In The Middle

In the Middle

DAY 19:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

College is a combination of having fun and getting to know yourself for the first time really, which means existential crises are suddenly a regular part of your life.  Tay Sway was right when she said she was happy, free, confused, and lonely:  I feel each one of those emotions once about every five minutes.

Yesterday and today were days where I was just all over the place.  I came back feeling refreshed from fall break but was met with a circumstance right off the bat that was less than ideal.

Additionally, my whole Monday was oddly out of whack, and despite my best intentions, I fell back into some of the same unsuccessful habits that I was beating myself up about before break.

It just further demonstrates to me how extraordinarily cyclical our lives are:  every peak is followed by a swift decent. And on our more cynical days (like today), the ebb and flow of our existence seems far too predictable.

So my unexpected spiritual encounter last night was sitting on my couch next to my best friend for a couple hours and hashing out some heart troubles that I didn’t really have language for.

It was so healing to lay my burdens down and have someone walk with me through the middle of them.

I think that’s one of the most beautiful things about our God is that He doesn’t discount our suffering:  He meets us there in the midst of them.  He knows us best, and our messes don’t frighten or discourage Him because He trusts His own plan.

God is present in the middle of your

fear,

loneliness,

grief,

doubt,

complicated emotions,

insensitivity,

hatred,

confusion,

distrust,

wrong thinking,

bad attitude,

apathy,

lusts,

excesses,

omissions,

disrespect,

hunger,

shame,

frustration,

selfishness,

lack of discipline,

insecurity,

uncertainty,

vulnerability,

bruises,

and on and on.

Even this very second, you are desperately loved.  Your humanity is no surprise to God, so stop hiding behind your dysfunction and start living in His acceptance.

Marshall's signature

//

Want more 31 Days of Unexpected Supernatural Encounters?  You’ll find them here.  

 

 

Netflix Sunday and Biblical Literalism by Kelsy Black

DAY 18:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

If you want to talk about an unexpected spiritual encounter, spending Sunday morning at First Queue Internet Church of Netflix might just take the cake.
IMG_7945-0.PNG

My dear friend, Kelsy Black, will be sharing her enlightening review of a brilliant documentary she recently saw that gave her a big dose of clarity.

At different points in our relationship, Kelsy has been my TA, the school newspaper’s fashion columnist, my matchmaker, my blog inspiration, my fellow Brene Brown enthusiast, and my trusty how-to-backpack-through-Europe advisor.  

Now she’s the special projects associate producer for a Christian television network in Pittsburgh (and may or may not have co-hosted a cooking show).  So without further ado, Miss Kelsy Black:

If there was a Facebook status for Christianity and homosexuality, I think it’d be “It’s Complicated.”

Sure, everyone apparently knows those few specific bible verses about it being an “abomination,” but what happens when same-gender sexuality looks less like a nameless, faceless issue added to the list of things you’re supposedly against and more like your cousin? Or best friend? Or brother? Or daughter?

For The Bible Tells Me So answers that question, highlighting five different conservative Christian families and their reactions to their LGBT children

When I started this documentary–appropriately on a Sunday morning when I was too under the weather to go to church–I was a little hesitant about how Christian-bashing it might be. I’m all too familiar with these easily criticizable stereotypes–Christians who would rather disown their gay child and send them to reform camp than love them.

But surprisingly, this documentary was balanced and hopeful in many ways, showing families that changed their mindsets and telling the story of how God used them to bring others to Him.

One such family was the Robinsons of Kentucky, parents of Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopalian bishop in the United States. His parents were raised in a very small town and went to the same church for all of their lives but still completely accepted and loved their son, attending his ordination years later when he made history in the Episcopal church.

As someone who works for a Christian TV ministry, I see and hear a lot of religious talk:  that’s pretty much the premise of my industry! Biblical literalism always fascinates me because without fail, it is a subject that most people subconsciously disagree about the most.

I meet a lot of Christian pastors, speakers, writers, and teachers, and I would say that if you put them all in the same room, they would disagree about many different interpretations of scriptural issues but yet all agree about biblical literalism (without realizing their contradictions).

