Category Archives: Faith

My faith in Christ

Love on the Westside Express

On my morning trip on the commuter rail, I often see a couple of young women traveling together. They keep to themselves, occasionally leaning against each other and speaking in low voices. Usually, though, they just snuggle and doze. They are clearly crazy about each other in their low-profile way.

Seeing them reminds me of John 13:34, where Christ says,“As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” What makes me sad is that some people who profess to follow Christ would be angered by this sight, simply because it is two women. Love is love, to my mind. These two aren’t telling me how to live, they are merely trying to protect each other and stay warm in a cold world. We can never have too much of that kind of devotion.

Sinning differently

Those who follow sports news are probably aware that NBA player Jason Collins caused a stir this week by coming out as gay in an article in Sports Illustrated. I know a few folks who are upset by this and are very likely to point fingers at this man and condemn his action. My reaction is to quote two passages of Scripture (these are from the NIV):
Romans 2:1
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.
John 8:7
He straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

My pastor pointed out that we often fall into the practice of pointing fingers at those who sin differently than we do, but the truth is that we all fall short of the glory of God and we all need grace. I don’t feel competent to state definitively how the Lord will judge anyone and I have great skepticism for anyone who claims otherwise.

High risk, low reward

Last night I stepped into the path of an oncoming train. It wasn’t deliberate, though this qualification would not change the results if we happened to collide. You may ask why an intelligent, educated person would cross a well-marked, sign-posted set of light-rail tracks without looking. After a fair amount of thinking about this, the only honest answer I can provide is that I was distracted enough that I did not consider the consequences.

I occasionally observe in others the kind of behavior that I label “high-risk low-reward”. We’ve all seen examples of this, where one takes a gamble whose negative consequences are far worse than the possible rewards — darting into traffic to retrieve an item that is easily and cheaply replaced, for instance. In my case, I decided to forego the trouble of stopping my movement across the tracks long enough to swivel my head to the right and check for an almost-certainly nonexistent oncoming train. There’s the problem, of course: the word “almost”. Yes, the odds of a train being close enough to threaten me with grievous bodily harm are very strongly in my favor, but this is the kind of gamble you may only be able to lose once. The downside potential of paying off the loss is enormous (for me, my family, and employer), while the possible reward — saving 3 seconds of glancing, plus perhaps 45 seconds I would have to spend waiting for the train to pass — looks pretty paltry in comparison. I made myself a poster child for high-risk, low-reward behavior.

It’s worth noting that less than half an hour before this thoughtless decision, I prayed as I waited for the light-rail to arrive in downtown Portland. I asked for protection and swift travel as I went home. It’s tempting to think that the fact that I am here to type this tale is proof of the prayer’s efficacy. I certainly thanked the Lord for His mercy, whether He chose to intervene directly or not. The problem would come if I chose to depend on prayers for protection from all my bad decisions. All it would take is for me to forget once, if you see what I mean. Probably better to pray for protection and to make better choices — make it more of a team effort.

It’s never too early to show some grace

My cell phone rang at 2:45 this morning. Here’s how the conversation went:


“I’m pregnant.” (spoken by a woman in a husky voice)

“Who is this?”

“It’s me.”

“Who is me?”


“Who is calling please?” (I am getting steamed now.)

“Who is this?”

“Who are you calling?”

“Is this Irvin?”

“No, you have a wrong number and it’s the middle of the f*****g night.”

Whereupon I snapped the phone shut. I tried to settle down and get back to sleep, since I had to get up for work in a few hours. But once the anger faded, I began to feel sheepish. “Convicted,” as they say in church. I handled that badly, especially the cursing. This woman was clearly unhappy and wanted to talk to this Irvin character. If she really is pregnant (which given the way she said it, I tend to doubt), her agitation would be very understandable. If she was simply drunk and lonely, who am I to condemn her for lack of courtesy (and poor memory for phone numbers)? At least she was trying (badly, yes) to reach out to someone. I really want to try to handle it better next time something like this happens. I think it would be okay to gently point out that it’s 2:45 in the morning, but it would also be better for both of us to offer her some encouragement, to think beyond my own pique at being awakened.

I would have called her back, but she had her number blocked on Caller ID. So I will simply have to try to learn from my mistake and offer some grace next time someone needs it. Lord knows I have accepted enough for myself.

A different road

I read an article on NPR’s site yesterday about a United Methodist minister who abandoned her faith and decided that she was an atheist. This story struck a chord for me, as it has many of the elements of my own journey to faith. I recognized the description of disillusionment with a God who seemed to be a judgmental taskmaster — that was the image I held for many years. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that her childhood was spent in a conservative Baptist family, while mine was spent with Catholics. The big difference for me seems to be that, after a journey of many years, I was drawn to the Cross by love — the love of my wife, and the love of a little church in the Sierra foothills. Once I understood that the dogma of religion that I found so repugnant – the damnation, the rejection, the fear — was devised by fallible humans and not by the God of Love, I learned that faith in a loving God is not the same as religion. I pray that her journey will lead her back to the Lord by way of love, as mine did. I am confident that He will be waiting patiently, as He did for me.

Kids watch everything you do

Lately I have noticed how many people don’t know or don’t care that they are setting a lousy example for their children. I watch parents screaming, cursing, and calling terrible names as if the kids aren’t there. Sometimes the kids are crying and acting upset while this is going on; often, though, they simply watch as if this is a show they have seen many times before. (How much worse is that?) I am tempted to generalize about why adults do this – lack of maturity seems to be a common theme – but the important point is that they are doing serious damage to children. Kids are sharp and observant, even when they appear to be totally disconnected from their surroundings. I have watched my niece’s three-year-old repeat words he heard one time, even mimicking the tone in which it was delivered.

The Bible teaches us how precious children are to the Lord; I believe a lot of people will be facing unpleasant questions at the final reckoning as to how they treated children in this life. Whether you accept that there will be an ultimate accounting or not, please know that children, whether yours or not, watch everything you do, and that you have no right to be surprised when those kids act out later and display their own version of your behavior. I cannot guarantee that setting a shining example of love and courtesy will make children happy, of course — that would be a little too simple, wouldn’t it? But I do believe you can make a positive, significant difference in your life by treating everyone with respect. That is a pretty good practice at all times, but especially when kids are around.

Grace is a good deal

One of the underpinnings of Christian belief is the concept of grace — that God gives you His gifts without making you earn them. I understood grace as an idea, but it was not until things took a serious turn for the worse recently that I started noticing and appreciating what He does for us in little ways that are easy to overlook. Some of these things I ask for, and most of them I remember to thank Him for, but it doesn’t matter – He provides them all the same. I’m not talking about abstract things like eternal life; I mean that I get all kinds of useful gifts every day. Ever have to go without a shower because you couldn’t pay your gas bill? I have. Now I thank Him every time I turn the handle and hot water comes out. I had a radiator hose blow when I was driving on the freeway recently. I was at least 2 miles from home, and yet I was able to drive home safely without overheating. Now *that* is a practical gift!

The really amazing part of this deal is that you don’t have to earn it. Every day of my life I fall short of what I should do and be; if I was a professional Christian, I would have been fired long ago. Yet God continues to bless me every single day without fail. It doesn’t matter if I have saved a busload of orphans from fiery death, or if I kicked a kitten, or just forgot to do the dishes again. I turn the handle, and the hot clean water comes out. I try to remember to be thankful for everything, but it doesn’t matter if I forget something — it just keeps coming. Grace is like that.