A Millennial Hymn

 

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I have learned that the best thrift stores
cannot be Google, Bing or Yelped;
They’re spread by word of mouth
without requesting Siri’s help.
I have learned a plastic zip tie
holds my hood shut while I drive
across the states in my Corolla
just to feel some more alive.
I’ve learned that cops don’t let you trespass
just “to get a better picture,”
and that nine times out of ten,
I’ll feel remorse after I’ve kissed her.

Because I’ve learned that people come and go—
or maybe I’m the one who’s leaving,
always packing up a bag because it’s better over there
…so I’m believing.

I’ve worked a half a thousand jobs
and I’ve made almost that much money,
and I’ll make light of just how broke I am
even though it isn’t funny.

I can’t name every president,
but I’m fluent in memeology,
and I’d probably be richer
if I’d not studied theology.
Yet here I sit, broke af
and borderline content.
I’m loving what I’m doing
though it won’t make me a cent.

e

The Pig Farm

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I figured it was about time for another creepy fictional piece, so I was inspired last night simply by the phrase “The Pig Farm.” I Googled it and found this place, on which this story is based, although I have a few more ideas revolving around Pig Farms. This is not as gory as some of my other pieces, but be warned, it is still strange.


The website promised 80 acres of free range woods for the hunt.

The Pig Farm was located in western Pennsylvania, removed from most of the state’s civilization and miles from the nearest highway.

“You kill ’em, we fill ’em” was the motto for the taxidermy portion of the farm ($500 extra per head. Not included with price of hunt).

Mac and his son Wilbur arrived on Friday afternoon, per their lodging instructions. They had paid nearly two grand to come take their crack at two of the best boars in Pennsylvania. The 80-acre plot was pumped full of the finest European boars, with a minimum weight of 200 pounds.

“I haven’t been to this farm since my college days,” said Mac as he plopped his duffel bag and rifle on his bed. You and what friends? Thought Wilbur sardonically. He had never met any of his father’s college friends despite how often Mac raved about their wild weekend at the Pig Farm.

They were standing in the upper room of the wooden lodge in the northern corner of the farm. “It even still smells the same!” exclaimed Mac.

Wilbur was a big boy, at about six and a half feet tall, he towered a full foot over his father. He had just graduated from Penn State and this was his first hunting excursion. His father had always tried to get him to go up to Pennsylvania’s back country, but Wilbur refused. Now that he was out of college, he figured he had no excuse and agreed to come to the Pig Farm for his first experience. He figured that somehow, it was more humane to kill animals bred to be hunted on the large swath of land. Or at least less dangerous for him.

A knock sounded on their thin wooden door. Continue reading

Dear Friend, Volume 2

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Here’s another batch of fragments from my ancient love letters. (read Volume 1 here.) I have this shoebox full of them in my room and thought some of these lines from friends and lovers alike were too beautiful not to share. They are from a dozen people over the past decade, in no order whatsoever. Enjoy! 

I don’t know what to say. I something you. You are my stronghold and I really just want to bury my face in your chest and cry because I know you would be exactly what I need.

Ahh! I love you. Is it strange to have this much passion for one thing? Not a thing—YOU!

Writing something for you was really difficult. I wrote and erased tons of letters for you. So I decided to only write about what I’m sure of, and I’m sure that I’m really happy that I had the chance to meet you.

You can’t count the waves, the sand, the stars, or the ways I love you.

Basically, I wanted to tell you, Friend, that the only way I’ve ever coped with chaos is creating more chaos. I only feel good when I’m orchestrating disaster. I am bored and numb until I am anxious or sad and then I f*** something up on purpose to make myself laugh.

I always enjoy myself when you’re around. Thank you for being weird. I’m weird. You’re weird. We’re all weird and I love it.

My cousin eats cereal (for Ethan)
He is downstairs.
I tell him,
I’m glad you’re here.
He says he’s glad also.
We wave
and I go to type this.

There isn’t one night that passes when I don’t wish that I had hugged you goodnight or I was staying up all night talking with you. There isn’t a morning when I don’t wish yours was the first face my eyes came across or your eyes were the first I could look into. I miss you and there is so much more in that phrase than appears on the paper in ink. I love you and when I say that it is only a surface of the ocean of feeling inside me. There isn’t enough paper in the world that could hold it.

When I am home next we should have deep conversations.

Sorry if the paper is smudged, I just got in from the rain and my hair is dripping and not just a little. I don’t mind. I really like being attacked by the weather.

You said your romantic fire is being doused by the liquid of distance. I think the liquid of distance can be flammable.

I am drowning and burning at the same time. I miss you and I need you. My hands ache to be touched by your hands; my fingers long to be entwined with yours. My nose misses your scent. My eyes tear up when they look around and can’t find you. My head misses the comfort of your shoulder and my ears are stubbornly deaf to any sound because they want you to whisper a secret to them. This could be considered a form of torture.

I think my poetry isn’t very good because I was writing and there was no music to it, I was just giving information.

