Gradient

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May, 2009. Colorado. I walk across the stage at my high school and shake the principal’s hand. Put my diploma in a drawer and now I have no idea which drawer it was.

March, 2010. I’m in Haiti after the earth quake. I see the miles of blue tarps stretched out over the recently homeless families as I pass by the pop-up village, but the thing that strikes me the most is the crunch of gravel beneath my sneakers. And how it sounds the same as a crunch of gravel in America. I’m still figuring out compassion.

Tonight at around 1:24am, my friend asked why I was going to Starbucks to write. I’ve got a word in my head, I told him. Gradient.

October, 2010. I’m on a plane from Thailand to India. Writing some emotional poem in my spiral bound about the Brazilian girl I met in Australia whom I think I’m in love with because I had a dream about her when I lived on Cape Cod.

My story is a dizzying one. Maybe one day I’ll write it all down and fill in some of these gaps. But not tonight. Tonight I’ve got a word on my mind. Gradient.

You see, my parents’ generation was one of blacks and whites. Of light switch moments, where all at once, everything was illuminated and your future was determined. There was no YouTubing instructions, there was merely mastery or, Honey hand me the phone book so I can call the guy.

I think it’s July, 2011. I’m on a ferry in Brazil as we made our way from Sao Paulo to Rio. I’m playing worship songs with some kids on the ship. Their parents would give us dinner and a warm bed that night, even though only one of us knew Portuguese.

The next day. I had my first drink ever: Vodka and lime at the Gecko Hostel, Paraty. The fat Australian guy named John told us Thailand is a party. Then I ran 5 miles barefoot, this time thinking about a Brazilian girl I met in Brazil.

Two days later in Rio. We’re being held up at gunpoint and the guy is asking for all our valuables. Well, I thought, If Thailand is a party, Brazil is a poem.

My father knew he wanted to be a pastor before he graduated high school. And older man at his church told him one day that he saw in him the skills to be a great pastor. So he became one of the best freaking preachers I’ve ever heard. And I’ve heard a lot of preachers.

I graduated high school a long time ago and I still have no idea what singular calling beckons my name. Perhaps it’s because no one spoke it into my life the way the old man did to my father. Perhaps it’s because the options are endless these days. Perhaps technology is to blame for presenting so wide a platter of options. Perhaps it’s okay to live in a gradient.

February, 2012. I’m on the phone with my mom from a hostel in Boston. I’m telling her I’ll be going to Nigeria in April because a friend and I are starting an organization. She sounds calm and makes a joke about Nigeria being nervous about me coming.

August, 2012. I’m homeless again. Living on the beach and teaching paddleboard lessons. I don’t know how hard the transition will be when I move to Chicago and begin my third college. This time, it’s for real. This is no community college. This is the number one Bible school in America. And maybe by the time I finish, I’ll know where I’m going and what I’m doing and who I am.

My transition into adulthood has not been a light switch. There was no moment of epiphany to suddenly illuminate the path I am to take. Some people are fortunate enough to have that. However, for me and most people my age, the abundance of information and opportunities have made the decision to ‘iron out our future’ nearly impossible. If not impossible, at least a more time-consuming one.

January, 2014. I’m at Starbucks with a favorite author of mine. He gave me a hundred bucks and explained how to have intimate relationships with others. Including myself. I’m learning that travel experiences make you look cool, but wherever you go, there you are and blah blah blah.

Whenever I see a sunset, I always try to pinpoint the place in the sky where the pink stops and the blue takes over. What I’ve come to find is that you can’t. There is no single point. God was the inventor of the gradient. He was the first one to say, Okay, you fade into this color here. But make it wide. Make it vast. Make it so the lines blur and the beauty in this hue carries into the next. Make it so this color gives way to this one, but not too soon.

Not all at once.

August-December 2015. I’m driving to and from the house where I work, nannying two little boys. I listen to a punk rock song about never growing up, dropping out, and sleeping on a twin size mattress your whole life. I feel it so hard every time.

My transition into the world of suit jackets, briefcases, and grown-up conversations has been a slow one. It’s been a gradient. It’s been a slow fade. A slow clap. Perhaps soon the uproarious applause will break out into full-blown adulthood. Full-blown responsibility. You can’t slow clap forever.

December, 2015. It’s raining in Chicago, so I lace up my kicks and go for a run. I see some newscasters on the deserted beach and get curious.

One month later. I move to Los Angeles and learn how to see through media. I learn that the demigods of television and the legendary descendants of Zeus known as pop stars are not that far off from the Wizard of Oz. There’s a big curtain called the imagination and they’re all huddled behind it hoping no one sees.

I’m in a Starbucks at 3am in Chicago and I’m still wearing a damp swimsuit from jumping in the lake earlier. This Starbucks in particular still reminds me of a girl who broke my heart in college. She and I would come here often and study into the thin hours of the morning.

When I was 18, I was positive I’d be married by the time I was 22.

I think my life so far has been a gradient. It’s been a slow fade into adulthood.

And I think that’s okay.

I feel pressure to feel guilty about being halfway through my twenties and not know where I’ll be next year. Next month. Or who I’ll be, what I’ll be doing, et al. And I think this pressure is unnecessary. I think God is okay with slow fades.

I’m not writing this post as an excuse for laziness and slacking off. I’m not about those things. But I am for bravery. I am for courage and trying new things. And I’m for patience. Sometimes God doesn’t turn on a light switch, but He’ll at least give you a candle so you can see where your foot should fall.

Sometimes you bump into a few walls.

I’m okay with living in a gradient, in a transition period. Sometimes one season fades into the next and you can’t quite see why or how, or even where you’re going. Sometimes you end up in Paris with two people who work for you in this Nigerian organization. Sometimes you’re driving across Utah in the middle of the night to see about a Brazilian girl you met online. But the fact that there’s a gradient means change is coming. It means soon the moon will be up and everything will be peaceful. And after the night is a sunrise; a fading into day. A transition into the next season.

Many of us will have a slow fade into adulthood and that’s alright.

Be at peace and enjoy the gradient.

e

Pour Out Your Guts

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“I want someone to worship me,” said Allen. “I want her to be so in love with me, the way I was with Tricia, that she almost worships me…Right below God,” he quickly padded his language. “She should worship God and then me right below Him.”

Deep down, I realized the truth in Allen’s words. He does not want to be second seat to an invisible entity who has not yet managed to satiate his soul’s hunger to be appreciated, yet he doesn’t want to cross the boundary of Christian-safe language. Better butter up the Big Guy and not say what you mean.

That’s the catch.

Say what you mean and step on some divine toes, or lie for the sake of Christian politeness.

Lose-Lose.


“I want to be on stage and hear thousands of people cheering my name,” another friend told me some years ago. “…but as they’re giving me glory, I’ll be giving God glory.”

I looked at him with that emoji face that has eyes but no mouth.

There were no words to describe my confusion. Of course I understood my friend’s sentiments. Who doesn’t want the screaming applause and acclaim from thousands of cheering fans? But more than that, his thinly veiled attempt to mask his his true desires was nonsensical and contrived. Why even add that bit at the end? Why not just say what you really desire?

I’ve spent much of my life punching my way out of so-called Christian bubbles (which, by the way, are sewn together by little more than pious American mannerisms, cultural guilt, and some marketing geniuses who carved out their own little niche in everything from music to movies to clothes), and have spent little time entering into people’s lives. From the shallows of small talk and into the mire of who they are and the pain in which they daily wade.

I’ve spent too little time investing myself into others, opening up my ribs so my guts spill out.

And this is why the Psalms are so great: The word in the Bible which we read as “heart” in Hebrew means “guts.” It’s the deepest parts of who you are. It’s the thing that rises when you fall off a bridge, or in love. You may tell God what’s on your mind. You may even share with Him some emotions you are weathering. But you haven’t poured out your guts.

Even Jesus seemed unafraid of being judged for His words before God.

Jesus wasn’t scared of pouring His guts out to God.

In likely the most intense moment of His life, Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane, wailing before His Father, sweating blood and begging for God to spare His life.

Take this cup from me,

He cried.

Jesus literally told God that He doesn’t want to do what God told Him to do.

There’s a professor at my college who always says, “Saints! You shouldn’t swear. But if you’re going to swear, swear when you pray. I cuss all the time before the Lord!”

If any of you are like me, there is a cognitive block somewhere in your soul that tells you, “these words are okay, but these over here…are not.” There’s something that tells me that too much honesty is sinful.

I am trying to undo this.

I feel that this barrier of politically polite language has actually built a wall between the Lord and I rather than enhanced our relationship. It’s like I’ve been trying to paint a sunset without any red paint. You’ll get the general idea, but the force of the fiery clouds will lose their vigor.

Language is important because it is the means through which we perceive, interpret, and communicate reality. Communicate life. So in a sense, limiting your language before God limits the extent to which you can live before Him.


Earlier today I was trying to explain what Systematic Theology is to a friend, and as the words exited my mouth, they felt so small and limp. I was explaining that it’s about creating a system in which the aspects of our faith—salvation, Christology, end times, heaven, et cetera—all work together to form a unified, functioning machine. It’s about creating a simple, well-oiled system that makes sense to us and is easily digestible.

What I’m realizing now is that God is not a system.

He does not come gift wrapped in a cute little box with blue and red ribbons.

The moment you’ve got Him pegged as a pillar of fire, He reappears somewhere else as a whisper. You start thinking He is a lamb and suddenly He rips out some organs as a hungry lion.

“Safe?” C.S. Lewis once wrote about the Lord. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But He’s good.”

I fear that my conception of God has become far too small.

Let us pour out our guts before Him.

Let us demolish the walls in which we have placed Him.

e

 

The New Lonely

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Last night I was at a restaurant with a dear friend of mine. We were on the patio having a great conversation when a married couple sat down at the table next to ours. We were bewildered as the husband took out his smart phone, began playing electronic music out loud, and set it on the table for the remainder of the meal.

We are a people terrified of silence.


I often bemoan to my friends and family about how lonely I am. The irony being that I am complaining TO my friends and family. I think our culture has twisted up this word, loneliness. We can each name half a dozen songs about being alone in a crowded room, or maybe while sitting next to a lover, but is that really loneliness?

Tom Hanks was lonely in Castaway.

Will Forte, in Last Man on Earth, is lonely.

My guess is, you are not lonely.

I think what we confuse for loneliness today is actually some modern unrest inside of us. We have this lack of peace within ourselves that calls for constant noise and distraction. And when no one can hang out on a Friday night, we call ourselves ‘lonely’ because that void inside of us is about to act up. We’re about to have to face ourselves.

Praise God for Netflix.


I watched a movie recently where this Middle Eastern Christian monk is talking about silence. He says Sure, you can go to a quiet place like a forest or a desert and it will be quiet for a while. But, he says, There is another kind of silence that is much harder to attain. And that is the silence within yourself. A stillness in your soul.

My guess is we’re not lonely, we have a lack of peace within.

So I came up with a term for this, and to be honest, I guess it’s not that original. I was thinking about how this feeling we associate with loneliness really comes from somewhere else, perhaps an overload instead of a lack. We are always connected digitally, and therefore, more disconnected personally.

We have noise coming into our bodies constantly, so why would we expect there to be silence in our soul?

It’s the New Loneliness.

We are the New Lonely.

I think the more we try to fill our heads with music, podcasts, Netflix/Amazon Prime (you Primers aren’t getting off the hook either), social media, sports, news, or whatever your drug of choice is, the less we will be at peace with ourselves. And therefore, the more ‘lonely’ we will feel.

Our loneliness is not one induced by too few friends, but by too much noise.

Too many flashing lights and screaming sirens.

When was the last time you sat in silence and thought? A favorite writer of mine named Muyskens once said that We live in a culture that esteems accumulation, but the Christian life is one of subtraction rather than addition.


I live in Chicago, where I am always seeing a lot of people. And most of these people are distracting themselves. They have their earbuds in, their head sunk onto their chest, gazing into their device. Or maybe they’re tourists, snapping a steady stream of photos and selfies just so they can look back on that time they went to Chicago and took a crapload of pictures. (this is another blog post altogether…)

Why are we so discontent to not be where we are? With the people we are with?

What are you so scared of missing online that is not present where you are?

That was a tangent, but I’m tired of the angst social media has created in my life along with most of my contemporaries. We are more distant from ourselves, more reserved from those around us, more polished online than in person, and we are very very lonely. Social media creates and plants within us desires we didn’t previously have. It’s a cruel loop.

Perhaps the way to escape the New Loneliness is to trim down the input we take. Turn your phone off and go for a walk.

Don’t take a picture of it.

Pray.

Talk to yourself.

Think.

Talk to a friend.

Don’t take a picture of them.


Have any of my Christian friends actually obeyed Psalm 46:10, or have you just posted it to Instagram?

Be still and know that I am God.”

e

 

How to Be Attracted to Someone

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There’s something I think a lot of Christians struggle with talking about. And it’s not because it’s necessarily shameful like pornography or eggshell-sensitive like homosexuality. It’s just simply confusing and perhaps a little awkward.

And that is, attraction.

In my quest to find that one person that will satiate my endless romantic antics and abate my lonely groanings, I hear a lot of advice. I’ve been single far more than I’ve been in any kind of romantic relationship, so the maxims and pop-dictums on how to find “the one” have flooded my ears for years.

The most common topic deals with a certain dichotomy that supposedly exists in all of us, especially Christians.

Look at her soul, not her body….

Ethan, How can you be so shallow as to like her personality and not be attracted to her INSIDES??

Her personality is what REALLY matters.

Essentially, I have realized that many Americans are functioning Gnostics.

The Gnostics were a first-century group of heretics that believed in a firm division between the physical body and the immaterial soul. Their theology allowed them to believe that God only cares about the soul, therefore, you can do whatever you want with your body. This thinking had taken hold of the Corinthians, and Paul addresses this issue in 1 Corinthians 6:

“Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?

The Corinthians had that saying about the stomach and food, which implied the same was true of sexual arousal. When you’re hungry you eat; when you’re turnt on, you hook up…

Paul points out that no, the body is NOT meant for pure pleasure and disposal, but it is meant to honor God. Human bodies ARE in fact important, because Jesus Himself, the very Son of God, entered into one. Therefore, what we do with our bodies matters.

Now, that was a slight rabbit trail, but now we’re getting back on track.

As a single Christian man, I have been critiqued by many of my friends for often just looking at ‘a girl’s outside,’ rather than some unseen quality that we often refer to as one’s heart, soul, personality, etc.

And yes, if you were to marry someone simply because they’re a fox, you would be a fool. There is definitely the trap of putting too much emphasis on the physical body, but that’s for a different post.

But how equally foolish to only look at someone’s invisible qualities as if their body did not exist!

Our bodies are our God-given vessels through which we experience, act, and take part in our life. They are meant to be healthy, serve others and honor God. And they reveal a lot about our internal lives as well.

For instance, who wants to eat food from a skinny chef? Would you get a tattoo from someone with clear skin or be personally trained by someone whose shirt cannot contain their belly? Often I’ll see a man who is too fit, which often speaks to some kind of quiet insecurity. Our bodies matter and they say things about us.

I think that to divide an individual up into little parts is, in essence, to do violence to them as a whole human being. We are not effervescent spirits floating in some abstract realm, having conversations and thinking together. We have tangible bodies that can hug, spit, slap, poop, pinch, and break. We feel pain when our skin is sliced, and we indulge in the tenderness of a lover’s kiss.

