The Honest Faith Presents: The Boulevard of Broken Dreams

A Youth Minister’s Story of being shattered

Chapter 1

At an early age, I wanted to talk to God. Not just the simple everyday prayers of a child. I wanted God to have an audible conversation with me. Some of my earliest memories were of walking around the large playground area behind my church-school while waiting for my mother to get done with teacher meetings talking to my imaginary friend called “God”. I often still feel like that doe-eyed child trying to balance on the imaginary catwalks made of concrete and playground equipment in an attempt to not fall into the lava that covered the ground all the while just chatting to God about my day.

I grew up hearing stories about these amazing Bible characters that did amazing things and had conversations with the Creator of the Universe. I wanted to be just like them. I wanted my grand adventure to start from a missive given to me from the Almighty. I think my idealistic nature started at that point. Nobody told me that God doesn’t work like that anymore. Maybe God does, but it never happened to me. I never heard a still small voice speak my name in the dark and tell me that I was needed in an audible and tangible way. Instead, I have a lifetime of bumps and bruises that show a lifetime of trying to do what I thought was right. Maybe it was God’s path for me, or maybe I had delusions of grandeur.  

Everything that I am writing may sound cynical to a large extent. I admit there is a part of me that is feeling that way. But in all honesty, I still have a deep longing to hear the voice of the Divine telling me that I am doing the right thing. That despite all my imperfection, and failings I am chosen to be God’s champion. I know deep in my bones that it will never happen, but there is still that childlike part of me that dreams it could. Maybe it still will. I pray it does. Maybe it will finally quiet the cynical realist self that wars against my childlike dreamer self.

I have found that it has a lot to do with the two religious selves at war within me. On one hand, you have the black and white simplistic approach to the Gospel.  The biggest problem with that approach is that it’s close-minded to the very large gray areas of faith. The other self-being that broad vast ocean approach to the gospel. This being that we only know the surface of what there is to know about God, Jesus, and all that took place. The biggest problem with this viewpoint is that it’s hard to find meaning in anything. I really want to think of things as black and white or good and bad. But in this world, there can be no such certainty. One of the biggest truths that I hold to in youth ministry is there is no “right” way to fix things, instead, we just have to find the way that we fail the least “badly”.

I want to think of my time with the church as part of a bigger picture. At more than 7 billion people in this world, mine is only a very very small part of that much bigger picture. There was a wonderful line in a tv show I was watching recently that said that we each come along and add our own color to the painting that is life. I like to think of life like a mosaic. Mosaics are made up of much smaller pieces so often broken, but rejoined in a way that makes the whole much grander than the sum of its parts. This is the story of my mosaic tile. This is my bit of the whole.

In the Big Inning…

I was never any good at sports. I was usually the kid that was picked last in our PE games. Except when it came to our “illegal” games of tackle football, the other kids discovered at the age of 11 I weighed a lot more than everyone else so I couldn’t be taken down that easily. What I was truly good at was using my imagination. I used to dream up entire worlds and situations for my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures. My brother and I would build entire cities for them out of cardboard boxes. We even had plans to build a robot out of empty pop cans, much to my mother’s laundry room’s detriment. When things got difficult I would retreat into my imagination, daydreaming about something awesome that could happen.
Though, I was always a very worried person. I never knew there was anything other than that. I worried all the time. I worried that my family was safe, that people would be happy, that I would get good grades, that I would be “normal”, that people wouldn’t make fun of me today, or that I wouldn’t get it together. There is nobody to blame for that at all. It’s just how I was. I know my mother would try to blame herself for that, but she can’t. It isn’t her fault. Biology just works in odd ways. I would say that my life of worry helped me to be a much more empathetic person.
There were a lot of things in my life that I think would cause “normal” people to be worried as well. I’m a firm believer in the paranormal. I know that may throw a lot of you off considering that I tend to be rather skeptical too. The funny thing is Jesus believed in the paranormal as well, but that’s just saying. I bring this up because as a child I would hear things and see things that would probably land me in some serious psychotherapy if I still did. There were only a few times when it bothered me. I remember that there were a few times when I was a child that I heard footsteps in the hallway outside my room when I was home alone. That freaked me out. It leads to me needing to have something playing in the background for me to get to sleep for a good majority of my life from then on. I’m sure things like that would cause anyone to have a break, but honestly, I dealt with it. My mom was amazing and giving us kids serious coping skills and emotional strength without even realizing it. When I told her about these things there were only a few times she looked at me like I was strange, although maybe she still thinks I am. I remember that when I told people at church they would immediately jump to the worst possible conclusion; demons, evil spirits, and someone having done something to deserve this spiritual oppression. It wasn’t. Maybe it was my overactive imagination, me actually being able to hear spirits on the other side, an imbalance of my neurotransmission chemicals, or any other number of things. One thing I can say for sure, though, it wasn’t demons. I didn’t encounter those until I was older, but that is a different story for a different blog post. (let me know if you want to hear that story)
The point is that I’ve run into mistreatment from the church from a very early age. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone. I know they did what they thought was best, it’s not their fault. Sometimes people need better training before they try to handle a situation.

My imagination was unusual to a lot of people, and in fact, if I were to show some of the journals that I had drawn and written in back then, many would still say that I was rather messed up. My sister’s big joke about taking abnormal psychology in her first year of college was to try and figure out was wrong with her two little brothers. I never did find out if she discovered something or not. I had written stories about a mad scientist who had invented the machine that would turn people into the opposite sex and then leave them that way to torment them. That’s just one of the many stories that I’m sure would make people wonder what was going on in my head.

This brings me back to my walks with God. I knew at the age of five that I wanted to be a preacher. I knew this because I knew God loved me. I loved God too. I mean we took daily walks after all. I imagined my life in the future. I pictured myself on a stage in front of vast multitudes of people telling them all about the amazing God who took away my sins. I had no idea what it meant to be a sinner at that age, but I knew that I was one because I lied sometimes.  I was going to be the next Billy Graham. I would often talk to God about this. I remember at one point in my childhood that I heard the passage about where every knee would bow and every tongue confess that God was God, I felt like I would be part of the reason for that. As I write those words I feel almost slimy and dirty for even thinking that.

Those visions of the future shaped how I went through life. I knew I was destined for something special. I knew I was going to change the world, so I was going to do everything I could to prepare myself for that. I memorized as much scripture as my attention, and patience at the time could handle. Thinking back, I probably could have done more, but I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s there was a lot of awesome things to distract a young man from a life of preparation toward becoming the next Johnathan Edwards.

