The Honest Faith: Definition

Update: I have received feedback that people may interpret that I am saying I am a prophet and that my truth is the objective truth. That was not my intention. My intention was to say, much like prophets of old I am interpreting the patterns and finding what may seem true to me. That like everything else should be weighed and measured with what is perceivable and knowable elsewhere. This is to say, we as human beings are bad at divining truth all the time, so let’s try to err on the side of love for all of creation.

So as not to fall into the standard cliche of writing by starting with what Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines some word as, I’ll let you do the looking. Over the past few weeks, and months I’ve been writing about finding my way to the real definition of my faith. I’ve encountered some resistance, I’ve even felt very alone in my quest. I’ve had those who tried to tell me my struggle was of my own making, I don’t listen to those voices anymore. I’m struck by how the search for clarity has become a taboo or even offensive proposition. When did truth become an expletive?

We’ve all read and shared articles about “Fake” and misleading news becoming a trend. We’ve participated in the virality of works that added to the echo chamber of our own opinion. We are all guilty of the sin of not listening to opposing voices. Now I’m not saying that blocking or not listening to the voices that attack you is a sin. Not at all. That is a bit of self-preservation because after all, you matter. I’m saying the purposeful, and blatant pushing aside actual conversation so as to prove one’s point. The ignoring of opposing views so as to remain in one’s own protected reality. I would think many could accuse me of doing such, however, I do invite conversation and opposing views when they are presented in a manner that is constructive and without ill intent. If you have seen the difference, you know the difference. Though we have all been guilty of this, even me.

I’ve written before about how I am interested in the evolution of words and language. I find it interesting how when a word is used to mean a different thing than its original meaning that it doesn’t evolve right away. It is with constant use and reinforcing of that words new meaning that it evolves into that meaning. Take the word prophecy, for instance. It is just meant to mean the utterance of a prophet. A prophet is more often than not, a trusted religious advisor who seems to be able to see what a Divine being has going on for certain things. What is interesting is that you have prophets throughout history who disagree with each other. Even in the bible, you have contradictory prophets and prophecies. Many times it is over what should or should not be done in the case of national matters. Yet, recently, the word prophecy has come to have another definition which makes it synonymous with “Fortune Telling”. Which has, in turn, evolved prophets into this idea of sooth sayers and predictors of future events. I use this as my example because I had a great Professor in college who taught a class on the prophetic books of the Christian Bible. In his very first class, he had the lights turned off and the shades were drawn. He had candles lighting the front of the classroom, with new age music playing in the background and a crystal ball adorning his desk. He came in and started drawing lines on the whiteboard which made him look like Charlie Day in that Meme that has become popular. This was all build up for him to say, false. These prophecies were not spoken or written to tell the future, but we interpreted them as such because we view them through the lens of the future. Some happened, others didn’t yet they were speaking to a certain time, to a certain people, and were not meaning forward looking except maybe by a few years.

I loved that class. It was one of my favorites in college because it taught me more about exegesis than most of my other Bible courses. I learned how to read a prophecy within the historical context, and how that could be used later to believe it was future telling. Granted, from my upbringing I have always thought fortune tellers were a bunch of hogwash and occultism. I wanted to be a prophet myself, though I didn’t know what that really meant. I wanted to interpret what God had for the world and be the ‘Holy’ equivalent for those future tellers. For some reason that was not hogwash? I wanted to be the Gandalf the White Wizard of modern Christianity. Needless to say, I think I did become a prophet, however, it was nothing like I thought.

Prophecy was about divining definition from the patterns of everything around us to speak truth to a situation. Though, what I didn’t realize was that people don’t like the truth. The truth may set you free, but it is also painful to realize how wrong you may have been. Prophecy was not sooth saying, but rather truth saying. It was due to this that many prophets met with horrible ends. They suffered many atrocities for the truth that they spoke. Some spoke for kings and rulers, some spoke against kings and rulers. All spoke up when they saw wrong happening. All suffered in order to prevent wrong from continuing. I tried and still do try to speak truth to power. I still see part of my duty is to prophesy about those wrongs that I see happening.

I use this in my example of definition because we have developed the inability to listen to the truth. We keep waiting for a supernatural occurrence, pattern or sign to show us what the truth is, instead of listening to those who may speak it around us. Not that I’m always speaking the truth, I fail a lot. I’m a human being. It happens. Though if you notice none of the prophets was anything more than human. They just interpreted patterns. Some of them got some things right, all failed from time to time. They were human. It happens. We attributed a higher meaning to their words or actions because we viewed them through the lens of the future. (short aside, Nostradamus I think was just a crazy guy who saw some wild patterns that happened to get some things right) Truth can come from anywhere and anything. Some people see patterns differently than others. Many studies for years and years to be able to interpret certain patterns, like weather, science, and astrophysics. Those people are experts for a reason, they studied past patterns and what they meant. So they are able to say with certainty what future patterns would result from current trends. I don’t mean to equate scientists with prophets, just saying that they have more right to speak truth to situations such as massive hurricanes and the cause of them rather than fortune tellers and diviners.

I saw a lot of diviners being given credence recently. In the American continent, we have suffered 4 major natural disasters in as many weeks. 3 Hurricanes and a massive earthquake. Diviners have been saying these are signs from god that the end is here, or that we are being punished for some contrived slight against an assumed moral code. These have been a bit displeasing to me as the evidence clearly points to climate change being a factor for these things happening. Now, sure they could still be signs of such things, but ultimately I think we should take the much bigger hint that we haven’t been great stewards of the earth. That is a much more evident pattern. We ignore what is right in front of us in order to divine a much greater and supernatural meaning to aid us in our complacency? Can there not also be an admittance that you haven’t been that great in taking care of the environment? Can you not also see that climate change is a thing? How is this symbolic message more important than a commandment we received in writing, to use the scripture you so often like to reference? I’m not asking you to go out and wrap your arms around a tree. I’m asking you to take a look at whether or not you’ve been a good steward and what you can do better. That’s simple.

The way we define things is important because we give meaning. As much as we like or dislike something we participate in the act of evolving a word, phrase, statement, or even the way we interpret patterns from the world around us. Those definitions and meanings are important because they can either be used to give life or take it away. We can either help or hurt those around us with what we say and do. We can either contribute to making someone feel alone and like they don’t matter, or we can help with spreading the good news that they are not alone and that they matter. Speaking of which, You reader, are not alone. You matter!

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The Honest Faith: Old God or New God

If you haven’t read Neil Gaiman’s book “American Gods”, or even turned on a television in years, or watched any movies in the last few years, you probably aren’t familiar with this trope that is developing. There is a story concept that is making its way into media now where gods battle each other. They pit the old gods (usually the protagonists) against the new gods (usually the antagonist). This also dominates stories that you may not have thought of in that way. This is where many superhero movies are going now, with Civil War, Batman v Superman, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, Wonder Woman, to a lesser extent Spiderman: homecoming, and so on using this trope. The difference in Gaiman’s work is that he does what only Gaiman can, he incorporates the importance of story into the tale.

Story in itself is extremely important. It is how human beings communicate. We tell a story with everything that we do. Sometimes our actions tell a truer story than our words could ever do. Sometimes we are better with words than actions. That is why some of us write. I know that I am not especially great at writing, but I do what I can. I write how I speak, and to me that makes sense. That is primarily why I started recording the audio versions of this blog. Our stories are what unite us as people. Countries and kingdoms have formed around a united story. Ours formed around a story of freedom from misrepresentation. Christian’s have a unified story of following the God-man Jesus. There are differences in that story for many which is why there are so many different churches. Everything tells a story.

The context of a story is also very important. For instance, I can say “Jack ran”. Great, that could mean any number of things. Jack could be really into fitness. Jack could be trying to get back into shape. Jack could be running for the hell of it. Jack could be chased by something. Jack could be metaphorically running away from his problems. Jack could be running to catch a plane, train, taxi, car, bus, or a piece of paper that flew away from him. Why is Jack running? In my imagination, Jack is running from a bear, silly Jack.  Even then there would be more to the story. Where did Jack encounter the bear? Why is Jack silly? Does he not know what to do when encountering a bear? Do you know what to do when encountering a bear? How has your experience shaped what you thought Jack was doing when he was running?

In school, I learned the difference between two words. First, eisegesis which is the process of interpreting a text or portion of text in such a way that the process introduces one’s own presuppositions, agendas, or biases into and onto the text. Second, exegesis which is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, particularly a religious text. When I was in those classes, even though I was in college, it sounded like they were different names for Jesus. Like Superman and bizarro-Superman; Iso-Jesus, the equalizer Jesus, and Exo-Jesus, the outsider Jesus. The more I learned the more I discovered how much I was taught to eisegete Scripture rather than exegete. I read what I wanted to read, not what the author had intended. I realized I had elevated the Bible to Godlike status and was subconsciously worshiping a quaternity; the Bible, God the parent, Jesus, and the holy spirit. I realized that some of the passages I had memorized meant something completely different than what I was using them for. This was early in my college career and it made me never want to study anymore for fear that I would lose my faith. The funny thing is, the more I learned the more it deepened my faith.

I have been accused recently of being hateful. There is a problem in that. I don’t carry hate for anything except for injustice, greed, and evil. I will admit to the fact that I am angry. However, anger does not equate to hate. I am angry at actions that are being committed in the Divine’s name. I’m angry that people are supporting those who claim to be champions for the Divine, yet only worship themselves or Mammon. I wrote a political post last week. I wrote it because I was angry. I still am. I can’t stand to see others wallowing in hate for other people, and creations. It does make me mad, as it made Jesus mad. There is a whole story about turning over tables remember? Oh yeah, and God has a weird thing about figs. People have tried to say that I am the one who is bringing hate to the table. Nope, that’s not my story. I’m angry. I’m angry at the injustice, greed, corruption, and evil that I am seeing being allowed to take root in the story of our country and faith.

My fascination with the old god vs. new god trope is that I’m seeing it play out in reality as well. If you take a good look at any religion you see these distorted new gods popping up. In Christianity, you see this new version of Jesus that I’ve talked about in the last few weeks. This new Jesus is more the son of Mammon than of the Divine. This new Jesus is the Exo-Jesus, not that he is one with the outsiders, but that he is outside the Bible. This is the Jesus with long conditioned hair, a beauty pageant sash, holding a lamb, and looks like he is about to attend a Phish concert. The irony of Exo-Jesus is that he was created by eisegesis. People read into the Bible what they wanted to read. They made passages fit their worldview and twisted sense of morality. This Jesus hated the sins that made these people feel dirty and so they made Jesus in their image.

On the other hand, you have Iso-Jesus. He is the great equalizer. I found him while I was doing exegesis of the gospels. He fought against power systems. He loved people. He wouldn’t exclude them because he thought they were icky due to a sin He didn’t understand. He didn’t care about sin. The ones he cared about were things that kept you from loving or caring about people. I’ve been asking you to read my work without adding yourself into it. I invite you to re-read the gospels. This time do it without adding yourself into the story. It’s tough. Maybe you’ll find this Iso-Jesus. Maybe I found him because I did read a bit of what I wanted to read, I hope not though.

If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been trying to write a story to make the Gospels understandable. I kept it quiet because I didn’t want people calling me a heretic, or trying to burn me at the stake due to writing it. Mainly I’ve been writing the Messiah as a woman, and a Mexican-American in modern day Texas. I’ve been doing this because I want to have a story that is easier to understand in today’s world. I want to show what Iso-Jesus looks like to me and maybe, just maybe, I can somehow see the old God win over this new god through it. I know it’s something that has been done before, but it was a story I needed to tell. If you haven’t started it, start it, and let me know what you think. You can find the Story of Esperanza here.

Maybe I’m reading too much into things. Maybe I’m angry over perceived slights. I could be, but honestly, I want to err on the side of love. I’d rather be angry over injustices that don’t exist, rather than pretend they aren’t there if they do exist. I used the design I made as my featured image this week because it is my story in one picture. It is the reason I love both the story of Quetzalcoatl and the story of Jesus. They both spilled blood for humanity out of their love for them. They are the old gods of my ancestors on both sides of my family. Quetzalcoatl is actually my birth deity in Aztec tradition. I was baptized as a Christian after my birth as well. Both are a part of my ancestry. Both are stories that I want to be told of my life. That I loved people so much I was willing to even to give my own life. What do you want to be said of you? What stories make you who you are? Do you follow Exo-Jesus or Iso-Jesus? Whatever your answers are, I want you to know that you are not alone, you matter!

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The Honest Faith: Thank you, Mr. Trump

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

Dear Mr. Trump,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sincerely,

Miguel

You are not alone, You matter.

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The Honest Faith: What is Church?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Honest Faith: The Truth Will Set You Free

Last week I wrote about “Annoying Christianity”. I was surprised that there were only a few comments that were not really on the same page that I was. One told me to repent. I’m not quite sure what I need to repent from. I mean maybe I need to repent from going into “Christian” book stores anymore. That I can do. I’ll turn away from them anytime I see them. So I wanted to follow up. I wanted to find out how we can be better. How can we turn this around so that Christianity isn’t struggling with this PR problem anymore? So again, I asked Facebook, in a few different places, “How can we be better?” I got a lot of feedback. But there was an overall theme within them “Authenticity and Love”. I had a wonderful response from a person in my denominational facebook group that I wanted to share:

We stop being annoying when we stop being dishonest about how hard it is to be a human being.We have to start being honest about not only our individual struggles but our struggles as a church, to overcome all kinds of things such as our own racism, sexism, classism, ableism, etc. We have to be vulnerable, as individuals and as a church. Own up to our mistakes, ask forgiveness, and then work to repair the breach.

They went on to discuss nationalism in the response (which I think I called out well enough last week), but I think this first paragraph hits the nail on the head. They said it so beautifully and simply. It’s hard for me to add more to it, but I’m a writer so that’s what I’m going to do. My fellow Christian writer Chris Kratzer published a post earlier this week entitled, “The Apology Every White Christian Needs To Give To Black America, Now.” In the article, he is very honest about his position. He apologizes for his conscious and unconscious decisions that took advantage of his privilege, not just as a white person, but as a male and a pastor. He owned up to it. Which was beautiful. It is a very moving piece, I recommend you read it. Maybe after you finish this one?

What is it with our tenuous relationship with truth? Why is it so hard for us to be honest about our faith, shortcomings, doubts, or whatever? It is like we fell in love with this picture of 1950’s America (read: USA) that never existed and decided that is what the church needed to be. As if every church building across the globe needed to be a copy of the Cleaver household. So we started fibbing to each other. Pretending that our lives were just like that. Much like 1950’s America, we have fallen to those same shortcomings. We’ve become obsessed with stuff, image, silent or vocal racism, sexism, classism, and so on. We’ve “left it to Beaver” and went on pretending.

So what now? How do we come back? Well, I think as my responses put it, we need to be honest and love. We need to embrace the truth that we are all humans. How did Saint Paul put it? “All have fallen short”? Guess what! Nobody is perfect, and that’s okay! We aren’t supposed to be. This isn’t an episode of late 1950’s tv. If anything our lives can be more equated to an episode of Game of Thrones, where nobody is blameless, everyone dies, and frozen zombies are coming. Wait, maybe not that last part. I know it’s been thrown around many times before and some of you maybe have seen it in some church function. I admit I used it in youth group more than once. There is a TED talk from Brene Brown where she talks about the Power of Vulnerability. In it, she talks about how those who are the most open, and honest are the ones who feel love more. It’s strange to think that those who may feel the most unloved can feel the most love when they admit to the fact that they feel unloved. We left that somewhere. Maybe we left it in the 1950’s. Wasn’t that what the church was supposed to be. A place where people could be completely and uniquely themselves without fear of judgment, oppression, or hate?

I think we want to believe that being good and quiet, and just going with the flow makes a good Christian. We don’t want to admit it. We don’t want to question it because it’s comfortable. You don’t have to do anything that way. You just have to give up an hour of your time maybe 10% of your income once a week and that’s it. Not so hard right? That is all being a Christian is, correct? I’m very sorry to have to tell you this, but the truth is Jesus said, “Take up your Cross and follow me”. Jesus didn’t promise us a comfy life. Jesus promised it would be hard. We would stand against some power structures. We were going to suffer and possibly die for this message. We did for a while. Until we lost our honesty. Maybe it was the 1850’s? Still looking for it. Jesus stood up to the injustice, greed, corruption, racism, and all manner of horrid things throughout His life. We were supposed to follow him. He made political statements all the time. You know that whole thing with Legion and the pigs? Yeah, that was one big political statement all about Rome and driving them back into the ocean from whence they came. Speaking against these things isn’t comfortable. It isn’t the easy thing to do. Being honest with yourself and your struggles is hard. Owning your faults is difficult. Because all we’ve been shown is that we will receive judgment and scorn for that. But guess what, that’s not the gospel.

The Gospel is and always has been that GOD LOVES EVERYONE! It doesn’t matter. There is nothing you can do to earn that love, there is nothing you can do to lose it. You don’t have to go to church to get it. You don’t have to give 10% of your income to get it. You have to open up and be honest with yourself. You gotta be just who you are because that is who God loves. The Divine is just waiting for you to realize this so that the Divine may delight in you.

I often times think this is what made us so annoying. We lost sight of that. We put up hoops and hurdles because we thought, you know what, this isn’t fair. I’ve worked so hard for God’s love, and the next guy who walks in the door didn’t do anything and he get’s God’s love. Or maybe because we didn’t want to do anything with it. Maybe we got comfortable with God’s love and said well I got mine. So we got lazy and did nothing, forgetting the second part of that message, go share the love. I really enjoyed the show “Key & Peele”. They did a sketch about a prayer group where God showed up. I find it very hilarious because I think that is very much what we have done as a church. I’ve included it below if you want to have a watch. What if God showed up? Would the Divine be shaking its proverbial head at us, or would it be pleased?

So the message is this. We need to let the truth set us free. We need to be authentically ourselves and love others for being authentically themselves. This means that nobody is better than the other. Nobody deserves more than the other. We are all equal partners in this thing we call life. So let’s live it authentically, vulnerable, and filled with love. Let’s stop pretending to “Leave it to Beaver” and start honestly living in love. Because, yes, we are all sinners, but who cares? God doesn’t, that was already taken care of 2000 years ago. Should we go on living hurtful ways? No! We gotta love each other the best we can! So go and spread the love. Because after all, You are not alone! YOU MATTER! YOU ARE LOVED JUST AS YOU ARE!

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The Honest Faith: Annoying Christianity

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

This week I saw another Christian Blogger post an article about the 4 reasons people find Christians annoying. Look beyond the pop-up there, on the list of things I find annoying about bloggers. So I was inspired to ask my facebook friends the same question he asked, “What do you find the most annoying about Christians?”. Surprisingly, or maybe not so much, this was one of the most responded to posts on my wall in the last few months. I got a wide variety of answers to the question, but I was struck by an overwhelming thought. Christians are annoying. The truth of the matter is, whether you claim to be one or not, the idea of Christianity has become so overwhelmed by this sickeningly sweet saccharine message that has nothing to do with the true gospel anymore that nobody wants it. Christianity has become that gross Halloween candy that nobody really wants, yet gets handed out every year and sits at the bottom of bags and buckets until you are getting ready for the next round of Trick-or-Treating. It ends up being tried and spit out immediately, or just tossed in the trash altogether.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t some great churches out there doing some amazing things. I’m saying in general Christianity has gotten painted with the annoying brush. Somewhere along the way in our cracks and divisions a new message took root and sprouted up. One that demanded more attention, and drove the divisions even deeper. It was a message of power, wealth, and appearances. Christianity, somewhere along the line, went from a group of outcasts, nobodies, losers, sinners, gluttons, drunkards, prostitutes, and scum to Stepford wife. Honestly, take a step back and look. Is this not true?

It’s no wonder people are leaving the church. It’s no wonder that this message of perfection is turning people off. It is not obtainable. When you have those who profess to be christian (Small c on purpose) and saying all kinds of nonsense is ordained by god, or that god favors ‘fire and fury’, people don’t want to have anything to do with that god. That is not the Divine of the Christian Bible. That is not the Divine of any major world religion. That is some odd image of Ares (Greek god of war) or something. When did we begin to worship morality, being right, being superior, holier than thou, or even this book we claim is the “WORD OF GOD”. I’m sorry, but it is a book. It was written by human beings in a certain time, to a certain people, and the language used to write most of it isn’t even spoken anymore. The Word that is talked about in that book is Jesus, the God-man. Not the book itself. It’s no wonder people see Christians as morons, we can’t even read our book right.

To be perfectly Honest, for a long time I’ve felt this way. I even worked for the church. But I couldn’t stand the platitudes we threw around at each other. I couldn’t stand Christian book stores, a whole other story for another day. I would feel nauseous when I had to say something like ask Jesus into your heart, or have a relationship with him. Because those phrases have become so over used, they are completely devoid of meaning anymore. A true and honest relationship with the Divine comes not from buying a cross with an American flag emblazoned on it, sorry I just threw up a little. A true relationship with the Divine does not come about by being a good American even. (seriously who thinks that?) Or any number of things that don’t make any sense whatsoever when you hold them up to the real Gospel.

I was going to write about how Christians can be less annoying. But there is a part of me that feels that modern christianity (notice the small c) is beyond repair. As I took a step back myself I noticed there was a lot of this prevalent in our culture. We haven’t been counter culture since the Spanish Inquisition. Maybe it was the moment that the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its official religion. Maybe it was even back before that. Maybe when we started dictating culture rather than living our lives, maybe that is when we lost our way. But, when it comes right down to it, there is hope. I have seen some truly remarkable things done in the name of the true Divine. I have seen people stand up and say, “No, God does not hate anybody. God loves EVERY-ONE!” I have seen the true Gospel being lived out. Most of the time I’ve seen it, I saw it outside the doors of a church.

Really, I could rant and rave for a long time about what is wrong with modern christianity. I could, but I won’t. Because you know the problems too. You’ve seen them yourself. Sometimes you deny it. Most of the time you just accept it, because what can you do really? Some of you have left the church over those things, if you have I want you to know you aren’t alone, and I’d love to hear your story and support you. I know that you still want to follow Jesus. You still love that there was this man who did speak out against political powers, and religious leaders of His day. Maybe you feel powerless to do anything about it, but the truth is the only power that people have over you is the power you give to them.

True Christianity isn’t dying, but it certainly has a brand problem. The hospital for the spiritually infirmed needs a new PR person. This word Christianity among the populous is now more synonymous with Hypocrite, judge-y, and annoying than the true gospel message. The true message, in case you forgot, is that God loves everyone no matter what. That doesn’t mean just the perfect, morally upstanding, rich, or whatever. It means EVERYONE. You, me, the guy on the corner, that one crazy guy on tv that says god caused natural disasters for some reason or another, the gay person at work, the trans person that you don’t understand, the one lady who needs to pull her life together, that one person who is yelling at the customer service rep for some silly reason, and on and on. GOD LOVES EVERYONE. There is no exception.

The moment we start locking the doors to Heaven, because of one reason or another, is the moment we started worshiping idols. The moment we stopped helping people is the moment we became annoying and hurtful. The message is about love, kindness, and acceptance for all people. Not just the lovely, rich, clean, or whatever. So the take away from this today is to take a good hard look at ourselves, and ask are we living the true Gospel? Or would we rather hold on to our hate for the other? Are we loving all people as God loves them? Or are we bent on revenge that isn’t rightfully ours anyway? Are we annoying, or helpful? True Christianity isn’t dying, it’s always been there in the dirt with the filth getting it’s hands dirty helping all people. So if you feel alone because of the fake ones, don’t. You are not alone. You matter!

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The Honest Faith: The Golden Rule

(Warning: This blog post may get controversial. Remember this is the opinion of me, the writer, it does not mean it is true for everyone. Just truth that I have observed)

In 1964 the “Wizard of Id” was launched in the “Dallas Morning News” newspaper, they are those paper things that people still get delivered to their houses on a daily basis. In May of 1965, this comic strip featured the above comic which spun off many variations on the joke which has since become part of the zeitgeist of modern culture. The thing about jokes, though, is that they are absurd to the point of ridicule while still containing a kernel of truth. This joke has since gone on to pass the ridiculous to the point of reality and back to the point of all absurdity so many times that it is difficult to call this an exaggeration, but now a more sad reality.

In the 19th century, the great philosopher and guy with an awesome name Soren Kierkegaard wrote about the futility of the world and trying to act through a sense of morality. This built the framework for Albert Camu’s struggle to find meaning we call “Absurdism“. There are many pop culture references to this school of thought. “Rick and Morty” most popular of all icons at the moment brought forward through its crass humor the idea that everything is meaningless. The show The Good Place is a play off of an absurdist play “No Exit”. The Netflix original show “Ozark”, and the AMC hit show “Breaking Bad” play with our concepts of what is moral in the framework of healthcare, economy, money, and escapism. In a world searching for meaning some of our most important mirrors to ourselves are telling us there is no meaning.

I do not believe there is no meaning. I feel that where Kierkegaard and Camu were looking was devoid of meaning. I think that the path we are heading down is completely meaningless. We measure our life by the gold we have or stuff we acquire. We measure our lives in golden rulers of 401k’s, assets, investments, houses, cars, or just general stuff. The problem with these golden rulers is that there are no definitive marks. There is no possible way to measure a life this way. A person’s worth cannot be calculated by its weight in gold.

For some reason as much as we deny that we do this, we all do anyway. We all jump right in head first trying to accumulate a Scrooge McDuck sized silo filled with money to do what exactly? Don’t get me wrong I understand the value of money. Trust me, once you are a parent you understand just how far a dollar can stretch. You know just how many diapers that next paycheck can buy. I understand the security money can provide, knowing you can take care of emergencies if they pop up. I had ads on my website to do just that, to try and provide for my family just in case another job-related catastrophe happens. I get it. I really do. The problem is once we get onto this crazy roller coaster of measuring a life by wealth it’s hard to see anything else.

Maybe that is the reason why we have given so much power to those who do have the gold. We let those with money tell us what to do as if what they did was somehow through some skill of theirs rather than some random act of happenstance. The oddest thing about it all is we admire those who are ruthless. Those without mercy, who stop at nothing to earn a few dollars. We allow them to decide what is true and moral, rather than looking at the things that make someone truly successful. The biggest irony of all of this is that the truly successful that I have observed follow another rule. They follow a rule we have dubbed “The Golden Rule”.

The God-man that I follow once said, or at least it is attributed to Him, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” This is known as the Golden Rule. This rule can be traced even beyond Jesus. You can see something similar going all the way back to around 2040- 1650 BCE.  I know a 390 year age gap is kind of a wide one, but it is still rather old. For 4000 years we have been trying to teach this concept to each other. We are all Human, therefore, let us treat each other like we are. The most successful human beings I have observed treat other people like they are human too. Though, I don’t believe I measure success in terms of financial wealth.

What if we were to measure a life not by what we have, but by the connections that we have made? What would that world look like? What if we were to give power and the right to tell us what we should or should not do to those who are wise and treat other human beings like human beings? Would our world be kinder? Would it be safer? J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” I once asked a group of teens what they would do if they suddenly had a million dollars. Aside from the obvious purchasing of stuff they wanted, there was an overwhelming pattern that emerged. The students all wanted to do things. They wanted to travel, or skydive, or buy their parents something, or take their friends somewhere, or go to an amusement park. I think more and more one of the problems that older generations have with Millennials (us!), and the Digital Natives (the next gen) is that they think us entitled. I think there is a pattern emerging of humans valuing experience over stuff. If you ask me that is a step in the right direction. One of the things I loved the most about being a youth minister was the connections and experiences I had. I got to see amazing lives develop out of the worst circumstances. I got to see the beauty of lives transformed by the amazing power of knowing someone not only believed in you but supported you. I was able to get to know some teens, and now adults who I know are going to change the world. I hope and I pray that they saw in me two things. First, that there is a Divine that loves them beyond all measure. Second, that no matter what that Divine also loves everyone else just as much, so treat them that way.

Maybe, we should examine which Golden Rule we follow. Do we allow those with the gold to make the rules, or do we value the other as much as we value ourselves? Take a good hard look. We can all be guilty of this. I know that I am. I know that I don’t want to be. But I am stuck in a system that tells me it is the only way to get ahead and survive. Take a good hard look at your church and religious community. What do they value? Do they value the Gospel that the Divine loves you no matter what and that all should be treated that way? Do they value those who have the gold and therefore allow them to make the rules? I have seen some horror stories that I know are not true of all churches, but there are those who still treat the church as a business rather than a spiritual hospital. To me, that is the most heretical thing that can possibly happen. When the Gospel gets confused and muddled up with wealth and gold, we all fail.

So what shall we do then? Stop tithing, or going to church? NO! We should be more careful about how we invest our money, sure. But we should also realize that our money is not the most important thing. Our connections with other human beings are. Our experience in this world is more important than wealth. Have we tried to make the world a better place for all human beings, or are we only concerned with our own world? I hope and I pray that it doesn’t take another 4000 years for us to finally get this concept. I hope and I pray that we can fully understand the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. See each other as complexly as you see yourself. Give of yourself until you cannot give anymore, and then keep giving anyway. Because, after all, you are not alone, you matter.

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The Honest Faith: Learning to Be Human

Arthur C. Clark once said, “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” There is a common trope in pop-culture, it is the fish out of water archetype. Again and again, we see stories of aliens, ghosts, supernatural beings, or other cryptozoological creatures learning to be human. It is an often overlooked approach to talking about the human condition by observing it from the outside. The funny thing is, I don’t think we understand what it means to be human as humans ourselves. I think what Clark was getting at is either we are stuck with ourselves or we are not, and we can’t figure out how to be with ourselves anyway. That is terrifying. Either we are going to injure ourselves, or someone else is going to do it for us.

This last week “The Liturgists” put out an episode of their podcast where they have a conversation with Rob Bell. This entire hour was a deeply moving one for me. While listening to this conversation, and cooking dinner for my family, I was brought to tears by a few things that were said. The one incredible piece that I will hold with me is when Rob Bell was talking about the 10 Commandments. He was speaking about his new book, and how Christians haven’t been reading the Bible correctly. He was talking about reading the passages within the context of the time it was written. He brought up the commandments and said about them that they were being given to these people who were just slaves to someone else. These weren’t meant to enslave them again, instead, they were to free them. They were to teach them how to be human again.

After a traumatic event, I think most of us go through this period where we forget how to be ourselves. Maybe we didn’t know who that person was, to begin with. Maybe we didn’t know how to be human all along. Our whole life was a fish out of water story, and this event just reinforces that we didn’t know all along.

I used to feel out of place. I used to feel like I didn’t belong anywhere I went. Even within the church, I felt like I was the outsider coming in to not a welcome at all. That happens a lot, not just with youth ministers, but with visitors, and even those who are a part of the congregation for a long time. There is this concept that churches are meant for the holy and divine among us. That the people there are set apart, and therefore cannot be broken. Yet, time and again I encountered a lot of ass-holiness. Even from me. I admit it. I had a bad habit of treating people like I was smarter than them. I sometimes still do. I get lost in my own ass-holiness sometimes. All the while I think that is what so many of us want from that community or any community at all. We want a place where we don’t have to hide anymore. Where we are allowed to be human, and as much as we struggle to do so we are told that it doesn’t belong here. Today marks the fourth year since our first miscarriage. That seems like a heavy burden to wear around most days. It still feels like a punch in the gut every time I remember that day. I feel like I can’t share that with people because they might not understand. I remember the Sunday following that day. I remember how we did have a Church family, who understood and wept with us. This is something I still search for in a community. I have yet to find a place that is like that again. It took a while for that place to care for us like they did. We were there for 3 years at that point. I think about that now with how rare that is to find. Have we lost how to be human in our communities?

I still feel this way a lot. I feel like I don’t belong anywhere. I know this is a very “extended adolescent” way to feel. I think maybe my whole generation feels this way. We are still seen as children, though we are now adults, maybe buying houses, maybe having kids of our own, and trying to find our way in the world. It is almost as if an entire generation is stuck in this fish out of water story. You have a generation of people who have gone through massively traumatic events and have been told to “Suck it up, Buttercup!” A generation who has no idea what it is like to be human because we do not see anything but division and derision from those who have gone ahead of us. If ever there was a generation that could relate more to the teachings in scriptures (not just Christian ones) it’s this one. A generation that is lost and looking to stories to save them. Stories to teach them what it means to be a good human. Who do you think the largest consumer of media is, especially books? (source)

Millennials are desperately seeking connection. The biggest problem though, our connections are happening outside the church. We connect over the stories that have become most relevant to us. Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, Supernatural, Sherlock, Marvel Movies, Harry Potter, and so on (honestly the list could go on forever) have all started to teach us how to be a good human being through complex political struggles, time lords, cryptid hunting, anti-social geniuses, superheroes, and wizards. The funny thing is, this is how human beings have learned for centuries. That is all the Christian Bible is. It is a collection of stories meant to portray truths about a Divine being that wants nothing more from us than to be human. The writers used slang, stories, and language from their day to convey images and ideas that the readers would be familiar with. Now that we are close to 2000 years removed from those events, we’ve lost a lot in translation.

One of the reasons I love, and also dislike, (I know it’s complicated, okay) St. Paul is that he was a master at this. He was able to take the modern vernacular and use it in the context of Jesus. That is why he was so successful in his ministry. He was able to convey the truths about the Divine in language that the people he was going to would understand. This is why Jesus’ parables were so incredible, they were packed full of imagery and symbolism that the Jewish people at the culmination of the ages would understand. Yet, now we like to dress things up in pretty words and use the exact wording that we read out of an English translation (and probably not that good of one) of the Bible. How many times have you heard phrases like “ask Jesus into your heart”, “Sacrifice your life to God”, “He was made a sacrifice for us”, or “Knock and the door will be open to you”? What do those even mean? Seriously, when was the last time that you knocked on the door of someone you didn’t even know and that door was opened to you? I have a panic attack when the pizza guy knocks on my door. We don’t understand sacrifices. We as human beings haven’t done that for millennia. Ask Jesus into my heart? I’m sorry, but the only thing that should be in there is blood and muscle. If you are talking about metaphorical heart, well I don’t know the guy from all of the other stuff you’ve been saying.

I realized something when I was listening to the podcast this weekend. I realized I’m not alone. I’m not the first one who has made this transition out of the church. I’m not the only one who realizes that most of this stuff is getting to be so much fluff. I realized my ministry now is not just to learn how to be human myself, but to tell others that they are not alone in this transition either. My mantra is one that I want to share with others. I want to tell people, “You are not alone, you matter” until they see the Divine not just in me, but that it never left them either. In an effort to do so, I’ve decided to launch a new digital community. I know I might be spreading myself a little thin with my projects, really there is just the main three at the moment (Honest Faith [Blog, podcast, and writing], Honest Interfaith Community [The in-person community], and the one I’m about to announce). This community is for your stories. I am wanting to build an online place where you can feel free to share your stories of being a Post-Church Christian. What happened in your transition? How are you learning to be human? How do you need help discovering that you are not alone, and you matter? The link will be below, just click on the picture.

I don’t want Arthur C. Clark’s statement to be a reality. I don’t want it to be terrifying in either sense. I want for us to learn how to be okay if we are alone. But I seriously want for us to discover that we are not alone. I believe we are not alone, or maybe I want to believe. But over all, I want for us to learn how to be good humans. No longer fish out of water, but human. After all, We are not alone, we matter.

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The Honest Faith: Sympathy for the Devil

Released in 1968 the band Rolling Stones recorded a song reminiscent of Charles Baudelaire’s work “The Flowers of Evil”. In the Baudelaire collection of poetry, he begins with a poem about the devil in which to set the tone for the poems to follow which was about the decadence and fall of modern France, according to him.  This song was also inspired by the Russian writer Bulgakov’s book “The Master and Margarita”. The book is also about a visit from the devil to satirize and show the issues with the Soviet Union. This song was rather controversial in its time as it made many believe that Mick Jagger and Kieth Richards were devil worshipers. The wonderfully ironic twist is that this song is about demonizing the other or blaming these horrific events on an unseen force we call the devil. The point of the song was to portray how “Every cop a criminal, and all the sinner’s saints…”

I have found that we are very quick to call upon the image of the devil when things go wrong or we want to blame someone else. We conjure the images that seem most evil in our minds from recent history. We call people things like fascist, Nazi, or Hitler. We call out the evil in someone so readily. It is very easy for us to spot these bad things and categorize them as of the devil. But as the Jagger and Richards said, “I shouted out ‘who killed the Kenedy’s?’ When after all it was you and me.”

I was once told as a child, it is rude to point. I was also told, when you point a finger there are three more pointing back at you. My mother did her best to try to teach me that before I blame someone or I accuse someone I should try to imagine what they are going through. I also heard numerous quotes from the Bible that said, “Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself.” Proverbs 26:4. In fact, I was told a lot of Bible verses about judging, for your own reference here are 100 of them.  There is a story in the Quran about Musa and striking someone before knowing the situation. There are even quotes from Gautama Buddha about judging others. I’m sure if I looked hard enough, I could show you from most major religions around the world this common theme of: don’t be concerned about the wrongdoing of others, but instead concern yourself with your own wrongdoing.

I see more and more these days lines being drawn. I see people choosing sides and pointing out the flaws in the other one. I am disturbed by the amount of division and divisiveness I see from our role models, and peers. I am not condemning things like peaceful protests, or sharing of feelings. Those are to make one’s voice heard. So many have been silenced for so long, they are looking for ways to show that they are not alone and that they matter, too. There is a fine line, though, in that. When you ensure your voice is louder than someone else’s, aren’t you guilty of silencing them? Isn’t that one of the things we are working to stop? That is a fine line to walk, and a difficult question to answer.

Is there a true Black and White? Can there be a be an objective morality? Or is everything meant to be in shades of gray? I posit that there are shades of gray, but those shades are limited. How many times have Christians been told that the path to Heaven is Narrow? Does anyone know the context of the verse that is used in so many sermons? This verse has been taken so out of context that it has taken on a new meaning. To read the chapter it seems that this verse veers way off course from the rest of what Jesus is talking about if you give it that meaning. Here, read it for yourself. This, much like the parable of the talents, is about treating others with kindness and love. The whole passage begins with one of those judgment verses I just mentioned. He goes on to talk about God giving us good gifts, the golden rule, and good fruit. The passage ends with building a house on a sure foundation. If you read the passage you understand that the good foundation is precisely what is in the middle of the passage, the golden rule.

I have searched long and through many difficulties to find a place that follows the golden rule with integrity. Surprisingly, after all my interactions with the church, I can say that I have maybe only found two that I would say live that. If you ask me, that is a very narrow gate. But there are so so so so many businesses, people, churches, religious organizations, and so on that do not follow this. That is a very wide path, and if I were to take Jesus at his word in this passage it means it’s the road to destruction. I’m also reminded of another thing Jesus said. When he was asked what the most important commandment was, He said, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and spirit. The second is like it, Love your neighbor as yourself.” When did this get taken away from the Gospel? When did the Gospel suddenly become “the gate is narrow, but the path to destruction is wide”?

I was once called the devil. The reason being was that I was fighting for the right to allow homosexual students to come to youth group. I taught that we are all created in God’s image. That I wanted students to make up their own minds about faith and the Bible after they listened to the whole story. This was false teaching to some. So they labeled me “From the devil”. I tried not to take it personally, but it’s kinda tough to not do. I took a good hard look at the man in the mirror because after all, that is how the great philosopher and man who made mistakes, Michael Jackson, said to change the world. I didn’t see the devil. I saw a man who was trying to do the right thing to include all people, and not treat them as if they didn’t know anything. I’m confident that those who called me the devil didn’t see that. I’m sure there are those who still to this day, consider me to be the devil. I think the devil, however, is in the details.

If I can say anything is definitively evil and from the devil. I would have to say it is division and purposefully dividing people from each other. I do believe there is a lot more evil than that, but I would say that division is certainly “bad fruit”. St. Paul taught us how to spot the “Good fruit” one of those was kindness. He also said that “selfishness and vain ambition” were bad. Going back to all of those verses, I can almost hear the masters of faith saying that kindness and love are the firm foundation for any religion. When a religion is based on us, not them, it is built on shifting sands. Maybe we should stop pointing the finger, and instead take a look at the three pointing back at us.

“Please allow me to introduce myself.” I am a man of faith who has been guilty of making mistakes. I am a man who tries to find the good and connections in others despite our differences. All I ask is that you “Have some sympathy, and some taste (Woo woo) Use all your well-learned politesse”, or division will “lay your soul to waste”. Uh… Yeah. We need to stop seeing the other as a devil. We need to have some taste in what we do. We need to be polite, and civil with each other. Or this division we are creating will rot and waste away at our souls. If I take anything away from this classic samba rock anthem it’s this, we all are flawed. We all are responsible for these horrible atrocities. We need to stop trying to pick specks out of our neighbors’ eyes and remove the plank from our own. We need to have sympathy for our made up devils and begin to see them for what they are, human. But also, don’t forget, you are not alone, you matter!

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The Honest Faith: Headline Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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