Thursday, January 26, 2012

Doubt = Bad?

I've begun to rethink my view of doubt in Christianity.

It seems to me that there is this mind among the church of "doubt is from the devil." I know and have known so many Christians who begin to have some form of doubt in their walk with Jesus and really begin to worry about it.

They should, after all, it is what has been taught to them.

The difficulty with this mindset is that it allows no room for question. If an inquisitive believer (or inquisitive atheist/agnostic) goes to their (a) pastor or spiritual mentor or role model with a question, one of two things will happen. Either there is an answer or there is not, and for the answers that are difficult or that can't be answered with a pithy saying or acronym are pushed off as the "mystery" of God.

However if this same inquisitive believer doesn't buy into that answer or still struggles with the answer given them they will often be told "just have faith" (positively), or "don't doubt God" (negatively).

I have known a good number of people who ran from the church, or ignored the church because they couldn't find any answers or couldn't get around a number of issues. I have also known believers who still believe, but do not grow in their knowledge and further beat themselves up for doubting in the first place.

Now this is not the always the case. I do see a number of churches and believers beginning to ask questions (and actually find answers).

The more I think and research I have begun to question why is doubt bad? As I look around I have tried to find some basis in the Bible (a good of a place as any to look for some reason why Christians do what they do). The key New Testament text I hear quoted is the Doubting-Thomas passage in John 20:24-29.

Now I am not sure if you have heard of it, but the term "Doubting-Thomas" is a negative phrase for someone who doesn't have enough faith. A bygone era would use the phrase for a person who questioned too much or voiced their concerns about issues they have with the church and with Christianity at large.

If you are not familiar with the passage I would encourage you to look it up and familiarize yourself with it.

To give a brief background, John 20 takes place after the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ. At this point in time Christ had already revealed himself to a number of the people including some of his apostles. However, Thomas, one of Christ's twelve apostles, hears the news and is suspicious, he essentially says that he will believe this news the moment he can put his fingers in the holes in Christ's hands and his sides.

Surely enough a short time later Christ reveals himself to Thomas. Christ walks right up to Thomas and allows him to see his wounds and place his hands into his side saying, "Do not disbelieve, but believe." Thomas then exclaims "My Lord and my God!"
What I find interesting is that Christ does indeed exhort Thomas to believe (Jn. 20:27) but he never reprimands him. The first things that Christ did was to give him the evidence he needed to believe. Then Christ does indeed say "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (20:29). Jesus does indicate a higher nature of those who do not see and believe.

Certainly the better portion is faith, however Christ is not afraid of our doubt, he does not reprimand us for our questions!

What I find to be an odd marvel is that a person with such a reverence for God as to have faith in him, believe in scripture, but fear and tremble when they cannot answer. They cower when they cannot come up with a snappy retort. If we truly have faith in God (we TRULY believe it) wouldn't we believe that the Bible can stand up to scrutiny? Wouldn't we believe that there are indeed answers to our questions?

I genuinely believe in God, and I do think that faith is certainly the better road. However, it depends on what kind of faith you are talking about. Faith is not belief in something when there is no evidence, or belief when there is stark contradictory evidence against, I would argue in our case is that faith is belief in God in spite of doubt, hoping that God will move and carry us through, and that there will be answers. Belief in the truth when times are dark.

I actually take comfort in my doubt, though this may seem odd.

Being a very analytical person, I have lots of questions. However my history has been that there are answers, God has answers for all my questions.

They are not always what I thought they would be, they are not always what I like. Very many times I pour myself into finding the answers and in trying to understand them better, often times they cause me to take a very painful look inside myself, and often times I find even more questions. However, even in this, from past experience I have evidence to believe that God will still indeed have answers for me.

In Deuteronomy, Yahweh tells us to love him with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength. I find that often times, we as Christians like to love God with a select combination of two - three of the four parts listed above.

So I encourage you... think! Question! You will find answers if you know where to look and you will be able to live out I Peter 3:15 "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to give a defense for the hope that is in you."

Saturday, January 14, 2012


This is two chapters from one of my incomplete suspense stories. Simply Entitled Uganda. Let me know if you'd like to hear more.

Chapter One

Northeastern Uganda, Africa
July 17th 1912
            M’bokay Sinhassad gazed ruefully at the jungle-carpeted Mount Masawa. He noted the fiery alpenglow play on the craggy slopes. He imagined the veiled forest teeming with life, the humid stifling air between the knotted trunks. Then the higher slopes of the mountain, the cactus-like Lobelia, surrounded by short bristly scrub. Masawa was a glourious mountain from peak to its own stony roots.

