Monthly Archives: February 2015
Yesterday, I posted about my journey through this last year. I told the story that had led to a crisis of faith for me and my journey back (I have by no means “arrived”). The response toward it was overwhelming. I’ve been thinking about if, how, or when I would share my story for a while, but the timing never seemed right and I wasn’t convinced it was anything anyone wanted to hear it. For a long time for me, when I would write, I would mostly share what I thought people wanted to hear and that often would lead to the typical “Sunday School” answers you would expect from a ministry leader. Yesterday, I said to h*^% with it and shared my heart. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot right about “Sunday School” answers and if I would have paid better attention in Sunday School (or actually acted upon what I already knew), maybe my story would look different. The problem with “Sunday School” answers is not so much with the answers themselves but in their timing and how they are delivered from other “class mates”. If there is any bitterness I may still harbor about this last year, it’s probably in that. For example, when a 15 year old girl is mourning over her mother’s tragic and untimely death, it’s not the time to tell her that “heaven has received another angel” (which really shouldn’t be a Sunday School answer either, but I digress). Or when you’ve lost everything and have nothing, it’s not the time to hear “Oh, you’ll bounce back” when you don’t even know how you’re going to pay for your next meal. I’ve received lots of “advice” over the past several months, but the best “advice” I received was from a former pastor’s wife who really offered no advice at all, but simply shared her own story. She said,
“I can’t imagine what you are going through because my pain is very different from yours, but I do understand pain (and she does). All I can tell you is that there will come a day when you are tired of being hurt and you will pick yourself up and move on. I can’t tell you when that will be or what your process will be for getting there, but if you’ll hold on, that time will come.“
I listened to her because I knew enough about her story to know she was speaking from experience and if she could do it, maybe I could too. So I just want to share a few brief thoughts about what I’m learning about having shared my own story and hopefully, it will encourage you to share yours, no matter how ugly you might think it is.
People are more gracious than you might think.
That’s probably the biggest fear I had about sharing my story–“what will people think?”. That fear alone has probably hindered more love, innovation and progress than any other fear on the planet. Will Smith (that great theologian and rap recording artist) has said “Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me danger is very real but fear is a choice.” He also said “We spend money that we do not have, on things we do not need, to impress people who do not care.” For most church people, our currency is not money but pride, but it works the same way. Sure, even yesterday I had a few “unfriend” me on Facebook or change my status, but that pales in comparison to the overwhelming amount of people who actually resonated with my story. Your story is different, but needs to be told just the same. Don’t worry about what people think and just be yourself, because everyone else is already taken. Which leads me to my next thought:
No one else can tell your story for you.
Your story is unique. So are you. No one else can tell your story for you, especially if you’ve never shared it. One day you might be quoted in books or blogs, or maybe you’ll just help your child see you’re human after all and help them through a difficult time. Either way, your story is worth sharing and someone, somewhere needs to hear it. Can you imagine where we would be if we never knew the whole story of Peter or David from the Bible? (That may be a bit unfair, because most of the “bad” stuff was written by someone else, but that’s what you get for having it recorded FOREVER in the Bible). Why do their stories inspire us so? Because more of us identify with them than we often care to admit. Failure is part of life. We all have failed or will fail (most of us in big ways at some point). Don’t rob your world of a story that could make sure someone else’s continues (suicide and complacency are all too common in our culture–both are nearly as tragic). I’ve been too close to both myself, and it’s the stories I’ve heard from those not afraid to share it that have literally kept me alive.
Telling your story helps reinforce your own values.
By telling my story out loud (and on the intrawebs), I help to solidify those things that I truly hold dear. As much as I wanted to run both from my story and my values, my values kept coming to the surface. Not the exterior ones that can shape and change with time, but the ones you know deep down inside are really you. The non-negotiables. For me, as much as I wanted to give up on God and run and see “how the other half lives”, I couldn’t–well, not for long. The whole time I was running, I knew I wasn’t being true to myself and who God created me to be. BUT, I also found that for too long, I had confused my values with those things that I thought others also wanted to see. Tragedy and trauma have a way of stripping you down to nothing but who you really are. Regardless of how successful or tragic your life has been, you are not your job, your title, your knowledge, your bank account, or even your relationships (or the lack of any of those things). You are you. Nothing more, nothing less. And believe it or not, it’s actually you that people want to know. Regardless of your position in life (or lack thereof), that’s what people really want and need. They really don’t care about your image–really. But you’ll have to find that out for yourself.
Your story can be more helpful than you realize.
