Regis the Cat: A Story for Children

For Hannah.

Once upon a time, there was a black cat named Regis. Regis had rough fur, and his fur had some jaggers in it, because Regis didn’t have a family to live with.

Regis tried hard to be happy in spite of the fact that he didn’t have anyone to live with. Usually he had enough to eat, but sometimes he went hungry.

Regis didn’t understand why people avoided him, or why they often crossed to the other side of the street when they saw him coming. But they did.

One day, Regis was walking along his usual route when he came upon a little boy who didn’t cross the street to avoid him. The boy’s name was Jeffrey.

Jeffrey smiled at Regis and scooped him up off the street. Regis was a little surprised, but when Jeffrey petted his back, Regis was happy.

Just then, the boy’s mother, whose name was Frieda, ran over to Jeffrey. “Put him down!” she said. “But why?” asked Jeffrey. “Because he’s a black cat, and black cats are bad luck,” said Frieda. Continue reading

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Me vs Them

I hate “Us vs Them” Christians. You know the type: Every other denomination is going to hell in a handbasket, and they have a handle on the truth, and if only somebody would listen to them, the world would be a much better place. They go to small churches and have small minds and occupy small worlds where everybody is against them. They try to convert people to their way of thinking, and scare them off in the process.

That’s the kind of church I grew up in.

Since then, I’ve matured. I’ve realized that us vs them Christianity is evil. I’ve finally gotten a handle on the truth, and if only they would listen to me, the world would be a much better place. I try to convert people to my way of thinking, and scare them off in the process.

Oh dang. Continue reading

Know

Readers looking for a bullet-proof treatise on the existence of God are advised to look elsewhere. I am prejudiced in favor of God, and this tale of mine is one filled with holes and assumptions. In many cases I trust arguments made by others that I don’t bother to link, repeat, or even reference. But the rationale presented below has been sufficient to convince me of my conclusions. Ironic, in a post titled “know.” But we know very little anyway. Just ask Descartes.

Is God Real?
The central realization when I decided I wanted to give myself to God again in 2007 was the realization that “God is real, and He loves me.”

And so the central question for my doubt would have to be “Is God real, and does He love me?” The doubt had been a long time in coming. In most stories, things happen that shatter your faith, and in my story things like that sure had. For a long time, I held onto faith out of sheer desperation. At some points, I knew for sure that God was real. And at other points I wondered if He even cared… until His love overwhelmed me and I was sure He did again.

But the deep doubt finally resurfaced: Does God exist? And does He love me?

And so I asked. I wrestled. I talked. I prayed to a God I wasn’t 100% sure existed. I begged Him to exist.

Creation, I decided, could have been the product of random chance, maybe. Love could just be biological. Beauty could be a trick of biology, too. It could be familiarity assumed as beauty – mankind has seen trees for as long as we’ve been around, and we’ve all seen trees on warm sunny days which we decide socially to be “good.” Maybe Trinitarian theology – God is three and one in loving community – was created out of the realization that people are happier together. Large coincidences, to be sure, but that could be all there was to them. Coincidences and naturally occurring phenomena.

But creation was the crack in the armor, the Achilles heel of doubt. So many things are  set such that if they were only a little tiny bit off, life would never have happened. Even if Biological Macro-Evolution had been the cause of all life, random chance must have had help. And philosophy insists on a first cause. God must exist.


What Manner of God?

But what manner of God is He? Does He care? Or has God adopted a sort of hands-off approach to creation: Plan really really well and thus not even need to give it nudges? Continue reading

Value

I posted this to my Intro to DMA blog back in Fall 2009. I felt like it needed to be reposted here… ūüôā

Have you ever noticed that in some films there is a message, intentional or unintentional, that value is dependent upon certain things? For instance…

You’re valuable…

  • if you’re beautiful (think every Disney Princess movie)
  • if you’re strong
  • if you’re clever (MacGyver. etc.)
  • if you become famous
  • if you succeed
  • if you get married or get in a relationship

But then there are other movies where you absolutely fall in love with the people and they are valuable whether they succeed or not, though they may not be beautiful, clever, famous, successful, married, or even in a relationship. Their value doesn’t come from them HAVING something. It comes from them BEING something.

And in a sense, I feel like a lot of Christian-esque films are even MORE guilty of making “you’re valuable IF” statements than “world-esque.” We just have a different list. Continue reading

Pottery

Kristen suggested I submit this to a literary magazine. I looked it up, and while cleaning it up some, I realized that it really answered well the questions that I had posed in Questions. But in a completely different way.

Constructing clay is patient work
Not too little or too much pressure
on the earthy wet
And you cannot rush
Else your work will collapse.

Carry clay with caution
lest it break
or lest it crumble.

Fragile clay are we
Patient, gentle hands has He. Continue reading

Preach

I learned during my very formative years that the world was largely filled with people who were going to hell because they didn’t believe in Jesus. I also learned that my primary job as a Christian is to get other people to believe in Jesus so they will go to heaven and not go to hell.

I heard sermons telling me that on God’s final judgment day, I would see every person I had ever met and not told about Jesus and heaven and hell and they would ask “Why didn’t you warn me?” I even heard a story about a man who had “seen one person saved per day.” For years, he prayed with at least one person who wanted to accept Jesus every single day.

I was raised roughly Arminian, I think, which is to say that I believed that people had choices about whether they would become Christians or not. Being raised Arminian is pretty rough, because you believe two things: Everyone in the world has a choice about whether they’re going to accept Christ, or reject Him, and it’s your job to tell them. Matthew 28:19 was often called “The Great¬†Omission” because every Christian¬†was supposed to go make other people accept Jesus, and so few actually were. It never occurred to me that Jesus has been saving people without my help for over 4,000 years.

I always had a hard time with that because I was selling other people something I hadn’t actually experienced for myself but believed was true and couldn’t prove. Life-after-death fire insurance. Also, I was taught in church was that accepting Jesus and living for Him means accepting a boring life where one gives up anything that is remotely fun in exchange for what is spiritual. In a paraphrase of Rob Bell’s words, “Religious people don’t throw very good parties.” And so I’ve lived most of my life with a screaming in my heart that says that I have¬†to get other people to accept Jesus. And I’ve had jobs where I’ve woken up every morning with a profound sense of emptiness because I wasn’t getting other people to accept Jesus through those jobs.

Then I heard Mark Driscoll talk about how only the “elect,” those God chooses, are going to heaven, and everyone else is going to hell, and how that’s completely fair because God *should* send everyone to hell, and the elect will become Christians when they are preached to. From that perspective, if I don’t preach to someone who is elect, then someone else will and they will become Christians anyway because they are elect, so that takes a little bit of the pressure off… but it still makes God seem kinda mean because he chooses some people to go to hell, no matter how you frame it. He’s just and fair, but kind of mean to everyone he doesn’t choose to be gracious to.

So when Love Wins came out, and Rob Bell said that maybe people who don’t “receive [Jesus] by that name precisely” (Athol Dickson‘s words) may find their way into eternity with God, I almost cried when I got to the end because of three things (I didn’t quite realize what they were until I had had a few months to process it and read other books):

  1. Maybe I don’t have to go out and sell everyone on what I was raised to believe was “the gospel” (that everyone was bad and going to hell and Jesus came and died so they wouldn’t have to).
  2. Maybe God is more gracious than I first thought.
  3. Maybe there is indeed something about Christianity that is worth sharing that isn’t guilt, condemnation, and fear of hell.

The first has been discussed already, so I’ll grab the other two.

If God is, in the words of Paul in II Corinthians 5:19, “…reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s sins against them,” then that could truly be good news! Maybe people don’t have to believe that they’re evil and God is angry with them for their sins to be reconciled to God. And maybe those who have been harmed in Jesus’ name may one day be reconciled to God in spite of their inherent distaste for the name they believe to be responsible for their wrecked lives. Maybe some people who haven’t heard about Jesus may still be counted righteous. Maybe the doors of heaven are open to more people than we thought.

I have not become a universalist. I still believe that “no man comes to the Father except through [Jesus]” (John 14:6). Like my facebook post said the other day, “Jesus is the front door to the dining hall, and there are no other doors.” But haven’t you ever been somewhere and not known where you were or quite how you got there? Tell me you’ve never had someone ask, “Did you come through the foyer?” and said “What foyer?” They pointed back where you just came from and said, “That one.” I’m beginning to suspect that people may be able to come to the Father through Jesus without necessarily realizing it.

There are some who have said that if God lets people in who haven’t accepted Jesus by that name precisely, then that makes Jesus death, burial and bodily resurrection irrelevant. I don’t understand how that logic even works (though Ree tried to explain it to me). If God accepts more people, it can only¬†be by Jesus’ work on the cross, thus making Jesus work on the cross more¬†effectual, rather than less!

But these are rabbit trails. The real discussion I wanted to start was this:

What would you do with your life if you stopped believing that the eternal destinies of other people lay in your hands?

Because I really don’t know what I would do.

I posted my question on facebook and got no responses from the usual suspects. Nobody touched it. But this is hugely important for me. I’ve lived my life with a screaming inside of my soul that won’t sit down or shut up, telling me that people are going to hell, and they need to accept Jesus, and I need to tell them about Him, so they can stop having “fun” to have “real fun” which is usually… not really fun.

But if Rob Bell is right, and if Jesus was right and being a Christian means living life to the max (John 10:10), then maybe I can live my life with arms, eyes, mouth, and heart wide open. Maybe I can live free like the birds who don’t have to worry. Maybe I can live righteously and feed the poor and be delighted in giving (because I have experienced that! Giving is fantastic! It’s way more fun to give money to someone who needs it than it is to use it for yourself!) Maybe I don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying the good gifts that God has given to me.

And maybe I can tell this screaming voice inside of me to finally shut up… because voices that scream aren’t Jesus. He whispers.

On the other hand, maybe it’s the Holy Spirit, and it’s actually a consistent quiet whisper. Because I still need to do work that feels meaningful, work that actually translates into things that are good. Maybe that’s why I like Jumonville so much. I haven’t had to tell anyone¬†that they need to become a Christian. I’ve told them they’re beautiful unrepeatable miracles. I’ve told them that Jesus loves them. Some have accepted Jesus during Wednesday Worship… but there isn’t this compelling to tell them.

And never once have I woken up wondering why I do what I do.

So now I’m trying to figure out what I like to do. What work it is that makes me wake up in the morning with the sense that this is what I was made for? What has God made me for? How can I be a part of God’s good and creative work in the world?

A lot of my life has had to do with affirmation – having people pat me on the back and say “Good job, kid.” I’m a pleaser. I want people to be happy with me and what i’m doing. …So largely I end up not doing what I want, but doing what I think will make other people happy. Ree asked me what I do when there’s nobody to please, nobody watching to say “Good job.”

…And I told her that I don’t know, because i’ve hardly ever had time like that except when i’m completely by myself, and then i’m usually bored and watching movies or something… because I’m alone.

What would you do?

Psalm Forty-Five One

and the riches of redemption
overflowed the broken notes;
the slave found himself a prince,
the one once dead, alive.
the mournful broken heart rejoices
and the humble poor believe.

And the theme once played
in a minor key
repeats in shades of grace;
the weakly-struck piano keys
now explode in the glorious theme
of the undeserving victor,
the prisoner now set free
and claimed by royalty.

and the kingdom of heaven grows
and I find Gods will being done
“on earth as it is in heaven”
and the grace of God refuses
to be contained in the heart of God
From the cross it explodes
And in God’s pain He screams
I LOVE YOU!
in words none can ignore.

And the garden tomb is empty
Christ the victor is alive
Sin is conquered, evil banished
God’s broken heart now beats again
Hatred’s crush, now gone too far
suffocates in the heart of grace.

And the guilty go free
Glorious unfair exchange
and the redeemed celebrate
in the land of mercy.

God & Smiling

“The greatest honor we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of his love.” -Julian of Norwich,¬†c. 1342 ‚Äď 1416

I was reading a book last night called The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows, and I came upon that quote. The book was excellent reading, and messing with me in some very good ways, and that quote was quite good. Then I ran into this quotation, a rephrasing of Julian of Norwich’s original statement:

What God most wants
is to see you smile
because you know
how much God loves you.

I stopped and reread that sentence. My eyes flew uncomprehendingly back and forth across it, my heart hardly daring to believe the words my eyes were seeing. God? Wanted to see ME smile???

Rewind about four years Continue reading

Creation Groans

I woke up this morning from a dream about being at Jumonville. Summer Staff 2011. And I realized that, come summer 2011, most of the people that I knew and loved from Summer 2009 won’t be there. The Beattys, Ree, Craig, Ashley Crago, and maybe David Orr will still be there… but Kristen will be gone (sort of)… Nate, Tyler, Brittany, Sara, Rob, Mike Nuss, Will, Carrie, James, Caitlin (both of the Caitlins)… and it stung. I could feel their absence at Jumonville already. I could see its emptiness without them there, and hear their voices and laughter in its silence. Even some of the friends I made during summer 2010 will be gone come next year. I think Nate’s gonna hurt the most, though, because he was more than a supervisor. He was the big brother I never had. I’m gonna miss him, especially while I’m making schedules and figuring out how to fix stuff… this time I’m going to be the improviser. We worked together all the time. …At least I’ll have another adventure staff I already know and love: Margo. And that’s a relief.

Then I remembered how it felt this year. I didn’t feel people’s absence as much because I was around other people I loved. And I don’t feel their absence so much now that I’m around still other people I love, here at school. And I realized that loving the people you’re with is really the only way around the holes left in your heart by the people you love who are now in the rear-view mirror. “New people” can never fill the holes created by those in the rear-view. They just create new holes. But in their presence, you forget the holes left by those in the rear-view. To love someone else is deeply is the only way to feel less hurt from the holes left by those who are gone. But it’s hard. Cynicism takes you hostage and lies to you.

Cynicism is one of the ugliest perversions of Imago Dei. We are made to love and be loved, but we grow instead to despise those made, like us, in His image and likeness, thinking that the ones we meet now aren’t as good as those we knew then. But everything changes. And in change, there is both the bad of sin’s corruption and the good holiness with which the world was made. Imago Dei and “very good” mesh together with fall and curse and sin. And the body and blood of Jesus is kneaded into the whole mix, generating hope – hope for a day when our glorious King will return in power and majesty and finally set all things right. But until that day comes, all creation groans with longing. The heavens and earth declare God’s glory, and at the same time the earth cries out for the return of the King.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Fear Not

It’s been a while since I last blogged about fear. Quite a while.

The place was packed. I’d never seen this many people at Union Church, even close to Christmas. There were extra seats and everything, and even the extra seats were being filled – every single one. A few minutes after I arrived, they said to give the people around you a hug. The lady to my left had said “Good morning” instead of “He is risen indeed,” so I figured she was just a Christmas-and-Easter Christian and simply shook her hand. Then I went back to sending text messages to all my friends and a few acquaintances that said, “They could kill Him, but they COULDN’T KEEP HIM DEAD! HE IS RISEN!” After a few rounds of this, the nice lady beside me tried to shut my phone, smiled warmly, and said, “Stop texting! You’re in church!” (She really was smiling warmly, and wasn’t being old and mean). I flipped down to the message I was sending and showed it to her, grinning larger than was necessary. She smiled and left me alone after that. I slowed down the texting to sync with slower parts of the service… but wow. It was mostly worship songs after that, and it became increasingly difficult to send out text messages with my hands in the air. I accidentally bumped into the upraised arm of the nice lady to my left while I had my hands raised and eyes closed. Guess I’d made a bit of a happy mistake. She loved Jesus, too, or so it seemed.

I actually wasn’t planning on being at Union Church this morning, but because of the Dining Commons, Wendy’s, and Burger King all being closed, I ended up in a long line at McDonalds and heading toward being a half hour late for the church I’d intended to attend. That meant that, because this was one of those multiple-services-that-all-have-to-be-short churches, I’d miss the worship. I didn’t want to do that, not on Resurrection Sunday.

On the way to the other church, I saw a sign for N 200 E, where I’d have to turn to go to Union Church. I have no idea how these things work, but I just had a feeling or decided (I never figured out exactly which) to go to Union Church today. Maybe it’s just because they started at ten and it was now 9:57, but who knows? I slowed down fast and made the right turn to go to Union Church.

They sang a lot of songs. The service was about freedom. They performed the “Set Me Free!” skit, then the pastor came up and said that the theme for the morning was freedom – freedom from whatever it was was holding you, and then listed off a bunch of things that can hold us humans captive. He preached for a while, then gave an invitation.

They were giving out broken chain links to take home, as a reminder of spiritual broken chains, to everyone who went forward. As usual, I assumed that the invitation was not for me, but for somebody else, and that I would cheer them on. I didn’t have anything I needed set free from. God had already…¬† …Crap. The whole process of going from”I’m-okay” to “okay-maybe-I’m-no-okay” took about five seconds. I had a chain I needed freedom from. It was called Fear. Continue reading