The Honest Faith: Join the Resistance

I’ve been focusing a lot on the problems recently. I haven’t provided a lot of answers, well, aside from my 95 theses. I think we are well aware of the problems, however. Things are getting worse, yes, but as a wise person once said, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” The outlook for our American way of life and religion as a whole in our country is rather bleak. Hope is in short supply, we are tired, worn out, and our ability to care seems to result in not much good. It does seem bad but there are those small breaks in the clouds. There is a light shining in the darkness it seems. As I have been re-discovering faith and a new image of the Divine, I do see light. There is hope. There is love. There is a resistance to the dark. Today, I ask that you join that resistance.

Many times over the past year, my faith was called into question. Not just by myself, but many people questioned my “salvation” and my commitment to the Divine. Honestly, it does sting a bit when people do that. They don’t know me. They don’t know my experience, or how much I’ve studied. They call my faith into question because I err on the side of love? How is that “christian” or “Biblical”? That in and of itself makes me want to have nothing to do with christianity. I know that you can’t change people’s minds on deeply held beliefs easily, but you have to try, right? This and just feeling that I don’t really fit in with “Progressive” Christians or even Atheists because I’m somewhere in between has led me to try to start my own thing. I’m calling it the Christian Resistance. Because, yes, I’m Christian. I’m not conservative, or progressive, I’m figuring out for myself my own theology. I’m listening to others and finding what is true in it all. My views aren’t very traditional on either side, but I think are inclusive to all. So today I would like to write about what the resistance stands for. You may be part of the Resistance already, and that’s cool, feel free to use the name. I call it Christian, because ultimately I do follow the man I believe to be the Christ, the Messiah. I won’t get into the separation of man from myth stuff, just suffice to say I believe in his message, and I follow him that leads me to resist.

I resist hate, of all forms. Hate is not beneficial. We’ve discussed this before about how even a little bit of hate can corrupt. I’m not a fan of the “Hate the sin, love the sinner” phrase that gets thrown around. I think it misses the point completely. I am angered those with corrupt intentions leading others astray. I do not hate them. I think they are misguided and leading others to be misguided as well. I am angered by the mistreatment of people. I’m angry, but I do not hate. This anger drives me to speak out, to speak up for the voiceless, the oppressed, the marginalized. I resist hate, because I love people. I may disagree with you on some things, but I’m willing to listen to what you have to say, and I ask that you return the favor. To resist hate one must love. Love is so much more than emotion, it’s an understanding, it’s a longing to want what is best for the other. It is imagining the other as complexly as you imagine yourself.

I resist the laziness of easy answers. Yes, I’ll admit, I am trying to simplify things to make them more palatable for others, but there is a difference between simple and easy. There are no easy answers. Sometimes they can be simple, but simplicity does not imply ease. The same with our theology. Laziness can lead to easy answers which end up being counter the entire message. Such as the shunning of certain types of “sinners”. That’s an easy answer. The simple one is to love, no matter what, no agenda, no strings, just love. That is, not at all, easy. Answers that are not easy require deep thought, research, and understanding. It is not easy to resist laziness, after all laziness is comfortable.

I resist power structures that have been put into place to subjugate, alienate, discriminate, or oppress. This was one of Jesus’ main messages. The Kingdom’s hierarchy was simple, God over all, the Son of Man ruling under God. That’s it. Simple. I could get into the complexity that is the divinity of the Son of Man and whether the title carried with it divinity, and then the complexity of the hypothesis of the trinity, but that’s way to complex and we are trying to keep it simple. The point is all people are people. No one of us is better than the other. Therefore, we should love each other as such. We are not better, they are not better. We are all just people. When we hurt each other we need to be held accountable for such. Though, that is not to say one is better than another. For instance, if one person hurts a child, that is one of the most egregious acts in my mind. I’m not superior to that person, but I do believe that person should be held accountable for such, I am not a judge, however. I do not know what an appropriate punishment would be for such a person. I’m thankful I do not have to make that decision. For if someone were to hurt my child, I would want the harshest and most painful punishment imaginable for that person. I resist the power structures because all life is precious. All human beings are human beings. We are the same, yet different. This one is complex and especially in today’s day and age we need to spend the time in deep thought, research and understanding to find all details of toppling these power structures as, yes, people will be hurt by that toppling.

