Showing posts with label faith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label faith. Show all posts

5.23.2018

A Visit To The Ark Encounter.



Last fall I went to the Ark Encounter with a friend and my parents. We drove, and my parents had many hilarious photos taken of them by me. They are very patient and, by the time we arrived at the Ark Encounter, probably had a lot of personal compassion for what it would be like to be stuck with your family in a confined space for extended periods of time.

My poor parents. I mean, if you could see the photos...I took photos of them falling asleep in the car, falling asleep in the planetarium, falling asleep in the hotel lobby... Here's a photo of a photo. I'm that bad.



It was a fantastic trip with a variety of stops and adventures (including a glorious trivia tournament win on a ferry across Lake Michigan), but I want to talk about the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter in this post. Each section below is a discussion of some of the different issues and reactions I have heard from people regarding these two attractions.


World Class Is Not A Lie


The Ark Encounter is often described as "world class" by Ken Ham and others associated with it. He says it so much it's clearly an attempt to associate that descriptive hand-in-hand with the two sites.

So, are they world class?

Yes. No lie.

I cannot even begin to describe the shameful levels of envy I had at the artistic quality of what I saw in both the Creation Museum and the Ark. Paintings, sculpture, gardens, dioramas, signage--endless high quality stuff. Their design and creative and fabrication staff is unbeatable. I am not joking.

There is no more purely awesome diorama on the face of this earth than this one. Seriously. Someone make this Gladiator/Lost World hybrid movie.

I've been to lot of museums around the world (art museums in countless major cities including a crazy little one in Leon, Nicaragua that had pigeons flying around a room with Picassos; the Ã„gyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung in Berlin, and other art museums in Hamburg, Munich, etc.; the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, KS which is truly a must-see museum for everyone; the Museum of Natural History, et al., in NYC which was shockingly run-down; and a variety of regional museums like the Archway in Kearney, NE). These two are quality museums, every bit as good as any I've seen elsewhere.

Everywhere you see these fantastic bits of detail that aren't even the main thing you're looking at. It was phenomenal.


But let's say you don't consider them museums, but attractions. OK. Let's consider them that way.

My family knows I'm a Disney World obsessed person, and in the past decade I've been able to go there many times. I love the parks, the quality, the design, the themes and story behind individual parks, the cleanliness. I am nuts about those attractions, and I will drag you onto the thrill rides as much as I can. (Oddly, though, my favorite ride was The Great Movie Ride, which ended last year and is going to be replaced by some horrible Mickey/Minnie Mouse monstrosity.)

The Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter are just as good. They're smaller, yes. They don't have as much to see--yet. But the quality is unreal. As the Ark Encounter grows, it should be amazing if it sustains its current quality level. [Side note: I hope they do a kind of Epcot center ride that has a creationist approach. I think that would be an amazing addition to the Ark Encounter facility.]


So What If Ken Ham Rubs You The Wrong Way


About fifteen years ago (I'm guessing; my memory is terrible), my dad was part of a group using a study by Ken Ham, "Incredible Creatures That Defy Evolution" or something similar. I have vague memories of dad talking about what he was learning, as does my lifelong friend, whose father was also in the group. That was the extent of it, until I came across an Answers in Genesis newsletter and remembered that, hopped on the website, and the rest is history.

I know that some people don't like Ken Ham. Some people love to dislike him, in fact. He has a dry sense of humor that, after a four months' stay in Australia back in 2002, I recognize. We got to meet him, and had our picture taken with him and a few others, after an afternoon session at the Creation Museum.

"Where are you from?" he asked us as we lined up for the photo.

"North Dakota," I said.

"Since you four are here, there's probably only seven left back in the state," he joked.

In this day and age, I guess people get offended at stuff like that, but I got the joke. The introvert in me could only wish there was a total of eleven people in my home state. But I know that people really go after Ham and use the way he comes off and how he doggedly holds his position as a reason to dismiss what he is saying.

Consider that in some situations, you need a bullish personality to get the job done.

In January, my friend and I went to a conference in Glendive, Montana. The speaker at the conference was Eric Hovind, a high-energy person that makes me, an introverted melancholy, become weary within minutes. But Hovind was genuinely interesting, authentic, and really cared about people, so it wasn't wearying after all. (He also taught us how to shoot rubber bands really far, a useful skill for family get-togethers). At one point during a time when he was talking about the state of creation ministries and all of the resources now available, he carefully described the early years decades ago when creation ministries were just getting started.

"It took a certain kind of personality to plow that hard soil," he said, alluding to some, uh, stubborn and maybe bullish folks who were pioneers and at the start of it all and clashed with each other, some of whom are still around and maybe don't fit in with the current culture of non-offense where we pussyfoot around the language to not anger or offend. "God uses the right people for the right time."

So I guess, if "that guy" rubs you the wrong way, all I can say is you can seek Jesus and the truth fully from your heart with nothing stopping you, or you can let people stand in the way as an excuse to not believe. However, that's going to make a really lousy reason when you stand before God and answer for your life. "That guy seemed like a jerk. He wasn't nice."

I have to take my own advice.

As a single woman, I am not able to fully participate with the gifts God has given me in some denominations (e.g. Baptists) because they do not think women are allowed to teach/preach to a grown man. I have zero interest in children or food, and am not married, so in these denominations, I really don't have any place or purpose.

I could let that be an excuse to abandon my faith entirely, or I could let it push me into a "progressive Christian" realm where sin doesn't really exist and everyone is all OK where they have a place for a person like me (church, wake up -- this is a lesson in its own right), but neither are acceptable. There's a pastoral/church leadership conference at the Creation Museum this fall, for example, featuring John MacArthur. MacArthur doesn't allow women to attend such conferences at his own church because he doesn't believe women are allowed to be pastors or have leadership roles. Women can attend one service at that conference with their husbands, and that's it (from what I understand). I don't know if I'd be welcome at that particular conference at the Creation Museum or not. I emailed and asked, but didn't hear back. Dr. Georgia Purdum, a molecular biologist, is speaking at the conference, so it's not like women aren't there. I simply don't know if I'd be welcome there or not.*

So, should I get all worked up and start a hashtag and make demands and freak out on Facebook? Should I refuse to submit to all male authority in every situation just to prove a point and be "empowered"?

Nope.

Even if I wasn't allowed to attend for whatever reason, that is not and cannot be an excuse to stand in the way of pursuing the truth of Jesus Christ and using the gifts God has given me in the way he has opened for me. "But God, Rev. MacArthur said a man was my spiritual leader and cover but I'm single, and I couldn't attend the conference, and that wasn't fair and so I just gave up altogether and didn't use the gifts you gave me and didn't pursue knowledge of you because some men said I couldn't."

Yeah, not a good excuse.

Don't like the guy? Don't like being excluded? No excuse.

It's kind of like I've said about flying: aviation is mostly a macho Type A man's world. Just because there are a rather lot of sometimes sexist jerks, that didn't stop me from getting my private pilot's license. A jerk on the ground doesn't keep me from flying in the sky; the laws of aerodynamics don't change just because someone shows you an anchor.

No excuse.


It's A Giant Waste Of Money


A common response to the Ark, from Christians and non-Christians, is that the massive amount of money spent on it could have been better used elsewhere. Below is just one example; this idea is easy to find anywhere on the internet in discussions about the project.



The economist I was referencing there was Michael Novak. I don't think I had the Catholic aspect right, but that's not the relevant part. Novak called on Christians to offer:

“a theology of creativity rather than a theology of liberation.” He suggested that way too many church leaders have bought into the idea that there is a set amount of wealth in the world that cannot be increased and must therefore be fairly distributed. “The really unusual insight of Adam Smith is in effect a theological insight—that the world is not a finished system. If it were finished, then the urgent need would be for a distributive system. But God made the world differently, with the potential for constantly creating new wealth.” -- Joel Belz, "System for Sinners", World Magazine, March 18, 2017.

In other words, God is pretty big and all-powerful and there's enough to go around even if we are limited in our understanding of quantities available.

When the Ark Encounter opened in July 2016, I read the expected articles about it. There was mockery from the non-religious, but there was also mockery from Christians. Both saw it as a monstrosity, silly, pointless, a waste of money that could have been used otherwise.

Some ranted about separation of church and state (which is not in the Constitution, but in Jefferson's letter to Danbury Baptists) since Kentucky gave the Ark some incentives. The Ark has been working out well for tourism dollars in Kentucky, apparently, so maybe a little less freaking out on that one.

So let's get back to the "spiritualized" griping, about how that money should be used for something better, because that kind of thinking will really twist you into a knot and make you tear into other Christians with a different leading from God, if you think God has limited resources.

I know why this thinking that there are limited funds is popular, particularly in this age of social justice where our Gospel is one of anti-poverty and temporal concerns rather than spiritual; we think it's on us to solve all poverty, that we are going to do it with the work of our hands rather than God. We unconsciously admit that we don't think God's got the whole world in his hands, and that he can't quite handle it all without our $25 a month to dig a well somewhere. We unconsciously admit we equate God with ourselves, a weird idolatry, assigning our limitations to God.

As someone who has given thousands of dollars over the years to feed and educate children in other countries, dig water wells, and see the results (some good, some bad, some scams), I've had to rethink my approach to money and what it means to be a faithful giver versus a guilty giver. We are to give as God directs, not as we feel guilty. Conversely, we are not to lambaste other Christians for giving and supporting things that our bondage to guilt won't allow us to.

I am currently sponsoring a child through a Christian aid agency that I was quite literally guilted into sponsoring, and their mailings and emails are full of guilty "can't you just help one more?" approaches. If guilt were sugar, my conscience is diabetic. I'm worn out on emotions from all of these types of pleas, and the reality is that the times God has clearly prompted me to give were never like that. Guilty giving isn't cheerful giving, and God loves a cheerful giver.

As I pointed out there was a part of me that thought that way at one point, that the millions used to build the Ark Encounter could have been spent for food, schooling, water systems, etc. For most of my 20's and 30's I struggled to find the balance between being a good steward of the resources God gave me and thinking that God has limited resources. It's the difference of being faithful with what God gives and also believing in His unlimited power beyond what I can imagine. My paltry bank account isn't the same as his account. The limitations of what I can do and imagine aren't his limitations.

In a way, giving is more a statement and exercise for us. God wants us to give to be obedient and as a heart issue, not because he's limited by what we do or don't do. If we don't give, he'll still get the work done with or without us.


If Putting Me Down Makes You Feel Smarter, Whatever


This is often about being the punchline to other people's jokes. If you feel smarter by making fun of others, congratulations. Somewhere a seat in a third grade classroom is opening up to make room for you.

When Christian professor Karen Swallow Prior tweeted the following, I understood immediately.


The comments below her tweet are mostly well-behaved, but even in the jovial mocking is the running theme of "if you believe that God created (and a young earth!)" you may not be all that intelligent. A kind of wink-wink "let's humor her, but we can all still get along" thread.

I guess I'd rather have someone just outright name-call instead of patronizing me. The latter is a double helping of insult, a mix of "you're stupid" and "you're also emotionally fragile" that attempts to lead you out of your state of stupid by cajoling.

I can take non-Christians berating and mocking me. It's to be expected, and is minor in the realm of life experiences. One of the greatest kindnesses God did for me was to experience serious rejection and teasing most of my elementary and high school years. Horrible at the time, but it got me used to not caring whether people liked me or not, or whether they made fun of me or not. After 20 years of writing on the internet, there's nothing insulting you can say to me that hasn't been said.

It does stink, however, when Christians do it, when they use the arguments and techniques and even name-calling of unbelievers to put down others in the body of Christ. I'm working on a book about my experiences of blogging for nearly two decades, and I'll talk about this problem in greater detail in it, but suffice it to say that the body of Christ has a problem with self flagellation.


Those Ginormous Illiterate Dummies


There are all kinds of people who believe all kinds of things from all kinds of backgrounds for all kinds of reasons.

While at the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter, I saw large homeschooled families, and some groups where the women had skirts/dresses, and head coverings. I saw an insane number of tour bus groups. I saw young, old, light skin, dark skin, folks who were on foot, and folks in wheelchairs, folks in pants, folks in shorts, folks in dresses. Everyone was welcome.

Despite all of these varieties of people and cultural backgrounds, there is one underlying assumption that seems to be made by those who joke about the two attractions online, or those atheist groups who protest outside the entrance, and that assumption is that anyone who goes to these attractions, except if their purpose is to mock them later online or leave bad reviews, are all stupid and unthinking. Only idiots believe that stuff, is the point they try to make.

I know a lot of idiots who leave one-star reviews on Amazon based on the speed of shipping instead of the product, or who leave a one-star review about a facility because of their ideology and not the quality of the facility. Same thing.

Well, I am a Christian conservative Pentecostal woman from a rural state, so surely I must be a big stupid dummyhead whose husband does her thinking for her (I'm single, folks, not married). That's the current stereotype, isn't it? We're a bunch of rubes up here, trying to figure out why a round wheel works so much better than the square one. The fact that I grew up going to church about three times a week--on top of all that other stuff--means I'm probably a big fan of bleeding sick people to get out the bad blood and stop the cholera outbreak in my village, or thinking if I eat the right clean foods and get lots of sunshine and exercise and keep a full stock of essential oils on hand, I won't get tetanus if I step on a rusty nail, right? People like me don't even science, bro -- that's the going thought.

I've stepped on a rusty nail before. Believe me, I'm up-to-date on vaccinations.

I don't think anyone who knows me would consider me a thoughtless person who skips and stumbles mindlessly into ideology and belief. I've had evolution and billions of years drilled into my head my whole educational career, so I'm not unaware of those arguments; they are what I knew most. I'm not unintelligent. I've read a book or two in my time. I have a driving curiosity. I'm not without moments of deep, searing introspection. Like others who have been casually dismissed, I'm not these things that are assumed of a person who believes that, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

And I'm not alone.

There are many scientists (yes, "real" ones, with advanced degrees, from regular universities and the Ivy League), artists, and people of all kinds who believe as I do, or are at least interested in pursuing perplexing discoveries that don't clearly support evolution or billions of years. We all have different interests, different motivations, different "intelligence levels"-- just like those who don't believe in creation.

Frankly, I can think of some real uncouth language-stilted idiots who believe in evolution. You can collect them easily on social media or various online forums. I don't  hold that against the rest of those who believe in evolution and/or billions of years. I don't know why there is an assumption that anyone who believes in creation is part of a vast collection of thoughtless dunces, but the internet loves to make a joke out of the intelligence quotient of Christian believers without owning their own evolution village idiots.

And frankly, if that's how it is, I don't care. You don't get to mock me into silence. I'm going to keep doing what I can to at least get people to consider another approach to all that they've been told. Call me stupid all you want. Tread water in that one place. I'm going to continue on.

This current culture is so obsessed with being "woke" and part of a "resistance" and yet they all look, talk, and think the same things about the same things. Please. What are you resisting when you're part of the big lowest common denominator crowd? You resist nothing. You are literally going with the current.


Why Does This Matter?


Why does it matter to me, that this is a created world?

The first thing I learn about God is that He is a creator, and that he is creative. That means something to me as an artist and writer. It really does. I can't explain how much I think about that connection.

I also find out that there is a purposeful beginning.

There were times in my life, as I struggled to think my way through what I believed, that the idea of merely being an accident as a part of billions of years of slop and slime did very little to make me want to continue living. To think that animals and creatures have been ripping each other apart and dying for millions of years before humans came onto the scene and that God would define that as "good" was horrific. To think that I am forever bound in the brutal gears of naturalism, that my life and existence are defined by the natural order alone as a fart on some timeline--that contributed to thoughts that I'd rather just exit this life early instead of slogging along on to the end and cease to exist at that later date. Why go through the pain when it doesn't matter, anyway? Just fast forward and be done.

In college, I took a class called "Perspectives In Ultimate Reality." I don't remember much about it except that the teacher's name was something like Slvia and that she wore a lot of flow-y diaphonous tops and seemed to be medicated and floating about four inches off of the floor. Frankly, I needed the credits to graduate. We read a lot of books of which I only remember reading Voltaire's Candide. I enjoyed the book; laughed out loud in several parts, in fact.

I could say a lot about Candide from the perspective of God as creator, but that's its own blog post. I do remember, in my paper resulting from the book, that I stated that if there was no God, I saw no reason to continue living on this earth.

Sylvia wrote in the margins, with a purple pen and a flower at the end, that this was such a wonderful earth and so full of promise and love, surely there was ample reason to live without needing to believe in a God myth and his purposeful creation. Maybe Sylvia never saw pets die gruesome deaths, farmer friends suffocate in grain bins, classmates die in bloody drunken automobile accidents, or didn't have a melancholy personality in which there is always a slight depression present ever-present even on the edges of the most joyful days. Maybe Sylvia never had to earn money by cleaning up restrooms after people puked or smeared crap on the walls, or work extra jobs and night shifts just to pay back student loans or rent for a crappy apartment in a sketchy neighborhood. I don't know. I certainly didn't agree with Sylvia.

In one of my many Science Fiction digest books, I read a story of a newly discovered planet in which Earth sent representatives to go discover how they had managed to be at peace for generations and be such a good-natured people. As the story goes on, we see on this planet a loving, peaceful Utopia of rosy-cheeked people who work hard and are jovial at all times. The representatives were in awe until they discovered how it had been accomplished. Each child had a suicide device surgically implanted in them at a young age. It would end their life easily and painlessly. When they were older, they were told about this option. In this way, they had allowed sad, depressed, ill, weak, and broken-spirited people to kill themselves while only the extroverted and upbeat people beget the next generation. The Earth representatives were horrified, with one thinking about his moody and artistic daughter and all that she could offer but probably never would if she had this easy suicide option. And then he looked around at the planet and realized all that it was lacking. For all its happy and jovial people, there was a shallowness to it all, something only those who had killed themselves would have provided. These were both worlds without God, with overt evolution themes and an uneasy undercurrent of understanding there was something more than naturalism.

Sylvia was wrong, in my opinion. I'd probably have ended it long ago if I really thought this was all there was, that we exist by accident and cease to exist when, after millions of years of improbable evolution, some random bus mows us down in a crosswalk in Podunk, USA. Lots of people would end it all, and do.

And that's why this all matters.

Naturalism is a meat-grinder (read Terry Bisson's short story "They're Made Of Meat"). It's accidental carbon, it's flashing nerve signals, and then it's no existence. And while some people can find some beautiful motivation to exist as a sparkling package of meat for 80 years before their ashes are sprinkled on a hill to provide mulch to some invasive noxious weed, a lot of people can't. I would even say most/all can't, though some are really great at self-delusion.

I say these things only to make sure Christians who think this topic of creation is merely an intellectual issue of no great importance understand that in this time of rampant suicide, medicated depression, and self-destructive behavior, this is about  life and death. It isn't just an intellectual argument. Some of us aren't rosy-cheeked and jovial, and dismissing this topic is killing us off.


It's The Economy, Stupid



The last point is sort of irrelevant, in my opinion, because time will tell the story. It has to do with how the Ark Encounter has helped with its regional tourism.

I've seen blowhard comedian John Oliver's constipated mockery of the Ark Encounter, covered in the guise of tax incentives and abuse (ask Oliver about his use of tax loopholes to purchase a nearly $10M NYC penthouse and why he thinks he ought to be a righteous lecturer on that topic), and the interview with the Williamsburg mayor saying they've seen no economic boost, despite Kentucky tourism repeatedly saying otherwise.

When we arrived at the hotel for our stay in Kentucky, the woman asked why we were there, and she pretty much finished my sentence and said they'd been getting lots of tourists for those two attractions and that's why they were building more hotels.

If it's all about the economy, the reality is that there has been economic boost to the area. Repeatedly the hotel staff and restaurant staff at places we frequented commented they were getting a lot of people coming for the Ark and Creation Museum. A new tourism position for faith-based tourism was created to address this growing influx. Florence, Kentucky is seeing plenty of new hotel construction.

Yet every journalist who wants to make a negative point about the Ark seems to go to nearby Williamstown; they need to be interviewing the other cities around the area and ask them about the tourists coming in for the Ark and the Creation Museum.

I suspect, as the attractions grow and (hopefully) Williamstown develops hotel properties in their town, tourists will stay there. Right now, there are few hotel options, and most people are staying in Florence and driving 30 minutes. A town can't sit there and expect tourists to flood them with money with few hotels, restaurants, and other such businesses. The Ark Encounter property is expanding, and the larger it gets the longer a visit will be, meaning people would prefer to not have to drive 30 minutes back and forth for a multi-day visit if closer accommodations existed.

And, to the Ark Encounter's credit, when you leave the parking lot, there is a massive sign telling you about every business in Williamstown. Seriously, what tourist attraction lists a hair salon as one of the local businesses on a sign on their property, or throws any town that kind of a bone? None. I've never seen it elsewhere.

If Disney World built itself next to a town of 100 people with few businesses, tourists aren't going to flock to the town just because it exists. There has to be services there, and a reason for them to stick around. That means restaurants, hotels, and family entertainment for the evenings after the Ark Encounter has closed. That currently doesn't exist in Williamstown, and being negative in the media isn't going to change that. The Ark isn't going away; I don't know why they want to badmouth it except out of hatred or a grudge towards anything remotely associated with the Christian faith.

In conclusion,

Camel, compliments of the Creation Museum mini-zoo.

*UPDATE, 20 MINUTES LATER, FOR REALS:

I just got an email saying the conference is open for all. :-)

UPDATE 5/23/2018: A commenter on Facebook reminded me that I ought to say that while I'm not willing to budge on God as the creator (not using evolution), I'm not going to get into a fisticuffs over young or old earth. (I probably won't get into a fisticuffs over anything related to this, really.)

I do believe in the young earth aspect because there's some intriguing science and information out there that I'm finding pretty solid. I also find an odd sense of greater hope in thinking that this is a young earth rather than bajillions of years old in regards to the idea of the timeline of God's promises coming to fruition, and Jesus coming soon (soon is soon if it's a YE, but not quite as "soon" if we've been chugging along for billions).

3.20.2018

Love is not God.



God is love, but love is not God.

I'd read that statement in several places in recent months, regarding how so much that the Bible says is sin is dismissed today under the guise of "love." Perhaps the mathematician in us broke down "God is love" as an equation, with God and love on the sides of an equal sign, being of the same value. This is not the case, especially since our human version of "love" is so far from what God considers love.

This isn't just semantics. This is crucial, because love has become an idol.

We've turned some pablum version of love into a god. We take our feeble versions of human love (mostly eros, in this day and age, with little agape or philia) and justify all kinds of behavior by saying "if God is love, how can this love be wrong?", or "love is love," a truly stupid mathematical statement if I've ever seen one.

As with any topic of debate, how are you defining this self-equating love? Sexual? Romantic? The happiness you feel when you or a friend isn't lonely anymore and you just want yourself or them to be happy no matter the situation because surely being unhappy is always bad? Believe me, I know loneliness. I get it. But for God, loneliness is no excuse to sin and is often a springboard to some great opportunities if you can get past self pity. That I also know.

