November 10, 2014
by John Magsam
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Winter is coming

photo(12)Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.

~ Proverbs 6: 6-8.

I am not an ant.

I tend to be only marginally prepared for bad things to happen. I don’t have a lot of contingency plans. I tend to fly by the seat of my pants when things go wonky. Not until my daughter was born did I make sure I had a set of jumper cables in both our cars.

I am more like the grasshopper from the old fable, enjoying things as they come rather than the industrious ant who works, works and works and reaps the reward later when winter comes.

But Winter is Coming – to use the motto of our friends the Starks from Game of Thrones.

Last year we had a rough winter, with deep snow and bitter cold. It was also the first year we kept a small flock of chickens in our urban backyard.

Last year when the leaves began to fall, my daughter and I winterized the coop, adding insulation and looking for and plugging holes to avoid drafts. We were total rookies. We did what we could and hoped for the best.

Some nights, when the snow fell and the wind howled and the thermometer plunged, I would lay awake and worried about the birds. On those icy mornings, I’d trudge out to the coop and open their little door and expect to see them frozen stiff – like chicken versions of Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

Instead I was greeted by happy poultry who piled down their ramp and plowed into the freezing day, eager to find a nice spot out of the wind behind a bush or to huddle in some holly or ivy. They were ready wade through snow and to do, as I discovered all chickens do, kick and scratch about, looking for a tidbit or a treat to gobble down.

We did have some minor disasters where snow and ice made it through gaps or past sprung hinges but quick attention soon had the coop secure and dry once more.

We lost two of those three birds to illness and accident later in the year during the warmth and plenty of the summer. It seemed a little unfair after they made it though the winter without a hiccup and so much as a sneeze.

On Saturday, I winterized the coop on my own. My daughter was sick with a stuffy nose but she did help me by finding tools and handing them out to me and providing the occasional drink of water or apple juice.

This year we had found a little thicker insulation and it came in easier-to-handle, pre-cut pieces. I had better tape and used a hot glue gun rather than staples. Some of the old insulation had survived, so I patched what needed patching and reinforced trouble spots from last year. I added heavier hinges to the egg box lid which was so heavy at times last year because of coatings of ice and snow.

Tessa, our big red chicken who has been with us from the first and Esther, our young white bird, watched me with interest. They would approach now and again making questioning sounds, curious bockings, as if asking “What’s up?”

I had to shoo them away time and again as they tried to eat a section of insulation or dart away with a hunk of paper they mistook for a cracker. Nobody said they’re geniuses but they were good company.

It took me the better part of the day but I got the job finished. The coop was secure and arguably snug and ready for what winter had to offer. I gathered all my tools, cleaned up my mess and headed inside where I showered and then hung out with my daughter as I waited for night to fall.

Last year, the chickens had been totally freaked out by the change in their coop. They wandered around and refused to go up to sleep until we actually placed them inside.

When it was nearly dark, I went out to the coop. Tessa was up in her usual spot, snuggled into the fresh, thick layer of pine shavings I had put in. Esther, always the last one to go to bed, was still hanging around, munching some seeds, and getting a final drink of water before turning in.

I gave her a few minutes and when I returned both birds were in their coop, snuggled up. They muttered happily to me when I looked in on them before locking them down for the night.

I crunched through leaves as I headed back to the house and looked at the shadowed blobs that were bushes in need of trimming. I noticed my grill that needed a final cleaning and to be bundled up for the winter.

Yes, I had a good day’s worth of work to do come Sunday. If I was smart, I’d get on it after church.

But I knew that was unlikely.

My wife would be home all day and she’d been gone because of work since Friday. My daughter was feeling better and was her old chipper self again. Maybe we’d go to the library, or to the mall or hit a movie.

No, the work would wait. I was going to play on Sunday.

As I said, I’m no ant.

And, as Dirty Harry said in Magnum Force, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

 

 

 

November 3, 2014
by Greg Moody
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Miracles

Lazarus_Athens

“Newly-Found Document Holds Eyewitness Account of Jesus Performing Miracle,” read the headline from worldnewsdailyreport.com. The story said a document was found in the Vatican archives in which a Roman historian chronicled a miracle being performed by Christ.

For those familiar with the website, you recognize it as a comedy site that creates false news stories for entertainment. “Archeologists Unearth Giant Human Remains “Near Stonehenge” and ”USA: Rancher Shoots Down UFO Near Area 51” are among other headlines on their main page.

I first saw the story on Facebook posted by someone who thought the story was true. Even at the website – which doesn’t look different from many news sites – people commented as if it were an actual event. On various social media outlets the story’s been shared nearly 400,000 times. I’d wager a good number are from folks who don’t see it for what it is: a complete fabrication.

