the people along the sand all turn and look one way;
they turn their back on the land, they look at the sea all day.

as long as it takes to pass a ship keeps raising its hull;
the wetter ground like glass reflects a standing gull.

the land may vary more, but wherever the truth may be -
the water comes ashore and people look at the sea.

they cannot look out far, they cannot see in deep -
but when was that ever a bar for any watch they keep.







Wednesday, August 14, 2013

"Ain't Nobody Got Time For Dat" - Why She Left

As I said I would, I had a conversation with a millennial about why she left the church, and the Christian religion (as defined by said church).

Here are the pertinent "facts" about her:  
- she's 27
- she graduated with a BBA from a local state university, in 2008  
- she hit the job market right when things went KABLOOEY!   She could not find a job in her chosen field, so today she works as a full-time server at a semi-upscale restaurant  in a "cool" part of town, and she works part-time in a bakery
- she is not married, but she does live with a significant other

Here's the really important stuff:  she grew up in a Christian family who were ardent church-goers.  She "got saved" when she was 7; went through a "rebellious" stage as an early teen; came back to church with an "exploratory" faith when she was 19...and left again - this time "for good" (she says) - six years later, when she was 25.  

"Why did you leave?" I asked her.  

It was horrible, she said.  I actually visited several churches - from the "charismatic" church that my parents attended to a very liberal UCC (United Church of Christ) church in town.  The charismatic and evangelical churches were all about "defending marriage from the gays", and the UCC - which openly embraced gay people - was so boring due to hyper-liturgical services and sermons that were just bad.  There was no in-between.  Plus...I was searching in my faith, searching how to believe, what to believe.  There was no place I found that welcomed true searchers.  You had to search in ways that they endorsed.  

Here are five things we "distilled" together from her sometimes rambling screed against church and Christian religion (BTW - as a "seeker" she was better-read in current theology and biblical exegesis than many pastors I have known).

1.  They don't care about me or what I believe...they want me to believe what THEY believe.

2.  Any variation from the established doctrine, style or "norm" is greeted with suspicion at best.

3.  In both liberal and conservative churches, the "enemy" was clearly defined...it was not the devil, it was people who did not believe as they believed.  This was repugnant to me.

4.  There were very few people my age in the churches I attended, and two of those churches had more than 500 people in attendance.  I just did not connect.

5.  Honestly...the sermons were horrible.  Every church I attended focused on the preaching of the preacher...whoever he (or she in one church) was.  And they were all irrelevant, boring and almost embarrassing.  

One more thing she added - many people greeted her on her church visits, but she never felt genuine interest or connection.  "They were predators, I was prey."

Her conclusion:  I have more friends on facebook than any church I attended has members.  I go out with friends 3 or 4 times a week, and friends visit me at home at twice a week.  I help a friend do a garden; I help a friend with childcare.  When I was sick recently...I had tons of people bring me food, visit, call, check in with me.  

Seriously...why in the world would I want to go to church, or embrace a religion that says "you must believe what we say, or else go to hell."  Don't want it, don't need it...ain't nobody got time for that."

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Moonlight Through The Pines

Years ago, I was lost in the deep, dark woods.  Really.  I was on a camping trip, and had wandered away to look at the moon rising over a lake.  I stayed longer than I should, and before I knew it, the woods had grown dark and I was a long way from camp.  I had "bushwhacked" my way to the lake, which meant there was no trail.  And I had forgotten to bring a flashlight, because I was young and stupid.  

I had to get back to camp, but was not even certain of the direction in which to go...except, in a general way, away from the lake.  So, I turned around and took my first step.  Not having a trail to follow, I was really concerned about how to find my way through the woods.  There were trees, brush, briars, poison ivy, bears, snakes and probably a wild cat or two.  

As I stood looking into the darkness...I saw a light.  It was moonlight, shining through the trees and illuminating a patch of forest about 15 feet away.  The light was bright enough that I could see the area being moonlit, and I could pretty  much figure out how to get to it without hitting a tree or falling in a hole.  

So, I took a step...then another...all the while, keeping my eye on the patch of moonlit forest.  I made it.  I stopped, looked up at the moon through the pine branches, then turned my eyes to the forest again.  There, about 10 or 15 feet away, was another patch of forest washed in moon light.  Away I went.

Each time I made it to a section of moonlit forest, I looked around and found another several steps away.  I kept track of myself, to insure that I was moving away from the lake.  I did not know where I was going, but I just kept going, certain that if I went away from the lake, I would find something.

This went on for about an hour.  Trek for a bit towards moonlit forest, stop, wait, look, see the moon shining through the branches in another part of the woods...and take off.

Eventually, I saw another light...an orange flicker through the trees.  I listened, and could hear laughter and talking. I went to towards the orange light, and walked right in to the campsite.  Everybody was having a good time - nobody seemed to have missed me, and no one noticed I had arrived at the camp by blundering in through the woods without a flashlight.

Right now...at this point in my life...I am wandering through the woods in the dark.  Every once in a while, whatever the spiritual equivalent is to moonlight, finds it way through the trees and illuminates a section of forest.  I head there.  I do not know where I am going.  I do not know where I am.  But the moon keeps marking a place..and I keep moving.  Maybe...one day...I will stumble towards the fire.  

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Kind of Coming Out

I am coming out.  I am haunted by God.  I cannot get past it.  I am yet uncertain about what I believe about God...I am certain about one thing - I will never BE certain.  I am as close to a process theologian as one can get and still not be willing to say I am one.  

I cannot deny my sense of calling.  Believe me, I have tried.  Atheism. Agnosticism (which still holds my membership dues), new age woowoo, quantum mysticism (which is another way of saying that I have used drugs to crack open  my head and see what was inside).  


