What If: Mary Was Not a Virgin?

I once read an article about the danger of questioning the “biggies” of the Christian faith (and this would fall into that category). The author compared it to trying to take one pearl off of a strand. A problematic situation developed when you begin messing with the pearls of the faith because if you remove one, you are likely to lose the entire strand. My first response was laughter. And then I realized that this author was serious. They really believed that by taking off one pearl, we faced the very real dilemma that the whole thing would fall part.

Insider tip to my faith: I think God can handle all of our pearl removing. I am quite confident, in fact, that each time we dive deeper and look harder and pursue connection, we don’t just screw with the nice jewelry, but instead we have the ability to create a statement piece that can shape our soul and heart and hope. There is not one part of me that believes that this whole thing falls apart if I question or doubt or even decide that I can’t fully commit to every detail of a story that has been challenged for thousands of years. I really think that the God of the Universe can handle my wrestling. I actually think God delights in it.

This is why I am not afraid of saying some things on this topic. First of all, what if? Does it change everything? Why? What is the significance of the Virgin Birth in YOUR life?

If you are still with me, let me show you a few interesting things as I have wrestled with:

  1. Context – Do you know where the prophesy of the virgin birth comes from? Let me share with you why I love Pete Enns. He is waaaay smarter than me and he always has a way of cutting through the crap to what I need to know. He shares in his blog about the root of the word that is used in Isaiah (which is where the Gospel of Matthew draws the prophecy from) to predict the miraculous birth of Jesus. The Hebrew word in this text that is translated virgin in English, is literally defined as a young women, post puberty that was not married – thus culturally she would traditionally be a virgin. The interesting part to me is there was a specific Hebrew word that translated exactly to virgin. So why not use that word? These things intrigue me. And make me wonder.
  2. Experience – What part of the Virgin Mary is vital to your understanding of faith? Is it because you have always been told Mary was a virgin? Is it important that the mother of Jesus never had sex before he was conceived? Is it because that is the word used in the Bible that you read? I’m not questioning any of these for you. I am asking if you have ever done the heavy lifting of your own faith to know if this even matters to your understanding of the life of Jesus. Think about it!
  3. Connection – Anytime I bump up against a question, I always go to the history of the followers of faith. The Christian church has seen some things. There are as many understandings as there are people who have followed Jesus. I can assure you that us asking these kinds of questions is not new to God or the people of God. It is also deeply challenging for me to learn about the ways that my questions and faith align with others throughout the ages. It is these very questions that have called Church councils whereby the great creeds of faith come into existence. So if it is not new, why not dig deeper into how the people of God have struggled through the centuries?

I am more committed than ever to discussions on context, experience and connection. Asking about these areas of historic and universal faith have allowed me to use the lens of my own experience and see how God is teaching and growing me to work out my own faith. What if Mary was not a virgin? I don’t want to answer questions like this for you. When they pop up, I want to help you have the tools to seek the answers for yourself. That is the beautiful thing about trusting that God is enough. We don’t need a smarter, more faithful guide to give us all the answers. We need our own desire to explore and in the process, people to teach us how to ask better questions. Let’s do that together.

What If: Everything Cannot Be Solved in the Pages of the Bible?

This is an easy one for me. It can’t. I said it and I’m not going back.

Somehow, that does not seem to satisfy the heart of the question, so I am going to try and put thirty years of wrestling with this one into a few paragraphs. I’m sure that this will be wildly insufficient, but I need you to know my starting point as it relates to the Bible. I have spent many years learning how to study the Bible. I have studied for memorization. I have read for direction. I have examined for the storyline. I know the content. But it has taken me years to make peace with the scriptures.

When I graduated from high school, I received multiple books that had topics with associated chapter and verse. Where should I turn when I was worried? When I was doubting? You get the point. The number of times I would feel something very normal and human and I would go to these books so that God could “correct” my doubt or fear or pain are too numerous to count. I spent many years forcing a text about a struggling widow or a leper onto my 23-year-old struggle. And while there is constancy in the heart of the message, it never fit and often left me feeling unseen.

