I don’t want to give my opinions anymore. I should clarify. I most definitely will give you most, if not all, of my opinions. On life, and God, and even unnecessary things, like, let’s say, licorice: (horrible). But I don’t have any desire to climb to the tip-top of Sinai before doing so. You see, some people like licorice, even the wretched black kind, and I have zero capacity to understand how that could possibly be. There’s nothing going on there my taste buds find agreeable. Yet, some seem to thoroughly enjoy the taste equivalent of falling face first into a cow patty. Their opinion is ignorant, tasteless, and foolish to me. Yet, because I’m not betrothed to winning that argument, I’m able to see it’s only an opinion. I can see my own opinion that black licorice is like licking the boots of a coal miner who walks home each day through a river of toxic waste can also be seen as ignorant, tasteless, and foolish because people have different tastes. (more…)
Most people don’t know that an iteration of this website existed in the early 2000’s. There was a regular feature on that site called Holy Crap, (The easily offended should probably look away) in which I showcased some of the more insane products Christians sell in the name of their Lord. I don’t have a post ready for this week, so I decided to revive this gem. And, man, am I glad I did. Because I found these: (more…)
“Truth is not a matter of knowing this or that but of being the truth.” –Kierkegaard
There’s not much I love more than learning. Maybe writing about what I’ve learned. Turning the ideas over on the page; kicking them around a little to see how much of a beating they can take. Ignorance can be dangerous because I’m apt to believe whatever’s most comfortable. But facts can be dangerous too. I’ve been known to narrow my eyes in a petty search for the slightest wrong to correct. I’ve balled up my hands and punched down those with whom I have disagreed, and it felt like heaven. Like anything good, knowing can be bad.
I would sit all day in front of my computer as a teenager, playing games, making websites, and studying the bible. I’d lean back in my chair and listen for hours to lectures and sermons, read commentaries and articles. If I had a question, I’d look for an answer until my eyes burned. I don’t want to give the impression that I was some kind of spiritual giant. I spent way more hours watching television, playing Mario Bros. and looking at slowly loading pictures of naked women via a 56k modem than I did all that religious stuff. But the bible was important to me. I learned that God loved me. I learned that I was forgiven, not because I was good, but because God is good. I learned that if you don’t know what I know, I sometimes look down on you. I learned that knowing theology is good, but that theology, like other good things, can make you mean.
When I was young, I didn’t understand how a person with a lot of knowledge about the bible could also be a jerk. She had been there since the beginning. The church was a large brick building now. A steeple you could see for miles above the trees. She was there when it was a small mobile building, working to make it more, inviting everyone she knew, giving what she would, and no one liked her then either. She was there every service, faithfully tithed, and volunteered for every event. But people I invited to come, they would sometimes frown and mention her name. Mention some thing she’d said or done that didn’t make them feel welcome. She always had a smile.
It was a cognitive dissonance that I constantly fought with when I saw people who were more knowledgeable than me blithely crushing others. But I could’ve understood if I’d just looked at my own life. I was the poster child for the uber-conservative, liberal-hating, judgmental, fundamentalist-minded Christian at one point in my life. I meant well, and I only wanted to do God’s will, see other Christians do God’s will better, and see non-Christians become Christians. Heck, I always had a smile.
I grew up Baptist, and when you’re really into being a Baptist (or, as I’ve discovered, a Lutheran, Presbyterian, Pentacostal, etc.) you look down on people who aren’t what you are. You equate your brand of Christianity with the right way to do Christianity and, so, are exceptionally annoying to be around. I now go to a denominational church, but I don’t agree with everything that denomination says, and I can still be exceptionally annoying as well. But, it’s generally when I believe I’m arguing from some place of authority.
I believe in facts. I’m certain there are knowable, verifiable facts, spiritual and otherwise. But, as much as I love facts, they’re not the point. And, all the denominations can’t be right about everything they think they’re right about. Which is kind of humbling when I remember that applies to me too. Knowing is important, but being also seems to be the point Jesus kept on about. I can quote a lot of theologians, have some impressive books in my library, know the right people, and have some fancy letters after my name, and still be a butt-munch. Or, I can let the facts that matter mean something more than the fact that I know them. It’s pretty tempting to be seen as spiritual because I know much about spiritual things, but (in my wiser moments) I’d rather be seen as a fool and live spiritually through Christ.
