Philosophical Reflections on the Ham Sandwich and Monks

(There actually may not be ham in the sandwich pictured)
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

A few weeks ago I ate with some friends at Subway for dinner. We all had sandwiches. 

(I promise this story gets better).

My wife and I sat down first and started eating while the others finished ordering. They soon followed suit, and once everyone was seated and munching away, I – either as an icebreaker, or to satisfy some kind of impulsive need to constantly compare my decisions to that of others – asked what kind of sandwiches everybody else had gotten. 

One had gotten a turkey sandwich, another a chicken bacon ranch, another a salami, but soon the question was turned back onto me. What had I gotten? 

“Just a ham sandwich,” I said, knowing that it was an admittedly plain and unadventurous choice of sandwich. 

“Yeah,” one of my friends said, “I feel like I have to get something different when I come here. I could make one of those at home, you know?” 

“Yeah,” I responded, monotonously enough. “This is just my go-to.” I took another bite. 

“This is my go-to too,” he responded, and each of the other people at the table seemed to repeat in turn. 

I exhaled out of my nostrils amusedly and looked at my quickly-diminishing-but-originally-one-foot-long ham sandwich. “Mine’s just so boring,” I said. They nodded in agreement. 

Silence overtook our table, and I stared off at the line of customers ordering their sandwiches as I continued to eat contently. One of the people in line was talking to the Subway server while pointing at a specific veggie on the other side of the glass separator. That’s funny, I thought. I wonder what his go-to is. I took another bite and ruminated on the thought for a while. Then something in my mind clicked like a seat belt being fastened.  

That’s how

At the time, I was currently reading and almost finished with The Brothers Karamazov, which is an amazing work of philosophical fiction that, in my opinion, should be read by any and every person who claims to be religious or spiritual. (Well, perhaps the entire book is not absolutely necessary, but at least “The Grand Inquisitor” and “Ivan’s Nightmare and The Devil” chapters are). Anyways, the protagonist of this story – Alyosha Karamazov – is a gentle, young, novice monk who gets caught in a bloody family squabble. And for whatever reason, the fact that Alyosha was a monk had recently reminded me of the reality that there were still monks out there, wearing worn cassocks and fasting and whatnot. This was an admittedly strange observation, which had relatively little to do with the theme or thrust of the book. Still, the question had struck me: how? 

I’ve always been taught that, although the monastic way of life is not inherently evil, the mindset of isolation and avoidance that characterizes it should be rejected. And all my life I’ve accepted that pronouncement over the monkish lifestyle. It is a religious way of life, no doubt. But it appears to be concerned more so with hiding rather than helping – or, at least, it seemed to be that way from the perspective of the tradition in which I grew up. So what’s up with these people who, despite that particular evaluation, still devote their lives to such a lifestyle? I could not conceive of a thought path that would end with me living in a monastery dressed in a cassock. 

I assume that most of you as well, even if you weren’t taught to avoid it as I was, have probably never considered spending your life in such a way. Yet, interestingly enough, the fact remains: whether or not we’ve ever fully considered the possibility of it, we could become monks (or nuns), if we really wanted to. That choice is open to us. We could also – with perhaps the same amount of discipline and sacrifice that would be required to become a monk or nun – become pilots, or college professors, or chess teachers, or hippotherapists (which actually has nothing to do with hippos). But right now, let’s focus on monasticism.

Here’s a question: what keeps you from becoming a monk? Well, perhaps it’s as simple as the reasons I won’t be buying a flatbread salami from Subway anytime soon: because I don’t want to, and because nobody is going to force me. Simple enough. So we could chalk it up to a combination of our freedom to choose and lack of desire. Perhaps we might say further that our preferences, specific areas of interest, objectives, and obligations influence us elsewhere. Great. Sounds right to me.

But that leads me to my point – a point which, while perhaps trivial to you, was nevertheless quite profound to me when I realized it. It is this: for those who are free, to become anything is to answer the question, “who are you?”

In Subway, the server asks you what you want, and what you receive depends upon your answer. I’m only 24 (and a half) years old, but I think in life it is similar. If you are free, you have control of who you become. 

“Well, no. That’s not true,” you say, “sometimes even free people get things in life that they never asked for.” Fair enough. No argument there.

“And plus,” you continue, “I wanted to be movie star when I was younger, but I later had to come to the disappointing realization that it just wasn’t in the cards for me.”

That may be true too, and if it is, I’m sorry. But I would remind you that I’m not saying we have absolute control. I’m saying we have control. 

There is a realm of possibility out of which you cannot break. That, of course, is not debatable. You have limitations. We all do. The point here is that the size of your realm of possibility does not affect the fact that you have control of what you do within the parameters of that realm. 

