Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Selfishness vs. Sacrifice

As you're probably aware if you've been paying any attention to my facebook, on Monday night I went to a Relient K concert. This is not going to be one of my usual concert blogs though. It wasn't a normal concert experience, so perhaps that is fitting.

Relient K was the first band I was really a fan of. I started listening to them at the suggestion of a good friend, and though at the time the concept of listening to anything with electric guitars was scary, I fell in love with their quirky lyrics and bouncy songs. The first album I ever owned from any band was Relient K's "The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek," which I bought a few months before my 16th birthday. Relient K was the soundtrack for my last few years of highschool. I've followed all the band members's blogs for three years, bought over 8 hours of their music (every album they've ever done and multiple EPs), and now of course I stalk them all on twitter. Though Skillet has been my favorite band for a while now, Relient K will always hold a special place in my heart.

All this to say, seeing them live was a long-held ambition. When I heard they were coming to Dallas again, I started planning a way to get there. I planned for well over a month. We went through a ridiculous ordeal with tickets that lasted for three weeks, due to tickets being lost in the mail. We had to drive for nearly three hours to get to the venue, and I planned it so we arrived 4 hours early. We were the very first ones in line. We spent nearly 3 hours sitting on the hard cement, waiting. We picked up our tickets at will call. When the doors opened, we went in and rushed to get to our spot in the standing room only venue. We got the best spot in the house: dead center, very front, against the guard rail. Another hour and a half of waiting followed, during which we didn't dare to move from our spot because we knew we'd lose it.

Barcelona and Copeland opened, and though they were good, I was really just waiting for Relient K. But also, particularly during Copeland, I started to feel uneasy. There were two highschool girls standing behind me who were there for Relient K. I knew they had to be having trouble seeing the stage (my brother and I are not exactly short). I also could tell that they were beyond ecstatic to be seeing Relient K live. Suddenly the thought occured to me: let them have your spot.

I tried reasoning my way out of it. What? No! That would be nice and all, but I paid so much to be here, and I've waited for so many years, and we drove so far, and sat outside the venue for so long, not to mention the thing with the tickets! I deserve to be here.

But the thought persisted. Think how much it would mean to them. You go around talking about love. Do you actually believe in it?

Yeah, I believe in it, but I deserve to have this! I mean, it's not really that big of a deal, right?

I kept trying to ignore it, but I couldn't. I guess one thing about love is that it's not rational. Did I deserve to be there, in the best place I could possibly be, seeing this band? Maybe. But does love work on the concept of what is deserved? Jesus didn't think so.

I prayed about it, and I knew I was being asked to offer these random girls I didn't know my spot. And I said yes.

After Copeland's set I turned around to talk to the girls and asked them if they could see alright. They shrugged and said it was OK. I asked if they would like it better if I let them go to the front. I haven't seen faces absolutely light up like that in a long time.

"That would absolutely make my entire life if you let us," one of them said.

I smiled. "OK then, you definitely can."

They asked if there were any songs I particularly wanted to be at the front for, so I pulled the setlist from my pocket (it never hurts to do your research beforehand). We looked over it together, and determined that after Relient K played Let it All Out (about halfway into the set) I'd let them go to the front.

"I'm so happy right now, I kind of want to give you a hug," one of the girls said somewhat hesitantly.

I laughed. "Feel free." I ended up hugging both of them before getting back into position for Relient K's set to start.

And so I got to be at the very front for half a set from one of my favorite bands, as they played incredibly special songs like Be My Escape, Forward Motion, Therapy, Mood Rings, Which to Bury, and of course Let it All Out. Then I turned around, smiled, and switched positions with them. The way they absolutely glowed through the rest of the set made my position farther back so, so worth it.

Now, I'm saying this at the risk of making it sound like I've got everything figured out. Please don't take it that way. I'm not going to lie: I had to overcome a lot of selfishness and a lot of pride in order to let these girls have my spot, because I am a selfish person. I'm so selfish it scares me. But the point I want to make is that sometimes love is in the little things. Also, love is about sacrifice. It's about losing yourself in loving someone else.

And it doesn't always feel good. I'm reminded of the time, my first semester of college, when I was invited by someone at school to go to a Switchfoot and Red concert, and turned it down because my sister's birthday party was the same day. I cried about it for literally about two days straight, because that was the only time my first year that anyone at school invited me to do anything with them. But I knew that it was important to my sister that I be there for her birthday celebration, and so I gave it up. And no, it didn't feel good. It hurt. But God never asks us to make these sacrifices alone. In fact, the only reason we even have the strength to make them at all is because of His love expressed through us, even though we are broken and selfish beings.

Don't be afraid to sacrifice, even for strangers. That is love. That is what Christ did when He stretched out His arms and died for broken people who didn't deserve it.

I'm still figuring this out. I'm still trying to overcome my selfish sense of entitlement. The most I can do is to share these thoughts and hope they make you think too.

- Elraen -

PS - Relient K was amazing. I was grinning like an idiot their whole set, when I wasn't crying. God is so amazing.

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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Passion is Contagious

The story of my life often comes down simply to the struggle between my addiction to passion and my addiction to apathy. And I don't think I'm alone in that.

Sometimes I meet people or see musicians perform who I just connect to in a specific way, who I begin to admire and to hold a very high respect for. At first it was something indefinable. I just knew that I really liked Bryan of VOTA in a way I didn't like the other bands who played at the Newsboys show. I knew I liked Kevin of Disciple so much that his music took on a whole new meaning after seeing him perform. I knew that after just seeing a few quotes from Jon Foreman of Switchfoot, he became one of my heroes. I knew that there was a reason why I really fell in love with Skillet after seeing them live for the first time. Eventually it hit me. What meant so much to me was passion. Every single one of those people I connected to was incredibly, intensely passionate about the message they had to share, about living for what they believed in.

We live in a world that loves standing still. Movement scares us, because there's always the chance that things will go off track, that we'll fall or run into something or lose our way or end up getting separated from everyone we know. Standing still is just easier. But is it really living if we don't go anywhere? Apathy may protect us (see Relient K: emotional attachment is really not a threat when I'm really not concerned), but it also bars us from the most beautiful things in life.

Sometimes I wonder how often most Christians think about the fact that their faith is a life and death matter, in the most literal way possible. Christianity isn't an attitude, or a face we can assume, or a set of religious behaviors, or rules, even though we so often belittle it into being no more than these things (one reason why I almost never use the word “Christian” to describe myself; it's been defaced). Christianity is life, in stark contrast to the death those without Christ experience. Not only are we given this incredible gift of life, but the price to give us this was death-- the death of the one person who didn't deserve it. In return, He asks for something simple and yet incredible. He wants us, a surrender, a sacrifice of self.

It is such a crime to reduce this to nothing more than a label, than going to church on Sundays and trying to be an OK person. It's even worse to infect it with apathy.

If we've been given this rebirth, and we've been given one shot at shining in the darkness of this world, you'd think we'd make the best of it. But it's not easy to feel, it's not easy to believe. Because in the end living for something means dying to everything else. It's easier not to take those steps at all.

After both walking some dark and broken roads and floating in indescribable light and beauty, I've learned that pain is not the thing we should fear the most. We should not fear joy either, even if we know it might end at any moment. What we should fear most is to be numb, the void of emptiness. To be numb, to not feel at all, is to stand still.

I watched a trailer for Switchfoot's new album today. Jon Foreman said some things about the process behind writing the album, about the conclusion they reached after frustrations. “They didn't feel like the type of songs you wanted to die singing. And for Hello Hurricane that became the prerequisite for the song. If you're not crying, why are you singing it? If you don't believe it with every ounce of you, then there's no point in singing it.” What if we lived like that? What if we moved for things that mattered, even when it hurt?

Lacey Sturm of Flyleaf said it this way: “If you're waking up living for something you won't die for, why are you living for it?” If we claim the gift offered by Christ, what we are claiming is a rescue from death, being carried into a brilliant new life. Are we going to throw that away by standing on the edge-- not dead, but not willing to really live either?

One day when coming up with text that would go in my profile on a forum, I was looking at my avatar for inspiration. It was a picture of John Cooper on stage. I randomly typed the phrase “Passion is Contagious.” It stuck. Because honestly, passion shines. I want to be the kind of person who is so alive, so passionate for Christ, so willing to live and to die for love and for hope that the people around me see His light shining bright in the darkness. Jesus died for us. The least we can do in return is to live for Him.

I want to live for love.
- Elraen -