I Was Wrong

Just over four years ago, I wrote a journal post explaining why I thought it was unnecessary to go to church. Why fellowship didn’t really mean a church body, why I was good enough on my own and could grow more without attending church or being around other Christians. Why going to church was actually even harmful sometimes – those bad apples would drag me down, you see. I needed to be free.

And for some reason, several more experienced Christians who I had (and have) great respect for took the time to tell me, in far kinder and gentler words, that I was being an idiot. And being an idiot, I ignored them, and did a remarkable job of missing the point and rationalizing my idiot decision. Fortunately, the last four years have done an awfully convincing job of proving them right.

I’ve been going to Redemption Church for about 4 months now, and I love it. However, only tonight did it suddenly click with me that this could be a real home. I attended their 20-somethings ministry, called Seven Ten, and was promptly greeted by several friendly faces who then introduced me to their friends. A couple of hours of fellowship and talking with my peers later and I was back on my way home, and I find myself looking forward toward next week with something that I can only describe as hunger.

So should you be considering the same thing I was and stumble across this post, dear reader: please, don’t be an idiot like me. The church isn’t perfect – no institution with people is – but it’s far better than the alternatives.

What really happened to Jennifer Knapp

About a year and a half ago, I was listening to A Diamond in the Rough and decided to see if I could track down why Jenn disappeared so suddenly from the music scene several years ago. I couldn’t find much other than all sorts of wild rumors about contractual disputes, having kids out of wedlock, secretly being gay, giving up Christianity, etc. – although I did find one brief interview with her, and so I wrote a post with what I’d found. Since then, it’s become my second most visited post on the site, only surpassed by that one time I got instalanched. Thousands of people have found that entry thanks to Google and other sites and I allowed myself to think, “Hey, maybe some people are being disabused of all these rumors now thanks to me!”

Well, it turns out that one of the rumors was actually true, as Jen revealed today in an interview with Christianity Today that she’s been in an eight year long relationship with another woman. She says that it’s a hard decision even admitting to it publicly:

There’s some extremely volatile language and debate—on all sides—that just breaks my heart. Frankly, if it were up to me, I wouldn’t be making any kind of public statement at all. But there are people I care about within the church community who would seek to throw me out simply because of who I’ve chosen to spend my life with.

I empathize with her frustrations and pain, but I have to admit I’m kind of saddened by the news. I honestly believe that what she is doing is sinful, and that her denial of it being so is a dangerous act on her part. Denying sin only ever lets it dig its talons into you deeper. I’m not going to use this space as a spot to talk about why I think homosexuality is a sin – I’ve talked about it before, and if you’re curious there’s always email or comments (or the search button).

Instead, I want to talk about what Jen’s music has meant to me.

For years, her albums have been a place for me to find some comfort, some solace when life seems to be battering my door down and the sky looks like it’s falling. A few songs in particular have really meant the world to me – Martyrs and Thieves, Hallowed, Undo Me, Refine Me and more have really been huge impacts in my life. It’s funny how when everything is going so badly, something as simple as a song can ease the burden and make it seem like maybe, just maybe, things might be okay after all.

I’ve struggled with depression for as long as I can remember, and the simple and honest pleas that Jen sings have always connected with me on some level that most music doesn’t. When I was in a dark place, I took bongos lessons and listening to that music made it seem like I wasn’t alone, like there was light to reach for even though I couldn’t see it at the time.  The words to Martyrs and Thieves remain some of my favorite ever written.  So when I read that interview, my initial reaction was one of anger and betrayal. How could one of my heroes do this? How DARE she?

How dare she sin?

How dare I hate her for it.

Jesus once said, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” While I still believe that she’s in sin, I’m in no place to think she’s any less than she was before I knew her situation. I’m just as sinful as she is, if not moreso. Why is her sin any worse? She’s heard from plenty of people already that she’s a terrible person, or that she can’t be a Christian with this out there now, and I’m not going to add to it. Christians sin just like everyone else, the difference is that we have hope to have that sin forgiven and taken away by the grace of God. The difference is that we can repent of it and have the Holy Spirit work in us to strengthen us in our weakness so that we don’t fall again.

In Refine Me, Jen sings “Lord, come with your fire, burn my desires; refine me. Lord, my will has deceived me, please come and free me, come rescue this child for I long to be reconciled to you.” If that’s truly the desire of her heart, and I really hope it is, then the Holy Spirit will work in her and convict her where she needs to be convicted. God will not leave even one sheep behind. So in the meantime, let’s just continue to support a sister and pray for her.

I’m going to keep listening to her music, and I’m going to buy her new album. I’ll keep following her on Twitter, and grinning like an idiot when she replies to a tweet. Even if this all goes south and she becomes the raving evil hedonist that the most judgmental of Southern Baptists are saying she is, she still has written some of my favorite music and she has still had a major, positive influence on my life. Nothing can change that.

So Jen, if you ever stumble across this: Thank you. Keep on honestly seeking God, and he’ll take care of you.

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.

Guilt and Regret

I was catching up on my Google Reader when I came across a post by Jon Acuff from a couple days ago. To say it hit me like a ton of bricks would be an understatement; something – I’m not sure what, exactly – just clicked.  The message isn’t anything new, and I’m sure I’ve heard very similar words spoken (or written) before – but right now, this is what stood out.

I don’t know the specifics of your situation. There are some circumstances where we are called to act and have the chance to do something and we don’t. But I think far more often we make the same mistake Brian made. We look back on yesterday or last year or ten years ago and we think we could have done something differently. And if I could tell you the same thing I told Brian, it would be pretty simple.

“God didn’t ask you to be God that day.”

God didn’t turn the reins over to you that day. Just like he didn’t ask Brian to handle a stranger’s aorta tear in the gym, he didn’t ask you to be the God of any particular situation. He is still God. He is still in control. He is still on the throne. And when we act otherwise, it must pain him so.

A friend of mine is going through some very tough times right now, to the extent that I have lately felt guilty about dwelling my own problems when someone I knew was dealing with something far more significant.  About a week ago, we talked briefly about his situation, after I’d read a Facebook post of his talking about his current study of the book of Job.  And as we discussed what was going on, rather than complaining to me, he asked how I was doing. I explained that his post had really encouraged me in my own situation, and he said he was glad he was able to help, and that he’d be praying for me.

Have you ever felt guilty when someone was good to you? That guilt that washes over you when someone goes above and beyond for you, sacrifices something on your behalf, or forgives you of something you might not be able to forgive? You might call it “grace guilt.” That’s how I felt that night. And so rather than feeling sorry for myself, my mind started to twist itself in new ways – if only this, if only that, if only, if only… And some of those things were genuinely in my control, things I could have done better. Others were not, but I have trouble letting go anyway. Now I’m beginning to realize that the attitude I have toward those situations is wrong.

So when I read Acuff’s post, and he said “God didn’t ask you to be God,” it hit me. I need to stop trying to play god. I need that trust. I need that reliance and faith that my friend has as he studies Job. I don’t have it yet, but God willing, I’ll get there.