Yes, we humans have bodies, souls, and spirits (unless you’re a dichotomist, which is another theological/anthropological conversation entirely), but they are also one. We are not divided entities, but are united into one person. I believe the membrane that divides the three is far thinner than some of us have been supposing, and from this has come some breezes of Gnostic theology. We are scared to embrace our physical bodies. We are scared to be attracted to another human.

If and when I ever end up falling in love with a woman, it will be because she has a splendid heart and a love for other people.

BUT,

it will also be because my eyes and my hands find her attractive and are drawn to her. Her body will draw my now to it, and hopefully she will feel the same. We will not be divided persons, but will be holistic humans, loving each other emotionally and physically. No one loves another person using their unseen attributes.

That’s just ridiculous.

I want to be attracted to an entire person. Organs and all.

I do not think good looks are just ‘the cherry on top.’ They’re certainly not everything, but I think as Christians, we have undervalued physical attraction.

You have permission to be physically attracted to someone.

e

P.S., I’ll be talking more about this topic on an upcoming episode of my new podcast! Check it out here and stay tuned for plenty more episodes coming at you soon!

Why I Got a Spongebob Tattoo

I read The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis for the first time a month ago and decided it was my favorite book ever. I had also had a hankerin’ to get a new tattoo, as I hadn’t gotten one in over two years, so I decided the two should be connected.

I wish I could sit across from you in a coffee shop, stroking my lengthy sophisticated beard and explaining to you the deep meaning behind my hip new tattoo, and how its geometric angles and minimalistic simplicity reflect the nature of the Triune God, but that’s not the case.

I do have a number of deep meanings behind the tattoo, but when I tell you what it is, you’ll just laugh.

The first meaning is friendship. The tattoo wasn’t even my idea, but was the result of a lot of brainstorming between my friends Rachael, Robb, and I, who all got the tattoo together. (Technically it was Rachael’s idea first…) The three of us have a special connection now that we will have the rest of our lives, or until one of us caves and gets it lasered off (my money is on Robb). It’s not so much about what it is, but the special fact that three of us in the world have this on our calfs, and always will.

The second meaning is even deeper.

In The Great Divorce, Lewis paints a picture of heaven and hell and the difference between them. People in heaven are real. They are solid and have weight. They are presented as people who let go of their earthly desires and embraced what they couldn’t see from earth.

Meanwhile, the people from hell are more like phantoms. They have no weight. They walk atop the grass without even pushing the blades down. They are all angry and stuck in their old selves, wrapped up in grudges, pride, and complaints. They are restless and bitter. They don’t really matter because they clung to what was not really important.

They are people who were made for another dimension, but wandered astray.

So, in order to represent this, my friends and I got a tattoo of a character from Spongebob Squarepants. Doodlebob.

We got Doodlebob.

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In this one episode, a magic pencil falls from the top of the ocean into Bikini Bottom. Spongebob picks it up and soon discovers that whatever he draws comes to life. So naturally, he draws himself and it comes to life. The problem is, this 2-dimensional version of himself is evil and starts destroying the city.

At the end of the episode, Spongebob entraps Doodlebob by throwing paper at him, and the 2-dimensional doodle is captured where he belongs: on paper. Once he is back in his 2-D world, he is happy and content.

When he returns to the world for which he was originally designed, he is at peace.

Saint Augustine said, “My soul is restless till it rests in thee,” which, coincidentally, I’m thinking of adding to the tattoo because it wouldn’t look confusing at all.

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Just as Doodlebob was not at peace until he found rest in the 2-D world he was designed for, we are wanderers in a dimension not our own. This tattoo is summed up by another C.S. Lewis quote (which would be too long to add to the tattoo):

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.

This tattoo, facetious as it appears, reflects the angst in all of us that longs for the next world. Or as described in The Great Divorce, we’re all looking for that high country.

