Tag Archives: jesus

On Tragedies

In Matthew 22:36-40, when Jesus reiterates that the greatest commandments are to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” and to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” I’m beginning to think his words are less of a lesson for the good way in which to live and more of a warning about how to protect ourselves from evil, present and future, and ultimately to prevent evil from metastasizing in man in the first place.

Let me explain.

On Sunday morning, when I woke up, I decided to take advantage of the “fall back” rollback of the clock and sleep in an extra few hours. I finally got up about 11:30, made breakfast, showered, and, seeing as how it was too late to go to church, watched half a video on YouTube, then played a computer game I bought years ago but only just now installed called Railroad Tycoon 2, and did so until about 3:30 when I realized my train stations were costing me more to operate than they were paying me, and my company was basically going bankrupt, and to continue the same game was ludicrous. Once I felt like I’d had a sufficient day of rest and turned off the game, I went into the living room, checked out what was on television, and then my heart sank.

Another mass shooting. This time in Texas. This time in a church. This time with a casualty and injury rate at near 100%.

I just stood there thinking, “I can’t take this anymore.”

Never mind that this tragedy hits close to home for many, many churchgoing people, including myself (when I go), or that once again we’re talking about a soft target, or a group of Christians, or what-have-you that’s cause for us to collectively shake our heads and cry. Sunday’s tragedy speaks to a scary reality we face today, in that nothing is sacred anymore.

My mom was telling me earlier that when she was a kid, my grandmother would go into the church and pray at any hour of the day or night because the church was always open because there was no reason to ever lock it, and if someone wanted to go in and pray in the middle of the night, they could. Now we have a lady in the Sutherland Springs, Texas area explaining that until Sunday morning, November 5, 2017, her community was just as safe, so much so that she could leave her keys in the car without worry of someone taking it, except now they’re dealing with the reality that evil can strike anywhere in any way, and that no one is truly safe anymore, and that keeping one’s keys in a car without worry doesn’t mean that he or she is exempt from the horrors that seem to bleed in through all cracks in our modern society, which include mass murder that can physically destroy 8% of a town’s population and emotionally destroy the rest of it.

As of this writing, I don’t know why the gunman did this sick thing, nor do I know just how far this story will go from here. We still have Las Vegas fresh in our minds, as well as the attack on pedestrians in New York (where the assailant rented a Home Depot truck and used it to run people over). My guess is that we’ll have Big Media and Congress running through their usual talking points about gun violence, gun laws, and all of those other dead end channels that seem to always saturate the discussion without coming up with a solution that would actually work, and that a week from now, no one who has a say in what comes next will do anything that will actually prevent this problematic weed from sprouting up elsewhere. That’s how it’s been since Columbine, and here we are, yet again: same talking points, same lack of stopping it from happening again, same collective breath held for a change, and the hope that this is the last one.

I’m sad, not just about the tragedy, but about the fact that no one seems to get it anymore that the problem isn’t guns, rented trucks, or even rhetoric. I’m not even sure if the problem is entirely based on mental illness or flawed ideology. I think much of the problem today is with evil itself, and evil exists where love is absent. Tell me I’m wrong.

Actually, I think there are two sources of evil—well, one source, but because we live in an “intellectual,” “civilized” or “free-thinking” society, I’ll refrain from pointing the blame squarely at the devil, even though that’s the only true source of evil, and the one that we’re foolish to ignore time and again, but there are two subsources we can actively combat, and by proxy combat the original source that most people today don’t want to acknowledge for whatever reason, even though that source is real and scheming against humankind—and they are selfishness and lies. Both fail to show love for other human beings, and both leave us wide open to carry out destructive tendencies when given permission to fester.

I don’t know the story yet about this new shooter, nor do I know the story about the shooter in Las Vegas. I don’t know what drove them to want to commit mass murder, but I’m willing to guess that they were either lied to by someone they trusted and they let that lie grow, or they lived a life without knowing real love, and filled that empty space with hate because if love is absent, then hate has more room to grow in its place.

When Jesus told us to love our neighbors as we do ourselves, I think He was warning us how to prevent violence from overtaking our world. Perhaps not ironically, it was hate and jealousy that put Him on the cross, so it’s not just a product of our time, but a product of our human nature to move to violence if we don’t have love in our hearts or understand the good things that we want to destroy.

Likewise, if we love our God with all of our hearts, and with all of our souls, and with all of our minds, then we’ll unlikely want to break His other laws, including the one that says, “Thou shall not commit murder.”

That’s my thought today. This should all sound obvious, but the fact that we’re still poisoning the world with hate and with actions taken in hate is proof that we still don’t get it, and we need to start figuring out how to better implement methods of exercising love for one another, even if we don’t always like one another. Is that easy? No. Is it necessary? Of course.

So, before we turn this conversation back to gun violence, can we at least address the problem of the absence of love for each other first? Not trying to be a hippie here. I just think among these other issues we’ve let our isolation from each other (thanks, cellphone!) bring out the worst in us far too often these days, and we need to address that.

