Thoughts on death

This post is going to be weird, and probably uncomfortable to read. I know it’s uncomfortable to write,  but I’m doing it anyway, because I need to get it out of my head.

Last night, Michael Spencer died.

Some of you may know him personally on some level. Some of you may know him as the Internet Monk, or the founder of Boar’s Head Tavern, or just an author of some really good posts about God and Christianity. Some of you may not know of him at all. But he means a lot to a lot of people – and to some degree, you can even measure his influence objectively, since his blog is one of the oldest and most influential on the internet.

I’ve only come to know much about him in the last couple of years, mainly through a friend of mine mentioning his work incessantly (something for which I am now truly grateful!) – and while he comes from a very different place than I do spiritually and theologically, and while he and I have very little in common I feel great respect for him. His posts are well thought out and detailed, well written and insightful. He’s given me a new way to see a lot of things, and for that I am thankful.

He also got the group together at the Boar’s Head Tavern, a group of people that is very diverse and has discussed every topic under the song in a public forum that I’ve gleaned a lot from. His sickness and passing was noted there in detail and with a wide variety of reactions and comments from the patrons of the bar – all different, but all strong reactions. Death causes strong reactions. The death of a loved one, be they family, friend, or whatever this e-relationship makes us causes reactions only that much stronger. It’s visceral and it’s painful. For Christians, there may be some hope, or even some joy mixed with the pain. There is also anger, and bitterness, and depression.

Many people lost a friend last night. I lost a man I respect. What I feel is nothing next to his family. It’s not even anything next to his friends, or many of the patrons at the BHT. But I feel grief. I feel confusion. I wonder why God chose now, this time when he was doing so much and doing so well to take him home – and to allow it to happen in such a cruel and miserable manner. I remember the story of Job, whose only crime was faithfulness, having his family slaughtered and his possessions destroyed, all just because Satan was mad that someone would be so faithful. He didn’t deserve it, and neither did his slaughtered family. As kids we’re all taught that Job turned out okay, because he got a new farm and a new herd and new employees  and had more children – but as a friend wrote recently on his Facebook, Job’s family was still dead.

Regardless of what was given to Job at the end, having to bury 10 children and the pain that comes with that is not instantly replaced by the birth of 10 more. There are signs in neighborhoods that read, “Slow down, we love our kids!” not “Floor it! We’ll make more!” No parent would ever take the death of their kids even if they knew God would give them more to replace them. What he gained doesn’t change the fact that he had to bury hundreds of employees and friends that were taken from him.

Suffering sucks. Pain sucks. Michael Spencer was subjected to a long, lingering, ravenous disease that destroyed his body and left him a shell of who he once was – I remember him writing a few sentences about how he was doing, which closed with an example of how poorly he was: it had taken him 45 minutes for this prolific writer to write a couple of simple paragraphs. I hate cancer. I watched my grandfather die of cancer, and it’s something that really shook me up then and still gives me nightmares now. It’s an ugly, disgusting way to die. There’s no upside to it. And he had to live through that to a point where he knew there was zero chance for survival. He found out about it right after Christmas, battled the disease for four months, and then he died.

But he looked forward to it. Not to the pain, not to the suffering he would experience and the hurt his loved ones would feel. He didn’t wish for that. He looked forward to seeing his Lord, because his faith is so firm, his trust so complete, that death didn’t shake him. He accepted what he was given with determination and dedication. He penned these words on his blog, the last post of his, which I’ll copy here:

The ultimate apologetic is to a dying man.

That is what all those “Where is God?” statements in the Psalms are all about. They are, at least partially, invitations to Christians to speak up for the dying.

All the affirmations to God as creator and designer are fine, but it is as the God of the dying that the Christian has a testimony to give that absolutely no one else can give.

We need to remember that each day dying people are waiting for the word of death and RESURRECTION.

The are a lot of different kinds of Good News, but there is little good news in “My argument scored more points than you argument.” But the news that “Christ is risen!” really is Good News for one kind of person: The person who is dying.

If Christianity is not a dying word to dying men, it is not the message of the Bible that gives hope now.

What is your apologetic? Make it the full and complete announcement of the Life Giving news about Jesus.

He didn’t post about how sad he was or how angry he was. He didn’t write about how it wasn’t fair or that his depression was getting the best of him. He wrote about the good news. He encouraged us to be better people and better examples to others, better followers of Christ.

I am not that faithful. I am not that devoted. I am not that strong.

I wish I could be.

That is his testimony.

Those people at the BHT, who would never have met each other without him, those hundreds of thousands of people who read his writing and were touched in some way, the friends whom he ministered to and counseled, the wife and children he left behind?

Those are his legacy. And what a legacy it is! How many of us can ever hope to leave that kind of impact on this world, on that many lives?

Rest easy, Michael. You’re home now. We miss you, but we know we’ll see you again one day.

I’m back and will be posting at least 3 times per day.

So after the month of March ended, I realized that I haven’t posted on here in forever (again) and thought that this is something that I should change, if for no other reason than to try to get my brain working again for the return of Radio Spacebird. The three of you out there who remember it will be very excited, I am sure. This post really has no specific direction, just me rattling off thoughts, but it’s better than nothing.

Jon Acuff of Stuff Christians Like fame has recently released his new book and Zondervan is offering people free copies of the audiobook for a limited time – I suggest you take immediate advantage of it. And listen to it over and over.

I’m having trouble understanding how anyone can actually think that this healthcare reform bill that’s passed is a good idea, or that the general concept of “taxing the crap out of everyone when the economy is still bleeding jobs” is a wise one. However, something like 45% of Americans think that it’s not ridiculous, so I guess John Dewey got his way.

Looking over the comments from my last post almost two months ago, the concept of male emasculation in greater society is an interesting one. I may have to tackle it in a future post. In the meantime, I think I can sum up the solution to a lot of those problems by saying: Men, try to be men. Women, try not to complain or take offense when a man tries to be a man.

And speaking of being a man, this here is the just-released trailer for what looks to be the penultimate action flick of the decade, starring… well, everyone.

I can’t wait.

P.S. – Happy April Fools Day! Don’t hold your breath on the post title coming true.

Missing the point

This is one of those times where you desperately wait for the “just kidding!” to come, but it never does.

A while back, I added John Shore to my Google reader, after a rather spirited discussion at Boar’s Head Tavern in which he played a key part. Since then, I’ve read his posts as he writes them with increasing confusion, as the topics seem to have gotten more and more bizarre with time. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s how it feels. Recently, he’s written some heavily satirical posts mocking New Age thinking and his recent liberal-vs-conservative Christianity post had the conclusion “In the end, who cares?” – so when I saw his post the other day entitled “Christian men SHOULD lust,” I expected another satirical piece. So, I began to read:

The ancient, persistent, pervasive idea that being a good Christian man means being a eunuch (a castrated male) is something that I think we need to reconsider. Men are men. Men lust. They lust constantly. They can’t help it. And I get real uncomfortable whenever I hear anyone say we should want them to help it. […]

Being a man means that in the privacy of your imagination, you are going to do to think a great many lustful thoughts. That’s just a fact about being a man. That won’t change. It can’t change. It shouldn‘t change. The whole idea that somehow Christian men aren’t reallysupposed to be men is ridiculous, and harmful.

Healthy sex isn’t just a good thing; it is the necessary thing. It’s how our race survives. It’s what makes the whole world go round.

If God didn’t want men to be men—to do their part to help that world go around—he wouldn’t have filled them with all that testosterone. That certainly doesn’t mean that men should ever be promiscuous, or in any way ever disrespectful to women. But it does mean that men are bound by their very nature to, in the privacy of their imagination, have lust for women.

Oh, wow. Not so satirical. And his proof that lust isn’t really a sin, but rather the overindulgence in lust, as with any other “unhealthy fixation?” A generously stretched interpretation of a paraphrased text.

