Purging

And again…you who remind me of my failures…please show me your consistent accomplishments that are my example to walk in.

Oh…what’s that? You just wanna show me my failures to pull me back into the bucket of do-nothing that you live in? Oh…sorry…I actually mistook your intention as something to bless…silly me. – Charissa Grace

I am consumed with this sentiment right now. My sister and litter mate knows this violent hemorrhaging intimately – death spilling out in waves as the darkest hidden places are finally exposed to light.

“Just keep letting the shit flow out…too long you ate it and harbored it in the name of serving Them and them…and now it needs to just get out.”

To which I replied, “Yes, I ate soooooooooo much…and it was never enough for them…never asked of me by Them. Purging, purging, purging…the shit I consumed for decades back into their do-nothing bucket. Here ya go people. Have it all.”

This is going to take a while, this phase. The worst and hardest part of a detox.

It’s a hell of a thing to break an addiction when pretty much everyone you’ve ever known is either a junky or a pusher/pimp with a vested interest in keeping you hooked and numb.

Reality (freedom) costs everything.

Friends

Livelihood

Reputation

Family

Comfort

Community

It’s the straight and narrow road so few are willing to acknowledge, much less travel – this death to everything, death to self and all its rights and judgments of wrongs.

It is the Way, the Truth and the Life. You want to know and commune with the ineffable? You must be ripped open and purged of everything that claims certainty and knowledge about anything concerning God. Absolutely everything. Consider the cost.

It’s really no mystery as to why we were so unpopular. That tends to happen when you focus exclusively on a Gospel that genuinely welcomes and pursues all the “wrong” people coupled with an invitation to follow Jesus into death in the most practical and applicable terms. Hardly anyone is up for that kind of disruption. It’s an absurd Good News to preach, and you will pay with your life if you do it with any kind of integrity.

I’m so envious of my friends who instinctively by nature know and engage the Goodness, if not necessarily the Name. It truly is a terrible thing to be chosen and elected, to see so clearly with no way to un-see, like Paul, who had no choice in the matter but to be a disciple of Jesus and pay the inherent cost.

But I do not envy those who know the Name, loudly praise the Name, aggressively defend the Name, arrogantly claim exclusive ownership of the Name yet callously trample Goodness underfoot.

You white washed tombs full of decaying corpses, you disgust and repulse me! I will not keep down the poison you force fed me for so long before beating and abandoning me. No, not for one second longer. I spew it all out now. Every drop. Wave after wave, it keeps coming up and out.

I spent my first official day of detox curled up on the floor behind my kitchen counter (not wanting my children to walk in on me) silently screaming and wailing and beating my forehead with my fist, “FUCK THEM ALL!”

Every one who plied us with vapid dishonest platitudes to our face but plotted our destruction behind the closed doors of the board room. FUCK YOU!

Every poison tongue who disparaged us and discouraged others from associating with us. FUCK YOU!

Every person who caused the weak and the vulnerable to suffer for their commitment to us, you who willfully and maliciously misled and planted seeds of confusion and doubt and guilt. FUCK YOU A THOUSAND TIMES OVER! It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than have to answer to God for what you’ve done to torment these little ones.

You with full knowledge of the burden put upon us; you who had the ultimate responsibility to care for us; you who had the power to stop it with one word; you who didn’t have the balls to do anything as the wolves encircled us and began tearing our flesh but somehow found some massive ones when I came crawling to you bleeding and begging for help – “Well, you brought this on yourselves. You must not have been praying enough.”

FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, FUCK YOU!

It’s a fine line between “fuck you” and “thank you.” The line was indistinguishable last night. Go ahead now and insert “thank you” for every “fuck you” above. (With the exception of tormenting and manipulating the vulnerable…gunna just leave that as a solid FU as Jesus seemed to think so too).

Tyrannical Church Biddies and Spineless Self-Preserving Duplicitous Figureheads, you have no idea what you’ve unleashed. The very thing you tried to silence and stamp out, whether directly or through neglect and starvation, is unstoppable now. Thank you, truly. I am free from decades of repression and destruction and lies. I am free to speak and to live and to love and there is absolutely nothing more you can do to me. It’s not like you can take anything else away from someone who’s been reduced to nothing. You can’t kill a dead person. And I’m ready, so ready to be dead to it all.

But first I must purge, forcing myself to feel every single thing as deep as it goes. Then up and out.

Thank you all. Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart and the depths of my soul. Up and out. I will continue to purge until I am good and dead.  I can’t wait.

My Sister and all the right “wrong” people are waiting for me there.

