The Honest Faith: Why Don’t You Care?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Honest Faith: Sin

Speaking of definitions, let’s go back to the start. What makes Christians, Christians? For many the ideas of St. Paul speak to this in the book of Romans, especially the 3rd chapter. In it, there is that phrase that most will repeat out of context “For all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God”. From there most would immediately point to another work by St. Paul, Ephesians 2. “For by Grace are you saved through faith, that not of yourselves it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” Finally, the coup de gras, going to John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”. So we know that there is this idea that we are all sinners, and therefore we need Jesus to believe in him to save us from the consequences of sin. That’s the basic idea of Christendom right? So what is sin?

If we go back to the original languages, Greek and Biblical Hebrew, we have a term that is used for spear throwing and archery. In Greek, we have hamartia which means to miss the mark. This term was often used for spear throwing and meant to miss the target altogether. The Hebrew word, hata, is an archery term for missing the “bullseye” but still hitting the target. In Latin, sine, which the English word sin may have come from, means without or alone, by oneself. This last one is a bit odd since the Greek word syn means together or sun. So what does it mean to be a sinner then? Does it mean that we miss the mark? What mark? What bullseye should we be aiming for?

The idea of sin is a transgression against a divine law or command. So if we take this idea and apply it to the teachings of Jesus, we would need to know which laws we needed to keep, correct? So let’s ask Jesus, “What is the most important law or commandment?” “He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’” Luke 10:26-28. So if we are to take Jesus at his word here love is the target we are aiming at. Love is the greatest law and commandment. Love for both God and our Neighbor.

Before I get too much further I need to put a little disclaimer. For those of you who have read my work before, I know this is much more Bible-y than I normally get. Bare with me. For those of you who may be reading for the first time, or maybe not. I just have to say, I understand. I was there once. I know how scary it can be too closely examine tightly held beliefs. I know that it feels like the top of Pandora’s box, that if you take just a little peek it will unleash all sorts of evils into your soul. I know that fear. I had that fear. I know all about Pascal’s wager. I know all about the horrors of hell. I know. I see you. I hear that small guilty voice in your head. It spoke to me once too. It tells you that, “if you do this you will be alone. Nobody will love you. You don’t matter.” I get it. I’m not asking for you to get rid of your faith. I’m not asking you to become a heretic. I’m not asking you to throw everything to the wind. All I ask is one question. “What if I’m wrong?”

This thought has come to me in many different ways over the course of my life. One of my earliest memories that haunts me is of street “witnessing” with my youth group when I was a punk know-it-all jackass teen trying to convince some guy outside a gas station of his need for God. What if I was wrong? What if he already found God? Did I cause him to have less of a relationship with the Divine? Then in college when I was taking Bible courses and learning deeply about what the Bible really said. I thought, “What if I was wrong about all this stuff before?” letting go of tightly held beliefs was painful and difficult. But it freed me to learn more. It freed me to find a God that loved more deeply and fully than I could have possibly imagined before. Still, the question remains for me for almost everything, “What if I’m wrong?”

So let’s apply that to this topic. What if we’ve been wrong about sin? Yes, I understand it is the need for God and the fact that all humans are imperfect and we don’t get things right. What if we are wrong about our focus on it? Have you ever considered that? One of my prompts for this was someone asking me about atonement. I wrote an article about it, which I don’t know if it will be published or not. But, I thought a lot about it. Did God set up this cosmic need for a sacrifice in case someone screwed up? Why? Why would God do that if God was all knowing, all powerful, and all loving? God had to know someone was going to screw up eventually, right? I read through many different theories on the atonement. I read about how it all came back to this idea of a transactional idea of cosmic justice that is based on very human ideas. I even read about Jewish sacrifice.

The ancient Judaic tradition of Sacrifice and Offering is not really the same concept that many have of it now. Many people picture half naked muscle bound priests chanting in an unintelligible language raising a ritualistic sword or dagger over a poor defenseless child or animal. Dark and dirty scenes from famous movies flash into the mind like the scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where a shaman is chanting one of the names of the god Kali before he plucks the heart of the human sacrifice from his chest. Yeah, sacrifice was never really done that way or meant that way, to begin with. If we go way back we see the sacrifices brought to God by Cain and Able. There is this whole thing where the animal was more appropriate than the veggies thing, and something gets lost in translation. In fact, the sacrifice ritual was never meant as the cleansing in and of itself. Tracy Rich from the website JewFAQ.com puts it this way, “qorbanot have no expiating effect unless the person making the offering sincerely repents his or her actions before making the offering, and makes restitution to any person who was harmed by the violation.” The act itself didn’t remove the sin or even clean the person; it was the act of doing something because we as human beings are wired that way. We feel as if we need to do something in order to gain full forgiveness from God or even the person we wronged.

So the whole idea of the atonement got to be mixed up in this idea that we were “cleansed by the blood of the lamb”. No, that’s not the case. The case is that God forgave us for everything up on that cross. Jesus said before that, we are already forgiven. So this brings me around to the question of sin. What if we were wrong? What if sin doesn’t matter anymore. What really matters is how we treat each other, the world, and everything given to us. Jesus wasn’t our scapegoat. Jesus didn’t take care of things just so we could squander everything we have and take advantage of it and people. No! That is what Paul talks about in Romans 6. The point was that we needed to take responsibility for our own actions. Fess up to the wrongs that we did, and try to make them better. We see that in the Qorbanot. We see that in the Christian Bible. Sin was not the thing we needed to worry about, it was a symptom of the fact that, you know what, we are bad human beings.