Mark Driscoll, when talking about the beginnings of the “emergent church” movement, talks about how it began with a group of people asking a bunch of questions about how church was run and how evangelism looked. He’ll bring up a story about a group of guys who started asking questions, though, that shouldn’t be asked in that context – or at least should be quickly and decisively answered if they are. Questions like “is Jesus really God?” or “is there really a Hell?” – these are the dangers of a modern liberal mind, which refuses to accept absolutes and universal truth. If you don’t like something in the Bible, just explain it away by using phrases like “cultural relativism,” and then for bonus points grab another text, strip away the context, and say it relates to whatever new (un)truth you are preaching.

I didn’t know if Shore realized this is what he was doing, or if he was just being a little sloppy with his thinking, so I didn’t comment –  I didn’t want to give some sort of knee-jerk reaction before I saw what others said. It’s rare that I comment on blogs anyway, so it wasn’t exactly a hard thing to restrain myself from doing. However, after a day had passed, instead of a clarification or gentle rebuke, there were 27 comments echoing support and gratitude that he’d challenged the stifling puritanism of the eeeevil conservative Christians. There was even a comment by Shore, who posted that he was shocked took the article off its site – a note which inspired a chuckle from me, I must admit – which received a response of, basically, “of course they did. They’re Christian wimps.”

It’s amazing how someone can get so much so wrong in a single post.

But then, another post went up in follow-up to the original! My hopes for sanity to return to Shore’s site flared briefly as I clicked through to “The Christian Sexual Animal” – very, very briefly. As I read, I came across his basic premise (excerpted to get at the good parts):

I think Christians do have a very serious problem with sex, and for a very good reason: Nobody can have sex without utterly losing control of themselves. […] It’s an extremely terrifying force, that way. […]

And that’s just the normal, everyday reason for which humans obsess on repressing sexuality. Christians have a humongous additional reason for fearing and repressing sex. As one good Christian commenter on my last blog put that reason: “Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit.”

And there you have it: the reason behind 2,000 years of Christian sexual repression, boiled down to eight words.


Being sexual = being an animal = betraying God.

Being human = being sexual.

Therefore, being human = betraying God.

Okay, now I see where he’s going with this. I took logic back in high school, so let’s tackle this one like Doug Wilson would. Shore’s going with a simple if-then structure, which I’ll rephrase as: If you are human, you behave sexually. If you behave sexually, you behave like an animal. If you behave like an animal, you betray God. Therefore, if you are human, you betray God. [A→B, B→C, C→D,  ∴A→D]

Ignoring the fact that the last statement ends up being completely true due to entirely different circumstances, this argument is formed correctly from a structural but makes a lot of big assumptions in its formation. And most of them are patently false. Let’s break it down.

Claim #1: If you are human, you will behave sexually. He doesn’t really specify the exact definition, but from the context of this post and the one before it, he seems to mean that all (male) humans will (want to) have sex. Fair enough. Biologically, this is true; humans are hardwired to reproduce, and the method of reproduction is sex. If he means this as “if you are a male, you will lust,” then I would disagree. If he simply meant “be attracted to,” then that would be one thing, but he explicitly says that he means that to lust is to “constantly imagine himself in sexual situations with all kinds of women” – something that we are specifically forbidden to do, ironically in the very text he tries to excuse himself with. The word used in Matthew 5:28 for lust is specifically intended to mean a morally wrong desire for something not belonging to you – it’s used also by Paul in Acts 20:33 when he says he doesn’t covet the physical possessions of others.

Claim #2: If you behave sexually, you behave like an animal. Contextually, he means that if you behave sexually, you cannot exert self control. (Just because animals do something doesn’t mean it is morally wrong; would you challenge the morality of breathing or eating?) His evidence is that when having sex, you “at the very least shudder whilst making funny faces.” So he’s already shifted gears from having a basic sexual nature to a specific sex act, that is, the orgasm – the moment at which the brain loses itself in a temporary endorphin rush. He’s changed the terms on us. It is entirely possible to behave in a self-controlled manner unlike an animal in your normal interactions! Think about a young dog that has not been neutered; it, purely by natural instinct, walks up and begins to hump whatever it thinks it  might be able to mate with. That is what the complete lack of self control looks like – a dog humping a chair. As humans, we call this “dating,” but that doesn’t mean it’s any less ridiculous. Is it possible to live without engaging in this behavior? Of course it is.

The point he wants to make here is that if you are 0f a sexual nature, you will lust uncontrollably. This is where go off his beaten path completely, because he only addresses this by saying “all guys do it,” without suggesting why.  This, of course, is a classic ad populum, or “appeal to the people;” just because a lot of people do or believe something doesn’t make it right. Let’s assume that every guy has, at some point, seen a beautiful woman and fantasized about her sexually – it’s not too large an assumption to make, I think. In that moment, that man has just sinned. Now, being convicted of this, he goes about his day and encounters other women, equally beautiful, and he sees them and recognizes their beauty but does not fantasize. He does not entertain that next step, does not let it enter his mind. As Driscoll puts it, he doesn’t put it in his mental library for later use. This is an entirely plausible scenario, and I suspect that most of my readers who are Christians have had this exact situation play out in their lives, as I have. That moment when you decide not to cross the line from “she’s pretty” to playing out your mental fantasies is a won battle in the war against lust. You’re gonna lose a few. But don’t believe the line about not being able to win any.

Claim #3: If you behave like an animal, you betray God. Well, now that we’ve actually defined what “acting like an animal” is, then I suppose he might be correct here. Being characterized by that sort of behavior is no doubt sinful, but only the nuttiest of the nuts would suggest that having an orgasm is, in and of itself, a sin.

So, in conclusion: Is lust something men deal with? Yes. Is lust something that very few men will ever actually “conquer?” Yes. Does that mean the answer is to surrender to it – or even accept and embrace it? Hell no, Mr. Shore. We keep up the good fight, gird up with spiritual armor to do battle against the flesh, and try not to embarrass our Lord and Savior on the battlefield.

Blogging for transparency

I was talking to a friend of mine today and he mentioned that a gal he’d met online was surprised to hear he had a blog. She thought it would be very uncomfortable to have your thoughts put out there in a public forum for anyone to see.  It’s an interesting point, because there are certainly times where it’s nice to be able to hide your beliefs or politics or opinions in the name of getting along or fitting in. I’ve always said I feel open, honest representation of yourself is the best way to live – but sometimes it’s not so easy to actually live out.

When I started this blog, I deliberately obscured my name and was careful not to link to it from my Facebook or anything else that had my full, real name. I didn’t want this blog to come up whenever people looked up my name, because I knew some of what I wrote could be controversial. I didn’t want potential employers or coworkers to find what I wrote and get offended by what they saw.

But a while back, I don’t remember exactly when, I decided that it wasn’t in line with my policy of transparency to try and hide this blog behind a fake name. Now, I still use the first name and last initial moniker because it’s a habit and it’s consistent across where I post elsewhere, plus it’s just easier. But this blog is now the #2 search result when you look for my name, only behind Wikipedia’s article on the eponymous railroader from the 1800s.

Not actually me.

And I don’t mind, because this is who I am. And if I take a little flak for being excited about the Scripture or thinking that socialism is a terrible form of government, then so be it. What I would love is if someone came up to me at work tomorrow and said “hey, I googled you the other night and found your blog. Can I ask you a few questions about this whole Jesus thing?”

Well, so much for that

Yesterday was super-busy, and I didn’t actually get home until well after midnight which means that my “write every day in November” goal has failed. However! I do plan to keep writing and stay on track for 30 posts in 30 days, so hopefully I’ll be staying consistent through at least the end of the month. In the meantime, work is calling so I shall write more later.

Stay thirsty, my friends.