THE END.

I wish to make an ANNOUNCEMENT. I regret to announce that — though, as I said, two years is far too short a time to spend among you — this is the END. I am going. I am leaving NOW. GOOD-BYE!

I’m going to focus on some other projects, which may later be found starting April 2 at Justin.Mulwee.com. As of today, I’m ending this blog. I know this will upset some people. Simply put, I no longer enjoy writing it. It was a good run, and maybe in the future something else will come up bearing the name Blackbird Press. But as for this blog in front of you — it’s finished.  Thanks for reading. But don’t be sad — the change is a result of my own growth, and I am just ready to move onto projects I find more interesting, and more beautiful.

I leave you with a list of the things from the archives I think are most worth reading.

Justin Mulwee

Travis Lambert

Tia Murray

Other Authors / Multiple Authors

 

Justin Mulwee

Justin is a penniless vagabond with a tiny internet soapbox.

Uncensored Prayer #3

Hey God,

I’ve stared at this for several minutes trying to figure out what to say to You. How can I have nothing to say? How long has it been since we really talked? Longer than me just venting in the car about my day. Longer than me just begging you for peace or feeling or happiness. Long enough to actually talk with you about this never-ending depression that seems to hit so hard these days.

It’s as though I’ve gotten used to the daily job of avoiding any conversation that will actually require me to talk about how I’m doing. This includes conversations with You, despite the necessity and the fact that it may actually help me to feel better. People are just so overly exhausting. I can only put on a face for so long before I feel the need to hide in bed and just disappear.

I’ve gotten pretty used to telling people how busy I am and that I almost have no time to myself. It was believable through grad school, but now it’s not a good response. I’ll have to find another way to hide from others. I always think that it’s laziness, but I know it’s not. Laziness doesn’t keep me feeling numb or wanting to escape. It’s just this giant weight of something on me…and there are days where I wonder if it will ever go away.

God, I know I’ve felt Your presence so deeply before in my life. I remember being afraid to fall asleep, terrified that someone was going to get me, only to physically feel your arms wrapped around me, keeping me safe. Even last week, as I sat at my desk terrified about a case that seems above my head, you brought me peace after begging for it multiple times. But I just find myself feeling so empty that nothing will fill that void.

Everything I say to You seems meaningless. It’s all been discussed before: the depression, the anxiety, everything in my past…all of it just seems redundant to discuss. Yet it all just ebbs and flows. I can feel spectacular and be moving forward, or I can move back and focus on the past again. I just want clarity in life. I want to see everything clearly, especially You. So often I see You as this being in the sky who watches everything happening on earth and only intercedes when asked. It’s hard for me to remember that You’re right here with me. That what happened to me angers you as much, if not more, than it does me. That my loneliness and depression isn’t something that I need to face alone: You are here and You have given me people that care and want to help. It’s still so hard for me to reach out, though, no matter how much I need it.

God, please give me peace.

God, please give me peace.

God, please give me peace.

God, please give me peace.

God, please give me peace.

God, please give me peace.

A Letter To My Father

Hey, Daddy, it’s your little girl. The one who rejected the religion she was raised with. The one who became Catholic.

Do you think I’m going to hell? I know you think I’m a lost cause somehow. And that frustrates me. You always adored me, but now that I’m not your perfect Evangelical doll anymore, I feel that you’re disappointed in me.

I know you love me immensely, more than you could possibly express. I love you, too, very deeply. It’s just weird, you know, having had your highest approval for most of my life and now feeling that you’re in some way ashamed of me.

It’s not that I’m rejecting your God. Why can’t you understand that? I love the Evangelical God, and you showed me part of His character. Because of you, I know that God is strong, that He protects me, that He cares for me and provides for me. But most of all, you taught me that God is perfect, and that He expects me to be perfect.

“Be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”

I always felt like I had to be absolutely flawless. Not just morally, but in every way. If I did anything too silly, or clumsy, or just plain stupid, you made me feel like a fool. I quickly learned not to make careless mistakes. You taught me well: my apartment is almost always organized, I don’t go out with my hair looking like a mess, I don’t set cold drinks on wooden tables without coasters. I learned that imperfection is unacceptable. And I always believed that if I wasn’t perfect, I wouldn’t be truly loved.

But Dad, God isn’t like that! You know how I know? I met my boyfriend.

My boyfriend has taught me all about God. And yes, the same one you worship, even though my boyfriend is Catholic. He taught me that God is kind, and patient, and gentle. He showed me the meaning of unconditional love and undying faithfulness. I’ve done stupid things in front of him. I’ve messed up horribly. But he hasn’t rejected me. He just keeps loving me, more and more each day.

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Dad, this is the image of God I needed to see: the unconditional love. Not judgment. Not disappointment. Not harshness. Not guilt.

My cousin was raised Evangelical, too. She’s now Episcopalian, and she, too, feels free from the guilt she was raised with. She says the guilt invaded every part of her life.

I’m wondering if it’s not a common feeling among Evangelical kids. There seems to be a long list of things that don’t strike me as morally wrong, but that we’re not supposed to do. Here’s my personal list of scandals.

I have:

  • Gone to a bar.
  • Danced at a club with my crazy drunken friends.
  • Gotten tipsy and made out with my boyfriend.
  • Made out with my boyfriend while sober.
  • Invited my boyfriend to sleep over. Many times.
  • Cussed like a sailor.
  • Scheduled an appointment to get a tattoo.
  • Dated two smokers.
  • Bought a tobacco pipe. Haven’t smoked it yet, but I will soon.
  • Had a crush on another woman.
  • Left the church tradition I was raised in.
  • Affirmed my belief that members of other religions, and no religion, can go to Heaven.
  • Affirmed my belief in purgatory.
  • Befriended a witch. (Who I do believe is going to Heaven.)

I know some of these things are the reason why you think I’m a lost cause. But Dad, what did I do wrong?

Sometimes I think my only sin was endangering your reputation. You seem to be concerned with what the church community will think. You think that I’m a reflection of you, and that you’ve failed as a father and as a man because I turned out so “wild.”

Daddy, you haven’t failed! You raised me with a strong sense of right and wrong, and for that I am eternally grateful. Daddy, why are you ashamed of me? Why do you care so much about what people think that you’ve equated it with what God thinks?

What have I done wrong? What do I have to feel guilty about?

I don’t believe the same things you do. Please accept that, and accept me. I love you.

Anonymous

This post was sent to Justin anonymously. To send an anonymous post, just email editor@blackbirdpress.org and request that your name be omitted on publication.

Uncensored Prayer #2

Hi God,

So, wow. It’s been a really long time since I last talked to you. (Like a real conversation, not just spontaneous Oh God thank you so much for this gorgeous baby.) I’m pretty sure that if anyone at my church knew how long it’s been, they would question whether I’m even a Christian. And they would say that that explains why I haven’t been to church in forever. And that last time I read my Bible? I don’t want to think about it, or I might start questioning whether I’m even a Christian.

The trouble is, God, it seems like you talk to other Christians way more than you talk to me. This was the case even when I talked to you every day.

The other day our pastor asked a group of us to share what you’ve been telling us lately. When no one answered, he wrote us off as being too shy, and told us we ought to be more open about these things. He didn’t imagine for a second that we hadn’t shared anything because there was nothing to share. What God has been telling us lately? Does God speak to individuals more than once or twice a decade?

I do feel like you’ve spoken to me a couple of times in my life. I can think of at least three distinct occasions. Twice in university, and once in my married life.

I once told some of my university friends that I was pretty sure you’d spoken to me a couple of times before, and they were in awe. The Creator of the Universe spoke to you? They seemed to think I was incredibly privileged, like Julian of Norwich, whom we studied in Medieval Literature.

But according to my Evangelical friends, I should be hearing you at least on a weekly basis. If I’m not, I must be doing something wrong.

So which is it? Am I not a real Christian if I haven’t heard from you in over a year? Or if I haven’t read the Bible or been to church in who knows how long? Are those the things that make a person a Christian?

