What is this?
If you have ever read any of my blogs ever, you've likely picked up on the fact that I am an obsessive list maker. Seriously, it's a problem. You will see this especially manifest as I begin to publish my end of the year best-of lists. This will be a list made to celebrate the value in my journey through 2016. I have picked 10 moments, and I will dedicate a blog to each one. I hope my experiences and lessons will in some small way prove beneficial to you in your journey.
Often times in Facebook posts or in personal conversation I will filter out my more controversial or provocative musings due to a desire to not add to the entropy that defines social gatherings and media in these times. However, I will make no attempt to mask myself here. Theologically, I will not hide where I am at on my faith journey; and I hope that anyone confused or in disagreement with me will respond with love and questions, not anger and accusations.
"Where is God out in the darkness?
'Cause the voices in my head ain't talkin' honest.
Saying maybe You made us then forgot us...
But that ain't You."
The Day That I Found God
The Day That I Found God
Over the last two years, my 2004 Ford Escape has become my reckoning ground. When confronted with situations too big for me to dissect within a few moments, I go to my Escape and reckon with what lies before me. Heated fight with the wife? Go to the Escape. Intense bout of anxiety and depression? Go to the Escape. Fall deep into existential despair, question God and the meaning of life and consciousness? Go to the Escape. That silver little chamber of contemplation and introspection has become an invaluable part of my journey. It was in that Ford Escape I had come to be filled like a glass with a sense of nothingness. No God or gods, no purpose, just what I can see and touch and test and prove.
I had taken a job working with troubled kids at a residential center. And when I say troubled, I mean we had sexual offenders, murderers and drug offenders. Most of the kids were hooked on heroin before entering the residence and nearly every kid in our program had been sexually abused at some point in their lifetime. I lived in paradox: On the one hand thinking if there was God, I nearly hated him for allowing such atrocities to befall so many innocent kids, but on the other hands, I was missing my best friend God and really wanted to believe that there could be some sort of Divine purpose, or hope of restoration around it all.
I sat in my Escape, pulling into my drive way and tried to find some way to decompress from all that my heavy day carried. I wanted to talk to God, but couldn't find a way. I had remembered a podcast I listened to a while back called The Liturgists. The show is hosted by Science Mike McHargue and Michael Gungor of the band Gungor (you know, the people who sing Beautiful Things? That song everybody plays on Sunday mornings as they roll the missions trip slideshow?). In a two part episode of the podcast titled Lost and Found, both Science Mike and Michael share their personal experiences with losing their faith, and returning to that faith with a new way of seeing; or, as they refer to it, their deconstruction and reconstruction. I remember Science Mike telling his story, how he went from fundamentalist Christianity, to atheism, to Christian mysticism. I thought about the role that embracing mystery played in his faith; and in that moment, I couldn't shake the word mystery from my mind. As this word raced through my mind, I began to feel a moment of Divine presence. A sweet and, well, mysterious sensation. Some call it being moved by The Holy Spirit, some call it transcendence, some call it being submerged in the Divine; all I know was it was familiar and comforting and true.
I sat there in my reckoning ground, and I thought about that word mystery. Mystery: Something locked in secret. I thought about the story in Exodus when God asks Moses to liberate his people from the oppression of Egypt, and Moses asked Gods name. I thought of how God responded not with a name, or even anything resembling a name. God simply said "I am that I am. I will be what I will be." As if to say, "All you get to know about me is that I want to liberate my creation, and I am Mystery." I thought about the name attributed to God in the Old Testament, YHWH. A name with no vowels so as not to be spoken, a name shrouded in such sacred mysteries that the ancients dare not try to speak the name, only breathe it. I thought about my past experiences with the super natural, seeing broken and distorted legs healed on the spot. I thought about the multiple times I had the sensation of being washed in Divine Presence. I thought about a moment where a dear friend of mine seemed to be manifesting the demonic, speaking in different voices and contorting his body, and the power I felt in me as myself and my other friends prayed, and saw, deliverance. I thought about a time around my sophomore year of high school, I sat outside, wanting to pray but doubting so much, and then hearing an audible voice tell me "I am here." I have found no reasonable explanations for such things, only mystery. It's almost as if my Catholic, Anglican and Eastern Orthodox sisters and brothers knew what they were doing when they surrounded their liturgies around "these sacred mysteries of our faith."
Then I thought about the life Jesus modeled for humanity. I thought of how he introduced a new way to be human; a way taking care of the poor and the oppressed and those pushed to the margins,a way of suffering with those who suffer, a way of responding to an attack with loving service and compassionate insight, a way of living outside of the powers and principalities in the political world, but living a subversive life. I thought of how all these things were parts of the manifest Kingdom, and I realized I wanted to contend for that Kingdom. Fighting for that Kingdom was the only way of making sense of any of the carnage in our world. Yes, I was a paradox: Full of doubt and faith; but so was Jesus, full of Divine and humanity. I thought maybe my faith looking more like hope than certainty would be enough.
Maybe God doesn't want my certainty. Maybe he wants my faith. If God was so concerned with us being 100% certain, Jesus would have come, performed miracles, taught, died and resurrected in a time when we had smart phones and social media to share it all.
So I sat there, in my 2004 Ford Escape, at around 12:30am and I reckoned with God. I prayed a prayer more empowered than my last one. As some of my evangelical friends would say, "I rededicated my heart to God." Even though this is a terminology I don't use much of anymore, that is really what happened. My heart was distant, afraid and full of doubt; and then this Divine Mystery called Jesus, but also called Love, pursued me, and won my heart by reminding me of all the times that I did feel The Presence. This Mystery that made me feel like my mothers death wasn't the final chapter in her story. This Mystery that made me feel in my heart that someday, someway, all of this worlds sufferings will be washed away in eternal glory, and that this planet and its hurting and broken people will experience a final healing. I remember all these mysteries that I experienced, and realized my doubts had no more credibility than my faith. So I doubted my doubts, though they were and are many, and I prayed.
"God, I don't know that you're there.
I may never be able to know for sure.
But I have yet to find proof that you don't exist.
I don't know that what the science community calls mystery isn't just You showing off.
So, because I can't prove that you are real,
and because I can't prove that you are not,
I will choose to follow you.
I will dedicate my life to the advancement of your Kingdom, which is the way of Jesus.
I don't know that you're real, but I hope that you are,
And maybe that hope will become its own kind of knowing and loving.
These days I'm learning to embrace mystery as a key to having faith. As Father Richard Rohr puts it, I am "falling into mystery, and being held by love." I am learning to let doubt and faith co-exist. Because, as Anne Lamott puts it, "doubt is not the opposite of faith; certainty is. For what need do the certain have for faith?"
What has helped immensely is viewing Christianity not as a system of beliefs or checks and balances, but as a generous way of life. As one of my favorite writers, Brian McLaren, puts it:
"For centuries Christianity has been presented as a system of beliefs. That system of beliefs has supported a wide range of unintended consequences, from colonialism to environmental destruction, subordination of women to the stigmatization of LGBT people, antisemitism to Islamophobia, clergy pedophilia to white privilege. What would it be like for Christians to rediscover their faith not as a problematic system of beliefs, but as a just and generous way of life, rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion, that makes amends for all its mistakes and is dedicated to a beloved community for all?"
This is a framework for Christianity I can get behind and dedicate my life to.
I believe in the Christian story that I have inherited. I want to end this with the Apostles Creed. The Apostles Creed is a declaration of beliefs that Christians have been participating in since right after our movement was birthed. Some days I walk in solid faith in its sentiments and statements, other days I just have to really hope that all this is real... and you know what? I am okay living in that tension.
I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Creator of Heaven and earth;
I believe in Jesus Christ,
His only Son, our Lord,
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day He rose again.
He ascended into Heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Holy Catholic (catholic is another word for universal.) Church,
the communion of Saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
For all my brothers and sisters out there who feel like you are drowning in doubt and mystery, I have compiled some resources that have guided myself, and many of my friends, through this often lonely and painful process. May these aid you as they have us. I love you. Your doubts and questions are valid. You are not alone.
Particularly Lost and Found parts 1 & 2.
Books. I own all of these and many more, and will gladly lend you any one you might want or need.
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
Searching For Sunday by Rachel Held Evans
Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren
Finding God in The Waves by Mike Mchargue
Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
Water to Wine by Brian Zahnd
What We Talk About We Talk About God by Rob Bell
Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessy
The Sin of Certainty by Peter Enns