Thankfulness in Dark Places

It’s hard to be thankful.

Really it is. Of course, if you live in America today, or any modern country, then that statement is counterintuitive; we have so much to be thankful for! It’s like asking a fish if it is wet; it’s so surrounded with water, so unaccustomed to anything else, that it has no idea what you’re talking about (or anything else, because this is a fish we’re talking about, but I digress). We are so surrounded by things for which we should be thankful, that we just don’t even see them.

But being thankful is hard, because the things that go wrong, the dark places in our lives, take up so much attention. It becomes hard to keep our eyes on the myriad of small, good things when there’s one big, bad thing screaming for our attention. And it does, doesn’t it? It screams for our attention constantly, until everything else fades out.

Here’s the catch: Those are the times when we are meant to be most grateful. You see, gratitude is tied to another, much more subtle character trait: humility. And humility is built—you knew this was coming—through hard times. Through suffering. Through pain and weakness. It’s why we have so many clichés about growing when the rain falls.

I’ve been doing some suffering myself lately. I’ve mentioned it openly on here that I have Crohn’s Disease, and that for the past few months I’ve been fighting off a flareup. I want to say that I stayed strong the whole time, never became discouraged, never stopped being thankful…but that would be a lie. The trees got to be so big that I couldn’t see the forest. It was hard, one of the hardest things I’ve experienced—and of course it could, and probably will, happen again, because that’s the nature of the disease.

It was debilitating. I had no choice but to be humble in every sense of the word. But then I realized, that humility helped me see the things I still had to be thankful for.

I still had my family.

I still had my children, and I count them separately because without their help around the house, everything would have collapsed.

I still had my friends, without whom I would have given up completely.

I still had things to occupy my mind, even when my body wasn’t cooperating. (Shameless Plug for a Friend time: Cyndera’s novel, Rivers of the Mind, kept me going on a few long nights, and you should absolutely read it when it is published. Also follow her blog!)

More than that, all of my needs were met, and I had nothing to worry about except fighting the illness. So, by the end of the ordeal, I found myself counting my blessings over and over.

Easy? No. Good for the soul? Absolutely.

So, as you sit down for your own Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, remember that your hard times are signposts. Remember that there are people who love you, and without whom your life would not be the same. Remember that we have blessings we will never even see, let alone acknowledge. And remember that Thanksgiving is both a day and a state of mind…no, a state of heart.

Happy Thanksgiving!


*This post was also published on my other blog at Thoughts of a Formerly Dead Man.


Out of the Mouths of Babes

I was making the regular Sunday morning post-church trip to Wal-Mart (an unintentional tradition, but one that stubbornly refuses to go away, possibly because payday is only two days prior and I never have time to shop for anything on Saturday) when I popped in a Phillips, Craig, and Dean cd. Two minutes later, I was pleasantly surprised to hear my six-year-old son, Ethan, singing along in the backseat to “This Is How It Feels To Be Free”. Such a great song! It was gratifying to hear those words coming from his mouth, at the same time that it was surprising—not because he doesn’t like the music, but because I didn’t think I had played that song often enough for him to have learned the words.

It didn’t take long for a hole to be poked in that particular bubble of pride, though, as I shortly realized that he doesn’t understand the words. He can recite them, but he doesn’t grasp them. Did I mention he’s only six? I’d like to think my children are geniuses and prodigies, but alas, it is not so. They’re smart, very much so—I have test scores to prove it—but they still have a lot to learn.

Music is a very powerful force for people in general, and it’s no less true—perhaps even more true—for us Christians. For the world at large, music is an expression of what is inside us, a way of not only telling the world how we think and feel, what we value and what we hate, but also of determining those things. How often has a song changed your opinion? Perhaps not on something large, but in small ways, I would guess that you’ve had that experience. Music influences our emotions, our state of mind, even some aspects of our physical wellbeing. As a believer in Christ, I have the same experiences, but with the added dimension of viewing the music in which I engage as a form of service to the Lord. Christians, as well, use godly music as a method of teaching and passing on our faith; it’s no great surprise that the creeds of the past were often set to music, or that the old hymns are rich in theology.

I listen to a great variety of music, both secular and sacred. I’ve found over the course of my life that I love music which has a grand feel to it; songs which are inspirational because they grapple with great and majestic themes, and because their musical presentation is uplifiting and powerful. I like nobility in music. I like precision in the choice of words, I like powerful imagery, I like strong and bold lyrics and bright, vibrant chords. I want to be moved, but I don’t want it to be simply an emotional response; I want the concepts and truths in the music to resonate with me for what they say as much as for how they are presented.

My six-year-old and my eight-year-old? They don’t care about any of that.

Tonight, while driving home, I played another song that resonates with me, especially on this Easter holiday: Steve Green’s classic, “He Holds The Keys”. I was singing along, as I often do in the car (the kids haven’t reached the eye-rolling stage yet), and then in the background I could hear them trying to do the same, feeling out the unfamiliar words, trying to piece together this new song. Suddenly the realization hit me: They aren’t singing because the song resonates with them. No, they’re singing because they like to sing. We play a lot of music in the car; I sing all the time, and it’s clear that they’ve picked up the habit. Which leads me to think that, possibly, deep down, they’re singing to be like me, which is entirely another form of gratification. Still, it gave me pause.

