christianity

Exit 201. Bullet points and thoughts about the weekend.

I missed last week.  Sorry.

And I’m not sure what to write about this week.

But I had a great weekend.  So I’ll just share some bullet points and thoughts about the weekend.

Friday night, a friend went out for sushi and issued an open invitation.  Three of us plus her showed up.  My mom noticed that my friend had tagged me in a Facebook post and said that she didn’t know I liked sushi.  I don’t know when I tried sushi for the first time, but it was definitely in adulthood.  I probably would have thought the idea of sushi was disgusting as a kid, but it’s good to try new things, because sometimes you like them.

Saturday morning, I played Pokemon Go and helped some friends move.  I watched exactly none of the royal wedding.

Saturday night, I had people over for another one of my retro gaming parties.  It was a small crowd, only 10 of us, but we had fun.  Sometimes a small crowd is a good thing.  I feel more connected to everyone.

This morning, I went to my old church in Davis, because the youth pastor, under whom I volunteered in my early 20s, is leaving the church staff and changing careers after having been there for over two decades.  They had a reception for him after the service.  It was heartwarming and uplifting to hear so many stories about his work in youth ministry.  I shared about how, in addition to having such a heart for the young people of the community, he invested in the lives of the volunteer leaders the same way.  It was also inspiring for me to be greeted by so many old friends who are still at that church, and some who came just for that event as I did, almost 17 years after I moved away.

Then I came home and took a long nap, so I hope I’m able to fall asleep tonight.  If I’m not, I have plenty of cleaning to do to tire me out.

How were all of your weekends?

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Exit 195. I definitely need a new month.

It is Easter Sunday.  Or Resurrection Day, as it is called by those who want to focus on remembering Jesus Christ’s resurrection instead of the pagan origins of the name Easter and the rabbit and egg traditions.  It is also the first day of April.  This is the first time in my lifetime that Easter has fallen on April 1 (the last time was 1956), and it couldn’t have worked out more perfectly.  Both the pagan and Christian traditions of Easter are connected to the concept of rebirth and new life, and I definitely need a new life and a new month after the terrible March I had.

As I posted two weeks ago, it hasn’t been all bad.  But some things continued to go downhill after that post.  I feel emotionally drained and beat up after this last month, and something that has been happening here that has made national news (which I’d rather not discuss right now) has gotten me regretting my decision twelve years ago not to leave California.  I was so mad a few days ago that I even changed all the graphics for this blog for the first time ever, changing the icon and logo from a California highway route sign to a generic US highway route sign, and changing the cover photo on the Facebook page from the Bear Flag to the Stars and Stripes flag.  I don’t know if I want to be Californian anymore.

I wrote in the early days of this blog about my mixed feelings about California, and how I feel like California is home, and California is in my blood, despite not fitting in with California culture.  I’m too conservative for the dominant culture in California, and the state government continues to find ways to express their open hostility and contempt for conservatives and libertarians.  And whenever I share these feelings, my friends who once lived in California but do not anymore always tell me about how glad they are that they moved.

So what is stopping me?  A lot.  I actually do like my job, and teachers are not paid well in the more conservative states, from what I know.  I have this house that I am responsible for.  And I am not convinced that I really would be better off anywhere else.  I fear that in the more conservative parts of the country, I would be out of place for not owning a gun, not knowing how to work on cars, and not being a fisherman.  It would be hard to make social connections in a more rural area without having a family of my own.  And while I am definitely not a liberal Democrat, I am not particularly a fan of President Trump either.

So is it time to leave California?  Would I be better off somewhere else?  I don’t know.  I just don’t know.

 

 

Exit 194. Angry mobs.

Today is Palm Sunday, the Sunday that falls one week before Easter.  The name Palm Sunday comes from a passage in all four Gospels, where Jesus rides into Jerusalem as a triumphant King, and he is greeted by a mob of fans waving palm branches.  Just a few days later, the mob appears again, but this time they are shouting for him to be put to death.  What caused the change?  The Bible, of course, does not say how many of the people in the angry crucifixion mob were also in the palm branch mob.  Those in the palm branch mob were expecting Jesus to be a conqueror and drive out the Roman oppressors, but instead he preached a message of humility and love for your enemies, which is not what they wanted.

