A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 44: To Be Nobody but Yourself

As I was looking over my blog posts from the past, I came across this article which seems so apropos for my 2017 goal of posting some daily creativity. I wrote this almost three years ago and am happy to report that I am still on this path… and still winning this fight.  


My wife bought a piece of artwork with this quote on it for me many years ago. She knows me very well. She understood then and she understands now that the “hardest battle” of my life has been the fight to be truly myself. She loves who I am and wants me to experience that and, more so, wants other people to experience who I am. Yet there are times I’ve felt crushed by the weight of other people’s expectations. And times when I’ve felt that who I am was slowly disappearing.

A friend of mine recently commented to me that it seems I’m going through a “mid-life revival”. I really liked that sentiment. He was referring to the fact that I have been delving back into artwork, posting my creations on Facebook and also writing the very blog you happen to be reading right now (thanks for that, by the way).  Edging closer to 50, I am putting myself out there more than ever and expressing myself in these ways more than I have for many years.

I am an artist. And like so many artists, I’m not content to stick to one area of creative expression but tend to dabble in multiple areas when I get the chance. I have always felt most fully alive when I am making visual art or making music or acting on stage or writing prose. I made the decision to enter the blogosphere because I wanted the impetus to get back into writing for the shear creative joy of it.

For many artists, the act of creating is almost as natural as breathing. But it has not always been so for me. I have had long stretches in life where I felt I was becoming someone else and that artist side of me was fading, fading away. There are a number of factors that contributed to this but most of it had to do with a Twofold set of realities in my life: (1) I am a Christian; and (2) I am a Pastor.

The evangelical Christian world is not always the most welcoming and accommodating world for the artist. Artists, when they are remaining true to their creative impulse, like to push the boundaries, ask the tough questions, challenge themselves and others to view their world from different angles and in different tones and hues. This impulse is not generally encouraged or fostered in the evangelical Christian setting. The mysterious, the mystical, the grey areas, the fringes – these are not places where the Evangelical mind and spirit tend to go. Yet they are precisely where the Artistic mind and spirit go on a regular basis. The Artist doesn’t mind ambiguity, uncertainty. The Evangelical minds it a great deal and much prefers clarity and certainty.

I am generalizing, of course. But I stand by these generalizations because they are so often the way things play out. And so often the Artist feels very much a stranger in a strange land when he or she dares dwell among the Evangelicals. I have dwelt in that place and felt strange indeed. I have sensed the tension. When I did have the Jones to create, I’d find myself self-editing, concerned that I might offend someone. Or I’d have to defend myself for acting in a play in which the character I was playing said “Oh my God.” Or I would get the less than enthusiastic responses that spoke quiet volumes of displeasure about something I had created. And often I found myself tucking the artist in me deep down somewhere where it would not rock any feathers or ruffle and boats.

Yet, ironically, I ended up in Christian ministry, a Pastor. I won’t get into how that all happened because, frankly, after almost 20 years I am still bemused by it. Imagine, if you will, already feeling on the margins of Christian life and then ending up as someone who people look to for leadership in that Christian life. My artistic sensibilities took a beating from my own sense of responsibility to “the Call” and from the expectations of the Flock. When these things conspired together the Artist in me became almost undetectable and I no longer felt the natural impulse to create. I would continue to be creative, of course, and find avenues to do so, but it became a sidebar to my life, not a main part of the story.

I was doing good things for people and trying my best to remain faithful to what I felt God was asking me to do. But my wife could see that who I am and what made me feel most fully alive were not being given adequate expression. So when she came across the quote above, she thought of me.

I do not blame my Christianity or my role as a pastor in the Church for this fight to be myself. If anything, I have found over the years that I have no one to blame but myself. It was my choice to hide things away, to bury the Artist deep within; no one forced me to do these things. If anything, this Mid-Life Revival is showing me my own responsibility in all of that and also challenging me to no longer allow that to happen in my life. And it is my faith, and the belief in a God who created me exactly the way I am supposed to be, that gives me the motivation to be nobody but myself. In fact, I have begun to see that it was the Artist in me, the part of me that liked to push the boundaries, ask the tough questions, not be content with simplistic answers, and continually embrace challenges, that has made me most effective in my years of Christian ministry. I look at the Bible and my faith from odd angles, as an artist would, and that has given a distinctiveness to what I do as a pastor.

