On the Church


Today I grieve beyond measure as I see the horrors unfold within my country. I have been asking myself, “Have I been asleep this whole time? Am I only now awakening to the evil and hate people are willing to inflict on others in the name of an assumed superiority based on race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender? I thought myself fairly well-educated about the hatred people were capable of but I look at the reported acts of violence, the racial slurs, and the rhetoric being spewed forth by people who are supposed to be the salt and light, the hands and feet of their savior and I am appalled, distraught, and dismayed at the reports of their actions.

To the church: you have made it very hard for me to love you. You have proliferated so much of what is now a national phenomenon of hate, discrimination, and contention that I have been content to stay in my apartment and just ponder how anyone who believes the Bible, the teachings of Jesus and the Saints, can be capable of ripping off a Muslim woman’s hajib and telling her to put it around her neck and hang her with it or leaving a note for someone in the LGBTQ community that they’re going to burn in hell. The spirit of God is not in you. Don’t hide behind God as justifications for your actions or your hate.

It’s hard to know where to belong now. I have felt a great alienation from the church because of the unfortunate ties to conservatism which, to me, is a tradition that needs to be broken and fast. Conservatism in a lot of respects is regressive to the message of Christ because, in my experience, it drives people to policy and platforms that serve individualistic purposes. I die a little inside every time I hear someone say, “Why should I have to pay for X with my tax money.” To me that is tantamount to Cain asking, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” In case you weren’t aware, I’m a registered Independent, Progressive Liberal with bent towards Socialism. I know absolutely no one in the church who would agree with my stances and that’s fine. This has also made me a target for the contingent of conservatives in my home church on more than one occasion and I do not take my stances on anything with a grain of salt or without thorough research.

It’s heartbreaking to love someone who can’t accept you for who you are. It’s impossible when it’s somewhere you should belong.

I’ve tried. I’ve tried so hard not to give up on the church but recent events have seriously made me rethink my stance on this. Is this the straw that broke thee camel’s back? I don’t know yet. I need more time to think. For every act of hatred, for every bit of invective released from the mouths and hearts of people who call themselves followers of Christ, my willingness to engage and be part of the body corporate becomes less and less. We all know the church is a whore but now she has turned to a whore who sold herself for the lowest bid and the highest risk: hate. The church has become a pack of murderers in their hearts and I don’t know what to do despite not wanting to just stand back and watch the whole show as our country is setting itself up to burn.

My shoulders are heavy with sorrow. I am all raw, exposed nerve and I’m doing my best to find a way to heal this. It’s not supposed to be like this.

It’s not supposed to be like this.

I Didn’t Register to Vote Until I Was 28

I fought with myself as to whether or not I’d post this because this is more of a confession and almost more of myself than I’d normally be so open about. But, in the end, I’m trying to break myself of those kinds of insecurities. This is like therapy to me. If you don’t like it, don’t read it.

“I shall tell you a great secret my friend. Do not wait for the last judgment, it takes place every day.” ― Albert Camus

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Let me be abundantly clear about something just in case you haven’t already come to this realization. I have never completely fit in. Anywhere. Ever. I’m a strange breed of human being that vacillates between introversion and extroverted tendencies, creative spurts and severely logical arguments, and then there’s the teetering between misanthropy and philanthropy. I deal a lot with dualities in what feels like some very curious ways that has one or two good friends referring to me as an anomaly. I can’t say I disagree. It’s something I’ve grown to embrace over time but, by my very nature, sometimes I’m extremely insecure about it. On top of that I am prone to both depression and anxiety, so I really relate to the words Hunter S. Thompson used to describe Raoul Duke’s lawyer, Dr. Gonzo, in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: “There he goes. One of God’s own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

Something you should also know about me is I’m a Bible believing Christian. I believe Jesus came as God and man in one to redeem the world. I sin a lot but I believe I am saved. It’s the only thing that has kept me from going off the deep end and becoming an alcoholic like my father or done something else to completely ruin my life. I went to college and got my BA in studying scripture and so I like to believe I am very theologically conservative. I attend church regularly (though not recently) but even there, where most people know me and I have friends I still feel disconnected, like I don’t completely belong. In an environment that is, thankfully, the first I’ve belonged to that is mean to be all inclusive, I sit by myself and strain myself to be social with people after. It just doesn’t seem to do any good. Since I teeter between seeking acceptance and not really giving a damn (yes, a Christian who occasionally uses swear words!) it can be really hard to cope.

I used to think I couldn’t get any farther away from belonging. Then I became a Liberal.

This deserves some background. I didn’t register to vote until this month. I didn’t care about politics or the state of affairs of this country until this past year because of something that’s actually rare for my generation: apathy. Nothing I saw politically seemed to affect me or how I lived and I was extremely jaded thanks to the media coverage of the Presidential terms from Clinton all the way up to Obama, and let’s not forget the glorious thing that is the electoral college. Not to mention my own personal demons kept me pretty well occupied with myself and trying to sort through abandonment and depression on and off for the four years I was in Bible college and the year and half that followed. My gaze was too busy looking inward to care about the world around me.

