Category: General

Afraid of Writing

I am pretty terrified to write. There, I said it. You have no idea how many drafts of posts, documents, and notes sit on my computer. I have literally hundreds of started articles, half-written blog posts, and one-verse songs.

I’ve never considered myself a perfectionist because it doesn’t really impact any other area of my daily life. But, when I am setting out to write, the perfectionism sets in.

Maybe listing what I am afraid of will help. (At this point, I’m starting to get that feeling that I often do… “Maybe I should just save this post to Drafts and forget the whole thing.” Must press on!)

  • I am constantly afraid that I will receive push back for what I say. I’m absolutely terrified, not that people will disagree with me, but that I will not be able to properly defend every possible argument that they could come back at me with.
    • My response to myself: While there is some reason to be afraid of this (since it has happened to me before,) this does not mean that I should not write what I believe to be helpful and true. Just because I may not be smart enough to defend something to the Nth degree doesn’t mean it isn’t helpful and needing to be said.
  • I am afraid that what I write won’t be worthy of being read. Nearly three years ago, I wrote a piece that ended up going viral. Having a piece appreciated (and hated) by hundreds of thousands of people does something weird to you. After writing it, I thought it would give me the courage to put pen to many more thoughts and ideas I had. But, the opposite has happened; I’m more paralyzed than ever. This high bar now lives in my head. “If millions don’t read this article, is it even worth writing?”
    • My response to myself: Writing is for me as much as it is for you. I know I need to write to be a whole, full-functioning human being. While I do write to hopefully bring about change, I also write to solidify learnings in my own head and heart, to process through personal experiences, and to challenge myself. I may try to appeal to my fellow humans with what I write, but I can’t let that keep me from writing.
  • I am afraid to write because the political and religious climate in the country I reside in is at boiling point. There are so many opinions out on the internet right now and I hate to be one more.
    • My response to myself: We all have spheres of influence where we can help to make something better. I must attempt to leave my world better than I found it. I want my daughter to know that I stood up for what I believed to be right and that it actually cost me something. I can retreat into a people-pleasing cave and have many thoughts in my head that I never share with anyone else. But, I can only do that because of the privilege that I have as a white, Christian male in the most powerful nation in the world. There are many other individuals and groups that lack the power that I take for granted. It is for them and for my legacy that I must use whatever power and voice I do have to potentially generate any kind of change possible.
  • I am afraid to write because there are certain Christian groups (and, thus, individuals) that have a tendency to cast others out of “the fold.” A prominent Christian leader that I grew up following even said “farewell” to another Christian leader when he questioned traditional notions of hell. This is the church world I grew up in and was helping to reproduce. If someone was teaching “heresy” then they needed to be sternly called out and dismissed as the true wolf that they were. The same is true for both scientific and political views (that latter which are really just about how we distribute power in everyday life.) I am afraid that if I publicly step outside positions I grew up with, I’ll be labeled something and hence “farewelled.”
    • My response to myself: Humans have been discussing and thinking critically about our thoughts about God, science, and how the world should work for thousands and thousands of years. Heck, it was only in the last 150 years that Christians were debating whether or not slavery was good and right! So, I think we’re pretty naive if we think we’ve landed on near-perfect truth in our thoughts about God, the world, and science. We need people questioning the status quo, especially in the Church. We need humans challenging the distribution of power in our cities and especially in the Church. We need Christians calling for a better reading of the Bible and hoping to stop the historic using of the Bible for acquiring power.

In a weird way, getting these fears out helps me not be afraid of them—kind of like waking someone up and telling them about your nightmare helps you realize how stupid it really is. (The difference here is that some of these points do present legitimate fears—but the point is that even their worst outcome is better than thinking a bunch of things and never saying them.)

Did God Kill Jesus?

Up until a couple years ago, I would have presented the message of Christianity (the “Gospel”) this way:

All humans have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. He’s perfectly just, so he has to punish sin. He punishes sin with death. You are a sinner and God must punish you forever in hell. Jesus stepped in and took your place, absorbing the punishment from God. You are now in the clear and heading to heaven… If you believe that Jesus did this.