To any of you out there who also exist in this tension-land of Art and Faith, I would ask you to take heart. You do belong. You do have a role to play. People will not always understand you. You may offend some. You may confuse others. And there may be times others question your faith or you yourself do the questioning. But as artists we’re here to give expression to alternate realities, to be on a continual quest for compassion, to make people feel a bit uneasy in order for them to see God where they hadn’t seem him before.  That is a scary but fabulous calling.

The Great Artist made you an artist for a reason. So be that artist.

To those of you who are not artists, know that we will sometimes freak you out, whether you are a Christian or not. We will sometimes offend you. We will certainly confuse you. But if you let us speak, sing, act, write, draw, paint, sculpt, dance – create – you will be opening yourself up to a much bigger world. And that expanse in your spirit and mind and heart will make it that much easier to embrace all of Creation. You, too, are unique and uniquely gifted. And you, too, help people see God.

From now on until I die, I want to be unashamedly myself. I still have a lot of work to do but I feel I’m on the right track. I have steeled myself for the fight. Bring it on!

The Jesus Experience

This summer I presented a brief series at my church called “Christianity for Dummies” about the basics of the faith. It was a four-part series with the first three parts being Knowing God, Loving God and Serving God. For the finale, I decided to write a letter to a fictional seeker, one who I imagined asked me about my experience with God, about why I choose Christianity. Below is that letter…


You’ve asked me to describe to you the experience of being a Christian. Why believe this way? Why Jesus? Why bother? It’s a big set of questions. I can’t necessarily address the “why Christianity” angle of these questions in the sense of comparing and contrasting with other faiths. I don’t know enough about other faiths to work out that kind of argument. No doubt I would horribly misrepresent what others believe, anyway.

Really, I can only speak from my belief, from my experience, from my experience of God – knowing God, loving God, serving God. Ultimately, I believe that experiencing God is at the core; that experiencing is all those things – knowing, loving, serving – happening all at once, all the time. And I believe that Christianity offers the ultimate experience of God. That belief statement hinges on Jesus. You can’t talk about experiencing God as a Christian without Jesus. That equation doesn’t work.

Funny thing, though: Many Christians shy away from connecting Jesus directly to any faith statements they might make. You’ll hear a Christian say, “I believe in God” or “I follow God” and seem to think that covers it; that is all that is needed to convince you of their devotion to Christianity. Though there is nothing wrong with those statements, there is also nothing particularly Christian about those statements, either. In fact, it could be argued that saying “I believe in God” is a very human thing to say, to believe. Belief like that is very universal in our world, one shared by literally billions of people, give or take a few million dissenters.

Knowing God, loving God, serving God – these concepts are at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. But these concepts are also at the heart of what it means to be Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, etc. Of course, Christianity puts its own particular spin to these concepts. And that spin has no momentum at all without mentioning Jesus. It is odd, then, that the name of Jesus is not often included in a Christian’s statement of faith. Perhaps they are afraid of offending (a not uncommon Christian trait). Perhaps by stating “I believe in God” they are just trying to fit in with the few other billion people on earth who would agree. But a Christian leaving Jesus’ name out of any statement of faith is like not mentioning beef in a recipe for beef Stroganoff. People might eventually notice and it won’t help anyone who is trying to cook up the recipe for themselves. I mean, “Where’s the beef?”

So let me make it really plain for you and very straightforward: I believe in God because I believe in Jesus. I believe in God because of Jesus. I believe in God because I likely would not without Jesus. And it is Jesus that I follow. My experience of a life lived in faith is all wrapped up in Jesus. And tied with a bow.

How does this impact my experience of God? How does it make things different? To understand that, you need to understand what I believe: I believe Jesus is the only Son of God, born to a virgin named Mary over 2,000 years ago in a town called Bethlehem in Judea, in Israel. I believe that he is (not was but is) 100% human and 100% God (Yes, I believe in a mathematical impossibility. Sue me – it’s why it’s called faith). I also believe Jesus was both human and divine for an extremely important reason: So that he could take on all the sin of humanity, bear the weight of punishment for our sin and yet conquer it too. As a human, he could represent us all completely. As God, he could save us all completely. In other words, he was the only person who has ever lived who could possibly accomplish this. I also believe Jesus lived among us to set a pattern for life, an example to follow, a way to ensure that your life is full of purpose and meaning. I believe he went ahead for us to mark out the Path – peace, justice, love, forgiveness, truth, grace, mercy, light and joy. I also believe that died but came to life again (Yes, I believe a scientific impossibility, too… faith, remember?), that he ascended back to his Father, and that he sent us his Holy Spirit to guide us in that path he marked out for us.