            Then of course, there was a darker side to Masawa, tales he had been told of floating spirits that shrieked in the night. These spirits searched the dark part of the mountain for creatures to devour, all in an attempt to sate an incorrigible bloodlust.

             The Giza ndugu…

            His father had told him and his younger brother Yemi it meant Darkness’s brother.

            The legend of the Giza ndugu stretched back many ages ago.
            The Legend had begun when a large tribe of Maasai settled on the southern slopes of the mountain, the grazing was good, and the predators were few.

            One day a great Maasai chieftain had come back from a lion hunt (he was known as a great protector of his tribe and of their prized cattle); he had run out of water and was injured on the savanna. The legends say he was sick from bad spirits. The Maasai elders met for an emergency council and it was decided that the sick chieftain was too valuable to their tribe, and their herd to risk losing.

            Desperate, the elders sent for a lone hermit, a shaman of great and malicious renown. The Shaman beseeched the spirits and in a vision he was told to send the chieftains brother and son to account for whatever trespass the chieftain had done to offend the spirits. It was the only way for the chieftain to be saved. They were to send the two to the dark-side of Mount Masawa, there they were to enter a cave, and within they would find filled with a special type of stone. The spirits directed that when boiled, the stones would dissolve, and the resulting liquid would heal their beloved chieftain.

            So the two warriors, Brother and Son, departed up the mountain around to the opposite side. They never came back. A week from their parting, the medicine man came into tend the ill chieftain he was gone. His hut torn to shreds and him and his wife missing, their hut filled with signs of a great struggle. His hut was in the middle of the village and no one had heard a sound the night before.

            It was said to the Shaman in a vision that the Brother and Son pressed too deep into the cave and awoke something deep within.

            The Giza ndugu.
            M’bokay began to tremble under the weight of the past, his reminiscing interrupted.

            “Calm yourself brother…” The memory of the young voice of M’bokay’s brother pulled him back, quenching those horrid and long-buried thoughts. Besides such were only stories.

            He remembered venturing up the slopes of Mount Masawa as a child with his younger brother. He remembered his young brother Miyemi, the way he puffed his chest out when he played, the way he would smile crookedly when he jumped around the rocks. He was his baby brother but M’bokay had always drawn strength from Yemis’ courage.

            He remembered those wonderful days.

            He began to think of his family.

            His Mother was born into a respectable family of the Basoga tribe; she was a jewel among many respectable suitors, her skin flawless, darker than the most opaque night. With her eyes a bright and flickering flame and her smile that could break even the most callous of warriors.

            She was the object of a bright future, possibly even that of the Inhebantu, the chief woman of all the Basoga people.

            However her bright star was snuffed out; the next year the white man came to their town of Jinja.

            Led by a strange man of Egypt, by the name of Speke, the white men came to find the headwaters of the Nile. When they came they were by and large bedraggled, sick, and few. Many had died on the arduous trek; and those who were there were either sick or missing some limb or lacking in some sensory aspect.

            The white men proved not to be as gentlemanly as they carried themselves they came with promises of riches and learning, but they lied to, and seduced many a proud young woman. In order to keep his daughter innocent M’bokay’s grandfather had sent his daughter north, and away from the trouble.

            On the way they stopped in a small Basoga village on the edge of Lake Kyoga. That’s when she met Zhibohndo Sinhassad. M’bokay’s mother fell for the tall, half-egyptian hunter.

            Their undoing came upon his mothers return to Jinja. Enraged to see her daughter three months pregnant, let alone hanging on the arm of a half-blood Basogan from a poor ancestry; he banished his daughter from his sight. All he did was host a small wedding and give them miniscule provisions. So they left broken, pregnant with M’bokay, with only one English rifle, a water pot, week’s supply of food, and a few articles of clothing.

            They had bounced around a few months from village to village, his father doing odd jobs until M’bokay was born six months after they were cast out of Jinja. He then procured enough wealth to buy 3 cattle, and begin to buy land to farm bananas, and cassava.

