The Honest Faith Presents: The Boulevard of Broken Dreams

A Youth Minister’s Story of being shattered

Chapter 1

At an early age, I wanted to talk to God. Not just the simple everyday prayers of a child. I wanted God to have an audible conversation with me. Some of my earliest memories were of walking around the large playground area behind my church-school while waiting for my mother to get done with teacher meetings talking to my imaginary friend called “God”. I often still feel like that doe-eyed child trying to balance on the imaginary catwalks made of concrete and playground equipment in an attempt to not fall into the lava that covered the ground all the while just chatting to God about my day.

I grew up hearing stories about these amazing Bible characters that did amazing things and had conversations with the Creator of the Universe. I wanted to be just like them. I wanted my grand adventure to start from a missive given to me from the Almighty. I think my idealistic nature started at that point. Nobody told me that God doesn’t work like that anymore. Maybe God does, but it never happened to me. I never heard a still small voice speak my name in the dark and tell me that I was needed in an audible and tangible way. Instead, I have a lifetime of bumps and bruises that show a lifetime of trying to do what I thought was right. Maybe it was God’s path for me, or maybe I had delusions of grandeur.  

Everything that I am writing may sound cynical to a large extent. I admit there is a part of me that is feeling that way. But in all honesty, I still have a deep longing to hear the voice of the Divine telling me that I am doing the right thing. That despite all my imperfection, and failings I am chosen to be God’s champion. I know deep in my bones that it will never happen, but there is still that childlike part of me that dreams it could. Maybe it still will. I pray it does. Maybe it will finally quiet the cynical realist self that wars against my childlike dreamer self.

I have found that it has a lot to do with the two religious selves at war within me. On one hand, you have the black and white simplistic approach to the Gospel.  The biggest problem with that approach is that it’s close-minded to the very large gray areas of faith. The other self-being that broad vast ocean approach to the gospel. This being that we only know the surface of what there is to know about God, Jesus, and all that took place. The biggest problem with this viewpoint is that it’s hard to find meaning in anything. I really want to think of things as black and white or good and bad. But in this world, there can be no such certainty. One of the biggest truths that I hold to in youth ministry is there is no “right” way to fix things, instead, we just have to find the way that we fail the least “badly”.

I want to think of my time with the church as part of a bigger picture. At more than 7 billion people in this world, mine is only a very very small part of that much bigger picture. There was a wonderful line in a tv show I was watching recently that said that we each come along and add our own color to the painting that is life. I like to think of life like a mosaic. Mosaics are made up of much smaller pieces so often broken, but rejoined in a way that makes the whole much grander than the sum of its parts. This is the story of my mosaic tile. This is my bit of the whole.

In the Big Inning…

I was never any good at sports. I was usually the kid that was picked last in our PE games. Except when it came to our “illegal” games of tackle football, the other kids discovered at the age of 11 I weighed a lot more than everyone else so I couldn’t be taken down that easily. What I was truly good at was using my imagination. I used to dream up entire worlds and situations for my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures. My brother and I would build entire cities for them out of cardboard boxes. We even had plans to build a robot out of empty pop cans, much to my mother’s laundry room’s detriment. When things got difficult I would retreat into my imagination, daydreaming about something awesome that could happen.
Though, I was always a very worried person. I never knew there was anything other than that. I worried all the time. I worried that my family was safe, that people would be happy, that I would get good grades, that I would be “normal”, that people wouldn’t make fun of me today, or that I wouldn’t get it together. There is nobody to blame for that at all. It’s just how I was. I know my mother would try to blame herself for that, but she can’t. It isn’t her fault. Biology just works in odd ways. I would say that my life of worry helped me to be a much more empathetic person.
There were a lot of things in my life that I think would cause “normal” people to be worried as well. I’m a firm believer in the paranormal. I know that may throw a lot of you off considering that I tend to be rather skeptical too. The funny thing is Jesus believed in the paranormal as well, but that’s just saying. I bring this up because as a child I would hear things and see things that would probably land me in some serious psychotherapy if I still did. There were only a few times when it bothered me. I remember that there were a few times when I was a child that I heard footsteps in the hallway outside my room when I was home alone. That freaked me out. It leads to me needing to have something playing in the background for me to get to sleep for a good majority of my life from then on. I’m sure things like that would cause anyone to have a break, but honestly, I dealt with it. My mom was amazing and giving us kids serious coping skills and emotional strength without even realizing it. When I told her about these things there were only a few times she looked at me like I was strange, although maybe she still thinks I am. I remember that when I told people at church they would immediately jump to the worst possible conclusion; demons, evil spirits, and someone having done something to deserve this spiritual oppression. It wasn’t. Maybe it was my overactive imagination, me actually being able to hear spirits on the other side, an imbalance of my neurotransmission chemicals, or any other number of things. One thing I can say for sure, though, it wasn’t demons. I didn’t encounter those until I was older, but that is a different story for a different blog post. (let me know if you want to hear that story)
The point is that I’ve run into mistreatment from the church from a very early age. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone. I know they did what they thought was best, it’s not their fault. Sometimes people need better training before they try to handle a situation.

My imagination was unusual to a lot of people, and in fact, if I were to show some of the journals that I had drawn and written in back then, many would still say that I was rather messed up. My sister’s big joke about taking abnormal psychology in her first year of college was to try and figure out was wrong with her two little brothers. I never did find out if she discovered something or not. I had written stories about a mad scientist who had invented the machine that would turn people into the opposite sex and then leave them that way to torment them. That’s just one of the many stories that I’m sure would make people wonder what was going on in my head.

This brings me back to my walks with God. I knew at the age of five that I wanted to be a preacher. I knew this because I knew God loved me. I loved God too. I mean we took daily walks after all. I imagined my life in the future. I pictured myself on a stage in front of vast multitudes of people telling them all about the amazing God who took away my sins. I had no idea what it meant to be a sinner at that age, but I knew that I was one because I lied sometimes.  I was going to be the next Billy Graham. I would often talk to God about this. I remember at one point in my childhood that I heard the passage about where every knee would bow and every tongue confess that God was God, I felt like I would be part of the reason for that. As I write those words I feel almost slimy and dirty for even thinking that.

Those visions of the future shaped how I went through life. I knew I was destined for something special. I knew I was going to change the world, so I was going to do everything I could to prepare myself for that. I memorized as much scripture as my attention, and patience at the time could handle. Thinking back, I probably could have done more, but I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s there was a lot of awesome things to distract a young man from a life of preparation toward becoming the next Johnathan Edwards.

My family wasn’t one who many would think much of. There were plenty of times when we were living below the poverty line. I remember there was one summer that all we ate was beans and rice. You wouldn’t believe how many different ways there are to make beans and rice. You may be asking yourself what this has to do with my faith upbringing, and my answer would be a lot. My father was a very proud man. He never wanted to ask for help when he needed it. He also knew the value of hard work. He instilled that in us very early on. Handouts were for other people, not us. We were going to work for what we had. My father worked hard to make sure we had the little we had. When he was between jobs he mowed lawns and did other odd jobs. When he had a job he worked hard at that job and devoted a lot of his time and energy to those jobs. You could say a lot of things about that man, but one thing I admire the most about him is that he is not a quitter. I guess that is why I find it so hard to give up on anything.

When I was in middle school I met a best friend who shared in my delusions of grandeur.  In fact, when we met I was wearing a t-shirt, my favorite at the time, that boldly proclaimed; “Satan is a Poo-poo head”. I wonder what ever happened to that shirt. I remember wearing holes into it and it had a few bleach stains, but I digress. My friend was the first who really believed that I could become those things that I imagined too. In fact, he was going to join with me in changing the world. We came up with this dream of starting a traveling “big tent revival” thing that would go and stay in a place until everyone converted in that area. I still kind of wish things worked that way. I miss those kids, they had so much potential.

My friend and I were forces to be reckoned with.  I started taking guitar lessons, and I would go and teach him everything I learned that week. We joined the praise team at youth group. Eventually, we were the praise team. No really, I’m not kidding. We were so gung-ho about it that the rest of the people who were doing it with us decided that we were so annoying they were just going to let us run it. I remember one night that the pastor, who used to be at youth group every week, came in and heard the “Christian Rock” music we were listening to and attempting to learn to play. He immediately flew into a fury and told us to turn off the devil’s music; It was not to be played in the church. He called us into his office after that. I can remember sitting in his office looking him dead in the face and saying, “God made everything right?”

“Correct.” He said matter-of-factly.

“God saw what he made and said it was good, right?” I said a little too smart-assly.

“That’s right.”

“Well God created music, and this music is good, so It must be created by God.” Flawless logic from a fourteen-year-old jackass.

He got red in the face, and said, “Fine.” We never saw the pastor at youth group after that. That’s how I know that we were only put in charge because we were so annoying nobody wanted to work with us. We formed a band. We decided that our big tent revivals were going to be awesome concerts filled with Christian rock that glorified God. We called ourselves Overflow because our love for God overflowed. We wore matching cross dog tag necklaces. You didn’t mess with Overflow.

My last year in the deep south of Texas was where I began to receive my broken edges in this mosaic of delusion. I’m not saying that everything in life was hunky dory outside of this. No, I’m saying that this was the first time I started to doubt God. There are many reasons why this happened. My parents’ relationship was falling apart at this time. Now, I don’t blame them for me being messed up either. They did their best. They are human beings. They are probably also some of the only people who will ever read this. But I believed, falsely, that if I were to follow God closely and believe hard enough that all things would be good. I believed that “all things worked together for good for those who loved the Lord.” I didn’t know that in that particular passage it means over time, not all at once. My parents going through that time caused the biggest crack in my “holy armor”.

I started to go through most of the things that normal teens go through. I liked people in a like like way. I got mad at my friend when they ended up like liking him instead of me. I struggled with my self-identity. The only problem being that I knew what I was going to be. I had always known, but how could the next Michael Faraday struggle with things like looking at naughty pictures and really wanting to make babies with any girl who was even the slightest bit nice to me. I finally discovered what it was to be a sinner. How was it that Paul was able to put away those childish things? Was the thorn in his side, girls? It had to be. I wanted people to see that God was forgiving, but if you go too far, God wouldn’t forgive anymore. I kept trying to keep myself and others from going too far. But it was a lot of pressure. The pressure was too much to me at times. I often thought of suicide at the time, or as I worded it, “Just going to my eternal home”. The only problem, that was a sin, and probably was going too far. I was a teen, I did normal teen things just in my Jesus bubble.

I finally cracked one night. I couldn’t believe that my other best friend, God, wouldn’t make my life perfect. I was doing all I could to follow God after all. God must just be a mean bully in the sky. How dare God let me struggle with feelings! How dare God let that girl like like my friend and not me!  That’s it! I guess I wasn’t supposed to be born! I guess I’m just worthless! I’ll show you! You need me! Those knees won’t bow without me! You’ll see! I don’t care if it’s going too far… Needless to say, I didn’t follow through on those thoughts and feelings. Thankfully, though sometimes I do wonder what would have happened to the world if I did.