That last paragraph is full of stuff that most Christians, give or take a slightly different angle here or there, would be in complete agreement with. From a purely theological standpoint, there is nothing earth-shattering in what I’ve professed to believe. It is when all that theological stuff gets translated into flesh and blood, into my real walking around, eating, sleeping, working, complaining, laughing, crying, whining life that things really start to take off. When it moves beyond the head knowledge, beyond the theology to life practicality, the Jesus Experience really kicks in, and a simple human being like you or me can begin to understand every moment lived in the presence of God.

Now, I’m not going all mystical on you here. I know the language sounds mystical but the Jesus Experience is way more pragmatic than that. In fact, it is downright earthy, grubby, hardscrabble and lots of other gritty adjectives. This is where I believe the experiencing of God takes on a different feeling as a follower of Jesus; a follower of the God-Man, the One who became one of us to makes us one with God. You see, because of Jesus, in all the very things that make us human, God chooses to dwell. In all the things we associate with being a man or a woman on this earth, God imbues himself and his will and his love and his truth.

Sorry – this is sounding all mystical again. But what I’m trying to say is that you can experience God down to your very DNA because God created that DNA and God, in Jesus, is that DNA. Because God chose to express himself as a human, because he chose to pursue us and love us and save us all by becoming a human, because he didn’t despise us for the lowly humans we are, we can now experience him in every aspect of what it means to be human. We don’t have to graduate to some elevated spiritual plain. We don’t have to achieve some state of non-personhood. We don’t have to cast off our mortal coil to begin to grasp the immortal. We can experience God as fully as a fully human being can.

In other words, when I love I experience God because God is love. When I enjoy good food, good company, good sleep, good sex, good art, good music, good books, good movies, good days I experience God because God is good. When I create, innovate, speculate; when I think, ponder, consider; when I move, feel, breathe – God is in all of that and all of that is in God. As a believer in a God who is human, too – in Jesus Christ – all that makes me who and what I am is an avenue to experience God.

Of course, this means more than just the good and lovey stuff. Experiencing God because of Jesus also includes a deeper understanding of God in the pain, heartache, depression, doubt, anger, sorrow, loneliness. Jesus lived a truly human life and, therefore, lived a life like ours: a beautiful and terrifying thing. But because of Jesus, we realize that God is not removed from the miry clay, above the dirt and the filth; no, because of Jesus, we realize that God is right  there with us, up to the neck sometimes in the crap of life. So a great part of truly experiencing God is in the shadows, in the dark, knowing that he doesn’t pick and choose what aspects of the human reality to reveal himself; he’s there always, all the time, and in all moments and places.

The Jesus Experience is so interwoven with the Human Experience that they cannot be separated. God meant it this way.

That’s what I believe and why I believe there is no deeper experience of God than through Jesus. Of course, I am very limited to understanding God by my humanness and so are you. But isn’t it an incredible, amazing thought to consider that God knows that, too, so he made a way, through Jesus, for us to understand and experience him as completely as we can in our limited humanness? That sounds like a God who truly loves me… and you, too.

What do you think?

Jesus: The Yes Man


As a Christian on Good Friday, I can’t help but consider this day and its events, its impact on history, its resonance despite the distance of almost 2,000 years. The fact is that the day wouldn’t hold such prominence if not centered on one man; a man whose life and death transcends easy categories.

Jesus is so many things to so many people but to me on this day I remember the man who battled the religious and died with terrorists.

His most heated debates, his harshest words, his greatest rebukes were directed at those who loved God and sought to worship Him with all their heart, mind and strength. They were believers living under the rule of an unbelieving Empire and they fought desperately to maintain their sense of right and wrong, their faithfulness to the Bible, their calling to represent their God in an increasingly wicked world. It is easy to cast these characters of the Gospels as villains; but that would be forgetting that they were very sincere in their desire for the wholeness of their faith. They believed that it was crucially important to guide their fellow Jews along a true path. They saw Jesus as a threat, one who would undermine this goal. Increasingly they saw the man of Nazareth as a religious rebel, a “blasphemer” who was sullying the name of God and tearing down all the distinctiveness of Judaism and therefore dragging the faith into the mud. For people who saw themselves as defenders of their beliefs, Jesus became an adversary that had to be dealt with before he dragged more people down to his irreligious level.

