jesus

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 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 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 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 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 111. He called me by name.

Last week, I was walking down a street in midtown Sacramento, near some bars and restaurants, going to meet some friends for a late-night snack.  It was around 11 at night, and there were a few homeless people standing between where I parked and the restaurant.  I noticed one of them, because he reminded me of someone I knew years ago and hadn’t seen in a long time.  He mumbled a recited line about if I had any spare change I could help him out with, and I mumbled my standard reply about not being able to help right now.  At the risk of sounding like Buzzfeed, what happened next will surprise you.

The homeless man looked at me and called me by name.

No, not my first name.  He called me Mr. and my last name.  Except for a few friends who find it amusing to do so, the only people who call me by that name are people who first knew me as their teacher.

The homeless man was in fact the guy who I thought he looked like when I first noticed him.  He would be about 20 years old now, and he was my class for a few months around 2010.  At the time, I was teaching at a small private school that shares buildings with one of the churches that supports it.  This guy and two older brothers of his were neighborhood troublemakers, and the pastor of that church and his family kind of took them in and tried to get them involved in things at the church.  (Some members of that family read this blog occasionally, so if any of you know more about him and what happened, contact me privately, please.)  They raised money to get the kids enrolled in the private school, which is where I met them.  Only one of the brothers, the middle one, stayed out of trouble for more than half a year.  I would occasionally see the other two around, but I hadn’t seen any of them in a while.

I asked him what happened, and he said his aunt, whom he lived with when I knew him as a student, kicked him out. I gave him a dollar, and I told him that I wasn’t very hungry, so I would order egg rolls and give him half the order.

I have such mixed feelings about this. Throwing money at homelessness doesn’t necessarily fix the problem, but I want to do something to help. Jesus set an example of serving the poor and needy, and I want to follow that example and do the same. I’ve heard people at my old church talk about carrying around in their car nonperishable food items and personal hygiene products, so as to give homeless people something concrete that they need. I should sit down and prepare that, now that I have time.

The egg rolls took long enough that when I went to find him, he was gone. I walked up and down two blocks and the nearby park, and I didn’t find him. I left my leftover egg rolls next to a different homeless guy asleep in the park, but I have a feeling animals probably got them before he woke up. Next time I’m there, I’ll bring something just in case I see him again.

 

Exit 104. There is a common thread.

I was recently asked to speak at an Alumni Night for my alma mater’s chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  Instead of the usual talk by an actual IV staff worker, they had four people speaking: an older alumnus (that’s me), a recent graduate, a current senior, and a current freshman.  This was planned as part of a theme centered around God’s work on the campus across the generations.

I have mentioned my involvement with this group before, but it was not without its share of ups and downs.  I had a variety of disagreements with the way the group was set up over the years.  (I’m not going to get into what those disagreements were, specifically, since this is not the point of what I’m trying to say here.)  For a few months in 1997, I even went so far as to attend another church’s college group a few times, because I was frustrated with the way certain things were done at IV.  I jokingly referred to this at the time as my Rebellious Period.  But I eventually came back, reasoning that this group was still much more of a force of good in the world, and because I was still benefiting and growing from the teaching, Bible studies, and service opportunities.

The group has changed quite a bit since the last time I attended a non-alumni group meeting, which would have been around 2000.  (I was done with school by then, but I still had younger friends still involved with IV, so I showed up every once in a while.)  Some of the changes they have made are the kind of things I wasn’t sure I agreed with back in my day.  In some important ways, the group had a very different feel from what it was like in the late ’90s.

But I did not feel uncomfortable there at all, because there is a common thread.  And that common thread is Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ died for all of our sins.  Although he came in the context of a specific time period and culture, he came to bring people of every culture to God, throughout all of history.  A number of students came up to me afterward and told me that they really related to the story I told.  Most of these students did not come from backgrounds like mine.  They grew up in a different time period, being born around the same time that I got involved with IV as a university student.  But they have all known the kind of alienation I felt that night in the story that I told, and they all understood how much it meant to me to find out that my friends were praying for me.

As Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”  (Matthew 24:35)