God Life Religion

The Warmth Of The Snow

Living in a warm climate during the Christmas season is good and bad. On one hand, you can walk around in shorts and a t-shirt while your northern friends brave harsh winds and icy roads just to get to their mailbox. But on the other hand, it’s just not Christmas without the cold.

As a lifelong Midwesterner, I love the traditions of Christmas. My family has many of the well-known Hallmark moments of the holidays. My house and halls were always decked with green and ruby red Christmas lights and decorations. I always cut down the balsam fir evergreen with my family at a local tree farm and dragged it through the snow to the car, strapping it to the hood and bringing it home to bedazzle with ornaments new and old. We always – always – watch It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve with the fireplace roaring and the popcorn popping. And, yes, I even love the Midwestern cold that suffuses all of these things.

But like the winter cold, these things happen every year, no matter what. When we vacationed in Florida over Christmas one year, we knew we wouldn’t have the cold or the tree, but we still brought our copy of It’s a Wonderful Life to keep tradition alive. And that’s what Christmas is often about: keeping tradition alive in spite of the circumstances.

In The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer uses the Exodus story to illustrate the idea of holiness and tradition, which are two concepts at the very center of Christmas. Tozer explains how the Israelites, having lived for four hundred years in Egypt surrounded by all kinds of idolatry, had forgotten the very idea of God’s holiness. To correct this, Tozer writes, “God began at the bottom. He localized Himself in the cloud and fire and later when the tabernacle had been built He dwelt between holy and unholy. There were holy days, holy vessels, holy garments. By these means Israel learned that God is holy.”

‘God is holy.’ That is the simple thought that permeates the Advent season. And so when I decorate my evergreen tree and listen to ancient hymns in church and watch a movie with my family and walk through the falling snow, I know that it is not these things in and of themselves that remind me of the reason for the season; it’s the warmth of God’s holiness.

“Let us believe,” Tozer concludes, “that God is in all our simple deeds and learn to find Him there.” Our traditions, like the Israelites’ cloud and fire, are best when they reveal God at His simplest and at His holiest.

Comedy Politics Religion

Breaking News: Jesus Christ Registers As A Republican

BREAKING NEWS: Jesus Christ registers as a Republican

GOP officially God’s Own Party

In a move sure to spark endless debate, Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the world, has declared himself a Republican.

“I’ve been a moderate for most of eternity,” said Christ, speaking at a press conference. “But lately, Barack Obama’s choices regarding the economy, the wars, and health care reform have disappointed me. I had to take a stand. So I’m registering as a Republican.”

When asked which specific policies most attracted him to the Republican Party, Christ was clear.

“The GOP’s stand against abortion and gay marriage is fine, I guess,” He said, “but I’m more interested in their support for trickle-down economics. It’s important to have an economic policy that benefits only the superrich and keeps disenfranchised people from escaping the perpetual downward spiral that poverty creates.”
Christ expressed support for reinstating the Bush tax cuts and making the military’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy permanent.

“I don’t care much for the gays, OK?” He said. “I just don’t want to deal with them.”

He also vocalized opposition to the Obama-led health care reform.

“The fact that the Democrats want to provide health insurance for everyone and not just those who can afford the sinfully high premiums…that just makes me sick,” said Christ. “Free, unregulated markets should decide if people live or die and not liberal bureaucrats.”

Christ also argued for continued U.S. presence in the Middle East.

“Clearly preemptive war is necessarily,” He said. “I thank God for Dick Cheney and George W. Bush for pushing the country into unnecessary war and keeping us there.”

The Lamb of God’s choice to align himself with Republican principles was met with praise from the nation’s conservative leaders.

“The fact that Jesus Christ is now officially a Republican shows us that God is definitely on our side,” said Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee. “Listen up, Democrats: God does not want you to pass health care reform. Seriously, just ask him.”

“Hallelujah!” proclaimed James Dobson, founder of the Christian group Focus on the Family, on his radio show. “Jesus Christ is a shoe-in for Republican nominee for president in 2012. Jesus Christ and Sarah Palin. Now that’s a dynamic ticket.”

Asked about sharing a presidential ticket with the King of Kings, the former governor of Alaska was enthusiastic.

“Gosh, you betcha I’d like Jesus on my ticket,” Palin said. “He’d make a heckuva vice-president, that’s for sure.”

Not all conservatives welcomed Christ’s move to the GOP. Glenn Beck, a FOX News commentator, expressed concern about the Lord’s background.

