Monthly Archives: April 2012

TESTIFY!!!

Who wants a challenge?

In the spirit of the Easter holiday (or, as my friend DB’s dad called it, “Resurrection Day”) my pastor put together a short video with his phone camera. On a regular Sunday morning, he came up to various people in the church and asked us how we know that Jesus is alive today. Some of my friends were on it. So was I – not Ryan’s fault, if I see a camera, I basically jump in front of it. We were challenged to tell the camera, in 10 to 15 seconds, how we know that Jesus is alive today. The answers ranged from philosophical, to testimonial, to just plain cute (one little girl was asked, “How do you know Jesus is alive?” Her answer? “I don’t know, I just do.” Cue everyone in church going Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.)

It was so cute, only this kitten-playing-with-a-baby-duck can compare to the experience.

Then, on the heels of my last post, where I expressed some concern about three teenage girls in Arizona claiming to cast out demons, I decided that I really didn’t know anything about real exorcism – or even if it exists. Now, my pastor Jay has mentioned witnessing some kind of demonic activity in the past, although I’m not sure it was an exorcism and I don’t want to put words in his mouth. So when I say that I don’t know if it exists, what I mean is this – if Skeptical Buttface Dan were to walk up to Newfangled Christian Dan and say, “Hey, so. . . how do you know that demons are real and people need to be exorcised of them?”, and I responded, “Well, some people I trust tell me it’s the case,” Newfangled Christian Dan would get laughed at by Skeptical Buttface Dan.

Also, Skeptical Buttface Dan is a little girl, as many have pointed out to me throughout the years.

Just sayin’.

So I emailed Ryan and asked for book recommendations, especially because I’ll be attending a Society of Vineyard Scholars event this weekend, but I’ll miss the session about demony type things on Thursday night because I can’t make it until Friday morning. He recommended a couple of books, and the one I picked up is “Authority to Heal” by Ken Blue. Right off the bat, I dig that the book I’m reading about people throwing up split pea soup (in theory) is first and foremost a book about healing. Although, admittedly, I was expecting something a little more awesomely dark, like the Malleus Maleficarum, but this Kindle book is okay, too!

"Oh, it's bound in just, like, regular. . . cow. . . skin? No, no, that's cool. . . I'll just download it to my e-reader, I guess."

I’m looking forward to digging a little deeper into the more blatantly spiritual side of following Jesus – not because exorcism is cool (I’m not going to open up that can of worms by temping the devil with a pissing contest) but because every single supernatural experience has the potential to grow my faith. My skepticism runs very, very deep in me. It’s part of who I am. And I hope, some day, to replace my skepticism with “discernment,” like Jay told me a couple of weeks ago. But before I can discern between the true and the false, I need to learn more about the true. That’s what I’m trying to do now.

Who wants to help me? Raise some hands, people!

I want the comments section on this post to be flooded with testimonials. I want you, the “What the Faith?!?!” readers, to tell me about supernatural occurrences that have changed your life and strengthened your faith. I’ve told a couple of stories before (like this one) but now I want to hear yours. Do you know someone who has been healed? Have you witnessed a possession and subsequent spiritual healing? Do you have stories that seem so unbelievable that you hesitate to tell them? I’d love to hear this stuff.

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This is a wall of text.

It’s been a little while since my last post. I’ve wanted to post several things, but that ol’ demon, Ambiguity, keeps creeping up on me. Lately the whole “faith” thing has been a little rough – not bad, but tiring. I’m in a place right now where I have many questions, but easy answers are eluding me at every turn. I’m struggling, and a little bit exhausted, with these things.

What questions, you ask?

The Exorcism Question

Last week I wanted to write a scathing article about three teenage girls in Scottsdale, Arizona, who claim to exorcise demons. It started when a friend at church told me about them – and then I read this article. If you can, watch the attached video on that puppy. When I first read that, my mind was instantly ablaze with condemnation for the people featured in the article. $400 a session for an exorcism? Three teenage girls with catchy code names? A dad who claims to have performed fifteen thousand exorcisms, and who is trying to get a reality television show based on his three daughters? I was ready and rearing to go. I got some friends to come up with their own catchy nicknames so that they could join Brandi (“Crackerjack”) and myself (“Captain God”) in forming a competing group of reality-television-worthy mega-exorcists.

But then I spoke to some friends of mine, and they kind of reality checked me. While $400 per session is a little steep, they pointed out that we are willing to pay pastors, so why not exorcists? They said that there is nothing wrong with getting paid for the gifts God has given you.  Some said that the video was more realistic than I assumed, while others supported my opinion that it all looked pretty bunk.