Something happened to me when I came out of what was easily the longest bout with depression I’ve experienced in my 15 years of dealing with Bipolar II and Seasonal Affective Disorder. It may seem silly to some but I needed a laugh and, in my boredom one night after work, I watched an episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Hulu Plus. While, admittedly, Jon Stewart is not a journalist but a comedian and a news commentator (like Bill O’Reilly, Shawn Hannity, or Rachel Maddow except, you know, funny and not insane) it made news accessible to me for the first time and showed me political issues I wasn’t even aware of, world news I hadn’t paid attention to, etc. This was kind of like the spark that ignited the flame. Since then, I’ve consumed books on American history, media bias, politics. I started following the news and I started to feel like I was more of a global citizen, hell, a citizen in my own country.

What I began to discover, though, was I was not the conservative I was raised as and I definitely was not the conservative of my early environment here in Nebraska which is a red state through and through.

I watched the conservative side, though, and I couldn’t fit myself into that mold. There are too many issues where I lean heavy on the constitution and heavily eschew the legislation of morality. And right then and there, when I discovered that about myself, I did something I never thought was humanly possible and made myself feel as if I fit in even less in the one place I came the closest to belonging and that was within the realm of the church universal. I can feel the scorn naturally creep up on my face as I write this.

In my experience, and this is not to put anyone down, the evangelical church is replete with registered Republicans. In Nebraska it can come fairly close to the caricature later turned photo sharing trend of holding a gun in one hand, a bible and American deity (excuse me… flag) in the other. I don’t particularly like watching people tote guns around for the same reason a dog licks it’s testicles but it’s their constitutional right, I guess. And while I believe YHWH, the God of the Bible is the one true God, and I believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, I draw a very large distinction between the workings of government and legislation and the teachings of the Bible. That is to say the Bible teaches Christians about their faith and how they should live, but the U.S. Government is, in no way, beholden to those teachings because America is not, despite die-hard politically conservative believers, a Christian nation. It was not founded as a Christian nation; it was founded on the basis of religious freedom. To impose the doctrines and beliefs of just one group of a widely diverse nation is tyrannical, unconstitutional, and actually unbiblical.

Why unbiblical? Look at the model for salvation presented to us in scripture. God seeks out his people and makes a treaty with them before they are subject to his laws and statutes, establishing a Theocracy. Then Jesus came and gave up his life so those who believe in him would be part of the same treaty. America was founded by sinners and Christopher Columbus was definitely not the second coming of Christ. He was barely a saint if you know your history.

So, when I found my footing in the political realm I really started with no boundaries or ideas of what I stood for but, as I read, watched, researched and encountered, I found I could not identify with what felt like a staunch hatred, anger, self-righteousness, and even indifference I saw in the GOP’s representation of their constituents. Now, to be fair both sides of the aisle are not without blame. Politicians are a curious folk to be certain so I’m not absolving either party. However, I did find myself identifying more and more with stances, especially on social justice issues, that would put me in the Liberal camp. So, I didn’t really choose to be this way; my convictions led me there.

Would a few examples help? I’m sure.

Let’s start with my favorite hot-button issue: LGBT rights. This was one issue, as far as civil rights are concerned, I did not really have to think very hard to come to a conclusion on. Biblically, I still wrestle with some issues but that’s a whole other blog post. I’ve had gay friends, I have gay coworkers, which personalizes the issue for me quite a bit.

As a country we believe all people are considered equals. Discussions I’ve had with conservatives and news articles I’ve read by conservative “news” sites essentially renders these people as subhuman, undeserving of any rights for various reasons. It depends on the particular issue which, quite frankly, the government is still ill-equipped to fully address. Some of the issues are just too new, like which bathroom a transgender student should use in a public school. We, as a country, are having to adapt.

My conviction here is this: I cannot define people by their sexual orientation, gender, or sex alone. As creations of God they are all on equal footing as sinners in need of Grace. As human beings, we all struggle with pride, lust, idolatry, etc. The sanctity of marriage argument is null and void to me because America doesn’t hold marriage all that sacred anyway. The church, now that’s another matter. But, as someone from the ACLU said to me, “it’s not like we’re going to force your pastor to marry anyone he doesn’t want to.” As long as the rights of the church are upheld, then the LGBT community should get all the rights associated with marriage. Why? They’re people. Ultimately, no one should be allowed to decide who is and is not a person.

I’m a Christian. I should be pro-life, right? I am, yes. I believe everyone has the right to live from conception. I cannot support legislation to see that all the way through. Given the choice, I would vote for a pro-choice candidate over a pro-life candidate. It is inconceivable to think a woman of sound mind gets an abortion because it’s the easy choice. I know women who have had abortions and they count it as one of the hardest decisions they’ve ever had to make. Abortion is not taken lightly. But pro-life beliefs lead to the closing of women’s health centers which also provide contraceptives to women which can help prevent pregnancy and therefore removes even having to think about abortions.

This is where my stance on legislating morality kicks in. Banning abortion isn’t going to stop abortion. There’s a huge crack in that line of logic for me. We tried to do that with alcohol and we got speakeasies and well-funded mobs. We did that with marijuana and we got the war on drugs; a complete waste of US tax dollars especially since we were selling arms to the countries supplying the pot in the first place. Removing a woman’s right to abortion doesn’t then necessitate she take the option but, if she does take that option, it will be done by someone who is qualified, in a sterile environment, with the proper tools thus avoiding complications which could ultimately end another life prematurely.

