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 Story of Esperanza Reyes: Chapter 6

Chapter 6

After word had spread about Esperanza she became a sensation. People would come from all over just to hear her speak. There was one time in Leakey, that the crowd had become so large that Esperanza was forced to find some place to stand just so that she could be heard. She climbed on the back of a pickup truck for the nearby construction company. She asked the owner of the truck to pull out a little, and she taught the crowd from the back of a pick-up truck.

After she was done with her lessons she walked around to the side of the truck and spoke to the owner and his passenger. “Thank you so much for allowing me to use your truck. In return, I know of a plot of land that is looking for a contractor to build a building just on the other side of that wall over there.” They looked at her incredulously, “We just got fired from this very construction site, and you say there is another on the other side of the wall?” Simon and Andres got out of the truck and the three of them walked around the wall together. They saw there was a large sign advertising a condominium complex being built. The owner of the plot of land was just beside the sign looking at the grounds. Simon introduced himself and struck up a conversation with the owner. They worked out a contract for well more than they were being paid for the previous job. When Simon returned to Esperanza and Andres, his face was flush. “I don’t know how you knew, or how that happened, but thank you. I am not worthy to even shake your hand.” She just smiled and said, “Follow me.”

She walked back with the men around the wall. Two more of Simon’s construction crew were still there, Iago and his husband John. Iago and John were known as the sons of thunder for their loud boisterous personalities. Simon loudly exclaimed to the group, “Come, we are buying this amazing person a beer tonight!” They all loaded up the equipment and headed off to drop it off at the company lot and return to the pub.

At the pub, Esperanza was having a grand time with the guys from the construction company. They had discussed how Simon got the company started and how he had persevered through many difficulties. Iago brought up the old Chevy commercials and how they used to say, “Like a Rock”, he described Simon in that way. He had been the steady companion and greatest boss they ever had working tirelessly not just for his business but for his employees. Esperanza turned to him and raised a glass, “From now on you shall be called Peter, for you are our rock!”

Many other patrons saw the joyous celebration in the pub. It brought life to many lives that night. A female to male trans man named Philip recognized Esperanza from her lesson earlier. He approached the group to thank her for the amazing lesson she taught. Esperanza invited him to join them, Philip asked if his friend Natalie could join them. He pointed over to a tall tattooed woman standing by the bar. She had purple undercut hair and was facing the bar. John laughed and said loudly, “The more the merrier!” Philip went and retrieved Natalie. Philip said to her, “She and those guys with her are the real deal! She has a real connection with the divine. She is the daughter of Maria and Jose from Durango, Mexico.” Natalie turned incredulous, “Can anything good come from Mexico?” Philip said to her, “Come and see.”

Esperanza greeted her with a hug, “This is an honest woman!” Natalie taken aback a bit, said, “How do you know?” Esperanza said, “Before Philip called you, I saw you at the bar.” Just then Natalie saw in Esperanza’s eyes a light that could not be explained. This brought understanding and peace with it. Natalie’s eyes began to well up, “You… You are her, aren’t you? You are the Messiah!” Esperanza’s grin grew large. She laughed a bit as she said, “Because I said I saw you at the bar you believe in me?” Esperanza put an arm around her shoulder and turned her toward the group. “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

After their night at the pub, they all returned to Peter’s house. They laughed and had a lovely night well into the small hours of the morning. They all slept on the sofas in the great room. Peter was the first one awake as his wife had come to tell him of her mother not feeling well. Esperanza awoke too. and couldn’t help but hear what was going on. Before they left the room Esperanza went over to them and asked if she could visit with Peter’s mother in law. Claire agreed and they all went upstairs to the room she was staying in. Rena was in the bed and definitely did not look well. She saw Esperanza and gave her a weak smile. Esperanza went up to her side of the bed and extended her hand in a friendly gesture. As Rena took the hand it was if life radiated from her hand to the rest of her body. Strength filled her frame and she got up out of bed. She hugged Esperanza and said, “You must be hungry. Come, I’m making breakfast.” True to her word, Rena went down to the kitchen and made breakfast for the entire group.

Claire posted on social media about the miraculous recovery of her mother. The post immediately went viral and those all over the hill country of Texas began to travel to Leaky so that their loved ones may be healed by this Esperanza. By evening there was a line of cars that stretched for more than a mile. Esperanza was not put off by this, she went to each individual vehicle and spoke with the occupants meeting, and greeting many. There were many who had cancers, auto-immune disorders, STI’s, and even those who had addictions and mental health issues. Those with addictions would often look at her with recognition, but she would often tell them it was not the time to tell the world who she was yet. She again stayed with Peter, the group had not left. In fact, they intended to follow Esperanza, and she would have it no other way.

The next day, they all set out to Kerrville. In Kerrville, there was a man who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder approached Esperanza. The man fell to his knees in front of her. “Please, take this away from me! I can’t anymore. I can’t live like this.” Esperanza looked with compassion and empathy at the man. She lifted him up and hugged him. His face showed the relief that washed over him in that moment. His brain had been freed. She spoke to him, “Do not tell anyone, instead go and speak to your therapist. See a psychologist and get a clean bill of health.” The man took a long look at her and ran off he immediately posted on social media about what had happened. The word again went viral and the town became flooded with vehicles. Esperanza and the group had to go out to a nearby field in order to give the lessons she had prepared for the day.

The field was packed. People from all over the Texas hill country showed up. Priests and Rabbi from Austin and San Antonio were also in attendance. The people stretched far and wide. The group put up a small stage with a PA system in the middle of the field so that Esperanza could be seen by all. During this time there was a teenaged boy who had been diagnosed with AIDS. He was not doing well and his friends had wanted to bring him before Esperanza. When they arrived they saw no way of bringing him through the crowd to her. They spotted a news crew nearby who were preparing four large drones to carry heavy camera equipment. The friends gathered their money and paid the crew to use the drones to bring the boy to Esperanza. When she saw the makeshift medi-vac she smiled. They landed him in front of her and she said to him, “Your friends must really love you, be well my boy.” The priests and rabbis began to murmur. “She can’t just take illness away. This boy has sinned, or his parents have sinned, that’s why he’s sick! God made him ill for a reason!” Esperanza hearing this murmuring turned to the crowd. “What would you have me say? ‘Go and sin no more?'” She turned to the boy and with a sarcastic grin on her face gave the boy a look that said, “Whatever”. Then she said very sarcastically, “Go and sin no more my boy.” He got up and took the gurney down from the drones and pushed it back to his friends. All who were there remarked later, “We saw some weird things today.”

As the crowd was clearing out. Esperanza saw a woman she knew as the owner of a local LGBTQ bar, named Laura. She said to her, “Come, follow me.”  She took a look at Esperanza’s group and said, “The hell with it, I got nothing better to do.” Laura invited the group to her bar and they had an amazing party that night. The Priests and Rabbi rumored about Esperanza’s group. “She parties with sinners and unbelievers!” Esperanza heard of these rumors and spoke out on social media. “I didn’t come for the people who didn’t want my help. These people want my help.” There were many replies about how they were not true followers or real Jesuits. Esperanza again spoke out against this on social media, “How can you criticise those you don’t even know? What about your own lives, are they so spotless. If people really knew you would they say the same about you?”

<  Chapter 5  |  Chapter 7  >

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The Honest Faith: Learning to Be Human

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Honest Faith: Headline Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Screaming Into the Void

Sometimes, it all feels like too much. I didn’t add the Honest Faith tag to this blog post because at the moment, I’m not exactly sure how this relates to my journey of rediscovering faith. I’m overwhelmed, saddened, and at a loss. I took this picture today of this saint in a stained glass window. This is a part of a larger piece of work depicting Jesus being arrested in the garden. I feel like him. I don’t know what to do.

You see, I feel like I’m screaming into the void. Like nothing I do or say really matters all that much. Like I’m yelling at distant clouds. I feel this way because I see so many people tearing each other apart in the name of politics, perceived lapses of morality, a small disagreement, or ultimately a lack of understanding. I disagree with people, sure. I have seen a lot I disagree with on social media recently. It is taking a lot of self-restraint to not post on every little thing I see that I disapprove of. I feel like I’m the only one restraining myself, though, and for what?

I write about my struggle to find the Divine. I write about my quest to repair the world. I write about this all because I want someone to maybe join me. I want it to make a difference and to maybe not feel so alone on this path. I know this path isn’t easy at this point in time. But when will it ever be? There is no easier time, there is only now. Especially now when the world needs us to repair the most, in my humble opinion.

One thing that is driving me to not want to go back to Christianity at all is what I see Christian people doing on social media. I see them mocking, in retaliation to an imagined slight to their morality. The biggest problem with this is the one thing I’ve had my fill of. For some reason, Christians are tearing other  Christians apart. Because some marched with women this weekend. They were upset because there happened to be some anti-abortion folk that felt unwelcome to put forward their own agenda.  The problem is that I’m sure the organizers didn’t want that to be the only agenda. As I watched in solidarity with those marching I saw that there was no one agenda aside from human rights. There were some who were rallying against the person who was elected president. There were some who unfunnily joked about violent acts against him. There were those who wanted to make sure their voice was heard. I would say the latter was the vast majority of those who were there. Yet, still, the Christian groups are tearing themselves apart because of this and other such slights.

The reason this has me so dismayed is because I know that God is not in the business of building walls. The Divine is about building bridges. About bringing people together. Instead, it seems that the gods of fear, hate, divisiveness, and pain are gaining in the spiritual zeitgeist.

I feel like I’m not allowed to have an opinion or else I am called a “special snowflake”, or “over-opinionated”, or “elitist”, or any other random name that people come up with to shut down the conversation. It’s not just me either. I am seeing this on all sides people calling each other names and pointing fingers in order to shut down the conversation. People are having arguments rather than debates and discussions. It doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum they are, a lot of people are guilty of this. Yes, you are all entitled to your own opinion, but you would also be wise to listen to the opinions of those around you. Wisdom is learning from others.

Granted, I am no fan of our current political climate. I am not a fan a lot of what is going on in our country at the moment. But I’m trying to keep a lot of my opinions to myself to help build bridges. The problem with that is it seems nobody else wants to build bridges right now. I could just throw in the towel and say screw it I don’t want to associate with ya’ll anymore, but then I would be guilty of doing the exact thing I’m railing against right now. I’m not a hypocrite, I’m as much a special snowflake as you are, I am a human being tasked with cleaning up a holy mess. SO ARE YOU.

So here is my spiritual point now. I’m going to, like Joshua, give you a call to action. Long ago your ancestors came to this country from beyond the oceans. They served other gods. You claimed to serve the Divine, yet you killed, stole, and destroyed. But still, you were blessed. Still, the Divine gave you chance after chance. So now it’s time to put away those old gods of fear, hate, division, scorn, and greed. It is time to come to the Divine. It is time to clean up this holy mess. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Divine, choose this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Divine. We will serve the God of love, peace, patience, self-control, joy, kindness, gentleness, and generosity. As Paul said to the Galatians:

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become beholden to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Granted, he was talking about temple prostitutes and sexual immorality there, but I think his point rings true in this as well.

So maybe I am just screaming into the void. Maybe what I have to say makes no difference whatsoever. But I hope it doesn’t. I hope that someone out there takes some hope or some inspiration from my words. I hope I’m not the only one who has been set toward a movement of “repairing the world with golden joinery”. Even if I am just screaming into the void, I’m going to keep doing it. I’m not going to remain silent because my voice matters too. Even if sometimes what I have to say is completely random. Even if I am a special snowflake. Even if you don’t like what I have to say. I’m going to continue to scream into the void. Choose this day whom you will serve, I am going to serve the Divine.

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Honest Faith: Putting God Back Together

Today I learned about a modern Jewish phrase and a bit of the story behind it. I was very intrigued by this story because it was a complete twist on the creation story that I was taught in Sunday school growing. up. I’ve always loved the creation story. There is so much beauty, depth, and layers in this seemingly simple story. I could go on and on about this story, and if you have ever had a conversation with me about the Bible you know this to be true. The phrase that I learned about today is tikkun olam meaning to repair the world.

The phrase is from the Mishnah, a body of classical rabbinic teachings. It’s based in a story called shevirat ha-kelim or The Shattering of the Vessels. The story basically tells of the very beginning of creation. It tells of God wanting to create so God moves to make room. When God no longer occupied the space there was darkness. So God said, “let there be light”. The light came to be in holy vessels that couldn’t hold the divinity in and shattered. This caused a holy mess (sorry, I just really wanted to say holy mess). The story says that this is why we were created. We were meant to repair the world by cleaning up the holy mess. To gather the divinity and bring it back together.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest creation myths and the possible inspiration for the above and the Genisis account (but that’s a whole other story), the story tells of the creation of humanity. In it, a god is sacrificed to make humans because the workload was way too much for the god beings. This god’s blood and body are broken and mixed with clay to make us humans in the gods’ image. Even in this story, humans are made to be a divine help to work and clean up a holy mess.

In Japanese culture there is an art form called Kintsugi meaning “golden joinery” it is a process of repairing broken pottery with a lacquer mixed with precious metals. The process and finished product are then seen as making the whole more beautiful and precious than before. It became a holy mess and the skillful work of a divine artist made it more whole than it was before.

In the United States of America, I think it’s fair to say that we are in a right holy mess. We are broken, disjointed, and divided on almost every major issue. Tomorrow will be the inauguration of a man who the vast majority of the country disapproves of.  For some reason, we are letting this pull us apart. I’ve seen friends start attacking others on social media for no reason other than the desire to be “right”. I’ve seen some horrible hateful things done by frightened people in order to scare others away. I’ve seen violence in the name of and violence against those perceived to carry the name of an issue that divides us. I’m not saying what side I’m on because honestly, it doesn’t matter. What matters is what I said last week. We talk to each other. We help each other.  We let things divide us even further instead of letting go of our pride and getting to the work of tikkun olam. 

We, human beings, are meant for the divine work of cleaning up holy messes through acts of kindness and love. In the narrative I shared with you last week we are the whole of creation. The things we do to further mess things up are things we do to further mess up ourselves. If we are to take anything from the Epic of Gilgamesh is that we have the divine in us. We are the holy mess. We are the ones tasked with cleaning it up. When we come together we are, in a sense, putting God back together.  As I said last week the only way forward is together, and when we come together the art of Kintsugi teaches us that we are more beautiful than we ever were apart or even before we broke. So here is our call to “put God back together”. Don’t divide anymore. It’s time to heal the world in a golden joinery.

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The 5 Things I Learned Taking a Break From Public Arguements

Admittedly, I’m a heavy facebook user. I’m pretty much on there all day, as I partially use it for work, and partially for keeping up with friends and family.  Recently I’ve been going through a lot of new things professionally and personally. I’m in the middle of this transition of thinking of myself as a young professional, whatever that means, to a parent. In the midst of that transition I’ve been faced with some unclear problems to deal with, and so I figured I would take a month off from the stress of adding more stress to my life (If that makes any sense at all.). I decided to run a personal experiment to help me reach that goal. I decided not to post on social media anything that could be construed as inflammatory or political. I did not limit myself from liking posts, just sharing or posting about them. Which, I’m not sure but probably, still may have shared them. I’m not sure about Facebook’s algorithm and what they have decided to share or not publicly with your friends as of writing this.  I started on December 6th and planned to stay away from these posts until today, January 7th. Here is what I posted on facebook:

As an advent and holiday present to me and everyone else. I started yesterday, but until Epiphany I will not post anything political or inflammatory. Just things I find amusing. Happy Holidays.

I stuck to it. I survived, and learned some things along the way. Here is what I learned:

1. It’s difficult

“Seriously, it’s difficult to not do something online?” you may be asking yourself. But yes, It’s difficult. There are several reasons why It’s difficult and they are other things that I learned along the way. But yes, this is most certainly a first world problem.

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I think this is mainly because of what facebook has become. Facebook is really a place where people share how they feel about the news and hope that other people feel the same way about it as well. Overwhelmingly this is what facebook has become. If you don’t believe me just take a look at Facebook’s Look back video for 2015:

2015 Year in Review from Facebook on Vimeo.

Notice, it’s all news stories. It’s how people reacted to all of the news going on around the world. That’s what facebook is embracing. it is a reason for people to sign on to the most popular social media network. So for an introvert who doesn’t really share how he feels face to face with people, it’s very difficult to cut off one of the only outlets to the world. The weird thing is that even though people may know that you are taking a break from these things they keep trying to pull you back in, which leads me to point two.

2. People just care about their own feelings

It’s true, especially for me. That’s why it was so hard for me to do. I wanted to share how I felt about things. Not that anyone cares at all about how I felt about something, except maybe one or two people. This isn’t just a bit of self-depreciation. 1334758902219_4673690_1

It’s something I overwhelmingly noticed during this time. People want to pull you back into arguments, because the more you argue with someone the more it validates their own feelings on something. Maybe I’m just being cynical about it all, but it was all my news feed was during the first two weeks. There were a lot of big events in the month I took a break from posting those things. People had a lot to say about said things. There was a lot I had to say about what was going on, but I decided to not share any of it. I chose not to post anything regarding those things, though I still read them. I still liked some things. But I didn’t give in to sharing. It really changed how I viewed these things. We tend to dehumanize the people we disagree with. That’s one of the things I think makes the internet and social media a dangerous thing. It allows us to remove human characteristics from a person and view them as only a name or a facebook profile photo. So then above all we favor one thing, our own viewpoint. The things we share end up becoming confirmation biased things, not things that change our viewpoint. Even if it’s something you believe that is way way way way outside of rational thought, you can find articles to back up your viewpoint. It gives validity to your thoughts and feelings, but I don’t think it convinces others to see things your way.

3. Being an Observer changes your Perspective

Before I took this break I had been called a wide variety of things in very quick succession, which sort of led me to do this as well. The things that hurt the most were ones that characterized me as angry or hate-filled. I decided to take a step back from my most public display of myself, and only post the things that brought me joy. I started to read articles and post with the lens of these questions: “Would anyone find this offensive? and why?” “Does it have anything to do with politics?” “Who does this serve?” “Is it just fun?”

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The more articles I read the more I noticed something. A lot of the things I would normally post were written thinking that people who opposed the viewpoint of the writer were thought to be idiotic, or imbecilic. The “other side” was often viewed as a dehumanized entity that was only worthy of destruction. Granted, this may not be how the authors intend their work to become, but it reads that way a lot. Maybe it’s a bit of my own transference. It is extremely frustrating to try and have a conversation with someone who opposes your viewpoint, and I can see how that could lead you to just wanting to take the easy way out of the conversation by turning it into an argument and dehumanizing your opponent. The problem is both sides do this. Nobody wants to just talk anymore. We do everything we possibly can to avoid hard conversations. We would much rather argue, because there are winners in an argument. I have noticed this offline as well. People do whatever they can to avoid conversations with people. Even the simple ones. Which is quite humorous. I mean think about it, how would you rather order pizza: Making a phone call or going to a website and filling in information? Why is that? Is it because you know that someone is on the other side of the phone possibly making judgments about your order?

4. The worst option is most often the easiest

I saw a ridiculous number of posts from people saying that the way to fix said situation “It’s so simple”, and more often than not that simple solution was probably the worst idea ever. Granted, as in ministry, most of these situations are solved in the way that would cause us to fail the least badly. We often face situations that are “kobayashi maru” situations. These situations are caused by people who have already decided on the easy way out. People who feel like the only way out of their situations or to get people to listen to them is to make others fearful or to hurt other people. As a person I was talking to recently said, “Hurt people hurt people.” Our first reaction is to take the easy road and hurt that person that hurt us back. An eye for an eye though just leaves the whole world blind…

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I realize by posting this I’m mixing fandoms in this section, I don’t care that much.

I love this scene from the most recent season of Doctor Who. I believe it breaks up every war, every argument, every disagreement we have into very simple terms. I understand that not everything is as simple, and this doesn’t solve everything, but when we sit down and talk it’s very helpful to figure out the better solution.

5. Change doesn’t happen overnight

I very much tried to narrow this all down to an easily consumable list. In fact I could probably add another 5 more and still have more to write about. But I wanted to end this on a happy note and with a lesson to learn from all of this. The biggest thing I think I can emphasize is be patient with people. I know that we often are like Varuca Salt in the Willy Wonka universe, we don’t care who it hurts we want it now.

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But change takes time. People wont change from an internet status post. They wont read a single article and suddenly decide that your way of thinking was the right one. It will take time, and who knows maybe you were the one who was in the wrong the entire time. I’m done with my personal experiment, but I think that I’m not going to care so much about other people’s reactions to my posts on facebook. I think instead: I’m going to think a little bit more about the articles I post, Try to see things from the other person’s perspective, realize that other peoples feelings are valid too, try do do things that are a little more difficult for me to do like having a face to face conversation, and be patient with people.

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