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“Skepticism is the beginning of faith.”
—Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
What if, some glad morning when this life is over, none of us fly away? What if the lights go out and our stories just end?
More than a few occasions in 2012 found me devolving into a non-violent, slow-motion panic—mostly over my God and his perceived absence. Enough flummoxed descriptions of my mounting crisis of faith and someone finally put a name to it: the Dark Night of the Soul, a temporary spiritual crisis marked by doubts about the afterlife. Reportedly, Mother Theresa was a notable sufferer, having spent nearly 50 years of her life in this state. Though technically correct, nothing that lasts 50 years should get to call itself “temporary.”
For someone outside Christianity, a more accessible term may be existential crisis. Whatever you call it, I’m just glad it’s identifiable. If someone recognized it, then it wasn’t some new mystery disease with no treatment, no cure. Someone lived to tell the story. Continue reading
Posted in Church Business, Faith, Human Nature
Tagged apostasy, belief, Christianity, church, crisis of faith, dark night of the soul, death, disillusionment, existentialism, hope
[Word count: 596. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]
DISCLAIMER: I wrote this August 8, 2012, but decided to sit on it until now. In light of my friend Robin’s recent illness and passing, it carries extra significance.
Imagine someone you love—a mother, father, sibling, cousin, or close friend—unconscious and unresponsive. You don’t know what caused it and you don’t know how long it’s going to last. But the doctors say, “Keep talking to them, they can hear you. They may also respond to touch.” What would you do? How often would you visit? How long would you stay?
If it was someone I loved, I would become protective. I would be watching to make sure nurses and orderlies treated them right, kept them clean and comfortable. If it was my sister, I would sing our favorite songs to her. I would have DVDs of Good Times and The Jeffersons playing around the clock like she does most days.
If it was my mother, I would recite encouraging and empowering scriptures to her; she might respond to that. If it was my papa, I would massage his feet and make sure his toenails didn’t grow too long and uncomfortable. If it was me, I would want someone to touch me; hold my hand or stroke my forehead. For the love of God, make sure my lips aren’t chapped. I hate that.
And if it was your God, what would you do? Continue reading
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“If you want my love, well, you’ve got to get closer to me
I don’t understand why we can’t get close enough.”
—Jars of Clay, “Closer”
I met an interesting girl online recently. She was the holy trinity of smart, talented, and beautiful. But, to my chagrin, she was very furtive and dodgy. If she was playing coy, she was playing to win. My curiosity was piqued because she kept her thoughts and feelings so hidden. Typical of me, I’m always fascinated by what I cannot understand.
I decided I wanted to get to know her better, but that wasn’t happening fast enough. So I worked up my nerve and expressed interest directly. The response I received was dusted with sugar. I imagine she giggled and shrugged her shoulders as she essentially told me, “you know enough about me already!” Fierfek.
The response landed like a playful punch on the chin, with the indication that a less-playful punch could follow if I didn’t pick up the first hint. Access firmly denied. She has decided to remain mysterious and aloof, the way she wants to be.
My ego was chapped over her polite refusal. But before I could get about the business of licking my wounds, I had déjà vu. The way I felt about her is the same way I feel about God. Well hot damn. Look at that. Continue reading
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Whenever I visit my hometown, my mother does not let me leave until she prays for me. It’s always been that way since the mid-80s when she got good and saved. That means whether dropping me off at elementary school or releasing me to the freeways so I could get back home to Los Angeles, it’s still the same thing. I would have to pad my travel time by about 5 or 10 minutes for Mom.
There is a very singular way her hand shakes when Mom prays for me. It’s not violent, or over the top. It’s just the slightest bit stronger than the magnitude felt when you lean against the dryer on its final spin cycle. It’s actually kind of relaxing. In any case, I can see it coming on as she reaches up to place her hand on my forehead.
If I didn’t know her well, I might think it was a put-on to dramatize the prayer. That’s no act. It’s been consistent throughout, which gives it credence. Fakeries reveal themselves over time.