What is biblical literalism? Basically, biblical literalism is just that–the belief that the Scripture can only be understood literally and transcends all literary methods like allegory or mythology, as well as cultural context.

According to a 2011 Gallup poll, “Three in 10 Americans interpret the Bible literally, saying it is the actual word of God. A 49% plurality of Americans say the Bible is the inspired word of God but that it should not be taken literally, consistently the most common view in Gallup’s nearly 40-year history of this question.”

As For the Bible Tells Me So brings up, we often are quick to refer to homosexuality as an “abomination,” citing Leviticus. This is an example of biblical literalism, defining abomination with the current English understanding of the word as “a thing that causes disgust or hatred.”

However, biblical scholars have found that the cultural context of the word “abomination” is more in line with describing something unclean or forbidden rather than morally unlawful. For example, breaking dietary restrictions such as eating seafood or pork of Deuteronomy 3 is described with the same word we’ve interpreted to be as abominable as homosexuality.

You can hold a high view of scripture while respecting the ancient cultural context often blurred by our modern understanding.  The antithesis of literalism is liberalism, and this approach takes etymological research into view when interpreting the Scriptures.

So, wow. All this to say, check out For the Bible Tells Me So on Netflix. Let it challenge, encourage, and possibly enlighten you, as it did me.

//

Admittedly, this post is in no means an attempt to  fully cover the topics of biblical literalism or the church and marriage equality.  This documentary just provides some conversation starters to understanding how to respectfully but realistically approach the holy scriptures, and I highly recommend watching it.

You can find more from Kelsy check out her blog, The Accidental Extrovert, or follow @kelsyblack on Twitter.

Want more 31 Days of Unexpected Supernatural Encounters?  You’ll find them here.  

In Memory of Fall Break

photo-1

DAY 17:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

“You wanted an encore, but there’s no encore today.  Because the moment is now–can’t get it back to the grave.”

-Macklemore + Ryan Lewis, “Ten Thousand Hours”

Today ends a magical fall break, most of which was spent with my parents in charming Abingdon, Virginia.  (A post from this adventure will be coming later this week.)

Two of our favorite things we did were watching The Hound of the Baskervilles at the historic Barter Theatre and biking seventeen miles down a mountain on the Virginia Creeper Trail.  However as my dad later pointed out, both were amazing yet felt like they were over so quickly.

We had been looking so forward to the break, but before we knew it, it was over.

I faced this dilemma many times in Europe when I had such high expectations about seeing a city but hardly even realized that I was having that experience until it was over.   Then, when it was, I felt guilty for not fulling living in the moment and regretted that the time was over.

How do we deal with this crisis of focus?  How do we truly engage in the present moment so afterwards we aren’t haunted with regret?

I think all we can do is try our best to appreciate the moment–both during it and following it–and then realize that no play or bike ride or adventure or spiritual encounter has the power to make us truly happy:  we alone have that power.

So instead of bemoaning the demise of fall break, I’m going to take a few minutes to celebrate it and how wonderful a break it was for my mind and spirit.

//

Cheers to cool nights and crunching leaves and the dark elegance of Old South mansions.

To small town kindness and locally produced goods and free samples and candles that smell like oatmeal and honey.

To chances to write and breath and just be.

Here’s to yellow and orange and awe-inspiring views and sharp drop-offs that make you feel slightly dangerous and coasting down inclines, fast and free.

To gushing mountain creeks and not-yet uprooted Christmas trees and truss bridges and endless panoramas you wish you had time to stop and photograph, even though you don’t.

Oh, and to ice cream at the end of your trek.

To deep car-ride conversations and lots of Cracker Barrel and family time and catching up with your favorite DVRed shows.

Thanks for the rejuvenated restart, fall break.

Marshall's signature

//

Want more 31 Days of Unexpected Supernatural Encounters?  You’ll find them here.  

 

 

Venturing Out On My Own

Platform 9

DAY 16:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

Considering I easily get lost in small towns using my GPS, it’s really a surprise to me that my roommate and I navigated two weeks of travel in Europe by ourselves.

