The Honest Faith: Why Don’t You Care?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Honest Faith: Thank you, Mr. Trump

Again, I invite you to take a step back. Don’t consider yourself Christian. Don’t consider yourself anything. Take a step back from your life. Let go of all your tightly held beliefs and just be. Read with an open mind. Don’t take offense, because what will be said isn’t about you. You aren’t these things. You can look back on things that the person who was you did and examine them through this lens, however, you aren’t that person anymore. What you do moving forward is completely up to you. You are the one who decides what to do with the time that is given to you moving forward. With all of that being said, I’m about to talk about some rather controversial things. I know I said I would try to stay away from these, but I can’t remain silent any longer. So breathe. Sit. Take a moment. Then read on.

Dear Mr. Trump,

I wrote you a letter a few months ago, I see you didn’t get it. That’s okay. I don’t blame you, you have a lot on your plate. I’m writing now to thank you. This may seem rather disingenuous, but it isn’t. I do want to thank you. You have done something that I never thought was possible. You have set into motion something that I have seen coming for a long time. The fruits of which I do not know if they are good or bad, yet. Currently, it remains to be seen. I know we don’t see eye to eye on a lot. That’s fine, I just wanted to say thank you.

Thank you for bringing light to the divisions within the Christian church. It is because of you that some of our deepest and darkest secrets are coming out. Your racist statements and hurtful rhetoric towards people groups of almost every people group, sexual identity, gender identity, mental ability, and more have shown just how bad those things have gotten within the culture the western church has created. Instead of stopping those things we allowed them to spread. We even sent out missionaries to other countries carrying these ideas with them. Was that right? No, not at all. But because what you have done brings light to those impulses within the church, I wanted to thank you.

Thank you for showing just how bad racism still is in this country. Really, white supremacists are openly marching in the streets now. That is still happening. There were those who claimed that we have gotten past this idea of racism, but nope. It’s alive, well, and uglier than ever. You helped feed this monster. Your statements that you have made, make it very clear where you stand. You have called my own genetic nationality all manner of hurtful and hateful things. You are responsible for taking control of the problems it is creating. I don’t know if you will, but you have shown the world just how bad it still is here in the U.S.A. That is not to say we are a bad country, just that our issues are still there. You showed the world that. Maybe now we can finally talk about it and work to begin fixing it.

Thank you for showing how bad homophobia is in this country still. Yes, we legalized same sex marriages. But we still haven’t gotten past this idea that those who love the same sex aren’t worthy of God’s love. It is because of your bold brashness that leaders of the small-c christian church came together to put out their own bold brash statement called the “Nashville statement”. This statement judged and condemned the lgbtq+ community. It showed just how hateful and hurtful the church still is toward them and all those who affirm and ally with them. That was never part of the Bible. Hate is not scriptural. Love is love, hate is hate. Don’t confuse the two. That statement is unchristian and does not represent the Divine. The Divine is Love. You emboldened those who signed this statement because somewhere along the way they thought that the political party you ran with was god’s party. I’m not quite sure which god that was, but it wasn’t the Divine.

Thank you for showing how bad Transphobia is in this country. You are not afraid of inciting violence or getting people involved in it, but you are afraid of sending those who don’t feel comfortable with their birth gender into violent situations? Maybe that’s nice of you, but I doubt that it is. I think it stems from a place of fear of trans people. But you know what, they are people they can think and choose for themselves. If they want to serve this country, great! LET THEM! What is under their uniform is their business, and their business alone. I support and I affirm them. I know you think this makes me a bad person, but you’ve already called me a bad hombre a few times because of my genetics. If loving people, supporting them, helping them in the ways that I can is bad, well then I accept that role.

Thank you for revealing just how bad nationalism has gotten in the church. Did you know there are churches around the world that fly the American flag because the missionaries who started this church were from this country? I know, that’s kind of crazy. I very much disliked throughout my entire career having the American flag anywhere in the sanctuary or even having patriotic music played in the service. The reason being that we are human beings first, Christian second, and way last in third place American. It had no bearing on the first two things, so, therefore, did not belong in a service having to do with them. When country comes before your humanity or even God, that is when it is a problem. I know where your priorities stand. You are number 1 on that list, that’s your own prerogative, but I choose to be human and show kindness to my fellow man. I choose to follow Christ, and if that does not align with being American, that sucks, but so be it.

