Grace- The One Thing About Christianity Christians Are Afraid to Believe


an autumn journey to the rock

If you ask a Christian what he believes, he’ll say, “I believe in Jesus.”  Usually, that answer is an abbreviated version of “I believe that I am saved from condemnation by Jesus’s death and resurrection, and it’s through him that I have fellowship with my Creator, the LORD, who is commonly referred to as the Judeo-Christian God.”  Sure, there is a bit more to it, but that’s basically what the average Christian believes.  Do you want a little more?  The idea is that Jesus, the Son of God, rescued all humankind who were separated from God because of our sin.  God is Holy, and sinful creatures cannot abide with holiness, so they cannot abide with God.  And since God is life, then sinful creatures must die, instead.  (You’ve heard preachers say “The wages of sin is death”?  That’s what that means.) Yes, death is the only choice for the sinful being… UNLESS something else dies and takes the sin down with it.  That’s what sacrifice was all about.  And if a perfect person volunteers to take on that death, it’d be good enough for all the sins of all the people of all of the world.   Who is perfect?  Jesus the Son of God.  He was the atonement.  The triumphant part of that story is that Jesus didn’t stay dead.  After he paid for all sins, he was resurrected.  So the sins went down with death, but the person, Jesus, came back sin free.  Death and sin were conquered all at once, and hope for eternal life was restored.  And IF we accept all of this (the term is “believe and receive”) we are considered to be “dead to sin”, and “born again” like Jesus.  Jesus is alive and his grace applies to all who accept it, past, present, and future.

Yes, that is what the average Christian believes.  You can see how heavily it relies upon the work of Jesus the Christ.  Hence the term “Christian,” meaning “Christ-like.”  And just about any Christian, when pressed with the standard questions like “How do you know, you’re going to heaven?”, they are going to say something resembling the classic Sunday School response, “Because, I believe in Jesus.”

And really, it’s not a bad answer. Saying, “Because Jesus!” may seem vague and oversimplified, but it does get to the point of what Christianity is all about: a reliance upon Jesus.

I’d say it’s all pretty simple EXCEPT for one thing… If you look closely, many Christians do not live as if any of this is true.  Don’t get me wrong.  Christians believe it… basically.  They just have some serious trouble internalizing the deepest part of the story.

I’m not talking about the supernatural elements of the story.  The average Christian is more than willing to accept and admit belief in what the non-religious person might consider the “crazy” stuff:  The existence of God, the amazing attributes of God, the fact that God by his holiness sets the standard of what good is, the fact that God created two people who sinned against him, the fact that all people are the offspring of those first sinners and therefore inherit sin and the sinful nature, the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, and the fact that people can have eternal life. Hardly any Christian has any trouble with any of that.  From the virgin birth, to walking on water, to raising the dead, to the resurrection… most Christians do believe it.

What they really have trouble accepting, is that ALL we have to do is believe in Jesus.  Yeh! Many Christians have trouble accepting their own Sunday School answer.  “All I have to do is accept the grace of Jesus, and that’s it?  That just seems too easy…  WAY TOO EASY.”  It does seem that way, and it scares people.

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Little River

There was a little river
With aspirations grand
To be the first to circle the earth
And cut through every land

He, through the narrow canyons, passed
Through woods of thirsty trees
But found all his ambitions lost
When he fell into the sea


Photo by ASMB

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Sir Mix-a-Lot’s Thesis

The reason people like Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” is not because of the catchy beat. It’s because he speaks in a clear declarative sentence that states his point of view. “I like big butts and I can not lie. You other brothers can’t deny…” Consider weaker versions of his thesis. Here is one in the passive voice: “Big butts are liked by me. You other brothers must agree…” Or here’s one that apologizes for the author’s beliefs: “In my opinion big butts are attractive. You other brothers be proactive…” See? Not as good.

So take a writing lesson from Sir Mix-a-Lot. Next time you find yourself being verbose and indirect, just say to yourself, “Shake that healthy butt!” and you’ll remember to be clear and strong.


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We want to live to be one hundred
Because we do not think that the last 20 years
Will be so lonely and so painful
That they will mar the joys of our youth
And when we watch our children go into their
Own declining years
And hear of our grandchildren giving birth
To descendants we will never know
We realize it is a mercy to forget them
Name by name
As they forget us
Year by year
“Do you know who this is Grandpa?”
Said one middle aged fellow pointing to another
They were both familiar
“Yes,” I replied but it was a lie
“This is Tim, Elizabeth’s son.
He got married last week.
He’s got two step kids now.”
“I know!” I said but that was a lie too
The two men stayed a while then left
And after some strangely brief amount of time
It all happened again
And like a magnetic tape stripped
Of its particles by the very machine that plays it
I forgot them
Name by name
Year by year
We want to live
“Do you know who I am?”
“Sure I do”
Declining machine
“I ‘m Susan”
Familiar particles
“I know”
“I’m Susan, Dad.”
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Hugh Hefner bought a place in the cemetery

Next to the grave of Marilyn Monroe

Just as Faustus asked to kiss Helen of Troy

As he stood on the canyon rim of the Abyss

“Ah Mephistophilis!”

It wouldn’t really be a man’s world

Unless every Beauty could be juxtaposed

Next to her pornographer

Now would it?

Beauty is Truth, and Truth Beauty

And someone can get rich selling one without the other

And, Dear Beauty, that is a sad Truth



All of the street art

On the walls of Pandemonium

Points toward heaven-

It’s very rebellious in that way


Beelzebub scoffed when he saw

The immaculate spiral of painted hosts

Tumbling from ethereal light

Tattooed in wild graphics

Branching into infinite fractals

Down the columns of city hall

As if Gustave Dore was a punk

With a can of paint, a million stencils

And the speed of an archangel


“Keep Hell Tidy!”

He shouted and peered

Through the sulfurous haze

Grumbling something

About church and state

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The Truth of Spring

It is the truth of the mist of thawing mud

Heavy grass clumped and crawling


Writhing in its saturated bed

Exhaling winter

And every cell in my legs is reborn

Each singing operatic into my joints,


Atrophy will not win this year,

You are resurrected,

You and your woods,”

And I remember old infatuations-

Enamored with the trees-

I go and scream unmitigated life

To those blood covered roods

And my spirit elated

Leaps from me to sail mythic

Into those red splattered branches

And feel them right upon my naked heart-

And my lover born again

In the flowering fields

Trillium, violets, and laurels of eternal wisdom

And my children in the water bathing new skin

Not for filth, but for the sake of sensation

For the cold,

For joy

It is the truth of the emerging canopy

Which will soon be heavy with its own fruit

And will bend low to touch the rising grass

Clover and wild onion

And clasp hands in the shadowy cathedrals of spring


-JSMB 3/1/09

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a CITY is a couple million people pretending

not to look at one another


but they must steal secret glances once in while

because they are all wearing the same expression,

skillfully mimicked to the last talon of each crow’s foot,

emulations of fiction

and even the freest of them

must feign disinterest

of those millions pressing against him

in apartments above and trains below,

the millions he must pretend not to notice,

who, in turn, pretend not to notice him

in the CITY he joined to escape the vast emptiness

of the natural world


A CITY is also a couple million people pretending

that none of this is true

-JSMB 3/4/12

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Civil Rights For The Mind



Washington D.C., Dec. 2016

I enjoy the observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day because I enjoy the freedom that he and others with him have brought to my mind.  Many of us forget to appreciate the courageous acts of those who struggled for equality, because we often assume that, had we lived then, we would have been on the “right side” too.  I, on the other hand, recognize that I believe what I believe much because I was born when I was.  Would I have marched along with King in the name of civil rights, or would I, like many southern whites at the time, have favored the status quo of segregation?  Or going back a century prior, would I have been an Abolitionist, or one of those who would have rather just let slavery continue?  Would I have considered it my problem?  In both cases, I’d like think the former, but I really don’t know do I?  I would have been a different person, raised by different people, and influenced by society to believe different things.  Because of Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and several others, I don’t have to know.  I have the benefit of growing up in a world, reshaped by their ideas.  Their work not only helped to improve things for American Blacks and others, but it helped many American Whites to be freed from bigotry and racism before we were even born.  Because of them, I have a better chance at knowing equality and unhindered love for my fellow man.

King said in his famous speech at the March on Washington, “…for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.”  I am starting to get that.  Because if I live in a country where I have rights, and others do not, then I don’t really live in a land of freedom.  I am just one who benefits from a system of inequality.  (And if people want to the same rights as I have, and all I can do is think of excuses as to why they shouldn’t have it or should wait for it, then that is a system of oppression.)  If everyone is not free then freedom isn’t real.  This must be why King says the opposite of the “quicksand of racial injustice” is “the solid rock of brotherhood.”  (This all seems to echo the idea that Frederick Douglass expressed a century earlier that slavery oppressed both the slave and the slaveholder.  Do you get it?)

“Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” -Martin Luther King Jr.

Updated 1/16/17


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America: Another Documentary

America: Another Documentary

I wanted to be the next documentary film maker to hit the road in search of America, but my shut-in neighbor suggested I stay home and just let America come to me.  “It’d be a waste of time and gas money to go driving off looking for someone who can’t be found ‘till she’s good and ready,” she said. “Just wait.  She’ll come around.”  That sounded like good advice, so I postponed my trip and spent the travel budget on bills instead.

                A few months later, America knocked at my door.  “It’s you,” I said meekly, half unsure.  My eyes were straining to comprehend the white afternoon light that poured in from behind her.

                “I heard you were looking for me,” she said wryly.  It was the same tone a television star uses on a surprise visit to a fan.

                “Everybody’s looking for you!  Everybody since Jack Kerouac.”

                “Everybody since Walt Whitman.  Should I come in?”

                “Sure,” I said, flipping on the lamp and kicking a path through the dirty laundry on the floor.  “Do you mind if I get my camera.  It will only take me a few minutes to set it up.”

                “Go ahead.  That’s why I dressed up.”

                America sat on the edge of the couch with her legs crossed and hands folded, while I scampered around setting up microphones, and running extension cords all around her.  I still had a tooth brush in my mouth when we began filming.  “Today is July 3rd, 2012.  Uh… Please say your name and spell it.”

                “America.  A-M-E-R-I-C-A.”

                “Thanks… Uh… I don’t know where to begin.”

                “Don’t you have some questions written down somewhere?”

                “Yeh, I guess so.”  I grabbed a notebook and flipped to the first page with writing on it.  It was a scattered list of notes from a cinematography class, but I pretended they were notes for the interview.   “You were born in ’76?”

                “Well that’s when I changed my name to America.”

“Okay… uh… how would you describe yourself?”

                She giggled.  “I like what Stephen Fry said.  That America is a land of contradictions.  That anything you can say about it is true…”

                “Isn’t he British?”

                “Yes, but sometimes it takes an outsider to make a credible observation.”

                “Well, what would be an example of this contradiction thing?  Are you provincial and cosmopolitan?  Organic and synthetic?”

                “You got it…  Rich and poor.  Extraordinary and mundane.”

                “Rural and urbane?”

                She nodded.

                “Religious and secular?”

                “Yes, and all points in between.  I’m very superstitious as well.”

                “Are you cynical and gullible?”

                “Why do you think those two things are opposite?”  She unfolded her hands, and stretched one thin arm across the back of the couch, appearing suddenly nonchalant, as if to remind me that she could take control of this interview whenever she wanted.  “Sometimes cynical and gullible are the same thing.”

                “I see…  Are you emaciated and obese?”

                “No.  I’ve never really been either of those things.”  Her dark eyes intensified.  “Now come on.  I’m sure you have some tougher questions for me.”

“Okay,” I said, taking the cue. “Contradictions… Are you a welcoming isolationist?  What about that Statue of Liberty stuff?  Do you still welcome the tired, the poor, the huddled masses?”

                “Well, anyone who has ever come to me has had to struggle for it.  I mean everyone.  But some have struggled much more than others.  I’m not fair in that way.  Consider how I came to you of my own volition, but I’ve been subtly rejecting you the whole time.”

                “Yeh, I’ve noticed that,” I mumbled.

                “I knew you’d be unprepared, sitting here in your boxers, watching television after a morning of sleeping in… on a Tuesday.  Look at how put together I look right now, compared to you.”  She looked extremely well put together, like a woman out for an evening in the artsy part of a city.  Her short bronze skirt, bare legs, and high heels would seem out of place in this suburb at any time, but especially on a midweek afternoon.  Her slender figure seemed as if it couldn’t exist here in my dingy room, perched on my second-hand sofa.  She was a firework at a funeral.

                “Yeh, you look great,” I said, quickly gaining my composure.  “So you did that to keep me on the defensive?  To keep me hiding the fact that I might be a phony?”

                “I came to you precisely because you’re a phony.  You’ve got something to hide, something you want to change before you feel like it’s safe to just BE.”  She smiled warmly.  “That’s the only way I accept people.  Do you think I’m really going to make a personal visit to any of those cocky film school guys who think they know everything about me already?”

                “I get it.”  The crawling sunshine finally made its way to her, and when it hit her sequined blouse, an array of lights appeared on the smooth brown skin of her neck and jaw line.  America the beautiful, I thought.  “Do you want some coffee?”

                “No.  I’m running short on time.  I think we have just enough for another question or two.”

                “Okay, what about slavery?” I blurted.

                “What about it?”

                “Well it seems like one of the worst things about our history.  What can you say about it?”

                “Your question presupposes that slavery is something I did to other people, but you should remember first that I am the slave and the slave owner.”

                “Are you a racist, still?”

                “Yes, but I’m trying to quit.”   She glanced solemnly toward the brightening window.  “I know I was wrong before but old habits die hard.”

                I quickly relented, and my frustration faded back to admiration.  “That’s all I’ve got I guess.”

                She stood.  With her heels she was about six feet tall, and I had to adjust my camera to an awkward angle to catch her.  “Okay, I’ve got a question for you.  If you love America so much, why won’t don’t you ever go anywhere?”

                “What do you, mean?  What’s wrong with this place?”

                “Nothing, but it’s only one perspective.  You’ll never see it for what it is until you see something else.”

                “Well what else is there to see?” I said rising from my seat.  I tried to meet her eyes, but she was at least three inches taller than me.  Her face seemed infinitely out of reach.

                “That’s just it.  You don’t even know!  Look, you dropped out of film school so what’s keeping you here?”

                “I have a job.”

                “A part time job at Starbucks.  Don’t they have Starbucks in other towns?  In every town?  You could work at one of those instead.  And there will be plenty to see en route.”

                “But I thought the traveling around thing has been overdone.  You know there was Kerouac, and Kesey, and William Least Heat Moon…”

                “…And Louis and Clark,” she said.  “Look, they did it for themselves, for their time.  You have to do it for you in your time.  I will change my name a hundred times before I am dead, but for you this is the only incarnation.  If you don’t document it now, it will be lost… and then people will have to rely on those other guys who didn’t live in your century.”

                Her tone was harsh, but I remembered the words of my shut-in neighbor, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”

                Gracefully, America stepped toward the door, and I moved my camera again to catch her final words.  “I will see you again, sometime,” she said.  She extended a long arm as if to offer the feminine good-bye hug, and I stepped into the shot.

                “Yeh, soon I hope.”  She had to stoop to embrace me, and as she slowly broke away I planted a swift impulsive kiss onto her lips.  I still don’t know why I did it, exactly, because up to the second it happened I had tried desperately to conceal all evidence of my boyish attraction.

                She grinned.  Apparently the sudden boldness was welcome.  “When most people want to do that, they leave the house.”

                “I’ve heard Utah is nice.”


                The next morning, my shut-in neighbor watched quietly through her window as I loaded the camera and all of my equipment into the car.  When I turned to wave good-bye she signaled for me to meet her at the door.  “Take this for gas money,” she said, handing me a huge plastic crayon full of quarters.

                “I can’t take your money,” I said politely.

                “I got plenty.  Now take this and put me in the credits as a producer.  I’ll be dead before your film comes out.”


                “Don’t just come back when you miss it,” she said.  “Come back when you appreciate it.” 

I threw the crayon in the passenger seat, and headed for the interstate.

                                                                                                                            -Jared St. Martin Brown 2012



Land of Contradictions




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Heaven and Earth



Dark Matter, or Energy- one and the same

Flinging or holding- It’s Gravity’s shame,

Holy Ghost, Space Ghost- ubiquitous, rude

There’s no dream of order you cannot intrude



Super-massive terrifying ominous Black Hole

You can crush Time, but can you compact the soul?

Brother, you’re more than a mind can bear

For we only see you by what isn’t there




There was a little river

With aspirations grand

To be the first to circle the earth

And cut through every land


He, through the narrow canyons, passed

Through woods of thirsty trees

But found all his ambitions lost

When he fell into the sea



There was a mighty glacier

Crawling in the sun

It towered o’er the valley trees,

Yet envied every one


Generations sprouted and fell

And the glacier melted and then

It became the water in their roots

And slowly rose again


                           -JSMB 2012

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