Monthly Archives: January 2012

The grossest li’l miracle.

Everyone has heard stories about the healing power of prayer. Atheists talk crap about the gullible believers, or the scandalous faith-healers raking in piles of dough from the afore-mentioned gullible believers. On the other hand, everyone who has faith in God has some sort of story about a relative who had this condition or that disease, who was prayed over, and who was miraculously healed. Maybe it was cancer that disappeared, or a chronic pain that plagued someone for years. The stories all share the same cause/effect relationship – so and so was prayed over, and they got better.

As a skeptic, I used to have some usual responses to those sorts of stories. I certainly didn’t think that a miracle was involved. It was, to me, more likely. . .

1)      The placebo effect – these people only got better because they believed they would get better.

2)      Deception – people were lying in these stories, either outright (because they had something to sell or gain from people believing) or lying to themselves (exaggerating how sick they were before prayer, to make the story more dramatic – and thus, to support their faith).

3)      Coincidence – a broken clock is right twice a day.

Except digital clocks, which are basically a paper weight ALL day.

Did I accept the possibility that a miracle might have occurred? Sure. It’s a big universe out there, and I figured that anything is possible. But for me, there’s a huge gap between “anything is possible” and “anything is probable”. So while I could intellectually accept that miracles could happen, making my skepticism less hard-core than others’, I still disbelieved almost 99% of the faith healing stories I heard. They were too common. Possibility, again, does not in any way indicate probability.

Just because you've doubled your chances that a cosplay girl will like your neckbeard, it DOES NOT MEAN that one of these cosplay girls likes your neckbeard.

How embarrassing, then, to have my own faith-healing story to tell.

Disclaimer: If you keep reading, you’ll learn more about my digestive processes than you want to know. I guaran-friggin-tee it. 

Disclaimer: Seriously. You’ve been warned. 

So here goes.

I’m at the Blue Ocean conference I’ve mentioned a couple of times now, and it’s the Friday evening session. For those of you who have never attended a church conference, in some ways it’s like a regular church occasion. There’s a worship band playing, and people do some praying in general, and at some point there will be some kind of prayer for specific people in the audience. Maybe there’s a prayer team that feels that they have messages from God for someone present, or maybe there’s just a call out – does anyone want or need prayer? You can hold up your hand and someone will come pray for you.

(I know it sounds creepy. It’s really not.)

They keep offering me Kool-Aid, but I’m diabetic.

Anyway, so I’m at the Friday session of the conference, and all that stuff is going on. One of the pastors visiting the conference comes to the stage. He says they have received some visions that people are in need of healing. He throws out some ailments they have received visions about. Someone has a sore throat. Someone has a pain in their left leg. Someone has irritable bowel syndrome.

Of course, I think. Of course he called out irritable bowel syndrome.

IBS is the Mitchell Family Curse. All of my siblings have it. I’ve had it since my teens. It’s a constant plague. When I’m going on a long trip, I take medication for my condition the night before I get into the car. And I don’t take a little medication – I pop maybe four Imodium AD’s and nuke my system into submission. And sure, after that, I may not poop for something like four days, but hey – I’ve never once in my life had a surprise attack of constipation. I’ve never said the words, “Could you please pull off at the next exit, I really have to not poop,” when driving down the highway.

I have, on many occasions, said the opposite.

“Seriously, just find me anything with a toilet. Find a McDonald’s, it’s what they’re for."

So there I am, sitting in this chair at the Mercy Vineyard Church, and somebody is supposed to get prayer for IBS. I really didn’t feel like raising my hand. . . for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve had IBS for literally my entire adult life. I’ve adapted. It’s not a huge deal, it’s just part of being a Mitchell. Second, I really didn’t want to put my neonatal faith to the test. What if I raised my hand, got prayer, and I still had IBS? Would my faith in God, delicate as it is, survive such a challenge? And third. . . do I really want to tell someone I have IBS?

Well, I thought, what have I got to lose? I don’t know that the “vision” was for me. It could be for someone else in this room. So why not?

I raise my hand. The guy next to me, who I’d chatted with a bit that night, was already praying for someone. He gestures to a friend of his, and this dude named “Boomer” came over. Boomer was described to me as a “rock star” and I was told I was in good hands. He did, in fact, appear to be awesome, so I was on board for this little prayer-thing. If nothing else, I could chit-chat with Boomer, and we’d be rock stars together.

Side note – I normally ask permission before I name-drop somebody, but I don’t have any contact info for Boomer. If anyone knows him, will you throw a line my way so that I can contact the guy and thank him for being the kind of guy who I assume would be cool with me using his name? And if you know Boomer well enough to know he would totally hate me name-dropping him, could you maybe not tell him I did this?

Then, right after Boomer came up, my friend Lindsey walks over in response to my raised hand. Lindsey is a total sweetheart. She’s the wife of one of my church’s associate pastors, and she’s always been really nice to me and the fam. But now I had to tell Lindsey about my digestive ailments, and while we were friendly, I didn’t think we’d reached the “talk to me about your poop” stage of our friendship just yet.

Still, I couldn’t very well say “Oh hi Lindsey, how are you, could you please go away so you can live in ignorance of how gross I am?” That would be rude and completely uncalled-for. And I like Lindsey. So I tell Lindsey and Boomer that yeah, I was the IBS guy. I quickly explained the things that I have told you – Mitchell Family Curse, all my adult life, yadda yadda yadda – and I told them that I had no realistic expectation of it going away anytime soon. Not to cast doubts on God’s ability to get rid of digestive ailments – simply that I figured there was someone in the audience who probably had it worse than me, and God was probably talking about them. I even say something to the effect of, “So no pressure, Lord,” which gets a little chuckle. Then they get to prayin’. Hands on my shoulders, everyone’s head is down, Boomer starts praying and asking God to heal me of irritable bowel syndrome – and for that healing to extend through me to everyone in my family.

