Your Life in 30 Seconds

Have you ever had an elevator conversation? They are really short and end when you get to your floor. While writing a dissertation or thesis, students are encouraged to have a prepared elevator conversation to share with anyone who is willing to listen. It is called an elevator conversation because you should be able to share your thoughts within 20-30 seconds. Kinda crazy, many dissertations are 200 pages or longer. How in the world can you share those thoughts in 20 seconds? Simply put: you can’t. However, you can whet the appetite for more.

It can be annoying when you ask a PhD student what they are studying and they fumble for words because they don’t know how to describe it. The best students are passionate about the subject and have learned how to present their material concisely in 20 seconds so that people will be craving more. Now I ask, should Christians be prepared to share the Good News of Jesus Christ in 20 seconds? If so, what are the major points that you would want to share?

I often have people ask me what I am doing with my life, and I often answer it totally truthfully in 30 seconds – it looks something like this:

“I am working towards reconciling the Church; Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christians. All of these major Christian groups believe in the Holy Trinity; the full humanity and divinity of Christ; his actual life, death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven; and salvation through grace by faith in Jesus Christ alone. The Lord Jesus taught us to pray that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven, in heaven we are perfectly united, so I pray for this to happen on earth as well. In John 17, Jesus prays that we be one even as he and the Father are one. The ministry of reconciliation was on Jesus’ heart as well as mine.”

This is the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. He is reconciling us with himself and with each other and he is the only one who can make it happen. My identity is wrapped up in being a child of God; therefore, all of my actions flow out of that identity and I can answer questions like this without fear. My answer about my life did not concern my career or my thesis topic. I believe that the Good News of Christ is best shared with people when we are totally honest. People ask questions all the time, are you willing to answer honestly the next time? There is no reason to be afraid of people and what they will think of you. It is really hard to share your heart in 30 seconds, but it is totally doable and incredible!

If you had 30 seconds to describe what you are doing with your life, what would you say?


How to be a better Student

Now that I am halfway through my second masters degree, I have learned a thing or two about being productive. I would love to share some of the knowledge I have learned, so that you too can be more productive. But even more, I would also like to know what you would add or take away from this list. Here is some practical advice I have adopted which could possibly help save you hundreds of hours:

1. Project Management: All systems tend towards disorder unless energy is added. You must add energy to your school work! I have heard so many people complain about assignments, readings, et al. The simple truth comes down to how much energy you have added to the system. If you do not put energy into the system, it will tend toward disorder and chaos. One of the first things I do every semester is take all of my assignments (readings, projects, presentations et al) and put them into one Excel document with conditional formatting so that I can stay on top of all my deadlines – I have become a Project Manager of my school work. If you see that you need to read 4,000 pages for one class you should plan accordingly. At this comprehensive level most people read 30 pages per hour, so you would need to budget 133 hours for simply reading. Transferring your notes into a document for annotated bibliographies and papers is another story, but if you use kindle it becomes much faster!

2. Kindle: Read books on Kindle or Kindle e-readers, highlight, add electronic notes, export/import notes to a searchable database such as Evernote. If you are a student, the days of nostalgia and paper books are over. The major complaint I hear is from people who love to read, “oh, I just love the feel of a book in my hands.” Well, fine, you keep doing that and the rest of the world will leave you behind. When you truly realize that you can highlight and export all of your excerpts and notes from kindle, you will realize how many hours you have saved and never think twice about it again. So much of our lives are spent waiting, if you have a kindle app on your smartphone, imagine how much you could accomplish while sitting at the dentist or your commute on the bus. Take advantage of these times.

3. Evernote: Take all notes using this application. You can sync it with your phone, tablet, computer, etc. And it is a fully searchable database. If you pay a few dollars, you can even have the software recognize writings from pictures you have taken. (i.e., you can even scan handwritten notes and they will be searchable!) And if you ever have an epiphany, you can write it down in your phone or simply do a voice recording, and then you can refine it later on your computer!

4. Dropbox: Saves files on your computer and on a cloud. You can access files on any computer, phone, or tablet. Need I say more? If you are not already using a cloud, I am not sure which planet you are living on.

