Circumcision, you say? Why not go one further and cut your whole **** off!

animal with scissors

Note: this post assumes that most biblical translations are correct. That said, the KJV interprets Galatians 5:12 without specifying anything to be “cut off” except “themselves” (i.e., those who insist on circumcision). Either way, Paul’s choice of words here reflects the subject in question. For further reading on why Paul may or may not be telling his opponents to emasculate themselves, see this document and this article. If the translations that point to emasculation are wrong, then so is my post (at least from a literary standpoint). But maybe I can still contribute to the ongoing debate. Happy reading.

A Defense of Shocking Satire

“No dark sarcasm in the classroom!” – Pink Floyd

Within the community of believers (I shun the term “Christianity” because of its vast connotations), I’ve noticed a crippling and unwarranted dread of satire. Perhaps I’m imagining things, but I don’t think I am. Yes, we should detest Swift’s modest proposal of cannibalism just as we should detest C.S. Lewis’ “Saracen’s Head” on a pedestal. But we should also detest what these things deride. That is what satire is all about.

That being said, I once wrote a bit of chilling satire for one of my lit classes. That night, in a dream, the Holy Spirit rebuked me by dropping me in the disturbing scenario I had created in my poem. The next morning, I asked him whether he thought his manner of instruction wasn’t too extreme. “Isn’t yours?” he replied. Suffice it to say, I’ve never written anything like it since. So, I am aware of lines that shouldn’t be crossed.

But perhaps a central question remains: is shocking satire ever appropriate for those of us who aspire to whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy? Well, let’s take a look at what Paul (the man I just paraphrased) has to say when he feels like being sarcastic:

“As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (Gal. 5:12, NIV). This is an apostle of Christ saying in no uncertain terms, “I wish those bunch of hypocrites would just go ahead and cut their Johnsons off!” Or if we’re going with the KJV translation, at the very least he is saying, “I wish they would cut themselves off from you just as they demand you cut away [fill in the blank] from your own flesh.”

Many people, Christians and non, are probably familiar with the above passage. I paraphrase the verse to show that 1) it could be a good example of sharp, grotesque satire in scripture and 2) an example of good satire, period. While I’ve read the passage many times, it dawned on me that Paul’s language would be seen as inappropriate if used today among Church-folk in the way that he used it then.

But is it inappropriate? Or is it exactly what needs to be said?

If you know me, you’ve probably guessed my opinion—the nasty image is not only proper but excellent. But if we want to find out why the verse’s grotesque flavor is justified given the circumstances of Paul’s letter, then we need to answer for ourselves two questions:

  1. What makes it satire?
  2. What makes it good (appropriate, effective, and memorable)?

Because of the way my brain works, I find it helpful to work from big ideas to smaller ones (and back to big again) when analyzing a text, so I’ll start by looking at the passage in a bit of context (or as much context as a non-historian can offer). Does Paul really wish that the men insisting on circumcision would cut off their private parts? Or is he using vivid, graphic imagery to make a point?

If Paul is anything like me (and I admit that’s a far-fetched assumption), then I’d say it’s probably a bit of both.🙂

But really, what is the point of such a crude image? Let’s not kid ourselves: the image conveyed in Paul’s words is nothing you or I would ever want to see played out (though I can only speak for myself). Still, we can discern that Paul felt this specific imagery was necessary to convey just how frustrated he was with teachers working against the message he had fought for—a message I believe was at the heart of his ministry: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6).

By the time Paul writes this letter, he has laid a lot of foundational work with the church in Galatia.[1] But now, other teachers have come along and are insisting on ancient ordinances that, to Paul, just don’t matter. Not only do these ordinances not matter, they are direct threats to the message of grace he tirelessly promotes.  If you disagree with this, I can only stress again the passage quoted above, “The only thing that counts…” Take this exegesis with all the salt you need.

Perhaps we can at least agree that Paul is frustrated with these teachers (“Hey, teachers! Leave those kids alone!”). Knowing this, let’s take a punch at the first question we began with: what makes the passage satirical? Most definitions of the word “satire” focus on elements like irony and sarcasm, but another element and one that applies here is exaggeration. Also, in order for satire to be satire, it has to be directed at a person or a group of people and it must be a form of written or verbal criticism. Let’s see if Paul’s wish fits the satirical model:

  1. The idea of “going the whole way” exaggerates circumcision itself.
  2. Paul exaggerates his annoyance with the circumcision debate by suggesting these teachers “cut themselves off” (and thus end the debate).
  3. He is calling these men out—rebuking them—for demanding holiness through outward practices.
  4. And since we can only hope Paul didn’t really want his adversaries to mutilate themselves any more than he really believed sorcery was the problem when he asked the Galatians who had “bewitched” them (it was Lord Voldemort!), we could assume he is also being sarcastic (even though he says “really”).

But it also turns out that Paul is being ironical. In his letters, purity and abstinence come up a few times. And while he insists that marriage is better than burning with passion, he also wishes we could be unmarried like him (note: I do not share his wish, but I do abstain from any guilt in not sharing it).🙂

Now, here’s the irony as I see it: Paul knows that those who demand circumcision as a requirement of the Law and as a requirement for salvation are doing so because, among other things, they want to pursue holiness (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here). “But,” thinks Paul, “if they really want to be holy, why don’t they just turn themselves into eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom?” Of course, he knows they’ll never do this—they will go on procreating with their wives, as they should.

And so Paul draws attention to what Christ taught: holiness begins with the heart and its orientation first toward God and second toward humanity. The outward actions that manifest as a result of this orientation are true, holy actions. Hence, the weird but prophetic metaphor of a circumcised heart that runs throughout scripture, including the “old” Law: “The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live” (Deut. 30:6).

Interesting that love toward God is the end-goal of this weird circumcision of the heart, just as faith expressing itself through love is the end-goal of Paul’s message to the Galatians. Really, any message that persuades people to deviate from the simplicity found in loving God and loving people deserves to be satirized.

But we still haven’t answered our question: is there ever a time for grotesque satire in literature? In film? In art, music, television? On Sunday morning from the pulpit? Well, I guess it all depends on the context. Let me put it this way: if I had invested my life and career in making sure people took hold of a single truth, only to find other teachers disrupting and confusing what I had taught—I’d tell those teachers to go do a lot more than castrate themselves. And since I’m creative, I’d probably do it in an underhanded way, like insert it into one of my YouTube videos or put it in a blog post and plaster it all over Facebook.

