The Honest Faith: Grinding

Recently my car has been making a grinding sound from the rear wheels. I know it’s not healthy for my vehicle to continue to drive like that, as it may be the brakes rusting over. My car is old. Well 12 years old, but in car years that’s almost an eternity. I’m going to get this fixed as soon as I can, but the issue is that I still need to drive this vehicle to and from work, and to pick my son up from day care. There is a lot that goes into the timing and money it takes to fix a vehicle especially one as old and rusted as mine. Can I afford a Lyft to run my errands while my car is in the shop? Can I afford to get whatever it is that needs fixing, fixed? Will I be able to drive it for a few more days without making things worse? Should I ask for help, or is this one of those, I just gotta get it done things?

I feel, recently, the church has been showing signs of wear and tear as well. If you listen you can hear a loud grinding noise coming from the church in America. It sounds as if the old rusted words and theology are grinding against the modern society that is moving forward. Some may say this is a good thing. That the church was meant to be counter cultural. Though the problem is it’s not counter-cultural at all, it’s anti-cultural as if there was a pendulum that had culture in the middle where counter-culture was on one end of the spectrum and anti-culture was on the other. This grinding isn’t a good thing. It’s not healthy for either the church or the culture. It is a symptom of a much larger problem.

Using my personal predicament as a metaphor for the church there is an important question the church must ask itself. Can the church afford to ignore Jesus? This of course is an afford in a much broader sense than just monetary, though let’s begin there. In Luke’s Gospel there are a few stories about money and the importance it should take in life. There is the story of the rich young ruler (Luke 18: 18-30), there is the story of Jesus confronting the Pharisees (Luke 11-12), and there is even the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). The common thread for Jesus across the Gospel was not that wealth and money were bad, but rather the love thereof. Jesus, himself, taught that when you are focused on your own wealth and power it will consume you and not leave room for you to think about the world around you and how it may be affected. This leads us back to the church. Can the church afford to ignore Jesus? I’ve had a few encounters via social media with some evangelical christians who seem to trust Gordon Gekko above Jesus. They believe that “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” This is anti-culture. If you will notice society has trended in the way to say, money isn’t all there is to life. It has become more in-line with Absurdist philosophy  to understand that it is absurd to chase meaning in anything, especially money, other than just living your life. You may view a documentary on Netflix which was just released to examine more the state of which money has influenced Politics rather than people. This Documentary is by former white house economist Robert Reich called, “Saving Capitalism”. Now I could go on and on about how this particular grinding noise is playing out in the church today, but I’m not here to make the repairs just now. I’m here to ask the question, can the church afford to let the problem continue?

Let’s take a listen to another grinding noise coming from the church. Can the church afford to ignore abuse? Now this is a huge can of worms. I brought your attention to this two weeks ago, and it is now starting to encounter resistance from the church. Now the biggest argument from the church, again I’m sourcing from personal social media encounters, is from the beginning of John’s gospel in chapter 8. They site the end of the last verse of the certain story verse 11 where Jesus says, “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” Aside from the fact that this story may never have happened according to Biblical scholars, it completely misses the point of the story. The story was to show that unless you yourself are completely perfect you shouldn’t be bringing judgment on another. We have some further writing from Paul in Romans 6, which I have discussed before, that say we certainly shouldn’t go on hurting people because we have license to now. Going back to our synoptic Gospel for this we have Jesus teaching on how we ought to treat each other, and none of those sounds like covering up the abuse of power (read a broad definition of abuse covering all forms). If you look at the end of Luke 6 you see the sermon on the mount, then you have the story of the woman anointing Jesus’ feet which Luke puts way before the Passion week unlike the other Synoptics (Luke 7), and the stories are continuous of this itinerant preacher man throughout the book of Luke where he tells people to treat others with kindness and love. Kindness and love do not turn blind eyes to abuse. They shine a light on it and bring it out. But again, I’m just asking the questions. Can the church afford to ignore abuse?

