Monthly Archives: March 2012

Let’s get wet!

Disclaimer: It has been (rightfully) pointed out to me that I may have left some ambiguity in this post. As you read down, you’ll see me refer to my friend and pastor Ryan as “an ass.” I don’t want to take it out, because busting his chops is a right I reserve in exchange him busting my chops. . . because that’s what friends do! But I also want to mention that, aside from being my friend, Ryan is a pastor that I respect and love like a big brother. So when you get to the part where I refer to the pastor of Hillside Church as “some ass”, please take that as the joke (and expression of love) that it is. 🙂

So it’s last Sunday at Hillside Church, and I’m sitting in an out-of-the-way corner of the church with my wife and two other women. Our associate pastor, Jay, is with us. He’s got some papers in his hand that he’s referencing every now and then, and he’s talking about what’s going to happen to those of us in the room with him, after the morning’s message – we’re going to be baptized.

“People have different reactions to being baptized,” he says at one point. “Some people have visions. Some people feel God move in their hearts. Some people don’t notice anything different right away, but down the line they feel God moving them.

“So going into this,” he concludes, “expect God to do something.

At this point I had been attending church for something like six months. I’d gone from a hard-line agnostic slash sometimes atheist to a smarmy, Christ-loving “Jesus guy.” While I never referred to myself as a “convert,” I often say I was “newly convinced” that Jesus was an important piece of the mystery that was life in God. And while baptism is one of the two sacraments that is still practiced at my church (which is filled with many ex-Lutherans), I didn’t really believe that it was more than a symbol.

Our Baptismal was a kiddy pool – proudly purchased, or so said our pastor Ryan Bauers, for a sum of $49.99 at walmart.com. We were asked to wear shorts and dark t-shirts into the water, instead of the fancy robes I’ve seen at Baptist baptisms (wow, redundant) during my childhood inFlorida. We were asked to be ready for the baptism before the sermon started – so those of us getting dunked sat through church in our casual clothes, making it look like we were heading to the lake for a dip after a little Jesus chat.

In between worship songs, those four of us about to take the plunge were called up on stage to get ready. Another worship song played, and Ryan walked up to me with a serious look on his face.

“Uh, I didn’t know you had a tattoo,” he told me in a low murmur, referencing the large tattoo of John Constantine on my left calf. “Uh, you can’t get baptized now, sorry.”

Ryan is an ass.

Pictured: The beautiful Krista Bauers, and some ass.

Anyway, I got dunked, got out of the kiddy pool, and wrapped myself in a towel to watch everyone else get submerged. People cheered and hugged me and gave me high fives, and overall it was a pretty cool experience. I had showed, publicly, my dedication to the way of life that Jesus taught – and my dedication to following the example that Jesus set, minus the miracles and stuff. I didn’t feel God do anything in particular, but that’s okay. . . I figured the Baptism was mostly for show.

Brandi and I changed into dry clothes, and I was walking around with wet hair. The cutest little girl in church comes up to me and asks me, super serious, “Did you get baptized?”

“Yes, sweetheart, I sure did,” I answered her. She smiled and broke my heart and walked back to her mom.

Anyway, so now it’s Sunday afternoon, and what is the logical next thing to do after getting baptized? Hunger Games.

Obviously.

We’re at the theater, got our popcorn and our bottle of water, and suddenly my heart skips a beat for no reason. Then a few seconds later, it does it again. And then, like a bad case of hiccups, my PVC’s (premature ventricular contractions) start up just like they used to, before God took them away at the Blue Ocean conference. For maybe 40 minutes, my ventricles would “thump” an extra beat every five to ten seconds.

“What does this mean?” I asked myself. “Did God undo the healing? Did the healing never really happen? What does it mean?”

After that forty minutes or so, the PVC’s stopped.

The next couple of days saw me feeling. . . not good. I wasn’t physically sick, but it seemed that all I could think about was, well. . . my sin. I thought about myself like I never had before.

That requires some explanation.

Some of you may have, by now, noticed that I’m a bit of a smarmy bastard. I take pride in my smarminess, in general. When I came to God, I did so because I wanted to believe that God was real, that life had meaning, that I wasn’t alone. I did not come to God because I felt I was a sinner. I was, and am, a pretty decent person by most standards. While I know that “everyone is a sinner”, I took that to mean something like, “Well, people are people.” You know what I mean – we all do things we shouldn’t do sometimes, we all make bad decisions instead of good decisions sometimes, we all treat people worse than we should sometimes. It didn’t bother me – I wasn’t a drug-dealer, or an alcoholic, or a wife-beater, or anything that I needed to be saved from. I was just a normal guy – and to be honest, in my head, I was a bit more moral than “normal”.

Well, for the first couple of days after being baptized, I realized for the first time in my life that I am a serious asshole. It seemed like all I could think about were my sins. It’s not that I realized that I was doing more wrong than I had before, but it’s more like the wrong I had always been doing suddenly sucked more. Same stuff, but now I felt way worse about it. And I realized that my worst sin – my grand mal sin – is pride. I was so proud to just be who I was, that I always thought that needing God to make you a better person was something that other people did. I took pride in the fact that I came to God, not out of the need for help, but out of a desire to know the Creator. While I understood that we are all intrinsically broken, I don’t think I really got that. It was an intellectual understanding, but something that didn’t really pertain to me.

Pride, you see.

But now, I think I get it. I am broken. More than that, I have been broken for so long that I have, until recently, been completely numb to how broken I was. I honestly felt that there was an acceptable amount of sin that I could live with. Now I realize what an ignorant thing that was to feel. See, when I sin, I don’t know if I’m sinning against God, but I know I’m sinning against the people I love. Lust sins against my wife. Coveting sins against her too. Gluttony (I know I’m getting all medieval here, but it’s a problem for me) sins against me. I sin against my friends, my family, the people who help me and support me, and they don’t even do anything to earn it.

So how much of that is “okay”? How much can I betray Brandi and still be alright with it? Now that I’m really paying attention, the answer, of course, is Not at all, you fucking asshole.

Six months into this whole “church” thing, and now I realize that being “broken” is not just an intellectual concept – it’s about the hurt I cause, and realizing that I need help to stop hurting people. And just because some people hurt other people more, that is not a reason for me to be okay with betraying my wife. Obviously.

Long story short, guys – I don’t think baptism is just a symbolic gesture. At least, it wasn’t for me. Maybe the PVC’s I got during Hunger Games were God’s way of tapping me on the shoulder and letting me know that I was overdue for some truth bombs – and now that I’d taken the plunge, he was gonna let me have ‘em.

I guess the moral of this story is to never underestimate the life-changing properties of an inflatable kiddy pool.


The devil and J.K. Rowling – Protect our Children!!!

Disclaimer: As some of you may know, my kids have spent the past year with my mother- and father-in-law, after Brandi and I moved to Minnesota. We were finally reunited last week – so yeah, thank God, man.

I was at home the other day, sitting on my La-Z-Boy (which I plan to have surgically grafted onto my ass, once I can find a doctor who will take payments), and scrolling through my TiVo’s recorded programs. My eleven-year-old daughter was with me, looking over my shoulder to see what I had recorded. Because I’m a geek, she quickly noticed that I had recorded a cartoon called Young Justice, which is a (super friggin’ awesome) show about the sidekicks of the superheroes in DC’s Justice League – Robin, Superboy, etc. I love the show – the writing is tremendous, the artwork avoids that feux –Anime style that I can’t stand, the characters are well-rounded, and the drama is very intense. It’s a great show, and my daughter knows it.

What else do you expect me to watch, now that Avatar: the Last Airbender isn’t on anymore?

“Wow!” she said. “You recorded Young Justice?!?”

“Sure did,” I said, inordinately proud of my taste in cartoons.

“Am I allowed to watch it?” she asked incredulously.

I looked at her curiously.

“Well,” I said slowly, “I can’t imagine why not. It’s not gory, there’s no boobs on it. . . so, of course you can watch it.”

Sweet!” she exclaimed at top volume. “Nana never let me watch Young Justice because there was an episode with goddesses on it.”