Nice touch, I thought. Way to go Boomer. Raisin’ the stakes!

 Boomer is done, and we all go quiet for maybe sixty seconds, heads down, hands on my shoulders. Then Lindsey speaks up.

“I’m getting an image of a person dancing, and they keep tripping over themselves because their rhythm is off. I keep seeing that your body doesn’t have good rhythm. So I’m going to pray for God to help your body find rhythm.” And that’s what she does.

“I’m getting a picture of your body doing the Carlton, does that mean anything to you?”

Now, just for the record, I generally have pretty good rhythm. I was in a doo-wop quartet during my junior and senior years of high school (calm yourselves, ladies) and I was the “snapping guy” along with singing bass. So rhythm isn’t usually my problem. But hey, Lindsey says my body needs rhythm, I’m gonna go with it.

So they pray for me, Lindsey and Boomer, and we have this really great conversation afterward, and we depart and move on with our lives. I make it through the rest of the conference, go home, and don’t really think about the prayer for a couple of days. During that time I had no crazy moments of my bowel being irritated, but that was to be expected – I had, of course, nuked the crap out of my stomach with Imodium AD the night before the conference, and it would take a few days to get out of my system. Then those days continued to stretch out. I’d told Brandi about the prayer, and one day she notices. She looks at me and says, “When was the last time you were sick?”

Well, I tell her, it was about two days before the conference.

She thinks about that. “Isn’t the Imodium out of your system by now?”

I tell her it probably was, based on all previous experience. But what I hadn’t told her was that something else had changed – something far less embarrassing than IBS, but something that had not been mentioned during the prayer session.

For the past year, I’ve been having premature ventricular contractions in my heart. These are basically harmless little “bumps” in your regular heartbeat. Have you ever had a moment where, for no reason, your heart “skipped a beat?” That’s probably a PVC. They’re nothing more than annoying, but I was getting them a lot. I mean, most days I’d have a “skipped beat” maybe ten times a day. That was average. On some days, I’d feel a PVC every five seconds or so, for sometimes hours. I once went to the emergency room after an 8-hour work day with PVC’s every five to ten seconds. It was scary, but they hooked me up to all the machines in the world and told me I was fine, sent me home, and charged me $800.

I guess it’s more expensive when they have to dye all the hospital masks and scrubs black.

But here’s the thing. I haven’t had a single one since that day of prayer.

Not one.

Now, in the interest of fairness, I should submit my story to the same test I submitted all stories of failing healing to. Let’s see if I am now going on two weeks without IBS or PVC’s because of. . .

1)      The placebo effect – Seems unlikely. I’ve never been healed by faith before, and I had no reasonable expectation of it working. I wasn’t even sure it was for me.

2)      Deception – Well, this one is easier. I definitely am not making this story up, just to rep faith healing on a blog that very few people read. And I’m pretty sure I’m not deceiving myself. Can I prove that? No. You readers can either trust that I’m not deceiving myself, or believe that I am. Either way, like Bobby Brown says, that’s your prerogative.

3)      Coincidence – Not out of the realm of possibility. However, it’s been two weeks since my IBS kicked in. I haven’t gone two weeks without an attack of IBS since. . . ever. I cannot remember ever going two weeks. But the PVC’s? I haven’t had a day without PVC’s in over a year. Some days have a lot of them, and some days only have a few of them. But none? Nope. That’s weird. It would take more faith for me to believe that I have just been lucky enough to not have PVC’s than it takes to have the faith that Lindsey and Boomer prayed for me and I got better.

You know the funny thing about premature ventricular contractions? Ventricular contractions are a kind of fail-safe for the heart. If the nerve telling your heart to beat regularly stops working, your ventricles contract automatically to keep your heart beating. The problem with PVC’s is, well, they’re premature. It isn’t your heart skipping a beat, so much as your ventricles contracting when they don’t need to.

It’s almost as if . . .

. . . wait for it. . .

. . . their rhythm is off.

*drops the mic and walks off stage*

POOMBF!

Advertisements

Still thinking about lameness.

Can I ask a question?

Why is there a cultural expectation that Christians are lame? No, let me re-focus that question a little bit.

Why have Christians allowed people to think we are lame? Seriously, now. I mean it. Are we lame?

Maybe. . . maybe don’t answer that.

I’ve touched on this before, but lately I’ve found myself mulling it over more and more. My recent weekend spent at the Blue Ocean Midwest Conference may have shed some light on this subject for me. As author and Blue Ocean overmind Dave Schmelzer has pointed out, Christianity has become a culture. He refers to himself as a secularist who follows Jesus, and points out that he has met Muslim’s who follow Jesus, as well as Jews who follow Jesus. He even told a compelling story about a young woman from a largely atheist part of the world who could not leave the culture of atheism behind – it was too large a part of her life. But she wanted to follow Jesus. Dave’s advice to her? Perhaps she might be – dare he say it – an atheist who follows Jesus?

“Two steps forward! Two steps back! We come together ‘cuz unlikely juxtapositions are possible when you redefine common definitions to allow for greater meaning and cultural relevance!”

This idea holds water for me. When I think about Christian culture, certain ideas come to mind.

1)      No drinking alcohol. WHAT?!?!? Jesus drank wine all the time! Wine was like Kool Aid in first century Palestine! Alcoholism is a disease – absolutely. Some people cannot drink without it leading to excess – I understand that. But Christian culture (in general) seems to think that any drinking is bad. Can’t get behind that.

2)      Sex is bad. Hoooooold on there, buddy. Sex is so money I can’t even begin to say how awesome it is. The English language doesn’t have a word that encapsulates how great sex is. Just for procreation? Listen. Animals procreate – humans have fun. Sex for pleasure is a no brainer, not a no boner.

Yes. I said that. And I wrote it down to be said at a future time, as well.

3)      No tattoos, piercings, or any other visible signs of counter-culture. Look, if you’re going to break Levitical Code, break the crap out of it. And trust me – you’re going to break Levitical Code.

“Blood in your meat? That’s good for one SERIOUS banishin', son."

I could go on all day, but let me sum up, instead, with a story about a dude I once met. I worked with him at a call center maybe ten years ago. He was in his early twenties, and I was around the same age. We sat near each other, so we would sometimes chat in between phone calls. One day, this guy told me that one of his friends was getting married that weekend, and that Friday night they were doing his bachelor party. He was really looking forward to it.

“Sweet!” I said. “You guys got some wild plans?”

“Well,” he said, “we’re gonna go paint-balling. Then maybe play some video games. We want to have fun in a way that’s wholesome.”

Christian culture teaches that “wholesome” can be an adjective that describes “bachelor party.”

It’s just as well. Strippers don’t appreciate having Chick tracts shoved into their g-strings.

Now, listen. Some people reading this may consider themselves (along the line of Dave’s thinking) “Christians who follow Jesus.” Some of them may even be my friends. And I hope they know me enough to know that I poke fun at them out of love. There’s nothing wrong with Christian culture; it’s just not for me. That’s part of why I dig my church, its leadership, and Dave’s way of thinking – it focuses on Jesus, not the culture that has been built up around Christianity.

That said, there are some ways that following Jesus does seem to encourage certain behaviors that might contribute to a re-evaluation of one’s original culture. Someone belonging to hip-hop culture might be inclined, after coming to God, to stop calling women “bitches”. I would consider myself a secularist, but a very specific sub-type of secularist – I’m a Gen X’er. As such, I tend to be overly critical of authority figures, cynical, a little elitist, sarcastic, and judgmental of anyone older than I am. As a “Gen X’er who follows Jesus,” though, I’ve been working hard to let some of my cynicism and sarcasm be addressed, and maybe even tuned down a little bit. I don’t think they’re healthy for me. I don’t think that God wants me to be hardened in those ways – at least, not so hardened that it stunts my growth. I can still be a Gen X’er without embracing the baggage that comes with it.

In my case, that’s manifested as a bi-weekly email to Janeane Garofalo that she STILL ISN’T ANSWERING!

But am I still drinking? Hell, yes. Would I get more tattoos? I’d get one every week if what I wanted wasn’t so expensive. Do I think that sex is dirty? Only when the Jell-O Pudding stains the bathroom floor mat.

I still think I’m awesome.

So why does the wider secular culture think that everyone who follows Jesus acts in ways that are so, well. . . Christian? Maybe it’s because Christian culture is, kind of by default, the most prominent voice talking about Jesus. Or maybe it’s because there are people out there – some of whom might even be famous – who are “somethings-that-follow-Jesus” who just haven’t spoken out about the “God” part. I imagine the Western media is also to shoulder some of the blame. If the recent Tim Tebow phenomenon has taught me anything, it’s that the media has no interest in subtle shows of affection toward God.

Pictured : Not Subtlety.

Some people seem to have maintained that balance between faith and cultural identity pretty well. I met a guy at the conference who pastors at the River Heights Vineyard inMinnesota. His name is Peter Benedict. He was co-heading one of the breakaway sessions at the conference, and he did so with a combination of humor, sarcasm, self-deprecation, and sincerity that was very engaging. He looks like this.

Okay. . . . normal-lookin’ dude. . . kinda got the soul-patch thing going on. . .

But when he turns around, you see this.

WICKED RAD NECK TATTOO!!1!

Do I dig a pastor with tattoos? Yes, I dig a pastor with tattoos. If I met Pete outside of a church event, I would never imagine he was a pastor. In fact, I wouldn’t imagine (just from looking at him) that he’s a Christian. He doesn’t carry himself like a member of the Christian culture would. He looks too relaxed, too counter-culture-y, too snarky to fit in with a culture that generally seems to reward conformity, mildness, and stoicism. So when a guy like Pete Benedict talks to me about Jesus, I’m more likely to listen to him, because he doesn’t come across as someone who is Christian by culture. He’s just a normal, snarky, soul-patch-wielding guy. If he’s talking about Jesus, I imagine there’s a reason why.

I’d like to get some chatter going on this bee-otch. Am I way off mark in my take on Christian culture versus faith in God-by-way-of-Jesus? Do you consider yourself a “something-who-believes-in-Christ?” Is an atheist-who-believes-in-Jesus even possible? Could I maybe use more lots-of-dashes-in-them phrases in this paragraph?

I could. I will, even. Unless you convince me not to.

Also, if you don’t comment, HippyBear gets it!


Patty Smyth was right – I AM the warrior!

The battlefield stretched out from one end of the earth to the other. A place of shifting shadows and rebounding echoes, the battered ground was littered with the bodies of the fallen. The foe was hard to see – a wispy thing of murk and almost-inaudible whispers, its eyes glowing with sickly, yellow-green luminescence. It slithered along the ground and took to the air on wings of smoke, jumping from one defensible trench to another. Invisible and intangible, the battlefield was never seen, and only vaguely felt, by the people walking through it. Heading to work, or going to grab a cup of coffee, or waiting for the school bus, the people of the earth passed through the war-torn wasteland without knowing the danger they were in. Every now and then, the enemy would cast the ghastly light of its eyes on an innocent man, woman, or child, and it would slink out of its trench and sidle up to the potential victim.