Angry mobs have been in the news a lot around here lately, with another fatal and tragic case of alleged police brutality and racism, as well as the anti-gun marches happening across the USA this weekend.  I don’t really feel like going into any more detail about what I saw or what happened.  I’m kind of tired of talking about it and of all the arguing that it inevitably leads to.

I do know one thing, though.

I can pray.

This world is broken, and this world needs Jesus.  Before you try to tell me that European missionaries devastated cultures all over the world in the Age of Exploration, or that so-called Christian pastors molest children and cover up their gay affairs, and such, I didn’t say the world needed any of that stuff.  I said the world needed Jesus, and that stuff is not Jesus.

I can also fix myself.

I can do the best I can to understand people who view life through a different lens than I do.  I can try to understand what others have been through.  (And I would appreciate it if others extend the same sentiment to me and try to understand what I’ve been through.)

I feel like I’m not very talkative (writative?) tonight.

Exit 190. I’ll find you when I think I’m out of time.

One interesting thing about having a huge collection of music is that every once in a while, I’ll have all of my thousands of songs on shuffle, and I’ll rediscover a song from my past in a way that speaks to me all over again in the present.

Jars of Clay is a Christian rock band that was popular during my college and young adult years, when I was first discovering Christian rock (and first discovering what it meant to be a Christian, for that matter).  Their song Flood, off of their self-titled debut album, was a major hit in 1996, crossing over from the Christian niche into mainstream music and charting on the Billboard Hot 100.   I’ve seen them live at least three times, most recently in 2006 with Vega the Nice Ex.  (Some of the popular Christian bands of that era I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen live, since I went to some festivals and other large events where many bands were playing.  I know I’ve seen them at least once at a festival, and twice as the actual headliners of actual concerts.)

Jars of Clay never really replicated that early mainstream success.  They experimented with different sounds over the years, and although I have all of their first seven studio albums, their self-titled debut will probably always be my favorite.  But there are some good songs off of their other albums (as well as some recent work which I haven’t heard at all; maybe I’ll have to check them out one of these days).  The song “The Eleventh Hour,” from the 2002 album of the same title, came up on shuffle recently, and I hadn’t heard it in a while, and it had probably been even longer since I had actually paid attention to the lyrics.

 

The English phrase “the eleventh hour,” which like the phrase “jars of clay” is derived from a passage in the New Testament,  refers to the last minute, a time in which it is almost too late.  (Some modern translations use modern methods of timekeeping in that passage instead of the words “eleventh hour”; the NIV, for example, says “five in the afternoon.”)

The song says:

Rescue me from waiting on this line.
I won’t give up on giving you the chance to blow my mind.
Let the eleventh hour quickly pass me by.
I’ll find you when I think I’m out of time.

Sometimes I feel like I’m out of time.  Sometimes I feel like my best years are past me, having been wasted drowning in fear and self-doubt.  Sometimes I feel like I could have been happy and had a more fulfilling life if I had done things differently in my younger years.  Sometimes it feels too late to be successful financially, or too late to meet that special someone and find a family, or too late to find a place where I belong.  God, rescue me.  I won’t give up on you.  I can still find God, and he can still do wonderful things with my life, even if I think I’m out of time.

As I’ve been writing this, two other Jars of Clay songs came up on shuffle.  Maybe God is telling me he approves of my topic for this week, or that one of my readers needed to hear this.

Don’t give up on God.

Exit 185. Church isn’t supposed to be this stressful.

Church isn’t supposed to be this stressful and upsetting.