Sure, most teachers or doctrinal statements would not convey it quite this bluntly. But, this is what is heard. I would guess that is how most of us would communicate the “gospel.”

It never sat quite right. It didn’t seem consistent with the character of Yahweh God that I read about. It also didn’t make logical sense.

The word “gospel” in Greek is euangelio — essentially meaning “good message” or “good news.” However, the message that I thought and taught until a couple years ago did not seem like “good news” to me or the people I shared it with. This is news of a God who has to punish people because he cannot be around them unless they’re perfect. This is news that contorts the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament into some sort of appeasement for a blood-thirsty God — much resembling the pagan gods of the nations that surrounded ancient Israel. (To better understand why God had Israel sacrifice animals, watch this awesome video. Also, Greg Boyd is really clear.)

What has been refreshing for me is learning that the caricature “gospel” that I told above is a rather “new” idea — gaining its full form in the 1500s with the reformers (most notably Luther and Calvin.¹) It’s called the Penal Substitution view of atonement and it has become the dominant view in western Christianity.

As Mako Nagasawa points out, this caricature gospel creates a God who’s default mode is retribution, not restoration. God needs or wants to take out his wrath on someone (animals in the Old Testament, and people ever since) but Jesus (who is God) steps in the way and absorbs the blow for us. How nice of him. But, it sounds a lot more like God saving himself from himself by using himself (Jesus.) It makes no sense to me.

In comparison, ancient orthodox Christian’s believed that we humans had screwed up our primary, God-given vocation. They believed that there were natural consequences created by placing created things above the Creator — not a divine punishment that had to be doled out on someone.

Tom Wright describes the natural implications of our behavior like this:

The reason “sin” leads to death is not at all that “death” is an arbitrary and somewhat draconian punishment for miscellanous moral shortcomings. The link is deeper than that. It’s like the difference between the ticket you will get if you are caught driving too fast and the crash that will happen if you drive too fast around a sharp bend on a wet road. The crash is intrinsic, the direct consequence of the behavior.

Some of this mix up comes from misunderstanding Genesis 1 and 2 to be a scientific portrayal of how the earth was made.² Rather, Genesis 1 and 2 are describing a great vocational calling for all humans. What is this vocation? It’s to be “a genuine human being, with genuinely human tasks to perform as part of the Creator’s purpose for his world. The main task of this vocation is ‘image-bearing,’ reflecting the Creator’s wise stewardship into the world and reflecting the praises of all creation back to its maker.”³

We were given jobs of ruling creation, of bringing about creations full potential. Of taking care of life, fellow humans, animals, and plants. Of creating communities, schools, agriculture, and villages. We were giving the responsibility to have power and use it for good. This is our true calling and it’s an act of worship to the Creator.

What’s wrong with us humans is then much more than breaking God’s moral law and ticking off the Creator. That’s just a symptom of the real problem: We were called to have responsibility and authority over creation, but we flipped that vocation upside down. We worshiped and gave allegiance to powers and forces within creation — this is idolatry. These forces (some seen like power, money, and sex, and some not seen) have usurped our power and taken over. The natural result of that is death, spoiling human lives, destroying the beautiful creation, and turning God’s world into a hell.

The human problem is idolatry and the corruption of our true vocation, not just “sin.”

I believe a better, more ancient view of what was achieved through Jesus’s death has to do with the restoration of human vocation, of Israel’s vocation, and of the larger divine purpose for the world.

I’m going to explore these topics in coming posts.


Notes:
1. There were many good things about the Reformation. However, the reformers were mainly focused on fixing purgatory and indulgences. The reformers mostly ratified the penal substitution view of atonement.
2. Genesis 1 and 2 is often, sadly, defended as a scientific textbook for how the world came into existence, instead of the beginning Israel’s story. Check out John Walton’s talk on Human Origins.
3. The Day the Revolution Began by Tom Wright
4. Saved from Sacrifice by Mark S. Heim
5. I See Satan Fall Like Lightning by René Girard

2014 Lessons

It’s common to look forward and forget to look back. I don’t struggle with that. I reflect a lot — much of my day is spent reflecting. I reflect on things from minutes ago, days ago, months ago and sometimes even many years ago. I think back to conversations I had and teachings I heard. I recall people that have come into and out of my life. I think about verses I read and the way I used to think.

Reflecting isn’t a problem for me. I do have a problem, though. It’s remembering lessons. It’s taking all of these memories and coming out the other side with a nugget. Something I can write down. Something to hold on to. Something I learned.

That’s my weakness. That’s what I’m always attempting to get better at. Consider this piece an attempt in hopefully the right direction. I feel that if I try to synthesize these memories and actually write down a lesson, maybe it will stick. Maybe I’ll learn from it.

You get to read that attempt. So, bless you.

1. Be excited about being who God made you to be

I’ve wrestled with identity since my teen years. In short, I tried so hard to be extroverted. It seemed that extroverts had all the best traits: Life of the party, gregarious, funny, good at speaking, etc. I didn’t want to be labeled an “introvert.” They were the ones who didn’t like crowds, got nervous public speaking and wanted to take a book and go hide from people. I didn’t want that! This year was freeing for me. Susan Cain influenced me greatly in describing the benefits of introverted leaders. Silly posts even helped me realize that it was a great thing to be introverted. It feels like finally finding the spot for the puzzle piece that you’ve been trying to cram in the wrong place for ever. The sooner we learn to be excited about how God has made us the better. I’m now free to enjoy being who I was created to be.

2. God doesn’t think it was a waste of time

I look back at some of the things I said, thought and wrote years ago and laugh. Sometimes I shake my head. I was naive and somewhat arrogant. Being a Christian, to me, was all about accomplishing something for the Lord. What pride. I lifted up my head about 9 months ago to realize God had been letting me run off a little bit. All the while I was running out there pridefully, he was chuckling. Waiting for me to come crashing down. I did crash. It was a crashing of the heart, mind and spirit. I realized I didn’t really know Him. Thus, I didn’t really love Him, I loved proving people wrong and my ideas as right. I wanted to be on the right team — to be following the correct movement.

It had been years of running off on my own — pridefully knowing many people were being a Christian incorrectly and I was right. When this all crashed and I felt like a spiritual baby, God was right there (since He had never gone anywhere.) The hardest thing for me was thinking how all these years had been a waste of time running in a bunch of wrong directions. Then the Spirit spoke to my heart: God will spend years teaching us lessons and consider it an excellent use of finite time. As I crashed this year and was found desolated, God jumped in. As Augustine said, “God gives where He finds empty hands.”

3. Mute notifications. Focus entirely.

Just because something makes this list doesn’t mean I’ve learned it completely. Apps want to get our attention immediately (mostly because they’ll make money from us.) Email, texts, Twitter, etc. They all want our attention whenever they want it. I wanted to take control of my life back. This year I tried removing distractions from my day: I placed a Do Not Disturb from 9pm to 9am (which has since increased to 6pm, and I often turn it on during the work day too.) When I need to, I handle fast-paced, multitasking jobs quite well. But, most work doesn’t work that way. Being completely present in whatever task I’m doing (or book I’m reading, or piece I’m writing) is a much more valuable skill.

4. Regret is a bitter feeling

I will write about the bigger lesson with this one later. But, I am nearly finished with Shattered. It’s the story of my friend and former colleague Frank Pastore. I started working with (more like “for”) him at 21, fresh out of college. I met him in much of my prideful season of knowing exactly what it looked like to be a Christian. Frank’s love for learning about the Lord and teaching others the deep truths of who God is didn’t fit into my box of Christianity. It seemed lazy to me — like using grace as a lawn chair. I thought we needed to be out doing and enduring more for God. This led me to leave the radio show we worked on together. It led me on a tiring path of trying to earn God’s love — to do enough for God.

I neglected Frank’s mentorship at 21. Now, after God humbling me and maturing me, 6 years later I’m ready to be mentored by him. I’m ready to sit by the fire and hear his stories. Stories of failure and defeat — about success and having it all. About ministry, and life and marriage and raising children — all while enjoying the grace of God. I want to hear his lessons about being loved perfectly by our Father no matter what we’re walking through.

