On 9-11 I wrote a blog that criticized the war from both a Christian and a non-Christian    perspective.  And ever since I’ve been glued to the computer because I’ve been involved in incredibly long debates from 5 different Christians.  One of these debates is with my cousin and it’s one I actually enjoy because his arguments are well constructed.   I value dialogue with critically minded people that is deep yet respectful because I learn a lot and I’m honored that someone in my own family would take the time to throw down the proverbial gauntlet.

But the other 4 haven’t been exactly enlightening.  I absolutely despise arguing for the sake of winning.  There’s no real value in it and it’s a monumental time waster.  I feel that if I can’t learn anything or if my opponent is unwilling to consider my side, there’s no point.  But I feel like I’m stuck in finishing these stupid debates.  I really hope they end soon.  Maybe I should just swallow my pride and say, “Listen, I really gotta go do homework.  Peace.”

I’ve been thinking about the past couple days and I now I feel like Mugatu.  Out of all the things I’ve written (except for my heretical Rob Bell piece) I’ve never gotten more heat for a blog.  And yes, I did post it on 9-11 and maybe I was a tad polemic, but I was largely just espousing the non-violent teachings of Jesus.  And even if someone rightfully disagrees, you’d think they’d be a little hesitant in arguing against someone who just played the Jesus card.   People are passionate about war.

Some of these debates have been long and deep.  I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I have read several books on ethics and have done a lot of work to formulate my beliefs in these matters.  My responses in these debates have been, for the most part, deeply theological, philosophical and detailed.  On many of them I haven’t really argued as much as I’ve played respectful defense.  I keep getting the same shallow theology and angry rhetoric thrown at me.   But even in the midst of quoting scripture and philosophy, you’d think that when the fact that over a million people have died in this war (some estimate as high as 1.5 million) gets mentioned, I’d a least get a “Oh, you may have a point there.”

How can you not give a least a little pause to 1.5 million dead as a result of the War on Terror?

And yet in all this, I’ve had three non-religious friends say nothing but good things about my blog.  In fact, one of my friends, a fellow writer, asked me to read a piece about 9-11 he is trying to submit to American Atheist.  It was a great article.  It sounded like mine in a lot of ways sans the Christian perspective.  I e-mailed him back telling him how I liked it and where it was particularly strong.  And then it hit me: I’ve been spending the last few days arguing about the teachings of Jesus against fellow Christians while receiving praise from non-Christian friends and giving my input on an article that will be submitted to American Athiest.

What universe have I landed in?

In the immortal words of Mugatu, “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”

 

 

This past year has been simotaneously the hardest and happiest year of my life.  To put it pessimistically, I’ve never had a time where I was more over-stressed, over-worked, and overwhelmed.  Work has been a particular challenge.  So many things changed all at once.  I was promoted after my boss retired, my department moved locations and merged with another department, we restructured and reorganized; and much of this happened during the busiest time of year.  It was one of those times where I often came in early, skipped lunch and worked in an adrealine induced frenzy for 10 hours.

Of course, all the work stuff happened while I was in the middle of 16 summer college credits and August, which was the busiest time at work was also when finals were.   Over the past several months, I have been consistently doing homework until midnight, getting up a six to do homework, and then every other waking hour is allocated to work and family. 

My family life has been a little choatic as well.  I’m father two-year old who has the strongest will of any kid I’ve ever seen in my life and a 1 year old who is going through the worst part of the teething stage and still isn’t sleeping through the night.  And to top it all off, my poor wife suffered massive post-partum depression for a very long time.  Our finanacial situation has been dire as this will be yet another year where we play it fairly close to the poverty line for a family of four.

But I truly say all this in an optimistic fashion.  To tell you the truth, I absolutely love my life and everything in it and I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.  I absolutely love my job.  I’ve never had a job I loved more.  I love school.  I am wired in such a way that I am happiest when I am learning.  My two boys are the most precious things in my life and I would go toe-to-toe and argue with anyone that this daddy loves his boys more than any other daddy in history…short of God, of course.  Even the harder struggles have been somewhat of a blessing.  Through her depression, my wife has truly started to find her worth in Christ.  God has been molding her into something incredible and her life and spirit is beoming more luminous than the brightest star in the sky.  She was amazing before but now it’s like…dang.  How did I snag such a woman?  And our financial situation?  We’ve never missed a meal or a bill yet.  God has been stripping away our western consumer mindset and has been teaching us the value of self-sacrifical giving.  We give and volunteer more than we ever have before.  And while being broke is stressful, there’s a lesson in it.  To quote a Jason Upton lyric, “There’s a power in poverty that breaks principalities, brings the authorities down to their knees.”

