7.19.2016

Serial Complainers

Serial complainers prior to July 6th, 2016:
"Kids these days. All they do is sit inside and play their video games and binge watch Netflix. When I was their age, I didn't have any of those fancy phones or iPads. We played outside until it was dark. We got dirty and no one cared. We know how to talk to other kids. Today, young people don't have a sense of community. They probably don't even know how to get to the grocery store unless their parents drive them. You know what they need? They need to get out more. Interact with their peers. Go to the library. Visit a park. Take a hike. No more of this watching TV all night mumbo jumbo."


Serial complainers since July 6th, 2016:
"Kids these days. They're every where. Like big masses of dimwitted cattle roaming the streets. Every park, every sidewalk, every coffee shop, every church. There is no escaping them. Hordes of youth taking crazy mumbo jumbo about Squirtles and Pidgeys, and Snorlaxes. Why do they have to invade the park and the library and the grocery store. I just wish they would stay home. They are even out after dark. Doesn't anyone care?"




***Full disclosure: I have not downloaded Pokémon Go onto my phone and don't intend to do so anytime soon. But many of my friends play and I am enjoying the pictures and stories and memes everyone is posting. Despite what the curmudgeons are saying, I believe this game is doing a great amount of good in our world.***

7.15.2016

It's Friday, I'm confused

We were driving home when the song 'Friday, I'm In Love' started playing. The kids all adore this song and often sing along. It might be the only song by The Cure that they know. Well, they might be familiar with 'Close to Me’ and 'Why Can't I Be You?' but 'Friday, I'm In Love' is the one they can all recognize from the opening guitar notes and they can quote the lyrics from start to finish. Hearing their voices superimposed over Robert Smith's is one of those things that warms my heart.

This occasion was different than the dozens of other times we've listened to this song while driving around. Christian had some questions.

"Dad," he said, "I'm confused. In this song, every day of the week is kind of cruddy except for Friday. Why is Friday the I'm-in-love day?"
"Well, Friday just happens to be the day he's in love." I answered, thinking that would explain everything. I was wrong.


"Only Fridays?” Christian continued. “You would think the other days get better after that. It would be really horrible if you were only in love on Fridays."
"That's not quite what he's saying. It's more like every other day has sucked but today is Friday and today doesn't suck. So it doesn't matter what happened on every other day of the week because he's in love today."
"But it's only one day. What if today was blue or gray or black?"
“Because today isn’t blue or gray or black.”
“Huh?” He still didn’t understand.
"He isn't writing from the perspective that today is some other day of the week. He is writing this song on a Friday and singing it on a Friday. He doesn't care if every other day sucked because those days aren't today. Today doesn't suck because he's in love."
"But Tuesday and Wednesday broke his heart."
"It's not Tuesday or Wednesday."
Christian shook his head, "Why would he write about those days?"
This conversation was going in circles but I felt it was my parental duty to help him understand. "He isn't singing this song on Monday or Thursday or Saturday. He's singing it today. Because he is in love today. And today is ... "

You could see his facial expressions change as he contemplated the meaning of what I said. Finally, his eyes widened and he smiled. "Today is Friday!"

And in case the song isn’t stuck in your head yet, please enjoy the following.

7.14.2016

About Empathy

Story time.

After a robbery at a Metropolis museum, thieves fled to Fawcett City - home of Captain Marvel. Superman arrived and the two collaborated and defeated the bad guys. Superman and Captain Marvel found a mutual respect for each other and flew to Mount Everest where they talked about their powers and had a Step Brothers moment.

image courtesy of Columbia Pictures

However, Superman refused to talk about his civilian life. He considered his alter-ego to be separate from hero duties.

Alter-egos can be a tricky thing. Superman put on horn-rimmed glasses and became Clark Kent. Captain Marvel's alter-ego was easier to disguise. When in costume, he was an eleven-year-old boy named Billy Batson; a homeless orphan living in the subway, granted the power to defend himself by an old wizard named Shazam. All Billy had to do was speak the wizard's name to be transformed from a preteen into a full grown adult with super strength, speed, and the ability to fly. Uttering the word "shazam" again reverted him back into a child.

Captain Marvel's arch-nemesis, Dr. Sivana, hired a meta-human tracker who discovered Billy's secret. Hit-men were sent to kill the kid, but Billy shouted "shazam" before he could be harmed. Captain Marvel won the fight but his alter-ego's best friend was caught in the crossfire, gravely wounded. Captain Marvel took the injured child to the ER but the doctors failed to revive the boy.

Tormented by grief and guilt, Captain Marvel went on a rampage with the strength of Superman and emotional maturity of an eleven-year-old. He attacked the police station where a suspect was being questioned, fought against officers trying to stop him, and assaulted the hit-man inside the interrogation room. The killer revealed the name of the person who hired him and Captain Marvel left to seek revenge. He destroyed the top floor of Sivana's office building and choked Sivana; he wants justice but couldn’t bring himself to kill the man. Still troubled by the loss of his best friend and the damages he caused, Captain Marvel fled.

Meanwhile, Clark Kent wrote a news story about the successful team up of Superman and Captain Marvel. The article was published just as Clark learned of Captain Marvel's violent quest for vengeance. Clark shed his glasses and changed into his Superman costume. He believed that the rampage through Fawcett City was wrong and wanted to bring his friend to justice. He found a distressed Captain Marvel back on Mount Everest. There, Superman demanded an explanation.

This story played out in Superman/Shazam: First Thunder - one of my favorite titles from DC Comics. What started as a typical action filled comic book about superpowers and crime fighting quickly turned into a morality tale about the emotional toll and personal responsibility of being a hero.

The second scene on Everest is one of the saddest I have ever read in comics. Captain Marvel provided his reasons: assassins were sent to kill him, but they killed his best friend instead. In response to Superman's anger, Captain Marvel revealed his secret identity, "shazam" returned to his normal eleven-year-old self. Filled with grief, Billy remarked how it might be too dangerous to be himself. In light of Billy's revelation, Superman's questioning changed from "What did you do" to "Who did this to you." He began to see Billy as the victim instead of the perpetrator.

Superman left Everest to confront the wizard, Shazam, who he now blamed for Captain Marvel's actions. Billy returned to Fawcett City and moved residence from the subway to an abandoned apartment building. While Billy sat in loneliness, Superman discovered more about Billy through his conversation with Shazam. Superman's argument was that the role of a superhero is one that should only be chosen by an adult - it shouldn't be thrust upon children.

image courtesy of DC Comics

Shazam agreed; Billy was just a kid, one who needed guidance.