We got so focused on sin we lost sight of what really mattered. We forgot to love our fellow man, our world, and everything in it. We forgot what it meant to love. We got mixed up in this idea of morality and ridding ourselves of “sin”, contrived or not,  that we forgot what Jesus told us was most important. LOVE. Love God, love others, and love yourself. That’s it. Jesus didn’t mention be sinless in that. No, in fact, that’s what the people who asked were looking for. So maybe missing the mark is just practice at trying to be a better human being. It doesn’t matter if we sin because God already took care of that. What matters is that we love and we live, and we do it to the fullest. We need to show the world, all creatures, and human beings alike, that they are not alone, they matter to us. Just as you are not alone, you matter. You are not alone. You matter to me.

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The Honest Faith: Definition

Update: I have received feedback that people may interpret that I am saying I am a prophet and that my truth is the objective truth. That was not my intention. My intention was to say, much like prophets of old I am interpreting the patterns and finding what may seem true to me. That like everything else should be weighed and measured with what is perceivable and knowable elsewhere. This is to say, we as human beings are bad at divining truth all the time, so let’s try to err on the side of love for all of creation.

So as not to fall into the standard cliche of writing by starting with what Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines some word as, I’ll let you do the looking. Over the past few weeks, and months I’ve been writing about finding my way to the real definition of my faith. I’ve encountered some resistance, I’ve even felt very alone in my quest. I’ve had those who tried to tell me my struggle was of my own making, I don’t listen to those voices anymore. I’m struck by how the search for clarity has become a taboo or even offensive proposition. When did truth become an expletive?

We’ve all read and shared articles about “Fake” and misleading news becoming a trend. We’ve participated in the virality of works that added to the echo chamber of our own opinion. We are all guilty of the sin of not listening to opposing voices. Now I’m not saying that blocking or not listening to the voices that attack you is a sin. Not at all. That is a bit of self-preservation because after all, you matter. I’m saying the purposeful, and blatant pushing aside actual conversation so as to prove one’s point. The ignoring of opposing views so as to remain in one’s own protected reality. I would think many could accuse me of doing such, however, I do invite conversation and opposing views when they are presented in a manner that is constructive and without ill intent. If you have seen the difference, you know the difference. Though we have all been guilty of this, even me.

I’ve written before about how I am interested in the evolution of words and language. I find it interesting how when a word is used to mean a different thing than its original meaning that it doesn’t evolve right away. It is with constant use and reinforcing of that words new meaning that it evolves into that meaning. Take the word prophecy, for instance. It is just meant to mean the utterance of a prophet. A prophet is more often than not, a trusted religious advisor who seems to be able to see what a Divine being has going on for certain things. What is interesting is that you have prophets throughout history who disagree with each other. Even in the bible, you have contradictory prophets and prophecies. Many times it is over what should or should not be done in the case of national matters. Yet, recently, the word prophecy has come to have another definition which makes it synonymous with “Fortune Telling”. Which has, in turn, evolved prophets into this idea of sooth sayers and predictors of future events. I use this as my example because I had a great Professor in college who taught a class on the prophetic books of the Christian Bible. In his very first class, he had the lights turned off and the shades were drawn. He had candles lighting the front of the classroom, with new age music playing in the background and a crystal ball adorning his desk. He came in and started drawing lines on the whiteboard which made him look like Charlie Day in that Meme that has become popular. This was all build up for him to say, false. These prophecies were not spoken or written to tell the future, but we interpreted them as such because we view them through the lens of the future. Some happened, others didn’t yet they were speaking to a certain time, to a certain people, and were not meaning forward looking except maybe by a few years.

I loved that class. It was one of my favorites in college because it taught me more about exegesis than most of my other Bible courses. I learned how to read a prophecy within the historical context, and how that could be used later to believe it was future telling. Granted, from my upbringing I have always thought fortune tellers were a bunch of hogwash and occultism. I wanted to be a prophet myself, though I didn’t know what that really meant. I wanted to interpret what God had for the world and be the ‘Holy’ equivalent for those future tellers. For some reason that was not hogwash? I wanted to be the Gandalf the White Wizard of modern Christianity. Needless to say, I think I did become a prophet, however, it was nothing like I thought.

Prophecy was about divining definition from the patterns of everything around us to speak truth to a situation. Though, what I didn’t realize was that people don’t like the truth. The truth may set you free, but it is also painful to realize how wrong you may have been. Prophecy was not sooth saying, but rather truth saying. It was due to this that many prophets met with horrible ends. They suffered many atrocities for the truth that they spoke. Some spoke for kings and rulers, some spoke against kings and rulers. All spoke up when they saw wrong happening. All suffered in order to prevent wrong from continuing. I tried and still do try to speak truth to power. I still see part of my duty is to prophesy about those wrongs that I see happening.

