The Honest Faith: Thank you, Mr. Trump

Again, I invite you to take a step back. Don’t consider yourself Christian. Don’t consider yourself anything. Take a step back from your life. Let go of all your tightly held beliefs and just be. Read with an open mind. Don’t take offense, because what will be said isn’t about you. You aren’t these things. You can look back on things that the person who was you did and examine them through this lens, however, you aren’t that person anymore. What you do moving forward is completely up to you. You are the one who decides what to do with the time that is given to you moving forward. With all of that being said, I’m about to talk about some rather controversial things. I know I said I would try to stay away from these, but I can’t remain silent any longer. So breathe. Sit. Take a moment. Then read on.

Dear Mr. Trump,

I wrote you a letter a few months ago, I see you didn’t get it. That’s okay. I don’t blame you, you have a lot on your plate. I’m writing now to thank you. This may seem rather disingenuous, but it isn’t. I do want to thank you. You have done something that I never thought was possible. You have set into motion something that I have seen coming for a long time. The fruits of which I do not know if they are good or bad, yet. Currently, it remains to be seen. I know we don’t see eye to eye on a lot. That’s fine, I just wanted to say thank you.

Thank you for bringing light to the divisions within the Christian church. It is because of you that some of our deepest and darkest secrets are coming out. Your racist statements and hurtful rhetoric towards people groups of almost every people group, sexual identity, gender identity, mental ability, and more have shown just how bad those things have gotten within the culture the western church has created. Instead of stopping those things we allowed them to spread. We even sent out missionaries to other countries carrying these ideas with them. Was that right? No, not at all. But because what you have done brings light to those impulses within the church, I wanted to thank you.

Thank you for showing just how bad racism still is in this country. Really, white supremacists are openly marching in the streets now. That is still happening. There were those who claimed that we have gotten past this idea of racism, but nope. It’s alive, well, and uglier than ever. You helped feed this monster. Your statements that you have made, make it very clear where you stand. You have called my own genetic nationality all manner of hurtful and hateful things. You are responsible for taking control of the problems it is creating. I don’t know if you will, but you have shown the world just how bad it still is here in the U.S.A. That is not to say we are a bad country, just that our issues are still there. You showed the world that. Maybe now we can finally talk about it and work to begin fixing it.

Thank you for showing how bad homophobia is in this country still. Yes, we legalized same sex marriages. But we still haven’t gotten past this idea that those who love the same sex aren’t worthy of God’s love. It is because of your bold brashness that leaders of the small-c christian church came together to put out their own bold brash statement called the “Nashville statement”. This statement judged and condemned the lgbtq+ community. It showed just how hateful and hurtful the church still is toward them and all those who affirm and ally with them. That was never part of the Bible. Hate is not scriptural. Love is love, hate is hate. Don’t confuse the two. That statement is unchristian and does not represent the Divine. The Divine is Love. You emboldened those who signed this statement because somewhere along the way they thought that the political party you ran with was god’s party. I’m not quite sure which god that was, but it wasn’t the Divine.

Thank you for showing how bad Transphobia is in this country. You are not afraid of inciting violence or getting people involved in it, but you are afraid of sending those who don’t feel comfortable with their birth gender into violent situations? Maybe that’s nice of you, but I doubt that it is. I think it stems from a place of fear of trans people. But you know what, they are people they can think and choose for themselves. If they want to serve this country, great! LET THEM! What is under their uniform is their business, and their business alone. I support and I affirm them. I know you think this makes me a bad person, but you’ve already called me a bad hombre a few times because of my genetics. If loving people, supporting them, helping them in the ways that I can is bad, well then I accept that role.

Thank you for revealing just how bad nationalism has gotten in the church. Did you know there are churches around the world that fly the American flag because the missionaries who started this church were from this country? I know, that’s kind of crazy. I very much disliked throughout my entire career having the American flag anywhere in the sanctuary or even having patriotic music played in the service. The reason being that we are human beings first, Christian second, and way last in third place American. It had no bearing on the first two things, so, therefore, did not belong in a service having to do with them. When country comes before your humanity or even God, that is when it is a problem. I know where your priorities stand. You are number 1 on that list, that’s your own prerogative, but I choose to be human and show kindness to my fellow man. I choose to follow Christ, and if that does not align with being American, that sucks, but so be it.

Thank you for revealing just how greedy church leaders have become. I didn’t get involved in all of the social media bashings of Joel Osteen. I have never really been a fan of his or of Mega-churches for that matter. Seriously, when something sounds like the bad transformer why would you want to be a fan of it? But since you have traditionally been a symbol of greed in this country, those who were in the church were emboldened by your election to leadership. They started agreeing with Gordon Gecko from that 1980’s movie, stating that “Greed, is good.” The church, and the gospel have never been about financial prosperity. Those who preach that are not disciples of Christ. They are disciples of the almighty dollar. There has been a problem with this for years. But you started to reveal how bad it was.

Thank you for showing how we have seen women as objects and not people for way too long. Your objective view of your fellow human beings is not just limited to women, but your views on women have set us back a few decades. This has empowered the weakened power structures that were about ready to topple. It has shown a light on them and people began to try propping them up again. But the damage has been done. Women are not objects. They are not to be treated as such. They are human beings. Like you and me and your wife and your daughter and every other person on this planet. This power structure has been alive and well within the western church for far too long. People use Paul’s writings as if they were straight from the Divine itself. Paul has been deified in place of Jesus. We see what damage that has wrought throughout this entire letter. Women are not objects, they are people. We are all people. All of us human.

So, Thank you, Mr. Trump. You and those who have aligned themselves with you have brought these problems to light. There is one thing that we have to do now. We have to fix it. By we, I mean all of us, including you and those who aligned themselves with you. We do not fix this by writing nebulous statements that pretend to speak for the Divine. That’s not helpful. No, we get our hands dirty. We roll up our sleeves and get to work setting our minds to figuring out what we need to do to fix the problem. It is not by banning things or making “immoral” things illegal. It’s by figuring out what the root problem is and addressing it. We have to sit down and talk to those we are afraid of. We need to get to the reason why we are afraid of each other and figure out how we can live together in love, peace, and harmony. I realize what I am saying sounds like a pipe dream. I realize that it is very idealistic. But honestly, I believe it is the truth. I believe that we need to love others without condition, without agenda, without anything but love. LOVE IS LOVE. We need to show every human being that they are not alone, and they matter. That’s right, as much as I’d hate to admit it, even you Mr. Trump are not alone, you matter as well. You are a human being. God loves you, too. I know you probably don’t want to even acknowledge that, but it’s true. You are a loved. Don’t stop at revealing the problem. It’s time for you to do something about it. It’s time for all of us to do something about it.

 

Sincerely,

Miguel

You are not alone, You matter.

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The Honest Faith: What is Church?

A good friend of mine asked me last week to ask a question of my Facebook followers. This question was “What is church to you?” as in what constitutes going to church for you. He went on to say that for him it was going to the park and watching his children play and the interactions with other parents there, or Tae Kwan Do practice and the connections made with other parents there. I asked the question, though I did not receive a lot of response. But it is a question that stuck in my mind.

This week a different friend told me about a hashtag that arose in popularity on Twitter and is gaining some momentum on Facebook as well. This hashtag is #EmptyThePews to tell the story of why people are leaving the church. I started writing more frequently in my blog to express my feelings and struggle with coming to terms with my faith after my exit from in church ministry. So I figured this would be a good thing for me to check out. I started reading and I both wept and was filled with joy in knowing that I was not alone. This hashtag was started by writer and pretty cool guy Christopher Stroop. I sat and read, and responded, to a lot of these responses. If ever there was a full thread of how Christian’s have been annoying, that was it.

Have you ever wondered what constitutes church? Maybe you read my last two blog posts, and you began to wonder about your own community. Maybe you have left the church altogether but still feel a yearning to be in a community like that. Maybe you have found one, but something seems off or lacking. What could it be?

Last week I wrote about the ways we could be less annoying as Christians. Two themes emerged as the dominant ways to “fix our PR problem”. Those things were authenticity and Love. As I have spent time this week reading through the tweets on this hashtag I have found an overwhelming lack of authenticity and love from the church. It was mainly geared toward evangelicals, but the mainline denominations have been guilty of this as well. The sad part is that there are still some trying to rebuke those who have left for the reasons they left. Ask yourself, “what would Jesus do?” In this instance, I don’t think Jesus would berate those who left. Didn’t he tell the parable of leaving the 99 to go after the 1 who was lost? Did Jesus berate that lost sheep for leaving? Did Jesus emotionally abuse that lost sheep? No, the point was that all were loved, and cared for that a group is fine but the one alone is the one who needs the most care and attention. After all, I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

See, it comes back to this question. What is church? What is it that we have left? The truth is that church or religious gatherings are and always have been a place for people to find a connection with each other and the Divine at the same time. When it became a boot camp for “god’s army”, that was when it was time to empty the pews. When it became a place to point fingers at each other and claim superiority, that was when it was time to empty the pews. When it became anything other than a hospital for the spiritually infirmed that was when it was time to empty the pews.

I think my whole mission since starting on this journey of Honest Faith has been to discover what it really meant to follow Christ. I think that big question is one that has haunted me throughout the process. What is Church? What I have found throughout this almost year that I have been doing deep soul searching, is that it is about connection. It is about discovering that interconnectedness that we have with everything. That thing is the Divine.

There was this imagery that the evangelical church liked to use when I was growing up. It was imagery of God living within you. That with the Holy Spirit you have a bit of God living inside of you. When you asked Jesus into your heart, you had the Holy Spirit come in. The odd thing is, I think they got that right. Though I don’t think they were correct about the moment it happens, but the idea of the Divine being within. As I have written about many times before, I do believe the divine exists within everything. That we are all interconnected and when we realize that connection we begin to interact with the world around us with respect and care. They used to say, how would you do those things if you knew God was in you. Now I think how would I not want to do things if God was in me? I want to experience life. I don’t want life and fulfillment only after I’m dead. God never promised that. Jesus said that He came that we may have life and have it to the fullest.

So what then? Should we abandon all hope ye who enter here? Should we stop going to church altogether? No! There are churches that are still safe havens (sanctuaries, see what I did there?) for vulnerability, love, and connection. In fact, the amazing Facebook page “I’m not that kind of Christian” has a list or two full of churches that are striving to be that. There are some of us whose mission is to find, help, and support those who are on the outside in any way we can like me with Post-Church Christians, and many more like podcasts that I could list in the hundreds here (I’ll name two of my favorites, The liturgists, and TheLifeAfter.org). We are trying to get back to what we once were; a people of love, vulnerability, and connectedness. I found this week that I was not alone. I mattered because my story was one of many that all said, we looked for God in the church we couldn’t find God there. Like I said before, Jesus has left the building.

My heart breaks from many of the stories I read this week. My heart breaks because I’ve experienced a lot of them myself. I’ve seen a lot of them happen. I’ve even perpetrated some of them when I was in the church. It pains me when those things happen because I know it drives people even further away from connection with the Divine. Empty the pews was not about getting rid of Christianity, it was about why people couldn’t go to church anymore. Why they couldn’t go to a building that supported the power structures that Jesus worked so hard to dismantle. My heart breaks because so many have been told that they don’t matter. That they are alone. That was never the message. I asked curiously how many people, like myself, developed a pronounced anxiety disorder due to what happened, I got a lot of response. The good news is, though, that you are not alone, you matter.

The takeaway from this week is that church doesn’t have to be in a building. It is wherever you find a connection with the whole of creation. It is within you, and around you. Take a look. Maybe church for you is a group of people that meet in a pub and discusses theology, life, love, and everything in between. Maybe church is talking to the other parents at Tae Kwan Do practice. Maybe church is the people you eat lunch with at work or school. Maybe church is wherever you make it, and are able to feel the most connected, vulnerable and loved. The biggest most important thing about church is the reinforcement of my mantra; YOU ARE NOT ALONE! YOU MATTER! If you hear anything else, it’s time to empty the pews. May you know, you are not alone, you matter!

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The Honest Faith: Headline Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Screaming Into the Void

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Honest Faith: The Continued Dehumanization of Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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Learning to Love Pt. 1: Letting Go

“To change the world
start with one step
However small
the first step is
hardest of all” — Dave Matthews Band

“Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.” –John 21:4-8

I think one of the hardest things to learn in life is the ability to let go. We have a tough time as human beings not being in control of our lives, surroundings, situations, and people we know. I think it is a trait that we evolved over many millenia. It’s that instinct to be safe and guard ourselves by controlling every situation. I believe it is in learning to let go that we learn how to love. I do believe that part of love is letting go: Letting go of our need to be right, letting go of our need to control, Letting go of our right to revenge, letting go of the pain, and even letting go of being the victim.

One of the biggest things for me to let go of was being the victim. When I was younger, I played the victim a lot. Oh, poor me… I think on some level I didn’t want to heal from wounds that I encountered in my life. I received attention, however negative it may have been, for these wounds. I wanted to be noticed. I felt so lonely and so abandoned in my own mind. The reality is probably much different then what I had chosen to believe at the time. It was easier to play the victim. The role was very easy to portray. I think at some point in all of our lives we do this don’t we? We prefer to have these little pity parties for ourselves, and hope that someone will rescue us. We sit and wait when we are perfectly capable of walking out of these situations ourselves. I could have gotten up. I could have changed things, but I was too afraid. I was too stuck in that mentality that I refused to let go of the pain. I held on to it like we all do at times. My Rector told me about her thesis back in Seminary. She said it was about the spirituality of the victim mentality. She said that when we play the victim we believe we are blameless. It’s not our fault that we got into these situations, so we shouldn’t be the one to get ourselves out. This was one of the hardest things for me to let go of because I didn’t want to take responsibility for my situation. I think that my inability to let go created the circumstances for those situations to get worse, and they did.

Another thing that I still struggle with letting go of is my need to be right. I have learned in my first two years of marriage that more often than not I am not right. But all jokes aside, I think this another thing that we as human beings have a tough time letting go of. It’s this need to always be right that causes us to: begin to dismiss people because they believe differently than we do, Hold on to grudges, refuse to forgive others, and even refuse to forgive ourselves. I find an epidemic, especially with the teens I work with, to fall in with the last on that list. They for some reason got in their heads along the way that they could not be forgiven for whatever it was they did. Who tells us these things? Is it because we can’t forgive others for things? They feel the need to be right in their self image of a horrible being. I think this is what leads many to begin to bully others. They have been bullied themselves, so began to believe what others said. They then turn around and push it on others. I think this stems from a need to be right that we find so hard to let go of.

Letting go I think should be the first step in getting out of the box I previously wrote and talked about. I think playing the victim just reinforces the walls. We point to it as the reason why we can’t leave. I think then that our need to be right reinforces our excuses. We are right about not leaving. We can’t let go. Because look at how awful and horrible the world is outside our box. Look what it did to me! I can’t go out there.

Last night I talked to my youth about something that inspired a previous post, which turned out to be one of the most popular surprisingly, “Does God Cry?”. I talked to the students about the existence of God. I think that at times like these where we feel that the world is about to break it’s tough to believe that God exists. One of my reasons for believing that God is there is because I have been to some of the darkest places and I have found that despite the dark there is still hope, still love. That to me shows that God is there. The bible says that God is Love. I know that love exists. I know that it can overcome every thing. I think that we hold on so tightly to the darkness that we can’t see the light that is there waiting for us. I think letting go is the first and hardest step in beginning to love. This Love God has called out to us in the darkness to let go of all we are holding on to there and move toward Him. Move toward the light that is love, hope, and all things good. Letting go can take many forms. I can only speak for things that I have had to let go of. I can’t speak for those things that you may need to let go of that are in your way. I just know that it’s the first step of many to move out of the darkness and into the light.

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The End of Hate

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.” –John 21:15-19

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
–Martin Luther King, Jr

This week is the anniversary of a lot of tragedies. Not only do we morn the losses in our history, but we have new tragedies that are very fresh in our memories. We weep with the people in Boston. We weep with those in Texas. We also weep with those who struggle with personal tragedies. I once wrote about wondering of God did cry. I think that God feels pain especially when we, God’s creation, suffer. This last summer I had the opportunity to visit the columbine memorial. This was only a week after the Aurora Shootings. I was greatly moved at that time. I wrote about that experience. I wept, as I did back then when it was unfolding before us on the news. Does God cry? Yes, I thing God does. I think that when we give in to hate, malice, violence, and evil to cure us from the same.

I feel the world is at a breaking point. Or maybe it’s just me. I feel that over the course of the last year we have seen too much. We have witnessed the mindless, and horrid taking of lives. We have witnessed the tragedies that happened through no fault of any one person, though we still seek someone to blame. I feel that in all that we suffer our first instinct is to find someone to blame. Someone or something to pin our anger on. That anger turns to hatred, and we end up continuing this cycle that leads to more of the same. We have found that the easiest path to take is the one that leads to destruction. It’s too hard to forgive. It’s too hard to love. We have used the words “Hate” and “love” so much that they have lost all their meaning. We have become numb. Desensitized to the motion and direction this carousel of hate takes us.

I have just returned from a youth retreat weekend. This was a mountain top experience for all involved. It’s weekends like this that really prove to me God’s love does exist. I saw a small group of teens and adults come fully into the loving embrace of the God that loves. It was beautiful. Words cannot describe how it is. I know that love. I strive to show that love. I often fail, but I try every single day. This love is so much bigger, stronger, better, and amazing than hate. It’s a lesson of mass construction.

A little over a week ago I gave a sermon about stepping outside of our box and going out to love. I believe the boxes we build for ourselves are built with labels, hate, and generalizations that help to wall us off from the outside world. I believe we all do this. I think that Christians as a whole are guilty of this too. We label people and justify our lack of love for them. Gay, Straight, Liberal, Conservative, Idiot, redneck, or whatever it may be we call others. Those labels create the bricks, and hate is mortar that glues it all together. We need to leave those boxes. God has already broken in and told us we are free.

I think we are living in a world that is in desperate need of the love we all preach about, and that I experienced. I feel we have sat in our little boxes for far too long. I believe the only way we could ever get off of this carousel of hate is to stand with the God that loves. The world needs people to love now more than ever. We need to stand against violence and hate of any kind. We need to say no more. We need to love. The world is falling apart and the only thing that can put it back together is love. I truly believe unless we begin to love, things will get a lot worse. Rise up! Love your fellow human being! They may be ugly, disgusting, or stinky; but they are a human being as well. They need love just like you and me. No one is exempt. God calls us to love. Will you answer the call?

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To Be thought a Fool…

I have been thinking about this blog post for some time now. I didn’t really know how to begin or even where to go with it until yesterday. Yesterday, our Associate Rector taught on “The dangers of being a prophet.” Our scripture lessons were showing the dangers of such. You have David dancing in the street and being ridiculed by his family. Then you have John the baptizer loosing his head. Both of these events are hundreds of years from each other, but there is a common theme. They are both following God with all that they are, and people don’t understand them. People ridicule and punish them because they have different beliefs. I have posted before about intolerance, acceptance, and the end of hate. That’s not exactly what I’m posting about today. I’m posting about something that has been bugging me for the last few years…
“Hi, My name is Miguel, and I am a Creationary Evolutionist.” I only admit this because it is what has been bothering me. I am a big fan of learning. I love to watch the Science channel and learn about fantastic things like theoretical physics, Cosmology, and Quantum Physics. My wife and I both enjoy these programs and documentaries. (I know I’m a nerd) The problem with all of that is I am taught over and over again I could not possibly understand these things because I happen to believe something that many think is incompatible with science. I happen to believe in the existence of God. This irritates me to no end! Yes, I believe in God, and I love science.
For years I have been listening to arguments that the two are mutually exclusive. What’s worse is that argument is coming from both sides. You have people of faith saying that science is a bunch of hogwash because it doesn’t happen to line up with some of their beliefs. You have people of science saying that people of faith are idiots and cannot possibly understand anything they say because science doesn’t line up with some of their beliefs. I actually took a class in college that was completely on this topic. It was the debate between Creation and Evolution. I came out of that class saying, “yes, one of those things happened.” I was completely confused by the end of that course and could not tell you what I believed one way or the other. I came to an understanding a while after that.
As I said earlier I am a Creationary Evolutionist. Which is to say I believe in both Creation and Evolution. I do believe that God created everything in the fashion of the Big Bang. That God set things into motion from the beginning of what we call time. That God formed and directed things into the paths to become what they became and has not stopped directing all of those things on those paths to become what they will become one day. I don’t believe this is contrary to Scripture in any way. I feel that God is still at work today creating and helping along the evolutionary process that is still happening all around us every day.
I don’t believe that Science and Faith are mutually exclusive. I watched a documentary a little while ago which was rather enlightening on the topic. The Documentary was done by Nathan Frankowski and Ben Stein (Of Ferris Bueller Fame) called “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”. It was not well received. One of the things that I noticed about the film was that both sides treat the other like they are idiots. I think that is very dangerous territory. I think the moment we dismiss someone we happen to disagree with as an idiot is the moment where we become one ourselves. We shut the door on further growth and education that can come from that arena. I believe that Faith and Science can and should inform each other. They should be in conversation with each other. They can learn a lot from each other. Yes, they have both held the other back at times. But, they have also helped to create some of the best advancements in history together!
One of the biggest arguments that drives me up the wall is, “Well there is no scientific evidence that God exists.” To that I have to say, “Well, there is no scientific evidence that God does not exist.” Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! If we did that we would have never figured out that gravity is a very real force, that the Earth orbits the sun not the other way around, or even that the earth is not flat. Another argument that irritates me is, “The earth is only 6,000 years old. God Created it to look old.” Um, No. I have no idea where that idea came from or even why it has so much prevalence in the church. What in the world makes you believe that? There is more conclusive evidence that the Earth and the entire universe is old.
I say this all because according to both camps I am thought a fool. I am thought a fool for believing that God exists and set all of Creation in motion. I am thought a fool for believing that evolution occurred and is still occurring around us every day. To be honest, I wish both sides would agree that they aren’t going to agree on everything, but that they can learn from each other. I would much rather be thought a fool, than to be completely foolish and not learn from both my Faith and science. God has created such a fascinating reality for us to explore, and I am going to explore it with all that I am. I may be ridiculed and punished for that, but I don’t care.

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Through the Looking Glass

A few years ago I wrote a blog post about leaving from a summer of working at a camp. I really felt God’s love at that camp. It was a deep connection with those around me, the area we were at, and the God I love so dear. I wrote that it felt kind of like stepping through the looking glass, returning from wonderland. I had another such experience just this last weekend.
I attended a youth retreat weekend as an adult participant, which in itself was a great experience (not running anything and not having to worry about all the stuff that youth leaders worry about). This program is mainly put on by teenagers for teenagers, and supported by adults. Over the course of the weekend it was as if God slowly snuck into the campground and started connecting all of us to each other and to God’s self as well. We reached that ethereal and ineffable substantive experience of which I believe heaven is made of.
This was not my first time getting to taste what heaven is like. It is in fact something I strive for every day of my life. It is this feeling of oneness. To borrow a word from Hinduism, Nirvana. As i sit here writing I am wanting to describe what it is like, but I feel it is so much bigger than words. It is like being loved, accepted, welcomed, cared for, and at peace all at the same time. I felt this back when I worked at that camp, at an amazing concert, at various moments during my wedding week (including my wedding), and this weekend.
For those of us who were involved and connected during those moments it’s very hard to return to the places that we are from. It’s like you have changed into another person, but everything you returned to belongs to the person who left. It is very much like stepping through the looking glass out of wonderland into a dark reality. You try to explain to people about what it was like on the other side, but all they can see is a reflection of their own reality staring back at them. You feel disconnected. It was so easy to listen to and hear God in that place, but now God feels distant and unclear.
I do believe this is what the first Christians intended church to be. The first Christians were called such because they were just like that revolutionary Rabbi named Christ by his followers. They lived together in love. They connected on that deeper level. They showed the world how they were different by inviting them into this community. This community that loved each other, cared for one another, accepted everyone (most of the time), and loved peace. I don’t know maybe I am just an Idealist and create this beautiful picture that never truly existed. I do believe the concept is sound though. I do think that is a community we are capable as a church of creating. This is a big lesson, but I don’t want to spend all day writing this post. If you would like to learn more about the early church I recommend checking out Nooma video #15 “You”. Rob Bell does a great job of condensing a lot of ideas into about 11 minutes. You can purchase (it’s only a buck to watch online and 2 bucks to download) and download itHere.
My challenge to my readers today is this, strive to bring about the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is here and all we have to do is welcome it in. We can create the Kingdom of God all around us. We are citizens of that Kingdom after all. We need to fight against hate, injustice, greed, corruption, nonacceptance, and all those things that keep us on this side of the looking glass. Let’s allow God’s love to invade our world and revolutionize who and what we are as a people. God’s love is too good not to share.

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It gets better…

So as I sit here  only half watching the “Tony Awards” with my wife, I was blown away by the opening number “Broadway isn’t just for the gays anymore.” This was just moments after watching a special on teen bullying. It was also a few more minutes before the now controversial “It gets better” google commercial.

I want to focus on the itgetsbetterproject; If you haven’t heard of it, Google it. I started to wonder whether or not a straight youth pastor, or for that matter a gay youth pastor, has posted a video in support. I searched and all I found were videos telling gay youth that “Christians don’t care” or that they need to “get help to become better (as if there was something wrong with them)” This saddened me to no end. I feel like church people have dropped the ball on the whole loving thing. I feel like all of a sudden we needed someone to hate so we decided homosexuals were the perfect people for that. The late Peter Gomes once said in a speech, “When anyone looks at the record of our religious treatment of the other in the culture, we find that the first and the last resort used to justify a prejudice is the fact that the Bible tells me so.” I find it very sad that we use this collection of books, about how God has continued throughout the ages to act redemptively and lovingly toward His people, to push an agenda of hate and prejudice. Who are we to put that in God’s words? Are we judges? Who gave us the God badge? Who gave us permission to be God? In my opinion, nobody. We did it ourselves. It sickens and saddens me. What’s worse is I do it too. I know I do. I try to stop myself, but I can’t. So in response to that I would like to write out my “It gets better” speech:

Hello! My name is Miguel. I am a straight youth minister in western New York. I wanted to take an opportunity to tell you, it gets better. I know high school is rough. I was there. I was made fun of. I was bullied. I know how rough it can be. I was plagued by thoughts of suicide and the like. What’s worse for you is that I know I have brothers and sisters out there who share my profession that are allowing the continued bullying and discrimination against you. Not only that they are even encouraging it sometimes. I want you to know that God doesn’t hate you. I don’t hate you. The church shouldn’t hate you, but right now it is a very hostile environment for you. To be honest if I were you I wouldn’t want to be there either, even if I was Christian. I want to take this opportunity to apologize. I’m sorry for what is being done to you. I am sorry that instead of stopping this hate and prejudice we have continued it and fueled it. I’m sorry that once upon a time I bullied people like you. I am sorry that you have to endure it now. But I promise you, it gets better! There are people, churches, and even church leaders who not only openly accept you for who you are; but even are a part of that community as well. I know straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered  people who are great examples of God’s love. So I ask not only for your forgiveness, but also for your patience. One day the Church will be a safe place for you to be. One day we wont try to tell you who to be, or who to love. I pray that day comes quickly. As for me, I will love you and accept you. You are always welcome here. It will get better elsewhere. Don’t listen to my brothers and sisters that try to tell you to be different. Don’t listen to those who tell you it’s wrong to love that person. I don’t believe God made a mistake when God made you. You are perfect the way you are. As Ga Ga has said “God makes no mistakes.” My promise to you is that I am going to try to make it better.

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