My head throbs from the noise. I’m sitting in a quiet house in comfortable jeans and an old t-shirt. The fan on my laptop drones a meditative hum. There’s nothing else to do but write now. Nothing I’d rather do. I close my eyes for a moment, relishing it, feeling myself breathe. The bubble of arguments, fears, and hates, stretches out from the back of my head and snaps loose like the last raindrop. It’s good to take a break. Take a closer look without the noise.
Every political post on social media, every article from every news service, every speech and interview has served to make me tired and angry. The camera panning across war torn cities, crumbled to unlivable heaps, gut me. The left, the right, tear me in two. I want to stand and speak, reach out and pull the blood-soaked masses to safety, paint a sign and march. I want to make a difference. I want to be love in action. Half our nation believes the world is coming to an end, and the other half is sighing in relief that they narrowly avoided the world ending. I don’t know if there’s ever truly been nuance in public disagreements, but it’s rarer now. You have to dig for it. Everything’s either-or, black and white, life or death. As a follower of Jesus, I find myself wondering how to live in such a world.
Some might read that and tell me to just speak the Message. I’m convinced that Christ is the answer. That’s not the issue. I know to tell anyone who will listen that Christ died for sinners of whom I’m in the top three. The problem is, that message is what causes my hands to tremble. It’s what drives me to act. It’s what gives me pause when I want to clench my non-proverbial fists and fight.
A part of me wants to scream at every wrong, fight for every cause, but I’m unsure how to stand against wrong and act in love in every situation. We don’t have a full account of the disciples lives, but it’s not something we see them concerning themselves with–yelling at the government for change. When they saw those in need, they did what was necessary to salve their wounds, fill their stomachs, and protect them from the elements. They were a light in the dark.
But they didn’t live in a society where each citizen is a small cog in the great machine of change. Would they have acted differently had they been able to make some small push toward change? Would Paul and Barnabas hold picket signs as they told those in the crowd who were interested about a Savior? I don’t know. I can’t see it. But maybe that’s due to a lack of imagination.
Many pens have been run dry writing on this subject. Some say to pull away from government as citizens of another spiritual Nation, and others claim that one of our most spiritual acts is our vote. Calling our congressman as an act of worship. I don’t know how involved I should be as a citizen who’s a Christian. I don’t know what issues I should stand up for, and where I should be silent. Even the more obvious choices are tangled in philosophical complications, no matter how much we want to make them either-or, black or white, life or death.
When I see the weak, the poor, the powerless being crushed, I’m compelled to act. But I feel like my one voice is lost in the din of so many others. Like my vote is crushed under the weight of the system. Like any sign I fashion is summarily dismissed by those meant to be moved by it. Maybe I’m wrong. The tiniest strikes, over time, can crumble a great mountain. It’s a frustrating struggle, but I believe it’s an important one. One I can’t let go of. That won’t let go of me.
We’re busy people. Straining our backs to pull the pick through the air in an effort to break another stone. Another stone, another paycheck. Another car payment. Another visit to the orthodontist for Jenni. Another trunk-load of groceries from Publix. Always another. Yet, we’re expect to be informed. At most, we have time to skim the paper with our coffee, or watch the evening news while our children pretend to be something very loud that runs much. With exceptions, this is life.
We can’t be experts on foreign policy or know the depth of complexity on most issues. It’s not an excuse, it’s reality. Many of us try our best to have a cursory knowledge of the world around us. But it’s difficult. We Christians are also expected to wake early enough on Sunday morning to dress our children in bows and tiny sports coats to learn the nuanced teaching of all 66 books of a bible we don’t read enough, think about enough, or study enough. It’s never enough. None of it. Our little bubble of time laughs at us.
Knowing all of this should humble us,
instead, we scrape up the bits of truth we have and pretend to be experts.
I have no children who are peeing on the neighbors azalea bushes or beating one another senseless over who plays the Xbox next, but
- I’ll gladly scoff at some misbehaving scamp in a Denny’s and pontificate with my lunch partner on where the parent’s went wrong.
- I’ll talk about the political climate, and the current President, and the intricacies of law with something I’d be embarrassed to call comprehension.
