Tag Archives: Salvation

Beautiful Now

Salvation is a hard thing to understand, let alone, explain. This morning I couldn’t sleep, so I read an article about how God just wants us to be ourselves. God loves us just the way we are. He created us, he knows who we are, and he doesn’t expect us to be anything other than who we really are. Whether we know it or not, we have a tendency to put on a facade a lot of the time. Even around our best friends, we emphasize certain things about ourselves, and hide others. God loves even the worst parts of us.

Our family recently bought a house in Naples Maine. My mom has loved this house for five years, and at first, I had no idea why. It looks like it’s about to fall down. We officially owned it last Friday. It’s not exactly wheelchair accessible yet, but I can get into three of the rooms on the first floor as it stands. Last Friday, I went into the house for the first time. It smelled. Everything was covered in dirt, dust and mouse crap, and it was filled with trash that had been left there by the previous owner.

The house hadn’t been lived in for twelve years. The guy who lived in it before was an alcoholic, and just let everything fall apart before eventually leaving. While he was there he had said he wanted to fix the place up, but had only really managed to pull some things off the walls. His drinking habit was evidently so bad that he had literally lost track of where he had stored away some of his beer.

We stayed there for a couple of hours on Friday and began cleaning some things up. I had brought my rosary with me, so I hung out in the kitchen and went through the Divine Mercy chaplet, which is part of a devotion that was first introduced in the 1930’s. In one of the rooms I couldn’t get into, my mom found a broken piece of something that had a piece of one of the psalms written on it. It read something like, “He who puts his faith in God is safe.”

This past weekend, my dad went up and camped in the house to start cleaning it up some more. On Tuesday, my mom and I went up to see how things were going. We had hired a clean-up crew to just get everything out of there, and they spent the entire morning and most of the afternoon there. My dad had kept the windows open, so the place already looked and smelled significantly better by the time my mom and I got there. On Wednesday someone came to see if the septic system was going to work for the house, and he said it would. Later, the architect came to see if the house itself could be “saved” and remodeled for what we need. He said it can. He’s already started working on plans, and my mom has enlisted her cousin, who is a builder, to take care of a lot of the work.

When my mom first saw this house she loved it. She wanted to save it. She wanted to make it her own. I didn’t get it for the longest time. A while ago I wrote a post about how we were debating about buying a house in a town closer to our family, or in Portland. My mom kept coming back to this house. When we finally decided on this one, and we were coming closer to buying it, I realized I wanted it, too. I was getting excited, but I still didn’t really know why. Now that we do own it, I can truthfully say that I love it now. I obviously don’t want it to stay the way it is, but I love this house, and I can’t wait to see how awesome the finished product is going to be.

This house to me is what salvation looks like. It was broken and empty before, but now it’s got people who love it living in it, and we’re going to fix it. Obviously it’s not a perfect analogy because we’re not there all the time, but I think now the house has hope in it. I recently wrote a post about what home is. Home isn’t just where a person’s primary residence is. Home is found in people and memories and various places all at once. I’ve barely known this house, and quite frankly, it’s still disgusting, but on Wednesday I sat on the porch in the sun, listening to music, and I definitely felt at home.

God asks us if we will let him into our souls, even if we’re really messy; even if we’ve said “no” to him time and time again. God loves us just the way we are. He always wants us to be better; Jesus said, “Be perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect,” but he knows it’s a process, and I expect he loves the process, just as my family is already loving the process of fixing up our house. It’s easy to feel like we’re not good enough, and therefore, wonder how we can let God in, and even if we do, how we’re going to hide the ugly things from him. The fact of the matter is, we don’t have to. The ugly stuff is what makes the finished product so beautiful, and the fact of the matter is, God made us. He thinks we’re beautiful now.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

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So Will I

God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. I read this tiny little thing last night, and for some reason, I just started balling my eyes out. There’s just something infinitely beautiful about it in its simplicity.

I recently discovered this song, and now I’m completely obsessed with it. I think maybe it gets at what I mean.

 

You Are Time

Imagine you know you’re part of an army but you don’t know who your allies are. You know you’ve got enemies, but you don’t exactly know who they are. For all you know, they’re invisible. They’re often smarter than you, and they’re masters of trickery. It’s dark, you’re tired, and you know your side is losing. You start to wonder if resistance is futile. Eventually it really starts to seem that way. Then something drastically changes. Defeat seems inevitable until a new ally suddenly appears. He fights valiantly and he teaches you his ways. He heals your allies and defeats innumerable enemies.

Then, once again, something changes. He warns that it is only a matter of time before his death, but your victory. He is captured, tortured, and killed, and you are forced to fall back, but miraculously, just days later, he is alive and your enemies vanquished. He was right, and he celebrates your victory with you because now that enemy you faced is conquered for good. He eventually says that he has to go, but he will send his spirit so he can always love you and guide you and help you, and he keeps his promise.

Centuries go by until it seems that the whole world knows him, or appears to know of him. He is glorified in acts of heroism that mirror his own. He is honored in acts of love and goodness. Fantastic works of af art are created by those who love him still. You find, nonetheless, that things inevitably change. Slowly but surely, in many places he is forgotten; in many places is made into a laughing stock; even his very name is dishonored, thrown into the mire of language with unutterable words.

