Hello Again, Bible

Shoot, I don’t even know where to begin.

I’m reading Rob Bell’s latest – What Is the Bible? – and I’m digging it. In it he explores the human side of the Bible, looking at it for what it really is (from the cover): an ancient library of poems, letters, and stories.

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It’s so easy to treat it one of two ways: 1) as a holy, sacred text offered from on-high that is infallible, untouchable, inerrant and practically perfect in every way. Or, 2) to just completely reject it. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been treating it as #1. Over the years though, particularly in recent years, I’ve been sliding more toward #2. There’s an internal check, though, which keeps me from going all the way into #2, but as time goes on I see it’s not that I’m sliding more and more toward junking the whole thing, but more toward junking my understanding and reading of it.

The Bible is something I’ve had with me ever since I was a kid. I remember trying to read it on my own as a kid and not getting a thing from it. Then, in the mid-90s, when I had my first real Jesus moment, it came alive to me in a new way. I still have the Bible I got around that time; maybe ’96 or so. It’s an old, beaten up NIV Study Bible. It still has this SUPER long list I wrote in the back of it, naming as many people as I could who I knew or had known. There were times I’d pray for chunks of the names each night over the course of a couple weeks.

Anyway, the systems of Western theology have failed me time and again – on varying levels and to varying degrees – over the years. Or, again, perhaps just my interpretations and implementations of them. In the most recent years – last five or so – I’ve learned that giving up worrying about getting it right has been the best thing for me to improve quality of life.

You see, during that aforementioned Jesus moment, the huge thing was this immense burden of guilt I felt lifted from my soul. For the first time in my life, I felt truly loved, truly safe, truly free. I had never gotten that feeling from anyone else before with perhaps one or two exceptions… It’s that feeling which accompanies the receiving of unconditional love. It’s that feeling that comes along with realizing you’re just enough, you’re just fine the way you are and there’s nothing you need to do to improve yourself except keeping on being you.

I wanted to share that feeling with as many people as I could; I wanted them to be able to feel what I felt. Part of what was taught from my sources of teaching (and what I still hear from time-to-time to this day) is that all who receive Christ’s love have a special gift; they have a cure to the cancer of sin dwelling in the hearts of all who live on the planet. If they don’t get that cure, if no one goes and tells them, then they’re doomed for an eternity in hell.

Over time I came to see a few fundamental flaws in that thinking, not the least of which is the immense guilt complex put upon eager believers wanting to do the right thing. It’s super easy to reach the conclusion that YOU are these peoples’ ONE AND ONLY HOPE for a shot at salvation. Some folks jump on that line of thinking and run with it. Good on them – we all have our journeys. But that’s not mine. Mine is not one to be motivated by guilt; for my understanding is that Jesus takes our guilt away.

For some reason or another, be it genes, inherited disposition, or something else altogether, I find it incredibly easy to be sucked into guilt and flesh that out with some masterful self-loathing. Every time I’d go back to the trough of the Church, somewhere at some point that kool-aid would come up again. So, after my divorce I junked it all again, throwing it into a fire and seeing what remained.

God always remains. You can’t burn the Infinite.

I know there’s more to it all – God; the Bible; faith, love, and hope… Getting out and seeing a fair amount of the world has helped me see this. Getting out from under the burdens of rules and guilt have helped. A very wise man told me that you can choose how you feel in a situation. All depends on how you look at it. Though I rarely believed him or understood him early on, I get it now.

Proverbs 3:5 – Trust in the LORD and lean not on your own understanding.

Don’t trust in rules; don’t trust in things just because a lot of people do; QUESTION AUTHORITY. Question religious authority.

Around that time (going back to the time shortly after my divorce), I heard the story of Mike McHargue on the You Made It Weird podcast. On the episode, he talks a lot about the brain, neuro science, and his story of how he grew up Southern Evangelical, became an atheist, and then a believer again. It spoke to me on so many levels.

Since then, I’ve been actively skeptical, trying to stay out of cynicism for extended periods, and trying to find what’s real and what’s BS; or what’s deeper than the mainstream, common understanding of things.

I’ve come to really appreciate Rob Bell. As I mentioned at the top, I’m reading his most recent book, this one about the Bible.