Here's an "if" question for you: If God is love, then all that He says and all that He does, even the things we don't like, even the Old Testament passages that seem so brutal, are part of love. Love demands devotion to God, apparently, and the sacrifice of His Son. Love demands that the Israelites be willing to wipe out people groups so that they would stay true to God instead of adopting sinful practices. Granted, for Christians who won't accept this, there are all sorts of theological gymnastics that are done to say it ain't so.

Yet just look at the full arc of the Bible.

Love sometimes demands loneliness, sadness, singleness, or tragedy with no earthly explanation, none of which computes with human definitions of love. Love demands that we tell people about the wages of sin and let them know they need to repent. Consider the prophets, the apostles, the early believers, and all that love demanded of them. Where would the Gospel have gone had they demanded and chased after their version of human love? What could God do with people now if they would shed their idea of love and really turn to Him?

But no. We want our version of love. Our lives, our culture, our country--all sacrificed to some lame version of love that is feelings-based, with barely any worth now and none in eternity. Clearly, we humans don't understand the magnitude, scope, and dimensions of love anywhere close to what God is. We think love is "nice" and excludes anything negative.

For example, what does it look like to love my neighbor? If I love my neighbor, I help them, I give them food if they're hungry, clothes if they need them...but I also tell them about the Gospel and their need to repent because how much do I have to hate a person if I believe in eternity and that their soul is on the line and don't want to tell them about it because it isn't "nice"? That's what gets me with social justice today, and the push Christian leaders now make in fixating and talking about those things almost exclusively: it's easy to focus on Jesus commanding us to help the poor and those in need--that makes you look like a great person, and not a religious nut, in today's socially conscious culture--but it's less easy to tell them what he had to say about repentance, sin, and hell (which he talked a fair bit about) because that definitely isn't popular today. It's easier to say you're against sex trafficking and want to end poverty and support the current popular minority movement or are going to go dig wells in a poor country--you'll get airtime and hashtags and accolades--but see what kind of reaction you get if you say you're going to go preach the Gospel. If you're out there, following Jesus' Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15-16), His final instructions to his disciples before He ascended into heaven, you are not said be be loving, but to be hateful, and bigoted.

All of this can be simply grasped when we realize that God is more than love; He is also holy. And that's the kicker.

Christian author Randy Alcorn wrote about how we've turned love into a god, referencing A. W. Tozer's book The Knowledge of the Holy

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Unfortunately, many modern Christians have reduced Him to a single-attribute God. Never mind that the angels in God’s presence do not cry out, day and night, “Love, love, love,” but “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:3, NIV)

As Alcorn points out, love is one of many attributes of God, and it doesn't supersede the others. When you combine our sad little human understanding and concept of love, and try to interpret everything about God through that understanding, you make a huge mistake.

[W]hen you start saying (as I’ve heard people say) we must interpret all of God’s attributes in light of His love, you introduce the error of us imposing our limited understanding of love onto God, and recreate Him into our image.
Alcorn then goes on to quote from Tozer (I recommend you go read Alcorn's full post):

The apostle John, by the Spirit, wrote, “God is love,” and some have taken his words to be a definitive statement concerning the essential nature of God. This is a great error. John was by those words stating a fact, but he was not offering a definition.
Equating love with God is a major mistake which has produced much unsound religious philosophy and has brought forth a spate of vaporous poetry completely out of accord with the Holy Scriptures and altogether of another climate from that of historic Christianity.
Had the apostle declared that love is what God is, we would be forced to infer that God is what love is. If literally God is love, then literally love is God, and we are in all duty bound to worship love as the only God there is. If love is equal to God then God is only equal to love, and God and love are identical. Thus we destroy the concept of personality in God and deny outright all His attributes save one, and that one we substitute for God.
The God we have left is not the God of Israel; He is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; He is not the God of the prophets and the apostles; He is not the God of the saints and reformers and martyrs, nor yet the God of the theologians and hymnists of the church.

A holy God cannot abide sin. He cannot look at it. Period. There is a lot of behavior we excuse today because we think "a loving God will allow this", forgetting that a holy God will not.

Think of all the things you read about God in the Bible that you have decided you don't like. God is love, and that includes those things. Think of the commands we are given, and how Jesus said if we loved him, we would keep His commandments. God is love, and that includes those things; what's more, obeying God is part of how we show we love him.

Think of how many times you hear "how could a loving God allow ____?" That is a clear illustration of how little we humans understand love. My question would be "how could a God create this unbelievably immense and beautiful and perfect universe and all that is in it, and then not destroy it and start over when humans sinned and turned their back on Him and acted out in unbelievable depravity?" Don't you ever think about that? If I'd made something so amazing and the little jerks I'd created turned against me and slandered and mocked and attributed all kinds of evil to me and disobeyed me and worshiped everything around but me, I'd smite them in a heartbeat, and wipe them from all existence. God didn't, because He loves His creation. Yet how much does it take one person to turn on someone they said they loved, that love quickly becoming destructive hate intent on revenge and destruction? Not much.

Our love is not the same as God's love.

And yet we cling to our nice little love, based on the feelings and emotions we have right now on our earthly linear timeline, our limited understanding, our current dimension of existence. Too many of us are living out behavior that is sin, justifying it as "this is love, and God is love, so it's OK." We don't get to pick and choose based on what we think love looks like and what love will allow.

God is love. God is holy. God is good. God is infinite. God is truth. God has many attributes, and they all matter. And, more importantly, someday we will answer for all of what we've done on this earth in this tiny moment of time, on our own, no excuses, in front of God. Do you think telling the Almighty God who created all that exists "but it felt like love and I was lonely" is going to make sin OK? Do you want to stand in front of a holy God who is good and just and try to explain why your sin was different and should be excused?

I don't. I'm on this earth for about 80 years--that's nothing in the scheme of eternity. I don't want to make an excuse for sin for that brief time, or help others to make those excuses.

As is pointed out in Alcorn's blog post, our existence on this earth isn't to chase after love and feel in love. It is to bring God glory. That's it. This only seems foolish if you aren't looking beyond how you feel right now and are forgetting eternity.

Stop being in love with earthly love. It doesn't even begin to compare with God's love, and it will burn away like everything else someday.

2.07.2018

Strike two, and you're out. At least on social media.

My blog readers from years past know of my foray into the world of TheoBlogging. It got pretty ugly. Knowing how awful it got only makes how bad it is now all that much more impressive (in a negative way).

I'd started this blog post a while back, and had tossed a link in it to a Facebook post. I can't see that post now, so I don't know if it exists and I'm blocked, or what. I don't remember what it was about, or why I saw fit to start a bare draft and include that. Clearly, something explosive was said. The original title of this post was "A faith blogger goes ballistic on social media" and that sure sounds click-worthy.

A couple of random statements, then.

First, there have been few things as disappointing as reading the social media accounts of the Christian authors (and even bloggers). There are books I own that were a real blessing, only to discover the author is a bit of an ass on Twitter. Super disappointing.

Let's be honest. I was an ass on Twitter, too, which is why I walked away from it.

Perhaps more Christians should take a similar walk, unless you're really gifted at ignoring the arguments and seriously able to live by Titus 3:9-11.

"But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned."

I mean, look at that passage. Twice. That's the cutoff point for engaging with pointless and divisive arguments. Twitter don't do twice, folks. Wow, did I despise who I was on Twitter. Facebook too, for that matter.

I'm not sure where the line is on how to use a gift of words and writing (and access to a blog) in a way that God wants, but I'm pretty sure, for me, it isn't on Twitter. Each Christian has to be really sensitive to the Holy Spirit in what we are and are not to read; it won't be the same for each person. But at least there are some good guidelines on how to respond on social media: two strikes. In a culture of perpetual "engage with me, are you chicken, now you blocked me, must mean your scared of my great intellect", that can be hard to do. But it's pretty good guidance.