Sure, the powers that Shazam gave to the young Billy were more than a kid could handle. It might be unfair to force such responsibility on a boy not yet old enough to make that choice for himself. Yet, at the same time, Shazam's gift was an act of compassion. He saw a lost child who needed help, needed power so that he could survive the harsh realities facing homeless youth. Shazam gave what he could but recognized the boy still needed something that the wizard could not provide: guidance. A role model. A mentor.

Superman covered his costume and found Billy's new home in the abandoned apartment. Instead of approaching the child as a hero, he entered as a normal man. Now wearing glasses and a nice suit, Billy did not recognize his friend; he thought this strange man was a social worker coming to get him into foster care. Clark Kent and Billy chatted briefly, then Clark loosened his tie and unbuttoned his shirt to reveal his secret: the big red S on his chest.

image courtesy of DC Comics

Superman sat down next to the boy and said "My real name is Clark." After the grief, the emotional turmoil, and all of the trouble, Clark finally saw the boy inside Captain Marvel and realized that he could give Billy the guidance that Shazam could never offer.

Superman's first instinct was to pursue justice - something that is righteous and noble. Yet in the process, he learned that justice isn't always served through harsh rule of law. He went looking for a super-powered man who clashed against police and destroyed an office building, instead he found a child who was scared and alone.

Sometimes, a little empathy and vulnerability heals more wounds than punishment.

The empathy that Clark Kent demonstrated in the final pages of Superman/Shazam: First Thunder is powerful. Unfortunately, that kind of power is lacking in our society. I sometimes wonder what would happen if we made more effort to see people for who they really are beyond biases and first impressions.

If we could see African American citizens as a group of people who matter just like the rest of us.
If we could see the beauty of the LGBT community as they were created in the image of God just like the rest of us.
If we could see behind the badge of police officers that they are human and make mistakes just like the rest of us.
If we could stop being scared of anyone we think is different: Mexican immigrants, or Syrian refugees, or gay people, or cops, or gun owners, or feminists, or teens roaming around town while playing Pokémon Go.

I would be willing to bet, if we are vulnerable enough to bare our secrets and we compassionately see the humanity in those around us, we could begin to tear down the walls that divide us. We could see each other as equals. We could fix the tensions in our cities. We could learn what it means to actually love our neighbors.

7.11.2016

Hello to those we lost

One of the projects happening at Gizmo CDA is Gizmo2Xtremes. They are building a robot to send 100,000 feet into the atmosphere attached to a weather balloon. From there, they will be guiding the robot back down with controlled flight to Lake Pend Oreille where it will dive 1000 feet below the surface. It is a fantastic way to get kids excited about STEM education.


Along with the robot and the weather balloon, Gizmo CDA is also sending messages on little scraps of paper that will scatter once the balloon pops – a stratospheric message in a bottle. At Kinetic Fest, they were selling tickets for people to write whatever message they desired to send up with the robot and balloon. I spent a couple hours in the Gizmo2Xtremes booth, talking to people about the project, collecting the money, and giving them paper for the messages. What most people wrote is a complete mystery to me. But there is one older gentleman that stood out.

Late in the afternoon, he walked up. If I were to guess his age, he’s probably a decade older than my dad; old enough to have grandkids that are grown with kids of their own. When I asked him if he wanted to send a message into space, he smiled big and said, “Absolutely.”

He handed me a dollar and I gave him the paper and pen. With no one else around, I watched his hand as he composed his message. The first four words he wrote simultaneously broke my heart and renewed my faith in humanity.

“Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad.”

He continued to say “Hi” to another ten names. Considering his age, I knew he wasn’t greeting anyone one still living. His saying “Hi” was his way of letting go.

I wanted to walk around the table and give the man a big hug. But I didn’t want to make it awkward so I just stood there on my side of the table which was probably just as awkward.

Grief is hard. We are not really taught the right way to mourn death and great losses in our lives. It is such an individual process that even if someone were to tell us what worked for them, there is zero guarantee that it will work for us. But this old man had it figured out. If anyone knows how to say goodbye to lost loved ones, it is him. Because there is something I noticed as he composed his message to space.

As he wrote, there was not a trace of sadness in his expression. It was something else completely.

Peace.

He had come to terms knowing he would never see his parents, friends, and family on this side of existence, whatever sorrow he had previously felt was replaced with a calm that defied explanation. He was filled with peace. Sure, he might have been saying goodbye, but he did so in the best way he knew how.

He said “Hi.”

7.08.2016

Can we grieve?

It started less than a month ago with a terrorist attack – an event that was simultaneously a hate crime and the worst mass shooting in modern American history. After which, we were granted a reprieve just like any other tragedy, even as they become more frequent.

Then this week happened.

One horrific shooting, broadcast so that the world could watch. What we saw was not justice. Twenty-four hours later, we watched another unnecessary loss of life, live on facebook the aftermath of another officer involved shooting. Then on the third night, another act of terror as a sniper (or snipers) fired into a crowd of peaceful protesters, killing five police officers and wounding more.

Ever feel like you can’t catch a breath?

My old high school wrestling coach put us through something he lovingly called hell practices – run until you puke, pushups until you collapse, crunches until you can’t breathe, and then repeat. Never a chance to stop and rest – done with one thing and on to the next. Suck it up and keep moving.

That is what this last week feels like to me. Hell. But this wasn’t practice. This is reality. Senseless acts of violence, one after another. I want a moment to breathe but then it happens again. I find myself crying out “God just make it stop.”

Can we take some time to breathe and reflect upon all we have lost in the past few days? Or are going to suck it up and move on to the next tragedy?

My favorite book in the Bible is Lamentations. It seems to fit my melancholy disposition. A few short chapters of vivid poetry filled with bitter complaints and yet brimming with hope. More than anything else, this biblical entry taught me that it is OK to be sad, to be hurt, to be emotionally wounded. Lamentations teaches us it is OK to grieve and mourn – that there is a time to lament. It showed me how an expression of sorrow could be the deepest act of worship imaginable.

Within its verses, the author penned these words: “Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow.”

And later: “For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears; for a comforter is far from me, one to revive my spirit; my children are desolate, for the enemy has prevailed.”

Is this how we feel right now as American people?

The lament does not end there. The writer continues to mourn the loss of his country and the destruction of his city. Half way through the book, he shakes it off and shifts into a divergent tone and direction. These verses have long been etched into my mind. Words which I have memorized and frequently recall when I am feeling down. Monday night, with the sounds of fireworks exploding all around my apartment, I took some colored pencils and transcribed them onto a blank sheet of paper that is now posted to the inside of my bathroom door so that I see them at least once a day.


There is hope. Even now when it doesn’t seem like it. Even last night as chaos erupted in Dallas. Even as young black men are killed by police. Even a few weeks ago on a terrible Sunday morning at the Pulse nightclub. There is hope.

The author of Lamentations understood the existence of hope. He believed in it, but it took him two and a half chapters to get there. Before he could say “great is Your faithfulness” he had to first lament. He had to speak of his brokenness before that pain could be healed.

Perhaps we as Americans need to do the same. Before we can heal, before we can see hope, maybe we just need to lament. Can we come together as a nation and mourn? Can we weep over our losses? Can we cry out in grief? Can we ask if there is any sorrow like our sorrow?

We need to demonstrate our grief. If that means we gather in the streets and protest, then let it be protests. If it means candlelight prayer vigils, then let's pray together. If that means we sit alone in our rooms and cry, then let it out. If it means we wander off into the woods and curse at the skies, I believe in a God who is big enough to hear our profanities.

Whatever it is, we need to mourn. Now is a time to lament. If we can do that, I promise you there is hope.

7.07.2016

How do you explain hatred?

In 1938, Detective Comics published the first issue of Action Comics featuring an alien with godlike powers who wore blue tights and a red cape. His name was Superman - the first modern superhero. Nearly 80 years later, Superman is still one of the most popular and beloved fictional characters every created. He has become an American icon and a prototype for many more comic book heroes.

Superman was the result of collaboration between Jerry Siegel (writer) and Joe Shuster (artist). Both were sons of Jewish immigrants working in an era of anti-Semitism. Through the medium of comic books and super-powered beings, Siegel and Shuster portrayed an exaggerated version of the Jewish experience in America. People of their heritage were shunned, discriminated against, harassed. Jewish Americans were treated with skepticism and disdain. Yet their ingenuity helped build much of American society; their influence built or revolutionized the film industry, banking, publishing, and the sciences. The Jews living in America felt like aliens in a strange land, despised yet wanting nothing more than to help. Superman was an alien in a strange land, misunderstood yet wanting nothing more than to save lives.

In a way, Siegle and Shuster created a fearsome creature that would be a guardian to the American people as a way of subtly convincing readers how that which they feared could save them. They were selling acceptance of Jewish peoples in the form of a man with unnatural strength and the power to fly. If such a powerful being came into our world, (Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound!) would it be revered or feared? Human nature tends to be scared of that which it does not understand. We are afraid of things that are abnormal and weird.
image courtesy of Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment

That is what happened during Jesus' time. John the Baptist was a strange man. He lived in isolation, wore strange clothes, and ate bugs. He criticized those in power and as a result was feared by Herod who though John might lead a rebellion. In the end, John the Baptist was beheaded. When Jesus began his ministry, he taught about love and a new heavenly kingdom and a radically different way of living. Much like John who preceded Jesus, the religious and political leaders of the day felt threatened. They were worried of a revolt lead by Jesus, the charismatic and popular teacher who spoke against power and corruption. They feared what they did not understand and could not control so they had Jesus executed, crucified like a common criminal.

It is sad how frequently how fear steers our culture. Whether it is ancient Judea, or the anti-Semitism of the 20th century, or today and this very moment, little has changed. John the Baptist and Jesus were feared because they were different. The Jews were hated because they were different. It makes me wonder who is different now.

Homeless people?
The LBGT community?
Syrian refugees?
Mexican immigrants and migrant workers?
African Americans and the Black Lives Matters movement?
Hillary Clinton supporters or Donald Trump fans?
Your neighbor?
My neighbor?
You?
Me?

Fear leads people into drastic and often irrational actions. In the last 48 hours, we have seen this played out in horrifying measure. For unexplainable reasons, fear led law enforcement to end the lives of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.

When my kids heard about these news stories, they want to know why. Why would someone do that? Why did this happen? Aren't the police supposed to help? Aren't they supposed to prevent stuff like this from happening? Why are people so angry?

I am left to explain hatred to my kids. I have to give a reason for racism, xenophobia, ableism, and homophobia. I have to describe discrimination and profiling and how it happens. In the process of this conversation, I feel like I am justifying the inexcusable. Because when my son asks me "Why would anyone hate someone because of the color of their skin?" the only appropriate answer is "They shouldn't."

These conversations break my heart. They are soul wounding discussions that should never have a need to exist. So I apologized. I told my oldest son that I was sorry how my generation has created such a mess of our culture. I told him that he deserves better. I told him his brother and sister deserve better. And I feel absolutely powerless to change anything.

My son told me it is OK. And with wisdom that should never belong to an eleven year old child, he said, "Maybe, when my generation is older, we'll see how cruddy the world is and do something about it."

This kid gives me hope. Our governments are gridlocked. Our police forces are reactionary. News media preaches misinformation. Everyone is scared and angry. But my son believes his generation has the power to fix it. I want to believe him and I hope that you do too.

7.03.2016

Is It Bliss?

The proverb proposes “ignorance is bliss.” I have often wondered the origin of the phrase with some strange hope to travel back in time, prevent its adoption into popular usage – like a literary terminator sent into the past to kill what would destroy us, forever protecting our lexicon.

Is ignorance really bliss? What does that even mean?

Alas, I am not a T-800, nor do I possess Arnold Schwarzenegger’s physique. What I do have is access to the internet and my google-fu is strong. I don’t have to ignorantly wonder about useless trivia for all eternity. If I want to know where something originated, I only need to spend a few of minutes with a search engine and diligent study.

While the powers to defy boundaries of time and space belong only to The Doctor and his companions: I can peruse the texts of history and Thomas Gray is safe from my intellectual wrath.

Who is Thomas Gray? Gray was an eighteenth century poet, a scholar and a professor at Cambridge University. By all accounts, he was an intelligent and eloquent man. He spent most of his free time reading or playing a harpsichord. He had an interest in botany, physical sciences, and locations of antiquity. His most famous poem ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’ contained lines that immediately found their way into common use in the English language – phrases like “celestial fire” and “kindred spirit.”

Thomas Gray is also to blame for first penning the words “ignorance is bliss.” It is found in the final stanza of his poem, ‘Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College.


Over the past 270 years, the original meaning of Gray’s words has been replaced. Gone is the loving nostalgia of faded youth. Gone is the fond remembrance of being in school and getting an education. Instead, the final eight words of a beautiful poem are immortalized and taken as gospel: happiness is found in ignorance and wisdom is foolish. Modern America has embraced these words to become a higher calling – that idiocy is something to which we should aspire. Ignorance is bliss. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Where did we go wrong? How did we come to interpret this work of prose into a twisted American ideal? It couldn’t have been at the birth of our nation. A little more than forty years after Gray’s Ode was published, Benjamin Franklin wrote his autobiography which contained his list of thirteen virtues for moral perfection: Temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Tranquility, Chastity, and Humility. While recognizing it was impossible to be perfect, attempting to reach perfection made Ben better and happier.

Please note, Franklin did not list ignorance as a virtue. Yet a large portion of American culture lives as if it was, gleefully bragging about their disdain for any semblance of intellect. This is the culture that turned Honey Boo Boo into a star, clings to debunked conspiracy theories, and denigrates those with Ivy League degrees as elitists. We use ignorance as an excuse; we cannot be held accountable for things of which we were not aware, dodging personal responsibility in an effort to maintain our pursuit of happiness. We never have to be wrong nor do we ever need to be challenged. This trend is alarming, but nowhere does it concern me more than within the church.

It needs to stop. We can no longer demonize scientific inquiry as some great evil. We can no longer shun those with an insatiable appetite for knowledge. We can no longer discourage education.

If we as Christians believe in a God who literally created everything, then we must also believe the same God created the seismic shifts and eons of erosion that formed our continents and gave shape to our mountains and coastlines. If we believe in a God who was the creative spark at the origin of our species, we must also believe the same God gave us brains and intends for us to use them. If we believe in a God who wove the tapestries in this world of scenic vistas teaming with wildlife, we must also believe the same God wants us to care for and preserve that natural world. If we believe in a God who decorated the heavens with countless stars and distant galaxies, we must believe the same God wants us to explore those extraterrestrial depths and understand our universe.

That is the kind of God that King Solomon worshiped. He did not see ignorance as a virtue. Rather he valued wisdom. In the biblical book of Proverbs, Solomon wrote, “Hold on to wisdom, and it will take care of you. Love it, and it will keep you safe. Wisdom is the most important thing; so get wisdom. If it costs everything you have, get understanding. Treasure wisdom, and it will make you great; hold on to it, and it will bring you honor. It will be like flowers in your hair and like a beautiful crown on your head.”

The Apostle James encourages his readers to ask God for wisdom if we lack it because God will give it to us generously and without reproach.

It is wisdom, not ignorance that will take care of us. It is wisdom, not ignorance that makes us great. We should be asking for wisdom, not ignorance. Because God gives wisdom, not ignorance.

Knowledge and wisdom are both spiritual gifts. We need to stop treating them as taboo topics or nefarious qualities. If we are to abide by the words of the first chapter of Isaiah, wisdom is essential.

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow's cause.
Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.

Justice requires wisdom. Caring for the orphan and widow takes wisdom. God is clearly asking his people to think. He wants us to reason together. Rational, critical thinking.

Does that mean we should ignore Thomas Gray’s poem? Of course not, but we should put it into context. He was looking at a younger generation as a reflection his own days of youth. He wondered if knowledge of the future would ruin their joy. If you knew what would happen to you over the next twenty years, would it inspire you or discourage you? Gray figured it would be better for kids to be unaware of the pains and trials of their future as it would diminish their joy.

To be ignorant of the past is dangerous. To be ignorant of current events is irrational. But to be ignorant of the future? Well, that is bliss.

6.25.2016

Ugly Americans

There was an incident in Florida. Not the shooting at Pulse or the gator at Disney World. It should have been innocuous: a couple of dudes from Brazil filming tricks on self-balancing scooters known as hoverboards. Not a big deal, no cause for concern. Probably trying to be the next YouTube stars - inspired by people like Johnny Knoxville and Bam Margera.

What elevated their video from stupid tricks to an incident was the actions of a third party. An obese white woman in an SUV pulled to a stop in the middle of the road (blocking traffic) to berate the two boys in an onslaught of racist and homophobic rants. She assumed they were of Arab decent and were studying the flight patterns from a nearby airport to plot the next big terrorist attack. The worst part of her vulgar and belligerent verbal assault is that she lauded herself as someone who loved Jesus while these two boys were condemned to hell.

One of the two wannabe YouTubers filmed the exchange from his phone. A friend of mine shared his video on Facebook and I watched in shocked fascination like seeing a train wreck happen in slow motion. I couldn't help but think this woman represented everything that is wrong with America. Angry. Hateful. Xenophobic. Jingoistic. Arrogant. Ham-fisted. Obnoxious. Filled with blunderbuss. Generally unhealthy. Ignorant and oblivious. Granted, I know people like this are not symbolic of all Americans. I know they are a noisy and horrific minority emboldened by the flagrant violations of civility displayed by those who want to lead our nation. Yet they are the stereotype. They are the Ugly Americans our foreign friends think of when asked to describe American tourists.

Even worse, if you ask your atheist friends to describe how they view the average Christian, this woman is what they describe. Hostile, judgmental, hypocritical, paranoid, fearful, unintelligent, and rude. It grieves me to see displays like this - when people who claim to live under the banner of Jesus act in ways contrary to fundamental Christian doctrine. People like this Floridian woman fit the description of what Brennan Manning called the greatest cause of atheism:


When Jesus described the greatest commandment, He told us to love God with every element of our being. He then quoted Levitical law to describe the second greatest command: love your neighbor as you love yourself. I thought of those verses of scripture while watching the confrontation between this woman and the two guys from Brazil. Is this the kind of love that Jesus talked about? It can't be. Does this woman know who is her neighbor? Is she really loving them the way she loves herself? If so, she is abnormally self-loathing. Even if the worst of what she assumed was true, was she abiding by what Jesus instructed in the gospel of Luke? “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who are cruel to you.” How could she? There was nothing loving or good or prayerful about her stream of insults, profanities, and derogatory comments. If what the apostle John wrote about love is true – “whoever loves has been born of God and knows God and anyone who does not love does not know God,” then I find it unbelievable that this woman knows the God she claimed to love.

There was a part of me that wanted to share the video. I thought 'We should make her famous for all of the wrong reasons. Turn her into a sensation like the Chewbacca mom, but in reverse. She should be shamed and humiliated.' But I abstained. Here is why.

1. It was horrifically disgusting. I am not typically offended by foul language. One of the songs on the soundtrack to my life is Little Lion Man by Mumford & Sons, a song with a chorus that sings "It was not your fault but mine, I really F@#%ed it up this time." One of my all-time favorite movies is Kevin Smith's Clerks - they drop several dozen f-bombs in that script and I laugh. I hear vulgarities throughout the day almost every day and usually shrug it off. Even with my high threshold for what it takes to offend me, this woman exceeded it with gusto and kept going. The depths of her crudity was astounding - in casual obscenities, in racial and homophobic slurs, in her graphic depiction of sexual acts, in her relentless attempt to paint these two boys as terrorists and pedophiles. I know that many of my friends and family have more delicate tolerance for unwholesome talk than me; if I was offended by the language in the video, I know several who would be greatly appalled.

2. The altercation ended poorly. The Brazilian boys didn’t invite their attacker's verbal barrage. They didn't deserve it. I would expect them to respond defensively; that is the normal fight or flight response humanity has hardwired into our brains. When threatened, we either freeze or retaliate. These two boys fought back but they did not do so gracefully. In some ways, their response was just as ugly as the woman who started it. Instead of deescalating the situation, they riled the woman up even more. While I can't fault them, I don't applaud their actions either.

