You’re Not The Only One Who Gave Up On Christianity, Or Easter Chocolates Part Three

Good Friday is a name only given in retrospect. It certainly would haven’t been dubbed that at the time. It was as far as it gets from good.

We spend lots of time reflecting on what Jesus’ death means for us, though lately I can’t help but think just how disillusioning it would have been for the disciples. Anyone who’s ever had a close friend die knows the shock that numbs your body upon hearing the news. Imagine that you actually saw the death. Imagine the death was a bloody murder. Now imagine that friend actually led a movement you halted the rest of your life to train in and be apart of.

That day of death would be the death of a lot of other things – of dreams, of plans, of ideas, of a future, of a hope.

From what we can gather the disciples gave up. They may have continued to meet – but their purposes where to wonder how in the heck that happened, and not how to continue on forward.

Have you ever lost heart? Have you ever thought this whole Christianity thing doesn’t work? Have you maybe even given up on it altogether?

So did the very people who walked, ate and slept beside Jesus. And they are the ones who spread this thing so far that you’re here two thousand years later.

The disciples were packing their bags. It was fun while it lasted. It didn’t work out after all. It seemed so right.

The good news is of course that Jesus arises. We all go through times of wanting to give up on Christianity. Then we see Jesus, alive, after being dead. Though it nearly knocks us down our knees just as we were when we were ready to give up on it all, Jesus is alive.

So find comfort not only that those who slept next to Jesus lost hope and abandoned it, but also find comfort that Jesus is alive.

Good Christian Music Is No Longer An Oxymoron, Or Featuring The Robbie Seay Band

I’ve whined about Christian music a fair amount on here. For good reason, I do believe. I may even be cooking up a post as we speak about how some of our modern worship songs perpetuate unhealthy and unrealistic ultra religious views of God. I hope it sees the light of day.

I can’t handle most of what’s on Christian radio today. It’s contrived, lifeless, predictible, and it relies on a select few tonalities (a la U2) to try to strike the emotional nerve. Mostly, though, the music doesn’t feel natural. It feels forced.

Allow me to present an exception.

My favorite Christian band by a long shot is the Robbie Seay Band. Their music has a unique sound from the rest, though it’s not artsy fartsy, and the songwriting is simple yet poignant. I’m also a sucker for Robbie’s raspy voice.

The first song I’ll feature  is “Hallelujah God Is Near.”  The lyrics don’t seem to be much different from usual modern worship yet there is still something about it that sets it apart. To showcase my nerd-dom the version I’m posting isn’t the one that appears on their major label release “Better Days” because this version’s music is just hot fire. (David – here’s some Christian guitar playing for ya.)

Note this video, like the next, is just so you can hear the song – the visual is just the album cover.

Next up is from the latest record “Miracle.” The song is called “We Are Not Alone” and it’s likely one of my favorites by them, even though it’s not in their usual vein.

If you’re interested in the comments I’ll post a few more of my favorites, because this is such a good band.

Now reign the praises upon Robbie Seay Band!

Prayer Is Like A Tree Growing in Systematic Theology, Or Eat My Mysticism

My job ends this week. Thursday morning I’ll be unemployed. Not really, as I’ve been working a part time job in addition to my full time gig for well over a year – but the part time gig won’t pay the mortgage.

I just applied for a great job. It pays considerably more than I earn now, is far more steady than the field I’ve been working in for 7 years, and I know two people who either have held the same position or still do who can recommend me. And in this economy – in this town – it really is all about connections. And so I’m desperately hoping.

Many of you in the comments to my post announcing I was losing my job said you were praying. Thank you. Truly. You’ve never met me and yet you’re praying. That’s 8 shades of beautiful.

I wonder about prayer. I wonder why we pray for things that are out of God’s control. Of course some say “WHAT?! God is in control!” But he doesn’t control people. God doesn’t use the HR person as a puppet to pick who God wants for the job. The HR person is going to pick who they will pick. I suppose God could EASILY control the HR person but in my opinion God has chosen against taking control over his people.

And yet I believe in prayer. Could I write a systematic theology paper on prayer? Absolutely not, it would sound more like a Psalm. I don’t know how well we can break down prayer –  it really is this mystical thing, much to the dismay of the Calvinists.

So all that to say – thank you. I don’t know what it will do, but thank you for doing it.

(by the way I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of my blog post title. I’m self proclaiming myself a genius.)

Grace For The Young Traveler, Or There Is No Leap Frog

If Eugene Peterson were to re-remix his Message version of the Bible, surely he’d need to throw in the phrase “faith journey” a couple of times in the New Testament. Paul would also advise his listeners to “live in the tension,” but that’s another post about Christian trends.

Anyway, when you refer to your faith these days, it’s incomplete to simply call it that. It’s now a faith journey. And for good reason – faith is not a state of arrival but rather an extended trip that always has you moving – sometimes up, sometimes down, and sometimes backwards. Rarely are you still.

How played out is this metaphor?

I work (soon to be worked) with teenagers and young adults. I spend A LOT of time with them. And I have to admit one of the most difficult things to accept is that they are on an incredible journey in this part of their lives, and unfortunately that journey MUST include them testing the boundaries, reacting against what’s going on and rebellion. It is difficult to not get frustrated with them and to remember how essential it is they do these explorations and tests.

It’s so easy to lose patience, especially with people who are early on in the journey. Though this is most noticeable in youth – in spiritual terms you can see it at any age. They seem naive, reckless and they question everything. They push the limits just to see where they are and they’ll argue and debate until the cows are on your plate.

I know that for me, I just want them to “arrive” already. I get tired of the journey. The term journey implies a meandering, which implies this won’t be the most efficient process. We all know the “journey is the destination” but patience doesn’t grow on trees.

I wanted to make this point back during my unofficial “he’s a friend of sinners!” series – that we want to love people where we want them to be – not where they are. In other words we often imply we will love and accept you WHEN you arrive at this conclusion. Which means we could be waiting a while, and even further it means we don’t really love them.

Remember when churches would say “Hey you can wear blue jeans” and have big banners that read “come as you are”? That means God, and hopefully therefore his people, accept people where they are no matter what stage they are in, and they accept them no matter how long it may take, no matter how many wrong turns are taken and no matter if they don’t fall exactly in our understanding of the world.

So I don’t have a monumental point to all this, I simply think we could all use the reminder to give some grace to the travelers among you, for they will not always be where they are – they will move on. Not only that, but the only way for them to continue on in their journey is to first be where they are right then. There is no leap frog, there is not cutting in line – you only move forward by being where you are, even if only for a split second.

Self Indulgent 100th Post, Or You Can’t Know Yourself Until You Live For a While

This is my 100th post on Charlie’s Church of Christ (note: there is a point to this, but if you’re not interesting in finding it, please take the super quick survey at the end).

I know you're about as excited as this guy it's my 100th post.

I am bit stunned I’ve taken it this far. As I noted in the about section, this blog actually started four years ago (Ang, who sometimes comments, was around for that – holla!) though I only wrote three posts before I lost steam. I think this is how every blogging career starts. I was in the midst of a 5 month road trip in my van, camping in the woods or parking lots and touring national parks – the stability just wasn’t there for a regular blog.

Though I resurrected the blog in July, I had been planning it for a year prior. I finally pulled the trigger, strangely, right after my daughter was born. There was some sort of logic behind it, though it escapes me now.

Now that I’ve had 100 posts to figure out what my aim is for this blog, I’d like to offer some reflections and/or clarifications.

I don’t know what you think of me. I worry sometimes I come across as a cynic or a crtiic. In my Oregon life I’m a pretty positive and light-hearted guy. Here as a writer who’s tone and inflection you imagine in your head, all my rantings about how some sore spots in the church may portray me as a critic who expects utmost perfection and who points his finger when he’s surprised to find out that not everyone has performed flawlessly.

It’s definitely true I take a very critical eye to the collective church. And maybe you’ve heard this argument before, but the very act of picking apart the church and pruning it is an act of love. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t write. If I didn’t think the church had potential to turn it around, I wouldn’t write. As I’ve noted, I try not to analyze and criticize events and mistakes made, because, quite simply, they’ve already happened. So I’m not writing just to kick the church while it’s down.

I’m not a teacher. I don’t claim to be. I’ve “preached” once, half a decade ago. I think of myself as more of an observer, who keeps one foot in the church door and one out, so I can keep the pulse of both places.

May it be known that I don’t write as a teacher. Instead I break down things to their essence. I love Jesus and his creation and his church and I want to see it raw and real and not all puffed up and flashy, I want to see it do what it was made to do with out any extra fluffly stuff dangling off the sides.

And as cliche as this is, I want to thank you. Like for real for real. I’m honored that you read, and I’m even more honored that you write in response. Last week when I read through the comments in reply to my membership blog, I was so proud of how thoughtful and balanced you all were. So truly, thank you for reading.

And now for some good ole fashioned reader feedback! If you would please answer any of these questions that you please in some form in the comments section:

  1. What do think about the length of an average blog I write? Are they too long? (Note: I have trimmed my blogs back to usually 500 words or less, which is under the standard recommendations for blogs, but they still seem long to me. So don’t worry about hurting my feelings here.)
  2. Do you have any observations or improvements to make about my writing style?
  3. When deconstructing or critiquing, am I fair and somewhat balanced?
  4. How is my grammar?
  5. Any suggestions? (New blog layout because it’s boring, or any other kind of idea content-related or not)

For Today A Lament, Or Why I’ll Never Get A Book Deal

The post I had planned for today didn’t pan out. Who knows, maybe I’ll regain steam with the topic soon. But I think it lost steam because I was trying my hardest to be fair and reasonable. A comment on a post last week noted I am usually very fair (though that day was a possible exception – opps) and I hope it’s true – I work pretty hard at not being ridiculous or condescending.

And here’s my lament: fair and reasonable doesn’t get blog readers. It doesn’t hit those nerves that gets people all fired up. But – sensationalism does.

I was in a bookstore today killing time while my daughter napped on my back and I noticed a trend in the Christian section – that what moves copies are books blasting certain ideas or practices. It’s just the nature of our culture – extreme sells. Shock value is huge – it grabs attention. And it’s turning into just saying something simply to get a rise out of people, rather than saying something because it’s worthwhile.

I know what brings traffic and gets the bird chirpping – writing about homosexuality or sex scandals or other hot topics. But I don’t want to write about them just to get people to read my blog – I don’t want to manipulate people. When my original post was dying on the table I thought about what controversial thing I could write about since I needed something new to write about. I only considered it for a few seconds – and my lament is that I could have written that post and, well, it could have worked.

And I’m not interested in writing a book or anything, but it’s annoying that those tactics work – that magical words or ideas can be tossed in rather than thoughtful, graceful insights and exploration.

I guess it’s just a reminder that things aren’t as they should be – as if this was something I really needed a reminder of.

What do you think of the shock value trend? Does it ever feel like manipulation to you too?

The World Isn’t Done Yet, Or That’s One Dirty Set of Hands

I grew up 30 miles from the 2nd largest Amish community in America (Lancaster, PA). There are towns nearby where a version of Dutch is still spoken. A regular meal at my family gatherings to this day is hog maw (pig stomach, it’s wretched and no one here in Oregon has heard of it). All that to say that this Pennsylvania Dutch-ness led to me being surrounded by Calvinistic ideas – about God’s control and his hand that moves every piece of the set around.

I used to look at the landscape as I traveled around and marvel: “Wow, God created this river’s course with his own hand! It’s exactly where he wanted it,” and then I’d realize “This means God was actually HERE where I am today!” I’d stare at mountains and take in the beautiful shape God made them into, imaging his hands forming the peaks like a potter with clay.

I have to say I’ve changed. I still believe God created our world – but not the way I once belived. It’s not commonly known among many Americans that Oregon is a very volcanic landscape. Especially where I live – there’s an enormous field of lava that stretches for dozens of miles that the first astronauts walked on to get a feel for what the moon’s surface would be similar to. You can see exactly where a cinder cone burst it”s contents onto the area around it, and even walk in the lava cave formed from where the hot lava once traveled through.

Lava Butte in central Oregon, about 10 miles from my house. You can see where the cinder cone clearly erupted and where it's subsequent lava flowed.

I don’t think God personally burst those cinder cones anymore. But that doesn’t mean I think less highly of God and his creation – in fact just the opposite. Instead of a sculptor enslaved to attention to detail, giving every rock it’s particular point or edge, I see God as a master Creator who built into his work the ability for it to keep creating. God set into the motion a creation that isn’t stuck but keeps shifting and forming and changing.

No longer do I stare at rivers and imagine God’s finger running through the dirt, carving the twists and turns and drops. I know now that water merely follows the path of least resistance, and this is how the rivers and gorges and canyons were formed. I don’t see the clouds as God’s artwork in the sky, just like his sunsets, but I know what he set into the motion all the forces that make the beautiful fluffy clouds and the step-stopping-skies.

I’d have difficult loving a Controller, but I can definitely love a Creator.