To Those Who Wish To Go Away

ImageIt’s a Saturday, so I’m safe writing this. Here in Georgia, the sun is shining and people are busying themselves by the pool. In the midwest, they’re trying to recover from yesterday’s terrible storms. In California, they’re…well, they’re doing whatever people in California do. Bottom line: nobody reads blogs on a Saturday. There’s too much else to do.

Which is why I’m safe writing this post. Lately, my heart has been breaking as I read stories of people who have been abused by religion. Shamed. Made to feel unacceptable. People who, in coming to a system of belief that is supposed to be about God’s great love for us, discovered that in some places that love comes at a high price. And that there are guardians at the gate that will exact that price from you, regardless of whether or not you want to pay.

Take this blog post for instance. Does it not break your heart? It does mine. It makes me shudder at the times that I made young women in my youth group wear one-piece bathing suits because I didn’t want them to “cause the boys to think wrong thoughts.” Never mind that teenage boys can think wrong thoughts about a woman in a burka. I read that blog and my heart broke for the times that I made someone feel shame in the name of holiness.

I didn’t know that’s what I was doing. I won’t excuse it now, but I thought I was doing what was right. I thought I was being a good minister. I thought I was teaching the kids a valuable lesson, about self and life and other stuff. What I was really doing was putting them in bondage to other people; I was telling them that their appearance, their very being, is either a blessing to others or it’s a curse. I put shackles on those girls and boys by objectifying all of them, reducing them to base creatures on opposite poles: girls, as things to be desired, and boys, as creatures incapable of anything but desire.

But it’s not just sexual identity where shame pops up. It’s other things too. I grew up among people who didn’t think college was necessary. In fact, some found it to be pretentious, a showing off that was unseemly. Wanting to go to school (or, in my case, being told by my father that I would go to college, end of story) was seen as something prideful, and pride was a sin to be avoided. Even though recovery is something many churches offer to help with nowadays, there’s still shame in being a former addict; there’s shame in being a single parent; there’s shame in voting for a particular candidate or party; there’s shame in liking certain music, or watching certain shows, or thinking certain thoughts.

Heck. Read this, by Dale Fincher. It covers it so much better than I’ll ever be able to.

So what’s the point of this post? My heart goes out to those who don’t feel like they belong in the church. My heart aches for those who wish they could just go away, disappear, not be a target for once in their lives. I hear and read story after story of people who turned away from church and God because they didn’t fit a certain mold, didn’t look a certain way, and I just want to grab them in my arms and say, “It’s okay. God still loves you. He’s still Truth. He still wants to know you and heal you and walk with you everyday.”

Is it hippie sounding? Bet your sweet butt. Yet I am constantly meeting people who want to know that very truth. People who wouldn’t set foot inside a church on Sunday but would sit down with me for coffee, or chat with me online, or read this blog post and respond in an email. People who, for lack of a better word, want the Gospel to be true, but want to know that truth in something more than just words.

Once upon a time, someone would call this kind of concern evangelistic. But lately, that word has taken on another meaning entirely. I’ll just roll with this: I want people to know that God loves them, that Christ loves them, that there is a power found in faith that can transform any life – especially in ways that aren’t expected. And I’m willing to carry that message to people who need to hear it most, even if it means being shamed by those who would disagree.

If you’ve made it this far and you’re one of those people – if you’ve been shamed by me, or anyone else, and you’re wondering if God could possibly love you – then let me first say, I am sorry. I was wrong. You are created in the image of God. You have fallen. But you are not beyond repair. You are not who you’ve been made to believe. You are His. He is yours. There is healing to be found.

To those who wish to go away, Christ stands, arms open, inviting you to Himself.

Why We Need Superman

mos_poster2I have a confession: I’ve been a bit ambivalent towards Zack Snyder’s upcoming Man of Steel, a reboot of the Superman movie franchise. It’s not because Snyder isn’t a great director (I liked both Watchmen and 300), and it’s not because the cast isn’t amazing (though I didn’t exactly warm to Henry Cavill at first…he’s grown on me). It’s really because I thought Superman, as a character, was done. Played out. Cliche.

Honestly, I felt like he simply wouldn’t resonate with the current culture. Too old. Too moral. Too good. Or, as my friend Tom Towhey put it, “I just cant get excited about a Superman movie. The Boy Scout* is just too invulnerable.”

*Bonus points to Tom for quoting from Frank Miller’s classic graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns.

Even when the trailers started popping up, I wasn’t into it. The visuals looked great and there was a real sense of nostalgia for the character, but there wasn’t much to win me to the story. It seemed as if it might be weighty, but in a bad way. Overly moralistic, or too much navel gazing; I’m all for character development and exposition, but when it comes to Superman, I’d also like to see the dude fly and do the things that amazed me as a kid. I figured those elements would be there, but they seemed de-emphasized. Call it The Nolan Effect.*

*The movie is executive produced by Christopher Nolan, the man who brought you The Dark Knight Trilogy.

