Lessons from Logan

What a smile.

What a smile.

I can still see his sweet face. He had the most beautiful eyes for a little boy. His mop of beautiful brown hair framed a face that spoke of gentleness.

He loved aliens and video games. He was eight and I was 33 or something. He was the kind of kid you had to respect. You had to give him the space to open up to you. You couldn’t force your friendship on him or he might run away. He was tender, maybe too tender for this world.

He took everything in, especially the pain and terror of the world. I had tried not to see that. It is my own way of being neurotic. I always go through life trying not to see what is really there, if that reality is too much for me.

Logan was a little prince. I was the mother of a queen. She was an alien queen, as Logan put it when he saw her come to his house and ride down the wheelchair lift in our van. Her golden hair and laughter helped all realize that aliens were really quite lovely, even if they couldn’t walk.

Amber was her name. She left the world for heaven, or the alien world, if you prefer, two months before Logan did. She’d given all she had to give to the world, and it was time for her to make her grand exit. My heart broke as I escorted her to the door and let her go. My world was shaken and emptied of all that was good.

Then, as I struggled to plaster a smile back on my face, I got the news. Logan had gone too. He had left the world of his own free will, and it was a devastation beyond description.

You see, I had not been surprised that Amber slipped away. She struggled every day and her struggles wore her out. In spite of the obstacles life threw at her, however, she was generally happy, loving and a joyful spirit. I cherish her memory. Not only that, but she had faith in Jesus. We had read our Bible every night, prayed, talked about God, read books about Him together and I felt at peace knowing that when she left this world, she would be welcomed with open arms into the next.

With Logan, I was not quite sure. I had not seen him since he was 10. His mother became one of my closest friends. We had worked together. It was an interesting friendship, that at first, I wanted no part of.
You see, I was a good Christian, holy, self-righteous, and quite honestly, scared to death. She was a witch. Yep, you read that right. She still is a witch, actually. She ascribes to the Wiccan religion, and it is deeply meaningful for her. When I heard that this soldier, a witch, was coming to be stationed at the Army Public Affairs Office where I worked, I wanted no part of her. Every time I honestly tell people this, I feel ashamed of myself.

That is what I thought a good Christian was, an enemy of all evil-doers, and witches had to be at the top of that list, right? God had other ideas, however.

She arrived and I was shocked. I was expecting Elvira, Mistress of the Night. She looked normal, cute even. She was short, like me. She had freckles, pretty auburn hair, and wore glasses.

Not only that, but she was a very nice person. Still, my guard was up. When they sat her next to me, I was not thrilled. I write all of this still feeling shame, but I will continue. When she once said something on the phone that sounded derogatory about Christians, I remember wanting to jump down her throat and argue. I was going to stand up for God and set her straight, call sin sin, and do all those things Christians think they’re supposed to do when being “persecuted.” That’s when I felt God literally put his hand over my mouth and stop me. This is how I know God is not just some figment of my imagination. He actually surprised me. He told me, “I don’t need you to stand up for me. I am big enough to take care of myself. She needs a friend.”
I looked at her through His eyes for a change and I saw that she was scared, missing her family, in a new place where she was being judged before she ever did anything. I was not the only one who had a prejudice against witches.

It took more godly coaxing for me to begin to think of her the way God did, as a valuable treasure, a loving person, a real friend. We became very close, me just a bit afraid the entire time, but praying and being encouraged that God was not afraid of a witch.

Her family and mine, just me and my daughter at that time, became very close as well. My friend’s husband became Amber’s after-school daycare. We celebrated holidays together, with us being invited into their home for Christmas, birthdays, Thanksgiving and yes, Halloween. Amber and I went Trick or Treating with my friend Tess, her son Logan, and daughter Freya.

I treasure all of those times. I had gotten to know Logan a bit by then, having played video games with him, and listening to him tell me about aliens and all sorts of boyish thoughts. He once invited me to come around the block to his friend’s house. I walked with him as he scooted on the sidewalk on his skateboard. We showed up at his friend’s house and he knocked on the door. When the little boy came to the door, Logan pointed at me and introduced me. “This is my friend, Barb,” he said. I still chuckle remembering the look on that kid’s face.

