The Honest Faith: Fear

In his book “The Devil and Miss Prym” Paulo Coelho wrote “Fear again. If you want to control someone, all you have to do is to make them feel afraid.” While this is from a novel it does display a deeper truth about our world. Fearmongering has been a trend of those in power for many years. In the “Nuremberg Diary” Gustave Gilbert writes how Nazi leader Hermann Goering explained this tactic “The people don’t want war, but they can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and for exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.” I read once in a novel, I can’t remember which one for the life of me at the moment, that fear was how the secret society was controlling the world since the end of the cold war. Even though it was a silly plot device in a novel it still held some truth to it. Have we been controlled by fear?

Recently, I’ve joined a digital community that is made up of people who have left the Evangelical christian culture. Some have left christianity altogether, some are still trying to find out what is true in the arena. One of the major themes I’ve noticed in the background of many of these people is the use of fear as a manipulation tool. This has been done through Fearmongering or creating a culture of fear. As I have been working through my anxiety to claw my way back out into some resemblance to normalcy, I noticed that so much of that anxiety was a manufactured fear of the false truths I let people lord over me. I have thought a lot about my career inside the church walls and I noticed the places where I was the most abused were places that had a culture of fear so as to give the priest or pastor some sort of power over the congregation. This wasn’t all churches, and I’m not going to point fingers. That wouldn’t be helpful, suffice to say I experienced it first hand. I’m trying not to be afraid anymore.

What are you afraid of? Why are you afraid of it? Who told you or taught you to be afraid of whatever it is? This is a big question to ask ourselves as it will help to determine why it is we do some of the things that we do. In 1976 a satirical film titled “Network” took a look at the unusual nature of the broadcasting industry. The unusualness of this satire is that it became reality. This reality was centered around people’s anger, yet when it was found to be unsustainable shifted to this fearmongering that most news networks have resorted to. They’ve been doing it for a long time, some have perfected that art through their far right or far left ideologies. I don’t think I need to name names again, as you probably already know what I refer to and it isn’t helpful.

There is so much to be afraid of. If you turn on the tv, listen to the radio, or even go to church on a Sunday morning you are told to be afraid. America has been kept in this constant state of fear since the end of World War II. I’m not going to tell you that there isn’t anything to be afraid of because that is just reductionistic and not true. Yes, there are things to be afraid of, but in the grand scheme of things they are small. These fears, statistically speaking, have almost a non-existent amount of happening to you. I know that doesn’t make it better. But it helps to remember what is real, tangible, and possible. I can recite a number of platitudes and verses about how not to be afraid, but again, I know that doesn’t help. What does help, is knowing that you aren’t alone. You matter. What you do can make a difference. What helps is naming the fear, knowing it exists, and reminding yourself of how small it is compared to you.

With that being said I want to turn our attention to the church. I know that what I’m about to write may be controversial. Though let me preface it by saying that I follow Yeshua. I’m a firm believer in the Divine. My beliefs have changed a lot, but I still consider myself to be Christian. I’m not asking you to get rid of your beliefs, I’m just asking you to have an open mind about what I’m about to say. I want you to examine your faith. Take a close look at why you believe in the Divine, and/or Jesus. Was it because you were told there was something to fear? Were you coerced into church and all that Churchianity stuff by a fear that your immortal soul would be forever condemned if you didn’t? Were you taught by using Pascal’s wager? Was there an altar call at every service at your church? It may be that your pastor or priest did not intentionally do this to control their congregation. It probably wasn’t even their fault. They were probably genuinely concerned for your immortal soul. That isn’t to say they weren’t complicit in the culture of fear within the church. Have you joined groups or volunteered for something within the church out of this fear? Maybe it was fear that other people would gossip, or that the one old church lady would judge you if you didn’t. But it was there, wasn’t it? Take a good hard look at your faith and your church. Are you going willingly, or are you being guilted or coerced into it by fear?

Something that I have learned through my year of therapy, I have since “graduated”, is that when you realize a fear is there, when you name the fear, and realize how small it is in comparison to yourself, you can then begin to stand against it. I have found this through the man Yeshua. I found that he taught not fear, but power. Power to those who were powerless before. He taught those who were kept in this state of fear to stand up and topple these fears by being human. He taught those who were outcasts of society that there was no system to fear. He even said the faith (read: longing) of a mustard seed could move mountains. A little bit of longing for the world to be a better place could drive you to make it so. That is bigger than fear. Action speaks louder than fear. Bravery can only be accomplished in the face of fear. I’ve written about questioning and the importance of always questioning. I’ve written about a fair number of things at this point. But I think this is the important point about this. If you are too afraid to question those who lead you, why do you allow them to lead you? If you are being kept in subjugation through fear, you need to stand up and question that fear. You need to question those who tell you to fear. You may find there was nothing to fear all along.

I’m not going to tell you not to be afraid. That isn’t helpful. Instead, I’m going to tell you to examine that fear. Figure out what is causing it. Look at it in the grand scheme of life. In comparison to who you are it is small. So stand up, be brave. Don’t let that fear pretend it is bigger than you because it isn’t. If you are struggling with fear, If you are being forced to do something out of fear, or if you feel the fear is too big for you to face alone please seek help. You are not alone, after all. Send someone you trust a message. Or even send me a message. I would be happy to help, though I am not licensed professional in any way. You don’t have to face it alone. The fear is not bigger than you. You are bigger than the fear. Don’t let fear be your faith, Yeshua never taught that. Let love be your faith. Let Love set you free. Your faith, beliefs, and worldview should not be something that is brought about by fear. They shouldn’t even be something that feels like a burden or restricting. Instead, it should be freeing. Freeing to love, and be brave in the face of that fear. Freeing to stand and fight for others to be released from that fear. Love frees all. Love conquers all. Love is love. Love can never be a sin. So go free others with that love. Fear not, for I am with you. You are not alone, you matter!

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The Honest Faith: 95 Theses for a Modern Church

I’ve been doing a lot of listening lately to many different voices and many traditions of faith. I’ve noticed a lot. I’ve found a lot and learned a lot. I’ve listened to a lot of Protestant voices, Catholic voices, and Orthodox voices. There is a resounding chord that is played across those voices. There is a thread that connects all but is also very distant to many. I’ve listened to Muslim, Buddist, Jewish, Christian, and Other voices as well. It has been very helpful to get some objectivity and difference of opinion on my own religious tradition as well. I have done a lot of deconstruction and am working to reconstruct what it means to be a Jesus follower for me. Since it is the Reformation week and this is the 500th anniversary of the time that Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the chapel door at Wittenburg I felt it would be helpful for me to write my 95 theses of a reconstructed Jesus Follower theology. I use the term Ancient-Future because as I have been learning I learned that the Christianity of old looked much much different than the Christianity of today. I think we lost a lot. So in order to help with some reconstruction here are my 95 theses:

  1. When Yeshua preached the Gospel He said that the Kingdom of the Divine was “at hand” or here and now meaning that the time of good was now or soon, and so stop doing bad things. (Matt 4:17, Mark 1:15, Luke 3:2-3)
  2. Yeshua’s message of repentance was about power systems and stop treating others worse than dirt.
  3. This repentance was done through your life, not just your belief. Faith without works is dead. (James 4)
  4. The Divine doesn’t care about “sin” but more cares that we do what was asked of us throughout both Jewish, and Christian scriptures which is to we love the Divine, love others, and love ourselves.
  5. No other person can define what your religious practice is “supposed” to look like. That’s different for each person. We all encounter the Divine in our own ways.
  6. Shovelling guilt upon people in order for them to be “moral” is no way to make good people, only causes abuse and anxiety
  7. There is no hierarchy in the Kingdom of the Divine, other than the Divine itself being over all. We are all equal.
  8. As Yeshua taught, the law was made for man, not man for the law. It’s there for us to know how to be good humans, not for us to be slaves to some code.
  9. We have no idea if there is an afterlife. We do not know if there is an actual Heaven or Hell. We create them every day in how we treat others, so make your world Heaven rather than Hell.
  10. There are many “spiritual” leaders who will try to sell you their way of understanding. No one person has it all figured out. If they say they do they are trying to sell you something.
  11. Power and control are only held by those we give it to. When that power is abused it is our duty to speak up and take back the power we gave to them.
  12. Knowledge and education are not bad things. It is good to learn all you can, if it shakes what you believe, all the better. Learn what is true.
  13. Death calls to life. Throughout nature, we see this. We are a resurrection people. Sometimes things need to die in order to be reborn. This is change. It hurts, but something new is coming.
  14. Love is love. Love cannot be sin. If someone loves someone of the same gender, it is not a sin. There is really only one sin, Hate. (see 4)
  15. Telling others that they should “Sin no more” is akin to saying “I am God” what you deem to be a sin probably isn’t even a sin. There is really only one sin, Hate.
  16. If there is an afterlife, it is not ours to say who is in or who is out. There is a concept that Heaven and hell are the same place it is only a matter of how you view other people. (see 9)
  17. Worry is not a sin. Anxiety is a very real mental disorder. Don’t try to tell people to wish it away, that isn’t helpful. Instead, love them enough to help them get the help they need.
  18. For that matter just love people. Give them the help they need regardless.
  19. Nothing is for sure in this life. There is only one thing we can know for sure. We are all going to die, and it is sooner than we think. So just give love to everyone, for that is the true way to measure your life.
  20. Theology is really just best guesses at the Divine. Don’t live under the tyranny of someone else’s truth. Find out what is true for you.
  21. People will always try to take advantage of you. Be wise about this, but do not let it stop you from giving love and kindness freely. Don’t let them force their truth upon you.
  22. Don’t be afraid to speak truth to power. The powerful may not listen, but their followers will.
  23. Nobody is perfect. NOBODY not even you. So don’t worry about being perfect. Worry about loving yourself anyway.
  24. People will try to sell you ways of being perfect, but the honest truth is they are trying to sell you stuff. You aren’t perfect, that’s okay.
  25. Pastors and Priests are human too. It means that they aren’t perfect either. Allow them to be human. It’s okay, they are trying to find the Divine same as you.
  26. Listen to your pastors and priests, if something seems illogical or way outside of your truth, ask them about it. Don’t go along blindly. Questioning is good.
  27. If you don’t feel comfortable in a modern church setting, don’t go. It’s supposed to be about community. Community only works when you are a part of it.
  28. Take a good look at your priest or pastor if they are only seeking money, power, or fame. You probably shouldn’t be seeking their advice.
  29. There are other voices than your own. You would be wise to listen to the truths they have found. Though be discerning about those you take to heart.
  30. Nobody has the full truth. Which is why we are all seekers of wisdom.
  31. Don’t give money to those preachers who tell you it will increase your blessing. Just don’t.
  32. Money will not buy you salvation. It can grant you peace of mind knowing your bills will be paid.
  33. Know that others struggle with money, and therefore need your help. If you have extra, give extra.
  34. Yeshua taught that the Kingdom of the Divine was like a great feast where all were invited. Give freely to all.
  35. Do not attach strings to the Love of the Divine. There are no strings, no agendas, nothing you have to do to earn it. It’s already yours.
  36. The only sin is hate. That is the opposite of love. If you do not love your fellow man, then you are sinning. It’s pretty simple. Just love.
  37. Yeshua only gave one commandment to his followers, “that you love one another as I have loved you”. (John 13:34)
  38. Yeshua was a man, we also consider him to be Divine. True study of what this man was like is essential to be a follower of his.
  39. Even the most educated and most published theologians have not gotten it all figured out. Study and find what is true, but don’t ever believe you have it all figured out.
  40. Love those who hate you, It’s hard I know. But be kind, listen to what they have to say, if there is no truth in it don’t take anything they have to say to heart.
  41. A Yeshua follower’s true mission is just to love.
  42. Loving requires a bit of humility on your part. Don’t believe yourself better than anyone else. Instead imagine others as complexly as you imagine yourself.
  43. Give freely. If you have extra, give extra. Give until you can’t give anymore, and keep giving even then. If you don’t have money, give your time, if you don’t have time, give your love. Love freely, give freely.
  44. Love grows the more you understand and know about something. So learn about your fellow man. Understand the struggles.
  45. The Good Samaritan is a story about a hated individual giving of himself even though the person he helped probably hated him. Be like the good Samaritan.
  46. Take care of your family. Don’t give what you cannot give. Be responsible. We were told to be good stewards of what was given to us.
  47. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. We all need help from time to time. Don’t let people shame you for getting help either.
  48. Christians should be taught the full history of our faith, not just the highlights. The debates about whether Yeshua was a man or just spirit. The henotheistic nature of the followers at the time of the man. ect.
  49. Christians should also be taught that the Bible, while a great story about the nature of God, is only a book, and should not be elevated to Divinity. That is how idols are made.
  50. Christians should not guilted into doing anything for the church. It only survives if the community is there willingly, and doing the work of loving people we were told to do.
  51. Christians were meant to live life to the fullest, not enslaved to laws and moral codes. Those who say otherwise are trying to gain power, money, or control.
  52. It is vain to trust in salvation by giving money, believing the teachings of someone because they have a lot of followers or the amount of fame they have, or just plain belief. Salvation is not earned, it’s already given you already have it. So live freely, love freely, and give freely.
  53. It is against the teachings of Yeshua to hate or divide people. It is against the teachings of Yeshua to subjugate others. All are equal.
  54. An injury is done to the ability for people to think freely when the Bible is taken out of context or used in a way to hurt or injure someone.
  55. It is good to study further into the book of the Bible as one would find the truths of history.
  56. The Church should not be concerned about money, but rather about the people that grace its doorways.
  57. Yeshua spoke against those who sought fame, fortune and power. Yet the church has venerated those as masters as of late. Seek to venerate those who love above all else.
  58. Yeshua died for what he taught. I do believe that martyrdom did mean something and should teach us how important that message was.
  59. Social Justice is the work of the church. It always has been since the time of Yeshua. The work of Love is about fighting for Love, equality, and justice.
  60. Socialism, communism, capitalism, and so on are just ideas and concepts. They cannot be evil or good. How they are used is what would make them evil or good. They have all been used in evil ways over the course of human history.
  61. Listen to the ideas of others. Many people have good ideas. On paper, most things can work out, but the reality is certainly complicated and makes things difficult. So be realistic, but optimistic as well.
  62. The Divine is evident in all things. We should treat all things with the same respect and veneration we have for the Divine as all things are a attempting to be in concert with the Divine.
  63. Do not seek power, instead seek how you may help those with less have the same opportunities you did. Help them get started.
  64. Do not dismiss another due difference of belief. They may know something you don’t. Ask them and listen as to why they think how they do.
  65. Do not argue to be right, rather converse and ask in order to learn.
  66. If your church doesn’t care for the poor, the needy, the jobless, the orphan, the widow, the immigrant (regardless of how they entered), women, children, and those of “lesser status” you need to ask yourself why you are there.
  67. If you are going to church to be seen or to somehow be “holy” you are going for the wrong reasons.
  68. If your church would turn a homeless man away any day of the week and preach about one on a Sunday morning, you need to ask yourself why you go.
  69. If your church care more about in-reach (getting people to come and stay) rather than out-reach helping those they need to help, you need to examine why you go.
  70. If your church is more concerned about Stewardship (financial giving) rather than outreach you need to examine why you go.
  71. Find a community you feel comfortable with. Find a place you can serve your fellow human being with. Learn from each other there, don’t allow yourself to be complacent and content with just going.
  72. Don’t shun someone for asking questions. They seek the truth as well. They may just be trying to help everyone.
  73. Look for communities who are doing the work and give freely to that work of your time, talent, and money. If they don’t want your help find another community.
  74. Don’t let others in those communities put out your fire to do good. Find ways to make it helpful and fit, or find a different community.
  75. Remember there is nothing that can separate you from the love of the Divine, there is also nothing that you can do to earn it.
  76. If you cannot find a community, it may be that you have to make one yourself. Commit to it and find the support you need.
  77. Don’t sell yourself short because you aren’t like someone else. You are yourself and that is incredible.
  78. No one is greater than another. We are all human.
  79. While no one is greater than another, some have learned more than others. Listen to those who studied more than you. You may learn something important.
  80. Preachers and priests who say that one person is better than another are trying to sell you something. You would do well to question them.
  81. Those who spread such messages are not doing the work of the Divine.
  82. The Divine is everywhere and therefore does not favor one country over another.
  83. If you believe your country to be the favored of the Divine, you are mistaken and worshiping an idol.
  84. All things are permissible but not all things are beneficial. If you do something that hurts another, stop doing it. (1Corinthians 10)
  85. Let go of hate, grudges, and past misdeeds. Each day is a new day. Learn something new. Show love to someone. Be the change you want to see.
  86. It’s not hard to show love to someone. Just take it one day at a time, one person at a time.
  87. Anger does not equal hate. When you are angry it means something is wrong. Examine it find what it is, do something about it. When anger stagnates it becomes hate.
  88. Don’t go off unexamined. Hasty actions can be misinformed and ill-advised.
  89. Stand for what you believe in.
  90. Show love to those who hate you.
  91. Be slow to anger.
  92. Love
  93. Realize you are not alone.
  94. Realize you matter.
  95. Since you are not alone and you matter, what you do can make a difference.

Of course this is all just what I think. You are not alone. You matter.

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The Honest Faith: UnChristian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Honest Faith: The Golden Rule

(Warning: This blog post may get controversial. Remember this is the opinion of me, the writer, it does not mean it is true for everyone. Just truth that I have observed)

In 1964 the “Wizard of Id” was launched in the “Dallas Morning News” newspaper, they are those paper things that people still get delivered to their houses on a daily basis. In May of 1965, this comic strip featured the above comic which spun off many variations on the joke which has since become part of the zeitgeist of modern culture. The thing about jokes, though, is that they are absurd to the point of ridicule while still containing a kernel of truth. This joke has since gone on to pass the ridiculous to the point of reality and back to the point of all absurdity so many times that it is difficult to call this an exaggeration, but now a more sad reality.

In the 19th century, the great philosopher and guy with an awesome name Soren Kierkegaard wrote about the futility of the world and trying to act through a sense of morality. This built the framework for Albert Camu’s struggle to find meaning we call “Absurdism“. There are many pop culture references to this school of thought. “Rick and Morty” most popular of all icons at the moment brought forward through its crass humor the idea that everything is meaningless. The show The Good Place is a play off of an absurdist play “No Exit”. The Netflix original show “Ozark”, and the AMC hit show “Breaking Bad” play with our concepts of what is moral in the framework of healthcare, economy, money, and escapism. In a world searching for meaning some of our most important mirrors to ourselves are telling us there is no meaning.

I do not believe there is no meaning. I feel that where Kierkegaard and Camu were looking was devoid of meaning. I think that the path we are heading down is completely meaningless. We measure our life by the gold we have or stuff we acquire. We measure our lives in golden rulers of 401k’s, assets, investments, houses, cars, or just general stuff. The problem with these golden rulers is that there are no definitive marks. There is no possible way to measure a life this way. A person’s worth cannot be calculated by its weight in gold.

For some reason as much as we deny that we do this, we all do anyway. We all jump right in head first trying to accumulate a Scrooge McDuck sized silo filled with money to do what exactly? Don’t get me wrong I understand the value of money. Trust me, once you are a parent you understand just how far a dollar can stretch. You know just how many diapers that next paycheck can buy. I understand the security money can provide, knowing you can take care of emergencies if they pop up. I had ads on my website to do just that, to try and provide for my family just in case another job-related catastrophe happens. I get it. I really do. The problem is once we get onto this crazy roller coaster of measuring a life by wealth it’s hard to see anything else.

Maybe that is the reason why we have given so much power to those who do have the gold. We let those with money tell us what to do as if what they did was somehow through some skill of theirs rather than some random act of happenstance. The oddest thing about it all is we admire those who are ruthless. Those without mercy, who stop at nothing to earn a few dollars. We allow them to decide what is true and moral, rather than looking at the things that make someone truly successful. The biggest irony of all of this is that the truly successful that I have observed follow another rule. They follow a rule we have dubbed “The Golden Rule”.

The God-man that I follow once said, or at least it is attributed to Him, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” This is known as the Golden Rule. This rule can be traced even beyond Jesus. You can see something similar going all the way back to around 2040- 1650 BCE.  I know a 390 year age gap is kind of a wide one, but it is still rather old. For 4000 years we have been trying to teach this concept to each other. We are all Human, therefore, let us treat each other like we are. The most successful human beings I have observed treat other people like they are human too. Though, I don’t believe I measure success in terms of financial wealth.

What if we were to measure a life not by what we have, but by the connections that we have made? What would that world look like? What if we were to give power and the right to tell us what we should or should not do to those who are wise and treat other human beings like human beings? Would our world be kinder? Would it be safer? J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” I once asked a group of teens what they would do if they suddenly had a million dollars. Aside from the obvious purchasing of stuff they wanted, there was an overwhelming pattern that emerged. The students all wanted to do things. They wanted to travel, or skydive, or buy their parents something, or take their friends somewhere, or go to an amusement park. I think more and more one of the problems that older generations have with Millennials (us!), and the Digital Natives (the next gen) is that they think us entitled. I think there is a pattern emerging of humans valuing experience over stuff. If you ask me that is a step in the right direction. One of the things I loved the most about being a youth minister was the connections and experiences I had. I got to see amazing lives develop out of the worst circumstances. I got to see the beauty of lives transformed by the amazing power of knowing someone not only believed in you but supported you. I was able to get to know some teens, and now adults who I know are going to change the world. I hope and I pray that they saw in me two things. First, that there is a Divine that loves them beyond all measure. Second, that no matter what that Divine also loves everyone else just as much, so treat them that way.

Maybe, we should examine which Golden Rule we follow. Do we allow those with the gold to make the rules, or do we value the other as much as we value ourselves? Take a good hard look. We can all be guilty of this. I know that I am. I know that I don’t want to be. But I am stuck in a system that tells me it is the only way to get ahead and survive. Take a good hard look at your church and religious community. What do they value? Do they value the Gospel that the Divine loves you no matter what and that all should be treated that way? Do they value those who have the gold and therefore allow them to make the rules? I have seen some horror stories that I know are not true of all churches, but there are those who still treat the church as a business rather than a spiritual hospital. To me, that is the most heretical thing that can possibly happen. When the Gospel gets confused and muddled up with wealth and gold, we all fail.

So what shall we do then? Stop tithing, or going to church? NO! We should be more careful about how we invest our money, sure. But we should also realize that our money is not the most important thing. Our connections with other human beings are. Our experience in this world is more important than wealth. Have we tried to make the world a better place for all human beings, or are we only concerned with our own world? I hope and I pray that it doesn’t take another 4000 years for us to finally get this concept. I hope and I pray that we can fully understand the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. See each other as complexly as you see yourself. Give of yourself until you cannot give anymore, and then keep giving anyway. Because, after all, you are not alone, you matter.

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The Honest Faith: Religion is for “Girly Men”

I’ve been thinking a lot about emotions recently, obviously. This has been a lot larger than I make it out to be in my writings sometimes. I think about where the emotions come from. What are the root issues that have informed these emotions? Why does my brain react in the way that it does? How do I teach my son to be healthy emotionally? How do I deal with emotions in a way that is constructive and healthy myself? How have my emotions impacted my faith? I had been thinking on these topics when I was working on painting my son’s playroom this week.

I like to work out and do work listening to stories. I started listening to audiobooks, and have since started listening to all sorts of Podcasts, I even started my own. I was listing to NPR’s Invisibilia. They are doing a very interesting “concept album” this season and started with emotions. In it they interviewed Lisa Feldman Barrett, who had a somewhat new and very interesting take on emotions. She also builds upon some of the concepts brought up by David Goleman in his book “Emotional Intelligence” This is a quote from that interview:

Your brain is organized in such a way as to [make] anticipatory guesses about what is going to happen next. And this is happening entirely outside of your awareness. You have past experiences, and those experiences become wired into your brain, and then your brain uses those past experiences to make guesses about the immediate future.

So, emotions aren’t happening to you. Your brain makes them as you need them. You are the architect of your own experience. It’s just that most of this is happening outside of your awareness.

This was paired with a story about a car accident in which a family lost a little girl and the trucker who was on the other side. They explored both sides of the story and the emotions of those involved. It was an accident that nobody was really to blame for. The trucker developed PTSD from the accident due to the “constructs” (The word Dr. Barrett used for emotional responses) that were instilled in him from an early age. One of these constructs resonated with me. This was a construct that basically informed him that “a man is always in control.” This is what caused him to believe that he was a killer and that he murdered the little girl by not being able to move the truck out of the way in time. He couldn’t have. This is something that in our society we teach little boys, and reinforce in them from an early age.

I remember growing up that I watched the men in our church and my life. I noticed and was taught, that men don’t show emotion. I was taught that men are supposed to be strong, silent, and take care of their family. This is a societal and gender specific construct that is reinforced from many different angles. The reason the trucker’s story resonated with me, is because I think that is a very similar, if not same, construct that informed my own PTSD and Anxiety. Now, I realize that many people would not view our experiences as similar. I can’t even imagine being in his shoes at the time. But my experiences with the church were very traumatic to me and my own life. This is particular to my situation especially, because I am a man. I am supposed to be in control. I am supposed to provide for my family. I am supposed to be the “bread winner”.

Have you ever noticed how damaging these gender specific, and western societal constructs can be in the context of the church? Think about it. We tell men they are supposed to be in control, but we also tell them to rely on God as God is in control of all things. We tell women to be nurturing and caring leaders, yet we also tell them that God said through the writings of St. Paul that women shouldn’t lead men. I could go on and on, but there is one, in particular, I want to focus on. Men are supposed to be strong, silent, and in control of their feelings. We tell boys that when they cry or when they feel sad that they are to “suck it up” or “be a man”. Yet we also have a few tenants of our religion that require us to be in touch with our emotion.

Have you ever noticed that in our stories about the God-man Jesus, there are very few emotions being expressed? There are two, in particular, that pop into my mind as I sit here and write. One of my favorite verses, in fact, pops into my mind, “Jesus wept.” There is also another story about anger and rage coming from Jesus. The gospel writers told about turning over tables and killing a fig tree because there were no figs. That’s right, God hates figs. Have you ever noticed that we just assume other people’s emotions? There are so many emotional constructs that we have developed in our lives that to sort through them all is a huge task. We assume the other has had the same experience we have and therefore when they display signs of a construct that was developed in our own experience we assume that is what they are “feeling”. I have a problem with assuming. I find it funny that I’m in a job where I have to rid myself of all assumptions in a moment by moment basis.

The (small c) church reinforces that assumptive construct for men. They label those men who are in touch with their feelings as girly, feminine, or an assumptive sexuality preference label. Which as soon as they do they immediately condemn them for that. I was a very emotional kid. I was quite in touch with my emotions and with trying to figure them out. This led to all kinds of assumptions from the adults of my church. Especially about me and my best friend as a teen. We both were more into music, into figuring out feelings, figuring out religion, and trying to figure out exactly who Jesus was. We spent all of our time together and called each other a lot, back in the day where you had landlines. In fact, I can remember my sister calling him my boyfriend quite often. He was my best friend and still is my oldest and closest friend to this day. But there were assumptions made about us without even talking to us. This, like most gossipy topics, spread through the church more than once. It was a bit detrimental to a teenaged boy who was trying to figure things out.

I think that the more we assume things about other people the more we shape the reality for them. How many times has the church shaped reality for those who have been abused or the abusers? How many times has the church shunned a sinner, a divorcee, a pregnant teen, a teen mom, and so on? We make assumptions about them and in turn create constructs that tell them things like, they are unloved, they will never be forgiven, god doesn’t care, and that they are horrible. This creeps in little by little and becomes the tyranical “truth” that it can take years to rewire that reality. The wierd thing about western culture is that we do not do well with conflicting ideas, yet we constantly create them for ourselves. We tell people with our words that we love them, yet our actions say something completely different.

Maybe the church has spent way too much time, energy, and money trying to prevent “sin” instead of making the world a better place. Maybe if we stopped trying to tell people what is good and moral in our own eyes, and started living the love we preach we’d see our reality is not the only one. The Reverend William Barber in an interview on The New Yorker Radio hour said it this way (Honestly, if you have 23 minutes to spare, go listen to it! It’s incredible.) “If your attention is not on dealing with the issues that hurt the poor, the brokenhearted, the sick, the left out, the least of these, the stranger, and all of those that are made to feel unacceptable; you don’t have white right-wing evangelicalism. You have heresy!… You have theological malpractice.” We, as a church, built these constructs that said, “No those people cannot come in.” But the huge contradiction was that they were the exact people we were sent to help. We make these constructs telling little boys to be tough and strong and take care of things, yet that’s not how life works. That’s not how relationships work. We tell little girls to be princesses, humble, quiet, and unassuming, but that’s not how life works. We want people to come into the doors of the church, yet we shut and lock the doors before they can get in.

Maybe religion is for those who make assumptions, and are assumed about. Maybe true religion, a real honest faith, happens outside the shrines we’ve built to our own false realities. Maybe what Jesus would look like today is not someone sitting in a pew, or preaching from a pulpit. Maybe Jesus would be out on the street, meeting anyone who happens to talk to him. Handing out food to the hungy. Visiting those in prison. Making sure people see and experience justice. Maybe Jesus has left the building. I don’t know, but these are the thoughts that I’ve had.

My life has been spent trying to fix what other people have thought about me. My life has been shaped by tyranical truth that was built on assumptions. It’s time to rewire my brain and realize that my truth, my reality is what I make of it. I want to make it a good one. I want to make it one where I am generous, kind, in touch with my feelings, fall down sometimes, can graciously accept grace, freely give grace to others, lift others up, and find that just because someone calls me “girly” doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.

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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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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 too 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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Unsolicited Advice: Presidential

Hello Mr. President,

This isn’t going to be one of those letters. I know you have been getting quite a few hate filled letters from people who obviously are not your fans. I’m not really a fan of yours either, but I’m not writing about that today. I’m writing to give you some advice from my years as a youth minister which may be helpful. I found that working with people doesn’t really change across the boards so these things may be helpful to you. Or they may not be, I don’t know I’m just a former youth minister.

Don’t make changes too quickly!

This was something that my youth ministry professor stressed with us when I was in college. He wanted us to make sure that we had the right tools in ministry and I can tell you from experience he was right! You never want to jump right into a job, especially one of leadership and make changes too quickly. This tends to make those you are working with and leading to resent you. They had a set way of doing things that were working out pretty well before you got there. Sure, it may not be your style of doing things, but if you are in it for the long haul you’ll have time to make the changes you need to suit your way of doing things. Besides you may even find out that those other ways of doing things suit you just fine. Adaptability is key in the first few months to a year in a new position. Once you understand the people you are working with, and when they trust you enough, then and only then should you begin to make changes that you see fit.

I realize you’ve already done some things so far, it’s been a busy two and a half weeks, but you can still delay on all the other things you want to change. Don’t worry if it truly is a good and needed change you’ll still have time to make it.

Don’t bad mouth the last leader

You may be following the worst leader ever when you come into a new position, but it still doesn’t justify bad things being said. This goes for everything he/she did and all the recruits he/she put into place. Trust me, that person was facing some of the worst things in their own lives and careers just like you are going to. It is helpful to seek their advice and to praise what they accomplished. This goes hand in hand with not making changes too quickly. Even if they were the worst leader, they gained the trust of the people they were working with and were able to accomplish what they did for a reason. I have followed some amazing leaders and some not so amazing leaders. I’ve been called the devil by some of those former leaders (long story, ask me about it sometime). I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of belittling the last person to make yourself look better.

Okay, you have done some of this as well. It’s never too late to apologize. A little humility goes a long way!

Never stop growing

The moment that you feel you have it all figured out is the moment you fail. I can’t tell you the number of roadblocks I’ve faced because I felt that things were going along just fine and then… Even if you think you have the job completely figured out, you still have more to learn. One of the greatest things I learned in ministry was how to say “I don’t know, but let me try to figure it out.” I probably could have said that a lot more, but sometimes pride gets in the way. Never be too proud to say those words. Chances are people will help you figure it out! We are never the same person we were the day before. Oh here is another cliche you may hear a lot too, The only easy day was yesterday.

Listen to your haters

Sometimes your critics have important things to tell you. Granted, they come in pretty hurtful packages, but they are still important nonetheless. I have an example for this one. Okay, so you know how if you just read a word but never say it out loud your pronunciation of it can be way off what it should be? Well, I was performing in a show once and I had only ever read the word “respite”. I thought it was pronounced re-spite instead of res-pit. Lordy, did I hear it from a critic in the paper the next day about my pronunciation! I went and found the words that I mispronounced and made those changes. I think it was an excellent show after that. Remember that sometimes you got to take those things with a grain of salt, but try to find the truth in the things they are saying.

I realize you have many, many haters right now. But they have some important things to say. Many of them just want to make sure they are heard. Some of them are a bit hateful and don’t have much to say, but there are still those who have important things to say.

Love your neighbor as yourself

You are going to come up against things you don’t understand. You are going to meet people who are going to change your whole perspective on life. But that won’t happen unless you are open to it. Love, so often, is being able to see the small things in someone else that make them unique and valuable. Everyone has that thing, even you. I call that the spark of the Divine. Even the worst students I’ve encountered had the spark of the Divine in them. I can’t call any one human being evil or not of God because I’ve discovered that everyone, all life for that matter, has the spark of the Divine in it. When we work together, when we are all able to let that spark shine through that is when the world will be truly great again. So it means that sometimes we have to get out of the way, or not stand in the way of someone else letting their spark shine. That means allowing someone else the freedom to be who they are. I understand that is scary. I understand that it puts you at risk sometimes, but I know from experience that it is worth it.

I think you know where this applies, and I’m not going to tread on ground that so many others are treading right now.

Salutations

Although I’m almost positive this would never get around to you. I still think this is advice that could be helpful. I am praying for you. I do have a little hope that you will finally figure out how to be a good leader. I’m not sure that I myself hold out a lot of hope for that, but I like to be surprised in good ways. These are just some of the issues that I think can be helpful to you.

 

Salutations,

A Former Youth Minister

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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: The Lost Boy

Growing up my biggest fear above anything else was being alone. There were many different reasons for that, and it was also a bit hard to define. Like for instance, I didn’t mind playing in my room by myself if someone else was in the house. I could play on a playground alone if I knew someone else was on the property with me. What I feared was truly being alone. I feel like that has evolved more into a fear of being forgotten. That my life, my work, and the things that I do don’t make a difference. I can point to an episode of “Black Mirror” (Available on Netflix) that would define it rather well. There is an episode of a sort of dystopic future sort of run by a reality talent show. I won’t spoil it but the ending terrified me.

I was reminded of this when I was talking to my wife yesterday. It was the “Hey honey, how was your day?” talk that we usually have at the end of the work day. I was telling her about this podcast that I discovered that day by the pastor who gave up God for a year, and discovered he was an atheist back in 2014. I was telling her about the work that he was doing now and she asked me a question that is stuck in my brain. She asked, rather innocently, “Do you not want to be a Christian anymore?” Still now I don’t know how to respond to that question. I quickly said a “No, that’s not what I was talking about.” But the truth is I don’t know.

The truth is a very tricky thing. I think it takes the right question, phrased in the right way to help you discover what it really is. That question asked of me last night shook me. It helped me to see the truth about some things, and also made things a bit more cloudy. I used to feel God was with me every day. I used to see God in everything. I would be inspired by little things and their relation to the greater divine all around us. I used to. The truth is I’m lost more now than ever. I don’t know if what I was seeing or feeling was truly the divine or something I was just fooling myself into believing.

I look back on my life and wonder if I caused my own isolation. Ministry is a lonely and isolating profession. It is no wonder that many of those who are in ministry suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. While ministers are meant to journey alongside, many are pushed to the front and told to lead, yet few follow. I noticed something while I was in ministry. When I met someone new and told them what I did for a living they would, more often than not, take a step back. As if somehow proximity to me would cause me to add guilt to their life. So as a reflex to that I started walling myself off from people. I would protect myself from getting hurt by people by not letting them inside in the first place. I discovered now in my transition that I don’t have anyone that I feel really sees me for who I am. I feel forgotten, alone, and lost. As if my worst fears have become reality.

There is one place that I still see the divine. Every day I see it. It’s in the smile of my son. That little boy is delighted by all that he sees. There was a song that a friend told me that I should listen to after he was born, primarily because his name is Peter. I keep coming back to this song this year. He is my peter pan, and I am his lost boy.

I think while we have been so busy trying to find ourselves in this society we walled ourselves off from each other. We got so very lost while we trying to grow up. We got caught up in the digital not realizing that it was cutting us off from one another. Is it just me, or are we all lost? Have we forgotten to be human to each other? Have we forgotten how to develop real human connections? I ask because this lost boy is trying to find his place in the world.

I’m trying to find my way back to the place I was before. I still want to see the divine in everything. I want to be inspired by little things again. I hold so tightly to that little piece of the Divine in my life because at times it’s all I have. I think as human beings we are meant to see the divine in each other. I think that is why community is so important. To be honest I don’t know how to find a community that I would feel comfortable being myself in. I don’t know how to do that, but I’m going to try.

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