Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Blank Page

Every new day is a chance to start over. Even more so for the first day of the year. This year I took my brand new shiny Border's gift card out and bought--guess what?--brand new notebooks! Ah, your heart is beating faster, I can hear it. Thrilling, yes?

Okay, so it's not a stack off the "New Releases" shelf. It's just a notebook or three with empty, blank pages staring at you, demanding ink. But that's what the new year is supposed to represent, isn't it? A new beginning. A chance to finally get it right. Naturally, we'll screw up 2010 just as badly as 2009, but we've got at least one day to dream! That's why we get a vacation day on January 1st. That way, we can say we've gotten through the first day of the year without completely hacking up our lives. No work, no mistakes. You can't mess up your teenagers, because they'll sleep all day. Wives will be taking down the Christmas tree and husbands will be outside ripping down the lights (we don't care if they break, we've got a whole 11 months before they have to go back up).

So here's what you do: go to your nearest Borders, Office Max, or any other notebook seller, and shop. Yes, shop. Do you know how many notebooks there are? You can go with the basic legal pad or lined notebook, or you can go all the way and get Moleskine. I went in between this year and got Piccadilly. One large for home and one medium for the truck. Both have rubber band thingys to hold them closed. You never know when a sudden gust of wind will try to rip them open.

A blank notebook isn't like a blank Word document. Notebooks won't be submitted for publication. You can do anything in there. So no pressure. I started mine with the proclamation that I am, indeed, a writer and set a few goals. Right there on the first page. Now I can't miss it. Do that. Write a letter to yourself on the first page. Be encouraging yet demanding. Set your goals and take no prisoners.

It's a blank page. Just like a new year. You write the story.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What's a Writer?

If I had to choose a word to define myself, other than Christian, husband, and father, it would have to be "writer." The normal people among you would naturally assume I write for a living and, if fact, make a decent income from my chosen craft.

The writers among you know better.

I first decided to write a novel in 1997. I've completed three since. None published. I've had a few magazine articles published, even paid for two of them. But the dream has not yet been fulfilled. I admit, I've allowed myself to become discouraged and even given up for a year or so. During that time I watched several of my friends go on to be published. I'd be lying if I said I weren't a bit jealous. It's all part of the writing life. We simply can't understand why others get published while our own awe inspiring talent goes unnoticed. Never mind the fact that I haven't actually submitted anything in two years. That has nothing to with it, I'm sure.

Here's something I've learned along the way: if I'm feeling sorry for myself, my writing buddies are not going stop and wait for me to pull myself together. Writers aren't coaches. They're herd animals. Keep up and you'll get all the encouragement you need. Fall by the wayside and you're dinner for the lions. Only a fool would stop and wait for you, lest the lions get a double portion.

I hate New Year's resolutions. But I will resolve to re-acquire the tenacity I once held. The drive that made each minor victory a reason to celebrate, because the journey itself made the destination all the more desirable.

Tomorrow is my 43rd birthday. I'm in good health (lost 30lbs. in '09), still a pretty darn good writer, and I have the full support of my family. I'll write another novel, better than the last, and see where it goes. If it goes nowhere, I'll try again. After all, writing makes me a writer. Getting published or not doesn't change that.

The lions will have to sleep tonight.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Not Another Christmas Blog

When you choose the blogging lifestyle, there is immense pressure to post something poetic and heart-felt during the week leading up to Christmas. While I'm quite capable of that task, I get the feeling that there are approximately 17 million bloggists doing the same thing. why fight it?

While lying on the couch last night, watching the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol (which so blows Disney's away), I was thinkin' deep thoughts. I quickly got rid of those before I required an Advil. What popped in next was what I entitled my "Life Christmas Card." It was a culmination of memories that paint my Christmas portrait. I'm ashamed to say that it had little to do with Christ. I'd say it's more of a 1970's version of an American feeding frenzy.

But here's my list of top ten childhood Christmas memories. You can play the home version if you like.

10. Running over Jennifer on the most awesome Flexible Flyer ride of my life.
9. The smell of laundry detergent and rubber boots when I walked into my grandmother's side door.
8. The color coded branches (purple went on the bottom) of our fake Christmas tree.
7. The cardboard fireplace that went with us from Hawaii to Washington.
6. Making popcorn balls with dad and using butter to reduce the pain of the second degree burns.
5. Our Firestone Christmas albums, which I played from October to Christmas (and not a minute afterward).
4. Shopping at the Oceana Navy Exchange with a total stranger on "Dependant's Night."
3. Lying on a couch in the Goodboe's Oceanside Navy Housing dwelling, listening to Sleigh Ride on the radio while mom and the Goodboe's were out shopping (Dad was underway on the Kitty Hawk).
2. Watching Fiddler on the Roof--all of it--with my wife when we actaully had time to do that sort of thing in December (okay, not a childhood memory, but it's definately a top 10).

and my number 1 Christmas memory of all time...

Watching A Charlie Brown Christmas, which we can never do again because the DVD doesn't include the Dolly Madison commercials.

There were a few that probably should have made it. Like staying up until 4am with Randy playing Sea Battle on his Intellivision. Going to Showcase Cinemas to see The Black Hole. The first time I tried a piece of divinity, which turned into a lifelong love affair with sugar and corn syrup. The one time I opened and re-wrapped one of my presents and it turned out to be a Coke can with a blue strobe light in it (Mom loved Spencers). Ronco commercials. Shopping at Perry Drugs. Getting a Billy Joel cassette from Uncle Wilbur, who had no idea what to get a 13 year old boy.

By the way mom. Thanks for a great Christmas in San Diego. Dad was out to sea. We had a tiny 3rd floor apartment. The tree was pathetic. The plastic fern was tacky. The greasy hamburgers on University Avenue were awesome. The fake snow at Sea World was just silly. It will always be one of my favorite Christmasses. And not just because it's the year I discovered divinity.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Waiting on God...Patiently

You'd think, after being a follower of Christ for over 10 years, I'd have the system down by now. I mean, really, Jesus made it sound pretty simple. Follow me. I can do that. Where we goin'? When we gonna get there? Are we there yet?

Thus is the problem I face. Somehow I missed the scriptures that talked about the patience that the servants of God had to endure. I mean, really--bondage for 400 years, then you'll get to the Promised Land? "Excuse me," I'd say as I raised my hand from the back row (closest to the bathroom), "but, uh, won't we all be dead before that happens?" I'd surely embarass my tribe as I requested the "Quick Start Guide."

And then there was Moses. Fifteen years into legal retirement age, collecting his sociable security benefits, getting the free coffee refills at the Wal Mart cafeteria, and he's called to lead a million people across the desert. For another 40 years.

I'll be honest. Patience is not my strength. I think of microwave popcorn as "a step in the right direction."

So, whenever an opportunity to serve God has popped up in the last ten years, I've jumped in like a congressman at a spending party. And the results were always about the same. I've stopped lately, and asked myself, "Self, maybe you should pause and seek the will of God before making a total arse of yourself again." I wonder if Moses had the same thought after he offed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand.

I've got a lot of buried Egyptians myself. Sunday school teaching. D. Heading up the Wednesday night children's ministry. F. Adult Bible Study. D+. Stewardship Committee Chair. C-. The list goes on.

Not the proudest ten years of my life. I didn't even do so well in the prayer department. But I suppose I should learn from this. All these failed or mediocre attempts had one thing in common. They were my idea or I jumped on someone else's idea. I'm not sure I prayed once to receive direction from the Lord. And, if He gave me direction, I was probably too busy or distracted to listen. My wife had endured this shortcoming of mine as well.

It's tough for me to grasp that my life is a mere tick of the second hand in God's eternal clock. I may never see the fruit of my labor. I may die in the desert after my nine hundredth meal of manna and qual. Not even microwave popcorn. But, somehow, I have to deal with the fact that my calling may seem unimpressive to me and the rest of the world. I suppose I should be happy that God's still talking to me, regardless of my failings.

I call this time between Thanksgiving and Christmas the "Long Pause." It's a time to reflect, think about the direction of our lives. I often find myself wondering what happened to the dreams I used to have. Did I just give up and settle for what came my way? I think probably I did. I started digging into my writing again this year, and it feels great. But I've also seen those who've passed me by, their success leaving me in a trail of half written novels and dusty keyboards. Where did I go?

Yes, I know. Regrets won't do any good. But, somehow, I get the sense that plowing right in is not the right answer, either. Maybe I get frustrated and quit because I'm following my own direction instead of His. It just so happens that my 43rd birthday falls at the end of this month, another time of reflection. It's a double whammy for me. I think, for my New Year's resolution, I'll promise myself to do nothing. I'll do nothing without first seeking His will and waiting--patiently--for a response. And following His lead, no matter how small a step it may seem to me at the time.

Maybe then I'll finally get a report card I can hang on my Father's fridge.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The 21st Century Heretic

My friend Dave Gerber, pastor of a Nazarene Church here in Michigan, is in a debate on facebook regarding the Emerging Church. Dave is not your typical pastor. He'd never make it in a Jan Karon novel. Maybe Tom Clancy.

Like a good student and teacher of the bible, he goes in with an open mind, tries to see both sides of the argument, and engage in a calm discussion. My own Methodist church sets the standard for open-mindedness and calm discussions. As Pastor Dave surely knows, keeping an open mind is a good way to get labeled a "heretic."

It's become a popular word in the 21st century American Christian crowd. My handy dandy Google dictionary defines heretic as "a professed believer who maintains religious opinions contrary to those accepted by his or her church or rejects doctrines prescribed by that church."

For those of you outside the church (and I can't blame you if you fear stepping inside), each denomination has a set of defined principles, beliefs, etc. There's a bit of variation, sometimes in the way they baptize (and at what age), the exact wording of your confession of faith, how communion is served, etc. The Catholic church, of course, varies greatest from the large grouping of denominations labeled "Protestant."

However, the "doctrines" of the church as a whole remain fairly simple and surprisingly few. I prefer Paul's 2 step plan: confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that he was raised from the dead. It's so simple anyone can do it. Hey! How 'bout that? It's almost as if God intended that anyone have easy access to heaven. No cover charge, just a simple dress code (a white robe...where do I sign up?).

Like any good organization, though, the church has managed to take a 2 step plan and turn it into something the U.S. Congress would be proud of. And here's the rub: those churches who are trying to reverse the over-regulation of the past hundred years or so and go back to the basic principles are the ones getting the bad press. As far as I can tell, in order to be a heretic in the church, you have to reject Jesus as Lord or deny that he was raised from the dead. We can argue a few more, the virgin birth comes to mind. But let's keep it simple for now.

Let's talk about what a heretic is not. A heretic is not someone who believes that the prophecies in Revelations were fulfilled in the first century. A heretic is not someone who believes that homosexuals should be allowed to marry (please...this is not my belief, but I don't feel someone should be tossed from the church for that particular stand). A heretic is not someone who worships on a day other than the one you've chosen. A heretic is not someone who votes Democrat.

This is not the time to make non-believers feel as if they need a masters degree in churchology to sit in a pew. We are in an age when people have lost all hope in their government, in corporations, even in themselves. They need something to grasp onto. If they look at the church and see us bickering like a roomful of politicians, they'll look elsewhere.

I find, as I get older, I respond to questions about faith with "I don't know" a heck of a lot more than I used to. If you have all the answers, please don't let me know. I've heard from you enough. Jesus had 3 1/2 years to teach his fledgling church all they needed to know. And guess what? After that 3 1/2 years most of them still didn't get it! They disagreed with one another, then later found another victim, Paul, with whom to disagree. So which one of the disciples were heretics, my friends?

I'll let you choose. Because I don't know.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

A long long Trail of Tears

My pastor tread on sacred ground this morning. Sacred because it's a subject I struggle with in the privacy of my own vehicle or during some sleepless night, having been kept awake by two cats under the influence of a full moon. It's one of those subjects I fear, because it forces me to confront many of my beliefs, some I've held since my youth.

The subject dealt with the continual build up of arms, nuclear and otherwise, by this nation that I hold dear. The pastor stated that this build up, in our nation and others, is done on the backs of the poor. I bristled at that statement. After all, the U.S. doesn't allow it's citizens to starve while funnelling trillions into a military build up with the intention of invading a neighbor.

Not directly, anyway.

After reflecting upon some of my previous reflections, I've always known that any funneling of a nation's resources for military purposes is a drain on the economy. And any drain on the economy, whether a useless government program, a recession, or military build up, always hits the poor the hardest. That's the natural way of economics, so it's logical. Imagine what we could do if the trillions of dollars that has gone into the military could have gone back to the taxpayers. Think of the humming economy that would emerge from that situation. Jobs for everyone. Billions of additional income for charitable causes. Our one nation could literally feed the world.

Yes, I know what you're saying. And I'm saying it, too. That simply would not happen. If we were to hit the "off" button on our military and simply lay our guns on the bar, we'd be overrun by our enemies. In fact, if we'd followed the directives of Christ 200 years ago, we may not have even taken up arms against England. After all, we were told to submit to authority.

So the million (or trillion) dollar question is this: is it the Christian's place to remain passive and accept whatever oppression comes with it? Let's be realistic now. If we follow the commands of Christ to the letter and listen to what He's saying, the church would always suffer persecution. Or has America found the magic solution? We can worship Jesus and be free of any persecution. Freedom of religion. That's America! Except that the church in America enjoys this freedom from within a wall of nuclear warheads. Ouch. I mean, really, ouch.

If we are perfectly honest with ourselves and not use our highlighted bible (you know, the one where you've highlighted all the verses that apply to you and your way of life), we have to come to the conclusion that there really is no such thing as a Christian soldier, not in the literal, secular sense anyway.

And if we are perfectly honest and not use the John Wayne version of history, this country did not win it's freedom without committing certain atrocities, those same atrocities that we fled Europe to avoid. Ouch again. Darn, this is getting hard.

In fact, if we follow this long trail of tears for several thousand years, we'll find that the only country that can say it's free of any guilt is...none of 'em. Not a single nation on this earth exists without horrific abuse of another people's basic human rights. As another matter of fact, the only nation that has been mentioned in the Bible as having received God's special blessings is Israel. Ain't that a blip? If we were to vote on the country most likely to be wiped off the map in the last sixty years, and the next sixty, it would be Israel. So if God allows that kind of pounding to be continually prescribed to His chosen people, what makes us U.S. of Americans think we're getting off with a free pass?

Are we destined to be a persecuted lot? Has all this freedom come at the cost of our own humanity? Believe you me, I'm not suggesting I've got the answer, nor did my pastor. His job is to make me step outside the old comfort cube and take a good hard look at myself and my beliefs. Doggone him, he's doing a good job. I love him, but he can be really annoying that way.

And here's the punch line: If we do come to that conclusion, that we are to remain passive and accept our fate, we know, at least we should know, that we will still find absolute joy in the fact of our salvation. Because, we know in our heart of hearts, that we are sinners, just as much as the guy holding a gun against our temple, demanding that we renounce our faith. After all, the guy with the gun is sending me home at last. Unless we manage the world's quickest evangelistic maneuver and get this guy on his knees, he's the one in trouble, not us.

During the sermon this morning, then during a long walk outside my home after the sermon, and while I've tapped out this blog, I've managed to answer zero questions and plant a couple hundred fresh questions, each one of which could result in a blog posting of it's own. Each one, no doubt, resulting in another large planting of questions. The harvester, the guy with the answers, unfortunately, is still biding His time, waiting for the moment when He's pretty sure that not one more soul will be saved.

Until that time, I'm afraid, we'll continue down this trail of tears. Killing so we won't be killed. Our enemies killing us so they won't be killed. We can all agree to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, we just can't agree on who will go first.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Washing off the Ash

A very good friend of mine e-mailed me yesterday and asked what exactly I'm doing these days. He wondered if I'm blogging while on the treadmill (working on it), writing a novel, and performing some sort of service at my "real job." What struck me is that he referred to my blog postings as "religious." I guess there's no other way to categorize it, but it still struck me as funny. I've never considered myself religious and still don't. Let me explain.

I'm a fairly intelligent person, though I have my moments of self-destructive idiocy. My favorite method of self-destruction is food. Love food. All kinds, man. My wife and I have this fantasy of going to Disney World without the kids and eating our way through Epcot. I can (and have) consumed an entire batch of chocolate chip cookie dough without breaking a sweat. You are now, no doubt, picturing me as a contestant on his first day at the Biggest Loser Ranch..."Why, yes, Allison, I do enjoy the occasional snack of vanilla frosting and graham, no, the whole can...what's that? Oh, all the crackers, baby...are you going to be pregnant every season? Sorry, my blood sugar is any of your prego-stash Twinkies around?"

But it's not quite that bad. I have struggled with my weight since I was ten years old but have never been obese. I have my ups and downs, like most, but I can never just give up and coast along. I've been on various diets and exercise routines and, for the most part, have held together and survived 42 years on this planet.

Stay with me. I'm going somewhere with this. Until groups like Weight Watchers turned the corner some years back, weight loss plans were often very regimented. Rules had to be adhered to, calorie counting followed precisely. It was, and often still is, a religion. I hated it then, I hate it now. That's not living, brother. If a hot piece of apple pie hits my plate, it's go time.

The plans that did work, and still do, are those that give me some freedom. The aforementioned Weight Watchers lightened up some years ago and provide a lot more flexibility in my eating plan. My exercise schedule is fairly loose, but I stick to it. All this means that I'm dieting, but not on a diet. I'm dieting in the way that we were meant to diet, by returning to a normal lifestyle, not the McDonald's mentality that we've attached ourselves to over the last fifty years or so. What we call a diet, our recent ancestors called living.

Let's bring this analogy home. Religion, to me, is a set of rules that I have to follow to gain God's grace. Many of my Christian friends are nodding in agreement. Oh, really? Take a look around, many of our brothers and sisters shout "heretic!" at every one they don't see in a mirror.

But faith, as I prefer to call it, is simply letting go. Letting go of what? I'm not sure. Pride, selfishness, greed, and gluttony...especially gluttony (I recommend Weight Watchers). Faith is more like the diet that is simply a return to normalcy. This is what God wanted from us in the Garden. Just trusting in Him and enjoying the life He's provided for us. Know what happens when we try to improve on the life He's provided for us? Please refer to the newspaper stories in section A on any given weekday. Just like trying to improve on our natural diet leads to reality shows where people actually compete to turn around the morbid results of their eating habits.

