HEADING HOME

“It doesn’t matter which side of the continuum you’re on—if you still have to contort yourself to keep from getting kicked out, you aren’t yet home. You need a space in your life where you don’t have to prove your belovedness to anyone. Where you can just be.”—Jonathan Martin

 

I share the above quote to encourage those who find themselves in spaces that have become uncomfortable and unwelcoming. Whether you’ve already been on a journey of rediscovery or are feeling it may be time to move on, please know what you are experiencing is not uncommon. Many of us have been there.

I hope you will ask tough questions and dig deeper into what you really know to be true. Don’t settle for the easy way out. Above all trust yourself.  

You may sense a need to separate from a relationship or institution that has become toxic. Perhaps it’s time to find a place you can just be. I know it feels scary to face the possibility of deep change. Breathe. Then take a step toward home.

Be encouraged. There is “home” for each of us. Keep moving toward it. 

REBEL REMNANT

Back in the day, when someone walked away from church we called them “backslider.” It was about the worst thing you could call someone within the Evangelical culture. I don’t hear the term often anymore and I’m glad that slur has fallen out of popularity. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean we’ve learned to accept people who no longer hold to our belief system or view their spirituality differently than they once did. We’ve just found other ways to label them. 

Recently, I was on the receiving end of some online bullying. Accusations of lying, not wanting to hear “different facts,” hiding behind this blog and—apparently the most egregious—being unwilling to reconcile were thrown at me. All this from someone I haven’t had contact with for well over two years.

Best I can gather from the conversation, if I don’t do what this person thinks I need to do I will eventually be compelled to do it in heaven. According to them Jesus will forcibly reconcile everything including the “Rebel Remnant”—of which I was now part. I’m pretty sure this is a twisted understanding of a scripture passage with the ominous Rebel Remnant tacked on to frighten me. I’m not going to spend time here going into the theology, but a quick internet search returns no references to this sort of thing in the Bible.

My concern is why someone who has never asked me about my departure or checked to see how I was doing or even emailed to say “I miss you” feels the need to berate and harass me, slap a label on me and warn me of my future judgement. Clearly there is no relationship here to reconcile.

Bullying, public shaming and blame shifting do nothing to draw me back. Quite the opposite. All these things do is paint a picture of a person whom I would not want to be around. 

It appears a new mindset is necessary. Perhaps we should set aside ego and perceived rightness and see others as valuable human beings loved by the Creator and not problems that need to be fixed. 

So, please don’t label me. In the long run what you call me says more about you than me.

AFTERSHOCK

When I started this blog I promised myself I would be honest about my experiences as I reexamine my faith. If you’ve been following along you know I left a church just under two years ago and the struggles I had at the time. This space has been a great help in working through issues in the aftermath of that decision.

I had envisioned that my new year’s post would be an update on how I’ve worked through the pain and was ready for the next chapter. Unfortunately, a recent series of communications has put me right back where I was 20 months ago. It shook me. 

In a nutshell I was accused of not telling the truth, bashing people and being an all round jerk (my words). I’m sorry I engaged the original message. I should have known better. I shouldn’t have let my guard down. I am now aware how important it is for this person to prove that I am wrong and they, of course, are right. 

What troubles me is that it felt as if the person I communicated with not only spoke for themselves but for the leadership team of the church as well. I was also taken aback by how freely they shared details of someone else’s struggles. This was information that I never requested to know and I suspect should be considered confidential. I realize now it’s highly likely the personal information I shared will be treated the same way.

Apparently this blog is not appreciated by some. In truth, I knew that would be the case. I take great pains not to use names and to be protective of people’s own stories. I only share my experiences and my personal opinion. 

Hopefully my feelings will pass and things will blow over quickly. I look forward to more positive posts as 2019 gets rolling.

P.S. I feel a little vulnerable right now so, I’ve chosen to not accept comments on this post. Feel free to email me if you like.

