Love Thy Neighbor?

I recently wrote about Jesus and Politics and, since these are blog posts and not doctoral dissertations, I didn’t go into a lot of detail on examples of how people twist faith for political gain.  Honestly, you could write a book, and many have, on interpretations of scripture or misinterpretations of scripture.  I do, however, want to cover one topic that I believe gets twisted, and I may do a couple more of these in the future.  

In Matthew 22, Jesus famously says that the second most important commandment is to love your neighbor as you love yourself.  For the most part, all of us are guilty of ignoring this commandment. We make plenty of excuses as to why this person doesn’t deserve it, or that group is unworthy of our love. Those on the one side tend to attempt to justify it, but they don’t really make excuses for it.  They are guilty of it, but they tend to be ashamed of it at the same time.  Those on the other side, combine this sin with another, pride, to take great pleasure in their hatred of certain people or groups.  The justification is that it’s good to hate those who hate (whether or not those people they target truly hate is another conversation for another day).  These people will then throw Jesus back in your face, because they think that holding certain opinions is evidence of love, and they love everyone, everywhere, all the time.  Just ask them, they’ll tell you.  

Before we delve too far into this, we need to answer a few basic questions:

1.     Who is your neighbor?

2.     What does it mean to love them?

3.     How do we show compassion to those who are not our neighbors?

Who is your neighbor?

Is there any Scripture, Old or New Testament, that says, “Thou shalt love every person on Earth?”  If there is, I’ve never even heard of it, let alone read it.  In the context of Scripture and in the context of life, our neighbors are those people in close proximity to us.  Those people in our sphere of influence.  They are the people we might come into contact with today, or this week. While this means that not all seven billion people on Earth are your neighbors, it’s really no less daunting because this means that not only are your actual neighbors, your neighbors, but that person you see in the supermarket is your neighbor.  The guy who works in the gas station is your neighbor.  Your co-workers, the people at the gym, the folks at your church, all of them, and more, are your neighbors.  Just because it doesn’t mean everyone on earth, it’s still a lot of people.  And, as I’ve written before, love is an action verb, this means there are a lot of people you have to do things with or for.  You cannot just think good thoughts, you have to act on this love.  

I think one of the reasons people claim to love everyone on earth is it makes it easier to be a jerk to that person in traffic, or be rude to the waiter at the restaurant.  Perhaps it’s people over-compensating for the “proximity effect”.  By that, I mean, when you hear of a disaster halfway around the world that kills 3,000 people, you feel sad for a moment, but when you heard about 3,000 people dying on September 11th, your heart broke because it hit closer to home.  I am 100% guilty of this myself.  The thought of 3,000 Americans dying in a terrorist attack, all these years later, still brings back the heartache I felt that day.  When I see a story on the news about an earthquake or other natural disaster, or even more distant due to time, the U.S. dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima or Nagasaki, I feel sorrow, say a quick prayer and then move on about my day as if it didn’t even happen.  The victims of those circumstances were no different than the victims of 9/11 in the eyes of God, but, I am not God.  I am human, and I have limitations.  I just don’t have the capacity to love a stranger the way I love my daughter, or to love a person halfway around the world the way I love the folks who live two doors down.  God has that capacity, but I don’t.

What does it mean to love your neighbor?

After establishing who are neighbors are, the question is, how do we show them love?  Well, there’s a thousand different ways depending on the situation, so I won’t go into details here, but just cover the basics.  Be kind to everyone you see.  Don’t judge people, even if they’re not kind to you.  Be patient with people.  Observe the Golden Rule, how would you want to be treated in a given situation? If in doubt, read what Paul had to say about it in Romans 12:9-21.  You can’t beat his words of wisdom.  Again, you must act

How do we show compassion to those outside our sphere of influence?

There are numerous ways to accomplish this as well, but first and foremost, we must remember every human being, from conception, is a child of God no different than we are.  We can condemn actions or ideas, but we must not condemn the people themselves, lest we too be condemned.  Whether the person who we feel ill will towards is a Muslim suicide bomber, an American “white nationalist” (more on that soon), or any other person, we must remember no person is beyond redemption or God’s grace.  

When opportunities arise to help those far away, whether that be sponsor a mission trip to Uganda or donate a few bucks to earthquake relief in India, we should help if we can.  However, we cannot allow these small actions to justify patting ourselves on the back and then ignoring those folks we come into contact with every day.  Our duty is to those closest to us first, then to others, if we’re able.  It’s not about time and money, it’s about love.

In conclusion, WWJD?