There was a turning point about 10 years ago when I began to find a pack of thinkers with whom I could resonate. My desire to learn from and be shaped by, yet not be shamed by or mistakenly instructed in a way that was never intended, was lived out in their writings and lives. While I have countless voices that speak truth on this subject to my soul, I need you to know about the Holy Trinity of scripture shapers for Lacy Hilbrich. As I have learned and questioned and opened myself up to see that the text is a story of the people of God and not an instruction manual, it changed the way I want to see God.

“The Bible is not an argument. It is a record of human experience. The point is not to prove that it’s the word of God or it’s inspired or it’s whatever the current word is that people are using. The point is to enter into its stories with such intention and vitality that you find what it is that inspired people to write these books.” 
― Rob Bell, What Is the Bible?: How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything

“Bible stories don’t have to mean just one thing. Despite what you may have heard from a pastor or Sunday school teacher along the way, faithful engagement with Scripture isn’t about uncovering a singular, moralistic point to every text and then sticking to it. Rather, the very nature of the biblical text invites us to consider the possibilities.” 
― Rachel Held Evans, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again

“Many Christians have been taught that the Bible is Truth downloaded from heaven, God’s rulebook, a heavenly instructional manual—follow the directions and out pops a true believer; deviate from the script and God will come crashing down on you with full force. If anyone challenges this view, the faithful are taught to “defend the Bible” against these anti-God attacks. Problem solved. That is, until you actually read the Bible. Then you see that this rulebook view of the Bible is like a knockoff Chanel handbag—fine as long as it’s kept at a distance, away from curious and probing eyes.” 
― Peter Enns, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It

My love for reading scripture only deepened when I began to let go of the worry of getting it right. When I embraced that reading the text was a conversation starter rather than an ending point, I began to love the story of God more. What we know from scripture is the heartbeat of God told in the stories and voices of the people of God. In reading, we are invited into the way that the Spirit has worked throughout the ages. This is refreshing news for many of us that have faced the reality that this one book is not the answer manual to every modern question and problem. Often the solutions I am looking for are not on the pages of Ephesians or Deuteronomy, but if I take the faithful journeys of the past and sit with the truth, I can find my own way to listen to God.

What If: I Can’t Say That I’m a Christian Anymore?

When I asked for questions for this series, I received such a beautiful array of topics. Because most of my blogs have a spiritual undertone, I fully expected that many of them would center from this space. It was clear as I started curating questions that there were a handful of themes that dominated, but there were two that seemed to need some thoughtful unpacking. Clearly, my sphere of influence had some big questions about the Christian faith the Church. This was no surprise to me, but I was honored that I was trusted with some of these questions. While I am doubtful that I have sufficient answers, I have thoroughly enjoyed the personal exploration that I have been gifted in this process.

Today’s question has so many layers. The only way I know to begin is to start on the outside and work inward. First of all, the wording has implications. “Anymore” implies that there is a basis for understanding the word Christian though the questioner’s life experience. I hear from this word that at some point in the past, the word Christian has been a marker of identity. Assuming this is true, we open up an entirely different level of question. A textbook definition of “Christian” is not applicable to those that have been personally woven into the faith. With the experience of embracing faith comes beliefs, rituals, direction and dogma that is not universal to every experience.

There is not one way to “be” Christian. Even within the faith, some define it as friendship, some a relationship, some a Baptism and others a mystery. At the core of all of these expressions is the rooted belief in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. The way that Christians express, pray, talk (and just about everything else) are as different at the people themselves. This has caused splits and separations in the Church for centuries. The varying insights, truths and experiences are vast. So vast, in fact, that some inside the circle have a steep sense that claiming the name alone is not sufficient. The laundry list of do’s and don’ts is vast. The proving ground to gain entry is ever growing. Ultimately, the meaning of this word is loaded from every angle.

With that as the foundation, I hear this question and I immediately hear wounds. I hear the weapons of exclusion and the judgement of faithfulness. I hear the preconceived ideas that ______ is not enough to be considered in the club. I hear a struggle to reconcile all of this person’s being to the presentation of Christianity that has not fit. I get it. I really do. This is such a deeply personal seeking that I must dig deep for the response. I ask myself this question on the regular. I can do Jesus. I can read and study the Gospel accounts of the life of Christ. I can see the deep well of compassion and grace that embodied his life. I can rally around the Jesus of the broken and poor and women and sick. I can feel acceptance in his welcome. CHRIST is the not the problem with this word. It’s the -anity section that causes me to stumble flat on my face.

