437. My Name Is Adam Stück, and I’M FINE!

Once upon a time, three friends—a surgeon, an architect, and a lawyer—argued over which of their professions came first.

The surgeon declared, “Come on, guys, surgery was obviously the first profession. God performed surgery on Adam to remove his rib, which he used to create Eve. It’s right there in the Bible.”

The architect shook her head. “No, no, God was an architect before he was ever a surgeon! ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ It’s literally the first verse in the book.”

At this, the lawyer crossed his arms and smirked. “You’re both wrong,” he declared. “There was a lawyer before any of that.” His friends stared. “Before God made the world, there was only darkness and confusion,” he explained. “Of course lawyers came first. Who do you think caused all that darkness and confusion?”

Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson

Yes, lawyers have a reputation for dishonesty. They probably don’t deserve it, but then I don’t know any lawyers, so I’m not sure. Honest or not, lawyers are certainly a bit intimidating. It was Dave Barry who identified Fear of Attorneys as one of the six basic human emotions, along with Anger, Lust, Greed, Envy, and the Need to Snack.

My own experience of lawyers is limited mostly to Rumpole of the Bailey, Marvel’s Daredevil, and the Ace Attorney series of video games: none of which are terribly realistic in their depiction of the law.

I can think of at least one lawyer, however, whose insight I value. In Ace Attorney, an up-and-coming lawyer prepares for each trial by repeating the same statement over and over.

“I’m fine!”

I’m fine!

“My name is Apollo Justice, and I’M FINE!

(His name really is Apollo Justice; I can’t decide whether it’s stupid, awesome, or both.)


In every trial, no matter how much he wants to throw up or run away and hide, Apollo tells himself that he’s going to be okay. He reminds himself that no matter how difficult the trial, no matter how bad it gets, he’s fine.

As anyone knows who has followed this blog for a while, I live with mild chronic depression and anxiety. They aren’t severe enough to warrant medication, and they’ve improved greatly since I left a toxic work situation about a year ago, but they’re definitely a nuisance.

My malaise comes and goes. On good days, I forget it completely; on bad days, it’s hard to think of anything else. For years, I’ve occasionally felt close to breaking down or giving up—yet here I am. I’m fine. I’m fine.

As a family member once pointed out, for all the times I felt like I couldn’t make it through another day, my survival rate has been one hundred percent so far. That’s pretty good, all things considered. I’ve made it this far by God’s grace, and I have every reason to suppose his grace won’t ever fail.

For years, I hoped to figure out some perfect strategy for coping with the bad days. I’m beginning to think there isn’t one. The bad days seem just as dreary and hopeless as they ever have, and I feel just as unprepared for them. I shall probably always feel unprepared for them. There are no magic words or foolproof plans for dealing with certain problems.

Maybe I should just remind myself every so often that I’m fine. I may not feel fine, but I’ve made it this far, and today shan’t be my last. I’ll make it. With God’s help, I’ll make it. Things will get better. They always do.

I'M (also) FINE!

For the record, I don’t feel bad at the time of publishing this post. It’s just something I’ve been meaning to write for a while, and I’m only just getting around to it.

I’m fine, really!

I’m fine!

My name is Adam Stück, and I’M FINE!

435. Getting Old

I have a birthday this month. I’ll be twenty-something. Don’t ask me how old exactly, because I’ve forgotten. I’m getting old, guys.

I’m reaching the decrepit stage of life at which my memories fade like the flowers of the field. My senses dim. The sun and moon and stars go dark. My mind falters. My strength ebbs away. I can almost see the vultures circling over me. “Soon,” they tell each other. “Soon.”

Circling vultures

Given the amount of coffee I drink, any vulture that eats me will end up with quite a caffeine buzz.

All right, I may be exaggerating a little; twenty-something isn’t so old. After all, I work with old folks, so I should know.

I work in the memory care unit of a nursing home, assisting dementia patients and forgetful retirees. My own memory is abysmal, so I fit right in. Besides, I can tell the same jokes every day and the residents never tire of them. I know that I too shall be a forgetful old person someday. I’m already a forgetful young person, so I have a terrific head start.