I resist the things that keep me trapped. We were made to be free. In fact, Jesus said, “I came that you may have life, and have it to the fullest.” Now aside from Paul’s apocalyptic writing on restrictions to everything because he believed the Son of Man was coming within his lifetime, this life to the fullest meant that we were free to live life the way we wanted. This was not a free license to hurt people. No, It was a life free to live in a way that you could love freely, give freely, accept freely, enjoy freely, and listen to whatever music you want. (minus experimental jazz, because that’s not really music in my opinion.) If someone’s theology, or someone’s truth requires you to be trapped into service of them or someone else, that is not a good theology or truth. The simplicity of it is, don’t hurt other people, just live your life. That’s not easy thing to parse out at all. But it does simplify how to resist entrapment. Resist by being kind, loving freely, and living freely. The Bible was not a book meant to enslave, but a book meant to provide freedom. Do not let yourself be oppressed. Resist.

I wanted to write something a bit more hopeful this week as I feel that my writing the past few months has been devoid of hope, and rather dark. I do believe there is a light. I am resisting the darkness as much as possible. I know that I’m not the absolute truth in any matter, and that my theology is rather wackadoodle these days. But I am more than happy to talk about it. I’m more than happy to discuss where I may be wrong, and where I may be right. That is the wonderful thing about the Christian Resistance. We accept all, we love all, we are not all right, we are not all wrong. I noticed this was a highly under used hash-tag on twitter and on Facebook. I decided to commandeer it and use it to bring some unity to those of us who feel out-of-place in both the “conservative” and “Progressive” Christian circles. I certainly don’t want to be seen as a leader, but more as someone who will help those who need it. I hope that I may be able to help those who need it, as that is my form of resistance. The popular society bends toward selfishness, oppression, and hate. I will resist that and be selfless, freeing, and loving. So I invite you to come and join the resistance. May we find that we are not alone, and that we matter.

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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: Why Don’t You Care?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Honest Faith: Shut Up and Get to Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Honest Faith: Theory as Truth

(okay, okay I know I should have titled it hypothesis as truth but it didn’t have the same alliterative ring to it. )

Lately, Cathy (my wife) and I have been watching Bill Nye’s new tv series on Netflix “Bill Nye Saves the World.” A few nights ago was an episode on pseudo-science. On his panel of experts, he had an Astrologist Samuel F. Reynolds. Reynolds, in my opinion, held his own with the scientists on the panel. He made a claim that I felt was very profound. He said, “in order for astrology to be a pseudo-science, I would have to first believe that it’s a science. I don’t believe it’s a science.” He then went on to say it is an interpretive art. This changed the conversation to which Nye and the other scientists kept trying to defend the point of it being a psuedo-science. It was a beautiful clip, not because I believe in astrology, but because I saw the truth in what Reynolds was saying.

Have you ever wondered at how we know things about God, the Christian Bible, the way the trinity works, or any other deep theological thought? I have. As a youth minister I was put to task by teenagers almost every single week with, “Well how do you know?” I remember that there was this almost defensive answer at the ready  every time, “That’s why we have faith.” But I knew even then. All that we know of God, the soul, the spirit, and most of our religion is just best educated guesses. Most of our religious experiences could not be replicated in a lab, or if they are it is by some other means.

Earlier in the episode, Nye talked about the scientific method and how to turn a hypothesis into theory. You set out to disprove yourself, not to prove yourself. I have thought a lot about that in relation to my life over the past 7 months. I have set out to prove my faith and find what is truth and what is so many educated guesses. If you were to read back on my writings since I began doing a weekly post you may see some of my growths and failings. But as Socrates allegedly stated, “The un-examined life is not worth living.”

I was recently talking about this very thing. In this conversation I brought up this idea of theory as truth that I had been thinking about since I watched that episode. She brought up how most things in our lives that are just theories end up presenting themselves as truth whether they are or not. She also said that what is true for someone else may not always be the absolute truth. She had a statement about those of us who ended up believing someone else’s truth about ourselves. She said, “You’ve just been suffering under the tyranny of their truth.” That stuck with me and flipped the light switch that I’ve been trying to flip all week on what to write about.

I enjoyed Reynolds’ take on astrology because I believe it is true for a lot of things that we take for absolute truth. Many things are just an “interpretive art” seeing the cosmos as one way and you may take from it what you will. I mean that is what art is after all right? A piece that is meant to help evoke a feeling. Something meant to bring aesthetic pleasure, a visceral or emotional response, and/or a deeper meaning to a certain topic or idea. In the Kabbalah understanding this relates to the spirit level of our soul.

In his book “God is a Verb” Rabbi David A. Cooper writes about the 5 major categories of consciousness according to Kabbalah. He writes: “Ruach means ‘wind’ or ‘spirit’. It is associated with elementary consciousness and information that moves through the senses… Our ‘spirituality’ is founded upon the ruach level of the soul. It inexpressibly moves us to tears when we are touched by a poem, a glance, a work of art, or a simple moment in nature.” Granted a lot of what he is saying seems to go over my head since I come from a Christian background, but this part makes sense. I think that to me these things are mirrors meant to show us the deeper points of our own soul. (See last week’s conversation on my questioning what the soul is)

Here is a controversial question for you. If your church service isn’t helping you to better yourself or the world around you, why do you go? Isn’t the purpose of religion to really be a mirror to help us connect with the Divine who, as even Rabbi Cooper puts it in his book, resides in some of the deepest places in our own soul? I think if you are going just to be entertained on a Sunday morning, you can find a much more entertaining venue. If you are going just to appear religious, why? to what end? If you go to try and connect with the deeper parts of yourself, in an effort to find a connection to the Divine, I believe, you are going for the right reason.

My therapist, (Surprise! That was who I was conversing with about that above) comes from a Jewish background. We had a great conversation regarding religion, because that made me so much of who I am. In it I had an errant thought about Jesus. She had mentioned about the idea of masters of faith having put their own pieces of the Divine back together within themselves. That is why we can see so much of the Divine in them. So I wondered aloud about Jesus. Maybe Jesus was so in tune with the deepest parts of Himself and the Divine parts that resided within His soul that is what made him the messiah to us Christians. She thought about it a moment and agreed. Saying maybe that is what He meant for us to do, that we are to connect with the Divine in ourselves and each other.

When I started to think of religion as an interpretive art a lot of things started making a bit more sense to me. It began clarifying how we tend to see other’s theories (read hypothesis’) as truth. Including about our own selves. If someone sees us as imperfect and horrible there is a part of us that tends to believe that truth for ourselves isn’t there? As I’ve written several times about seeing the Divine in each other and the world around us, when we don’t recognize that God lives within the other we are hurting that part of them as well. We are hurting the Divine, instead of putting those pieces back together. When we believe the theories as truth we diminish the power of the Divine in our own souls. We let go of that part of ourselves and it becomes that much harder to connect with.

I love art. I love art of all kinds. I especially like renaissance and medieval religious pieces. The reason I do is because I think the artist put so much of themselves in their depiction of the Divine. I even love the creepy man baby things that are supposed to be baby Jesus? I have stated before about why I love mosaics and stained glass pieces. I love art because I feel it is a mirror to show us the deeper parts of ourselves. Those parts that are yearning to be put back together again. The parts that are waiting at the center of the maze for us to come and spend time with us.

So with all that being said, my big takeaway from my writing this week is for you to find something that holds a mirror up to yourself this week. Even in church! Find what the Divine is trying to tell you in that piece. Take that message. Examine it. Try to prove it wrong. Maybe that message is that you don’t have to suffer under the tyranny of somebody else’s truth any longer.

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The Honest Faith: What is Hate?

Last week a friend of mine asked me, regarding a meme I posted on my facebook page, “What is hate?” She asked this to get clarification on the context of my position regarding that particular post. She went on to clarify that she doesn’t particularly like the use of the word “hate” when it pertains to a difference of opinion. Particularly for the same reason that I explained I didn’t. I started to think a lot about that question and on another meme that I had posted a few weeks prior to that which was shared by the facebook page “The Celtic Christian Tradition” I posted it as the featured image this week.

This has stuck in my brain this week due to an encounter I had last week. I had a moment where I got very upset with someone. I was trying very hard not to do so, but they just somehow got under my skin. I brought this up in therapy, thinking that you know, it would be a place where the person you are talking to would back you up. Much to my surprise and chagrin in the moment, my therapist kept working to help me see the divinity in the other individual. I know right? How awful that I have to be the bigger human being. This informed my response to my friend a few days later.

My response was this, “Hate is dehumanization or not seeing the worth of the other.” To which I wish to edit now to say, Hate is refusing to see the Divinity in everything. I know that this country is a rough place to live psychologically speaking. I know that a lot of our problems are very first world problems. I know that we have so many differences with other people that we want to refuse the image of the divine in them or other things so that in some way we can be right. So why is it so easy to do?

I wish I had the answer to this. I know I’ve written many times before about our addiction to pride, our love affair with violence, and even our quest to see the Divine in everything. These are just bits of the problem I feel. I don’t have the answer to the question of why it’s easy to refuse the divine, or why we insist on continuing to do it. I know that I’m guilty of this. I know that a very wide swath of us writers are guilty of this too. I discovered this a few weeks ago with my controversial post about the status quo and the modern church. Anger gets readers. Controversy sells. We are sitting on the edge of our seats waiting for the next thing to push us off so that we can take action.

I’m not going to lie, I mean I am the writer of the honest faith blog after all, I’m guilty of this all the time. There is a man that I would love to refuse to see the divine in. In fact, there isn’t a day that passes that he does something to make me dislike him more. If I were to write his name I’d have about 60 to 70 percent of you agreeing with me on this. The problem is that the divine loves him too. I’m sure the divine isn’t happy with some of the things this man is doing or saying, but this man is a beloved creation of the divine. But I can’t pretend to even imagine what the spiritual life of that person is like. Nor should I, it’s not my job. Though I have written about wearing a God Badge before…

I think our goal of putting the Divine back together again means that we have to see the world as the Divine does. We need to see the Divine in everything, everyone, and in every situation. We have used this word hate so much that it has lost its meaning. I used to teach teenagers that they shouldn’t use this word unless they really literally meant that they wanted whatever it was erased from existence. It was tough but a lot of them really started just saying that they just really disliked whatever it was. It put the ownership of that feeling back upon the speaker.

Have you ever noticed when you say you hate something that you not only strip that thing of its goodness or divinity, but you also put the ownership of that quality upon the object itself? But when you say you dislike something you take ownership of that feeling. You are the reason that feeling comes up. It’s your own preference. It has nothing to do with the object in question. Hate is a powerful word that we often don’t use correctly. We use it to strip the goodness and love that the Divine has given to something. That’s not to say there aren’t bad things in the world that do deserve to be erased from all existence, but that’s a different conversation for another day.

What would a little kindness cost us? Even if we did dislike something or someone? Our risk is minimal, at worst, for kindness. A little bit of kindness goes a long way. I heard an interview this last weekend with Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg regarding the passing of her husband and the book she wrote about that transition. She talked a lot about grief and resilience. One little bit stuck out to me though. The Co-Author of the book was talking about how people, especially grieving people, are afraid of imposing on someone else’s life by calling them. To which he stated don’t be afraid to ask for help, and admonished those who were thinking about someone going through a rough time to just call. I thought a lot about that and my own times of grief. I thought about how the small kindnesses like that could combat the hate and anger that would threaten to take root in my own soul. That small kindness didn’t cost very much to those people. A few moments, a few minutes of cell phone usage (do they still charge by the minute?), a few breaths that in the long run don’t amount to much really. But for that other, could mean the world.

What would the world look like if we started to see everything like the Divine? What if we stopped using the word “hate” and started taking ownership of our dislike? Would those few small moments of kindness start to illuminate the dark corners of our world? Maybe I’m just a hopeful idealist, but I would like to believe so. I’d like to believe that if we took a moment to own our dislike put it aside and begin to see the Divine in the other we can make the world a better and brighter place.

Hate takes too much from us. I think it not only strips the Divine from the other in our own eyes, but it takes a bit of our souls as well. It twists us and turns us inward and away from the Divine. I know there are passages about God hating this and that, but I really think that should be given a different word. Translated differently. That is a different thing altogether I believe. Maybe a righteous indignation? But I digress. We are all stocked up on hate at the moment. There is enough to go around and then some. I believe it’s time we clear the shelves and clean out the massive warehouses that we have of this product. It’s time to start stocking our shelves with kindness.

You don’t have to agree with me on everything. You don’t have to agree with anyone or everyone in your life. You don’t have to see eye to eye to be kind. You just have to take a moment, give a call to someone who has been on your mind, smile at someone, give hugs freely to those who will accept them (DON’T BE A HUG ACCOSTER!!!), give compliments instead of criticisms, include the good feedback with the bad, leave a funny meme on someone’s social media profile, send a direct message, be a friend. Start small, the big things will come in time.

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Honest Faith: God of War

No, I’m not doing a series of video game blog posts. If I did, I’d probably pick a game series I enjoyed more than that one. I wanted to have a conversation about violence and our love affair with it. Last week I focused on our odd relationship with Pride, this week I want to focus on violence. This is something that I have a long history with, more thinking about rather than violence itself. The thoughts have popped up at random intervals in my life. Once after I wanted to show my wife the awesomeness that is the movie “Fight Club”, she became ill due to the violence depicted. I thought that’s odd I never really noticed it was that bad. Once when I was doing a project in college to survey, using the forum that youth specialties had on their main website (I wasn’t very liked there), what youth ministers thought about war. Finally, there is just recently, at church there was a discussion after service whether Islam was a violent religion or not. Since I have decided that during lent I’d find out more about Islam I figured it was a good discussion to dip my toe into. We had to leave early due to our schedule being tight, but Cathy (my wife) brought up a good point afterward. Asking the question is silly because the question itself is silly. Islam is only violent in so far as Christianity, Judaism, Buddism, Atheism, Sikhism, Hinduism, or whatever other -ism is violent. It isn’t the religion as a whole, it’s the people who follow it.

Back in college, I was a bit naive. Okay, okay it was more than a bit. I like to refer to it as my know-it-all jackassery time. So I got this bright idea that I would start a fight on a youth ministry forum for a project at school. I wanted to get people talking about war and why they justified it. This was early in the “W” years. I was a bigger idealist than I am now. I really believed that Christianity is meant to be a pacifist movement. I still do, but I’m not as militant about it (see what I did there?).quote-i-am-not-only-a-pacifist-but-a-militant-pacifist-i-am-willing-to-fight-for-peace-nothing-albert-einstein-8-74-45 Anyway, I just incited the incident by posting a question on the forum asking what people thought the Bible had to say about war and violence. I cited a few hypotheses and would push people to explain their answers. Needless to say, it got heated very quickly. I actually had back up too. My roommates made accounts on the forum to “Help” with moving the conversation along. I’m not super proud of this, but I was very interested in what happened. We discovered that Christians, especially youth ministers, aren’t very good at handling the opposing viewpoint with respect and kindness. Granted, some were antagonized and pushed by my roommates to explain further, but mostly I started to receive violent threats because I pursued the point of pacifism. I found it ironic, and it turned out to be a very good paper following. This started my pursuit into thinking about why it is we tend toward violence in solving our problems and in our images of justice. Oh and If you were one of those people we pushed way back when on those forums, I apologize. We shouldn’t have been as “troll-y” as we were. I’m also much more interested in having an actual conversation with you now, rather than an argument.

It was this project that really opened my eyes, though. I started to look at what the Bible and other texts that were important to our culture. I started to be more aware of the media I was consuming. What I viewed as entertainment, and what was just so much time wasted. I noticed a disturbing trend. We live in a culture saturated with violent images and sexual innuendo. Now I’m not a super pious person. If you know me personally you know I swear on occasion, like beautifully choreographed martial art sequences, I enjoy a well-crafted beer, and don’t care much for the puritanical outlook on modern morality. Much like Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic adaptation of “A Clockwork Orange”822750_020 we have resisted violence and sex so much as a culture that it has made them the pinnacle of our marketing potential. I could go on to talk about how this has reduced sex to meaningless pleasure and people as objects, but that’s a completely separate blog post for another time. We are talking specifically about violence. I began to notice that the majority of the metaphors in the Christian Bible are violent and war metaphors. Granted, this was a people that lived during a much more violent time than we do ( Research has been done ). This was something that people lived every day and for them, it was necessary to speak in terms everyone understood.

This informed a lot of what I began to think about for the coming years. It’s one of the reasons why I will never watch “Fight Club” in the same way again. It’s the same reason why I can’t make it through the first 10 minutes of the previously mentioned “A Clockwork Orange”. It’s the same reason that I don’t understand why people want to blame a religion or a text or video games or what have you for physical violence. The problem is not ethereal, the problem is us. We don’t talk about the stuff we are consuming. We don’t have proper conversations about our feelings. We don’t give emotional, spiritual, psychological, and cognitive tools to each other to help cope with our situations. We allow things to become explosive because on some level we do just want to watch the world burn. On some level, we find it entertaining.

I could cite the rise of reality television and our obsession with watching fail videos on youtube or elsewhere. But the thing is I think you already know that part of yourself exists. It’s that part of you that wants the hero to kill the villain at the end of the story to exact your idea of justice. Maybe you don’t want that. I admit I’m conflicted in those moments as well. I remember the days and months following 9/11 when all I wished for was vengeance upon those who hurt our country. I’m sure there are still those who feel that. I’m not saying it’s wrong to feel that way. What I am saying is that we need to open up to other people that part of ourselves. We need to talk about these things in open and healthy ways because otherwise, we are feeding the vengeful god of war waiting for things to become explosive.

I believe that the Divine is a loving god. I know that the vast majority of the descriptions throughout scriptures are contrary to that. But I like to believe what that one middle eastern Jewish man once told people about. A loving God that isn’t seeking sacrifice. A loving God that does not require anything from you, but to love what has been given to you. That may be a naive and idealistic image for me to espouse, but for me, it is a hopeful one. It is one that I think is gaining popularity. Despite the fact, fewer people are going to church, I think more people are embracing the image of a loving and peaceful God. Ruins of Viking ChurchIt may not be a conscious embrace, it might even be to spite those they believe were wrong in the past. Maybe instead of holding on and bottling up our feelings about things we are meant as creatures to share them with each other. We are not meant to be strong on our own. We are meant to be strong together. As I’ve been saying for a few weeks now, we are putting God back together again when we come together. I believe that was the whole idea of church in the first place. I admit for me it is now really difficult to get up on a Sunday morning and attend services now that I don’t work for the church. It’s tough to get ready and get my family ready and leave the house. I would much rather sit around in my pajamas and eat pancakes on a Sunday morning. But I know that it is important for me to be connected to the larger whole. It is important for me to come to the table and commune with others. Maybe we should think about doing something different than Sunday mornings, but that’s a different conversation.

Maybe I’m wrong. It’s possible. But I fear that no matter where you are on the political spectrum. No matter where you are on the religious spectrum. No matter where you are on the morality spectrum. The more we give in to our darker selves and keep them bottled up the more we are in danger of exploding. I’m not saying it’s not okay to watch, play, or read violent things. I’m saying it’s not okay to do it without questioning the larger whole. It’s not okay to do it and not wonder why or not share your feelings about it with others (in a way that is productive and healthy). It’s not okay to feed the vengeful god of war unknowingly.

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Dear Son and Honest Faith: On Regret

Dear Son,

Today I’m writing you a letter in joint with my series of writings on rediscovering faith. I’m doing this because I think what I have to say to you today has a lot to do with how I’m dealing with what I’ve been going through spiritually as well. I love watching you grow up. I love that I have had some extra time with you. But I’ve been going through a transition recently. That transition has caused me to look back on my life and think a lot about all that I have been through. Including what your mother and I went through to get to the point where we are now.

Yesterday, while you were napping we watched a movie, or at least we tried to watch the movie you woke up half way through. When you become a parent, you’ll understand how hard it is to actually sit down and watch a movie. Anyway, there was a question asked in the movie, “If you knew how your life would turn out, would you choose to live it again?” After the movie was over your mother and I were discussing what we would talk about in our podcast on Sunday. I asked this question of both of us. If we knew what we would go through to get to this point, would we do it anyway? The answer was quite clear for me, Yes, a hundred million times yes.

Later that evening, when you actually were asleep, we were catching up on our shows. One of the episodes we were watching was based around the idea that “our regrets are what make us human.” I was trying to think of the things that I regret the most in my life. There were a lot of little things like: making fun of that girl I liked because she didn’t like me back, not standing up to those who took advantage of me, thinking I could “save” someone at 2 am, not doing enough to help other people.  I started to think of all of those things in terms of the question, would I do it again, I realized a few things and I wanted to share them with you.

First, Even if I knew something were to happen to you, God forbid, I would do everything exactly the same way again. As if it were a magic ritual to get to be with you. Just one moment with you. Just to see one of your little smiles. Just to hear that magical laugh of yours. It makes everything worth it. I cherish each of those things so very much. It is and will forever be my greatest honor and joy to be your father. I thought about this in the context of the image of God as Parent. God knew. God knew you before the beginning of time itself. God knew all the crap the whole of God’s Creation would create, and yet God still Created. I don’t believe God regrets. I think God wants. I think God wants better for everything, but knows that God gave us the job of cleaning up the holy mess we got ourselves in. God made us for Tikkun Olam.

I started to think about it scientifically. I tried to come up with a formula for life. I know, a very ambitious task for me to take on right before bed last night. But I did come up with something. There is a phrase that is said very often, and because I’m writing a letter to you some people might be angry if I use the actual wording even if you will never read this until you are much older, “Poop happens”. That I believe is a constant in life. So in this formula of life, if you can’t change poop from happening what are the variables that we can change to have a good outcome? I’ve written so many times about my favorite quote from Lord of the Rings, but I think that lays out the variables for the formula quite well. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” The variables for the equation our own response to the situation, both immediate and how much we let it change us in the end. I think the sum of all the parts together give us a life well lived or not. I don’t think we should shy away from experiences for fear of the regret we may have. We have been given life, so therefore we must live it. We must live it in ways that amount to our purpose of repairing the world. So if the sum of the whole equation “Poop happens(constant) + immediate response(variable)+ how much it changes us (variable)=?” does not equal a positive repair of ourselves or the world, we must change the variables. Change the variables.

Thinking back on those regrets I realized I couldn’t change my immediate reaction to what happened. I could change my reaction to those things in the future, though. Right there starting to get into positive territory. I can also change how I let those situations change me. I can work to repair the brokenness caused by those things. I can work to heal the wounds they created. This morning on the radio I heard a man in an interview say, “It’s not his job to care about our community, That’s our job.” It struck me that in the grand scheme of things my regrets are just that, mine. It’s nobody else’s job to clean up the messes that I created. It’s mine. I shouldn’t regret things that made me who I am. I should regret things that caused harm or hurt, but that regret shouldn’t stop there. That regret should drive me to make things better, to clean up the holy messes that I have been a part of.

Finally, I came back to the original question. Would I do it again? This is something I think someone needed to ask me earlier on in my transition, but I don’t regret that. I would be a youth minister again in all of those places I was before. I would because I realize that there were small moments little things that I didn’t notice right away that needed exactly me to be there. They needed me to happen the way that they did. I suffered a lot for those things to happen, but I wouldn’t change it. I would go through all the pain and suffering your mother and I went through to have you here. She said something that made it all make sense, “The suffering makes you appreciate the good things all the more.”

Son, I know that bad things will happen to you. I don’t want them to, I don’t think any parent ever wants bad things to happen to their children. I can’t change those bad things will happen, though. All I can change is how to guide you to change the variables. I can help you to figure out what to do with the regrets you will have. They don’t have to weigh you down. They can drive you to make things better. I pray that they do. I pray that I will show you how to do that through my own life.

Love,

Your Dad

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Honest Faith: A God that Suffers

Back in November, I was having a conversation with a priest. I was telling him about how I was angry and upset. I was angry and upset about several things; the state of the world, my personal situation, and the political climate. We got on to talking about images of God. He said that the traditional image of God had become increasingly outdated and inefficient for the modern world. He, even though he didn’t like putting it this way, said we need a “God for Millenials”. He went on to explain that we need a new image that is more accessible and available for people in the digital age. He said he was really playing with the idea and becoming more comfortable with the image of a God that experienced things with each of us and was with each of us in a much more real way than we could fathom. I think he was onto something.

I think I’ve mentioned before that God was my imaginary friend as a child. I often would picture God with me taking walks, having chats, and just sit with me in a very real way. Or as real as a child’s imagination can make something. I began to slowly break from that image of God growing up due to different circumstances. I began to imagine God much bigger than me. Which is the normal default image of God. A being that is bigger and much more powerful than we can imagine. The problem with this image is that a big God is impersonal, unfeeling, and uncaring. This became my default for God. A being that was out there, but didn’t care about me and my little problems. There was a certain phrase that I heard repeatedly that reinforced that image in my mind.

I was a pretty annoying kid. I’m probably still a pretty annoying adult as well. But I went through a pretty rough patch when I was a teenager. I turned to the people I knew at church for help and I heard a phrase that I would continue to hear throughout my adult life as well. “I’ll pray about it.” I used to tell the teenagers that I worked with that if anyone at church, or even if I, said that to them they had my permission to slap them. It reinforces the part of the Big God image that is distant and uncaring. I understand it was a way for people to distance themselves from me and my problems. I even understand why they would do that, but I think that in doing so to the least and most annoying of us we moved the church. The church became distant, individualist, and impersonal.

We are in a defining moment for the western Church. Do we continue with this image of being distant, individualist, and impersonal; slowly becoming a cult of the uncaring god? OR Do we change our image of God to broaden what we once thought to be true, becoming more inclusive, including, and caring? I realize that nothing is every as black and white as that, but I see that there are a lot of issues that seem to be pulling the church in both directions. Just the other day a prominent “Christian” (sorry, I can’t judge this person, but what he says and his actions speak in a different voice to me) leader said that if we don’t fall in line and support the country’s leader we were going against god. To me, that seems very cult like and a product of an impersonal image of God. I see some other prominent church leaders who are pushing us to think bigger and stretch our thinking of God during this time to be more inclusive. Those voices I appreciate.

Right now in this country, we are being called to help those who are suffering or asked to ignore it. We are asked to believe lies as fact or to stand up to falsehoods. We are called to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God; or ignore, be selfish and distance ourselves.

The image that the priest and I talked about a few months ago has stayed with me. For the first time since I was a child, I was able to picture God with me in a very real way. I broke down emotionally on my drive out to meet with the priest. I cried about all that I was upset and angry about. I yelled at God. After we talked about that image, I could picture God sitting next to me in the car. God was crying with me. God was upset like I was upset. This God was both my God and everyone’s God at the same time. It was as if God divided Godself to be with each of us. To be alongside all of creation at the same time. This was a beautiful picture to me. It was the picture that informed my ideas about Putting God Back together. 

This is not an image of God that excludes the “Big God” but clarifies it. This God is both everywhere and outside this reality at the same time. This is a God that suffers when we suffer, who is alongside the protester at the march, who is building a habitat for humanity house alongside former President Jimmy Carter, who is helping refugees in foreign lands weeping with them over their losses, who is celebrating alongside those who celebrate. This is a God that is both your God and My God, but much bigger than that too. A God that tasked us with Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. A God that knows you can do it because that God is right there beside you doing the work with you as you do it.

I know this a stretching idea. I know that this is a little bit of a different image, because it asks you to think outside yourself. It’s uncomfortable to think about other people. It’s dangerous to go against the norm. But I invite you to get to know the God who has been beside you all along. The God who suffers with you.

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