The thing is, I still believe you are all the things the Bible says you are. I believe Jesus is the only hope for our ruined world. I believe that you’re there, that you like me, that you love everyone, and that you want all of us to care for each other. I try to live out your wishes by remaining faithful to my husband, caring for my daughter, recycling, donating money to the poor, being friendly and patient with the other people in line at the grocery store, growing vegetables, eating organic, buying fair-trade or second-hand, reading books written by your followers, and offering to babysit our friends’ kids for free. And I do all these things because I believe this is your world and you love everything in it and you want us to treat them well. Are those the kinds of things you’re looking for?

They feel right to me, but all my life I’ve been told that it’s all about prayer, Bible-reading, and church attendance. I should be having all these spiritual feelings, singing these certain songs, and exchanging all these words with you.

Honestly, God, writing it all out, I’m feeling less and less guilty for my lack of Evangelical-y behavior and more and more okay with what I’ve been doing. I hope you agree, since it’s your will that really matters in all this. But how do I know you approve? Will you let me know via guilty conscience, or do I need to sit in a quiet place every day and just listen for an answer?

I guess if I think about it, Jesus often went off to be alone and listen to you in a quiet place, so I should probably do the same. And I might be able to find answers in the Scriptures if I read them more often.

Wait a second. Just now, when I said that “writing it all out, I’m feeling less and less guilty…” was that an instance of you communicating with me? I took some time out of my day to quietly reflect, and by the end of it I felt peace about the way I’ve been living my life. Was that you? Or just me?

That’s the frustrating thing about talking to you, God: I’m never sure if it’s you talking back, or just my imagination.

I guess I’ll never know for sure, and that’s where faith comes in, et cetera, et cetera. I guess I’ll trust that that was a God moment.

I guess I should do this more often. Thanks for having Justin ask me to do this. It’s kinda cool how you work sometimes.

Uncensored Prayer #1

I want publish more things that sort of document how people are wrestling with God. For one thing, it lets people who wrestle with God (most of us) know that they aren’t crazy. Or if they are crazy, at least they’re in good company.

To that end, I’m starting a series called uncensored prayer, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Written prayers that don’t try to sound holy and are more concerned with being honest than with saying the right thing. If you feel so inclined, please send me one. In the mean time, it’s only fair that I start it off with one of my own.

Dear God, sometimes I feel that there is nothing more to say to you. I fail at my goals and commitments, I ask for your help, your presence to resolve the situation, but get none. No sign of you. I feel like we just keep disappointing each other.

I’ve been having trouble praying lately because I don’t have anything to say. Frequently, I pray and the apparent result is… nothing. Emptiness. The feeling that it was a waste of time in the first place. It’s like I regret praying. Sometimes, anyway. There are other times when I do feel your presence. What frustrates me is the unpredictability.

I’m desperate for you, though. Really I am. Sometimes in bed I reach my hand out, literally reach it out, hoping that I will somehow be able to get your help if I stretch out my hand. I remember walking down the street at Spring Arbor late at night, and I closed my eyes and put my hand out. I told you I wanted you to lead me. I waited in silence and all sincerity, waiting to feel a phantom hand slip into mine and lead me, blind, down the road. And I really thought you would do it. But you didn’t. I felt so empty when you didn’t.

Last week I fasted all day, praying in silence, waiting for you to speak to me. To give me some insight, some comfort, or even just the faintest hint of your presence. I felt nothing, and after a day of fasting and prayer, I felt robbed.

Is there some kind of trick to getting what I need from you? Or am I just supposed to do nothing and wait? A relationship with you really isn’t like my other relationships. I know what to expect from my friends, my family. But you’re a mystery. Which is great, in theory, I just wish you wouldn’t go all mysterious mode when I need you the most.

Look, I know you don’t owe me anything. I believe you are a good person and I’m sure you have your reasons. But sometimes you make no sense to me. I want to be angry at you, but I can’t be for long, because I know if there’s anybody doing anything wrong here, it’s me. But I don’t need validation. What I need is you.

Justin Mulwee

Justin is a penniless vagabond with a tiny internet soapbox.

Does Anyone in the Church Ever Think About Literature?