- I’ll personally expound on bible verses I’ve decided I completely and utterly understand at length only to find that the context is greater than I’ve given credit, which makes my point null and void. I’m proud and foolish.
I have great excuses for being at the level at which I am in all that I do. I don’t mean that sarcastically either. I’m no expert on all things because I simply haven’t lived long enough to be so. It’s not been my job to understand, say, politics. But I’ve endeavored to watch enough news and study enough history to make me conversant. (If politics were Spanish, I could easily ask where the bathroom is.) And, while I have a degree in counseling psychology, I never specialized in something like child-rearing, nor—as I mentioned—do I have much personal experience there. I was also a pastor for several years, and I’ve always had a deep passion for learning the Scriptures. I’ve accomplished more in this area than all the others, and feel competent in what I know. Yet, I’m no bible scholar, nor could I order a cheeseburger with extra pickles in the original languages.
But I will correct you. I will attack with the ferocity of a tenured professor of advanced age and talents. I will write lengthy posts, and responses to your foolish Facebook memes (if only in my head). I will not consider that I could be wrong, or that there could ever be a point-of-view different from my own that had any validity worth considering. I will simply raise my hands, bare my claws, and rip you to shreds. I’m very good at that.
If they offered such a thing,
I might even be working on my PhD in it.
I looked in the mirror earlier, and I had cheese in my beard. The cuff on the pants I’m wearing is hanging loose. I plan to go out in public wearing them later. I’m a couple dozen pounds overweight and live with a psychological disorder that saps up at least 30% of my mental energy on a good day. I need a haircut, my room’s a mess, I haven’t bothered to look up the facts on the latest thing I’m mad enough to blindly write comments on other people’s posts about… and did I mention that cheese-beard thing?
I have to remind myself that I don’t have to be an expert on everything. That I’m an imperfect conglomeration of unfinished facts. I don’t have to correct every error I see in someone else’s life. Don’t have to confront every racist, bigot or sexist. But it is important to look for those things in myself. Even if they exist only as a sliver in my finger. Maybe that’ll humble me enough to be able to see past the surface things that I want to rail against to the people doing them. Maybe recognizing my incapacity to know it all or have all the answers will give me the humility to embrace them where they are, no matter how deeply I disagree with them. Because we’re both just struggling. We’re both trying to understand. And maybe that love will create questions for this sinner. At least one of them. Because there’s only one thing I know for sure—one answer—Christ died for sinners like me and you.
God’s unmerited loved is the only motivation for real change. But it doesn’t guarantee change, and that scares us. So we hold on to the false safety of the lie that being good is the Good News. But, real love—grace-inspired love—that’s the stuff. It doesn’t follow any outlines or logic we’re familiar with. The gospel works against the way of the world that seems so natural to our sinful minds. We spend a lot of time trying to domesticate Jesus into some kind of weenie watchdog we can control, but sick on our enemies when need be. But the Creator of all just laughs and loves the unexpected. He won’t be tamed. Can’t be. Like a flower growing in the crack of a sidewalk, his love blossoms in those who belong to him. The uncanny, unexpected treasure of God in the old cracked jelly jars of our hearts.
Cocaine and taking her clothes off for money in an Atlanta club was Victoria Teague’s life for over ten years before Jesus walked in. She kept that side of her life a secret for another ten years until Jesus sent her back in. Now she leads a ministry inside strip clubs, giving what she calls baskets of love full of everything from makeup and nail polish to bibles and chocolates, and nonjudgmentally sharing the love of Christ to the hungry of soul.
Upstanding church members aren’t known for spending a lot of time among strippers (and if they are, it isn’t for the best of reasons) …Unless you know Jesus. He’s love.
I remember it well—the sides formed quickly. On the right were the evangelicals, supporting the fast food restaurant, Chik-fil-a, because of their stance against same-sex marriage and their support of anti-homosexual groups. On the left were homosexuals and those accepting of them. They were picketing the place, swearing off delicious, delicious chicken sandwiches for their greater cause. But, the behind-the-scenes story few knew was the friendship that formed between the owner of Chick-fil-a, Dan Cathy, and Shane Windmeyer, the out executive director of the national organization that began the campaign against the restaurant.