These are dark thoughts that constantly plague me. Even to this day, I wonder if my family and loved ones would have been better off without me. I look at my son and wonder if he’ll struggle through those same thoughts. I wonder if he’ll be better without me raising him. These are things that I often try to pack away, but they pop up in the worst way sometimes. I just wanted to mention this because I know so many of us in ministry struggle with mental illness. It’s a problem that we all need to face and take care of. If you are facing some of these same dark thoughts, don’t worry it’s normal. Don’t let them tear you down. Get help. It took me a long time to ask for help myself, but I did. It’s not always easy, but you need help. We all need help… Anyway, back to the story.

I went to a Jesus camp the summer after that. No, it wasn’t as bad as the one in that one documentary. But it was one of those, week long come to Jesus camps. To which I barely paid any attention to the preachers, and tried to figure out if I could maybe start a long distance relationship with that cute blond girl across the room. The funny thing is that I ended up marrying a cute blond that really is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. It would have blown poor teenage me’s mind! It was that week that I actually had a come to Jesus moment.  It was at the weepy “testimony” night. You know the ones. The ones where everyone confesses their undying and eternal love for everyone, even though they have only met you like a day or two before. That night I suddenly felt God talking to me again. It was through a friend’s admission of being “not normal”.  I suddenly realized I wasn’t the only one who felt not normal. I mean really, who actually feels normal? It was in that that I heard God saying, “I love you. You are my own. Things will be alright.” So that night I decided that yes I am going to do whatever it takes to follow this vision God gave me…

Doing whatever it takes.

Life moves a little quickly. You don’t realize it as a child because you haven’t experienced enough of it to realize how quickly it moves. I wish that I had listened to the immortal words of Ferris Bueller who so eloquently said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” I look back at all of this, and even now at thirty-three, I feel like I got here way too quickly.  I don’t feel like an adult sometimes. Maybe that’s pretty evident to everyone else, but I know that I am. I don’t feel like acting my age, maybe that’s why I ultimately ended up in Youth Ministry. I couldn’t wait to start my life back then. I think that impatience is what proves to be my undoing time and again.

Midway through high school, my parents’ relationship finally fell apart. My mother wanted to move us with my Grandmother, what seemed like a million miles away. I had made friends, though. I had a band! We actually put on an entire concert, complete with a failed guitar jump attempt on my part. Things were finally starting to look like I could pull off this crazy vision of mine. Oh well, there is always a time to go. It doesn’t always happen when we want it to. It also, most times, happens when you least expect it. I got mad at God again. Like it was really God’s fault that crappy stuff happens sometimes. This was the biggest gray area I’d experienced to this point. I couldn’t find the meaning in this suffering at all. This was in 1999. My grandmother lived in Colorado, and the horrid nightmare that was the Columbine shooting had just taken place. Everyone I knew told me to beware of guys in trench coats. The suffering didn’t make sense to me. It still doesn’t but now I know that God doesn’t cause the suffering. There is no meaning in it.
I can sum up my childhood and adolescent years with a statement that was told to me about my mom leaving my father and moving to a different state, “You will no longer be under God’s protection if you move.” Needless to say, I’ve worried about the validity of that statement for longer than I’d like to admit. Who says that to a 15-year-old? I’m not pointing fingers, I’m not going to tell you who said that to me. But I want you to examine the impact of that statement on an impressionable mind.
We spend tons of money trying to tell teenagers to worry. We do it in the church as well. Worry about your spiritual life as well as all the worries of modern society. We are churning out anxious adults at an alarming rate. As was done with me, we are very much guilty of pushing children to be worried about “sin” and “falling short of the Glory of God”. These are very adult concepts. There is a ton of abstract in those concepts. Children are remarkably smart but the way their brain is structured up until they are of puberty age is set up to really only handle concrete information. We manufacture this worry as a demand for the supply of Grace that God has. The problem is that we know we are in need of love and acceptance from the time we are born. We know we need love and grace, it is embedded in our DNA. So learning this inspired me. It inspired my message from that point on. My message was going to be simple. There is nothing you can do to earn the Divine’s favor; there also is nothing you can do to lose it either. This was something that I had a hard time believing for myself as if I was the only one who was exempt from this rule, I have a weird relationship with pride.

I found a new view of God. It was a different side of God that I haven’t ever been introduced to. It was a side of God that loved unconditionally. This side of God didn’t have a “too far”. Whew, pressure off, well mostly. I found this image of God in people and places that I had been warned were not really Christian. I know you doubt what I just wrote, but it’s true. I was pulled aside about a month before we moved by the same pastor that I had thwarted on the whole Christian rock thing. He told me that, “those Methodists believe you can lose your salvation. They aren’t real Christians. You need to be careful!” The funny thing is that because of those long conversations I had with the pastors in the “non-Christian” Church really taught me what it meant to be a true God follower. It showed me that people were willing to put up with a nerdy teen, who felt like he knew it all. It showed me the tremendous patience and love that God has for all of us, even when we feel like we know it all.

It was because of the patience and love that the pastors, men, and people of that church had for me that I discovered what my vision really was meant for. It was meant to reach out to those who were like me. Those who felt the most vulnerable, and struggled the most with identity; those who needed the most patience and love: Teens.

There I went, set on this path to become a youth minister. I was going to do everything it took. I pushed, I annoyed, I learned, and I got distracted. Like I said I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s lots of awesome stuff to distract you from life. It was mainly video games. There really is only so much Unreal Tournament you can play until you have to get back to what you were doing. Eventually, I finished high school and went off to college. I decided to double major in youth ministries, and something that I thought would be an excellent complementary course of study, Theatre. I mean because aren’t all of us church folk just sort of acting in our own little plays anyway?

College really helped to reinforce my vision. I now was an educated jackass. I really took pleasure in showing people that they were wrong. In fact, I made it a point to stir the pot whenever I possibly could. Partly I did it just to show off how smart I was, but mostly it was to help break people of preconceived notions that I felt were dangerous to faith. I really wish I could smack my younger self and tell him it only helps to make people dig their heels in and think you are more of a jackass. It had taken a lot but I had broken free of a lot of unhealthy and dangerous ideas on God through the course of my schooling. I wanted to do the same for others. So, all my jackassery did come from a good place, it just was not a good way of going about changing people’s minds for the better. We’ll talk more about how this proved to be disastrous for me later.

I learned. I really enjoyed learning. I really enjoyed thinking about God. It was like my entire life I had only seen the surface, hence the birth of the new religious self. I used to liken it to the beach. If you go the beach and stand on the sand you have an appreciation for the beauty of the water, but it is only when you start to wade into it, do you fully begin to grasp the vastness of the ocean. All my life I had been told that only specially trained people could go wade in that water. Don’t worry about that stuff, we think about God so you don’t have to. My invisible friend became so much more real to me, and so much more complex through this process. I realized I would never fully understand God. Nobody ever has, nobody ever will; which is a wonderful thing because it means we will always have something to talk about.

My learning process expanded much beyond the formal education. I guess there are things that people can’t really teach you. You have to stumble through, sometimes very blindly, on your own. I know that it’s not supposed to happen as many times as it has happened to me. Maybe that’s the nature of my calling. Maybe it’s the nature of my idealism. Maybe I’m just as much a failure as all those people said. Whatever it is I hope that whoever happens upon this strange writing will not have to go through what I went through. It’s painful as hell and twists you into a neurotic paranoid mess.

My Informal Education

Learn by doing. It is an important mantra, but there is a huge difference between saying and doing. I had a lot of intern experiences. I was very eager to get at what I had envisioned myself doing for so long. My first forays into church work were rather short lived. Maybe that should have told me something. I worked a summer as an intern at my home church. I worked a few months as an intern at a church near my college. I even spent a summer working as a camp counselor. I even made sure to attend the National Youth Workers Convention every year. Each experience was different. Each experience taught me something new. Life is a learning experience. For what, I’m not sure. I like to think that it’s all meant for something someday. Like one day there will be a problem that all the cumulative knowledge gained from your life’s experience will solve. But that’s the simplistic religious self coming out.

One of the great things about going to the National Youth Workers Convention with your professor and classmates is that you get to meet some of the leading people in the field. I got the opportunity to meet a lot of big names in the Youth Ministry field. One of them my mom swears she knew in high school. One of the things I learned from that experience is that even those who have a small amount of fame thrust upon them can let it go to their head. I can tell you even some of the big names of my day are relative nobodies in the grand scheme of things, but they will still treat you like they are hot shit. That’s not all of them, though. There are some truly genuine people who can remain humble throughout. Mike Yaconelli was one of those truly genuine people. I remember meeting him at one of those conventions. He greeted us all with a smile and asked how the travel went. You could tell in his voice that he truly wanted to know, and wasn’t just making pleasantries. This was a man I was going to listen to. I’m sad to say that was one of the only chances I had to meet the man. I wish I had more of an opportunity to get to know what he was about because his teachings and writings are what I base a lot of my methods on. If you haven’t read “Messy Spirituality”, put down this writing go find it and read it. Trust me. My ramblings will still be here when you get back. Unless you are reading this during a Zombie apocalypse, then you are just going to have to put this in your bag for later. If I take nothing else away from those conventions, I want to remember meeting him and hearing him talk.

The summer I interned at my home church was an unusual one. This was the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college. I was interning with the middle school program. I lived down the street from the church so I often would walk or ride my bike over. I didn’t have an office there or anything so I would end up hanging out in the youth room. Often I would just work from home because that was where my computer was at. Can’t say that every day I worked the way I was supposed to as you can well imagine from my previous rants, I get distracted. There were a couple of things that I learned that summer: 1. Don’t try to hit on your fellow interns or volunteers it doesn’t end well. 2. I don’t know how to handle every situation (probably the biggest and most important lesson). 3. Just because I think something is fascinating, does not mean that everyone will think so too.

The church that I interned at near my college was a very short experience. I think it only lasted a month before they decided that they would rather have just the attractive female as the only intern. Oh well, every time I attended the youth programs or the church itself I felt lost. It was one of those mega churches that had a completely separate building for their youth ministries. They had a big stage, sound system, and even professional lighting! I realized pretty quickly that I did not consider that to be a church on any level. Maybe this was when the cynical part of my brain started to take hold of me, but if the whole thing is a production; where is the whole relationship aspect of our spiritual life come in? I mean there are some large youth ministries that do some very good work, don’t get me wrong. I’m just saying it’s very hard to manage size and effective personal ministry. I learned very quickly that I can’t allow myself to get lost in the show of it all, even though it’s very tempting. This shattered some of my vision from childhood, but I was still determined. I wanted a large program, but not one large enough where people could easily get lost. I wouldn’t let people get lost.

Sometimes learning isn’t a completely painful process, sometimes it can be relatively painless. My summer as a camp counselor was a very good experience. The camp staff did a very good job of supporting each other. It was nice. Every time one of us ran into a difficult challenge that summer the others would come around them and help them to figure out how to best get through it. This was one of my experiences where I would say that made me want to start a commune up in the mountains somewhere. Of course, though, life isn’t clear cut like that. This is what gave me a vision of what the church is supposed to be like. Even though I had started off that summer as a jackass know-it-all, I was accepted and loved just as I was. If you don’t believe me you can ask the other staff that summer. They will tell you that the entire staff training week I kept trying to start theological arguments with all who were unlucky enough to make my acquaintance. It taught me that God’s love and patience run deep. I think that many left that place thinking poorly of me, but at least while I was there I was supported. I remember that the valley after that mountaintop experience was particularly dark. Luckily, it only lasted a short while before I started my first “real” ministry.
After 13 some odd years of working for the church and approximately 30 years of deep church living, I was finally released into the wild. There are a lot of bumps and bruises I would love to cover here, but that would take way too much space in an already long blog post. I discovered something looking back on my time as a deep church Christian. I found that the simple message of the Divine’s incredible love was a very unpopular one. I don’t want this to be finger pointing or indicating of any of the churches I’ve attended over the past 30 years. Some of them were better than others at being the gospel, others not so much. But the one thing that was constant was the priority of those places, numbers.
As much as they would like to deny that fact, it rang true across the boards. It’s not just Christian churches either, it’s everyone. They are so incredibly worried about butts in the seats and money in the coffers that they will do whatever it takes to stay afloat. As much as they preach about relying on the Divine to provide, they tend to do a pretty poor job of actually relying on the Divine rather than their own ingenuity. It doesn’t make business sense to do any of the things most of the Divine messengers throughout history taught us to do. So I can’t blame them. I don’t know how a true not-for-profit church would keep its doors open.
Maybe I’m cynical. I did get to experience first hand the dark underbelly of church politics. I experienced the financial stress all too often of those places because often the first thing to go when a church is in financial trouble are the children and youth staff and programming. This added more to my already fragile psyche. It’s a wonder I lasted as long as I did in ministry. It wasn’t just money either it was the little things that we did to carefully position and play political games that stressed me out. Like I said, it’s not pointing fingers, not all of the churches I attended or worked at are guilty of this. Some, possibly, may be. But they are doing the best that they can.
After I was set free, during this whole transition time, it made me really question what it was my faith meant. I have been trying to strip away all the worry, all the manufactured guilt, all the things that came packaged with my belief and homesickness (a reference to a Fredrick Buechner quote I love and use often I talk about it a lot in the Honest Faith Conversations podcast which is why we devoted the first episode to explaining it.) . I lost that idea of salvation I had before. I didn’t want it anymore. I didn’t want to be “saved”. I wanted a Divine being to love me in spite of me. I wanted to break free from the self-created prison and be me. I didn’t want to live with the broken pieces of my life being broken anymore. I wanted to see the mosaic, the stained glass, the big picture for what it was. But, we’ll get there.

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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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A Life of Worry

This is the post I set out to write two weeks ago. This is a short chronicling of my life with anxiety as it pertains to the church. For a more in-depth examination and telling of my story, I’m currently trying to get a book published that I finished at the end of 2016. There are bits and pieces in there from the blog, but it is the long form of this story. So when and if it gets published, I’ll make sure to let everyone know. For now here is the short form:

Footsteps in the Hall

I was always a very worried person. I never knew there was anything other than that. I worried all the time. I worried that my family was safe, that people would be happy, that I would get good grades, that I would be “normal”, that people wouldn’t make fun of me today, or that I wouldn’t get it together. There is nobody to blame for that at all. It’s just how I was. I know my mother would try to blame herself for that, but she can’t. It isn’t her fault. Biology just works in odd ways. I would say that my life of worry helped me to be a much more empathetic person.

There were a lot of things in my life that I think would cause “normal” people to be worried as well. I’m a firm believer in the paranormal. I know that may throw a lot of you off considering that I tend to be rather skeptical too. The funny thing is Jesus believed in the paranormal as well, but that’s just saying. I bring this up because as a child I would hear things and see things that would probably land me in some serious psychotherapy if I still did. There were only a few times when it bothered me. I remember that there were a few times when I was a child that I heard footsteps in the hallway outside my room when I was home alone. That freaked me out. It leads to me needing to have something playing in the background for me to get to sleep for a good majority of my life from then on. I’m sure things like that would cause anyone to have a break, but honestly, I dealt with it. My mom was amazing and giving us kids serious coping skills and emotional strength without even realizing it. When I told her about these things there were only a few times she looked at me like I was strange, although maybe she still thinks I am. I remember that when I told people at church they would immediately jump to the worst possible conclusion; demons, evil spirits, and someone having done something to deserve this spiritual oppression. It wasn’t. Maybe it was my overactive imagination, me actually being able to hear spirits on the other side, an imbalance of my neurotransmission chemicals, or any other number of things. One thing I can say for sure, though, it wasn’t demons. I didn’t encounter those until I was older, but that is a different story for a different blog post. (let me know if you want to hear that story)

The point is that I’ve run into mistreatment from the church from a very early age. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone. I know they did what they thought was best, it’s not their fault. Sometimes people need better training before they try to handle a situation.

No Longer Under God’s Protection

Trying to condense this all into a readable blog post is rather difficult. It’s like trying to describe the outside to someone who has been trapped in a cave their whole life. A little Plato reference for you there. I can sum up my childhood and adolescent years with a statement that was told to me about my mom leaving my father and moving to a different state, “You will no longer be under God’s protection if you move.” Needless to say, I’ve worried about the validity of that statement for longer than I’d like to admit. Who says that to a 15-year-old? I’m not pointing fingers, I’m not going to tell you who said that to me. But I want you to examine the impact of that statement on an impressionable mind.

We spend tons of money trying to tell teenagers to worry. We do it in the church as well. Worry about your spiritual life as well as all the worries of modern society. We are churning out anxious adults at an alarming rate. As was done with me, we are very much guilty of pushing children to be worried about “sin” and “falling short of the Glory of God”. These are very adult concepts. There is a ton of abstract in those concepts. Children are remarkably smart but the way their brain is structured up until they are of puberty age is set up to really only handle concrete information. We manufacture this worry as a demand for the supply of Grace that God has. The problem being that we know we are in need of love and acceptance from the time we are born. We know we need love and grace, it is embedded in our DNA. So learning this inspired me. It inspired my message from that point on. My message was going to be simple. There is nothing  you can do to earn the Divine’s favor; there also is nothing you can do to lose it either. This was something that I had a hard time believing for myself as if I was the only one who was exempt from this rule, I have a weird relationship with pride

There was another statement that was made in that conversation I mentioned earlier that stuck with me for most of my life. I was told to beware of the people who claimed to be Christian in the new church we were to be attending because they believed that you could lose your salvation and therefore were not true Christians.

Losing My Salvation

After 13 some odd years of working for the church and approximately 30 years of deep church living, I was finally released into the wild. There are a lot of bumps and bruises I would love to cover here, but that would take way too much space in an already long blog post. I discovered something looking back on my time as a deep church Christian. I found that the simple message of the Divine’s incredible love was a very unpopular one. I don’t want this to be finger pointing or indicating of any of the churches I’ve attended over the past 30 years. Some of them were better than others at being the gospel, others not so much. But the one thing that was constant was the priority of those places, numbers.

As much as they would like to deny that fact, it rang true across the boards. It’s not just Christian churches either, it’s everyone. They are so incredibly worried about butts in the seats and money in the coffers that they will do whatever it takes to stay afloat. As much as they preach about relying on the Divine to provide, they tend to do a pretty poor job of actually relying on the Divine rather than their own ingenuity. It doesn’t make business sense to do any of the things most of the Divine messengers throughout history taught us to do. So I can’t blame them. I don’t know how a true not-for-profit church would keep its doors open.

Maybe I’m cynical. I did get to experience first hand the dark underbelly of church politics. I experienced the financial stress all too often of those places because often the first thing to go when a church is in financial trouble are the children and youth staff and programming. This added more to my already fragile psyche. It’s a wonder I lasted as long as I did in ministry. It wasn’t just money either it was the little things that we did to carefully position and play political games that stressed me out. Like I said, it’s not pointing fingers, not all of the churches I attended or worked at are guilty of this. Some, possibly, may be. But they are doing the best that they can.

After I was set free, during this whole transition time, it made me really question what it was my faith meant. I have been trying to strip away all the worry, all the manufactured guilt, all the things that came packaged with my belief and homesickness ( a reference to a Fredrick Buechner quote I love and use often I talk about it a lot in the podcast which is why we devoted the first episode to explaining it.) . I lost that idea of salvation I had before. I didn’t want it anymore. I didn’t want to be “saved”. I wanted a Divine being to love me in spite of me. I wanted to break free from the self-created prison and be me.

Breaking Free

Two weeks ago in my post on pride (linked above), I posted about the beautiful artwork that Federico Babina created. I used his artwork as my featured image this time. I’ve talked a bit in a letter to my son about what it feels like to live with anxiety. Though I don’t think I really did it justice. I know it made some feel uncomfortable about me and urged me to seek help. I did. I am getting help. But it doesn’t go away just because you get help. It’s still a part of you. It is something you struggle with every day. Maybe it is deep seated. Maybe you know how silly it is to be worried about nothing, but the worry is still there. It is a monster that traps you within yourself.

I love this piece in particular because it is very true to me how it feels like. I feel alone. I feel stranded within myself because I have been taught to bottle it up. A pastor I worked with once told me that nobody likes a depressed spiritual leader. He meant well, and I understood what he meant, but it didn’t help. I was taught that those of us in ministry are only allowed to be robots, holy robots at that. Portraying no emotion, no feeling, no struggle, nothing. I saw that when we did, bad things happened. They happened to me. More than 8 times. Some of those times were my own making, others not so much.

So here I was at the beginning of this transition, bottled up. Trapped inside of myself. Too alone and afraid to do anything. The only people I really let in were those I trusted, and I had been betrayed too often to trust many people. So I closed myself off even more. Some of you may have noticed that in the last 6 months I hid. I hid away from the world because I was too afraid to face it. I was bottling up more and more. I was adding more and more chains to my house. My barbed wire roof would rival any super-max prison. I did what I was taught to do my entire life, lock up. I kept building my defenses as if I were preparing for the worst zombie onslaught possible, emotionally speaking. I would wonder why I was so alone. I knew why. I would lie to myself constantly telling myself that I’m the only one to blame for it all. I couldn’t see the mosaic for the broken tile that was my life in this moment. The biggest irony of this all is my deepest and most deep-seated fear of all is being alone for too long.

Luckily, I’m starting to break free. I have begun to see the light outside of me. I’ve had help from amazing people digging from the outside: my wife, my family, my therapist, and even some of you readers. I wanted to share how this felt. I want to share how I got here with the world at large in hopes that I can get messages out to those who are building defenses and walls to shelter them from the pain might see some light. Might begin to break free. It won’t ever go away, but the amazing and beautiful truth is that you are not alone. We are not alone. We fight, we struggle, we win together. We can break free from our own personal prisons and let the light in.

Maybe the bigger part of this all is allowing ourselves to be human. Allowing our spiritual leaders to be human. I’m human, you are human, we are all human and that’s okay. We were made to be humans, not robots. Humans were made to live in community. To share our inner selves. To let other people in and see the amazing people we are deep inside. We were created by a Divine that believes us to be awesome. There is nothing we can do to earn that awesomeness, besides being ourselves. There is nothing we can do to lose that awesomeness either, besides building walls and not letting others see it.

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Honest Faith: Pride Addiction

I am confident that the entire world is pretty familiar with the story of Lucifer’s fall from grace. I think a lot of people are also familiar with the story of Adam and Eve, who also had a bit of a problem and fall from grace. As a child that was something I was taught multiple times, but there was a larger point to these stories. There was an underlying theme of pride; of beings trying to be like or better than the Divine. I linked a wiki page for Lucifer (primarily to the mythology section) above that tells of similar stories in other cultures.

I was inspired to write about mental health this week, but I was struck with the larger problem that makes it such an epidemic. This isn’t just in our country this is worldwide. Human beings have become addicted to our pride. We are a race of proud creatures who are terrified at the prospect of being humble or letting someone else get ahead of us.

In his best-selling novel The Kite Runner, Khalid Hosseini writes about this idea passed from father to son about there being only one sin, theft. He goes on to explain:

“When you kill a man, you steal a life,” Baba said. “You steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness. Do you see?”

I always liked that definition. It simplified the world in a way. A few years ago I had a long car ride with youth ministry superstar and all round nice guy Brock Morgan. We discussed several things including my many bumps in the road on the path to fulfilling my now broken dream of being in ministry, to marriage, to life, and then to this idea of sin. I can’t fully remember word for word what he said, and my paraphrase won’t do it justice, but he said something that made the former into a more full concept for me. He said something along the lines of there really is only one sin, Pride. Everything wrong with the world can be boiled down to someone’s selfishness.

Okay, I agree that is overly simplistic and a bit reductionist to a larger problem, but it was something that stuck. I liked it because it made sense to me. Why did my wife and I argue last week? Because I was being selfish and I wanted my way. Why did I take the last donut? Because I was kind of hungry and I was too lazy to think of anyone else. Why would someone tell a lie and steal someone’s right to the truth? Because they felt it would benefit them in some way.

A Double-Edged Sword

There is a weird problem when it comes down to pride. You have this sliding scale where there is too much end you end up with a person who is a super ego (not talking about the superego Freud talked about).another-ego-superego I mean very much someone who, I’m sure you can picture them now, if full of the id that Freud talked about. Someone who thinks they are the absolute best and deserve everything that comes to them. They are selfishness personified. Then at the other end of the spectrum, you have someone who is full of the actual superego. Someone who believes they don’t deserve anything and have had that reinforced by events and people and have given them this complex of pride where it prevents them from asking for help.

I’m sure you have this struggle yourself. I think we all do as human beings. We want to like ourselves, but we have this weird addiction to pride that when we begin to like what we have done we are afraid of becoming full of ourselves and end up swinging to the opposite end of the spectrum. We begin to believe that we have to attain the same level of perfection every time to be a success.

Pride is a double-edged sword and an almost damned if you do, damned if you don’t type thing. We end up in this spiral of pride, self-doubt, denial, inability to ask for help and despair. Maybe it can be more akin to an infection. When pride gets in we tend to destroy ourselves in trying to become the best or at least the best in our own minds.

It’s Totally Mental

I set out to write a blog post about mental health this week. This is a topic that is close to my heart, because as the statistics show I’m the 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. that struggles with a mental illness in a given year. There are a ton of stats out there including 18.1% of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder such as posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and specific phobias. I struggle with anxiety and I wanted to talk about the stigma that we place on people who are open with their struggle and getting help. I wanted to write that, but when I started to think about it, it started to boil down to pride. It is a pride that is placed upon us from the outside and a pride that comes from inside as well.

archdaily2Federico Babina created some incredible artwork portraying several different mental illnesses and disorders. One of the things that you see as a common thread in each of these pieces is the person being trapped or imprisoned within the house that has an unusual piece of architecture to portray the given disorder. I loved these because they really portrayed something I was unable to put into words. There is that bit of anxiety where it is like everything you do is in an attempt to protect yourself from feeling the hurt you felt in the past. Through help, I’m coming to realize that maybe it’s possible I won’t ever encounter the pain that I encountered before. Maybe I will, but the truth is I’m different now, I’m stronger. I can handle it. But that is still a daily struggle to take down the chains and barbed wire.

I got into some trouble by describing my anxiety in the past. I think it’s a little ironic that people end up forcing more pain upon you for humbling yourself and letting others know about your own struggle trying to avoid pain. It has a lot to do with pride. Pride forced me into this constant state of thinking I couldn’t ask for help. Pride pushed me into thinking that I couldn’t ever be good enough. Pride makes you think that when you have success, that you have to reach that level of success again just to be okay.

But it’s all in my head. It’s all in what we think. Honestly, we come back to these thoughts of how others perceive us instead of actually celebrating our own progress. This is a hard thing for me to realize myself, but progress is important. If I’m better than I was yesterday, that’s progress that’s a good thing! Maybe it doesn’t show on the outside, but we don’t need outward praise, primarily because there isn’t much, for your progress because it’s your progress.

There is this stigma on asking for help. There is a stigma on those who have too much pride. There is a stigma for those who don’t have enough. It seems like you can’t win.

Moderation

Ralph Waldo Emerson famously wrote, “Moderation in all things, especially moderation.” There is this a teaching in the Jewish religion that teaches moderation in the spirit and physical. There even is plenty of writing from the one of the most prolific of Christian writers St. Paul on moderation. I think it is pretty well publicized that all things are meant for moderation.

A few years ago I lost a lot of weight, 80lbs. I learned that it’s not what I was eating, it was how I was eating it. I was eating way way way more than I should have. But If I eat the things I liked in moderation, and maybe got up once in a while and went and did something active not only would I feel better, but it wouldn’t impact me as much as it did when I would overeat. Not saying that I’ve mastered this idea. I still overeat, I just know better now.

I think this is how it is meant to be with pride. We are meant to enjoy our lives. We are meant to enjoy ourselves. We are meant to enjoy each other and all of creation. The problem is we want too much. We want too much pride, we want too much praise, we want too much affirmation, we want too much for ourselves, and we take. Society tells us it’s okay to take. It’s okay to take what you want and not give a care for the other. The problem is as modern philosopher and college hippy musician of choice Dave Matthews put it, “Too Much.” I think that when we learn to be able to let go of the more than we need mentality we’ll be able to learn how to live with each other. We’ll make sure that we can give help to those who need it.

I’m not saying I have this mastered, no, quite the contrary. I’m still struggling to figure out how to live with just enough. I’m still trying to figure out how to walk that fine line in the middle of moderation. It’s a vulnerable spot. It’s a hard place to live in the middle. The world doesn’t have to be black or white, because in truth we are in the middle. We are so many shades of gray.

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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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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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Dear Son, On Anxiety…

Dear Son,

It’s been two months since I last wrote in here. I started to think a lot about why that was, and I realized that what I’m about to tell you has a lot to do with how I live my life. There have been a lot of studies done on many different types of anxiety disorders and parenthood. I’ve never been diagnosed, nor gone to see a doctor for it due to several reasons, but I’ll get to that. One of the biggest and scariest ones that I read was that it can be passed genetically. My anxiety may become your anxiety. I’m writing you this as you sit in your swing happily smiling at the stuffed birds swinging around above your head. You smile easily and often. I write you this because I don’t ever want for you to go through what I feel going on inside my own mind. I don’t want you to ever lose what you have right now, the ability to smile easily and often. That is the greatest gift given to you by God, and will be an amazing gift to the world for you to share in life. Maybe I’m just biased because I’m your Dad, but when you smile it makes the whole world better.

To preface this, I’m not talking about normal run of the mill fear. There are many different types and many different levels. There is the scared excitement fear, like the kind when you are on a roller coaster or a scary movie. You know nothing is going to hurt you and that you are in no real danger, but your body tells you something different. Let’s call that the baseline. The anxiety fear that I’m talking about is more akin to an irrational abiding ever present “I’m going to die” feeling. Sort of like that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach at the top of a roller coaster right before it plunges over the edge, but the problem is it never does. You feel stuck there on the precipice of something happening, that may never happen or has been completely fabricated by your imagination. It is very hard to explain to those who don’t experience it because it is irrational. The rational part of your brain will tell you that there is no reason for you to be feeling this way, and everything will be fine, but deep in your gut you still feel that fear. It’s like “what if” became rabid and no amount of fact could face it or calm it down.

There have been many things that can trigger this in 2016 many public fears, and many private fears as well. One of the biggest for me in recent months has been tied in with gender roles and with my career choice. Now that is just the basic core of this big anxiety that I have, one of many. But wrapped around that are other fears: “What if what happened before happens again?” I don’t think I can put you and your mom through that again. “What if I’m not good at anything else?” “How will I provide?””Where will we stay?””What if I care too much about my job, and not enough about my family?” “Where is the line in all of that?” “How do I balance my life correctly?” “What if I were to die tomorrow?” “Should I get life insurance?” “Do I make enough to afford that?” “Is it silly for me to be worrying about all of this?” “Am I delusional in thinking I can make a difference?” “What if you hate me because I gave too much to something that was just a pipe dream?” … This is just one example and some of the thoughts in one of the big ball of wound up anxiety within me. Of course, there are more and some of those same threads of thought run through a few different tangles of worry, but this is just an example.

I don’t tell you this to make you pity me. I tell you this not because I want you to feel it too. I tell you this because I want you to understand that you can’t let it cripple you. You can’t let these fears be the reason you lose something or anything. I have let those fears control me more often than I’d like to admit. I’ve done some stupid and crazy things all in the name of some imaginary thing I feared would happen. I pray that you never ever ever have to face this. I pray I did not pass this anxiety to you and that is just a letter about why your dad is the way he is. But in case it’s not, as I have told you before, it is okay to ask for help.

I have determined that I’m going to work on that within myself. I’m going to do something in the next few months/ years to make sure that I can ask for help. Like I said earlier I’ve never gone to see a doctor for this, and I think it’s time that I do. I’m doing it because I want to be a man you can be proud of. It’s kind of funny and ironic that the reasons keeping me away have been pride and self-image. My perspective has shifted though. If I’m going to tell you to not be afraid to ask for help, I need to show you that I’m not afraid to ask for help.

Son, I pray that this letter is just something I wrote. That in the future when you read this you will see that I was starting on the path to become a better man, husband, father, and person. Someone who became a good example for you. I pray that you never lose your smile. That when you read this you will smile and see that everything worked out just fine. I know that it will, it’s just so hard to see it in the beginning. Anxiety makes it worse, I pray you don’t have my anxiety. I love you.

 

Love,

Your Dad

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