christianity

Exit 251. An unfortunate tendency to worship fads.

Sorry for the hiatus.  Life got really busy, and I knew this next post would be a big one, and I needed time to process.  I was also writing stories for my other blog during that time.

Former pastor Joshua Harris recently made an announcement that he and his wife of almost 20 years were divorcing, and that he no longer considered himself a Christian.  While I would be sad in any case of someone renouncing the faith, this one hit me a bit more personally.

As any long-time reader of this blog knows, or as can easily be discerned from searching the archives of this blog, I have some rather strong opinions about Mr. Harris’ teaching, particularly concerning his 1997 book I Kissed Dating Goodbye.  This book, and others he wrote later, make the point that dating is un-Biblical and prepares people for breakup and divorce. Instead of spending time alone and giving into temptation and being fake with each other, Christian singles should spend time together on “group dates,” getting to know people in groups to see who they really are.  Then, eventually, through a mechanism I never understood, two of them will choose to prepare for marriage.

I became a Christian (or at least started taking what I believed seriously) about a year before this book was published.  No one ever taught me in childhood or my teen years how dating and relationships worked. I didn’t really see my parents doing coupley things very often; their relationship isn’t really like that, at least not in front of me (which is ok, there’s nothing wrong with that, everyone is different).  So after hearing a few talks at Intervarsity about not rushing into relationships and waiting until one is ready, and then learning about Harris-ism shortly after, I just assumed this was how all Christians lived. I didn’t know any better. So I really didn’t go on dates in college or my young adult years (except for a couple of awkward experiences which I thought were dates and the girl didn’t, but that’s another story for another time).

Mr. Harris’ books seem to be written for an audience of people who date frequently and even promiscuously, with selfish and un-Biblical intentions, but have now found Jesus.  (I should give the disclaimer that I never finished IKDG because I could tell about 100 pages in that it was crap, and I didn’t read any of Mr. Harris’ other works.) The main idea of IKDG seems geared toward explaining what is wrong with that aforementioned lifestyle, and replacing it with something at the other extreme that avoids the temptations therein altogether.  It seems to not even allow the possibility of the existence of someone like me, someone who wants to go on dates without having those selfish intentions.

If I followed Harrisism exactly as written, given who I was at that age, it would have looked like this: I’d meet a girl and eventually realize, for whatever reason, that I was into her and wanted to get to know her better.  I wouldn’t say anything, because Christians don’t date and that would be inappropriate. I’d hang out when our groups of mutual friends were doing things, but I wouldn’t be able to talk to her, because I’m an introvert, and I can’t just jump into a conversation without it being awkward.  I don’t read nonverbal communication well, so I would never get to know her, so the intended effect of hanging out in groups would never happen. She would end up together with someone else, because she would never know that I was interested in her. And I would never really get to know her, because I’d never have time alone with her where I really see people for who they are, and they see me for who I am.  According to Mr. Harris, this would cause us to be selfish and not real with each other, but my personality is just the opposite. I don’t look to be selfish when I’m alone with a woman, not at all. I’m just me.

Now if you followed Harris-ism and found a spouse and you’re still together, good for you.  I’m glad it worked for you. It worked better for you than it did for Mr. Harris himself, after all.  But not everyone is like you. Not everyone relates to people in the same way. And the Bible says nothing about the process of dating itself, so you have no right to judge people who don’t approach the world of dating that way.

Also, by the way, I predicted this in 2002.  In one of my other creative projects, I shared a story in which the character really likes a girl, but she read this book that is clearly supposed to be IKDG, and won’t date because of it.  The character later gets a chance to meet the author of the book, who goes on to explain how he followed his own advice and never dated his wife before he asked her to marry him. The character asks how that works, and the author and his wife end up in a huge argument when they realize that they don’t know each other at all, because they never dated.  They divorce.

A few years ago, Mr. Harris himself renounced his writing and apologized, saying that he never intended his writing to become a set of rules, the kind of legalism that has always infected the church to some extent.  And there have even been entire communities built around recovering from Harris-ism, and a documentary made on the subject. That’s a first step. At least he is aware of how his writing affected an entire generation negatively.  But I still feel cheated out of opportunities because of this artificially created fear and restriction. The satire news site The Babylon Bee did a great article on this, about people demanding reparations for all the dates they missed out on because of Mr. Harris.  I have never felt a satire article so deeply in my soul. Granted, I wasn’t good at dating to begin with, but I feel like I missed my chance to even try because of the way so many around me were brainwashed with Mr. Harris’ teaching.

