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Heresy or Humility?

In the terms of those who have invested thousands of hours and decades of their lives in Christian Theological studies – I am but a layperson.  I sometimes enjoy reading and considering for myself some of the things that these intensely learn’d people have offered over the centuries, but I would never consider myself one among them.  So when I call something “Heresy” with a question mark, I mean the question mark as much or more than I mean the accusation.  It’s more a reflection of what I’ve read and considered than a statement.  Please follow what I’m about to write only as such and feel free to offer your own conclusions or ideas about how wrong I am.  I never object to changing my mind for a good argument!


Have you ever been plagued by or known and loved someone desperately afflicted with an unknown disease?

Have you ever experienced the moment when a name that fits is finally given to that condition?  Even if there is no cure, there is so much hope and even some peace laden in that finding – just that it has a name… and the feeling that I’m not alone anymore… and this is real because it has a name.

Looking for answers a few days ago – I stumbled on this piece by R.C. Sproul called The Heresy of Perfectionism.

I’m not a big fan of Sproul and I don’t consider myself a Calvinist. I didn’t go looking for his writing, but this particular piece rang a loud bell in my mind and set in motion a time of study and reflection that hasn’t left me yet.  The article is not-at-all-subtly about the doctrine of Wesleyan Perfectionism – also known by many other names including the Nazarene Doctrine of Entire Sanctification.  The reason why it struck me so significantly is twofold:

1.)  I came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ in a Nazarene church. The idea of the foundation of my early belief and which blocks of said foundation I should replace with better ones and which I should not as I mature in my faith and knowledge of Christ is extremely important to me – particularly as I endeavor to lead others to Christ!

2.)  I love someone afflicted with a similar Heresy in their life, and it’s killing them.

Here’s the point where I interject again and ask you yet again to pause your judgment of me.  I’m not and will not side with Sproul on calling formal Wesleyan Perfection or Nazarene Entire Sanctification Heresy because I am not qualified to judge it as such and simply reading a few articles about it does not make me qualified to judge it.  In fact, after heavily researching the topic I came up with a slightly different conclusion.

My opinion on the matter is that I think Wesley was probably a pretty cool dude.  When I read what he wrote directly, and what the Nazarene denomination took from it in their articles of faith (see section X, “Christian Holiness and Entire Sanctification”).  When I read and try to understand a chapter in a book like this written by Everett Leadingham (a prominent Nazarene theologian and author) or brief and to-the-point articles like this from sources such as the Nazarene News Network.  When I consider these things, I think that Wesley, The Methodists, and the Nazarenes probably aren’t too far off the mark.  For the record, I don’t find a single human Christian theology to be completely correct about the state of salvation, the workings of the holy spirit (it’s called a mystery for a reason people!), or any of the other hundreds of things that these people argue so adamantly about.  I do think that many are very close and that pursuing such truths is essential.

In fact, I can even ALMOST buy into this idea:

Question: Does that mean sanctified people cannot sin?

Answer: Sanctified people can sin, just like Adam and Eve could sin — and did. However, believers who have moved to this level of Christian life and experience are more likely not to sin than believers who haven’t. Before experiencing entire sanctification, believers often lose struggles against inborn tendencies toward sinning and selfishness. After the experience, they find themselves most often feeling a tendency toward righteousness.

– From “How entire is Entire Sanctification” – linked above

Leadingham (and Wesley, it would seem) stop just a hair short of saying that a Christian who has experienced “Entire Sanctification” is free from sinning or will not make poor choices, poor judgments, or fail at discerning God’s will at times.  My personal theology at this present moment in time would take that notion and spread it maybe a 2×4 of thickness more comfortably toward a statement like this:

It is impossible for any human being in flesh to be sinless or perfect in heart, thought or action, even for a moment. The process of sanctification is life-long and never complete until the actual point of literal salvation fulfilled (death and personal ascension).

-Me

There is room to move between these two states and I find comfort in that.  There is also room to move between my conclusion and ideas like this:

To believe that we are sinless we must annul the standards of God’s Law. We must reduce the level of divine righteousness to the level of our own performance. We must lie to ourselves both about the Law of God and about our own obedience. To do that requires that we quench the Spirit when He seeks to convict us of sin. Persons who do that are not so much Spirit-filled as they are Spirit-quenchers.

One of the true marks of our ongoing sanctification is the growing awareness of how far short we fall of reaching perfection. Perfectionism is really antiperfectionism in disguise. If we think we are becoming perfect, then we are far from becoming perfect.

