Books to Movies… And Back Again…

When The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey came out in the fall of 2012, I was excited. I had just finished reading the book a few weeks before the movie debuted. It was the opposite case with The Lord of the Rings; I actually watched the movies before I read the books. I didn’t want that with The Hobbit.

I’m usually that guy who points out what did or did not happen in the book when watching a book-movie. Sometimes I’m sort of a snob, especially if it’s a book I really enjoyed. Yet there’s something I’ve come to notice about how I treat the book-movie genre: I’m expecting the producers/writers/directors to follow every bit of every detail to the letter. For one thing, it’d be a ridiculously long movie (perhaps why The Lord of the Rings movies were so long?). For another, even if the book was followed in every detail and was of reasonable length (you know, like no more than ten hours?), it still wouldn’t do the book justice.

Why?

It wouldn’t do the book justice because when one reads a text, one’s imagination is engaged and creates a world no one else could even come close to. That’s why I love reading fiction; because it causes me to create a world no one has ever seen before (maybe God?). Sure, the author sets the scenes, describes the characters, but the exact shapes, sizes, and appearance of everything is totally different through my imagination. Perhaps not far off the mark, but completely different nonetheless.

Another thing that I’ve seen happen when I get all bent out of shape about the movie making alterations to the book is I tend to miss out on the story being told from the movie-writer’s perspective. Think of the Gospels; we all might assume that they’re telling the same story just from a different perspective, but they actually aren’t. Sometimes there are subtle differences and other times there are major differences. But there is no question in my mind that after a good side-by-side comparison, I know that because I read John it doesn’t mean I also read Matthew.

Every time a writer receives a cool story (or really any story) and goes to put it to paper, they change things. They add in characters (like Legolas being in The Hobbit) or completely alter the setting of the story (Blue Like Jazz: Don’s an undergrad living in Reed College’s dorms instead of auditing a few classes). Whatever the change may have been, it was changed for a reason. Either they were short on time, or they’re trying to say something through the change – like Legolas helping to foreshadow The Lord of the Rings or Don the college kid possibly being more relatable to a broader audience.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to seek out the book before I watch the movie. But when it comes time to watch that movie, I think I’d be better off recognizing the differences and trying to figure out the creative purposes of those changes – instead of pretentiously pointing out to my friends that I can read.

Believe it or not, creativity is not limited to any book. Instead, it’s everywhere where a story takes place. We might actually enjoy a little more in life if we listened to the story – even if it bears the same title as our beloved book.

Dads, Car Troubles, and Peace…

Cars are fun.

That’s what I’ve learned over the past month or so. Especially those moments when they stall at a car dealership and you have to push them back into a parking spot while a family of four awkwardly watch only fifteen feet away while they wait for their brand new minivan. Those moments are a blast.

Or when you’re convinced to buy a car that is nearly double your price range and it only goes three weeks without a breakdown? And then, after you’ve taken it in and gotten it “repaired,” it breaks down exactly one week later? Crazy awesome.

Seriously, you should try it some time.

Bitter sarcasm aside, I’m really not as upset about my car situation (or lack thereof – you have to actually have a car to have a car situation) as I might seem – definitely not as much as I should be. And it’s really puzzling. I should be near livid that I spent more money than I’ve ever had for something that has broken down almost as many times as my old car. I should be screaming my lungs out at the dealership and throwing things. And yet – be it the jazzy music I’m listening to or the three dollar wine I’m drinking – I’m not.

I’m not happy about how things have gone, but my mind has not been lost (yet) and I haven’t kicked any kittens (…yet).

I wish I could say it’s all because I’ve become a secret Zen master meditating in the wee hours of the morning on how to become one with the butterfly, but I can’t. Well, I can say I do the meditating part; my eyes are definitely closed in the wee hours of the morning. But I can’t say that my relative calmness in the chaos of car breakdowns is due to some extra inner-peace-keeping regiment. I’ve done nothing out of the ordinary to prepare for the mess I’ve been tossed into.

