I hadn’t planned on writing a part 2 on homosexuality, but I just saw this video and I had to say something.  The video above is a child at the Apostolic Truth Tabernacle in Indiana.  He’s singing these lyrics:

The Bible’s right

Somebody’s wrong

Romans 1:26 and 27

Ain’t no homos gonna make it to heaven

You may now take a 5 minute break to go throw up.

Other than the borderline mental child abuse in this video, this message isn’t all that out-of-the-ordinary; not with all the recent crazies making their own videos with similar messages.   This particular video struck a nerve with me.  After I watched it, I went to the church’s website and saw these words on its front page:

“The Pastor and members of Apostolic Truth Tabernacle do not condone, teach, or practice hate of any person for any reason”.

WHAT?!?

Sadly, this is another one of those absurd lines of thought I’ve seen in other Christian circles as well.  You can say whatever angry, mocking, violent, vitriolic thing you want about homosexuals….as long as you back it up with the phrase, “Oh no, I don’t hate them.  I love them.  I just hate their sin”.

The problem here is that people have very messed up definitions of love and hate.  Let’s take love first.  Too often people define love simply as thoughts or feelings towards someone.   So when Jesus says I am to love my enemies, it doesn’t matter what I do to them, I’m obeying Jesus as long as I say I love them or having some loving thoughts towards them.  This is the reasoning that Christians used during the Crusades as they slaughtered their enemies.   The same kind of logic is used today.  If you say some really hateful things about someone and then in the next breath say, “but I love them”, you don’t.  You know you don’t truly love them, everyone else knows you don’t truly love them.  Stop trying to fool yourself.

“But Josh, what they were saying in the video wasn’t hate; they were just stating truths in the Bible”.

First of all, how they interpret those two verses in Romans to say “ain’t no homos gonna make it to Heaven” is absolutely bogus.  And even if Romans did say that, their actions were still utterly hateful.

Let’s use an example.  Let’s pretend that there is a rare and deadly disease that only affects a small percentage of the population.  No one can find a cure except one doctor.  The doctor gives the cure to the Apostolic Truth Tabernacle and commissions them to find those who have the disease and heal them.  The church, instead of actually trying to cure people, decides to teach their children cute little songs with the words:

“The disease is no lie

They gonna die

The disease is strong, it makes em’ dirty

Ain’t no sickies gonna live past 30”

The children sing their songs and the adults give them a standing ovation, clapping, laughing, and cheering.  The church records the song and makes it public.  The community is angered, including the doctor, who says to them, “You have the cure for them you idiots!  Why are you doing nothing about it and making songs about how they’ll die?”  The church responds, “But we love them!  It says so right on our website”.

Now, I don’t agree with all the theological implications in this example.  If you strip this story of any religious parallels, and this story actually happened somehow in real life, we would consider the people at that church to be some of the most debased and inhumane people of our time.   Now let’s put the religious parallels back in the story.  In a way, this is what the church actually believes.  They believe the homosexuals have the disease that puts them in hell and they have the cure that will save them.  Instead of saving them, they teach their kids songs about how they won’t make it to heaven.

How can that not be considered hate?

So to the people at the Apostolic Truth Tabernacle, I truly and sincerely hope that you find the truth of the love of God and realize that what you are doing is hate.  The Bible says that if you say you love God yet hate your brother, you’re a liar.  But it doesn’t even take the Bible to realize this.  You’re not fooling anyone with the words on your website.

ImageHang around with a group of Evangelical Christians for awhile and the topic of homosexuality will surely come up.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but Christians tend to put each other in one of two groups.  There’s the mega liberal  group comprised of Socialists, Democrats, Methodists, and/or apostates that not only believe homosexuality is okay with God, he ordains it because they give us modern fashion and make the property values in our neighborhoods go up.  The other group is the dumb, hateful, Fox News worshiping kind that believe homosexuality is the cause of AIDS, rising gas prices, and Barrack Obama. 

Which are you, a blaspheming Socialist or a hate-mongering member of the Westboro Baptist Church?

 You only have two options and you have to choose, right now. 

Do it. Do it now.

I wish there were more exaggeration in those examples but the debate on homosexuality has almost gotten that absurd.  Frankly, I hate both sides.  I’m making a third group.  From now on, when someone asks me about my view on Homosexuality from a Christian standpoint, here will be my response:

Who cares?  It’s a dumb question, and the wrong one to be asking.

To better explain my stance, we have to look at the most fundamental question in this debate, the question of whether or not homosexuality is a sin.  I’ve read books from both sides of the issue.  There are people who honestly and legitimately have solid evidence to believe that it is not a sin.  Also, the same applies to those who believe that it is.  No matter where you stand, if you do a little studying, you have to admit that the Bible is pretty ambiguous on the topic (except for in the Old Testament where everything was an abomination).  But I’ll give you my personal answer to this  fundamental question:

Who cares?  It’s a dumb question, and the wrong one to be asking.

To be clear, I actually do care about the issue from a Biblical standpoint.  I wouldn’t have read books on the topic it if I didn’t.  My problem with the debate is that the question is often asked  for the wrong reasons.  Today, it’s too-often asked for people’s own agenda, instead of for furthering the Gospel.