 A man, heading home after a late meeting and needing to unwind, is approached by a prostitute as he stops at the corner.

 “You deserve it,” the enemy in the passenger seat whispers.

 A woman finds a wallet on the ground at the subway platform. Her arms are full of grocery bags, and she could really use the money.

 “A blessing from God,” says the enemy at her shoulder.

 A young man is out with his friends, drinking and watching television. One of them hands him a pill.

“Harmless fun,” says the enemy sitting on the couch.

Some fell to the enemy, defenseless. Others fought, wielding brilliant-white, unseen swords and ethereal shields of burnished gold. Even they, at times, fell before the onslaught of shifting, gray foes. Some struck the enemy so resoundingly that it was forced to slink away back to its trench to lick its wounds; others seemed on the verge of failure, only to be saved at the last instant by a blinding beam of white light that cut through the clouds from the heavens and burned the enemy with searing heat.

The war waged on.

 *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

 

Following Jesus can be pretty epic.

“THIS. . . IS. . . CHRISTENDOM!”

A lot is said in the Christian world about “spiritual war”. The idea is simple, really – there is an unseen war on an invisible level of reality, a conflict between the forces of good and evil. We humans (or more specifically, our souls) are the object of a game of ethereal Capture the Flag, with the forces of evil trying to win us away from our Father.

Call of Duty – Preparing our young men and women to pwn the devil since 2003.

On the one hand, the idea of a conflict over the souls of mankind seems a little self-important to me. On the other hand, it makes a certain amount of sense. These two forces have met before, after all. Lucifer and his posse of unrighteous bros have tried to step to God once before. It didn’t work out so well for them, and they were forcibly booted from what had been there home as a result. If those armies were to fight each other directly, it wouldn’t go any better for Team Satan the second round – they are outnumbered two-to-one, and the commander of the other side just so happens to be the one power capable of bringing all of existence into, well, existence. In this circumstance, the strategy that makes the most sense for the bad guys to adopt is that of a guerilla war.

I think there is one aspect of spiritual warfare that intrigues me the most, though – that’s the reason for the spiritual war. Christians believe that there is one day going to be a reckoning – a final battle between the God Squad and Team Satan that will wrap up the whole dang drama. We also believe that there is only one possible outcome from this struggle – the defeat of Lucifer and his minions. I sincerely doubt that the enemy isn’t aware of this. So why are they fighting the war in the first place? Why even continue the conflict? What could they hope to gain?

I think they’re doing it to hurt us.

Dick.

Think about it. God loves us. God loves us. God sent his son to be tortured to death for us. Satan can’t hurt God directly, but he sure can hurt God indirectly by hurting God’s most loved creation.

TOTAL dick.

Luckily, my main man Paul tells us that we aren’t helpless against the assault. In fact, he suggests that we arm ourselves with the weapons of spiritual war like a hero in an ‘80’s action flick (that is, by way of an awesome montage of knives being sheathed, grenades being clipped to belts, guns being cocked, and bandanas being tied onto our foreheads with rapid, macho movements). Check it out.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” 

That’s chapter six of Ephesians. Or possibly a character sheet for Dungeons and Dragons. I get confused. Either way, I want that stuff.

Yeah. . . . HELL yeah!

In fact, the imagery of God granting bad-ass weapons to his followers pops up several times in the New Testament. The early church rightfully recognized that, even as they were surrounded by enemies of the material world (the Romans, certain parts of the Jewish community, lions, etc.) they were also under threat of spiritual damage from forces that exist above, below, and beside our level of reality.

I also like the idea of spiritual warfare being used to make passages of the Old Testament more relevant to our lives. Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend the Blue Ocean Midwest Conference, and I got a chance to meet author and pastor Dave Schmelzer. During one of his sessions, he talked about reading the Book of Psalms, and how it seemed a little. . .  bloodthirsty. . . at times. After all, how many of us actually want God to literally smite our foes? Take Psalm 3, for example.

 “7 Arise, LORD! 

   Deliver me, my God! 
Strike all my enemies on the jaw; 
   break the teeth of the wicked.”

This one is relatively mild, for David. He only wants to see his enemies eat their dinner through a straw. While I sometimes want God to do that to the guy who cut me off on the highway, I usually feel bad about that. I don’t think that God would really encourage that in me.

David gets even more graphic when someone gets his dander up.

 “1 May God arise, may his enemies be scattered;

   may his foes flee before him. 
2 May you blow them away like smoke— 
   as wax melts before the fire, 
   may the wicked perish before God.”

My suggestion? Stay on David's GOOD side.

But all of those verses become much more applicable when you realize that you do have enemies – wicked, horrible creatures who want nothing more than to bring pain and ruin down upon not only you, but everyone in creation. They are a perfect enemy. They cannot be reasoned with, they do not tire, they cannot be lead astray from their goal, and they are not capable of showing mercy. Yeah, God can smite them. I hope God smites the crap out of them.

Of course, a big part of spiritual warfare is that we human beings are more than just the victims of demonic attack. We’re also more than the pieces on the board that either side is fighting over. We’re also soldiers. God can smite our enemies, sure – I certainly hope He will when I need it – but that doesn’t mean we can’t occasionally give the baddies a little smackdown ourselves.

Good thing God twinked our gear.

It’s +5 to attack and damage, and it beheads demons on a natural 20.

Bring it on.


Story time!

I’d like to take a little time today to tell you all a story.

Something happened to me recently that I really would love to share with all of you. As many of you know, we moved up here from Arizona, and in the process we had to split our family. There are lots of reasons for this, a) our two older children are in school down in Arizona and we didn’t want to disrupt their studies but b) and maybe more importantly, we were moving up here on what we believed was the whim of God, and, more tangibly, on the charity of some friends who opened their house to us. And while that was wonderfully nice of them, they only had two spare bedrooms (and no previous experience with kids) so we didn’t have the room to put our whole family in the house!