3. In light of the hate crime and terrorist attack in Orlando, the LGBT community is already fearful of people like this woman. They are hurt. They don't feel safe. They are scared. I've chatted with a few of my gay friends over the past couple weeks and they all have expressed similar emotions. The shooting in Orlando was terrifying, but many of the reactions from straight conservatives have been just as hurtful. Reposting a video where someone demonstrates so much vile hatred for my gay friends would only add insults to the injury they've already endured. I value their friendships too much to subject them to more contempt.

4. Would sharing the video make me any better than her? If I believe that the two Brazilians were what Jesus would say were her neighbors, then wouldn't she be my neighbor? If she failed to demonstrate love to her neighbors, then I would also fail to show love by sharing a video with the intent to shame and humiliate. If I am to live the way I believe God commands me, then I must show love to people I don't like, I must love people that offend me. Even if they are complete strangers. Honestly, I don't always get it right. Sometimes, I should show love and fail to do it.

5. There is enough anger and hate in our world. I really don’t want to add to the noise. If I am going to climb up on a soap box, I would rather shout about grace and reconciliation than to point at someone and say "Look at this fool." Instead I cling to the words of Martin Luther King Jr, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." When I fail to live up to the standard I proclaim, it is time I admit it like I am now and aim to do better the next time.

6.18.2016

The Best Gifts

I made a mistake. In a conversation with my daughter, I mentioned that tomorrow is Father’s Day. This news caused her great distress.

“But, I didn’t get you anything?” She said.
“Get me anything for what?”
“For Father’s Day. I didn’t get you a Father’s Day present.”
“That’s OK. I got you, I don’t need anything else.”

That didn’t pacify her.

“But I always get you a Father’s Day present.”
“Oh, Sweetheart. I have enough stuff. I don’t need more stuff.”
“But I like getting you superhero figurines. Remember? I got you Superman last year and Flash the year before that?”

Of course I remember. Both figures are on top of my TV next to the Wii.

“My sweet Zu.” I picked her up and set her on top of an elevated surface to make sure she could look me straight in the eyes. “I love all of the gifts you got me but the best gift you could ever give is you. You are enough. I love you and you are the only thing I need.”









“OK, Daddy.”

6.17.2016

The Boys & Their Hobbies

My two sons are very different creatures.

JJ fits the traditional masculine mold. He plays rough, grunts and growls, and will eat anything. His interests range from any sport played with a ball to any vehicle with an engine in it (the louder the better). He like comic books, action movies, and stories about monsters. When someone says, "he's all boy," they could be talking about JJ.

Christian does his own thing. Wicked smart and wildly creative. He is a voracious reader and a dreamer of big ideas. He can explain the uncertainty principle, the basics of string theory, the laws of physics, and the intricacies of a black hole. But the unspoken rules of social interaction are foreign concepts. The only reason he demonstrates any interest in athletics is because other kids like it and Christian just wants to be cool and accepted.

As a parent, it's my job to encourage and support their hobbies. If I can help them pursue their dreams, then that is something I should be doing. JJ wants to be an athlete and Christian wants to be a comedian who also writes books.

Of the two, guess which one I am more adequately prepared to lead into their goals.

When I was a kid, my brother was Sporty Spice. Aaron's first love was basketball but he was willing to try most other sports. As an adult, he enters more fantasy leagues than I can count. And his son (my nephew) is a terrific pitcher for their local baseball team.

I landed on the other side of the spectrum. I was the kid more into art and theater and design. I would have rather been on a stage than at home plate. I more comfortable in a rehearsal than a huddle. I would have preferred memorizing scripts than offensive plays. By the time I graduated high school I could deliver a mean soliloquy but I could hardly shoot a free throw.

Christian's goal this summer is to write a book. And he wants to write it with me. When school starts, he wants to join the drama club. Those activities are in my wheelhouse. I can help him with all of the above.

But I get a little lost with JJ. Sure, I could sit on the bleachers and cheer like any other parent. I could passionately point out when a referee makes a bad call like my dad used to do. But I will never possess enough skill or knowledge to coach one of his little league teams. Even worse, I won't ever be the right person to give him tips on how to play better or improve his game.

Of course I will try. Doesn't mean I will be his sportiest teacher, but I will try. Last night, I watched him at baseball practice as he struggled to connect his bat to the ball. It didn't help that the pitching machine was aimed low. Still, JJ seemed to be hesitant in every swing of his bat. Out in the field, he came so close to catching the ball over and over again without ever actually catching it.

There is a part of me that feels a little guilty for not having taught him how to throw, catch, and hit a ball. After all, baseball is America's pastime and such father/son lessons is the epitome of Americana. But I never learned from my dad. An injury prevented him from providing me the same lessons he gave Aaron. Even if he had been physically able, I'm not sure if I would have been interested.

Now, however, with a boy of my own that wants to play every sport in existence, I can't help but feel a little inadequate seeing him struggle yet not knowing what to do to help him increase his skill level.

All things considered though, I can cheer from the sidelines and bleachers and grandstands like a boss. Even if he strikes out every time, nothing beats seeing the grin on my son's face as he stands inside the batter's box.

6.14.2016

Crossfaders & the Damascus Road

In the corporate world, you will occasionally hear the phrase “a come to Jesus moment.” It is a discussion held when an employee is atrocious and their boss wants to give them a final opportunity to shape up because firing them takes too much paper work. The hope is that the threat of termination is so great and believable the slacker will suddenly turn into employee of the month material. It is like Warden Norton greeting the new inmates at Shawshank: “Put your trust in the Lord; your ass belongs to me.”

Come to Jesus conversations happen because we know anyone is capable of turning their life around and getting their act together. Deep down we want to believe that such change can happen instantly. We desperately cling to the possibility of now or never moments where life is radically altered.

Call it the American Idol syndrome – seeing a star born out of obscurity and becoming an overnight celebrity. Consider the struggling actresses waiting tables in Hollywood cafes hoping a famous director (or any director) would sit at one of her tables. Comic books are filled with the chance encounter trope launching far too many superhero origin stories: Peter Parker’s spider bite, Reed Richards and Sue Storm’s exposure to cosmic rays, Matt Murdock’s blinding accident as he saved an old man, the explosion that merged Carol Danver’s DNA with Kree markers, or Bruce Banner radiated by a gamma bomb. Even science fiction plucked a computer programmer named Thomas Anderson out of the Matrix and transformed him into Neo.

Church folks seem to cherish this idea of instant redemption and 180 degree conversion. After all, our scriptures tell us, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

So we expect it. We see no greater example than the biblical story of how Saul became Paul. Along the Damascus Road, Saul had an encounter. He was blinded by the light, heard the voice of God, and in an instant his life was changed. He was given a new name and a new mission. The man who was a persecutor of Christians became a follower of Christ.

