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Christians piss me off.

God bless ’em, they’re family and I love ’em but most days too many of ’em make me mad as hell. And that means something. ‘Cause I believe in Hell (though, just to provoke my Christian friends, I have to point out that I’m not sure if it’s a “place” or more of a spiritual construct, and I have all sorts of issues with eternal damnation; but let’s ignore that for now).

I’d like to introduce you to a couple of Christians who don’t piss me off. Their names are Jen and Jeremy Price.

Jeremy is a frighteningly earnest, athletic young man with–based on my interactions with him–zero capacity for bullshit. He’s also a musician with a singular and compelling voice.

Jen is quiet and smart. She was her high school’s valedictorian, but chose training in the ministry over a plethora of post-secondary options that would surely have been more lucrative.

Part of why I remember Jen’s situation is that my daughter, Christine, was a salutatorian contemplating a similar move. Jen was kind enough to chat with her about it and careful not to push her one way or the other. As it turns out, Christine concluded it was best for her to get her degree, which she did (in Math). Christine is now on staff at the House of Prayer in KCMO, for any of you who don’t know.

Jeremy and Jen are young, energetic, intelligent, creative. They have beautiful kids and seem like loving parents. They’re the kind of couple contemporary churches would love to advertise on their billboards. Honestly, I’d like them even if they didn’t do what they do.

But here’s what they do:

Jeremy and Jen started (note: they didn’t “join” or even “encourage someone else to start”; they realized no one else was doing what needed to be done so they naively stepped out to do it themselves) a program building homes for and ministering to AIDS orphans in Africa.

You might know that the AIDS epidemic is ravaging the African continent. But if you’re like most folks, you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the consequences for the children of Africa–children whose parents are dead or dying, whose extended families are absent or abusive; children who, at 14 or 10 or 3 years of age, have been raped and exploited; children who have been utterly abandoned and who themselves might be afflicted with AIDS or other debilitating illnesses.

Jen and Jeremy visited Africa; they saw the devastation; it broke their hearts and they were ruined for anything else.

Jen and Jeremy started an organization called Ten Thousand Homes to build those homes and save those kids. It’s hard work. Messy work. I’ve heard stories from folks who have worked with them about shacks where the stench of disease and human decay was enough to make even those with a strong constitution literally bend over as if they’d been punched in the gut. I’ve seen hardened men broken and in tears over the suffering they’d witnessed.

Jeremy and Jen and their teams walk into those homes and they tend to their inhabitants, touching festering wounds that, I’ll be honest, I don’t even want to think about.

Jeremy and Jen and their teams bring those kids out; they build them decent, clean, durable homes. They care for them (and not just for the kids but for adults as well). They love them–tangibly and wholeheartedly. And they bring hope.

When I listen to Jen and Jeremy talk about their work, they seem entirely unimpressed with themselves. They just know something needs to be done and they seem sincerely grateful that they’re the ones who get to do it.

When I listen to them and look in their eyes, I don’t get the impression that they’re doing what they do because “Jesus told them to.” Don’t get me wrong, they love Jesus and would do whatever He asked. But I get the feeling that they volunteered and, if we can turn this around a bit, they love Jesus even more because they continue to discover that He cares about these kids as much as they do.

I dare you to be cynical about the Prices and their work. I dare you to tell me that it doesn’t matter. I dare you to pretend that it’s not exactly what Jesus would do, what He repeatedly told us to do, what the Prophets, in the name of Yahweh, consistently cajoled us to do. You can do all of that, of course, but you’d be a liar and the worst kind of coward.

My friend Brett (Brett is also an incredible guy, by the way, a bright, articulate and compassionate young man who writes one of my favorite blogs, which you can find at bretttilford.com) and his brother Josh (Josh seems a lot like his brother; I just don’t know him as well) are hosting an event for Jen and Jeremy August 4 at a hip cafe in Deep Ellum. There will be music and art and a bunch of great people just hanging out and celebrating Ten Thousand Homes. You can find details at One House One Night.

I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest that most of you have nothing more important to do that night. If you stay home and watch TV, I will be personally disappointed. Chrissy and I will be there, but, rest assured, if I’m being too loud or obnoxious, you’re entitled to walk up and tell me to STFU; it’s my gift to you in exchange for your joining us that evening.

If you claim to love Jesus, you need to come learn more about this amazing group of people and what they’re doing and, let’s be honest, you probably need to get up off your ass and do something yourself. If you don’t call yourself a Christian, I encourage you to show up and I challenge you to walk away thinking that Christians are all self-absorbed and shallow and that their faith counts for nothing.

Or, like I said, you can stay home and be a cynical coward.

Don’t dawdle checking out the site, One House One Night; they’d like your RSVP by July 21. We need to fill that place. I will personally track you down and whisper obscenities in your ear (no, not the sexy kind, unless I decide that would make you more uncomfortable) if you wimp out on us.

If you’re not going to be in the DFW area that night, you still need to check out Ten Thousand Homes and Jen’s blog.

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I don’t know about you, but I try not to think about what other people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms.

Don’t get me wrong–it happens. You know how it is: you see, for instance, a particularly oddly-matched couple. And you can’t help thinking, “Wait. Really? How does that even work?” I’m not saying I’m proud of it, but I go there sometimes, despite my best efforts not to. In my defense, it’s not so much prurient interest as it is morbid curiosity. And, as I said, I try to banish those thoughts and I certainly don’t dwell on them, no matter how innocently they arise.

So, yeah, no offense, but I have no desire to imagine you doing the nasty. I like to think that you’re returning the favor and, yaknow, not thinking about me that way. I mean, c’mon, it’s creeping me out just thinking about your thinking about it. Stop already; you know who you are.

Enough said.

But it seems that too many Evangelicals just can’t get their heads out of other folks’ nether regions, um, metaphorically speaking. At least that’s the best I can figure. Why else are they so concerned about same-sex marriage? Why else, other than, well, the sex?

To their credit, sex is important. What’s more, it’s great fun, and a delightful thing to think about. I just make a point of thinking about sex with my wife and not, for example, sex between a couple of dudes–no matter how buff they are or how sweetly sensitive they seem to be (I’m a big fan of the cuddling and the sharing, and I like to think that others are too).

I’ll go further and say that from my perspective, in accordance with my personal religious beliefs and a variety of values I hold dear, sex is critically important, deeply spiritually significant, even essential. But those are my beliefs. I will express them and live them; I will even advocate for them; but I don’t feel it is my right or responsibility to impose them on you. And, as I said, even though sex is important to me, I’ve decided that it’s not important to me to think about you having sex.

One more thing: I don’t need or want Uncle Sam peering through the curtains or sneaking a peek beneath the sheets either. I certainly don’t want Congress or the Courts regulating my sex life (or the sex lives of other consenting adults). I would think that folks who are always clamoring for “limited government” would agree.

So if we can agree that I don’t need to think about you having sex and you don’t need to think about me having sex and the government doesn’t need to be involved in anyone’s sex life (notwithstanding the occasional scantily-clad census worker fantasy you and your significant other like to act out), what’s the deal with same-sex marriage?

The deal, as I see it, is commitment. Two people commit to care for each other, to radically identify with each other, to pool their resources, to make a life together. The reasonable consequence of that commitment is that those two people are entitled to certain basic rights. The premise being that this kind of long term, committed relationship is good for society and that society should recognize it, honor it and try to support and preserve it.

At least that’s how I see it.

If I had my druthers, I’d reserve the word “marriage” for the sacred, freaky, heterosexual joy I experience with my beloved. But I don’t often get my druthers. And I long ago resigned myself to the fact that “marriage” means something different even to most breeders, yea verily, even to most breeder couples who claim to be “married.” Truly, I’m far less bothered by a loving, committed homosexual couple using the word “marriage” to describe their relationship than I am by, oh, let’s say, adulterer and serial monogamist Newt Gingrich calling what he does “marriage.” I wouldn’t be surprised if Yahweh Himself prefers gay marriage to adultery and divorce.

To recap:

  • from my personal perspective, marriage is, to a great degree, about sex (which my wife and I will enjoy in private; or if in public, at least discretely); but . . .
  • from a social perspective, marriage is about commitment; and . . .
  • from a public policy perspective, marriage is about the civil rights to which participants in said commitment are entitled.

Those are three things I care about and am willing to fight for–not just for myself, but for everyone. But, I promise you, I’m not interested in your or anyone else’s sex life and I implore you not to ask me to take that interest.

I encourage you to enjoy your sexuality and even to think about it a lot; but if you find that all you can think about is someone else’s sex life, you might consider getting some help–or just getting a life.

I had a thought this morning about prayer. It’s not really a new thought (I’ve had it and heard it before in a variety of forms), but it struck me with vitality. And I’ve been meaning to blog. Lucky you.

Most of what we do in the name of prayer (and, by extension, most of what we do in the name of worship and religion–or for all of you us pretentious bastards, “spirituality” or “relationship [with God]”) is just noise–a straining of our voices and a flailing of our arms; incessant, senseless striving. If we’re lucky, despite all of that nonsense, we stumble upon a moment in which we hear the voice of God. I’m pretty sure that that fleeting moment is the only thing that can rightly be called “prayer.” The rest is waste.

I’m not at all convinced that there’s any causal relationship between the noise and the moment. If there is I suspect it mostly amounts to this: we reach a point of exhaustion in which, by God’s grace, we find ourselves, one way or another, unable to speak or act or even will ourselves Godward. Somehow I think it still matters that we at least have an intent in our heart in Her direction but that thought may merely reflect my lack of enlightenment. And, yes, I reckon “intent” as qualitatively different from “will.”

Okay, there’s that and the fact that all of our meaningless “spiritual” noise temporarily displaces all some of our other distractions. But that displacement is at best a nearly-incidental medial point and should not be (though it usually is) mistaken for the moment or its cause.

In the months during which I finally lost hope in philosophy, ironically, I read some of the best philosophy I had ever read. One of my favorite encounters during this period, a guy named Marcel, said something about our inability to apprehend Truth except “out of the corner of the eye.” Maybe that’s true because even our eyes are frenetically, spastically overactive. Maybe this excess of overactivity (yes, that’s a redundant superlative; deal with it) is closer to what the writers of Scripture mean by “lust.”

Whoever you are and whatever you think you know, the title of this post is my advice to you, to us. Of course the very nature of the advice provokes our minds to war against its intent.

Yesterday I sat with some colleagues and listened to a local pastor (who is well-respected and has published several books) talk about living without spiritual regrets.

One of his sermon illustrations went something like this:

A busy man who traveled for work (leaving early Monday morning and returning late Friday night) bought a lake house so that he could spend time with his family. The family spent their weekends at the lake house, not at “church.” The child loved Jesus and, we were told, was “saved.” The child wanted to go to church and asked his dad why they didn’t. The dad explained that this was their family time. Then the child was tragically killed in an automobile accident. And his father spoke of being haunted (and fearing he would be the rest of his days) by his son’s question. The point of the illustration was that we should avoid the regret of not investing in our children’s spiritual lives (presumably, by failing to get them to the sacred building on Sunday morning)–a regret this man obviously suffered and, by implication, rightly so.

That was pretty much it. I’m sure I might have misinterpreted, but I don’t think so.

I’m just gonna make this short and sweet. I don’t doubt that the man might have some spiritual regrets, but not getting his kid to a magical edifice at a magic time so that he could be magically processed through a magic program by magically-empowered religious professionals shouldn’t be one of them. Especially since his misplaced priorities resulted in the ostensibly spiritually-abused child spending more time with his parents and siblings.

I don’t much mind the Sunday morning regimen. And I have a modicum of respect for the institution. But neither is the Church. And, in my opinion, the biggest spiritual regret in this scenario should be that of the pastor who, from all that we were told, spoke–to his brother, the bereaved father, and to us, the listening body assembled to be edified with the truth of the Kingdom–with all of the amassed wisdom of Job’s friends.

New Year’s resolutions annoy me.

For that matter, so does so much of the marking of the New Year.  It’s like that whole birthday thing.  One of the stupidest things we ask each other (and, I admit, I’ve asked it myself) is “so, do you feel a year older?”  You shouldn’t.  The same time 24 hours earlier, you weren’t a year younger; you were 24 hours younger.  You were–in annual terms–pretty much the same age even a month before your birthday as you are on your birthday and will be a month after your birthday.  It’s just silly.

Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s great that we celebrate people, and their birthdays are as good a time as any.  I don’t so much know about celebrating the progression of time.  I find “time” a troublesome abstraction, to be perfectly honest.  Yes, abstraction.  But that’s another digression for another day.  And don’t even get me started on entropy.  Oy.

But, no, what really bugs me is the artificiality.  New Year’s resolutions are at once compulsory and melodramatic.  Let’s be honest, most New Year’s resolutions will fail.  Most of us enter into them knowing (somewhere deep inside if nowhere else) that they won’t last, but we do it anyway,  because we feel that that’s what’s expected.  They are a lot like marriages.  

If you’re going to do something, do it.  If not, I think you and we are better off with your not making such a big deal out of your tepid commitment.  As so many half-assed marriages are merely the prelude to divorce, so many “commitments” made for the New Year are more dissolution than resolution.  If we were truly resolute, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t need the histrionics.  But, in any case, what we need less–and not more–of is the pretense of commitment and the pretense of change.  We’ve got plenty, thanks.

Janus is a two-faced bastard and we rightly honor him with our lies.  But let’s not.

Change.  (That’s an imperative and, therefore, a complete sentence, and not a fragment; not that I don’t do fragments).  Go ahead.  And grace to you as you do.

Exercise, eat better, balance your checkbook, love your family, upend the world, make sense of your life, whatever.  Do it.  Ask for help even.  Announce it.  But mean it.  And count the costs.

And, no, I’m not advising that we not take chances.  What I’m suggesting is that we really take them, instead of just going through the formality.  

And I’m not damning us for our failure.  We will fail.  We can be forgiven.  We must get up and try again.  But we shouldn’t just play at it.  For that matter, some folks play with more commitment and passion than most of us live.  Let’s not let them have all of the fun, eh?

I resolved a long time ago to stop making New Year’s resolutions, and I’m proud to say that I’ve kept that resolution.  But I don’t mean to be a legalist; if New Year’s works for you then more power to you.  Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe I’m the only one who perceives this time as fundamentally duplicitous.  I do.  But though it be dark and foggy it is not unredeemed.  I am, amidst the shadowy mists, preparing, perhaps, for purification in February, battles in March, etc.  

I’m pretty sure that God isn’t bound by the Julian or Gregorian or, for that matter, Maya calendar.  We tend to be, but we can be free.  Will the world end in 2012?  Hell if I know.  But I do know that we could usher in the end of the world as we know it today if we chose to.

Oh, and–coincidentally or not–I would like to exercise some more, so I’d like it if all of you January posers would get out of my gym.  You know you don’t mean it anyway.  You know who you are.