“Look at the people he hangs out with,” said Beck. “Prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers—I don’t want my Savior or my president palling around with such seedy people.”

“He may be the Son of God,” said Rush Limbaugh, a popular radio host, “but he’s an illegitimate child, he’s from the Middle East, and preaches against free-market capitalism. If he isn’t a terrorist spreading communist propaganda, I don’t know who is.”

Limbaugh added: “Barack Obama, maybe.”

Sources inside Christ’s inner circle claim he will soon form an exploratory committee for a possible run for president. What would the Son of Man’s platform look like?

“Definitely cuts in welfare for the poor,” said Christ. “It’s a wasteful program. I’d also like to see increased spending on nuclear weapons and relaxed regulation of Wall Street banks. But none of those things will happen with that Obama in the White House.

“Stupid Obama,” he added.

Politics Presidents Religion

Rumsfeld’s Biblified Briefings

Last week, GQ magazine reported that the top secret intelligence briefings that were sent to President Bush by the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003 were often adorned with inspirational Bible verses and images meant to influence the president, who is a self-described Christian and often liked the conflict in Iraq to a modern day “crusade.”

A few examples of these briefings:

March 17, 2003. A picture of two American soldiers topped with the verse Isaiah 6:8, which says, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Here I am, Lord, send me!”46983181

April 7, 2003. A picture of Saddam Hussein topped with the verse 1 Peter 2:15, which says, “It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”

April 8, 2003. A picture of American tanks driving underneath two large crossed swords topped with the verse Isaiah 26:2, which says, “Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, The nation that keeps faith.”

Bush was completely open about the impact of his Christian faith on the decisions in his presidency, and Rumsfeld was a grossly incompetent defense secretary, so I can’t say I was surprised when I heard about this.

Yet I don’t know which part of me is more outraged: the Christian or the American.

Rumsfeld might not have personally put the verses on the briefings. Odds are, according to GQ, it was Maj. Gen. Glen Shaffer, a director for intelligence who served both Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But that point is moot; the nation’s highest military officer wielded strong religious rhetoric in order to push a country into war. I don’t know what could be more irresponsible.

“Defense department staff were privately worried,” GQ reports, “that if the briefings with biblical quotes on them had ever been made public, the fallout would have been ‘as bad as [the revelations of prisoner abuse at] Abu Ghraib.’” Time will tell if the public takes as much umbrage at these revelations as it did with the Abu Ghraib scandal. My guess is that it won’t, because the majority of religious Americans identify themselves as Christians.

Yet why does this anger me so? Perhaps because Rumsfeld, a nonreligious man, cynically used Christian scripture to manipulate a man who had seemingly already made up his mind to invade Iraq and “stay the course.” Hey Rummy, ever heard about those silly little medieval crusades the European Christian church undertook against the Muslims? Yeah, they don’t look so hot in the history books.

The release of these documents came at an inopportune time for Dick Cheney, the former vice president, who was out on a media blitz trying to defend his legacy. But it’s not like the current opinion of the Bush administration could get any more tarnished than it is. That’s why I don’t think this will be as big a scandal as the others. The public—myself and the current president included—has tried to move on from Bush and Rumsfeld and the Holy War.

These documents are but another stack in the “That Figures” box.

America Politics Religion

Firing Off A Warren Shot

You know you’re doing something right when you piss off both sides of the political spectrum. Kudos to Obama for not being afraid to ignore the yelps of progressive hell bent on revenge post-Bush.

As for Warren himself, I have no opinion. Obviously it’s nice that he chooses to promote an agenda that isn’t solely based on gay marriage and abortion. One can only hope that the broader evangelical community will expand theirs too.

God Religion

A Summer Camp Counselor’s Guide To Good Character

Originally published in the North Central Chronicle on October 10, 2008.

This summer I worked at a Bible camp for the third straight year. (Don’t worry, we didn’t praise a likeness of George W. Bush like those crazies did in Jesus Camp did.) The theme for the summer was character. We studied the Book of James because each of its five chapters gives clear and direct advice on how to live a life with Christ-like character. I realized that even though Scripture is instruction for Christians, its lessons apply to everyone. The character qualities James lays out, if followed, make Christian teachings relevant to every person, religious or not.

Here are a few things I learned this summer that inform my character and broaden my understanding and appreciation of Jesus and of Christianity. It’s Spark Notes, Jesus-style.

Don’t play favorites. It’s what James, the brother of Jesus, calls the “Royal Law”: love your neighbor as yourself. The Law hammered in the importance of hospitality and loving your neighbors, but James, following Jesus’ lead, extended it further: you should love not only the neighbors you like or those who are well-off, but those who might not deserve love or get it very often.

This lesson relates directly to the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus, after telling the story, points out the contradiction of the two religious men who passed by the mugging victim on the road; he says they really didn’t love God if they didn’t help that man in need. The Good Samaritan, however, stopped and helped the man, quite possibly saving his life. This Samaritan, who to the Israelites back then would have been viewed as a second-class citizen, did right by God because he loved his neighbor even though he was considered an enemy. He didn’t play favorites.

The easiest place to play favorites is at home with family. Sibling rivalries and family turmoil can create the deepest divisions between people, but learning to love even the most self-centered or immature family member just as much as the others is the best way to live by the Royal Law.

Watch your mouth. “The tongue is a small part of the body,” writes James, “but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” Working with kids reveals just how true this is. In a heated moment, words can fly out uncontrollably and cause all sorts of lasting damage.

But James insists that you can’t build a person up with your words one day and then tear him down the next: “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing,” he writes. “This should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” If you allow yourself the selfish indulgence of cursing someone out or spreading malicious gossip, you’ve already lost the battle.

Holding your tongue is not easy, but it is simple. When you come upon a situation that inspires in you a creative comeback or pointed slur, don’t say it. Just don’t. Stop, think, then don’t say a word. You may think the other person deserves what was coming to them, but chances are they don’t. If you forgive them and let it go, you win.

Be humble. James quotes a proverb when he writes: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Believing in God isn’t essential when it comes to humility. Sooner or later those who let pride be their guide will meet crash and burn, sometimes painfully. That’s why I love humility. It forces you to acknowledge that sometimes you can’t do things on your own, that you need to come to a place of spiritual, emotional, or physical brokenness before you can build yourself up again even better than before.

Humility is not putting yourself below others; it’s putting others above yourself. Jesus did this well. It’s a little harder, though, for the rest of us to get right. We all kind of suck at it, so there’s always room for improvement. Families are, again, a perfect practice field for this. Be willing to be a humble servant when you visit home: do chores without being asked or give a little sibling a ride somewhere without grumbling. It can be painful sometimes to elevate others above our own swollen egos, but doing so will be rewarding for you and appreciated by others.

Be patient. Along with humility, patience can be the hardest thing to learn and do well. But it is so very important to be patient. James explains: “See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm.” James equates patience with standing firm, enduring hardship for the promise of something good.

In the original Greek, to “stand firm” is sterizo kardia, or “strengthen the heart.” So by persevering through the most obnoxious, maddening, kill-me-now-God moments, you are strengthening your heart and your resolve, allowing yourself more patience for the next time you need it.

I learned this first-hand every day at camp. Answering the same obvious question for the seventeenth time can wear on your very being, but by having patience and being kind in each response, I was strengthening my heart and modeling what good patience looks like. Sometimes I wasn’t very patient and wanted to wring the kids’ necks, but I got better. And that’s all it takes-the willingness to get better.

Let’s be real: this all sounds great, but we’re not saints. It would be much easier to not do these things, honestly. But I challenge you to challenge yourself, to check if your words and your actions are right. Not correct, but right. That’s the kind of reality check we all need.

America Politics Presidents Religion

War Is Hell

Published in the North Central Chronicle on February 8, 2008.

John Edwards is out of the race. I think he would have made a fine president. His fight against poverty and corruption did not jive well with mainstream media narratives, though they were well-publicized cornerstones of Edwards’ stump speech. But his other equally important message also failed to catch on. After voting to authorize the Iraq War in 2002, Edwards soon reversed his position on the war, and last year created a movement called “Support the Troops. End the War.”

Today, the country’s attention has become fixed on the state of the economy more than the war in Iraq. Of course, as a capitalist nation we like to know how our dollar is doing (for those less interested in current events: it’s not doing so well), but our collective mammonism has diverted our attention away from the war, where men, women, and children are being killed.

Killed. Every single day.

It is hard to fully grasp this concept. Unlike previous American wars, those holding down the home front don’t have to sacrifice anything to keep the war going. During the Civil War, families lost their only income when men served and died on bloody battlefields. During World War II, Americans rationed food and supplies, worked in munitions factories, and were drafted to topple tyranny.