Thank you for revealing just how greedy church leaders have become. I didn’t get involved in all of the social media bashings of Joel Osteen. I have never really been a fan of his or of Mega-churches for that matter. Seriously, when something sounds like the bad transformer why would you want to be a fan of it? But since you have traditionally been a symbol of greed in this country, those who were in the church were emboldened by your election to leadership. They started agreeing with Gordon Gecko from that 1980’s movie, stating that “Greed, is good.” The church, and the gospel have never been about financial prosperity. Those who preach that are not disciples of Christ. They are disciples of the almighty dollar. There has been a problem with this for years. But you started to reveal how bad it was.

Thank you for showing how we have seen women as objects and not people for way too long. Your objective view of your fellow human beings is not just limited to women, but your views on women have set us back a few decades. This has empowered the weakened power structures that were about ready to topple. It has shown a light on them and people began to try propping them up again. But the damage has been done. Women are not objects. They are not to be treated as such. They are human beings. Like you and me and your wife and your daughter and every other person on this planet. This power structure has been alive and well within the western church for far too long. People use Paul’s writings as if they were straight from the Divine itself. Paul has been deified in place of Jesus. We see what damage that has wrought throughout this entire letter. Women are not objects, they are people. We are all people. All of us human.

So, Thank you, Mr. Trump. You and those who have aligned themselves with you have brought these problems to light. There is one thing that we have to do now. We have to fix it. By we, I mean all of us, including you and those who aligned themselves with you. We do not fix this by writing nebulous statements that pretend to speak for the Divine. That’s not helpful. No, we get our hands dirty. We roll up our sleeves and get to work setting our minds to figuring out what we need to do to fix the problem. It is not by banning things or making “immoral” things illegal. It’s by figuring out what the root problem is and addressing it. We have to sit down and talk to those we are afraid of. We need to get to the reason why we are afraid of each other and figure out how we can live together in love, peace, and harmony. I realize what I am saying sounds like a pipe dream. I realize that it is very idealistic. But honestly, I believe it is the truth. I believe that we need to love others without condition, without agenda, without anything but love. LOVE IS LOVE. We need to show every human being that they are not alone, and they matter. That’s right, as much as I’d hate to admit it, even you Mr. Trump are not alone, you matter as well. You are a human being. God loves you, too. I know you probably don’t want to even acknowledge that, but it’s true. You are a loved. Don’t stop at revealing the problem. It’s time for you to do something about it. It’s time for all of us to do something about it.

 

Sincerely,

Miguel

You are not alone, You matter.

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The Story of Esperanza Reyes: Chapter 5

After the symbolic ritual cleansing in the Rio Grande River, Esperanza felt led to take an extended retreat into the hill country to find her center. She had decided to fast during this retreat, drinking only water from the canteens and supply she brought with her. This had been a long held ritual to find oneself while cutting off from the rest of society and technology. Overall she had been on this retreat for forty days.

After the thirtieth day, Esperanza had grown hungry. The lack of food and the lack of input had begun to drive her into some hallucinations. At first, they were small, like a rabbit that wasn’t really there, to voices of people she knew and loved that had long since left her. On a fortieth day, a figure bathed in light and glorious like the morning star appeared before her. It spoke to her in a melodic and inviting voice that sounded like a grand symphony inviting her to listen. “Aren’t you hungry? You know you are the child of the Divine, don’t you? See that round rock over there? Comand that rock to become bread.” Esperanza shook her head to clear it. She spoke to the figure. “As it’s been said, we can’t fully live just by filling our bellies.”

Suddenly, she looked around and realized she was on HaAv’s balcony. The one on which he addresses the many Jesuits who come to pilgrimage to the Ir Gibeah. “Jump,” the figure said simply. “Show these people that you are the child of the Divine. They will believe you are if only you jump. The Divine would protect you. Finally, a woman would be in the highest seat of power within the religion.” Esperanza felt conflicted. Even more so than from the hunger. That was something she wanted. She wanted to tear down this power structure that kept people subjugated. She shook her head again. “No, I will not be a part of the system that keeps people subjugated.”

Again, the scene shifted around her. Now she was standing in a crater on the moon. She rubbed her eyes, this must be a hunger hallucination she thought to herself. The figure pointed to the earth. “What if I told you, I can give you power over all of that. Nobody would have to be subjugated anymore. You would just tell them not to. You can have it all, you only need take it.” Esperanza thought for a good long moment. She knew she could have power and would only need grasp it. She again shook her head. “No! That’s not the way. They wouldn’t learn that way. People need to come to the choice on their own to be good. If I do it for them, they would never understand why they need it.” She closed her eyes.