Now, near the end of my neo-pagan days, I saw lots of people believing in things that I just didn’t believe were real. My skepticism toward all things supernatural gradually grew until I became the hard-line agnostic slash sometimes-hard-line atheist that I was before God tapped me on the shoulder. While I have seen miracles since Jesus said “What up?” to me, my first instinct regarding all things supernatural is to assume that they are not real. What I call “skepticism” (which is pretty negative) and what my friend Pastor Jay calls “discernment” (a lot less negative) is, to me, a defensive posture taken  to avoid being sucked into confusion by my desire to believe in things that aren’t empirically obvious.

So long story short, I’m trying to use discernment about this group of girls in Arizonaand their dad (who, for a $100 donation, which give you a silver copy of the cross he uses for his exorcisms! Totally legit, right?) but I’m having a hard time with it. Was my initial reaction too negative? Or was it honest, and now I’m second guessing myself unnecessarily? I don’t know. I’m too confused to continue with it for now, so my apologies to the other members of my crack exorcism squad, Jules “Jetson” Verne and Mohandas “The Destroyer” Gibbons for not getting the funny send up they deserve.

 The Healing Situation

About three months ago, God healed me of irritable bowel syndrome and premature ventricular contractions, as mentioned in this post.  A couple of weeks ago, I had some PVC’s while watching Hunger Games. Since then, I’ve had them on a pretty regular basis.

Now, going two and a half months without either of those chronic conditions showing up was awesome, and it has never happened before. Two point five months of freedom is something that was a complete first for me, and I still believe God was behind it. But that being said, the PVC’s are back – so either God un-cured me, or the reprieve was meant to be temporary. And I have no idea why, or if it means something – and if it does mean something, then I don’t know what.

What are you gonna do?

The Bible Question

Sometimes, reading the Bible is hard. I often don’t know what to feel or think when I read it. Last night I was reading through 1 Timothy, and I got to this part in chapter 2.

12 I do not let women teach men or have authority over them.[b]Let them listen quietly. 13 For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve. 14 And it was not Adam who was deceived by Satan. The woman was deceived, and sin was the result. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing,[c] assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty.”

And, in completely honesty, I was a little pissed. Was I pissed at Paul? At God? At churches that use the scripture to prevent women from preaching? Honestly, I don’t know. I just know that sometimes I read the Bible and feel full of God’s love – and sometimes, I’m reading 1 Timothy 2:12-15.

The Conference Question

There’s a conference coming up in Minneapolis for the Society of Vineyard Scholars. It’s going to be a smorgasbord of theological discussion. My interwebs-friend Pete Benedict (aka “Peanut Butter” around my house) is going to be leading a session I’d really like to see. Money is very tight in my house, but I’ve been assured that arrangements can be made for the registration fee.

So why is there a conflict? I guess part of it is a feeling of guilt about leaving Brandi for another weekend while I do something awesome and she stays home. My mother- and father-in-law now live with us, but they can get a little overwhelmed dealing with all of the kids, so it’s unlikely that they’ll want to keep them for a whole weekend for us. This would be the third awesome thing I’ve done while Brandi had to stay home, and while she’s being super cool about it and encouraging me to go, I’m not sure I should. Plus, with money being as 100% tight as it is, I’m not sure that I can even justify the gasoline to drive all the way toMinneapolis, and the cost of food while I’m there.

So. . . yeah. No easy answer there, either.

The “Me” Question

 If you’ve read more than this post in my blog, I’m sure you’ve noticed that many things about me are a little rough around the edges. Brandi and I both use profanity when we write. Also, my favorite authors are distinctly un-Christian (Stephen King, Neil Gaiman,  and George R.R. Martin, for those who desperately want to know who my favorite authors are) and the two Frank Peretti books I’ve read have been kind of disappointing. My favorite television show is Game of Thrones on HBO, which has so much nudity and explicit sex that my in-laws leave the room when it’s on. . . and none of that stuff bothers me. In fact, I think it adds to the honesty of the storytelling.

Now, a couple of people have told me that they like my blog for its honesty, and I appreciate that. Brandi and I truly don’t pull any punches about stuff. We think that pretension is a sin, and we aren’t going to try to act like people we aren’t just to fit in with an idea of Christian culture.

But that being said, I wonder sometimes if I’m not just a crappy Christian. Should I be bothered by the stuff that I accept as normal in the media I enjoy? If I’m not bothered by it, can I ever be truly accepted by the faith community? Or will the fact that I like things that aren’t “squeaky clean” be used against me?  Since I hope to eventually pastor, this question weighs heavily on me some days. Today is one of those days.

The Questions Question

It’s tempting not to write this stuff down, and even more tempting not to publish it. I’m exposing my weaknesses, am I not? I’m showing the world that I may be a crappy Christian – I get angry at the Bible, watch television shows with boobies on them, and cuss like a sailor. So shouldn’t I be keeping this to myself – or only talking about it in the sense that I am testifying to my sin and asking God to forgive me?