An honest reading of the Gospels makes it much easier to understand their perspective, especially if you are a believer and put yourself in their shoes as you read. Jesus seems to go out of his way to pick fights with the upright of his day. He recasts the Law time and again, putting his own spin on things, telling people “this is what you’ve been taught for hundreds of years but I say this“. The seeming arrogance of his statements, the casualness of his apostasy, would have rankled so many of his fellow Jews; particularly those who felt the pressure to live true to their faith in the midst of a world that was dominated by the non-believing, the godless and the secular.

Jesus invited the presence and the influence of the non-believing, the godless and the secular. He didn’t live as if there was an ever-increasing gap between those who believed and those who did not. In fact, he lived as if that gap didn’t exist, as if the warfare that waged between the faithful and the wicked did not influence his goals or his mission. In other words, he doesn’t seem at all motivated by the factors that motivated his Jewish peers. His agenda was not their agenda. Their fears did not play a role in his mind, words or actions. Unlike the religious, he boldly stepped into the breach. He brought hope instead of fear; love instead of law; he said “Yes” virtually everywhere they said “No”.

And, yes, he did die with terrorists. The Gospels record the fact that he was crucified between two criminals, often called “thieves” in a traditional recounting of Good Friday. However, it is highly unlikely the Roman authorities would resort to their harshest form of execution over a couple of common thieves. It is much more likely that these two men were insurrectionists, Zealots: Jewish men who felt so strongly about their people, their nation, their faith that they were willing to kill and to die for the cause. To them the evil Empire that dominated their land and lives needed to be directly opposed and attacked. Their crime was probably killing Romans or others they saw in league with the Empire. Therefore, the two men crucified with Jesus were, in the eyes of the Romans, terrorists; those who would use fear, violence, intimidation as a means to their end.

The Gospel of Luke tells the simple but profound account involving these two terrorists on either side of Jesus. In Luke’s account, one of the men joins in with those who came to the cross to mock Jesus, to rub salt into his wounds. It is really not a surprise that this man would do so, especially if he was a hyper-committed Zealot. Jesus had spoken and acted like he was the Messiah but had failed miserably to live up to that promise. To this criminal on the cross he was just a pathetic poser with delusions of grandeur. Even as his own death was imminent, this terrorist would feel anger and resentment towards Jesus, someone who was undeserving of a martyr’s death.

But the second criminal, instead of sinking deeper into the void of bitterness, seems to gain insight as he sees the specter of death approaching. He rebukes his fellow terrorist for his harsh words directed at Jesus saying, “We are getting what we deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” And then, in one of the most heart-wrenching and direct statements recorded in scripture, he turns to the young rabbi hanging next to him and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Did he understand at that moment the deeper implications of the death of Jesus? Or was he professing a faith that no matter what transpired that day, this man crucified next to him must be the Messiah; he had to be, he could be no one else? Whatever was the motivation, a man who likely killed out of his fierce ideology was now proclaiming faith out of the glimmer of hope his soul still clung to.

Jesus rewards this gasped confession of faith with the powerful words, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

These words of Jesus, as his own life was ebbing away, is just another example of the fact that, time and time again, when he was faced with an opportunity to respond to those around him, he says “Yes”. Jesus never turned someone away and he always saw a movement towards him as a movement towards truth, towards good, towards what God had in mind in that moment. And he approached each of these moments without fear, without a judgment based on the moral character or background of the people before him. He showed us over and over that when given the chance to do so, he was a Yes Man.

I am pondering this on Good Friday at a time when there is firestorm of debate on social media surrounding the recent events in Indiana. From one side of the story it is a triumphant expression of religious freedom; on the other side it is a cloaked and dangerous form of discrimination. I am in no position to take any one of these sides as I am simply not informed enough. However, as a Christian, I am saddened that non-believers automatically associate the discrimination, the negativity, the exclusion, with followers of the same Jesus I have been writing about here. To those outside the faith so often we are people who, when confronted with the opportunity to engage with the world the way Jesus did, give a loud and undeniable “NO”. As people who believe and follow a man who did not act out of fear, we continually and repeatedly rely on fear as our “fall back” position.

This disturbs me on this Good Friday. As I see it, Jesus died to free us from sin, to give us forgiveness and eternal life. His resurrection on Easter seals the deal. It is God’s great act of restoration and healing for us and all Creation. We can make the theological proclamations and re-affirm this belief. But in day-to-day living what does it mean? Ultimately I believe it means that we are meant to live and engage in our world the way Jesus did, without fear, without our actions being tainted by our mistaken notion that we are “defenders of the faith”. We get so caught up in the wickedness of the world, in our concern that religious freedoms will be stripped away, that a godlessness will descend on our lives that we miss the moments, over and over and over again, to display to our world the powerful example of Gospel grace and truth, love and mercy, openness and engagement without fear.

We are meant to embody hope to people who so desperately need it. Our world is full of sadness. We are not meant to make life more of a struggle to a people stumbling around in darkness. We are meant, like Jesus, to shine; to take those moments offered to us, when our world needs a word of love amid its gasps of pain, to speak and act as our Lord did. Perhaps this was one reason Jesus was so critical of the religiously upright of his time. He saw their attempts at preserving a pure faith as laying heavier and heavier burdens on people who were already feeling crushed. He reacted to their expressions of fear of their world by throwing it back in their faces, confronting them with the actual God they thought they knew and understood.

I’m not sure what it means to you to follow Jesus. But to me it means that every time I am presented with an opportunity to be Jesus in someone’s life, I want to say “Yes”; recognizing that these opportunities will often come with a heavy dose of challenge to my values, my belief system, my understanding of what is right and wrong. Because it is not my job to make sure everyone lives in accordance to the will of God. It is my job to do the will of God, period. And the will of God has never been more powerfully on display than in the life of the one I follow: Jesus.

On this Good Friday, I ask God to grant me the strength to be a Yes Man to my world. To be present and real and a source of hope; to not live my faith out of fear but out of joy; to act and speak from a place of trust in my God and love for all. In other words, I ask God for the strength to be more and more like Jesus.

A happy and hopeful Easter to you all.

I’m Stupid, Dangerous and Christian, Too

SouthParkJesusThe first couple of sentences from a recent Facebook post from Anne LaMott:

“I am reluctant to say I heard directly from God the other day, because somehow Bill Maher or one of the other fundamentalists might get word of it, and condemn me as being as stupid and dangerous as Mother Theresa or the Parisian terrorists.

But I did hear from God. So sue me.”

In the days following the terrorist attacks in Paris, I watched Bill Maher’s interview with Jimmy Kimmel, the one in which Maher referred to all religions as “stupid and dangerous”. The logical next step in a statement like that is that all the people who follow any religion are stupid and dangerous.

Think about that for a second…

Done? Okay, let’s move on.

I am a Christian, a believer in Jesus Christ. To some I would be labeled as a follower of a religion. I tend to argue with that idea because I don’t see myself that way. My definition of religion is a human-based search for God. As such, religions are our attempts at getting closer to God, understanding him better, appeasing him if need be; in other words, our human attempts to bridge the gap between the human and the divine.

One way of looking at the religions of the world is as many paths leading up the same mountain. At the summit of the climb up these paths is the same destination: God.

By that definition, I don’t feel that being a Christian means I’m part of a religion. My view of Christianity is that it is the story of God’s search for humanity. In other words, it has very little to do with my attempts to get closer to God. Instead, it has a great deal to do with God’s actions to get closer to me, to bridge the gap between the human and the divine through his Son Jesus.

Christianity, then, is the story of God coming down the mountain to us. Hence, not a religion in the conventional sense.

But Bill Maher would most certainly say I was a follower of a religion; a stupid and dangerous religion. So just for the sake of this post (and to make Bill happy) I will say I am a follower of a religion.

Now let’s examine that “stupid and dangerous” part.

In her quote, Anne LaMott throws out the name of Mother Theresa to make the point of how she feels about the “stupid and dangerous” tag. That made me laugh. I’ve always found Anne LaMott to be way funnier than Bill Maher anyway; but by throwing out the name of an esteemed and venerated Christian, she wasn’t just making a joke, she was also throwing down a gauntlet of sorts.

The kind of blanket statement made my Maher is indeed something associated with fundamentalism. Ironically, the very thing, as an oft self-proclaimed liberal, he would despise. Certainly it is a close-minded statement and one that leaves no room for an understanding of those you don’t agree with. If that ain’t fundamentalist, I don’t know what is! In fact, one who levies those kinds of statements might be labeled as stupid and dangerous by some.

Wow. Things that make you go, “Hmmmmm.”

But I am not in the business of fundamentalist rhetoric. I think Bill Maher is actually a very intelligent man. Likely he believes that what he does and says will lead to a more peaceful and harmonious world, too. In other words, he feels what he stands for is smart and helpful. From the positive side of things, when he is not tearing a strip off of something or someone he doesn’t agree with, he is certainly motivated in life by the belief in what is Good, Beautiful and True.

To Bill Maher, this may be called Atheism or Secular Humanism. If that is the path you’ve chosen, Bill, go for it.

But back to the fundamentalist feel of labeling all religions and, by association, all followers of religion as “stupid and dangerous”: This statement is overwhelmed and soundly defeated by the vast amount of evidence to the contrary. This evidence exists not only in history but in the present day.

My experience of religion is almost exclusively as a Christian so I am going to counter the “stupid and dangerous” tag from that angle. What I see that contradicts that blanket statement is profound and world-transforming.

Here are a few examples from history of the “stupid and dangerous” people who have been followers of Christ:

  • Sir Isaac Newton
  • Florence Nightingale
  • Nelson Mandela
  • Anne Sullivan
  • Rosa Parks
  • Rembrandt
  • Helen Prejean
  • C.S. Lewis
  • Augustine
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • William Wilberforce
  • Corrie ten Boom
  • Jimmy Carter
  • Thomas Aquinas
  • Erasmus
  • Vincent Van Gogh
  • Maya Angelou
  • Abraham Lincoln

I could go on and on. The contributions to history, to medicine, to science, to justice, to literature, to art, to peace, to philosophy and to every other area of the human endeavor by Christians over the centuries is vast and varied. In the west we value democracy, our health care and our education so highly and yet rarely admit that it was on the foundation of Christianity that so many of these things were built. It was Christians, motivated by their faith and their desire to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, that formed world-wide organizations like Habitat for Humanity and World Vision, impacting thousands of lives in our world today.

In other words, we owe so much to so many who were motivated in life by the belief in what is Good, Beautiful and True. They also happened to be followers of a religion.

More things that make you go, “Hmmmmm.”

The “stupid and dangerous” label hurled out by Bill Maher frustrated me. I understand on one level where he’s coming from. Much hurt and pain and death and war has arisen from religion. Much blood has been shed in the name of God. But in no way could I ever slap a label on all the Christians I know that puts them in the same category as a suicide bomber or a fanatical crusader.

I get frustrated by blanket statements like this from atheists because of the real flesh-and-blood examples in my own life of Christians who are so completely the opposite.

I have personally known Christians who have taken young, pregnant women into their homes, given them stability and compassion, seen them through the birth of their child and into the next step in their lives.

I know many Christians who have fostered children who come from difficult and often traumatic family backgrounds, given them unconditional love and a sense of self-esteem, and assisted them to become confident adults.

I know many Christians who have adopted children from war-ravaged and AIDS-plagued countries; Christians who have given homeless people a home; Christians who have started community gardens; Christians who daily support individuals with developmental disabilities so severe they can be a danger to themselves and others; Christians who have traveled to dangerous areas of the world to bring health, education, community support and disaster relief; Christians who give thousands and thousands of dollars a year to organizations that care for the poor, widows, orphans, dispossessed and marginalized.

And I know Christians who have loved me regardless of how unlovable I am; Christians who have generously given me so much even though they had very little to give; Christians who have supported me and my family through mental illness, depression and anxiety; Christians who have willingly volunteered their time, energy and resources on my behalf.

If that is stupid and dangerous, then Lord, make me guilty of being stupid and dangerous more often.

Ultimately, pointing the finger at religions as being the source of all evil is simple-minded and myopic. We all, equally – religious or not – share in the darkness that can envelope the world. And we all, equally – religious or not – share the responsibility to bring light that can overcome that darkness.

I would much rather work side-by-side with the atheist I see as intelligent and compassionate than go head-to-head with the one who sees me as stupid and dangerous. Wouldn’t that go much farther in bringing what is Good, Beautiful and True into our shared existence?

I may not be the sharpest Christian in the box but that makes a lot of sense to me.

You May Be a Lousy Evangelical Christian If…

Ned-Flanders-ned-flanders-33045610-491-378Are you a lousy Evangelical Christian?