When she opened her eyes, she saw the same Texas hillside that she was sitting on only moments earlier. She knew that it may have been a hallucination, but it taught her what she needed to know about herself. Her retreat was over. She opened her pack and pulled out a self-made granola bar. She ate and returned to her vehicle to return home.

When she returned home, she went to her congregation the next weekend. She prepared a message relating all she had learned on her retreat. She read from the prophet Isaiah. She read:

The Spirit of the Divine is upon me, Because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the the time of the Divine”

She closed the book and handed it back to the acolyte who was standing nearby. She spoke and said. “The Kingdom of the Divine is here and now. We only need to make it a reality. We have been sent to give good news to the poor. We should help them and ensure they have what they need. We have been sent set those who are captive, free. Whether mentally, physically, or otherwise we are the ones to bring freedom. We are the ones to give sight to the blind. It is the time of the Divine. We are the ones who make it a reality. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. It is our time.”

There was a murmur in the congregation. “Isn’t this Maria and Jose’s Daughter? Where did she learn to speak like that? Why is a Mexican trying to tell us what to do?” She heard the murmur and addressed it, “Maybe you will choose not to believe me because I’m the daughter of immigrants. Maybe you will always see me that way. But I bring you the truth. Wasn’t there a story of the time of Elisha, where there was a famine in the land? The only ones who believed him were widows and foreigners.” Those who had murmured turned red with anger. The congregation started to get up out of their seats. She watched as they demanded she leave them. She walked out to her car as the congregation held a special meeting. Later that day she received word that she had been let go.

It was in that moment, that Esperanza knew she would no longer be a priest with a home. She needed to spread the message that the Divine’s Kingdom was here. Now was the time for the Divine’s people to act, and we are all the Divine’s people. It was time for her real ministry to begin.

Esperanza was invited to come speak in a temple in Kerrville. It was the Temple where her cousin Zachary had served for many years. It was a normal Sunday morning and people were filing into the temple. A young man wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled over his face turned and looked her in the eye. He did it in such a sudden and rapid movement that it startled her. His eyes were blood shot and red. He looked high. His voice shook with terror. “What are you doing here? You are Esperanza Reyes. Did you come to rid this boy of me?” His last sentence dripped with disdain, “I know who you are, Daughter of the Divine.” Esperanza placed her hand on his shoulder in a kind and comforting way. She spoke to him. “It’s okay. I know the pain you have felt. You don’t need to escape it in this way anymore.” She whispered to him, “I have come to set you free.” The young man’s eyes cleared, and his posture changed. He stood up straight and pulled the hood down from over his head. He hugged her.

Those who were standing nearby knew this young man to be an addict. They marveled and said to each other “Who is this woman who can set a man free from his addictions with just a few words?” Reports of this encounter spread as most stories of amazement do. It became popular on social media. Many didn’t believe the story, many did. Esperanza’s story began to gain attention, and she was sought after to speak in many places from that point on.

<  Chapter 4  |  Chapter 6  >

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The Honest Faith: What is Church?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Honest Faith: 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 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. Someone once told me that they were taking psych courses to find out what was wrong with me. I never did find out if they 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: 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: A New Family

Two weeks ago, Cathy and I went to see “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”. The main theme question has stuck with me. It asks the question, “What defines family?”. We explored this a bit in our podcast this week, but yet again that is a topic that I want to further explore in the terms of my faith and my transition into “normalcy” in the church world. What constitutes a family, spiritual or otherwise?

I love my biological family. No, we haven’t always been the best of people toward each other, but what family is? My mother tried her hardest to keep a family together and raise three kids under difficult circumstances. My father worked hard to provide for his family even when things seemed bleak. My brother who was and is still my best friend from birth didn’t always enjoy my company. My sister who, I think, still sees me as her nerdy uncool little brother did her best to try to help me be somewhat presentable to society. We had rough times, but there was an abundance of love there. So much that even though we didn’t have much we welcomed others to share it with us. Now, even though my mom doesn’t find it that funny, my favorite joke is that my family dislikes each other so much that’s why we chose to live in so distant of places from each other. That joke is funny to me because it is so far from the truth. There is love there. Despite our differences, we are blood. We fought with each other, but we also fought for each other.

My non-biological grouping of people I consider to be family comes to mind as well. There is my friend who I’ve known since I was 13 years old. He is and will always be my brother. He was the best man at my wedding. There is the priest who believed in me when it seemed nobody else would, it seemed. He and his family are blood to me as well. There is my friend who had secret plans to set up my wife and me way before we started dating. She was a sister to me. I miss her dearly and still converse with her even though she is now having beers with the Divine on the other side. Those youth who I had the immense pleasure of teaching throughout my career, I still view as family and people I would do anything for.

There is an interpretive art that is commonly accepted as a pattern called soul mates or soul families. There are many different interpretations of this idea. Some believe that you were all connected in a previous lifetime and find each other again in this life. Pretty Idea, but I’m not really a believer in past lives hypothesis’. Another interpretation is that a spirit is re-used in different people. Again, not a concept that I can get behind, but I still see some merit in the thought. But my favorite is that some feel that those whom we feel such a close connection with is that our souls are formed with similar pieces.

There is a saying that is still contested on it’s meaning, “Blood is thicker than water.” It’s commonly known to mean that your family bonds are thicker than those other relationships. Another interpretation is that the bonds formed through “Blood”, such as fighting alongside someone in battle, are thicker than the water of the womb. I can see the truth in both interpretations of the saying. But I want to take the second interpretation a step further.

The Christian and Jewish scriptures often refer to the Divine as being a refiner, or refining. They use terms from metallurgy to describe the process. If you have ever been in a Christian church you have probably heard some person refer to a tough situation as a refining process, maybe even in a sermon. The problem with that is you never want to hear that at the time. It certainly doesn’t help. The thing is, though, I can see it as such now. Those times in our lives when we encounter the fires of life they teach us to get rid of the impurities in our lives. Or if you would rather a different construction metaphor, it sands down the rough edges of our souls so that we may better find connections with each other.

I think that our souls are formed through the experiences in our lives. We find people who have been through some of the same refining processes that we have and we are able to fit together easier because of it. It doesn’t mean that we find a lot of things to connect on, but we do connect with those people especially because of the sanding down of those particular rough edges. We will find others in our lives who we don’t connect with particularly because they still have those rough edges in those areas where we’ve been tempered and refined.

Our biological families connect well because we go through the same fires together, we form non-biological connections because those “others” have gone through similar fires and have similar connection points in their souls. The danger we face as human beings are only examining one aspect of another. We tend to focus on only one part of a person and not see the whole. When we can see other human beings as complex beings like ourselves we can begin to find the similar connection points. We all have connection points though some are a lot harder to find than others. Okay, I realize that this metaphor is getting really double entendre-y really quick. Bear with me though.

I think family is everywhere. Family is ready to happen at a moments notice. You just have to look for it sometimes.  As Peter Quill in the new Guardians movie puts it, “Sometimes, the thing you’ve been looking for your whole life is right there beside you all along.” I think you can make connections with anyone. I think family really is in the eye of the beholder. I will always have my biological family, but there are others I still consider to be family to me. I think that is what the Church is meant to be. It is meant to be that community that we consider to be family. Not just those other people we happen to see at a worship gathering. People who will love, support, and fight with us (even if we fight each other sometimes) no matter what. That is what makes a family to me. What do you think?

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The Honest Faith: The Slow Death of Modern Christianity

:: Warning :: this might possibly be the most controversial thing I have ever or may ever post. I don’t want to be the normal everyday “Christian” writer who writes bi-partisan political posts comparing the state of our country to Christianity. It’s been done. I don’t think I add anything to that conversation. This is one I’m going to present with as much objective fact as I can. That being said, yes, this is a blog post so a lot of it will be opinion. If it offends, I apologize. Be in conversation with me as to why it offends you rather than writing me off as “one of those writers”. :: Warning over ::

Very many years ago, I was preaching my first official sermon of my first official ministry position. In it, I said that the christian (small c on purpose) church was sick. I said there are very many symptoms that point to such, and we were in need of a new reformation. I felt I gave a pretty good sermon in 2005. This sermon was on Reformation Sunday by the request of the pastor who had retired at the beginning of the summer previous. He wanted the youth to do a whole service dedicated to Martin Luther’s 95 Thesis. He wanted them to write a new 95 thesis from the youth to the church. It was capped off by my reformation message. Needless to say, it didn’t go over well.

I discovered that people don’t like hearing what is wrong with them, even if it may be the truth. I preface this blog post with the warning above and this little note to say I write this in love. I know the truth hurts sometimes, but we need to be in a constant examination of ourselves or we risk not growing or bearing fruit. Don’t believe me? I know a tree in a children’s book I read to my son that learned that lesson. I also know a particular fig tree that Jesus had some choice words for.

