— Words



I’ll never forget that look she gave me. The fear and deep sadness in her eyes—that image is permanently seared into my brain.

“What the hell are we doing here?”

At my small Independent Fundamentalist Baptist high school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the teachers and administration seemed well-meaning for the most part.  Besides the fake Mandy-Moore-in-Saved-type characters, I always felt like my friends—and especially my teachers—really cared about me and my education.

But I was one of the few lower-income kids, and I always felt like I really couldn’t get ahead of my wealthy counterparts. I didn’t talk like them. I didn’t dress like them. And I didn’t care like them.

I struggled to keep my grades up—part laziness, part apathy from feeling like an outcast most of the time—and I always jumped at extra credit for any class when it was available. As a slacker-type student, my grades were sustained by the opportunity of extra credit.

My twelfth-grade Bible teacher was one of the oldest and most respected teachers at the school. Everyone talked about him in the highest regard. He’d change every kid’s life that came through that class. He’d get them excited about doing missionary work. He’d get them passionate about fighting in whatever current culture war was going on. He’d help them find purpose in their lives beyond just getting ready for college. He was after God’s will for them.

Beyond that, he had the most infectious old-guy happiness. He was carefree and jolly all the time. Full of grandpa-jokes and encouraging squeezes on the shoulder.

In his class, there was always extra credit available for the taking. You and one or two others would sign up for a time slot, usually a Tuesday or Thursday morning, grab one of the handmade “ABORTION IS MURDER” or “THOU SHALT NOT KILL” signs, and head on down to the local clinic. It seemed to make sense to me. Abortion was wrong, and I needed better grades. It’s a win-win.

That Tuesday morning it was just me and one other slacking student. I remember it was beautiful that day—probably March or April. It was sunny and 65 degrees. We got out of the car and unfolded our signs. We stood there. And stood there.

And stood there.

A young girl started walking across the parking lot. Alone. She couldn’t have been 16 even. She was hurried and kept her head down.

“This is why we came here,” I thought to myself. I held the sign up and said “HEY!”

She looked up at me. Her look went straight into my heart. It was as if I immediately felt all of her hurt as if it was my own. Her guilt, her shame, her sadness, her fear. All mine now. She turned away and kept walking into the clinic.

My friend and I lowered our signs and looked at each other. The silence was deafening. After what seemed like an eternity, I spoke to him.

“What the hell are we doing here?”

We got in the car and went to Subway. Neither of us had an appetite anymore, but we couldn’t go back to school yet because we hadn’t served out our two-hour time slot. We sat at Subway and barely talked, but we both knew deep inside that what we were doing  was the exact opposite of grace, mercy, and love.

I don’t know that girl’s story, where she is now, or if she even went through with it. I can’t be sure, but I can imagine that my actions deeply hurt her heart. I’ve played that scenario over and over in my head enough to see that.

What I know is that I murdered a part of my heart that day.

I missed my chance to make her feel loved. I missed the chance to show her what the grace of the merciful God I believed in looked like.

I learned that hatred can take on the sincerest form of piety. And that the sincerest form of piety can take on the childish pursuit of better grades.

Christ have mercy.

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The last few years have been a roller coaster of spiritual emotion. A painful, drawn-out church split (that we were in the middle of). Suicide in and outside of the family. My beautiful daughter being born. Praying and finding God’s answer disappointing at best. Finding an amazing new church with an amazing new community of people. Freeing my mind of some of the harmful images I had of God. Finding myself in the deepest, darkest faith crisis I’ve ever been in. Up and down, in and out, back and forth.

It’s been rough. Sad. Rewarding. Painful. Healthy. Frustrating. Stressful. Infuriating. Exciting. I could go on.

And inside me was the desire (compulsion?) to filter everything through this lens of Christian thinking, through this “where’s God in this” or, more accurately, “what does the Bible say about this?” Which, in the state I was in, ultimately could be translated more as “what would my Christian friends think about this?” Or “what would my pastor think?” I was judging life not through true spiritual conviction, but through Evangelical guilt. My mind was constantly haunted by God. Or whatever image of God I had in there.

All of this led to my “dark night of the soul” or “crisis of faith” or whatever you want to call it. Bottom line, I said “I’m not sure I believe any of this anymore.” A year or so later, I’m left with a similar statement. A type of Christian Agnosticism, maybe.

I’m still not completely sure about any of this. And I’m really okay with that. Because I’ve stopped caring so much. I’ve stopped holding myself back with this arbitrary filter, and started experiencing the true freedom that I always believed that God offered, but didn’t really understand. I’m not saying I understand it even now. All I know is that I’ve quoted John 10:10 more than any other verse and I really want to experience what this “abundant life” feels like.

I want to experience life with God and not through God.

I want to go to church and be a part of a Christian community because I want to. Because I experience life from it. Not because it’s just “what I do on Sundays.”

I want to love my wife and experience our marriage outside of the bounds of what “traditional Biblical marriage” (American Christian marriage books) looks like.

I want to deal with the hard things in life and really give my heart to suffering, rather than saying “everything happens for a reason” and writing everything off as God-ordained.

I want to engage the suffering of my fellow humans because I feel it deep in my heart and believe Jesus’ admonitions to be true, not because I can check the “I helped” box and feel better about myself.

I’m still pretty sure that God exists. And I’m still pretty sure this Christian story is true. I’ve spent too many days, months, years of my life digging into this narrative to just write it off because I go through a period of my life where I’m not sure about it, or a period of my life where I’m mad at other people for misrepresenting that narrative. You know what I mean.

Frank Schaeffer in a recent essay for the Huffington Post (seriously, read it) summed it up well for me:

If you lose your life you will find it. If Jesus is God, then this God loves his enemies and friends alike. If he is not God, the enlightened ethic of non-retribution still guides the best of our civilization and we depart from it at our peril.

The God I choose to believe in is still God whether I believe in Him or not. The Jesus narrative I choose to believe in and follow is still just as true to anyone, even if this is all there is and Jesus was just some ancient near east prophet.

In the end, I think being somewhat agnostic is not only right for me, but also almost necessary. I think the Christian narrative is true from a way of life standpoint. I still pray (because I still believe there is transformative power in it), even if sometimes I believe I’m praying to the drywall. I still read scripture because I believe it has a world-changing, powerful narrative that curves toward love and justice and mercy. I still call God “Father” because I’d rather spend my life giving my heart and soul away then conceding to pointlessness.

And I might die and be wrong about everything.

But right now it just feels right. I’d rather surround myself with mystery than certainty. It certainly makes life more interesting.

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I’m treading a little different ground here than I normally do on this blog—music. I’ve been doing a top ten for the last few years, but never in blog form. So here goes.

My favorite records of 2012:

10. Fear Factory The Industrialist

I’ve been listening to Fear Factory for a really long time. They’ve had their amazing records, and they’ve had their definite stinkers. This record is definitely a return to form for them. It’s an Obsolete-style futuristic concept record, full of Dino Cazeres’ recognizable machine-gun riffs as well as Burton C. Bell’s catchy-yet-grim melodies. And the drums are programmed, which weren’t they always begging to be anyway? This record is heavy. And if you’re a Fear Factory fan, it won’t disappoint.

9. Every Time I Die Ex-Lives

Speaking of a return to form, this is another band that had a dry spell of not-so-good records. That all changed with Ex-Lives. Bringing back the classic swagger-meets-pissed-off-hardcore-with-a-sense-of-humor of Hot Damn. This is the first record from ETID I’ve genuinely loved in quite a while.

8. Grave Endless Procession of Souls

I’ll admit that I was a late bloomer when it comes to classic death metal. I know that Grave has quite the history—one that I’m not quite familiar with. I put this record on and was instantly bludgeoned with all of the classic elements of old-school death metal: simple riffs, even simpler drumming, and big grooves. Nothing more, nothing less. Adding good production only helps. This record is just a beast. The main groove in “Flesh Epistle” is worth the price of admission.

7. Meshuggah Koloss

Meshuggah keeps putting out the same record over and over, and still continue to somehow tread new ground and amaze with every listen. It’s Meshuggah. And you like them or you don’t.

6. Die Antwoord Ten$ion

I’ll probably get hate for this one. But these weird South Africans know how to put out a good dance record. Their image is hilarious and intriguing. Their beats are big. Their lyrics are weird. And if you take them seriously, you’re missing the point. “I Fink You Freeky” is an instant party classic.

5. Frank Ocean Channel Orange

Psychadelia, Stevie Wonder, D’Angelo. That’s this record in a nutshell. Funky, sexy,  classic, but still super fresh. From the first falsetto chorus of “Thinkin Bout You,” you’re drawn into an incredibly intimate, yet incredibly accessible R&B experience. This is one Odd Future record that I’m glad Tyler, The Creator didn’t make an appearance on.

4. Deftones Koi No Yokan

If Diamond Eyes was Deftones saying “we still have it,” then Koi No Yokan is them saying “and we can still write classic records.” This is the best Deftones record since White Pony. It takes Diamond Eyes and infuses better songwriting into the mix. It’s heavy when it needs to be heavy. It’s airy and emotional when it needs to be airy and emotional. If there was ever a reason to buy an 8-string guitar, it’s to write records like this.

3. Torche Harmonicraft

Torche delivers another amazing slab of their sludge-pop. Songs for Singles was a good tease, but this record puts their sound in high gear. It’s definitely their most accessible record, but still has plenty of Steve Brooks’ heavy riffing. There’s something for everyone on this, and they tie it all together so well. Get this record. And go see them live, you won’t be disappointed.

2. Converge All We Love We Leave Behind

Many would have expected this to be my number one. And it is that good. This band knows how to deliver. This band knows how to sound like themselves yet still innovate with every record and continue to turn the metallic hardcore genre on it’s head. I had the pleasure of seeing them live when touring on this record, and they still have it. “Coral Blue” is definitely my favorite track. It takes some of the more heartfelt, layered sound of Axe To Fall and makes it feel more distinctly Converge. But from the punch in the face of “Tresspasses” to sludge of “A Glacial Pace” to everything before, after, and in between—they still have every bit of it.

1. Baroness Yellow & Green

Baroness are one of those bands that have slowly evolved from physically heavy to emotionally or philosophically heavy. This is a heady record. I’ve listened to this record easily 100 times or more since it came out. It’s big and ambitious. It’s not often a band puts out a double-album in our modern world of one-song downloads and terrible attention spans. This record sucks you in and you’re in over your head the entire time. You could just listen to Yellow, or just listen to Green, or listen to the whole thing from start to finish and you’ll still experience the weight of this amazing record. They get psychadelia right. They get the classic production sound right. This record is the first record I’ve heard that has the spirit of Pink Floyd without sounding derivative or throwback. There are so many moods on this record. Upbeat (“March to the Sea”), introspective (“Eula”), experimental (“Psalms Alive”), drug-induced delirium (“Cocainium”), it’s all over the place and held together so well with that Baroness sound. And I dare you to listen to “Twinkler” and not feel SOMETHING.

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Sometimes I’m not sure about what I think about all of this.

Like the way the Holy Spirit is sometimes present and sometimes not. Like the seemingly arbitrary way that God decides to answer prayer. Like the fact that no matter how hard some of us try to live like Jesus taught us to live, some idiots continue to shit all over our legacy.

I’m having a hard time seeing or feeling God in all of this.

My Christian journey this year has been one of darkness. I’ve come to terms with the ways I have been spiritually abused, as well as many of my loved ones and closest friends. I’ve watched inner spiritual turmoil tear people apart. And tear marriages apart. I’ve watched my best friends start to unravel at the seams. And I’ve started to question how much the Holy Spirit of God was or wasn’t moving this whole time.

This year has been one of mourning a light that I thought would never start to dim.

The weird thing is that I still believe it. I still completely believe in the story of Jesus. I believe he was a real person. I believe he did supernatural things. I believe that he was the Son of God and that he preached of a Kingdom not of this world. I believe that he died to conquer death—and succeeded. I believe the Bible is an amazing collection of writings by people who were bonded together under one idea—that God is the King and that there is liberation and grace and mercy in His hands. I am absolutely in love with this narrative I found myself in.

Belief isn’t my issue. I think its more believing in that’s the issue. I’ve grown weary of getting slammed for being a liberal or heretic or not subscribing to the right doctrine. I’ve grown weary of sitting at the sidelines of culture-war arguments and watching people in the same family tear each other apart. I’ve grown weary of being a part of these same culture-war arguments and tearing my loved ones apart, and being torn apart by them.

I’ve grown weary of feeling like I have to defend God because of the way he’s been painted.

I’ve grown weary of praying and not hearing anything. (And I’ve grown weary of not being willing to listen.)

I’ve grown weary of believing in this thing.

But I’m not ready to let go yet.

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, until he leads justice to victory.” Matthew 12:20

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You might remember that a while back I wrote An Open Letter To Everyone (Including Me) about the then-debate about Hell, Universalism, and Rob Bell. Well, I lost that one in the database erasing, but I promise you it was a good one. One of my favorites actually.

This post is about another H-word. Well, actually an L-G-B-T-word.

For a long time I’ve skirted the issue, I’ve hinted at my thoughts, I’ve raised questions and discussion, I’ve argued tooth and nail, and I’ve played devil’s advocate. So in full disclosure before I address the parts of this open letter, this is my “coming-out” of sorts. I am a gay-affirming Christian. In my years of reading and studying of Scripture, my endless time spent in commentaries and reading essays from theologians and pastors (on BOTH SIDES of the issue), and most importantly spending time in discussion with my gay friends, I have come to my decision on the matter. I do not believe that the homosexual orientation is (or ever was) at odds with the Bible, and I don’t believe what the Bible says about homosexual (or alleged homosexual) acts bears any semblance to monogamous, committed love between two people of the same sex. I’m not going to use this post as a diatribe against any point of view, and honestly, if you want a good primer on the affirming side of the issue, there are plenty of resources and you can do your reading yourself (like here,  here, and here, and this is just the tip of the iceberg). And one more thing before I move on, if at this point you want to skip right to the comment’s section with your “Farewell, Collin” comment, go ahead, but inflammatory speech is not welcome in my comments section, so bear that in mind.

More and more we are seeing a culture divide widen between those who are affirming or at least welcoming of the gay community and those who aren’t. It used to be that we just didn’t really talk about it. I mean there was legislation called DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL for crying out loud. Well, I’m of the opinion that we need to talk about it. We need to wrestle with it. And even if you don’t have a hard-line stance on the issue of homosexuality, you can’t ignore it. They aren’t going away, friends.

To my gay-affirming friends:

First and foremost, remember that not everyone is affirming, or even close to affirming. Too many times we still fall into the same “us vs. them” trap that we so often rail against. Good discussion is key, but so is listening. And loving. Isn’t it the culture war we’re sick of in the first place? So don’t just get suited up for battle on the other side. There is a better way—the way of Jesus. It’s a way of love. It’s a way of getting on someone’s level, hearing them out, and then making your point. We can keep saying “those Christians, I’m not one of those Christians.” Or we can realize that just because someone might feel differently about a social issue than us, doesn’t mean they don’t believe in the same Jesus.

I know that many of the farther-left side of this issue say that this “bridge-building” attitude just keeps enabling hatred and bigotry, but I disagree. Someone who believes that homosexual acts are sinful may be wrong in my opinion, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to show them how to love unconditionally. Because in the end, that’s what this is all about: love. We can stand against injustice, we can stand against oppression, we can fight for gay rights, we can denounce bigotry and hate speech, but we must do it out of a place of love, not from a place of shooting-from-the-hip. And God knows I’ve shot from the hip one too many times. The goal should never be to win an argument, the goal should be to show Christ’s love no matter what.

And lastly, in Matthew 7:16 Jesus says “by their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?” Well, Galatians 5:22-23 says “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.” That one is pretty self-explanitory.

To my non-affirming friends:

I believe Jesus is the Son of God, I believe that he is God incarnate, and that he came to die on our behalf and rose again to beat the power of death. I just wanted to get that out of the way, to at least prove we’re on the same page here and that I’m not some raging heretic.

I don’t blame you for having a traditional understanding of the Bible’s six verses that refer to homosexual acts. I was once there. And I’m not going to spend any time talking you out of that viewpoint, even though I disagree with you (if you really want to learn more, I shared three of the many many resources available above). I do want to challenge you though. First, and most importantly, if being gay (or having gay sex) is wrong, conviction is the Holy Spirit’s job, not yours. You have one job—to love and welcome anyone into this big, dysfunctional family. One more time: your job is to LOVE unconditionally.

Second, lets retire “love the sinner, hate the sin.” The language does much more harm than it does good. Sure you might see homosexual behavior as nothing more than a sin in a long list of sins—something you do. But we’re talking about a whole community of people that understand that this is who they are. That’s why an argument like “love the sinner, hate the sin” just doesn’t track with someone who’s gay. It doesn’t make logical sense. To a gay person this says “love the sinner, just hate everything about them.” You may disagree and say “but their identity is in being created in the image of God, not their sexuality”—and I’d agree with you on that one, but that’s insider language. Sure, you get that, because you’re a Christian. But you can’t expect everyone to understand Christianese. Let’s change the phrase to “…and the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)

Third, when discussing the issue of homosexuality, saying “the Bible is clear on the matter” just doesn’t cut it. Because the Bible is not clear on the matter. If it was, this would be easy. There’d be no discussion, no other interpretation of the Greek and Hebrew words. Many churches adopt the language of “closed-hand beliefs” and “open-hand beliefs” distinguishing between doctrine with little-to-no discussion, and doctrine that is open to debate. It is of my belief that nothing about this issue changes anything as it pertains to our Salvation.

And lastly, in Matthew 7:16 Jesus says “by their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?” Well, Galatians 5:22-23 says “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.” That one is pretty self-explanitory.

To my LGBT friends:

If you used to be a Christian and aren’t now because of the way you’ve been treated in the church or your Christian home, I understand and don’t blame you. If you hear the word “Christian” and the only feeling you have is anger—believe me, I understand.

If you really wanted to believe in God but the only god you’ve ever known is one that hates you at the very core of who you are—know that god is an absolute lie.

If someone ever told you that God sent natural disasters because of homosexuals in this country, or on a more personal level, that some sort of horrible experience happened to you because you are gay—they are wrong.

And if anyone ever told you that you are unlovable—they were DEAD wrong.

I’m sorry for all of the bigotry and hatred spouted out in the name of God. My heart breaks for the way you’ve been treated and the way you’ll continue to be treated in the name of Jesus.

You are loved. You are special. You are created in the image of God. There is nothing anyone can say, scream, or write on a sign that can change that. Don’t let bitterness and anger drive you. You don’t have to live that way. And please know that there are churches and communities where you’ll be accepted and loved for who you are and how you were created.

In Matthew 7:16 Jesus says “by their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?” Well, Galatians 5:22-23 says “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.” If you judge us Christians by anything—let it be that.

I want to challenge you to look outside of the Christianity you know.

Look past that lie of a god you once believed in.

Look straight to Jesus.

Jesus got on our level.

Jesus stood in between us and the religious leaders—who didn’t see anyone but themselves as fit for heaven—and said “come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest.”

You are loved. More than you know.

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Remember that time that I thought I backed up my WordPress database before my host deleted/restarted my account? Yeah, well that happened. All of my blog entries are gone. Well, some of them I have rough drafts saved on my machine, but you get the idea.

Those who follow this blog in an RSS reader, I don’t know if my new hosting account changed anything, so you might want to make sure or add it again to your reader.

Anyway, I’m starting fresh. We could all use a fresh start sometimes. New look. New posts. I’m excited to restart this catalog of my journey through belief, disbelief, and everything in between. I hope you are too.

My first actual post is going to be good. And heavy. Stay tuned.

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