Digital Watercolor: Fire-Element Spirit Deer

This was from a scan I took of a coloring book. I did some coloring with colored pencils when I was bored at work (we work with kids, so we have coloring books and art supplies around the office), but I wasn’t pleased with the results. I scanned the page and took it into Photoshop. With the help of some watercolor-style brushes (and for lack of a better title), I give you:

Fire-Element Spirit Deer
deer-mee

#Election2016

I can’t sleep.

I wish I could say that I trust in God. I wish I could say that I know for a fact that the Lord’s will is being done tonight. In my heart I believe that humans have the power to go against God’s will; after all, look at what happened in Eden.

I remember an election eight years ago where I wept with joy and surprise at seeing the first non-white President elected in the U.S. I voted for Obama the first time around and I’m glad I did.

I didn’t vote for him the second time around. I don’t have a problem with him personally; he seems like a friendly, relatively down-to-earth guy for a politician. I am mad at all the people who had spread and even now continue spreading lies about him.

I didn’t vote for him the second time around because some of his policies and precedents were just as dangerous as some of the things done during the Bush administration. I wanted *real* change. I wanted an end to Guantanamo Bay. I wanted our government to not go around drone-striking people. I was hoping for a lot of things.

But all in all, it wasn’t a terrible eight years. Life went on. As a relatively affluent (globally speaking), semi-educated, lower-middle-class white suburbanite, my life was not greatly affected by Mr. Obama.

Then I went to North Dakota, and I saw another side of America.

I saw a side of the country where people listen to Nickelback and Kid Rock without irony. I saw a side of the country where growing your own food and hunting your own meat is normal. I saw a town left hollow in the wake of a dwindling oil boom, and a struggling blue-collar economy that was ready to frack the Bakken oil field into submission if it meant more jobs and more money.

Before I went out there, I never ever would have had any perspective on what would motivate a person to vote for Donald Trump. There are people in America that feel as though they have been left behind, and rightly so, from what I’ve read.

Cities fared better than rural areas during the bailout. The “liberal agenda” pouring out (apparently?) from places like Washington and Hollywood is contrary to the conservative values of small towns and Republican counties.

You don’t have to live in a small town to feel like you’re not properly represented. The approval rating for Congress is 11%. Of course, given that members of Congress are re-elected at a near 90% rate, it seems that we all believe that it’s someone else’s representatives that are the problem.

This fucking election breaks my heart. I wish I could say I wasn’t surprised, but I am.

I’m not shocked at the populism, by the way. I see the reasons why we might get behind that in this day and age: a widespread belief in government corruption, millions (or is it billions?) of dollars being spent to influence legislation and elections, a failure to actually jail any bankers responsible for the recession… the list goes on.

In a different world, maybe we’d have had a moderate populist. In a really different world, we’d have had Bernie Sanders. A moderate populist could at least put the brakes on the massive social change that is alienating the working class conservatives without taking this country back 50 years or more. A moderate populist could work toward cleaning up Washington (draining the swamp, as it were) without resorting to xenophobic, racist, and sexist rhetoric to do so.

But then, I feel like I might as well be asking for a unicorn to run for office. I honestly have no sympathy for the old guard of the Republican party. Well, okay, maybe a little bit. They panicked and cried out #NeverTrump! I wonder how many of them held onto that conviction at the polls.

This is the bed they made. They worked hard to energize voters, to make it clear that it was all about the real Americans, the hard workers, the faithful… it was their conservative duty to fight against the baby-killers, the welfare mothers, and the godless hordes of the left.

Looking back a few years, we can see the fledgling movements that were signs of what was to come. The formation of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, although they were disorganized and decentralized, pointed toward growing dissatisfaction on both sides of the political spectrum.

How we ended up pointing fingers at each other instead of pointing them all up is beyond me, but I can’t say it’s surprising. Maybe if we can get some fucking term limits on Congress and fire all the career politicians, we could actually get something done in the interest of the people and not in the interest of some already-rich individuals keeping their work-half-the-fucking-year government jobs. Maybe we could stop the banks that should have been prosecuted from donating millions to the very committees that are supposed to regulate them.

Maybe.

But here we are. In the battle between authoritarian populism and business as usual, the American people have spoken, but just barely. The Republicans control the Senate, the House, and the Presidency.

I’m mad as hell. I’m scared as hell, too, but I’m mad as hell.

I have a sick feeling about the next four years. To be honest, part of me wants it to go badly so the pendulum can swing the other way at the next election.

I am afraid.

I don’t know what else to say about politics, so I’m going to start talking about that other thing everyone loves: religion.

To any non-believer (and to many believers) this is going to sound insane, but I don’t care. I think the devil set up his church in America. If you don’t like “the devil” then you can feel free to substitute “evil,” or “greed,” or “all the base desires, lusts, and fears that make humans destroy one another physically, verbally, economically, and spiritually,” if that suits you better.

I think the devil set up his church in America. I think that evil found a way, that the darkness and fear and greed in men’s hearts was so strong that the devil was able to make a religion out of the state, a religion out of money and power and ambition, and he was able to slap a Jesus sticker on it to make people feel good about it.

I’m going to lose a lot of people here: the devil is the one who says that as long as you vote against abortion, then you have done your Christian duty. After all, nothing else in the kingdom of God matters.

No word is vile enough, no insult strong enough, no transgression deep enough to permit voting against the candidate that says they will fight against abortion. It doesn’t matter that sexual education and access to contraceptives would reduce abortions. It doesn’t matter that there are so many other Christian values that Jesus spoke about directly.

It doesn’t matter, because in the Church of America, God and country may as well be one and the same. “God bless the rich. God curse the poor. God bless America.”

“God save the babies.”

“God condemn the gays.”

Never mind that we are all sinners. Never mind that in the depths of our sin were we saved, not from some lofty place. Jesus did not save us from atop our soapboxes. He did not save us when our houses were already built on solid ground.

We are and were sinners, all of us. Abortions aren’t great. But as has been said, a child born is not a child fed, or clothed, or housed. I may be wrong or I may be insane, but I believe it is the devil that tells you that your Christian duty begins and ends at being “pro-life.”

