Wyoming Conference Youth Alive 2006
Camp Ladore, Waymart, PA
Love From the Center of who you are, don’t fake it!-Romans 12:9a, The Message
So, I have finally caught up with popular culture and have seen Napoleon Dynamite. I’ve been able to recognize the lines for a while. “Get your own tots!” “It’s a liger.” “Vote for Pedro” shirts. I’d read enough reviews to get the themes of the movie, but I’d never actually seen the thing. And here’s what I saw. I saw a guy that looks a lot like I felt at times in middle school and high school. The girl bailing on him at the dance brought back especially bad memories!
I saw a guy who was a lot like I felt, though I didn’t look much like him. And I’d expect that there are a lot of us here who have also seen the movie and something resonates.
Guys like Napoleon are socially difficult. Family situations are different; we have honest interests that aren’t part of the mainstream, we may have a lack of physical coordination, or we’re short, or round, or thin. We may have a laugh that is too loud. We may have an accent. There are a million ways in which culture marks us as different and “other”. And for those of us who are here, we also have this problem of being Christian, and some of the choices we make also set us apart. The culture makes us instinctively ashamed.
But who we are on the outside is very rarely who we really are. When I went to my 10 year high school reunion, I was voted most changed. In high school, I was nice enough, I guess. My freshman year picture, as my youth group will testify, had me with hair parted in the middle and feathered back. The part in my hair had gone over to the side by the time I graduated. I was in drama and choir, didn’t do sports, and got average grades. I was VERY interested in girls. Ten years later, I was round, bald, and had become a minister. More than one person didn’t recognize me.
How we look changes. How we look is not who we are. Hopefully not, anyway, because that is not what God intends. God intends our lives to be journeys to the center of ourselves.
Who we are is a bunch of layers. And the work of growing up is a process of digging through those layers, down to the place where we find out who we really are, who God designed us to be.
Here’s the top layer, the layer that people see first—the ominous “first impression”. Important to some, but not to us, not to God. For Napoleon, it’s the layer of glasses, hair, and jeans.
Here’s the next layer, the layer of who you are when no one is looking. Here’s our nose-picking, dancing-in-the-mirror, secret-dream selves that only a few people know about. This is Napoleon’s dancing in his room to the old videotape. It’s the Liger level. It’s your favorite food, your secret enjoyment of disco music. This is where some folks place the expression of their faith.
The movie stops there, but there are deeper levels. He and Kip live with their grandmother. Where are their parents? Why is Kip so much older? Why is grandma so grumpy? We never hear that story, but we know it is there, because every one comes from somewhere.
How did your parents raise you? Where was it? How do you remember that place? Does it show in what you do? Does it show in how you talk?
Then you descend through deeper layers. How you were loved, how you love, the stuff that happened to you that makes you angry, sad, depressed fall down to here. The way you act when you’re pushed, or provoked, or set off comes from here. The needs and addictions we have also sprout from here.
Then there is this layer of how we love, and who we love. It’s almost to the center, because this layer is the cover for the center of who we are. It’s the layer that shines like a light bulb, glowing but the light comes from a source inside us.
And then, at the very center, there it is. A small, glowing element. That small bright light. Remember the movie Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban? That scene next to the lake in the woods when Sirius and Harry are being attacked by the Dementors, and a small white light floats out of Sirius’ mouth, then is sucked back in? It’s like that.
That small white light is love. That is the center of who we are. The center of all of us is love. That’s the place where God is, and our lives are the journey to the place where we find it. As Christians, we have the advantage of a better map than most, and names for where we’re going.
Now that we’re there, and we’ve named it, what do we do with it? What is love? What does our road map say it is?
“Love never gives up,
Love cares more for others than for self,
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.”
(1 Corinthians 13:4-7, The Message)
That is the little tiny piece of God that is at our very center. Sirius is dead without it. Harry’s love keeps him alive.
And that’s the funny thing about this little spark of God. It burns much brighter when it is in contact with other ones with as little block as possible. It works like a magnet. It cannot be blocked from other sparks, no matter how many layers there are around it, but the less junk there is, the brighter it is.
Each of us here, each of you, truly do have this spark in side of us. And we can tell that we’re getting closer to it when we feel more like that list of what love is. We all have that potential. We all have that spark.
So when we really “love from the center of who we are”, we’re looking like God. We’re looking like Jesus.
Now I know that none of us are going to look like that all the time. But the closer we get, the more we look like God. And that is what he asks. Because we are his face on earth.
Harry sent out his Patronus spell from his center. Napoleon danced for Pedro’s skit out of that center. God is in our center. God is in your center. Each of you. And your life journey, your walk with Christ, is to get to that center. That’s where His heart is. That’s where He is.
Love from the Center of who you are. Don’t fake it. But drive for it. Strive for it. Get to it. That is our call as Christians.