Personally, I have found it hard to recognize the things in my life that control my actions and that guide my thoughts on a daily basis. I think that is also a pretty universal problem for our society. Have we ever really considered what causes fear, withdrawal, and anxiety in our lives? I know I haven’t. At least not until now.
Sitting in the beauty and wonder of the mountains, Nathan Rieger came to us with interesting stories about his experiences within cultures focused on polytheism (that is worshipping multiple gods). I think a lot of our community could vouch for this, that the stories didn’t seem to have much connection to our lives here in North America. But after our second session, he began connecting his experiences to life at home. Have we ever realized that our North American culture actually has many idols?
Standing in a convenience store after returning from Thailand, Nathan shared how he he came to the realization that our culture is definitely not excluded from idolatry. Seeing the face of a supermodel on the cover of a magazine, he realized that people idolize the so called “perfect” image of a woman or man. Body image is a huge idol for many of us. I’m sure you can think of plenty more if you really focus on it. Where many cultures have physical statues of gods and idols, we have more disguised in visible, invisible, heavenly and earthly realms. I was blown away by this realization. We are definitely not exempt from idolatry.
In our last session with Nathan, we were given the opportunity to share with the group our personal idols. The goal behind that being that when you bring inner struggles into the light and speak them out, they suddenly lose power over you. This was so evident for me. Sitting in that circle I felt this uncomfortable gut wrenching feeling that I needed to share mine, but at the same time something was holding me back. The very idol I needed to vocalize was holding me back from speaking it out. But that moment when I did brought unbelievable freedom, and weights from years of suppressing it fell away. Sharing those deep parts of you with a safe community is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Not only does it give you freedom, but it enables others to gain the confidence to speak out their own struggles.
Nathan taught us that there is a positive act of rebellion when it comes to your personal idols. Realizing your idol is definitely a huge step, but after that you need to figure out how you are going to beat it down; how you are going to rebel. For some it’s easy and obvious, for others it may take a while. But when you figure that out, it opens the door to freedom from that idol, and for God to speak truth into that part of you.
We were given a day to use the steps Nathan gave us to work through rebelling against our idols. For me that meant a lot of reflection time — looking back at my past, and dreaming about the future. What might it look like for me to live in freedom? What experiences can I take from my past to help me grow in the future? Having a dedicated time to think through those things and listen to what God has to say about them was a beautiful opportunity. One that I, and certainly many others, will continue to use in our walk through life.
So do I have it all figured out now? No way. That’s a lifelong journey. But I definitely have a good head start. So what’s your act of rebellion? How are you going to positively defy the social standards? It’s a question we need to ask ourselves often. But we must always remember that with God by our side, we can overcome anything.
Just like most adventures on Outtatown, you usually don’t know what to expect going into a new week. As we travel through the year, we do so with a particular level of intensity. So, as we entered into the week in Winnipeg and now Vancouver, it was particularly fitting that it is called an “Urban Plunge”. With full-force, we plunged into a cross-cultural experience that didn’t take us over-seas, but within our own borders and in local urban settings.
Similar to any new experience, there were many moments when we felt uncomfortable. But as we entered into each of these weeks, we were encouraged to embrace and distinguish–as we knew we would have to–the moments when we felt uneasy, outside of our comfort zone, or challenged by the experiences we were encountering.
As we journeyed through each week, we learned how to relate to people that were vastly different than ourselves. As one man so eloquently commented to my group,”you look like thumbs that keep getting hit with a hammer.” In these neighbourhoods, we clearly stood out.
Only blocks away in the shopping district, we blended in, becoming part of the hundreds of people going independently about their business.
Straddling these two worlds made the divide even more apparent and this indicated to us just how many different kinds of beauty and brokenness there can be even within the same city.
Although many questions arose through the week, we all questioned what it meant to acknowledge those around us. Walking down East Hastings, economic poverty was incredibly prevalent. Although dysfunctional and broken in many ways, there was a level of respect in the area that caused people to acknowledge each other in ways that were not evident in other areas of the city. This was an incredible symbol of beauty in the midst of brokenness.
In the shopping district, people were independently going about their own business, rarely acknowledging the individuals around them. For the people sitting on the streets panhandling for a living, even acknowledgement was a gift. A smile or a quick hello often meant more than 25 cents here and there. Although the shopping district was rich in brand name stores and with a Starbucks on every other corner, their poverty and brokenness was evident in the lack of acknowledgement that they received from the people around them.
While walking down the street, people diverted their eyes away from anyone sitting on the streets or approaching them, even if the person was simply intending to ask for the time. In situations like these, people begin to question their worth and existence in a world that refused to acknowledge the divide. In an area where everyone marvels at the beauty of the buildings and the clothes on the other side of the glass, there is brokenness that, like so many issues, was being ignored.