5. Zotero: Best program ever! If you do research, this is a must have. It helps you store bibliographic info in a very efficient manner. It works through your web browser and hooks up with Word or Open Office. Do you remember having to learn MLA, Chicago, Turabian, etc. Well, this program will put all of your endnote and bibliographic data into the proper format and even allow you to switch formats. Plus, you can add notes to the Zotero database so you always have access to your own personal annotated bibliographies.

6. Dual Screen: If you are like me, you have at least 10 windows open at any time, being able to see as many of them as possible at any given moment speeds up the process tremendously. I cannot say enough good things about having two screens. I use a 14in laptop with a 22in monitor as an extended desktop.

My Pilates instructor, Krista Loveless, is hardcore.

7. Exercise: Exercise breaks are amazing. I go for a run, bike ride, or workout in the gym nearly everyday. It helps give me energy. I am also a very competeitve person and have even written out the workouts I will be doing for the next 20 weeks. It keeps me on top of my school and fitness. Exercise does not take away from the energy you need to put forth in your other endeavors, it simply adds to it. I have had many epiphanies while running, I often write papers in my head while on a run. Other people like to listen to audio books while running, but for me it is a perfect time for creativity.

8. Hydrate: Drink water. Seriously.

Do you agree with my tips for being a successful student and person? What would you add or take away?

Beautiful Things

You are walking through the neighborhood, not a brisk walk; this is a stop and smell the roses kinda walk. You are wearing your flip flops because you intend to move slowly; you simply love the way the leather feels on your feet. The sunlight is shining brightly into the fabric of your skin, and you begin to radiate. The greenness of Portland is all around you. The smells remind you of so many wonderful things and leave you craving even more. The beauty around you is overwhelming. Why did God make so many beautiful things? It was truly an act of grace and kindness – why else would he shower you with these gifts? He loves you so much!

You continue strolling through the beautiful things, and they nearly draw you to tears. They are so beautiful. What is it about beautiful things that can lead a man to tears? A newborn baby, his bride, the sunset, an old growth tree, a blooming flower, the changing colors of fall….

You were once told that it is God’s kindness that leads you to repentance – perhaps you are now beginning to realize what that means. Repentance is the act of turning away from your selfish desires and turning towards the will of the Father. What if you are somehow brought to tears by beautiful things because it is his kindness actually drawing you to repentance, helping you realize that the fading beauty of this world is only a mere glimpse of the beauty of the new heaven and earth that await you. In that day you will find true rest and true beauty.

From Gimp to Athlete

It was during college, I decided to go for a run that day. Beautiful weather, sun beaming down but not too hot. I went for a few miles and was running alongside the railroad tracks. Somehow I tripped and banged my knee pretty good. I figured the pain would go away after a few days and it did; however, the pain would always come back when I tried to run. Like an idiot, I never went to the doctor. I decided to take it easy on that knee and because the glory days of racing were over, I thought nothing more of it, aside from praying for God to remove the pain. I had many people pray for me actually. But I figured I was now an academic, so that was where I focused my energies.

After two years of no running I decided to give it another go – I was visiting my parents when I tried to go on this run. Once again, it was another beautiful day and I was running around the lake on their property. The pain in my knee became excruciating, I walked to the house and started rubbing down my knee and then I felt it: a huge extra bump on the inside of my leg! Whoa, what is this! Am I an alien? I asked my mom to look at it and she freaked out – and she is a nurse! We went to get X-Rays as soon as possible and discovered what is called Osteochondroma, essentially it was an extra piece of bone growing off of my femur. It was about 4 inches long and was wrapped around my knee, and the ligaments in my knee were catching on it whenever I moved. No wonder it hurt!

Long story short: I had surgery, they had to make a seven inch incision through the muscles in my leg. Surgery went well, we found out that it was not cancerous and it never came back. However, they completely destroyed the muscles! I would have a long journey of PT. Impact sports were out of the question because of doctor’s order. I decided to start riding a bike to commute, and enjoy the scenery, being I could not enjoy that by running anymore. I got really into biking, my wife and I even started racing. And then I decided to try running again. The scenario: I was competing in a cyclocross bike race, my tire flatted and there were no neutral wheels that fit my bike. I was not going to quit, so I ran for 4 miles and finished the race. And amazingly, my knee was not hurting! Whoa! However, my back was killing me! What a strange twist of events?

