My dog Willow has died

Willow was a good dog. We adopted her from the Humane Society in 2011 at the age of 4. I had been wanting a dog for years, but I was working ridiculous hours at the university and taking night classes. It wouldn’t be fair to have a dog stuck at home when I was on-campus for 10-12 hours a day.

She joined our family the day after I graduated with my BA.

Her name had been Tarheel, and it seemed to me like she hadn’t been well-socialized with other dogs. She was small for a Labrador Retriever, and I suspected she had been kept in a run because, when let loose in our backyard, she would just run back and forth in a straight line.

But she bonded with me immediately. She was my constant companion, rarely even tolerating being in a different room from me. I spent months working with her and other dogs, and she got better and better. She lived to love me and to make me happy, and I never felt like I quite deserved it.

She had two nicknames:

  1. Widdershins, because for the longest time she would spin in circles whenever excited for dinner, or excited about anything else, but would only spin counterclockwise. Willow Widdershins Stublefield.
  2. Triangle-Ears because her ears would perk up whenever she thought food or anything else interesting was available.

She didn’t mind the cats at all. Eventually, they came to tolerate her.

She was definitely my dog. She liked everyone, but I was the one she followed and obeyed. For the last 6 and a half years, I have been working from home and she has been my co-worker every day, on the sofa in my office right next to me. For 10 years, she has slept on the floor next to the bed, right beside me.

I was hers and she was mine. But she liked April too.

She generally pretended like our kids didn’t exist. If they were between me and her, she would go right through or over them if we weren’t careful.

She lived 13.5 years. On the way home from the vet, who diagnosed her with kidney disease, I checked online and learned that labs typically live 10-12 years. In dog years, I think that means she was 94.

I think we gave her a good life. I know she made my life better.

I cried so hard at the vet. I knew when we adopted her that this day would come. I’ve been prepared to mourn her since that first day. But it was still hard, so very hard, and I wept on the floor in the vet’s office while holding her.

I’m crying now.

I’m going to be expecting to see her come around a corner in our house for days, maybe weeks. I keep expecting to feel her nudge my hand or put a paw on my leg.

She was such a good dog.

I’ll miss you Willow. I love you. Thank you for being my friend.

Why do you do the things you do?

Per my earlier post, it should be obvious that I’m thinking about politics and religion. I’m also thinking about motivation. I know why I do certain things, and I think I have a good handle on the motivations of a lot of the people I know, be they people from work, church, or other friends. People are complex in a lot of ways, but not all of life is enigmatic.

Continue reading

God found my key

When I got to work yesterday, I discovered the key to my office was missing. I distinctly remembered putting it in my pocket, and I know I had transferred it from that pocket to my coat pocket, yet it wasn’t there. It must have fallen out at home, I reasoned, probably when I was taking something else from the pocket, so while I was embarrassed and frustrated, I wasn’t terribly worried. I knew I’d find it.

April couldn’t, though, despite looking on my behalf. And when I got home, it was in neither the office nor the bedroom. It wasn’t in the kitchen, where I had transferred the key to my coat, and it wasn’t in the stairwell or outside the back door where I had removed my other keys from the pocket to lock the door. With the rear floodlights on and a flashlight in hand, I walked to our rear gate and searched to no avail. I had also combed the yard, and as I began walking back to the door, I did so again.

Nearly there, I kicked something. It might have been a stick, but I knew immediately that it was my key, which I had stepped over with the first foot and yet somehow kicked with the second. Thank you God, I thought quite honestly. Even when I looked, knowing it was there, I didn’t see it, and it wasn’t until after a bit of sifting that the key turned up.

In ways large and small, God continually blesses me. Thank you, God, for finding my key and making today far easier (mentally and emotionally, at least) than yesterday.

Hugging Defined

The image of Christians as puritanical zealots who fear all physical contact is both humourous and regrettable. It is humourous because of how unBiblical the concept of physical coldness is when viewed against examples like David and Jonathan, and regrettable because of how often its tenants are upheld or even encouraged by Christians.