I shudder to think that anyone refers to me as "religious." I'm sure it happens because that's the tag society has created for those of us who go to church every Sunday. I don't like rules. I'm still me. But I'm me without the excess baggage. I'm free, unhindered by sin or rules. When I came home last night from Ash Wednesday services and washed the ashes from my forehead, I wasn't any less a follower of Christ. It's just ash. Underneath was flesh, blood, and a spirit I'm still trying to understand.

And I'm looking damn good in my 32 waist Levis.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Fighting Rome

Like most Christians in American, my political leanings are conservative. I was a conservative before being a Christian. At that time it had nothing to do with abortion, religious freedom, lax restrictions on the porn industry, or any of the other reasons normally associated with the so called religious right. It began with my military upbringing and then my understanding of economics.

It's extremely tempting to launch into an argument against big government and for a more conservative platform. Trust me, it's taking everything in me to stay off my soap box. That is not the intent of this blog and I must remain true to that or start another blog.

I say all that so that you'll understand the depth of my passion for the conservative movement. If I were an extreme liberal, explaining that would serve the same purpose. Because what I ponder, what every student of the New Testament must ponder, is the Christian's place in a very secular, political world.

Jesus made it clear that neither the Jews nor his followers (who were, of course, also Jews) were to defend themselves against Rome. He never spoke out against Caesar or even Herod. Every minute of his time on Earth was directed at focusing on our spiritual well-being. Prayer, giving to the poor, humility, self-denial. And loving our enemies.

Paul reinforces these aspects of the Christian life later in his many letters. Never does he rally the faithful to speak out against the oppressive rulers of the day. Though Jesus and Paul both speak out against injustice. Which seems to be the gray area here. Are they speaking about injustice on a national scale? Or the daily injustices doled out among individuals? It's tough to say.

While Jesus and Paul certainly saw the futility of taking a stand against Rome, would we have advised William Wilberforce to keep silent his views about the slave trade in England? I'll hazard a guess that no one reading this thinks so. If, in certain cases of extreme human suffering, we are to take a stand against the powers that be, where is the boundary line between real suffering and simple disagreements on policy?

I write this because I have no answer to that question. I write this because, like many of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I wonder where the Lord would prefer I spend my energies. I could make the case that big government could eventually lead to outright socialism, which leads toward government abuse of power, lower standards of living for all, and poverty on a mass scale.

My liberal friends would say I'm overreacting. Our system of government would never allow things to go that far and our Constitution allows for the reversal of such extremes. It's happened in Europe, after all, and several countries have reversed a trend toward socialism. This I can grant you. Unless the Constitution is completely overthrown, we can undo any harm done by a wildly socialistic government. I'm not sure I believe that, but for the sake of the argument, I'll concede to it.

Which brings me back to my quandary: is it the Christian's place to expend his or her time, talent, and energies fighting for a political stance, be it conservatism, liberalism, or any other ism? Are we better serving our Lord by helping the poor, visiting prisoners, and reaching out to a lost generation, one person at a time?

There is no easy answer to this. The Church is expected to continue its mission despite the economic and political circumstances in which it finds itself. After all, China now has a larger population of Christians than the U.S. The Chinese church doesn't seem to be waiting for a more agreeable human rights arrangement with its government before they enter into service to the Lord. While they get imprisoned for holding unauthorized church services, we protest the removal of a nativity scene from the courthouse lawn. Has the U.S. church gotten a little soft or are we realistically heading off a plunge into a socialist, anti-church America?

To some that seems preposterous, something only found in the minds of the most fanatical conspiracy theorists. But let me leave you this: there is a bill floating around in Washington called the Fairness Doctrine. While the title says fairness, it is obviously an Orwellian attempt to silence the conservative majority in talk radio. If something like that is possible in America, how far will we go? And I still haven't answered my question. Do I speak out and spend hours writing congressmen or do I keep my attention focused on things I have more power to control, like giving a homeless man a coat or volunteering in a soup kitchen?

If anyone has an answer, I'm listening. I believe God has an answer, so I'll spend more time listening to Him and less time screaming at the headlines.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Empty Cubby Holes

I want to back up a bit. I'm writing a series of books and today's chapter topic stood out as one that I should include here. Writing is a wonderful way to get your thoughts flowing, isn't it?

A major factor in the shrinking church is the amount of information now available to the new believer. While many would say information is always a good thing, I'd like to make the case that we're losing a great number of people because of the information available.

Here's the scenario I use in my book:

Remember your first day of kindergarten? If not, think about your child's first day. When you first walked into that room, you were awestruck. Everything was a wonder. All the little chairs and desks neatly arranged. The alphabet running along the top of the walls. The smell of glue. The jars of paints. You'd never been so thrilled in your life.

