I Was Certain…

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…

Highly Recommended

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?

INCOMING: “Finding God in the Waves” (book review)

mike-mchargue-photo
Science Mike

The first time I heard of “Science” Mike McHargue was on the podcast You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes. It was episode 201, posted on April 2, 2014. I listened to it when I was in Germany that month. I listened to it a couple times and I’ve listened to it a couple times since. I then got hooked on The Liturgists Podcast, a podcast he co-hosts with a singer/songwriter named Mike Gungor and then his very own podcast Ask Science Mike.

What captivated me initially and keeps me listening is his story.

Mike grew up in the Southern Baptist evangelical church a staunch Christian and in his adult years, married and a father, served as a deacon in his church. When his parents’ marriage fell apart his faith wasn’t too far behind. He began studying the Bible furiously and found his faith crumbling faster and faster. It wasn’t too long before he was an out-and-out atheist, though he kept that a secret from his closest friends and family for as long as he could.

A few years later, the story goes, he had a miraculous encounter with God which ignited his faith in a new way. And now he’s a voice (among many of a growing crowd) for the spiritually frustrated and homeless. It says as much on the Liturgists website.

In April 2014 I was four months out from my divorce. I had been down this road of doubt before and always found myself back in the faith, but this time was different.

It’s funny, but I think all my major catalysts for times of doubt were failed significant relationships. The first time was when my first ever girlfriend dumped me, blaming (from my perspective) God for it. That was the summer of 1998, when I graduated from high school and was getting ready to go to East Carolina University. Three years earlier I had my first real experience with God, where eternity met the there and then, and had been on fire for Jesus ever since.

Well, it was starting to fade by end of senior year, and then going to a “secular” school – outside of home, family and my Christian bubble for the first time – I found myself questioning a great many things.
And so the cycle of doubt-faith-doubt-faith began for me. And again, each period of doubt followed the failed attempt at a significant romantic relationship.

That cycle more or less broke when I went into therapy nearly 10 years later. Well, I don’t know if it broke so much as it evolved. Instead of trying to control everything and be a good Christian boy I started just letting things happen.

Almost another 10 years later I finally got my first shot at marriage, that sacred, holy institution of the Western Church (WC); what the Catholic Church calls a sacrament (and the term Protestant churches appropriate in their search for deeper meaning and depth in their faith to fill the void left by condemning and abandoning all Catholic tradition).

So there was a lot riding on this.

I did everything to the best of my ability – being patient, loving, kind; doing things dictated by the Western Church such as asking my ex to not have any male Facebook friends I wasn’t friends with (that went over SUPER well) and other things along those lines. Being a long-distance marriage didn’t help (I was stationed in a place she wasn’t able to live), but following the prescriptive dictates of the WC didn’t help much either, except to quicken the inevitable, perhaps.

And so I entered another phase of doubt – this time not so much toward God, but toward my understanding of Him as propagated by the WC. However, without that institution I was so accustomed to since birth, I found myself with more and more questions.

Then i9781101906040n April 2014 I listened to the Science Mike episode of You Made It Weird and for the first time learned of the plight of so many other Christians similar to me in Science Mike’s testimony.

When I found out he was writing a book about his experience I was super excited and volunteered to be an advanced reader and reviewer. And so my review of the book will be up some time this week.

However, I strongly encourage you to check it out yourself – shucks, it comes out TOMORROW* (9/13). Check out the linked websites above, listen to his podcasts, listen to the oft-mentioned You Made It Weird episode! It’s great! It changed my life and I’m super duper excited to bring this review to you soon.

 

*depending on your time zone

The Guardian of Manoa

(Lic. from Adobe Stock)
(Lic. from Adobe Stock)

Most days when I’m driving in and out of Manoa Valley, I see this guy walking, sometimes jogging alongside the road. He looks like a local guy, flattop haircut, smart moustache, always wearing the same outfit: black shorts, black shirt and a long-sleeved white-shirt under the black; white socks, black shoes. Most of the time he’s stretching his arms out, like he’s keeping them prepped, warm, ready for action.

And he always has this stern look on his face; and he seems very alert, conscious of everything that’s going on. He seems like the kind of guy you wouldn’t mess with.

I first started running again on July 4th. I wondered if I would run into this guy and what I would do…

Turns out he and I did cross paths; we nodded somberly at each other and instantly I felt this connection, this sense of well-being.

This is the guardian of Manoa.

Now, I’m sure he’s just a man trying to make his way from day-to-day like everyone else. But just seeing him out most days, on patrol, eyes always looking around, I can’t help but imagine that if any danger or threat were to come to this valley, he’d be there.

In Hawaiian mythology, there are guardian spirits – Aumakua – that appear in forms of animal, nature, or man. Whoever the walking man is, I believe he is Manoa’s Aumakua.

Auditioning for the Band

The news started breaking as I was heading to bed after 0200.

“Mass Shooting in Orlando – 20 Dead, 20 Injured”

All I could think was, “Shit…here we go again.”

By the time I woke up this morning it was 50 confirmed dead.

Fifty souls lost at a night club in Orlando, Florida.

Gun crowd says there should be more guns in the hands of citizens to fend off such attacks.

Gun control crowd says the laws need to be tighter.

Some say it’s (radical) Islam which is to blame.

Some blame the President for making our country more friendly to terror – er…Muslims.

Some say it’s God’s judgement.

Some say it’s just a super fucked up thing to happen.

As mass shootings increase in frequency; as hatred continues to grow in strength and manifest in vile groups such as ISIS, the KKK, human traffickers, and politicians; as acts of terror become the new normal…I gotta confess, I’m not entirely surprised.

Always saddened and disappointed with humanity, but not shocked and certainly not surprised. Before things get better, they’re going to get worse.

There are moments of reflection where I sit back and wonder why on earth I colluded with another human to bring a new human into the world. There are moments where I reconsider and doubt the wisdom of my career choice in pursuing content creation (filmmaking, writing, etc); shouldn’t I be doing something important with my time instead of dreaming up frivolous stories for entertainment? The Titanic is sinking and I’m auditioning for the band?

"And the band played on..." image capture from James Cameron's 1997 masterpiece.
“And the band played on…” image capture from James Cameron’s 1997 masterpiece.

Yup.

Entertaining is all I’ve ever really felt good about being good at.

When you can laugh, think of a joke, sing a song, or just be creative in even the darkest of circumstances fear is castrated, terror is mortified, brokenness is restored.

And when you can get other suckers to laugh, think, sing, create with you, then the doom of doom is even more pronounced.

Besides, the boat is sinking; ain’t nothing changing that fact.

Now, the more we laugh and sing and dance gaily about our merry lives, the more darkness there is that conspires against us, seeking to snuff out the delight of life bringing only ruin and misery to nature’s existence.

But did you know that scientists seem to be discovering that even in dark energy there is light?

Reminds me of ol’ Psalmist man saying to G-d:

12even the darkness is not dark to you
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

Even in the darkest, coldest, most remote parts of the universe (apparently), there is still light.

So, light is everywhere; not darkness. Or wherever darkness is, light is right there with it, keeping the scary places not so scary.

The boat is sinking. You want to go down lamenting and wailing without dignity or shall we sing and laugh, reflecting on the time we had, marveling that we lasted as long as we did?

So, uh, yeah: fuck evil; fuck terrorism; fuck fear.

Shalom, y’all.

My Faith Story – An overview

 

On a Sunday morning it seems appropriate to write/talk about faith.

I never really know where to start when talking about it, though. For instance, what do I have to say that hasn’t already been said?

My main inspirations for this are from a couple other blogs I read – Jamie the Very Worst Missionary and Addie Zierman’s blog. It also comes from The Liturgists Podcast and even a bit of You Made It Weird With Pete Holmes.

A really big push came when I finished reading Addie Zierman’s first book, When We Were On Fire, A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over. That was late last year and the motivation ultimately fizzled. But now I’m in the midst of reading her second book, Night Driving, and I’m finding the inner compulsion welling up again.

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.

JUMP!!!
“Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog” by Caspar David Friedrich. Feelin’ this every now and then…

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).

After considering going to a Christian college I went to East Carolina University instead. I got some advice from an author I admired at the time, John Fischer (just discovered he’s still writing (of course he is!)), asking which would be wiser. He said that if I really wanted to see what my faith was made of, go to the secular school.

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…

Credit: Door Kickers on Facebook
Credit: Door Kickers on Facebook

*adjective, gayer, gayest.

1.

of, relating to, or exhibiting sexual desire or behavior directed towarda person or persons of one’s own sex; homosexual:

a gay couple.

 

**5.

Older Use. having or showing a merry, lively mood:

gay spirits; gay music.

6.

Older Use. bright or showy:

gay colors; gay ornaments.

7.

Older Use. given to or abounding in social or other pleasures:

a gay social season.