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Entries in God (37)

Monday
Jan232012

Coming Out

OK, I admit it.

I’m sure the rumors have circulated. I’m guessing that most people, when they read this, are simply not going to be surprised. “I knew it,” they’ll say. “He should have just come out years ago.”

Some may be forced to change their opinion of me. “He’s not the man I thought he was.” Maybe that will make them happy for me, or maybe it will turn them against me. I would hate to lose a friend over this, but I know it can happen. I can live with it.

So this is it. This is me … coming out. I admit it, here and forever.

I am a Christian.

Whew! That, my friends, is a load off. Man! I can’t tell you how long I have kept that hidden. And to admit it here, to you, publicly and unabashedly … it feels good.

I don’t know, exactly, when I started feeling like I couldn’t openly proclaim that I am a Christian. In fact, I’ll admit that as I wrote the previous sentence, I was starting to write “proclaim that Christ is my Lord,” and I balked.

Why? I think it’s because there seems to be a public stigma on Christianity. Every day I encounter people who have some pretty low opinions about Christ and God and anyone who loves the Lord. TV is full of it. There are websites, books and even whole films dedicated to the simple position that God doesn’t exist, that religion is a fool’s folly and a crock (and possibly the root of all evil, if you can believe Bill Maher), and that anyone who makes proclamations of faith in God is probably a kook and a nutcase, and should be shunned if not locked away.

Not sure how all that came about, but you can’t argue. It’s real.

Somewhere along the way, I guess that sort of thing started having an effect on me. I opened myself up to it, I guess. Which is sad, because growing up I was so happy to be a part of my church, and so dedicated to the idea that God was real, that Christ was my savior, and that people were inherently good.

I still believe all of that, but it’s getting harder to point to any part of my life to prove that this is what I believe. Somewhere along the way I started acting out that classic R.E.M. song. I was “Losing My Religion.”

I have several friends who are atheists. A few will openly scorn the very idea of God, and will equally scorn me for believing. Some proclaim loudly that they might as well believe in “the Flying Spaghetti Monster,” which I find oddly hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time.

Some are more tolerant. They don’t really care what I believe, and as long as I’m not pushing my faith on them they have no trouble liking me and hanging out with me. Even so, I feel a sort of panicked sadness when I think about these friends. I’m not qualified to make ridiculous proclamations that they’re all going to go to hell or something. I don’t believe it will ever be my place (or any human’s place) to say something like that. But I know that I am sometimes locked up with the struggles and heartache of this world, and there are occasionally some long, dark nights of the soul to contend with. I know Who I turn to for comfort during those times. Who do my atheist friends turn to? I just dread it, thinking about it. I just fear that they are so lonely.

But the truth is, and we all know this, they are probably perfectly content. They may have their own little rituals that are quite comforting to them. They have other people and other things to turn to.

This seems sad too, because I know how impermanent life is when you’re turning to the world for comfort instead of turning to God. But I can’t begrudge them for taking comfort where they find it. I’ve done the same. I still do, actually, though I’m finally starting to thaw a bit and look to my Lord for comfort. I’m learning how to turn things over to Him, instead of holding on to them like Gollum clutching the One Ring straight into the lava below.

“Lord of the Rings” reference. I am so way cool.

So here is the dilemma I’ve faced lately — it seems like I am actually ashamed of being a Christian.

I don’t like this. It isn’t right, and it makes me feel like a loser. Ashamed? God gives me so much, and Christ sacrificed so much, and my reaction to all of it is to feel embarrassed to talk about it? “Yeah, that’s my God. He’s swell. But, uh, can we maybe talk about ‘Star Trek’ instead? For some reason I’m way more comfortable with being a complete dork than being saved.”

I don’t like that. So I’m working to change it. I know it won’t be easy, and I know that somewhere along the way I may lose a friend or two. But this is pretty important. This is more than just me, honestly. This is my wife, my family, my friends, the people I meet every day, the people I lead in life, the people I’ve wronged in life. This is about the people who need to see someone who is led by a purpose in life, and who has the light of God radiating from them. These people need to see someone who can be some kind of example of what God has in mind. I’m still learning to be that person, and I’m frankly quite terrible at it. But I think God can use that, too.

So today I’m coming out. I am J. Kevin Tumlinson, and I am a Christian. I proclaim Jesus Christ to be my personal Lord and Savior. I proclaim God to be my Father, and I will worship no other gods before Him. I proclaim the Holy Spirit to be my guide and my strength.

When I fail, when I make mistakes, when I am the worst example of Christianity anyone has ever seen, I know that God has already forgiven me. I know that there is infinite grace and mercy waiting there. I accept it. I know that I’m a terrible example, and maybe that’s part of the reason I’ve always felt ashamed. But God loves me “even though.” And He loves you, too. And if you are also feeling ashamed or afraid or uncertain, let me know and I will pray for you. It will be the prayer of a lowly fool and a bad example, but God hears those, too. And you and I can be Godly fools together. Strength in numbers.

Saturday
Jan212012

Listen

I recently came to the realization that I haven’t been listening.

I think my wife could probably give you reams of evidence to that effect, as could a few hundred teachers, professors, former bosses, fellow employees and maybe a tour guide or two. Listening and heeding have always been difficult for me.

But aside from my tendency toward selective spousal deafness, non-conformity and a general and ill-advised contempt for authority, I have other listening issues.  For starters, I haven’t been very good about listening to God. And He’s been practically screaming at me for 39 years, so you’d figure I would have gotten he message before now.

My relationship with God isn’t bad. But I say that in the same way someone might say that the grilled fish at a particular restaurant isn’t bad, or that the drive from Midtown to home isn’t bad, or that the new album by One Republic isn’t bad. These are all non-committal, flat statements. Was the fish delicious? Does the drive provide quality time on my way home from work? Do the lyrics on One Republic’s album speak to me and move me?

There’s a nuance to life, and to our relationship with God, that goes beyond this kind of flat acknowledgement of the relationship. To say “me and God are good” is too vague and wholly inadequate. And really, in the end, doesn’t that mean that we aren’t good at all?

For the past few weeks, I’ve been confronted with my relationship with God. What I always thought of as a nice, in-reserve relationship with occasional spiritual highlights has suddenly sprung upward in my levels of attention, and is demanding immediate care. A recent “long, dark night of the soul” has brought me to a new place in that relationship, and has caused me to rethink my role in God’s plan. And I’ve noticed, for the first time, that He has been sending me e-mails, text messages, smoke signals, skywriting, marquee signs, postcards and billboards for years now. I never got the message.

Have you ever wondered what your purpose in life is? I haven’t. Not really. I mean, I have had the same existential questioning in my heart that everyone has (I think … does everyone obsesses about this?), but I more or less reasoned that my purpose in life was whatever I ended up doing with my days. That’s unfortunate, because when you think that way you inevitably end up spending your days drifting drone-like from one “opportunity” to another.

“If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.”

“If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?”

If you have no goal you have no target.

So I’ve started wondering about my purpose in life, and that has caused all sorts of existential angst and spiritual longing. Which, I believe, is the exact opposite of the point that God is trying to make with me. I think the point comes down to this one, simple command:

“Just listen.”

Drat. Listening. My one weakness.

I’m the guy who goes on about everything. I’m the guy who recently learned that all those years ago, as I was helping my friend David and his grandfather Leroy with their side job of moving dirt at the cemetery, I was deemed to be a chatterbox. I would, apparently, just go on and on about anything and everything. I was a talker, and I was tolerated.

I’m the guy who loves to jump into any and every conversation with whatever bit of knowledge and wisdom I possess on the subject.

I’m the guy who likes speaking in public because it means people are listening to me … on purpose.

I’m the guy who loves to communicate. I talk, I write, I post status updates on every known social media network. I strain so hard to have my ideas heard that I forget, quite frequently, that there are other ideas to hear.

And maybe, unfortunately, some of those are ideas I just don’t want to hear. I don’t really want them in my brain, mucking about, causing worry and anxiety. So I shut them out quickly and move on. I substitute something else for them in the tape that runs in my memory. I choose to hear something that wasn’t said. Maybe. I’m not clear on that, because if it does happen then I’m clearly not paying attention, am I?

Listening is hard. I haven’t got a clue how to master it. I try to focus. I try to open my heart. I try to clear my mind. I try to remove all influence of my brain on the situation and just … listen.

I have no clue how to do this.

I know God is saying something. I can hear it, like snatches of shouted conversation competing with crowd noise. But I can’t keep my brain on it, apparently. I can’t force myself to strain to hear it.

It’s a real problem, and I haven’t yet come up with the best solution. So all I can think to do is to keep trying. I’ve started reading more in books and websites about God, Christ, God’s will for our lives and whatever else I can come up with. I’m reading guys like Max Lucado. I’m reading articles in Christianity Today. I’m attending church services for the first time in years, and I’m having open conversations with friends and family about God. Kara and I have a more open dialog about God today than at any other point in our marriage.

And yet …

I still don’t feel it. I still don’t know anything. I feel like I need some sort of sign, some sort of sure mark. But I think what I’m really looking for is a sign that I am being heard … which is kind of the opposite of listening.

Well, I don’t exactly know how to solve that yet, but I’ll work on it. Of course, I’m always open to advice. I’ll keep reading and looking. “Seek and ye shall find,” right? I’ll seek. So, by extension, I’ll find. And, in the meantime, if anyone has any advice for a terribly poor listener I am all ears.

Wow … I really just wrote that. 

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