Tag Archives: people

Demian Farnworth on Being Anonymous


The irony of my name being on the title of this post is not lost on me. 

Most of us try to avoid being anonymous. We strive to be the center of attention. We want to excel in sports or academics, business or politics.

In fact, most of us can’t stand the thought of going through life as a nobody.

As a young man I went to great lengths to be the center of attention. I wanted the fame of an Andy Warhol. To be a spectacle like Mick Jagger.

To be marginalized horrified me.

Anonymous Uses Anonymity

Some of us, however, indulge in anonymity.

The cultural movement known as  is just one example. They’ve used their anonymity to pull benign raids and devastating invasions against organizations online.

For example, when Pirate Bay co-defendants were found guilty, Anonymous responded with .

When the file sharing site Megaupload was shut down, Anonymous turned around and .

And , including over 9,000 active credit cards, 27,000 phone numbers and 20,000 “easily cracked” passwords, because of their dubious nature.

They invented the and .

As a taunt to their victims, whenever they appear in public, they wear masks, a cunning form of manipulation.

Those who applaud Anonymous do so because they view the people they attack as enemies of truth or freedom.

Strange, that a movement which values privacy is so eager to destroy it. 

While the average person doesn’t have to fear a raid on their privacy from Anonymous, there is still some irony in their resemblance to Big Brother.

The Advantages of Being Anonymous

Those who are anonymous do so to protect their own privacy. For example, the forum that is thought to be the cradle of Anonymous culture, |b|chan, revels in this anonymity.

Everyone is anonymous. And as you might expect–everything goes.

|b|chan is NSFW.

|b|chan is a space for people to exercise and indulge every whim.

It is the id of the Internet ego.

It’s where child molesters and white supremacists express their freedom of speech. It’s where homosexuality, pediastry, bestiality live along side of homophobia and xenophobia.

|b|chan is not only NOT safe for work–it’s not safe for life. As I said, everything goes.

This is the advantage of being anonymous.

Anyone who’s run a blog or commented on blogs knows that over time an “anonymous” comment will show up.

Anon or Anny will vent.

It could be stupidity, hatred, lies. Whatever, it will be extreme. Nobody makes an anonymous comment about their preference for butter on toast.

And the Internet has given us a free rein when it comes to being anonymous.

Anonymity and Confessions

In certain occasions we encourage anonymity. Feedback given at work, suggestions for new ideas, comments for journalists on stories.

Anonymity gives people courage.

But there are checks-and-balance in place in those institutions. A mid-level manager at a large firm promises to confess to cooked books under the promise that he will remain anonymous. However, he understands that his confession can be held under scrutiny by the reporter…and can be traced back to him.

In a sense, if he is lying, he can be brought to justice.

No such checks-and-balances online.

To leave a comment on a blog all you have to do is provide a name and email address, neither real, and you may say whatever you want.

Of course some people can chase you down via your IP address. Most of what we do in life is traceable, even if minute. But for the rank-and-file, there is no need to worry.

Anonymity is to be cherished.

Anonymity and Sin

The Bible describes a God who sees all. Nothing is hidden.

For those who are convinced of his existence, this provides a proper deterrent from indulging in our secret whims.

It is not a perfect prescription, however, because to the degree that we believe this is the degree to which we obey it.

And to the degree that we doubt it is to the degree we ignore it.

But there are even those who struggle in spite of this, where God’s omniscience and omnipresence provides no barrier to resist secret sins.

Behind closed doors we feed these sins.

For instance, back in 1982 a pastor who remained “anonymous” wrote a letter to Leadership magazine. He explained how he was released from his bondage to pornography, pornography of the grossest sort.

It was Matthew 5:7 that broke his bondage:

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

It’s the promise that one day he would stand before God and see Him–but only on the condition that his heart remained pure.

That motivated the pastor to resist his temptation, and it proved effective in breaking his addiction, where his previous efforts under the “plague of guilt” had no impact.

God Cherishes the Anonymous

For starters, the people of Israel.