Abortions may be murder, but you don’t see a lot of “Christians” these days rallying against war or gun violence. In fact, it seems like there are those who would relish the chance to “stand their ground” against a home invader. We are a nation of itchy trigger fingers.

I saw a sign for sale at a gas station in South Dakota that said basically that: “Lord, make my aim true,” or some such thing. Add that to the list of #thingsJesusneversaid.

I am mad as hell. I’m mad that the church has become twisted and embroiled in politics. I’m mad that people who have strangled the life out of the gospel and traded it for kitschy folk religion have the gall to tell more moderate and liberal Christians that they are the ones watering down the gospel.

I’m going to be honest; there’s a part of me that never wants to vote again. I have a respect for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, although I see it as a bit of an unnecessarily legalism, who do not get involved in politics.

My understanding is that they do not vote because they know they need to continue the work of God no matter what happens in America or anywhere else. Our status as Christians, as the saved (at least in the process of being saved, anyway) and the supposedly beloved of Christ should never be dependent on where we live.

Will Christianity ultimately be viewed through the lens of the age? Of course. It’s inevitable. I’m sure no one has had it 100% correct, not even when Jesus walked among them.

We believers need to turn back to the Bible and away from this nationalistic, Ayn Randian philosophy that has been so wholly adopted by many who profess to follow Christ.

Ultimately, everything I have said may be wrong. I am a frightened child staring down an alien world, a world full of hate and fear. I am powerless, and maybe someday I will find myself shaking and trembling at the feet of an all-powerful God.

In the past, I would not have made assertions and accusations like these. I would have been silent out of fear: fear either of being seen as crazy or fear of driving away someone that might be healed or saved had I chosen gentler words.

These are not gentle times.

I am weary. I don’t know what to do. All I can do is pray and continue my journey to understand God’s will for my life. All I can do is pray and try to be more like Christ, even as I still learn and struggle and doubt and grasp at what that means. Even as I fear.

I’m trying to learn more to listen and understand. I want to give people something that people have tried to take (and sometimes succeeded in taking) from me in the past: dignity.

I cannot sway your heart; only God can do that. I cannot tell you what to believe. I cannot judge you accurately, for I do not know what unsettled struggles disturb you, what fears plague you, or what hopes drive you. I cannot change you, but I can allow you to have the dignity of your worldview, of your truth as you perceive it.

I seek to rob no one of their dignity, of their self-efficacy, of their right to self-determination. I can pray for God to work good through all things, but I want to accept every person’s right to decide for themselves, for good or for ill. Not for others, mind you, but for themselves.

Christ accepted me as I am, as I was. I pray to God that I am forgiven, that I am being saved and healed. I pray to God with fear in my heart that he will correct my crookedness, that someday my mistakes and transgressions will be washed away. I pray that it is all true, that God is love and that His good is the highest good.

All I can do to show Christ’s love at this point is to accept people as they are, for who they are. Christ walks forward with those who want to walk forward, and I want to do the same. We may slip backward, but Christ will meet us there also, no matter how far we fall before getting back up.

I have a life, and a job, and bills, and responsibilities. I struggle too; I have it worse than some and easier than many. I don’t know how to ask for help, and it’s something I need to work on. If there’s some way I can help you, please let me know. Maybe all I can do is pray. I don’t have much space, time, or money. I don’t know what I can do. I wish I could save this whole goddamn world.

God, I wish I could. I wish I could save my fucking self. But I can’t. I can’t save myself right now from financial struggles, from spiritual struggles, from emotional struggles… I can’t save myself from hopelessness and fear.

So I don’t know what I can do for you or anyone else, but whatever I can do I will do in the name of Christ, that you might know the love that I have known. I don’t understand it, and I struggle with what passes for the church in this world and in this nation especially. I’m not going to lie: this election has filled me with a new kind of despair.

But God is King. Jesus is Lord. That has to be worth something.

Maybe, through me, through us, it can be.

Assalamu alaikum. Peace be upon you.

The Church of Hate

The Christian Church (by which I mean the buildings themselves as well as the collective body of individual believers) should be the first place to go when human beings are hopeless, desperate, lost, or in great pain. It is possible to point the finger at many things and accuse X, Y, or Z as responsible for “moral decline” or the decline of the church’s influence, or whatever… but the fact that for some people, the church is the LAST place they’d want to go for help tells me that the Church, collectively, is not living up to its earthly commission.

I know I’m far from perfect and the gap between what I am doing for the world and what I wish I could do for the world is vast. But I want better for the Church, because I want better for the people who need Jesus the most. There are many who suffer that have been turned away by the attitudes and hateful words they see, even before they have ever knocked.

DO NOT send away those who are sinners! Watch your words and actions, because they send a clear message: “You are not welcome in this house, in the house of God.” What hope can we give to a hopeless person, to a hurting person, when we have made it clear that they do not belong?

Never forget that “WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS, Christ died for us.” Spending time solely in the company of “saints” is not our commission. For if you love only those that love you, what good is it? Anyone can do that.

To paraphrase 1 Corinthians 13, we may have silver tongues. We may have knowledge, prophecy, theology. We may donate money and time, and we may have strong faith. But if our hearts are filled with disdain, judgment, or hatred, WE HAVE NOTHING.

If we have not love, we have nothing. Christ died for the sinners. He said “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

How did he do this? Personal relationship. By reaching out to people, by knowing them, by speaking hope and love into their lives with his words and actions. Can we say the same about how we treat sinners? Or do we say:
Lazy welfare bums! Get a job!
Disgusting homosexuals! Burn in hell!
Nasty, trashy sluts!
Godless liberals!
WHAT KIND OF WORDS ARE WE USING? Had a desperate abortion? Burn in hell, babykiller. Woman got raped? How was she dressed? Was she drunk? She was probably asking for it. (Slut.)

How do we EVER expect people to knock on the door of a church when they’ve ALREADY been turned away long ago?

Watch the news. Watch the pundits, preachers, and protesters. Listen to the bile spewing with every word.

