Letting God Change Our Minds. (TAW050)

Episode 050 – Letting God Change Our Minds —or, A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Devotional (With Jonathan Puddle)

What do you do with an opportunity that comes your way that isn’t right for you? That happened for Jonathan Puddle, and he turned into something beautiful.

Show Notes

More about My Conversation Partner

Kevin Makins is a writer, speaker, and maker of things, who is also just a regular pastor, serving at Eucharist Church, in downtown Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

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Transcription

Marc Schelske  0:00  

So are we willing to let God change our minds? Hey, friends, I’m Marc Alan Schelske, And this is The Apprenticeship Way, a podcast about spiritual growth following the way of Jesus. This is episode 50. When God changes our minds, or maybe a better title: A weird thing happened on the way to the devotional book. You’ll see what I mean.

TODAY’S SPONSOR

Today’s podcast is made possible by Journaling For Spiritual Growth. Yes, finally! My new book has at long last made it through all of the hurdles of writing and editorial and revision and design and all that stuff. Pre-orders are live right now. And on November 15, it will be available to you. I’m so excited about this.

Now, if you follow me online, or you’re a regular podcast listener, you already know I’m a big advocate for practical, doable, intentional practices that contribute to personal and spiritual growth. And that’s what this is about. Journaling has been a part of my spiritual practice for about 30 years now. And working with lots of people as a pastor, and in other capacities, for more than two decades, I’ve seen that for many people, journaling is the most consistently transformative practice. But I’ve also seen a lot of people try journaling and then give up. A lot more are intimidated about starting. It feels like a really big deal.

So, I wanted to offer an easy-to-follow process that can help a person start a flexible, gracious, sustainable journaling practice that can serve over the long haul. That’s what this little book is about. It’s a day-by-day guide that will, over the course of six weeks, help you set your expectations, lay the groundwork, and begin building a habit of journaling that is specifically focused on personal and spiritual growth–and that will work in your actual life. If that sounds intriguing, you can learn more about the book at www.JournalingForSpiritual growth.com.

And as I said, the book is presently in preorder. That’s really important. Why? Because when people preorder a book that does two things. First, it tells the all-seeing algorithms over at Amazon and on social media what’s interesting to people. When that happens, the algorithm start sharing it with people that we don’t even know. But the second thing is that all those pre-orders get counted as sales on the first day the book goes live. That boost helps the book become visible through all the noise of all of the other books. So, the more pre-orders there are, the more visible the book becomes, the more it can be found by other people. I would like to invite you to head over to one of the vendors listed on the book page on my website and preorder a copy.

If you preorder a copy just for yourself, I’ll invite you to a special online book launch party happening on November 22. If you preorder three or more copies–you know, to give to your friends–I’ll invite you to that online book launch party, and I’ll send you a free signed copy along with a starter journal that you can keep or give to one of those friends. And if you preorder five or more copies–like for your book group, or your church group or more friends–I’ll invite you to the launch party, I’ll send you that signed copy with the starter journal, and I’ll give you an hour of my time that you can use in a variety of ways.

Those are all listed along with information about these other giveaways over at the website for the book, exactly the same place where you’ll find the links for preordering. So head over to www.JournalingFor SpiritualGrowth.com.

INTRODUCTION

A couple years back, my friend Jonathan puddle wrote a beautiful trauma-informed 30-Day devotional called You Are Enough: Learning to Love Yourself the Way God Loves You. But that book is not the topic of today’s conversation with Jonathan. Today, Jonathan and I are going to chat about a weird, unexpected project that came as a result of him writing that first devotional. An unexpected opportunity came his way. A publisher approached Jonathan and asked him to write a year long, daily Bible Devotional for men. Well, that’s not really Jonathan’s audience. It’s not the kind of book he’d really use. The specifications for the project were really odd. They were algorithmically determined, which is just weird. But this whole thing turned into something beautiful.

Jonathan is an award winning writer, podcast host, children’s pastor and publishing consultant. This whole project just came out of left field and I was really intrigued to learn how the project turned out for him. And more importantly, how it led him to think about some big ideas like healthy masculinity, how we see the Bible, why some of us have set the Bible down and maybe how we come back to it, where we see God’s love and whether we are open to letting the spirit change the way we see the world ourselves and God. So I started by asking Jonathan to explain how this strange book came about.

INTERVIEW

Marc Schelske 5:05
You successfully wrote and published and got out into the world a beautiful, reflective devotional book that helps people–anybody–go deep into their own heart to understand how God sees them. After that book is out there, you get invited to write another devotional that was not on your radar, that was not the kind of devotional that you would ever have had on your to-do list. The publisher approaches you and says, “Can you do this?” So what was that invitation? And what is this book that we’re talking about?

Jonathan Puddle 5:40
I love that because my friend Anthony said, “Jonathan, your first book changed my life and changed the way I relate to God. And when I heard you had another devotional coming out, I was thrilled. And then I heard it was a Bible devotional for men. And I figured you had sold out.” Yeah, that’s exactly what he said to me. He’s like, man’s trying to get paid.

Yeah, honestly, it’s a funny thing. I had no interest in writing anything like this, as you said. I used to run a Christian bookstore and devotionals were the bread and butter of Christian bookstores–devotionals and journals. But the ones for men are always atrocious. This project came up, and initially, the publisher asked me to write a different devotional, just another 30-day devotional. And I thought, yeah, I can do that. But they actually didn’t take my sample. And a few months later, they came back and said, “Hey, we’ve got another project, a 365-day Bible Devotional for men. Would you be interested? And I was pretty much like, “Hard pass, you guys, hard pass.” But what initially drew me to it was the intensely strict content limit. I was only going to be given around 120 words per day, including the Scripture content. And I had to try and write something on that. And so honestly, man, I took the job because I thought it would stretch my writing talent. And then, actually, you and I started talking about it. And you said to me, “Jonathan, I know you’d never read a book like this. I know, I’d never read a book like this. But you could bring something unique to this space.” And that got the wheels turning for me. So I have to thank you. I tell people this all the time.

Marc Schelske 7:24
Thank you. What’s interesting is now that it’s out, and I’ve had the opportunity to interact with it, I quite love it. You did something really unique that I’ve not experienced in this type of daily devotional. You know, it’s the daily devotional format, right? You get a scripture. You get a block of text to think about. And you know, you use that as your little spiritual nugget for the day, right? That’s not my spiritual practice. That’s not how I normally do things. But you did something quite interesting that I think you spent a lot of time and heart on. And that is in… in taking, both in curating the selection of texts over the course of a year, and then in thinking through what you could say that would be meaningful in just a handful of sentences, you’ve created a narrative arc that walks through a theology of God who loves humanity so deeply, that that God would focus entirely on everything it takes, through the the path of sacrifice, to bring that love to life in humanity, and the individual person. It’s just, it’s very moving to me.

Jonathan Puddle 8:39
That means a lot. And that is… honestly my heart is really warmed to hear that because that is exactly what I did. I essentially was like, okay, if I’m going to do this, this is what it has to be. The limit of text is so short, in order to do any kind of justice to Scripture, I’m going to have to tell a long story or maybe a sequence of long stories. And so in my Excel sheet, there is something like six or seven different narratives that I’m telling. And in my head, there’s one big overarching story that I’m telling. And so there’s a number of stories and meta stories that I’m working through.

As I got more and more into it, a number of things happened in me that I wasn’t necessarily expecting. One, I actually really started to care for men. I have a tenuous relationship with men, especially men I don’t know. I have I have great, long lasting friendships with men. But when I walk into a party or a new space, I gravitate to women. I find it easier to connect with women quickly and deeply in a way that I often find men take a few times going around the mountain before we can actually have what doesn’t feel to me like a superfluous fluffy conversation. Let alone the kind of machismo and competition that can accompany so many male of spaces.

But I feel like, honestly, I guess God softened my heart. And I think it also pushed me to reflect on my own journey as a man because it’s weird. Like, it’s a weird time to be a man, I think. In a moment where we are… Okay, the way I put it in the introduction is that when I was a child, my heroes were guys like Sly Stallone. But today, the picture of manhood that’s held up as sexy and good is Paul Rudd. And so, how do you pivot from Sly Stallone to Paul Rudd in 20 or 30 years, with no guide, no process? And that impacts your view of God, your understanding of the story that scripture has been telling. I didn’t know Scripture was telling a good big story until four or five, maybe maximum 10 years ago. 15 years ago, I put the Bible down in a rage. I was just like, “I know God is loving. I know God is actually love itself. I’ve experienced it. I’ve encountered it, it’s changed me. And I can’t find it in this book!” So basically, it was like, “God, if this is if this book has any significance, it’s on you to teach me how to read it.” And I put it down probably for five years. And I had a heart reconfiguration in that time with God. And when I did eventually pick the Bible back up, it was a totally different book.

I get right what why people would put the Bible down. I get why people walk away from church. I get why men honestly have the worst reputation, and Christian men, and church men. We’re looking at the fallout from purity culture, and celebrity Christian culture, and Christian nationalism, and all these different things. And woven through each part of it is patriarchal religion. And like, there’s 101 reasons why I wouldn’t want anything to do with that. And yet my heart breaks when every single school shooting is perpetrated by a male, and that for whatever reason, God incarnated Himself in a male body. And Jesus shows us this completely different kind of strength, and kindness and compassion, and safety.

Marc Schelske 12:23
It’s such a marked contrast, right? So many Christian voices and Christian communities right now seem to be highly invested in the vision that Christianity that is on track is strong, and in control, and setting the pace for culture. And all of that also then aligns with a kind of a cultural sense of what the job of a good man is. So there’s this tension between our desire… I think, you know, any group, any people has that sort of survival desire. We want to be in charge. We want to control the uncertain. And this model that we have, both in the life and story of Jesus, and in many places in the Christian story historically, where the model is different. It’s “give yourself away,” the model is other-centered, and co-suffering, and willing to bear the burdens of other people. And that’s really who we’re called to be.

Jonathan Puddle 13:23
Absolutely.

Marc Schelske 13:24
So now, what happens for you in in these questions on the other side of that project? What did this project do for you?

Jonathan Puddle 13:33
Yeah, that’s a great question. You know, it showed me a lot of different things. And I love the Bible, and I love and care for men. And I’m not sure I would have told you either of those things. They might have been true, but they certainly wouldn’t have been things that shuffled to the top of the stack. One that was really great as a writer and pastor is to come to peace to this, this thing that not all scripture gets treated equally.

Marc Schelske 13:59
Yeah.

Jonathan Puddle 14:00
Jesus doesn’t quote randomly or equally from the Hebrew Scriptures. He is precise. And there’s entire books we have no record of him quoting. There’s books that he hammers over and over and over again. Growing up in a very Bible culture, there has been a pressure to–you know–balance all the seeming contradictions in scripture, right? And I lost the need to do that. And I’ve had one or two reviews of people who didn’t like what I did with certain scriptures, or they say, you know, he’s only picked the nice ones or he’s only picked the ones that make God seem loving. I’m like, Uh huh. Yeah, like Jesus Christ, who did the same thing. So it’s on him. But I’ve come to a great sense of peace with pulling verses out that I believe reflect the overarching narrative of God’s relationship with humanity. I didn’t have that piece before. But I have that piece now. And part of that pieces come from spending more and more time in scripture and actually finding those blueprints and those fingerprints and those whispers everywhere, all through Scripture.

Just on Sunday at our church, one of our team was preaching about grace. And she ends up reading from the book of Isaiah. I forget which chapter, I wasn’t taking notes. But it’s this long rant from God about how he is furious with the Israelites. And he hates their festivals. He despises their offerings. And I’m kind of I’m sitting there getting a little nervous, because I’m thinking, oh, man, I hope this ends up nice. I don’t know how she’s gonna land the plane on this, because right now, this is just rage God, which I just think needs a lot of context and exposition to be treated gently. But she let the text speak. And what happens at the end of that chapter? Why is God so mad? Because you have forgotten to care for the widow, and the alien living among you, and the orphan. And all of your religious performance is worthless to me until you care for the people I care for. And so all of a sudden, this scary, angry, God gets recapitulated into the literally the world’s biggest advocate for the poor and suffering.

Marc Schelske 16:28
Right, right. Exactly right. Yeah,

Jonathan Puddle 16:30
I think the spirit will do that for each one of us. In our pictures of God, if we’ll let the Spirit. Our fathers, our parents, all the authority figures that we grew up with, everybody shaped our view of God, of the Divine, of our self worth, all those kinds of things, right? It’s a process of having some of those things dismantled, sometimes destroyed, in order to get a fresh vision of what God has actually always been like. And I think Scripture is also going through that exact same journey, right? The Israelites are like, “Well, we know the gods are like this. And maybe our God is a 15% improvement upon the local gods.” You know, it’s like, don’t kill everybody, just kill these people. But we gradually get to this point, right, where Jesus is not only saying do good to everybody, including your enemies, especially your enemies, then he then he goes and dies to rescue and redeem the very people killing him. And honestly, I think we’re invited as men, as humans, but contextually as men, to look at that and go, “Okay, well, that’s a kind of masculinity. That’s a kind of strength. That’s a kind of passion. That’s a kind of peace.”

Marc Schelske 17:43
Right.

Jonathan Puddle 17:44
And I don’t see Jesus as strong and in control. I mean, the man is sobbing, and begging the father to take this cup from him. But he’s also trusting the father and saying, “If this is what needs to happen, I’ll do it.”

Marc Schelske 17:57
Yeah…

Jonathan Puddle 17:58
I mean, that alone, that moment in Gethsemene alone, surely shatters all of our preconceived notions of what masculinity is and isn’t allowed to be.

Marc Schelske 18:07
Right! There’s a kind of strength that is not about control. Right? We just can’t imagine that. For us, if you’re not… it’s a binary, you’re in control or you’re out of control. And yet, for God’s infinite heart, to release control to humanity, and still be God and still be ultimate love, and still be capable of bringing all things together for the good? It rattles the brain!

Jonathan Puddle 18:33
Absolutely.

Marc Schelske 18:34
We don’t have a model for that. And then if that’s a call for us, as humans… if I sacrifice to the point of death, I’m going to be dead, right? I don’t get to come back three days later to saying to everybody, “Hey, see, I was right all along.” You know, that’s not probably going to happen for me and yet, what would it be like to be formed and shaped by that vision of love, rather than this sort of power-centered kind of love, where I can be generous to others once I’ve secured myself?

Jonathan Puddle 19:09
So it’s a scarcity mentality, among many other different issues there, right? One of them is simply the fact that we view significance, safety, life as scarce.

Marc Schelske 19:19
Yeah.

Jonathan Puddle 19:20
And so there’s only so much going around. There’s only so much strength, there’s only so much courage. I’ve got to look out for number one, and I’ve been told that that’s righteous, and now I’ve got family and children, so I need to look out for them and to protect them from perceived threats. I understand that for some men… being told to sit down and shut up and listen to women–We’re being told that white men have had long enough with a microphone and it’s time for people of color to have their say–I understand that some men feel very threatened by that and feel very scared and I have compassion for anybody who feels afraid. It’s not comforting to have your worldview yanked out from under you. It’s not a pleasant experience to have your assumptions about the way the world works, and about the way you occupy space in the world, called into question.

I preached a couple of weeks ago to church in my city. I just made this throwaway comment that Jesus was a brown skinned Jewish man. He was not a Christian, a white Christian, like me standing here on the stage preaching to you today about the church. And there was some some nods and smiles and laughter around the room. Someone came up to me afterwards and said, “What where’s that written? That was just interesting to me. Where is that written that Jesus has brown skin?”

Marc Schelske 20:31
Where is it written?

Jonathan Puddle 20:32
Yeah. She had never had cause to consider this ever. And I said to her, “Oh, I don’t know if it’s written. But I mean, everyone from that part of the world has dark skin.” And she’s like, “oh, yeah, I guess that’s true.” And then I said, “You know, f we believe that God made Adam out of dust and dirt, what color is that?” And she’s like, “Brown, blackish, even.”

Marc Schelske 20:57
Very, very, very white. Wery, very white dirt, Jonathan.

Jonathan Puddle 21:02
God specifically went and ground up marble into a powder and used that to create Adam Smith.

Marc Schelske 21:11
That’s right, yeah, exactly!

Jonathan Puddle 21:14
Right. That’s exactly right. She wasn’t snarky at all. She was sincere. And she was like, “Oh, I’ve never I’ve never thought about that.” I guess that there are many people, and men especially, who I think if they’re honest, could say “I’ve never had cause to think about this, never had cause to really acknowledge that. I’ve been fed a sack of lies about what it means to be a man, and what power means, and what control means, and what strength means. And that maybe I have been, at best naive, maybe ignorant. And maybe for some parts of my life willfully ignorant.” Yes. Because it’s a fear. So be a man and deal with the things that scare you.

Marc Schelske 21:58
Yes, yes. That’s, that’s part of mature humanhood. That’s right, facing those difficult things. Learning to accept the truth for what it is. Yes. All right. I’d like to hear a little bit about on the other side of this project, maybe what’s been surprising to you.

Jonathan Puddle 22:17
The very first piece that makes me smile and surprised is the number of reviewers I’m seeing on Amazon and elsewhere who are saying, “Oh, yeah, this is so helpful. It’s a perfect length. Thanks, man.” Like I don’t… clearly, the publisher knew what they were talking about with busy men needing something quick and simple. Like you said, I’m not that kind of guy. I like to sit for half an hour or an hour in contemplative silence and explore the mysteries within. Turns out, we’re perhaps not typical, Marc.

Marc Schelske 22:48
We’re the weirdos! What?

Jonathan Puddle 22:50
That’s been really amusing. I think the thing that really blesses me is a number of men and women, some of whom are in full-time ministry roles, or who have been in full-time ministry roles have written to me and said, “This feels like a way that I could get back into the Bible. This feels like I could feel safe in the pages of Scripture again.” And I think “safe” is a loaded word. Before I kind of began to learn about trauma… You know, we always laughed and bragged about how God isn’t safe. You know, like, there’s a line in Narnia, I think in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, where he’s like, he’s not a tame lion, or he’s not a safe line, but he’s a good lion. So Safe is a loaded word, in the sense that God is certainly not safe for the long-term survival of our false identities.

Marc Schelske 23:46
Mmm, yes.

Jonathan Puddle 23:47
God will gleefully provoke our false self into dissolution. But in terms of whether God is safe, I can come to God and I’m not going to be shamed. I’m not going to be yelled at. I’m not going to be abused. I can comes in with all of my garbage and offer it up before him. And like the father in the prodigal son, before I can even finish my tale of unworthiness and woe, God says, “Sorry, I’m just gonna pause you there, because we’re going to have a party because this is where you belong.” So in that sense, God is profoundly safe. And, and what some people are saying to me is that they feel safe coming back to Scripture, because of the way I’ve offered some of it. So that’s really special. That’s a real honor.

Marc Schelske 24:39
A conversation you and I had back when this was just a concept that you were knocking around, was, wouldn’t it be interesting if the weird algorithmic formula that led to this invitation to write this book was in some way a tool in the hands of the Holy Spirit to get life and truth and light and freedom to people that might not find it otherwise.

Jonathan Puddle 25:12
Totally! I mean, I start with the presupposition that God is real. I follow that with the presupposition that God is good, and that God is present in all things. And if those three are true, then we can trust God to just draw us to God’s self through anything and everything. I was raised being taught those three things, in word, but in deed and culture, the space that I grew up in communicated a fragility to God’s tolerance of us.