Let’s all get on the same page for a moment and agree (or pretend) that homosexuality is a sin.  Okay, now what?  Some would say, “Ha! We can’t allow homosexuals to get married or adopt or join the army or work the nursery (or even attend) at church!  Why?  Because homosexuality is a sin!” 

Let’s take a look at how ridiculous this sounds.  Many Christians want to forbid these things simply because homosexuality is a sin.  Why is homosexuality treated as the one sin that makes God get stomach cramps?  Aren’t we all sinners?  Have you ever seen a perfect nursery worker?  The Bible talks about gluttony being as sin.  Can you imagine the fallout if churches started treating chunky people like they have cooties? 

Let’s look at my own life for a second.  I’ve hated people before, and the Bible says I’m a liar and a murderer.  The Bible also equates lust with adultery.  Oops.   I’m also an American, which means I’m rich in comparison to the rest of the world.  The Bible says it’s essentially impossible for me to enter into the Kingdom of God.  It’s why I thank God for his grace because if it were up to the law, I would be a lying, murdering adulterer who is doomed for perdition.  But even so, it’s okay for me to watch the kids in the nursery, go to Bible College, and have my minister’s license.  After all, murderers aren’t that bad, right?  But those homosexuals…we have to keep them away.

And of course, the biggest issue is homosexual marriage.  Again, because homosexuality is a sin, we can’t let them marry.  We have to protect the sanctity of marriage.  The problem with this logic is that it’s mind-blowingly hypocritical.  If we really think that it is a Christian’s duty to make sure marriage is sanctified through political means, then we’re doing a really bad job at keeping it holy.  Why are we not rallying to forbid divorce or remarriage for divorced people?  Why are we rallying to make adultery a felony?  And since Jesus equated lust with adultery, why aren’t we petitioning congress to create a lust Gestapo?  

Here’s my absolute favorite – the Bible treats divorce as a no-no, but if we get our marriage annulled, then it’s okay.  We’ve given a secular judge the right to take the sin out of divorce.  That’s the problem with legalizing morality.  If we’re going to ban one thing based on a Biblical view of marriage, then we’d better ban everything else the Bible talks about in that respect.   And I don’t see any Christians being okay with those ideas.

Up to this point I’ve only picked on one group.  However, the most important point I want to make is a problem that exists on both sides.  In the heat of this debate, I wonder how often we forget about what we’re truly called to do: bring people in to the Kingdom of God; because at the end of the day, the only real thing that’s important is what Christ commanded us to do.

So if you honestly believe that homosexuality is a sin, that’s great.  What are your actions doing for the Kingdom of God?  Will marginalizing homosexuals bring them to God?  Will prohibiting marriage bring them closer to God?  If you believe that homosexuality is not a sin, that’s great.  Are you preaching tolerance and acceptance but no gospel?  Are you too busy apologizing for people in the other group but not telling people about Jesus?  Everything must be viewed as secondary to the Gospel.  Everything.

“Yeah, but c’mon, Josh.  Just give us a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  Do you think homosexuality is a sin?”

 

…Okay, fine.  I’ll give you my answer….

 

Who cares?  It’s a dumb question and the wrong one to be asking. 

Let’s see if you can guess this movie:  There’s a good guy and a bad guy.  The bad guy does something bad and the good guy tries to stop him.  The bad guy seems to be winning and then in a rather expected plot twist, the good guy gets the upper hand and saves the day.  The bad guy gets punished and the good guy lives happily ever after.

The answer: Just about every action movie ever made.

We all love this type of plot.  Who doesn’t love to see the attractive and engaging protagonist that represents our sense of goodness and justice save the day?  Who doesn’t love to see the villain who has offended our sense of morality get what’s coming to him?  Most movies and stories are intended to end at the happiest point.  The hero gets the girl.  The victim is rescued are rejoined with the ones they love.  Peace and order is restored.

The story has to stop there because it gives us our “happily ever after”.  No one wants to see the story between the hero and the damsel after that epic kiss at the end of the movie.  If the cameras were still rolling afterwards, we might see that the damsel hates the hero’s daddy issues and inability to keep his toenails trimmed.  We might see the hero’s dismay when he learns that women, even perfect ones like the damsel, pass gas.

We all long for happily ever after and reality destroys it.  No one wants to see a farting damsel.

And then there’s the villain.  He only has a few options in a happily ever after story.  He either gets destroyed, imprisoned; or there’s a sequel where he gets another shot only to fail again.  And like our hero, the story stops at the villain’s punishment.  We don’t want to see anymore after that.  We rarely ever see the villain coming to his senses and becoming penitent.  We rarely ever see him becoming a good guy and reconciling the damage he’s done in his own volition.

To put it simply: Infinite joy for good guy + infinite punishment for bad guy = happily ever after.

Here’s the rub:  This model of how we treat the bad guy makes for a great story, but I feel that we Christians use this model in real life way too often – and that’s not very Biblical.

From a Christian perspective, there’s two ways to look at God in regards to punishment.  One view is that God is some bifurcated, homicidal schizophrenic Zeus figure that would roast us all if it wasn’t for Jesus calming him down.  This view is absurd.

There’s another view that believes that punishment exists not to satisfy blood lust, but to bring reconciliation and forgiveness.  This view believes that punishment has a reason, and that reason is love.