Loneliness is hard to live with. I kinda think loneliness is a good friend a person has with them their whole life and getting to know it and having it reflect a person’s self is important, good, hard life work. I hope I develop my vocabulary with myself and my friends. Sometimes relationships get stunted because they rely on outdated or immature vocabulary.

I don’t think we should have just one ‘song,’ it should change as we change. There are specific lines from different songs, but not always the whole song. I’ll think about it.

To me, my brother’s wedding was blue, but the kind of sky blue that reflects beautiful things. Usually blue feels like a bruise. This blue was lace, delicate and strong, like an ocean or a dress.

I can tell when you are really angry or sad or bored or annoyed. Maybe we need to spend more time together and I’ll memorize you. I’ll pick through your head. I want to finish your sentences and I want to know everything.

I’m reminded that this is not all there is. That I don’t have to stay here, get married, become a mom, hate my life. Thank you for your ambiguity.

I think I’m going to send this before I think better of it.

e

Dear Friend, Volume 1

 

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The other day I rediscovered the old shoebox in my childhood bedroom crammed full of ancient letters. These letters range from professions of love to friendly notes passed in the hallway. I spent hours upon hours reading through all of them and gathering the best passages from them because they were far too good to keep to myself. They are in no order and from dozens of different people from the past decade. There is no real purpose to these blog posts, save their aesthetic and poetic value, so without further ado, enjoy! (read Volume 2 here.)

Every night when I close my eyes it is your face I see and every morning when I wake up, before I open my eyes, I see your face. (Was that a run-on? I don’t care. I like you too much.) My arms ache to be wrapped up around you and my hands are lonely. My eyes long to see you and my mouth greatly desires to speak with you. My ears are going deaf because they only want to hear your voice.

I became as offensive as all the things that broke my heart or confused me. My only coping mechanism was vulgarity, and I don’t mean dropping frequent F-bombs, I mean my worldview, my laughter, and my crass personality became vulgar. If you are bad, the bad things don’t hurt.
Does that make sense?
I’ve had a bit of wine.

I still love you passionately. Why don’t we leave for a trip to Paris tomorrow and not just Paris, but everywhere.

But wherever you go there you are, and I met a man who’s broken like me and fun like me and my appetite for tragedy got the better of me again.

I like all the little names you call me, like this morning you called me Peachums. You always use them at the perfect times too. Today I was upset about something and you said something in response, but you threw Darling in there and I could feel my entire body relax.

I’m doing pretty good, it’s not as bad I thought a rehab would be. Most of the people are in here for heroin, meth, benzos, and pain pills. I kinda feel like I’m in here for nothing, but I know that’s not true.

You said in your letter that we’ve gotten to know each other and then grown together. It’s like if you plant trees near each other, their roots grow together and sometimes the trunks become one and it is like one tree instead of two.

Today’s the kind of day where I wish you could come pick me up and we could listen to sad music and you could laugh at me cry my heart out. This life sure is giving me a run for my money. Luckily, we serve a big God.

It’s 2:19am EST. I’m beat. Thank you for helping me unwind. Even though you won’t get this for days. Thank you for being there. I wish you were here so that I would have somebody to just BE with. Somebody to listen to the sounds of the earth with and to watch the beauty of each other and all that is around us. That not to say that I’m beautiful, but that I find our friendship beautiful.

We are already making it where others have failed. We have bashed the wall of outside beauty. We have stripped each other to nothing and have found that it is better than anything else.

The best thing about writing to you is that all you can see are my words. There’s a quaint comfort in the anonymity of it all. All you can see are my thoughts, my emotions. I think I always say more than I should when I write, but it’s how I truly feel I suppose.

I love you too much for this to end.

Man, I would be really bad at writing a true love letter. I wouldn’t know what to say. “Um. I think you have a nice smile and you make me laugh so my heart is ever indebted to you.” LAME.

I read this book over the summer and the main character was a girl and her older brother went away to school. She wrote him a letter and all that was on it was ‘I love you and I miss you.’ Sometimes that’s all I want to write to you. I love you. I miss you. I love you. I miss you……

I feel like I can’t win. My life is a vicious cycle of letdowns and failures and pain. I’m in the midst of the wilderness in its truest form and I’m so tired.

This is a dangerous cliff we are standing on and we are young and if we take a wrong step it could come crashing down and we will tumble into the darkness. Right now I don’t care. I don’t see the black abyss below us and I don’t really care about the danger.

I could go on for hours about how wonderful of a person you are and how thankful I am to have you in my life, but I really have to poop.

e

When Working Out is Harmful (Part 1)

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My Freshman year of college, I remember lying on the couch Skyping someone on my laptop. I don’t even remember who I was talking to, but I remember putting my arm behind my head, noticing how shrimpy it looked, and quickly putting it back down.

That was not the only time I had feelings of inadequacy regarding my body, but that was about the time I started seriously hitting the gym. I couldn’t go on being a little shrimp and still call myself a man!

My friend Paul C. Maxwell wrote an amazing article called The Epidemic of Male Body Hatred, in which he explored the phenomenon in depth.

