Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pulling the Trigger...figuratively.


Just so you know, this is my third edit of this post. I've had a couple of friends call and talk to me about some of the harsher language that I used initially. I am probably a bit too blunt for my own good at times, especially when venting in the middle of bout of depression. But I also do feel that there are more than a few out there who can relate to all of this.

Still, I am VERY sorry if this post caused anyone to be fearful or worried. This was NOT my intent. This post was merely to shed a light on people who struggle with "Depression" from time to time, such as I do. I hope that no one was too worried. Because I am O.K. I just need this avenue as a way to ride this this kind of thing out.

SO, on with the post after that disclaimer...after 2 days...




I am hoping that anyone who struggles with depression and reads this post will leave a comment. I am curious as to how you deal with it when it hits you? (Non-medication answers only)

I am also curious as to how it feels when it's on you; what things run through your mind, what images pop into your head, and what type of music plays in your brain?

Finally, I am very curious if you can tell when depression is about to hit you? What are the initial first moments like for you?

I'm about to describe what it's like for me, so enjoy.



There is a certain irony that I should be dealing with a bout of the darkness on today of all days. It's October 31st. This is the anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg door back in 1517, and thus starting the Protestant Reformation. When Luther was still a monk, he would go through periods where he would actually whip himself with a lash over the sins that he had committed. He and I share some common practices apparently. He used a physical lash to beat himself up. I just use my mind...or maybe my mind uses me.


I am always curious as to what finally triggers this to go off in me. If I could narrow it down to one or two things, I might be able to keep it at bay. But it appears that there are a variety of triggers that make me finally pop. I suppose that I should have seen it coming in some respects. It's almost a year ago exactly that I had another bout. (I seem to get around 3 a year, for some reason.)

I know for a fact that I have had quit a bit of stress pilling up over these past few weeks. I have a bad tendency to over-think and dwell on stuff much more than most folks do. (Seems to me, anyway.) Of course, now the weather is getting colder & darker. That never seems to do me much good. But I think the final trigger or triggers was my own mouth, and the words that came out of them the past few days.

See, I am the king of putting my foot in my mouth. Seriously, I am the heavy weight champion when it comes to that. I manage to stick both size 11's down my throat at least twice a year. My finest moment was many years ago when I mistook a large & beefy man...with the most beautiful & flowery long hair I had seen in ages, for a woman! And I proclaimed my mistake loudly at a wedding party...while sitting next to that man's wife! (Seriously though, if your husband gets mistaken for a woman by a guy who is sober, you might want to sit him down and have a chat.)

I've never been good at handling personal mistakes, especially ones like that. I don't know if it is the Scandinavian in me, or the Baptist. Who knows? But I just don't handle that well. You can talk to me until you are blue in the face about why that is silly, but it changes nothing. It's what I do.

Here's a weird fact about me: Most people look at me as being friendly and outgoing...and I do strive for that. I like to make other people smile & laugh. However, for as long as I can remember, there have always been these dark thoughts just below my surface. Even on my best days, I go through life feeling like a fraud and a phony. I really do. I AM nobody. I am just waiting for everyone to finally realize that.

So let's say that I say or do something inappropriate, embarrassing or dumb...especially in public. Well, guess what I just confirmed about myself?

See, then what begins to happen...as it did last night...and then really began to ramp up this morning, is that I begin to recall and relive every single other mistake that I have made. They feed on each other. But their feeding only makes them hungrier, so they have to look for more memories to eat. Honestly, picture the vortex of water when you flush your toilet. You know how the water begins to spin? That is EXACTLY what it looks like in my mind. However, instead of it all going down the drain, it just gets bigger & bigger. Pretty soon I am recalling mistakes that I made back in elementary school.

All of this only proves the point that I am no good. No good to myself or anyone else. I am a fraud. I have no class. I am a big mouthed idiot. I am nothing but a buffoon. And I will never, ever be able to stop making a fool out of myself every chance I get, because that is what I am best at. I live to blow it! That is my purpose in life.

I can lay in bed, sit at my desk, or stand in the shower. That vortex will just keep spinning bigger & bigger, and I'm the only one who goes down the drain to all of the other pieces of crap in the sewer.


(That's interesting! While writing all of this, I just realized what the final trigger was that got me spinning. For all sorts of reasons, I shall keep it to myself.)


If you think I am joking about the darkness below the surface, here is a true story: A long time ago I worked with a gal who became a very close & trusted friend. She noticed that every once in a while I would make noises for no reason. (No! It is not Turret's Syndrome.) I would hum or whistle for just a moment...maybe quack like a duck. What she figured out, and called me on, was that I was making that noise to try and flush a negative memory out of my head.

Sure enough, I would be sitting up in the office working on something. The room would be quiet. Then all of a sudden, "Wah, wah, wah," or something like that comes out of me. Then I would hear, "You're thinking dark thought again, aren't you?" She was a smart cookie.


The fact of the matter is that when this stuff hits me, I feel very distant from God. From time to time, I get very angry at God. I'm sorry if that sounds blasphemous, but that's a fact of life for me. It would be much easier for me if I could just call him up and we could go get coffee, but it rarely seems to be that easy.

I've been asking him to talk to me again. Send me a dream or something. Anything to let me know that he gives a crap. So far, no such luck. Faith is not an easy thing.


You know, you can play pretend all you want. You can put on your "Happy Face" mask and tell me that life in general, and following Jesus in particular, is just one big joyous pick-nick. (I know more than a few B.S. preachers who sell that garbage.)

I write about this stuff in the hopes that I will find some answers. I started this blog to help me process stuff. If, by being open & honest about this issue and these struggles, someone else is helped along the way, then I am satisfied. Maybe I am not as big a fraud as I think...maybe just a slightly smaller fraud.



