Outlaw in Training

The word “outlaw” elicits thoughts of Josey Wales or even Robin Hood. These men had were not law abiders, but arguably had noble causes. Men who stick to their principles, even to death. Jesus Christ is also an outlaw. Whereas in a movie an outlaw might take an admirable stand, their inevitable result is bloodshed and ultimately death. Sure, a shootout makes for a great end, but Butch Cassidy doesn’t get out alive.

Consider Jesus: a mysterious character that even his closest companions could not figure out, he was infuriating to the religious establishment, and died a criminal’s death. Blowing around like the wind, the only person that seemed sure of his mission was Jesus himself.

As the blind man he healed said, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
Although Christ is an outlaw in almost every sense of what we’d believe an outlaw to be, his end isn’t death or bloodshed, but rather love and life.

Amazingly, Jesus calls us to life his same lifestyle. What would our lives look like if we didn’t live by the norms and rules of the day and instead focused on loving others?

Jesus died for out sin so we could be free to be outlaws like him. Jesus’ way is outside of the box, outside of the city gates, outside of the world’s way of life. God’s plan has a different a fulfilling way to live.

Paul writes that as Christians, we’re “taught by God to love one another”.

I am praying that Jesus can show me how to become more of an outlaw when it comes to loving my family and friends. I know that God wants to teach me how to love the people at the nursing home we are volunteering the way that they need.

An outlaw doesn’t get caught up on themselves, as has always been my tendency. I pray that God can give me the same outlaw spirit to love and not be conformed to the world’s way that Jesus has.

Be Spontaneous!

In “The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church”, Roland Allen describes the beauty and genius of God and his kingdom – [that] “One or two little groups of Christians organized as churches…could spread all over an empire.”

This whimsical and sanguine movement of Christianity, propelled by the Holy Spirit can’t be manufactured by religious institutions, church programs, or any amount of singing in the worship service a congregation may try. Explains Allen,

“…this is what I mean by spontaneous expansion. I mean the expansion which follows the unexhorted and unorganized activity of individual members of the Church explaining to the others the Gospel which they have found for themselves; I mean the expansion which follows the irresistible attraction of the Christian Church for men who see its ordered life, and are drawn to it by desire to discover the secret of a life which they instinctively desire to share; I mean also the expansion of the Church by the addition of new Churches.”

Allen’s expansion is native people evangelizing to other native people, 14-year olds witnessing to their peers, auto-mechanics sharing Christ with other auto-mechanics. So, although Allen writes as a missionary visiting foreign lands and dealing with their native peoples, the idea of “Spontaneous Expansion” is just as applicable to Christians working to establish churches in their backyards. Youth ministry in particular often resembles strange soil, even to those who aren’t that far removed from their adolescence.

The Christianity that Allen is advocating is unlike the brand seen it most of America’s tired and failing churches. It is instead a powerful force, a revolution. Our job, as missionaries and church planters is not to try to control this force, but more akin to lighting and dropping a match in a dry forest.

Spontaneous Human

In Allen’s words, “If we want to see spontaneous expansion, we must establish native Churches free from our control.” However, this is a problem for missionaries who would rather come in and impose their ways and rules for doing “church” than raise up a competent indigenous person to do their own church. It flies in the face of institutional Christianity that would rather prevent cussing than unleash a revolution.

Allen states a stern warning to those who attempt to try to control the movement of the Holy Spirit:

“We fear [spontaneous expansion] because we feel that it is something that we cannot control. And that is true. We can neither induce nor control spontaneous expansion…simply because it is spontaneous.”

After all, controlling behavior and implementing rules is easier than starting a revolution, but it’s nothing more than death warmed over. It’s the reason why the Church’s youth is being lost to the universities and the sultry seduction of the Kosmos.

Moreover, starting a spontaneous, sweeping Christ-like revolution is impossible for men. As Roland Allen puts it, “The great things of God are beyond our control. Therein lies a vast hope. Spontaneous expansion could fill the continents with the knowledge of Christ; our control cannot reach as far as that.”

An interesting application for Allen’s thesis is today’s youth which has become disenfranchised with their parent’s church. The church has driven them away with stale rules and moldy traditions that block access to authentic Christianity. Most Churches are quick to admonish cussing teens, while NeoXenos lets them teach bible studies full of their peers. While NeoXenos may not have the market on youth ministry, we are following Allen’s model for ministry.

At Kent State, what started out way back when as a bible study of a few middle-school aged kids has become a ministry of almost 40 strong. The Holy Spirit is manifesting itself in the most unlikely sources, such as knuckle-headed teens praying with their friends to receive Christ. This seems improbable, but after all, as Allen points out, “For centuries the Christian Church continued to expand on its own inherit grace, and threw up an unceasing supply of missionaries without any direct exhortation.”

Fightin’ in the Street

In reading “Street Fighters: The Last 72 Hours of Bear Stearns, The Toughest Firm on Wall Street”, one gets the feeling that our financial system is beginning to rise up against us beyond our control, much like the machines in the Terminator movies. “Street Fighters” was written by Kate Kelly, a Wall Street Journal reporter, about the recent collapse of Bear Stearns, one of Wall Street’s oldest and most resilient firms.

Although the book details primarily the pivotal three days in March 2008 in which Bear Stearns, facing bankruptcy, was bought by J.P. Morgan, it also delves into the history of the firm and it’s most powerful players. The structure of Bear Stearns is uniquely American, as the men in control of Bear all make great American success stories.

Don't get into a street fighter with Rocky.
Street Fightin’ Men

The firm made its name embracing the “P.S.D.” – men who were poor, smart, and had a strong desire to be rich. Lack of a prestigious degree or that you were an outcast from a rival firm meant little if you were willing to do whatever it took to make the company and yourself rich. Inside Bear’s dysfunctional structure, the only commonality most had was making money. Bear’s brash and unapologetic style, with leaders that were as arrogant as they were rich, made it infamous, yet enabled it to thrive through crises like the Great Depression.

It was Bear’s management oversight, naivety, and eventual collapse that kicked off the economic troubles our country is mired in today. But, the alarming part of Kelly’s hour by hour account of the collapse is that none of the key players, not Bear execs, the Federal Government, or other Wall Street players, seem to have a handle on the situation. “Fighters” describes Bear’s collapse as a once-in-a-decade financial perfect storm. In short, Bear Stearns carried too many mortgage-backed securities and when trouble started to brew, debtors came calling, others grew weary of trading with the firm, hysteric selling of stock ensued, and Bear could no longer come up with the cash to make it through another day of trading.

The financial action is juxtaposed against individual Bear employees, who, with many investing lifetimes at Bear Stearns, stand to lose the most. While the top brass does everything they can to secure a last minute deal to ward off bankruptcy, many grapple with the implications of working so hard for a company that’s a sinking ship.

“There are thousands of people just going about their jobs here, [Bob Upton, Bear Stearns Treasurer] thought, and they have no fucking idea that were on the verge of collapse.”

In fact, “Street Fighters” is the perfect allegory for America itself. Instead of being taken as interesting reading for the financially inclined, “Fighters” should serve as a cautionary tale for all patriots who naively believe the United States is invincible. American finds itself caught in its own crisis, in part due to the events detailed in Kelly’s book. I believe the United States to be a great country and am thankful for the many opportunities I enjoy and freedoms I take for granted because I had the good fortune to be born here. But, just because America was brash and tough enough to survive in the past, doesn’t guarantee anything for the future. Remember, Bear executives also falsely believed they’d weather infinite trouble because they always had in the past. But, much like Bear, as our national debt increases by almost 4 billion dollars per day, I worry once our rivals see blood in the water, they will come calling as was the case with Bear.

In the end, which is more surprising – that Bear Stearns collapsed or that its executives, the Federal government, investors, and financial experts all believed it would never collapse, or at very least last long into the foreseeable future. The so-called experts were all caught off guard by how fast and complete Bear’s demise was. It shouldn’t be so shocking – After all, don’t all man-made empires eventually collapse?

