Author Archives: Daniel Mitchell

About Daniel Mitchell

50% of "What the Faith?!?!", a blog about two skeptics who turned to God for no apparent reason.

The Awe of God – A Guest Post by Brant Skogrand

Dan’s Preamble

Wow, have we been guest-blogger-posting fools lately, or what? One of the great things about running a tiny li’l blog like this one is meeting other bloggers. Brant Skogrand is a fine fellow who attends River Heights Vineyard with me, and he has a little something to say. Brant normally blogs here. If you like his post here, why not check out the rest of his stuff?

End Preamble

 

*          *          *

Six years ago, inspired by the awesome experience of hearing God audibly speak to me, I started a blog. Called The Awe of God, I set out to capture and document instances of God speaking to people.

Here’s what I have learned along the way.

  1. God connects with each of us uniquely. For some of us, God speaks audibly. For others, it’s through scripture. Visions have been reported. In numerous instances, God speaks through the people around us. Other times, it’s a still small voice inside.
  2. God has a plan for our lives. Whether it’s showing a woman that she has breast cancer in order to educate others or saving a man from suicide, God will speak to us in order ensure that His will be fulfilled.
  3. By following God, things could happen that we never would have imagined. Like Alfonso Fernandez, who followed God to become the Spanish radio voice of the Minnesota Vikings. Or Jennifer Henderson, who left her $100,000-a-year job at a Toyota plant to open a Christian bookstore.
  4. While many people may be reluctant to admit it, they have heard God’s voice. Sometimes people don’t want to disclose that God talked to them for fear of appearing haughty (especially here in Minnesota) or seeming too religious. However, covered by the anonymity of a survey, 20 percent of Americans admitted to USA Today that they had heard the voice of God. Sometimes what God says to us is just extremely personal, and we don’t feel like sharing that with others.
  5. God’s presence is fleeting. I guess that He doesn’t want to overstay his welcome. Or it could be that He just wants to make a short yet powerful statement, such as the time when a grandmother heard of a chorus of harps as she was comforting her dying grandson.
  6. God has a sense of humor. Johnny Hart, the creator of the comic strip “B.C.,” felt that God wanted him to do the comic strip as a way to share God’s humorous inspiration. Author John Eldredge shares God’s sense of humor in his book “Beautiful Outlaw” when, asking God why He doesn’t give John hearts anymore, God responds by having John come upon a dried piece of cow manure – in the perfect shape of a heart.

Thank you, God, for your amazing presence. I am still in awe.


I love Pat Robertson so goddamn much – A WTFaith Quickie

Every time Pat Robertson talks, it’s my birthday.

The above link is a CNN religion blog article about Patty Rob’s “Top 10″ most controversial quotes. While I remember this one from my mis-spent pagan youth. . .

“The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

. . . I got great joy out of some of the gems I was exposed to for the first time.

Like this one!

“Many of those people involved in Adolf Hitler were Satanists. Many were homosexuals. The two things seem to go together.”

Clealry this man is a master of social science. He has more facts that Xerox.

Read the article, then comment with your favorite Patty Rob quote, and why! And if you actually, non-sarchastically love Pat Robertson, could you. . . maybe. . . maybe explain that to me, a little?

Kisses!


Why I Haven’t Been Arrested (Yet) – A Guest Post by Rev. Peter Benedict

The other day someone shared a link to an article that I find kind of awesome and somewhat irritating. For those with TL;DR syndrome, the gist of the article is that an elderly African-American divinity school professor was studying the Bible and decided that to follow Christ meant he needed to stand up for “the common man” and get himself arrested.

This article is awesome in that 89 year old divinity professors don’t fit my prototype for “guys who get arrested.” It’s also awesome in that he redefines holiness in terms I admire. He writes:

“Speaking holy words has serious consequences. These are not words that simply speak of God. There is nothing inherently serious or holy in God talk. The holy words that bring

consequences are words tied to the concrete liberating actions of God for broken people. Such holy words bring the speakers into direct confrontation with those in power.”

As a nascent blogger I need these words. They free me to be non-serious and non-holy in blogging about faith and Christ, and they also challenge me to action. They specifically challenge me to confront power where it’s used for oppression. While there are people who do so through writing (dissident bloggers under oppressive regimes), I’m pretty sure it’s a stretch to define blogging in America as taking any concrete liberating actions of God for broken people. I do some work that might fit that bill, particularly my leadership in a recovery group, but if I’m going to talk (blog) more, it’s worth some time to reflect on whether my life matches what I admire and value in others.

Ask myself some tough questions, like, "Why don't I own a black beret?"

Ask myself some tough questions, like, “Why don’t I own a black beret?”

Thus my irritation in reading this article. I’ve lived an arrest-free life, and my regard for those who practice civil disobedience (whether Thoreau, MLK jr., or ancient professorly dudes) is high enough that I both admire them and also feel a stirring to action. There are causes that, when I consider them in my mind, seem worth getting arrested for. My list is probably different from yours, dear reader, but for me the list includes the oppression of illegal immigrants, human trafficking, whatever war we’re busy carrying out, and the plight of single parents in our society.

When I realize that I “believe” (with my mind) that a number of causes are important enough to get arrested over them, I invariably start to wonder whether I should go out & get arrested. I’ve had this conversation with my wife, and she’s OK with being married to a guy who’d do this, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t get fired over it. I’ve even made plans. But you know… life is busy. Stuff comes along, “later” sounds good, and then later becomes never.

I can't do time today - my stories are on!

I can’t do time today – my stories are on!

One of the causes I’ve spent some time (not enough!) on is restorative justice for felons. I spent years doing and dealing drugs, carrying and using in restaurants, universities, homes, bars, airplanes, and airports. I think some part of my subconscious wanted me to get caught: I used in the alley next to a police station, and getting high on an airplane is probably non-justifiably stupid, right?

So the fact that I’m walking around free as a bird with no record is, as far as I’m concerned, a fluke. Yet my friends who got caught, many of whom used less often and never dealt, have lives vastly different from mine. They’re unable to rent, unable to find jobs, stuck telemarketing or incinerating deceased animals. Their entire lives have been twisted for the exact behavior I engaged in.

So I attend the Second Chance Coalition’s annual gathering at the state capitol, and I’ve visited our local state congressman, and I wear SCC’s propaganda T-shirts. But am I willing to give up my arrest-free record in solidarity with those who are struggling to be restored to society?

Maybe I am. I’m pretty sure my record won’t be clean forever. Busy-ness and my kids and job and to-do list are facts of life, and perhaps there’s some wisdom in waiting until you’re 89 to go get arrested, but perhaps the future will come sooner because of the example of some people following Jesus in North Carolina. I’m grateful for their words and action.

1. Is there anything you believe in strongly enough that you’d get arrested in America for it?

2. What do you think of the guy in this article, or of the guy writing this blog post? Is civil disobedience laudable, laughable, or somewhere in between?

3. What do you think of restorative justice for felons? Veronica, you’re welcome to answer this one with a treatise or two… and so is anyone else who cares.

Thanks for reading, and ESPECIALLY for commenting. I’d love to learn from you.

Like, does anyone know which cops in the Twin Cities region use those comfortable handcuffs?

Like, does anyone know which cops in the Twin Cities region use those comfortable handcuffs?


Looking for help from YOU! – A Guest Post by Rev. Peter Benedict

Pete Benedict is a friend of the blog. He’s commented numerous times, I’ve used silly pictures of him on more than one occasion, and he home brews incredibly good beer. He’s also my pastor, although I’d like to point out that he became my pastor because he was my friend, and not the other way around. Pete’s got an exciting new project in the works, and he’d like your feedback on it. Let’s give him our attention, children, and there will be ice cream after the test.

The world has too many books. When I consider all the amazing writing I don’t have time to read, my heart is saddened… I hope that the afterlife gives us an eternity to catch up, because if not I’m never going to get a chance to take it all in.

 And yet I’m planning to write a book with a friend. On the face of it (and deeper!) this seems dumb. Self-published books are now being given away by the boatload, and I’m under no illusions about how many books I can sell. If I work hard, efficiently, and get lucky, I might come up with minimum wage, yay! As a pastor who works too many hours, as a father with three kids, as a guy who loves his free time spent home-brewing and disc golf and running and reading and video games… why would I want another job?

I guess the answer is: I don’t. But I want to do what’s right, and when I’m not sure what’s right, I want to do what seems good and fun and exciting. I’m a Christian hedonist… I love my life, I have a fairly ridiculous amount of joy in my life (I describe myself as “stupid happy” regularly), and it’s been my experience that joy comes when I follow God.

For the last four or five years I’ve been leading a group of random folks who get together monthly to discuss a theologically related book over beer. Theology Pub has been one of the sources of joy in my life. We get to interact with diverse authors, disagree with each other (or agree with each other) about Big Ideas, enjoy great beer, and return again the next month. When I’m there I can speak freely and have a blast, and I also learn a ton. We ask the same questions of every book (What was most compelling? What did you like best, and least? What does this book have to do with how we live as individuals and as a community today?).

When one of my friends from Theology Pub recently wrote a book (on public relations, his field) I was impressed. When he suggested we write one together, I thought the idea sounded like a good one for the alternate universe where I have time for that kind of thing. When he brought it up again and my heart kind of leapt in my chest, I realized… this could actually happen.

So, having learned the value of doing things well vs. doing things now, I suggested we each pray for 30 days about whether this is a good idea. During that 30 days I had an experience that felt like it was from God. I asked a friend, older and wiser and very focused in his work, what he thought of this crazy book-writing idea. I knew he’d shoot it down, because he’s always challenging me to focus my work and family life. Instead, he thought, looked me in the eye, and said: “You should do it.” As he did so, I felt like God put his hand down and spoke with him.

So now we’re figuring things out. Questions like: How do we want to do this together? What will the book be about (I could write more on that one… and will, some day soon)? How do we get started?

That last question is the reason you’re reading this post. We decided to get started by launching a blog, one where I’ll write weekly and invite anyone willing to write as well. We decided to start writing blog posts weekly, and while eventually they’ll be on our own site, for now they’ll be wherever anyone will publish them.

Our plan for the book is to call it something like “Reflections on Blue Ocean Faith,” and to center the book on how pointing our lives toward Jesus affects everything about how we interact with our culture and with one another. I’d like to have guest writers (like Dave Schmelzer, or Ryan Bauers, or Lauren Catlin, or Charles Park, or any other sucker willing to dive in!) contribute chapters, because there are a million people with great things to say.

Our plan for the blog is to call it “Blue Ocean Reflections,” pending confirmation that the Blue Ocean Faith movement isn’t changing their name any time soon. We’d like it to be a faith blog that fosters discussion and not only allows disagreement, but looks for it. I’d like to see posts from atheists, agnostics, young dudes, old ladies, pastors, and anyone else interested in having a discussion in a context that’s centered in a community that’s asking the question: How can we head toward Jesus?

Toward that end, I have a few questions for you, and I’ll follow up with anyone who wants to reply to any of them.

 1. Does the world need another book?

2. Is there anything worth saying any more?

3. What do you think of the idea that God speaks directly to us, as I’m assuming happened during my 30 days of prayer?

4. What’s important to you about how people of faith relate to our culture?+
5. Is there ANYTHING AT ALL UNDER THE SUN you’d like to say, or hear more about?

 Peace, WTFers. God is with you.


The Exodus example.

You might have heard about it on Facebook. Or maybe you ran across Rachel Held Evans blogging about it.

Or maybe you read it here.

Or here.

It’s been lots of places, is what I’m trying to say.

When Brandi heard about this, she said, “This is it, Daniel. The people who lead by hate are going to lose.”

But that didn’t sound right to me.

“No, they’re not,” I replied. “They aren’t going to lose because it’s not about winning or losing. They’re going to be healed.”

I didn’t say that to mean that people only take a hard stance against homosexuality because they are broken – I am saying that we’re all broken. For some people, their hatred against the LGBT community was a defining character trait. For others, it was just a part of their human makeup, which by definition includes both the light of the Creator and the stagnant, filthy muck that we get from living in a war zone. I’m not saying that “affirming” churches are right but “biblical” churches are wrong. What I’m saying is that all of us our sometimes wrong, in ways big or small – and very few of us ever have the courage to repent, to apologize, to come clean, and to make ourselves vulnerable to those we have hurt.

In the Vineyard, they talk about the Kingdom of God in terms of the “now”, and the “not yet.” By that they mean that Jesus brought the Kingdom to earth, but that until he returns, it isn’t yet fully realized. This is an important stance to take if you want to teach people that they have a responsibility to help bring the Kingdom closer. It isn’t just that God is going to move the needle closer to the “now” position until, one day, there’s no where else for the needle to go – we are acting in partnership with the creator, with the duty to participate in the rebuilding of the world and the privilege of being part of something that God himself is directing.

Call me a sentimental fool with girly feelings, but I think we just helped move the needle. And today, I’m proud to call myself a Christian.


Debate this for my amusement! A What the Faith Quickie

Alright, folks, I’m on a break at work and I have five minutes so OHMYGODREADTHISARTICLEVERYFAST!

Hurry!

Hurryhurryhurry!

Okay, now pause. Catch your breath. You did well, padawans.

Is a Christian’s spoken/written opposition to homosexuality, based on their interpretation of the bible, reason enough to accuse them of hate speech?

GO!


God says, “Laugh, dammit!” – A guest post by Lauren Martinez Catlin

If you’ve been visiting this blog for a while, you might have seen that I’m not a very prolific reviewer of books. In fact, I’ve reviewed one book in the blog’s history – The Other Side of Silence, by Lauren Martinez Catlin. Lauren is a friend whom I met through a Vineyard event, although that’s not why I reviewed her book. I reviewed it because it’s fucking awesome. It didn’t take much cajoling to convince Lauren to write a guest post for What the Faith – but it did take a little cajoling. So let’s show her some love, okay?

 

She's the one on the right.

She’s the one on the right.

 

Oh, and by the way – her book is, as I said, fucking awesome. And I think you’d love it. And if you don’t believe me, I dare you to buy it here.

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This is the story of how God told me to watch a really silly tv show.

Due to a small case of cancer, I had a medical procedure that involved some radioactivity, so I had to be isolated from all people for three days, and from my one-year-old daughter for a week.  I knew I needed this procedure for about a year before it actually happened, so I had plenty of time to dread and plan for it.

I comforted myself with the thought that I would eat whatever I wanted, get lots of writing done, do some new drawings, play the piano, finish reading Anna Karenina, and if all else failed, I could watch movies and crochet.

Because I go to a Vineyard church, I had plenty of opportunities to ask people to pray for me, and I took advantage of them all.  People prayed for my cancer and this specific treatment at the regional conference in Duluth, at the worship conference in Inver Grove Heights, in my small group, at the staff meeting at my church, at the leadership meeting after Celebrate Recovery.  I had a thick, wooly covering of prayer.  Lots of people prayed that isolation would be like a spiritual retreat for me, that it would be a peaceful and enjoyable time.  I’d personally felt like God had said, “I can make this good.”  I was still not excited, but I was mildly hopeful.

The radioactivity didn’t have many side effects, but the drug treatment leading up to the radioactivity made me really sick, and I couldn’t stop the treatment until halfway through the isolation period.  I  couldn’t eat whatever I wanted because I had to stay on a ridiculously restrictive diet through most of the isolation.  I was too tired to sit up at the piano, there was no way I’d have the concentration for sketching or writing, much less reading a freakin’ Russian novel.  I mostly slept, showered, ate a piece of salt-free banana bread, slept some more, and then showered again.  When I was conscious and not washing off radioactive sweat, I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

 

Clinically proven to be good for what ails ya.

Clinically proven to be good for what ails ya.

 

My first night alone in that big apartment, I video chatted with my tiny gorgeous daughter as she was going to bed, and I teared up.  I felt a sharp burning in my eyes, but ignored it so I could focus on that chubby little face.  The sharp pain didn’t go away, though, and after my daughter was peacefully sleeping, I saw that the inner corners of my eyes were blood-red and shrunken.  The radiation in my tears had burned my tear ducts.  For the rest of the week, I couldn’t even cry.

I was laying in bed, mired in depression and trying not to exacerbate my scabby tear ducts.  Way too tired to do anything crazy like shake my fist at God, I just asked in a tired voice, “Hey.  You know how you said you’d make this good?  Is that still coming?”  My exhausted brain made a lazy connection between that question and the one John the Baptist sent to Jesus from prison.  “Are you the Messiah, or should we wait for someone else?”

In the Bible, Jesus replied by saying, “Tell John what you’ve seen.  The blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

In that empty apartment, Jesus replied by saying, “Stop watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Watch something that’s just funny.”

I was annoyed at the unspiritual nature of this response, but I followed the advice anyway.  Buffy was getting me down with her near-constant state of apocalypse anyway.  The funny parts of Buffy are really funny, but they’re a light seasoning at best.  So instead I watched “Coupling.”

 

Who knew Jesus was a fan of the BBC?

Who knew Jesus was a fan of the BBC?

 

“Coupling” is an quirky little British sitcom that is similar to “Friends” here in the states.  Except “Friends” takes itself way more seriously.  In the first episode that I turned on, a male character drifts  into a recurring nightmare that if he ever tries to kiss a woman, his mother will emasculate him with a miniature guillotine.  This is not spiritual fodder for anything.  But it is funny.  Even with my salt-free banana bread and scabby tear ducts, I found myself smiling.  A few more minutes into the show, and I actually laughed.  I felt better because I was laughing.

I felt a surge of gratitude, not toward God, but toward people who do comedy.  I wondered if they knew how transcendent their work is, if they know that their talent and hard work brought a laugh to me through a wall of cancer, radiation, and depression.  I wanted to write a letter to someone and tell them to just keep being funny and not worry about anything else.  Comedy is so good for the world.  Comedy felt like a golden elixir come to save me from my darkest hour.  Not because comedy was going to take away my cancer or help me pass a geiger test so I could hold my daughter, only because it actually made me laugh.

I’ve had other moments like this in my life.  The day my childhood dog passed away, I went over to my boyfriend’s house and he happened to be watching Aqua Teen Hunger Force on the Cartoon Network.  The sheer silly disconnected-ness of that cartoon had me laughing hysterically.  The hysterical laughter helped me feel better about saying good-bye to the constant companion who helped me through a lonely childhood.

When I was twelve one of my cousins was murdered, and my immediate family had to pile into a small car and drive for seven hours to the funeral.  To rescue us from that drive, I brought a little used book full of funny stories by Art Linkletter and read the whole thing aloud.  Our family laughed together.  We laughed for hundreds of miles.  My cousin’s death is still one of the saddest events in my memory, but I always remember that road trip filled with laughter and light.

God knows that I respond to comedy, that it would help me on a day just like that day.  I didn’t have it in me to remember that something funny would help me get through cancer – I couldn’t remember where I left the coffee I’d just poured.  So God helped me, he showed me something that was easy and doable that would make me feel better.  This was not a shattering revelation and won’t go down in my history as one of those moments that changed my life.  God was just being God, just being good to me, just speaking in the language I understand, saying things that make sense.

I sometimes expect God to sound more like one of those freaky oracles who say things that don’t make any sense until it’s way too late to be helpful.  In response to the question, “are you going to help me feel better?” I imagine God will say something like, “Eagles soar far from their nests,” or something equally unhelpful.

Partly I think this because Jesus in the gospels can sound an awful lot like that.  A guy says, “I’ll follow you anywhere!” and Jesus replies, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  M’kay.  So, we’ll be sleeping outdoors?  Do you not sleep at all?  Are you the Son of Man?  Am I?  Does that mean it’d be a better idea to stay home?

 

"So then he says, 'Let the dead bury the dead,' and . . . I have no idea . . . I think I was tripping BALLS, you guys!"

“So then he says, ‘Let the dead bury the dead,’ and I was like, “Okay.” But I’m not sure I wasn’t tripping balls the whole time.”

 

Another reason I expect God to sound more mysterious is because it feels more spiritual that way.  Like if I can’t quite understand it, it must be super deep.  I want to be one of the cool kids who likes stuff that’s weird and ethereal and really damn impractical.

In my actual life experience, God doesn’t usually use those weird fortune cookie phrases.  That might  be because I’m a very pragmatic person, and hearing weird metaphysical metaphors frustrates the hell out of me.  I love artwork that has nuance and room for interpretation, but if we’re talking and I just asked you a question, I want a response.  Preferably one that I can take action on.  God knows this about me.  The times I feel certain that God has sent a message through my synapses are the times when I hear something practical, short, and unbelievably powerful.  When I end up saying, “Of course that’s what I should do.”

I once prayed to God to help me deal with my insane anxiety about my grades in college.  I got good grades, I worked hard, I did the reading, I went to classes, I did well on tests.  But if I got less than an A, I was consumed with utterly irrational fear and shame.  As soon as I saw that letter on a piece of paper with my name on it, I freaked out.  Lots of friends explained that my worth is not tied to my grades, that grades are an imperfect representation of my grasp of the material and have nothing to do with my intelligence.  I agreed with all of this, but I couldn’t get over it.

When I prayed to God for help, he said, “If grades upset you, don’t look at them.”

Duh.  Why hadn’t I thought of that?  The reaction I had was visceral.  Intellectual reasoning couldn’t change it.  I couldn’t have a visceral reaction to a letter I didn’t see, so I just didn’t look.  I proceeded to have one of the most peaceful semesters in my entire collegiate career.

God does this kind of thing in the Bible too.  When Isaiah runs for his life into the desert, curls up in the fetal position and prays to die, God doesn’t tell him, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”

Nope, God sends a messenger with a care package and says, “Why don’t you eat something and get some sleep?”  Anyone who has experienced any kind of depression can see the consummate wisdom in that.  You’re hungry, you’re tired, you’re alone.  So find a friend, eat some food, and get some sleep.  One hundred per cent guarantee that you will feel better.  It is crushing in its simplicity and power.

So that’s how I know that God suggested I watch a truly silly television show.  There was nothing to say at that moment that would make me feel better.  There was no way to reason out of having cancer, missing my daughter, or the stabbing pain in my eyes.  There was no spiritual insight that was going to make me smile at that moment, so God didn’t offer me a spiritual insight.  Instead, God inspired a team of people to make hilarious theater AND provided a way for that theater to come right into my sick room.

God talked to me like a good friend, a friend who’s been around long enough to say something real and concrete.  A friend who doesn’t just advise, but actually walks through the difficult moment with me.  Or in my case, a friend who comes over with a case of really silly dvd’s and a box of salt-free popcorn, plops down on the couch and says, “You’ve gotta see this.”

 

"Trust me - laughter is the best medicine. Well, that and radiation therapy, in your case. Whatever, just hit 'Play'."

“Trust me – laughter is the best medicine. Well, that and radiation therapy, in your case. Whatever, just hit ‘Play’.”