We would not say, for instance, that a person did not have control of what he or she ate at Subway on account of the virtually endless list of things he or she could not order – like, say, buzzard jambalaya, oven-roasted turducken, fresh calamari, or molten lava. We would say, rather, that they had control, in a very real sense, even if not absolute. And one amazing thing about this is that it results in the variety and beauty we experience and value so dearly in our world. 

This is why Subway sells more than just ham sandwiches and the world has monks in it. Some of us are free, and among those free people can be found different preferences, specific areas of interest, and objectives that affect our choices, even if those choices are limited. Without this, the world would be one big, pink, unsurprising and uninteresting ham sandwich. So I say don’t be shy about what you want to do or how you want to spend your life. First of all, you only get one. And second of all, if you are free, then it’s probably not incorrect to assume that deep, costly sacrifices have been made to purchase that freedom – that freedom you (sometimes) so tragically overlook or ignore. 

I am not claiming for a second that all of the paths from which you might choose are equal. That’s a different question altogether. But, I am claiming, rather emphatically, that there is a choice to be made.

So, what will you choose? 

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments section below. Or, message me on Twitter or Facebook.

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The Hate U Give & Racial Issues

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For me (and I’m sure for many of you), heated skirmishes over political issues have become the unwelcome defining feature of my Facebook and Twitter feeds as of late. Most recently, the allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against Brett Kavanaugh, along with the senate race between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke, were the cause for commotion, but there is no shortage of poignant political quarrels in tow. It is truly a jumbled, inarticulate mess – a brewing pot of insult, arrogance, ignorance, and propaganda, where saints act like heathens and heathens speak with the pretense of sainthood. It’s no wonder why many have chosen to stick to the sidelines with such a malignant atmosphere clouding the field. These arguments are, many times, not honest discussions over the issues, not a genuine exchange of ideas, but rather, people who have already reckoned their judgment on the matter as absolute trying to convert or otherwise shame their opponents into compliance. In a situation such as this, the level of rightness or wrongness of either side is of no consequence. This is not honest discourse, and it will never lead to the society we (hopefully) all want: a better one.¹ Or, at least, it will never lead to such a society in a peaceful manner.

It is, therefore, a wonder – or just blissfully naive – that I would write a post such as this one. I am hopeful that I can have a discussion about racial issues without the overbearing presence of political presuppositions and commitments. I have no political agenda here, and I do not intend to defend or in any way bolster any political view here. So, if at some point in this post you feel inclined to attribute political objectives to my words, remember: I told you I wasn’t playing that game. I haven’t even located precisely where I fall on the political scale. I am simply putting forth a genuine attempt at working through the issues of our day. So, if you would be so kind, for the moment, allow us to lay our political views aside, and let’s have an honest conversation.

A while back I finished listening to the audiobook version of The Hate U Give, which is a fictional story inspired by the concerns of the Black Lives Matter Movement. I have been hesitant to write my review of The Hate U Give because, although its praises have rang out from seemingly every corner of the YA world, there were little pieces here and there that I sensed didn’t feel right while listening to it. Writing against the grain of general criticism is daunting no matter the subject, but writing against the grain of general criticism (which has been overwhelming positive) on a book about racial issues – well that’s downright terrifying. With the recent release of the film, however, I figured now was as good a time as ever to order my thoughts and offer them for discussion. And I’ll get right to it. (Also, for those who care, I intend to offer my thoughts without spoilers.)

When placed under scrutiny, it appears to me that this book contains racist overtones that degrade its (presumably) anti-racist agenda. First, all of the white characters in this book are, quite frankly, repulsive, with the only exception to this being one white male who plays a somewhat modest role in the story. If I remember correctly, there are four characters within this story who are white. One is female and has a personality that is cringe worthy. In all honesty, there are certain scenes in which even her voice is hardly bearable. The other three white characters are male. Two are the perpetrator of an innocent killing and his father, and the other is a schoolmate of the protagonist. He is the exception to the generally repulsive cast of white characters.

“But that’s the point of the book,” you say, “it’s supposed to be a confrontation of racism in America. Of course there are going to be detestable white people in it.”  Fair enough. However, upon closer examination I believe we find that the exception, which is found in the male I mentioned before, reveals a racist presupposition in the writer of the book (and perhaps others who identify with the book).

The white male in question appears to be presented in a charitable light solely on account of his, what one might call, “white guilt.”² Interpreted in context, this would seem to suggest that “white guilt” is a necessary prerequisite to proper existence as a white person, or, that it is the only proper mode of existence for a white person. In other words, if you are a good white person, an acceptable white person, then your life will be characterized by shame concerning your heritage and timorousness concerning your relationship with black people.

But here’s an honest question: isn’t that racist?

I believe it is. We don’t expect this with any other race or ethnicity, although there would be substantial reasons to do so if we did. Do we, for example, expect Germans to live their lives in sullen dejection on account of the Nazi concentration camps? What about middle eastern people? Do we expect them to live lives characterized by shame and guilt for the atrocities carried out by the Muslim state in the Middle East? And, moreover, do we demand they “walk on thin ice,” as it were, if they live in America, since their race perpetrated 9/11? Or are they somehow exempt from the sins of their racial or ethnic group? And how about Asian people? According to this way of thinking, they should also be ashamed of their existence, for their heritage includes the hundreds of millions killed by Mao and the Communist Party of China in the 20th century.

I hope you see the point I’m trying to make here, which is that we do not – and ought not – hold the sins of the father against the son in any of these other cases, so why would white people be any different? Could it be because there is an unfair bias against or hatred for their race, rather than just people who do despicable things? It would seem likely. White heritage is blemished, to be sure, and disturbingly so, but to punish white people who played no part in and even despise the sins of their forefathers is wrong.

We don’t and shouldn’t expect any race to walk in shame on account of their racial heritage because no person has ever had a say in the race into which he or she was born. And therefore, to expect him or her to act in a certain way because of that racial heritage is racist. It is to judge people and treat people according to their color and not their character, and it is an attempt to punish people, not because of anything they’ve done, but because they are a certain race or ethnicity.

But going back to the male who constituted the only charitable exception of repugnant white characters, there is still more to be learned. For, even as the charitable exception, he is still treated as if he had done something wrong by existing. Throughout the book, he is treated differently solely on account of his race by multiple black characters.³ But oddly enough, in The Hate U Give, that black people might be racist almost appears to be an acceptable character flaw. It is only the reverse that is unacceptable. But this, my friends, is still racism. Perhaps it could even be argued that the perspective of this book is invalidated precisely because of this type of racism. Harmless as it may seem, and as much as we might want to avoid confronting it, this type of racism will only inject more acrimony into the already volatile racial tension in the United States.

But here’s a proposal: how about white people and black people view each other as equals, no matter what despicable things their ancestors have done? Or, is the view of whiteness presented in The Hate U Give as an utterly repugnant and unredeemable racial heritage unchallengeable? If so, it would seem that the suggestion is that this view of racial relations simply be accepted via fiat. And that doesn’t sound very reasonable at all. In fact, that sounds something like authoritarianism accompanied by despotism and racism. I don’t particularly want to encourage the flourishing of any of those three things, and I hope that many of you, my readers, are at least in agreement with me there.

So, while we’re talking about hate that is given, let us not forget that hate is not a unilateral phenomenon. It goes both ways, and it is equally as destructive coming from either direction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? Was my critique of The Hate U Give valid? Should the descendants of races feel personally culpable for their ancestors’ sins? Let me know in the comments section below. Or, message me on Facebook or Twitter. 

 

 

 

 

Footnotes:

  1. And to acknowledge that we all desire a better society is not to say that America is in need of complete restructuring. It is simply to acknowledge that we have room for improvement and have yet to reach perfection as people individually or a nation collectively.
  2. I really didn’t want to use this phrase, since it is so politically charged. But I struggled to find another phrase that so thoroughly encompassed his behavior and attitude toward the others in the story.
  3. Someone might say, “Wow, you read a book about an innocent black man being shot and found a way to make a white man the real victim.” But, first, that just appears to be an attempt to avoid the issue. And, second, this is not a race to victimhood. Nor is it a contest where the one who is most victimized wins. This is a complex issue that needs more light brought onto it, and I have endeavored to do nothing more than that here.

Bachelor’s Degrees and Bobs

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Having been at Criswell for over five years now, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many unique and interesting people. Many of the middle-aged men are just the kind of good, old fashioned, slacks and polo wearing conservatives we’d expect them to be. But that’s not the end of the story. I’ve met people with bigger gauges than me. I’ve also met people who wear Chukka’s and carry around those hipster leather briefcases that herald MacBooks as each of us ought herald the gospel – with a class that says, “backpacks are just too mainstream.” I’ve met calvinists, molinists, fundamentalists, arminians, and of course, plenty of evangelicals. There’s a wide variety of men and women who are going or have gone to Criswell, but all have went pursuing the same thing: to earn that ever-so questionably important “college degree.”

There was once a middle-aged man who used to go to Criswell and was the slacks and polo wearing type. We’ll call him Bob. I remember Bob quite well. He had this charismatic way in which he talked about God, ministry, and life in general. And it was peculiar, even at a conservative Christian college like Criswell. I’d like to think this is because the “everything is always good” Christian charade is slipping off into oblivion. But behold, while this well-meaning Christian creature is an endangered species, he still exists in church circles and bible colleges today. Bob was one of the enduring survivors – a faithful remnant, one might say – from that group.

I remember his excitement on his last day of class before graduation. As one might expect from a man of his caliber of godliness, an appropriately reserved and composed amount of happiness was in order. Yet, since Bob tended to act this way, I wasn’t all that surprised or intrigued by his bliss. I was happy for him, but I wasn’t at the same level of modest enthusiasm. Until, that is, he told me how long he had been at Criswell:

Sixteen years.

At hearing this, my face lit up and my voice became much more animated: “Wow, brother! Sixteen years? Congratulations! That really is something to be proud of!” He smiled at me and said he appreciated it. As we continued talking, I came to find out that the reason for Bob’s elongated period of study at Criswell was that he had been taking one or two classes a semester while working full time in ministry. I was impressed by his determination. Having persevered to the end of a sixteen year endeavor was a formidable accomplishment, but I wouldn’t have expected anything less from Bob. So I told him I was very happy for him. And looking back, I genuinely hope he sensed my sincerity.

However, after departing from our conversation and moving past how incredible this man’s endurance was, I began to have other thoughts about Bob and his degree. They related to his ability to communicate his thoughts.

Truth is, Bob wasn’t all that good at communicating his thoughts. I know this because I once had him in a class not long before and had read some of his work. It seemed jumbled and without substance, lacking the succession of coherent thoughts that writing is supposed to entail. No doubt Bob was a busy man who had on multiple occasions made it clear that his ministry was more important than his studies. But I still found myself wondering: how could a man who had been studying for almost two decades still lack the ability to form and articulate his thoughts? That’s a big deal. Moreover, what does this imply about the value of both my college degree and college degrees in general?

I’ve seen statistics showing that while college is more expensive than it has ever been (even accounting for inflation), it is also probably still worth it from a purely economic perspective. This is good to know, especially considering that college is not cheap and that most would like a return on such a large financial investment. But I’m not as concerned with economic value as I am with personal, spiritual, and intellectual growth. I may be getting older, but alas, my youth has gotten the best of me. I’m going to college, not because I want to make more money, but because I want, in the words of John Green, to “become a better and more informed observer of the universe.” Now, I understand that becoming “a better and more informed observer of the universe” doesn’t always pay the bills. But allow me to be completely honest with you, my dear reader, for just a second.

As I continue slipping evermore into the sleepless night that is adulthood, I am trying my best to maintain the conviction that life is about more than simply making money, having a nice house, or driving a new car. More than any of those things, I want to be present in my own life. And for me, being present means being able to take the vague electro-chemical reactions occurring within my brain and mold them into coherent thoughts and speech. College isn’t the only thing that has helped me become more efficient at doing that, but it is one major thing that has.

Even more than that, Criswell helped me to retain my faith during a time in my life when it was most challenged. One might not expect this to be true for someone who attended a Bible college for his undergrad, but challenges to faith are not partial to secular universities. I may be in a Christian college surrounded by Christian classmates, Christian professors, and a Christian curriculum, but there is no place on earth where immunity from life’s hardships and doubts can be obtained. The serpent can infiltrate a bible study just as easily as he can enter a pub, and he has no affinity for non-Christians. So, Christian colleges and churches are not impenetrable safe havens from serious challenges to faith. They should, however, be places that help you get through those challenges, and that is exactly what Criswell was for me.

Finally, my education also helped me to discover within myself a love for reading and writing which I had not previously recognized. I’ve found a joy in reading and writing that satisfies my soul. It is truly wonderful. And although it is certainly secondary to the human contact intrinsic to these two practices, when I am reading or writing, I feel I am doing something that I’ve been called by God to do. I have Criswell to thank for that.

So, I cannot speak for Bob, that good natured Christian soldier who spent sixteen years earning his stripes. But I can speak for myself. And what I would say is that, up to this point, my time at Criswell has been worth every Red Bull chugging, mind crushing  moment of study I’ve had to endure. And I’m proud of the experiences and growth that the 11” x 8.5” piece of paper hanging on the wall in my living room represents.

 

 

 

What do you think makes a college degree worthwhile? Drop your thoughts in the comments section below!

Hey 20-Year-Old Chris, This is 23-Year-Old Chris


I bought this little notebook as a gift to myself about three or four years ago. After watching a certain movie (which I shall allow to remain a mystery for man-card preservation purposes), I developed the urge to begin journaling.

And of course, just any old notebook wouldn’t do. I needed a notebook worthy of the task. I needed something classy, something enviable, something… hipster, I guess. And the best I could tell, that meant I needed some type of Moleskine. So that’s what I got.

It was a simple and relatively inexpensive notebook, just mat black with my college’s logo pressed into the cover. But it had that essential, humble quality antiquity could not escape: it was made of paper. No glass, no keyboard, no circuitboard – just pages. Blank pages that had to be altered by the pen and pencil. It was worthy of the task.

So, on October 14, 2014, I altered the first page of my new Moleskine notebook. In that first entry, I talked about how I had previously thought of journaling as a waste of time, but was experiencing a change of heart (once again, the precise cause of this change of heart shall remain a mystery). I related how I was starting to believe that I might actually benefit from writing my thoughts down and attempting to analyze them from a different perspective.

And if I do say so myself, that’s a pretty solid thought. I still believe that writing down thoughts, forcing them to line up in an orderly fashion like they used to make us do in elementary school, and trying to take stock of them is a worthy endeavor. If I didn’t, then you probably wouldn’t be reading a blog post on The Meek Seat right now. So, I feel like that first entry was a good first entry. But what I really want to draw attention to is the third entry in that ol’ Moleskine. Allow me to begin with some context.

In 2014, I had a dream – not the kind that you wake up from, the kind that keeps you awake. I wanted to be what virtually everyone who has ever listened to (and enjoyed) rap music has wanted to be: the person speaking on the other side of the mic. And by the fall of 2014, I had been trying to inch my way into the rap industry for roughly two years.

Considering the time and devotion it takes to become a successful artist, that’s not very long. But it felt long. And in this third entry of my journal, I expressed some of the inner struggles with which I was dealing.

In an attempt to save you from a lengthy tune played by the worlds smallest violin, I won’t share everything I wrote in that entry. But let me just say that I was working through some genuine struggles. And no matter how small they were in view of the big picture, which I can now see, at the time they were sincere. I asked my small group of listeners in one of my later lyrics, “you ever had a dream that you felt like you could reach, but every time you turn there’s a haunting disbelief?” But what my audience could not see in that brief lyric was that I didn’t just want to reach my music goals. I didn’t want to just “make it.” In fact, that was one of the main problems. I felt like I was “making” it, like I was fabricating it, and that if I did finally succeed it would have been something that was contrived and not genuine. What I really wanted was to have been made – created – to be “it.” But my career in the music industry was beginning to feel forced, and I didn’t quite know how to process this.

Now, if you go all the way down to the final sentence in that entry, you find a real jewel. In that last sentence, it says, and I quote,

“Maybe one day twenty-three year old label-signed Chris will read this and smile because he didn’t give up and never stopped working.” 

*brief pause for dramatic affect*

Well 20-year-old Chris, here we are. This is 23-year-old Chris. Or should I say, this is 23-year-old, non-label-signed Chris, and I just read what you wrote. I’m not smiling.

Just kidding. I am smiling, and in fact, I’m actually laughing. But it’s not because I didn’t give up, never stopped working, and am now signed to a label, as you had hoped. It’s because I know what you were thinking. I know what you were doing. You were giving your best effort to be able to predict the future. But, to no one’s surprise (not even your 23 year old self), you fell short. It seems that you’re just not the prophet you hoped you’d be.

And here’s why I believe that’s true. It seems that you thought your hard work could solidify the future you desired for yourself. You thought that your determination and grit were unilaterally related to your future. Yeah, if you just “worked hard enough” and “never gave up,” then surely you’d be living your dream by 23.

But I think I’ve discovered something in the three years since you penned that third entry.

Self-will, self-determination, or any other type of self-whatever will not secure the future you desire for yourself. They alone do not determine what you will become or what you will do. I know this is hard to hear, but my experiences in skateboarding, music, school, and life in general have taught me this. You cannot force your way into whatever you believe your future should be. And I can’t believe I’m just now thinking to tell you this. You have to get the green light.

God has to give the green light. The Scriptures say that He rules the cosmos, commands the sea, and is able to direct the hearts of kings like a stream in His hand. So here’s a simple question: is your self-will stronger than the ocean or your hard work mightier than the labors of the cosmos? No? Then how shall you escape the will of Him who commands both with a simple word? He says, “Stay,” and they stay. He says, “Go,” and they go. I believe it is the same with the realization of your hopes and dreams. They will not come to fruition unless God gives the signal.

But I want you to know something else. I believe He also has control over those hopes and dreams before they enter into your mind. I imagine the hope to be in the music industry was beside Him, saying, “let me go, he will listen to me.” And in His wisdom He responded, “Go.” I imagine the same for your dream to be a professional skateboarder, and for every other dream or hope you’ve had. In the perfect moment and at the perfect time in your life, He told them, “Go to him,” and they went to you. So I don’t want you to be all absorbed with regret or confusion or disappointment. If He, in His good will, decides to call to some of them and say, “depart from him, unfulfilled,” remember that His wisdom is unsearchable, and His purposes are good.

As we grow older, I think it is inevitable that, for most of us, many of the hopes and dreams we’ve had as young people will depart from us, unfulfilled. But I believe that there is a sovereign God who loves His children and is able even to use disappointment for their good.

 

What do you think? Am I giving good advice to my 20-year-old self? Drop your opinion in the comments section below!

 

 

Stepping on Graves

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Over the summer, I’ve had the opportunity to work with one of my good friends, Timmy, doing various jobs for his lawn care and landscaping business. Most of the jobs are everyday, non-commercial projects like mowing people’s lawns or planting flowers and bushes, but he also has some commercial clientele. One example of this is Olive Garden.

When I work with Timmy, Olive Garden is usually the place we begin. It has to be mowed weekly, and since most of the non-commercial clients don’t like to hear a lawnmower at 7 o’clock in the morning, it’s a good place to start. We have other weekly jobs that we do consistently, but since we also do random projects, I don’t always know where we are going.

On the way to one of our jobs, Timmy told me that we would be mowing an old church’s graveyard. “Easy enough,” I thought. “It’s a large field with large stones. Can’t ask for much easier of an area to mow or obstacles to weed-eat around.” It seemed like it would be just another simple, thoughtless hour or two of work. But that’s not what it turned out to be.

As I walked through the chainlink gate of the cemetery with my weed-eater in hand, I began to become aware of this sinking feeling inside of me. If you’ve ever been to a cemetery, maybe you know what I’m talking about. It wasn’t really sadness; I think it was more of a seriousness – but it was, as one might describe, sinking. I looked around with this feeling in the pit of my chest, lifted the weed-eater out away from my body, and yanked the pull-string. The weed-eater came to life, and I began doing the work Timmy was paying me to do.

But sure enough, the first headstone that I began weed-eating around caught my attenIMG_6864tion. It was the headstone of a man born and deceased in the 19th century. His name was Greenberry Mounger, and what caught my eye about his grave was an inscription below his headstone that looked like it had been added after the fact. The rectangular protrusion stuck out from the ground like a button on a remote control, and inscribed upon it were the words, “Confederate States Army.”

“This dude fought in the freaking civil war,” I said to myself, “to be a part of such a historic event is pretty cool!” Unfortunately, not too shortly after that, I realized that the designation “confederate” also meant this dude thought owning slaves was ok and even worth fighting for, which is definitely not so cool. But, irrespective of what he believed or thought, there he was, laid to rest some 100 years before I stumbled across his headstone.

I kept working and walking around many more headstones. Some were inscribed to infants, some to mothers and fathers, but at some point I looked down and was overtaken by a simple and yet gripping thought:

I was stepping on graves, and there were people under me.

Very abruptly, in an “all-of-the-sudden” type of fashion, I realized that there were legitimate people under me. Obviously not legitimate in the sense that they were alive and breathing, but legitimate in the sense that they were, at one time, someone who had been alive, and taken breaths, like I was right then as I stood over them.

I felt this odd connection with these people whose headstones I was weed-eating around, and I also felt a strange sorrow. I thought about how some of them might have went to college or gotten married young like I did. I thought about how at some point there were probably people around each of these graves, weeping for the recently deceased person. And finally, I thought about how I would eventually be in a grave, and how some kid would be weed-eating around my headstone, completely oblivious to the type of life I lived or the things I did.

The rest of the my time at that graveyard was spent reflecting on those truths, and it made the work I was doing seem dignified and worth more to me than just the dollar amount I was being paid. In a way, it felt like I was honoring these people by trimming the grass around their headstones, like I was remembering them. Sure, it wasn’t much. I was just cutting grass that would grow back in a very short time, but in that moment it felt good to be doing what I was doing.

Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I believe there are two things that I have taken away from that experience at the old church’s graveyard. The first is a simple reminder: that’s where I am headed. No matter if or how many books I might write in my life, that’s where I am headed. No matter how many degrees I might end up achieving in my lifetime, that’s where I’m headed. And that’s a good reminder. Because it’s far too easy to get lost chasing after things that won’t matter 100 years from now, when the only remembrance of me will be in the brief thoughts of those who mow around my headstone.

The second thing I took away from this experience was a newfound appreciation for cemeteries and the thoughts they force us to think about. Oddly enough, I kind of went away thinking that I should be spending more time at cemeteries. And I have, a few different times, went to a cemetery or two to reflect. So I want to encourage you to go. Go to a random cemetery, sit and read the people’s names, look at the dates that mark their births and deaths, and ponder how they might have spent the time they walked as tourists on this floating sphere of dust. And think. What is your life’s purpose? What are you going to do with your life? What are you doing with your life? These are all things that are important to think about, but that life’s busyness usually keeps from entering our frames of mind. So I encourage you – go. Go step on (or preferably over and around) some graves, my friend.

 

The Same Destiny

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You will die. That is pretty much an undisputed fact. Like, science proves it and stuff. In fact, it may very well be that this is the one fact that you won’t ever have to question in your life. Yes, rest assured, every human that has ever lived, has died (except Elijah and Enoch), and it will be the same for you and I.

I have thought about this a lot. Not more than the average person, but perhaps at least more than the average young person. I actually have a few memories about coming to the realization of the reality of death. I can recall a time when I was younger, looking out the window of a moving vehicle, wondering if I would die on a specific car ride. And I can remember on a separate occasion coming to the understanding that I could not and would not ever know exactly how or when I would die.

I also remember realizing the same about my mother – how she would eventually die and there was no way I could prevent or otherwise know anything about it. The thoughts that wrecked my mind the most were things like, “What if she never gets to hold her grandkids and see me become a good parent?” “What if she dies before my wedding day, and I don’t get to see her there when I’m devoting my life to the woman I love?” And these questions would usually be followed by, “Do you think God will preserve her life, so that she will be able to be there in these moments? Do you think He will listen to you?”

Well, I know that God chose to protect my mother long enough to at least see my wedding day. I know that because that day has already happened, and praise God, she was there. But what about her being there for Bailey and I’s first child together? Well, I don’t know. But I do know that my mother has been appointed a day, just like I have, and just like Bailey has, and just like our child one day will have. Yet, still none of us has any insight as to which day the silver cord will snap, or the golden pot will break.

Which brings me to the reason I began writing this post in the first place.

Assuming you are not a Bible student, it might be helpful to know that the “silver cord” and “golden bowl” imagery is courtesy of Ecclesiastes (a book in the Old Testament). Immediately prior to writing this post, I read through Ecclesiastes twice. That is not to brag; I say this simply because, if you had read Ecclesiastes, you would know that it is a real spirit-lifter (that’s a joke). And you might better understand why the beginning of this post has such a gloomy tone. **Spoiler Alert** If you were wondering what Solomon (the guy who wrote Ecclesiastes) had to say about life, I’ll give you the jist: vanity – it’s just all friggin vanity.

Truthfully, as I was reading through Ecclesiastes I found my self wondering if Solomon was a Christian because the book seemed so hopeless. Then I remembered that he wasn’t a Christian (he was a Jew), and I began trying to process the weirdness of that realization. Could it be that Solomon spoke of life the way he did because he did not know the hope of Christians, that is, resurrection through Jesus Christ? Could be. Could it be that Solomon was simply writing Ecclesiastes to explain life through the eyes of non-believers? I think that option is also plausible.

But this much of what Solomon said I know is true regardless: “the same destiny overtakes all.” As you may have heard it said, death is the great equalizer of humanity. For, from dust we were all made, and to dust we shall all return. This is true both for the Christian and the Non-Christian, the evil man and the good man, the rich and the poor, the hard worker and the sluggard. Our inheritance from Adam is inescapable. We, along with all of our loved ones, friends, and family will be overtaken by the power of death.

But, if you are a Christian, might I encourage you? Might I speak something to you that scores of men and women from the beginning of the foundations of the earth have not had the privilege of hearing or understanding?

The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Almighty God, has altered the destiny of many. Not so that they might not die, for we all must die; but so that, in dying, they might not die again. There has only been one man who has had the power to grab death by the throat and deliver it to its own cruel end. Yes, death has died, for in the hands of our Resurrected King lay forgiveness and eternal life for all those who believe. And one day he will call forth all of the dust who are called His, back into form, and they will never be overtaken by death again. Most truly, their destiny has been altered for all of eternity.

If your hope is in Christ, you do face the “same destiny” that Solomon spoke of regarding all of humanity in Ecclesiastes. It’s not so great of a destiny. However, you will also share in the same destiny that Jesus spoke of regarding all believers in the Gospel of John. And it is beautiful. Thus are the words of our King: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

So take that, Ecclesiastes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by klauskornelius

Ill Mind 7: A Response

ill-mind-coverThe seventh addition to the Ill Mind of Hopsin saga series was a difficult piece to process. It was an emotional presentation, filled with confronting, unfiltered honesty and the oh-so expected coarseness that someone familiar with Hopsin’s work might anticipate. But I think, more than anything, Ill Mind 7 was a challenge for me. It was a challenge because it tells the tale of a young man who lost his faith, specifically in the Christian God. I have the inclination to believe that many who heard Hopsin’s song went away discouraged, dejected, or simply confused. But I am not so naive to believe that some didn’t also go away strengthened, feeling that they related and agreed very sharply with Hopsin’s lyrics.

I aim to analyze Hopsin’s lyrics from a Christian worldview, and in doing so, I hope to encourage conversation around some of the main points found within. Because I know that most would not be willing to read a six page analysis, I have sought to keep each point concise. So don’t expect my analysis to be exhaustive. I could have said much more in each section. Rather, simply expect some meaty thoughts to chew on (or, for all my vegetarians out there, expect some bulky tree trunks to naw on).

Lyrical Analysis 

The first point I would like to look at comes fairly early on in Hopsin’s song. He says,

“There’s way too many different religions with vivid descriptions, 

begging all #$@%&! men and women to listen.”  

This is a statement that I believe many people would and do agree with. They just don’t have the platform Hopsin does and have never attempted to make it rhyme. But let’s look at this protestive grievance. Hopsin seems to be claiming that, because there are so many religions in the world, this negates his obligation to choose or at least negates the plausibility of one religion being true. It seems that he is claiming God is unjust to allow there to be so many options. And granted, having so many different religions to choose from does add a significant amount of weight to an already heavy decision. But never should we completely drop or think ourselves released from the duty to search, evaluate, and decide, just because there is a diversity of options. We don’t do that when we are trying to choose a life partner, a job, or even a car, so why would we do it with perhaps the greatest question humanity has ever asked?

Another set of lyrics that struck my attention were these:

“I’m frustrated and you provoked it,

I’m not reading that @#$% @#$%&! book because a human wrote it… 

It was a mission that I had to abort,

‘cause humans be lying, we’re such an inaccurate source…”

Notice here that Hopsin expresses his dissatisfaction with the fact that humans played a part in the writing of Scripture. In doing so, he implies that he believes it should have been different. Humans are too untrustworthy, too inaccurate of a source, to have played a role in the writing of the Bible. He puts out his chest toward God and says he refuses to read the Bible because it was written by humans. First, I would like to ask, why is it shocking (or even offending) to Hopsin that God likes to use human beings to accomplish His plans on earth? With the exception of a few major events in time, God (the Christian God) has been pleased to use His creation to will and to work for His kingdom, to attain His desires. 

Second, if humans are untrustworthy, why should we trust Hopsin? Forget that! If humans are untrustworthy, how can Hopsin even trust himself? Now, one might interject, “he wasn’t talking about humans in today’s era. He was talking about humans in ancient times.” Really? Donald Trump is our president, man. C’mon. Humans are no more trustworthy today than they were yesterday.

Perhaps one might then say, “well, it’s not that they were less trustworthy back then, they just didn’t have the means to verify things like we do today.” Ok. I will admit that they didn’t have video cameras or photography. But I do not feel it invalid to believe that they would have been able to call “BS” (bullspit) on a man who claimed to walk on water, restore sight to the blind, and enable paralytics to walk again after they met him once or twice in person.

The simple truth of the matter is this: not all humans are trustworthy, but not all humans are untrustworthy. This is why Hopsin himself can say anything at all and expect to be heard, and this is why he (and we) should hesitate to discredit the men and women of ancient times. The issue is not that there is no-one on earth that can be trusted; the issue, it seems, is that Hopsin refuses to trust any individual who claims to have had a direct experience with God. And indeed, if Hopsin refuses to trust any of those individuals, he probably won’t make much progress in his pursuit of God.

In another spot, and a number of others, Hopsin states or strongly implies that he wants a sign from God. In fact, the various emotional climaxes throughout the song seem to indicate that this issue is paramount in Hopsin’s denunciation of the faith. He states specifically in one section:

“And I ain’t trying to take your legacy and torch it down,

I’m just saying: I ain’t heard @#$% from the horse’s mouth.

Just sheep always telling stories of older guys,

who were notarized by you when you finally vocalized.

Now I’m supposed to bow my head and close my eyes

and somehow let the Holy Ghost arise?

Sounds like a @#$%&?! poltergeist.

Show yourself! And then boom it’s done.

Every rumors gone, I’ll no longer doubt this @#$%, you’re the One.”

As one can see, Hopsin wants a supernatural sign from God. More truly, he demands it. He doesn’t want to hear other people tell him about God; he doesn’t want to rely on the Scriptures. He wants to speak to or see God directly.  But perhaps more at the root of this obsession to see God directly is an issue of faith. Perhaps the bigger issue is that Hopsin dislikes how belief in God entails faith. Unfortunately, the problem with this in relation to the Christian God is that, “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Yet even regardless of what Yahweh has said about faith, to my knowledge, there is no belief system in the world that involves the complete absence of faith. Therefore, if Hopsin desires to have faith in nothing, he will have belief in nothing.

Conclusion

Ultimately, it seems evident to me that Hopsin has simply turned from the worship of God to the worship of himself. And while Ill Mind 7 was an emotional and very moving piece that I don’t mean to dispute the sincerity of, I have found and humbly assert that the issues proposed within do not have justifiable grounds upon which to stand.

All lyrics taken from https://genius.com

Photo from www.audibletreats.com