I have been out of youth ministry for years. Most of the teenagers that I served are in their 30’s…some at the upper end of that decade. They have lives and families. They have joined churches (or not) for themselves. They have had real pain and struggle and many have lived to tell about it. But some have not. Because life is real and foundation rocking and gut punching. Not long ago, I was at my house when the doorbell rang. One of my former youth was at the door. I had not seen them in years. We talked for quite some time and in the midst of painful truths, they asked, “Lacy, are you a Christian?” The sure-fire Sunday School answer was coming out of my mouth when I stopped. My mouth froze and their eyes met mine. With all of the truth that I could muster in that moment, I said, “I’m not sure that we agree on what that means these days. I can’t answer that question in one word. The automatic response that I have always given doesn’t work for me anymore.”

To say that this only further confused this conversation is an understatement. What they needed in that moment was the assuring, neatly packaged “yes” that I would have gladly passed out with cheer in years past. What they got that day was a historical and practical conversation about love and welcome. They were reminded that a label is not diagnostic. For the first time, to one of the teenagers for whom I had neatly packaged all the things, I had to unpack the ways that I still have faith in the person of Jesus but cannot claim the label of Christian most days. I can tell you all the things that I honor and treasure about so many aspects of faith. What I can’t do is honor and treasure a word and movement that has sought to divide, politicize, weaponize and defend the very things that Jesus stood against. The camp of Christian just feels like a pair of jeans that no longer fits. On some days, this is freeing. On other days, I am heartbroken. Either way, I’m choosing honesty in the process and worrying less about the label that I don’t want to wear, and more about the connection with the Divine that I need to develop. I think Jesus would be just fine with that.

What If: We Took Gender Labels Off of the Divine?

Yep. We are going there. This is a big one for me that I need to talk about. Today is my birthday, so I am giving myself a gift. There is a glorious freedom that comes with each passing year. While I come across as someone that always speaks their mind, I also want to belong. My primary and consistent place of safe belonging has always been in Christian community. There are many things that I have carefully weighed the cost of confessing in spoken and written word throughout my years. This post is the first of a few where I’m going to use my 4 1/2 decades of life to hold me while I trust my knowing, honest voice to speak.

I know that people don’t agree, and that is ok. Just come sit in my living room any night of the week and you will hear four different perspectives on any given topic. I want to be very clear that I’m not looking for acceptance and agreement on all the things. I am walking into some areas that I have studied and lived and grieved and embraced for decades. In the process, I have met and been in deep friendship with people that are afraid to ask these questions because they know the cost of answering them the “wrong” way. Before I go any further, I am going to be firm on this. My blog will not be a place of shaming or mean spirited hate spewage. This is a place to ask ANY question, and in order to do that we need safety. I will gladly block and delete commentary that is not helpful and loving. You do not have to read anything I post. As a matter of fact, if it is not helpful, please do not. I desire to build a home for those that are looking and can’t seem to find a place to land. That requires us to not have all the answers. Together.

Now, back to the question. There is a dangerous thing that happens when God is labeled by our human words. First of all they are wholly inadequate. Words are representative of one language, culturally derived and hold weight. Unfortunately, when we cross borders and generations and context, words are loaded. They are loaded with assumptions and baggage. They are loaded with delight and disappointment. For instance, say the word dream and some immediately think of Peter Pan while others quickly associate their night terrors. That is the reality of communication insufficiencies.

When we are studying ancient texts that were written in other languages and to other cultures, we give great trust that our 2020 English translations are accurate. Unfortunately, most of us do not do the heavy lifting to understand the detailed nuisance of centuries of translations. Before we go much further, I want to define a few terms. Sex is a biological term. Gender, in contrast, is defined by the World Health Organization as, “the socially constructed characteristics of women and men, such as norms, roles, and relationships of and between groups of women and men. It varies from society to society and can be changed.”

Hebrew (the language that introduces us to God in the Old Testament) is exclusively gendered. For instance a table (shulchan) in Hebrew is masculine while the sun (shemesh) is feminine. This binary reality has lead many faith leaders to use the masculine as the default. At the same time, we see examples throughout scripture where God represents a more female gendered reflection. For instance throughout the Psalms, the images of God as a mothering protector are many.

Because of the connection and association of words and genders, defining God seems impossible. What we know from the text is that from the very beginning of creation, humanity represents the image of the Divine. There is not one gender that is a more “true” reflection. Again, language and gender and cultural norms are completely insufficient for the deep well of hope and love that is God. So why is it that so many people of faith struggle with a gender neutral image of God? If we were to walk into most religious gathering spaces, there would be a gender assignment for the Divine. He, Father and Him are the most common, but this is not exclusive. Even churches that are sensitive to the need for gender neutrality sing songs with masculine language and bristle on the rare occasion there is a feminine pronoun or descriptor for God. While I could go on and on about this subject, those that have had this conversation with me before know that my personal call has long been to depict God in words like Creator, Healer, Divine, Spirit and Comforter. None of these words are exclusive and most importantly for my heart, none of these are easily associated in our culture with a gender.

Let me share one final thought to help you understand the weight of this discussion on people. If there is one thing that stands in our way of trusting and desiring God, it is our mistrust of people. I don’t care how many times that a wise spiritual person has told me that God is not human, they just as quickly assure me that God is represented in every creation – including humanity. So when we use ‘he’ or ‘him’ and even ‘she’ or ‘her’ to give representation to the Divine, we immediately assign humanly associated labels, whether we like it or not. If you have been a victim of incest and your Sunday School teacher prays to Father God, how can you pray? If you were assaulted by your mom when she was drunk on Saturday night, the last thing you want to hear at church is how “she” is holy and just. If you were date raped by your boyfriend, how can you ever trust that “he” is compassionate and able to heal? We cannot divorce our human context from our faith journey. Perhaps this small shift in language could be the open door that allows someone to see that God is not human. God cannot be boxed in. God, in all of God’s greatness is God alone.

What If: Faith is Just an Excuse to Serve Another Agenda?

I find this to be one of the most fascinating and real questions asked in this process. And while it is a wildly entertaining philosophical conversation, the reality of the truth behind it is terrifying. The reason that we want to ask this question is because we know it happens. We need to look no further than our Twitter feeds to see the way that all good things are hijacked by those that refuse to protect holy and beautiful space.

At the heart of faith is a deep desire for connection. We long to known and be known. We stumble and fall and rise and soar in our efforts to connect. Along the way, both the expressions of religious alignment and the desire for control seep into our ego-centric wiring and distort our pure efforts. Countless times, in countless seasons of leadership, I have watched really great people be blinded by the need and desire to stake their claim not in the pursuit of Divine connection but in authority, positions, causes and security.

The really scary part of this experience is that these movements of human control rarely begin with malicious intent. Often, the gentle lull of right (vs wrong), truth (over deception) and wisdom (above immaturity) is the ignition spark that becomes an idol. Time and again, I have been witness to the working of the great magnifying glass of human ego that fuels a shift from holy pursuit to personal agenda. There is a moment, maybe even unnoticed, when an issue, belief or political gain moves from a spiritual aim/tool to a need for victory and control. This slippery slope is a dangerous, subversive shift. With the power that may have started as a calling, passion or stirring, the use of a spiritual cover often excuses the originator from the criticism and correction of others.

While my personal witness is primarily limited to Protestant Christianity, one needs to look no further than some of the greatest atrocities in history to see this exact situation flourish. While the “biggies” are easy to spot (often in hindsight), the more concerning modern dilemma is being lived out on the pages of our political systems, our denominational divisions and our justice movements. Please don’t mishear me. I believe, with all of my being, in a holistic approach to faith that demands action in the name of truth. What disappoints me most these days, however, is the accepted disconnect with the heart of God and the identified agenda. If you are a follower of the teachings of Jesus, and you hijack his message to give cover to your platform, shame on you. If you have studied the Quran or the Talmud and you are accessing holy truths for your own gain, I call heresy.