WWJD, or What Would Jesus Do? Is a good reminder to wear around your wrist to do the right thing. However, remember to actually ask yourself the question.  Would Jesus sit in judgment of a person, or would Jesus show kindness to that person? Would Jesus treat this guy poorly because the last person he had contact with was a jerk to him?  Let God judge when it’s all said and done, but until then, don’t bogart the grace.  God gives us grace and it’s up to us to share it and there’s no better way to show God’s love and grace than to act it out for others to experience, whether they deserve it or not.  Maybe especially if they don’t deserve it.  

Jesus & Politics

One of my favorite bands as a teenager was Everclear.  I loved their energy and Art Alexakis’ deeply personal and powerful stories.  I still feel like they are one of the most under-rated bands of the 1990’s, although I will concede the criticism that much of their music sounds alike (but so does many of my other favorite bands from that time, i.e. Social Distortion, Bad Religion, etc.).  However, Mr. Alexakis started to lose me when he went political.  Most artists, when they go political, lose me.  I have no issue with an artist’s personal opinions, but I don’t care for it to show up in the music itself, at least overtly.  

In 2008, Everclear released a song called, “Jesus Was a Democrat.”  If you’re an audio masochist, you can follow the link, but I advise against it.  This was in response to the previous twenty years of Republicans claiming to have a monopoly on the politics of faith, which, in reality, didn’t mirror the teachings of Christ any more than the idea that Jesus would have been a lefty using the government to do the charitable works that he commanded us to do in our personal lives.  And we know Jesus wasn’t wearing a “Taxation is Theft” hat when he was walking around performing miracles, so that pretty much rules out the fact he would have been a Libertarian as well.  

So, what were Jesus’ politics?

Well, that’s not an easy question to answer, which makes it one that people want to simplify and mold to their own perceptions.  No doubt Jesus was a political figure, much like being vocal about being a follower of Jesus is a political position in 2019.  However, as Andrew Brietbart apparently once said (I cannot confirm this, I have just heard it), “politics is downstream of culture.”   I believe that Jesus, and the teachings of Jesus, are upstream of culture.  I believe a Christian’s first duty is to be a Christian, and then, a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or whatever else next, as it fits into your faith.   

The world is not black and white.  It’s not that simple.  People want it to be simple so it’s easier to comprehend and easier to assign people to your side or the opposition, but it’s just not that way.  They find it impossible to imagine that you would want to protect our Southern border and still care about the people who are flooding across.  They find it impossible to imagine that you care about unborn children and care about what is best for women.  Contrary to what many people think, right, left and otherwise, the world is not a series of mutually exclusive situations and decisions.  

The issue with faith and politics is really just a manifestation of an issue that pervades all of politics: people will mold authoritative sources to fit their worldview, rather than mold their worldview to those authoritative sources. We see this all the time whether it be memes that misquote, or take out of context, things said by the Founders or other presidents or things like, “the Second Amendment only applies to muskets.” And we all know people will cherry pick statistics and use them out of context to make their point.  Sometimes, even when the truth is the polar opposite of their argument, that argument looks compelling because they’ve twisted the truth to sell the lie.  While we live in a world of rampant moral relativism, it’s not a new thing to the human condition, it’s just on technological steroids now.  

Personally, I have no issue with your faith, or lack thereof, informing your politics.  It’s really impossible, if you think about it, for something that deeply personal to you to not influence your worldview.  Where I have a problem with it, especially when it comes to Christianity, is trying to use Jesus to push your narrative (which the left tries to do every bit as much as the right).  One, if you don’t have the facts and logic on your side, you’re not convincing anyone, even many Christians such as myself.  Many of us will also know if you are quoting Scripture out of context and will not be fooled by it.  And two, as a Christian, Jesus never forced anyone to believe in him or to follow him, he convinced them through his words and actions.  Even when they nailed him to a cross, he didn’t force anyone to do anything.  If you force someone to do something, it’s not real. You’re always worried about those folks you forced rebelling against you.  However, if you convince them to do something, you’ve got yourself a fellow believer who will stand and fight beside you. 

I love Jesus, but please stop telling me how he’d vote or feel about a political issue.  

NOTE: When looking for a photo or meme on Google images to suit this post, over 90% of the memes I saw were left leaning memes using Jesus to attack the right. Some of them had some merit, but most of them were obviously written by people who had never actually read the Gospels or the rest of the New Testament. Some, yet worse, were blatantly putting words into Jesus’ mouth that he never spoke. Again, this is why using the love of Christ to motivate you to take political action is a good thing, but claiming he would endorse you and your statements is something else altogether.

Secularism is a Religion… and the State Cannot Endorse It

At least every week I see something in the news where the Freedom From Religion Foundation is suing some government entity for a Christmas tree or, their latest, a Facebook post.  The Constitution clearly states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  So, as long as the government entity pays homage to all religions equally, not endorsing one over the other, it’s well within its rights to do so and the Supreme Court has routinely ruled in ways that support this. Where governments have gotten in trouble is permanent displays of the Ten Commandments in courthouses and things of that nature.  But holiday greetings?  Nothing wrong with that.