One of the hardest parts of touring with groups is that you feel like you are always compromising what you want to do for what the collective body wants.  And while that’s acceptable on a road trip or spring break, it’s in no way selfish to pick your own agenda somewhere as far away as Europe.

Hey, it’s not like you can hop across the Pond alone whenever you want.

So there are many times during my twelve-week study abroad when I would ditch my group and go out and do exactly what it was that I felt like doing.  It even led me to some pretty cool places:  a guided literary tour of Edinburgh, an antique library in Dublin, and (an hour lost in) a historic cemetery in Paris.

But my first full-out solo adventure was when I decided to spend a weekend in London alone. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I’m not even going to pretend like I wasn’t scared spitless.

First, I had to rush from one side of Cambridge to the other…on a bike in the rain…to a train station I had trouble locating.

After nervously fighting with the ticket machine, I boarded my train amid mental panic.  What if I didn’t actually make my B & B reservation tonight?  What if I lose the concert ticket?  Will I make it everywhere on time?  Also, how am I getting all this weekend’s homework done?

I stepped off the train at Platform 9 of King’s Cross (which was surreal in itself) and headed to the Victoria side of town.

My hotel room was (believe it or not) smaller than a cabin on a cruise, and the bed basically extended the length of the wall.  But what made it all worth it was the view:   in the distance, I could see the Big Ben across the sea of rooftops.

Venturing Out On My Own

To be fair, I wasn’t totally alone the whole weekend, as I met people at the famous O2 arena for a concert and outside London at Watford Junction for the Harry Potter Studios tour.

For the most part, however, I set my own agenda as I journeyed from the heart to the outskirts of London, discovering areas less known to ordinary tourists.  One such destination was the recently reopened (that day, in fact) London Aquatics Centre, where I enjoyed a swim in the same practice pool Michael Phelps would have used to warm up during the 2012 Olympics.

(I still wish Tom Daley had shown up, but whatevs.)

IMG_2016

the competition pool that I was slightly too out of shape for

I got some treasured moments of solitude walking the blocks of Victoria along with ample Kindle-reading time, an obligatory trip to H & M, and a homework session with the London Eye just across the Thames from me.

Overall, it was incredibly pleasant to get past my comfort zone and venture out by myself.

Traveling by yourself instills a sense of independence in you, and after this trip on my own, I felt much more confident heading into my two-week European free travel.

The moral of the story:  trust yourself and the intrepid leadings of your heart.  Do what’s best for you even when you are afraid.

You might just find some courage along the way and hopefully, after you’ve faced your fears, some friends to welcome you home.

Marshall's signature

//

Do you ever travel by yourself?  If so, comment below with your favorite experience ridin’ solo.

Want more 31 Days of Unexpected Supernatural Encounters?  You’ll find them here.  

You can read more adventures in travel here.

 

 

The Reason to Continue Writing

The Reason to Continue Writing

DAY 15:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

Perhaps the last place I expected to find an unexpected spiritual encounter was in my 31 Days of Unexpected Spiritual Encounters challenge.

While I’ve developed my blogging skills and personal discipline much more than I anticipated to do through this challenge, I didn’t forsee it being this taxing. Some days I can’t wait to post, but on others, it seems all I can do to “crank” out another one.

I’m proud that my content hasn’t suffered for writing every day, as I feared it might, but this experiment has pushed the bounds of my creativity. Admittedly, it’s hard to find something to write about each day, especially when you’re drowning in homework or other responsibilities.

What’s proved hardest to face is the insecurities that arise almost any time I open up WordPress.   In the recent past, these demons only reared their heads the one or two times a week I would squeeze in to write.

Now, their presence is felt every day.

Why are you even bothering? No one cares what you have to say. Your writing is totally self-centered. You have nothing relevant or interesting to write.

And the one that frightens me most: Your dreams of being a professional writer one day are arrogant and completely unrealistic, and no matter how you much you dream, you’ll only ever be a silent nobody.

So when the voices get loud, why do I keep doing it? Why do I continue writing and sharing the gift I’ve been given?