I sometimes wonder what my life will be like when I’m an old man… assuming, of course, I don’t perish in the Mad Max-style wasteland America will become if Donald Trump wins the presidential election. (I’m joking.)

Immortan Trump

Seriously, though, are we quite sure that Donald Trump and Mad Max’s Immortan Joe aren’t the same person?

Getting old is rough, guys. The guy who wrote Ecclesiastes knew it. The mind and body, not just the memory, stop working as well as they should. Independence becomes difficult. Pain becomes all too common. The world, with its changing culture and evolving technology, seems ever farther and farther beyond comprehension. No one else seems to understand or remember the old things, the good things.

As the residents at the nursing home play bingo and watch reruns of Green Acres and The Lawrence Welk Show, I ask myself: How will members of my own generation spend their declining years? Will we sit around surfing the Internet? Will we watch reruns of Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead on future-Netflix? Will we play games on antique systems like the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo 64? How old-fashioned and out of touch will we seem to young people sixty years from now?

Heck, for all I know, in sixty years senior citizens might be plugged into Matrix-style computers to spend their final years in the comforting embrace of virtual reality. My own job as a nursing assistant might be outsourced to robots like Baymax from Big Hero Six. (I would be okay with that, honestly.)

If Baymax cared for me in my old age, I’m sure I would be satisfied with my care.

As another birthday comes and goes, and I inch ever closer to my inevitable demise, I can’t help but wonder what the future holds. If I reach the age of the folks at the nursing home, what will the world look like?

I’ll face the world one day at a time, I suppose. “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to plan ahead. I had better keep piling up canned food and clean water in case Trump wins this year’s election. In the wasteland, fortune favors the well-prepared.*

*For the record, all of my jabs at Donald Trump are in good fun, and not to be taken seriously. Please don’t deport me.

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.

430. Revelation Is a Weird, Weird Book

Donald Trump is all over the news these days. He reminds me of the book of Revelation, and of the end of the world.

Nah, I’m just kidding. When the author of Revelation described trumps resounding, I doubt he had this particular Trump in mind. Then again, maybe he did. It is a weird book.


Brace yourself. Things are about to get weird.

A high school teacher of mine once declared, “I hope this doesn’t offend anyone, but Revelation almost makes me wonder if John was tripping on something when he wrote it,” or words to that effect.

Revelation is a bizarre book, full of visions that seem more like hallucinations. A closer look reveals something even stranger. Revelation is a bit like Frankenstein’s monster: a book stitched together from bits of other books. It combines concepts and images from Old Testament prophets like Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah with New Testament events such as the life of Christ and the spread of the Christian Church.

Revelation is weird, man.

The book is a bizarro mixture of warnings, prophecies, and visions, practically all of which are incredibly vague, and some of which are just weird. There are plagues, earthquakes, beasts, angels, demons, and locusts with human faces and scorpion stings. (I’m not making up that last one, I swear.)

La Virgen

This statue from my hometown of Quito represents a vision in Revelation.

Opinions on Revelation are extremely divided. Some interpret these visions and prophecies as literally as possible, which is the basis for the Left Behind books. (They’re pretty terrible.) Others believe the visions are somehow symbolic of world events. A few lunatics believe the mystical “secrets” of Revelation can be somehow “unlocked,” which is rubbish.

I have no idea how to interpret Revelation, but the most sensible theory I’ve read is that its visions and prophecies applied not to events in our own future, but to events that occurred nearly two millennia ago. According to this view, Revelation prophesied imminent events such as the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. This theory isn’t perfect, but it seems more rational than most of the ideas floating around these days.

Of course, there’s more to Revelation than its unanswered questions. Certain elements of Revelation have captured imaginations everywhere and left a huge cultural impact.

Consider the number 666. “This calls for wisdom,” wrote the author of Revelation. “If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666.” Many have tried to solve this riddle, but none have figured it out.

The best theory I’ve heard, based on established traditions of biblical numerical symbolism, is that it represents someone who challenges the sovereignty of God. The number three represents God, who is three Persons, and the number seven symbolizes perfection. The number 666 (three sixes) represents an imperfect trinity that falls short of perfect divinity.

Nowadays, the number 666 is used mostly in horror movies and stuff. Superstitions surround the number to a point at which some people are a little scared of it. This fear is called hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia. (Seriously, I’m not making this up.)

Another popular image from Revelation is the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These bringers of divine judgment ride differently-colored horses and are widely believed to represent cataclysmic events. The riders of the white, red, black, and pale horses are thought to symbolize conquest (or possibly plague), war, famine, and death, respectively.


The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, more or less.

The Four Horsemen have been embraced by pop culture, even becoming characters in superhero comics. (Heck, the trailers for the next X-Men movie suggest the Horsemen will make an appearance.) There are even unofficial My Little Pony versions of the Horsemen, because this is the Internet.

Revelation is full of weird images and intriguing concepts, but the note on which it ends is a hopeful one. The final chapters of Revelation paint a picture of a world no longer broken, but restored and renewed. God wipes away the pain, the injustice, the suffering. He makes things right.

The older I get, the more I see the brokenness of the world. In my twenty-something years, I’ve glimpsed the sickening realities of poverty, abuse, depression, mental illness, and addiction—and God only knows what horrors I haven’t seen. It makes me long for everything to be fixed.

This brings me to a song. It is, honestly, the most beautiful song I know. No song in the universe stirs my soul quite so deeply as Michael Card’s “New Jerusalem.” It makes me long for a time when there will be no more hunger, no more child soldiers, no more senseless massacres, and no more pain.

That is the great message of Revelation, which not even its weirdest visions can eclipse: God will someday set things straight.

423. I Have a Million Neighbors

Most of us have neighbors. We may be separated by a wall, street, or building—or cornfield, if you live in Indiana. However close our neighbors may be, there is nearly always a separation of some kind.

Then there’s the Internet, where all that separates me from millions of other people are a few clicks or keystrokes. Privacy can be an elusive privilege on the World Wide Web. Almost anyone can find you. Almost anyone can be your neighbor, and you can be a neighbor to almost anyone. We’re all neighbors on the Internet. Every time I open my web browser, I enter a space with a million neighbors.

So what?

There once lived a humble, gentle, and kindhearted man, who taught of the importance of loving your neighbor as yourself.

I speak, of course, of Mr. Rogers.

Mr. RogersDo you know who else knew how to be a good neighbor? Totoro. Totoro knew how to be a good neighbor. Heck, I wish I were neighbors with Totoro, and I’m definitely not the only one. I couldn’t ask for a better neighbor than this fuzzy forest spirit.


I can think of yet another good neighbor. There’s an old, old story of a traveler who was attacked by robbers and left half dead on the road. (You’ve probably heard this one.) A couple of people ignored the wounded man, but a stranger took pity on him, bandaged his wounds, and carried him to safety.

Good Samaritan

Art by Dan Burr.

That story of a good neighbor was told by Jesus Christ, the leading expert on loving people. According to Jesus, “Love your neighbor as yourself” is one of the most important rules in the universe.

We must love our neighbors. I mean, we can hardly disagree with Mr. Rogers, Totoro, and Jesus Christ, can we?

We’re all neighbors on the Internet, and we must love our neighbors, so what now? Well, this Friday is March 4, and if you’ve been around this blog for a while, you know what that means.

March 4 is Be Nice to Someone on the Internet Day. This Friday marks the event’s fifth year—and, due to the end of TMTF later this year, the last one to be celebrated on this blog. (After TMTF concludes, I plan to celebrate the event every year on Facebook and Twitter.)

Be Nice to Someone on the Internet Day is, well, a day for being nice to someone on the Internet. On March 4, or any time this week, go to someone’s personal profile, account, channel, blog, or webpage, and leave an uplifting comment. Send someone an encouraging message, note, tweet, or email. Find a person you appreciate—whether a content creator, friend, or total stranger—and be a good neighbor.

We’re all neighbors on the Internet. On Friday, March 4, let’s be good ones!

The Smoker’s Pew

A Short Story

The silence of the church was broken by the click-click-click of a cigarette lighter. Late afternoon sunshine streamed through stained-glass windows, lighting up the floor in patches of fiery color, and casting a saintly glow upon the man sitting in the back pew.

At the front of the sanctuary there hung a wooden cross. It bore a life-sized image of the crucified Christ, frozen in perpetual agony, its head bowed. Before lighting a cigarette, the man glanced up at the crucifix.

“Mind if I smoke?”

The image of Christ did not reply. The man lit his cigarette.

In the golden light, the smoke shone like a halo around the man’s head. He gave an impression of casual elegance in a suit tailored to his lanky frame. The only untidy touches were his face, which was unshaven, and his tie, which was loosely knotted and askew. He smelled faintly of cologne and strongly of alcohol.

“Nice place you’ve got,” he said. He leaned back, crossed his legs, and stretched out his arms along the back of the pew. “Dazzling and sleepy at the same time, like a sunset. Beautiful and quiet. Very nice.”

The Christ on the cross said nothing.

“The front door’s unlocked,” said the smoker. “Look, I know that’s your thing. You welcome everyone with open arms, I get that, but you still might want to think about putting a lock on your door. There are some awful people out there.”

The man smoked for a few minutes in silence.

“It’s nice to be back,” he said at last. “Nice to see some things never change. I guess it’s—well, hello,” he exclaimed, for another man came padding into the sanctuary to join him and the crucified Christ.

The newcomer, a balding gentleman with glasses and a bushy brown beard, smiled in amiable bewilderment. “May I help you?”

“No, thank you,” said the smoker, rising to throw away the stub of his cigarette. He shook a fresh cigarette from the box as he returned to his pew. “Damn,” he said, clicking his lighter in vain. “Out of juice. Hey buddy, you got a light?”

The bearded gentleman disappeared for a couple of minutes, and returned with a box of matches. The smoker had not moved. He sat in the back pew, legs crossed, gazing at the Christ.

At the sound of a match striking, the smoker held out his cigarette. The bearded man lit it.

“Hey thanks,” said the smoker after a deep puff. “You’re a good man. What brings you here on a Thursday night? You the janitor?”

The bearded man chuckled. “The pastor. May I join you?”

“Knock yourself out, Padre.”

The pastor sat beside the smoker, and they watched the evening light fade. The smoker began a third cigarette.

“Why the back pew?” asked the pastor at last. “If you’re here to talk with God, wouldn’t you rather sit up front?”

The smoker shook his head. “Nah, I like the back. Someone once told me that two kinds of people sit in the back pew of a church: those on their way in, and those on their way out.”

“Which kind are you?”

“Well, when I leave here, I’m going to blow a man’s brains out. That probably puts me in the second category.” The smoker grinned crookedly. “I’m pretty sure the Big Guy frowns on that kind of thing. Ah, well. Don’t mind me.”

With that, he pulled out a handgun and began rummaging in his other pocket for bullets.

If the pastor felt anything, it was hidden by his beard and glasses, and by the gathering gloom. He sat implacable, like a statue, as the smoker fumbled with the handgun. Only the pastor’s hands moved, and they trembled.

“I don’t approve of murder,” said the pastor.

“Didn’t think you would,” muttered the smoker.

“I don’t approve of suicide, either.”

The smoker paused, puffed twice on his cigarette, and put down the gun. “All right, Padre, you got me. How’d you know? I didn’t say anything about suicide.”

“Lucky guess.”

“Not a divine revelation?”

It was the pastor’s turn to smile crookedly. “If that makes you feel better, sure. Divine revelation. Look here, man, why in God’s name do you want to kill yourself?”

The cigarette smoke, which the afternoon sun had transfigured into gold, now hung over the smoker like a storm cloud in the twilight. He no longer seemed saintly. He looked diabolical.

“Have you read Ecclesiastes, Padre? Wait—you’re a goddamn pastor; of course you’ve read it. Do you remember what the Teacher wrote? ‘Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!’”

“‘Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,’” said the pastor gently. “I’m pretty sure that’s also in there somewhere.”

The smoker picked up the gun. “Those aren’t the Teacher’s final words. You know that. ‘Everything is meaningless!’ That’s his conclusion, and I can’t live with it.”

“Do you really believe in it?”

“I grew up in the church. After leaving it, I turned to science and philosophy and social justice. After that mess of contradictions, I tried everything else. Everything, Padre. Nothing makes sense. Nothing even feels good anymore. There’s nothing left.”

The pastor laid a shaking hand on the smoker’s arm. “So what brought you here?”

“I guess I wanted one last moment of peace,” said the smoker. “Besides,” he added, glancing up at the Christ on the cross, “I had to say goodbye to the Big Guy. He walked right into his own death. I like to think he’s got a little sympathy toward suicide.”

The pastor frowned, and held his companion’s arm a little tighter. “Jesus was a martyr and a sacrifice,” he said. “There’s a big difference between martyrdom and suicide.”

“What difference? They’re people killing themselves, for God’s sake.”

“For absolutely different reasons! The suicide kills himself because he thinks nothing matters. The martyr kills himself because he believes in something that matters more than his own life.”

The smoker shook his head. “You know, I never got the whole crucifixion thing. It seems bloodthirsty. I don’t understand why the Big Guy had to die.”

“Nobody gets the crucifixion thing,” replied the pastor. “Nobody truly understands it, but that’s not the point here. Listen to me. Something matters. Somewhere, here in this church, or out there in the dark, something matters enough for you to keep living. I believe it’s right here.” The pastor motioned toward the cross. “I pray that you find it here. Maybe you’ll look elsewhere. Wherever you look, I’m convinced that somewhere, something matters. If you shoot yourself tonight, you’ll never find it.”

The smoker and the pastor sat in silence. Shadows filled the sanctuary as the last gleam of daylight disappeared. At last, the smoker plucked the stub of his cigarette from his lips.

A light flared in the darkness, and the smoker caught a whiff of sulfur. The pastor had lit another match.

“Need a light?” asked the man of God.

The man in the suit shook his head. “Nah, I’m quitting. I just decided. Never liked cigarettes much anyway. Besides,” he added with a tired chuckle, “those things will kill you.”

“They’re not the only things,” said the pastor. His hands had stopped shaking. “You won’t be needing this anymore,” he said, and took the gun.

“I paid good money for that,” said the man in the suit. “Did you just rob me? In your own church?” He looked up at the image of Christ, now a silhouette in the gloom. “Did you see that, Big Guy?”

“Get over it,” said the pastor. “It couldn’t have cost you that much. You’ll live.”

“Yes,” said the man in the suit, rising and dusting flecks of cigarette ash from his coat. “Yes, I suppose I will.” He sidled out of the back pew and strolled to the exit, pausing at the door.

“Hey Padre,” he said. “Thanks for the light.”

Author’s Note:

I wrote this short story on a Sunday afternoon just to get it out of my system. That’s pretty much all I have to say about it.

However, I will make an important clarification. I actually wrote this story in March or April 2017, months after this blog ended its run in December 2016, but labeled this post with a past date in order to keep it from replacing the blog’s final post on the homepage. I must clarify: Typewriter Monkey Task Force is finished. I have no plans whatsoever to revive it. That said, I might occasionally use it as a place to dump creative writing. We’ll see.

Thanks for reading!

409. Looking Back, and Wanting to Set Stuff on Fire

New Year’s Eve is almost here. A new year lies ahead, full of promise and possibility. As this year draws to a close, we take down Christmas decorations, make resolutions, and burn effigies in the streets.

Burn, año viejo, burn!What? We don’t do that in America?

This country is no fun.