But for this war, there is no draft or call to service by the president, so all we have to do is watch B-roll of chaotic Iraqi marketplaces and argue broad talking points from the comfort and safety of our computer chairs.

That is why, I would argue, the war has not been ended yet. We remain complacent and unaware of what it means to fight a war. I’ve become so desensitized to war images that it seems like no big deal, like it is a video game. I suppose we should ask the family of Spc. Richard Burress, who died two weeks ago from a roadside bomb, if his death was no big deal.

The truth is that war is hell. Soldiers know this, and politicians know how to prevent us from knowing this. They ban images of Americans being killed from appearing in media because, as we found out after the Abu Ghraib scandal, that would cause the public to realize what is actually happening and demand that something be done to stop it.

Regardless of what pundits say, it is possible to support the troops yet not support their mission. President Bush seems to do the opposite. He sends insufficient and ill-equipped troops into a situation even Vice President Cheney knew would become a “quagmire,” then fails to remedy the horrific conditions at Walter Reed hospital and others like it. Yet he said, and kept saying, that we all should support the troops, and implied that anyone who did not was a terrorist-sympathizer. So much for being the “uniter.”

Still, I support the troops. I don’t support their mission, whatever that is (the president has yet to make it clear), but I absolutely, resolutely will support the troops. I don’t have bumper stickers or American flag lapel pins to prove it, but since when did a flimsy piece of plastic indicate one’s amount of patriotism? These men and women volunteer to serve at the high risk of injury, maimedness, or death. They leave their families for weeks, months, even years, to secure and maintain order in a disorderly country while trying to avoid getting a bullet in the brain or shrapnel in the eye. They inspire me – and relieve me from fighting a war we have no business fighting.

I trust you, the (hopefully) well-informed and sensible voter, have been able to see through the malarkey the candidates have been feeding us and decide who will better determine our future in Iraq. I’m living on a prayer that our next president will at least have the gumption, like Edwards did, to support the troops and end the war.

God Life Religion

Falwell falls

I’ll admit that I didn’t know much about Jerry Falwell before he died. I grew up in a Christian home and attended a non-denominational church, but I never tried to pretend I knew much about “the Church” or its leaders. Now that I’m a college student, I guess I have to start caring. But caring about a person like Jerry Falwell is quite a feat, even for a believer like me.

My biggest beef against Falwell is that he really wasn’t a Christian at all. He was a hatemonger, a hypocrite, and a terrible representation of Christ, among other things. He accused feminists, liberals, homosexuals, labor unions, and those infected with AIDS of causing the September 11th attacks instead of ministering to them as a man of God should. He gives other Christians a horrible name. In fact, the only thing he really gives the world is another reason to steer clear of church altogether, and I wouldn’t blame you if that’s exactly what you did.

A man like Falwell should not be involved with politics, because that’s the last thing Jesus would do, but of course he just had to create the “Moral Majority” to provide a safe haven for churchgoers to point their fingers at the rest of the world without even thinking of pointing it at themselves. The organization disbanded in the 80s, but the inspiration lives on through the Republican Party and current day hatemongers—I mean televangelists, like Pat Robertson and Bill Donahue.

I wish I could speak for all Christians when I say that these men do not represent Biblical teaching, but sadly, there are still many out there who insist on using the Bible as a weapon of hate rather than a tool of compassion, which is its true purpose. We live in a country where religion is thought of as a set of rules and is required if you want to get into heaven. But the truth is that religion is man-made—hence, flawed. It’s run by humans who are just as corruptible and insidious as the next guy. If you put all of your stocks into something that is going to fall away, don’t be surprised when you’re left with nothing in the end. And that’s exactly what Falwell gave us: nothing. Nothing except spiritual terrorism in the name of Christ.

To non-believers: Jesus is not a religion. Jesus, to me, represents a lifestyle that demands humility, forgiveness to all (all meaning everyone, including those who Falwell so adamantly opposed), and a charitable heart. Don’t dress up for church or put your hands up during worship just to impress God. He sees through that bullshit quite easily. Instead, talk to someone you don’t know. Make amends with your enemy, then treat him or her to Starbucks. Clean up a mess without being asked, especially if it’s not yours to clean. Make sure your tipsy friend gets home safe. Jesus befriended the lowest of lows in his time; the lepers, the prostitutes, the tax collectors. Jerry Falwell condemns them. So much for being Christ-like.

To my fellow Christians: stop pretending to be righteous. If there is one thing that non-believers, and fellow Christians, see easiest it’s hypocrisy. Wearing a crucifix around your neck while you judge homosexuals sends a strange message to those around you. If you actually have read the Bible, you would remember that “if anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion worthless” (James 1:26). Don’t deceive yourself, and don’t make God worthless. In other words, shut up and do something. Be relevant to the lesser of this world. Do anything else and you’d just be kidding yourself.

God Life Religion

where were we?

The shooting at Virginia Tech is definitely shocking and saddening, but it’s not new. Every couple of years there seems to be another school shooting and the perpetrators all seem alike. They are loners, malcontents, and victims of an ever-depreciating society. Cho Seung-Hiu, the Virginia Tech killer, was probably deeply disturbed and psychotic, but what caused him to be that way? Certainly his negative family environment, self-prescribed isolation, and increasing anger had something to do with it. But where were the friends to help him out? Where were his parents to provide a positive example and nourishing environment?

The political pundits were quick to cite violent video games and even terrorism as the motive behind the massacre. It’s an easy answer. The Columbine killers played violent video games and fantasized about terrorizing other students. I hate to quote the Black Eyed Peas on such a serious issue, but “where is the love?” The boys that commit these atrocities had no love. It seems like such a hippie, new age thing to say, but Jesus said it all the time. We are too busy with our own lives to give a damn when someone cries for help in every way. Our iPods have to be listened to, that TV show has to be watched, we have to instant message all night, but we can’t simply open our eyes to something that’s staring us right in the face.

I’m just as guilty as anyone on this. I like listening to my iPod a lot and watching my favorite TV shows religiously. But how can I justify getting my entertainment fix while a fellow brother or sister in Christ is so depressed, so overcome that they consider murdering dozens of their peers and then themselves? Blame cannot rest on one source alone but on all of us. We failed Cho just as much as we failed the students that were killed. I hope we can all have the strength and courage to turn off our iPods once in a while and look around at our brothers and sisters in Christ, hoping and waiting for the chance to step in and love unconditionally.

God Religion

apologies all around…

I’ve been going through a season of doubt and general questioning of all that I’m supposed to believe. I’ve been told over and over again in Sunday school and at home that “Jesus died for my sins” and “God created you and loves you very much,” but what does that really mean? How is it even possible that a perfect being like “God” created such imperfect and broken things as us humans? How does God have a son and why is he our savior? I’ve grown up in the church my entire life so I technically know the answer, but in reality I have no idea how that relates to me.

I’ve realized that no matter how much I can learn about evolution vs. creation, the possibility of a God, if Jesus really rose from the dead, etc., it won’t mean a thing if I don’t feel something real in my heart. We can cram so much into our heads with hope of finally understanding the world, but in the end we’ll find ourselves weak and hopeless creatures. That’s what I’m feeling now. Like Paul the Apostle said: Of all the sinners in the world, I am the worst. I’m pretty sure everyone feels like that at one point in their life.

The word “faith” has taken on great significance in my life. I see religious leaders debate with atheists and people wonder why God can let things like the Holocaust and starvation happen to his so-called “beloved” people. I wonder that myself sometimes. But to have faith means to realize that you don’t know all of the answers the world asks. I want to be able to let go of the need to know what I don’t need to know. Knowing everything about the Bible doesn’t guarantee entrance into Heaven. It’s about what’s in your heart, not in your head.

On behalf of those who claim to be Christians representing Jesus’ teachings, I want to apologize for all of the bad things we’ve done in the name of Christianity. It makes me sick the way “religious leaders” go on TV and condemn homosexuals and pro-choice supporters just because they think they aren’t following the Bible. I apologize for not being more loving and considerate to the needs of the world. Many think that Christians are supposed to be perfect. I can tell you with authority that this is not the case. We are all broken, hopeless, desperate people living in a screwed up world. I’m sorry for the cutting remarks, the misplaced judgments, the gossip, the back-stabbing, the rejection, and the pride.

We are not being good representatives of Jesus. I can assure you that Jesus and his teachings are far better than how they look on us. I just ask that you give him a chance. Contrary to how it may seem, Jesus is a stand-up guy with some advice that really helps in the attempt to heal this messed up world. I’m still trying to figure that out myself.