My family wasn’t one who many would think much of. There were plenty of times when we were living below the poverty line. I remember there was one summer that all we ate was beans and rice. You wouldn’t believe how many different ways there are to make beans and rice. You may be asking yourself what this has to do with my faith upbringing, and my answer would be a lot. My father was a very proud man. He never wanted to ask for help when he needed it. He also knew the value of hard work. He instilled that in us very early on. Handouts were for other people, not us. We were going to work for what we had. My father worked hard to make sure we had the little we had. When he was between jobs he mowed lawns and did other odd jobs. When he had a job he worked hard at that job and devoted a lot of his time and energy to those jobs. You could say a lot of things about that man, but one thing I admire the most about him is that he is not a quitter. I guess that is why I find it so hard to give up on anything.

When I was in middle school I met a best friend who shared in my delusions of grandeur.  In fact, when we met I was wearing a t-shirt, my favorite at the time, that boldly proclaimed; “Satan is a Poo-poo head”. I wonder what ever happened to that shirt. I remember wearing holes into it and it had a few bleach stains, but I digress. My friend was the first who really believed that I could become those things that I imagined too. In fact, he was going to join with me in changing the world. We came up with this dream of starting a traveling “big tent revival” thing that would go and stay in a place until everyone converted in that area. I still kind of wish things worked that way. I miss those kids, they had so much potential.

My friend and I were forces to be reckoned with.  I started taking guitar lessons, and I would go and teach him everything I learned that week. We joined the praise team at youth group. Eventually, we were the praise team. No really, I’m not kidding. We were so gung-ho about it that the rest of the people who were doing it with us decided that we were so annoying they were just going to let us run it. I remember one night that the pastor, who used to be at youth group every week, came in and heard the “Christian Rock” music we were listening to and attempting to learn to play. He immediately flew into a fury and told us to turn off the devil’s music; It was not to be played in the church. He called us into his office after that. I can remember sitting in his office looking him dead in the face and saying, “God made everything right?”

“Correct.” He said matter-of-factly.

“God saw what he made and said it was good, right?” I said a little too smart-assly.

“That’s right.”

“Well God created music, and this music is good, so It must be created by God.” Flawless logic from a fourteen-year-old jackass.

He got red in the face, and said, “Fine.” We never saw the pastor at youth group after that. That’s how I know that we were only put in charge because we were so annoying nobody wanted to work with us. We formed a band. We decided that our big tent revivals were going to be awesome concerts filled with Christian rock that glorified God. We called ourselves Overflow because our love for God overflowed. We wore matching cross dog tag necklaces. You didn’t mess with Overflow.

My last year in the deep south of Texas was where I began to receive my broken edges in this mosaic of delusion. I’m not saying that everything in life was hunky dory outside of this. No, I’m saying that this was the first time I started to doubt God. There are many reasons why this happened. My parents’ relationship was falling apart at this time. Now, I don’t blame them for me being messed up either. They did their best. They are human beings. They are probably also some of the only people who will ever read this. But I believed, falsely, that if I were to follow God closely and believe hard enough that all things would be good. I believed that “all things worked together for good for those who loved the Lord.” I didn’t know that in that particular passage it means over time, not all at once. My parents going through that time caused the biggest crack in my “holy armor”.

I started to go through most of the things that normal teens go through. I liked people in a like like way. I got mad at my friend when they ended up like liking him instead of me. I struggled with my self-identity. The only problem being that I knew what I was going to be. I had always known, but how could the next Michael Faraday struggle with things like looking at naughty pictures and really wanting to make babies with any girl who was even the slightest bit nice to me. I finally discovered what it was to be a sinner. How was it that Paul was able to put away those childish things? Was the thorn in his side, girls? It had to be. I wanted people to see that God was forgiving, but if you go too far, God wouldn’t forgive anymore. I kept trying to keep myself and others from going too far. But it was a lot of pressure. The pressure was too much to me at times. I often thought of suicide at the time, or as I worded it, “Just going to my eternal home”. The only problem, that was a sin, and probably was going too far. I was a teen, I did normal teen things just in my Jesus bubble.

I finally cracked one night. I couldn’t believe that my other best friend, God, wouldn’t make my life perfect. I was doing all I could to follow God after all. God must just be a mean bully in the sky. How dare God let me struggle with feelings! How dare God let that girl like like my friend and not me!  That’s it! I guess I wasn’t supposed to be born! I guess I’m just worthless! I’ll show you! You need me! Those knees won’t bow without me! You’ll see! I don’t care if it’s going too far… Needless to say, I didn’t follow through on those thoughts and feelings. Thankfully, though sometimes I do wonder what would have happened to the world if I did.

These are dark thoughts that constantly plague me. Even to this day, I wonder if my family and loved ones would have been better off without me. I look at my son and wonder if he’ll struggle through those same thoughts. I wonder if he’ll be better without me raising him. These are things that I often try to pack away, but they pop up in the worst way sometimes. I just wanted to mention this because I know so many of us in ministry struggle with mental illness. It’s a problem that we all need to face and take care of. If you are facing some of these same dark thoughts, don’t worry it’s normal. Don’t let them tear you down. Get help. It took me a long time to ask for help myself, but I did. It’s not always easy, but you need help. We all need help… Anyway, back to the story.

I went to a Jesus camp the summer after that. No, it wasn’t as bad as the one in that one documentary. But it was one of those, week long come to Jesus camps. To which I barely paid any attention to the preachers, and tried to figure out if I could maybe start a long distance relationship with that cute blond girl across the room. The funny thing is that I ended up marrying a cute blond that really is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. It would have blown poor teenage me’s mind! It was that week that I actually had a come to Jesus moment.  It was at the weepy “testimony” night. You know the ones. The ones where everyone confesses their undying and eternal love for everyone, even though they have only met you like a day or two before. That night I suddenly felt God talking to me again. It was through a friend’s admission of being “not normal”.  I suddenly realized I wasn’t the only one who felt not normal. I mean really, who actually feels normal? It was in that that I heard God saying, “I love you. You are my own. Things will be alright.” So that night I decided that yes I am going to do whatever it takes to follow this vision God gave me…

Doing whatever it takes.

Life moves a little quickly. You don’t realize it as a child because you haven’t experienced enough of it to realize how quickly it moves. I wish that I had listened to the immortal words of Ferris Bueller who so eloquently said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” I look back at all of this, and even now at thirty-three, I feel like I got here way too quickly.  I don’t feel like an adult sometimes. Maybe that’s pretty evident to everyone else, but I know that I am. I don’t feel like acting my age, maybe that’s why I ultimately ended up in Youth Ministry. I couldn’t wait to start my life back then. I think that impatience is what proves to be my undoing time and again.