Does it sound like Jesus to you? Because it makes me fucking sick.

The world deserves better than a hateful church.

On Men and Masculinity: a̶ ̶B̶r̶i̶e̶f̶ ̶A̶n̶a̶l̶y̶s̶i̶s̶ Not as Brief of an Analysis as I Thought (Part One)

There’s probably a lot I could say about this topic. The truth is, I’m not going to say as much as I could because I’m weary of dealing with this. I’ve dealt with it in one form or another basically for my whole life.

The messages are always clear, whether overt or indirect:

“You are not a man because…”

or

“You are not a man unless…”

Did you know a co-worker once implied that I was basically “turning gay” because I stopped to take (what I think is a rather beautiful and artistic) picture of a dragonfly perched upon a thistle?

I’m so goddamn tired of that. I know that it’s not anyone’s responsibility to make me feel “like a man,” but at the same time I can put into words now the pain and discomfort I feel from having this narrow (and often toxic) image of masculinity foisted upon me.

I’m really tired of people implying or outright stating that being gay makes a person less of a man. This is why people use “gay” and “faggot” and the like as insults. When people insult men, and especially when men insult other men, they often go for the core, to the very identity of a man as a man.

“Pussy!”

“Stop acting like such a fucking girl.”

“Take it like a man.”

“God, quit being a bitch.”

“Faggot!”

So I had the following conversation this morning, with someone I unfriended on Facebook less than a week ago. This person is a person that I have no face-to-face interaction with. I have not spent time with this person, basically ever. I know very little about his life, except for surface details. He is an atheist, and I am a Christian.

In the last month or two, I have been practicing being more emotionally honest with people. I have also been setting boundaries with people, especially those close to me. I have, on Facebook, made the decision to unfriend people without saying a word. These are people that I either do not spend time with or have not spent time with for several years, people with sharply contrasting values to mine.

So, while I understand that it may look negative (or whatever) from the outside, I take it fairly seriously when I choose to remove someone from my online social circle. I understand that in this day and age, getting unfriended is almost a slap in the face. But I’m trying to adopt a new “live and let live” policy.

Simply put: Leave me alone.

I don’t want every kind of person in my life. Right now I’m focused on building a strong foundation and eliminating people and things that cause me undue stress or cause me to spend energy in ways that I do not want.

The foundation I’m trying to build is the same that Jesus talks about in Matthew 7:24, when he says

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

I want God to be my foundation. I want my trust and faith and security in God and in Christ to be my foundation. For now, that is all I have to say about that.

Anyway, back to my “live and let live” policy. What I really need is to approach the world from a place where I can act freely on my own needs and desires. I need to set my boundaries and direct my energy willfully, rather than acting according to the emotions and desires of others.

Other people do not know me. People who are not you likely do not know you. The one person who I would say knows me is my wife, my partner. I love her and I trust her judgment about me because she knows me so well. In some ways, she has shown that she knows me better than I know myself. I trust her.

I do not trust those who claim to know me. I do not trust those who claim to know what I should do or what I should have done in a particular scenario.

I guess that brings me back around to this particular person I talked to this morning, the man I unfriended not long ago. I unfriended him because he posts numerous things that are disparaging to Christians, or at least to me. He has claimed to have Christian friends that do not mind the things he says. That’s fine for them. But I was not close with this man. We did not hang out or even see each other in person.

I am tired of being called names. I am tired of being disrespected. I’ve put up with in it many ways silently and I am finally ready to use my voice. So after a few attempts at respectful discussion with him, I finally decided that there was no good reason to subject myself to insults and insinuations that I was either a) an idiot, or b)… basically just an idiot for being either uneducated or for believing in “fairy tales” or whatever.

Why should I? So I can showcase how well Christians can take disrespect? Yeah, well, maybe. But at this point in my life I want to showcase boundaries. I have had bad boundaries, anger issues, depression and anxiety issues, and basically a huge lack of emotional honesty over my whole life. So right now, I’m going to address those things.

Anyway, so I unfriended this person and I guess he found out about it today and appeared none-too-happy about it. This is how he approached our conversation.

conversation-censored-01

For the record, my wife and I eloped. No one came to our “wedding,” which was literally in the basement of a courthouse with the minimum number of witnesses.

So apparently, setting boundaries and having some control over my own life makes me “selfish” and a “twit.” And for some reason, oops, I guess I’m gay.

Maybe I hung out with too many gay people. Or took too many pictures of dragonflies. Or took too many dance classes. Or wrote too much poetry.

This shit really pisses me the fuck off. Seriously, what the fuck. I didn’t even do anything to warrant this kind of a response. But, whatever. Not my job to tell people how they’re allowed to respond to me. What I can control is how I respond, which was like this:

conversation-censored-02

I learned after the last time this happened (which I’ll get to shortly) that there’s really no sense trying to reason with someone who just wants to hurt you and insult you. So instead I just let him know, hey, go right ahead and keep this up if you want, but I’m going to take the nasty things you said to me in private and make them public.

Of course, I’m doing that now, but I have omitted his name in this case. So no one needs to know that █████████ said all these things to me.

He then accused me of not having a “free thinking mind.” So that’s cool. The truth is that I’m more free than I have been in probably my entire life. I can act based on my needs and values without putting the needs and values of other people first. That sounds like some fucking freedom to me. I’m free to choose to submit myself to God. I’m free to choose better things. I’m not bowing and scraping for other people’s attention and approval in the way I used to.

Hey, speaking of bowing and scraping…

That’s almost what another person accused me of! And by person I mean “person who I had considered one of my best friends for between 5 and 10 years, now that I’m thinking about it!”

END PART ONE. PART TWO COMING PROBABLY TOMORROW.