It basically would have looked like this.

We sucked it up and came, however, with the understanding that the separation was temporary and that we would bring the remainder of the clan up once we got established in our work, and in our own place. This took longer than we thought, and every day that went by without the money to make any sort of move at all, it got harder and harder. I began to pray earnestly (and repeatedly) that God would move for us and provide something that we needed.

Now I should note that we have a specific list. The bigger your family gets, I find, the more specific your list of needs are. And as time passed it became more and more apparent that we weren’t going to only be bringing up our other two kids, but my aging parents. That meant we needed a certain amount of space, but more than that, my parents age and health being what they were, we needed a certain layout. They can’t really tackle stairs, for example. With 3 kids and 4 adults we really needed there to be a washer and dryer. With three or four vehicles between the adults, we really needed somewhere with off-street parking. Above all, this had to be given to us at a price we could afford. The more I looked at the local house rental market, the more discouraged I got, because while I found many, many beautiful houses that would work, they were really expensive. Any houses I found that were in our price range were cracker-box small, or had all bedrooms on the upper floors, or had on street parking, and so on.

“It’s lovely, really. . . but honestly, if I could have FOUR walls, that would be great.”

I prayed about this so much that I’m sure God, up in heaven, felt like I do when my son gets stuck on asking me for something and repeats himself over and over and over until I’m going “Ok! Teaghan! I heard you! I said yes! Give me a sec to do it, kiddo!”

But even though I repeated myself ad nauseum, I trusted that God had heard and was going to provide us with everything we needed. So as time went on, and I looked at about a-million-and-2 houses in the area, I began to amend my prayer. “Ok God, you know what we need, I won’t take your time with repeating it again, but I’m dumb. So when I find the one you want us in, put bells on it for me, so I know it’s the one.” I even began telling people, “Well, don’t worry, when it’s the one, God will put a bell on it, and we’ll know!”

I was joking.

I also asked for a million dollars in unmarked bills to be found in the laundry room. God took THAT joke less. . . literally.

One day, after praying, I came across an ad on Craigslist. A four bedroom house in Superior, Wisconsin(for those that aren’t local, that’s right across the bridge from Duluth) was going for $750 a month. “That looks hopeful” I thought to myself, so I shot off an email to the owner, who responded with a phone call telling me I could go look at it, but she had other people who were also interested. She pointed out that the other couple had not yet put in an application, so she was still showing it, but she didn’t seem very enthusiastic that this wouldn’t be a waste of our time. Well, I wasn’t about to give up that easily, so I set up a meeting with her the next weekend.

Fast-forward a bit to next weekend – we drove out to Superior, got to the house, and immediately fell in love. The house is large enough for us, the rooms are nicely-sized, and there’s even a single room on the bottom floor with its own bathroom so that my parents won’t have to go upstairs! I began to get kind of excited about it, but I kept myself in check and began praying silently (and somewhat distractedly. . . sorry, God) for God’s guidance. His will, I told him, not mine. The owner took us downstairs to show us the basement, which was huge. It came with several things that filled me with delight (such as a craft table for me to do my painting-type-whatsit on, and a fully functional ping pong table), but I continued to keep myself in check.

“I was hoping for a teleportation pod, but couldn’t find a SINGLE HOUSE that we could afford that had one!” – Daniel

Daniel, Teaghan, and the owner headed back upstairs to look at some of the rest of the house, and I sort of lagged down in the basement, getting a better look at things. The owner still had a lot of stuff in there, so I was being careful not to disturb anything while looking. I finished my exploration, and turned to head back upstairs to join them when I noticed a plaster carving of the Last Supper, partially obscured by a canvas drop cloth that had been tossed upon a table. Smiling a bit, I walked over and picked it up to get a closer look. As I did, something fell to the ground. Not wanting to be disrespectful and leave it there, I set the carving down and bent down to pick up whatever had fallen. As I bent down my eye fell almost immediately on something lying under the table. Feeling a growing sense of amazement and disbelief, I picked it up to get a closer look, and what should my shaking hand be holding but a tiny Christmas tree ornament shaped like a bell. I stared at it, filled with a deep joy so potent I actually laughed, even while my eyes were tearing. I cradled the tiny ornament in my hand and made my way upstairs to show my husband. He laughed out loud, commenting on how that was incredible, and he couldn’t believe there was an actual bell! We shared the story with the owner, who also laughed.

We took the application.

We went home and filled it out, one for every adult in the house. My hand was cramping when we were finished. We called the owner and asked her how we might drop this off for her. She told us the days she worked, and the days she’d be at the house, none of which worked for us at all with our work schedule. But Daniel and I both felt a pressing need to give her the application. So on a whim I volunteered to drive out to Two Harbors, Minnesota, where she lived, and hand-deliver the applications to her. She agreed, and we loaded ourselves back into the car.

We arrived at her home, were introduced to her husband as, “the first people to look at the house today”, and were invited into her home. At those words my heart started to sink. The first people? How many people had looked at that house – people who had better credit, a smaller family, less children, less dog? What if she liked one of them better than us? I loved that house! I dreaded her telling us “No.” Then my mind returned to the tiny bell, and I squared my shoulders. “No way” I told myself. “God wants us in this house. I’m not gonna worry about it!”

As I thought this to myself, we were led into the living room of her home where, out her sliding glass door, I could clearly see an ornamental dinner bell hung on the porch. It was behind a beautiful cross hanging on the wall. I smiled to myself. I just knew God was reaffirming his approval for this direction.