A nobody tribe from the Late Bronze Age. A nobody tribe who end up slaves of Egypt. Thousands of Israelites died over a 400 year period beneath the weight of back-breaking work and intense heat.

Not one single Israelite’s name is recorded during this time.

Except Moses.

After the Exodus, they rose to prominence, but fell again from their disobedience and again returned to slavery, this time under the Babylonians and Persians.

And they remained anonymous for the following 400 years.

They cried out, as the anonymous often do, to God who promised them a messiah, a figure who would give them liberty.

The messiah did not turn out to be who they thought he would be. As he walked through the rocky cities of ancient Israel he sought out the marginalized–the lepers, the prostitutes and the tax collectors.

He sought out the cripples, the poor and the children. Segments of society everyone had forgotten.

He ignored the proud. The educated. The wealthy. The physically fit.

He proclaimed justice to the anonymous–perhaps not here on this earth–but in the courts of heaven. He promised the poor that the wealthy will be the last in line–if given admission at all.

And he bestowed on children the greatest compliment of all–they were model citizens of the kingdom of God, ones whom we should emulate.

Adults, take note.

Why the Anonymous?

There is a certain mark among the anonymous.

It is the mark of humility.

Jesus said “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Not this earth, surely, but the new earth, the one promised at the end of the age when all will be renewed for the sake of God’s glory.

The proud will have no part in it because .

We live in a culture that does not embrace anonymity. It is the cult of the extrovert. The famous. The beautiful.

That puts a burden on all of us to strive for fame and beauty–to resist being forgotten. To do something great, not for the sake of mankind or God or your family, but for ourselves.

No doubt man has always been possessed with this.

Men throughout the millenia strive for works of achievements to cement their names and reputations. God resists such achievements and men. In fact there is only one place in which our names and reputations should be cemented.

In the book of Life.

If not, the most fortunate of us may live on in the memories of the living for centuries, but among the dead we are a loathsome lot begging those whom we see enjoying the comforts of heaven while we suffer in the torments of separation from God.

This is the point of the , the ultimate parable on anonymity and fame. The  man who has no name triumphs over the man who has the name and the wealth.

And this is the classic truth of the gospel: the world as we know it has been turned upside down.

The last shall be first and the first shall be last.


Which brings us to the lesson of Anonymous and the anon. We’ve abused our positions of anonymity. We’ve used it to break laws and to say and do things we wouldn’t normally say or do.

We’ve used it to chase sin. And then, paradoxically, used it to chase fame.

God wishes we use to chase him.

Into the backwoods of the poorest countries. Into the cells of the darkest prisons. Into the wards of the sickest hospitals. Into the streets of the riskiest neighborhoods.

Fame isn’t sinful. Chasing it, however, is.

Is John Nash a Modern-Day Nebuchadnezzar?

You’re probably wondering what a 20th century Princeton-trained abstract mathematician has in common with a Babylonian ruler who reigned around 600 B.C.

Not much, really.

Except they both went mad.

And that’s the connection I want to explore.

Losing a Beautiful Mind

Here’s how Daniel describes :

All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?”

While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.”

Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.

It’s evident that Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind. And while John Nash didn’t crawl on all fours and eat grass, he, too, .

I tell you all this because I recently finished reading Sylvia Nasser’s biography of John Nash–.

It was a gritty, 400-page narrative of schizophrenia–with Nash as the protagonist–that traveled from the nastiness of his narcissism to the brutality of his mental illness to the humility of his remission.

And throughout this very readable book I could not shake the comparison between Nash’s descent into madness with Nebuchadnezzar’s.

What We Can Learn from Descents into Madness

This is not what I’m saying: God used schizophrenia as an act of judgment against John Nash. I cannot demonstrate that at all.

All I’m saying is that it could be–as it was so obviously for Nebuchadnezzar. But this much is true: the depth of megalomania and hubris in each man was vast and ultimately led to their insanity.

Nebuchadnezzar reveling in his majestic glory and dictatorial demands for idol worship and John Nash exalting his mathematical genius and rubbing his status as a scientific giant into the noses of his subordinates [whom he thought was just about everyone].

The warning we need to walk away from both of these men’s stories [and Nebuchadnezzar’s in particular] is that we are all prone to self-sufficiency, self-supremacy and self-exaltation…

And when we push the limits of these areas we are in great and grave danger of judgment–possibly in this life, definitely in the next.

But more importantly we must remember this: Christ alone is supreme. Christ alone is to be exalted and worshiped. And in Christ alone do we find our ultimate sufficiency.

Who Do You Praise in Your Times of Restoration?

In the end, Nebuchadnezzar was humbled by his madness. As was Nash. But Nebuchadnezzar praised God for his restoration…

, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”

As far as I know, John Nash did not praise God. In fact, he talked about willing his way into rationality.

Whatever the case might be, I hope that Nash did in fact give God glory for his recovery–but that piece of news has simply been left unreported.

Until then I pray for Nash’s soul.

And yours, that you would resist pride with a ferocious and fantastic tenacity and instead adore the only being in this universe who deserves our praise–Jesus Christ.

Your Personal Conflict with the Great Commission


Simply fulfilling my promise to write about Radical all week.

Suspend your belief for a moment. I want to change your view of history.

In January 1703, shortly after graduating and failing an audition for an organist’s post at Sangerhausen in January 1703,  didn’t take up his post as a court musician in the chapel of Duke Johann Ernst in Weimar…

But instead, while riding away from Sangerhausen, Bach felt a severe call on his life to travel to Tunisia to minster the gospel to the Arabs…

Summarily giving up his ambition to be a composer.

Revision of Van Gogh’s Little Life

Almost two hundred years later,  succeeded in his early vocational aspiration to become a pastor and preached the gospel from 1879 until his death to a small mining town in Belgium…

And neglecting his elegant (but tortured) artistic output that resulted in intoxicating paintings like  and ?

Naturally, even to conceive of such events means we have to revise history and do some heavy-duty speculating.

But here’s my point–what if every great Christian artist, writer, dramatist, composer or scholar simply shed their vocational ambitions to work strictly as a missionary, preacher, teacher or evangelist?

Would our culture be any less than it is without Bach’s sacred  or the sublime chaos of van Gogh’s ?

The answer, or course, is “no.”

For one thing, conceiving of history without Bach the composer and his rich legacy of liturgical works or Van Gogh and his dreamy, sad impressionistic paintings is pure fiction.

It’s the stuff of revisionist history best left in the hands of novelists who like to entertain.

Here’s what I’m getting at.

The Tension the Great Commission Creates

I get a strong impression after reading David Platt’s Radical that he’d like to see us all abandon our political, social, academic or artistic pursuits and share the gospel.

That, my friends, is radical.

It’s an over-reading of his point, of course, even though he is a pastor and (I think) would be quiet happy if every one in his church–and all the readers of his book–would become evangelists or missionaries.

In fact, after you read the book there’s a small part of you wanders if you should liquidate your 401k and send it to World Vision…

Or sell your suburban home and move your family of four to a grass hut in Bangladesh…

Or scrap your dream of being a veterinarian and take the first flight to Ethiopia to save ten-year-old girls from sexual slavery.

David Platt and his book just might ruin your life in that way.

Extreme, perhaps.

But Jesus and his great commission was anything but superficial.

Which brings us to the tension with our cultural mandate: God’s decree that we subdue the earth by building schools, running governments and crafting art.

Questions the Book Will Stir Up

No question: There are those who will read the book and go to the extreme. Who will give it all up and make radical changes to their lifestyle to fulfill the gospel.

David Platt’s got the testimonies to prove it.

For the rest of us, we at least re-think how we spend our money.

In reality, all Platt asks you to do is bear your heart before God and ask: What can I do? How can I give it all?

And what does that mean?

Does that mean I remain here in the suburban U. S. and churn out blog posts or novels or paintings or musical scores–for your glory?

Or do you have something more radical for me? Read Platt’s book and, in truth, you will ask yourself those questions. What do you say?

One Final Thought

Sometimes I wonder what Calvin would’ve written if he’d not had his conversion, but instead pursued his ambition to live a leisurely literary life.

I gamble he might have been a French .

To this literary nut job, that sounds appealing.

Don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t trade that history if it meant we gave up the Institutes. I’m just saying: Maybe it’s not so bad to let your imagination wander on occasion.

Who knows: You might stumble upon a brilliant idea. An idea you can offer up to the glory of God.

But maybe that’s enough? We’ll never know, will we?

Why Did God Create Woman?


Women. Ah. My favorite subject.

Especially since I’m married to arguably the most merciful, kind and generous woman of all.

Indeed. Any amount of success I have as a father, writer or husband I owe to her.

The running joke around our house is that if not for my wife, I’d still be living with my mother.

In her basement.

Dead serious. My wife is classic helper. Classic companion. I’d be lost without her.

But what does “helper” mean? Where did that term come from?

Furthermore, why did God think man EVEN needed woman? And what does the Bible say about this union?

Let’s take a look.

History Before Woman

Long ago God created a man named Adam. He told Adam [a man made in God’s image] to cultivate the earth.

To subdue it.

Adam shaped wood into tools. Domesticated oxen to plow fertile soil. He groomed fruit trees. He raised honey bees. He cultivated mint and cornflowers.

But the image of God in man was not complete. God said, “It is not good that man his alone.” He wanted to give Adam a companion.

What’s strange about this arrangement is that Adam doesn’t seem to notice his need for a companion.

He appears perfectly content to be alone.

This is problematic. Not to Adam, but to God. And for reasons we might not consider.

History After Woman

Then God created woman.  what that looked like:

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”

Because God created woman even though Adam was content in his solitude suggests God had something else in mind for man than merely tinkering around in a garden by himself.

God wanted to give man a partner in the stewardship of that garden. Together man and woman split the labor of subduing the earth.

He . To take dominion over the fish. The birds. The badgers.

And this responsibility–a sovereign authority you might say–is another way that man and woman are made in God’s likeness.

God is in charge of the universe…man and woman are in charge of the earth. But mere stewardship of goats and crops wasn’t all.

Something Adam Couldn’t Do Alone

Part of Adam and Eve’s responsibility involved multiplying humans. Procreation. Making babies.

A skill, we all know, Adam could not perform on his own.

This command would ensure God’s image spread over the earth. It allowed for Adam and Eve to fulfill their cultural mandate by sharing their workload with their children.

Yet another division of labor.

Call it imperialism if you want. But all for the glory of God. Here’s what I mean.

What Male-Female Union Does to God’s Glory

Listen: When man and woman work in harmony–sharing the responsibility of creating culture, raising children and sharing the gospel–God is glorified.

And he is glorified within the ordained parameters of marriage.

From the Genesis narrative of the creation of man and woman God demonstrates his plan for marriage equals a monogamous heterosexual relationship.

Proliferation of mankind–God’s image–could not happen any other way.

God knew that his glory was limited in the creation of one man. So he made woman. And then man and woman made child.

This union and procreation honors God. Glorifies him. Extends his joy as this man, woman and child honor them with their hearts and service.

It’s a lifestyle of adoration for their creator. Incomplete when man was alone.

Recommended resource:  Andreas J. Kostenberger

Why Creative People Frighten Me

It all started with an image of  posing in an ad on .

It wasn’t so much that he was posing–but that look he had on his face…

And his body posture.

At first blush, innocuous. Bland. Marginally detached.

Nothing to cause alarm or concern. It’s just a photograph promoting .

But the thing got under my skin. In a low-grade BAD way. For days even.

The thing is, I couldn’t really put my finger on why it bothered me so much. It just made me go–ick.

And it wasn’t a dislike for Whittaker or his music. I knew that much. No, it went to the core of something else.

Something deeper. In my own being. Or our culture’s soul. Or both. I just didn’t know until the mystery started to unfold.

Disturbing Photographs of Disturbed Poets

I have a book on my shelf called .

It’s a slim anthology on Theodore Roethke, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg and James Merrill–poets who characterize the 20th century’s “second brilliant generation.”

[…the first generation being Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, Hughes,Stevens, and Williams…]

On the cover–as you might suspect–are photographs of each poet…all of them, except Ginsberg, staring at you.

It’s disturbing on many levels.

First, human eyes staring at you are strange things indeed. Photographs of human eyes staring at you even more odd. Photographs of eyes staring at you that belong to dead people–haunting.

But photographs of human eyes staring at you that belonged to dead people who, when alive, led very creative, but disturbed lives takes the cake.

These are such photographs. And it doesn’t help that I’ve got history with these poets. Let me explain.

The Powerful Impact of Disturbed Poets

Long ago as a moody, half-cocked young poet I fell for Sylvia Plath. Adored Anne Sexton. Admired James Merrill. Cherished Theodore Roethke. Envied Robert Lowell. And idolized John Berryman.

The only poet who I spurned was Allen Ginsberg and that was due to his pedophilic tendencies.

But the others I’d canonized. Bizarre since these poets lived and died tragic lives.

Three of the poets killed themselves–Plath, Berryman and Sexton.

Lowell made a career out of writing candid poetry about his multiple mental hospitals admissions.

Bishop lived the life of a recluse with her lover in South America.

Theodore Roethke endured crippling episodes of depression.

And James Merrill, who painted a candid portrait of gay life in the early 1950s, lived modestly despite great personal wealth and eventually died in Arizona from AIDS complications.

You wonder why I–or anyone for that matter–invested so much hope and emotional capital into such people.

But here’s the deal: These troubling writers powerfully shaped my mind. And drug me to dark places I’d rather not go. Which brings us back to Whittaker.

What Does This Have to Do with Carlos Whittaker?

When it comes to romantic poetry and rock n roll both are at their best when they come from emotionally raw places says Craig Schuftan in his book 

Take the former Smashing Pumpkins front man , for example. He said, ”And the more intense it was, the better, and we would probably have to suffer for that.”

Then there’s the British romantic poet George Gordon Byron who said about –perhaps his best poem–”I was truly mad during its composition.”

[Note: Before Byron the notion that you had to suffer to create great art seemed ridiculous.]

Unfortunately, this notion is leaching into the Christian culture. Whittaker is but a mild example.

So my question to you is this: Is this the least bit healthy–regardless if you are a Christian or not? Furthermore, does it belong in the Christian community?

Or is this just anonther example of our incumbent narcissism rearing it’s ugly head and placing the focus on us rather than Christ?

Understand: I am one of those creative people. And I have a bent for suffering. But I’m not sure the focus should be placed on me or my pain.

I’m also reminded of Keith Green performing beneath his piano so people would focus on God and not him.

My irredeemable love of obscurity likes that. A lot.

So what do you think: Is this a zero-sum game? Or can we strike a balance? I look forward to your thoughts. Brutal and all.

Why Did God Create Man?


Ever wonder why you are here? Why anybody is here?

I’m not talking about “what’s my purpose?”

I’m talking about why did God create us? Man? Woman? You? Me? Adam? Eve?

Creation? Anything?

Why did he create the universe and atoms?

Stars, oceans, continents, apricot trees, corn, squirrels, earthworms?


Did God lack anything? I mean: God’s not lonely. He’s a three-part being.

He’s not needy. He’s self-existent.

Neither Is This the Reason

Is he sadistic and perverted and gets a good chuckle when we suffer? No. The .

Was he a poor gardener and needed the help of a professional? No. He’s omnipotent and could manage the garden well on his own.

Then what is it? Why would God create us? Care for us?

Even the  over God’s concern for a creature who pales in comparison to the largeness and majesty of nature…yet is exalted as steward of that creation.

What gives?

This Is the Reason God Created Us

The  gives–just a little. It tells us that our chief aim in life is to worship God and enjoy him forever.

Does that mean God is egotistical and relishes human worship?