What if it doesn’t happen like that for us? What if we don’t fall asleep as Peter Parker and wake up the next morning as Spider-Man? What happens if we don’t feel like a new creation? What if we still make mistakes or struggle with this sin thing that the preacher told us Jesus died to forgive? Do we get disappointed? Disillusioned? Do we think that maybe we’re doing something wrong? It’s not supposed to be like this. I’m not even supposed to be here today.

While I believe such radical religious conversions are possible, I think they are relatively rare. Rather, the lives of those who begin to accept and explore the claims of Jesus have more in common with the crossfader on a DJ’s mixer.

When you look at a DJ’s console, there are two channels for music. Each input has individual volume controls – vertically placed sliders where the higher you push it, the louder the output. In between the two channels is a horizontal slider control called a crossfader. If positioned all of the way to the left, 100% of the musical output will come from channel 1. If the crossfader is slid all of the way to the right, 100% of the musical output will come from channel 2. But if the crossfader is placed halfway between the two, you will be sending an equal amount of sound from both channels to your speakers.

A talented DJ can quickly switch back and forth between the two channels to create cool cuts and effects. Most DJ’s – the ones performing at school dances and wedding receptions use this feature as a way to seamlessly transition from one song to the next.


At these kinds of parties, silence is your enemy. However, it would be awkward and almost painful to hear if the DJ started playing a new song at full volume while the previous song was still playing just as loud. The tempos don’t match. Songs could be in different keys. It would be a discordant mess as disastrous as not playing any music. The crossfader allows the first song to fade out as the next fades in. It makes the change feel natural. When done correctly, the audience can’t really tell when one song ends and another begins.

You could say the disciples had an instant conversion. They left everything without question to follow Jesus. But you might recall they still had their struggles and doubts and it took them a while before they realized Jesus might actually be the messiah.

You could remind me that apostle Paul is the poster child of instant conversions. If someone as notorious for being against Christianity could convert to the faith so quickly and easily, then why can’t that happen to everyone else?

Maybe Paul's conversion was not so sudden.

I have no doubts that Paul was ready and willing to believe in Jesus after his encounter along the road to Damascus. But I do not think that God instantly changed everything about Paul. I think that Paul still had questions and objections. I believe that Paul still faced temptations and struggled with sin – even while travelling to preach about how Jesus changes lives. Sure, Paul became the author of a majority of the New Testament but he was still a troubled and flawed individual.

After all, this is the man who was brutally honest about how much he still failed to live up to God’s standards. “I do not understand the things I do. I do not do what I want to do, and I do the things I hate. … I want to do the things that are good, but I do not do them. I do not do the good things I want to do, but I do the bad things I do not want to do.

Paul also understood that he was a work in progress. In the letter to the Philippians, Paul said “I do not mean that I am already as God wants me to be. I have not yet reached that goal, but I continue trying to reach it and to make it mine. … I know that I have not yet reached that goal, but there is one thing I always do. Forgetting the past and straining toward what is ahead, I keep trying to reach the goal and get the prize for which God called me.” In effect, Paul was admitting he doesn’t have it all together. It’s like he was saying “I’m a mess, but God is still working on me.”

It might be unfair of us to expect those miraculous moments that change everything. Perhaps the old you is the track playing on channel one and the new you is the song on channel 2. And God’s hand is on the crossfader slowly sliding the control from left to right. There might be bits of your old life coming through the speakers, but slowly it is fading away. Before long, it will be gone in a seamless transition into a new life.

6.12.2016

Love is Louder

We see a lot of hatred and anger in our world today. A day after writing the words “there will always be bad people with evil intents,” I wake up to news that one such person walked into a nightclub and opened fire – killing 50 and injuring dozens with a level of violence that defies comprehension.

This one man’s religious fervor drove him to hate an entire community. My religion? Here is what I read when I open my bible.

• “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18)
• “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51: 17)
• “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. (Psalm 103:8)
• “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” (Proverbs 3:3)
• “Hatred stirs up trouble, but love forgives all wrongs.” (Proverbs 10:12)
• “Those who make evil plans will be ruined, but those who plan to do good will be loved and trusted.” (Proverbs 14:22)
• “Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love will find life, righteousness, and honor.” (Proverbs 21:21)
• “For love is as strong as death, It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.” (Song of Songs 8:6)
• “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. (Lamentations 3:22)
• “But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.” (Hosea 12:16)
• “This is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
• “But I say to you, love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you.” (Matthew 5:44)
• “If you love only the people who love you, what praise should you get? … But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without hoping to get anything back.” (Luke 6:32-35)
• “I give you a new command: Love each other. You must love each other as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)
• “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
• “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9)
• “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.” (Romans 12:14-16)
• “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13: 10)
• “Be alert. Continue strong in the faith. Have courage, and be strong. Do everything in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)
• “Always be humble, gentle, and patient, accepting each other in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
• “This is my prayer for you: that your love will grow more and more; that you will have knowledge and understanding with your love; that you will see the difference between good and bad and will choose the good.” (Philippians 1:9-10)
• “Bear with each other, and forgive each other. If someone does wrong to you, forgive that person because the Lord forgave you. Even more than all this, clothe yourself in love. Love is what holds you all together in perfect unity. Let the peace that Christ gives control your thinking, because you were all called together in one body to have peace.” (Colossians 3:13-15)
• “Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. … Remember those who are suffering as if you were suffering with them.” (Hebrews 13:1-3)
• “Dear friends, we should love each other, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has become God’s child and knows God. … if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is made perfect in us. … God is love. Those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. This is how love is made perfect in us: that we can be without fear on the day God judges us, because in this world we are like him. Where God’s love is, there is no fear, because God’s perfect love drives out fear.” (1 John 7-18)

Page after page, I read of a God who loves me and calls me to love others. I read of a God who cares for the brokenhearted and urges us to follow His example. Jesus said that the two greatest commands were to love God with every ounce of our being and to love our neighbors the same way we love ourselves. So I will choose to love.

My heart is broken for the city of Orlando as their communities have been disrupted by acts of hatred and terror. My heart mourns with my LGBT friends as they have been confronted again with violence and contempt.

image courtesy of The Daily Beast

Hate is easy. It does not require any effort or mental deliberation. But love is louder. Love is bigger. Love is stronger. Love is braver. Love is wilder. Love is more powerful. Love is crazy beautiful.

Hatred inflicts pain but love heals wounds. So I dare you to love. Love the messy and the broken. Love the lost. Love the complicated. Love the strange. Love those who are difficult to like. Love your friends and love your enemies. Love when it is scary. Love when everything inside of you wants to run away screaming. Love when it would be easier to show spite.

In the wake of these tragedies, let us love. Let us be bold. Let us be audacious. Let it be loud and obnoxious. Let our love drown out the noise of those who choose to steal, kill, and destroy.

6.11.2016

Teach your children well

When I was a kid, my mom's radio was almost permanently tuned to 97.3 KBSG, Seattle’s (former) oldies station. I was raised listening to the music of the 50's and 60's. Simon & Garfunkle, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, The Righteous Brothers, The Monkeys, The Turtles, The Temptations.

There are a few songs I heard frequently enough that I can still remember every lyric despite not listening in years. One of those tunes is from Crosby, Stills & Nash: Teach Your Children.


I strive to do just that - to teach my children well. How to throw and catch a football (of which my daughter picked up quicker than either of her brothers); how to cook and use kitchen appliances; basic musical components of rhythm and melody; homework assistance in math and English; the quirky historical events you won't find in a text book; showing esteem to their elders; how to be a good friend to others; how to care for and enjoy nature; various theories about time travel and quantum physics; the joys of literature. My goal is to make sure my kids grow up to become well rounded and intelligent adults. I want them to be happy and healthy humans regardless of where their goals and dreams take them in this world.

While I get to teach my kids about the good in life, of hobbies and academics, of the wonders of the natural world and the possibilities of science, of God and hope and family, I also have to teach them about things that are not so happy. Because sexism and racism and homophobia are all still very real parts of our society. Because our communities are divided, bitter, and jaded. Because our nation is still struggling to find a balance in justice and human welfare and individual rights. Because our planet is constantly embroiled in warfare. Because their peers will struggle with addiction and depression. Because America is filled with greed and exploitation while the world beyond our borders face disease and poverty so incredibly difficult for us to comprehend. Because no matter where they go, there will always be bad people with evil intents.

We all know something needs to change. Many want to return to days of innocence and a better America of the 50s. And I could easily long to go back to the 80s and 90s thinking of how much easier life was back then. But I know that our longing for the past is tainted by a view through rose-colored glasses. We deceive ourselves with selective memories and revisionist history. We ignore the flagrant racism of the 50s, the sexual revolution of the 60s, the drug experimentation of the 70s, the proliferation of Wall Street greed in the 80s, the apathy and despondency of the 90s.

We can't go backwards. All we can do is change the future. The best way we can do that is through our kids. Give them the tools to heal the world. Give them opportunities to fix what we broke.

A couple of years ago, when #yesallwomen was a trending topic on Twitter, my first thought was that I didn’t want my daughter to grow up in a society where sexual assault and rape were so prevalent. Then I realized if I wanted that to happen, I needed to teach my sons to be better men. I need to raise my sons in a way that they do not perpetuate the culture of violence against women. I need to show my boys what it means to do the right thing. I need to make sure that my sons know sexual harassment and assault is a line that should never be crossed and that they will be brave enough to stand up to those who do cross that line.

My resolve was doubled during the gamergate controversy as internet trolls engaged in horrific stalking and harassment against women in the video game industry. My daughter loves playing video games and reading comic books. She is as big of a nerd as her brothers - possibly bigger. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misogyny in geek culture and gamergate demonstrated those biases in the ugliest ways possible. I want my daughter to find a safe and welcoming community among geeks. I want her to feel encouraged and supported studying STEM topics. I want her to be free to enjoy what she enjoys without worrying about asshole guys giving her a hard time for being a girl. But in order for that to happen, I need to teach my sons that girls can be geeks too. I need to show them how women make our community better. I need to encourage my boys to defend the rights of girls to play along in their world of superheroes, scientific experiments, and video game quests.

Perhaps this is what disturbs me the most about the news we have seen from Stanford. The Stanford campus averages one rape every two weeks. That was before Brock Turner was caught in the act and restrained by a couple good Samaritans. Perhaps this wouldn’t be news if it wasn’t for the inequality of our legal system, a system where the feelings and future of the perpetrator was elevated above those of the victim. We have seen a judge confirm the worst of what we believe about white privilege, the power of wealth, and preferential treatment given to those with athletic prowess.

As the days have progressed, I have watched an explosion of outrage, disgust, and cries for justice. Some of it aimed at Judge Persky as he cast blame upon a woman who was powerless to resist her attacker, sympathized with the rapist, and handed down a sentence that equates to little more than a slap on the wrist. Much of the ire is against the rapist’s dad, who penned a letter begging for leniency in his son’s sentence.

Regardless of how you feel about the events at Stanford, one thing should be clear. Dan Turner did not heed the advice of Crosby, Stills & Nash. He did not teach his child well. It is because of irresponsible parents like Dan Turner that I have to teach my daughter to protect herself from assholes like Brock Turner. I will have to teach my daughter to avoid boys who see women as conquests. I will teach her that she is loved and valued always. However, my daughter is not the only one who will be learning a lesson.

My sons will learn that they are always in control of their libido.
My sons will learn what consent means.
My sons will learn to own up to their mistakes. Because everyone makes mistakes.
My sons will learn that I will always love them and sometimes love allows the consequence of stupid actions.
My sons will learn that their privileges are not to be exploited but should be use to benefit those in need.
My sons will learn to treat women with gentleness and respect.

I will teach my children well. Even if people like Dan Turner do not.

5.23.2016

Doing Something Right

Parenting can be like a lot of modern video games. It does not come packaged with any instructions, just a list of credits telling you who made what. The expectation is that you figure it out as you go along. You receive skill points (XP) for achievements, some parts are more challenging than others, and there is little motivation to go back and replay levels you previously conquered. You can get by with the basics, but to truly experience raising a child or playing a game, you have to find all of the hidden collectibles, earn each of the trophies, and unlock every upgrade. It can be expensive. Downloadable content (school clothes) and microtransactions (Christmas presents) greatly improve satisfaction; on their own they don't seem costly, but after a while the prices add up and look shameful in retrospect.

Did I just compare my kids to a $60 polycarbonate plastic disc filled with graphical and audio programming designed for digital entertainment? Maybe. It is a tenuous simile. However, as a mostly former gamer, I have slogged through some games with steep learning curves. I have hit the start button to dive into stories where the studios that created it expect the end user to know what they are doing with minimal explanation or instruction. This button jumps, that button interacts with objects, and the trigger uses your weapon. Good luck. You're on your own for IRL food, sleep, and potty breaks.

Yet even the most difficult game I have ever played is simple compared to the rigors of parenthood. As a trade off, being a dad is infinitely more rewarding than beating the final boss or reaching the end of the last world in any video game. At least, it is if you do it right.