This wasn’t a huge surprise to me. My in-laws attended a church in Tucson, Arizona for many years, and like many churches, it gives advice to parents about what movies and television shows might not be safe for the souls of the children attending. It spoke out against the Harry Potter franchise, following a general outcry from the Christian community that Harry Potter endorsed witchcraft and Satanism. So while I doubted that the church would have specifically spoken out against Young Justice (but how rad would that be?!?!) it had created an understanding that some programs teach our children dangerous ideas about the supernatural world, and that you should always be vigilant to protect children from bad juju.

If you want fantasy, you have a choice – either Lion Jesus, or go to hell forever.

Now, this isn’t new at all. Maybe it started in the seventies with K.I.S.S., and Dungeons and Dragons. Maybe it goes back further than that. But the practice was alive and well in the days of my youth, and I was barely encountering Christian culture at that time. When I was a kid, my sister listened to the local top 40 radio station all the time. One summer, I remember a cheesy, saccharine pop song that was lighting up the airwaves – it was Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven is a Place on Earth.” If you were fortunate enough to miss that one, I’ll give you a little taste of the lyrics to this profound work of poetic perfection.

“Ooh, baby, do you know what that’s worth?
Ooh, heaven is a place on earth.
They say in heaven love comes first.
We’ll make heaven a place on earth.
Ooh, heaven is a place on earth.”

Does the song have problems? Well, yeah. I’m pretty sure nobody is going to win a hip-hop throwdown on the streets of Detroit by rhyming “earth,” “earth”, and “earth”. But when my cousin told me that somebody at their church had told them that the song was Satanic (because it preached heaven on earth, instead of heaven in. . . . heaven?) even as a little boy I was like, “That’s some crazy shit right there.” But they were serious, so my sister fast-forwarded past that song.

“Someone must protect the CHILDREN!”

More recently, the aforementioned Harry Potter series seemed to create a stir within certain populations of the Christian culture. It was said to promote witchcraft and Satanism, and some people even took a fake article by the Onion so seriously that it had to be de-bunked. If you want to have some fun surfing at work, I recommend that you Google “Harry Potter promotes Satanism” and just go for it. You won’t have a hard time finding some giggle-worthy stuff.

Now, I was not any sort of Jesus-guy when the Harry Potter craze was reaching its peak a few years ago, so I thought the whole idea was ridiculous. I’ve never known a kid so stupid as to base their theology on a fiction book (although hippies can take Stranger and a Strange Land a little too far). Also, the many years I spent as a neo-pagan never showed me anything half as cool as the magic that was done in the Harry Potter series, so I was pretty sure that kids weren’t accidentally going to sell their soul to the devil for rockin’ magical powers.

“This is WAY more badass than lighting candles and talking about the Goddess for two hours!"

You can imagine my chuckles when it was revealed that J.K. Rowling is an active Christian attending a church in Scotland,  and has been the whole time. In fact, the Christian themes in Harry Potter are so obvious that my good friend Forty Ounce threatened to rip me a new one on a comment for this post.  So either a whole bunch of whackos completely misinterpreted the most popular young adult series of the past twenty years, or J.K. Rowling’s soul-trapping web of deception goes so deep that it’s endorsed by the Anglican Church. You decide.

Well played, Rowling. Well played, indeed.

Going back to my original story, I had a short conversation with my mother- and father-in-law about the subject of what my kids are allowed to watch, now that they’re back home. While I obviously don’t want them watching things that they are too young for, anything that’s age-appropriate is okay. I trust that my children can handle seeing a goddess on Young Justice without deciding, “That’s it! That’s what I want to do with my life! Forget this Jesus crap, I want to worship super hero goddesses!”

I’ve been tempted for years, for different reasons.

We’ve got to give our kids some credit, Christians. They don’t need to live in a box, protected from the parts of the world that don’t come wrapped in a Jesus-shaped bow. There is a world outside that isn’t always perfect, and some day your children may be needed in that world. We need to trust ourselves to guide them in a way that is deep enough, meaningful enough, that it can survive an encounter with that supposedly-gay Teletubby or Spongebob Squarepants. And also, lest we forget, we also need to trust God to guide our kids where we fall short. I’m positive that God can undo any damage done by J.K. Rowling.

At least until her next series of books, "The Socialist Gay Adventures of Antichrist Jones, Hero of the Beast!"


Just hush and take your medicine

I recently discovered what may be the coolest-sounding group of pastors in existence: Outlaw Preachers. Seriously, that name just sounds incredibly cool. Not since the Knights Templar has the body of Christ produced a more awesome image of people loving God no matter fucking what. I want to be one of these guys when I grow up. The Bible teaches that we are all, collectively, the body of Christ – and the Outlaw Preachers show us that the body of Christ apparently has a robotic gun-hand.

“Peace of God be with you, motherfucker.”

Led by living-tattoo-monster Jay Bakker (son of famous talking Christian guy Jim Bakker), the Outlaw Preachers seem to be all about the idea of a radically inclusive gospel. You can spell this lots of ways, but it seems that all everyone can focus on is the idea that Jay Bakker says it’s alright for two dudes (or two chicks) to bump uglies, as long as they get married. Since there aren’t many places where two dudes (or two chicks) can get married, and since a vocal majority of Christians believe that homosexuality is a sin, you can imagine that there is a certain. . . shall we say. . . controversy regarding Jay Bakker, the Outlaw Preachers, and their teachings.

Is it just me, or does he look like David Cross if David Cross moved to Vegas and picked up a meth habit?

Now, this post isn’t about homosexuality, my views on homosexuality, or how I feel about the church’s views on homosexuality (although that post will be coming some day). No, this post is more about a larger theme that I’m mulling over . . . does the church need to be challenged, internally, on a regular basis? This is kind of a trick question, because in my mind, I don’t think that anyone would argue against that idea. I think, in theory, every single theologian alive feels that a church should be challenged on grounds both social and theological. I imagine I’d be hard-pressed to find a preacher of any Protestant church who would argue that Martin Luther should not have written the Ninety-five Theses.

That is, of course, until someone nails a thesis to their church’s door.

"Is that someone knocking on the door? I'll just go check. . . OH, BULLSHIT!"

It seems like, on a basic level, the Outlaw Preachers see themselves fulfilling the role of Badass Outlaw Jesus, the guy who hung out with whores and tax collectors and gave the Pharisees the finger. They see the conservative preachers of the world as the Pharisees – sometimes because they think they are ignorant, sometimes because they think they are corrupt. Either way, it’s not a tremendously flattering image to be on the receiving end of, but it’s why they do what they do. The O.P.’s prefer the image of Rebel Jesus, breaker of rules, revealer of hidden meanings, and damner of the Man.

On the other hand, the conservative preachers who rail against Jay Bakker and his “ilk” (a frequently used word in this case, and one that almost sounds like it should be used to refer to a family of snakes) believe that they are fulfilling the role of Jesus, the authoritative figure who firmly rebuked false teachers and those who do not follow the law. Conservative preachers prefer the image of Bossman Jesus, the guy who told those lazy Pharisees to get off of their golden thrones and really engage God, help the poor, and see to the spiritual and physical well-being of all living people.

I like both ideas of Jesus, personally. I dig Rebel Jesus, because he constantly forces us to re-evaluate ourselves and our society. Rebel Jesus says, “Oh, your way is right? Prove it.” On the other hand, Bossman Jesus gives us structure and safety. Bossman Jesus says, “Listen, buddy – life is hard, and we all have to do our best to make it together. Say something constructive or shut up.”

And there’s Buddy Christ, who just wants to play video games and eat Pizza Rolls.

Now, if I can tentatively speak for the Outlaw Preachers, I think I can safely say that these guys aren’t trying to subvert the law that is put forth in the Bible. Rather, I think they are trying to force us mere mortals to question whether or not we actually understand that law as set forth in the Bible. It might be easier if our understanding of God’s law has always been perfect, but a flip through any Western Civilization 101 textbook will show that this is abundantly untrue. The Bible has always been used to justify agendas of those in power, and that justification has always been based on the idea that it’s God’s law (not ours) that we are adhering to. When preachers in the American South defended the institution of slavery, they used Paul’s words to do so. European Christians have used the Bible to justify literally centuries of anti-Semitism. Imperialist doctrines, oppressive monarchies, and “manifest destiny” have all been supported by the Bible.