“If I could look like that guy who played Thor, I would be happy.”

It’s a common belief among men of our age. Put more honestly, “If I can’t appear confident, sexy, intimidating, competent, and super-human, I’m worthless.”

We compare ourselves to others in the gym. We come away from movies wanting to exercise for eight hours. We would rather jump in front of a truck than take our shirts off at the pool. We feel pathetic and small. We look at ourselves in almost every mirror we pass. When alone, we flex — not because we like what we see, but because we don’t. We have spent hundreds of dollars on pre-workout, weight loss, and weight gain supplements. We research the best way to bulk, shred, diet, and binge.

He points out that there is a wide difference between being healthy and being shredded. Even as Christians we often excuse this excessive gym addiction as our way of “staying in shape” and “pushing myself.” For many of us, myself included, these endless hours at the gym come more from a place of insecurity and self-loathing than a genuine desire for health.

Because in the back of our minds, we know that there are plenty of exceptionally healthy people who don’t look like the cover models of Men’s Fitness. And conversely, not all those cover models may be healthy people, despite how chiseled their physiques are.

I have a friend who used to be a ballerina in New York City. She told me that when she began, her director handed her a packet of diet pills and a box of cigarettes and said get started. 

Because health was not the goal, looking good is.

And this is the attitude I often embrace when I walk through the emerald gates of my Swole Sanctuary. I may not be able to woo her with my charm, my humor, my integrity or my character, but at least I can attract her with my body.

Many of us perceive our body and our looks as the one aspect of ourselves which is easiest to address and control. We’d rather spend three hours on the dumbbells instead of spending time in silence, addressing these roots of insecurity and our lack of confidence. We see ourselves as unworthy of love as long as our bodies are ‘undesirable.’

In Fight Club, the narrator looks at a Calvin Klein ad and asks, “Is that what a man is supposed to look like?”

You can always tell who is confident about which body parts at the gym by what they hide and what they show off. Dudes who love their arms don tank tops and those who don’t wear t-shirts. Sweat pants are for the chicken-legged, but yoga pants are for people who want to draw the attention to their southern hemisphere.

Of course, being confident in certain parts of your body is not confidence at all. Ask yourself, if you were to be in a car accident and all your muscles were to evaporate, would you still want people to look at your arms? Your legs? Your butt? Is your confidence rooted in your physical attributes, or is it rooted more deeply in who you are as a person?

We all hide behind something, be it humor, intelligence, or artistic skill, and for us gym rats, it happens to be our bodies. It’s easy to hide behind this one especially because you can cover it up with the ‘health’ excuse, but as I said above, this is beyond the realm of staying healthy.

The life expectancy for bodybuilders is still the same as everyone else’s.

So how do we diagnose this epidemic of male body hatred? How do we establish the symptoms and work toward a cure? If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you know the answer has something to do with the gospel. And you’re right.

The incarnation is the theological term for God, the creator of all that exists, becoming human. The Creator entering what He created. The Eternal Spirit putting on flesh.

Our bodies are good no matter what shape they are in, not because of the amount of effort we pour into them, but because God Himself donned one. Whether chubby or bone-thin, your body is good.

The very fact that Jesus incarnated a body and walked around in it for 33 years shows that bodies in themselves are not bad or evil or shameful. On top of that, the prophet Isaiah actually tells us that physically, Jesus was not that attractive. We have done ourselves a disservice by portraying Jesus on the cross with a six-pack and toned arms.

The Greeks portrayed their gods with bulging deltoids and rippling quadriceps, but the Bible tells quite a different story about its God. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him (Isaiah 53:2).

The world looks for a strong and powerful king, but Jesus showed us one who was ugly, weak, and defeated. Not only was he physically unattractive, but he sunk to the lowest depths of shame when He was crucified naked and displayed for the public to look upon. He was physically unattractive, but he knew who He was and therefore didn’t need to compensate by puffing up his chest or wearing purple robes.

The issue isn’t that we have bodies and want them to look good; the problem comes when we try to root our confidence and self-esteem in them. We often ignore the health of our soul and spirit and try to compensate with hours in the gym.

Last night I was cleaning out my childhood room and found an old shoebox full of letters. As I read through pages and pages of rich affection, I remembered what it felt like to be loved unconditionally. I remembered being in high school and not feeling like I had to look a certain way to impress someone in order to be loved. And it felt good.

I’ve realized that people who are most confident are not the strongest, but those who are okay with their weakness.

I think the cure to overcoming our body hatred and insecurity is to remember that we are loved as we are: buff, chubby, or skinny. Health is good, as is working toward fitness goals, but not if we come to them to find love and acceptance.

In contrast to the world’s message of finding approval through looks, spend time in silence and meditate on the fact that Jesus promised to be with us regardless of how we look. Dwell on the fact that we are loved despite weakness and always skipping cardio day. The Apostle Paul even urges us to boast in our weakness. How contrary to the world’s message of strength is that?

