On being awesome

Carol Baker of Cherry Pie Social has a fantastic project called #365Awesome that she is running through her personal blog, Carole Baker TV. Her original intentions were to create a guide to being awesome - a legacy for her daughters. Then she invited others into that world and asked for her community to contribute. She asked us what we do to be our best.

This series has attracted a variety of people writing guest posts. Sometimes, these are remarkable bloggers (like The Common Queen or Corie Clark). Today, it's me.

In my entry to #365Awesome, I explain the importance of knowing your self. You can read it here: Know Your Self. #365Awesome. I would also encourage you to read through some of the other posts as they come from a talented group of writers.


The Changing Church

Last November, people of the internet freaked out when the trailer for the new Star Wars movie came out. Voices were divided into two camps: those that were squealing like the school children they once were when they first saw the original trilogy, and the whiners. The complaints were petty: they changed the shape of the satellite dish on top of the Millennium Falcon, they made an African American stormtrooper, they turned R2-D2 into a soccer ball, they added two unnecessary blades to a lightsaber. These complaints have no bearing over the quality of the movie or the writers or the story, they’re only minor squabbles about things that were different. Complaints over changes to the mythos of a fictional universe that is 38 years old.

Now try to change religious traditions that are centuries old.

I discovered a print version of Relevant Magazine in early 2007 when they featured Ben Folds on the cover – something that no other Christian magazine would have done. Inside the pages, I found sharp writing that danced between entertaining and edifying. I signed up for their newsletters and now I primarily read the digital version of their publication. In the years since, I’ve found new music through them – great bands that I would have never heard of through any other method. I’ve read countless articles and interviews; most of the time, that reading has proven to be thought provoking and left an impact. I’ve developed a respect for their willingness to speak with people and highlight subjects that would normally be considered taboo by the mainstream church.

Rarely do I ever come across articles from them where I disagree. Even rarer are those that I wholly reject. And never ones that completely rub me the wrong way. Until now.

They published a piece called “4 Ways the Modern Church Looks Nothing Like the Early Church.” It’s not the first time that they have editorialized on the failures on the modern church. Most of the time, their criticisms are well placed. This however, disgusted me.

First, it’s written like the clickbait of Huffington Post or Buzzfeed. Some throwaway listicle. Before even reading it, I was appalled with that title.*

Of course the modern church is different from the first century church. Just like the modern church is different from the one that I grew up in during the 80s and 90s. Just like the modern church is different from the church of the 70s when my dad was studying to become a pastor. Even those churches from my youth are different from the churches that existed before them.

The churches of the Holy Roman Empire were different from the first churches scattered across Palestine and the Asia Minor 2000 years ago. The first protestant churches to spring up after Martin Luther nailed his theses to the door of All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg were different than anything that preceded them – in fact, the Catholic church was changed by Luther’s defiance. The church of the reformation period was different than the church of the dark ages. The churches planted in the new world by pilgrims and other settlers were different than the churches in their European homelands. The missions built to convert the American Native Tribes were different than the churches back in the Eastern states. And the churches of the Civil Rights movement were different than those of the Industrial Revolution.

One thing remains the same, connecting every church body from the second chapter of Acts until today: change – everything changes.

Well, that and Jesus.

Because, the Christian church has always been about Jesus. Sometimes, we get it wrong. Sometimes, we’ve distorted His words and His message to suit our own biases. Yet underneath our selfishness and our ambitions, beyond our failures and brokenness, the church was founded upon this person who called us to love God with every fiber of our being, every synapse of our thinking, and the deepest recesses of our souls. This thing called Christianity was designed to honor a man who commanded us to love others – even our enemies in the same way that we love ourselves. Churches, from the earliest incarnations meeting in secret to today’s mega churches preaching to millions every week, all share a belief in this savior who taught how the last would be first and that to give was to receive.

Such bizarre principles. Revolutionary ideas. And for thousands of years we’ve been trying to figure out how to live by those teachings.

Is it fair to criticize the modern church? Of course it is. There are many things that we are doing wrong. I have even written about them many times before now. But to say we’re failing because we’re not doing things the same way that things were handled by the early church is misguided. It’s woefully wrong.


Because the Christian religion isn’t about the early churches, it’s about Jesus Christ. If we insist on emulating the churches of the first century, it is making them far more important than they should ever be. It is taking the focus off of God’s one and only Son. Placing such significance on any object or group of people is really just another form of idolatry.

Our faith is not about a building. Nor is it about a group of people or an organization that once existed. It is about one person. Jesus. The unchanging God come to earth as a man. Him and Him alone.

There is another thing that has changed since those first century churches: culture. Anyone with even the most trivial knowledge of world history could write a rebuttal to the Relevant article. Title it: “4 Ways the Modern Era Looks Nothing Like the First Century CE.”

Times change. People change. Cultures change. Technologies change. Everything changes except God. The biggest issue that the modern church faces is the same it faced when I was growing up. It is the same issue that churches faced when my parents were kids. It’s the same issue that faced the Catholic Church when Luther composed his Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum. It is as simple as it is relentless.

How do we worship an unchanging God in an ever changing world? How do we communicate His truths when the world of politics are constantly in turmoil and the sciences are rapidly advancing?

We try. I guarantee we’re not getting it right. We’re making mistakes. But we’re also a population of humans trying to interpret and understand the divine. As long as there are people involved, the church will never be perfect.

But there is something else I know. The early church was also composed of people. Wonderfully imperfect people like you and me. They didn’t get it right either. They made mistakes. They had problems too. How do we know they had issues? Because the apostle Paul had to write them letters to convince them of their errors. Because John addressed them while exiled on Patmos, sending them his Revelations as a warning to change their ways.

If the early churches were perfect, most of the New Testament would have never been written. The early missionary journeys documented in the Book of Acts would have been nothing more than a victory lap. Paul’s Epistles would have been filed with congratulatory awards instead of instruction and admonitions.

Does this Relevant contributor honestly believe that the modern church would be better off if we modeled ourselves after the early church that was just as messed up as we are today?

Change is difficult. It is uncomfortable. There will always be a percentage of the population that just wants to go back to the way things were. Nerds will always argue about which Star Wars movie is the best, and Christians will argue about … well … anything.

Change is also inevitable. The church needs to endure some revisions, but let’s not go backwards. Especially if what existed back then wasn’t any better than what we have now.

*I also have other objections to the content of the article. Alas, this post is long enough as it is.


It's the onions, for real

To celebrate Martin Luther King Jr Day, my son's fourth grade class was given an assignment to do community service and create a presentation about how they served. Christian was excited about the project; he said it was worth a lot and would affect his grade. But he was also eager to do something nice for people he never met.

He brainstormed a few different options that he felt would be fun and beneficial. The two of us went through the list and weeded out a couple ideas that might not be the greatest. (Washing cars in sub-freezing temperatures?!?) The winning plan would be to prepare a meal for the fire station around the corner from my apartment. There is a dish that I cook that he says is his favorite food in the whole world: I call it redneck stir-fry. It is nothing more than diced potatoes, seasoned, and mixed with a bunch of vegetables and a protein of some sort.

Friday afternoon, he visited the fire station to make sure we had solid expectations. He found out how many firefighters would be on site for dinner and if they had any allergies. The fireman that was on duty gave him a tour of the building and let him sit in the biggest truck that was parked in the garage. By the time he got home, he was shivering with nervous pride and anticipation. Saturday morning, we went grocery shopping and picked up everything needed. Bacon, bell peppers, bread crumbs, potatoes, carrots, cheese, and some extra bacon so that the chef and his grown-up helper could have a sample. Saturday afternoon, we began preparing the food. Fying bacon, washing and dicing produce, stirring in the breadcrumbs and seasoning, preheating the oven, sautéing the veggies, mixing all of the elements into one pan.

It all came out of the oven at the exact time we needed to leave. Our arrival at the station was perfectly timed as the fire crew had just returned from training exercises. The three kids watched as they parked the fire engine; then we were all invited inside as they changed out of their heavy gear.

Christian explained why we were delivering their dinner and what was being served. He was happy to find out that the firefighters all liked peppers and bacon. (Christian is not a fan of peppers and would have picked them out if he was eating.) But his explanation of why he chose feeding firefighters was poignant and shows a hint of wisdom older than his chronological age would suggest.

"Why did you choose us?" He was asked.
"Because," came his reply, "you spend all your time serving so many people, I wanted to serve you in return."

I cannot express how grateful I am to have a son like him.

