What If: Everyone Who “Speaks” to Me is Labeled a Heretic by the Church?

Eighteen years ago, I sat in the main hall at the National Youth Worker’s Convention and was introduced to a pastor that would dramatically change the trajectory of my ministry and life. He was engaging. He was interesting. He was talking about our roots, and calling us to look deeper at the text. He had black rimmed glasses and wore skinny jeans before the fad was cool for men. He was so intriguing. The following year, I decided to take an intensive course from him at NYWC and I sat for 8+ hours listening to him undo much of what I knew to be the ‘gospel’ of church work. He talked about sabbath and boundaries and authenticity. He confessed to doubt and disgust. This was unheard of in my church world. I found a CD of this talk yesterday, and as I listened again I was reminded of the weight of these words in my life. The following day, he was a main stage speaker and he engaged the hearts of thousands with a teaching on the ancient Jewish prayer shawl. He talked about the beauty and necessity of going to that quiet place and the sacred gift of being honest with God. He promised us that God could handle anything we had to say.

Right on the convention room floor, I crawled to my hands and knees, put my face on my chair and wept. I’m sure that Lucas (who was attending with me that year) was terrified at the puddle of emotions that were oozing from my 2’x2’ folded body. There in that space, I was pastored and challenged. I followed and listened and devoured anything that came from a church named Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, MI. I used his Nooma videos to teach and lead students and adults. I could not get enough of his work because this was an expression of faith unlike anything that I had ever heard.

And then something transformational took place. He wrote a book. About faith. And called it Velvet Elvis. That should say so much about this guy. It was clear that he did not speak in the language known to be safe and Jesus-y. I loved every word. To this day, I have multiple copies on my bookshelf at anytime to hand out to those wanting to ask questions. This book release coincided with a season in my own ministry that I knew I was being called out of my current understanding of church culture. What I was comfortable with was just that, comfortable. And in this season, I left full-time vocational ministry for the uncomfortable world of listening. I didn’t know that in the decision to step away from traditional church life I was entering a season of study and challenge and babies and church planting and personal bankruptcy and a call to return to wholeness.

One of the most consistent voices of Jesus and bigger love and audacious grace in my life has been Rob Bell. I have seen him speak at night clubs and concert halls. Lucas and I took his grandparents to hear him speak in a historic theatre in San Antonio. I have traveled to southern California to sit with him for 2 days and smell the ocean as he moved his ministry from the local church to a global speaking ministry. I spent a weekend in northern California sharing space and hearing stories. Whenever I have the opportunity to introduce people to his work, I drag them with me to watch and listen and think.

He has released books that have met me at my points of pain (Sex God and Jesus Wants to Save Christians) and he ushers me into the sacred gift of creativity in faith. He pushes me as a teacher and thinker, with What is the Bible?. He was lifted high as a leader in the modern church and then destroyed by the Christian machine for introducing topics and conversations that were seen as threatening. Rob is openly labeled a heretic. To his face, to his followers and to the world (heck there is even a documentary by that name) the establishment responds with hate and venom because he chooses to use words and remove labels and ask questions. The very things that drew me to him were the weapons that others used to call his thinking into question. Rob was just the first. In some ways he ripped off the bandaid of bigger thinking. Since then I have a list of honest, messy, glorious leaders that have pushed me out of the box and into growth.

Here is what I have to say about this question. What is the fruit of your heretic? When you look at the people that you are listening to and walking with and sharing the table alongside, do you see good, life-giving, loving, whole fruit? In my darkest, most scared and vulnerable places, it has been the voices of Rachel and Nadia and Jeff and Pete and Jen and Glennon and Jonathan and Mike so many others that have held space for me. This list is far from complete, but these are my ride-or-dies. They have introduced me to new spiritual practices, both ancient and modern. They have woven together pieces of my fledgling faith and taught that it is ok to love God and doubt, all at the same time. They have unpacked ancient truths and emphasized recovery, mental health, self-care, full inclusion, passionate love and stillness. Their work and lives have been there for me in ways that were life support to my dying faith. I am but one life that has been forever changed because of their powerful and unafraid work. Their fruit? It is good, good fruit. And if that is heresy, I’m going down on that ship. Every. Damn. Day.

What If: There is No “Right” Religion?

If you have ever been a part of a religious group that believed that they had the corner market on the right-ness, you get this question. Because I know that most of my readers are coming with a basis of a Christian perspective, I want to start in that territory. Even within the fractured Christian church, we find vastly different approaches to the correct faith. Not only can we not agree that one denomination (or non-denomination) has it correct, but even within churches of the same theological pathway, there is the rightER way. Just ask my Church of Christ and Baptist friends. Because there is Baptist and then there is Southern Baptist. There is the “progressive” CofC that shows videos with music and then there are the ones where salvation is deeply tied to all the rules. Friends, we have plenty of this within our own bubble.

Growing up as a United Methodist, there were many in other denominational circles that fully believed that I did not understand the real meat of giving my heart to Jesus. I came to that awareness at an early age. Somehow I was ok with this differing reality within the confines of the Jesus camp. But something began to happen as my circle broadened. I remember being invited to my first Bat Mitzvah. Upon receiving the invitation, the questions began. What does this mean? Why do some religions have different traditions? Why do they get a big party?

And then the harder questions. Wait. Just. A. Second. If they don’t believe what we believe about Jesus…then what happens…eternally? To an 8th grade heart this unthinkable. And then came the questions of other faiths. What about my Muslim friends and those that belong to churches that do not believe in the Trinity? What about my Mormon friends and those that have no faith at all. AAAANNND THE CHILDREN IN SMALL REMOTE VILLAGES THAT HAVE NEVER HAD AN AMERICAN MISSIONARY VISIT? If you have run in the Evangelical Christian world and simultaneously have a compassionate heart, you know this spiral. And you probably know the answer that I was given. I swallowed this for many years. I wore it as a badge of successful faithfulness. I knew something that all of these poor people did not and for that I would be in paradise and they in eternal torment. Because, Jesus.

This is such a black and white issue in the core tenants of modern faith. But what about the historical faith? Jesus clearly taught that he was the incarnation of the Divine. Within the beliefs about the reason for the death and significance of the resurrection of Jesus, the Church has a wide road of varying postures. I love studying the modernization of the Church because one thing is continual, even from the early moments of creation: God is up to something new. God’s very nature is expansive and generous. At the very heart of this bigger, more encompassing love is the person of Jesus. As someone who believes that with my entire being, it is very hard for me to reconcile that a certain way of believing about Jesus became the defining point of separation between the in and the out.

The more that I have worked to understand the heart of the biggest of the biggies – of ‘in or out’- for most Christians, the more I go back to the understandings of the ancient Christians. I grew up with penal substitutionary atonement as the primary basis for all eternal implications. The more I study the ancient church, the more that I have come to understand that this theory (and that’s what it is!) is a modern one. Much like the other conversations that we have had the past few days, I am not here to convince you that I am right. I actually think that is where most Christians get it wrong.

The non-religious world couldn’t care less what those of us that enjoy huddling together in holy houses expouse as “good” theology. They really don’t care. At all. If anything our continual drum beat of unwillingness to ask a question is off putting and door closing. My peace with this question has come through years of asking the hardest of the hard questions. It has required listening and reading and digesting. It has required being uncomfortable and not knowing. None of which, for the record, do I love to do. It is not comfortable. It is not easy. But I have done it.

With that work, I have landed in this place. “Right” implies that there is a “wrong.” I am not qualified for the job of judgement on the issues of all knowing spiritual insight. Without God’s job description (which, by the way, none of us have) I think it is high time that we get out of the business of absolutes. What I know, FOR ME, is that I can see the love of God in the person of Jesus. I do not, however hold tightly to the ideas of atonement that I was taught for many years. I have embraced a generous and open faith, one that aligns much more closely to the ancient Orthodox and early believers. To answer these questions is to awaken more than 2,000 years of complex doctrine and thought, much of which, I believe dilutes and confuses the deep message and hope and restoration that is found in Christ. So that’s where I am going to camp out. I’m pitching my tent in tremendous love and overwhelming grace. I’m majoring in the welcoming of questions and the ability to trust that no human constraint, theory or idea can embody all that is the Knowing. I’m setting a bigger table.