I see fake things posted on Facebook all the time, not that it should come as a surprise. Whether it’s tales of Ebola victims returning as zombies, Breaking Bad returning for a sixth season, or the capture of a giant shark, there’s no shortage of people who get really passionate commenting about things that never happened or never will happen.

Comments from Christians were happy. Several saw this as an example of what so many Christians yearn for: extra proof. It was as if they wanted to scream, “Finally! Now will you unbelievers admit Christ actually existed?”

What struck me most was the part about the miracle.

Personally, I wrestle with miracles to begin with. Often I read the Bible as though the events happened today. Putting it in modern times helps me think about people’s reactions. It helps me understand how radical Jesus was. But miracles throw a monkey wrench into the scene. I can’t imagine them happening. It’s just too mind-boggling for me to picture.

If I were to actually see someone walk on water or raise the dead I’d instantly assume it was a trick – a magic act. Furthermore, if it proved to be authentic beyond any doubt I’d simply be freaked out. I don’t know how I’d react.

Wouldn’t seeing and believing a miracle be the greatest proof that Jesus was the son of God? How would I live my life differently if I had this kind of proof? Certainly it would be more powerful than faith.

Others wrestle with miracles too. Some go so far as to try to say when Jesus walked on water he was probably just on a sand bar or some such. Similarly, the stillborn resurrected by Christ in the false news story immediately faced comments suggesting Jesus performed CPR or maybe gave the infant a hard swat on the butt instead of Him actually performing a miracle.

But the problem with this is even if this false account were true it wouldn’t accomplish anything. It wouldn’t change anything. I’d still have troubles understanding miracles. Nobody would still be able to fathom God. People would still doubt whether Christ existed.

I suspect absolute proof of God would unsettle many Christians, myself included. Indeed, faith would be negated. You don’t believe what you know and you don’t know that which you believe. We would no longer be able to lie to ourselves as easily. Like the smoker who pushes lung cancer out of his mind, doubt keeps a lot of us from facing scripture as honestly as we ought.

I believe it’s intentional that we have little proof of Christ’s existence. I will continue to have my doubts. I will continue pondering miracles.

October 27, 2014
by John Magsam
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En Garde

swords“Get your sword and meet me in the front yard,” is not a phrase that most 12-year-old girls hear on a fall Saturday morning.

My daughter had been asking me for weeks to teach her to fence and today was her first lesson.

Back in my time with the Society for Creative Anachronism, I had learned, for lack of a better term, to  fence in the Renaissance style. To be exact, what I practiced is classified as heavy rapier and more like a martial art than the sport of fencing,

The weapons are tipped, and not sharp, but they’re not the light tools that have evolved after years to be used in a lighting-fast game of tag. The weapons used in the SCA simulate the ones carried by men for self defense in alleys and streets back in the day. Though made safe, they are implements of destruction.

I’d not had my swords or other gear out in years, so earlier in the week I spent some time unearthing everything and making sure it was safe and ready for our first lesson. I offered my two best swords to my girl. “Choose your weapon,” I said. She picked the lighter and the shorter of the two blades, deciding she wanted speed and control over reach.

She had made her first decision and she’d have to live with it. The lessons had already started.

As an armchair historian and high-functioning nerd, I have a lot to say about warfare and martial arts. It’s been a passion of mine for years.

In the early, early, early 1970s, I took a few years of Kenpo karate. That was before karate studios were commonplace and belts could be purchased for children if they were willing to show up and attend the classes. The idea of a black-belt who wasn’t old enough to drive himself to a lesson, or hold a job, or get drafted was laughable as a junior high kid competing in the NBA.

Sure, even then it was business, but part of the mystique, and a key selling point, was that it was a difficult, exotic path. Sure there were kids’ classes and lessons but the main focus seemed to be adults. It was less commercial, somewhat seedy and pretty serious stuff. Even at age 10, I felt the gravitas.

I drifted away from it when I moved to Arkansas. There were no karate studios at the time and when they finally came to my locale I’d lost interest.

In college at almost the exact time I discovered Dungeons and Dragons and Olympic fencing. An instructor at Arkansas Tech had an informal weekly fencing class I attended religiously.

I got a mask and foil and drilled and drilled and drilled. I was good at it, and it was a sport where my small size and quickness helped and my lack of raw muscle and strength wasn’t a general handicap. Eventually though, the thing fell apart and my mask and foil went into the closet.

My path eventually took me to the SCA, where I took up armored combat. It was a hard sport for a short guy who weighed 115 pounds soaking wet but I loved it and pursued it for years. I pulled most of my friends into the hobby and it was pretty much my lifestyle for years, my existence revolving around fighter practice and weekend events scattered all around the South.

I never played football in school so it was my first real contact sport. I sweated and bled and got myself hurt. I made wonderful friends who are still friends today. But I eventually left the group, drifting away as my priorities changed. But like a boomerang, I kept coming back.

For a while I stopped armored combat and picked up the rapier. I sold all my SCA fencing stuff when my daughter was born, thinking I’d not have time for it, using the money to help pay the hospital bill. But when she was toddling, I slowly got more gear and we’d travel down to Fort Smith on Sundays for practice.

I wandered back into the SCA for years but eventually my swords were buried in my closet, left there gathering dust as I learned to mountain bike, or got back into shooting, learned about the finer points of beer and sushi, or just sat on the couch.

When my daughter said she wanted to learn to fence I was a little surprised.

She was in soccer when she was younger but never really hit her stride though she had fun. She did a few seasons of basketball where her height and strength should have given her an advantage but she never enjoyed the competitive aspect of the game. Instead, she became known not for her rebounds but for making friends with the girl she was guarding.

I had to  admit  that this sometimes frustrated me. I was always a scrawny kid with few physical gifts when it came to sports. I would watch my girl and know she could dominate on the field if she chose to. Eventually, thick as I was, I realized it was her decision to do that. It was her choice to make, not mine.

So, here we were, on a fine fall morning, learning the sword.

I showed her how to hold the blade and how to find her range to the target she wanted to hit with the covered tip. I taught her to parry with the sword, how to bat an attacking blade away with her gloved left hand. We worked on her en garde position, making sure her feet were oriented properly, that the tip of her sword was always aimed at her opponent’s mask.

She paid attention and did what I asked. She made cracks about the heavy gloves I had her wear making he feel like she should call a falcon to sit on her arm. She asked a thousand questions and clearly was ready to get beyond this silly talk of footwork and on to exciting stuff like fighting while swinging from a chandelier.

She wore my mask for a lot of the lesson, its black wire blurring her features and somehow making her voice sound sweeter when she made a joke, laughed, or uttered and astonished “Whoa” as her block caught my sword just enough to make the tip miss her.

We advanced and retreated around the Halloween decorations in the front yard. We fought imaginary opponents. Her arm got tired but she didn’t ask to stop. When she was corrected, she didn’t offer an excuse and did her best to not repeat the mistake.

At one point I looked over my daughter’s shoulder and I saw my wife watching us from the front door. She was smiling.

After about a half hour we were finished. I’d tossed a lot at the girl in a short period of time and she’d been a good student.  We headed inside to clean up. We had errands to run but we set a date to fence next weekend, sooner if time allowed.

“You know, my leg sort of hurts where you poked me,” the girl observed in passing from the backseat of the car as we headed out.

My wife cut her eyes at me.

“I was just showing her that it doesn’t really hurt to get hit,” I explained.

“Way to go, Merlyn,” my wife quipped, likening my tutelage to that of Malcolm Merlyn, a villain in the TV show Arrow, who, shall we say, uses extreme methods to teach his daughter the way of the sword.

Touche, I thought as I winced. I had just been skewered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 20, 2014
by Greg Moody
Comments Off on Mom’s rant blasts the wrong dad

Mom’s rant blasts the wrong dad

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“You dads have it easy. You don’t know what it’s like being a mom,” she said as we waited for our children to exit the school.

I glanced at the guy I’d been conversing with, wondering if he knew this woman or if she just decided to throw herself into our conversation.

“I mean, we never get a day off even when we’re sick. I had the stomach flu once and it was the…worst…thing…ever and I was still changing diapers while my husband slept.”

I’m no Mr. Mom, but I do work from home, which means I spend a good deal of time with my daughter. Every morning I wake her, prepare her breakfast, review her spelling words for the week and get her to school. When school ends I’m on the steps to walk her to the car and drive her home, take her to soccer or piano lessons or dance lessons. I help her with homework, answer her questions and do all the things I assume every dad does.

“Who the heck does this woman think she’s talking to?” I thought. I took offense that she was assuming I was some oaf that did nothing but watch football and suck down beer, but decided to keep my trap shut.

She laughed at our ensuing silence, giving us an incredulous look – as if to say “And you poor shmucks don’t even know what we women have to endure.”

“Yes, as a dad I do have it easy, because I don’t regret time spent with my child,” I thought about saying.

But I didn’t want to respond out of anger. How could she possibly know what I may or may not do?

Instead I began wondering what sort of husband she must have, what sort of pressures this woman was under that she would volunteer this kind of information to complete strangers.

So I stayed silent and went home to do some research.

A survey on parenting.com said 46 percent of moms get irate with their husbands once a week or more. Their anger seems to come from numerous angles: not paying attention to children, household chores or generally not pulling their weight.

Irate. That’s a strong emotion to feel every week.

An article on Time.com said 60 percent of working moms felt like they single-handedly had to take charge of laundry, shopping, cooking, cleaning, bathing, feeding, dressing and entertaining the children.

There were stories of men who never changed a diaper, never got out of bed in the middle of the night to check on their crying child. Most of what I read revolved around men who had physically demanding jobs and felt entitled to ending their day when they punched the time clock.

And in this day and age, I was a bit surprised to hear fatherhood was still stuck in time.

Most of my surprise was because my friends who have children don’t act like this at all. In fact, off the top of my head, I can’t cite any friends with kids still in their single digits who aren’t active in raising and caring for their children. Still I also know dads who let their babies crawl around bar floors so they could have a few beers until their wife arrived to take care of the child. I suspect that could be a reason I don’t count them as friends.

Many studies I’ve read remind me of my childhood, with dad often coming in from work, pouring a drink and watching television for the rest of the night while mom still was busy preparing dinner and making sure I bathed, brushed my teeth and was ready for bed on schedule.

My dad wasn’t absent, but he certainly wasn’t around the house like mom was. It’s a generational difference many people apparently can’t shake. Mom’s aren’t expected to be housewives these days, whether they wish to be is another matter.

“Make no judgements where you have no compassion,” author Anne McCaffery said. I suspect this was the lesson I learned. It was easy for me to judge this woman when I neither knew her or had an understanding of what she might be going through.

I suspect in the future I won’t stay silent. I think now I’m aware enough to have a conversation.

October 13, 2014
by John Magsam
Comments Off on Talents and gifts

Talents and gifts

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 3.40.07 PMEvery good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

James 1:17

I have few, if any, notable gifts or talents.

I guess I’m sorta funny. I can string a few sentences together time to time. Still, I’m not gifted with any particular skill or talent that sets me apart. I have no superpowers.

In school, I was one of the smart kids, I guess, mostly due to a Catholic school education. Still, that’s not a big deal really, in Catholic school everybody is expected to be one of the smart kids – being a slouch was not an option.

When I got to Arkansas in the 1970’s I likely would have been put into the “gifted and talented” program if they had existed at the time but that would have been bogus. I wasn’t gifted or talented. I just got a leg up due to my education, understood how to study, how to take a test and could pay attention in ways that helped me succeed in the classroom environment.

It was no gift. It was not talent. I was just a little more savvy than my peers where school work was concerned.

My wife has gifts and talents.

She can sing the birds out of the trees. Sometimes, rarely, I forget this and she’ll just belt something out and leave me speechless. It’s particularly noteworthy when she sings at church and she’s lost in worship. It can give me chills. People sitting around us have been known to stop her and comment on her voice after the service. She, strangely, thinks I don’t like to listen to her sing. Not sure where that comes from, so here, in writing, I’m saying I love her voice.

She has other uncanny abilities.

She can make friends with anyone, developing an instant rapport with a total stranger. Her old boss at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette would say she had a “talk to me” face. She does. I’m glad she used this power for good as a journalist and now as an entrepreneur and didn’t use it for evil and go into sales.

My daughter has her own set of  talents and gifts.

She has a way with animals. She can calm a horse with a gentle touch, or lure a feral cat into arm’s reach with her soft voice and endless patience. She taught her first house cat to do a variety of acrobatic tricks, leaping about like a contestant on Pet Star. If her superpower has any kryptonite it’s chickens, who don’t seem to respond to her mojo. Nobody’s perfect.

From and early age she’s shown a talent for art.

The first horses she drew had an amazing vitality to them. They looked for all the world like they could have been painted on the teepee  or been proudly displayed on the shield of a Sioux warrior.

Her artist’s eye carries over to photography and video editing. She’s done some wonderful animated music videos and even done a few short films, notably The Glove, which is likely up for Oscar consideration.

My buddy and business partner Greg Moody is an artist of note. He’s always been encouraging of my daughter’s talent. He told us early on that most kids have an artistic bent of some sort, but they put it aside sometime in late childhood or early adolescence and never revisit it, so it withers. The secret, he said, is to never stop doing things that are artistic.

So, with that sound advice, my wife and I have tried to encourage our daughter’s art. Be it with a digital camera, or a computer with video editing capabilities or paints or canvases when birthdays and Christmas roll around.

Her most recent acquisition is an art tablet that she can connect to her computer to do all sorts of drawing. She worked hard to earn the money for it, changing doorknobs in our house, babysitting, extra chores, and she even hauled out all my old SCA armor and helm and polished and saddle soaped till she was nearly cross-eyed.

She taught herself to use the device and as I write this is spending her Sunday afternoon doing a feline version of Harry Potter she calls Hairy Pawter. It’s just one of her series of cats that she’s done recently including this pretty scary fellow who I like a lot.

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 6.30.16 PM

Seeing her lost in her art makes me happy. Seeing her finished products makes me proud. Working to keep her God-given gift alive gives me a sense of satisfaction.

