Fear or Faith: what’s it going to be?

I used to look at the world in black and white, extreme black and white at that. It went something like this: “either you were or you weren’t; either you did or your didn’t; either things (or you) were good or bad; black or white; in or out. Fill in the blank at the end but the meaning is still the same: life was made rigid; exclusive self-righteously all bundled up in neat, little packaging (socio-cultural/economic/political/religious MREs if you will).

It seemed to make life safe for a twenty something who was new to faith and scared of almost everything in life.  In my twenties, I so desperately needed the world to be black and white because it had been so painfully colorless and empty as the fourth son of a tormented alcoholic father.

At 50 years of age, my life and my view of the world is more an appreciation of the entire color-spectrum of life: the kaleidoscope of God’s very Being reflected and deflected in, through and off of all of creation – us included.

But…and there’s always a but. But there is one area of my life I am still a bit “black and white” with and that is about the dance between fear and faith. The way I look at it either I live in fear or I live in faith; I live by fear or I live by faith. Now granted, I know it is not so neatly packaged, far from it.

But it seems to me those two choices are the existentially paradigmatic choices of our lives.

And depending upon which one I choose, determines in all likelihood the quality and maybe even the quantity of the direction my life takes.

If I choose to live (mostly, say 51%) by faith, then the world is just more beautiful. God is more present in all things and in all Ways and I feel connected to all that is – the Creator, the creation and the created.

But if I choose to live by fear (let’s stick with the 51% option again), the scales of life and my perception therein seem to tip and tilt towards the darker, sadder, painful parts of living – the “less” ness of life (as in there seems to be less of everything I desire if I perceive and experience life through the lens of fear).

By choosing (and yes, I do feel at the core, it is a CHOICE) to live by faith – faith in God, faith in myself, faith in other people, faith in love and service, and faith in the healing process – a miraculous metamorphosis begins to take place within me and in all those with whom I share life.

Life gets bigger.  Life gets more abundant.

Life gets fuller of, well, almost everything: joy, suffering, emotions – the veritable messiness of it all.

Life doesn’t necessarily get easier, or prettier, or more neatly packaged. In fact, it’s quite the opposite because looking and living life by faith involves such things as crazy leaps, pain, heartbreak reckless abandon and ruthless trust. Living by faith involves fearless looking at the person I am, all of me, and embracing it as I am not as I want to be. For that is how God does it.

And here is something I am learning slowly and deeply: not only is living a life of faith all of the aforementioned, a life of faith means living with the ever growing knowledge that God actually has faith in me!

That may seem like heresy to some, but if we all step back and look at the gifts, miracles, roles and responsibilities we are blessed with, those things that we seek after and get and those things that seemingly fall into our laps throughout the days and years of our lives, Someone must indeed trust and believe in us to endow us with such abundance!

So, today although life on the outside is a bit scary, I still find myself a bit more relaxed, nestling rather than wrestling into this life of faith over fear, hoping against hope, trusting even as my eyes are still getting accustomed to the Light, that in the end (and at the end) that by choosing a life of faith, my life becomes a valuable gift both given and shared to this wonderful wounded world in which I live.

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Two Musings: Doubt is a Gift

 

“Doubt is a gift. It means the way you see God is fraying at the edges, and maybe it needed to.”

– Mike McHargue

Musing One…

I have often felt that one of the paradoxes of God is that in order to experience God we must simultaneously truly let go of every single image of God we have, to drop every ‘box’ we have put God in.

In essence, we must pray the prayer that the 15th century German mystic, Meister Eckhart prayed, “I pray God to rid you of God.”  We must do this because all that we use to define God often comes from flawed and pained sources – mostly childhood ones for me.  You see having an alcoholic father can make trust in God a difficult thing.  I struggle with trusting God, trusting his love, fidelity.  I do not struggle with believing in God’s love or power; I struggle with believing God desires to shed those qualities on me.

In A.A., the 3rd Step states that we must make a decision “to turn our will and the care of our lives over to God, as we understand Him.”  The funny thing is that not only did I have an alcoholic father; I also am one in recovery.  So what is hard is not actually the surrendering over to God all of my will and being and living my life for God; what the struggle is comes in the words “care.”

