Game-Changers

gamechanger

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When I was younger, I had a lot of answers. Now I’m older, and I have a lot of questions. The few things I feel like I know, I know with more confidence than before. Here are things I know from experiences I have had that have radically changed my view of God over the years — my real game-changers.

Most people who get diagnosed with terminal cancer are almost certainly going to die.

No matter how much you pray.

If you’re not aware of this on some level, I’m so, so sorry to bear the bad news. But it’s critical that you know this.

There will be exceptions, of course, and I’ll pray as hard as anyone, but if your theology depends on God healing some particular person, this is probably going to get harder.

Most people who are diagnosed with other terrible chronic diseases are not going to get better either. 

Prayer is valuable and I wholeheartedly recommend it. It’s even fine to pray for healing. But it’s usually not going to happen.

It can be extremely difficult to know if we have a relationship with God or if we are deluding ourselves.

However bad we may be at this, we are probably still far worse commenting accurately on the actual spiritual condition of another person than that person him or herself. This is true no matter what religion you follow or what it says.

Nearly everything religion tells you about other people is none of your business.

It makes absolutely no difference to your own life, spiritual pursuits, or the kind of person you are becoming.

You cannot serve God if you do not love God, and you cannot love a God you fear and think intends bad things for you, for those you love, for humanity.

I understand the scriptural/theological questions this may raise, I really do. But you must make peace with the idea that God loves you and you have nothing to fear from the person who loves you most. Do whatever is required with your theology to come to this place.

I have no control over the things I care most about.

I cannot keep my friends healthy or alive. I cannot keep from being diagnosed with (another) disease. I cannot keep my children from being sad or discouraged or unhappy. I cannot keep the economy moving. I cannot make my clients better or my students do well in class. I cannot make my parishioners grow. I cannot even expect that, in writing these posts, I can make much of a difference in the world.

The more my happiness, peace, and stability in this world depend on my need to control things I cannot control, the more unhappy I will be.

The less space there usually is your heart between something happening to you and you feeling a strong negative emotion, the more you are a slave to your circumstances. 

Mindfulness and meditation are the only way out of this. Sometimes medication can help a little. Other things can help slightly, but only meditation gets at the root of the issue and helps us learn to stop being so reactive.

You will never, ever have a consistent theology.

If you think your current theology (way of understanding God) is consistent, you are deluded. The harder you feel you must work to convince yourself or anyone else that your theology is consistent, the less your religion is ultimately about God.

By the way, the only reason it’s not completely wrong and judgmental for me to write this right now is because I’m using a plural, non-specific “you.” I have no business (nor do you) telling any particular individual any of this. The beauty of writing is you can address things that way that you could and should never tell an individual, and each reader gets to decide for him/herself whether it applies.

If you believe in an afterlife, the person you will be in that life is almost nothing at all like the person you are now.

Most of what you currently understand to be you is connected to your body and/or brain, and neither your body or your brain are going to survive death, we know this for sure. Your sense of yourself as a professional, as someone educated to a certain level, someone who feels and thinks strongly about certain things, even someone who takes pride in believing good and moral and right things — all of that will be gone.

The funny thing is, this may sound like heresy, but it may be the most orthodox point I’ve made in this post.

Colossians 3:3-4 (MSG)
3 Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life.
4 When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.

The real you? That is, you, but REAL.

All of these have been game-changers for me. They are discoveries that, as I came to them, I realized I could not continue believing what I believed about God up to that point. They each forced me to completely reevaluate my faith.

Because these things have happened so often, I know they will keep happening. This means I know that in a few years there will be things I no longer believe about God that I deeply believe now.

This is the root of humility — the realization that, as the Buddha said, life is impermanence. My whole life has been an unfolding journey and I have never remained in one place for long. In my  humble moments I live from this core reality. In the others, I  start thinking my beliefs, opinions, theology, ego needs, and accomplishments have substantive reality.

What are the experiences and insights that have been game-changers for you?

Nothing to Protect

nothing to protect -- man under umbella

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One of the things I have learned is that I have nothing to protect. Everything in me I seek to protect and defend is false anyway. My ego, my sensitivities, my vanity, my guilt and regrets — none of it is going to last. It’s all on the way out. Shining the light on it helps it die the death it deserves.

I have also learned that those who ask receive. If I want grace, I have to ask for it. If I want people to love me and forgive me and extend grace to me, I have to remind them regularly that I am like them — a person who makes mistakes and is hurting and afraid and needs love. Wow, do I  hate admitting this about myself.

But because all of these things are true of all of us, and we’re scared to death of those dark realities, most of the time we invest in covering it all up. Ironically, this leaves us open to judgment from others as the wall we build around ourselves keeps them from seeing us as human in the same way they are.

We reach past that by opening up those wounds so others can see them. As we do that, we minister to them (serve them) by affirming they are not alone in their hurt and suffering and woundedness.

Why I Need Your Grace

authenticity, vulnerability, and grace

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We all need grace. I try to extend mine to everyone at all times. Here are some reasons why I need yours.

I’m a flawed person.

I am a flawed pastor, flawed teacher, flawed therapist, flawed husband and father. As charming and charismatic as I have learned to be when I’m “on stage” in some way (by which I mean simply being looked up to in one of my roles as pastor/teacher/therapist), I can be equally cold and aloof when the spotlight goes off.

It’s not because I don’t genuinely love people. I love you more than I can say and everything I say in all of my roles is 100% true.

It’s just that I’m tired.

I love people, but you wear me out sometimes.

It’s not your fault, it’s just my own limitation.

If you haven’t heard that from a leader before, it’s probably just because I’m the only one stupid enough to write it down.

The Purpose of this Blog

purpose of this blog

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Years ago I made a decision about my purpose on earth, and that has become the purpose of this blog. It is to guide and inspire those who willingly come seeking guidance from me, based on my life, experiences, and best understanding of both God and my fellow human beings. I don’t always live faithfully by that, but it’s my goal.

On this blog, I share my experiences and my worldview, mostly on topics involving personal growth (including both spirituality and psychology) developed from what I think is a quite special gift I have. That is the ability to remain open to ideas even when they bother me, and being genuinely willing to change my mind about something I deeply believe if the evidence is there. These qualities are rare, and are largely what create my unique platform, perspective, and voice.

This openness (which I have intentionally cultivated over many years) has allowed me to explore many things most people are too afraid to explore, and ask questions most people fear asking. This has helped to create in me, I am often told by others, a certain wisdom.

Evangelicals Support Torture — Isn’t That Weird?

supporting torture

Dick Cheney, Torture Apologist in Chief

Isn’t it weird that evangelicals support torture? Apparently the majority of people in the U.S. are fine with it, including the majority of evangelical Christians. I wanted to put the word “Christians” in quotes, like I just did, but I know some of these people and they are sincere, good people. That’s what deeply bothers me about this.

Is there any greater testament to the fact that Christianity has been taught horribly, catastrophically, unconscionably wrong in the U.S. than the fact that the majority of evangelicals, who serve the Lord of Peace that they will stand in candle-lit sanctuaries in a week and celebrate, have no problem with barbaric things being done to other people God loves? Isn’t it strange that if I claim Jesus was speaking metaphorically about hell, many evangelicals would question my theology, but the majority of evangelicals can outright ignore what Jesus plainly said about loving one’s enemies and not have a second thought?

This demonstrates how much faith has become about what a person claims to believe and not about whether they actually do what Jesus commanded. If you don’t “believe” the “correct” doctrine about hell, you’ll be called a heretic almost for sure, but ignore the clearest and most direct teachings of Jesus and you’ll be in good company with the majority of both believers and non-believers. Apparently being a heretic, believing something that may be wrong, is far worse than disobedience — blatantly ignoring what we are clearly told to do, and not even intending to do it.

I’m no Pollyanna. I realize the fact that God loves these people doesn’t make them safe. It doesn’t make them good. It certainly doesn’t not make them terrorists who want to kill us. But it does compel we who claim to follow Jesus to actually consider what it means to “love our enemies.”

If you can figure out a way to excuse yourself when it comes to this thing Jesus spoke most clearly about, why not just exempt yourself from the entire enterprise of being Christian? What in God’s name does it even mean, if you get to be just as barbaric, just as fearful, just as reactionary as everybody else?

If it’s going to be like this, I’m left to wonder, what did Jesus actually save you from?