Does that mean that the Bible is wrong? Hell, no. Does it mean that we have, at times, interpreted the Bible incorrect? Absolutely. Now, saying that we have, in the past, been wrong about what we thought God wanted us to do is the easiest thing in the world. It’s much, much harder to contemplate that we might be the people who are currently doing so. But if we aren’t challenged on our understanding of God’s law, how will we ever know?

No wonder the Outlaw Preachers are so hated. They’re calling people Pharisees.

Really, nobody wants to think of themselves as a Pharisee confronted by Jesus. Everyone believes that, as the story of God unfolds in their lives, they are the disciples, while others are the Pharisees. And they don’t believe they are the disciples of the Gospels – those well-meaning but goofily ignorant fellows who were constantly running behind the Lord of Hosts, scratching their heads and saying, “Well gosh, Jesus, whadja do that for?” “What did you mean by that, Jesus? That sure was confusin’.” “Don’t worry Jesus, I brought a sword to the party!” “What do you mean, deny you? I’d never deny – oh, that Jesus? Never heard of him! Never heard of him, nope, never heard of him!” No, nobody sees themselves as that lovably dumb person that was a pre-Acts disciple.

"Fishers of men, hyuck hyuck hyuck!"

Instead, everyone wants to be a disciple from the point of Pentecost on. We want to see ourselves as the bad-ass, Word-delivering apostles, who travel the world like the guy from “Kung Fu”, delivering the gospel and miracles to the oppressed. When someone says we’re doing something wrong – when someone challenges our understanding of God’s word – we don’t react like a pre-Pentecost disciple during Jesus’ life, with a smack on the forehead and a request for explanation. We react like we are being attacked – we are fucking apostles, dammit, we have super powers! Anyone who questions how we do things is, by definition, an enemy, or a dupe, or an idiot who doesn’t have the brainpower to see how right we are.

“MY BEARD MAKES ME BEYOND REPROACH!!!!”

I feel kind of bad for us, when that time comes. I know it’s happened to me quite recently – I thought I knew something beyond a doubt, and then was schooled. It happens. It’s easy for me to deal with, because Christian faith is new to me. It’s also a pretty unthreatening (if still unpleasant) experience, because I’m not responsible for anybody. If what I say is wrong, who is harmed? For people who are established preachers/pastors/ministers/collar-wearing guys, being told that you’re wrong must be a bigger deal. Everyone knows that it sucks when people are persecuted wrongfully, or hurt – and who wants to feel that they are responsible for that? Especially when they thought they were doing what was right. That sucks.

Now, I’m not saying that the Outlaw Preachers are always right. I am wayyyyyy too ignorant of their message to know that, and I am wayyyyyyy more ignorant of the message God gives in the Bible – I don’t have the right to assume accuracy on either side of the argument. What I am saying is that Christians have, for centuries, made horrible mistakes in the name of God, and these mistakes have caused pain for innocent people. If we don’t have people like the Outlaw Preachers questioning the validity if our interpretations now, then we’ll just have to suck it up when historians from the future do the same, long after it’s become too late to fix it.

Also. . . Vegas-meth David Cross. Who can’t love this guy? Just sayin'.


The other, other L-word

I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately. Big word, love. A four letter word, even. Not an easy topic for me, especially. I don’t think that I’m really qualified to be talking about this since I basically hate most things on this planet, but I’m what you get. Sorry in advance.

So let’s talk about this thing called love. What is love?

Baby don’t hur – no? Crap. Every time.

Love boggles me. First of all, there are like a million different types of love, right? I mean there’s the love you feel for your mate, there’s the love you feel for your parents, there’s the love you feel for your children or siblings, there’s the love you feel for friends, and then there’s everyone else.

Now, if you’re like me, these do not intermix and . . . let’s be honest, they barely exist for most people. I don’t even really like most of my family – sorry guys. And friends? Hah! Friends would imply a level of trust and commitment to openness that I simply do not have. And maybe that’s what it all comes down to – trust.