That Sunday, Daniel caught up with our friend Tim, who attends our church. He told him about the house, the owners, and the bell-shaped Christmas tree ornament. As Daniel described the owners, our friend got a thoughtful look on his face. “Do you know their’ names?” he asked. Daniel told him, and Tim’s face lit up.

“I know them!” he said. “In fact, I saw the husband just yesterday. I’ll call them and let them know what I think of you!” He promised he wouldn’t lie, but that he would share all the nice things he felt about us.

“Dan’s a great guy! He wouldn’t HESITATE to help you bury a body in the. . . um. . . I mean. . . move.”

One week later, we got the call that we’d been chosen to have the house. I don’t know how many people were looking, or how many of them applied. I know we weren’t the first or only family, and I also know that she didn’t call a single one of our references. It seems clear to me that this house was an answered prayer and a gift from God, sitting and waiting for us to come and take it. I don’t know about you, but the idea of God answering prayers in so tangible a way is very new to me. I’m both honored and humbled to be thought of so personally by the creator of all the universe.

So that’s my story. Now I’d like to open the door for you! If you have stories of tangibly answered prayer, I’d love to hear them. Tell me all your things!


Heckfire and Darnation!

For years, two of my kids have attended the same church that my mother- and father-in-law attend, in Tucson, Arizona. After a few initial forays through the doors of said church, I decided a few years ago that it wasn’t for me. At the time, my decision was, specifically, that Christianity wasn’t for me. Now, if you’re reading this blog, it should be pretty obvious to you that I’ve changed my mind about that last bit.

He can be very persuasive when he wants to be...

That said, I don’t think I would attend my in-laws’ church if I were to go back toTucson. I never did feel like they were giving me a relevant message, and it was very clear to me that the congregation disagreed with my wife and myself on a great number of social issues. That didn’t stop them from trying to convert me. On the few occasions where I spent a Sunday morning there, or perhaps attended an event that involved my kids, I would always be approached sometime around altar call by a fellow who wanted to ask me questions about Jesus, my soul, etc. Now, don’t get me wrong – on an individual level, the guys who came up to talk to me were always very nice. I have nothing against them, and I greatly appreciate them taking the time to go talk to a stranger in their church. Really, I’m 100% down with that, and I would like to think I would do the same thing.

Ultimately, what made the message of my in-laws’ church (and the nice guys who came to talk to me about said message) was that I was an agnostic-leaning-toward-atheist, and I didn’t believe in Hell. I cannot stress enough how much that disarmed the people trying to convert me. Even at my most theistic, I didn’t see a logical need for the existence of Hell. So when nice gentlemen implied that maybe I should be concerned about the possibility of my soul going there, all I could do in response was tell them in my kindest tones that I greatly appreciated their concern for me, but that I wasn’t all that worried about it.

I just can’t bring myself to be mean to these cute little guys!

On one occasion, my wife and I attended a church play that my daughter was participating in. While we knew we wouldn’t enjoy the church experience, we wanted to support our girl, so we went. The play was . . . interesting. It consisted of a series of scenes played out on stage, almost always showing two different groups of people going through the same situation – but one group would consist of people who were “saved”, and one would consist of people who “didn’t have time for church”. Then, the two groups of characters would suddenly die – there would be a car accident, or a shooting in a school. Then the audience would see the “saved” people being invited by Jesus into heaven, while the “damned” characters would be dragged away by the devil – played by a guy in KISS makeup. The goal of the play (I’m sure) was to scare the audience members into salvation. As an agnostic, I was far from scared – mildly offended, a little ironically amused, but not scared.

Everyone knows that KISS is scarier WITHOUT the make-up.

My lack of belief in a place of eternal punishment single-handedly ruined any attempt that most Christians made to convert me. I think the issue may be generational. I think that in prior generations, most Americans grew up in the context of some sort of Christian church life. They went to church as kids, attended Sunday School, and got a basic framework of reality that was explained to them in this way:

A)    People are Sinners

B)     Jesus Died for Your Sins

C)    You Can Still Go to Hell!

D)    Do What God Says, or Else!

“And THAT, kids, is why hippy dope-fiends hate Jesus! See you next week, tell your folks to vote Nixon!”

My thinking is that people in those generations might spend some time wavering back and forth between believing in God or not believing in God, but that if they did believe in God, it would most likely be within the context of Christianity. If someone claimed to doubt the existence of God, the people in their church community would tell them that they only doubted for some nefarious reason – at the behest of the devil, perhaps, or simply because, in their hearts, they wanted some time to try out some good, old-fashioned sinnin’! The church would put some energy into convincing them to come back to Jesus, repent of the things they did in their “time off”, and being a life of engaging God anew.

"Vinny, PLEASE come back to church. Jesus can't abide a douche bag"

Almost every attempt made to convert me over the years has been made under this premise. And if I had believed in Hell, the premise would have been solid. After all, who would want to spend an eternity in torment? That’s just ridiculous! I would pay just about any price possible to avoid that fate! The issue at hand, for me, was that I had been exposed to a plethora of religions in my formative years. I’d met practitioners of a dozen faiths who all believed whatever they believed with as much fervor, dedication, and conviction as the most Bible-thumping Christian. Why should I believe in Heaven or Hell, for instance, when half of the people I know believe in reincarnation? If I accepted Heaven, why did that necessarily mean that Hell had to exist?

Now, as a newly-convinced Christian, I am engaging Jesus. I’m reading the Bible. There seems to be some place for Hell in the whole scheme of things, but even Christians don’t all agree on what it is. What I know for certain is this – I will never, ever scare an agnostic or an atheist into the arms of God. Even if I tried, it wouldn’t work. The fact is, Heaven and Hell are concepts that require faith to have any relevance.

