Monthly Archives: June 2012

Original content coming, promise!

I love you guys. I really do. Don’t let my silence for the past week lead you to doubt that.

Last Tuesday night, going into Wednesday, the Twin Ports area of Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin (plus surrounding places with fewer people but just as much good cheese) was pummeled with something like a million inches of rain. It was pretty bad – bridges were destroyed, businesses were flooded, and a seal took a traumatic road trip from the Lake Superior Zoo to Grand Avenue, stopping only once to have this adorably frantic picture taken.

If this seal wore pants, it clearly would have crapped those pants.

My friend and pastor Ryan Bauers, as well as his family, were advised to evacuate their home around 3 AM on Wednesday. I say they were advised, and not ordered, because the fire fighters really had no idea where they could go, barring some sort of ark. There was a lot of water, is what I’m saying.

This post has nothing to do with that. But there will be a post about that, and soon!

No, this post is basically shameless filler. Work has been very busy lately, and I wish I could say that I don’t basically write my posts at work, but I write my posts at work. Unless my boss is reading this. In that case, I’m an entirely different Daniel Mitchell than the one you’re thinking of.

“Boy, my job at the Cato Institute, doing whatever it is I do there, sure is satisfying! Between that and my faith blog, I’m TOTALLY not putting off work I should be doing for a major health care provider.”

So, with work being as busy as it has been, I haven’t had time to write the post about helping Ryan’s house recover from the flood. Spoiler – it was very damp. 

But like I said, I love you guys, and I don’t want to keep leaving you without  something to read. So here we go with another reblog, this time from atheist-turned-recently-converted-Catholic Leah Libresco. Like me, she was a rational skeptic who found herself surprisingly becoming Christian. Unlike me, she is a girl. This article that I’m drawing your attention to is her dealing with some of the comment fallout that resulted from her publicly “outing” herself as a Catholic on her very popular atheist blog. Check it out.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/2012/06/too-simple-skepticism.html

Enjoy! Feel free to comment below, but I don’t have any specific questions today, because my work at the Cato Institute is very. . .Cato-y. . .  at the moment. And institutional. Like, extra institutional. Please don’t fire me.


Hi, my name is Daniel. . .

I was recently reading a study that Darren  sent to me. It was a paper, written by an atheist group, on five clergymen who secretly did not believe in God. The paper contained transcripts from interviews conducted with these five men, and each of them told a bit of their story – how they came to be ministers, what lead to them losing faith in God’s existence, why they didn’t “come clean” with their atheism, etc. One thing I noticed about these five guys is that they all said that they’d never experienced anything miraculous in their lives. Each of them had a hard time believing in anything supernatural, to the point that even believing in God in a liberal way (which downplays the role of miracles in the Bible and focuses more on Jesus’ morality) became impossible for them.

I sympathize with these clergymen. I really do. As I’ve said before a time or two, if your faith in God is based on things like the Bible, or tradition, or philosophy, then I think you’re going to have a hard time maintaining that faith. My faith in God is based on the fact that he does, occasionally, do stuff. It’s not always huge, but it’s there – personal, experiential evidence that an immaterial being listens to me, loves me, and can make changes to the world around me. The experience of the miraculous creates a context in which the Bible, the tradition, and the philosophy can be studied, wrestled-with, and contemplated fruitfully. If the Bible confuses me, that’s okay – I don’t worship the Bible. If I disagree with the tradition, or think that the philosophy sometimes falls short, my experiential faith carries me through those times. Faith is something that I place in people, not ideas.

For instance, I would never say what I am about to say, if I had hope that an idea was going to come along and lend me aid. Instead, I say what comes next because I’m hoping that a person (named Yahweh) will give me a hand out of a situation that I am in.

If it’s not entirely obvious from my profile photo, I’m a pretty big guy. I’ve always been big – I was a chubby toddler who became a husky boy who became a big man. I’ve come to accept that certain things are just a fact of life. For instance, my metabolism sucks. Also, my knees are bad from carrying all this weight for such a long time. In addition, I have Type 2 diabetes. These are things that are just a result of being a guy who, I have felt for a long time, was born to be big.

I’ve recently realized that I can’t blame my weight on genetics alone. I’m sure my biology has a part to play in this, but I now know that my habits are a bigger contributor than I previously assumed. The habit that hurts me the most is a sin so “old timey” that in the Middle Ages it was considered one of seven “deadly sins.” Obviously, I’m talking about gluttony – but these days, we call it food addiction.

Here are some signs of how I have a pretty fucked-up habit.

-         I sometimes eat in secret

-         I often eat when I’m not hungry

-         I occasionally eat things that do not taste good, just to be eating

-         I sometimes eat when I flat-out don’t want to eat.

It’s weird to realize that you’re addicted to something as commonplace, as innocuous, as food. I’ve always lived a pretty clean life. I didn’t know what weed smelled like until I was in my mid-twenties. I’ve always been very moderate in my drinking (one or two memorable occasions notwithstanding). I don’t smoke cigarettes, and I haven’t had a cigar in years. I thought that I was immune to addiction.

But food? How do I give up food? Unlike addictions to substances, gambling, or sex, food is a basic biological need. I can’t quit it cold turkey. I’ve tried to curb my habits on occasion over the years. Sometimes I can for a couple of weeks, or maybe (once) for a couple of months. So far I’ve never been able to make it stick. I’ve tried to change my habits for a number of reasons – I’ve done it to loose weight, I’ve done it to control my blood sugar, I’ve done it to just “feel healthier”. Food addiction makes all of these attempts impossible, because eventually the urge to go to the fridge and put whatever is in there in my mouth becomes overwhelming.

Recently, I was chatting with my mother-in-law, and the subject somehow got around to life after death. I told her some stuff that I’d recently read that was written by my academic hero, N.T. Wright. He talked about how the idea that we all had an immaterial soul was not Biblical – that the Bible preached a physical resurrection, not a spiritual, immaterial one. I mentioned this to my mother-in-law, and she said, “Yep. And we’ll be perfect – we won’t have sickness, or scars, or be overweight.” We’d have glorified bodies. And that got me thinking – if, on that future day that the world was redeemed, I was resurrected as a skinny, sexy Dan, doesn’t that imply that my weight’s ultimate causality – the underlying problem with my addiction – is that this world is broken, and that I myself am also broken?

This is where God comes in.

I am fasting from everything but water for the next twenty-four hours. I’m not fasting to start a diet, or to try to live a healthier life, or to cleanse my body of toxins. I am fasting because I need help from a being outside of myself. I’m fasting because I need the miraculous intervention of the person who has, on the odd occasion, miraculously intervened before – in my life, and in the lives of others that I know. I’m fasting because I am broken, and because I am broken I need to be fixed. I’m fasting because it’s a tradition within the Christian faith. For whatever reason, fasting is something that seems to sharpen the spirit. It brings focus to the faster’s mind, and it seems – for me, anyway – to make it easier for the person fasting to hear God. Maybe it helps God hear them, too. I’ve previously fasted for 24 hours  and for three days, and both times I felt my faith grow stronger for a time.

After my fast is over, I’m going to confront this addiction with renewed focus. I know it won’t be easy – I’m not asking God for easy. What I am asking God to do is to make overcoming this habit possible. Occasionally, I’ll give mention in this blog as to how my struggle is coming along. . . not because I’m assuming you’re all dying to know, but because this is blog about a faith journey, and sometimes going to God with your baggage is part of that journey. If I don’t document this part of my journey just because it’s a little embarrassing, then one could rightly question the honesty of the blog.

Today’s question – would you pray for me? You don’t have to comment, or give me encouragement, or in any way draw attention to yourself if you don’t want to. But when you chat with God next, could you mention that I need his help? 


This post has no pictures!!!! You have been warned!

So I know it’s been a long time since I was the one posting on this blog, and I know that normally we post about Christian-type issues. I haven’t posted in a while because of several reasons which I will possibly maybe detail in some later post, maybe.

Today I thought I would switch it up. Normally the blog isn’t used for these sorts of thing – normally its purpose is to detail our foray into faith, with all our doubts, complaints and triumphs. This time my plan is to talk up something that I feel has been a huge blessing in my life. More than that, it’s been one of the single features that have kept me grounded and turned toward the center no matter where I was in my life.  At the risk of sounding cliché (and a little gross), I want to take a minute, in honor of Father’s day, to give a shout out to my husband.

Now I know today is Father’s Day (or else it recently passed. . .  I can be a pretty serious procrastinator, when the mood is on me) and that means this post is bordering on “expected nonsense” already, and as a general rule, I loathe doing what is expected of me. It’s true, ask anyone. I thought that I would take a moment to give a little thanks for someone who doesn’t get enough.

So allow me to prattle on a little bit, and if you can’t because this is sentimental type-vomit, feel free to scroll to the end. Either way: here we go.

I met this guy at the ripe old age of 22. By this point I’d already had two failed marriages and as many children. I was bitter, full of baggage and hang-ups, not to mention not at all looking for a different (read: exactly the same) relationship. I should also mention, he was my boss.

Now, Daniel didn’t try to woo me, didn’t try to pick me up, and didn’t even try to flirt with me. He gave me something else I needed, which I’ve already mentioned; I don’t do well when left to my own devices. He gave me friendship and support. Before we ever started dating there were game nights at his house with a bunch of his friends, there were play-dates (I hate that term) with our daughters who were at the time 3 and 4. There were break time conversations at work that were deeper and more meaningful than anything I’d been able to experience in a long time.

Slowly his intelligence, wit and charm made me peek around my walls. But it wasn’t enough. Two failed marriages is enough to teach a lesson to all but the slowest of learners, and I was never one of those. I kept my distance despite the growing feelings in my heart.

The guy I had recently divorced was basically useless, both as a husband and as a father. Couldn’t keep a job, couldn’t be relied upon for anything as simple as a ride much less taking care of his two young children’s basic needs. Daniel and I were not even dating yet, though we’d been working our way into a pretty heady friendship, when the need for my kids to have new coats for winter arose. Baby-daddy had never returned any calls, much less coughed up any money, and every dime I had was going to the basic support of the kids. I couldn’t afford anything extra. Daniel heard of this and volunteered his own money to buy coats (nice ones) for the kids that weren’t even his despite the fact that he was getting nothing at all from me in return.

Later, when we started dating but were not yet extremely serious, my young son Dustin (who was at the time about 8 months old) burnt both his hands badly on an unsupervised oven door while under the care of his biological dad. Baby-daddy couldn’t be talked out of his screeching panic to do anything, so I was called from work where I did some damage control on the poor little dude’s badly blistered hands, and took him to the hospital. Daniel and I were supposed to meet that night to have some quiet time together. I called him and let him know I wouldn’t make it because I would be at the hospital with the boy. He got off from work and met me next to Dustin’s urgent care bed, as if that was the ‘date’ he had in mind all along. He never voiced a word of complaint.

As things got more and more serious between us, I began to see more and more of the selfless nature of Daniel’s character. He wasn’t perfect, sure. He had his fair share of pride and attitudes, sure. But beneath all of that he was willing to sacrifice everything to give to me, and my children.

My daughter was old enough to remember her biological father, and she felt some resentment toward Daniel for trying to take on that role . . . even though he was much better at it, and more available for her than her dad ever was. She never hesitated, in her 4-6 year old way, to tell everyone that he wasn’t her REAL dad. He never left her side, and though I know it hurt him to hear her say things like that, he bore it with the good graces of some sort of saint, and never stopped trying to reach out to her and bond.

Daniel and I have been together for 8 years now. My daughter is 11 and while she remembers her dad, Daniel has become the face associated with the word “daddy”. My son Dustin doesn’t even remember his real dad – Daniel is all he’s ever known, and together Daniel and I brought Teaghan, our youngest, into the world. You might think there was a separation, even subtly, between “her kids” and “our kid” but there isn’t. Nothing could be further from the truth, in fact. Our kids are loved equally and individually, and I’ve seen him go to work in holey underthings and threadbare shirts so that our kids could express their individuality at school in fresh new clothes.

This is just a surface glimpse of the gift I’ve been given in this man. Never mind that he is amazing to me, and has been a pillar of support and a lynchpin of my explorations into growth whether we’re talking about faith or emotional growth. He took a broken, angry and bitter girl and turned her into a (sort-of) wife, and he took a broken household and turned it into a (dysfunctional, but whole) family.

I have no money. I have nothing I can do for him to show him how much this means to me. What he’s given me is beyond value, and even if I were wealthy I don’t think I could do anything to accurately and adequately express how his continual selflessness, his patience in times of trial, and his sacrifice for these children not even his really means. I will say that for all his gruff and sometimes crass nature, he is a much better person than I am in so many ways, and I don’t think, were the situations reversed, that I would have tried half as hard, nor endured half as well, as he has done these past 8 years.

So! None of this was particularly funny, and this is a huge wall of text. Sorry for that. If its tl:dr. . .well, I’ll sum it up for you.

“Daniel Mitchell. You have been the single greatest gift I have ever received, and you’re still giving to this day. I love you. I’m glad to have you and you are more appreciated than you can ever know. I love you. Thank you. Happy Fathers day.”


Not So Fast, Atheists!!! – Twist and Doubt, Park Two

Yesterday’s post on doubt may have gotten a little derailed during the writing process. The reason that post exists is because I read an article on CNN’s Belief Blog entitled “My Take: More doubts about God doesn’t mean religion is weakening.”  I intended to re-blog that article and comment on it. . . right after I said some stuff about the apostle Thomas, and referenced my pastor’s sermon from last Sunday, and gave my own two cents about the place that doubt plays in God’s plan. And by the time I said all that stuff, I was over 1,000 words in, and it seemed a little late in the game to chime in with a re-blog of CNN. So, to closely paraphrase the words of the guys who decided to split up North andSouth Carolina, I said, “Screw it. I’ll just make two of ‘em.”

 

“I’m going to call them ‘Carolina’ and ‘Carolina 2: The Hickening’.”

According to the article,

a recent Pew Research Center survey sees doubt rising sharply inside the millennial generation. Between 2007 and 2012, this survey says, the portion of young Americans (those 30 and under) who say they never doubt the existence of God dropped sharply between 2007 and 2012, from 83% to 68%.”

Upon, reading this, my first thought was, “Wait a minute. Was there a time when 83% of interviewed human beings said that they had never doubted the existence of God? That’s just crazy talk.”

Then, my second thought was, “I bet there are some Atheists who are just shitting themselves in excitement right now. Their dream of a completely secular country must seem soooo close!

Depend – When the thrill of victory seems within your grasp, you can count on us to protect your pants from your own feces.

“Not so fast, atheists,” says CNN blogger Stephen Prothero.

“Look carefully at the survey question. What this data is tracking is the percentage of young people for whom doubt has never creeped into their faith. I don’t know about you, but most of the religious people I know experience both doubt and faith over the course of their spiritual lives. So the fact that more than two-thirds of young people say they have never doubted God’s existence seems to me evidence of America’s extraordinary religiosity, not its disbelief.”

 

Well, yeah. I don’t really believe that 83% of people interviewed actually never doubted the existence of God. If I was to generously guess how many people I think never doubt the existence of God (ie, to pull a number out of my nether regions) I would say 3% of people are so blessed. To me, that implies that 80% of the folks taking this survey in 2007 were lying.

I can understand why people might lie about this, even to themselves. As I said in yesterday’s post, people have traditionally looked down on the apostle Thomas – a.k.a. “Doubting Thomas” – for his lack of faith regarding Jesus’ resurrection. He even – GASP! – refused to believe without seeing evidence firsthand. Jesus then (allegedly) scolded Thomas for his skepticism, and praised people who are able to believe without needing things like “proof.” It’s no wonder that for centuries, people didn’t want to be caught with their doubt showing – nobody wanted to be the next Thomas.

“No. . . it’s okay. I get that a lot.”

But as I wrote yesterday, I believe that doubt can be a good thing. Admitting your doubts – to your friends, to your family, to your pastor, to God – can be a freeing experience. It’s not unlike weeding your garden so that better plants can grow. . . you might not like having to do it, but once it’s done, you’ll probably be happier for the time you spent on your knees.

Maybe what we’re seeing in this Pew Research Center survey isn’t evidence that religion is failing inAmerica. Maybe, instead, we’re seeing that American believers are slowly becoming more honest, more fearless, in dealing with the doubts about God we all encounter from time to time.

One of our readers agrees. Rachel left a comment on yesterday’s doubt post, and this is part of what she had to say about her own experience, growing up a Christian who occasionally had to face her own doubts.

“There were so many factors in my youth that caused me to feel guilt ridden if i doubted one iota in my faith but as I’ve grown in age, healing and in Him…i’m finding that by embracing doubt when it arises brings…well, comfort. if i believe or am doubting…i bring it to Him regardless, and whether He answers me or not….the doubt….my heart…is still in His hands. and man, when He answers…it’s amazing and life changing.”

 

Amen, Rachel.

Just like Rachel’s view of her own doubts changed as she grew up and experienced God more, Prothero believes that the same can be said for the body of American believers.

“The fact that doubt is now a part of faith for a significant minority of American believers strikes me at least as a sign of faith’s maturity, not its demise. Perhaps, like the millennials themselves, American religion is growing up.”

 

I think he’s right. It’s not easy for us to admit our doubts about God, faith, miracles, or the church – but having the maturity and courage to do so helps us grow our faith. The great thing about truth, I have found, is that it does not depend on belief. Our doubts don’t make God disappear, but holding them inside of ourselves can certainly make it hard for us to see him.


Twist and Doubt Part One – Awesome Thomas

If I had to identify a personal hero in the Bible – a character that inspires me in times of trouble, whose story I identify with my own – I think the person who would fit the bill the best would be “doubting” Thomas. Sure, he didn’t have the hews or hair of Samson, the wisdom or hoes of Solomon, or the tall walls and big horn of Captain Jericho, but he had a particular quality that worked well for him, a quality that I possess in spades – skepticism.

It WAS ‘Captain Jericho’, right? I’m generally drunk when I read my kids Bible stories.

I understand that Thomas has gotten a fair amount of shit over the years for his moment of doubt. I didn’t grow up Christian, but I’ve been called a “doubting Thomas” enough times in my life to catch on that I wasn’t being paid a compliment. In my experience, a “doubting Thomas” was someone who doubted inappropriately – like, at the wrong time, or by doubting something that should be beyond doubt. Since you’re reading a faith blog, I’m sure you’re familiar with the “why” of this judgment – but in case you’re not, I’ll let the Bible tell you. I think it’s a pretty neat story, but don’t take my word for it.

Take a look. It’s in a book. Read the BIIIII-BLE!

24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin),[c] was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,”he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” (John 20:24-29 NLT)

 Some thoughts on this passage from John. . .

1)      Thomas didn’t doubt Jesus, so much as he doubted the other eleven who had seen Jesus. He was assuming that his coworkers were raving lunatics, and for a good reason. He couldn’t really doubt Jesus unless he’d touched his wounds and then continued to call “bullshit.” And he didn’t. 

2)       I’ve heard people say that Jesus was chiding Thomas when he said, “You believe because you have seen, but blessed are those who believe without seeing.” That’s probably why “doubting Thomas” is an insult. But was he really putting Thomas down? Maybe he was just pointing out a fact. Speaking as a skeptic, I do think that people who can believe without seeing are blessed. It’s a lot easier to have faith when you aren’t a skeptic. I know that if Jesus said those words to me today, my response would be to nod in agreement and say, “I know, right?”

3)      Jesus didn’t waste any time in helping out Thomas. He materialized in a room with a locked door, said “What’s up?” to everyone there, and then said, “Hey Thomas. I heard what you said. It’s totally cool. Come check out my wounds. There’s no reason not to believe I’m alive.”

Point three is my favorite, because it parallels my own experience as a skeptic who came to God for no apparent reason. In fact, I believe that God loves a skeptic. God loves doubt – it’s incredible fertile soil for miracles. When a person who doubts God experiences a miracle that defies logic in some way – when they touch the wounds of Christ – the faith that follows is incredibly vigorous. I think that skeptics always assume that “miracles” happen to people who are expecting miracles to happen. A believer gets a cold; the believer prays for healing; the believer gets better – hallelujah! That testimony means little to nothing to a skeptic. But when someone who doubts has an experience that kills that doubt, that person has a story, now. That person has something compelling to say, and they have a weapon against the doubts that may rise in the future.

“Just this once, Thomas, and then I expect you to Facebook the hell out of this.”

One of the things I like best about my pastor, Ryan Bauers,  is that he’s a bit of a skeptic himself. That makes me take his “miracle stories” more seriously, because I know that he doesn’t just blindly assume that God is behind anything that seems remotely mysterious. He’s currently doing a series at Hillside Church called Exploring the Supernatural, and last Sunday’s message was about God doing miracles in our world today. In giving the message, Ryan told a couple of anecdotal stories about miracles that he had experienced, or had seen others experience.

It’s a great series, by the way, and if you have time I think you’d really like it and should totally check it out. My favorite story in that sermon is about a man who attends our church, who had been dealing with Hepatitis C. After joining a small group with others in our church, he received prayer about his illness. When he went to his next doctor’s appointment, his blood work showed results so good that the doctor asked him to come in and re-test, because he assumed that the results actually belonged to someone else. The Hep C was gone.

Cool story, huh? Here’s my favorite part – when Ryan heard about this story from the guy at our church, he didn’t just shout “Praise Jesus!” and give a round of high-fives to everyone assembled. Instead, he asked the guy, “Could I see your test results, from before and after the prayer?” When presented with something that could have been miraculous, he asked for evidence. In the face of the seemingly-impossible (or at least the very highly improbable) he asked to “touch the wounds.”

And you know what? He was given the evidence, and it only made the miracle more believable. It made the story better. That’s why God loves to give us evidence. God isn’t afraid of doubt. God isn’t threatened by it. God sees doubt as an opportunity to blow our minds. Jesus wasn’t mad at Thomas for being skeptical. In fact, he was so willing to help Thomas overcome his doubt that it was the first thing he did when he appeared in that room, after saying hello. In the face of Thomas’ doubt, Jesus was stoked.

“Well. . . you’re welcome, I guess.”

I’m not afraid of doubt – I’ve been there, done that. I’ve felt doubt before, and I’ll feel doubt again. But knowing that, I still have faith that God will come to me in that place and use my skepticism; he’ll make it work for him. He’s just that cool. So. Here’s my question to you, faithful readers. How have you dealt with doubt in the past? Have you ever seen God turn your doubt  into something awesome? Do you think, like I do, that “doubting” Thomas gets a bad rap?