In order to surrender my life to God’s care, I must first trust that God indeed does care.

And I often doubt that one… that God does care.

I know, I know.  How can I call myself a Jesus follower and doubt God’s care?  How can I doubt that I am loved when all the cross Jesus hung upon says to me is love, love, love.

I see Jesus forgiving all sorts of untouchables and unlovables and yet I doubt with some regularity that God cares for me.

So, I pray often for God to “rid” me of God.  I pray for God to remove from me all the idolatrous and graven images I have set up to be a poor substitute for him.  My father, whom I love very much, is still a poor lens through which to view and experience God.  My addiction is another poor choice; people in power and people with presumed power are also poor lens through which to experience God.

It is why I return again and again to Jesus.  In him, I see all that I need to see of God; in Jesus I see love unfathomable, grace unlimited, and mercy unmitigated.  It is why time and time again I go to Jesus when I am lost, scared, and most of all when I am in doubt.  Jesus is God with flesh on.  When I wonder how God would ‘act’ and what God would do or say to the situations and circumstances of my life (and the world), I return to the words of Jesus, to the life of Jesus to get Truth.

For in Jesus, I find all that I need to learn to be still in my doubt, tender in my fears, and embrace all of me, even as I see the me that needs embracing is dark and wounded.

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Musing Two…

Saying God is not in my doubt is sort of like saying God was not in my past – in my drunken stupors and bleary-eyed cocaine hazes – and it is an insult to God.  It limits God and God’s love and grace.  It is about the same as if I am saying God only exists when I say God exists; as if God does not start being real until I say God is real.  Leaving God out of my doubt, or fearing my doubt, is an ego-based act of attrition.

Saying God does not exist in the doubt is an insult.

And when people are uncomfortable with my doubt, and speak with words like backsliding, or faithless, or heretic or not a true believer, I just tell them their discomfort with my doubt, and my truth does not negate my truth; that no one defines me but God alone, and no one truly knows the faith or lack thereof that dwells in my heart.

For people who say that doubt is the opposite of faith, and the lack thereof, are people who have made God two sizes too small.  For God is everywhere.  There is nowhere (no where) that God is not so that means that there is nowhere that God’s love is not.

My doubt and the crazy cracks in my faith are the very spaces God uses to let his light in to shine my world up.  The same is true for you.  My doubts, and my cracks, are truly gifts from God.  And for them I thank God and sing praises to him.

Musings on Paradox (Revised from May 2013)

The thought of discovering spirituality and a deepening relationship with God in a room full of recovering drunks and addicts telling stories might seem like a paradox.  But as ancient truths reveals to us, stories are one of the very foundations God uses to reveal himself to us and to the journey of transformation; and stories are exactly what are found in the rooms of recovery.

Jesus told stories – some offensive, some hilarious, all of them insightful – as he taught and lived these very stories as a means of communicating God’s infinite and tender love for us.

Stories in general and our stories in particular, are what keep people like me sober.  We share what we have done and who we have been in the hopes of opening up our hearts to let the grace of God fill and transform us, so we do not remain those fractured characters of our stories past.   In sharing our stories, in sharing my story, I find I am freed from the bondage of the past and the restraints of alcoholism.

In truth, when my story is unleashed, I am unchained.

Stories are the vehicle for God’s grace as it comes in tenderness, in messiness, in darkness and shifting shadows…but come it does when I open my heart and share the truth of who I am and what I have been like.  And in stories, in the sharing of my past wreckage and destruction, healing is found and divine light is released into the world, shining so as to light the path for those who walk with me and those who will come after.

Addiction is indeed cunning and baffling, but only for us, it is not so for God; for God is not baffled by my dis-ease.  For God is the great Mystery that swallows up all the mysteries of the how’s and why’s of addiction; God is the truth in the lies; God is the light in the darkness; indeed, God is the tenderness to my sharp edges.

That is the grace and power of paradox.

