Where is thy sting?

•June 15, 2009 • 1 Comment

(This is a totally stream-of-consciousness post and I’m sorry in advance for that)

I’ve never dealt with death well. Not in the sense that I get crazy upset. I just don’t feel anything. I know I’m not an emotionless person, but death is just sobering to me. Today, some friends of mine lost a good friend in a freak accident. As I tried to come up with words of comfort throughout the day for my mourning friends, I couldn’t do it. I don’t know how to deal with death. That’s either because I’ve never had it hit very close to home or because I am somehow hardened to it. I grieve with my friends who have lost someone tragically and inexplicably today. I can’t imagine what they are going through. And I want to be there, and be available, and be comforting, and all of that. But I feel completely ineffective in all of my attempts. I’m not trying to make this whole day about me, and that’s kind of what I feel like I’m doing right now, so I’ll cut this short. No idea what the point of this was. If you pray, pray for Trent’s family and friends who have experienced such tragedy today. May He be their comfort.


Where shall my wondering soul begin?

•June 8, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Where shall my wondering soul begin?
How shall I all to heaven aspire?
A slave redeemed from death and sin,
A brand plucked from eternal fire,
How shall I equal triumphs raise,
Or sing my great Deliverer’s praise?

O how shall I the goodness tell,
Father, which Thou to me hast showed?
That I, a child of wrath and hell,
I should be called a child of God,
Should know, should feel my sins forgiven,
Blessed with this antepast of heaven!

And shall I slight my Father’s love?
Or basely fear His gifts to own?
Unmindful of His favors prove?
Shall I, the hallowed cross to shun,
Refuse His righteousness to impart,
By hiding it within my heart?

Outcasts of men, to you I call,
Harlots, and publicans, and thieves!
He spreads His arms to embrace you all;
Sinners alone His grace receives;
No need of Him the righteous have;
He came the lost to seek and save.

Come, O my guilty brethren, come,
Groaning beneath your load of sin,
His bleeding heart shall make you room,
His open side shall take you in;
He calls you now, invites you home;
Come, O my guilty brethren, come!

For you the purple current flowed
In pardons from His wounded side,
Languished for you the eternal God,
For you the Prince of glory died:
Believe, and all your sin’s forgiven;
Only believe, and yours is Heaven!

Belief is a beautiful armor, but makes for the heaviest sword

•May 31, 2009 • 1 Comment

“I think for me Christianity is such a consistently difficult thing to believe in, that I feel really alone with people who apparently believe so well and so easily. And its not that I wish for others to believe less, its just that I really, honestly, don’t believe much at all.”

I recently read this in another blog, and realized that it summed up exactly how I’ve felt for a long time, especially in the Auburn Christian bubble that I all too often found myself in over the last few years. Somewhere inside me, I’ve had that exact thought about 100 times, but I guess I’ve been too scared to say it so bluntly. Which is funny, because I’m not usually scared to communicate my struggles and qualms with belief (or lack thereof).

I know perfectly well that a lot of people will read that quote and be shocked or appalled by it. And maybe I’m the only one who feels like this. I know so many people for whom Christianity and Jesus seem to make so much sense. It’s all so easy. They’re able to sing their worship choruses that are about as deep as a Kara DioGuardi-penned American Idol finale song (look up “No Boundaries” if you don’t know what I’m talking about), raise their hands, take their notes during a sermon that you barely have to focus on to make sense of, and go home with a feeling of awe, wonder, accomplishment, and zeal for Christ. Ok, maybe that last sentence came off harsh. But it really is how it looks from where I sit.

I believe. I believe He is the Christ, Son of the Living God. And I rejoice in that. But is it ever EASY for me to claim that? Rarely. Do I go through days where no matter how much Scripture I read, or how much I pray or listen for a still, small voice, I still feel a huge wall between me and Him? Often. But honestly, my struggle with all of this is not the point. The point is that, in this Christian sub-culture that we’ve created for ourselves, it’s not OK for me to feel that way anymore. And I hate that the Church has come to that. As communities, we’ve become so inwardly focused that we seem to be really exclusive, especially towards bad people. And the funny thing is, we’re all bad people. That’s part of the point of the Gospel (as least as I understand it, which I will also admit, is a struggle at times.)

Maybe this whole thing is just a season I’m in, and maybe it will pass and everything will be fine. But I have, for the better part of 2 years, found myself around so many great people (great FRIENDS) who always seem consistent in their belief and zeal for the Lord. Or if they aren’t they do a great job of hiding it (I am guilty of this too.) But I have only encountered a handful of people who are real about their struggles. I guess my point is, I just wish that we all, as a community of believers, could be real with each other about our sin, our struggle, and our unbelief. Derek Webb says that the best thing that could ever happen to us as believers is for our deepest, darkest sins to be broadcast on the 5 o’clock news for everyone to see, in hopes that, from there, healing could begin. If we don’t really know each other, then we’re kind of halfass-ing “community” anyway.

After reading back, this post seems kind of hopeless and morbid and awful. There are times when, to be honest, I feel that way. Christianity is not easy for me to believe in. Especially not for the last year or so. I could speculate on why, but I’m not sure I would come to any logical conclusion. Because it’s not logical. The story of redemption through Jesus Christ that the Bible offers us is strange and beautiful. It is many things, but it is not logical. But every now and again, when I need something to hold on to, some little speck of knowledge or wisdom or help, I find it. Recently, it’s been thanks to ol’ Clive Staples Lewis. Here are some quotes that really hit home for me lately:

“On the other hand, we know that if there does exist an absolute goodness it must hate most of what we do. That is the terrible fix we are in. If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless. But if it is, then we are making ourselves enemies to that goodness every day, and are not in the least likely to do any better tomorrow, and so our case is hopeless again. We cannot do without it, and we cannot do with it. God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from.”   -from Mere Christianity (We Have Cause to Be Uneasy)

“Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up.”  -from Mere Christianity (The Invasion)

And I leave you, friends, with a sampling of the thing that works hardest to help me through these crummy times: hymns. I’ve posted about my love for them before, but it’s been so long that I might go back and do it again soon, because of their ever-present importance in my walk. This hymn by English hymnodist William Cowper sums it up pretty well for me (and, I hope, for you).

We travel through a barren land,

With dangers thick on every hand;

But Jesus guides us through the vale;

O, the Christian’s hope can never fail.

Huge sorrows meet us as we go,

And devils aim to overthrow;

But vile infernals can’t prevail;

O, the Christian’s hope can never fail.

Sometimes we’re tempted to despair,

But Jesus makes us then His care;

Though numerous foes our souls assail;

O, the Christian’s hope can never fail.

We trust upon the sacred Word,

The oath and promise of the Lord;

And safely through each tempest sail;

O, the Christian’s hope can never fail.

Everything to nothing.

•May 18, 2009 • 6 Comments

A blog post almost seems pointless right now, because everything has happened in the month since my last post, and nothing has really happened. If I talk to you on a semi-regular basis, you know my life. But when I really think back, these past 4 or 5 weeks have been packed full of change, crazy emotions, excitement, uncertainty, and unexpected events and people.

Apparently I graduated college. That’s an idea that I’ve yet to really be able to wrap my head around. In one way, it’s an incredible feeling of accomplishment and completion of about 17 years of constant schooling. I graduated from a university that I love and always will, in four years, in a major that I enjoyed, with a pretty decent GPA, and managed to meet some incredible people and have a pretty damn good time along the way. But in another way, it’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me. In one respect, I can now do absolutely anything within the realm of possibility with my time, talents, and life. But then again, there’s that struggling job market and the scary fact that the money is eventually going to run out. I keep coming back to the idea, however, that I always said that I didn’t want to have a normal job. I don’t want to put on a suit, go 8-5, sit at a desk, and screw around doing something I don’t really love.

So here I sit, with no idea what to do. For a while, I thought Boston would be an awesome idea for the summer/foreseeable future. But even with an opportunity on my fingertips, it didn’t feel right. Then I thought that I might want to hop back over to the mission field. But that didn’t work out, for various reasons, not the least of which is that the last thing I need to be doing right now is leading students doing the work of the Lord (more on this later). After these things and others didn’t work or didn’t feel right, I settled on Nashville. Great city, great friends there, and many opportunities, especially in the music business (or so I thought). But now, I still really don’t know. Birmingham doesn’t seem that bad. Nashville could still work out. I’m about to start a little internship with Ten out of Tenn, but I can do that work from Birmingham. And it isn’t just my job/living situation that is unsettled. I say all of this to say, the uncertainty is at an all-time high.

And of course, at this time of ultimate vulnerability to anything crazy, one thing will not leave me alone. Kenya. My good friend and Kenyan partner-in-crime is returning today from his return visit to the Motherland, and I am certain that he will not be without countless pictures and stories about the time he got to spend with our incredible and sorely-missed friends in Kibera and Eburru. A new friend has good friends who are about to get married and move to Kibera. Last night at Brook Hills, a couple was commissioned into service as they prepare to move to Ngong, a slum near Kibera to develop a base for Vapor Sports Ministries. I hate being one of those people that believes in and is moved by “signs from God” or from whomever or whatever, but it’s hard to ignore that Kenya is pervading my life right now. Does that mean anything? Who knows? Maybe it is just coincidence that I’m reading wayyyy too much into because of my vulnerability and uncertainty right now. I can tell you, though, that there is no place that I’d rather be than amongst my African friends. Anything less than that is me settling.

A not-so triumphant return.

•April 14, 2009 • 2 Comments

I think bullet points are in order for my first update in over a month.

  • Last week, Cornerstone UMC here in Auburn had a special night of communion and prayer on Maundy Thursday (also known as Holy Thursday). It was a really, really incredible experience for everyone I talked to that went, and for me as well. As I’ve talked about before, the last couple of Christmases have seen the holiday re-defined for me. This year, I wanted to experience the same thing for Easter/Holy Week, and I think that happened. The Lord revealed a lot of things about myself as I tried to spend more time in prayer and reflection on just what it meant for him to make Himself nothing, sacrifice Himself for every single sin in history, and then to rise, emptying the tomb but occupying the Throne. Cornerstone did a great job with their set-up, giving each individual the freedom to stay and pray all night if they wanted to, and setting up some really striking displays of what those three days were really like. It was a powerful night, to be sure.
  • There seems to slowly be some clarity coming about my future, especially this summer. Just know that is a VERY good thing for my sanity.
  • I’m freaking out about graduating. I love Auburn, and love the relationships I have here, and it’s really going to suck to leave them. Know, if you’re still in Auburn and are reading this, I love you and appreciate you more than I often know how to communicate to you all.
  • Closure is good.

This is it.

•March 9, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I’ve spent this entire semester more or less pouting about my lack of friends in Auburn, lack of my old community, lack of direction, and lack of spiritual connectivity with the Lord.

This is completely opposite from my “no complaining” rule that I imposed upon myself some months ago. The times when I followed that rule were good times. Now I’m breaking my own rule, and it has to stop.

So, as of today, all of that is over.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking today about the fact that I have about 6 weeks left in Auburn. 6 weeks. I’ve been here for almost 190 weeks, and I only have 6 left. I can’t even wrap my mind around that.

Way too much time as been spent sitting and waiting. That has to stop. I’m recommitting myself to this semester, and am going to try to get as much as I possibly can out of it, no matter what it has for me.

I’m looking forward to that.

Only as the day is long.

•March 6, 2009 • 3 Comments

This will be the first blog post in months that I’ve actually had brewing in my brain prior to sitting down to actually write it. Most of that, as best I can tell, is because of the (for lack of a better term) “disappearance of feeling” in my life lately. It’s not that I’ve been cooped up in my room feeling nothing. I’m mainly referring to a kind of spiritual dryness that I haven’t felt since before my sophomore year (when, I guess you could say, I really started to understand, believe, and accept who Christ is). Besides the Christmas season, which has become an increasingly and beautifully spiritual time for me, I’ve been in a consistent rut since the beginning of last semester. I’ve spent time mad at God, mad at myself, and angry at my lack of clear direction. I think we’re allowed to be pissed and have doubt sometimes as Christians, and this is one of those times for me (and, for the record, I’m really damn tired of being told that it’s going to be OK). Anyway, I don’t really know what sparked it, to be honest. If I did, I think I would be more equipped to find my way out of it (or at least to be better at seeking a way out).

Yesterday, I felt something.

Dan has been out of town all week, so Jenny and I have been kickin’ it together, but she’s spent way too much time inside this week.  I decided to take advantage of the beautiful March weather and our back porch, so I sat outside while Jenny got to spend some time with nature (AKA chasing cats, birds, and squirrels). I had some homework to do for that class that I love so much (Contemporary Political Theory), and this week’s reading was an anthology of writings by a liberal Protestant theologian named Paul Tillich. I was excited to read it, because of him being a theologian and not just some political theorist, but as I read I realized that I was doing more than homework. There were multiple passages that spoke to me in a very spiritual way. It wasn’t necessarily anything completely groundbreaking for me, but there were passages that I would read, and have to just stop and say, “Yes! Thank you!” A few passages:

“…the first thing about the new is that we cannot force it and cannot calculate it. All we can do is to be ready for it. We must realize as profoundly as possible that the former things have become old, that they destroy our period just when we try most courageously to preserve the best of it. And we must attempt this realization in our social as well as in our personal life. In no way but the most passionate striving for the new shall we become aware that the old is old and dying”

“‘Remember not the former things, neither consider the things of old,’ says the prophet. That is the second thing we must say about the new: it must break the power of the old, not only in reality, but also in our memory; and one is not possible without the other….We cannot be born anew if the power of the old is not broken within us; and it is not broken so long as it puts the burden of guilt upon us…Forgiveness means that the old is thrown into the past because the new has come. ‘Remember not’ in the prophetic words does not mean to forget easily. If it meant that, forgiveness would not be necessary. Forgiveness means a throwing out of the old, as remembered AND real at the same time, by the strength of the new which could never be the saving new if it did not carry with it the authority of forgiveness.”

“Love as the striving for the reunion of the separated is the opposite of estrangement. In faith and love, sin is conquered because estrangement is overcome by reunion.”

There are many other chapters that we didn’t have to read for class, and that I honestly just did not have time to get to yesterday. But I will definitely be reading them soon. It was completely unexpected to have such a beautiful experience reading a book for class on my back porch. But I learned more and was spoken to spiritually more in those couple of hours than I have been in a long time.

(At this point, I ought to split this post up into multiple posts, but I have all of this on my mind very vividly, and want to get it out there. I apologize for the length.)

Last night, I finally had the opportunity to go to a worship service after my class. This unnamed service is the one that, for all intents and purposes, took the place of Encounter once it rode off into the (East Asian) sunset back in November. I went into this worship service with an open mind, and was admittedly a little bit excited about it, despite having attended the church where it meets and having plenty of issues with their style of worship, theology, and the overall sense that everyone there had it all together. It didn’t take long for the hopes of a continuation of my “back porch worship” to be dashed.

I walked in a few minutes late to two worship songs that I have heard 100,000 times in my life. There’s something to be said for familiarity, but this was not a good start. Then came what is becoming one of my least favorite parts of college (and most) worship services: the 60-second meet-and-greet. Why should the pastor or worship leader have to tell me to awkwardly say hello to those sitting around me, most of whom are already my friends, when I’m not going to remember any of the names of those who aren’t? Maybe that’s a cynical viewpoint, but are we really going to be friends again? Not likely. Am I going to remember your name? Probably not…this is college…it’s normal to “meet” someone 9 times before you actually acknowledge that you know each other (admit it, you’re all guilty). At the church I’ve been attending in Opelika, which is most middle-aged and older people, I couldn’t even keep count of the amount of people (out of the maybe 60 that attend) that have come up to me after the service to tell me how glad they are that I am there and to have a real, extended conversation with me. THIS is what greeting each other should be like.

So after the strange, forced social hour, we sit down with our note-taking sheets, which is also a little crazy to me. If someone wants to take notes that bad, shouldn’t they be able to write down everything themselves, instead of filling in blanks? We’re in college…we take notes every single day, and sometimes (gasp!) we don’t have PowerPoints or outlines to go off of! Another thing about our handy-dandy note sheets: they have all the scriptures that are being used already written out on them. I guess this is supposed to help out the people who forgot their Bibles or don’t have Bibles at all. This is in stark contrast to the Opelika church, where the pastor asks that every single person follow along with the scripture reading in their own Bible. No Powerpoints. No note sheets. I’ll take the latter. I think we can all admit that we’re going to be more engaged in the service if we’re following along in God’s Word, instead of looking at bright colors behind the pastor’s head that lack context.

Next, something happened that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. A preliminary “greeter guy” got up, prayed, mentioned to us that, as Christians, it was not safe to be there (the only thing about the entire night that resonated with me), and then “introduced” the actual speaker, who wasn’t a special speaker. He’s the normal guy they have all the time. And get this: people clapped for him. Huh? I’ll just leave it at that, but I thought that was really weird.

And up to the stage comes the speaker. Or should I say the comedian. The bad comedian. Most of the first 30 minutes of his talk was jokes. Bad jokes. Dumb jokes. There was only one mention of “God” or “Jesus” for at least the first 25 minutes of the sermon. Instead it was a bunch of bad jokes that had something to do with communication barriers and gossip. He even talked for 3 minutes about vomit. Yep. Vomit. I went to hear about Jesus Christ. I NEED to hear about that, especially right now. And instead I got a sermon that had very little to do with the Lord and a whole lot to do with making college freshmen laugh and fill in blanks on a note-taking sheet. Needless to say, I got very little out of it.

I won’t bother getting into my issues with the alter call, the breath mints in the lobby, or the connection cards. All in all, I left with a pretty sour taste in my mouth (guess I needed one of those Jesus mints…). It felt like a Wednesday night service for middle and high schoolers. I’m not trying to tell people not to go to this service or not to worship this way. But I want the songs to be deep and meaningful and cut me to the core, not empty, poorly written phrases that are more focused on ME that HIM. I want the message to be about Jesus and what He did and is still doing for me and how I am NOTHING without Him, not about why we don’t know how to talk to each other. I want to be able to acknowledge that I don’t have it all together. In fact, I’m nowhere close. I’m a frail, broken, struggling, crappy human being with an incredible, gracious Father.

It was quite a day. Good and bad. But I wouldn’t go back and change it. I’m thankful for the time I had worshipping on my back porch yesterday afternoon, and I’m even thankful for the “worship” service I attended last night. Right now, I’ll take what I can get. The cry on my right forearm has never been more relevant.