My Wacky World

179194_10150947648104718_826082155_n
Recently, our church got a new pastor. I’m not a big fan of change. It’s really strange, because change has really been beneficial to me, so I don’t know why I always resist it. But, anyway, after saying goodbye to a pastor I loved and adored, I got to be part of saying hello to a new pastor that I also, already love and adore. When saying hello, you usually introduce yourself. As I began to tell her what I do on a daily basis, helping to put together a comic about gaming, I realized, and even said, “I’m weird.”

In conversation, my pastor, myself and others all concluded that everyone is weird in some sort of way. I agree. Next week, I told her, I’m going to be with some of my own strange sort of people at the biggest gaming convention in the world, Gen Con in Indianapolis, Indiana. Every year, we make the pilgrimage in a yellow truck filled with boxes and boxes of books that we load up and unload. We set up in the Exhibitor’s Hall at our booth, and we wait the onslaught of crowds, some with Iron Man or Batman T-shirts, some wearing costumes, and others armed with huge backpacks where they can put all of the “swag” they acquire at the convention. There will be excitement in the air, a carnival feel, and friends around every corner.

I sometimes feel that I am doubly weird because I’m a gamer and a Christian. I’m not the only one, of course, but, I lived through the days when playing Dungeons and Dragons was held up as an evil activity that would drag young people into demonic activity, cause them to kill their parents, and rip them loose from reality. Even today, I hesitate to tell my fellow churchgoers that I not only play role-playing games, I help write them, and I help my husband make a living satirizing and paying tribute to other geeks like me. I am never sure how they will receive me. Some might question how much of a Christian I could be and still be a part of that world. Others might just see me as a strange, geeky person that they cannot relate to. You just never know. and, it’s not just churchgoers who think those kinds of things about gamers.

But, I also often hesitate to tell other gamers that I’m a Christian. At least I used to. A lot of gamers were burned by the D&D hysteria brought on by a few televangelists with a need to sensationalize a creative hobby that has its roots in the fantasy worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. A lot of them want nothing to do with judgmental Christians who look down on them as Satanic, or weird.

I tend to be a person who worries too much. So far, when I’ve had authentic relationships with people, they’ve seen that I’m just a person. So in general, I haven’t had too many people reject me for being either a gamer or a Christian.

Next week, I’ll be among people I don’t see on a weekly basis, like I do the people at my church. And, I can’t wait to see them. I can’t wait to get a hug from my weird and wonderful friends from Australia, who will be there. I can’t wait to romp through a pretend dungeon with them with bean bags for spells and foam swords. I can’t wait to see my friend from Texas, a former NASA scientist who makes great costumes and who belly dances, oh, and who is also a Christian. I can’t wait to see my buddy, Geekpreacher, a Methodist minister from Tennessee who runs a Christian gamer’s guild and holds a worship service at the convention on Sunday morning. I can’t wait to see if there are any new games to get my hands on, or if I can buy some cute little, useless Trekkie toy to put in my display case next to my Hobbit Hole replica or my dragon carving.

I can’t wait to have a few laughs over dinner while wearing one of my goofy hats. I can’t wait to walk the streets of Indianapolis and see the people drive by in cars, staring at all the geeky goodness.

I love my Wacky World, and I feel perfectly at home in that place where geekiness and faith combines. If you’re heading to Gen Con next week in good old Indy, stop by the Kenzer and Company booth and give me a smile or handshake, or even a hug. I look forward to seeing you.

Walking By Faith

IMG_4290

2 Corinthians 5:7 says that we walk by faith, not by sight. That verse comes into my mind quite a bit, and has throughout my life. I see the truth of it, and the practicality of it so often.

The most life-changing lesson I learned about faith was when I was raising my daughter, Amber by myself for a few years due to some difficulties that I have discussed before. I had felt God urge me to stay in the place I was, though I had no family around me, because, I felt him say, he wanted to teach me to trust him instead of relying on everyone else. I will never regret the decision to do just that. I grew so much through that difficult time.

I had a wonderful church, I had fantastic friends, so that helped. I even had a therapist. I needed it. My life had taken a lot of jolts and I needed someone who could help me put the pieces back together.

But, even as I grew and had many happy moments, times often got hard, difficult and dark. Amber had a lot of needs. She had to have hip surgery a few times, complete with body casts for months, or braces, etc. She needed a feeding pump, wheelchairs, therapy, etc. And, she got sick a lot. When she was sick, I had to be with her 24/7 for the most part. I didn’t want her to choke on vomit. It was agonizing at times, with no sleep, no food, just darkness all around me. That’s how it felt. I also couldn’t work during those times, and that meant no pay.

One night, after a rough few days of tending my sick baby, exhausted and in despair and rage I threw something at God (the ceiling) and screamed, “Why don’t you help me?” I felt him tell me this, “faith is for the hard times, the dark times. If you only have faith when things are good, it’s not really faith. Just sing praises when you feel so low, as an act of faith.” I began to do that and really, it was something God honored. Not long after, Amber and I would be reunited with my husband, and life got so much more amazing.

But, now that Amber has gone, I’ve had to learn more. I learned that for me, sight is emotion. When it says we walk by faith, not by sight, for me that means I remember and count on what I know to be true about God instead of giving in to my emotion. Just because I feel a certain way doesn’t mean I have to act on that feeling. If I’m angry at someone, as much as I want to curse them, I pray for them instead because I know that Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. So, if I obey that, I walk by faith. Now, I don’t always do this flawlessly. But, I know how I should live and the way to live faithfully is to do what is right, even when I don’t feel like it.

But, it’s more. Amber’s death was a huge blow. What I wanted more than anything after her passing was just to die too. I wanted to be with her. I could not imagine living life without her with me in body. I saw no goodness left in life. But, I’m still here. And, I have seen that life is still good. By faith, I pressed on and held on to God, sometimes by the very skin of my teeth, with darkness once again threatening to swallow me up. One Psalm was my lifeline at the time.

Psalm 4 —

1 Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
You gave me room when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.
2 How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?
How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?Selah
3 But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.
4 When you are disturbed,[a] do not sin;
ponder it on your beds, and be silent.Selah
5 Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the Lord.
6 There are many who say, “O that we might see some good!
Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!”
7 You have put gladness in my heart
more than when their grain and wine abound.
8 I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.

It isn’t wrong to feel things. Anger, sorrow, hunger, longing, etc., are all legitimate emotions and passions. They are gifts even. But, like anything good, if not used rightly, they can consume. Faith helps me rise above and not be a slave to my feelings. So, by faith, though I often feel afraid, I will remember that God is with me, watching over me, and He loves me. I don’t have to give in to fear and stop living. And, even though I feel anger quite a bit, I don’t have to hate or turn bitter. I can forgive, and forgive, and forgive, because releasing the anger and hurt frees me from the prison of bitterness. Walking by faith makes me more like Jesus. And, in my mind, that is the best I can strive for.

Making Disciples or Fighting Wars?

Jesus-pouring-water-from-jug-300x199

Since I’ve stumbled upon the teachings and writings of pastors Greg Boyd and Brian Zahnd, I’ve realized just how skewed our vision of Christianity can get. Both of them are pacifists, something I had never considered before. I am a veteran after all. I served toward the end of the Cold War with the big nukes that were aimed at Russia. Let me tell you, nukes are about as non-peaceful as they get. I remember our general coming into the Public Affairs Office where I worked and tasking us with finding Bible verses that would help him tell little old German ladies in Sunday School that God approved of nukes. Yep. And, I did it, I’m sad to say, all the while he is sitting in the office telling us how he doesn’t believe in the Bible that much, and he can’t get over all the killing in the Old Testament. Looking back, I find that whole scenario sort of ironic.

But, I’ve always loved Jesus. Since I was a kid, I have just adored him. He was my friend in the darkest days of childhood, when there was nobody to talk to during the scary times. And, He stayed with me, even in my Army days. He meets us where we are, after all.

I think a lot about what being a Christian means, and what it should mean. All of the years of memorizing and studying the Bible stayed with me. But, the teachings of pastors and our culture also shaped how I thought about life in this country and what it means to be a Christian in the U.S. I thought I knew the truth, and it was hard and immovable, and it was pretty bleak, looking back on things. There was only one way to think that was acceptable to the Christians I knew. The approved method of “godliness” was that you had to vote Republican, disapprove of worldliness, and be good. Even in the midst of a very legalistic denomination, concerned with holiness above all things, however, there was light. I learned the Bible, for instance. And, I learned that Jesus loves me. And, there is something that Pastor Eugene Cockrell, of Lakeview Wesleyan Church said from the pulpit that has never left me. He said that Jesus beckons us to come to him just the way we are. He said too many people think they have to clean themselves up first, to be a better person, before they come to Him, before He will love them. But, Pastor Cockrell said this truth, “nobody can be clean without Jesus. That’s why He came. Just come to him the way you are, and let Him help you fix whatever needs to be fixed.”

Over the few decades that I’ve been alive, since then, I’ve been on a journey of faith that has been quite surprising and spectacular, as well as traumatic and heartbreaking. The traumas I’ve had in life, the birth of my daughter prematurely with brain damage, my divorce, Amber’s death, the divorce of my parents, remembrances of how things really were as I was growing up, etc., have not been in vain. God has used every one of them, redeemed the pain, and has helped me become more open and desperate for a true relationship with Jesus. My faith has had to become something I can live with in real life. It has had to become my very lifeblood, rather than some theories about life.

I won’t go back into all of the details here. I’ve written about this before. But, just today, as I prayed I began to be aware of some things.

We are not called to fight wars for God. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, as Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12. For our[b]struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. – NRSV

But, we ARE called to make disciples. Making disciples does not mean you build a church and hope people come in. Jesus made disciples by walking among the people. When he called his disciples, he didn’t make them pass any sort of “holiness” test. He didn’t tell them to stop their sinful ways or clean themselves up. All he said to them was, “Follow me.”

He didn’t even ask them to believe he was the Son of God. He showed them He was, and He showed them a new way of holiness, different from that of the Pharisees of that time. His type of holiness was compassionate, above all things. When he broke the laws about working on the Sabbath, he was doing a holy thing, because he was caring for people who were hurting. And, he was showing us that peoples’ needs are more important than keeping laws to make ourselves look holy. If our hearts are hard, how can we really say we are following Jesus or becoming like him?

Paul made disciples by meeting people where they were, as well. Read this passage and tell me that Paul cared about Christians fighting for their rights, for their nationality or even for God.
1 Corinthians 9:19-23New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Yet we waste our effort, time and emotion on being angry about this or that, and alienating people loved by God. This has to stop. This has to change. If we really put the things of Jesus as our top priority, then we are going to stop protesting about things we don’t like in society and we are going to start listening to people and loving them as ourselves, as our neighbors, one of the commands that Jesus gave us.

We need to stop driving people away from Jesus because we have judged that they are not good enough. We need to stop slamming doors in peoples’ faces and locking them tight so that we can remain “untainted” by their sin. We have enough sin of our own that we fully embrace. It is time to humble ourselves and go back to the Bible with open hearts.

I remember when I thought I was supposed to stand up for God and argue with someone who didn’t believe in God in the same way I do. Thankfully, God opened my heart and closed my mouth. He told me he didn’t need me to argue for him, that he is big enough to take care of himself. He told me that this person, whom I thought of as an enemy because of the faith she followed, needed a friend. You know what? That became a step on my journey to being a disciple. That’s what I want to be and that is what I encourage you all to be, especially those who call themselves Christians.

And, you know what? I consider my friend, who has not ever changed her religious stance, a disciple too, because she listens to what I say about Jesus. She might not believe everything yet, but she is on her journey too. And, I have to remember that it isn’t my job to prove I am right about anything. It’s my job to love people the way Jesus loves people. And, Jesus never lorded over anyone. He told us that to be a true disciple, we have to be servants, not masters. He told us that the first would be last and the last first. He washed the feet of his disciples and told us to do the same. I believe with all my heart that the church needs to repent of its imperialistic love of war, of being right, of political power at the expense of love and compassion, and of just being jerks. I’m sorry, but we are not projecting anything into the world that looks like Jesus, are we? What are we known for now? Love? Not hardly. What should we be known for? Love. God is love. Why don’t we try getting on our knees before God and asking for forgiveness for our hard hearts? Why don’t we let him do a new thing in us and in the world? We are supposed to be showing people that the Kingdom of God is near, not throwing our allegiance behind guns and flags and destroying people in order to keep our power. We have to be like Christ, who humbled himself to the point of dying on a cross, laying aside his claim to heaven for the love of us here on Earth. He made himself nothing, taking on the nature of a servant. We too need to put the needs of others above our own. Check out Philippians chapter 2 for that reminder.

Wake up, people! While we are throwing every effort into winning some sort of culture war, people are dying, people are turning away in despair because they’ve been looking for someplace where they can be loved just as they are, without being condemned, and they have found only judgment and no love.
But Jesus said, “come to me all who are weary carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”
As Christ’s body, lets open up our arms to a world and let them come just as they are, weary, burdened, and hungry for love.