You might not like any of what I have just written, but I promised myself that I would never lie in any of my posts. And honestly, I feel a lot better now that I have written this. (I told you that blogging was a good way to process this stuff. It sure beats doing something really dangerous and life-threatening...like listening to Rush Limbaugh.)


Joe

P.S. Sometimes I wish I could just wander off into the woods and never come back. If I ever do, I will change my name to Xebeche.



"It is preferable not to travel with a dead man."
Henri Michaux

Friday, October 29, 2010

ANGER! Or "Ned Flanders pops a Bolt."



I tend to not be a particularly angry person. Actually, I don't really like to get angry. You always seem to do something that you will regret later when you get that emotionally whipped up. I do at any rate.

(I made it a rule to never grade student's papers when I was in a bad mood. I also think it is a bad idea to reprimand or punish someone when you are on the cranky side of things. You simply aren't being rational at that moment.)

WELL, have I got a story for you!

But two items to cover first: #1. Tonight at work, one of the Produce guys said that he liked to think of all of us as characters from The Simpson's. He told me that I would be Flanders, because I am normally in a happy mood. (I could think of worse characters to be. And I won't comment on who he thought was Mr. Burns or Barney.)

#2. I will tell you exactly how to make me pop a bolt almost instantaneously. Either tell a very nasty lie about me, and try to spread it around, OR be dismissive or condescending towards me. It would normally be best if you moved quickly away from me at that point, because I will be sorely tempted to ask Jesus to go wait in the back of the car while I deal with you.

Well, tonight someone tried the second of those two options with me.



The fact of the matter is that I simply don't get angry very much. I can get annoyed pretty easily. (People that dump their trash in the parking lot. People that park in handicapped spots when they are fully functional...things like that.)

You see, the types of students that I worked with for so many years kind of squeezed out my interest in getting too upset over stuff. After the 200th time of hearing a variation of "Mr. Conrad, go F**K YOURSELF!" it just loses it's charming sting.

Seriously, it's to the point now that I will simply respond with either, "Hmmm, seems like you're having a bad day. How bout ya just chill in the hall for a bit and we'll worry about this later?" Or, one of my personal favorites, "Huh, that's IT? Jeez kid, I can do better than that. Allow me to demonstrate."


So on to the story:
I'm sitting in the breakroom trying to get something to eat. All of a sudden, I was getting calls that I had to respond to every few minutes. I honestly did not get a single moment of more than 5 minutes at a time to eat anything. Now at the same time, there was another fellow sitting in the next room who is SUPPOSED to get those calls too. Did he once get off his well proportioned back side to lift a finger? Nope. Finally, on the forth call I got up and on my way to get the call I barked at him and told him that he COULD help out if he felt like it. (He eventually did...after the problem was solved.)

I gave up trying to eat anything and just went back to work. I'm coming down the stairs, as Mr. Helpful is coming up. He points his stubby little finger at me and says, "Listen, any more emotional outbursts like that and you'll be having a talk with the Store Manager." Naturally, my mind raced with delightful visions of his form being hurtled by me down the rest of the staircase, and then dribbling the remainder of his carcass like a sizable basketball all the way back to the dumpster.

Instead, I found some friends, let them know my mood, and then proceeded to vent it all out. Perhaps that was not the most immediately gratifying method, but certainly the best legal option at that time.


SO ANYWAY...
Up there on a hillside in Galilee, Jesus is talking to a large crowd of folks. He says to them, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, "Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement." BUT I TELL YOU that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother "Raca" is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says "You fool!" will be in danger of the fire of hell." (Matt. 5:21 & 22)

So in other words, if I get angry and stay angry, I am deserving of hell in the eyes of Jesus.

Ouch, man! That's pretty strong stuff. Who is that guy to tell me I should go to hell for having a temper problem? That all sounds pretty judgmental. I mean, we live in a world where people lose their cool all the time. (Ooo, I forgot a third way to make me angry. Drive real slow in the left-hand lane and refuse to move out of the way. Works every time.)


Let's take a look at the three ways Jesus is looking at anger in these verses.

"Anyone who is angry with his brother" = I don't recall the exact words for this, but the basic idea is that of a smoldering fire...like a camp fire that is still warm the next morning when you wake up. It just keeps simmering until you can put some more wood on it, and then it's good to go. I suppose that it's kind of like the grudges that we cling to, and we slowly gather more twigs of resentment & such.

"Anyone who says to his brother "RACA"..." = The term Raca essentially "Empty-Head." In other words, this person is an idiot, a moron. You view this person as intellectually inferior to you. I am particularly guilty of this one when I am driving. I will dismiss other drivers as being idiots who have no business being on the road because they can't seem to understand the concept of merging. (Apparently, this would include the vast & overwhelming majority of Minnesota drivers.)

"Anyone who says "You Fool!" will be in danger of the fire of hell." = This is the term for someone who is morally inferior to you. You can dismiss them because they are the adulterer, the addict, the thief, etc. You are morally superior to these people, so you have the right to cast them off as a fool.


And yet, Jesus says that if you do any of these, you should end up in hell.

Most people like the Jesus who hangs out with "Sinners." Most folks seem to forget or ignore that he also preached ON, and warned OF judgment. So what gives him the right to say something like that to me just because I'm pissed-off at someone?

Well, two thoughts:

In The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is announcing that the Kingdom of God is at hand...and he IS the King. John asserts in his Gospel that "Through him all things were made." Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God. He is God. As such, he gets to say what's what. Simple as that really.

But there is more to it than that.

#2. If the Old Testament law..."Do not murder," was set up to protect life, then Jesus is actually going a step further with all of this. Jesus wants to protect "Personhood." The bible states over and over that ALL humans are made in the image of God. As such, we are of great value in the eyes of God. This is why Jesus takes such thoughts so seriously.