Only in a room full of addicts and alcoholics (the walking wounded and wonderful) do I learn that I cannot keep what I do not give away.  And like the ancient echoes of the prayer of St. Francis, I learn daily that in giving, I receive; in pardoning, I am pardoned; and in dying daily to my selfish ego, I am born anew in the living grace of a loving God.

 

Cracks in the Margins

Sometimes I want to blow the lid off this blog; and be so real it will make even the closest of friends scratch their heads.  I desire authenticity; about my life, about where I am spiritually yet I fear judgment – mostly from within, but somewhat from others.

I want to tell you that my faith in God has been an intimate part of my life for 30 years and yet sometimes I feel it slipping away into a pithy form of agnosticism.  The faith I profess is 2,000 years old.  The Creeds I quote are less than 1,700 years old.  The rituals from the Mass some of them are less than 600 years old.  All things have changed in those time era’s but not religion, not much at last.  In the last few years alone I have changed drastically.  I change…my mind, my heart, my jobs, my friends, and yes, some of my beliefs.  But God I know is timeless.

I am wanton to share that most Christians offend me, somewhere along the way the American version of Christianity became a marriage of conservative politics and social causes ensconced in fundamentalist tenets. That is not my faith; nor the faith and life of Jesus.  But I am also left empty by liberal politics that have all but abandoned their religious inspirations for protecting both the poor and the vulnerable. In truth, care of the poor, the abandoned, marginalized and the broken are the responsibility of those who claim to follow Jesus (there are over 400 verses citing God’s concern and mandate to care for the poor and oppressed in the entire Bible).  But it seems Christians these days are known more for their hate than their love.  I fear Jesus would not recognize his followers” if he were reading the papers and visiting the churches.

I am saddened and sickened by most of what constitutes Christianity these days, if I am to be honest.  It seems my faith is fed more by what is outside of it bounds than what is within it.

I am not alone in my disillusionment.  One of the NY Times’ bestsellers was a book by Frank Schaeffer (the son of one of the “fathers” of the rise of Conservative Christian political viewpoint), entitled Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God.  Then there is the rise of the religiously disillusioned, the “Nones” who according to the Pew Research Centers: “[are a group of] people who self-identify as atheists or agnostics” as well as those who have left the church of their youth while still holding to a deep faith in God, just not in organized religion.

Some days I feel like a “None” – I believe in and love God, deeply, but I find most organized religious expression to be pedantic at best, ruled and run by angry zealots who are milquetoast concerned more with doctrine and dogma than compassion, justice and mercy (the weightier matters of the Law according to Jesus, see Matthew 23:23).

I am rambling.  But I am seeking clarity and honesty.  I love Jesus.  I mean I am really into Jesus and the words we have for him on record (I’m a Red Letter Believer you could say).  You would not know it by stepping into most churches these days but Jesus spoke more about helping the poor, money, loving your enemies and forgiveness than about heaven or hell.  And not once did Jesus ever condemn my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.  Jesus never said “love the sinner but hate the sin” – a diatribe I have a hard time with because I am not so skilled at separating the “sin” from the “so-called sinner.”

The long and the short of it is I am seeing the cracks in the margins.

My faith is old, and dry.  My prayers are empty and “feel” worthless.  The God I professed years ago is no longer the God I turn to in times of trouble or joy.

The man I see in the mirror, although I know to be a child of God and made in God’s image, is cracked, faltering, burdened with a sense of hopelessness.

Maybe what I am going into and through is a deeper, more authentic way of living; a birthing into the death of childish faith into the reality of the Real.  Or maybe, I am simply spiritually lazy and perpetually defiant, needing to reject something in order to feel powerful about anything.

I still believe…but I don’t.  I have faith, except when I don’t.  I am one with a God I know longer believe in.  I am in the light even more so when I am in this darkness.

I find comfort in the words of the German mystic Meister Eckhart who said it best when he said this: “If I had a God I could understand, I would no longer consider him God.”

Four Thoughts on Grace

Gratitude is a doorway to Grace. Gratitude takes me from being closed to being open, and opening up leads me to see just how blessed I am and how much I have been given so that I can be a blessing to others.  Gratitude leads me away from resentment, arrogance and judgment into a place of forgiveness, acceptance and tenderness. The attitude I must have is one of gratitude for in every circumstance, every encounter, and every person is an opportunity for me to see God and share God.  Every opposition, taken with gratitude, becomes an opportunity to meet God and give his love away.