The Future of JD

Dreams of Rejection

My dearest silly little Love, why are you crying now that you are solidly on the path with Me with both feet? I was totally up front with you that this is the straight and narrow road so many ignore in favor of the wide and glitzy one. Why do you grieve and mourn that you were rejected and maligned and abandoned for pointing to and following Me? This has always been exactly the gig I call anyone who can and will to accept…and you did! I’m overjoyed and ridiculously proud of you.

Rejoice, you darling girl! Dance, sing, celebrate on this road together with Me! You are swimming in more gorgeous fruit and abundant life than you’ll ever know what to do with.

Dreams of Rejection

All The Way

Go all the way…

That’s all They’ve given me – this Invitation to Die.

Be careful what you ask for in earnest, Child.

They will give you the desires of your heart. They’ve always made Good on Their Word.

Will I even recognize it?

Maybe the falling is all there is on this side of life.

What I mistook for arrival was a series of ledges.

Just enough time to catch my breath after having the wind knocked out of me.

Then…another free fall into intangible.

I’ve flinched and flailed in the darkness, losing my grip on ALL THE THINGS.

Now?

I anticipate nothing.

Done grasping.

Done fighting.

Done blaming.

Done explaining.

Done asking.

Done.

There is only nothing.

Falling.

Release.

There’s no way back, Child.

You crossed that threshold long ago when you asked for this.

Don’t try to resurrect yourself. You’ve come this far.

Now go all the way.

Stories That Change The World #15 – Letter to Beth Moore

My heart was broken on Sunday as a (queer) couple, who, along with their 4-yr-old foster son, had only recently started to call Four Creeks home, wept upon hearing we were shutting down. We were the only church in their lifetime that had seen and embraced them as sacred and loved humans…period. Hopefully they’ll continue to find connection and life with us as we transition to meet together and grow as family in each others’ homes. Love is supreme. Everything else has been stripped away, and for that I am so thankful. I beg you, brothers and sisters, to allow the false god of indoctrination and the celebrity voices that peddle it to be stripped away so that you can see and hear for yourself. Start by hearing people’s stories.

Serendipitydodah

Stories have the power to change the world … they inspire us, teach us, connect us.This is the fifteenth installment in the “Stories That Change The World” series.

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Any Which Way But Jesus – Live From Israel

So first things first – TECHNOLOGY!! I don’t know ’bout the rest of ya’ll, but I’m old enough to remember life without the internet. As a kid I remember thinking how cool it would be if we could talk to people remotely with video screens like they did on the Jetsons (and pretty much anything set in the future). I’m ready for teleportation now, please…that and I want to go back and experience college with internet, cellphones, apps and laptops.
As my oldest two children have been off rockin’ their first years of college out in Nashville, I’ve talked to them more regularly (and intimately) and have literally seen more of what goes on in their lives than when we were all under the same roof thanks to texting, Snapchat, Instagram and video chat. We even have our own private family Facebook group on which they occasionally post to humor their old mom and dad.So you can imagine my delight yesterday morning being able to video chat with my daughter who is half way around the world studying abroad in Israel, Turkey and Greece.I knew she was headed for a monumental broadening of her perception, and I was even pretty sure at what point it would happen. What I didn’t expect was the gift of being right there with her in it as it happened. Thank you, technology, for allowing me to be with my girl as she processed an intense spiritual/life epiphany…and thank you, God, for a daughter who wanted/needed her mother to be with her in that moment.

Us Dickensons are weird like that. We dig the profound and personal and often turn to each other when the rest of life seems determined to stay solidly entrenched in the cheap and artificial. That’s how we’ve always functioned and survived as a family of faith in ministry.

WALKING IN JESUS’ FOOTSTEPS…MAYBE

When my daugher’s lovely face magically appeared on the device I held in my hand (seriously people, where is my flying car?), it was instantly obvious to me as her mother; she was diving deep into something that was going to take some work to be able to articulate.

“So…*sigh*” our conversation began, “we’re on what…day 5 of this trip? It feels like it’s been 5 weeks.”

Kathryn went on to say how much she loved her new friends and traveling companions, the leaders and the tour guides and what a great time she was having…but…she was realizing an accelerated shift in her understanding was happening and she would never again be the same from this point going forward.

“Aaaaaand…I have to somehow write my experience down in this.” she said as she held up the daily journal the students are required to write in for the course. I smiled and nodded and gave her the space to try and verbalize it.

The first few days had been spent hitting all the main touristy “holy” sites. Though it’s absolutely impossible to say with any certainty, here’s where Jesus may have actually walked. Here’s the spot where St. Peter may have lived. Here’s the spot where Jesus may have performed such and such a miracle. Here is the traditional spot where it’s said the angel Gabriel visited the virgin Mary. What is certain is that there are ornate churches and gift shops built on each and every one of those traditional sites that are a source of major tourism revenue for the country. You can eat what Jesus probably ate, buy souvenirs made from the wood from the types of trees Jesus talked about and vials of Jordan river water and anointing oils to bring back home and pour over the heads of the devout as a special blessing (i.e. God will surely answer our prayers because we’re using authentic Holy Land bling). Jesus, the tourist attraction, is very, very popular and lucrative.

It was while visiting the Jordan River that Kathryn really wrestled. There’s a traditional baptismal site complete with steps and guardrails where annually thousands of Christian pilgrims go to be immersed in the same waters in which Jesus was baptized. Though many of her companions took the plunge, Kathryn ultimately opted not to.  She did post this pic though which clued me in to what she was thinking and feeling even before she called to talk to me.

Look Mom, I’m standing in the Jordan River

“Everywhere we’ve gone has been historically fascinating, but not particularly spiritually significant for me. At all these traditional holy sites, the group seems to be having these emotionally-charged, spiritually cathartic moments…or maybe everybody’s pretending…I don’t know…I just know I’m not.”

*fist pump*      THAT’S OUR GIRL!
Where she did find spiritual and even a physical connection to Jesus via her 5 senses was away from the crowds and the tradition in a quiet and pristine spot on the banks of the Sea of Galilee in Capernaum.

In all likelihood, Kathryn was indeed seeing what Jesus saw as she participated in his regular practice of retreating in silence and solitude in an area where he was known to have spent a lot of time building significant relationships.

WWJS?

I think the most significant question we could possibly ask ourselves in terms of what it means to be like Christ is –

What would Jesus see?…or more accurately, but doing away with the WWJ (and can we agree that just needs to die anyway?) – HOW would Jesus see the world, my world, my experiences, my life right now?

What would his take be on the relationships in my family? What would his attitude be towards the myriad of interconnected and clashing cultures and their politics today? What would his attitude be toward my neighbor? What would his attitude be toward my enemy? Who would he see as “the least of these” today? What would Jesus think about the booming tourism business bearing his name? What would Jesus think about the church and modern religious traditions also bearing his name? How would Jesus see the present Israeli/Palestinian conflict?

BURSTING THE BUBBLE

Kathryn was fully aware she’d been born and raised within an American Christianity bubble, and she knew it was going to burst in cataclysmic fashion on this trip. I not only knew it would happen, but upon looking at the trip itinerary, I knew exactly when – day 5, when they would cross the security border into the Palestinian-controlled West Bank. Oh sure, there was yet another “traditional” site to visit in Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity, that was absolutely not maybe the exact location of Jesus’ birth. Ornate church – check. Gift shop with an assortment of Virgin Mary and sweet baby Jesus tchotchkes –check. 

But that certainly wasn’t the part of day 5 that rocked my girl’s world into another dimension. No. All it took was to simply cross the checkpoint. Once you cross over to the other side of the wall, all the preconceived notions and indoctrination from your American Evangelical Christian culture about “those people” and what they believe and represent evaporates as does whatever narrative you’ve been led to believe from the American media.

Well, I suppose it doesn’t for everybody…but for those with eyes to see…and my girl has always had gorgeous eyes, sharply focused on lovely and mysterious things.  She saw very clearly for the first time in her 20 years what life looked like outside the tarnished bubble, and it was –

Gut wrenchingly beautiful, heartbreaking, joyful, impossible, inspiring, frustrating beyond all description, hopeful beyond all description.

What was being birthed in her that day was unadulterated and unencumbered compassion…she was seeing exactly as Jesus does. This was a baptism of Spirit that a dunk in the Jordan couldn’t have begun to touch.

“Mom, I knew I was going to be changed on this trip. I knew being exposed to other cultures and seeing things for myself outside of books and what others have told me was going to expand my perceptions…but…but…”  She trailed off not being able to find adequate words.

And what exactly was responsible for such radical transformation and epiphany? Seeing and hearing people and their reality and touching it for herself. That’s entirely it. Their stories, their experiences, their families, their hopes, their dreams, their despair, their fears, their anger, their joy, their culture and individual expression.

Holy crap! (surely that too must be for sale, if you find it, Kafafrin, you know I want need). Contrary to everything she’d been led to believe, Kathryn found Jesus hanging out on the Palestinian side of the graffiti-plastered barrier.  Who woulda thunk it? (well, besides me…I totally called it).

“I mean, I know that discrimination, distrust and dehumanizing exists everywhere, but it’s so concentrated in this place.”

Oh it most certainly is…every bit as much as when Jesus walked in all those places where you are now.  You, my girl, are truly seeing. Now to start walking into those undesirable places where you see love leads…into messy lives, holding nothing of yourself back, with no personal agenda or expectation…only open invitation.  Love leads you to simply BE Jesus in the moment in connection with other broken humans, shedding the indoctrination and tradition in order to see them (and very much yourself) as Jesus sees.

I thought I couldn’t be any more proud of this woman or marvel any deeper that I had anything to do with her being in this world. Now I know better. I will never cease to be amazed, inspired, and encouraged by her. The only thing I will ever want for any of my children is for them to have eyes to see and ears to hear and the courage to follow where love leads. Falling on my face tonight in tears and awe that I got to “see” her baptism live from Israel.

Killing Liberty Grace

Meet my big-thinker Mini Me, Liberty Grace. I’ve never been so in love with a name…almost as much as the girl. As much as I laud reason and practicality in my expressions of faith, there’s always been a significant vein of mysticism and natural contemplative spirituality winding through me too. I truly consider my daughter’s name to be prophetic. It was while I was pregnant with her that the first rumblings began…a stirring within me that God was up to something new for us, something powerful and free. God was indeed going to fulfill my lifelong yearning to experience Them in fullness and abundance, but there was going to be an extreme price to pay. Was I willing?


THE SPIRIT OF LIBERTY GRACE

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

I’d ached and prayed for this since I was 16, but now that my sleepy eyes were adjusting to the brilliant light and my ears finally attuned to reality, in order to maintain any kind of integrity with what I was experiencing, I had to let go of some “absolutes” I’d been taught were nonnegotiable. It was an incredibly difficult and uncomfortable process, long before I let anyone else see me, but on the other side of that wall – Liberty.  

Taste and see that the Lord is good…

Freedom to investigate, smell, touch, taste, take or leave ALL THE THINGS. Freedom through experience to discover what is good, when and how much. Freedom from the fear of eternal damnation should I cross arbitrary lines or peer down a path someone before me had labeled “forbidden.” Freedom to move and view things from different angles. Freedom to change my mind with perspective. Freedom to use all the words (heads up for those who get the vapors over salty language, the end of this post is NSFW). And most definitely the freedom to screw up.

A necessary byproduct of freedom is alarmingly frequent failure, which is why Liberty is lost without her sister, Grace.  

Grace not only incorporates failure as a given, it transforms it into valuable treasure, not wasting a single experience. Grace redeems the wildness of Liberty…but without Liberty, there is absolutely no need for Grace.


THE ABOMINATION OF CERTAINTY

The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty. It is madness. You can tell you have created God in your own image when it turns out that he or she hates all the same people you do.  Anne Lamott

Certainty is the despicable antithesis of freedom and grace.

Certainty is a false construct that chokes out Liberty in favor of conformity and absolute “rightness.” It enslaves. It inhibits. It discourages. It threatens. It controls. It lies.  

Certainty viciously resists and maligns Grace, because to receive Her is to admit inadequacy, which is never an option for Certainty.

Certainty shrieks and shames into submission, “DON’T touch! DON’T taste! DON’T move! NEVER screw up…or you’ll surely DIE!

It’s the flip side of The Great Lie the serpent sold Eve and a sacred metaphorical takeaway from the Genesis creation myth and the Tale of Two Trees <—-(future blog). If you find yourself with doctrinal hackles raised at my honest take of Genesis as an ancient prophetic Hebrew origins myth (it’s a talking snake, for cryin’ out loud!), may I calmly suggest you stop, take a deep breath, and reflect on your defensiveness, anger, and I’d wager if you looked honestly enough – fear – and question from where that might originate…and do you really think it’s from God?

*Hint* Aggressive defensiveness that seeks to inhibit and shut down is the fruit of Certainty, NOT of Liberty and Grace and the clearest indication we’ve been gorging ourselves on the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and not the Tree of Life.


WITCH HUNTERS – THE DISCIPLES OF CERTAINTY

A life of Liberty and Grace is proactive, always looking for what it can do

Certainty is entirely restrictive, focused only on what it can stop.

Certainty’s absolute “rightness” depends on someone else’s absolute “wrongness,” the perfect breeding ground for sanctimonious witch hunters and gate keepers obsessed with silencing the heretics. The wronger you are, the righter I am.

There is absolutely nothing new under the sun. The same Pharisaical spirit of Certainty and repression is alive and well, running rampant and largely encouraged in its destruction and division in the Church today.

Let’s play a little word association, shall we?

What’s your initial reaction to the name “Rob Bell?” How ’bout “Emergent Church?” I’m betting it’s one of these three:

  1. I have no idea what you’re talking about (bless you and I insanely envy you).
  2. *Looks nervously over shoulder and whispers * I kinda resonate with what he’s saying.
  3. HERETIC!! Burn the witch! Drive out the infidel from among us! Set phasers to KILL. 

SLAUGHTERING PROPHETS

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling.

I first became aware of Rob Bell through the rabid counter-movement to stop all things “Emergent” from infecting the institution from which we (Jimmy and I and Four Creeks) came. Had the witch hunters (which tragically made up half the church board) not whipped themselves up into such an aggressive frenzy, I would have been blissfully unaware there was any such “danger” to be on guard against. Jimmy simply didn’t care (sometimes I really hate how good he is at that). I, as usual, cared way too much. I made a calculated decision not to read or consume anything from Rob Bell, not because I was afraid of what anybody might think, but because I wanted to look people square in the eye when they asked us for the umpteenth time whether anything about our vision for Four Creeks was influenced by the Emergent Church movement and be able to honestly say, “No, Ms. Church Biddy who has the power to make decisions about my family’s livelihood and future, it’s all me and Jimmy and our own conscience and integrity.”

So assume what you will if you recognize any similarities between the Emergent Church movement or Rob Bell’s theology and what you can glean about mine. I really don’t care ’cause I honestly don’t know myself what they are other than what the anti-Rob Bell bandwagon continues to rail against ad nauseam.

What I do know is how much I hate the justification for such murderous division in the name of God. I’ve witnessed (and been on the receiving end of) so much destruction…the killing of reputations, relationships, and livelihoods, all in the name of Certainty and doctrinal purity by people who honestly think they are doing God’s work in being utterly shitty and discouraging, while most others are complicit in their silence and passivity in allowing such evil to go unchallenged.


FTSIO

The bulk of the drama is behind us…or at least I hope to God that’s true. I’m so very, very tired. But honestly, no matter how tough and strong I come off through my writing and Facebook posting, the reality is I’m reeling, still trying to recover from a significant ministry relationship breakup that went down a couple months ago. I felt so traumatized and violated. Add a sprinkling of Facebook encounters with people popping up like ghosts from that past life, never having a word to say to us for years when we most needed it but feeling justified to come out of the shadows to criticize over doctrinal issues and…yeah…I’m at a complete loss. I just don’t know what to say or do with people who actually know me who think my honest expressions of what I see, what I experience, what I believe are a threat to be eliminated.

I think this utter done-ness is very good. It didn’t happen in a way I ever would have chosen and if I’d seen coming would have ran screaming the other direction…but I have lived through it. I have tasted, I have touched, I have seen and I have heard and I will never be the same and I can never go back. The thought of doing so is less appealing to me than a dog licking up its own vomit.

I’d been hanging on to that old life by the barest of threads for a long time, thinking surely something could be salvageable. But I’m coming to the realization that the path forward into abundant life requires a complete letting go of everything that fears and seeks to kill something so precious as Liberty Grace. 

Sometimes the most graceful thing you can do is use your freedom to walk away and say…

I’m a Christian…No Buts

I am a Christian.

This isn’t news to anyone who knows me, even marginally. I’m not at all shy about it. Everything I write and share is filtered through this core identity.

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed I’ve experienced a bit of an identity crisis in the last few years, wrestling with what it means to be Christian. Here’s what I’m finding on the other side after being pulled through one heck of a major life wall.

JUST THE FACTS MA’AM

The entire reason for my faith is centered on a man who lived over 2000 years ago; born a refugee, raised in a backwater Middle Eastern hamlet. His entire short life was contained within a tiny geographic radius. He never wrote anything to survive in posterity. By every historical definition of power and influence, Jesus’ life is a microscopic blip on the radar. The only reason we’ve heard about him at all is from stuff others wrote from their individual perspectives and agendas.

And that stuff they wrote? Not a single original autograph exists of any book of the bible. Nada. Zilch.

I don’t think the red letters copied and translated over decades before solidifying as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are Jesus’ words verbatim. The Gospels themselves contain conflicting accounts, and it makes perfect sense to me that they do.

Ever play telephone? I don’t think any of the accounts of events are historically accurate nor were they ever meant to be. Call me weird or a heretic (or a weird heretic) but I find the reality of the human limitations of scripture to be comforting and faith-confirming. It was all written and passed along and manipulated by folks just like you and me. As a writer myself, I revere and cherish the bible for exactly what it is, now more than ever, as I’ve had the courage to reject some very damaging, historically recent church teachings based on what it is not...and cannot be.

PAUL IS MY BOO

The apostles? I trust them. God, I love Paul’s letters especially. What a treasure trove of snap shots of the hardships of early church planting and ministry. He is an open book of contradictions and complexity. We get to see his harshness in frustration as well as unbounded joy and great tenderness, epic failures and miraculous successes; his obvious brilliance contrasted with self-admitted woeful ignorance, arrogance and inadequacy. I love and revere Paul in all his humanness. He has filled the void left by my contemporaries as a pastor and mentor for me these last 5 years. His instructions in the 4th chapter of I Timothy have been particularly intimately, personally encouraging.

But Paul never wrote to me. He wrote as himself from his experience and understanding to his contemporaries; to Timothy, to specific churches of specific people with a specific agenda. Believing Jesus’ return was imminent, he had no way to fathom that his letters would survive thousands of years to be cannonized as scripture. I personally think he would be mortified to see how we’ve taken his words out of context and turned them into unquestionable doctrines that we’ve used to justify all manner of exclusion and persecution. And he most likely wouldn’t be shy about expressing his displeasure in unsavory terms. I mean the guy talked about genital mutilation, dirty menstrual rags, and coming at his wayward congregations with whips to get his point across. Yeah, Paul is my badass Boo.

MY GOD IS FINALLY ENOUGH

Probably the most significant transformation in my understanding is that my view of God is finally big enough and small enough now that I’m a Cage-Free Christian.

My view of God is big enough to handle a universe and earth many billions of years in the making. My view of God is big enough to handle humans having been in existence for hundreds of thousands of years. My view of God is small enough to believe that They (yes “They” – future blog on that later) are the divine breath of life being revealed in the impossibly complex mess of animated dust and meat that is me.

MY JESUS IS ENOUGH TO COVER EVERYTHING IN EVERY DIRECTION 

I am a Christian. My view of God is centered on my understanding of Jesus. To me, Jesus is Emanuel – God with Us. Jesus is the ultimate atonement through which humans are reconciled to God.

I am a Christian. I do not believe any doctrine can begin to explain how that atonement works or to define the parameters of God’s grace. I believe any attempt to do so is tragically destructive and counter-productive to the Gospel – The Good News that God does not hold our sins against us, that we are ultimately and completely loved and accepted. All of us. The Great I AM declares YOU ARE in Their image.

I am a Christian. My only agenda is to love in the same way Jesus loves – without condition, without limitation, without personal expectation.

I am a Christian. I recognize the reality of this Love everywhere, with or without any culturally-approved label of “God” attached to it.

I am a Christian. I have no interest whatsoever in recruiting converts. I am, however, solidly committed to training disciples/followers of Jesus. I’ll pour out all that I am, all that I’ve experienced into absolutely anyone who can see and embrace this mystery and is willing.

Yes, I AM a Christian

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood; A Mister Rogers Epiphany

A few months ago, as I opened my laptop to check the news and Facebook (as is my masochistic routine every day), I did so with a feeling of despair and hopelessness.

SOCIAL MEDIA SUCK FEST

I’d just finished a grasp for sanity with a few minutes of silence and solitude and honesty before God (also my routine) and in it had identified I was feeling sad, overwhelmed, discouraged – alone. The world sucks. People suck. Religion and indoctrination, political posturing and power mongering sucks. I am weak and powerless and suck.

Technology/social media just seems a massive, clamoring, conflicting life and hope sucking vortex – a bullhorn for anyone and everyone to scream about how everybody and everything (besides themselves) is wrong and a threat to humanity and/or God.

I inhaled a large slurp of coffee then exhaled an equally large sigh along with this prayer –

“God, I want out. I want to quit. What a relief it would be if you released me from this.” — *This* being all ministry and using my voice and my life to share what I see.

I’ve prayed that a lot lately.

Another sigh, another shot of liquid stimulus and I steeled myself to enter the toxic cesspool.  “I wonder whose political diatribe or trite christian meme will be the first to suck a little of my soul and will to live this morning?”

The first post on my newsfeed utterly destroyed my cynical pessimism in 1 minute and 26 seconds.  Please watch this lovely message from Fred Rogers that aired on PBS to mark the one-year anniversary of 9/11, about five months before he died.

https://vimeo.com/120799750

I immediately broke down sobbing, something I do a lot these days whenever the purity and power of genuine love breaks through and silences the clamor of repression and discouragement. Love’s message:

I love you just the way you are. Life is scary and difficult, but I’m so proud of you for uniquely expressing yourself and growing in love and for passing that love and encouragement on to the children in your life.

Another 5 minutes and a few more video clips later, I was in full-blown epiphany.

For 33 years, in plain sight of millions of television viewers spanning multiple generations, Mister Rogers was the greatest theologian and pastor of our time – communicating and modeling the simple, unadulterated Gospel and giving children and families encouragement and tools to grow in love and share that love.  He was a master at his craft and mission.

Part of that epiphany was realizing our vision and approach to Four Creeks Church was the exact same as Mister Rogers’ ministry – An exclusive focus on the Gospel (the good news that you are accepted by God just the way you are) and fostering emotional/spiritual health and growth (EHS) through spiritual disciplines (Power4Life).

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Fred Rogers gave his daily invitation to be his neighbor based on what Jesus confirmed as the greatest command:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind AND Love your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27)

The hypocrite then, and very much today, looks for the loophole and a way to justify not loving people while maintaining religious standing and superiority. “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29).

Jesus, through the Parable of the Good Samaritan, makes it abundantly clear that our neighbor includes all the “wrong” people, not just those who comfortably fit our profile.

Day after day, week after week, decade after decade, Mister Rogers invited, without condition, anyone who was watching to be his neighbor. You could not miss that he genuinely felt his neighborhood wasn’t complete without you, the individual, and there was a longing that you be a part of it.

“I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you. I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you…Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor?

This was consistently, predictably followed by a warm and cheerful, “Hello neighbor.” If you were tuning in, you were his beloved, cherished, welcome neighbor…period.

I LIKE YOU JUST THE WAY YOU ARE

Gospel literally means “good news.” So what is the essence of the Gospel of Jesus?

God’s ultimate good will toward mankind – all conditions for being worthy of love have been annihilated through Jesus. We are completely accepted, cherished and loved exactly as we are without condition simply because we are.  We were loved into existence apart from our own will or choice or reason or performance or even our ability to understand and accept it. The great I AM became one of us to enable us to see that we are…and that alone is the condition for His love…simply that we exist and we exist at his good pleasure.

Our sins are not counted against us by God, even as we continue throughout all history to deny Him and eat each other – all of us.

American Evangelicalism has been trained to knee jerk react, “No! That’s universalism and you must be silenced! A person must be convicted of sin and repent and recognize Jesus as Lord and Savior before being accepted by us God.”  To which Jesus, The Gospels, Fred, I and a growing chorus of Christ followers call bullshit.

EMOTIONAL/SPIRITUAL HEALTH WARRIOR

Mister Rogers’ honest voice (the only voice he ever used whether in private or public) would never say “bullshit” – nor would he waste precious energy in an attempt to inhibit or control the damaging and distorted messages he saw being broadcast through the powerful new medium of television.  He focused all energy on being and broadcasting light in the darkness. An integral component to that light was fostering emotional/spiritual health grounded in a profound knowledge of an individual’s inherent importance and worth. Without distraction, Mister Rogers poured his entire life up until the very last to:

1). Encourage honest, individual, creative expression of emotions – all of them. Not only was it safe to admit we were scared, sad, or angry, but Mister Rogers gave us somewhere to go with those difficult feelings.

2). Teach us we are supposed to grow and the process of growing is what life was all about and it is wonderful! Mister Rogers consistently, gently, persistently guided us toward growing deeper in our understanding and expression of love – towards ourselves and others.

3). Demonstrate faithfulness. Fred Rogers offered himself as a constant, reassuring presence to generations of children as they painfully came to terms with the cruel and uncertain realities of life, as we all must. As our families, governments, religious institutions and even friends inevitably let us down, Mister Rogers never deviated from the message. You always knew you were welcome and important in the neighborhood, and you knew, come what may after he closed the door behind him, he’d be there to welcome you just as warmly and genuinely tomorrow. “I’ll be back when the day is new, and I’ll have more ideas for you. And you’ll have things you’ll want to talk about, and I…will…too.”   

If you have a soul, you’ll need some tissues as you watch these videos.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor
You’re Growing
Many Ways To Say I Love You
Food for Thought

Without fail, over 33 years and 895 episodes, he donned and doffed those sneakers and his mother’s hand-made sweaters, sang the same songs in his honest voice and style to deliver the message that you, the viewer, are his neighbor and that he delights in you just the way you are; delights to have you join him in discovering something new and wonderful about our world and each other; delights in your ideas and unique creative expression. And the miracle is how personally this transcends through a taped television show and now even his death! It doesn’t matter who you are, you know it’s genuine and he really is speaking to you. Some of us even begin to believe it and hear that message from within ourselves and work to foster it in others.

COUNTER CULTURAL REBEL

Fred Rogers was radical in his gentleness, faithfulness and wisdom. He was able to live, breathe, and promote these things against which there is no law (Galatians 5:23) on public television because he never insisted there be an exclusive God stamp placed on the show, though he had a very personal and deep Christian faith. Doing so would have only invited restriction and obstruction from all sides. He simply and masterfully went straight to the meat of being the Gospel and let God’s love speak and work for itself.

I’ve well documented how we got the boot and cold shoulder from Church World when we set out to plant a church that operated on the radical inclusiveness and emotional health of the Gospel. Yowza, have the last 4 years been quite the undoing and rewiring of me as a Christian…as a human. I would have saved myself a lot of time and angst while coming to the same vision for ministry had I just paid more attention to Mister Rogers.

Jimmy and I determined from the very beginning that the message you would receive at Four Creeks Church would be you are genuinely welcome and valued exactly as you are right now whatever you believe right now. We long for you to be part of our family, to make the neighborhood, this church of Christian believers, your home. We are delighted to have you join us as we grow together and figure out better and better ways to understand and express love. We do, quite boldly, put a specific stamp of Jesus on this love as we believe he is its source and personification. Jimmy and I do not consider it our duty or even that it’s possible for us to make anyone believe anything or do what we think is right with what we give, we’re just responsible for broadcasting the message, providing the structure and the tools, sharing freely from our experience and constantly inviting whoever will to follow. If you “tune in” to what we are broadcasting, you are our neighbor…period…and as pastors we will (and do) go to hell and back with anyone willing to honestly walk the path we’re on.

We welcome your honest, unique, creative, one-of-a-kind expression of all your feelings and experiences. Life is scary and uncertain. We have all been traumatized and at times feel sad and frightened and angry…some of us a lot.  Allowing people that freedom comes with some really heavy burdens as pastors. Some people are like spiritual foster children coming out of years of abuse who don’t know how to trust love and have a hard time believing this message that they are wanted and accepted and have inherent value. Sometimes they lash out at our love and test it before they can begin to accept it. We are willing to patiently repeat the message as many times as we need to, even over decades, even for just one person.

Still others who grew up in “good church homes” have a warped view of God wrapped up in many thick layers of repression and dysfunction due to indoctrination. Jimmy and I are very much in the trenches with you there. Again, we’ll keep consistently reinforcing the message, first to ourselves, “You are accepted exactly where you are, as you are. Express yourself honestly. Here’s a path to grow in healthy ways. Won’t you please be my neighbor and walk with me?”

The brilliance of Mister Rogers was that he understood the vital investment of love in children and its impact on future generations. When I came to the realization that I was going to have to be responsible for children’s ministry at Four Creeks, I freaked a little…ok a LOT. I didn’t have the help, I didn’t have the structure, I didn’t have the resources to pull off any kind of program church people have come to expect for their kids. I still freak out a little every morning I wake up and realize it’s Sunday. I am still, in many ways, a frightened and insecure child, desperate for reassurance of my worth and acceptance and worried about my performance and whether or not it will be good enough. That discomfort is a stark reminder of the only thing I’m supposed to do and why – provide a consistent, safe, free place where kids know they are loved, they are wanted, they are welcome and in that context encourage them to express their true feelings and guide them down constructive, healthy paths. To show them the real deal, I must BE the real deal.

Yes, I teach them about Jesus and the stories from the Bible, but I don’t indoctrinate them with my preferred list of “right” words and ideas to explain or apply any of it. I simply tell the stories and then ask them what they see…and it never ceases to blow me away what they are capable of grasping way better than us damaged and distorted adults. They teach me. There is simply no greater investment of my time and thinking/teaching talents than those precious, unfiltered, free souls. They recognize and respond to love with natural ease while being keenly aware of injustice and bullshit…that is until invariably that innocence and honesty gets stripped from them through intimidation and manipulation from the adults in their life.

Lord, forgive us as we’ve squandered, crushed and inhibited your love, especially towards these little ones; replacing it with rules and conditions and lies masked as absolute truth and certainty; particularly those of us who have claimed to own that light. In our zeal for rightness and control, may we never be responsible for extinguishing the inherent light and worth placed in each of your children, for it would seem for such a person there can be no mercy (Mark 9:24). Have mercy on us, your damaged, frightened, sad and angry children. We do not understand what we do or what we feel.

Thank you for your Word become flesh, the Light that drives out darkness – your Servant and Son, Jesus; your servant and son, Fred Rogers; your servant and daughter, Carrie Murphy; your servant and son, John Pavlovitz and on and on and on….

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

As long as the world spins and there are people living on it, this Gospel message will be found and demonstrated by “helpers.” It may not be the loudest, hippest, most popular voice. It may even be largely ignored and even despised, especially if it comes from outside the traditional or socially acceptable box, but for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, it will stand out in radical gentleness and graciousness. Look for it and you will find it. Desire it, and it will freely be yours, and through you a gift passed on to many others.