Let me put it this way:  I punish my two sons whenever they do something wrong. I punish them because I love them.  If I never punished them, they would grow up to be horrible human beings and I would be a horrible, unloving father.   If I were to punish them to just satisfy my anger, then I would be a child abuser.   I punish them out of love.  Love and punishment should never be separated.

But punishment is often dwelled upon without even the thought of potential reconciliation. When was the last time you saw on the news that someone had committed a heinous crime?  Did anger and a need for vengeance flair up in you so much that you wished he would die?  Did the hope for peace and restoration for both the victim and the bad guy ever cross your mind?  Can we really, in our finite and imperfect judgments, so easily write someone off as irredeemable, that we would make wrathful punishment the end of their story?

Or, what if we embraced the audacious optimism that everyone was capable of righting their wrongs; that all were worthy of potential redemption?  What if even the most soulless men on Earth still had a spark of humanity that was worth saving?  What if we used punishment as a means to correct and bring wholeness instead of a venue for satisfying our anger?

It may not make for an entertaining movie, but it just may make for a more beautiful happily ever after.

If you’re looking for a way to ruin your Thanksgiving weekend, cause tension among your peers, and simultaneously raise the blood pressure of everyone around you within ear shot, all you have to do is say this simple incantation:

Occupy Wall Street

You felt a shiver, didn’t you?  It seems that any talk of the OWS Movement gets so heated that I’m starting to believe that every time it’s mentioned either an angel loses its wings or God kills a baby kitten.

But I’m going to talk about it anyway.

Seldom do I find things that give me such an array of mixed emotions.  When I read anything about OWS, I feel repulsed, curious, entertained, annoyed, and (hate me if you must) inspired.  OWS intrigues me because no one really knows what it’s all about.  Every news commentary on either side of the political spectrum has an opinion about as accurate as a drunk and blind archer.  Heck, the people actually protesting don’t really have much of a clue.  It’s like a Seinfeld episode – it’s a show about nothing.

And that’s what makes OWS so important.

The best way to describe the OWS is to first say what it’s not.  The reason why OWS is confusing and often times hypocritical is because it is viewed in very black and white terms.  But it can’t be viewed this way.  OWS is really not about the poor vs. the rich, the liberal vs. the conservative, capitalism vs. socialism, or the hippies vs. citizens who shower daily.  It’s unfortunate that we tend to put things in one of two camps: right or wrong.  You just can’t with this one. Love them or hate them, this protest is and will be completely lost on those who think that objectively.

OWS also really has nothing to do with politics or government or even big businesses – at least not directly.  OWS is about this discontent that people can’t shake.  We all see it in the corner of the room.  It’s like an elephant but it’s a different type of animal altogether.  It’s a species that most of us haven’t been able to define because the language of our society doesn’t allow for the words to classify it.  And we all feel it – both the 99% and the 1%.

The OWS protest is just a manifestation of this discontent.

We all have these vital needs that cause absolute discontent if they’re not met.  We all need to feel connected to our community.  We all need to have really deep relationships that go beyond Facebook.  We all need to have purpose and contribute with our talents and gifts.  We all need to feel like we’re understood.

Here’s a big one: We all need to…be needy on others.  Believe it or not, dependency is a virtue.  We are wired to want and need and long to rely on others.  And we all were also all designed to want and need and long to meet other’s needs.  This transaction is the very definition of love.

But we’ve created a society where these things are marginalized and undervalued.  We have defined success as being independent and to be in a position where every want can be purchased.  The winner of the rat race is someone that can just pay for everything they need without relying on human connection and the gifts and contributions of those they love.

This is where I tend to disagree with many of the protesters.  Capitalism really isn’t to blame.  Capitalism and consumerism are just the symptoms; it’s us who are the problems.  Capitalism has done a world of good in productivity and advancement.  But it’s you and me that have allowed it to become our master.  We are the ones who have believed our own lies. We have duped ourselves into thinking that social status is determined by all the stuff we have.  We’ve convinced ourselves that money really does buy happiness, that we neeeeeed the new iPad 46; that “if only I can get (insert something purchasable here) then life will be better”.   The ironic thing is, all these consumables aren’t a bad thing. The blame lies in us for allowing them to become the measure of our quality of life.

This discontent is something that cannot and will not be solved in any change of government or socioeconomic method.  Socialism is not the answer.  Trickledown economics is not the answer.   This discontent will not change with Obama or Romney or Pelosi or Bush or even Reagan coming back from the dead.

The change begins with you.  The change begins with me.

Sure there are some serious objective problems that need to be fixed with our government and economy.  Yes, we should seriously figure out what to do with taxes and corporations and CEOs who lay off 50 workers and then give themselves another million dollars on their Christmas bonus.  But the real change will come when one day we can say, “We are the 99% who CHOOSE to be defined by the talents and resources we contribute and the love we give to all around us.  We CHOOSE to not let ourselves be enslaved to things that are bigger, better and more shiny.  We are not forced, but CHOOSE to live within our means and redistribute our own personal wealth, out of love, to those who need it.  We CHOOSE to view each human as a soul that has invaluable worth and thereby worthy of love and connection.  We CHOOSE to live by the maxim that doesn’t say that more for you is less for me, but says that more for you is more for me.”

This is what OWS is about.  If it’s not, then that’s what it should be about.  Changing Wall Street might help with the symptom, but not with the root of the problem.  The real change starts when we decide to rebel against ourselves. The real revolution begins when we decide to bring back our humanity and start meeting our needs of dependency, community, purpose and love.

Viva la revolution.

Judgy Judgerson

I love people watching.

I mean I really love it.

Wait…that sounds a bit creepy. I don’t people watch in a skeevy, “To Catch a Predator” kind of way. I love getting a glimpse of everyone’s story.

Everyone has a story of their life that is a mixed-bag of joy and pain and ambitions and fears that is so complex, so beautiful that the only word I can think that can describe it is “art”.  And if you look closely, you can see it in the way people walk, in their facial expressions, and in pretty much everything they do.  In a society that overvalues status and image, we spend a lot of time writing the story we think everyone else will want to read.  But if you look closely at someone, they often tell a completely different story – especially when they don’t know someone is watching.

Maybe I am a creeper.

But I believe that even the most mundane people; the most irritating or evil have this inner layer of beauty and good that is constantly warring their inner evil, pain and self-misconceptions.  The person in your life that has the greatest absence of personality and depth, I would argue, has an inner story that’s worthy of a novel.

But hey, I’m a hopeless optimist, or at least so I thought.

I was at a restaurant the other day on my lunch break.  I couldn’t help but to eavesdrop on the conversation two guys were having by the table next to me.  They were talking about seminary, their church and their aspirations in the ministry.  My ears perked up.  They were about my age, and fit the young hip pastor stereotype: slightly trendy, slightly nerdy, and slightly overweight- most likely due to the over-consumption of Starbucks Caramel Macchiatos.

Psudeo-hip guy #1, we’ll call him Steve, talked about how he could see himself teaching a few classes at a seminary within the next few years.  He talked about how he could see himself writing a book after that.  He talked a lot about networking and programs and using resources like Facebook and Twitter.

Psuedo-hip guy #2, we’ll call him Bob (why is it always Steve and Bob?) couldn’t get a word in edge-wise until the topic of their church’s new tentative logo came to topic.  Bob perked up and proudly grabbed his sleek and shiny Macbook from his man purse.  Now it was Bob’s turn to ramble on about image and aspirations.

Several questions popped into my head while I was eavesdropping.  Who were these clowns?  Why did they care so much about their status and achievements in ministry and so little about sharing the gospel?  Why did they talk so much about networking and cool church logos and so little about feeding the hungry?

And then the next question was one I asked myself, “Why am I being such an ass right now?”

It was in this moment that I had what I like to call a “whip the dog session” with God.  Who on Earth was I to judge these guys?  They talked about their dreams in the ministry, so what?  Don’t I have personal goals and dreams in the ministry?  Who was I to assume they don’t care much about sharing the gospel and feeding the hungry?  And what’s so dang wrong with working on a logo?

I left the restaurant feeling like a complete fool.  Why was I so quick to harshly judge two guys I didn’t even know?  Was I jealous they were out of seminary and I’m still plunking away in undergrad?  Was I envious of their Macbook?  (It was pretty sexy).   Was I taking the very few instances where I felt that hipster Christianity (whatever that means) didn’t work and applying it to everyone who seemed to fit that category in some small way?

I guess the point of all this is to confront my own hypocrisy.  I get judged and pre-judged all the time by fellow Christians.  I don’t like it.  I’d like nothing more than for different denominations and methods in the faith to respectfully get along with each other.  But we live in a culture where it’s so easy to assume and criticize.  It’s so easy to fall into the same trap you hate so very much.

This goes beyond the two guys at the restaurant.  How many times have I seen someone in public, and instead of trying to get a glimpse of their beautiful inner story, I say things in my head like, “I bet she’s a tramp.  I bet that guy has committed a crime or two.  That guy doesn’t need another cheeseburger.  Nice parenting skills, lady.”

The sad truth of it is, my judgments might be correct.  Maybe the girl wearing nothing better than lingerie in public is a little easy.  Maybe the 400 pound guy really doesn’t need to supersize his meal.  Our minds are logical in the sense that they automatically give us the most-likely scenario.  I see a scantly-clad woman standing on a city corner, my mind says ”hooker”.  I pick up a ringing phone and hear, “Good afternoon, Mr. Burkett!” my mind says, “salesman”.  These types of judgments are just the way we’re wired.

But where I get it wrong is when I take these judgments and put them into to simple categories of good and evil.  If I see a mother excessively screaming at her kids in public, my mind will always tell me that she probably has some parenting issues.  But it is my choice as to how I should interpret this data.  I could say, “Wow, she has issues.  Her kids are going to grow up all screwed up.  Someone should humiliate her in public to let her know what it feels like”.   But when I do this, all I’m really saying is,

“I’m better than her”.

Instead, I should take this data and say, “Maybe this is a mother at the end of her rope.  Maybe she’s dealing with other things she can’t handle on her own.  Maybe she was treated like this when she was a child and she doesn’t know any other way.  Maybe she’s never had many people love her.  Maybe she just needs a friend.”

“Maybe there’s something I can do about it”.

Can we really make that accurate of judgments about good and evil?  Isn’t that reserved for an infinite God with infinite wisdom?  Remember that whole Adam and Eve thing where they ate from a tree called the “knowledge of good and evil?”  We got the knowledge, but we’re incapable of doing it accurately.  It would be like me reading a pre-medical text-book and then thinking I was a neurosurgeon.  Should not our response always be love?  How radical would it be if we could always be in a completely subversive, counter-cultural mindset of this type of love?

