Stop Thinking Everyone is a Jerk

I read this article about the movie “God’s Not Dead” the other day online, and it was less a review than a callout to the filmmakers for misrepresenting atheists. Something akin to “What I learned about atheists from “God’s Not Dead.” The answer, of course, was either nothing, or falsehoods.

What stuck in my craw about it, was to wonder what they were expecting? It’s a faith-based movie about a student who defends his faith when a teacher tries to compel him to admit that God is dead, with the real statement being that he never existed at all. The student is made to try and attempt to convince the opposite, which is, of course, that God is not dead.

If the film wanted to educate people about atheism and how atheists perceive themselves, it probably would have done just that. That’s not the kind of movie it was. I believe it was meant to encourage believers in their ability to defend and represent their faiths. In that regard, I think the film succeeded.

However.

The professor was represented in the film as kind of a snarling bulldog and all-around jerk. It was a stereotype, to be sure, but it is also true that stereotypes exist for a reason. I have had many, many encounters with atheists who were actually quite similar to Kevin Sorbo’s character in the movie. They were indeed snarling, and condescending, and insulting, and very misrepresentative of Christians and faith in general.

Today I kind of understood why, at least to my line of thought.

I think people often respond in a hostile manner to things they don’t understand. Like faith in Jesus, or atheism for that matter.

As a person of faith, it’s difficult to understand why someone would respond to people of faith with so much hostility, as so many atheists do. Where the filmmakers went wrong—as I have done myself so many times—was to assume that all atheists are the same kind of lunatic as the professor in the movie.

Clearly that isn’t true at all.

I have several good friends and family members that are also atheists—who while they might not agree with what I believe and how I practice it—are also not condemning or insulting to me. They’re still people I love and pray for, and enjoy hanging out with. I’m not going to treat them like they are rabid or infected with the zombie virus.

The filmmakers of “God’s Not Dead” might have chosen to qualify the central premise of the professor character as being representative of some atheists, rather than all of them. Clearly not all atheists are as loathsome as the professor in the movie or people like Richard Dawkins (To me, he seems a step or two away from espousing the virtues of eugenics, and should definitely stay the heck off Twitter).

Now, where atheists go wrong is to assume all Christians are hypocrites and charlatans. That is also quite obviously not true. And to treat all people professing faith as if they are deluded dolts who hate everyone not like them and deride belief in any other religion (or lack of religion) is a mistake.

Christianity is not about derision, or hate. It’s about a relationship with the creator. It’s about trying to help others find that same relationship. It’s about loving people as you love yourself. It’s about loving God.

Certainly, there are Christian jerks, too. Lord knows I have been one of them.

So atheists should qualify their platform—their statements—as being representative of some Christians. Not assuming all are the same, as all atheists are not the same.

What I’m getting at is this: don’t assume you know people and are qualified to judge them because you may have had a bad experience or sometimes heard about a bad experience. You don’t have that right.

Get to know them, whoever they are. Have a conversation. Don’t try to convert the person either way. Just talk to them. You learn more about people and who they are by enjoying a cup of coffee than by holding a sign in their face and telling them what a tool they are.

And also, that plank in your own eye can get super uncomfortable.

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It’s the Great Comforter, Charlie Brown

Quite a few years ago, my friend Ken’s brother Ryan and his fiancé were driving to see Ryan and Ken’s dad at his Walter’s Camp cabin. The plans were to stay for the weekend, I believe. In the back of Ryan’s pickup was a 12 pack of Corona and their gear. On the way to the river, the pickup sideswiped another vehicle—a tractor/trailer—and Ryan was killed, almost instantly. His fiancé had quite a few cuts and bruises, but ended up mostly OK.

Ryan wasn’t drunk or on any drugs. Best guess is that he fell asleep at the wheel. In any case, he didn’t make it.

I remember there was a public funeral at some Unitarian Universalist church in El Cajon, and it was about what you would expect. Non-religious, lots of people crying, and a nice picture at the front of the church. Afterward was a reception, with even more tears and a few speeches.

Shortly after that, there was a much smaller gathering at the Walter’s Camp cabin, and I was a part of that. I remember we all had one of the Coronas which had remained completely intact in the back of Ryan’s truck, and toasted his memory. The next day Ryan’s dad attached a small, brown paper-wrapped package filled with Ryan’s ashes to a few very large balloons, with Ryan and his fiance’s wedding rings tied to the balloon strings. The object was for the balloons to be launched from a bridge over the river, and gradually drift down toward the water. The package would dissolve, and the balloons would rise to the heavens, carrying the couple’s rings.

It worked exactly as planned.

I remember standing on that bridge, and everyone was a wreck—though I was mostly able to keep it together. I placed my hand on the back of Ryan’s best friend’s neck as he knelt on the bridge crying and said anything I could think of to comfort him, praying silently for peace to come to these people.

We headed back to San Diego a little later that afternoon, and I never saw any of those people again. I don’t know if peace came to them, but I know those couple of days at Walter’s Camp made me heavily consider my own mortality. At the time, I also carried a lot of unresolved grief within my heart, and sometimes it was as bitter as bile, other times I was simply…stuck. In my grief, in my life. Stuck.