I am all over the place in my Christology.  My eschatology can be summed up in one word...death.  I hopefully believe in Tielhard's Omega Point.  


Down at the core, my obsessions are Grace, Love and Power.  I don't even know what I mean by that...except to say that I am obsessed with knowing.  


My big discovery...after some recent events that have helped me define and understand myself to myself...is this:  


My passion and purpose is to defeat my enemy, and my enemy is the church...not genuine, humble, loving Christian people (of any theological persuasion)...but the religious system that is about money, political power, cultural preservation rather than transformation, comfort rather than justice, consumption rather than servanthood. This "church" exists in every church...it is a mindset, not a place or a person. It has been tolerated in the name of niceness, fellowship, acceptance of imperfection - but in tolerating it, we have given it permission to destroy lives, damage credibility and weaken the power of the gospel (which means "good news"). At its core...it is the continuation of Pharisee-ism...that is, having a "tribal, my god is the true god" belief system based on self-perceived notions of righteousness, correctness and authority. It reeks...and it is one of the things that Jesus came to confront and destroy. 


For reasons I don't have to explain (thankfully, because I probably couldn't if I tried), I feel "called" to confront religion and to challenge its place in the lives of people. My doing this makes them mad, confused and distant from me. That's OK...I have my chickens. I am an only child...loneliness is something I know well. 


I just want you to understand...it is not personal. In fact, I believe I have your best interests in mind. You don't need religion. You need grace, and love, and power. You don't need the church to discover or experience grace, love and power. You don't need the church to put friends around you who can help you in your journey to the discovery of grace, love and power. I will keep ranting and raving about the church...I am not here to tell you why you should go to church, but to tell you why you should not. I hope to cause one of three things (1) a desire in you to leave the church, or never go (2) anger at the way the religious church destroys lives and impedes the advance of grace, and/or (3) enough anger at me that it keeps you troubled, stewing over the things I have said.


There...I am out of the closet.  Smells funny out here.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Millenials And Church (A Response to Rachel Held Evans and The Virus!)

OK...so Rachel is 32.  I think she has some good insights about why millenials are leaving church.  I am 56.  I am NOT a millenial...but I have three!  Kids, that is, who are millenials.  And ALL OF THEM have left church...even though they were raised in church and - along with their mom - had the misfortune of being family members of the SENIOR PASTOR (me!) of every church they ever attended.

I know millenials.  All of my kids friends are millenials.  And most of them have left the church.  But let's not freak out.  Millenials have always left the church.  Yes, there have been "millenials" before this current crop of "millenials" - that is, there have always been people who are in their late teens to late twenties (which is what the current crop of millenials is) and they have always left church.

And more than just millenials are leaving church.  When I was a pastor (from 1978-2004 - 26 years!!! longer than most millenials are old) I saw people leaving the church in busloads.  And not just my church!  :)
People have been leaving church for years.

Rachel got one thing very right...the BS factor is strong among the millenials.  In fact, I might say that the BS factor is the Number One reason millenials are leaving the church - along with all the others who have left.  But I am referring to BS that is not about style over substance...I am talking about the BS of Christian religion.

Today, there is a resurgence of intellectual skepticism that is sweeping the planet.  Fundamentalism of any and every stripe is falling apart under the steamroller of skepticism, fueled by greater access (through the internet) than ever before to academic and scholarly and just plain OTHER resources that challenge the traditional narrative of Christian religion.

For centuries, the church has prospered by controlling thought and limiting access to resources that challenge the traditional, orthodox doctrines of Christianity.  As in all propaganda-driven systems, this is crumbling in the face of internet access to thoughts, ideas, research and scholarship that is outside the norm and the narrative.  It is creating cultural and social upheaval (witness the Arab Spring of 2012), and it is empowering people to think differently about the Old Gospel Story.

Sound scholarship is instantly available and interpreted for the interested reader, just by clicking on a link.  Church-goers (especially millenials, who are adept at living in the new paradigm created by the internet) can discover that the majority of biblical and historical scholars do not endorse the inerrancy of Scripture, or even the historicity of Jesus (at most - and at least question the meaning of his life).  They are discovering that other religions and thought streams possess insights to the nature of spiritual truth and community that are just as valid, and ultimately healthy, as Christianity, perhaps even more so.  They understand through their own social media experience that atheists have values (gasp!), community can happen better around a beer in a pub than in a church pew staring at the back of a stranger's head and listening to a man who has been shouting for the past twenty minutes, and that you don't have to be religious to help the homeless.

On top of all of this is the fact that millenials GET science...they recognize how science and technology have brought incredible expansion, well-being and growth to our planet.  Unfortunately, Christianity and the church have been slow to recognize the value of science...and some religious groups just flat-out call science the tool of the Devil, mainly because it promotes evolution rather than creationism.

And to millenials, who know better...this is embarrassing at best and absolutely repulsive at worst.  To call science the work of the Devil when everyone you know is benefiting from it and using it without question is hypocritical and stupid...at least that is what the millenials are saying.

Rachel notes that sex is an issue.  OK...maybe.  Though my kids are far less concerned about what the church says about sex (if it says anything at all, except that maybe it is bad outside of marriage) and far more ANGERED that the mainline/conservative/evangelical church (which seems to get an inordinate amount of attention) is so dead-set in making GAY people live as second-class citizens with limited rights.  Millenials know all too well how the Christian church did NOT support equal rights for women, and was uncomfortable with granting equal rights for blacks.  And they correctly conclude that the church is more about SAYING NO to people than it is about understanding how the old gospel story may actually be relevant today.

