June 8, 2015
by John Magsam
Comments Off on Who’s your companion?

Who’s your companion?

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.
— C.S. Lewis

fishing rodAround our house we have a term we toss around now and again that we all understand: companionable.

It describes a special type of interaction that often involves a shared activity that also can also be deemed solitary. Like art, something companionable is often hard to define, but I know it when I’m experiencing it.

I believe my wife defined the concept during our courtship. After spending a lazy afternoon together, each of us curled up with our own book but in the same cozy living room, she deemed the experience companionable. She was dead on and from then on the term entered our lexicon.

At its core, it’s nearly impossible to be companionable with someone who is not already a good friend. The communal nature of a companionable activity requires at least a modicum of understanding and respect shared. There also can be no chatter, no small talk, no leading questions during the companionable activity.

A first date, for example, can be many things – exciting, mysterious,  horrifying – but it almost never is companionable.

You can never be companionable with someone who you can’t share silence with. If you have a friend or a family member who you can’t drive a hour with without saying a word or feeling like you need to say something to fill the lull in the conversation, well, you might love them, but you likely can’t be companionable with them.

Typically, to meet the Magsam definition, a companionable activity requires a shared experience but also requires an element of individuality. The aforementioned afternoon of reading, where the participants share the same general space and mood but are each lost in their own literary experience, is a prime example.

My daughter and I share a companionable time now and again with our respective art projects.

We’ve been know to spend hours together in our office that’s recently become an art room or at the kitchen table, her with her drawing, me with my models – each sharing the same space, listening to the same music in the background (always hers and often not too horrid) and each lost in our own creative worlds. Some short communication is allowed in companionable activity (Do you like the eyes on my cat drawing? Does this Space Marine’s armor look right?) but it’s short and to the point.  It’s a far warmer feeling than when I work on a project alone. It feels cooperative and congenial without a lot of hubbub.

Sometimes the girl will use the word companionable as a bit of an accusation or a lure. Usually the tactic comes out when we Magsams, who are all typically grasshoppers, take on some ant-like activity, like say, cleaning the house or de-cluttering a room. Then the word comes out like the blackjack of a crooked cop in a gangster movie.

“I thought we were going to be companionable today,” she’ll say in a tone that’s half accusation but also a little wistful.

Ouch, nice try, now clean your room.

To be companionable, sometimes you just need to have the right relationship and to share the same relative space.

My business partner here at 12th Apostle, Greg, got me into mountain biking many years ago. Usually the first part of the ride, on an early Saturday or Sunday morning, we’d take city streets and paved paths and chat (yes, I know I said chatting isn’t part of the companionable equation but hang in there) on our way to the trails around Lake Fayetteville. Once at the mountain bike trails, we’d go at our own pace, sometimes Greg ahead sometimes with me in the lead, based on how we were feeling that day. Before too long we’d lose sight of each other,  isolated by the twists and turns of the trail, but at the end we’d meet up sweaty and tired and compare notes.  We shared the ride – shared the morning – shared the experience. It was the definition of companionable. We don’t do it anymore and I miss it.

If you’re doing it right, one of the most companionable activities in the world is fishing.

To achieve the proper mental zone, good fishing provides you have to have silence. Not because it scares the fish as the old adages go but because yackers are not your companions. Fishing buddies can chatter like a sewing circle in a truck ride to good water but once there they shut the heck up and get to fishing. Often the fishing happens within sight of each other, sometimes not. You meet up now and again to exchange a sentence or two. (Do any good? Nope. Are they biting? Yup. What fly are you using? Grasshopper. You can’t cast worth a crap. Get bent.) and then you drift on, leap-frogging each other as you work a stream or patch of water. A good fishing buddy is by definition, a solid companion.

It’s in the zen-like zone of true companionship that I’ve come to great realizations. I’ve sorted out a lot of my beliefs about God and our relationship during companionable experiences. I’ve considered God’s grace with a paintbrush in my hand; His creativity as I read a well-fashioned story; and His glory as I sang hymns between gasps of air as I zipped along wooded trails trying to catch up or stay ahead of my good friend.