But then, I’m no saint.😉

What’s the point here? Paul used crude satire in his language to express his frustration and to call out his opponents for their ignorant practices. What’s more, Paul’s frustration with people turning from the faith that expresses itself through love is the same frustration Yahweh exhibits throughout the Old Testament every time his people drift from his commandments. So, if you were to ask me, I’d tell you that shocking satire does have its place whenever people need a good jolt.

I’ve already mentioned the dream in which the Holy Spirit rebuked me—I needed to experience a bit of my own shocking satire so that I could be freed from a wrong way of thinking. Would it have been better if I had discerned correctly to begin with and had never needed the rebuke? Yes! And if the people of God had kept his commands, the Prophets would’ve been out of a job….

Like many of the hard-to-digest images in scripture and like many similar images in literature outside of the Bible, the image Paul uses is brazen, crude, and inappropriate for young audiences. And yet, it’s there, plain as the paper it’s printed on. But it’s more than just “there.”

  1. It is appropriate for its intended audience because, for Paul, the circumcision debate was supposed to have been settled at the Jerusalem council and by this point he was fed up with its resurgence.
  2. It is effective to stir up critical thought and point people toward what matters: faith expressing itself through love.
  3. It is memorable because it outlasts its context, stirs us up, and compels us to push the limits of any “religious” barriers that enclose our modes of discourse while reminding us to shed any prejudices we might harbor toward the grittier side of literary expression.

Above all, it is good-old-fashioned satire. And it’s in your Bible.


Something not quite right? Let me know: leave a polite, intelligent comment and I’ll refer readers to you.

[1] I think at least this much can be gleaned from the letter without digging too far into outside historical material

If Dogberry Had a Blog

Michael Keaton as “Dogberry” in “Much Ado About Nothing”

From “How to Practice ‘Vigitance’ without Offending Anyone”

  1. Sleep freely and without conviction:

In my humble experience, one of the least offensive ways of keeping a steady watch by night is to sleep at free and regular intervals. If you make it to morning unmolested, you will be as fresh as the bright dawn sun that greets you and more pleasurable company for your companions. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “But, Dogberry, if I sleep, won’t that leave my company vulnerable to attack?” Truly, but fret not, for should a knave sneak up to your camp in the night and dispose of you while you slumber, think little of it, as you will soon greet your Savior in all of his radiant glory and no more will you need trouble about the cares of this life or the lives of your companions.

  1. How to deal with vagrants, thieves, and the like:

To stop a thief one must verify his thievery, and this can only be accomplished by letting him steal; if you stop him in the act, he ceases to be a thief. You then would commit a grave offense by arresting him since you saw to it that he did not become a thief. Of course feel free to stop any man to inquire of his intentions. But, in my humble opinion, it is usually best not to “touch pitch” as it were, and so get embroiled in the heat of unwanted conflict when, after all, I have only been commissioned to watch, not to stop. That being said, if the vagrant or knave directly interdicts[1] with your watching, then you are within your God-given rights to stay that individual. If he refuses to be stayed, then of course you must let him go his way, as the objective is to keep watch without causing offense.

From “How to Detect a Lying Knave”

  1. What is a liar?

A liar is any man or woman who speaks an untruth, slanders, gives false report, or who does any number of the following.[2] I am of the opinion that all liars are knaves, though whether all knaves are liars ‘tis a subject best left for its own section.

  1. What is a knave?

By knave of course we mean any person who by our office we judge to be dishonest. However, the real challenge comes when one tries to distinguish between a generic knave and what I tend to call an “arrant” knave, which may be indisposed[3] to doing the works of the devil, and on this basis we may reasonably conclude that the devil himself is also a knave, since he does his own works.

Sixth and Lastly – How do we know when someone is a lying knave?

Since we have established that all liars are knaves, it is not less than more than slightly unreasonably safe to judiciously suspect all liars of also being knaves. Of course, the real challenge is met when you encounter a lying knave who professes to be one, in which case you would be unwise to take him at his word. Thus, not taking him at his word, you must trust that he is a plain-dealing and honest man even though he has given false report concerning his own character. These are the worst kinds of lying knaves.

[1] Interferes.

[2] Dogberry of course means to say the “previous.”

[3] Predisposed.

The Dark Knight Rises and Isaiah 1:17

The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight Rises and the Biblical Mandate of Isaiah 1:17.

While it is not a perfect movie, The Dark Knight Rises is for me the most positive example of the intersection of my faith with art. Certainly, the movie is not without its holes, such as the lack of explanation for how Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) gets back into Gotham after his exile. While these issues deserve attention, I keep going back to the movie for its thematic message, which reflects my favorite scripture from Isaiah: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow” (1:17, NIV). This scripture, especially the part about the fatherless, is the basis of Bruce Wayne’s journey throughout the film.

The Dark Knight Rises draws somewhat from the French Revolution—the villain, Bane (Tom Hardy), takes over the city on the pretense of stripping power from the “corrupt” and giving it back to the people. But the backstory that precedes this pivotal revolution concerns the Wayne Foundation and its failure to support orphanages and teen refuge centers. As a result, teens with nowhere else to turn “descend” into Gotham’s sewers to find work. Instead, they find Bane who, in the absence of Batman, becomes their role model and liberator. Without the Wayne legacy, the lost boys of Gotham become the forces of destruction that will perpetuate the same cycle of murder that brought Bruce Wayne to his darkest hour.

The catalyst for Batman’s redemption (and Gotham’s) is a young hothead named John Blake, a.k.a., Robin. Just as fans of the character would expect, he goes straight to the Wayne mansion to shake Bruce Wayne from his stupor and to remind him of his calling. Interestingly, their conversation ends with Bruce asking, “Why did you say your ‘boys home’ used to be funded by the Wayne foundation?” (The Dark Knight Rises). The revelation that Wayne Enterprises no longer funds orphanages is the impetus for Batman to return to the streets. Few big-budget Hollywood films possess this kind of thematic undercurrent, and even fewer can be traced to scriptural mandates like Isaiah 1:17 and, similarly, James 1:27. Given the evidence, I do not see it as a theological stretch to trace The Dark Knight Rises to these mandates.