I’ve been hopping around between at least three different churches the last few months, and I don’t know if I’m going to stay at any of them long term.  The church I’ve been going to the last two years (which I’m counting as one of these three) just doesn’t feel like it’s for me anymore.  They have a new pastor, and I think he has some great ideas for how to bring Jesus to the trendy urban neighborhood surrounding the church.  The problem is, I’m not in the trendy urban neighborhood surrounding the church.  I’m 12 miles away in the suburbs.  I have a very different lifestyle and very different views than most of the people there, and this has manifested itself in ways that have been making me feel uncomfortable lately.  The other two I’ve been going to are very different from each other, and I don’t know if I’m going to stick with each one.

It’s not supposed to be like this.  Singing the praises of God, having fellowship with my brothers and sisters in the faith, learning from the Bible, all of those important things shouldn’t be overshadowed by my frustrations with the culture of Christianity in the USA and my difficulty finding a place in it.  But it’s hard when I don’t feel like I belong anywhere, and it’s also hard when people from churches I haven’t been to in a while ask where I’ve been.  Most of the people I know at these churches know what’s going on, but that doesn’t make it easy.

But I’m doing the best I can.  I’m not going to leave my faith behind.  That’s not who I am, and that’s not what faith is.

If you live near me, just be aware that you might see me at your church sometime, even if I don’t normally go there.  And I might disappear for a few weeks.  And I might show up again sometime.  That’s just how things might be for a while.  But that’s ok.

I need to go spend some time in prayer tonight before I fall asleep.

Exit 181. The one time out of the year.

Last night, I was at Christmas Eve Mass at the Catholic church where I grew up.  I was thinking about how Christmas is the one time out of the year when I still attend Catholic Mass, despite having left Catholicism for evangelical Christianity at age 20, and I thought, that would be a good thing to write about this week.  But in looking at old posts about Christmas on this site, I realized I already addressed the topic two years ago (click here to read).  In that post, I focused primarily on how all the prayers and rituals of the Catholic Mass are so much more meaningful to me as an adult, now that I know more about the Bible and the history of Judaism and Christianity.

There is another question I did not answer… why do I still attend Catholic Mass on Christmas, instead of attending my own church or a church more like the ones I have attended as an adult?  Part of the reason is practical.  I am always visiting my family on Christmas, and my mom, grandma, and some combination of other relatives who are here or visiting always attend Mass on Christmas.  This year, we attended Mass on Christmas Eve because my mom does the Scripture readings at church, and that was the time that she was asked to read for.  Depending on when exactly I come to see my family, I am occasionally able to attend Christmas service at my own church as well.  This year, the church I’d been attending the last two years had an early Christmas service last Thursday, and I was going to go there as well, but I decided not to at the last minute for reasons that this isn’t the time to get into here.

I guess the other reason I haven’t stopped going to Mass on Christmas Day is because I haven’t felt a need to.  I’m worshiping Jesus and celebrating his birth with my family.  The fact that this particular group of worshipers has other views regarding transubstantiation, for example, really isn’t that big of a deal to me.

I’m going to keep this short this week and emerge from my old bedroom to see what the family is doing.  (We already opened presents last night.)  Merry Christmas to all of you.

Exit 173. Finding my people.

A few months ago, I saw an invitation on Facebook for a reunion for 1990s alumni of the UC Davis chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  IVCF is an international para-church organization (i.e., not affiliated with a particular church or denomination) that runs Christian groups and ministries on university and college campuses, and I’ve mentioned before that I was involved with this organization during my university years.  It was through this group that I first came to know Jesus on a personal level, that all the stories I’d heard as a child about Jesus and God’s people really started to mean something to me and affect my life.  Some of the people in my life from this group I’m sporadically in Facebook contact with, but there are many others with whom I lost touch long ago.  So when I saw last summer that the couple who led the group from 1992 to 2002 would be flying out to California in October and speaking at an IVCF reunion for alumni who were part of the group during those years, I signed up right away.  In fact, I was told that I was the first one to register and buy my ticket.

The event happened at the end of my school’s fall break.  I was hoping for the fall break to be low-key and relaxing, allowing either for a spontaneous adventure or two or lots of time sitting around doing things I enjoy.  Some of that happened, but the week ended up being much more full of adult responsibilities than I was hoping: car maintenance, bike repairs, my phone dying unexpectedly, and its brand new successor stopping working after a day, to mention a few.  In the days leading up to the reunion, my mind was rapidly heading into a downward spiral of negative thoughts and stress.

But this day was exactly what I needed, emotionally and spiritually.  It felt like I was getting back to my roots as a Christian, worshiping the Lord in the same environment that I did twenty years ago, before I became so disillusioned with church culture and jaded by the various ways I’ve been mistreated since then.  I enjoyed catching up with so many old friends, getting to share stories about what I’m doing today and hear their stories.  These were the people who were here for me at a very difficult time in my life.  Things weren’t always smooth, as I shared last week, but is it ever?

Nine days later, as I write this, two conversations stick out the most in my mind.  The first was with a woman a few years older than me who was on staff with InterVarsity during the time I was there.  I found her on Facebook a few years ago, when she commented to one of my friends from this time period who I’ve stayed in touch with, so she has seen a lot of my Facebook posts about my tabletop game and retro video game friends, Kings games, and partner dancing.  But this was the first time we had spoken face to face in a long time.  I didn’t have a social life anything like this twenty years ago, and that was something I often felt discouraged about.  She told me, “I’m really glad you found your people.”

I didn’t respond to that comment in the best way I could have.  I should have thought about how she’s right.  For the first thirty-plus years of my life, I never had friends who understood the things I enjoy doing to the extent that my friends now do.  I was never able to invite people over and get a good response and have a good time.  I really have found my people, in that sense.

But that wasn’t my response.  Instead, I took a negative view of the subject.  I said, “But it doesn’t feel like they’re completely my people.  Most of those friends are either not Christians, or way younger than me.”  True, but this isn’t what I should be focusing on.  I really need to stop being so negative.

Hold that thought.  More on that later.  The second conversation that sticks out to me was with someone who had been a freshman when I was a senior.  She eventually moved back to the area where she grew up, about an hour and a half drive away, and somehow the topic came up of how often we’ve been back to Davis since then.  I only live 30 miles away, and I go to a lot of UC Davis football and basketball games, and I have met a few other friends who live in Davis over the last few years who have no connection to my time living there, so I have been back to Davis more often than most of the students who attended the reunion, except for the handful who actually live in Davis today.  I mentioned to this friend that I think about moving back sometimes, even to the point that I’ve sent job applications at two distinct points in my life.  But I don’t think that moving back is a good idea for me, given what I know about myself.  Truthfully, this thought isn’t about wanting to move back so much as as it is that I just want my old life back.  And that just isn’t realistic, because so much has changed in the last twenty years.  The world is a different place and everyone has grown up, and if I were to move back to Davis, I would not get my old life back.  None of these were really new thoughts for me, but it seemed like I explained it a bit more clearly than usual.

Later, we had a sharing time, about things that we learned during our InterVarsity days that have borne fruit in our adult lives.  Someone was talking about how at one point as an adult, she was looking for the kind of community she had in college, only to realize that as adults, we have to make our own community.  I’ve been struggling with this for a long time, spending decades of my life trying to find a church that has a group like InterVarsity for my age, only to realize that this group doesn’t exist.

I will always have my InterVarsity memories, and these memories will always be precious to me.  But life moves on.  Which brings me back to the other conversation about finding my people.  I’m glad to be in touch with people I knew twenty years ago, but my people in 2017 are the game group friends and my other current social friends.  God put me in this place for a reason, and I still have work to do where I am right now.  And although it doesn’t hurt to embrace nostalgia to some point, looking backward ultimately is not the answer when I can’t find the way forward.

Exit 172. But it isn’t pretty.

As a new Christian and a youth group leader in the ’90s, I listened to a lot of Christian music.  Since 2001, when I was no longer working with youth, that has tapered off, to the point that I do not recognize many Christian songs anymore other than the ones I hear at church.  There are a number of reasons for that.  I don’t have a social group at church that purposely introduces me to new Christian music.  I have also matured to the point of realizing that some Christian music just isn’t very good.  I can’t reverently express to Jesus how much I love him when singing or even hearing others sing phrases like “Heaven meets Earth like a sloppy wet kiss.”  (Besides, didn’t you people tell me back in the Josh Harris era that kissing was bad, because it leads to temptation and babies and stuff, so I shouldn’t even think about kissing until my wedding day?)