You are loved as you are. May we be people who experience the liberating feeling of unconditional love. May this come to define us more than the curve of our obliques as we learn how to relax and stop striving, but accept ourselves as we are, accept love from others, and accept the ongoing love of the Father who prefers weakness to strength.

e

6 Common Misconceptions About My Virginity

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“So have you lost your virginity yet?”

This is possibly the most common question I get from people with different beliefs and practices from mine. They never ask about my writing, my travels, my heart or my other friends.

Just my sex life.

Which is still nonexistent.

After years of being asked why I’m still a virgin (You religious or sumthin?), and having to sum up volumes of logic and theology into about two sentences, I decided it’s about time to write another post about why I’m waiting for marriage. This time, I want to address some misconceptions folks seem to have about those of us who remain chaste until their wedding day.

We have zero sexual desires. None whatsoever.

No!

No!!!!

No one could be more excited for their wedding day than me! I’m hoping for a 16-second ceremony so we can sprint up the aisle, spit out some vows, and sprint back down the aisle and speed to our hotel room!

There will be no photographers; no family pictures. If you want to remember this day, blink your eyes people! Mental snapshots are the only non-blurry ones you’ll get of us!

We who have chosen to wait until marriage do not magically have less sexual desires than the rest of y’all. They are there and they are just waiting to be unleashed.

It’s just because we’re “religious.”

For me, this is a big factor in my decision to wait until marriage. I want to honor God with my body and with my use of His gift of sex.

However, a lot of it also comes down to logic and a love for my future spouse.

I have an atheist friend who told me once about how powerful sex is. She explained how amazingly spiritual and bonding it is to unite yourself to this other person; it’s really magical. In the next text, she told me that she has probably slept with over 150 people.

To me, this just seems like a logical oxymoron. How could something so beautiful and powerful be shared with such a gigantic number of people?

If sex really is as powerful as she said it is, I want to save that for the one person in my life who deserves it. The person I have committed myself to and don’t have to worry about them taking off in the morning. Someone I can trust wholly and completely, and fully give my whole self to without fear or insecurity.

I’m sure many people have similar reasons beyond simply “I’m religious,” so try asking them about it!

Virginity is simply a matter of that one line you can’t cross.

The other day, a girl asked me about my virginity and followed up with questions like “But what about oral? Or touching?” as if purity were about a singular point you don’t want to walk past rather than a holistic pursuit of purity.

A friend at college once explained his views on virginity as more of a sliding scale than a matter of steering clear of penetration. He said, “He who has kissed a girl is less of a virgin than he who has not. She who has had oral sex is less of a virgin than she who has not, and so on.”

It’s not simply a matter of not having intercourse, and then you’re suddenly not a virgin; the goal is to live a pure life holistically so you have as much of yourself to share with your spouse and carry less baggage altogether into your marriage.

Now, I’m not saying kissing is terrible and everyone should wait until their wedding day just to give a little peck on the lips. The “line” will be different for everyone. We all have different convictions.

We look down on those who have not waited.

Of course I can only speak for myself here, but a lot of people get embarrassed or ashamed in front of me because I have chosen to wait. I wish this was not so! As a Christian, I must recognize that all of us are on level ground before God. I may not have had sex with a girl, but I have millions of other sinful areas in my life, so who am I to judge?

My pursuit in maintaining my virginity is not with the end goal of shaming people who have not; it’s simply because I have found that this is the wisest way to prepare for a future marriage and honor the Lord with my body.

I have no moral high ground to stand on when it comes to pointing fingers. After all, Jesus Himself said that anyone who looks upon a woman lustfully has committed adultery with her in his heart. God knows that by this definition, I’ve slept with a LOT more than 150 people.

We would never date a non-virgin.

This is a question I have fielded countless times.

But what if she’s not a virgin? Dealbreaker?

No, of course not.

Again, if God is able to forgive my myriad sins I’ve committed throughout my life, I would be a terrible person with no understanding of the gospel if I were to hold a woman’s past mistakes against her. I would be someone unable to show grace because I probably haven’t experienced it myself.

Virginity, or lack thereof, does not define a human being.

If you’ve lost your virginity, you’re damned to be impure forever.

I have talked to many people who despair because they have already lost their virginity. I see a lot of people who think that they are damaged goods because they have screwed up and can’t take their virginity into their marriage.

I think the concept of being a virgin until marriage is a modern day concept. The Bible speaks very little about waiting until marriage, and our culture has put more emphasis on this than the Bible itself has. (Though it most certainly calls for purity and fleeing sexual immorality!)

What the Bible speaks a lot about is renewal and restoration. Broken things being fixed and shattered things being made whole. If you have had sex in the past, don’t let that fact, and the shame that may accompany it, determine your future. You can choose right now to live a chaste life. Some people refer to this as being a ‘spiritual virgin,’ as God has already forgotten the things you’ve done in the past.