I could go on...but I can summarize everything by saying...Millenials (and others) have left the church because they see better options out here in the unchurched world.  Even faith in Jesus does not necessitate involvement with the Church of the Religious System.  Why waste that time on Sunday morning...and any other day of the week...when so many incredible options exist, most of which make better sense and bear better fruit in enriching life and transforming society?

How do I know these things?  Because this is what my millenial kids and their friends have told me.  I did something Rachel suggested any one in the church should do...I asked, then I listened.  Amazing.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Welcome the Home Invader

The conflict of Kingdoms has always been a central one to Christianity.  Who is our King?  Jesus...or Caesar?  We know Paul (or whoever) said that we are to be subject to the ruling authorities, because they represent God or some such nonsense.  But, let us remember that Paul (or whoever) did NOT obey ruling authorities when it came to his preaching the gospel and declaring the Lordship of Jesus.

Let's make a foundational statement, and assume we all agree.  If Jesus is our King, then we place the priorities of his kingdom above our identity as citizens of a particular nation-state.  That means that if Jesus says "blue" and our Senate says "red"...we go with blue (if we identify ourselves as Christians)...and we willingly face the consequences (all the while, at least in our governmental system, trying to get the Senate to say "blue").

Recently, a Facebook friend, Mark Van Steenwyck, brought this issue into keen relief for me when he said "when enforcement of borders trumps show hospitiality to strangers  then it is clear that one's religion is Americanism, not Christianity." "Enforcement of borders" is a nation-state issue.  "Show hospitality to strangers" is a Kingdom of God issue.  He is right in pointing out that if "enforcement of borders" gets the highest priority...then the loyalty being shown is not loyalty to the Kingdom of God.

Jesus said "if your ENEMY takes your coat, give him your cloak as well."  And...yeh, turn the other cheek.  And...yeh, walk the extra mile.

If we are going to identify ourselves as Christians, with Jesus as our King and the Kingdom of God our homeland...then we have to welcome the home invader.

Ouch.  That hurts.  I don't mean it, do I?  I certainly don't like it.  I cannot imagine what I would do if at this very moment I heard the front door explode open, the voices of strangers yelling at my wife and daughter and me to get on the floor, hands behind our heads or we die...and begin to ransack our house, making veiled threats about tapping some female ass before they head out.

If I had a rocket launcher...some son-of-a-bitch would die.  (Bruce Cockburn said it, not me).

At that point, I would be thankful for grace and forgiveness.  But even that sword cuts both ways.  God will forgive me for protecting  my family, right?  Only if I forgive my home invaders...according to the Lord's Prayer, which says...(you know, don't you) "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others who trespass against us."

I am beginning to like the Nation-State better and better.  The way of the Kingdom...?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Jesus The Indicant Bellwether

bellwether - a person or thing that shows the existence or direction of a trend

Recently, I had a fascinating discussion with some friends about Jesus.  The very first question - who was Jesus? - was pretty much the last question of the night, because it fomented such a vigorous discussion that we were all swept up and carried away.

I think we live in a time when nobody really knows much of anything about Jesus.   We have access to more facts and opinions about him, or ideas about him, or doctrines about him...but in terms of really knowing who he was, or why he was important...that kind of shrivels when we turn a microscope on it.

Overall, the conversation about Jesus (the other night, with my friends) went this way:
- Who was Jesus?
(Silence)
- I don't think he was anybody, i.e., he did not exist, but was a myth created by...
- I am not sure it matters if he existed or not...
- Jesus was just a person; his importance to us is that he was the Christ...
- The Christ is a spiritual entity, or force, that has been throughout history...
- Jesus was just one of the Christs who have worked among us...
- So, the birth of Jesus, death, resurrection of Jesus...
- Those things don't really matter...
- It is his teaching that matters...
- What did he teach?

And on and on...

It occurred to me that Jesus - as I was seeing it at that moment, after a couple of shots of whiskey - was a bellwether, and more specifically, an indicant bellwether.

In the old days, a bellwether was a male sheep or ram that led the flock; he wore a bell around his neck, and wherever he went, the little flock would follow.  Over the centuries, the word came to be understood as referring to someone (or something) that either lead a direction or trend, or as something that had no value in and of itself, but only as people interpreted it and by their interpretation demonstrated what the trend or direction of their thinking was.  An indicator, so to speak...or an indicant.

I am thinking that interpreting Jesus is far more important than any historical fact about Jesus, even whether or not he existed.  As an individual, or a religious group, or a culture looks at Jesus...and begins to say something about him...it is they who are defined, clarified and indicated by the process.  Not Jesus.  Not really.

For example:  my group said - kind of - that the historical person of Jesus does not matter.  What matters is the justice he taught, what his stories (or stories about him) reveal about life and the intersection of real life and spirit.

But it also occurred to us that other groups may say that the historical person of Jesus, and what he did...or what they believe he did, i.e., birth, death, resurrection...ARE what matters.  His birth demonstrated that he was both man and God; his death was atonement for sin; his resurrection was overcoming death and therefore abolishing the penalty for sin.

Worlds apart.  Who is right?  Who is wrong?  Who is closer to the Truth...the "capital T truth"?

I don't think it matters.  Jesus is the indicant bellwether, he whose very existence is meant to help us understand and perhaps even define who we are and where we are in our spiritual journey.  One of my friends at the discussion the other night said  - "When I look at Jesus, I see me.  I am a son of God."

Ding - and thus rings the bell of the bellwether.

Jesus asked "who do you say that I am?"  The answer may be the only thing about Jesus that really matters.


Stars 

The stars are bright tonight,
In their places in the sky.
They sprinkle empty darkness
With their scattering of light.
They are silent as they roar
An unrelenting question
that presses down upon me
like a judgment out of heaven.
We turn our gazes upward
With scope, number and line.
They are what they are,
It is we who are defined.