And you ask, “what does it matter? What is a name?” A name is how you are known. You are known by your name as a writer or a thinker or a worker or a finder, or something else that makes you who you are. He is a hero, still here, still living, and his very identity is used as a curse. His name has weight; it is precious.

The Moment Of “I Love You”

I’ve tried to write this several times over and haven’t been able to. Partly, I haven’t known where exactly to begin, partly I haven’t known what to include, partly, I find this kind of thing a bit cliche, and partly, it’s a bit of a novel. All that being said, I’ve decided to start with a preface. As I said, More often than not, I find a lot of “coming to faith” stories at least somewhat annoying. A lot of them have the same, or at least a similar notion that the writer was so terrible before, and drastically better, morally speaking, immediately after their conversion. I also find it problematic when a person shares their story and neglects basic rules of writing style, spelling, and grammar. While it may be more important on some level to simply get the story out, the neglect lessens its credibility. More could be said, but I think those are issues for another post. Now I will share my story.

I grew up Catholic, largely because of a promise my mom made. When I was a year old I was diagnosed with a kind of Muscular Dystrophy (MD) that would kill me by the age of five if I was lucky. I don’t really know the time frame for all this, but when my parents got the news, my mom started praying like a maniac. I had tests done, and the news continued to be bad. I need to pause for a moment to explain a Catholic peculiarity here. A common misconception is that Catholics worship the Virgin Mary. The truth is that she has a very high place of honor, being that she is Jesus’ mother, and we recognize that her prayers are helpful and influential. Now to get back to my story, the news was bad, and eventually my mom gave up. Rather, she stopped praying to God, and asked Mary to pray for her because if anyone in the world knew what it was like to lose a child, it would be her.

Circumstances continued like this for about six months, if I remember correctly until one day my dad called my mom. He had taken me to an appointment and inexplicably, things had drastically changed. What had seemed like a ritual reiteration of a death sentence for six months had suddenly turned to a promise of life. Somehow the test results had drastically changed. I had a kind of MD, the effects of which were not entirely certain, but I would grow up, go to school, and do “normal kid stuff.” I did mention that my mom made a promise. When she asked Mary to pray for me, she promised that she would raise me as a “good Catholic girl,” so CCD was included in the “normal kid stuff” I ended up doing.

The truth is I have always been a believer in the sense that I want things to be true; I’m a bit gullible; my natural impulse is to trust people. As a child I believed in God, but when I was very young I knew him only vaguely as the Creator of the universe, and even then, not necessarily one who had a conscious mind or paid any attention to us. Eventually that changed. I came to believe that he paid attention to us, but mostly like someone watching an ant farm. As an older child, particularly in my middle school years, I just lost interest in God. I got busy doing more “normal kid stuff,” as does everyone.

In particular, my friends and I became very busy defending Mythic Island, an invented universe that was under siege from the wolf demon Agorauth. One of my friends and I created a comic for the school newspaper. I wrote the story and she drew the pictures. Every Friday night we would all congregate at my house, eat terrible pizza and play Star Wars Battlefront. Of course, since it was middle school, it wasn’t all fun. We can only assume that our group was comprised of the most unpopular kids in school. We all got picked on in one way or another.

High school changed things drastically and quickly. The summer before our Freshman year, we ended our Mythic Island adventure. That same year, one of my closest friends got incredibly busy with sports, so much so that we could hardly hang out. He also got a girlfriend, and I realized that boys could be more than just friends. Towards the end of that year I got a guitar who I named Francisco. You can probably imagine why.

At that time, I was still in CCD, and for a reason that was inexplicable at the time, I was hating it less and less. Most of my friends’ parents had allowed them to drop out years earlier, but my mom was not going to break her promise. CCD classes in ninth and tenth grade were structured towards getting students ready to receive the sacrament of Confirmation, should they choose to receive it. A “Yes” signifies that a person is an adult and active member in the Church. The odd thing was, though I was becoming more receptive to what we were learning, there was little emotion in it. It was just another class.

Another friend of mine was enrolled in the program after his parents divorced in the middle of our Freshman year because his dad thought it would be helpful for him. He hated every second of it. He had changed after the divorce. It had made him a completely different person. He was dispondent and reclusive. He stopped doing homework; wouldn’t hand in projects; intentionally failed tests. He was also rather disrespectful to our teacher in CCD, which I did not appreciate. I only mention these details about my friend because in part, I think it made me want to make up for it, so I participated more in class and I really listened. I wasn’t passive during that time.

We completed the Confirmation class at the end of our Sophomore year. It concludes with an all-day retreat at which we had discussions, weird spiritual activities which I didn’t exactly understand, and a mass, if I remember correctly. There was also a lot of free time, and my friend and I spent that time silently playing cards. At the end of the day we were given a letter written by our parents. I don’t remember much of what mine said. I do remember them saying they were proud of me, and that from this point on, my spirituality was my business. Finally, we were asked, “Will you be confirmed?” I said I would.

