Category Archives: Seasons of doubt

On “luuuv” and the Power of Words

I suppose, after writing books and blogs and other such things for over five years now, it shouldn’t surprise me the power of words.

But it does.

It shouldn’t surprise me, with “fake news”, alternative facts, and both the love and vitriol spread wide across social media, the influence—intentional and not—that our words can have.

But it does.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this was one of the main reasons I hesitated to say anything amongst all the storm and rage of this past political and politically religious season. First, because I wasn’t sure what to say, And second, I wasn’t sure, even if I did speak up, how it would be received. And yes, it got to the point where I had written my “last” Spiritual Drift post (which I’ve obviously reconsidered), and closed up shop on my personal Facebook page.

It was only when I did those things, closing the door on the blog, pulling the plug on social media, that I found my voice, and more importantly, found the resolve, to say something, to say anything.

Both the voice and resolve came from this…

Hypocrisy.

Not “their” hypocrisy, mine, as I said in “A Christian Without a Religion”:

It’s not them, it’s me.  My own hypocrisy is in continuing to sit there. Numb. Dumb. Mute. Confused and angered. Unable or unwilling (fearful actually) to speak out.  Because apparently I’m the weird one.

The hypocrisy I felt was in my silent assent to all that was going on around me. I may not have been agreeing with what was happening, what was being said, what was being done, who it was being done to, and why, but in my silence it gave the appearance that I was.

I was agreeing.

I was complicit.

I was approving, conforming, like-minded.

This wasn’t right. It didn’t feel right. It wasn’t true.

And once again I was struck by the power of words. And the hidden power of not saying them. The realization shouldn’t have surprised me.

But it did.

So I’m beginning to speak out.

First though, I wanted to thank everyone who commented or private messaged me with their words of encouragement. That meant, and continues to mean, a lot.

Secondly, I want to say that I am not leaving the church or my faith as some were fearful I might have decided.

I’m not.

Yes, I’m done with “religion”. But this is one of the most freeing decisions anyone of faith can ultimately make. At least in my mind.
I’m not following a pastor.
I’m not following a church.
I’m not following a doctrine.
I’ve chosen to follow the Way of a brown-skinned Middle Eastern refugee.

And let me clarify something else. If the Spirit does move me to leave a particular church, or pastor, or doctrine, it is not, nor will it ever be, out of anger, frustration, or selfish motives (“I’m not getting fed”, “I don’t like the music/message/coffee creamer/carpet color.”)

I also won’t stand to be accused of “church hopping”, as I have heard time and time again from the pulpit.

Over the last twenty years, my wife and I have attended three different churches; each move facilitated by the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Literally, it was time to move on, and God made that abundantly clear. And, if that time comes again, I will listen and obey.

Hear me on this: I love the people of my life/home group. I have made some cherished friendships within the church.

And yet these were also factors that weighed heavily on why I was fearful to speak out. Why I sat in my hypocrisy for so long.

I didn’t want to rock the boat.

It is only recently that I figured out that I am not, in fact, rocking the boat. I’m stepping out onto the water; mindful of the waves, mindful of the storm, but keeping my eyes affixed on the brown-skinned Middle Eastern refugee in whom I’ve placed my trust.

It reminds me of the words of Frederick Buechner:

To do for yourself the best that you have it in you to do—to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst—is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you and in you that is more wonderful still. The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against being opened up and transformed.  –From “The Sacred Journey”

And those of John Eldredge:

The reason we fear to step out is because we know that it might not go well. We have a history of wounds screaming at us to play it safe. We feel so deeply that if it doesn’t go well, if we are not received well, the reaction becomes the verdict on our lives, on our very beings, on our hearts. We fear that our deepest doubts about ourselves will be confirmed. Again. That we will hear yet again the message of our wounds, the piercing negative answers to our Questions. That is why we can only risk stepping out when we are resting in the love of God. –From “Captivating” by John and Stasi Eldredge (emphasis mine).

That is why it’s been hard to sit quietly in church as a pastor mocks those who feel the gospel is “all about luuuuv, luuuuv, luuuv” with hands placed gingerly on swaying hips as scorn lines his face.

Umm, he’s talking about me.
Because, umm, it is all about love.

God is love. (1John 4:8)
God is in Christ. (John 17:23)
And Christ is in me. (Col 1:27, 2Cor 13:5, Gal 2:20, to name but a few)

Therefore, if I am in Christ and He is in me and God is in Him, I am love.

I am resting in that. Almost like it’s a peace that passes understanding.

You see, a one-way ticket to heaven is the by-product of why I believe, not the sole reason. My faith is manifest in how I choose to live my life here and now. Eternity doesn’t begin “some fine day, when this life is o’er”. It has already begun. It has always been.

I am an eternal being.
I am in an eternal being, and He is in me.
I am luuuv!  Proudly!

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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.

Welcome to Your Midlife Crisis. Here’s your Complimentary Wine…

want-haveSo, I seem to be having this feeling, ever since…oh, my mid-forties, that I am “missing out” on something. That I need to be doing something “different”, something “new”, even though I have no earthly clue what I may be missing out on, or what that new and different thing is.

Compounding this issue is the feeling that I may not be missing out on anything. That I might, in fact, only be wasting my time in pursuit of these new and different things at the expense of all the great stuff I have before me now (a great family, a good, flexible job, a fledgling writing career, just to name a few).

Then it hits me this morning: This must be what that thing everyone (okay, mostly men) talk about as being a “mid-life crisis”. And suddenly this makes perfect sense to me.

No, I don’t care to go out and run up our credit cards or blow our savings on some hot Italian sports car, or loud, American motorcycle. No, I don’t feel the need to sow my wild oats with some sweet young thing from the coffee shop down the street. But I can see, especially at the (supposedly) midpoint of my life, just how easy it is to look back on the first half and wonder if I’ve done all that the younger me had dreams of accomplishing.

The answer, of course, is a hearty, no.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not disappointed. Not in the least. Well, not entirely. I’m just being realistic. Honestly, I can’t even remember half of the “dreams” I may have had in my twenties, at the tail end of my college career, about to be unleashed into the wild jungles of an unsuspecting world. In fact, once out into this mysterious place called “the real world”, most of the stuff I delved into I failed at! Miserably!! Relationships. Jobs. Life in general.

That’s not a sob story; that’s just the way it was. And actually, looking back on it now, I view it not so much as failing, but as finding a whole bunch of stuff I didn’t want to do, didn’t want to be, didn’t want to dream. It was clarifying. Therapeutic.

Well, that may be stretching it a bit, but the one thing I did get right was finding the love of my life. And she helped me find my way to peace, and to contentment, and, ultimately, to God. You know…so there’s that.

Reading back through the first half of this post you’d hardly think I had found anything resembling peace and contentment though. But I think there’s a difference between contentment and fulfillment. There’s a difference between peace and rest. Like Paul, I have “learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11), but I doubt even Paul was content in every second of every day in every place. There’s the living at peace in the way things are, and there’s the little niggling in the back of your mind at the way thinks might be…if only…

Still, I don’t want to spend too much time living in “If Only” Land, thank you very much. I don’t think dwelling there does anything more than rob me of the joy found by living in the moment: The sight of my wife coming in all aglow from a morning run; the feel of my daughter’s first hug in the morning; the laughter of my son over some joke between he and his friends; the taste of red wine during an orange sunset; and lately, the sound of the TV turning off when the political rhetoric becomes too much.

Do I have everything I need? Ultimately, yes, because there is huge, gaping difference between “need” and “want”. I may have a lot of “wants”, and probably always will, but for today, I have everything I need–even in mid life–and, for some reason, I needed to remind myself of that today.

But for now, there’s going to be an awesome sunset tonight, so I’m off to get a good bottle of Pinot.  Talk to y’all soon.

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.