Honest Faith: The Least of These

For a Christian writer, I don’t talk a whole lot about Jesus. I guess I feel like His ideas and teachings should be evident in my life and writing. I often shy away from the conversations now because a few years ago one of the youth I was working with pointed out, “We’re going to talk about Jesus again aren’t we? You talk about Him all the time.” Not that it’s a bad thing, but I wanted to innovate. I wanted them to love the Godman without me having to say His name all the time. I also realized that the more I talked about Jesus, the more I got painted as “One of those Christians”.

I was once, “one of those Christians”. I was a part of a very evangelical movement that felt we even needed to evangelize and convert Catholics. I guess they could be seen as ultra-protestant. I fell out of favor with them when I attended a Methodist church in high school (Oh the humanity [sarcsasm]). I still held on to a lot of those teachings until I was shown the depth of the Bible. I likened it to standing on the shore of an ocean, you can see the surface of the water, and it’s pretty and all, but there is so much more under the surface. This broke me of my black and white thinking of the Bible, the Divine, and all of my religion. I was ashamed of what I once was. I still am. I feel like I may have driven so many people away from the Divine by trying to shove a narrow incomplete picture down their throats.

One of the biggest things that has always troubled me about moving from black and white to my various shades of gray was the odd parable that you find at the end of Matthew 25. In it, Jesus tells of the coming of the Son of Man and the separating of “Sheep and Goats”.  I was taught growing up that the goats were all the Christians who weren’t really Christian, like the Catholics and other denominations. The more I learned about the Bible the more I came to understand sort of what Matthew was getting at here. He has his apocalyptic texts (The Olivet discourse and the sheep and goats)  sandwiching a few other parables with dire warnings attached. He did this to emphasize Jesus’ teaching about what it meant to be a sheep:

for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.

I could go into the whole book of Matthew and tell you about how he’s trying to set up Jesus as the Messiah, not just to the Jews, but to the Gentiles as well. Honestly, we could do without my commentary at the moment. Needless to say even after learning what I did, I still was very worried about being a goat. I didn’t want to be a goat.

In my nerd den of an office, my attic, there is a shelf just under my painfully understocked shelf of comic books that holds my collection of Bibles that I used throughout my life. I’ve read quite a bit of the Bible. I don’t say this to brag or anything. I used to be the president of the Bible Club in my public high school. I even carried around my Bible in plain sight to all of my classes. It was very noticeable. It was a very big, black, leather-bound Bible.  (Ok fine I lost the election and was elected Vice President, but the president resigned and gave me the position because I was there all the time so yes, I was the president…) I did all of these things in an effort to not be a goat. Even after I studied the Bible in depth at college, I tried to live a pure and blameless life so that I wouldn’t be a goat. My motivations may have been flawed, but I still did what I needed to. That’s not to say I didn’t get into some trouble now and then, but that’s a completely different story.

I missed the point of what it truly meant to be a sheep, in an effort not to be a goat. I thought it was all about me. I lived my life trying to make sure my life was good, that I didn’t sin, that I didn’t do wrong things. My faith was dead.

One of the passages that gave me the most trouble when I was one of those was the book of James. This also gave Martin Luther a headache as well, but again another story. In it, the writer,  James the lesser, talks about the Doctrine of Justification. He says something that made the whole “just believe” thing a bit shaky. He says, “Faith without works is dead.” I never understood that until much later in life. I’ve talked multiple times about Faith and the meaning of the word in my blog here, and also in our podcast. Ultimately what I discovered is that it’s true if we are not acting out what we believe we are just goats. If we say that we are Christian, yet do not treat the least of these like Jesus said in that parable we are like so many goats.

I write all this because there is an image that haunts me, and it will until the day I die. It is a picture that was taken a few years ago of a Syrian Refugee boy’s body washed up on the shore of the Mediterranean. That image has burned a hole in my consciousness. I’m not going to post it here or even link to it because of how horrible it is. It is an image that indicts even me of being a goat. My faith should drive me to help people. To welcome refugees. To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners, and take care of the sick. It kills me because I think about what if I were the father of that child. How would I feel…

I wrote about our miscarriages before. I wrote about the pain that still to this day is just there. A deep wound that will always remind me of loss. I work so that others may not have to feel that. I share that pain, I’m honest about my life, because 1. I’m trying to heal. 2. I don’t want others to feel alone if they are going through the same 3. I want to bring some healing to others.  I bring this up because throughout this experience I have discovered what true Christian Faith looks like. I have met some amazing sheep, that I want to be like.

Those sheep sat and cried with my wife and me when all we could do was weep. Those sheep cared for us when we were at our lowest. Those sheep, when we were ready, helped us to get back up on our feet emotionally. Those sheep still check in on us from time to time to see how we are. They did it for the least of these.

All this to say, don’t be a goat. Be a sheep. Don’t close your doors to refugees, don’t turn a blind eye to those who do. I said earlier this week that I’m going to try to refrain from being political. It doesn’t help. What I am going to do is to tell you to figure out what is right in this time. If you are doing things only to serve yourself and make yourself feel better, you are being a goat. If you are doing things to help others, even those who you feel don’t deserve it, you are being a sheep. So be a sheep. Do it for the least of these.

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Screaming Into the Void

Sometimes, it all feels like too much. I didn’t add the Honest Faith tag to this blog post because at the moment, I’m not exactly sure how this relates to my journey of rediscovering faith. I’m overwhelmed, saddened, and at a loss. I took this picture today of this saint in a stained glass window. This is a part of a larger piece of work depicting Jesus being arrested in the garden. I feel like him. I don’t know what to do.

You see, I feel like I’m screaming into the void. Like nothing I do or say really matters all that much. Like I’m yelling at distant clouds. I feel this way because I see so many people tearing each other apart in the name of politics, perceived lapses of morality, a small disagreement, or ultimately a lack of understanding. I disagree with people, sure. I have seen a lot I disagree with on social media recently. It is taking a lot of self-restraint to not post on every little thing I see that I disapprove of. I feel like I’m the only one restraining myself, though, and for what?

I write about my struggle to find the Divine. I write about my quest to repair the world. I write about this all because I want someone to maybe join me. I want it to make a difference and to maybe not feel so alone on this path. I know this path isn’t easy at this point in time. But when will it ever be? There is no easier time, there is only now. Especially now when the world needs us to repair the most, in my humble opinion.

One thing that is driving me to not want to go back to Christianity at all is what I see Christian people doing on social media. I see them mocking, in retaliation to an imagined slight to their morality. The biggest problem with this is the one thing I’ve had my fill of. For some reason, Christians are tearing other  Christians apart. Because some marched with women this weekend. They were upset because there happened to be some anti-abortion folk that felt unwelcome to put forward their own agenda.  The problem is that I’m sure the organizers didn’t want that to be the only agenda. As I watched in solidarity with those marching I saw that there was no one agenda aside from human rights. There were some who were rallying against the person who was elected president. There were some who unfunnily joked about violent acts against him. There were those who wanted to make sure their voice was heard. I would say the latter was the vast majority of those who were there. Yet, still, the Christian groups are tearing themselves apart because of this and other such slights.

The reason this has me so dismayed is because I know that God is not in the business of building walls. The Divine is about building bridges. About bringing people together. Instead, it seems that the gods of fear, hate, divisiveness, and pain are gaining in the spiritual zeitgeist.

I feel like I’m not allowed to have an opinion or else I am called a “special snowflake”, or “over-opinionated”, or “elitist”, or any other random name that people come up with to shut down the conversation. It’s not just me either. I am seeing this on all sides people calling each other names and pointing fingers in order to shut down the conversation. People are having arguments rather than debates and discussions. It doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum they are, a lot of people are guilty of this. Yes, you are all entitled to your own opinion, but you would also be wise to listen to the opinions of those around you. Wisdom is learning from others.

Granted, I am no fan of our current political climate. I am not a fan a lot of what is going on in our country at the moment. But I’m trying to keep a lot of my opinions to myself to help build bridges. The problem with that is it seems nobody else wants to build bridges right now. I could just throw in the towel and say screw it I don’t want to associate with ya’ll anymore, but then I would be guilty of doing the exact thing I’m railing against right now. I’m not a hypocrite, I’m as much a special snowflake as you are, I am a human being tasked with cleaning up a holy mess. SO ARE YOU.

So here is my spiritual point now. I’m going to, like Joshua, give you a call to action. Long ago your ancestors came to this country from beyond the oceans. They served other gods. You claimed to serve the Divine, yet you killed, stole, and destroyed. But still, you were blessed. Still, the Divine gave you chance after chance. So now it’s time to put away those old gods of fear, hate, division, scorn, and greed. It is time to come to the Divine. It is time to clean up this holy mess. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Divine, choose this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Divine. We will serve the God of love, peace, patience, self-control, joy, kindness, gentleness, and generosity. As Paul said to the Galatians:

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become beholden to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Granted, he was talking about temple prostitutes and sexual immorality there, but I think his point rings true in this as well.

So maybe I am just screaming into the void. Maybe what I have to say makes no difference whatsoever. But I hope it doesn’t. I hope that someone out there takes some hope or some inspiration from my words. I hope I’m not the only one who has been set toward a movement of “repairing the world with golden joinery”. Even if I am just screaming into the void, I’m going to keep doing it. I’m not going to remain silent because my voice matters too. Even if sometimes what I have to say is completely random. Even if I am a special snowflake. Even if you don’t like what I have to say. I’m going to continue to scream into the void. Choose this day whom you will serve, I am going to serve the Divine.

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Honest Faith: Putting God Back Together

Today I learned about a modern Jewish phrase and a bit of the story behind it. I was very intrigued by this story because it was a complete twist on the creation story that I was taught in Sunday school growing. up. I’ve always loved the creation story. There is so much beauty, depth, and layers in this seemingly simple story. I could go on and on about this story, and if you have ever had a conversation with me about the Bible you know this to be true. The phrase that I learned about today is tikkun olam meaning to repair the world.

The phrase is from the Mishnah, a body of classical rabbinic teachings. It’s based in a story called shevirat ha-kelim or The Shattering of the Vessels. The story basically tells of the very beginning of creation. It tells of God wanting to create so God moves to make room. When God no longer occupied the space there was darkness. So God said, “let there be light”. The light came to be in holy vessels that couldn’t hold the divinity in and shattered. This caused a holy mess (sorry, I just really wanted to say holy mess). The story says that this is why we were created. We were meant to repair the world by cleaning up the holy mess. To gather the divinity and bring it back together.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest creation myths and the possible inspiration for the above and the Genisis account (but that’s a whole other story), the story tells of the creation of humanity. In it, a god is sacrificed to make humans because the workload was way too much for the god beings. This god’s blood and body are broken and mixed with clay to make us humans in the gods’ image. Even in this story, humans are made to be a divine help to work and clean up a holy mess.

In Japanese culture there is an art form called Kintsugi meaning “golden joinery” it is a process of repairing broken pottery with a lacquer mixed with precious metals. The process and finished product are then seen as making the whole more beautiful and precious than before. It became a holy mess and the skillful work of a divine artist made it more whole than it was before.

In the United States of America, I think it’s fair to say that we are in a right holy mess. We are broken, disjointed, and divided on almost every major issue. Tomorrow will be the inauguration of a man who the vast majority of the country disapproves of.  For some reason, we are letting this pull us apart. I’ve seen friends start attacking others on social media for no reason other than the desire to be “right”. I’ve seen some horrible hateful things done by frightened people in order to scare others away. I’ve seen violence in the name of and violence against those perceived to carry the name of an issue that divides us. I’m not saying what side I’m on because honestly, it doesn’t matter. What matters is what I said last week. We talk to each other. We help each other.  We let things divide us even further instead of letting go of our pride and getting to the work of tikkun olam. 