FUCK. YOU. (Jeremiah 20:14)

pursed lips
messy hair
unshaven face
plane flight
coming home
furrowed brow
talk talk talk
9 years
talk talk talk
pain
unspoken
honesty
tears
pain
talk talk talk
28 years
pain
alone empty
tears rage sadness
talk talk talk
will change
won’t change
sins of the past
uncovered but unconfessed
pain
regret
tears
love
twisted in sorrow
healing maybe
distance needed
talk talk talk
15 years
ish
talk talk talk
respect
no
control
yes
control control control
demand demand demand
no respect
no love
rage violence
hatred misery
talk talk talk
no more
fuck the man who won’t confess his sins
fuck the man who loves honor more
than he respects his brother
fuck the liar
fuck the hater
fuck all the sin I’ve done
fuck it all
forgive me Father for I am full of hate
forgive me Father for I want the world to end
sound the trumpet
loose the horsemen
crack the earth and burn the sky
talk talk talk
hate hate hate
eyes burn vision blurs
what good is an act of love
what good is one kindness
what good is one gift given freely
please God I have to believe
please multiply the good
please don’t let it drown
in a sea of evil
i still fucking have hope
throat tightens
eyes burn
fucking hate all of it
tears come slowly
hardly come at all
want to feel like i have some kind of power
want to run away
want to move away
pack up and start a new life
want to pierce my skin and shave my head
wanttochange wanttochange wanttochange
something to not feel powerless
who even am i anymore
who is the me
FUCKING WHY is the me
i see now why the saints curse their birth
i didn’t before but i do now
fuck it all
thank God for friends
thank God for wife
thank God for love
thank God for support groups
thank God for good books
thank God for poetry
if i had to make a painting right now
i’d splatter paint all over a canvas over and over and then shoot it with a fucking GUN
that’d actually be really fucking rad
smile for the first time in hours
it’s a good thing i can make myself laugh sometimes
in case it wasn’t clear I’d unload a whole fucking clip from a handgun into that canvas.
it’d be fucking beautiful.
God, it would feel so good.
ha ha ha ha ha ha
ah…
anxiety
stress
creeping up
creeping in
never ceasing
never ending
fuck my life
fuck this world
God
give me what i need
please
give me the strength i do not have
please please please
brain filled with anxiety
justice or silence
fear rage sadness
hits like a wave
harder than a truck
not hard enough to let me fucking die
hard enough to put me all the way back in hell
if you think this is emo shit you can go
FUCK YOURSELF
i wish i didn’t care but i do
“Today I love and accept myself.”
nope
“Today I like who I am.”
that’s a laugh
“Today I will not criticize myself or others.”
oops.
“Today I have the right to protect my thoughts and feelings.”
okay there’s one.
throat hurts
screamed too loud
surprised no one called the cops
“Today I want to fucking die.”
“Today I want the world to end.”
if you’ve read this far
well
here is the truth
it sure as shit ain’t pretty
but there it is.
God
give me strength
God
help me pray
help me pray for those I hate
help me love my enemy
weak fingers typing
half-hearted prayers
maybe less than half
it’s a process it’s a process it’s a process
i’m very tired now.
God
i need you now more than ever
please be with me and my wife
please
please
please…
i’m so very tired…

 

In Response to Stephen Fry: A Message to Atheists

    “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, O house of Israel: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust?”

    Ezekiel 18:25

 

    Let me preface this with an admission, or perhaps a confession. I do not like Stephen Fry, or I at least do not agree with some of the things he says and the manner in which he says them.

    I know he is not the only person who says such things, but here I am going to focus solely on quotes attributed to Mr. Fry himself, because I have seen them shared and spread around. He says things that many atheists and skeptics identify with. He says things that I may, at one point, have identified with had I read them at that time in my life.

    That all being said, I respect Mr. Fry and he is entitled to his opinion. Discourse about ideas, especially big ones like God, is important for any person seeking answers in this world.

 

Bone Cancer

 

One of the first things I discovered in my recent exploration of Mr. Fry’s words was his interview for a program called The Meaning of Life. The interviewer asked Stephen what the latter would say if he met God face-to-face at the “pearly gates.” Mr. Fry announced that his first words would be

 

“Bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault?”

 

One “standard” Christian answer is to point to Adam and Eve, to point to the Fall that led to the corruption and imperfection of the world, which was hitherto designed to be a perfect place. God remains perfect, and man is the cause of all the misfortune in the world. This may very well be a satisfying answer for someone who accepts a certain view of the Bible, but this argument is meaningless to an atheist or even a non-Christian.

We must therefore discuss on different terms.

 

In another, separate quote attributed to Fry, Stephen challenges Christians with this idea directly rather than issuing a hypothetical challenge to God:

 

“You can’t just say there is a God because well, the world is beautiful. You have to account for bone cancer in children. You have to account for the fact that almost all animals in the wild live under stress with not enough to eat and will die violent and bloody deaths. There is not any way you can just choose the nice bits and say that means there is a God and ignore the true fact of what nature is.”

 

To this I must respond: not all Christians are ignorant. Not all religious people are ignorant. Like almost any group, loud extremists get attention, while the quiet, satisfied people who hold more moderate (I’m hesitating to say balanced) beliefs fall by the wayside.

To other Christians I say, as a caveat, I’m not writing this to condemn the extremists. To me, being a Christian means believing certain things about Jesus Christ as a savior and the rest is between you and God.

Back to my point: I do account for bone cancer in children. I do account for the savagery of nature and indeed that of man. And I am a Christian and I think God is good and just.

And I know I’m not the only one who believes this way.

 

This seems to be a not-uncommon assumption from some anti-theists or anti-Christians: that Christians are not only ignorant of scientific knowledge but that they also must live in a little bubble, separate from reality, in order to preserve their faith. If only they gained more knowledge, more experience, opponents say, these Christians would be forced to capitulate and admit that there is no God.

To be clear, I’m not saying that all atheists or non-Christians are this way. I’m referring here to the evangelicals, those who are not content to live peacefully side-by-side with Christians (although I admit, some Christians don’t make it easy).

 

From Bone Cancer to God of the Gaps

 

I know a woman right now, personally, who has in the past identified as Christian. I’m not entirely sure how she identifies at the moment: she is married to an atheist and she is currently reading and exploring scientific knowledge about the world and the universe.