Faith isn’t easy, friends. Questions happen. And if you are new to faith, like I am, you should expect these days. Hell – for all I know, you may have to expect days like this when you’ve been walking with the “J-man” for many, many years.

But if you are new to faith, and you think that you’re a freak for wondering about this stuff. . . you aren’t. If you think you’re a freak because you went to Jesus and your life got more complicated, you’re not. If you think that people of faith always feel like they have everything under control, and always know exactly how they feel about things, then be assured – we do not.

Sometimes faith gets discouraging – and it’s rough when that happens, because your faith is what is supposed to see you through the storms when everything else gets discouraging. But it happens.

Some Answers, Maybe.

 The coolest thing about all these questions I have is that God is infinitely bigger than my questions. And even though I’m in a place that feels pretty crappy at the moment, I shit you not – God is right here with me. Even when I’m feeling low, I can feel the Holy Spirit sitting next to me, offering me a beer in consolation and telling me not to worry about it.

Also – I’m going to stop thinking about this stuff until I’m feeling better. God is responsible for all good things in life – even good things that don’t talk about God, or make you think about God, or come from a Christian bookstore.

Here are some good things.

1)      Music – Thank God for “The Decemberists”, “Iron and Wine”, Ray Lamontagne, and “The Wailin’ Jenny’s”. They have no idea that the creator of the universe is using them to make me feel better, but He is.

2)      Brandi Mitchell. She’s awesome. And while I’m sitting here pouting, she’s driving through the snow to do all the laundry in the house! What a gal I have! 😀

3)      Grace – Whether or not I’m a crappy Christian, God loves me.

In Conclusion. . .

 . . .  this was not a funny post.

God bless you guys, and may you always see Him when you’re in your low places. My love to you all, and thanks for not judging me. Unless you  are  judging me – in which case, as the philosopher T. Swift says, “Why you gotta be so mean?


Sometimes I get angry. . .

Yesterday, after work, I did something awesome. I volunteered at a kitchen that feeds the homeless. On the first Thursday of every month, Hillside Church volunteers at the Union Gospel Mission, which is just down the block from the church. Some friends from church were there, and I met some new people, saw some adorable kids, and helped feed people who needed that meal.

This was especially poignant to me because I’ve been there. After my youngest son was born, my wife was unable to find work, and we were forced to get boxes of food from a local charity to get by. One year, for Christmas, my family was chosen by one of those holiday charities that give presents to a family in need. It was the only reason my kids had presents that year. While I have never been homeless, I have been pretty damn close to it, once or twice. While some people might say, “If it weren’t for God, I would be in line getting one of these meals,” I can say, “Yeah, I remember when we had to get that box of non-perishable canned items in order to feed the kids.”

So yeah, I felt pretty good about helping out.

Then this morning, I read some articles on CNN’s faith blog, which I check out on occasion. The “blog” is really just a place for any articles written by CNN contributors about faith in any way, so it has articles about atheism, theism, and all the religions you can think of. It’s kind of a melting pot, and coming from a background where I was exposed to lots of different religions, I appreciate that about CNN. But as I was reading these articles, I made the mistake of reading the comments section.

Without actually copying and pasting these comments, let me sum up the three ideas I saw most often in those comments.

1)      “Can you believe people still believe in this stuff? What are we, cavemen?”

2)      “Religion is the worst thing to happen to the human race! All the good things that religion has done are dwarfed by the evils carried out in its name!”

3)      “Spirituality is awesome, but religion is for superstitious mouth-breathers!”

You might be asking, “Well, Dan, what were the articles that these comments appeared on about? Are these people just anti-Christian?”

No. These comments were on all articles. They were on all articles regardless of the article’s content. Seriously. These commenters literally just saw the article talked about faith in one way or another, and then went to town.

Disclaimer: Yes, I know that trolls exist – that’s why I didn’t comment on the articles themselves.

Now, because this is my blog, and nobody can tell me what to do with it, I’d like to take this opportunity to address those people, none of whom will read my blog because “faith” is in the title.

I will also do so sarcastically.

Point One

 “Can you believe people still believe in this stuff? What are we, cavemen?”

 Rebuttal

Well, holy shit. Wow, dude. You got me. You’re so right – the only reason I believe in God is because I’m an ignorant savage. That is also why I believe the earth is flat, AIDS is a curse from Yahweh because of homosexual feminist commies, and that thunder is just God’s farts. Thank you so much for pointing that out to me. I thought I’d based my faith on years of intense introspection, an honest, fearless attempt to communicate with any creator that might exist, and a comparable amount of time spent exploring the possibility that the universe was the result of cosmic accidents. Thank God – I mean, Not God – that a 20-year-old sociology 101 student like yourself was around to point out my knuckle-dragging stupidity.

And also that I need some serious manscaping.

Point Two

 “Religion is the worst thing to happen to the human race! All the good things that religion has done are dwarfed by the evils carried out in its name!”

 Rebuttal

Tell me about it. You know what I hate most about religion? The way it was solely responsible for the way that any literacy, arts, medicine, or social consciousness survived the fall of the Roman Empire. Or charity! Promoting that idea that we should take care of the poor, the sick, or the old just gets my dander up every time I think about it.

Oh, and let me anticipate your response to what I just said. . .

“What do you mean? The ‘Dark Ages’ was the most backward period in western history! Every illness was blamed on evil spirits, and how many Jews were persecuted by Christians? Oh, and the Crusades – are you saying those were a good thing?”

Those things happened. Yes, the Dark Ages sucked. But that’s not the fault of religion, or Christianity (feel free to blame Christendom, though), or Jesus. That’s the fault of the people who weren’t living up the ideals that Christianity put forward. Don’t blame religion for those things – blame the assholes who did that stuff. I’m pretty sure Jesus facepalmed his fingerprints into his forehead for about a thousand years there, but damn it all, he tried.

Ever seen the HBO show Rome? Aside from being awesome, it’s also a pretty accurate portrayal of what society was like before the ideas Jesus put forward entered the zeitgeist. There’s one part in the first season where a main character finds out that his wife had an affair while he was in the military. He’s in a rage, and when his wife finds out, she kills herself – but first urges him to leave the son of that adultery alive, because he’d done nothing wrong. Why did she do this? Because the main character otherwise would have killed her and her son, and it was perfectly frakkin’ legal – and ethical – in that society. Not only would the law have let the guy go, his neighbors would have said, “Well, yeah. Obviously.”

But no, man, you’re spot-on. Jesus had no right to introduce – introduce  the idea of the value of every human life. What a tool.

Friggin' TYPICAL Jesus, dude!

Point Three

 “Spirituality is awesome, but religion is for superstitious mouth-breathers!”

Clearly this person has a better grip on reality than I have.

Rebuttal

You. Shut. Right. The hell. Up. You ignorant turd.

I’ve done both, buddy. I’ve been spiritual for decades. I’ve done the New Age thing, I’ve done the Neo-pagan thing, I’ve done the humanist philosophy thing, I’ve done the agnostic thing. I’ve also done the Buddhist thing.

Do you know how many times my New Age Book Club said, “Hey guys, instead of talking about our auras, let’s go feed the poor!” None times. Do you know how many times my Wiccan coven said, “Let’s pray for the needy”?  That never happened. When I’ve spoken with groups of like-minded agnostics, nobody ever said, “Oh, and by the way, I’m collecting clothes, formula, and diapers for an orphanage in Africa, could you please contribute?”

Now all of these groups were full of people who would agree that everything I mentioned above were good things – all pagans recognize that we need to help the poor. But none of those groups ever took the idea of charity and turned into actual charity.

The exception to that was the Buddhists I met, who were actually very charitable. But ohhhhh right, Buddhism is a religion, so. . . they must be mouth-breathers, right?

“Look at this bunch of chumps! They aren’t even smart enough to GROW HAIR!”

The real difference between “spirituality” and “religion” is that “spirituality” is for people who want to justify what they already believe and who they already are. Spirituality encourages things like self-awareness and personal growth. Cool. I’m all for that stuff. But the difference is that religion also endorses self-control, moral action, submitting to higher authority, and charity. Religion challenges you (if it doesn’t, you’re doing it wrong) and supports you, while spirituality just supports you – “You’re doing just great, buddy! Enlightenment is just around the corner!”

Just About Ready to Shut Up Now

 The reason I volunteered yesterday evening is because I got a church that mentions the Union Gospel Mission every Sunday. Our pastors not only realize that helping people is a good idea, but they a) do it themselves, and b) encourage us to do it all the time. Now I’m aware that there are non-churches that do charitable giving. Of course there are. My point isn’t that charity is a trait that is exclusive to religion. But religion does make a point of always encouraging people to be charitable, to the point of taking action. None of the book clubs or covens I’ve frequented over the years has ever done that.

“Does tipping the barrista count as helping the poor?”

One Last Thing

 Speaking of religion, tradition holds that today is the anniversary of the day that a little dude named Yeshua was crucified. Traditional also holds that he did that for every person who has ever lived. As it happens, I believe this to be the truth.

Awwww. . . CLASSIC Jesus! ❤

Happy Good Friday, folks.