Woo, dog – going on four months since the last post; my apologies, but, it turns out I needed that unplanned sabbatical.
Last night I finally started reading the book, The Sin of Certainty by Peter Enns. I’ve heard it recommended – at least the author – many times on a couple of my favorite podcasts: Ask Science Mike and The Liturgists. Maybe one or two others, I’m not sure…
Anyway, I only got through 3-4 of the first chapters (they’re very short, so far) and already I feel more capable of articulating my faith journey because what Enns describes is similar to my own experience.
Namely, growing up and cultivating a faith of absolute certainty, having a crisis or two of faith over the years, and watching that certainty erode, allowing for a more fluid, robust faith. Not a faith that hinges on arguments or apologetics – just a faith that is.
In so doing, I’ve found I’ve also increased my capacity to practice the greatest of these: love.
Instead of condemning others for perceived sins because I was so certain they were committing them, I can be more patient, compassionate, and understanding.
Instead of having to be right about my beliefs of certainty – and thus, building walls between myself and others – I can be more open and hear more of what people have to say, thus enriching my own life with these new perspectives and experiences.
It’s also easier to spot and stop self-righteousness when I saddle up my high horse and turn a potentially contentious situation into one of vibrant personal growth.
I’ve heard it said that the antithesis of faith isn’t disbelief, but rather certainty. And as I write this, I know that certainty has its place in the human experience, but I think I’m talking more about certainty without humility; certainty that is right and correct beyond a shadow of a doubt with no room for change. A static state. One that can’t grow because it can’t change.
And I guess it’s really more of an attitude than anything. On one hand we need to be able to change, grow, and adapt; but on the other we also need structure, boundaries, and limits. I believe that we need to be able to grow within any given structure, but always with the understanding that the structure itself can change – or that we can grow differently than what the structure prescribes, perhaps needing to restructure it at a certain point, or move on to another altogether.
Of course, this begs the ultimate question about God. Certainty? Faith? Where the hell does that come into play? Well, in the Bible, certainty is never commanded – only faith. There is Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
Maybe it’s more about the target, or object of faith. Because you can put your faith in a certain thing, like levitation by snapping your fingers, but if you were to try it, you would fail; thus, the faith failed because it was placed in the wrong thing.
That’s the thing – realizing we’re living lives of faith. We can’t know any given thing is true. We can act on a certain thing, and if it works out, in that experience, it proves the hypothesis. Then we can try it again, if it works, huzzah. But then at some point maybe it won’t. Then maybe it will again, or maybe it will never again. And that’s when we can either just dismiss it and move on to the next big thing, or we can stay with it; question it, look deeper into it and try to see what’s up.
I think scientists do this kind of thing, too; some kind of method or something of testing principles, looking for certain results, etc. But then again what do I know?
Bottom line is, humility. Faith without it is presumption. We have to be willing to be wrong – about everything – which is why we can’t hold too tightly to anything. But we do this trusting that it’s going to be okay.
After all, what’s the absolute worst that can happen?
In retrospect it all just flew by; things always seem to have gone faster once you’re on the other side of them. Yet, I feel like getting to where I am now has been in the works for many more years than just the last five.
Part of me thinks I should have enlisted right out of high school or college. Of course, had I done that, I wouldn’t have had the experiences I’ve had; I wouldn’t be who I am today. While I’m not 100% proud of the choices the who-I-am-today makes, I’m on pretty good terms with him and we get shit done.
So yeah, it couldn’t have happened any other way. My experience in the Navy wouldn’t have been the same, I think. I wouldn’t have the same appreciation for life and the gifts it brings that I have today. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have the same worldview, either. Maybe close…the more time that passes, the more I’m convinced I was on the right track when I was 17, 18, but for whatever reason I lacked that inner core of confidence to just freakin’ go for it.
Shucks, I am 100% positive I wouldn’t have gotten this assignment to Hawaii with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (neé JPAC) 18 or so years ago had I enlisted then and I would have missed the incredible experiences and interesting people I’ve met and worked with.
From Laos to Greenland it’s been one hell of a ride and a privilege of which to be a part.
Now it wasn’t all sunshine and daisies, but the ups sure outnumber the downs and in the end I’ve learned to stand up for myself and for others – not perfectly, and hardly ever gracefully, but everything is a work-in-progress. I only hope I can pass what I’ve learned on to my son, as my father hoped to pass certain things on to me.
So what’s the next step? Who the heck knows?!
I’m about halfway through my first semester at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, in the Digital Cinema track (modern filmmaking); working on a couple novels; working on my filmmaking portfolio; raising a baby with my wife; loving the crap out of my wife (we keep each other regular); and meeting each challenge as it comes. We started working on our plan more than a year ago and continue to work on it. Life changes things. Plans change.
Adapt and overcome.
So yeah, I feel like I’ve been waiting for this my whole life and blam-o, here I am in the thick of it already.
The company of friends is a great thing, and when you’re at your lowest, nice strangers are good stand-ins until they become friends which is what happened for me. I was connected with a small group Bible study from another church. Being near about the oldest person in the group – by a margin of a few years – was a bit strange for me at first, but they were just cool, nice people who accepted me as I was.
I’m pretty sure they didn’t know of the recent emotional devastation I was coming out of, and that was okay.
They were younger so their faith was younger, more fresh – zesty, I daresay; and by faith, I guess I just mean their outlook on life. In addition to just being younger in age, some of them were younger in the faith, and I needed newness, freshness, different perspectives to help me heal and move on.
Things were starting to look up. I wasn’t going to the bathroom at work to cry as much, I was generally feeling better, and since I wasn’t dwelling so much on the past I was able to start thinking about my future.
That was when I realized, I had no freakin’ clue what to do about it.
At that point I was qualified to be a schoolteacher, work in middle management, or just management in retail. But I had no drive, no real motivation.
Over the years I had considered becoming a pastor, but that would require more school.
I briefly considered returning to video/filmmaking, but I felt grossly underqualified and clueless about the whole thing.
So while I was feeling better about things in general, I was rudderless, directionless, feeling no push or pull in any given direction, and that got me feeling antsy.
During another phone conversation with my surrogate mom, I expressed all this to her. She said to pray about it, so I did. A few days later during another conversation she said she had been talking to her husband, who among other things is a Marine who served in Vietnam during the war. He suggested I look into the military, the Air Force or something.
The second time – could’ve been another day, could’ve been later that day – I revisited the notion after a long day at work. For a good month or so I’d spend at least 15 minutes in a stall in the men’s room crying softly. The feeling would just come on all of a sudden; I’d have to log off the phone, hold it in while I walked quickly to the restroom, hope no one else was in there, and just let it out as quietly as possible, sometimes stuffing toilet paper in my mouth to help keep it muffled.
Following one of those many days I had a similar mental exchange. Except when I got to the accomplishing part it seemed a little easier; I was already in my car and there was a highway right over the hill I could have a fantastic wreck on. But then I thought of the other people who might be possibly involved. And then the third voice barged in again, asking what the fuck I was thinking.
You know what I’m thinking, I responded.
RIGHT – BEFORE YOU DO YOU ANYTHING YOU’LL REGRET, MAKE A FUCKING PHONE CALL!!
And then, I don’t know, I just came to my senses and called back home to North Carolina and talked to my surrogate mom – I was ashamed and scared to tell her what I had been considering. Ashamed for the stigma surrounding people possessing such thoughts and scared to admit it because that somehow makes it more real.
She wasn’t mad, she wasn’t ashamed, but she was scared for me and suggested I call my former therapist. I called her right away and we talked for a few minutes. I called her again a few days later; no more thoughts along those lines, and by that time more people were coming into my life.
The all caps, bold and italic lettering voice I think was the voice of God; or my guardian angel if you think God is above using the f-bomb.
Have you ever seen a dog chasing a car? Ever wonder what a dog would do if it actually caught the car? That’s kind of what it was like when I moved to Ohio. I didn’t really know what to do once I caught the woman I had been pursuing for going on three years. So, I just made her my life.
I had no other friends except those I met through the church I started attending because she was already attending. I wouldn’t spend any time with those friends unless she was at work or otherwise occupied. I basically felt as though I was nothing without her.
That’s too much of a burden for anyone to bear, the burden of another’s existence, of another’s value. And it proved too much for her. Ultimately that relationship failed and because I had invested so much of my life into it, when it was gone and she was absent from my life all of a sudden, I felt like I had nothing. What was the point of waking up each morning only to feel the worst I had ever felt in all my life? Day after day, each hour of each day, each minute of each hour.
There were two distinct occasions – shucks, it might have even been the same day, time was just slushing along, all mixed up – but I distinctly remember two separate times at which I seriously considered ending it all.
One of those times was one morning as I woke up. My internal dialogue went something like as what follows:
What’s the point?
We have to go to work.
Because, we have to. Responsibility.
But why? What’s beyond that? Why keep on doing this?
Because we’re here.
What if we weren’t?
I imagine we’d feel a lot better.
We wouldn’t feel anything.
That’d feel better than this…
And then I started thinking about how I could accomplish it and I guess as I woke up something else woke up and barged into the conversation: WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU THINKING??!
That was enough to scare me back from the proverbial edge.
Therapist-B had a more effective way of getting to the heart of the matter. I don’t know if it was because she’s a woman, or if I was better able to communicate my concerns or what, but instead of getting caught up in the guilt of porn or anything else, she saw and treated it as a sign, a symptom of something deeper.
So we just dove right in, deep down to the heart of the matter.
Now, I don’t want to get too far into the weeds of therapy here, because that’s not the point of this post (or series of posts as it may turn out), suffice to say I went into it a melancholy chronic self-loathing, manipulative people-pleaser and three years later emerged a melancholy less than chronic self-loathing, not as manipulative, people-pleaser.
The thing about therapy is, it doesn’t just make everything all better. It’s not the kind of thing where you go in all busted up with issues and come out all put together without issues. In my experience, what one comes out with is the emotional and spiritual tools and weapons to deal with the issues. I am significantly better off than I was 10 years ago, but I’m not 100% by certain standards. There are times I still find myself plagued with self-doubt, a lack of confidence, and wanting to make people happy.
What therapy helped me learn is that I am enough as-is and that I am worthy of love; love of myself, no less. After all, how can one love anyone else if one is incapable of loving one’s self? And I’m not talking arrogant assholery – again, trying not to get too deep into the weeds – but being able to care for and appreciate one’s self. For some it comes naturally. It could be genetics, a good home life, whatever. For others it’s a little more difficult for any number of reasons.
Anyway, previously I mentioned that the catalyst for all this was my 20th or so failed attempt at a significant romantic relationship. Therapy helped me be more confident, and therefore more choosy, in the romantic partners I would pursue, and to do so in a more or less healthy way.
Why do I continue on in traditions such as celebrating Christmas and Easter; or praying before meals, especially with Jenny?
Why do I pray for her and our son?
The fire I once possessed has long since gone out. Perhaps for longer than I realize.
My first real positive experience with Jesus was LIFE ’95 during Jacob Aranza’s sermon. I google him now and there’s some serious stuff not of a positive nature out there. I suppose that’s to be expected.
Anyway, it was toward the end, during the altar call-type thing, that I first felt forgiven. It was the first time I felt that any evil things I had done didn’t matter in terms of who I was as a human being.
Following that experience, I tried to get the most out of every time of worship. Anytime there was singing to God I tried my hardest to commune with the Almighty. Sometimes there was success, but most of the time, I suspect, it was emotional responses.
And actually, I suppose that’s what it was at the LIFE event: an intense emotional response. A response to some serious truth, but an emotional response nonetheless.
In his book No Man Is an Island, Thomas Merton says that if one is in step with the Spirit one doesn’t feel it. Illustrating the point with a marching formation, he points out that when troops are marching in step together they don’t come into contact with each other, thus not feeling each other. It’s when you get out of step that you feel it; that is to say, how one feels is not necessarily a good indicator of one’s relationship.
One thing I can say though, is the LIFE event changed how I experienced thunderstorms. I believed (and perhaps still do (we don’t get many thunderstorms where I live nowadays)) that God is closest to our plane of existence in thunderstorms. I mean, the idea is he’s omnipresent, but maybe within the cumulonimbus formations, the membrane between realities is stretched a little thinner. Just the power and might of the rushing wind, the flashing lightning bolts and explosive thunder…
Saying all that to say, I went from having a mortal fear of thunderstorms to eagerly looking forward to them. To this day I still have what some may consider an unhealthy desire to personally witness a tornado.
That fire I spoke of earlier…
At its core I think it’s a good thing. However, I took it, in response to the aforementioned emotional response, and figured I owed God something. Like, I needed to pay Him back or something for the wonderful way He made me feel.
And then, over time, it turned into the feeling a junkie gets when he does all the drugs to try and replicate that one feeling he had, the first time he smoked a joint or shot up. No matter what I did or tried, I couldn’t get that exact feeling back.
And there was that whole issue when my first girlfriend put it on God to break us up because, I reckon, she was afraid of hurting my feelings or something. I was angry, upset, pissed off at the Almighty. After that great thing He had done at LIFE, and all I had done in those few intervening years before high school graduation, how could He pull this shit? I was a vocal witness for Christ; I got into debates and discussions about faith; I wore provocative Christian t-shirts that spurred conversations; I listened to nothing but Contemporary Christian Music, taking in the Word of Life through modern music styles to help edify my soul and remember doctrine more easily (I think I still know the full rap by DC Talk for Jesus is Just Alright).
All that – all that – and He ostensibly took away the most precious relationship to me up to that point in my life.