She is a prime example of the “bubble Christian.” Her faith is being shaken because the new information she is reading is contradicting the things she learned growing up in church. Combine that with the fact that many (most?) Christians take an all-or-nothing approach to the Bible and it means that when she starts to disagree with, say, Genesis, she has no choice but to chuck the whole thing out the window.

This is something all humans, Christians or otherwise, can be guilty of: throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The Bible talks about a six-day creation, the parting of seas, columns of fire and talking donkeys. Believe me, Genesis is not the biggest stretch in the Bible. Many non-Christians look at all that, dismiss it as nonsense, and throw out the whole book.

Or they read about not being able to eat pork, daughters lying with their father, women being turned to salt and cities being leveled by flame. Then the whole thing is evil and hateful and it gets thrown out for that, instead.

But the Bible also talks about redemption, humility, acceptance, equality, forgiveness, and perhaps most important of all, Love. It teaches that there is a Being, an Intelligence behind the universe, and that that Being, named YHWH or Jehovah or God, is not a distant and dispassionate ruler, lording over a distant land, but a loving Father who wants nothing more than to be reunited with His children.

Faith has value. The Bible has value. Its value may not be readily apparent, especially to a casual reader or observer. Let me say here that it was not my study of the Bible that first led me to God. It was only after I understood what capital-L Love meant that I accepted the capital-T Truth of the Bible.

Science also has value. Christians who choose to disregard humanity’s scientific endeavors do so at their own peril, lest they end up like the woman I mentioned above, finding themselves at a crossroads where they must either deny the science or deny God.

The choice between Luddite and atheist is, however, a false dichotomy. There need be no war between religion and science, but still we humans persist on fighting one. A longer defense of the compatibility of the two disciplines is beyond the scope of this essay, so I will return to a familiar point of contention, aided once again by (a quote attributed to) Mr. Fry.

 

“[We] wonder [at nature and reality] all the way. We don’t just stop and say that which I cannot understand I’ll call God, which is what mankind has done historically.”

 

This is an argument against a perspective known as “God of the gaps,” which points to unexplained phenomena and attributes the cause to God. As an example, think ancient Greeks telling stories about Zeus shooting down lightning or Hephaestus clanging away in his forge, inducing earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

We might want to laugh at the ignorance of the ancients until we remember that there are still people trying to use “irreducible complexity” as an argument for creation over evolution.

I am not the first to chastise Christians for this view, so I’ll borrow words from those who have gone before, like Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis during the last days of World War II.

 

“[How] wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know.”

 

I wonder what Fry would say if he realized he was arguing on the same side as Christians! It is true that people still maintain this “God of the gaps” perspective, but it is to their own detriment, as it leaves them with an indefensible position from which to hold off challenges to their faith, allowing people like Stephen Fry to crawl through the cracks and make all of Christendom look foolish.

 

On Kindness

 

    Another, unrelated quote I found attributed to Fry is this one:

 

    “I suppose the thing I most would have liked to have known or been reassured about is that in the world, what counts more than talent, what counts more than energy or concentration or commitment, or anything else – is kindness. And the more in the world that you encounter kindness or cheerfulness – which is its kind of amiable uncle or aunt – the better the world always is. All the big words: virtue, justice, truth – are dwarfed by the greatness of kindness.”

 

    Oy. As I said, this is attributed to Stephen Fry, but even if he didn’t say it, someone did. I feel as though, if Mr. Fry did say this, it explains a great deal about how he views God. “Virtue, justice, and truth,” he says, are “dwarfed by the greatness of kindness.”

    The world, however, is not kind. If the world was designed by God, then God must be unkind. And if kindness is the greatest virtue, that which counted the most, then unkindness would be the greatest vice. Therefore, God is, as Mr. Fry has said, “utterly evil.”

But is it? Is kindness the greatest virtue? You have likely guessed my position by now.

Let us first, before we go further, let us define kindness.

The Oxford Dictionary website defines kindness as

 

“The quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.”

 

Well, that certainly sounds like a good thing. We could use more of that in the world. Let’s take a look at the root word: kind.

Oxford basically repeats the above definition for kindness, so let’s look at Merriam-Webster:

 

“having or showing a gentle nature and a desire to help others : wanting and liking to do good things and to bring happiness to others.”

 

Bringing happiness! Isn’t that like what Mr. Fry said? Cheerfulness! What a great thing.

I am reminded of a story called Liar! by Isaac Asimov. It is one of Asimov’s stories about positronic robots and it features a robot named Herbie who, due to some unknown error, is able to read minds. Those familiar with Asimov’s stories will recall his famous “Three Laws of Robotics,” which are reprinted below:

 

 

  • A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

 

 

In the story, Herbie tells a lie to psychologist Susan Calvin about a man in whom she is interested. The robot tells her that the man loves her, but he only tells her this because he does not want to hurt her feelings. He is not allowed to, according to the First Law.

Later, Calvin finds out that the man is getting married and realizes that Herbie has lied. She goads and challenges the mind-reading robot until it breaks down, utterly insane, unable to find a solution that fits within the boundaries of the Three Laws.

Herbie tries to be kind, tries to bring happiness to others. But this happiness is immediate, not lasting, and by focusing on the pleasure of the moment, he condemns Calvin to greater sorrow. When she comes to him, upset, he tries to convince her that all of what is happening is just a dream!

He lies once and then piles more lies on top because he cannot address the real issue without hurting Calvin’s feelings. The quote about the greatness of kindness elevates kindness above even truth. What would Mr. Fry (and those like him) say to Herbie, who seeks to be kind at the expense of truth?

 

At the time of writing, I am still recovering from a broken ankle, and I feel a medical analogy is appropriate here. My cast and my crutches caused me discomfort, and the recovery has been challenging and painful, physically and spiritually. What pains could have been avoided, what suffering alleviated if only I had been allowed to lie in a hospital bed for two months? I could even have been sedated! I wouldn’t have had to suffer at all!

But my cast and crutches, these trappings of my recovery, along with the pain and discomfort I endured on the road to recovery, these things prevented greater suffering and greater anguish. By pushing myself, by remaining active, I am able to strengthen my leg and ankle, and now I feel a joy much greater in scope than the suffering I could have avoided.

