Happy Reformation Day…and Halloween!

I thought it would be fun to give a brief overview of the holidays we are living through right now: Reformation Day and All Saints Day.  I wrote this a few years ago for my students at PSU Berks.

First – Reformation Day – October 31, 1517

Take a journey to Europe 500 years ago. In those days, the church had major power over all aspects of society – there was no freedom of religion, in Europe you were a Christian subject to the Roman Catholic church (or you were a Jew or a heretic – a second class citizen or a renegade facing death). It was a time when people struggled to gain spiritual security for they believed salvation was earned by pilgrimages, prayers, good works and the like. Most people could look forward to thousands of years in Purgatory after they died, purging their sins in the fire, before making it to heaven.

Martin Luther was the son of a peasant who managed to become a monk, earn a doctorate in theology and begin teaching at the University of Wittenburg. By all accounts he was a good monk, he later said that if anyone could earn God’s love it was he. But he also wrestled with how a righteous God could be appeased, how could God accept sinners? Through studying and lecturing on the Scripture, over time Luther came to realize that salvation was not about trying to do good, but rather from being sinful and knowing it. Salvation comes as a free gift of grace from God.

When representatives from the Pope came to Wittenburg, selling indulgences to fund the renovation of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, Luther had had enough. The Catholic Church would tell people that for a certain price they could buy an “indulgence” which would free their dead ancestors from purgatory sooner (i.e., for 50 bucks grandma is out 50 years sooner). Luther saw this for what it was: making money by manipulating  people who did not know any better.

On October 31, 1517 Luther posted 95 Theses on the Wittenburg Castle Church door. Really all this meant was that he wanted to have a debate on indulgences, and here were his arguments against them. To make a long and meandering story short, this was the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. If you are a Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian or pretty much any Christian other than Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, you can say thank you to the Reformers of the 1500s for changing the world!

The Reformation can be summed up (over-simplified): grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone. Where the Catholic church said there were two streams of authority, scripture and tradition, Luther and those after him said scripture alone was the authority. The Catholic church said you were saved by some combination of grace and works, what God did and what you do, Luther emphasized it was grace alone (because you can do nothing to save yourself).

Halloween and All Saints’ Day

Most people have no idea today is Reformation Day.  They certainly know it is Halloween. Where in the world did Halloween come from?

First of all, November 1 is All Saint’s Day, celebrated in the Catholic Church. Basically, from very early on Christians honored those who died for the faith (“martyrs”). Often in various places a celebration to remember the life of a specific martyr on the anniversary of his or her death would become a tradition. Such martyrs were considered saints. Not all saints necessarily died for their faith.  Various saints had their day and still do: February 14 is St. Valentine’s Day, for example. But over time the church realized that many more saints had died than could be remembered, plus there were numerous other saints that may have lived and died but no one even knew about or recognized.

In response to this, the Church began celebrating “All Saints Day”, a catch-all day to remember all the saints known and unknown (kind of like how Veterans’ Day remembers all veterans).

One thing that is cool and that those of us who are not Catholics can take away from this is the truth of the Communion of the Saints. All Saints’ Day is based on the principle that all of God’s people, living or dead, in heaven or on earth, are connected together as one community. In other words, those who have died in Christ are still alive in some way, in God’s presence. The Church is not just all the people on earth today who are Christians, but includes all the people through the ages who are known by Jesus. For a scripture on this, check out Hebrews 12:1-3 where it speaks of the “great cloud of witnesses”.

An interesting thing is that All Saints Day was originally May 13, it was moved to November 1 for similar reasons to why Christmas is on December 25. Before Christian times, pagans celebrated festivals on these days. For many Celts (in Scotland, Britain), November 1 was the new year and the day prior to that, October 31, was Samhain (Lord of the Dead). On this day the Celts believed the souls of the dead would wander the earth, mingling with the living. In order to scare away evil spirits, the Celts would wear masks.  When Rome came to Britain they added a few other traditions, such as bobbing for apples.