I also don’t fit in with the communities of people who have vocally rejected Harris-ism, in terms of the kind of dating they look for now.  My views fall somewhere in between theirs and pure Harris-ism, opening myself up to rejections from both sides. Many single Christians today who have rejected Harris-ism now have views at what I would call the other extreme.  They would say that Harris-ism and purity culture in general don’t value women and treat them as objects. Women should be free to explore their sexuality, because society judges women more harshly than men on these matters. The Bible doesn’t really mean what it says.  One shouldn’t idolize virginity, and everyone sins and Jesus forgives so sex isn’t really that big of a deal. I don’t believe any of that. The Bible certainly does mean what it says. Purity culture doesn’t treat women as objects, it teaches that our bodies aren’t our own because we belong to God.  Women are precious children of God, as are men. Society shouldn’t give women a free pass to be promiscuous; it should also be unacceptable, at least in Christianity, for men to be promiscuous as well (but being judgmental and gossipy isn’t ok for anyone either, of course). And the Apostle Paul specifically writes against using divine grace as a license to live a life of sin (Romans 6:1).

The biggest problem here is that Christians have an unfortunate tendency to worship fads, rather than the Almighty God Himself.  Some new Christian book, musician, celebrity pastor, whatever will come along, and all of a sudden all the churches wanting to be cool and relevant latch on to whatever this is, without even considering whether this new fad shows an appropriate level of spiritual maturity around which to build one’s life.  It should be pointed out that Mr. Harris was 22 when IKDG was published.  Fads come and go, and a few years later these people will latch on to something else. But I’ve seen many examples of former Christian celebrities renouncing their faith.

There was an episode of South Park that explored this topic, where some of the boys formed a Christian band because they thought it would be easier to get a big following as a Christian band than as a secular band.  It’s been years since I’ve seen this, but there was one scene where someone told them they needed to play a big Christian music festival. Someone said, “Just tell Christians what music to like, and they’ll buy it!” After hearing that line, I said, “That would be highly offensive if it weren’t so true.”  Christian music is full of flashes in the pan that disappear after one or two big albums.  I heard it pointed out somewhere that there are no Christian oldies or classic rock.  It’s not that uncommon to see kids born after 2000 wearing Beatles, AC/DC, or Nirvana shirts, but you never see Christian kids born after 2000 wearing Petra, Stryper, or Jars of Clay shirts, because everyone who listens to Christian music has moved on to something else (except me, occasionally; I still have a ton of Jars-of-Clay-era Christian music in my collection) (and, case in point, I still have never heard Petra or Stryper because the Christian world had already moved on from 1980s Christian music by the time I started listening to Christian music in 1996).

If Christianity is going to stay culturally relevant, we’re going to have to move away from this mentality of fad-following and start following Jesus instead.  It sounds simple, but one would be surprised. We’re also going to have to get away from this mentality of legalism. Sure, there are some absolutes in the Bible, but putting too many narrow rules on exactly what one should and shouldn’t do to honor God draws one’s eyes away from God and toward the pride in oneself for following the rules, as well as idolizing those who follow the rules.  And as for Mr. Harris saying he isn’t a Christian anymore, that’s between him and God. We should be praying for him.

So is it too late for me?  By the time I realized that Harris-ism was not the only way to honor God with one’s relationships and sexuality, it felt like I was in a place where there were no single Christians left my age.  So I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ve been through some stuff since then, and I don’t even know for sure what I’m looking for anymore. But being angry and demanding reparations, as the Babylon Bee article said, isn’t going to help at all.  

Exit 249. I like consistency.

The TV show The Goldbergs is one of the most relatable shows to me in the history of television.  The show is about growing up in the 1980s with a crazy family.  That was my life (except that we’re not an East Coast Jewish family).  The show’s creator, Adam F. Goldberg, is the same age as me, and he basically just wrote a sitcom based on his actual family and childhood friends.  Many of the episodes’ stories themselves are based on true stories.  (“Adam” and all other names in this writing related to The Goldbergs will refer to the characters, not the actual persons on whom they are based, since this distinction may be relevant at times.)

By now, I’ve seen almost every episode from all six seasons (so far) of the show.  Every now and then, though, I’ll turn on Goldbergs reruns and see one that I haven’t seen before.  That happened a few weeks ago, with an episode from season 3.  One of the recurring story lines throughout season 1 involves the preteen Adam’s interest in a girl named Dana, who becomes his first girlfriend.  At the end of season 2, Dana tells Adam that she and her family are moving across the country because her dad got a job out of the area.  The beginning of season 3 finds Adam and Dana in eighth grade and attempting a long distance relationship (which in the 1980s could only be done with expensive long distance telephone calls).

Dana comes to visit a few times that year.  In this episode, the one which I saw for the first time recently, Adam is excited for Dana’s impending visit; he prepares to do all the things that they loved to do together before she moved, including going to a Weird Al Yankovic concert.  (Yankovic himself guest stars, wearing his hair as he did in the 80s.)  But Dana is unenthusiastic about doing all of those things.  Adam and Dana realize that they have grown apart as they have grown up, and they break up at the end of the episode.

