Sounds Like Someone’s Got a Case of the “What If’s?”

If you could “redo”, would you?  Should you?

It’s only natural to think, “If only I could go back in time with the knowledge I know now…”  That goes through my head way more than it should.  About all kinds of things from my past.  But to be able to do that would mean I would have the mind of a 28 year-old and the body of a kid.  Unfair advantage.

I’m sure it all goes back to the hidden (male) feeling of inadequacy:

I should have made a point to build stronger friendships with certain people in high school and been more involved with school events, like decorating of the halls for Homecoming Week which I skipped out on.

I should have focused more on writing while I was in college.

I should have just gone to the University of Alabama and saved my parents thousands of dollars instead of going to a private college in Virginia.

Here’s the irony.  If I would have done those things differently like I “should have” done, I wouldn’t have gained the experience that I have know to even though that those things were what I would have wanted.

I would have probably just have ended up more confused with even more “should have’s”.

So I here am, still paying off college debts because I was “supposed to” go to Liberty University in Virgina.  When I could have just gone to Alabama.

In theory, if I could go back and do things in the parallel What If Universe, I would have been more confident in high school, I wouldn’t be in debt because of college, and I would have gotten a more specific education and would now be a famous author with a major book deal and a 40 state tour to sell my book, Scenic Route Snapshots.  They end up making a movie from my book, starring James Franco.

That’s me totally romanticizing my life.

But I’m here instead.  A great life.  I wouldn’t change a thing.

I just have to quiet that daydreaming tendency in me that wonders “what if?” Of course if I really lived in that What If Universe, I have a feeling I would still end up in the same place.  Dang flash-sideways.  Actually, things would probably be less desirable.

I would always be wondering how my life would have been different had I left the state of Alabama after high school graduation.  I would always be curious about that exotic life I never got to live.  I would be envious of the life I live now.

It’s often easiest to want the things we can never have.  Like the ability to go back and live in the What If Universe.

Whether or not my life would be changed, I couldn’t say the same for the lives of a few others in my life.  The reason my sister and her husband met was because of where I went to college.  Out of state.  The kids they end up having, in some fashion, I helped bring them into existence by my random dream to go to college in Lynchburg, Virginia.

And another married couple I brought together unintentionally:  During my senior year of college I ran the front desk of Liberty University’s brand new state-of-the-art student center, equipped with an Olympic sized pool and 6 basketball court.  I worked the early morning shift with a girl named Jen.  Every morning these two funny guys named Chris and Jesse came in to work out in the gym.

A few months went by of the usual random conversations I would have with them as they came in. The whole time, Jen was right there sitting beside me- the more soft-spoken one of us who observed and participated in our conversations of the day:  “Which movie is scarier?  The original Willy Wonka or The Wizard of Oz?”

For my birthday that year, Chris and Jesse performed a special dance and song they had written just for me, with the lyrics, “Naughty Nick, naughty, naughty Nick…” The corresponding dance moves involved syncopated pelvic thrusts and a finale where they pulled underwear out of their shorts and left them on the floor as a birthday souvenir.   (Check the comments on the “About the Author” tab on this site.  Jesse recently reminded me of all this, bringing this post into existence.)

Soon after, I took off a day from work.  I returned the next day to find out that Jen agreed to go on a date with Chris- a motorcycle ride and dinner, to be exact.  That was five years ago.  They have since been married and recently had their first child.

What if?  What if I wouldn’t have forced my friendly abstract banter with those two guys day after day?  Would Jen and Chris have broken the ice?  Or would he have just been another guy going to the gym have morning and she just another girl checking for student ID’s at the front desk?

Have I changed their lives forever by playing an off-beat pawn that caused them both to be on the same track?

The same could be said for John, the guy who introduced my wife and me to each other.

Thank God for all the times we don’t get to live out the “what if’s?”  My guess is that it’s often the somewhat seemingly bland path we did choose that leads us to take the scenic route.  And that leads us to the things we love most about our lives.

For the more comical version, read “Must Punch Punk Kid in Face”  http://wp.me/pxqBU-F5

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Heads or Tails?

Sometimes there’s no middle ground.

To entertain ourselves in the cafeteria after we finished our corndog and tater tot lunches, my friends and I would have contests to see who could make a quarter spin the longest on the table before it ultimately landed on either heads or tails. Fine amusement for 5th grade boys. But never once did a quarter remain on its side. It always fell on one side or the other. Heads or tails.

Today I spent my lunch break at Border’s. Browsing through the photograph books, I couldn’t help but notice the cover of a book entitled Traffik. It was a simple black-and-white picture of a Southeast Asian woman looking at the camera. She only had one eye.

It saddened me so much I pulled out the book from the shelf and sat down on a stool to read it. The book was a large collection of photographs featuring women trapped in human trafficking (forced prostitution) in Cambodia. They are often lured from the mountains and the countryside by men promising them good work.

Of course this sort of hellishly-inspired activity isn’t only currently happening in Asia. While attending Liberty University, I listened carefully to the reports of guest speaker Kay Warren, the wife of Rick Warren (author of The Purpose Driven Life). She has spent time ministering to AIDS victims in Africa.

She explained (regarding the AIDS epidemic in that continent,) that many men with AIDS commonly believe (as they are instructed by witch doctors) they can be cured if they have sex with someone who is “pure”. That’s one of the reasons many children in Africa have AIDS or HIV.

It is estimated that today there are around 29 million slaves in the world; particularly in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. I only learned that a few months ago- I was under the impression that slavery ended 150 years ago.

So many men keep slavery alive today by capturing and selling other people. And so many other men keep slavery alive by buying or renting slaves from these decrepit “businessmen”. And that leaves innocent women and children to suffer.

When some people are given this information, their reaction is, “How could God exist if he lets things like that happen in the world?”

Others react with, “How could God not exist when things like that are happening in the world?” Because they have hope in justice. And hope in a being who is actually qualified to judge the injustice in the history of the world. Not just sit on a cloud.

Yes, we easily agree that human trafficking needs to be stopped and that’s is a horrible thing.  And fortunately, more awareness of the issue is causing groups to form across to help rescue the victims, if nothing else. 

Faith can’t be real if it’s not tested and questioned.  And when it comes to God and a tragedy this horrific, even when we’re not directly affected, it still causes us to either draw closer or further away from God at the simple thought of it.

Heads or tails?

Christianity and Wine

Wine not?

Taboo is an interesting thing. As the opening line to the theme song of the classic inter-racial sitcom Diff’rent Strokes goes, “Now the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum: What might be right for you, might not be right for some.” From the society of a small family, to a town, to a nation, certain collective behavioral beliefs help unify a group of people to identify as one, bringing a sense of safety in numbers as well as vindication that their own viewpoint really is the best one.

As I researched for my epic “Beauty and Self-Worth aren’t the Real Issues, Lack of Will Power Is” last week, I learned some interesting things about food and drinks that are considered taboo by certain cultures. For example, throughout the centuries coffee has been banned by different countries (including our own) and religious groups (at one time Catholics and currently Mormons). Caffeine is an addictive drug and many people have seen coffee as a controlled substance, as it causes its consumers to become dependent on a drink that can change their demeanor simply by its consumption or lack of it, after the tolerance is built up.

It’s hard to imagine that drinking coffee (and other caffeine-laced beverages like tea and Red Bull) would be taboo to anyone. But considering its addictive qualities along with its mood-altering and heart rate changing abilities, it does have some similarities to alcohol, which is more easily condemned by religious groups. Muslims, Hindus, Rastafarians (though they encourage/require marijuana use), and Mormons are the most solid in their shunning of alcoholic beverages.

As for Protestant Christians, it’s namely Baptists and Methodists that have a stance of little to no tolerance for alcohol, often stated in their church by-laws. (Being that my hometown is almost completely represented by Baptists and Methodists, the sell or purchase of alcohol was illegal in the county until 2006.) However, because of their proximity to the Catholic Church, Episcopalians and Presbyterians tend not to look down on alcohol consumption.

Being Baptist my entire life, I always thought it was weird that Catholics actually drink wine during the service, in particular for the Lord’s Supper. Obviously Jesus and his disciples drank wine for the Last Supper, but we always used Welch’s grape juice (a company that got its start by offering non-alcoholic grape juice to the American Christians who saw drinking wine as sinful). After high school I moved away from my “dry” hometown and graduated from a one year (Baptist affiliated) Bible college in Florida then earned my English degree from Jerry Falwell’s (openly Baptist) Liberty University in Virginia, both saturated in an “alcohol is taboo and prohibited” culture.

Then I moved to Nashville.

An interesting crossbreed between churches and bars. A culture where drinking beer is in the same category as drinking soda. In other words, it’s just another beverage. Like in Europe. And I quickly learned that judgmental attitudes towards alcohol were nowhere to be found, even in Baptist circles. A person could actually sincerely love both Jesus and beer. In fact, last Fall my Sunday School class took a tour of Nashville’s own Yazoo Brewery as a fun activity.

When I finally accepted the fact that alcohol was no longer a moral issue to me, a revelation I had was this: Alcohol use does not necessarily equal alcohol abuse. Before, my mind saw any consumption of alcohol as an instant link to drunkenness and alcoholism. That is a stigma that has since been dissolved from my mind.

An interesting exception to the alcohol ban in Christian circles is best expressed in a quote I would always hear from my friends growing up: “My parents don’t drink, except for a little wine on their wedding anniversaries.” The alcoholic content of the average beer is around 5%. However, wine typically starts between 12 to 15%. Why was strong wine overlooked for special occasions but weak beer condemned?

There are several reasonable answers to this paradox, just like there are many understandable points on why certain religions prohibit alcohol. And because good cases can be made for both acceptance and rejection, it’s remains taboo for some and completely normal for others.

Ironically, the same parts of the Bible that caused me to believe alcohol consumption was wrong before, are now the same verses that give me confidence that for me, it’s no longer a moral issue. In fact, some of the best spiritual growth I’ve done in my entire life was during the time period that I figured this thing out for myself. Whereas before I was either too young to drink, banned by my college, or a part of a culture that shunned alcohol, the independence I found by sorting out my view on the issue helped me become aware of the spiritual side effect that a “no alcohol” lifestyle had on me: I was secretly judgmental of those Christians who drank.

But in the classic case of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”, I realized that I had been treating the issue like some of the Jewish leaders did the law of Moses. They judged Jesus for healing sick people on the Sabbath. Even though the law more generically instructed the people to make the Sabbath day a time of rest and remembering God, the Jews stretched this and in their own interpretation added to the law, stating exactly how many steps a person could walk on the Sabbath, considering anything more than that to be work, therefore breaking the law of Moses. Judging the people by a higher standard of the law than God actually gave to the people.

I allowed myself to believe that the wine of the Bible was different than wine today. Because that excused Jesus of drinking it. And that helped me better accept the fact that Jesus’ first miracle was turning the water into wine at the wedding, and that he knew enough about wine that he might the good kind, and people at the wedding noticed it. But even if there was less alcohol content in the wine of Biblical times, it couldn’t have been much less. Jesus drank real wine. I finally stopped judging Jesus and others for it. And once I joined the crowd, not for reasons of peer pressure but because of personal conviction, I realized my walk with Christ matured.

Now I know that a person can have a daily personal relationship with Jesus, can read and study the Bible, can pray for others, and appreciate good wine and beer, because I have become that person. After daily praying for years that God would show me my flaws and my sins, my prayers were answered when I, in a sense, took real communion for the first time.

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Here are some excerpts from Paul’s letters to the church in the book of I Corinthians regarding eating food sacrificed to idols. These are the quotes that have bounced around in my head as I’ve established my own beliefs regarding food and drink:

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not from your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. (6:19,20).”

“But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak (9:11).”

“For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ (8:11,12).”

“Whether, then, you eat or you drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (10:31).”

Water2Wine