It would be Jesus radical.

But I suspect this will always be an inner struggle: to hate being judged and find myself judging; to hate being assumed and written off and find myself sizing people up in an instant.  But the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, and this is one I’m defintaely wanting to change.

Learning To Cry Once Again

A few weeks ago I read an article on the Christianity Today website about a married couple who went to the former Soviet Union to adopt two boys.  In this story, they recount the intense eerie nature of the orphanage.  Despite the orphanage being full of infants, the place was deathly quiet.

Both of us compared the stillness with the buzz and punctuated squeals that came from our church nursery back home. Here, if we listened carefully enough, we could hear babies rocking themselves back and forth, the crib slats gently bumping against the walls. These children did not cry, because infants eventually learn to stop crying if no one ever responds to their calls for food, for comfort, for love. No one ever responded to these children. So they stopped.

The couple spent multiple days in the orphanage, getting to know the two boys they hoped to adopt.  And with all the quality and loving time spent with them, they still remained silent.  And this is where the story gets interesting.

On the last day of the trip, Maria and I arrived at the moment we had dreaded since the minute we received our adoption referral. We had to tell the boys goodbye, as by law we had to return to the United States and wait for the legal paperwork to be completed before returning to pick them up for good. After hugging and kissing them, we walked out into the quiet hallway as Maria shook with tears.

And that’s when we heard the scream.

Little Maxim fell back in his crib and let out a guttural yell. It seemed he knew, maybe for the first time, that he would be heard. On some primal level, he knew he had a father and mother now. I will never forget how the hairs on my arms stood up as I heard the yell. I was struck, maybe for the first time, by the force of the Abba cry passages in the New Testament, ones I had memorized in Vacation Bible School. And I was surprised by how little I had gotten it until now.

This story resonates with me.  If I could pick one buzz word to describe how I’ve felt the past couple months, it would be “over-overwhelmed”.   My job has been enormously taxing.   My wife works evenings so on many nights when I come home from work I have to go into single parent mode.  And when the kids go to bed, I have no mental energy left to deal with the 12 college credits I’m taking this semester.  It’s a strange feeling, because I love every iron in the proverbial fire.  I love my job, I love school; I can think of no one else I’d rather spend time with than my two boys.  It’s just all a little too much.  I often miss my wife and the things we have a passion to do together, like ministry, gets put on the back burner.   And it’s all done under a debilitating financial strain that never seems to resolve.  That part is the worst.  I don’t like the word “can’t” and will always find a way to fix a problem.  But I don’t have anything left.  I don’t have it in me to run any faster or fight any harder.

When Paul says to “be anxious for nothing,” it makes me want to build a time machine so I can go back and give him a boot to the face.

But I realized that I’m just like Maxim in the story above.  I stopped crying.  I rationalized with myself that it would be arrogant of me to bring my grievances to God since the world is full of billions of people that are way worse off than I am.  I figured that God would think of me as ungrateful since he has clearly enriched my life with so much.  So I went stoic and told everyone, including God and myself that I was fine.

But I was only telling a half-truth, because the truth is there are many aspects of my life that are just amazing.  My two sons are an indescribable magic that can not be shadowed by any other gift this side of eternity.  My relationship with my wife is storybook worthy.  My job is purposeful and fulfilling.  And my view of Jesus and the Gospel has never been so big, so exciting, and so wonderful.

I am a seriously rich man.

But to fail to see the dichotomy in life that includes the wonderful and horrifying, the freeing and debilitating, the beautiful and grotesque is where I’m getting it wrong.  To put it in simpler terms, it would be ridiculous of me of not acknowledge the pain of a deep paper cut even if the rest of my body feels good.    Just take a look at King David in the Old Testament.

Side note: For the record, I have a love/hate relationship with David.  The guy had more wives and girlfriends than he knew what to with and I’m sure none of them would keep their legs crossed at the request of a king.  And yet he goes and takes another man’s wife.  David wouldn’t last five minutes in today’s age with one wife and Victoria’s Secret commercials on every channel.  Stupid jerk.

But there is a lot we can learn from David’s psalms.  David was the king of one of the most flourishing kingdoms in the ancient near east.  He was rich and powerful beyond our wildest dreams.  And he was antiquity’s very first emo.  David, a man after God’s own heart, praised him endlessly for all the good things in life. For all of his paper cuts, he whined to God like a little girl who just found out her parents ate all her Halloween candy.

Which, by the  way, if you think playing pranks on kids and making them cry is funny, you should watch this video at the end of this blog – but not until after you’re done reading.

So this week, I took David’s method to heart.  I wrote God a letter and told him everything I was feeling.  I didn’t hold back any emotion or thought, no matter how ridiculous or illogical it was.  I even swore a few times because it portrayed exactly what I was feeling.  Besides, if God truly knows my innermost thoughts and intents, nothing I said even remotely surprised him.

And when I was finished, if God ever spoke to me, I’m sure this is what he said, “‘Bout time you shared yo beef, boo”.

God sometimes speaks to me in Ebonics instead of King James.

But in all seriousness, when I thought I was finished, I wrote down more.  I started to write about the many times where God pulled me out of jams that were too fine-tuned to be coincidence.  I wrote about how I’ve never, ever, ever been forsaken by him.  I wrote that there were at least one-hundred other times where I’ve felt this same faith-shaking, God-doubting anxiety and with every occurrence, God provided.  Every time.  Every stinking time.

If I put into a Psalm, it would have sounded like this:

Dear God
Everything is wonderful
And everything sucks
I’m mad as hell
Because I don’t see you in this
I don’t want a quick emotional fix
I want a solution
I’m at the end of my rope
But that’s always when you catch me
You’ve proven that
Over and over again
I love your provision
But I hate your timing
But your ways are infinitely higher
Your wisdom is infinitely greater
Your love is infinitely stronger
Than my own
So I believe
Help me with my unbelief
And I’ll trust you
Even though everything sucks

This is my daily prayer right now, and I’m not ashamed of it.  I’m now convinced that neediness is a virtue.  I am the emo King David and the little Maxim that is screaming in his crib for his Daddy.  What benevolent father would have it any other way?

Our unvarnished and naked neediness allows us to put it in such a perspective that when God finally meets that need, our praise is that much more joyful.  So when God pulls me out of this current situation that I can no longer control, which I believe he will, I can write this psalm:

My Deliverer
To whom has saved the day yet again
Who has, and will, and is always
Leading me beside still waters
And restoring my soul

But until then, I will cry and scream like little Maxim, and with each psalm I write, I will add an addendum:

When I consider my two boys
My wife
My fullness in Christ
And every good and perfect gift you’ve already given me
WHO…..ON…..EARTH…..AM……I
That you are mindful of me?

 

Okay NOW you can watch the funny video.

Athiest.

Atheist.

By the very mention of the word, I might have made the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. It’s a word that incites arguments that seldom get resolved. Whatever I say, be it negative or positive, I’m bound to make someone defensive. This blog may not sit with both sides of the aisle.

But I really don’t feel like arguing so if you’re in a mood to debate, you may as well save your breath.

I didn’t know any Atheists growing up and for some reason I had two misconceptions of them. First, they were illogical. There were really no such thing as Atheists. God didn’t believe in them. It was in the Bible somewhere.

The other misconception was that Atheists were all bitter and hostile and lived to persecute Christians. It was us vs. them. The right vs. the wrong. The completely innocent vs. big godless meanies. I’m exaggerating…but only a little.

In my adult life, I’ve had the privilege of knowing many Atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and otherwise undeclared. I’ve known many of them on surface levels and a few very personally. They come from all different socioeconomic backgrounds, cultures, and mindsets for their beliefs.

And my former misconceptions have been blown to bits.

Now, let me just be frank. Not all Atheists are created equally (sorry, bad pun). I’ve known a couple that were quite antagonistic that hid under a disguise of rationalism that in truth couldn’t think themselves out of a wet paper bag. But then again, I’ve known a few Christians like that as well.

Lately I’ve been forced to think about the issue. A few months ago I was listening to a professor who claimed that Atheists do not have the truth of God. Because of this, they cannot find God. Only God can find them; and apparently God has ordained many of them to stay Atheists.

Basically, they’re screwed – and it’s God’s will.

The professor went on to say that even Atheists who do incredibly good humanitarian things are doing it under false pretense; that they only do things for their own selfish benefit. True goodness comes from God and since they don’t have God, everything they do is evil.

Of course, I couldn’t let this steaming mound of crap slide.

I responded to the professor, “Having truth can’t be that simple and black and white. Aren’t we all made in the image of God? Even as Christians, don’t we see God through a proverbial dark glass?”

He looked at me and said, “But it’s in the Bible” and gave me a lingering stern look that said, “If you challenge me on this, I will end you.”

Now granted, this guy is a brilliant PhD that has a carefully formed theology. And heck, maybe he’s right and I’m just a punk kid being confused by my own sinful logic (or some other ridiculous comment I’ve received over the past few years). Hate me if you must, but I can easily take a handful of scriptures and make a good argument for just about anything. But that doesn’t make it right. I just can’t buy into any theology that violates what I know about God through scripture and through my innermost being. I also can’t believe something that just doesn’t correspond with reality.

Because the reality is, I know some really good Atheists.

I know Atheists who are verbal about saying that God doesn’t exist but on the inside they’re screaming, “God, where in the hell are you?” I know Atheists whose anger is a suppressed cry for divine love. I know Atheists who whole-heartedly believe that the concept of God is absurd – and they’re logic is sound. But it’s only because they were fed a really crappy version of God that I’m convinced enslaves the majority of Christian Americans into being judgmental and miserable.

If that’s the only version of God I know, I’d be an Atheist too.

And believe it or not, I’ve known some Atheists who are more Christ-like than me, Mr. Christian. I’ve known some who’ve loved and cared and concerned for people way more than I do; that see more beauty in the things around them and that follow an ingrained higher law of love better than I can.

Some Atheists are following God and they don’t even realize it.

Now before I am declared a heretic by my fellow Christians, let me say this. I whole-heartedly believe in only one God and Jesus is the only way to him. I am convinced that the only way to make sense of this world is through Jesus. The only way to make this world a better place is through the way of Jesus. No other philosophy or worldview or system comes even remotely close to the way of Jesus.