I would sit at home sometimes, or at work, and it would occur to me that for some, peace doesn’t come. At least not when you want it to, or the way you want it to. Sometimes, God doesn’t lift the burden right away. You get through things, and afterward you can’t remember how you did it, but you survive.

That was me. I realized it was mostly my own doing, but that didn’t change the way I felt.

I would think about my own experience—my many experiences—with death and grieving, and I would wonder why it had to happen that way? Hadn’t I tried to be the best person I could? I loved my parents, and they were gone. I loved my friend, and he was gone. He gave his life to a bullet, within shouting distance of my bedroom window on the day before the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded.

I didn’t really understand then—nor do I now—why endurance of those deaths was required of me. I trust God today that one day I will understand why those things happened. I don’t know how long that will take.

Maybe for me it’s like the refining process for gold. Heat is applied to the gold, and it melts. Impurities rise to the top and are skimmed off. The gold is cooled. More heat, more impurities, more skimming. Eventually, the gold is pure and valuable.

Perhaps I needed to be refined somehow. Perhaps we all do.

I just wish I hadn’t held onto my grief for so long. That was a mistake I didn’t really know how to correct at the time. I can tell you when things finally got to the point where I let go of them, though.

March, 2007. Canyon View Christian Fellowship.

Many years after everything went down, including those four deaths—five, if you include Tim Wakefield, which I completely should have. He died in 2000.

That day in March, my friend Ron came up to where I was sitting just before the service started, and said he was going to sit with me if that was ok. It was.

I had been a believer for about seven years at that point, but I never had given my grief to God, and that day it was heavy on my heart. Pastor Mike had given a bit of testimony just before Easter, regarding the death of his own mother. It hit me so hard I was nearly shaking. I made it through the sermon, but at the end I knew I was in trouble if I didn’t get out fast when church was over.

Without saying goodbye to Ron, I made tracks for the door. I stopped at the door like I’d hit a brick wall. I knew—somehow I knew—that today was supposed to be the day. I didn’t want it to be. I didn’t want to grieve. I didn’t want to think about things, or remember.

Yet I knew that my grief had been a slow poison to my life over the years and miles and so many tears since those deaths happened. It was a weight around my neck. It was so damn heavy.

I went back to where Ron was still sitting, and I asked him to pray for me. I don’t remember what he said, but I remember he prayed for me with his arms around my neck, and his face right next to my ear.

That morning, in the third row of the CVCF sanctuary following the 9am service, I finally handed 20 years of accumulated grief to my God. I grieved my mom, and dad, and my friend. I grieved for Tim, and even Ryan. I think I was still puffy eyed when the next service began, and I sat through that one, too. I was surrounded by members of my small group, and I leaned on them. It was good.

If I learned one thing over the years since, it’s that holding onto things really doesn’t help. It may delay your pain, but it doesn’t heal it. Acknowledging your pain does, when it is done before God.

Sometimes the comfort doesn’t come right away. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it comes when you least expect it, through the comfort of a good friend and whispered prayers. It can be a long and intricate process—it’s like that for me.

Grief can also sometimes be like a broken windshield. It starts with a speck–a chip in the glass. If it isn’t repaired, it begins to gradually creep out over the rest of the windshield, like a spider web of pain—with offshoots in many directions. Sometimes I see or feel things I haven’t thought of in years, and it triggers those old feelings. It’s easier, now. I have God to remind me he will carry them for me. I have my wife, who knows how to love. I have my kids, who lift my spirits when they get heavy.

The hands of God can feel like a strong grip, and also a gossamer touch. Often, you feel them through proxy. It’s always been that way for me. Yet comfort is comfort, and pain can be assuaged in so many different ways. Remember, one of His many names is Comforter.

Surrender. Give him your grief. Drop that burden at His feet. Be refined. It can be a lifelong process, but it’s worth it.

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Don’t Be a Tool, Fool

Social media logos

I learned a while back that besides the obvious value of finding and keeping in touch with friends and family on sites like Facebook and Twitter(as well as mass-marketing events and other promotional-type activities), there is also quite a bit of potential for problems with those same people you were just sharing photos with.

No matter what your platform of choice is (and there are many), it can get you in a lot of trouble, even if you had the noblest of intentions. This is for many different reasons, and in the interest of not crashing the WordPress server with examples, I will only enumerate a few within the confines of this particular post.

1. Subtleties:

Like text messaging, you can’t grasp the intended tone as well as the other nuances of a conversation when you’re reading a status update, tweet, or whatever other services call it.

Also, because even though the people reading the things a person says are supposedly “friends,” they often don’t really know each other, or at least not well. You may think their cat memes are hilarious, but they may privately not hold your fondness for sharing Taylor Swift videos in similarly high regard. In short, they aren’t really your friends in many cases.

2. Don’t Be a Jerk

So while whatever point you’re trying to get across may be true and valid, you never know who you’re going to offend by making it. And there are clearly also some people who sometimes use social networking to say things they would never say in person.

