Pain vs Christianity

Shawna, Ellis, and I have just come through a lot of transition lately…four years, to be specific. Some of it has been painful and challenging. Other parts of it have been an incredible relief and outrageously beautiful. Maybe it’s just our circumstances tainting my vision, but I seem to see the majority of people I know or talk with going through some sort of transition. This has had me thinking a lot about what my faith has to say about death, resurrection, and peace.

For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
– Romans 8.22

Four years ago, our first son died before he was born. I’ve written about him before. He remains a part of our lives, conversation, and future. Since then though, we’ve experienced a deep sense of being lost.

To a certain extent, it has been by choice. As we noticed life going back to normal after he had passed it felt like saying to him, “You didn't matter. You didn’t change anything. We’ll just carry on as if you never were with us.” It felt wrong. So, for better or worse, we decided to completely uproot ourselves and begin adventuring.

We wanted to live adventurously, like we would have wished for our son. That has led us on a fairly wild ride of ups and downs and our experience has been a complete surprise to us. My hope, faith, and love were tried right down to their deepest core. It caused me to shed a lot of who I thought I was and how I knew to identify myself. It simplified my view of myself quite a bit, which was a terribly painful process, but extremely revealing, and somewhat rewarding.

This new understanding of myself has also completely altered my view of others, mostly as it pertains to expectations. I have far fewer expectations on people. Life is so devastatingly hard. When someone is an asshole, I get it! In some regards, they have every right to be. The things that people endure on an external and/or internal level exceed the human mind’s ability to comprehend.

Most folks have no idea what secretly motivates them in conversation or relationships or life. I doubt that anyone really does. We are shaped by such an amazingly complex convergence of DNA, circumstance, impression, interpretation, and spirit, it seems impossible for anyone to be in control of it. The best we can do is just try to control our response, and that is a tremendous feat.

I am grateful for this deeper appreciation for the difficulty of life. I’ve not enjoyed the learning process, but I am incredibly grateful for the result. Seeing myself more simply has released me from a ton of illusions and delusional living. I realize there are a ton more, but this was a healthy layer of covering. These difficult years of loss and being lost have led us into greater intimacy, acceptance, and love.

I wish this appreciation of pain were more reflected in the church. Someone who has experienced devastating pain can tell when they are talking to someone who hasn’t. Platitudes are the worst. And for the most part, churches and many churchgoers represent themselves in a way that does not connect with people who know the pain of loss, which is a shame considering it is at the core of our Gospel.

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud [agonized] voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
– Matthew 27.46

That verse isn’t quoted often in churches, but it lies in the crux of our Gospel story. Most of Christianity over-identifies with the Resurrection (redemption, forgiveness, new life, etc) with very little consideration given to the Crucifixion (loss, darkness, painful transition, etc). This creates a disconnect between churches and the rest of creation because everyone else can't ignore the Crucifixion. It's happening. The two need to meet together, and the strange and difficult reality of life is that the experience of the joy and hope and exuberance of the Resurrection is proportionate to the depth of pain and experience of the Crucifixion.

I would say, the Crucifixion is still happening. And the Resurrection is still happening. The Christian journey is clearly a very personal, intimate, and internal one. Jesus did not say, “Let me pick up the cross for you.” He said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” Following Jesus does not free us of our cross, the reality of life; it lightens its weight by being shared. It brings meaning and significance to it.

What is most beautiful and significant and relevant about Christianity to me is the fearlessness of Divine Love indistinguishably intertwined with creation and the human experience. That is the summary of the Good News. Everyone is experiencing (or going to experience) a crucifixion, but the emotional and mental freedom to transcend it by the Way of Love/Christ is something of a Divine gift. It takes a deep sense of transcendent faith to believe that true Love and Resurrection really are an option, and the Reality.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavily burdened [by religious rituals that provide no peace], and I will give you rest [refreshing your souls with salvation]. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me [following Me as My disciple], for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest (renewal, blessed quiet) for your souls. For My yoke is easy [to bear] and My burden is light.
– Jesus, Matthew 11:28-30 (AMP)

My Kingdom Go

For the past three years I’ve felt like my spiritual journey has been wandering in a state of purgatory. There has been a lot of “letting go” as well as being let go. Some of these things have been superficial and obvious, while others have been unexpected and painful. Deep emotions and “feelings” I’ve held onto as compasses have dissolved or evaporated. Inspired dreams and plans have vanished like mist as my family and I wandered through them and into ambiguous territory. It has created some powerfully challenging experiences.

As circumstances, ideas, hopes, dreams, and plans have come and gone, those “things” have revealed a great deal to me about myself. “Things” that I’ve held onto have proven to be unreliable and inconsistent, which becomes a problem for me wherever I have internally over-identified them with God. My family would step in a direction and believe it was the “right” thing, but then found ourselves lost. It’s been hard letting those “right” things go and holding onto faith in Someone more than things.

Concepts create idols of God, of whom only wonder can tell us anything.
—St. Gregory of Nyssa

On one hand, we are being freed from false ideas and beliefs, while on the other hand, it has felt like they are being ripped from us. I liked those false ideas and beliefs. That’s why I believed them! This has produced the purgative experience. It makes freedom look a lot less attractive, which helps me see where I am more religious than in Love.

Our Father, who is in heaven,
Hallowed be your Name.
Your kingdom come...

– Jesus, Matthew 6.9/10

One thing I never spent much time thinking about with this prayer is how, praying “Your kingdom come,” insinuates and practically necessitates, “My kingdom go.” This is one of the most foundational values of Christianity, that I can see. We’ve watered it down to moralistic lists of do’s and don’t’s, but at its conception, it’s something more more meaningful and transformative.

“My kingdom go,” as it was modeled by Jesus, looks like the freedom to be publicly mocked, hated, and killed and it hold no influence over the ability and capacity to be in Love. That is the realist of freedoms. But getting there means letting go of anything and everything that holds me back; however good, pleasant, or righteous I might confuse it for being.

So, I ask myself now, What is the most loving way? Not, what is the most convenient, pleasurable, easiest, or beautiful way, but the most loving. My faith teaches me that the way of Love, while it may include crucifixion, leads to resurrection.

I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows].
– Jesus, John 10.10

Wholly

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment.
– Jesus, Matthew 22.37-40

The “all” in that statement is one of the things that makes Jesus so drastically countercultural and challenging (and possibly “irrelevant”), at least for me personally. Just sitting and thinking for a minute about my whole mind and what that means…there is so much going on in there: fear, worry, love, desire, passion, doubt, faith, anger, etc. There are loud, extrovert areas of my mind and areas where I hide resentment, aversion, hurt, and insecurity. To love God with my whole mind is asking me to engage all of these areas, which challenges me to completely rearrange the way I’ve intentionally and unintentionally structured my mind.

How could I ever gather all these areas of my mind together and transform, or allow them to be transformed, into simply love for God?? It’s a remarkably complex implication from such a simple statement, which is one reason why, I suppose, so few try.

One could surmise that God is just cruel for “commanding” this out of us, but that is why the knowledge and deep inner-trust that God is Love is so vital to a spiritual journey. If God is Love and, as one of my heroes Jerry Cook would say, “always predictably good,” then maybe I’m missing a gift in this divine and human challenge.

So, what is the gift?

Having a divided-mind is painful and debilitating. I may have grown comfortable and accustom to that debilitating pain, even to the point that I’ve accepted it as normal. And, as far as I can tell, our culture is designed to help me feel that way.

...for the one who doubts is like a billowing surge of the sea that is blown about and tossed by the wind. For such a person ought not to think or expect that he will receive anything [at all] from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable and restless in all his ways [in everything he thinks, feels, or decides].
– (Jesus’ brother) James 1.6-8

Unstable and restless in all his ways.” Those are the characteristics of a divided-mind and life. It is the root of anxiety and violence. I can attest to this. I can also attest to being far more than double-minded. I am easily quadruple-minded at most times! Although, I believe what James is saying is there are only ever two minds: one set on Christ and one that is set on many things. That difference takes an individual from loving God with their whole mind to not.

When Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with your whole mind,” he is inviting us to wholeness; or “wholliness” for the sake of using a pun. He’s inviting us to healing in the areas of our minds that have been closed off. He’s inviting us to freedom in areas of our minds where we’ve been locked up. But the real gift is not only wholeness, healing, and freedom. That is where I see many churches and Christians getting hung up. We hyper-focus on wholeness, healing, and freedom, but then ignore their meaning, which is utter union in and absorption into Love. That is the Christian way, the Good News.

That is the gift Jesus offers us by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your mind,” though it is no small task to receive. Especially when you then add on your whole heart and your whole soul! It is a spiritual, mental, and physical journey and I cannot imagine a more exciting and adventurous way to live my life.

A New Season of Let (not a typo)

All of these pictures were taken last week while wandering around the grounds at Camp Crestview.

All of these pictures were taken last week while wandering around the grounds at Camp Crestview.

This time last year, I referred to the Season of Lent as my Season of Let. I had forgotten about this until having some time to journey around in nature recently.

While taking pictures of dew resting on branches and grass, I remembered one of my favorite verses about God’s “voice”:

Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.
– Deuteronomy 32.2

Only a few days ago, I stumbled across this short verse while flipping through the pages of an old Bible I used a few years ago. The words stopped me, but so did many others as I scanned through passages I’d underlined and notes I'd written. This morning though, they came back to me:

Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.
– Deuteronomy 32.2

The word “let” seems ridiculous. Who would not “let” God speak gently to them? But then, there are days when God’s presence and ways feel so distant, my reaction to this word is, “Of course, I’d ‘let’ God speak. Why wouldn’t I? Now, if only God would start speaking!” Couched in the middle of that indignant thought is the real question: Why wouldn’t I let God speak?

There are many reasons I’d rather not let God speak into my life, here are some personal biggies:

  1. Busyness: I’m busy. I’m trying to balance learning to be a loving and present husband and father with working long hours, maintaining meaningful friendships, juggling miscellaneous responsibilities, and allowing some space to take care of my own internal condition by doing things that bring me life (nature, music, writing, and rest).
    1. Busyness reduces my sensitivity and receptivity to the “descending dew” to the likes of precipitation gathering on a windshield as I drive 60mph trying to get to my next destination. It’s not that God isn’t speaking, it’s that I’m having to look past it, toward the next thing I have to do. Plus, God can wait, right?
  2. Exhaustion: Busyness creates exhaustion. This takes a toll on every area of responsibility, including making space for things that bring me life. When I finally do find a hour or two to myself, I end up finding I’m emptied of energy or the ability to rest because I’m in need of recuperation and repair.
    1. When my energy is drained and I am in need of recuperation, my attention is sleepy. My eyes need to shut and I just want/need to go to sleep. The “descending dew” on “tender plants” is lost on closed eyes, unable to see it. It’s not that God isn’t speaking, it’s that I’m buried, out of reach, and disconnected.
  3. Irritability: Exhaustion creates in me irritability. I know this well. And the first people to receive and perceive my irritability are those closest to me, which only irritates me more.
    1. When I’m irritable, I’m closed off and running on fumes. Recuperation becomes a burden. Easily, I find myself resenting things that would normally produce life in me. It’s not that God isn’t speaking, it’s that I couldn’t care less about what’s being said because I’m too self-centered on thinking that no one’s listening to me.

Those are just a few reasons why I wouldn’t “Let” myself receive the Gentle Whisper. Of course, recognizing and acknowledging these issues is a big first step to overcoming them. It enables me to communicate more clearly with myself, God, and others. Communication helps create connection.

This all hinges on how I manage my own mind. Do I make space in my thinking for stillness and receptivity? Or do I hurriedly rush from thinking about one responsibility, relationship, desire, or worry to another? And then, do I fill any gaps that might occur in my day with music, my cellphone, brainless chatter, or resentment? Another temptation might be to fill any alone time with over-analyzing myself. Perhaps, I’m giving into that temptation right now. It is a temptation that distracts me from simply letting the word or presence of God descend on me in this present moment, and in my present condition, as a “tender plant,” rooted and established in love (Ephesians 3.17).

Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.
– Jesus, Luke 17:33

It’s not about me. It is about Christ. It is about letting myself participate with what is present and descending gently all around and on me right now. This challenges me to completely reconstruct how I’ve allowed my mind to wander thoughtlessly through each day. It invites my consciousness to wake up and stay awake. It directs me toward life, and life in abundance.

I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance; to the full, until it overflows.
– Jesus, John 10.10

Belonging

Ellis gets pretty excited about seeing birds fly overhead

Ellis gets pretty excited about seeing birds fly overhead

Over the past few years, I’ve wiggled and writhed in and out of positions and circumstances. Nothing has felt quite like I’ve belonged. There have been beautiful things about each place we’ve been, but nothing has felt “right” and some things just felt wrong. It’s hard to explain, and possibly completely illogical, but I find it painful to even imagine not trying to pursue this ideology of belonging. Every day, I think about how I’d rather live adventurously trying to find belonging than to one day die wondering what life would have been like if we had. (I don’t write that with pride; in fact, I think there’s a lot of dysfunction in it).

In just three years, I’ve worked as a district representative with hundreds of churches and planned camps/retreats, lived in an apartment building as the community planner, been a pastor, a bartender, a server, and the manager of a pub, and moved across state lines three times. In just three years! It’s hard for me to ignore how crappy this makes my resume look. Each of these changes has made my roots and sense of identity feel ambiguous.

The other day, my friend Brook Fonceca shared a quote from Thomas Merton that I found to be striking:

Before the Lord wills me to do anything, He first of all wills me to ‘be.’ What I do must depend on what I am.

What does my life say about who I am? Everything I’ve come to rely on and believe in through my faith has its center in Genesis 1.27, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” I’m determined to believe this about every individual I encounter and to expend energy trying to discover more and more what it means about us.

What I’ve grown comfortable with understanding so far is, the image of God is Love; being made in that image means, we are all inherently, intrinsically also Love. It is not a visual image, but one we all know when we see/experience it. Our faith speaks to this and aims to simplify every believer down to this center of being. Underneath all our behavioral conditioning, mental training, and emotional structuring lies this reality: Love. We are It, but we are not It alone.

This belief/understanding/foundation is more critical than whatever else I seek. What I mean is, this starting point is more important than the destination because this starting point is internal; it’s who I am, and who I am should not be decided by where I am. That starting point is the guiding point.

Now, I’m not throwing out my (possibly)  illogical ideology of belonging (I’ve experienced it before and believe it’s worth spending a lifetime seeking), but how I seek it determines what I find. I’m seeking peace and belonging, but I’ll never find it with anxiety and criticism as my compass. And as the journey extends and wanders longer and further, it becomes more and more difficult to do, but I want to seek with peace and love as my compass; directing my minuscule decisions and actions, even my thoughts. After all, Jesus directs our attention to that level of being, “The coming of the kingdom of God (the place of ultimate belonging) is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.

The soul is made of love and must ever strive to return to love. Therefore, it can never find rest nor happiness in other things. It must lose itself in love. By its very nature it must seek God, who is love.
– Mechthild of Magdeburg

Savoring Normalcy

Normalcy seems to be something we lament. We want vacations, excursions, new toys and technologies, and whatever else we can find to help remove us from the feeling of normalcy. Personally, when I feel I’m in a rut of normalcy, I become physically agitated and feel an impulse drive to mix things up.

I know of a pastor who ended up driving his car through the town park on his way to work one day for this very reason! It wasn’t a violent or careless act (he looked to see no one was there first), but it was a bit reckless (a mother and child wound up safely being where he could not see them…which created an awkward eye-contact moment).

I believe that a lot of our culture’s unhappiness stems from our disdain for normalcy. We work the same job, doing the same things, driving the same commute, seeing the same people every day and life loses its wonder. There’s nothing to explore or surprise us that isn’t without some form of inconvenience or emergency. Eventually, our minds foster practices of wandering to other places, people, and things. Before we know it, we’re living life on auto-pilot and no longer present to ourselves, God, or the people around us.

Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don't you remember?
– Jesus, Mark 8.18

Normalcy often numbs my ability to see. I’ve seen the sun rise and set many, many times over; why should the colors still fascinate me? I’ve driven around the city more times than I can count; why should I still appreciate the view? I’ve been around my friends long enough to know their good and annoying qualities; why should I still feel any gratitude for them when they haven’t done anything for me lately?

Years ago, I remember realizing how rarely I actually looked at Shawna’s face. I had seen it a million times, and just stopped looking; I mean really looking, like I did when we were first together. It resulted in our becoming distant from one another. I had to let my eyes be open again and savor normalcy. The fact that her presence is a normalcy in my life is one of the greatest gifts! As I began sensitively looking at her in the eyes again, I was quickly and consistently struck with how beautiful and significant she is to me. Sensitively seeing her beauty again has made my days brighter, my mind more alive, and our relationship richer.

The experience I’ve had with seeing her can be applied to all areas of life. Here are a few ways to practice savoring normalcy:

Stop.
Do whatever it takes to interrupt your insensitive way of thinking and take an active role in directing your attention. When your mind is racing, stop. Be present. Maybe even laugh at yourself. I always find something to laugh at when I stop and see my unconscious behavior.

Notice.
What is around you? Who do you see? How do you see God’s presence? Do you? Why or why not?

Accept.
God, people, and the things around you are all real and present, whether we feel sensitive to it or not. Consciously and sensitively accept their presence, as well as your own.

Participate.
Respond and behave in a way that shares in God’s presence and the presence of those around you. Choose Love. Doing this will bring each of us to the brink of our fears and ultimately free us from them.

Those four mini-practices help me shape a life that I want to be living. When I become insensitive to normalcy, I find myself fantasizing about other lives I’d like to live. But regularly stopping, noticing, accepting, and participating invigorates me with Reality.

There is far too much beauty and significance in the world being overlooked and ignored. Jesus teaches us to see correctly. There’s nothing normal about life. It’s in a constant state of dynamic flux; which an aware and sensitive soul sees. Christ lives with this vision.

Recently I was visited by a very good friend who had just returned from a long walk in the woods, and I asked her what she had observed. “Nothing in particular,” she replied. I might have been incredulous had I not been accustomed to such responses, for long ago I became convinced that the seeing see little.
– Helen Keller, Three Days to See

I am here to give sight to the blind and to make blind everyone who can see.
– Jesus, John 9.39-41

Finding Refuge

Come and, like living stones, be yourselves built into a spiritual house...
– 1 Peter 2.5

The idea of church has always fascinated me. We’ve created such a definitive image of what It looks like (presentations in a building with songs and speaking), but it’s clear that we haven't fully appreciated Its reality. As Shawna and I have moved more times than I like to count, we’ve found and participated in many, many different expressions of the same thing. It’s been an education!

What I’ve discovered is people who go to church are often there for the exact same reason that people go to the bar: Acceptance, security, and ultimately, intimacy. Those are all things that I believe don’t exist without the presence of Christ.

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above; it comes down from the Father of lights [the Creator and Sustainer of the heavens], in whom there is no variation [no rising or setting] or shadow cast by His turning [for He is perfect and never changes].
– James 1.17

We do not have to acknowledge the presence of Christ (at all, let alone correctly) in order for that presence to be actively dynamic. The reality is that nothing exists without that very presence.

All things were made and came into existence through Him; and without Him not even one thing was made that has come into being.
– John 1.3

Christ is present and people flock to where they get the greatest sense of Him. It’s why we gather in coffee shops, bars, barbershops, homes, theaters, concerts, and churches. There is an experience of acceptance, security, and ultimately, intimacy. Most wouldn’t name that sensation “Christ,” but it is my conviction and observation that it is not, nor could not be, anything less.

On the other hand, when we find less than acceptance, security, and ultimately, intimacy in any one of those places we will typically demonize them. It’s why people also avoid churches and others avoid bars. They’ve sensed that “that” presence is not there. While their experience is valid, it is incorrect. Jesus teaches us to wake up, see beyond our sight, with faith. With the eyes of Christ we see that there is no absence.

Peter’s encouragement to, “Come and, like living stones, be yourselves built into a spiritual house,” really blows up our contemporary construct of what church is. A house is a place of refuge, rest, acceptance, security, and ultimately, intimacy. We can do that anywhere, anytime, literally. “Like living stones.” We can be a part of building an atmosphere of acceptance, security, and ultimately, intimacy in the streets, coffee shops, bars, barbershops, homes, theaters, concerts, and church buildings. It should be the emphasis of everything that happens within church buildings.

Having been a part of church my whole life and now working in a pub, I see wonderful people coming into both places who have the same motivation. Everyone is looking for God. Everyone is looking for refuge; which is God. We confuse it for more alcohol, sex, church service, affirmation, popularity, and money, but there’s a reason the people who get those things never have enough: it was never what they were really looking for in the first place. 

Now, while that sounds nice and easy, I never want to make is sound like this is just something we do on our own strength and creativity. We must be people who are accepted, secure, and intimate in order to provide space where people can find acceptance, security, and ultimately, intimacy. That takes strong and courageous people. It takes time, perseverance, commitment, consistency, faith, hope, and love. It takes being present to this Presence at all times and in all places, not only at some times, in some places.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavily burdened [by religious rituals that provide no peace], and I will give you rest [refreshing your souls with salvation]. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me [following Me as My disciple], for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest (renewal, blessed quiet) for your souls. For My yoke is easy [to bear] and My burden is light.
– Jesus, Matthew 11.28-30 (Amplified Bible Translation)

Being Still (Even When Life Is Not)

Be still, and know that I am God.
– Psalm 46.10

I think the majority of the western world is familiar with this verse. It’s so vague it’s generally acceptable. In my personal journey in Contemplative Christian Spirituality, it is where I began.

When I first started practicing Silent Prayer, I didn’t know where to start. The Psalm 46 passage was a huge help; Be still, and know that I am God. Repeating that internally, quietly, and slowly was a shock to my normal flow of thought. It interrupted my neurosis, broke my cyclical emotional thinking, and directed me to the Source. It created room for the God to be with me, internally; where my consciousness would normally be crammed with self-absorbed obsessive thinking, there was room. Space for something other to be present. That’s not something they teach in churches. We’re taught how to think correctly, rather than how to think openly to the presence of Christ in all, and through all…including ourselves!

I revisit Psalm 46.10 in a new perspective now. Today, times are stressful. Money is short. Life is disorganized, inconsistent, and chaotic. “Be still, and know that I am God.” It is a difficult thing to do.

I know it’s tempting to think, “Be still and know that I am God and everything will work out just fine,” but I don’t believe in the prosperity gospel that some Christians subtly proclaim. I see people dying of hunger, thirst, and pain all the time, every day. We lost our first son before birth. Terrible things are happening all the time and have been since the dawn of time.

To think that if I do the right thing or pray the right prayer or believe the right way God will perform a miracle for my benefit is to believe in the gospel according to Harry Potter. It’s magical thinking and self-centric theology. I don’t think prosperity is what makes God good or relevant. That’s a very American, heretical, and deceptive idea of God.

So, if “be still and know that I am God” won’t help me pay the bills, sustain security or health, what good is it?!

That is an important question. It’s the questions we’re afraid to ask (and peacefully sit with for some time) that will lead us to the answers we so desperately need.

When we can answer that question for ourselves, within ourselves, we begin to know “God’s peace, which transcends all understanding.”

Be strong and very courageous. Be not afraid, neither be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
– Joshua 1.9

I Hunger and Thirst, But Not for Christianity

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
   for they will be filled.

Jesus, Matthew 5.6

Recently, I was sitting with a couple pastor-friends in The Oregon Public House while I was on break. We began discussing how churches are in decline, young people are disinterested in Christianity, what this means for their daughter, and ways how her and others’ hearts might be stirred again. I couldn't help feeling like I can relate more with their daughter than with the concern for the church.

I’m a pastor. I like the Church. But I am feeling finished with how our Christian culture has kept its message on Christianity, which has changed and morphed and failed and succeeded, rather than Jesus, Who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. It’s a culture that I’ve come to identify as “Churchianity.” One example of this is we give answers to questions no one is asking. For instance, what if I don’t care about life after death? Is Jesus still relevant? Here? Now? Prove it!

Churchianity tells us what to believe before learning how to believe.  It gives a “first time believers” program that is somehow supposed to be a supplement or fast-track to a relationship with Christ, but usually centers on beliefs about Jesus and historical/biblical events, being present at church, inviting people to church, and volunteering at church. If Jesus was so concerned about what we believe and our spending time at church, why would He waste so much of His time speaking remarkably unclearly with parables and never once inviting or directing people to temple or church?

Believe Me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father
neither [merely] in this mountain nor [merely] in Jerusalem. …
A time will come, however, indeed it is already here, when
the true (genuine) worshipers will worship the Father in spirit
and in truth (reality); for the Father is seeking just such people
as these as His worshipers. God is a Spirit (a spiritual Being)
and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit
and in truth (reality).

Jesus, John 4.21, 23/24

I’m done learning what and where to believe. Knowledge and context have a tricky way of being domination in disguise. If I can “know” something about God that someone else doesn't, then I can feel that I am in someway above others and in more control of or closer to God than them. It’s an embarrassing confession and kinda sick. I easily use God, theology, experience, and religion as a path to false security by feeling dominant in one way or another. I am (or at least want to be) completely done with that.

I don’t want Christianity anymore. The Christianity I’m talking about is not Jesus’ spirituality or teachings, but the one I’ve come to know as Churchianity. I’m done being told what to believe and being instructed to tell others what to believe, as if right-belief is what Jesus was really concerned with. For the past decade, with each passing year, I’ve become more and more increasingly convinced that Jesus’ emphasis was emphatically how we believe.

How I believe is far more important and significant. How do I believe in an eternal, infinite God who is Love? How do I believe this God is personal and intimate? How do I believe that this God is all and is in all?

And you shall love the Lord your God out of and with your whole heart and out of and with all your soul (your life) and out of and with all your mind (with your faculty of thought and your moral understanding) and out of and with all your strength. This is the first and principal commandment. The second is like the first and is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.
Jesus, Mark 12.30/31

This is a lot of Love. It breaks my heart when I really sit and consider it. How am I with my wife? How am I with my son? How am I with the my friends? How am I with the strangers who come up to the counter at the pub and order a beer? How am I when I’m mopping the floor at midnight? How am I when I am alone and no one is looking? Are the whole of my heart, soul, mind, and strength being engaged? Am I in Love? Because Jesus is and directs me/us to that place. If I am a Christian, I should be increasingly learning this on an experiential level every day. That is how I believe.

Does how we believe increase relationship with God and love for others (including our “enemies” and those different than us)? If not, I doubt it is actually Jesus we are following but a culture labeling itself with Christianity. That is not the faith Jesus professed. It may even be the antithesis.

I am hungry and thirsty, but not for Christianity; I hunger and thirst for righteousness (uninterrupted intimacy with God; not self-righteousness), of which Jesus is the embodiment. It is my conviction that every single person hungers and thirsts for Christ's righteousness, but the Way has become muddled and overgrown. We need to constantly return to asking, seeking, and knocking.

For everyone who asks and keeps on asking receives; and he who seeks and keeps on seeking finds; and to him who knocks and keeps on knocking, the door shall be opened.
Jesus, Luke 11.10

Intimacy with God

The practice of intimacy with God is something I feel passionate about, but find difficult to put into words. I think this is because it seems to be one of the least talked about aspects of Christianity. 

We talk about belief in God, worshipping God (almost always as it pertains to music), and praying to God about our wants and gratitude, but rarely is the concept of intimacy with God directly addressed. Yet, it is the most important aspect of Jesus’ spirituality.

Without being actively intimate with God, our faith inevitably turns in on itself and becomes about self-preservation, which is the antithesis of Jesus’ spirituality.

Think of the intimacy Jesus is directing us toward when He says, “'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (intellect).' This is the great (most important, principal) and first commandment.” Is love not an intimate thing?

Another way to look at it could be, if I study facts or beliefs about Shawna without spending time with her myself, our marriage would be painfully hollow. She would not know me. And I would not know intimacy with her. My studies may help change my behavior and give me insights, but it would not be the same as loving her with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind.

Sadly, that is what the religion of Christianity has been reduced to for many. We try to love God with our beliefs, opinions, and certain behaviors, but leave the whole of our hearts, souls, and minds out of the equation. And it robs ourselves and the world of the reality of the Gospel.

The first step to intimacy with God is realizing, accepting, and understanding how Christ is already intimate with all of us:

All things were made and came into existence through Christ; and without Him was not even one thing made that has come into being. In Him was Life, and the Life was the Light of men.
– John 1.3/4

Life is Christ. When we are numb to the wonder of life, we will be numb to the closeness of Christ. Waking up to this reality is one thing; staying awake to it is something else altogether. When we see intimacy with God as something far off and to be attained to, we make it all about ourselves: What am I doing to get there? How am I behaving in a way that will attain it? But the whole message of the Gospel is that there is no divide except for the one we’ve accepted in our own hearts.

If we see God as being far off, we will not experience the intimacy of life with Christ. It is very possible to be a professing Christian and yet still live a life devoid of Divine Intimacy. At once though, when we see the closeness and permanence of Christ “in all and through all,” we will understand that intimacy with God is not something to attain to, but to be actively accepted, celebrated, and participated with. The notion that just knowing it is enough, is a deception.

We must intentionally and actively participate in intimacy with God.

Be still and know.

When you pray, go into your inner room and pray in secret without using many words, where your Heavenly Father is.

There are some zealous believers who portray Divine Intimacy with an unhealthy emphasis on emotional experience and lengthy prayer sessions. When I speak with folks in this predicament, I get the sense that they are really seeking validation and consolation, not necessarily intimacy with Christ. The problem is that emotions can be easily manipulatable, manipulating, and even faked. Intimacy cannot be faked. Although it can be emotional, is much more than an emotion. Seek intimacy, not emotion. The point of prayer is not to multiply words, but to simplify the whole of our lives into one act of prayer.

That emphasis places a distance between us and God because it centers on emotion, which is unsustainable. Any distance we "feel" between us and God is the result of our internal emotional and mental condition, not the result of God's actual proximity. Emmanuel, He is with us.

By love may God be gotten and holden, by thought never.
– Anonymous, The Cloud of Unknowing

The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.
– Jesus, Luke 17.20/21

The kingdom of God is within you now. Where are you?