At the beginning of my Junior year I went through the actual ceremony, and I did keep going to church, but had I been asked at the time, I would not have been able to tell why. For the next two years I can, I think, accurately say that I was a Catholic in practice, but an agnostic in belief. I still didn’t really know who God was. I knew what he did, but that was it. During that time, I had begun to feel an increasing sense of loneliness. One of my friends had already had a girlfriend and a break-up. My other friend had been in a relationship for three years. I had never dated. However, this loneliness was more complex than the desire for a partner. I constantly needed to be around people. If I couldn’t find someone to be with on Friday nights, I would sit alone and cry. I felt unneeded, and I hated it.

Inevitably, we all graduated, and my friends went away to college. Because I need help with a few basic things, I commuted to school and lived at home. It so happened that I applied to two schools, and was only accepted to one, so that’s where I went. I had hated the school search. The whole thing felt wrong to me, but something about Gordon was different. Their campus was really nice. The people there were really nice. They had a creative writing program, which sounded really nice. I somehow felt at home there. Gordon is a Christian school, and I think normally I would have had reservations about that, but unlike every school I looked at, it just felt “right.”

Starting classes at Gordon was like stepping into a whole new universe. We started classes by praying. We were required to attend chapel three times a week, and I enjoyed it. People freely talked about having a relationship with Jesus. This was all great, except that it made me more lonely. The one thing I hung on to was that my classmates and teachers and chapel speakers had taught me to pray in a way my church hadn’t. Don’t get me wrong, now that I’ve been Christian for five years, I appreciate and use the more formal Catholic prayers quite a lot, but first I had to learn how to talk. It was shortly after we had begun classes in mid August that I had begun praying that God would help me find someone to love me. I prayed this almost every night before going to sleep with increasing desperation.

I don’t remember the exact date, but I can conclusively say I truly became Christian one night in October, 2011. I was lying in bed, and I was crying. I was praying from the darkest, lowest, smallest, loneliest part of my being. I don’t know what would have happened had it passed like any other night, but for some reason I said, “I love you,” and I felt an overwhelming sensation of comfort and peace and warmth, and I felt like I wasn’t alone in the best possible way. It was spontaneous, and my only explanation is that he was saying, “I’m not going to find someone for you. I love you.” A lot has happened since then. I almost left the Catholic Church, but have since fully embraced it for a number of reasons, which I won’t explain here. I’ve never dated and have become perfectly content being single. What was sparked at the moment of that “I love you” has turned into a real relationship. I have a writing career, and am studying theology independently. I don’t necessarily know where it will go, but I trust God.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly

“Get Over It”

The world deals us crap and then dares us; maybe even expects us to smile, and fight a battle we can’t win. It’s like a game, or some kind of twisted performance that we have to take part in. As soon as it seems like things are okay, something terrible comes along that’s worse than the last one. Survival instinct or contemporary culture or something tells us to “get over it,” because the consequences are even worse if we don’t. We have to keep our eye on the prize, or at least keep our heads above water, because no one’s going to help us, and we can’t be left behind.

Jesus doesn’t expect you to fight. He doesn’t expect you to keep going. When all you can see is darkness, and all you want to do is fall, he says, “Go ahead. I’ll stay with you. Take your time. Cry. Scream. Do what you need to. I love you.” He doesn’t even expect you to “get over it.” Sometimes you can’t get over it. Sometimes the darkness is so overwhelming that it’s hard to see any light at all. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to see the good in things, but there is good in things. The world dares you to see it, but sometimes you just can’t. Jesus says, “If you can’t trust anything else; if you can’t trust what’s beautiful and good in this life, just trust me. Just trust that even if it doesn’t happen in your lifetime, the world will be made perfect. Your world will be made perfect. You will live. Everyone will live, and there will be no more hurt. I promise you that.”

This has been a bad week. I’m tired, and I’m honestly having a little trouble being the unshakable optimist I usually am. The world has been looking a little darker than usual. At the same time, I see a light on the horizon. Honestly, sometimes I’d rather let the darkness take over, but the fact of the matter is, it can’t. There’s simply too much life and light and beauty in this world. It’s sometimes hard to look at, but it’s there nonetheless. I know that God created a perfect world, and no matter how badly we screw it up, it can never be utterly lost because Jesus saved it, and he’s still saving it. I simply can’t ignore the fact that it was a perfect summer day today. I can’t ignore the sweetness of freshly-picked strawberries. I can’t ignore the strange, but good smell of my bird. I can’t ignore the way my favorite songs make me feel, whether I’m happy or sad. Love is alive in the littlest things, and that’s a fact.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

I Stayed

I recently read a blog post by someone who used to be Catholic and is no more. She said that many aspects of Catholicism were a hindrance to her faith. She learned many things about the Catholic Church through sermons and other things, and never enough about Jesus. This post is in defense of Catholicism. I’m writing this because there was a time when I was in the same boat. I was very close to leaving the Catholic Church for almost the same reason. Ultimately, I did the exact opposite. I jumped right in, and this is why.