Before we were married, Shan and I would often steal away to spend some time on the White River where it spills out below Beaver Dam here in Northwest Arkansas. I was in my fly fishing period and she loves being outside so it worked out nicely.

Shan fishes a little, like most good Southern girls but her true love is reading so these excursions would find me with my fly rod and her with a book. It was a perfect arrangement for both of us. One overcast and cold morning, I was wading in the White, the river was down and I was casting well. Shan was huddled on the nearby bank, bundled in a coat with her nose in her book. We had the river all to ourselves.

Then, a bald eagle came gliding along the river, looking for an easy meal. He ghosted over me, so low I felt like I could have reached out an touched him. He landed in a tree so close I could pick out all his details. He was a beautiful bird and looked magnificent. He stared out over the river in search of a trout. He didn’t even mark my presence. I felt invisible.

Afraid I’d spook him, I glanced over at Shan to see her still engrossed in her book.

I hissed and made several other oddball noises to get her attention but also not frighten the eagle away but none worked, the sounds being too soft to be heard over the river’s muttering. Finally, with one eye on the bird and the other on this woman reading a book, I risked a clipped “Shannon!”

The eagle didn’t stir. He sat on the branch like a sculpture. Shan looked up from her book, her gleaming blue eyes meeting mine. Moving like I was disarming a bomb, I slowly pointed up at the bird. Shan looked upward and saw what I was pointing at instantly. She has a country girl’s ability to unerringly spot wildlife.

I felt triumphant.

She smiled, looked back at me, and with no attempt to maintain the ninja-like mood I had created, stated the obvious in a voice that carried over the water seemingly like a gunshot: “Yes, it’s an eagle.”

Then she went straight back to her book.

I watched the bird for another 10 minutes or so, not daring to cast. The eagle eventually decided this bit of river wasn’t worth his trouble, spread his seemingly gigantic wings, and flapped away, winging downstream in search of lunch.

I started to cast again but it was casual, nothing intentional about it. I was watching the woman on the bank and her book. I was watching my companion. I wondered if she’d like to make it official.

April 27, 2015
by John Magsam
Comments Off on No shirt, no shoes …

No shirt, no shoes …

pizza sliceThen said the woman of Samaria to him, How is it that you, being a Jew, ask drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.

John 4:9

Christians have been in the news an awful lot lately, linked with the concept of refusing service to folks simply because of their espoused sexual preference.

I’m not going to discuss the ramifications of certain legislation that’s been approved recently, including here in my home state of Arkansas. That’s a complex subject for a different time. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and all that is a discussion I’ll take up one of these days, but not here and not now.

But an offshoot of the furor around that legislation has manifested in instances where some Christians have gone public with the idea that they can, and should, decline to serve some folks, in one case a hunk of pizza, another truck repair, because the person wanting said pizza or his transmission fixed, is homosexual.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that being homosexual is a sin. Stop, stop, stop, I’m not going to delve into issues of sexual sin here, that’s a whole other can of worms. Stick with me, I have a point.

So, what we have is Christians saying, in a nutshell, “I’m not going to serve you a pizza, perhaps with a nice salad, or fix your truck, maybe make it even more manly (Look at the size of those tires!), because you, dear customer, are a sinner.”

Do you see how messed up that is?

The whole Old Testament and the whole New Testament screams to the world that they need a savior and points to who that Savior is. We are all sinners. We are all in need of grace. We all need Jesus. That’s the whole point of Christianity.

Now, let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that homosexuality, on its base, is not a sin. That those passages in the Bible that reference it are indeed being taken out of context, that they speak to specific sexual sin that isn’t what we understand modern homosexuality to be.

Guess what, that guy or gal who wants a slice of pepperoni or who needs his or her tires rotated is still a sinner. So is the next person  in line, and the next and the next and the next. And you, dear owner of the pizza place and you dear proprietor of the garage, you are sinners too.

When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well he was breaking social taboos left and right. Jews didn’t speak to Samaritans, men didn’t speak to women without their husbands present and so on and so on and so on. Jesus didn’t care. Instead, Jesus, after asking her for a drink, told her who he really was. He looked right at her and while he did mention her transgressions, he also promised her eternal life and she in turn recognized him as the Messiah. Not only that, she ran out to tell all her people about Jesus.

It’s a fascinating account. It runs from John 4:4 through John 4:44. Check it out.

Somehow, though, I don’t think this exchange and all the good things that happened afterward with the Samaritans, would have happened if Jesus had refused to speak to the woman at the well.

What we see, in this sort of extreme reaction by some folks to this legislation, besides rampant fear, is a failure to understand some core elements of Christianity.

Folks who say they are followers of Christ, who choose to take a line or two from the Bible and follow that, rather than the overarching message of the entire book, or better yet, they choose to follow a line or two of the Bible, rather than the example of the one who the whole book points to, are missing the point.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. That’s why Jesus came. That’s why we need him.

The line starts over here. I’ll be the scruffy looking guy in the front. Anybody wanna order pizza?

April 20, 2015
by Greg Moody
Comments Off on Resurrection


zombiehandThey were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

– Luke 24: 37-39

Now that The Walking Dead is over – at least until the new season begins – that post-Easter time of zombie Jesus has arrived. He pops into the middle of conversations, scaring the crap out of his disciples. But not being a typical zombie, Jesus goes for a piece of fish instead of brains, which may be why nobody freaks out more than necessary.

His resurrection is simultaneously the greatest of all things in the Bible and a truly horrific thing to think about being faced with in life – replete with disciples in need of touching the wounds.

Stories of the resurrection are genuinely eerie to me.  If I was in the disciples shoes and the risen Christ stood beside me after I’d watched Him die I’m not sure if I’d be fascinated and in awe or running-from-the-room terrified. Probably the latter.

The fish actually assures them he’s flesh and not a ghost, though it makes the scene no less surreal.

Most likely my brain would accept him as returned while also being in a state of utter disbelief. And I’m sure if I were them I’d have the usual doubts – that he perhaps never fully died, or that some other sleight of hand had occurred – maybe even that he was someone similar looking.

There are several instances of people not recognizing the resurrected Christ at first, which always makes me wonder if He was physically transformed or if, you know, folks thought he was dead and didn’t expect running into him. Silly people.

And aren’t they silly? They’d been told time and again that this was going to happen, but they just didn’t understand. I suppose it’s no different with me. If someone told me they were coming back from the dead I wouldn’t believe them for a minute – at least until they’d gobbled down that piece of fish.

But when I honestly consider the scene, I think the most terrifying part would be over because the most terrifying part would be that Christ would be dead and gone from us forever.

Surely his return was heart-stopping, but ultimately the greatest joy possible in his transcendence of death. Unlike the Walking Dead zombie, Jesus made sacred the profane and completed that which was prophesied.

Far from the bunnies and eggs we experience today that likely distract us from the importance of the scripture, the first Easter for the disciples was certainly a very visceral ordeal. I’m not going to suggest a zombie movie marathon to celebrate, but I think there are ways we can keep the real importance closer to ourselves.

It was the closeness of Jesus that made everything ok. It’s easy to doubt, to believe that Christ is really gone or perhaps never there at all, but it’s when we picture him in the room with us as a real fish-eating guy that we truly understand there’s nothing of which to be terrified. He is risen. He is with us.

April 13, 2015
by John Magsam
Comments Off on No shirt, there I was …

No shirt, there I was …

FullSizeRender(1)We were slowly climbing, making our way shop-by-shop along downtown Eureka Springs’ line of little shops.

We’d browsed taffy, yard goods and shops that had signs warning intruders the locals were armed and ready to rock and roll. It’s a fun crawl into great shops and eventually we took a left into one of my favorite Eureka shops, Gardenfire.

I’d like to say I made a beeline to the Christian t-shirts but that’d be a bold-faced lie (and there were too many witnesses to get away with it since one them edits this little bit of writing I do).

I veered over to the adjoining shop that has tons of vintage toys. I eye-balled an old Fort Apache, with its sheet metal sides that folded up into a suitcase of sorts that held all the plastic cavalrymen and Indians that went with the set. I got one, for Christmas, I think in 1968 and I recall seeing it as I was coming downstairs to find it  open, with a tableau of old west combat, plastic braves and soldiers in a swirl of melee in front of its gates. My dad had a lot of faults but not loving toys was not one of them.

I regaled my wife and daughter about what a great toy it was and they nodded and smiled. It was obligatory attention but I took it.

Eventually I ended up over at Gardenfire and my daughter and I browsed the shirts, pointing out the ones we felt where powerful, or funny, or both. We had so much fun that the rest of our shopping party abandoned us. Likely in search of a do-dad, or a geegaw, or very likely in my wife’s case, a bathroom.

My girl saw several shirts she liked and pointed out a 2 for $25 sign. First she angled for two shirts then hit on the strategy that we could each get one. I agreed, happy that she’d found some shirts that spoke to her. It was the first time she expressed an interest in wearing a shirt that identified her as a believer.

Sure she wears her S.T.A.R. Labs or Gravity Falls shirts proudly, and I have no issue with that. She sleeps sometimes in a 12th Apostle shirt but it’s too big to wear out in public  So it made me happy she wanted a Christian shirt of her own. One she could wear to school or when she hung out with her pals.

She chose one that read More Him Less Me, with a citation to John 3:30. It was simple but bold. I approved.

Me, well I looked and looked and settled on one with the image of a lion that, when you look closely, is filled with scripture referring to Christ. As I always loved the reference to Jesus as The Lion of Judah, it was a pretty much a no-brainer for me.

So I asked a helpful clerk if he had the lion shirt in my size, a large, pretty common, and he says, well no, he’s out. Ugh, I was bummed. I started to ask about another shirt I was less keen about and he tells me, once again in a manner that only can be considered mega-cheerful, they’d gladly send me a shirt in my size free of charge if that was the shirt I wanted.

Bingo. This guy just sold a shirt.

So we headed over and he rang me up, but it was more than 25 bucks. Not much more, but more. I mentioned it to the guy. I’m not sure why. I normally don’t sweat such things, but I did. He said, well, the lion shirt isn’t one of the sale shirts. I looked up and, yes, it was pretty clear it wasn’t.

So, I kid you not, I almost thought about not getting the shirt. For a second there I started so say forget it. Over, what? Like five dollars? And with my daughter beaming next to me.

I looked at the shirt and the lion seemed to say to me, “Okay John, when have I ever short-changed you? You getting cheap on me, now? I died for your sins and you’re going to put a shirt back that reminds you and others of that fact because it costs five bucks more than you expected?”

Feeling sheepish, I paid the young man, gave him my address and we told him goodbye.

My daughter and I walked across the street arm in arm and found my wife, my sister and my niece all moseying along heading back down, still bobbing in and out of shops.

“Where have you two been?” my wife asked.

“We got ourselves some shirts at Gardenfire,” I replied.

Lion one, cheap-sheep zero.

April 6, 2015
by Greg Moody
Comments Off on The Book

The Book

bible“It’s such a great poem,” she said. Her eyes scanned the lines, only sixteen in all. “But I can’t write a whole paper about it.”

She’d called me over to help, knowing I was an English minor. I found her staring at the lines over and over as if her eyes could pull out extra sentences for the college assignment.

I suggested she talk about the way the poet created the proper environment to convey its meaning.

“You mean how he describes everything? There’s no real description at all.”

I asked her why she chose the poem to begin with.

“Well, I like the night and I like winter and this was just the perfect poem.”

I then asked her what she thought the poem was about.

She gave me a quizzical look. “It’s just about a winter night. This guy’s on a night ride with his horse and they stop to see how beautiful everything is, but they can’t watch it all night because he’s too busy.” She slapped her pencil down on the desk. “I just don’t know how to write ten pages talking about how cool night-time or winter are.”

I offered a few other suggestions like why this night was the darkest of the year and why the last line  repeated.

As you may have guessed by now, the poem in question was “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” by Robert Frost.

I explained how the subject was contemplating suicide, how he wished to be forever free of the city and obligations and to sleep the forever sleep.

“Oh. My. Gosh.” Her jaw dropped as she scanned the lines again, shaking her head. “I never would have seen that in a million years.”

I asked if she now felt like she would be able to have ample material to write about.

“Oh, hell yes.”

It’s amazing to see the light come on inside someone’s head. When someone has read and reread and pondered, but just didn’t quite get what the bigger picture.

And Frost’s poem is a mere sixteen lines, not much longer than 100 words.

When I meet people who are so rock solid in their conviction of how to interpret scripture I think back to this night when my friend was so transformed by having been asked to look at something differently.

Certainly she’d read the words to the point she nearly had the poem memorized, yet failed to take that one step beyond.

Parts of scripture are no different for us. Stories we’ve heard since childhood get into our memory to the point we feel there’s no way we could have overlooked anything in the message; however, considering the Bible has roughly 800,000 words – a few more than Frost’s poem – there should always be time to look at things anew.

Seems to me there’s no shortage of what the Bible has to say if we’re willing to let it speak.

March 23, 2015
by Greg Moody
Comments Off on We are the champions

We are the champions

DSC02464I’m a big Arkansas Razorbacks fan. Our coach has put together an amazing team over the past few years and it’s been thrilling to watch it develop.

In the past few weeks I watched them dunk and hustle their way to become number 2 in our conference, beaten only by the juggernaut that is Kentucky. And just last night I saw them go toe to toe with North Carolina in a valiant effort to get into the sweet 16 in the NCAA tourney.

Unfortunately North Carolina won.

After years of seeing the team develop, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed they didn’t make the sweet 16. I felt that’s where they really belonged and to see it fall short took the wind out of my sails.

It’s made me think about a good friend of mine who is firmly in the Creationist camp. He’s a complete Biblical literalist to the core and like any good fan, he’s eager to talk up his team.

Some day it may be sharing a post about why dinosaurs and human remains aren’t found together in the fossil record (it’s because they weren’t buried together, if you were interested). Or about how the sum of existence is really only about 6,000 years old.

And I watch these videos because it’s fun for me to see all the obvious logical fallacies they put forth under the guise of science. In a way it’s kind of akin to hyping a player beyond what his stats would support. Maybe closer to the mark is to say it’s like how our Razorback, Bobby Portis, won SEC player of the year and then fell flat during the tournament. You expect more out of some things than they’re capable of delivering.

Yet I feel what compels me to watch these videos most is to try to understand why they’re trying to defend such ludicrous ideas.

Recently I watched a video that made it all make more sense. Sadly, I can’t find the video to share the link, but I hope my summary will do it some justice.

Essentially it said all ideas have the potential to spread online. Sometimes an idea changes along the way and it’s subject to being spread more. Occasionally it’s that the idea is easily changed (take memes, for example).

But some of the ideas that get spread the most are arguments. You’ve likely seen a story on a news site about immigration or water levels in California or the latest ISIS attack and seen how the reader comments evolve into something often only marginally related to the story. Instead of furthering a conversation about immigration, the comments veer toward whether Obama is a good president, where everyone seems quick to offer their side.

As this video showed, the more people involved on one side, the more will show up on the other and quickly you can have hundreds of commenters at each others throats because they need to defend their positions.

It’s not unlike basketball. The two sides know they’re on the floor to do battle. There was never any illusion this would be a peaceful exchange of information. It’s a battle to the death until one team is overwhelmed and is kicked out of the tournament forever.

At least that’s what they think.

The reality is the more argumentative they become, the less likely the other side will collapse and disappear.

So, like my friend who believes dinosaurs and modern man lived together, some ideas only get stronger if an opposing side rises to challenge them. Little wonder that several of these videos are from Creationist Ken Ham, who verbally debated Bill Nye in 2014. Seems like the very idea of spreading the word through confrontation may be the goal.

There will always be people who need to confront and fight for their opinions, but sometimes it makes me scratch my head.

Personally, I try to advocate how Christ’s word can help people. My team is Christ and the opposite team are those who need Christ’s help, which often is a real toe-to-toe battle.

