Thursday, March 24, 2016

Evangelical Sacred Cows

For the record, I am an evangelical Christian. I am a conservative, both politically and theologically. I fit most of the stereotypes most people associate with words like "evangelical" and "conservative".

Bible inerrancy? Check.

White male? Check.

Small government? Check.

Pro-life? Check.

Bothered by changes in what is considered acceptable, particularly in the area of sexual morals, in my country in recent years? Check.

So trust me when I tell you that the words which follow do not come from some left-leaning, Slate-reading, tree-hugger with an anti-Evangelical agenda. No, this criticism of modern evangelical culture comes from the inside.

With my insider status established, let's go forward:

We on the political and theological Right have a habit of conveying dissatisfaction over Political Correctness in academia, the press, and in our entertainment, with the main gripe being that PC is a way of preventing the expression of certain ideas. And if PC doesn't prevent such expression, it certainly pounds home the message of how wrong those ideas are, and how they could only come from Neanderthals who refuse to acknowledge what the liberal elite recognize to be true. Examples which come to mind are global warming and evolution. To lefties, if you don't wholeheartedly accept "consensus" opinion on these, then you aren't worth talking to.

We have our own sacred cows
While criticism of PC-ness may very well be spot-on, we Evangelicals need to be completely honest and acknowledge that we often engage in the same practices. That is, we have our own list of ideas, organizations, and people who are so above reproach that any criticism of those ideas/people/organizations will not be tolerated.

Perhaps that assertion demands a list of examples. Here is such a list:

Dave Ramsey
Chris Tomlin
"God's Not Dead"--the movie
American exceptionalism
Kirk Cameron's acting abilities
Ronald Reagan
The phrase "Merry Christmas" being conveyed by sales clerks

I recently went camping with a number of Christian fathers and sons, and the conversations addressed a couple of the topics in the above list. When someone dared to raise an objection to Ramsey's methods, or Tomlin's music, things got awkward, and both conversations were cut short because of the tension. I'm not saying where I stand on any item on the list, but the fact that I feel the need to issue that disclaimer around my Evangelical friends is a problem.

As followers of Christ, we should be lovers of Truth, and if you have Truth on your side, you should have no problem engaging in a conversation with someone about anything. But that's not what I see in the Church today. Just like the Lefties, we do have our sacred cows. Will we admit it?

If we do admit it, and are willing to move past our own PC tendencies, then we open up the possibilities of dialog--or dare I say it: fellowship!-- with people, particularly professing Christians, who see things differently than us.   Then perhaps the unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17 will be more of a reality.

Monday, March 21, 2016

What not to ask an unemployed person

[Note: the following explanation is not rooted in bitterness, and not an attempt to make anyone feel bad. It's simply an explanation of what happens when I get asked about my job search.] 

In November of 2015, the president of my company walked into my office. After 6 1/2 years, during which I was hired as a database administrator/programmer, promoted to manager, and then to Director, I was being let go. I didn't do anything wrong; the owner simply felt we had too many people in IT, and my position was eliminated. As I write this in March 2016, I'm in my 5th month of searching for work. 

The worst thing about being unemployed

The list of reasons that unemployment is undesirable is a long one. Surprisingly, "lack of revenue" isn't on top of the list.  No, the hardest part of my life as an unemployed person right now is having to deal with the all things said by concerned, well-intentioned people who see me regularly, particularly at church. 

Sundays are the hardest. I'm starting to dread going to church, because by Sunday afternoon, I will have shaken 50 or so hands, and at least 45 of those handshakes have been accompanied by "So, how's the job search going?", followed by "so, do you have any leads?"

Constant reminders, followed by lies
Every one of those handshakes is a reminder that I am jobless, during the one time a week when I come to a place (a sanctuary, if you will) where I am supposed to focus on God and think about eternal things, and to forget about the cares of this world.

Every time I am asked those two questions, there's an enemy who takes the opportunity to whisper in my ear that I'm a loser, to remind me that I was rejected by my employer of 6 years. 

I know it's a lie, but you try hearing a lie 50 times every Sunday. Your response may surprise you. 

When I am asked about leads or "have you had any interviews?" I am reminded that I have, on multiple occasions, dressed up for an interview, talked for an hour with an employer about why I would be a good fit for them, only to endure additional rejection a few days later as they let me know they chose someone else. 

My identity
Every time I am asked how the job search is going, it perpetuates the idea that my identity is "jobless guy." I am a lot of other things: husband, dad, homegroup leader, Little League coach. But nobody asks me how my team is doing, or how my homegroup is going. I just get asked about that one aspect of my life which makes me feel lowest right now. 

I'd much rather talk about the successes:
-I have 3 great kids. I have a lovely wife.
-Once or twice a week, I get a chance to pray for 11 kids at the end of baseball practice or game.
-I had an amazing experience last week where God spoke to me about how to pray for someone.
-Another time recently, I saw something when reading Scripture, only to be asked a question by a good friend the next day, and I was able to share with him what God said in His word, which turned out to be exactly what that guy needed to hear.
-  My family was recently given a family vacation in Washington DC, a place I have longed to take my kids, and it's going to be essentially free.

There are so many victories in my life worth asking about, which should drown out the deep sorrow I have about my employment status, but the Sunday morning questions just keep on reminding me, over and over, that my employer doesn't want me there anymore. 

I'm not bitter, and not trying to make anyone feel bad. I am communicating this to people because, frankly, I'd want to know if my well-intentioned words were problematic to anyone in any way. This post is simply an FYI; an attempt to enlighten. 

Feel free to pray for my job situation. I'm just asking you not to make it the only thing you talk to me about when you see me. 

So now you know now what not to ask next time you shake my hand. Thanks for listening. 

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

In The Heart of the Dark Wood, by Billy Coffey: A Book Review

"In the Heart of the Dark Wood", Billy Coffey's 5th book, is, like the others, set in the fictional town of Mattingly, Virginia, using many of the same characters as in the previous books. The new novel is not a sequel in the strictest sense, but certainly is built on the stories already told, particularly "When Mockingbirds Sing". That heartbreaking, yet hopeful story included a tragedy which caused tremendous damage (emotional as well as physical) to the entire community. 

In "Mockingbirds", we were introduced to Allie, a young girl whose mother was taken away by the tornado, her body never found. The new story focuses on Allie's search for her lost mother. Allie believes her mom is the focus of her search, but it becomes apparent that she's actually looking for closure, for healing, for her dad's freedom from addiction, and for the restoration of her faith. Along the way, Allie's friend Zach discovers, at the age of 12, that he is much further along in the journey to manhood than he knew. 

Despite the 370-page length, this book managed to keep my interest as I followed Allie, Zach, and her pooch Sam on their trek through the woods. Once I reached the end, the payoff was huge. The conclusion to the story was powerful, and I didn't see it coming. 

When I finished "In the Heart of the Dark Wood", I felt closer to God, and gained a greater appreciation for His sovereignty, how much He is in control, and how much he loves us and cares for us in creative ways. 

Disclaimer 1: The book opens with a scene in which Allie experiences her first period. It made for some awkward reading, but trust me when I say it's essential to the story. I mention this in case you plan to let your kid read the book, as I did.

Disclaimer 2: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Moment You Can't Get Back

He left out the "E".

A year earlier, the boy won his school spelling bee, and then took 3rd place in the area bee. That day's winner, Ansun Sujoe, ended up sharing the national title. By finishing just two places behind him, the boy saw himself as just a step away from qualifying for a trip to Washington. So he resolved that next year was going to be his year. He began, 7 months early, to study the list of several hundred pretty hard words. He studied in the car and at home, often at the expense of time with the TV or video games.

The goal was to make it to the nationals, but before that could happen, he'd still have to achieve 1st or 2nd place in his class, and then for his school, in order to match last year's progress. Now, on this night, here he was, one of 3 remaining contestants in the school bee. He only had to last longer than one of the others. The boy was asked to spell a word he knew well. But his excitement at getting such an easy word led him to go a little too fast, and from his mouth came F-I-E-R-C-L-Y.

As a parent, it was a hard thing to witness. The shocked look. The busted dream. The idea that all these months of studying were for naught. The look of loss on his face. The quest to go all the way to the nation's capital had ended before he could even make it out of his own school.

With an unintentional, momentary slip, the boy was done for the year, just like that. The missed "E" took less than a second. One tiny snippet of time did him in.

Oh, how he wanted that moment back. The unfairness of it all! But what's done is done. There is no do-over. No rewind button.

I felt bad for him that night, but I am proud of how he handled it. He'll bounce back, and a lot of good will come from this unexpected turn of events that changed the course of the upcoming weeks.

A single sliver of time can change everything. I think of others who also have one moment they wish they could have back:

The paraplegic who injured herself as a teen while diving with friends in a pond.

The man whose wife is devastated by the words he said to her in a rage.

The 20-something who put a kid in the hospital with her decision to run that red light.

The athlete who feels he let his team down when he let that ball go in and then out of his hands.

A soldier in the VA hospital, learning to use his prosthetic leg, because he failed to notice that IED on the side of the road in Baghdad.

The prisoner in San Quentin doing 20 years because he bowed to peer pressure and participated in this buddies' crime.

Do you have a single second in time you wish you could get back? I do, and I'm not alone. Many have regrets about something we did, said, or allowed in one moment, at some point in our lives. Something we did, or something we chose not to do. Either way, our lives were affected.

The two big lies

We all have an lying enemy who wants nothing more than to keep us from walking in the truth, and when it comes to regrets, two lies pop up on a regular basis.

Lie #1: That moment defines me. This is crucial: don't fall into the trap of thinking that that one moment speaks to who we are. It doesn't. We may have messed up, but the instances where we did the right thing are too many to ignore. We are not defined by our slip-ups.

However, we can certainly be defined by how we respond to such moments. "It's not about how you got knocked down, but how well you got back up" sounds like a tired cliche, but it's 100% true.  While God doesn't allow us to have a do-over, to press Rewind, He does take great interest in our reaction.

Lie #2: If I could have a do-over, my life would be so much better now. The great thing about our God is that He's not surprised by these things, and He can and will use all these things to fit His purposes. The exciting thing is that we get to watch it play out. The boy who lost the spelling bee exhibited great character and maturity when he held his composure and congratulated the two kids who finished ahead of him. He likely learned a few lessons through this ordeal which will make him into a better young man. When we accept that these important life-changing moments are not random, we can better embrace His guidance on the new unexpected path that our life has taken. Someday, we may even look back on it and see God's wisdom in the entire thing.  

Wait....God is a God of Second Chances, Isn't He?

God is so gracious to us that He finds ways to redeem our bad moments, but He's not in the business of erasing them as if they never happened. Despite David's sincere repentance, God didn't make Bathsheba un-pregnant.  If you had a moment that you want to have back, I am sorry: you cannot get it back. The uniqueness of God is that He chooses to redeem our bad moments rather than simply erasing them. Trust me when I say this is good news.

Restoration: The real meaning of Jeremiah 29:11
"'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope."  Sadly, Jeremiah 29:11  is widely misunderstood because so often, it's taken out of context.

This is not a Word-of-faithy, feel-good, everything-will-turn-out-alright verse; God is scolding His people when He utters this statement. For crying out loud, He's promising them 70 years of captivity as a consequence of their sin.  But a proper contextual understanding of His promise actually yields us great news: even as we come to realize that bad things are going to happen, God is going to find a way to wipe the mud off of this thing and clean it up.

God is in the restoration business. But restoration doesn't mean He pretends the bad moment didn't happen. He doesn't give that moment back to us so we can do it better and avoid the fallout. He redeems it. He restores us where it's needed most: on the inside (Psalm 23:3: "He restores my soul")

No, you cannot have that moment back. But if you will hand it to God, He'll do more with it than you could ever imagine.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Top 5 Weird Al Songs That Are Better Than the Original

In a passing conversation recently, I mentioned "Eat It" to my son, and it became clear that, not only did he have no idea who Weird Al Yankovic is, he was equally unfamiliar with Michael Jackson's "Beat It", the song that "Eat It" was based on.

I wanted to show him the Weird Al song, but "Eat It" is only funny if you know "Beat It."  After showing him the videos for both tunes (he laughed), he went off to do this own thing, while I remained at the desktop and allowed myself to get sucked into Youtube's collection of Weird Al songs and clips.

The realization hit me: many of the songs that Weird Al made in fun are actually better tunes than the ones being parodied. Here, then, is my list of the best Weird Al creations that are better than the original:

5. "Achy Breaky Song"

Original: "Achy Breaky Heart" by Billy Ray Cyrus

Comment: This one is unique in that the entire point of the Weird Al song is to dis the Billy Ray original.

4. "Do I Creep You Out?"

Original: "Do I Make You Proud" by "Taylor Hicks"

Comment: Most "American Idol" winners are contractually obligated to issue an embarrassingly bad first single composed by music-mill writers, and "Do I Make You Proud" is one of the most bloated of the lot.   "Do I Creep You Out" captures the song's soap-opera-ness and adds lyrics which exploit the melodrama in the best way possible.

3. "Jurassic Park"

Original: "MacArthur Park"

Comment: Weird Al uses Steven Spielberg's movie adaptation of Michael Crighton's novel to take a swipe at Barney the Dinosaur as he takes on the song with the worst lyrics in music history (low point: "Someone left the cake out in the rain/I don't think that I can take it/Cause it took so long to bake it/And I'll never have the recipe again/Oh NOOOOOO!")

2. "Ricky"

Original: "Mickey"

Comment: Basing it on "I Love Lucy" is genius. Toni Basil's "Mickey"is one of most irritating songs of my lifetime. 

1. "Yoda"

Original: "Lola" by the Kinks

Comment: Although "Lola" is highly regarded among critics and even made the list of 500 Greatest Songs by Rolling Stone magazine, in my view, it's pretty lousy.  I fully realize that my assessment of "Lola" makes me lose credibility with music snobs, and I'm comfortable with that.

How about you? What is your favorite Weird Al song?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Book Review: Crater Trueblood, by Homer Hickam

Crater Trueblood is the third in Homer Hickam's Helium 3 series of novels, after "Crater" and "Crescent".  The main character in all 3 novels is Crater, who, in the course of the story, transforms from a young man who works as a Moon-based miner to an owner of a search-and-rescue business who ends up saving the world. And in this case, "the World" means what remains of humans, who no longer live on Earth but on the Moon.

A young female protagonist, Maria, is an antagonist for part of the story, but it's fairly obvious from the get-go that she and Crater are meant to be. Other characters include Crater's brother and business partner, and then there are litle creatures called gillies, kind of like pets but who have minds of their own.

My son read the first Crater book at the age of 10, and now, at the age of 12, has completed the new one. This series is among the very few works of fiction being offered by Christian publishers these days in which the target audience is young pre-teen or early-teen boys. If you have a son in that age range who likes adventure, the Helium 3 series is well-written.

The publisher, Thomas Nelson, offered me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.