I am a Christian. For most of my life I have identified with the Evangelical camp in the broader Christian world. At least, if I had to give a definition that most people would understand, I would tell them I was an Evangelical Christian. I’ve never been one that likes labels, but after considering many things that are currently connected with being an Evangelical, I began to realize that I am not very good at it. I am a hopelessly lousy Evangelical.

However, I suspect I am not alone. In fact, I think there are many of us out there. You may be one, too.

To help in determining this, I’ve compiled a very un-scientific list. If you can relate to any of these statements, you may be as hopelessly lousy at this as I am.

So, without further ado…

You may be a lousy Evangelical Christian if:

  • Your view of God is so full of love, grace, mercy and perfect justice that it squeezes the Hell right out of the picture.
  • You suspect that God is much more enraged with injustice and greed than with Adam and Steve.
  • You have the audacity to vote for the candidate you think will do the best job and not for the candidate who leans most to the right.
  • You would much rather hear a song by Lorde than a song about the Lord.
  • You spend exactly 0% of your time worrying about the End Times.
  • You don’t spend time worrying because you consider yourself a “Panmillennialist”: It’ll all pan out in the end.
  • You don’t worry too much about whether or not the Bible is full of facts because you’re more interested in the fact that it’s full of Truth.
  • You found nothing offensive or scandalous in the “Noah” movie.
  • You thought the Rock Monsters in the movie were pretty cool, actually.
  • You figure people who use the term “church shopping” are likely looking for a McChurch or a Church-Mart.
  • You run the other way, screaming, when invited to see any movie with Kirk Cameron in it.
  • You have read exactly 0% of the approximately 37 “Left Behind” books published.
  • You were offended and scandalized by “The DaVinci Code”; not because of the content of the story but because the writing sucked.
  • You have never been tempted to leave your church because of:
    • A woman preaching/leading/using her gifts to help and inspire others
    • An article written in your denominational magazine
    • An opinion expressed different from your own
    • Any doctrinal minutia that maybe might possibly in some circumstances be different from your own.
    • The newfangled hymn books that were purchased.
    • Guitars and/or drums and/or pipe organs and/or didgeridoos in worship.
    • (Fill in any other reason here)
  • You were never concerned that kids reading the Harry Potter books would all become witches or warlocks and fly on broomsticks or cast spells that made slugs come out of someone’s mouth.
  • You actually really liked those Harry Potter books, to tell you the truth. And the movies, too.
  • You wonder why we take ourselves so bloody seriously sometimes.
  • You don’t need huge video screens, massive sound systems, professional praise bands, pyrotechnics, smoke machines, CGI, dramas, hip pastors with tattoos or light displays to feel closer to God.
  • You sometimes feel that those couple of hours on a Sunday morning are much better spent elsewhere or with other people.
  • You imagine that Jesus might be unwelcome in most Evangelical churches if he brought along his posse of secularists, prostitutes and ne’er-do-wells.
  • You hear someone tell you to “Take Back the City for Christ” and wonder how He lost it in the first place if He’s, y’know, God and all.
  • You fear that if Jesus was roaming around today, teaching and healing, his harshest words would be directed at us.
  • You have felt far more inspired and encouraged after a simple coffee shared with a friend than after a dozen church-related activities.
  • You wonder what all the fuss is about most of the time.

Did you find yourself anywhere on this list? If so, you may be struggling at this Evangelical Christian thing, too.

I want to follow Jesus. But after considering how badly I am doing at this, I think it’s time we had a new category for Christianity. Either that or it’s time to cast aside categories altogether and live and let live. Jesus was clear that it would be love that would be the defining characteristic of his followers. It sounds too simple but maybe we are guilty of making it too complicated. The first believers were called “followers of the Way”; Jesus has laid the path out and we’re to follow. It is we who’ve added the tons of baggage and trappings and rules and regulations and expectations and limitations to the deal. He put it so straightforward and unencumbered: “Follow me.”

I want to be able to do that free from labels, free from the shackles we put on others and on ourselves.

I just want to be known as someone who believes in, loves and follows Jesus. I might still be lousy at that but at least I’ll fumble along in joy instead of confusion.

I Am Not in Love with Jesus

Jesus-442x600Jesus isn’t my hero. Jesus isn’t my co-pilot. And I most definitely am not in love with Jesus.