Editor’s note: This was originally published in Paul’s own blog, Sparks and Ashes.

For starters, this isn’t a post about poorly read Christians.

I recently stumbled across Eric Metaxas’ Fox News rant lamenting the sorry state of Scripture knowledge in the media (“Does Anyone in The Media Ever Read The Bible?“). Among other things, Metaxas is peeved with a recent flub by the NY Times. The gaffe credited W.B. Yeats with a quote modified from the Book of Hebrews – “Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.”

To shorten a longish story, the quote is not original to Yeats, it was widely circulated by the press before the mistake was caught, and now everybody in Metaxas’ “middle America” (is that a thing now?) is grouchy about how bad the media is at reading Holy Writ. A subsequent correction by the Times was insufficient to calm things down.

Metaxas uses the situation (and a similar lyrical flub by rigorous biblical fact-checker Willie Nelson) as the latest evidence that the media and “Hollywood celebrities” are proving increasingly deficient in “basic Sunday School knowledge.”

While this is probably true, I think that reacting with slack-jawed astonishment at these and similar mistakes is a waste of time, as is finding it another opportunity to indignantly lament our culture’s slide to Sodomic destruction occasioned by the abandonment of cultural Christianity.

Instead, I think it’s an opportunity for believers and non-believers alike to pause for a moment and consider what and how the Bible contributes to our creative culture. This is a huge topic, far beyond my abilities to trace in a blog post. Really though, the root question here is pretty simple, and comes in two parts. First, how does the Bible contribute its wisdom, imagery, and language to a/our culture. Secondly, in what ways do we consider the Bible “static” literature, and in what ways do we consider it “living” literature?

Two Contributions

When I pick up my tattered copy of the English Bible, I see it as a single book that contributes to my life in two distinct ways.

The first is as the mysterious, God-breathed Word, the book that my pastors expound for my growth and encouragement on Sundays; a rambling, epic collection of poems, stories, songs, histories, letters, fictions, prophecies, apocalypse, and teaching. As a follower of Jesus, this book for me is divine revelation second only to the incarnate God-man, a written Word that parallels and complements the living one. As I draw life from this magnificent book, I share something common to all the people of God who have met him in its pages.

But there’s another way that Scripture contributes to my life. I also look at my Bible as a vastly important work of literature. It is the perennial world bestseller, and (especially in English) the most influential fountainhead of our language and literary heritage. It’s influence on Western letters is incalculable. It has been quoted and alluded to endlessly. It’s a mighty literary shout that only echoes louder as the centuries pass.

I have to be very careful to not conflate these two contributions the Bible makes to my life, and here is why. If I examine the use of Scripture by someone who is accessing it as literature, and hold them to the same careful standard of exegetical excellence that I demand of my pastor, things won’t turn out well. I will be at least disappointed, at middling, quite grouchy, and at worst, infuriated and ready to do violence. This isn’t fair, either to Scripture or those accessing it.

This Beautiful Chaos

Scripture offers rich language, imagery, and rhythm for artists and intellectuals, but of course not all of that influence comes directly from its pages as a primary source. The Bible they are accessing is the Bible of literature, and their exposure to it has probably come as much from Steinbeck, Bunyan, and Flannery O’Connor as from the Bible itself. Those allusions still belong to modern creatives, because as soon as they left the pages of Scripture to be woven in story, song, and film, they became something related to Scripture, but no longer Scripture itself. If we ignore the rich tapestry of Scripture in its original context, then that’s legitimately our loss. But the words and images of the Bible have a life of their own, apart from the Bible, as part of an artistic tradition that is supremely messy, chaotic, and joyous. Milton’s Satan is not the Bible’s Satan. Robert Johnson’s Satan is neither the Bible’s Satan, nor Milton’s Satan, but both, and with something added.

This growing and beautiful chaos is the difference between living and static literature. For me in my church’s pew, the Bible as literature is “static,” not in the spiritual sense (nothing could be more alive), but in the same way that Latin, or Koine Greek is static. It’s not developing. It’s “dead.” I don’t believe that the body of written revelation will grow.