Incidentally, I should point out that there isn’t an argument that ever “converted” me. As I’ve said before (and will likely say again) the logic behind the idea of God isn’t flawless. If it weren’t for the fact that God directly intervened in my life in ways that are harder to disprove than prove, I would still be there in the audience, snickering at a portrayal of the devil more appropriate to 1979 than 2009, and I wouldn’t find out if I was right or wrong about Hell until it was a little too late.

“OHHH! Well. . . crap in a hat.”

And anyway, is avoidance of Hell really the best reason to come to God? Here’s what I think – talk about the benefits of going to God. Feeling alone? There’s an app for that. Unhappy with your relationships? There’s an app for that. Feel like you’re wasting your life? There’s an app for that. Need to be part of a story that’s much bigger, much more exciting, much more meaningful than the one you create for yourself? Well, there’s an app for that, too.

HINT - The app is God.

Sure, none of this will absolutely convince an atheist to believe in God. But what it might do is give the atheist a convincing reason to attempt to talk to God. In my experience, that’s all that God needs.

How does this address Hell? I don’t know. Maybe it doesn’t, at least not directly. This is the kind of stuff that brought me to Jesus, and I don’t think about Hell all that often. I think about God quite a bit, though, and how to live in accordance with whatever plan he has for me. I think about how to be good to my wife and my family, how to live with integrity, how to make good decisions, and yes, sometimes, how to do what Jesus would do.

I hope that works. Because if it doesn’t, I don’t know if there’s hope for any of us.

“Dude. . . is that the Pope? Is that ALL THE POPES?”


Without “u”, it’s just “commnity”.

Duluth, Minnesota is a pretty awesome city. It’s the smallest city I’ve ever lived in, which hurts when I want to find a Denny’s or a Chilis. But with a population of a little over 84,000 people, it’s big enough. Since I’ve moved to Duluth I’ve met some pretty awesome people. And that’s sweet, because I love meeting and getting to know new folks. It really is my thing. My perfect drug, if you will.

This is me, 1997, forty-three minutes after I discovered the existence of AOL chat rooms.

 Brandi is the same way. I’ve never seen a person strike up a conversation with complete strangers so quickly and easily as she does. I once saw her talking on her cell phone for twenty minutes, laughing and smiling, waving her hands animatedly while holding a cigarette. She was clearly having a good time. When she got off the phone, I asked her who she was speaking to.

“Wrong number,” she answered. True story. She’ll make friends with anyone. I mean it – anyone.

“No, I need my flesh. . . but I might have some chicken thawed if you guys are really hungry!” – Brandi

 I think the fact that we’re both so outgoing helps explain why we decided to throw this blog together. I’ve always enjoyed a good conversation with just about anyone. And as I mentioned in my list about reasons that God is awesome, I believe that when you get to know who someone really is, you start to love them. Now, that isn’t to say that you might not learn to dislike someone once to get to know them – I’m not going to argue against that. But I think that when you know someone well enough, love is a natural result of that knowledge. It puts all of their actions into a perspective that you can understand and maybe even relate to. It feels nice. It makes you feel less alone in the world. Sometimes a random conversation with a complete stranger, perhaps over a bummed cigarette, can turn your whole day around. By and large, people are the best.

In a previous post, I talked about “churchy” things that made me uncomfortable, and a few great conversations resulted from that post. Now to switch it up, I’ll tell you something that I almost immediately took to as I engaged a church-filled life – community. God is all about community. Jesus was a bridge builder. When I first read John’s Gospel, I remember getting to the part where Jesus is on the cross, and his mother is there, watching him die. Jesus, and I’m paraphrasing here, basically nodded toward the Beloved Disciple (possibly John) and said to his mother, “This guy is your son, now.” Then he looked at the Beloved Disciple, nodded toward his mom, and said, “This is your mom.” The man was dying in agony, and he took the time to make sure that his mom and his friend would never be alone again. Building relationships was so important to the Christ that, even though he was about to conclude his business on Earth and send back the Holy Spirit, he wanted to make sure that the people he loved were together, grieving together, getting to know one another better.

That’s why I dig community. I want to get to know more people. And Christ clearly wants that community to grow.

Now, “What the Faith?!?!?” is an attempt by my wife and me to expand our community. We have a distinctive way of communicating, though, and not everyone is down with it. We aren’t part of a web-ring of faith blogs, mostly because I just don’t think that the average faith blog author would care to read a post containing an image of a gun-toting Jesus (a post that includes the word “genitalia,” no less.) I have no idea why, but some people object to that sort of thing.

“Another reference to private parts? On the INTERNET?!?!”

 So maybe we’ve got an uphill battle ahead of us, trying to reach out to new folks via a blog that is too Christian to attract secular people, but too irreverent to attract most mainstream Christians. And maybe we haven’t ever said this officially before (except to God and a few folks at our church) – but we love hearing from new people! The whole point of this blog is to do our part to help build the body of Christ – which, in my theological infancy, I assume is some form of giant robot that God invented to cleanse mankind of sin.

“And I’ll form the head!” Gospel of Voltron, 3:5-6

Can you help? Of course you can. In fact, you can do several things.

1)      Speak up! Tell your story. It’s okay if you don’t know us in real life – online community is the way of the future.

2)      Tell others who you think might like the cut of our collective jib. Brandi and I would love to meet new folks who are as new to faith as we are – or maybe having been doing this all their lives. Also, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, pagans, humanists, or anyone else who is carbon-based. We want to say hi.

3)      Care to post something? Drop a line, let us know. We’d love to host guest bloggers as the occasion arises.