We, human beings, are meant for the divine work of cleaning up holy messes through acts of kindness and love. In the narrative I shared with you last week we are the whole of creation. The things we do to further mess things up are things we do to further mess up ourselves. If we are to take anything from the Epic of Gilgamesh is that we have the divine in us. We are the holy mess. We are the ones tasked with cleaning it up. When we come together we are, in a sense, putting God back together.  As I said last week the only way forward is together, and when we come together the art of Kintsugi teaches us that we are more beautiful than we ever were apart or even before we broke. So here is our call to “put God back together”. Don’t divide anymore. It’s time to heal the world in a golden joinery.

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Honest Faith: Keep Questioning

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. ”  –Martin Luther King Jr.

As I stated in my last blog post, I feel lost. I feel set adrift, alone, and helpless in a sea of disappointment, fear, and worry. The funny thing about this all is that I know this isn’t the reality of things. I know that the Divine is there somewhere in the midst of it all. I know it deep within myself to be true that things will be alright, though the emotions are strong and heavy at the moment. I know silver linings exist, but I just want to rage at the seeming unfairness of it all.

I have a lot of personal issues right now that I’m struggling with. I feel that the immediacy of a lot of them have caused a lot of that heaviness to take over. Right now the big question that I wrote about the last time weighs heavy in my mind, “Do you want to stop being a Christian?” The truth is, yes. Yes, I want to stop being a Christian.

Yes, I want to stop being a Christian, because on some level I want to punish the Divine for putting me in this situation. I want to somehow make the Divine suffer with me through it all. As if my petty unbelief would make any difference whatsoever. I am angry, frustrated, scared, worried, and disappointed at the Divine. I gave so much of my life to the Divine’s service, shouldn’t I be first in line to reap those rewards? Shouldn’t I be given something in return for that? The problem is that I know it’s just a fit. I know deep down that it is for nothing. But the Divine can handle it still.

I want to stop caring. I want to stop being a good person. I want to throw all my morals and selflessness out the window. Isn’t it time for me to get mine? Everyone else in the world is being selfish, why should I be any different? Why am I meant to suffer for some cosmic being that we can never know truly exists? I want to, but I can’t.

I can’t because I know. I know that’s not the way it works. I know that the sun rises on the good and the evil, the rain falls on the just and unjust alike. I know that just because it is easy doesn’t make it right. I know that I am not the center of the universe, and yet I am.

In Martin Bell’s The Way of the Wolf: The Gospel in New Images (Linked here seriously just spend the few bucks to pick it up). He has this wonderful story, you have probably heard me talk about before especially if you have listened to our podcast, called What the Wind Said to Thajir. In it the wind tells Thajir a few secrets of life, the second one is this:

Regardless of what anyone else may ever tell you, regardless of even what your own experience may lead you to beleive, you are everyone who ever was and everyone who ever will be. You are the whole of creation- past, present, and future. Decsisions that you make today , in what is called the here and now, will validate or invalidate everything that has gone before, and make possible or impossible everything that is to come. Anything that hurts anyone, hurts you. Anything that helps anyone, helps you. It is not possible to gain from another’s loss, or to lose from another’s gain. Your life is immensely important. Everything depends upon you.

See I think on some level St. Paul got it right.  He knew that we are both one with the Force, and the Force is with us. But we are still meant to question it all.  He said we are meant to work it out with “Fear and Trembling”. Now the word for fear here being “awe” not “AAAAAAAAHHHHH”. As I was told by someone today, “Us Jewish folk, I don’t know about you Christians, are commanded to question our faith [read: belief system].” This is the reason I can’t give up and give in on the Divine. The suffering, the hardships, and everything that is going on is not some ultimate test to see if I’m paying attention. It is meant to raise the questions about my own faith [read: beliefs]. I don’t think we are meant to have answers in life.

I think the questions are what drive us to come together as a community. The questions are the reason why we need each other. We don’t have it all figured out, so we have to come together with ourself ( we are the whole of creation remember…). We have to just do what we needed to all along and sit down and just talk.

I opened this with the quote from MLK jr. for two reasons. 1. It’s his day on Monday coming up. 2. I think so many of us are feeling more of the weight of our emotions because of racism and war at the moment. We are feeling lost, adrift, alone, and helpless in a sea of disappointment, fear, and worry. And honestly, it’s okay to feel that. It’s okay to let it get to you for a moment. It’s okay to yell and scream at the Divine because honestly, the Divine can take it. But, what I’m slowly coming to realize myself, the only way out of this is together. We need to question it all together, so we can discuss it all together. We need to allow for discord and discombobulation, but not let it get us off track. We question so we can understand it better. The truth with come out through questioning, and unconditional love will win. WE are one with the Force, The Force is with us.

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Honest Faith: The Lost Boy

Growing up my biggest fear above anything else was being alone. There were many different reasons for that, and it was also a bit hard to define. Like for instance, I didn’t mind playing in my room by myself if someone else was in the house. I could play on a playground alone if I knew someone else was on the property with me. What I feared was truly being alone. I feel like that has evolved more into a fear of being forgotten. That my life, my work, and the things that I do don’t make a difference. I can point to an episode of “Black Mirror” (Available on Netflix) that would define it rather well. There is an episode of a sort of dystopic future sort of run by a reality talent show. I won’t spoil it but the ending terrified me.

I was reminded of this when I was talking to my wife yesterday. It was the “Hey honey, how was your day?” talk that we usually have at the end of the work day. I was telling her about this podcast that I discovered that day by the pastor who gave up God for a year, and discovered he was an atheist back in 2014. I was telling her about the work that he was doing now and she asked me a question that is stuck in my brain. She asked, rather innocently, “Do you not want to be a Christian anymore?” Still now I don’t know how to respond to that question. I quickly said a “No, that’s not what I was talking about.” But the truth is I don’t know.

The truth is a very tricky thing. I think it takes the right question, phrased in the right way to help you discover what it really is. That question asked of me last night shook me. It helped me to see the truth about some things, and also made things a bit more cloudy. I used to feel God was with me every day. I used to see God in everything. I would be inspired by little things and their relation to the greater divine all around us. I used to. The truth is I’m lost more now than ever. I don’t know if what I was seeing or feeling was truly the divine or something I was just fooling myself into believing.

I look back on my life and wonder if I caused my own isolation. Ministry is a lonely and isolating profession. It is no wonder that many of those who are in ministry suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. While ministers are meant to journey alongside, many are pushed to the front and told to lead, yet few follow. I noticed something while I was in ministry. When I met someone new and told them what I did for a living they would, more often than not, take a step back. As if somehow proximity to me would cause me to add guilt to their life. So as a reflex to that I started walling myself off from people. I would protect myself from getting hurt by people by not letting them inside in the first place. I discovered now in my transition that I don’t have anyone that I feel really sees me for who I am. I feel forgotten, alone, and lost. As if my worst fears have become reality.

There is one place that I still see the divine. Every day I see it. It’s in the smile of my son. That little boy is delighted by all that he sees. There was a song that a friend told me that I should listen to after he was born, primarily because his name is Peter. I keep coming back to this song this year. He is my peter pan, and I am his lost boy.

I think while we have been so busy trying to find ourselves in this society we walled ourselves off from each other. We got so very lost while we trying to grow up. We got caught up in the digital not realizing that it was cutting us off from one another. Is it just me, or are we all lost? Have we forgotten to be human to each other? Have we forgotten how to develop real human connections? I ask because this lost boy is trying to find his place in the world.

I’m trying to find my way back to the place I was before. I still want to see the divine in everything. I want to be inspired by little things again. I hold so tightly to that little piece of the Divine in my life because at times it’s all I have. I think as human beings we are meant to see the divine in each other. I think that is why community is so important. To be honest I don’t know how to find a community that I would feel comfortable being myself in. I don’t know how to do that, but I’m going to try.

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