I use this in my example of definition because we have developed the inability to listen to the truth. We keep waiting for a supernatural occurrence, pattern or sign to show us what the truth is, instead of listening to those who may speak it around us. Not that I’m always speaking the truth, I fail a lot. I’m a human being. It happens. Though if you notice none of the prophets was anything more than human. They just interpreted patterns. Some of them got some things right, all failed from time to time. They were human. It happens. We attributed a higher meaning to their words or actions because we viewed them through the lens of the future. (short aside, Nostradamus I think was just a crazy guy who saw some wild patterns that happened to get some things right) Truth can come from anywhere and anything. Some people see patterns differently than others. Many studies for years and years to be able to interpret certain patterns, like weather, science, and astrophysics. Those people are experts for a reason, they studied past patterns and what they meant. So they are able to say with certainty what future patterns would result from current trends. I don’t mean to equate scientists with prophets, just saying that they have more right to speak truth to situations such as massive hurricanes and the cause of them rather than fortune tellers and diviners.

I saw a lot of diviners being given credence recently. In the American continent, we have suffered 4 major natural disasters in as many weeks. 3 Hurricanes and a massive earthquake. Diviners have been saying these are signs from god that the end is here, or that we are being punished for some contrived slight against an assumed moral code. These have been a bit displeasing to me as the evidence clearly points to climate change being a factor for these things happening. Now, sure they could still be signs of such things, but ultimately I think we should take the much bigger hint that we haven’t been great stewards of the earth. That is a much more evident pattern. We ignore what is right in front of us in order to divine a much greater and supernatural meaning to aid us in our complacency? Can there not also be an admittance that you haven’t been that great in taking care of the environment? Can you not also see that climate change is a thing? How is this symbolic message more important than a commandment we received in writing, to use the scripture you so often like to reference? I’m not asking you to go out and wrap your arms around a tree. I’m asking you to take a look at whether or not you’ve been a good steward and what you can do better. That’s simple.

The way we define things is important because we give meaning. As much as we like or dislike something we participate in the act of evolving a word, phrase, statement, or even the way we interpret patterns from the world around us. Those definitions and meanings are important because they can either be used to give life or take it away. We can either help or hurt those around us with what we say and do. We can either contribute to making someone feel alone and like they don’t matter, or we can help with spreading the good news that they are not alone and that they matter. Speaking of which, You reader, are not alone. You matter!

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The Honest Faith: The Truth Will Set You Free

Last week I wrote about “Annoying Christianity”. I was surprised that there were only a few comments that were not really on the same page that I was. One told me to repent. I’m not quite sure what I need to repent from. I mean maybe I need to repent from going into “Christian” book stores anymore. That I can do. I’ll turn away from them anytime I see them. So I wanted to follow up. I wanted to find out how we can be better. How can we turn this around so that Christianity isn’t struggling with this PR problem anymore? So again, I asked Facebook, in a few different places, “How can we be better?” I got a lot of feedback. But there was an overall theme within them “Authenticity and Love”. I had a wonderful response from a person in my denominational facebook group that I wanted to share:

We stop being annoying when we stop being dishonest about how hard it is to be a human being.We have to start being honest about not only our individual struggles but our struggles as a church, to overcome all kinds of things such as our own racism, sexism, classism, ableism, etc. We have to be vulnerable, as individuals and as a church. Own up to our mistakes, ask forgiveness, and then work to repair the breach.

They went on to discuss nationalism in the response (which I think I called out well enough last week), but I think this first paragraph hits the nail on the head. They said it so beautifully and simply. It’s hard for me to add more to it, but I’m a writer so that’s what I’m going to do. My fellow Christian writer Chris Kratzer published a post earlier this week entitled, “The Apology Every White Christian Needs To Give To Black America, Now.” In the article, he is very honest about his position. He apologizes for his conscious and unconscious decisions that took advantage of his privilege, not just as a white person, but as a male and a pastor. He owned up to it. Which was beautiful. It is a very moving piece, I recommend you read it. Maybe after you finish this one?

What is it with our tenuous relationship with truth? Why is it so hard for us to be honest about our faith, shortcomings, doubts, or whatever? It is like we fell in love with this picture of 1950’s America (read: USA) that never existed and decided that is what the church needed to be. As if every church building across the globe needed to be a copy of the Cleaver household. So we started fibbing to each other. Pretending that our lives were just like that. Much like 1950’s America, we have fallen to those same shortcomings. We’ve become obsessed with stuff, image, silent or vocal racism, sexism, classism, and so on. We’ve “left it to Beaver” and went on pretending.

So what now? How do we come back? Well, I think as my responses put it, we need to be honest and love. We need to embrace the truth that we are all humans. How did Saint Paul put it? “All have fallen short”? Guess what! Nobody is perfect, and that’s okay! We aren’t supposed to be. This isn’t an episode of late 1950’s tv. If anything our lives can be more equated to an episode of Game of Thrones, where nobody is blameless, everyone dies, and frozen zombies are coming. Wait, maybe not that last part. I know it’s been thrown around many times before and some of you maybe have seen it in some church function. I admit I used it in youth group more than once. There is a TED talk from Brene Brown where she talks about the Power of Vulnerability. In it, she talks about how those who are the most open, and honest are the ones who feel love more. It’s strange to think that those who may feel the most unloved can feel the most love when they admit to the fact that they feel unloved. We left that somewhere. Maybe we left it in the 1950’s. Wasn’t that what the church was supposed to be. A place where people could be completely and uniquely themselves without fear of judgment, oppression, or hate?

