Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why I am writing a novel

So, I'm writing a novel.  I've started hundreds in my lifetime and they never seem to make it past the first fifty to one hundred pages.  There is always some new idea that takes over and I forget the one I am currently working on.  The other day I came across an old drive with five or six novels in various states of completion - none of which I have worked on in years.
For some reason, however, this one is different.
I've written 30 chapters on this.
I've written well over 300 pages.
I stopped counting words a long time ago.

I'm not trying to write what I think anyone wants to read.
I'm not trying to fit into some pre-designed genre.
I'm not writing about vampires or zombies.
I'm not writing about secret agents and spies.
I'm writing what I know.
I'm writing about the struggle of addiction, the struggle of faith, the struggle for meaning.  I'm writing about hurt, betrayal, desire, music, art, lust, redemption, loss....all of it.
I'm telling a story.  A story about how we attempt to survive life.
This isn't a Christian story, although it explores issues of faith.
This isn't a PC novel.  It isn't rated PG-13.  If it ever gets published and you read it, you will understand what I'm talking about.  The language, situations, and content are adult.  Just like life.

This isn't a book that moralizes.  In fact, I am working very hard to make sure it does not moralize. There are way too many of them out there already.  This isn't a book that tells you what you should or shouldn't believe or think or do.  Rather, it is a book that looks at how we deal with loss, how we deal with tragedy, how we search for meaning amidst the wreckage, and if we are lucky (which not everyone is), how we learn to live moment by moment, day by day, week by week, with the reality we create. Sometimes that reality is healing and sometimes it is devastating.

This novel has taken on a life of it's own and for that I am thankful.  I thought I knew exactly how this would go, how the story would play out, where it would end up.  I no longer do.  I'm sort of hanging on for the ride.  A bit like life, I think.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Most Important: Family

If you read my other blog, "The Year of Living Apart", then you will understand why I believe family is so important in life.
Despite Paul's assertion in 1 Corinthians that he wishes more people were single, like he was (although there is a rather lengthy discourse among theologians as to whether or not Paul was married and had either abandoned or divorced his wife - or more likely she him - after he became a Christian since he would have almost certainly been married in order to be considered a good Pharisee and leader of the Jews prior to his conversion) God made it clear in Genesis that it is not good for a man (or woman) to be alone.  That is the basis for his creation of Eve, for his putting the man and the woman together into one union, and for his continual support of marriage and the family throughout the Bible.
In other words, God believes family is important.
I tend to agree.
Before you get all excited (or concerned) that I'm going to veer off into the "traditional marriage v. gay marriage" discussion, that this is somehow setting up my argument for or against same sex marriage or traditional marriage, settle down, this is a blog about the importance of relationships, specifically family relationships, not a blog about what unions constitute a family.

When I met Jo, I instantly knew she was different from every other girl I'd ever dated.  There was something about her, something in the way we "clicked" that made me want to spend the rest of my life with her.  (She'd tell you I was a self-absorbed musician with an attitude problem and a sketchy past who she didn't want anything to do with when we first met, but I digress.)  22 years and 3 kids later, I am in love with her more than I ever thought possible.  My marriage has given me the opportunity to experience love, trust, forgiveness, grace, hope, and joy in ways that I know I would have never experienced outside of this relationship; outside of the family she and I are.

With the birth of each of our three children, I have experienced something I absolutely know I would not have experienced anywhere other than in that hospital room the first time I held each of them.  I experienced the certain knowledge that I would do everything in my power to protect them; that I would give up anything I needed to to make sure that they had whatever they needed to be healthy, happy, and successful.  I also knew in those first few moments of their lives that nothing they could ever say or do would ever stop me from loving them.  These are emotions I do not think I would have ever experienced outside of the family that we are.

Fatherhood has taught me so much about God and his love for me as his child.  I can't run so far away that he stops searching for me.  I can't mess up so spectacularly (or so often) that he stops forgiving me.  I can't be so angry at him that he stops loving me.  He wants the best for me and in my relationship with God I experience love, trust, forgiveness, and hope in ways I could never experience if I weren't in this relationship.

Those things are mirrored in my family (imperfectly, yes), but still in ways that remind me how vital marriage and family is to the perfect ideal that God intended for us and intends for us to experience again.

Now, beyond all the theological stuff, I will say this:  nothing compares to coming home and spending time with Jo and the kids, whether we are watching football, going out to eat, or, like tonight, going out to wander around The Strip, and enjoy this city we live in together.  And that word right there - the word "together" - is why family is so important to me.  I get to live this life together with the four people I love most in this world.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Most Important: Faith

I have friends who are atheists, fundamentalists, jewish, christian, uncertain, and everything else along the spiritual spectrum.  Yet, they all share one thing in common: they all have faith in something.  Not always faith in "someone" but always faith in something.
They have faith that something or someone will usher in a better world, a better life, a better existence, than the one they are currently experiencing.  Not all of them feel this current experience is all that bad (although none would say it is amazing or perfect either), but they would all say in one way or another, "things have to be getting better if we are going to survive."
In essence they are, like me, searching for something more; something better.
They, like me, have faith that there is something more, something better, some better life or world or existence to experience.

