Category Archives: Living with Imperfection

My Last Post as Spiritual Drift

This will be my last post as Spiritual Drift.

I can no longer find the words.

Since my last post, and given the current climate of our nation, both politically and spiritually, I simply can’t think of anything I can say that would make one tinker’s damn bit of difference. To anyone. To anywhere.

We’ve grown too busy shouting, too comfortably entrenched in our own dystopian universes to worry about the lost art of communication. We run around shouting that the sky is falling, never seeing that it isn’t our God who created that sky, it was us. We are being crushed by gods of our own making. We’ve grown fearful of every shadow because the light of the world has grown too dim if it hasn’t been totally extinguished, never recalling that we were supposed to be that light.

I weep for my country.

I weep that a statue stands at our shore and says, “”Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I weep that our founding document includes the words, “all men are created equal”.

And I weep that no one cares.

I weep for my religion.

I weep that my scripture says, “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the stranger by giving him food and clothing. Therefore, show your love for the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
And says, “Love your neighbor as yourself”.
And says, “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”

And I weep that no one cares.

I weep for the “less than”, for the oppressed, the alone, the wounded and weak, the disabled. I weep for people of color, and people of poverty.

I weep for the poor in spirit, and for those who mourn. I weep for the meek, and those who are hungry and thirst for righteousness. I weep for the merciful, the pure in heart, and for the peacemakers.

And I weep that no one cares.

No, I take that back.

A lot of people care. We just care more about being heard than about hearing. We seem to be caring more for our rights, for our liberties, for our needs, and for our selves.

We care more about the external than the eternal.

We care more for those things that moth and rust destroy, that thieves can break in and steal.

We equate acceptance with approval.

We equate immigrant with enemy.

We equate poverty with work ethic.

We equate disability with worthlessness.

We equate need with weakness.

We equate conservativism with oppression, and liberalism with anarchy.

We have lost the fine art of nuance, and we’ve forgotten that we live in a world of gray and not one of black and white.

And mostly I weep that there is no one to talk to. No one who will withhold judgment. No one who will simply listen. No one who will do the hard work of caring, and who will face the hard truth that we, yes WE dear Americans and dear Christians, are as much to blame for the state of our world as are our supposed enemies, and probably more.

I have no words.

I am at a loss.

And thus, this will be my last post as Spiritual Drift.

God help us all.

Advertisements

The World is Watching: but what is it seeing? (and do we care?)

19jxqlI read a quote not long ago by the author Rachel Held Evans from her recent book Searching for Sunday. It said this:

So many people fit right into church until… the divorce, the diagnosis, the miscarriage, the depression, someone comes out, someone asks a question, an uncomfortable truth is spoken out loud. And what they find is when they bring their pain or their doubt or their uncomfortable truth to church, someone immediately grabs it out of their hands to try to fix it, to try to make it go away. Bible verses are quoted. Assurances are given. Plans with ten steps and measurable results are made. With good intentions tinged with fear, Christians scour their inventory for a cure.
But, there is a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the church is called to the slow and difficult work of healing. We are called to enter one another’s pain, anoint it as holy, and stick around no matter the outcome. The thing about healing, as opposed to curing, is that it is relational. It takes time. It is inefficient, like a meandering river. Rarely does healing follow a straight or well-lit path. Rarely does it conform to our expectations or resolve in a timely manner. Walking with someone through grief, or through the process of reconciliation, requires patience, presence, and a willingness to wander, to take the scenic route.

This got me thinking. In the past, I’ve been accused of this odd thing called “hypergrace”, of going overboard in such hot button areas as “acceptance” and “inclusion”. And at first, it was an accusation I backpedaled from. For longer than I care to admit.

But now? Now I gladly welcome the accusation.

Yes, I practice hypergrace: I take this whole “love thy neighbor” thing seriously.

My overriding motivation for this is the feeling that there should be one place, one place, where all of us who are sick, wounded, hurt, grieved, addicted, neglected, alone, bullied, unwanted, or unloved, should feel safe, heard, cared for, and made holy.

That place is in God’s house.
But here’s the rub…

The Old Testament made clear that God’s house was the tabernacle, then the temple, which today would mean the church building, the synagogue, the worship center. But, on this side of the cross, Jesus has taken this so much further.

On this side of the cross, we have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer [we] who live, but it is Christ who lives in [us] (Gal 2:2). Further, the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Rom 5:5(b)). All of that (and many more) means this: God’s house is now inside of us. Scripture calls this “indwelling.”

Just as on the sermon on the mount, Christ narrowed the gap and eliminated any misperceived wiggle room on what the people of Israel knew of the law, so too is He doing the same now, with us, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. There’s no wiggle room in the greatest commandment. No “love others when…” No “love others if…” No “love others as long as…”

It’s love others. Period.

Evans went on to write:

 But, the modern-day church doesn’t like to wander or wait. The modern-day church likes results. Convinced the gospel is a product we’ve got to sell to an increasingly shrinking market, we like our people to function as walking advertisements: happy, put-together, finished – proof that this Jesus stuff works! ‘The world is watching,’ Christians like to say, ‘so let’s be on our best behavior and quickly hide the mess. Let’s throw up some before-and-after shots and roll the flashy footage of our miracle product blanching out every sign of dirt, hiding every sign of disease.
But, if the world is watching, we might as well tell the truth. And the truth is the church doesn’t offer a cure. It doesn’t offer a quick fix. The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation. The church offers grace.

As she says, “the world is watching”. And though we may think, I’m not concerned by what the world thinks, I’m not concerned about how I’m perceived, it reminds me of a scene from The Newsroom I watched not too long ago between the main character, Will McAvoy, and a member of the Occupy Wall Street movement that he’d belittled on prime time only the day before (caution: language):

Will:  Your movement sucks, Shelly.
Shelly:  I’m sure it looks that way from the outside.
Will (with an exasperated sigh):  And right there is your problem, ’cause who the f**k cares what it looks like from the inside?

Yes, I can hear it now; Jesus cares what it looks like from the inside. But, Jesus also cares that “the inside” should include everyone. And isn’t it our role as His followers to make “the inside” so appealing that no one wants to be left outside? Let me ask a question: How’s that been working for us so far? Personally, I believe it’s been a role we’ve failed at. Miserably. For hundreds of years. And isn’t the definition of insanity to do something over and over again in hopes of a different result?

Maybe it’s time for an entirely new conversation. Maybe even an entirely different course of action.

Maybe, instead of telling people what they need, we should ask them what they need. Get down in the muck—into their muck—hip deep, armed with only a shovel and a compassionate heart. To get our hands dirty in this messy, long, intentional, heart-wringing, gut-wrenching process called relationship. To be invited in, instead of feeling the need to bust the door down with a cross and a Bible.

What would it actually be like? Invited to share in these burdens of grief, pain, hurt, or anger: These things that all of us feel, that the world feels, that they live, that they experience? Would it be a surprise to find that many of these things have been caused by us? By believers? By religion? Often through our own misguided sense of need, or fear, or ego?

Only when our faces are sweat soaked and filthy, our hands calloused and bloody with the back breaking work of intentional relationship, will we even know if the world is ready for anything that we may have to offer.

Yes, Jesus cares what it looks like from the inside. But He also cares what the inside of the world looks like. And wouldn’t it be more effective, more real, more authentic, to dive in and change the world from the inside out?

Though it may be more effective, it won’t be a quick fix, and I think that’s our biggest fear if we turn and face the world. It’s not an easy “say this prayer” theology. And it certainly isn’t as simple as “love the sinner, hate the sin”. It was never intended to be. Jesus never said that anyway.

What Jesus gave us was good news of great joy. At least it should be. But I’m not seeing a lot of “good” in our message, or a lot of “joy” in its delivery, or in our walking it out.

I suppose the question comes down to this: What will we receive for our actions here on earth, and for the relationships we choose to form in the world? Matthew 25:21? Or, John 11:35?

I know my answer, but I invite you to wrestle with yours.

I’ve Been Called Out by an Atheist…And He’s Right

I’ve been engaged in an online discussion of my religious views on the blog site of a friend of mine, Nate, who happens to be an atheist.  The discussion was not with him, of course. He has (probably wisely) remained silent during most of the back-and-forth commentary.

No, my conversation has been with another—more hard-line if you will—non-believer.

‘Ark’, as I call him, short for his online handle Arkenanten, points up apparent fallacies within many traditionally held religious, primarily Christian, beliefs. He has done a ton of academic and statistical research and is well-versed in biblical and religious writings, and also in the historical, archaeological, and scientific research used to debunk most all of those religious writings. If you ever want a lively debate, my dear Christian, on any of your firmly-held beliefs or doctrines, Ark’s your guy. I respect his knowledge on the subject if not always his “comment-side” manner…but that’s nuance, and I digress.

Ark called me out on a couple points of my beliefs in a recent exchange, wanting to turn the conversation to more of an evidence-based discussion, even though on repeated occasions I’ve told him I’m not nor have I ever been a fan of apologetics. Some Christians are and I’m fine with that, but I’ve never been a fan of trying to “argue” someone into belief. But, in short order, that’s exactly where I ended up, and I got frustrated.

My last comment on Nate’s site was not something I was particularly proud of, yet with it I thought I’d let it go and move on.

But I went back. One last time. And Ark had answered my semi-tirade. And he asked some rather critical questions. And he pointed up some apparent hypocritical statements I had made, countering what I had said in previous comments to what I had posted (admittedly, four+ years ago) on my own blogsite.

And, most frustratingly, he was right.

His first question was, “If you don’t blog about Christianity to inform the world of your god belief and the command to proselytize, then why are you blogging about Christianity? Ego?”

That got me thinking.

I don’t think there can help but be a little ego involved in our online commentary—be they Facebook posts, comments, memes, or a host of any other tools we Christians use to get across our “point”.

I’m no different actually, and I’ve soon got an almost 200 page book coming out on my own faith journey and beliefs to prove it. I do it to clarify a few of the positions I hold to as a believer, positions that might differ from my Christian brothers and sisters, and I do it to answer why I write what I do in the fiction realm, and why some of my characters say things and act as they do. But, could there also be a bit of ego in it?

Without the added aspect of relationship in any kind of dialog, be it a FB post, a blog entry, or an entire manuscript, there probably is a certain amount of ego involved. Aren’t we all, to some extent, trying to prove a point? To “make our stand”? To point up where someone else might be “wrong” while we have the “right” answers? How differently are our conversations over a cup of coffee or a couple beers compared to what we feel emboldened to write across the relative anonymity of a computer screen?

Ark’s next question was: I am simply curious as to why someone who is so “in bed with god” would continue to visit an atheist site? Are you looking to challenge the views of a former fundamentalist turned atheist or are you not quite as sure about your position as you try to make out?

You know, I’m not sure. And I’m comfortable with that uncertainty. If we Christians are honest with ourselves, none of us can fully be sure. That’s why our belief in the Son of God is called “faith”, and not “certainty”, though we like to put up a good front that we are.

I’d also say that my visiting Nate’s and other atheists’ sites is for much the same reason that I appreciated his commentary on my own blog (which is actually where he and I first “met”). The topics I read there give me cause to do my own research and studying, furthering my understanding of this elusive Deity I’ve chosen to worship. And, though the conclusions I’ve come to are often differing to those of Nate, and Ark, and others, I still respect and appreciate their knowledge as well as their own conclusions. And I will continue to visit them from time to time.

Concerning a few of my conclusions Ark finished his comments with this: And I say you’re a hypocrite of the first order… your site is replete with Christian posturing and posts, including the self-effacing way in which you casually ”announce” you are also a Christian. Just what is that if not apologetics?

He then uses my own words “against” me when, during the running commentary I said:  “As far as my own views, I don’t put much stock in a literal hell but, as you know from my books…” and yet from my own “About Me” page Ark pulled this: “I believe in Hell. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, and no second chances. (Sorry, Mr. Bell)”

And Ark summed it up with these questions: You note your use of the capital H, I hope? Did I misquote you, Kent?

Yes I did note that, Ark. And, no, you didn’t misquote me. In fact, you are absolutely right.

Oh, I could say—and accurately so—that some (okay, quite a few) of my beliefs within the umbrella of Christianity have evolved over the years, but that truth doesn’t belie the fact that I was doing and being exactly what I’ve hated about the public perception of Christianity all along. Yeah, I was being a hypocrite. And yeah, a lot of it was ego-fueled.

Words are powerful. Especially written words, thrown up to the ethereal cloud of anonymity we like to call the internet. People are looking into the windows of our glass houses and seeing rampant inconsistency: Our saying one thing, and then later saying another; saying one thing and doing another; driving aggressively while proudly displaying our fish bumper stickers; yelling at our kids in the grocery store while wearing our cross necklaces.

Guys like Ark have a very valid argument. Yes, we’re going to have inconsistencies in our lives, and yes, it’s going to look a lot like hypocrisy. Whether it is or not really isn’t the point, Christians. We are being held to a different standard, a higher one, whether we want it or not, whether we deserve it or not, and whether we like it or not.

And, you will be called out on occasion, and rightfully so. How you react will either perpetuate that stereotype, or dispel it. And I think we’ve found the answer to the majority of ‘reactions’ written by Christians across any given Facebook page.

We can do better.

I can do better, and the first example that came to mind in this instance was admitting that I was wrong. Wrong in my approach. Wrong in my delivery. Wrong in my hypocrisy, if not wrong in my beliefs.

Yes, if you peruse my site you’ll probably run across posts and pages that I’ve written over the course of almost five years now which may no longer be an accurate representation of who I am, or what I believe. I’ll change a few of them. But some I’ll leave—as mile markers and sign posts if nothing else, of where I’ve been, where I’ve come from, and, hopefully, points along a trajectory of where I’m going.

So, for that Ark, I apologize, and I thank you. And, in the future, I’ll try to do better.

Metanoia

image courtesy of Fontbonne Campus Ministries

Metanoia: (from the Greek, μετανοεῖτε, literally μετά, or meta—with, after, or beyond, and νοέω, also noeó, or noia—think, consider, realize): to think or consider beyond what you may already know;
to think differently.

Metanoia is the same word poorly translated in most English language bibles as “repent”, as in—

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” ~ Matthew 3:1-2, NIV, emphasis added

From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” ~ Matthew 4:17, emphasis added

Metanoia is a very interesting word to me. For years I’ve always considered the Biblical word “repent” to mean “a change of direction”, and though I don’t necessarily think this definition is wrong, I’m beginning to wonder if it might be inadequate, or at the very least, incomplete. Continue reading Metanoia