I think we want to believe that being good and quiet, and just going with the flow makes a good Christian. We don’t want to admit it. We don’t want to question it because it’s comfortable. You don’t have to do anything that way. You just have to give up an hour of your time maybe 10% of your income once a week and that’s it. Not so hard right? That is all being a Christian is, correct? I’m very sorry to have to tell you this, but the truth is Jesus said, “Take up your Cross and follow me”. Jesus didn’t promise us a comfy life. Jesus promised it would be hard. We would stand against some power structures. We were going to suffer and possibly die for this message. We did for a while. Until we lost our honesty. Maybe it was the 1850’s? Still looking for it. Jesus stood up to the injustice, greed, corruption, racism, and all manner of horrid things throughout His life. We were supposed to follow him. He made political statements all the time. You know that whole thing with Legion and the pigs? Yeah, that was one big political statement all about Rome and driving them back into the ocean from whence they came. Speaking against these things isn’t comfortable. It isn’t the easy thing to do. Being honest with yourself and your struggles is hard. Owning your faults is difficult. Because all we’ve been shown is that we will receive judgment and scorn for that. But guess what, that’s not the gospel.

The Gospel is and always has been that GOD LOVES EVERYONE! It doesn’t matter. There is nothing you can do to earn that love, there is nothing you can do to lose it. You don’t have to go to church to get it. You don’t have to give 10% of your income to get it. You have to open up and be honest with yourself. You gotta be just who you are because that is who God loves. The Divine is just waiting for you to realize this so that the Divine may delight in you.

I often times think this is what made us so annoying. We lost sight of that. We put up hoops and hurdles because we thought, you know what, this isn’t fair. I’ve worked so hard for God’s love, and the next guy who walks in the door didn’t do anything and he get’s God’s love. Or maybe because we didn’t want to do anything with it. Maybe we got comfortable with God’s love and said well I got mine. So we got lazy and did nothing, forgetting the second part of that message, go share the love. I really enjoyed the show “Key & Peele”. They did a sketch about a prayer group where God showed up. I find it very hilarious because I think that is very much what we have done as a church. I’ve included it below if you want to have a watch. What if God showed up? Would the Divine be shaking its proverbial head at us, or would it be pleased?

So the message is this. We need to let the truth set us free. We need to be authentically ourselves and love others for being authentically themselves. This means that nobody is better than the other. Nobody deserves more than the other. We are all equal partners in this thing we call life. So let’s live it authentically, vulnerable, and filled with love. Let’s stop pretending to “Leave it to Beaver” and start honestly living in love. Because, yes, we are all sinners, but who cares? God doesn’t, that was already taken care of 2000 years ago. Should we go on living hurtful ways? No! We gotta love each other the best we can! So go and spread the love. Because after all, You are not alone! YOU MATTER! YOU ARE LOVED JUST AS YOU ARE!

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The Honest Faith: Annoying Christianity

For this post, 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.

This week I saw another Christian Blogger post an article about the 4 reasons people find Christians annoying. Look beyond the pop-up there, on the list of things I find annoying about bloggers. So I was inspired to ask my facebook friends the same question he asked, “What do you find the most annoying about Christians?”. Surprisingly, or maybe not so much, this was one of the most responded to posts on my wall in the last few months. I got a wide variety of answers to the question, but I was struck by an overwhelming thought. Christians are annoying. The truth of the matter is, whether you claim to be one or not, the idea of Christianity has become so overwhelmed by this sickeningly sweet saccharine message that has nothing to do with the true gospel anymore that nobody wants it. Christianity has become that gross Halloween candy that nobody really wants, yet gets handed out every year and sits at the bottom of bags and buckets until you are getting ready for the next round of Trick-or-Treating. It ends up being tried and spit out immediately, or just tossed in the trash altogether.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t some great churches out there doing some amazing things. I’m saying in general Christianity has gotten painted with the annoying brush. Somewhere along the way in our cracks and divisions a new message took root and sprouted up. One that demanded more attention, and drove the divisions even deeper. It was a message of power, wealth, and appearances. Christianity, somewhere along the line, went from a group of outcasts, nobodies, losers, sinners, gluttons, drunkards, prostitutes, and scum to Stepford wife. Honestly, take a step back and look. Is this not true?

It’s no wonder people are leaving the church. It’s no wonder that this message of perfection is turning people off. It is not obtainable. When you have those who profess to be christian (Small c on purpose) and saying all kinds of nonsense is ordained by god, or that god favors ‘fire and fury’, people don’t want to have anything to do with that god. That is not the Divine of the Christian Bible. That is not the Divine of any major world religion. That is some odd image of Ares (Greek god of war) or something. When did we begin to worship morality, being right, being superior, holier than thou, or even this book we claim is the “WORD OF GOD”. I’m sorry, but it is a book. It was written by human beings in a certain time, to a certain people, and the language used to write most of it isn’t even spoken anymore. The Word that is talked about in that book is Jesus, the God-man. Not the book itself. It’s no wonder people see Christians as morons, we can’t even read our book right.