“Hallow” means “holy” or “sanctified” which is how we get from “All Saint’s Day” to “All Saints’ Day Eve” to “All Hallows’ Eve” to “Halloween”. Halloween is rooted in preparation for All Saints’ Day combined with the pagan traditions surrounding Samhaim.

So have a Happy Halloween, All Hallows’s Eve, Samhaim and Reformation Day!






Flavors of Faith (A Review)

Anytime I read a book I ask myself, “who could I recommend this book to?”  Since I work with college students I am always on the lookout for books I could pass on to them.  My friend Tom Heil’s book, Flavors of Faith, is perhaps one of the best books for college students, and teenagers, that I have read.

Tom was campus minister with Christian Student Fellowship at Penn State, though he moved on to a new job in Ohio the year before I arrived at Penn State as a student.  But through a number of friends he left behind, I have gotten to know him a little bit over the years, seeing him at weddings and other various events.  He has years of experience working with young people and when he asked if I would be interested in reviewing his book, I jumped at the chance.

Flavors of Faith is a short book, coming in at under 100 pages.  Almost for this reason alone, I will be recommending it to my students.  College students are incredibly busy already, so they have little time to read books outside of their required reading.  From time to time I meet students who have a passion to read and actually are reading books on their own time, which is always a pleasant surprise.  When I recommend a book to these students, they may actually read it.  But the majority of students simply do not read.  I could recommend a book helpful to the lives of Christians in college or I could recommend War and Peace and it would make little difference, they’re not going to read it.

I could see them reading Flavors of Faith.  They could read a chapter here and a chapter there and finish it rather quickly.  Don’t get me wrong though, its brevity does not mean it is shallow.  Tom packs a lot into these hundred pages, from personal stories and illustrations, to memorable quotes and challenging comments.  Each chapter explores a different “flavor of faith” that Tom moved through in his life.  In that way, it reads like a sort of spiritual biography.  But more than that, it is a story that each of us who follow Christ moves through.  I found myself resonating with many, if not all, the chapters.  At times I could recall being in a similar place in my faith.  A few of the chapters may have been describing where I am now.

Overall, this is a great book.  I highly recommend it to college and youth pastors to read and to give out to their students.  That said, it could certainly be beneficial for any Christian of any age, so if you get the chance, check it out.

Thanks Tom, for an honest and challenging read.

Kings, Presidents and God (On Campus at PSU Berks)

Last night on campus we talked about God and government, politics and presidential elections.

This semester at CSF our theme for Bible study is the story of scripture.  My hope is that the students will understand the grand, over-arching narrative of the Bible.  Back in early September we began with creation and fall.  Then we moved on to look at the call of Abraham, God rescuing Israel from Egypt, the giving of the Law and the conquest of the land of Canaan.  It just so happens that last night, a mere couple weeks prior to the election, we came to the part of the story where the Israelites, God’s people, ask for a king.

This story is in 1 Samuel 8 if you care to read it.  Prior to this the Israelites lived under God as their one and only king.  God ruled them through Moses and Joshua, but neither were kings.  After Joshua’s death the time of the “judges” began, but the judges were not kings either.  Then the people look at the world around them and decide they want to be like other nations and have a king.  Big deal, right?  What is so wrong with asking for a king?  The problem is that in doing so, they reject God as their king.

One reason they give for asking for a king – they want a king to lead them into battle, like the other nations.  In the past God had led them into battle.  They are rejecting God’s rule over them.

Another major problem with this is that the whole reason Israel existed as God’s people was to be an example to the nations.  Israel began in the calling of Abraham, with God promising that through Abraham’s descendants all nations on earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3).  God did not choose one group of people at the expense of everyone else, instead God chooses a people so that through them blessing and salvation can come to everyone else.  This is reaffirmed in Exodus 19 where the people are called to be a kingdom of priests.  In other words the entire nation was to perform the duties of priests, representing God to the nations.

So we come again to the story of them asking for a king.  Instead of showing the rest of the world what it is like to be in relationship to God, they want to be like the rest of the world and have a king.

As the story continues, Samuel tells them all the bad that kings will do, much of which happens in the reigns of later kings.  Of course, God is able to turn bad into good and there are some good kings.  Without getting into all of that, we can try to bring the story ahead into our contemporary situation:  what does this have to do with us today?  We don’t have kings after all.

Either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama is going to be president of the USA for the next four years.  In the words of Peter Enns, if the thought of one or the other terrifies you, as a Christian, you have a theological problem.

Please hear what I am not saying.  I am not saying you should not care.  I am not saying Christians should not vote or get involved in politics.  I am not saying the two candidates are exactly the same, their policies will be different (not in all things, but in many).

What I am saying is that we as Christians ought to model a confidence in a higher power, greater than Obama and Romney.  Perhaps the best way I can say it is that our political involvement should not be motivated by fear.  I don’t think fear has a role in the Christian life (at least as it relates to politics).

The prophet Isaiah says the following about the nations:

Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
    they are regarded as dust on the scales;
    he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust (Isaiah 40:15)

Compared to the power and greatness of God, America and all nations are less then nothing.  That is not a knock on America as much as it is a recognition of how great God is.

The question is, when we get involved in politics do we act like everyone else, do we act as if it will be the end of the world (or as one famous person said, 1000 years of darkness) if our candidate loses, or do we act in a way that reflects our confidence in the God who is in control and much more powerful then any candidate?

The Israelites were called to be an example of life in relationship with God, with their loyalty to God as their primary loyalty.  We Christians are called to the same thing: our loyalty to Jesus Christ outweighs all other loyalties.

The Israelites failed.  Instead of being an example, they wanted to be like others and put their trust for a better world in a king.  Do we do this?  Do we put our hope for a better world in Romney or Obama?  If so, we’re in the same position as Israel.

Whoever you believe is better for the country and however you express your beliefs, do so in such a way that demonstrates confidence in God, not fear of things that are like dust on the scales.

Why Jesus? (A Review, or an apology for not liking the book to all my friends who are Ravi fans)

I read this book as part of a Goodreads group I am a member of.  Though I finished it over a week ago, I have not been able to write a review of it because I still cannot figure out what I think.  I should like it.  I work in campus ministry, my desire is for people to know Jesus, I enjoy apologetics and trying to answer questions people have.  Others who do the same work as I do tend to be huge fans of Ravi’s work.  Further, I am sure I agree with Ravi on the essentials of Christian faith.  So again, I should like this book.

I did like parts of it.  There were many gems here and there.  Yet, the style of writing and argument ultimately left me unsatisfied.  I think part of it was that as I was reading, more and more I wondered who this book was for.  At one point he was talking about  the temple in ancient Jerusalem and the corruption that took it over.  Such stories make me think this book is not for people without prior knowledge of scripture.  He wrote as if his readers knew the story, and while I did, I know many people, both Christian and non-Christian, would find the whole thing confusing.  Solomon?  So I don’t think this book is meant to be given to a spiritual seeker who is relatively unfamiliar with faith.  But then, who is it for?

Overall, I found his writing style very random.  Back when I first learned about Ravi, years ago when I was in college, a friend said he much more enjoyed Ravi as a speaker then as an author.  I read one book by Ravi in college and though it was interesting, I did not keep coming back to it like I did books by other apologists.  Perhaps it is his random writing style, which as I read this book I recalled from the previous one.  He’ll randomly bring up some author (At one point he wrote, “Of course Neale Donald Wasch’s book…” – Who?  He never mentioned this person before) or make some anecdote that has little to do with what he’s saying (such as bringing up the building of a mosque near ground zero in New York).

One of my Goodreads friends has said Ravi is subtle.  Maybe that’s the case and maybe I just don’t get it.  And maybe this review is sounding apologetic because I know when I post it on Goodreads I’ll get a hard time.  But when I read an apologetic book one judgment I give is whether I would recommend this book to someone.  I recommend Tim Keller and CS Lewis and Francis Schaeffer all the time.  I can’t imagine a situation I’d recommend this book in.  Or to return to the question above, I am not sure who this book is for.

I suppose if I met someone who really loved Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey, then I’d offer this book.  Maybe such a person is the targeted audience.  But that reveals another reason I think I struggled with this book.  I have never met anyone who reads Chopra, and I don’t think any of my students watch Oprah.  I think Ravi’s point is more that these two represent a cultural move, their ideas have permeated culture, or they represent the sort of ideas that permeate culture.  This is probably true, and elements of this “new spirituality” are dangerous.   Yet after a while I felt like I was learning more about what is wrong with Chopra then I was with what is right about Jesus.  If I was someone who had read Chopra, all the information on him may be helpful.  To me, it became nearly petty.

Before I give some positives, I’ll also say I found Ravi’s lack of footnotes frustrating.  For example, when he writes, “Hindu apologists say,” I want a reference because I’d love to read Hindu apologetics.  I have never seen a Hindu apologetics book and I recall learning in religion classes that Hinduism does not really engage in rational apologetics like Christianity does.  So I’d be interested in learning more.  At another place, he mentions Richard Niebuhr’s famous quote that says liberal Christianity gives us “a God without wrath who took Man without sin into a kingdom without righteousness through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”  But Ravi, sort of randomly, to use my word of the day, applies this to Chopra and religious ideas in general.  Is Ravi saying liberal Christianity is connected to the “new spirituality”?  Is he being this subtle and I just don’t get it?

Ravi’s goal is to respond to the “new spirituality” with the gospel of Jesus.  Within this he does make some great statements, such as:

God has put enough into this world to make faith in him a most reasonable thing; but he has left enough out to make it impossible to live by reason alone” (Zacharias, Ravi (2012-01-25). Why Jesus?: Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality (p. xvi). Hachette Book Group. Kindle Edition)

Why Jesus? He is the Lord who makes reality beautiful and helps us to find him, even in the darkest corners of the world; not because of what we know or who we are or what we have accomplished, but because of who he is. He is truly the “Hound of Heaven” who says, “Thou dravest love from thee that dravest me” (Zacharias, Ravi (2012-01-25). Why Jesus?: Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality (p. 225). Hachette Book Group. Kindle Edition).

I also like how he makes the point that many are okay with the idea that Jesus went to the East to learn from gurus, but would be revolted by the idea that eastern deities (such as Krishna) came west.  He makes a strong case that Eastern religion, which often appears so tolerant, is actually just as exclusive as the west.  Along with that, he works hard to balance reason and rationality with experience and spirituality.  It is not the “spirituality” that is the problem, is it the type of spirituality being promoted that places humanity at the center.  Sometimes apologists over-emphasize the rational side of things, but Ravi manages to resist this.  He even praises some in the Christian mysticism tradition, such as St. John of the Cross.

Finally, I am wondering what the place of a book like this, or any apologetic book, is.  Ravi spends much of the beginning of the book critiquing television and films.  He argues that the new spirituality has been promoted in this medium.  If he is right, then he has little hope of changing much by writing a book.  Or at least, writing a book is just the first step.  Christian apologists can write all sorts of fantastic books, but until other Christians find a way to bring these ideas into the real world, in ways understandable to those who will never pick up such books, we’ll be fighting a losing battle.  In other words, if Ravi, and those like him, do their job then it is up to others to translate these ideas in appealing ways via television and the internet.

Overall, for all I was frustrated with in this book, it is still a decent offering in the apologetic sphere.  Those who have read or are fans of Chopra and Oprah could benefit from it.  It is not ever going to be among my favorites, but I am sure I learned more than I may realize now.  Let’s say two stars, since three is basically my default and this was a little lower then expectations, to me.


The Walking Dead, Our New Obsession

Emily and I don’t watch that much television.  Without any sort of cable tv or antennae, we limit ourselves to whatever is available on Netflix as well as a few shows on Hulu (The Office and 30 Rock).  Last spring when we were looking for something to watch on Netflix I noticed The Walking Dead.  I had heard seen a few people mention it on Facebook, so we gave it a try.

We’re addicted.  We watched the first season in a couple weeks and have been watching an episode as often as we can since season two was put on Netflix (as often as we can =  after Junia is in bed and when neither of us is working that night).  With season three just starting, we are almost finished with season two and hopefully we’ll be able to get in with the new episodes somehow.

What I find so compelling about this show is that it tackles big (huge…tremendous) questions of morality.  In a post-zombie apocalypse world, what sort of morality ought the remaining humans have?  When you are part of the small remaining segment of humanity, constantly on the lookout for zombies who will relentlessly attack you, what exactly are the rules?

Do weak people still matter?  Is there still such a thing as justice?  Or is it simply “might makes right”?

On one side is Shane, a former cop.  As a cop, his job was to keep the peace, to help those in need, to defend those who could not defend themselves.  But we have seen him turn into the symbol of the new morality: kill any threats to the group without question, leave behind or sacrifice any who slow us down and get in the way.

On the other side is Dale.  Dale speaks for traditional morality, the sort of morality that most adhered to in the pre-apocalyptic world.  When the group has a human prisoner, and everyone wants the prisoner eliminated in the name of their own safety, Dale speaks for fairness and even forgiveness.  He calls on the group to not lose its humanity.

As the characters have their philosophical discussions on what sort of morality goes in the new world, I can’t help but wonder what I would do?  Are the morals and ethics I hold to just a product of my culture or religion?  In a different situation, would I jettison them for something that works better?

I have often heard some say that a person’s character is truly discovered when tough times hit.  It is easy to believe certain things or live a certain way when times are good, but when life falls apart it is revealed what you really think. It makes me wonder if a character like Shane, even though he was a police officer, always had the “survival of the fittest” attitude in the depths of his heart and mind.

Perhaps I should not be surprised that there is already a Walking Dead and Philosophy book.  Before I began writing this, I did a brief search to see what else has been written on this topic and found this article to say much of what I was already thinking: The Post-Apocalyptic Morality of the Walking Dead.

And for the record, we still have two episodes left in season two.  So if you read this, don’t comment and give anything away!

What do you think: if you’re a Walking Dead fan, what does it say about morality and ethics?  How might you live differently in a post-zombie apocalypse world?

Reflections on a Crazy, Wonderful Weekend

I still remember my first ever fall retreat with Christian Student Fellowship as a student.  It was way back in the fall of 2000.  We went to Sylvan Hills Christian Camp, about 20 minutes from State College, PA.  The guest speaker talked a lot about Jesus’ disciple Peter.  That’s about all I remember, other then that it was a fantastic time.

Since then I’ve gone on nearly every CSF retreat.  I missed a few when I was in seminary in Illinois, though even then I made it to one.  My motives were not exactly holy.  The reason I went was to see my girlfriend, now my wife, who was still a student at Penn State.

Retreats are always a great time: an opportunity to get a bunch of students together for a weekend, spending time in prayer and worship and study, as well as playing games and building community.  There are always Saturday afternoon football games.  Sometimes people ask me how I can still keep up with college students on the football (or frisbee) field.  My answer is simple: I can’t.  But its not because I’ve experienced a drop-off in my own athletic skill.  I was never athletic!  If anything, I’ve stayed at a consistent, slightly below-average level, for the last 10 years!  Talking them into letting me be quarterback helps, then I can just stand there and throw the ball (I have been told I resemble Peyton Manning, but that was before I grew a beard).

For a while I thought I would not make it to this year’s retreat.  The reason was that I had a wedding scheduled that same weekend.  The location was the same as it was all those years ago, but now I live in Reading and thus have a three hour drive to get there.  My students would still go, but it seemed unlikely I would.

When I was told the rehearsal was to be on Friday with the wedding on Sunday, the possibility arose of going for the day.  But that is still a lot of driving!  Then the campus minister planning asked if I would be the “guest” speaker.  This was mostly in an effort to keep costs down: rather than paying a guest a few hundred, I’d do it for free since I am already on payroll!

Well, with my history of loving these weekends I could not say no.  So after the rehearsal ended on Friday, I got in my car and drove the three hours, getting there around 11 PM.  A good night’s sleep led into a day when I had the opportunity to teach the students for three sessions.

During the first session I shared about how the story of the Bible provides us with our mission as Christians, a mission centered on joining Jesus in the restoring of a broken creation.  I also talked about how within the story of redemption, there is a movement from a time when God’s people are a tiny, cultural minority (Abraham, Exodus) to a time when they are the majority, running their own land (David, Solomon), then to a time when they are a minority again (exile).

In the second session I talked about how we see the same movement in the history of the Western church: from an illegal minority in the early days, to the era of Christendom when the church and state were united (which lasted for over a thousand years) and now it appears we are moving into a time of post-Christendom.  One question I asked was how come it was so easy to believe in God or traditional Christianity in 1500 and seems so difficult to now?

My point was that it is very difficult to live as a Christian on college campus.  Yet if we realize our situation as exile, we can look into scripture for ideas on how to minister in this situation.  One place we can go is the letter to the exiles in Jeremiah 29.  The message there is simple: don’t whine about your situation, accept it.  Get to work on the mission, which has not changed.  Work for the good of the city, which echoes the command to Abraham way back in Genesis 12 to bring blessing.

In the third session I tried to give a direction to what this looks like and I focused on vocation.  I told them I believe each student has gifts and passions, given to them by God, to be used to bring goodness and life (the kingdom of God) into the world.  This looks different for each person in each career.  It was the place where I stopped trying to give answers and said they need to figure out what it looks like.  But I did say I think Christians are bored, and a large reason is they do not see how their faith relates to everyday life.  What if they saw their career and major as a call?  What if churches commissioned nurses, engineers, teachers and everyone else instead of just pastors and missionaries.

(By the way, I drew on tons of books, blog posts, lectures and all sorts of other things in putting this together.  Very little that I said, probably nothing, was original to me.  I’d love to offer footnotes but I’d probably have to footnote every paragraph and as this is a blog post and not a research paper, I’ll pass.  Just know I am thankful for all those I have learned from.)

At the end of Saturday, after a long day of speaking, as well as some football and Settlers of Catan, I drove home.  It was rough at times and coffee failed to help, but I made it.  The next day I woke up and went to church.  Then it was on to the wedding.

The bride was the sister of one of my students at CSF.  That was how I got connected.  It was a blast of a wedding that deserves its own stories, but I fear this post is too long already.  I’ll just say that when I got home from the reception I was beat, physically and emotionally.  It was a crazy, but a wonderful weekend.

An Altar in the World (A Review)

There are a few authors who, when I read them, I feel invigorated about life.  Such authors make me want to be a Christian on days I am feeling cynical.  They are good for my soul.  I am thinking of people like Frederick Buechner, Henri Nouwen,  Eugene Peterson and N.T. Wright.  Now I can add another to that list, probably someone who I should have read long ago: Barbara Brown Taylor.

I bought her book, An Altar in the World, months ago when it was discounted on Amazon.  There it sat in my Kindle.  I would often notice it in there as I opened other books.  Now, I wonder why I did not get to it sooner.

The book is about meeting God in bodily practices in the real world.  So often spirituality is seen as something otherworldly and thus for people with their heads in the clouds.  By talking about things as physical as walking around, getting lost and going to work, Taylor locates spirituality on a level all people can attain.

Taylor writes for those who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.”  She writes from a specific place: a former pastor, current religion professor and disciple of Jesus.  But this is no systematic theology, nor is it a simple five step program to a more spiritual life.  It is a book that is good for your soul.  It is a book that will cause you to pause throughout your day and notice the goodness and beauty, the spiritual, right in the midst of the world.  In doing so, perhaps you will notice God too.

This book is written in such a way that each chapter stands alone.  Thus, for people who do not read much, or do not read books like this much, it could be encountered a chapter here and a chapter there.  For those who read many books, often quickly and straight through before moving on to the next one, I’d encourage this book be read slowly.  Even if you want read more, just read one chapter a day and let it stew in your mind.  All in all, I’d say this could be a beneficial and enjoyable read for anyone interested in the things of God and the supernatural.

Junia Tormenting Skippy

I think my daughter is crazy.  She is an eighteen-month-old ball of goofiness and fun.  A primary example of her craziness: the way she tries to play with our dog, Skippy.

We keep Skippy locked in his little area of the kitchen, which we call his den.  It is just safer and easier to keep Junia and him separate; he likes her, but why take chances?  But Junia adores Skippy and wants to play with him.  The best way to play with him when he is behind bars: throw anything and everything she can find over the gate so Skippy has plenty of toys, books, sippy-cups, fridge magnets, shoes, mail and more.

As Junia has gotten bigger, the things she is able to throw over to Skippy have also gotten bigger.  Case in point: she has a little toy stroller that she can push her dolls around in.  Today this stroller went up and over the gate.

Junia lifts the stroller over her head…


The stroller clears the gate!


Skippy wonders what he ought to do with a stroller.

Good work Junia.  Throwing all that over the gate has certainly earned you a nice afternoon nap.

And like an idiot, I’ll put away all the stuff you’ve thrown over the gate, everything will be in its proper place, knowing that later today its all going back over the gate.

Christian Bookstore – You’ve Gotta Do Better!

This past Friday I visited the local Christian bookstore.  I rarely go there, not because I have anything against Christian bookstores, but because I rarely go to any bookstore.  When I do go to a bookstore, my first stop is a used-bookstore.  But on this particular day, I was looking for something I knew the Christian bookstore, and probably only the Christian bookstore, would have.

So I made my way there, Junia in tow, found what I needed (a few Bible study books for a small group, to be precise) and headed to the cashier to make my purchase.

That’s when the interrogation began:

“May I have your phone number please?”

No problem.

“What’s your name?”

Ummm…you need my name?

“Can I have your home address?”

I just want to buy a book!

“Do you have an email address, we send out special offers through email?”

That’s when I said no.  It is probably when, in the eyes of the cashier, I became a jerk.  Who says no to one email a month from any retailer?  She probably knew as well as I do that my email is clogged with mailing lists I have signed up for.  I wonder if I was the first person to refuse being put on this list.

When I went to the store, all I wanted to do was buy a few books, not answer a dozen questions about my identity and location.  I especially didn’t want to answer a bunch of questions when my kid is running around the store like a terror!  Come to think of it, maybe their tactic is to delay my purchase so Junia would break some trinket that I would then have to buy?  At any rate, in the words of Charlie Brown: Good grief!

In the year 2012, it takes a lot for anyone to actually get in a car, drive to a bookstore and buy something in person.  If we can’t get the book on our e-reader, we’ll order it and wait a few days via Amazon.  When we do go to bookstores it is probably to meet a friend for coffee, or to spend a while perusing books while sitting on a comfy couch.  On the chance we want to buy a book, we want the process to be quick and painless.

I get that many stores ask questions.  You have to give your phone number at the craft supply store and the electronic store.  But I am okay with one question, with giving my phone number.  I am even okay with knowing that the store will probably use my phone number to figure out my home address and mail me stuff.  If that’s the game, play it.

I am also fine if a store asks if I would like to receive coupons in the mail and then asks for my mailing address and email.  If I want to be on the list, I’ll consent and if not, I won’t.  Again, easy.

I think what stuck me as most odd was that I was given no option in answering the questions.  The cashier started asking them as if I had to give all this information to buy a few books.  When she finally did give me an option, four questions in, I declined.  Maybe I’m just a meanie.  But maybe, if it was explained why this information was desired up front, I would have given the information freely.

The whole thing was just weird.

At any rate, my point is: Christian bookstore, you gotta do better.  I am already disinclined to buy things at your store, and this tiny hassle (and I admit, in the grand scheme of things, it is a teeny-tiny hassle) is enough to make me even less likely to return.

Christian bookstore, I love you and you are doing a wonderful service.  But in this regard, do better.

Getting Lost in Failure to Remember My Identity

There is always something that needs fixing around the house.  Yesterday I set out to complete one of these repairs, and it was a long time coming.  After visiting Home Depot for the fourth time earlier in the week, I figured out what I needed to do.  All I had to do was buy one six foot long piece (which Home Depot did not sell, so I had to go to Lowe’s), saw off a 40 inch piece to fit at the bottom of the doorframe and voila, done.


Well, easy for a “normal” guy.  That is, easy for a guy who qualifies as a “handy-man,” able to fix anything in the house without breaking much of a sweat.  When I discover something in the house that needs fixing, I break a sweat just thinking about it.

Yesterday afternoon Emily and Junia were out of town, so getting this project done was my first goal.  Hours later I gave up in frustration.

I sat on the couch in anger and self-pity.  I sat wishing I could be more than I was, more like other men, like friends and neighbors who were good at this sort of thing.

As I began to come out of my self-pity, I retreated to the backyard.  The backyard is filled with its own set of frustrations, though at least here I more or less know what I am doing and how to deal with it.  The frustrations are simply that the place is like a jungle, as the previous owners planted tons of vines and bushes that take a lot of work to keep under control.  That said, a bit of time out there is usually refreshing.  After doing a little work out there, I came inside and began to cook dinner for three guys from CSF that I had invited over for fun and food.

Cooking, unlike repairing the house, is something I am good at.  In a brief time I had what I knew would be a fantastic dinner and desert ready for these young men.  Of course, since I am competing with the food in the dining halls, I do not have to do much to make something better.  But still, if I do say so myself, it was a pretty good meal.

I had a good time with my guys.  We ate, we played a game of Settlers of Catan, we told stories (including my story of my earlier frustrations with the door).  After they left, I sat down to do some reading and I came across this passage:

“Anything can become a spiritual practice once you are willing to approach it that way – once you let it bring you to your knees and show you what is real, including who you really are, who other people are, and how near God can be when you have lost your way” – Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, 82.

Working on the door brought me to my knees.  It reminded me who I really am.  Eventually (it took a few hours) I was able to realize that who I really am is a broken, imperfect and loved person.  There are a lot of things I have not learned how to do yet.  I am not good at many things, including some things that I feel I ought to be good at to qualify as a “real man.”  My failures and ineptitude makes me feel inferior to others.

Yet the truth is, I am loved, just the way I am.  I recognize that God, my Creator, loves me as the man I am.  My wife loves me in the same way – she fell in love with a man who was better at cooking and cleaning then at fixing things.

This is who I am.  And I am loved.

I also was able to realize that though I am imperfect, I am still learning.  I think back to other repairs I have done on the house, others that have been equally frustrating but some that have made me proud at the completion of a near flawless job.

I am still learning in a whole host of other areas in my life.  There are a lot of things I wish I did better, and there are some that I know I am better then I was 10 years ago.  What is most beautiful is that I know I am loved by God my Father and there is nothing I can do, no amount of house repairs or tasty meals, that will make God love me more.  And there is nothing I can fail to do, no amount of shoddy repairs or messed-up meals, that will make God love me less.

Yesterday, I had to get lost in frustration to be reminded of that.