Of all of the ways that people of faith twist and distort the sacred for the things of self, this single spiritual misstep is one of the most costly. While many world religions differ on context and pathways, there is a constant thread that resonates throughout time. God is God. And the reason this is vital is the opposite motivation of this question: humility. With as much as I hate to admit this truth, the acceptance of the power and role of the Divine is a leveling, humbling, shaping and ego killing admission of powerlessness. Without this realization, and a constant leaning into the truth of relinquishing of power, we are not living in a posture of release. If there is one thing that I know is vital in the moments of surrender, it is deep desire to pursue the aim of not setting the agenda anymore.

What If: This Season Changed the Way We Do Life?

How is your household holding up? Is anyone else tired of trying to sift through the entire book of emotions (all of which have probably been felt at some point) to put your finger on the pulse of today’s crazy? I have not driven a car in more than a month. I have not been in a building that was not my home in 36 days. My two big “outings” have included riding in a car with someone else driving too remind myself that, in fact, the world has not ended. To say that I am on the crazy making roller coaster is a serious understatement. Some days I am completely content to have my simple schedule. Some days I am ready to claw the eyes out of all of the people in my path. Today may be one of those days…

For all the Enneagram lovers, I was quite fond of this accurate description of people like me:

“This type is mad. They’re mad they can’t protect or provide for everyone. They’re mad that people they think are incompetent have the power to restrict their movements. They’re certain if they were in charge they could do things better than everyone else. And they’re especially repelled by what they perceive as weakness in the people around them.”

One of my greatest struggles has been my inability to control the irresponsible actions of other people. I am the person that sees your Snapchat picture with your “one best friend” and judges you for being in public. That’s me. I realized that part of my struggle is that I am completely uncomfortable with anyone except for me being in charge. I hate it. And I would really be much happier if I could control ALL the things. But I can’t. And I can’t see my mom and dad. And I can’t watch my daughter graduate and go to prom. And I can’t hang out with my friend. While my go to is anger, the root is sadness. I am sad. This is hard. So, very hard.

On the days when I can find some clarity of thought, I try to be mature and wise and thoughtful and ponder these types of ‘what if’s,’ but you must know, this is not my natural posture. But for the sake of this question, here are 5 things that I have picked up from this bizarre and challenging time:

  1. I need my people. My people are more important than I thought. I have loved the time that I have shared with my husband and daughters. We have cooked and laughed and yelled and worked puzzles and had movie marathons. I love these 3 with all of my heart. But, GOOD GRIEF, I need the other people. I need the ones that talk to me in different emotional languages. I need the ones that sit at coffee with me for 3+ hours…something that would be painful for the current occupants of my home. I need the ones that like to challenge my thoughts rather than my instructions to load the dishwasher. My other people are necessary.
  2. I need to adventure. I miss getting in my car and driving with the windows down and the radio loud. I know what you are about to say, “you could still do that.” But if you have ever been around me, you know that my drives include big boujee drinks and frequent bathroom stops. Neither of these are stay-at-home friendly. I would also be the jerk that has a wreck joy riding…and I would NEVER hear the end of it.
  3. I need to have a better rhythm. I resist being told how and when to do things. But one thing that I know that has to change after this season is that I must build into my life rhythmic time for walking and thinking and soul stillness. I can know these things are necessary, but until they are thrust upon me I don’t appreciate them. And even then, no one is making me do them now, but there is so much down time that in my boredom I have done the things that I really need. I have seen these moments transform my quarantine experience. I don’t always enjoy what these moments expose, but I treasure truth. Rhythm is gold for people like me. And I hope I can continue to see the value when the schedule fills again.
  4. I need to say “no” more. I like to be needed. Because I know that I can do all the things, I tend to take the reins of projects that should not be mine in the first place. This season has taught me that it is healthy to step out. I am not responsible for all the people. I am not able to control the people or the things. So, dear Lacy, know your role.
  5. And here is the big one: I don’t need to go to Target, Marshall’s and all the other places like it is my job. I miss wandering. I miss being lost in a moment of dreaming of new and exciting. I have traditionally found that in shopping and buying. While I have purchased things on the internet, I have honestly not missed wandering in a store. I find wandering in my neighborhood walking trails has produced a similar experience with less debt and more wisdom. I’m not saying that this won’t ever happen again, but I do think this new awareness has been insightful and challenging. I’m looking forward to finding new places to wander and dream when I explore again.

