Sunday, April 26, 2009

Is it possible?

Continued from before I believe much of what Jesus did in his mission here on earth was largely unseen, and mysterious. I do believe in a spiritual realm that we cannot see, and the obscure references to Jesus passing judgment on the gates of hell are odd and hard to grasp. While these ideas are not without merit or importance, I try and put my attention on what I can understand and communicate. I can posit an idea or two about heaven and hell, but I am living on earth here and now, and feel I can speak a little more clearly about the latter. With all the words of Jesus we have recorded, if I can take the liberty to summarize all he said in one little phrase, it would be these three words: "You are free." Its because freedom in the reason He set us free. Freedom to do right. Freedom to do good. Freedom to believe that I am free. I just didn't experienced a whole lot of that when I was immersed in church culture. Freedom was something to be feared. One guy told me that he would rather err on the side of law than on the side of grace. He explained that if he was to wander, at least he would be far enough away from being accused of being loose or immoral. Discipline would keep him safer from sinning than would the risks of freedom. I didn't get the logic of his idea. If I'm going to err, I'm going to err. Does it matter which side of the line I fall? Jesus' call to freedom releases me to follow what he pointed to as the Greatest Commandment. Do I love well? Would God and others say I do? If not, why not? I think we get too hung up on trying to find a specific blueprint of what Jesus wants me to do and less aware of what He hopes we will do. Consider the things Jesus never did. He never was married, never had kids, never owned a house, all three of which many men today do. Instead of trying to figure out what Jesus would do as a husband, father, or homeowner, is it too much of a stretch to imagine him asking, "What would you do?" My dad was a man of deep faith, and it affected how he lived and how he raised me. His biggest legacy was instilling a belief that he was behind me in whatever I did. Is it possible that Jesus is trying to do the same? I think my dad and Jesus were trying to tell me the same thing... are free.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Yes, I do

Anonymous said...

Any thoughts for someone who is in full time ministry and wanting out?

Yes, I do.

It's a big decision to make, one that took me several years. It's a decision that contains multiple layers, and each of them require some serious thought and consideration. Doing so is a revealing process, as it will lead you to motives you may not have been aware of.

Your first point of clarity is knowing why you want to get out. Are you bored? Are you disillusioned, maybe tired of being broke, or are you just fed up with the assholes in your church? These reasons need exploration, and that search needs to be done with a trusted voice who will let you talk it out completely with out judgment. I try my best to be objective, even though I made the choice to leave, I'm smart enough to know that my decision is not the right one for everyone else. Who knows, you may just need a good vacation in order to feel better about your lot in life. But I would doubt it.

A second layer to peel back is knowing where you want to go. Leaving is one thing, having a destination is another. I left because I had a compelling notion to start something new, completely unrelated to what I did before. It pulled me out, and forward. Even though many would not understand, it gave me a justification that I could rely on and defend in my own soul, which is essential, because there will likely be many lonely days ahead once you launch out.

A third aspect of which to be aware is what other people think. The good spiritual answer is that we are only supposed to care about what God thinks, but if you have helped people in their faith development, that is not something to be taken lightly. You will need to be able to communicate to these folks why you are making the shift. You can't just leave and expect them to fully understand without giving them a reason why. People will have to make their own choice about what they think about your decision, but how you consider them is yours.

I know this oversimplifies it, but I wanted to acknowledge your question and say that leaving vocational ministry is not the end of the world, despite what you may have been led to believe. I was always beat over the head with the verses on perseverance, and diligence and how if you take your hand from the plow, you are not fit for the Kingdom. These can be easily taken out of context and made to apply to your vocation and not your deepest soul. Leaving your ministry position may be the very thing to put you back on track toward renewing your faith. I know it did for me.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Feeling Bad For Not Feeling Bad

Easter morning. The day all good Evangelicals and other Christian types meet to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. The focal point of belief, the reason for our forgiveness, the cause that changed history. So why again this year, am I having a difficult time not making a bigger deal out of it? Why am I fine sitting in my morning chair, enjoying a quiet house, reflecting on my week, and savoring a rich cup of coffee? I think it has something to do with not feeling bad any more. Back when I was a good Evangelical, there was a point of view I completely bought into that I am only now starting to unpack and question why. This sentiment was expressed so commonly, especially in every other worship song I sang and led, I adopted it as if it was my intended lot in life. Let's just call it the identity of desperation. The one song that embodied this idea as good as any was the one titled, "Breathe." The simple lyrics of "I'm lost without you; I'm desperate for you." rolled off my lips like bailouts out of Washington. I loved this song. I thought it was so brave and courageous to sing this kind of passion, until I came to a discovery a few years down the road. I think the main reason I connected with it was because I was depressed. I felt horrible about myself, my place in life and what the future might not hold. In fact, I am starting to realize that much of my spiritual identity was built around that condition, and now that I am no longer depressed, I am redefining my faith accordingly. And I wonder if I'm not alone. Part of the reason I don't want to go back to the Church As I Knew It is that it helped reinforce my feeling bad and I don't feel a need to return to that place in my life again. Maybe I am, but don't feel like I'm trying to lay blame on Church or anyone other than myself, because ultimately I am the one responsible for the maintenance of my spirit. What got me thinking about this more were all the little Facebook profile updates I see from my friends expressing their sentiments about Easter. Sentiments that once made perfect sense now seems so foreign to how I view Christ and what His life represents. Honestly, I don't feel like a wretch anymore. I don't feel desperate any longer. I feel free and empowered. I don't rise each morning with the need to read the Bible and have it remind me of all that I am doing wrong. I don't need a weekly sermon to reinforce the darkness of my depression with a general assumption that I am nothing more than a man in need of a Savior. I guess I want to keep moving forward to better places and there are too many voices around me proclaiming their sin and shame and not enough living in freedom and power. I don't claim to know what God is thinking all the time, but if the image of Him as Father is accurate, would I want my kids calling me at all hours of the day to recount all the ways they let me down and to remind me of what bad children they are? If indeed He is risen, I'm pretty sure He's going to stay that way, and I'm going to do my best to do the same. Happy Easter.
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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Now, what was it you wanted me to do?

It was called horse sense where I grew up, but you might know it as common sense or savvy or gumption, but it is a quality that indicated the ability to see the obvious and call a spade a spade. Folks that didn’t have it were labeled as thick, or dense or just plain dumb. It seems there are more and more spades today that are not being labeled as such. Take this oft used statistic, for example. Research shows that there is very little difference in the morality, if you want to call it that, between people who proclaim to have faith in Christianity and those who don’t. Divorce rates are the same, teen pregnancies are similar. Christians seem to have just as many affairs and who know what other kinds of problems. Why is this? There is a religious segment that would say its just old fashioned sin that needs to be repented of. This group has been pounding the drum loudly that all our social ills are an indication that America is being punished for these sins and the solution is that we simply need to stop what they are doing and turn back to God. Let’s say that’s true. How does that happen? This was the line of thinking I was handed in my early faith development. It was more like the sentiment of Nike than anything supernatural. The Sunday preacher would open the Bible and point out all the behavior that we, the struggling followers, should avoid, and we were expected to “just do it.” Nothing really mattered other than raw obedience, and since nothing ever changed, this gave the preacher job security, who would continue the same browbeating week in and week out. Why didn’t this work, and by work I mean results in any kind of change in social or personal behavior? I would venture to say that we had no idea of what we were to become. There was no Ideal, if you will, to look toward and emulate. And without an Ideal, we are left with whatever we see around us. And if the majority of people I know are getting a divorce, why should I expect to be any different? When the going gets tough in marriage, why not jump ship? What really keeps me wanting to make it work? You might say Jesus is that Ideal and that he should be the example for all our dilemmas. But I’m not sure that was the main point of his short lived earthly presence. Jesus wasn’t married. He doesn’t live next door. He didn’t play basketball. He didn’t drive a car or have use of the Internet. There is so much we do today that he never did. WWJD can only go so far. Could it be the Ideal is much closer to us than the example of one who lived in a far away culture hundreds of years ago? To be continued...