But let's rewind a bit back to the food preparation. Part of the project was that he had to participate. He couldn't have a parent do all of the work for him. While there are certain things that I insisted handling, I kept him busy. He scrubbed the potatoes clean, peeled the onion, and removed the seed clusters from the bell peppers. He sautéed the onion and peppers and crumbled the cooked bacon into bits. He stirred the seasoning/crumbs/oil/potatoes mixture and dumped it onto a cooking sheet. After he peeled the onion, I chopped it into four parts. I was hoping to have him cut off the sections of the onion that I don't cook, but he wanted to stay as far away from the onions as possible.

"Why does it burn my eyes?" He asked. I explained the chemical irritant that onions contain; how it's strongest while cutting them and dissipates when cooked. He understood the explanation enough to know he wanted me to handle the dicing. By the time I dumped the chopped up onion into the skillet, my eyes were on fire and swollen with enzyme induced tears.

"Do the onions burn your eyes too?" Another of Christian's questions. I choked out an answer that yes, indeed they do.

He followed that up with another question and some observations. "Are you crying? Your voice sounds like you are. And it looks like you have tears in your eyes."

"Yes, I am."

He at once had to share this news with his siblings. "Guess what! Daddy is crying. The onions made him cry."

With the onions in the pan, I returned to the cutting board and focused on julienning the peppers. "Do you think it's funny that I was crying?" I asked Christian while demonstrating how to slice bell peppers.

His answer was unexpected. "I've never seen you cry before."

Really? Impossible. That can't be true. Surely he has seen me cry at some point in his ten years of life. Even with my stunted emotional vocabulary, I tend to wear my emotions like a merit badge. Heck, the series finale of Psych made me tear up a little. I still cry every time I watch Atreyu's horse Artax drown in the Swamps of Sadness. The right song played at the right time will make me bawl like a baby.

How could my oldest son have made it this far without witnessing one of those tearful moments?

I don't have answer for that question. But I believe him.

I know some parents would think that it's a good thing for him to never see me cry. It shows me to be the big strong dad that he can look up to as if I'm some kind of comic book hero. I disagree though. I'm not superhuman. Real men cry. All humans have emotions.

It is good for him to see that. Even if it is just over onions. However, it could have been the weight of his words that wrecked me. "You serve others so I want to serve you."


But this time, it was the onions.


2014 in Review

It's a new year and I hope yours is happy so far. Before I get going with my regular posts, it's time for a little self congratulatory reflection on this blog and the past year.

In the wake of tragedy, I wrote a post that has garnered more likes, comments, and shares than anything I've ever composed - far more than I ever expected. That was my letter to the students at my high school. You can read it here. After that, my top five blog posts written in 2014 are as follows.

1. The emasculating father
2. What about happy endings?
3. Life Lessons Learned
4. To be stingy
5. We need more geeks

Top five posts from years past:
1. The unexpected side effects of inhaling Cascade dishwasher detergent
2. Facepalm Friday
3. Faith & Pop Culture: Counting Stars
4. My not-so grown up Christmas list
5. 5 Stages of No-Shave November Grief

Without a doubt, most of my traffic is referred from social media. However, people still use the google every now and then - especially people panicking after accidentally inhaling dish detergent. Most search queries that lead to The Faithful Geek are understandable, but there are a few that made me scratch my head. For example:

"how could it be helping the middle ctocking in the dackness if reconigize the end in the beginning" (misspellings not mine)
"red meat and cold showers"
"the melody in down on the corner by ccr"
"victoriousm nakid gerls hot" (again, misspellings not committed by me)

One of the most fascinating blog statistics for me to look at is the location of my readers. It excites the geography nerd in me. 2014 held a couple of surprises. This was the first year that I had readers in all 50 states. It is also the first year that there was another state that had more visitors than my homeland Idaho. The top ten states that visited are as follows.

1. Washington
2. Idaho
3. California
4. Wyoming
5. Oregon
6. Texas
7. Arizona
8. Oklahoma
9. Colorado
10. Florida

Outside of the US, top 10 foreign visits came from:
1. Canada
2. Germany
3. United Kingdom
4. Brazil
5. France
6. Australia
7. Japan
8. India
9. Philippines
10. Russia

A few other interesting observations. This is the first year that tablets were used more frequently than mobile devices with iPads leading the way. Chrome is the most frequently used browser for readers visiting this blog. But for little browsers that could - 3% of my traffic came on Amazon Silk - thanks for my readers using their Kindle!

2014 was a big transitional year for me. It was a of changes and challenges. But it was also a year of growth. I am thrilled to jump into 2015. Thank you for taking this journey with me.