1.26.2018

Think about such things, even if Carson Wentz plays for the Eagles.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. -- Philippians 4:8


I learned that verse at church, when I was a little girl. It was part of Missionettes, the A/G girl's ministries organization. It was our theme verse, and we repeated it before every meeting each week. It was drilled into our head: think about these things, and not the opposites, because where your mind dwells, there you will walk with your life.

What if we did something crazy and just took the Bible at its word? What if we didn't think it was just a big mean bunch of no-fun requests and instead, tried it and got a taste for what life was like without all the mental and emotional trash that comes from dwelling on "gritty" entertainment and living out bad decisions that seem legit after eating a diet of garbage?

You'll probably laugh, but what got me thinking this was a discussion online regarding the behavior of Philadelphia Eagles fans towards Vikings fans when the Eagles defeated the Vikings to get to the Super Bowl.

Philadelphia, the city of Brotherly Love (ironically), has NFL fans known for being somewhat vile. Some revel in it, taking pride that they are known for being hard-core and brutish. When North Dakota native Carson Wentz became their quarterback, I was surprised to see so many Eagles fans talking about it online and all but threatening that they were "tough" and would let him know in no uncertain terms that he was garbage if he didn't perform.

As it turns out, Wentz is pretty good. But I'm still a Vikings fan, even though every store in the state now bizarrely has Eagles paraphernalia right next to the usual Vikings gear. I didn't buy Wentz's jersey because it isn't purple.

The 2017-18 NFL season was one I didn't watch, despite it being a glorious one for the Minnesota Vikings right up until that Eagles game. Week after week I heard of yet another Minnesota Miracle, but I stayed with my boycott of the NFL (no TV, no social media, no purchases of NFL products, didn't wear any Vikings clothes), and discovered that I actually felt less stress and rather didn't miss watching the games. Combine that with a decision to leave Twitter and some other things I was doing, and I was happily cutting some nasty stuff out of my life. I wanted to take Philippians 4:8 for a test drive, and it was working.

Then I saw articles that talked about how terrible Eagles fans behaved towards Vikings fans after the Vike's heartbreaking loss. Seriously--when I look at this photo I just feel sad, not so much about the loss, but about people taking such pleasure in the disappointment of other people. It sickens me.


I saw follow-up articles about how some folks from Philadelphia must have felt a bit bad after the fact, and donated to a Minnesota charity associated with the Vikings. But many of the articles that detailed what happened to Minnesota fans did so with a half-apology that was laced with a kind of suggestion that you should just expect that kind of behavior as normal, particularly when you play the Eagles.

No.

No, you should not accept that as normal.

Screaming, abusive, and threatening behavior that makes some fans feel fear that they might not get out safely is not something we should accept.

I responded to someone who suggested that the Eagles fans behavior wasn't as bad as some European sports fans behavior so it really wasn't anything to fuss about:

"New goal this year: avoid the comparison trap. So there are worse fans -- that doesn't make this behavior acceptable. Eagles fans are *known* for being obnoxious and rather awful, and they revel in it. Read some of the articles about this--there is pride that they are this way. "You come to the Linc dressed in Vikings jerseys and you should expect this." Uh, no. People wear team gear at other stadiums all the time and you don't expect to be treated like this. It's disgusting behavior, even if there's worse behavior. Both times I went when the Bears played the Vikings in Minneapolis, afterwards I had my picture taken with some of them because their costumes/clothes were so great. People weren't jerks to each other. I boycotted the NFL this year so I didn't watch a single Vikes game despite their awesome season, and I know that people from Bismarck are all suddenly Eagles fans because Carson Wentz is from here, but I am not watching the Super Bowl. I'm tired of supporting boorish and disgusting behavior by watching it. It has an effect, you know, when I make the choice to allow some sewage in the water I'm about to drink. Clearly these Eagles fans have been slopping at the sewer far too long and seem to think this is acceptable and something to be proud of. It isn't."

So.

1. No, this isn't really about the NFL and the Eagles and such things that don't really matter all that much in the scheme of life.

2. This is about something far more courageous: taking a leap and believing and living based on what the Bible says about what we let ourselves consume and think about. Even more, start praying for your tastes in entertainment to change (and sort of go away, because we're over-entertained in this country). Last year I started praying that God would make things that didn't fit into Philippians 4:8 unappealing. It would take a miracle, I figured, because I love movies and monster/scary shows. Guess what? I find myself bored with just about everything I see on TV/streaming, particularly when it's crude and disgusting. I've tried to watch the shows everyone is gushing about, and I have zero interest and mostly disgust for them. Almost everything seems stupid and pointless and uninteresting. It doesn't even appeal. I'm more often inclined to go to YouTube and watching Bible preaching than a movie! I'm bored with what I see on Facebook, I got so fed up with Twitter that I can't believe how great it is to be rid of it...this is not of my doing or natural inclination. These are things I used to love. Life is great without them.

3. Let's not justify horrible behavior by trying to show that it's not the worst there is out there. Bad is bad. Wrong is wrong. If we want to end this sewage pit of a culture in which everyone is apparently turned against everyone else for random reasons, we start drawing the line and calling ugly behavior what it is. We don't support it with money or eyeballs, not just to hurt the economics, but to keep our hearts from getting hard. It matters, just a handful of people not completely tuned into the ugly side of culture. They act as a damper on an otherwise unfettered vibrating cord of rage.

Side note: The Eagles have a lot of players who are Christians, including Carson Wentz, who is from Bismarck, where I live. I hope these Christian players step up to the microphone and, understanding they are about to receive some of that ugly fan abuse, speak out against it. Alas, you're not just a football player anymore, like it used to be. You're a spokesperson with a platform, and this is especially clear since so many football players decided that taking a knee and making social and political statements during the National Anthem--one of the few remaining unifying elements that was left in this country--was part of the game.

1.09.2018

Why it's good for you to clean toilets.

Kill your pride as soon as you can.

Don’t ever be too good for any job.

An acquaintance of mine left a job over the feeling that she wasn’t given the proper respect that her education deserved. She would tell me that she was certain the management was jealous and felt threatened, and so she left on very bad terms only to discover she couldn’t find another job.

The idea that she was above certain kinds of jobs made it difficult to find employment. She continues to take college classes and spends money after money on more education, believing that she will, at some point, be guaranteed a high-wage job because more education is the ticket to wealth and what she is worth.

I want to tell her the truth.

She needs to get a job cleaning toilets, ASAP.

She needs to stop racking up student loan debt.

She needs to learn to live on less, in her finances and her pride, and in her opinion of herself.

I can’t say I loved most of my jobs. Nigh shifts at the post office loading dock, working in a kitchen, dealing with toilets…but having worked those jobs already, I find that I’m not terrified of losing a job. I don’t think anything is really beneath me.

When you’re truly willing to work, there is always work to be found.

It does not matter what your degree is, what jobs you used to have, what job titles you used to own, how much you used to make: you are not above cleaning toilets.

On weekends, I clean the office (and toilets) where I work. It’s extra money for my savings account. There’s a certain kind of personal pride to be found in cleaning up after others, being willing to serve other people. There’s a strange kind of pleasure in manual labor and physical work to get your pay. Maybe that’s the farm kid in me coming through, but good, hard physical work is extremely rewarding at the end of the day.

But my friend believes she is meant for the top, and she thinks she’ll never have to visit the bottom again.

If there is such a thing as top and bottom.

---

This blog post previously appeared on my Medium.com profile on October 18, 2013

9.17.2017

Being someone of no reputation.



Philippians 2:7 tells me that Jesus was a man of no reputation, of no consequence.

I have thyme. In my continual search for a 26-hour day or a secret trick to manage my time better, I forget that out on the back deck (in the flower pots I never got around to cleaning out and putting away for the winter) sits thyme. All the other herbs are dead, but the thyme, with its woody and hearty stem system, partly buried beneath this fall’s cottonwood leaves and now an insulating layer of snow, has managed to keep going into December. I can still pick the leaves and use them in cooking.
Thyme is a small herb, rather unspectacular and nowhere near as heady and delicious as basil. Basil grows tall with lush leaves that spread out and curve under. But basil is also the first to take a hit in the cold, the drought, the anything-less-than-perfect. Thyme chugs on, quietly, low, runners dropping into the soil and digging in.

A friend had shared an article from a magazine with me, pointing out a quote by Anne Voskamp. I suppose he’d shared this particular quote with me because it’s something I’ve been expounding on for over a year, both on my own website regarding the changes I’ve made to how I approach “being known” on my blog and social media, and in the conversations we’ve had.

A big part of these changes in my own life, I’ve no doubt, stem from a recent employment situation where I got a chance to see behind the curtain and take in the inglorious workings of modern day online life and the celebration of the social media mini-celebrity. But I can’t discount age as a factor in these changes, and the noticeable lessening of the pressure I feel to be known and to have people like me.

Voskamp nails it, with her succinct description of the idea I’ve been trying to illustrate with thousands of words:

The size of your ministry isn’t proof of the success of your ministry. The very Son of God had a ministry to 12. And one of them abandoned Him. Forget the numbers in your work and focus on the net value. The Internet age may try to sell you something different, but don’t ever forget that viral is closely associated with sickness. Ultimately, what seems like futile work that’s taking an eternity today is exactly what may make the most difference in eternity. And whatever you do, make it a regular practice to retreat to the “back side of the wilderness.” Because when you do not need to be seen or heard—you can see and hear in desperately needed ways.

I want to point out that going to the back side of the wilderness, as Voskamp describes, doesn’t just mean a weekend retreat. That wilderness could be a decade of your life where you accept the path laid out for you not with feelings of failure because you “didn’t achieve your dreams” and instead worked a steady job and didn’t get famous at any level and were faithful to the small sphere God placed you.

Some of you will be blessed with numerical success, but most of you won’t. I fully accept I’m in the latter camp, and do not feel that I’ve failed, nor do I feel like the voices of the crowd, who tell me that I must pursue my dream as they understand and define it, have any sway over me.

In an age where an entire generation of people are being told to live as a personal brand and live with the goal of getting fans to like who you are and what you do, Voskamp sounds off the mark.  Our reputation is our brand, we are told, and we must build and protect our brand!  Everything about what she said, and what I’ve been trying to say and continue to say to this friend of mine and to anyone who might listen, sounds so wrong now.

Even Christians, whose bookstores are lined with books about finding dream jobs and quitting jobs and realizing your potential and living your best life right now and doing what you love, will struggle with the thought that you ought to be using a different measuring stick than personal satisfaction.
Being a servant to others and living a life in which you put yourself last is not a life congruent with seeking fame, fans, renown, fortune, validation, worth, earthly success, and a sense of purpose. There are times when God gives us some of those things, but we are to seek God, not his gifts. This idea stirs up defensive anger in anyone who believes there is nothing wrong with working hard with these types of success goals, who believes in pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, and who in any way has bought into the Christianized version of this one lie: there is something better than God to pursue, and it’s worth the cost of trusting He knows best.

I want to suggest that there are some aspects of culture and the American ideals that cannot be Christianized, and that seeking any kind of renown is one of them, even if you pragmatically defend it saying that a larger platform will give you a chance to reach more people with a message. Because here’s the thing: God builds your platform, not you. 

Without God, modern day “platforms” are like a Tower of Babel, a way to prove your own glory.
When you build your platform, your platform becomes more precious that what you are supposed to do with it. As I said to a friend recently, the “problem with building a platform is you always have to stand on it and talk even if you don't have anything worth saying.” This is always the case when we’ve built our own platform and take pride in what we’ve done, willing to do and say whatever is necessary to preserve our hard work. It is also the case when God graciously gives us a platform and we take it into our own hands.

“Thanks, God. I can take it from here,” we say, making the preservation of platform more important no matter what the cost.

We pursue a traditional and accepted course of, for example, blogging all the time and saying things we aren’t really meant to say because we have to keep blogging or we’ll lose traffic. We use words and promote ideas and images that bring in the proper level of attention. These things might be bland and full of caveats and compromise, or they might be purposefully caustic. It all depends on the platform we’re maintaining. Sometimes Christians call their platforms a “ministry” to alleviate any guilt on what they have to do to keep it alive, even if it means eviscerating people in blog posts or comments.

And so, unlike what Voskamp describes, this becomes the reality: we censor what we say because we do not want to harm our fan base, the foundation of our platform.  We are slaves to the constant maintenance of the platform we created. We say what we know our fans want to hear (this is, after all, classic online marketing theory) rather than what God might have us say. We protect our reputation and do damage control so that we might gain access to the right influencers who have fans like ours in hopes of having influence. We tailor everything we say with an eye towards numbers, whether those are numbers of fans or the sales and money we rely on.

And absolutely nothing about that says that we trust and rely on God.

God gives platforms and He can also crush them. He hands out success as well as allowing humiliation to bring the proud to a place where their heart is right. He doesn’t care about your fans or your brand or your reputation. Your success isn’t about what you’ve done. It’s about what He’s done.
In conversations with my friend, I tried to explain what appears to be little more than curmudgeonly contrarianism. “I don’t want to get used to the drug,” I said.

I didn’t want to get even a taste of these current do-it-yourself methods of building renown and reputation online, which often meant I purposefully shunned influencer opportunities and avoided partnerships with seemingly benign and even helpful groups and organizations. Because, I came to realize, when you get accustomed to the drug you make the changes in yourself to not interrupt the supply. Do I really want to build a network of people and groups that require me to tiptoe around the things I might be led to say or do or support? Is that worth the reputation?

It is not.

I would rather go back to cleaning offices or working in a restaurant kitchen as I have in the past than latch onto an upward trajectory that takes me straight to a frozen and withered heart.

Instead of seeking out influencers in the hopes of getting attention, renown, and becoming an influencer yourself someday--a kind of popularity Ponzi scheme--we ought to be remembering that we, like Christ, are to live a life of no consequence. Your life, and the work of your hands and your heart and your mind, matters more to others when it matters less to you.

Because, like my stubborn and partly buried thyme, that inconsequential life lives, affects others, and can be used long after the flashy basil withered in the first touch of frost. If you are a Christian, your identity and your reputation is not your concern. You get that from Christ, and that’s way more than enough.

UPDATE: Some interesting thoughts on this here and here.

Note: This originally ran as a Facebook note on December 15, 2015

5.24.2017

Not every day.

So this might be heaven, telling the dental hygienist that you don't floss every day, telling the chiropractor that you don't do the three pages of stretches every day or the neck roll every other day, telling the dietitian that you don't start every day with warm lemon water and take a pro-biotic and a fish oil pill, telling your doctor that you don't get vigorous exercise every day...

...the day is so full of ways I should be taking care of my physical body for optimal health that I fear I'm going to live quite long in this joyless state of concerned maintenance. Ever step or non-step, ever fork of food or skipped meal, every moment seated or walking -- they all come with a price tag of pride or guilt. There is no agnostic eating or moving these days; it's all quite religious in one form or another.

It is hard to be still and know that He is God, to rest in his presence, to meditate on His word, when my FitBit keeps sending me cheerful reminders on my wrist that it's time to move again if I want to hit my step goal for the day.

In the middle of reading my Bible I find myself stretching my leg so I don't remain motionless too long, or getting up for a glass of water because I haven't had enough today.

Our physical bodies matter. This isn't about Gnosticism, or some way of pretending that I can do what I want with my body and it has no effect on the spirit, that the sins of the body are acceptable in the service of my emotional needs. When I read Colossians 1:22 and see that Jesus' physical body mattered, I have to acknowledge that mine does, too.