What about the grinding noise of lack of compassion? Notice, there is a huge uneven number in this country.  There are around 384,000 churches in America right now. As of 2015, here in America, there is an estimated 564,708 homeless people. Now if you were to assume that one of the churches main goals was to feed the hungry and house the homeless you would think that those numbers are disproportionately large. I mean consider that each church in America could house around 30 people per night, not super comfortably, but they could. If each church in America were to commit to housing that many people they could, in essense, give room and board to a grand total of 11,520,000. That’s a little under 5% of our total population in the US but it more than certainly can cover the total amount of homeless. Why is this? Why are churches not having compassion on those who are hungry and destitute? Is it because they are afraid of getting things dirty inside? When did the church become about presentation? Isn’t the work of the church about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, and supporting those who need support? That was Jesus’s message in the feeding of the 5000, in the story of the sheep and the goats, and in all of his messages about the Kingdom of the Divine. So what gives? Can the church afford to lose sight of it’s mission?

I could go on and on about the problems. I have for almost a year written a lot about these problems and how I think best to combat them. I have run out of things to say about the church in that, I think it’s time to move forward. To be honest, I, personally, have kind of given up on the organization of the church. I have my reasons. I have been hurt by the church more times than I’d like to admit. Yet, like Hosea, I kept coming back to the place that would hurt me. Almost as if I was a glutton for punishment. It wasn’t healthy for me and it wasn’t healthy for the churches either. It was a grinding that I needed to fix in my own life. Yes, I’m probably going to go and get my car fixed this weekend, I kinda need my car. But what can we do to fix the church at this point in time? I don’t have the answers. As I said two weeks ago, I believe we need a revival, but what does that look like? What do you think reader? Can the church afford to keep going on in its grinding or will it become way too expensive to fix that we will just have to replace it? Reader, your voice matters. What do you think? You are not alone, You matter.

Please follow and like us:

The Honest Faith: A Call for Revival

I am a husband, a father, a son, a brother, and a minister of the word. I take my duties which go along with these titles very seriously. I love my wife. I love my son. I love my mom and my dad. I love my sister and my brother. I also love all people. This love is not only my duty, but also my pleasure as to me it is more than just a responsibility. It is a calling. Love is not a difficult thing to grasp. It is complicated at times, but love is a simple concept. This simple concept has become twisted and manipulated over time however. Love has gone from “Not insisting on its own way” (I Cor. 13:5) to “it’s my way or the Highway (to hell).”

I mention my relationships, because that is where my deepest hurt is coming from recently. The love of my loved ones is the thing that is hindering my relationship with the Divine and the Divine’s supposed community. There has been a trend, especially in evangelical circles, toward moralism. This trend has replaced the gospel as the most important message of the western church. Moralism is the practice of moralizing, especially showing a tendency to make judgments about others’ morality. Yet, the odd thing is, this moralism has a very odd double standard that more aligns with a secular conservative morality rather than a morality of even Scriptures (take your pick on which). The western church has become obsessed with this idea of, for lack of a better term, American Moralism. Where the message has gone from: God loves you and forgives you no matter what, to: if you don’t follow God, guns, and the American dream you are going to hell.

This morality has a clear disdain for women, children (who have been born, fetus’ are another topic), LGBTQ+, pacifists, anyone who reads anything other than the Bible for historical study, scientists, historians, anyone who thinks anything remotely different than they do, anyone with a mixed or different heritage, and more recently anyone who watches any other news network besides “fox”. I say this disdain is clear because more recently in American politics it has become very evident what this moralism values above the Gospel. It values power, wealth, “rightness”, superstition, and fear. With the election and the excusing the sins of a man who openly admitted to molesting a married woman. The excusing of the sins of a judge who has more often than not shown a clear mistrust and racial bias against those of a different heritage, and has been recently accused of abusing his power to molest young women. These things were excused in an attempt to gain power and to instill a moralism to control others’ morality systems.

If you ask most of those christian moralists why that is, they will point to the one major issue that divides the country, Abortion. While it is an important issue to discuss, it is not the only issue on which we are divided. For example, I do not believe that elective abortion is good, or emotionally healthy. But I also believe in a woman’s right to choose that for herself, rather than having a moralist society say that it is completely illegal to do so. I understand the tough decisions that a woman needs to make. I understand that most do not go about it lightly. I do not believe most women go into the world thinking, “Oh, abortion is a valid form of birth control.” That is reductionistic and silly. I also do not believe in total Anarchy either, but that is a different story. This one issue, while important in itself, is used as the blinder to all others. It is the carrot on the stick that has led the vast majority of the western church astray from the path of the Gospel. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was never intended to be given to the church either. The western church, myself included, has been unable to see the forest for the trees for so long.

Most recently there has been a trend. This trend is a wonderful one. A very empowering and life giving, however world shattering, trend. This trend is about women speaking up and showing that sexual abuse, and harassment is much more common than people make it out to be. It was tagged on social media with #MeToo. While I am a man, and I have my own story of being the victim of sexual abuse, it is primarily meant for women as they have had a much harder time speaking up and being listened to for the sole purpose that they are women. The church, for the longest time, has faced many stories and allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse of all sorts since time immemorial. Though with the virality of this trend, many more stories are coming to light. Just this week alone there are stories of pastors of mega-churches, 3 pastors in my state alone, and many more across the country. The church has repressed sexuality and even talk about sex for a long time, it is almost no wonder that we have gone beyond the boiling point for such stories. This is just sexual abuse, though. There have been all kinds of tyrannical abuse stories from spiritual, emotional, physical, mental, and so on from the church.

It is enough to make anyone say, “Enough!” Yet, the cries of the congregations go unheeded because they are not what is important to this beast we have created. No, this beast is massive, ugly, and only cares for power and wealth. That is all we are to it. Notice I use the small c when I refer to church, because there is a clear and distinct line between toxic moralism christianity and healthy Jesus following Christianity. That line, that gap, I’ve written about many times. It is widening, daily. It threatens to consume not just the United States of America, but the world whole. There is a problem, you may choose to ignore it, God help you if you do, but it is there. When moralism becomes more important than the gospel message we’re just feeding the small c church monster.

I used a term to title this blog post that may trigger some memory of abuse for some, for that I apologize. But I use it for a purpose. The purpose is that I’m trying to speak the language of those who are caught up in the beast’s grasp. Those who are all to willing to ignore the problem. Because it is time we take a good hard look at what the church has become. It is time we ask the important questions like “What does the gospel look like in the 21st century?” We need a revival. We are a resurrection people. It may mean we need to let the western church as we know it die, so that it may be resurrected. I don’t know what it is supposed to look like. I don’t have the answers to that. I’m just a writer, and minister in the USA, what do I know. I just know something needs to be done. I just know that we cannot continue how we are going because this problem, this beast threatens us all. We are dealing with the impacts of that beast every day. There are more mass shootings every day. There are more stories of abuse coming to light every day. There are more and more people suffering new abuse stories every day. There is a church that has been consumed by moralism rather than the gospel. In case you forgot, the gospel is this: GOD LOVES EVERYONE! Everyone is welcome at the table. No strings, no agendas, no morality needed. EVERYONE. For God so loved the world that God decided to move into the neighborhood, so that we may see that God loved us enough to suffer and die with us. Whoever decides to accept that love is welcomed to that love. For God didn’t come to judge us, but that we may be saved from our own moralism.

This is your call to revival. This is your call to take a good hard look at the church. If you are going to a toxic church, If you realize that you are in the grips of this monster we have created, it is time to get out. It is time find a healthy Jesus following Church. One that does not care about the money or the power that you bring to it, a Church that welcomes you for who and what you are. A Church that cares for and welcomes everyone with no strings, no agenda, no need for moralism. That is the Agape Love, the unconditional love that the Bible talks about. That is Good Christianity. They exist. They are out there, though they may be hard to find. Take care of yourselves. These are tough times we live in. Remember that you are not alone, you matter. You are not alone, you matter. You are not alone, you matter.

Please follow and like us:

The Honest Faith: 95 Theses for a Modern Church

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

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

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

Please follow and like us:

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.

Please follow and like us:

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.

Please follow and like us:

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  >

Please follow and like us:

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!

Please follow and like us:

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.

Please follow and like us:

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.

Available now in E-Book and Paperback:

Please follow and like us:

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.

Please follow and like us: