433. I Nearly Left My Faith Last Year

I have put off writing this post for a long time. I was afraid it might cause some of the religious people in my life to shout, “ADAM WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU HAVE MORE FAITH,” and some of my nonreligious friends to shout, “LET IT GO ADAM BE ENLIGHTENED,” and shouting stresses me out.

That said, this post is an extremely personal one, and I’ll be grateful for sensitivity in the comments. Advice or criticism, however gentle or well-intentioned, probably won’t help today. I’m not asking for any of that.

I’m just telling a story.

I considered leaving my faith last year. I didn’t actually leave it, in case you were wondering. For better or worse, Adam Stück remains a follower of Jesus Christ.

Crucifixion statue

The year 2015 was, all things considered, a memorable one. I quit my old job, started a new one, went on an unexpected adventure, switched job positions, lost a dear friend, grew a scruffy jaw-beard, and got a cat. As I blogged about the turbulent changes of 2015, there was one I didn’t mention.

I have long wrestled with doubts about the existence of God. Of all the posts on this blog, probably the most important to me is the one in which I discussed my uncertain faith. “If I’m a fool,” I wrote long ago, “at least I have the consolation of being God’s fool.”

I’ve been a dedicated Christian since 2004, when I began taking Christ seriously. Faith was effortless in high school, and even college (despite my Thursday Afternoon of the Soul and other rough patches) didn’t dampen my devotion to God. I was convinced he had a plan for my life, and I was following it, and everything would work out if I kept the faith and worked hard.


Then, around the time I started this blog, I realized I didn’t want to follow the career I had studied in college. I panicked, uncertain of where to go next. My plans, which I had always assumed were really God’s plans, suddenly seemed mistaken.

Less than a year later, my most cherished writing project, a little book titled The Trials of Lance Eliot, crashed and burned. I had wondered before whether I had wasted three and a half years of college; now I asked myself whether I had wasted twice that time working on a failed novel.

My career plans had gone awry. My book plans had failed. I was stuck in a really bad job situation. However, I didn’t give up. I assumed my situation was some sort of spiritual desert: a test after which God would lead me to my “real” future. I clung to faith. I endured.

Then, when I finally left that lousy old job last year, I didn’t arrive at my long-sought promised land—I just reached another dead end. (Sure, it was a much nicer dead end, but just as dead.)

It made me question things.

Was there ever a bigger plan?

What if there never was?

Where is God?

Along with these questions came the all of the familiar ones with renewed urgency: Why does Scripture seem so inconsistent and self-contradictory? Why has Christ’s life been followed by two thousand years of empty silence? Why is the world so broken? Why do so many religious people seem hypocritical or out of touch?

As I set aside my long-held religious preconceptions, a naturalistic worldview began to seem more rational than a religious one. I asked myself, “If I give up faith in Christ, what happens?” Do I put in two weeks’ notice? Is there paperwork? Do I sing “Let It Go” on a snowy mountaintop somewhere, or what?

As I pondered who I would become without Christ, an ugly picture emerged: a bitter, self-centered geek wrapped in a cocoon of video games, television, and other anesthetics, reveling in theretofore forbidden pleasures like porn and alcoholism, grieving the death of his faith, and pursuing his own comfort and happiness at any cost.

I didn’t like that picture.

Jerk [resized]

I don’t want to believe in Christianity because it’s convenient or well-intentioned. I want to believe in it because it’s true. Is it? I wish I knew. A lot of evidence supports it, but no conclusive proof. I hope Christianity is true. I choose to believe it is, and I’m trying to live my life according to that belief.

Whatever good I’ve done, I’ve done because of my Christian faith. Whatever good I’ve done, I’ve done for Christ. There’s something in that, even if my beliefs turn out to be mistaken. I would rather live for Christ, and die in hope, than live for myself, and die miserable.

I conclude with a scene from one of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. (Spoilers, I guess?) In one of the books, the heroes are trapped deep underground with a beautiful witch. She enchants them into believing the world has no surface. There is no sky, she says, and no sun. There is no land called Narnia, and no king named Aslan. The only world is underground, the only lights are lamps, and the only ruler is the witch herself.

