Chasing Twilight

All of my life I’ve been chasing twilight.

Where all the hours in the day went, I don’t know. There was a time, I’m sure, when I worked and played in the warmth of the sun. Those days were spent on swing sets, chasing girls, playing cops and robbers, or in the summer building forts in the woods at the edge of my Grandpa’s farm. Immortality was so obvious that we didn’t think about time at all. We only knew that the world was spinning because our moms told us to come in for dinner. Oh ya, we’d think, food. We should eat.

That was long ago. What’s left of dinner is just dirty dishes piled in the sink. They’ve been there for years, while we chase twilight.

Yesterday, when we were kids, we didn’t enjoy bedtime. Life was fun, and dreaming about it was second rate. Night was an annoyance.

Now the end of the day scares me. When did that happen? The sunset has become a sign that tomorrow will come too fast.

Honestly, I’m chasing twilight because I don’t know if I have what it takes to spend another 24 hours clawing my broken fingernails into the clay while the world hurls itself through space, trying to spin me off. Maybe it would be better if I just let go…

I’m chasing twilight because if I can catch the sun, the day doesn’t end and I don’t have to face another one.

From where I am, the sun sets over the Rocky Mountains: imposing slabs of stone linked intimately together, silently brooding and communicating all too well that following is forbidden. Their shadows reach out toward me, engulfing everything. Because when you’re too slow to run after the sun, what you really need is a reminder that you’re also feeble and small.

If I had a little more time, I think to myself. A few more minutes in the day. Then they’d see:  I’m a good father. A loving husband. I’m worth my living wage. The company is better off because I work there. I’m not a disappointment to myself and others. I’m not broken. I’ll put myself back together. I’m definitely not insecure. I’m Blue Collar and fucking good at it.

Just give me a little more time.

So I chase twilight, but every day see the sun tuck those fantasies away just out of reach on the other side of monstrous granite teeth. I didn’t make it. Not even close, really. So tomorrow is on its way with another opportunity to not quite get there.

Being a Christian, this is simply unacceptable – not just the failure, or the profanity, although there’s that too – but being mentally and emotionally…finished…with a body that is well on its way. I know that I should be able to send a cutesy little scriptural meme down the black hole of social media, eat more fibre and eventually feel better. At this point, though, I may as well disappoint God too. There’s something to be said for consistency.

Thing is, I adhere to a strange brand of Christianity that is about more than me and how I feel. It is infused with ancient scriptures and prophets and such. One prophet named Malachi, who lived about 2500 years ago, wrote this:

“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings…”

What does it means for the sun to rise with healing in its wings? It means that when all hope is gone, we’ll see the sun rising in the west, rays of light carving their way back through those mountain passes carrying everything we thought we’d lost, all the things that we assumed were forever out of reach.

There is one part of me left that believes it.

The shadows that almost swallowed me are in retreat. The atmosphere is infused with new colours as the sun slips over the Rockies to touch the foothills with light. Hope comes from the same direction that it disappeared so long ago. The scent of pine and cool water dance softly in the air.

All of a sudden I’m building forts at the edge of Grandpa’s farm. Looking between the trees I can see Grandma walking out to him in the field, because its teatime. My sister is in the playhouse. I still don’t know why she is old enough to light the wood stove and I’m not, but I don’t care any more. She’s cool. My brother is taking my toys apart. I think it’s cute, and I’m kinda amazed that he knows how to put them back together again. Mom and dad aren’t divorced, and all that bad stuff didn’t happen.

I glance down, a little curious about the ashes underfoot. A small part of me wonders if something bad was once here. Then the sun filters down to me and suddenly I can’t recall what “bad” is.

What “bad” was?

What “what” was?

I dunno.

I need a stick for my fort.

Someone says, “Hey Billy!”, so I turn around and there He is, with a smile on His face and just the branch I’ve been looking for.

The Way Forward

If the eyes are truly the windows of the soul, we need not be afraid of the dark.

At the top of the stairs I hesitate in what we call morning, but it’s dark like the night and I do not wish to plummet into the day. So I wait. Soon – though still wrapped in a shroud of drowsiness and perhaps a hint of sadness – the way forward dimly reveals itself, for my eyes have adjusted.