Now imagine this: as you walked through the door for your first day, there's a high school senior standard there with a smirk on his face. He tells you about the thirteen years of tests, homework, bullies, and pretty girls that snicker as you pass by. He tells you that you'd better start practicing now if there's any hope of making the basketball team. And the SATs. Oh, my, wait 'till you experience the pressure surrounding those!

By now you've turned tail and run home to your Tinker Toys.

While this scenario seems silly, it's very close to what happens to the person who has finally decided to step out in faith and believe in a loving God and his Son. Often, within a day or even an hour of believing, the new Christian is accosted by the Expert. And there are plenty of them. The Expert explains what you should believe, where you should worship, how you are to be baptized, which bible version is correct, and what not to watch on television. You are directed to a series of approved books explaining the history of Israel, how to be a Godly wife, and how to prepare for the End Times. Before you do all that, though, please sign up to serve coffee after church or do your time in the nursery.

It's enough to send you back to the Tinker Toys.

If we can just allow the new believer to bask in the glow of this new discovery, take in the sights, sounds, smells, rummage around in the empty cubby hole under his desk. Maybe, if we can keep our Expert mouths shut long enough, we'll have a new friend.

If, however, our desire to steer our new convert in the "correct" direction is more important to us than letting her take that first childlike step with all the wonder that comes with it, then we're destined to become a body of believers cut off from the world and shrinking in numbers.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Missing Christians

While most folks can buy into the notion of an intelligent being floating about in the cosmos, the idea of creation and a God very much alive and active in our daily lives is a bigger stretch. It is this step of faith that causes many to fall into the "agnostic" or "non-affiliated Christian" categories. Polls tells us that 80-90% of Americans proclaim a belief in God. Preachers proclaim a 70-80% absence from the pews.


Let's start with a typical scenario found after the Sunday morning services of any church of any major denomination. The congregants file out, shake hands with the Pastor, head downstairs for cookies and coffee, visit with one another for maybe twenty minutes or so, and chat.

Know what they chat about? The weather. The economy. Football. Kids. TV shows.

Notice something missing? That's right. Rarely will the conversations turn to Jesus, salvation, the bible, or even the sermon they just heard.

It's a comfort thing. Even church-attending Christians feel uncomfortable talking to each other about their faith. So, if we the followers of Christ can't even get over our embarrassment to speak His name in the church, why are we surprised when most Americans see no reason to attend church or speak openly about their faith?

Taking it a step further, if most Americans are unwilling to publicly proclaim their faith (unless, ironically, running for public office), why should the children of those quiet Christians grow up believing in anything at all? They shouldn't. And since this slip into a "personal religious viewpoint" has been going on for over forty years, it's no surprise that the pews are emptying.

This leaves us with two problems: how to start speaking openly about our faith, thus reversing the trend, and how to convince an entire generation of agnostics that God is real, God is alive, and God wants a relationship with them.

I don't believe this is simply a matter of packing people back into the church. I honestly believe that our country's survival depends on it.

More to come...

Saturday, January 31, 2009


Now that I've demonstrated what little I remember from college, let's make this simple. We can spend our lives, and many have, using whatever math and science we have at our disposal in an attempt to drill down to the origins of life. The problem is: we just can't come up with an answer based on our own understanding. No matter how many theories and proofs that pop up on either side of this debate, there are simply too many unknowns, too many assumptions, and too many preconceived notions to come up with a clear, irrefutable answer.

You'll never find x.

So what do we do when math and science can't answer a problem? We turn to logic.

Yay! Say the atheists. Now we've got 'em!

After all, who can argue the logic that you cannot believe in something you've never seen, never touched, never heard.

Well...I can.

In my head, and in yours, is a clump of gray matter that weighs about 6lbs. We all got pretty much the same hardware package when we were born, despite what our spouses may claim. Now, as I try to comprehend the cosmos, the edges of the universe, exactly how far a billion light years really is, how the Captain Kirk can have instantaneous communications with Starship Command, I get a headache. I crash. Time to reboot and grab a cup of coffee.

As I try to imagine a God who created all the universe, knows every thought of every human, knows when a sparrow falls dead, I get a headache. Crash. Coffee. Two cups.

Our brains, as remarkable as they are, are finite. The universe is not. God is not. For us to assume that something cannot exist because our 6lb. lump can't fathom it...well, it's arrogant. I don't care how eloquent someone can speak or write against belief in God, he's working on the same hardware that I am. He's limited in his thought. He must admit that, whatever we believe about the origins of life, it is fantastic, almost impossible to comprehend.