These days, I moonlight as a skeptic. But I wonder about that. There must be something real to it. And I wonder what it is. Continue reading
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Lately whenever I hear “you said,” I pocket it away, like a child does a shiny object found. At the emotional climax of Karate Kid, Jaden Smith pleads earnestly, “You said when life knocks you down we can choose to get back up. Well I’m trying to get back up! Why won’t you help me?” Something pinged in me.
It called to mind Jaden’s mom in A Low Down Dirty Shame who, caught by an angry and villainous Charles S. Dutton, reminds him innocently, “now, you said that you wouldn’t hurt me!” Ping again.
Jessica Reedy’s “Marching On” opens with the lyric, “Thought my mistakes would change the way you love me, but I remember you said you’d never leave, you’d never go.” Resounding ping.
I caught the pattern. Hearing others’ pleas for fairness and promises kept was echoing the silence of my own. As things in life periodically turn bleak, I wonder, “God are you still going to keep your promises?” Continue reading
Posted in Faith
Tagged authority, belief, Christianity, control, doubt, faith, fatalism, Jada Pinkett Smith, Jaden Smith, Jessica Reedy, Karate Kid, Marching On, sovereignty
[Word count: 718. Approximate read time: 2-3 minutes]
In order to set up some background, I need permission to be narcissistic for a moment. Okay, here it goes. I am smart. It’s one of few things I know, and rarely doubt. I haven’t received a Mensa invitation, but I know I have an uncanny ability to comprehend complex concepts that don’t come so easily to most. While other children might have been hearing “you’re so special,” “you’re so pretty,” or “you’re so cool,” I was hearing, “oh, he’s so smart, so advanced!”
Intelligence is part of my identity. I’m known for it and, to an extent, it defines me. I’m thankful for it, but it seems to have a downside. I’ve long held that I had the ability to reason my way out of my faith. I think the two may be mutually exclusive.
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We’re still together. But sitting at opposite ends of the couch though. Not saying much to each other as we go in, out, and about the house. Sharing the same bed, but not touching. Going to church together, but not making eye contact. The honeymoon phase is over. Being together doesn’t give us the tingles anymore.
It’s been some time since we were on the same page. We’ve each made independent decisions that met with disagreement from the other. Some days I wonder exactly who I married. I’m not as attracted as I was at the start. I roll my eyes a lot now. I sigh hard and breathe out troubled subtext until our living space smells of it. One might say our relationship is strained.
When the dissonance between us gets so loud that I can’t stand to be in the same room, I wonder where we went wrong. People said we would always be together. We started off so strong. Couples have said they wanted to be like us. Yet now there’ve been several months though—I don’t know how far back to start counting—when I have not been the happiest in this relationship. It’s not looking so great right now.
But I remember our song:
“In the middle of the madness
When the time is running out and you’re left alone
All I want is you to know that
It’s strong still
Can’t pull us apart
Nothing can come
Nothing can pull us apart… can come between us.”
I don’t know when it officially became our song, but whenever I hear Sade’s “Nothing Can Come Between Us,” I think of Jesus and I. I envision us as a newlywed couple having a first dance in front of so many witnesses. They have sworn to hold us to our vows. He’s the groom; I’m his bride. The contract says “until death do us part,” but even then… Continue reading
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“Here’s my plea
I want to see your face, feel your warm embrace,
And lay here like a child
In your loving arms, where I’m safe from harm,
And the sorrow fades away.”
—Crystal Lewis, “Like a Child”
Just woke up from a bad dream where I had to relive when my Papa told me he was dying. A friend suggested I re-read the blog I wrote about it. In that story I remember how, from a place of ignorance, God swept in and rescued me before calamity could crash in on top of me. That all took place when I was still 19.
I turn 33 on Tuesday. A lot changes in 13 years. I’m more skeptical than I was as a young adult, a little world weary in places. I believe less readily than I once did. My once-shiny faith is a little dog-eared and yellowish now. It’s like a sun-beaten rubber band, dried and showing cracks. I fear if I stretch it to believe, it may snap.