-R.C. Sproul

Incidentally – remember that last line from another more famous Calvinist?  Hmmm…

So where is the truth?  Is this Heresy or Humility?


You’ve come to this point in this blog thinking… ok… so what on earth was he talking about up above when he said “I love someone afflicted with a similar Heresy in their life, and it’s killing them.”  Right?

If you know, are, or love any kind of Christian or Christian leader who abuses Wesley’s doctrine or the Nazarene version of it in order to say to those who would question their judgment in the slightest to have a sentiment in response similar to, “I know I’m right because I am entirely sanctified, so what you’re saying is wrong.” Or anything to that effect, or sentiment – whether it is subtly remarked over time through multiple situations or directly in a single conversation.  THAT is the Heresy against which I warn today.

Even at the greatest extreme that I can find in biblically-founded Christian doctrine about personal human holy spirit given “perfection” – even if you disagree with my ideas about what Sanctification does or doesn’t mean – if someone were to say something like THAT to you, surely we must think it pure Heresy.  Do you agree?

This is where I find some freedom, comfort and hope – albeit a little strangely.  If my friend to whom I referred is truly living in this state of Heresy then surely God in all his Mercy and Grace will work relentlessly to offer freedom from it?  I hope and pray!

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Perfect in Weakness

A few months ago a disabled friend asked me a very deep and personal question about my relationship with my wife, and how we get through our challenges.  I was pretty challenged by her question and it honestly took me months of back-burner reflection to come up with an answer that seemed true and authentic.

Here’s a slightly re-written version of what I sent her today (some names removed, etc…)

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Hi my friend,

First, I’m sorry it’s taken so long to write back. After reading your questions and thinking about them, I realized that I didn’t have as many answers as I wanted to have for you. Heather and I will be married 18 years this year and most of the decisions we’ve made about our relationship – some of which had to be endured through some great trials – have mostly been made and settled. They do come back up occasionally, but I usually only have to remind her (or her I) what the decision was that we made together previously about such a thing.

Something else happened recently that relates directly to your question. I had a conversation with another amazing friend whom I regard as a sister that made me realize something in words that I had never been able to really articulate before. She is a remarkably insightful friend and she knows me better than I like to pretend that she does.

This sister said to me – something to the effect of – “you NEED to love others, it’s who you are.”

I knew this, but I didn’t quite get it. She’s right. I’m divinely made with a need to love and care for others. Not the same way that doctors care for the body, but in the way that you care for a soul, a heart, and maybe some of the physical needs along the way. Whether I’m involved in working with teenagers (one of my favorite things), taking care of foster kids, taking care of my kids, or taking care of my wife… and again I mean much more than the physical needs… those are the times that I feel useful and fulfilled.

Inversely, if I had nobody to care for – or even worse if I couldn’t be trusted by others to care for adults and children – then I would feel useless and empty. My life would be without meaning.

I didn’t become this person because I wanted to be, this is who I am and who I’ve always been. I find it to be completely unalterable.

Now, there are things that can (and have sometimes) take/n that away from me – my own sinful desires and actions, or the sin of others who the enemy would use to take me away from God’s purpose in my life. Maturing or growing for me has meant learning to identify those things for what they are, and then to employ the strength gained through my Faith to overcome them and get closer to my purpose.

Getting to the specific point of your question: I believe that I am made for Heather – perfectly. She believes that she is made for me perfectly, that we perfectly fulfill one-another’s needs. We believe that God brought us together for his purpose (Love) and that with us together, we are doing his work as he has prepared us from the beginning.

Heather is my sounding board, my confidence, my reassurance, my emotional strength when I doubt myself, and most importantly of all – my love. I am Heather’s strength, her resources, her comfort, her drive to make it through another day, her will to conquer her pain, and her helping hands and feet. I’m a large and strong man, and I am made to take care of more than myself.

All this just to say – we try not to see each-other as the “care-er” and the “care-ee” (your words) because the labels aren’t appropriate. If I’m being fair and honest though (and I am) – during particularly hard times of depression, struggle and pain I might occasionally hear Heather say something like “Why do you even love me? I’m such a burden and I don’t do anything for you.” So I know that she fights some of the same battles that you do. I don’t take these questions personally (anymore) because I know that it’s a reflection of her battle with darkness and not with me. Those are the times that I work hard to remind her of everything that she does do for me and of the fact that I simply Love her, and she can’t take that away from me.  I try to help her remember (and in that help myself to remember) that she doesn’t have to comprehend that I Love her and that I need to Love her, in order to accept it.