We all have it.  We have faith that either more money, more kindness, more love, more of Jesus, more of human reason, more faithful observance of Torah, more of Islam, more meditation, more exercise, more relationships, more sex, more freedom,  or more of something I haven't listed, will bring us closer to some ideal existence we envision and dream of and long for and hope for.

So, faith is believing that something we haven't yet seen or experienced fully is regardless of our lack of first hand knowledge or experience of said something, still real.  Some might say because we haven't actually experienced this perfect existence, it is therefore not "real" but is instead "potentially real." Then again, for those who have experienced true love or an act of unselfish kindness, who have found in their meditation a connection with something deeper or who have found a small level of comfort in their observance of Torah or belief in Jesus, for these people, they might say that they have experienced in some small way a taste of what they have faith in, and through that small experience they then extrapolate what a world full of that experience could be like.  In the end, regardless of whether or not they have or have not experienced any part of what they have faith in, they are still admitting that they have faith in something.  They want to have faith that there is a bigger or better existence out there and they wish to be part of it.

Perhaps we could see them as Obi Wan saw Luke Skywalker the first time Luke experienced the Force aboard the Millennium Falcon.  We might even relate to Luke as he hears Obi Wan say " you have taken your first steps into a larger world."  For others, we might understand how they relate to Bono when he sings, "I still haven't found what I'm looking for."

While I believe that most people have faith in something, there are those who do not.  How sad for those who have no faith, no hope, no desire for a better world, who are content with the life they have and the lack of any hope of a better future.  For these people (and they do exist by the millions) this is all there is.  Life is all about luck and chance and meaningless experience after meaningless experience.  When life is hard there is nothing to look forward to, no future to envision where anything will ever get better.  In point of fact, "better" probably does not even factor into their thoughts on life or living, if and when they ever stop to ponder their lives.  When life is good there is no emotion that says, "this is the first step towards that better world" - whatever that world might be. They are even worse off than the atheist.  At least the atheist can say that even if life doesn't get better during his personal life time, over time in some future generation, human reason and intelligence will lead us to a better existence and will build a better world for our children and their children.  This is at least faith.  For those without faith, when they die, that is it.  There is nothing more for them (obviously) or for their children.  They leave this world exactly as they found it.

This could easily turn into a philosophy paper so I'll simply wrap it up by saying this:

In order for life to have any meaning it has to have faith.  Even if it is as simple as having faith that your kids will live a better life because of you or perhaps will at least live a better life by not repeating your mistakes, even that is a type of faith.  Personally however, my faith is something bigger, something deeper, something that is far beyond my power to influence or control.

The most important part of my life is my faith in Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.  I don't say this to be preachy or superior or judgmental of anyone else.  I say this only as a statement of my life and of what is most important in my life.  I have faith that only He can make this world perfect. I have faith that only He can show us how to love fully, to respect each other deeply, to treat each other with eternal kindness, and to work for the good of everyone, not just of those who we like.  I have faith that even as this world becomes more and more violent, more and more selfish, more and more overheated, more and more crowded, He is preparing a new heaven and new earth, and that someday heaven will come fully to earth, even as we experience bits and pieces of it now in acts of love and kindness and in moments of hope.
And so, my faith encourages me to try to make the world around me a little more like the world I have faith in - the world that I believe is coming.  Yet even as I attempt to do this in my relationships and words and actions, I fail miserably.  I am not always kind or loving.  I get angry, I am tempted to hate, to fear, to withdraw from people and places who aren't like me.  And this is why I know that ultimately any true hope I have for a better world has to come from outside of me and has to be based on someone better than any one of us humans can possibly be.  And so, rather than putting my faith in other flawed humans or in systems that require human behavior in order to accomplish their goals, I have faith in Jesus Christ who says that He and He alone can make all things new and bring beauty to ugliness and perfection to imperfection.

I know the depths of human depravity, I've seen what power can do to people, and so I choose to put my faith in the power and promises of Jesus Christ.  A coming Savior who is out of this world and yet intimately connected to this world; a Savior that will not corrupt, will not change, will not fail me, will follow through on His promises, who won't give up on me when I fail, who can't be corrupted or tempted to leave me for something or someone better or because he got a better offer, but instead offered himself as a sacrifice to heal the nations.  That is who I have faith in and it is my faith in Him that gets me through each day.      