            Four years later his mother was pregnant again with Miyemi. Miyemi was born and then a year later drought hit and they were forced north to the foothills of Mount Masawa, where his father began a hunting service for the rich white men to hunt elephant, cape buffalo, and lion on Masawa and the surrounding savanna. Time passed, more and more whites came and went, a trading post was established around the Sinhassad homestead, sickness came and went, drought, rain, storms, winds, sun, moon, the good, and the bad all came and went. Both Yemi and M’bokay were learning their fathers’ skill.

            For once everything was good. M‘bokay was 16, Miyemi was 11, mother was well and their father was leading a cohort of very fat, very pale, and very rich Germans.

            However on the third day, after having not even seen hide or hair of any game, M’bokay’s father had seen fresh elephant tracks leading up the mountain to the upper forest on Masawa’s slopes. The Elephants were known to go into the caves on the Mountain, a place with high concentrations of salt which the elephants needed to live. However, the upper slopes of Masawa were dense forest and not easily navigable. Those who might venture up the mountain were kept at bay by the rumors and legend of the past.

            In an attempt to salvage future business Zhibohndo, Mbokay’s father, decided to press up the slope and take the elephant. Though it was later in the day they pressed on eager to find the elephant (it seemed from the tracks to be a lone bull) before nightfall and be done with the whole deal.

            M’bokay’s never returned and after another day of anxious waiting his mother rallied another tracker to help her find her husband and his clients, going up the mountain herself with the tracker, leaving M’bokay to watch Yemi.

            He begged his mother not to go, but his pleading only angered his mother. They set off in the dawn three days after his father was supposed to have returned.
That was the year it was lost, that was the year it all went away.

            M’bokay fought the overwhelming nausea that over took him, but the ever present knot ratcheted tighter and tighter deep in his chest.
            Calm yourself brother…”
            He turned his attention to the white man sitting on the rock beside him.
            Allan Whitehurst Kensington slid the bolt of his Mauser 98 back into the receiver; he then lifted the hefty weapon to the shooting position, gave the bolt an appraising slide, and then loaded the massive .500 Jeffries cartridge in and locked it into place. He reached over and loaded another two cartridges into a clip and fitted it into the underbelly of the weapon.

            This weapon could stop a charging elephant… but the goal was to stop an unsuspecting elephant.

            With a grunt and a complacent sigh he stood and slung the weapon over his sweaty khaki shirt.

            “Ready?” M’bokay said.

            The white man stood a square six feet; he was ruggedly handsome with a crop of light brown hair, with a dusting of gray along the side. He had a tapered jaw that ended in a profound cleft; His face was wizened by many hunts, and on this particular day accumulating in short stubble and premature crows’ feet. Topping off the typical portrait of the Great White Hunter, he spoke in a plummy English accent.
He took a swig of water from a canteen, looked around and said, “We’d better be going then, if we plan to come upon the bull before night fall.” He clipped the canteen to his belt and dusted off his knobby knees.

            “We will leave once Lhaako returns.” M’bokay replied. Lhaako was M’bokay’s’ best friend, he had gone ahead to cut for sign of the bull elephants trail.

            The Englishman’s’ normally demure countenance broke with a flash of annoyance at being forced to wait further.

            M’bokay hoped it would be soon, they had spent two long and hot days tracking the crafty pachyderm; the beast had eluded them until this morning. The hunting party had crested a ridge and caught a glimpse of the 5 ton mammal snacking on some local flora. They moved downwind quickly, cutting down the ridge. All seemed to be falling into place, but Lhaako’s attention failed as he stepped on a dry branch. At the sharp snapping they were spotted by the creature causing the bull to face the noise. However rather uncharacteristically for such a large and strong creature, it opted to flee.
            Kensington tried to take it down at almost a thousand meters, all he did was miscalculate the windage and put a fist size gash in the animals’ ear and the beast escaped.

            Lhaako came striding through the brush. He looked at his companion and his client. An almost imperceptible nod signified he had found the trail, however the glint in his eye bespoke that he had found the bull.

            The corners of Kensington’s mouth curled into the faintest smile. He re-shouldered his pack, un-slung his rifle, and he marched forward with new a resolve.

            The last two days of tracking the big elephant had taken its toll. But it was worth it now.

            M’bokay grinned to himself.
            The ruddy disk that was the sun was low over the western lowlands and the moon had risen partially in the east.

            The chill of nightfall began to set in. It was a rather cool night over the brushy foothills of Mount Masawa. The mountain rose in a casually, yet ominous fashion. The wind blew through the grass, and acacia, with a gentle susurrus that reminded Allan Kensington of a loving whisper. The kind of whisper that would be exchanged between two lovers. Whispers of God to man of a magnificent gift.

            That is what Kensington loved about nature and specifically the hunt. Here in the wild, the science, the discovery didn’t matter. Out here everything had to be taken at face value, the beauty was all that one could take away.
            Perhaps a trophy could be allowed from time to time.

            Kensington smiled to himself as he followed Lhaako; low and slow upslope, through the brush.

            A lull in the wind.
            The whispers faded. All he could hear now was bugs. In the stillness of the evening every insect, arachnid, fairy, nymph, incubus, and mystical creature arose from their diurnal slumber to molest the consciousness of all those who seek a comforting respite.

            Nonsense…They’re just legends. Kensington said to himself as he realized he had unconsciously been holding his breath. He had set up in M’bokay’s village two days before, when they were getting ready for the hunt. Needless to say, there were quite a few passionately supernatural villagers that weren’t shy in their gossip about the dark dangers upon Masawa.

            In fact, the locals feared the mountain so much Lhaako and M’bokay were the only Basoga that went anywhere near the mountain, let alone hunting in the area.

            The three hunters had gone almost a kilometer since their previous stop. The brush had noticeably grown into a forest, and all three had slowed down to a veritable creep, which wouldn’t be really bad if they weren’t stalking a three and a half meter tall, 5 ton animal through thorny acacia.

            The creep continued for 10 minutes, until a cautionary hand was raised by Lhaako, at which point they converged in a small clearing. “We must be careful now,” Lhaako whispered in heavily accented English.
            M’bokay turned to Kensington, “Are you ready?”
            Kensington gave a terse nod, his steel-grey eyes as indiscernible as ever.
            Lhaako spoke up, “We will circle to the south, about a third of a kilometer, and the winds are moving downhill at this time of day. The bull is watering right now, we must be quick.”

            “The bush is thick here. How will we know when we are coming upon the bull?” Kensington queried in his rich accent. “I don’t want to be blind sighted by an angry elephant.”

            Lhaako smiled, “You will know.”

            It typically was unwise to strike out after dark anywhere especially in Africa, Kensington would have protested, if he didn’t want that elephant so badly.

Chapter Two

Northeastern Uganda, Africa
July 17th 1912
Early Evening

            The bull stood beneath the broad canopy of a tree, idly masticating some ill fated foliage.

            The last twenty minutes of stalking had taken them into thick undergrowth that had eventually given way to a rockier landscape; they had converged on a sandy gorge surrounded by sandstone cliffs on three sides. The clearing was filled with tall green grass, pocked with glades of tropical trees, it was all cut through the center by a clear and babbling spring that stagnated at the very back of the gorge and disappeared into the rock. It was pretty enough, but…

            All of his sensory impulses screamed in agony.

            Kensington was 35 meters away from the groggy behemoth, his knees ached from crouching in the grass. The air was hot and muggy in the gorge, and was dense and buzzing with bloodthirsty mosquitoes. The smell was an overpowering potpourri, the air was redolent with the thick, hot, and bitter stench of urine combined with the moist smell of elephant dung.

            It was hell, but his military training had prepared him, he didn’t bat an eye.

            He slowly glanced 20 meters to his right and left, Lhaako and M’bokay had taken up positions up in trees so that if the elephant got wise to their presence or inadvertently tried to leave, they could take him down. For now he was crouched at the foot of an ancient baobab tree, Mauser shouldered, and in the only place a kill shot was even possible without first alerting the beast.

            Butterflies quarreled in his stomach and an electric crawl edged through his nerves. He took a few deep breaths, and flexed his shoulders. He again gauged the distance, (no wind flowed in the gorge), and he then compensated for the drop, and tightened the mental noose. The shot was almost ideal, broadside to the bull, at a 30-35 degree angle to the rear. This way the slug would not flatten against the creatures broad and strong ribs but rather pass through at least one lung and the heart. The massive blood-loss would drop the creature within seconds. The only quicker way was to try a difficult shot at the spine or base of the neck, (nearly impossible at anything less than point-blank distance with a weapon with such fierce recoil) or a head shot, however the possibility of the elephants thick skull stopping or deflecting the shot, especially at Kensington’s particular angle was too great.

            He leaned forward, slid his finger over the trigger and squeezed.

            The beast trumpeted in fear and thrashed in anger.
            The elephant was having a bad day; it was rudely awakened this morning by the whooping cackles of desperate hyenas. It had also seen something in the forest a few days prior wich it had not been able to frighten away. The creature it had never seen before but it made the elephant uneasy. Now, it was spotted by those queer little hairless, and tail-less humans and closed into a gorge and those humans were crawling around in the brush.
            So the elephant then began to make a run for it.
            A small blossom of smoke and light parted the brush, and the charging beast felt a sharp pain in its shoulder.
            Lhaako saw it all from his elevated perch, the English man aimed his rifle and fired just as the animal began to back away from the stream to flee, the lead slug slammed into the animals shoulder in and out trailing a 5 foot jet of pulp. The charging animal passed in between him and Kensington and the second shot was fired causing the animal to stumble, but it continued forward.

            He looked towards his clients’ position and he was already up, moving, and fiddling with his rifle. M’bokay was also on the move his rifle in hand. M’bokay gestured for Lhaako to come.
            Lhaako silently dismounted the tree and took up his weapon and began the pursuit.

            The chase had taken them back into the brush, and once again the acacia thorns all took pleasure in piercing his skin. To his left he heard another gunshot and glimpsed a bit of muzzle flash in the failing light. He pushed even further forward.
            ‘I’m getting way too old for this…’ Kensington thought to himself as he puffed through the bush.

            At 53, most men his age stuck to their smoking rooms and parlors.

            How unsporting.

            He side stepped a puddle and rounded out cropping of rock, a meadow opened up before his aching feet.

            No elephant.

            Most of his exposed skin was weeping blood from the thorns, and on top of that his shoulder throbbed sorely, and his unprotected ears rang piercingly from the two successive shots he had just fired.
He cursed under his breath as he ran his fingers through his graying hair. He turned about to see if he could find tracks and if he could find his guides. It would be difficult in the failing light. He reached for his flashlight on his belt. But before he even touched it a wall of jungle peeled outward as something large burst from the shady bower.

            Instinctively Kensington raised his rifle and fired. The figure gave a whooping shriek and fell to the ground.

            Heart beating in his ears he peered through the dark at what he had just shot. He slowly approached its prone form and nudged it with his barrel. Dead. A smell of excrement and the sickly-sweet decay of death enveloped the clearing. He had never seen anything like it in his time in Africa. He had been all over the continent and never before had he seen…

            Lhaako and M’bokay came into the clearing and stopped dead.

            M’bokay’s closed his mouth realizing and involuntary gawk had split his countenance.

            Lhaako dropped to his knees and pressed his head against the ground, his mouth mumbling indistinct words of prayer.

            “What on God’s earth is it?” Kensington asked, his eyes not leaving the fresh carcass.

            M’bokay’s thick brow knotted in fear and pain. “It is evil,” he choked through fear and disbelief. Rivulets of sweat flowing down the light creases of his weathered face made him seem one hundred years older. Lhaako’s deep chanting droned on as all three men stared at the horrible chimera that lay before them.

            M’bokay started. “It looks like a…”

            His observation was cut short by an outcry of screeching cackles. They arose all around, forlorn in the opaque folds of the jungle.

            “They’re all around us!” Kensington whispered, looking about and clutching his Mauser to his chest. “What are they? Hyena?”

            “No! Much worse! But it does not matter it is useless!” Lhaako said his face rising from the ground. “They are many.”

            “I’m sorry I if don’t agree with your decision to belly-up.” Kensington said as he reloaded and checked his rifle.

            Lhaako flew into a rage, he rose with inhuman speed and grabbed the white man by his collar and lifted him up. “Don’t you see, you arrogant ghost!” he yelled his voice shrill with fear, “the Ndugu have come! They have marked us for death because we have trespassed on their sacred land”

            With Lhaako’s rant spoken his grip loosened. Seeing as his rifle had been knocked from his grasp, Kensington took the opportunity and delivered a blow to Lhaako’s chest that caused him to stumble back and fall flat on his back.

            He lay on the fringe of the clearing, gasping for breath, his face and torso obscured by shadow and brush. M’bokay remained where he was, puffing with anger and fear, his rifle and complete attention trained on the surrounding forest.

            Kensington made a move towards his rifle when a cry rose up just behind Lhaako and his body was dragged from sight his shrieks splitting the warm and close atmosphere.