So I turned my attention to Iron Man 3, a film that seems like the perfect kick-off to summer: light, funny, with moments of gravity and character development timed just right. Plus, it’s the return to the ridiculously fun Marvel film universe, a place where fun and story find the right balance. In other words, films that capture the spirit of our country in this post-modern, post-Christian, post-nearly-everything age.

I mean, honestly: who better personifies the current culture than Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark?

But then Monday happened. Once again, our country was devastated by acts of terror and we watched the bloody aftermath of a world without safety. Despite the celebratory nature of Patriot’s Day in beautiful Boston, there was nothing fun in those moments. There was no ironic humor. There was simply the cries and moans of people once again made victim to the ultimate truth about our own existence: that we are vulnerable. No matter how much we might think otherwise.

Out of this chaos rose the familiar fear that our world is rapidly falling apart; that we stand at a point in history when the evil men do threatens to finally overwhelm us, finally push us into a permanent state of danger and fear.

And into the aftermath, amid the pundits and postulation, nestled between the cries for help and the cries for blood, this video was released:

Suddenly, I got very excited to see Man of Steel.

Now, it’s not for reasons you might think. Sure, this trailer showed far more action than the previous ones, and the scope of the film went from “movie” to “MOVIE”. But what really struck me was the truth of the character, why he not only exists but sticks around in our collective minds: he reminds us that we need heroes. Not just men and women who can be heroic, but true heroes. People who do what is right because it is right. The trailer gave me faith that the movie was landing at the perfect time in our collective consciousness because we need to be reminded that the darkness that threatens us will not win.

We need Superman because we need hope.

I’m not saying the movie isn’t escapism – it is. But it calls us to a place where our hopes aren’t dashed by the evil that rises. It calls us to a place where notions like honor, virtue, sacrifice, courage, goodness, faith, and other old-fashioned ideals, not only exist, they shine against the blackness that seems to consume our world. A world where we pull for the hero because he is a hero.

Sure, they’re rewriting the myth with this movie. There’s no kryptonite. There’s no Lex Luthor (as far as I know). It’s going to be much more inward-turmoil that drives this Superman; he’ll become who he is because he goes on a great internal quest, forced to embrace his destiny by the violence and evil of another being. In short, we’ll see our national identity crisis played out on the big screen, and we’ll have to ask ourselves: will we become a nation of heroes, or will we fall to the men who wish to bring us down.

I for one will have no problem wanting to slap on a bright red cape and go flying into the face of fear. I felt that pull while watching the trailer; I feel it even more as I continue to read stories about the bombs and plans of the Boston terrorist(s). In a world of madness, we need to be inspired – reminded – that hope lives.

And hope wins.

Call me a nerd. Call this the unrepentant ramblings of a man who spent too much time reading comics as a kid, too much time visiting far-off worlds where lesser imaginations made sure that the good guy always won. Call me naive. Call me whatever.

But don’t miss this: of all our fictional heroes, of all the invented men and women this country has produced to try and sum up our fractured corporate identity, the character of Superman holds the most resonance, the most sentimental value. Now ask yourself, why is that?

It’s because deep down, past the ironic cynicism that has come to color our perceptions, we want to believe  a man can fly. We want to believe in heroes.

Now, perhaps, more than ever.

Thirty-some-odd years old, he sits on the back of a donkey, looking out at the gates of ancient Jerusalem. People throng the street before him, throwing their coats on the ground, waving palm branches, extolling him as Messiah and Lord. His closest friends dance alongside him as they lead the donkey ever closer to the towering entrance to the Holy City. Suddenly, overcome by some sentiment foreign to the jubilant hour, he begins to wail, his chest heaving as sorrow bubbles out of his throat.

The people stop cheering. The donkey halts its steps. The disciples grow silent.

Jesus weeps for his people: “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that would make for peace!”


What were those things? What was the cost of our peace with God? The temple cleansing, the prophecies of Jerusalem’s destruction, the plot to kill Jesus; the Last Supper, the Garden, the betrayal, the mockery of his trials; the beating, the Via Dolorosa, Golgotha, the thieves; finally, “It is finished” and the death of the Son of God.

While graphic, this clip from “The Passion of the Christ” reminds us that the death of Jesus wasn’t just an isolated event. It was the culmination of our rebellion against God and His unfathomable grace to redeem us from our own sin. The things that make for peace were set in motion long before we drew our breath, long before Jesus went to the cross, long before Adam and Eve fell. That knowledge should sober us, give us pause – and lead us into a time of prayerful silence, a time of gratitude that the God who made us, against Whom we’ve all rebelled, chose to make peace His will instead of giving us over to the death we deserved.

The Things That Make For Peace

The God We Judged

I was taking my kids to the doctor’s office this morning when I saw him. His beard was pure white, his back bowed like a tree beneath heavy winds, his cane shaking violently with each tiny step towards the road. He stopped short and looked down at his daily paper, deposited at the foot of his driveway, just inches from the busy traffic of Highway 20 headed towards Lawrenceville.

He looked at the coming traffic. He looked at the paper. He poked at the plastic wrapped news with his cane once, twice, three times. He again looked at the traffic, and the worry was clearly etched into his face: if I bend down to pick this paper up, I might fall forward into traffic.