Shane wrote a piece in the Huffington Post about the experience, saying that Dan Cathy, the owner, reached out to him and lovingly, patiently listened to his concerns, even changing his giving to certain groups because of their disrespectful behavior towards the LGBTQ community as a result. Shane wrote, “he had to both hold to his beliefs and welcome me into them. He had to face the issue of respecting my viewpoints and life even while not being able to reconcile them with his belief system. He defined this to me as ‘the blessing of growth.’ He expanded his world without abandoning it. I did, as well.” The title of Shane’s article was Dan and Me: My Coming Out as a Friend of Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A.
This is supernatural love we’re talking about. I mean, this is a world of judgment. Christians just aren’t friends with unrepentant sinners. It isn’t done… unless you know Jesus. He’s love. Upright, bible-toting believers just don’t befriend gay activists unless… Well, you know. This kind of insane love is the heart of the kind of relationships Jesus had.
The people that society looked down on, the ones the religious community pointed to as negative examples, they were the ones Jesus was fast friends with. I’m not giving you another rule to follow. I’m not saying, go out and love, or else. I’m saying, walk in the Spirit and watch this stuff happen. When I stop holding on so tightly to my petty prejudices, God’s love takes over.
These kinds of stories are what it looks like to supernaturally love. Broken relationships are healed, hate melts, and love springs up, judgment and fairness are traded for grace. Go to God and get loved and you’ll love like he does. Serve your politics and misguided religious traditions, and you’ll continue finding reasons to turn people away. Because, now that the law isn’t the measure by which you are judged righteous, you’ll find yourself fulfilling it through love.
There’s no cosmic gun to your head. There’s a Father who loves his child, who loves the world, who died for it, and the healthy response to love is always more love. So, when you know you’re free, you will find yourself—more and more—happily spreading that love like some Jesusy Johnny Apple Seed. Yeah, sometimes you’ll still be selfish. Sometimes you’ll still judge and be all snotty about who you think you are. But you’ll be more sensitive to the Spirit’s kindly tapping you on the shoulder. You’re going to get mad and roll your eyes and not feel like loving anyone but yourself at times. But God will always be there, arms wide.
The point is, God is awesome, and his love is uniquely foreign to our experience in the best way possible, and that’s why we need him so badly. We want our love to have limits. We want to show off our knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3:22) in the lives of others. But that always leads away from love.
In a 2013 piece in Slate, Larry Lake talks about when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Friends would drive her to her radiation sessions, stopping for her favorite ice cream on the way back. They sent cards, made phone calls, emailed links to helpful information and sent food, piles and piles of yummy food. But, 10 years later, when his daughter was admitted to a psychiatric hospital with a bipolar diagnosis after years of secret substance abuse, there were no calls or casseroles.
The rest of the world can love like that. They can judge what might be deserving of tenderness and pork chops, and what deserves silence and shame, but we can’t. Our call from God isn’t to judge the non-Christian, as we’ve seen, it’s to blanket the world with love. Love is taking casseroles to people we are tempted to judgmentally dismiss. You may be thinking that’s encouraging sin, but it’s actually being like our Savior. We need to get over the silly idea that wagging our finger at something will keep it from happening. Use wisdom, don’t buy a six-pack for a recovering alcoholic, but maybe hold their hair back while they puke their guts out. Don’t become the codependent provider for your Christian family, but do become the all-seasons friend without an ounce of pride who gently corrects and guides (Gal. 6:1).
We should be well-known for the most insane acts of love. Christians should be the ones the world knows won’t judge them when everyone else does—the ones who won’t turn their backs when even their family has. Instead of being known for our hateful rhetoric we should be known for jaw-dropping acts of mercy.
Love looks like Nadine Collier, daughter of one of the nine members slain in a Charleston, South Carolina church by a young man motivated by racist hate. She said, “I forgive you,” to the young man who shot her mother. “You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”
“May God have mercy on you,” said Tywanza Sanders, whose son was killed by the boy. The sister of the church’s Reverend, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, who was also murdered, said, “I acknowledge that I am very angry. But one thing that DePayne always enjoined in our family …. is she taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive. I pray God on your soul.”
Not often do you see such humanity, pain and anger acknowledged and overcome by the love of Christ. To forgive the boy who despised your family so much due to the amount of melanin in their skin is supernatural. To wish on him that he find true hope in Jesus Christ is terribly powerfully otherworldly. The pleas for this boy’s soul, said the granddaughter of the murdered Daniel Simmons, were the confirmation that “hate won’t win.”
Grace trumps hate. It doesn’t discount pain, it comforts it. It doesn’t shame the grieving, it finds them wrapped in God’s arms. It decimates true hatred for an enemy, and replaces it with the love of God. One doesn’t stand in front of the killer of your family with tears dripping from your eyes and forgiveness from your tongue without something as big as God’s love at work within you. That’s the fruit of the Spirit. That’s the truth of love. No, we won’t be completely like God until we see him face-to-face, but we’ll be more like him tomorrow than we were today by the work of God’s Spirit. (And you’ll probably be the last one to know).
What happens when we die? It’s not like I can tell you exactly. Paul said, “To be absent from the body is to present with the Lord” (verse). And (verse) says that first comes death, then the judgment. So we got that. But, to be honest, that’s pretty vague stuff when you’ve got a question that big.
When my grandfather died, my grandmother had a dream that they were in a wide open pasture of green rolling hills. They sat under the shade of a tree, and he smiled at her, made a joke, and it gave her comfort that everything was going to be all right. That’s a good story. For me, anyway. I like to believe it was more than the dream of a mourning woman to self-soothe. I want to believe it’s true. But, even if it is, I’m not sure sarcastic granddads in beautiful vistas really gives me any concrete answers.
The church has guesses. Based on the scant information the bible gives us about the afterlife, the evangelical church of my youth has come up with all kinds of hokey visions of heaven. In some book or another I’m not motivated to research the title of, after the apocalypse, Hal Lindsay has the two love interests go to get married on the New Earth. Jesus shows up and asks something cheesy like, “Mind if I do the honors?” I really don’t know how much that actually helps.
I went to one of those Hell Houses when I was a teenager. After seeing people fictionally die horribly in drunk driving disasters, drug overdoses, and other incidents related to disobeying parents, we—the onlookers—were ushered into heaven. There, a man in a white bed sheet and red sash welcomed us by walking up to each of us and saying, “well done, my good and faithful servant.”
All the annoying emotional manipulation aside, I had a deep reaction to that moment. When the man with the full beard and wig walked up to me, placing his hand on my shoulder, I closed my eyes and imagined it really was Jesus, and that he was telling me that because I’d accepted what he’d done for me, in my place, for my salvation, that all my bad was burned up, and all that counted was love. Even right now, that gets me in the gut.
I’m fairly certain heaven won’t be encounters with hippie Jesus, or look like a plywood room covered in red curtains constructed on a fairground by church volunteers on the weekends. I’m also pretty sure scaring people into decisions with car wreck scenarios isn’t all that Christian. But I’m thankful for that tall guy in the wig. Number one, he wore that wig like a boss. Two, after being yanked along by a manipulative wave of scare-tactics, he reminded me that God is for sinners, like me. He gave me the closest thing to a glimpse into the afterlife I really need. He reminded me of no more striving, or tears, or worries or doubt. Complete acceptance and an all-encompassing love that we can only guess at with the cardboard cut-outs of our poor imaginations.
The red light is notoriously long at Mills and Colonial in Winter Park, Florida. So long, you might bring War and Peace to read and, if you had to travel that road every day, might finish by the end of the week. Maybe because of the long wait, there is a group of people who regularly walk through the paused traffic to ask for money.
One man drags his right foot behind him as he moves from car to car, hoping someone raises their head to acknowledge him; rolls down their window. He’s a short Asian man in his thirties, head down, unkempt hair. On this day, I sit in the passenger seat, watching him hobble along. I look over at my wife, and she is feeling the same heartbreak as me. I can see it on her face. If he was near my window, I would give him all my money, the keys to my house, my 401k.
As I said, the light is long. But today it’s untenably long. Like, let’s-make-a-turkey-dinner long. So, I’ve watched this poor man walk up, then back down, the street several times, painstakingly, heartbreakingly. Taking a dollar here, a few cents there, and finally disappearing around the corner. My wife and I, who are both jaded in our own special ways, discuss how our hearts melted at seeing such humanity. I take a deep breath, gathering myself, questioning my life choices. Then I sit back, staring at the red light, but no longer thinking about the light. Then I see him again. He and two of the others that were working the cars. They’re smiling, heads up, and chatting with one another loudly as they speed past the still unmoving traffic on bicycles.