But the Bible as cultural heritage is vibrantly alive, in the sense that it grows, changes, and evolves. It’s unpredictable. In this sense, when Nick Cave shares a genius lecture titled “The Flesh Made Word,” I don’t call for torches and pitchforks, or cluck my tongue at him for misquoting John 1. He’s developing John 1. He’s adding something to our culture that is deeply, inextricably rooted in Scripture. It’s imagery and power could not exist without Scripture. But it’s different. It’s new. It’s a living contribution to the developing heritage of the Bible in our arts. He’s not claiming that what he made with the Bible’s words is divinely inspired. He’s not preaching. And that’s perfectly fine. I’m still rather enthralled, and grateful that I get to hear echoes of the book that I love so much coming from one of the great storytellers of the 20th century.

Go, and Do Likewise

In all fairness to Metaxas, I agree that the Times should have been more careful in checking their sources. But seriously, even the best news writers make mistakes. Big deal.  As for Willie Nelson, who ever said that he was even referencing the Temptation stories of the gospels? Perhaps the development was an intentionally incorrect allusion. Perhaps it was just a mix up by a kindly, pot-addled American icon. Either way, both “mistakes” are a testimony to the Bible’s status as living literature, an infinitely limbed body of word and image that is rivaled by nothing in Western culture, perhaps nothing in human culture.

Eric signs off his article by remarking “…if I had one wish for American (sic) in 2012, I wish that we would get to know the Bible better.” I share his sentiment wholeheartedly. Hollywood, New York, go read your Bibles. You won’t do any bigger favor to your creative imagination or the health of your souls.

But let me add that I am profoundly honored by having my beloved scriptures quoted–even if occasionally misquoted–as part of the growing cultural dialogue of my nation and hemisphere. The Bible is echoing louder than ever for those who have ears to hear. I’m so glad that in this small way, the yeast is leavening the whole lump.

So, I’m taking a deep breath, and thinking carefully about my personal and creative relationship to the Bible.

Now, go thou and do likewise.

Paul Pastor

Paul Pastor writes about faith, culture, and intentional living. He holds a Masters degree in Biblical Languages and Exegesis, and is a founding member of the Vox Swifts writers collective, as well as the Albina Literary Society.

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2012: Blackbird Press Jumps the Shark

Dear Readers,

I’m bored with the Blackbird Press. The thing is, I’ve said everything I wanted to say when I started this. All my opinions about religion and the church are pretty much documented at this point, and I’m tired of rehashing them. I think our creed is great, and I’m proud of the things we’ve said to expound upon it, but I just don’t feel I have anything more to add to that discussion besides noise. Everyone has an opinion, especially on the internet, and I rarely feel like reading them anymore, much less writing them. I wrote my last post just because I hadn’t written anything lately. It is totally uninspired and forgettable.

So I thought about putting the Blackbird out of its misery.

But hold on. In December, it got over 1000 views despite having zero new content during that month. Someone once told me the Blackbird was the biggest spiritual influence on his life, and I still feel the internet has too few Christian sites that aren’t a dime a dozen in content and style. The Blackbird is one of my longest running and most successful creative projects. I’m not willing to let go yet.

So, I’m drumming up some new ideas. I haven’t decided exaclty what to do yet, but here’s some thoughts. I’d like to take a more journalistic approach and document what’s happening with Christianity and culture on a street level. I’d also like to gather more readers who aren’t Christians and don’t read other Christian blogs.

Often, agnostics are afraid to talk to Christians about anything of substance because they fear they will only be misunderstood or judged. I’d love it if the Blackbird community could be a haven for some of these people–a place where Christians are abnormally honest and unpretentious.

I’ve also always wanted the Blackbird to have a more artsy flavor than it currently does, perhaps with some more creative prose, short stories and vignettes. And man, it’s been too long since I published some good satire.

I’m not sure where I’m going here. I’d appreciate input on what you all would like to see more or less of, or any ideas you might have on how to reshape things around here.

Justin Mulwee

Justin is a penniless vagabond with a tiny internet soapbox.

Science Cannot Threaten God, Only Your Pride

For Christmas this year, my sister gave me a book entitled The Language of God, written by Francis S. Collins. Collins is both physician and medical research scientist, and served as the leader of the Human Genome Project for the majority of its existence. The Human Genome Project was a tremendously ambitious undertaking to map out the entirety of the human genome, giving us a map of the very code of human life. It succeeded.

Collins is also a devout Christian. To many, both those firmly in the camp of faith and those firmly in the camp of science, this might seem a contradiction. To get the full picture of Collins’ view on the question of whether science and faith are compatible, which can be summarized as “of course they are,” you should really just go read his book.

Collins mentions some familiar evidence for the existence of God. For example, the nigh universal recognition of the Moral Law by all humanity, and the question of the origin of all things, give support to there being something along the lines of God. From the Moral Law alone, conclusions can be drawn about this being’s nature.

I won’t, however, go into that here. These are arguments with which I am well familiar. What I was less familiar with was what he had to say about the theory of evolution. I was rather shocked to realize that there was, in fact, significant support for the theory of evolution, and that those proponents of it were not willfully blinding themselves to the truth in search of some way to deny the reality of God. It was even more unpleasant to realize that I was more likely the one willfully blinding myself in search of some way to disregard a challenge to what I had come to believe as truth.

With the continued study of the genome, within humans and animals alike, the mechanisms of evolution are being discovered. The fossil record, while still incomplete, is slowly being filled in. It would appear from the scientific evidence that Darwin’s original hypothesis is being borne out, to the point that the theory of evolution has rightfully graduated from the grounds of untested hypothesis to working and well tested theory.

Science does not use the word theory as it is used in general conversation. In general conversation, a theory can be equated to a hunch, at worst, or an educated guess, at best. In science, a theory is a coherent group of tested general propositions that are commonly reviewed as correct. It is only called theory and not fact because there is always the chance, however slight, that some new discovery will require a retooling of the theory.

This should give a clue to the nature of science itself – even things currently widely accepted as simple observable fact are considered theories, such as that of gravity. It is widely known and accepted that bodies of mass exert an attractive force on each other, and we call this gravity. It’s part of everyday experience that what goes up must come down. And yet how it works is still be researched, and our current explanation may, indeed, be not quite right or perhaps entirely wrong – so it is a theory, and not hard fact.

So when the scientist talks about a theory, it is not something that should be dismissed as “just a theory.” This is dangerous, willful ignorance.

Secondly, understand that science itself is nothing more than a set of procedures for exploring the nature of the natural world. It has been utilised since its invention and codification by believer and secularist alike to explain the world in which we live to the best of our ability. It is simply a tool for seeking out truth. When practiced properly and effectively, it self-corrects. False assumptions and hypotheses are proved false, and those more in line with reality are borne out in the fullness of time and research.

Science explores the natural world, which, if you take the account of the Bible seriously, God created in all of its wondrous detail. Therefore, any discoveries made and verified by actual science can only ever be a discovery of something of God’s creation. History bears this out: the discovery that the earth orbited the sun, and before that, that the earth was round, ultimately posed no threat to God or faith in him. Centuries later, God still exists, and so does the church.

This is because science is bounded by the observable, and by what can be experimented upon. The questions of spirit, morality, and God do not fall within these criteria. Science itself cannot pose any threat to God.

In the light of all this, and of the mounting evidence for the veracity of the theory of evolution, I find myself puzzled and somewhat disappointed in the church at large. The outcry against these findings seems fueled by misguided concerns, else more people would be in the business of discovering how this new information fits within the faith.

It is also damaging. It is only now, at a quarter century of age, that I have any inkling of the sheer weight of evidence in favor of the mechanism of evolution as the vehicle for the diversity of life, after reading this book. This is my own fault for not delving into the question myself, but fault also lies with the sources that claimed a lack of evidence, and which I believed.

Granted, many of those claims are from a time when there was little evidence. Still, it behooves us, as Christians and believers, to examine not only whether there is evidence now, but whether or not there could be evidence in the future. Secondly, it behooves to examine whether or not new, scientific findings are actually incompatible with our faith. And if we find them to be so, it behooves us to discover why.

Truth cannot contradict truth. So if we find something about the world that is true, but which conflicts with what we believe to be true, we must of necessity examine that belief in greater detail, and alter or change it to fit the actual truth. This can be said not only of the natural world, but the spiritual as well – if I held firm to a view on the nature of God that I found later to be at odds with the truth, I must question my view.

Fortunately, evolution does not demand, as so many of its most vocal proponents would have you believe, that we disregard even the suggestion of a god. There are a great many scientists who have managed to marry both scientific findings and a rock-solid faith, Collins among them, and a great many who have found faith as a result of their scientific work. This alone means that I need not even consider casting God aside (and if you had any idea that I was considering doing so, then you really haven’t been paying attention).

Remember, we are the fallible beings. If there is any fault in our faith, it is because we have made the mistake, not because God is somehow wrong. If science questions what we have come to accept as the status quo, it can only be our own pride that prevents us from accepting the change. God is infallible. His creation and his truth cannot be altered or broken by the assaults of those who reject him. To think that he would need us to defend him from something such as scientific findings is hubris. His truth is invulnerable.

What is vulnerable are the hearts and minds of our fellow humans. We are all fallible and easily swayed by the words of others. If we want to teach others the truth, we must constantly evaluate ourselves to check that we are speaking truth, and not ignorance. The Bible reminds us that “Even zeal is not good without knowledge, and he who acts hastily sins.”(Proverbs 19:2) Only when we are properly informed should we speak with authority on a subject, or else we risk harming our credibility, and by extension, the credibility of our faith, in the eyes of the world.

For my part, I am still thinking on this, and by no means am I an authority on evolution. My humble prayer is: may God guide my thoughts to the truth – and may he lead you, and all of us, there as well.

Bryn Boese

Bryn is an avid reader, gamer, and internet wanderer, who likes to think he can occasionally contribute to the general discourse.

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Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Consumerism

Thanksgiving is over. What now?

“The holiday shopping season got off to an ugly start with shoppers pepper-spraying one another to battle for bargains and robbers shooting shoppers to steal their Black Friday purchases, police said on Friday.” – Reuters (full story)

The day after Thanksgiving is always the biggest shopping day of the year. Something about this strikes me as perverse. Around Christmas, everyone is encouraged (for the sake of convenience) to sit down and make a list of all the things they want, and especially the things they don’t need, so they can then pass the list to others. In my more cynical moments, I wonder why we don’t all just buy ourselves things for Christmas and skip the nonsense of exchanging lists.

It might be too simplistic to say consumerism is evil. I’m not an economist, but consumerism seems to be an almost inevitable outgrowth of wealth and freedom, neither of which are bad. But one of the worst aspects of consumerism is perceived need. Even though much post-thanksgiving shopping is for Christmas presents, somehow we get it into our heads that buying the right gifts is some kind of necessity that must be undertaken under pain of death, rather than the jovial act of generosity it’s supposed to be. For many, Christmas shopping seems to be a terrible burden, a creeping doom to be attacked with frightening gusto, desperation, and apparently, pepper spray. It’s as if people feel their relationships with those closest to them really depended on buying the right stuff. It might behoove Christians to spend a few more days cultivating a spirit of thanksgiving before it’s forgotten in Christmas shopping shenanigans.

But what is the “spirit of thanksgiving” and why is it important? Well, Thanksgiving as a regular celebration came along in the 1660s in New England. Despite the sordid history between Europeans and Native Americans, the associated “thanksgiving story” you were taught in elementary school is true, more or less. After landing in America, the Plymouth colony didn’t have enough food to last long, and starvation was a serious concern. However, they managed to befriend the Wampanoag Native Americans, who gave them seeds and taught them how to fish. The gift was not merely food, but friendship and instruction. I picture Wampanoag folks patiently trying to show the bumbling pilgrim by example how to catch a fish, like a father would teach a son. Perhaps one of the most fitting ways to celebrate Thanksgiving would be to thank God for our teachers–the parents, professors, mentors, and friends who have set us straight more than a few times.

As Christmas approaches, we shouldn’t banish Thanksgiving. Christmas is a time, above all others, to thank God for his gifts. Thankfulness is the cure for greed. Giving thanks for all we have serves as a humbling reminder that despite our ceaseless desire for more, what we have is really enough. His grace is sufficient.

Justin Mulwee

Justin is a penniless vagabond with a tiny internet soapbox.

Is Your Grief Godly?

Travis wrote previously about the merits of guilt and shame as gifts from God to turn us back to him. Yet there is also a breed of guilt and shame that is counterproductive. It is not a matter of how much guilt and shame are felt – they are fundamentally different types. Fortunately, St. Paul helps us distinguish between the two. I was reading Second Corinthians today, and came across this.

“For even if I made you grieve with my letter [that is, probably, what we know as 1 Corinthians], I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.”

Here we see some of the characteristics of godly grief over one’s sin. First, it is short. According to Paul it lasted “only for a little while,” and in the time between the first and second letters, their godly grief came and went. We also see that Paul is careful not to glorify the grief by itself. “I rejoice NOT because you were grieved.”

We can let godly grief over sin be short and to the point because it has  a point; it exists to serve a specific function: repentance, turning to God. Once that function is filled, it is dismissed.

It is very important not to get this backwards. God does not exist to draw you into grief over sin. Grief over sin exists to draw you into God. When you are facing God, grief loses its potency; its use is spent. If you find yourself feeling more and more rotten every time you sin, and you find yourself focusing on sin more than God, stop. You’re barreling head-first into worldly grief.

What’s so bad about  this sort of grief? See Paul’s next words: For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

A while ago I was talking to a suicidal person and her entire argument for why she shouldn’t live was that she was ugly and wasn’t good at anything. It’s common for a suicidal person to simply say “I hate myself.” I wonder: how many people kill themselves because of self-hate? How many Christians hate themselves because of sin? “Worldly grief leads to death” might sound like a dramatic flourish on Paul’s part, but for some, nothing could be more literal.

Most people don’t commit suicide, but few are immune to the debilitating effects of self-deprecation. Divorced from their God-given purpose, guilt and shame become corrupt. Somehow we have gotten it into our heads that because we haven’t attained God’s standards of virtue, and we feel like we can’t, the next best thing to do is to simply go on feeling rotten about it.

I wonder if this so different from the flagellants, that is, the 13th and 14th century monks who beat themselves with whips. If you can’t beat sin, beat yourself. But God is not the critic in the audience yelling “your sin is bad and you should feel bad” as if God drew satisfaction from your wallowing in self-deprecation.

Godly grief and worldly grief might sound similar on the surface, but according to Paul, their effects are as different as life and death. So does this godly grief that leads to salvation without regret look like? Paul goes on.

“For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment!”

This seems at first like a random assortment of attitudes, and it’s not clear from the context just what he means by all of these. But it gives one a general sense that the response to godly grief is energetic. This is the exact opposite effect of worldly grief, which seems to sap our strength, erode our resolve. Godly grief is inspiring, never discouraging.

I’ll leave you with some more of St. Paul, this time a famous segment of Romans 7:

I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
(Romans 7:23-25 ESV)

I don’t claim to totally understand this passage or know anyone who does. For starters you should carefully read chapters 6-8 if not the whole book. But one thing I see is this: Paul has been complaining about sinning even though he doesn’t want to — and while he has not resolved this tension, he sounds like he has somehow come to terms with it. Regardless of his sins, he is a servant of God. That is the allegiance he has chosen, and it doesn’t seem like he let grief over past and present sin slow him down too much.

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” God is patient with us even when we are frustrated with ourselves.

I’ll make a statement which should not be controversial, but for some reason might be: it is far more important for you to keep chasing God and loving others than it is for you to establish a sinless track record. In fact, Jesus said the whole law was summed up in loving God completely and loving others as ourselves. The more we think of life in terms of honoring those two laws, the easier it will be to remember that sin is already defeated, and though it still slows us down, it cannot stop us. We press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Justin Mulwee

Justin is a penniless vagabond with a tiny internet soapbox.