Ashes to Ashes

May 23, 2011

I’ve tried to keep up with my churches and bars while traveling but it’s been challenging to say the very least.

Yesterday, for example, I spent the time I allocated for God following news updates about the freaking volcanic ash threatening to derail my travel plans to Iceland. Since I’m hopefully headed into the beginning of the rapture, which was supposed to start Saturday, I may have to read the Book of Revelation in Iceland. We’ll see about that. I’m more excited about wearing a Keflavik International Airport issued mask and goggles than reading the end of the Good Book.

I recently spoke at TEDx Lansing. I spoke about the ThumpMe project, what I learned from the Bible (to have faith in myself), etc. To prepare, I read through all of my ThumpMe entries. It’s interesting to see how, even though only five months have passed since the last entry, my thoughts have changed. Evolution.

If you did not read the original ThumpMe entries – the ones following my reading and interpretation of the Bible – you might find these interesting.

If I get into Iceland and ash doesn’t ruin my cheap traveling Toshiba, I’ll have a dive bar post for you Wednesday. Enjoy!

WooHoo! Suck — Despair, Job and Me

I thought about Job all weekend. There is, I’ll admit, a bit of an attraction there. He’s sort of like the diseased, depressed, sackcloth wearing dead guy that got away.

Predictably, I’m drawn to his despair, a unifying isolator that can supersede centuries, nations and ideologies but not the individual. When desolation brings Job to his knees, he says:

“I have no strength left to save myself; there is nowhere I can turn for help.”

Had I been an oppressed B.C. concubine or prophet, Job could have turned to me. I carry other people’s burdens well and identify (monthly) with the absolute collapse of spirit. However, if I had been around would Job have asked me — his new girlfriend — for help? Probably not. His unwillingness to share his feelings may have ended our relationship, but raises a phenomenal question: Why the hell is it so difficult to ask for help?

Read the entire entry here.

Puff the Magic Prophet – Ezekiel Sucks the Cactus

Mescaline is: “An alkaloid drug, C11H17NO3, obtained from mescal buttons, which produces hallucinations. Also called peyote.” (Definition provided by Urban Dictionary contributor, Adict). (Gist of this is how does one become a prophet)

This hallucinogen is obtained from cacti and special beans. I don’t know if mescaline producing cacti grow in the Middle East, but I assure you beans belonging to the Fabacae family are a prevalent food source in Middle Eastern diets and, based on his extremely bizarre visions, I’m going to guess Prophet Ezekiel fancied this particular food group.

Ezekiel learns he’s a prophet after four creatures with human-ish forms appear before him. Each of these forms has four faces — a human face, lion face, bull face and eagle face — four wings, straight legs, hooves (like a bull) and four human hands under each wing. Wheels with eyes sit next to them and there’s additional detail about subsequent wheels and fire, but it’s too confusing for me to explain. Despite Ezekiel’s descriptive efforts, I cannot imagine how these things moved or what they looked like.

Read the entire entry here.

Fa La La La La, La La La La, Liquor ­­– Holiday with the Jews

Ah, holidays. What could be better?

Holidays were created to celebrate dysfunction. It’s OK. All families are dysfunctional even the “normal” ones — it’s called denial. Don’t stress out about, enjoy it. You’re in good company. Jesus’ family was screwy too.

In the New Testament, four men give a version of the gospel. You can glean anything you want from any of them. I think Matthew is dryMark is dark and Luke is wonderful. His writing is interesting and he details good old family pandemonium.

Read the entire entry here.

Found: An Un-Preachy Preacher – Meet Preacher Mike

To my knowledge, Preacher Mike is the first church authority — sorry Mike, couldn’t think of another descriptor — to pay attention to ThumpMe.

For political reasons, I pretend to read many blogs, but I actually read Preacher Mike’s because it’s interesting and un-preachy (new word).

Preacher Mike (Mike Cope) lives in Abilene, Texas and teaches at Abilene Christian University. He’s also the vice president of the non-profit educational organization Heartbeat. TheHeartbeat What Really Matters project facilitates discussion about the things that matter — friendship, decision-making, social injustice. Cope joined the project after his young daughter, Megan, died in 1994.

Read the entire entry here.

Revelation. – No Time for Endings

Six months ago I played a damaging, ingenious trick on myself. I decided to write fiction. No more articles. No more journalism. Fiction. But fiction isn’t a career. It’s a lifestyle with no immediate returns. It’s founded on failure and takes incredible dedication, which is precisely why my intestines immediately inverted, I stopped sleeping and my heart retreated.

When I started writing, really writing and stripped myself of measurable success, which is single-minded and safe, the identity I created for myself when I was a child — pushing to grow up, get to college, make money, excel at everything — treading a path I thought would lead me to life, but exhausted me into oblivion, I didn’t find anything. 29 and hollow.

I decided not to read Revelation because I no longer want to see what’s coming. I’ll catch it when it comes.

Read the entire entry here.

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Found: An Un-Preachy Preacher

December 14, 2010

To my knowledge, Preacher Mike is the first church authority — sorry Mike, couldn’t think of another descriptor — to pay attention to ThumpMe.

For political reasons, I pretend to read many blogs, but I actually read Preacher Mike’s because it’s interesting and un-preachy (new word).

Preacher Mike (Mike Cope) lives in Abilene, Texas and teaches at Abilene Christian University. He’s also the vice president of the non-profit educational organization Heartbeat. The Heartbeat What Really Matters project facilitates discussion about the things that matter — friendship, decision-making, social injustice. Cope joined the project after his young daughter, Megan, died in 1994.

Though he doesn’t know it, Preacher Mike is the reason I finally sought an answer to one of life’s nagging questions: What the hell is the difference between a pastor and a preacher? I still don’t get it.

Thanks to Preacher Mike, I’m adding another person to my “Phenomenal People I Haven’t Met” list, which also includes J.P Donleavy, Diego Maradona, Ralph Steadman, Umberto Bossi, boringfileclerk (@boringfileclerk) and Jack Nicholson. It takes all kinds.

So Preacher Mike, let your hair down.

The Devil makes a cameo in the Old Testament. In the new, his name is thrown around a few times. Why don’t we hear more about the Devil?

Preacher Mike: A little Satan goes a long ways.

It’s in the gospels, of course, where we’re really introduced to the devil, “a quasi-personal ‘accuser’ which is doing its best to drag Jesus down into the trap” into which God’s people had already fallen (N. T. Wright).  But a foreboding sense of darkness and evil goes far beyond that in scripture.

Jesus or God says something about not needing a building to worship or celebrate so why do we have churches?

PM: Great question – especially since the early churches met in homes (for the most part).  As churches grew in number, they eventually got too big for homes.  So before long, there were church buildings.  (I can still hear in my mind the voices of Sunday school teachers urging that “the church is people not the building the people meet in.”)

God doesn’t need a building; however, churches need a place to gather.  Of course, you’re probably aware of a growing “organic church” movement – where people are saying “enough with spending gabillions of dollars on buildings [a sort of modern edifice complex] where people hardly know each other; let’s go back to meeting in our homes.”

Do you think Jesus is funny?

PM: I’m guessing he was quite a bit of fun to be around, yes.  Unfortunately, the written pages of the gospels aren’t very good at communicating smirks and winks.

An example of his humor (from Matthew 7): people who judge others are like those with planks coming out of their own eyes who are trying to delicately remove specks from the eyes of others.  As Larry the Cable Guy might say, “I don’t care who you are. That there’s funny.”

Will you be disappointed if your kids decide to religion when they’re older?

PM: I had a daughter, Megan, who died in 1994.  I’m within a couple weeks of finishing a book called Megan’s Secrets: What My Mentally Disabled Daughter Taught Me About Life.  She was (and I don’t say this in a maudlin way) my greatest teacher.

We still have two boys, ages 28 and 18.  And yes I’d be disappointed – but would still love them completely – if they decided not to follow Jesus.

However, there is a great deal of “canning religion” that needs to take place.  In some ways, I think it’s fair to say that people got mad at Jesus because he regularly took on religion.  The essence of a life of faith and the entanglements of religion can be two very different things.

OK. When something happens in your life and you send up a prayer and the outcome you hope for is realized, is it God or fate?

PM: I don’t know.  My track record isn’t good.  I begged God to heal my daughter and she died.  The best prayer I’ve found in scripture (other than the Lord’s Prayer) is this:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

What if the outcome is entirely different than the one you hoped for?

PM: Prayer is a mystery.  My prayer life is at its strongest when it is centered on the Lord’s Prayer and the Psalms.  I don’t expect God to be a genii in the bottle who comes out and grants my wishes as I summon God through prayer.

In The Acts it’s suggested that if “we’re good” God/Jesus will forgive us. Then it says if we fear God we will be forgiven. That doesn’t make any sense.

PM: Ivy, you’re tossing me a big fat pitch here.  You’re begging me to witness to you, aren’t you?

Actually, you have a knack for getting down to the nitty gritty.  That’s why I’m a faithful reader of your blog.

On one hand, we Christ-followers know that salvation is by the faithfulness of Jesus not by our own efforts; yet on the other hand, we know that faith without works is dead. (You’ll be in the book of James soon).

The New Testament writers (including Luke) indicate that salvation is a gift of God.  It is an act of grace that is based on the faithful life of Jesus.  Yet that gift comes with a life-transforming mandate: to “walk worthy of our calling” or to be transformed into the kind of people Jesus calls us to be.

Being a person of forgiveness doesn’t earn you brownie points with God so that God is now in your debt; however, being “saved” by God does compel you to become a person who turns from bitterness to forgiveness.

So in the history of Christianity (and anecdotally all around), you can witness two problems.  When Christians forget that salvation is God’s gift, the burden of legalism is laid on people.  Say “hello” to guilt and spiraling depression, as well as to pride and judgmental spirits.  And when they claim to be saved but continue to be selfish, bitter, racist, materialistic, etc., this is what Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace” (another tragedy).

The New Testament envisions communities of faith that are full of compassion and justice – not so they can be saved but because they have been saved. The transforming of their lives from hatred to love, from stinginess to generosity is itself part of the saving/delivering work of God.

What’s your favorite book? Why?

PM: If you mean ANY book, then I’d say “The Hobbit.” Part of that is nostalgia.  I loved reading it to my boys when they were young.  But another reason is that I can identify with Bilbo.  There is a Took part of me that wants to be a person of courage; yet there is a Baggins part of me that is always trying to hold me back and to be safe.

If you mean a book of the Bible, then it would come down to Psalms, Isaiah, Luke, Romans, or Hebrews.  (I’m guessing the last one isn’t on many lists.)  I’d give the nod to Luke.   However, without a doubt, my favorite section of any book is Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount.

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