My Completely Irrational, Unscientific, Orthodox, Fringe System of Belief (Advent, Part 1)

Over a buffalo chicken wrap and some soggy fries, a co-worker asked, "do you think we've reached the place in American culture where Christianity is seen as a fringe system of belief?" I considered his question, and a rattled off nine reasons why, if we're honest, Christianity should be considered a fringe system of belief to those in the world at large. This Advent season, I'm exploring these beliefs and offering a somewhat surprising conclusion. I hope you'll follow allow.

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MY COMPLETELY IRRATIONAL, UNSCIENTIFIC, ORTHODOX, FRINGE SYSTEM OF BELIEF

POINT 1: We believe in an invisible, eternal, supreme power who created the world with a few words.

In the beginning--or at least in the beginning of man's history--God stepped into nothing. In that vacuous, soundless expanse, he spoke, and his speaking was the nuclear fusion that formed the sun and all the stars in the universe. He spoke and watched as land rumbled up from deep, as it pushed past the surface of the water and formed basins for oceans. His words were the seedbed for the mighty oaks in Arkansas, the upside-down baobab groves in Mozambique, and the Tree of Life in Bahrain. He spoke, and the birds flew, first the Northern Cardinal with it's beautiful song--chip chip chippaw--then the blushing flamingo with its obnoxious honk. Insects flew, too--the rugged moth and royal monarch butterfly alike. 

He spoke, and he spoke, and he spoke, and from all that speaking came this gift we call earth. He decorated this first sacrament with ornaments--the dangling Florida oranges, the delicate Chinese orchid, the unsung pine cone. Wishing to share all of this with someone, he spoke the word "friend," and here we stand.

Yes, as the timeless creed says, "we believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth." This is the genesis of our faith, the bedrock of our confession. Does it sound like the stuff of a science fiction movie? Does it sound like an absurdist, fringe belief? These are rhetorical questions. I know the answer.

Thank you for reading. Follow along this Advent season as I explore my Completely Irrational, Unscientific, Orthodox, Fringe System of Belief.

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The Creation Voice (A Book Update)

It is said that in the beginning, God created the heavens with nothing but the word of his mouth. Light, water, sky, vegetation, sun, moon, stars, fish, animals--he created them all with nothing more than a phrase. Atoms to atoms; molecules to molecules; cells to cells. The foundations of the world were set in motion with almighty statements. Imperatives. Sometimes I wonder about God's inflection, whether his voice thundered across the void, or whether it was stiller, smaller. Like a whisper. Was it firm and unbending, or was it full of wonder and excitement? Were his pre-man words compassionate, even then knowing that the coming prize of all creation would require salvation from a good and loving God? Was he giddy about the story that was about to unfold?

I don't know the answer to these questions, not beyond a reasonable doubt, anyway. But what I know is that in the beginning God spoke.

I've been thinking about the creative power of words, lately. My morning commute lasts all of about fifteen minutes on the busiest of days, and each day I've been taking to dictation. I speak into my mobile device allowing some app to transliterate my speech to text. It is an imperfect act of creation, the app sometimes substituting "transliterate," for "translate" (see above), but it's an act of creation nonetheless.

People ask why I came to writing. I've been prone to it since I was a kid, I say. I once wrote a short story about the resurrection of the dead, that great biblical event, using frogs as the object of the rapture. The good folks of the fictional town of Almer ran around shrieking at the sight of frog bones hopping heavenward to meet Jesus in the air. Only ten years old, I postulated that we got all this pre-trib/post-trib stuff wrong, figuring that it was only the amphibians who were worthy of being spared the wrath of the Antichrist. Best I can remember, it was my first short story. All this is neither here nor there. It's just an anecdote I thought you might enjoy. Sometimes the act of creation is that simple.

But always, the screen begins blank. A white canvas. It's the writer's job to use voice to muck it all up, to ink it into something useful, feelable, breathable, tasteable, maybe even something over which the reader laughs and cries. That act of writing is a metaphor. Without voice, without words, there would be nothing. No atoms; no molecules; no cells.

Only empty space.

I've recently finished a longish piece of fiction. I'm not sure whether to call it a "novel" or "novella" just yet. There's still a final set of revisions, and perhaps an editor needs to put their hands on it. But through this process of creation, I've found characters that I've come to love, characters that seem real to me.

Weird? Maybe. Metaphor? Absolutely.

Over the coming months, I'm inviting you behind the scenes. We'll see whether my piece has the stuff to make it past mere manuscript phase. Will my characters leave my briefcase? Or will they live more introverted lives in the quieter places? I'm hoping for the former, but only time will tell. And I'll keep you updated along the way.

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A Genesis Story: No Picture Proof

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For all I remember, I have loved words from the beginning.

When I was four, I sat in the lap of my mother's best friend as she sang, "humble thyself in the sight of The Lord," and played with my hair. At such an age, the words made little sense. Humble? Thyself? Even still, there was a sense of wonder in the words, of intrigue.

It might have been, of course, that the building dirge had something to do with the magic of the moment. The song is, after all, one of the all-time-greats as far as worship-ambiance goes. Or perhaps my enthrallment was spurred by the setting--exaggerated shadows dancing in the candlelit room; the slow breathing of the black lab sleeping quietly in my lap; the incense of Old Spice rising from the robust bearded man leading worship; the teenage girl with leg-warmers and bubblegum pink eyeshadow, the one whom I remember smelled of dime-store lip gloss.

Whatever the case may be, though, as the words rose, as they built up, I found myself captivated. That language could be used--really used--to usher in the presence of the living God? To conjur a spiritual world, or at least the dream of it? It was magic to me.

This was before the days of the internet, before Instagram and Facebook. There are no status updates to prove the validity of the moment, no nostalgically washed instaprints of it. You'll find no tweet about the gathering, no attempt to reduce it to unmercifully limiting character restraints. And because you weren't there, because you were living your own memories in places like Minnesota, or Manitoba, I'm limited in my ability to convey the meaning of the moment, left only with language. And you? You are limited by imagination and inference.

Maybe this is the way it should be more often than not.

Let There Be Light

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It's been a while since I've last written. I needed space to clear cobwebs, to consider a sort of soft reset. There are times when it's efficacious to stop it with the words, the blogging, the tweeters, the status updates.

When God created the heavens and the earth, he started simply. "Let there be light," he said, and there was. These are the first words spoken in scripture, the Genesis of genesis. So, I think this is the most natural touchstone for my reset. I'm going to sit there a while.

I hope to stretch slowly this year, and I hope to share it with you. There will be blog posts, certainly, perhaps a poem or two. But I'm slinking back to the old words, too--like pencil scratchings in a journal, short stories written by ink-pen, and hand-written letters to friends and family. These things formed my love for writing, so it seems natural to return there.

Let there be light--a call to go back to the beginning of the creative process, when we first realized that there was power in the words of God, and consequently, our own, for we were made in his image, you see. I'm headed back to the beginning this year. I hope you'll come along.