Religion is like a sentimental blanket

Why do some people think of religion like a sentimental blanket? They pick it up from time to time, especially at important points in their life and they pretend like it means something in their everyday lives. But when that crucial point in their life is past they toss the blanket aside and let it slump in the corner. If you don’t really believe in it, why act like you do?

If you don’t believe the things Jesus Christ preached, if you don’t do the things he commanded, why would you invoke his name when you get married or when you bury a relative? Why would you completely ignore what Jesus said? Isn’t that just like slapping him in the face? You’re completely twisting religion to make yourself feel comfortable. It’s like a blanket with holes in it. What’s the point?

I guess I don’t understand why you’d want to be so obviously lukewarm about something like that. I mean, the least you could do is fake it and act like Jesus actually means something in your life. But if at the wedding you invoke Jesus’ name and read the passages in the Bible about love and marriage, but at the reception you get plastered — what are you doing? You’ve got a plank in your eye. You’re not completely opposed to Christ and you’re not completely on his side. You’re not cold and you’re not hot. You’re lukewarm. And you’re going to get spit across the room.

Nominal Christianity is no Christianity at all. In fact, it’s even worse than no faith at all. You’d be better off cursing God and making it clear where you stand. There is no middle ground. There is no riding the fence. You can’t acknowledge God with your lips and then walk out the door and defy him with your actions.

Rocky Mountain High

Vacation. That’s where I’ve been. I actually have a valid excuse. You can’t just go hauling a laptop into the woods when you go camping. I went on the Internet once during the entire trip, and that was only when we had to re-route our trip. I didn’t even read the news or check my e-mail that one time I was online. So you’ll just have to deal with the fact that I wasn’t really slacking, I was just disconnected.

Hopefully in a few days I’ll have some pictures to post, but for now you’re just going to have to survive on the fact that I’m not a slacker. Okay, I am a slacker, because rather than ranting about something I’m just telling you I was on vacation. So I’m still a slacker.

Let’s make this worthwhile. Where I’d go on vacation? Good question.

Answer (in order of appearance): Ellinwood, KS. Colorado. Wall Drug. The Badlands. The Corn Palace.

Missing the Mark

Sin is such an unpopular word. It makes everyone uncomfortable. Either it conjures up images of wickedness and depravity that make the righteous shutter, or it stirs up feelings of judgment and rejection that make the less than righteous uncomfortable.

But I’d like to propose that our definition with sin is off. On Sunday the pastor (and you’ll have to excuse my wording — I don’t think pastor is the appropriate term for an Episcopal priest, but I’m just not used to the word priest. It doesn’t work for me) made an off-hand comment about sin. He said the original meaning in the Greek is to miss the mark. The image in the Greek is like an archer missing the target. Sin is missing the mark.

This presents an entirely new image in my mind. Sin is not a list of things that are bad and things you shouldn’t do. Sin is not defined by what is wrong; in fact, it’s defined by what is right. Rather than asking if something is a sin, you should be asking if it’s right. Rather than asking if you shouldn’t do something, you should be asking what you should do.

Some may see this as a heretical definition that’s sliding towards some form of liberal theology. But this definition is actually harder to follow. It’s more strict. You can’t feel comfortable simply because you’re avoiding the evils on your sin list. You also have to be doing the right things. Simply avoiding evil isn’t enough. You have to pursue righteousness, or you’re just as lost. You have to be totally on-fire — half-cooked won’t do.

I think this view of sin is what the world longs for. People are tired of being told what not to do. Don’t have sex. Don’t do drugs. Don’t hate. Don’t steal. Yeah, well what am I supposed to do? Defining sin as a list of don’t’s does it an injustice. You’re still missing the mark if you neglect to do the right things — you’re still sinning.

Don’t ask is it sinful to watch this movie, ask is it the right way to spend your evening. Don’t ask if it’s a sin to beat up your sister; ask what you should do for your sister.

As the confession states, “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”

Sin is not simply an act committed; it is also an act left undone.

I think this is what often makes Christianity a failure. What good are we if we obey the laws and respect our elders, but we don’t feed the poor and lift up the down trodden? What good are we if we sing the praises of God, but we don’t read the Bible? What good are we if we never say a dirty word, but we never say a loving word either? What good are we if we never think a lustful thought, but we never show grace to the prostitute?

Either follow God, or don’t. Be hot or cold; not lukewarm. Finish the job, or don’t even start; don’t do a half-assed job.

[In writing that last line I had to stop and think. Is it sinful to use the word “ass”? Of course that’s not the question to ask. Is it godly and righteous to use the word “ass”? I thought about this for a moment before posting today’s thought. Does it meet the standard of pure and lovely things Paul commands us to think on in Philippians? I think it’s acceptable. I’m using language to drive a point home, and I think that is commendable. Is it profanity? What is profanity? A list of words that man decided are dirty and bad? Whenever swearing is mentioned in the Bible it’s in relation to giving an oath. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Damning something, taking the Lord’s name in vain, or trying to reinforce your answer by invoking God are all examples of a misuse of language: profanity. But I don’t see how a word like “ass” or even “fuck” fits that definition. Is the word harsh to our ears? Yes, simply because society has taught us these words are bad. Society has made them bad, they are not inherently bad. Perhaps I should avoid using them, or use them rarely simply because of this argument (abstain so as to keep a brother from stumbling). But the same would go for any expression, any decent writer will tell you that. And this is my thought process. Maybe you think I’m just rationalizing my sin, missing the mark because I chose to use a word that’s somehow less holy. I guess I don’t see that as missing the mark. I’m making my point, I’m hitting the mark.]

Enduring Black Hawk Down

You don’t watch a movie like Black Hawk Down. You endure it.

For those unfamiliar with the movie, it’s the story of the 19 U.S. soldiers killed in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993. Civil war caused a famine and soon 300,000 were dead. The world took notice and the U.N. sent in peacekeepers and food. The U.S. Marines joined the effort. The warlords waited until the Marines pulled out they took over. U.S. Special Forces were conducting operations to bring down the warlords and stabilize the region. It was during one of those operations that everything went wrong. A man fell while trying to rappel from a Black Hawk helicopter. Then a Black Hawk was shot down. Then another. In the ensuing melee armed Somali gunmen swarmed the city and U.S. troops were pinned down throughout the city. A one hour mission turned into 18 hours, and a column of U.N. and Pakistani armored tanks and vehicles had to come in to extract the soldiers. When the smoke cleared 19 were dead and one was taken prisoner. He was released after 11 days of captivity. The U.S. Special Forces were pulled out two weeks after the incident.

As soon as the shooting starts in the movie, it never really ends. The blood and the dust fly, and some how the soldiers keep fighting and you keep watching.

It is not a glamorization of war. It’s simply reality, the telling of a story. The movie centers on the code of the Special Forces, never leave a man behind. The stirring concept pulls the film together and helps you understand how the soldiers endure. But it doesn’t leave you with much when the movie is over.

The Somalis were completely vilified in the movie. They are treated like any other military enemy — the Germans, the Japanese, the Vietnamese. Despite one soldier’s respect for the Somalis and his desire to help rather than stand by and “watch it on CNN” (for which he is ridiculed and called an idealist), you get no feeling of right and wrong. You never come close to understanding the Somalis and their civil war. They become an angry mob with guns, and the truth of the story is not served with such broad strokes.

I keep wanting to find value in the experience of this movie. But if anything, it’s yet another movie that shows us that war is hell. Furthermore, it shows us the near hopelessness of modern man to rise above his depravity and find peace.

Yesterday I mentioned the sucky movies I’ve seen lately. Black Hawk Down is certainly not one of those. But it’s also a movie I’ll never watch again.

A few months ago I wanted to write a war story. I wanted to tell the tale of a young man who went to fought for his country, who saw action, and came back a changed man. I wanted to show the horror of modern combat and dispel the myths that U.S. military action is always good and right and true. Innocent people die, and it’s never pretty. I wasn’t even thinking of focusing on the combat portion of the story, just enough to motivate the character. The vast majority of the tale would be told at home, in peace. But now I question even wanting to go there. War is an experience that leaves you sick. There are no winners. Not even in the Revolutionary War, World War II, or the Star Wars Trilogy — despite what Bart Simpson says.

You can say all you want about standing up to evil in the world, and I understand that. But bullets and bombs are a depraved solution in a lost world. I wonder how the kingdom of heaven exists in the hearts of men and women who shoot to kill. I suppose God gives grace where he will, because Christians have fought in wars. I guess I’d rather see it be the exception than the rule. It’s not a position I want to defend when Jesus Christ says do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Forgive those who curse you, bless those who persecute you. If a man strikes you, turn to him the other cheek that he may strike you again. If a man asks for your coat, give him your shirt as well. Give when a man begs of you.

The life of Christian is death to self. Dying to self involves dying to everything of this world. Dying to your country, your family, your hopes, your dreams, and everything you could ever want. The Christian life is not about you, it’s about your death. That death seems poorly served in the bringing of death to others.

I ramble as I wonder. Sometimes the only way to watch a movie is to let the credits roll and let the music pour over you. That’s why that have music for the end credits. Then, when the movie is over, you take up your pen and write, you sit with a friend and talk, you reflect, you digest, you learn. Every now and then you come across a movie that doesn’t make you feel too smart for movies. It may not be a perfect movie, but it does the job, and you have no choice but to mull it over. Sleep will not come otherwise.

Writing Movies

I’ve certainly been slacking on my thoughts here, haven’t I? I can’t believe I skipped the entire month of June. Oops. But I suppose we all need a break. I think I was just getting tired of rushing to the computer when it was time for bed and trying to pound out something intelligible. I would often go to bed too late feeling like I hadn’t communicated what I wanted to say. Maybe I just needed to start earlier. Or take a month off. At least this way you didn’t have to hear me rant and rave about the Fourth of July and the pledge of allegiance.

One reason I haven’t been writing lately is that I’ve been thinking a lot about professional writing. I’m a writer. My college degree says so. And being a writer, I’ve always wanted to write a book. Actually many books — I don’t think I’d be satisfied with just one. Every now and then a book idea take hold of me and I become consumed with it for a few days, sometimes a few weeks. Then it usually sputters and slowly fades away.

A few weeks ago that happened again, in a slightly new and larger vein. I had the opportunity to read the script for a new movie that’s coming out next year. I was given the opportunity with the notion that I would give suggestions for improving the script. I commented on nearly every page of the 90+ page script, urging them to take it up a notch and make it a worthwhile movie. In the end, I doubt my suggestions will be taken at all.

The whole experience left me thinking that I could write a better movie, and since then my head has been swirling with movie plots. At the time I came up with a basic idea, which then I decided I’d have to write as a book first, and I started writing some simple character sketches to get started. Of course I didn’t get much farther than that. It’s sputtered out the way most of my ideas do, not from being poor ideas, but from simply being undeveloped. One of these days I’m going to make it over that hurtle.

Lately I’ve had some more encouragement to try the movie writing hurtle. It seems like the last several movies I’ve watched just plain sucked. I mean, I’ve seen movies suck before, but these were the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked. Okay, they weren’t that bad, but they could have been so much better. It was like movie written by committee. Lame. The plot and theme just didn’t hold together and when it was over it felt like a big fat waste of time. After one such movie and my usual ranting my wife commented, “You’re just too smart to watch movies.”

I appreciated that comment. Perhaps it’s time I did more than just complain that anything you can do I can do better. Perhaps it’s time I stopped just reading books and trying to watch intelligent movies. Maybe I should just write my own and get it over with.

Sometimes you need to give yourself a little pep talk. Thanks for listening.

It’s the End of the World…

Today I read an article about the world coming to an end. Well, not really. At least an article talking about environmental gloom and doom. It basically said if the entire world consumed the volume of natural resources as the average American than we’d need to colonize two planets to be able to sustain that sort of lifestyle.


That’s what part of me says. The other part says that scientists have been predicting an apocalyptic environmental future since the 1970s. Of course this article was using 1970 as a baseline, and judged environmental decline since then. To be blunt, we ain’t doin’ so hot. But then again it seems like we should know that. There’s so many people in the world, and there’s only so many square miles of earth. And there’s only so many square miles of hospitable earth. It only makes sense that if population growth continues, eventually the number of people will out-pace the number of square miles, and eventually the number of acres, and if it really got out of hand, the number of square feet. Then we’d really be in a pickle.

It just seems like we could be smart and be a little more conscious of the resources we use. But I suppose that’s not the American way.