My back problems continued getting worse so I visited several chiropractors and it was Dr. Scott Shepherd (Portland, OR) who helped me realize that I had been tri-poding for the last few years. Because of the weakness in one leg, I would put most of my weight on one leg so that I could baby the other one. The downside: it messed up my alignment big time! My spine was so curved! We decided to put in a heal lift on one of my shoes and after a year of this and regular chiropractic my spine was much more strait. He helped eliminate all of my everyday pain! Thank you Dr. Shepherd! But every so often I would attempt to run again, and I would develop more back pain, what was going on?

During this time my wife had become a personal trainer and was sharing my story with a few of her co-workers and it was Krista Loveless, the Pilates instructor, that I am ever grateful for. At this point I was so willing to run that I was willing to do whatever it took. Krista is not a big fan of heal lifts, so we got rid of it. Then she had me start strengthening my feet by doing toe curls and other random exercises! Have you ever done toe curls? they are hard! It takes a lot of coordination. And then we started doing a ton of different exercises on the Reformer – it is amazing how much stability you can gain through working out on that thing! I did personal training with Krista for close to a year, and during that time I withheld from running so that I would not ruin a good thing. I knew that a good runner needed strong feet and a strong core (refer to previous post on Virbam 5 fingers vs. New Balance Minimus Zero).

From the time of my original injury til today, it has been 9 years. I have been running again for the past year with no knee trouble and no back pain. Dr. Shepherd is still my chiropractor for emergencies (like when I crash my bike) and is stoked to see how far I have come. Krista is still my friend and is doing an amazing job as a Pilates instructor! Today, I am training for my first marathon this October. My wife is now my personal trainer (Sara Fletcher) and she is helping me train to shoot for a 7:00 min/mile pace. Can I do it? I don’t know, but I will try 🙂

Nine years is a long time to fight through an injury. I used to wonder if God cared about me, I would get upset on occasion because he did not heal me. But I have come to realize something: God did answer my prayers, it just happened to be through my hard work. God loves it when we are faithful with the resources he gives us. He gave me plenty of resources and I was faithful to diligently use them. Amen!

Vibram 5 Fingers vs. New Balance Minimus Zero Road

The barefoot running trend has become very popular these days, and many people have had serious injuries because of it. What is going on?

We must first understand some basic physics. Have you ever looked at an archway such as a bridge? I am sure you have. When you look at it you will notice that there are not support beams in the archway itself; that would weaken the structure. As gravity pulls down, the structure actually becomes stronger.

Or have you seen leaf-springs in truck suspension before? They compress and de-compress based on the load and terrain. You do not find coil springs on a leaf-sprung truck, that would be counter intuitive (ok, some will do front coil, rear leafs, etc.)

With running, the foot arch is like a bridge and a leaf spring. It becomes stronger as more weight is applied and it compresses and de-compresses based on the load for a smooth ride. Like a bridge, if you were to put in a support beam in the middle of the arch, the arch would actually lose strength. And like a truck’s leaf springs, if you put coil springs on top of the leafs, it would not function properly. We don’t do this on bridges and trucks, why do we do this to our feet every day?

Arch support in a shoe is like putting arch support on a bridge. It weakens the structure. Modern shoes have very stiff arches which do not allow the leaf spring of the foot to actually work. Thus, with a non-movable leaf spring, they have now added “coils” to the shoes, or the hundreds of different types of springy foam which lose their spring after 300-500 miles.

Why is it a bad idea to switch to barefoot running today? Because your feet are weak! You have had arch support in your shoes for your entire life, your foot muscles have atrophied. How do you strengthen your feet? Some suggest using minimalist shoes on rare occasion to work the muscles. I suggest doing what my Pilates instructor taught me: toes curls. Put something around your toe that you can hold onto with your hands (a towel works). Then try to press against the pressure of the towel one toe at a time. Also, stand on a ball and use it like you would use a foam roller on your legs. Do this every day and I guarantee that you will have stronger feet.

