The Honest Faith: The Loneliness of Caring

Preface: I know this does not apply to everyone. If it does not, that is wonderful! I hope and pray that the reality I lived is not that that common. If this does ring true for you, this post is for you. I invite you to share a comment or a message to show others this point I’m about to make.


I was in ministry a long time. Even before I was in professional ministry I had my mind and heart set on ministry. I’ve talked about this several times before. There was a newspaper article written about me when I was 14 years old about my desire to want to become a professional minister. I wrote a sermon and entered it into a competition. The headline of the article was, “This teen doesn’t need a sermon, He gives his own.” My tunnel vision toward this goal set me apart at an early age. The rest of the world who thought different of me be damned I was going to be a minister. I was going to change the world.

Last week I wrote about feeling abandoned after my ministry was over. I want to talk this week about the reality that I faced as a minister. Ministry is lonely. There is no way around it, it just is. There are ways to combat that for some, but most feel that weight on a very regular and daily basis. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you actually sat down for a real conversation with someone who cares for people professionally? I mean a real conversation, not one where you are conveying your feelings. One where you are listening to their feelings, actually conversing with them. Those moments where you see the real person beneath the thick armor that so many of us wear. This extends to more than just ministers, but to all who care for people.

Have you ever noticed the humanity of the person taking your order at Chipotle? If your Hotel clerk suddenly changed faces in front of you, would you notice? The chances are, no. There is a thing called change blindness which is commonly attributed to a lack of the human attention span. I see it more as a transactional encounter. When we go expecting to get something for ourselves we tend to only focus on what our own needs are. We don’t see the person in front of us, really. We are seeing, in our mind’s eye, what our goal is; getting food, getting a hotel room, or getting our own feelings met. I’m not commenting on the rightness or wrongness of this, I’m just saying this is something we all do. This extends to those who care for you emotionally, spiritually, physically, etc.

I’m not writing this for those are doing this, I’m writing this for the ones it is being done to. When I was in ministry I realized very quickly how lonely ministry was. The only people you ever really meet or talk to are members of the congregation you work for. You can’t really have a relationship with the members of the congregation, for a lot of different reasons. You can’t cross boundaries. You can’t really be open and honest because you don’t know who will be told next. You can’t play favorites. You must remain professional. You are also, by most, seen as their employee. They know as well as you do that their tithes help keep the church doors open and the staff paid. It is a very lonely position being a servant in a world full of bosses. It was worse when I was single.

For those of you who are single and in ministry positions, I’m sorry. It’s almost impossible to have a modern relationship as a single person in ministry. Most of the people you meet go to your church, so they are right out of the realm of possibility for a relationship for the potential fallout that may happen. Not only that, if you are a Millenial, chances are there are very few people your age that attend that church. So many resort to online dating. For those of you who have never experienced it, it is not fun. I’m sure it hasn’t aged well either. Most people in ministry know that you are more likely to live far away from family and friends as that is where the work is. It makes it much harder for a life outside.

We were told many times in college to have a life outside of the church. That is much easier said than done. Most in professional youth ministry have a shelf life of 18 months. If you are like me you have been at several different churches over the course of your career. Those churches aren’t close together either. Like I said before, you go where the work is. It’s hard to make a life or put down roots in a place you aren’t sure if you are going to be for long. You attempt to make friends, but you know full well in the deepest part of you that you may be leaving again. This leads to a deeper isolation. Especially, if you are an introvert like myself.

There are articles everywhere about why the church is a bad place for introverts. (here is a good one). Someone once told me that they didn’t believe introverts were a thing, and I just needed to get over my aversion to being with people. I don’t think they were quite accurate in their assessment. It is not that I was adverse to people, it was that I didn’t feel like I could trust anyone in the church. There have been many instances in my life before, during, and after ministry where I trusted the wrong people and made my feelings known. This very often is taken out of context and used against you in the worst way possible. It is very damaging. This causes many introverts to revert even further into themselves.

I don’t want this post to be a pity party for me. I want to speak truth to a reality that I faced and one, I pray, not many have and are facing as well. So this post is meant to reach out to those in ministry, who care for others, nurses, social workers, teachers, and other service industries. I want to tell you that I see you. I hear you. You are not alone. You can trust me. I mean really, who would I tell that matters? I don’t have any friends, :P. I know how lonely caring can be. I know that you feel empty a lot of the time. I know there isn’t much that fills you, especially after you have been beaten down.

It wasn’t until I was given permission from my therapist, (I know I talk about therapy a lot. But really it’s just so that you know it’s normal and okay to ask for help) that I realized that it is okay to take care of myself. I am a person, too. My thoughts, my feelings, and me myself matter, too. There was a phrase that came to mind recently that encapsulates this rather well for me. Like the airlines say, you must affix your own breathing apparatus before attempting to help others. You can only help someone else so much if you are unable to help yourself. I think I learned this way too late. This is something I’m struggling to find in my transition into the outside world. I still feel so much mistrust and aversion to being myself outside, but it’s okay. I will continue to tell myself that I matter. My thoughts and feelings matter, too.

So to you care-er of people, I say you matter. Your thoughts and feelings matter, too. No matter how out there your thoughts and feelings are, they matter. It is okay to share them with someone else. It is okay to cry sometimes. It is okay to be yourself. It is more than okay for you to take time for yourself. It is okay for you to take care of yourself. Your life does not have to be lived solely in the care of others. Life is meant to be lived. I know how hard it is to do that. I know how hard it is to let go of the mistrust and aversion when you have been damaged so badly. I know, because I’m going through it too. You are not alone. You matter.

You are not alone. You Matter

You are not alone. You matter

Affix your own breathing apparatus, before attempting to help someone else.

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The Honest Faith: Abandonment Issues

My whole life I lived under the impression that I was meant for something. I wholeheartedly believed that I was “destined” or “fated” for a grand purpose or plan that had yet to be revealed to me. For the longest time, I believed that meant the youth ministry that I was called to. I wasn’t bad at it. I was an excellent youth minister, that doesn’t mean I didn’t make mistakes from time to time. This was my calling. This was my destiny. This was all I was fated to do with my life… Until it wasn’t.

One of the problems I see in the Christian church is it confuses vocation, occupation, and self-worth or self-Identity. There are some of us going in with delusions of grandeur, thinking that through our career we will change the world. Others have issues with power, control, and a need to be right. There were times that I recognized this in myself and took steps to keep those desires separate from my professional life. Didn’t always work. I had a lot to work on in my life, this seemed like such a minor issue most days. That was of course until it wasn’t a minor issue anymore.

The hardest part of this transition out of ministry for me has been this issue. My identity, self-worth, occupation, vocation, and so much more were wrapped up so tightly together in the youth ministry package. This was so bad that I could not see myself as anything other than a minister for such a long time. It took a lot of work to unpack that bundle. I would have said I was fairly successful thus far until I uncovered this issue. Until, as we were working on our podcast for the week, I realized I felt abandoned by the Divine.

I felt that God called me to ministry. I felt extremely confident in that. I knew that I was meant for this purpose. I was good at it. That purpose pushed me to be the best that I could be at it. I gave a large portion of my life to ministry. I gave much more than it gave back, but that didn’t matter to me. To me, it was part of the grand plan. It was something that was meant for me just as I was meant for it. These ideas consumed me. When I encountered walls and the eventual end of this purpose I felt abandoned. If God chose me, why would God allow this to happen to me?

Now, I’m not saying I wasn’t called for a time. Who am I to say that wasn’t true for the time I was a part of that? Maybe I’m just called to be a writer with an insurance habit now. What I am saying is that we place too much importance on those things we assume are God’s will. So much so that when something terrible happens to the contrary that we assume that was God’s will as well. That in some way God allowed the terrible to happen to us. We feel abandoned by a loving and caring God because our image of that God would not have allowed such.

There has been a big argument against the existence of the Divine, asking if there were an all-loving and all-powerful Divine being, why would it allow things like disease, famines, suffering, and all sorts of terrible things to happen. This has spurred on many apologists over the years, as if God needed a defense. There have been theologians who have speculated that the Divine chose to not be all knowing so that we may have free will, in order to work around the problem. There have been many different excuses all made in order that in some way we could blame the divine for the problems that we, a lot of the time, create. Some of the problems are nature. It happens some things just suck. That’s not to say a divine being caused it. That’s how the ancients believed, haven’t we evolved past that? I tend to think that the Divine is all knowing but also all present. That the Divine stands beside or behind us whatever we may need. It’s our decision to do what we will and the Divine either shakes its metaphorical head or cheers us on depending on what we do. The Divine waits to delight in what we do.

Maybe, just maybe, the Divine hasn’t abandoned us. Maybe the Divine never stopped loving us. Maybe the Divine decided to let us figure things out on our own in order that we may learn and grow. Maybe. What if we weren’t meant for anything, but rather everything was meant for us? What if the Divine just wants for us to enjoy the life we were given, and make the most of what we have while we have it?

I am often reminded of the parable of the talents. Most often this is read during the “stewardship” season in many mainline denominations. I feel it is taken way out of context to be used as such. If you read the passages around it, you have a sense of apocalyptic feeling to the teaching. It is telling you to prepare for the end. It goes on to talk about the judgment of the sheep and goats. What does Jesus tell us separates the sheep from the goats? Kindness, He tells us that the sheep cared for the least of these. That is the given context for the talents and bridesmaids. To prepare for the “night” to invest the “talents” we are to be kind to the least of these. There are themes of abandonment in these stories, but they only happen to those who turn a blind eye or hide away from the task given to them.

I think that when I feel such abandonment I need to take a look back and ask myself, not did I do the best that I could at the job. I need to ask myself was I kind? Did I treat the least of these with love and compassion? Did I give all that I could for those in need? If I did, I was never abandoned. I’m not a big fan of that footsteps poem. In fact, I’m more of a fan of Kris Straub’s interpretation. He wrote a little blurb beneath the comic about more teaching a baby to walk than carrying. That resonates so much with me as my son is just learning to walk. I know I need to let him try on his own, but I’m so afraid he will fall and hurt himself. The thing is, if I were to carry him he wouldn’t learn to walk. If I were to help him gain confidence on his feet by supporting him he will eventually be able to do it without the support. I look forward to the day that he can and he will take my hand out of wanting the support, rather than needing it.

I’m starting to see that the Divine didn’t abandon me. I just couldn’t see the Divine because, during this time, the Divine flew behind me and supported me to help me learn to walk on my own. We have not been abandoned. We are being taught to walk. Sometimes we may fall and get a “bonk” but as me and my wife are constantly telling our son, “Bonks happen”. We may feel like the abandoned house that is pictured above, but we are just being renovated from the inside out. We can’t see it, as it is very difficult to see within ourselves, but it’s happening. I feel like the Divine wants so much for us to want support rather than needing it. Isn’t it better that someone loves you and asks for your help out of choice rather than demanding it? I don’t believe the Divine abandoned the world. I believe the Divine is ever present in all that is around us, cheering us on, supporting us, believing in us that one day we may walk on our own.

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The Honest Faith: A New Family

Two weeks ago, Cathy and I went to see “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”. The main theme question has stuck with me. It asks the question, “What defines family?”. We explored this a bit in our podcast this week, but yet again that is a topic that I want to further explore in the terms of my faith and my transition into “normalcy” in the church world. What constitutes a family, spiritual or otherwise?

I love my biological family. No, we haven’t always been the best of people toward each other, but what family is? My mother tried her hardest to keep a family together and raise three kids under difficult circumstances. My father worked hard to provide for his family even when things seemed bleak. My brother who was and is still my best friend from birth didn’t always enjoy my company. My sister who, I think, still sees me as her nerdy uncool little brother did her best to try to help me be somewhat presentable to society. We had rough times, but there was an abundance of love there. So much that even though we didn’t have much we welcomed others to share it with us. Now, even though my mom doesn’t find it that funny, my favorite joke is that my family dislikes each other so much that’s why we chose to live in so distant of places from each other. That joke is funny to me because it is so far from the truth. There is love there. Despite our differences, we are blood. We fought with each other, but we also fought for each other.

My non-biological grouping of people I consider to be family comes to mind as well. There is my friend who I’ve known since I was 13 years old. He is and will always be my brother. He was the best man at my wedding. There is the priest who believed in me when it seemed nobody else would, it seemed. He and his family are blood to me as well. There is my friend who had secret plans to set up my wife and me way before we started dating. She was a sister to me. I miss her dearly and still converse with her even though she is now having beers with the Divine on the other side. Those youth who I had the immense pleasure of teaching throughout my career, I still view as family and people I would do anything for.

There is an interpretive art that is commonly accepted as a pattern called soul mates or soul families. There are many different interpretations of this idea. Some believe that you were all connected in a previous lifetime and find each other again in this life. Pretty Idea, but I’m not really a believer in past lives hypothesis’. Another interpretation is that a spirit is re-used in different people. Again, not a concept that I can get behind, but I still see some merit in the thought. But my favorite is that some feel that those whom we feel such a close connection with is that our souls are formed with similar pieces.

There is a saying that is still contested on it’s meaning, “Blood is thicker than water.” It’s commonly known to mean that your family bonds are thicker than those other relationships. Another interpretation is that the bonds formed through “Blood”, such as fighting alongside someone in battle, are thicker than the water of the womb. I can see the truth in both interpretations of the saying. But I want to take the second interpretation a step further.

The Christian and Jewish scriptures often refer to the Divine as being a refiner, or refining. They use terms from metallurgy to describe the process. If you have ever been in a Christian church you have probably heard some person refer to a tough situation as a refining process, maybe even in a sermon. The problem with that is you never want to hear that at the time. It certainly doesn’t help. The thing is, though, I can see it as such now. Those times in our lives when we encounter the fires of life they teach us to get rid of the impurities in our lives. Or if you would rather a different construction metaphor, it sands down the rough edges of our souls so that we may better find connections with each other.

I think that our souls are formed through the experiences in our lives. We find people who have been through some of the same refining processes that we have and we are able to fit together easier because of it. It doesn’t mean that we find a lot of things to connect on, but we do connect with those people especially because of the sanding down of those particular rough edges. We will find others in our lives who we don’t connect with particularly because they still have those rough edges in those areas where we’ve been tempered and refined.

Our biological families connect well because we go through the same fires together, we form non-biological connections because those “others” have gone through similar fires and have similar connection points in their souls. The danger we face as human beings are only examining one aspect of another. We tend to focus on only one part of a person and not see the whole. When we can see other human beings as complex beings like ourselves we can begin to find the similar connection points. We all have connection points though some are a lot harder to find than others. Okay, I realize that this metaphor is getting really double entendre-y really quick. Bear with me though.

I think family is everywhere. Family is ready to happen at a moments notice. You just have to look for it sometimes.  As Peter Quill in the new Guardians movie puts it, “Sometimes, the thing you’ve been looking for your whole life is right there beside you all along.” I think you can make connections with anyone. I think family really is in the eye of the beholder. I will always have my biological family, but there are others I still consider to be family to me. I think that is what the Church is meant to be. It is meant to be that community that we consider to be family. Not just those other people we happen to see at a worship gathering. People who will love, support, and fight with us (even if we fight each other sometimes) no matter what. That is what makes a family to me. What do you think?

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Honest Faith: A God that Suffers

Back in November, I was having a conversation with a priest. I was telling him about how I was angry and upset. I was angry and upset about several things; the state of the world, my personal situation, and the political climate. We got on to talking about images of God. He said that the traditional image of God had become increasingly outdated and inefficient for the modern world. He, even though he didn’t like putting it this way, said we need a “God for Millenials”. He went on to explain that we need a new image that is more accessible and available for people in the digital age. He said he was really playing with the idea and becoming more comfortable with the image of a God that experienced things with each of us and was with each of us in a much more real way than we could fathom. I think he was onto something.

I think I’ve mentioned before that God was my imaginary friend as a child. I often would picture God with me taking walks, having chats, and just sit with me in a very real way. Or as real as a child’s imagination can make something. I began to slowly break from that image of God growing up due to different circumstances. I began to imagine God much bigger than me. Which is the normal default image of God. A being that is bigger and much more powerful than we can imagine. The problem with this image is that a big God is impersonal, unfeeling, and uncaring. This became my default for God. A being that was out there, but didn’t care about me and my little problems. There was a certain phrase that I heard repeatedly that reinforced that image in my mind.

I was a pretty annoying kid. I’m probably still a pretty annoying adult as well. But I went through a pretty rough patch when I was a teenager. I turned to the people I knew at church for help and I heard a phrase that I would continue to hear throughout my adult life as well. “I’ll pray about it.” I used to tell the teenagers that I worked with that if anyone at church, or even if I, said that to them they had my permission to slap them. It reinforces the part of the Big God image that is distant and uncaring. I understand it was a way for people to distance themselves from me and my problems. I even understand why they would do that, but I think that in doing so to the least and most annoying of us we moved the church. The church became distant, individualist, and impersonal.

We are in a defining moment for the western Church. Do we continue with this image of being distant, individualist, and impersonal; slowly becoming a cult of the uncaring god? OR Do we change our image of God to broaden what we once thought to be true, becoming more inclusive, including, and caring? I realize that nothing is every as black and white as that, but I see that there are a lot of issues that seem to be pulling the church in both directions. Just the other day a prominent “Christian” (sorry, I can’t judge this person, but what he says and his actions speak in a different voice to me) leader said that if we don’t fall in line and support the country’s leader we were going against god. To me, that seems very cult like and a product of an impersonal image of God. I see some other prominent church leaders who are pushing us to think bigger and stretch our thinking of God during this time to be more inclusive. Those voices I appreciate.

Right now in this country, we are being called to help those who are suffering or asked to ignore it. We are asked to believe lies as fact or to stand up to falsehoods. We are called to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God; or ignore, be selfish and distance ourselves.

The image that the priest and I talked about a few months ago has stayed with me. For the first time since I was a child, I was able to picture God with me in a very real way. I broke down emotionally on my drive out to meet with the priest. I cried about all that I was upset and angry about. I yelled at God. After we talked about that image, I could picture God sitting next to me in the car. God was crying with me. God was upset like I was upset. This God was both my God and everyone’s God at the same time. It was as if God divided Godself to be with each of us. To be alongside all of creation at the same time. This was a beautiful picture to me. It was the picture that informed my ideas about Putting God Back together. 

This is not an image of God that excludes the “Big God” but clarifies it. This God is both everywhere and outside this reality at the same time. This is a God that suffers when we suffer, who is alongside the protester at the march, who is building a habitat for humanity house alongside former President Jimmy Carter, who is helping refugees in foreign lands weeping with them over their losses, who is celebrating alongside those who celebrate. This is a God that is both your God and My God, but much bigger than that too. A God that tasked us with Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. A God that knows you can do it because that God is right there beside you doing the work with you as you do it.

I know this a stretching idea. I know that this is a little bit of a different image, because it asks you to think outside yourself. It’s uncomfortable to think about other people. It’s dangerous to go against the norm. But I invite you to get to know the God who has been beside you all along. The God who suffers with you.

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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 Continued Dehumanization of Culture

2016 may well be a dumpster fire equivalent of a year. There have been a lot of horrible things that happened this year. There has been a large loss of life; human, animal, and other. Some things that we thought would never happen, actually happened. For many of us, some personal struggles finally came to a head. It certainly doesn’t negate the good things that have happened, but sometimes the bad is a lot easier to feel.

This year there has been a large number of celebrity deaths. Some of our most iconic heroes and artists passed away this year. John Glenn, Muhamed Ali, David Bowie, Prince, and Carrie Fisher to name a few. I have seen a lot of posts on social media talking about how 2016 is the worst or how people are complaining too much about 2016. It’s completely natural to mourn the loss. With a few exemptions I feel we celebrate those who have shown us what humanity is capable of. Artists, and Athletes that remind us of the divinity that resides in all of Creation. It makes sense for people to mourn the loss of those glimpses of the divine.

It is natural for those of us who grew up learning how to communicate digitally to share how we feel on social media. It releases dopamine when we get likes or responses on social media. It has become our norm. We millennials tend to live our lives digitally. It makes it very hard for us to have analog relationships and conversations with people. There has been a great video going viral recently that explains this phenomenon. There is a massive danger in this I think. The problem is that we who have become addicted to social media have begun to dehumanize each other.

I’ve talked about this issue before last year on arguments and other sprinkled references throughout my blog. I think that it is very easy for us who live our lives online to tend to see others as statistical views, likes, clicks, comments, and so on. We’ve become names and pictures, not real human beings on the other side of the internet. We can no longer see the forest for the trees or the internet for the people who make up the world wide web. This makes complaining a lot easier to do. Complaining about things like people venting feelings or needing some comfort because someone they looked up to passed away.

I think in so doing we not only dehumanize the other, we have dehumanized ourselves. We forget about the validity of the feelings of the other in so doing we are trying to protect our own feelings. By protecting those feelings we shut them down. I know that we do this because I’m guilty of it too. I have been guilty of getting involved in the shutting down discussion because I disagree with someone. I have been part of arguing with digital people because I thought I was trying to enlighten them. It’s tough. I don’t know what the answer is, truthfully. What I do know is that we have a big need for actual conversation. We need to stop dehumanizing and start talking… Just a thought.

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Honest Faith: Beauty in the Breakdown

A few years ago I was obsessed, like many people my age, with the television show Scrubs and Zach Braff. I particularly enjoyed his movie Garden State. He put together a wonderful mix of songs for that movie and there was one that particularly stood out to me. Still, to this day, it wells up “the feels” in me. It is Frou Frou’s hit “Let Go”. If you wish to give it a listen here’s the first youtube video that pops up when you search it:

My life, as one of my friends puts it, certainly wasn’t the one I signed up for. I have had several breakdowns emotionally, spiritually, and physically along the way. I could have let any one of those stop me along the way, but still, I persisted. There is one thing that through it all I’m reminded of. There is beauty in the breakdown. I can quote any number of things that kept me going throughout the years, but that’s not what this post is about.

On Sunday, my family and I attended a church service. It was only the second time we had gone since another such breakdown. Something there reminded me of this. The moments came together to suddenly bring me back to a place where I felt comfortable again at a small “c” church. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first time we had attempted to go back to a worship service. I broke down during the Eucharist. I felt unwelcomed and unwanted at the table. Because of this, I got very angry and upset. I realize it wasn’t rational. I know it is nobody’s fault. But it was something that just took me aback. I realize there are things that I could be justifiably bitter about in my life, but that would go to serve nobody. It doesn’t help me, and it certainly doesn’t help other people for me to hold on to grudges. It was almost enough to make me never want to go back to church again. But I made a promise to myself, my wife, my therapist, and my blog readers (Hey! Look you got a mention!) to try to find a way back.

Anyway, This week as I was sitting there preparing for the worst, as I am wont to do, something beautiful happened. Now, this may seem silly to a lot of people, but to me, it was one of the most beautiful and endearing things that have happened in a worship service in a long time. People kept missing their marks, there were misspellings in the bulletin, and the lectors read the wrong thing. Some may take offense at that, but to me it was beautiful. It was beautiful because nobody seemed to care. We were all just honest, real, and authentic human beings coming together to worship the Divine.

I think that is one of the reasons, out of many, that Millennials are leaving organized religion. It’s become too polished, too much of a show, and so much about the “entertainment value” that worship has become a shell of what it was. I did a youth group project a few years ago asking people why they go to church. One of the top answers was because my friends are there. I’m sure if you ask people what they love about a church, aside from disingenuous answers of the music, or the preaching, you’ll hear because they are family or some variation on that. Now let me ask you something, are your friends and family perfect, polished, and “showy”?

One of the things that Millennials value most is authenticity. I think that this is why I felt there was so much beauty in this breakdown of the service. It suddenly felt real to me again. It was a family muddling through the issues to do the traditions and rituals before us. We didn’t let the small things stop us. Maybe that is what the Divine intended all along for us. To be messy, to be real, and to be authentic.

What about you, reader? Do you find beauty in the breakdown? Is it easier to let go when others do? Am I way off base?

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Honest Faith: A Mosaic in A Tower World

One of the things I’ve been struggling to come to terms with recently is the fact that my experiences aren’t linear or based purely on a defined path. If my life were to be described as a video game it would be more like an open world game where you can take tasks when you want to, or go waste time on side quests before ever working on the main story quests. Through a lot of help, here’s the big secret: I’ve been going to therapy for a while now, I’ve come to see my life as a mosaic.

Mosaics are artworks that are made up of different, usually broken, pieces of other things to make up a whole. I’ve always found mosaics particularly beautiful. Especially in the form of stained glass windows. Stained glass windows have always held a very significant role in my life. So that is why this image held particular resonance for me. Every little seemingly random moment or experience in my life comes together to form a much larger and grander picture.

I had a very difficult time with this because I have come to the understanding that suffering doesn’t hold meaning. Growing up in the church I was told that everything happened for a reason; good or bad it had a reason. Still, even now parts of me want to assign meaning to the broken parts of my life. The big problem with that though is I don’t think we are meant to know the meaning. I think on one level, yes, they are right. Everything does happen for a reason, but it is on a much grander and cosmic scale than we can possibly fathom. We try to figure out the reason for our suffering or the reason for the suffering of those who endure much greater hardships than our own (IE Syrian refugees). But the horrible and awful truth of the matter is that there is no meaning to that suffering on our level. It’s just suffering. If we can do something about someone else’s suffering, we are meant to. That is where we get our meaning, our reasons for being. Everything happens for a reason so that we may better see how we can alleviate the suffering of our fellow man, not our own suffering, but sometimes shit happens.

This has been on my mind recently as I’ve been noticing that here in this country we celebrate towers. I mean we celebrate those who stack accomplishment on top of accomplishment of the same type and fashion. Often times it is very hard for “normal” everyday people to live up to this because I’m pretty sure life isn’t structured in this way. We aren’t meant to be towers. I think there is a much bigger lesson in this and it might also be the start of a much bigger metaphor if I were to dig into it, but for now let’s leave it at the stacking of accomplishments.

We have become a tower society, celebrating the stacked accomplishment of those around us and looking at our own lives and wondering why we can’t be towers too. I think if you were to ask the “Towers” about how they got to where they are, they wouldn’t point to the stacking as their main purpose. Instead, I think our lives were meant to be mosaics. Every little moment in our lives is meant for something bigger and grander. A beautiful piece of art that is still in the process of being made. Our pieces coming together and separating in beautiful and unknown ways. The colors of the other people that come in and out of our lives helping to change our own colors. The experiences that shape us and reform the other pieces of our own experience. I think we have lost sight of the purpose of this art of life. We are mosaics, not towers.

What would it look like if we lived our lives this way? What if we took our experiences not just as training for something else later, but as a beautiful tile in itself? Life, in my opinion, isn’t stagnate. It’s ever moving, ever evolving, ever changing into something new, something different, a bigger picture. It is a grand mosaic made up of smaller mosaics.

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Honest Faith: An Introduction

Introduction

My name is Miguel. I’m a human being. I struggle. I fall. Sometimes I think of beautiful things, sometimes my thoughts are bogged down with darkness. I am. I exist. That is all I can claim is true in these moments. Recently I have set out on a quest to rediscover who I am, this is no easy quest. It is one that I’m often reminded has no end as our true selves are constantly in flux. But I wanted to really figure out what makes me, me. Finding the truest me that there is. So here is where I begin.

The Truest me

Recently I’ve been trying to clear myself of fluff. Both metaphorically and literally, I put on a few pounds during the pregnancy and first months of my son’s life. I decided to start cutting things out of my life that didn’t need to be there. I have been trying to very hard to figure out this question for myself “Who do I want to be?”. On the basest level, I discovered a few things that I want to be known of me:

A Loving Man

A few years ago my friend in his best man speech said of me that I was one of the most loyal and loving people he had ever met. Granted, it may have just been flowery language to pep up his speech. But a few years later a teenager who I had been working with at a church said in her goodbye speech to me that I was the embodiment of the love of God I so often taught them about. Both of these instances have told me that even if I’m not those things that I want to be those things. I want to be a loving man. I want it said of me that I loved with my entire being. That the love they saw caused me to be fiercely loyal to my friends and family, if you have met me you are one of the two to me.

A Safe Place

Recently the symbol of the safety pin has gained popularity. Despite it being another form of slacktivism, it is meant to show those who feel oppressed that the person wearing it is a “safe person”. Meaning that they will come to their aid in time of distress. This is another thing that I want to be said of me, that I am a safe place for all people. That no matter your age, race, gender, creed, orientation, mental ability, economic status, history, type of pie you love, or even if you hate pie (but really who hates pie?) that I will be a safe place for you. That when I am around I will come to your aid and defend you, even if you hate pie.

An Encounter With the Divine

More than just coming to the aid and defense a safe person is someone you can talk to without judgment or condemnation. I will talk more about my faith in a moment, but I want to be somebody who embodies the Imago Dei or for you non-latin speakers the image of God. That when you meet me or have a conversation with me that you can somehow through me have an encounter with the Divine, whatever the Divine looks like to you.

Out of everything else in my life I want those three things to be true of me. That in Miguel you will have a loving and safe encounter with the Divine.

Honest Faith

The name comes from a few things. I’ve been told that I was just trying to copy the popularity of the honest trailers on YouTube. But it’s really been something I’ve been considering for a long time. I tried to do some through my writing in here, an odd youtube video there, and all that I did in my career before. But I never was able to sort out what it was I wanted from this.

Honesty

Back in my college days, my theater director gave me one of the best compliments I’ve ever received in my life. She said that whenever I was on stage I portrayed the truth. I’ve never forgotten that. I’ve always wanted to be the most honest that I can be with myself and others. I haven’t always succeeded at this, especially when I feel cornered and trapped. Writing and theater are two things that I have been told that I’m good at. I want it said of my art that I’m honest. I want it said of those things that portray me the most are as real as they can be.

Faith

One of my favorite quotes is one from Frederick Buechner:

Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting.

In a talk that I gave to teenagers a few years ago, I likened it to being homesick for a place you have never been. There are so many of those things in our lives. There are so many fandoms nowadays that you can take your pick for a place you are homesick for that you have never been to Hogwarts, A galaxy far far away, the starship enterprise, Narnia, Tamriel, Westeros, Middle-Earth, the fringe division, S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters, the hall of Justice, and on and on… I think that’s a form of faith, in fact, there is a wonderfully funny video about how religion is just the biggest nerdom of them all. I have been to many of these worlds through books, movies, tv-shows, and comic books. I’ve brought back many important lessons for life, and I think they are the relics and stories of our times. The divine is revealed to me in these things as well as Scripture, so all of my faith stuff is going to have a bit of a nerdy twist to it. It’s my movement toward the Divine in all things

I want my art to reflect these things both honesty and my own nerdy sense of faith.

My Honest Faith

I am a man that has been kicked by the small “c” church a bunch. Sometimes it was my fault, others it wasn’t. I’m not going to go into specifics because honestly, I think that would do more harm than good. But I have just about given up on the small “c” church because I know what the large “C” church should look like and have encountered it only a select few times. Recently, I haven’t been on the best terms with the small “c” church. I had given up on practicing for a while, but now I’m taking a journey back into faith with a newfound sense of purpose. I’m going to be encountering the small “c” church in a new way than I have before and I will write about that as well. I figure if I’m going to make true art, it would probably best be told from my true to life struggles finding my new place in the small “c” church. I want to share my journey with you, and I hope you will tell me about your own honest faith journeys as well!

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