As I’ve said before, I’ve had a hard time dealing with this kind of thing happening in my own life.  I like consistency.  I didn’t really have a group of friends in childhood, and when I finally got one late in high school, we all dispersed and moved away soon after, and I lost touch with most of them.  And I’m going through it again.  The group of friends I’ve spent the most time with over the last several years is shrinking.  Many of the others have grown up, gotten married, had children, and in various other ways taken on new adult lives, leaving them less time for game nights with friends or staying up ridiculously late.  Some have jobs that limit their social time.  (I have a job, but I manage to make socializing happen anyway, to some extent.  That’s probably why I’m tired all the time.)  Others have drifted out of my social circle for numerous other reasons.  And some people have moved away; I have had an unusually large number of friends move away in 2019, or plan to do so soon.

Why is all of this happening?  Some of it is just a natural part of life.  People grow and change, and their friendships and relationships change as a result of this, much like the story of Adam Goldberg and Dana.  This might not be what I want, but sometimes there’s just no way to stop it.

Or maybe, just maybe, God is clearing out my life to prepare me for something new.  Maybe I myself will be moving out of the area as well.  (God answered a prayer about that in the negative a few months ago, and I have no plans to move at this point, but who knows what will happen in the long term.)  Maybe I will become involved in a time-consuming way at my little 10-person church, as we find ways to grow.  Maybe there will be a new activity or a new relationship or a new hobby of some sort, or something I can’t even imagine right now.  Or maybe I’ll just make new friends, or for some reason shift my priorities to one of the other social circles of which I am on the periphery.  Not much I can do about it.  I just have to figure out which parts of my life to hold on to and which to let go of, and not stay stuck in the grieving phase when parts of my life are ripped from me through no fault of my own.

Exit 240. The harvest is plentiful.

You may have noticed I made a little change to this site today (or, more precisely, I changed something back to how it used to be).  But more about that later.  And let’s agree not to argue politics on this post, because that isn’t the point I’m trying to make.  Stay with me.

I don’t normally get political on this blog, although I’ve done that a little more than usual lately.  And I’m going to try to be respectful about it… but let’s be honest here.  The political environment in California is getting a bit oppressive.  Some of the actions recently taken or proposed by the California State Legislature, or by various city and county governments, no longer seem to be about financial policy or safety.  Instead, it seems like California’s government wants complete control over every aspect of its citizens’ lives.  (Of course, some of the local ordinances cited here do not affect me… yet.)  They want to control what we eat and drink, who gets how much money and why, how and where we travel, how teachers are allowed to do their jobs, the age at which children are introduced to certain sensitive topics, whom we are allowed to vote for, when we run certain appliances, how much water we are allowed to use, and what religious beliefs certain organizations are allowed to have.  While some of these at least have a point behind them, while possibly misguided, none of them seem to me compatible with the concept of freedom espoused by our Founding Fathers.

This lust for power echoes The Party from Orwell’s 1984 (not to be confused with a similarly named early-90s teen pop group).  While torturing Winston Smith, another character whom I will not name so as to avoid spoilers says, “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake… We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.  Power is not a means; it is an end… The object of power is power.  Now do you begin to understand me?”

So what does this have to do with me?  Fourteen years ago, a lot of people around me were similarly angry about a Republican being in the White House, and much like today, I was feeling (for a variety of reasons) like I did not fit in among the culture around me.  As you probably know, if you have known me for a while, I hit the road in June 2005 and wandered around the country, living out of my car, sleeping in Motel 6s and KOAs and friends’ couches.  I intended to come back to California only to get my stuff.  But after 117 days on the road, and a great experience in and of itself, I returned to where I started (my parents’ house) with more questions than answers.  I spent the holidays with my parents and moved to where I am now in January 2006.  I opted for a shorter move instead, to Sacramento County, which feels to me like California’s Happy Medium.  It was far enough away to make a real fresh start, but still within day trip distance of everything I knew.

Recently, with the contentious political environment of 2019, I’m really beginning to regret not having moved away when I had the chance.  It’s pretty obvious from the above list why I would want to leave.  But I have a lot more to lose now than I did in 2005.  I have a house and a mortgage.  I’m working at a school where I get along with my administration and coworkers, and while most people whose heads are not stuck up their posteriors agree that teachers are underpaid, most of the states that are less controlling than California pay teachers even less.  And I’d probably experience a bit of reverse culture shock in any of those other places; while those ruling California disgust me, I didn’t vote for President Trump either, and most of my hobbies aren’t the kinds of things I’d find in rural areas.