Daddy Loves You

manning
I’m a fan of the late writer/pastor Brennan Manning, who is most famous for writing The Ragamuffin Gospel. It’s a beautiful book. If you’ve never heard him speak, look him up on YouTube. You will not be sorry.

I am reading a book of his right now called The Furious Longing of God. I ran across a passage in the book that really revolutionized the way I think about God, especially when I pray. In this passage, he talks about the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples when they found him off praying in a way they’d never seen anyone pray before, utterly absorbed, motionless, on the ground, completely abandoned to God.

When they asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he gave them the prayer that we are all so familiar with. Manning took his quote from Luke 11:2-4 of the New American Standard Bible. He quotes Jesus as saying,

“Father, Hallowed Be Your Name.
Your Kingdom Come.
Give us Each Day Our Daily Bread.
And Forgive Us Our Sins,
For We Ourselves Also Forgive Everyone Who Is Indebted to Us.
And Lead Us Not Into Temptation.”

We are so used to those words, “Our Father,” Manning wrote. They have become so familiar that they are no longer real. “Those words were not only real,” he wrote, “but also revolutionary to the twelve disciples. Pagan philosophers such as Aristotle arrived at the existence of God via human reason and referred to Him in vague, impersonal terms: ‘the uncaused cause, the immovable mover.’ The prophets of Israel reveald the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in a warmer, more compassionate manner. But only Jesus revealed to an astonished Jewish community that God is truly Father.”

He talked about how if we take all of the best qualities of the best mothers and fathers who have ever lived, we’d still see only a faint shadow of the “furious love and mercy in the heart of God the Father addressed to you and me at this moment.”

The, he quotes the apostle Paul, who in the 8th chapter of Romans writes:

“For You Did Not Receive A Spirit of Slavery To Fall Back Into Fear, But You Received A Spirit Of Adoption, Through Which We Cry, ‘Abba, Father!'” (Rom. 8:15 NAB)

Manning tells us that Abba means in literal English, “daddy, papa, my own dear father.”

He talks about how when the average American baby first begins to speak, universally, the first word they speak is “da-da, da, daddy.” Little Jewish babies in 1st Century Palestine, speaking Aramaic, would have said, ‘ab-ab, ab, Abba.”

Jesus was telling people, in an astonishing truth, that we, as human beings, may address the “infinite, transcendent, almighty God with the intimacy, familiarity, and unshaken trust that a sixteen-month old baby has sitting on his father’s lap—da, da, daddy.”

Manning asked, in his book, whether our own personal prayer life was characterized by the “simplicity and childlike candor, boundless trust, and easy familiarity of a little one crawling up in Daddy’s lap? An assured knowing that the daddy doesn’t care if the child falls asleep, starts playing with toys, or even starts chatting with little friends, because the daddy knows the child has essentially chosen to be with him for that moment?”

As I read these passages, I have begun to pray and come to “my daddy” in a much more honest, open way and what I cannot stop thinking about is that my daddy wants me to share the gospel — GOOD NEWS — with my friends, and anyone else.

MY DADDY LOVES YOU! My daddy loves you with the love that nobody can ever love you with. My daddy wants to be your daddy too. My daddy wants to heal you of any hurts you have. My daddy doesn’t care if you’re not perfect because nobody is. You don’t have to try to clean yourself up for daddy. Just come, like you are, run to him. His arms are open and all he wants to do is love you. If others have thrown you away, said you’re not good enough, not pure enough, not clean enough, don’t listen to the bullies. Daddy’s arms are open.

Our Daddy has gifts for us. He’s got all of heaven to give, all of the presents under the Tree of Life, all of the goodies at the banquet table, and he loves to pour out his love on us. If we stop trying to do it all by ourselves, maybe we’ll see the good stuff he has for us. If we stop trying to do things “for” him and join in to do things “with” Him, we’ll see. We can feel the love that we’ve never felt before. Don’t run away from our father. He isn’t like some fathers here. My father on Earth was a scary one. My daddy in Heaven gives me a safe place to run. So, I just keep hanging onto the hem of his robe and when I let go, he still has a hold of me. He never lets go.

Manning teaches a simple prayer in his book, and it’s very fulfilling. It is simply this, with palms upraised say, “Abba, I belong to you.” I want to say that prayer every morning and through the day, so I can remember, when the world tells me I’m nothing (or when I tell myself that), God says, I belong to Him, and He loves me like the perfect daddy. Maybe you can try it sometime and see what happens.

Daddy bless you, my sisters and brothers.