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: What is Hate?

Last week a friend of mine asked me, regarding a meme I posted on my facebook page, “What is hate?” She asked this to get clarification on the context of my position regarding that particular post. She went on to clarify that she doesn’t particularly like the use of the word “hate” when it pertains to a difference of opinion. Particularly for the same reason that I explained I didn’t. I started to think a lot about that question and on another meme that I had posted a few weeks prior to that which was shared by the facebook page “The Celtic Christian Tradition” I posted it as the featured image this week.

This has stuck in my brain this week due to an encounter I had last week. I had a moment where I got very upset with someone. I was trying very hard not to do so, but they just somehow got under my skin. I brought this up in therapy, thinking that you know, it would be a place where the person you are talking to would back you up. Much to my surprise and chagrin in the moment, my therapist kept working to help me see the divinity in the other individual. I know right? How awful that I have to be the bigger human being. This informed my response to my friend a few days later.

My response was this, “Hate is dehumanization or not seeing the worth of the other.” To which I wish to edit now to say, Hate is refusing to see the Divinity in everything. I know that this country is a rough place to live psychologically speaking. I know that a lot of our problems are very first world problems. I know that we have so many differences with other people that we want to refuse the image of the divine in them or other things so that in some way we can be right. So why is it so easy to do?

I wish I had the answer to this. I know I’ve written many times before about our addiction to pride, our love affair with violence, and even our quest to see the Divine in everything. These are just bits of the problem I feel. I don’t have the answer to the question of why it’s easy to refuse the divine, or why we insist on continuing to do it. I know that I’m guilty of this. I know that a very wide swath of us writers are guilty of this too. I discovered this a few weeks ago with my controversial post about the status quo and the modern church. Anger gets readers. Controversy sells. We are sitting on the edge of our seats waiting for the next thing to push us off so that we can take action.

I’m not going to lie, I mean I am the writer of the honest faith blog after all, I’m guilty of this all the time. There is a man that I would love to refuse to see the divine in. In fact, there isn’t a day that passes that he does something to make me dislike him more. If I were to write his name I’d have about 60 to 70 percent of you agreeing with me on this. The problem is that the divine loves him too. I’m sure the divine isn’t happy with some of the things this man is doing or saying, but this man is a beloved creation of the divine. But I can’t pretend to even imagine what the spiritual life of that person is like. Nor should I, it’s not my job. Though I have written about wearing a God Badge before…

I think our goal of putting the Divine back together again means that we have to see the world as the Divine does. We need to see the Divine in everything, everyone, and in every situation. We have used this word hate so much that it has lost its meaning. I used to teach teenagers that they shouldn’t use this word unless they really literally meant that they wanted whatever it was erased from existence. It was tough but a lot of them really started just saying that they just really disliked whatever it was. It put the ownership of that feeling back upon the speaker.

Have you ever noticed when you say you hate something that you not only strip that thing of its goodness or divinity, but you also put the ownership of that quality upon the object itself? But when you say you dislike something you take ownership of that feeling. You are the reason that feeling comes up. It’s your own preference. It has nothing to do with the object in question. Hate is a powerful word that we often don’t use correctly. We use it to strip the goodness and love that the Divine has given to something. That’s not to say there aren’t bad things in the world that do deserve to be erased from all existence, but that’s a different conversation for another day.

What would a little kindness cost us? Even if we did dislike something or someone? Our risk is minimal, at worst, for kindness. A little bit of kindness goes a long way. I heard an interview this last weekend with Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg regarding the passing of her husband and the book she wrote about that transition. She talked a lot about grief and resilience. One little bit stuck out to me though. The Co-Author of the book was talking about how people, especially grieving people, are afraid of imposing on someone else’s life by calling them. To which he stated don’t be afraid to ask for help, and admonished those who were thinking about someone going through a rough time to just call. I thought a lot about that and my own times of grief. I thought about how the small kindnesses like that could combat the hate and anger that would threaten to take root in my own soul. That small kindness didn’t cost very much to those people. A few moments, a few minutes of cell phone usage (do they still charge by the minute?), a few breaths that in the long run don’t amount to much really. But for that other, could mean the world.

What would the world look like if we started to see everything like the Divine? What if we stopped using the word “hate” and started taking ownership of our dislike? Would those few small moments of kindness start to illuminate the dark corners of our world? Maybe I’m just a hopeful idealist, but I would like to believe so. I’d like to believe that if we took a moment to own our dislike put it aside and begin to see the Divine in the other we can make the world a better and brighter place.

Hate takes too much from us. I think it not only strips the Divine from the other in our own eyes, but it takes a bit of our souls as well. It twists us and turns us inward and away from the Divine. I know there are passages about God hating this and that, but I really think that should be given a different word. Translated differently. That is a different thing altogether I believe. Maybe a righteous indignation? But I digress. We are all stocked up on hate at the moment. There is enough to go around and then some. I believe it’s time we clear the shelves and clean out the massive warehouses that we have of this product. It’s time to start stocking our shelves with kindness.

You don’t have to agree with me on everything. You don’t have to agree with anyone or everyone in your life. You don’t have to see eye to eye to be kind. You just have to take a moment, give a call to someone who has been on your mind, smile at someone, give hugs freely to those who will accept them (DON’T BE A HUG ACCOSTER!!!), give compliments instead of criticisms, include the good feedback with the bad, leave a funny meme on someone’s social media profile, send a direct message, be a friend. Start small, the big things will come in time.