To be perfectly Honest, for a long time I’ve felt this way. I even worked for the church. But I couldn’t stand the platitudes we threw around at each other. I couldn’t stand Christian book stores, a whole other story for another day. I would feel nauseous when I had to say something like ask Jesus into your heart, or have a relationship with him. Because those phrases have become so over used, they are completely devoid of meaning anymore. A true and honest relationship with the Divine comes not from buying a cross with an American flag emblazoned on it, sorry I just threw up a little. A true relationship with the Divine does not come about by being a good American even. (seriously who thinks that?) Or any number of things that don’t make any sense whatsoever when you hold them up to the real Gospel.

I was going to write about how Christians can be less annoying. But there is a part of me that feels that modern christianity (notice the small c) is beyond repair. As I took a step back myself I noticed there was a lot of this prevalent in our culture. We haven’t been counter culture since the Spanish Inquisition. Maybe it was the moment that the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its official religion. Maybe it was even back before that. Maybe when we started dictating culture rather than living our lives, maybe that is when we lost our way. But, when it comes right down to it, there is hope. I have seen some truly remarkable things done in the name of the true Divine. I have seen people stand up and say, “No, God does not hate anybody. God loves EVERY-ONE!” I have seen the true Gospel being lived out. Most of the time I’ve seen it, I saw it outside the doors of a church.

Really, I could rant and rave for a long time about what is wrong with modern christianity. I could, but I won’t. Because you know the problems too. You’ve seen them yourself. Sometimes you deny it. Most of the time you just accept it, because what can you do really? Some of you have left the church over those things, if you have I want you to know you aren’t alone, and I’d love to hear your story and support you. I know that you still want to follow Jesus. You still love that there was this man who did speak out against political powers, and religious leaders of His day. Maybe you feel powerless to do anything about it, but the truth is the only power that people have over you is the power you give to them.

True Christianity isn’t dying, but it certainly has a brand problem. The hospital for the spiritually infirmed needs a new PR person. This word Christianity among the populous is now more synonymous with Hypocrite, judge-y, and annoying than the true gospel message. The true message, in case you forgot, is that God loves everyone no matter what. That doesn’t mean just the perfect, morally upstanding, rich, or whatever. It means EVERYONE. You, me, the guy on the corner, that one crazy guy on tv that says god caused natural disasters for some reason or another, the gay person at work, the trans person that you don’t understand, the one lady who needs to pull her life together, that one person who is yelling at the customer service rep for some silly reason, and on and on. GOD LOVES EVERYONE. There is no exception.

The moment we start locking the doors to Heaven, because of one reason or another, is the moment we started worshiping idols. The moment we stopped helping people is the moment we became annoying and hurtful. The message is about love, kindness, and acceptance for all people. Not just the lovely, rich, clean, or whatever. So the take away from this today is to take a good hard look at ourselves, and ask are we living the true Gospel? Or would we rather hold on to our hate for the other? Are we loving all people as God loves them? Or are we bent on revenge that isn’t rightfully ours anyway? Are we annoying, or helpful? True Christianity isn’t dying, it’s always been there in the dirt with the filth getting it’s hands dirty helping all people. So if you feel alone because of the fake ones, don’t. You are not alone. You matter!

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The Honest Faith: Sympathy for the Devil

Released in 1968 the band Rolling Stones recorded a song reminiscent of Charles Baudelaire’s work “The Flowers of Evil”. In the Baudelaire collection of poetry, he begins with a poem about the devil in which to set the tone for the poems to follow which was about the decadence and fall of modern France, according to him.  This song was also inspired by the Russian writer Bulgakov’s book “The Master and Margarita”. The book is also about a visit from the devil to satirize and show the issues with the Soviet Union. This song was rather controversial in its time as it made many believe that Mick Jagger and Kieth Richards were devil worshipers. The wonderfully ironic twist is that this song is about demonizing the other or blaming these horrific events on an unseen force we call the devil. The point of the song was to portray how “Every cop a criminal, and all the sinner’s saints…”

I have found that we are very quick to call upon the image of the devil when things go wrong or we want to blame someone else. We conjure the images that seem most evil in our minds from recent history. We call people things like fascist, Nazi, or Hitler. We call out the evil in someone so readily. It is very easy for us to spot these bad things and categorize them as of the devil. But as the Jagger and Richards said, “I shouted out ‘who killed the Kenedy’s?’ When after all it was you and me.”

I was once told as a child, it is rude to point. I was also told, when you point a finger there are three more pointing back at you. My mother did her best to try to teach me that before I blame someone or I accuse someone I should try to imagine what they are going through. I also heard numerous quotes from the Bible that said, “Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself.” Proverbs 26:4. In fact, I was told a lot of Bible verses about judging, for your own reference here are 100 of them.  There is a story in the Quran about Musa and striking someone before knowing the situation. There are even quotes from Gautama Buddha about judging others. I’m sure if I looked hard enough, I could show you from most major religions around the world this common theme of: don’t be concerned about the wrongdoing of others, but instead concern yourself with your own wrongdoing.

I see more and more these days lines being drawn. I see people choosing sides and pointing out the flaws in the other one. I am disturbed by the amount of division and divisiveness I see from our role models, and peers. I am not condemning things like peaceful protests, or sharing of feelings. Those are to make one’s voice heard. So many have been silenced for so long, they are looking for ways to show that they are not alone and that they matter, too. There is a fine line, though, in that. When you ensure your voice is louder than someone else’s, aren’t you guilty of silencing them? Isn’t that one of the things we are working to stop? That is a fine line to walk, and a difficult question to answer.

Is there a true Black and White? Can there be a be an objective morality? Or is everything meant to be in shades of gray? I posit that there are shades of gray, but those shades are limited. How many times have Christians been told that the path to Heaven is Narrow? Does anyone know the context of the verse that is used in so many sermons? This verse has been taken so out of context that it has taken on a new meaning. To read the chapter it seems that this verse veers way off course from the rest of what Jesus is talking about if you give it that meaning. Here, read it for yourself. This, much like the parable of the talents, is about treating others with kindness and love. The whole passage begins with one of those judgment verses I just mentioned. He goes on to talk about God giving us good gifts, the golden rule, and good fruit. The passage ends with building a house on a sure foundation. If you read the passage you understand that the good foundation is precisely what is in the middle of the passage, the golden rule.

I have searched long and through many difficulties to find a place that follows the golden rule with integrity. Surprisingly, after all my interactions with the church, I can say that I have maybe only found two that I would say live that. If you ask me, that is a very narrow gate. But there are so so so so many businesses, people, churches, religious organizations, and so on that do not follow this. That is a very wide path, and if I were to take Jesus at his word in this passage it means it’s the road to destruction. I’m also reminded of another thing Jesus said. When he was asked what the most important commandment was, He said, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and spirit. The second is like it, Love your neighbor as yourself.” When did this get taken away from the Gospel? When did the Gospel suddenly become “the gate is narrow, but the path to destruction is wide”?

I was once called the devil. The reason being was that I was fighting for the right to allow homosexual students to come to youth group. I taught that we are all created in God’s image. That I wanted students to make up their own minds about faith and the Bible after they listened to the whole story. This was false teaching to some. So they labeled me “From the devil”. I tried not to take it personally, but it’s kinda tough to not do. I took a good hard look at the man in the mirror because after all, that is how the great philosopher and man who made mistakes, Michael Jackson, said to change the world. I didn’t see the devil. I saw a man who was trying to do the right thing to include all people, and not treat them as if they didn’t know anything. I’m confident that those who called me the devil didn’t see that. I’m sure there are those who still to this day, consider me to be the devil. I think the devil, however, is in the details.

If I can say anything is definitively evil and from the devil. I would have to say it is division and purposefully dividing people from each other. I do believe there is a lot more evil than that, but I would say that division is certainly “bad fruit”. St. Paul taught us how to spot the “Good fruit” one of those was kindness. He also said that “selfishness and vain ambition” were bad. Going back to all of those verses, I can almost hear the masters of faith saying that kindness and love are the firm foundation for any religion. When a religion is based on us, not them, it is built on shifting sands. Maybe we should stop pointing the finger, and instead take a look at the three pointing back at us.

“Please allow me to introduce myself.” I am a man of faith who has been guilty of making mistakes. I am a man who tries to find the good and connections in others despite our differences. All I ask is that you “Have some sympathy, and some taste (Woo woo) Use all your well-learned politesse”, or division will “lay your soul to waste”. Uh… Yeah. We need to stop seeing the other as a devil. We need to have some taste in what we do. We need to be polite, and civil with each other. Or this division we are creating will rot and waste away at our souls. If I take anything away from this classic samba rock anthem it’s this, we all are flawed. We all are responsible for these horrible atrocities. We need to stop trying to pick specks out of our neighbors’ eyes and remove the plank from our own. We need to have sympathy for our made up devils and begin to see them for what they are, human. But also, don’t forget, you are not alone, you matter!

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The Honest Faith: The Boulevard of Broken Dreams Pt. 1

A Youth Minister’s Story of being shattered

Chapter 1 Introductions

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.

To read the entire Chapter 1 click here

To Read the entire book Find it on Amazon below, (or wait till I publish it here)

Available now in E-Book and Paperback:

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The Honest Faith Presents: The Boulevard of Broken Dreams

A Youth Minister’s Story of being shattered

Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

In the Big Inning…

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

My imagination was unusual to a lot of people, and in fact, if I were to show some of the journals that I had drawn and written in back then, many would still say that I was rather messed up. Someone once told me that they were taking psych courses to find out what was wrong with me. I never did find out if they discovered something or not. I had written stories about a mad scientist who had invented the machine that would turn people into the opposite sex and then leave them that way to torment them. That’s just one of the many stories that I’m sure would make people wonder what was going on in my head.

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

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

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

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

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

“Correct.” He said matter-of-factly.

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

“That’s right.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doing whatever it takes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Informal Education

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

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

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

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

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

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The Honest Faith: The Unspoken Sin

While there are many unspoken sins in the church. There is one in particular that I feel runs unchecked in many religious organizations. Not just in many religious organizations, but in society as a whole. This is something that I have been hurt by very recently, and this post may be a bit self-indulgent and coming from a place of frustration. So maybe this post should be taken with a grain of salt, as almost all blog posts should. Today I’m talking about the unspoken sin of plagiarism.