And the cherry on top of the ice cream is that I have never been more excited about my relationship with Jesus.  I have never found my worth  and have been passionate about Christ more than I have in the past two years.  In the past, I determined the value of my faith in God based on my emotions so my faith was more like an up-and-down rollercoaster.  And while I’m convinced it’s normal to have peaks and valleys, my faith has been a consistent climb.  I’ve learned to stop treating my faith like an emotional thermostat and have been growing in spiritual maturity and discipleship.  And the funny thing is, not basing your faith on your emotions makes your emotions all the better.

Therefore, life isn’t bad at all.  I’m fully embracing it and enjoying every moment of it.  There’s just been a lot of life to embrace. 

Life’s like a really huggable fat lady you can’t quite get your arms around.

But things can change in an instant.  In the past week, several of the aspects that were life’s stressors have eased a bit.  Sarah has found a job that perfectly fits our crazy schedule that will help our financial strain a ton.  My job has just gotten over the crazy time and I’ll actaully be able to relax a little more and actually take a lunch break.  Finals are over and although school starts next week, the strain of previous deadlines are gone.

I actually watched some TV last night.

All of these things are wonderful and I’m SO glad they happened.  But herein lies the rub.  I find that whenever life is at its busiest and most stressful, that’s when I commune with God the most.  And when life relaxes a little, that’s when I usually commune with God the least.  My spirit knows that I don’t want my Godly fevor to wane – it just can’t!  But I give my flesh a little breathing room and I’m tempted to be the guy who, spiritually speaking, sits on his couch with a bag of chips on his chest and plays video games all night.  Again, that was a spiritual metaphor.  I’m totally good with actually doing that every now-and-then if time would ever permit it.

I don’t want to sound over-dramatic here.  It’s not that I completely lose my spiritual disciplines whenever life gets a little easier.  It’s just that I am seriously serious about my romance with Christ that I don’t want any excuse to have less fervor.  Because I know that life can’t stay this stressful forever.  I certinantly don’t want it to be.  I just want to be faithful in all seasons.

Thus begins the challenge of the brighside.  Of course, life could easily ramp up next week and none of this will be an issue.  But if it doesn’t, then praise God – I have some work to do.

 

 

I once went to a house gathering where a missionary my at-the-time church was supporting was back from Africa.  He and his family were involved in evangelizing to unreached people groups – meaning the people in the deepest parts of nowhere.  I was able to listen to his story and a watch a video of how these African natives who had barely had any contact with the modern world came to know Jesus.  It was a really cool story.

But then it got a little weird.

At the end of the video, we saw pretty much the entire tribe dancing and elated to have accepted Jesus as their savior.  The missionary then made this informal comment, “They were all really happy but then one of the natives asked about their ancestors.  When they were told they were in hell the tribe when into fierce mourning…but they eventually got over it (verbatim).”

Praise God, the good news of Jesus brings mourning!

This is one of those moments where I wish I had a time machine just so I could go back and scream “WTF?” (sorry it was the only word to convey what I’m feeling) to everyone that was in that house, including myself.  I look back on that story and am amazed that everyone accepted this little piece of horrid theology without even thinking twice.  What caused me to sit there and be so…beefheaded?

I know that answer now and I suspect that many Christians are in this rut.  We Christians have a long legacy of fear.  For many of us, we extract our beliefs about God from whatever denomination we were born into and somewhere along the line we get convinced that we got those beliefs plain and simple from the Bible.  But we really didn’t.  We get them from our pastor, who got them for his pastor, etc.

Of course I’m being really polemic with this model, but nevertheless, I’m convinced that many Christians argue the Bible when they really don’t know what’s in it.  They’re not arguing the Bible, they’re arguing their church tradition.  And whenever tough questions pop up, instead of wrestling with them, they tune them out because they’ve been trained that asking tough questions somehow indicates a lack of faith.

Having the “rebellious audacity” to ask tough questions is the thing that strengthened my faith and relationship with Jesus.  “Would God really send people to eternal hell who had no freakin’ idea who he was?” “Why was I lucky enough to be born into a Christian family while others are born in places that will never hear about Christ?”  “Can I honestly and whole-heartedly worship and give my life to a God who works under such a model?”  These sorts of questions should be asked to ourselves and to God.  God isn’t afraid of our questions.