Let’s pull back a bit and define physical contact for the sake of this conversation. For now, I would like to discuss it in the context of hugging: a simple physical embrace between two people. I put hugging on par with a Holy Kiss, elevating it somewhat above a handshake but not something that reaches the familiar level of an outright smooch. Its meaning changes depending on how fervent the hug is, its length and intensity, and the two people sharing the contact, but in general it’s fairly benign. I think that gives us a decent starting place for discussing physical contact between Christians in general.

Due to my experience, I can only define hugging in negative terms, which is to say that I cannot outright state what it is. Rather, I must state that which it is not, and allow the whitespace to highlight its shape and form. And while this may seem like an absurd concept, I suspect that I am not alone in this. I have met a number of people who seem to have misinterpreted either the aim or the execution of hugging and in so doing have perverted its definition.

In this sense, I think the correlation of a hug to the Holy Kiss is important. Hugging is not a sexual activity, nor a licentious one, but it is to be shared between two individuals who share a common understanding. Without that common understanding, its meaning and importance are lost.

  • Hugging is not sexual, nor is it romantic. It is something shared between friends and family.
  • Hugging is not greedy or self-serving, but an act of connection between two people, serving both.
  • Hugging is not a universal greeting, appropriate in all situations.
  • However, hugging is not reserved or rare–it ought to be practiced far more than we do now.
  • Hugging is a gift, a balm, and a blessing. It is a way of saying to someone, “You are not alone.”
  • Hugging is not a demand.

As I started to try and understand hugging for myself, at least enough to write this list, it reminded me of 1 Corinthians 13:

4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  8Love never fails.

This passage is a bulwark against which we can test the love we see around us. If the “love” we are seeing does not match this, it is not love. If what we are experiencing is not these things, it is not love. Similarly, hugging is those things above, and many more that I can’t think of right now. If it becomes sexual, you’ve transitioned from hugging to groping or grinding. If it is greedy, you are no longer hugging, but grasping and clinging. If it is not a gift, it is a theft.

If people are calling something hugging that does not meet the above definitions (which I’ll be talking about tomorrow), their definition has become confused and mistaken. This has a serious impact on their life, relationships, and ability to connect with others, and is something that they must address and set aright.

Oh yeah, it’s time to give thanks

It’s Thanksgiving here in the United States of America, so I kind of feel like I ought to write something about it. But I don’t really have much to say.

Everything we have is from God. Our jobs, our house, our education, the money in our bank account, the clothes we wear, the bed we sleep in. The food we eat and the water we drink is from God. The car in our garage, the grass in the front lawn, and the light shining from the stars are all gifts.

Every breath is a gift.

There is no way to list everything I am thankful for, but for today I am glad we were able to visit my aunt and uncle, to spend Thanksgiving with them, and to play three hours of poker where I managed to break even.

Not terribly thankful about forgetting my stainless steel coffee mug there, but I guess the bitterness casts the sweetness into even greater effect.

Oh, and I’m also thankful for pecan pie. That was the best freaking pecan pie I have ever had. It was apparently made by some Amish people from whom they bought it.

Anyways, yay Jesus, and thanks!

A New Light

Sometimes you read a verse and you gloss over it. It seems like a transition sentence between ideas, or you’ve already read it and thought about it before, or maybe you’ve just never heard a sermon on it so you assume it’s unimportant. None of these are terribly absurd or unlikely.

But sometimes you force yourself to go back and read it again, to dig in and really think about what God is attempting to communicate with that verse. Sometimes your mind is blown.

1 John 2:7-8

7Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.


God is Love?


As an opening to our weekly college ministry meeting, Brian showed a music video he had found on YouTube that proclaimed “God is love” and that “He loves everyone.” The song was decent and the video was well done, so when I got to work the next day, I found myself looking it up so I could watch it again. While waiting for the video to load, I began to browse the comments down below and was a little surprised at some of the negativity. Contradictory to the message of the song, someone named JesusFreakRKG had posted that God is not, in fact, love and that the video was harmful and wrong.

