shut up and take your shoes off

There’s a funny little story about Jesus found in the book of John that I’ve always found fascinating. It takes place the night before Jesus dies, the night of his arrest, when he’s sharing his last meal with some of his best friends. If you’ll remember, in the middle of dinner, Jesus gets down on his knees to wash his disciples’ feet, which is a responsibility reserved only for the lowliest of servants. I call it a funny story, not because washing (or even touching) another person’s feet is weird, but because a rabbi like Jesus (who happens to also be the Son of God and the savior of the world) would never, ever, ever do something so proletarian.

A lot has been made about what Jesus did and how incongruent the job was to his station. We talk about how, if we really want to be like Christ, we need to be willing to stoop down and wash others’ feet like a truly humble servant. And that’s all fine and good, but there’s another person in the story with whom I resonate more readily (more so than the truly humble servant, unfortunately). That individual is Peter, Jesus’ personal spitfire know-it-all. (Ask my wife. She will tell you I’m a know-it-all as well. That’s probably why I can so easily identify with Peter.)

As Jesus is going around to the other disciples, Peter is flummoxed. In fact, when Jesus reaches out to wash Peter’s feet, Peter first asks Jesus what he’s doing, and then Peter flat out refuses to let Jesus wash his feet.

It’s understandable to me why Peter would refuse. After all, Peter believes that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who has come to rescue Israel from the clutches of the evil Roman Empire through violent, bloody warfare (for confirmation of this, just see what Peter does later that evening). Jesus is a king, not a foot-washer. In Peter’s mind, the two do not overlap in the slightest. Effectively, by refusing to let Jesus wash his feet, Peter tells Jesus who Jesus is allowed to be and what Jesus is allowed to do. Peter thinks he’s got Jesus all figured out, and he’s unwilling to let Jesus diverge from Peter’s understanding of him.

I imagine Jesus rolling his eyes at Peter and then saying, “Dude, shut up and take your shoes off.” Jesus didn’t actually say it that way, of course, especially since Peter probably already had his shoes off. What Jesus actually said (according to the New International Version) was, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” So, yes, it’s not exactly the same thing, but the idea is similar. Basically, Jesus wants Peter to let his conception of who Jesus is be shaped and remolded by Jesus himself.

Peter responds to Jesus by not only agreeing to let his feet be washed, but also by practically demanding that Jesus build him a holy Slip’n’Slide (my interpretation, no one else’s). This is somewhat rare for Peter. Usually when Jesus challenges Peter’s assumptions, it takes Peter awhile to understand and accept the truth that Jesus is trying to convey. But Peter does okay this time. Good job, bud.

A past version of me, however, would probably have had a harder time than Peter did. I’m not talking about this particular scene from the book of John, although I admit I would hate to have anyone try to wash my feet, even if it’s the Son of God. Rather, I’m talking about how that past version of me would have had a difficult time accepting a different understanding of Jesus than the one I held at the time.

Like I said earlier, I’m a bit of a know-it-all, and if I’m a know-it-all now, I was even more so in high school, college, and…well, up until about five seconds ago. I love to be right, and I hate being wrong so much that I’ve been known to fight dirty just for victory in a debate, even if I am obviously wrong. Like Peter, I don’t like to have my beliefs challenged because that means I might be wrong. Like Peter, I like to keep my shoes tied up real tight because I like to believe that I’ve got Jesus all figured out.

When I was in high school, I believed that Jesus may have been willing to die for sinners, but that he did it begrudgingly out of some sort of obligation. Or if not that, I believed that, while Jesus loves sinners in general, he couldn’t possibly love me in particular. And then I started to get an inkling that maybe Jesus really did love me for me, as me, and that he happily died for me because he legitimately wants to have a relationship with me.

But, like Peter, I argued. “No, Jesus. You’re too perfect to love a worm like me. Sure, you died to save sinners, but you couldn’t have possibly wanted to! And me? No, no, no. I’m too far gone, I’ve done too much. I don’t even deserve to be saved.”

Jesus just rolled his eyes and said, “Dude, shut up and take your shoes off.” And then I accepted God’s grace for the first time and gladly drown myself in it on a daily basis.

In college, I struggled to reconcile the Genesis account of creation with the fossil record. A professor introduced me to the concept of a literary framework reading of Genesis, wherein the reader approaches Genesis not as a history textbook, but as a document written to help a people group that had been enslaved for four centuries learn about who their God is. This view neither denies the existence of God and God’s role in creating the world, nor does it deny the scientific evidence for evolution and a universe that is billions of years old.

But I argued. “If I can’t trust the book of Genesis (or at least the creation story) to be historically accurate, how can I trust the Gospels to be accurate? What about Adam and Eve, then? Are you saying none of that happened? Isn’t this view just a little too convenient?”

And Jesus smiled knowingly and said, “Dude, shut up and take your shoes off.” And then I realized that, whether Adam and Eve were real people or whether they were a story used to explain our sinful nature, God can still be God, and Jesus can still be the savior of the world.

Thankfully, in the past year or so, I’ve embraced a “barefoot” approach to faith—meaning that I’m (learning to be) open to Jesus reshaping my understanding of who he is and what he does, allowing him to be both my Lord and my foot-washer. This requires me to admit that I’m wrong sometimes and that I don’t have everything figured out, just like Peter had to do when Jesus revealed that not only is he a king, but that he’s also a servant.

To some (including myself sometimes), this may sound scary and perhaps a bit dangerous. After all, who’s to say that I won’t go too far in my personal reformation of faith, to the point that I’m no longer following the real Jesus? I believe this could be a genuine concern, but I also believe that the nationalistic, homophobic, Republican-voting, legalistic, sinner-hating, young earth creationist, war-mongering Jesus I started out with isn’t the real Jesus either.

Barefoot faith doesn’t mean that I throw my brain out with my tennis shoes. I don’t simply believe everything I hear, and I do my best to listen to competing voices to maintain a balance. Also, I’ve made a point to learn from people who actually know what they’re talking about, not just any idiot with a podcast or a blog (heh, irony). Then, based upon the information I’ve consumed, I use my critical thinking skills (my pride and joy) to come to new conclusions—or, more accurately, a more realistic Jesus.

Through my barefoot faith, Jesus has helped me reexamine the Kingdom of God, pacifism, hell, America as a “Christian nation”, social justice, black lives matter, politics, feminism, the LGBT community, national enemies, the death penalty, power structures, poverty, atonement, doctrine, and, most shockingly, Hillary Clinton and Rob Bell.

I could go on listing things I think about differently than I used to and expound on all the things I believe now that I would have thought were heretical five years ago, but for your sake, I won’t. For some it might be shocking, while for others it might be disappointing. However, I do believe that I am not just shifting back and forth in my beliefs, but that I am actually chasing after the real Jesus.

The growth I’ve experienced in the past few years (most of which, interestingly, has taken place after graduating Bible college) has been substantial and thrilling. My faith has never been stronger, and my excitement about the Kingdom of God has never been greater. And all I had to do was shut up and take my shoes off.

in praise of doubt

Doubt.

It’s a word that makes a lot of Christian people squirm. We don’t really like talking about it in general, and particularly not when it pertains to us. We certainly don’t want our Christian friends and family to know we have doubts, because they’ll think we’re on the verge of apostasy. We just sit there, smile, and try not to think about those questions hanging around in the backs of our minds.

Here’s a confession: I am well-acquainted with doubt and I’m not ashamed about it. However, I think the way doubt is commonly handled in Christian circles is a travesty. Discussing doubt is uncouth in many settings, and questions regarding foundational doctrines like the existence of God and the resurrection of Christ are as good as a renunciation of faith.

But in my experience, doubt is not as bad as we’ve made it out to be. In fact, I think that doubt could be a very good and necessary thing. That might sound like a contradiction to what you believe about faith, but I want to make three statements about doubt and see if I can make my point.

So here we go.

Faith is not the absence of doubt.

I believe many of us have an unfortunate misunderstanding of what it means to have faith. To many people, having faith means believing something without any trace of doubt. If someone is experiencing doubt, it’s often viewed as a symptom of a faith that’s lacking vitality. Doubt is a fault in faith, some may think. To have a strong faith, you must completely rid yourself of all your doubts.

But not only is this untrue and nearly unattainable, but it isn’t what the Bible calls us to.

Faith that is bereft of all doubt is not faith, but certainty. I will agree that, theoretically, certainty sounds great. How fantastic would it be if we could believe everything the Bible teaches—even the really wild things like a man killing a thousand other guys with the jawbone of a donkey or dead men walking out of their graves—without the tiniest fleck of doubt?

Here’s the problem with this: the Bible does not call us to certainty, but to faith. Certainty, while it may be nice to have, is hardly commendable. It’s easy to be certain. There’s nothing particularly special about me proclaiming that a ball will fall to the ground if I drop it, because we’re all certain about the function of gravity.

Faith, on the other hand, is messy. Faith isn’t easy, because it’s belief with imperfect knowledge. There’s always a chance that what you’ve put your faith in may end up being false. That’s precisely what makes it faith. Faith requires the potential for doubt, or else it ceases to be faith at all.

When you’re living the life of faith, doubt is inevitable. Your faith isn’t sick if you experience doubt. In fact, if you don’t experience doubt at all, then there’s likely an issue with your faith. Doubt is a natural result of critical examination of the things you believe, and if you’re not critically examining what you believe, then you’re choosing willful ignorance about faith and the world around you.

As the well-known Christian intellectual William Lane Craig said, “Any Christian who is intellectually engaged and reflecting about his faith will inevitably face the problem of doubt.”

Doubt is an opportunity to grow.

When I was in Bible college, I loved the various theology classes that were offered, so I tried to take as many as I could. I didn’t know it then, but the professor who taught those courses was dealing with his own doubts during the time I was in his classes. Eventually, he announced that he no longer believed the tenets of Christianity and resigned his post at the school.

This professor was one of my favorites in college because his classes were so intellectually stimulating for me. Because of what he was experiencing with his faith, he asked questions and brought up many points in class that challenged what I believed in a way I had never experienced before. What began as a quest for knowledge and understanding became a downward spiral into debilitating doubt.

Few people know this, but I spent a very rough few months wrestling with these doubts, trying to figure out if I could still believe everything I’d grown up believing. I was teetering on the edge of agnosticism, terrified that I might end up like my professor and renounce my faith.

Despair was certainly a very possible outcome of my doubt. In fact, for awhile it seemed like it was the inevitable end result. But I found that it wasn’t the only possible outcome. On the opposite side of the doubt coin was the possibility for growth in my faith. Thankfully, this was the outcome I realized.

Through this difficult time, I learned that doubt is not just one of the inconvenient inevitabilities of life that we all must face at one time or another. Instead, doubt is an opportunity: it is either an opportunity to grow or it is an opportunity to despair.

For me, doubt was my opportunity to reexamine what I believed and correct some of my wayward theology. While this time of doubt was miserable, it ushered me into the rich, vibrant faith I now enjoy. By far the most growth I have experienced in my faith has come through the valleys of doubt.

Obviously, growth is not a given when it comes to doubt. There are those—like my former theology professor—who deal with doubt and succumb to despair. So what’s to account for the difference in outcomes?

In most cases, I think the key difference between someone who experiences growth as a result of doubt and someone who experiences despair is their response to doubt in the first place. Before doubt can be an opportunity for growth, it is an opportunity to trust in God when things don’t make sense.

The object of your faith is more important than the amount of it.

In Mark 9, we find the story of a man who asks Jesus to heal his son. This man is the one who proclaimed the famous biblical statement, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” He expresses imperfect faith that is riddled with doubt.

What is interesting—and encouraging—about this story is that Jesus does not dismiss this man for his doubt, telling him to come back when his faith is stronger. Instead Jesus sees the man’s imperfect faith and he honors it by healing the man’s son.

The man’s faith was small, but it wasn’t the amount of faith that caused his son to be healed. It was the person in whom he put his faith. From this we learn an important principle regarding faith: the object of your faith is more important than the amount of it. In other words, it’s more important who we put our faith in than how much faith we have.

The father’s knew his faith was imperfect, otherwise he wouldn’t have said, “Help my unbelief.” However, it’s okay to have an imperfect faith if the object of your imperfect faith is a perfect savior.  When you believe in Jesus, it’s okay to not have everything figured out. It’s okay to have doubts, because Jesus is willing to work with you in the midst of those doubts. He isn’t surprised or intimidated by your doubts, but he does want to help you overcome your doubts.

If you put your faith in a political party or a theoretical concept or a government or a constitution or a truck brand or anything else that isn’t Jesus, it will inevitably fail you because it is an imperfect object of faith. But if you put your faith in Jesus—even if it’s shaky and weak—he will never fail you because he is a perfect savior.

Jesus can handle our doubts and disillusionments and disappointments. And like he did with the father in the Mark 9 story, he will help us grow our faith if we seek him in the midst of our doubts. In Jeremiah 29:13, God proclaims that, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” So even in the worst of our doubts, we can take comfort in the fact that we will find God if we seek him with all our hearts.

Doubt is inevitable, but we shouldn’t be content to wallow in our doubts. Instead, we should be relying on God to help guide us through our questions and doubts. And, like we said earlier, we should use these questions and doubts as an opportunity to grow in our faith.

Seek Jesus as the object of your faith, because even when your faith is imperfect, he is perfect. Seek Jesus in prayer. Seek Jesus in Bible study. Seek Jesus in books that deal with difficult questions of faith. Seek Jesus in your conversations with other Christians who may know how to respond to your doubts.

When you’re experiencing doubt, don’t seek after some amorphous theological concept. Seek after Jesus. And as the Bible promises, you will find him when you seek him with all your heart.

A final word (actually, it’s 184 words).

If you’re currently dealing with doubt, there are two things I want to say to you:

One: You’re not alone.

Two: You’re not hopeless.

When you’re in the violent throes of doubt, it can be easy to believe you’re the only one asking the questions you’re asking, that no one could possibly understand what you’re going through or have answers you need.

While it may feel that way, it’s simply not true. The Bible is filled with people who experience various kinds of doubt, and post-biblical history even more so. There has never been a question or doubt that hasn’t been asked or experienced before.

You are not alone in your doubt.

When you’re being tossed about by the vicious winds and waves of doubt, it can also be difficult to see any hope for an end in sight. How could you possibly withstand all these challenges and come through on the other side with your faith intact?

But doubt is not a death sentence. Experiencing doubt doesn’t mean that your faith is dead or decrepit. Doubt is just a storm. Storms can be weathered, and inevitably they pass on.

There is hope for you in the midst of your doubt.

the Bible is not a love letter

If you’ve languished in the Christian subculture long enough, you’ve probably heard someone describe the Bible as “God’s love letter to us.” I’ve heard it countless times, and probably used such language myself before. But I’ve been rethinking that phrase a little bit recently. If, as a whole, the Bible is a love letter, then it is certainly the strangest love letter I’ve ever read. I’m guessing not too many suitors try to woo potential brides by relating the story of a man getting a tent peg hammered through his head and into the ground while he is sleeping.

I don’t think the first person to utter this phrase meant any harm by it. In fact, I’m positive that it was intended to help people understand how great and important the Bible is. However, I think something unintended–and untrue–is communicated by this statement. When we convince ourselves that the Bible is God’s love letter to us, we start to believe that everything in the Bible was written specifically to and solely intended for us.

But here’s the problem with this: the Bible was written to a specific people group in a specific period of history, and those people lived on the other side of the world two-thousand-plus years ago. When we read the Bible as if we–21st century Americans–are the original intended audience, then the potential for poor interpretation is massive. The Bible isn’t God’s love letter to us; it’s a collection of historical documents written to a specific people at a specific time with the dual intentions of helping those people learn about God as revealed in Jesus Christ and teaching them how to live their lives accordingly.

This isn’t to say that the Bible is irrelevant today simply because it was originally written to a people from a culture that is vastly different from our own. As a Christian and a pastor, I believe the Bible is among the most relevant pieces of literature currently available. However, I also believe that we need to be wise about the way we read and interpret the Bible. Two thousands years and half a planet is a gigantic chasm to cross, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t build a bridge anyway.

Misinterpretation of the Bible happens all the time. I think that a great deal of that misinterpretation is due to a misunderstanding of what the Bible is. When we convince ourselves that the Bible is written just for us, we ignore the fact that it is richly wrapped in a culture and language that is hardly anything like our own. This can be dangerous if we rip certain verses out of their cultural contexts and impute to them the status of universal truth.

A fairly innocuous example of this is found in 1 Corinthians 11:14: “Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him?” Taken by itself, this verse seems to condemn me as vile for no other reason than the fact that I currently have long hair. If the Bible was written specifically for us today, then it’s pretty evident that I had better quit writing and head over to Great Clips, lest I risk facing God’s wrath. But this verse was written to people living in the ancient city of Corinth (which is in Greece) in the year 53 AD (which is a long time ago), and it would be highly irresponsible for us to ignore that fact.

In first century AD Corinthian culture, a man who wore his hair long was likely a prostitute. Prostitution, so far as I am aware, has never been an occupation that is held in high esteem. Nor am I aware of too many prostitutes who get into the sex-for-pay business due to a love of the work itself. Typically, people are forced into prostitution either by someone else or by the fact that they see it as their only means of survival. Therefore, Paul’s declaration that a man (a first century Corinthian, mind you) wearing long hair is disgraceful was probably not hotly contested.

In contrast, ancient Jewish culture viewed long hair on a man as an outward symbol of his extreme but venerable dedication to God (see Numbers 6:5; Samson is a well-known, if fatally flawed, example of this).

In 21st century America, long hair on a man can have a variety of connotations: rockstar, hippie, karate master, motorcycle rider, Willie Nelson aficionado…but certainly not prostitute! Long hair on a man is not disgraceful in 21st century American culture, just somewhat uncommon. Now we find a cultural gap between us and Paul’s original audience.

So what are we to do with this verse? Ignore it? Of course not. We need to cross that cultural gap by uncovering the heart of what Paul is saying, instead of taking it at face value (after all, God has always been more internally focused than externally). Perhaps Paul is a making a point about how Christians are to conduct themselves in public spheres, not as prostitutes (or the cultural equivalent) but as people who have been saved by God’s grace. For me as a 21st century American Christian, getting a haircut would be a pretty lame excuse for conducting myself in a manner worthy of the gospel. After all, I highly doubt my long hair is leading anyone astray. Instead, I should be more careful with my words and more giving of my time.

Like I said, that’s just one example. I could explain others, but I don’t want this post to be insufferably long.

I’m not trying to rebuke anyone here. Rather, I simply intend to challenge the way you think about the Bible. When we turn the Bible into “God’s love letter to us,” we are in danger of making it all about us. This would be not only a great injustice to the culture and history in which the Bible was written, but also to the word of God.

Now, is the Bible made up of letters? Yes. And is it the primary communication of God’s love for us? Of course. But it isn’t God’s love letter to us. It is a collection of historical documents written to a specific people at a specific time with the dual intentions of helping those people learn about God as revealed in Jesus Christ and teaching them how to live their lives accordingly. It is my hope that we will view the Bible in this accurate light, lest we misinterpret it according to the fickle whims of our earthly desires.

book review: Jesus Called–He Wants His Church Back, by Ray Johnston

I hate that I judge books by their covers, but I still do it. It was hard not to judge this one by its cover—or its title. Jesus Called—He Wants His Church Back. It’s like Ray Johnston asked a fourth grade girl to decide what he should call his newest book. However, the publisher’s description sounded intriguing enough and I’d get a free copy anyway, so why not try it out? If I hated it, then oh well.

I didn’t hate this book, but I didn’t like it either. It was just…bland. Tired. A well-intentioned message put forth poorly. It’s hard for me to put my finger on what exactly was so prosaic about this book; I just couldn’t get into it. Don’t get me wrong, Johnston doesn’t say anything in this book that’s untrue. But, then again, he doesn’t say anything new either. This kind of book has been written before and executed better.

Perhaps that most tedious aspect of this book is that each chapter is basically a series of Buzzfeed lists detailing these five steps to do this and these twelve steps to do that. These lists were not only exhausting to read, but could be potentially misleading. What happens if a reader completes each step and the desired outcome doesn’t come about? Or worse, what happens if a reader completes each step and believes that they have reached the summit of faith? Following Jesus isn’t a checklist, and following a bunch of steps doesn’t guarantee anything.

Again, I will reiterate that this is not a bad book. In fact, for the right reader this could even be a very good book. Plus, Ray Johnston would probably be very good at Twitter, because he proves that he’s capable of packing a convicting punch in 140 characters or less. Unfortunately, his book is much like a tweet: lacking in depth. I believe the reason for this lack of depth is that Johnston tries to cover so many topics in a 200-page book. In essence, he sacrifices depth in favor of breadth. Perhaps if he could have gone more in-depth into some of these topics, I would have gotten more out of this book. As it is, though, this one is probably not something I’ll be recommending.

My Rating: 2/5

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

the kids under the rug

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I first came upon the above image in portrait form—among several others—in the Wamego Public Library earlier this week. This is a boy named Zacarias. Zacarias is fourteen years old, he loves sports, and he is one of the nearly 900 Kansas children who are awaiting adoption.

Few things elicit emotional responses from me, but kids without families are one of them. Families are the context in which children are taught their value as human beings, find support for their growth and development, receive the care needed to keep them healthy and safe, and learn important skills like responsibility and empathy. Many—if not most—of us take this for granted. And yet, there is a whole population of young people who are desperate to experience this for themselves.

In order for a child to be removed from his or her home and placed into foster care, something bad (abuse, neglect, etc.) must happen to the child in his or her birth home. In order for a child’s parental rights to be severed altogether, there must be a repeated pattern of truly egregious behavior on the part of his or her parents, usually resulting in some form of trauma for the child. This is what it takes to be a child in need of adoption in Kansas.

It’s difficult for me to imagine what it’s truly like to be one of these kids, to have gone through something so horrible with your birth family that the state declares that they’re no longer your family. To be sent to live with some random people called a foster family, and probably to be juggled around between multiple foster care placements along the way. To know that you’re being advertised like a puppy at the local animal shelter just to find someone willing to care for you. To wait, and to wonder why it’s taking so long for a family to decide you’d be worth their time, money, space, and love. To worry that maybe you’re not cute enough, or outgoing enough, or well-behaved enough, or young enough to be permanently accepted into someone else’s family. It’s downright depressing when you realize that there are 900 children currently experiencing this kind of fear and uncertainty.

It requires a great deal of impulse control for me not to call up one of these adoption agencies right now and offer to bring in all 900 of these kids into my home. I have to remind myself that I’m twenty-three, I live in a two-bedroom apartment, and I have zero experience with parenting. Of course I know that someday, when my wife and I are more able to take care of a child or five, it’ll take hell itself to stop us from adopting. But for now, I feel so helpless. I know it’s in the best interest of all parties involved to wait until I’m actually capable of being at least a decent father before adopting, but I still feel like I’m doing nothing. Luckily, my head has always been louder than my heart.

While my family isn’t at a point yet where we’re ready to adopt, I can still advocate for adoption. And this I will do unashamedly, because there’s too much at stake here to be quiet about it. It’s too easy for us to ignore “the least of these” among us for me not to say anything. My goal is not to guilt you into anything—guilt is never a genuine reason to do anything. I only wish to inform and challenge.

I don’t know if you’re fourteen years old and not even thinking about kids yet, or if you’re seventy-five and have fourteen grandkids. Either way or anywhere in between, you can still do something. It doesn’t matter if you’re single or married, have no kids or too many to count. You can still do something.

The first thing I would ask you to do is just to consider what adoption would look like for you, either in the near future or the far distant future. Really, truly, honestly consider it. For some of you, it may be plainly obvious that adoption wouldn’t work for you, and that’s okay (we’ll get to what you can do in a moment). Some of you might certainly like it to be plainly obvious that adoption wouldn’t work for you, but deep down there’s a tiny dissenting voice. Hold onto that dissenting voice for just a moment. Why do you feel that? Why do you want to ignore it? What would it take for that tiny voice to become the dominant voice? If you’re of the religious ilk, I’ll remind you that James 1:27 says this: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” So, if you are of that religious ilk, perhaps that niggling thing isn’t guilt or a sense of duty, but a sort of “calling” so to speak. I’m not going to speak definitively for the Holy Spirit here. I just want you to consider it.

The second thing I’m going to ask you to do is to head over to https://www.adoptkskids.org/ (or the appropriate site for whatever state in which you live) and acquaint yourself with a few of the children in need of adoption. I believe it’s really difficult to let something affect us on a personal level if we don’t attach humanity to the people we’re talking about. So go look at their faces, read their bios. Understand that adoption isn’t just a way to grow your family, but a way to care for real live human beings who have been abandoned and abused.

I don’t want you to make a decision regarding adoption immediately. This decision is one that should be made with deep conviction and after very serious consideration. My hope is that all of you would decide to open your homes to children in need, but I understand that this isn’t a realistic expectation. Many children who come from these broken homes have very serious mental, emotional, and behavioral difficulties that require a great deal of consistency, persistence, patience, and willpower. Some of you would be horrible adoptive parents (I say that mostly facetiously) and know adoption isn’t right for you. That really is okay. But, if you’re asking me, that doesn’t let you off the hook.

There are plenty of ways you can help out kids in need without becoming an adoptive parent. Convenient, isn’t it? The AdoptUsKids website provides a list of ways you can help out children and families who are involved with foster care and adoption. While the list is primarily geared toward helping children in foster care specifically, I believe it is still a relevant resource for adoption as well. So, here are five ways to help children in need of foster care/adoption without being a foster/adoptive parent:

  1. Become a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA worker)

As a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer, you’re empowered by the courts to advocate on behalf of a child in foster care. You don’t have to be a lawyer or social worker.

The work done by CASAs involves gathering information from everyone in a child’s life, including parents, relatives, foster parents, teachers, medical professionals, attorneys, social workers, and others. This information will then be used to inform judges of what the child needs and what will be the best permanent home for them.

To be a CASA, you simply need to:

-Pass a background check

-Participate in a 30-hour pre-service training course

-Stay with a case until it’s closed (approximately 1.5 years on average)

  1. Mentor a Child in Foster Care

Becoming a mentor or tutor for a child in foster care is a great way to make the difference of a lifetime for children in need of permanency. There are lots of different ways to mentor children of all ages.

Help a teen in foster care succeed in college through Foster Care to Success’ Academic Success Program 

Volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters 

Help teens aging out of foster care with basic life skills through different programs offered through The Purple Project 

Find mentoring opportunities in your area by using the National Foster Care and Adoption Directory to contact a local agency 

  1. Offer Free Photography and Videography Services to Adoption Agencies

If a picture is worth a thousand words, your photography and videographer talents are a priceless gift that can go a long way to helping children in foster care. Adoption agencies around the country are in need of high quality photos and videos of children that can be shared with prospective families.

  1. Become a Respite Care Provider

Respite care workers provide parents and other caregivers with short-term child care services that offer temporary relief, improve family stability, and reduce the risk of abuse or neglect. Respite can be planned or offered during emergencies or times of crisis. Respite may be available to foster, kinship, adoptive, and birth families in need of support.

  1. Fundraise or Donate Supplies to Foster Care Organizations

Many children in foster care have very little to call their own. Everything from back-to-school supplies, toys, and suitcases are needed by foster care organizations around the country. Whatever you can give will go a long way, whether it’s a donation of money or supplies directly to an organization in your area, or organizing a fundraising or donation drive.

There are likely plenty of other ways to help out kids in need of adoption, even if adoption isn’t right for you. But of course, in my opinion, the best way to help out these children is to become an adoptive parent yourself. While I’ve personally never been an adoptive parent, I can conclusively state that few things have brought more joy into my life than having an adopted younger brother.

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I urge you, whoever you are, wherever you are, however old you are, etc. to please consider helping out the youth of our state and nation who have no families to call their own. As near as I can tell, it’s one of the greatest need facing us, and one we all too frequently ignore. I refuse to disregard these children, and I hope you’ll join me. Whatever you can do, however little or however much, is worth it.

book review: This Is Awkward, by Sammy Rhodes

Based upon the title, cover design, my prior experience with the author, and my knowledge of the subject matter at hand, I fully expected to hate this book.

Now, having finished the book, I can say my feelings toward it are those of ambivalence. In other words, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. In fact, some parts of it were very good. But, unfortunately, still other parts were kind of what I expected: bland, annoying, trite.

Rhodes’ primary thesis is that our awkwardness provides an opportunity for vulnerability and intimacy in our relationships with others and God. Okay, that sounds good. Only this seemed like a weak thread tenuously connecting what was otherwise a random collection of essays on various life subjects. Some of these essays were rather poignant and insightful (such as those relating to marriage and introversion), while others were what you might read in any number blog posts written by Christian twenty-somethings: nothing special.

When you read this book, you find that Sammy Rhodes has seen his fair share of cringe-worthy life experiences, from pouring wine all over his wife’s body on his wedding night to his parents’ messy divorce to his daughter’s potentially tragic congenital disease. His ability to speak on a variety of difficult subjects comes firsthand, and that I can appreciate. During those chapters that were particularly pertinent to my life, I found some applicable and relatable wisdom, specifically related to being a good husband and an introvert in the church.

However, I struggled with the way Sammy Rhodes presented his wisdom. While I know he is considered a humorist, it seemed like he was trying too hard to insert a joke wherever possible. As a result, sentence structure, continuity of thought, and the overall quality of the book suffered. If I could have given some advice to Rhodes before his book was published, it would be to cut out the jokes, particularly the tired tropes of Christian humor (Chick-fil-a, WWJD bracelets, side-hugs, etc.). Good humor in books should subtle and clever; unfortunately, Rhodes’ use of humor in this book was neither, and it made the reading sluggish.

Overall, This is Awkward isn’t a bad first stab at literature from Sammy Rhodes. It’s not great either. It just is what it is. Some things are good, like his ability to speak from experience, his willingness to share personal and somewhat embarrassing anecdotes, and his consistent reminders that God’s grace more than makes up for our human stupidity. Some things are not good, like the pervasive, contextually clueless, and irritating interludes which appear to be excerpts from his journal, in which he constantly complains and complains and complains about how much he doesn’t want to write or can’t possibly write or how much people will hate what he writes.

On page 132, Rhodes states, “[I]f there’s one thing introverts are good at, it’s recommending books.” That’s a true statement, but unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be recommending this one. Not because it’s terrible, but because it’s not a terribly worthwhile read. If your decision to read this book hinges on my review, then I’d encourage you to pass on by, my friend.

My rating: 2.5/5

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

lament of a shipwrecked man

Leviathan, O beast of sea,

“To the last, I grapple with thee;”

For decades long, you’ve haunted me.

“From hell’s heart, I stab at thee.”

This fiend was never mine to hunt,

But for my sake, I bore the brunt;

For honor, praise, and vengeance sweet,

I stove the deck beneath my feet.

Down, deeper down, and deeper still,

I chase the face of man’s free will;

Lo! Fast away, there swims my prey,

The battle’s lost another day.

The surface shimmers o’er my head,

“Too far to reach,” I think with dread;

And soon I see (with failing breath)

For vict’ry’s sake I must seek death.

I’m just a man: I’m doomed to fail,

Alas, I could not kill my whale;

I don’t advance, I don’t retreat,

I close my eyes, accept defeat.

A shipwrecked man will often find

That all his life, his eyes were blind,

That to his hunt he was enslaved,

That he must drown so he’ll be saved.

So take me down and bury me,

Come sink me deep into the sea,

Where eyes of men have never seen,

And only there to be made clean.

Now listen, child, to this tale:

I found life when I lost my whale;

Though wild and fierce the waves may be,

In them a man will find he’s free.

arrogance is a virtue (in some situations [maybe])

I’ve mentioned it on here before, but ever since I was in the third grade or so, I’ve wanted to write a book. Not a self-help book, or an inspirational book, or a biography, or anything like that. I just want to write a completely made-up story so people can enjoy it (and give me money for it). Unfortunately, I’ve found that it’s far easier to start writing a book than it is to finish one. And that’s one of my problems.  I get so bogged down with trying to make sure the plot is interesting and logical, the characters are dynamic and realistic, the concept is original and relevant, etc., that I’m continually editing, re-editing, rewriting, and completely scrapping projects rather than completing them.

But the greatest hindrance to writing a book has nothing to do with my ability. Most days when I sit down to write, I can’t help thinking how arrogant I must be to think I can write a book worth reading. Who do I think I am? I’m just a dude from Kansas, one of three hundred million people in the United States and seven billion people in the world. Why would a publisher read the first page of anything I’ve written, much less take the time to copyedit, print, design, advertise, distribute, and pay me for my book? It’s a completely ridiculous idea, and it—more than anything—keeps me from finishing anything. Because, after all, what’s the point?

My intention with this post is not to curry sympathy with you, or to coax you into filling my inbox with verbal salve for my wounded pride, so please abstain from that. In fact, I am actually arrogant enough to think I could write a book worth reading. The issue comes from having to persuade other people—particularly agents and publishers, you know, the people with the power—that this is the case. All I have to do, though, is walk into a bookstore and see just how many people have gotten their books published. Many of them—if not most of them—probably faced the same concerns that impede my progress. The primary difference between them and me is that those authors—however talented they may or may not actually be—dealt with those apprehensions and pressed on anyway. And they were rewarded with publishing contracts.

Recently I’ve been trying to change my attitude when it comes to writing from “why me?” to “why not me?” I know I’m at least a fair writer, so who’s really to say that I can’t get a book (or two) published? Granted, I may write a book, send it to a bunch of publishing companies, and receive only rejection letters in response. If that happens, it’s okay. At least then I’ll have a clear answer to the question “why not me?”

But there’s still a chance—however infinitesimally small (or otherwise) it may be—that I could write something that ends up on a bookstore shelf somehwere. The only problem is I’ll never know if I don’t actually finish something. So, if writing a book is something I really want to do, I know I need to just bite the bullet and give it the old college try (to borrow two separate colloquialisms). Failure is most certainly a possibility, but, then again, so is success.

I guess that’s the way it is with everything, and I’m really not breaking any new philosophical ground. “You won’t know until you try,” your mom always said, usually when she wanted you to eat a dish with a suspicious amount of vegetables in it. And dadgummit if she wasn’t right! So why are you still reading blog posts? Go do your thing, whatever it is, and I’ll keep trying to write a book. You may just succeed with it. But if you fail, you can always come back and read my blog posts.

humanity: yea or nay?

I was listening to a podcast the other day in which the host posed the following question to several interviewees: do you believe humanity is inherently good or evil? The answers given ran the whole gamut of cogency and hopefulness for humanity, but I found very few of them to be satisfying. However, I couldn’t figure out why, so I set out on a quest to determine how I would answer such a question.

The first issue I encountered when trying to answer this question is that I found myself struggling to coalesce my theology with my experience. Romans 3 states that “There is no one righteous, not even one;…there is no one who does good, not even one.” I took issue with this initially because I wanted to believe that humanity is inherently good, but this passage seemed to suggest otherwise. However, the more I wrestled with this idea, the more I came to a semblance of clarity. Without making a determination about the inherent goodness or wickedness of humanity, I was able to identify that—whatever else we may be—we all begin on a level playing field as far as our inborn morality.

But what is this level playing field on which we all begin? Reformed readers (were I to have any) might suggest that this level playing field is the congenital state of total depravity that afflicts all of humanity. And while I can’t really argue with such a proposition, I prefer to interpret such a dismal state a bit differently. A few chapters later in the book of Romans we read, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” So, while it may be true that we are naturally given to depravity, we are also worth dying for. That’s one heck of a level playing field.

Here’s where things become a little muddled. When it comes to deciding whether humanity is innately good or evil, I choose a third option: I think the only thing inherent about humanity is the state of being human. Forgive me for being savagely obvious, but perhaps you’ll humor me a moment. Being human, as it were, evokes a great deal: failure, hope, fear, joy, weakness, love, foolishness, peace, despair. Being human involves all these things and more—and it also mean being worth dying for. I don’t really believe in “good people” or “evil people”. Instead, I believe in people who do good things and people who do evil things, but the things they do are not what define them. What defines them is their intrinsic humanness. No matter who they are or what they’ve done, they are human—and being human means being worth dying for.

So: Is humanity inherently good or evil? Frankly, I don’t know. All I know is that humanity is worth dying for. There isn’t anyone I’ll ever meet or even catch in my periphery who is anything less. Ascetic saints, politicians, civil rights activists, school shooters, philanthropists, dictators, schoolteachers, con artists, law enforcement officials, evolutionary biologists—we’re all the same. We’re all human, and we’re all worth dying for.

the lost virtue of masculinity

Joy, in all its potential interpretations and misinterpretations, doesn’t seem like a very masculine virtue. Perhaps it is because Joy is a common woman’s name; or perhaps it is because the word “joy” in and of itself evokes images of butterflies, rainbows, flowers, and things that are egregiously yellow; or perhaps it is because most books asserting what it means to “be a real man” tackle topics such as honor, wildness, integrity, suffering, humility, and sacrifice (and yes, I did just go through the table of contents of one such book) yet leave joy mysteriously unsung. Whatever the reason, it seems—to paint with a broad brush (though painting with a broad brush is certainly superior to finger painting when a broad brush is all you have)—most men, and particularly men in the church, would likely not be characterized by joy. Words such as angry, disgruntled, cynical, or petulant might better suit us. Yes, this includes me.

But before we continue, I must include a word or two regarding the nature of joy. You may have heard it before, but joy is not the same thing as happiness. Happiness is an emotion that is usually quite fleeting and is easily affected by circumstances; conversely, joy is a state of being that transcends circumstances and can be present in times of sadness, anxiety, and even anger. Joy is rather like the sun which affects the goings on down on Earth but is not reciprocally affected by the goings on down on Earth. Does this sound like the state of men you know or the men at your church?

So how did we as men get this way? I can’t say for sure. It’s certainly not, for my purposes here, a biblical precept. If you consider Pauline authority, joy is a command that is nowhere near gender-specific: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) “Rejoice always.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16) James presents joy as a central figure in a passage that, for all intents and purposes, has a rather virile tone: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4) Again, nothing in this passage suggests that estrogen is a requisite catalyst in the production of joy.

But the greatest indictment of joyless men is found in Nehemiah 8:10: “Then [Nehemiah] said to them, ‘Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.’” Now we find the quintessential masculine virtue: strength. And from whence, says Nehemiah, does that strength come from? Joy; specifically, joy that comes from God.

For those of you wondering, Nehemiah was not some pipsqueak who declared that joy was the source of strength to compensate for his lack of muscle, chest hair, or fighting ability. In the fifth century BCE, Nehemiah led the Jewish people in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem in just fifty-two days, a feat which was completely remarkable. But not only did Nehemiah lead these men in rebuilding the walls in an astonishing amount of time, he also had to lead them in fighting off enemies who constantly assailed them during this time. Nehemiah was forced to split his men into two groups: one group to rebuild the walls, and the other to defend them from their enemies. Even some of those who built the walls “labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other.” (Nehemiah 4:17) It would be difficult to argue that Nehemiah and his fellow laborers were anything other than supremely masculine, and yet what does Nehemiah remind them is their strength? Not the mighty strike of their swords, nor their fervent faithfulness in the face of fierce hostility, but the joy of the Lord, the very thing that quite a few Christian men today seem to lack the most.

So, it seems to me, joy is not only a very good thing to have, nor something we are merely commanded to have, but a rather manly thing to have as well. The problem with joy, however, is that it requires us to rely on something that cannot be attained through our own doing, and that, I think, is something with which a lot of self-made American men are not comfortable. Finding joy in the Lord requires vulnerability, which is just about the last thing myself and many other men desire for ourselves. And yet, that is where strength can be found.

Seems backward? Well, what else should we expect when it comes to the way God works? I must admit, joy still doesn’t seem all that manly to me, though I suppose the way I perceive things is among the least important determinants of truth. It’s exceedingly difficult, as I could be described as somewhat of a curmudgeon, but I am striving to pursue joy. Those who remain unconvinced may consider what I’ve posited to be further feminization of the church or whatever hogwash terminology you wish to use, but, to quote a somewhat obscure song, “I’d rather be called weak than die thinking I was strong.”