The Honest Faith: UnChristian

When I was little my great-grandfather, who I called Bop, had a car that talked. It wasn’t anything fancy, it would just tell you often, “The door is ajar, The door is ajar.” His favorite joke was to ask us kids, “When is a door not a door?” Since we were kids we didn’t know this one. He would humorously say, “When it is ajar!” He wasn’t a very expressive person. He loved his family, you knew this by the way he treated them. It didn’t take a lot. He always made sure that we kids had good shoes. That is one thing I remember most about him. Though this joke always stood out to me. I think now more than ever. When is a door not a door? When it’s ajar. I started to think about this in the terms of the metaphorical door to heaven. When is that door not a door? When it’s ajar. I thought about when it would be open, my thought, maybe completely heretical, but I don’t think it closes. When is a Christian not a Christian? When they try to close that door.

Recently I’ve been seeing more and more divides happening. Maybe it’s because people are finally waking up to the reality that they have already been there. Maybe it’s because people are sick and tired of the same old, same old. Whatever the case may be the divides are there and they are widening. I didn’t start the fire, it was always burning, since the world was turning. More and more people are turned off by the word Christian. It’s not just because of the annoying things Christians have done. I wrote about that before. It’s because we, I’m including myself, have lost sight of the good news. Our ideas became about saving souls and being profitable at that. We got a numbers game mixed up with a loving game. They are two separate things and never should have been combined. When is a Christian not a Christian? When they are concerned with the number of souls they are saving rather than actually “saving” souls.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be concerned about the “state” of someone’s soul. I’m just saying that I’ve seen more and more people aren’t really concerned about that. They are more concerned about being right. This obsession with being right causes them to be blind to truths that are right in front of them. They gloss over all manner of evil and hate in order to get the “I’m the one who is right” badge. The problem being, it’s a scorched earth campaign. They will change things in order to be right. When that happens people get hurt. People die, and all in an attempt to be correct. Jesus noticed this. “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:24-26) When is a Christian not a Christian? When their desire to be right, outweighs their desire to love.

As I was writing my story this week I noticed something in Luke 11 and 12. I noticed that Jesus didn’t have time for those Pharisees and Lawyers who just did religion to make themselves look good. Have you ever noticed that people like to use these passages to point out how people are not “Christian” because they just go to church and don’t actually believe? The odd thing is, Jesus gave specifics. He said you clean the outside of the cup but leave the inside dirty. He said that those who tithe to the church and do all of the religious Riga-ma-roll yet do not care for people were the ones who were not following him. He says woe to those who don’t let people think for themselves, but rather force them to believe what the person teaching believes. He goes on to tell stories about how people who try to close the doors to heaven were not followers of His. When is a Christian not a Christian? When they don’t follow Christ.

Maybe it got too confusing for people. Maybe they thought that you needed to be moral to get into heaven. Maybe the whole afterlife thing was made up to try to scare people into the church. Whatever the case may be, that was never the message. When considering morality what did Jesus do? He ate and drank with “sinners and prostitutes”. When asked what the most important commandments in the entire law were, what did Jesus say? “Love” Simply when it comes down to it WWJD (For those of you who were blessed enough to not live through that craze in the 90’s it stands for What Would Jesus Do?)? Jesus would love. Jesus did love. In fact, that is what the entire story is about! IT’S ABOUT LOVE! Jesus didn’t come to condemn people (John 3:17). Jesus didn’t come for us to follow the rules, but rather for us to understand the rules are there to help us love other people not enslave them by them (Luke 6). Jesus didn’t come that we may be slaves to some higher power, Jesus came that we may have life, and have it to the fullest (Luke 5 and John 10)! When is a Christian not a Christian? When they don’t love.

When did the message get off of Love? When did it become this whole loving someone so that they become a moral person business? NO!!! Jesus even said it a few times not to judge it’s right there in Luke 6 if you don’t believe me. Even with the whole turning the other cheek thing, that’s not about being a pushover. That’s about loving in a way that shows you are a human being too. That you have needs as well. That loving isn’t about changing the other person. It has never been about change. Change is the Divines business, not the churches. Something I learned from my Bop was that you don’t have to be present every day in someone’s life to show them that you love them. You don’t even have to say it. You just have to be there when they need something! It’s that simple. I needed shoes, he’d be there. Turning your cheek means you are willing to take another hit if someone needs to hit. That you are loving enough to stand there be that person and still continue to help them. Love is not violent. Love is not complex. Love is love. No matter what.

So fellow Christian, ask yourself, “Am I loving people, without agenda?” If the answer is anything but yes, you are doing it wrong. That is decidedly unlike Christ, and therefore unchristian. If you are trying to close the “doors to heaven” and say those people cannot come in, that is unchristian. If you are saying that people who are “Pro-choice, LGBTQ+, Democrat, Republican, Independent, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, Buddhist, or anything else” are evil, unclean, or whatever that’s not loving. I wrote about that, too. I’m going to make this very simple for you. Hate is hate. Love is love. Love is not sin, no matter what skin it’s in. Love can never be sin. Love is not hate. Hate dressed up as love is not love. Jesus even said ” I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) When is a Christian a Christian? When they follow the Christ by loving one another.

I’ve seen a lot of bad theologians try to take Jesus’ and Paul’s words out of context. I’ve seen them use it to hurt people. I’ve seen those words dressed up so that they become hate. That, to me, is unchristian. I cannot say that they are not Christian, because who am I to say such. I just know that when there is bad fruit, the tree is bad. Maybe you have seen this too. Maybe this makes you want to leave the church altogether. Maybe you want to blame God for all of this. That’s okay. I understand. I see it too. I love that Jesus guy though. So despite what people say about Him, or try to turn Him into, I’m still going to follow him. To me, his message was very simple, “Love”. So that is what I do. I love. I love people and it hurts me to see them using the Christian Bible to hurt others. It hurts me to see that being used in an attempt to be right rather than the original purpose which was to heal. It hurts when Christians are not Christians. Maybe one day we’ll get this love thing right. So you are not alone in that hurt. I love you. You are not alone, You matter.

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The Honest Faith: Who We Longed to Be

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Honest Faith: Shut Up and Get to Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Honest Faith: Sin

Speaking of definitions, let’s go back to the start. What makes Christians, Christians? For many the ideas of St. Paul speak to this in the book of Romans, especially the 3rd chapter. In it, there is that phrase that most will repeat out of context “For all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God”. From there most would immediately point to another work by St. Paul, Ephesians 2. “For by Grace are you saved through faith, that not of yourselves it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” Finally, the coup de gras, going to John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”. So we know that there is this idea that we are all sinners, and therefore we need Jesus to believe in him to save us from the consequences of sin. That’s the basic idea of Christendom right? So what is sin?

If we go back to the original languages, Greek and Biblical Hebrew, we have a term that is used for spear throwing and archery. In Greek, we have hamartia which means to miss the mark. This term was often used for spear throwing and meant to miss the target altogether. The Hebrew word, hata, is an archery term for missing the “bullseye” but still hitting the target. In Latin, sine, which the English word sin may have come from, means without or alone, by oneself. This last one is a bit odd since the Greek word syn means together or sun. So what does it mean to be a sinner then? Does it mean that we miss the mark? What mark? What bullseye should we be aiming for?

The idea of sin is a transgression against a divine law or command. So if we take this idea and apply it to the teachings of Jesus, we would need to know which laws we needed to keep, correct? So let’s ask Jesus, “What is the most important law or commandment?” “He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’” Luke 10:26-28. So if we are to take Jesus at his word here love is the target we are aiming at. Love is the greatest law and commandment. Love for both God and our Neighbor.

Before I get too much further I need to put a little disclaimer. For those of you who have read my work before, I know this is much more Bible-y than I normally get. Bare with me. For those of you who may be reading for the first time, or maybe not. I just have to say, I understand. I was there once. I know how scary it can be too closely examine tightly held beliefs. I know that it feels like the top of Pandora’s box, that if you take just a little peek it will unleash all sorts of evils into your soul. I know that fear. I had that fear. I know all about Pascal’s wager. I know all about the horrors of hell. I know. I see you. I hear that small guilty voice in your head. It spoke to me once too. It tells you that, “if you do this you will be alone. Nobody will love you. You don’t matter.” I get it. I’m not asking for you to get rid of your faith. I’m not asking you to become a heretic. I’m not asking you to throw everything to the wind. All I ask is one question. “What if I’m wrong?”

This thought has come to me in many different ways over the course of my life. One of my earliest memories that haunts me is of street “witnessing” with my youth group when I was a punk know-it-all jackass teen trying to convince some guy outside a gas station of his need for God. What if I was wrong? What if he already found God? Did I cause him to have less of a relationship with the Divine? Then in college when I was taking Bible courses and learning deeply about what the Bible really said. I thought, “What if I was wrong about all this stuff before?” letting go of tightly held beliefs was painful and difficult. But it freed me to learn more. It freed me to find a God that loved more deeply and fully than I could have possibly imagined before. Still, the question remains for me for almost everything, “What if I’m wrong?”

So let’s apply that to this topic. What if we’ve been wrong about sin? Yes, I understand it is the need for God and the fact that all humans are imperfect and we don’t get things right. What if we are wrong about our focus on it? Have you ever considered that? One of my prompts for this was someone asking me about atonement. I wrote an article about it, which I don’t know if it will be published or not. But, I thought a lot about it. Did God set up this cosmic need for a sacrifice in case someone screwed up? Why? Why would God do that if God was all knowing, all powerful, and all loving? God had to know someone was going to screw up eventually, right? I read through many different theories on the atonement. I read about how it all came back to this idea of a transactional idea of cosmic justice that is based on very human ideas. I even read about Jewish sacrifice.

The ancient Judaic tradition of Sacrifice and Offering is not really the same concept that many have of it now. Many people picture half naked muscle bound priests chanting in an unintelligible language raising a ritualistic sword or dagger over a poor defenseless child or animal. Dark and dirty scenes from famous movies flash into the mind like the scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where a shaman is chanting one of the names of the god Kali before he plucks the heart of the human sacrifice from his chest. Yeah, sacrifice was never really done that way or meant that way, to begin with. If we go way back we see the sacrifices brought to God by Cain and Able. There is this whole thing where the animal was more appropriate than the veggies thing, and something gets lost in translation. In fact, the sacrifice ritual was never meant as the cleansing in and of itself. Tracy Rich from the website JewFAQ.com puts it this way, “qorbanot have no expiating effect unless the person making the offering sincerely repents his or her actions before making the offering, and makes restitution to any person who was harmed by the violation.” The act itself didn’t remove the sin or even clean the person; it was the act of doing something because we as human beings are wired that way. We feel as if we need to do something in order to gain full forgiveness from God or even the person we wronged.

So the whole idea of the atonement got to be mixed up in this idea that we were “cleansed by the blood of the lamb”. No, that’s not the case. The case is that God forgave us for everything up on that cross. Jesus said before that, we are already forgiven. So this brings me around to the question of sin. What if we were wrong? What if sin doesn’t matter anymore. What really matters is how we treat each other, the world, and everything given to us. Jesus wasn’t our scapegoat. Jesus didn’t take care of things just so we could squander everything we have and take advantage of it and people. No! That is what Paul talks about in Romans 6. The point was that we needed to take responsibility for our own actions. Fess up to the wrongs that we did, and try to make them better. We see that in the Qorbanot. We see that in the Christian Bible. Sin was not the thing we needed to worry about, it was a symptom of the fact that, you know what, we are bad human beings.

We got so focused on sin we lost sight of what really mattered. We forgot to love our fellow man, our world, and everything in it. We forgot what it meant to love. We got mixed up in this idea of morality and ridding ourselves of “sin”, contrived or not,  that we forgot what Jesus told us was most important. LOVE. Love God, love others, and love yourself. That’s it. Jesus didn’t mention be sinless in that. No, in fact, that’s what the people who asked were looking for. So maybe missing the mark is just practice at trying to be a better human being. It doesn’t matter if we sin because God already took care of that. What matters is that we love and we live, and we do it to the fullest. We need to show the world, all creatures, and human beings alike, that they are not alone, they matter to us. Just as you are not alone, you matter. You are not alone. You matter to me.

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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: 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: 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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