Absolutely not.

The issue of why God created man goes to the very core of God’s character and we must go back to the Genesis story to uncover–as best as we can–his purpose.

Here’s what we know: God planted the first man–Adam–in a splendid garden surrounded by a rich, robust world. Yet God saw that it wasn’t good this man was alone.

Enter woman.

And So Is This

Next, he told them to be fruitful and multiply. He told them to subdue the earth.

In other words, he blessed them. He gave them life, responsibility and freedom to care for creation.

And from this we can surmise that God gave freely because he himself is self-giving. That is his incorrigible character.

In return he expects us to bless the nations:

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us…that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! 

But there’s something else we can surmise out of God’s creation of man and nature and that’s this: He created man because he is a creative being.

And since we are created in his image we also are defined by this same creativity so that the ends of the earth may know him and fear him through our works that proclaim him.

What are you doing with the life, freedom and creativity God freely gave you? Let me know what you think.

45 Miles on Foot and All I Get Are These Lousy Epiphanies?


Actually, the epiphanies aren’t lousy.

I’m just smarting over the low-grade but ruthless abuse I took to get them.

Yet I have no one to blame but myself.

I chose to hike 45 miles through the Smokey Mountains in 3 days.

Why? Because I love to hike. I love a ridiculous challenge. And I love hanging out with my friends.

The epiphanies, on the other hand, I credit to God. So, here are some lessons learned, thoughts stewed over and questions asked.

Never Trust a Downhill Hiker

Here’s the deal: Hiking etiquette demands downhill hikers yield to uphill hikers. This creates the perfect opportunity for uphill hikers to ask “How far to the top?”–the perennial question on every uphill hiker’s mind.

The answers always vary. “Half a mile. Half an hour. Fifteen minutes. You’re almost there.” The truth is, they don’t know what they’re talking about. Their sense of distance varies widely from yours. I eventually stopped asking.

Irreducible Complexity Remains Evolutions Biggest Stumbling Block

Hardly surprising that hanging out on the backbone of the Smokies drives me to think about evolution. Principle questions that I want answers to: Evolution posits that we have an instinct to survive, to reproduce. What is the origin of those instincts? What was it before complex organisms? What are the odds that organisms can survive the transition from cell division to one sex organisms to two sex organisms?

Swarms of Flies Sound Like Talking Humans

Don’t know why, but on certain stretches of the Appalachian Trail hordes of flies buzzed. Freaky, because you’re expecting to run into hikers but find yourself surrounded by tiny black winged insects.

Then, when you actually do hear humans talking, you’re not sure it’s not the flies. I can see why some people go AWOL on the Appalachian.

Ibuprofen Is a Good Over-the-Counter Drug

Thudding mile after mile up and down steep hills works ugly magic on your knees, joints, hips and head. Eventually the monotonous pounding deadens your motivation to keep hiking. Pop four ibuprofen, though, and a new, stout mad man emerges to finish the days hike.

Brotherly Love Ranks High on Pleasures of the Christian Life

I adore the unity of Christian brothers. The fellowship. The discussion. The accountability. The corporate worship around a camp fire. Brotherly love is evidence of God’s grace. And it is a means of grace I cherish deeply. Second only to marriage.

Stop Telling Unregenerate Sinners That God Loves Them

I’m guessing I mulled over this because of a few comments I’ve recently received that carried a tone of God’s unconditional love for sinners.

Yes,  does say that God so loved the world. And he . But  says that unbelievers remain under the wrath of God. And  declares that God’s anger falls upon the intentionally wicked. Nothing can deliver us from this predicament except Christ. Therefore, God’s love for unregenerate sinners IS conditional. It cost something. Dearly.

Here’s what I’m not saying: God relishes sending condemned people to hell. Jesus, in fact, . Paul said he’d  for the sake of his brothers. But neither skirted the issue of God’s justice. God’s love begins and ends with the cross of Christ, not the sinner.

Bears DO Fall Out of Trees

Less than four miles to go and I heard something scrambling in the tall trees. Not uncommon with chipmunks everywhere. Yet I looked up and saw a black bear–maybe 150 pounds–plummet 30 feet to the ground. He immediately charged downhill, crashing through brush and disappeared. I think I spooked him.

Forgot What I Looked Like

No mirror, no see self. For three days. Bizarre. But does that mean I bring a mirror next time? No. I quite like the absence of concern for self.

By the way, the image is a photograph of  under construction back in the 40s. Our hike ended on top of the dam. We started at . Total distance: 45 miles. Read more about the .

The Abusive Hike (A Short Story on a Fortunate Event)

Short story on how a man who four years ago would’ve stomped away in a subtle rage, managed to see beyond himself and care for other people.

If you’re interested in stories with classical happy endings, you might be better off reading something else…

Naturally, it depends on how you define “happy endings.”

The prince and the princess elope and breed a royal family inside the walls of a mammoth castle on a hill in England.

The fumbling Iowan outcast wins the school presidency, finds someone to play tether ball with and gets back the girl.

Or the restless penguin breaks free from domestic monotony to surf the biggest waves with his childhood hero.

Those, in the classic sense, are happy endings. This story, however, is not like those.

But it ends happily. I think.

This story begins one day on the Appalachian Trail. Five hikers who embark on a forty-six mile journey.

Our first mile was a dirty, abusive mile. The trail, like a rocket, rose rapidly in elevation. No one was prepared. It took us one hour to cover one mile. We were exhausted. AND we were in trouble. In many ways.

One, we needed to cover about two miles an hour to stay on schedule. Two, according to our stupid maps, the trail continued to climb. Three, one of the hikers was battling a nagging leg cramp.

That leg cramped turned into frequent stops. Eventually the hiker could no longer carry his pack. That meant that everyone else took turns sharing the extra load…

Yes, at times each of us had one pack on the back. One pack on the front. Other times we’d hike our packs to the top, run down and hike the other pack to the top.

Our pace was pathetic.

Competitive and selfish, I bristled that we were moving so slowly. And by the end of the first day we were four miles off target. At the end of the second day, eight miles off target.

At that point somebody mentioned the unmentionable: Maybe we should cut the hike short. Calculations determined we’d arrive at the end of our 46 mile hike about 9 P. M. on Monday. Not helpful if you had to immediately drive ten hours.

So, on the third day, we decided to do just that: Hike to mile 34 and call someone in to pick us up.

Often, during that day, I wandered far ahead of the pack, ambling on in the sunshine over the narrow dirt path. Often I contemplated leaving them behind. Pushing forward by myself. Knocking the remaining 12–or whatever miles–and accomplish the goal we set out to achieve.

But my conscience wouldn’t let me do that. In fact, I didn’t even feel it was appropritae to ask permission to finish.

As much as the thought made me want to vomit, we came in as a team…we leave as a team.

So, around 3 pm on the third day I climbed into the van that would take us back to the cabin. Climbed in smarting like hell that I couldn’t finish the hike.

The only reason I tell you this story is because, by the time you read this I’ll probably be on the Appalachian Trail, half way up Clingman’s Dome.

At 6,643,  is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park I’ll spend the next four days in. Trying to hike 42 miles this time.

And while you wait for me to get back on Tuesday, I thought it might do some good to tell you this story and the moral behind it…

How a man who four years ago would’ve stomped away–arms folded, chin into chest, teeth grit–in a subtle rage, managed by God’s grace to see beyond himself and care for the feelings and needs of other people.

That’s a happy ending via God’s gift of grace. Pray for that grace again. Happy Labor Day. And see you soon.

What You Can Learn from the Severity of John Calvin

Perhaps no man was more devoted to the truth he believed in than John Calvin.

Perhaps no man has shown more fearless courage in running every risk–in making every sacrifice–in order to serve the cause which he gave his faith.

And his life.

No doubt, this is John Calvin’s noblest and most beautiful characteristic. One that was demonstrated at every step of his life.

But what made John Calvin so noble, made him so severe.

The Dark Side of Calvin’s Convictions

Calvin wasn’t simply a theologian. Or moralist. He didn’t just write books. He also governed human affairs. Attended theological conferences. Political meetings. Rubbed shoulders with princes, politicians and city patriarchs.

He fought social demolition and steered the soul of Geneva based on his opinions…opinions molded by divine authority and law.

Nothing was more important to Calvin than to secure the triumph and influence of the doctrines and disciplines found in the Bible over every man’s life–whether public or private.

Thus, he was not only critical and rigorous of his own life, but critical and rigorous of others also.

Affectionate and faithful to friends, Calvin often lacked sympathy for mankind in general. And justice to his enemies.

He believed and asserted that he had more right over men’s opinions and actions. Neither did he sufficiently respect their rights.

The convictions John Calvin held so firmly and systematized so carefully had a greater share in the severity and injustice of his conduct toward others.

One could say he was blind to these faults. And deaf to the criticisms of friends and enemies alike. Let’s not be like that. Let’s not walk away from this post without learning from Calvin’s mistakes.

Your Turn: Questions You Must Ask Yourself

So, stop what you’re doing right now, read the following questions and reflect on–whether in the comments, on your blog or in your head–your answers.

Where am I being critical and rigorous on myself and others…and is it necessary?

Whom am I being unmerciful to?

What people–whether an individual or group–am I snubbing?

Is there anyone–including myself–who I’m withholding grace from?

Architecture of Amusement: The State of the Modern Church?

The three-fold answer to boring worship songs, sermons and religious celebrations.

Yesterday I spent an enormous amount of time with my family at .

A notable event for someone who doesn’t like amusement parks, roller coasters or water parks.

Yes, I can be a fuss bucket and a sourpuss and my idea of fun is an afternoon spent reading.

But the fact that I actually had fun is news worthy.

In fact, I found myself engaged on a conquest with my son and daughter and wife to ride all the water rides.

At 90 degrees, it was a hot day, so this conquest makes sense. But I hardly wrote this blog post to tell you about my mini-vacation.

The Real Reason Behind This Post

Anyone who’s been to Six Flags–or any large amusement park–knows one thing:

You wait. A lot.

Naturally, for a writer, waiting involves thinking and observing [as opposed to talking], so I found myself in awe of the the complex architecture behind rides like ,  and the family raft ride known as the Big Kahuna.

In most cases, we’re talking 200 foot plus high platforms built out of steel and wood. We’re talking countless engineers, surveyors and project managers involved. Countless welders and carpenters. A year or two of contstruction. Months of renovation. Days of maintenance.

And all of this money, time and energy is focused on one thing…

Our amusement.

That’s right. Amusement parks are the world’s solution to the problem of our boredom, excess cash and the heartache that is our marriage, job or life.

The Chronic Problem with Amusement Parks

Unfortunately, our taste for amusement exceeds our ability to satsify it. So in the race to attract more attention and foot traffic, amusement parks are on the never-ending drive to build the tallest or fastest roller coaster.

You can always go one foot higher. One mile faster. One turn farther. Until you hit the absurd.

So let me shift gears and ask you a question: Can you see the problem this would cause inside a church?

The Easter drama must exceed last year’s. The worship songs must sound better than last month’s. The sermon must engage more people than last Sunday.

Thus, when we treat church as a place to entertain, distract and amuse, you eventually hit the point of diminishing returns, and people walk away, bored, frustrated and annoyed.

Here’s My Point

If worship songs, sermons and religious celebrations are boring, the answer isn’t to go the way the world goes. The answer is three-fold:

  • Preach a clear, graceful .
  • And celebrate Good Friday, Easter or Christmas by drawing a thick, black line back to the origins of those celebrations: Jesus Christ.

Not that you can’t enjoy a good Easter drama at your church or the best Christian rock band in the region.

Just don’t make it the solution you are offering the world. Make it the gospel that opens eyesexposes sin and raises the dead. In worship. In sermon. And in celebration.

Make it architecture of amazing grace rather than architecture of amusement.