Which require working legs, feet, and ankles to a fairly high degree.
My jaw stiffens and I curse, pointing them out to my wife who’s already seen them, and is doing some cursing of her own. We’re speechless for a moment after that, and then we raise our voices again, ranting and flailing our limbs. I feel my wallet in the butt of my pants, and think I should apologize to it for almost handing it over to that charlatan. I make fists, squirm in my seat, point at the spot I first saw him cycling along, enumerating the ways in which I disbelieve how he tricked me. I’m feeling like a fool. Feeling fooled.
I want him to suffer. I want him to be exposed. I want to set up camp on that corner, ready with a sign which reads ‘LIAR’ that I can carry along behind him while he drags his perfectly healthy foot through traffic the next time, a bright red arrow pointing down at him. I want justice!
For a solid three minutes that man went from car to car. At one point, he was only one car away from me. I saw the pain on his face. The guilt was as untenable as the light. I looked at the door handle and thought about jumping out, trotting over to him, and handing him a five. I almost did. I tell myself that. I almost did. The man I truly believed was suffering, hobbled—ten feet away—and I stayed in my car. A prayer on my lips for him, my faith and my cash tucked away safely.
It’s emptiness in the center of me. My brain is stuck in second gear, and I’m numb. People will tell you that you shouldn’t feel this way; that you shouldn’t mourn. If God is in control, they say, we should always rejoice. I disagree. When there’s a death, it’s okay to mourn. When there’s a loss, it’s okay to weep. It’s not good, but it’s good for you. I think what they mean to say is don’t despair. That’s different. That I agree with.
Despair will keep you on the floor. Despair will convince you that there’s no longer any reason to get up. Despair will take your joy out back and shoot it in the hindbrain. But I know my joy’s not dead. It’s somewhere upstairs, watching old episodes of Quantum Leap, waiting until I’m ready to have a conversation. It’s patiently waiting, flipping through old copies of Boy’s Life and Elle, for me to deal with the hurt. Mourning is mentally working through loss; getting used to a world without the thing you had or wanted. It’s a form of rest, and it’s preparation.
Stop telling us not to mourn.
Mourning is self-care. I need some self-care these days. I’ve been running, and dieting, but maybe today I need a shake and some burgers. (that’s right, I said ‘burgers’ with an ‘s’). I need to surround myself with love and humor. But most of all, I need to feel something. (Not run from it; not pretend it’s not there.) I need to accept that something bad is happening in my brain and deal with it. Deal with it until every scrap of it is dissolved. Because pain has a way of coming back—growing sharp teeth and biting you to the bone—years from now, in unexpected ways.
It’s small, what I’ve written. But it almost always makes me feel better. I haven’t said much, but sometimes pouring your bag out on the table is the most satisfying step in getting to a clean bag. Just having that sucker empty. Because all I’ve done is pour out my hurt and it feels good. Listen, If you want to help, don’t tell me that hurting is wrong, or that I should trust God more. When my friend’s father died, he said he’d told a man the year before he understood what he must be feeling when that man’s father died. He had no idea, he told me. None at all.
When I mourn, I trust God. I trust that he’ll see me through it, and not be uncomfortable with the fact that I’m hurting. My weeping, snotty, prayers don’t seem awkward to Him.
Talking about our pain is healing. We fear that it’s too much. To tell. To hear. But it’s like pushing over a bucket of filthy mop water onto the ground. You just made a huge mess on the ground, but the world’s big enough to soak up the mess; take it all in. I tend to turn my bucket over onto the page. It always soaks it up. Sure, it leaves a stain, but the words are like a monument of hope. Something I can look back to and nod knowingly. Seeing how far I’ve come.
Seeing that is no mean thing. How far we’ve come. We don’t look back to be pulled back toward despair, or even mourning, but to be reminded of how far we’ve come. We look and see how small our pain appears from this distance. How much we’ve grown to be able to step over it, how strong we’ve become to be able to climb out of that pit. How faithful God is, even in that mourning everyone told us He despised. And that will most certainly bring a song of praise to our lips. …But not today. Today we weep.