As I’ve written in these pages before, everyone is technically agnostic.  None of us know right?  But that means every one of us has faith.  Either faith in something or faith in nothing.  That is your choice and no one, especially the government, should make that choice for you.  That’s why it is so important to note the distinction between freedom of religion and freedom from religion.  

Why is it only atheists get offended at holiday displays?  I never hear Jews complaining about the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. Nor do I ever hear Christians complain about a large menorah display on the courthouse lawn during Hanukah.  And I never hear either group complain about Democratic politicians tweeting out love letters to Islam during Ramadan (only that these particular politicians do not show the same love to Judaism or Christianity).  But the evangelical atheists?  Boy, even the Macy’s Christmas sale puts their underwear in a bunch.

I am not speaking about all atheists, I know many who, well, let’s face it, are libertarians.  However, if you are trying to eliminate all public displays of faith because you don’t agree with it, you’re trying to force the state to endorse your religion.  Which is unfortunate, because that same amendment to our Constitution that protected you from having to pray in school, you’re now using as a weapon against those who disagree with you.  

Secularism is a religion.  One whose only moral teachings are that everything is meaningless and to destroy anything that gets in your way by any means necessary.  It is to stand for nothing and to fall for anything. 

If you want me to fight to protect your rights to think, believe and express yourself however you like, I’m going to want you to do the same for me.  That’s the only way it works.  

Bench Pressing for Jesus

I cried at the gym today, but I’ve never felt stronger.

That’s not only a strange thing to say, it’s a strange thing to experience. You see, most of my life, I have lived without feeling the presence of God.  Much like Mother Teresa said that she acted in faith, but that she did not feel the presence of God, I have marched through life trying to do what is right without any spiritual confirmation that what I was doing was right.  But the outdoors changed that for me.

Sometimes, in some places, all the walls come down.  The walls that I put up to protect me from the garbage the world throws at me.  The walls I put up to protect the world from me when I am enraged by the injustices of the world.  Sometimes, usually for me, on the side of a mountain, looking off into the great distance, seeing this impossible world that God created, those walls come down and God runs into me like a linebacker and I am overwhelmed by His presence.  I am often moved to tears in these instances, just overwhelmed by the beauty of it all and knowing that I am created by the same Creator as these mountains, but yet I am loved more than these mountains and I am more special than these mountains.  That is hard to accept sometimes.

I have struggled to have that connection in other places, because when I’m in civilization, I don’t allow myself to be emotionally or spiritually vulnerable.  There’s too many forces trying to attack me spiritually, I am at war constantly, I know God is with me, but I cannot allow myself to feel him.  The one thing that has always broken through in this situation is music.  Some secular music, but Johnny Cash’s gospel music has always done it, as well as bagpipe versions of “Amazing Grace” or “Scotland the Brave”.  

Lately, I have been using music to try and have these experiences more often. Listening to the Louvin Brothers’ or Wade Bowen’s gospel music puts good thoughts into my head and facilitates more conversational prayer.  I find myself just talking to Jesus about all the awful things going through my head. The anger I feel towards certain people or certain situations and, especially at the gym, asking God, “Out of all the places in the gym to do squats, why did she have to do them in front of me and tempt me to look at her and have thoughts I shouldn’t be having?” As our pastor says, don’t try to fix yourself before coming into the Kingdom, but bring yourself and your problems with you into the Kingdom.  You can’t fix them by yourself, you can only fix them with the help of Jesus.  

So, I’ve tried to turn everything I do into an act of worship.  I’m often not successful at that.  However, when I am successful, it changes everything.  Today, while at the gym, I felt Jesus there with me. I bench pressed more than I had in years (not quite to my personal record, but getting close again – though I am probably stronger now than then, but I don’t have a spotter to push myself) and there was a strength in me that was beyond me.  I just felt like I wasn’t the only one pushing and at a certain point His presence was so strong I found myself crying a little bit.  I just couldn’t control the power of it.  

I think until you feel this feeling, it’s hard to believe that it exists or is even possible.  However, once you experience it, you want to work as hard as you can to live in a constant state of it.  If I could live my life like that, there’s nothing I couldn’t accomplish.

An Identity of Action and Values vs. Identity Politics

For thousands of years we lived in a Culture of Honor.  Then as society evolved, we developed a Culture of Dignity. But now, in the 21st century, we live in a Culture of Victimhood.  In a Culture of Victimhood, what I call The Oppression Olympics, is staged every day.  The more minority categories you can fit into, the more you can claim to be oppressed, the higher you climb in the social rankings.  If you’re a black, trans, lesbian, midget, vegan Muslim, well, hey, you’re King of the World (the use of a gender designated title is not by mistake).  