And yet I’m still pro-life. I think as Christians, if we’re willing to be so adamantly against abortion we shouldn’t be picketing abortion clinics because that just lumps us in with people like the Westboro Baptist Church, we should be working to offer alternatives that protect both mom and baby. I’m still pro-life because I think people should be paid a wage that allows them to support themselves. I think the death penalty is a joke because our legal system thinks money is free speech and rich dudes who molest young girls can’t go to prison because “Do you know what it’s like in prison?!” I think life is sacred and all sin is redeemable in the eyes of God. I believe if you’re pro-life you need to be pro-life for the duration a human is alive.

So, there you have it. I have declared to the internet I am a Christian who is theologically conservative but culturally and politically liberal. That’s been hard for some to accept but it’s how I’m wired. Maybe I’m inconsistent, maybe I don’t have all the facts mustered, but I know where I stand. In Christendom as well as government that’s the best place you can be, I think. And I don’t think where I stand is mutually exclusive because they share one thing in common.

We the people.

Ripping off My Mask: I am Depressed.

I want to touch on a topic that is very near to me and not for reasons that I would consider good or healthy. It has settled on my heart like a winter freeze that has persisted in melting down only in time to freeze again. It is probably one of the worst and best things that made itself a part of my life somehow, but I will almost always consider it a curse before a blessing. Those that know me well know at least part of my story and know this is something I will probably deal with until the day I die. I am not afraid of approaching this topic anymore, as perhaps I might have been in the past. But I have felt convicted of this lately and so, for those who don’t know about this part of my life…
I would like to tell you about depression.

Before I really broach the subject, however, I would like to tell you a little bit about my experience. This is not meant to be some sort of outcry for pity and rescue. That’s a very quick and fast way to piss me off. I am not a charity, I am damaged but not beyond repair and you can’t fix me. Please understand that now and we will, hopefully, avoid any sort of particular grief. I am still human underneath the layers of defenses, coping mechanisms and maladaptive behavior I’ve developed over the years because of it. I’m dealing with it. I am, however, legitimately thankful to all who show concern.

It’s typical for this type of issue to manifest itself in adolescence as I’ve learned through my research and I was certainly no exception. Depression oft requires a trigger of some sort and, for me, it was the absence of my biological father as I entered my teen years. The rhythm we had created was a visit once or twice a year on holidays and we’d go see his side of the family.

Then he stopped showing up.

A couple of years went by and, when the winter came, I sank. I didn’t know what was going on. I was an introverted and introspective kid and at that age certain things are still new. Depression was new to me but my mom recognized that something was a bit off. I was short-tempered and vocal about my anger, I would lock myself up with the computer for hours on end, I wasn’t sleeping which just amplified every emotional state and made the dark growing inside me even that much more detrimental. I went through counseling and healed of my “daddy issues”. They put me on an anti-depressant and, when things got a little brighter, I felt better and stopped taking them.

Fast forward a few years and that dark, cold feeling grew again and, with it, came an even stronger anxiety. I went through almost every anti-depressant one could possibly think of: SSRI’s, SNRI’s, MAOI’s and nothing seemed to cut it. After summarily firing the GP that was prescribing all of these drugs with no result, I found a new one who referred me to their Behavioral Health Unit. The same cycle began again. Try a drug, fail a drug, appointment, ad infinitum. In the process they were able to nail down that I was, indeed, textbook DSM-IV Bipolar II, categorized with rapidly cycling moods, uncontrolled anxiety and depression. It made sense of a lot of things and it was almost cathartic to hear those words, despite their unpleasant implications. Eventually, they found a cocktail of meds that keep me stable most of the time.

But still, the darkness would come.

I’ve learned a lot about depression in the last few years since my diagnosis. It is, in fact a disease, and a dangerous one at that. I’ve heard it described as anger turned inward which I can neither confirm nor deny from my own experience. Sometimes that description makes a lot of sense. Depression is often cold and numbing. For me it has taken me all the way down to the floor and taken any and all strength from me to get back up. It roots you very firmly in the moment and rips all perspective away from you, forces you to forget there is a future and, very selectively, lets you trek into the past into moments in life that hurt the most and then it allows you to feel that way all over again. Depression can be maddening, and can drive you to actions that you never thought you’d ever even consider. It has led some to consider taking their own life and some have tried and succeeded. Above anything else it is important to remember this:

It can be deadly.

Depression is not a joke. It has been caricatured over the years by mass media. For instance, the token “Goth Kids” on the show South Park. I remember those kids in high school and the ones that weren’t doing it just for the attention had some serious problems in their lives. But this only points out how stigmatized not just depression but any mental illness by pretty much any mass media outlet at some point or another. I cannot relate to you how many times I have been in a conversation where someone tells the typical story of someone flying off the handle or having any other sort of emotional extreme and then hear the story teller then say, “He/she is so bipolar”. Let me be clear. I have a sense of humor, I really do. I will laugh at some of the most crude and obscene jokes you can think of without thinking about it. More than anything I want you to understand that because of this take on mental illness, I, and people like me, are afraid to be open about their struggles.

Depression is a silent killer.

I don’t want you to come away from this thinking I sat down and wrote this in one of my depressive states and I wanted to take out all my angst on the blogosphere or whoever else might read this. While I am actually in the middle of an extended depressive episode right now, I really just felt this deep conviction that I needed to put my heart out there somehow. This just happens to be the best way I know how to communicate this. Let me tell you what I believe.

I believe in a God who doesn’t make mistakes. I also believe he created man who first sinned and has sent all of creation spiraling out of control and away from its creator ever since. I believe I was made this way for a reason and that I may never understand why I was made to suffer this way. I believe in drawing closer to a state of completeness or sha’lom through God coming in the form of a man who suffered everything I have in far worse a fashion and then died to reconcile me to himself. I believe some day I will be rid of all of this pain and this ridiculously flawed body. I believe in all of that there is hope.

I know there are people out there who struggle from similar and probably even worse depression and darkness than I ever have and probably ever will. But to everyone I would say that it is vital, absolutely vital, to create a culture (wherever you are) where it is OK to not be OK. The absolutely worst thing you can ever do is allow someone sit in their suffering and not talk about it. That’s not just true of our current topic but I’m sure you already knew that. For those who are suffering, my prayers are for you as they are for me, that we would be healed of all of this. I stated above that depression was both a good and bad thing in my life. I’ve so far explained the bad. These are things you already know or should know. If I could tell you one positive thing I have gained from all of this it’s these:

It has drawn me nearer to YHWH.

He has taught me great and valuable lessons on suffering.

He has allowed me to take my story to others like me.

There is joy in all of that.

As odd as that may seem to you (as it was for me for many years), out of all the darkness I’ve experienced, all the times I’ve felt so depressed that I was not able to pick myself up off the ground, for all the times I cried for no reason and for all the people I’ve probably alienated because of how unstable I can be sometimes I have realized it is a common ground not many can share. Statistically, people with Bipolar II consist of about 2% of the US population, though more generous studies say up to 5%. But I have been given Christ and an often debilitating affliction. I wonder how many people in that small percentage merely feel like an aberration, a cruel joke or a product of faulty genes. I wonder how many of them understand their reward in the Kingdom of Heaven.

When you are lost in the abyss there is always a set of nail pierced hands reaching in to pull you out.

Sick of being tired

Some days I wake up to and wonder why they’re here. I wonder to myself what good can come from this glaring insistence that this day could be better passed by sleeping it away. Then I turn over for another attempt at sleep, realizing that nothing fruitful is going to come from such a response. i then roll flat on my back as people often do and stare directly at nothing in front of me and just groan at the fact that I just do not want to face the day. In fact, I’d rather face the inside of my bedroom for the rest of the day than get up and go to work or to the church or really much of anything and as I crawl to the edge of my bed I ponder. I wonder about the burning sensation in my eyes, the unexplained tension in my neck and shoulders and the fog in my brain. All these things are normal morning things for me since I’m decidedly nocturnal.

But some days it just doesn’t go away.

I can’t explain why. Not this early.

So, I am able to hoist myself from the mattress into my morning and out the door quite easily. I’ve decided I could do my morning routine in my sleep if it was required. I get dressed in what is my usual daily attire, – Black everything with a hoodie on top – I grab my dickies messenger bag that is now on its 7th year and is looking a little worse for the wear and I head out the door. I get into my car, crank something that I hope will pull me out of this morning funk and get out of my driveway and a few blocks away before I realize I forgot to take my heart medication but decide it’s too late and keep going on the assumption that it won’t kill me (It really won’t. Don’t worry)

I arrive at my destination feeling no better but no worse for the wear either. I do realize within the first few minutes of being there that I am in no shape to talk to anybody or endure any sort of cognitive process. I push through because, honestly, I feel that I need to and that’s the way life needs to be.

It’s only until I get to my job that I realize what the real issue is. I feel that odd, burning tension in my gut for a little while and I find my focus is just about shot to pieces. I have little to no patience with the people around me and am extremely thankful I’m not taking phone calls for 7/8’s of my shift. I can feel that last straw and I remember a very large part of who I am is screaming for some sort of sensory deprivation so I don’t have to tolerate the influx of people and environment.

I am an introvert with extroverted tendencies.

I stress that I am an introvert.

We introverts are an interesting breed, especially those of us who don’t let life manhandle us into a life of seclusion. It works for some but not for all and so I know there are people out there who fight this same fight with themselves and struggle to love people when people are the last thing that they want to be dealing with. It’s something I’ve had to contend with all my life and it’s something that I’ve just had to understand and navigate myself.

Since I was a kid I’ve always known that I need that time away from personal interaction so I can recharge a little bit. As I’m writing this I’ve actually holed up in my office at the church where I will be left alone. The day I described above was my day today. I thought I was going to lose it completely at work today because, along with the exhaustion that this week has caused, I hit a wall emotionally and got pretty depressed. I switched over to some more upbeat music and that actually helped quite a bit.

I love the power of music.

But it just goes to show that something in the rhythm of my routine just isn’t quite right. There’s this thing in the Bible that is referred to as the sabbath. The sabbath is a day of rest which is first illustrated in Exodus 16 where the Hebrew people are given bread from heaven called manna. It’s interesting because YHWH provides for them all that they need six days out of the week and tells them on the seventh there won’t be any manna because the seventh day is to be kept holy. YHWH’s normal promise of provision is even altered on the sixth day to allow for the seventh.

In Exodus 20:8-10, YHWH lays out the law about the sabbath stating that it is to be kept holy, that no work was to be done. This commandment was skewed a lot as the year progressed and, indeed, seems to be misunderstood by Jews and Christians alike. In my personal experience, I can see in my normal rhythms that my body and mind cry out for rest about once a week as if I were designed that way. That thought is interesting. Is the commandment of Sabbath there to say, “You were built this way. Your natural tendency will be to fight against that so I give you this command for your own good.”

Sometimes I wonder if pushing myself as hard as I do is counter YHWH’s command. I currently have a day I consider my day of rest but it’s interesting to me how fast that day gets filled up with things I need to do until it’s not a day of rest. To just illustrate how bad it can get, I can tell you I felt much better just getting out of the building I work in and into my car. The moment the car came on and the music started playing I instantly felt better. The sheer violence of such change makes me wonder.

There’s a church near where I work. As I walk out the doors I can see the cross that sits on top this massive structure and that usually sparks some thought and I’m able to sort of center myself again. Or at least, I try to. It doesn’t always work, sadly. But I’d like to think I will find rest in Jesus after all the garbage that I go through because of the volatility of the inside of my head.

It’s well established that Jesus had to retreat and pray every now and again. So, I think from now on I’m really going to work on finding some time to go hide off the grid and away from people for a while each week just to get myself back closer to center. I don’t know where I’ll go or how I’ll pull it off but I’ll pray that I figure it out for my own sake as well as the sake of others.

I need some rest.

I’m sick of being tired.

Which Mountain?

These days it seems that a lot of the people around me are living their lives “in pursuit of God” and they want to be “nearer” to him. They do all these things and they donate all of their time and the read their Bible every day as if God really says to do all these things. By the way, he does.

I had mentioned the church I go to around a coworker one day, unknowingly, so I was a bit surprised when he came over to my desk one day and asked for information about my church. Certainly, I gave it to him but that’s just not a question I get asked very often while I’m at work. Speaking of one’s faith is entirely taboo in the corporate world. I gladly gave it to him and thought he might leave since his shift was over. But he said something to me that just made me cringe instinctively. At the time I didn’t know why it bothered me but this is what he said: “I’m a Catholic. I volunteer at a Methodist [something] and a Lutheran [something else]. And you know, it has made me a better…” I was fine up to this point. I like to see brothers and sisters and Christ being the church and doing things. But the last word almost gave me fits.

“… Catholic.”

Serving like that makes him a better Catholic? Not Christian, not Christ-follower, not servant but Catholic?

There are then those people who have all sorts of funny ideas about how you can reach God. Some of them believe in a god but not the God of the Bible.  Then again, some of them just have a very mangled sense of who God is. They live their lives in according to these beliefs as best they can to the point where God is something they can’t approach or he is just something that they keep at arm’s length. The idea of God is either too abstract or too painful for them to want to come close enough to him to be in relationship with him.

I have some friends that happen to be sisters-in-law and somehow, in a discussion, the topic of God or church came up. One of these on this occasion as well as many others said that she just doesn’t do anything with church. Very rigidly would she say something to the effect that she and church-related things just don’t work. It seems as if she and church are just mutually exclusive. Admittedly, I have not worked up the courage to ask her why she feels that way. But  her sister-in-law told me in the same conversation that she believes in a God but not the one that her mother would throw at her as a quick remedy to her problems, seemingly without practical advice. She also believed that when she dies she’s coming back in some sort of reincarnated fashion and her beliefs are an amalgamation of a multitude of religions.

Reincarnation. The belief that one will come back to life as something else.

Is there truth in there somewhere?

What I’ve begun to see is that people want something tangible no matter how practical or implausible. They want a mountain to climb. Some use their idea of faith to do things. When they begin the journey up the mountain they’ve chosen they use their faith like a pick to help them feel like they’re making progress and they have to look back to see how far they’ve come. Others have to use their faith as ropes that keep them from falling, constantly looking down to see where they’ve stopped. The journey of faith is a mountain but it’s nothing like these scenarios describe.

To show us this, the writer of Hebrews describes two mountains.

First, he speaks of the idea of faith as a mountain. He introduces the idea by saying, “For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest,” (Hebrews 12:18 ESV). This introduction is strange. The writer says that what has been approached or arrived at is a place that can be touched. Earlier in our discussion we talked about people who want this faith, this hope to have some sort of tangible or tactile quality. But the writer of Hebrews quickly negates this idea. The idea is pushed even further by describing “what may be touched”.

A blazing fire.

darkness

gloom

a tempest.

All of these, to me, seem like things you wouldn’t want to lay your hands on. But the author continues to describe this mountain that is free to touch: “…and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them,(Hebrews 12:19 ESV)”. It is at this point we should begin to wonder if the writer is referencing just any mountain. If you’ve read the book of Hebrews then you know that almost certainly is not the case. The writer continues, “For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.’ Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.'” (Hebrews 12:20-21 ESV). Indeed, the writer has a specific mountain in mind and the mention of Moses is a nice tip off as to what he’s referencing.

Mt. Sinai.

Moses.

It is interesting that the writer of Hebrews would tell us “you have not come to what may be touched”. From that we are then able to logically assume that what the writer is describing afterwards is an example of something that can be touched. In reading the story he’s referencing in Exodus 19 & 20, which is what the writer is quoting in Hebrews 12:20-21. Moses has lead the Hebrew people near Mt. Sinai where YHWH speaks to Moses and gives him strict instructions to make themselves clean and YHWH will speak to Moses on the top of the mountain. The people are instructed by God, through Moses, “Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.” (Exodus 19:12-13 ESV). Notice something interesting in the first sentence? The instructions were not to go up into the mountain because only Moses was instructed to do so. But he gives strict instructions.

Hands off.

