Am I a bad person?  A confused American Christian??  Or LOST???

I’m trying to figure this out.  And one of the places I am drawn to, where God seems to be doing business with me, is found in John 3, right after that most famous memory verse where it says, “…the light came into the world, yet people loved the darkness instead of the light because their deeds are wicked.  In fact, wicked people hate the light and does not come to the light because it exposes their wicked ways.” (John 3:19 & 20).

This is some of John’s rather poetic, somewhat ceremonial, talk.  It’s not that hard to grasp, at least in the broad strokes, but I don’t run around talking like this in symbolic, figurative language about light and dark.  My friends don’t.  And this passage is powerfully overshadowed by 3:16 where my interest really lies for other reasons.  And so, for a host of back-handed excuses, I have allowed this passage to be just a bit obscure and fuzzy, never really applying to me in any meaningful and direct way.

Loving darkness and hating light?

Hmmm…  What is that really about?

So, when I was in about the 8th or 9th grade, I became an Iron Maiden fan, and I bought the new album Piece of Mind, the poster for the old album, Number of the Beast, and the tee shirt picturing Eddie holding a hatchet with blood running off the blade above trembling, pleading hands of a victim clutching Eddie’s shirt from below.  When I got home with this stuff I bought at the mall, I went into my room, closed the door, hung the poster, and put on the album with my headphones.

And I thought I might be “loving the darkness” and “hating the light.”

And when the song with the backward recording of speech, which sounded like words being sucked back into the speaker’s throat (beginning with a belch) came on, it scared me.  I was literally frightened I had summoned up a darkness I could not conceive.  My imagination ran wild.  Just for a moment.

It was a rush.

A very private, personal experience which I purchased for about $20 or $25 earlier that day.

Think of it!  Twenty-five dollars’ worth of hell.  That’s a bargain!

Am I right?

Why didn’t I remain scared of it?

Well, for one thing, I didn’t quite think about John 3.  I was too busy thinking about devils, hellfire, and pitchforks.  For another, no important person in my life suggested it.  If they had, I would have been mortified, I am sure.  But ultimately, or anyway it seemed ultimately, Iron Maiden were not truly satanic.  The song about the Number of the Beast, which lifted biblical imagery completely out of context and put it in something altogether different, managed to shun satanic worship.  The song tells a story, sort of, about a man who encounters a group of Satan worshipers and calls the cops on them!  So, there’s that.

But the songs I was listening to, not all of them of course, told other stories too – other kinds of stories.  One of them even opened with a traditional church hymn!  But as an adolescent, songs about battles, especially historic battles like in WWI and WWII, were of great interest to me.  This band increased the likelihood I would pay attention in history class!  Imagine that!!!

And anyway, I wasn’t sitting there fuming with hate; I was a curious kid!  At some level, I recognized as much.  I certainly did not hate Jesus or hate light.  I just wanted to know things… things my parents weren’t apt to teach.  I wanted to be cool.  I wanted to be a part of something that was MINE.  I was a KID, and such as this was natural – or so it seemed.

I was American.  This was not a patriotic thing in which I engaged, but it was about freedom, and I was certainly exploring that.  I took it into my room and closed the door so as not to bother others with it, but I recall how shortly after that, my dad and I found ourselves sitting in the local cafe/diner sharing a meal and he queried me about the band and the music.  He told me what an iron maiden was, something which to that point I had not known.

Hmmm… more history lessons.

But here’s the real reason I tell all of that: it was a smoke screen.

I don’t mean to claim that the experience was all innocent, that the band, their music, and all that is simply innocent good times of my youth.  Not at all.  In fact, there is plenty there to consider on the contrary, but that is not where the real devil got me.  It’s certainly not the devil that still gets me.

I was a little American kid with my own room, with headphones, with a lock on the door.  The devil was in those details and far deeper rooted in them than the record I bought.  The record was barely the symptom; the private room supplied by my parents, by my church, and by cultural expectations of society was far more sinister than the music.  I thought all of that was wholesome good stuff, but really, it was darkness I love to this day.

And I do LOVE this darkness!  I fear the light which will expose my wicked works!  I want my privacy, my personal privacy!  It’s MINE, damn you!  I’m American, and I want my personal privacy.  I shudder to think of you finding out some of the things I think, feel, and DO!

I don’t want you knowing the things I search on the web, the people I talk to, the things we share.  I don’t want you knowing the movies I watch, the little indulgences of darkness I savor.  Speaking of savor!  I don’t even want you to see me eat a donut!!!  The calories don’t count if you don’t see!!!

My God!  The whole reason I have a job and pay my rent and cable bill is so I can have my privacy.  I have private accounts, private practice, private searches, private conversations, private property, and private medical records all of which require you to get a warrant if you want to see in them.  Keep the light out of my life!  I love the darkness!

And it started when I got my own room.

John writes at a time and place where people had no privacy.  Almost none at all.  Going to the bathroom to eliminate waste or wash up was barely private if that.  Probably the best you would hope for is that if you were a girl, you shared the space at a time when only girls were allowed around, and likewise for boys.  If you wanted any more privacy than that, you had to be very wealthy and powerful, a king or a noble in the court.

Think of it.  Quite literally everything you do, talk about, and think, is known to others around you in that world.  When you have personal privacy, you punch out a bubble within God’s good creation for yourself where you selfishly order (almost create) a world to suit yourself.  And of course, you hide your wicked ways there!

Peasants live in single room huts that function as gathering places for eating and sleeping.  If you got a bath, you likely share it (taking turns) with all your brothers and sisters.  Your sex life, with the possible exception of your honeymoon, would be the soft grunting noises under a blanket with your spouse in the same room with your sleeping family where you eat the next day.  (Just imagine how tame the average sex life is naturally in that world!)  Imagine how tame your sexual imagination is in that world with no TV or internet or magazine racks in checkout stands!

Imagine how important the things other people think about you, especially your parents and siblings, are in that world of light as opposed to this world of darkness!  Imagine practically never THINKING FOR YOURSELF, certainly not before thinking of others.  You don’t run around being YOURSELF or finding yourself.

Imagine LOVE in that world.  Imagine pretty much everyone in the house, the village, and maybe even the region, having your back in case of some accusation simply because they KNOW you or your family or the townsfolk from which you come.  Imagine your own interests being communal as well as being your own.

How would you manage personal privacy in that world?

With trust.

Do you think you might want to love the light?

You can certainly see how, in that world, if you want to have your little squeeze on the side (say a favorite sodomite down at the local pagan temple), you would be giving yourself over to the darkness.  You would have to work hard at protecting your darkness to keep your wicked deeds hidden.

Well, when you shed light on LIGHT, you kinda begin to see where all the fuss about privacy rights is really coming from, and it ain’t trust.

I look around America today, and I don’t see much love or trust.  And the “Christian nationalists” are definitely not helping.  In fact, my church for the last five generations (at least) has colluded quite openly with the problem of loving darkness and hating light.

I had help getting lost in the darkness.  I had help learning to love darkness and hating light.  I still do.  I need help learning to love the light, and I hope my church will learn to love the light and share it with the world.


You want a Proph-O-Drama?

Go to the voting booth nearest you, as your turn comes up, approach the booth, drop to your knees, pray asking God into your heart ahem country, then get up and walk out without voting in the booth.

Give this country back to God.  Give him the tiny part of it over which you have influence (your vote, and the person in line behind you).  He doesn’t need your ballot, but you need him in your heart.  So does creation.

Think about it.


“I didn’t do it!”

“It wasn’t me!”

Got kids?

Do you speak DENIAL?

Yeah. I teach them to say “Pops” or “Papa” and yet somehow they learn to avoid responsibility way too naturally.

“So, if you didn’t do it, who pooped your pants?” I ask.

I talk like a crazy man now. I’m learning new language too.

I’ll be in the nursing home soon. I’ll ask the young nurse, “Who pooped my pants?”


Sometimes I really wonder where Pastorbates was, because he surely shows little sign he was there, awake, listening and taking notes.

How else do you explain the incredible betrayal of Jesus and everything God ever said at such systemic proportions and on nearly every level of the church today?

They really do TEACH Bible to students in the academy.  It’s an amazing experience to learn of all the mysteries of the kingdom of God.  Prayer, sacraments, faith, hope, love, suffering, joy, peace the world does not understand, creation and resurrection.  All that is amazing stuff, and there’s more!

But even in school, they sell this information to you at prices requiring loans with compound interest, and they train ministers to go out a make a buck as professionals serving the bottom line as chaplains of empire in order to pay it back.

You will sooner find yourself attending fine banquets in great halls of learning or resort hotels, rubbing elbows with politicians and professionals, occasionally giving lip service to miracles, but always building financially for more glorious retirement and tenure.

They will teach you about Jubilee and debt forgiveness, but they will not forgive you the debt you incur to learn about it.  They will teach you to build a financial empire, but you will never be challenged to confront powers and principalities that might land you in jail.  And though the Bible is full of prophets and preachers in jail and prison FOR SERVING GOD, you can’t hardly find one today in there (except in the rare cases their attorney could not keep them out after molesting the children).


Aren’t you glad we aren’t Methodists?*






*(Disclaimer: I love Methodists!  I pull the name of this denomination out of a hat.  Plug in whatever name you love or hate.  Makes no difference to me.  The point is not to harangue Methodists, per se, but all of the splintered church that finds whatever reason to be in love with someone less that the God who unites.)


You know that Bible verse that says, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and make him go away” (2nd Opinions 11)?

Well, first off, it’s not in the Bible, secondly, it’s not biblical.  But it sure is a popular bit of worldly wisdom in Christian ministry, outreach circles these days.

Well, if you adopt a bunch of foster kids in diapers, there eventually comes a day when you take them fishing.  Here at the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners, today is that day!  Today our six and four-year-olds are invited to a party at the lake where fishing is the theme.

I don’t yet know if we will hook any fish, but it’s clear already that the fish have hooked a couple of kids!  

We are making some of those foundational family memories today that a little kid can take with them for life.  I am praying we have a good time, maybe catch a few fish, and bond in this family fun activity.  I’m hoping the experience won’t make my kids independent of me (though learning self-reliant skills they can pass on would be good), but rather, I hope they learn what love is, how to receive it and give it, and pass it on to others over the course of their lives as they celebrate life with us.


It’s not in the Bible, but of course it should have been.  It’s not what the Good Lord said, but it’s what he meant.  Anyone who really knows God knows this.

Am I right?

Or am I right???


So, I propose a new kind of care package for the homeless.  Go to the Dollar Store get Ziploc sandwich bags (pint size), put in a pair of sox, a toothbrush, and a Sharpie marker with a small bit of cardboard.  This way your beggar is EMPOWERED to beg more effectively from a street corner rather than ever having to bother you again.

(Oh… and skip the toothbrush part.)


Just imagine how many people you can empower with a fifty-dollar investment.  A whole army of beggars empowered like this could feed themselves practically forever.*  (Who needs to teach a man to fish?  Setting bums up with tackle boxes would run you into the hundreds of dollars.  That’s not a godly ROI.  And even then, what if the fish aren’t biting?)

We’re talking about EMPOWERMENT rather than “enabling.”  With dry feet and a Sharpie, this beggar is now empowered to rake in almost $400 a day – TAX FREE!!!!

You go, Man!  Run… like a young boy in a field!!!  As a Republican, I am jealous!

That’s how God helps those who help themselves.

*Do the math: If you empowered 20 beggars with your $50 investment to rake in (on the outside) $400/day, that’s like an $8000 ROI EVERY DAY!

