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?


The Exodus example.

You might have heard about it on Facebook. Or maybe you ran across Rachel Held Evans blogging about it.

Or maybe you read it here.

Or here.

It’s been lots of places, is what I’m trying to say.

When Brandi heard about this, she said, “This is it, Daniel. The people who lead by hate are going to lose.”

But that didn’t sound right to me.

“No, they’re not,” I replied. “They aren’t going to lose because it’s not about winning or losing. They’re going to be healed.”

I didn’t say that to mean that people only take a hard stance against homosexuality because they are broken – I am saying that we’re all broken. For some people, their hatred against the LGBT community was a defining character trait. For others, it was just a part of their human makeup, which by definition includes both the light of the Creator and the stagnant, filthy muck that we get from living in a war zone. I’m not saying that “affirming” churches are right but “biblical” churches are wrong. What I’m saying is that all of us our sometimes wrong, in ways big or small – and very few of us ever have the courage to repent, to apologize, to come clean, and to make ourselves vulnerable to those we have hurt.

In the Vineyard, they talk about the Kingdom of God in terms of the “now”, and the “not yet.” By that they mean that Jesus brought the Kingdom to earth, but that until he returns, it isn’t yet fully realized. This is an important stance to take if you want to teach people that they have a responsibility to help bring the Kingdom closer. It isn’t just that God is going to move the needle closer to the “now” position until, one day, there’s no where else for the needle to go – we are acting in partnership with the creator, with the duty to participate in the rebuilding of the world and the privilege of being part of something that God himself is directing.

Call me a sentimental fool with girly feelings, but I think we just helped move the needle. And today, I’m proud to call myself a Christian.


When being Christian is the opposite of lame.

Daniel made a very valid point in a recent quickie that we here at Wtfaith headquarters can sometimes be, shall I say, somewhat hostile people? And that, perhaps, in our zealous attempts to right the wrongs that we see in and among Christians (at least as they’re perceived by other people) we may come across as distinctly confrontational and sometimes, dare I say it, even anti-Christian.

We make a very serious attempt at honesty on these pages, and in these posts, so if we’re struggling with some concept of our toddler-level faith, or if we disagree with some primary Christian concept, tenant or action, we say so. Sometimes we say so in brutally honest ways. Sometimes we can be a little bit. . . harsh.

 

We don't REALLY think that Jesus hates people, we just have very poor impulse control.

We don’t REALLY think that Jesus hates people, we just have poor impulse control and notoriously bad taste.

 

When Daniel said that he wanted to take a moment to talk about the things about being a Christian that were kind of cool, it made me stop and think. I realized that I do tend to focus on the stuff I don’t like with a real “Kill it with fire forever” mentality. I’m a bit more internalized with things that I like. I’m not sure why, but it’s easier for me to bitch than to praise. One of those choices feels more natural to me, which is a sign of how unhealthy a place my mental state can degrade to when left to my own devices.

There are two things to me that really stand out when I think of what it is about Christianity that I find to be super awesome. Both of them are from personal experience and I guess, in a way, stem from my own personal testimony. I’d like to share them with you. I know what I’m about to say is going to sound old hat to my Christian peeps, and completely crazy to my non-Christian peeps. I know it, and I’m sorry. Sometimes I genuinely wish I could say anything else here with honesty. But crazy or not, old-hat or not, it’s the truth. Maybe it’s an experiential truth, but even so, that doesn’t invalidate it for me.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of what I like about being a christian is that being Christian has helped me talk to God. It sounds crazy, I know.  The second thing is that being Christian has made me both feel and be better, all around.

Let me back up a bit. Throughout my faith journey I’ve been a lot of places, I’ve done a lot of things, I’ve tried out a lot of different religions, ideologies and philosophies. Generally speaking I only tried out things that seemed to make a certain amount of sense. I’m not the logical thinker that Daniel is so the things I tried didn’t have to hold up under merciless logical scrutiny. I’ll be honest with you, I would have gotten bored with being that mercilessly logical like five minutes in and gone and played Mass Effect or something. My brain just doesn’t work that way. Logical or not, the things I tried out did have to make me feel a certain kind of way, though. I wanted something real. If magic had been real, I’d still be a witch. If philosophy had changed my life in more than just brief epiphanies, which were exciting but ultimately not very deeply rooted, I’d probably be one of those thinker types. I grew up in a really fundamentalist church. It’s not like I was forced into the lifestyle, mind you. I started attending church with my parents at the tender age of 2, and while I didn’t “Give my life to Jesus” (as if you could give something that’s already His) right away, I waited until I was old enough to be accountable for my actions. In other words, I waited until I was about 5.

 

"I'm pretty sure I can be trusted to make this decision."

“I’m pretty sure I can be trusted to make this decision.”

 

Once I’d “prayed the sinner’s prayer” I enthusiastically drank the Kool-Aid with everything I had in me. I’d gone to church twice every Sunday and even once on Wednesday nights as far back as I could remember, but it wasn’t long after my “getting saved” that I threw myself whole-heartedly into Christianity and serving within the church. I did everything right, man. From the age of 5 to the age of about 14, I was a total Jesus-Freak. I lifted my hands super high during song service, I closed my eyes and prayed fervently during the raucous breaks in between songs that I assume were for prayer. They were kind of loud and chaotic, so I’m not sure.

There was a point around age ten through fourteen where I was quite literally attending church – or a church sponsored function -every day of the week. This included, to my shame, street preaching. Apparently everyone thought the skinny pre-teen with a thick Tucson accent was really cute when she was screaming at them unintelligibly about hell through a bullhorn.

 Thinking back it seems to have been a lot of show, but I was a kid, so I joined right in. I enthusiastically evangelized at my schools, single handedly starting bible studies and “prayer at the flag pole”. Why did I do all this? Well, besides a massive case of indoctrination, I saw people who were claiming to have been so moved, so touched, so change by this Jesus guy, as to have completely reconstructed their entire lives.

None of the following is exaggerated:

I’ve known people who claimed to have been seriously long time addicts (pick your poisonous addiction, it doesn’t matter) who prayed and God moved and they dumped out all their beer, flushed all their weed, threw out their crack pipes or stepped on all their cigarettes and 20 years later have never looked back.

I’ve known people who claim to have been severely mentally sick, sometimes undergoing treatments, or on constantly monitored medications to keep the voices quiet, or keep them stabilized, or help them not try to murder themselves. Whatever the case was, their interactions with God had been so miraculously moving they not only no longer needed their medication but were now perfectly stable human beings!

I’ve known people who had some sort of physical malady, ranging from mild to severe, which prayer and faith seem to have healed entirely.

I’ve known people moved to tears for the simplest motion of the “spirit” in the church.

 

"Oh man, did someone say 'Jesus'? Someone said 'Jesus', didn't they? Here comes the works!"

“Oh man, did someone say ‘Jesus’? Someone said ‘Jesus’, didn’t they? Here comes the works!”

 

 

I watched all these people, decent people at their core (aka: not people I would call liars), seemingly really moved and changed by this “spirit”. I wanted that. I fought for it, I did ALL the somatic components to the “Summon Holy Spirit” ritual, and you know what I felt? Nothing. Nothing at all. In fact, I eventually left the church in my teenage years for just that reason. The lack of follow-through after I had intentionally allowed myself to be completely taken in by the game and ritual led me on my journey through all the other religions I played around with just desperately trying to find something real.