Because without it, I wouldn’t be me.

Although I would say my purpose in life is significantly bigger than my vocational calling, it’s all I know and all I’ve ever wanted to do.

I was born to create, and when I don’t—when I let the words well up within me—I simply can’t function. I feel blocked or shut up, as if I’m trapped behind a glass like a zoo animal: the world can see me, but it can’t hear me.

That’s about the most frightening thing I can imagine.

Writing and especially blogging is hard. The level of commitment needed is substantial, and most of the work is less than glamorous and hidden behind the scenes. But if I silence the voice God has given me, I’m not being true to me or to Him.

Read about my writing journey in “Being the Writer I Want to Be” here.

However, there are most certainly good days. Yesterday was one. After commenting on a “31 dayer” Facebook page I’m connected with, I got a sudden increase in traffic and tons of sweet comments.

Although I’m definitely the only twenty-something male in the group, it was so encouraging to hear from other bloggers in the same awkward “Hey, ya’ll, I’m writing every day to refine my talent, so please don’t hate me, social media friends” position that I am.

The best is the couple times people I don’t know have stopped me on the street and told me that my one of my posts seriously impacted their lives. I wouldn’t trade moments like that for the world.

It’s so cool to know that even when you feel insecure about your own art that someone out there has heard you and is better for it.

So whatever it is you do—cooking, playing sports, writing music, inventing, painting, or even preaching—keep doing it. Our world needs your positive contribution!

And never forget to come alongside and celebrate others in or out of your field. Maybe that means writing a kind note or commenting on a blog (what a novel idea!) or praising someone’s commitment to excellence.

As an creative, I can tell you that anything you can do to edify a fellow artist or performer will go a long way.

I’ll leave you with the words of the eloquent Shauna Niequist, whose essay “Love Song for Fall” inspired this post.

Here’s an excerpt on writing from her book, Bittersweet:

“But every once in a while, when I write, I feel that feeling of a thousand slender threads coming together, strands of who I’ve been and who I’m becoming, the long moments at the computer and the tiny bits of courage, the middle of the night prayers and the exact way God made me, not wrong or right, just me. I feel like I’m doing what I came to do, in the biggest sense. That’s why I write, because sometimes, every once in a while, I feel entirely at home in the universe, a welcome and wonderful feeling. I could cry at that feeling, because it happens so rarely. Doing the hard work of writing makes me feel like I’m paying my rent on a cosmic level, doing the thing that I can do to make the world a little better decorated…

[S]pill out all your stories like pouring wine into thin-stemmed glasses, the liquid rich and blood-red.”

Writing is my burden and my pleasure.  It’s in these words that I discover my life.

Marshall's signature

//

Want more 31 Days of Unexpected Supernatural Encounters?  You’ll find them here.  

 

 

Golden Age: 21 Things I’m Grateful For

21st birthday

DAY 14:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

One month ago today, I turned twenty-one.  That same day, I made a resolution, and although I’m not sure how well I’ve done with it, I wanted to share my goal with you today and try it out a little.

I resolved that this year would be the absolute time of my life–my golden age.  I know years later I’m going to look back on my college years and deem them “the good ole days,” and while it doesn’t always feel like that now, I want to tap into whatever makes us sentimentalize the past while I’m living in the present.

What I believe causes such a disconnect between the time we’re living through and our later memories of that season is our future gratitude for all the things that went right.

When we put things into perspective, we realize that even in challenging circumstances, there was always a little more good than we knew back then.

So to celebrate my monthiversary of feeling twenty-one, I’m going to share twenty-one things I’m grateful for as well as pictures from my spectacular birthday.  Everyone made it such a great day!