What If: You Could Change One Thing From Your Past?

Just one? I mean I have so many moments that I would like to revisit. So many times when I have said or done something in a way that changed things. When the cutting words forever changed the friendship. When driving away forever changed the level of trust. When the decision to abandon myself transformed my ability to look in the mirror. There are many, many moments of regret. But the more that I live, the more I understand that there is a difference between cleaning up the wreckage of your past and “changing” or shutting the door on your past. The difference is actually quite significant.

For the first decade of adulthood, I believed wholeheartedly that running from my past mistakes was the least painful way to live. I was particularly fond of avoiding those situations that required me to look inward and admit that I owed an apology. This work is hard. It is messy. It requires self assessment and a desire to grow. At 25, these moments were extremely unappealing as I was sure that I knew better than those that suggested such things. As time passed and as I began to see my own failures for what they were, I knew these were opportunities to grow.

But there are some things that are bigger. Sometimes they are even scary. There are moments in time where life was headed in a particular direction and then it took a hard left. As I reflect on some of these moments, I remember car accidents, deaths, the end of relationships. I can almost instantly transport my heart to the moment that those monumental events happened. When the call came. When the arrest was made. When the test confirmed what you already knew. Some of these moments are so long ago, and yet in reflection, our hearts and minds are instantly drawn back to the pain and grief and heaviness. We can feel the weight of something that happened decades ago wash over us with just a momentary time warp.

There is a line that I learned in recovery that I go back to anytime this ‘what if’ comes to my mind. “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it” is one of the 9th step Promises. The first time I saw this printed on the wall of a recovery room, I thought for sure that this was lie. There was no way that I could get to a point that I would not only not regret the past, but I would not want to forget about it? This statement seemed to imply that I would make peace with the past.

This particular promise is not guaranteed on day 1. It is not given until after the first 9 steps (which include things like admitting powerlessness, turning pain over to the Divine, taking responsibility, honestly sharing your life with another human, looking at your part and making amends) are completed. To tell you that there is work to not regretting the past, is like saying that babies may need their diaper changed. It’s an absolute journey of necessity and regular duty. It is a passionate calling that is not for the feint of heart. This is a quest into the soul. It will wear you down in ways that you did not know were possible. But I can tell you that the promise is true.

I have countless things that I still wish had not happened in my life. Sure, I would gladly take away everything painful, from the random bumps and bruises to the deep gaping wounds that still have a tendency to cause unexpected reappearances or numbness on particularly hard days. But to go back, to try and do them over, would change me. Those days when the phone call changed everything or the mason jar of Wild Turkey seemed like a good idea are the very things that make me who I am today. As hard as it is to say, without the horrible terrible’s, the person that is standing today would not be me. It is in the experiences of life that I have been formed and that includes the really hard ones. They have shaped me in the hottest fire. I have used their scar tissue to walk alongside other people with similar scars. I have dug deep into the wells of strength that I have been given to withstand other setbacks. I have embraced that in not dying, I have a call to live. I have survived. And yes, that is in my very best Gloria Gaynor voice.

What If: The Devil Doesn’t Even Begin to Describe the Evil of this World?

The devil. What a fascinating historical and literary image that scholars have passionately pursued for generations in all areas of art. The movies, in particular, offer eerie representations of what happens when human desires reign and a pitchforked, latex wearing red thing wields destruction and demise. In almost every religious expression, we see a representation of evil at work in the world, but in the faith that is rooted in Biblical texts, there is a figure that carries many names (Prince of Darkness, Beelzebub, the Antichrist, Father of Lies, Satan) and has one purpose – destruction.

Recently, I have been watching National Geographic’s The Story of God with Morgan Freeman. This fascinating look at all aspects of faith and religious practice has been a wonderful trip around the world to explore the way that people connect with the Divine. The first episode of season 3 is called “Search for the Devil.” In this episode, we are introduced to many expressions of perceived evil. While the different understandings and approaches to the existence of evil is intellectually fascinating, I find it important to note that there is a universal stream of belief that flows through most religious traditions. Almost without exception, there is a base agreement that there exists in the universe a presence that divides. I often wonder if my attempt to quantify and define the presence of the forces against, have pushed me to once again build a box of “understanding” that fits. The more I explore the “why’s” and “how’s” of my faith life, the more insufficient these boxes feel.

Like many belief structures of the Christian faith, it is fascinating to me the ways that different periods in history had vastly different views the devil. While many people who study the Bible would trace evil to the serpent in the Garden in Genesis, there is actually no mention of the devil in the creation narrative. Interestingly, the Hebrew word that is later translated as devil or Satan, was used to describe the human oppositions to the prophetic work of the Spirit of God in the Old Testament. In the direct translation of the Hebrew, the same word is “the adversary.”

While we can spend an enormous about of energy dissecting and challenging the way the Church has defined evil in the past, I wonder if a more valuable conversation is rooted in our experience of division. If the roots of “evil” and the “devil” are in separation and destruction, we know about those things. We don’t need to define them because we see and feel them every day. There is no doubt in my mind that you and I both know evil: cancer cells dividing to kill, the bullet that flies through an English classroom, the fist that lands on the cheek of a child as a drunk parent rages, the trauma of rape, the bottle of pills that is a siren in the mind of a suicidal teen. These are images that define the desperate and powerful work of adversarial force.

We live in a world that is saturated with a power hungry hierarchal pyramid of inequality and hate. We continually make excuses for the ways that we (YOU and ME) are outside of this norm, and yet each and every one of us are perpetuators of the very divisive nature that scriptures and mystics and shamans and elders teach others to caution. The more I study the devil and the power of evil, the less I care about the definition or the “correct” theological wrapping paper. What I know is that the elements of separation (the very context of evil) are all around, many in ways that we would like to ignore and minimize. What if rather than worrying about the reality of the horns or the talons of the creature, we acknowledged in our spirit that we look evil in the eye everyday – in others and more importantly in ourselves. The only way that I know to drown the voices of hate and division and lies is to first recognize them and call them out, and secondly to breathe (remember our conversation on this subject?) love and healing all over those wounds.

What If: Science Has More Answers than God?

When I first saw this question pop up on my screen, I immediately thought, well it does. And then I thought about what I just “said.” That’s how these questions become the What If’s, especially for those of us that have the pre-programmed right answer. You know the one that makes you smart and sure and FAITHFUL? That’s the dangerous ledge that I find myself on when I hear questions like this one. I cannot count the number of times that I have been asked a question and my gut, my inner knower, knew the answer that should come out of my mouth, but instead the years of being taught how to answer a question demanded that my lips move in a different direction. So for the record, science DOES have more answers than God.

Here’s why: Science is factual. Science has provable data with clear right and wrong answers. Science produces the same results for every person. Faith, God, humanity’s connection to the Divine…well that is far from scientific. Rarely is it even quantifiable. And even when the moments of measurements are experienced by more than one person, the internal journey to process and bring meaning to the experiences varies as vastly as the hair color of humanity.

For many years, my belief system taught me that the answers to the things of faith were equally as precise. My religious system prided itself on the answers. Those that studied and attained and read and got letters behind and in front of their names were capable of offering the masses the clarity of answers to all of the questions. There were books and courses and studies to learn. There were words to memorize and songs to sing. When committed to pursuing the truth in black and white, you could find it. This all worked so well for me until the first time that I allowed myself to think about the answers that I so easily spouted. As I began to question and think about the reflexive responses, I began to cringe. I wish I could tell you that the answers in the Divine realm were clear. There are clear experiences. People can report their own journey. Others can tell stories that are factual in their own soul. But the majority of understanding and experiencing God comes down to a tricky little thing called faith.

Faith requires us to listen and question and think and process. The things of God are felt and experienced and nuanced and extraordinary and tender. These words make for a full life experience, but they do not reflect an acurate or even factual measuring of answers. At least not in the way that people who are willing to ask this question usually mean. If, from a place of sincere question and searching, this question is posed to a spiritually “smart” person, the attempt is to tap down the doubt and give the sure-fire Sunday School answer. I’ve spouted it off with great conviction on many an occasion. But if instead, if the questioned one listens to the heart behind the question, we see the seeker longs for truth. The most honest answer is to admit that by all worldly standards, science will always have more answers. But what if clear answers are not the end game? Connection and holistic beauty are the ultimate answer, but they won’t be measurable in a graph. Here’s to a soul journey that empowers the imagination and wonder and leaves behind the measurable success.