Sunday, July 7, 2013

An Amazing Story!!

I wrote this story about ten years ago, back when I was a pastor.  Forgive the preachiness of it...that is what I did.  This story is 100% true...it all happened.  Of course, I use poetic language to sweeten the narrative because...that is what I do!  I miss that God, in many ways.  This is what I know...I would love to hear that party horn, tooting in my ear again!

Christmas!
    What a magical time!
    What a wonder-filled time!
    What a...stress-filled, exhausting, overwhelming, frustrating,      demanding time!
           
Draw near, and allow me to tell you a story.
            For twenty-four days straight, starting the Sunday after Thanksgiving, my wife and I,  and our  poor, innocent (so to speak!) children were out of the house every night!  We barely had time to think about a Christmas tree, much less actually put one up and decorate it.  Holiday parties, special services at our church, Christmas productions, other family’s kids Christmas productions, more parties...it went on and on and on.  By the time Christmas actually arrived, we were too tired and stressed out to care. 
            And then...the day after Christmas, and the 14-hour drive to Atlanta to visit my parents.  Too exhausted to see straight, every one in the car ready to explode from Christmas stress and Christmas food and Christmas parties and too many Christmas gifts (most of them making the trip with us, which of course made the car uninhabitable unless one could perform the body contortions of Houdini).
            But, we made it safely to my parents, and instead of resting, we opened more gifts, ate more food, and made plans to see my wife’s relatives and celebrate Christmas with them the very next day (have you noticed how obligated we all feel to celebrate all this gift-giving-food-eating-indulgence as close as possible to December 25, regardless of the stress, sacrifice, and near-impossible strategic planning it requires?)
            So, the next day, we set out to meet her relatives...at a resturant 30 miles away from where my parents live!   I admit it - when I learned where we were meeting them, I was not operating in the Spirit of Christ.  Scrooge had thoroughly possessed my soul, and our drive to the resturant was filled with my grumbling and complaining and working myself into a heart attack...all because, after driving 800 miles to come to Atlanta, now we had to drive another 30 miles to meet her family at a resturant and....get this...celebrate Christmas!!!   So, I wondered aloud to my wife and my three innocent (so to speak!) children...why could not her family have driven the 30 miles to see us, to eat a resturant close to my parents house?  After we had driven 800 miles to make all this possible?  And they never once, not once, came up north to visit us...for any reason?!?  Why, tell me?!
            So, we get to the resturant.  Her family is not there.  No one is there.  The resturant has gone out of business.  Boarded up.  Empty.  The sign is down.  Weeds in the parking lot.  I am ready to become a serial killer.  I have forsaken the faith...I am apostate.  I am in the parking lot of the now defunct eatery, turning redder than the Christmas bows that decorate my parents tree. 
            Did I tell you that I am a pastor?  Behold, the man of God!
            We call them on the cell phone, and they tell us they can meet us at another resturant, which is closer to their house, but another 40 miles from  where we are right now!!!   Now, we have to drive a total of 70 miles to meet them at a resturant - which has probably gone out of business - in the middle of nowhere, and all to...get this...celebrate Christmas!!!
            We made it.  I managed to drive the car while suffering a stroke, and blathering spittle all over the steering wheel. 
We met them (the place was open, and there was no wait...thank God for small miracles) and we were seated at our table. 
I shook hands all around perfunctorily, and then sat in a sulk, arms folded across my chest, refusing to even look at - much less talk to - my wife’s brother, his wife, and their three innocent (so to speak!) children, who had all greeted me with hugs and “Hey, Uncle Don!  Merry Christmas!”  
Yeh, yeh.  Whatever.
            I was ruminating to myself on how disastrous and idiotic this entire Christmas season had been, and was so throroughly making a fool out of myself in front of my family, that I completely missed our server asking me “are you Don Martin?”
            It slowly dawned on me that everyone was looking at me, waiting for an answer.  To what, I had no idea.
            I noticed the waitress, looking at me pleasantly, her eyebrows arched in anticipation, and I managed a very brilliant sounding “Huh?”, bovine intelligence shining in my eyes.
            “Are you Don Martin?” she asked again.
            “Uh, yeh,” I responded. 
             “The Don Martin?  That is, the Reverend Don Martin?”
            Okay - now my curiosity was piqued.  Here I was, by grand mistake, at a resturant I never knew existed, in the middle of God-forsaken nowhere, grumbling about this disastrous Christmas trip...and someone was asking me if I was who, it so happened, I was.
            “Uh, yeh, I’m a pastor,” I said, somewhat shamed by the glare I received from my wife and three innocent (so to speak!) children, who had just seen me acting like something more like a drunken sailor for the past hour. 
            “Well,” our server said sweetly, “there’s a young lady over at that table who asked me to tell you that - if you were the Rev. Don Martin - she wanted to say hello and speak with you for a moment.”
            OK - now, I am totally bamboozled.  We are 70 miles from my parents, eating at a roadside resturaunt, miles from anywhere I know anything about...and someone is sending me a message.  Someone wants to tell me hello. Someone wants to speak with me.  Someone recognizes me.  How can this be? 
What kind of trouble am I in?
             I look around...and realized that I did not need the server to tell me who it was.  I recognized her immediately.
            Her name was Katie Wilson.
            Years ago, when I was still in college, my first ministry job was as a part-time youth pastor at Katie’s church.  I was a disaster (are you noticing a pattern?); the church had been sweet and gracious - they didn’t fire me. Katie, a leader in the youth group,  had been one of my biggest fans. 
            Several years after my embarrasing tour of duty as her youth pastor, I was invited back to the church to preach at a Homecoming Service.  Man, those people were sweet...and forgiving.  I was dumbfounded that they  invited me back at all, much less to preach.   But, by this time, I had grown up some, and could actually deliver a sermon without making a fool of myself or  embarrasing people in the congregation.  So, I accepted the invitation...and when I stood to preach that night, I saw Katie and her husband seated in the first row, grinning up at me. 
            After the service, they came to me, but this time they were not smiling...they had tears in their eyes.  They told me that for three years they had tried to conceive a child, but had been unable to do so.  They had been to eight doctors, had dozens of tests, done everything known to medical science to do.  Nothing.  Their personal physician told them to consider adoption if they wanted a child.  That’s what they were planning to do, but in the meantime, they had come to hear me preach.  They told me they did not attend that church anymore - but when they heard I would be there, they drove over 70 miles (I know, I know) to hear me.  To tell me their story.  To pray with me. 
            So, we prayed.  With a strange mix of audaciousness and humility, we asked God for a miracle.I hugged them goodbye, and with a lump in my throat told Katie how much I appreciated her trust in me, and her support and friendship. They walked down the aisle, out the door...and I did not see them again for more than ten years.
            Until this day, at a resturaunt 70 miles (I know, I know!) from my parent’s house, 870 miles from  my house in Ohio...at the tail-end of a very long and very frustrating Christmas season. 
            Katie and her husband were all hugs and grins.  We all expressed astonishment that we had met one another, out here in the middle of nowhere, two days after Christmas. 
As we were talking, I felt someone walk up behind me.  I turned, but no-one was there.  That’s when the hairs on the back of my neck stood up...because it occured to me  that maybe God was the one sneaking up behind me, about to pull one of His God-tricks.
            Katie and her husband kept grinning at me like they were in on the joke.  They asked me if I remembered the last time we had seen each other.  I assured them I did.  They told me how they had been praying for years that God would give them the opportunity to see me again.  I wondered aloud...why?
            In reply, without saying another word, they stepped aside...and I saw her.  A cute, 9-year old girl, sitting at the table, grinning up at me like she was in on the joke, too. 
            It seemed to me that the room grew silent, like in those old Merrill Lynch commericals. 
It seemed to me that the wind quit blowing, the earth quit spinning, the universe quit expanding...and everything focused on this crazy, unexpected moment. 
I felt God standing next to me, a mischevious glimmer in His eye, wearing a crazy party hat and about to blow on a party horn...He was just waiting for the right moment.
            Katie looked at me with tears in her eyes, this time tears of barely-restrained, crazy-joy...and with the sincere drama of a Broadway thespian, she said, “Don, I would  like to introduce to you my daughter, Rebecca.”  
            As a lump grew in my throat, and the meaning of God’s great joke swelled up underneath me, she leaned over and - her own, sweet voice thickening with love and hope and faith and grace - whispered in my ear in a conspirational tone - “she was conceived three days after we prayed together with you at Homecoming, all those years ago.” 
Her husband, grinning like the Cheshire cat,  winked at me.  
            God blew His horn. 
   