Initially, I stayed for convenience. I went to CCD (Sunday School) and grew up in a Catholic Church just a mile from my house. It’s extremely easy to walk or drive to, and it’s right next to the elementary school I attended. Many of my friends went there, and my dad actually taught our CCD class when we were really young. Sometimes, because three of the kids, including myself, lived in the same neighborhood, we would have class at my house. Later, I kept going to CCD and I kept going to Mass because A) my parents made me, and B) because it had become a habit by then. At the time, as far as I can remember, I really didn’t get much, if anything out of it, at least not consciously. The truth of the matter, which I didn’t realize at the time, is that, when it comes to faith, particularly Catholic faith, you have to put in effort to get anything real out of it. I think that’s true of any relationship.

What didn’t matter until some time later is that most of my extended Family is at least culturally Catholic. Many of them don’t practice, but the particulars of Catholicism matter to the ones who do, and that made me hesitant to leave once faith actually started to matter to me. I thought about leaving because, at the time, I was attending a Christian college, and Jesus seemed so much more alive there than at my church. Even during class, people would talk about their personal experiences of God’s love, and I wanted that. During worship services, fellow students would play contemporary worship music, instead of the boring hymns we sang on the weekends. At the time, that mattered. The music at school moved me. The music at church did not.

Two things Christians of other denominations often take issue with are the Sacrament of Reconciliation (i.e. confession to a priest), and the matter of transubstantiation (whether or not, and if so, how Jesus is actually present in the Eucharist). I intentionally went to confession for the first time during Lent this year. The first time I went, I was six or seven. This was before I took my first communion. The second time was about ten years later when I was confirmed. The third time was when I was acting as my brother’s Confirmation sponsor, three years after that. I didn’t want to. I went several months ago because there was something on my mind, and even though I had talked about it with God, and asked for forgiveness, it still bothered me. According to the teaching of the Catholic Church, the priesthood and the hierarchy as a whole, is directly descended from the first priests (the twelve Apostles) not by blood, obviously, but by appointment. Jesus gave them the right to act in his name on this Earth–to teach and to forgive sins. They do not act as God. They act for him. It’s an important distinction. When Jesus sends his disciples to do his work, he says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” So clearly, they have the right to do this, but it’s important to remember that it’s really God who forgives.

I didn’t go because I didn’t feel like my sins were not forgiven. I went because I wanted to talk to someone. Talking directly to God often feels easier than talking to a person about the darkest parts of my soul. At the same time, I just needed to get it out, and I needed to hear from an external source that I was okay. I don’t like going to confession, but I go now because I can look at someone who is acting in God’s name and hear, quite conclusively, that I am, in fact, forgiven. I need that reassurance. Furthermore, going to confession does two important things: it forces me to really examine myself from an emotional and spiritual standpoint, and it cuts through my pride because it forces me to admit things I really don’t want to. Ultimately, it forces me to try a lot harder to be a better person because I don’t want to have to talk about it again. Pride stops me from doing things that I otherwise would or could. It stops me from doing things that I really want to for God because they’re uncool or weird or what have you. I’m working on this, and I’m getting better. I admit my sins to my priest because I really am sorry. It’s hard to admit that I’m not perfect. God already knows I’m not, so I think it actually matters more in a way that I’m willing to admit it to another person.

To me, the Catholic faith is actually very practical. Personally, I need this. The fact of the matter is that I’m much more willing than a lot of people to believe what sound like ridiculous things. At times I even find myself thinking, “God, that’s completely ridiculous.” It’s ridiculous to believe that Jesus could “magically” bring people back to life or heal people who had been disabled for most of their lives. It’s even more ridiculous to believe that he came back to life after dying. What’s the most ridiculous of all is that a perfect, all-powerful God loves a weird, scatter-brained, broken, sinful kid (i.e. me). He’s shown me practically, and supernaturally that he loves me to an unfathomable extent. It actually doesn’t make sense. This love is one of the reasons I need to really hear “Your sins are forgiven.”

Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, as I grow in my faith, I need practical things. For example, communion was nothing more to me than a habit for a long time. Now I need it. I can’t live without it. I didn’t feel like this until I started to actually feel a strong connection with Jesus. It wasn’t the Eucharist that got this going. It was a completely supernatural experience, and it’s been a long, complicated journey. I can honestly say that I love Jesus, and I need the Eucharist because it’s the one thing through which I can actually see and touch him. Obviously it’s not him in all his glory. Sometimes when I get even a sense of his true nature I get an impulse to hide. I definitely know what it means to fear God. Humans require physical connection and intimacy. God, who is love, makes himself actually, physically present during communion so that we can have that connection with him. I’ve heard that some people take issue with this because of the idea that it’s a sacrifice. This sacrifice is meant to be seen as a perpetual commitment. Jesus perpetually offers himself to his Father, and allows us to also make that commitment, perhaps in a similar way that when a couple is married, they are making a perpetual commitment to each other. His suffering and death  was literally once and for all. The Eucharist is a sacrifice of love.

Sometimes the Mass itself is boring. I get that. It’s very methodical, whereas I imagine the “process” in other churches is less spelled out. I could be wrong. I’ve mostly only ever gone to Catholic churches, with a few exceptions. When I was at school, I thought about exploring other options, but now I don’t just believe, I somehow know that Jesus is there during communion. Sometimes I’m just not totally “with it” during most of the Mass. Sometimes the sermon just doesn’t do anything for me. For just a few minutes, however, I know that the most important thing in the world is happening. It really is amazing to me, and at the same time, it seems so simple.