Because of this, there are times when something that starts with a perfectly innocuous question often ends in ugliness, hurt feelings, and possibly even far reaching consequences.

Mainly, this is because you never know what’s going on (or has gone on) in a person’s life when they read your stuff.

Consequently, you also never know when they’re going to flip out on you and start puking ugliness or saying things they won’t be able to get back.

3. Know your audience

The other thing to consider is a person needs to weigh the material they’re going to share and decide if a huge and impersonal platform is appropriate. Remember, anyone and everyone has the ability to read your stuff.

If you don’t want your mom seeing your vacation shenanigans, don’t post them.

If you don’t want your boss to read your whiny little missives about how mean he is, don’t post them.

If you don’t want people from church to see you doing body shots, that might be one to send your frat buddies via email or private message.

Speaking of church, if you don’t want to look like a bad example, or hypocrite, or charlatan of some sort, keep that stuff to yourself online! Gosh! There is absolutely no need to post screen caps, memes, or movie clips that require a valid ID to view.

4. Solving Problems before they happen:

I would also offer this: if one has a problem with something said, a simple email or private message can go a long way toward clearing things up. It can also avoid dozens of people feeling the need to attack or defend a person or point.

It’s possible to confront someone in an appropriate manner and resolve a situation without hurting feelings or having a person blow a gasket, which is what happened to me a while back. Yes, I often have to learn things the hard way.

I’d also say that if you’re a person with thin skin and a hair trigger, then social networking is probably not for you. But if you do choose to use it, stay away from contentious topics.


5. It’s Only a Joke:

Maybe that’s how you mean it, but don’t expect everyone to get your sense of humor. Don’t expect everyone to react like you do, or share that same level of verbal sophistication you think you have. Here’s a tip: if you think you’re hilarious and clever and full of wisdom, and just have to share your cleverness with the world, try to contain yourself.

Not everyone thinks cats barfing to techno is funny, or likes watching frat boys light gas or drink tequila from a morbidly obese navel.

Use your brain, man.

6. Like It Or Not, You ARE An Example

Look, I know everyone is different. Everyone likes different things, and may laugh hysterically at something that makes you see red. You may think that blog is chock full of profound truth, or that that live clip of dudes eating cockroaches or women giving birth in wading pools is really cool and interesting. Just don’t expect me to. The thing is, you never know who will see your posts.

You never know how they will react to them.

Don’t cause harm to a friendship, or relationship, or cause someone to stumble or turn away from God by being an idiot online.

It’s not worth it.

For my part, because I have a problem with not saying what I really feel, or not calling BS BS, I will probably hereafter restrict my comments to things like “lol,” and only share things like

Represent

There are some issues where I end up struggling with what I know to be right as a follower of Jesus. I know I am supposed to love God, love others, and turn the other cheek, as it were.

Sometimes I honestly can’t really do that.

Not that I have acted in any sort of way, but I think about how I would like to act. That can sometimes be more than a little harshly.

I think of the Jerry Sandusky case from a few years ago, where he was convicted of raping several young boys. He went to prison, but was entirely unrepentant, and denies wrong-doing to this day.

I remember thinking that if I ever came upon someone doing something similar (as an assistant coach did at Penn State), that person would likely need some severe dental and facial reconstruction.

I think I would still do that today.

Now, we have Islamic State (IS) militants (I will not use the word soldier to describe those men), decapitating US reporters with what look to be your average hunting knife. They proudly release video of those men being executed for simply being Americans. First, James Foley, and now the other man shown in Foley’s execution video, Steven Sotloff, was also beheaded. Threatened was a British journalist.

My outrage at these barbarities exists on several levels. As an American, I want our armed forces to sweep down on these animals and wipe them from the face of the earth. Because that is what you do with rabid animals who are a threat to human life.

You put them down.

Except it isn’t that simple, not with Jesus.

I know vengeance is his, and that these men will in due time pay the penalty due their sins. It’s just difficult to see these black-clad cowards spout their rhetoric and murder people and walk away from it.

It does not seem right, not ever.

And I think that is because it isn’t right. But these men don’t follow Jesus. Also, based on what I have heard of Islam, they do not necessarily follow Allah, either.

They exist outside of law (because the shariah law they claim to follow is barbaric horse manure, and not representative of any sort of god), and any traditional morality. They exist outside of humanity, and seem nearly a representation of the demonic rather than anything human.

As a man, and a human being, I want to blow them out of their black “uniforms” and into another dimension.

There is no doubt in my mind they deserve it.

But I think given the opportunity, I don’t know if I would be able to do any such thing. Because of Galatians 2:20.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (NIV)

Nothing in that verse—or any verse I know of—tells me to take revenge for anyone, no matter how unjustly their lives have ended.

If Christ lives in me, then I am no longer capable of killing, whether or not it seems righteous, or justified.

If these men are my enemies—and they sure seem to be—then I am supposed to love them.

How on earth do I do that, when what I really want is the complete opposite?

I think the struggle against what I want vs. what I know to be right will be what ultimately defines me as well as how I represent Jesus to those who do not know him.

I just wish I didn’t have such clear instruction.

Dang it.