Midway through high school, my parents’ relationship finally fell apart. My mother wanted to move us with my Grandmother, what seemed like a million miles away. I had made friends, though. I had a band! We actually put on an entire concert, complete with a failed guitar jump attempt on my part. Things were finally starting to look like I could pull off this crazy vision of mine. Oh well, there is always a time to go. It doesn’t always happen when we want it to. It also, most times, happens when you least expect it. I got mad at God again. Like it was really God’s fault that crappy stuff happens sometimes. This was the biggest gray area I’d experienced to this point. I couldn’t find the meaning in this suffering at all. This was in 1999. My grandmother lived in Colorado, and the horrid nightmare that was the Columbine shooting had just taken place. Everyone I knew told me to beware of guys in trench coats. The suffering didn’t make sense to me. It still doesn’t but now I know that God doesn’t cause the suffering. There is no meaning in it.
I can sum up my childhood and adolescent years with a statement that was told to me about my mom leaving my father and moving to a different state, “You will no longer be under God’s protection if you move.” Needless to say, I’ve worried about the validity of that statement for longer than I’d like to admit. Who says that to a 15-year-old? I’m not pointing fingers, I’m not going to tell you who said that to me. But I want you to examine the impact of that statement on an impressionable mind.
We spend tons of money trying to tell teenagers to worry. We do it in the church as well. Worry about your spiritual life as well as all the worries of modern society. We are churning out anxious adults at an alarming rate. As was done with me, we are very much guilty of pushing children to be worried about “sin” and “falling short of the Glory of God”. These are very adult concepts. There is a ton of abstract in those concepts. Children are remarkably smart but the way their brain is structured up until they are of puberty age is set up to really only handle concrete information. We manufacture this worry as a demand for the supply of Grace that God has. The problem is that we know we are in need of love and acceptance from the time we are born. We know we need love and grace, it is embedded in our DNA. So learning this inspired me. It inspired my message from that point on. My message was going to be simple. There is nothing you can do to earn the Divine’s favor; there also is nothing you can do to lose it either. This was something that I had a hard time believing for myself as if I was the only one who was exempt from this rule, I have a weird relationship with pride.

I found a new view of God. It was a different side of God that I haven’t ever been introduced to. It was a side of God that loved unconditionally. This side of God didn’t have a “too far”. Whew, pressure off, well mostly. I found this image of God in people and places that I had been warned were not really Christian. I know you doubt what I just wrote, but it’s true. I was pulled aside about a month before we moved by the same pastor that I had thwarted on the whole Christian rock thing. He told me that, “those Methodists believe you can lose your salvation. They aren’t real Christians. You need to be careful!” The funny thing is that because of those long conversations I had with the pastors in the “non-Christian” Church really taught me what it meant to be a true God follower. It showed me that people were willing to put up with a nerdy teen, who felt like he knew it all. It showed me the tremendous patience and love that God has for all of us, even when we feel like we know it all.

It was because of the patience and love that the pastors, men, and people of that church had for me that I discovered what my vision really was meant for. It was meant to reach out to those who were like me. Those who felt the most vulnerable, and struggled the most with identity; those who needed the most patience and love: Teens.

There I went, set on this path to become a youth minister. I was going to do everything it took. I pushed, I annoyed, I learned, and I got distracted. Like I said I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s lots of awesome stuff to distract you from life. It was mainly video games. There really is only so much Unreal Tournament you can play until you have to get back to what you were doing. Eventually, I finished high school and went off to college. I decided to double major in youth ministries, and something that I thought would be an excellent complementary course of study, Theatre. I mean because aren’t all of us church folk just sort of acting in our own little plays anyway?

College really helped to reinforce my vision. I now was an educated jackass. I really took pleasure in showing people that they were wrong. In fact, I made it a point to stir the pot whenever I possibly could. Partly I did it just to show off how smart I was, but mostly it was to help break people of preconceived notions that I felt were dangerous to faith. I really wish I could smack my younger self and tell him it only helps to make people dig their heels in and think you are more of a jackass. It had taken a lot but I had broken free of a lot of unhealthy and dangerous ideas on God through the course of my schooling. I wanted to do the same for others. So, all my jackassery did come from a good place, it just was not a good way of going about changing people’s minds for the better. We’ll talk more about how this proved to be disastrous for me later.

I learned. I really enjoyed learning. I really enjoyed thinking about God. It was like my entire life I had only seen the surface, hence the birth of the new religious self. I used to liken it to the beach. If you go the beach and stand on the sand you have an appreciation for the beauty of the water, but it is only when you start to wade into it, do you fully begin to grasp the vastness of the ocean. All my life I had been told that only specially trained people could go wade in that water. Don’t worry about that stuff, we think about God so you don’t have to. My invisible friend became so much more real to me, and so much more complex through this process. I realized I would never fully understand God. Nobody ever has, nobody ever will; which is a wonderful thing because it means we will always have something to talk about.

My learning process expanded much beyond the formal education. I guess there are things that people can’t really teach you. You have to stumble through, sometimes very blindly, on your own. I know that it’s not supposed to happen as many times as it has happened to me. Maybe that’s the nature of my calling. Maybe it’s the nature of my idealism. Maybe I’m just as much a failure as all those people said. Whatever it is I hope that whoever happens upon this strange writing will not have to go through what I went through. It’s painful as hell and twists you into a neurotic paranoid mess.

My Informal Education

Learn by doing. It is an important mantra, but there is a huge difference between saying and doing. I had a lot of intern experiences. I was very eager to get at what I had envisioned myself doing for so long. My first forays into church work were rather short lived. Maybe that should have told me something. I worked a summer as an intern at my home church. I worked a few months as an intern at a church near my college. I even spent a summer working as a camp counselor. I even made sure to attend the National Youth Workers Convention every year. Each experience was different. Each experience taught me something new. Life is a learning experience. For what, I’m not sure. I like to think that it’s all meant for something someday. Like one day there will be a problem that all the cumulative knowledge gained from your life’s experience will solve. But that’s the simplistic religious self coming out.

One of the great things about going to the National Youth Workers Convention with your professor and classmates is that you get to meet some of the leading people in the field. I got the opportunity to meet a lot of big names in the Youth Ministry field. One of them my mom swears she knew in high school. One of the things I learned from that experience is that even those who have a small amount of fame thrust upon them can let it go to their head. I can tell you even some of the big names of my day are relative nobodies in the grand scheme of things, but they will still treat you like they are hot shit. That’s not all of them, though. There are some truly genuine people who can remain humble throughout. Mike Yaconelli was one of those truly genuine people. I remember meeting him at one of those conventions. He greeted us all with a smile and asked how the travel went. You could tell in his voice that he truly wanted to know, and wasn’t just making pleasantries. This was a man I was going to listen to. I’m sad to say that was one of the only chances I had to meet the man. I wish I had more of an opportunity to get to know what he was about because his teachings and writings are what I base a lot of my methods on. If you haven’t read “Messy Spirituality”, put down this writing go find it and read it. Trust me. My ramblings will still be here when you get back. Unless you are reading this during a Zombie apocalypse, then you are just going to have to put this in your bag for later. If I take nothing else away from those conventions, I want to remember meeting him and hearing him talk.

The summer I interned at my home church was an unusual one. This was the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college. I was interning with the middle school program. I lived down the street from the church so I often would walk or ride my bike over. I didn’t have an office there or anything so I would end up hanging out in the youth room. Often I would just work from home because that was where my computer was at. Can’t say that every day I worked the way I was supposed to as you can well imagine from my previous rants, I get distracted. There were a couple of things that I learned that summer: 1. Don’t try to hit on your fellow interns or volunteers it doesn’t end well. 2. I don’t know how to handle every situation (probably the biggest and most important lesson). 3. Just because I think something is fascinating, does not mean that everyone will think so too.

The church that I interned at near my college was a very short experience. I think it only lasted a month before they decided that they would rather have just the attractive female as the only intern. Oh well, every time I attended the youth programs or the church itself I felt lost. It was one of those mega churches that had a completely separate building for their youth ministries. They had a big stage, sound system, and even professional lighting! I realized pretty quickly that I did not consider that to be a church on any level. Maybe this was when the cynical part of my brain started to take hold of me, but if the whole thing is a production; where is the whole relationship aspect of our spiritual life come in? I mean there are some large youth ministries that do some very good work, don’t get me wrong. I’m just saying it’s very hard to manage size and effective personal ministry. I learned very quickly that I can’t allow myself to get lost in the show of it all, even though it’s very tempting. This shattered some of my vision from childhood, but I was still determined. I wanted a large program, but not one large enough where people could easily get lost. I wouldn’t let people get lost.

Sometimes learning isn’t a completely painful process, sometimes it can be relatively painless. My summer as a camp counselor was a very good experience. The camp staff did a very good job of supporting each other. It was nice. Every time one of us ran into a difficult challenge that summer the others would come around them and help them to figure out how to best get through it. This was one of my experiences where I would say that made me want to start a commune up in the mountains somewhere. Of course, though, life isn’t clear cut like that. This is what gave me a vision of what the church is supposed to be like. Even though I had started off that summer as a jackass know-it-all, I was accepted and loved just as I was. If you don’t believe me you can ask the other staff that summer. They will tell you that the entire staff training week I kept trying to start theological arguments with all who were unlucky enough to make my acquaintance. It taught me that God’s love and patience run deep. I think that many left that place thinking poorly of me, but at least while I was there I was supported. I remember that the valley after that mountaintop experience was particularly dark. Luckily, it only lasted a short while before I started my first “real” ministry.
After 13 some odd years of working for the church and approximately 30 years of deep church living, I was finally released into the wild. There are a lot of bumps and bruises I would love to cover here, but that would take way too much space in an already long blog post. I discovered something looking back on my time as a deep church Christian. I found that the simple message of the Divine’s incredible love was a very unpopular one. I don’t want this to be finger pointing or indicating of any of the churches I’ve attended over the past 30 years. Some of them were better than others at being the gospel, others not so much. But the one thing that was constant was the priority of those places, numbers.
As much as they would like to deny that fact, it rang true across the boards. It’s not just Christian churches either, it’s everyone. They are so incredibly worried about butts in the seats and money in the coffers that they will do whatever it takes to stay afloat. As much as they preach about relying on the Divine to provide, they tend to do a pretty poor job of actually relying on the Divine rather than their own ingenuity. It doesn’t make business sense to do any of the things most of the Divine messengers throughout history taught us to do. So I can’t blame them. I don’t know how a true not-for-profit church would keep its doors open.
Maybe I’m cynical. I did get to experience first hand the dark underbelly of church politics. I experienced the financial stress all too often of those places because often the first thing to go when a church is in financial trouble are the children and youth staff and programming. This added more to my already fragile psyche. It’s a wonder I lasted as long as I did in ministry. It wasn’t just money either it was the little things that we did to carefully position and play political games that stressed me out. Like I said, it’s not pointing fingers, not all of the churches I attended or worked at are guilty of this. Some, possibly, may be. But they are doing the best that they can.
After I was set free, during this whole transition time, it made me really question what it was my faith meant. I have been trying to strip away all the worry, all the manufactured guilt, all the things that came packaged with my belief and homesickness (a reference to a Fredrick Buechner quote I love and use often I talk about it a lot in the Honest Faith Conversations podcast which is why we devoted the first episode to explaining it.) . I lost that idea of salvation I had before. I didn’t want it anymore. I didn’t want to be “saved”. I wanted a Divine being to love me in spite of me. I wanted to break free from the self-created prison and be me. I didn’t want to live with the broken pieces of my life being broken anymore. I wanted to see the mosaic, the stained glass, the big picture for what it was. But, we’ll get there.

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The Honest Faith: Finding Miguel

This past weekend I was with my family at Toys-R-Us browsing the aisles for what we were going to spend my son’s gift card on for his birthday. I used to love going to Toys-R-Us and I felt the all to familiar joy of walking the aisles again. This time with a purpose. We were going to find something fun for our 1-year-old to spend his birthday money on. As we were in the section with the outdoor toys I spotted an awesome super-soaker. Before I continue I should preface this with a bit of history, if you haven’t read my posts before I was a youth minister for 13 some odd years with 4 years of youth min college classes before that. This moment sent me into an existential crisis. It only lasted a moment, but I suddenly realized I’m not that person anymore. I’m not the dorky well-meaning youth minister who buys silly toys for a future fun event anymore. As the moment passed I was left with the question that I’ve been asking for the last 6 months, “Who am I? How did I get here?” A very Talking Heads moment for sure.

Have you ever had one of those moments? Something happens that doesn’t necessarily phase you at that exact moment. It doesn’t really do anything to set you off kilter or anything, but it sort of just sticks with you? I think because, for me, I’ve had this common thread in the past few weeks of the same message “Just be yourself”. This isn’t meant to be revolutionary advice at all. But when you have been down the rabbit hole of “Who am I?” the statement of “just be yourself” can be world shaking. Especially when a large part of your identity was wrapped up in what you do for a living like mine was.

I’ve told you my brief story earlier, and you know that I’ve always had this picture in my head of what I was going to do with my life. I was going to be someone who led many to the Gospel. That dream was shattered, but as I’m constantly learning it’s just part of the larger mosaic of my life. After recording our podcast yesterday, my wife and I talked about one of the main points, removing the masks. She said, “The church really did a number on you didn’t they?” I replied, “It’s not just the church. I don’t know who I am. I don’t know how to be an adult in this world after being what I was for so long.” I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know my preferences and the things I enjoy. The biggest part of this all is that I don’t know how to “adult” outside of the church.

Maybe this is a problem only a few of us in the world face. But I do know that the vast majority of us, if not all of us, struggle with self-identity. I’m so often consumed with this struggle to find who I am and where I am going. In fact, I’ve had Paul Simon’s refrain from “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” stuck in my head for the last week;

Well I’m on my way

I don’t know where I’m going

I’m on my way I’m taking my time

But I don’t know where

The greatest thing about this problem is that it is causing me to slow down. To take a good look at all that is going on around me. Take stock of how I feel, what is my place in what is going on. Just be present in the moment. It was a lot harder to do that before. I always had my head in the future and thinking of what was to come. Those who are, or were in ministry can attest to this. Ministry is about that balance of keeping one foot planted in the present, and one in the future to prepare for what is to come. That balance is easily upset. We find ourselves so often living in the future and worrying about what is to come that we lose sight of the present. The present is where we reside, though. To find oneself you need to be here in the now.

I spent so long in the future, trying to plan for all inevitable catastrophes that being in the present is like being a foreigner in a strange land. You see that life has happened around you. Things didn’t turn out the way you expected. You may be pleasantly surprised that the worst case scenario didn’t actually happen, or that it did but not in the way you thought. One of my new tools to deal with anxiety, thank you therapy, has been this mantra, “I don’t have a crystal ball, I don’t know what is going to happen.” It has been surprisingly helpful and weirdly a part of me still wants to fight it. Maybe that is what it is to live in the present and connect with other people, giving up our Nostradamus goggles and beginning to see the world for what it is.

There is another song by Paul Simon that talks about being a foreigner in a foreign land and just being struck with that existential moment. The fun and poppy hit “You can call me Al” is surprisingly deep. In it, Simon talks about coming to that point of appreciating what is around you and seeing the good in it all. I think this is where the Divine resides as well. I think the Divine resides in the present, here with us. That’s one of the Divine’s names, isn’t it? Emmanuel, God with us, is meant as an image of protection for the house of David. I also think it means more than that. God is here, with us, in these moments. The Divine is there in the toys at the toy store to bring joy. The Divine is in the movements of a little one trying to take in all the bright colors around him. Maybe that is what it is to worship, to stop and be present in the here and now. To strip away everything else that isn’t us and just be. I am oft reminded of the line from the psalmist’s song speaking of admiration, “Be still and know that I am God.” 

I’m still looking for that big picture of the mosaic that is my life. I’m still writing a new story and script for me. I know it’s going to take time. I know it isn’t going to look like it did before, and I’m excited to see what that mosaic will be. I can see myself retiring at 65, despite what the economy says right now, with maybe a book or two or several published a good career accomplished in my new field and hopefully having made the world a better place for being in it. But that is the future, that doesn’t matter so much for the now. I can work backward and figure out how to get there from here, but as my mantra says I don’t know how this will turn out. So for now, I write, I work, and I enjoy what Is here and now.

I may not be a youth minister anymore, but I can still take joy in the fun toys at the store. I can see the bright flashy colors and feel okay with the world again. I can look at my son trying to stuff the toy that we just placed in the cart into his mouth and smile. I can admire the beauty of the trees bursting back to life here in the spring. I can be here, now. I may not know where I’m going yet, but I can see the angels in the architecture spinning in infinity and I’ll say Amen, Hallelujah!

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Honest Faith: The Least of These

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Honest Faith: Beauty in the Breakdown

A few years ago I was obsessed, like many people my age, with the television show Scrubs and Zach Braff. I particularly enjoyed his movie Garden State. He put together a wonderful mix of songs for that movie and there was one that particularly stood out to me. Still, to this day, it wells up “the feels” in me. It is Frou Frou’s hit “Let Go”. If you wish to give it a listen here’s the first youtube video that pops up when you search it:

My life, as one of my friends puts it, certainly wasn’t the one I signed up for. I have had several breakdowns emotionally, spiritually, and physically along the way. I could have let any one of those stop me along the way, but still, I persisted. There is one thing that through it all I’m reminded of. There is beauty in the breakdown. I can quote any number of things that kept me going throughout the years, but that’s not what this post is about.

On Sunday, my family and I attended a church service. It was only the second time we had gone since another such breakdown. Something there reminded me of this. The moments came together to suddenly bring me back to a place where I felt comfortable again at a small “c” church. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first time we had attempted to go back to a worship service. I broke down during the Eucharist. I felt unwelcomed and unwanted at the table. Because of this, I got very angry and upset. I realize it wasn’t rational. I know it is nobody’s fault. But it was something that just took me aback. I realize there are things that I could be justifiably bitter about in my life, but that would go to serve nobody. It doesn’t help me, and it certainly doesn’t help other people for me to hold on to grudges. It was almost enough to make me never want to go back to church again. But I made a promise to myself, my wife, my therapist, and my blog readers (Hey! Look you got a mention!) to try to find a way back.

Anyway, This week as I was sitting there preparing for the worst, as I am wont to do, something beautiful happened. Now, this may seem silly to a lot of people, but to me, it was one of the most beautiful and endearing things that have happened in a worship service in a long time. People kept missing their marks, there were misspellings in the bulletin, and the lectors read the wrong thing. Some may take offense at that, but to me it was beautiful. It was beautiful because nobody seemed to care. We were all just honest, real, and authentic human beings coming together to worship the Divine.

I think that is one of the reasons, out of many, that Millennials are leaving organized religion. It’s become too polished, too much of a show, and so much about the “entertainment value” that worship has become a shell of what it was. I did a youth group project a few years ago asking people why they go to church. One of the top answers was because my friends are there. I’m sure if you ask people what they love about a church, aside from disingenuous answers of the music, or the preaching, you’ll hear because they are family or some variation on that. Now let me ask you something, are your friends and family perfect, polished, and “showy”?

One of the things that Millennials value most is authenticity. I think that this is why I felt there was so much beauty in this breakdown of the service. It suddenly felt real to me again. It was a family muddling through the issues to do the traditions and rituals before us. We didn’t let the small things stop us. Maybe that is what the Divine intended all along for us. To be messy, to be real, and to be authentic.

What about you, reader? Do you find beauty in the breakdown? Is it easier to let go when others do? Am I way off base?

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The End of Hate

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.” –John 21:15-19

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
–Martin Luther King, Jr

This week is the anniversary of a lot of tragedies. Not only do we morn the losses in our history, but we have new tragedies that are very fresh in our memories. We weep with the people in Boston. We weep with those in Texas. We also weep with those who struggle with personal tragedies. I once wrote about wondering of God did cry. I think that God feels pain especially when we, God’s creation, suffer. This last summer I had the opportunity to visit the columbine memorial. This was only a week after the Aurora Shootings. I was greatly moved at that time. I wrote about that experience. I wept, as I did back then when it was unfolding before us on the news. Does God cry? Yes, I thing God does. I think that when we give in to hate, malice, violence, and evil to cure us from the same.

I feel the world is at a breaking point. Or maybe it’s just me. I feel that over the course of the last year we have seen too much. We have witnessed the mindless, and horrid taking of lives. We have witnessed the tragedies that happened through no fault of any one person, though we still seek someone to blame. I feel that in all that we suffer our first instinct is to find someone to blame. Someone or something to pin our anger on. That anger turns to hatred, and we end up continuing this cycle that leads to more of the same. We have found that the easiest path to take is the one that leads to destruction. It’s too hard to forgive. It’s too hard to love. We have used the words “Hate” and “love” so much that they have lost all their meaning. We have become numb. Desensitized to the motion and direction this carousel of hate takes us.

I have just returned from a youth retreat weekend. This was a mountain top experience for all involved. It’s weekends like this that really prove to me God’s love does exist. I saw a small group of teens and adults come fully into the loving embrace of the God that loves. It was beautiful. Words cannot describe how it is. I know that love. I strive to show that love. I often fail, but I try every single day. This love is so much bigger, stronger, better, and amazing than hate. It’s a lesson of mass construction.

A little over a week ago I gave a sermon about stepping outside of our box and going out to love. I believe the boxes we build for ourselves are built with labels, hate, and generalizations that help to wall us off from the outside world. I believe we all do this. I think that Christians as a whole are guilty of this too. We label people and justify our lack of love for them. Gay, Straight, Liberal, Conservative, Idiot, redneck, or whatever it may be we call others. Those labels create the bricks, and hate is mortar that glues it all together. We need to leave those boxes. God has already broken in and told us we are free.

I think we are living in a world that is in desperate need of the love we all preach about, and that I experienced. I feel we have sat in our little boxes for far too long. I believe the only way we could ever get off of this carousel of hate is to stand with the God that loves. The world needs people to love now more than ever. We need to stand against violence and hate of any kind. We need to say no more. We need to love. The world is falling apart and the only thing that can put it back together is love. I truly believe unless we begin to love, things will get a lot worse. Rise up! Love your fellow human being! They may be ugly, disgusting, or stinky; but they are a human being as well. They need love just like you and me. No one is exempt. God calls us to love. Will you answer the call?

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Through the Looking Glass

A few years ago I wrote a blog post about leaving from a summer of working at a camp. I really felt God’s love at that camp. It was a deep connection with those around me, the area we were at, and the God I love so dear. I wrote that it felt kind of like stepping through the looking glass, returning from wonderland. I had another such experience just this last weekend.
I attended a youth retreat weekend as an adult participant, which in itself was a great experience (not running anything and not having to worry about all the stuff that youth leaders worry about). This program is mainly put on by teenagers for teenagers, and supported by adults. Over the course of the weekend it was as if God slowly snuck into the campground and started connecting all of us to each other and to God’s self as well. We reached that ethereal and ineffable substantive experience of which I believe heaven is made of.
This was not my first time getting to taste what heaven is like. It is in fact something I strive for every day of my life. It is this feeling of oneness. To borrow a word from Hinduism, Nirvana. As i sit here writing I am wanting to describe what it is like, but I feel it is so much bigger than words. It is like being loved, accepted, welcomed, cared for, and at peace all at the same time. I felt this back when I worked at that camp, at an amazing concert, at various moments during my wedding week (including my wedding), and this weekend.
For those of us who were involved and connected during those moments it’s very hard to return to the places that we are from. It’s like you have changed into another person, but everything you returned to belongs to the person who left. It is very much like stepping through the looking glass out of wonderland into a dark reality. You try to explain to people about what it was like on the other side, but all they can see is a reflection of their own reality staring back at them. You feel disconnected. It was so easy to listen to and hear God in that place, but now God feels distant and unclear.
I do believe this is what the first Christians intended church to be. The first Christians were called such because they were just like that revolutionary Rabbi named Christ by his followers. They lived together in love. They connected on that deeper level. They showed the world how they were different by inviting them into this community. This community that loved each other, cared for one another, accepted everyone (most of the time), and loved peace. I don’t know maybe I am just an Idealist and create this beautiful picture that never truly existed. I do believe the concept is sound though. I do think that is a community we are capable as a church of creating. This is a big lesson, but I don’t want to spend all day writing this post. If you would like to learn more about the early church I recommend checking out Nooma video #15 “You”. Rob Bell does a great job of condensing a lot of ideas into about 11 minutes. You can purchase (it’s only a buck to watch online and 2 bucks to download) and download itHere.
My challenge to my readers today is this, strive to bring about the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is here and all we have to do is welcome it in. We can create the Kingdom of God all around us. We are citizens of that Kingdom after all. We need to fight against hate, injustice, greed, corruption, nonacceptance, and all those things that keep us on this side of the looking glass. Let’s allow God’s love to invade our world and revolutionize who and what we are as a people. God’s love is too good not to share.

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The Economy of Mercy

I am sitting here watching out the window at a familiar sight. It is snowing again. I love snow. I feel like snow makes the world seem new and innocent. Snow makes things difficult, I know, but thinking about the fresh pure white coating things receive before the hustle and bustle of the day begins. It is beautiful. It reminds me of weddings, Christmas, family, and other wonderful things. It is a sad thing that it becomes the dirty black gunk on the side of the road by 10 am.

This time last year i was preparing for the annual ski retreat for the Yellowstone presbytery. I taught about snow. I talked about how snow is like that blank canvas that we can create all things again. I talked about creativity, creating, art, and snow. I asked a question then that is in my mind now. Is this how God felt at the beginning of the world? So full of possibility, so ready to see what God’s creation will make of itself. God looked and saw that it was good after all. I wonder how it felt to create knowing that soon it would be turning to dirty black gunk. Or is that dirty black gunk just a part of the whole beautiful masterpiece God is creating still? In my own humble opinion I do believe God never stopped creating, but that is a different post for a different day.

As I am thinking of snow, I am reminded of all that has been going on in the world this week, month, and year. I often feel down about the state of the world. I often feel very upset by the mistreatment of others. I feel often that the world has succumb to greed, injustice, fear, and hate. I feel like thinks may get worse before they get better. I am reminded often of the prophets in the Old Testament of the Bible, who often warned those in authority about the path that greed, injustice, fear, and hate take them down. They warned of destruction and pain. They often said that God was calling out to them to come back. I wonder is God calling now? Are we headed down that same path that the rulers, kings, and judges of old trod down so long ago? Are we becoming like the dirty black gunk on the side of the road, or are we receiving the new white coating?

I was saddened by what happened Arizona this weekend. This was the reason why I felt like i needed to write. I feel like we are being pushed into hate and fear. I feel like every day we are  becoming more scared, angry, and violent people.   I don’t put the blame on anybody except the man who pulled the gun this weekend. Unstable people will just feed off the hate and fear that is already out there no matter where it comes from. No, I am not saying that we should blame anyone in particular for what was done. What I am saying is that i feel like it’s time we stop treating other human beings with fear and hate. We are all human beings. We are all the same species. Life is precious and we should treat it as such.

Hate, anger, and violence seems to be the answer to everything these days. I know that is the natural reaction to things as well. I am guilty of it as well. I know that i tend to get very angry and to hate people for treating others with hatred, angry, and violence. Jesus once presented an idea that was so counter-natural that it made people hate Him. He told us to love. Love those who hurt you. Love those who persecute you. Love your enemies. I wish that we could do that in all areas of our lives. What would that look like? I would love it if the politicians who make such a point of presenting themselves as “Christian” actually started acting like it. Wouldn’t it be awesome if political ads were all of a sudden positive. “Well I want to make sure that we feed the hungry, my friend would like to create a better justice system. Vote for whichever you thing we should focus on at the moment.” Wouldn’t that be incredible? What if we stopped forcing people to do things by using emotions? What if we stared just being truthful and honest? News reports may be more grim, but I think it would lead to much less stress and pressure on society. There is enough to worry about in life!

Jesus told us to not only show mercy and grace, but to go the extra mile. The band Switchfoot a few years ago had a song called “The Economy of Mercy”. In the chorus the song states:

In the economy of mercy
I am a poor and begging man
In the currency of Grace
Is where my song begins
In the colors of Your goodness
In the scars that mark your skin
In the currency of Grace
Is where my song begins

I was thinking about that today. What if the way we won disagreements, wars, and other such struggles was through an economy of mercy? Yes, compromise would be best, but sometimes you just can’t meet halfway. Sometimes there needs to be someone who gets their way. What if it was the person who was more merciful, and graceful? I don’t think that would ever work since it requires a divine element which we seem to lack. The song goes on to say:

These carbon shells
These fragile dusty frames
House canvases of souls
We are bruised and broken masterpieces
But we did not paint ourselves
And where will I find You?

I like to remember that it is stated that “God is love”. Really we have come a long way away from God. We are broken fragile dusty carbon frames for weak and helpless souls. I think these souls need contact with mercy, grace, and love to survive. I think we need that to recharge and fill our souls. What I find most interesting is that it is just waiting there for us to plug into, but we choose to ignore it. We feel more comfortable as broken beings than full completed ones. Why is that? Why can’t we love each other? Why is it so hard to love our enemies? Why is it so hard to love those who persecute us? Why must we vilify them, instead of befriending them?

I look at the snow and i think that we always have a second chance. The snow always reminds me that there is another chance to create. A new place for us to create every day. It is up to us whether we create something beautiful or something dirty and black. It is up to us whether we fill our worlds with love or hate. It is up to you to decide to love or hate. You decide what to fear and what to accept. Don’t let anyone else sway that. Make up your own mind. As for me I choose love. I choose to create beauty. I know I don’t always succeed. I know I fail a lot and end up creating dirty black pieces sometimes.The most wonderful thing is that God still uses those dirty black pieces to create a wonderful masterpiece.

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The Continuing Adventures of Missing the Point

I know I often write about faith and culture, about the dichotomy that does not exist between them; despite the constant rhetoric from the western church that it does. I was sorting through my I-tunes library this morning in an attempt to get more of my good music that I haven’t listened to in a while onto my I-pod. (wow, how yuppy do I sound right now) I came across a song by Steven Curtis Chapman that I loved when it was first released. My friend Johnny G. can attest to that! Anyway i would like to share the lyrics with you before moving on:

See the Glory

By: Steven Curtis Chapman

I never did like the word mediocre
I never wanted it to be said of me, oh, no
Just point me to the top and I’d go over, over
Looking for the very best that could be
So what is this thing I see
Going on inside of me?
When it comes to the grace of God
Sometimes it’s like …

I’m playing Gameboy standing in the middle of the Grand Canyon
I’m eating candy sittin’ at a gourmet feast
I’m wading in a puddle when I could be swimming in the ocean
Tell me what’s the deal with me
(I know the time has come for me to)
Wake up and see the glory

Every star in the sky tells His story, oh
And every breeze is singing His song
All of creation is imploring
Hey, come see this grand phenomenon
The wonder of His grace
Should take my breath away
I miss so many things when I’m content with …

How could I trivialize it
This awesome gift of God’s grace?
Once I have come to realize it
I should be speechless and amazed

Wake up and see the glory
Open your eyes and take it in
Wake up and be amazed
Over and over again

God’s love is calling to you and to me
Wake up, wake up
Open your eyes

Yesterday I was chatting with the pastor of the church i work at. She had me looking for a quote which i was unable to find, despite my internet prowess. Her friend had found it before us and this made me think as well:

Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”

—Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), pp. 40-41.

I think that the unthinkable has happened. We have become complacent with mediocrity. We are content to live our lives ignorant of the greater reality that surrounds us everywhere we are. Have we gotten so used to the amazing that it doesn’t phase us anymore?

I am currently sitting in my office which faces the park and the Rimrocks beyond that. It is so beautiful and green. We have had a very long winter and in fact it keeps trying to sneak back in the door without going through the usual seasons of summer and winter first. I see people running around the park playing, picnic-ing, and enjoying the surroundings. I wonder though, how many of us have just taken the time to observe the incredibleness of spring. We have come out of a season of death and cold. We are now observing the season of new life. A resurrection of creation that is taking place all around us in the northern hemisphere. We miss the point.

Unfortunately, I feel this story is true about the majority of the western church as well. We are missing the point of the incredible gospel that is told to us every day. I mean we hear the words “God loves you”, but do any of us really believe it? Or do we rather go through the motions to just be labeled as “spiritual”, “holy”, or “religious”? How many of us actually believe that? How many of us actually let it impact us? Like Anne Dillard said, We are children playing on the floor with our chemistry sets! We have no idea the power and the beauty of God’s love, power, and care for us! We have put those things aside like they didn’t matter. We are missing the point.

The church has become so influenced by culture that the church has become an agent of culture. We just end up reinforcing the ideas of general society instead of becoming the counter cultural revolutionists that Jesus once was. We have put a beauty pageant sash on Jesus, and made him up. He doesn’t look like the same person. He now looks like this nice guy who likes everyone and pets little lambs. That isn’t Jesus. Do you know that man? He was a counter culture reformer. He was telling people that the kingdom of God is here! He said that God had already made peace with the world. We didn’t have to earn God’s favor! I think it’s funny that the church likes to quote so often the verse that states “Be in the world, not of the world” John 8:23b, Jesus isn’t even talking about culture there at all! Jesus is talking about belief. He was saying he was different than all the other teachers. The dichotomy that doesn’t exist should be our message. It should be the power and message of the true gospel, which states: “God loves you, there is nothing you can do about it!” That is what should set us apart from the world. The world that wants you to think that you have to appease the powers that be. This, unfortunately, has become the “gospel” the western church is obsessed with and therefore made it into an agent of culture. This “gospel” states: “be moral and turn from your evil ways and maybe God will take notice of you”. There is a whole lot more to this idea that will have to be saved for a different post on a different day.

I think it is rather appropriate that Lent takes place during the winter and usually ends toward the beginning of spring. It’s like God is using the whole world to tell us, “There is always a second chance!” Wow, that is incredible is it not? God loves us so much that there is nothing at all we can do to screw it up. No matter how bad we get,  No matter how much we ignore it or God, No matter the circumstances God loves and forgives us! That is the Good News is it not? If we truly believed that why don’t we live like it? Do you live like God loves you? Do you live like God loves everyone and everything?

I don’t know about you, but I want to live like that. I don’t want to continue overlooking the beauty and the grace that surrounds me every day. I don’t want to continue ignoring the power and majesty of God’s love and grace! God is here! God is now! God’s kingdom is here! God’s kingdom is now! I am a citizen, are you?

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Does God cry?

So this month i have been thinking a lot about the existence of God. I was set into this pattern of thought by the biggest question on our high schooler’s list of topics they wanted to discuss, “Does God Exist?” As i was in thought on this I was reminded of the Great philosophers and one who just happened to think something. I was brought back to My Philosophy 101 class. I am not going to summarize their works, because i don’t believe i can do them justice, just the thoughts that came from their works.

I started with Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”.  What if our existence is just a glimpse at blurry shapes and shadows on the opposite walls of a cave. If there is so much more outside of us and we have no idea. I truly believe that Jesus was one who ventured “outside” the cave and came to tell of of the truths and beauty of a reality that we cannot at this moment see.

Then I moved on to Aristotle’s “Unmoved mover”.  The truest form of evolution in my own opinion. I do believe that we are all trying to evolve into something greater than ourselves. There had to be something to put us all into movement. Now I can’t believe it was just a big bang and done. That is so impersonal to me. I do believe that God caused the Big bang. Though here is something that will blow your mind later when you are thinking about it, I don’t believe there was a point in eternity when God did it. God does not exist in our concept or perception of time and space, God’s fingerprints are on time, space, and all matter. and we are all evolving to the become closer or at one with the “unmoved mover”.

Then I moved on to Descartes.  Despite the claim that he is the father of modern philosophy, i don’t feel set us on the right track of existential and philosophical thought; but that is just me. Descartes most famous quote “Cogito, ergo sum” that came from his “Discourse on Method” was not the only thing to come from that treatise. His weakest argument was that by all reasoning there exists a God and therefore you can reason, or something to that end. I do believe he was on the right track though. I do believe yes I do exist because i can think, i can reason. There has to be something that created me and my ability to reason.

In the long run i should have started with Descartes and worked my way backwards…  Because here is what i came to as a conclusion as to  what I think for myself. I exist. Something must have created me, because I’m in a constant evolutionary state to become something better. That being must exist outside myself and my own perceptions and therefore must be better than me. So this other existence must be clearer and more beautiful than my limited mind can fathom. How am I to really know what exists out there, but if only someone who has viewed and been a part of the other existence came into my own and explained it to me.

So on Wednesday evening I presented my “evidence” for why i logically believe in God. Which, granted is not a very genius article of evidence, but it is my evidence. We are going to visit this again this Wednesday evening and our “illogical” reasons for why we believe God exists. I use the term loosely, but it seems others do not (which is the reason i write this today, but im getting to that). These reasons are:  “Well the earth is so beautiful, there must be a God.” “There could not be a power as amazingly destructive, creative, and beautiful as Love without a designer who is the embodiment of this power.” Things along those lines. I asked the students to do two things this week to prepare for the discussion. First, I handed out Photo paper and asked them to create. I asked them to put on the paper their own personal evidence for the existence of God. (or a being that is higher than them. Some students are still struggling with doubt.) The second was one i warned them about first. I warned them that if they do this that it could change their lives. It could ruin them forever. It is dangerous. I truly believe it is, because of this idiom, “ignorance is bliss.” I asked them to seriously with a sincere heart to ask God to reveal God’s self to them. I was blown away by their response. They were excited, scared, and curious about this. They asked me to tell the story of how God is revealing God’s self to me. So i did. That right there confirmed why i do what i do.

So anyway today as i was randomly skipping about facebook I came across a fanpage for the “Biblethumper” app for Iphone and Ipod touch. I read some of the stories on the wall and checked out what it was and then i discovered something that disturbed me. Well disturbed probably too strong of a word, but it unsettled me. I know there are a lot of people who find Christians and Christianity to be a joke. Quite honestly, I find popular churchianity (what most people claim is Christianity) to be a joke as well, but that is a different post for a different day. What i found was this. I found a book that was written using the Bible to prove that God hates you if God exists so you should hate God back. My heart sank. I wonder if God was crying as this person wrote that. I read a chapter and I felt like someone could not have missed the subtle love, beauty, and brilliance of Scriptures any more than this. Granted, it is written as a farce and comedy, but too many people have come to view the Bible this way. The Bible has become irrelevant and weaponized to dupe the mass public into believing what manipulative people want them to believe. If you want a good picture of this check out “The Book of Eli”. It was an incredible movie, but i believe the premise to be true that “Holy” books are used as a weapon… Anyway, I don’t believe that the Bible is a weapon. I believe it does hold amazing and beautiful truth about who and what God is. I just feel that we have forgotten how to read it. I do believe it is used to hurt and justify all sots of atrocities claimed to be done in God’s name. In fact, Hitler used scriptures to justify the holocaust. The southern churches used scriptures to justify slavery. The western church still uses the scriptures to discriminate against homosexuals (again another post for another day). So my question is this. Does God cry? Does God cry when God’s creations refuse to believe God exists? Does God cry when we separate ourselves from God? Does God cry when we use God’s own words and creation to hurt each other? I know it would hurt me…

UPDATE: I thought about this and i feel like I may come across as thinking that we may need more apologetics in the church. I don’t believe God needs proof. I think God can defend himself. I think that the proof is all around us, we just need to open our eyes to it. I’m just wondering if God is hurt when we refuse to see that evidence that God loves us dearly. Not evidence of creation,  or anything else of the sort; just that God loves us and has not given up on us.

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