I’m grateful for:

1) Living in such a thriving and inspiring community as Lee University

2) Being surrounded by young Christian academics and creatives

birthday party

3) A God who loves me even when I ask Him hard questions

4) Sparklers at midnight

birthday

5) The chance to travel the world with the sweetest people

birthday party

6) The chance to share my thoughts and ideas on the Internet

7) A new communications building for my senior year!!! Woohoo!

birthday

8) Being a part of a global church and a couple local congregations

9) Writing/faith inspirations who are the real deal

Birthday

10) Amazing housemates and roommate–all of which who occasionally dance with me

11) Flawless neighbors

Birthday

12) Lobster for my birthday dinner and oreo balls to share in class!

birthday

13) People who know me well enough to write “Happy Birthday” in my two favorite fonts

14) Students who I supposedly mentor but who teach me so much more in turn

birthday dinner

15) My eclectic house with a spiral staircase (that screams “Four college bachelors live here!”)

16) This guy and this girl who have been there for me since day one of this crazy college adventure

birthday dinner

16) Holidays, day trips, studies abroad, and concerts

17) Coworkers who cover my desk with sticky notes #FYPfam

18) Surprises (even though I claim to hate them)

19) The girl who means the everything to me

birthday 20) A memorable past and a radiant future

21)  Wonderful parents within driving distance of Clevegas

birthday

So whatever age or season you find yourself at, flex your gratitude muscles and decide this is going to be your “good ole days.”

Marshall's signature

//

Want more 31 Days of Unexpected Supernatural Encounters?  You’ll find them here.  

 

 

Extenuating Circumstances

DAY 13:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

IMG_2960

 

Even though I’ve had some vulnerable posts, I do my absolute best to pack this blog with reflective content, not emotional journal entries.

I think a blog can be a very dangerous tool in the hands of someone who gets all their worth from public approval, and so when I share things like the way I struggle with my faith or have dealt with gender stereotypes, I never mean to overexpose my problems or over-share my personal life.

That being said, I’ve just got to be honest and admit I’m struggling today. I’m officially on fall break, and thank God, because I was about to break.

In all seriousness, I have noticed a recent lethargy in my life and lack of motivation when it comes to my classes.  I’m just not meeting my own expectations, and that’s very frustrating.

Here’s the temptation:  blame it on senior year.  I’ve been through ups and downs that are totally normal parts of college (aka sophomore slump), and even though this season has been packed with fun memories and blessings, it’s been so hard to focus my energies on finishing strong.

What’s hard is that I’m constantly facing this senior tension–a never-ceasing pull between the comfortable past and the uncertain future.  And the present, well, always feels murky and induces plenty of anxiety.

Because here’s the thing:  in a couple months, I’m going to leave the people I know and love behind as well as the place I’ve grown to call my new home.  This incessant need to plan (or at least mentally prepare) has got the present feeling like some sort of awkward in-between phase–sort of like what I addressed in “Suffocating in Sentiment.”

So what’s today’s unexpected spiritual encounter?  Well, oddly enough, a line from one of my favorite shows, Arrow (season 2, episode 2). Pardon my geeky nature emerging…

A rich playboy finds himself shipwrecked on a dangerous island and has to resort to killing to stay alive.  However, after he brutally murders someone who is attacking his love interest, he and she have this dialogue:

Oliver Queen: “I just feel like this island is turning me into something terrible.”
Shado: “No island, no place, can make you something you’re not.”
Oliver Queen: “So I’ve always been a killer?”
Shado: “Everyone has a demon inside them.”

“Extenuating circumstances” is a phrase with legal origins that we use to excuse something that otherwise we shouldn’t due to a certain situational context.

For me, senior year has been my extenuating circumstance for an absence of zeal in my life and excellence in some of my work.

But like Shado emphasized, no circumstance can make you something you aren’t.  Sure, there’s room to change, but that starts by identifying the problems within your own heart–your own demons.

I was shocked when I studied abroad in England for a semester and was followed by the same personal problems I’ve had all my life.  I kept looking for a fresh start, but I forgot that I took my primary piece of emotional baggage with me:  myself.

It’s easy to make excuses and to blame external negativity for our attitudes, but that’s not the path to wholeheartedness.

Whatever you’ve been struggling with lately, don’t be unrealistic about it or assign blame to people or things that don’t deserve it. Maybe there are factors outside your control involved, but you are responsible for your reaction to those situations.

Marshall's signature

//

You can follow along with my 31 Days of Unexpected Supernatural Encounters here.