In the midst of all this, and this is where it gets cool, there were times when God interacted with me. There were times when I felt that overwhelming presence in my life that moves me, a salty little scrapper, to tears for the simplest of reasons. It didn’t seem to matter what religion I was following or trying out at the time. Religion is a man-made institution designed to give us some understanding and ability to relate to an infinite being who our tiny little finite minds can’t even really grasp. Every ideology in the world is gonna have its places where it seems to conflict with itself, or not make much sense. I was looking for something bigger than the answers. I trusted the answers would come. I wanted something bigger than that. This was always so much bigger than that, and while it generally lasted for a short while, for that small amount of time, I really did feel something special.Something that was very close to real magic was happening in my heart. Of course at the time I didn’t understand what that was, but every glimpse, every touch made me want more and more. So I looked more and more.

Now I’m a Christian, and I guess I should embrace it even though I have a lot of damage from the church of my early years. I’m a Christian because I never stopped looking for that something real, but eventually I put aside the ritual and just started being something real while I was looking. Sure enough, I started to be able to interact more and more with this entity I’ve come to lovingly refer to as God.

It started with the God-Experiment, as Daniel and I call it, which was us reaching out to God from a place full of honesty and devoid of any religious trappings of any sort. That led us to make a huge life change – moving to Duluth – where we were eventually led, through trial and error, to hillside church. Sometimes, our interactions with God would seem to be one sided, but more often there would be these little inexplicable signs, little things that would happen in the people around us that would confirm everything we thought we were being told.

With that comes a sort of comfort, at least for me, that even when I’m not hearing God, he’s clearly there. I’ve never been great at faith, and too many things have happened for me to be able to have the faith that those things are mere coincidence.

Does that mean I never feel alone? Does it mean I never feel like I’m praying for no reason at all? Does it mean all my prayers are answered? No, not at all. But you know what it does mean? It means that occasionally, when I need it the most, God is there in very physical and undeniable ways. That God, the creator of everything, this crazy, infinite being I can’t even wrap my brain around, takes time to interact with me. . . . That is so amazingly cool to me. . .  It’s precisely the something real I’ve been looking for.

In the spirit of perfect candidness, I did say God talked to and interacted with me while I was pagan, Buddhist, agnostic and just confused. That’s true. The difference is, he interacts with me much more now. Maybe that’s a result of me reaching out more from a place of honesty without all the trappings and ritual, and maybe it’s a result of the fact that I’m in a Christian church (though one could hardly say I emulate all the Christian beliefs or even follow all their rules). Either way, coincidence or not, I’ve noticed an increase since becoming “Christian”. I think it’s awesome, so I’ll take it.

The second thing that i think is an awesome byproduct of interacting with God through Jesus, is the general improvement of my mental state and character. Now I didn’t start following Jesus and lose my ability to reason about my fellow man. I’m still pro-choice, and for marriage equality, and the equal rights of gays and women. Its just that being Christian, directly interacting with God, has made me feel better and has gently encouraged me to stop doing things like complaining about my lot in life and being an asshole to my family. Why spendi time doing those things that make me feel like shit when I could  help, love or give to someone because that makes me feel algebraic! The fact is I’ve always been pessimistic at best and tending toward a black hole of depression and self-loathing at worst. I once asked our pastor friend PB how one was supposed to interpret Jesus instruction to “Love your neighbor as yourself” if one hated oneself. Pete’s response was “You know, most people don’t REALLY hate themselves.” And he went on to give me some valid examples to back up that statement, which I may talk about in greater detail in some other future blog post. At the time when he told me this, I was being particularly angsty and emo, and I kind of shrugged and was like, “Whatever you say dude. You don’t know my pain. Life is darkness”. Or something like that, I’m paraphrasing. The point is, I didn’t get it then.

 

"You'll never understand my pain. . .my beautiful, glamorous pain. . ."

“You’ll never understand my pain, Pete. . . my beautiful, glamorous pain. . .”

 

Since then, since my relationship with God has grown, since I’ve found ways to answer, or at least try to be at peace with my questions, I’ve noticed something else. I feel better. I genuinely feel better! For a while my issue was so severe there were times I couldn’t even summon the strength to get out of bed. For a while, right after moving here, I was so unstable in my struggle with depression that I was medicated for it. I took Zoloft every day just to be able to face my day, my life, my family. I hated everything about myself. I don’t feel that way anymore. And while I’m not sure that I love myself yet, I think I have a better idea of what Pete was talking about, when he said that. Having God show you exactly what to scrape away to get to the person worth loving underneath is pretty fucking epic, too.  

There’s tons more to say on the subject of the things about Christianity that I think are cool. Today I focused on the things I personally have experienced, and picked two of my favorite bennies of being a Christian. Even though this post is longer than some stories I’ve written, there’s still more to say. I’d be happy to chat your ear off about it if you ask, but I’m done focusing on me and my experiences for a while.

What about you peeps? I would love some stories about what your favorite benefits to being a Christian are! Do you have any wicked-rad moments as a Christian that you mark down on your spiritual timeline? Are there things you’ve seen God do in someone else’s life? Maybe just a feature, like that peace without understanding that Daniel mentioned? Let’s hear your stories!


Debate this for my amusement! A What the Faith Quickie

Alright, folks, I’m on a break at work and I have five minutes so OHMYGODREADTHISARTICLEVERYFAST!

Hurry!

Hurryhurryhurry!

Okay, now pause. Catch your breath. You did well, padawans.

Is a Christian’s spoken/written opposition to homosexuality, based on their interpretation of the bible, reason enough to accuse them of hate speech?

GO!


God says, “Laugh, dammit!” – A guest post by Lauren Martinez Catlin

If you’ve been visiting this blog for a while, you might have seen that I’m not a very prolific reviewer of books. In fact, I’ve reviewed one book in the blog’s history – The Other Side of Silence, by Lauren Martinez Catlin. Lauren is a friend whom I met through a Vineyard event, although that’s not why I reviewed her book. I reviewed it because it’s fucking awesome. It didn’t take much cajoling to convince Lauren to write a guest post for What the Faith – but it did take a little cajoling. So let’s show her some love, okay?

 

She's the one on the right.

She’s the one on the right.

 

Oh, and by the way – her book is, as I said, fucking awesome. And I think you’d love it. And if you don’t believe me, I dare you to buy it here.

*          *          *          *          *

This is the story of how God told me to watch a really silly tv show.

Due to a small case of cancer, I had a medical procedure that involved some radioactivity, so I had to be isolated from all people for three days, and from my one-year-old daughter for a week.  I knew I needed this procedure for about a year before it actually happened, so I had plenty of time to dread and plan for it.

I comforted myself with the thought that I would eat whatever I wanted, get lots of writing done, do some new drawings, play the piano, finish reading Anna Karenina, and if all else failed, I could watch movies and crochet.

Because I go to a Vineyard church, I had plenty of opportunities to ask people to pray for me, and I took advantage of them all.  People prayed for my cancer and this specific treatment at the regional conference in Duluth, at the worship conference in Inver Grove Heights, in my small group, at the staff meeting at my church, at the leadership meeting after Celebrate Recovery.  I had a thick, wooly covering of prayer.  Lots of people prayed that isolation would be like a spiritual retreat for me, that it would be a peaceful and enjoyable time.  I’d personally felt like God had said, “I can make this good.”  I was still not excited, but I was mildly hopeful.

The radioactivity didn’t have many side effects, but the drug treatment leading up to the radioactivity made me really sick, and I couldn’t stop the treatment until halfway through the isolation period.  I  couldn’t eat whatever I wanted because I had to stay on a ridiculously restrictive diet through most of the isolation.  I was too tired to sit up at the piano, there was no way I’d have the concentration for sketching or writing, much less reading a freakin’ Russian novel.  I mostly slept, showered, ate a piece of salt-free banana bread, slept some more, and then showered again.  When I was conscious and not washing off radioactive sweat, I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

 

Clinically proven to be good for what ails ya.

Clinically proven to be good for what ails ya.

 

My first night alone in that big apartment, I video chatted with my tiny gorgeous daughter as she was going to bed, and I teared up.  I felt a sharp burning in my eyes, but ignored it so I could focus on that chubby little face.  The sharp pain didn’t go away, though, and after my daughter was peacefully sleeping, I saw that the inner corners of my eyes were blood-red and shrunken.  The radiation in my tears had burned my tear ducts.  For the rest of the week, I couldn’t even cry.

I was laying in bed, mired in depression and trying not to exacerbate my scabby tear ducts.  Way too tired to do anything crazy like shake my fist at God, I just asked in a tired voice, “Hey.  You know how you said you’d make this good?  Is that still coming?”  My exhausted brain made a lazy connection between that question and the one John the Baptist sent to Jesus from prison.  “Are you the Messiah, or should we wait for someone else?”

In the Bible, Jesus replied by saying, “Tell John what you’ve seen.  The blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

In that empty apartment, Jesus replied by saying, “Stop watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Watch something that’s just funny.”

I was annoyed at the unspiritual nature of this response, but I followed the advice anyway.  Buffy was getting me down with her near-constant state of apocalypse anyway.  The funny parts of Buffy are really funny, but they’re a light seasoning at best.  So instead I watched “Coupling.”

 

Who knew Jesus was a fan of the BBC?

Who knew Jesus was a fan of the BBC?

 

“Coupling” is an quirky little British sitcom that is similar to “Friends” here in the states.  Except “Friends” takes itself way more seriously.  In the first episode that I turned on, a male character drifts  into a recurring nightmare that if he ever tries to kiss a woman, his mother will emasculate him with a miniature guillotine.  This is not spiritual fodder for anything.  But it is funny.  Even with my salt-free banana bread and scabby tear ducts, I found myself smiling.  A few more minutes into the show, and I actually laughed.  I felt better because I was laughing.

I felt a surge of gratitude, not toward God, but toward people who do comedy.  I wondered if they knew how transcendent their work is, if they know that their talent and hard work brought a laugh to me through a wall of cancer, radiation, and depression.  I wanted to write a letter to someone and tell them to just keep being funny and not worry about anything else.  Comedy is so good for the world.  Comedy felt like a golden elixir come to save me from my darkest hour.  Not because comedy was going to take away my cancer or help me pass a geiger test so I could hold my daughter, only because it actually made me laugh.

I’ve had other moments like this in my life.  The day my childhood dog passed away, I went over to my boyfriend’s house and he happened to be watching Aqua Teen Hunger Force on the Cartoon Network.  The sheer silly disconnected-ness of that cartoon had me laughing hysterically.  The hysterical laughter helped me feel better about saying good-bye to the constant companion who helped me through a lonely childhood.

When I was twelve one of my cousins was murdered, and my immediate family had to pile into a small car and drive for seven hours to the funeral.  To rescue us from that drive, I brought a little used book full of funny stories by Art Linkletter and read the whole thing aloud.  Our family laughed together.  We laughed for hundreds of miles.  My cousin’s death is still one of the saddest events in my memory, but I always remember that road trip filled with laughter and light.

God knows that I respond to comedy, that it would help me on a day just like that day.  I didn’t have it in me to remember that something funny would help me get through cancer – I couldn’t remember where I left the coffee I’d just poured.  So God helped me, he showed me something that was easy and doable that would make me feel better.  This was not a shattering revelation and won’t go down in my history as one of those moments that changed my life.  God was just being God, just being good to me, just speaking in the language I understand, saying things that make sense.

I sometimes expect God to sound more like one of those freaky oracles who say things that don’t make any sense until it’s way too late to be helpful.  In response to the question, “are you going to help me feel better?” I imagine God will say something like, “Eagles soar far from their nests,” or something equally unhelpful.