I just read chapter 13 in which he talks about the story of Jonah. Did a fish actually swallow Jonah, then spit him out three whole days later? Does that matter? Bell says it doesn’t matter because the bigger part is the heart of the story: Jonah going to Nineveh to preach a message of salvation and upon a magnificent success, he wants to kill himself, he wants to die.

In the cultural context, Jonah going to speak to the people of Nineveh, the King of Assyria, is like Elie Wiesel going to speak a message of salvation to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.

Bell’s point is that it’s easy to get caught up in whether or not a literal fish literally kept Jonah in its stomach for three days, literally spitting him up on some beach approximately 72 hours after swallowing him and miss that deeper part of the story – forgiving and loving your enemies.

Could any of us forgive and offer a similar message of hope to our greatest adversaries? Could we do it for democrats? For Trump supporters?

For Trump himself?

Or for Hillary Clinton, for that matter?

Could we offer a message of hope to members of the KKK, to bullies, to the members of ISIS?

Could we offer such a message to ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, ex-spouses, to family members who do nothing but criticize you day after day? Just telling them that God loves them and wants the best for them?

I’m not saying anyone should; just asking if anyone could.

In that regard, I believe the deeper meaning of what I now believe to be a parable, at the time, wasn’t to encourage Israelites to plan mission trips to Nineveh. Rather, it’s important that we remember all of us on this planet – from the saintliest saint to the most despicable, vile asshole – are human beings. There should be no Us vs. Them – we’re all in this world together. And we’re all loved by God.

That’s something I never got from the Bible before. Twelve years on since my first meeting with Jesus I reckon it’s about time and better later than never.

Time On Its Side

Post-production ain’t no joke.

Hello. It’s been awhile. Not as long an interval between the last ones, a month ago, and the one before, three months ago.

Man; why do I always come to this blog so somberly? Maybe because in my other outlets I’m cultivating a more upbeat, outgoing persona. Perhaps the blog here is my introvert retreat.

It has been an incredibly busy month. I finished up my second semester at the ACM, Stormy turned one, Jenny’s found a new career opportunity, I started recording interviews for my new podcast, we’re still getting settled in to our new place, and we’re throwing a little housewarming bash tomorrow.

Also, I’ve continued developing stories, gotten ideas for some new ones, trying to figure out the direction for Phazon Media and get that off the ground, and getting creative in finding sources of income.

Interviewing the folks for the podcast has been fun. And one thing I thought would happen is happening. As we’re sharing our stories with each other, they enjoy having the opportunity to share and I’m getting some good inspiration and examples to model my work ethic and direction after. They’re all self-starters. They figure out what they want to do – always with some kind of struggle and challenge at first – and go after it.

Sometimes – oftentimes – I wish success would come a lot faster, though. Patience is definitely required. And for every new idea I have, I have older, started-but-not-finished ideas that whisper in my heart: “Complete me.” And I have slowly begun to do just that.

Last month I entered the Imagine Dragons/Adobe Premiere editing contest. I started on it, almost gave up, but at the last minute got a second wind and finished the dang thing. I didn’t win, didn’t make the top 25 even, but in the time that I had (less than a week), I’m pretty proud of what I came up with.

In one of my classes, we were all involved in our final group projects. We were divvied into groups of three; I was really happy about one of the guys in my group; of the other I was dubious. Turns out my gut was right. And the one dubious dude was supposed to be the facilitator of the group. Thankfully, the other guy and I were so on the same page we were able to carry the load and, for our parts at least, ace the project. …and that felt super good.

And then this podcast stuff. To make it sound as good as possible, it takes work. Each interview averaged to about an hour and a half. Set up takes, well, about 15 minutes and about that long to tear down if I’m in a hurry. But then all the post work. I’m not editing the interviews, but making sure the levels are good, recording the intros and outros, finding the right music, etc; that took me about six hours yesterday. Granted, the first episode took the longest because that’s when I was figuring everything out, but excepting that, I figure each episode takes about an hour in post.

So, while it’s fun, it’s not easy. And we’re talking 3-4 hours to produce about an hour and a half’s worth of content.

And then the idea of producing a short film…

Kelsie, my second podcast guest, used every day of spring break for her principal photography. Then it took from March to April to finish a rough cut. Now she’s shooting pick-ups. And she has a crew.

Marcelo, my third guest, is shooting a feature over the course of many months, only shooting two nights a week.

Jana, my first guest, is shooting a feature as well, doing mostly overnight shoots.

This shit takes time!!

To create something takes a lot of time. I know this; I’ve known this; but it’s something I need to remind myself of frequently.

Shoot; raising Stormy takes time. The little bugger is growing so fast, but it takes time spent with him to make a difference in his life. He’s so freakin’ cute right now, and snuggly and cuddly, but he won’t be that way forever. He’s already getting more independent, wanting to do stuff on his own, using adults as vehicles to get to where he wants to go only because he’s been walking for almost two weeks now.

Soon he won’t even need a bottle at all, and he won’t be falling asleep when I carry him because he’ll just go to bed and fall asleep there. Next thing you know, it’s high school graduation and off to college.

Well, there you go. I hear Jenn’s alarm going off now; that’s all the time I have for this entry, time to help Stormy wake up.

Thanks for reading! You’ll hear from me again soon.

I Was Certain…

Woo, dog – going on four months since the last post; my apologies, but, it turns out I needed that unplanned sabbatical.

Last night I finally started reading the book, The Sin of Certainty by Peter Enns. I’ve heard it recommended – at least the author – many times on a couple of my favorite podcasts: Ask Science Mike and The Liturgists. Maybe one or two others, I’m not sure…

Highly Recommended

Anyway, I only got through 3-4 of the first chapters (they’re very short, so far) and already I feel more capable of articulating my faith journey because what Enns describes is similar to my own experience.

Namely, growing up and cultivating a faith of absolute certainty, having a crisis or two of faith over the years, and watching that certainty erode, allowing for a more fluid, robust faith. Not a faith that hinges on arguments or apologetics – just a faith that is.

In so doing, I’ve found I’ve also increased my capacity to practice the greatest of these: love.

Instead of condemning others for perceived sins because I was so certain they were committing them, I can be more patient, compassionate, and understanding.

Instead of having to be right about my beliefs of certainty – and thus, building walls between myself and others – I can be more open and hear more of what people have to say, thus enriching my own life with these new perspectives and experiences.

It’s also easier to spot and stop self-righteousness when I saddle up my high horse and turn a potentially contentious situation into one of vibrant personal growth.

I’ve heard it said that the antithesis of faith isn’t disbelief, but rather certainty. And as I write this, I know that certainty has its place in the human experience, but I think I’m talking more about certainty without humility; certainty that is right and correct beyond a shadow of a doubt with no room for change. A static state. One that can’t grow because it can’t change.

And I guess it’s really more of an attitude than anything. On one hand we need to be able to change, grow, and adapt; but on the other we also need structure, boundaries, and limits. I believe that we need to be able to grow within any given structure, but always with the understanding that the structure itself can change – or that we can grow differently than what the structure prescribes, perhaps needing to restructure it at a certain point, or move on to another altogether.

Of course, this begs the ultimate question about God. Certainty? Faith? Where the hell does that come into play? Well, in the Bible, certainty is never commanded – only faith. There is Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Maybe it’s more about the target, or object of faith. Because you can put your faith in a certain thing, like levitation by snapping your fingers, but if you were to try it, you would fail; thus, the faith failed because it was placed in the wrong thing.

That’s the thing – realizing we’re living lives of faith. We can’t know any given thing is true. We can act on a certain thing, and if it works out, in that experience, it proves the hypothesis. Then we can try it again, if it works, huzzah. But then at some point maybe it won’t. Then maybe it will again, or maybe it will never again. And that’s when we can either just dismiss it and move on to the next big thing, or we can stay with it; question it, look deeper into it and try to see what’s up.

I think scientists do this kind of thing, too; some kind of method or something of testing principles, looking for certain results, etc. But then again what do I know?

Bottom line is, humility. Faith without it is presumption. We have to be willing to be wrong – about everything – which is why we can’t hold too tightly to anything. But we do this trusting that it’s going to be okay.

After all, what’s the absolute worst that can happen?

ANCHORS AWEIGH PART 12

Hey! So it’s been awhile. Holidays happened, life happened, and I’m finding myself overcome with projects, some going on a year old now. However, I didn’t want to abandon this. Thank you to the few who take some time to read my ramblings and I’m so glad to hear from some of you that this stuff actually helps encourage you! That’s the whole point, why I write, create, blahblahblah – to try and make the world a better place if only a little bit at a time. So, I’m going to try and get this back into weekly mode and maybe get into more stuff as time goes on and I get this time management magic worked out.

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So here’s where it starts getting weird.

I got that initial paperwork regarding the treatment of my kidney stone in as quick as I could. A day or two later I learned that it was not sufficient. There needed to be something stating that I was treated, released from care and that there were no subsequent occurrences. So, I figured I needed to do a little more footwork. I thought and thought and thought…and HUZZAH!

I remembered when after I passed the stone I visited a urologist for follow-up. So I tracked down the doctor who did all that, called up the office and was able to get the records sent relatively quickly.

However, in conjunction with that, Navy Personnel Command required I get tested locally to show a recent record of my clean bill of urological health. It would be a doctor’s visit requiring a pee test and a CAT scan.

Uh-oh.

At the time I was working in a call center department for a natural gas company through a temp agency. Because money was kind of tight I used their 0$ group health insurance. I had no idea how much a CAT scan would cost, but I was convinced my meager health insurance wouldn’t cover it, so I googled out-of-pocket costs for CAT scans. Holy Cheerios, the lowest was about $1,500 and highest around $4K. There was no way I could cover that at the time.

All that time I had been praying, seeking God’s will. I was sure he wanted me to pursue enlistment, but with the setbacks I wasn’t so sure he wanted me to succeed. I was seeing it more as a “are you willing to go this far?” kind of faith test, perhaps preparing me for something greater.

Well, I called up people back home in North Carolina and was encouraged to not give up quite yet. Just go into a doctor’s office and see what would happen. Bear in mind, I didn’t have a primary care physician at that time, so I had to go to a Minute Clinic. Before leaving the house that morning I said to God, “Hey man, you want this to happen, I’m gonna need to get this procedure for a song.”

On my lunchbreak, I went to the nearest Minute Clinic location. Handing over my paperwork to the lady at the desk, my heart skipped a beat as her brow furrowed.

“I’m sorry, we can’t help you with this.”

I asked her why not.

“Well, we’re in a Kroger grocery store, so we couldn’t really fit a CAT scan machine in here. But our location on the other side of the parking lot has one! You can try there,” she said with a smile.

So I booked it on over to the location on the other side of the parking lot.

I handed the lady there my materials, she had me sign in, and I asked how much it would cost.

“Oh, well, technically this is just a visit, so that’s $29.95.”

“What about the CAT scan?” I asked.

“We can just put that here under the ‘visit’,” she smiled.

“Wait,” I said, “so the whole thing is just $29.95?”

“With your insurance, yup.”

I swear I could hear the Divine humming Rooster In the Straw.

Sunrise in the early morning hours of Chanthaburi Thailand. (from Adobe Stock)

TO BE CONTINUED

 

2016 Reflections

It’s been quite a year.

A lot of folks think it’s been a terrible year. The world has lost many worldwide famous entertainers as well as close, personal loved ones. Even now, as the clock ticks down to midnight on the east coast, I’m seeing new Facebook posts pop up from folks whose relatives or family members have passed on to the next life.

I’m not going to say how people should grieve or handle loss, but for me 2016 wasn’t a terrible year, though it certainly hasn’t been without its fair share of new challenges and hard lessons.

I’d say the most significant event for me was Stormy’s birth back in April. He came a couple weeks ahead of schedule and has changed everything, and I’d change nothing back.

The second most significant event for me was transitioning out of the military and back into being a full-time student, this time in my dream major: filmmaking.

Losing that job security has had its share of stressors, but Jenn, Stormy and I are doing okay so far, and the future’s looking good so long as we’ve got each other.

I’ve learned that there’s a difference between knowing the world isn’t black and white and viewing it as such and acting accordingly.

I’ve learned that if I truly believe I am as worthy of respect as the next guy, I need to stand up for myself and understand that sometimes people will be upset when I do that.

I’ve also learned that standing up for myself doesn’t mean I get to or have to be a dick about it ( – baby steps – ).

I’ve learned and experienced a newer, deeper level of selfless love since Jenn and I became parents.

I’ve learned that though I may have missed out on friendships available over 18 years ago, under the right circumstances it’s never too late to reconnect and enjoy the good old time now rather than lamenting the previously missed opportunities.

I guess I’ve learned that redemption is divine and the mundane is sacredly profound.

I’ve learned that I have a whole lot more to learn before it’s my time to go.

Here’s to another 365ish days hurtling through the frigid vacuum of space in solar orbit on our homey pale blue dot.