Who knows, someday maybe she’ll make her living as an artist, or a cinematographer, an equine scientist, or a rancher.

No matter what the future holds I pray she’ll foster her gifts, not only for her sake but for the sakes of those around her.

Art, song, compassion, and empathy are the real talents.

October 6, 2014
by Greg Moody
Comments Off on Change

Change

old_typewriter_184617“But that’s how I was taught,” she says.

“I realize in school they told you to do it, but it’s completely irrelevant now. In fact, it’s actually incorrect these days,” I say.

“Well, maybe that’s your opinion since you design stuff, but this is how I’ve always done it and I’m not going to change,” she says.

“It’s not just my opinion, the MLA Handbook, The Chicago Manual of Style and others have adopted it and stories have appeared on news sites, such as Slate (which has a particularly good article here).”

“I don’t really care. I think it looks better this way and I think you’re being too picky.”

You wouldn’t expect people to be so stubborn about using one space after a period instead of two, but there you have it. In this day when computers and their amazing use of fonts overwhelmingly dominate everyone’s life, people hanging onto their dogmatic chant of “two spaces” that are inevitably traced back to sitting in class in front of an IMB Selectric typewriter – with their little ball of characters that you could pop off and switch to a different font.

It reminds me of the haunting cry from the newspaper boy in the movie Better off Dead: I want my two dollars! (or spaces in this case).

It’s a type of stubbornness I see when people discuss the Oxford comma – you know, that comma you’re supposed to put before “and” at the end of a list.

People cite absurd examples, such as the sentence: I had eggs, toast and orange juice. They say without a comma separating toast and orange juice it would imply the orange juice was on the toast. I chock most of these examples up to poor sentence structure. In the case of orange juice on my toast, well, you have to use common sense sometimes. If you said the sentence out loud, nobody would be confused, so why should it be confusing in print?

And if there really was orange juice on my toast, I think I’d have a few choice words to say about it, not merely a casual mention.

But people cling to how they were taught.

Things like an extra space or the tiny, inoffensive comma suddenly get people seeing red. It’s as though you’re threatening their very existence.

Not surprisingly, people are similarly stubborn when it comes to religion. The traditions we were raised with, the type of music played, the procession of the service can be real deal breakers if they’re messed with.

These days people cite acceptance of the LGBT community as something they refuse to change their stance on.

Sometimes it’s not so drama-filled.

Sometimes it’s that they started playing guitar during the service (because you know how awful different music can be). Sometimes it’s truly petty things, such as changing the start of Sunday School by a half hour or asking people to use different envelops for their offerings.

“But that’s how I was taught,” they say.

If you look at your church, you’ll see what I’m talking about. There are folks who must have things just so or they immediately complain, act like the sky is falling and threaten to leave the church if something isn’t done about it.

Fortunately churches do change and recognize that society does as well. When was the last time you heard a sermon on Ephesians 6:5-6: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling” or 1 Corinthians 14:33-36 that stated how women should be silent in churches?

Whenever I find myself relying on “that’s how I was taught” to justify my actions I know it’s a flimsy excuse.

As a parent it sounds dangerously like a child saying “because” when you ask why they didn’t clean up the spilled milk, or broken vase.

“Because” doesn’t make us stronger as Christians either.

Look to Matthew 22:36-40: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.

Instead of “because,” perhaps we should spend a little time asking ourselves if we’re loving to God and to our neighbor when we face change. Are we putting our opinions in the forefront of God and our neighbor?

Change can be a scary thing, but not changing is far, far scarier.

September 29, 2014
by John Magsam
Comments Off on Dusting off the old Bible

Dusting off the old Bible

photo(10)We had a few minutes to spare on Sunday morning, something pretty rare lately, so I went in search of my Bible.

I was raised Roman Catholic so even after all these years attending Baptist churches, carrying a Bible still isn’t ingrained in me.

For a while there I did well, toting to church a King James version with big-type that my wife bought for me before we were married. I had a few other copies of The Good Book, one for Dad’s comes to mind that my wife got for me before my daughter was born and another called The Evidence Bible, with commentary by Ray Comfort, a guy I sort of consider a street-fighter for God.

Still, the battered King James was my church Bible and much to my shame, I’d not cracked it or brought it with me to church in way, way too long. Today though, I just had a strong urge to carry it to church.

But, I had no idea where it was. Shameful.

I ended up peering under my bed and there it sat. That sort of implies that my Bible was easy to spot but that’s totally untrue. I had to push aside some books on knights and chivalry, and magazines on handguns along with rule books and magazines about war gaming to even glimpse my Bible in the flashlights beam.

Seeing it there with all my other interests pushing it back, back, back made me feel small and silly. I smooshed myself under the bed and reached for it but, no good. It had been shoved back so far by all my other reading material I couldn’t get a grip on it.

Frustrated and feeling pretty sheepish, I wandered out to the living room, turning off lights and getting ready to go. And away to church we went. Me, without my Bible in hand.

And of course, after singing and the offering, our pastor invited those of us who had a Bible to hand to open it and turn to Chronicles, chapter 4, and we started to talk about Jabez.

It was a good sermon. And I took notes, something I don’t usually do – I tend to enjoy just listening and trusting my memory. I take notes for a living and doing it when I listen to my pastor makes it seem more like work. This morning though, I kept thinking of my Bible, under my bed, just out of reach.

As we strolled out to our car after church I confessed to my daughter I’d gotten slack and needed her help to recover my Bible. On the ride home my wife tried to make me feel better, noting I’d been reading scripture more often online these days.

It was sweet but I still felt like a walking, breathing, object lesson who just stepped out of an After School Special. Short of having an angel pop in and tell me in a voice like a trumpet I was putting my hobbies before God, I can’t image a lesson any plainer.

As soon as we got home we made our way to my bedroom. The girl, wisely, had brought a walking stick she loves that has a hook-like handle.

“Really dad?” she chided as I shined the flash light under the bed and she slithered under far enough to reach my Bible with her stick.

When she snagged it and dragged it out into the light of day, it was covered in dust. I mean covered.

I thanked the girl and carried my Bible outside, sat on the bench on our front porch in the sunshine and dusted it off. I paged through it, looking at old drawings my daughter had done years and years ago that I’d saved, old church bulletins that were thankfully a little less ancient, odd hunks of paper I’d used for bookmarks here and there.

Then I opened it to Chronicles, chapter 4, and read about Jabez.

Message received.

September 22, 2014
by Greg Moody
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Truth

One of my guilty pleasures is Netflix documentaries. They’re the flame and I’m the moth.

purple_dvd_background_207933They’re guilty because I don’t simply watch any old documentary, I tend to watch ones that offer different opinions than my own.

Sometimes it’s Bill Maher’s “Religulous,” other times it’s “Room 237” with all the Kubrick conspiracy theorists,  but I’m always on the lookout for that nugget to either illuminate me on their perspective or make me change my beliefs. The people in these documentaries often claim to have the truth or at least enough of a truth that makes their stance valid. Maybe I’ve overlooked something in my own beliefs, I mean, I’m only human.

And I try to keep an open mind because coddling my beliefs have never made them stronger.

Most recently I watched “The Unbelievers” featuring biologist Richard Dawkins and physicist Lawrence Krauss. They were self-professed to search for truth, yet started by showing Dawkins laughing at a priest because the priest understood human evolution incorrectly (which I’m guessing wasn’t the priests profession).

Instantly my expectations sank.

Rather than illustrate their knowledge in talks with theologians they chose to highlight religious protesters who were practically frothing at the mouth: a stereotype Dawkins and Krauss presumably think is an accurate portrayal of all believers. Guess it’s a good thing I didn’t assume all teachers were lazy because of that one teacher who played video tapes while he napped at his desk.

Dawkins says the creation story doesn’t literally accord with science (a fact I don’t believe is in contention no matter what you believe), but then seems to assume the entire Bible must be based on a premise on lies, that those lies builds upon each other throughout the book and that this leads to why Christians must be kept in check with threats of burning in hell. He seems to see religion as a system that you must unwaveringly and literally believe in or be completely wrong about everything.

If he were the rationalist he claims, then maybe he’d understand that view is a slippery slope – a logical fallacy. But I don’t want to digress into Christian apologetics.

The thing that struck me as I looked at Dawkins and Krauss’ audiences was they were often students, and it made me think back to my time in college. I scored high enough on my ACT test that I could have had my education paid through a science scholarship. Perhaps that made it easier for me to walk away from the Sunday school version of religion because the grown-up version of religion seemed no different from the watered-down children’s stories.

For many years I was a very proud atheist. I set religion up like a straw man, easy to knock it over because I’d oversimplify religion or I’d undermine valid points by citing other problems in the Bible.

Snakes in gardens and floods covering the earth suddenly seemed like obvious fabrications. What made it worse was my parents didn’t have an educated understanding of religion, so they had no answers. I suspect my parents didn’t believe in an actual Garden of Eden either, but were too afraid to entertain a discussion about it being allegorical instead of literal. They were too afraid to answer even the most simple questions I asked because they didn’t have the education to answer them.

Ultimately they quit attending church entirely.

But the truth I’ve discovered is that science and religion aren’t mutually exclusive. I believe in evolution and physics and biology and chemistry, yet I no longer see any of these in conflict with my religious beliefs. It’s not because I’ve watered down my beliefs or because I have a poor grasp of science.

I consider myself fortunate to have found my church. We talk about these things. There’s no fear in suggesting that God didn’t literally create the universe in few days or that maybe snakes didn’t talk or a whole host of things.

More than that, we talk about dates when scripture was written, scientifically measurable history from religious academics and attempts to understand the culture they originated in.

It’s surprising. I’ve not yet seen a person who came away feeling less secure about their beliefs for having questioned them.

To put a different spin on Asimov’s famous quote: fear is the first refuge of the ignorant. To find truth in our lives we have to find what’s true in our own eyes and thoughts. If we never ask the questions, if we never think about the uncomfortable, if our beliefs are never challenged then we’re not finding truth.

September 15, 2014
by John Magsam
4 Comments

Ladies, what should YOUR t-shirt say?

logoWhen my business partner and pal Greg Moody and I began 12th Apostle a while back we really intended the business model to be male-focused.

We figured most Christian t-shirts targeted at guys were pretty much  the same, fairly dull, way too preachy — or a weird mix of God and country we weren’t comfortable with. We wanted something different. Something we would wear proudly.

Well, it seems a lot of our shirts really speak to women, too. From the first day I brought the shirts back from the printers, I had female friends who bought our t-shirts for themselves, demanded we offer women’s sizes (maybe brighter colors) and asked that we feature some verses that speak to women in particular.

So Greg and I have decided to begin offering some shirts for women. Great idea, right? Well, we decided we needed to do it a while back and we’re still on high center.

Why?

Well, I’m lazy and Greg is overworked, but that’s beside the point. The real reason is we’re not women, so we’re not sure which way to jump.

My first thought was the shirts should feature the qualities of the Proverbs 31 woman. You know, the virtuous chick whose worth is more that rubies; who pretty much is the combination of the perfect mother, wife and businessperson. And the one who leaned in before leaning in was en vogue.

A guy would have no trouble wearing that sort of shirt. For us, it’d be like wearing a Superman t-shirt or a Dallas Cowboys shirt if they were our favorite team, or an Affliction shirt if we were a mixed martial arts fan, even though we know we couldn’t punch our way out of a paper bag.

But I wondered if women would be concerned that others would think they were braggy if they wore a Proverbs 31 shirt. So, I did some research and realized I didn’t think like  a woman, not one bit.

I found blog after blog written by women who were bugged by the Proverbs 31 lady. They felt she represented unrealistic expectations that nobody could ever meet. That she was this unreachable ideal and somehow her clearly super-powered attributes reflected poorly on them.

I was a little stunned.

My favorite 12th Apostle shirt is Ready to Rock. Which talks about David getting ready to go out and face Goliath. It speaks of a shepherd boy, with a unique set of skills, having the guts to step out in faith.

When I wear it I don’t think folks think I’m saying I kill gigantic dudes on a regular basis.

Clearly I think like a guy.

Wrestling with this concept had me recalling a story I read about a woman who had created a new action figure. For all intents and purposes, the action figure was  a boy scout who came with some camping gear. He wasn’t an eagle scout. He wasn’t young Indiana Jones wearing his scout outfit. He was a boy scout who went camping.

The woman’s rationale was that boys’ action figures are unrealistic physically, with broad shoulders, flat stomachs, big muscles. And they were super-powered and got in fights and did stuff that nobody could do.

As a guy, I just had to say, no kidding, that’s the whole point. Guys don’t usually look up to somebody who can do exactly what they can do. It would be weird.

When I was a kid, I could easily be a boy scout. Even though my dad hated the outdoors I went camping. I don’t need an action figure for that.Why don’t you give me an action figure of an accountant or a straight-A student, while you’re at it?

Unfortunately, I can’t be Spider-Man or Batman or Superman, a professional football player or a cage fighter, but I wish I could. That’s why I need the action figure.

As a guy, when I look at Spider-Man, I don’t see a whisper-thin, like zero-body-fat physique I’ll never live-up too. I see a guy who can stick to walls, swing through the city on a web, and who realizes with great power comes great responsibility.

When I think of Batman, I don’t worry I’ll never be a millionaire playboy and live in stately Wayne Manor or have a cool butler named Alfred. I also don’t concern myself that if I like Batman it means I might have tendencies to be a sociopathic  loaner. Batman helps me realize that in a world filled with evil, a guy with no super powers but his mind and  his determination (and his massive checkbook) can make a difference.

And don’t get me started on Superman.

Talk about somebody no human male could live up to. He has the perfect body, wonderful, freaky-smart women chase him, he can fly for goodness sake, bullets bounce off him, he can bench press like, well a bunch, and he has a wonderful career as a journalist (OK, I can do that), and he wears his underwear outside his outfit and nobody says anything to him, and nobody, I mean nobody, pulls on his cape. They wrote a song about it for goodness sake.

But he shows me that you can be a stranger in a strange land and still care, still make a difference, bleed, sweat strive and even die for those you love and believe in.

Not too shabby. Or course he sets the bar really high. That’s why he’s a hero.

So, that’s a long way to go to say, I guess, I don’t understand what women would want in a shirt.

I won’t go so far as to say I don’t understand women, because, I think I sort of understand one of your species, a pretty amazing one really, who I tricked into marrying me. And I hope I pretty much understand another wonderful one, who is funny and smart. The one I’m blessed to be the father of.

But really, in broad strokes, I guess I’m in the dark where women are concerned and by extension, what they’d like in a Christian t-shirt.

So, if you’re reading this, and have stuck with me so far, please let me know what verses you’d like to see on our new women’s line. Or maybe just topics you’d like to see covered, like love, or trust, or forgiveness or motherhood. You can just put a comment here on the blog, or on Facebook or send me a note at john@12thapostle.com.

Today, in church, my pastor was teaching from the Book of Job and noted that Job’s wife suggested the following to her beloved husband in Job 2:9: “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

And really, in all honesty, I thought for a second, hey, that might make a good shirt.

So, clearly, we need help. Let us know what you think.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go watch Once Upon a Time with my two best girls. I’ll be hoping for a sword fight or two.

 

September 8, 2014
by Greg Moody
Comments Off on Punishment

Punishment

Go to your room.

It’s not a phrase I have to use often and I’m thankful for that.

My daughter rarely needs punishing, not that an 8-year old can get into much trouble. Instead of punishment I usually find myself repeating myself: pick that up, put that down, put that away, throw that away and no, no, no (often followed by “because I said so”).

I’m no stranger to the deep sigh followed by “why?” or the exasperated “fine.” Sometimes I even get: “It’s not fair,” “You never let me do anything” and, rarely, “I don’t like you.”

And she’s already working the system…or at least trying to.

“We’re not allowed to have kind of bottle at school,” she said. Her class is allowed to have a water bottle at their table and I sent her off with one I bought for her soccer games. It sprays a mist of water to help cool her down. It led to a 5-minute roundabout conversation that ultimately confirmed what I suspected: she was spraying people with it instead of just drinking.

“I thought you’d get mad at me,” she said as she explained why she didn’t start out with the unvarnished truth.

I wasn’t mad. If I’d had a touch of foresight that morning I could have known the temptation of the spray bottle would be too much. If anything, I felt like it was my problem more than hers. How could I possibly punish her?

And these kind of issues have me increasingly considering the nature of punishment.

The Bible has several passages about children and punishment. And, really, it’s got no shortage of other punishments for a wide variety of violations, ranging from the obvious to the absurd.

The book that’s my personal favorite for punishment is Leviticus (which is more cherry-picked than any other book for its condemnations). I find its like reading a list of outdated laws – such as it being illegal to get a fish drunk in Ohio. Here are but a few:

Eating fat

Trimming your beard

Eating a creature that crawls with many legs or on its belly

Touching a dead lizard

Eating shrimp

Tearing your clothes

Cross-breeding animals

Getting tattoos

Mixing fabrics in clothing

Not all have a specific punishment associated with them, but others – like practicing divination, drinking alcohol in holy places and cursing either of your parents – are punishable by death. So I guess I should be thankful my folks didn’t kill me for swearing at them under my breath when they wouldn’t let me have the car keys.

Even the most staunch Bible thumpers dismiss most of these judgments. So if you’re a tattooed, poly-cotton wearing oyster lover you’re in the clear. It’s hard to believe God would punish someone for touching a dead bird or planting different seeds in the same field. Instead it seems we only lend real credence to punishments stemming from sex, theft, hurting or killing.

“So would Jesus forgive a person like Hitler?” People often seem to target Hitler as the most obvious candidate worthy of eternal punishment. I find it difficult to accept that God’s so forgiving that all sins are washed away, no matter how egregious the offense. How could someone in violation of so many commandments possibly get a free pass into paradise?

Conversely, I realize no matter how good others of us strive to be, we’re riddled with sin and sinful inclinations. But all these paths seem to lead to the same place: what does it mean when it comes to heaven or hell?

Furthermore, isn’t God able to make us not sin? Isn’t the reason we’re spraying our water bottle at our classmates because He’s the one who sent us off to school with it in the first place?

And here’s where I find myself. I feel that there should be punishment for sins, but simultaneously find it difficult to feel people ought to be punished forever.

Ultimately I look at my daughter. She’s bound to have some choice words for me as she gets older. I feel pretty confident she’ll sin in a number of ways and maybe even do as I did and completely discredit Christianity for parts of her life. But no matter how far she drifts I can’t believe she’d ever get to a place that I was unwilling to not love her.

How could Christ, who places loving one another paramount in his preachings, be less forgiving of us than we are of our own children?