Several months ago I moved from San Diego to Portland and I thought I would be living there for two years. I guess I was wrong.
Many of you know some of this already, but I want to lay out the big picture for anyone who is interested and explain the trajectory along which my life is now heading. Come along for the ride!
San Diego to Portland (August 2012)
I left home this past summer to study at a school called Portland Bible College. While there I made some amazing friends and amazing memories while living in a great city. I also realized that studying the Bible academically is not what I want to do with my life. I’m fascinated by different schools of theological thought and I enjoy learning about and wrestling with the mysteries of spirituality, but I had to spend time doing this in a formalized, academic setting to realize that this is not the career I want.
So What Do I Want To Do?
Two things: I want to write and I want to serve “the least of these.”
Portland to Eureka (January 2013)
One of my favorite people in the world, my aunt, Jenny Harris, has graciously opened her home to me this spring as a place to live, create, and learn. I’ll be living in Eureka, a quiet coastal town in Northern California until late April. I will have plenty of time to:
Write my next book. Read things I’ve wanted to but have been too busy for. Develop skills that will help me be even more useful in future volunteer opportunities. Consider future plans. Correspond with and build relationships with all of my friends around the world. Actually exercise.
Eureka to Seattle (May 2013)
I can’t shake this feeling that Seattle is the place for me to get to right now. I don’t know how long I’ll live there, but in May I will be moving in with my good buddy Tanner. He’s a photographer doing some really cool stuff to raise awareness for A21, a human-trafficking organization. I’ll most likely start taking some writing/English classes in the Fall at a community college. I’ll probably write another book while I’m there.
I have no clue what’s next after that. Being a full-time author sounds really lovely. I daydream of learning to market my books well enough to make a living off of them. But of course there is no denying that there’s some kind of fire under me, and all I really want to do is go go go to new places, meet new people and try new things. I would love to teach English in Japan. I would love to work with a volunteer peacemaking team in Palestine. I would love to help street kids in India or trafficking victims in Bulgaria.
You get the idea.
Whatever is next, I’m incredibly grateful that I get to do it with the support of my amazing family and that I get to do it alongside some truly world-class friends. (That’s you folks!)
Remember those old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books? Well I’ve been playing around with a program called Twine that makes it incredibly easy to write my own stories like that and then upload them for anyone to read/play.
I love it because it is a merger of two of my favorite things: the immersion and intrigue of a good story, and the interactivity of videogames.
It is the tale of “You” as an audience member, watching a magician perform. He asks for volunteers, and things get… interesting. It only takes a couple minutes to go through what I have so far. (Think of it as a trailer.) If y’all like what I have so far I might keep working on this. I have some really great ideas about where this story might go
I saw Cloud Atlas last night, and if you’ve not seen it yet, I believe you should. My Dad, on learning that I watched it, had some on honest questions about whether or not it was worth my time and money based on some warnings he’d heard from Christian morality-review website PluggedIn. The quote which he forwarded me, from PluggedIn’s Adam R. Holtz is as follows:
Thematically, Cloud Atlas reflects on the importance of freedom and cost of securing it. It sends inspirational messages when it insists that every individual’s choices can have an eternal impact and every person has intrinsic worth. But it ultimately knows nothing of the God of all inspiration, and offers no judgment for evil choices made in a man’s lifetime. There’s no salvation here. No Christ. No Savior. Just another chance to, perhaps, get it right in another life
It is certainly one perspective, and while Holz tepid reaction couldn’t have been further from the joy I felt as the credits rolled, it is always worth considering other perspectives. (Especially in light of the film itself, which insists that “We can only truly know ourselves through the eyes of the other.”)
My Dad asked me what “redeeming qualities” I saw in the movie, and I quickly shot back a text, my initial impressions.
“I found it to be a triumphant picture of the interconnectedness of individuals’ lives, the reality of the pain that separates us from each other & the systems that enforce separation, the cause of these systems which is individual greed and apathy, and the ability to tear down these systems through the choices we make. There is no savior, only promise of a resurrection; it’s a Holy Saturday movie.”