Now I want to be clear, it’s a little hard to discern original thought on the internet these days. There is an odd phenomenon that similar ideas can pop up around the world at exactly the same time. With the advent of the internet, we are able to communicate ideas at almost light speed to people around the world. I’m not talking in particular about similar thought, I’m talking about the purposeful pulling of someone else’s intellectual property for your own gain sort of plagiarism. It can be knowing and unknowing. There are times when people write something long after they have read or watched something and believe it was an original idea of their own. That’s an easy mistake.

Something that I have noticed for a while now is that it is very rampant in the church. There are many priests, pastors, and lay ministers who take ideas from an internet article, book, movie, or a friend and pass it off as their own. Some may say, “well who does that hurt?” I’ve also noticed this in the outside world as well. There have been numerous accounts of where someone invented something or had an idea only to have someone take that thing and make large amounts of money off of it, and the originator doesn’t see a dime. My case in this point, Fidget Spinners. While the video I just linked to may be satire, the facts it presents are just that facts.

A friend of mine, Adam McLane, wrote a bit about this in an article he titled “The Dark Side of Ministry“. He defines what is done pretty well. So as not to participate in what I’m talking about today, I’m going to let that speak for itself. The thing is when I was new in ministry I was guilty of this too. I knew I was. This wasn’t just using media clips to illustrate a point, or to bring up questions; that’s not plagiarism. This was the blatant pulling of other people’s ideas without attribution. It was using my favorite preachers and author’s words and using them as my own without pointing to them as even inspiration for what they were doing. Now I know this is an easy thing to do. Nobody is going to write down the wording from a youth ministry lesson or a sermon and Google it later. I did this until someone pointed it out to me. Afterward, I worked very hard to make sure that I wrote my own original ideas and at least acknowledged where I got my un-original ideas from.

Again, you may be asking yourself, “Who is it hurting?” Well, that’s what I’m wanting to get at today. It hurts the artist. I never really considered myself an artist, after all, I have only been writing as a hobby and developing my own ministry resources as a career. That was until I started to re-wire the way my brain manufactured feelings. I started to see my writing as an art piece. Something that I pour a bit of myself into. I used to feel that way every time I sat down to write a lesson for youth group. I felt like I was creating. I felt like I was tapping into the Divine. Like the same energy that created the cosmos was filling me and using my fingers to type out some grand truth that it wanted to convey. I mean, yes, my delusions of grandeur did play a part in that thought process and construct. But honestly, I think that is what everyone feels when they begin to create something. That somehow this is bigger than they are. A friend told me after this recent event, “…this definitely sucks because you’ve been putting so much of your time and energy into developing it all.” I started working very hard at developing my writing and my art when I began my transition into “civilian” life. I know I’m still a minister in some ways, but I use the differentiation to show that I’m no longer bound to the traditional moorings of ministry. My art was what I did to occupy my time when I didn’t have a job. My art was a way to express me, to convey my thoughts and ideas to the world. To say that I still matter. I thought about ways to make money from it. I tried and failed. (Maybe. I don’t know does my page show advertisements aside from the one on the podcast page?)

This event was centered around a similar idea in someone else’s writing, and then the use of a ministry idea, that I did cite and reference when it began, that I developed into its own sort of thing. It was the latter that hurt me the most because I poured so much of myself into developing wording and ideas that wouldn’t be exclusive to any one thing but to be inclusive to all. I may have had missteps in not citing correctly or mentioning along the way, but I was learning. It was something that I spent a lot of time in developing. Something that, still to this day, I’m trying to figure out the next stage of evolution for. This hurt because I had spent so much time and energy into working on it. It wouldn’t have been so bad if that person had just said, “Hey, I’m working on something that I know you did before, can you help?” Even if the person was going back to the original concept, yet bringing my ideas to it. It is the ideas that took so much time and energy for me.

Like I said, there is some hurt that is going into my writing today. It’s almost inevitable that it happens when someone writes. We are human beings, we bring ourselves to whatever it is that we are doing. You cannot separate your humanity from your actions. It’s impossible. Like I made mention two weeks ago about the way we treat those in service. Like I made mention last week about how we develop these concepts and assumptions about people. We bring ourselves into everything we do. Maybe I’m just throwing an online tantrum. Maybe I’m getting all worked up over nothing, but that doesn’t assuage my hurt feelings.

With all that being said, I know that there is an underlying problem there. I know that this happens. I know that it’s easy to do because I did it once and try not to anymore. I know that we tend not to see the artist when we look at a piece of art. We forget that those who created are people too. I’ve been working very hard to try to attribute art, photos, and writing to their sources. Sometimes I don’t do it correctly. If you notice something that I did please let me know, I’ll try my best to remedy it and ask for your help as I probably don’t know. Maybe that’s the point of it all. Maybe we all need constructive feedback. We need others to lovingly remind us of when we hurt other people. We need to acknowledge that hurt and try to remedy the issue in the best way that we can. Maybe I’m just hurt, and I don’t know what to do about it other than write.

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The Honest Faith: Abandonment Issues

My whole life I lived under the impression that I was meant for something. I wholeheartedly believed that I was “destined” or “fated” for a grand purpose or plan that had yet to be revealed to me. For the longest time, I believed that meant the youth ministry that I was called to. I wasn’t bad at it. I was an excellent youth minister, that doesn’t mean I didn’t make mistakes from time to time. This was my calling. This was my destiny. This was all I was fated to do with my life… Until it wasn’t.

One of the problems I see in the Christian church is it confuses vocation, occupation, and self-worth or self-Identity. There are some of us going in with delusions of grandeur, thinking that through our career we will change the world. Others have issues with power, control, and a need to be right. There were times that I recognized this in myself and took steps to keep those desires separate from my professional life. Didn’t always work. I had a lot to work on in my life, this seemed like such a minor issue most days. That was of course until it wasn’t a minor issue anymore.

The hardest part of this transition out of ministry for me has been this issue. My identity, self-worth, occupation, vocation, and so much more were wrapped up so tightly together in the youth ministry package. This was so bad that I could not see myself as anything other than a minister for such a long time. It took a lot of work to unpack that bundle. I would have said I was fairly successful thus far until I uncovered this issue. Until, as we were working on our podcast for the week, I realized I felt abandoned by the Divine.

I felt that God called me to ministry. I felt extremely confident in that. I knew that I was meant for this purpose. I was good at it. That purpose pushed me to be the best that I could be at it. I gave a large portion of my life to ministry. I gave much more than it gave back, but that didn’t matter to me. To me, it was part of the grand plan. It was something that was meant for me just as I was meant for it. These ideas consumed me. When I encountered walls and the eventual end of this purpose I felt abandoned. If God chose me, why would God allow this to happen to me?

Now, I’m not saying I wasn’t called for a time. Who am I to say that wasn’t true for the time I was a part of that? Maybe I’m just called to be a writer with an insurance habit now. What I am saying is that we place too much importance on those things we assume are God’s will. So much so that when something terrible happens to the contrary that we assume that was God’s will as well. That in some way God allowed the terrible to happen to us. We feel abandoned by a loving and caring God because our image of that God would not have allowed such.

There has been a big argument against the existence of the Divine, asking if there were an all-loving and all-powerful Divine being, why would it allow things like disease, famines, suffering, and all sorts of terrible things to happen. This has spurred on many apologists over the years, as if God needed a defense. There have been theologians who have speculated that the Divine chose to not be all knowing so that we may have free will, in order to work around the problem. There have been many different excuses all made in order that in some way we could blame the divine for the problems that we, a lot of the time, create. Some of the problems are nature. It happens some things just suck. That’s not to say a divine being caused it. That’s how the ancients believed, haven’t we evolved past that? I tend to think that the Divine is all knowing but also all present. That the Divine stands beside or behind us whatever we may need. It’s our decision to do what we will and the Divine either shakes its metaphorical head or cheers us on depending on what we do. The Divine waits to delight in what we do.

Maybe, just maybe, the Divine hasn’t abandoned us. Maybe the Divine never stopped loving us. Maybe the Divine decided to let us figure things out on our own in order that we may learn and grow. Maybe. What if we weren’t meant for anything, but rather everything was meant for us? What if the Divine just wants for us to enjoy the life we were given, and make the most of what we have while we have it?

I am often reminded of the parable of the talents. Most often this is read during the “stewardship” season in many mainline denominations. I feel it is taken way out of context to be used as such. If you read the passages around it, you have a sense of apocalyptic feeling to the teaching. It is telling you to prepare for the end. It goes on to talk about the judgment of the sheep and goats. What does Jesus tell us separates the sheep from the goats? Kindness, He tells us that the sheep cared for the least of these. That is the given context for the talents and bridesmaids. To prepare for the “night” to invest the “talents” we are to be kind to the least of these. There are themes of abandonment in these stories, but they only happen to those who turn a blind eye or hide away from the task given to them.

I think that when I feel such abandonment I need to take a look back and ask myself, not did I do the best that I could at the job. I need to ask myself was I kind? Did I treat the least of these with love and compassion? Did I give all that I could for those in need? If I did, I was never abandoned. I’m not a big fan of that footsteps poem. In fact, I’m more of a fan of Kris Straub’s interpretation. He wrote a little blurb beneath the comic about more teaching a baby to walk than carrying. That resonates so much with me as my son is just learning to walk. I know I need to let him try on his own, but I’m so afraid he will fall and hurt himself. The thing is, if I were to carry him he wouldn’t learn to walk. If I were to help him gain confidence on his feet by supporting him he will eventually be able to do it without the support. I look forward to the day that he can and he will take my hand out of wanting the support, rather than needing it.

I’m starting to see that the Divine didn’t abandon me. I just couldn’t see the Divine because, during this time, the Divine flew behind me and supported me to help me learn to walk on my own. We have not been abandoned. We are being taught to walk. Sometimes we may fall and get a “bonk” but as me and my wife are constantly telling our son, “Bonks happen”. We may feel like the abandoned house that is pictured above, but we are just being renovated from the inside out. We can’t see it, as it is very difficult to see within ourselves, but it’s happening. I feel like the Divine wants so much for us to want support rather than needing it. Isn’t it better that someone loves you and asks for your help out of choice rather than demanding it? I don’t believe the Divine abandoned the world. I believe the Divine is ever present in all that is around us, cheering us on, supporting us, believing in us that one day we may walk on our own.

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