On the way to church Sunday morning, a week ago, I was planning on bringing up my inner turmoil as a prayer request.  Last week we finished a series planned around Easter by talking about the crowds who praised Jesus and then shouted for his crucifixion just five days later.  Jesus came into a world where the religious leaders were corrupt and many of the people around him were lost and confused.  Earlier in Jesus’ life, he makes a statement that shows clearly how he viewed these crowds.  “When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field'” (Matthew 9:36).  Then we had a little discussion on how this same thing plays out in today’s world, how there are many people harassed and helpless who do not know the Gospel and God’s love for them.  That led to a discussion specifically about California and how hostile the culture here can be to Christianity, and how Jesus is calling us to go out there and minister to people and tell them about God’s love through words and actions.

Six days later (last night, as I write this), I was in Davis for the annual alumni night of the Christian student group I was a part of in the late 1990s.  (I’ve written about this event before; in 2016, I was invited to speak.)  One of the people sharing was talking about this organization’s vision to open chapters on thousands of campi where they currently have no presence.  He said that college and university students are searching for meaning in their lives, and he quoted this same verse in the context of students being ripe for the harvest, ready to learn about and experience the love of Jesus.

So… the point I’m making… having heard this twice in less than a week, I’m pretty sure this is God telling me that now is not the right time for me to leave California.

As much as I disagree with much of the “California values” that those in power continue to cite as justification for their policies, God has a purpose for me here in California.  California is my home.  It’s a beautiful state as far as the natural world is concerned.  And it’s a part of who I am.

So, in light of all that, I’m changing the logo for this site from the US highway sign back to the California highway sign I used previously.  The change initially was borne of anger toward California politics, but it’s time to put that aside.  God has me here for a reason.  Jesus never came to institute a political system.  And as for my tax dollars going to support things I’m morally opposed to, Jesus also said in response to a question about taxes to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21).  So there are more important things I should be looking at, and first and foremost among them would be all the lost souls around me searching for meaning, like sheep without a shepherd.  Here I am.  Send me (Isaiah 6:8).

Exit 237. The first step in trying to change the world.

I’ve generally stayed away from controversial topics on this blog.  Today’s post is an exception. I might lose friends over this. I’m prepared for that.  The views herein are mine and do not reflect that of any organization that I am part of or any colleagues or associates of mine.

I recently saw the movie Unplanned.  I went by myself, because I knew a lot of my friends wouldn’t want to see this movie, and also because I felt like this was a story I needed to see by myself.  The movie is based on a true story, and the nonfiction memoir of the same title. The movie is the story of Abby Johnson, the former director of an abortion clinic in Texas who had a change of heart and became an anti-abortion pro-life activist.  Unsurprisingly, the movie has received mostly negative reviews from professional critics, effectively calling it a poorly done right-wing propaganda piece. There has also been a bit of a media blackout of this movie; several major television networks have refused to air advertisements for the movie, because of its sensitive subject matter.  The MPAA gave the movie an R rating, despite the lack of any profanity or nudity, preventing many of the scared pregnant teens who need to know that there are other options for them besides abortion from seeing the movie at all.  In many states, these same scared pregnant teens can get an abortion without parental consent or notification.

To be honest, some of the above is valid, to some extent.  You can tell that this is a low-budget film. And, although I’m not an expert on criteria for movie ratings, the R rating does seem a bit justified because of a few scenes with a lot of blood.  I suspect that, in the case of most people watching this movie, it is doing a lot of preaching to the choir. Those who do not believe that abortion is morally wrong are the ones dismissing this movie as propaganda.  But to me, it is a powerful story that needs to be told, a story of love and redemption and the consequences of our choices.

I believe that abortion is wrong.  The Bible is clear that all human life is precious to the God who created us, even before birth.   I believe that God gave us sex to create life, and as part of the intimate lifelong bond between a husband and wife, and that anyone who is not at least willing to accept the possibility of bringing a child into the world should be taking responsibility for that.  If birth control doesn’t work, the responsible thing to do is to accept the consequences and not end the life of a child for the sake of your own convenience.  Many people out there would be willing to adopt a child and give it a good home.  And I am not disqualified from having an opinion about abortion because I am a man. You can have an opinion about slavery in the USA even if you didn’t live in the South before 1860, for example.  You don’t have to be directly affected by injustice to stand up for it.  And my opposition to abortion has nothing to do with oppressing women. Women have the unique gift of being able to bear children and bring new life into the world. But this gift of creating life is not to be taken lightly. With great power comes great responsibility (Benjamin Parker was right), and both parties involved, the man and the woman, have a great responsibility to use this gift wisely.  I know that this is considered a very extreme viewpoint in this culture, but Jesus didn’t say we would exactly be popular in the world.

I also believe that one can make a secular argument against abortion.  Fertilized eggs, embryos, and feti are all distinct beings with different DNA than either parent, so these have as much value as any other human life.  It is not part of either parent’s body, it is a separate life that has value, so abortion takes a life, which can only be justified if one is willing to accept situations like slavery in which some human lives are more valuable than others.  And abortion is not essential health care. Essential health care makes the body act the way it is designed to when it is not doing so. Abortion is exactly the opposite: the bodies of a pregnant woman and a developing fetus are doing exactly what they are designed to, and abortion prevents this from happening.

Okay… now hold that thought.  The night before I saw the movie, I shared an article from the Babylon Bee (a satire site) referencing the accusations against former Vice President Joe Biden and his habit of smelling women’s hair without their consent.  Someone commented on my post; I knew this guy a long time ago, and he has changed quite a bit in the time since he was in my primary social circle. Pretty much all of our interactions these days are him making some kind of smug disparaging comment on anything even remotely political than I share.  This time it was something to the effect that Donald Trump has said and done much worse than this. I said that it was a straw man argument, because Trump’s misdeeds don’t make Biden’s acceptable, and that he was assuming incorrectly that I was a Trump supporter. That led to a discussion, mostly angry and defensive on my part, in which he accused me of being divisive by spreading one-sided political posts, and thus that I have no right to complain about society being so divided.

He kind of does have a point here.  Even though I didn’t vote for Trump, I haven’t shared things critical of his administration, mostly because the things the Democrats are saying are far more disagreeable and sometimes terrifying to me.  And he calls it being divisive, but I call it telling the truth, and the truth hurts sometimes.

Back to Unplanned.  (Stop reading if you don’t want any plot details spoiled.  Then come back to this post after you’ve seen the movie.) A group of pro-lifers regularly stands outside of the clinic to pray; the movie particularly focuses on one of them, Marilisa, and the man that she eventually marries, Shawn.  What struck me the most about the movie was the way that Abby was generally cordial and friendly to Marilisa and Shawn, and they were cordial and friendly to her. Shawn and Marilisa didn’t scream at Abby and call her a baby killer, and Abby didn’t scream at them and call them sexist bigots or religious nuts.  And as a result, on the day that Abby decided to get out of the abortion industry, she had someone to turn to, and she immediately reached out to them.  (I’ve read that the events of that one day in the movie happened over the course of a couple of weeks in real life, but that doesn’t take away from my point.)  Also, along those lines, Abby’s family disapproved of her work, but they did not disown her, shun her, or continually berate her for it.  They loved her despite what she was doing.

And then it hit me.

This is what not being divisive truly looks like.

I have friends who have had abortions, and there are probably many more of them who have never told me that they have had abortions.  (And I don’t know if I want to know. I don’t want to be too sheltered from opposing views and lifestyles, but I also don’t like the thought that people I know have done this, and I don’t want my feelings about the subject to get in the way of us otherwise being friends.)  It’s really hard for me not to be divisive and accept this, given what I balieve about this. But thinking of these people as heartless baby killers and making derogatory comments about their sex lives isn’t going to change the world or do anything to make the rest of the world think differently of people like me.  Real life is far too complex for such simplistic responses, and women who have had abortions most likely went through a very difficult decision process. They are genuinely doing what they believe is best for everyone involved, as are many employees of abortion clinics.

I can say I’m not divisive all I want, but if I quietly stand by while others are expressing views and lifestyles differently from mine while inwardly calling them names in my head, then I’m certainly not doing anything to help or change the situation.  So, instead of getting angry at the way the world is, what I really need to be doing is seeking to understand why people believe differently from me, acknowledging that there are reasons for this, and caring for them as human beings.  Because understanding where others come from must be the first step in trying to change the world. It isn’t easy, it doesn’t come naturally, but it is what the world needs right now.

Exit 232. Pray that God will sort everything out.

I’m not as much into Christian music as I used to be, but I still play Christian radio on Sunday mornings on the way to church, to get myself in the right frame of mind.  This song from 2012 comes on sometimes.  Casting Crowns was never a band I really got into.  I was at a Christian music festival in 2004, and I heard someone from this band telling a story between songs about when he was a kid, and he said that algebra class was of Satan, so I decided at that moment that I didn’t like them.  But this song is really powerful.

And, to be honest, this is something big that I have always struggled with.  Even though I always knew that this wasn’t the point of Christianity, part of the attraction of Christianity for me when I started taking my faith seriously in my late teens was that these were people who also didn’t get drunk or do drugs or sleep around.  And that kind of mentality makes it really easy to be judgmental toward those who don’t have lifestyles like mine.

But that isn’t going to help the rest of the world know Jesus.  Telling people that they’re wrong and that they’re going to hell is not a way to recruit people to your cause.

It’s a difficult balance to strike.  Sin is real and should not be taken lightly.  But love is also real, and all of us are sinners and need to be treating each other with love.  And, of course, these days, with society so polarized, there are debates over what is and is not sin in the first place.

Like I said, it’s easy to be judgmental.  It’s a very real desire to want to be part of a group where I can feel like I’m living life the right way and not like the other people.  But all of that is so different from everything that Jesus promised.  That sounds more like the words of the religious leaders that Jesus condemned so harshly (Luke 18:9ff).

So how do I handle this?  When do I call out someone’s sin?  I don’t know, and there probably isn’t a universal answer.  All I can do is pray for wisdom and discernment, to know what to say to whom when.  And more importantly, I can just love everyone and pray that God will sort everything out, that God will speak to all of us about where we still fall short and how we can grow closer to Him.

 

Exit 226. This kind of thing doesn’t happen here.

Last Thursday night (January 10, 2019), Natalie Corona, a police officer in Davis, was shot while investigating a routine car accident.  A bystander rode by on a bicycle, shot the officer from behind, and began firing indiscriminately in multiple directions. Eventually, the suspect was found in his home, about a block away from the accident, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

This tragedy hit a little close to home for me… literally, because it happened just 30 miles from my house.  Not only that, but as I have said multiple times, I lived in Davis for seven years (1994-2001). I still have friends who live there, and I go back fairly often to see some of them and also for football and basketball games at the university.  I feel more connected to the community than many people who just moved there for school, because I volunteered with a church youth group for over half of the time that I lived there. And I’m going to be meeting a friend for lunch in Davis later today, in fact, for reasons unrelated to Officer Corona’s death.

Since this happened, I haven’t talked to any of my Davis friends (other than finalizing today’s lunch plans), but from what I remember about Davis residents, and from a few Facebook and Instagram posts I’ve read, the community seems pretty shocked by this, as I would expect.  There is a culture among long-time Davis residents that this kind of thing doesn’t happen here in this quiet little town. I’m not trying to say that there is anything wrong with this kind of thinking. Typically, Davis does not have much crime beyond drunken college shenanigans, and people aren’t used to this kind of thing happening there.

I started writing this about 24 hours before I published it, and two important details worth noting have emerged in that time.  Investigators found a suicide note indicating a motive, in which the suspect said that he believed that he was sensitive to the ultrasonic devices used by police to stop dogs from barking, that no one took his complaints seriously, and that he could not continue living because of that.  The suspect had shown no outward signs of mental illness before this, although he did have a recent misdemeanor conviction from getting in a fight with a coworker. Also, a student group at UC Davis (not representing the university as a whole) released a statement trying to stir up controversy about the relationship between law enforcement and certain communities.  I’m not even going to dignify that with any more of a response than this; that might come in a later post. I don’t want to debate the role of law enforcement in a community or in a society right now. It’s not the time.

Even though people tend to think that things like that can’t happen where they are, the truth is that it can happen anywhere.  I lived in Davis during the time of the Columbine shooting in Colorado, and I remember the youth pastor at church saying that he had been to that area before and could see a lot of similarities with Davis, with so many overworked parents and disconnected and angry teens and a culture that doesn’t expect it.  This wasn’t the same kind of situation as what happened in Columbine, of course. This was the act of one adult man with misguided motives.

But one thing is clear to me from all of this: evil is everywhere, and we all need Jesus.

My prayers are with Davis and with Officer Corona’s family (they lived in a rural area in the next county to the north of where this happened), as well as with any anti-law enforcement activists who are using this tragedy to create controversy, because they have been hurt too, and they need healing.  And my prayers are with anyone who disapproves of the concept of prayers, for the same reason.

Exit 222. Celebrating what we have in common and working together.

Recently, I was invited to a large worship and prayer event at a church about 40 miles from me.  I found myself a little nervous walking in.  I had no idea what to expect.  I had never been to this church before, I didn’t know how big of a crowd there would be at this thing, and most importantly, I didn’t know where to go off the top of my head.  The person who invited me described where she would be, and I found her pretty easily, and the rest of the night was great.  But this got me thinking, trying to figure out why I was so nervous in that situation.

I think I was mostly just afraid of the possibility that I was going to wander into the wrong room and find myself horribly out of place.  I’ve seen that happen from both ends, wandering into the wrong room myself and having to excuse myself and go find where I’m supposed to be, or being in some sort of group, meeting, or class, and seeing someone else wander in thinking that they are in a different group from the one I am actually in, and discovering it much later.

I specifically remember one such experience along these lines, although technically I was in the right place that time.  It was 2005, during my four months on the road.  I was in a rural area in the Ozarks in southern Missouri for several days. I was visiting two people in the area who lived about 10 miles apart but didn’t know each other.  Let’s see, I should give these people names… “Pherkad” is a friend from college, and “Rho Serpentis” is someone I knew online and had not met in person before this trip.  (We lost touch a year or two later.  I don’t remember exactly why… I think she met a guy and stopped being online all the time.)  For much of the time I was in the area, I went back and forth, spending some of the time with Pherkad and her husband, some of the time with Rho Serpentis, and some of the time alone, depending on who wasn’t working or in class (Rho was a college student at the time).