Without question, my faith-based perception of a story like The Dark Knight Rises is directly linked to the kinds of stories I hope to tell. The film ends with Bruce Wayne giving his home to Gotham’s orphans and also with the assurance that Robin will be nearby to watch over them. This is a far-cry from the dark, morbid turn some Gotham comics have taken in the past two decades, which insist that Bruce Wayne is as psychotic as the villains he struggles against. While these darker stories have their fans, I am convinced that the vast majority of film-goers want to see redemption on the screen—even for Gotham.

My story-telling drive compels me to descend into similar dark worlds of human crisis and to focus not on characters who succumb to the crisis, but who turn the tide in the midst of dark times, dark agendas, and dark principalities. And, just as a side-note, the idea of Batman as the Byronic hero doesn’t hold up in a story where the hero sacrifices himself and gives up everything he has to defend the oppressed and the fatherless. Quite the contrary, this is one of the most prominent and current examples of a biblical hero in mainstream Hollywood cinema.

The Other Rebellion – Written by Steve B. and Edited by Adam B.

James Dean and Natalie Wood
James Dean and Natalie Wood in “Rebel Without a Cause”

The following post is an original piece of literary analysis from my dad, Steve Burdeshaw. I hope it encourages you while perhaps causing you to see some things in a new way. My dad has always spoken of the New Way of Thinking, and God has helped me to take this concept one step further toward something called the New Way of Being. I believe what follows is one piece of this ideal, one small step toward what may become my family’s legacy: to turn children’s hearts to their parents, and to turn parents’ hearts to their children.

 * * *

One morning my wife and I were discussing movies, the main films being Rebel Without a Cause and Dead Poets Society. She expressed to me how it irritated her that people associated these movies with rebellion, since rebellion is neither what these movies are about nor what they promote.

Without really rehearsing in my mind what I was about to say, these were the words that came out of my mouth: “These movies are most definitely about rebellion, but they are not about a son rebelling against a father or society. Rather, these movies are about a father rebelling against a son’s purpose. In Dead Poets Society, the father rebels, refuses to repent, and loses his son forever. In Rebel Without a Cause, the father not only repents but sees his son for who he really is, and from this we might hope that they are able to begin a real relationship.”

Sons are a gift from Yahweh, God, and as parents we should concern ourselves with God’s purpose for our children rather than our own purpose for them. Old men will dream dreams and young men will prophesy. Without these two things coming together, nothing of significance will ever take place. It is young men and young women who see and change the future. As for me, I would like to be a facilitator of this purpose and go along for the ride.

 * * *

This is me, the son again. I don’t really have much to add except… well… I bet you never thought a father could rebel against his son, did you? But I am happy to tell you there is a cure to this epidemic. All you have to do is relinquish the control you never really had to begin with into the hands of One who has always had control and who always will. And yet you can still be active in that selfless trust, to the point where you look down at your own hands and see the hands of your Heavenly Father at work in you and through you. I pray that with every new day you embrace the hope of new beginnings, new ideas, and a new way of being. Thanks for reading. 

– Adam B.

The Hunted King

I spent most of my days singing songs and offering praises to my God for his protection. And yet, many of my nights I spent fearing for my life. Not in the way of a tree planted by living water. The glory of my youth having long since passed, I saw that though God was often with me, he was not in me, and my desire for all that I could not be—all that he had always been in spite of me and all that he would remain after my death—became the thirst that drove me deeper into the wilderness of my years. A thirst for God will often lead you into a desert.

* * *

I waited by the stairwell with my back pressed against the wall when the bunker hatch opened, squealing on its hinges, letting in a stream of concentrated moon, star, and planet-light. I waited for the intruder to cross the threshold of the stairs before lowering the barrel of my pistol to his right temple. He froze, and in the faint gleam of twilight I caught his smile.

“Don’t kill me, Áedán,” he said.

I lowered the weapon, and then he turned toward me.

“Don’t sneak up to my bunker in the middle of the night,” I said.

“If I had been sneaking, I would’ve knocked first.”

“Why have you come?” I asked.

“You must leave the camp,” he said. “Tonight.”

“Is that all?” I went to the sink beside the toilet and splashed water on my face. A cold shock to liven the blood.

“That’s wasteful,” he told me.

“No cleansing is wasteful,” I replied. “The unclean may spare water and so waste himself.”

“Father is sending men to kill you,” he said. “I’m supposed to kill you if I see you. You have to go.”

There was a painful, terrible moment when I wondered if he really had come to kill me, and I felt shame at the thought.

“How long am I to be gone?” I asked.

“Until I can convince father that you are not his enemy.”

“So this is a permanent exile, then,” I said.

“Not if I can help it,” he said.

Outside the porthole, wind rustled in the shrubs and among the trees; a few pebbles scuttled downhill and came to rest. His hand went to the pistol at his hip while we each held our breath, listening for the scuff of boots in the dirt and watching for shadows.

“It is wind, Asger,” I whispered.

“You’re probably right,” he said, and his hand dropped to his side. Sliding his pack across his shoulder, he said, “I’ve brought you food and ammunition. Exchange belts with me.” He unstrapped his belt and held it out, removing only his pistol. It hung heavily with the weight of loaded cartridges.

“More stones for my sling,” I said. I took his belt and fastened it about my waist, then retrieved mine from beside the cot and brought it to him. “How did you know I was running low?”

“You never have enough of anything,” he said, as if it were a law of nature I ought to have known. He fastened the belt I had given him with its one remaining cartridge.

“Someone may wonder at that,” I said, pointing to his new belt.

He shook his head. “I’ll have restocked by the time anyone sees me. You can be sure of it.”

“How am I to find you when all this is over?” I asked.

“Wait for my sign,” he said. “Hide in the hills west of the monolith. If all is well, I will place a single mark on the stone. If you are compromised, I will leave three marks.”

“I will wait two days but no longer,” I said. I had just finished filling my satchel with canteens and a few packets of the dehydrated food he had brought. Sealing it, I swung it over my shoulder. “You’ve risked too much—”

“Stop,” he said. “That was never a consideration, nor will it ever be. Don’t insult my labor.”

“I fear for your life,” I said.

“Fear for your own.”

I nodded. That was him saying to get a move on, or so I thought. As I moved toward the stairwell, he stretched out his arm to bar my way.

“Let me have a look at the field first,” he said.

I laughed softly. “As you will.”

When he signaled for me to come up, I crawled from the hatch as one rising from a tomb. Above us, Iunia and her two moons splashed the hilltops with radiant light. The night reminded me of a line from one of my songs. “In peace I will lie down to sleep,” it went, and the melody would fall on the word “sleep” with certain finality. Now, the line had taken on the weight and force of a warning, for I wondered how many sleepless nights awaited me in the desert. A little slumber, a little folding of the hands in rest, and so will a man lose everything.

My bunker lay on the camp’s southeastern perimeter, near the woodland. The forest teemed with acacia and corkwood trees, and through its heart a stream flowed from a riverhead thirty kilometers eastward—the camp’s water supply used to come from this source until the Dagonah poisoned the head. The barren-lands, inhabited by every tribe and clan of this persistent enemy, were north of the camp. Less than half a kilometer in that direction, the shrubs and grass dwindled until the landscape shifted into a hilly terrain of loose, dry dirt and rocks. Water was scarce in that region.

“Make for the desert,” he told me.

“I have nothing to give you,” I said.

“What you have already sworn is your gift to me,” he said. “Our sons and daughters will live in peace together. Go and wait for my sign. It will not delay.”

I left him and did not look back, as it would have been a sign of distrust not to be borne among brothers. The thought that this was that last of him I would ever see, I buried with all other idle projections. Perhaps it really was the last time we would meet; perhaps I would die in the wilderness or live the rest of my days as an outcast—one can drift quite peacefully in a wasteland of variables. Tonight, in the here and now, we had met as brothers. It was a thing established in the heart, and not even death could break it.

Passing along the outskirts of the camp, I met the eastern watchman at his post.

“I’m going into the forest to pray,” I told him. “Do not be anxious for my return.”

He nodded. If there was any suspicion in his eye, I could not tell. His hood was drawn closely over his face in the manner of night watchers.

I turned eastward toward the dark, shadow-ridden line of trees. Entering the forest, I followed the stream northward, ever keeping to the lesser-known paths. Iunia, like an eye of emerald in the heavens, sunk slowly into the northwest as the night waned. By the time I reached the desert she had at last begun to set, and the heat of morning found me alone and exposed on the barren fringe.

* * *

Through the cold night I waited on the ridge overlooking the vale. I would not go within a hundred meters of the monolith. Black upon a midnight grey, like a thin void cutting across the stars and into the desert, it grew more mysterious after dark. Now, at the hour between Iunia’s vanishing and the hesitant thrust of morning I waited among the crags, watching and listening. There isn’t much else one can do in the wilderness.

Before I saw anything, I heard the mellow yet distinctive hum of engines. From the south, a black shape sped across the flats toward the towering rock while something like a small whirlwind followed in its wake. I used my binoculars to get a better look: a single chariot with a single pilot, hooded and masked to guard from the gritty and chilled night air. Behind him the drape of his cloak danced like a standard in the gusts. He did not slow until he came within ten meters of the rock; I watched him dismount and walk up to it. He drew something from his cloak and used it to mark the stone—I watched the motion of his hand, the thrice dipping of his wrist.

Then, as if moved by some guiding sense of the present, he turned toward me or in my direction at least. Slowly, he removed his hood and drew the mask down below his chin, exposing his face to the night. It was only for a moment, delicate and fleeting, and then he returned to the chariot. Securing again the mask and cowl, he sped into the south whence he had come. Even from a distance, his sign was clear enough. Shouldering my pack, I started northward across the stony passes and made for the Canyon of the Fount.

* * *

Those who believe in fate cheapen the power of human initiative. The day I went out to face the Iunian half-breed, I did what any human could have done under the hand of God. Many disagree with this, arguing instead that I was chosen. Yet, I am confident that it could have been anyone; it did not have to be me.

Still, I was the one who killed the warrior from another world: shot him in the left eye with a five-chamber hunting pistol, and only because he had taken off his helmet. This, some argue, was an act of God in itself and perhaps this is true. Perhaps the giant would not have taken off his helmet for a real warrior. Nevertheless, the fact remains that a human being assumed the risk and performed the act. As I have grown older, I have come to see that belief in God is neither thought nor feeling—it is human action in defiance of the inevitable.

It is from such acts of defiance that legends are born… No, not born. Spawned and disseminated like larva, or a plague. The people sang songs about my victory, and it wasn’t long before they were making up new songs for victories I’d never had, for battles I had never fought. With the giant, I did what needed to be done just as I always had, what I knew God wanted to be done.  Yet, an interesting thing happens when you carry out the will of heaven—people will sing your praises and forget the one who drew you from the dust. Since those times, I have learned that there exists a form of idolatry as debilitating as the superstition of our ancestors.

It is the worship of heroes.

An infant mind dreams of becoming a hero, and looks to the hero for guidance. But anyone seeking guidance from me will only receive this admonition: do nothing to be noticed, but serve God quietly and in secret. Go out into the wilderness, live among the homesteaders, find a wife and raise children who honor God. Last of all, remember that nothing is worth the loss of a father’s love. Nothing. The price of slaying giants has turned out to be more than I could ever hope to pay.

* * *

For a while he stood outside the cave, peering in. What did he expect to see in the shadows, looking with sun-stained eyes? Man is so dependent on his physical capacities that he will peer into darkness in spite of both blindness and shadow, expecting all the while to see. But then, I did not blame this particular man. When approaching a cave in broad daylight, you could never be certain that you were the first to have found it without risking your life in the quest for that certainty. The hesitating stutter of his movements told me he knew as much.

He was alone, armed only with a short knife at his right hip and a pistol holstered at his left. My weapon was already drawn and pointed; I had seen him climbing the hill toward the cave, could have killed him then and been out of sight before anyone knew where to start looking. I could kill him now, only the echo of a gunshot in a cave would carry far out into the canyon, perhaps over the distant plains. But what did that matter? Gazing past me like a blind fool, here stood the man who had driven me into the desert, who had slandered me among my brothers and sisters, who… who had given me a home and a family when I’d had none to call my own.

The pistol grew heavy in my hand; I followed him with the nose of the barrel as he stepped into the cave and moved toward the rightmost wall. Resting his forehead against the rock, he unbuttoned his trousers and began to urinate, his water spattering the dirt. He truly believed himself to be alone.

When he had finished he turned and left. If that was all he had come for, then his men were somewhere close. His dark head, slick with sunlight, sunk lower as he descended the slope. I let my arm fall at my side—I wanted to drop the pistol in the dirt. Suddenly the line separating mercy from cowardice had become a blur or an illusion or nothing like a line at all, and I found myself unable to distinguish between the one virtue and the other vice. A voice inside me whispered, “Arise, you who judge the worlds.”