Of course, from what I learned at church and in books is that I was guilty of idolatry, putting my ex up on a pedestal, wanting her more than I wanted God. Close friends and family warned me about balance (which made more sense). But what was the death stroke was the shame my sexual desire was shrouded in. I didn’t give up my virginity until after that experience, but my innocence was already taken from me at a very early age. And someone who should have protected me and helped me heal, instead swept it under the rug; it was never to be spoken of; it didn’t happen. It was a shameful thing to have happened and to bring it up was to only bring on more shame…so it was never spoken of until my mid-20s, in therapy.
That shame came from a faith rooted in fear, not love. It was the faith instilled in me, even when I had that life-changing experience.
I guess therapy was when I had the next real Jesus Experience.
Not to retread, but it was there I learned that I was enough. I came to see that I am lovable as I am. That’s what Jesus – or unconditional – love is all about. And as such, it’s a love with no demands or expectations. There’s nothing to pay back, there’s nothing to do in return.
Of course, there’s reciprocity. When someone loves you, you want to love them back. The root of desiring to repay, I think, springs from a guilty conscience. That mentality doesn’t believe one is worthy of that love; and maybe one isn’t (from a certain point of view), but one has it, and it wouldn’t be so freely given if the giver didn’t think the receiver was enough.
Reciprocity is different than paying back. You don’t have the compulsion to repay, but someone makes you feel good (i.e.: loved) and you want to make them feel the same way. What’s scary is that this principle is also at the root of vengeance.
So anyway – we’ve got LIFE ’95; therapy; when would be the next Jesus experience…?
I think it would actually be…meeting Jenny.
When Jesus was on earth, He was all about upending the System, bringing new light to old wisdom and new life to old souls. I was caught up thinking that marriage – finding a mate – was supposed to be a certain way. “Equally yoked” was a buzzword concept thrown around a lot in my formative spiritual years and, as such, was ingrained in my membrain (I know that’s not how you spell it).
As my first attempt at marriage fizzled, I put myself back out there. In spite of all relationship failures up to that point (and they are legion), and in spite of that ultimate relational fail, I was bound, determined, and sure that true love was out there waiting for me.
However, as fast and hard as I tried to run from the old way of thinking, “equally yoked” still prefaced every prospect. There was a lady or two I met who met the conventional meaning of being equally yoked but many more (with whom I felt more compatible) who did not; Jenn was among them.
And this wasn’t the first time this had happened.
When I was in college I dated a young lady who wasn’t conventionally equally yoked, yet upon reflection the relationship had the potential to be one of the best I ever had. But because of that conventional belief, I ended it. At the heart of it I was a coward and didn’t know what I had. Twelve, thirteen years later I resolved that if I ever found myself in that position again to not just abandon it, but to hang on as long as I could.
Though I am a quick study, I’m a slow learner. After a few dates with Jenn I knew in my gut that she was the one, yet convention still called…as well as fear of happiness. I called it off; but she didn’t. She still liked me and when I went off to Germany for a few weeks we stayed in contact.
It was one afternoon, after traipsing through the beautiful countryside, and then seeing a picture in ein alten Frau’s living room of two horses: a mare and a stallion standing together, looking into the distance…weird, I know, but it was in that picture – let’s say the spirit of the picture – that I saw us.
As soon as I could I skyped her and told her I loved her and that I wanted to be with her.
And then with her, it’s just been one Jesus experience after another. We take turns in pissing each other off, or disappointing each other to varying degrees, but everything is overshadowed by our love for each other. Most of the time we’re making each other smile and/or laugh.
And inherent in love, I believe, is commitment, faithfulness, and trustworthiness (to name a few). Such things I lacked in myself for a very long time because I couldn’t ascribe them to myself; I didn’t think I was worthy or sufficient.
But then learning that I am, I’ve slowly been able to develop these traits and cultivate them more and more, and thus, love more freely. Not perfectly, mind you; and I still screw it up more times than I get it right, but I’d like to think that now the majority of my actions come from a place of love instead of fear.
Now more than ever with Stormy in the picture – managing the love streams between child and spouse.
These have been my Jesus experiences so far – experiences of unconditional, unbridled love and self-realization. I reckon it’s facilitating such experiences for others by being an honest, loving human being that Jesus is getting at when He talks about the Great Commission. Not making a sales pitch for hellfire insurance, or getting people into the “feel-good-about-yourself-club” and making them follow a bunch of rules; but rather showing love, dignity, and respect to everyone; and insofar as we’re able, to aid them toward self-realization so that they know they, too, are worthy and sufficient, and that that’s something that’s worth keeping going in this broke-up, busted-ass world.
Her first book, When We Were On Fire, especially resonated because I felt as though I was reading my own personal history of growing up as an ON FIRE FOR CHRIST teenage crusader; that is, were I a female and had I grown up in the Midwest instead of being a dude growing up in North Carolina.
I grew up going to church every Sunday. Once I hit youth group age Wednesday nights were thrown into the mix. The more I started learning about God, the more I became afraid of him.
I distinctly remember in the summer of ’93, we were having a rash of thunderstorms and tornadoes tearing up the piedmont. Whenever a severe storm or tornado warning was issued for our area, I’d go outside and walk into the middle of our neighborhood circle and bargain with God to just hit me and leave my family’s home – and the neighbors’ – alone. My conscience was just so saturated with guilt and fear, and for some reason I’ve always associated weather conditions with God’s immediate presence, that I was sure in those thunderstorms he was gunning for me.
A couple years later I attended my church denomination’s tri-annual youth conference, LIFE ’95. In one of the last large meetings I felt God’s love for the first time. It was the first time I felt no judgment; only love, forgiveness, and as if an enormous weight I didn’t even know was there was suddenly lifted from my soul.
Fast-forward eleven years…I’m in therapy to try and hash out some detectable, but indiscernible emotional issues.
I had been through the height of the True Love Waits movement in which the lesson I took away from it was that my natural, budding, sexual urges were sinful – or could lead to sin. After all, just thinking about having sex was a sin (often citing, and I believe misusing Matthew 5:28).
Within those four years I experienced a few significant firsts: disillusionment with the Church; abandoning God; sex; grace in a new way; severe self-loathing.
You see, I could have chosen to remain in a Christian bubble, similar to what I had at home, but I decided against that.
And then I moved back home.
It wasn’t long before I found myself cycling between backsliding believer and Bible-thumping asshole.
The jobs I worked at got me further into the real world with the people who I worked alongside and there was more dissonance I felt between being told I should spread God’s good news of unconditional love and yet remain separate from the sinfulness of wicked sinners – especially homosexuals. Shoot, the guy I could most relate to at my first job out of college was gay*. When I worked at a Barnes & Noble café a few years later, one of the shift leads was gay and we’d always, well (heh, heh) have a gay** old time singing showtunes and such toward the ends of our shifts.
As a young adult, the deeper I’d get into the Western Church Machine, the more I found myself despondent, despairing, and ultimately depressed. I couldn’t do anything right. Anything I would do right wouldn’t be me, because God gets all the glory. The only thing I could take credit for was everything I did wrong, and everything I’d do wrong would keep me from knowing God, so just try/pray/read your Bible harder, harder, harder.
Not exactly grace.
So yeah, therapy. First time I was ever told all that was bullshit and that I’m enough as I am. The kernel was planted in my spirit, and has been budding more and more in the last few years, that I will never arrive and be who I was meant to be. I arrived in July of 1980, in all my perfectly flawed glory, and the Darkness got to work (as is wont to happen to all of us who breathe, eat, and shit). But the Light – the Light has always been there, too. And always will be.
I was in therapy for three years, read a bunch of books (I recommend The Ragamuffin Gospel and No Man Is An Island), and went on to make the same damn mistakes…but this time with tools and strategies – a humble way of saying, “the beginning of wisdom” – to augment the ever-present Light and deal with the never-leaving Darkness.
What really helped put things in perspective was my first marriage. Yeah, Jenn’s my second marriage.
That first time out was my last time trying to do things by the book. At the expense of my identity and who I am, I tried following the teachings put out by modern evangelicals instead of trusting my gut. The result was one week of attempted happiness followed quickly by about five months of agony.
Granted, I probably shouldn’t have rushed into it the way I did, but I was sure that if I followed the modern teachings rooted in ancient wisdom everything would turn out okay.
And this is a very generalized telling of the story in extremely broad strokes, but it’s the essence of my experience and how I processed it. It was enough to get me to abandon the system and just go after some freakin’ happiness.
And here I am. Maybe you’ve seen the previous posts in this blog, maybe you haven’t (I’d recommend it for context), but I’m happier and more content with this life than I ever have been.
I still believe in God and Jesus, but I’m finding a need for some serious rethinking on concepts and doctrine; the true depths of mercy, grace, sin, and love.
So, I don’t know what follow-ups to this post will look like, but the door is opened now.
And does any of this resonate with you? Just curious…
*adjective, gayer, gayest.
of, relating to, or exhibiting sexual desire or behavior directed towarda person or persons of one’s own sex; homosexual:
a gay couple.
Older Use. having or showing a merry, lively mood:
gay spirits; gay music.
Older Use. bright or showy:
gay colors; gay ornaments.
Older Use. given to or abounding in social or other pleasures: