Monthly Archives: July 2013

That’s fishy. . .

Faith life can be weird, right? I often feel like as a follower of Jesus I am living between extremes that look totally off-putting, yet when I’m doing a good job of it there are these incredible rewards.

One example of where I try to live in the tension is around God intervening in my life. On one extreme there are those who have some kind of faith but believe God doesn’t ever touch reality now that He has set it in motion. That’s not me; I believe God acts in the world. That said, I generally like people who adopt this view, and I don’t find it difficult to relate to… if I hadn’t had my personal experiences with God, I’d be in this camp.

You know, miracles. Like that one time I found my keys.

You know, miracles. Like that one time I found my keys.

On the other extreme are the folks who experience God intervening in every decision of their lives, thanking God for getting out of speeding tickets, for good parking places, for Vikings victories, for the McDonald’s employee giving them an extra large helping of french fries, etc. I appreciate thankfulness, and I’ll thank God for anything good, but I’ve watched people thank God for coincidences as if God designed those coincidences specifically to bless that person… like “Thanks God, you know I needed Adrian Peterson to rush for 180 yards to win my fantasy football game this week, I appreciate your effort on my behalf.” That kind of prayer is harder for me to identify with.

So here I sit, trying to live between the poles (or, you could argue, setting up a false dichotomy…). I believe firmly that once upon a time, as I set off to kill myself, God intervened, saved my life, and changed me forever. I also believe that I’m likely to find the best parking space out of 100 about… 1% of the time. When I do, I’m grateful, but I don’t experience it as an intervention from On High designed to make my day better. A little skepticism not only never hurt anybody, sometimes it keeps you from being an idiot.

I have a saying that I pull out when something happens that seems extremely coincidental, to the point where I might reasonably attribute it to God. I say “Hm… that’s fishy.” A good number of people in my life know that’s one way I say that God might have intervened at this point.

"Dude. I'm calling shenanigans, right here and now."

“Dude. I’m calling shenanigans, right here and now.”

This last week I was at the Vineyard national conference in Anaheim. The Vineyard is the church movement I’m a part of, and I was apprehensive about the conference this year. I was concerned about some meetings I had set up, concerned with my place in my church movement, and generally just feeling anxious.

The night I got there two very nice middle aged ladies I’d never met asked to pray for me. Out of the blue they began to pray words that spoke directly and completely toward my apprehension and anxieties. They spoke powerful words of encouragement and of God’s presence in my conflict (which, mind you, I hadn’t told them I was having… they knew nothing about me other than the fact that my hand had been in the air).

When they were done I felt gladness, a lifting of anxiety/apprehension, and great peace. I thought… “That’s fishy.” It seemed like an act of God.

Over the next three days, people randomly prayed for me three times. All three times they walked up to me cold, prayed words that perfectly fit my situation, and wandered off oblivious to what was, for me, becoming simultaneously a surreal experience and a growing confidence that God is with me and genuinely loves me. No one prayed a single word for me that didn’t fit. No one had any details or knowledge of my life. Everything they prayed gave me greater peace and joy.

It was, in short, one of the fishiest experiences I’ve ever had. I ended up having a number of amazing meetings, and a couple challenging ones. I’m so grateful that before the latter took place, I had received tremendous encouragement and security through either the most absurd coincidences I can imagine… or God had intervened in my life for no purpose other than to bless me.

It was pretty fishy, and I’m pretty grateful. I’ve been thanking God a lot this week, and I’ll be doing so for awhile.

I’m also more grateful than ever to be part of a faith community. The challenges of life (anxieties and apprehensions about people, for example) are a given. Crazy fishy intervention by God seems to happen a lot more often when people are praying around me. It’s almost like God speaks to us through one another, or even loves us through one another 😉

Try to leave some room for the Holy Spirit, guys.

Try to leave some room for the Holy Spirit, guys.

On to the questions!

1. Do you ever see God in the coincidences of your life? How often, and how would you know?

2. Have you ever had a supernatural experience (or extreme fishiness, if you prefer!) while someone else was praying for you?

3. What do you think of my story… do you have any stories (positive or negative) that are brought to mind as you read?


Agreeing to Disagree – A guest post by Rev. Peter Benedict

I’ve spent a good chunk of my life convinced that being right and knowing the truth are important. I’ve also often thought I was right about just about everything. Those two sentences would have seemed unrelated to me for a good 20 years, but reading them now I’m stunned at their silliness.

My passion for finding the truth has led to some good stuff in my life. I was the guy in college who’d stay up all night talking with people about anything I cared about, and even if I tried to convince you I was right and even if I knew I you were wrong, I enjoyed hearing other perspectives. I’m glad I’ve always been after the truth, even if I was sure I already had it.

My passion for truth has led to some less good stuff too, especially when it’s been paired with surety in my own perspective. As a teen, for example, I got put in private Christian schools because I was suicidally unhappy in my public school (a story for another day!). While there I was exposed to all kinds of “theology,” and when I became convinced, I felt justified in being a jerk about it… because after all, I was right! I did some terrible stuff, like telling my future sister-in-law that God didn’t want her speaking in church (which I didn’t believe was good, or right, but it was in the Bible and I wanted to be argumentative).

"Oh, for the love of me. . ."

“Oh, for the love of me. . .”

Now I’m 42 years old, or as my teen self would have thought: Nearly dead. And I find myself much less sure, much less concerned with being right, but still passionate about truth. But the truth is different now. Jesus has rolled stuff out in my life, rather than giving me some giant ball of truth-wax in one big glob. I discover over time that I’ve been wrong and that God’s calling me to a new way, and this has happened so many times that I’m now pretty sure of some different truths than I used to believe.

I’m pretty sure that right now I’ve got wrong beliefs about something. I’m pretty sure I have no idea what it is, so I might as well be humble about what I believe.

I’m pretty sure that when I disagree with someone, how we treat each other is more important than who’s right.

"Admit it! Admit that Calvinism is theologically unsound!"

“Admit it! Admit that Calvinism is theologically unsound!”

I’m pretty sure that how I treat people is important even if the other person is doing something terrible, like spitting at me or nailing me to a cross or, even worse… JUDGING ME! I used to put being judgmental on its own special plane in Dante’s Inferno, but now I figure I’ve been sure and judgmental often enough that I should probably just be graceful in the face of it. I’ll probably be judgmental again someday, and when that happens I’d love to be able to say “I’m sorry… could you give me some grace on this one, like you’ve seen me give to others?”

Once upon a time, if I’d started a blog it would have been my goal to tell you, dear reader, what’s right and true. Now I’m writing for a blog because I want to learn from you. When we disagree, I’ll still believe what I believe in the moment… but disagreement is OK, and I hope we do a lot of it here. I hope we do it well.

"I respectfully disagree with your position, vis a vis Calvinism!"

“I respectfully disagree with your position, vis a vis Calvinism!”

On that front… on to the questions!

1. How sure are you of the truth (or The Truth, if you prefer)?

2. How have you treated people when you disagree? How have people treated you?

3. Is there any truth that you’re passionate about? Is there any truth you’ve been so passionate about that you’ve been less kind than you’d hope?

4. Is judgment some kind of special wrong? Is it OK to treat judgmental people badly?

5. Do you have any questions for me, or anything to say that I would benefit from hearing?

Thanks in advance to all who respond. You’re the reason I’m writing, and I hope I learn good things from you.


The Awe of God – A Guest Post by Brant Skogrand

Dan’s Preamble

Wow, have we been guest-blogger-posting fools lately, or what? One of the great things about running a tiny li’l blog like this one is meeting other bloggers. Brant Skogrand is a fine fellow who attends River Heights Vineyard with me, and he has a little something to say. Brant normally blogs here. If you like his post here, why not check out the rest of his stuff?

End Preamble

 

*          *          *

Six years ago, inspired by the awesome experience of hearing God audibly speak to me, I started a blog. Called The Awe of God, I set out to capture and document instances of God speaking to people.

Here’s what I have learned along the way.

  1. God connects with each of us uniquely. For some of us, God speaks audibly. For others, it’s through scripture. Visions have been reported. In numerous instances, God speaks through the people around us. Other times, it’s a still small voice inside.
  2. God has a plan for our lives. Whether it’s showing a woman that she has breast cancer in order to educate others or saving a man from suicide, God will speak to us in order ensure that His will be fulfilled.
  3. By following God, things could happen that we never would have imagined. Like Alfonso Fernandez, who followed God to become the Spanish radio voice of the Minnesota Vikings. Or Jennifer Henderson, who left her $100,000-a-year job at a Toyota plant to open a Christian bookstore.
  4. While many people may be reluctant to admit it, they have heard God’s voice. Sometimes people don’t want to disclose that God talked to them for fear of appearing haughty (especially here in Minnesota) or seeming too religious. However, covered by the anonymity of a survey, 20 percent of Americans admitted to USA Today that they had heard the voice of God. Sometimes what God says to us is just extremely personal, and we don’t feel like sharing that with others.
  5. God’s presence is fleeting. I guess that He doesn’t want to overstay his welcome. Or it could be that He just wants to make a short yet powerful statement, such as the time when a grandmother heard of a chorus of harps as she was comforting her dying grandson.
  6. God has a sense of humor. Johnny Hart, the creator of the comic strip “B.C.,” felt that God wanted him to do the comic strip as a way to share God’s humorous inspiration. Author John Eldredge shares God’s sense of humor in his book “Beautiful Outlaw” when, asking God why He doesn’t give John hearts anymore, God responds by having John come upon a dried piece of cow manure – in the perfect shape of a heart.

Thank you, God, for your amazing presence. I am still in awe.


I love Pat Robertson so goddamn much – A WTFaith Quickie

Every time Pat Robertson talks, it’s my birthday.

The above link is a CNN religion blog article about Patty Rob’s “Top 10” most controversial quotes. While I remember this one from my mis-spent pagan youth. . .

“The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

. . . I got great joy out of some of the gems I was exposed to for the first time.

Like this one!

“Many of those people involved in Adolf Hitler were Satanists. Many were homosexuals. The two things seem to go together.”

Clealry this man is a master of social science. He has more facts that Xerox.

Read the article, then comment with your favorite Patty Rob quote, and why! And if you actually, non-sarchastically love Pat Robertson, could you. . . maybe. . . maybe explain that to me, a little?

Kisses!


Why I Haven’t Been Arrested (Yet) – A Guest Post by Rev. Peter Benedict

The other day someone shared a link to an article that I find kind of awesome and somewhat irritating. For those with TL;DR syndrome, the gist of the article is that an elderly African-American divinity school professor was studying the Bible and decided that to follow Christ meant he needed to stand up for “the common man” and get himself arrested.

This article is awesome in that 89 year old divinity professors don’t fit my prototype for “guys who get arrested.” It’s also awesome in that he redefines holiness in terms I admire. He writes:

“Speaking holy words has serious consequences. These are not words that simply speak of God. There is nothing inherently serious or holy in God talk. The holy words that bring

consequences are words tied to the concrete liberating actions of God for broken people. Such holy words bring the speakers into direct confrontation with those in power.”

As a nascent blogger I need these words. They free me to be non-serious and non-holy in blogging about faith and Christ, and they also challenge me to action. They specifically challenge me to confront power where it’s used for oppression. While there are people who do so through writing (dissident bloggers under oppressive regimes), I’m pretty sure it’s a stretch to define blogging in America as taking any concrete liberating actions of God for broken people. I do some work that might fit that bill, particularly my leadership in a recovery group, but if I’m going to talk (blog) more, it’s worth some time to reflect on whether my life matches what I admire and value in others.