“Hell is a state of mind – ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind – is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.”
-C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

I get shivers every time I read that last sentence.

e

Good to be Naked

 

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He sat me down and said
it’s not as much about what she looks like on the outside,
my grandfather told me,
although that is nice,
it’s not as much about her suntanned body
as it is
the sunshine that shoots from her eyes
even when she’s sixty-six,

he said,
sure sex is great
and a good body is exciting at first,
but eventually,
it’s just good to be naked,
it’s nice to be naked with the same old person,
my grandpa said,

and some people
think their parents are still chaste
and never do it,
but I’m glad my grandparents
are still magnets growing old,
as I hope to be old with someone
too.

Porn and The Doughnut man

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For the record…this is NOT Chicago’s #1 doughnut shop.

I sometimes work at Chicago’s #1-doughnut-shop-4-years-running. And eat far more doughnuts than any human should.

And sometimes, I close the doughnut shop, which includes one of my favorite parts of working there (Aside from…did I mention free doughnuts?). The location has a little window which opens to the sidewalk, where there is a constant stream of pedestrians. In the last 15 minutes or so of business every day, I start boxing up the doughnuts in 4 and 6 packs so I can give them away.

There are few things I love more than popping open the window and leaning out to yell “FREE DOUGHNUTS!” to people as they pass by.

“Wait…they’re really free?” is the most common response.

I shove the box into their hand and their day is instantly made. Their face brightens and I can tell they are bursting to tear that box open and dig in.

Last week, I was closing up shop and slid the window open to see a man digging through the trash can a few yards from me. Without hesitation, I held up the big box of Chicago’s favorite doughnuts and said, “Hey man, I’ve got some fresh doughnuts for ya!”

He looked at me, shook his head, and tossed out a limp ‘nah.’  Then went back to picking through the garbage.

I was blown away.

Who, when offered the best doughnuts in the city, turns them down in favor of rummaging through a public trash can??

Not a minute later I realized I had just witnessed the gospel. I saw myself in the trash man.

I would be remise not to mention C.S. Lewis’ famous quote here:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

I realized that I am constantly trying to find my own path to pleasure. I am always trying to satisfy myself, be it with pornography, girls, money, et cetera.

The reason we can’t simply sit and let the Lord satisfy us is that we don’t trust Him. We don’t think He’ll really come through of us, therefore, we feel this need to provide our own satisfaction…which never really works, does it?

I think part of the problem is this: Whenever I have messed up in the past, with pornography for example, I immediately begin to pile the shame and guilt upon myself.

However, I don’t think Jesus is standing there wagging a finger at me the way a master stands over her dog after he pooped on the rug again. In fact, I don’t think He even wants us to feel bad about screwing up again and again and again and again.

But I do think He is sad for us.

Instead of condemning us, I think Jesus is a few yards away hanging out a window offering us free doughnuts while we dig through the trash.

He has so much more to give us, so He stands there and watches us dig through the garbage, hoping to find something of worth. Maybe this year I’ll find that job that will really set my life up right…Or maybe next week I’ll garner the courage to talk to that cute girl at the coffee shop. Then…THEN I’ll feel whole!

He wants so badly for us to see Him, and what He is offering us. Jesus addressed this Himself in John 6:35-36

Jesus answered, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never hunger, and whoever believes in Me will never thirst. But as I told you, you have seen Me and still you do not believe.”

We keep hearing Him calling to us and return to sticking out noses in the trashcans. We can’t imagine that Jesus could possibly have something better for us than what we could scrounge up for ourselves.

Jesus doesn’t want you to quit looking at porn.

…or whatever your habit of choice is.

He doesn’t want you to simply resist this one urge so much that you are beating yourself up. He wants us to realize that the pleasures He is offering us make everything we could find for ourselves look like trash.

When we accept that He has pleasures stored up for us beyond our wildest dreams, we will no longer want to return to those old habits we’ve been trying so hard to kill. They’ll simply fall away like powerless dead leaves.

They’ll start tasting like garbage.

e

Experimenting with Grace

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It seemed like every ounce of flesh wrapped around my bones pulled away from what my pastor was saying. I found myself resisting the truth he was speaking with the same furor as I resist putting my hand in a flame.

“Look, Ethan,” he told me, “it seems like you don’t have a relationship with God as much as you do with laws and rules.”

What?

I internally recoiled from his words. I couldn’t be one of those guys.

Could I possibly have become the pharisaical monitor of right and wrong? I love God! I thought to myself. I’m, like, the opposite of a rule-follower.

He proceeded to move forward and deconstruct many of my actions the past few months, for which I am now apologizing to you, my readers. I owe you an apology for being prideful, and worst of all, for watering down the gospel of grace.

See, as insightful as I thought I was, I was still living in a place of labeling certain actions as ‘good,’ and others as ‘bad.’ Today I realized that’s not true.

Because God is not about self-improvement.

He doesn’t want us to slowly pick ourselves up by our bootstraps, and slowly, over the next fifty years or so, to crawl nearer to Him. He isn’t sitting there, checking off columns as He observes our Good and Bad actions.

Robert Farrar Capon puts it more distinctly:

Grace cannot prevail until law is dead, until moralizing is out of the game. The precise phrase should be, until our fatal love affair with the law is over—until, finally and for good, our lifelong certainty that someone is keeping score has run out of steam and collapsed.

I realized that so many of my actions the past few months have been contrary to Christ-like living, even though they were praised as just that.

I went on TV 12 times in one week, nearly every time, mentioning that I am a Christian and I am grateful for what Christ has done for me. But what did this do? It made me more appealing to many Christians, and less appealing to non-believers. It didn’t reflect the weakness that Paul showed, or the humility with which Christ conducted His ministry, but a braggart gospel of power and of myself.

A few months later, I announced a new campaign to talk about pornography, and specifically my struggles with it, which was also lauded with praises of being ‘vulnerable’ and ‘encouraging.’ But it really was just a careful packaging of my sins so as to just be appealing enough: Ethan the humble, broken hero.

“That’s not what confession is,” my pastor told me today. “True confession should make everyone you confess to want to flee the room. Confession is a painful, self-depricating, and nauseating exposure of our true selves. When confession is true, we are exposed; we do not do the confessing.”

I am not a good person.

Therefore, every action I have ever done is not a good one. Confession is letting another human being catch a glimpse of this (because OH! how we use every mechanism in our arsenal to hide ourselves: humor, intellect, godliness and good looks, to name a few).

And if I am not a good person, and nothing I can do will make me such, what am I striving for?

“There are two types of repulsive sinners,” my pastor continued. “Prostitutes and Pharisees.”

It clicked.

“By fighting so hard to quit struggling with pornography, you’re really just trying to convert from a Prostitute to a Pharisee. It’s sin management. You don’t have a porn problem, you have an Ethan problem.”

God is not interested in self-improvement.

He is interested in perfection. Anything short of perfection repulses Him.

So what is my option then? I wondered. Surely God doesn’t want me to keep walking in sin!

“You’re a whore right now. Don’t aspire to be a Pharisee,” he said. “The only option is death.”

I nodded as I detected a whiff of grace in the air.

Grace is not a completion of laws and rules. It is not a mere forgiveness of wrongdoing, but it is setting ablaze the entire law book. It is violently demolishing the systems we have constructed to dictate how life ought to be lived.

In grace, Jesus moves toward us and takes upon Himself our sin and shame. This was a trite phrase until my pastor put it this way: “Ethan no longer has a porn addiction. Jesus does.”

What?! Jesus doesn’t have a porn addiction! Jesus is perfect!

We so often talk about Jesus taking all of our sins to the cross, but when it becomes more tangible than abstract, we shudder. Surely Something so holy cannot move so near to us and take our burdens from us! Surely He can’t be that good!

If Jesus truly comes to us with an offer to trade lives, the implications are huge. It means He takes ALL of our life, and gives none of it back. It means an utter destruction of sin.

It means we die.

Paul wrote, “it is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.”

If Jesus takes our entire life, what do I get? I get Him. I get His perfect life.

Daily I am tempted to return to the Gospel of Good Works. Shame whispers into my ear that I’m not good enough, and if I just improved a little more, then I’d be okay. Shame calls us back to a god that says just be a little better, then I’ll chill with you.

The voice of Jesus says, I did not come for the healthy but the sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

So, my friend, are you being scorched by the holy? Is He drawing so near to you that everything else you have bound yourself to has melted away, or are you still clinging to your handful of good deeds like a child holds a mound of sand?

We are a sinful people of weak faith.

And we are approached by a God whose terrible strength extends an open hand and invites us to let Him kill us.

And what a beautiful death it is!

Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.
John 12:24-25, The Message

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Tinder Swipes Right On Religious Market With ‘Christian’ Version of App

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LOS ANGELES—Tinder CEO Sean Rad announced Friday that Hatch Labs was launching a Christian version of the popular dating app. “Many people just assume Tinder is for hooking up. They have reasons to think that, but that’s why we are launching the Christian version of the app.”

Rad hinted that the new app would have zero pictures of the users, so as to avoid “shallow” perceptions of people, since, “Christians shouldn’t be looking at external beauty. A lot of my Christian friends have told me that they should be more focused on the person’s soul, and to be physically attracted to someone is sinful.”

In the place of a selfie or group photo, the user’s main photo will feature their favorite Bible verse overlaid on a picture of their favorite scenery. Rad made it clear that the goal of this app was to make the digital dating experience “as deep as possible,” and the removal of actual portraits was crucial.

Rad also announced that they would be partnering with none other than legendary Christian love guru Gary Chapman to make the app completely kosher. “In place of the five secondary pictures, you will rank your five love languages from most important to least,” stated Rad. He did not specify if these would be the “giving” or “receiving” love languages.

Rad concluded his press conference by hinting at a spot on one’s profile for their Myers Briggs score, but that he had to finish his current Brene Brown lecture series before anything could be set in stone.

“I’m really excited for this to launch,” said Rad. “I think it will take all the shallowness out of digital dating, and hopefully eliminate the possibility of any sexual behavior. I’m so tired of the term ‘hook-up.’”

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Self-Proclaimed ‘Proverbs 31 Girl’ Discovers the Rest of the Chapter

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SEATTLE—The day began just like any other. Stacey Kipper, 20, opened up to her favorite verse in the Bible at a coffee shop near her dorm in order to Instagram her quiet time. Proverbs 31:25 reads, “She is clothed with dignity and strength, and she laughs at the days to come.”

“I was debating what kind of picture to go with today,” Kipper confessed. “Should it be of my hazelnut mocha latte and my Bible, or just the latte with, like, the verse as the caption?” Kipper then went into detail about potentially overlaying the verse on top of the picture when something happened that changed the rest of her aesthetic quiet time.

“I happened to notice that the highlighted, underlined, annotated [verse 25] had some words before it…and after it!”

Kipper then relays the inner turmoil which unraveled after reading verse 24, which instructs her to make linen garments and sell them. Or the harrowing verse 15, about waking up while it is still dark: “Like, sometimes I have to get up early if I’m greeting at my church. And one time, I woke up when it was dark because Chad asked me to go for a run with him. But every day?? That seems a bit much.”

Kipper was also confused by the necessity of buying a field (v. 16), and having strong arms (v. 17). “Yah, I’ve never had much upper body strength,” she bemoaned.

Now that several hours have passed since this jarring discovery, Kipper relates her current state: “I realized that if I kept it as my favorite verse, I would have to, like, change my life and do more than laugh in all my Instagram pictures.”

Kippers has not yet landed on a new favorite verse, but says Philippians 4:13 and Jeremiah 29:11 are in the running.

“I just want to pick one that can’t be taken out of context. I don’t want to be surprised like this again.”

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