One of the experiences that I cling to that is specifically relevant to this is when – in 2009 – Heather was in a coma in ICU for a month and dying. Her outlook wasn’t good and I was pretty sure that she wouldn’t make it. God hadn’t given me any reassurance that she would, the only reassurance I gained through my faith during that time was that God was with me – and that was supposed to be enough. (long story for another time). ANYhoo… the one thing I kept praying for during that time was something like this:

‘God, I just want my wife back so I can talk to her. That’s all I really need is to be able to talk to her. I can do anything else, but I need her so I can talk to her… so she can hear me. God you know that she understands me more than anyone else on this earth. I just want to be able to talk to her.’

What he gave me instead was a much greater blessing, but during that time is when I realized that all I really needed was her heart, ears and mind.

In a very practical and real-world sense (to steal your own words) – I am the one (like your husband) who takes care of many of the physical needs (not all of them, but someday it might be all of them)… but also in a very practical and real-world sense, I wouldn’t be able to do those things without the strength I get from the relationship I have with my amazing wife.

We believe that it is God’s design that our relationship works this way and no other way (at least right now). Most of the time we joyously accept that it’s meant to be this way for all kinds of reasons that we can’t possibly understand. Sometimes – when the pain is very bad – it’s hard to understand. Some days, we just cry together. Then we pick back up, and we move on… and we continue to Love. Neither of us would ever want our Love to be any less significant or amazing than it is. Neither of us knows anyone who Loves one-another as deeply as we believe that we do. Both of us accept that it seems it must be this way in order for it all to “work” the way that it works. Both of us wish there was another way, but would also worry very much about what any “other way” would look like.

Then this comes to mind – not as Heather being my thorn, but that our weaknesses together being our strength together – divinely:

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV)

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

(emphasis added)


Incendiary Pride

This will be a roughly-formed thoughts post with poor grammar and little attention to cognitive flow.  It is as much a journal entry as anything. This has been stewing and forming in me for quite some time…

I subscribe that there are two brands of pride in modern society – as outlined by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:  Pride-Conceit, and Pride-positive encouragement/love.  Neither really require further explanation right now.

Pride-Conceit in Christian church leadership is explosively detrimental.  It is the antithesis of leading people to Jesus Christ.

If you could imagine a special incendiary device that – upon ignition – takes years to build up explosive velocity  – buried a few inches deep in a pile of sand.  Each grain of sand representing a family or a believer in the church’s staff or congregation.  Those far enough away from it to still be part of the pile but not yet directly affected by the explosion are not even aware yet that an explosion occurred… but eventually they’ll fall inwards to the void left by those closest to the explosion (the leader(s)) and have exposure to either a great shock themselves, or the eventual burnt-out husk that remains.

Those grains of sand that were expelled… some of them burnt or melted beyond recognition: A few of the closest are scattered so far that they refuse to even engage in the church profession again for the depth of their scars and still burning of their wounds …. others a bit further perhaps – forever wounded from the battle of the heart that they are paralyzed from their calling for months or years – afraid to ever trust a church leader again.

So much hurt.

From Freidwall @ Flickr

The ones that remain – who weren’t scattered, consumed, burned or expelled (maybe yet?) – what’s happening to them?  Are they becoming part of the flame that burns others?  Are they dying to worship a false God?  I was – for some time – both.

Hundreds of beautiful people that I had the pleasure of knowing served along with my family in such a church, both before and after pride ignition, for so many amazing and troubling years.  All of us who have spoken have related that we’ll never find another place like that again… and the place that is left behind now is nothing of that original time.  There is no return, because it doesn’t exist.  Perhaps it never quite did in the way we imagined.  Perhaps God himself gave us that experience together for this reason alone – but was it His doing entirely?  I suppose that alone makes some sense.

It’s certainly not there now, no longer existing… what’s left is empty, formless and false… it’s like the reflection of bright spirits that once stood in a room before their images were burned into the walls by a nearby explosion – their flesh instantly sublimated but a rough outline of carbon imprinted on the white-washed tomb walls.  All that remains are the ideas of incredible greatness, all but completely consumed by the fire of Pride-conceit.

There were some truly amazing times that we shared.  I don’t regret those times at all, I wouldn’t take any of them back.  It’s tough to know exactly when the first spark occurred or the blasting cap was really ignited.  When did we mistake that spark for the fire of God, that it became the consuming fire of pride?  Why couldn’t we tell the difference?  Was it always there, waiting to destroy us?

I come to a saving knowledge of Jesus at this church, because through some process I don’t comprehend – the actions of these leader(s) were chosen to be used in this way for me.  I will never regret that or count it as false or lost.  That trajectory change in my life was as real as the keys I type on to you today.  Many were just like me.  They are my brothers and sisters today.  As scattered and burned, many of us have united in our experience and managed to continue as family.  That alone seems divinely arranged.

If you’re reading this with a critical eye – I think it’s important for me to aside this to you right now:  This was not some petty church split.  Nobody decided to take down this original church because of some minor theological differences or political ideology.  ALL of us without consulting one-another but somehow of the same mind and heart – all of us left as quietly as we could for a myriad of our own reasons – being sure to be blameless in the falling of this church (which still exists today, it has not organizationally fallen).  None of us wish to be found responsible for it’s fall.  None that I have found went with any intention to “steal away” members or influence anybody.  All went away in deep sorrow and pain, with unfinished business.  We tried with our entire heart and soul to make it a better place, investing our everything into it, sacrificing deeply.  All of us wish for the healing and rebuilding of this church and these leader(s) in God’s image, we all believe it to be possible although perhaps difficult to imagine.  In most cases, it was the members of the church that remain that immediately cut our contact – not unlike what you see in a cult – as if we never existed.  Many to apologize and rejoin our lives when they themselves finally find themselves “on the out” – just as we did.

What disappoints me the most though is my own actions.  I did this.  I cut people out of my life when they left my church because I honestly believed that they were too scary to talk to.  I bought into the lie, the shame, the embarrassment, the guilt and the judgment.  I rationalized incredibly poor leadership behavior and even explained it away to others… hushing them out.  I helped in the process of hurting people, I even helped hurt my wife…  but eventually my family was hurt far far too much, and left standing on the outside.  In hindsight, I can’t believe I let it go on for so long.  The things that I believe God himself seemed to orchestrate to get my family out of this church and onto his clearer path were extreme, and I ignored many of them for years.  It wasn’t until I was met with direct deceit, direct betrayal, specifically tangible lies supported by real evidence, intensely direct oppression to the unity of my marriage, and a negative impact on the lives of my children – all of it together – that I finally relented my blindfolded dedication and took my family away.  It took all of those things together to get my attention.  What a tough decision that was.

I (and the many like me who are still working through this) have spent and continue to spend months of bitterness, questioning, crying, and wondering over what happened… and where we went wrong… and what we did wrong.

From Erich Keese @ Flickr

I’m drawing a line today ^^ See?  there it is.

No more.

It’s not reasonable that a church and it’s leader(s) should do that to so many people.  SO MANY people I’ve met, who have affirmed that I’m not crazy or losing my senses over what happened (and continues to happen).  With clearer hindsight, I can see so many things now that were so wrong… so anti-God…. so anti-Love…. so anti-truth.  A church cannot continue claiming Christ and have left so many in the wake in this form… not THIS MANY people.

People will always leave churches for a myriad of reasons, but not this many… not this hurt… not this broken or troubled… not this burnt.  This isn’t my fault anymore, and it isn’t theirs.  I won’t buy into the lie that there’s never a good reason to leave a church, that’s cowardice and complete bull.

I ran into an old friend recently who shared his experience with me.  His experience was so much just like mine, and also completely his own.  He was a brother in arms for years.  I hadn’t spoken to him in months because I didn’t believe that I could.  I thought he was still part of it.  I hugged him so tightly.

In our conversation he said to me… “I am the worst Christian ever”.  He believes that to be completely true.

That remark shook me deeply and made me angry.  He’s probably one of the kindest and most wonderful people I’ve ever known and serves and has served as an inspiration and role model to me for almost 10 years now.  I accept that he knows he’s a sinner and in need of salvation, but there’s a difference between holy humility and the kind of false shame that the leader(s) like the ones we shared can give you (if you let them).

There’s nothing good about shame.  Nothing useful.  Nothing holy.  Shame is not guilt… guilt can be useful.  Shame is just lies, and genuine self-hate.  There’s nothing in the Christian God about shame.  It is the work of pure evil… and that is to say… Pride-Conceit.

Today I draw the line.  It is not my fault.  It is not my friend’s fault.  I didn’t do this and I won’t accept shame over it any longer.  I am a free man in the name of Jesus Christ and your false religion of shame and embarrassment will not make me a slave again.

Furthermore I vow to fight against these forces and lies in anyone I encounter who God brings to me.  I will tell them the truth.  They are loved, they are worthy, and they are NOT a bad Christian because they left a broken church or a horrifically broken situation.  I will no longer hide behind the fear of hurting those who remain or guilt over being blamed for the church’s slow descent.  I will stand behind the truth of what happened and what’s happening, when it’s appropriate, when it’s needed, and when God informs me that it serves the cause of Love.  No more, and no less than that.

——

God, please grant me the strength, peace and wisdom to follow you in this – and not my own dangerously prideful emotional responses.  Please fill me with your spirit and words, and not my own.  I’m trusting you in this, with my freedom, with my heart, my passion, and my Love.  I praise you only in the name of Jesus Christ, my savior.  Amen.


Creation – Subject to Revision

I was given the opportunity on my favorite message board with my favorite Atheist and Agnostic friends to respond to a remark about what Christians believe about creation.  I enjoyed writing this response and I wanted to share it here as well.  I have modified it slightly to make it read more clearly in this format.

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Part 1 – regarding an article where a Giant Platypus fossil was recently discovered, my clever friend “A” quipped:

Do God-believing people think this stuff is a joke? E.g. the five-to-fifteen million year age estimate is admittedly vague.

Which I took as a direct question – because I’m a jerk like that – but my friends tolerate and entertain me pretty nicely.  Here’s what I responded:

This is a good opportunity for me to explain something important: Not every Christian is a “young earth creationist”.

Young Earth Creationism – God made the world 6,000 years ago, humans existed with dinosaurs OR dinosaurs are a big scam, everything in Genesis is translated 100% accurately to modern-day scientific terms and it should be taken 100% literally word for word.

I am not a Young Earth Creationist.

There are lots of theories about creation that are more compatible with Christianity – save base evolution which really isn’t. I’m not a fan of Darwinian evolution, but I have good scientific reasons for this opinion!

Here’s what I know for sure about creation: God created.

That’s it.

That’s the point of Genesis. “God created.” The rest, I’m just as open to working-out the details as you lot. I freaking love Science! 🙂

I’ve met as many Christians with opinions similar to mine as I have ardent young earth creationist. It’s such a hot topic for the YEC’s that I tend to avoid it like the plague when talking to another believer… mostly because I think it really doesn’t matter to your faith today. What matters today is just that God created.

—-

Part 2 – my clever friend “B” wrote:

I know a bunch of folks are also getting into the combined Creationist Theory of Evolution. Basically that God created some base units that then evolved naturally into what we have today. Which Science isn’t able to disprove yet so it is as equally likely that God started it as it is that pure random chance started life.

I will say though that Young Earth Creationists scare me, how can you possibly put so much faith in one collection of vaguely similar books and yet ignore the massive collection of information that clearly shows pure, empirical evidence of the age of the earth being greater than 6000 years.

To which I responded again – as though it was directed specifically at me (it wasn’t):

Some YECs scare me too. Many of them accept what people tell them as gospel truth and never investigate any other ideas that what someone said might be wrong. God says you should investigate and question things until you fully understand them (which in theory, should be never). That seems a pretty good definition of scientific investigation. Plus, it says in the Bible that God stands outside of time. Why would he be constrained by that? Why would you take an idea as powerful as the Christian God and put him in chains by saying he is required to follow the rules of time as we humans understand it? Also – the way that they understood time 6,000 years ago and wrote about it is NOT the same as the way that we understand it today. You just can’t read it that way.

“God caused evolution and then let it happen” theory – We call that general Deism. That’s not really what I believe either. Christians believe that we serve an active and currently involved personal God. We believe in current day Miracles, that prayer is real, and that Jesus is alive (in a way that doesn’t fit the physical humanist definition of life).

So what do I believe about creation and evolution? I don’t want to appear dodgy here, so to be as specific as possible: I believe that Evolution is a quality explanation of the evidence we’ve found here on earth – as we view our universe from a Human perspective. Just because that’s the direction our scientists have gone based on the evidence they have, doesn’t make it an accurate explanation. I believe that it’s possible that Evolution IS accurate and wholly compatible with an invested, tangible, live, and direct God. If I am to believe that he created life, then why wouldn’t he have a hand in Evolution at every step? It’s not philosophically exclusionary of God’s involvement – it doesn’t have to be. I’ve just chosen to think – as a thinking man – that it doesn’t make as much sense as some have believed.

What I don’t believe is that any amount of Scientifically obtained evidence disproves Faith. I find that to be remarkably arrogant and dangerous thinking. I also find it to be a significantly un-scientific attitude. If we are to accept that we are humans, living-in and experiencing a single dimension of what we call space/time from a single perspective – testing ideas and philosophies based on that perspective and on the tools we’ve made for ourselves… then certainly it seems reasonable to also accept that there are forces and factors far outside of our ability to comprehend or observe that may quite dramatically influence those things that we can observe and test.

Given this philosophy, you could find alien life and it wouldn’t threaten my view of God.

—-

I’ll wrap this post up with one final comment.  I’m perfectly willing to believe that I have this wrong.  Maybe the earth IS 6,000 years old. I think it’s far more likely, however, that we all have it quite wrong and the truth is far outside of anything we’ve imagined yet.

In this context, the essence of true Science is this:  I cannot wait to learn or discover more.

If I add in Faith, it only changes to this:  I cannot wait to learn or discover more about God’s creation.


Fairytales and Family Relations

I went on a men’s retreat this last weekend with my church.  We did “men things” in the mountains.  We were challenged to grow in our relationship with God and Jesus Christ.  We sang songs together.  We stood around a large fire in the dark and under the stars for no particular reason other than “fire!”.

At one point, I even took a nap.

It’s not as lame as it sounds, but it is as self-serving as it sounds.  Does that make it wrong?  No, I don’t think so.  I think we all need to take time sometimes to separate ourselves from the main streams of life and forge new relationships both with one-another and with our creator.  Over the years and the different church trips and retreats that I’ve been lucky enough to be a part-of, I’ve made life-long friendships with men who I otherwise probably would have never gotten to know.  These men, in turn, have become strength and spiritual guidance for me over and over again.  I am thankful for men’s retreats.

On this particular retreat, our guest speaker was quite gifted.  I enjoyed his skills and his ability to draw-in focus.  He had a style of vulnerability, authenticity, and clarity that few seem to really organize.  His speaking techniques were obviously honed with thousands of hours of practice and years of spiritual devotion.  I have nothing but great things to say about this guy.  My primary complaining point today is about one of the stories he told:

Preachers and Speakers – will you please quit telling me fairy tale stories about these holy family reconciliations – particularly with your fathers – where you somehow finally connect with your lost dad relationship at the end, just before he dies… and maybe your dad even accepts Christ at your hands right before the end?  I cannot tell you how humiliating and frustrating this is.

I don’t believe this is a reality for most of us.  I’ve heard so many stories from great speakers that seem to go the same way. They all go something like this:

‘I once was at enmity with my Father, a non-believer (probably).  A rough childhood (perhaps), maybe even abusive or neglectful or just broken?  Right before he died, we somehow worked everything out… and it was like holy magic… he was saved and my heart was healed.’

I can’t deal with this.  I want to hate you for this.  When you talk about this, it makes me feel inadequate.  Your stories used to give me hope, but all these years later as I hear them again and again, they just make me more angry and disappointed.

When I say “we” here I mean me… and you if you’re at all like me.

Do you have any idea how many years of crying, sleepless nights, and prayers of desperation we’ve been through?  Do you know?  Do you know how many times we’ve attempted this conversation with our father/mother/sister/brother – based on the model you gave us – only to fail miserable and receive even greater disappointment?

I guess – I mean – sure – it’s your testimony right… so go ahead and tell us your story.  But please also tell us that it doesn’t always work out like that… and tell us how it’s going to be ok somehow even when it doesn’t work out.  Tell us it’s going to somehow be ok when we don’t see our dad in Heaven or our heart never really fully heals from that LONG ago pain.  Tell us that.

—–

I believe that God can bring redemption to ANY relationship, no matter how broken.  I believe fully in his power to heal completely.

I believe he won’t always do this, and probably not even sometimes.

I believe there are probably good reasons why he wouldn’t do this but those are things I don’t comprehend.

I believe in the thorn in my side.

I believe in the Love of my Christ.


Giggling Hope

Hadden

Today is Hadden Alexander’s adoption day.  It is a day filled with hope, excitement, fear, love, and anticipation.  It’s one of those days where you wake up and your stomach is in knots before your thoughts even realize the world, but deep inside you know that they are good knots.  Good like the kind of knots that hold your shoes together or keep a family from separating even when they pull in different directions.

Hadden is my Hope Personified.  As he is now ours forever, I can finally share his story out loud – and with it- I pray – the same great Joy and Hope that our family and close friends have had with him for the last 17 months.

Hadden’s story is not his origin but it includes that tale.  To experience the full Hope of his situation you have to be able to respect his beginning – but I warn you – do not judge or pity him on this.

Hadden arrived crying into our home in June of 2012 at 4-months of age, a ward of the State of Colorado.  Hadden (whom at that time had a different name) was barely an average birth weight.  He had broken bones in various stages of healing throughout his little body.  He had multiple documented forms of brain damage from physical trauma.  His little arm was in a cast and we could only guess that all he had really known was pain during his first few months of life.  Perhaps there was fleeting comfort and joy, I hope.  It was deeply tragic, and there were times when we were not sure how long we could endure it.

For the first few weeks in our family, Hadden was least upset (but never happy) when left him completely undisturbed in a dark room with white noise. My relentlessly empowered wife took him to what seemed like hundreds of doctor and specialist appointments all over town for his myriad of medical complications.  She spent hours on the phone expertly navigating the various child support services systems of our locale. Among many great things, she secured – not one or two – but five different professional therapists to visit him weekly and help us with his needs.

Conversations in Foster placement often turn to permanency expectations and my wife and I had expressed previously that after 7 years of foster care, we had always wanted to adopt (that doesn’t mean that we’re done!).  We had no expectation of adopting Hadden at that time. Just in consideration of those discussions – many doctors and medical experts tried very hard to “break it to us” that he wouldn’t be “normal” at all and might be a very difficult child to have for the rest of his life.  Nobody in our family is “normal”, thank God.

Random and well-intentioned comments often sounded something like “You know, he could wind up as a vegetable”.  Or maybe a little less bleak such as “You guys should know that he’s going to need a lot of help for a long time.”

Many professionals just remained silent on this issue.  We preferred this and often attempted to steer conversations in this way.

One doctor stands sovereign in my memory, except I wish I remembered his name.  He was an older experienced neurosurgeon who visited us at the hospital.  I can’t remember if it was the day we took him home or on a subsequent visit, but for some reason I was along for this particular trip. With a thick German accent and an unusually kind and warm personality he said “You know, these babies… (trailing off for an uncomfortably long time as he tried to decide which English words to use).. their brains at this age are like plastic.  They are mold-able.  They can change.”

At the time I just sort-of smiled at him and nodded.

It took me a few days to realize what he had done and a few weeks and months to experience the fullness of the light that one simple remark had produced.  The doctor had made a deposit in us of Hope.  Then God through his work within my wife and I took hold of that deposit, spread it out, and gave it eternal dividends on our accounts of dedication, patience, persistence, and love.  It was a real gift.  A great, great gift.

Hadden2

Through months upon months of visitations with his sweet but broken mother.  Through endless sleepless nights and hours of tedious days of more and more medical visits, therapy appointments, and just plain hard work and Love.  The vision of Hadden as a permanent part of our life slowly became clearer.  I’m a terrible cynic and my wife and I had been jaded enough by our previous experiences with the social system that we held-down hope for months to a quietly managed simmer. I think that we knew even then though that he should be ours.  I honestly feel as though he was always meant to be a very important part of our family.

As Hadden’s conditions improved and his now inextinguishable joy pushed through his pain, he continued (and continues) to touch many in a special and deep place.  He touched my wife and I in our cynical bruised hearts during one of the hardest spiritual times of our lives and in a way that can only be described as an unmovable Rock of Hope, somehow physically evident in a tiny baby boy.  He touched our older sons to discover a nurturing, protecting, and playful brotherly spirit that they never quite gained simply being with one-another.  He touched our close friends who understood small parts of his story and had/have a cheer-leading front row seat to his obvious transformation.  My wife and I even watched as Hadden touched the hearts of deeply jaded child welfare system workers who came in and out of his life in a unique way.

There’s something special about Hadden’s unique Joy.  My wife once described it out loud as “Every day that Hadden isn’t in pain, is a good day for Hadden.”  I think she’s right, but I think there’s even more to it than that.  I’ve watched as people who don’t even know Hadden and have no idea where he came from find themselves suddenly fully enveloped by this bright glowing aura of Joy that seems to just shine out of his big brown eyes and bright and airy smile.