Or perhaps more concisely: kindness lacking in any other virtue is like a pain-relieving medication. It treats the symptoms of the problem without addressing the actual problem. Perhaps surgery is in order, to treat a cancer or a broken bone. Surgery is painful; it is damaging to the body. But in the end it is not enough to simply continue the pain medication. The surgery must be allowed to take place to ensure complete healing.

Kindness is medication; Love is surgery. A basic kindness, lacking in respect for justice or truth, merely placates. Love is a deeper kindness, more meaningful, and it ties all virtues into itself and insists on full recovery.

As one of my co-workers put it following my injury:

 

“Look at it this way: if you had an easy life, you’d be a weak man.”

 

Our bodies need to be challenged in order to grow strong. Our ideas need to be challenged in order to be resilient. Our love needs to be challenged in order to grow deeper and larger in scope. Even Christ said in Matthew 5:46-47 (NKJV),

 

“For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others?”

 

What good is it to lead an unchallenged life? The parent who protects their child from the unkindness of the world does nothing to prepare the child for independence. Kindness is a parent holding on to the seat of a bike, endlessly guiding the child as he learns to ride. Love is, at some point, letting go.

Kindness is not the greatest virtue unless it is taken beyond the narrow scope of human vision and tempered with what Mr. Fry might call subordinate virtues: justice, wisdom, temperance, and courage. I would encourage even non-Christians to include faith, hope, and love.

At this point, it becomes something different: the capital-L Love that exists at the edge of human experience, waiting to be realized and accepted.

Bone cancer is a tragedy, even more so when it happens in children. But if we live in a world of cause and effect, of physical laws, of thermodynamics, of random mutation and random molecular movement, then bad things are going to happen.

You don’t have to attribute it to the Fall in Genesis if you don’t like. If you don’t believe in God, then this is simply the way the universe is. But a lesson that can be taken from the story of Adam and Eve is that man (separated from God) is the architect and the groundskeeper of his own suffering. Suffering exists in the human heart, and it can be pushed back.

Even very great suffering can strengthen a body, a mind, or a soul if viewed in the proper light. It is easy to find stories of people who overcame great setbacks and created something great not only in spite but because of their suffering.

 

God or not, we live in a world where suffering exists. I have experienced what I would call Love with a capital “L,” and I believe that the Bible is right when it says that “God is love.”

If you want to argue against the idea of a loving God, take into account Ezekiel 18:32 (NIV):

 

“For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!”

 

God is no more eager to condemn us than parents are eager to condemn and punish their children. But actions have consequences, and for the most part, human suffering is a result of just that. For the rest of human suffering, see “cause and effect…” above.

Stephen Fry argues in his Meaning of Life interview that

 

“the Greeks [gods] were… they didn’t pretend not to be human in their appetites, in their capriciousness, in their unreasonableness.”

 

Stephen Fry does not accept that God is not Herbie the robot, nor is He subject to the limitations of a human mind. At this point, we’re not even discussing the same Being!

Mr. Fry seems to grasp that if a God existed, then He had the power to create the universe. What Mr. Fry does not grasp is that if the previous sentence is true, then it is likely that God does not think like a human! He does not have the same perspective on time and space, on suffering and existence.

The God of the Bible does not lie to humanity. God tells us those things which will make us suffer, and tells us those things which will bring us life.

God is for us, not against us. Why else would He suffer and die, only to save us? And to the non-believer, why else would we live in a world filled with so much beauty, just waiting to be discovered? Mr. Fry says himself that

 

“The wonder of nature must be taken in its totality and it is a wonderful thing.”
If he, or anyone else, really, truly believes that statement (a statement with which I agree, by the way), then I wonder why they should raise such a fuss over bone cancer.

On Honesty and Hypocrisy.

If not for my experiences with God, you would never be reading these words. Glory to God in the highest!

____________________________________

My wife and I had a productive conversation yesterday about anger.

There was a lot of disagreement. It was not necessarily a fun or happy conversation, at least not at first. We talked about many things that made us angry, some from the past and some from the present.

She was telling me about some things that were going on with someone, and I expressed my anger about it.

She said, “That’s really hypocritical that you’re mad about [X, Y, and Z] because those are all things you’ve done.”

I realized the truth of the matter. “I don’t care. I know that it’s hypocritical. But I am mad about it.”

Later, after learning that my wife was reconciling with this person, I expressed that it would take me a while to accept that, because I was still resentful toward them, and I was actually looking forward to cutting them off.

She said, “That’s really selfish.”

To which I responded, “I know it is. But that’s the truth. I wanted to cut them off; it would have been easier. But I’ll come around. I’ll just need to talk to them and clear the air for myself.”

This is not being quoted verbatim; I just want you, reader, to get the gist of what was expressed.

The emotions we feel are not always comfortable. They are not always fair, and they often are far from it. But they are ours, and we have a right to them.

The second part of my discussion with my wife came when the word “wrong” entered the conversation. I had something that I wanted very strongly to express to someone regarding the past, something about which I harbor a great deal of resentment and pain.

She said, “You need to clarify what you mean by resentment. When you used that word toward me for the first time, I thought it meant ‘hate,’ that you hated me.”

I said, “I’ll clarify what I mean. I’ll clarify that I don’t blame [person]. But I am angry at them.”

I don’t totally recall how the idea of “wrong” came in, but I believe it had something to do with me being angry at someone for something that was out of their control.

I said, “I don’t care. I know it isn’t fair. But I have a lot of anger, and it’s all directed at them.”

We talked about the extent, the magnitude of our anger. The way she expressed it, having anger was okay, up to a certain magnitude. Let’s say, for instance, you got so angry at someone that you wanted to literally take a baseball bat to their car. That would be “wrong,” is what my wife said.

I saw it differently. I separated the feeling from the action. I argued that the action of doing that would be wrong, the action of screaming in someone’s face, threatening them or laying hands on them would be wrong, but feeling that much anger was not wrong. It was real.

If that much anger is indeed experienced, then maybe it shows the depth of the hurt, the depth of the pain caused by that person. And maybe it’s not just over that one event, maybe it’s a lifetime of resentment, always pent up behind a release valve that’s been stopped up for too long.

This is why people who never express their anger go off like atomic bombs over little things. When you learn to express your anger regularly and in the moment, it eventually becomes like a grenade, or even a tiny firecracker (credit to Radical Honesty, by Brad Blanton for this metaphor).

But my point is, it’s okay to feel anger that makes you want to do violent things. It’s okay to feel rage. THAT DOES NOT JUSTIFY VIOLENT ACTION. It does not justify swearing and screaming at someone, making threats, or hitting them.

So my wife and I were having this discussion, and we disagreed. I told her that; I said that I don’t think it’s wrong to feel the way I feel.

She asked, “Well, what does ‘wrong’ mean to you?”

For some reason, it hit me all at once. “It’s not wrong!” I shouted into the phone, my voice rapidly raising. “I’ve been fighting against that my whole life! I don’t care if it’s not fair! I don’t care! It’s not their fault but I don’t fucking care! I’m so fucking angry, and it’s not wrong! It’s not wrong!”

I was raging. I was screaming and slamming my palm on the steering wheel. In the midst of my tirade I uttered something that surprised me, because I don’t think these words had ever come out of my mouth:

I didn’t deserve it! Goddammit, I didn’t fucking deserve it!

I broke down into violent sobs and tortured wails. Another layer of pain slowly peeled back from the onion that is my life.

____________________________________

It is incredibly hypocritical of me to say this based on how I’ve been in the past, but no one, no human being deserves to have their emotions silenced. Nobody. I say this with no qualification or exception.

How you express your emotions is a different story, and it’s not okay to harm people because you’re angry or hurt by them. But you, reader, and everyone else… no one deserves to have their emotions silenced.

I realize that this has been a problem for me in the past, and to everyone whose emotions I’ve tried to dismiss or invalidate, I apologize. To my wife, I apologize.

I spent so long bottling up my emotions for the sake of “keeping the peace” that I resented people who didn’t. Those words surprise me, even as I write them, but they resonate with truth. I resented people for having emotions, because I was never allowed. Why couldn’t everyone just bottle their shit up, like I did? Why couldn’t we all live happy little fake fucking lives, never stirring the pot.

I don’t know if this is a gender thing, but I suspect it is. I suspect that men dismiss the emotionality of women for the same or similar reasons that I did.

“Why can’t you just be logical?” we say or imply, while we let anger build up and influence every area of our lives. Maybe it’s because we don’t even necessarily see anger as an “emotion” but as a reaction. I don’t know where all this comes from.

Men in this country don’t start off withholding their emotions. Boys cry, until a certain age where they’re taught that it is no longer okay. I guess I never had it beaten out of me. But even though I had releases for certain things, I still was quiet about everything else.

I never expressed disappointment or anger toward people. I’m still working on it now. In order to deal with the cognitive dissonance that comes with being angry or disappointed but wanting to keep the peace, I put people on pedestals and dug myself into a hole. I let my emotions eat me up from the inside for the sake of maintaining the status quo.

It’s a miserable feeling. I don’t ever want to do it again. But it’s a process.

I’m making a habit of telling the truth. I’m making a habit out of being emotionally honest. It’s going to take time before I get good at it, before it becomes second nature. But it is worth it.

I dream of a world where people can be honest with one another, where women can be angry and where men can cry. Where you can recognize that maybe your emotions aren’t fair, and that’s okay. Where we give each other time to process our pain and sadness, where we’re willing to listen, to a man or a woman, about what they’re going through, and to just… accept it.

This is my dream. I’ll sit here and build what I can in my corner of the world and try to reach out. I’m not a man of infinite patience; I can tell you that now. I will fail, and I will come up short. But for God’s sake, if you need to talk, talk. If you have something against me, tell me. Even if I can only listen and validate one person’s feelings, I’ll do it. Hopefully my wife would tell you I’m getting better at this.

I don’t know what else I want to say. Your feelings are valid, and I’ve been part of a system that tells us (and teaches us to tell each other) that they aren’t.

I’m dreaming of a new world, a new reality. Jesus, in Matthew 11:28 says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” He speaks about the truth, and about being the truth (John 14:6). So let’s make a little substitution:

“Come to the truth, all you who are weary and burdened, and the truth will give you rest.”

Maybe that seems like a bit of a stretch to you, but not to me. Part of what I mean by “truth” is what I’ve been talking about this whole time: emotional honesty. This requires a lot of work. Many are going to have to make changes in order to bring about what amounts to nothing less than a cultural shift. Not everyone will want to be a part of it, but for those that do, come on down.

Let’s grow together.

Amen.

The Sins of the Past

September 11th, 2001.

That was fifteen years ago. It was a Tuesday. I had to look that up, because I don’t remember. I remember it was a school day, because I remember standing in the living room in the morning and watching those instantly-infamous events play out. My mom cried. I didn’t.

I was thirteen years old. I had grown up on movies and video games, action heroes and explosions. I didn’t grasp what was happening; I didn’t understand the ways in which the entire world (or at least, America) was going to turn upside-down.

I was in eighth grade at Leonard Herman Intermediate School. I’m pretty sure we went to school that day, as usual. New York was, quite literally, on the other side of the country from San Jose, California, and although everyone was afraid, I think people wanted life to feel normal.

It may have been that day or the next or the next, but the thing I remember most surrounding that tragedy is when my Home Economics teacher talked about it in front of the class. It was one of the few times I’d seen a grown man cry.

I don’t even remember what he said, exactly. I only remember feeling angry. The truth is, I didn’t really care what was happening. I didn’t grasp it and I didn’t care. That day, I think, may have been the first time I let an adult catch a glimpse of what I was feeling; I’m not even quite sure what I was feeling myself.

Perhaps the best way now that I can articulate it is: “No one cares about me, so why should I care about anyone? I’m right here and nobody gives a shit if I live or die.”

I don’t know if my lack of empathy or understanding came from being naturally selfish. I don’t know if my selfishness came from my suffering. I don’t know why I am the way I am, or why I was the way I was.