But God does so much more than just to reveal himself through his followers. God is revealing himself in everything good and beautiful. In every nation. In every language. Every wonderful breath we take is a glimpse of God who creates and sustains everything.

And God is revealing himself to Atheists, whether they want to admit it or not.

So to my Atheist friends, some of whom I can say it is with the deepest honor that you’re in my life, do I want you to become a Christian? Absolutely! The God I want you to find looks like this: Imagine every noble and beautiful quality you can think of. Imagine love so intense it’s manifested in physical form. Now take all that and multiply it by infinity. Now take that concept, and imagine that it has a heart that burns for YOU. Imagine it desperately wants to be allowed to show you your true worth and a love WITHOUT JUDGMENT OR CONDEMNATION that is as big as the universe, as small as the cracks in your heart that no one else knows about, and is as natural and symbiotic as a newborn with its mother. Imagine that it wants to comfort you though even the most hideous of times in this often profane and ugly world. Imagine that it wants you to play along in reconciling and redeeming the world and empowers you with the same crazy torrent of love to give to others. That’s what the Gospel is really about. Anything else is just religion.

Marriage Is A Beautiful Death

Sometimes you read a poem or hear a song or experience something so profound that you have to drop everything you’re doing (in this case, homework) and share it.  Ironically enough, I wrote a blog last week about how Pat Robertson was missing the point about marriage.  Today I saw this song on my Facebook wall.  It’s called “Dancing In The Mine Fields” by Andrew Peterson.  When it comes to marriage, Andrew Peterson gets it.

“I do” are the two most famous last words
The beginning of the end
But to lose your life for another I’ve heard
Is a good place to begin
‘Cause the only way to find your life
Is to lay your own life down
And I believe it’s an easy price
For the life that we have found

This is the beauty of marriage: Marriage is death.  It’s death to self.  It’s death to the letter I.  Our culture has turned individualism into a virtue and that model just doesn’t work with the model of marriage.  This death is hard and it takes a lot of work.  But the reality is that two people that give themselves completely to each other, are completely vulnerable to each other; that die to each other will have the most joyous and unbreakable relationship on the face of this planet.  This is counter-cultural.  It’s a paradox to logic.  In the book of Ephesians, Paul calls it a “mystery”.  What he means is this is something that we wouldn’t have figured out with our human logic.  This is a model that was given by God.

But I’ll stop talking now.  Listen to the song – then go hug your spouse.

Oh Pat Robertson, when will you learn?

Pat Robertson has been found yet again saying something that has made the masses wonder why on Earth this guy still has a following.  On a recent show, Pat Robertson gave advice to a viewer “who has a friend” that is cheating on his wife who has Alzheimer’s.    Pat’s advice: Divorce her and start all over again, just make sure she has custodial care.

I feel that anytime Mr. Robertson opens his mouth, my IQ lowers a bit. But that didn’t happen this time.  His words, while I strongly disagree with, gave me some good observations about marriage and where our ethics lie.

Let me first start off by saying that I hotly disagree with Pat’s advice.  I believe that his advice is wrong on so many levels.  I take the vow of “…in sickness and health, until death do you part” very literally and very seriously.  Pat talks about this on his show as well and defends him claim by saying that Alzheimer’s is a form of death.  Well that may make some logical sense, this interpretation of “death” opens up way too many slippery slopes. What makes Pat Robertson qualified to make this claim?  How do we know everything that goes on in the mind of someone with Alzheimer’s?  If we allow for this to be death, what other things can we justify?  Where do we draw the line?

Second, Pat’s advice is completely self-centered and shockingly against Biblical principles of marriage that talk about self-sacrifice and two becoming one flesh.  Marriage isn’t about what you can get out of it, it’s about what you can give to the person you’ve chosen to love more than anything else in this world.  The moment you start making guidelines and loopholes for getting out of a marriage, you’ve completely missed its point.

And third, if you’re the type that believes in a soul, how can we just easily divorce someone on the basis of them being “dead” if the soul is still there?  If my wife had Alzheimer’s, the functioning part of some of her body might be dead, but there is still so much that is alive, including the divine spark within her.

When I first heard this story, I found myself discussing it with people whom I greatly respect that disagreed with me.  One mentioned a story about how a man did divorce his wife and married another but they both – husband and new wife – live with her and take care of her together.  Another mentioned that it’s hard to give a point of view on this when we haven’t been in that situation.  Perhaps we might be more willing to understand if we could feel the man’s aching desire for companionship.  And these are really good points.  And then I realized that I was looking at this from a different ethical structure than my friends.  Where I am more principle minded and feel that you should do the right thing every time, no questions asked, my friends were approaching it from a more consequential view that said  if it’s not hurting the wife, then why shouldn’t the man be happy?  Both points of view make for a good argument and maybe there’s no fully correct point of view – just different approaches to the same metaphorical chess game.

But I still think I’m right.

But beyond the whole ethical debate, I learned something about myself and my marriage.  Even though I wouldn’t divorce my wife with Alzheimer’s in a million years, I asked myself, “Would I want Sarah to stay with me if my Alzheimer’s meant I couldn’t even recognize her anymore?  Could I give her away if she could be much happier with another companion?”

I answered yes.  I had to.  I love Sarah more than I love myself.