The biggest challenge in parenting is wondering if your strategy is working. I think much of being a parent is composed of not knowing what you are doing while hoping for the best. Ideally, we reach out to some older/wiser types who have been there and done that. We listen to the advice of professionals who might know more than we do about areas of child rearing: teachers, pastors, counselors, therapists, our own parents. We read books and magazine articles. We try new things and go through the full process of failure and revision.

We do what we can with the tools we have been given. At the end of the day, we want greatness for the miniature humans entrusted into our care all with the intent of turning them into the closest semblance of a decent and productive adult before releasing them upon an unsuspecting world. We try. We try hard. Unfortunately, the fruits of our labor are rarely evident.

Every now and then, there are rewards. Achievements unlocked. It could be a friend telling you "You're a good dad." Or a teacher telling you "Your kid is amazing." And then there are moments you realize that your kids are turning out to be better than you ever anticipated.

Last Thursday, we were at the grocery store restocking our diminished supply of perishables. In other words, my kids ate all of the fruits and veggies and we needed more. While wandering through the produce section, we procured more bananas, strawberries, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, and grapes - all of the organic matter I know my kids will eat without prompting or hesitation. Somewhere between the plantains and the melons, Christian shared an observation.

"It's a shame." he said.
"What is?" I asked.
"All of this food. And so much of it is going to go to waste. I mean, there are homeless people who don't have anywhere they could go to get a meal."

After that explanation, Christian spent the next ten minutes detailing how unsold soon-to-expire groceries should go to food banks and homeless shelters and benefit those who need it most. This from a kid who aspires to be a comedian and novelist when he grows up.

Not to be out done, his younger brother demonstrated his own variation of kindness and generosity.

After church Sunday morning, our kids’ ministry director pulled me aside and said she needed to brag on J. Of course, she asked him if she could embarrass him by telling me a story. JJ granted her permission.

She explained how he already knew the activity that they were doing because he had done it before. And it would have been alright if he did it all over again. Instead, he decided to assist other kids that were struggling making their craft. He got up without being asked to do so and started helping the others in his age group. "Here, let me show you how to do it." After telling me how he did such a awesome job, she looked at JJ and asked him if he could do that again during the next service. He smiled big and nodded his head. Of course he would.

Moments like these make the rougher moments of parenthood worth it. It lets me know I am doing something right. But to be honest, I have no idea what that something is. I do not have any sage advice for other floundering parents out there. There is no formula that I can package and sell for other dads to replicate the amazing things my kids do. Realistically, it is a guessing game, not knowing if it works, and hoping for the best. In twenty years, if my kids are still trying to solve the world’s problems and seeking opportunity to help those in need, I will consider my job a smashing success.

5.02.2016

The war between faith and doubt

In Believe, the second track of Grammatrain's debut album, Pete Stewart growled his way through one of my all-time favorite lyrics. “Some say that doubt's disappointing, but I say to question is to understand.” Between the rumbling bass heavy instrumentation, the punishing drum beats, and the final shouted line “I can't pretend to understand everything,” Believe was one of those songs that demanded it be played at full volume. If I go deaf someday, it might be due to this song pumping through my headphones at an obnoxious decibel level during my younger days as I walked from one MPHS classroom to another.

This concept of understanding that belief is impossible without doubt has become ingrained in the way I approach faith. It is a step by step process through which I have come to accept what I believe to be true.

To doubt is to question.
To question is to understand.
To understand is to know.
To know is to trust.
To trust is to believe.

For me, my doubts lead to belief. Perhaps this is a side effect of my analytical personality or my desire to know as many details as possible in any given situation. However, this also means my faith and my doubts are often at war with each other. There are days where my head and my heart don't get along. They spar in a great debate where the best rebuttal either can offer is “yes, but ... ” Even if I know something on an intellectual level, I don't always feel it.

It’s like my brain says “Makes sense,” then my heart says, “Sure, but...”
It’s like my brain says “This is the way it is,” and my heart says “I know, but...”
It’s like my brain says “Everything is going to be OK,” while my heart asks “What about...?”
It’s like my brain believes but my heart needs help believing.

In the ninth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, a father brought his son to the disciples asking for help; his son was mute and suffered from seizures. The best description they had was that the boy was possessed. When the disciples told the father they were unable to do what he wanted, Jesus asked them to bring the boy to Him. Jesus interviewed the father “What’s wrong? How long has this been happening?” As the father described his fear of losing his son’s life and the ailments his son faced since childhood, he posed the most timid of requests: “But if You can do anything … ”

Jesus responded, skeptical of the man’s faith. “If?”

Granted, if this man knew anything about Jesus, he would recognize the silliness of his question. Of course Jesus could do anything. He had been performing miracles everywhere he went. Before this troubled man ever asked for divine help, Jesus had been healing the sick, feeding thousands, and walking on water. Without hearing these stories – even second hand, he would not have had any reason to seek assistance from Jesus. But there he was, begging for pity.

Jesus’ reply seemed to ask “If? What do you mean if?” Then Jesus challenged the man, like he was telling him, “You can do better.”

Jesus said, “All things are possible to him who believes.”

And the man answered, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”

I get this man. Of all of the characters in the Bible, I probably identify with this guy more than anyone else. All he wanted was what was best for his son and the stress of keeping the kid safe had to have been exhausting. He had tried everything and nothing worked. Then he heard about Jesus – a miracle working healer. He knew Jesus was the answer for which he had been searching. Yet, armed with that knowledge, he still had doubts. Instead of approaching Jesus with confidence and demanding “DO THIS!” the man came to Jesus reserved and unsure. “If you can do anything … ”

This man struggled in the war between faith and doubt, the battle between his head and his heart. I know what how he struggled. And when he told Jesus, “I do believe; help my unbelief,” I hear echoes of my own struggles. I see how I can simultaneously know everything and nothing. I understand what it is like to have all of the answers and none of the answers all at the same time. All I can do is say, “I believe, but I have doubts. I believe, help my unbelief.”

I know I am not alone in this tightrope walk. The sentiment has been expressed in many different forms so I realize my thoughts are unoriginal.

In Switchfoot’s song Sooner or Later, Jon Foreman sang “I'm a believer, help me believe.” Six years earlier, Adam Duritz penned the lyrics “Help me believe in anything, I want to be someone who believes” for the Counting Crows song Mr. Jones. When Steve Jobs contemplated life and death, he said “I’m about 50/50 on believing in God. For most of my life I’ve felt that there must be more to our existence than meets the eye. I’d like to believe that something survives after you die. But on the other hand, perhaps it’s like an on-off switch; click and you’re gone.”

In their own ways, both singers and the tech guru said the same thing: “I believe, but I have my doubts.”

I am in good company. While I cannot speak on the behalf of others, I know that my faith would not be as secure if it weren’t for my doubts. I believe, but sometimes I need a little help believing.

image courtesy of St Mark Lutheran Church