(Move over Wall Street!  Shut your mouth, Dave Ramsey!!  When Helping Helps, Corbett and Fikkert!!!  Might outa quit your job and go into begging!  There’s some real action is.)


One of the ways Christians frequently absorb and meditate on Scripture is to place ourselves in the shoes (sandals) of various characters in various Bible stories.  With just the force of empathy, you can find the world God created, loves, and redeems illuminated in fresh light by this simple exercise.  It’s not the end-all/be-all of study methods, but a useful one which anyone can use.

I’m amazed at the lack of imagination I (and I expect other Christians too) suffer when approaching Script’s this way.  You really could step into the role of Jesus as “the least of these brothers” quite easily.  If you do that, though, you suddenly sense Jesus as dependent upon the kindness of strangers, and that simple notion runs the risk of violating other hard commitments we might not want to face.  If Jesus is dependent on anyone for anything, then he might be vulnerable, which doesn’t fit the preconceived idea that as part of the trinitarian God, he is all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful – thus invulnerable.

If your God is vulnerable, what does that say about you?


Thus, the limitations on our imagination (at least sometimes).

On the other hand, God is too powerful, too pure, and too wise to relate with as well.  So, stepping into the role of the Running Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son has severe limitations in my psyche and willingness to endure much meditation of the sort.  This Father’s tenderness of heart toward his son, wayward though he is, turns out to be a relatable point, but his long-suffering and willingness to give to the son his deadly request looks foolish.


I can’t cope with God being “foolish” or even appearing foolish.  Better not to so much as contemplate such things.  Even if I know St. Paul’s remarks in I Corinthians 1:25, just considering this possibility is a slippery slope I don’t want to trek.  Especially if I already know from experience, from studies in addiction recovery and psychology, and from sound business principles and conservative politics that GIVING money to the poor (unwise or young), forgiving debt (another version of practically the same thing), or sharing my wealth is tantamount to communism, socialist stupidity and “enabling” of poor choices, I am reluctant to imagine God indulging it.  I’m all the more unlikely to empathize with this character in such ways.

Feel me yet?

Of course, the bright side is that the Father is good, and so my empathy with him puts me in good company.  He might make choices I would question or oppose on other grounds, but he represents God, and as I empathize with him, I get to take the role of an innocent player in the drama.  An innocent player wronged by others.  (That fits my political posture!)


White males and father figures have come under a new cultural scrutiny over the course of my life.  I was born into “a man’s world” which was already beginning to implode when I arrived.  But I was born into that world in which the privilege has eroded a little more every decade over the course of my life.  If I was supposed to carry a certain kind of spiritual/cultural baton, my generation seems to have dropped it.  John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and the Marlboro Man are replaced now by women, gays, bi and metrosexuals (whatever that is) and transgenders and “nonbinary” humans.  I have no idea where this is going now, but I am sure my kids will have no sense of the masculinity which was bequeathed to my generation.

Gender and sex are not the only generational differences, but of course they strike at the core – certainly for people like me from my generation.  We are baton droppers on the one hand, allowing chaos to reign, or on the other, we are avant-garde, the new cool!  Either way, the junior high kids aren’t the only ones confused these days.

I have watched my own father deal with an estranged child (my sibling) who never really related closely with him even from birth.  However, the teen years proved to be hostile and adulthood caustic.  When Luke’s Jesus says that the “father saw him while yet a long way off,” I have seen what that looks like firsthand.  I was not estranged from our father, in fact, I am the older brother!  I believe our father has been unfairly wronged, and I have watched on numerous occasions when our father “scanned the horizon.”

It’s been years.  Decades.  I’ve had a front row seat for the long-suffering of this broken relationship.  I won’t divulge that story on the blog, but the similarities between Luke 15 and my family are remarkable and instructive.  My dad has long appealed to this passage for guidance in this broken relationship and in prayer.  There is much pain there, and as the older brother, my sympathy is tested too!  I get it!

But I am stepping into the role of FATHER in other dramas, in other lives, now too.  I have these step kids and foster kids and adopted kids.  I have history with them now, and I see the long view (as far as anyone can see into the future) which is full of risk.  There is brokenness in some of my fatherly relationships with the younger ones, and I find myself drawn to this role now seeking the discipline of scanning the horizon.

This is all the more complicated by the fact that unlike God, I am not without fault!  But I am certain I was not unfair either.  I am certain that I was holding an olive branch when I was rejected.  So, I can still step into this role even if accommodating mitigations.

The temptations of the older brother come knocking on the FATHER’s door too.  God cannot be tempted, but if he could, he would know the same temptation.  There is something in the grace of God to find in this story if you want to be a FATHER.  It’s not found in making the kids behave well either.  It’s found in scanning horizons while waiting.  Waiting… and … waiting.

A lot of waiting.

And then…

….more waiting.

Life slips away with too much waiting, but there will be waiting…

But instead of stewing on resentment, there is scanning the horizon to do.

Instead of chasing and manipulating, there is waiting to do.

Instead of fixing, repairing, or meddling, there is waiting and watching to do.

Internally, there is something else going on.  It surely does not deny grief, but likely amplifies it.  There is some sort of stoking a smoldering fire, but it’s not wrath being stoked.  It’s love.  A long-suffering love.  And the sight of the child returning, even from a long distance yet, like a gust of wind on a smoldering flame, whips up the fire of love to throw dignity aside and run… run to embrace, to kiss, to prepare for a festive party!  We need to CELEBRATE!!!

The celebration of this FATHER’s heart doesn’t pause to listen to the child explain how he is willing to humble himself and be a slave either; it’s too loud for that.  It’s a party filled with food, music, and dancing creating such a cacophony in the Father’s house that even other sons working in the field hear it and come to investigate.

I have been the prodigal myself.  I was estranged (for a few years) from my mother.

How’s that?

A confession.


I was young.  I couldn’t cope with her.  I needed some space.

As I recall, I never hated my mother.  I felt smothered and wanted to get free of her somehow.  I couldn’t put my finger on it when I was young.  I could not articulate what I thought I needed, and so I had to extricate myself from her.

In my youth, I had no idea the level of pain that caused her.  Well, some idea, but a very vague idea that I was less interested in exploring than in getting free.  Perhaps there was a generation gap issue at stake, and no doubt that played a part.  Modern anonymity and isolation and youth culture played a part.  Personal and interpersonal pathologies surely did too.  But mostly, for a few years there, I just didn’t know how to relate with her, and so I ran off.

I am in the older generation now and the world has changed since then.  There are mysteries I cannot understand now too, but with empathy, I can imagine the youngsters in my life have taken their marbles and hold up in their hideouts not knowing how to relate with me.  I can, and should, cut them the slack I demanded when I was young.  It’s only fair.

Of course, to anyone with ears to hear, I will say, be careful what you demand.  Fairness might mean you get to wear the other shoe on the other foot one day, and so, there is a grace in issuing that warning too.

But horizon-scanning FATHERLINESS is a fact of life that’s been with humanity at least since the day St. Luke wrote chapter 15 in his gospel, and that’s a long old time!  My guess is this is a pain that’s with us to stay.  And as a Christian father, I am meditating on life through a Luke-15 lens and stepping into the meditative role of the Running Father in hopes God will work on my heart and my relationships while I watch and wait.


The Prodigal Son Revisited

A man had two sons.  The younger asked his Father for his inheritance even before his Father was gone so he could spend it wildly on his youth before he got old.  His Father, despite representing God, the heavenly Father of Israel in this parable, gave the younger son his request just as he asked.

Imagine that!  The Father representing the all-knowing, all-wise, God of the universe gave this boy his request!

So, the kid takes the $5 from his daddy’s car window on a street corner, shoves it in his pocket, and the next chance he gets, he runs to the liquor store and gets a bottle of booze, totally wasting the money on loose living.

Later that night, the bum gets shivering cold and wet out there on Ave Q and thinks to himself, “Wow!  I really messed up.  If I was home right now, even now, I could cut my dad’s grass for $5 and get something to eat, maybe sleep in a shed on the back forty.  I wouldn’t take up much space or impose on his kindness, but I bet he would let me have a spot out in the barn, and it would be better than this.

Meanwhile, the Father sat watching by the candle in his window day and night searching for any sign of the boy just in case he might possibly come home.  Then sure enough, the boy was spotted still a long way off coming toward home, and the Father jumps up and runs to meet him and welcome him home throwing his arms around the boy in a warm embrace.  He put on a big party and invited all the neighbors to celebrate the return of his lost son.

The older boy, meanwhile, having read Toxic Charity and When Helping Hurts, saw what was happening and felt a little scorned.  He went to work every day like a good son, made his money the old-fashioned way like they do at Solomon/Smith/Barney – he EARNED it!  He knew the value of a dollar and knew immediately that celebrating the younger son like this would make his Father feel better at the moment, but soon enough, this younger brother will squander such kindness again.

He went to his Father and outlined to him how harmful it is to celebrate the boy like this.  He lectured the Father who represents God in the parable about what a mistake he was making.  He then educated the Father on microfinance loans and set the Father straight.

Therefore, the Father learned from the older boy what practitioners in the field have long known, told the younger son to grab a shovel and start at the bottom of the corporate ladder and earn his salvation.  The older brother felt good now that the money wouldn’t be wasted, and they all lived happily ever after.

The Rich Man and Lazarus Revisited

Once there was a well-dressed rich man who ate fine meals at his fancy dining table while outside across from his gated community there was a beggar named Lazarus in rags, crippled and sick, hungry and wishing for the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.

That night, they both died, and suddenly the rich man found their roles somewhat reversed.  Now he was in a hellish pit with sores and no Sharpie marker to make a “Homeless/Hungry” sign to fly at the corner.  Meanwhile, Lazarus was floating on a heavenly cloud above squandering heaven’s wealth on the poor (himself) even though he didn’t earn a dog-gone dime of it.

So, the rich man cried out to God begging that he put Lazarus down in the pit and let him put his expertise at money management to work in Heaven.  (Guess you CAN take it with you after all.)  God immediately saw his mistake.  (He was always making mistakes like that in THIS gospel account).  So, he restored the rich man to the cloud and put Lazarus in the pit not allowing him to take a Sharpie with him lest that just “enable” poor choices.

The Unforgiving Servant Revisited

The kingdom of heaven is like a king who represents God, the Almighty, in this story and wanted to settle accounts with his subjects and called in a rich guy who owed him a cool mil.  He told the rich guy, “Hey.  You know that cool mil you owe me?  Well, let’s just cancel that debt, okay?  Don’t bother paying that back to me.  I am setting you free of your obligation – your promise to repay me.”

The rich guy was stunned!  This was way better than he ever dared imagine.  With his red column cleared out, he could really rake in the money now!  Fully ENABLED to make serious green now, he ran down to his investment broker and put the squeeze on his investment accounts!  “Pay up or I will throw you in jail!” he said.  (He had money for lawyer muscle now!)

When he left the investment office, the rich guy walked out on the street and saw some vagrants who had been evicted from their homes because they could not pay their bills when the housing bubble burst.  Not wanting to “enable” the bums, when hit up for a spare dime, he gave them a business card with a phone number for a good soup kitchen and homeless shelter and some free advice, “Get a job, hippie.”

When some of the king’s courtiers heard what the rich guy had done since having his debt forgiven, they told the king.  The king grew terribly angry and began smashing things, stomping around, and screaming, “Why didn’t I think of that?  I could have used that same business model for my wealth if I had only thought of it before I started forgiving debts!  And so, he had some scribes write down how NOT to forgive debts (lest you ENABLE poor choices) but to charge interest on loans even to widows, orphans, and beggars, and take them to court if they fail to pay!

It became a new best-selling book in the New Testament called Second Opinions, chapter 11!