After I thought all this, Sarah came into the living room where I was sitting.

“Hey babe,” I said, “let me tell you something.  If I ever go crazy…”

“WHEN you go crazy,” she chuckled.

“Okay, when I go crazy.  If I’m so far gone that I don’t even know you and you need a companion and you find someone, you have my permission.”

“Thanks babe,” she smiled, “but I don’t see that happening.”

I believe the conversation we had is a small glimpse of what true marriage sounds like.  Marriage is a contest to see who can practice self-denial better.  Marriage should be full of arguments like “You take the last piece of pie –  no YOU take it!” and “I love you more and I’ll show it  – no I love YOU more and I’ll prove it!”  Marriage means you should be willing to let the other one go but would never – NEVER even consider it if the tables were turned.  Marriage is indeed one flesh and there’s just no separating it.

Paul talks about the sacrifice of marriage in Ephesians 5. He calls it a mystery, meaning that we wouldn’t have figured out how to do marriage this way on our own, it was advice given from God.  And he’s right.  In our self-centered world, a self-sacrificial marriage sounds crazy.  But when both husband and wife do this, marriage becomes the most joyful, wonderful, passionate thing in the world.

If Pat Robertson viewed marriage like this, we should have answered it this way:  “Why would you want to get out of your marriage?  Why would you even want the cheap beer that is your current affair when all your life you’ve had the finest champagne?  Your wife may now be a sliver of who she used to be, but that sliver is more soul-nourishing than this other relationship.  Why even bother?”

Until death do us part…and maybe even a little longer than that.  I’m going to try and make a deal with God to see if I can have Sarah again on the other side of eternity.

Today Is A Day Of Mourning

Today is a day of mourning.

Today I am corporately mourning the events of 9-11-01 alongside every American.  The pain manifested from that horrible event can be and should be shared by everyone in this country.  Today, it is more than appropriate to remember the victims, honor the fallen heroes, and support those who are still dealing with the very real pain of having a loved one taken from them.  I suspect the wound of losing someone who possessed a piece of your heart never fully heals – much less after ten years.  These people need our unyielding prayer and support.

But this is only a fraction of my mourning.

This is one of those bitter realities of human nature:  For those of us who did not directly suffer from the events of 9-11, we choose one day of the year to corporately reflect and mourn on behalf of those who directly experienced pain.  But come tomorrow morning, the hubbub of life and chaos of a new week will kick in and the emotions of the day before will largely fade into oblivion.  I suspect this is normal and acceptable.

But the mourning and discontent I’m experiencing will bleed over into tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that…

The theme of my mourning is particularly evident on a day like this.  At a 9-11 tribute today, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said in his speech,

 “From this place of wrath and tears, America’s military ventured forth as the long arm and clenched fist of an angry nation at war…And we have remained at war ever since, visiting upon our enemies the vengeance they were due and providing for the American people the common defense they demand.”

At the same tribute, Joe Biden vowed to keep fighting, “until Al-Qaeda is not only disrupted, but completely dismantled and ultimately destroyed.”

And then the Navy chorus sang “Amazing Grace.”  Because nothing wraps up a speech about wrath, anger and vengeance quite like words of Amazing Grace.

My mourning is derived from my Christian perspective, but much of it is simple common sense.  Many of my atheist friends see the faulty logic as well.  A war that was sparked by a terrorist attack that killed less than 3,000 has claimed more than 1 million lives.

And ten years later, we’re still spouting off about vengeance and anger.

Now, I can understand how someone who isn’t a Christian can adhere to the logic (even though it’s wrong) that you must make war to have peace.  But for those who are followers of Christ, there is no excuse.  Jesus emphatically preached non-violence.  You can’t argue the fact.  You can’t get around it.  Jesus’s teachings go directly against the War on Terror.  And if you are one of the many Christians out there that have mixed your nationalism with your religion and believe that the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives is somehow God ordained, you’re grotesquely perverting the Gospel of Christ.

Truth burns like a hemorrhoid sometimes.

So this is my mourning:  I’m mourning the deaths caused by the 9-11 tragedy.

I’m mourning the American and Muslim deaths caused by this ridiculous war.

I’m mourning the deaths of thousands who die from starvation and disease daily that could have been saved with money that was spent for bloodshed instead.

I’m mourning our country’s financial situation that can’t afford this war.

I’m mourning Christians who feel uneasy about this violence but have been taught that asking questions and going against the grain is wrong.

I’m mourning Muslims and Christians who have been brainwashed by their pseudo-religions into thinking that this violence is the answer.

I’m mourning Atheists who have never been shown the real Jesus, only a fake one who is a warmonger.

I’m mourning for the broken heart of Christ.

I’m mourning for those who have lost someone in this violence that has been sold a false hope by our government that says healing comes through vengeance.  Healing never comes through vengeance, it comes through forgiveness and reconciliation.

And those of you whom I have offended should know that I am also mourning my own hypocrisy.  3 years ago I would have been on the other side of this proverbial fence and argued that we need to bomb those godless bastards into submission.  I still deal with my own violence every day.  But I realize that my own warring nature is a result in a lack of trust in a God who showed the ways of peace through Jesus.

Today is a day of mourning.  Tomorrow will be as well.  May we all mourn until that day where we finally become intent on reconciliation and peace and not bloodshed.

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