As I read over JesusFreak’s comments and those who replied to him, I realized that the names looked familiar. It finally dawned on me that JF is the little brother of a friend of mine, so I sent the video to that friend and we later had a long conversation on the subject of “God is Love.”

The arguments against the video are reasonably sound, Biblically-speaking, but perhaps a little too restrictive of God’s sovereignty. Regardless, when deciding where to begin my Online Bible Study, I thought that 1 John would be an excellent place to start examining the nature of God and his love and/or hate.

1 John 1:1-4

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our  joy complete.

This concept of the “Word of life” hails from the Gospel of John, where he speaks at length about the Word of God, and this passage is generally interpreted as speaking metaphorically about Jesus.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

John achieves a variety of things with these two short sentences. First, he links Jesus (the Word) with the creation of the world and specifically with the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible where God creates by speaking. Each creation phrase begins with, “And God said,” with all of creation springing into being in response to God’s statements. Second, John intimates that Jesus was both the word spoken as well as one with God, neither greater nor less than, but equal to the Father. And third, John states in verse two that Jesus, or the Word, was with God in the beginning, a statement that is later used by the Council of Nicaea to disprove Arius and state that Jesus was not created down the line, but rather was always with God because he is God.

To Bible-believing Christians, at least mainstream ones, this is all old-hat. We’ve been told that the Holy Trinity is just how things are, so we know (or think we do) that Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit are all the same. John, however, is writing to people in the first century of the Year of our Lord when Jesus had just been a guy they saw walking around, giving out fish and healing lepers. If they were reading John’s letter, they had presumably heard that Jesus had risen from the dead, but it’s still quite a leap to go from “resurrected” to “God Almighty.”

Though it mattered a great deal then, does it still matter now? As I read the verses over and over, letting them resonate in my head, I decided firmly that they do.

One of the great joys of Christianity is knowing that we have a God who is sympathetic to our weakness because he was tempted just as we are. Jesus does not respond to humanity as one completely removed from humanity, for he descended to live a mortal life as a human for thirty-some-odd years, and was subjected to all manner of temptation and cruelty during that time. Though he never sinned, he knows and understands the struggles we face.

But it’s not like he just finally figured this out. God knows all things at all times, and when he spoke the world into creation, he knew what was going on. Jesus was there at the beginning.

This has two implications. First, that God created the world knowing 1) what we’d be faced with, but also 2) what we could overcome. He has balanced all things so that we can manage, and though life is almost unbelievably difficult sometimes, God’s strength will carry us through because he designed it that way.

Second, and perhaps more astonishing, is that God let things go down this way at all.

Let me try to put this into a brief timeline to highlight how crazy yet awesome this is. ((I had intended to expand on this in the podcast, but then got distracted by God’s crazy-awesomeness and lost track of what I was saying. Perhaps another time))  Before God created the world, he knew everything. He knew that we would sin and be separated from him, he knew that we would subsequently suffer, and he therefore also knew that he would forgive us and provide the means to rejoin him. God knew that he would sacrifice his son, himself, to pay the price of our sin. He knew that the very Hell created to hold those angels who had rebelled would be the place of punishment for our sins, and would therefore be the place his son would have to endure for three days. And he also knew that despite the resurrection of Jesus, there would still be many, many people who would ignore, avoid, or turn away from his love.

This is all very intricate, complex stuff with a difficult web connecting and justifying all decisions. Each statement in the above paragraph could each have their own subsequent blog entry (or four) explaining why things had to be that way. Let’s try and stay on this topic to the end, though.

The bottom line is that God 1) wanted us to have free will, 2) wanted us to have a relationship with him, and 3) had to provide a means to forgive sin that would be meaningful to us so both justice and mercy could occur. The means of achieving all this is Jesus. He was the Word spoken and he was the sacrifice needed.

This is the Word of which John writes in 1 John 1:1-4. John saw Jesus. He heard him, ate with him, touched him, walked with him, and knew him as a friend. And John wants to share those memories, stories, and wonderful revelations with us so we might have fellowship with him, with God, and with the greater Church.