I'm really going to try and flesh this out more tomorrow, because I'm working on a paper of sorts to present to a prospective employer. So stay tuned, more on this later.

However, what this does point out is that in the eyes of God, every person on earth has great dignity and worth. It doesn't mean that we are all wonderful people who fart out rainbows & pepperoni. But it does mean that the wino sleeping under the bridge, and the runaway teen doing terrible things to survive on the streets is more majestic & beautiful than Lake Superior on a clear summer day.


Most of us will go through life with out actually killing another person. But, let's face it, we slaughter people in our minds everyday. (OK, maybe you don't...but I do.) So what should we do? I mean, for most of us this simply is beyond any possibility of achieving.

Well, if you keep reading after verse 22, you will notice that Jesus actually gives some very practical advice on this subject. But more importantly, I would tell you to go back to the very beginning of his speech. It is certainly no accident that Jesus begins it all with what is perhaps the strangest thing that anyone has ever said, "Blessed are the Poor in Spirit."

God isn't stupid. He knows that we don't have what it takes to make it. So he makes an announcement that says that all of us Spiritual Zeros, fakes, frauds...and those with temper problems are blessed, because he is on our side. He knows. He has paid attention. And he extends his grace to those who will bow to him and follow him into his kingdom.


This guy who pushed just the right buttons in me today, this guy who I wanted to toss down the stairs, this guy who...

This guy bares God's image. (Wether he recognizes that or not is between him and God.)

God loves this guy. Jesus gave his life for this guy. This guy is annoying most of the time, and infuriating often. But he is also more majestic than Lake Superior on a clear summer day, because God can see his image in him.

So as I go to bed tonight, I suppose it would be wise to simply turn it over to the one who can actually do something about my frustration.


Peace

Joe


P.S. As I mentioned at the top, I don't get very angry very often. However, when I do, it can be quite spectacular. Here is some rather grainy and not well done footage of me loosing my cool from a few years back. Have a giggity-good noodley-night!



Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Utopia Vs. God














I'm still pretty groggy this morning. Just trying to enjoy a cup of coffee as I go through online news and various blogs that I follow. I can see out my window that the forecasters didn't lie when they said we are in for a delicious bruiser of a storm today. Wheeeeee!


ANYWAY, from time to time I like to read Danny Korol's blog. I don't know the guy. He lives in Norway, which means that he is sacred in my Dad's eyes. http://danielkorol.com/blog/ He seems pretty far to the left of where I stand, but I get a kick out of much of his stuff. So this morning he linked a video to his blog...and I found it rather compelling.




I think I should figure out who this Kester Brewin is.


I got into another discussion with my Dad a few days ago about the idea that America is a "Christian Country." (I really hate that label.) We both agree that, from a biblical perspective, there is no such thing as a Christian Country...other than the Kingdom of God. However, Dad likes to argue that America was founded upon Christian principles. I like to argue that America was founded upon religious liberty.

At this point we tend to get lost in nuance, start to yell and then pummel each other with various breakfast items displayed upon the table. More often then not, we end up wrestling on the floor in great & amusing violence. All of which is thoroughly enjoyed by Rika "The Wonder Dog," who believes that all humans were created merely to provide her with entertainment.



One way or the other, Religion plays a prominent role in the U.S. I believe firmly that a person's faith perspective ought to influence the way they vote and such. However, so often...more often than not I would argue, religion is used as a campaign bumper sticker. Someone tosses out the name of Jesus as a form of endorsement for their particular side. It's gotten to the point that I can barely stand that anymore. (I don't think that Jesus is particularly happy about it either.)


I think that Kester Brewin rightly points out that most of the early settlers of the American colonies were trying to set up a type of Utopia in the new world. Considering that the majority of colonies were initially based on denominational lines...Puritan, Anglican, Quaker, etc., those colonists wanted a new land where they could pursue their faiths in peace. They didn't want a government telling them how to worship or live.

Oddly enough, they then turned around and did exactly that to their own colonies. (If you take a look, there is a pretty nasty history of "Christian Colonists" harming other colonists who didn't tow the denominational line.)


Today, thanks in large part to the rise of the Religious Right back in the 70s, religion is thoroughly intertwined in politics. The majority of this will be found in very conservative, Republican politics. In fact, I'll bet you didn't know that Jesus was born in Wasilla, Alaska and could see Glen Beck from his window.



ANYWAY, I once heard Rob Bell, my favorite heretic, say that if you want to find God you shouldn't look at formulas and rational arguments. Instead, you should get down in the mud, blood and dirt and "Practice Resurrection." It has been rightly pointed out by many Christian Thinkers that the God of Scripture is not found in equations. No. He is Experienced!

The God of the Bible is not to be reduced to a handy recipe. He IS breaking into our fallen world. He HAS reconciled all things in heaven and on earth to himself. He IS rescuing his creation. He IS at work. His kingdom IS here...yet not in full. But it WILL be someday. He IS at work.


We seem to spend a lot of time trying to legislate God's kingdom into existence. We are often very "Busy" for God. The irony being that God doesn't need our help in the slightest. God is the hero who accomplishes all things through his own strength. He doesn't need us to vote a certain way to accomplish his will.

However, he DOES invite us to participate with him. Maybe we should.

Instead of trying to build our own utopias and creating a mini-kingdom of god (Small "g") in our own image, we should just have faith and follow Jesus into the kingdom he is in the process of building.

It's just a thought. Maybe I need more coffee.

Peace

Joe

Monday, October 25, 2010

Friends...OR, "How McKenna got her Stink Back."



























"The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, "here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "Sinners."" But wisdom is proved right by her actions." Matt. 11:19

This post is mostly just for fun. It's in honor of some people who are important to me, because they go a long way in keeping me sane at my job...such as it is. Plus, I promised Mak that I would write about her, because she is desperately starved for attention.













