Tag Archives: God

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

 

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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.

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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?


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!


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.

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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’.”


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.


On Boston

I remember, back in the dawn of the internet age, there was a website called “Naked News”. It was a website where you could get your news. . . from an anchor who would strip down during the video broadcast. I didn’t partake in the site – not because I was morally against it, but because it was a pay site – but I was aware of its existence. And because it was around in 2001, I got to hear, in a radio interview with one of the anchors, how the “Naked News” chose to deliver information about the World Trade Center attack.

It didn’t.

As the anchor explained during a morning radio interview, the Naked News wasn’t going to touch 9/11 with a thirty-foot pole. The site was supposed to offer a lighter take on the daily news, and they figured (rightly so) that it would be disrespectful to broadcast during a time of national tragedy. Instead, their website simply posted a somber note advising people to seek their news elsewhere. Nobody was going to take off their clothes for this story.

That’s kind of how I feel about “What the Faith” and national tragedies. This blog explores faith through the lens of two immature thirty-somethings who are overly fond of fart jokes. We tend toward cynicism, we laugh at many things deemed inappropriate, and we are, in many ways, completely unequipped to comment on the horrors of Virginia Tech, or the tsunami in Japan, or Newtown.

So, we haven’t.

But yesterday, as the news of the Boston Marathon bombing came in, I, like most people my age, took to Facebook to get my updates. And while I was scrolling through my phone’s Facebook app, I came across this quote, by a guy who could be considered even less qualified than myself to address a national tragedy: comedian Patton Oswalt. If you haven’t come across his quote on your own interwebbing, I’ll provide it here.

“Boston. Fucking horrible.

“I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, “Well, I’ve had it with humanity.”

“But I was wrong. I don’t know what’s going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.

“But here’s what I DO know. If it’s one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. (Thanks FAKE Gallery founder and owner Paul Kozlowski for pointing this out to me). This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness.

“But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

“So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, ‘The good outnumber you, and we always will.’”

My heart breaks when I look at a picture of Martin Richard, who died waiting for his dad to cross the finish line. A year ago a picture was taken of Martin holding a hand-written sign that said, “No more hurting people. Peace.” Now, Martin is gone. The urge to despair of my race is strong right now. It’s only hope that holds me back. That’s why Patton Oswalt’s words are so comforting to me. They show that the spirit of God is covering the whole human race – that a stand-up comedian of no particular religion can espouse, without even knowing it, the coming of the Kingdom of God.

I don’t have to despair of my people. I can choose to be proud of us. More importantly, I have reason to be proud of us. And that makes me want to comment on this terrible fucking tragedy, regardless of how unqualified I am.

Someday, the pain that comes from living in a broken world will be over. Until then, I’ll follow the advice of my friend, the J-man, who told me to pray like this.

Our father, who is in heaven

Hallowed be your name

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth,

As it is in heaven.

Give us, this day, our daily bread.

And forgive our sins, as we forgive the sins of others.

And don’t lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil

For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever.

Amen.

If you want to help the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, especially if you’re in the Boston area, this article is a helpful resource. Let’s do things we can be proud of.


Affectations for Christ!

Last Sunday, when I was at church at River Heights Vineyard, I raised my hands up during a worship song.

I don’t usually do that. Here is why.

Have you ever seen that movie Saved? If you have, do you remember that scene near the beginning, at the Christian high school, when the worship band is playing and the singer is singing and all of the students have their hands raised high, rapturous looks on their faces?

My years of fervent anti-Christian sentiment taught me to hate that shit.

Okayyyy guys, who here is the holiest???

Okayyyy guys, who here is the holiest???

There’s nothing like a raised hand, a lowered head, and closed eyes to show anyone who happens to be looking that you’re having a Moving Holy Experience. It’s like holding a sign up that says “Spirit Moved” with an arrow that points down at the bearer. Nothing else says, “Don’t talk to me unless it’s in tongues!” in quite the same fashion. As such, I spent years assuming that it was an affectation. After all, people can’t be moved by the holy spirit every goddamn time a worship band plays!  It seemed to me very suspect that every person at this church was feeling the ol’ holy shakes coming on a the same time, and I began to judge people for showing their faith in such obvious ways. After all, I reasoned, didn’t Jesus constantly tell us to keep shit subtle?