What If: I Never Tear Down My Walls?

I didn’t want to read this question. When I saw it on my screen, I wanted to push right past it and hope that the person who asked it never noticed that I avoided it like the big elephant in the room that it is. All joking aside, was this a plant question that was lobbed up to make me face this very real fear? I have some big ass walls, can you tell?

Walls. I am a master wall builder. In the beginning, they were constructed to self protect, as most good walls tend to be. But there was a shift in my teen years. Walls became a coping mechanism, a safe haven, from the messiness of emotions that I enjoy avoiding at all cost. As time has passed and the situations of life have become more intense and real, my wall building skill has made me a master craftswoman. I can slap a wall in your face before you see it coming. My ability to not just protect, but destroy with a wall is second nature.

So, to face this question is terrifying. I know what it takes to tear down a wall. Honesty. Vulnerability. Bravery. Risk. There are the four pillars of fear for an Enneagram 8. If you know anything about people like me, we are powerful beings. We hate to be controlled (by other people or by life circumstances). We are super strong willed and one of our greatest challenges is lowering our defenses (WALLS) in intimate relationships. Anything that makes me question trust is more than a trigger – it is gasoline on a fire that is sure to burn you. I know these things about myself. I know that these things trigger all the triggers, especially with the people that I choose to let behind the curtain.

Most days, I do a mighty fine job creating the perfect Emerald City that I want the world to see. The public imagery is ideal. It is shiny and pretty and has all of the happy, clappy dancing people to distract from the chaos of the fake voice and lever wielding fraud that works so hard to present the picture of perfection. I can do it all, be it all, save it all and most of all orchestrate it all. I CAN DO IT. (I may have come out of the womb with those words bursting forth from my mouth.) And, for the most part, I can. Until I can’t. And when those moments happen…when I can’t control and have power over and fix and heal…well, then my very first line of defense is a big fat wall that is tall enough to keep you and all of your flying monkeys away from me.

Life and its treachery are hard enough for those of us who love a wall, but relationships are hard in an entirely new way. My relationship walls are the hardest to demolish, and with that in mind, I have to be very honest. There are very few people that I have ever let inside the walls. As much as I try. As much as I work. As much as I want with all of my being to let you see the real me, my walls are often constructed because there have been unsafe people that I have learned to keep at bay. I need to be clear. Healthy walls are not walls. They are boundaries. And, boundaries are good and necessary and worthy. Boundaries should be honored and respected and loved.

Walls are the defense tactics and they are different. Walls require us to dig deep into the well of past wounds and in safe and worthy spaces, place ourselves in opportunities for growth. Be it risking a new job, relationship, conversation or adventure, the ability to scale a wall is dangerous. Every time we look at a wall that needs to be removed and begin pick axing the bricks that are falsely protecting our scared selves, we are brave. With each act of honesty and truth, we not only remove the cold stone of the wall, but we free ourselves from the lie that the fake front is actual protection.

One final thought about walls: they are tricky. I have enough wall experience to know that they have a way of reincarnating themselves in new forms. Just about the time that I think I have found distance from a wall, I am reminded that the wounds that often cause walls are never completely gone. My biggest walls are up because I have be injured in ways that still cause me to scream in pain. No matter how much good interior work I do on these wounds, even when they have been cleaned out, treated, medicated and stitched up, they often leave scars. On this scar tissue, walls tend to multiply like mushrooms on a spring lawn. Our job is to have the mindfulness to know that the scar is there; to not fight the scar (we survived, damnit!). We can see the scar and even recognize the bricks and stones that easily find their way to these tender places, and at the same time, call these moments for what they are. When we are brought back to the places where blood was spilled in the hard seasons of life, we are invited to welcome the treasured few that know the real truth of our lives to help us guard these vulnerable places from hate and anxiety and fear. Because it is in those moments that walls can exist and yet not define. For me, today, that is enough.