WELL, if you take a good look at those photos, you will notice a variety of individuals in them. The first picture is of my friend, Mak. In it, she is attempting to give someone the finger, but has yet to figure out that you only need one digit for such a pose. (Thankfully, she is not doing one of those horrible "Duck Face" pouting poses that so many girls are want to do these days.)

McKenna is always insisting that after I am finished at the gym, I find her and give her a prolonged bear-hug, so as to enjoy the full force of my sweat & odor. (Mmm, mmm Good!) Mak is ALL ABOUT exercise and getting "Buff." She is known for her ability to frighten Bikers, former Marines, and various would-be shoplifters, with her Buff-a-tude. She is a good sport.


The next picture is of my friend Mick. (She is the one on the left.) Mick told me that she stopped shaving her legs years ago, so her legs may very well be as furry as her dog, Maisie's at this point. Mick laughs at all of my stupid jokes. This makes her a good person.

Mick is also an exercise fanatic. In fact, she is an excellent long-distance runner. She came upon this by accident. One day while at the dog park with Maisie, Mick tripped while still clinging to the leash. Maisie dragged her almost to Wisconsin. Mick decided that it would be best if she simply learned how to keep up while still on both feet. (Mick & Maisie will be competing in the Boston Marathon next year as a duo.)


The third picture is on my friend Yvonne. She is also the one on the left. As you can see, she is into power-lifting. I can't recall the last time I saw anyone carry a 437lb bucket of french fries around a State Fair before. Yvonne is known for challenging members of the Hell's Angels motorcycle association to arm wrestling matches in the seedier dives of Stillwater...Texas style, too. (To my knowledge, she has never lost a match.)

Yvonne just bought her first Bible yesterday. I told her to start in the Gospel of Matthew or Colossians. (You only start in Genesis and work your way from there if you have brutal problems with insomnia.) Yvonne not only laughs at most of my jokes, she can also curl 50lb boxes of honey ham & smoked turkey. This makes her a good person.


The forth picture is of Andy. Andy works in the deli with Yvonne. He used to be an exercise maniac. However, now he seems to spend most of his time sleeping in the back seat of cars after drinking too much Snapple. Andy laughs at only about half of my jokes. This makes him a questionable person. (Andy will be escaping...I mean LEAVING our store in another week or so. We will miss him.)


The final picture is the most recent photo of me and my new swim suit. No comment necessary...other than to say that my new skin cream works wonders on those unsightly wrinkles.



Sometimes a "Job" can be nothing more than a free-enterprise attempt to crush a person's soul. To survive such a situation, you need to have people around you that you can simply look at, and they will give you an expression of "Yeah...I know." This keeps you from embracing the straight jacket and bouncing around in a padded room.

Sometimes, sometimes...God puts people in your life to protect you. Often times...at least as far as my life goes, God puts people in your life to make you smile & laugh. I suppose the question for me is wether or not I will recognize this and be a faithful sign-post for his kingdom.

Jesus seemed to enjoy hanging out with oddballs, goofy people and Square Pegs. This means that he would most likely enjoy my friends a great deal. I don't think Jesus is real big on people who wear polyester suits and masks.

I have ideas where various people may be in their lives when it comes to Christ and the bigger picture. However, it is never my place to judge another person in this matter. That would be Jesus' job, and I don't think he appreciates it when I take over for him. Again, all I can do is try and be a decent sign-post for his kingdom.


I am very thankful for the various people that I work with. Most people at any rate..."Ack, ack, ack." (<---- That's an inside joke for those who work at the Cub Shack.) I bring up these four people because they mean a lot to me, and because there is only so much room for any given blog post. Of course there are others, so don't throw cottage cheese at me if you feel left out.

Anyway, without these folks my life I would be poorer, my job would be insufferable, and I would be bouncing in a rubber room. So thank you, Mak, Mick, Yvonne and Andy...and other un-named peeps. May the God of the Universe who loves you more than you know reveal himself to you and bring you into his kingdom.

Peace

Joe.

P.S. As I mentioned, McKenna is all about getting buff. For a time she actually had her own aerobics class on a cable channel. I was lucky enough to find some old footage of one of her classes. Enjoy!!!! (Mak, Mak...I dun got yo back.)




To be fair, all of us like to stay in tip-top shape. As such, we often workout together. Here is some footage of the six of us (Maisie the dog included) doing our routine down at Lake Calhoun this past June.

It's been disabled for YouTube, but if you click on this link you can still see all of us doing our thing.


In case you're curious, Maisie is on lead vocals. Mak is the one in leather, Mick as the army guy, and Yvonne as the "Indian"...approriate, don't you think? And finally, Andy as the construction guy.

That would be me as a the Cowboy. (I just can't help but love how those chaps accentuate my hips.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Socrates plays the Electric Harp. (And Plato plays an Upright Bass.)









Eons ago, when I went to Bethel college, there was a girl in one of my classes who told myself and some others a very strange tale. She attended a very small and VERY "Charismatic" church. At one of their meetings, a boy prophet got up to tell them about heaven...because he had been there. (I think she said that the boy was about 12, and he had gone to heaven when he was around 9 or 10.)

The boy said that in heaven, Elijah prunes the trees and Moses cuts the grass. He said that the flowers all tasted like candy, and that bubblegum grew on many of the trees. I know that I am not getting much of this right. It's been ages since she told me this. However, I do recall that as she told me what heaven was supposed to be like according to this boy, I thought out loud "Well, if THAT'S what heaven is like, I don't want to go."

And I'm sure I've been damned ever since.

Look, the most likely explanation was that this boy had a dream one night. He told his mom about it. She, having a both a very soft heart AND mind, got way too excited about this, and the next thing you know, they have a rather odd ministry.


On the other hand, we in the West have inherited a Greco-Roman world view of life. And we often mush that onto how we interpret Scripture. If you were forced to read Plato's Republic in High School, you will recall his analogy of reality and the cave.

Socrates said that we are all at the back of a cave staring at shadow puppets cast onto the back of that cave. This is what we perceive to be reality. But Socrates said that true reality was to get up and out of the cave all together. In other words, true reality came when we would leave our physical bodies (i.e. Die!) and become purely spiritual/metaphysical beings.

This is where the idea in Christianity came from that when we kick the bucket, we simply float around on clouds playing harps. (Yeah, I know that I've massively simplified this subject. But that is it in a nut shell.)

Scripturally speaking, both that boy prophet and Socrates are way off base. There IS a massive physical component to the next reality. It's very "Earthy" to use a base term. But it is certainly more than bubblegum on trees.


N.T. Wright is a scholar that I am beginning to learn more about. He is the Bishop of Durham over in the U.K. I first came across him in Lee Strobles' "The Case for Christ" and "The Case for Faith." He's a clever fellow. (Great accent, too.)

So anyway, Time magazine interviewed Wright a while ago. He has quite a bit to say about how Christians have often misunderstood what the new heaven and earth will be like. I'll post a little of what he had to say here, but then link the rest of the article afterwards.


TIME: At one point you call the common view of heaven a "distortion and serious diminution of Christian hope."

Wright: It really is. I've often heard people say, "I'm going to heaven soon, and I won't need this stupid body there, thank goodness.' That's a very damaging distortion, all the more so for being unintentional.


TIME: How so? It seems like a typical sentiment.

Wright: There are several important respects in which it's unsupported by the New Testament. First, the timing. In the Bible we are told that you die, and enter an intermediate state. St. Paul is very clear that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead already, but that nobody else has yet. Secondly, our physical state. The New Testament says that when Christ does return, the dead will experience a whole new life: not just our soul, but our bodies. And finally, the location. At no point do the resurrection narratives in the four Gospels say, "Jesus has been raised, therefore we are all going to heaven." It says that Christ is coming here, to join together the heavens and the Earth in an act of new creation.


TIME: Is there anything more in the Bible about the period between death and the resurrection of the dead?

Wright: We know that we will be with God and with Christ, resting and being refreshed. Paul writes that it will be conscious, but compared with being bodily alive, it will be like being asleep. The Wisdom of Solomon, a Jewish text from about the same time as Jesus, says "the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God," and that seems like a poetic way to put the Christian understanding, as well.


TIME: But it's not where the real action is, so to speak?

Wright: No. Our culture is very interested in life after death, but the New Testament is much more interested in what I've called the life after life after death — in the ultimate resurrection into the new heavens and the new Earth. Jesus' resurrection marks the beginning of a restoration that he will complete upon his return. Part of this will be the resurrection of all the dead, who will "awake," be embodied and participate in the renewal. John Polkinghorne, a physicist and a priest, has put it this way: "God will download our software onto his hardware until the time he gives us new hardware to run the software again for ourselves." That gets to two things nicely: that the period after death is a period when we are in God's presence but not active in our own bodies, and also that the more important transformation will be when we are again embodied and administering Christ's kingdom.


For the rest of the article, click here. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1710844,00.html


Look, I know that this kind of topic is not everyone's cup of tea. For some, I suppose that it is the cure for insomnia. Still, I find this type of thing fascinating. I love the idea of a physical reality in the next life. But I want it to be mind blowing and amazing, not like a candy shop. I also do not like the idea of sitting around on clouds, playing harps.

Seriously, the infinite, creator God of the universe can certainly do better than that. If not, then I don't want to go. (Thankfully, I'm not worried about God's ability to blow my mind.)


Now, for those of you who think that all "Christians" are boring, legalistic, dull, and vacuous, stuffed shirts (Hhmmmmmmmm...no comment.) here is a clip from the Colbert Report with Bishop Wright.

I kind of like the idea of settling theological disputes with a round of golf. "One dogma per whole."


Peace

Joe



Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A true story...bathed in "Crystal."



Many, many years ago, I went out to the L.A. area of California to visit a buddy of mine who was going to Fuller Seminary in Pasadena. While there, I discovered California Pizza Kitchen right across the street from the school. (And a good time was had by my stomach)

Also, while out in Cali, we went to a rather famous "Church," that you may have seen on the T.V. And that is what this story is about.

But first, two things to think about:

#1. This thought would be for every single person out there who calls themselves a "Christian." Keep your eyes firmly, firmly, firmly fixed on Jesus, or you will only end up in trouble. The moment you take your eyes off of him, you will begin to focus on and follow other, smaller gods...i.e. yourself, your theology, philosophy, etc. (I know this because it happens to me every single day in little, tiny annoying ways.)

#2. If you are a pastor, or a leader in some ministry of some sort, beware of the following phrase: "My Church." It is the phrase of death. I figure that such a thing is fine to say if you are one of the regular attenders. But if you are the head pastor and such, never, ever say that phrase.

Why?

Because it is NOT your church. It never has been. It never will be. The "Church" belongs to Jesus. He is it's head. It is his bride, and it is made up of every single Believer. It does not belong to any one human. You should see more Red Flags then Tiananmen Square when you hear a pastor use the phrase "My Church."

I can promise you that pastors who use THAT phrase are in for trouble. Hopefully, some Elder, Deacon or the average parishioner will call them on it. Often, it is too late by then. (I should hasten to add that Pastor Scott, my main guy at Living Waters in Lakeville, has yet to use that phrase. Which is good, because I have explained to him that if he does I will beat him up.)

I'll DO IT, Scott...I really WILL!


SO ANYWAY:

Back in Pasadena...myself & my bud went out to see a very famous church in that area. I will give you a hint as to which church and which pastor I am writing about. It has a very nice cathedral that used to be a drive-in theater, and most of it seems to be made out of crystal.