Setting aside arguments about “trans” and “gay” for a minute, the only things in that description that a person has any control over whatsoever are “vegan” and “Muslim”.  Every other thing that is descriptive about that person is passive, it requires no action, no morals or values.  It’s something you’re born as.  How do terms that could describe you as you take your first breaths be what defines you when you are thirty years old?  Shouldn’t you be more than your DNA by the time you reach adulthood?

I firmly believe, the only positive way to define yourself, is through your foundational philosophy and your actions.  I am a Christian, libertarian, father, husband, son, brother, friend, conservationist, hunter, philosopher, musician and writer, to name but a few. Every single descriptor I mentioned requires foundational philosophies and action.  My race doesn’t factor into this one bit.  My Scottish and Cherokee ancestry does not factor into this one bit. Even my sex or gender, it alone doesn’t define me, however, God gave me certain roles and responsibilities that are not the same as which are granted to my wife.  However, together, she and I are two halves of the whole that are required to produce life in the image of God.  But I am only a true man if I, through my actions, fulfill the responsibilities of a man that God asks me to.  

Case in point, being a male, biologically, allows you to produce sperm which can, if in contact with a woman’s egg, produce life.  But it is only a man who takes responsibility for that child and raises it to be a good person as God instructed.  The action of reproduction is only the first action, it requires years of work before the complete action is finished.  This would be like putting on a pair of ice skates and calling yourself a hockey player.  Lacing up your skates is only the first thing, after that, you have to get out on the ice and play 60 minutes as a good teammate and fulfilling your role on the team whether that is wing, center, defense or goalie.  

Do not define yourselves by things outside of your control and do not allow others to define you by those terms either.  Who you are is not defined by these things, nor simply by opinions you hold, nor by who the world tells you you are.  Who you are is who God says you are and hopefully, in agreement with God, who you say you are.  

Who You Say I Am

Christianity & Stoicism

DISCLAIMER: This is not meant to be an academic exercise on what Christianity and Stoicism agree or disagree on. If you’re interested in that, you can look here or here for starters.  This is about my love for both, how one lead me to the other and how I am now, starting to look at them from the perspective of defining my value system. I will probably upset other Christians and other Stoics.  While I am okay with discussing the finer points of each, at the end of the day I am only concerned with my own soul and virtue.  I have to answer only to myself every morning in the mirror and my God.  

If you’re a regular reader, you know I usually open with some situation from the news or some other outside source that really sparked an idea in my head that I apply to faith, the outdoors, or both.  In this case, my friend Chas, who you’ve heard mentioned before, sent me an email with a link to a podcast called Stoicism on Fire.  In listening to the first three episodes, I started realizing that I treat my Christian life and my stoic life as mutually exclusive.  If my faith is guiding my actions, I am not thinking about Stoicism, though nothing I am doing is antithetical to Stoicism.  Or if the Stoics are guiding my actions, I’m not thinking about my faith, though nothing I am doing is against God.  Though I have read many Stoic texts, I have never studied Stoicism as a philosophy and have never thought about the possible compromises I make to both in implementing my value system.  And what exactly is my value system?

Right now, I am in the process of studying both and how they fit together in my life.  Both have had an incalculable impact on my life and have made me a better man.  So, for the sake of this post, I am going to give you some background and then state my plans for going forward.  

1.    Stoicism helped lead me back to Christianity.

This one is hard to explain, but I don’t believe there’s any way I end up back at church and practicing my faith with the zeal that I do now had I not read Meditations two years ago.  I had spent most of my life trying to do the right thing, wanting to be a good man, but not having a plan to go about it.  Marcus Aurelius gave me virtue as something to aspire to and something to work towards.  Reconnecting with Jesus was just the next logical step for me after eighteen months of living and breathing Stoicism.  

2.    Jesus is who I depend on to heal my heart, but Stoicism gives me rules to live by.

One area of disconnect between Stoicism and Christianity is in how you find peace.  The Stoics teach that you can create that for yourself through your actions. Christianity teaches that peace is found through Jesus.  In a way, they’re both right.  When I follow Stoic principles and I act with virtue, there is a peace that comes with knowing I did the right thing.  When I am wronged and I make the conscious decision not to be injured by the actions of the other person, there is a peace in letting go of that hurt.  It’s not quite forgiveness, but it allows me to let go of it and move on with my life.  In Jesus, I learn to forgive and I have a peace that is the undercurrent to my day-to-day life.  It makes choosing not to be injured by the person who wronged me that much easier because I have the love of Christ in my heart.  

3.    For me, Stoicism helps me behave properly on a day to day basis, even when I’m struggling with a larger spiritual issue. It leads me to a more peaceful place where I can deal with the root cause because I’m not creating further damage in the meantime.

I always say there is nothing that you need to learn about life that can’t be found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  However, as I’ve realized over the past few months as our pastors have started unpacking this at church, scripture takes some time to decipher for me.  In order for me to understand what Jesus was saying, I have to think of historical context, I have to consider who Jesus was and is, I have to think about what he said just before and what he said just after in order to define just exactly what he was getting at.  I love spending time thinking about this and praying about this, but sometimes, I just need to make a decision.  Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus and others wrote in a way, that although it was also 2,000 years ago, is very easily applicable to everyday life.  It often deals with exactly what I’m going through and I can take that and easily apply it to solve a problem.  Once these things are accomplished, I can let go of my anger or frustration and clear my mind so that when I delve into scripture, I can give it the attention it deserves rather than having my mind wander onto whatever is bothering me at the moment.  

For me, Stoicism and Christianity work in harmony.  I’m still learning exactly how they work in harmony and I’m sure I’ll be faced with some forks in the road going forward, but one supports and emboldens the other.  I don’t know who I’d be without Marcus Aurelius and Jesus in much the same way that I don’t know who I’d be without my parents. I will write in more detail about this topic as I move forward and find little tidbits to explore.  

Your Actions Are Your Faith

Over the weekend, Ben Shapiro had his Sunday Conversation with a Catholic priest. I will first admit I didn’t watch it, however, one of the highlights in the Facebook post was about how the priest says that good-natured atheists will go to heaven.  Of course, the comments section was filled with angry Protestants quoting scripture about “faith alone.”  Personally, I think both of these folks have it wrong.  The priest is wrong because it is not your acts that will save you and the angry masses are wrong because, while it may be faith that saves you, your actions are a manifestation of your faith.  If you’re not out in the world doing God’s work, then how strong is your faith?

I don’t believe these two points are equally important to us.  Who God does or does not let into heaven is His decision, not mine, therefore I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it. However, let us break down these two points of view.


You are saved by faith alone.

This is mostly a point of view given by those who throw scripture verses at people instead of mounting a logical, and theological, argument.  They claim to be Biblical literalists but eat bacon wrapped shrimp and let their wives sleep in the bed with them while they’re menstruating.  In this case, as my pastor said recently, I can say whatever I want to, but if you follow me around for a week or two, you’ll see what I really believe.

Do I believe that, as Paul said, I am saved by faith through grace? Absolutely.  100%.  It is because of that I want to live that life.  Not just go to church on Sunday, not just tell people I love Jesus, but I want to be like Jesus.  As much as I can be anyhow.  I believe that one day I’m going to be asked things like, “Why did you do this?  And why didn’t you do that?”  I want that questioning to be as short as possible (prediction, I’m going to be there for a while).  

I am a firm believer that what you put into yourself is what comes out of you. Whether that is physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.  If you eat like crap, you are going to feel like crap.  If you’re inputting hate into your heart, hate is going to come out of you. If you put Jesus into your heart, truly put Him in your heart and not just pay him lip service, something Jesus-like will come out of you.  You will live a life of service to your loved ones, to your community and to Him.  It is my observation that many Christians, too many Christians, like to play the part but they’re afraid to do the work on themselves and therefore, they do very little work to serve others.  

I believe that the folks who are always screaming about “faith alone” are doing so because they’re worried about their own faith.  Let’s be honest here, a judgmental Facebook comment is not going to convert anyone to Christ or change someone’s theology.  They’re posting that to try and alleviate their own fears. The reality is, if you talk the talk, you better walk the walk.

A good-natured atheist will go to Heaven.

I don’t know.  That’s the simple answer.  There is far more to God than what we can find in scripture.  The Bible is for humans, so that we get to know God and what God wants for us.  It’s not a biography of God, nor His memoirs or a list of questions and answers humans will have.  Sure, there’s a lot of that stuff in there, but it’s far from a complete picture.  While I don’t think a priest should be advocating for “saved through works,” I do think there’s a sound theological argument for it, but it has more to do with the eternal spirit than it has to do with works alone.

This idea first came to me from Fr. John Dear, a priest (former Jesuit) I was acquainted with in Chicago.  We had this conversation on my back porch over beers and brats along with my friend Doug. At the time, it blew my mind and caused me, as humans are wont to do, to go extreme in my counter-argument, “I just can’t believe Hitler is in heaven.”  The conversation went something like this:

Fr. John: What is God’s sole desire of us?

Jeremy: For us to love Him as He loves us.

Fr. John: Do you believe the soul and our consciousness is eternal?

