Life Without Bullet Points

Should I write you a list? Is that what writers are meant to do these days? Elaborate concoctions with rules and guidelines, the do’s and don’t’s. Should I pick a nice round number of ways to make it through your … Continue reading

Missed Connection

a spiritual confession in the middle of the journey I’m not sure where to begin. I’ve passed you by so many times. I’ve noticed you, felt your presence, heard perhaps an echo of your voice whisper through my soul. I … Continue reading

I am not a hoodlum.

{We are not Hoodlums by Cory Copeland – a book in review}

I hate devotionals. Like, I really hate them. I can’t remember ever finishing one, because the whole idea just seemed unpleasant. Usually I find them to be dry, overly serious, and overloaded with Scripture references and rules and how-to become a better believer in 23 easy steps! And I always felt like I was being yelled at in devotionals. I walked away from them feeling guilty and inadequate and ashamed, because the only thing I could see was how far away from being a good Christian I really was. Surely I’m not the only person who’s felt that way, right?

When it comes to dealing with the problems we struggle with, the hardships we face nowadays, hope is found when we meet other people battling through those same issues. Knowing you aren’t alone brings with it a sense of peace, because that means we can find hope and strength in the each other’s stories. We can listen and be heard.

Because that’s what I need most these days – to talk about what I’m going through with someone who gets it.

So why not read a devotional that talks to me, not at me? A devotional that meets me where I am and lets me know that I can make it through. A devotional that takes me on a journey to better know myself. A devotional that speaks of the redemption, hope, and love to be found in our Father no matter how far we believe we’ve fallen. A devotional for those of us who feel a bit lost and a little worn.

A devotional for the rest of us.

And that is what Cory Copeland has left between the pages of We are not Hoodlums. He has carefully and wonderfully selected topics that young people these days will encounter around every corner. Things like depression, loneliness, sex, addiction, relationships, etc. are examined from a place of equality, because Copeland wants the reader to know first and foremost that while he may not have all the answers, he has been through it all. And he has come out the other side. He has survived, and you have the power to survive as well.

We are not Hoodlums

Weaving together Scripture and personal stories and pop culture references, Copeland takes the reader on a 31 day journey towards realizing that you are not a hoodlum. You are not beyond redemption or grace or God’s love and forgiveness. He speaks with honesty and a spirit of camaraderie on the struggles that come with being a Christian these days. He leads the reader through the sometimes difficult subjects (but not without a sense of humor), letting them know every step of the way they are not alone, they are loved, and they can find peace in a gracious God.

It’s a beautiful thing.

And it is for everyone. It is for your sister, your brother, your best friend, your boyfriend or girlfriend, the girl that lives in the dorm next to you, the guy you play basketball with a couple times a week, new Christians and those who have grown up in the Church, the person who enjoys a good Jack Kerouac or Newsies reference. There is something for everyone inside the pages of We are not Hoodlums, a message that anyone can draw from and find encouragement. It meets you where you are and dares you to go farther, to become stronger. It’s real and it’s for you.

So as a person who hates devotionals, this is one I love. The writing is engaging and beautiful; Copeland’s own style – prose with poetic tendencies. The words wrapped around me and left me smiling every time. It spoke to me and gave me a renewed feeling of belonging in God’s Church. It spoke a message I needed to hear, words of grace and forgiveness. I was challenged after each entry, challenged to go out a live the life of a crazy saint.

Because I am not a hoodlum. I am a child of God.

Read this devotional and believe that you are, too.

Thank you for reading! And maybe (definitely) follow me on Twitter >> @cassiclerget.
I’m pretty entertaining.

When we’d rather be right than gracious.

I’m not a very good Christian. And I don’t say that in a self deprecating sort of way. It’s a self reflective, brutally honest assessment of my relationship with God. Most days, I have no idea what I’m doing. My family asks me why I don’t write more about religion, faith, and spirituality, and truth is I don’t think I’m all that qualified to be giving my opinion on those subjects. I don’t have many awe-inspiring experiences from my walk to share. I don’t even know what my testimony would look like if I were asked to give it. I’m a horrid example of what a Christian should be. It’s not my place to tell someone else how to live for God, how to better their walk, how to best follow the teachings of the Bible.