So why can't x=God? Don't think religion, think super intelligent life outside of our universe. It seems that people can swallow that pretty easily. After all, in an infinite universe, there must be a higher life form somewhere, right? Well, why can't we call that higher life form God? Got a better name? Darrel? Somehow, "Darrel the highly intelligent life form" just doesn't fit into a Sunday hymn. But if Darrel suites you, I'll leave it alone for now.

Let's not get sidetracked with the subject of worship. I like baby steps. If I can convince one person that it's possible a highly intelligent creator may be responsible for this rock on which we live as well as the 6lb. lumps of flesh in our heads, then my work here is done.

Well, almost. But let's stop there for today. After all, you've only got 6lbs. to work with.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

X=whatever works

For those of you who don't remember high school Algebra, other than the zombie-like expression on the face of your fellow detainees, you cannot solve for two variables if you only have one equation. You need two. Three variables, three equations. Four variables, four equations, and so on.

When it comes to less stringent sciences, like economics, the variables are endless and the equations are few. That's why it's so frightening when the government decides to "help" the economy along. All they're doing is adding another variable into a sea of unknowns.

Now let's apply what we've learned to something even less tangible: the creation of the universe and, more specifically, life.

Science has attempted to explain the origins of life with a few known variables. For example, depth of fossils, nitrogen content in the atmosphere, the decay rate of certain radioactive particles, etc. While the scienctific community has opened our understanding of the natural world, no human being can ever claim to have the answer to the million dollar question: where did it all come from?

One of the first things I learned while working on my engineering degree is the art/science of making assumptions. Assumptions allow us to plug in a likely number where one doesn't exist. The further one goes back in time, the larger the pool of unknown variables. The scientist has no choice but to plug in more and more assumptions to get his answer. So if x in the equation is the age of the Earth, he'll plug in his last assumption. How about one-hundred billion years? Yes, that will work nicely. Now to the next assumption...

See where I'm going with this? This same scientist's "Age of the Earth" equation also involved hundreds, if not thousands, of assumptions. Which leads us to the next thing I learned as a young engineer: margin of error. The more assumptions one makes, the greater the margin of error. Even on something as "simple" as building a skyscraper, a few wrong assumptions and the whole thing comes toppling down. Aren't we glad that humans didn't design the planet?

The point of this post is not to argue the age of the Earth. That's simply another impossible-to-know variable in a long list. The point of this post is bring home this point: no human can assume to know the origins of life. It's all guesswork. Much of it with very good arguments. It must have very good arguments because there simply exists no proof. Or, at best, circumstantial evidence.

But I can make my point even more easily than that. I don't even need Algebra.

to be continued....

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Somewhere Along the Way

I remember the day I graduated Lawrence Tech University with my Engineering Degree. This was it, man, I'd done it. Here was a guy who scraped through high school with a C- average and an impressive collection of beer bottle caps. Here was a guy who spent 4 years in the Navy and had a Chief recommend that he not re-enlist. Here was guy whose career goal, before meeting his wife, was to get a job on the auto assembly line (I owe that woman my life).

And I had, not just any degree, but an engineering degree. That requires like math and stuff.

I was going places. I'd never want for anything. Or so I thought.

This is not about bad economies and the realization that no job is really safe. I've learned that one many years ago. This is about a guy who thought he had it all, and in the eyes of the world he did. But, in reality, what he was lacking far exceeded what he'd gained.

I'm talking about faith, of course. Even more basic, I'm talking about the realization that I had a spiritual side. For someone who had a career based in science and tangible evidence, this was a stretch. While I wouldn't go so far as to say I was an atheist, I'd call my religious leanings "Disinterested Agnostic." It seemed like a nice, safe place to be. I'm one who likes to hedge his bets.

Fact is, it was the science and math part of me that pushed me to investigate the claims of the atheists. The way I saw it, I had two choices. I either believed in an intelligent creator, or I believed that all matter and energy just suddenly appeared from...nothing. Whatever I believed, it went against known science and was pretty incredible.

Think I'll continue down this path on my next post.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Forgiving the Unforgivable

This has been a popular subject with me lately. Forgiveness. It is, arguably, the most difficult of all that our Lord calls us to do. Forgive those who sin against us as God forgives our sins. It sounds easy enough when we recite the Lord's prayer each week, but we don't really understand how difficult it is until we've been betrayed to such a point that we see forgiveness as impossible. Surely God doesn't expect us to forgive people who use all that they know about us in an attempt to destroy us.

If you think I'm writing this from first hand experience, you'd be correct. While the betrayal I speak of is not of a personal nature, more of business, it's still hurtful in that it goes far beyond honest competition. It's an outright attempt to destroy the lives of others. It gets very personal.

Now, I didn't write this to vent my frustration. I wrote it because I know that I will allow myself to be destroyed if I cannot forgive. Even more important than the survival of the company is the welfare of my soul and the greater achievement of a happy, loving family. After all, honestly, if the company is destroyed, I'll find other means of income. Perhaps even start another company. The employees there would struggle for a while, but they're good people and would find employment elsewhere. But if I were to allow this to fester in my heart, it would make me a bitter man for the rest of my life and not much use to God, my family, or myself.

Fortunately, I do have the power to forgive. And it is a power given by the Holy Spirit. Don't think it's much of a power? Look around at all the people on this earth who live their lives for vengeance. Entire nations are destroyed by it. Yet each of us can choose to let it destroy us or move on.

I choose to move on. In fact, I choose to pray for those who hate me. And I have. It may be the single most tangible evidence of Christ in our lives: the ability to forgive and push aside the anger that would otherwise eat at us like a cancer. When I allow myself to view the world through the eyes of those who want to be my enemy, I see that they too feel betrayed and hurt. Either of us can make the argument that we're the victim. But that accomplishes nothing.

Jesus knew that we could never experience the freedom He offered if we couldn't shake the chains of our anger. I forgive those who sin against me. And I pray that they can forgive me as well.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Chapter 1

The most intimidating thing I did this year, so far, is to sit down to a blank Word document and type "Chapter 1." Do you have any idea how vast that white space can look with that at the top? It's an arctic wasteland. From within the wasteland anything can happen. I can start nuclear wars, cause people to fall in love (and out), kill off a few bad guys. Or just stare at it.

Which seems to be the easiest thing to do.

Do you think God wrote "Chapter 1" thousands of years ago and then suffered writer's block? Did He write the first chapter a couple dozen times, tear it out of the typewriter (no laptops yet), crumble it up and make a spectacular 3-pointer into a black hole? Maybe that's where all the dinosaur bones came from. They're just rejected first chapters. After all, what editor is gonna buy a bunch of non-talking reptiles who do nothing but eat plants and each other?

So He decided on a love story instead. Much better idea. Of course, it had to have all the bad stuff, too. Wars, rumors of wars, hurricanes, floods, Nancy Pelosi. But then came His son about two-thirds through the book. Man, that was great. And it wasn't even the end. Most writers save the best for last. I guess the end is still pretty exciting. But still, I think the editors will have an issue with the savior showing up too soon. Doesn't exactly play out like a good western, does it?

Anyway, I'll get back to chapter 1 tomorrow morning. I don't think I'm clever enough to let the hero save the day in the middle. I'd better do it the normal way.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A New Start...Again

The last couple of years have been a whirlwind of highs and lows for me. I started with a new company, stopped writing, watched my daughter enter high school, and have felt betrayed by someone I once respected. The worries of running a small business in a terrible economy have weighed down on me until I could hardly sleep at night. All the while, I've felt myself growing more and more distant from God.

Recently I've made the decision to turn that around. Jesus said that if we set our sights on the Kingdom of Heaven, everything else will fall into place (the New Ron Translation). It's a simple verse, like most in the Gospels, but one easy to forget.

A couple of weeks ago my Pastor announced that we were looking into starting a weekly meal for the needy in our area. Keep in mind, I live in northern Oakland County, Michigan, once one of the richest areas in the country. The idea that we needed free meals for the needy was absurd only a few years ago. It's not so absurd anymore. So we're going to do what a church is supposed to: take care of our brothers and sisters, Christian or not, because that's what Christ expects of us.

I saw this as a chance to do something real. Not another ministry to serve other Christians or sending money overseas, but a chance to help my neighbor, someone I can see, touch, speak to. It's why the church is here.

We had a meeting at the church last night to get an overview of how such a project will work. Of course, other churches are already doing it, so we have the blueprint. I'm hoping things will get moving quickly, as the need is growing in our area. I suppose I'm a bit selfish, because I see this as an opportunity to lift my spirit as much as helping others. I want more than anything to feel that excitement I first felt when I came to know the Lord. Just by taking that first step last night, attending a meeting, I'm already feeling His presence again.

The Associate Pastor who gave the presentation last night told us of a man, retired, who learned of the program at their church and just started showing up every week at the same time to wash the dishes. He wasn't even a church member (he is now). I thought to myself: doing dishes for the Lord. What could be better?

It doesn't have to be a big job. But just to do something for the Lord would be better than anything I could accomplish in business.

So I've felt more at peace about the things happening in the world around me. Businesses come and go. I've forgiven those who have wronged me, worked hard to see things from their point of view. I can see how they've felt betrayed or hurt. Nothing can harm me in this life that won't pail in comparison to the glory that awaits.

Happy 2009.