Love and the Woman in 13F

The large woman was sitting in seat 13F on the Southwest Airlines flight from Austin, Texas, to Los Angeles. Her seat was by the window and she was trying not to make eye contact with the passengers filing by. On Southwest there are no assigned seats. People board by pre-assigned priority, and once you get on the plane you can take any open seat. The seat next to the woman in 13F remained empty for a long time. I should know. I was sitting in 13D, two seats over. The problem with 13E and why it was still vacant, even though most of the passengers had boarded, was a matter of space. For all intents and purposes the woman in 13F was also sitting in half of 13E.

I’m embarrassed to admit this to you, but I’ve got to tell someone, and it might as well be you. I sat in 13D because I thought 13E might remain vacant due to the size of the woman in 13F, giving me extra room for the long flight. Then, the unexpected happened. A young hipster woman (there are lots of them in Austin) walked down the aisle, stopped next to me and pointed to 13E. She wanted to sit there. I don’t know what kind of person I expected to take the “charity” case of sitting next to the woman in 13F—a nun perhaps?—but I would not have expected this young lady with a flowing white dress and several tattoos to be the one. Yet there she was, and I was suddenly feeling very small, especially when she sat in 13E and immediately began to engage the woman in cheerful, respectful conversation.

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Why the Resurrection Matters

Sorry to rain on your Easter parade, but most people in the world don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead. That shouldn’t surprise you since less than a third of the people living today claim to be Christians. But even among self-proclaimed Christians, the number of Jesus-rose-from-the-dead believers is shrinking.

With packed churches on Easter and the proliferation of Christian apologetics books (The Case for Jesus anyone?), you would think a growing number of people would be convinced that Jesus is alive. But just the opposite seems to be true. I have a theory as to why this is, but I’m saving it for the last couple of paragraphs (feel free to read ahead if you’re short on time).

Actually, doubts about the resurrection have been around since that first Easter morning. Current day agnostics like Bart Ehrman, the fundamentalist Bible college student turned agnostic professor of religion, may think they have developed an original “Jesus is not God and He didn’t rise from the dead” shtick, but they’re wrong. These scholar/skeptic types who badly want to keep Jesus in the grave are following a 2,000-year-old narrative.

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The Haunt of History

History is a tricky thing. We’re supposed to recall and remember what happened in the past so we can learn from it. In our individual lives, history is a valued tutor, teaching us in a rear view mirror how to do better in the future.

Learning from history can take many forms. My father used to tell me, “Learn from the mistakes of others because you’ll never live long enough to make them all yourself.” That’s good advice, although there are also good things in our past we can learn from. For example, I learned long ago that I like chocolate chip cookies, and I’ve done my best to repeat that habit as often as possible.

Of course, we tend to forget what happened before, whether it was minutes ago—how often have you touched a hot plate in a restaurant right after the server warned you of its searing heat—or years ago. I don’t know why we forget important information, except that we believe we’re smarter than people who made mistakes in the past. 

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Home for Christmas

Few words better capture the emotion and the attraction of Christmas than home. The simply lyrics form the song, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”—originally written from the perspective of World War II soldiers—instantly inspire longing for that place in our memories (or in our dreams) where the warmth of family and the joys of the year’s most wonderful time of year come together.

The reason home has such universal appeal is simple. Home is the primary place where we are known and loved. There are no sweeter words than those you utter at the end of a long journey, especially at Christmastime: “I’m finally home.”

Yet for all its warmth and familiarity, there can be something disconcerting about home, and it’s not just the heated discussions that sometimes erupt, or the cruel words that occasionally slip out not long after we arrive. For all the charms and joys of home, something isn’t quite right. There’s a flaw that none of us have ever been able to fix. No matter how beautiful it is to go home, it’s never a place where we feel completely settled or at rest.

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Grace Unplugged

If there’s a trend in religion and the church that preoccupies a great many people, it’s that millennials—those between the ages of 18 and 29—are leaving the church in uncomfortably high numbers. Recent surveys peg the percentage of young adult leavers at just over forty. In real numbers, that means 8 million twenty-somethings have given up on church and, in some cases, Christianity.

You could take months to study these surveys and read a bunch of books that talk about this recent phenomenon, or you could spend 90 minutes watching Grace Unplugged, the inspirational new film centered on an 18-year-old millennial who leaves the church, her family and her faith in search of a dream she hopes will bring her happiness and meaning.

Grace Unplugged tells a familiar story that resonates universally. In fact, it’s a three-act storyline that follows the classic hero’s journey: departure, initiation and return. It’s the story of the prodigal son (or in this case, the prodigal daughter), and we can all relate. Consequently, the plot is more than a little predictable with characters that border on stereotypes, but the effect is surprisingly strong, thanks to the musical talents of AJ Michalka in the lead role of Grace Trey.

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My Two Dads

I’ve got two dads. Or rather, I’ve had two dads, one my biological father and one my adopted father. One gave me my life, the other my living. Both contributed to me in immeasurable ways. I’ve never written about my two dads aside from my own personal journaling. Now seems like a good time to talk about the two of them.

My mother married Harold Stoesz on May 31, 1951. They went to the same high school, fell in love and decided to marry while my dad was a student at St. Paul Bible College in Minnesota. After finishing St. Paul the following year, my dad decided to continue his education at Wheaton College. The summer before they moved to Wheaton, Harold and my mom moved to Shell Lake, Wisconsin, where my dad filled in for the pastor of a little church, and where I was born.

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The Golden Age of Reading?

Selling books used to be easy. I did it for more than 20 years as a manager of a successful Christian bookstore chain.  It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time in the not-too-distant past when the bookstore—Christian or secular—was about the only place you could buy a book.

In the secular space, there were chains like Walden Books and B. Dalton Bookseller, a subsidiary of Barnes & Noble. There were also thousands of independent bookstores, including a few that rose to legendary status among serious bibliophiles—such as Powell’s in Portland, Tattered Cover in Denver, Davis-Kidd in Nashville and Oxford’s in Atlanta. In the Christian world, even though the chains were smaller and the independent stores fewer, you could count on almost every community in America having at least one Christian bookstore.

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Church Is Useless

“Church is useless.”

I might have expected such a comment from my 24-year-old nephew who insists that living with his parents in the room he’s occupied since birth, whose passion is playing FPS (First Person Shooter) games and whose sole means of gainful employment is a part-time job at a local restaurant. But my nephew, as far as I know, has never said that. Though he was “raised in the church,” he doesn’t attend with any regularity. But as far as I know, he’s never said the church is useless.

Instead, the quote came from a 28-year-old—let’s call him Michael—who has a really good job, is married to a very successful marketing executive and who has nothing in common with my nephew except that he was also raised in the church.

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The Extremes of the Abortion Issue

I have never been one who has fought against abortion. By that I mean that I have never carried a sign that says, “Stop Abortion Now,” nor have I ever participated in a pro-life rally.

However, that doesn’t mean I waver in my belief that abortion is wrong and is tantamount to taking the life of a precious, innocent, fully alive though not fully formed human being. I believe that completely. I’m just not an active opponent of those who believe in a woman’s right to choose (to use the common language of those who favor abortion rights). Instead, I’m a passive proponent of a child’s right to live.

And you know what? I’m ashamed to tell you of my passivity, especially after reading two articles that came across my radar recently.

The first was a disturbing piece entitled, “The Three Deadliest Words in the World: It’s a Girl.” Reported by A.G. Harmon on Patheos.com, the piece focused on a new documentary produced and directed by Evan Grae Davis. I encourage you to take a few minutes to watch the film trailer, but be forewarned. It will disturb you, not because it’s so graphic (it’s not), but because it shows everyday people in India and China admitting to killing their newborn daughters in what is known as gendercide, “the culturally-based killing of a child (overwhelmingly female) on the basis of sex.” It is estimated that as many as 200 million girls are “missing” from the world’s population--whether killded, aborted or abandoned--due to gendercide.

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Why Jesus Matters in Relationships

When you think of Jesus, what word comes to your mind? Many people equate Jesus with religion, which has caused a backlash from many on both sides of the religious divide. Jeff Bethke made a video, "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus," that's been viewed by more than 21 million people, showing just how provocative both Jesus and religion are (especially when they are combined).

It's not surprising that for many people, Jesus represents organized religion. After all, he is the central figure of Christianity, the world's largest religion. And he is recognized as a prophet in the religion of Islam, the world's second largest religion. In fact, Jesus figures in the doctrine of many religions and cults. So, it's reasonable to equate Jesus with religion, but that's not the word Jesus would want to be associated with.

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Stan's entire life has been wrapped in content: selling, writing and publishing books and resources that help ordinary people capture a glimpse of extraordinary things.