God’s joy is complete when we, his followers, are in fellowship with each other and with him. It is the reason we were created, for God certainly didn’t need us. But he desired and loves us, and so by entering this fellowship, we bring joy to the Father. What’s more, though, is that John assures us that joining the fellowship of God will likewise bring us joy.

A life with Jesus is a life fulfilled, more pleasing and wonderful than you can imagine. John saw it and shares it through his first letter following his gospel of the life of Jesus. Next week, we’ll dig into verses five through seven of chapter one.

What is Love?

This question was posed on and I thought I’d share my words on the subject.

Happy is he who still loves something he loved in the nursery: He has not been broken in two by time; he is not two men, but one, and he has saved not only his soul but his life.
— G.K. Chesterton

In The Once and Future King, Arthur learns of the bestiality of men by studying with Merlin. We are wicked, cruel creatures, akin to ants and not geese, whose joy is derived from battle and dominance. What is more astonishing to Arthur is that those who want to fight are not the ones who get hurt. The knights in their fine armour and atop their mighty warsteeds rarely receive more than a bruising and are ransomed back to their family. Meanwhile, the peasants and militias are rounded up to fill out the army, to create a jolly good show, and are slaughtered en masse.

This all seemed horribly unfair to Arthur, as I’m sure it does to you, and so Arthur devised a cunningly romantic plan. First, he decided that the key to stopping the senseless violence inherent in the feudal system that surrounded and embodied his kingdom was to give some sense to those aggressive emotions. To that end, King Arthur formed the Knights of the Round Table. The august individuals who sat at this table represented the most honourable and chivalrous of knights, not because they were truly all that honourable or chivalrous, but because Arthur essentially tricked them into channeling their might into right.

The job of the knights was to patrol the kingdom and discern where might was being used to bully and harm innocent people. In this manner, the knights could go about bashing heads, but would be constrained to bashing the heads of people who deserved it. Unfortunately, this plan was not suitably romantic enough, and the knights found themselves bored as peace began to take hold in the kingdom. Before long, they were returning to fighting one another.

So Arthur dreamed up another plan and set his knights to the quest for the Holy Grail. By command of God, they were to traverse the land, fighting all manner of monsters and demons to discover the grail from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper. This should have been perfect, because of course the grail didn’t really exist, or at least it did not in England.

You see, T.H. White was working with an older definition of romance, one steeped in the genre of romance literature and one which I find infinitely more appealing than “enjoying someone’s company” or, “respect, time, and space.” In romance literature, the focus is on the unattainable. Romance is about a quest, and its goal is one that cannot be fully realized.

There is something beautiful and poetic about this to me. Love cannot be grasped, only given. We cannot truly love until we have been truly loved. And above all, the quest never ends. The heights of love are uncharted and always over the horizon, always beyond the compass point, and so we venture on to see what we can see.

Moreover, romance and love inspires us to be greater than we might otherwise be, to become better men and women for the attainment of a higher goal, whether that is the love of an individual or becoming worthy of finding the grail.

Unfortunately, we are often too shortsighted to recognize the need for it. Love is not, when it comes right down to it, horribly complex, and so it took a simple man like Arthur to say, “No, this should be no more!” Arthur observed that there must be a better way, and set forth his knights upon that path.

Maturity leads us to the path, romance spurs us upon the quest, and love is the ultimate reward that is always just out of reach. It is a heart bursting with yearning, a gift that never exhales or ends, and a promise eternal.

Christian, Right or Wrong

Addressed to Christians:

There has been a disconcerting outpouring of negativity in response to the election of Barack Obama, and while I expected a certain amount of it, the vehemence of the tone was a surprise. I can understand being dismayed at his economic policies (though I personally agree with them to a greater degree than I did with McCain’s), or feeling he is inexperienced, but that doesn’t excuse the behaviour I have witnessed in the last 24 hours.

Barack Obama, regardless of whether you voted for him or not, regardless of whether you like him or not, is our brother in Christ. He claims to be Christian, and the only one who could possibly know otherwise would be God. Yet I have seen brothers and sisters calling for his death, decrying his existence, and mourning the next four years as if the world was coming to an end.

It shames and appalls me, that Christians would call for the death of a fellow Christian simply because they disagree with his political stance. The justification offered, however, is that they simply don’t believe he is Christian.

One might ask, “How have they reached this conclusion?” Obama himself claims to be Christian, we can’t see into his heart and know the truth one way or the other, and so we must take him at his word. But that line of argument is, to be honest, completely beside the point.

He is a fellow human, the president-elect of the United States, and we have been called to love others as Christ loves us. I am by no means a pacifist, and if we must defend ourselves, I support military or physically violent actions to do so, but Barack Obama isn’t attacking anyone, not physically anyways. He isn’t threatening to kill the citizens of the United States of America. He hasn’t set himself against the Church. So what is the justification for threatening and belittling him?

Insufficient. It doesn’t matter what the excuse is, the behaviour is simply wrong. Barack Obama is my brother in Christ, and I will treat him with the same love and respect I do all of my brothers and sisters. I don’t necessarily like everyone in my family, but they’re still my family, and our president is no different. I didn’t particulalry like President George W. Bush, and I made my fair share of jokes at his expense, but I also prayed for his health and wisdom. I recognized that he was a decent person trying to do the best he could, and that his motivation was to help this country. Regardless that the best he could was pretty poor, he wasn’t malicious. He is my brother.

Barack Obama is part of our Christian family. It’s time for some members of the Church to wake up and remember what it’s like to serve Jesus, who loves even the least of us.

Thoughts on Buddhism – Rewards

As a Christian, I can’t deny that other religions have some very attractive aspects to them. In this entry, let’s focus specifically on rewards and reward systems.

One of the key aspects to Christianity is the concept of Original Sin, stating that we are all born into sin and that it is only through God’s forgiveness that we can be purified. There is no amount of work, no set of good deeds, that we can do to earn this, because our sin is so great. We are so tainted, and continue to fail so regularly and to such degrees, that the bridge between humanity and God can never be completed by our work alone.

Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, forgiveness is extended to all of humanity, and those of us who are called by His name have been grafted into His family and will enter heaven when we die. We will transition from this life to the next in an instant, to spend eternity with our heavenly Father.

Our reward is assured because God promises it.

Buddhism accepts the karmic system as a natural law, in that good actions will return to the actor, just as negative actions will return to them. Good actions that fall within the Buddhistic laws earn an individual merit, or puñya, and an abundance of merit will ensure an improved rebirth. You will not escape saṃsāra, but you might be reborn as a god in the heavens.

This has a strong pull and attraction to me. As humans, or at least I perceive Americans this way, we want to earn what we have and/or receive. To work hard and do good works and thereby achieve godhood; to be reborn in heaven to live thousands of years and have immense power… well, it’s certainly appealing.

The problem is that it’s not true, no matter how appealing it is. My statement and subsequent arguments aren’t convincing to either believers or unbelievers, but I know what is true based on my relationship with God and His Holy Word. Buddhism and Christianity, despite the attempts of some, are simply mutually exclusive. Not to say there aren’t aspects of Buddhism, such as meditation, that can’t be employed by a Christian, but our focus and goals are entirely different.

We cannot save ourselves, nor can we earn our respite or rewards. I really wish we could, but in my (recognizably) limited experience, I am confident that we cannot earn heaven. And though there are certain things about God and this life that I must take on faith, I do so whole-heartedly.

So, what does it mean that our reward is assured by God, rather than our own works? Some have interpreted this to mean that we do not have to work for it, or something along those lines… and that argument has gone round and round for centuries.

The truth is, we owe Him our thanks and love, and I think if we really understood both God’s sacrifice and His love, we’d gladly give it. I’m only recently beginning to understand this concept, and intend to write more on it at length… just not now. Let me leave it with this:

Our earthly kings wear crowns of gold and jewels to denote their greatness. Our Heavenly King wore a crown of thorns, and gave His everything for us. Yes, earning our reward has a certain satisfaction inherent in both the belief and the action, but it’s not only false and impossible, it rejects the gift given to us by our King. We should work to serve, but we can never supplant Him.