“Jesus is bigger than any one religion. He didn’t come to start a new religion, and he continually disrupted whatever conventions or systems or establishments that existed in his day. He will always transcend whatever cages and labels are created to contain and name him, especially the one called “Christianity.” ― Rob Bell

What If: Jesus Is Not Enough?

I remember the first time that I doubted my salvation. I was in middle school and someone implied (aka told me – there is no subtlety in middle school) that my “way” of becoming a follower of Jesus was not sufficient. A real encounter with Jesus involved a certain prayer, usually after a certain invitation, and a certain response. This was not how people in my church world did the things. I tried to explain Confirmation, which was my most intentional response to date, and immediately things went even further south. That was “a Catholic thing” and I knew what that meant. My ticket to eternity was not punched in the eyes of that particular friend.

This trend did not end there. Sadly, I spent much of the next 20 years trying to give labels and moments and markers to the experiences that would qualify me for the in crowd. Throughout that time, this particular question was never on my mind. The search for belonging to the Christian community (both now and in the afterlife) was the driving factor in my quest for a sufficient demonstration of belief .

It was during my mid 30s that something significant shifted. I began to long for reconciliation and restoration. I quit fighting to be in the inner circle and realized that the one that I wanted to spend time with was always on the margins. The more that I looked for Jesus in the bigness and the production, the more I realized that I would always be disappointed. The life I longed to emulate would never thrive in the fancy, best or flashy. The only thing that I could hold onto was the fact that I just couldn’t shake the call to love like Jesus. It was only at that point that I first thought, what if Jesus is not all that I think he is?

So, I had to go back to the basics. What was it that I longed for and valued in my faith? Stillness. Peace. Hope. Joy. Grace. A call to include. The mandate to serve, with a pressing desire to live authentically seeking God’s will. All of these things could be found in the person of Jesus. Every time I tried to divorce myself from the trappings of rules and right/wrong thinking and closed minded religiosity, I could not shake the need to connect with this human example of love.

But, Lacy, what about the question? What do we do if Jesus is not enough? My first thought is which Jesus are we talking about? Are talking about the Jesus that the world told you about? Are we talking about the Jesus that your middle school friend dictated you were not qualified to spend eternity with? Are we talking about the Jesus that you are afraid might know the real truth about you? Or, are we talking about the Jesus that invited and welcomed and healed and advocated for the least, last and lost? Because when I go back and read about the Jesus of the Gospels, the one who’s life story was recorded by those who knew him, that’s the Jesus that I just can’t shake.

I want to clarify that by “shake” I don’t mean that I have atonement all figured out. I also don’t mean that I believe all the things that other Jesus people believe. I actually have about a 60/40 track record on the majors, and for someone who is hell bent to fight the rules of the establishment, I feel like that is some kind of big fat miracle in and of itself. What I know TODAY is that on the days that I’m sitting in the ‘I just don’t have the belief to believe today’ camp, I know that the Jesus I read about joins me there. I think that’s my most honest position and that is exactly the person that Jesus would have hung out with. He was not happily schmoozing with the religious leaders. He was not writing the rules to belong. He was not the slickest and most publicly appealing. He wasn’t holding the press conferences for attention. He wasn’t twisting truth for personal gain. He was honest. He was true to himself. He was human. He was an advocate. He was an includer. He was determined to offer freedom. He was Jesus.

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“It wasn’t shared social status or ethnicity that brought Jesus’ followers together either, nor was it total agreement on exactly who this Jesus character was – a prophet? The Messiah? The Son of God? No, there is one thing that connected all these dissimilar people together it was a shared sense of need: a hunger, a thirst, a longing. It was the certainty that, when Jesus said He came for the sick, this meant Jesus came for me.”

Rachel Held Evans Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church

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: 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: God

I’ve tried to write this “what if” question in every imaginable form and nothing seems sufficient. My ramblings range from questions of existence to doubts about context, explanations and religious framings. More than anything, I want you to know that I’m not afraid of the biggies in this journey. If we are going to ask the questions, I think we need to start with the BIG question.