As for the poor natives who had to “get over the gospel”, maybe God will send a missionary to go there and learn the language and tell the people, “Yes, Jesus is real and more amazing than you can ever fathom…but as far as your ancestors are concerned, don’t believe that other white guy, he’s a little beefheaded.”

I’ve been going through a lot of spiritual chemotherapy this year.

In my never-ending quest to understand and know God better, I’m realizing more and more that understanding an infinite creator with the ten pounds of squishy gray matter in my noggin is utterly impossible.    To use this analogy: he’s a potter – with IQ, rational thought, self-realization, emotion, etc.

And in comparison I’m an inanimate lump of clay with no intelligence whatsoever that is trying to understand him.

But in the midst of all my non-understanding, I am learning more and more about Christ’s love.  The funny thing is, even though it is the vastest topic on the face of this earth, it is never confusing.  Christ’s love never leaves my questions unanswered and always fills the gaps in my often wounded faith.

So it is to this love that I desire nothing more in this world than to plunge myself into its eternal depths.  I want to view everything – my neighbors, my family, my country, my faith- all reality through the lens of this love.

And this desire scares the hell out of me.

Because when you start to center your existence on this irrepressible and scandalous love, you start to entertain thoughts that God could perform and go infinitely beyond your purest, most loving and most noble of thoughts.

You start to entertain thoughts that, for some odd reason, piss off a lot of Christians.

This is where love collides with the inanimate lump of clay that is theology.  Christianity often puts infinite aspects of God into neat little systems and categories with no wiggle room.  My system is right.  Your system is wrong.  And meanwhile God is in the box we put him in just begging to get out so we would put away our differences and do nothing except stand in awe of his vastness and majesty.

But if I had to put my beliefs into tidy little statements of faith; if I were forced to pick a side, I would have to side with the hope that God’s infinite love and desire to see all reconciled to him would continue to woo the hearts of all men, until ALL eventually choose his love – even if it takes eons.

Embracing this one possibility, this one optimistic hope, has landed me in the town of Evangelical-Excommunication-ville.  This view has made me lose friends, ministerial credibility; I’ve been called a heretic and accused of “believing in man’s ideals and not God’s.”   I’ve been written off as deceived and over-thinking.  I’ve been told I was going to hell.

And I honestly don’t understand why.  Why NOT have the hope that God won’t send billions to eternal torment?  Why NOT feel joy from entertaining the thought that God’s love is so vast and demanding that no one will ever be out of his reach?  Why does this make me a bad Christian or not a Christian at all?  Thoughts like these have made me a better Christian and generally a better human being.  Thoughts like these make me share Jesus to others more since this infectious love that woos, romances, heals and changes you for the better is much more compelling than the gospel of “turn or burn.”

And the thing that bothers me most is if I were to adhere to more reformed theology, no one would think I’m a heretic.  If I were to believe that God pre-destines people into eternal hell, creating them only to roast them forever, no one would bat an eye.

So here I sit in the outfield of modern Christianity.  I have to admit, it gets pretty damn lonely back here.  But I have to tell myself that it’s okay.  It doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks because I’m looking for Jesus.  And if my thoughts about him are wrong, I trust that he’ll correct me. I pray for wisdom and understand more than anyone I know.  I suspect that searching for Jesus and not being completely accurate in regards to his character is forgivable, but not coming to him out of fear and piety is truly a sin.

Judgy Judgerson

June 7, 2011

I love people watching.

I mean I really love it.

Wait…that sounds a bit creepy. I don’t people watch in a skeevy, “To Catch a Predator” kind of way. I love getting a glimpse of everyone’s story.

Everyone has a story of their life that is a mixed-bag of joy and pain and ambitions and fears that is so complex, so beautiful that the only word I can think that can describe it is “art”.  And if you look closely, you can see it in the way people walk, in their facial expressions, and in pretty much everything they do.  In a society that overvalues status and image, we spend a lot of time writing the story we think everyone else will want to read.  But if you look closely at someone, they often tell a completely different story – especially when they don’t know someone is watching. 

Maybe I am a creeper.

But I believe that even the most mundane people; the most irritating or evil have this inner layer of beauty and good that is constantly warring their inner evil, pain and self-misconceptions.  The person in your life that has the greatest absence of personality and depth, I would argue, has an inner story that’s worthy of a novel.

But hey, I’m a hopeless optimist, or at least so I thought.