It really was a beautiful place. Most folks would enjoy going to a building like that on Sundays. It really is nice and happy.

As it turns out, the tours for that day were over. (I thought that touring a church outside of at least 100 years was a little odd anyway...figured that we would just poke around.) However, a secretary there gave us a private tour.

I listened very carefully to that secretary as she showed us everything. (I'm "Geeky." I seriously do watch and listen to people's body movements and such.) I noticed that she referred to that famous Pastor as "DOCTOR," even though that particular title was merely an honorary degree...from some seminary some place given out for being famous.

The weird part is that after referring to "Doctor So-and-So" for over 20 minutes, the FIRST time she mentioned the name of Jesus was at around minute 30. That told me a great deal.

Makes you think, anyway...


Now listen, I am in no way saying that this pastor is a bad guy. I really do believe that his "Think Positively" attitude is great. Seriously, how can you not place your faith in Christ and not believe that "God is Good!" and that he will cause all things to work together for good? I have seen folks respond very positively to Jesus because of this guys preaching.

That having been said, the great temptation of ALL men are three things: MONEY, POWER & FAME. (Women actually have five...Money, power, fame...and nice purses and hand-bags.)
Is it possible that somewhere along the line, this man bought into his own hype? Is it possible that this pastor began to think of the church that he preached at as "His?"

So I woke up this morning and saw this story on Yahoo News and immediately thought back to the tour that his secretary gave us. You can read todays story here.---> http://www.startribune.com/nation/105208414.html


I have no idea as to what to say now, other than to say that I am so far from perfect that I really ought to be tossed into God's trash bin. I AM a sinner. I admit it! But thankfully, following Jesus into his kingdom isn't about guilt...because that would presume that there is something that WE could have done to overcome our sinful nature....but we can't. That's where Grace comes in.



I dunno. It just makes you think. (How does a church file for bankruptcy in the first place?)

SO, being "Poor in Spirit", rather than judging this man, or "HIS" church, with all of it's complications...maybe we should just sit on our butts and pray...for him AND ourselves.


It's called "GRACE" for a reason.


Peace

Joe

P.S. HEY, at least he isn't like THIS guy. (This is for you Damon.) Trust me, he'll get the joke.




Monday, October 18, 2010

Jesus likes to drive on Country Roads.






So maybe you have heard this one before, but it goes like this: A guy is walking along a dirt path out in the countryside. He stumbles across a wrist watch laying in the grass. He picks it up and says, "Wow! Isn't it amazing that over millions and millions of years, by pure luck and/or random chance the heartless matter of the universe just so happened to come together to form this wrist watch?!?! No other logical explanation could make any sense."

Hmmm...


Yeah, I can't say that such a statement would be very satisfying to me either.

I'm not convinced that a person who stumbles across a random wrist watch would think that that watch was a result of pure and random chance over millions of years. Rather, I would guess that seeing the manufacturers name on it, he would assume that the watch was made by some guy named Casio, Bulova, or perhaps Seiko.

A wrist watch is a bit more complicated than a toaster oven. But it is less complicated than an Ipod.

I have my doubts that most people would think that either the toaster oven, or the Ipod were products of random chance over millions of years. No. By their sheer complexity...and by the beauty OF that complexity, we instinctively know that those things were created by a person with relatively intact gray matter between his years.

(It also doesn't hurt the argument for a creative mind being behind the Ipod when Steve Jobs gets a handsome paycheck every time someone purchases one.)


Yet for some reason, when some people look at a tree, they see random and accidental chance. I don't think that I will ever understand that. Even if that WERE true, such an explanation leaves everything rather cold, don't you think? I mean, if a tree is merely a result of random chance, then what about YOU?


I've heard some parents refer to their child as "My favorite Accident." But in this case, they would be spot on. You and I are merely accidents of the cosmos. Over millions, if not billion and billions of years, the best we can say is that you & I are the result of happy, yet still random, chance...and we are simply worm food once we kick the bucket.

YUK!





Or here's a thought...





"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world." Psalm 19:1-4

"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." Romans 1:20


On Saturday, I had to drive out to the cabin to help bring in the dock, boat lift, boat ramp and a variety of other "Summer Toys." Autumn in Minnesota is beautiful. Unfortunately, it usually only lasts about 2 weeks...and then the blizzards come. However, this Autumn has been amazing. I can't recall a Fall ever being this nice and this long. The weather has been warm and sunny. (Which makes me wonder what revenge the winter might hold.) I try to enjoy it while it lasts.


The four photos at the top of the post are from the peninsula road that the cabin is on. On my way down that road, I found myself pulling over to the side a lot, just to sit and look...and take a few shots with the camera. I find it just so beautiful...and I see the works of a creative & generous God...eerily similar to the God mentioned in both the Old & New Testaments. Hmmm...


I can understand folks arguing over various religions and gods. I can even understand Agnosticism. However, I will never, in a million years, understand Atheism. I have had some good friends who are. One, in particular that I worked with at my previous school, was very honest about her position. (She was also a wonderful person who helped me out a great deal.) She told me that "The examined life was not worth living," and not the other way around. Because if you actually bothered to examine life, you would find that it truly is pointless and without a higher purpose, because there is no god or gods, and we are all a result of mere chance.

I used to work with another Atheist who was very honest, too. He admitted that there was no point to life, no higher purpose. So he said the only thing you could do was to squeeze as much pleasure out of life as you could. That dude KNEW how to party.



Well, for myself, I can't look at those Autumn leafs and see random chance. I see a creative mind behind them.

I am NOT a person who has a problem with the idea of "Evolution." I do not take the three creation stories in Genesis as something to be read literally, word for word. Genesis 1 is a poem, for Pete's sake. Since when are we supposed to take poetry literally? That pretty much misses the whole point.

