, and intimacy.  God has so much more in store for you and me than we can even begin to imagine.  

But, as it is written,“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,    nor the heart of man imagined,what God has prepared for those who love him"                                          1 Corinthians 2:9 

*For those interested in this sermon and other Tim Keller sermons, download the Redeemer Presbyterian Church app from the App Store.  They have a selection of free sermons that you can access (and download) any time you have wifi.  You can also access them in iTunes.