The Honest Faith: Grinding

Recently my car has been making a grinding sound from the rear wheels. I know it’s not healthy for my vehicle to continue to drive like that, as it may be the brakes rusting over. My car is old. Well 12 years old, but in car years that’s almost an eternity. I’m going to get this fixed as soon as I can, but the issue is that I still need to drive this vehicle to and from work, and to pick my son up from day care. There is a lot that goes into the timing and money it takes to fix a vehicle especially one as old and rusted as mine. Can I afford a Lyft to run my errands while my car is in the shop? Can I afford to get whatever it is that needs fixing, fixed? Will I be able to drive it for a few more days without making things worse? Should I ask for help, or is this one of those, I just gotta get it done things?

I feel, recently, the church has been showing signs of wear and tear as well. If you listen you can hear a loud grinding noise coming from the church in America. It sounds as if the old rusted words and theology are grinding against the modern society that is moving forward. Some may say this is a good thing. That the church was meant to be counter cultural. Though the problem is it’s not counter-cultural at all, it’s anti-cultural as if there was a pendulum that had culture in the middle where counter-culture was on one end of the spectrum and anti-culture was on the other. This grinding isn’t a good thing. It’s not healthy for either the church or the culture. It is a symptom of a much larger problem.

Using my personal predicament as a metaphor for the church there is an important question the church must ask itself. Can the church afford to ignore Jesus? This of course is an afford in a much broader sense than just monetary, though let’s begin there. In Luke’s Gospel there are a few stories about money and the importance it should take in life. There is the story of the rich young ruler (Luke 18: 18-30), there is the story of Jesus confronting the Pharisees (Luke 11-12), and there is even the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). The common thread for Jesus across the Gospel was not that wealth and money were bad, but rather the love thereof. Jesus, himself, taught that when you are focused on your own wealth and power it will consume you and not leave room for you to think about the world around you and how it may be affected. This leads us back to the church. Can the church afford to ignore Jesus? I’ve had a few encounters via social media with some evangelical christians who seem to trust Gordon Gekko above Jesus. They believe that “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” This is anti-culture. If you will notice society has trended in the way to say, money isn’t all there is to life. It has become more in-line with Absurdist philosophy  to understand that it is absurd to chase meaning in anything, especially money, other than just living your life. You may view a documentary on Netflix which was just released to examine more the state of which money has influenced Politics rather than people. This Documentary is by former white house economist Robert Reich called, “Saving Capitalism”. Now I could go on and on about how this particular grinding noise is playing out in the church today, but I’m not here to make the repairs just now. I’m here to ask the question, can the church afford to let the problem continue?

Let’s take a listen to another grinding noise coming from the church. Can the church afford to ignore abuse? Now this is a huge can of worms. I brought your attention to this two weeks ago, and it is now starting to encounter resistance from the church. Now the biggest argument from the church, again I’m sourcing from personal social media encounters, is from the beginning of John’s gospel in chapter 8. They site the end of the last verse of the certain story verse 11 where Jesus says, “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” Aside from the fact that this story may never have happened according to Biblical scholars, it completely misses the point of the story. The story was to show that unless you yourself are completely perfect you shouldn’t be bringing judgment on another. We have some further writing from Paul in Romans 6, which I have discussed before, that say we certainly shouldn’t go on hurting people because we have license to now. Going back to our synoptic Gospel for this we have Jesus teaching on how we ought to treat each other, and none of those sounds like covering up the abuse of power (read a broad definition of abuse covering all forms). If you look at the end of Luke 6 you see the sermon on the mount, then you have the story of the woman anointing Jesus’ feet which Luke puts way before the Passion week unlike the other Synoptics (Luke 7), and the stories are continuous of this itinerant preacher man throughout the book of Luke where he tells people to treat others with kindness and love. Kindness and love do not turn blind eyes to abuse. They shine a light on it and bring it out. But again, I’m just asking the questions. Can the church afford to ignore abuse?

What about the grinding noise of lack of compassion? Notice, there is a huge uneven number in this country.  There are around 384,000 churches in America right now. As of 2015, here in America, there is an estimated 564,708 homeless people. Now if you were to assume that one of the churches main goals was to feed the hungry and house the homeless you would think that those numbers are disproportionately large. I mean consider that each church in America could house around 30 people per night, not super comfortably, but they could. If each church in America were to commit to housing that many people they could, in essense, give room and board to a grand total of 11,520,000. That’s a little under 5% of our total population in the US but it more than certainly can cover the total amount of homeless. Why is this? Why are churches not having compassion on those who are hungry and destitute? Is it because they are afraid of getting things dirty inside? When did the church become about presentation? Isn’t the work of the church about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, and supporting those who need support? That was Jesus’s message in the feeding of the 5000, in the story of the sheep and the goats, and in all of his messages about the Kingdom of the Divine. So what gives? Can the church afford to lose sight of it’s mission?

I could go on and on about the problems. I have for almost a year written a lot about these problems and how I think best to combat them. I have run out of things to say about the church in that, I think it’s time to move forward. To be honest, I, personally, have kind of given up on the organization of the church. I have my reasons. I have been hurt by the church more times than I’d like to admit. Yet, like Hosea, I kept coming back to the place that would hurt me. Almost as if I was a glutton for punishment. It wasn’t healthy for me and it wasn’t healthy for the churches either. It was a grinding that I needed to fix in my own life. Yes, I’m probably going to go and get my car fixed this weekend, I kinda need my car. But what can we do to fix the church at this point in time? I don’t have the answers. As I said two weeks ago, I believe we need a revival, but what does that look like? What do you think reader? Can the church afford to keep going on in its grinding or will it become way too expensive to fix that we will just have to replace it? Reader, your voice matters. What do you think? You are not alone, You matter.

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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 tobe human to that person and turn the other side so they have to see you as human. That doesn’t mean staying in a relationship that is abusive. If someone is abusing you, get out. That is toxic. 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: 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: What is Church?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Honest Faith: 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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Honest Faith: The Least of These

For a Christian writer, I don’t talk a whole lot about Jesus. I guess I feel like His ideas and teachings should be evident in my life and writing. I often shy away from the conversations now because a few years ago one of the youth I was working with pointed out, “We’re going to talk about Jesus again aren’t we? You talk about Him all the time.” Not that it’s a bad thing, but I wanted to innovate. I wanted them to love the Godman without me having to say His name all the time. I also realized that the more I talked about Jesus, the more I got painted as “One of those Christians”.

I was once, “one of those Christians”. I was a part of a very evangelical movement that felt we even needed to evangelize and convert Catholics. I guess they could be seen as ultra-protestant. I fell out of favor with them when I attended a Methodist church in high school (Oh the humanity [sarcsasm]). I still held on to a lot of those teachings until I was shown the depth of the Bible. I likened it to standing on the shore of an ocean, you can see the surface of the water, and it’s pretty and all, but there is so much more under the surface. This broke me of my black and white thinking of the Bible, the Divine, and all of my religion. I was ashamed of what I once was. I still am. I feel like I may have driven so many people away from the Divine by trying to shove a narrow incomplete picture down their throats.

One of the biggest things that has always troubled me about moving from black and white to my various shades of gray was the odd parable that you find at the end of Matthew 25. In it, Jesus tells of the coming of the Son of Man and the separating of “Sheep and Goats”.  I was taught growing up that the goats were all the Christians who weren’t really Christian, like the Catholics and other denominations. The more I learned about the Bible the more I came to understand sort of what Matthew was getting at here. He has his apocalyptic texts (The Olivet discourse and the sheep and goats)  sandwiching a few other parables with dire warnings attached. He did this to emphasize Jesus’ teaching about what it meant to be a sheep:

for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.

I could go into the whole book of Matthew and tell you about how he’s trying to set up Jesus as the Messiah, not just to the Jews, but to the Gentiles as well. Honestly, we could do without my commentary at the moment. Needless to say even after learning what I did, I still was very worried about being a goat. I didn’t want to be a goat.

In my nerd den of an office, my attic, there is a shelf just under my painfully understocked shelf of comic books that holds my collection of Bibles that I used throughout my life. I’ve read quite a bit of the Bible. I don’t say this to brag or anything. I used to be the president of the Bible Club in my public high school. I even carried around my Bible in plain sight to all of my classes. It was very noticeable. It was a very big, black, leather-bound Bible.  (Ok fine I lost the election and was elected Vice President, but the president resigned and gave me the position because I was there all the time so yes, I was the president…) I did all of these things in an effort to not be a goat. Even after I studied the Bible in depth at college, I tried to live a pure and blameless life so that I wouldn’t be a goat. My motivations may have been flawed, but I still did what I needed to. That’s not to say I didn’t get into some trouble now and then, but that’s a completely different story.

I missed the point of what it truly meant to be a sheep, in an effort not to be a goat. I thought it was all about me. I lived my life trying to make sure my life was good, that I didn’t sin, that I didn’t do wrong things. My faith was dead.

One of the passages that gave me the most trouble when I was one of those was the book of James. This also gave Martin Luther a headache as well, but again another story. In it, the writer,  James the lesser, talks about the Doctrine of Justification. He says something that made the whole “just believe” thing a bit shaky. He says, “Faith without works is dead.” I never understood that until much later in life. I’ve talked multiple times about Faith and the meaning of the word in my blog here, and also in our podcast. Ultimately what I discovered is that it’s true if we are not acting out what we believe we are just goats. If we say that we are Christian, yet do not treat the least of these like Jesus said in that parable we are like so many goats.

I write all this because there is an image that haunts me, and it will until the day I die. It is a picture that was taken a few years ago of a Syrian Refugee boy’s body washed up on the shore of the Mediterranean. That image has burned a hole in my consciousness. I’m not going to post it here or even link to it because of how horrible it is. It is an image that indicts even me of being a goat. My faith should drive me to help people. To welcome refugees. To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners, and take care of the sick. It kills me because I think about what if I were the father of that child. How would I feel…

I wrote about our miscarriages before. I wrote about the pain that still to this day is just there. A deep wound that will always remind me of loss. I work so that others may not have to feel that. I share that pain, I’m honest about my life, because 1. I’m trying to heal. 2. I don’t want others to feel alone if they are going through the same 3. I want to bring some healing to others.  I bring this up because throughout this experience I have discovered what true Christian Faith looks like. I have met some amazing sheep, that I want to be like.

Those sheep sat and cried with my wife and me when all we could do was weep. Those sheep cared for us when we were at our lowest. Those sheep, when we were ready, helped us to get back up on our feet emotionally. Those sheep still check in on us from time to time to see how we are. They did it for the least of these.

All this to say, don’t be a goat. Be a sheep. Don’t close your doors to refugees, don’t turn a blind eye to those who do. I said earlier this week that I’m going to try to refrain from being political. It doesn’t help. What I am going to do is to tell you to figure out what is right in this time. If you are doing things only to serve yourself and make yourself feel better, you are being a goat. If you are doing things to help others, even those who you feel don’t deserve it, you are being a sheep. So be a sheep. Do it for the least of these.

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