Friday, March 25, 2016

[Link] Good Friday Conversation with Jesus

by Jenn Nahrstadt

I'm conflicted every year on this day. On one hand, I like contemplating what You accomplished on this day. On the other, I'd like to skip over it to Easter morning. I know, though, that there'd be no Easter without this day, so I need to consider--try to feel--what my part was in Your crucifixion.

I like to think of myself as not all that sinful. As soon as I entertain that notion, I'm deceiving myself and in need of another rehearsing of my Lenten prayer. The truth, even if I can't get in touch with all the feels, is that I am sinful. I was sinful in my mother's womb, sinful from the day I first drew breath, doomed like all mankind from the moment Eve and Adam bit into that apple.

Yet it's not just inherited. I have willfully done what I knew was wrong. I still do. I have gone my own way. In spite of what I knew, I chose. Mine was just one of billions of decisions like that which made your death necessary.

Forgive me for being so flippant. It's hard for me because for as long as I've been aware of my sin, I've been aware of Your offer of salvation. I accepted it on its face as soon as my mind would allow me to comprehend the gift. Having accepted it so young, though, is like getting a gift from someone that I didn't fully understand how desperately I needed it. It's hard to be appropriately grateful because I don't know exactly what I've been saved from.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

What Books Influenced You?

What books have had the greatest impact in making you the person you are today?

I get asked this from time to time, and I always love to talk about the books that have influenced me enough to make me, well... me. 

The Books that Make the Believer:


Making Real What I Already Believe by John Fischer helped me sort through what I thought I believed about life and faith because I'd grown up being taught it and what I actually believed about life and faith because I had lived it and experienced it.


The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis was the first book to help me see that most often the biggest obstacle to personal faith is all the "good" things we treasure more than the "best" thing, and how perhaps the greatest obstruction in the path of belief is religion itself.


A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis showed me how a man could endure great pain and come out the other side somehow both weaker and stronger and more real than before.

The Jesus I Never Knew and What's So Amazing About Grace by Philip Yancey took me back past all the cultural and church and historical baggage about Jesus and church (and Church) and helped me find out just how radical a human being he was, and an example for me to be in regards to emptying my life out in the sake and service of others.


Tangled Up in the Bible: Bob Dylan and Scripture by Michael Gilmour helped me realized that "St. Bob" and I are more alike that I thought in our ongoing love/hate relationship with the church and the very beliefs we espouse.


Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconelli taught me that God made some of us to be bricks for the stain-glassed windows and speedbumps for the journey of faith to make the Church question itself and learn to laugh at itself far more than it questions others and judges them -- and it taught me that I'm okay with being made that way.

And most recently, God Is Disappointed in You by Mark Russell (with awesome cartoons by Shannon Wheeler) has continued to inspire me to live my seemingly heathenic life of religious faith that causes more problems than it solves and keep enjoying God's sense of humor both at me and at the world He/She/It (being beyond our mere pronouns) created.

The Books that Make the Writer:


The Adventures of Monkey by Arthur Waley taught me the thrill of reading when I was young and longed for adventures guided by words.


The Childcraft Encyclopedia: Stories and Fables introduced me to the stories of the world beyond just the legends of the Greeks and Romans.


Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss showed me how much fun words could be, both alone and in a group.


Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and in particular "Harrison Bergeron," inspired me to never let myself get shackled creatively, damn the consequences, and to try to inspire others to lose their shackles too.


A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway taught me how to write and taught me that bittersweet, not completely happy endings are the best endings for stories because we human beings learn best through them instead of happy endings that don't challenge us.


What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver taught me how to be inspired by Hemingway without trying to be a clone of him when I write.


The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler taught me how to bring the literary inspiration I got from Hemingway and marry it up to pulp-based, adventure storytelling.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

What Does It Really Mean To Be Pro-Life?

I'll admit I'm pretty fed-up with abortion being the single issue that most Christians tag onto to call themselves "pro-life." And just so you know what to expect, I'm about to argue that there's a huge different between being pro-life and pro-baby (or pro-fetus, or whatever nomenclature you prefer to use for your views).

My criteria for what I'm going to argue:

1. I believe life begins at conception. I believe that everything we need to become the person we will be is inside us at that point. Religiously speaking, that means I have a soul at that point. Scientifically speaking, it means genetically I can't grow up to become a chicken or a tree. It means that I'll develop a certain eye color, hair color, height, skin color, genetic predispositions, etc.

2. I believe each individual is created in the image of God and is to be treated with value and dignity -- even when and especially when they don't act like they deserve it. Putting dirt on the color blue doesn't make it less blue. It merely covers up the dignity that is intrinsically there beneath the dirt.

3. I believe physical life ends only when our brain is dead and we cease to be more than a body carrying on activities based on machinery.

4. I believe life continues beyond the point of physical death and that the soul endures.

What I'm about to say that will probably make some readers angry:

1. If you support a national or individual embracing of a campaign of violence against our political enemies (through war, murder, terrorism, etc.) then you are not pro-life. You are pro-baby and anti-enemy. In other word, if you're pro-violence in any way, you're not pro-life. You're pro-whomever you're fighting for.

2. If you EASILY choose the life of an unborn child over the life of a mother, you are not pro-life. You are pro-baby. If you are truly pro-life, the well-being and health of the mother will have the same weight and importance to you. That's not to say that you can't seek alternative options to ensure the health of the mother, but her life will not be something you value less than that of her unborn child.

3. If you support a system of capital punishment that kills a convicted felon without offering the opportunity to rehabilitate, then you are not pro-life, you are pro-baby and anti-bad guy. If you suport a system that legally destroys the lives of convicted felons in a prison system that merely institutionally reinforces the cycle of violence and locks them away without seeking to bring out their basic human dignity and look for the image of God within them and rehabilitate, then you are not pro-life. You are pro-baby and not pro-duration of the life cycle.

4. If you embrace (at worst) hatred or (at best) disdain for those who by their own actions or your own perceptions you see as your enemies, and seek to either harm them through either action (political, personal, etc.) or inaction (leave 'em be and let 'em get what's coming), you are not pro-life. You are pro-baby. You are very much anti-dignity of life except for those you choose to like.

5. If you protest the funeral or anyone to draw attention to your "pro-life" cause, at the expense of the dignity of another individual's last opportunity to give his or her family and friends the value of a dignified goodbye, you are not pro-life. You are an asshole who is more concerned with politics and pet issues than you are human beings. When anything comes before love for all other human beings, you are NOT pro-life.

6. If you are truly pro-life, you are concerned with the welfare, safety, health, and mortality rates of people all over the globe due to political climates that enslave, destroy, debilitate, etc.; poverty, economic woes; etc. If you can turn a deaf ear because it isn't happening in your country, then you're not pro-life. You're not pro-baby. You're just pro-American-baby. 

7. If you are truly pro-life, you value life, period. In my case, that's from conception to long after death. You value the human being's dignity throughout that span, and you look for the image of God created within him or her, regardless of how his or her actions may have placed him at odds with your view of moral rights and wrongs.

8. If you are truly pro-life, you love humanity and the human experience.

9. If you are truly pro-life, you love fetuses, you love newborns, you love children, you love teenagers, you love young adults, you love regular adults, you love old adults.

10. If you are truly pro-life, you love those who agree with you and those who don't, you love your friends and your family AND your enemies.

11. If you are truly pro-life, you seek to affirm that all individuals are capable of being redeemed and/or rehabilitated (even while acknowledging that those two aren't always necessarily the same thing.

12. If you are truly pro-life, you love good people and bad people, law-abiding and law-breaking, saviors and destroyers.

13. If you are truly pro-life, you understand conceptually that society may require death in certain situations because of politics or warfare or even public safety, but you can never willingly embrace the enjoyment of another person's death, love for killing or wanting to have people be no longer living, or feel vindicated that some enemy is dead and no longer a problem to you.

14. If you are truly pro-life, then, in the words of John Donne, every man's death diminishes you, and you regret and feel them deeply.


A caveat: I'm not saying it's not okay to be pro-baby. Be pro-baby. I'm sure as a political issue, those looking to turn over Rowe v. Wade welcome all the pro-baby folks they can find. But don't call yourself pro-life as if life only equates to conception. If you want to be pro-life, embrace a love of life and lives for the full human lifespan. Being pro-life is not a mere political tag. It's not a sign posted outside a voting booth. It's an all-encompassing way of seeing humanity through the eyes of the God who created it, or at least it's a way of trying to see humanity that way, as best we can in our own failing whoring, imperfect, more often than not unloving way. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

More of That Straight Talk Stuff We Keep Hearing About in Politics

Everybody seems to think that straight talk is the best way to do politics. We'll here's some more of it... Let's hope this can catch on in Washington, or even better, among the groundswell of the American public.


On the Treatment of the Poor and Immigrants:

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. -- James 1:27

"Jesus answered, If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'" -- Matthew 19:21

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in." -- Matthew 25:35

"They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely." -- Mark 12:40

"The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the alien, denying them justice." -- Ezekiel 22:29

"This is what the LORD says: For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back [my wrath]. They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name.'" -- Amos 2:6-7

"So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,' says the LORD Almighty." -- Malachi 3:5

"On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.'" -- Romans 12:20

Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just. -- Luke 14:12-14

The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God”. -- Leviticus 19:34

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. -- Deuteronomy 10:18-19

When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands. When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. -- Deuteronomy 24:19-21

Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. -- Isaiah 1:17

And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. -- 1 Corinthians 12:26

On the Treatment of Your Enemies:

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. -- Matthew 5:44

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. -- Romans 12:19-21

But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. -- Luke 6:27-36

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. ... Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you -- Matthew 5:38-39, 43-44-48


‪#‎povertywontjustgoawayifyoucloseyoureyes‬ ‪#‎therearemoretofaithissuesinpoliticsthanjustabortionandprayerinschools‬ ‪#‎peopleIthinkaremyenemiesarentreallymyenemies‬ ‪#‎myrealenemiesareinsidemychoicesandmynature‬

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Post Evangelical Dylan on Faith and the Church -- Still a Man of Faith?

A Facebook friend asked for my take on a few of Bob Dylan's albums (Particularly INFIDELS -- my favorite and I believe the most spiritual of his releases), and as anyone who knows what a huge Dylan-phile I am would guess, I jumped at the opportunity.

However, as you read it, bear in mind this caveat:

The beauty of a Dylan album for me is that it could mean one thing, or another, or any number of things, or perhaps nothing at all. The lyrics are like the Book of Revelation. They can be interpreted and defended from many vantage points. My views are no doubt interpreted through my own experiences (like any exegete) and failure to be a non-attached third person objective listener. Music doesn't allow you that option.

Okay, enough set-up . Here's what I had to say...


Okay, you asked for my analysis, and here it is, like it or not...

"Jokerman" is about Christ, how he was misunderstood by the world and the powers that be. He was just a joker to them, standing on the water, casting his bread. He defeated the serpent (born with a snake in both his fists) while being hunted (a hurricane was blowing). He's a friend to the martyr, friend to the woman of shame, looks into the furnace and sees the rich man who wanted Lazarus to warn his family. At twilight, he rides a white horse. While he's the "fool" a woman gave birth to a prince today (Antichrist) and dressed him in scarlet, and he will have the church and political system in his pocket. Christ knows his plan, but it doesn't faze him or worry him.

"Sweetheart Like You" is a story of the church symbolized as a falling (not fallen) woman looking for love in every place she shouldn't be. Even the demons recognize her and try to woo her. Dylan's still hanging onto his theology but he's had it with the church at this point.

"Neighborhood Bully" is a song about Israel, and how the world is set against "him." Again, looking at biblical prophecy, but tying it to contemporary politics.

"Licensed To Kill" and "Sundown On The Union" are seen though a "least of these" set of lenses.

"I And I" covers the church again, as a woman sleeping around on her husband. The world is going to hell, and she's in his bed. He's still fascinated by her, but he doesn't want to talk. He's over that scene. He's got nothing left to say to her (i.e., the SAVED and SHOT OF LOVE period is over).

"Don't Fall Apart On Me Tonight" is another song about the church as a woman, only he's wistful, not wanting to see her fall or their relationship end. I'm willing to bet this was a holdover from one of the previous albums or an early song in the writing for INFIDELS.

This heartbreaking relationship with the church as a woman is something he'll cover again during EMPIRE BURLESQUE and OH MERCY. Not only that, but he's still dealing out the cards of theology in those, from the sinfulness that destroyed everything ("Everything Is Broken") to call for the least of these ("Ring Them Bells").

The wistfulness to the church (girl) is back again in "What Was It You Wanted" with lines like:

"Is the scenery changing
Am I getting it wrong
Is the whole thing going backwards
Are they playing our song?"

He's still wondering about faith at this point, still thinking about what's he's put behind him, as in "What Good Am I?":

"What good am I if I know and don’t do
If I see and don’t say, if I look right through you
If I turn a deaf ear to the thunderin’ sky
What good am I? ...

"What good am I then to others and me
If I’ve had every chance and yet still fail to see
If my hands are tied must I not wonder within
Who tied them and why and where must I have been?"

But before he can temper his attitude toward her (the church), he has to get through the bitterness of EMPIRE BURLESQUE (which could be seen as a rip at the dog and pony show the church in American had become at this point), with songs like "Tight Connection To My Heart" (while she ignores the beating of a John the Baptist type, no doubt in reference to racial tension also) and "Seeing The Real You At Last":

"Well, didn’t I risk my neck for you
Didn’t I take chances?
Didn’t I rise above it all for you
The most unfortunate circumstances? ...

"I’m hungry and I’m irritable
And I’m tired of this bag of tricks
At one time there was nothing wrong with me
That you could not fix...

"When I met you, baby
You didn’t show no visible scars...

"Well, I’m gonna quit this baby talk now
I guess I should have known
I got troubles, I think maybe you got troubles
I think maybe we’d better leave each other alone"

And perhaps my single favorite song in Dylan's love/hate relationship with faith and religion is "Never Gonna Be The Same Again." I so often find myself echoing these thoughts in regard to my own feelings about the church:

"Sorry if I hurt you, baby
Sorry if I did
Sorry if I touched the place
Where your secrets are hid
But you meant more than everything
And I could not pretend
I ain’t never gonna be the same again

"You give me something to think about, baby
Every time I see ya
Don’t worry, baby, I don’t mind leaving
I’d just like it to be my idea

"You taught me how to love you, baby
You taught me, oh, so well
Now, I can’t go back to what was, baby
I can’t unring the bell
You took my reality
And cast it to the wind
And I ain’t never gonna be the same again"

I've often thought of preparing a scholarly paper on Dylan's love/hate for faith and religion, but I never seem to find the time. It's like of like actual scripture for me in one way anyway -- once you open your mind to the idea that it's in his work, you suddenly see evidence of it everywhere.