(College) Horror Stories

They tell you to follow your dreams and your heart, and then the rest will follow too. In order to make your dreams come true, the first step for high-school graduates is to head off to college, the now-mandatory step for those wishing to attain a successful life.

But, as has been written in other places, the ugly truth they don’t share is that college is an expensive proposition and is filled with students who just got accepted because that’s what you do when you’re finished with high-school. Yes, of course, college is very valuable and does serve a great purpose. But, universities are happy to cash checks from incoming freshman who aren’t quite sure what that purpose is, at the same time still trying to figure out what their purpose is.

A new undergrad has got to choose a major fast. Following the formula “What is the one thing that you would do for the rest of your life for free?” is recommended. This popular calculation always results in a glut of fashion design majors, aspiring sports agents, premed course work or a degree in psychology.

The rub they don’t give you is that all of these fields are highly competitive. To make it, you’ll have to dedicate yourself beyond the large field of your also ambitious peers. Loans and sacrifices will have to be made. Better be sure this will make you happy, because by the time you graduate, you’ll be so in debt that you will literally be doing your dream job for free! That is, if you can actually land it. Sorry to be so pessimistic, but from what I hear, you won’t be able to.

Take James for example:

I went to a top 20 law school…I was very concerned about the debt of the private school but everyone advised me it was the best decision to go to the top 20 law school.

I now owe $150,000 in pure student loans and $30,000 in credit card debt from my 3 years of law school, that’s after a $12,000 scholarship, $5000 from summer jobs and probably $10,000 in family assistance. I make $30,000 a year working as a highly skilled lawyer in a specialized field. I enjoy my job and am thankful for a good education, however, the $40K tuition at the private school means I won’t pay off my loans until I’m close to 60, even if I can eventually get the “average” lawyer salary of 70K-90K.

By the way, I never had debt until I did the right thing and went to grad school. Also, I always had a roommate during school, still drive the same 15 year old car, have the same 5 year old laptop, and buy most of my clothes at Old Navy…when they have a sale! I would love to have student loans less than $50K.

— James

In many ways, James is lucky. Although he’s trapped in an enslaving system of debt and can never stop working, he actually finished his schooling and landed a job that he likes. Most aren’t so lucky. A lot of would-be music producers are currently working at Enterprise Rent-a-car.

The System
College is a vital part of a system that’s designed to grind you up and spit you out.

As M.G. says, the problem is deeper –

It isn’t so much the debt that is the problem, it is the absolute disconnect between education and employment. My experience as an undergraduate was that there was essentially no effort put into making us employable, helping us find employment, or helping us know what the ramifications of our decisions would be in real dollars and cents.

— M.G.

For an increasing number of students, college is a place to prolong the transition from teenager to adult. The excuse “I am/was in college” can now be used to explain away almost any bad decision made – You knocked up some girl? But, “I was in college”. Can’t remember what happened last night? Man, “I’m in college”. You can’t hold down a job, pay your rent, and/or be a functioning member of society? It’s OK, you’re in college.

But, what happens when college is over?

Quit whining, Indentured, Over-Educated Servants, or its Debtors’ Prison for you!!

— Your Bank Overlords

At the very least, on the part of students entering universities this fall, a large amount of sobriety is needed.

The financial institutions lending money don’t have your best interests in mind, although interest is on their minds. Their hope is that you continue paying interest (and not principle) on student loans until you cease to exist. Universities have a racket of their own – outrageously priced textbooks, rising tuition costs, and an environment that automatically feeds in a new crop of students after many in last year’s freshman class flunk out.

That means have a plan going into college and more importantly, a plan to get out. Although most advise against it, it would be better to wait a few years to attend college in order to actually settle on a major and a desired career. At the very least, be sane enough to sit down and calculate the costs of the college experience by making a realistic budget.