I had no idea what kind of response I would get from telling my story (and for the first time in my life, I really didn’t care). You see, at the time, it was more of a selfish endeavor. I shared it more for me than for anyone else–or so I thought. While I have a very small platform, relatively speaking, the response that I have received has been more encouraging than I could have ever dreamed. I mean, who is really going to find inspiration from a self-avowed hypocrite who has turned his back on all he claimed to believe and still is not completely sure of where he is now? Yeah, I didn’t think so either. I guess we all identify with failure, though, but we don’t really like to think about it (and definitely not write about it!). All I can hope is that in sharing my story, I have encouraged others to share their story too. Go ahead and put it out there. Whether it’s a casual conversation with a friend or a spouse, or published for the world to see, somebody, somewhere needs to hear it, and even if not–you need to tell it. Telling my story has probably been more helpful for me than for anyone else. Go ahead–the people you’re trying to impress by keeping it to yourself don’t really care anyway, but if you tell it, you may be surprised by the audience.
What scares you most about your own story? What do you think it would take for you to share it?
“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” – Rudyard Kipling
“Without faith it is impossible to please Him (God)…”. You may have heard this before. I’ve recently been soberly contemplating this verse as it seems my faith has largely vanished. Being brought face to face with the ugliness of this life and seeing the general condition of the world around us, I’ve found myself where many others have been: “How can a good God allow these things?”.
For some perspective, I’ve spent the last 16 years as a worship leader in local churches (the last several of which at what many would refer to as “mega” churches). But this past year I’ve seen the disintegration of my family as I have known it through a divorce. I experienced the loss of my father and caring for a mother whose health is deteriorating. I have mourned the untimely and tragic death of a new found love and witnessed the tidal wave of sorrow and confusion for those left behind. I have seen the resulting poor decisions, loss of career, finances and the broken hearts that I have hurt while trying to pick up the pieces. I don’t say this to garner pity or justify any of my poor decisions but to give some perspective of where this comes from. This is not the story I wanted to write.
My faith has been shaken to the core. I have honestly and intently looked elsewhere for meaning, fulfillment and some sense of purpose in the wake of it all. I have perused, pursued and participated in (too) many “alternatives” and have come up just as empty as I went in. Nothing brought relief and nothing seemed to satisfy. Have you ever stood before a congregation leading them in songs that you aren’t sure you even believed yourself? I have. Have you posted inspirational scriptures to social media hoping to find the faith to one day believe them? I have. Have you ever led “worship” while living completely opposed to the values that you claim to share? I have. Have you ever used others that you claimed to love in an attempt to drown out your own pain? Yep, that too. What I have found, though, is my story is not all that rare. Through my trials and poor decisions, I have found far more people that identify with the story I never intended to write. If there ever was an ivory tower, it has been torn down to its foundation. For too long, all I could see was the rubble, but now I’m beginning to see how those pieces could be used to build something of even greater significance (who actually lives in an ivory tower, anyway?), and someplace I hope to one day call “home”–a place that’s honest, and yes, at times uncomfortable, but always real and relevant to me, my family and to anyone who cares to share in the journey.
So why do I write today? Obviously, my audience (both of you), may have changed. I used to write mostly about issues in the “church world” from the perspective of a pastor engulfed in worship and the arts. While those are still of high interest to me, I doubt my current job in sales gives me much credibility in the “arts” world and my past year has pretty much determined that the word “pastor” not be used as a title in my name at least for some time. So, with that in mind, I write here today as simply someone learning how to be a child of God–a beloved child of God. It’s not easy. It feels like it should be. But it’s not. I don’t write as someone who has the answers and I don’t write from a place of healing and victory (yet). I do write from a changing perspective that though I may not have the answers, there are questions still worth pursuing. It’s these questions that I hope to ask and share with you as I journey on this path of being “beloved” of God and rediscover with my heart some really important things I’ve known in my head for a long time. Some will think less of me (yes, I am a hypocrite and a pretty big one at that), but maybe some may find my story redemptive enough to join me on the journey. I still have doubts. Many. BUT I am also finding that if you’ve never doubted, I doubt that you’ve ever truly believed.
So, what has brought me to this place?
I cannot ignore the rational evidence of God.
When I had no faith, I was forced to look at alternatives. I also realized that all self-conscious creatures have to exercise “faith” in something. If there was truly no God, then where did everything come from? I am familiar with many of the alternatives, but honestly, I don’t have enough faith to believe in those either. I’ve always known this intellectually, but now I know this from experience. You see, either way, daily life is a matter of faith or willing ignorance. I’ve never been a fan of willing ignorance (it’s just the way I’m wired), though I’ve participated in it plenty. So, that left me with either putting my “faith” in some form of chance or in an intelligent designer. Personally, I have to choose design. I cannot “prove” God but I also cannot deny the evidence.