Jeremy: Yes, of course.

Fr. John: So, what do you imagine a life-long atheist will say to God when he dies and comes face to face with the awesomeness that is God?

Jeremy: He would immediately realize he was wrong, beg for forgiveness and worship and love God.

Fr. John: And does God forgive, always?

Jeremy: Yes, of course.

Fr. John: So, then, the atheist, now being a believer, would be welcomed into the kingdom?

Jeremy: By that logic, yes.

Now, is that true?  I don’t know. While I studied theology as part of my degree from DePaul and I have wrestled with many of these issues over the years, I am by no means an expert.  I do believe that the theology is sound and I do believe that in heaven there will be none of the things that sew evil into the hearts of man like there is on earth.  There will be no mental illness, no hate, no greed, no lust for power, no abuse and no violence.  None of the things that cause us to harm one another here on earth.  I also want to believe in an inclusive God, who understands His children, what they went through and why they may not have been able to find faith in this lifetime.  As my buddy Rob said recently at our small group, maybe some people, after death, will still deny God and those people will go to hell.  

This second point is a fun and interesting intellectual exercise, but ultimately, it’s something I spend little time thinking about.  Your soul is your responsibility the same as mine is mine. Don’t worry about who goes to heaven and who doesn’t, that’s God’s responsibility, not ours.  

As to the first point, I believe that I have a duty to talk with fellow Christians and try to inspire them to do more, to help more and to live out their faith. Yet, even that, there is a limit to my ability to influence.  Again, your soul is your responsibility and mine is mine.  If I ask you if you are living out your faith, and you tell me yes, then I will believe you, but only you and God know if that’s really true. Though I will say, no matter how good of a person you are, the reality is, the honest answer for all of us is really “no” because there’s always going to be areas where we could be better.  

Ultimately, this all comes down to common sense.  If your desire is to spread the love of God, you just have to stop and ask yourself before you act, “Is this going to further God’s message or not?” If the answer is no, leave it.  No one is going to be converted to Christ through your Facebook comment, but they might be by your actions of love and generosity.  

I Love You and So Does the Lord

I love you and so does the Lord.  

This expression came to me from my best friend, who has been saying it to me for almost thirteen years now.  It started as a light-hearted way to end a phone conversation or to break the tension during a discussion of a serious topic.  It’s also something we both take very seriously because we know that both of these things are true, we love each other and God loves us.

However, this expression has become something more to me over the years. It’s become my verbal weapon of choice. Whenever someone says something mean or hurtful, I try to respond with, “I love you, and so does the Lord.”  Most of the time I even mean it, though I admit, not every time.  Sometimes it is simply a defense mechanism designed to keep me from losing it.  

It doesn’t always diffuse the situation, in fact, it has enraged one or two people through the years.  It does, however, make me feel better every single time.  Knowing that I responded to anger, or worse, hatred, with love, enlarges my heart and gives me peace of mind.  Not only can I not control other people’s actions, but I am not responsible for them.  I am only responsible for my own actions, I am completely in control of my actions, and therefore I have a duty to act in the most honorable way possible.

Do I sometimes fail?  Yes, I often fail.  It’s easy to make excuses for acting inappropriately when you’re angry, but there is nothing to really excuse failing to act in a way that is in alignment with what you know to be true.  

Whether it is hateful comments from animal rights activists, an angry political comment or simply a rude person at Walmart, “I love you and so does the Lord.”

The Importance of Rituals to the Hunt

Ever since the first man killed his first game, there have been rituals associated with the hunt.  Perhaps it was simple superstition.  Perhaps it was a sacrifice of gratitude to the gods.  Whatever it was, humans are ritualistic creatures and although we only know of some of these rituals, it is safe to assume almost everyone had one.  Today, most of those rituals look very different than the rituals of the past, but not always.

Before we go any further, we should define both “tradition” and “ritual” because people often use them interchangeably.  Although traditions can be religious in nature, ritual is more specific to spiritual matters.  So, for the sake of clarity in this article, we will use “ritual” to describe spiritual matters and “tradition” to describe non-spiritual matters.

Most rituals, even for Christian hunters like myself, originate from our pagan ancestors.  Some of these rituals are pre-hunt and some of them are post-kill.  As humans, we have always asked for blessings before the hunt and given thanks for our success after it.  This is not so different than the pre-planting rituals and the post-harvest rituals in our agrarian history.  We need food to survive, so we ask for assistance and when we’re full, we express our gratitude in hopes that our appreciation will be looked upon kindly when it comes time to ask for assistance again.