It’s never too late to begin walking in the light and living a pure life! May we all be people who, from this day forward, long to live in the light and use our bodies wisely and for the building up of others, rather than out of a selfish pursuit of pleasure. May we learn to walk with others in understanding and love rather than judgment and pretense.

e

Possess Your Body

 

CuumAgain75.jpgOn February 24, 1989, United Flight 811 departed Honolulu en route to New Zealand. The plane had just crested 22,000 feet when the cargo door of the jet blew open, tearing a huge hole in the side of the plane. Nine passengers were immediately sucked out and fell to their deaths. The two right engines were damaged by flying debris, leaving only the two left engines.

They were 100 miles from land.

The captain, David Cronin, had been flying for 38 years and employed every ounce of his experience to try to bring the plane to safety. He slowed the plane to just above stalling, gliding it slowly back to land. When he began his descent, he found that the fuel was 100,000 pounds above recommended landing weight. Not only that, but the flaps which help the plane to slow were also broken and he came in 35 miles faster than the maximum landing speed.

In spite of all of these catastrophes, the flight crew reported that it was one of the smoothest landings they can remember.

Captain Cronin did not just fly the plane and flip some switches. He wasn’t merely clocking in to his job to rack up some hours and get a paycheck.

He possessed the plane.


Robb Bell, in his book Drops Like Stars, writes about a guitar he owns. He paid for it and can play it somewhat well. He can construct chords and align them in a way that makes a discernible melody. He can evoke sound from it.

But Bell has a friend who comes over sometimes, and when he picks up the guitar, he can wring sounds out of it that are not from this world. He can make guitar sing.

Rob may own the guitar, but his friend possesses it.


Last night, I sat in a coffee shop and cracked open my Bible to 1 Thessalonians. As I scanned the pages, one verse in particular jumped out at me. I was in chapter 4, and verse 3 was rather straightforward. Something we’ve all heard before:

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality;

But then I kept reading and for some reason, verse 4 gave me pause:

that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable

Again, for anyone who has been reading the Bible for a few years, this verse may not be earth shattering. But for some reason, I looked into the Greek behind the verse and was fascinated by what Paul is writing here. In fact, I feel like the modern translations do us somewhat of a disservice in their translation of the passage. The King James Version brings us closer to the target:

that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor,

The phrasing is reminiscent of the captain of a ship who has been sailing the seas for most of his life and has sea salt permanently trapped beneath his fingernails, and the north wind tangled into his hair. Paul is urging us to take mastery over our own boats.

He is urging us to take possession of our bodies.

For several years of my life, I dreamed of sailing the world. I had dreams of meeting exotic women on foreign shores and wandering the waves as free as the rolling waves. I wanted to earn the golden hoop earring only worn by seamen who have made the treacherous pass south of Cape Horn. I longed for that breed of adventure. I still do.

As I read that passage in 1 Thessalonians last night, a new longing came over me. A fresh desire to take mastery of my body the same way a captain of the sea did. I want to possess my body the way Captain David Cronin possessed United Flight 811. I want to have control over it the way Rob Bell’s friend possesses his guitar.

To me, this involves a number of things. To continue Paul’s metaphor, when the hard winds of lust or sexual desire wash over me, I am able to have mastery over my ship and sail it to calmer waters.

When the cargo hatch flies off—say, I get rearended or a friend betrays me with gossip—rather than getting angry and punching holes in the wall, I am able to maneuver my plane to smoother air.

I think part of the how here involves orienting our desires, so when the gusts of desire blow, they are slightly less powerful. When we desire holy things, our longings for sexual gratification and other addictions begin to fade.

Another part is simply preparedness. Just as Captain Cronin’s 38 years of flying prepared him for disaster, Jesus was able to resist temptation by having scripture pre-loaded into His mind to dispense when He needed to, and thus combat the attacks of satan.

To some of you, this may seem like just another Purity-Movement-esque call to keep your V-card until you’re married. To me, it seemed more like an artful call to mastery over my own ‘vessel.’

Bruce Lee could break bricks just by touching them because he had such control over his body.

Are you in charge of your own ship?

Do you possess your own vessel, or are you blown hither and yon by every stray breeze of desire that comes over you?

The captain inside of me wants to be able to say Yes, I have mastered myself. I can pilot myself away from the storm and into the holier spaces.

e

Porn: Love Yourself

 

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Every Thanksgiving, my family puts on our annual football game and invite friends and neighbors to come play. I specifically remember a few years ago, a little guy named Mike was playing. He couldn’t have been more than ten or eleven, so playing with the adults was a bit above his skill level.

Unsurprisingly, he dropped the occasional pass or got tackled after only a few steps, as would be expected from any prepubescent boy playing with the grown-ups. What I noticed about Mike though, is that whenever he would drop the ball or mess up a play, he couldn’t seem to get over it.

He would hit himself in the head and yell, “I’m such an idiot!” as if he had just dropped a baby instead of a football.

Over the course of two hours, Mike continued to beat himself up relentlessly, despite the encouragement from the rest of his teammates. No one else was pointing fingers at him or telling him he did a bad job, in fact quite the opposite. We would encourage his good plays and if he dropped it, shout It’s okay, Mike! Don’t worry about it! Good hustle!

What I realized during that game was by beating himself up and putting himself down, Mike did not become a better football player. His constant self flagellation didn’t make him catch more balls or run faster.

You could say his shame was unproductive. You don’t become a better football player by telling yourself how awful you are at it.

But I saw a lot of myself in Mike. Whenever I screw up, I tend to bash myself in the head and tell myself how awful I am, as if this will make God or my pastor happy.

Don’t worry, God. I screwed up but I can punish myself. (Stupid! Stupid!…)

I realized that when I take it upon myself to make myself feel bad for screwing up, I really am not that productive. I don’t become a better Christian by beating myself up whenever I fall down.

In regards to pornography, Michael Cusick calls this “the shame cycle.” You screw up; you feel bad and beat yourself up; you feel worse; this shame leads you to believe you’re not good enough for a real spouse; you escape the pain with pornography; and the cycle repeats…

When we beat ourselves up for any sin, we are not living out the gospel. The gospel tells us that all of our sin and shame has been taken to Golgotha and pinned to the tree with Jesus. When we try to take some of the punishment for our own sins, we are in essence telling Christ that He is not strong enough to bear all of it Himself. Not only that, but beating ourselves up does nothing to help us quit any sin or addiction.

A few weeks ago, my pastor gave a great message, and toward the climax, he ended with this line. “The key to being a good Christian minister is to learn how to be gentle with yourself.”

I was kind of surprised, as most of my life, I had been told that Christianity is learning to put others before yourself. I think this is true, but we also must recognize that we cannot effectively minister to others if we are not being loving to ourselves.

Jesus said to love one another as we love ourselves. The problem today is, many of us do not love ourselves. By that, I do not mean a sort of egocentric, narcissistic bloated sort of affection for our own reflection. I mean that we genuinely must love ourselves and be gentle to ourselves. I think that when we love ourselves, we cultivate a deep well from which to pull in order to give to others; when our cup is full is when we can pour into other people’s cups.

Shame doesn’t allow for this. Shame convinces us we have nothing to give to others and ironically keeps us very self-centered. People who are full of shame can only think about themselves and how bad they are.

I’ve spent a lot of time telling other people Jesus loves them without believing it to be true of myself.

Today I was washing the dishes and had a related thought. I realized I am very tough on myself when it comes to sin and trying to keep a rigid set of rights and wrongs. Then I realized that because I am this way with myself, I often act this way toward others. Because I cannot give myself grace, I have a hard time showing it to others.

But I think people who can learn to forgive themselves and grow from their mistakes end up being more gracious to others. They become human magnets who draw others to them because grace is a magnet. It reminded me of a passage from one of Henri Nouwen’s books:

We spend countless hours making up our minds about others. But imagine your having no need at all to judge anybody. Imagine having no desire to decide whether someone is a good or bad person. Imagine being completely free from the feeling that you have to make up your mind about the morality of someone’s behavior. Imagine that you could say: “I am judging no one!” Wouldn’t that be true inner freedom? The desert fathers from the fourth century said: “Judging others is a heavy burden.”

When we carry around guilt and shame, I think that’s what we ‘send’ to others. But Jesus said that He takes our burdens and struggles and replaces them with His: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light,” He tells us. This doesn’t mean our lives are pain-free or that we will never work hard. It simply means that we get to exchange our shame for freedom. We trade Him our guilt for joy. We trade Him our sorrows for lightness, and our sin for grace.

Because when we experience these transactions, we become more gracious and loving people, and that is the whole point of the gospel. To become people who realize we are loved so that we can show that love to others.

May we be people who love ourselves in order to love others. May we forgive ourselves in order to show grace to others. And may we give up the burden of judging ourselves in order to give up the burden of loving others.

e

Why Christians Should Celebrate Halloween

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Photo by/of my brother Luke

I recently received a message on Facebook from a follower who was dismayed that my roommate and I—two Christians—would throw a Halloween party. She was loving in her approach and inquired with genuine curiosity rather than hostile accusation. I thought about it for a while and several reasons came to mind. I never needed to give it much thought before, since my father is a pastor and for as long as I can remember, we went trick-or-treating on Halloween.

If my dad is a pastor and he takes us trick-or-treating, it can’t be THAT bad, right? 

Right.

So after some thought, here are a few reasons I not only think Christians can, but should celebrate Halloween.

Celebration is a spiritual discipline

When we think of spiritual disciplines, we tend to think of fasting, praying, silence, and other very un-fun things. But to not recognize God as the origin of all things fun would be to carve Him out to be a scrooge or a grinch. Not only did God create fun and celebration, but He requires it. Many of the laws found in the Older Testament were instructions for how to celebrate correctly. There were festivals and parties ordained by God because He is a God of celebration.

By engaging in Halloween as a celebration, we create opportunities to invite people into our homes and build relationships. This is not only true of Halloween, but of any holiday. When Robb and I threw our banging party this past weekend, Christians and non-Christians alike showed up. They came into our home and ate and drank with us. I can’t think of a better place to build relationships and show the love of Christ to people than at a celebration in our home. Even on Halloween night, families come to our doors looking for candy, but why stop there? Why not build relationships? Build spooky haunted houses for the kids to walk through.