What happens when we begin to doubt and reframe and disagree and leave behind and embrace the things that formationaly define the Creator? This is scary territory. And for those of us that walk into these conversations with heavy baggage (which is most of us, right?) we spend equal parts our our energy defending our past or preconceived beliefs and fighting to give shape and open minded wonder to the ‘what if.’ It is from this seesaw battle of the mind that I come with a deep desire to set aside the things.

I recently attended a 12-step meeting that used a prayer that I had never heard before.

God, Please help me set aside everything I think I know about myself, my disease, the 12 steps, and especially You; So I may have an open mind and a new experience of all these things. Please let me see the truth.

This prayer is known as the Set Aside prayer. The roots of this prayer come from the chapter called “To the Agnostics” in the AA Big Book. This important section of the book is dedicated to those who come into the program without a concept or even willingness to consider a power that is bigger than themselves and more importantly their addiction. This prayer was exactly what I needed on that day and many days since. I have reached (again) a season of life where I cannot deny the presence of a wonderfully mysterious Divine power. But I am more sure than ever before that my human attempts to define, name, gender type, quantify and contain are insufficient. Often the language of humanity fails at explaining, and seems hopelessly empty in light of, the very real experiences that I have had with this unexplainable force. These unworldly experiences have propelled my heart to love in ways that are bigger than my humanity allows. Thats how I know it is not of my own making.

If there is one thing that this season of imposed down time has given each of us, it is an unplanned journey of slowing. I have had many recent experiences that remind me that we are all grasping for the things that we know. The times that I think I know God in a way that is sure, I miss the entire point. To engage and approach and interact with the Creator is to intentionally invite the unknown into our experience.

So for me, today, the question is: What if our experience of God is bigger than religion and language can articulate? And to that, I can say, “YEP!” I’m taking off the reigns of certainty, and trading them in for the deep, longing, searching, fear excluding, shame expelling gift of setting aside what I have known for the willingness to learn what the Divine still has to teach me.

To those that don’t even know where to start with this one, may I offer an invitation? I wonder if the unframed nature of mystery is one of the scariest parts of this quest. What if I do it wrong? What if this thing that I want to believe in is actually a lie? I get this. I really get this. In light of that, is there one thing that you CAN believe in? The love you have for your child? The moment that you felt loved for the first time? The deep desire to know and be known?

What if these are the very things that gift you connection to the inner gift of the holy. We over-complicate God. But you already know divine truth in your most quiet self. That moment, you know it already, when the friendship soars, the truth is finally said, the pain is admitted out loud. These are sacred moments. In those unexplainable seconds, you are experiencing the presence of something far more powerful than our human capabilities can manufacture. ‘What if’ changes nothing and everything all at the same time.

What If: Our Doubts & Questions Give Us Deeper Faith?

Eastertide. That is our season for the next 50 days. We have moved past the inward journey. We have moved to a season of resurrection. As a way of celebrating this season of new growth, I will be examining 50 ‘What If’ questions over the next 50 days. Resurrection is not always synonymous with joy. It does not always come in the face of happiness. Sometimes the most honest resurrection takes places in the hospital waiting room, the treatment center or the jail cell. Resurrection is a mysteriously glorious experience of life existing in the face of death. That is our season, may we begin…

What if our doubts and questions give us deeper faith?

Years ago, I read a book called The Sacredness of Questioning Everything by David Dark. I was not ready for all of the gifts of this book, but my journey began. One of the biggest struggles in asking the questions that were mulling in my mind and heart came back to my role as a leader in a faith community. What happens to the people that I am leading if I begin to question (in some public way) all the things? What you must know about the Christian church world that has been my home for more than four decades is that we like answers. Western Christianity finds hope and security in the things that we know. I have been taught that over and over again. The best leaders are the smart, studied, sure ones that know how to reassure the people. This was a foundational lie that defined my ministry. Because here is the truth:

I don’t know.

