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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The Honest Faith: 95 Theses for a Modern Church

I’ve been doing a lot of listening lately to many different voices and many traditions of faith. I’ve noticed a lot. I’ve found a lot and learned a lot. I’ve listened to a lot of Protestant voices, Catholic voices, and Orthodox voices. There is a resounding chord that is played across those voices. There is a thread that connects all but is also very distant to many. I’ve listened to Muslim, Buddist, Jewish, Christian, and Other voices as well. It has been very helpful to get some objectivity and difference of opinion on my own religious tradition as well. I have done a lot of deconstruction and am working to reconstruct what it means to be a Jesus follower for me. Since it is the Reformation week and this is the 500th anniversary of the time that Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the chapel door at Wittenburg I felt it would be helpful for me to write my 95 theses of a reconstructed Jesus Follower theology. I use the term Ancient-Future because as I have been learning I learned that the Christianity of old looked much much different than the Christianity of today. I think we lost a lot. So in order to help with some reconstruction here are my 95 theses:

  1. When Yeshua preached the Gospel He said that the Kingdom of the Divine was “at hand” or here and now meaning that the time of good was now or soon, and so stop doing bad things. (Matt 4:17, Mark 1:15, Luke 3:2-3)
  2. Yeshua’s message of repentance was about power systems and stop treating others worse than dirt.
  3. This repentance was done through your life, not just your belief. Faith without works is dead. (James 4)
  4. The Divine doesn’t care about “sin” but more cares that we do what was asked of us throughout both Jewish, and Christian scriptures which is to we love the Divine, love others, and love ourselves.
  5. No other person can define what your religious practice is “supposed” to look like. That’s different for each person. We all encounter the Divine in our own ways.
  6. Shovelling guilt upon people in order for them to be “moral” is no way to make good people, only causes abuse and anxiety
  7. There is no hierarchy in the Kingdom of the Divine, other than the Divine itself being over all. We are all equal.
  8. As Yeshua taught, the law was made for man, not man for the law. It’s there for us to know how to be good humans, not for us to be slaves to some code.
  9. We have no idea if there is an afterlife. We do not know if there is an actual Heaven or Hell. We create them every day in how we treat others, so make your world Heaven rather than Hell.
  10. There are many “spiritual” leaders who will try to sell you their way of understanding. No one person has it all figured out. If they say they do they are trying to sell you something.
  11. Power and control are only held by those we give it to. When that power is abused it is our duty to speak up and take back the power we gave to them.
  12. Knowledge and education are not bad things. It is good to learn all you can, if it shakes what you believe, all the better. Learn what is true.
  13. Death calls to life. Throughout nature, we see this. We are a resurrection people. Sometimes things need to die in order to be reborn. This is change. It hurts, but something new is coming.
  14. Love is love. Love cannot be sin. If someone loves someone of the same gender, it is not a sin. There is really only one sin, Hate. (see 4)
  15. Telling others that they should “Sin no more” is akin to saying “I am God” what you deem to be a sin probably isn’t even a sin. There is really only one sin, Hate.
  16. If there is an afterlife, it is not ours to say who is in or who is out. There is a concept that Heaven and hell are the same place it is only a matter of how you view other people. (see 9)
  17. Worry is not a sin. Anxiety is a very real mental disorder. Don’t try to tell people to wish it away, that isn’t helpful. Instead, love them enough to help them get the help they need.
  18. For that matter just love people. Give them the help they need regardless.
  19. Nothing is for sure in this life. There is only one thing we can know for sure. We are all going to die, and it is sooner than we think. So just give love to everyone, for that is the true way to measure your life.
  20. Theology is really just best guesses at the Divine. Don’t live under the tyranny of someone else’s truth. Find out what is true for you.
  21. People will always try to take advantage of you. Be wise about this, but do not let it stop you from giving love and kindness freely. Don’t let them force their truth upon you.
  22. Don’t be afraid to speak truth to power. The powerful may not listen, but their followers will.
  23. Nobody is perfect. NOBODY not even you. So don’t worry about being perfect. Worry about loving yourself anyway.
  24. People will try to sell you ways of being perfect, but the honest truth is they are trying to sell you stuff. You aren’t perfect, that’s okay.
  25. Pastors and Priests are human too. It means that they aren’t perfect either. Allow them to be human. It’s okay, they are trying to find the Divine same as you.
  26. Listen to your pastors and priests, if something seems illogical or way outside of your truth, ask them about it. Don’t go along blindly. Questioning is good.
  27. If you don’t feel comfortable in a modern church setting, don’t go. It’s supposed to be about community. Community only works when you are a part of it.
  28. Take a good look at your priest or pastor if they are only seeking money, power, or fame. You probably shouldn’t be seeking their advice.
  29. There are other voices than your own. You would be wise to listen to the truths they have found. Though be discerning about those you take to heart.
  30. Nobody has the full truth. Which is why we are all seekers of wisdom.
  31. Don’t give money to those preachers who tell you it will increase your blessing. Just don’t.
  32. Money will not buy you salvation. It can grant you peace of mind knowing your bills will be paid.
  33. Know that others struggle with money, and therefore need your help. If you have extra, give extra.
  34. Yeshua taught that the Kingdom of the Divine was like a great feast where all were invited. Give freely to all.
  35. Do not attach strings to the Love of the Divine. There are no strings, no agendas, nothing you have to do to earn it. It’s already yours.
  36. The only sin is hate. That is the opposite of love. If you do not love your fellow man, then you are sinning. It’s pretty simple. Just love.
  37. Yeshua only gave one commandment to his followers, “that you love one another as I have loved you”. (John 13:34)
  38. Yeshua was a man, we also consider him to be Divine. True study of what this man was like is essential to be a follower of his.
  39. Even the most educated and most published theologians have not gotten it all figured out. Study and find what is true, but don’t ever believe you have it all figured out.
  40. Love those who hate you, It’s hard I know. But be kind, listen to what they have to say, if there is no truth in it don’t take anything they have to say to heart.