But, as unfortunate as this is, another part of the reason I haven’t been as much into Christian music is because sometimes I feel like I can’t relate.  A lot of Christian music is just too overly sappy.  Sometimes I’m feeling angry at the world, and there is very little angry Christian music.  I’ve even been told my some ill-informed Christians that the reason for the lack of angry Christian music is because anger is not a Christlike emotion.  (Right… I’m sure Jesus was feeling all happy and cheerful when he turned over the tables.)

The other day, I was in the car, and I heard a song that I realized sums up my history and experience with Christianity pretty well.  But it isn’t pretty.  And it isn’t a Christian song.

This isn’t a new song; it was released in 1991.  It isn’t a new song to me either; this was a huge hit when I was in high school, and it was on MTV all the time back when MTV still played videos for part of the day.  But apparently it has taken me over a quarter century to really appreciate the song.

New blood joins this earth
And quickly he’s subdued
Through constant pained disgrace
The young boy learns their rules

Late ’90s.  I’m a new Christian, and that’s great, but I’m quickly scolded by peers for telling dirty jokes and having lustful thoughts.  I learn the rules… there are cliques within the group.  Sometimes, from my point of view, the people who go serve Jesus in other countries during the summer seem more respected than those of us who don’t feel that calling, for example.

With time, the child draws in
This whipping boy done wrong
Deprived of all his thoughts
The young man struggles on…

Early 2000s.  I’m in small groups at Church I With The Problems where pretty much all we do is confess our habits of masturbation and looking at porn and talk about ways to stop that from happening, or have long discussions about exactly what minute of the night we should leave our significant other’s house so that other people don’t see us there and think that we’re having sex.  When I share my thoughts that maybe there are more important things we should be concerned with, everyone just tells me I must not be mature in my faith.

They dedicate their lives
To running all of his

A few years later.  I’m at Church II With The Problems, where everything I say or do feels micro-managed, and every slightly socially awkward behavior or comment is treated like a sin I have to repent from.

He tries to please them all
This bitter man he is

After I move in 2006, I spend the next decade trying to live the good Christian life, but only becoming more and more bitter, as I see others who didn’t live the way I was taught find happiness and success, and my own life leads me to be more and more of an outcast.

Throughout his life the same
He’s battled constantly
This fight he cannot win
A tired man they see no longer cares

This has been going on for many years.  I’ve been looking for a place where I can find other people who live the way I’ve been trying to.  But I can’t win, I’m not going to find one, because I’m not 20 anymore.  There isn’t a youth group for 41-year-olds.  I don’t know how to live in my current situation, and I’m becoming more and more tired and bitter about it.

The old man then prepares
To die regretfully
That old man here is me

And this is the direction my life is heading if nothing changes…

What I’ve felt
What I’ve known
Never shined through in what I’ve shown
Never be
Never see
Won’t see what might have been

What I’ve felt
What I’ve known
Never shined through in what I’ve shown
Never free
Never me
So I dub thee Unforgiven

Unforgiven… ironically, that is the complete opposite of the gift that Jesus Christ gives us.  Am I unforgiven?  Have I not truly received the grace of Jesus Christ?  I don’t think so.  But I might be looking for the wrong things.  I might be trying too hard to do all the socially acceptable right things instead of just living in the grace of Jesus Christ.

But that is not who God made me to be.  I don’t want to fit in that box.  But I need to figure out how to do that.  I need to look to Jesus, not church culture.

And if I’m now hearing God speak to me through Metallica lyrics, I suppose I’ve taken a step out of the box already.

Exit 170. Debating what to write about.

I’ve been debating all day what to write about.  Something kind of cool happened to me a few days ago that, while insignificant in the long run of things, challenged something I’ve believed to be true about myself for my entire life.  But then I woke up to news of a horrific shooting.  I took a nap this afternoon, and woke up to unrelated news of the passing of another classic rock icon, although at this writing, a few hours later, some news outlets say that the announcement was premature and that he is clinging to life.  Either way, it doesn’t look good.

I’m going to keep those thoughts to one paragraph.  The world is a horrible place.  Satan is real, and the human race is fallen and evil.  We can, and should, be trying to make the world a better place, but we also have to accept the fact that this work will not be finished until Jesus comes back.  And major political policy decisions should not be made based on emotion and knee-jerk reactions, as many always try to do after a tragedy like this.  My prayers are with the families and loved ones of those killed and injured at the concert near* Las Vegas.  And to those of you who are responding that you don’t want my prayers, that’s fine.  I’m praying for you, and the sovereign God is listening, regardless of your response.  I don’t understand why he allows these things to happen.  I don’t think anyone could understand.  But his work is not finished yet.  Satan still has a firm grip on this world, and no matter of political policy can change that.

I was going to tell my other story too, but I think I’ll just leave it here for now and save that for next week.

(*The Las Vegas Strip area is outside the actual city limits.)

Exit 169. God was telling me to play Pokémon Go.

Yesterday, I hosted a friend’s birthday party at my house.  I am an introvert, of course, but I do enjoy hosting parties for others occasionally when I can.  I have this house, with realistically more room than I need, and doing things like this makes me feel like I can do something useful for my friends who have other living arrangements.

But I digress.  I’ve been very busy with work, and I haven’t been good at picking up around the house.  So I did a lot of straightening and cleaning yesterday morning.  By about 1:00 in the afternoon, I was tired and sweaty and in need of a shower, and I also needed a few things from the grocery store (not for the party specifically, just for my personal use, but as soon as possible).  I was debating whether to shower and go to the store, or just shower and nap, when another alternative popped into my head.

Don’t go to the store.  Don’t take a nap.  Don’t even shower yet.  Go for a walk to the park and catch some Pokémon.

I should qualify this by saying that I’m a n00b when it comes to Pokémon Go.  As I have written before, I was already in my 20s when Pokémon was first a thing, so I didn’t grow up with it.  I played for the first time two months ago, when a friend who moved away a few years ago was visiting her parents, about an hour drive from here.  I was trying to find a time to get together and catch up, and the only time that worked was when she was planning on going for a walk to play Pokémon, so she invited me along.

I had a six day streak going of having caught at least one Pokémon per day.  Most of that, however, most of that was just stopping next to the aforementioned park on the way home from work and catching one just to get a streak going, since if you can get up to seven days, you get a lot of experience points.  So I needed to catch something yesterday.  I also needed to get more balls, and there are lots of stops where you can get items all over this park.

Anyway, this park has soccer and baseball fields, so it is always full of youth sports families on Saturday mornings.  As I was getting near the park, I saw a mom and her friend loading up kids into a car after a game.  Her friend said hi to me.  I said hi back, as my mind frantically tried to remember who this person was; I don’t know any soccer moms that frequent this park off the top of my head.  (The kids belonged to her friend, not her, which also threw me a little.)   Fortunately, it came to me quickly so that the conversation was not awkward; it was someone from my old church, the one I stopped going to around two years ago.  I asked how she was doing, and she mentioned that next month she would be leaving on a mission trip to serve Jesus in other countries for a year.  She gave me the website where she would be blogging about her travels.

I hear many people tell stories about when God makes people cross paths at just the right time for a specific reason, and I think this was one of those moments.  I think God was telling me to play Pokémon Go yesterday morning, so I could be back in touch with my friend and reading and praying about her travels.  And in the middle of all the questions that have been running through my mind about Christianity and church culture and where I belong, this was a reminder that God is still here in the midst of all that.

And the part about me not having made it to the grocery store worked out too, because one of the other party guests called asking if we needed anything, and she agreed to bring me the two things I needed most urgently.  I forgot to pay her back, but this is someone I see often enough that I’ll take care of that soon, and it was probably no more than five dollars anyway.