One of the more interesting experiences of my travels of 2005 was getting to experience so many different kinds of churches.  If I was staying with friends who went to church on a Sunday, or on a Wednesday if their church had a mid-week service (which apparently is very common in the South and Midwest but rare among the churches I’ve been to in California), then I would go to church with them.  Otherwise, I’d just kind of randomly pick one.  But that’s not part of this story.  I was going to go to church with Pherkad and her husband on Wednesday night, and Rho was going to come with me.  But Pherkad and her husband weren’t going to be in the service, because they were going to be volunteering with children’s church.

So we got there, Pherkad and her husband went off to go work with the children, and Rho and I sat down.  A couple minutes later, I knew something was not normal.  Apparently this week wasn’t a regular service, it was the church’s annual business meeting.  And being that I was just visiting, I had never been to that church before, most likely never would again, I felt very out of place.  The meeting dragged on and on and on for an hour and a half, and when Pherkad and her husband finally got back, they apologized profusely for making us sit through all of that when we didn’t really know much about what was going on with their church.  I probably should have said something, or left, but I didn’t want to make a scene or look any more out of place than I already was.

I did learn something from that experience, though.  One of the major issues being debated by that church at that time was whether or not to use Awana as their children’s curriculum.  I hadn’t had a lot of experience up close with Awana specifically, but I had heard of it, and I knew that a lot of churches used it for their children’s programs.  I didn’t see why anyone would have a problem with it.  But a number of people in this church’s business meeting kept bringing up the fact that Awana was a separate organization not specifically affiliated with their denomination.

This all made me kind of sad.  My experiences with Christianity up to that point mostly had not included such toxic nitpicking over the minor differences between denominations.  The different branches of Christianity have so many important things in common, but Christianity as a whole is torn apart by people who argue over the things that aren’t really worth arguing about.  And many people tend to treat any little disagreement as a line separating those who are real Christians from those who will burn in hell.  They don’t realize that all of this does more harm than good and turns people away from Christianity as a whole.  And the situation hasn’t really changed… in the 13-plus years since this happened, I have seen many other times where Christians disagree over issues that do not affect how they respond to Jesus’ message of salvation, and mistreat each other because of it.

So all of that didn’t really have anything to do with the event I attended last night.  I didn’t end up in the wrong room, and it didn’t end up being a church business meeting.  And appropriately enough, this was an event that had people from many churches all over the area.  But all of that just got me thinking about denominations and different branches of Christianity… and how maybe we need to spend more time celebrating what we have in common and working together, rather than calling each other names.

 

Exit 217. The story, and our place in it, doesn’t end there.

I missed a week… sorry.

As I’ve said before, I seem to have missed out on quite a few of the iconic movies of my generation.  Prominent among these movies I didn’t see as a kid were the Indiana Jones movies.  I really can’t say why either; it’s not that I had any specific dislike for the movies or anyone in them.  I have seen the original Indiana Jones trilogy a total of twice in adulthood, once in my late 20s and once in my early 30s.  It has been long enough that there are a lot of details I don’t remember.  And just yesterday, while dealing with a case of writer’s block and uncertainty about what to write on this blog, I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark, for the first time in several years and only the third time total.  And that got me thinking.

(Warning: spoilers ahead.  If you haven’t seen the movie, and don’t want the ending given away, stop reading now.  And if you’re wondering who would really need a spoiler warning for a 37-year-old movie that was the highest-grossing movie of its year and spawned numerous sequels and has been watched by millions, then you need to realize that not everyone grew up with the same experiences as you, and you can go butt out and mind your own business.)

A few years ago, back when the TV show The Big Bang Theory was still funny sometimes, there was an episode where Amy reveals to Sheldon that she has never seen the Indiana Jones movies.  After he shows her Raiders of the Lost Ark, he excitedly waits for her reaction, and she points out a major plot hole: Indiana Jones himself was ultimately unnecessary to the plot.  Had he not been there, the Nazis still would have found the Ark of the Covenant, and they still would have been killed by the angels of death when they opened it.  Sheldon is unable to come up with a rebuttal, because Amy is basically correct.

In a movie with a plot revolving around a Biblical artifact, it is appropriate that I found a spiritual illustration in this.  In one sense, we are just as unnecessary in the ultimate fate of the world.  Jesus will come back, Satan will be defeated, and nothing we can do will change that.

But the story, and our place in it, doesn’t end there.  Back to Indiana Jones for a minute.  Even if Indiana ultimately played no role in the fate of the Nazis who were seeking the Ark of the Covenant, his presence did affect the story in other ways.  Most notably, when the Nazis showed up at Marion’s bar trying to get the medallion that they needed to find the location of the Ark, they were clearly not above using whatever means necessary to get what they wanted.  Had Indiana not been there to fight back, Marion would probably have been killed in that encounter, but instead, she survives.