Everyone falls under the witch’s spell, except an old grump named Puddleglum, who has this to say:

One word, Ma’am. One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so.

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it.

We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.

I’m less certain of my faith than ever before, but I’m going to stand by it. I’m on Christ’s side even if Christ doesn’t live to lead it. I’m going to live as a Christian even if Christianity isn’t true—and I believe it is.

Either way, for better or worse, I’ll stand by Jesus Christ.

Communion Anxiety

Christians know all about Communion. Seriously, we’ve got it covered. Call it the Lord’s Supper, Eucharist, whatever you like, we know our stuff. We partake of little crackers and juice from plastic cups that look like shot glasses. The pastor reads a few verses we’ve all heard before. “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” It’s all pretty familiar, right?

Then the pastor says, “So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.”

Wait, what?

“Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup,” continues the pastor. “For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.”

Judgment? That sounds serious. I’d better see what the Bible says. That’s usually a good start.

Paul writes, “For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.”

Fallen asleep? That doesn’t sound so bad—unless by fallen asleep Paul means died. That does sound bad. Paul’s going all Mafia on us. “Dat’s why many o’ youse is weak an’ sick, see? Some o’ youse is fallen asleep, if youse catch my drift.”

So we, um, fall asleep if we eat and drink judgment on ourselves? And we eat and drink judgment on ourselves by failing to discern the symbolism of Christ’s death in the crackers and Communion cups?

Well, there’s no need to panic. I’ll just partake of Communion in a manner worthy of the Lord. That’s not so hard. Christians do it every Sunday.

Is anyone else stressing out in church today? I mean, everyone looks calm and earnest, like it’s no big deal. Except for that guy who has fallen asleep. Really fallen asleep, I mean, not…you know…fallen asleep.

It’s better not to think about that. Okay. Do this in remembrance of me. Manner worthy of the Lord. I can do this. Ah! The pastor is telling us to partake of the bread! Wait, please! I’m not ready! I’m too young to die!

All right, I’m exaggerating for dramatic effect. Slightly exaggerating. The Lord’s Supper is an amazing sacrament, a powerful reminder of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Communion isn’t really this nerve-wracking. Not quite.

What stresses you out in worship services? Let us know in the comments!

This post was originally published on August 24, 2012. TMTF shall return with new content on November 30, 2015!

388. Fans, Geeks, and Waifus: A Momentary Study

I once had a friend who had a crush on Legolas from The Lord of the Rings. This puzzled me greatly.

Granted, Legolas isn’t ugly. He has two eyes, which is generally the preferred number of eyes. That’s a good start. Legolas also has a nose, all his teeth, and a full head of hair. (At any rate, in the movies, he wears a nice wig.) So far: so good. His skin is healthy—no leprosy there—and he isn’t painfully thin or morbidly obese. Legolas also seems to have “the smolder,” a trait considered desirable by females of the species… I think.

Look, I’m no expert on what ladies find attractive in gentlemen. I’ve simply been told Legolas is a smokin’ hot stud or some such, and I’m not sure I’m qualified to argue.


Exhibit A: Legolas the (apparently) sexy elf.

All of this, however, doesn’t explain the adoration my friend (whom I’ll call Socrates) lavished upon this imaginary elf. She thought Legolas was the sexiest thing since Hugh Jackman’s abs in the X-Men movies, and I thought Socrates was crazy.

Nah, my crush was on Daphne from the old Scooby-Doo cartoon.

Of course, that was back when I was in kindergarten: a faraway time when I was tiny and blond, barely knew the alphabet, and didn’t drink coffee.

Exhibit B: Adam Stück in kindergarten, roughly nine years B.S. (Before Sideburns).

On the right, Exhibit B: Adam Stück in kindergarten, roughly nine years B.S. (Before Sideburns).

By the time I reached high school and met Socrates, my secret crush on Daphne was a thing of the distant past. As the Apostle Paul wrote, doubtless referring to childhood crushes on fictional characters, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”

By high school, I had put childish ways behind me, and Daphne from Scooby-Doo with them. No, I was enamored of Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables.

My point here is that fictional characters can be attractive, and real-life people can be attracted to them. This is a common enough phenomenon. In geek culture, however, it is sometimes embraced wholeheartedly… even to a point that is frankly weird.

Let’s talk about waifus.

No waifu no laifu

Exhibit C: The anime-obsessed President of the United States voices his support for waifus.

A waifu is a fictional character to whom a person is attracted, to the point of considering that character a significant other.

The word waifu comes from an exaggerated Japanese pronunciation of the English word wife. (Thanks to anime and video games, a lot of weird geek culture originates in Japan.) A waifu doesn’t have to be female, by the way; the term can be used for characters of either sex.

By calling a character his waifu, a geek wryly acknowledges his crush on that character. It’s basically a form of shipping in which a real person ships a fictional character with himself.

Is it weird? Yes. Do I support waifus? Nah. Do they worry me? Not really. I’m pretty certain the waifu phenomenon is the sort of harmless, silly nonsense the Internet does best. At any rate, I hope it’s no deeper or darker than that!

383. Thoughts on the Josh Duggar Scandal

Yes, TMTF gets topical today. This hardly ever happens. You see, I hate discussing touchy subjects; TMTF is a blog about stuff that matters to me, and I don’t care for scandals or controversies. I would much rather write about butchered hymns or Marvel’s Daredevil than fuel the angry debates raging across the Internet.

Besides, I’m usually oblivious to current events. I prefer to read news and editorials about movies, video games, or geek culture—or else just read a good book—than wade through depressing headlines about scandals, violent crimes, and celebrity necklines.

However, the shock waves from Josh Duggar scandal have reached even my quiet corners of the Internet. I don’t normally write about this kind of thing, but something about this messy tragedy struck a chord with me.

In case you don’t already know them, here are the facts. Josh Duggar, a Christian television personality and family values activist, was recently found to have held paid accounts on Ashley Madison, a website for people seeking extramarital affairs. He responded to this disclosure by confessing to cheating on his wife and being addicted to porn. A few months before the Ashley Madison scandal, Duggar was discovered to have sexually molested several girls, including several of his sisters, when he was a teen.

Mr. Duggar claims to support family values.

To wit, for all his support of religious faith and family values, Josh Duggar is an unfaithful, dishonest, hypocritical scoundrel.

Josh Duggar

You’ve done awful things, Mr. Duggar. Shame on you. Shame on your face.

My reaction to the Josh Duggar scandal was more or less exactly the same as my reaction to every other scandal in contemporary Christianity: I shook my head, thought “What a fool,” spent a moment praying for him and his family, and then went back to reading about video games on Kotaku.

I could only imagine how grieved and devastated his family must be. Moreover, I was annoyed and saddened me that the idiocy of one high-profile religious person was so widely publicized, while decades of faithful ministry by honest, ordinary religious people everywhere went unnoticed by the media.

My problem is that I have far more in common with Mr. Duggar than I want to admit.

No, I don’t have an Ashley Madison account; no, I haven’t molested anyone; and no, I’m not hiding a porn addiction. (My only addiction is coffee, and I acknowledge it proudly.) However, at various times, I have certainly watched porn. I have lied. I have griped, gossiped, insulted, whined, accused, and ranted. I have neglected commitments, wasted time, wallowed in self-pity, blamed others for my mistakes, and been a shameless hypocrite. I am extremely selfish. I struggle to forgive others, and hold grudges like nobody’s business. I have frequently failed to be a good friend, a devout Christian, and a decent human being.

Shame on Adam

You’ve done awful things, Mr. Stück. Shame on you. Shame on your face.

If every wrong thing I have ever done were dragged out of the shadows and publicized all over the world, I would be desperate for forgiveness and compassion… and somewhere, a self-righteous git like me would shake his head, think “What a fool,” spend a moment praying for me and my family, and then go back to reading about video games on Kotaku.

I’m not defending Josh Duggar. In fact, I would like to smack him repeatedly with a heavy Bible, but that isn’t the point. Beyond my anger and sadness, there is quite a lot of hypocritical self-righteousness. When I start to judge Mr. Duggar, my accusations veer dangerously close to home. Lust? Selfishness? Dishonesty? Arrogance? A goofy-looking face? At one time or another, I have been guilty of all of these, and more.

Jesus Christ once said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” The Apostle Paul later wrote, “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.”

I’m not saying I shouldn’t condemn Mr. Duggar’s dishonesty, unfaithfulness, and hypocrisy. I absolutely should. He did some awful things, and it would be awful to pretend that he didn’t. However—and yes, I realize how painfully trite this sounds—I must hate the sin and love the sinner. He doesn’t deserve compassion, but neither do I.

I am not Josh Duggar, but I could have been. As the media continues tearing Josh Duggar to pieces, which it will do until it gets bored or finds someone else to tear to pieces, I’m trying not to forget that he is a living human being. He is a man who probably hates himself, and likely feels like everything has fallen apart.

So I’ll echo Simon & Garfunkel and say, with all the sincerity lacking in the original songHere’s to you, Mr. Josh Duggar. Jesus loves you more than you will know.

Quirky Bible Translations

There are many English translations of God’s Word. How many? I’m not sure, but I prefer not to spend years of my life counting.

I often read the Bible, and when I do, I prefer the 1984 New International Version.

Yes, I'm this guy.

Confession: I am a Condescending Bible Translation Guy.

In my twenty-two years, I’ve stumbled upon some Bible translations that are best described as… quirky.

Here’s part of 1 Corinthians 13 in the plain English of the New International Version.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Here’s the same passage in the HWP Bible. That’s the Hawaiian Pidgin Bible, in case you were wondering. Read this excerpt aloud. Read slowly. Savor it.

Wen you get love an aloha, dat no goin pau eva. Da guys dat talk fo God, bumbye no need fo da tings dey say. Wen peopo talk diffren kine, bumbye nobody goin talk lidat. Da stuff da smart guys know, no matta, bumbye no need. You know, we ony know litto bit. Wen we talk fo God, we get ony litto bit fo tell. Bumbye, goin come da time wen everyting stay perfeck. Dat time, no need fo da litto bit kine stuff no moa. Small kid time, I wen talk jalike one small kid. I wen tink jalike one small kid. I wen figga everyting jalike one small kid. Now, I big, dass why I no do da tings da same way da small kids do um.

Right now, us guys can see stuff, but ony jalike wit one junk mirror. Hard fo figga wat we see dea. But bumbye, goin be clear. Us guys goin see everyting jalike was right dea in front our face. Right now, I ony know litto bit. But bumbye, I goin undastan everyting, jalike God undastan everyting bout me.

So now, get three tings dat stay: we can trus God, an we can know everyting goin come out okay bumbye, an we get love an aloha. From da three tings, da love an aloha kine, dass da main ting, an da bestes way.

Then there’s my favorite offbeat translation of Scripture… the lolcat version.

Luv no haz endingz. Tellin the futurez, tungz, an alla stuffz u know wil die. We haz knowingz a bit, an we haz profacy a bit. We no haz two much tho. O, wait. Win teh perfict coemz, teh not perfict will dyez, lolol. Wen i wuz a kitten, i meweded leik a kitten, thinkded liek a kittenz, an I chazed strings liek a kittenz. Wen i wuz becomez a cat, i NO WANT kitten waiz ne moar. For nao we see in teh foggy mirorr like when teh human gets out of teh shower, but tehn we see faec tow faec. Nao i haz knowingz just a bit, tehn i will haz all teh knowingz, as i haz been knownz.

Nao faithz an hoepz an luvz r hear, theses threes, but teh bestest iz teh luv. srsly.

Yes, this is a real translation. The entire Bible has been translated into lolspeak, the Internet language of funny cat picture captions. After all, the Apostle Paul did write about becoming “all things to all people.”

 What’s your preferred version of the Bible? Are you a Condescending Bible Translation Person or do you prefer idiomatic versions like The Message? Let us know in the comments!

This post was originally published on March 22, 2013. TMTF shall return with new content on August 24, 2015!

Falling Asleep in Church

God loves the people who fall asleep in church.

This comes as a relief to me, since my thoughts sometimes wander to the ends of Earth during sermons. To borrow a phrase inadvertently coined by an acquaintance of mine, I tend to daze off during services—to slip into a blank state of mind somewhere between a daze and a doze in which I’m only vaguely aware of the message being preached.

I suspect the reason some churches serve coffee is to keep churchgoers awake during the sermon. Other churches, not quite so shrewd, make the mistake of serving real wine during communion services—there’s nothing like alcohol to make churchgoers drowsy.

One of my favorite stories in the Bible concerns a young man who fell asleep during church. Paul, the missionary who wrote about half of the books in the New Testament, was preaching in an upstairs room late at night. As Paul droned on and on, a young man named Eutychus fell asleep, plummeted from a third-story window and died.

It would have been awful if the story had ended there. The moral of the story would have been You fall asleep in church, you die. The story continues, however, and we learn two great things about God. First, he loves the people who fall asleep in church. Second, he has a sense of humor.

After Eutychus fell out the window, Paul rushed down to the street and put his arms around his dead body. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” Eutychus revived, much to the delight of the people. Paul went upstairs, had something to eat—and kept preaching.

If I had been God, I might have considered not restoring Eutychus to life. “Let his death stand as a warning to all future sleepers in churches,” I might have said. Fortunately for churchgoers everywhere, the Lord is very merciful. Eutychus was revived and God’s love for all people—even people who fall asleep during church—was demonstrated.

(The story of Eutychus can be found in Acts 20:7-12.)

There are quite a number of funny things like that in the Bible.

There’s the poetic passage in which God described the stupidity of ostriches (Job 39:13-17).

There’s the tragicomic story of how King David’s murderous son Absalom was killed by soldiers after he rode beneath an oak tree, got his head caught in a branch and dangled helplessly in midair as his mule went on without him (2 Samuel 18:9-15).

There’s the account of how, during a contest between God and the false god Baal, the prophet Elijah taunted rival prophets with snarky remarks (1 Kings 18:22-29).

For all its seriousness—and it can certainly be serious—the Bible is sometimes pretty funny.

This post was originally published on December 14, 2011. TMTF shall return with new content on August 24, 2015!

351. I Am Quitting

A lot has happened since I took a break from this blog three weeks ago. I watched Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix and acquired a beckoning cat figurine—oh, and I quit the job I’ve held for nearly three years.

Yeah, a lot has happened since I last wrote a blog post. This means today’s post is an extremely personal one. Brace yourself.

Well, first things first: my beckoning cat is wonderful. I’ve christened it Kogoro. It sits upon my bookshelf and waves its paw with leisurely dignity, welcoming high fives from passersby.


My maneki-neko, or beckoning cat, is supposed to bring good luck or something, but I use it mostly as a high-five machine.

That’s that for my beckoning cat, and I suppose I’ll save my thoughts on Marvel’s Daredevil for my next post. That brings me to the trivial matters of my impending unemployment and future plans.

For nearly three years, I’ve worked in a group home for gentlemen with disabilities in Berne, Indiana. I have been sort of a nurse, sort of a cook, sort of a housekeeper, and sort of a therapist, but mostly I’ve been a clown and a punching bag for eight special, needy, wonderful gentlemen. I’ll be officially resigned from this job by the beginning of May.

I have a number of reasons for quitting, but this is no place for me to describe them at length. I will state, for the record, that my decision has been pending for a long time. The gentlemen from the group home are one reason I’ve kept my job for so long, but a more selfish reason has been my fear of the future.

In spite of my English Education degree and teacher’s license, I’ve realized I don’t want to spend the next four decades teaching English. I want to work in writing, editing, and publishing.

However, since reaching that conclusion, I’ve been busy enough with work, blogging, and other commitments that I’ve made hardly any progress toward a long-term career. It has been hard enough maintaining the status quo of my day-to-day life: working, paying bills, helping support my younger brother, blogging, and drinking exorbitant amounts of coffee.

However, my workplace, which has always been stressful and a bit dysfunctional, has finally reached a point at which I can no longer meet its competing demands and unrealistic expectations. (In past months, I’ve occasionally been tempted to storm into my supervisor’s office, slam my hands against the desk Ace Attorney-style, and bellow “RAGE QUIT!” at the top of my lungs. I like to think my actual resignation is a little more dignified.) I think it’s time for me to let it go. I’ve mostly put off planning for the future, but my job is finally nudging me to move on.

What’s next?

For now, I’m applying for a part-time job while I look into career options. I’d like to build up freelance writing and editing on the side, and I’ll look for publishing internships willing to accept college graduates. With more time on my hands, I may write some fiction; anything is possible. I’ll continue to help support my younger brother. For as long as I remain in Berne, I’ll visit the gentlemen in the group home. Finally, I’ll continue blogging and drinking coffee and being silly—these things will probably never change.

I’m relieved to be moving on from my job, and excited to seek new opportunities. I’m also really scared. I am scared as heck, guys. It’s the same fear I felt upon graduating from college, and felt again upon ending my post-college visit to Uruguay and returning to Indiana. It’s a lost, shamed, lonely feeling—a nagging conviction that I really ought have it all figured out by now, or at least know where I should go from here. This feeling isn’t fair or rational, but I sure feel it, and it sucks.

I think Jon Acuff has the right idea when he suggests punching fear in the face. As scared and insecure as I feel, I mean to keep moving forward. At the very least, I mean to try. To echo my favorite apostle: I will always trust, always hope, and always persevere.

Long ago, when this blog was new, I wrote a post in which I quoted Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables: “My future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road. I thought I could see along it for many a milestone. Now there is a bend in it. I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I’m going to believe that the best does.”

I’ve reached another bend in the road. What lies beyond? God only knows. Fortunately for me, I still trust God after all these years, so that thought is a comforting one.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to think about my future and give my beckoning cat a high five.

341. Mole End

If you ever happen to visit my apartment, you will be greeted by a wooden sign immediately upon stepping inside. It depicts a well-dressed mole drinking coffee and reading a book, along with two welcoming words: Mole End.

Mole End

I love the way the mole’s glasses are perched delicately on the end of his snout.

My dad, God bless him, crafted this sign for me many years ago. Although he’s known round these parts for his superb drawings of monkeys, my old man is perfectly capable of drawing other small mammals!

The sign is made of driftwood from an Ecuadorian beach. (The sign fell from the wall a few weeks ago, scattering sand from its deepest crevices all over my floor. I was oddly touched to find my small-town Indiana apartment suddenly dusted with sand from my faraway homeland.) My old man sketched the picture on an ordinary piece of paper, glued it to the driftwood, aged it with cold tea, and applied a layer of finish.

When I moved into my apartment two and a half years ago, I immediately christened it Mole End and put up the sign shortly thereafter. Now, you may wonder why I chose this name for an apartment in a quiet, out-of-the-way corner of Indiana. You wouldn’t be the first!

Some time ago, I was honored to receive a visit from Thomas Mark Zuniga. This wise, wandering blogger had written for my blog. I had written for his, and also reviewed his debut book. It was quite a privilege finally to meet the man (and his splendid beard) in person.

Adam and Tom

Someday, if I am very lucky, I will have a beard half as nice as Tom’s.

Upon entering Mole End, Tom asked about the sign. It took me a moment to stammer out a reply: “Have you ever read The Wind in the Willows?”

For those who haven’t read this enchanting book, The Wind in the Willows is the tale of several animals in the old-timey English countryside. One of these creatures, Mole, reminds me strongly of myself: neat, anxious, insecure, quick to blame himself, and a devoted homebody. In a few other ways, I’m rather like a mole: I’m an introvert, keeping away from social events and enjoying my safe, cozy, solitary burrow.

Mole loves his subterranean home, Mole End, yet leaves it early on in search of fresh experiences. It’s only later in the book, as he chats with a Badger, that Mole remembers how much he enjoys life underground.

“Once well underground,” he said, “you know exactly where you are. Nothing can happen to you, and nothing can get at you. You’re entirely your own master, and you don’t have to consult anybody or mind what they say. Things go on all the same overheard, and you let ’em, and don’t bother about ’em. When you want to, up you go, and there the things are, waiting for you.”

That, dear reader, is why I call my apartment Mole End.

Mole later returns to Mole End in a chapter aptly titled “Dulce Domum,” Latin for sweet home. He is overwhelmed to the point of tears. Mole End is all the sweeter because Mole abandoned it for a while, like the man in the book by G.K. Chesterton who left his house and walked around the world simply for the joy of coming home again.

I love my home—not my Indiana apartment, specifically, but the place I feel secure, comfortable, and relaxed. My home isn’t permanent. There’s a reason the Bible refers to our bodies as a “tent” instead of a house. Quoth the Apostle Paul, “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven.”

We are all foreigners and strangers on earth. Some of us are searching for a better country—a heavenly one. My apartment in Indiana may be the closest thing to home I shall ever find on earth. I don’t know how long I’ll stay. In the future, I may have many homes… but I will only ever have one Mole End.

Of course, Mole End’s size, appearance, and layout may change occasionally. Its location may vary. Mole End may be found, at various times, in different cities, countries, and continents.

As long as I have the promise of a heavenly home—and the sign, of course—I’ll carry Mole End with me.

The Foolish Wise Men

I’ve always liked the Wise Men.

I think the Magi are one of the most fascinating things about the Christmas story. These Wise Men arrived from the east to worship Jesus, and then vanished as mysteriously as they appeared. Christian tradition tells us there were three Magi and even gives their names, but history offers few clues as to the number or identity of these enigmatic pilgrims. The Magi are popularly called kings and widely believed to have been scholars. Who were the Wise Men?

I don’t think it matters.

I like the Magi because I relate to them. They were men searching for truth, following a star in a quixotic search for light and meaning in a bleak, meaningless world. Their pilgrimage, beginning God-knows-where and ending at the dirty feet of a little child, resonates with me. Amid my doubts and struggles, I sometimes feel like a man stumbling in the dark, following a star and trusting I’ll find peace at the end of the journey.

Am I a fool for chasing so faint and distant a star as faith in a Savior? I may be. If I am a fool, then so are the Wise Men, ironically enough.

The Wise Men found what they sought, and another wise man wrote at the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” For my part, I can only echo Robert Frost: “I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.” I have my own journey ahead, and I hope I shall finish it well.

Happy Christmas, everyone.

314. The Parable of the Monkey’s Whiskers

When I shared on Monday about my struggles to cope with depression, I promised today’s post would be less gloomy. Not only shall my reflections today be more cheerful, but they’ll also feature pictures of cute monkeys!

(Don’t be surprised. This blog is called Typewriter Monkey Task Force, after all. The pictures belong to my dad, who graciously dug them out of his archive at my request.)

Here’s an old African parable. There were once two monkeys; I’ll name them Apollo and Socrates after two of my typewriter monkeys.

Monkey Parable - Playful monkeyApollo and Socrates frolicked across the savanna one day, tossing around a coconut and being adorable. Neither monkey realized they were playing near a foul swamp. (As I know from long experience, monkeys aren’t very bright.) Apollo and Socrates tossed their coconut back and forth until Socrates missed a catch. The coconut landed in sticky mud far from the bank.

As the monkeys sat on the bank, staring forlornly at the coconut, Apollo nudged Socrates as if to say, “You go first.”

Monkey Parable - Sinking monkey

Socrates stepped into the swamp and trudged toward the coconut, holding up his tail to keep it from trailing through the stinking mud. At last he picked it up, tried plodding back to the safety of the bank, and realized he was stuck. The clinging muck held him fast by the ankles… and slowly pulled him downward.

Socrates let go of his tail, dropped the coconut, and tried pulling a foot out of the mud. It didn’t even budge. He tried the other foot. It was hopeless. The little monkey was trapped, and the mire sucked him steadily down, down, down into the gloom.

Monkey Parable - Desperate monkey

Apollo began running back and forth on the bank, waving his little arms helplessly. There were no branches, no vines, nothing that could be used as a bridge or lifeline. If only there were something to which Socrates could hold—something to keep him from sinking.

Then Apollo had an idea. He chattered at Socrates (now waist-deep) to get his attention, and then tugged on his own whiskers. Of course! Socrates didn’t need a lifeline. He could pull himself out of the swamp by his whiskers! The solution to his problem was literally right under his nose.

Socrates understood and began pulling his whiskers. He pulled and pulled and pulled, trying to raise himself out of the slimy mess drawing him into its reeking depths.

Monkey Parable - Drowned monkey

The last Apollo ever saw of Socrates was a pair of paws, twitching faintly and grasping handfuls of monkey whiskers.

Wait. That wasn’t a happy story, was it? Dash it, this is embarrassing. I promised my readers today’s post would be more hopeful. Well, it’s not too late to make a few changes to this parable. Let’s give it a happier ending!

Monkey Parable - Noticed monkey

As Socrates yanked vainly on his whiskers, a nearby giraffe glanced over and saw the little monkey struggling in the swamp. Art Garfunkel Giraffe was this noble creature’s name. (Art’s parents were huge fans of folk rock.) He galloped away to find his friend Ringo Starr Elephant. (Ringo’s parents were more into classic rock and roll.) Art and Ringo reached the swamp just as Socrates’ head was about to slip beneath the mud.

Monkey Parable - Rescued monkeySocrates was saved! The animals, who never went near a swamp again, all went out for coffee and lived happily ever after.

There. Was that better?

On Monday, I mentioned that I hate my inability to cope with depression. I also pointed out that many of us struggle to win our private battles. Why have I shared a parable about monkey whiskers?

Some problems have no easy fixes.

As much as I want to find the perfect strategy for coping with depression and anxiety, it may not exist. There may be no easy fix for these problems. My best intentions may be no more useful than a monkey trying to lift himself up by his own whiskers.

Oddly enough, this comforts me. I tend to blame myself for every failure to cope with my depression. The parable of the monkey’s whiskers suggests the possibility that I may not always be able to rescue myself. Some battles may be beyond my power to win… and that means I can stop blaming myself for losing. I can feel depressed without feeling guilty.

If depression is a problem my best intentions can’t fix, should I just give up?

Well… no.

We can’t rescue ourselves—but others can help.

Depression is a private battle. All the things I mentioned on Monday—addiction, self-loathing, broken relationships, self-destructive impulses, and so on—are things we hide. They’re private. They’re shameful. They’re embarrassing. They’re also things we don’t have to face alone.

In fact, facing them alone may be as stupid as a monkey trying to haul himself out of a swamp by his whiskers.

We all need help from others. Some of us could benefit from professional counseling, antidepressants, or therapy. We all need hugs. Some of us need hugs. We feel better for talking or going for walks or playing Mario Kart with loved ones. It’s amazing to share a private battle with someone and hear them say “I love you” or “I’m praying for you” or even “That really sucks; I hope things get better.”

In my struggles, few things have brought me greater hope or healing than people listening to me, praying for me, encouraging me, or simply acknowledging that they know I’m struggling. Maybe that’s what the Apostle Paul, bless him, meant when he wrote, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

We can look to others for help, and we can always look to God. As it is written, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” He listens when no one else will.

We all have our battles to fight. What we must always know is that we never have to face them alone.