I call myself a Christian, a term that literally means “little Christ”. That designation was originally used as a derogatory term directed at the early followers of Jesus. I suppose it was kind of like calling someone a “wannabe”. The term that the first disciples of Jesus used for themselves was “followers of the Way”. They were mostly Jews who believed that the Messiah had come at last and certainly weren’t looking to start a new religion. It is more likely they were interested in transforming their lives and the world around them in the way Jesus did. In the gospel of John it’s said that Jesus came defined by the twin characteristics of Truth and Grace. Maybe the followers of the Way simply wanted to have those two things define them as well. There are many, many times I wish those two characteristics more closely defined the world-wide Christian church. There are many more times I wish those two characteristics more closely defined me.

I love Jesus. Let me make that clear from the early going. But my love of Jesus is not hero worship.  I have heroes, like most of us do. But I am well aware of the flaws and shortcomings of my heroes. In fact, that is something I really enjoy about my heroes: They were exceptional in many areas yet horribly unexceptional in others. They are my heroes because they inspire me in two directions, as it were; an inspiration to achieve something great and an inspiration to realize that I’ll fail miserably at times in the striving to do so. I don’t look at Jesus in this way. Instead, I see him as existing beyond my aspirations. I cannot totally be like Jesus, not in a thousand lifetimes. But I can keep my eye fixed on him. I can continually hold him at the center of all that I am. I can align my priorities, shape my abilities, craft my person around him. I can’t do this with any one of my heroes, no matter how outstanding their accomplishments. I can only do this with the one who is totally human but also totally God. He gives me my greatest example to aspire to at the same time that he exists somewhere beyond my reach; not in a far-off way, however, but in a way that gives me peace; in a way that reminds me I am ultimately not in charge of my life.

The above is why Jesus can never be my co-pilot. Really, I’m not flying this thing called “my life”. If I were, I would live in perpetual fear of crashing the bloody thing into the ground, nose first. Let’s face it: No matter how much we try to improve or become better at this or more educated at that, we have the incredible ability to foul up our lives in short order. To me, faith in Jesus means giving him the controls. It isn’t even a case of the bumper sticker that says, “If Jesus  is your co-pilot, switch seats”; no, in fact that whole analogy doesn’t do the trick anyway. I don’t see myself in some metaphysical cockpit with Jesus, navigating the crosswinds of life. Instead, I see myself turning over control of my life completely to him and thereby releasing fear, anxiety, and the thought that I can keep myself from breaking up into tiny pieces. If he’s truly human, he gets me totally. If he’s truly God, he totally can handle anything.

I love Jesus, as I’ve already made clear, but I am not “in love” with him. There is a disturbing trend in contemporary Christian worship music to write and sing songs with a definite romantic air about them. It is as if the songwriter originally wrote a song with the word “Baby” in it a few times but wanted to spiritualize-it-up a bit so he changed the word to “Jesus”. The Christian Romantic Power Ballad may be a genre in and of itself, to tell you the truth. Sorry, my fellow followers, but that is not the way I feel or the way I see my connection with Jesus. I am in love with my wife. She is my romantic partner, my life partner, my advocate and friend. I have no one else in my life to which that kind of love is directed. We share an intimacy with each other that we reserve for only each other. I cannot and will not put my love for Jesus in the same category. The idea of romantic love just doesn’t fit my relationship with Jesus. On one level the idea is just plain ridiculous but on another level it doesn’t work because my love for him fits in its own special category. There is no one else in my life that I have that kind of love for and there never will be. It is not the love of friendship or family or parents or sports team or chocolate or country or anything else.  I realize that the songwriters of those ballads are trying to convey a deep, deep love of Jesus but it is just plain inappropriate and inaccurate. How ridiculous would it be to state that you are “in love” with your son or daughter (no matter how deep that love is) or “in love” with chocolate (no matter how close to truth that may be for you)?

I love Jesus like I love no one else. This is totally appropriate and accurate because he is like no one else. He is not my hero, he is not my co-pilot. He is, however, my Lord. That is,  he is the one and only one I owe my all and all to who is over all and in all and above all. Get it, y’all?

I love Jesus. I’ll put that down in triplicate so as to make it all biblical-sounding. I follow him with my whole heart and my whole life because there is no one else in the world completely worthy of all of that from me. He became human for me and you. He gave his life for me and you so that we can be closer to God than is humanly possible. He came back to life again to assure us that life defines God’s creation, not death. He is the one and only. He is Jesus.

Happy Easter time to you from me. Peace.