But my soul, afraid of falling closes itself tight, and attempting to turn back from the first small step toward the unexpected and unwanted finds the way back a wall pressing tight, intruding upon my precarious foothold. I freeze, terrified.

It doesn’t need to be this way; we can learn to wait in the dark. Keeping our souls open in the scarcely lit places of life allows the deepest parts of our being to expand. With courage and a little patience we begin to perceive glimmers hope and fortitude where once there was only fear, pain and anger. The way forward is always there, but can only be seen by those who are brave enough to wait.

The open soul forgives, and in the way forward you’ll discover healing.

So wait, let your soul stare into the darkness, and be one of the few who can step into the unknown. It’s a glorious thing to be wide awake and at peace when the sun comes over the horizon.

Getting My Head Right

This last weekend I had the privilege of being part of the team that led our church in remembering the death of Jesus. I was asked to share a short sermon, so I based it on the ways that I usually have to get my head right as I approach the cross of the Christ.

If you’re interested, have a listen. It takes about 15 minutes.

When you’re done, check out this song by Bethel Music. We used it in the service, because it reflects so well the spirit of what we were trying to communicate.

When I Close My Eyes

If I close my eyes tight you can’t see me. I know that it is an infantile belief, but in moments of panic it is also an ancient magic that introverted wizards conjure in crowded church foyers, manic Starbucks queues and any official function where we would rather take a bullet than another sterile smile.

If I close my eyes tight you can’t see me. In times marked by weariness the world will continue to spin, but the hope is that it will speed up just enough to eject this deep sadness into a shallow orbit. Pat answers will be caught off balance and trip on the tongue, while I remain locked safely behind my eyelids.

If I close my eyes tight you can’t see me. Jesus meets me here, his presence manifest in times of faith. Like a cold tomb holding its breath the day before the resurrection, this is a quiet place full of promises. I am reminded here that when things are as still as death, God is calmly putting the universe in order and I’m simply too small to see the scope of it.

There are times when you can’t see the deepest part of me. Please forgive what you perceive as indifference. It is in these moments that I’m most invested in you. You can’t see me, because I’ve entered a place where angels cease their singing when a son of the King comes to petition his father. I’m closing my eyes because I love you. I’m asking Him to close your eyes for a moment too, because the inside of things is beautiful.

What we perceive each day is not always seen clearly, for our eyes are only open as wide as our hearts. What is it in your life that increases your spiritual vision?

“…I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe…” Ephesians 1:16-19a ESV

God’s Not Dead – the Review

GNDThe absolutely unscientific research I’ve done into the God’s Not Dead movie franchise suggests that most Christians think that it is the best thing since the “Left Behind” book series. This saddens me.

Nice is not a fruit of the Spirit, and I don’t intend to use it. So, for what it is worth, here is my review of God’s Not Dead.

Yes, I watched it. Last night. The first one, on Netflix, because I didn’t want to spend any money.

If you’re a Christian and you’ve enjoyed either of the God’s Not Dead tickets, you need to know that I don’t think less of you. I respect you as much as I ever have. No joke. The fact is that I would prefer you didn’t read this blog post. I’m afraid I may offend you, and I’d rather not. I would like to use nasty words to describe this film, and articulate my desire to burn the studio responsible for it to the ground, but I am worried that such language will alienate you and I, and destroy what little respect you may still have for me, after that meme I posted a couple weeks ago.

Having said that, I will do my best to make a reasoned case for my point of view. No promises.

In their 4-star review of this film, even Focus on the Family admitted that, “Pretty much everyone who’s not a Christian in this story is villainized for being mean, abusive, grouchy or narrow-minded. Several such sinners are condemned to either death or terminal illness, as if they’re being punished for their attitudes.” ( So much for the “Friend of Sinners” subplot in Jesus’ life.

I would add to this that most of the Christians are sugar and spice and everything nice, victims of persecution. But in the end of course they win, making sure we know that this is indeed about North American Christianity, because victory is a virtue here while losing has got to be one of the infamous Seven Deadly. The credits include a list of court cases that inspired the movie, giving an air of reality.

So, were the producers trying to paint a picture of what is, OR what should be? I was confused. Still am. Because a better movie could be made about Christian parents who abuse and kick out their homosexual kids, frightened pastor’s kids who get abortions because of their religious communities, and pagan intellectuals who understand that debate can come from a place of mutual respect. That would be just as close to reality. Let’s acknowledge kingdom values and have the well-groomed protagonist lose more than his bitchy girlfriend. It can be done.

Now let’s talk about persecution – one of the overwhelming themes of this show. Practically speaking, will opposition to the Christian message continue to increase in our society? Yes. Taking the big picture into consideration, have we experienced enough persecution to begin high-fiving one another? Oh, please. Here is today’s reality check. There is no systematic, state-sponsored persecution of Christians in North America. Period. Baking cakes and other such things do not count, people. Sure, there are uncomfortable hiccups, but in this movie’s credits where it lists all those real court cases, you’ll notice the judges regularly upholding the rights of believers.

Another thing. Every time a Christian needs help in this movie, they get a little sermon and a polite smile. Here is a partial list of problems, with the solutions given in the movie:

Q: God needs to be defended, but I’m scared.
A: Don’t disappoint God. Here are Bible verses to read.

Q: I got kicked out of my house for being a Christian.
A: Here’s some verses, we love you, and you’ll forget about your homelessness by the time you get to the Newsboys concert.

Q: The car won’t start.
A: God has other plans. Getting a rental car or a mechanic shows a lack of faith. You know the verses.

Q: I feel like my life’s work is pointless.
A: Repeat after me: “God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.” Doesn’t that make you feel better?

I’ve said elsewhere that the people with the most profound impact on my life have been those who have had to live with dark questions for an extended period of time. There is no room for that reality in GND’s world.

In a nutshell, this movie is more concerned with being right than real. It mentions Jesus, but portrays a brand of Christianity that applauds pat answers more than action. It caricatures and alienates unbelievers. Providing a half-baked culturally relevant venue for preaching (to the choir) was obviously a higher priority than creating moving-picture art that would stimulate thinking and portray experiential High Truth. There are just as many cultural and political references to how Christians should vote, eat and clothe themselves as there are to Jesus himself. It represents everything I hate about the artificial, politically driven bubble we call Western Christianity (Christianism?).

I prefer the real life version. My mechanic is deeply involved in the lives of his employees, because of Jesus. My pastoral friends in the States minister to “the least of these”, for Jesus’ sake. My missionary friends eat with Muslims and Bhuddists and Hindus in places I can’t even publish, because no sacrifice is too great. My best friend hangs out with gay church kids and atheists who aren’t welcome in any religious homes. These are my heroes (many of whom appreciated this movie and laud those in the same genre.)

Sure, the protagonist in this movie is a hero of sorts, I guess. But his world simply doesn’t exist. Nor should it.

I suspect this film was popular because we like to have the underdog validated, especially when he’s fighting for our faith. Fair enough. If there are other reasons, let me know. In the meantime, I’ll skip the rest of the franchise and wait until someone has the balls to do another End of the Spear, Believe Me or The Passion – films that are more closely aligned with what we should aspire to.

Holy Emmanuel

Holy holy holy God we sing;
It means He’s separate, set apart. Everything
We know of him says he’s over there
High and lifted up. We’re down here
We abase ourselves.He’s not like us:
He’s righteous, we’re shadow; he’s forever, we’re dust.

And sometimes we feel in his holiness
Being set apart we believe he’ll miss
The fact that we need him here.
We wonder does the holy care?

Surrounded by angel armies there
Where there’s no darkness, and the air
Is filled with voices that sing unending
Praise to this ancient King,
Does He see us- that we’ve lost everything?

There are prophets that answered all these questions
When they wrote of the Holy pierced for our transgressions-
And foretold God come to earth as man.
We still ask whether the Holy can
Take in our pain and eat our sin,
Can the Holy taste death, would He rise again?

He did, and we call him Emmanuel!
Jesus stood between us and hell;
A king with a crown of thorns, God with a battered face-
That is holy love. This is holy grace:
To have Holy arms around us, nailed in place!
Three days later death lost its sting,
This is why Holy holy God we sing!