I have more to say about this topic from the perspective of a writer, but I wanted to address the core issue first, which is that we, as a people, need God’s help again, not political intellect or talking points, and that we’d be foolish not to seek it.

Love your God. Love your neighbor. Love yourself. If we all do these three things, we’ll see a change in our world for the better. That’s what I often think about each time somebody does the opposite of these things, opposite like what one person did on Sunday morning in Sutherland Springs, Texas to more than 20 churchgoers, including babies.

Cover image by Pixabay


My Fading Silence

August 4, 2016

I don’t write poetry often, but I do appreciate what it accomplishes when done well. Every once in a while I get a little inspiration to poeticize, and last night was one of those moments. Here’s what I wrote. Enjoy.

My Fading Silence

I’m not sure where I am, or how I got here,

But that person whom everyone surrounds

Immediately takes notice of me,

And he calls me over, as if he knows me.

I know I should listen to him, listen intently,

For he commands authority—

I can tell by his voice.

I can tell by the way everyone stops to hear him speak.


He recognizes me, I know that for sure,

And perhaps I should be troubled,

Troubled that I’ve yet to recognize him.

But I don’t. I don’t feel any trouble here at all.

I sense that the man already knows this,

For he’s nodding at me, as if to say it’s okay,

That he’s not offended by my ignorance,

That in time my blankness will all make sense to me.


“Over here,” he says, as he points at a spot nearby.

“Come, let me offer you a word.”

I push through the crowds,

Still wondering how I even got here,

As I don’t remember where I came from,

Or what I was doing when I left wherever.

I just know that I’ve never been here before,

Yet, somehow I’m no stranger to this man.


I sit by his feet, and he instructs me to take higher ground,

Not quite level, but close enough to look him in the eye.

I feel a little small, if I’m honest,

Though, maybe I am a little small.

Many of the people here are larger than me,

Not all, but many,

And a part of me wants to feel intimidated by them.

I’ve already figured out that I’m not.


Anxiety does not describe my feeling,

Even though I wonder if maybe it should.

I know next to nothing but what I see.

The faces in the crowd are peaceful,

Convincing me that I’m right to relax,

But I can tell they’ve left behind some baggage—

It seems their peace has come at a price—

They hide it well, their smiles are bright, but I know I don’t identify.


The man does not hurry in his speech.

Whatever he has to tell me, it is no longer urgent.

But his soft smile convinces me that I still need to hear,

That a lack of urgency is not the same as a lack of importance.

I open my ears and wait for his word with anticipation,

As does every person still standing in the crowd,

Every person who leans forward in expectation,

Also without hurry in their faces or posture.


The man balls up his hand into a tight fist,

And he gently taps me in the shoulder with it.

He says, “Sorry you didn’t get your shot, my son.

Sorry they never gave you a chance.”

With a comforting look he says, “You could’ve been a contender.

A fighter like you, I know you would’ve changed their lives.

And you would’ve put a smile on their faces.

You had such potential, and you would’ve done much, I’m sure of it.”


Sitting up as straight as I can,

I look him back in the eyes,

Wondering what more of this I don’t know but should.

“My son?” I ask, flabbergasted at my memory lapse. “Am I your son?”

At least, that’s what I think I say—

It’s hard to tell if my mouth has a voice,

As I’ve never actually heard it before,

But it sounds like I might.


The man opens his palm—it looks different than mine—

And he pats me on my head.

For some reason, this makes me smile.

Again, I don’t know why.

“You are always my son,” he says,

“But I wasn’t always your only father.”

I hear the words washing over my ears,

But I don’t fully understand what they mean.


He acknowledges my silent question with an audible answer.

“Let me explain,” he says, but he doesn’t stop there.

Just as many of us here, who also rest in this unfamiliar place,

Do not have the wealth of memories that so many others do,

He recognizes mine as being equally dry,

And he begins to tell me how I got here and why.

None of it makes any sense to me.

He smiles and says it’s not really supposed to make any sense.


He tells me my story, and I don’t know how to respond,

For even though it’s true, it feels like it should be a lie.

Maybe I don’t understand the place I’ve come from,

But I find it hard to imagine it would treat me with such disregard.

When I look at the people around me,

Each with their own stories to share,

I silently beg them to help me understand,

Yet they only echo the story my father tells me.


They tell me what I don’t want to hear:

That even though they’ve all come here under differing circumstances,

My circumstance is among the most common—

Traveling from stage one to stage three,

Without the necessary transition through stage two,

An arrangement by way of ignorance, or stupidity,

Or by way of entitlement, they say.

The hand of a robber, of a soulless villain.


He assures me that I’m not alone here.

Sixty million others were once like me.

That’s a number I don’t fully comprehend,

But he tells me it’s enough to fill a civilized nation.

I continue to listen to what he says,

And he continues to explain things to me with an apology.

He keeps telling me that I’ve come here prematurely,

But now that I’m here, I can live again.


Perhaps I should be okay with this reality,

And maybe I can be fine with the reasons that drive it,

But I have to wonder now if I am, really.

I have to wonder if I’ve been cheated somehow.

