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Articles Christian Living

A Cool Story…About Boogers

When writer’s block and wedding plans rear their ugly heads, you go to friends for inspiration. And then you shamelessly copy/paste their stories into a blog post (with full permission, of course).

I’ve known Carla since we were (un)cool homeschoolers in our early pre-teens. Our friendship solidified over a shared armpit joke and later a disturbing crawfish dissection. We live hours away from each other now, but thank goodness for Messenger where we can discuss deep matters of the heart and share the most laugh-worthy Babylon Bee articles.

She married while we were in our twenties and is now a mother of two. Her youngest – just a toddler – recently provided her with a rather unique metaphor of God’s love. (To protect his identity I will change his name to “Lucas” – definitely not to satisfy some geeky urge or anything…)

#charactersyoumain #evenwhenterriblewiththem

“So, I have been struggling lately with being an ugly human being: ugly feelings including self-pity and jealousy and laziness. I mean, vanity and gluttony could at least be kinda sexy, but those I am struggling with are just…ew. Anyway, I am in the shower the other morning asking God about these icky feelings and what to do with them. All of a sudden I remember an interaction I had with Lucas maybe a month ago:

First thing to know is Lucas has begun imagination games. Over the summer he did bring me several flowers he found special just for me, and now I am getting used to him bringing me some invisible treasure pinched in between his chubby little fingers, too. Well, the other day he walks up to me with his fingers pinched and a huge smile and hands me… a booger. A pretty good sized, green, sticky booger. Then he giggles and trots away, his body language saying ‘I had no idea what to do with that gross thing that came out of my nose–so glad I gave it to my mom to take care of!’ I have to admit–it was so random and pure that the love just washed over me towards that curly haired boy and I felt like I had leveled up in this whole ‘Mom’ thing. Also, I felt like I needed to wash my hands.

So, I felt like God was telling me that just like I really did love to take Lucas’s boogers when he gave them to me, so too does God love taking my proverbial boogers. And while He will certainly do the spiritual equivalent of suck them out or wipe them under duress, He loves it even more when I say to Him ‘Here, God. This completely gross, sticky thing just came out of me and I have no idea what to do with it.'”

I’m not a parent myself, so I marvel at this motherly joy born of receiving snot as a gift. And I marvel even more that the God of all things – in His creation of humankind – put a reflection of his character into mothers who love the innocent and trusting actions of their children.

“As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” (Isaiah 66:13)

This Valentine’s Day you may be planning to give out nice cards, candy, chocolate, or thoughtful trinkets to loved ones. So how about you give God your boogers? It might just be the best gift of all.

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Articles Christian Living

No Achievements Required

We have quite a few themes in November: Thanksgiving, NaNoWriMo, Peanut Butter Lovers Month – where do I start?

It IS National Novel Writing Month (though I think Peanut Butter Lovers Month is severely under-celebrated), and we of the word-crafting ilk sometimes use this month to challenge ourselves to a goal of higher output. Crank out more than 1,000 words a day and get that novel DONE!

The problem I experienced pursuing this goal was the cold, hard truth of never EVER achieving 1,000 words per day. On any given day I’d have work, chores, errands, social events, and that ever-obnoxious need to feed oneself (with peanut butter) intervening with my expectations as a writer. And even if I made it to something like 800 words – so? That’s still 200 short!

The anxiety to achieve left me joyless. I even began to believe my output was directly correlated to how pleased God was with me for using my gift. I didn’t believe there was grace for anytime I failed.

But God seems relentless in displaying His grace anyway.

On a recent Sunday morning I was getting ready for church when I realized my boyfriend would be arriving soon to head out with me to service. They tell you relationships take work, so I was always prepared to put in the hours. Thing is, I already had in mind – from stereotypes and observations of other relationships – what sort of work I’d have to do.

It would never cross my mind that the simple moment when my love showed up at my door I’d be thinking, “I’m not ready to socialize yet.” And that would be my work.

I’ve lived on my own for a decade, no roommates aside from a rather mild pet snake who takes up the space of a terrarium in my “guest room” (a.k.a. “room I’d hoped to make a writer’s haven but is really just a space for stuff I don’t use” #morewriterfailure). I go out, I enjoy time spent with friends and family, but otherwise…I’ve spent most of my days alone and am already deeply introverted.

I mentally stumbled through that morning. My emotions went all over, though I kept them tightly contained. How am I supposed to do this? I thought. And how could I ever explain this type of distress without sounding like an incapable weirdo?

We went to church, and I still wrestled with wildly competing feelings, still trying my best to fight through to a sense of normalcy – my man standing next to me probably having little idea of what was going on inside. We worshiped, we sat, and the pastor began to speak.

Within the first fifteen minutes he referenced the verse, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) It wasn’t by any merit of our own we were allowed this grace and resurrection, and I realized – it’s not by any solo effort I’ll “perfect” my approach to relationship (or writing), either. It was God’s revelation to me to say, “I can’t do this,” and lean into Him for what He would provide.

And He does provide – even a little time each day to write at least 100 words on a project. (That’s 36,500 a year, you know. Nothing to sneeze at.) I still sometimes catch myself “telling” more than praying to God that I’ll do better so I can – what? Impress Him? Prove He doesn’t have to worry? It results in rather one-sided conversations.

On another Sunday – evening, this time – my love and I watched Coco together and asked each other what legacy we’d want our family to remember us for. I still went to achievements: “I want to be remembered for the stories I told.” He said to me, “I want to be remembered as a man who genuinely loved his wife.”

It’s seriously on no merit that I deserve this man, but…maybe that’s been God’s point all along. (All y’all saps can start melting now.)

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Articles Christian Living

Command? >Fight >Item >Run >Love

The thing about being an INFJ is random bumper stickers seen on my drive home will send me into deep philosophical musings.

“♥ God, ♥ People” the sticker on the truck ahead of me said. How funny someone feels the need to tell me and other drivers to do that, I thought. A non-believer wouldn’t see the use in loving a God who isn’t real to them, and as for believers – isn’t that the point to our belief?

But then I realized – it actually is given to us as a command: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5). We have to be commanded to love God? I can understand being commanded to love others (which I’ll get to in a moment), but why would God command us to love Him when we know His own character demonstrates He is for our good?

Of course, we also know our own hearts are not so steadfast, and, like the Israelites of Old Testament times, we easily divert our devotion to lesser pleasures of the moment. Material items, selfish goals, pure obstinacy… It’s like running after the piddling side quests in a game while the main quest waits an illogical amount of time for your attention.

Whatever, Zelda, I’ll save Hyrule after I’ve found 900 more Korok seeds.

In an RPG, when you input a command for a party member, they follow it exactly as you specify (barring status effects). While humans are not pixelated algorithms set to obey a designated pattern, we do tend to move either toward a more disciplined frame of life or away from it. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are followers of what has the strongest command over our choices.

Love is presented to us as an action that remains despite feelings, an action we are told to stick with in order to grow and mature in our faith and relationships. We are called to love God and his created people, even when we’d rather distract ourselves with shinier things or drag our feet when it’s hard.

Which brings me to the second part of that bumper sticker…

Do you know who will tell you to love people? Most people. From nearly any religion, any sect, any race. Anyone would tout that bumper sticker-offered challenge. We desire and see the need to be loved on a global scale. But how does it work out on human ability alone? We’re no doubt capable of great good and great charity. Facebook overflows with stories of kindness toward those in need – even to the smallest animals.

But love on individual terms can just as equally do harm. One group openly mocks and insults another group for not loving enough or in “the right way”. Between the hopeful videos shared on Facebook are memes trolling the opinions of others not deemed suitably tolerant/sympathetic/you name it.

What would you choose when faced with a challenge?

I admit, my own sin is an action command leaning toward >Run when faced with the opportunity to love someone in a real and personal way. What would I say? What if there was nothing I could do for them? What if they reject me? My own love falls short when I rely solely on my power.

But Jesus did also command “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39), and he exemplified that in all its beautiful, difficult nuances. Truth and compassion are both necessities. When I read the Gospels, I marvel at how seamlessly Jesus blended the two.

I don’t believe love is a human invention. It isn’t something we exhibit with any amount of ease. But God gave us a love to practice and then share: He knew it was the necessary command which would progress and complete the quest.

As for my own journey, I’ve lately been drawn to books celebrating community – people who must live in close circles, interact daily, form bonds through or in spite of trying circumstances. The idea begins to appeal to me, though I know it won’t be so easy as these fictional stories play it out. Could these books and that truck’s bumper sticker be the Holy Spirit’s tug on the heart of a woman who spends far too much time in her own brain? Maybe it’s time I pursue some new action commands and take Love to a world that needs it.

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Articles Beat Breakers Music

Beat Breaker: “Strength & Beauty” by Citizens

 

Song Title: Strength and Beauty
Artist: Citizens (formerly Citizens & Saints)
Album: Single
Release: 2018
Genre: Indie

 

Drawing from the same ecclesiastical roots as King’s Kaleidoscope and Ghost Ship, Citizens (formerly Citizens & Saints) has produced three theologically emotional albums since 2013.  Drawing predominantly on hymnal and Psalmist literature, Citizens brings home sound theology and beautifully-crafted musical scores.

Since joining Humble Beast in 2017, “Strength and Beauty” is the first original work to emerge from the Seattle-based group. Following in the musical style of their reconstructed 2017 In Part album, “Strength and Beaut”y quietly pierces the soul with grief-stained hope.

 

Musical Breakdown

Diverging from a common song progression, “Strength and Beauty” jumps between verses, progressively telling a story of brokenness and defiled grace. The sole remnant of a chorus – the imploration to listen to the song of the broken – permeates only intermittently throughout the track.

While the first two verses progress, the melody remains uneventful as the lyrics tell the tale of God-given providence and grace defiled by the artist’s rebellion. Only once the third verse arrives does the melody escalate as the lyrics echo a nurtured, but wounded, hope. The song ends on a crescendo with joy and rhetoric.

 

Lyrics & Meaning

Throughout the first two verses, the artist describes both the natural gifts of life as well as corporate responsibility for the pain and sin profaning these gifts. Gifts like justice, grace, strength, and beauty are all described alongside the lyricist’s defiance.

The lyrics are telling and speak of incredible spiritual and social injustices.

Hatred taken over our eyes,
And we defend it,
Reform repentance.

Sound familiar? We need only look around us in society to see behavior where hatred is not only defended, but repentance is reformed to conform to a hate-filled theology. While this is not as explicitly social as other contemporaries (Lecrae or Propaganda, for example), the injustice described is no stranger to us.

Yet, Citizens takes this an uncomfortable step further. Coupled with the injustices is a repeated refrain emphasizing corporate responsibility for these acts.

“Deep in our blood”; “Hatred taken over our eyes”; “Violence stealing love from our lips”

I’ll reflect on this further below, but for the moment, it’s worth noting the ramifications of this claim. The pain Citizens described is not only universal— it must be owned, and it cannot be left unanswered for.

Before stepping into the third verse, Citizens calls the listener to hear the ‘song of the broken,’ affected by the injustices described in the earlier verses. While the described ‘broken’ appear somewhat ambiguous, it is unmistakable that the corporate responsibility accepted earlier causes the personalized pain described here.

As the third verse develops, the pronoun ‘she’ repeats, reflecting a personalized tone different from the rest of the track. Insofar as describing her as ‘a child’, one could interpret the child as being a metaphor for the broken.

 

Practical Application

The noticeable shift between the corporate first-person (‘our’) to the third-person (‘her’) crafts a relatable track with clear personal undertones. Quoting lead vocalist Zach Bolen, the Humble Beast biography for Citizens states,

“You can share as much as you want about the Gospel on Biblical terms, but the true power of the Gospel comes from you telling your story.”

Anyone would be hard-pressed not to agree with the personalized tones of Citizens’ new single. The stark question lingering for any listener is: how we will weave our own story into the lyrics?

Like the artist, our own stories are riddled with pain, stemming from the effects of sin. We have witnessed the strife, agony, uncertainty, and hopelessness. And while we can easily (and often times truthfully) point the finger at some else, we must also bear some blame.

The moment we grasp the weight of defiant rebellion in the face of the Almighty, we see the blood our hands have spilled. We have no excuse. The book of Romans describes it well, when Paul states in Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”

Do you see the trickle of sin? From one man, to all. The same pain resonates in the song, as the free God-given gifts of grace are defiled and trampled. The same chapter later describes death as ‘reigning’ and bringing condemnation through the one man’s sin. The language paints a canvas where one action has rippled throughout history.

Thankfully, this is not where the song ends, nor where Paul finishes in Romans 5. For as “Strength and Beauty” struggles through the pain, it strives towards hope. Paul also describes this hope in the second Adam, through whom life and justification come. In Romans 5:20, Paul puts it poignantly, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”

This is the cry of this song, of our hearts, and of redemption. The cry of enjoying a future glory where,” He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

As the song draws to a close, Zach asks the listener, ‘Do you see it?’ Take stock of this question.

It is far too simple to accept biblical truths about the Second Coming, but another to actually see how this truth gives us hope. Not just for the future, but for today. While we bear the responsibility for our sin, we do not bear the burden of making all things new. This is not an excuse for apathy, but a reason for seeking the kingdom today.

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Articles Christian Living

Deconstructing The Hero’s Code

I probably don’t even have to tell you what The Hero’s Code is, since it’s been used so often, but here it is anyway: Heroes don’t kill; that’s what separates us from the bad guys.

With the new Marvel series The Punisher premiering on Netflix anytime now, it’s obvious for mature superhero connoisseurs like myself this isn’t always the case. There are a few prominent costumed characters who don’t follow The Hero’s Code, and since this is my favorite arena for the evaluation and application of ethics, it seems like as good a time as any to take a closer look at this facet of the superhero experience.

The problem with The Hero’s Code is it doesn’t apply to all heroes, especially in real life. Before he became The Punisher, the man called Frank Castle was actually a soldier. Arguably, soldiers and service people are those members of our society today who are most heralded as heroes – even though, generally speaking, their job is to kill (and/or die) to protect their country. When a soldier takes someone’s life on the battlefield, they are praised, rewarded, and decorated with medals for their service. Once they return home, however, they must follow a different set of laws.

I’m not saying our service people and veterans aren’t heroes – far from it. I’m also not going to debate the ethical intricacies of an issue like war; that’s a different situation altogether.

However, it is a key part of The Punisher’s character and a driving force behind his origin story and modus operandi. When Frank Castle returns to the home front and his wife and children are murdered, he is forced to realize he’s facing another kind of war, like the one he saw abroad – a war that must be won against the evil raging within his city. Relying on the training that has supported him through his career, he does the only thing he knows: Kill the guilty.

What makes this course of action morally questionable? After all, to him it’s all the same thing. To us, though, it’s the fact he is lacking the government sanction to do so that calls this into question. The law at home doesn’t grant him the authority to take on the gangs responsible for the deaths of his family in the way a soldier would take on other soldiers in some foreign land. That is the legal barrier for his work.

Morally, Frank Castle argues the people he kills are “just the ones that need killing.” The ones who have already so heartily embraced and committed such evils that they are beyond saving, and who, if given even the slightest second chance, will only cause more damage. Arguably, he is thereby saving lives in the future by ending the perpetrators’ reign of terror completely, irrevocably.

For comparison, let’s take Daredevil into consideration. Matt Murdock, blind lawyer by day and ninja-parkour-boxer vigilante by night, blatantly refuses to personally deliver a killing blow to any adversary. In fact, so do many of the biggest superheroes of today – Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and more. In Daredevil season 2, in an epic rooftop scene, Daredevil tries to defend The Hero’s Code to The Punisher himself – and although the writers at Marvel refused to take a close enough look at the Christian motivation behind The Hero’s Code, I think we can generalize what Mr. Murdock is basing his stance on.

I believe Daredevil’s desire to abstain from The Punisher’s way of doing things is actually threefold. First off, he doesn’t want to soil his soul by committing an obvious sin. Exodus 20:13 says, “Thou shall not kill,” so (obviously) we shouldn’t. The problem with this is one can argue it’s a historical Jewish reference that doesn’t necessarily apply to the modern Christian, and the rage that so often plagues Matt Murdock’s character is, at times, another sin itself. Plus, it still doesn’t address the problem of the soldier at war.

Secondly, Matt’s goal is to do good and eradicate the perpetuation of sin against another person. By protecting Hell’s Kitchen without killing criminals, he is actively trying not to perpetuate sin, even against the bad guys. The New Testament reference is vague, but can be seen as complementary to this: “Love one another” (John 13:34). My first instinct, and I believe Daredevil’s as well, is you can hardly love someone by killing them. His goal is to show the most love to the most people.

Thirdly, Matt does (eventually) believe in the legal system he is a part of – when he’s not beating up baddies by night. His ultimate goal is to put a stop to those corrupted souls who have somehow slipped through the cracks and return them into the system that should serve justice properly.

This is what really differentiates Daredevil from The Punisher, because while Daredevil investigates and operates outside the law, he doesn’t actually take the law into his own hands. He is merely a patch in a leaky system, and strives to return the loose ends to where they belong. The Punisher, on the other hand, operates under the moral compass of a soldier at wartime, completely tossing aside the law of his homeland in order to ensure immediate justice is delivered.

Now that we understand the shading of difference between two differing examples of The Hero’s Code in application in fiction, what does that mean for us?

I am blessed and insanely privileged to have experienced a “real life” as cushy as first-world living often gets, where I have never been called to be a soldier, never had to make harsh decisions for my survival, and never really even worried about my personal safety and expectation for justice to be served. Therefore, there are just a few things I believe I can dare to say on this subject.

I do not condone The Punisher’s terrorist-style way of “saving the day.” I don’t believe killing people can ever really serve the greatest good. Though I hope to never have to make a decision like that, I will strive hard to adhere to The Hero’s Code in every application.

The first reason for this is the concept of sanctification. I’m talking about the inside, personal effect of committing a sin as grievous as this. Yes, one can argue all sins are essentially equal and essentially moot because of Jesus – but can you really say a little white lie about where you’ve been is as chronically damaging to the soul as the taking of another life?

Once we have given our lives over to Christ, we have pledged ourselves to strive to live like Christ – not out of obligation to the law, but out of love and a desire to obediently show and reflect that love to others. Christians are still humans, of course, and we all fall short of the glory of God. Still, we strive to eliminate that sin from our lives. We refuse to commit actions that would separate us from the One we love. The process of continual sanctification, of growth in Christ, of refining ourselves and keeping God in our sights, is a lifelong process that would completely preclude murder. As a Christian, I refuse, as often as I can, to sin (even if that means admitting I was at the theater watching the My Little Pony movie). That also certainly means I will also try my best not to soil my soul with the sin of murder.

The second is faith and the unconditional patience that comes from God’s love. The whole purpose of living on this Earth is to come to an understanding of God and return to Him. 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.” I believe God gives us as much of an opportunity to do so as He possibly can. If we take another’s life, I believe it is equivalent of taking control out of God’s hands and sending our victim off to the Other Side without another chance. God loves us enough to give us such a chance for redemption – and I will not stand in the way of another person’s opportunity for salvation. Just as we would like that chance for ourselves, we should show that to other people.

Seek justice, but love mercy. Respect the journey of those who haven’t yet found truth – and, actually, those who have. Stick to The Hero’s Code whenever applicable. Love people supernaturally, the way Jesus did. And when others choose to walk away from that, pray for them and let God keep knocking on the doors of their hearts.