Then again, I don’t believe it’s anyone’s place to do that.

We’re all fallible. We are human and we make mistakes. We are far from perfect. Even as we try to live for Christ, we fall short. We can never truly imitate God’s goodness and holiness. It is only through God’s unending grace and mercy that we come close, while still realizing that the closest we’ll be is so far from what we’d wish, from what God intended. He gave us a choice, and we picked wrong. We were tempted away from everything God would have bestowed upon us by an empty and unsatisfying promise. We lost so much in the garden. We gave up so much. And for centuries afterward, we’ve continued to make those mistakes over and over.

Human history is a sad retelling of mankind’s imperfection. With each passing year we fall farther. Corruption and greed and selfishness have taken root in our hearts, and we cling to them even as we know we should let them go. Sadly, we’ve told ourselves they give us something that nothing else can provide; we’ve believed lies. And being a Christian has not left us exempt. We are just as susceptible as those outside the faith. Unfortunately, we often use God as an excuse for our behavior. We act as we do in the name of God, forgetting being a Christian doesn’t always mean we’re right. It doesn’t excuse our own selective blindness to our imperfect, fallible, mistaken tendencies.

God must always be on our side, right? But we’ve divided ourselves into so many sides. Within the Church we’ve spliced ourselves into factions, sects, cliques, movements, revivals, denominations. We’ve hacked away at the body of Christ, surrounded ourselves with the like-minded. We’ve made our religion into something that answers the questions the way we want it to. We’ve locked ourselves into positions that breed close-mindedness.

And none of us are safe from it. None of us are above it. We have all succumbed to the notion that we must know the Truth and everyone else must be misguided, and in doing so, we have become a poor, diluted manifestation of God’s Church on earth. We attack each other with gusto, because we are determined to convince them they are wrong. They must be wrong, because they do not agree with us and we are right. We are the true believers. We follow the right Gospel, the right teachings of God. We demean other Christians and their faith in an attempt to build ourselves up. We rely on arrogance rather than love and grace. We mask public shaming as necessary enlightening.

We have embarrassed ourselves.

We love those who are like us. We condemn those who are not. We give grace when it’s easy, when we want to, but withhold it when we feel wronged. We’ve put conditions on that which Jesus gave unconditionally. We are greedy and selfish with our love, grace, and forgiveness, handing it out as if we are doing those around us a favor. We’ve put ourselves on a pedestal as if we are the superior Christian who has unlocked some theological secret.

And we don’t see it, not in ourselves. We’re blind to the harm we’ve done, or perhaps we justify the harm. We claim Truth and justice are on our side. By shaming those who do not believe as we do, we show them how they should be. What God wants for them. We act this way, we tell ourselves, for the good of God’s Church, to save other Christians from their ignorant, misguided notions of what they believe Christianity to be.

We’ve become a religion of tough love. And we’re doing it wrong.

We are better than that. We are better than the mess we’ve made of the Church and our faith. We are better than the disagreements and bitterness and divisions we have created within the Church. We are better than the embarrassing image of God’s love we present to a world that so desperately needs Him. We can do so much better. God intended us for so much more than what we’ve become.

Instead of tearing down our brothers and sisters, pointing out faults as if we ourselves have none, we should be building each other up in encouragement and surrounding each other in love. We should offer grace without question, forgiving even though we don’t believe they deserve it. We must respect each other. We must be gracious, willing to admit that just maybe we are wrong. We must look to Christ’s example, rather than merely using Him and the Bible to justify our actions and behavior. We should try to emulate Him in every way, not simply in the ways that suit us.

We need to remember that being a Christian does not undo our humanness.

Because being human should allow for compassion towards our brothers and sisters in Christ rather than harsh judgment. It should allow for empathy and understanding. We are not perfect. We will never be perfect. And we cannot punish someone for failing to be what we ourselves can never achieve. We should love first, love second, and love in spite of any conflict, disagreement, bitterness, or division. We should love without conditions, love graciously and intentionally. Because…

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 ESV)

We were commanded to love each other. I think it’s time we remembered that and let go of the rest.

Thank you for reading! And maybe (definitely) follow me on Twitter. I’m pretty entertaining.

Born Again by Candlelight.

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram (which you should because I’m a delight), you may have noticed I have a thing for The Killers. And by “thing” I mean love affair (completely one-sided of course, and only in the most platonic/non-creepy way). I adore them. Their music grabs hold of me every time. Each song speaks to me without fail and at just the right moment. And as someone who is rather ambivalent to music as a rule, my reaction to The Killers is different. Special. I would name them as my favorite band every time without hesitation. There is so much I love about them – the lyrics, the sound, Brandon Flowers’ gorgeous voice (swoon). All of it together fills me with peace; it’s like coming home. I would listen to them on repeat for the rest of my life and be completely content. I love them very much.

One of my favorite songs (perhaps of all time) is “Magdalena” from Brandon Flowers’ solo album Flamingo. This song is pure poetry to me. I smile every time I hear it; that secret smile because this song touches a place in my heart meant to be filled only by these lyrics. I close my eyes and let the music wrap around me. Whether I’m happy, content, sad, angry, depressed, frustrated, confused, Brandon Flowers can unlock the hidden recesses of my feelings and allow me to simply be. It’s a gorgeous thing.

The song opens with “Please don’t tell me I can’t make it; it ain’t gonna do me any good. And please don’t offer me your modern methods; I’m fixin’ to carve this out of wood.” The first time I heard this, I thought it was about independence and reaching for your dreams; doing what you love, whether the easy or the hard way. Or maybe just doing it your way – the only way you know how. But I’ve changed my mind, I think. Because while I think that is a lovely message, I see more in the song now. It offers me a different solace; a new encouragement.

As I listen to it in this moment, the song speaks of grace. Of forgiveness. Of new beginnings. Of second chances. But it isn’t a simple journey that Flowers tells. It isn’t a matter of merely saying, “I’m going to start again.” It’s a bit of a struggle. It’s difficult. But it is so very worth it.

Flowers talks about 60 miles of scared road somewhere in the reaches of Mexico. And if you are able to make the pilgrimage, you are promised to be relieved of your burdens by San Francisco (St. Francis of Assisi). But it’s not easy. Flowers sings of “Blisters on my feet, wooden rosary, I felt them in my pocket as I ran. A bullet in the night, a Federales’ light. San Francisco, do you understand?” It’s unpleasant, demanding both physically and emotionally, and it is draining. But as Flowers’ says in the beginning, he won’t be talked out of it. He will go the hard way. He doesn’t need modern methods or an easy out. He will venture the 60 miles in the broken heart of Mexico where he knows he can be forgiven and relieved of the burdens he carries. He needs to do this.

And in this I see the message of grace. Flowers’ sings, in my most absolute favorite piece of lyrics I’ve ever heard, “Prodigal sons and wayward daughters…be delivered from the depths of darkness and born again by candlelight.” I adore that, the image and the sentiment. Those who are lost and broken and feel unworthy can, at the end of the struggle with the darkness, be reborn by the beauty and softness of candlelight. It’s a gentle but powerful light. It shines bright no matter how deep we’ve fallen. And it revives us, leaves us renewed, clean. And we can celebrate that.

The journey towards grace is not an easy one. Not because the grace itself isn’t there, because God is always ready and willing to bestow it upon us. However, I believe that we have difficulty accepting that grace. We think it should be an easy moment. And perhaps in some ways it is, because we don’t have to work or earn grace. And maybe because of that, we can’t imagine we deserve it.

We need to be willing to carry our sins, our regrets, our mistakes, our tears, and our disappointments to God. We need to face all the bad that has brought us down in to the darkness. We need to bring it all to Him. We need to understand and recognize the things that bring us shame. We need to look to ourselves and say we are ready, finally ready, to give them up. We are ready to move on. We are ready to leave the shame behind. It is time for a new beginning, to be born again by candlelight.

And if, some day in the distant future, we fall into the temptation once again and find ourselves mired by the darkness, we can always come back. We can make the journey once again, the journey to forgiveness and grace. We can as a “two-timed beggar” seek the mercy of our amazing and loving God who sees our hearts and knows they are true. We can go back down the broken road and find redemption. He will always be there, in the midst of the struggle and at the end of it, with open arms and a gentle way. He is our candlelight, lighting the way to our new beginning.

Thank you for reading! And maybe (definitely) follow me on Twitter. I’m pretty entertaining.