One Christmas, as I was preparing presents for Logan, I had some wrapping paper that depicted a quaint toy store. The art had us looking in through the windows of the shop, filled with toys. For some reason, I thought of drawing little alien heads peeking out of the windows at Logan. He loved that to the point of asking his mom if he could take art lessons from me. I still laugh at that too, and treasure it. He came over to learn to draw aliens. It was a short lesson, let me tell you. You just kind of draw a bulb head and some almond shaped eyes. That’s about it.

His mom once told me that he asked her, “Barb isn’t really a grown up, is she? She just looks grown up.”
I found that to be high praise.

Not long before his death I had befriended him on Facebook. I saw that he wrote for his religious beliefs, “atheist, but I’m not a dick about it.” We chatted about movies once in awhile. I liked him still.
When I found he had taken his own life, I was devastated, not just for me, but more for his mother. He was a precious son. She loved and doted on him. She was the one who had dealt with his troubled heart and mind for his entire life and accepted him fully. She was the one who did everything she could to let him know how special he was, and she was the one who got him as much help as she could in the way of doctors and medicine.

But, like the Alien Queen, my sweet Amber, Logan had been worn out by the world. His spirit was tired of the pain of life, just as Amber’s body was. He left us too soon, and his death propelled me on a faith journey that I had already begun after Amber’s death.

You see, like a good Christian, I had always believed that if you don’t accept Jesus as your savior before you die, you’ll go to hell. I didn’t like that belief, but, I thought it was the truth. When Tess broke the news to me about her son’s death, she said, that she hoped he was with Amber. It broke my heart. I was scared that maybe he wasn’t, but I just could not imagine that sweet, gentle boy in hell. That was not something a loving God would do, was it? Oh, I can hear all of the trite lines now, the ones I used to believe and cling to, that God doesn’t send people to hell, they choose to go by denying him. Now, the pain of reality made me not so sure those barbarous beliefs were accurate.

Months before a Methodist pastor friend of mine shared some writing with me from a guy named Rob Bell. He had written a controversial book called “Love Wins.” He had the evangelical world up in arms over it. People said he had written that there was no hell. I was shocked and wanted no part of it. I thought the man was crazy and very wrong.

Still, I was curious and began to read a bit. After Logan died, I sought out that book. When I was given an iTunes gift certificate for my birthday, I bought it on audio book. I listened to it with longing, and what I heard was so filled with grace and hope. If it is heresy, it is a good kind. But really, he doesn’t really say anything as radical as people think. For one thing, he still adheres to, and strongly believes in the central truths of the Bible that all Christians believe, that the Bible tells the truth, that God is creator and that Jesus is his Son, who was crucified for our sins, and who rose again and is Lord. So, I wonder how he can be a heretic when he doesn’t deny one central truth at all. And, when it comes to his ideas on hell, no, he most definitely does not say hell doesn’t exist.

What he does do is go through the Bible for truth and he finds it. Not only that, he is simply repackaging ideas that other Christian thinkers have believed for centuries – that death is not necessarily the end of our ability to choose, that God is merciful and kind, loving even. That God does not get delight in torturing people in hell for ever and ever. He is not a sadist. He says he is not willing that any should perish, and doesn’t God get what he wants in the end? Doesn’t Love Win in the end? Or, does evil and death get the last laugh?

With Logan’s passing, I began to be open to guidance from God that veered away from some ideas that I had thought were biblical, but, now, I reject. I know that I am terrifying friends and family who still believe the way I did once, but, I have to follow the truth that I see.

And, I believe with all my heart that it is God who has been leading me. I pray and read my Bible every day. I seek God with my whole heart. I hunger and thirst for righteousness. I want only the purity of Jesus and his ways, unsullied by doctrines of fear and rejection. The Good News should not be telling people they better repent or go to hell. It should be about inviting people into the Kingdom that has been opened by Jesus’ sacrificial love. The Kingdom is not some day. It is here and now. It began when Jesus came to earth, defeated sin at the cross, and death at the resurrection. It is now and I plan to live in that kingdom, with mercy and grace for all.

I have Logan and Tess to thank for the greatest lessons I’ve learned in my walk with God. Our God is amazing. I am almost certain that Logan and Amber are together now and are enjoying their time with the Prince of Peace, and getting in a few laughs together at our expense.