As time has passed, and my confident anti-Christianity was replaced by a tentative Christianity, I learned that there is some honesty behind the raised hand, the lowered head, the closed eyes. For one thing, when I was convinced by God to hang out with Christians at Christian churches, it seemed that part of his pitch was that, occasionally, a weird, heavy feeling was going to settle over the room. It might make my skin tingle. It might feel like a light change in cabin pressure to my ears. If my eyes were closed, it might give me a light case of the head spins. It might make everyone want to shut up, all at the same time, so that the room became damn-near silent (with the exception of babies, who seem to either ignore the presence of the spirit or feel compelled to talk to it). It might happen at any time, but it would definitely be more likely to happen when a bunch of people all asked, at the same time, for it to show up. People refer to that feeling as the Holy Spirit, and when it shows up it’s kind of big deal.

"Hey guys. You called?"

“Hey guys. You called?”

When that happens, it can be ignored, for the most part. There’s no rule stating that people have to react to the Weird-Tingly-Cabin-Pressure-Thing. Some people might not even notice it. (As an aside, God knows I’ve sat in congregations that seemed to be moved to swaying like voodoo practitioners without feeling any such urge to sway myself, and while it’s tempting to assume that they were all delusional while I was clear-headed, that stance takes a bit more self-assurance and pride than I’m able to summon right at this moment. ) But in our western Christian culture, most people seem to have trained to react with those gestures I mentioned. They close their eyes, because that feeling is (honestly) kind of like a mild high, and because closing your eyes kind of seems appropriate for some reason. Their hands go up, usually in one of two ways. The first way is with the arm stretched up, hand and fingers fully extended, like a student eager to answer a teacher’s question. Alternately, some people raise both hands from the waist up, elbows bent, palms facing the ceiling. That pose vaguely resembles someone holding an outstretched samurai sword across their palms as they present it to their daimyo.

Yeah, you knew I was a geek when you came here.

Example One - Teacher, teacher!

Example One – Teacher, teacher!

Example Two - Domo origato, Jesus.

Example Two – Domo origato, Jesus.

Now, I won’t say that I feel the Weird-Tingly-Cabin-Pressure-Thing every week, because you don’t. And when I don’t feel it, I don’t raise my hands, or close my eyes, or lower my head, because to me, that would  be an affectation. I’d be acting like I felt something that I didn’t. That doesn’t mean that everyone else follows my “rule”. In fact, most people who attend the churches I’ve attended just do that stuff as part of their worship. Maybe it’s how they remind themselves that they aren’t just listening to music and singing along – they’re worshipping. It’s something special, something set apart from singing in the car to the latest Imagine Dragons single.

Could some people be raising their hands and closing their eyes to show off how Christian they are? Could be, I suppose. No way of knowing, really. But the thing is, when the Weird-Tingly-Cabin-Pressure-Thing is happening, questions like that seem comparatively unimportant. Last week, when our worship pastor Justin Law (really his name!) was playing “The Offering,” I felt that feeling come over me. And I resisted lifting my hands for a moment, because I was afraid that I would feel like a fake. But then it occurred to me – the only reason I was resisting was because I wanted to, and my holding my hands at my sides, I was being a fake.

So, Samurai Sword it was.

After the song was over, and my eyes opened, and my mild “spirit high” faded away, I saw the people around me having the same heavy-lidded look on their faces that I felt on my own. Brandi was seated next to me, head in her hands. And Justin, up on the stage, was idly strumming.

“Wow,” he said, “the spirit is really heavy in the room right now. Jesus, thanks for being with us.”

So in that spirit, I’ve amended my rule – I will raise my hands, but only when Jesus shows up. That seems fair.