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The Honest Faith: Finding Miguel

This past weekend I was with my family at Toys-R-Us browsing the aisles for what we were going to spend my son’s gift card on for his birthday. I used to love going to Toys-R-Us and I felt the all to familiar joy of walking the aisles again. This time with a purpose. We were going to find something fun for our 1-year-old to spend his birthday money on. As we were in the section with the outdoor toys I spotted an awesome super-soaker. Before I continue I should preface this with a bit of history, if you haven’t read my posts before I was a youth minister for 13 some odd years with 4 years of youth min college classes before that. This moment sent me into an existential crisis. It only lasted a moment, but I suddenly realized I’m not that person anymore. I’m not the dorky well-meaning youth minister who buys silly toys for a future fun event anymore. As the moment passed I was left with the question that I’ve been asking for the last 6 months, “Who am I? How did I get here?” A very Talking Heads moment for sure.

Have you ever had one of those moments? Something happens that doesn’t necessarily phase you at that exact moment. It doesn’t really do anything to set you off kilter or anything, but it sort of just sticks with you? I think because, for me, I’ve had this common thread in the past few weeks of the same message “Just be yourself”. This isn’t meant to be revolutionary advice at all. But when you have been down the rabbit hole of “Who am I?” the statement of “just be yourself” can be world shaking. Especially when a large part of your identity was wrapped up in what you do for a living like mine was.

I’ve told you my brief story earlier, and you know that I’ve always had this picture in my head of what I was going to do with my life. I was going to be someone who led many to the Gospel. That dream was shattered, but as I’m constantly learning it’s just part of the larger mosaic of my life. After recording our podcast yesterday, my wife and I talked about one of the main points, removing the masks. She said, “The church really did a number on you didn’t they?” I replied, “It’s not just the church. I don’t know who I am. I don’t know how to be an adult in this world after being what I was for so long.” I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know my preferences and the things I enjoy. The biggest part of this all is that I don’t know how to “adult” outside of the church.

Maybe this is a problem only a few of us in the world face. But I do know that the vast majority of us, if not all of us, struggle with self-identity. I’m so often consumed with this struggle to find who I am and where I am going. In fact, I’ve had Paul Simon’s refrain from “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” stuck in my head for the last week;

Well I’m on my way

I don’t know where I’m going

I’m on my way I’m taking my time

But I don’t know where

The greatest thing about this problem is that it is causing me to slow down. To take a good look at all that is going on around me. Take stock of how I feel, what is my place in what is going on. Just be present in the moment. It was a lot harder to do that before. I always had my head in the future and thinking of what was to come. Those who are, or were in ministry can attest to this. Ministry is about that balance of keeping one foot planted in the present, and one in the future to prepare for what is to come. That balance is easily upset. We find ourselves so often living in the future and worrying about what is to come that we lose sight of the present. The present is where we reside, though. To find oneself you need to be here in the now.

I spent so long in the future, trying to plan for all inevitable catastrophes that being in the present is like being a foreigner in a strange land. You see that life has happened around you. Things didn’t turn out the way you expected. You may be pleasantly surprised that the worst case scenario didn’t actually happen, or that it did but not in the way you thought. One of my new tools to deal with anxiety, thank you therapy, has been this mantra, “I don’t have a crystal ball, I don’t know what is going to happen.” It has been surprisingly helpful and weirdly a part of me still wants to fight it. Maybe that is what it is to live in the present and connect with other people, giving up our Nostradamus goggles and beginning to see the world for what it is.

There is another song by Paul Simon that talks about being a foreigner in a foreign land and just being struck with that existential moment. The fun and poppy hit “You can call me Al” is surprisingly deep. In it, Simon talks about coming to that point of appreciating what is around you and seeing the good in it all. I think this is where the Divine resides as well. I think the Divine resides in the present, here with us. That’s one of the Divine’s names, isn’t it? Emmanuel, God with us, is meant as an image of protection for the house of David. I also think it means more than that. God is here, with us, in these moments. The Divine is there in the toys at the toy store to bring joy. The Divine is in the movements of a little one trying to take in all the bright colors around him. Maybe that is what it is to worship, to stop and be present in the here and now. To strip away everything else that isn’t us and just be. I am oft reminded of the line from the psalmist’s song speaking of admiration, “Be still and know that I am God.” 

I’m still looking for that big picture of the mosaic that is my life. I’m still writing a new story and script for me. I know it’s going to take time. I know it isn’t going to look like it did before, and I’m excited to see what that mosaic will be. I can see myself retiring at 65, despite what the economy says right now, with maybe a book or two or several published a good career accomplished in my new field and hopefully having made the world a better place for being in it. But that is the future, that doesn’t matter so much for the now. I can work backward and figure out how to get there from here, but as my mantra says I don’t know how this will turn out. So for now, I write, I work, and I enjoy what Is here and now.

I may not be a youth minister anymore, but I can still take joy in the fun toys at the store. I can see the bright flashy colors and feel okay with the world again. I can look at my son trying to stuff the toy that we just placed in the cart into his mouth and smile. I can admire the beauty of the trees bursting back to life here in the spring. I can be here, now. I may not know where I’m going yet, but I can see the angels in the architecture spinning in infinity and I’ll say Amen, Hallelujah!