What I see with Creationism is people who have Christ as their team and are fighting against scientists – whatever purpose that might serve.

But when all our tournaments are over we’re going to be left with one final truth: that God doesn’t need us to try to champion Him. He’s had this game won for a long time.

March 16, 2015
by John Magsam
Comments Off on Mirror, mirror …

Mirror, mirror …

mirrorWe hear it all the time. Browse Facebook, look at the comments section of pretty much any issue regarding religion, and you’ll see the following:
My god wouldn’t [fill in the blank].
Generally, the fill-in-the-blank is something like “send people to hell” but the filled-in blank can pretty much be whatever flavor of sin the person enjoys or at least empathizes with, or any particularly difficult demand that “god” makes.
In general, this sentence is aimed directly at the Christian God.
That fella who seems to be everybody’s target these days.
Nobody seems to direct this statement toward any other deity.
In reality, when folks say “My god wouldn’t do X” what they mean is “I wouldn’t do X.”
Once I really thought about the fact that when I said something along these lines, I was simply adjusting the creator of the universe to mesh with my own thinking at that particular time, I had an epiphany.
I was, in fact, creating a god in my own image.
I had met god and he was a skinny Irish guy who liked all the stuff I liked and who wouldn’t make me do anything I didn’t want to do anyhow.
A good friend of mine recently pointed out I had been struggling with certain issues, wrestling with them, trying to find answers for certain issues and understanding in context of my faith.
He was correct.
It was a fight. It still is a fight. It will always be a fight.
It’s not a fight if you create a god in your own image.
That god won’t ask much of you. That god will always provide easy answers.
In a lot of ways that god is pretty perfect.
You can count on that god will roll over at the first bit of difficulty. No struggle there. No fight. No growth.
Hey self, I like pornography. Heck, everybody loves pornography. It’s a victimless crime right? Nobody gets hurt? It doesn’t erode intimacy with my partner. No, that never happens. So my god thinks pornography is the greatest. Go porn!
One more lie won’t hurt, will it? No, sure it won’t. She doesn’t need to know where I’ve been or what I’ve been doing. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. My god says honesty is overrated. Go lying!
It can go on and on and on and on.
Because, we has humans love to fool ourselves. Why? Because we’re fools.
If our god is the fella in the mirror we’re all in serious trouble. That guy’s a weasel.
You won’t struggle with him. He’ll let you slide every time.
The God of the Bible on the other hand. Well, that guy can be tough.
But the fight is worth it.

February 16, 2015
by John Magsam
Comments Off on A hard left hook to my pride

A hard left hook to my pride

pink boxing gloves

We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.

Isaiah 64:6

“Okay, I want a left, right. A good jab and a strong, straight right.”

My daughter has on bright pink 8oz boxing gloves. She’s keeping her guard up as she punches the pads I have on my hands. The gloves and pads were an early Valentine’s Day present and we’ve been working with them for a few weeks.

No, no, they weren’t my idea. She asked for them. Oh, and she and her mother got manicures and pedicures for Valentine’s Day, too. I hope the gloves aren’t wrecking her new nails.

The girl has good  balance and better body mechanics. She has real power in her right. I’m impressed. I’m proud when we work with the pads. And just like that I’m stung. Pride. Hello, old friend.

We were asked a while back in church to consider, if we suddenly stopped believing in God, would anyone notice? Would our lives be visibly different? Would our attitude show it instantly? Would the world see the change?

It stopped me cold. Would it be obvious if I pitched it all in? I wasn’t sure.

Then I wondered if my old pals from back in the day were to hang out with me, would they see a difference. Would they notice the change?

It got me to smiling.

My daughter threw a quick hook into the pad on my left that got my attention. I barely caught half of her glove on the pad and my whole forearm smarted.

“Sorry dad,” she said as she backed up, shaking her hair out of her eyes.

“Don’t be,” I replied. “I was daydreaming. But keep your left up,” I cautioned as I popped the pad toward her face.

She faded back and came forward, flicking her left and following up with a pounding right.

Recently, social media has been blowing up with all the 50 Shades of Grey stuff and frankly it’s gotten under my skin. But I’ve kept my own council.

I actually saw someone try to argue that – get this – it’d be better for young women to read 50 Shades than the  Bible. Granted, it was in response to a pretty silly Christian meme, but the ludicrous argument this person made that a bit of mommy porn that was universally panned as horribly written, somehow compared to the Bible, which has been taught as literature in nearly every Western university, that inspired the Sistine Chapel, bugged me even from a purely secular view.

But i didn’t respond. As much as I wanted to, I kept my fingers off the keyboard.

The pads are singing now. Left, pop – right, pop, left hook, pow. We dance around the living room, my daughter laughing between bursts of activity. We work on uppercuts for the first time. It’s awkward for her but she keeps with it, slinging her right skyward into the pads.

My pals from back in the day would know it took a lot from me not to unload on folks on Facebook. How much I would have loved to roll up on the fools and blast them with both barrels from my keyboard. I think they would realize the self-control that took. That the old John would have not only blasted away without restraint, or pity, but would have taken great pride in the whole affair.

Yes, that was me. Yes, that’s me still. The fact I’m even typing this now is prideful. Pride, pride, pride.

I understand that it stings like crap when someone points out your sin and the natural reaction is to sting back. They take it personally, like I did, like I still do, even though sin is universal.

We’re all flawed. We all have no righteous standing before God. Our personal obsessions, sexual and otherwise; our intellect; our reasoning; our moral outrage at someone else’s moral outrage, is like the yapping of a bunch of dogs.

“Ok, work hard now, we’re about to stop,” I tell the girl. “Left, right. Left, right. Left, right.” She follows me, her pink fists flying. Most of her punches connecting solidly even though I’m shifting the pads to make them difficult targets.

Maybe the question isn’t, if I stopped believing would anybody notice but instead, would folks who knew the old, non-Christian me see the difference nowadays?

I slide the pads off my hands as my daughter bites at the straps on her gloves and pulls them off. Her nails are intact.

“You did well,” I tell her.

Yes, I think they’d think I was different – that the old John wasn’t there all the time anymore. Though his old sinful self is still peeking around, like an unwelcome guest.

Is that pride or the simple assessment of the truth? Knowing me, it’s likely pride.

“We’ll do this again tomorrow after homework,” I tell my daughter. “We still have a lot to work on.”

So do I. So do I.

February 9, 2015
by Greg Moody
Comments Off on Jesus Karma

Jesus Karma

karmaFor the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds.

– Matthew 16:27

My dad’s an alcoholic. It’s hard for me to deal with. On the good days he can’t remember conversations we’ve had. On the bad days it’s bordering on unbearable.

Part of it is that booze has taken a toll on his mind, body, hygiene and quality of life. Part of it is knowing the person he was and me wondering if that man is still inside him somewhere. The thought of that person being gone forever makes me sad.

Increasingly, he has the slack expression I’ve seen in nursing home patients. His eyes look equally expressionless when considering me or a window or the television. I could be a toaster for all he appears to care.

Folks ask why I put up with it – why I don’t either pour the alcohol down the sink or just walk away and let him stew in his own mess. I admit there are times when I find myself at a loss about why and it makes me ponder one of the great questions I have about the Bible: the balance between deeds and grace when it comes to the afterlife.

As a kid, doing good deeds made a ton of sense to me. People who did bad things went to hell and people who did good things went to Heaven. It was very simple: punishment or reward. In the innocent mind of child there is no difference between deed and intention. Kids typically want to do good and want to love until life starts to jade them.

Ludicrous as it sounds,  it’s easy to envision a Heaven in which those who have been marginal get the single-wide trailer and the fridge full of cheap beer, while the saints get the mansion on the hill with the great views and indoor swimming pool. If we do enough good deeds we get all the Jesus Karma and it comes back to us after we die. But as adults our actions start betraying us. Instead of doing it for the sake of doing good it starts becoming about bragging rights.

“Look at my jacuzzi,” I could imagine a Heavenly snob saying. “Too bad you only did enough good to get a plastic bathtub.” And if I believed this jacuzzi theory it would be easier to not get angry when my dad forgets entire conversations we had or when, after a particularly demanding day, he wakes me multiple times during the night for help. I mean, I’d be racking up some serious points. The more I helped him, the fancier my Heaven would be.

And I realize these promised rewards aren’t so literal, but whether we receive them on Earth or Heaven, there seems to be something quantifiable about the reward.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe our works amount to much.

Really, how could Heaven be more heavenly for some? How could there be something greater than salvation and forgiveness? Likening Heaven to a gated community where some are in Jesus presence and others just get a cloud with a fluffy recliner isn’t how I see things.

Instead, grace, which was hard for me to grasp as kid, seems more àpropos to my grown up mind. Grace, that great gift from God that is “the way and the truth and the life” according to John 14:6. It’s what makes all us sinners able to overcome ourselves.

But grace isn’t without it’s own problems. With no Jesus Karma, grace tells me ignoring my dad is no different from helping him. I don’t get into the one-degree-of-Jesus club for helping him, I’m in the six-degrees-of-Jesus either way. All those good actions don’t mean much when grace is part of the picture.

But then what happens to people who believe in hell? If our deeds don’t matter, can hell really exist? If grace covers us all then everyone, even the oft-cited Hitler, goes to Heaven. This is the prevailing mindset I see these days and it makes me wonder if grace isn’t somehow as naïve as doing good deeds. In this model it almost seems like I could live any sort of life I wished and get to Heaven.

Or does it boil down to there only being one action that actually matters: our belief in God. It’s akin to those passages of Jesus healing the sick by proclaiming their faith alone casts out their affliction. And is it our genuine belief in God the very thing that grants us grace? Does that mean if ol’ Hitler really found God at those last minutes in the bunker that he is just as saved regardless of his worldly actions as anyone else?

Many big thinkers have written a ton about these problems and I’m still not sure how to reconcile it all. Even though I’ve hopelessly oversimplified the discussion here, I see flaws somewhere at every turn. It’s not that I’m looking for the recipe for getting into Heaven, but parts of the Bible force the issue.

When I care for my father I do so because I feel it’s the right thing to do. Though I try to live in accordance with the lessons of the Bible, I don’t need it as a moral compass. I’m not in it for the deeds or the grace. I wouldn’t care if my action or inaction was completely meaningless. Whatever happens to me in the afterlife is up to God as far as I’m concerned.

I suspect at the end of the day the only thing karma and Jesus have in common is they both know what we’ve done in our lives and we have to trust them to make the call while we continue to live as we feel we should.

February 2, 2015
by John Magsam
Comments Off on Not being idle

Not being idle

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall not have other gods beside me.

chess piecesI have to say for years, after hundreds of hours of religious instruction in some of the best Catholic schools in the U.S., and then decades of searching, looking into several belief systems, I never understood this commandment.

I think I do nowadays.

It’s easy to create idols. I face it all the time. And when I say that, I mean like nearly every minute of the day.

I can make an idol out of pretty much anything given a few minutes of free time. The idol can be my spouse, or my daughter, or my job, or money, intellect, pride, ego, or the disdain of money. And when I strip all that stuff away, the idol isn’t really any of that stuff.

The idol, in its many guises, is me.

When I became a Christian, I realized for the first time I didn’t have it all figured out. I understood suddenly and a bit painfully, I wasn’t such great shakes after all. And it occurred to me I was kidding myself when I said I didn’t believe in God. Sure I did. He was me.

And when I think of who that guy is, well, he doesn’t need to be on a pedestal. He doesn’t need to be followed. That guy should be no one’s idol.

He counsels taking the easy road. He says be quiet and don’t ruffle any feathers. He advises taking the path that requires no change. He tells me to walk the road that needs no sacrifice.

He does have all the answers. They’re the easy ones. They’re the wrong ones.

He tries to stay on top. He does it all the time. If I give him a second he’s elbowing his way in and he’s talking all kinds of compromises.

The last place he needs to be is calling the shots. Whenever I can, I push him down.

Sometimes the idols fall.