friend

Semester Four, Week Six by Michael Nichols

I just finished my second response essay for Dr. Herman's MUS 206 (that's American Music History), and I must say that I've realized that I've done a lot of second guessing and freaking out over things I shouldn't have and overthinking, a process of which I am the undisputable master. I had a choice of four topics to choose from. My choice, in short, was to talk about the significant role a band has played in my life.

Now, I know what half of you are thinking. "Oh, no. He's going to ramble to his professor about every single Yellowcard record in existence." Shockingly, no -- I think it's relevant that I'm currently listening to their song "Only One" from their release Ocean Avenue Acoustic. Actually, one of the possibilities explicitly stated in the topic description was that I could talk about my own experience being a part of a band. So, that's what I talked about.

Everything came back to me, how we started out as a pair of strangers at a coffee-and-music event put on by a local church (which I'm now a part of). I remembered how I had this decades-old guitar with a broken saddle being held together by scotch tape and supported by a bottle cap. I remembered I sang a solo version of "Shadows and Regrets," also by Yellowcard, a mutual favorite band. I remembered being this lonely teenage cynic who wasn't sure who or what to trust or believe in, other than having learned all his life that Jesus is the main person to trust, and that He is trustworthy.

I remember writing all of these super angry-depressed songs but hiding behind an exterior that pretended everything was okay at home and at school and at a very old-school, conformed-to-tradition church, when I felt like I belonged in none of those places. But then I remember meeting this dude who liked to write and play music like I did, who believed in Jesus but didn't condemn me for not following every nit-picky little tradition to the letter, who treated me like a normal person. To this day, he's still a bandmate, co-writer, and one of the best friends I've had, who's been there through some of my darkest times, helped me make sense of stuff, been a voice of compassion and a fire under me when I needed both. I look forward to continuing to work with him and be a friend to him the same way he has been to me.

But there are some things I didn't remember. Not that I forgot all the mistakes I've made, all the good times I've missed, all the bad times I could have avoided, all the people whom I've betrayed or have betrayed me, all the people whom I've hurt and have hurt me, the ignorance, the idiocy, the immaturity, all of myself and others -- no, I haven't forgotten those times... but unlike what has been true of me since spring 2008, I think back on these times with this awesome friend of mine, whom I'd tag here if he were on WordPress, and I don't think about the dark times. I still hold them in the back of my mind as lessons I've learned, but they're just echoes now, things that have no more power over me.

When I wrote my essay, I related it to the music, but in writing that essay, I realized all of this other stuff. No matter how hard life has been so far, I haven't been stopped from living, pursuing what I love, being human, or believing that Jesus loves me and has a future for me both here and in eternity -- though, for those of you who don't know, I've come close to all these things over the past five years. That's the power that one single friend among billions of people on this planet has had...

... and that is why I believe in good, why I believe in love, and why I believe in God.

Nothing in this world has been able to take away my joy, and by the grace of God alone, nothing will.

Wood Chips of Faith -- Part 3: The Corinthians by Michael Nichols

The church at Corinth, spoken of in the writings of the new covenant, was a church undergoing a transformation. They, like myself, experienced an intersection of what they were told to trust and what they came to trust. A city of idols, when they were greeted by the apostle Paul, he recognised that the position they were in was foreign to the place from which he came. They had an established system of doing things, completely based upon the idols they worshiped. In order to reach them, he met them where they were, spoke to the place they were in.

In the beginning of his first letter, he talks about how the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man. That's a tough pill to swallow. Even the most basic of God's concepts defy the most complicated of man's. People tend to do what makes them feel good for the moment, but God tends to do things that do good for us and others.

This ancient church was one living by the will of the flesh. People involved in numerous sexual sins (including incest) were popping up. People were dealing with the collision of their old beliefs with their new beliefs. Some were abusing the rite of the Lord's Table (or Communion), while others still were merely confused about how spiritual gifts (prophecy, healing, speaking in tongues, and the like) were to be used. All of these things are important, yes, but his lead in is what caught my attention...

10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,[a] in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas[b]”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

... He wasn't sent to complicate things. They just became that way, unfortunately. For Paul, yes, but mainly for the church at Corinth. Paul wasn't the one experiencing confusion but rather the one trying to help them through it.

Paul expounds upon his opening statement in the verses to come (click the indented text to see the rest) by explaining that the power of the gospel isn't in man's wisdom, but it is really found in the crucifixion, and after fifteen chapters of working through issues of internal division, issues about which they wrote to him first, Paul finally brings it all home. For the sake of saving space, click this passage: I Corinthians 15.

The key here, which you will notice in verse 12, is that they were divided over the most fundamental part of our faith: the Gospel itself. The Gospel centers around the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now, everyone dies. Some are burned, but some are buried, which Jesus was. They killed Him, put Him in the ground, like any other bloke... then He got out three days later, which other blokes didn't do. This proved that He is who He says: the perfect Son of God, the only sacrifice that could take our place and quell death for us... but the heart of it isn't as mechanical as that.

The heart of the resurrection is that it was the result of His love, and the result of the fact that He is worthy of our praise, our love, our hope, and most fundamentally our faith. What Paul said so many centuries ago, I reiterate now: If our hope in Christ does not surpass the bounds of death, we are to be pitied above all men. I admit freely that if there were no resurrection, our faith would be in shambles, and it would all be for nothing.

The truth remains that after the greatest act of love on earth was committed, miracles, voices of change, new and renewed lives, and a sense of community within and without adversity, sprang up, and despite fragmentation through generations, despite hypocrites, despite deviation, despite devastation, throughout history that same core has been carried down, and none of it has stopped... but it's not about the good things that you see being done, nor about the talents being used or who uses them, or any sort of mechanical movement of the God's chosen people: it is about the love that Jesus gave to us, and its about the love and the new life that is awakened and still awakening within us when we come to terms with the acceptance of Jesus.

Back to that story from two posts ago, the story about the friend at that youth conference, back in 2009 -- she saw the truth because she had this hope, this faith in the love of Jesus and the truth of it. It was her identity, and had it not been so, had she not been a friend to me in such a miniscule yet massive way, I probably would not be in the place I am today.

As we returned to the facility used for the conference, everything that was said before and after the break suddenly took on a new context. Now, I knew I was missing the point of faith, and I didn't really know what it was. Sure, I knew the concept like the back of my hand, but I didn't know how to trust. I don't know if my faith saved me before that day, but I do know that I walked away a completely different person with a completely different outlook, because I saw God's love in action, given to me through someone else He loved, to show me He loves me too, and that was enough to show me I didn't have to live in fear, and I've been getting over it ever since. Things haven't become easier, but I've definitely become stronger because now I have something lasting to live for.

The title of this blog, "Our Light Affliction," is a quote from II Corinthians 4:17-18 KJV, Paul's second letter to this same church. I adopted this because it hails back to the first letter, chapter 15. You can click the reference if you want to see, but it simply says that the pain we're dealing with now hides greater joy on the other side of it because the things we see here are fading away, but the things we don't see last forever. Love, hope, faith -- none of these can be tangibly seen, but they can be felt, and these things can be more real than the instruments through which we live them out.

The ultimate fulfillment of our faith is found in heaven, at the resurrection, when those who have given their lives to hope rather than to despair are given the blankest of slates and the freshest of starts, and no longer will anyone have to run from pain, push through adversity. That, my friends, is a hope worth living and dying for. Jesus thought so, and He lived it out.

Our faith in people and in God can go just as equally through the wood chipper because this world has grown so dark... but this world is not our home. I still have so many questions without answers but I don't need them all. I just need Jesus. I don't mean to go church mode, but if you're looking for something, whether or not you know what you're looking for, this Gospel is definitely a good place to start. Try it, and see whether or not it's worth believing.

Even if you do have faith, don't be afraid to get back to the basics every now and again. Remember where you came from, and don't lose heart when your doubts and faith collide. You're just experiencing life in a fallen world. It isn't the end of the world if you don't please every single person who claims to believe what you believe, nor are you a hypocrite for having questions or not having it all together. It's not a free pass to live recklessly, but we're all human, agnosto-Christian or otherwise. Life doesn't end here, so even when your faith goes through a wood chipper, it still comes out as your faith.

This is a letter to people of all faiths, Christian or not. This isn't a religious story but a testimony of what has been done for us all, and how that love sought me and found me. Who am I to stand in His way? I am dust, and I will return to the dust. Jesus, however, is love, and He lasts forever. That, my friends, is worth it. :)