I said it. And this time, I am saying it from the deepest depths of my gut. The things that I know today are very rarely things of the Spirit. Actually, I am more and more comfortable with the not knowing because rather than running away in fear of the unknown, I am more excited than ever to explore the better questions. That is the heart of my ‘What If’ journey. How can we ask questions from a deep desire to grow rather than a place of embarrassment and shame about our lack of knowledge? How can we open ourselves to conversations with people who see life and faith and education and family and sexuality and addiction and mental health and hate and hope and so many other things from a world that is unfamiliar to me? And with more questions, how can our own journey and questions introduce a deeper understanding of life?

Can I tell you a secret? I really think I would have loved being born into the Jewish faith. Every time I read about the deepest faith moments of the Jewish people, they come through questions. To be Jewish is to question. Even in the deepest rituals of their faith they not only welcome, but invite and expect (especially the children!) to question as a way of claiming and developing their own faith. ARE YOU KIDDING? I need more of this in my life. So, let’s go there. Let’s question. Let’s ask and talk and dream about the things that are stirring inside of us.

I would love to hear from you. I have a list of things that I want to explore, but I would love for you email me if you have a question that we should ponder together. I promise to honor your questions by looking in all directions for truth. That means that there is a good chance we will disagree. I love that. We need more grace filled conversations with people that don’t think the same. We are better when we bring all the thoughts and questions to the table. May these conversations bring new life in the next 50 days.

Holy Week 2020: Saturday

I almost did not write today. There is a huge part of Saturday that is about the silence. The darkness needs to sink in. We need to have no answers. That needs to be the journey of the day. However, my friends, this particular season in our world seems like a never-ending Saturday of Holy Week, so I think we need to tune in today. We need to set our intention on what could, and can, and may be, when we chose to look for a new resurrection.

I have a bit of confession to make. This lenten season has been a train wreck of sorts in my spiritual journey. The momentum has been building for years, but the impact occurred in a very real way when I begin to step into my annual pilgrimage with the added invitation to reexamine my priorities in light of a global pandemic. In some bizarre and mysterious way, my soul needed permission to dig. I needed the ability to take off the edit button of my normal “routine” approach to faith. There is nothing like the feelings of grief and anger and loss and the aching of a stoppage of life to allow us to look long and hard at the path of connection.

I have allowed myself to say things like does this matter? Can I really connect with this? Is there beauty in this truth? Am I afraid to look at this one aspect of this story because if I do then it all unravels? Yes. The answers to these questions are all ‘yes’. And I have processed and written about this more in the past 3 weeks than I ever have in my life. This has been a season of watching the waves of awareness and questions come over me and go out with the tide of grief and doubt. This forced season of social distancing has refused to let me run from my heart and thoughts. And this is freeing me to surrender.

I have spent the last few weeks prioritizing my questions. One of my most important questions has been, “Who are my teachers?” I have let go of the need to have teachers give me answers. I have based so much of my understanding of the Divine on a regurgitation of other teacher’s favorite foods. This system has failed me in the quiet of my heart, because when I reach the moments of absolute hunger, what other people order as a main course will never satisfy my soul. I must be brave enough to seek the beauty of the feast for myself. Without the willingness to seek out and approach connection without the baggage of shame and should’s, I have no connection to the work of my growth. There is no way of placing God in a box. Actually, I have finally admitted that there is no box. And that is wonderfully and terrifyingly freeing.

I find myself on this Saturday sitting in the waiting. And while resurrection will look very different this Easter, I am thankful. There is nothing about my journey that can be divorced from the promise of new life. Even on the days when I don’t feel new. Even on the days when the story of hope seems so distant that it hurts. What I KNOW, really know, is that out of great pain comes great growth. That is the comfort of this long season of Saturdays.

I discovered a new Podcast last night that was a gift. A warm virtual hug for someone that wants no one to touch her in everyday life and yet now misses the physical connection of humanity. For those that need a soothing voice of meditation and calm today, I highly recommend Turning to the Mystics. I’ll close with a thought that is paraphrased from the Holy Week Mediation:

This pandemic has the ability to recalibrate our spiritual priorities and assumptions and rebirth a more generous clarity.  -James Finley

Friends, may we seek the light of tomorrow with all of our being.

May we know that hope does not always come in a neat and clean package.

May we look beyond the expected path for the miracle of resurrection.