I can’t say I feel any animosity toward those who put me here,

For this place doesn’t seem to generate negativity,

Whereas the place I came from was full of it, so I’ve heard,

But I know something about the way I’ve come here isn’t fair.


I don’t know how many years have passed since I’ve awoken here.

They say time has no meaning in this place.

But what I’ve learned from my father in this ubiquitous infinity

Is allegedly heartbreaking—it certainly is to him—

Though, I must confess that I don’t know what I’m missing,

Or what opportunities I’ve been denied,

Or what emotions have been stripped from my existence,

Or why such lack of emotion has sent me here in the first place.


All I know is that I had a different body once,

Not yet fully formed, but certainly formed enough.

I did not yet have a voice, but I could still scream.

And scream, I did plenty of in those moments before I came here,

When my body was ripped apart from suctioning,

And my head crushed between two steel clamps,

In the name of women’s right to choose, whatever that’s supposed to mean,

Though I’m sure the people killing me couldn’t quite hear my voice.


–Jeremy Bursey

Just a side note, I know I’m behind on Friday Updates. Haven’t had much news the last couple of weeks. Not sure if I’ll have one tomorrow, either. I’ve been spending a lot of time relearning editing techniques and things, and I want to eventually apply them to some of my existing works. I still have all of my future plans for this site in mind. Sometimes takes a while to get everything together.




Equal Opportunity Salvation

Equal Opportunity Salvation

March 27, 2016:

Today is Easter, and that means church services will be filled, dinners will be served, and millions upon millions won’t even get why any of that matters. It might even be safe to say that those who don’t get it won’t want to get it because anything “religious” just isn’t their cup of tea. Maybe you’re one of the millions. Maybe you’re perfectly happy with that. In our culture, happiness is what’s important, right?

Honestly, it makes sense. Religion has gotten a bad rep, regardless of the people who run it or the god(s) they serve. Some people just don’t want to get involved. Maybe they think it’s the same as eating kryptonite.

Why should they care about Easter?

I could tell you exactly what Easter is…so I will. It’s about Jesus rising from the dead after taking our sins on the cross and out of this life. Basically, it’s his victory over sin, which translates to our victory over sin. It’s about giving us a place in Heaven. It’s about paying a price we can’t pay ourselves. You know how Christmas is the prime gift-giving day of the season? Easter is about the greatest gift we’ll ever get. I still don’t know how bunnies got involved.

Maybe some of you haven’t heard about the importance of Easter. I acknowledge that there are still people in this world who haven’t heard the Gospel (otherwise we’d clearly be living in the times presented in Revelations, and though I think we’re certainly close to it, I don’t think we’re there just yet). But if you have heard it and you’re not already on board with this, there’s a strong chance that you don’t believe it or care about it or, for some reason, you’re resistant to it.

And again, I understand why you might fit into the latter category. Here are some possible scenarios that may apply:

  1. You think the Bible is fiction.
  2. You think Christians are bigots, and you want nothing to do with them.
  3. You think you can save yourself.
  4. You don’t want to give up the sinful life you’re living.
  5. You believe something else entirely and don’t want religious cross-pollination.
  6. You don’t think sin is real.
  7. You don’t think God is real.

And so on. You get the idea. You know where you fit into this story.

The thing about Christianity is that it’s full of people who have heard all of these excuses and more. In fact, it’s full of people who have made these same excuses at some point in their pre-Christian lives. Even those of us who learned about Jesus at a young age still had to experience the temptations that life brings, so we still get it. It’s the reason there are so many who have turned away as teenagers and young adults. They spent so much time learning the watered down, educational version of Christianity that they didn’t want it any more. They wanted to experience “life,” and their understanding of Christianity wasn’t about to give it to them. And, if you know the difference between “religious” Christianity and true Christianity, then you’ll understand why some Christians still turn away from it.

They knew Christianity as a religion, much like those who refuse Christianity think of it as a religion. And to be fair, many Christians treat it like a religion. These same Christians may be responsible in triggering one of the listed beliefs you have about Christianity above. But it’s not supposed to be that way.

First of all, and I’m going to speak from the heart here, not from some sense of all-knowing righteousness. This is just what I think:

Many non-Christians, and you may be one of them, choose to disregard the Bible as truth, calling it fiction. Some also think of it as a list of archaic laws that no longer apply. And most commonly misunderstood: many don’t believe it’s the inspired Word of God. They simply think that it’s a product of a group of misogynist men getting together and making up some rules that are designed to oppress people and justify evil. This, of course, assumes that the critics understand what evil actually is. Again, this is understandable. Many Christians wrestle with this very notion. It’s why we have faith. We really don’t know if it’s true. We just choose to believe it. Some say we do so foolishly.


We choose to believe the Bible is true the same way we choose to believe the Law of Gravity is true. The only proof we have of gravity, besides the fact that everything falls (including us, which is why we have Jesus, but I digress), is what physicists, like Isaac Newton, tell us. We blindly believe them because we trust their authority. And, when we open our eyes, we can see that what they say is true. The same could be said of mathematicians who say that one plus one equals two. I’m no math guy—I studied English in college—but if a mathematician tells me that one and one equals two, I’m inclined to believe him. I don’t believe him because I’m an ignorant tool who thinks all scientists are liars. I believe him because he’s the authority on that subject. He understands math in a way that I never will, just like Isaac Newton and other physicists understand gravity in a way I never will, just like Albert Einstein understands relativity like I never will.