The idea of Holy Saturday as being descriptive of the current state of mankind has received quite a bit of attention in recent years. While the historical gospel tells us that we are on the happy side of resurrection Sunday, this is often a position that must be taken in faith, as our experience often leads us instead to a place where we notice God’s absences far more than his presence.
A thought came to me, several weeks ago, inspired by something I heard in a sermon by AJ Swoboda (though for the life of me, I can’t now remember what he said.) I’ve been meaning to write it down into a blog post since that time, but today, inspired by my father’s prompting questions, I finally am.
Most people, in the course of their lives, become very good at memorizing. They memorize speech patterns as infants, colors and shapes as toddlers, accepted cultural behaviors as children, ways of fitting in to society as adolescents, ways of suppressing anxiety as adults, etc.
Far fewer people ever learn how to think for themselves, and there are a number of reasons for this. Thinking for oneself is uncertain, requiring a certain risk. Thinking for oneself is ostracizing, especially in our homogeneous society, where sameness is valued at the expense of uniqueness. Thinking for oneself is also dangerous for those who have to hold power by being gatekeepers of truth and are threatened by individuals who are unable to conform to their prescribed patterns of thinking.
For those who do think for themselves, it is the most natural thing in the world to begin to no longer take certain things for granted. A search for truer truth will always lead to a questioning of the status quo. In particular, for those raised with a certain religion, thinking for oneself naturally leads into questioning the foundations of the religion they’ve been taught.
In Christianity, which has largely morphed into an institution that believes itself to have firmly delineated the secrets of the universe via forms of systematic theology, this thinking for oneself leads to a place where there are more questions left than quantifiable answers. (This is an ostracizing place- people who have accepted the acceptable answers see lack of ability to do so in others as a moral weakness.)
This thinking for oneself leads back to a place where we feel as though God certainly was, and yet is not any longer. It leads us to Holy Saturday. The one we believed to be Christ is in the tomb, and a resurrection is promised, one day, but there is no evidence to convince us that the day is tomorrow.
In other words, the faith, which we once defined as a certainty is gone. Faith is lost, and if we wish to recover it, we must go on a journey to rediscover what faith really means.
The Apostle Paul once described the greatest thing in the entire universe, Love. His chapter on the subject is perhaps one of the most well-known passages of scripture. The stuff is tattoo fodder.
At the end of his discourse, he makes a statement that I am going to take completely out of context and deconstruct, because, intentional or not, within his order of words, I see a true truth that has impacted me greatly.
“These three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is Love.”
Love is the greatest. Love is the deepest. Love is the most significant. Not hope. Not even faith.
I’m now going to explain why I see a significant pattern in this order.
Love is the greatest, and I believe, the root.
Love creates hope. You see, hope is not a vague thing, it is not a feeling. It is an anchor that keeps us steadfast even when strong winds are blowing. It is a desire that because we have experienced Love in our past, even if we are at a place in the present where it seems distant, we can desire and hope that we will encounter it again.
Hope creates Faith. Faith is not full comprehension. It is not the solving of all mysteries. It is actually the embrace of the unknown. If there was no uncertainty, faith would be useless. We need faith because we do not know, yet in this unknowing, there is one thing we recall, that we have felt love in the past, we hope to know it again in the future, and so we will live our lives in that direction. Perhaps by our confidence that Love will come again, we actually position ourselves for and thereby help to create that future.
If all else can fail, and yet these three can remain, does it not also follow from Paul’s distinction of the greatness of Love, not to mention our own experiences, that any one of these three things can fail? Indeed, does it not usually happen in this order? First we lose our faith in a future good. Then we go a step further and stop daring to even hope that future good is possible. Then we begin to deny that there was ever any good. There was never such a thing as love.
So you’ve lost faith. And you think something is wrong with you because all your old friends treat you differently. Obviously, they are the naive ones, but you envy their naivete.
I’m writing this not just because I have been there, but because I believe that there is a way to have faith again without letting go of the questions that seemed to drive it away in the first place.
It does not start with a decision to have the same faith as before. Your new faith will be different than the old one. It will be refined, by fire, as it were.
It starts by going back to the root, Love.
It starts with remembering the times when you were happy because you knew you were loved. It’s been said that life is hard and then you die, but in the midst of this brief life, true and sacrificial love has a way of interrupting, if only for the briefest of moments. This recollection may be difficult, for as skilled as we are at memorizing the surface-level details, we quickly forget the things that actually matter, yet it can be done.
Let the memory of love slowly drive you back to hope. That as impossible as it seems, it happened once and it may happen again.
Take hold of hope and allow yourself finally to believe again, to take hold of faith again, that, despite the confusion of this Holy Saturday epoch, Love is real and it can come again.
This may all sound a bit ambiguous, but perhaps I’m not simply trying to give you another list to memorize. Maybe I’m trying to prompt you to begin to think for yourself.
Think for yourself, and choose for yourself; who will you serve? Faith in a set of wrought-iron beliefs that offer shallow comfort at the expense of mystery? Or Faith in a living Love.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” -James 1:17
Do you remember how this all started? It’s nearly been a year, after all.
Back then I was the earnest Bible College student; trying to codify and justify every aspect of my life, particularly, at the time, a desire to play videogames.
Back then I felt like the only one who had any interest in engaging the world of games from a Christian point of view.
I guess you could say some things have changed since then. Now I feel less like an outsider than I did before, which is interesting, because I probably consider myself less of a “”gamer” than when I started. Now I’ve met some others who have the same interest as I do, particularly Drew Dixon, Richard Clark, and the rest of the Gamechurch team.
I’ve learned a lot about videogames too. How they’re made and what the people who make them are like. I’ve learned about the great divide that seems to exist between the masses who play merely for their own amusement and the few contemplatively impassioned who see potential in games to do more than entertain. I’ve also begun learning what videogames mean to me, and that at different times they can be either merely amusing or intellectually stimulating, and maybe both are okay.
I’m still learning though. That’s why every Friday you’ll see a new column with my byline go up at Gamechurch containing a collection of links to videogame news, reviews, interviews, and op-eds. You are, as always, invited to keep on learning with me.
You may recall my bold assertion at the start of this year that I intended to write a book about my journey. I wanted to write to Christians and encourage them to engage this massively influential aspect of culture in thoughtful and creative ways. I wanted to help them see the potential of videogames as a medium capable of creating good and beauty in the world (and maybe sometimes helping us to see more clearly the darkness that is already here.)
In the meantime, I’ve written another sort of book and am working on ideas for several more. It turns out that writing is certainly one of the things I want to spend a good deal of my life learning how to do increasingly well.
To be honest, videogames has become less of a burning topic for me. Games are still fun, and there are still lots of them I want to play, but I now feel comfortable enough playing them that I have less of a need to vocally justify my doing so. That being said, I’m still going to write the book eventually, and here is why:
No one else has done it yet.
And I still think there might be a lot of young men and women who are just like I was, wanting to know how an hobby and an art form can be reconciled to their faith. Not to mention the parents and pastors who would benefit from having more insight into the hope and struggle of my generation in this particular arena.
So I’m going to write it, and maybe I’ll just give it away for free. I don’t know yet. I don’t even know when I’m going to get around to it.
A man once read a blog post that told him he needed to be strong for others, not just himself. He was encouraged and felt freed from the shackles of self-centered moralism. He resolved to be someone who would lend grace & strength to others, and not worry about personal rule-keeping or ethical score tallying.
Life was good until he fell upon difficult times. He began to feel tired and emotionally drained. He wanted to keep loving others, but this too had become little more than another ”to-do.” He felt burned out and no longer cared for any sort of selflessness. All he wanted was some me time. One dark morning he woke up and could not take it anymore. He embarked upon a series of poor choices and began to leave behind the people who were depending on him
How would you treat this man? He who should know better. He who is supposed to be less susceptible to such foolishness?
The moment we try to codify anything as “the right way to live,” it becomes just another sort of Torah. We can say that Christianity is not about religious duty, but is instead about loving people, yet the moment we set loving people as our agenda; the moment we set “being strong for others” as our agenda; even the moment we set “focusing on Jesus” as our agenda, it ultimately becomes a duty. This duty is easy to perform when we are feeling strong ourselves, but as soon as we become weak, it is begins to drain away our joy and liveliness.
So if any action (or the maintaining of any attitude, for that matter) is ultimately reduced to the same level, do we simply write off the choosing of any sort of action or attitude as better than another?
Yes, we must, for wisdom is still always proven by the fruit it produces, and not all actions produce the same fruit. Furthermore, inaction has it’s own consequences and so is ultimately just another sort of action.
Perhaps we can agree that the foundation stands, that loving people is still the ideal; for love received in a time of need can still mend broken hearts, inspire the faithless and encourage the faithful. Perhaps we can desire to live in love. But how do we maintain this? What sort of framework can we build around our lives to ensure that we do not drain ourselves in an attempt to care for others?
The answer is community.
It sounds simple, I know. Community has been a massive buzzword in the Christianity for quite some time. Still, it is often helpful to remind ourselves of what we’re talking about when we throw around certain phrases.
If we want to be strong for others, if we want to give grace to cover the weakness of our friends, we must recognize that eventually we will grow tired of even this, and in those moments, we need to be surrounded by people who will pick us up when we fall; people who will cover our own weakness with grace.
There’s an old Swedish proverb that puts this nicely. “Love me when I least deserve it, because that’s when I really need it.” Imagine the power of an entire group of friends who can all affirm this ideal.
Finally there is no clearer picture than in scripture.
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Some days I’ll be strong for you. Other days I need you to be strong for me.
There was once a man who vowed to be a strong, morally upright individual. He was a Christian and wanted to live a holy life. As he read his Bible he encountered all sorts of things which he believed were necessary to do in order to live the sort of life that God desired. There were some days when it was easier than others and he could go to bed satisfied with the choices he had made, knowing that his conduct had been full of faith and pleasing to God. There were other days when he made mistakes and went to bed full of shame, praying for the forgiveness of God, asking for strength to do better.
During this time, he had a friend who was a great strength to him. His friend was open and honest about his struggles, was kind and compassionate. Even more, he always seemed to be at peace, even in the very difficult seasons of life. The man wondered about his friend, what was his secret for tapping into such a divine peace? Did he spend extra time praying every morning? Did he meditate on certain verses?
Finally, as they sipped on black coffee, one crisp October day, he decided to ask his friend: “How do you do it? What is your secret of contentment? How do you muster such inner strength? You’re always helping me out- how can I be more like you?”
The friend had to think for a moment before carefully replying: “I suppose the secret is that I never think about how to be stronger in my own walk. I just want to be a good friend to you, and the rest comes naturally.”
In Christianity, despite our best efforts, we naturally begin to tend towards self-righteousness. If you think about it, this is actually because of our best efforts. Whenever our efforts become inward focused, our entire lives become self-centered. We end each day with either pride or shame.
The mistake is to think that if we improve ourselves, we will be better able to love others. The truth is that if we love others by relationally investing ourselves in their lives, we forget about our own striving, and in this emptying of self, the spirit of God is able to fill us.
In the story, the friend is not concerned about his own holiness, he has decided to invest himself into the well-being of his friend. From this investment, he can push through difficult seasons, knowing that it is not for himself that he does so, but for another.
This creates an important distinction for Christians; that we are not strong for ourselves, but we are strong for others. This strength does not take the form of moralism and personal areas of improvement, it takes the form of grace, compassion, acceptance, and encouragement.
Is this not what Paul refers to when he says “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” In the following verses, he will go on to say that each person also has their own load to carry, but it is clear that his train of thought demonstrates that our carrying of individual loads comes as a result of a willingness to carry others’ burdens.
In summary, holiness is not something that can exist in a vacuum, as the moment it becomes inward focused, it loses it’s tranformative power. Holiness relates to wholeness, and Christian wholeness is only accomplished in relationship.
The question we should ask ourselves is not “Am I Strong Enough?” rather, it is as simple as “How is my friend doing?”
There is a proverb that has been largely manhandled to refer to wealth, but the principle is far broader:
A generous person will prosper;
whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.
It is in strengthening others that we find our own strength.
Conference, conventions, large gatherings; these things are drugs.
Anytime you get a group of similarly-minded people together, and have them all listen to some passionate person with a singular vision, there is narrowing of focus. Diversity of thought falls by the wayside as one vision of the future is held up gloriously above all others. This is freeing, for it rids life of complexity. It is also intoxicating, lulling us all into a idealistic stupor.
I’ve had the most experience in this area with church conferences, but I know that the principles are true of anything. I’ve been to writers’ seminars, local government conventions and social justice fundraisers, and I know that in the wake of these things, there is a sort of hype that insists that nothing is as important as the thing which we’ve just been focusing on.
Recognizing that all of these causes claim to be important does not mean that their importance is negated. No, it means that there truly are many, many important things in life. Our job is to reflect on them and to decide which one we will invest ourselves into.
This week was a large church-y Conference here in Portland, Oregon. This particular one is a gathering of pastors with the purpose of fellowship and encouragement, and as a student of the Bible College at the host church, myself and my fellow students were all encouraged to attend.
I was intoxicated, and it’s interesting, because in a church setting, we refer to the hype as the work of the Holy Spirit, but I know a very similar feeling of excitement from any other sort of mass gathering. So I know that I cannot unquestioningly buy into the spirit of hype; I need to ask myself- particularly with a conference whose theme was “the unstoppable church”- is the hype worth buying into?
Much of the talk revolved around having “unstoppable” organized church bodies and being unstoppable Christians, and that is a part I have trouble with. This is not necessarily something I have trouble with because of years of experience or because I’ve amassed some great amount of wisdom. I know this is terrible, but it’s not even on purely “theological” grounds. This is something I have trouble with because I know that I am not unstoppable. Even in my greatest moments, I am weak, I am fallible, I say the wrong things, I misunderstand people’s intentions, I get tired, I take shortcuts, I don’t stop at stop signs, I’m late for class, I don’t always care for the poor, I think a lot about my self and my image, and on and on. I see great men who do incredible things, and I think maybe one day I could be like them, but I’m not yet. I’m still being saved.
What gives me hope, is that perhaps the unstoppable church is less about unstoppable people and more about an unstoppable message, and maybe even an unstoppable God. (And this point was touched on by one Judah Smith) The message being this: that it is okay to be merely stoppable.
There is a really brilliant article that was written for GQ Magazine about Creationfest, the Christian music festival. The writer, John Sullivan, traveled to it alone in a huge RV in an attempt to understand the heart of Christian music. As the days passed, he was forced to face the faith he once left behind. Though the experience did not result in his “rededication”, as some might hope, it did inspire him to pen these words about Jesus, which say it just as well as anything.
His breakthrough was the aestheticization of weakness. Not in what conquers, not in glory, but in what’s fragile and what suffers—there lies sanity. And salvation. “Let anyone who has power renounce it,” he said. “Your father is compassionate to all, as you should be.” That’s how He talked, to those who knew Him.
Sure, the argument can 100% be made that any sort of hype creates a false positive that will ultimately let us down, but if the thing being hyped is the truth that it’s okay to be let down and to sometime be a letdown, I find that easier to believe. This man Jesus and his message means hope for the hopeless and love for the unloved and when I consider the amount of seemingly hopeless and unloved people I keep running into, that’s a message that I can buy into.
Creation came out of silence. The earth was empty- a great question mark of possibility- and God spoke.
Once, Pilate stood, regarding the beat-up figure of a craftsman who’d been rumored to be Israel’s latest messiah. The absurdity of the situation sparked only one question in his mind: “What is truth.” The man before him answered with silence.
Sometimes silence is a question. Sometimes silence is an answer. I think, in every case, it is a reminder.
When I’m silent, I’m reminded of the potential of my choices. That words need not flow carelessly through me, instead they can be thoughtful and intentional.
When I’m silent I am reminded of truth. I can grasp truth more fully when I am listening and not just speaking.
When I’m intentionally silent, I am reminded of what a privilege it is to have a voice.
So, as I begin to blog more frequently, I am fully aware of the potential to turn this into a soapbox, where I get up to complain or to argue or to air my own arrogant opinions. (And those are many.) Yet, that is not my goal.
My goal is to respectfully explore the silence. I’m young and I know that the people I respect have likely forgotten more than I’ve yet learned. Still, I want to engage the difficult issues that naturally arise when one holds up the awareness of God as holy (and wholly other) alongside a really, truly, deeply, screwed up world. It would be so easy to rend the two and categorize them as completely unattached, except for this troublesome example of Jesus, who was apparently God, but who also displayed seemingly unlimited mercy towards even the most depraved of us sinners.
Before I begin to get into the realm of opinion on stated matters, I want to spend a few posts entering the idea of silence, and its companion, humility.
Perhaps, as you’ve read this, you might now spend a moment in silence. Close your eyes and think about your day. Ask for grace to live an examined life. Ask for grace to thoughtfully, humbly, engage the silence.
Hey everyone, I know, I know, it’s been simply ages since I’ve done anything on this website.
I’ve always heard it’s great practice for a writer to do a lot of writing in a place where he can get feedback on that writing, so I need to do more of that. I’m back for that purpose. I hope you like the new site.
I’m not going to be using this to track down interesting info about Jesus and videogames anymore, though I’m still sort of doing that at Gamechurch. Instead I’ll be musing, rambling, and raconteur-ing.
I might say some crazy things. Just be thankful that you can close the tab if you disagree. I have to put up with this madness 24/7.
I’m simultaneously looking forward to and dreading being brutally honest about my questions and journey and struggles. I might say some cringe-worthy things and some judgment deserving things, but my goal is to say some life-giving things and some love-inspiring things, even if we have to get to those by taking the long way around.
It’s a gloriously sunny 78° Fahrenheit in San Diego today. I don’t want to stay indoors all day typing, and I’m sure you don’t want to stay indoors all day reading, so I’ll make this quick!
I just returned from eight incredible days in eastern Nicaragua where I was travelling as part of my job with Herald of Faith. I spoke several times to a group of about 120 students, teaching them about the gospel and portraying the person of Jesus as gloriously as I could find the words to. One session we had a time of Q&A, and I was amazed at the depth and diversity of the questions that came pouring in. Those students were so hungry for truth. I had been to this same region once before, so it was such a blessing to be able to spend time developing friendships down there, and not just meeting new people the whole time. It was tough for me to leave, because there’s so much to be done in that region. I’ll definitely be back.
Now I’m looking ahead another month towards my next trip opportunity. I plan on spending the first two weeks of June in Uganda and then heading down to Zambia for another two weeks. I made a video yesterday about that:
Finally, in case you’re starting to wonder, like my friend Drew Dixon, whether or not I actually play videogames anymore, don’t worry I also plan on having a new “Engage” post up very soon. Furthermore, I just bought 2 indie titles that I’ve really been looking forward to, Botanicula, and Swords and Sorcery EP. I’ll definitely let y’all know what I think about them!
Alright that’s enough! Stop reading and go play some Frisbee outside! Oh and if you have a YouTube channel, subscribe to me and I will definitely get you back!