I used Vibram 5 Fingers to run in for over a year until I had any problems. I ended up upsetting Tom, Dick, and Harry (nicknames for tendons in the heal, not the Achilles). I decided I needed to try a different shoe. So I did, I ended up trying out the Brooks Pure line and the New Balance Minimus line (both trail and road).

The verdict: New Balance Minimus Zero Road wins by a landslide.

Try spreading your toes. Really, try it. Do you feel the muscles in your foot and calf working overtime? Well, this is exactly what is constantly happening when you run with Vibram 5 Fingers. When you ran as a child with no shoes; did little gnomes run around following you trying to spread your toes open? No, that would be ridiculous. As I said: Tom, Dick, and Harry ended up getting irritated, so I listened to my body and only use the Vibrams during gym workouts now. I tried the Brooks Pure but discovered that there was still too much arch support. My arches compress and de-compress a lot when I run, and my arches were getting nasty blisters from the Pure because the arch was too stiff. Over time, my foot would have adapted and become weaker to compensate for the shoe. I didn’t like that idea. I went back to the running store and looked at the shoes again. As I looked at them, I decided to try folding the shoes in half, if you can easily fold the shoe in half it means your foot arches can work properly – only 2 shoes in the store (aside from Vibram) were able to fold so easily: New Balance Minimus Zero Road and Mizuno Wave Universe. They did not have the Mizuno in my size, so I bought the Minimus Zero Road. There is zero drop from heal to toe, 12mm between my foot and the road, and they weigh 7 oz. In comparison, the Vibrams have zero drop, 4mm between foot and road, and they weigh 7 oz. When I run with the Minimus Zero, I actually feel like it is more of a barefoot running feeling than with the Vibrams. And as a kicker, these shoes are so incredibly comfortable, I have never felt such a smooth upper on a shoe in my life.

A little on running technique:

  1. You need strong feet – doing toe curls is a great place to start.
  2. Strengthen your core – strong abs help your body move fluidly.
  3. Bend your knees – I am 5’11” but look 5’7” when I run
  4. Don’t bob up and down! If your core is strong and your knees are bent, you prevent this “jogging” up and down
  5. Have a quick turnover – if you hit the ground 180 times per minute you are doing great. Fast turnover does not necessarily mean fast pace. Don’t worry about having a fast pace. Whether my pace is slow or fast, I try to have a fast turnover cadence of 180.
  6. Fall forward. Keep your body strait (strong core) but not upright. You want to have a slant forward the entire run.
  7. Pay attention to your feet, there will be 3 parts of your foot hitting the ground on each stride: Mid-foot, Heal, Toes. It might seem ridiculous, but this is what is happening if your knees are bent, you core is tight, and your body is falling forward.
  8. Love it.
  9. Repeat a mantra on the difficult sections; I repeat a simple prayer over and over again, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.”


For the Love of the Ride

So excited you can hardly sleep. Will your alarm go off? Does it matter? You will probably wake up before it goes off anyway because of the eagerness. You’re anticipating the first “real” mountain bike ride of the season. Sure, you have ridden a few little short rides on local trails that contain no technicality, but this ride is “real” because it will be hard. You realize that the pain, suffering, and work are truly what make a ride epic. The only race you face is getting all your stuff together in time so your teammates don’t leave without you. Did you start riding to race – no! You started riding because it was fun and this ride is all about having fun.

Gears? Single speed? 29er? 26er? Rigid? Hardtail? Full-suspension? Cross country? All-mountain? Who cares!? No one cares what you are riding, as long as you are having fun. You all cram into one suburban – never thought it would be possible to fit six men with all their gear and six bikes into one vehicle, but you all made it happen.

During the drive there you all talk about life. Work. Family. Things that matter. Perhaps you are talking about these things as a way to ignore the fact that you will be climbing 4,000 feet on a mountain bike. Perhaps you are talking about these things because you are a team, and you truly care about each other. Perhaps a little of both. You love your team.

You pull in to the parking lot, 20 or so cars already parked. You look at your watch – wow – that is a lot of people for being so early. It is a little on the cold side but you know it will get hot real fast because of the brutal climb that lies ahead. You grab your bike; you look at the other bikes…you like your bike. It is you. You are one with your bike.