The Jesus Kingdom

These are just some thoughts that have been raging through my mind and heart after reading some more of A Farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd. Hope they aren’t too disjointed but I just had to get them out there. Some of you might be offended. I’m sorry but I think it’s what I have been inspired to put out there, so pray about your response if you believe in prayer, that is. I know I do. I realize the tone is challenging. I believe I’ve written truth that has been placed on my heart, however.

Jesus called some people blind? Who did he call blind? Was it “sinners?” No. It was Sinners – the religious folk who thought they could see but were really blind and had bought into the system of Sin and Power that puffed them up and threw everyone else out.

When we are called to forgive as Jesus forgives us – why don’t we do it? Why don’t we wipe the slate clean as if it never happened? Why don’t we let the relationship be restored? Don’t we want Jesus to wipe our slate clean? Don’t we want our relationship with God to be restored? How can we then withhold full forgiveness? Very few, if any, of our enemies have rejected, reviled, cursed, betrayed, denied and then prosecuted us for things we haven’t done. Very few, if any, of them have given us lashes like Jesus received, or had them press a crown of thorns on our head, or stripped us and hung us with nails onto a wooden cross to die. And, very few have reviled the sacrifices we made for them out of love. Very few have misrepresented us as vengeful when we have demonstrated the greatest love of all. Very few have made our name a curse word, or spat in our faces, or hated us like we have done to Christ. Christ received our punishment and our rejection. He placed himself in the place to become our victim, and we thought we were innocent.

We still think we are innocent – godly even. Are we really blind? Are we really unforgiving? We have labeled entire people groups as our enemies and refuse to forgive. Worse yet, we seek to destroy them and actively encourage our government to do so. Whether it’s Muslims in other nations, or gays here. We cheer when drones take out an “enemy” even if it costs innocent lives, because it’s worth it to us. We don’t care about those people who die. We don’t care about their families who grieve. We don’t care because they aren’t like us. They aren’t fully human. We owe them. We won’t forgive. Well, then how can we expect Jesus to forgive us?
We turn our backs on gays here because they are abominations, because they’re different and we think that God hates them. We refuse to let them in our churches without wearing the mark of shame. We refuse to include them in the kingdom, though we are far from it ourselves and do not see. We let them die alone thinking they have no one in the world that cares. We turn our faces as their hearts and souls agonize and they take their own lives, one by one. We may say we hate the sin but love the sinner, but our actions say otherwise. Besides, how much do we hate our own sin? Our own sins are things we even joke about in church right? They’re just harmless, funny little quirks and weaknesses, but we’re working on them (if you count thinking about them once in awhile and throwing up a quick prayer working).

Our sins are not so hideous are they? That’s what we think. It’s how we act. Jesus really didn’t have to die for us because we’re not so bad. And, those really bad people? Well, Jesus doesn’t love them and didn’t die for them because they don’t deserve it, right? There is no hope for anyone who isn’t in our club of sanitized sin and institutionalized, sanctified hate, right? Our anger and bitterness are allowed free reign and expression on the internet because it’s righteous anger, right? The Bible says it and that’s what we stand on, right?

The Bible also tells us to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, and to turn the other cheek. It tells us to forgive and to serve. It tells us to wash each other’s grimy feet. But, those parts God really didn’t mean, right? He only means the stuff about gay people, right? And, he REALLY means those few sentences more than the rest, we are sure of that.

What must Jesus be thinking of our church now? What must he be doing now? Is he weeping over us the way he wept over Jerusalem? Is he pointing a finger and calling us blind guides? Is he praying with blood streaming down that we would be one with Him even now?

The Peaceable Kingdom

I have begun reading a wonderful book called A Farewell to Mars by Brian Zahnd about an evangelical pastor’s journey toward the Biblical gospel of peace. It’s published by David C Cook, and it was offered free for a time. I snapped it up because I’ve had my own heart stirred by uneasiness and the conviction that the church in America has made Christ into their state religion instead of pursuing the peaceable kingdom. I’ve only just finished the first chapter and read a poem that the author was inspired to write, and am about to begin chapter 2. It is a radical book.

Why is it radical? Because it takes us back to the radical teachings of Christ that are largely ignored in our nation. This fact has been burning in my heart since the death of my child. Something about losing her sent me looking desperately for the “real Jesus” and the truth about what we, as Christians, are supposed to be about. I had lost my purpose for living with Amber’s passing. I was yearning for anything that was real. I was no longer content with shallow religion or clichés. I wanted, and still want, to seek after righteousness and the kingdom of God. I now believe my purpose is to try to tell the truth, to seek peace and justice and to love unconditionally. I have far to go before I fulfill that purpose. I also feel that I am called to keep learning, to not be afraid of ideas that challenge me, and I have found that this venture has stimulated me and renewed my love of God.

This book talks about how nation after nation has claimed God for itself and therefore claimed superiority over all other nations with the right to vanquish enemies. America is no different. Since Charlemagne, Christ has been robbed of all he came to earth to accomplish, by being made subservient to the state. But, this should never be. Christ didn’t just come to save individual souls. He came to change the world. That is why he was a threat. If he had simply come to take people to Heaven when they die, he would never have been seen as a threat. When the Jews in power were asked who they wanted returned to them to avoid crucifixion, they did not choose the peaceable savior. They wanted the violent one. We still seem to want that savior, because it feels to me like we’ve turned our backs on the peaceable one.

Read the Gospels and tell me that Jesus commanded us to make Christianity a state religion and to enforce that power with guns and jail cells. The Crusades, the Inquisition, atrocity after atrocity have been committed in the name of Jesus who told people to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. There is no turning the other cheek with us, is there? I believe we need to repent. How it must break the savior’s heart to see what we have done in his name.

We wonder why people turn against Christianity in increasing numbers? Perhaps it is because we have presented a false Christ, an abhorrent Christ, a Christ that is no different than any other dictator who wants to rule the world by the power of the gun and laws designed to force people into obedience.
This is not a popular viewpoint. But isn’t it a correct one? We’ve come to an age where arguing seems to be all we want to do. We want to win arguments and wars, but care little for winning the kingdom.
But see this passage of scripture – Luke 19:37-39, 41-44

And as He was now approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, saying “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.”
And when He approached, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you when your enemies will throw up a bank before you, and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”

Jesus’ prophetic words came true 40 years after the crucifixion, when Jerusalem was bombarded by Rome into a fiery heap of ruins. They had chosen the violent savior not the peaceful one.

What savior do we choose? Do we choose someone who will get us into heaven but who agrees with and blesses our lording it over the world by our might? Or, do we choose a savior whose most public act was dying on a Roman cross? Do we take up our cross, or do we take up the sword like Peter did in Gethsemane? Do we drown out the voice of Jesus who tells us to put away our sword? If he came to you today and talked about turning the other cheek and forgiving even the Taliban and al Quaida, would we want him locked up? Have we forgotten the great commission, our mission, to make disciples? I don’t believe that commission came with a prescription to make them at the point of a bayonet, or a drone missile. I certainly don’t believe Christ would approve of torturing enemies or demoralizing people on Facebook.

Do you remember those WWJD bracelets? You know, the ones that ask the question “What Would Jesus Do?” You know why they became a joke don’t you? Because people that wore them did not seem to follow what Jesus would do.

I pray we will seek God’s face and heart for this world and the Kingdom of God that Jesus died to bring us. I pray any who reads this will examine themselves before they quickly think of ways to argue with it. I already know what arguments will crop up in the minds of some of my friends because I’ve heard those arguments before. But, perhaps, for once, someone would actually think about what Jesus really wants, what he would do, and open his heart to the peace that passes all understanding. We will never learn anything if we keep our minds closed. Too many Christians today seem to feel they have God all figured out and are unwilling to consider they might be wrong about anything. They do not listen to anyone who doesn’t agree with the ideas they cling to. But, this is not the way of a student. Jesus is our Rabbi, our teacher, if we let him. Follow His Spirit and do not be afraid to let him lead you where HE wills. You might be surprised, like I was, where he will lead. And, you might like it. It is a freeing thing to humble yourself under the authority of the peaceable savior. Sit at his feet. Listen to him. Stop ignoring his words as irrelevant to today. They are as true for today as ever. He did not live in a naïve world, after all. He lived in an occupied one, with military oppression killing people on crosses. He knew they would one day kill him. Yet, he still preached peace. What do we preach by our lives and what we support and what we post online?