Marc Schelske 25:53
Yes.

Jonathan Puddle 25:54
And because of his everywhereness that kind of was terrifying. You couldn’t really escape him. And he was sort of at any given time about to be unhappy with you. But the more that I dig into Scripture, we find the terrible burning wrath of the Lord is against injustice, real injustice…

Marc Schelske 26:16
Right, and offering an invitation to extend that reality to others.

Jonathan Puddle 26:21
Yes!

Marc Schelske 26:22
…to be less of a participant in the injustices of the world. And to be more a participant in the liberation of the world.

Jonathan Puddle 26:30
Yeah, like that’s… everything I think we’ve just said is already bonkers in terms of generosity and risk, that God would offer us this, all of this! And then, to go a step further, and say, “Yeah, and you get to give it away, too. You get to be just like me.” We get to expand the community of love on this earth. We get to expand the pool of kindness, and healing, and redemption. And this story of these crazy Israelites–you know, who God chooses to bless the nations so that the nations would know what God is like–is this wild, messy adventure, and eventually Jesus turns up and says, “Okay, well, I am God. And this is how we do it. And now you’re all free from your bondages. And go and do likewise.”

REFLECTION

Marc Schelske 27:31

Go and do likewise. That’s what I want to be able to do. To go and engage life like Jesus, in the way of Jesus. That’s what I think you want, too. I mean, why else would you be listening to or watching this podcast? But that invitation implies that we have a clear vision of who God is. That’s why what Jonathan did with this strange opportunity, this 365 day daily Bible Devotional for men, it moves me.

In this opportunity, Jonathan wrestled with how to see the never-failing, never-giving-up always-and-forever love of God in the pages of Scripture, and how to present that–what is the biggest idea in human metaphysics and religion–in simple terms that anyone could follow. When we see the nature of God’s other-centered, co-suffering love, it has to change the way we see the world. It’s got to change how we think of gender roles and power dynamics. It’s got to change how we think about privilege and wealth and seeking security. It’s got to change what we imagine the church ought to be up to, and how we are going to interact with people who are not like us, even people we disagree with. When we see that God is good, that God is with us, and that God is inviting us to be part of this ongoing project of freeing people from bondage, it’s got to change the way we imagine the life of faith.

Now, a 365-day daily Bible Devotional for men may not be your thing. That’s not the point. What inspires me about Jonathan’s journey with this book, and what I hope will inspire you, is that he took an opportunity that was placed before him, and chose to use that opportunity to pursue and share the other-centered co-suffering way of Jesus. I think that’s the calling for each of us. What will it look like for you and I to think about our lives in this way, to think of every opportunity that we’re given as a way to demonstrate and share the most generous love in the universe?

There are so many voices today that want to paint God as narrow, exclusionary, demanding, belonging only to people like us. And so the church becomes a reflection of that, guarding the narrow path, judging and excluding, and believing that honors God. But you don’t believe that. I don’t believe that. That’s why we’re here. You wouldn’t be watching or listening to this podcast otherwise. Those voices of judgment, condemnation, exclusion and fear are so loud. Let that volume be an invitation. It is vital for people like you and me and Jonathan to do what we can to share more beautiful vision. May you have the courage and faith to see each opportunity before you as a way to embody and share the beauty of God’s other-centered co-suffering love.

Thanks for listening.

Notes for today’s episode and any links mentioned can be found at www.MarcAlanSchelske.com/TAW050. That’s right 50 episodes! I’d like to invite you to join my email list. I’m emailing about once a month these days, I’ll never share or sell your info. You’ll get links to my writing, next podcast episode, books that I recommend and more. And if you opt in now you’ll get a free little book that I wrote called The Anchor Prayer: A Prayer and Practice for Remaining Grounded in a Chaotic World. In this little book, I teach a spiritual practice that has continued to be powerfully helpful to me, as I face the anxiety and uncertainty of the world we find ourselves in. So subscribe, get that book: www.MarcOptIn.com.

And until next time, remember: in this one present moment, you are loved, you are known, and you are not alone.

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