GOOD THINGS FROM 2018

As 2018 grinds to an end I’ve been looking back over the past year. It’s hard not to focus on the negative with government shut downs, ridiculous tweet storms and the aftermath of wildfires that decimated California for the second year, but there were good things too.

shared here are a few personal bright spots. Following is a list of things that made me happy or encouraged me this year. It’s a random list to be sure—including music, film, podcasts, food…anything that for a moment gave me a sense that things could be better and hope is still alive.

In no particular order:

 Favorite movie: FIRST REFORMED— a priest in a historic church sees his congregation dwindle then meets an environmental activist and begins to rethink his faith. Amazing acting from Ethan Hawk. Worth a mention are two films I found compelling, Annihilation and Hereditary. This first is a philosophical sci-fi film. The second is straight-up horror and not for everyone. 

Favorite television programs to binge watch: FOOD COMPETITION SHOWS—I’ve found that when I’m craving a little solace all I need to do is turn on a show like Final Table, Top Chef or the Great British Menu and troubles seem to melt away. I love getting lost in the contestants personal stories and of course the cooking. These show have become a not so guilty pleasure and an escape. 

Favorite song: RING THE BELLS by Johnny Swim and Drew Holcomb. A call for change that resonates with me.

Favorite podcasts: THE LITURGISTS and THE FUNDAMENTALISTS. These two podcasts are tough to describe. Both of them bring new light to what Christianity could be and often address topics not discussed in the church. Liturgist episodes deal with everything from depression and body issues to Biblical inerrancy. The Fundamentalists can be more fun but still thought provoking. One episode dealt with why people believe in conspiracy theories and touched on “end times,” lizard people and the Berenstain Bears conspiracies. 

Most memorable meal: THE GATHERING TABLE at Ballard Inn, Ballard California. The best meal my wife and I shared this year was in a B&B in Central California. The food was adventurous and delicious. Chef Budi Kazali leads the kitchen at this beautiful little restaurant. 

Favorite weekly event: FAMILY DINNER. I get to cook every weekend for family. We enjoy time together around the table then it’s off to the studio with my grandsons for drawing and painting. 

Best book: SINNERS IN THE HANDS OF A LOVING GOD by Brian Zahnd. This books has stuck with me. It challenged me to rethink a lot of what I believed about God, Jesus, the cross and end times theology. 

Best online course: ATHEISM FOR LENT with Peter Rollins. This Lenten study blew me away and stands out as one of the high points of my year. Rollins uses writings from theologians, philosophers and atheists to challenge preconceived beliefs. There are weekly readings, audio recordings or video to work through at your own pace then a facebook live talk by Rollins every Sunday. There’s also a private facebook group for members to interact and discuss the weekly assignments. The 2019 course has already been announced and will include new material.

I could go on, but should stop here since this post has become a bit long. Thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far. My post next week will contain some of my thoughts for the new year.

LEARNING TO DRAW CIRCLES

Recently I attended a lecture by Rob Bell. It was the last date for the Holy Shift speaking tour which started in January of this year.

I’ve followed Rob for a while. He’s a compelling writer and a brilliant communicator. He presents spirituality a way that compels listeners to see the world differently and be better people because of it. If you are a regular reader here you know that his book “Velvet Elvis” is on my highly recommended list.

The goal of this post is not to debate Rob’s work. Some in the evangelical church have labeled him heretic. Perhaps that’s why I sought out his writings. I needed to see what others would prefer I not read or listen to. That’s a discussion for another time. In this post I’ll share a little of what I learned last Saturday.

My biggest take away was the notion that “the holy“ continually crashes into the mundane areas of our lives and calls us to see creation’s interconnectedness. It’s never us versus them. It’s always we. If we take the time to observe the moments we share, the times we interact with others—like us and unlike us—we will see glimpses of the holy.

During the lecture Rob shared story after story about moments that felt “set apart.” He encouraged those in attendance to pay close attention to spontaneous flashes of beauty and sadness, compassion and strength, joy and perseverance. He talked of noting things that were especially odd and didn’t seem to fit. These could easily be glimpses we needed to pay attention to.

What do we do with these moments? His recommendation was to let them be. Not to impose our will on them, not to manipulate them to our benefit but to let them play out. These moments are holy. He said to (figuratively) “draw a circle around it,” and don’t violate the circle. That resonated with me.