  41. A Yeshua follower’s true mission is just to love.
  42. Loving requires a bit of humility on your part. Don’t believe yourself better than anyone else. Instead imagine others as complexly as you imagine yourself.
  43. Give freely. If you have extra, give extra. Give until you can’t give anymore, and keep giving even then. If you don’t have money, give your time, if you don’t have time, give your love. Love freely, give freely.
  44. Love grows the more you understand and know about something. So learn about your fellow man. Understand the struggles.
  45. The Good Samaritan is a story about a hated individual giving of himself even though the person he helped probably hated him. Be like the good Samaritan.
  46. Take care of your family. Don’t give what you cannot give. Be responsible. We were told to be good stewards of what was given to us.
  47. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. We all need help from time to time. Don’t let people shame you for getting help either.
  48. Christians should be taught the full history of our faith, not just the highlights. The debates about whether Yeshua was a man or just spirit. The henotheistic nature of the followers at the time of the man. ect.
  49. Christians should also be taught that the Bible, while a great story about the nature of God, is only a book, and should not be elevated to Divinity. That is how idols are made.
  50. Christians should not guilted into doing anything for the church. It only survives if the community is there willingly, and doing the work of loving people we were told to do.
  51. Christians were meant to live life to the fullest, not enslaved to laws and moral codes. Those who say otherwise are trying to gain power, money, or control.
  52. It is vain to trust in salvation by giving money, believing the teachings of someone because they have a lot of followers or the amount of fame they have, or just plain belief. Salvation is not earned, it’s already given you already have it. So live freely, love freely, and give freely.
  53. It is against the teachings of Yeshua to hate or divide people. It is against the teachings of Yeshua to subjugate others. All are equal.
  54. An injury is done to the ability for people to think freely when the Bible is taken out of context or used in a way to hurt or injure someone.
  55. It is good to study further into the book of the Bible as one would find the truths of history.
  56. The Church should not be concerned about money, but rather about the people that grace its doorways.
  57. Yeshua spoke against those who sought fame, fortune and power. Yet the church has venerated those as masters as of late. Seek to venerate those who love above all else.
  58. Yeshua died for what he taught. I do believe that martyrdom did mean something and should teach us how important that message was.
  59. Social Justice is the work of the church. It always has been since the time of Yeshua. The work of Love is about fighting for Love, equality, and justice.
  60. Socialism, communism, capitalism, and so on are just ideas and concepts. They cannot be evil or good. How they are used is what would make them evil or good. They have all been used in evil ways over the course of human history.
  61. Listen to the ideas of others. Many people have good ideas. On paper, most things can work out, but the reality is certainly complicated and makes things difficult. So be realistic, but optimistic as well.
  62. The Divine is evident in all things. We should treat all things with the same respect and veneration we have for the Divine as all things are a attempting to be in concert with the Divine.
  63. Do not seek power, instead seek how you may help those with less have the same opportunities you did. Help them get started.
  64. Do not dismiss another due difference of belief. They may know something you don’t. Ask them and listen as to why they think how they do.
  65. Do not argue to be right, rather converse and ask in order to learn.
  66. If your church doesn’t care for the poor, the needy, the jobless, the orphan, the widow, the immigrant (regardless of how they entered), women, children, and those of “lesser status” you need to ask yourself why you are there.
  67. If you are going to church to be seen or to somehow be “holy” you are going for the wrong reasons.
  68. If your church would turn a homeless man away any day of the week and preach about one on a Sunday morning, you need to ask yourself why you go.
  69. If your church care more about in-reach (getting people to come and stay) rather than out-reach helping those they need to help, you need to examine why you go.
  70. If your church is more concerned about Stewardship (financial giving) rather than outreach you need to examine why you go.
  71. Find a community you feel comfortable with. Find a place you can serve your fellow human being with. Learn from each other there, don’t allow yourself to be complacent and content with just going.
  72. Don’t shun someone for asking questions. They seek the truth as well. They may just be trying to help everyone.
  73. Look for communities who are doing the work and give freely to that work of your time, talent, and money. If they don’t want your help find another community.
  74. Don’t let others in those communities put out your fire to do good. Find ways to make it helpful and fit, or find a different community.
  75. Remember there is nothing that can separate you from the love of the Divine, there is also nothing that you can do to earn it.
  76. If you cannot find a community, it may be that you have to make one yourself. Commit to it and find the support you need.
  77. Don’t sell yourself short because you aren’t like someone else. You are yourself and that is incredible.
  78. No one is greater than another. We are all human.
  79. While no one is greater than another, some have learned more than others. Listen to those who studied more than you. You may learn something important.
  80. Preachers and priests who say that one person is better than another are trying to sell you something. You would do well to question them.
  81. Those who spread such messages are not doing the work of the Divine.
  82. The Divine is everywhere and therefore does not favor one country over another.
  83. If you believe your country to be the favored of the Divine, you are mistaken and worshiping an idol.
  84. All things are permissible but not all things are beneficial. If you do something that hurts another, stop doing it. (1Corinthians 10)
  85. Let go of hate, grudges, and past misdeeds. Each day is a new day. Learn something new. Show love to someone. Be the change you want to see.
  86. It’s not hard to show love to someone. Just take it one day at a time, one person at a time.
  87. Anger does not equal hate. When you are angry it means something is wrong. Examine it find what it is, do something about it. When anger stagnates it becomes hate.
  88. Don’t go off unexamined. Hasty actions can be misinformed and ill-advised.
  89. Stand for what you believe in.
  90. Show love to those who hate you.
  91. Be slow to anger.
  92. Love
  93. Realize you are not alone.
  94. Realize you matter.
  95. Since you are not alone and you matter, what you do can make a difference.

Of course this is all just what I think. You are not alone. You matter.

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The Honest Faith: Who We Longed to Be

I have to start this post off with an apology. I’m sorry. I’m sorry if my recent posts have offended you or upset you in any way. I understand that getting a rise out of people is the easiest way for people to see a problem, yet it may not be the best way. I understand how it may make people feel, but I should also note that I have a right to how I feel as well. I am angry. That’s okay. I’m angry about so much of what is going on in the world. I’m angry that people are using the name of my faith, my religion to commit all kinds of atrocities and cover up horrible treatment of our fellow-man all in the guise that it is a religious thing to do? I’m angry because this is not the world I want. This is not the world I believe Jesus wants. I imagine the Divine is angry as well, not that people are “sinful” but that we have strayed so far from the Love that was taught to us.

Who did you long to be? A friend of mine commented on a post recently. I posted on a forum about how I’ve been trying to be kinder. How I feel that arguments recently are just producing so much hurt and division in and of themselves rather than helping someone view a different side. I talked about it in relation to Christianity. About how to have a conversation with someone who thinks I’m a heretic because I believe in love for all. She said that Christians have claimed for a long time to treat people with love, kindness, and acceptance yet all the while judged them for who they were. She said in order to have a conversation with them maybe be what it was we only pretended to be or to put it more kindly “Who we longed to be”. I loved that phrase. That resonated so much with me. Who did I long to be? Who do you long to be? Do you long to treat others with kindness, love, and acceptance no matter what? Or do you only pretend at it?

This brought me to my apology. I feel as though my raw anger without a filter can send the wrong message. It says that I don’t desire to be in conversation with you, but rather I “hate” what it is you think is the best way. That is not true. I disagree with you, but it does not mean that I hate you or whatever it is. What I truly despise is the evil, corruption, and mistreatment that masquerades as Christianity these days. It is so much bad theology. As I have stated before, Jesus never once taught us to hate. Yet, we put that work in his and the Divine’s mouths so much. God hates (fill in the blank). But anger does not equal hate. Anger is an emotion. It’s okay to feel angry. Anger can lead to action. Anger is not a sin. It is a sign that something is wrong. When it is directed in the wrong way, yes it can lead to some pretty messed up shenanigans. Though, in and of itself, anger is fine. I realized that I needed to temper that anger into something more useful rather than the rough edges that have been showing recently. Unless it drives you to do something anger may stagnate and turn to hate. Unless it is tempered and used in constructive ways it can only bring destruction. I longed to be a better person. I longed to show my son that anger can be useful when tempered and funneled correctly.

Have you ever felt a longing? Do you know what it is to long for something? We again throw the word around as if it’s just a want. But it is deeper than that. A yearning desire is wanting something so bad it hurts. Have you ever wanted something like that? I remember when I was a child I really wanted the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Party 51382Wagon. I mean I really wanted it. Every time one of my friends got it I was so super jealous. I loved the flip-out door and the little seat that you see Raphael in. I had so many Action figures that I made most toy stores look understocked, but I didn’t have this. Even then, I don’t believe that would be called longing. I think that longing is more what I call Faith these days. I think so often people make faith synonymous with trust, but I think it’s really much different. As you know, I’ve used a quote about faith ad-nauseum on my blog, in the podcast, and even the book. So I’m not going to repeat it. But I think that faith is a longing for the world to be better. For us to be better. For people to truly understand what it is to love, and then only then may we begin to see the Divine. For as the first epistle of John puts it, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.”

There is a common hymn that is sung to the point where it makes my ears bleed every time I hear it now. It says “As the deer panteth for the water so my soul longeth after thee.” Does your soul long for the Divine? Do you truly long for love and harmony with all things? Do you think that getting upset at football players taking a knee during an anthem is disrespectful or not being done out of love for something? Do you feel that not making a cake for a wedding because the couple doesn’t look traditional to you is love? Do you feel that banning something because you don’t understand it is loving? As I mentioned last week, caring is more than just a feeling. So is love. Love is Divine. Love is Love. As St. Paul described it in his letter to the Corinthians,” Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Love is hard. To embody this is hard.

I remember growing up I was told our job as Christians was in the name itself. We were to be like Christ. Yet, I was also told that it was impossible to be like Christ. That’s a mixed message if I ever heard one. I don’t believe anymore that it is impossible. I believe that Yeshua Ben-Yoseph knew what it was to love. The longing was tempered and funneled into something useful. Yeshua showed us how to live in love. Yeshua ate with sinners. Yeshua had tax collectors follow him. Yeshua spoke to the woman at the well, when all others dismissed her as an adulterer. Yeshua didn’t judge the woman caught in adultery brought to him. Yeshua taught that no greater love has any man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends. Yeshua laid down his life for his friends. You may ask who are these friends, well Yeshua taught us in Luke. The good Samaritan was his example, what would a modern-day Samaritan look like? I imagined it to be akin to an illegal immigrant who risks everything to help out the man on the side of the road. It would be the Muslim who helps interpret for American soldiers despite the threats to his family. It would be the Black man who stops to help out a police officer who is beaten and bloody. It would be the lesbian woman who bakes and decorates a beautiful cake for a heterosexual evangelical wedding that she wouldn’t be invited to. It’s the trans person in the military fighting for the rights of the people in this country. Those are the people who would look like friends. Those are the people we are to lay our lives down for. The good Samaritans.

I long for that. I want to be that. I want to be a person who lays his life down even for those I disagree with. I long to see a world where my son can grow up and see the true heroes. A world where people are kind and loving. A world where small disagreements do not bring hate and division but instead lead to the making of a better tomorrow. So may we love without condition. May we see that we are not alone and we matter. May we be the people we long to be. You are not alone, You matter!

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The Honest Faith: Shut Up and Get to Work

Remember how I said that I would probably not write any more controversial posts a while ago, yeah, I think I lied. The thing is when you stand for what is right or kneel for what is right, there will always be controversy. I have made a new friend recently. This was through the journey I took a few weeks ago down the rabbit hole of the #EmptyThePews hashtag on Twitter. He is also a writer, podcaster, and one who has been in church life for a long time. His name is Steve Austin. He wrote an article earlier this week that was rather convicting and illuminating which inspired me to write this post. It is called How to Stop Being a Christian Asshole. As I read the article and reflected on my own work. Especially the fact I felt like one of the vultures and tried very hard not to be one, but as a writer, you write when you are inspired to do so. Needless to say, his work inspired me to write this week.

I know there has been a lot of talk about Christianity changing the world. I heard it all growing up. I even felt like I was a part of it for a very long time. I had delusions of grandeur that I would be the next St. Paul or Billy Graham. I used to have visions of changing the world. Of course, all of that was shattered. I wrote about that in my book. But there has been this idea that unless you do something big, the world will not change. We get stuck in this cycle noticing that something bad happened, we voice our displeasure we think there is nothing we can do to make a difference, and then go back to our normal lives. We live in this weird false dichotomy of this “all or nothing” mindset. So we post our feelings about the latest protests or horrific events and then move on.

What if it isn’t all or nothing? What if we can change the world just by changing small things in our everyday life? Would you do it, or is it too easy to be lazy and stay in the cycle? It could be that as a part of my delusions that I think this is a false dichotomy, but I don’t think it is. I think that we as human being shape the world around us every single day. Whether you are just some person, or a leader of many you have the power to change the world. The funny thing is it isn’t by selling all your stuff and moving to a third world country to teach the finer points of astrophysics. I know you’ve probably heard this before as well, but do you believe it? Do you live it?

How many times have you gone to Starbucks and not noticed the barista that is taking your order, or making your drink? How many friends do you have that are struggling due to the larger issues going on in the world? Do you have friends who have family that immigrated to this country? Do you have friends who are immigrants to this country? Do you have friends or family in Puerto Rico or the Carribean Islands? Do you have friends that are black? Are you black? Do you know someone impacted by systemic racism and violence in this country? Are you impacted by that? How often do you ask yourself these questions?

Take a look around at those you call friends. Look through your Facebook friends list. I can almost guarantee that you know someone who is impacted by recent events. Do you think about them before you post something? Have you tried to understand their situation? I know I’m asking a lot of questions, but I want to get right down to the heart of this matter. The truth is the way to make a difference in the world is already there. You already have it in your grasp and it is waiting for you to do something. It also may not be what you think it is either. I’ve written before about the little things like making a phone call, or leaving a note, or sending a direct message to someone. I truly believe it doesn’t take a grand gesture to make the world a little brighter for someone.

Earlier this week there was all kinds of hullabaloo around the #TakeAKnee protest in the sporting world. I’m not a big fan of sports. I’m more a fan of the competitive eating sport, but I certainly, like everyone else on the planet, heard about this back in 2016 when Colin Kaepernick started doing it. He started doing it to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and to bring light to systemic racism and violence toward black people. There are quite a few who do not understand the movement or why they are protesting. There have been a ton of people posting opinions one way or another on social media, and in person. There have been many many voices weighing in on the situation, yet surprisingly, or maybe not, they are just talking about the protest instead of looking at the problems that are causing people to protest. We are blowing a lot of hot air, into a climate that has too much hot air already. (see what I did there?)

Ever notice that for some reason this is what most churches do? They talk about issues on Sunday mornings and discuss what they can do about it. This discussion ends up going into endless government or board meetings and never amounts to any changes being made. This isn’t all. I know it isn’t all. There are some churches who do some amazing things, however, in my opinion, they are few and far between. We get stuck on the false dichotomy of all or nothing. We talk and talk and talk about the things we can do and never do anything. This is the same with the phrase “Thoughts and Prayers” which has since become meaningless because without action faith is dead.

So what then? I’ve been one who has said before that we should sit down and talk to work out our differences, the problem is that we are sitting down and talking with the wrong people. We aren’t talking to the ones who disagree with us. We are talking to those who do, and we end up in the same place we were. So what then? I propose we should stop talking about issues, stay with me now, until we fully understand what it is that we are discussing. Instead of talking about things to nobody in particular, maybe we should find those who are impacted by current events around us and ask them what we can do to support them. See the work of kindness and love is not a big grand gesture. Most of us don’t have the time, money, or resources to help out in places that were severely damaged. But we can make a difference in one life. Just one life every day.

I want to start a viral trend. I think it would be neat to do that. Not because I want the fame or the popularity. In fact, the more notoriety that I gain the more anxiety I get, so yeah I’d like more readers and listeners, but it’s not something I am running after for this. I want to do it because I want to make the world better. I want my son to grow up in a world where people are kind to each other. I want my son to see that you don’t have to lash out at people on social media to get your point across. That you can change the world one person at a time, one day at a time. It isn’t that much really. All it takes is one smile at your cashier. Maybe speaking up and saying, “Hey you know I see you in here a lot, and you bring some comfort to my life knowing that you are here. I hope you have a good day.” That’s all it takes. 2 seconds. Just a bit of your life. To make the world a better place. Maybe it will inspire that other person to do the same. I know this has been done before with the pay it forward thing and all that other stuff, but people stop doing that. I want to remind people of how simple it is to change the world. You only have to take it one day at a time, one person at a time. #1Day1Person

We are told so often by haters, critics, and those who dislike what we have to say that we are alone and that we don’t matter. There are enough of those voices. You don’t have to add to them. Instead of saying something like I kneel or I stand. Shut up, and get to work. Make the world better for one person, ask your friend or acquaintance what you can do for them to help them. Show someone today that they are not alone, that they matter. I encourage you to take it one day at a time, one person at a time. If you feel led to do that, challenge others to do the same on social media with the hashtag #1Day1Person. Because to that one person you are telling them that they are not alone in this world, and that they matter. Because you are not alone, you matter. You are not alone, you matter. Go and tell others the same.

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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. Someone once told me that they were taking psych courses to find out what was wrong with me. I never did find out if they 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: Religion is for “Girly Men”

I’ve been thinking a lot about emotions recently, obviously. This has been a lot larger than I make it out to be in my writings sometimes. I think about where the emotions come from. What are the root issues that have informed these emotions? Why does my brain react in the way that it does? How do I teach my son to be healthy emotionally? How do I deal with emotions in a way that is constructive and healthy myself? How have my emotions impacted my faith? I had been thinking on these topics when I was working on painting my son’s playroom this week.

I like to work out and do work listening to stories. I started listening to audiobooks, and have since started listening to all sorts of Podcasts, I even started my own. I was listing to NPR’s Invisibilia. They are doing a very interesting “concept album” this season and started with emotions. In it they interviewed Lisa Feldman Barrett, who had a somewhat new and very interesting take on emotions. She also builds upon some of the concepts brought up by David Goleman in his book “Emotional Intelligence” This is a quote from that interview:

Your brain is organized in such a way as to [make] anticipatory guesses about what is going to happen next. And this is happening entirely outside of your awareness. You have past experiences, and those experiences become wired into your brain, and then your brain uses those past experiences to make guesses about the immediate future.

So, emotions aren’t happening to you. Your brain makes them as you need them. You are the architect of your own experience. It’s just that most of this is happening outside of your awareness.

This was paired with a story about a car accident in which a family lost a little girl and the trucker who was on the other side. They explored both sides of the story and the emotions of those involved. It was an accident that nobody was really to blame for. The trucker developed PTSD from the accident due to the “constructs” (The word Dr. Barrett used for emotional responses) that were instilled in him from an early age. One of these constructs resonated with me. This was a construct that basically informed him that “a man is always in control.” This is what caused him to believe that he was a killer and that he murdered the little girl by not being able to move the truck out of the way in time. He couldn’t have. This is something that in our society we teach little boys, and reinforce in them from an early age.

I remember growing up that I watched the men in our church and my life. I noticed and was taught, that men don’t show emotion. I was taught that men are supposed to be strong, silent, and take care of their family. This is a societal and gender specific construct that is reinforced from many different angles. The reason the trucker’s story resonated with me, is because I think that is a very similar, if not same, construct that informed my own PTSD and Anxiety. Now, I realize that many people would not view our experiences as similar. I can’t even imagine being in his shoes at the time. But my experiences with the church were very traumatic to me and my own life. This is particular to my situation especially, because I am a man. I am supposed to be in control. I am supposed to provide for my family. I am supposed to be the “bread winner”.

Have you ever noticed how damaging these gender specific, and western societal constructs can be in the context of the church? Think about it. We tell men they are supposed to be in control, but we also tell them to rely on God as God is in control of all things. We tell women to be nurturing and caring leaders, yet we also tell them that God said through the writings of St. Paul that women shouldn’t lead men. I could go on and on, but there is one, in particular, I want to focus on. Men are supposed to be strong, silent, and in control of their feelings. We tell boys that when they cry or when they feel sad that they are to “suck it up” or “be a man”. Yet we also have a few tenants of our religion that require us to be in touch with our emotion.

Have you ever noticed that in our stories about the God-man Jesus, there are very few emotions being expressed? There are two, in particular, that pop into my mind as I sit here and write. One of my favorite verses, in fact, pops into my mind, “Jesus wept.” There is also another story about anger and rage coming from Jesus. The gospel writers told about turning over tables and killing a fig tree because there were no figs. That’s right, God hates figs. Have you ever noticed that we just assume other people’s emotions? There are so many emotional constructs that we have developed in our lives that to sort through them all is a huge task. We assume the other has had the same experience we have and therefore when they display signs of a construct that was developed in our own experience we assume that is what they are “feeling”. I have a problem with assuming. I find it funny that I’m in a job where I have to rid myself of all assumptions in a moment by moment basis.

The (small c) church reinforces that assumptive construct for men. They label those men who are in touch with their feelings as girly, feminine, or an assumptive sexuality preference label. Which as soon as they do they immediately condemn them for that. I was a very emotional kid. I was quite in touch with my emotions and with trying to figure them out. This led to all kinds of assumptions from the adults of my church. Especially about me and my best friend as a teen. We both were more into music, into figuring out feelings, figuring out religion, and trying to figure out exactly who Jesus was. We spent all of our time together and called each other a lot, back in the day where you had landlines. In fact, I can remember my sister calling him my boyfriend quite often. He was my best friend and still is my oldest and closest friend to this day. But there were assumptions made about us without even talking to us. This, like most gossipy topics, spread through the church more than once. It was a bit detrimental to a teenaged boy who was trying to figure things out.

I think that the more we assume things about other people the more we shape the reality for them. How many times has the church shaped reality for those who have been abused or the abusers? How many times has the church shunned a sinner, a divorcee, a pregnant teen, a teen mom, and so on? We make assumptions about them and in turn create constructs that tell them things like, they are unloved, they will never be forgiven, god doesn’t care, and that they are horrible. This creeps in little by little and becomes the tyranical “truth” that it can take years to rewire that reality. The wierd thing about western culture is that we do not do well with conflicting ideas, yet we constantly create them for ourselves. We tell people with our words that we love them, yet our actions say something completely different.

Maybe the church has spent way too much time, energy, and money trying to prevent “sin” instead of making the world a better place. Maybe if we stopped trying to tell people what is good and moral in our own eyes, and started living the love we preach we’d see our reality is not the only one. The Reverend William Barber in an interview on The New Yorker Radio hour said it this way (Honestly, if you have 23 minutes to spare, go listen to it! It’s incredible.) “If your attention is not on dealing with the issues that hurt the poor, the brokenhearted, the sick, the left out, the least of these, the stranger, and all of those that are made to feel unacceptable; you don’t have white right-wing evangelicalism. You have heresy!… You have theological malpractice.” We, as a church, built these constructs that said, “No those people cannot come in.” But the huge contradiction was that they were the exact people we were sent to help. We make these constructs telling little boys to be tough and strong and take care of things, yet that’s not how life works. That’s not how relationships work. We tell little girls to be princesses, humble, quiet, and unassuming, but that’s not how life works. We want people to come into the doors of the church, yet we shut and lock the doors before they can get in.

Maybe religion is for those who make assumptions, and are assumed about. Maybe true religion, a real honest faith, happens outside the shrines we’ve built to our own false realities. Maybe what Jesus would look like today is not someone sitting in a pew, or preaching from a pulpit. Maybe Jesus would be out on the street, meeting anyone who happens to talk to him. Handing out food to the hungy. Visiting those in prison. Making sure people see and experience justice. Maybe Jesus has left the building. I don’t know, but these are the thoughts that I’ve had.

My life has been spent trying to fix what other people have thought about me. My life has been shaped by tyranical truth that was built on assumptions. It’s time to rewire my brain and realize that my truth, my reality is what I make of it. I want to make it a good one. I want to make it one where I am generous, kind, in touch with my feelings, fall down sometimes, can graciously accept grace, freely give grace to others, lift others up, and find that just because someone calls me “girly” doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.

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The Honest Faith: Abandonment Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Honest Faith: The Center of the Maze

This last week my wife and I finished up watching HBO’s “Westworld”. If you enjoy heady science fiction, westerns, or shows that you can get lost in it’s a wonderful show. There is a lot within the show. In fact, our most recent podcast (found here) is about that show. Of course we only just touched on the immense topics that are found within. But the one question that came up in our conversation, and while watching the show is this question of “What is sentience?”

Now you could go with the standard definition which is still rather vague and confusing or go with the classic redefinition of theologians into what we call the soul. So then what is the soul? We have heard that we are triune beings in the image of the trinity, comprised of body, spirit, and soul. But does that make it any easier to understand? I don’t think I have ever really found it easy to understand myself. I had someone explain it to me like this once, the body is obviously your physical being, the spirit is your personality, and the soul is the very thing that is you. I think people interchange the three sometimes. I’m still a little unclear on the lines of delineation, but I want to explore the idea of the soul this week.

I was struck by a different interpretation of the genesis creation narrative that I had not heard before when doing research on the philosophy of “Westworld”. This interpretation was to say that eating of the fruit in the garden was the gaining of sentience. This intrigued me because that would mean that the Judeo-Christian tradition has always viewed the soul as a bad thing, subconsciously. That it stems from the idea of original sin, and that everything bad came about from that moment. The Judeo-Christian narrative as a retelling of pandora’s box.  Does that mean we believe everything that has a soul is inherently bad? Is the knowledge of good and evil a bad thing? I struggled with this a bit on the show.

The show plays with the idea of bicameralism, and quite openly I might add. Julian Jaynes presented the idea in his book “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”. While it is not generally accepted by modern psychologists, it is an interesting concept to play with. The hypothesis states, if you didn’t already click the link above to find out more, that the human mind assumed a state in which cognitive functions were divided between one part of the brain which appears to be “speaking”, and a second part which listens and obeys. Jaynes’ idea was that these auditory hallucinations are what the early human civilizations attributed to the ancient gods and when this started breaking down that is when those civilizations started breaking apart. While I don’t believe in this idea fully, it is an interesting thought to play within the idea of the soul or consciousness.

I wrongly (See, I admit when I am wrong in an idea) wrestled with the idea that some humans may not have consciousness in our show on Sunday. I was still wrestling with the idea of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil being a symbol for consciousness and the depth of that. I started venturing deeper into that idea, as you can see thus far, I started to think about what really separates human beings from other living things. I know this is something that philosophers and theologians have wrestled with for millennia and one idealistic writer isn’t going to figure it out in a week sitting on the couch watching tv. But I was struck with a thought. Maybe, just maybe, what separates us from other living things is nothing. That the thing we call the soul is really the spark of the Divine that resides in all living creatures.

Maybe that still small voice in our minds is the Divine speaking through our own conscience. Maybe when we didn’t have so much noise around us demanding our attention we were much more able to listen to what the Divine had to say, auditorily or not. Is it possible that it is still there waiting to have a conversation with us? Somewhere within us?

There is an ancient spiritual tradition of a walking prayer that is seen in many different cultures around the world. You have the Nazca lines in Peru, even in ancient Minoan, Greek, and Egyptian cultures this idea of a maze or labyrinth that one focuses on following in an attempt to quiet the mind and soul (or spirit and soul if you’d like) in an attempt to commune with the Divine. In medieval Christian traditions, the labyrinth was a hard path to God with a clearly defined center (God) and one entrance (birth). Or it was also a trap for demons because they can’t figure out mazes for some reason, but I like the God metaphor more. There are also people who believe they were symbols to communicate with aliens, but again let’s stick with the God metaphor.

Maze walking, I like to believe, has been a form of meditation since human beings have been around. Meditation has always been about calming the mind and body to reach a higher level of understanding. I would like to believe that higher level of understanding is a communion with the Divine. I have often mentioned before that I believe the Divine is everywhere, and in everything. I would like to believe that all of Creation communes with the Divine in its own unique way. We can see that each form of meditation works differently for different people. Labyrinths have always been a favorite of mine. It gives me something to focus on to quiet my body and mind. I do believe that the Divine can and does communicate with those who are willing to listen.

This is certainly a very turbulent time for very many people. I know I wrote about some very headache inducing topics this week, but I want to stick with this idea. Maybe the soul is the spark of the Divine that resides in you. Maybe you just need to calm your body and spirit enough in your own unique way to find the center of the maze and commune with it. Maybe it is there sitting, waiting for you to meet with it. Maybe. Maybe I’m just an idealistic writer with an errant thought while watching tv.

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The Honest Faith: The Slow Death of Modern Christianity

:: Warning :: this might possibly be the most controversial thing I have ever or may ever post. I don’t want to be the normal everyday “Christian” writer who writes bi-partisan political posts comparing the state of our country to Christianity. It’s been done. I don’t think I add anything to that conversation. This is one I’m going to present with as much objective fact as I can. That being said, yes, this is a blog post so a lot of it will be opinion. If it offends, I apologize. Be in conversation with me as to why it offends you rather than writing me off as “one of those writers”. :: Warning over ::

Very many years ago, I was preaching my first official sermon of my first official ministry position. In it, I said that the christian (small c on purpose) church was sick. I said there are very many symptoms that point to such, and we were in need of a new reformation. I felt I gave a pretty good sermon in 2005. This sermon was on Reformation Sunday by the request of the pastor who had retired at the beginning of the summer previous. He wanted the youth to do a whole service dedicated to Martin Luther’s 95 Thesis. He wanted them to write a new 95 thesis from the youth to the church. It was capped off by my reformation message. Needless to say, it didn’t go over well.

I discovered that people don’t like hearing what is wrong with them, even if it may be the truth. I preface this blog post with the warning above and this little note to say I write this in love. I know the truth hurts sometimes, but we need to be in a constant examination of ourselves or we risk not growing or bearing fruit. Don’t believe me? I know a tree in a children’s book I read to my son that learned that lesson. I also know a particular fig tree that Jesus had some choice words for.

This was something I believed in 2005 and something that in 2017 I’m beginning to see the actual impacts from. The Christian church is in decline. Christianity will soon no longer be the most populous religion in the world, being quickly replaced by Islam ( Pew Research Study ). In fact, in our own country, we’ve seen a steep rise in “post-Christian” viewpoints ( Barna Research study and Pew Research Study ). We are trending toward a society where people no longer go to church on Sunday morning. The thing is though it’s not that people have stopped believing in the Divine.

As I’ve stated many times before, my generation, the millennials, are discovering a very different image of the Divine than our parent or even Grandparent generations. We are even dragging our older siblings the Gen-x’ers along with us. The US has only slightly dipped in our belief in the Divine. We’ve gone from 92% to 89% who believe in the possibility of the Divine. Although, the strongly believe in the existence of a God dropped from “71% in 2007 to 63% in 2014” (all numbers from the pew research study linked above). I’d say that has to do with Millennials being tired. We have been worn out by the church.

There has been this old concept that you had to be perfect to come to church. Some may say I’m wrong in that, but I’ve experienced this first hand more than once. That is what we were taught growing up. That’s what makes it so hard for us to want to go to a place where we will be judged because of whatever reason on an early Sunday morning. I mean I find it extremely difficult to get up and get my family ready to go on Sunday mornings albeit that church is at 10 am, it’s still tough to get out the door at 9:40 something. There has been so much that the church has done to injure not just my generation but the ones who came before us. It’s no wonder we decided to give up on going.

Don’t believe me? Take a moment. Search it out. When I began my transition into being a writer with an insurance habit, I started to seek out other writers who had similar stories to me. There are a lot. In fact, I found so many who were published, publishing, or writing blogs about the very same issues and topics I found myself writing about. I could list all of them here, but that would take up way too much space.

I started to think about this topic because I heard about another friend who was let go from a youth ministry position. This has become an all too common story across the country. I believe we are standing on the precipice of the death of the professional youth minister. I know some of my friends would beg to disagree, especially those who are still working with professional youth workers. I was thinking about what was causing this and I was reminded of my all too often worry when I worked for the church. If the church wasn’t making enough money, what are the first things they cut? Children and youth programming and staff…

Increasingly, boomers are retiring. That retirement may be on sure or unsure footing depending on how the economy looks on any given day. But the large majority of the workforce is now being comprised of Gen-X’ers and Millennials. We have become parents ourselves and we are finding it hard to give money to churches or to organizations we don’t necessarily believe in anymore. This is money we can’t easily part with either. I can cite source after source as to why it’s much harder to make a living nowadays than it was even 20 years ago. I’m not going to do that because that’s not what this blog post is about. This is about the death of our status quo Sunday Morning church offerings (Not the tithe, what the church offers to its congregation on Sunday mornings is what I’m getting at).

We are looking for non-traditional churches and offerings. Increasingly it’s become about service for millennials and gen-x’ers. Not the Sunday morning kind of service, but actual getting off your bum and getting your hands dirty doing the work kind of service. There is article after article pointing to this as well ( Here’s one I found particularly readable ). In fact, the Gallup poll that was posted in that article seems to reaffirm that point as well. Millennials are looking for something different. We’ve been beaten down by the world that tells us we aren’t worth much and then shown the same from the churches we decide to try. We grew up in different programs. The vast majority of us went to youth programming at a local church. We grew up with this idea that church didn’t always have to be the stuffy pews on a Sunday morning. No, most of us experienced the Divine on short-term mission trips, in a youth group, at a lock-in (God help me), at a service project, using our talents for a youth Sunday service, or even hanging out with our dorky well-meaning youth workers. This is why so often in my career as a dorky well-meaning youth worker I tried so hard to emphasize the importance of Sunday morning. I didn’t want the trend to continue. I tried to help. But it was bigger than me.

The trend started way before I became a youth worker. It started before I even went to youth programs myself. I’m not condemning youth programming. I think that it has done an amazing thing, it changed the church. The problem is it changed it in a way that we didn’t understand and the church couldn’t keep up. Youth ministries created generations that expected more of their worship communities. In turn, the status quo failed. I may be completely off on this, but I think this is the reason why youth ministry is dying. It’s being killed off to save the “status quo” church. But the problem has already taken hold. It’s much larger than the small c church can deal with.

So now we have this problem. We have two generations of adults (gen-x and millennials) who expect more from worship communities. They don’t know if there is a Divine, but they want to believe in one. They want action and depth from their communities. They want something different from the status quo. They want to experience the Divine like they did when they were teens themselves. I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

I think it’s time for the church to change. I think it’s time we abandon our Sunday mornings. Maybe not all at once, since there are those who still get something from those services, maybe a slow transition is needed. How about something more akin to what youth groups used to be? An evening service focused on group building, discussion, and diving deeper into discipleship? What about a place where we can share our gifts and talents with each other, and help grow the talents of others? A place where we are welcomed without judgment or fear of the questions that we bring. A place where all are welcome regardless of how we look, who we love, what we do, or what we believe? A community that we can serve with together. A community we can drop our masks with and come as we are, warts and all. A community that can embrace all images of the Divine and struggle together to find the truth in those that confuse us. This is my image of what large C Church is supposed to look like. A community that loves, regardless.

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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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