I feel as I do about “He Holds The Keys” and “This Is How It Feels To Be Free” because I’ve spent half my life gaining the knowledge and experience it takes to understand those songs in a deep and abiding way. I studied theology in college; I had excellent teachers for years in church (in addition to my school life); and I’ve studied on my own. As well, I’ve had the kind of life experiences, both good and bad, that only come with adulthood. When the song says, referring to Jesus, “You spared no expense for my pardon—You were used up and wasted for me,” I know what it means. I’ve been an adult, and I know what sin is, what forgiveness is. The same is true when the songs I play talk about suffering and hardship and difficult choices and need and pain and regret and all the other evils of life—it takes having lived life in order to truly understand.

My kids? They don’t understand it, not yet. When they hear and sing those words, they’re just that—words. That is as it should be right now. But they won’t be children forever, and that is where I come in—where each and every parent comes in. Parents, it’s our job to bring our children safely to adulthood, and that doesn’t mean preventing every bruised knee, or even every broken bone; it means giving them a foundation for maturity. It means that, although they will learn some of those evils of life through their own experience, we’re responsible for teaching them how to handle those things—and moreover, we’re responsible for teaching them the meaning of those things.

I want my children to hear these songs, someday, and feel what I feel, or something like it. I want them, ultimately, to grasp what I grasp, and perhaps more. I want them to know what the song means when it says:

And from death’s barren womb, the captives cry,
“Arise, for our redemption draweth nigh!
For He holds the keys,
He holds the keys;
And though we’ve been held captive,
At long last we are free,
For He holds the keys!”

But for now, that’s beyond them. They need direct statements. They need facts. Abstract concepts are still a stretch for them. There’s a reason why bible lessons for children usually consist of narratives rather than topical lessons; they can’t think that way yet. The stories teach character and other lessons as by example, rather than directly; and it’s the same with music.

But that will change. It’s up to me to prepare them for that change. Because, of course, it isn’t solely about music, but about life. It’s about truth. Music is one way of presenting it; there are others. In every way that comes to hand, be it music or something else, it’s my job to teach them the meanings behind what they face. It’s up to me to make the words make sense.

A Winner At A Losing Game: Atheism and Individual Beliefs

A few weeks ago, as some of you may recall, famous science instructor (I’ll not call him a scientist; he specializes in explaining, not doing the work himself) Bill Nye engaged in a debate with not-quite-as-famous science instructor Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis.  It was quite a display, generating fantastic amounts of buzz on the internet, with followers and critics in both directions.  The topic in question was “Is Biblical Creationism [as espoused by Answers in Genesis, and others] a viable model of origins?”  (For the video of the debate, click here.)

I watched the debate via livestream at the local Bible college in my town.  I expected a gracious and courteous performance from Mr. Ham, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting on several occasions, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that Mr. Nye also conducted himself very professionally.  Creation and evolution are hotly-debated topics, with much emotional impetus on each side, so I was happy to see that it didn’t devolve (much, anyway) into name-calling, or any other kind of bile.  The same could not be said for the internet, of course, but then, sadly, no one really expects better from the internet community at large.  Current readership excepted, of course.

Embedded in every creation/evolution debate, inevitably, is the notion of whether there is or is not a God.  I’ve written on this topic multiple times.  I find it interesting because, as this article in The Atlantic points out, it’s fashionable to think that atheism is the intellectual view.  (Interesting side note:  I found this article on, which is hardly in favor of any theological belief at any time—stranger things have happened, but not often.)  The author of the article does a fair job of giving the lie to that notion, and I won’t take the time here to repeat all of her conclusions; it’s a good read if you have the time.

What interests me is the motivation behind such a belief.  What is it that drives a person, or a civilization, to desire that there should be no God?  Atheists of this intellectual stripe would very much like to have us believe that their views only come from an orderly and reasoned examination of the world, and that they did not draw any conclusions until completing such an examination.  I find that unlikely, but even if it were so, it seems to me that that would be a position to be resisted.  There  would be the temptation to continually seek new evidence until I had enough to allow me to change my conclusions and accept the reality of God!  Instead, what we see are atheists anxious to reinforce their atheism.  That boggles my mind.  What value is there in such a belief?

I’ve gone to great lengths in other entries to explain why a universe without God would be a terrible place to live.  The short version is that a reality without God is a reality without any true meaning.  Now, it may be that the great atheist thinkers have simply failed to carry their beliefs out to that logical conclusion, although I think the number of them who have committed suicide would belie that thought.  But make no mistake, that is the logical conclusion of atheism.  If you are a happy atheist, you simply haven’t yet gone where your beliefs are taking you.

Why believe it?  Why want to believe it?  I think that the reason atheists desire their atheism is because it relieves them of their responsibility to God.  If they can deny God’s existence, then in essence they are shaking their fists at Him and saying, “I am not yours!  You don’t command me!”  In more modern terms, it’s “You’re not the boss of me!”  But the catch is, that’s all you get.  Bragging rights, basically.  You stood up to your creator.

You lost.

Ultimately, you lost.  If your atheism is true, then your godless world has no hope in it.  Your life doesn’t count.  You didn’t come from anywhere; you aren’t going anywhere.  Neither are your parents, your kids, any of the people you value, if you do have people you value.  It’s a majestic world, but a worthless and empty and vain world, too.

