All posts by thestrietzels@hotmail.com

My story, I am learning, is more and more common. I was raised in a conservative/evangelical Christian tradition and began to see things differently. Christianity, I believe, is more about a way of life than right or correct beliefs or doctrines. This means the spiritual life is messy and full of adventure, not a neatly packaged set of ideas one buys into. One can be a deeply committed Christian, can attend church every Sunday, pray and read Scripture daily, and can remain more or less unchanged where their ego's are still in control. The way of Jesus is a way of death and resurrection - death to our ego or false self, and life to our true self. This is the journey I am on.

Why am I still a Christian?

In 2007 David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons came out with a book that I still think is applicable today called Unchristian.

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Using research from the Barna Group, this book showed the statistics of how people view Christians in America. Here’s a list of the ways many viewed (and I think accurately continue to view) Christians:

Hypocritical

Antihomosexual

Judgmental

To pushy – proselytize in ways that turn people off

Sheltered – I think specifically anti-science and narrow minded would qualify here.

Right wing politics – overly political, tied to partisan politics.

I resonated with this in two ways. First, this was becoming the way I also viewed many Christians. Second, because when I got really honest, I have been all of these things and something was shifting within me.

So, for a while, and from time to time since, I have thought about throwing out the word Christian and calling myself  – a follower of Jesus   – or something else (maybe just spiritual).

But, at the end of the day, I was raised and still very much am a Christian.

I think the struggle is how to be a Christian without the above labels.

While I am certain I am still hypocritical and judgmental at times, I have become open and inclusive of my LGBTQ friends, I am very open to the ways science guides us as we learn how the world came to be,I don’t view the Bible as inerrant, and right wing politics is…well…a little scary at times (this is true of either side to an extent).

In fact my change in these areas has led me to numerous encounters where people think I am falling off the wagon, heading down the road to relativism, forsaking the truth, replacing the authority of the Bible, and worse some suggest I am no longer Christian.

So, my question then is;

What does it mean to be a Christian?

I have done a fair amount of reading church websites online, and often I will find a part titled beliefs. Usually there is a long list of things that people who attend that church believe in which supposedly make them a Christian.

The problem is, what if you cannot check all of those things off?

What if you think some of (or many?) of the places where they believe to be really clear, you see as muddy and unclear? What if you disagree and see things differently? How many points can one disagree with and still be welcome there? And if I am still welcomed there and yet I don’t believe all of the stuff, can I still help serve and lead?

So, back to the question…what does it mean to be a Christian?

Well, in the first century, people who followed the ways and teachings of Jesus were called followers of “the Way”. Eventually they were called “Christians”, which was a derogatory term given by others to suggest these people who were followers of the Way were trying to be little “Christ’s” – imitators of Jesus.

I believe that to be a Christian means to be one who follows the teachings and life of Jesus.

In other words, I try to imitate Jesus.

When the temptation arises to throw out the label of Christian because it means different things to others than it means to me, I am reminded that I am actually trying my best to imitate Jesus – of course I am failing miserably most of the time.

While I am often tempted to distance myself from many of the people who label themselves Christians, when I read the life and teachings of Jesus I am inspired!

Who could be a better role model than him?

What did Jesus teach and do?

Jesus taught his followers to love others, forgive others, to show compassion and mercy when others don’t deserve it, to challenge those in leadership positions who live hypocritical lives and who look out for their own selfish agenda’s. Jesus taught us to trust in God, even when we are not sure how things will pan out. Jesus taught us that sickness is not the way God wants things and evil should be combated. Jesus taught us to welcome the oppressed and marginalized and to speak out on their behalf. Jesus taught us to work for peace in self sacrificial and non violent ways while we subvert the institutions that keep the elite in power and others in poverty.

Who struggled the most with these teachings?

The religious leaders of the time.

Why?

Because he was suggesting a very different way of being and living in the world. A way that serves others, embraces the outsiders, and while it can work within religious institutions, the way of Jesus can just as easily work outside of these institutions. In fact, he even taught that oftentimes these very institutions can work against this (e.g. Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath).

In essence, those who struggled most with Jesus were those who had clear definitions of who was “in” and who was “out”. These leaders were the sole interpreters of truth and the gatekeepers of this truth, and Jesus was breaking down all the walls -suggesting that those who they claimed were “out” were actually “in” and those who claimed were “in” may not actually be. One can quickly see why this would be an affront to some.

The crux of the teachings of Jesus was that you will know his true followers by the fruit that they bear – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self control. You will not know them by what they mentally assent to, or what they confess or say they believe – it’s the outside that matters because one can pretend or hide the inside, but our external actions actually reveal what’s inside…ouch!

Instead of a long list of beliefs one must check off, I think it is more accurate to ask ourselves if others see us as people who are self righteous, bigoted, homophobic, hypocritical, unforgiving, gatekeepers who tell everyone whether they are “in” or “out”,

or

Do people see Jesus in us?

John 13:35

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 

LGBTQ inclusion – my personal journey

Last week a second mega church came out for full LGBTQ inclusion (You can watch a video of the pastor of Eastlake Community Church in Seattle here – it’s a wonderful video totally worth the watch).

Time magazine recently came out with an article titled How Evangelicals are Changing their Minds on Gay Marriage.

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It’s pretty hard to overstate the importance and effect of the great shift that is going on in the Christian world. Of course it has caused massive debates and splits among families, friends, congregations, and even church denominations.

I was taught that gays and lesbians are living in “sin” and should be confronted with this truth. In my church tradition (and many that I was surrounded by) the LGBTQ community were thought of as another issue and reason for the relativism and decline of morality in American society.

I am fully open and affirming and believe that all LGBTQ people should not only be welcomed in our churches, but their marriages should be blessed and they should be allowed into all levels of leadership within church.

How did I get here?

It’s a long journey but I will try to highlight the major points.

First, I was on a personal journey where I began to ask questions and wrestle through many of the assumptions, doctrines, and worldviews that was passed down to me as a child. I came to very different conclusions on a number of issues which I think lead to an openness to question and wrestle through homosexuality.

Second, I met with a gracious friend who challenged many of the assumptions and reasons given to me as to why homosexuality was wrong. While I knew my journey would eventually take me to engage with this, this shoved it into the forefront and I could not longer ignore or postpone it’s importance.

Third, I read through and researched the half of dozen Scriptures that have been used to teach homosexuality is wrong. I realized several things. Jesus never spoke about homosexuality. The few Scriptures (and it’s amazing how few there are) that are translated into English as homosexuality have nothing to do with two adults in a committed relationship of fidelity. There’s a lot I could go into here, but the first century had no context for a committed, adult, same sex relationship. Sure they had a context for male prostitution, adult men raping young boys (pedophilia), and same sex relations outside of committed relationships most often in the form of an act of worship to a god, but they did not, and could not fathom what we currently know as homosexuality in the 21st century.

Fourth, I took time to listen to those on both sides of the debate (and in many areas in the middle). I did this by reading books, articles, blogs, and listening to the very real struggle of those who have endured years of shame, guilt, and oppression by people including the church. I’m lucky and thankful that I live in a time where information is much more available than has ever previously been. I learned that science shows that same sex attraction is not just a choice (I’m sure I did not willfully choose to be attracted to the opposite sex). I also learned, to my own shame and guilt, of how destructive the church has been to so many esp in the form of reparative  therapy (conversion therapy). I heard story after story of those who were taught that same sex attraction was wrong and tried to fix it, pray against it, and go through months of different counseling and therapy sessions which did not change them. If it really was a choice, why would so many willingly go through hell? It just didn’t make sense.

Lastly, I sought forgiveness for the ways I had been a part of shaming and excluding people from the church. I had done this in many ways, but I know there was at least one person in particular that I treated in a very self-righteous manner.

In the end I concluded that I cannot be certain about a whole lot of things, but I am personally under the conviction that God loves and accepts everyone, including people in the LGBTQ community completely as they are and invites us to do the same. I committed that if I err, I would err on the side of love, compassion, and inclusion since these are the main ways I see God and want to reflect this to others. I also witnessed the ways that God and Scripture were used to shame, guilt, oppress and exclude these people from God’s love, and reflected upon the ways I had been a part of this as well. In all of these ways it just seems to be to be so contrary to the way and teaching of Jesus.