By this time I was past him, straining to see his decision in my rearview mirror. He was bending down the last I saw him.


We’re sitting in the doctor’s office and my daughter is coughing her head off. She’s been on six different medications to try and help her get the cough under control and let her breathe regularly. Most of the time, the meds seem to be working. At this particular moment, not so much. But she is smiling because some Alvin and the Chipmunks movie is on the TV. My son play obliviously with three tiny metal cars he brought with him.

Across the waiting room is another parent, a mom, holding her infant daughter who is dressed in all kinds of pink and is tiny and quite lethargic. The mother is rocking the child gently in her arms, not so much to soothe the child as to allow the mother to get her nervous energy out. I can’t say for sure, but they have the appearance of first-timers. The mother keeps looking at her baby, then at the nurse’s station, then at her baby, then at the door. She is worried.

My kids and I get called back before she does, and as we rise, she looks at me with a tension-filled face. It should be her turn, but it’s not. I disappear through the door and never see her or her child again.


We’re now killing time in Target while my wife finishes working out. My kids want to see the toys and naturally they each want to roam aisles that are miles apart – Ella in the girls toys, Jon in the boys. I can’t figure out a way to let each explore where they want without one of them being out of my sight, and I’m just not willing to let that happen.

But suddenly it has happened. Ella is gone, and I can’t see her. I call out for her but she doesn’t respond. Without thinking, I run over two aisles and find her, playing blissfully with some Barbie dolls and talking to the characters in her fertile imagination.

Then I realize that I didn’t bring Jon with me. So I tear off back to where I last saw him. There he stands, still playing with Thomas the Tank Engine and Percy. He is smiling. He too is talking to the characters in his head.

I grab Jon and run back to Ella. I grab her by the arm and pull her up to my side. Both kids look at me in confusion, and Ella, seeing the look on my face, asks: “What’s wrong with you, daddy? Why do you look so weird?”

I just pull them in closer and hug them.


These are all small moments from my day so far, but they have stuck with me all morning because today is Good Friday. Today is the day that I, and my fellow Christians, recognize as the day that Jesus of Nazareth was nailed to his cross some 2,000 years ago and died for the sins of humanity. Others see it as just a Friday. Either perspective is acceptable.

But for me, the day is the ultimate testimony that we live in a world so broken that only brokenness can fix it. That our universe is so full of heartaches that are both large and intimate, easily healed or permanently damaging, and no amount of anything we can do will ever fix it. We could all give every last dollar we have or will ever earn to the most noble charitable causes tomorrow, and it still wouldn’t keep pace with the pain and suffering in this world. We could become the most altruistic beings on the planet, and it still wouldn’t be enough to cover every old man needing help to pick up a paper, soothe every anxious first-time mother, or calm the fears of every caring parent.

There are plenty of people who will point to this staggering amount of brokenness, this unyielding assault of evil, and say that it is evidence that no God exists. Evidence that the death we Christians celebrate is just a very public, though very noble, failure.

And some days, I am inclined to agree.

But not today.

Today, I see that the answer for evil isn’t just a cosmic house cleaning; it’s not simply a theological atomic bomb drop; it’s not merely a divine sweeping away of the chaff and debris of broken human life. That is part of the answer, not the whole.

No, the whole is that before there could be restoration, before there could be justice and cleansing and healing and perfection, there had to be a time when the God who judges became the God who was judged. The Divine Being who put the universe into motion entered into his own creation and became a man. God became, as John put it, something that we could see with our eyes, touch with our hands, hear with our ears and follow with our feet. The perfect became imperfect and tried to show us his love.

And we, humanity, put him on trial and found him guilty and crucified him.

We, humanity, judged God guilty of being perfect, of showing us our imperfection, of loving us enough to not let us continue blindly disregarding him in his glory. We, humanity, drove nails into his hands, and a crown of thorns into his head, and a spear into his side in an effort to shut up the God who made us.

And when we, humanity, had bled him, and beaten him, and humiliated him as much as any man could be bled and beaten and humiliated, we raised him above us and told him to save himself and us.

Which he did. By dying.

The world groaned at his death. The universe shook. The sky ruptured. We noticed, but we didn’t care. We had judged God. And he was dead.

And if you don’t believe in the resurrection, if you don’t celebrate Easter Sunday, then the story ends there and the evil and pain and horrors that surround us shouldn’t surprise you. Nor should it dismay you. The world is broken. The world is evil. If there is no God, there is no one to blame.

And we killed the one who claimed to be God.

But for those of us who believe in the resurrection, those of us who believe that the God who died is alive and well and out of that ancient middle eastern tomb, then the evil in this world serves only to remind us that darkness is fleeting. Old backs won’t be old forever. Anxious mothers with sick children will one day see all things healed. And a worried father will one day be free from all his worrying.

Because the God we judged took that judgment, bore it on his back and in his hands and in his wounds, and made the words of the ancient prophet become Truth that set us free:

“By His stripes we are healed.”