Studies show that today, most American hunters identify as Christians, but I think it is important to recognize that when it comes to hunting, our faith overlaps quite extensively with our pagan ancestors and those modern-day pagans who hunt.  A few months back, I had the pleasure to sit down with Chas Clifton, a wonderful writer who I became acquainted with thanks to his essay, “The Hunter’s Eucharist” that was published in David Petersen’s classic A Hunter’s Heart: Honest Essays on Blood Sport.  We had a wonderful, albeit rambling, two-hour conversation centered around hunting, but one thing he said to me has stuck out ever since.  “The hunt is complicated, so I think the only way to approach it is to ritualize the shit out of it.  Because otherwise it becomes too complex to realize that you love something, but you kill it.”  

Here we will look at three of the more popular rituals.

·     Prayer– This is undoubtedly the most popular no matter the hunter’s personal spirituality and it takes many forms. Saying a simple prayer, asking God to keep you safe and help you ethically harvest game really makes too much sense not to do.  However, some hunters are more elaborate.  When I was in my 20’s and early 30’s white tail hunting every fall, I used to say a little prayer as I buried a small bit of tobacco as a sacrifice before walking into the woods in the morning. It’s a ritual that I borrowed from the Cherokee to not only bless my hunt, but to connect me with my distant Cherokee ancestors who held the white tail in such high regard.

·     Blooding– People are starting to have mixed feelings about this ritual thanks to diseases such as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), but many people, myself included, still find meaning in using the blood of the freshly slain animal to mark your face (there is no evidence that disease can be passed through the skin, but I would advise you to be careful to avoid the eyes and mouth).  This is especially true for hunters on their first kill.  According to Patrick Durkin, “This rite traces back to the 700s A.D. as a tribute to St. Hubert.”  However, this ritual most certainly pre-dates Christian Europe.  This can be used as an initiation to a group and also as a way to connect yourself with the animal and with your ancestors.

·     Eating Raw Flesh– Thanks to the worries of diseases such as CWD, this one is quickly going out of fashion.  In fact, many hunters do not want to eat any meat at all in camp, even cooked, until it has been tested for CWD.  This too is a ritual based on ingesting the essence of the animal you harvested.  Many animals we hunt have many admirable traits and this is seen as a way to give yourself some of their strengths.  Personally, going forward, I am not sure what I will do, but I will say it depends on the animal and location; bear absolutely not, North Slope Caribou in Alaska absolutely yes.  The question for me soon will be whether I eat Colorado elk in camp.  

No matter what you choose to do or not do, adding a ritual to your hunt will give it more meaning.  Getting spiritually connected to the land isn’t something that just happens, it’s a relationship and that means you have to give in order to take.  Whether you are a monotheistic Christian or a polytheistic pagan, it’s really the same thing, you want God or the gods, to know your heart is pure and that you are grateful and humble.  You’re not an observer or a user of nature, you’re a partner or participant in nature.

God, Transcendentalism and Modern Conservation

In the woods is perpetual youth…In the woods we return to reason and faith… I am part or particle of God.

 Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”


Almost every religious or philosophical tradition has at least a few stories of their heroes going into the wilderness to seek answers or to seek the truth.  Perhaps the most famous of these is the story of The Temptation of Jesus, and, according to Jeffrey Ryan Dickson in Deserts of Development: How God Shapes His Leaders in the Wilderness, “according to Jewish tradition, an entrance into a wilderness meant that God was preparing the individual for a new beginning.”  It should not be a surprise then that immediately following Jesus’ temptation he started his ministry (Matthew 4:12-17).  However, it is arguable that no school of thought lobbied more for the interaction of man and nature as a mechanism for communication with the divine, than Transcendentalism.  While its heyday might have come and gone a long time ago, I think there are some tenets that are more relevant today than ever.  

What is Transcendentalism?  

Roderick Nash, in his legendary book, Wilderness and the American Mind, wrote,

The core of Transcendentalism was the belief that a correspondence or parallelism existed between the higher realm of spiritual truth and the lower one of material objects… Transcendentalists had a definite conception of man’s place in a universe divided between object and essence.  His physical existence rooted him to the material portion, like all natural objects, but his soul gave him the potential to “transcend” this condition… he could discover his own correspondence with the divine being and appreciate his capacity for moral improvement.  Every individual, the Transcendentalists emphasized, possessed this ability, but the process of insight was so difficult and delicate that it was seldom exercised. The great majority was indifferent, yet even those who sought higher truths intuitively found them in frustratingly brief flashes (85).

Nash also discusses, in the same chapter on Henry David Thoreau, Thoreau’s frustration with civilization.  “By mid-century American life had acquired a bustling tempo and materialistic tone that left Thoreau and many of his contemporaries vaguely disturbed and insecure (86).”  Walden was first published in 1854, and if that’s how Thoreau felt then, how do you imagine he’d feel about America in 2018? By any definition, we live in a more materialistic, more distracting and faster paced society today than ever before. 