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Honest Faith: God of War

No, I’m not doing a series of video game blog posts. If I did, I’d probably pick a game series I enjoyed more than that one. I wanted to have a conversation about violence and our love affair with it. Last week I focused on our odd relationship with Pride, this week I want to focus on violence. This is something that I have a long history with, more thinking about rather than violence itself. The thoughts have popped up at random intervals in my life. Once after I wanted to show my wife the awesomeness that is the movie “Fight Club”, she became ill due to the violence depicted. I thought that’s odd I never really noticed it was that bad. Once when I was doing a project in college to survey, using the forum that youth specialties had on their main website (I wasn’t very liked there), what youth ministers thought about war. Finally, there is just recently, at church there was a discussion after service whether Islam was a violent religion or not. Since I have decided that during lent I’d find out more about Islam I figured it was a good discussion to dip my toe into. We had to leave early due to our schedule being tight, but Cathy (my wife) brought up a good point afterward. Asking the question is silly because the question itself is silly. Islam is only violent in so far as Christianity, Judaism, Buddism, Atheism, Sikhism, Hinduism, or whatever other -ism is violent. It isn’t the religion as a whole, it’s the people who follow it.

Back in college, I was a bit naive. Okay, okay it was more than a bit. I like to refer to it as my know-it-all jackassery time. So I got this bright idea that I would start a fight on a youth ministry forum for a project at school. I wanted to get people talking about war and why they justified it. This was early in the “W” years. I was a bigger idealist than I am now. I really believed that Christianity is meant to be a pacifist movement. I still do, but I’m not as militant about it (see what I did there?).quote-i-am-not-only-a-pacifist-but-a-militant-pacifist-i-am-willing-to-fight-for-peace-nothing-albert-einstein-8-74-45 Anyway, I just incited the incident by posting a question on the forum asking what people thought the Bible had to say about war and violence. I cited a few hypotheses and would push people to explain their answers. Needless to say, it got heated very quickly. I actually had back up too. My roommates made accounts on the forum to “Help” with moving the conversation along. I’m not super proud of this, but I was very interested in what happened. We discovered that Christians, especially youth ministers, aren’t very good at handling the opposing viewpoint with respect and kindness. Granted, some were antagonized and pushed by my roommates to explain further, but mostly I started to receive violent threats because I pursued the point of pacifism. I found it ironic, and it turned out to be a very good paper following. This started my pursuit into thinking about why it is we tend toward violence in solving our problems and in our images of justice. Oh and If you were one of those people we pushed way back when on those forums, I apologize. We shouldn’t have been as “troll-y” as we were. I’m also much more interested in having an actual conversation with you now, rather than an argument.

It was this project that really opened my eyes, though. I started to look at what the Bible and other texts that were important to our culture. I started to be more aware of the media I was consuming. What I viewed as entertainment, and what was just so much time wasted. I noticed a disturbing trend. We live in a culture saturated with violent images and sexual innuendo. Now I’m not a super pious person. If you know me personally you know I swear on occasion, like beautifully choreographed martial art sequences, I enjoy a well-crafted beer, and don’t care much for the puritanical outlook on modern morality. Much like Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic adaptation of “A Clockwork Orange”822750_020 we have resisted violence and sex so much as a culture that it has made them the pinnacle of our marketing potential. I could go on to talk about how this has reduced sex to meaningless pleasure and people as objects, but that’s a completely separate blog post for another time. We are talking specifically about violence. I began to notice that the majority of the metaphors in the Christian Bible are violent and war metaphors. Granted, this was a people that lived during a much more violent time than we do ( Research has been done ). This was something that people lived every day and for them, it was necessary to speak in terms everyone understood.

This informed a lot of what I began to think about for the coming years. It’s one of the reasons why I will never watch “Fight Club” in the same way again. It’s the same reason why I can’t make it through the first 10 minutes of the previously mentioned “A Clockwork Orange”. It’s the same reason that I don’t understand why people want to blame a religion or a text or video games or what have you for physical violence. The problem is not ethereal, the problem is us. We don’t talk about the stuff we are consuming. We don’t have proper conversations about our feelings. We don’t give emotional, spiritual, psychological, and cognitive tools to each other to help cope with our situations. We allow things to become explosive because on some level we do just want to watch the world burn. On some level, we find it entertaining.

I could cite the rise of reality television and our obsession with watching fail videos on youtube or elsewhere. But the thing is I think you already know that part of yourself exists. It’s that part of you that wants the hero to kill the villain at the end of the story to exact your idea of justice. Maybe you don’t want that. I admit I’m conflicted in those moments as well. I remember the days and months following 9/11 when all I wished for was vengeance upon those who hurt our country. I’m sure there are still those who feel that. I’m not saying it’s wrong to feel that way. What I am saying is that we need to open up to other people that part of ourselves. We need to talk about these things in open and healthy ways because otherwise, we are feeding the vengeful god of war waiting for things to become explosive.

I believe that the Divine is a loving god. I know that the vast majority of the descriptions throughout scriptures are contrary to that. But I like to believe what that one middle eastern Jewish man once told people about. A loving God that isn’t seeking sacrifice. A loving God that does not require anything from you, but to love what has been given to you. That may be a naive and idealistic image for me to espouse, but for me, it is a hopeful one. It is one that I think is gaining popularity. Despite the fact, fewer people are going to church, I think more people are embracing the image of a loving and peaceful God. Ruins of Viking ChurchIt may not be a conscious embrace, it might even be to spite those they believe were wrong in the past. Maybe instead of holding on and bottling up our feelings about things we are meant as creatures to share them with each other. We are not meant to be strong on our own. We are meant to be strong together. As I’ve been saying for a few weeks now, we are putting God back together again when we come together. I believe that was the whole idea of church in the first place. I admit for me it is now really difficult to get up on a Sunday morning and attend services now that I don’t work for the church. It’s tough to get ready and get my family ready and leave the house. I would much rather sit around in my pajamas and eat pancakes on a Sunday morning. But I know that it is important for me to be connected to the larger whole. It is important for me to come to the table and commune with others. Maybe we should think about doing something different than Sunday mornings, but that’s a different conversation.

Maybe I’m wrong. It’s possible. But I fear that no matter where you are on the political spectrum. No matter where you are on the religious spectrum. No matter where you are on the morality spectrum. The more we give in to our darker selves and keep them bottled up the more we are in danger of exploding. I’m not saying it’s not okay to watch, play, or read violent things. I’m saying it’s not okay to do it without questioning the larger whole. It’s not okay to do it and not wonder why or not share your feelings about it with others (in a way that is productive and healthy). It’s not okay to feed the vengeful god of war unknowingly.

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Honest Faith: Hate the Sin

Growing up I heard a phrase over and over. It was repeated ad-nauseum when I was in college as well. This phrase, I believe, has lead a lot of Christians and converts to think the wrong things about our morality system. I bet even before I write it here you know what it is, probably because half of it is in the title, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” There is so much wrong in that little phrase that I think it, along with a few other things, have allowed us to justify hate as commonplace and a “good” thing.

My mind on my sin, and my sin on my mind

There was a song that I was taught in Sunday School growing up. It goes like this:

O be careful little eyes what you see

O be careful little eyes what you see

There’s a Father up above

And He’s looking down in love

So, be careful little eyes what you see

The song continues with other body parts that may do things that cause you to sin. Thinking back on this, why don’t I have a larger anxiety and paranoia complex than I already do? Anyway, this is something they taught children. That God, like Santa, was always watching to make sure that you were a good little child. I grew up being very, very careful to make sure I didn’t do anything (I really wanted to end the sentence here) that would be even remotely considered a sin. I’ve talked about the whole Goats and Sheep thing before.

Why have we become so consumed with stopping ourselves from sinning? There is this story about Martin Luther talking to his student Melancthon. The story goes that Melancthon had come to Luther asking about sin and expressing his anxieties about doing anything. Martin Luther says to him, “Be a sinner, and sin strongly.” He went on to tell him that Christ is stronger than that. Jesus himself even said that he didn’t care that much about the laws and people keeping them. He cared if people “Love[d] the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’” Paul even reiterates that in Romans. We aren’t to be concerned with sin. I’ve talked about this manufactured guilt before.

No, Jesus came that we might have life, and have it to the fullest. That means that we aren’t to be concerning ourselves with whether or not someone sins. NO! It means that we are to live our lives fully joyous and triumphant in the grace that has been bestowed on us. Jesus even said that we should be more concerned about the planks in our own eyes rather than the speck in someone elses. So we should be much less concerned if someone else is sinning… I’m starting to see a whole breakdown in the logic of that phrase already. If we aren’t supposed to be concerned about sin why should we hate it?

Haters gonna Hate

Fear of something is at the root of hate for others, and hate within will eventually destroy the hater. –George Washington Carver

I found something today. I suspected it, but until I did a search to confirm it, I didn’t fully know. I did some fact checking, a habit all of you should commit yourselves to. Jesus never once told us to hate something. Did you know that? Jesus mentions hate a few times, and even says something about hating your family, but never tells people to directly hate something. You know the only times that I see Jesus hating things is when something isn’t doing what it claims to do. Especially a certain fig tree. God hates figs…

I had a friend in college, he’s still my friend (kinda) as much as you can count facebook friends that you kind of just keep tabs on their lives through social media posts, who got the word HATE tattooed on his arm, in french. He said that it was because it was the only hate he wanted in his life. I thought a lot about that. I thought about how a little bit of hate tends to spiral out of control very quickly. I don’t think his tattoo grew, but I think that any hate in our lives can begin to catch other things on fire with the flames of that original piece of hate. As the phrase goes, “Haters gonna hate”. I used to tell my students about how I didn’t want to use that word anymore. I feel like the fact that we overuse it leads us to minimize how powerful a word and thing hate really is. If we hate something small and leave it unchecked it can turn to a raging forest fire of hate.

No, you see Jesus saying over, and over, and over, and over, and over for us to LOVE. And by golly do we go and put the opposite word in His mouth. There were so many things that Jesus told us to love, and to do that we shouldn’t concern ourselves with the opposite. Hate has no place in the mind and heart of a Christ follower. Hate can destroy people. So why would you wreck yourself over something that someone else is doing? You’ve got your own problems to deal with! That small hate of the sin ends up becoming a hate for the person. So why be so concerned with it? Is it because you want everyone to follow your own morality system?

Do you believe that someone has to believe in God to have morals or good conscience?

I had a former student contact me because I posted something about having writer’s block on Facebook. If you enjoyed my post on Mass Effect let me know, I’m not super confident in it, but as you know I gave up doubting myself for lent. So he gave me a prompt. The prompt is something that he’s constantly confronted with in his Poli-Sci courses in college. The thing is I think that is what this phrase boils down to, the western church’s obsession with being the morality police.

