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My love affair with comic books

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I’ve been a nerd since before there was a “nerd culture.”[1. You know, back when kids used to beat you up for being one.] I’ve always loved comic books, sci-fi, fantasy and all kinds of stuff like that. In fact, one of my earliest memories is of one of the first comics I remember ever reading was an old issue of Marvel’s What If… series, when I was five or six. The issue was about what if Conan the Barbarian was stranded in the 20th century, I think.[2. Admittedly, the details are kind of fuzzy. After all, it was 30 years ago.]

I never really outgrew my love of comics. In fact, as I got older, I was more invested in them. My first job was in a comic shop in Kitchener, Ontario, where I’m pretty I was working for comics. Later, I decided to start making them (true story: one of my major projects in OAC English was a comic book). I eventually managed to get accepted to a private college in New Jersey, one with a special emphasis on comics (because its founder and primary teachers were all professional comic artists).[3. I never ended up going, by the way.]

When our daughter, Abigail, was born, we decided Emily was going to stay at home to be a full-time mom. I had two bookshelves full of graphic novels, plus a number of long boxes kicking about the house. Money was super-tight. So, I made a decision:

I got rid of all of my comic books. Every single graphic novel. Every individual issue.

Everything.

It wasn’t a wildly valuable collection by any means, but it did pay for our groceries for about a month, plus a couple of other significant bills. Although it pained me, it was the decision that was right for the time, the one I needed to make to honor Christ and serve my family. As a result, I stopped reading comics for a number of years after. Then, in the last year, I started reading them again, largely because Abigail is now old enough to start enjoying some comics herself and I wanted to do something that the two of us could enjoy together.

And it’s great. I still love the art form, even it’s incredibly hard to find material these days that isn’t super-sketchy, though not impossible. But even so, as a Christian, I’ve had to ask myself: how do I navigate enjoying this art form while at the same time trying to honor Christ with what I’m reading? That’s the question we have to ask ourselves about most any art medium, isn’t it? We can ask that of music, of movies, novels and television. I wonder if, to some degree, this is why so many Christians seem to only listen to Christian music, watch Christian movies, and read Christian books—the Christian bubble is easier (at least in some ways), and there’s actually a surprising amount of social pressure to conform.

But though it might be easier, it might not be the best thing, something I address in my most recent article at For the Church in the “Letters to a new believer” series:

Don’t unthinkingly and uncritically jump into the Christian entertainment bubble. Don’t have a shallow view of art. Instead, one of the best things you can do is take some time to develop a theology of art—to consider why we create, whether all we create is pleasing to God, and the need for discernment.

First, let’s think about why we create. Ignore for a moment, the question of the specific content being created. What is it that motivates human beings to be creative? Why do we write stories, make music, build and design and shape and innovate—all of which have no natural place in a utilitarian worldview? It’s simple (but not). Fundamentally, we create because God is creative. Creativity is valuable because God does it. He made all the stuff of this universe: from the tiny atoms that make up your body to the moon and the stars (Genesis 1:1-2:2). And we do likewise because we who are called image bearers of God are like him (Genesis 1:26-27). In his book Art and the Bible, Francis Schaeffer described creativity as being intrinsic to our “mannishness”—that is to our very humanity. And so because we are like God, all of us are creative to one degree or another, whether it’s with a paintbrush or a spreadsheet.…

Now, let’s think about whether all creative efforts glorify God. After all, just because creativity is intrinsic to our nature as human beings and God is pleased when we create, not every creative act is equally glorifying to him. This is, in part, because of quality. I think we’ve all seen that not all creativity is great art. When a song is poorly composed, we know it. When a book lacks a plot, we are not unaware (even if said book[s] wind up selling gazillions). When a movie’s special effects are laughably bad, we notice. And while I don’t want to diminish the efforts of fellow believers, this, unfortunately, seems to be where a lot of the material marketed toward Christians lives. There’s a noble desire to make something that is honoring to Jesus, but it all falls apart in the execution. But if something has been poorly crafted, regardless of the label, guess what? It’s not good, and therefore inherently is not as God glorifying as something that’s very well done.

Read the whole thing at For the Church.

Concessions, confessions and untangling tangly bits (For the Church)

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My series at For the Church, “Letters to a New Believer,” continues. The first post addressed the dangers of rushing into leadership roles. The second takes a step back to look at getting grounded in the Bible. The third, is my encouragement to tell the story that’s yours. The fourth is probably the most personally revealing thing I’ve ever written, especially since it deals with s-e-x:

Emily and I had lived together, more or less, since 2000. I say “more or less” because during our second year of college we both had separate dorm rooms, but she spent the majority of her time in mine. In 2001, we got our first apartment together. In late 2004, we bought a house together. And then in 2005 Jesus saved us and made a mess of everything.

When it came to realizing what the Bible says about sexual immorality applied to us, we were a little slow on the uptake. Granted, there were certain things no one had to tell us weren’t okay. While neither of us was addicted to pornography, we had some in the house. So we tossed it. (And as a side note, you never realize how much is actually there until you go to get rid of it all.) But when it came to certain parts of our living arrangement, we more or less continued the way we had been to some degree.

And then we got a call at work from Emily’s mother, one that I still probably need to go to therapy over. She called to let us know that Emily’s sister—who was supposed to come and live with us in the fall to attend university—had become sexually active with her boyfriend.

And so after we were kind of grossed out for a bit—because no one likes to think of their siblings doing things that are only okay for them to do—we realized something: if we’re not okay with her doing that, why was it okay for us?

And that’s when the elephant juggling a ton of bricks while standing on a piano delicately grazing our respective craniums.

Keep reading at For the Church.


Photo credit: bedroom via photopin (license). Designed with Canva.

Tell the story that’s *yours* (For the Church)

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My series at For the Church, “Letters to a New Believer,” continues. The first post addressed the dangers of rushing into leadership roles. The second takes a step back to look at getting grounded in the Bible. The third, is my encouragement to tell the story that’s yours:

We tend to follow a pretty standard three-point summary:

  • what your life was like before becoming a Christian
  • what happened to draw you to Christ
  • what your life is like now.

I’m pretty sure that there’s no Christian who couldn’t divide up their story in this fashion.

But that doesn’t mean our stories are meant to fit neatly into a template.

The first time I realized this was when I tried to share my testimony in Honduras. It was 2006, I’d been a Christian for just over a year, it was my first missions trip, and it was super-awkward. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what happened (though I did), nor was it that I was particularly uncomfortable in front of a crowd (though I was). What made it awkward was the way I was telling the story wasn’t right.

Remember the standard three-point summary? Well, usually when you hear it, it goes something like this:

“Before I was a Christian, my life was a mess. I was living for myself, joyful on the outside but empty on the inside, numbing my insecurities with drugs, alcohol and/or sex with random strangers. One night, things reached a breaking point—I hit rock bottom—and I gave my life to Jesus. After that, I realized I’d found what I’d been looking for and now I’m living my life for him, serving in my church and found an extra five dollars in my coat this morning.”

Okay, that probably came across a little cheeky, but I don’t mean it to be glib. When I hear how God has brought someone to this obvious breaking point, and taken them through the proverbial fire, and when I see how their lives have been changed through their relationship with Jesus Christ, I am so thankful. But not everyone has an obvious rock bottom moment. And for some of us, the story doesn’t get better at the end.

Keep reading at For the Church.

Get grounded! (For the Church)

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My new series at For the Church, “Letters to a New Believer,” continues. The first post addressed the dangers of rushing into leadership roles. The second takes a step back and addresses a foundational issue: getting grounded in the Bible:

When my wife and I first became Christians, we had a lot to figure out. Up until that point, we’d been more or less your typical non-Christian couple: we met in college, moved in together halfway through, got engaged (but didn’t set a date for several years), eventually bought a house… and then we met Jesus.

And it was exactly as awkward as you’re imagining. (But we’ll get to that another time.)

During that time, though, God was very kind to us as we started figuring out what the “now what” of our conversion. We were connected to a local church where there were a lot of very kind people. The pastor worked with us to make the mess of our lives make sense as Christians, though he was kind of flying by the seat of his pants with some of it. But as much as we saw God pouring out grace upon us in this time, we were in danger. I was in danger.

…I read books like Velvet Elvis, Searching for God Knows What, and Blue Like Jazz, many of which were well written but had deep theological problems that I couldn’t recognize. I read memoirs by celebrity pastors that had no business writing memoirs, and did nothing to help me get a clear picture of Christian character. Our friends sat up discussing NOOMA videos, but never saw the hopelessness of their messages. Many young men in our church talked about what it meant to be Christian men, which somehow meant going on spirit quests to kill dragons while building sheds with nothing but duct tape and our own tenacity. We listened to lectures on how we needed to be less concerned with building programs and evangelistic rallies, and more concerned with making sure people had clean water to drink.

But you know what few of us were doing during all that? We weren’t grounding ourselves in the faith. We weren’t reading our Bibles, at least to the degree we ought to have been.

Keep reading at For the Church.

Letters to a New Believer (For the Church)

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This year is my tenth as a Christian—in fact, if I remember correctly, the actual date is coming up in about three weeks, which is pretty neat to think about. Over the last 10 years, I’ve learned a LOT—mostly by making a lot of bone-headed mistakes. There’s so much I wish I’d known then, and so many things I wish someone would have told me…

So, that’s what I’m doing in a new series for For the Church, “Letters to a New Believer.” The first part is now up, which focuses on the dangers of rushing into leadership roles:

About a year or so into being a Christian, I did something absolutely, spectacularly dumb: I joined the men’s ministry leadership team at our church. Seriously, on a scale of dumb to really dumb, this was just the worst. It was such a bad idea.

Why did I think this was a good idea? And who on earth approved me for any of this?

Well, here’s the thing… It wasn’t just men’s ministry. As a brand-new baby Christian, I was not only trying to figure out the mess of my own life, I was facilitating in our children’s ministry. And within about a year of coming to faith, I was leading a small group. And…  Here’s the point: when I most needed to be sitting under someone’s leadership—to be learning, growing, and building the foundation of my faith—I was in a place where I was trying to do that for others. And it was bad—so bad. The Lord graciously prevented me from doing any serious damage to the faith of other believers (at least as far as I know), but wow, did I ever do a lot of damage to myself. I developed an extremely prideful attitude. I had a swagger that didn’t befit a Christian. I had delusions of grandeur that were just… wow.

Keep reading at For the Church.

The Challenge of Contending (For the Church)

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My first article at For the Church:

Like all married couples, my wife and I occasionally express our disagreements with a certain unhelpful zeal… In other words, we fight. However important the issue might seem at the time, we have come to realize that our disputes are often over stupid or trivial things:

  • Was there an episode of the Ewoks cartoon with Storm Troopers? (Yes.)
  • In answer to the question, “What time is it?” is there a meaningful difference between “A little after three” and “3:07”? (Not really.)
  • If I go into another room to get something for my wife, is this actually helpful to her if she didn’t ask for my help? (Jury’s still out on this one.)

These are the kinds of deep, confounding issues that can arise in a marriage, right? No, these are the kinds of ultimately insignificant questions that we find ourselves squabbling over mainly so we can claim the title of Rightest Person in the Room.

For some, the idea of contending for the faith feels a little like this. Indeed, if the concerns voiced by some evangelicals—particularly those who label themselves “progressive”—were any indication, it seems as though we’re spending most of our time fighting over fairly insignificant issues while overlooking more important ones. And even when the debates are centered on important matters—such as abortion or the biblical view of marriage—some are so exhausted they’ve thrown up their hands and cried, “Can’t we all just get along?”

I understand this concern. There are many times I’ve felt like this, too, particularly as I look at how we conduct ourselves online. But you know what keeps me from giving up the fight? The Bible won’t let me. And just as the Bible won’t let me give up the fight, it’s changed how I fight.

Continue reading at For the Church.