You roll out. You thank your wife in your head for making pancakes and eggs; you know that you will be burning every single one of those calories in the next 3 hours. You pray to God to protect you and your friends, knowing full well that anyone of you could get seriously injured.

You are captivated with the immensity of the Columbia Gorge. It is breathtaking. You try to think of words to describe it but they all fall short. You keep looking over your shoulder on the switchbacks and staring at the horizon, the water, the mountains. Mt. Hood never looked so attractive. You continue climbing. You feel sorry for some of the guys who have not ridden Syncline before, they don’t know how long the climb is. At least you know how much energy you can pour into the climb and how much energy you should conserve. You see a seven year old kid riding up this climb with his mom – what!? That is awesome. You tap the kid on his shoulder, give him a fist bump and tell him how awesome he is doing. Continue climbing. Pause, the dogs need a break. It is fun mountain biking with dogs; they add so much energy to the ride. They also give an excuse to rest; no one is willing to admit that part though.

Finally reached the top. Now you get to go down. You earned it, enjoy. It feels like you are flying. You look ahead, Spence and the dogs are in front of you. You are going 35 mph and the dogs are keeping up. Craziness. Never saw little legs move so fast. What were those dogs’ names? Spence told me there names like three times, why can’t I remember their names?

You are so glad for the creation, it is so beautiful, and you get to enjoy riding your bike on it. You are taken on a new portion of the trail, exciting! You always enjoy new trails. You look ahead and see the ribbon. Ahhhh, bliss. Such a beautiful ribbon of six-inch wide single track in front of you. So flowy! You are flying again. Berm to the left, berm to the right, drop, pump, pump, power-up, berm right, berm left, power-up, creek crossing, rock garden, power-up, creek crossing, pump, dog? Dog in creek. Is she sleeping? Catching breath. You praise God for the dog needing to catch her breath and cool down, because so do you!

You realize that no adjectives can describe the scene. You are riding your bike in the Columbia River Gorge on a beautiful day, the sun shining bright. You are with your friends. No mechanicals. No major injuries – aside from Jon accidentally falling and banging his knee while showing Jeff how to clean a section. The irony is fantastic. He’ll be okay. He’ll get up again and do it with you next week.

The drive back – you talk about the ride and riding more together in the future. This is what makes a team an actual team – the unified purpose to enjoy the ride together.

You love being on a team that you feel a part of. These men are such an encouragement and they help you enjoy the ride with them. And you honestly admit that the church could learn from the camaraderie of a well-knit team bicycle team.  There are so many varieties of Christianity: Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, etc. But who cares which one you are a member of. Who cares if you ride a single speed, or a 29er, or a full-suspension? They’re still bikes. Likewise, those churches all confess the same thing: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the Triune God – one God and three persons; the full divinity and full humanity of Christ; his actual life, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven; and that salvation is only through faith and confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. Challenges will always be in your way, there will always be 4,000 foot climbs, but you will persevere through them with your friends, and then you will enjoy the benefits of your hard labor. At the end of the day, you will realize that the unified purpose was to enjoy the journey together in Christ.

Thanks for the ride today, gentlemen.

Is Reconciliation Possible?

Many of you already know that it is my biggest desire to help reconcile the Church, by that I mean helping reconcile the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians. They all believe in the Trinity; the dual-nature of Christ, that he is fully divine and fully human, undivided in one person; his actual life, death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven; and salvation through Him alone. Why is there so much division? Largely it is because power struggles and pride. One example of the depravity, is that one cannot overlook the Crusades (which by the way is a word which derives from bearing the Cross) and that they culminated in Christians slaughtering Christians. There are many atrocities like this on all fronts of Christian history, and it truly sucks! I am deeply saddened by Christians fighting “evil” with “evil.” It makes me want to cry.

Today, when I say that I want to help reconcile the Church I usually get one of the following responses:
1. Are you trying to bring about the apocalypse;
2. *sarcastically* Good luck! (by the way, sarcasm is meant to cut someone down, it never uplifts);
3. It will never happen; and very rarely I get the following kind of response:
4. Wow, that is really neat, I will pray with you.