That having been said, I absolutely do not think that the creation/evolution/coming together of the universe and life...and you & I, are random accidents. To me, it is so painfully obvious that there is not just a creative mind behind all of it, but that this mind is beautifully artistic, too. I desire to be open and humble in my opinions and ideas, but this one just seems so obvious, that I verge on arrogance.

Humanity has produced some great artists and architects, but all I have to do is drive down that peninsula road and I can see that the God of Scripture trumps our best efforts every time.



I love music. I can't play any instruments despite my best efforts, and I can only sing in the shower. I'm not sure why, but it seems that every Autumn my musical tastes seem to slide towards Country and/or Folk music. (Rather odd, considering I flood my ears with Heavy Metal & Techno when I am in the gym.)

On my way to the cabin, I popped in a CD I made for myself a few years ago called "Chic Tunes." It's pretty much all female singers doing mostly country & folk. (I like to get in touch with my feminine side apparently) At any rate, it was a good soundtrack for the day.

Here's one of the songs.



I am of the opinion that June, Johnny & Jesus are picking away on guitars & mandolins even as I write this.

Peace

Joe.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Oatmeal for Breakfast




There will be nothing deeply theological or spiritual about this quick post. Just something that makes me giggle from time to time.

I took a little test before I hit the sack last night. You can take it yourself if you see fit. Remember that story in the news a while back about some shop owners in England who use a device that admits an annoying sound that mostly only young people can hear to keep them from loitering? Well, here it is. See if you can hear the annoying sound and flee to your local pub.

The Teenager Audio Test - Can you hear this sound?

Created by Oatmeal

About a month ago, a friend of mine turned me on to a humorous website. The Oatmeal is a website created by a fellow named Matt Inman. Everything on it is his own creation. http://theoatmeal.com/ I like it. It's funny without being filthy. (Hey, I can tolerate some fairly risque' jokes...provided that they are clever.) Andrew "Dice" Clay and Adam Sandler are not my ideas of top notch humor. Anyone can be dirty.

Despite what I have seen in many churches, I don't believe that humor and Christianity are contradictions. If you claim to follow Jesus, then you have no business being a Stuffed Shirt. In fact, if you claim to follow Jesus, this would mean that you have taken a fairly good look at your life and found it rather "Wanting," shall we say. This means that you ought to be rather humble...and not in a self-flagellating, "Look how humble I am...see, I'm really religious!" kind of way. No. Your humility ought to be a bit more along the lines of, "Yeah, I'm a mess. Good thing I have a massive savior who brought about a massive redemption. Let's be really happy about that, shall we?" kind of thing.

I personally think that this would include the ability to laugh at yourself and your situation. But that's just my opinion.

AT ANY RATE, I do try to look at life through a humorous lens. It beats weeping over what a mess this world can be.

So I gravitate towards websites like this one because I find it funny...and practical. For example, I discovered that if at some point I should be attacked by vicious horde of raging Justin Beibers, I would be able to defeat at least 25 of them. I also discovered that the Liver Fluke (Dicrocoelium Dendriticum...A.K.A. "Captian Higgins.") lives a considerably more action packed life than I do. These are good things to know in an uncertain world.


Anyway, take a look for yourself. (I also the style of cartooning that Inman does.) Not a bad set up for a guy who does the work all by himself. Here's a little news article on the site.


Peace

Joe

Friday, October 15, 2010

Living out a narrative.
















"Blessed are those who hunger & thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled...Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." (Matt. 5: 6& 8)


All things considered, it's fairly late for me. I need to be up early to get out to the cabin and close it up for the winter. In fact, that second picture is of the road out on the peninsula where our cabin is located. It doesn't really show it, but that road winds & turns all over the place. You better not drive to fast, or you WILL end up in the lake.


I had some thoughts nagging at me for days now...frustrations mostly. Like, "How come my prayer life sucks?", and "Why can't I ever seem to get my act together?" Things of that nature.

I started teaching a sunday school class last week. So far, so good. We'll be hitting the first four "Beatitudes" this Sunday. The last of those is the famous "Blessed are those who hunger & thirst for righteousness," bit.

It's been pointed out to me that the first four on the list are not conditions that we work for, but are instead conditions that we find ourselves in...and there is nothing good about them. In fact, the world would look at that list and say it's a disaster to find yourself in any of those positions/conditions. In the case of hungering & thirsting for righteousness, it means that you are essentially starving...dying even, because you really do want some righteousness, but it always seems to be just out of reach.


And yet Jesus says that we are blessed because of it. Weird.


I am a sinful man. I admit it. My thought life is not what I would want it to be. One minute I will say something nice to someone, and a split second later I will be judging someone else. My eyes wander towards things that they should not dwell on. My sense of humor can easily gravitate towards the negative stuff. My mind puts up barriers & excuses to keep God at bay. I am extremely lazy about finding time to just hang out with God, even though he seems to dwell in the back of my brain every moment of every waking hour. I don't like it very much.

On the other hand, it does illustrate the fact that I need a massive savior to rescue me every day. I am hungry. I am thirsty. There HAS to be more than this. I just wish it didn't have to be a battle every single day. I wish that I could attain some enlightened state of being, where my discipline was rock solid. (Yeah, that's gonna happen real soon.)


I've been re-listening to some of the Podcasts on Matthew that Rick McKinley did. Mostly, it's for that class I'm teaching. On the last one, he touched on the "Pure of Heart," which I most certainly am not.

Rick pointed out that attaining a pure heart is impossible for us on our own. It is more a matter of simply being dissatisfied with what the world has to offer, and longing for something better. That certainly nailed it for me. I am extremely dissatisfied with what the world has to offer me...even though I constantly slide right back into chasing after that temporal crap.


