The Myth of Certainty, The Joy of Mystery

The Myth of Certainty, The Joy of Mystery

Questioning the existence of God was unacceptable in my Christian childhood. Doubting everything is the beginning of wisdom, yet in my world suspending disbelief was all too often the preferred approach.

The ministry I directed lost a chunk of income in the early 90s because I would not say I believed in the inerrancy of scripture. Inerrancy is the belief the scriptures, in their original form, were completely without error. The fact that scripture does not claim inerrancy for itself was irrelevant. Lest I be seen as apostate, I was continually forced to defend my understanding of the subject.

Now if you come from outside of the evangelical world, you are probably scratching your head. Yet within evangelicalism, holding the “right view” on inerrancy was a “test of fellowship.” In fact, the entire Southern Baptist Convention waged war over the issue. The irony is that while everyone was talking about the inerrancy of the original manuscripts, which by the way, do not exist, no one was talking about the formation of the canon, the 66 books that make up the Bible. The compilation of the canon was a messy process completed over centuries by men with egos in smoke-filled rooms. But in the evangelical world they don’t talk much about that, because we like our religion wrapped tightly with a pretty bow.

This is a season of wonder, and I stand in wonder that evangelical Christianity allowed itself to get so caught up chasing the myth of certainty that it ignored the elemental truth that this world is not filled with certainty, but gloriously imbued with mystery.

After my eviction from the evangelical church, my faith is stronger than ever, in fair measure because of my expulsion from the evangelical church. Being set free from their esoteric battles has been life giving. I am no longer forced to waste time defending my doctrinal position on subjects that do not impact the daily life of one single human. Instead I can focus my energies on celebrating the mysteries of the universe, alleviating the suffering of humanity, and sharing the all-encompassing love of Christ.

My faith is rooted in the God who came to earth to suffer among us. I am focused on this Jesus who shed his blood, not to pay a penalty, but to show solidarity in our suffering. This is a dark ride, and without God’s arrival I’d be pretty sure the light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming train, not the illumination that emanates from unconditional love.  But God did come to earth and show us how to love, and if necessary, die with forgiveness for those frightened by our very existence. It is this Jesus I follow, this Jesus I celebrate.

The incarnation of Jesus, the mysterious work of the Spirit, the complexity of God the creator – this is what causes me to stand in awe. This season brings the longest night of the year, but I do not fear the darkness.  The light of the Trinity draws me in and fills me with wonder. A God we can explain with doctrines and follow via rules is of little interest to me.  This child who came screaming from his mother’s womb, full of grace and truth – ah, yes –  that is what lights my soul on fire.

May the peace of that Christ, which passes all understanding, be upon you and those you love this Christmas.  Peace on earth, my friends, and good will toward all humankind!


The Alchemy of Love

The Alchemy of Love

It was definitely the ugly cry; face all contorted, mascara running down your cheeks, body wracked with heaving sobs. It was a week ago Sunday. I had gone to the front for communion, the weekly tradition at our church, and then stepped over to one of the prayer volunteers, my friend Jen, who had no words for me, only tears. It was the most memorable prayer ever prayed on my behalf.

I walked back to my seat and asked another friend, Christy, if she had any tissues. She did not, and I noticed she had tears in her eyes. That is when the flow commenced and would not be stanched. Christy sat down, arms encompassing me. Another hand massaged my back, and then another. I’m still not sure whose hands were on my tired shoulders, and it does not matter. I was being cared for.

I was able to weep and make mournful sounds as long as the communion music was playing, but then it ended and announcements began. I stifled my sobs and prayed for the offering song to begin so I could resume the guttural sounds seeping up through my body. The service ended and Christy asked, “Do you know why you are crying?” I shook my head no and again buried my face in my hands. Christy kept handing me tissues, procured from some kind soul, while I continued to weep for a very long time. When I finally lifted my head, Jen’s husband, Eric, had a look of compassion that made me weak in the knees – this strong man who loves well.

Mark Tidd, one of the co-pastors at Highlands, says our floors are washed with the tears of the wounded. It is true. I used to preach for several megachurches and I often noticed that the words I said triggered tears in someone in the audience. Never did I see anyone other than a spouse move toward the person in pain. Everyone else looked a little embarrassed, as if they had seen a private moment they’d have preferred to miss. It always troubled me.

At Highlands someone dissolves in tears pretty much every Sunday. Many in our congregation have been wounded and rejected by the church. It is usually a worship song that triggers the weeping. We take in music at a visceral level, where the filters of the Prefrontal cortex cannot do their censoring. The song triggers a memory and the tears commence. Sometimes the tears associated with just one song have the power to heal an old, stubborn wound.

I cry at church because it is safe. I know a lot of you are puzzled by that. Church is the last place you’d feel safe enough to bare your soul. Not to be critical, but if you feel that way, you’re probably in the wrong church.

Cathy and I are in such a difficult place. No one understands, really. We have been together 44 years and we love each other dearly, but it is not a marriage any longer and space is needed to navigate these new and turbulent waters. There are so many losses for both of us, and for our children. As I have written many times, transitioning is never all right for families. This is an imperfect world and we play the hand we are dealt.

In such a world of suffering, a church full of friends who are not afraid to cry with you can be a soothing balm. Jesus went to the cross to show solidarity with us in our suffering. Why wouldn’t his body, the church, embody such suffering? The music of tears, while mournful, is redemptive. A good cry is cleansing. In the company of fellow-sufferers, a good cry is more than redemptive. It is salvific. Those hands that touched me, the arms that hugged me, the precious friend who shed the tears I was having difficulty releasing, that is what the blood of Jesus is about – bodily fluids, endemic to suffering, mixed in pain, redeemed through the sharing.

Jesus didn’t spill his blood so God would not fry me in the fires of hell. Jesus spilled his blood because genuine love suffers greatly. As he showed in the garden, true love suffers to the point of sweating drops of blood. Redemption happens in the spaces between us that are filled with these fluids of relationship. Blood, sweat and tears, the alchemy of love.

I am not interested in a church in which you cannot weep uncontrollably and be comforted by a multitude of hands. I am not interested in a church in which you cannot be loved just as you are, no demands, no apologies, no conditions. I want a church in which sweet tears wash the concrete floors, where prayer partners bury their heads on your own weak shoulders and weep with you. I want a church in which love prevails. Anything less is just another tribe, formed for its own safety, corrupted by its own lust, and terrified by its own unresolved wounds.

I will weep again in Highlands church. And Jesus will be there with flesh and blood arms and salty tears, assuring me to the ends of the earth that I am loved.

Make no mistake. The people pictured below who loved me that Sunday – these people and a plethora of others – they embody the love that makes this amazing world go round.

And so it goes…


Five Questions

Five Questions

 On Facebook I posed five questions for the 81 percent of voting evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump.  There was some sarcasm to be sure, but my questions were not tongue-in-cheek.  There were serious.

1.  You voted for Trump because you are pro life, but after the baby is born, unless it’s like you, your enthusiasm for that life wanes.  If my mother knew I was transgender and wanted to abort me, you would have fought for my life.  But now that I exist, you bar me from your church, or from leadership in your church.  Do I have that right?  Yeah, I thought so.

2.  That guy on the airplane from Charlotte to Denver who called me a c—, if he were to run for president, and was willing to tell you what you wanted to hear to be elected, you’d vote for him because that’s what love does? 

3.  You really believe the last shall be first, and the first shall be last?  Because that was a pretty high price to pay for the notion you’ll get the Supreme Court justice you want.

4.  About the sources from which we get our news, did none of you watch Aaron Sorkin’s Newsroom?

5.  And finally, seriously, you really don’t know how dangerous a DSM-V narcissist can be?

My Facebook page is public, and a few old acquaintances challenged me for my sarcasm.  One asked, “What happened to your generous spirit?”  It is a fair question.  My generosity does not extend to serious threats to freedom and democracy.  There is a time for generosity and a time for outrage.  This is a time for outrage.  Each of my five questions was based on personal experience or current events.

 1.  I have too many sad examples of the first question, but I will present one that is more positive.  I was asked to speak with the leadership council of a large evangelical church.  At the meeting I was assured if I were a member of their church, I would be welcomed with open arms.  I told them while I appreciated their support, I remained suspicious.  I asked if I would ever be allowed to preach in their church.  Lights went off in lots of caring eyes when they realized there were limits to the breadth of their open arms.  I said, “Anything other than full membership, including leadership, is bait and switch.”  They got the point and began the hard work of examining just how open they truly are.  Most churches that rejected me would never have been so open to hearing from me.  In fact, of the thousands of churches I knew in my former faith community, I have not received an invitation from a single one.

2.  This year, on a flight from Charlotte to Denver, the passenger in 1C started to jam my bag into the back of the overhead bin to squeeze in his suitcase.  Since my laptop was in my bag, I politely asked him not to do so.  He kindly acquiesced.  His seatmate in 1A, however, decided it was an opportunity to belittle the only woman in first class.  As he passed my seat he said to his friend, “Yeah dude, don’t jam her bag, she might freak out.”  That’s when he punctuated his misogynistic remark with the “c” word.  (For the record, I did not let it go.  I gave him a few choice words that caused the guy to drop his gaze to the floor and not dare to look in my direction for the entire flight.)  Since the election, those kinds of comments have been on the increase all across our nation.

3.  A former megachurch pastor, known for his character and gentlemanly spirit, told his blog readers he would vote for Donald Trump because we needed a Supreme Court justice who would be anti-abortion and “pro-family.”  At the time I seriously wondered if he might be in the early stages of dementia.  On November 8, I discovered it was not dementia at work for him or other evangelical leaders.  They had reached the conclusion that when it comes to abortion and LGBTQ issues, political power is more important than placing a person of character in the White House.

4.  The Washington Post and New York Times reported that Edgar Welch entered a restaurant in Washington, D.C. this past weekend and fired a shotgun.  He had believed a fake news story about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring in the back of the restaurant.  The restaurant owner said he assumed he had been targeted because he used to have a friendship with a former right-wing journalist who became a supporter of Clinton.  I thought the plotline in the final season of Newsroom was a tad beyond the pale when it suggested the potential power of fake news.  Guess I was wrong.

5.  People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, about one percent of the population, have a sense of entitlement and superiority, as well as an insatiable need for admiration.  They will promise virtually anything to earn your admiration, but then will endlessly disappoint you with their lack of genuine concern for you.  They are terrible relationship partners, and as parents they endlessly thwart their adult children’s attempts to differentiate, often by enmeshing them in the power structure of the family system.  That is because they only see their children as an extension of themselves.  With their lack of concern for the welfare of others, they can suck the energy from a room.  I was falsely under the impression most Americans understood how dangerous narcissists can be.  I was clearly wrong.

I am not sure how to respond to this election.  As someone raised in an evangelical environment, I am not alone.  An article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal talked about the large number of people leaving evangelical churches in light of the support for Trump.

I want to be hopeful and write about what is possible, but I am frightened for America. Millions do not seem to understand the peril in which we have placed our nation.  I know you are tired of hearing about the election and you want my writing to be focused on the grace and hope that rises from the rubble.  Eventually it will.  But not yet.

And so it goes.