Grace is a moment when we learn (sometimes painfully) that anyone can be used by God as a messenger. Anyone. It is not my place to judge the ‘quality’ of the messenger; it is my place only to listen, discern, and receive the grace given.

I am learning that the people God has placed around me do not need me to correct or validate their feelings; they need me to love, listen and accept them.

More and more each day, I am understanding that God’s grace is like an ever-flowing river and all I need do is come to that river and drink to my fill. I need to understand that is the Reality for others as well: God’s grace is always available to them as well.  I cannot block, dam or clog up this river nor can I drink it for them. They must drink from the River themselves and I must never block passage to this ever-flowing river.

 

Snapshot Musings…

I believe we were created by God to flourish and to do good in a world full of abundance. Yet so many of us feel stressed, crunched, and perplexed around issues of time, money and creating a meaningful life.

However, I do believe that there are practical mystics who have gone before us and showed us there is a trusted path for recovering this life I believe we were created for: a life of meaning, freedom, and compassion.

Much like A.A.’s “Simple but not easy” truth, the foundations of this adventurous Journey are soulful practices that are ‘simple but not easy such as:

  • free-flowing gratitude;
  • radical trust in God; 
  • contentment with what is; 
  • generosity; 
  • service;
  • surrender; and
  • acceptance.

The Gift of Failure (revised)

The older I get (I just turned 48 years old at the beginning of November…yikes!), the more I truly understand that failure is a gift from God. I am also realizing that the longer I live and journey, the more I need my ‘spirituality’ to reflect and teach that truth. My historical experience has been that Religion tends to speak more to the “shame” of failure and not to its Giftedness.

The foundation of my spirituality is that I was created BY God FOR God – that everything about me and my life is about being in relationship with God. And with God not only are all things possible, all things are redeemable. It is a powerful thing to learn from failure. It is a transformative thing to learn and experience that failure is a gift and a necessary tool for our journey with (and towards) God.  Failure is the twin sister of ‘success’ much the way doubt and faith are inseparably linked.

One of the foundational ‘tenets’ of Alcoholics Anonymous states that the journey of sobriety is about “progress not perfection…[for] we are not saints.”  Imperfection and failure are two of the tools God uses to draw me in closer; for by embracing imperfection and failure, I am reminded of the glorious truth that I am indeed human and I remember that all of us were created in the image and likeness of God.  In my being human, nothing is drawn away from God and his relentless love, in fact, I find that if I embrace that truth, I am more so fully alive.

My failures prove only that I am not a saint, they do not take away from any goodness that God has placed within me.  I am fond of saying if there is anything in me you find good, then you can give thanks to God and my mother, but if you find anything in me that is not good, well for that I apologize.

As I look over my life I see a wreckage of pain, failure and broken hearts and trust strewn across the path.  I feel regret, and rue some of the poorer choices I have made.  But God is eternally good, forgiving and loving so that in his hands my past wreckage becomes malleable clay to be remolded into a shining example of divine love blended with my utter humanity.

And like or not, that is indeed good news.

I am but a jar of clay, cracked but valuable when surrendered fully into God’s hands.  My failures become familiar scars, gentle reminders of the power of forgiveness and choice all held by the urgent compassion of God.

Here is the point of this and what makes it a Gift is that God does not judge my failures; only I and other people do that.  God’s love is a merciful cauldron burning away the dross of my failures turning them instead into divine gifts meant for service, compassion, healing and justice.

God’s grace is greater than any failure I have ever experienced.

God’s love is greater than any human perspective, judgment, religion, or persuasion.

In truth, God embraces my failures as a vital part of me and my journey back Home, to myself, to God and to others. And if God embraces my failures, I certainly can do no less. So today, I embrace all my failures – all of me, surrendering them over to the hands of God, asking not for them to be removed but rather to be transformed into loving gifts of service, gifts from a merciful God.