Pushing out into the heat, I saw him at the bottom of the slope. He was heading for the spring situated at the canyon’s lowest point, and with each stride a heap of dust swirled about his ankles.

“My lord!” I said.

He turned and at the same time reached for the pistol at his hip, but his foot struck a small boulder and he fell backward into the dirt. I heard him curse as I sprinted down the slope—he tried to level the pistol again but I kicked it out of his hand and struck him in the jaw. His other hand reached for the knife but I stepped on the wrist, pressing it into the dirt. Just enough force keep it down without snapping the bone. He shouted again as I took the knife and tossed it to the rocks. Then I backed away two strides, drew my pistol and waited.

He looked up at me while favoring his wrist, and then rested his back against the boulder. His hair was unkempt and his cheeks were flushed from struggling. His gray cloak was yellow with dust.

“What are you waiting for?” he said.

I knelt so as to be level with him. “What evil have I done?”

“Need I tell you?” he scoffed. “You have turned the people against me. You conspire with the sages and priests. You are a thankless son and a usurper.”

“If I were a usurper you’d be lying dead in a puddle of your own urine back there in the cave. I was with you the entire time. Now tell me again: what evil have I done?”

He was silent as he looked at me, his eyelids squinting in the sunlight.

“My father,” I said. “You have ventured three days into the desert with a hunting party of your best men for the purpose of taking my life. You would have sent Asger, my brother, to kill me in my sleep if he had only been willing. I ask for the last time: what evil have I done?”

His tongue moved only to lick the blood from his lower lip.

“My lord,” I said. “Do you truly hate me so?”

“You will be captain of our people,” he said. “God will put you in place of me, in place of Asger. This is the evil you have done. Do not insult me by denying that you know of it.”

I stared at him. “I do know of it. It was told to me in secret many years ago.”

He smiled coldly. “Much is done in secret it seems. Even God hides his deeds from me.”

The sun was still high in the northwest, though above the canyon heights to the east the bald top of Iunia began to rise. The earth was hot beneath us, so hot I could feel it seeping into my boots.

“I have no say in matters of God’s judgment,” I said.

“Yet you are not hesitant to embrace that judgment when it favors you,” he sneered.

“I live or die as he chooses—what he hopes to do with me he can just as quickly do with another. He can forge a ruler for his people from the fire and the pit. You and I are nothing, Father.”

“For God’s sake stop calling me that,” he said.

I gazed at him then with indifference—an old man in a tattered coat with a bloody lip and a sprained wrist. It surprised me at first, but the longer I looked at him the more I shared his disdain for the word.

“To appease his anger,” I said. “That’s why you took me in, isn’t it?”

“You know nothing,” he said, and he looked away, anywhere but into my eyes.

I refused to relent. “You thought that if you showed compassion on me he might change his mind, because you knew that he had chosen me even then. The signs were clear enough.”

“You are arrogant and naïve,” he said.

“I only speak the truth. Why didn’t you kill me then?”

“I nearly did several times. Have you forgotten?”

I shook my head. “No, I haven’t forgotten.”

He looked over his left shoulder, out into the canyon. “Promise me something,” he said.

“As you command.”

“Stay true to Asger,” he said. “Stay true to his children. Swear to me that you will not destroy my family.”

I nodded. “I swear it.”

He looked at me again. “Now where does that leave us?”

I rose and holstered my pistol. “I will leave this place. And you will stop hunting me.”

“Where will you go?”

“To the Dagonah,” I said. “Perhaps they have forgotten my former deeds. Will you let me go?”

He gazed up at me for a moment, as if deliberating. Then, he nodded.

“Yes,” he said.

“And let us come to one more understanding,” I said. “It will be the last thing that passes between us.”

“What is it?” he said.

“You were never my father. I was never your son. Are we clear?”

Again he nodded. “Yes.”

I said nothing, but turned and ascended the slope toward the cave. Retrieving my pack from the inner recess, I emerged just as a cloud was passing over the sun. Iunia darkened in the shade, while beneath her the canyon lay desolate and noiseless but for a calm, east wind. My enemy was gone, but whether to betray our agreement or to fulfill it I could not yet know.

Quickly, I filled my canteen at the spring, then shouldered my pack and took to the northern pass. I ran in places where the climb was smooth and when I reached the rolling plains I ran in spite of the evening heat, ever northward. By nightfall I had come to the edge of the mountains where the Dagonah dwell in large numbers. There, I rested and prayed and waited through the night for him to answer, but no voice spoke to me—only I had this sense that he was with me even in his silence. When dawn came I slept as I’ve never slept, as one without fear. My present hope was to take refuge with the enemies of God, for I knew I would no longer find it among my people.

A New Way of Being

“If you want to see what it looks like for God’s renewed people in Christ to be ‘royal,’ to be ‘rulers’ in the sense indicated by the vocation to be a ‘royal priesthood,’ don’t look at the fourth and fifth centuries, when the Roman emperors first became Christian. That raises questions and challenges at other levels, but to begin there would be to miss the point. Look, instead, at what the church was doing in the first two or three centuries, while being persecuted and harried by the authorities—and announcing to the whole world that Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah of Israel, was its rightful Lord. That is what it means to be ‘rulers’ in the sense we’re discussing here: to be agents of that King’s reign, the reign of the Prince of Peace, the one through whom tyranny itself (not to mention any individual tyrants) was overthrown with the destruction of its most vital weapon—namely, death—and the one through whom therefore was brought to birth a new world in which order and freedom at last meet.” – N. T. Wright, After You Believe


Some of you will like what I am about to say; many of you will not; a few of you may quit reading it halfway through. I realize that, in sharing my heart on these matters, it is possible that I am setting myself up to be pitied by some and ridiculed by others. Even so, I ask that you consider what follows with an inquiring mind. Do not take my word for anything I write, but seek the scriptures and Holy Spirit regarding the things I am putting forth. If Holy Spirit leads you to different conclusions, then I am eager to hear from you. I should add that I have not read the Bible cover to cover (as many people older and wiser than I am have done) and on that basis I question my capacity to make a case for anything written in it. Yet, as you can see, I do not question it so far as to stop writing….