So no one told you life was gonna be this wayyyyyyyy. . . you trust a bitch and then, she Facebook’s that your gayyyyyyyyy.

I recently heard one of those stupid morning show crews going on and on about the L-word, and how they wouldn’t say it first, and how they would break up with any girl who did. The one obligatory female on the crew asked why they felt that way, and if they had ever been in love. All these puffed-up dudes professed that yes, they had. So she followed that with, “Well if you feel it, why not say it?” The unanimous and immediate response was “Oh my God, the power that gives them over you!”

I have to agree. It does give a lot of power to tell someone you love them – but since loving them gives them that power in the first place, damage done. Loving someone gives them license to – even unknowingly – tear your heart out. If you ask me, more damage has been done in the name of love than in the name of hate. I theorize that’s because damage from hate is superficial. You know that the hate is there, and you expect damage, so you build your defenses accordingly. When someone loves you, though, or you love them, that shit blindsides you, and cuts to the bone. That’s why I keep everyone at arms distance with a fireplace poker. Problem solved, right?

I call him ‘Lil’l Bashy’ and he goes everywhere I go.

No, because now I have an entirely different problem. Loneliness. It’s safer. It’s much safer than loving someone and giving them free reign to do a Mexican hat dance on your heart, but. . . it’s cold. Empty. I succeeded at my goal of keeping people from hurting me and now I am completely safe and comfortable and alone. Problem not solved.

So what is one to do? Jesus himself said “love one another.” And even professed love as the greatest commandment, basically boiling it down into, “Dude, don’t be a dick.” (Mat 22: 37-39 Brandi Translation) But since no one follows that tenant, following it becomes dangerous.  No offense here, but I mean no one, folks. Everyone hates someone – or if hate’s too strong a word for your delicate palettes,  try “discomfort to the point of exclusion”. Everyone does it. I’m not trying to point fingers; I’m actually asking . . . why we do this? Why do we take this simple commandment of loving one another and put in nice little boxes that fit within our comfort zone? Why do some churches spend more time preaching about burning in hell for your imperfections than they spend volunteering in a soup kitchen where they can feed the hungry? Why do we hide away our love out of fear of the possibility of getting hurt? It’s a real possibility I know, but not a definite by any means. So why do we do it?

God has recently been dealing with me directly to put down Li’l Bashy and let people in. I cannot describe in words how uncomfortable this makes me, but I’ll give you a hint: think the back of a Volkswagen.

Get it? Get it? Bonus points for the reference!

Still, God says, I try my hardest to do. So I tentatively put the poker down, but kept it close by. You know, just in case.

Something wonderful happened. I made a friend. Someone I would consider a real friend. I say that not because she’s done anything physical for me, like feed me or give me money. . . but she drinks with me, and affirms when I’m awesome, and tells me when I’m being a dick. She’s someone I can go to for shit that doesn’t matter, when I just feel like fucking around with nothing real, and she’s someone who doesn’t brush me off when I’m actually having a problem. Talking to someone about me having a problem is liberating enough, but she actually gives me good fucking advice! Crazy, right? I mean, who does that? She’s helped me sift through some of my shit, and I’ve, hopefully, helped her compartmentalize some of hers. I’ve never had a relationship like the one I’m building with her, one of understanding and completely free of judgment. I would never have accomplished that without listening to God and letting myself love someone.

Does this mean I now love everyone and walk around like a weepy vagina with my heart on my sleeve? Absolutely not! There are people who I know care about me, but because I care about them I don’t show them these things because I know it would destroy a) their opinions of me and b) their minds. What it does mean is that I can bring myself to understand that love and openness can be good things.

I heard someone say, “Hating someone is giving them license to live, rent free, in your mind all the time.” And another person said, “Bitterness is the poison you drink hoping someone else will die”. That is some shit right there. Some deep shit. Hatred was killing me. Slowly, painfully, burying me alive. I’m learning better ways, and they all revolve around that scary fucking L-word.

“Is it lycanthrope? It’s lycanthrope, isn’t it? No, I haven’t been reading, why do you ask?”