And, even though Jesus will come back and Satan will be defeated no matter what we do, we as followers of Christ have a similar role to play here on Earth.  The world is full of millions of people who do not know Jesus or the way of salvation.  Satan and the spiritual forces of darkness know that they are doomed in the end, and they are out there trying to deceive as many human beings as possible, leading them away from the one true God and the path to salvation, found in following Jesus and in nothing else.  Our role is to love others in the name of Jesus and tell them the message of salvation, so that some of them might escape spiritual death, just as Marion escaped physical death because of Indiana Jones being there.

Exit 215. Time to tear it down.

Something came up this morning at church that I had never noticed before, something very relevant to my life currently.

Moses delivered the nation of Israel from slavery under Pharaoh, but because of their unfaithfulness, God did not let them enter and conquer their rightful home for 40 years, until all the unfaithful have died. They don’t learn their lesson, and at one point, they complain to Moses about the living conditions in their nomadic state.  God punished the unfaithful by making some of them die of snake bites.  The survivors asked and prayed for forgiveness, and God told Moses to make a bronze statue of a snake and put it somewhere for people to look at it, to remember God’s faithfulness to them.  Anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and live (Numbers 21:4-9).

Hundreds of years later, Israel is an established nation with a king… well, briefly. They plunge into civil war and divide into two nations. The northern kingdom did not follow the commandments of God, and the southern kingdom mostly did not either, although there were a few southern kings who did bring the people back to following God during their nonconsecutive reigns.  One of those was Hezekiah, who lived about 700 years before the coming of Jesus.  The Second Book of Kings says that “He [Hezekiah] did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his [ancestor] David had done.  He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones, and cut down the Asherah poles.  He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it.”  (2 Kings 18:3-4)

The bronze snake that Moses made was still there, over half of a millennium after Moses’ time. But its original purpose had long since passed. All of the people who looked at it to heal their snake bites had been dead for a long time. For the new generation, it was not helping them to look to God and worship him, or to remember what God had done for them and their ancestors; instead, it was doing the opposite, serving as a focal point for the worship of other gods.  God himself had completely disappeared from the worship that was happening at the snake.  So Hezekiah finally realized it was time to tear it down.

God does not always work among us in the same way.  God’s work in one place at one time might not work in another place and time, and God might have not intended it for that place or time.  At first, this didn’t really seem right to me.  Isn’t God constant and unchanging?  Well, yes, he is, but these two statements are not necessarily in conflict with each other.  God can still be constant and unchanging while working in different ways specific to certain times and situations.  God worked through the reformers of the 16th century to bring knowledge of the Scriptures to the common people and work against corruption in the church.  But in the USA in the 21st century, most people know how to read and have access to the Bible, and taking down the kind of corruption that churches today may see will require God working in a different way, even though the ultimate principle of turning people back to him and away from corrupt and fallen earthly institutions remains constant and unchanging.

Another example just came to me now as I was writing this.  Many people who have not studied Christianity in detail tend to think that God was so different in the Old Testament compared to what he is like in the New Testament or now.  In the Old Testament, God often told his people to make war with and destroy and kill neighboring countries.  And, as we just saw, once he sent snakes to bite those who questioned him.  How does one reconcile this with all of his commandments about love, or with Jesus’ self-sacrificial love?  The short answer is because in the time of the Old Testament, the time had not come yet for God to send his Son to Earth.  First, he had to prepare a nation through which Jesus would be born, and in order to this, he had to remove all the corrupting sinful influences from this nation… hence, the making war with neighboring countries.  God no longer tells us to make war with countries that have different beliefs, because this is a different time.  Jesus came to bring the message of salvation to all, and we can send missionaries to teach other cultures about Jesus, and we can lead by example.  God is no longer preparing a nation to give birth to the Messiah; that happened already.

This concept extends beyond the idea of Christianity, and it makes me think a lot of my struggles in trying to figure out life and adulthood.  Twenty years ago, I made friends by being involved with two college-age Christian student groups.  That was good.  Some of my closest friends over the years have come from doing that.  But that does not work anymore.  I now live in an area where most churches are geared toward families, not college students, because that is who lives here.  And very few churches have youth groups for 42-year-olds.  So I have had to look for other ways to make friends.  Nothing has changed, and I don’t have to change any of my core beliefs.  But what worked in one place at one time doesn’t always work for other places and times.

Sometimes I feel like the last one standing for God, like I am desperately hanging on to God’s truth while the world descends into chaos around me.  But maybe it’s not that black and white.  Maybe some of what I hold on to is ways that God isn’t moving in my life anymore, and maybe it is okay to let go of some of these ways without having to compromise my core beliefs.  Maybe this is what is getting in the way, why I feel like my life isn’t exactly progressing in the right direction.  But how do I know what to hold on to and what to let go of?  As always I will only know with prayer, and listening to the Holy Spirit, and knowing God’s Word.

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?