Partly I think this because Jesus in the gospels can sound an awful lot like that.  A guy says, “I’ll follow you anywhere!” and Jesus replies, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  M’kay.  So, we’ll be sleeping outdoors?  Do you not sleep at all?  Are you the Son of Man?  Am I?  Does that mean it’d be a better idea to stay home?

 

"So then he says, 'Let the dead bury the dead,' and . . . I have no idea . . . I think I was tripping BALLS, you guys!"

“So then he says, ‘Let the dead bury the dead,’ and I was like, “Okay.” But I’m not sure I wasn’t tripping balls the whole time.”

 

Another reason I expect God to sound more mysterious is because it feels more spiritual that way.  Like if I can’t quite understand it, it must be super deep.  I want to be one of the cool kids who likes stuff that’s weird and ethereal and really damn impractical.

In my actual life experience, God doesn’t usually use those weird fortune cookie phrases.  That might  be because I’m a very pragmatic person, and hearing weird metaphysical metaphors frustrates the hell out of me.  I love artwork that has nuance and room for interpretation, but if we’re talking and I just asked you a question, I want a response.  Preferably one that I can take action on.  God knows this about me.  The times I feel certain that God has sent a message through my synapses are the times when I hear something practical, short, and unbelievably powerful.  When I end up saying, “Of course that’s what I should do.”

I once prayed to God to help me deal with my insane anxiety about my grades in college.  I got good grades, I worked hard, I did the reading, I went to classes, I did well on tests.  But if I got less than an A, I was consumed with utterly irrational fear and shame.  As soon as I saw that letter on a piece of paper with my name on it, I freaked out.  Lots of friends explained that my worth is not tied to my grades, that grades are an imperfect representation of my grasp of the material and have nothing to do with my intelligence.  I agreed with all of this, but I couldn’t get over it.

When I prayed to God for help, he said, “If grades upset you, don’t look at them.”

Duh.  Why hadn’t I thought of that?  The reaction I had was visceral.  Intellectual reasoning couldn’t change it.  I couldn’t have a visceral reaction to a letter I didn’t see, so I just didn’t look.  I proceeded to have one of the most peaceful semesters in my entire collegiate career.

God does this kind of thing in the Bible too.  When Isaiah runs for his life into the desert, curls up in the fetal position and prays to die, God doesn’t tell him, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”

Nope, God sends a messenger with a care package and says, “Why don’t you eat something and get some sleep?”  Anyone who has experienced any kind of depression can see the consummate wisdom in that.  You’re hungry, you’re tired, you’re alone.  So find a friend, eat some food, and get some sleep.  One hundred per cent guarantee that you will feel better.  It is crushing in its simplicity and power.

So that’s how I know that God suggested I watch a truly silly television show.  There was nothing to say at that moment that would make me feel better.  There was no way to reason out of having cancer, missing my daughter, or the stabbing pain in my eyes.  There was no spiritual insight that was going to make me smile at that moment, so God didn’t offer me a spiritual insight.  Instead, God inspired a team of people to make hilarious theater AND provided a way for that theater to come right into my sick room.

God talked to me like a good friend, a friend who’s been around long enough to say something real and concrete.  A friend who doesn’t just advise, but actually walks through the difficult moment with me.  Or in my case, a friend who comes over with a case of really silly dvd’s and a box of salt-free popcorn, plops down on the couch and says, “You’ve gotta see this.”

 

"Trust me - laughter is the best medicine. Well, that and radiation therapy, in your case. Whatever, just hit 'Play'."

“Trust me – laughter is the best medicine. Well, that and radiation therapy, in your case. Whatever, just hit ‘Play’.”


Sometimes, teens are awesome.

When I was a skeptic (well, when I was more of a skeptic than I am today) one of the things that bugged me most about Christians was that they did incredibly stupid crap all the time, but none of them ever seemed to notice it. Every church scandal seemed to be met with people either defending the committer of the scandal, or excusing them by saying that we all fall short of grace (a shallow excuse for whoring or embezzlement if I’ve heard one), or claiming that the person who carried out the scandalous activity was not “a real Christian”. I hated these answers. I hated that I never saw any Christians just taking a moment to say, “Yeah, that guy was a complete ass. Sorry about that.” So when I started my own faith blog, both Brandi and I agreed that we weren’t going to do that – when we saw someone showing their ass and claiming to represent the whole Body of Christ, we were going to a) call them out, and b) apologize.

I think I can honestly say that we have done that. We have gone out of our way to single out people who, we felt, were misrepresenting not just Jesus Christ, but everyone who tries to emulate Jesus in their own lives. And that experience has been rewarding at times, depressing at others, but never something done with glee.

We need some glee, man.

 

. . .no.

. . .no.

 

This time, we’re pointing out what happens when Christians decide to do awesome things.

There is something to be said for a part of the Christian experience that maybe doesn’t get the same type of media attention as the fall of yet another mega-pastor. Maybe there’s more to being a Christian than “being good” and calling out the bad guys, like Brandi and I have been striving to do. Maybe it’s time for us to point out to our audience, especially the skeptics, that Christians occasionally do some really awesome stuff, for no reward, and no recognition, and often at the expense of their own comfort or safety. And while, yes, we all know that there are missionaries in China and Africa who risk their own lives as they commit to glamorously dangerous black ops for God, we might not know that there are also ordinary people who go out of their way to help others they have never met. These are regular people who are doing something to make the world a better place.

Sometimes, against all common sense, they are kids.

The youth group at my church, River Heights Vineyard, is participating in a project called 30 Hour Famine. By partnering with World Vision, our youth group is raising funds to give to a group of over one hundred children in the Republic of Kenya, kids that the church sponsors every year. Their goal is to raise $1,000 for the bunch, which will help pay for food and shelter for the kids for one month. And in their effort to raise these funds, after lunch on this upcoming Friday, April 26th, they will stop eating. They won’t take a bite of food until they eat dinner together on Saturday, exactly thirty hours later.

Yep, that’s why they call it that.

For the Christians reading this blog, you’re probably aware that fasting is something that we do sometimes. If you’ve ever fasted yourself, you know that it is freakin’ hard. Remember how it feels to go a day without food? Multiply that by teenager and you’ll get a sense for how difficult this could be for our kids. Do you remember how much food you ate when you were fifteen? Your mom does, and she is still pissed about it.

 

“Nothing. . . he left nothing. . . devastation, thy name is TEEN!”

“Nothing. . . he left nothing. . . devastation, thy name is TEEN!”

 

When I found out that my church youth group would be pulling this stunt, I wanted to know more about it. I asked some questions of our Youth Pastor, Justin Law, who some readers may remember being mentioned as the worship pastor for my church. He does both. Justin took time from his busy schedule of being all the pastors to answer my questions. Here is what he had to say.

What the Faith:  Why did you, or the church, choose to participate in 30 Hour Famine? There are no shortages of causes that need our participation – why was 30 Hour Famine one that you went with?

Justin:  30 Hour Famine is run by World Vision, which has demonstrated a surprisingly holistic approach to aiding the poor and hungry. Their goal is not only to feed people, which they do well. They also increase education opportunities and sustainable change within communities, handing things back to the care of the community and then moving on. The members of RHV also sponsor a large number of World Vision children for our size (currently over 100 children sponsored), so there is a personal connection for our church community.

WTF: As the youth leader for the church, part of your job is to get the kids inspired to participate in events like the 30 Hour Famine. What are the challenges involved in getting the youth pumped up for an event like this? How do you overcome them?

J: I had mainly led in adult contexts before I recently added youth leadership, and I think kids’ challenges aren’t much different than yours or mine. Our culture tends to be quite self-concerned, yet blind to ourselves. The youth get more excited about an event like this when they are willing to see someone else’s need as important, then realize they can do things as individuals and as a group to address that need. In the end, I think we overcome the barriers by loving the kids, being together in community, and helping them know that they are fully loved by God. It’s not nearly as hard to love people and give when you realize how much you are loved and have been given.