To say nothing of his physical and developmental advances – Hadden is still technically “behind” but the growth we’ve seen over just the last few weeks has been a real miracle.  His future is bright!

We are so blessed today to welcome Hadden as a legally defined member of the Ott family.  He is my Giggling, Personified, Tangible, Eternal Hope. He is the message of Jesus in the flesh.  In a tiny package, Hadden is the explosive power of non-terminating exponential Joy in spite of the indisputably broken situation that began his life.  What an honor it is that God chose us to care for this miracle and bring him up to be a visible icon for all.

I cannot fathom for a moment why it is that we were chosen, but Wow!  I feel today like we were given a billion dollars to do anything with that we want and it’s completely up to us what we do with it.  It’s totally insane.  It’s a gift of divine Grace.  It’s a tangible fulfillment of Mercy.  It is Giggling Hope.

Hadden and Boys


I don’t mind stealing bread

“I don’t mind stealing bread from the mouths of decadence

but I can’t feed on the powerless when my cup’s already overfilled”

-Hunger Strike, Temple of the Dog (1991)

I heard this song today.  I remembered identifying with the lyrics way back when I was a teenager and heard this song the first time and loved it.  I remembered thinking “yeah, that’s right.”

Then I thought about who I am today, particularly in light of my relationship with Jesus Christ.  What’s different?  Would I mind literally or figuratively stealing “from the mouths of decadence?” (unfortunately, I don’t think I’d mind too much) To feed myself or my family?  Would I feel badly about it?  What about stealing from the poor and powerless? (depending on the situation – I bet I could rationalize this to myself too)

I also thought – what if I’m the mouth of decadence?  Aren’t I?  Who am I to draw the line and say “you’re too wealthy, you’re poor. I’m somewhere between and am therefore, somehow ok”?

By driving around wealthy Boulder, Colorado today in my almost-new, bought on payments, little Honda Hybrid car… aren’t I contributing to the great feeding upon the powerless of the world through consumerism?

This inner dialogue formed a freshly regurgitated debate in my mind that has been continuously unsettled:  Where does (or would) Jesus stand today on western culture social justice issues?  Particularly the very popular humanist perspectives that I see strongly in our  youth and young adults on ideas like:  income equality, health care reform, elective life choices like marriage and birth (or abortion), universal religion, etc…

What about those Christians who would claim that being a good Christian means you work hard and earn what you deserve?  and by inverse implication – if you don’t have anything – you deserved it?  Is this the same as “an honest day’s work”?  Or “go to the ant, you sluggard…” (Prov 6:6)?

Or is this more like “Don’t judge (or condemn)…” (Mat 7:1 and many more)?  Did Jesus only mean – don’t judge another person’s salvation – when he said that?  Which judging or condemning is encouraged by Jesus?

What about “love thy neighbor” (Mark 12:31 and others)?  What about “the greatest of these is love” (1Cor13:13)?

Am I asking more questions than providing answers or opinions?  Welcome to my brain.  Now you know why the blog is called “Otter Confusion”.

So where does Jesus stand on social justice in the way that we think about it in America today?  Would he be friendlier with the lazy hippies or the hard-working republicans?  What would he stand for – today – when presented by a modern Pharisee with a social justice “gotcha” question?

More importantly, how should I personally respond to that?  What’s my responsibility as a Christian towards social justice?  Should I just exercise what I believe to be appropriate justice through my own life and choices – prayerfully considered – and faithfully executed (only on the best of days do I actually find myself doing this)?  Or should I stand up for more than that – take to the streets – join the “1% vs 99%” rally?  Or – depending on your perspective on the above questions – an American Republican “tea party” rally?

Or do I just look for more ways to Love others directly – and stay out of the fray?

(in retrospect, this last option seems to have been my unintentional life’s mission since becoming a Christian)

Where do I go from here – particularly on this day of government shutdown – on the brink of collapse of our beautiful nation founded on the principles of Love and Freedom?

Maybe another song, also currently playing on the repeat track in my brain…

“Stand up, We shall not be moved

Except by a child with no socks or shoes

If you’ve got more to give than you’ve got to prove

Put your hands up and I’ll copy you

Stand up, We shall not be moved

Except by a woman dying from the loss of food

If you’ve got more to give than you’ve got to prove

Put your hands up and I’ll copy you”

-Stand Up, Flobots

Or maybe not.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Micah 6:8)