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Today I turn 45.  Never thought I'd make it this far.  When I was young I lived my life by the Def Leppard inspired motto, "It's better to burn out than fade away."  I figured mid to late 20s at best. Then I met God.
Not long after that I met my wife.
Not long after that I began to meet my kids.
Today I am thankful that I am turning 45.
I'm thankful for the experiences I've had (both the good and the bad).
I'm thankful to be walking this journey with my best friend, my amazing kids, and my God.
45 is a blessing; not because I'm losing some of my hair or the muscle doesn't respond to the workout as quickly; not because I'm a step slower; but instead because I'm alive and I know the things that are really important in life.
When I was 21 I didn't know what was most important.
Today I do.
The most important things in life are...

to be continued...

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Moving forward

Now that Jo and the kids are back with me in Vegas and the nightmare of immigration is over, we find ourselves facing new challenges.  First, there is the search for a house.  Second, there is work and schooling for the kids.  Third, there is readjusting to life together and life in Vegas.  Finally, there is the anticipation of what the future holds.

The house hunting has been fun.  Our family loves it (although Kyle hates it, but hey, four out of five is still a majority).  We have seen 20 or 30 houses over the past two weeks and have finally put an offer on one that we all love.  It would be nice to be in before Christmas, but we won't hold our breaths. However, we would rather not stay in the condo any longer than necessary.  Last night our neighbor informed us that we are all "far too loud" when we climb the stairs to the condo.  What ya gonna do? We don't tiptoe.  My sons are big guys.  We've been moving in for the last few days.  It can be loud. We respect the 10 o'clock noise curfew.  Bottom line, the sooner we get into the house, the better.

Schooling has not been so fun.  The high school Braden was zoned for (which shall remain anonymous) was less than helpful.  Granted, he was out of school for almost three weeks while we did all the immigration interviews and medical exams and flew and drove back and forth across Canada and then drove down to Vegas, but they seemed very inflexible when it came to extenuating circumstances.  In the end we enrolled him in CCSD's Nevada Learning Center on-line education program and registered him today.  It actually looks really cool and the counselors and registrars were friendly and helpful.  Now we turn our attention to getting Kyle and Skye into UNLV and also finding them part time jobs.  Of course, they need their Green Cards before they can do that, and as of today, those wonderfully illusive cards are still "in the mail."

All of this is part of the readjustment phase of our journey.  We've been apart for 14 months.  I just want to spend all of my time at the (tiny) condo with my family but I have to work.  Jo is back to work as well (she works through the internet so can work from South America if she needed to).  Yet we still have lots of little things to do all the time so we both feel like we've been slacking from work this week. Last night we finally went to Starbucks together and sat outside around a big table and had coffee together as a family and just enjoyed seeing the strip lit up in the dark and the fact that it was still 75 degrees. Moments like that are helping us to readjust.

Now that we are all here, we can begin to think seriously about the future; about our future; about ministry and life and goals and values.  This is perhaps the most exciting part of all of this.  My wife and I have always been a team.  We do life together.  When we left the SDA organization we did it together.  We both knew exactly why we were leaving and neither one of us had any doubts.  It is the same now.  We are both excited by the potential of the next phase in ministry but we want to do it together, to be on the same page, to create or lead something that we both believe in, that we both feel best represents our values, goals and beliefs, that we would be willing to die for.

In the mean time, we continue to study, to pray, to search, to dream, to move forward as God shows us the road.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Rihanna, Douglas Coupland and God

Rihanna, Douglas Coupland and God

I love Rihanna's song "We Found Love" - not just the great groove but especially the sentiment "We found love in a hopeless place." I have been playing that song on my ipod a lot this week.
I just finished reading Douglas Coupland's book "Hey Nostradamus!" - I've been a fan since "Gen X" and I think "Nostradamus" is amazing. The main character Jason has difficulty connecting with anyone after he is part of a highschool shooting spree. He can't find love with his family and his world is hopeless. Then, in the most hopeless of all situations, he finds Heather. Although he is a doomed character, they share a connection, and a love, that forms the central section of this book. The final revelation of his father is astonishing.
So, all week I've been surrounded by this idea of finding love in hopeless situations and places. What place is more hopeless than the sinful world we live in - disconnected from God and each other - struggling valiantly to re-connect?
Jeremiah 31:3 keeps flashing through my head as I listen to Rihanna, read Coupland, and think about this world we live in. "I have loved you with an everlasting love." In the midst of this world's hopelessness, in the midst of dispair, when we could do nothing for ourselves - that is when Jesus died for us - when he displayed how much he loved, and still loves, us.

Why contradictions in the Bible don't make me question God

Every time I start reading the Bible through again, there is an unspoken question that keeps lurking in the back of my mind.  "When am I going to run into my first contradiction or logical inconsistency and when I do, what does it mean about how I understand, read, and interpret the Bible?"