But no, I don't do all those things daily, and I wish to not fall into bed weary, tabulating all of the health failures I stacked up during the day.

5.08.2017

When wind fans the flames in your head.

I don't know if this is the case for anyone else, but there are days when it feels like my head is on fire. It is bursting with so many things.

Ideas.

Things almost forgotten that I'm trying to desperately to remember.

Things I've freshly forgotten that have left just enough of a wake that I know they were there a moment ago.

Things that are hidden but are throwing out peripheral information to hint at what they are without actually revealing themselves.

To do lists.

The long and winding tail of philosophical crises that have stretched for years, unanswered, thoroughly chewed on, not going anywhere.

Information pollution, such as advertisements or social media drama.

Desperate prayers.

Replaying incidents and moments annoyed that I came up with the perfect response an hour after the fact.

And so on.

So all of that is in there, buzzing around like gnats trapped in white noise. My friends have had the patience, on occasion, to wait for me to finish frantic scribbling in the notebook I carry with me before we can get on with our social day out. My phone is filled with random audio recordings that I made while driving that, at the time I recorded them, probably made sense but since there seems to be a problem with the translator between my head and my mouth, the jerking mutterings that are recorded don't at all resemble the elegant thought I tried to capture. The notebook and the recording are the way I try to free up space and lessen the fire in my head.

Some days, just driving to and from work is frenetic.

If you were to ask me which of the things in my head bother me the most, I would say it is the years-long philosophical debates that have bounced around in my head to no resolution. There are some troubling ones in there, deep spiritual questions that have no answer (yet).

"Just talk to someone, Julie!" says Happy Joe Simpleton.

Imagine you've been hiking for years. You've traveled through forest and across plateau, journeying a long way from the place you started. Most of the time you're alone in your hike, but on occasion you come across people at various way stops. You connect with them at the time and place, but they do not understand the ground you've covered, nor do they understand the context of the hike that stems from the place you started.

For me to talk to someone about this hike I've been on for decades, I have to start at the beginning. I have to tell them about the place I started, how the hike became necessary, and then I have to tell them about every crook and bend and backtrack and mountain that I've encountered on the hike.

That's a heck of a lot of backstory, and I don't trust my mouth to get it right.

The beauty of having someone close to you for great swaths of your life is that they at least understand great swaths of the hike. You only have to say a few words and they know. They might not have been there at the very start, but at least they were there for a while.

But here's the beauty of God: He knows. He knows it all, from start to finish. I don't even know the finish. He made the hike, he directed the pathway.

Lest you think I'm copping out with a Sunday School answer, remember that I'm telling you the actual walk isn't easy and that there is genuine solace in another physical person who travels with you and that sometimes, during the hike, you want some audible answers to important questions and all you hear is the wind bouncing overhead in the trees and at the time you think that's super frustrating but you forget about time.

Time (another one of those things that twist about in my head as I try to understand it) stretches out answers, like a tape recording slowed down and made unintelligible. Once I'm past a time, or someday, when I am no longer trapped in it, I can speed up, fast forward, and rewind. There was the answer all along, drawling along in the wind of the hike, not decipherable until later.

But for now, it's wind and there are days when it seems to fan the fire in my head.

5.01.2017

The Bread of Life

This morning, the church sermon was on The Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35)

Towards the end, the pastor pointed out how the two men finally recognized Jesus because he broke bread with them. He then went on to reference the many times bread was associated with Jesus. The bread of life, breaking of bread, miracle of the five loaves and two fish, the symbol of bread during communion--Jesus was even born in Bethlehem, which means "house of bread."

A faint though crept into my head, and though I've not worked it out too far, or even decided if I have the energy to think on it much, I did share it with my friend after church was over.

"Isn't it interesting how important bread is in Christianity," I said, "and how our current health consciousness, by Christian people even, has vilified bread."

Our obsession with "clean food" and "clean eating" and low carbs has targeted grains and bread as bad for the body. Jesus is the Bread of Life, and we've trained ourselves to think bread is bad for us.

It might not seem like much, but symbols are subtle things that can easily be colored in our minds if we aren't careful. If we think bread is unhealthy, do we understand the importance of Jesus breaking bread and calling himself the Bread of Life?

4.28.2017

The Christian blogosphere, course corrections, and pink tractors.



I left the heavy duty Christian blogging ("theo blogging" we called it back in the early 2000's) behind several years ago for conscious reasons. I wrote about it, most recently, in a post entitled "Being Someone of No Reputation", which I wrote in all sincerity.

I am reminded of all of it after reading an article, "Who's In Charge Of The Christian Blogosphere", and the ensuing Twitter response. I entered into the fray for a short while, but really lacked the energy.

Permit me to tell you two stories.

I grew up on a farm with three sisters and one brother. My father didn't have us girls drive the farm equipment. Only my brother drove the trucks, tractors, and combines. I once heard a woman derisively say that my father had "pink tractor syndrome", i.e. that he didn't think a woman could or should drive big farm equipment.

My father had seen two very serious (and bloody) accidents involving my grandfather (his dad) and big farm equipment before I was born. One required a frantic drive nearly 30 miles to the hospital with a neighbor in the back seat doing chest compressions on my grandfather to keep him alive as my dad drove.

In later years, dad helped set me up with the big chainsaw so I could clear some trees. He also helped me find a flight instructor, and turned his airplane over to me so I could become a private pilot, never once hinting he didn't think I couldn't or shouldn't pursue aviation. I drove the lawn mower tractors, including an old beater from the 1940's (I think) that would spray oil on my leg at times. He let us ride in the back of trucks, tailgate down, or hop on the running board of a truck as he drove down the road.

Perhaps, instead of an oppressive patriarchy at work, my father was operating out of love and a desire to protect his daughters from danger. My brother, father, and grandfather were enough to handle the farm, anyway.

On to the second story.

During flight lessons, my instructor would always remind me to make "small course corrections." If I got off course while learning to navigate, I would be tempted to compensate by yanking the yoke to the opposite direction to get an immediate course correction, unwittingly over-correcting and setting myself off in an equally wrong direction. Whether I was off course in one direction, and over-corrected to the opposite, didn't matter. In either case, I'd never get to my destination. The better approach was to gently turn the yoke until the needle on the compass gradually was on course. It took time, and meant that for a while I had to accept I wasn't exactly on course but I knew, with gentle pressure, I would get there.

The first story is of the protective nature of authority structures. The second story is about gentle course corrections.

We have a serious anti-authority problem in this country, and in the church. I've commented about that a lot after the recent anti-pipeline protests that happened here in North Dakota, and I see it growing steadily in the unrest that seems to be infecting every part of the country. Whether it is as blatant as protesters throwing bricks through store windows and screaming that they refuse to acknowledge the leader of the nation as someone whose laws they will submit to, or as subtle as someone who harbors and promotes anti-authority and distrust in our leaders in the fields of medicine, politics, academia, and onward, the result is the same: we refuse to submit.

We seem to think that submission is about domination, about someone winning at our expense. It is a mindset that sees a father who wants to protect his daughters as a cruel and backwards man instead of a good father. It is a mindset, because the over-correction is happening, that sees any man in authority over a woman as abusive patriarchy instead of one of two scenarios of an equal probability situation, if we were to get on course.

The article that set off the Twitter firestorm was well-written, by a woman who is a church leader. She expressed well the concerns I felt years ago when I stopped theo blogging, in regards to authority and its value and rightful place in Christianity. Yet the response almost immediately went to sex, racial, and economic divisions that people in this country seem all to willing to use as the reason for every disagreement. Perhaps it is ironic, but my father and mother, in what might seem to be outdated or "oppressive" traditional roles, gave me a secure home in which I do not at all feel held back as a woman, nor do I feel combative towards men. When I read the article, I immediately understood the value of authority the author described, having grown up experiencing it in a right way with empowering results. Because of how my parents modeled authority (even my father submitted to the authority of his father while farming), I know the difference between abuse and rightful submission to a leader, whether that leader is a man or a woman in whatever situation it might be.

It sounds un-American, but we need to submit. You say the word "submit" to a Christian woman, or even suggest that we need to be under authority, and she's likely going to react in one way: damn the patriarchy. There will also be some Christian men who perk up and think the wifey should head to the kitchen and make him a sandwich; abuse of authority is the over-correction for rebellion.

It is good to work to end abusive authority, but not wise to end all authority. Iconoclasts are mostly know for destroying beautiful art; they aren't known for replacing it with something better. Godly authority is protective, instructive, and corrective. If this is distasteful to you, you are going to struggle with being a servant of Christ. The fact that women responding to that article went immediately to Trump/patriarchy/how-dare-you-suggest-after-centuries-of-oppression-that-I-not-speak in their response to an article by a woman was odd. If this woman were leading my church, I would submit to her leadership simply because God had placed her there.

God places people in authority as He will. He has created the human structures and systems of authority, and the Bible clearly shows His preference to authority. Why?

Because people who refuse to live under authority, and glamorize rebellion as some noble pursuit, are a chaotic, unleadable, stiff-necked people. God is not a god of chaos, but of order. Order comes with authority structures: Obey the leaders of the land. Follow the laws of the place you live. Maintain order and respect in the church.

God values obedience, out of love for Him. A person who harbors rebellion and is enraged by even the suggestion that there is value in authority structures is going to struggle with obeying God. They are, instead, going to find ways to squeak around obedience and make it appear noble and new, perhaps writing blog posts and articles explaining away sin, when all it is, is rebellion. Rebellion is not where you learn humility, not where you learn how in your weakness God's strength is glorified. Authority and humbling yourself under it is the only way to change a person's heart into something God can use.

Blogging, by its nature (which is the nature of the internet), has no authority. I'm writing this late at night at the kitchen counter. I can push "publish" when I want to. On the internet, everyone can speak what they will, with no call to accuracy, rightness, or restriction. That sounds very American, and perhaps it is, but it isn't exactly how God has structured things. How many times did God speak through one person to the many? Yet for Christian bloggers, we have the many speaking to the many. And for Americans, we don't like the idea that God doesn't speak to all the same, and may place others over us. The last shall be first is all well and good, but don't ask me to submit!

Recognizing and submitting to authority, whoever you are to whomever it is, is about discipline and the growth that comes from it. It is putting someone above yourself and learning humility. If you refuse to submit to authority, you never learn self-control. And, for Christian bloggers, that means we never learn to control our tongues. We don't have to. There is always someone out there fawning at what we write, saying "this is just what I needed to hear today!" or (worse) "this is what someone else/the church needs to hear today!" We get traffic and ad revenue instead of correction and instruction.

Christian bloggers are required to submit to no one, not editors, not pastors, not anyone. There is no authority structure in place.

And so bloggers meander about, knowing they have to keep writing or lose their readers and their platform (and perhaps relevancy, which means they lose their book deals). They write half-formed ideas, tossing them out there under the innocent "hey guys, I've just been thinking about this, I'm not sure where I'm going with it but it's something to think about" unable to see that they may be planting seeds that lead their readers out of the faith.

I can't get past Malachi 2:17:

You have wearied the Lord with your words. "How have we wearied him?" you ask. By saying, "All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them" or "Where is the God of justice?"

How wearying must all the theo blogs be for a God who wants His children to show they love Him by obeying Him, who wants His children to sing His praises instead of their own.

Somewhere, either to the left or right this place we're at, is the correct course: godly authority figures who don't abuse, and Christians who accept the place of them in their lives. But we over-correct every time, from abuse and subjugation all the way over to rebellion and pride.

Anyone who knew my blogging in years past can vouch for my scorched-earth form of blogging. I am responsible for all of those words I said, and to the people who read them and perhaps made spiritual decisions in their life that will harm them in the long run. I acknowledge that. Now, I blog less than I used to, not because I have fewer things to write about, but because I pray before I publish and most of them don't pass the test.

Lord, don't let me weary you with my words. Your will be done, not mine.

4.11.2017

All our little gods.

The food we do or do not eat.

The exercise we do or do not get.

The injustices we do or do not care about.

The outrage we do or do not have.

It is an endless list, the little gods we make in our life. They creep into our lives, starting first as an innocent concern, grounded not in the bad but in good intentions. Then they settle in and we start to see them first and foremost in all we do and say. Soon they occupy our mind in every waking moment.

Perhaps in an attempt to combat this, we turn to "mindfulness" and believe that if we are simply more aware of what we are doing, if we force consciousness onto our actions, we will strip the thing of its power and make it benign again.

Until mindfulness, and the pursuit of simpleness, becomes its own god.

We can't add a day to our life or an hour to our day, but we careen from one extreme to another, all in or all out. The simple pleasures of what life offers are smoothed down, the highs and lows made equal by guilt or self-righteousness. We try to make behavior or lifestyle or our existence in some way more holy by addressing how we look, what we do, and what we put in our bodies.

We are to love God with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind (Luke 10:27) but we try to get holy by loving little gods of body, health, experience, and justice.

Little gods don't point us to God, and they don't make us a god. They just take up the time and energy we would otherwise give to Him.

3.07.2017

I used to, but not so much now.

I used to be more unsettled, but not so much now.

I used to be more anxious about what my life would amount to, but not so much now.

I used to be be frantic about whether people were aware of what I was doing and cared, but not so much now.

I used to agonize over things like artistic purity and selling out and pursuing passionate creative dreams, but not so much now.

I used to be in a constant state of chasing after more, bigger, and better, but not so much now.

I used to fret about whether or not I'd change the world, but not so much now.

I used to be wrapped up in finding ways to make my life meaningful, but not so much now.

I used to struggle against people and ideas and injustices, wearing myself out and making no change because I did not bother to change myself, but not so much now.

It's not that I gave up, but more that I looked up.

2.13.2017

Fading into the background, with peanut butter.

Fading into the background is sorely underrated.

There's a great deal of freedom in between the vertical seams of the wallpaper. I've written about this concept in great masses of words elsewhere, never one to say a few words when I can write many.

The oil pipeline protest in North Dakota, which has lasted nearly a year, has made me sit in some kind of awe as I watch people from all angles jockeying for position as personal celebrities. Live feeds on Facebook, inflammatory posts of dubious truth, and other species of drama all served to gather a back-slapping chorus of fans who chime in with comments of true love and devotion no matter what the person is saying.

We're apparently a world desperate to be worshiped, or to worship. Social media abounds in golden calves as people are frantically searching for lives that seem significant and others are trying to latch onto their contrails to maybe get a whiff of relevance.

The protest, as ugly and tiring as it has been to have the world's hashtag ankle-biters targeting my state, brought about a unique friendship with an older part Scots-Irish, part Native American gentleman who took the time to share a lot of fascinating history and cultural insight about Native Americans, genealogy, and about 100 other random things that I discovered weren't so random after all.

As he shared story after story, revealing one of the most unique lives I've had the good blessing to intersect with, he made a casual comment.

"I used to have a significant life. Now I have a different one, but it's still significant."

Later in the conversation, he told of subsiding on peanut butter until his Social Security check arrived and I marveled at how much knowledge and experience and life there was in him to be digging peanut butter out of a jar for a meal.

You never know how significant your life is. Significance is generally reflected off the people whose lives you change, not how you look in the mirror or on your social media live feed. You can't really measure it, especially since some people never get around to letting you know that your life meant something to them.

Back somewhere along the walls, while the rest of the people are partying and vying for attention and making all kinds of clamor, are the nearly invisible. They're having great conversation, eating peanut butter, and are absolutely free from needing to be noticed.

At the very least, they are absorbing some of the senseless fast-forgotten racket from those at the party.