            The dinner with my wife’s relatives is lost in the haze of irrelevant memory.  I have no idea what I ate, what gifts were exchanged, what we said to each other. 
            The drive back to my parents’ house was one of the most incredible and memorable 70 miles I have ever travelled.   It was only 70 miles, but the distance I journeyed spiritually was light-years greater than the distance journeyed by the Magi in their search for the new born King.  I was grateful for the distance...it gave me the chance to:
            - repent
                        - wonder
                                    - weep
                                                - laugh
                                                            - repent
                                                                        - wonder...
             What a surprising God!
             What an unexpected epiphany!
            Despite my displeasure, my childish grumbling, my selfish sulking, God had managed to grab me by the nose and take me on a 70-mile detour to the middle of nowhere...just so that I could experience Christmas, and He could blow a party horn in my ear!
            Drama experts will tell us that place is as much a character in a film or theatrical production as any character. 
            How true!   I remember the desolate, empty fields; the trailer park communities and run down gas stations of rural Georgia...all symbols of the vacuous and inane Christmas I had just experienced.  I remember the stark, blue winter sky; the quietness of the country; the smell of the food at the resturaunt, the muted rumbling of the crowd of diners, the clank of plates and the tinkle of ice in the glass. 
            I remember the table, filled with food and drink, and the cardboard reminders about dessert; water rings on the table, and the reproduction of an old gas lamp burning dully as a centerpiece.  But all those images are like a wreath - or halo - surrounding the little 9-year old girl who was the miracle answer to a prayer prayed 10 years before ... and forgotten. 
            In the most remarkable way, in the most unexpected place...God stepped in and restored to me the magic and mystery and wonder of Christmas.
            I suspect that He had that meeting planned for a long, long time. 
            I am certain that He went to such great lengths to pull it off in exactly the way He did - being sovereign God, and all - so that I could learn something about  Him in the process.   And, about me. 
            And that, really, is what the unexpected places are all about.

            Unexpected places.  That is where God is.
            Unexpected places.  That is where He is discovered, and where He is known.
            Unexpected places.  That is where we learn about God...and perhaps learn even more about ourselves.

            Christmas is about unexpected places.  It is a true story, given to remind us that God is waiting for us in unexpected places.  If we pay close attention to what is told  us in the gospels about the birth of Jesus, we will find that it is a message that transcends Christmas and impacts every moment and season...and place!... of our lives.  Christmas is  a time to remind us that the message is given, and that this message is true.
            Unexpected places.  The Christmas story is filled with them.  Each one contains a strange, ephiphanous little event like the one I shared with you from my own life.  The human characters are not mighty people; the locale is not a place of majestic beauty and grandeur.  The human characters are shepherds, old people, poor people, disabled people.  The locales are bedrooms, desolate fields, stinking cow stalls, creosote-caked caves.  A twist of the tale, a mystery wrapped in an enigma and hidden within a wonderment...all things designed to grab our attention, pique our curiosity, open our eyes...and our hearts.
            Over the years, my life has been filled with those unexpected places.  Yours has, too...you only have to look to see!   Some of those places are filled with laughter and wonderment; some are filled with awe and quiet celebration; some are filled with weeping and fear; some are filled with sadness and confusion.  But they all share something - they were, and are, unexpected; and God is  waiting for us there.

           






             



Saturday, July 6, 2013

Response to "10 Things Every Christian Should Know About Islam"

My Response to “10 Things Every Christian Should Know About Islam”
(see the original article in the link below...if you can stomach it)http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/07/05/10-things-every-christian-should-know-about-islam/


1.  “Christian” and “American” are not the same thing.
2.  The word “Christian” actually has no meaning – it was a name given to those who believe that Jesus is the “Christ” (which does mean Savior, Lord, Messiah).
3.  There are two major divisions of Christianity – Protestant and Catholic.  Protestants split away from the one Catholic church in the 1500’s to “protest” actions they thought were not godly.  Martin Luther was the leader of the Protestant movement.  Today, there are over 400 different Protestant denominations, who share some beliefs but differ on others.  These include groups like Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and so on.
4.  Christian theology could be summed up this way:  God loves all humans, but humans have sinned against God.  In order to save humans from eternal punishment, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins so that whoever believes that will go to heaven and not hell.
5.  Sadly, Christianity views Mohammed – as all other spiritual teachers except Jesus – to be at the very least evil, against God, and doomed to eternal damnation.
6.  There is nothing in Christianity that correlates to the Five Pillars of Islam.
7.  The vast majority of Christians are not American war-mongerers, corporate thugs or racists, and have not been involved in the domination and destruction of our nations…and are not responsible for the death of over one million innocent Iraqi citizens who were Muslim.
8.  Christians can be some of the most loving, caring and hospitable people on earth.
9.  Christians need deliverance from the delusion of Jesus as Son of God and Savior, and must learn the Five Pillars of Islam and honor them.

10. God loves Christians, and so should we.  We must pray for them, so that the peace of Allah will fill their homes and lives.  

Sunday, June 2, 2013

I Really Don't Know

Recently, a friend asked me:  "do you believe in eternal life?"

The question served as a cow tipper...once asked, my brain began a domino chain of asked questions and answered thoughts about belief, life, theology, god, me, you and everything else.

OK...forget the onion rings and chicken sandwich...I meant everything else.

So I decided to write down a list of things I believe about belief, and about The Belief - which for me and my history and my culture - is the Christian Belief System.

First...I believe nobody knows much of anything, therefore I reject most "knowledge" and certainty when it comes to god stuff or Jesus stuff or spiritual stuff.  To quote Bruce Cockburn, "we're the insect life of paradise, glimpsing for a moment the amazing breadth of heaven."   It is all belief, and no amount of evidence, non-evidence, quoting amazingly dense and meaningless theologians or anything else will make it more than that.

Second...the Bible.  Just a book.  An important book, no doubt.  For western culture, that is.  But still just a book.  NOT the Word of God.  At best, a compilation of stories about sacred belief; at worst, a compilation of the ancient world's equivalent of Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity.  Screed stuff.  Read it, think about it, but don't build your life on it.  Or do.  Whatever.

Third...God.  Maybe, maybe not.  The only reason I think it matters is...

Four...eternal life.  For the most part, don't believe in it.  But...when I am at my most religious, I am a universalist...that is, everybody gets saved and gets to go to heaven.  Everybody.  So...if everybody gets to go to heaven, and there is no hell but here on earth, then eternal life is a moot point, except maybe for creating a sense of wonder and eager anticipation about what it will be like.  And that is a good thing.

Fifth...Jesus.  Maybe, maybe not.  There is significant historical evidence to indicate that he existed; there is also significant historical evidence to indicate that he did not exist.  Either way...in some ways, it is a good story.  Poor Jewish boy grows up to turn the world upside down.  God?  Probably not...unless he was telling us we are all gods, and therefore was advocating a bold blasphemy in the midst of the most monotheistic religious society in the history of the world up to that point.  Which probably is why he was executed.  Did he die for our sins?  I don't think so.  But...I like the intention of those who said that he did, for this reason.  The message is:  God loves us, we are all gods, love one another, God dies like all of us, gods die, that's OK, you are OK, all is well.  I mean...seriously, who can get too upset about a message like that?

Sixth...belief.  I mentioned this before, but let me say again...everything is belief.  Everything.  For the most part.  Knowledge is temporary...because we will learn more tomorrow.  99.9999 percent of reality is mystery to us, and we are knocking it down at about 0.000000000001 percent a century.  We just figured out oxygen (in the grand scheme of things, if we have been here for millions of years, transmogrifying from monkeys to humans).  We haven't even seriously left the planet.  It's laughable.  Knowledge changes.  Belief does too.  Daily.  What I believe today is not what I will believe tomorrow.  Why?  Because...

Seventh...impermanence.  The great Buddhist core principle.  Impermanence.  Everything changes.  Everything.  Every moment.  I have changed somewhat since I started typing this sentence.  Over 10,000 of my cells have split.  Others have died.  On and on.  So...belief changes as well, in small doses, as we learn, change, grow, ungrow, devolve, fart, and eat.

Eighth...emptiness.  The next great Buddhist core principle.  All is emptiness.  And science is verifying that daily.  Even at the sub-atomic, quantum level.  Consider:  a muon (google it if you don't know).  If a muon was the size of a softball, the next closest muon to it would about ten miles away.  It is important to realize that for the most part, we are a swarm of reality bytes, moving in perceived concert with other reality bytes.  Not to take ourselves too seriously.

So...I don't know if I believe in eternal life.  It doesn't matter.  It doesn't matter if I do...or don't.  In light of the things I just said, I don't know what does matter.  But...here I am, here you are.  Somehow, we have to make sense of it all.  Why?

I really don't know.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Guest Blog: Jeremiah Theiss

My dear friend, Jeremiah Theiss, recently posted this little paragraph on Facebook.  Few words...mighty powerful.  Thought it was worth being shared with you...

I'm hearing it all over Facebook.  Christians are asking why society is the way it is.  Because we lost the battle in the heart.  It became all about the rules.  "I follow the rules and you don't"...and BAM, the wall is put up...by us.  Jesus said it best.  "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves."  (Matthew 23:15)  They made it all about the rules, and so have we.  Society is the way it is because we have lost not only our influence, but the platform upon which to have simple conversations.  It starts with understanding the truth about our own brokenness.  They can relate to that.  Don't be surprised if we have no influence without being real about our "current" brokenness.  


Monday, April 29, 2013

Life is Not a Day At the Office


Well, of course, I don't want my life to be defined by my job...but that is not what I mean.

At my office, most of us are compelled - or at least committed - to line up our "to do" lists, and then work through them methodically. At the end of the day, our goal is to have removed those items into the "done" pile, and begin to build a new "to do" list for the next day. That is what is expected of us, that is what we are paid for, that is what a day at the office is all about.

Life is not like that. I have seen so many people (and I have done it myself) try to line up the "to do" lists of life...and work through it methodically.

It just does not happen that way. "Jurassic Park" the movie has a central theme - "life happens." Chaos is lurking in each and every moment, waiting to take our finely tuned plans and our "to do" lists and turn them into butterflies flapping their wings in an electric storm.

But that is still not what I mean. The "day at the office" mentality causes a type of soul lethargy. So many go around with the feeling that they can't get around to the stuff they really want or have a passion to do, because they have to tick off the "to do" list of things they are responsible for. They view life as "work" - or at least as a day at the office. Here's my list of "to do" things that have to get done before I go home...I get paid to do them, I will be evaluated on whether or not I do them and how I do them, and my job and my future depend on my doing these things.

I guess, at the most primitive level, that is what work is all about (though I think we can change our thinking about work as well). But certainly, life is not like a day at the office. Not only only does chaos intervene, but so does choice and serendipity.

You will never, ever, ever get your "to do" list of responsible things done - so don't put off your dream list, or your passionate purpose, until the day's end. Being able to pursue your dream and live your passion is not your reward for doing all of your chores. Not at all! You are alive to pursue your dream, live your passion...not do chores. You were not created to be a chore machine. OK, yes, chores come with life...someone has to clean the toilet and wash the clothes.

But don't put your soul in a catatonic state by saying..."I can't live my dream until I do the laundry." There will always be laundry, there will always be dust, there will always be chores...and hiding where you can't see it, chaos waits to make a grand entrance.

Live your dream and pursue your passion...and do the chores when you can. If your "responsibility to do list" stays uncompleted, or grows...it's OK. You can let go alot of those things, and let them return to the natural state. For example, dust will always win. You dust and wipe and clean...and it will come back. It's everywhere, and when you die, not only will it still be there, you will become part of it!

Don't let dust get in the way of the pursuit of your dream. Don't say things like "OK, I will take a walk and learn photography and paint a picture and travel a trail...after I win the battle against dust."

My recommendation is to leave your "to do" list and that way of thinking at the office. In such an environment, that may be a good operational modality. But leave it there. Let your life be about your dreams, your passion, your soul.

Life is not a day at the office. Thank God!

Namaste!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

So Many Startlements!

For the past several months, the concept of Namaste has been startling my soul like a lightning bolt out of the blue.

Namaste simply means respect. It is a core universal power that I desperately want and need more in my life. It is what I want to be remembered by. I have so far to go in learning how to give it, receive it, live it.

Today, I had a "ah-ha" moment. I saw a bumper sticker on a car - "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." Like seeing through hydrogen, I understood why I turned away from the Christian religion. I realized that modern, evangelical organized Christian religion does not teach respect. It teaches arrogance, exclusivity and  elitism. In the 20th century, that brand of Christianity promoted intolerance of women, intolerance of blacks, intolerance of gays, and intolerance of anything not white and American. As a result, the world turned against our country and millions in this country turned their backs against the religion.

A simple example: the whole position of the conservative Christian religion against gay marriage. Why would anyone who lives in respect CARE about the sexual activity of another person? Only an agressive fundamentalism that does not respect but only judges who is right and who is wrong through the filters of their religious tenants could be against a committed relationship of any kind.

Respect means recognizing the divine imprint and image on every soul. Christians, for the most part, recognize something different - the sinfulness of every soul. I used to buy into that - and saw myself and everyone else as fundamentally wrong. As a result of Namaste, I have come to see that every person is fundamentally right in one way - we each desire to be loved, and to give love. And THAT is the divine imprint on every soul - and that is the heart of Namaste.

But religion comes along and says "NO - you can't love THAT way...", or "you can't do this" or "if you believe this way or that way you are going to earn the wrath of God and go to hell."

I reject that. I would much rather live my life saying - "I see the imprint of God on you, and I see the reflection of God's glory in your eye, hear it in your voice...and I RESPECT YOU."

Here is a startlement...watch what happens when you RESPECT.

Namaste!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Truth or Fact?

I had a strange conversation with an old friend recently. He was upset about my evolving faith - or, according to him, "loss of faith." Part of what upset him was my reluctance to say that the Bible is without error, perfectly true.

His issue was not with my belief in God, or spiritual life, or morality (although I suspect we have some major differences). His issue was that I no longer deny my scepticism about the veracity of scripture. According to him, "the bible is either all true, or it is all a lie."

From where I am, surrounded by distance haze, I find that a very strange and almost absurd statement. "I don't know" is the most common answer to any question ever stated or imagined. What we know compared to what we don't know is immeasurably small. And what we think we know? It changes constantly. Just a few hundred years ago, people thought the moon orbited the sun. Just a few short decades ago, people insisted that if "man is supposed to fly, he would have wings." When I was a kid, the tricorders on "Star Trek" were a joke...now, I am pretty much writing on one.

Knowledge changes, because it is impossible to know all the facts. Even to the simplest question, all the facts are unknowable...it is impossible to even know what all the facts may be, or the questions to ask.

Facts, however, don't necessarily equal truth. Simple example: you see a circle. Is it round? No, it could be a tube, just seen from a specific perspective. Fact does not equal truth. Circle does not equal round.

My friend said "if it is not all true, it's a lie." How can that be? It reminds me of the movie "Talledega Nights" with Will Ferrell.  Will's character - Ricky Bobby - is told over and over by his father, "If you ain't first, you're last."  (see the video below)

Well, that's simply NOT true.  There are alot of positions between first and last - 2nd, 3rd, 4th...you get the picture.

video

In the same way, there are shades of truth between "all true" and "all lie."  That is where I find myself, between "truth" and "facts" - between "all true" and "all lie."  It's where all of us are, like it or not.  It's called Distance Haze.

Nail

There are nails in our lives...powerful connections to people, places, events or experiences that never get broken, never can get broken (at least not without the powerful fulcrum of an even greater experience) and that shape, control or direct our lives regardless of what we do.

These nails are not put there by us.  We do not possess the power to hammer our own nails.  On the other hand, we are the ones who hammer nails in the lives of others.

God, destiny, fate, luck...or just plain Life (with a capital "L")...that is the hammering force that drives the nail into the foundation of our existence.

We do not choose the nail.  It is chosen for us.  Our gender, our race, our genetic composition, our family, our social place, our time in history, our culture...none of these are choices.  And they are nails.  Your gender is a nail...it connects you to a basic reality that will never, ever change (OK - unless you have gender reassignment surgery...and then THAT NEW gender becomes your nail).

The nail is a tethering point.  It connects you to the foundation of reality that is your life.  It both controls you, and directs you.

The nail is like a rock in a stream.  The stream flows, but it has to find a way around the rock...and it does.  And the rock impacts the flow of the stream...from its speed, to its direction.

I am a person who is deeply impacted by the power of place.  Many places are nails for me...the airport where I took my son to look at planes taking off, Nelson's Ledges in Ohio where my family spent many hours walking in the beautiful rock canyons, Manasota Key where I have rediscovered much of my spiritual self.

There are also people, and experiences...lives and events that continue to impact and shape my life to this very day.  Move on?  I can't...a nail has been hammered into the core of my reality, and I will always be tethered to that.

So will you.  Yes, you are free.  But no, you are not.  There are nails that are tethering you to realities in your life that you can never break free from.  That is not a bad thing; in fact, it is a good thing - a thing to embrace, understand and affirm.

What are your nails?  Pay attention, learn from them, and celebrate how they have shaped, currently shape, and will shape your life.  It could change everything.

And remember...no matter how fancy the house...it is the nail that holds it all together.

Bigger As You Go

Despite what the laws of physics may tell us, some things get bigger as they move away from us.

Take, for example, my first born son.  Years of living with him at home, expecting him to be there every night, knowing he was asleep in his room, that he would be joining us at the kitchen table…all those things and more had a tendency to reduce him.

It a corollary to the old adage…familiarity breeds contempt.  In human relationships, especially, familiarity shrinks others.  The more we know someone (or think we do), the more familiar they become…the less important they become. 

It’s tricky.  That other person becomes so much a part of your life that they begin to lose significance in your life.  You take their presence, their contribution, their sound or smell or impact as they walk in the room for granted.  You expect it, and therefore you reduce it.  It is not something that you have to work for.  Eventually it becomes something you don’t have to prioritize. 

And you find yourself ignoring that person, because they are not a squeaking wheel.  They are there; they are a part of the landscape.  Other things, the things that are urgent but not necessarily important, grab your attention and suck your energy. 

Then, one day, that other person is gone.  Even though I helped him find a place to live, helped him pack, helped him move, hugged him goodbye at his new place…the moment came when my first born son was no longer in my landscape.  He was not on the couch, watching TV with me.  He was not at the dinner table.  I did not hear him in his bathroom, brushing his teeth before bed.  He did not come into my room, sit on my bed as he had done for years, and talk about the day.  He was not asleep in his bed.  He was gone.

And suddenly, he moved from being a blip on my landscape to the biggest thing in my life.  I found myself thinking about him every moment of every day.  Missing him.  Yearning for him.  Understanding how I had missed moments with him because of his familiarity.  Resenting myself for letting other things take priority over him. 

So, despite what the laws of physics tell you, there are some things – some people – that get bigger as they go.  Our greatest work is to keep them big while they are still with us.  Don’t let familiarity cause diminishment.  Don’t let the urgent rob you of the important.

Keep them big now…and you won’t be crushed by them later as they inevitably go.