In Christ we find a new way of being that challenges us to put to death the old human (Rom. 6), and to become bearers of His image. At present, I cannot see the need for any revelation, doctrine, or prophecy that does not point me toward this goal. Anything beyond this—beyond eagerly awaiting by faith and “through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope” (Gal. 5:5, NIV)—is irrelevant to those who wish to establish Christ’s kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven. If the “only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (5:6), then I get the feeling that I may have spent the past twenty years or more being “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching” (Eph. 4:14). If this is not true for you, then I simply ask that you bear with me a while longer.

Through Christ, “forgiveness of sins is proclaimed” to each of us (Acts 13.38), but this extension of grace should not be misunderstood. While it provides us with a direct link to the Father, it does not allow us to justify our sin, mistreatment of others, verbal abuse, or manipulation (e.g., threatening someone if they act contrary to our wishes). Should we “go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” (Rom. 6:1). Rather, the promise and the purpose of being baptized into the life of Christ is that “we too may live a new life” (6:4). Put another way, in Christ we find a way of being that does not allow us to excuse behaviors that lead to sin, the most common being “jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions” (Gal. 5:20). Among these, I have seen fits of rage and selfish ambition justified under the pretense of respecting leadership. Do I plead guilty to this kind of behavior? Without question. But I hope I never again justify these behaviors in myself or in another. And if you justify these things because of all the good you or another person have done, then you oppose the renewing power of Christ and his holy spirit.

Now, you who are led by the Spirit and therefore not under the law (Gal. 5:18), consider first what it means to be led by the Spirit of Him who raised Christ from the dead (Rom. 8:11). Why are you not under the law? What does this mean? Surely it implies that legalism is old-fashioned and that it is much more fulfilling to be yourself, to do what comes naturally, and to justify wrong-doing because, hey, nobody’s perfect. Right?

Not quite. If we live in such a way as to produce the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control)[1], then the extrinsic authority of the law has now become the intrinsic nature of our human hearts (Jer. 31:33). Remember Peter’s advice: live as free people without using your freedom as an excuse for sin, but commit your lives in everything you do to serving Christ and each other (1 Pet. 2:16-17). It sounds wonderful and seems straight-forward, but I believe it may need some explanation. So allow me, in my limited capacity, to point us toward what I believe is a good starting place for attaining this kind of freedom in Christ.

In straight-forward terms, if we are not daily turning from behaviors that come naturally to us and instead choosing to adopt those of Christ’s indwelling spirit,[2] then our minds are not being renewed and our claims to being spirit-filled and spirit-led are fruitless, as are our claims to both freedom and order.

So, what does being led by the Spirit really look like? To pick the most clear-cut image out of scripture, it looks like a son of man praying by night in the Garden of Gethsemane, renouncing his hopes and desires in favor of his Father’s perfect will.[3] Perhaps it is safe to say that being led by the Spirit means first adopting the self-denying character of Christ until our behavior becomes indistinguishable from his own. While this may sound simple, we need to understand in detail what being Christ-like really means for us here and now.

For those of us who desire to be like Christ, it might help if we understand a thing or two about his character. To sum it up (and so do it poor justice), the character of Christ is one of humility and servitude[4] tempered with a dash of zeal for the Father.[5] Looking at Saul of Tarsus, we might see that he was a zealot in the tradition of Elijah, and Phinehas the son of Eleazar before him.[6] But when he met the Son of God on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:5), that zeal was redirected toward a new way of being—the zealot for Yahweh’s kingdom must, according to the new covenant,[7] be a servant of Christ[8] and a living vessel for the “truth that leads to godliness” (Titus 1:1). In other words, our vision of reigning in the Kingdom of God means nothing if we do not embrace our role as servants of the firstborn Son and look to him as the “foundation already laid” (1 Cor. 3:11).

In my time, I have seen the idea of ruling in Christ’s kingdom misunderstood on three different fronts: 1) there are people who believe their success and prosperity to be the main demonstrations of their kingdom authority; 2) these same people often subscribe to a harmful misconception of son-ship by submitting to a spiritual father[9] or to an apostle as their primary source of revelation (please note my emphasis), which in effect has caused some to either turn away from the “champion who initiates and perfects” their faith (Heb. 12:2, NLT) or to relegate him to a second-tier position in their lives;[10] and 3) some believe it is the church’s present responsibility to judge the world rather than to await Christ’s judgment, which is set for an appointed time (Acts 17:31). This last idea is especially dangerous, as it fills people with a false sense of omniscience while causing them to reach toward the kind of power that Christ attained only after he defeated the one who held the power of death (Heb. 2:14). Truly, if we do have this kind of power (thus implying that we are as perfect as Christ rather than being made perfect through Him[11]), then why would we ever need a high priest who “always lives to intercede” for us? (Heb. 7:25). If you are as qualified to judge as you think you are, then it stands to reason that you no longer need Christ to intercede on your behalf.

Referring to the three issues listed above, the first usually shows up among people who become so enamored with the idea of “ruling and reigning” that they are oblivious to the cost that comes with this kind of power (e.g., crucifixion).[12] As to the second issue, I find that it sometimes produces unadulterated devotion to a single church-leader at the expense of ostracizing those who do not share this devotion (even though they are followers of Christ). At its core, this turning away from fellow believers in the name of “loyalty” is nothing more than idolatry and is in direct conflict with Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians when he says, “So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God” (1 Cor. 3:21-23).

Finally, if any question remains as to how we should function as agents of Christ’s authority and power, Paul at least clarifies what we are not to do: “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God” (4:4-5). I do not know how to make this scripture any clearer than it already is; it speaks for itself without any help from me. If Paul is correct (and if I am not taking his words out of context), then we should judge nothing until the Lord comes.[13] So, where exactly does that leave us?

Despite what some may think, I am not suggesting that we should all just lead ourselves, picking and choosing how we want to submit to authority. Rather, I am pointing us toward what I think could be a more perfect plan to bind us together in a spirit of faithfulness and so protect us against the abuse of power. Among people who are preparing for the kingdom of heaven, the reality of what unity and faithfulness should look like is summed up in Philippians 2:

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (2:1-4)

In my opinion, Paul has just defined kingdom order. As we know, factions arise among us when our convictions drift so far apart that they become irreconcilable. The question remains: why are our convictions diverging in the first place? Perhaps multiple reasons exist, but I want to suggest the possibility that either you or I (or both of us) have taken our eyes off of Christ.[14] In Philippians 2:1-4, the first factor in the equation is unity with Christ. This is the essential element, because it is only when we are united in Christ that our convictions become identical. Being united in Christ means understanding his nature and character, and working with all of our hearts to emulate that character by way of a vital gift from heaven—the Holy Spirit, who is our living witness of the resurrected Son and the assurance of everlasting life.[15] Once we are united with Christ by his spirit, the other components begin to lock into place: we become like-minded, we have the same love (and convictions), we unite in spirit and purpose (we share a vision that is universal because it is the vision of Christ rather than the vision of a single church or individual), and we begin to relate to one another in a spirit of humility. As easy as this last part sounds, it is often the most difficult to grasp. Humility is not second nature to me; I hope it is to you.

Based on the previous scripture, then, the key to unity is humility. Unfortunately, many believers think of unity as something inorganic that must be imposed by the hierarchy lined out in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11. However, what Paul may be saying in 1 Corinthians 12:28 is that Yahshua appointed the apostles—as messengers of the good news and as prototypes for the new way of being—before he appointed anyone else in the church. Put simply, they came first in a chronological sequence and were entrusted with one task: to cultivate a body wherein the working “parts should have equal concern for each other” (1 Cor. 12:25).[16] Also, Ephesians 4:11 is often preached to justify the five-fold ministry (and perhaps rightly so) while the ultimate purpose of this order is overlooked: “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (4:12).

Is Paul suggesting that the means lead to an end or, more specifically, to the realization of a meaningful hope that transcends all other agendas? I think so. If the ministry is not building up believers in the knowledge of the Son of God—that is, if we are not being led toward a revelation of who Christ is and how we are to reflect him to the world—then we are wasting our time as unfaithful stewards of the gospel. Further, if equilibrium in the body of Christ is not evident, then the body-parts are not functioning according to Yahweh’s plan. So, how do we become this fully-functional body of Christ? Read 1 Corinthians 13, and then get back to me.

As for the good news, it is simply this: that Yahweh, God of all creation, has made a new covenant with humanity through the resurrection of His son, who having ascended into heaven has left us His indwelling spirit, who is—in us, through us, and for us—the promise of life eternal and the assurance that we will live, in bodily form,[17] with the true King of heaven and earth. Any message or gospel that deviates from this essential truth is not the message of the kingdom.[18] Moreover, any ministry that does not concern itself with winning people to Christ does not share in the interests of heaven, for “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7). I do not care how many people I get to come to my church, and I hope I am not among those who care how many people leave my church to go somewhere else—if I can lead people to a revelation of who Yahshua (Jesus) is and what this new way of being means for them, then I will have fulfilled my God-given mandate as a follower of the firstborn Son.

~ Thank you for reading, and may you be blessed as you choose to walk in the love of Christ. ~


Works Cited

Wright, N. T. After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010. Print.

[1] See Galatians 5:22-23.

[2] Galatians 5 and Romans 6 are two great signposts for this; I reference them because they are the ones with which I am most familiar.

[3] See Luke 22:42.

[4] See Philippians 2:6-11.

[5] See John 2:17.

[6] See Numbers 25, 1 Kings 18:40, Galatians 1:13, Philippians 3:4-6, and  N. T. Wright’s “Paul, Arabia, and Elijah (Galatians 1:17)”.

[7] The new covenant is summed up nicely in Jeremiah 31:33-34 and in John 3:16.

[8] See Romans 1:1, 1 Corinthians 3:5, and 4:1.

[9] This is remarkable to me when I consider John 20:17, where Yahshua (Jesus) refers to his disciples not as sons but as brothers. See also Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:1-7.

[10] Note that I am not discrediting the concept of spiritual fathers and sons, nor am I suggesting that we should not submit our lives to the instruction of people who exceed our knowledge in the faith. In 1 Corinthians 4:15, Paul writes, “for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel,” and in verse 17 he calls Timothy his son. Also, in 1 Timothy 1:2, Paul refers to Timothy as his “true son in the faith”.

[11] See Philippians 3:12 and Colossians 1:28.

[12] See Matthew 20:20-24.

[13] In John’s Gospel, Yahshua says, “I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me” (8:15-16). Even though he is qualified to judge (because he is the only one who can stand with the Father), he instead chooses to wait because the time for judgment has not yet come.

[14] See Hebrews 12:2.

[15] See John 14:15-21 and Ephesians 1:13-14.

[16] If you want a summary of what the early apostles were like, what they endured, and what their responsibilities entailed, then  refer to 1 Corinthians 3 and 4. Primarily, they are the servants of Christ through whom we come to believe (1 Cor. 3:5).

[17] See 1 Corinthians 15:12-58.

[18] See Galatians 1:6-7, 1 John 2:22-29, 4:1-3, 2 Timothy 2:8, and Titus 1:2. See also “Gnosticism” in the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, E-J, Vol. 2. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993. 404-406. Print.

Fake Blood

My life has been marked by symbolism, with video games providing some of the most poignant moments. Yes, you read me right: time-ravaging life-debilitating muscle-atrophying video games.

When I first held the original Nintendo controller, I held it upside down. The black cord jutted toward me, level with my bellybutton, and then curved down and away—an umbilical between me and the 8-bit box. Mind you, it wasn’t that I thought the controller was right-side up. Rather, I was convinced that upside-down was the better way to play. That Mario and Luigi had a hard time conforming their behavior to my inverted will was not really my problem.

The moral to this fable? Even as a child, I was predisposed to making things more difficult than they were designed to be—a trait I lugged with pride well into my adult years. So, hurray! Nintendo has taught me something about myself, and the lesson is a heavy one. But that’s not the half of it.

I learned to drive in an arcade at the ready age of three-and-a-half. Sitting in my father’s lap while he worked the pedals (my legs were too short to reach), I would steer the roving racecar as if I were dodging landmines, yanking the wheel right then left and watching with evident satisfaction as the car burst into an orange blip coupled with the digitized crunch of what must have been somebody’s idea of a sound-effect. It was in this same arcade that I learned you shouldn’t yell Damn! every time Mario gets killed, though I couldn’t understand why at the time.

The way I saw it, the games demanded an unadulterated display of aggression. To lick my chops at an exploding car or to curse Mario for getting whacked by a turtle shell was just my way of honoring the deal.

Roughly a decade later, the gaming structure had evolved so that four friends could sit side by side, stare at the same TV, and casually—not to mention methodically—plot out the most gratifying way to kill one another. For me to say that I was a kind of prodigy in this enterprise is not to embellish the truth: I gunned down my opponents with such alacrity and precision that pretty soon it became second nature to me. Just ask any of my friends.

I remember my first experience with this new and intriguing world. Here, the awareness of a short, scrawny, pale-skinned twelve-year-old could be transferred into the 64-bit polygonal framework of a muscular, scowling titan who wielded some type of modified assault rifle—or if you got lucky early in the match, a bazooka. In this world, I was someone to be both feared and respected.

I won’t say that I won every match, but I did win most of them. What’s more, I made doubly sure that everyone was aware of my God-given proficiency. After a few hours, my friends were ready to take the fight off-screen and kill me for real. I don’t blame them; by that point we were all so numb to our bloodlust that hatred and venom came as naturally as breathing. If we could say something nice, then it wasn’t worth saying. For the rest of that day, wherever we went—to the beach, the mall, a pizza buffet—our spite followed us like a cloud, ready to unleash at any moment a storm of our own making. None of us wondered why we were so quick to anger.

A few years passed, and on we played. A popular game among our ranks was far less violent than the one previously described, but the consequences were no different. The premise: choose your favorite Nintendo character, pick an arena from a dozen different Nintendo environs, and utilize items ranging from baseball bats to laser swords—deposited randomly at the auspices of an invisible god—to knock your opponent out of bounds. Good old-fashioned knock-out fun, right?

Not for me. As innocent and bloodless as the game was, I was still in it for the glory of the kill. If I couldn’t win, then what was the point? So, I found ways to manipulate the rules without cheating. The way I saw it, anything the game let you do had to be considered legal even if it was unconventional or even a tad “cheap.” There was just one problem: my friends did not share my conviction. So, when I figured out that I could grab my opponents, strap them to my back and then leap out of bounds, thereby killing my character and theirs too, all hell broke loose.

“You can’t do that, Adam!” they would shout, to which I would reply with a smirk, “Really?” and then do it again. To me it was just the logic of winning: if I had more “lives” then the rest of them, then this became a very effective strategy. No matter how many times I killed my character, I would end up on the upside—because I would be the last player standing. There’s no doubt that I was right and that it wasn’t really cheating. But it doesn’t change the fact that the game turned me into a plain-dealing ass.

Sure, I was the victor often enough, but what did I win? The more than deserved enmity of my friends, to be certain. And if someone else won, the results were usually no different. It should have been about having fun, but how could it be when the game’s sole agenda was to pit brother against brother, while each sat side by side drinking sodas and pausing every few minutes to wipe pizza grease off on their shorts?

To be fair, conflict was not always the result. I remember playing one-on-one with my good friend, Chad. As we realized that we were both down to our last lives—that it was a matter of sudden death—he paused the game, stretched out his hand to me and said, “Good game, dude.” I remember being convicted because I had not thought to do the same. But then, of the two of us, he has always been more prone to show humility.

I, however, was still in it for the kill. In this particular case, the game was not the problem. We hashed it out fair and square until the moment he sent my character soaring. That was one of the few times I remember losing with something like a speck of dignity. It was a thing I had to be taught.

Years later, when I became a man—or close enough to one to be admitted into that category—I found that the only way to play games was to make time for them. So, I didn’t play that often. I was attending college in Colorado and most of my time was devoted to studying; if I did play, it was to pass a wakeful half-hour with something casual before going to bed: Yoshi’s Island, Donkey Kong, and Sonic the Hedgehog to name the favorites. Like me, my friends were dispersed across the globe in pursuit of their singular quests. It had been ages since I’d fought in the arena of simulated warfare. I was certain that I had gotten rusty, that I had lost my touch.

As it turns out, I lost a great deal more than my touch. But in the process, I gained something else.

Returning home one summer, I decided to go back and play one of my all time favorites. A revolutionary game for its time, it immersed the player in an Orwellian world of resistance fighters pitted against the forces of a totalitarian government. Almost anyone who played the game could tell its story-writers were apt students of literature and history, and that the game’s design was the result of gifted physicists, engineers, and architects. It was then and still is a work of art in its respective medium. So there I was, home for the summer with a day all to myself to do whatever I wanted; I couldn’t wait to play it again.

When the first enemy started shooting at me, I aimed my pistol at his head and squeezed off three shots. The controller vibrated in my hands to simulate the aftershock of pistol fire, and I watched a burst of red spatter the concrete wall behind the enemy’s head. Clearly, the game-designers had studied the various behaviors for specific kinds of exit wounds. My artificial, make-believe enemy crumpled to the ground in a heap and just lay there. Simulated killing had resulted in simulated death. What else did I expect?

I felt a cold shock go through me. The controller slid out of my hands and into my lap. I just stared at the screen, at the glossy pistol that served as the only evidence of my presence in that world.

Out loud, I said, “I am pretending to blow someone’s brains out.”

After all the time I had spent defending simulated violence as a way to release aggression (a fact which is supported by research), as a harmless pursuit, as no different from watching an R-rated war movie, I had never considered it for what it was at its most basic level.

“I am pretending to blow someone’s brains out.” I sat there and I recited this phrase, like a litany, for I don’t know how long.

And as I sat there, I saw the history of myself in video games. My first experience with the Nintendo had instantly brought out the rebel in me, the contrarian for contrary’s sake. In the driver’s seat I learned to enjoy carnage in perhaps its most innocent and unassuming form, and with Mario I learned there was something in me, a spark of rage, that could be lit like a fuse and charged to ignite. Later, when I was most impressionable, I learned that I could gun down my friends in a make-believe coliseum, that they could gun me down as well, that when it was all said and done it was just a game and it really didn’t mean anything. Just like it didn’t mean anything when we were out in the real world and one of us would lash out at the slightest provocation.

In games, my competitive spirit thrived. It didn’t matter what we played; if I played it, I played to win. To kill even when killing was not the emphasis. It took an outside influence to remind me that there was such a thing as a noble way to lose—that while winning temporarily sated my lust, humility was the way to never be hungry again.

Many people may think that I am doing now exactly what I did with my first controller; that I am making something more difficult than it needs to be, or inverting facts based on my own subjective experiences. Maybe I am.

That day when I played the same game I had played a hundred times before without a second thought, only to feel the act of killing for what it must really be like—to have my breath sucked out of me as I put a pretend bullet through a pretend head and watched pretend blood spray a pretend concrete wall—may have just been an off day for me. Maybe I was just more vulnerable than usual. Who knows? They’re only games, after all.