I was at a restaurant the other day on my lunch break.  I couldn’t help but to eavesdrop on the conversation two guys were having by the table next to me.  They were talking about seminary, their church and their aspirations in the ministry.  My ears perked up.  They were about my age, and fit the young hip pastor stereotype: slightly trendy, slightly nerdy, and slightly overweight- most likely due to the over-consumption of Starbucks Caramel Macchiatos. 

Psudeo-hip guy #1, we’ll call him Steve, talked about how he could see himself teaching a few classes at a seminary within the next few years.  He talked about how he could see himself writing a book after that.  He talked a lot about networking and programs and using resources like Facebook and Twitter.

Psuedo-hip guy #2, we’ll call him Bob (why is it always Steve and Bob?) couldn’t get a word in edge-wise until the topic of their church’s new tentative logo came to topic.  Bob perked up and proudly grabbed his sleek and shiny Macbook from his man purse.  Now it was Bob’s turn to ramble on about image and aspirations.

Several questions popped into my head while I was eavesdropping.  Who were these clowns?  Why did they care so much about their status and achievements in ministry and so little about sharing the gospel?  Why did they talk so much about networking and cool church logos and so little about feeding the hungry?

And then the next question was one I asked myself, “Why am I being such an ass right now?”

It was in this moment that I had what I like to call a “whip the dog session” with God.  Who on Earth was I to judge these guys?  They talked about their dreams in the ministry, so what?  Don’t I have personal goals and dreams in the ministry?  Who was I to assume they don’t care much about sharing the gospel and feeding the hungry?  And what’s so dang wrong with working on a logo? 

I left the restaurant feeling like a complete fool.  Why was I so quick to harshly judge two guys I didn’t even know?  Was I jealous they were out of seminary and I’m still plunking away in undergrad?  Was I envious of their Macbook?  (It was pretty sexy).   Was I taking the very few instances where I felt that hipster Christianity (whatever that means) didn’t work and applying it to everyone who seemed to fit that category in some small way? 

I guess the point of all this is to confront my own hypocrisy.  I get judged and pre-judged all the time by fellow Christians.  I don’t like it.  I’d like nothing more than for different denominations and methods in the faith to respectfully get along with each other.  But we live in a culture where it’s so easy to assume and criticize.  It’s so easy to fall into the same trap you hate so very much. 

This goes beyond the two guys at the restaurant.  How many times have I seen someone in public, and instead of trying to get a glimpse of their beautiful inner story, I say things in my head like, “I bet she’s a tramp.  I bet that guy has committed a crime or two.  That guy doesn’t need another cheeseburger.  Nice parenting skills, lady.” 

The sad truth of it is, my judgments might be correct.  Maybe the girl wearing nothing better than lingerie in public is a little easy.  Maybe the 400 pound guy really doesn’t need to supersize his meal.  Our minds are logical in the sense that they automatically give us the most-likely scenario.  I see a scantly-clad woman standing on a city corner, my mind says “hooker”.  I pick up a ringing phone and hear, “Good afternoon, Mr. Burkett!” my mind says, “salesman”.  These types of judgments are just the way we’re wired.

But where I get it wrong is when I take these judgments and put them into to simple categories of good and evil.  If I see a mother excessively screaming at her kids in public, my mind will always tell me that she probably has some parenting issues.  But it is my choice as to how I should interpret this data.  I could say, “Wow, she has issues.  Her kids are going to grow up all screwed up.  Someone should humiliate her in public to let her know what it feels like”.   But when I do this, all I’m really saying is,

“I’m better than her”. 

Instead, I should take this data and say, “Maybe this is a mother at the end of her rope.  Maybe she’s dealing with other things she can’t handle on her own.  Maybe she was treated like this when she was a child and she doesn’t know any other way.  Maybe she’s never had many people love her.  Maybe she just needs a friend.”

“Maybe there’s something I can do about it”. 

Can we really make that accurate of judgments about good and evil?  Isn’t that reserved for an infinite God with infinite wisdom?  Remember that whole Adam and Eve thing where they ate from a tree called the “knowledge of good and evil?”  We got the knowledge, but we’re incapable of doing it accurately.  It would be like me reading a pre-medical text-book and then thinking I was a neurosurgeon.  Should not our response always be love?  How radical would it be if we could always be in a completely subversive, counter-cultural mindset of this type of love?

It would be Jesus radical. 

But I suspect this will always be an inner struggle: to hate being judged and find myself judging; to hate being assumed and written off and find myself sizing people up in an instant.  But the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, and this is one I’m defintaely wanting to change.