This was something I believed in 2005 and something that in 2017 I’m beginning to see the actual impacts from. The Christian church is in decline. Christianity will soon no longer be the most populous religion in the world, being quickly replaced by Islam ( Pew Research Study ). In fact, in our own country, we’ve seen a steep rise in “post-Christian” viewpoints ( Barna Research study and Pew Research Study ). We are trending toward a society where people no longer go to church on Sunday morning. The thing is though it’s not that people have stopped believing in the Divine.

As I’ve stated many times before, my generation, the millennials, are discovering a very different image of the Divine than our parent or even Grandparent generations. We are even dragging our older siblings the Gen-x’ers along with us. The US has only slightly dipped in our belief in the Divine. We’ve gone from 92% to 89% who believe in the possibility of the Divine. Although, the strongly believe in the existence of a God dropped from “71% in 2007 to 63% in 2014” (all numbers from the pew research study linked above). I’d say that has to do with Millennials being tired. We have been worn out by the church.

There has been this old concept that you had to be perfect to come to church. Some may say I’m wrong in that, but I’ve experienced this first hand more than once. That is what we were taught growing up. That’s what makes it so hard for us to want to go to a place where we will be judged because of whatever reason on an early Sunday morning. I mean I find it extremely difficult to get up and get my family ready to go on Sunday mornings albeit that church is at 10 am, it’s still tough to get out the door at 9:40 something. There has been so much that the church has done to injure not just my generation but the ones who came before us. It’s no wonder we decided to give up on going.

Don’t believe me? Take a moment. Search it out. When I began my transition into being a writer with an insurance habit, I started to seek out other writers who had similar stories to me. There are a lot. In fact, I found so many who were published, publishing, or writing blogs about the very same issues and topics I found myself writing about. I could list all of them here, but that would take up way too much space.

I started to think about this topic because I heard about another friend who was let go from a youth ministry position. This has become an all too common story across the country. I believe we are standing on the precipice of the death of the professional youth minister. I know some of my friends would beg to disagree, especially those who are still working with professional youth workers. I was thinking about what was causing this and I was reminded of my all too often worry when I worked for the church. If the church wasn’t making enough money, what are the first things they cut? Children and youth programming and staff…

Increasingly, boomers are retiring. That retirement may be on sure or unsure footing depending on how the economy looks on any given day. But the large majority of the workforce is now being comprised of Gen-X’ers and Millennials. We have become parents ourselves and we are finding it hard to give money to churches or to organizations we don’t necessarily believe in anymore. This is money we can’t easily part with either. I can cite source after source as to why it’s much harder to make a living nowadays than it was even 20 years ago. I’m not going to do that because that’s not what this blog post is about. This is about the death of our status quo Sunday Morning church offerings (Not the tithe, what the church offers to its congregation on Sunday mornings is what I’m getting at).

We are looking for non-traditional churches and offerings. Increasingly it’s become about service for millennials and gen-x’ers. Not the Sunday morning kind of service, but actual getting off your bum and getting your hands dirty doing the work kind of service. There is article after article pointing to this as well ( Here’s one I found particularly readable ). In fact, the Gallup poll that was posted in that article seems to reaffirm that point as well. Millennials are looking for something different. We’ve been beaten down by the world that tells us we aren’t worth much and then shown the same from the churches we decide to try. We grew up in different programs. The vast majority of us went to youth programming at a local church. We grew up with this idea that church didn’t always have to be the stuffy pews on a Sunday morning. No, most of us experienced the Divine on short-term mission trips, in a youth group, at a lock-in (God help me), at a service project, using our talents for a youth Sunday service, or even hanging out with our dorky well-meaning youth workers. This is why so often in my career as a dorky well-meaning youth worker I tried so hard to emphasize the importance of Sunday morning. I didn’t want the trend to continue. I tried to help. But it was bigger than me.

The trend started way before I became a youth worker. It started before I even went to youth programs myself. I’m not condemning youth programming. I think that it has done an amazing thing, it changed the church. The problem is it changed it in a way that we didn’t understand and the church couldn’t keep up. Youth ministries created generations that expected more of their worship communities. In turn, the status quo failed. I may be completely off on this, but I think this is the reason why youth ministry is dying. It’s being killed off to save the “status quo” church. But the problem has already taken hold. It’s much larger than the small c church can deal with.

So now we have this problem. We have two generations of adults (gen-x and millennials) who expect more from worship communities. They don’t know if there is a Divine, but they want to believe in one. They want action and depth from their communities. They want something different from the status quo. They want to experience the Divine like they did when they were teens themselves. I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

I think it’s time for the church to change. I think it’s time we abandon our Sunday mornings. Maybe not all at once, since there are those who still get something from those services, maybe a slow transition is needed. How about something more akin to what youth groups used to be? An evening service focused on group building, discussion, and diving deeper into discipleship? What about a place where we can share our gifts and talents with each other, and help grow the talents of others? A place where we are welcomed without judgment or fear of the questions that we bring. A place where all are welcome regardless of how we look, who we love, what we do, or what we believe? A community that we can serve with together. A community we can drop our masks with and come as we are, warts and all. A community that can embrace all images of the Divine and struggle together to find the truth in those that confuse us. This is my image of what large C Church is supposed to look like. A community that loves, regardless.

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A Life of Worry

This is the post I set out to write two weeks ago. This is a short chronicling of my life with anxiety as it pertains to the church. For a more in-depth examination and telling of my story, I’m currently trying to get a book published that I finished at the end of 2016. There are bits and pieces in there from the blog, but it is the long form of this story. So when and if it gets published, I’ll make sure to let everyone know. For now here is the short form:

Footsteps in the Hall

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.

No Longer Under God’s Protection

Trying to condense this all into a readable blog post is rather difficult. It’s like trying to describe the outside to someone who has been trapped in a cave their whole life. A little Plato reference for you there. 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 being 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

There was another statement that was made in that conversation I mentioned earlier that stuck with me for most of my life. I was told to beware of the people who claimed to be Christian in the new church we were to be attending because they believed that you could lose your salvation and therefore were not true Christians.

Losing My Salvation

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 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.

Breaking Free

Two weeks ago in my post on pride (linked above), I posted about the beautiful artwork that Federico Babina created. I used his artwork as my featured image this time. I’ve talked a bit in a letter to my son about what it feels like to live with anxiety. Though I don’t think I really did it justice. I know it made some feel uncomfortable about me and urged me to seek help. I did. I am getting help. But it doesn’t go away just because you get help. It’s still a part of you. It is something you struggle with every day. Maybe it is deep seated. Maybe you know how silly it is to be worried about nothing, but the worry is still there. It is a monster that traps you within yourself.

I love this piece in particular because it is very true to me how it feels like. I feel alone. I feel stranded within myself because I have been taught to bottle it up. A pastor I worked with once told me that nobody likes a depressed spiritual leader. He meant well, and I understood what he meant, but it didn’t help. I was taught that those of us in ministry are only allowed to be robots, holy robots at that. Portraying no emotion, no feeling, no struggle, nothing. I saw that when we did, bad things happened. They happened to me. More than 8 times. Some of those times were my own making, others not so much.

So here I was at the beginning of this transition, bottled up. Trapped inside of myself. Too alone and afraid to do anything. The only people I really let in were those I trusted, and I had been betrayed too often to trust many people. So I closed myself off even more. Some of you may have noticed that in the last 6 months I hid. I hid away from the world because I was too afraid to face it. I was bottling up more and more. I was adding more and more chains to my house. My barbed wire roof would rival any super-max prison. I did what I was taught to do my entire life, lock up. I kept building my defenses as if I were preparing for the worst zombie onslaught possible, emotionally speaking. I would wonder why I was so alone. I knew why. I would lie to myself constantly telling myself that I’m the only one to blame for it all. I couldn’t see the mosaic for the broken tile that was my life in this moment. The biggest irony of this all is my deepest and most deep-seated fear of all is being alone for too long.

Luckily, I’m starting to break free. I have begun to see the light outside of me. I’ve had help from amazing people digging from the outside: my wife, my family, my therapist, and even some of you readers. I wanted to share how this felt. I want to share how I got here with the world at large in hopes that I can get messages out to those who are building defenses and walls to shelter them from the pain might see some light. Might begin to break free. It won’t ever go away, but the amazing and beautiful truth is that you are not alone. We are not alone. We fight, we struggle, we win together. We can break free from our own personal prisons and let the light in.

Maybe the bigger part of this all is allowing ourselves to be human. Allowing our spiritual leaders to be human. I’m human, you are human, we are all human and that’s okay. We were made to be humans, not robots. Humans were made to live in community. To share our inner selves. To let other people in and see the amazing people we are deep inside. We were created by a Divine that believes us to be awesome. There is nothing we can do to earn that awesomeness, besides being ourselves. There is nothing we can do to lose that awesomeness either, besides building walls and not letting others see it.

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