May our houses be homes of celebration.

Horror is evil though…Right?

My uncle Mark is somewhat of an expert on horror. Specifically, the intersection of horror films and theology. He writes in one blog post, “Horror—whether real or imagined—points to a need for salvation.” The crucifixion is the ultimate moment of horror in human history.

I think some of the greatest value of the horror genre is to remind us that there is a world within our world which we cannot see. The American church especially flees thoughts about the spiritual world in favor of what is tangible and visible to us. Moreover, we often focus on a happy, victorious, and joy-filled spirituality. Horror films such as The Conjuring help us to remember that the spiritual world exists, and it is powerful. In fact, the creators of that film are believers and have said that their purpose in creating the films was to remind people of the invisible forces around us which are effective and evil. (Anyone who thinks human levitation, demonic voices, ghosts and poltergeists are mere fictional concoctions clearly has not done their homework.)

I have a friend who, long story short, can see demons and angels every day. Everywhere he goes. He asked God for it one day, and just like Gehazi in 2 Kings 6:17, his eyes were opened to this spiritual world.

Ask him if he ever forgets that the spiritual world is real and present and active.

David Mathis says that another Spirit haunts our lives: The Holy Spirit. We forget that as believers, we essentially become haunted houses—a Ghost comes and lives inside of us. Of the gremlins and orcs which attempt to come and steal our eyes away from God, Mathis writes, “Jesus haunts their Halloween.” God is a spirit and far too often, we neglect to remember His constant presence in our lives.

In addition to a reason to dress up and have fun, Halloween can effectively remind us of the evil and the spiritual forces active in our world today. Most of the year, these things go unnoticed and unobserved, but Halloween can be a call to remember the invisible world around us.

Demonic-looking decorations are just that. Decorations.

Throughout the Bible, God makes it clear how powerless statues and idols are (Habakkuk 2:18, Isaiah 40:19). Jeremiah 10:5 even says, “Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good.” The problem with these statues in the Bible is not the little wooden or metal object itself; the problem is that God’s people worshipped them. Their affections were turned toward these little powerless objects rather than toward the God who made all things.

I think we do the same with objects today when we assign them greater influence than they deserve. A dreamcatcher is not inherently evil, it’s feathers tied to some string. A Ouija board is some cardboard with a piece of wood. The difference is, when we treat these things as portals or passageways for evil spirits, they will gladly oblige. But when we see them as powerless artifacts made in a factory somewhere and sold in Walmart, then they will be just that.

You won’t ‘catch a curse’ by walking too closely to that plastic gargoyle in Target’s Halloween aisle.

There is a house near me here in Denver which has consistently won “Scariest House in Denver,” and the reason is evident. There are gallons and gallons of fake blood, tortured corpses hanging from chains, demonic cannibal babies sitting around a fake fire roasting another victim. Ghouls circle overhead and legless bodies drag themselves across the yard.

It would be too easy to point at this and accuse them of demonology and witchcraft, but let’s look at it another way. All of the animatronic beings in the yard are plastic. They run on wires and gears. Just like your Subaru. They were made in a factory somewhere, or maybe even handcrafted by an artist. But when we as Christians attribute to these decorations more power than they are due, we are the ones fearing “mute idols,” as Paul calls them.

Personally, I like the occasional scare to make my hairs stand on end. I appreciate the artistry, and like to have fun with it. We need to remember to build bridges to our neighbors rather than walls, and nothing puts bricks up faster than cynically sneering at our neighbor’s demonic decorations. 

No, they are just that. Decorations. Don’t give them more power than they are due.

But Halloween is rooted in Pagan, demonic tradition!

Sure. So are Christmas and Easter. According to the internet.

Other websites will tell you Halloween has Christian origins.

You can literally Google anything to support your claims and increase your fear of worshipping the wrong gods.

In actuality, when most of us observe Halloween, we are simply buying into the American corporate construction allowing candy, costume, and booze companies to rake in more dough at the end of October. We are so far removed from any spiritually dangerous activity that it’s almost laughable. Dressing up like Pac-Man and soliciting free sweets is not a cultic ritual.

Who’s funny costume got the most Likes?

I doubt any of you (Christians) sacrifice animals, recite chants, doodle pentagrams and burn sage in an attempt to get into the spirit of Halloween. Most likely, you and everyone in your neighborhood are taking an excuse to dress up, eat a lot of candy, and have FUN.

Something Christians can be bad at.

So if your intentions this year are to have fun and use this holiday as an opportunity to reach out to your neighbors, go for it! Tonight I’ll be sitting on my front porch dressed as a lifeless scarecrow and scaring the bajeebers out of little kids. (For some reason, it’s okay to make people scream and jump 364 days out of the year, just not on Halloween. I have so many killer videos of my mom screaming at the top of her lungs when I spook her.)