Having a relationship with the God of the Universe is tough. I mean, tough/difficult in a personal way. With my friends it's different. I can call them up and just talk...and they talk back. For me at least, it rarely seems to be that cut and dried with God.

Yeah, there HAVE been times when God drew so close to that it was almost overwhelming. The few times that I have actually heard his voice (No, I'm not crazy. It really happened. OK, I AM crazy...but for entirely different reasons than that.) it just about knocked me down. Feeling his presence that close absolutely does a number on you. Most of the time, though, it is more like he approaches me sideways...in unexpected ways.


I'm really thirsting for a righteousness that I absolutely do not possess. Jesus apparently says that this condition qualifies me for being his disciple and following him into his kingdom, because I can honestly admit that I am a mess, can't fix myself...and therefore need him.

My heart is not pure, but I long to see God. I mean it. I really, really, really want to see & be with God. Every time I pause and think about what this world has to offer, it kind of depresses me. Most of what we chase after is a joke. Most of my life, I have been middle-class. At the moment, I am poor...both in spirit & financially. Neither states of existence have been particularly satisfying.

I'd be more than happy to give being filthy rich a shot for a prolonged period of time. But I also know that in the end, that wont satisfy me either. (It's strange. I've known a lot of wealthy people, and most of them were not very happy.)

John Lennon once said that "Life is what happens when you are making other plans." I read somewhere that "The journey IS the destination." I just like the idea that a person's life is a story that is unfolding. I suppose that my own story will be one with a lot of winding roads on it. It certainly will not be a straight line to God. Very windy indeed.


I heard a song on the radio coming home from work tonight. Brandon Heath was singing "Wait & See." Other than the fact that I was born in the Sacramento area, and in the Spring, the song tells a story that is very close to my own. God isn't finished with me yet.

I'm really hungry & thirsty for more than this. I really want to see God. I want to see him smile. He will. I guess the story just isn't ready to be over quite yet.



Peace

Joe

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Some days are easier than others.

















Some days are easier than others.

Case in point: Last night at work was rather difficult. I won't go into too much detail so as not to make you choke on your morning coffee. Suffice it to say that if you are getting ready to go out somewhere, please try emptying your bowels BEFORE you leave the house so as not to leave a prolonged trail of fecal matter of well over 50 yards up and down the grocery aisles...with large clumps.

ALSO, if you happen to be a shopper, please try to pay a relatively decent amount of attention to your surroundings so as not to step in said clumps of smelly, brown matter and track them all over the place. If you do manage to cluelessly step in the foul pile of human waste, please do not make comments along the following lines to me: "Hey, what's all this brown stuff on the floor and my shoe?"

OR, when entering the men's room, which has a large sign on the door clearly stating that it is closed and off limits, do not speak the following phrase: "Damn, it really stinks in here. You should clean this up."


And be very thankful that I do not have
a "Conceal & Carry" Permit.



So anyway, some days are easier than others.




The singer Rikki Lee Jones has a quote. She once said that when you are feeling down, you don't really want to listen to happy music. When you are down, for some reason it's the sad tunes that cheer you up. I don't know why, but that seems to be true.

It's not so much that I was sad last night. I wasn't. But I can't remember being that angry in well over a year at least. Apparently, I scared Jarred the Dairy Boy so much that he hid in the cooler. (Sorry Jarred.) It's at these times that I wish that we had a Shoplifter who was trying to resist detention on our hands. Much rage could have been easily expelled in a healthy, yet questionably judicial manner.



So what do I do at times like these? I listen to music. Sure enough, it seems to be the sad tunes that cheer me up. Well, maybe not sad exactly. But certainly not happy, chipper, "Pop" stuff. With that in mind, I figured that I would just post a bunch of the tunes that I enjoyed after I got home from work, and which cause me to calm down, relax, and not commit homicide on those who earnestly deserve it.


#1. First up, a song I have listened to for years now when I need to get calm, reflect and think. The delightful, yet odd looking, Rikki Lee Jones and her song Last Chance Texaco.




#2. Naturally, you can't be a proper "Crab" unless you embrace the grating & crushed glass-like vocals of Hibbing Minnesota's native poet. I just love this song because I pretty much agree with all of it, and wish to sing it to every cashier at my store.




#3. There is a great band out of Scotland by the name of Travis. I suppose that there must be something in the highlands there that give everyone a natural melancholy. But their tunes work for me. (The band also has a great sense of humor.)




#4. Another great thing about bands from Scotland is that you can barely understand a thing they say when they speak English. Ah men, the lahngwege as theh sem as men, bu I canna relly tell wha theh satin' aht ahny geven tem.




#5. Lets face it, life can just poo on your head sometimes. However, a dose of Edie Brickell can often work wonders. Especially if the "Walrus of Love," Barry White, has some vocals in it.




#6. A few years ago on the Prairie Home Companion show I heard a band from Tennessee that earned it's chops while Busking up in Canada. I was most impressed with the following song. It's earthy, gritty, down-homey, and seems to rub my fellow Techno-enjoyists the wrong way...so it's all good. (I've worked with plenty of "Special-Needs" kids. I have no idea why, and can only theorize, but they always seem to respond positively to music like this.)




#7. Another tune by O.C.M.S. Yes, it's a bit along the lines of being "Universalist." (I.e., no matter who you are or what you believe, God will save you. And that clearly is not biblical.) However, I do like the idea that there will be a day when the Living God DOES step in and makes all things right...because it WILL happen some day.



Hey, it's what I base my faith upon. Bite me, if you don't like that thought. :P


Oh yeah...
#8. Did I mention that Travis, the band from Scotland, has a great sense of humor? Here's proof. See if you can decipher what they are saying before they start singing. If you can, you can hit me, baby, one more time.




Ahhhhhhhhh. I feel much better now.

Peace

Joe