WTF: Why is service an important part of the youth group experience at River Heights?

J: Our purpose as a youth group is the same as {River Heights Vineyard}’s purpose: Love God, love people, and change the world. It’s really just a quick rephrase of what Jesus has told every one of his followers to do. Jesus shows us a picture of God that is shockingly dissimilar to our mental pictures of power and kingship. Jesus loves and comes to serve. When we love him and the people he loves, we do begin to change the world. We want our youth to have the chance to experience this and build it into their lives.

 

Answering questions: like a boss. Or. . . like a pastor, really. . .

Answering questions: like a boss. Or. . . like a pastor, really. . .

 

I also asked some questions of the participants in the famine – the youth group members themselves. A couple of them – Alana and Alexis, both fourteen years old – were willing to chime in.

What the Faith: The famine is coming up pretty soon. Are you excited? Nervous? How are you feeling about it and why?

Alexis: Yes, because it’s fun and it’s an amazing opportunity to get closer with God.

WTF: Why is going without food an important part of this charity event? You could just raise the money, send it to World Vision, and then go eat a pizza! Why is it important that you go through that period of famine yourself?

Alexis: Because it kind of gives you an idea of what starving people live like every day.

Alana: You can experience the circumstances others deal with and it makes you feel more appreciative when you finish.

WTF: How does participating in 30 Hr Famine Benefit you? What do you get out of this experience?

Alana: I get to be a part of something bigger than myself.

WTF: Many of my readers aren’t religious. Why is it important that all people, regardless of religion, take steps to help those in need? Why would you help the poor if Jesus had never told you to?

Alexis: It could be you that is starving, you never know. The person you sit next to at lunch, the meal they are eating could be their only meal that (they) have had in a couple of days. So it’s important to help someone even if it is one child. Help them have hope.

WTF: Thanks, guys!

Now, I’m not trying to shame my readers into giving, but I am shamelessly encouraging my readers to give to this 30 Hour Famine. I’ll be donating to it, and I think that you should, too. It doesn’t take much for you to have a direct impact on the lives of over one hundred Kenyan rugrats. If you have five dollars to spare, please donate $5. If you have a tenner sitting around, throw it here! If you have to skip lunch to afford to help, I can point you in the direction of some great kids who will be right there with you; whenever your stomach growls, just imaging it joining a chorus of some seriously hungry teenagers’ stomachs.

If you are able to give, would you please consider giving through this link? This will ensure that the funds we are collecting are correctly allocated to the group we directly sponsor.

If you’d like more information about World Vision, follow this purple spot right here.

You should give.

You should.

You really, really should.

 

THANKS FOR GIVING!!!!

THANKS FOR GIVING!!!!


A shameless reblog to hold your attention.

Yay, tho I walk through the valley of the shadow of 12-hour workdays, I will fear no overtime. But it doesn’t leave me much time to write fabulous posts.

SO, in lieu of a fabulous post, please check out this post I got from CNN’s religion blog this morning, written by author/blogger/pastor Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio. I guess Boston is still quite on my mind. I’m not ready to stop focusing on the events of the marathon bombing, probably because questions like those presented in this article keep me up at night.

Is it worth it to witness a small triumph of light over darkness, if that triumph results from the pain and suffering of others? The author of this article doesn’t really delve too deeply into that philosophical quandary. And the quandary isn’t limited to Christians, obviously – it is a relevant question for anyone who believes that we can only experience good because of the existence of bad.

We can’t know light unless we can compare it to darkness, or so the philosophy goes.

But I respond to that with a question.

“What about. . . fuck darkness? Do we really need it?”

Discuss! I’ll try to write something real very soon, I promise. Hugs to you all! Oh, and look forward to some guess posts coming up in the upcoming weeks. The future’s so bright, you’ll have to wear shades.