It happens every single time.  The very first time I read the Bible, way back in the way back I remember reading Genesis 4 and thinking to myself, "Where did all the people on the earth who were going to kill Cain come from and where did Cain's wife come from?  I thought there was only Adam, and Eve, and Cain, and Abel on the earth at that time."  Which got me thinking about how the Bible figures "time" and that either we don't understand Biblical time (meaning the 6,000 year old earth theory is toast) or, Adam and Eve are just one story out of many other stories going on at the same time and the Bible doesn't tell us about all the other people alive on the earth and populating the earth.  So obviously when we read accounts of "lineages" in the Bible, the people mentioned are not necessarily the only sons and daughters of the people mentioned before them, and perhaps not even the first or oldest son or daughter, or perhaps not even a son or a daughter, but simply a descendent somewhere down the line.  And maybe the earth could be millions of years old.  So what?  God is still God and He still created it and us.  

Recently I began to read the Bible through again (this time as part of my ordination process) and for the first time I noticed something interesting in Exodus 9.  I've read Exodus 9 hundreds of times but for some reason, this time, I noticed an apparent contradiction I hadn't noticed before.  It isn't a big deal, but for people who are raised to believe in verbal inspiration, this could pose a tiny problem.  Exodus 9:6 tells us that the plague on the livestock killed ALL the livestock of the Egyptians.  All of it.  Nothing escaped.  Oh, wait, maybe some did because Exodus 9: 20-21 says that the Egyptians who feared the Lord ran to bring in their livestock from the fields before the plague of hail.  Now perhaps 9:6 should have told us that only the livestock of the Egyptians who didn't fear God died, but it doesn't. Apparently, God told Moses to write down that all the livestock died.  So he did.  But then God also told him to write down that in order to avoid having their livestock die in the hail storm, the Egyptians also saved their livestock by bringing it inside.

Or, maybe, just maybe, the whole theory of verbal inspiration where every word is completely the inspired word of God and the author's were only robots dictating exact words has a few problems with it.

I absolutely believe the Bible is a revelation of God's will and God's story to the world, but I also believe that flawed human beings wrote it and they wrote what they remembered, AND as is the case with every author, they wrote it within the historical and cultural context in which they lived.  This is pretty basic stuff and it in no way diminishes the Word of God.  If anything, it makes it easier to apply and easier to understand when you realize that as an example, women in today's society don't have to be silent and not speak in church and that short hair isn't a sin for women or long hair a sin for men as it appears Paul was trying to tell the church in his time and culture.  If the Bible were verbally inspired and every word is God's laws for us, then Joyce Meyer is in big big trouble and her church is an abomination to God, not to mention that sinful short hair she wears.  And don't even get me started on women worship leaders...

Or maybe it is time for us to start using the brains God gave us.  

Reading the Bible in light of God inspiring ideas, rather than actual words, allows people throughout history and through the ages and across vast cultural differences to apply the principles in God's word to their cultural context and still be able to follow God's plan for their lives.  It allows for contradictions in the Bible without throwing the whole thing out as some critics of the Bible do.

Moses, who we believe wrote Exodus, probably just forgot to write stuff down as he was remembering everything that happened.  He most likely added some stuff in there too (like his assertion in Exodus 11 that Pharaoh and the Egyptian officials highly regarded him or his assertion in Numbers 12:3 that he was the most humble man on the face of the earth).  If he didn't write it himself, than some scribe or person later on inserted it (which wouldn't be very appropriate to do unless God also inspired that scribe to add something he forgot to inspire the original writer to say, which then just becomes very confusing as we try to figure out if God forgot to inspire the original author or exactly what was going on there).

This view of the Bible also allows us to read a book like Ecclesiastes and realize that these are the words of a man struggling to understand life and a relationship with God in the midst of depression and uncertainty, rather than God inspiring the author to write something so uncertain and mainly negative.

It also allows us to enjoy Joyce Meyer without judgment (if that is your thing) and to worship along with Christy Nockels or Misty Edwards or that Darlene lady with the hard to spell last name from Hillsong (I know your last name is Zschech and it is pronounced like "check" I think).

Most importantly it allows me to read through the Bible and when I encounter those inconsistencies and contradictions, I can move beyond them and ask myself "What is God teaching me in this passage or in this story" rather than becoming bogged down (like I have in this blog) with questioning the sovereignty of God, or getting tied up in knots trying to figure out the exact theology of inspiration.  It also allows me to still view the Word of God as the Word of God without throwing it all out because some of the literal words contradict each other or don't apply to across thousands of years of cultural change and growth.

Most importantly, it allows God to speak to me here and now in my situation and it doesn't keep him confined to a set of standards and cultural values that are thousands of years old.  God isn't in a box and neither is His Word.  It is alive and still speaking actively today to me, where I am, where you are, in the cultural context in which you find yourself.