I will not exclude people – this includes anyone who is queer. I will be a part of a church that not only blesses same sex marriages, but also allows anyone in the LGBTQ community into leadership and service at the highest levels of the church. Since this journey started, I have met many wonderful people in the LGBTQ community including fellow seminarians, friends, leaders, and pastors who are doing some wonderful work in the world. If this is you…you inspire me!

In the mean time, I think we should be full of grace to those who differ on this.

It is a difficult process to think through and complex in nature, especially if you are like me and were taught homosexuality was wrong all your life. I hope we can lay aside name calling from both sides (e.g. bigot, heretic, anti-christian, homophobic, self-righteous) and allow God’s spirit to work in the lives of our friends. I think we should still push this forward as it is important and causes so much pain and grief, but we should do so with grace and humility and not anger or hatred. If you are on this journey and still not sure what you think, my encouragement to you would be to continue on the journey (it takes time). Explore all angles. Read books, watch interviews, look at science, the Scripture, and the reasoning behind it. Talk to your LGBTQ friends, if you don’t have any, find someone and listen to their story (this above all else, will be the most helpful).

May we have love, grace, and compassion with others as we journey into the future.

What I learned from a Rabbi

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent last week in a class learning from a Jewish Rabbi, a Muslim scholar, and a Christian theologian.

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One aspect that I found most interesting (I was  slightly aware of before) came from the Rabbi.

While Judaism and Christianity have much in common (much of our sacred texts), we have been shaped very differently.

The Rabbi talked in story and narrative as he described Judaism and I realized I am really drawn to this way of teaching (I was reminded that Jesus was a first century Jew and spoke mostly in parables). Afterwards I spoke briefly with him about why Judaism takes such a different approach than Christianity and he talked mostly of the different ways the Hebrew tradition, language, and culture engaged the world and the way Greek tradition, language and culture engaged the world.

I increasingly see how Christianity (most of it at least) has been largely shaped by a Greek, rationalistic and either/or way of thinking. While I’m sure this can be played out in many ways, what most intrigues me is the way it plays out in reading and interpreting our sacred texts.

The Rabbi spoke about the midrash way of reading the Hebrew Bible. In a recent meditation, Richarh Rohr wrote:

“The best Jewish approach to scripture study was called midrash; they struggled with the text, unraveled it, looked at its various possible meanings, and offered a number of interpretations that often balanced and complemented one another. There was never just one meaning, or one certain meaning that eliminated all others.”

I find this so refreshing and insightful!

Much of Christianity has been shaped by Greek thinking and we have approached our sacred texts in such a way as to uncover the “one and only truth” behind it. So we argue and debate, but not in the same way as the Jewish tradition does. While midrash  is flexible and invites exploration and questions that is open to different ways of interpreting the text, much of the Christian tradition is closed, rigid, and invites only certainty, uniformity, and one way of interpretation.

I have bumped up against very conservative/fundamentalist Christians from time to time who do not seem to be able to understand that Scripture must be interpreted. For some, their motto seems to be, “the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” (I was actually in a church service where the pastor made this exact quote…wow!).  Some are not aware of their personal lenses and since they cannot separate their lenses from the text it leaves little room for disagreement or different views.

I think there is much we can learn from our Jewish friends as we learn to wrestle with our own sacred texts. I hope and pray that we can find the grace and insight to disagree without labeling others as “heretics” or “outside the faith”. As I have engaged people of different views, both within and outside of my tradition, it has shed light on different ways of seeing that I never would have thought about before. This has been hugely beneficial and I think Judaism has much to teach Christianity concerning this.

Inter-religious dialogue

What do you get when a Muslim scholar, a Jewish Rabbi, and a Christian theologian enter a classroom together?

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I week long of great dialogue, learning, and at some points tension.

I just got back from a week long intensive with more than 50 students from various backgrounds including Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and other. Personally, this was such a great experience and a total privilege to be able to learn from the other students and the professor’s who were all wonderful!

I decided to write a reflection. This is not at all meant to be an exhaustive list of what, why and how to do inter-religious dialogue as there are already so many great resources out there, but is meant to highlight the most important take-a-ways for me personally.

Why

It almost goes without saying, but we must first ask why. Why is inter-religious dialogue important and why are we doing it?

There can be multiple answers to this question, but I realized that the aim of inter-religious dialogue is to better understand others.

There are so many false assumptions (e.g. Muslims are violent, all Buddhist are peaceful) that are torn down and stripped away as one listens to others exactly what and why they hold their beliefs – let’s face it, though we live in a very pluralistic culture most of us are still fairly ignorant of most other beliefs…myself included.

It is my personal conviction that violence would be greatly diminished if we better understood others. The fact that there are people from various religions (Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, other) all working for peace, human flourishing and dignity, and environmental issues has been so encouraging for me!

Not about conversion

Proselytizing has absolutely no place in inter-religious dialogue. If one party is there to try to convert the other, this will make inter-religious dialogue impossible because we will debate instead of dialogue.

  • Debate – where one tries to win an argument or convince the other(s) they are wrong – often emotional and heated.
  • Dialogue – where one tries to better understand the other, their beliefs and why they hold them. They listen and ask questions without the need to say they are wrong.

Be true to who you are

While inter-religious dialogue cannot happen when one is there to “convert” the other, it is also not productive when the goal is consensus. This was one area that I really grew in. The goal is not to unpack all the areas we agree on alone.

If you think about it this makes sense. If you’re comparing two or more books, yet only compare all the areas they are similar, no one will really see how they are different and unique. In order to better understand others, we must be able to see the areas we disagree or where we see things differently – this is essential and we should not shy away from it. We can still get along and learn from others without agreeing on everything as long as their is mutual respect.

 We all have our own lenses

Even when in dialogue, we must realize that we have certain lenses which we see the world through. Some of us have very negative experiences of other religions. Some of us have only positive experiences. Some of us have no experience of other religions or have only read about other religions.

We should be upfront in admitting our own biases and lenses the best we are able (I’m certain we do not see them all) and be open to having those lenses shaped or formed differently.

There is diversity within each religion

The more I have interacted with people of other faiths, the more this has become apparent – it’s true within my religion as well.

Just because one Muslim states their beliefs does not mean that all Muslims think that way. Now, there are some places of crossover, but we must be slow to assume just because we talked to a few Muslims we understand the Islamic tradition in its entirety.

One of my professor’s shared that it’s not enough to know which religions are at the table (i.e. Christians, Jews, Muslims etc), but to know which Christians, which Muslims, and which Jews – there is wide diversity within each…I think this was another major growth for me.

No one person can speak for an entire religion, the best we can do is to speak about our own religious tradition through the lenses we have.

We become better followers of our own religious tradition

As we better understand others, we better understand ourselves. Also, I have often found places of blindness, false assumptions, or areas where a completely different perspective has enhanced my faith journey – if we just talk to those who agree with us we greatly limit ourselves.

Every time we engage in inter-religious dialogue, in formal or informal ways, we gain experience and wisdom. This is both true of dialogue with other religions, but even of those who see differently within one’s own tradition.

Inter-religious dialogue enhances intra-religious dialogue.

By talking with people of other faiths who believe differently than I and who see things from a different perspective, it has helped me talk with people within my own tradition – Christianity.

The majority of my dialogue is within Christianity – I think it’s unfortunate that we polarize so many issues all while trying to kick the other out (I recently had someone tell me I was not a Christian because I did not believe all the things they did in the way they did…they wanted to debate and not dialogue and it also shows how easy it is to become insulated within a small religious sub culture).

I was raised believing a small stream within the Christian river was Christianity – the older I get the more I see that there is vast differences (historical and present) within my own tradition.

These differences include: evolution, whether the Bible is perfect, whether someday God will suck a small select few of people away from the earth, who is saved and what that even means, what heaven and hell actually are, is there truth in other religions and if so to what extent – the list could go on and on.

My interaction with other traditions is still very limited and I am still very ignorant about a great many things, but the more I talk with others, the more open and full of grace I become. It also makes it easier to work with others for what really matters – the healing and peace of the world!

I end with a quote from Richar Rohr,

“The ecumenical character and future of religion is becoming rather obvious. Either religion moves beyond its tribal past or it has no chance of ‘saving the world’!”

 

 

drawn to the ancient

So I attended a few different church settings these last few weeks and I noticed a few things about myself.

When I was able to pick, my choice would surprise most.

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Yes, this is a picture of the church I attended. What comes to mind?

Likely traditional, rote, archaic, boring, ancient…maybe even Catholic?

Though it was not a Catholic church, it was an Episcopal Church which is the closest you can get. (I have come to admire many Catholics, esp those of the contemplative or mystical tradition – funny thing is I grew up believing they were not Christians)

For some time I have been torn…conflicted I think because I am drawn to both ancient and yet modern at the same time. I enjoy reading or watching Rob Bell or Fr. Richard Rohr both equally as much.

I could say much more about this, but I think the most intriguing aspect is that I have come to believe that our future lies in our past. I am slowly discovering the power of the liturgy, Eucharist, liturgical calender, past saints, and ancient practices that lure.

No, it’s not an instant gratification or Damascus experience, but more closely resemble water flowing over a rock – slowly carving away all the rough edges. (and if I’m honest sometimes it is uncomfortable or awkward, I think because I am so unfamiliar with it?)

What I find interesting is that many of the past Mystics seem to have been far more open, progressive, and ecumenical than many religious people today. They tapped into something (or better Someone) that was truly beyond comprehension – true Mystery.

My conclusion?

The current and future religious and cultural landscape is shaky – like a small boat amidst a massive storm.

We are moving from modernity to post-modernity. The rational ways of interpreting everything seem to be coming up short. The Enlightenment has taught most religious people to have predetermined answers to all the questions and to have all beliefs and doctrines organized and filed away neatly so they can be brought out at a moments notice.

The problem is we are moving (or have moved?) to a post-Enlightenment world.

Now, I do not think that means that we throw out our intellect, but rather it suggests that we must stretch our thinking further and deeper while at the same time realize that our rational mind cannot comprehend everything – there is more going on here.

As I  journey, I am wonder if some of the things needed to navigate these tumultuous waves lie in a pre-modern world.  I suspect that there are treasures that have been found by people who have journeyed before us (maybe even a long time before us?) that are important, even necessary, for us as we step into the future.

Most of this is not my own original thoughts, but a compilation from others as a part of my journey. Recently I have been reading one of the best books  you have never read by an Author named Ian Morgan Cron. Here are two mall excerpts as the author compares the times of St Francis of Assisi to our current times:

“Francis (St Francis of Assisi) lived in the gab between two historical periods – the middle ages and the pre-Renaissance – the opening days of modernity. We are living in the synapse between two moments in history as well – modernity and post modernity. People in Francis’ time felt the same anxiety that comes from living in a rapidly changing society that we do today.”

“Another similarity between the Middle Ages and today has to do with the state of Christendom. In Francis’ day the church was hemorrhaging credibility, it was seen as hypocritical, untrustworthy and irrelevant. Some people even wondered if it would survive. Clergy were at the center of all kinds of sexual scandals. It had commercialized Jesus, selling pardons, ecclesiastical offices and relics. Sermons were either so academic that either people couldn’t understand them, or they were canned. Popular songs ridiculing the church and clergy could be heard all over Europe, the laity felt used by the professional clergy, as if they were there to serve the institution, not the other way around. The church had also become dangerously entangled in the world of power politics, and war. Some fringe groups were beginning to say that you couldn’t be a Catholic and a Christian at the same time. Disillusionment with the church inspired many people to turn to astrologers and other alternative spirituality’s…To top it all off Christians were at war with Muslims.”

The future will no doubt involve a humble, open, compassion spirit that see’s opportunities and not dead ends.

The future will demand people to enter into ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue like never before, while being open to those who are not religious at all. (how can we work for peace together? end hunger and poverty together? etc)

The future will involve new ways of seeing and being…it will involve large amounts of creativity.

But most of all the future will involve an anchor that keeps one grounded and I think we will find this from the past.

I don’t think most churches or religious institutions need better coffee, a slicker website, a bigger band or a more hip/trendy pastor.

I think we need authentic spiritual guides who have done the hard work of uncovering the past and yet are creative enough to bring it into the future in a fresh way.

Well..at least that seems to be my take on it.

 

A bridger

So I have written on my personal struggle of confusion, uncertainty, and how the future seems often unclear.

What I have learned from this is that I am not alone…there are many of us.

I think there are a growing number of people (mostly young adults) who are going to bridge some gap between the old and the not yet.

Thomas-Creek-Bridge-Into-the-Unknown-by-Bill-Ratcliffe

Now, I don’t assume to have the answers, but I have heard from several people within the last several weeks that I am a bridger. At first it didn’t really mean much, but this week I met with someone who brought this up for the third time and something stuck.

I don’t know what it means specifically for me, but I have some hunches on generalities and what it may mean for many of us.

My hunch is that there is a growing number of people who are frustrated with the way the religious and cultural landscape has been and currently is. We are not ok with simply accepting a belief system that has been handed to us – we are finding many answers lacking and would much rather converse with someone who thinks differently than be taught precise answers to predetermined questions (oh, I should also add that many of these are answering questions that few are still asking).

I think there is a growing number of young Christians who resonate more and more with the spiritual but not religious group and have personally experienced places where religion was used for violence, coercion, domination, exploitation, marginalization and oppression.

There seems to be a growing number of young people who care more for what they stand for than what they are against and want to work for peace, reconciliation, healing, equality, and justice. I would much rather work with an atheist or a Muslim for peace than to debate why I think I am right and they are wrong – it’s just not that interesting to me.

What about church?

I think many of us bridgers are still drawn to an understanding that there is something more – there is a God, Divine, Reality, Creator, Energy (whatever word you use) and we are drawn to this. We tend to see beauty and sacredness in all kinds of places and that includes outside of the church walls.

I think most of us still have a desire to build rhythms and patterns in our lives, to engage in rituals, prayers, meditations, spiritual readings that cultivate an awareness of the Divine and a sense of awe and wonder.

The problem is church has often (though not always) been either a social club or a lecture hall which either invites one to be a member (with a membership card, group language, and group dress codes – I have heard from so many that oftentimes church has clicks that are hard to break into) or teaches one what to think and believe for the purpose of convincing everyone else around them of these things.

I wonder if it is not religion, God, and church that we are ultimately turned off by, but it is how religion, God, and church have been handed down to us.

In other words, I’m not ready to forsake all these things, but I do think many of us feel the way these things have been packaged no longer works. We appreciate the many great things that have been given, yet we cannot simply continue to pass them along as they stand.

I see two choices

1 – ditch the whole thing because it’s a mess

2- build a bridge

Build a bridge from our experiences, thoughts, knowledge, and desires from what we have been given to what can be.

Build a bridge from an exclusive, self righteous, anti science, pro violence way of being to an inclusive, humble, non violent way of being that seeks to be as intellectually honest as possible.

Build a bridge where faith is not about having all the right answers  but where doubt, questions, and uncertainties are welcome and reflective of a mature spiritual life.

Build a bridge with people of different religious affiliations, different religious traditions, and those who claim no religious affiliation – not to “convert” them, but because this is what we want to do and find life in doing (i.e. loving the other).

Build a bridge from the past traditions, rituals, prayers, books, sacred writings, to a way of speaking, seeing, and being that makes sense to a post modern 21st century people.

The main struggle of course, is that the future is unclear – it’s unclear because we have yet to create it!

Does this make sense?

If so, maybe you are a bridger.

 

Reflection on Advent 2 of 2

For the last three advents I have been reading through a reflection book by Richard Rohr and each year I find it deeper and deeper. One advent reflection recently deeply resonated with me so I decided to share it with you.

Hope you enjoy and have a great holiday season!

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And Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord – Luke 1:45

When it comes to the gift of contemplations, every major religion in the world has come to very similar conclusion. Every religion – Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, the eastern religions – all agree, but each in its own way, that finally we’re called to a transformed consciousness, a new ind or being “born again” a second time in some way. Each religion has different words for it, and probably different experiences, but somehow they all point to union with God. Religion is about union. Somehow to live in conscious union with God is what it means to be “saved”.

The word religio means “to retie” to rebind reality together, to reconnect things so that we know as Jesus did that “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30). To live in that place is to experience and enjoy the Great Connection, to live in a place where all tings are one, “with me in them and you in me” (Jn 17:23). When world religions become that mature, we will have a new history, no longer based on competition, rivalry, cultures or warfare, but on people who are actually transformed (Gal 6:15-16). These people will change the world, as Mary did, almost precisely because they know it is not they who are doing the changing. They will know they do not need to change other people, just themselves. God takes it from there.

My confession – I resonate with the spiritual but not religious

I’m spiritual but not religious

Have you ever heard someone say that?

It seems to be a growing statement among many, but especially among millennials. I am a millennial and I have to say I resonate with this group more and more these days.

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This is an odd confession as a seminarian pursuing an MDiv and seeking to be a pastor. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how unclear the future is and I think this has a great deal to do with that.

What do you do when your a walking oxymoron?

I’m in seminary and yet I am so turned off by much of what is called Christianity these days. I’m not anti-gay, anti-science, anti-progressive, and I greatly dislike religious language (e.g. righteousness, sin, salvation, condemnation, judgement, submit, obey etc).

I’m a post modern, progressive millennial who hates labels (see what I did right there…labeled myself while confessing how much I hate labels – paradox).

I am drawn to an ancient, mystical and contemplative spirituality, but simultaneously I am very much a product of my culture and I do not speak the language of most religious people.

While I actually do like much theology (at least progressive, inclusive theology and critical scholarship), I’m not interested in debating – never really seen this be helpful.

If I meet someone who is a different Christian, a different religion, or non religious I feel no pressure to try to convince them of my beliefs. I would much rather talk to them about theirs and learn from them while hoping we both become better people because of it.

In a world where religious people in general, and Christians in particular continue to argue, debate, demean and dehumanize others I cannot help but think this just misses the whole teaching of Jesus (and I think of most religions for that matter).

Yes, I’m a paradox and I honestly don’t know what to do about it.

paradox-stop-keep-moving

 

Advent Reflections 1 of 2

Hi, my name is Aaron and I’m a busy-holic.

It’s true, for much of my life I have been addicted to being busy.

I tend to idolize those who seem to be doing so much which only exacerbates the problem. I see those who are married, have kids, job, volunteer, and usually jungle a few other things while being extremely successful – if I’m honest I envy them and want to be like them.

I cannot begin to count how many times in my life where I have had a full plate and am doing well, only to add more stuff onto an already full plate (eventually you would think I would learn). This leaves me feeling overwhelmed and also at a point where now I have to say no to something I have already said yes to.

If you say yes to to many things, you cannot do them all well.

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So this is only the second year I have really entered into advent. By “enter” I mean engage in  on a daily basis, with reflections, Scriptures and prayers while meeting on a weekly basis with a church that emphasizes the liturgical year.

The past several months I have embraced being a stay at home dad. While previously  my wife and I shared much of the house duties as we were both in school, I have taken the majority of the duties because my wife is in medical school. I struggled with this for a time, but have found that I actually enjoy it…well at least most of the time;)

What this has taught me and continues to teach me is to find the sacred in everyday, ordinary life. In other words, the dishes, the laundry, walking the dog, cleaning the bathrooms, vacuuming the floor, studying for school, spending time with our kids…these are all sacred things.

I am learning that I cannot juggle as many things as some people can and that’s ok.

It’s ok.

It’s ok to say no.

It’s ok to embrace my limits.

Only in saying no and embracing my limits can I actually do a few things well.

Now advent is that time of the year were we live in anticipation. We should be slowing down to make room in our lives for Christ, and yet our lives tend to ramp up like it’s on crack!

So, this advent season (and actually the last several months) I have felt invited to slow down, to see things in a different way, and to embrace my limitations.

Maybe you can relate to my addiction to busyness, overproduction, and saying yes to to many things? I now believe most people can really only do about 2 or 3 things well and we only hurt ourselves when we add to many more.

I invite you to ask

what are the 2 or 3 most important things in my life that I feel called to or that are most important right now.

Then I give you permission to say no to all the other things that demand your time, money, talents etc.

 

 

The book of Job & liminal space

What does the book of Job have to teach us about liminal spaces? – A lot!

My last post was an honest, raw confession of where I am at personally.

Several people have contacted me about feeling like they are in a liminal space of their own. I think there are many reasons for being in a space like this (some of it is the time of life, some of it is part of the spiritual journey, but I also think much of it is the shift in consciousness), but there are several things that stand out to me which I would like to explore in the future (stay tuned!), but for now I wanted to share a few thoughts about the book of Job.

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Last year (about this time actually) I took a seminary class that was focused entirely on Job. Job is a complex book that has become my favorite book in the Hebrew Bible.

That being said one can read Job and leave frustrated and confused – Every time I read it I feel this way, yet for some reason I still find comfort in it (maybe because I find comfort in mystery and uncertainty and not in shallow, pat answers?)

One can read Job and conclude the following:

God caused Job’s pain – if not directly than indirectly by allowing “the accuser” (not the same person as the biblical character Satan which was developed over time and only really become a demonic fallen angel during the inter-testament periods) to inflict suffering. The picture of a heavenly wager is an ancient form of literary genre and should not be read literally for by doing so it paints a pretty horrible picture of God!

It can seem as if God bullies Job into surrendering –  one can walk away with the idea that we shouldn’t question. (Actually I think the opposite is true!)

Because Job is blessed ten-fold in the end all the suffering was worth it.  -Really?  ok if I’m honest that just sucks!

In class we discussed the different ways Job can be interpreted and what kind of story it actually is – is it an actual historical story? Is it a story taken from other cultures who had their own Job story? Is it a sort of fable or play?

However one interprets the book of Job, I was left with more questions than answers which I think is the point of the story. One thing that did stand out was the following;

Job was wrestling through a liminal space, i.e. how does he move forward when he was raised and taught to believe one thing, but has experienced something different?

Ever been there?

I have, many times and often it is a difficult and unclear journey because you don’t have the answers. All you can do is confess, “this old way of thinking, being, or seeing doesn’t work for me anymore” – often these experiences come in the form of pain, heartache, loss, grief, change, or transition.

Job was raised to think that everyone who followed God would be blessed, and those who were cursed clearly did not (retribution principle). This made the world black and white and easy to understand. You could look at someone and if they were poor or suffering it was because they had done something wrong, i.e. it was there own fault.

Now the story makes it very clear that Job was a good man who had done nothing wrong and yet was experiencing some tremendous suffering. Job defends himself while his three friends continue to argue that he must have done something wrong because he was going through such suffering.

Ever feel like people just don’t seem to understand why you can’t believe, see, or think the way they do?

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Sometimes I feel helpless because I just don’t have the words to articulate why exactly I do not see things the same way.

His friends were stuck in the old way of thinking, but Job’s pain, suffering,  and grief had given him an experience where this old way of thinking just didn’t work – the answers he was taught and the answers those around him were giving just weren’t good enough anymore.

Ever feel like people give you answers to questions for a world that no longer exists? Answers that seem to see things as clearly black and white, only your experience has opened your eyes to see the world in so many different colors?

I think Job can relate to this – I find comfort in this.

As I am writing this I realize that I find comfort in mystery, uncertainty, and in the grey – this seems to be where I find God. I think this is because it is not shallow. I was taught to have all the answers, and then to present them (argue) to others. This causes one to seem superior and often arrogant because they always have all the answers and others need to see the world the way they do.

Like Job, the old way of seeing the world as black and white no longer works for me, and yet I struggle at times to find the words to articulate and explain why.

Next post I plant to share many personal examples and experiences that have lead me through liminal spaces.