I have been trying to rationalize why people, for the most part, are so “opposed” to Church reconciliation. I believe it comes down to the era we live in. We live in a post-modern world — and by post-modern I do not mean that we are post-modern because of hair-cuts and the style of clothing we have (however, these things are a reflection of post-modernity!). Please allow me to explain in a very generalized way — hopefully I am not butchering too much philosophy 🙂

In Pre-modern (everything pre-1453) times the Church essentially believed that The Church must necessarily be one. This was obvious, yet also a power struggle as can be seen through the various Bishops throughout the empire during this era. But at the end of the day, they agreed that the Church must necessarily be one. The councils affirmed this and anathematized those who did not believe in the same manner, thus holding to One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Time went on, schism happened, attempts were made to unite (perhaps more accurately, attempts were made to have more centralized power, which took on the character trait of unity…)

In Modern (1453-1945) times (note: we are not in modern times today…so contrary to what it sounds like though) the Church unknowingly admitted that Church reconciliation is impossible. In modernity, they would take a meta-narrative (I did not make up this word), essentially a mega-story that could be legitimated by claims of universal reason. This is a huge point, it had to be backed up by reason. During Modernity, the Church looked at events such as the sack of Constantinople in 1202 and attempts of reconciliation 200 years later which nearly caused the stoning of those involved, and they sealed the deal — “ok, reconciliation is impossible.” Why did they cave into this, because “reason” could not legitimate reconciliation happening.

Today, the Church holds onto a “Modern approach,” when society has clearly moved beyond Modernity. What do I mean by this?

We live in a Post-Modern (1945-today) world which is unable to believe in meta-narratives. hmmmm….that is odd. Ok, by this I mean that we live in an era in which we reject the idea that a mega-story must be legitimated by reason. We have gone beyond reason. At this point, I am sure many people are frowning, because you are probably saying that you appeal to reason on a daily basis. A lot of this was spawned by Kiekegaard’s existentialism in that we create the meaning which something has, and going even further towards that of Nietzsche’s nihilism, nothing has purpose.

Here is my claim, the Church is refusing to travel into the post-modern context because they are afraid to give up “reason.” And it is understandable, who wants to give up the last 800 years of scholasticism? The post-modern approach would say, “church [little c] reconciliation is possible.” This is the world we live in. But there is a huge fallacy in this claim — it leaves God well enough alone. It has led to bumper stickers like “coexist.” Post-modernity has given us tolerance, not love. This is not based on reason, nor scripture. Right now, “God is dead” in our Post-Modernity, thanks to Nietzsche. What is the Church to do?

The Church needs to proclaim: “Church reconciliation is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

There is no reasonable explanation behind the Church being reconciled — it is impossible! But I will boast in the fact that God can do the impossible! God tells us to pray His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven, in Heaven we are fully reconciled. His prayer in John 17 shows how much Jesus is concerned with the Church being One. May we be One, as He and the Father are One. I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that just as reconciliation with God involves confession; all parties involved will need to confess sins and seek forgiveness.

Please join me in praying for God to do the impossible. Amen.

Why so much suffering?

What is pain? What is suffering? What is evil?

Personally, I have experienced a lot of pain. In high school I was a nihilist – nothing had purpose. Sure I was an intellectual, but hidden behind that was a huge amount of depression, isolation, and perversion. Upon entering college, I was crushed as the girl I was engaged to ripped my heart out by cheating on me…not a very “fun” experience! Have you ever cried yourself to sleep every night for weeks on end, crying out to a God you don’t know!? Meanwhile, at the math department, the students I tutored invited me to Church. I finally caved in after a few weeks, and during the worship service, I lifted my hands in the air realizing that God loved me. The worship pastor helped bring me into the presence of God. Later that year I was baptized in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, by the head pastor and realized how forgiving God is.

…one year later, it was discovered that the pastor’s daughter was being molested by the worship pastor and two weeks later it was also discovered that the head pastor was also molesting his daughter. This poor 15 year old girl had been molested since age 9 by the two most “spiritual men” she had ever known.

Where was God in the midst of that?

It was these two men that personally helped me come to know God – where was God? For me, I had no doubts that God was there the entire time and my faith only solidified all the more. I had experienced large amounts of pain before I became a believer and seeing more pain now only made me realize all the more that God was there all the more and that He was gracious. Not once did I waver in my faith. I stood strong and went to the authorities to turn these two men in, even when the denominational head threatened me to be quiet.

This is a horrific story and it is true. And there are many other stories like this concerning people you speak to on a daily basis. So where is God? If God is Good and if God is Powerful, why does He allow all of this evil to exist? For many, this logic has destroyed their faith in God. Perhaps we are to self-absorbed and asking the wrong questions. When Adam & Eve ate the fruit, they knew the consequences! They brought the pain and suffering upon themselves. God is just to allow this suffering. But there is more to the story: God became a man, being born of Mary, living and preaching the Gospel, crucified on the Cross, was raised from the dead, conquered death and corruption, and ascended into Heaven. If we follow Christ, we too must die! How many times are we told to endure, to take up our cross and daily die, to count suffering as joy, we can only enter the process of salvation by partaking of the sufferings of Christ! Not only is God just to allow suffering, God is gracious to allow us to partake in His sufferings! We are perfected through suffering with Christ.

I am sorry if you feel as though I have minimized the pain you have personally experienced, this is not my goal. I hope to encourage you in your journey. There will be pain, it is simply a matter of how you face your pain. Will you despise it or will you embrace it. And when you see others in pain, will you ignore it or enter into their pain with them. I hope you will embrace it and enter into the pain of others, following the perfect example of Christ.

Praying with Zossima and Dostoevsky

My favorite author is Fyodor Dostoevsky (aside from Saint Athanasius and the authors of the Bible). I highly recommend that you read, at minimum, two of his novels: The Brothers Karamazov and Crime & Punishment (note: the two links are FREE Kindle downloads, and Kindle apps are available for free on computers and phones! You have no excuses!) In these two books you find amazing theological themes of sin, grace, justice, mercy, salvation, etc. Reading Dostoevsky is truly a spiritual exercise for me and I wish I could devote more of my time to reading his works. In the Brothers K, Father Zossima is the character who gives many words of Orthodox wisdom — especially to Alyosha, one of the Brothers who is told to live the life of a monk in the world by taking a wife. I wish Dostoevsky had survived long enough to finish the sequel to this book so that he could explain the latter part of Alyosha’s life! However, Fyodor’s time came to an end on February 9th, 1881. I wish to share an excerpt from The Brothers Karamazov (p.293). In this quote, Father Zossima teaches us on the necessity of prayer, I hope that it brings you hope and encourages you to pray:

Young man, be not forgetful of prayer. Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education. Remember too, every day, and whenever you can, repeat to yourself, “Lord, have mercy on all who appear before Thee today.” For every hour and every moment thousands of men leave life on this earth, and their souls appear before God. And how many of them depart in solitude, unknown, sad, dejected that no one mourns for them or even knows whether they have lived or not! And behold, from the other end of the earth perhaps, your prayer for their rest will rise up to God though you knew them not nor they knew you. How touching it must be to a soul standing in dread before the Lord to feel at that instant that, for him too, there is one to pray, that there is a fellow creature left on earth to love him too! And God will look on you both more graciously, for you have had pity on him, how much will He have pity Who is infinitely more loving and merciful than you! And He will forgive him for your sake.

Brothers, have no fear of men’s sin. Love a man even in his sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth. Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love….

At some thoughts one stands perplexed, especially at the sight of men’s sin, and wonders whether one should use force or humble love. Always decide to use humble love. If you resolve on that once for all, you may subdue the whole world. Loving humility is marvelously strong, the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it….

My friends, pray to God for gladness. Be glad as children, as the birds of heaven. And let not the sin of men confound you in your doings. Fear not that it will wear away your work and hinder its being accomplished. Do not say, “Sin is mighty, wickedness is mighty, evil environment is mighty, and we are lonely and helpless, and evil environment is wearing us away and hindering our good work from being done.” Fly from that dejection, children! There is only one means of salvation, then take yourself and make yourself responsible for all men’s sins, that is the truth, you know, friends, for as soon as you sincerely make yourself responsible for everything and for all men, you will see at once that it is really so, and you are to blame for everyone and for all things. But throwing your own indolence and impotence on others you will end by sharing the pride of Satan and murmuring against God.