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: Why Don’t You Care?

::Disclaimer:: I am not addressing this to anyone in particular. I do this because we are all guilty. I don’t aim to make anyone feel bad or guilty either, we have enough voices doing that. I write this to maybe, just maybe, open your eyes to a new perspective. As always I ask that you take a moment. Take a breath. Rid yourself of all preconceived notions. Sit back in your chair. Just be. You are not what you were. What you do from this point going forward is what matters. ::Disclaimer over::

I’m not going to lie. It has been a rough week. We have lived through the aftermath of hurricanes, shootings, and people getting super upset about footballers having something to say and not just being objects of entertainment. It’s emotionally and mentally exhausting to care. Especially when you feel like nobody cares about you, or what you have to say. It wears you down. To the point where you don’t want to care anymore. So what’s the point then, why care? If all it brings is more misery, and nothing is going to change, why even bother?

What do I mean when I say care? I mean it for all real definitions of the word. It is more than just a feeling it is the serious attention and consideration. It is the provision for the well-being of another. It is also the looking after the other and looking out for their well-being. The feeling in itself is a good thing, but feeling without action is meaningless. (James 2:26)

Why should we care about Black Lives Matter, God before Guns, Everytown for Gun Safety, whatever the president is on about, the removal of Confederate monuments, trigger words, the latest Twitter feud, what your parents have to say about your “political” posts on social media, and so on? Isn’t it all just meaningless? I know all that I listed were not equivalent. They are not supposed to be. That’s the point. I’m weary too. I know that it’s hard to fight for people. I know that it’s tough to give a crap about what people are going through. I know. I know this because I do. I give a crap about people. I give a crap about what people think and feel.

An amazing artist known as Logic wrote an amazing song called “Black Spiderman” in it he has a few lines that say:

I don’t wanna be black, I don’t wanna be white,
I just wanna be a man today
I don’t wanna be a Christian, Muslim, gay, straight, or bi,
see you later, bye

These lyrics are telling about how tiring and crazy it is to worry about these labels. We keep drawing lines in the sand and saying, “I only care about the people on this side of the line.” I’ve been seeing some crazy posts about things like taking care of our own or accusing those who happen to disagree with you of being hateful or cruel. We continue the hate that we so loudly say we want to stop.

Did any of the labels in Logic’s song set you off? Why? Why should you care about what a musician has to say? Which word was it? Why not care about that person? See, the funny thing is people you know and love are a part of these groups. They may choose not to tell you that they are gay, or bi. They may choose not to tell you that they can’t identify as Christian anymore. I think you don’t need to be told about surface stuff.  I bring this up because we have a few major problems that are threatening at the door right now. I brought this up two years ago in a piece called “Enough is Enough.” In that post, I wrote about how I’m tired. I’m tired of hearing the same old story after every mass shooting in this country. I’m sick of hearing about how we shouldn’t care because nothing is going to change. But the opposite is true if you care things will change. The thing is I want to know why? Why is nothing going to change? Have we even tried? Have we thought of trying? We again hear these old, tired cliches of “Oh, we need prayer” or “We need God”. I’m sorry but that hasn’t changed anything.

Do you think God wasn’t at Sandy Hook Elementary? Do you think God was not in Columbine? Do you think that God wasn’t present in that theater in Aurora? Do you think that God wasn’t in Vegas? Do you really believe that?

Here, how about this question: how many lives saved would be worth changing some things? I’m asking because we know how many lives are being taken right now with nothing being done. If putting gun regulations in place would save just one life, would it be worth it? What about climate change? What if we were to save the life of one endangered animal or future human being, wouldn’t that make it worth the sacrifice? Isn’t this what Jesus taught? So ask yourself, why should I care?

Dr. Seuss wrote an often-quoted line in the book The Lorax. It goes like this, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” The reason I care, the reason so many of us “Bleeding heart, liberal snowflakes” care is because we know that unless we do, nothing is going to change. We want the same things everyone else does. We want our children to be safe. We want them to grow up in a world that can sustain their lives. We want our friends, loved ones, and families to have the same opportunities and chances at life that we had. Quite frankly, that makes all the tiny little inconveniences worth it.

I don’t care about labels. I’m Mexican and I’m white. I have a white wife. But I don’t want to be just that to people. I’m Christian, and, God help me, I don’t want to be that to people – especially right now. I’m straight and cis male, and I don’t want to be just that either. The truth is I just want to be a person who cares an awful lot. This week I was writing in my ongoing project to write a modern Gospel tale. This was the passage that Jesus said to his followers: unless you are willing to take up your cross daily, you will not find life. (Luke 9:23) I think what Jesus meant was that unless we are willing to suffer and die daily for those around us we will never be able to truly live, love, or understand all the incredible things that have been given to us. So label me what you want, I’m willing to suffer and even die for my fellow man. So that my son may grow up in a world that hopefully will be somewhat better than the one I currently see around me.

Caring is hard. It’s weary work. Because it feels like people will put you into boxes and say that you can’t care about people in the other box. The truth is there are no boxes. We are all human beings. WE ARE ALL HUMAN BEINGS! The sooner we realize that and stop with this ridiculous nonsense of “Us and Them,” we’ll begin to see that in order for us to complete this task we’ve been set to, Tikkun Olam: repairing the world, we need to begin to recognize the Divine in each other. Maybe the way to stop the hate, to stop the pain, to stop all of this crap going on around us is we need to care, even just a little. Because we need you. We need you to care. Every one needs you to care. We are all human beings. We are all in this together. Whatever hurts you, hurts us all. Whatever hurts someone else, hurts you too.

When someone speaks out about something, maybe instead of pointing out where they are wrong, give a moment and care about what they care about. See it from their perspective. Ask them why they care about it. Maybe, just maybe, it will help you to care about what they do. Maybe you will see why caring is important. Maybe instead of labeling someone before you hear what they have to say, you take a moment and listen to what they have to say. I’m not saying that you should change your mind on everything, just hear someone out. Listen to what they have to say, maybe it would change your mind. Maybe they don’t care. I’m just asking that you care, at least a little bit. I ask because unless someone like you cares an awful lot, nothing is going to change. We need to change. We need to make this world better. We have been tasked with Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. We need you. Because 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: 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: 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: 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.

pcc
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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: 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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