As a kid in Ecuador, one of my favorite holiday traditions was the burning of the año viejo, or old year. Every New Year’s Eve, families gather to burn their own año viejo: a crude effigy of a person stuffed with sawdust, fitted with a papier-mâché mask, and doused in something flammable. Popular likeness for año viejo masks include superheroes, cartoon characters, and (of course) politicians.

In addition to sawdust, some people stuff a few firecrackers into their año viejo. Such effigies do not go gentle into that good night. They go with roaring flames and an irregular series of bangs. Man, I miss Ecuador.

The burning of the año viejo is a beautiful tradition: a symbol of letting go of the past year’s troubles and failures. (It’s also fun for pyromaniacs.) My dad, ever the creative missionary, used an año viejo one New Year’s Eve to share a lesson from the book of Romans: “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.”

I’m sorry to say my little Indiana town probably won’t let me set fire to stuff on the streets, even as a cherished symbol of moving forward. Since I can’t burn an año viejo, I’ll have to settle for making some New Year’s resolutions. Before I do, however, I should probably review the old ones.

Here are my resolutions for 2015. Did I keep them? Before they go up in a metaphorical cloud of smoke, let’s find out.

I will be more intentional in keeping my New Year’s resolutions.

Yeah, no. As usual, I kept several of my New Year’s resolutions, but it was only by dint of trying generally to be a better person. I had to look up my old resolutions in order to write today’s blog post, which means I failed to keep this one.

I will work on my Spanish.

I kept this one, but not exactly on purpose. My plan was to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender in Spanish, which I definitely didn’t do. However, since starting work as a CNA in a nursing home earlier this year, I’ve spoken Spanish regularly with one of the residents. I declare this resolution sort of kept.

I will practice spinning an old broomstick.

I didn’t keep this one. My talent for twirling a broomstick like some sort of janitorial ninja went mostly unpracticed this year. Sometimes, when I spin my broomstick in the local park, Amish kids stare at me fixedly with blank expressions. It’s a little creepy. I wish I could find a more private place for stick-twirling.

I will have a more positive attitude.

I actually kept this one, thanks in no small part to my resignation from a horrible job. (It’s so much easier to think positively when you aren’t crushed every day by impossible expectations, thankless conditions, and toxic people.) So much changed this year: much of it for the better. I still don’t know what I’m going to do with my life, but things seem a little more hopeful.

I will research career options.

I sort of kept this one, but not really. I researched the steps required to become a Certified Nursing Assistant—and promptly became one—but that isn’t exactly a step forward. It’s more like a step sideways. I also did a tiny bit of research into editing and did some preliminary editing for a friend’s manuscript… that counts, right?

I will value prayer more.

I… didn’t keep this one. I’m sorry to say I valued prayer less this year than in years past. I’m working on it.

What are my resolutions for 2016? That shall wait until next time!

Did you keep your resolutions this year? Let us know in the comments!

We did it, guys. WE DID IT! Operation Yuletide reached its fundraising goal thanks to the staggering generosity of a few awesome people! The fundraiser is still going, and it’s not too late to donate—every dollar helps, and there are rewards for donors! Check it out here!

408. Christmas Is Not the End

Today is Christmas. (I mention this in case, y’know, you hadn’t noticed.) This day finds each of us in a different place. Some of us are rejoicing. Some of us are burdened, lost, hopeless, or heartbroken. Some of us are drinking a fifth cup of coffee and thinking about The Legend of Zelda. (All right, that last one might just be me.)

I like to think I’m pretty good with words. Whatever my faults—and they are many—I can generally think of something funny or clever to say. It’s on days like this one, when words matter most, that I can’t seem to find the right ones. Anyhow, I can’t seem to express my feelings without sounding like those insincere messages printed in holiday cards, which is one of the most embarrassing things that can happen to a writer.

Today is Christmas, and even if it means sounding like a generic holiday card, I want to say just a few things.

Still not relevant

This photo is hardly relevant to this blog post, but I’m adding it anyway because it’s adorable.

To those who are rejoicing today, I say this: I’m happy for you. I hope your Christmas is full of nostalgia for the past, contentment in the present, and hope for the future. May your day be filled with laughter, loved ones, and cookies. May the year ahead be the best and brightest you’ve ever had.

To those who are grieving today, I say this: I’m sorry. May you find whatever joy and comfort you can this Christmas, and may the year ahead bring you healing, peace, happiness, and hope.

Christmas tree

Wherever you are today, may your Christmas be bright.

All right, I’m done with the holiday card stuff, but there’s one more thing I want to say.

For those of us who live far north of the Equator, Christmas comes and goes in the freezing darkness of winter. The holiday season is like a candle flame, burning bright and warm, extinguished in a moment. We clear away the wrapping paper, take down the Christmas trees, and resume our ordinary little lives. The nights, no longer lit by colored lights, are still long. Without the excitement and bustle of the holidays, the cold seems ever more oppressive. Winter loses its charm. The warm feelings of Christmas disappear like last week’s snow.

Relient K puts it well: “No more lights glistening. No more carols to sing. But Christmas—it makes way for spring.”

The celebration was brief when Christ was born. Then it was back to a time as dark and bitter as any winter. God seemed to have abandoned Israel. There were no more prophets. The Roman Empire ruled over God’s nation with disdain. The first Christmas was over, and it was back to life as usual.

In the end, Christ gave his life for us all, and then promptly took it up again in history’s greatest miracle. A new age began. The church grew and spread. Winter was done. Spring had come.


Colored lights and ornaments are nice, but nothing makes a tree more beautiful than spring.

Wherever you are today—happy or sad, rejoicing or grieving, surrounded by loved ones or far from home—I pray that your own winters end quickly. May the life, light, and warmth of spring be never far from you, and may this Christmas be a hopeful prelude to something even better.

God bless you, dear reader.

Jesus Christ and Admiral Ackbar

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.

~ Matthew 22:15

Meet Admiral Ackbar.

Admiral AckbarThe Admiral is a minor character from a Star Wars film. Although he presumably has a life beyond the few scenes in which he appears, he is remembered for one thing and one thing only.

He proclaims, with a glassy-eyed expression of dazed astonishment, “It’s a trap!”

Admiral Ackbar, the ever-useful trap detector, was absent in the days of Jesus Christ. Fortunately, the Lord was shrewd enough to detect a trap without the advice of Star Wars characters.

Quite a number of people disliked Jesus, you see. Two religious groups, the Pharisees and Sadducees, hated the way his teachings upset the balance of things. They wanted him gone—disgraced—dead. These religious groups resorted to all kinds of underhanded traps to bring down the controversial upstart called Jesus Christ.

I find it hilarious, and extremely impressive, how the Lord Jesus dodged every trap with bravado and brilliance.

The Pharisees watched Jesus closely on the Sabbath, the divinely-ordained day of rest, to see whether he would heal a crippled man and thereby dishonor the day by “working.” Jesus didn’t heal anyone secretly. He was way too cool for that. Instead, he had the crippled man stand up in front of everyone and healed him in the most public way possible, pointing out that doing good on the Sabbath is more important than merely following regulations. (See Luke 6:6-10.)

It happened again and again. Even without Admiral Ackbar’s insight, the Lord Jesus never fell for a trap.

The priests demanded to know who gave Jesus his authority. If he claimed it came from God, they could accuse him of blasphemy. If he gave some other answer, or simply refused to reply, they could claim his teachings carried no weight.

Jesus answered this trick question with one of his own: “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”

The priests were baffled: “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”

They couldn’t answer his question, so Jesus declined to answer theirs. (See Matthew 21:23-27.)

“Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” demanded the Pharisees. If he answered “Yes,” they could accuse him of being a sellout to the Roman authorities. If he answered “No,” they could get him into trouble with those authorities.

He pointed out that Roman coins came from Caesar in the first place and said, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”—an answer with which neither Romans nor Jews could find fault. (See Matthew 22:15-22.)

The Sadducees added a trap of their own, but Jesus kept his cool.

If a woman is married more than once, they asked, whose wife will she be in the afterlife? By this question, the Sadducees (who didn’t believe in life after death) meant to discredit Jesus and his teachings.

Jesus’ answer? There is no marriage in the afterlife. Take that, Sadducees! (See Matthew 22:23-33.)

One trap stands out among the others. It was a matter of life or death. A woman had been caught in an affair. According to Old Testament laws, she deserved to die. However, in Jesus’ day, Jews couldn’t sentence anyone to death without consent from the Roman authorities. (This is why Jesus was taken to Pilate, a Roman official, to be condemned to be executed after the Jews had already declared him worthy of death.)

If Jesus said the woman should die, he would break Roman law. If he said the woman should live, he would break divine law. There was no way out. It was a trap even Admiral Ackbar could not avoid.

Go ahead, said Jesus. Execute the woman according to Jewish law—but let someone who hasn’t sinned begin the execution.

With infinite calm, Jesus called their bluff. They could threaten to kill the woman—perhaps even watch her die—but not one of them could carry out the execution with a clean conscience. One by one, they slipped away. (See John 8:3-11.)

“Woman, where are they?” asked Jesus at last. “Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she replied, perhaps trembling in fear and awe.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” declared Jesus. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

I find it fascinating that Jesus gave tricky answers only to trick questions. When a Pharisee finally asked him a fair question, Jesus’ answer was honest and straightforward.

What, asked the Pharisee, is the greatest commandment in God’s law?

Love God and love others, answered Jesus.

That, dear readers, is not a trap.

This post was originally published on May 29, 2013. TMTF shall return with new content on November 30, 2015!

Leviticus Is Really Bloody

Of all the books in the Old Testament, Leviticus has a reputation for being tedious. What nobody seems to remember is that it’s also really, really gory.

Rated M

The Holy Bible: Rated M for intense violence, blood and gore, and sexual content.

I’ve been revisiting Leviticus lately, and it’s a grim read. Among the dull regulations for religious rituals are rules for sacrifices, which involve slaughtering livestock, cutting them into pieces, burning them, and splattering their blood in all kinds of interesting and unexpected places.

I often picture places of worship in the Old Testament as peaceful, churchlike sanctuaries smelling of incense, where immaculately-dressed priests walk quietly and speak in whispers.

Examining what Scripture actually says gives quite a different picture.

Livestock were killed for a wide variety of offerings, and the priests did at least some of the slaughtering. I sometimes think of Old Testament priests as pastors, but they seem more like butchers. Israel’s places of worship were likely deafening with the frantic bleats of dying animals, pervaded by the smell of burning meat, and speckled with dried blood.

Revisiting Leviticus, and reading the Bible generally, challenges my faith. Christian culture hardly ever mentions, let alone dwells upon, the nastier bits of the Bible—and dang, the Bible sure can be nasty. It’s nicer to think about the Sermon on the Mount, or the Christmas story, or the pleasanter Psalms.

We so often have preconceived ideas of what’s in the Bible without ever taking a look, or bothering to think about what we find.

Do any of the Sunday school teachers who put up cutesy pictures of Noah’s Ark remember that the Flood drowned nearly every person on earth? Do any of the people who share inspirational verses from Job recall how his life was shattered, his health was broken, and his children were crushed to death? Anybody?

Leviticus troubles me. Yes, I know that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” It costs something. In the end, forgiving us cost God everything in the death of Jesus Christ. I get that. All the same, I’m bothered by the thought of God commanding the incessant, daily slaughter of helpless animals as a form of worship.

These challenging chapters in Leviticus remind me that lot of things in Scripture trouble me, and some surprise me—and many give me unexpected comfort, peace, and hope. The Bible often refuses to match up to my expectations or the impressions some churches give of it.

The Bible is a book not to be judged by its cover, nor by incomplete impressions. Especially for those who call it God’s Word, the Bible is worth reading: even the tedious, boring, and bloody bits.

I suppose that includes Leviticus.

This post was originally published on September 22, 2014. TMTF shall return with new content on November 30, 2015!