It’s also true that society has never been more secular and an even greater majority is indifferent.  Although many people will say they are “spiritual” even if they’re not “religious”, very few people (whether they call themselves “religious” or “spiritual”) actually put in any spiritual work because spiritual work means a great amount of time and effort with intermittent tangible returns.  Deep, purposeful work on one’s self requires a lot of discipline and effort.  For a society constantly chasing the next, hippest, instantly gratifying, shortcut to happiness, making a trek into the wilderness, whatever that might mean for each person, is not a popular pastime.  

I Never Considered Myself a Transcendentalist Before

Wilderness, to me anyhow, always seemed like the closest I would ever come to the Garden of Eden.  Sin is something of man.  Man is in civilization.  Avoid civilization, avoid man, avoid sin, or at least that’s how I’ve always painted the picture even if that is not entirely true because my sin travels with me. God created Man after the Heavens and the Earth were complete.  It was perfect, at least until that fateful day at the forbidden tree.  

I’ve always imagined what life was like in the Garden prior to the Fall of Man.  Adam conversing with God like they were old pals.  I think that’s something every human being has been envious of since that time; we pray, but we really don’t hear that voice talking back to us, not like Adam did anyhow.  

So, what does God sound like today?  I can’t speak for anyone else but myself, but there are moments, as Nash said, “frustratingly brief flashes”, where I hear God loud and clear.  Right now, in my office with the window open, a swollen Coal Creek is carrying God’s voice to me.  The difficult part is interpreting it.  That’s why I’m envious of Adam’s conversations with God.  I really wish it was easier to understand what he was saying.

As frustrating as it is to have to decipher what God is saying to me sometimes, I take an immense amount of comfort in the fact that God talks to me. Me, an incredibly flawed mortal. No matter what, when the trail gets quiet and I can hear the creek, when I am out in the woods backpacking, hunting, fishing, or whatever I’m doing, if I’m out there, really out there, going places other people rarely or never go, I hear God loud and clear.  I just wish that was the case all the time, but either I am not able to drown out all the noise of humanity or perhaps the wilderness is just the place that God has chosen for the two of us to converse and it is up to me to get out there more often.  If nothing else, it is a good excuse to get into the mountains more.

I would never actually call myself a Transcendentalist because there’s a lot of things about the philosophy that don’t fit me (Indian religious influence, the idealism, etc.) but I believe they were pretty spot on in their belief in the possibility of transcendence through nature and the belief that institutions often corrupt the purity of the individual (as much as one can be pure).  In the wilderness we can take our place amongst all of God’s creation and, if we are alone, we can get a taste of what those first moments must have felt like before God gave Adam a partner.  In those moments, we can be alone with God.  

So, What Does This All Mean?

I believe that wilderness, those last refuges of land uncorrupted by man, are the closest that most of us will ever get to the Garden of Eden and that open conversation with God, at least in this life.  I believe that protecting these wild places are one of our most sacred duties.  In Genesis 1:26 God gives us this responsibility, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.  And let him have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  This is our sacred duty and it is entirely a self-serving one, as it is ourselves who most benefit from the places and things were entrusted to protect.  The land provides resources to make and heat our homes, the animals provide food to nurture our bodies and the places they come from nurture our souls.  

People always ask me why I go to such remote places, so far away from other people and it almost always ends with, “but what if you get hurt out there?” or “aren’t you scared of bears?”.  The truth is, our local parks are nice, but they don’t recharge me or fill me up with peace like the wild does.  In the parks, when I pass large groups on the trail, their stereos blasting, I always wonder why people are so afraid of the quiet?  Why can’t they leave the trappings of civilization behind for a few hours?  I wonder what it is that they think they’ll hear that fills them with fear?  Are they afraid of their own thoughts?  Or is it that when their mind is unoccupied for long enough they will start to dwell on their failures and shortcomings?  I don’t know, but I know for myself, I do often dwell on those things, but instead of fear, in the quiet, I find answers.  

We should always be searching for the truth, just know that it may come to you by the sound of the wind through the trees or of water coming down the mountain making its long journey to the ocean.  In this post-modern world, we hear more things than we can comprehend, but are we listening?  Our wild places are great places to go listen, whether it’s a small issue you’re struggling with, or you’re Thoreau venturing off into the wilderness multiple times to seek enlightenment, or you’re Cheryl Strayed trying to re-set your entire life on the Pacific Crest Trail.  What we have to ask ourselves is whether or not these spiritual journeys are important and whether or not it is important to still have wild places to run to for peace and quiet.  If the answer is yes, and I think it is, then there is nothing more human than protecting these places.