Do you see the disconnect here? The writer of Hebrews is setting up the first half of his comparison and says, essentially, that Mt. Sinai in the time of Moses where YHWH spoke to him was something that could be touched. Yet it has been made abundantly clear that if you were to climb this mountain or if you were to touch it while YHWH was at the top, you died. What is it that the people would be doing if they touched the mountain? They would be disobeying a command of YHWH. Disobedience brings instant and physical death to whoever dared to test it. Interesting only because of the content of what Moses brings back with him from the top of the mountain in Exodus 24.

The 10 commandments.

Law.

Something tangible. How do we know? Because the people become idolatrous in the time Moses is on Sinai. In a rage he smashes the tablets on which the commandments were written against the ground. The implication being that Moses had to touch them first.

The mountain that could be touched but was not to be touched brought a law that made YHWH’s commands physical.

But the writer of Hebrews doesn’t stop there.

The idea turns into the driving point of this section of scripture with the use of the conjunction. He summarizes a very long section in the book of exodus with its gloom, fire and death. It is amazing, the power of a conjunction in writing like this. The author describes what can be touched which any Jew would have know could not be touched at that time and he illustrates the Sinai treaty which is surrounded by all of this wrath and doom which would scare anyone, Greek or Jew…

But

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,” (Hebrews 12:22 ESV).

Mount Zion is representative of a few things:
1. The presence of YHWH
2. The Old Treaty being overtaken by the new Treaty in Christ
3. Christ’s ministry as mediator and final revelation (Son 41-42)

In the verse we just brought up in Hebrews, we see two of these three things mentioned right away because the writer is saying you have come to Zion. And Zion isn’t just a mountain, it’s a city. And it’s not just a city, it’s a city of the living God and the heavenly Jerusalem. And this isn’t just a city you’ve come entered with other people. It’s a city where innumerable angels are in festal gathering. That word “festal” can also be translated as “celebration.

It’s a party.

And it gets better.

Because the writers says that you have come to where the church of the firstborn are registered or enrolled into heaven. That is, it’s a place where those who now believe have been written somewhere, they have been invited to this party that is going to happen in heaven. They have given their RSVP where they will get to be with you and with God, the perfect judge. And those who have already died, you’ve come to the same place of faith and they’re waiting with Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. The writer calls him “the mediator of the new covenant” (Hebrews 12:24a ESV) which means that the treaty that bought you he brought to its final agreement with “the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel,” (Hebrews 12:24b ESV).

Wait.

When Cain killed his brother Abel, God asks him where his brother is. Snidely, I think, he tells God he is not his brother’s keeper. And God says to him, And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand,” (Genesis 4:10-11 ESV). The blood of Abel cried out to God because it was a result of the sin that Cain committed against his brother. That just begs the question:

How much louder, then, does Jesus’ blood cry out to point out the sin of his people that killed him?

Breathe.

The covenant at Mt. Sinai was that the people would follow the law given by YHWH so they could understand him. What they learned very quickly is that the law brings death. Disobedience to YHWH was a fast track to immediate death. Of all the laws written that would expand into the Levitical and Deutronomic codes, the violation of one would mean death for the transgressor. Mt. Sinai is a beautiful symbol of God’s love and a great sign of what was in the hearts of his people.

Which is why he gave us Mt. Zion: Where the law is fulfilled and a great party lies ahead.

But we’re not there.

Not completely.

Because Mt. Zion is the final resting place, the new Jerusalem for those who would believe in the saving Grace of YHWH atone for by the blood of his only Son. The mention of the firstborn enrolled in heaven would seem to say that there is a list here and you may be on it but you have not reached the top of the mountain

Yet.

But there are things that we have been equipped with that are part of Mt. Zion. We have Jesus and we have God. We have the Holy Spirit to guide us up the mountain. We have approached the mountain with both the pick and the rope and we are constantly being prayed for by others on the mountain with us. That just begs the question then, something that you and I should think about constantly. Which mountain have we come to? The mountain where we have the fear of death through one simple violation? Or are we approaching Zion? The place where God dwells and will dwell for eternity is begging for us to dig in our spikes and climb with everything we have and everything we have been given. The weight of sin is lifted and our past has been forgiven. Which means one thing for certain.

We don’t

need

took look

down.

In Search of a Better Story

I work in a call center. It’s an interesting place to work in though I only recommend it for the thick-skinned. It is a demoralizing, dehumanizing and identity stripping environment if you do not guard your heart from all the negativity around you. To give you some idea of what I have hear sometimes I’ll just give you a list of the few epithets that don’t involve swear words because at least these people were creative in treating me like a trained animal. But I would be remiss if I didn’t give you the context of the business I work in because some of these don’t make sense unless you know what I’m talking to these people about.

The company I work for handles pharmacy benefits for a lot of insurance companies and contracts out mail order pharmacy services to an even greater number of companies. So, we deal with two things that are very dear to people 1) money and 2) pharmaceuticals. With that context in mind, here is a list of names that readily come to mind when I think of names I’ve been called that don’t involve swear words.

1. Killer
2. Contract Killer (my personal favorite)
3. Thief
4. Liar
5. Worthless
6. Puppet
7. Mindless
8. Heartless

OK, so not as long a list as I had originally thought but then I remembered that I was omitting the ones with cursing. The list gets many times longer as you can imagine. It’s difficult not to take this kind of stuff to heart when you’ve been doing my job or jobs like it for almost 7 years like I have. The trick is to remember is that, most of the time, they’re not really mad at you but at the system or at policies. Sometimes, though, they’re mad at you because you are the voice telling them things that don’t fit their line of thinking. But I think if I were to reflect on the terrible and nasty things that have been said to me over the years I think there is one statement that sticks out more than anything else. I’ll give you no context because it doesn’t matter.

Once, I was told I was going to hell because I’m white.

I’m not joking. Remove your palms from your faces.

We’re not done.

The upside to working in an environment like that is the people you tend to work with. At the entry level you don’t tend to get a lot of super… I don’t want to use the word normal because that’s such a subjective term… I guess I will say that it is a very colorful environment with a lot of different cultural, social and economic expressions. I’m presently laughing at myself for such a presentation but there it is. So, there’s a lot of diversity which I really like. Though, if I’m honest, I still stick out like a sore thumb even in that setting.

But it’s not just appearances that set me apart there. There are a lot of stories of different walks of life just from the people around me. Just recently I’ve really started to get to know the people who sit in my general vicinity and I have marveled to myself at the stories that I’ve been told. There was the woman who told me how she swore up and down she’d never have children. Then she was telling me how she had a kid and it changed her life. But she also told me how she was thinking about getting a divorce and my heart broke for her. I was saddened even more when she left the company.

Recently, I’ve been talking to this guy who sits near me. He has recently become a father and likes to talk about martial arts and being in the army. But we got to talking about relationships and his views on women are far different from mine. He doesn’t mind entertaining a different woman every week and doesn’t really have any love for the mother of his child. In fact, he was telling me about how happy he was that he was moving and she wasn’t coming with. Some things I just don’t understand. But he asked me for relationship advice the other day. My shift was up before we got to finish the conversation and he got a phone call as I was about to leave.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about a conversation I had with a woman at work because she and I had talked enough that she felt comfortable coming to me for advice. I did as I always do in these situations and I listened. I told her what I thought (which is not pertinent to our conversation here) and then something happened that has not happened to me in a long time. What started out as a fairly surface level chat somehow turned into this very deep and probing conversation. I don’t ever know how it happens but people end up telling me about themselves at levels they’re not normally comfortable sharing with people they don’t know that well, typically. It’s times like these I wonder how deep my analytical skills go.

If you really try, can you exegete people?

One of the benefits of being God in the flesh was that Jesus could see into the minds and the hearts of other people. This ability was displayed powerfully at a well in Sychar which was inhabited by Samaritans. This is an interesting social dynamic because the Samaritans weren’t like much by Jews because they didn’t have enough Jewishness. Jesus chills at a well in this area while his disciples are off doing disciple business of some sort. He is met by a woman who is drawing water at noon by herself.

Does something seem a little off?

It’s noon in 1st century Palestine and this woman chooses to go out to the well and draw water from it. I’d imagine it was pretty warm. Jesus seemed to think so he asked for a drink. This blows up the woman’s paradigm and a conversation regarding water and spiritual things ensues. But what really strikes me about this story is that Jesus tells her to get her husband. That seems simple enough in a patriarchal society and pretty rational considering the context. The woman says she has no husband which is true and Jesus affirms the fact that she has no husband now but reveals the fact that he knows that she’s gone through 5 husbands and is currently shacking up with a dude who isn’t her husband. She didn’t lie to Jesus.

Jesus still knew the truth. And he told her a better story. But

He saw

right

through

her.

There was a rich guy who wanted what Jesus was talking about, eternal life. I wonder if he was like any of the rich kids I knew back in the day who would follow whatever was big at the time. Or maybe he thought he had everything until he found out he didn’t have eternal life and just had to have it. In any case, he asked what it would take to obtain this eternal life Jesus was talking about. Jesus tells him five things which happen to be five of the 10 words or commandments which are near the very heart of Jewish law. This “ruler” as he’s referred to in the text says that’s kept all of those since he was young. One wonders what everyone around him was thinking when he said that. The judgemental part of me calls shenanigans when I read that.

But Jesus does a much better job of getting to the heart of this man.

His response is so fantastic:

“One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22 ESV)

Jesus wants to connect him to a story better than anything he possesses.

And the rich man just

walks

away.

The woman I work with who I had that really deep conversation with told me some things she said she doesn’t normally tell other people. I don’t know what I did or said to evoke that information from her but I saw her heart and told her what I saw. She devoted a lot of her time to making other people happy. Things that are as simple as buying drinks and paying the check for other people and even going as far as doing shoe drives. She has made it clear she can’t buy into God at least in the way she understands him. It’s understandable, I guess, having grown up on the very buckle of the Bible Belt and growing up hearing Jesus is the answer when things got rough and no other helpful words, I can understand how God could seem like a very distant and cold idea. And some of the details she shared with me that I won’t air here just broke my heart but it helped me see her. Deep down, she can’t not be in control. She would literally dig her fingers into her hands, nearly drawing blood when I told her what I saw.

She has to make everyone around her happy so that they don’t have to hear her heartbreaking story.

I want her to hear a better story.

Just like the dude I work with who treats women like drive in restaurants and doesn’t seem to understand that sex is more about love and less about getting what he feels is his.

And the woman who doesn’t work with me anymore who is going through a divorce and will have to deal with custody battles. I gave her the information to my church and I desperately hope she shows up some day out of the blue because I want her to know that there are real people out there just like her who are searching for a better story and they fail at times too.

Just like the man who had a view of YHWH so unbelievably skewed and seemed to have been battered so hard by a system that told him that God was the reason the white man was better than the black man.

And me. I want to tell a better story and be better part of the story that brought me here. I want to be able to see the things in people that Jesus sees and to help them turn that into a story that has anguish, pain and suffering but a story that shows that there is an end to it all. I want them to know that while the story may never end in the grand scheme of things, that we will go on to see eternity, but in the short view the things that they are doing, have had done to them and are thinking about doing will ultimately stop somehow and that Jesus has written a better story for them.

They don’t have to live like this.

They don’t have to hide behind a smile. They don’t have to seek themselves to be happy. They don’t have to be scared of what people think. They don’t have to constantly be picking up the pieces.

They don’t have to live like this.

You don’t have to live like this. You, like them, have the chance to write a better story.

Just

ask

how

Exodus to Routine

I’m a slave to routine. There’s really no way of escaping that reality for something else in my life. I have a schedule and I adhere to it pretty strictly and deviation from that routine throws me off not just mentally but physically. This creates a whole lot of interesting stress in my life because I live and die by the clock and the calendar. I’m lost without my phone because it has my entire day outlined. I know when I have to go to bed and when I have to get up, when to take my pills and when to be in class. I have my syllabi loaded into a really handy iPhone app that tells me everything is due this semester. It helps me feel really secure that I have that nailed down.

It’s also really, really boring.

I wonder if my control is only an illusion.

In the book of Exodus the Hebrew people are driven by routine. In Egypt they were treated as slaves because they weren’t Egyptian and therefore weren’t the deity, Pharaoh’s, people. They were forced to make bricks and work really hard for the benefit of someone else, to the point where they cried out and YHWH heard them. He broke them out of that routine after showing Pharaoh who the real God is. You would think that the people would be grateful. Being loosed from bondage under a tyrannical and dehumanizing system should elicit praise from those set free and for a while it does.

But that was not the end of routine for them.

The other day I was driving down the road from my college which is, oddly enough, a gravel road about two miles south of anything resembling a suburban sprawl. I don’t mind it most of the time because my car is beat up anyway so soiling it further with dust or mud is not really a huge concern to me but that day was a little different. I didn’t get very far away from the driveway of the college when, in a split second, I saw a white and blue flash like a strobe light and then flames in a field on the left side of the road. I’ve driven past that farm a million times and it was always calm and tranquil like you would expect a small grazing field for horses would be. But that calm was disrupted by a burst of fire.

I’ll be truthful and tell you I know absolutely nothing about country living. I am a city guy to the bone. But I know it is not uncommon for farmers to burn parts of their field off for various reasons. I don’t know what those reasons are but I know they exist. So, since I hadn’t cognitively thought about what had just happened I drove by and did nothing. But when I replayed the ordeal in my mind I realized a power line over the field had snapped and swept through the dry grass at the base of the poles they were attached to. Those live wires then ignited the brush and grass that it touched and the fire proceeded to spread. That calm field started to smoke. I called 911 and reported the fire and then I realized something

For the first time ever I had just witnessed the start of a grass fire.

Intense.

After surviving the escape from Egypt between two walls of water that was a sea before YHWH parted it and watching the water take out the pursuing Egyptians when he stopped holding up those walls of probably white and foaming sea, the Hebrew people were free to seek the land that was promised to their fathers. They should have been excited and elated that they were finally free. Right?

If you’ve read the Exodus account and on and on through the rest of the Hebrew Bible you know that just isn’t the case. In the Exodus they fall into a perpetual routine of grumbling and whining on and on about their living conditions. God gives them food every day and gives them water out of a rock. There’s that old cliche that you can’t get blood from a stone. That may be true but their elohim, my God, gave them water out a stone. They’re both liquid coming from a solid so it’s all still pretty amazing to me.

After a period of time the Hebrew people fall back into their routine of complaining and dissatisfaction with YHWH and they ask for a king. We have record after record of good kings and bad kings and Israel falls into a routine of building up and then later tearing down the altars to the idols they would continually fall back to until God just becomes so fed up with their unfaithfulness he disperses them. All because they failed to see one crucial thing.

God provided for them.

They wanted more. The control had to be theirs.

When I think about what was going on in the weeks prior to seeing something as crazy as a power line snapping and starting a small fire in a field, I can remember thinking how mundane my life was. Groaning and complaining that I was so tired of routine and college and schedules and how I wish I could quit my job and just focus on school and have fun like the rest of my friends. I realize without the point I’m getting at that being lazy and not working would drive me insane. I don’t really have more than two settings built into me: Stop and Go. So to think that I would really be content if I could go to school without a job is really just me lying to myself.

But then again I wonder if that is the point.

Just like the Israelites, I was discontent with my surroundings, with the people around me and with my life situation. He had already pulled me out of the bondage and slavery that I had to sin and he has continued to provide for me. I have been overwhelmed with what he has done in my life even just recently and to prove to me that it’s not really cliche to say that I am truly blessed. I realize that I am discontent with what my Father has provided for me and the knowledge of that is just so overwhelming that I’ve deleted several attempts at describing it in this paragraph and have given up that endeavor completely. Those sparks flying off that live cable causing combustion and ignition in the grass below them was like a wake up call and I’ve been reeling from it ever since. God has provided and will provide, sustain and encourage. He will rebuke and he will raise up.

He broke my focus from the routine and made me remember that.

If you translate my name in Hebrew it means “YHWH will raise up”.

And he will. More than you can even comprehend.

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