A Lost Friend

Today, something happened on FaceBook that has never happened to me.

A person commented on a post and then blocked me.

The post explored how sinful impulses shouldn’t be followed and that just because a person was born with sinful impulses doesn’t mean that’s who that person is.

The person who commented, I assume, didn’t not understand this or because this matter was personal for themselves or with someone they know. However, they made clear that “My temptation to get your garbage off of my feed overcomes me.”

And that was it. No longer friends on FaceBook. No messages. No further conversation. No more discussion. I actually respected and had fond memories of this person. I would have liked to have heard her out.

My immediate response was “I have to fix this. I have made a mistake. I thought the post was clear. How can we be reconcile.” But, like the post said, not all impulses should be acted upon.

After thinking and praying, I decided to leave it alone. I replied to the post, attempted to “tag” the person, and have opted to leave it be.

Why?

Some people don’t want to talk.

Sometimes, we must leave people to their silence when they leave a conversation.

God has used silence to convict and comfort both sinners and saints.

Should we attempt to re-establish a severed relationship? Of course, but we can only do so much, as can the other person involved.

Sometimes, we must leave people in their silence.

Leaving What You Love

“I will learn as much from you as you will learn from me.”

The class looked at me confused and unsure of what this promise meant. They knew the words that came out of my mouth, but the order and context was a mystery.

This is how I begin every class I teach. As a teacher, I generally know more than my students about the given topic (there are the exceptions). However, I will relearn how to teach my subject because though the content is the same, the group of students rarely is.

A few years ago, I took a characteristic and strengths test, and to my surprise, my top characteristic was “Learning.”

Learning.

As I read the results, looking at the top defining characteristic of my being, “learning”, this was not what I expected. In that same moment, however, so much of myself now made sense. In particular, an indescribable part of myself now had a name, a part of my being that I could never put into words, perhaps partly due to laziness in merely accepting who “I am” and partly due to an idea that “there’s a not a word to deal with this.” Nevertheless, the ambiguity dissipated as I stared at this one word:

Learning.

And underneath it: Teaching.

And underneath that: Music.

I had always thought that my education in the classroom I taught in came second to my students’ education: I was wrong. The two happen as an event that parallels simultaneously. I grow as my students grow; my students grow as I grow.

I have always had a ravenous curiosity. This insatiable appetite expressed itself through writing music, reading fiction, studying theology, exploring philosophy, analyzing typography, dabbling in vexillology, and so on. I wanted to know know about “things” and luckily for me, “things” is a very broad category to gain knowledge from.

I now knew that I loved learning, and that learning was a definitive part of my being.

Thankfully, learning is a great characteristics for teachers.

And I love teaching.

Epistemology in the classroom is wonderful. Teachers talk about the “lightbulb moment” when a student finally “gets it.” These to me have always been periphery to what I consider the two essential tasks of teachers:

  1. Instill a love of learning
  2. Instill habits of thinking

Beyond these two objectives, all else is either background noise or serve to fulfill these two outcomes.

And now, I am leaving what I love.

This transition from classroom to administrative position is immensely difficult. I am leaving what I love to do what I am competent in. In and of itself, this is a wonderful opportunity for me. The prospect, however, does not lessen the sting of change.

I am no longer primarily a teacher: I will always be a learner.

Today was my last day in the classroom until God should so bring me back. As is my custom, I asked the students what did they take away from the yearlong course. Their answers were kind.

  • You helped me with my faith.
  • You taught me its ok to respectfully argue with your teacher (this was an apologetics class – there were many disagreements)
  • You taught me the importance of words.

The finally comment: you helped me become a Christian.

And now, I am leaving what I love: the work, the classroom, the subject, the students.

There is no sorrow – only expectancy. “Every step an arrival,” as the poet once said.

Every step an arrival.

Prayer With My Children

Every night before our children go to sleep, my wife, Ashlie, and I sing and pray with our children. Sometimes, there’s a story about three princess, one for each of my children, but not always.

We sing the same song and we pray the same prayer.

Now, being raised Pentecostal, there was an unspoken idea that ritual was a bad thing, at least ritual in the church. I heard several sermons about how we shouldn’t just “go through the motions.” I found myself agreeing with the message but for different reasons. I was never able to explain why – it was just a gnawing feeling, a thought: the preacher is right but also not all right.

