The Honest Faith: Fear

In his book “The Devil and Miss Prym” Paulo Coelho wrote “Fear again. If you want to control someone, all you have to do is to make them feel afraid.” While this is from a novel it does display a deeper truth about our world. Fearmongering has been a trend of those in power for many years. In the “Nuremberg Diary” Gustave Gilbert writes how Nazi leader Hermann Goering explained this tactic “The people don’t want war, but they can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and for exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.” I read once in a novel, I can’t remember which one for the life of me at the moment, that fear was how the secret society was controlling the world since the end of the cold war. Even though it was a silly plot device in a novel it still held some truth to it. Have we been controlled by fear?

Recently, I’ve joined a digital community that is made up of people who have left the Evangelical christian culture. Some have left christianity altogether, some are still trying to find out what is true in the arena. One of the major themes I’ve noticed in the background of many of these people is the use of fear as a manipulation tool. This has been done through Fearmongering or creating a culture of fear. As I have been working through my anxiety to claw my way back out into some resemblance to normalcy, I noticed that so much of that anxiety was a manufactured fear of the false truths I let people lord over me. I have thought a lot about my career inside the church walls and I noticed the places where I was the most abused were places that had a culture of fear so as to give the priest or pastor some sort of power over the congregation. This wasn’t all churches, and I’m not going to point fingers. That wouldn’t be helpful, suffice to say I experienced it first hand. I’m trying not to be afraid anymore.

What are you afraid of? Why are you afraid of it? Who told you or taught you to be afraid of whatever it is? This is a big question to ask ourselves as it will help to determine why it is we do some of the things that we do. In 1976 a satirical film titled “Network” took a look at the unusual nature of the broadcasting industry. The unusualness of this satire is that it became reality. This reality was centered around people’s anger, yet when it was found to be unsustainable shifted to this fearmongering that most news networks have resorted to. They’ve been doing it for a long time, some have perfected that art through their far right or far left ideologies. I don’t think I need to name names again, as you probably already know what I refer to and it isn’t helpful.

There is so much to be afraid of. If you turn on the tv, listen to the radio, or even go to church on a Sunday morning you are told to be afraid. America has been kept in this constant state of fear since the end of World War II. I’m not going to tell you that there isn’t anything to be afraid of because that is just reductionistic and not true. Yes, there are things to be afraid of, but in the grand scheme of things they are small. These fears, statistically speaking, have almost a non-existent amount of happening to you. I know that doesn’t make it better. But it helps to remember what is real, tangible, and possible. I can recite a number of platitudes and verses about how not to be afraid, but again, I know that doesn’t help. What does help, is knowing that you aren’t alone. You matter. What you do can make a difference. What helps is naming the fear, knowing it exists, and reminding yourself of how small it is compared to you.

With that being said I want to turn our attention to the church. I know that what I’m about to write may be controversial. Though let me preface it by saying that I follow Yeshua. I’m a firm believer in the Divine. My beliefs have changed a lot, but I still consider myself to be Christian. I’m not asking you to get rid of your beliefs, I’m just asking you to have an open mind about what I’m about to say. I want you to examine your faith. Take a close look at why you believe in the Divine, and/or Jesus. Was it because you were told there was something to fear? Were you coerced into church and all that Churchianity stuff by a fear that your immortal soul would be forever condemned if you didn’t? Were you taught by using Pascal’s wager? Was there an altar call at every service at your church? It may be that your pastor or priest did not intentionally do this to control their congregation. It probably wasn’t even their fault. They were probably genuinely concerned for your immortal soul. That isn’t to say they weren’t complicit in the culture of fear within the church. Have you joined groups or volunteered for something within the church out of this fear? Maybe it was fear that other people would gossip, or that the one old church lady would judge you if you didn’t. But it was there, wasn’t it? Take a good hard look at your faith and your church. Are you going willingly, or are you being guilted or coerced into it by fear?

Something that I have learned through my year of therapy, I have since “graduated”, is that when you realize a fear is there, when you name the fear, and realize how small it is in comparison to yourself, you can then begin to stand against it. I have found this through the man Yeshua. I found that he taught not fear, but power. Power to those who were powerless before. He taught those who were kept in this state of fear to stand up and topple these fears by being human. He taught those who were outcasts of society that there was no system to fear. He even said the faith (read: longing) of a mustard seed could move mountains. A little bit of longing for the world to be a better place could drive you to make it so. That is bigger than fear. Action speaks louder than fear. Bravery can only be accomplished in the face of fear. I’ve written about questioning and the importance of always questioning. I’ve written about a fair number of things at this point. But I think this is the important point about this. If you are too afraid to question those who lead you, why do you allow them to lead you? If you are being kept in subjugation through fear, you need to stand up and question that fear. You need to question those who tell you to fear. You may find there was nothing to fear all along.

I’m not going to tell you not to be afraid. That isn’t helpful. Instead, I’m going to tell you to examine that fear. Figure out what is causing it. Look at it in the grand scheme of life. In comparison to who you are it is small. So stand up, be brave. Don’t let that fear pretend it is bigger than you because it isn’t. If you are struggling with fear, If you are being forced to do something out of fear, or if you feel the fear is too big for you to face alone please seek help. You are not alone, after all. Send someone you trust a message. Or even send me a message. I would be happy to help, though I am not licensed professional in any way. You don’t have to face it alone. The fear is not bigger than you. You are bigger than the fear. Don’t let fear be your faith, Yeshua never taught that. Let love be your faith. Let Love set you free. Your faith, beliefs, and worldview should not be something that is brought about by fear. They shouldn’t even be something that feels like a burden or restricting. Instead, it should be freeing. Freeing to love, and be brave in the face of that fear. Freeing to stand and fight for others to be released from that fear. Love frees all. Love conquers all. Love is love. Love can never be a sin. So go free others with that love. Fear not, for I am with you. You are not alone, you matter!

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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: 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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