College requires maturity. Sure, some have the ability to slack their way to a degree, however, most don’t. Before you enter, you must have good study habits and a sense of responsibility. This is directly related to the ability to provide for yourself, rather than rely on your parents or others. If I could do college over again, I’d take at least a year to start paying my own bills and being responsible for myself. Finally, don’t be afraid to consult people who’ve survived the experience and have also been successful post-college to get their expertise.

The Air We Breathe

Martha and Mary

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.

She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word.

But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.”

But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

The final verses of Luke 10 are interesting for many reasons. Literally, Martha is serving the Lord. She’s preparing a meal for Jesus and his disciples. There’s no doubt they’re hungry and need to eat. So, Martha’s cause is a worthy one. Frustrated that her sister isn’t helping her, Martha turns to Jesus. Surely, she feels he’ll agree that lazy Mary should be helping, after all, especially in ancient times – a woman’s place is in the kitchen.

However, Jesus surprises with his response – he informs Martha that Mary’s choice to sit at his feet to listen to his word is superior to her service in the kitchen!

As Christians, this narrative can teach us a lesson today. Often times, we’re fussing about like Martha. Life is full of obligations and problems, so most days are a blur of obligations and responsibility.

It’s easy to get caught up in a functional “get-it-done” mode. I’m guilty of this almost everyday as I return home from work and my thought immediately turn to the next set of tasks that need accomplished. At times, we can even force Christian ministry onto the checklist of chores. We’re rushing from one meeting to the next; some are even juggling multiple ministries. Personally, in busy situations like these, I feel too busy to pray! If we’re caught up in the kitchen like Martha – too busy serving to come out, sit at the feet of Jesus, and listen to the word of God, according to Jesus, our priorities are out of order.

Of course we should serve. Christian ministry is natural for all Christ followers. But our focus should be on the Lord himself, not the task at hand.

Easy Ministry

Jesus makes the astonishing claim in Matthew 11:30 that [his] yoke is easy and [his] burden is light.

The problem is, the burden of Christian ministry usually feels like, well, a burden! If we’re discouraged, despairing, or feeling overwhelmed as Christians, it probably means there is a great deal of prayerlessness in our lives. I know this to be true for myself.

Triumph, joy, and victory should mark the Christian life. The disciples saw this kind of life lived out by Christ. They were constantly amazed by his teaching and miracles.

A Prayer Connection

After they had spent significant time with Jesus, it was clear that his prayer life was directly connected to his amazing power.

The disciples saw that Christ didn’t do anything without prayer. Despite a hectic ministry and a life of continuous interruption, Jesus always found time to pray. Whether he was healing, breaking bread, or at the tomb of Lazarus, he was praying. Christ even fled from expectant crowds gathered to hear him teach to pray. It seems as though Jesus’ immediate response to every situation was prayer.

Prayer - A cry for help for the helpless.
A cry for help.

For Christ, prayer was a necessity. It was the attitude and atmosphere in which he lived and the very air he breathed. Literally, Jesus prayed without ceasing.

Watching Jesus, it was also clear to the disciples that their prayer was lacking. So they asked him about it and the event was recorded in Luke 11:

…while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.”

At the heart of the unnamed disciple’s request was the brutally honest confession he didn’t know how to pray. If we’re experiencing despair and confusion in our lives, maybe we’re in the same situation. When we cry out to the Lord like this disciple in needy prayer, God is ready and eager to respond.

Jesus gives the disciples an example of prayer in verses 2-4:

And He said to them, “When you pray, say:
‘Father, hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
‘Give us each day our daily bread.
‘And forgive us our sins,
For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.'”

Sadly, Jesus’ example of how to pray has lost almost all meaning, as it is now mindlessly repeated in religious attempts – the very thing Jesus cautioned against in a passage that parallels Luke 11, Matthew 6:7 – “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition”.

Biblically, Christian prayer isn’t an attempt to twist God’s arm into getting him to do favors for us, instead it is an act of communication between two personal beings.

First, as Luke recants, Jesus teaches us to address God as “Father”. We’re to come to God in prayer as a child would come to their own father, in an ideal sense, approaching him with dependence and submission.

In prayer, we’re not dealing with some regular Dad come home from work eager to put his feet up on the ottoman, we’re communicating to the omniscient and omnipresent creator of the universe! It’s amazing and humbling that God is even willing to listen!

“Hallowed” is a churchy translation that means God is set apart and distinct, in a category entirely his own. Just as we approach God as a father, we recognize his hallowed nature. Coming before the almighty God of the universe, only one response is appropriate – praise!

Often times we come to God in prayer with a laundry list of problems and complaints. Listing them off can have the opposite effect from what we intend – ending up feeling even more self-consumed and overwhelmed. However, when we begin our interaction in prayer with God by focusing on him and his greatness, it just the opposite effect! I’ve found when I start my prayers with gratitude; I find that the same people I’m having issues and problems with instantly become more reasons to be thankful to God.

Jesus goes on to pray “your kingdom come”. Not only do we pray that the rest of the world be reconciled to Christ, but Christ’s prayer is one of availability. Your kingdom come and your will be done (as Matthew 6:10 adds), means we’re willing to be used by God in any way to see his kingdom expand.

An Issue of Dependence

This was the secret of Jesus’ prayer – he expected that the Father would be working through him! He believed what he preached, that “the Son can do nothing by himself”. Christ wasn’t just saying these words, he meant them. A perfect man, he fulfilled God’s expectations perfectly while on earth. Yet, how much of his own power did he contribute to the power, spiritual might, and wisdom on display throughout his own ministry?

Nothing! That meant he had a great need for God to accomplish it. Out of this need came his attitude of prayer and dependence on God.

Everything Jesus did flowed from his reliance on God. If the Son of Man needed desperately to lean on the Father in prayer, how much more do we? While Jesus is a difficult act to follow, prayer with God is not about measuring up to his standard. We should model his attitude and outlook, an issue of the heart, that the Father who dwells in us will accomplish unimaginable things through us.

We usually pray when there’s an emergency or a huge problem. It’s a last ditch effort when we’re really “up against it” and we only turn to God if there are no other options. Jesus, however, is the best example that demonstrates to accomplish God’s will, or in other words, to have a real and lasting effect in whatever we’re doing, we must rely on God with the expectation that he needs to be the one supplying the power.

I’m the last person that should be writing about prayer. My prayer life is pathetic – too often I’m too busy or too forgetful to pray. Most of the time, I feel that I’m adequate enough to get things done – I don’t need to bring God in as a consultant.

Why do we struggle with prayer like this? Why are we suddenly busy when the prayer meeting is about to start? Unlike Jesus, we feel like we’re not needy and we have everything under control. However, the reality is this is a delusion! The only time life is truly under control is when we have Jesus’ attitude of continual need and constant expectation that God must be the one to work and accomplish in every situation.

It is as simple as trying to give away a meal to person who has just finished eating versus offering a meal to a hungry teenage boy. When we feel full and sufficient, we have no need for prayer. However, when we’re hungry it comes as naturally as eating a sandwich when you’re starving.

Prayer came naturally for Jesus because of his needy attitude. But, for most prayer will have to be learned. It’s personal and real communication with the creator God. Start learning to pray by discovering who God is. Pray like the unnamed disciple in Luke 11 – ask God to teach you how to pray. It may feel foolish at first. If you don’t know God personally, it could even begin with a prayer to God asking him to show you that he’s real. It began that way for me.

Note: Portions of this article were adapted from sermons on Luke 11 by Dennis McCallum and Ray Stedman.

Defeating Giants

Malcolm Gladwell has written a really cool essay for the New Yorker titled, “How David Beats Goliath”. Gladwell is a prolific writer and I believe this article is extremely applicable to revolutionaries attempting to fight the system. Pairing an example of a basketball team composed of young girls, coached by a foreigner with the classic story of David and Goliath, the essay illustrates principles of successful insurgents.

When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win…

David can beat Goliath by substituting effort for ability—and substituting effort for ability turns out to be a winning formula for underdogs in all walks of life, including little blond-haired girls on the basketball court.

…David pressed. That’s what Davids do when they want to beat Goliaths.

First, Gladwell suggests that in order to successfully win against a stronger opponent, you must be willing to outwork and out hustle them. In the examples cited, the hustling “underdog” attacks their Goliath at their weakest point, something that usually requires a whole lot of hustle. The article mentions that many people are not willing to go to this length, in fact, they’d rather lose than put in this kind of effort.

A slight mass advantage...

Secondly, the author claims that:

Insurgents work harder than Goliath. But their other advantage is that they will do what is “socially horrifying”—they will challenge the conventions about how battles are supposed to be fought…

You have to be outside the establishment…to have the audacity to play it that way.

In other words, thinking outside of the box, challenging the way it has always been, bucking tradition, or changing the rules of play! However, Gladwell points out that those who dare to defy traditions and unwritten rules of engagement often end up making a lot of people angry!

Doesn’t that sound like Jesus Christ, the ultimate revolutionary? Jesus was willing to challenge religious tradition and break the rules established by the power mongers of the day. It lead to his death. The goliaths Jesus was facing wanted people to play by their rules. However, God’s plan was so unconventional – and shocking! Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, so we could receive him and be reconciled with our creator!

I believe this article is a must-read, as there are many parallels with Christian ministry and love ethics to be found.

The All-Night “Where’s Carleezy” Scavenger Hunteezy

UPDATE:

The hunt is over! Justin’s team won, with 37 points. They found 7 Carleezies, one Billy Idol cassette tape, and obtained the elusive envelope for “Mr. Jerry Hookis” from the front desk at the Sheraton.

All in all, teams only found and/or obtained 14/25 Carleezies! That means 11 Carleezies are still at large! Too bad, since despite protests immediately following the hunt that some Carleezies were “missing” from where they were supposed to be, I just walked outside of my office in downtown Akron and found one such Carleezy everyone insisted had disappeared!

In the aftermath of the first ever all-night audio scavenger hunt, I would love to give out details, however, we don’t want to incriminate anyone!

I should give thanks to the two people who helped organize the hunt – B and Jon! Without them, I would have never been able to put this together!

——–

Meet at 11:00pm sharp tonight at the place where “Wet Lumber”, spikes and bumps, and a steeple can be found.

We’ll divide into teams…

Bring cars, gas, $$$, harpoons, guns, dark clothes, etc. No rules. Just do it. Wheaties – the breakfast of Champions.

The man, the myth, the Carleezy.

You’ll be looking for Carleezies…sheets of yellow paper with a picture of Carlell on them. Clues will be given as to the whereabouts of these Carleezies. A twist = only one Carleezie is hidden for each clue…that means all teams will be competing for the same Carleezies. The implication is, you might decipher a clue correctly, but miss out on the Carleezie if you get there too late!

Carleezies are worth 3 points, all other clues are worth 1 point, unless otherwise noted!

The hunt will last until 6:30am. At 6:30am sharp you and your team need to meet at the finishing point. Clues to the location of the finishing point will be on the back of each Carleezie your team finds.

Questions? Need a clue? Call your mother. She’d love to hear you whine.

Time to Regret

“My Way”

Show me a man claiming to have no regrets and I’ll show you a liar, or at very least, a person skewed by pride. Ol’ Blue Eyes was full of shit.

Our days are full of missed opportunities and mistakes; that’s just the way life is. Regrets, mistakes, and guilt can feel like the weight of the world when we allow ourselves to be consumed by them. Positively, they can motivate us to try harder, learn from our mistakes and those of others, be able to provide wise counsel to those facing similar obstacles, and in the best case, bring us to the important realization we desperately need Christ.

Personally, most of my regrets revolve around the same theme – I’ve been guilty time and again of functioning hurriedly through life, which has caused me to miss out on some really cool opportunities. As they say, “hindsight is 20/20”, so dreaming about a second chance to do it again is appealing, but ultimately a waste of time.

Then there’s the school of thought that purports I wouldn’t be the man I am today if not for what I went through yesterday – the mistakes and errors included. I understand this outlook, as I’m pretty happy and thankful for where I am today, even though I still need to be less of a control freak.

Hundreds of time per day I feel totally inadequate to be an adult, let alone make the important decisions an adult has to make. Sign here, pay this, do that, plan for the future – juggle it all in the air. Now, add a child to the mix. There’s a living, breathing, human being you’ll probably screw up too! I’m discovering our parents were winging this shit too. What a shock! Dad and Mom seemed like they knew what they were doing!

Still, time presses forward.

Advice to Graduating Seniors

So it goes with this year’s WORD class. The seniors are ready to move on and next year’s high school bible study will be totally different. If it were my choice, time would freeze for at least another year. I’m having a blast being involved in such an awesome group. There’s B, Carlell, Rich, Jordan, Adam, Jon, etc, not to mention a slew of crazy chicks. A cast of strange and hilarious characters is growing up right in front of my eyes.

College is the last stop before arrival in the “real world”. There’s still time to shirk responsibility and stay out all night. For a large contingency of undergrads, hedonism prevails, as evidenced by countless social networking sites that preserve memories of scantily clad girls and Natty Light.

Soon, the pressures of life will be ratcheted up for those I have mentioned, as is the case for everyone who must grow up. The university life is seductive it the ways mentioned, but also more so for it’s empty promises of a future full of comfortable living. On graduation day, I half expected to walk onstage to receive my diploma and back off to a six-figure salary and a house in the ‘burbs.

Upon graduation, the world can really start beleaguering the young adult. Modern upbringing is increasingly doing less to prepare young people for the demands of reality. The transition from child to adult appears as a chasm to some; those that do have the wherewithal to make the evolution from taker to producer soon discover that the weigh of the world is substantial. Student loans, car and mortgage, bills and more bills loom. It isn’t enough to do your job and do it well; your employer wants your heart and soul. But, it’d be career suicide to tell the boss that it’s impossible to muster passion when you’re doing something you don’t really like in order to earn a paycheck.

My advice to the young graduate – don’t be in such a hurry to grow up. By “grow up”, I refer to getting over and done with high school in the naïve expectation that somehow things will be better. The scene may change, but as I stated, the intensity and demands the world is planning to place upon you far outweigh any youthful cares.

Be thankful for your time in high school! It isn’t just some fluffy “live everyday to the fullest” philosophy. If you are a Christian, part of an awesome Body of Christ, and have the ability to build meaningful relationships and significance now. College and its afterlife will come soon enough.

That said, being an adult and a Christian is also a position of coolness. Plus, you can buy beer and do other adult things without other adults thumbing their noses at you. Sure, there’s pressures and the suckage that I’ve mentioned – but there’s also real significance and hope.

Master Criminal, Life Loser

I recently finished The Art of the Heist, a memoir written by Myles Connor Jr.

An infamous art thief and rock and roll band leader who loves to brag about his exploits, Myles Connor makes for an interesting read. Word on the street is the story has been tapped for the big screen by Hollywood.

For a majority of his book, I enjoyed reading about Myles’ high-jinks, yet as I finished the final pages, they took a depressing toll. Myles’ book is a big brag about his career as a criminal. The notorious thief loves to explain the genius behind his countless schemes, which are for the most part, extremely entertaining to read. However, he has an uncanny knack for painting his misdeeds, which include shooting at the police, armed robbery, and drug trafficking, as harmless foibles. Readers will be wondering if the self admitted smooth-talking felon is putting one over on us too. Oppositely, criminal associates of Myles don’t get the same treatment. While Connor fashions himself a modern-day Robin Hood who nobly follows his own code of criminal ethics, other thugs comprising his crews don’t get that benefit. Either way, to the disappointment of his parents and family, Myles spent the majority of his life running from jail or sitting in it.