Too often we careen through life zig-zagging from one thing to another. Let’s slow down and observe. Let’s live in this moment, taking the time to see the holy in a smile, laughter or tears. Let’s stop and breathe and see the glory of creation and the work of a creator. Let’s learn to draw a circle around the moment and hold that moment as set apart and full of meaning.

The beauty of thinking this way is that we don’t need all the answers, we don’t need the full analysis of what’s transpiring. The moments can change us and show us how to value others more deeply and find the divine in our day to day if we let them.

The more we see acts of kindness and compassion the easier it is to respond to others with kindness and compassion. Moments of comfort and sacrifice can spur those actions in our lives.

It’s my hope we begin understand our interconnectedness and start to be people who not only see the holy but lean into caring for and valuing others.

BOOKLIST

I’ve found that some books have more of an impact than others, and often the most influential writing shows up in unexpected spaces. The written word has become an indispensable medium for my learning and growth. I love the spoken word, classes, lectures, sermons and podcasts, but I am most challenged/changed by reading.

I go through periods where I read one book after another for weeks at a time, then seeming dry spells where I read far less. The dry spells tend to be a time where I reflect and mull over what I’ve learned—Is what I read valuable, does it contradict an assumption, do I need to reconsider a belief, where does this information lead, does it make me a better person?

The last question is the most important. Does this writing change me for the better? That’s where the value lies.

As such, I’ve complied a short list of ten books that have changed me for the better. I wholeheartedly recommend each of these books. I feel each has made me a better person and helped me to separate from some misplaced beliefs I’ve held along my faith journey.

Here’s the list:

Divine Nobodies by Jim Palmer

Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell

Sin Boldly by Cathleen Falsani

The Furious Love of God by Brennan Manning

The Rapture Exposed by Barbara Rossing

The Divine Magician by Peter Rollins

How to Survive a Shipwreck by Jonathan Martin

Unclobber by Colby Martin

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God by Brian Zanhd

There is some deep water here and some ideas critics think are downright heresy. Keep in mind, these are just books. Books containing words that are up to you to accept or ignore. It’s completely up to you what you do with them.

P.S. If you need a bit more info. on a particular book, drop a line in the comments and I’ll get back to you.

WHAT A LONG STRANGE TRIP IT'S BEEN

Back in 2006 I came across a book that set me, unknowingly, on a journey of deconstruction and discovery, The book was “Divine Nobodies” by author Jim Palmer.

Some of you may recall this book from a small group I lead. We studied each chapter together and marveled at the way Palmer could find the best in anyone he met. How each encounter was seen as a learning experience that only enriched his life. I didn’t know it at the time but this book deeply marked me and would act as the impetus to take a hard look at the life I was living and the type of faith I was proclaiming.

Over time I questioned much of what I had been taught in the evangelical church. I grew less and less comfortable with the “us versus them” tone and the “group think” mentality of the church I was attending. What was called discipleship looked very much like (not so) subtle brainwashing. I found that questions were not only not welcome but targeted me for “special attention” from those in leadership. I was invited to be part of closed accountability groups with people I hardly knew and to special “one on one time” with the pastor.

Having not grown up in the church I didn’t understand that my questions were considered dangerous and that my faith was in question. Honestly I was kind of terrified by the idea that somehow, after 25+ years that I was not actually “saved.” But, I needed to know what real faith was about and followed my heart. I didn’t know then it but my long path of deconstructing and rebuilding my belief system had started.

The process has been exciting, humbling, empowering and draining. I looked deeply at what I believed and found maybe things weren’t as black and white as I was taught they were. The process is frustrating and more than once I felt I had been lied to. I began to feel a pull (or perhaps a push) away from the church.  

It’s been a long strange trip. I’m not done, don’t think I ever will be. Faith is probably the simplest and most complicated thing I’ve ever encountered. There is so much more I could say about this process, but I think the one thing I want to do at this point is thank Jim Palmer for writing “Divine Nobodies”. Your book, sir, has certainly impacted my life in ways I never expected.

