The Honest Faith: The Golden Rule

(Warning: This blog post may get controversial. Remember this is the opinion of me, the writer, it does not mean it is true for everyone. Just truth that I have observed)

In 1964 the “Wizard of Id” was launched in the “Dallas Morning News” newspaper, they are those paper things that people still get delivered to their houses on a daily basis. In May of 1965, this comic strip featured the above comic which spun off many variations on the joke which has since become part of the zeitgeist of modern culture. The thing about jokes, though, is that they are absurd to the point of ridicule while still containing a kernel of truth. This joke has since gone on to pass the ridiculous to the point of reality and back to the point of all absurdity so many times that it is difficult to call this an exaggeration, but now a more sad reality.

In the 19th century, the great philosopher and guy with an awesome name Soren Kierkegaard wrote about the futility of the world and trying to act through a sense of morality. This built the framework for Albert Camu’s struggle to find meaning we call “Absurdism“. There are many pop culture references to this school of thought. “Rick and Morty” most popular of all icons at the moment brought forward through its crass humor the idea that everything is meaningless. The show The Good Place is a play off of an absurdist play “No Exit”. The Netflix original show “Ozark”, and the AMC hit show “Breaking Bad” play with our concepts of what is moral in the framework of healthcare, economy, money, and escapism. In a world searching for meaning some of our most important mirrors to ourselves are telling us there is no meaning.

I do not believe there is no meaning. I feel that where Kierkegaard and Camu were looking was devoid of meaning. I think that the path we are heading down is completely meaningless. We measure our life by the gold we have or stuff we acquire. We measure our lives in golden rulers of 401k’s, assets, investments, houses, cars, or just general stuff. The problem with these golden rulers is that there are no definitive marks. There is no possible way to measure a life this way. A person’s worth cannot be calculated by its weight in gold.

For some reason as much as we deny that we do this, we all do anyway. We all jump right in head first trying to accumulate a Scrooge McDuck sized silo filled with money to do what exactly? Don’t get me wrong I understand the value of money. Trust me, once you are a parent you understand just how far a dollar can stretch. You know just how many diapers that next paycheck can buy. I understand the security money can provide, knowing you can take care of emergencies if they pop up. I had ads on my website to do just that, to try and provide for my family just in case another job-related catastrophe happens. I get it. I really do. The problem is once we get onto this crazy roller coaster of measuring a life by wealth it’s hard to see anything else.

Maybe that is the reason why we have given so much power to those who do have the gold. We let those with money tell us what to do as if what they did was somehow through some skill of theirs rather than some random act of happenstance. The oddest thing about it all is we admire those who are ruthless. Those without mercy, who stop at nothing to earn a few dollars. We allow them to decide what is true and moral, rather than looking at the things that make someone truly successful. The biggest irony of all of this is that the truly successful that I have observed follow another rule. They follow a rule we have dubbed “The Golden Rule”.

The God-man that I follow once said, or at least it is attributed to Him, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” This is known as the Golden Rule. This rule can be traced even beyond Jesus. You can see something similar going all the way back to around 2040- 1650 BCE.  I know a 390 year age gap is kind of a wide one, but it is still rather old. For 4000 years we have been trying to teach this concept to each other. We are all Human, therefore, let us treat each other like we are. The most successful human beings I have observed treat other people like they are human too. Though, I don’t believe I measure success in terms of financial wealth.

What if we were to measure a life not by what we have, but by the connections that we have made? What would that world look like? What if we were to give power and the right to tell us what we should or should not do to those who are wise and treat other human beings like human beings? Would our world be kinder? Would it be safer? J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” I once asked a group of teens what they would do if they suddenly had a million dollars. Aside from the obvious purchasing of stuff they wanted, there was an overwhelming pattern that emerged. The students all wanted to do things. They wanted to travel, or skydive, or buy their parents something, or take their friends somewhere, or go to an amusement park. I think more and more one of the problems that older generations have with Millennials (us!), and the Digital Natives (the next gen) is that they think us entitled. I think there is a pattern emerging of humans valuing experience over stuff. If you ask me that is a step in the right direction. One of the things I loved the most about being a youth minister was the connections and experiences I had. I got to see amazing lives develop out of the worst circumstances. I got to see the beauty of lives transformed by the amazing power of knowing someone not only believed in you but supported you. I was able to get to know some teens, and now adults who I know are going to change the world. I hope and I pray that they saw in me two things. First, that there is a Divine that loves them beyond all measure. Second, that no matter what that Divine also loves everyone else just as much, so treat them that way.

Maybe, we should examine which Golden Rule we follow. Do we allow those with the gold to make the rules, or do we value the other as much as we value ourselves? Take a good hard look. We can all be guilty of this. I know that I am. I know that I don’t want to be. But I am stuck in a system that tells me it is the only way to get ahead and survive. Take a good hard look at your church and religious community. What do they value? Do they value the Gospel that the Divine loves you no matter what and that all should be treated that way? Do they value those who have the gold and therefore allow them to make the rules? I have seen some horror stories that I know are not true of all churches, but there are those who still treat the church as a business rather than a spiritual hospital. To me, that is the most heretical thing that can possibly happen. When the Gospel gets confused and muddled up with wealth and gold, we all fail.

So what shall we do then? Stop tithing, or going to church? NO! We should be more careful about how we invest our money, sure. But we should also realize that our money is not the most important thing. Our connections with other human beings are. Our experience in this world is more important than wealth. Have we tried to make the world a better place for all human beings, or are we only concerned with our own world? I hope and I pray that it doesn’t take another 4000 years for us to finally get this concept. I hope and I pray that we can fully understand the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. See each other as complexly as you see yourself. Give of yourself until you cannot give anymore, and then keep giving anyway. Because, after all, you are not alone, you matter.

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The Honest Faith: Learning to Be Human

Arthur C. Clark once said, “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” There is a common trope in pop-culture, it is the fish out of water archetype. Again and again, we see stories of aliens, ghosts, supernatural beings, or other cryptozoological creatures learning to be human. It is an often overlooked approach to talking about the human condition by observing it from the outside. The funny thing is, I don’t think we understand what it means to be human as humans ourselves. I think what Clark was getting at is either we are stuck with ourselves or we are not, and we can’t figure out how to be with ourselves anyway. That is terrifying. Either we are going to injure ourselves, or someone else is going to do it for us.

This last week “The Liturgists” put out an episode of their podcast where they have a conversation with Rob Bell. This entire hour was a deeply moving one for me. While listening to this conversation, and cooking dinner for my family, I was brought to tears by a few things that were said. The one incredible piece that I will hold with me is when Rob Bell was talking about the 10 Commandments. He was speaking about his new book, and how Christians haven’t been reading the Bible correctly. He was talking about reading the passages within the context of the time it was written. He brought up the commandments and said about them that they were being given to these people who were just slaves to someone else. These weren’t meant to enslave them again, instead, they were to free them. They were to teach them how to be human again.

After a traumatic event, I think most of us go through this period where we forget how to be ourselves. Maybe we didn’t know who that person was, to begin with. Maybe we didn’t know how to be human all along. Our whole life was a fish out of water story, and this event just reinforces that we didn’t know all along.

I used to feel out of place. I used to feel like I didn’t belong anywhere I went. Even within the church, I felt like I was the outsider coming in to not a welcome at all. That happens a lot, not just with youth ministers, but with visitors, and even those who are a part of the congregation for a long time. There is this concept that churches are meant for the holy and divine among us. That the people there are set apart, and therefore cannot be broken. Yet, time and again I encountered a lot of ass-holiness. Even from me. I admit it. I had a bad habit of treating people like I was smarter than them. I sometimes still do. I get lost in my own ass-holiness sometimes. All the while I think that is what so many of us want from that community or any community at all. We want a place where we don’t have to hide anymore. Where we are allowed to be human, and as much as we struggle to do so we are told that it doesn’t belong here. Today marks the fourth year since our first miscarriage. That seems like a heavy burden to wear around most days. It still feels like a punch in the gut every time I remember that day. I feel like I can’t share that with people because they might not understand. I remember the Sunday following that day. I remember how we did have a Church family, who understood and wept with us. This is something I still search for in a community. I have yet to find a place that is like that again. It took a while for that place to care for us like they did. We were there for 3 years at that point. I think about that now with how rare that is to find. Have we lost how to be human in our communities?

I still feel this way a lot. I feel like I don’t belong anywhere. I know this is a very “extended adolescent” way to feel. I think maybe my whole generation feels this way. We are still seen as children, though we are now adults, maybe buying houses, maybe having kids of our own, and trying to find our way in the world. It is almost as if an entire generation is stuck in this fish out of water story. You have a generation of people who have gone through massively traumatic events and have been told to “Suck it up, Buttercup!” A generation who has no idea what it is like to be human because we do not see anything but division and derision from those who have gone ahead of us. If ever there was a generation that could relate more to the teachings in scriptures (not just Christian ones) it’s this one. A generation that is lost and looking to stories to save them. Stories to teach them what it means to be a good human. Who do you think the largest consumer of media is, especially books? (source)

Millennials are desperately seeking connection. The biggest problem though, our connections are happening outside the church. We connect over the stories that have become most relevant to us. Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, Supernatural, Sherlock, Marvel Movies, Harry Potter, and so on (honestly the list could go on forever) have all started to teach us how to be a good human being through complex political struggles, time lords, cryptid hunting, anti-social geniuses, superheroes, and wizards. The funny thing is, this is how human beings have learned for centuries. That is all the Christian Bible is. It is a collection of stories meant to portray truths about a Divine being that wants nothing more from us than to be human. The writers used slang, stories, and language from their day to convey images and ideas that the readers would be familiar with. Now that we are close to 2000 years removed from those events, we’ve lost a lot in translation.

One of the reasons I love, and also dislike, (I know it’s complicated, okay) St. Paul is that he was a master at this. He was able to take the modern vernacular and use it in the context of Jesus. That is why he was so successful in his ministry. He was able to convey the truths about the Divine in language that the people he was going to would understand. This is why Jesus’ parables were so incredible, they were packed full of imagery and symbolism that the Jewish people at the culmination of the ages would understand. Yet, now we like to dress things up in pretty words and use the exact wording that we read out of an English translation (and probably not that good of one) of the Bible. How many times have you heard phrases like “ask Jesus into your heart”, “Sacrifice your life to God”, “He was made a sacrifice for us”, or “Knock and the door will be open to you”? What do those even mean? Seriously, when was the last time that you knocked on the door of someone you didn’t even know and that door was opened to you? I have a panic attack when the pizza guy knocks on my door. We don’t understand sacrifices. We as human beings haven’t done that for millennia. Ask Jesus into my heart? I’m sorry, but the only thing that should be in there is blood and muscle. If you are talking about metaphorical heart, well I don’t know the guy from all of the other stuff you’ve been saying.

I realized something when I was listening to the podcast this weekend. I realized I’m not alone. I’m not the first one who has made this transition out of the church. I’m not the only one who realizes that most of this stuff is getting to be so much fluff. I realized my ministry now is not just to learn how to be human myself, but to tell others that they are not alone in this transition either. My mantra is one that I want to share with others. I want to tell people, “You are not alone, you matter” until they see the Divine not just in me, but that it never left them either. In an effort to do so, I’ve decided to launch a new digital community. I know I might be spreading myself a little thin with my projects, really there is just the main three at the moment (Honest Faith [Blog, podcast, and writing], Honest Interfaith Community [The in-person community], and the one I’m about to announce). This community is for your stories. I am wanting to build an online place where you can feel free to share your stories of being a Post-Church Christian. What happened in your transition? How are you learning to be human? How do you need help discovering that you are not alone, and you matter? The link will be below, just click on the picture.

I don’t want Arthur C. Clark’s statement to be a reality. I don’t want it to be terrifying in either sense. I want for us to learn how to be okay if we are alone. But I seriously want for us to discover that we are not alone. I believe we are not alone, or maybe I want to believe. But over all, I want for us to learn how to be good humans. No longer fish out of water, but human. After all, We are not alone, we matter.

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The Honest Faith: Sympathy for the Devil

Released in 1968 the band Rolling Stones recorded a song reminiscent of Charles Baudelaire’s work “The Flowers of Evil”. In the Baudelaire collection of poetry, he begins with a poem about the devil in which to set the tone for the poems to follow which was about the decadence and fall of modern France, according to him.  This song was also inspired by the Russian writer Bulgakov’s book “The Master and Margarita”. The book is also about a visit from the devil to satirize and show the issues with the Soviet Union. This song was rather controversial in its time as it made many believe that Mick Jagger and Kieth Richards were devil worshipers. The wonderfully ironic twist is that this song is about demonizing the other or blaming these horrific events on an unseen force we call the devil. The point of the song was to portray how “Every cop a criminal, and all the sinner’s saints…”

I have found that we are very quick to call upon the image of the devil when things go wrong or we want to blame someone else. We conjure the images that seem most evil in our minds from recent history. We call people things like fascist, Nazi, or Hitler. We call out the evil in someone so readily. It is very easy for us to spot these bad things and categorize them as of the devil. But as the Jagger and Richards said, “I shouted out ‘who killed the Kenedy’s?’ When after all it was you and me.”

I was once told as a child, it is rude to point. I was also told, when you point a finger there are three more pointing back at you. My mother did her best to try to teach me that before I blame someone or I accuse someone I should try to imagine what they are going through. I also heard numerous quotes from the Bible that said, “Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself.” Proverbs 26:4. In fact, I was told a lot of Bible verses about judging, for your own reference here are 100 of them.  There is a story in the Quran about Musa and striking someone before knowing the situation. There are even quotes from Gautama Buddha about judging others. I’m sure if I looked hard enough, I could show you from most major religions around the world this common theme of: don’t be concerned about the wrongdoing of others, but instead concern yourself with your own wrongdoing.

I see more and more these days lines being drawn. I see people choosing sides and pointing out the flaws in the other one. I am disturbed by the amount of division and divisiveness I see from our role models, and peers. I am not condemning things like peaceful protests, or sharing of feelings. Those are to make one’s voice heard. So many have been silenced for so long, they are looking for ways to show that they are not alone and that they matter, too. There is a fine line, though, in that. When you ensure your voice is louder than someone else’s, aren’t you guilty of silencing them? Isn’t that one of the things we are working to stop? That is a fine line to walk, and a difficult question to answer.

Is there a true Black and White? Can there be a be an objective morality? Or is everything meant to be in shades of gray? I posit that there are shades of gray, but those shades are limited. How many times have Christians been told that the path to Heaven is Narrow? Does anyone know the context of the verse that is used in so many sermons? This verse has been taken so out of context that it has taken on a new meaning. To read the chapter it seems that this verse veers way off course from the rest of what Jesus is talking about if you give it that meaning. Here, read it for yourself. This, much like the parable of the talents, is about treating others with kindness and love. The whole passage begins with one of those judgment verses I just mentioned. He goes on to talk about God giving us good gifts, the golden rule, and good fruit. The passage ends with building a house on a sure foundation. If you read the passage you understand that the good foundation is precisely what is in the middle of the passage, the golden rule.

I have searched long and through many difficulties to find a place that follows the golden rule with integrity. Surprisingly, after all my interactions with the church, I can say that I have maybe only found two that I would say live that. If you ask me, that is a very narrow gate. But there are so so so so many businesses, people, churches, religious organizations, and so on that do not follow this. That is a very wide path, and if I were to take Jesus at his word in this passage it means it’s the road to destruction. I’m also reminded of another thing Jesus said. When he was asked what the most important commandment was, He said, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and spirit. The second is like it, Love your neighbor as yourself.” When did this get taken away from the Gospel? When did the Gospel suddenly become “the gate is narrow, but the path to destruction is wide”?

I was once called the devil. The reason being was that I was fighting for the right to allow homosexual students to come to youth group. I taught that we are all created in God’s image. That I wanted students to make up their own minds about faith and the Bible after they listened to the whole story. This was false teaching to some. So they labeled me “From the devil”. I tried not to take it personally, but it’s kinda tough to not do. I took a good hard look at the man in the mirror because after all, that is how the great philosopher and man who made mistakes, Michael Jackson, said to change the world. I didn’t see the devil. I saw a man who was trying to do the right thing to include all people, and not treat them as if they didn’t know anything. I’m confident that those who called me the devil didn’t see that. I’m sure there are those who still to this day, consider me to be the devil. I think the devil, however, is in the details.

If I can say anything is definitively evil and from the devil. I would have to say it is division and purposefully dividing people from each other. I do believe there is a lot more evil than that, but I would say that division is certainly “bad fruit”. St. Paul taught us how to spot the “Good fruit” one of those was kindness. He also said that “selfishness and vain ambition” were bad. Going back to all of those verses, I can almost hear the masters of faith saying that kindness and love are the firm foundation for any religion. When a religion is based on us, not them, it is built on shifting sands. Maybe we should stop pointing the finger, and instead take a look at the three pointing back at us.

“Please allow me to introduce myself.” I am a man of faith who has been guilty of making mistakes. I am a man who tries to find the good and connections in others despite our differences. All I ask is that you “Have some sympathy, and some taste (Woo woo) Use all your well-learned politesse”, or division will “lay your soul to waste”. Uh… Yeah. We need to stop seeing the other as a devil. We need to have some taste in what we do. We need to be polite, and civil with each other. Or this division we are creating will rot and waste away at our souls. If I take anything away from this classic samba rock anthem it’s this, we all are flawed. We all are responsible for these horrible atrocities. We need to stop trying to pick specks out of our neighbors’ eyes and remove the plank from our own. We need to have sympathy for our made up devils and begin to see them for what they are, human. But also, don’t forget, you are not alone, you matter!

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The Honest Faith: Headline Culture

This week I’ve seen a few things that started this thought.  Why don’t we actually read farther than the headline,  or even,  to use writer jargon, past the fold? Is it because we are weary of the facts that may be presented,  are we afraid of change,  are we looking for a fight,  do we just want to be angry,  are we hurting or helping,  or all of the above?

The things that triggered this thought range from “well that wasn’t cool” to “seriously,  why?!” It began on the news coverage of the latest presidential social media blunders (I’m at a loss at the fact that I’ve used that phrase more than once). Then moved on to a friend posting a status of “social media should have an ‘I’ve read the article before posting this’ tag”. Finally, I saw a headline about an actor whose work I enjoy.  It was obviously click-bait, but the headline made it seem like something much worse than reality had occurred.  So again I ask,  why?

I’ve seen so many writers I respect and admire begin to do this in order to gain readership.  I admit  I’ve done this a few times myself.  Here,  let’s play a game.  Let’s play how many of these headlines have you shared without reading the author’s work Christian blogger edition:

Full disclosure, the last one is mine. How many of you judge an article by its source, its title, how many shares or likes it has, how long it is, who shared it, and so on? How many of these articles are dismissed because of something like that before even opening and reading them? How many of these have had true and honest things to say, but sometimes go unheeded because of one of those things above? How many of you have actually sat down gave your full attention to an author, and read what they had to say? Struggled with it, let their words move you, or find the truth in them?

I could go on about how we’ve become a fast food culture, blah blah blah, but you’ve heard it all before. The thing is we still do it. We still look for those things that may get a rise out of others, or something to entertain us for the 15 minutes we are on break at work. Or the minutes we spend in the bathroom in the morning doing… well you know. What if we stopped? What if we allowed authors to not make up salacious headlines in order to get people to read their work? What if we unfollowed the voices who were just trying to get a rise out of us rather than actually contribute to the conversation (just so you know I’m referring to the social media blunders and others like that, trolls. Not the authors. I respect and admire all of those that I shared above, and more I didn’t share)? What if we decided to do something about those things that don’t add anything to our lives, but anger? What would that look like? Could we even do it? Maybe we’d end up spending much more time looking at “Look at these incredible 25 nerdy room renovations. You’ll never believe what number 10 looks like”. Oh, wait, that follows the salacious headline rule doesn’t it? Shoot…

We’ve been programmed for these things. Seriously, we take our soundbites from our favorite news sources. We take headlines for face value. We take people for face value. We listen to sermons on Sunday mornings and take what we like from them. We listen to our Rabbis, Priests, Pastors, Imams, or whoever and take their soundbites. We do this all without further fact checking. We do it because, well, we are lazy. I admit it. I don’t have the time or energy to look things up. I have a former student that does that for me ;). (Seriously, though, Holli, your work is amazing!) We take what we like for face value, and discard the things we don’t. We don’t let the hard truths that displease us gain any traction because we are afraid. We are afraid of change, being wrong, what it would mean to who we are, actually doing something, or letting go of a long-held belief, I don’t know take your pick.

I struggle to be honest with not just myself, but with you, my readers. I do this not for the fame, but because, like I’ve written so many times before, I want you to know that you are not alone you matter! I want to share what I’m going through, what I’m struggling with in an honest way so that maybe, just maybe, I may find the Divine. I hope to point others in that direction as well. This has become my new ministry, but I struggle with trying to find my own voice when what I have to say doesn’t lend itself to easy, quick soundbites. Granted, I have been making “Motivational” pictures with some of my work because those are some of my favorite things I’ve written (They can be found on the facebook page if you are interested). But, I want to be in conversation.

I think if anything can be learned from the year 2016 and the first half of 2017 as a whole, we have seen some of the worst cases of what our laziness has wrought. Our lack of fact checking, our desire to get easy news, our desire to get news that pleases us, our desire to get a rise out of others, all of these things leads to some rather disastrous consequences. I’m not talking about a certain political candidate or candidates being elected or losing. I’m talking about division. The splits we are making within families, friendships, and the like. We started drawing lines in the sand and saying, “either you agree with me, or you are one of THEM!” We have left each other on the opposite side and have begun pointing fingers so much that I’m surprised that we all haven’t lost eyeballs from the collective amount of finger jabbing. I heard something surprising last week as well. I heard that since 2016 there has been a steady decline in the belief that we, as a country, are civil. I think that’s horrible. I think we so easily dismiss the other without listening to what they have to say. To be honest we have modeled this behavior at all levels of government, churches, and community. Why? Why do we keep doing this?

I believe we need each other. We are not always going to agree on everything. That isn’t possible. We were created differently for a reason. We are supposed to find our common connections and use our different strengths to accomplish wonderful things together. When we take a soundbite, a headline, a sermon, a passing phrase or sentence, or even a person at face value without finding out what the true intentions are, what the truth buried within is, we create division. For some reason, we are happy to do this. I did advocate earlier to remove those voices who do not add anything. I agree with that. I don’t believe you should cause more division, I think you need to remain civil with the other. I think you need to remove whatever it is that is getting a rise out of you time after time. If it means unfollowing them on social media, but still being a friend in real life, so be it. If it means only having coffee with that one person you can’t stand, great! At least you are still trying to hear what they have to say.

I am proposing a new rule. I’m going to call this Miguel’s rule (because I’m making it up, I get to name it alright.): You are not allowed to completely dismiss someone until you have spent at least 12 hours with them, and struggled to see them as complexly as you see yourself. (Granted, there are many exceptions to the rule as there are people that are just toxic and just cannot be around others, that’s a different post for a different day.)

Maybe we need to start engaging more and enraging less. Maybe we need to take on my social experiment from last year and make it another hard rule. This is what I did. When I saw a political post or a headline I didn’t agree with, I forced myself to go and write something I liked about them or some encouragement on the person’s social media feed. I enjoyed it. I got into a lot fewer Facebook arguments while I did so. I encourage you to do the same. Instead of getting mad or automatically sharing due to a headline, go say something nice to the person who shared it first. Then read the article, find the truth, wrestle with the truth, and talk about it with someone. Maybe even learn something new. But always remember reader: You are not alone You matter!

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