Then, I listened to a Liturgist explain why repetition is a good thing; that ritual is just routine with meaning. .

Ritual is routine with meaning.

It was in that moment when I understood why “just going through the motions” is bad: the meaning is missing, the purpose is presentless, the goal is gone.

Ritual is good as long as it has meaning. Ritual creates habits that inform everything else. Ritual helps us sort out life; when everything is chaos, ritual brings back stability and equilibrium.

My family ends everyday the same: we sing and we pray.

We sing The Doxology and we pray The Lord’s Prayer.

When we’ve had a bad day: The Doxology and The Lord’s Prayer.

When we’ve had a good day: The Doxology and The Lord’s Prayer.

When there’s been shouting and fighting: The Doxology and The Lord’s Prayer.

When there’s been anger and tears: The Doxology and The Lord’s Prayer.

When we’ve been unkind and mean: The Doxology and The Lord’s Prayer.

When I’ve had to apologize: The Doxology and The Lord’s Prayer.

When I’ve had to forgive: The Doxology and The Lord’s Prayer.

When there’s been laughter and joy: The Doxology and The Lord’s Prayer.

When there’s been warmth and love: The Doxology and The Lord’s Prayer.

When there’s been defeat and confession and repentance and healing and wounding and hugs: The Doxology and The Lord’s Prayer.

Regardless of the type of day, of the attitudes, of the sins and forgivenesses, we always return to the God who animates us by his Spirit. We do this by singing and praying.

 

Praise God from whom all blessings flow…Our Father who is in heaven…

Let your ritual’s have meaning.

Reflections from a Fast

I afflicted myself with fasting;
I prayed with head bowed on my chest.” Psalm 35:13b

This was the first time I have participated in a food fast.

It was immensely difficult.

As Foster writes, the purpose of a fast is to know God deeper. Fasting is a form and expression of worship. God delights when we fast, but only when we fast for the right reason.

I have a few observations about my own spiritual wrestlings as I come to the end of this fast. This is not meant to be a boast – that is not my intent. If this blesses you: wonderful. If it does not: read something else that does.

  1. When the fast began, my thoughts towards others was the first area that I experienced conviction. Through fasting a non-essential thing, God reinforced the truth that all people are of concern for God; every person is a potential adoptee into the Kingdom of God. While it is true that God knows who will accept or reject his mercy and grace, I do not: therefore, let me love all as I would want to be loved.
  2. I was reminded that rest is a source of energy. To not rest is to sin. While coffee and carbs can only go so far, rest replenishes and restore body and soul in a manner that food does not. While fasting, the need for more rest became apparent. I then reflected on my wife and her “restlessness” stage of life: she is home with our three daughters, all three years and younger. My compassion for her grew.
  3. Fasting has caused me to slow down my day. Since I was without as much energy as I was used to, I had to intentionally plan my day to accomplish my tasks and responsibilities without all the “fluff” and empty time. I became more productive (at least at work; at home, I was taking naps. My wife was very gracious). This does not mean that I see myself only as a worker – rather, to my surprise, I delighted even more in the accomplished tasks and participated even more intentionally in conversations and pleasant exchanges with strangers.
  4. Because fasting removes a thing you think you depend upon, two wonderful things happen:
    1. you start to trust God to supply for you what you are fasting once did, only to discover (or be reminded) that God is far more intimately involved with his children than just with their supposed needs – he is present, always;
    2. Prayer becomes a place: yes, we do pray, as an action – but as Paul says to pray without ceasing, then we arrive at a moment when we are intentionally in communion with God always. We learn that we end prayers just to begin another, as though passing from room to room, but never leaving the house. It could be expressed this way: prayer is a reality that we never depart, for if prayer is a dialogue between God and man, then the conversation never truly concludes since God is always speaking to us at all time, whether we are speaking to him or not.

As you fast (as we should), may we keep God at the center. Blessings.

 

Doubts.

Everyone has doubts.

I have them constantly.

How do you live with constant doubt?

I seek out answers.

Where do you find your answers?

Many places. Books. Music. Friendship. Conversation. Nature. Thinking. Food.

How can you trust those things?

What do you mean?

I mean, how do you know you can trust those things and not others for your answers?

It depends on the question(s) I’m asking myself.

How do you know you’re asking the right questions?

I don’t. But they are my questions. If the questions are wrong, then perhaps my bad questions will guide me to better ones.

Then how do you know where to look?

Look for what?

Your answers.

The answers aren’t mine.

What do you mean?

I mean that if I ask a question and the answer is not clear to me, I search it out. When I find it, the answer, I submit myself to it, even if I do not like what I’ve found. The truth isn’t something you get a hold of; rather it gets a hold of you.

Kiergegaard?

Yes. He influenced my thinking a lot.

Why?

He was a man of doubts and he wasn’t afraid to share and explore those doubts. He wrote in such away that his doubts made perfect sense, but his answers, or the answers that found him, made more sense, more sense than the questions.

What doubts do you have?

Depends on the day.

What about today?

Am I a good father.

Are you?

That’s a bad question: Am I a good father. The better one is “Am I fathering?” You are either fathering your children or you aren’t. It makes more sense to ask if you actually doing something before you ask how you are doing it.

So, are you fathering?

I am.

How did you do today?

Better than yesterday. Or worse. Depends on the area of focus.

Any other doubts?

Yes. That I’m unlovable. I’m no good to my family or my friends. That I only make things worse by being here. That I can’t do what I’m doing, or at least they will soon see that I have no idea what I’m doing despite the appearance I’ve worked really hard to maintain.

Is it hard?

Is what hard?

Wearing a mask.

I’m not wearing a mask.

But the appearance?

The appearance is more my covering my face than wearing a mask. A mask can just hang from your ears. Hiding behind my hands is more poetic and raw. I am constantly walling my face with my hands.

But if you’re using your hands to hide your face, your hands can’t do what they are supposed to do.

I know. That’s the struggle. To show my face in all emotional terrains. That’s where most of my doubt is produced, the emotional terrains.

Why is that?

Because emotions are your honest self emerging through the filter of your conscious. There are no bad emotions; just bad responses. Emotions are powerful things. Deadly, even. And yet, they make life far more experiential. We connect with other emotionally for more easily than we do ideologically.

Really?

No. Any emotion that isn’t ours is hard to understand. That’s why conversation and friendship is good: no man is an island.

Merton?

Merton.

You like a lot of outcasts, black sheep.

I find myself alone often, intellectually and theologically.

How do you cope?

Reading. Praying. Playing with my children. Making love to my wife. Eating good food.

Do you not deal with it?

That is dealing with it: sometimes you have to enjoy life to deal with doubt. By doing something productive in one area, you fix a problem elsewhere. Doubt is often rooted in emotion rather than reason.

Do you think you will ever not have doubts?

I don’t think so.

Why not?

Life is doubting something.

Does that bother you?

No, not really.

Why not?

Why does it not bother me?

Yes.

Because if doubt is my default worldview and I should doubt everything, then by default, I should also doubt my doubts, since doubts would be included in the “everything” category.

I don’t follow.

What does it mean to doubt?

To not be sure of something?

Sure. Lack of conviction, some say. But primarily it is a feeling of uncertainty: the very definition provides the human experience of doubt – a feeling. To live a life dictated by feelings is…

Is what?

…I was going to say dangerous. But that’s not the best word for it.

…Daring?

No.

…Risky?

No.

…I don’t know.

Impractical. That’s the word. If everyone did and said what they felt, unheeded, all the time, the world would be chaos and madness. No order, no justice ( no one would be wrong), no real sanity to compare the madness to.

I see your point. But you haven’t answered by question.

Oh, I apologize. What was the question?

How do you live with doubt?

How can I not?

Thoughts Upon Watching “First Man” Dir. Damien Chazelle

The look on my student’s face as I informed him that Robin Hood, the “steal from the rich and give to the poor” character didn’t exist. I only delighted more to inform him that King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were also fabrications. His look was that of shock and confusion. But the one that “blew his mind” was that George Washington never cut down the cherry tree. Then something happened – his face went from shock to almost sadness.

“I’ve been lied to my whole life.”

“No, you’ve just been demythologized.”

This encounter ran through my head as I watched “First Man,” directed by Damien Chazelle.

Those who know me, know I love Chazelle’s films. “Whiplash” is one of my personal favorites. “La La Land” isn’t bad either. But “First Man” was something of a departure form Chazelle’s musical laden filmography. It was…mature.

But I’m getting distracted.

Growing up, caricatures are the means by which we learn the world. Good people do good; bad people do bad. There are heroes and there are villains. There are those who start fires and those who run into them. Perhaps it is one of the reasons I intentionally talk to my children in “messy terms.” It’s not always black and white. There are things that are – but there’s a lot that isn’t. Children ask hard questions automatically – I will not train my children to embrace easy answers.

And yet, I find that even as an adult, it is hard for me to see people rightly. Caricaturing is still a passive hobby. We are all expert caricature artists: we live on a diet of the broad brush strokes of idioms and sound bites because they are easier to digest and pass. They may even be sugar coated, hiding the razor that slices our throat as we swallow.

Chesterton was right in his biography of Saint Francis of Assisi: he could either paint him as the king of saints, second to Christ, or as the tyrants of demons, second to the Devil. However, Chesterton selected the narrow path, the middle road: he strove to present St. Francis as he was: a man, fallible and flawed as the rest, and yet, distinctly unique for how else would history have remembered him for so long?

That is the beauty of my student’s face: the middle ground had been provided – the myth shattered. Evidence. History. Reason. And maybe a little common sense.

This was my delight in viewing “First Man.”

The myth is destroyed.

The curtain was drawn.

The pain was real.

The deaths were tallied.

The widows wept.

The fatherless hardly understood.

The risk was great, greater than I realized.

This was my delight in viewing “First Man.”

It is an excellent film. The craft is well done. The acting is engrossing. The score enthralling. The set pieces almost touchable. The editing crisp. The costuming fit. The story, captivating.

The story, captivating.

Too often we intentionally choose the caricature over the portrait because it is easier to remember: a large nose, bushy eyebrows, cartoonish breasts, squinty eyes, a smile three sixes too large. But a portrait, that’s hard to remember because every is so…believable, ordinary, realistic.

I believe people prefer a caricature simply because lying to ourselves is easier than telling the truth, and since we are expert liars already, it is only natural that we would lie to ourselves about others.

“First Man” reminds us to “see people rightly.”

As a Christian Apologist, I repeatedly encounter and meet unbelievers whom I also agree with about the non-existence of god, primarily because they aren’t worshipping the god the same god I’m not worshipping. I am often confronted with a caricature of the Christian God, not the one presented in the Bible, but an odd amalgamation of some hippie, new age, homophobic or homosexually affirming, cool, boyfriend, crazy man. And that’s not an exaggeration.

I love the demythologization of “First Man,” but I love the demythologization of Christ even more.

Some Thoughts About Denominations

Ravi Zacharias once stated that it is not the similarities among religions that is important but the difference: the differences make all the difference.

I would suggest that the same is not true about denominations. This brief blurb will be about Protestant denomination: the differences (heresies/errors) between the tree branches of Christianity would take two long for the purposes of these thoughts.

I have experience many sermons where 1 Corinthians is quoted to say that denominations are an evil, wicked things that harm the kingdom and cause strife among believers.

And they are right, if they emphasize what makes them a denomination and not what makes them Christianity.

The ultimate difference between denominations isn’t disagreements on whether or not there is a God, if Scripture reveals Jesus Christ to us, if the Holy Spirit is within the believer, if the Bible is the primary source of The Body’s Doctrine and Dogma; rather, it’s about hermeneutics.

Hermeneutics is the sole dividing line between denominations.

The difference between heresy and error is that error is still found in the church: denominations see other denominations to be in error. Heresy on the other hand rejects foundational Biblical teachings and hermeneutics.

I disagree with how Baptists interpret such and such passage. And Presbyterians. And Methodists. And Lutherans. And Episcopal. And Pentecostals. And so on.

However, there is not much that I would call heresy. There is some, and most of that comes from a misrepresentation from my own tribe on what the other tribe believes.

It may very well be that denominations are a sin; however, if that is the case, then we should be repenting for being apart of not some other church. Which would be ridiculous and unhealthy.

Additionally, we tend to demonize those we disagree with. This is more harmful than anything else the Church does to herself. Explain the difference; call out errors; demand hermeneutical accuracy and integrity; but never demonize the opposition (especially if the opposition are your Christian neighbors who believe in the same God you do, albeit expressing it differently) – they will do that all on their own if their hermeneutic is off.

So yes, Paul didn’t baptize in his name, or his church’s name: I suggest we do same.