May we be Christians who show the world how to celebrate.

e

 

Kalopsia, The Great Blindness of God

 

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This summer a friend from college told me about a paper he wrote on an ancient Greek term called kalopsia. I was so fascinated by the term and its definition I tried to do some research of my own on the topic. However, the internet was oddly silent on this ancient term and I only found a few dictionary sites referring to it. No scholarly articles or anything.

Kalopsia: The condition of things being more beautiful than they are.

I thought about it for a while, because initially, that sentence doesn’t make sense. I mean, how can anything be more…anything than it is?

But my friend gave me the example of a child looking at his parents. They seem perfect, impenetrable. When we’re young, our parents are omniscient and unfathomably strong.

To the child, his parents are stronger than they are.

After more thought, I concocted an even more relevant example: Lovers.

I wonder if, without kalopsia, the human race would even endure. I’ll explain:

Have you ever seen a couple and thought to yourself, How in the world is she attracted to him?  I know how awful it sounds, but I imagine we all have had similar sentiments at some point. Perhaps you see an old couple who is still madly in love and wonder how they can still love each other, despite the wrinkles, sags, and medicine breath. Of course, we love to see those couples and respect and admire them, hoping to emulate their love someday, but have you ever wondered how they manage to see through the exterior beauty which is fading so quickly?

Kalopsia.

To him, she is more beautiful to him than the day they met.

She is more beautiful than she is.

But then I think back to the times I’ve been infatuated with a girl and it all makes a lot more sense. I’ve fallen hard and fast at various times in my life, and I know what it’s like to completely ignore morning breath, birth marks and little pockets of fat. And even unseen things, like social awkwardness or interests that vary from mine. It’s like I’m in another world where the atmosphere smells like lilacs and I’m 80 pounds lighter. She is the only thing I think about, and songs pour forth form me like a burst dam. She awakens something in me that lay dormant for months or years.

And have you noticed that when someone is being admired so intensely, nothing can bring them down? You can’t insult them. Their face is frozen into a perma-smile. Because when you know that someone loves you so blindly, you feel free. You feel unbreakable.

Kalopsia.

Even the film 500 Days of Summer points at this. Toward the beginning of the film, the protagonist is falling for Summer like a ball of lead, and lists off a few of her attributes. The montage is composed of soft, intimate shots:

I love her smile. I love her hair. I love her knees. I love how she licks her lips before she talks. I love her heart-shaped birthmark on her neck. I love it when she sleeps.

Time passes, and Summer inevitably breaks his little heart and reality flares up. The same montage, shot with harsher lighting and spoken with spite follows:

I hate her crooked teeth. I hate her 1960s haircut. I hate her knobby knees. I hate her cockroach-shaped splotch on her neck. I hate the way she smacks her lips before she talks. I hate the way she sounds when she laughs.

I feel like those in the throes of kalopsia sit on the fringes of reality, where The Shins always play gently in the background and time passes in slow-motion. Life is cinematic and the lights in the distance become soft blurs that dot the horizon beyond your lover’s head.

In the months since I first heard this word, I’ve wondered if it takes on any spiritual dimension. If, somehow, Jesus interacts with this ancient Greek term. I think the interaction is actually two-fold.

In a small way, I think Christians see something in Jesus that the rest of the world looks at and says Him?? Really?? What do you see there? Yet we, those who are on the inside of the relationship, understand. It makes sense to us to love this God-man, the carpenter from Nazareth.

Isaiah tells us that there was nothing beautiful about Him which should attract us to Him. Of course, you and I don’t know what Jesus physically looks like, but we still know Him. We see His actions and we see Him dangling from a tree on our behalf. His actions are beautiful. Who He is is beautiful to us.

The world looks on in bewilderment.

This relationship has gone too far. You’re out of His league. Don’t you know you can do better than some dude who lived 2,000 years ago?

Looking at our Savior, we are filled with the essence of kalopsia, and lose ourselves in admiration of Him.

But I think the second form it takes is far greater.

I think that when Jesus looks at us, His bride to be, He sees us as perfect. He doesn’t see us in the bathroom looking at porn, or under the covers cutting our thighs. He overlooks the anger we have at our sister as well as the times we’ve lied, stolen and cheated.

Jesus is infatuated with us.

To Him, we are more beautiful than we are.

Just as a lover pursues a girl despite her flaws, and she reciprocates by ignoring his boyish immaturity and weaknesses, Jesus has perfected the art of ignoring the right things.

I would go so far as to say that He has blinded Himself to our flaws.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul lists off a handful of terrible things people could be. He writes that many of us were slanderers, sexually immoral, thieves, greedy people, and so on.

“But,” he writes, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Do we still have sexually immoral longings and greed in our hearts? Of course. Yet Paul tells us that in the eyes of God, those things do not define us anymore. We were cleaned by Him because He loves us and sees us as spotless.

It is only the devil that wants us to think of ourselves as dirty and shameful. Jesus is too filled with kalopsia to worry about our past sins and shortcomings.

May we be those who see ourselves as madly beloved by a God who is too blinded by kalopsia to hold onto our sins. And in this kalopsia, delight, rejoice, and be freed from the guilt and shame which drive us back to our sin in the first place.

e