What I am genuinely more surprised about is what I didn’t do (unlike the cars I drive): breakdown. A few years ago I wrote a post about how I was afraid of my car breaking down mostly because I wouldn’t know what to do. I was paranoid of failing cars not because I’d be without a car for a while and would have to figure out a way to get to and from work, but because of the scars that would be ripped open.

Like I said in that post, I kind of wish I had had a dad to show me the ropes on cars – even just the basics would have been fine. Instead, I’ve had to learn the way I’ve learned in the last 30 days; when my car stalls, sputters, and makes strange noises. In those cases I have to ask a friend or a coworker to check it out and offer what knowledge they have because any knowledge about cars would be helpful. What I didn’t notice until today, when my car wouldn’t start before work this morning, was that throughout this process of asking those closest to me in physical proximity, I’m no longer paranoid of when my car breaks down.

Again, I’m not happy, but that’s a far cry from being paranoid.

What I think is even cooler than not being paranoid, though, is discovering that I’m not alone in my lack of knowledge of cars. You see when you start to ask around to see who is and who isn’t knowledgeable about cars, you implicitly admit to those whom you’re asking that you don’t know much, which then enables them to admit it, too.

Fatherless kids – even the ones who were privileged enough to have their grandpas raise them instead – oftentimes feel alone. Donald Miller describes it best in Blue Like Jazz; it’s like there’s a secret knowledge about how to be a man that only kids with dads get to learn. If you don’t have a dad, tough luck in being a man.

And yet what Christianity says is that everyone has a Dad – the Dad. He may not teach you face to face or show you with His own hands how to do something. But if you’re patient and get quiet enough to listen, He will teach you. It might hurt the pride a bit and you might have to ask someone you’ve never really talked to before, but He will teach you.

No, God’s Fatherhood is not reserved only for men; women are as much His daughters as men are His sons. I only know what it’s like from the guys’ side and more specifically, the fatherless guys who had an odd assortment of father figures throughout their lives as replacements. But no matter how the demographics break down or where the lines of perspective are drawn, there is never anyone who is truly alone. We’ve all experienced the discomfort of not knowing something.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,”  – Philippians 4:6-7

As my previous month has shown, this passage applies to the simple things like learning about cars. When I was terrified of my car breaking down, God sent person after person after person to teach me one little thing after another about my car. And thinking back over these last couple of weeks, I could have reacted much worse than I did and not because my car broke down. Instead, I treated God as He is: my Dad. As a result, I was able to experience His peace in moments that are typically anything but peaceful.

Drive safe and God bless.

(And check your spark plugs and wires)

“YOLO, yo…”

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “YOLO,” which stands for “you only live once.” Of course many people will know that this is really a hip way of saying “carpe diem,” which is Latin for “seize the day.”

Countless people have tweeted, updated their statuses, and uploaded Instagram photos using this phrase as a hash-tag as if to say, “Life is short, so this is what I’m doing.” On the positive side is the cherishing of every single moment in life. But on the negative side, which happens way more than it should, is the living recklessly.

No, not everyone who uses this phrase is reckless. In fact, I think most who use this phrase do not have a reckless or irresponsible lifestyle. But there are many who do and one can clearly see why: it justifies whatever one is doing, whether good or bad.

It justifies getting drunk every night despite the amount of homework one has. It says that it’s okay to sleep around or to try different kinds of drugs. “Life is short,” goes the reasoning, “might as well.” It is dangerous because it promotes the forbidden. It’s like Adam and Eve in the Garden; Adam says, “No, we shouldn’t eat that fruit!” Eve replies, “YOLO, yo.” Adam says, “Fair point, okay…”

What can we do to replace such an ideology?

Answer: YOLE.

You only live eternally.

Or to put it another way, you only die once; you spend the rest of the time alive. I don’t intend to get into any kind of lengthy discussion about heaven and hell, which one’s real, which one’s sort of real. But I will say that I tend to agree with Donald Miller in Blue Like Jazz; that hell is simply eternal loneliness. Or C.S. Lewis’ (at least I think it was him) belief that whatever we wanted we’d get for eternity, but we’d get the consequences for eternity as well.

What’s my point? This current life matters not because we should try everything and live whatever crazy lives we want to; but because we are being prepared for eternity.