DRAWING LINES

It’s time to let go of the tribe analogy when referring to faith communities. I get it. We all want to find a place we fit, where people like us share common goals, values and beliefs. The problem is when we start identifying as a tribe we set ourselves apart form others. We build an us versus them mentality that does way more harm than good.

I admit, I’ve used the “t” word myself. Everyone wants to belong to something bigger than ourselves. But, if we’re always looking for a tribe we miss the fact we already belong to bigger things—the human race, those that share a common language or people who live in a specific geographical area. Why must we break it down to smaller and smaller groups to draw our identity from?

Think about it. If we focus on the “tribe” we lose site of the value of those who don’t act like, dress like, think like we do. They become those who don’t belong. We become suspicious and even fearful—especially when we are told we are the only ones who have it all figured out and anything on the outside is dangerous. Tribes naturally exclude people. 

A quote I saw on Twitter recently inspired my thoughts and still haunts me.

“As soon as you draw a line to exclude people, Jesus goes to the other side of that line with them and invites you to join him there. Every time.” — Carlos A. Rodriguez

Are we on the wrong side of the line? If we’re excluding people we are. Let’s do better.

NO MORE HOOPS. NO MORE STRINGS.

“I don’t agree with your belief that reconciliation is always possible.”

I was told this as I was saying goodbye. The words confirmed to me that saying goodbye was the right choice.

The statement has haunted me for nearly two years. I think the viewpoint is wrong and only leads to twisting what reconciliation really is about. At worst it leads to the hope of restoration becoming a weapon rather than an act of love.

I heard this statement in the context of a decision which upended the life of someone in the church. How could someone using the title pastor not believe that reconciliation is always on the table—unless they personally take it away?  

Here’s what happens. Someone supposedly breaks a rule. Discussions take place and ultimately forgiveness and reconciliation are offered—or withheld. Often, the offer comes with all manner of hoops to jump through or strings attached. Either way the person who is accused of breaking the rule leaves the situation feeling beat down and shamed. Welcome to today’s evangelicalism.

I’m sad to say I’ve seen this process from both sides—as a both a person in a leadership role and as a congregant. I’ve learned that when a church is unwilling to do the hard work of reconciliation they say “We forgive you. Now please leave.” Bit of a mixed message, isn’t it?

Reconciliation is likely uncharted waters. There’s no map and no time limit on how long it should take. I’m sorry if you’ve been working 14 months towards the goal. Perhaps there’s more for you to learn. It might take 14 days or 14 more months or even longer. Deal with it.

An ear ready to listen and actually hear the other party is most helpful. Perhaps it’s time to start fresh and pay attention. An apology will go a long way.

If Christians base their spiritual lives on reconciliation why do they give up on it so easily? I’ve seen people shunned for disagreeing with the most ridiculous rules. This evil practice sets the people who stay above those sent away. The psychological abuse is unbelievably cruel. And the in-church messaging—"don’t speak to them,” “don’t check on them,” “pray for them,” “they’re under church discipline,”—only prolongs the harsh treatment of the one cast aside.

So pastor, ministry leader, deacon, team member, lay pastor…stop playing the game of self-protection and beware of the group-think atmosphere you are fostering in your church. Please do not cut off communication with those you have a problem with. It’s your responsibility to bring reconciliation—especially to those who are seeking it. Let the process take as long as it does. Do not shut people out.

“But you don’t understand. You’re misinformed.” Save it. I don’t want to hear why I’m wrong and you’re actions are justified. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are called to make things right—no matter how toxic you may think things might be. How big is your God, really?

You can’t start to repair things if you don’t engage. Put away your anger and get to work. You represent Jesus and he doesn’t send people away.

Reconciliation is always possible. Now step up and make it happen.

STEP OUT OF THE TORNADO

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve rediscovered the habit of “soul care.” Think of it as “me time” but less frivolous—more introspection, less Netflix. I’m talking about time intentionally set aside to step out of the tornado of busyness to allow yourself to breathe deeply, to wonder at the beauty all around and to recharge your spirit.