I choose to believe the Bible because it was written by people who have authoritative knowledge that I never will. But more on that in a moment.

Let’s start by addressing the “fiction” that so many non-Christians want to lambast it for. The Bible has parables in it, which are stories about fictional characters. Jesus told us about the servants who were given ten, five, and one talent respectively, and told to do something with them before the master got back. The two servants with ten and five talents respectively invested what they were given and yielded double the return. When the master came back, they were rewarded with even more. The servant who was given just one talent chose to bury his because he knew the master was cold and exacting and wouldn’t want him to lose it. The master thought the servant’s understanding of him was poor, and he saw him as wasting an opportunity, and he ultimately stripped him of the one talent he had, so he was left with nothing. All because he didn’t use what he was given.

I don’t believe the three servants and the master were real people, but I do believe Jesus told this parable to make a point about using what we’re given. It’s still history, as the storyteller is very real, and there are plenty of witnesses who saw him give this parable, and if this message was later written in the Bible incorrectly, there were many, many people who’d know it and rebuke the misinformation.

I think of it in terms of a historian writing a book in 2030 about the events of 9/11 and explaining how the aliens burned down the World Trade Center with their heat vision on September 11, 2001. Um…no. But there was a fire! It must be true. No! Stop being stupid! There were no aliens and no heat rays. You watch too many movies, Mr. Historian.

We can treat the Bible as a history book because there were plenty of people still alive at the time of its writing that would call out its inaccuracies, if it had any, based on the consistency of their eyewitness accounts. And even if they weren’t there personally, the correct information would’ve survived just as our correct information about the assassination of JFK has endured 53 years. If you tell someone JFK was murdered in Houston, Texas, they would quickly reeducate you that it happened in Dallas. If the story of Jesus was written ANY other way, the authors of those four books (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) would’ve been laughed out of a reporting job (and possibly sent into exile—those days were a lot tougher on mistakes than they are today—but at the very least they would’ve had their books rejected). There was no way they could’ve gotten it wrong and gotten it into the history book. The people of that time cared more about the historical account than even we do.

Outside of the parables and the history accounts, the Bible is also made up of prophecies, and I’m pretty sure this is where most people have problems with it (well, no, most people have problems with what it claims as sin, but I’ll get to that in a moment). In short, I don’t understand prophecies, or how a prophet can know what God is telling him. But there’s a good reason for that. I’m not a prophet. I don’t specialize in prophecies. But, just as I trust a physicist to tell me the truth about gravity and a mathematician to tell me the truth about one plus one, I trust a prophet to tell me the truth about the heart of God, or in more relevant terms, the divine inspiration of God’s Word, aka, the Bible. I believe the Bible is true because I believe God is wiser than I am and that He knows how to get His exact message across to the world, even if I don’t understand the details. That’s fine, really. God knows not to trust me with His divine prophetic words. I’d screw it up. It’s not my gift. It’s why He gave it to the prophets. They’d know how to handle it.

The people who accuse the Bible of being false, or fictitious, do so in complete ignorance. The same people who accuse Christians of having a closed mind are not that good at opening their own minds, because if they were, they’d investigate biblical truth until they found emphatic proof that it’s a lie (which no one in human history has ever done, FYI—even those theorists—Note: those who specialize in theory, not fact—who think they’ve disproved the Bible because they compared it to something they believe (not proved) and found fault based on their limited understanding just haven’t dared to keep looking beyond their limited understanding or skewed worldview; anyone who has, has given up their quest and become Christians, and yes, that is documented). No, they, too, have a closed mind because they don’t want to find out they’re dead wrong (which they will if they dig deep enough), and why would they want to ruin their precious reputations on silly things like facts or truth?

And for the record, Christians have closed minds because once we figure out the truth, we have no reason to lie to ourselves any further. Having an open mind means we’re still searching for the truth. We’re not. We’ve found it and we know it. There are many reasons why we know we’ve found the truth; often it has to do with what Christianity is—a relationship with Christ that goes deeper than knowledge or theory. It’s the same reason why we understand our spouses better than our grocers understand our spouses. Our grocers may think they know our spouses, but they don’t, not really. They only know what they see. They don’t know the fullness of what we’ve experienced, so they don’t know our spouses like we do. Christianity is the same way. We understand Christ better than non-Christians do. That’s why we choose to serve him. Just like a husband might serve his wife, and a wife her husband. They understand what they have (ideally, of course—human nature does get in the way sometimes, but that’s another topic for another time). We’re not idiots. We just have an understanding that you don’t. And that’s unfortunate for you. Sorry to call it out like it is. But, no, actually I’m not sorry.

I am sorry about the second point on the list, the bigotry. But let me explain why this is still a problem:

Christianity is not a religion. It’s a relationship with Jesus Christ, who died for all of our sins. Now, to be clear, sin is sin, and I do not suggest that anything that is sin shouldn’t be called sin. If it’s sin, it’s sin. Period. And if it’s sin, it is the thing that can keep you out of Heaven. Period.


That’s why Jesus came to mankind. Because we all do it. Sin. We’re all equal opportunity sinners, and Jesus, thankfully, is an equal opportunity savior.

The problems with Christianity, and the bad rep it gets with things like bigotry, comes down to Christians trying to make it into a religion. It’s about some Christians trying to be better than everyone else. I’m probably guilty of this myself sometimes.

Look, let me set the record straight. We’re not better than anyone else. Period. Part of believing in an equal opportunity savior is to acknowledge that we, too, are equal opportunity sinners.

I’m not going to write about how certain sins that progressive politics have made okay are okay. They’re not. Sorry, but no politician has ever died for my sins, and no politician has ever created the physical laws of earth and heaven, so I don’t believe any politician has the right to tell me what is and isn’t sinful. Even Moses, who drafted the Ten Commandments, had to get his instructions directly from God. And keep in mind that these instructions were passed down from a God who understands human nature very, very well.

The issue here is the people who sin, and that’s all of us. We all need Jesus. None of us need bigotry (in any of its forms, and for the sake of further argument, I’ll refer to it also as prejudice against anyone who isn’t perfect, which is basically everyone, and being prejudice against everyone makes life pretty lonely). I’d spent part of my life misunderstanding the point. I used my human brain to justify my understanding of God’s laws, when I wasn’t really trained well enough to understand. And though I don’t struggle with misunderstanding people anymore (at least, I don’t think I do, but I apologize if I do), I’m sure I still have areas of weakness, including the courage to speak up when others are clearly screwing up their lives (maybe because I don’t want to acknowledge that they are screwing up their lives). As a Christian, I’m supposed to love everyone, and part of loving others is to point out the path they’re on. I supposed that’s the main reason why I’m writing this. Many of us take this concept too far. We’re supposed to do everything in love. That’s what Jesus asks of us.

What it comes down to is that the religion of Christianity is run by fallible men, but actual Christianity is about believing in the infallible Christ as our savior. There’s nothing more to it.

That said, becoming a Christian doesn’t mean automatic goodness. Nobody becomes “good” overnight. Jesus himself tells us that no one is good but God the Father. But, choosing to love Jesus means our attitudes begin to change. It means that our actions begin to change. It doesn’t happen overnight. There are plenty of Christians who still openly sin, and many more who still sin in private. We’re still trying to shed the old life in favor of the new. For those who don’t want to give up the old life, it makes sense that they wouldn’t want to become Christians. Maybe they’re afraid of what life would be like without that addiction. Maybe they enjoy the feeling of hate. Maybe they like to invent their own truths, even if the result of it wrecks their lives. Some people just want to live the mediocre life. Some just want to burn. It’s their choice.

God gave us free will. That’s why evil exists in this world. That’s why we have so many viewpoints about what equals truth, and more difficult, what is and isn’t sin. It’s why we have so many cults and religions, and why those religions require so many tasks. It’s why the state religion, politics, has so many counterintuitive, counterproductive, conflicting laws and practices. We think we can better ourselves with new ideas and new practices. By nature, we progress in ideas because the thing we thought was good before wasn’t actually good enough. Tomorrow we’ll look for something to replace the thing we thought was good today. Eventually we’ll complete the progressive circle and find ourselves back at the beginning.

But look, we had perfection once. We thought we could improve on it. We ruined the world and ourselves as a result. God had to step in and fix it for us, because, you know, He’s the one that built it in the first place. He understands how it works. He understands how we work. He knows us better than we know ourselves. The only one who really knows how to fix our mess is God himself.

Maybe you don’t want to trust in God’s leadership and Christ’s salvation, but I hope you will. We can’t save ourselves, no matter how much we convince ourselves we can. We’re not the ones who set the standards on righteousness. Don’t let the faults of any man or woman, or your misunderstanding of a subject you have no expertise in, deter you from experiencing the only gift you’ll ever really need. We all need Jesus. Easter would not be among the world’s oldest holidays if it didn’t mean something.

I think there were other points I wanted to address in this article, but I wanted to keep this as short as possible, and I’ve already gone on too long. Maybe I’ll add a second part if I think of something I’ve forgotten about. That said, if you wish to discuss this, please comment below.

Note: If you came here looking for information on my books, or writing, or something else more to the current theme of Drinking Cafe Latte at 1pm, I will be talking more about them soon. Sometimes I have other topics of interest that I want to write about, so do expect the occasional non-writing topic here.

When It’s Over

Originally posted to Facebook on:

December 31, 2012:

Most of you might be tempted to skip reading this based on the chunk of text that’s about to follow, but I’m gonna ask that you don’t because what I’m writing is not some frilly dissertation about what I want for lunch, but something that’s really been eating at me (no pun intended) for a long time that this weekend has fueled, and I’m tired of losing sleep over it. I feel it’s important enough to write, so I hope you’ll give it a fair chance. I don’t know how else to get this point across. If by the end you don’t agree with the points I’ve made, then I at least appreciate your taking the time to read it. For those who do agree, I appreciate hearing about why.

This weekend put reality back in my head, with the finding of the journal entries I had written following my dad’s passing 17 years ago, and discovering, on Facebook, that two other people I knew had died in the last couple of days. These discoveries, of course, cap what has been a dark December with the massacre in Sandy Hook taking place, and a really dark year in general with mass shootings at the movie theater in Aurora, another attempted shooting at a theater in San Antonio, mall shootings, hurricane, flooding, and tornado disasters, the war that never ends, and so on, and it’s a continuous somber cycle, and I don’t know how CNN deals with it, and it doesn’t end. Closer to home I’ve read about other news of deaths from you guys – of one of your late-20-early-30-something friends who unexpectedly dropped dead when he was healthy and playing racquetball the day before; of one of your 17-year-old sons who lost a close friend of the same age to something unexpected. Of the two people I know who passed this weekend, one was in his late 70s and was suffering from a long-term illness; the other was in his early 40s and collapsed on his way to pick up some lunch for his family. One was expecting it, as was his family; the other had no idea his time was up. And the one thing that everyone who died this year has in common is that they can no longer get this life right. Their time for fixing things is over.

I’ve been thinking about it longer than usual this week. Sandy Hook actually broke me – I still can’t comprehend that one. Hearing about these deaths closer to home just made it more relevant to me. These are people who were expecting tomorrow to come. Their idea of tomorrow anyway. They had hopes and dreams like the rest of us still do. And yet, they had to give those up because death doesn’t wait for us to get our acts together.

I usually choose not to talk about life, death, and spiritual matters on Facebook because I know some of you share my beliefs already and understand where I’m coming from, and some of you don’t and don’t want to hear it, and the topic is usually too deep for social media anyway. I get it. But in the fight to preserve everyone’s feelings, I would like permission for you all to respect mine and let me share what’s on my mind. If it gets under your skin, I’m sorry. But, believe it or not, I care about you guys, and I care about the decisions you make whether they affect you positively or negatively. Not to dismiss the billions that I’ll never know as unimportant – but wherever I can place a name and a face, that person becomes an identity to me, and it becomes hard to desensitize myself to his or her well-being. Sometimes I wish I could be cold to it because reality brings forth a crapload of heartbreak. But even if I try, the empathy eventually comes back. As a writer it’s my job to get into characters’ heads, and I confess that sometimes I take that job into my friendships because, quite honestly, I don’t know what any of you are thinking, but sometimes I want to know because I really don’t know how else to understand you or empathize effectively.

In talking about this, I do wish to be sensitive to what people think on these matters of life, death, and spirituality. Everyone faces the subject differently, and for some the dealing with it is a hotbed issue. I also know it’s a somber topic for many of you and this is not what you want to think about going into 2013. I understand. But I also want to understand.

When it comes to life, death, and spiritual things, I find it most difficult to understand how you’ve come to your ideologies because you’ve understood life and circumstances differently than I and approached them from angles that I have not. Of course, I can really only understand how I’ve come to mine, and, well, truthfully, there have been so many factors to bring me where I am today that I actually don’t understand how I’ve gotten here, either. I just know that I’m happy with the ideologies I’ve chosen. A choice that started at a young age, but has been fired and purified and tested throughout the years and has had plenty of backup that would take far too many pages to outline for what I hope is a short journal. My feeling is that you’re happy with your choice, too.

But is that enough to go on? Happiness? A feeling? How much weight does a limited perspective hold? Is there room for wisdom in how we come to where we are? How does that affect our thoughts on life?

Here’s the deal: I don’t care what we believe, don’t believe, if we’re Agnostic, Atheist, Christian, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Socialist, Capitalist, Democrat, Republican, Hollywood, if we support creationism, Darwinism, abortion rights, gay rights, free speech, Chick-fil-A, gun control, birth control, remote control, or fiscal cliffs, or whatever – we cannot deny that simple fact that our clocks have unspecified timers that will one day finally reach zero, and whatever social matters, economic standings, or most everything else that mattered to us in life will inevitably meet its end. At that point it’s too late to change things for the better.

That’s the one thing that all the above groups can agree on. Right?

When it comes to matters of life cycle, I know some of you believe in life after death, while others of you don’t. Some of you think about that. Some of you don’t. There’s not a night that goes by that I go to bed and wonder if I’ll wake up the next morning. Then I ask the question: am I ready if I don’t wake up? I’ve got so much left to write, a desire to start a family, not to mention my mom’s still alive and there needs to be at least one mother in this family who doesn’t have to watch a son die. Circumstantially speaking, I’m not the least bit ready. But a hundred years from now, who’s really going to care? Spiritually, presently, eternally, I’m already taken care of. A hundred years from now, that’s what will matter to me.

For those of you who don’t believe in life after death, what are you living for today? Help me to understand. I mean, we all have that desire for life, right? What do we have to look forward to if death is the end? Even Darwin, in his 200 years of wisdom, talks about the fight for survival. Why would he care if his efforts to survive didn’t matter in a hundred years? For those of you who do believe in life after death, what are you expecting to happen when that time comes? God, in His eternity of wisdom, fought for our humanity’s survival. Yet, so many want to debate that very issue, even fight wars over it. Maybe we can’t see how He’s helped us survive because we’ve spent so many millennia trying to forget, but if there is life after death, and if God’s the one who created it, then wouldn’t He care what we’re doing a hundred years from now? Wouldn’t He care about the survival of our souls?

All these questions are for perspective, of course. What I really want to know is why settle for death as final? Are we not born? We know that we came from the womb, but we don’t remember anything about it, do we? How can we be sure we were ever born if we’ve got no memory of it? Besides the multitudes of evidence, that is. When we’re in the womb, do we believe in life after womb? Some of us fail to believe that there’s life in the womb, and yet, here we are now, alive, forming beliefs about what happens in and out of the womb, forming beliefs about what happens in and out of this skin. Did we think during those first 40 weeks about the same things we do today? Did we have the right perspective of what life on earth would really be like when we already had so much else to think about, like feeding on the umbilical cord, having that weird disembodied yet pleasant voice singing to us, on whether or not we think this space is getting a little too cramped and how can we get more of it? The evidence that there was more to life than just the womb was always there, but we were too ignorant to care because we were plenty comfortable knowing what we already knew. (I’m assuming this, of course. I don’t remember the womb, either, and I suppose it’s possible that I was anticipating life after womb. I sure did leave mine in a hurry at any rate.) Isn’t it possible, then, that maybe if we know the difference between womb and earth is a flash of light and a quick passage out of one place and into another, and if the transition from earth to death is another flash of light (plenty of people who died and came back testify to something of this nature) and a quick passage out, that maybe we should assume that there’s still yet another phase of life beyond this one? Yes, in womb and on earth we have the same basic chemical makeup, where one is a bunch of cells forming, and the other is a bunch of cells decaying, but we do have multiple things that make us up – body, mind, soul, and spirit (physicality, thoughts, conscience, intuition). We’ve been told that soul and spirit move on to heaven or hell when the body and mind die. Do we have evidence in which that is not true?

Let me bring this back to my viewpoint. We can go back and forth all day about what actually happens if we choose to debate it. But why bother? If I believe Jesus saved me and gave me access to heaven, and if I’m wrong and Act II of life really is the final curtain, then what have I really lost by believing in His salvation? Answer me that. Especially when you consider that in a hundred years, this life will no longer matter to me. I don’t see why believing in someone who gives me eternal hope is a bad thing. Some people, of course – some of you even – don’t agree. And if that’s what you want, then so be it. But honestly, no matter how much I try to see things through your viewpoint, I still can’t figure out why you don’t have the same attitude. If there is an Act III, and if you’ve been making spiritual decisions that are ignorant of that, who do you expect to answer to if it turns out you’re the one who’s wrong? It won’t matter if I’m wrong because in the end I won’t know it. But it would matter a great deal to you if you’re wrong, and you’ll know it plenty well.

And here’s the kicker: It would matter a great deal to me, too, if you’re wrong.

Here’s a thought that haunts me frequently: I think back to two specific moments when two separate friends cried (with real tears) because something either went against them or didn’t go their way. It was hard to see that because I didn’t want to see them so upset, so broken. But we’ve all been there. We’ve all had those moments of breakdown. It hurts. We know how it feels to be so upset over something, so we know how to empathize. Eventually they’ll get over it, and these friends got over it. They were temporal problems that sucked, but they had an end. Now I think about how salvation is not a concern of at least one of those friends (maybe both). Suddenly it’s no longer an issue of sadness. Now I’m terrified. If it takes one sin to lose heaven, and if it takes one Jesus to gain it back, and if this one sin is more important to these friends than this one Jesus (again, I have trouble fathoming the logic – it’s like choosing a penny over a lifetime of freedom, but that’s not my decision to make), then that moment when the clock expires will become an extremely dark day. No amount of tears can quench the pain – mine or theirs. It keeps me awake at night thinking how much worse that eternal cry would be.

Makes me wonder why running straight to God isn’t a given for those who choose instead to do things (often badly) their own way.

To be fair, it isn’t necessarily your beliefs that has me up so late writing this. What you believe is between you and God (I do, however, think that there are many lies and one truth, so I say this carefully). It’s your Act III that has me losing sleep at night. One of two things will happen to me: I’ll either spend eternity in heaven, or I’ll vaporize into nothing. I don’t honestly believe in option #2, and nothing anyone can say will convince me of that end being true. It’s a hopeless viewpoint, life’s hard enough without that yoke around my neck, and I want no part of that, and anyway, I’ve experienced God enough to know that option #2 isn’t valid, so it’s not even a question for me. But it’s deeply important to me that if heaven’s real, that you also get there. I care about you and want to hang out with you a hundred years from now because that is one of the things today that will still matter to me then. So, if you still want to do things your own way, or believe in whatever you feel like believing, then that’s your business. But I hope that if you’re as moved about the frailty of this life as I am now, and if you have even the slightest question about an Act III life, even if it’s casual curiosity, then do the research. Don’t assume God is imaginary because humans don’t know how to properly show His grace and love, or because you’re not able to comprehend His ways in the way that you’d want to understand or because you can’t change Him to fit your ideals. Don’t forget: God is God and you are not. If you ask Him to reveal Himself to you in a way that you’d understand (sincerely, not spitefully), He will. He’s not going to ignore someone who’s trying to seek or connect with Him.

Please don’t pretend this is the journal of a Christian who is marking tallies on his wall. It’s not about that for me, and it’s not about that for anyone who takes life and soul seriously. This is about me ensuring that people I care about understand that life is inevitable and we don’t make our own rules when it comes to death and eternity. God is the author, and it’s His rules we play by. We don’t have to like it – it’s just the way it is. If you have a problem with it, take it up with Him, but He doesn’t make rules based on trends and fads, and He doesn’t change them because a few of us may not like how He does things. I’m sure He’d rather not sacrifice His only Son to pay for our rebellion, but that’s what He had to do to save us from our one to many sins and to give us that better life after this one (and that more fulfilled life during this one). I think we can agree by now that this Act II will reach its end. Why in the world would we disregard the grave importance of Act III when it can spring on us at any moment? Our ignorance and arrogance won’t hold up when that last breath fades and we’re standing before God with our thumbs twiddling by our sides wondering why things are suddenly awkward. Our excuses will no longer support us. We had our chance to fix things in our hearts, our minds, and our spirits while we were here. Instead we focused too much on our bodies and our politics. Sadly, neither body nor politics can add an inch to our Act III journeys, and our presidents and physical therapists can’t save us. The constant rebellion against wisdom just isn’t worth it.

That’s all I’m going to write here. If you want to talk about this personally, let me know. If you don’t, I won’t press the issue. I just want to make sure you each have a fair chance at making the most of this life and avoid blowing the next one, and I’d like to know that you guys will be a permanent part of my future and the futures of other people who care who are making their Act III preparations now. I know this can be an extremely sensitive subject, but I hope it’s been worth your while. Thanks for reading.

This journal is dedicated to my dad, who passed in late December 1995 but has never left my thoughts, my friends’ dad, who now shares my dad’s anniversary, a friend from my teen years, who passed the day before, the teachers and students of Sandy Hook Elementary, who passed in cold blood two weeks ago, the two friends of friends I don’t know but may still get the chance to meet one day, and the countless others who moved on from this life in 2012. You guys won’t have to debate the questions about God or Act III any longer.

The Parable of the Phrase that Pays

Originally posted to MySpace on:

May 15, 2008:

I’ve had this thought in my head for months, but am just now getting around to writing it down. Call it distraction if you want; that’s probably the main culprit in suppressing it for so long. The issue is timeless anyway.

In Matthew 25: 1-14 (in the Bible), Jesus gives the parable of the ten virgins (or maidens, if semantics is an issue), who were waiting for their bridegroom to arrive. Five of them came to the house prepared with lamp oils; the other five stood there like monkeys until realizing they needed to get oil of their own. So, while the first five continued to wait by the door patiently for the bridegroom to arrive, the second five disbursed, looking for the very thing they forgot to bring. Well, while they were out getting the things they procrastinated over, the bridegroom arrived at the house, let the first five in, and closed the door. When the second five returned with their lamp oils, the door was already locked, so they missed their chance. Sucked to be them.

A local radio station has a marketing scheme that reminds me of this parable. Every ten minutes of every day, they play the slogan: “Ninety-seven nine WRMF plays the best variety of the eighties, nineties, and today.” They play it so much that it’s impossible to forget. My brain receives so much information each day that I can hardly remember what I eat for breakfast (when I eat breakfast), much less detailed things like Bible verses, movie quotes, and song lyrics—things that most people have no trouble reciting. But I have no problem remembering this “Phrase that Pays,” as the radio station repeats it every freakin’ ten minutes. And yet, I find it surprising that so many people who get the call still don’t know what it is.

Here’s how it works: The radio station has a call list that the listener has to volunteer to be on (making it kinda odd that some people get upset when the DJ calls them). When the DJ gets them on the phone and asks them for the “phrase that pays,” the listener has to repeat the slogan word for word. If they get it right without adding, subtracting, misplacing, or changing a word, they get a thousand dollars. No strings attached. No listening commitments. Just money. Money for their cars, money for their homes, whatever they need it for. A thousand dollars. A free gift.

And the majority of people who get the call still don’t know it. They’re reminded all the time. They don’t know it. They’re warned of its worth. They still don’t know it. They don’t know when the call is coming, but it comes. And they’re not ready for it. And they lose out on a free gift. And it makes you wonder how they can let something like that slip away.

The message Jesus gave in Matthew 25 was to be prepared for His arrival. I think the “Phrase that Pays” is a good, modern example of that parable. Funny how a radio station that broadcasts its show from various cocktail bars on Friday nights can make one of Jesus’ many parables relevant, and yet, sad how even that’s not enough to get certain people to pay attention.