The only problem is, I can’t do that now. Two years ago, Frank was in a motorcycle accident as he left the radio show we used to work on together. After being in a coma for a month, he died 8 days before Christmas in 2012. I think I finally processed his death a few nights ago as I read a letter he wrote to me. I just wish I could write him back now, having matured out of a lot of the subtle pride I lived in.

5. Happiness isn’t in circumstances

This is a lesson my wife and I have been meditating on. We humans often look forward to things. That’s great and natural, I believe. Whether it’s a vacation, a new job, a child, graduating, or retiring — we love to plan for happiness. “I’ll be happy when…” or “Once this happens, then I’ll be happy.” What we’ve found is that, once that thing happens, you’re left looking for the next thing to anticipate. It’s taking life and making it a search for happiness highs. We’re trying something new. My wife and I are attempting to be happy now, and then enjoy new circumstances when they come. It’s retraining our minds, really. Of course, certain things do get us excited with anticipation. I’m just saying not to make a habit of looking to the next thing.

6. Dwelling with God starts now and continues forever

It’s the truth of the ages: God came and dwelt among us and we can know Him. I used to live for the day when I’d die and leave this earth. I now realize that if I am only looking forward to leaving this earth, I’m missing out on living with the Lord now.

7. Don’t give your heart to ministry movements

I have loved living on the cutting edge of Christianity — where we’re believing something “new” (what’s actually new?), trying to do things “correctly” in a world where many people are incorrect. These were the things I used to think. I was wrong. I gave my heart to ministry movements because they were seemingly truer and better than old tradition (or, simply, older ministry movements) and was left desolated when there wasn’t a new fad to get into. Give your heart, rather, to finding God in every station and season of life and bearing witness of that finding to others you’re naturally around. That is ministry that never goes out of style and doesn’t leave you desolated when the movement’s leader falls or the movement isn’t “radical” enough anymore.

8. Don’t neglect friendship for ministry

There have been times when I thought ministry was doing things I didn’t like doing. In 2014, I realized that friendship is ministry. It might be the purest form, actually. I don’t know that I’ve ever done more effective ministry than when I’m encouraging one of my best friends in the Lord. I think the best ministry I’ve ever received has come through the words, letters or sheer silent fellowship of dear friends. This isn’t to say I never want to minister to people I don’t consider “dear friends.” It’s just that we don’t need to run away from great, life-giving friendships to try to pour ourselves out for people we don’t know. There isn’t someone more holy in that. There isn’t something less holy in friendship.

9. I don’t have to be a pastor to have security in the Lord

I’m not sure when it happened. I might have been 15 or 16. The pervading thought in my heart was that I needed to be a pastor. Not that I was “called” to be a pastor or even felt like God wanted me to pursue that. I just thought I need to be one. For me, it wasn’t because I thought that was the best form of Christianity. It was because I wanted the security of knowing I was definitely doing God’s will. What could be more God’s will then being a pastor? Actually, probably a lot of things — depending on who you are and how He’s gifted you. For me, I love creating and building things. I love learning and teaching others. I may shepherd people. I may teach people. I may even lead people. But, I don’t have to pursue being a pastor as a title, job or role. My security doesn’t come from that. My security comes from being a child of God and having the Father dwell with me now and for eternity.

10. Peace is good

I haven’t always had peace. But, the second half of 2014 has been a year of Peace. It doesn’t have to do with circumstances. I doesn’t have to do with being apart of the “right” ministry or following the right leader. It doesn’t have to do with being heard, having an audience or being known. It has to do with understanding my identity as a child of God. It has to do with realizing how He has made me. It has to do with understanding that my job is to usher in God’s kingdom in my heart, my families heart and the hearts of those around me. I don’t have to run around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to make ministry happen. God is in control. He loves me and wants me. That is awesome. He dwells with me now and He will dwell with me forever. He is ushering in His kingdom on the earth, among the brokenness. I get to enjoy that.

I cannot wait for 2015. Not because I think it holds a bunch of “happiness highs” or because I’m hoping circumstances will change. I’m excited for 2015 because I know the Lord is with us — that He loves dwelling among us. That is beautiful and exciting.