Category Archives: Random Thoughts

Inspirations and Resolutions

I’m currently reading John Francis’s inspiring book Planetwalker.  It recounts the story of his 17 year vow of silence and his 22 year commitment to not riding in motorized vehicles.  During this time he manages to walk across America, from the Pacific to the Atlantic, hike across Cuba and Brazil, and visit both Alaska and Antarctica.  Oh, and he also earned college and graduate degrees as well as a Ph.D.

Here I thought running a half-marathon was an accomplishment!

One particular part of the book really stood out to me.  After the first few months of silence, Francis makes this observation:

“From this new place lessons come, or perhaps realizations.  The first is that most of my adult life I have not been listening fully.  I only listened long enough to determine whether the speaker’s ideas matched my own.  If they did not, I would stop listening and my mind would race ahead to compose an argument against what I believed the speaker’s idea or position to be, which I would interject at the first opportunity.  Giving myself permission not to speak, not to attack some idea or position, also gives me permission to listen fully.  Giving myself this permission gives the speaker permission to speak fully their idea or position without fear of rebuttal in a way that I could not have imagined.”

I realize that I am totally guilty of this.  With my wife, with friends, even on social media.  As someone who is not afraid of conflict and has no problems speaking his mind, this tendency of  formulating an argument in my head before the other person is done speaking is all to common.  Even on social media and emails, I tend to only skim over a persons response to get the gist of what they’re saying and then immediately start writing a rebuttal.

I’m going to start paying more attention to this.  In the last several months as I’ve started “coming out” to people about my faith (or lack there of), there have been many times when I’ve been put on the defense and felt I had to explain myself.  There have been other times when I’ve seen a comment or article someone has posted and feel compelled to say something about it.  More often then not this cycle of speaking more then listening comes into play and little is accomplished in way of seeing the other’s point of view.

While we are in the mindset of making resolutions, I’ll be doing more writing this year.  When I started this blog I had the goal of doing one article a week.  That slipped to about one a month.  It’s not that I don’t have anything to say, it’s just that writing is a lot of work and I’m lazy.  In Planetwalker, Francis received an art kit and decided to paint one picture each day.  He notes that, “Some are unsatisfying except for the fact that at least I did a painting.  But each page represents a day, and I believe in the promise that the next day will be better.”  So, I resolve to write one post a week, even if it’s unsatisfying.

I also resolve to be even more honest with my writing.  One of the goals of this blog was to be open about my faith, the changes I’ve made in my thinking, and who I am because of it.  I’ve done that to an extent, but not fully.  I’ve held back, knowing that some of my ideas, while solely my own, will be challenging to some and they may even feel threatened.  It’s sometimes a little scary putting yourself out there when you know how others will react.  It’s not that I care what others think, it just gets old having people tell you how wrong/crazy/mislead/apostate you are.  2015 is the year of coming clean, of leaving behind the old and venturing towards the new.  Here’s to a new year.

Cake or Death?

The other day, my wife and I received a letter in the mail informing us that we had won two round-trip plain tickets to anywhere in the states and two nights hotel stay.  Sweet!  So, I call the number to claim our price and find out that we had to attend a 90 minute presentation on how we can save big money on future vacations!  Ah, yes, this old game.  Well, the wife and I did end up going and receiving our free gift without being duped into spending $9500 dollars on a travel club membership.  (BTW, if any of you end up going to one of these, we found out that all you have to do to get out of their sales pitch is say, “Dave Ramsey says I can’t afford this right now”.  They will loose. their. shit.) 

I’m a pretty stubborn person as it is and with the years I’ve spend working around prisons inmates, I’m use to having people try to trick, manipulate, or talk me into things and have developed a very acute bullshit detector.  So, going to this presentation didn’t really pose much of a challenge and it wasn’t a hard decisions to make on whether or not we should go.

Now imagine if when I had called the number, the person that answered told me that when we attended the presentation we would have two choices:  to either accept the membership that they were offering (for the low, low price of $9499.99!) and have a lifetime of exclusive deals on vacations, or we would both be drug into the next room and beaten within an inch of our lives.

Umm…  No, thanks.  I think I’ll pass.  You can keep the airline tickets.

What kind of sales pitch is that?  Who in their right mind would actually be interested in this?

It reminds me of another sales pitch I’ve been hearing for year from certain people:

“Accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior!  If you don’t, you will go to hell where you will suffer for all eternity.”

That doesn’t sound too enticing either, does it?  Yet, that’s exactly the message, whether directly or implied, that many churches are using to “evangelize” people.  I’m not going to get into the different theologies regarding hell, but I am going to say that people need to stop using it as tool to try and control, manipulate, or influence people.

Here’s the deal, if you really want people to have a relationship with Jesus, quit using fear as a motivator.  Who wants to be in any kind of relationship where fear is a dominant factor?

Quit twisting Jesus’s message of love, peace, and acceptance and turn it into a cattle prod to corral people into your social club.  Jesus’s primary focus was on this life, not on the afterlife.  When he spoke of the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven, he was referring to establishing a kingdom of peace and fulfillment here on earth.  While Jesus would often refer to Hell, it was always in the context of saying, “You won’t be a part of my kingdom here on earth if you choose to continue on the path you’re going.”  It’s also important to remember that he saved his harsh critiques for the religious leaders who thought they knew who was “saved” and who wasn’t and who tried to use their religion to control people.

Quit talking about this “God of Love” and then make him out to be some psychotic, angry lunatic who’s hell-bent (no pun intended) on punishing people for all eternity who don’t believe the right things about Him.

Because guess what; it isn’t working!

4000 churches close their doors every year.  More and more people, especially young people, are leaving the church and no one is coming in to fill their spots.  The “turn or burn” message is falling on deaf ears.  Maybe it’s because people can see the glaring contradictions.  Maybe they can see the hypocrisy of it all.  Or, maybe some people are just tired of being told they’ll be punished forever for not living up to some person’s or religion’s expectations.

If your god is loving one second and cruel the next, if your God will punish people for all eternity for sins committed in a few short years, not amount of clever marketing or compelling language or good music or great coffee will be able to disguise that one, true, glaring, untenable, unacceptable, awful reality. – Rob Bell

I’ve heard it said that we need to tell people about hell and tell people about the consequences of their actions.

No, we don’t.

We need to respect people and the decisions they make and be ready to give them some help along the way if they need it.  There are consequences to sin, certainly.  But those consequences are already felt by all of us, every day, as we live in this broken world.

I find it interesting that people where so drawn to a lowly, Jewish peasant that they were willing to give up everything to follow him. When he spoke to those around him, he gave a message of hope a better life here and now, not after we die.  The message of Jesus looses all it’s power if it’s reduced to nothing more then a question of who get’s into heaven and who doesn’t.

Following Jesus: You’re Doing it Right

My wife said to me the other day that it’s good to have a balance in the subject matter of one’s writings.  I asked her what she meant, to which she replied: “Don’t always be so negative.  People like to read positive things too!”  My reaction was much like The Dude’s in The Big Lebowski when The Stranger confronts him about swearing:

But, after realizing that my wife is in many most ways, much wiser then myself, I decided to take her advise.  So this post will (hopefully) have a different tone then my other ones.

I spend a lot of time on this blog bemoaning the shortcoming and failures of conservative Christians/Evangelicals and I’m certainly not the only one on the internet doing so.  But, I think it’s worth while to show the other side of the coin, the side that doesn’t enough attention. The side of humanity, whether Christian or not, that is quietly loving those around them in their own small way.

I came across this video recently and it really touched me.  I have a heart for the homeless, and seeing everyday, common people taking an active role to bettering their lives puts a big smile on my face:

This is what it’s all about!  This is what caring for “the least of the these” looks like!  When I see the gentleman’s reaction at 2:11, I can’t help but think of Jesus bringing good news to the poor and how they must have reacted to his random acts of kindness.

What I really like is how deliberate and selfless this act is.  Whether it’s dropping money in a cup on the street or into a collection plate in church, neither requires a personal investment.  This kid obviously did his research and found out the things that homeless people most need and then took the time (and money) to put the backpacks together.  But, best of all is the act of getting personal  with the people he meets.  He asks them their names, asks about their life, sits down with them, talks with them, let’s them share a song.  Taking a moment of your time to sit and talk with someone can often be just as meaningful as a material gifts.  This kid gives both.

Stories like this give me hope.  They make me realize that there are people out there doing it right and making a positive impact on their community and on the world.  People like this inspire me to keep seeking the greater good, to not get stuck in a pit of my own negativity and loathing, but to take that energy and do something good with it.  What a different world we would live in if everyone would follow his example.