But I remember writing something in the margin of my paper that day. I remember being angry and feeling isolated, like no one cared or loved me. I can’t recall the entirety of what I wrote, but I remember the following:

“The ones who died were lucky.”

Predictably, this caused my teacher some concern. He sent me to the counselor. She asked if I was alright.

At this point I had gone thirteen years with almost zero ability to process or express my own emotions, and probably less than zero confidence to do so. I certainly wasn’t about to start while sitting in a drab, mid-century office in an oppressive, vaguely brutalist building and talking to a woman who, earlier that semester, had been teaching me geometry.

My response was true, if only in part. I said I was just having a bad day or a hard time. I had been lying to myself and others for years with great effectiveness. It was easy to lie to her, too.

The matter was dropped, as far as I could tell. No one called my parents; no one ever followed up. Life went on.

I would only talk to one friend around that time about a persistent feeling that maybe “things would be better if I weren’t around.”

In my college years, I would seek therapy for a short time about what I recognized as a warning sign: repeated “jokes” or comments about how “[X, Y, or Z] makes me want to kill myself.”

Laugh. Smile. Put on the face, over and over. Get so good at fooling people that before long you’ve fooled yourself.

______________________________________

I don’t know how to show love and support for all those whose lives were lost that day, fifteen years ago. I wish there were something I could do to comfort the loved ones left behind. My heart goes out to all who were affected, and all who fought, died, and were injured, physically or psychologically, in the wars that followed.

But I say to you today, fifteen years too late for that suffering child but maybe not too late for you: speak up about your pain. The pain you are feeling is real and you deserve to have it addressed.

I have not been good about this in the past, as people close to me could surely tell you. I have been an utter piece of shit to those who deserved it least, to those who showed me so much love and care. I have buried and denied my emotions and assumed everyone else should do the same. Life is “easier” that way. Keep your head down, and don’t make waves.

I am slowly learning something different now, something that may just save my life. I am learning to be honest.

I have and had understood the concept of honesty, being told of course that it is, as they say, “the best policy,” but I had never witnessed real honesty, and I was too afraid to practice it. It was scary enough just to knock on a friend’s door to see if they could play. How could I be honest when I might hurt someone’s feelings? How could I be honest when someone might get mad at me? I was too afraid.

For years, sadness and anger and secret thoughts stewed together in the dark recesses of my brain. I clung to the past and to fantasy because my fear of being honest never allowed me to confront and process my unceasing anxiety. Or maybe I’m putting the cart before the horse.

I understand now that a lack of emotional honesty is a form of manipulation. We hide our “negative” emotions, like anger or sadness, in hopes that others will continue to like or love us or think positive things about us. This is fruitless.

In doing this, all we have done is craft an image, a sculpture of a life that we present to the world. Someone might love that image, but we cannot accept that love because we know it is not for the real us, who has been shrouded from view. Until you show the real you, you cannot truly know love.

This is what is meant when the Bible says things like

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16)

and

“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)

In short, it is the same message that we have heard so many times throughout life: the truth will set you free.

If you have a hard time accepting that, if you are afraid, take it from a lifelong liar, coward, and manipulator. I have hurt and used many people, and have been hurt and used by many in turn.

Dishonesty will always set you apart from others. It is the invisible wall that keeps us from ourselves, that prevents us from dragging our darkness into the light. It is the barrier that prevents love from being given or received. It is the fuel for the hellfire that burns up an aching soul.

This I tell you: the truth will set you free. Seek to be baptized, refreshed, and healed by the water of truth. There is a reason the imagery of fire and water is persistent throughout the Bible. Dishonesty creates a thirst that can only be quenched by confessing the truth.

I never told the truth about my feelings. Things were never so bad for me that I allowed myself to die, but I never allowed myself to really live, either.

I have a long way to go on this walk to live up to the calling of the word of God. But I say to you, even from a position of no authority, for the sake of your life, your family, your loved ones, your children, your community, your nation, and your world, consider these words. On this day, September 11th, from which stemmed so much hate and pain, so much suffering and fear and death, consider these words from John 13:14 and 1 John 3:18.

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.”

“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

God bless, and peace be upon you.

Truth Be Told, I Feel Uncomfortable Using the C-Word in any Context, even in a Quote, But It’s Powerful and I Did It Anyway

Inspired by Brad Blanton, author of Radical Honesty,
Who was in turn inspired by Erica Jong,
Who was in turn inspired by Walt Whitman:

“Joyfulness rises up out of despair.
Singing the blues can make you happy.”
— Brad Blanton

“There is pain enough to nourish us everywhere…
There are corpses piled up to the mountains,
& tears to drown in,
& bile enough to swallow all day long.

Rage is a common weed.
Anger is cheap.

…it is joy that is scarce.”
— Erica Jong, rearranged by me.

I, Ian Lambert, in the midst of my life,
having had two parents, one brother,
one wife, one Father, dozens of unpublished
or unfinished writings, a general lack of direction,
more than a handful of secrets
& nearly three decades of pain,

having wept tears of rage and anguish
for those who did not love me
& those who loved me — but not enough
& those whom I did not love…

having wept for people who did not exist
& those who I never had the chance to meet
& for myself —
declare myself for joy.

I have listened through tears to songs.
I have listened until my tears turned to laughter
and to tears once again.

I have dreamed of worlds and of lives unlike my own
And I have found pleasure in these dreams.
I am restless,
perhaps eternally so.

I have watched people cause pain to the ones I love the most.
I have been the cause of such pain.
I have watched people I love cause pain to themselves.
I have caused myself pain.

I have been a liar
and I have chosen the company of liars.
In my dishonesty,
my friends have been dishonest.
In my anger,
my friends have been angry.

I take great discomfort in not being perfect.
I am learning to adjust,
and instead, to bask in it.
I enjoy sounding eloquent;
it makes me feel like I am wise,
or that people will think I am.
That gives me pleasure.

I resolve now for joy.
In the words of Erica Jong,

“No doom-saying, death-dealing,
fucker of cunts
can undo me now.”

I resolve now
for joy.