Sometimes I find that I’m baffled by God. He’s complicated, and sometimes I find myself thinking that he’s so human. That’s actually backwards. God made humans in his image, so actually, we’re like him. I don’t think it’s wrong to equate humanity with goodness. To be human–to be as we really should be–is to be like God: to love, to forgive, to be helpful, to be together, and to be happy. Jesus says, “If you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you are one with me, and I am one with you.” (John 6:56). He means this literally. He offers himself to us in this way so that we can not only be like him, but so that we can be with him.

I learned these things partly because I stayed, but now I stay because of what I know. I also want to say that not all Catholic churches are alike. Perhaps the church my fellow blogger attended was too hung up on details and really did forget about why they were there in the first place. God loved us first, and he wants us to love him back, both individually, and as a community. If we forget about love at church, then we’re missing the point. Honestly, I hear so much more about God’s love these days because I’m actually paying attention. The truth is that it’s everywhere. It’s kind of overwhelming, and yeah, some of it is found in the “details.”

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

What Christianity Is Not

To figure out what Christianity looks like, I think we have to figure out what it doesn’t look like. What actually makes someone a Christian? What are the duties of a Christian? What does it mean to practice what we preach? Why does it sometimes seem like the church is dead or ineffective? As I said, I think the best way to answer these questions is to first figure out what Christianity is not.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Christians have to prove that God exists, yet the Church spends ludicrous amounts of time, effort, and sometimes money to do just this. The fact of the matter is, it’s not our job. It is our job to tell people the “Good News.” However, I think even Christians themselves have lost their sense of what this actually is. Salvation is not about where you end up when you die. It’s about knowing that you are a sinful person, and that you are forgiven, you are loved, and you will never be alone.

Being Christian does not give you license to judge anyone. Look at the U.S. in particular, however, and you will find that some of the most judgmental people call themselves Christians. In fact, many will judge other Christians very cruelly because they belong to the wrong denomination. The Church is supposed to be the unified body of Christ, not a house divided against itself. Every denomination has something about it that is imperfect. We can not adequately emulate Christ if we are fighting among ourselves or even being downright cruel to people who adhere to different ideologies than us.

Christianity is not at war with philosophy or science. It can and should inform our understanding of both, and both can give us a more concrete understanding of how God works in the world. God wants to be known, and the fact that the world and the universe can be studied and understood by the human mind is a testament to this. He can never be known completely in this life, but he gives us clues through philosophy and science as to what he is like. For example, Jesus says that he is the light of the world. Genesis says that the universe was created when God said, “let there be light.” I once read that at the moment of the big bang, there was most likely a tremendous flash of light. I also recently read that scientists discovered a zinc spark–a kind of flash–that occurs at the moment of conception. Every human mind is unique. It’s like it’s own little universe. Chew on that for a bit.

In a similar vein, Christianity should not be afraid of art. I am unashamedly very Catholic. I am also a science fiction writer, I hang out mostly with atheists and agnostics, I watch movies and play games in which religion is out of the question, or other gods exist and have real power. Art never, under any circumstances, brings God’s  truth or omnipotence into question. Some genres portray sinful behavior as normal or even good. It’s up to the individual to decide whether these portrayals are personally problematic on a spiritual or emotional level. If they are not, then there’s no reason why the story as a whole should not be appreciated and enjoyed. Art should be primarily judged for its artistic quality.

Lastly, Christianity is meant to be personal, but it is also meant to be active. The reason why the Church often seems boring, outdated or “dead” is because many have completely internalized and abstracted the faith. It is true that Christianity encompasses a philosophy or a set of “rules” by which an individual should live. However, Jesus said that the most important thing is to love God and to love our neighbors. Love is communal and concrete. At the very least, two people must be actively involved. Love obviously can take many forms, whether it’s a work of charity, the act of forgiving someone, or a selfless personal relationship with another. Love involves giving of one’s self, but it is often misconstrued as something like an abstract, impersonal respect, particularly when it comes to acquaintances or strangers. Put simply, people just don’t pay enough attention to each other. Christianity demands that we start paying more attention.

People have lost faith. There are plenty of reasons for this, but I think the simplest is that we are no longer willing to believe the unbelievable. Why don’t we see miracles happening anymore? It’s because we doubt their validity. We see them as “magic,” and magic is directly opposed to what we know and are capable of through science. We have more faith in doctors and engineers than we do in God. I am absolutely guilty of this, so while I’m pointing the finger, I’m pointing at myself, as well.

Further, society has lost its sense of what sin is. Sin is a refusal to do what is right, and what is asked of us by God. By extension, it is separation from God. God is the ultimate good, and the true manifestation of love. Therefore, separation from God is separation from love. Sin isn’t always as concrete as people might think. It’s complicated. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “Be perfect….” Obviously no one is nor can we be perfect, but it is something we must strive for. Union with God brings peace and joy. I’ve realized that something I have to overcome is impatience. Sin does not only refer to specific actions. It encompasses sentiments and ideas as well. What I want to emphasize is that being sinful does not make someone a bad person. It just means that one is imperfect and therefore, apart from God.

So what does Christianity look like in an actual, practical sense? We are given specific duties. I think these duties can be summed up in three commands.

1: Love God. Worship him and honor him, and pay homage to his kindness and greatness.

2: Tell people about God and about salvation.

3: Be kind. In other words, be self-giving.

It sounds straightforward, but actually, the way in which we do these things involves some creativity. This makes the task more personal, but can also make it more difficult. Furthermore, they are all intertwined. In doing one, we tend to accidentally, or intentionally do one of the others to some degree. Truthfully, we can’t love God without loving other people because God has infinite love for all people. Therefore, worshiping God involves spending time with people and being kind. Then there is communal and informal worship. Communal worship is what we do in church. Informal worship is more personal. Prayer is a kind of worship, and again, this is somewhat structured, but is still more personalized. Completely personal worship is when we do our work or create something in order to honor God. Loving other people and loving God requires that we tell about salvation because we should want people to know about the greatest love there is.

This is often difficult because people have been force-fed the wrong message and mistreated by those who claim to be followers of Jesus. The message that we ought to be spreading is actually rather simple. All we really need to tell people is, “What you believe is between you and God, but I want you to know that the God of the universe loves you, and you can know him and he will always be with you because Jesus paid for all the evil in the world and he is alive now. Everything will be made right.” The point is there is nothing negative in that statement. We can’t start with sin. Starting by telling a person that they are sinful does not work in a relativistic society. People have lost their concept of objective morality. We have to start with love and move towards a concept of sin, emphasizing all the way that we must strive for the good, but that we are safe.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

What I Know

It’s taken me a long time to write this post. I’ve been feeling for a long time that God wants me to tell people about him. I didn’t want to tell people what they’ve probably already heard a thousand times. This is simply what I know about God.

I know that God answers prayers.

Truthfully, he doesn’t always do this in the way I expect or the way I want. The cliche is true. God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes I have to wait, and sometimes I even forget about what I prayed for, and he answers anyway. I try very hard to be a peacemaker. Because of that, I haven’t got into too many fights. I’ve witnessed some pretty deep resentment among people I love, though. I’ve prayed about it, and the problems have been resolved. God always provides. I have epilepsy, and while my medication prevents me from having full seizures, I still have symptoms. Usually this is because I’m too hungry or I’ve spent too much time on the computer, so most of the time I can get rid of them just by changing my behavior. However, sometimes it’s out of my control. In these situations, I often pray, and the problem often goes away. Sometimes I just need something small. I need to make sure I wake up on time or I do something stupid and get my wheelchair stuck and need someone to rescue me. There are so many examples I simply can’t list them all. When I pray for small things, however, God often answers those prayers almost instantly. I have to mention however, that sometimes God’s answer to a prayer is “No” because it’s the best thing for you. It’s also important to remember that God works in real time. God can make difficult, complicated things happen, but because they are difficult and complicated, they will take time–sometimes years. One example I do want to mention, though is that when I was in middle school, my cousin had Cancer. It was treatable, but it definitely wasn’t easy. One night he told my aunt that he really felt like he was going to die. I desperately wanted him to live, so I prayed hard, and soon after, things changed drastically.

I know his love is intense.

I was born with Muscular Dystrophy. Because of this, I couldn’t run around and play on the playground with the other kids when I was little, so God gave me a playground in my head. I constantly made up stories and characters and drew pictures and made up better reasons for why snow fell instead of what science told me. This playground in my head is always getting bigger and bigger as I continue to write stories and learn about philosophy and contemplate my place in the world. Eventually, however, I realized that my imaginary playground wasn’t enough. I am asexual. In short, I find sex repulsive. This was very confusing for a lonely high school student who wanted love and didn’t understand it. I thought I needed a boyfriend. At the time I believed in a god, but not necessarily a God one could have a relationship with, so I prayed that I would find love. In retrospect, I realized that a part of me, though not necessarily a conscious part of me, knew that I needed God. I was confirmed as a Catholic in the first few months of my Junior year. Though I had not exactly intended to, I kept going back to church for no real discernible reason. It wasn’t until October of my Freshman year of college that I knew he loved me. I went to a very Christian school and as a requirement, went to chapel services three times a week. It was the first time I had heard contemporary worship music, and that made something click. Still, I was lonely, but one night I prayed and the part of me that needed God somehow became conscious and I said “I love you” basically by accident. As soon as I said it, I felt an overwhelming feeling of love and peace.

Over the next several years I learned many things, though how I learned some of them isn’t entirely clear. It took a while for it to sink in, but I learned that Jesus loved me and had me in mind when he took on the sins of the world. He took on my sins, too. I learned that it’s not enough to love God. You have to trust him, and I do. I learned that God loves us no matter what, and he always will. Jesus hung out with people that his contemporaries literally wouldn’t talk to and wouldn’t even touch. He said that he didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it. That means a lot. I learned that the more time I spend with him, and the more I come to know him, the more I need him. I learned that his love is unfair in the most perfect way. Most importantly, I learned that God made a way for us to literally see and touch him in the Eucharist, and this will last for all time until he comes back.

I know that God has a sense of humor.

If you had told me in my Freshman year of high school that I would be considering being consecrated to God, I would have told you that you were crazy. If you had told me that I would start going to Church every day, I would have told you that you were crazy. I didn’t know God. I didn’t like the Church. It was lame and boring, and Catholics were all old and annoying and judgmental. If you had told me that I was going to go to a Christian college and major in English, I would have told you that you were crazy. Even if you had told me what kind of music I would be writing, I would have told you that you were crazy. I wanted to be in a punk rock band. If you had told me I was going to write a novel, I would have told you that you were crazy. I tried twice and gave up twice. Among my closest friends, I am the only practicing Catholic, and I was the first to graduate college. I find irony hilarious. You would be laughing too, if you knew just how much irony I’ve lived through.

I know God’s voice.

Some people at my school said that they felt a connection to Jesus from the age of five. It took me literally twenty years and then some. I know God is infinite, and I know God is love. Love is patient, and love is kind. God has infinite patience. His sense of time is not like ours, but he still had to watch me wander around without knowing him for what, to me, was a long time. God’s call is not like a voice in my head. It’s more like I feel him pulling on my soul. I can resist. I can ignore him, but I don’t want to. At the moment I’m feeling the pull, I can’t always put it into words, but I usually can eventually. After I was confirmed I felt the pull, and it was like he was saying, “Stay with me, okay?” The pull has become more and more obvious as I’ve come to know him better. It’s not the same for everyone. He relates to everyone in the way that makes the most sense to them.

I know that sometimes God gives us more than we can handle.

You read that right. It’s a matter of trust. The month before finals in the second semester of my sophomore year of college was a nightmare. I was overworked and got very little sleep. On top of that, the dosage of my medicine wasn’t right and I was dealing with some nasty epilepsy symptoms. During that time I had one prayer: “Get me through this.” That year Tenth Avenue North released their album “The Struggle.” Through the month of April I practically had their song “Worn” on repeat. That song made me feel like I wasn’t alone, even though it’s about a completely different kind of struggle than what I was going through. The point is that I knew I couldn’t make it through on my own. I trusted God. It was my turn to say “Stay with me, okay?” and he did. I passed all my classes, and after finals, went home and slept. On occasion God has asked me to do the impossible. He has asked me to do things that I am terrified of doing. I’ve found that I can’t do these things unless my answer is “I’ll do it, but I need your help because nothing else is gonna make it happen.” If I don’t do the impossible for him, I often can’t do the simpler things that I want to do. This may seem unfair, but God wants what’s best for us, and he wants us to be happy. If we want what God wants, and if we do what he wants, we will be happy. This doesn’t meant that we’re robots. God has an individualized plan for each of us. We are all unique, and God uses and relates to all of us differently. He understands our quirks and desires and fears and preferences and works with us in the way that will cause the most good and the most happiness for us and for the people around us.

I know that God is emotional.

Jump to any part of Scripture, and you will find that things people do please God or make him angry. In the Gospels we see Jesus having fun at a wedding celebration. Later on, he gets angry at the people who were buying and selling animals in the temple. The night before his death, he stays up and prays because he’s afraid. God feels what we feel, and what we do matters to the Father who knows us and loves us more than anyone else ever could. He loves us even though we’re broken. He loves us despite everything we’ve thought or done, and he forgives everything. He’s willing to go to extremes for us because he wants us to love him back. To many, the story of salvation sounds unbelievable; crazy. To me it often sounds unbelievable and crazy. I don’t understand all of it. It’s not possible to. That’s the whole point of faith. God is way smarter and way more loving than any human ever. He gave us stories and metaphors and teachings in his Word, but he also gave us the Church so we would never be alone in our faith, and he gave us souls that will lead us to him if we allow them.

I Made Up A Conversation!

“Jesus saved us from our sins.” Okay… so what does that actually mean? What is sin?

It’s basically two things: rebellion against God, and by extension, death.

How does one rebel against God?

Basically, “in the beginning,” however you want to interpret that, humans were told to obey and trust God… we didn’t do that. Thus, evil entered the world and was passed down through the generations. Later, Jesus tells us that the most important thing for us to do is to love our God and to love our neighbors (friends, family, etc, as well as our fellow humans in general). We’re generally pretty good at loving our chums, but peeps tend to forget about the first part.

Why do the actions of some people a wicked long time ago affect us now? How is that possibly fair?

It’s more like a genetic defect than a crime we inherited the guilt from. It’s not your fault per se. It’s just a part of you. It’s really your choices and actions as a result of the inherent evil within you that matter.

Who or what defines “good” or “evil?” Some things that are good for, or help some people hurt other people, so isn’t it all relative?

If morality is relative, one has to assert that nothing is good or evil. Therefore, things like murder should have no repercussions other than perhaps they would be seen as distasteful. Therefore, morality cannot be relative. If it is not relative, it has to be defined by someone or something. Only someone or something that could understand the concept of morality could define it. Therefore, someone intelligent must define it. Furthermore, absolute morality must be defined by someone who could understand how a small action in Boston could affect someone in Afghanistan. Only God can see the whole of humanity through all of time. Thus, God defines morality.

Can you prove God exists?

Not without using some personal experience (my own and that of a lot of others).

Okay, fine. Assuming God exists and sin is a thing, why did we need Jesus to “save” us, and what does that mean?

This gets a little complicated. We don’t just have evil in us. We think evil things and do evil things, even if they’re small and we don’t mean to. Jesus is God in human form. He died in our place so that we would be forgiven. He taught us how to be good in the eyes of God so that we wouldn’t do evil things. We have to believe in him and follow his example because he is God, and is, therefore, the ultimate good.

What happens if you don’t believe?

I think it depends from person to person. I can say that I’m much happier knowing Jesus than I was when I didn’t know him, and faith matters in this life. What happens when you die? I have only a very vague idea, and I can’t really say. All I know is that God judges everyone. How he does that, I don’t know. I do know that Jesus died to save everyone, and I figure we at least owe him our faith.

Humans! Send me more questions and I will attempt to answer them!

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Accidents

Earlier today I accidentally said “I love you” to a friend before hanging up the phone. He said it back, and it didn’t seem to phase him, but to me at least, it’s still a little awkward. He has a fiance, and he knows I don’t “like” him in that way, but I don’t think I’ve ever said that to him. It was just automatic. I say “I love you” to certain people when I hang up the phone. It’s just a little weird for me because I used to have a crush on him, and I don’t know if he knows that. Furthermore, he’s been my guitar teacher, a spiritual mentor, and for a short time, my boss. For the record, he was calling to reschedule my violin lesson because he’s commandeering my lesson room to work on a recording project with another client and the studio needs to be quiet. I’ve been told I make an awful lot of noise.

Earlier this morning I had a little talk with God. I’ve been trying to let him drive, and in doing that, I’ve been trying to figure out what he needs me to be doing. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I don’t entirely control my own fate. My Muscular Dystrophy keeps me from doing a lot of what I would consider “heroic” things. I’m not a hero in the way I would like. For a long time I’ve thought of myself as a minor character in someone else’s story, though whose I’m not sure. I’ve thought that I’ll always be the harmony to someone else’s melody. You get the idea. This morning I had a different thought. I’ve been trying to be the main character in a story that isn’t mine. I have to figure out what my story is.

There is a part of me that has always wanted to counter evil. I’ve never entirely figured out how. There are a lot of reasons for this. I’m still financially unstable, I’m not physically capable of doing a lot of things, and admittedly, I have short attention span, among other things. The leaders in the Church, and people all over the world and all over the internet emphasize the power of prayer. I know it works. I’ve seen miracles happen, but I’m impatient, and it seems counter-intuitive to think that just asking for something means you will get it, even if it’s not in the way you had imagined.

My story will never be a grand epic. At least I don’t imagine it will be. This morning I told God that there are important problems in this world that I just don’t and can’t care about. One simply cannot care about every single world problem. We’d all fall apart if we did. I care the most about two things: the salvation of my friends, and the destruction of ISIS–eventually, an ultimate end to war. Neither of these things are easy to achieve, and I’m not sure how much I can do about the second issue.

I’ve been trying to understand the Holy Spirit a bit more, and I’ve come to realize that he doesn’t give power to humans, at least not in the way we think. The way I understand it is that in this world that God has created, there is a physical realm and a spiritual realm. God can work in and manipulate both on his own, but in the physical realm, he often prefers to use physical means of doing things. He uses people to get his work done. He doesn’t give us power. He uses us as vessels of his power. I’m hesitant to say he works through us because to me that sounds like he kind of works around us, which isn’t exactly true. What I’m trying to explain is that we can’t just do whatever we want with the power that he gives us. It’s only “helpful” if we follow his lead.

I’ve been praying about it for at least three years now, but I constantly have to remind myself that I can’t save my friends. Not only that, but God can’t save them unless they choose to believe. Changing the spiritual opinions of five very smart, very opinionated people is not an easy task. I just wish I could get inside their heads and figure out what keeps them from believing. I’ve only been a Christian for five years or so, but I can’t imagine going through life, especially going all through college and adulthood not knowing that I’m being cared for and that, no matter what, everything is going to be okay. If nothing else, it makes me so much more comfortable with the fact that the future is uncertain, at least from my point of view.

I became Christian when I accidentally said “I love you” to God. I believed in his existence before I knew him, and I prayed about things with increasing frequency, especially after my first semester at a Christian college. I’m starting to think that that accidental “I love you” means something. “I love you” is something you say when you’re being your most honest and your most vulnerable. Come to think of it, I’ve been saying it to my closest friends more overall lately. I often find myself hesitating to say it because it’s corny, or because I question whether it’s an appropriate thing to say in certain situations, but I’m starting to think that life is too short, and you should never hold back those words.

I will never be the hero in a traditionally epic story, but there are five lost souls that I could have a hand in finding. Whether or not a story is important or interesting is largely a matter of semantics. The size and actual scope of this story seems small, and I haven’t taken a close enough look at what’s at stake. The setting of this story is largely in words on the internet, in my house, and in our heads. I’m not taking up arms against demons, and I’m not magically saving anyone. It’s not a story I would likely read. It’s my story nonetheless, and I will gladly be its hero. That accidental “I love you” is my weapon. I am God’s ambassador to the dark souls of my friends. I can do that because I’ve studied theology and philosophy and writing. I know how to debate, and most importantly, I know how to love.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!