And if your atheism is false?  Then you also lose, if you hold onto it.  If the Bible is right, then you and everyone else are sinners in need of redemption.  Christians, too—they have found that redemption, but make no mistake, they definitely needed it.  Atheism is the rejection of that redemption, and there’s nothing left after that but judgment of sin, which leads to hell.  I suppose you could say that other theistic religions, like Islam, are right instead of Christianity, but you still lose; they also include notions of sin and judgment and redemption, if in different ways.

I hate to see people treat spiritual things like a game.  All of this debate, it’s not just a matter of who is right and who is wrong.  It’s intensely practical, because it matters for every person alive on Earth.  It’s not a game…so don’t play to lose.  That’s what atheism does.

Slow-Motion Avalanche

For any readers who were wondering, I haven’t died, or become a leper and lost my typing fingers, or any other colorful fate.  I had decided, some time ago, that I would only be posting when I actually have something to say; and that has proven to be “not that often” over the past several months.  As well, this thing called life keeps intruding, pesky thing that it is.  This is not an apology, but perhaps an explanation; and unless further intermissions are the result of some dramatic cause (which would get its own post), this explanation will be the last of its kind.  Moving on!

I went to work yesterday to cloudy skies and clear streets.  Silly guy that I am, I had paid no attention to the incoming weather reports—I long ago turned off the notifications for the weather app on my phone, and the last time I watched a weather report on television, they were giving alerts for an incoming comet that was scaring the dinosaurs.  No, scratch that joke; I have long since made it clear that I’m not an evolutionist, so I should be joking about the Flood instead.

I knew something was up when coworkers started bailing out of the office at an alarming rate.  It wasn’t until after the boss told me to leave early if it got bad out, that I looked out the window and saw snow.  Lots of snow.  It wasn’t falling fast, but it was relentless.  Within an hour, every visible surface was covered, and the 24-hour staff who nominally work under me (I’m not the supervisor, but I was the closest thing on duty) were refusing to drive anywhere, so I took the boss up on the offer.  Throughout the night, it was like an avalanche in slow motion, burying everything, but so politely that you could hardly be angry about it.

We topped out at about fourteen inches today.  That isn’t much for places like Minnesota or Maine, but it’s quite respectable for West Virginia.  The last time I saw a foot of snow here, it brought four of its friends with it, all in one night, and collapsed twenty-three buildings around town.  That was in 1998, and if I may say so, we’ve had an easy time of it since.  As a consequence, no one is particularly happy with the current state of affairs, if the level of complaining to be seen on Facebook is any indicator.  Most of the complaining, of course, is about that perennial fan favorite:  School closures.

Confession Time:  Some of the complaining was me.

Confession Time: Some of the complaining was me.

Is it really that bad?  With apologies to every parent I know, I don’t think it is.  If they were out for weeks on end, I might think so, but so far this year my kids have only missed one complete week of school, plus a smattering of other days.  In a mountainous state, that’s a fair bargain.

The problem that we parents, all of us, have with snow days is not the slow-motion avalanche I mentioned.  It’s the second slow-motion avalanche:  that gradual accumulation of cabin fever in the kids, and sometimes in ourselves.  It threatens to bury us, too.

I knew I was in trouble today when I found myself sending the kids out of the room for the simple crime of being bouncy.  It’s not always wrong to take a breather; sometimes it’s necessary.  I knew, though, that I wasn’t at that point; I knew I was only doing it because I was short-tempered.   I was the one who was in the wrong this time.

That’s what happens, isn’t it?

When you’re a parent, you’re in the business of being right.  You have to be.  You are the authority figure, and what you do is going to shape your child’s view on right and wrong.  The sad side effect is that when you’re always right, you’re always right.  You come to a place where you don’t stop to question whether there’s a better way.

I don’t know what decisions you might have to face as a parent.  There are enough pitfalls to go around, so I couldn’t deign to advise you on yours, because I don’t know which ones you have to navigate.  For me, today it was the choice between pushing my kids away, or spending valuable time with them.  I started to push, but then I stopped, thought about it, and pulled them back.  After all, they aren’t getting any younger, and I have precious little time to shape their lives.  This is something I’ve been challenging myself to work on.  I still have my own ambitions, and still chase them, but for the moment, I’ll live with the reality that my time is divided, and that they deserve their share of it.  They only have one father, and that’s me.

But, you, Other Parents, I will offer you one piece of advice tonight:  Stop and think.  In whatever situation you are, stop and think.  Think about the decision you have in front of you, and what each option will mean.  Before you act, think.  How will your choices affect your child, affect you, affect the world around you?  When you deal with your children, you deal directly with the future.  Choose wisely!

Maybe that advice isn’t for you, because you already live it.  Good for you!  Pass that wisdom on to someone who needs it.  And if you are the one who needs it, then, there is no time like now to start.  Then, maybe, your own avalanches won’t have a chance to bury you.

Coming Back to Christmas

Christmas is here again.  It feels like it’s been so long!  I feel that way every year, to some degree, because it’s my favorite holiday.  This year, though, you’ll have to forgive me if I seem more excited than usual—you see, I skipped Christmas last year.

No, it wasn’t like that John Grisham novel-turned-Tim Allen movie.  Great story, though, in both forms.  I laughed my way through both.  No, I didn’t skip Christmas by choice.  You see, I was sick.  Very sick.  Nearly the sickest (is that a word?) I have ever been in my life, topped only by the misdiagnosed and life-threatening infection in the sixth grade, and the insanely violent case of the flu in 2009 and strep throat in 2011.  Yeah.  Not fun on any count.  Apparently when I get a common illness, I do it in uncommon ways.  At any rate, in this case I spent ten days lying on the couch, interspersed with painful and dramatic trips to the restroom.  So sorry, Internet; sometimes the truth hurts.  In this case, it hurt me.  I won’t give you more of the disgusting and humiliating details, but I will say that even sitting up was out of the question.

But, here’s a secret for you:  If I had had a choice, I might have skipped Christmas anyway.  2012 was not a good year for me.  I haven’t made any secret of the fact that my wife and I divorced in 2012—or rather, we separated, and initiated the divorce; it wasn’t final until April of this year (adding insult to injury, it was final on tax day).  The separation happened just before Thanksgiving, thus coloring the entire holiday season.  There were other things, but none of them can top that.

I wrote my proposed version of the custody agreement—the version that we used until we had our preliminary hearing, and upon which we eventually based our final agreement—to give us alternating holidays with the kids.  It only seemed fair, since I was pushing for primary custody, which I did ultimately receive—that is, they live with me.  Trying to be gracious, I gave her custody of them for our next upcoming holiday, which was Christmas (and just as well, since I ended up incapacitated).  So, it was my first holiday in six years without Emma, Ethan, or their mother.

Somewhere along the way, someone asked me, “How do you do it?”  I don’t know what I said, but the truth is, I didn’t know.  I still don’t.  Now, Stephanie and I—have I said her name here before? I can’t remember—are lucky enough to have worked out our differences after the fact.  For certain reasons, we won’t be putting our marriage back together, but we get along.  We can talk, and even spend time together now, and it’s okay.  None of that makes the holidays any easier when we spend them apart, passing our children back and forth like packages.

So, I was glad to get back to celebrating this year.  There were obstacles, of course.  My Christmas lights, after two years in storage (I was too sick to decorate last year), don’t work properly, except the white lights that are preattached to the tree and one string of blue lights that could wrap around my house three times and still line the tree.  Most of my glass ornaments were broken and had to be replaced.  Most irritating of all, sixteen years of collectible ornaments have disappeared, leaving their boxes behind (and despite suggestions by family to the contrary, the ex-wife did not take them; I’ve seen her fully decorated tree this year).  But it was worth it anyway.  Best of all, the children are with me this year, and though I don’t begrudge their mother her time with them, I’m glad to have them home.  So, we decorated the tree (with all-new decorations), and we went Christmas shopping, and we wrapped gifts, and we made hot cocoa, and we put out milk and cookies for Santa.  Tomorrow we’ll open gifts, and we’ll visit family, and we’ll read the Christmas story together.  Life is good.

That’s the thing, of course.  Life is good.  It isn’t perfect.  Did you expect it to be?  I think I did.  Certainly I wanted it to be.  I had a picture in my mind for years, a carefully-drawn picture, of what life should be like.  It wasn’t a pipe dream; it wasn’t some fantasy about how life should magically come together.  No, it was a blueprint for something I wanted to build, and I did my best to build it.  No, perhaps not my best; but I tried.  I made no excuses for myself, and I gave it my all for years.  It wasn’t enough in the end; we were defeated by something I never could have anticipated or prevented—my wife’s mental health issues.

I’ve had a picture in my mind of what Christmas should be like, too.  I like the Hallmark version.  I want the big, handsome, warm, inviting house with the big picture windows.  I want the perfectly decorated tree where it can be seen through those windows.  I want the lights outside, and the snow, and the big meal at a beautifully set table.  I want my family around, all in one place, all getting along.  I could go on…you’ve seen it in so many movies, so you know what I mean.  I want it  storybook perfect, every year.

It doesn’t work out that way.  My family is big and scattered, and they fight with each other.  I live in a rented trailer.  My tree is four feet tall.  I don’t cook turkey well enough to do the holiday meal (thank you, Mom and Dad, I’ll keep buying if you keep cooking!).  It rarely snows on Christmas here, even in the mountains.

It’s not perfect, but that’s okay.  Perfect gets in the way of good enough.  The tree may be short, but I decorated it with my kids.  They don’t care if all the lights are white, as long as they illuminate presents underneath.  We don’t eat around my table on Christmas day, but I get to see my daughter, my son, and my two nephews have Christmas dinner together, and enjoy each other’s company.  There may not be snow (though I hope there will!) but it’s still December 25th, with all that it means.

Christmas isn’t all that’s okay.  My life is not perfect, but it’s okay.  I’ll never say “it’s good enough” in the sense that it needs no more work, but I can say that it’s good enough for me to be content where I am, even while I work on improving.  I have two beautiful children.  I have parents who are there for me.  I have one grandmother remaining, and she still has her mind, which I have discovered is an invaluable thing.  I have a brother and sister whom I love, even when we don’t see eye to eye.  I have aunts and uncles and cousins who make my life colorful.  I have a good relationship with my ex-wife, who also loves our children.  I have the best friends any man could ask for—you know who you are.  I have a good job, sufficient to my needs.  I have a home and a vehicle and everything I need.  I have a God Who doesn’t just love me, but everyone, equally and with intensity.  And I have today.  Every day is a blessing, and Christmas is one of the best.

I know there are people out there who are suffering, or lacking, in some way.  Maybe it’s you.  I hope you understand that I would never say these things to hurt anyone, or to be arrogant or presumptuous.  The topic of how to graciously respond to suffering is complex and lengthy, though it can be summed up in “love your neighbor as yourself”.  That’s what I want to do.  But here, now, I say these things just to say that I’m thankful for what I have.  I  know I may not have it forever—next Christmas, when the kids are away, you may see a different side of me—but I have it now, and I’m thankful.

So, have a good Christmas.  Sleep well on Christmas Eve.  Hold your wife or husband, if you have one.  Hug your children, and watch them open any gifts they receive.  Sip some egg nog or hot cocoa, as I’m about to do.  Eat some turkey or ham tomorrow.  Watch “A Christmas Story” for 24 straight hours, if you like.  Sit by the tree and think.  Remember a baby who was born in a desert country, with no snow on the ground, and no star on a tree, but one in the sky.  Remember that He’s still alive today.  And be thankful.  In all of it, for whatever thing you choose, whatever you value, be thankful.

Merry Christmas, my friends.

Some feelings, you can't buy.  Emma and Ethan under the tree.

Some feelings, you can’t buy. Emma and Ethan under the tree.

Born to Raise the Sons of Earth!

I love Christmas carols.  I’m fond of secular Christmas music, too—Ray Stevens’ “Santa Claus is Watching You” is a personal favorite—but there is something special about the ancient (to me anyway) carols.  It may be uncommon now, but when I was a child, we children learned some of our first real theology from those old and solemn words.

The first Noel the angel did say was to certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay…

It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old, from angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold…

Angels from the realms of glory, wing your flight o’er all the earth; ye who sang Creation’s story, now proclaim Messiah’s birth…

Oh, little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…

Silent night, holy night…round yon virgin mother and Child…

It saddens me how little we get to sing them even at this time of the year.  There’s only a month between Thanksgiving and Christmas; and the well-deserved backlash against retailers skipping Thanksgiving has caused it to be unfashionable to sing Christmas music outside that brief period.  Then, I for one have to work during half the available church services—I have a biweekly rotating schedule—and some of the remaining services are taken up with presentations and programs.  There aren’t many opportunities to give our voices to these wonderful words, at least not corporately.  It may be unavoidable, but it’s also unfortunate.

One song is far and away my favorite.  Now, I have said that I’m a writer on the side, so you may expect that I’d be attracted to the longer, more verbally and musically complex carols, like “O Holy Night”.  I do love that one; it’s excellent, especially the last stanza, where we learn how Christ’s love for us means that we should love those around us.  But it isn’t my favorite.  No, that honor goes to another timeless classic, one we still teach to our children even in this jaded age:  “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”.

It has so much goodness packed into a few words!  In the first lines, we have the angels singing praises; we have a newborn King of all creation; we have the Lord’s desire for peace on Earth; we have, right in the center of the verse, the reconciliation of God and sinners.  As they one day will do, the nations rise to praise the Lord, joining the angels to proclaim the victory of God over sin and the world.  That is all of history, for all the world, past and future, encapsulated in ten lines!

The part that gives me goose bumps every time I hear it or sing it, though, is the majestic final verse.  Here, let me show you:

Hail the Heaven-born Prince of Peace!  Hail the Sun of Righteousness!

Light and Life to all He brings—risen with healing in His wings!

Mild, He lays His glory by—born that Man no more may die,

Born to raise the sons of Earth, born to give them second birth!

Hark! The herald angels sing “Glory to the newborn King!”

I’ve written before about the futility of life without God.  I took it from a philosophical standpoint, or perhaps I should say a worldview standpoint; that is, I have pointed out how a universe without God in it is one where nothing matters, because everything is random, meaningless, and ultimately inconsequential.  If you believe that there is no God, no Creator, then—assuming you follow your own beliefs out all the way to their end—there are two inevitable outcomes, and you’ll have them both, in order.  One is hedonism, the idea that you live only for your own pleasure.  It will be a selfish pleasure, too, because why should you care about anyone else?  Nothing matters, and nothing is important.  Only you are important to you.  The second outcome is suicide, because your life is totally, totally worthless.

You have to understand this before I go on.  Disbelief in God MUST end in futility of life.  And when life is futile, it’s only a short step to suicide.  It happens all the time.

Hail the Heaven-born Prince of Peace.

But, I always felt that there is one more reaction that makes sense.  Fear.  Fear of death.  Why?  Not because death is hard or painful—even though it might be—but because death is the end.  The end of me.  The end of everything, as far as I am concerned.  And unless I’m a Caesar or a Buddha or a Hitler, in just a few generations I will probably be forgotten, so I don’t even have the conditional immortality of memory.  Of course I would fear that fate!  I don’t want to go out like a candle!  I don’t want my flame, feeble as it may be, to be extinguished.

Hail the Sun of Righteousness!

But there is One Whose flame cannot be extinguished.

Light and Life to all He brings…

The One Whose flame is eternal, shares that light with anyone who will receive it.  He burns with righteousness and peace and—most of all—forgiveness.  He is holy, but He doesn’t hold it back from us.

Risen with healing in His wings!

It’s no wonder we fail to believe in God, much less in Jesus.  We live in a broken world, and we are broken, sick people.  The best among us are failures.  It’s a life that, if not full of despair, is prone to it.  Worse, it’s a life that is broken because we made it that way.  But…there is hope.  There is healing for the sick and the broken.  It comes from One Who not only was born, but died—and now has risen!

Mild, He lays His glory by, born that Man no more may die—

Do you get it?  Do you realize the awesome sacrifice He made?  Long before He died, He stepped out of the glory of eternity and took on the weakness of humanity!  The infinite became finite.  The glorious became veiled.  The rich became poor.  The powerful became—by choice—weak and humble.  God.  Became.  MAN.  And, WHY?

Born to raise the Sons of Earth!  Born to give them second birth!

I have always loved that simple phrase.  “Born to raise the sons of Earth.”  We, we poor and needy, broken-down, humbled, shattered, ruined, dead, sons and daughters of Earth, needed—more than anything—the Son of Heaven.  So, He came.

He was born.  God became Man.

He lived.  He felt our pain, our need.  He knew our weaknesses.  The only thing He did not partake of, was our sin—but He suffered our temptations, and He defeated them.

He died.  Without committing our sins, He still took them upon Himself, and He died, carrying them away into the grave.

He arose.

He arose.


And because He did, He can raise us.

So, why?  Why despair?  Why risk it—the hedonism, the despair, the fear, the very thought that this may be all there is?  One Who has died—One Who has been there and come back—has told us that this isn’t all there is.  And He offers us so much more than this.  He offers us life, and peace, and righteousness, and glory, and meaning, and value, and eternity!  That is the reason He offered Himself, first, long ago—the real reason we celebrate Christmas.

Don’t just celebrate.  Believe.  Trust.

Then, with the angels, you can do your own singing.

Hark! The herald angels sing: Glory to the newborn King!

Don’t Ask Me Why

Take any ten headlines.  As long as they aren’t incidental, small-town, feel-good stories, any ten will do.  Now, throw them into your forum of choice.  You can pick any forum of debate that you like; I’m partial to Facebook, but anything will do, whether it be an internet site, a family reunion, a college classroom, or the company water cooler (do companies still have those?  In mine, we just yell at each other across the hall).  Now, catalog the results.

I’m betting you’ll find something interesting.  You’ll find a lot of what we can generously call discussion (or shamelessly call fighting), but it will fall chiefly into two categories.  The first is what should  be done about X; the second is who is to blame.  And boy, we love us some blame!!  (That is, we love it as long as it’s not aimed at us, but I could write entire books about that.)  The current popular punching bag is President Obama; and I’m not saying he isn’t to blame for quite a few things, because I believe he is.  What I am talking about, though, is the need to talk, at length, about that blame.

Or maybe I’m not.  See, it isn’t the blame that is interesting to me.  It’s the fact that we DON’T talk about the REASONS for the headlines.  We like to blame so-and-so, but we never discuss how we got to this point (whatever inevitably-bad point that may be).  Why is that?

I recently finished watching Francis Schaeffer’s excellent “How Shall We Then Live?” video series.  Now there was a man who tackled the question of why we’re here!  I don’t mean why we exist, though he addressed that too; I mean why we are at this point in the history of civilization.  It’s done without blame in a specific sense, but with the acknowledgment that everyone has a hand in what becomes of a society.

I’m a religious guy.  I’ll go ahead and accept the label.  It’s fashionable for us Christians to say “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a faith/relationship/way of life,” and it is.  It’s also a religion, though, in the sense that it’s a system by which we attempt to give meaning to life and find a meaningful resolution to life.  So yeah, I’m a religious guy.  Dr. Schaeffer was, too—let’s get that out in the open.  Start shooting!  I can take it.  In fact, go ahead and load up now, and bring plenty of ammo—but give me a minute first to finish what I’m saying,  so you have a clear target to shoot at.

Dr. Schaeffer’s series (and his book of the same title from which the series was adapted) outlines the history of Western civilization as far back as the Roman empire, and in some instances to its Greek forebears.  He demonstrates the progress of the concept of absolutes, and the corresponding progression in philosophical thought and morality.  To boil it down, here’s the concept:  One, God and His truths are absolutes that are given by revelation; Two, those revelations are in harmony with, and give meaning to, what is observable in the natural world; Three, morality is defensible and non-arbitrary when it is founded in those absolutes; Four; society decays when the absolutes are removed.  That’s it, in short form.

The series goes on in great detail, with specifics that I have neither the time nor the inclination to reproduce here (although they are well worth reading or watching).  It becomes quite haunting in the last few sessions as he approaches the modern era, and describes a future that is nearly identical to the desperate world we live in today.  Did I mention the series was produced in the mid-70s?  I’m refraining from the word “prophetic”; there was nothing supernatural about it—rather, he accurately identified the trends of the day and extrapolated based on history.  The results are disquieting.

I’d like to say it was ridiculous.  I’d like to say he was wrong.  I really can’t, because I live in today’s world.  What he said is consistent with what I’ve seen all my life.  It’s a topic I’ve written on several times: the notion that without the absolutes provided by the Bible, nothing matters.

Nothing matters.  What a deceptively simple statement.  Sounds a little bit Disney, doesn’t it?  “Hakuna Matata”, I can hear Timon and Pumba saying right now.  Just don’t sweat it!  Do what you want.  All variations on the same theme, but it’s a theme with destructive potential.

Let me break it down into smaller units.  I like conditional, if/then statements; they’re great for teaching consequences.  Let’s put it in those terms.  Here’s a list, to make it easier to remember:

  • IF God exists (in the form that we usually imagine Him, that is, all-powerful), THEN He had to be the Creator of everything, logically.  (Even Occam’s Razor, that most-popular of all logical principles, applies; it states that among hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions is most likely to be correct.  The existence of God, as a theory, requires only one assumption, while any of the multiple theories that fall under the umbrella of evolution require numerous assumptions about the basic nature of the universe itself.)
  • IF God made the universe and all that is in it, THEN everything belongs to Him.
  • IF everything belongs to Him, THEN He decides any rules, limitations, and uses for creation, including humanity.
  • IF the above are true, THEN God’s rules and determinations are ultimately inescapable; in other words, we may not like what He decides, but it’s His world, and we can’t do anything about that.

For the moment, I’ve excluded discussion of morality from that list.  We’ll get to that.  Conversely:

  • IF God does not exist, THEN the universe lacks purpose, having been created randomly (note that I am not excluding the idea of scientific laws, such as the laws of physics, but I am saying that even those laws arose without purpose or design—the equivalent of a river flowing in a straight line because it happens to land between two parallel cliffs).
  • IF there is no purpose to existence (I am refraining from using the term “creation”, but what I mean here is the whole of the existent universe and its contents), THEN there is no value, either.
  • IF there is no value to existence, THEN there is no intrinsic value to me or any other human as part of existence, because we arose without purpose.
  • IF there is no value to humanity, whether individual or collective, THEN there is no foundation for any law or societal order.
  • IF there is no foundation for law or order, THEN law and order become arbitrary and situational.
  • IF law and order are arbitrary and situational, THEN an elite of some sort—usually the strongest, but not necessarily—will inevitably arise to determine those things.
  • IF an elite arises, THEN it will invariably look after its own interests first.
  • IF all the above is true, THEN there is no basis on which to challenge any law or order established by the elite, other than pursuit of becoming the elite yourself.  There is no right or wrong.

What a horrific statement!  Do we even realize the magnitude of the idea that there is no right or wrong?  Or maybe we do realize.  Some do, and they embrace it.  That is a chilling thought, but it happens.

If there is no right or wrong, any value you have can be shot down.  We see this working out in the issues of the day, such as the marriage-equality debate, the abortion debate, and so on, but it’s more fundamental than that.  If there is no right or wrong, then NOTHING MATTERS.  Equality doesn’t matter, because if I think you’re not as good as me, on what basis can you say I’m wrong?  Marriage doesn’t matter, because who says it does?  Even life itself, the most fundamental value of all, is completely inconsequential.

So what if I abort a baby?  It’s my body.

So what if I murder the elderly?  They aren’t contributing anymore, so why do they matter?

So what if I kill you?  You are no more important than me, and you’re in my way.

So what if I kill myself?  This life doesn’t matter anyway, because there’s nothing beyond it.

Ultimately it’s not just destructive to society; it’s self-destructive.  There is only one conclusion to be drawn once you take the absolutes away:  I don’t matter.  Nothing I do is worth anything, because it’s all arbitrary, and nothing matters.  I don’t count, and searching for purpose in a purposeless world is absurd.  So, why should I even bother to go on living?

Most people won’t go as far as suicide, though we know there is a frightful amount of it going on.  The reason is because we’re living in the ruins of our ancestors’ world—a world in which those absolutes were accepted, and in which the freedoms we enjoy were constructed, BASED ON those absolutes.  We still live in the ruins of that world, and we follow the patterns of those absolutes to one degree or another, because they were handed down to us that way.  Those who embrace the notion that there are no absolutes, generally do not follow them to the inevitable end; they play around, living as though they didn’t believe that way, as long as they aren’t inconvenienced.  But let’s not be mistaken as to where this idea leads:  it leads to authoritarian societies that feed on their members, and it leads to individual death, in one way or another.

It leads to depression, as well.  Did you think of that?  We all crave meaning in one way or another.  I can think of many worthy reasons to die, reasons that are acceptable to me, but they all involve dying with purpose.  Yet, I cannot stand the thought of living without purpose; it’s worse than death.  Now, I work in mental health.  I know well that there are a myriad of causes for depression.  Let’s not pretend, though, that lack of meaning is one of them.  This, I think, is especially common in people who are busy with things that are worthwhile, while at the same time they themselves believe there are no absolutes; they’re chasing meaning without allowing for the possibility that it exists.

It does exist.  I promise you that.

I’ll confess, I feel a little uncomfortable talking about this.  You see, I’m human.  Moreover, I’ve done things in my life that would make people point and call me a hypocrite.  At times, I probably have been one.  I’m not proud of the fact that I’ve done things that I shouldn’t, but neither am I trying to pretend I never did, or never do.  But that is the beauty of Christ:  He asks perfection of us, but He doesn’t expect that we’ll have it up front.  He knows we’re a work in progress.  We don’t get to use that as an excuse, but we do get to use it as an explanation for why we aren’t there yet—why the person who is telling you that you need Christ is one who hasn’t become perfect yet, who has things to answer for in his own life.  I do have to answer for them.  You’ll have to answer for your own faults and your own mistakes.  But with Christ, you don’t answer for them alone; He’s there with you. And frankly, if I’m a beggar and another beggar shows me where to find bread, I’m not going to fault him for being a beggar.

Let’s face it:  the world needs absolutes.  It needs to be able to point to something and say, “This is the truth, and on this we stand!”  Otherwise, nothing matters, and no one is safe.  If you’re honest with yourself, that’s not a world you want to live in.

You can leave it, or try to change it.  My vote is for the latter.

Sad Songs

I made the mistake of listening to Tim McGraw as I started this blog entry.

My respect to Tim, he’s a fantastic singer and songwriter, and I hear he puts on a great stage show, too (haven’t made it to one yet, but they’re reportedly worth the price, at the least).  The problem is, I gravitate to his more thoughtful (otherwise known as “sad”) music.  It’s not entirely my fault, or so I’ll insist—it’s temperament, too.  As a college freshman, I was required to take a personality inventory, and was told that I was strongly lodged in the “melancholy” category.  Five years later, preparing to graduate (yes, I took five years—curse you, Western Civilization class!) and taking the test again, I was told I was so melancholic as to be unable to relate to other people in normal ways.  Good thing THAT turned out to be wrong!  Still, it makes for a handy excuse when Mr. McGraw is on the radio.

Unsuspecting, I wandered straight into a land mine of a song called “Everywhere”, a morose and wistful (can those two feelings go together?) ballad about the relationship that might have been, that old staple of country music.  Everybody has that one that didn’t last, so we can all identify.  But if that isn’t enough to prompt tears, I crashed from there straight into “Grown Men Don’t Cry,” a real tearjerker.  I held it together, don’t worry.  But it makes me think.

By this time next week, my divorce should be final.  If anyone who knows me reads this and is surprised to hear about this, I have one of two answers for you:  one, I didn’t talk about it on Facebook, other than changing my relationship status; and two, where have you been?  I practically blasted this news in every other way.  I’ve never been able to keep my business to myself, or so I’m told.

I’ll talk some other time, perhaps, about how the divorce came about.  Right now, it’s too new, too fresh, to want to rehash all of those details; and on top of that, I have to consider that my  nearly-ex-wife may not want it displayed.  After all, it’s her business too.  But for now, I can say how I feel about the situation, at least as much as I KNOW how I feel.  You would be surprised how little I do know about that.  I never expected that—never expected this much confusion about it—but there it is.

I labored over this decision for a long time before I filed the divorce documents.  It was complicated for me by the fact that the issues dividing us were not about how we feel about each other; there were other issues, things outside of our own relationship, that made our marriage unsustainable.  I still love my wife, even now, although that love has certainly changed over the years—and I believe that in a way, she still loves me.  At the very least, she still feels an attachment to me.  So, yes, it makes me sad to see our marriage of ten years—fifteen, if you add our dating years—fall apart.  I don’t regret making this choice, but I regret the terrible things that led up to it.

The thing I regret most is that it seems so short.  I remember, years ago, doing the mental equivalent of sitting myself down for a talk.  It happened on more than one occasion, and had it been a real dialogue, it might have gone like this:

ME:                        You know, time is racing by.

MYSELF:               Really?  I hadn’t noticed.  Huh.

ME:                        Yes.  Look around you, idiot.  (I called myself idiot—it’s good to have pet names.)  You have a good girlfriend.  You have good  friends. You’re having experiences that you’ll never get back again.

MYSELF:               …I’m not following.

ME:                        Slow down!  Pay attention!  Start being grateful for this time in your life.  You’ll miss it when you’re older!

MYSELF:               Oh.  Yeah.  Yeah!  That makes sense.  I’ll do that!

And you know…I did.  I have taken time to appreciate the good things in my life.  I enjoyed every minute of those early years, and as much as I could of the later years, even when things started to go badly.  The sad truth?  It was enough…but it wasn’t enough.  Time still flew by.  The early days passed.  The kids grew up…one day they were infants, the next they were in school.  One minute, we were a family of four—the next minute, we live miles apart.  I can’t say I don’t know how it happened, but I don’t know how it happened so FAST.  Where did the years go?

That’s my nod to “Everywhere”.  But as I said, it was followed with “Grown Men Don’t Cry”, a song about tragedies and regrets—and blessings.  The third verse says this:

I sit here with my kids and my wife and everything that I hold dear in my life.

We say grace and thank the Lord, got so much to be thankful for,

Then it’s up the stairs and off to bed, and my little girl says, “I haven’t had my story yet!”

Everything weighing on my mind disappears just like that,

When she lifts her head off the pillow and says, “I love you, Dad.”

And I don’t know why they say grown men don’t cry,

I don’t know why they say grown men don’t cry…

I’ll admit, it isn’t perfectly us.  My wife, though still a part of our lives, isn’t there with us anymore.  When we say grace, it’s just three of us at the table, not four.  But we still have so much to be thankful for.  I know that I do, because I still have two little people who don’t just depend on me, but love me, and look to me to be there for them.  And yes, when they say “I love you, Dad,” this grown man still cries.

Sadness.  Yes, I have that.  Regret—it’s with me all the time.  But there are answers to those feelings, better answers, better feelings.

To sadness, I offer gratitude.  I can’t be sad and thankful for what I have at the same time.

To regret, I offer determination.  I may not have made all the mistakes, but those I made, I don’t have to repeat.

Now, let’s find some happier music!


Note:  I never did get around to writing about my divorce here, but I did write about it here, on my other blog, Thoughts of a Formerly Dead Man.