I cannot ignore my past experiences with God
If we’re honest, many of us church folks have had “questionable” religious experiences–you know that time the hair on your arms stood up during the key change of your favorite worship song that “spoke” to you during that horrible time in your life only to find out it happened again at the Journey concert with your girlfriend while listening to the intro of “Faithfully” (which is also, no doubt, goosebump worthy–thank you Jonathan Cain). BUT, also if I’m honest, I cannot deny several times that were undeniably “God moments”. It was those moments (mostly during quiet prayer or passionate private worship) that kept coming back to me. Sure, some may explain them away as internally constructed “promptings” of my own creation, but my experience tells me different. Again, I cannot prove them to you, but I also can’t deny them.
I cannot ignore what I know about the Bible
The Bible is an incredibly complex collection of “books” written by over 40 authors over more than 1,500 years amid varying cultural contexts. Most reasonable people (based on many years of archaeological research) won’t deny that. It’s what you believe following these facts that dictates how you respond. I will also be the first to tell you that anyone who tells you they have ALL the answers to the difficult parts of the Bible–you need to be the first to run like the wind. No one does, no matter what they say. There are difficult parts of the Bible–there is no doubt about that. Some appear at a surface glance as a result of differing cultural and religious contexts (should we really stone disobedient children? should women really be silent in church?), and some from seeing what seems to be competing ideas about who God is (like God’s judgment vs. His love, or how can a loving God allow such evil in the world, or what is the Trinity, really?). There are many who have written much about these difficult topics with varying levels of success, but if most of us are honest, we probably identify more with Mark Twain who said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts that I do understand.” What I have found about the Bible can probably be summed up in the answers to 2 questions–and herein lies the difficulty:
1) Am I really as bad as the Bible says that I am? Yes.
2) Am I really as loved by God as the Bible says that I am? Yes.
Religion (based on my performance) can’t fix that.
I can’t ignore what I know about Jesus
In John chapter 5 in the New Testament, Jesus sees a crippled man and asks a question we all need to answer: “Do you want to be made well?” If you are a human being and have lived any length of time on this earth and believe that you have absolutely no need of being made well, you can feel free to move along and stop reading now. I can’t help you. You don’t need it. BUT, if we’re truly honest, we know we’re all broken to some degree or another. Most of us deep down inside know we need to be fixed and we all want to be loved unconditionally. But I’ve discovered religion can’t fix me. Turning a new leaf can’t fix me. Living by a set of “theories” about love or anything else can’t fix me either (regardless of what a well-meaning, charming, yet ridiculously moralistic “Christian” movie may say–sorry “Old Fashioned”). But being transformed by a living relationship with God made possible by Jesus can. I need to be reminded of this.
If you want to know what God is like–look at Jesus (John 14:9 – “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…). Study the gospels, look at the life of Jesus and see the passion (and the failures) of His followers and His beloved in the days following his resurrection. We are not all that different. I resonate with C. S. Lewis (once an agnostic) who said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”² It’s the only “filter” that really works for me. Are you free to reject Christ’s claims and go wherever you want? Sure you are. I have. But I had to stumble over a Savior with out-stretched hands on a cross to get there and you will too. At the end of the day, the Bible isn’t about rules, but about revealing a relationship with God. In nearly every belief system and civilization in history, citizens died to make someone king, but in Christianity, a King died so we could be citizens. I’m finding a love like that to be more and more undeniable even despite my many doubts.
I can’t ignore the power of genuine community
When my faith has been at it’s lowest points, it seems that often at just the “right” times, God sends the “right” people into my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still struggling with those times where I felt completely isolated and alone and those times still come. Bot too often to deny, my faith has been strengthened by someone or a group of “someones” who were there for me. It takes some brutal honesty to get the greatest benefit (at great vulnerability and risk–they might really judge you despite what they tell you), but when you’ve hit rock bottom, what do you have to lose? Over 15 years of “making church people happy” (the unwritten job description most pastors have of their worship and music leaders but will deny to their grave) can wear on you. BUT with all that said, while many churches don’t “get it”, many Christians do and churches everywhere are full of people who do actually “get it”. You just have to work a little to find them sometimes, but they’re there. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water (look it up if you’re under 30). If you’ve been burned by a church before, I challenge you to give it another shot. Just quit looking for the perfect church, because they’re filled with people like me. But if you find the right one, they just might point you to Jesus.
Have you ever been in a place where you doubted your faith? What brought you to that place? How did you get back or have you? I’d love to hear your story and I think others would too.
“The story we’re telling the world isn’t half as endearing as the one that lives inside us.” – Donald Miller from Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy.