Questions I’m Afraid to Ask

This may come as a shock to many of you, but I actually spend a lot of time thinking about faith, and not just football and tacos. Not faith, generally, but Christianity, specifically.

You see, I consider myself a Christian – I always have and I imagine I always will – but more often than not I feel “unqualified” to speak about my faith. Unqualified because I recognize in myself a number of questions that cloud my faith, which in and of itself isn’t a reason to mute myself. It’s those doubts – those questions that I have – joining up with the guilt from a bevy of mistakes I’ve made and pain I’ve caused others that silence me when I want to speak.

How can I, with a litany of poor decisions, stand before anyone and espouse the virtues of a faith that I so often struggle with? Doesn’t that make me a hypocrite of the highest order? I’m a Christian, but each and every day I sin, I fall short of His demands and my own expectations, yet I want to tell other people about my faith? What kind of faith do I have if that’s what I do? Ironically, it is my recognition of those mistakes, those struggles, that keeps me feeling closer to God, yet further from the majority of Christians. It’s waking up every morning knowing that I’m broken and that I need His hand in my life that gives me hope that I’ll be one day free of the chains I’ve oppressed myself with.

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I know a number of people in my life who are “better” Christians than I am. They wake up, publicly proclaim their faith, splash it all over their Facebook walls, stick it on the back of their cars in the form of a fish or a creatively displayed cross and scream it from the rooftops. “I’m better than you!” they scream without saying a word. It’s not that they are intentionally trying to best me, or you for that matter, it’s just the way they approach their faith. It’s hard for anyone to notice their scars or their pain if they’re beating you over the head with their “goodness,” right?

The thing that I’ve noticed about those people, more than anything, is that in the event that their faults get recognized (by someone else, of course, not themselves) they are by far the least likely to accept any criticism someone may have about them. The piousness is so thick, so deep-seated, that they refuse to even hear about any of their potential shortcomings. After all, they’re better than you so how dare you try and give them a lesson in morality or Christianity! You, who drinks a few too many beers on the weekends, or cusses at a football game, you’ve got no right telling them they’re not perfect. They are better than you because they don’t do stuff – ever – that displeases God. So, you, who have made mistakes and continue to do so, can’t do anything but hang your head over your mistakes for the rest of you life. You’ll never be able to speak to the better about faith. 

The thing is, I wake up every day and give thanks to God for the chance to see another sunrise, and I go to bed every night and pray to Him for strength to get through another day of horrors, doubts, fears and weaknesses that cripple me; and that’s good. I feel comfortable in my understanding of most scripture, and I try to live a life in accordance with that knowledge, but I know I always fall considerably short. I may not have a verbatim of His word – I don’t know exactly who begot whom – but I’m not ignorant of it all.

(Side note: Do you think “Begot Ya!” would have been an awesome name for a Biblical reality TV/practical joke show? I do.)

I acknowledge God’s right to rule but other than that – through the rest of the day – I pretty much question every single thing I read, see or am told, and that’s bad. I question daily why God continues to allow suffering, hatred and evil to thrive in the world and lets children starve, or entire civilizations of people be held under the violent thumbs of ruthless and vile dictators. I recognize God’s power and I know that He could wipe away all of the injustice and pain with a blink and yet He won’t. That pisses me off, and yeah, I’m just an insignificant smudge on the canvas of life eternal who has no right to question His methods, but I do. I question it. The Grand Experiment to prove His sovereignty appears to have reached a conclusion, because more and more people have turned away from Him, and I don’t think it’s because they truly want to, but rather they lack a fundamental understanding of the term “seeing is believing.” No one has seen evidence of God’s existence for many, many years and if He did exist, they’ll argue, He’s certainly gone by now. At the least He still exists but has turned Himself away from us.

Sometimes I feel that way, so I can see their point. Sometimes I feel that God no longer cares for us individually, as His children, as He used to because simply put, we don’t deserve it. We never have. That doesn’t, however, change that I see God every single day. I see God in the sun and the stars, I see God in the face of loved ones and strangers. We are built so uniquely, so complexly, that the notion it all happened by chance – and without a Divinely Inspired Creator – is so foreign to me that I’m incapable of understanding any other concept; and not because I don’t want to. To exist in this world without believing in God and His promises and His expectations would no doubt be easier than to live in it with the weight of His existence and His requirements.

Still, knowing those requirements, I fail, in spite of my desire to succeed. I believe in God’s plan, but I question his means of achieving it occasionally. I don’t know if the people who don’t question His plans are more acceptable to Him, but something tells me He’s not impressed by “yes men” who blindly do whatever He decrees as way to serve themselves rather than serving Him. What value to Him are we if don’t live? If we are screaming our faith from the four corners of the earth in order to be recognized by others as Christians rather than because we love Him, is it true service? I’m not suggesting that those who regularly do whatever they want, disregarding His commandments at will and without remorse are in any way preferred by Him, but I do think it’d be silly to ignore that Jesus very regularly preferred the company of tax collectors, prostitutes and generally broken people in favor of the church leaders in His time. I don’t think that was just because the sinners were “more fun” but rather they recognized their need for Him and His influence in a way that the Pharisees refused to, adhering more to their pride and tradition than His grace. There are two diametrically opposite sides of Christianity today (and of course those who deny God altogether, who have likely stopped reading this a while ago or aren’t impacted by these thoughts regardless so they don’t really “matter” to me as I write this) and I think that both are taking different roads to the same place.

There’s the in-your-face, I’m-better-than-you Christians and the I’m-so-flawed-that-no-one-could-love-me-so-why-try-anymore Christians. The former seems to need the latter in order to feel superior, and the latter are so brow-beaten by the former that they begin to resent Christians and turn further and further away from God, who is innocent in the blame game but guilty by association.

Both sides of the aisle look at the other with this disgust on their faces and scoff. “If those people are Christians, then why would anyone want to be associated with them?”

The disparity between people who have the single greatest connection in the history of the world devalues everyone involved in Christianity. The vast majority of Christians fall somewhere in the middle of those two sides, constantly vacillating between overt righteousness and hidden shame. I think most Christians are like me, I do. Afraid or embarrassed to speak about their faith because they harbor guilt over the many mistakes they’ve made and don’t want to risk being labeled a hypocrite by those Christians who still think they’re “better” because their mistakes remain in the dark.

I don’t have answers, I have questions, a lot of questions, and I’m going to try harder to be less afraid to ask them.. I have doubts, I have concerns. I’ve made mistakes, I make mistakes, and I will continue to make mistakes. If the mistakes I’ve made in my past prevent you from taking my questions, or my perspective or thoughts seriously, then perhaps you should ask yourself some questions about what being a Christian means to you.

The Gift of Giving

I like to consider myself, for the most part, as an optimistic person.

I’ve seen enough negative to be able to recognize the positives in life. On the other side of that coin, I’ve been blessed and fortunate enough to have avoided the constant and soul-deep misery which has the potential to eliminate our ability to see good at all. We are in a recurring battle against ourselves, one that requires us to simultaneously love and hate everything around us – and including us – to a degree that makes true love – or true compassion or true anything – difficult to believe in.

I’ve struggled so mightily in the last few years trying to define myself. I’ve spent far too much time trying to discern what I needed for me to be happy, for me to be successful, for me to be find purpose. It’s a stunning realization (bordering on depressing; because of the wasted time and empty efforts, actually) when you’ve awakened within yourself the truth of these matters: Maybe we should stop thinking about ourselves and start thinking about how we (the royal we) can be of service to other people.

It’s a simple idea, but incredibly difficult to execute on a micro and macro level. Difficult because it goes against our intrinsic human nature, difficult because it certainly doesn’t yield as much applause and attention as it’s worth and well, because generally speaking, we just don’t want to. Why would we spend so much of our precious time focusing on the lives and happiness of others when it seems the big ol’ world doesn’t give a rat’s patootie about us?

I don’t know. I wish I did.

The obvious and immediate benefits of selfishness are often too tempting to deny, and it’s clearly how the majority of people would prefer to live. Aside from just “getting stuff,” we’re also limiting the amount of self we risk losing to others. Others, who like us, are far more likely to take the kindness of others for granted and use it against us. We hate to be weak, we hate to be vulnerable, we hate to give not knowing if we’ll be receiving in kind. If we’re giving of ourselves for any reason other than with the truest intention, then we’re not really giving at all. What value is a gift you give, whether it be material, emotional, verbal or otherwise, if it’s actually just your attempt at bartering for something that you gain? Stop fooling yourself. Either submit to the knowledge that everything you do for others is for your own gain, or change yourself from a wolf in sheep’s clothing to just a sheep, ready for the shearing of others and not giving a darn if you end up naked and exposed. That’s the risk we run, and that’s the only way we’re actually able to enjoy what we give. Sitting back, waiting for your return is no way to live, and it’s certainly no way to give.

I’ve been fortunate to spend the last week in Lowell, Michigan with my brother and his family, a family that is as unique as any you’re likely to find these days. With seven children; three biological boys, each wildly different from the other and four adopted kids (ranging from 18-years-old to 4,) the house is constantly filled with music, laughter, fighting, tears, and screams. Somehow, rather than finding it to be a horror-show, I have been able to sit back and observe it and all I can truly see is a pervasive graciousness and humility of spirit, from the top to the bottom.

Sure, there are traditional family power-struggles especially among the younger three kids,) and yes there is playful antagonization by the older kids, gentle reminders that they are smarter, bigger, stronger, etc., but from sun up to sun down there’s an unmistakable air of giving. Giving of time, giving of support, giving of themselves and their personal self “needs” and wants so that as personal growth happens among the horde, they will develop with an others-focused attitude.

Being around that sort of attitude really helps brighten my eyes to the challenges I face within myself on a daily basis. I struggle with the basics and I generally can’t even fathom the more advanced levels of sacrificing my wants for others, but when its so obviously presented in front of you, how can you ignore it?

Have I been selfish by being away from my family to pursue my own family in the last decade? Have I been selfish by being away from others in the past few years who needed me to be there? Have I been selfish by not walking away when I am told I should just “move on?” Have I been selfish by thinking I should move to Columbus or anywhere else recently? I suppose the answer to all of those questions, on some level, is yes. Each choice, while not entirely awful or egregious in its self-serving nature, has been made with my best interest in mind. Does that mean I’ve not considered the needs of others as well? Of course not.

It is acceptable to want things for yourself, but that doing them without considering how those needs impact or hurt others that you love, is not acceptable. The challenge becomes discerning from inside of your own consciousness what your true motivations are.

As long as we are the guiding force in our own lives, the motivations we rely on will always be wrong. There has to be something bigger than us that gives us hope beyond this life. We give in this life not to receive in this life, but because we’ve been given this life. The only way to honor He who gave it to us through Grace is to give back back to others because of Grace.

I’ve got some very large decisions looming in my own life and while I fear the unknown, I know that everything that happens, if my heart is being guided by the proper motivation, I will be ok, no matter the outcome. This is not to be confused with some misguided sense of “what’s supposed to happen, will happen,” because I don’t for a second buy into that hokum. Our paths are not predetermined, we choose what happens next, but remembering that what happened before, now, or next doesn’t define who we are.

We, through our actions alone, define who we are. What will you do? For what reasons will you do it? When it’s done, when you’ve accomplished the things you never imagined possible, who will you give the credit to? Will the credit go to the same places you direct your blame when things go wrong? It’s either all you, or none of you. There is no in-between.

Give of yourself for others with no concern for what you get in return, or continue to take from others with no regard for the damage you leave in your wake, and make no mistake, that damage is considerable.

It seems like a pretty simple choice.