On that note, we’d like to celebrate with you, our friends of “What the Faith?!?!?”. . . we have double our readership! That’s right – we now have 2.8 readers following us!

We’re now a Level 2 blog!

  Thanks so much, dear readers, for joining Brandi and I in this fledgling online community. Whether we know you in real life or are just now meeting you for the first time, we thank you for your comments, your kind words, your tolerance for stupidity, and your readership.

“No, I draw the line at – oh, they’re commenting? Welllll. . .are they carbon-based?”


Me vs. Me – FIGHT!!!

I’ve been struggling a lot with myself lately. It’s so easy! I’m such a Gemini that there are almost literally two separate people living inside my head.

Either that explains the headaches, or I MAY have mis-used “literally”

At least that’s how it feels sometimes. One of these people is the cheery, friendly, good-hearted me, and the other is this suspicious, bitter, poisonously-angry person that sort of looks like me. Sounds like me too, in fact. A lot.

Double the pleasure! Double the fun! Double the roaring psychosis!

Since being convinced away from my skepticism, and exploring this whole faith thing, I’ve discovered two things.

1) I’m not sure who I want to be anymore.

And

2) Holy crap, do I have a lot of baggage!

For SURE not literally, this time. . . although I might want to sell some of these Pokeman cards. . .

Let me address these one at a time. Ill start with the second ‘cause it’s easier and less uncomfortable to admit (believe it or not.)

So! Yes! I have baggage! Don’t we all, right? My baggage is very heavily ingrained, reaffirmed by experience after experience, and possibly now a fundamental part of who I am. The shadow permanently engraved on the wall after the nuclear blast, as it were. In any case, this baggage seems like something I can’t get rid of no matter how hard I try. The suspicious, bitter side of me loves to point out that the experiences that created this baggage happened, and the conclusions I drew from those experiences are based on facts. That side also says that making these conclusions a part of who I am may color my decisions and current experiences, yes. . .  but it also serves to protect me from repeating those past experiences.  In fact, Bitter Me says, a repeat of the pains of my past is inevitable, if history serves to show us anything.

Pictured: Bitter Me. Please don't sue me, Mr. Disneyland.

Some of this baggage is small – not really all that heavy – more like a series of circumstances I’ve learned to avoid (such as answering the question “How are you?” with honesty, for example). This stuff is no big deal. If I want to tell someone how I really am, I have friends I can take that  shit to, and now I have God (or maybe, more accurately, now I’ve found God), so I don’t need to give that information to just anyone. That’s a small issue.

However, some of my bags are full of bowling balls. As such, they’re hard as hell to move, impossible to lift, and seriously getting in the way of everything I want to do.  I don’t know why, but I feel the need to drag all these bowling balls around with me everywhere I go.

Now, you might think, “Put the bags down, dude! You don’t need those bowling balls!” And you’re totes right! I don’t need those bowling balls, except I can’t seem to unclench my fingers from the handle of the bag . . . it’s been a long time, alright? Anyway, putting it down is not as easy as it sounds.

None of this would really matter if what I wanted was to stay the course I’ve been on, comfortably, all these years. This brings me to point 1. (Backwards is fun!) Point 1, being “I don’t know who I want to be anymore”, is very troubling to me. See, when I left church as a young teenager (barely more than a child) I did it because I wasn’t having success making the connection to God that the people around me were making. I’ve mentioned this before.

Remember this dude?

What I didn’t mention was that the realization that, perhaps, God didn’t want to talk to me, was carried on the shoulders of the fact that I didn’t know who I was. So I did what any self-respecting teenager would do – I went on a binge journey of self-exploration. Like most such journeys, it led me to some really dark corners, but also to some amazingly profound and beautiful realizations.  All of this helped to mold me into the person I am today.

If along the way I had to develop a side of myself that was protective of me (often to the point of being mean), I figured that was par for the course. Of course you can’t live in this world and stay soft. Not if you don’t want to be constantly leaking your gross. . . eye. . . water. . .  all over everything. Living is kind of like being in a war, and in wars, collateral damage is completely acceptable. Hence, I accepted it.

“Yep, looks good to me! Let’s call it a day and get some baby backs at Chili's!"

But these days, things are changing in me. There’s this whole process that’s happening inside of me that is changing who I want to be. But there’s a catch, see. All this baggage I’m carrying has been loaded with the things I’ve needed to get by, for many years. Their contents are directly related to who I am, my opinions, my preferences, and lessons I’ve learned on the way. The person that I’m tentatively starting to want to be (or rather, who the one side of me desperately wants the whole me to become) is in direct opposition to some of the stuff in those bags. Which means, either. . .

A) I can’t be that person I want to be

Or

B) I gotta put the bag down.

The other side of me screams in pain and terrified disbelief at just the thought of that. My protection! My ideals! What will I do without them?

“I keep my beauty products in that bag!”

So here I am. One side of me wants desperately to come out of the cocoon I’ve built around myself (mostly by pulling out my own hair and knitting it into this comfy, me-sized bag), and the other side is so mortified of what that will mean for me that it not only refuses to put the bags down, but clings to them like a man dying of starvation might cling to a bag of bread.

What can I do? Well, it’s disgustingly hard, but what I can do is trust God. More than that, I can learn to listen when God speaks to me (directly, or through other people), go where He indicates I should go, and do what He indicates I should do. If, while I’m doing that, I gotta drag around my bag of bowling balls, eventually my arm will get tired enough that I’ll just put them down. Even better, God himself will come by and say, “Brandi, dub tee eff is with the bowling balls? You don’t need those! Let me have them so you can have both your hands back.” When that day comes, not even the other side of me – the part that screams in terror at the idea of being vulnerable – will have anything to say.

And then I’ll be this! Please don’t sue me, Mr. Technicolor.