News programs, the internet and social media offer all manner of outrage. Add this to life on a interpersonal level where people treat others in a less than loving manner and I’m amazed I can get out of bed some mornings. The battles are many, but the soul needs respite.

Recently, on two separate occasions, I disconnected from the junk that populates life these days. No electronics, no deadlines, no arguments, no adults behaving badly. It was amazing. The first day I joined some colleagues on a trip to an art museum. The following week I spent a day hiking and taking photographs at a local nature preserve.

The time spent disconnecting took on a spiritual aspect. These few hours provided more peace and contentment than I rarely, if ever, felt in a religious service—which, to be honest, is a stress filled place for me. (For an organization that peddles peace and love there sure is a lot of underlying strife in the church. Why? Let’s file that under “for future discussion.”)

Setting aside just a few hours of my week on something different caused me to see things more clearly and to feel refreshed and inspired. I walked back into the fray with new resolve and with my head up.

 

P.S. When I started this blog I didn’t think anyone but myself and some family might read it. Over the last month this site has had 628 page views, 70 percent specifically the blog. Thanks for reading and feel free to comment.

#CHURCHTOO

It’s been a tough week. Slogging through the SCOTUS confirmation hearings has scarred us as a nation and as individuals. Abuse in every form is rife within the halls of power. Everywhere from politics and higher learning to entertainment, women (and men) are speaking up about their experiences.

It’s time to admit it happens in the church as well. And it happens more than we might think.

We all know the struggles the Catholic church is going through and I applaud Pope Francis for finally engaging and dealing with sexual abuse. Survivors are being heard and believed. Hopefully healing will follow.

The Evangelical church is not above the fray. This year some prominent churches made the headlines. Willow Creek Church for one is dealing with serial abuse allegations against their senior pastor (who has now taken early retirement). I won’t go into detail here except to ask a question: How does a man get away with sexually abusing staff members and congregants for 30 years?

Personally I haven’t been in churches where sexual abuse allegations were raised. But abuse isn’t always physical.

I was part of a church where a strong, kind, intelligent woman was told in a cowardly email  “…for the health of the church, we need to part ways.” Read that again. Does that sound like a loving community where everyone is welcome and where reconciliation is taken seriously? Not at all. Yet the church continues to say this woman was not kicked out. And why would the church be unhealthy if she stayed?

To lift a phrase from the Bible Jesus wept.

Now put yourself in the same situation. How would you feel if you received an email like that from the governing board of an organization where you committed your time and support? Words can hurt as much as a slap across the face. Some say this isn’t abuse, but I would disagree. The long term emotional damage inflicted by the pastor—and the board that is supposed to guide him—is considerable.

With that said, I’d like to challenge you to read the stories of other survivors of church abuse. Check out #churchtoo. The centralized power structure within the church needs to be challenged. Ask the hard questions of those who are leading your congregations and influencing your thinking. And keep asking until you get answers.

Believe the survivors.

LOVE HAS NO AGENDA

Over the years I’ve listened while pastors droned on about love. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an important topic—maybe the most important. I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard preaching based on the “Love chapter” (1 Corinthians 13). Many a message was filled with flowery, hopeful words about loving our neighbor. In my experience there’s a lot of talk but no serious action when it comes to a life lived with love. And if nothing else love is action.  

Personally, I’m constantly relearning that love has no agenda. All are equal and the only reason I should love you is because you are created in the image of God. Often I fail, but I keep trying.

I’ve also come to believe if the intended recipient of love doesn’t feel loved the whole venture is a complete failure. Why do you assume that whatever effort, small or large, anyone makes toward another will be seen as love? Where is the commitment to those not like you; the homeless person, the immigrant, those of a different faith and the LGBT community? You say you have a heart for these, but in reality you are too busy, and maybe too scared, to actually care.

[Side note here: I hate categorizing and labeling people. I do it here to highlight those most often said to be invited to but actually unwelcome in the faith communities I attended.]

I always hope for the best, but the church even has trouble demonstrating love to its own. And often inflicts the most pain. You say you love me when in truth you love what I bring to your community. Where’s the compassion, acceptance and affirmation? I’m still looking for it, and so is your neighbor.