Ask myself some tough questions, like, "Why don't I own a black beret?"

Ask myself some tough questions, like, “Why don’t I own a black beret?”

Thus my irritation in reading this article. I’ve lived an arrest-free life, and my regard for those who practice civil disobedience (whether Thoreau, MLK jr., or ancient professorly dudes) is high enough that I both admire them and also feel a stirring to action. There are causes that, when I consider them in my mind, seem worth getting arrested for. My list is probably different from yours, dear reader, but for me the list includes the oppression of illegal immigrants, human trafficking, whatever war we’re busy carrying out, and the plight of single parents in our society.

When I realize that I “believe” (with my mind) that a number of causes are important enough to get arrested over them, I invariably start to wonder whether I should go out & get arrested. I’ve had this conversation with my wife, and she’s OK with being married to a guy who’d do this, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t get fired over it. I’ve even made plans. But you know… life is busy. Stuff comes along, “later” sounds good, and then later becomes never.

I can't do time today - my stories are on!

I can’t do time today – my stories are on!

One of the causes I’ve spent some time (not enough!) on is restorative justice for felons. I spent years doing and dealing drugs, carrying and using in restaurants, universities, homes, bars, airplanes, and airports. I think some part of my subconscious wanted me to get caught: I used in the alley next to a police station, and getting high on an airplane is probably non-justifiably stupid, right?

So the fact that I’m walking around free as a bird with no record is, as far as I’m concerned, a fluke. Yet my friends who got caught, many of whom used less often and never dealt, have lives vastly different from mine. They’re unable to rent, unable to find jobs, stuck telemarketing or incinerating deceased animals. Their entire lives have been twisted for the exact behavior I engaged in.

So I attend the Second Chance Coalition’s annual gathering at the state capitol, and I’ve visited our local state congressman, and I wear SCC’s propaganda T-shirts. But am I willing to give up my arrest-free record in solidarity with those who are struggling to be restored to society?

Maybe I am. I’m pretty sure my record won’t be clean forever. Busy-ness and my kids and job and to-do list are facts of life, and perhaps there’s some wisdom in waiting until you’re 89 to go get arrested, but perhaps the future will come sooner because of the example of some people following Jesus in North Carolina. I’m grateful for their words and action.

1. Is there anything you believe in strongly enough that you’d get arrested in America for it?

2. What do you think of the guy in this article, or of the guy writing this blog post? Is civil disobedience laudable, laughable, or somewhere in between?

3. What do you think of restorative justice for felons? Veronica, you’re welcome to answer this one with a treatise or two… and so is anyone else who cares.

Thanks for reading, and ESPECIALLY for commenting. I’d love to learn from you.

Like, does anyone know which cops in the Twin Cities region use those comfortable handcuffs?

Like, does anyone know which cops in the Twin Cities region use those comfortable handcuffs?


Looking for help from YOU! – A Guest Post by Rev. Peter Benedict

Pete Benedict is a friend of the blog. He’s commented numerous times, I’ve used silly pictures of him on more than one occasion, and he home brews incredibly good beer. He’s also my pastor, although I’d like to point out that he became my pastor because he was my friend, and not the other way around. Pete’s got an exciting new project in the works, and he’d like your feedback on it. Let’s give him our attention, children, and there will be ice cream after the test.

The world has too many books. When I consider all the amazing writing I don’t have time to read, my heart is saddened… I hope that the afterlife gives us an eternity to catch up, because if not I’m never going to get a chance to take it all in.

 And yet I’m planning to write a book with a friend. On the face of it (and deeper!) this seems dumb. Self-published books are now being given away by the boatload, and I’m under no illusions about how many books I can sell. If I work hard, efficiently, and get lucky, I might come up with minimum wage, yay! As a pastor who works too many hours, as a father with three kids, as a guy who loves his free time spent home-brewing and disc golf and running and reading and video games… why would I want another job?

I guess the answer is: I don’t. But I want to do what’s right, and when I’m not sure what’s right, I want to do what seems good and fun and exciting. I’m a Christian hedonist… I love my life, I have a fairly ridiculous amount of joy in my life (I describe myself as “stupid happy” regularly), and it’s been my experience that joy comes when I follow God.

For the last four or five years I’ve been leading a group of random folks who get together monthly to discuss a theologically related book over beer. Theology Pub has been one of the sources of joy in my life. We get to interact with diverse authors, disagree with each other (or agree with each other) about Big Ideas, enjoy great beer, and return again the next month. When I’m there I can speak freely and have a blast, and I also learn a ton. We ask the same questions of every book (What was most compelling? What did you like best, and least? What does this book have to do with how we live as individuals and as a community today?).

When one of my friends from Theology Pub recently wrote a book (on public relations, his field) I was impressed. When he suggested we write one together, I thought the idea sounded like a good one for the alternate universe where I have time for that kind of thing. When he brought it up again and my heart kind of leapt in my chest, I realized… this could actually happen.

So, having learned the value of doing things well vs. doing things now, I suggested we each pray for 30 days about whether this is a good idea. During that 30 days I had an experience that felt like it was from God. I asked a friend, older and wiser and very focused in his work, what he thought of this crazy book-writing idea. I knew he’d shoot it down, because he’s always challenging me to focus my work and family life. Instead, he thought, looked me in the eye, and said: “You should do it.” As he did so, I felt like God put his hand down and spoke with him.

So now we’re figuring things out. Questions like: How do we want to do this together? What will the book be about (I could write more on that one… and will, some day soon)? How do we get started?

That last question is the reason you’re reading this post. We decided to get started by launching a blog, one where I’ll write weekly and invite anyone willing to write as well. We decided to start writing blog posts weekly, and while eventually they’ll be on our own site, for now they’ll be wherever anyone will publish them.

Our plan for the book is to call it something like “Reflections on Blue Ocean Faith,” and to center the book on how pointing our lives toward Jesus affects everything about how we interact with our culture and with one another. I’d like to have guest writers (like Dave Schmelzer, or Ryan Bauers, or Lauren Catlin, or Charles Park, or any other sucker willing to dive in!) contribute chapters, because there are a million people with great things to say.

Our plan for the blog is to call it “Blue Ocean Reflections,” pending confirmation that the Blue Ocean Faith movement isn’t changing their name any time soon. We’d like it to be a faith blog that fosters discussion and not only allows disagreement, but looks for it. I’d like to see posts from atheists, agnostics, young dudes, old ladies, pastors, and anyone else interested in having a discussion in a context that’s centered in a community that’s asking the question: How can we head toward Jesus?

Toward that end, I have a few questions for you, and I’ll follow up with anyone who wants to reply to any of them.

 1. Does the world need another book?

2. Is there anything worth saying any more?

3. What do you think of the idea that God speaks directly to us, as I’m assuming happened during my 30 days of prayer?

4. What’s important to you about how people of faith relate to our culture?+
5. Is there ANYTHING AT ALL UNDER THE SUN you’d like to say, or hear more about?

 Peace, WTFers. God is with you.


God is not dumb.

This morning I was praying casually, as I was feeling my way through the still-dark house, trying not to wake anyone up. I didn’t have a keyboard handy so I was praying in that distracted silent way that I do when I have to pray “in the rough”, and I noticed that at some point, I’d stopped “talking to God” and  started giving God this laundry list of wants/needs. What I call a “Father Christmas” prayer. I stopped myself because that’s not generally something that I do. I try not to ask God for for things I need, much less things I want, because I feel like He is much smarter than I am, and His perfect plan is not something that my tiny brain will ever be able to grasp. The things I perceive as needs might not even be good for me, much less an actual need. I generally feel like God knows what I need. He knows me better than I do, so He definitely knows what will make me happy. I feel like asking for needs and wants that fit my perception of reality is redundant, and also kind of childish.

I think its fitting that I should chose the word childish, there, since that’s how I feel a lot of times in my interactions with God. Sometimes God is a friend of mine hanging out with me in my office, and we’re having this conversation about shit in my life and I’m asking for advice, or I’m asking what He’s up to and being amazed. More often though, My interaction with God is more reminiscent of my kids clumsily trying to fit into a grown up world and impress me, making adorable (and sometimes tremendous and disastrous) mistakes as they do.

 

"Whelp, ma'am, I think we can agree this job was done even faster than our estimate. A tip is necessary, but traditional."

“Whelp, ma’am, I think we can agree this job was done even faster than our estimate. A tip isn’t necessary, but traditional.”

 

So I stopped myself from praying that way, but it got me thinking.

I said, “I don’t pray that way”. 

Taking a step back, that seemed a little bit of a superior stance to take, so I examined it. I trust that God is gonna work things out for me one way or another. I’ve seen him do it a lot of the times, but I’ve also sort of been taught my whole life, “Be careful what you pray for.”  I wondered if there wasn’t a part of that in there. Was I not asking for those things because I was afraid God couldn’t, or wouldn’t, grant it – and I didn’t want to be disappointed? Did I think, worse, that I was so dumb that I would ask for something disastrous (which, to be fair, I might) and that God really might be like some sort of jackpot genie, that gave it to me and ruined my whole life to teach me some kind of monkey’s paw lesson?

Sometimes, I think, we have these perceptions of things that are so deep-rooted in our culture that we don’t even recognize where we’ve set specific boundaries, and definitions, and labels that God never intended to set. With a proper lowering of expectations, we can prevent ourselves to seeing the magic God can work. I’m sort of terrified of that, so I try to shine light on those cultural perceptions and weigh them for more value than, “I always heard that” or “They always said this”. These things I keep, or throw away, as needed.

 

"Jesus Christ, there's a BABY in this bathwater! What the hell is this tub good for now?"

“Jesus Christ, there’s a BABY in this bathwater! What the hell is this tub good for now?”

 

This morning was one of those times. As I started asking myself these questions I realized that no, I didn’t believe any of those things would happen. God is infinite, and I am a child. I’m a blip on the radar, whose name He happens to know. A blip that for some reason, this infinite being loves. How could I really think that he would deny me good things, or give me hurtful things, to teach me a lesson? Even subconsciously, how could I really think that? So out it got thrown – hopefully for good.

I still believe that it’s unnecessary to ask God for the things that I need and want, because He knows, and will give them or not on his own time and terms. But I wonder, is it wrong to pray certain kinds of ways? I mean, I recognize that I am dumb, and that I’m always gonna be like a million steps away from “getting it” but I kind of turned that over in my mind. When Jesus gave us the template in the Lord’s Prayer, he even threw in a “give us our daily bread” section. Should it stop at saying, “Lord meet my needs today” or can that get into specifics? God is the ultimate filter for our prayer, in the same way we are to our kids’ requests for things we know they shouldn’t have. Just because they ask me for 532 things in a given day, from candy to ice-cream to some random thing they just saw a commercial for (wtf, Dreamlight? anyone?) that doesn’t mean they’re going to get all of it, or even any of it. I think my kids get like .02% of what they ask for. I mean, unless you’re spoiling the crap out of your kids, you tell them no when what they want isn’t going to do more than give them instant/temporary pleasure. Sometimes you will say yes, that’s a treat, but you know they don’t really need that toy or those shoes or whatever. So if God is our ultimate filter, did I have a right to be taking a superior stance of, “I don’t pray that way”? Or should I just trust that he is smart enough to see me, dirty faced and tugging on his pant leg asking for something ridiculous and know better than to give it to me?

 

"Look at 'em down there - daddy's adorable little idiots."

“Look at ’em down there – daddy’s adorable little idiots.”

 

What about you guys? Anything that you don’t pray for, or ways you don’t like to pray? Why do you do that?