No doubt a man wielding a genius-level IQ, Myles Connor puts his smarts to use in the way only a first-class reprobate could. He relishes his ability to outsmart authorities, a quality that enrages and makes life-long enemies out of them and yet will endear him to most readers. Sadly, it is also his undoing.

Connor’s tale climaxes when he cooks up a daring scheme to steal a million-dollar Rembrandt straight off the wall of a Boston Museum and use it as a bargaining chip to reduce a looming jail sentence.

The Art of the Heist goes down like leftover Easter candy. While a few pieces make for a sweet treat, there’s really no redeemable substance. Connor states that he has no regrets about the way he lived; as he was willing to substitute a life of stability, respectability, and trade in unfulfilled potential for the thrill of the heist and scattered jailhouse friendships. Those looking for a happy ending will instead just find an older Myles, eventually beaten down by the authorities he pissed off, that couldn’t shake a life of crime and never got wise.

The Fluffication of Mickey Rourke

Relevant’s Rourke write-up is a piece of cotton candy fluff, aimed at promoting the actor’s new movie, disguised at first glance as a conversion piece.

The cover of the latest issue of Relevant Magazine boasts ”The Salvation of Mickey Rourke”.
Admittedly, I was interested in the article. Was it true that the former Hollywood bad-boy, now experiencing a career resurgence, had received Christ?

I loved Rourke’s turn as The Wrestler. In the article, Evan Rachel Wood, Rourke’s Wrestler co-star, explains the appeal of the film’s main character:

“It shows a kind of man you don’t see often in film: a man who acts so tough, but is vulnerable and broken.”

Real life Rourke has also battled personal demons – his autobiography would make for a movie as compelling as the fictional characters he’s played on screen. So eagerly, I dug in, expecting to see confirmation that Rourke was indeed a believer. The piece begins by detailing Rourke’s rough childhood and fall from fame. Success, money, and drugs were too much for Rourke and he seemingly threw away a once promising career.

“You know, you can have fame, success and all the money in the world but you can never take it with you.” – Mickey Rourke

However, the “Salvation” the article refers to is notoriously absent. Maybe it refers to the desperate night Rourke contemplated murder and suicide, but went instead to church in a return to his catholic roots. Rourke now visits the church’s priest regularly on Holidays to open up and balances prayers to St. Jude, the patron saint of impossible causes, with the rigors of Hollywood stardom.

Says the Priest who consoled him on that night, Father Peter, “[Rourke] is definitely a man of faith and believes in God’s presence in the world.” The article goes on to describe Father Peter’s call to congratulate Rourke on the success of The Wrestler – the critically acclaimed actor directed the priest to instead pray for his dogs.

The Relevant piece ends with a bold, yet unsatisfying statement:

“…Mickey Rourke is still wrestling: fighting an internal battle that’s been raging his entire life – a struggle between the call of fame and the call of God.”

Why be upset about Relevant’s Rourke article? Relevant, a Christian magazine, that tries to be, well, relevant has written a misleading piece on a “hot-right-now” actor that will really do nothing except increase magazine sales, internet page views, and generate interest in the film Rourke is promoting, which is being released on DVD today.

At worst, Relevant Magazine contributes to the myth that anyone can be “Christian” and has salvation if they live a life of “faith” and pray enough times. So, Mickey Rourke goes to church a few times and prays to God…what does it really mean? Increasingly, a real, personal encounter with God is being substituted with a vague and unclassifiable “faith” that people can turn to during their free time. It resembles a self-help program rather than anything biblical.

“I wish I went with God’s plan 15 years ago instead of mine. I’d be in a lot different place – but I’m glad to be where I am right now.” – Mickey Rourke

While I don’t presume to know whether or not Mickey Rourke is a believer in Christ, Relevant’s article leaves the reader with some serious doubts. What is for sure is that people living lives full of the sort of vague “faith” described by Relevant, especially a person as conflicted as Rourke, the very people who would benefit the most from an actual salvation.