If we want to live well with God for eternity, then we must be living well with God now. We must be guarding ourselves against unhealthy teachings and practicing the healthy teachings – or as Paul says, “sound doctrine.”

No, I don’t mean that belief statement you once signed or were asked to sign; I mean beliefs that promote a healthy and Spirit-filled walk with the Lord. I mean teachings that lead us to be selfless, kind, patience, self-controlled, humble; to regard others as better than ourselves and to see ourselves not as someone who ought to be served, but rather to serve.

“Sound doctrine” could also be translated as “healthy doctrine,” which essentially points out that whatever we believe determines our spiritual health. If we believe that we ought to sleep around and get drunk, then we aren’t going to have very healthy spiritual lives (or even healthy physical lives). But if we believe that true religion or true Godliness is loving God and loving your neighbor, then we will be healthy.

We are being prepared for eternity like high school students for college. If we are only being selfish, then we’re going to get nothing but ourselves for eternity. No one to talk to, to laugh with, or to hold. If we are allowing ourselves to be persuaded by public opinion and what the masses say, then we will be constantly going with the flow, heading straight for the waterfall.

To prepare well for eternity, Paul says, is to live a healthy life – not being controlled by pleasures and comforts of this world, but seeking to bear the fruit of the Spirit. Being spiritually healthy means being kind, patient, peaceful, loving, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled (Galatians 5:22). Seize the day to prepare for tomorrow.

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things,” Philippians 4:8, NASB

You only live eternally; how are you preparing?

God bless.

Church, God, and Rest…

It’s been three weeks since I last went to church. This is the longest streak of not going to church that I’ve ever had (since becoming a Christian) and honestly, I’m a little bummed out. Sure, it’s kind of a self-inflicted wound when you work so much that you’re either scheduled for a shift on Sunday morning or you’re so exhausted that you need the rest. But church, not so long ago, used to be a major part of my every-day life – not just Sunday morning. Yet now it isn’t.

As I have come to find out the hard way, being apart from a church community will leave you very alone. If it wasn’t for my roommates and my occasional visits to Cross Training (an athlete’s ministry) I probably wouldn’t have any contact with fellow believers at all. I might run into an old friend from Calvary or CCF at some point, but brief encounters are not enough to sustain one’s spiritual life. We need family.

This hit me hard late last night. Within the last five days I’ve worked 49 hours – 33 ½ of which have come in the last three days. Safe to say I’m a little exhausted. My roommates are staying up in Portland for Spring Break and have been gone since Tuesday night. So last night I was physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually drained and had no one to hang out with. Not sure if it was just the stress, the exhaustion, the loneliness, or all the above, but I wept last night.

A few years ago I lived with 8 other guys. No matter what time of day it was or which week of school we were in, there was always something going on. A birthday party, a movie night, a beer night – whatever – there was never not something to do. I miss those days because I was hardly ever alone. And with that many guys (all of whom were involved with a church in some way) there was also always someone to talk to about spiritual stuff. Once again, I didn’t have that last night.

I could go on to talk about how much I miss my close friends from high school, Calvary Fellowship, my brothers and sisters, or even the dorms, but you see my point: You can’t go very far in life without family and friends. You might think you’re happy, but if you’re constantly alone, at some point you’re going to realize your happiness was simply a façade. Money, possessions, reputations all mean nothing when it comes to receiving love. They can’t be there for you when you have a rough day at work; they can’t take away whatever painful childhood memories you may have; and they definitely cannot give you any kind of peace. People, however, can.

No, I’m not saying we don’t need God; I’m saying the exact opposite. We do need God – He’s the one who provides everything we have, even the stuff we thought we earned for ourselves. But we also need people, which is why the church exists. It’s God moving through His people – His faithful children – to bring about His kingdom of peace.

It doesn’t really help me that I’m sort of without a church home. Yeah, I have plenty of friends attending various God-loving churches throughout Eugene, but no matter where I go I’m still going to feel like a guest instead of a member (and by “member” I mean a family member; not an official “member” of a church). And yet this is the exact thing God is challenging me with: Make new friends and become part of a new family. In years past, I had it easy, but now is a season of life where I have to work a lot to keep my faith in God strong and active.