I don’t believe that Christianity has the market cornered on morality either.Really, almost every major religion has a “golden rule”. They all tend to be very similar. What is truly interesting though is how those religions have all taken their turn to be a “morality authority” and have ended up committing some horrible things in the name of their religion. The crusades, the Spanish inquisition (didn’t expect that one did you?), and the holocaust are all examples of when Christianity in the morality police position has failed to an extent that should make us never want to be in that position again. I could name a few that other religions have committed, but we are talking about the Christian church at the time being.

Humans are flawed that is a major point in almost any morality code and religion. We fall short of perfection. Many of us don’t come close. One of the weirdest things I’ve discovered in my few short years of being a human, some of the best people I know don’t follow a religion. They aren’t concerned about their sins, or their failings. They live their lives the best way they know how. Some of their stories are inspirational and uplifting. Some are just “everyday” people. One thing is common in each of them, though. They have a genuine love for their fellow human being. That is what they concern themselves with.

My answer to that question above is this, nope. It’s not my concern whether or not someone believes in God. My concern is with myself, and how I can show love the best way that I can to my fellow human being. I don’t think that any religion has the whole morality story either. If you believe in a God or don’t doesn’t say whether or not you have a moral code. It also doesn’t preclude you to having a good moral code either. Some of the meanest people I know claim to be religious.

Love the sinner- The End

That phrase needs an update sorely. It is rather sad that this is something that we need to be reminded of. I think we just have to drop everything after the first word. Love. That’s it. Love. There are scriptures, not just of Christian origin, that speak ofthe power of love. In fact, the Christian scriptures even say that “God is LOVE” The great philosopher and poet Heuy Lewis once sang a whole song about the power of love. As he says in the song you don’t need money, you don’t need fame, You don’t need no credit card to ride this train. I think we as Christ followers need to be more concerned about spreading the message of love rather than hating anything. But that’s just me.

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Honest Faith: I’m Giving Up

Before those of you who actually have been following me and supporting my creative outlets begin freaking out. No, I’m not giving up on those things. But I got you to read this far didn’t I? Great! Keep reading! Share with your friends! Give me feedback. I invite you to be in conversation with me. Anyway, back to giving up. During lent many Christians follow the ancient spiritual practice of fasting or abstaining from a luxury or a vice as a form of penance. Many also add spiritual practices to their routine during the 40 days as a way to grow closer to the Divine. If you’ve been following along you know that my own relationship with the Divine is a little complicated at the moment. I was thinking a lot about what I would give up during this lenten season as a spiritual practice for my own life. I realized that I had given up a lot during my transition time as well. I thought about maybe adding something to my life. Maybe I could learn something new that would enrich my life and make me a better human being. I thought about it for a long time, and this is what I decided. I decided I’m giving up.

Giving Up My God Badge

“Ma, Take this badge off of me. I can’t use it anymore.”

One of the things about being a spiritual leader in my former life (or current… my therapist keeps telling me my days as a minister aren’t over, I’m just “ministering” in different ways) was the opportunity I had to speak to the spiritual practices of other people. What I figured out is that it is very easy to slip on a “God Badge” when everyone keeps giving you that badge. People look at their spiritual leaders as the Divine’s representatives here on this earth. The weird thing is, every single living being is that representation. It doesn’t make our spiritual leaders more divine than anyone else, nor does it make any one of us less divine.

I think we all need to take a look at who we give our “God Badge” to.0459e53f29192dc3cc390b550012301a We give people the right and power to tell us how we are to live our lives. I find that to be very problematic when we are the only ones facing what we are facing. The Divine can speak to us through our spiritual leaders for sure, but we are the only ones who can decide if we want to follow that particular path or forge ahead in a different one.

I certainly don’t want to be that to anyone anymore. I don’t want to tell you what way you should go because that’s not my place anymore. I would be happy to have a conversation with anyone about what the Divine is trying to speak into your life, but I have no place to tell you how to live your life. I’m taking off this “God Badge” I don’t need it anymore.

The truth of this is that you are the only one who can find your way to the Divine. We other beings can help you find the right path, but only you knows which is best for you. I used to use a clip from “City Slickers” when I was discussing this with teenagers. You know the one. It’s where Billy Crystal’s character asks what the meaning of life is. Here is the response.Curly For each of you, there is just that one thing. It’s for you to figure it out. Once you do you should stick to that until it doesn’t work anymore. Everything else that other people say or try to get you to do to “be closer to God” don’t mean shit. Saint Paul had a lot to say on this particular topic as well…

Giving Up My Ignorance

So many of us claim to actually know something about something, when maybe we spent ten minutes looking it up on Wikipedia.giphy I have learned that I know a little bit about a whole lot, but it’s all just trivia. I didn’t like to say the words “I don’t know”. The truth is, there is a lot I don’t know. So maybe I should take the time to get to know something I didn’t before. I have always been fascinated by the other Abrahamic religions. I really know very small amounts of those religions. Like I’ve mentioned before about my learning the Bible, It’s like I’m standing on the shore of a vast ocean. I’m giving up my ignorance.

I decided that over the next 40 days that I’m going to learn more about Islam. That is a path that many take to find the Divine. I also imagine that by stating that in a public place that somehow I’ve been placed on a list somewhere. I know a little about the faith, but I’d like to know more. There are so many of us who let our ignorance inform our decisions or images of people. The little I do know shows me that they are a religion just like my own, and maybe they have some important truth that I don’t. Maybe they can inform my image of the Divine in a positive way. So I’m giving up my ignorance of that small part of the vast ocean.

Giving Up My Self-Doubt

I have spent my transition time, which is nearing its end in 18 days, creating.Honest Faith Logo I’ve been sharing my creative projects publicly because I want feedback. I want to know how I’m doing. I want to know if I’m helping anyone else figure out something. Maybe I am, maybe I’m just doing it for me and nobody really cares. The truth is I’m plagued with self-doubt. Do people actually read my blog? Am I a good writer? Does anybody care what I have to say? Am I just Screaming into the Void? Would anybody read this book if I were to get it published? Does it suck? Why aren’t people talking to me? Do I smell? Am I really creepy? Why have I put on so much weight? Will I ever find my way out of this place? Am I just meant to be here?

The truth is yeah, my writing probably sucked at first. But I realized that I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I’ve been writing poetry, blog posts, and short stories since I was just starting to figure out who I was. A lot of that stuff sucked. But I put in my time. I’m not saying I’m the greatest writer. I know I have some issues with punctuation and have been working on that, but I found out that it takes only 20 hours to learn something new. I think I passed that mark. I’m not sure how close I am to the 10,000 hours it takes to be an “expert” but I’m doing alright.

It takes 21 days for that thing to become a habit. So lent is a perfect time to develop a healthy habit of me not doubting myself every time I publish an article, record a new podcast episode, or upload an expressive reading.  Considering I publish something new on Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays. It should be a habit by the end of March for me to not second guess myself every time.

Granted, I may still be greatly delusional about my talent in these areas, but maybe not. Maybe they will develop into something. I want to be a writer. I enjoy writing. It fills that niche that used to be filled by writing lessons for a weekly youth program. If I enjoy doing something, who am I to say that I shouldn’t do it because someone else may not think it’s any good. I’m just putting it out there so that maybe, just maybe, someone would think it’s good and be helped by it. So I’m giving up my self-doubt. (Much easier said than done)

Giving Up My Silence

Because of self-doubt and my struggle with GAD I am often silent on things that I fear would get me into trouble or more trouble than I’m already in. That has lead to me being taken advantage of more times than I’d like to admit. Because the “squeaky wheel gets the grease”squeaky_wheel does not mean we silent wheels don’t need any. I’ve found during my transition time, both through circumstance and surroundings, I can no longer keep silent. I have feelings, thoughts, and a voice that is just as valid as anyone else’s. I can’t keep silent. People just like me need me to speak up. I will give up my silence because maybe they need someone to scream into to void for them as well. Maybe they keep silent because of their own self-doubt or struggle with an Anxiety disorder. Whatever the case, I can’t nor will I keep silent. Mental health is important, and for my own mental well being I can’t do it anymore. So I’m giving up my silence.

Just Give Up.

If you, reader, are still trying to figure out something to “give up” for lent. I invite you to just give up those things that are bad for you. Give up your “god badge”. Give up your ignorance. Give up your self-doubt. Give up your silence. Join me. We have a lot of work to do repairing this world. It’s not going to repair itself. It needs exactly me, and exactly you to do this work. Give up those things that keep you from that work. Just give up, and get to work.

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Dear Son and Honest Faith: On Regret

Dear Son,

Today I’m writing you a letter in joint with my series of writings on rediscovering faith. I’m doing this because I think what I have to say to you today has a lot to do with how I’m dealing with what I’ve been going through spiritually as well. I love watching you grow up. I love that I have had some extra time with you. But I’ve been going through a transition recently. That transition has caused me to look back on my life and think a lot about all that I have been through. Including what your mother and I went through to get to the point where we are now.

Yesterday, while you were napping we watched a movie, or at least we tried to watch the movie you woke up half way through. When you become a parent, you’ll understand how hard it is to actually sit down and watch a movie. Anyway, there was a question asked in the movie, “If you knew how your life would turn out, would you choose to live it again?” After the movie was over your mother and I were discussing what we would talk about in our podcast on Sunday. I asked this question of both of us. If we knew what we would go through to get to this point, would we do it anyway? The answer was quite clear for me, Yes, a hundred million times yes.

Later that evening, when you actually were asleep, we were catching up on our shows. One of the episodes we were watching was based around the idea that “our regrets are what make us human.” I was trying to think of the things that I regret the most in my life. There were a lot of little things like: making fun of that girl I liked because she didn’t like me back, not standing up to those who took advantage of me, thinking I could “save” someone at 2 am, not doing enough to help other people.  I started to think of all of those things in terms of the question, would I do it again, I realized a few things and I wanted to share them with you.

First, Even if I knew something were to happen to you, God forbid, I would do everything exactly the same way again. As if it were a magic ritual to get to be with you. Just one moment with you. Just to see one of your little smiles. Just to hear that magical laugh of yours. It makes everything worth it. I cherish each of those things so very much. It is and will forever be my greatest honor and joy to be your father. I thought about this in the context of the image of God as Parent. God knew. God knew you before the beginning of time itself. God knew all the crap the whole of God’s Creation would create, and yet God still Created. I don’t believe God regrets. I think God wants. I think God wants better for everything, but knows that God gave us the job of cleaning up the holy mess we got ourselves in. God made us for Tikkun Olam.

I started to think about it scientifically. I tried to come up with a formula for life. I know, a very ambitious task for me to take on right before bed last night. But I did come up with something. There is a phrase that is said very often, and because I’m writing a letter to you some people might be angry if I use the actual wording even if you will never read this until you are much older, “Poop happens”. That I believe is a constant in life. So in this formula of life, if you can’t change poop from happening what are the variables that we can change to have a good outcome? I’ve written so many times about my favorite quote from Lord of the Rings, but I think that lays out the variables for the formula quite well. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” The variables for the equation our own response to the situation, both immediate and how much we let it change us in the end. I think the sum of all the parts together give us a life well lived or not. I don’t think we should shy away from experiences for fear of the regret we may have. We have been given life, so therefore we must live it. We must live it in ways that amount to our purpose of repairing the world. So if the sum of the whole equation “Poop happens(constant) + immediate response(variable)+ how much it changes us (variable)=?” does not equal a positive repair of ourselves or the world, we must change the variables. Change the variables.

Thinking back on those regrets I realized I couldn’t change my immediate reaction to what happened. I could change my reaction to those things in the future, though. Right there starting to get into positive territory. I can also change how I let those situations change me. I can work to repair the brokenness caused by those things. I can work to heal the wounds they created. This morning on the radio I heard a man in an interview say, “It’s not his job to care about our community, That’s our job.” It struck me that in the grand scheme of things my regrets are just that, mine. It’s nobody else’s job to clean up the messes that I created. It’s mine. I shouldn’t regret things that made me who I am. I should regret things that caused harm or hurt, but that regret shouldn’t stop there. That regret should drive me to make things better, to clean up the holy messes that I have been a part of.

Finally, I came back to the original question. Would I do it again? This is something I think someone needed to ask me earlier on in my transition, but I don’t regret that. I would be a youth minister again in all of those places I was before. I would because I realize that there were small moments little things that I didn’t notice right away that needed exactly me to be there. They needed me to happen the way that they did. I suffered a lot for those things to happen, but I wouldn’t change it. I would go through all the pain and suffering your mother and I went through to have you here. She said something that made it all make sense, “The suffering makes you appreciate the good things all the more.”

Son, I know that bad things will happen to you. I don’t want them to, I don’t think any parent ever wants bad things to happen to their children. I can’t change those bad things will happen, though. All I can change is how to guide you to change the variables. I can help you to figure out what to do with the regrets you will have. They don’t have to weigh you down. They can drive you to make things better. I pray that they do. I pray that I will show you how to do that through my own life.

Love,

Your Dad

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Unsolicited Advice: Presidential

Hello Mr. President,

This isn’t going to be one of those letters. I know you have been getting quite a few hate filled letters from people who obviously are not your fans. I’m not really a fan of yours either, but I’m not writing about that today. I’m writing to give you some advice from my years as a youth minister which may be helpful. I found that working with people doesn’t really change across the boards so these things may be helpful to you. Or they may not be, I don’t know I’m just a former youth minister.

Don’t make changes too quickly!

This was something that my youth ministry professor stressed with us when I was in college. He wanted us to make sure that we had the right tools in ministry and I can tell you from experience he was right! You never want to jump right into a job, especially one of leadership and make changes too quickly. This tends to make those you are working with and leading to resent you. They had a set way of doing things that were working out pretty well before you got there. Sure, it may not be your style of doing things, but if you are in it for the long haul you’ll have time to make the changes you need to suit your way of doing things. Besides you may even find out that those other ways of doing things suit you just fine. Adaptability is key in the first few months to a year in a new position. Once you understand the people you are working with, and when they trust you enough, then and only then should you begin to make changes that you see fit.

I realize you’ve already done some things so far, it’s been a busy two and a half weeks, but you can still delay on all the other things you want to change. Don’t worry if it truly is a good and needed change you’ll still have time to make it.

Don’t bad mouth the last leader

You may be following the worst leader ever when you come into a new position, but it still doesn’t justify bad things being said. This goes for everything he/she did and all the recruits he/she put into place. Trust me, that person was facing some of the worst things in their own lives and careers just like you are going to. It is helpful to seek their advice and to praise what they accomplished. This goes hand in hand with not making changes too quickly. Even if they were the worst leader, they gained the trust of the people they were working with and were able to accomplish what they did for a reason. I have followed some amazing leaders and some not so amazing leaders. I’ve been called the devil by some of those former leaders (long story, ask me about it sometime). I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of belittling the last person to make yourself look better.

Okay, you have done some of this as well. It’s never too late to apologize. A little humility goes a long way!

Never stop growing

The moment that you feel you have it all figured out is the moment you fail. I can’t tell you the number of roadblocks I’ve faced because I felt that things were going along just fine and then… Even if you think you have the job completely figured out, you still have more to learn. One of the greatest things I learned in ministry was how to say “I don’t know, but let me try to figure it out.” I probably could have said that a lot more, but sometimes pride gets in the way. Never be too proud to say those words. Chances are people will help you figure it out! We are never the same person we were the day before. Oh here is another cliche you may hear a lot too, The only easy day was yesterday.

Listen to your haters

Sometimes your critics have important things to tell you. Granted, they come in pretty hurtful packages, but they are still important nonetheless. I have an example for this one. Okay, so you know how if you just read a word but never say it out loud your pronunciation of it can be way off what it should be? Well, I was performing in a show once and I had only ever read the word “respite”. I thought it was pronounced re-spite instead of res-pit. Lordy, did I hear it from a critic in the paper the next day about my pronunciation! I went and found the words that I mispronounced and made those changes. I think it was an excellent show after that. Remember that sometimes you got to take those things with a grain of salt, but try to find the truth in the things they are saying.

I realize you have many, many haters right now. But they have some important things to say. Many of them just want to make sure they are heard. Some of them are a bit hateful and don’t have much to say, but there are still those who have important things to say.

Love your neighbor as yourself

You are going to come up against things you don’t understand. You are going to meet people who are going to change your whole perspective on life. But that won’t happen unless you are open to it. Love, so often, is being able to see the small things in someone else that make them unique and valuable. Everyone has that thing, even you. I call that the spark of the Divine. Even the worst students I’ve encountered had the spark of the Divine in them. I can’t call any one human being evil or not of God because I’ve discovered that everyone, all life for that matter, has the spark of the Divine in it. When we work together, when we are all able to let that spark shine through that is when the world will be truly great again. So it means that sometimes we have to get out of the way, or not stand in the way of someone else letting their spark shine. That means allowing someone else the freedom to be who they are. I understand that is scary. I understand that it puts you at risk sometimes, but I know from experience that it is worth it.

I think you know where this applies, and I’m not going to tread on ground that so many others are treading right now.

Salutations

Although I’m almost positive this would never get around to you. I still think this is advice that could be helpful. I am praying for you. I do have a little hope that you will finally figure out how to be a good leader. I’m not sure that I myself hold out a lot of hope for that, but I like to be surprised in good ways. These are just some of the issues that I think can be helpful to you.

 

Salutations,

A Former Youth Minister

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Honest Faith: Get up, Stand up

There is an older Christian Rock song (I know not my preferred genre of music anymore) that went like this:

This is a revolution…
It starts with me and ends at the back of the church…
This is a common solution for you and me…

This is a revolution…
Let us change the world ’til all nations see..
There is no confusion for you and me…

There was a trend in the nineteen nineties for “Christian” music groups to write or produce songs about a revolution of Christianity. Moving from a church that just talked about religion and never did anything to a movement of actually doing something. If you don’t believe me just check out some of them: Revolution by Kirk Franklin, Shine by The Newsboys, Boy on a String by Jars of Clay, Song and Dance by The Normals, What have we become by DC Talk, Unite by The O.C. Supertones, Hands and Feet by Audio Adrenaline, and I could go on and on…

When I was younger this was all I listened to. I listened to these Christian artists who talked a lot about Christianity being about action and service. I know that there were many of us Christian Millenials who grew up with this stuff, as awful as that was. We got the message that faith without works was dead. Which so often went very contrary to the other message the church (small c) was feeding us. We were so often told to lead moral and “good” lives before helping people.

The “Moral” Christianity became the norm for so long that not many questioned it as being the thing that Jesus intended for the church. We became a faith of the inwardly focused that cared more about how we looked in front of other people rather than how much we were doing for those people. It was a religion that certainly was transformative in its own way but it was not Christian. It was a religion that limited life instead of giving it.

I knew there was something wrong with this message. I knew it way back in high school when I was the president of the Bible Club. I knew that there was something that we needed to be doing, but I didn’t know what it was. So many of those songs I listened to talked about a Love that transformed and pushed Jesus people to help those who were hurting and dying. I knew that is what I wanted to do with my life, but I didn’t know what that looked like. I knew I wanted to be a part of a Love Revolution. (ps. I was using that phrase way before Ron Paul)

When I was in college I had the amazing opportunity to listen to Jay Bakker talk to a convention for youth workers. He was as surprised as many of the youth workers were that he was asked to be a keynote speaker. He is the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. In 1994 Bakker helped to start a church that was a different kind of church. It was/is called Revolution Church. Anyway, he was asked to come and talk to this room full of youth workers. He used his time, and then some, to talk about how the church was not a museum. He said the Church was a hospital. A place where hurting people could help other hurting people. Not caring about appearance, sexuality, morality, or any of that other stuff. It was a place where unconditional love happened. A place where anyone can come and God would show up. It was that moment that I knew what the Revolution was. Love was the revolution.

It was so much more than just the fire insurance, morality than I was taught growing up. Love God, Love others, and love yourself. So simple yet we wanted to complicate it with all these other rules and regulations. Jesus often talked about how the gospel was that the kingdom is here and now. Jesus talked about coming that we may have life and have it to the fullest. He talked about a love that would lay its own life down for its fellow man. A love that accepted all and couldn’t help but to meet others where they were at. A love that didn’t boast. A love that St. Paul went on to talk about:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

That is what the Gospel is about. The Gospel is a God that loved humanity so damn much that God could not help but to come down and be among God’s creation. A God that loved so damn much that God couldn’t help but to die for those created beings. A God that commanded us to do the same.

God never told us to be selective. God never said only love those who fit into a certain mold. God never told us to change people to fit that mold. God never said that we should take care of our own. God never said that the love was conditional. God never told us to stay still and silent about that love. God told us to share that love by being sheep.

We’ve come to a pivotal moment in our faith where we need a revolution. It’s time to stand up for what we know to be right. St. Francis has a phrase that is often attributed to him which goes, “Preach the Gospel to all the world, if necessary use words.” I felt like I needed to share what the Gospel was in words again because for some reason it appears we forgot. We got so afraid of other people, we got so consumed with what was “ours” that we forgot that it was about each other. It was about love. It was about stepping out of our pews getting up and showing that love to our fellow man. We got comfortable with our self-centered approach to faith that we forgot that faith was an action verb. We turned it into a noun. I write all this because it’s time, as Bob Marley put it, we Get up, stand up. We need to get up, and stand up for the rights of our fellow man. We cannot give in to fear, hate, and despair. It’s a revolution that starts with you and ends at the back of the church. It will change the world, because love can and does change the world. Love is the revolution! intro 10-12-11

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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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