It’s like Donald Miller says in Blue Like Jazz; if we were alone, we’d go crazy. If we didn’t have someone to talk to, someone to open up to, someone to listen to, someone to pray with, or someone to challenge us, we’d become lost within ourselves. And we would never change.

Friendships and relationships are difficult to make and keep, but without them, we’d have no real life at all. Our hearts might still beat, our lungs would still breathe, but there would be no real, genuine rest. We’d have days off and be able to sleep in, but rest isn’t simply a break from work, although that helps. Rest is a Person and His family. It is God and His children – Christ and His body. Even if we were homeless and had only the clothes on our backs, if we have Christ and His church, we’d still have everything.

God bless.

Shut Up and Lead…

In a post I wrote a month ago, I talked about my frustrations with biblical scholarship – lack of heart-felt belief underneath the opinions, focused more on their arguments than encouraging one’s faith, etc. In that post I said that when it gets right down it, poetry still speaks clearer to me than scholarship. After reading poems from Taylor Mali and subsequently writing a few of my own, I’d have to say I feel as though I’m just now beginning to find my stride as a writer.

Four years ago, almost to the day, I read Blue Like Jazz for the first time and found myself itching to write. Donald Miller speaks with such brutal honesty that I no longer felt uncomfortable putting words to paper – words about my pain, my sins, my errors in life. With the content of that book and also the way in which it was presented, Don made himself a relatable person. He wasn’t teaching, preaching, or pounding anything into our heads; He was simply revealing deep, possibly embarrassing parts of his life. Like the Navy SEAL he writes about in BLJ, he sat down beside us, got cuddly-close, and showed us being a follower of Christ doesn’t have to be an intimidating or militant or dogmatic experience. It just requires you.

Every last bit of you.

When I read Don’s blog a couple days ago, I liked it. He brought out an ever-important and often-ignored point: Jesus doesn’t require the best of the best to lead His people; He requires the willing. He requires those who don’t want their lives to be about their names, their books, their arguments, their ministries; He wants those men and women who realize they aren’t blessing the world with their presence, but instead simply want to serve, to lead, to guide people in God’s ways. Jesus does not want religious bickering.

It didn’t take long, though, to find many on the blogosphere explode with emotional responses to Don’s post. I read a couple and must agree, there were some points that Don didn’t seem to address. But what I found lacking in almost all of these responses to Miller is what he was really talking about: leadership. Jesus’ 12 disciples were not by any means the kind of people society would want leading them, but He changed them around and look what happened: We have church today because of their work then.

Yes, scholarship is helpful; yes, opinions matter; yes, the intellectuals and theologians have done so much in keeping the faith strong. But one only needs Jesus and to be led in His ways. When Jesus calls Peter and Andrew, they left everything and followed Him; they came to Him empty handed, with nothing to offer the world but their service. And He taught them how to serve.

I’ve been briefly reading up on some major issues going on within our own government. Disagreements have gotten so bad within the White House that there might be a government shutdown, which says to me that things stop moving forward until an agreement is reached. Imagine what would happen if Christianity got so caught up in our disagreements, our arguments, our religious bickering that everyone stopped until an agreement was reached? Who would be left to lead?

No, there won’t be a global-church-wide shutdown like our government’s (at least I hope not), but that doesn’t mean certain people who are called to lead won’t venture away into the religious arguments and scholarly debates. Yes, Paul was a scholar who argued a lot, but we would be wise to realize he argued because in many cases, his life literally depended on it. Here in America, we don’t face the same challenges he faced. And while he did a lot with this theology (as scattered as it comes out in Scripture), he did more with his leading. He did more with his serving. He saw people hurting around him and did something about it. He brought them to Jesus.

A couple nights ago Tony Overstake, leader of Cross Training and a pastor at my church, gave a message about two things: compassion and action. In Scripture, especially in Jesus’ ministry, these two walk hand in hand; He had compassion and then He healed. He led the people in need. We are a people in need. We don’t need the arguments and debates; we need Jesus. We need His love, His guidance, His Being. Those stupid fishermen that Jesus picked out at the beginning of His ministry are the ones who sacrificed their lives bringing just that: Jesus. We don’t need Pharisees; we need fishermen.

Many have asked in response to Don if he might be exalting heart above head; that we need more of our hearts than our heads in order to follow Christ. From what I’ve read of Don, he says we need our hearts above our intellectual arrogance. There’s a difference. Jesus commands us to love God with all our hearts, souls, strengths, and minds – not our intellectual arrogance. If anything, our arrogance is part of the problem. It needs to die. Throughout Scripture we’re encouraged to explore God’s wisdom, God’s knowledge, and to seek His understanding; but we’re not encouraged to lord our opinions about that wisdom, knowledge, or understanding over others. That isn’t leadership; it’s idolatry.

Poets speak closer to my heart not because they speak solely with their hearts; but because so many thoughts are packed into so few little words. The two poems I’ve posted (here and here) took roughly an hour and a half each to write. It wasn’t just my emotions leading my pen; it was my mind making sure each word was right, each syllable was deliberately placed, and each letter had a purpose. Religious bickering tends to disregard the content and quantity of one’s words, and yet Jesus said, “By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned,” (Matt. 12:37).

Our words, just like our lives, cannot be careless. There is too much pain, too much suffering, too much sickness in the world for us as followers of Christ to sit with idle hands and flapping jaws. Scholarship is very helpful insofar as it helps us love God with our minds; but scholarship is not a prerequisite to follow Christ. If anything, we’re to come empty handed, ready to work.

Christmas Begins With Jesus…

I’ve been working at Putters for almost four full months now and in that time I’ve been asked a lot about my hometown; how big the town is, what there is to do in Lincoln City, and what I did in high school. You know mostly general stuff like that. But it’s been making me think back, from time to time, about where I’ve been in my life and how it all began for me.

Back in high school I was a really quiet kid. Yeah, I’d be outgoing and talkative with my friends when we would hang out at each others’ houses, but at school I was really quiet. Especially about things like my faith. For me at that time, it wasn’t a very deep faith. I’d read my Bible, pray from time to time, and read through a devotional whenever I thought about it, but for the most part, I didn’t have any sort of passion for Jesus. It was mostly something I kept to myself. I was passionate about golf, no doubt. And I loved talking about how well or not well I had played at practice or in a recent tournament. But when it came to Jesus, I was really, really quiet.

Although, I must admit, if you were to question the existence of God or the Bible’s reliability, I was quick to argue with you. I think every single time I argued with someone about the Bible I ended up making myself look like a fool, but I was willing to go down swinging. Looking back now, I think I was more focused on being right than on anything else when it came to Jesus and Christianity.

I have since realized that when you replace the cross of Christ with an argument, you’re hurting two (or more) people at once; you’re feeding your pride while pushing others away from the actual Jesus. Paul writes to the Corinthians saying, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified,” which is to say, the cross speaks for itself. We shouldn’t get in the way.

I’m only bringing this up this close to Christmas because I believe Christmas is all about beginnings and it wasn’t until I began to see the cross of Christ that I made the switch from argument to love. What I mean is when I started to see just who Jesus really was and is I started loving Him more and more. Being right was no longer the central tenet driving my faith; Jesus was.

This may make some uneasy because we feel as though we need to have a sound apologetics for our faith; we feel the need to defend what we believe with sound reason and wisdom, which I believe is partially true. Defending one’s beliefs is necessary only when you’re defending against your own doubts. You defend your beliefs against an actual person; it will probably turn out bad. You may think that you’re doing the gospel justice and perhaps maybe you are; but I know that fewer people are persuaded by the arguments of Christians than by the love of Christ. When we live to share that love, to share that light, we aren’t the ones having an impact on anyone; Jesus is.

Jesus did argue, yes, but then He turned right around and healed the blind, the lame, the sick, the deaf, and the mute. And if you look closely to whom Jesus was arguing with, it wasn’t with the non-believers of God; it was the religious elite. John’s gospel paints the picture as vividly as possible; Jesus comes onto the scene, saves a wedding party by creating wine out of water, but notice what He used: water jars reserved “for the Jewish rites of purification,” John 2:6. Essentially, these “rites of purification” weren’t part of the Torah, but rather man’s addition to the Torah. It was extreme Jewish legalism that Jesus targeted with His arguments. Today’s equivalent would be prominent pastors targeting extreme Christian legalism. But rarely are our arguments directed against our own religiosity.

What changed my attitude about life and, more specifically, about Jesus was how I started to view His words as opposed to the words of today’s Christianity. Nowhere in Scripture does it say “God hates fags” or “God loves toe-tags.” No, in fact it’s quite the opposite, the Scriptures say, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people,” Luke 2:10. This good news isn’t reserved for the righteous or the most legalistic; “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance,” Luke 5:32.

Christmas time often stirs up lots of religious debates; “Put Christ back in Christmas,” “‘Santa’ is how Satan spells his name in order to deceive people,” or “Merry Christmas, not happy holidays,” are just a few of the rather dumb things we like to argue about. One of my favorites, though, is the “date of birth” commotion, which is merely two sides bickering about when Jesus was actually born. It’s my favorite because it’s funny that many people defend December 25th as Jesus’ date of birth, when it isn’t found anywhere in Scripture. And all throughout these arguments I have found one thing lacking: Jesus.

It begins with Jesus. The whole of Christianity began with Jesus; His birth, His death, and His resurrection. What I hope to do for this year’s Christmas isn’t celebrating my rightness in knowing Jesus was born this day 2010 years ago, but rather that God entered into human history for one sole purpose; to bridge the gap that we created between Him and us, to cover the sins of humanity because we couldn’t cover it ourselves, and to join us with Him not because He needs us, but because we need Him.

There is no argument I wish to make the non-believing crowd; if you come to Jesus, that’s great, but if not, that’s your choice. I cannot force Him upon you. But I must say that the real Jesus is so very much different than the Christ we’ve created in our religious Christianity. He doesn’t hate fags; He loves them. He doesn’t love toe-tags; He mourns for them. He doesn’t think “Santa” is Satan; He knows that he had used Saint Nicholas to share His love.

One image I read about from Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz describes God’s entrance into human history so beautifully and it’s what this story that I’ll end:

“A long time ago I went to a concert […]. The folksinger said his friend [a Navy SEAL] was performing a covert operation, freeing hostages from a building in some dark part of the world. His friend’s team flew in by helicopter, made their way to the compound and stormed into the room where the hostages had been imprisoned for months. The room, the folksinger said, was filthy and dark. The hostages were curled up in a corner, terrified. When the SEALs entered the room, they heard the gasps of the hostages. They stood at the door and called to the prisoners, telling them they were Americans. The SEALs asked the hostages to follow them, but the hostages wouldn’t. They sat there on the floor and hid their eyes in fear. They were not of healthy mind and didn’t believe their rescuers were really Americans.

“The SEALs stood there, not knowing what to do. They couldn’t possibly carry everybody out. One of the SEALs, the folksinger’s friend, got an idea. He put down his weapon, took off his helmet, and curled up tightly next to the other hostages, getting so close his body was touching some of theirs. He softened the look on his face and put his arms around them. He was trying to show them he was one of them. None of the prison guards would have done this. He stayed there for a little while until some of the hostages started to look at him, finally meeting his eyes. The Navy SEAL whispered that they were Americans and were there to rescue them. Will you follow us? he said. The hero stood to his feet and one of the hostages did the same, then another, until all of them were willing to go. The story ends with all the hostages safe on an American aircraft carrier.

“I never liked it when the preachers said we had to follow Jesus. Sometimes they would make Him sound angry. But I liked the story the folksinger told. I liked the idea of Jesus becoming man, so that we would be able to trust Him, and I like that He healed people and loved them and cared deeply about how people were feeling.”

Merry Christmas and God bless!

Mile Marker of Spring…

I don’t know what it is, but ever since freshman year, I’ve been in love with springs in Eugene. Allergies suck big time, but for the three and a half years that I’ve been here, they’ve always seemed worth the three boxes of Kleenexes and the twenty packets of Zyrtec. The hum of lawn mowers and the smell of the chopped up grass reminds me a little bit of golf season in high school. This time of year I’d be at whatever driving range that was open pounding away at those little yellow range balls working out the kinks to my slice or just finding a rhythm to my swing. Nowadays, though, I’m reminded more of spring during my freshman year.

It was in college that I truly saw Jesus for who He really is; a person, not a religion. But it was during spring that I fell in love with Him. I think back to the nights I’d spend just lying on my dorm room floor listening to the drunken craziness echoing throughout the halls and think of how beautiful God really is. Back then I was reading Blue Like Jazz for the first time. It is such a great insight into the depth of a true relationship with Jesus. Donald Miller doesn’t fill the pages with doctrinal treatises, seven steps to spiritual success, or how he financially benefited from tithing. For the most part, he reveals his flaws and talks about how God worked on them through other people. The biggest one that resonated with me during my freshman year was the “us vs. them” attitude he used to have when he was a “militant Christian.”

There seems to be a subtle undercurrent within Christianity that tends to reject rather than embrace the sinner, the porn star, the homosexual, the liberal, the intellectual, etc. It’s like a subconscious arrogance that entitles us with the power to tell them they’re all wrong and we’re right. What we tragically overlook when this happens is the fact that we are not Jesus. Just because we take on (sometimes, sadly, with pride) the title of “Christian,” which was originally a derogatory term that literally meant “little Christ,” doesn’t mean that we are Him always and forever. The very Scriptures we like to throw in the faces of the world teach us that Christ came to do for us what we can never do for ourselves. So why, when it comes to issues like doctrine, abortion, gay rights, intellectual enlightenment, Democrats, pornography, and Obama do we pretend to have it all figured out and that if the rest of the world would just listen to us it’d all be okay?

When I fell in love with Jesus this time about three years ago, I realized just how much of a hypocrite I truly have been. I thought that homosexuals were somehow tainted and defiled in a worse way than I am, like they were infected with leprosy or something. But when I opened my eyes a little bit and saw Jesus, not as this icon for America who has a pretty white face with blue eyes, but as this radical, hippy-like, social activist who not only came to overthrow Satan’s hold on us, but to overthrow the religious establishment as well, I changed. I’m not sure if anybody saw and quite frankly I don’t really care, but when I started seeing Jesus as someone who loves when no one else would, my heart softened. The gays were no longer lepers, the liberals were no longer secret agents of Satan, and the intellectuals were no longer mentally possessed. They all became just as much of a sinner as I was and am.

Three years later, I still struggle with the religiosity of the Christian faith. Seeing people as people and not ridiculous, superficial labels is still a difficult task. As the pollen starts to stir and become airborne and as my eyes start to water uncontrollably and sometimes make me look like a sissy, I think back to what the Scriptures teach, who Jesus was and who Jesus still is and I realize that it’s still possible to be more like Him. It’s still possible to love my neighbor as I would love myself. It’s still possible to see through the outward appearances and find the broken, fearful, tormented hearts, including my own. It’s still possible to be relational as Jesus was and is relational.

Spring is a sort of mile marker for my faith. It was during spring that I was rescued from potential suicide. It was during spring that I believed in Jesus, got baptized, and started going to church. And it was during spring that I truly fell in love with Jesus, started writing about it, switched my major to English because of it, and started dreaming about what I could do to share it. But how will this year be remembered? In a year’s time or even in three months’ time, how will this spring be remembered? Was it the season that I backslid into the pornography I used to watch, the endless judgment I used to give and the divisive attitude I carried when I set foot on a liberal campus? Or will it be remembered as the spring that I gave just a little bit more of myself to Jesus and His people?

If this life of faith is as Paul calls it, a race, then I’m embarking on my ninth mile. Each mile behind me brought me trials and challenges I thought I could never overcome and push through and each mile in front of me has even harder challenges to test my spirit. But the core to our faith is Jesus. If we focus on Him and forget all the religious jargon that our Christian culture tends to defile Him with, no matter how perilous the trial may be, we’ll get through. If we eat our Bread, drink the Living Water, and taste and see that the Lord is good, there is nothing that could deject us enough to fall away.

The mowers are humming again. Take a deep breath, drink a swig of Jesus, and let’s run like we had one life to live.