Afraid of the Dark

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I’m afraid of the dark.

I lust after the light.

I want more and more, so no darkness remains.

But despite my best efforts to avoid it, the light begins to fade. Darkness sets in.

I turn on my light, throwing my fist to the natural world and proclaiming, “I can be surrounded by light, even now!”

But then, maybe by accident, I find myself outside.

In the darkness with no light bulb in sight.

That’s when I see them.

The stars.

I suppose they’ve always been there, but the blinding light of the sun has kept my focus on my comparably small reality.

The stars are magnificent.

I wish I could see them in the light of day, but I know this is impossible.

They take my breath away.

The moon!

Where did that come from?

As I walk I notice something strange and disorienting, but also breath taking.

My shadow.

I thought it was pure darkness, but apparently, when my eyes adjust, I see that there is light within the darkness.

They are not enemies after all.

They are one.

What am I afraid of?

Am I afraid to see the stars?

Am I afraid to see my shadow thrown on the ground by the full moon?

Am I afraid of the light within the darkness?

The sound within the silence?

The movement within the stillness?

The communion within the solitude?

I am afraid of the dark.

But as it turns out, the light I so desperately long for today is that subtle one, seen only when my eyes adjust to the mysterious and unknown darkness.

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Crossing Over Podcast

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If you are a faithful reader of this blog then you probably know that I am a pretty big fan of podcasts. There is something about listening to a 1 hour conversation with your favorite author and realizing that this less polished platform has shown you more than you have been able to see from reading several of her books.

This appreciation built up over time into a desire to launch my own Podcast.

Crossing Over is a podcast dedicated to exploring the Human Journey.

That’s how I start all my episodes. But what exactly does it mean? Why did I choose those words over any others?

Let’s start with the Human Journey. To engage with this term, I feel I should break down the 3 distinct ways that I have held belief. I am focused on the HOW rather than the WHAT.

Up to the second half of Highschool the way I held my beliefs is best captured with the label, “Without Conviction”. I was a sponge. I believed pretty much everything I was taught, even if it contradicted what I had believed the day before. If we think about the journey of belief as “The Box”, I had lots of pieces, but had not yet begun the process of putting that box together.

Through the second half of Highschool, college, and a few years after, I held my beliefs in a way that is best captured with the label, “With Stubborn Conviction”. That’s right. The pendulum had swung from one extreme to another. That box was built, and it was reinforced with steel.

After my wife and I moved to Denver I had an amazing and disorienting experience that brought to light all my fears that came from the second way of holding belief. I felt as if I lost my identity. I was no longer a part of the tribe that had felt like home for so long. This gave way to a new way of holding belief. It had to. After this experience, the way I held my beliefs is best captured with the label, “With Deep Conviction, and Sincere Humility”. 

I had no interest in becoming a sponge. But my experience of deep disorientation made it impossible for me to reinforce that box with steel once again. So I moved forward with conviction. I believe what I believe. I do not feel wishy-washy. But I also know that I could have life experiences, awakenings, disorientation, etc. that will totally shake it all up again. So I find enough courage to hold my beliefs firmly, while remembering how terribly wrong they could be.

This third way of holding belief led me to the term “Human Journey”. Unlike the second way, it causes me to stand with a posture of listening–even if I stand facing someone I disagree with on nearly everything. It has caused me to see that we are not on individual islands, but are instead journeying together as one species, on one planet, breathing air and receiving life from the One through whom everything was born. Said plainly, we are all in this together. So I want my podcast to be the kind of thing that we can all gain inspiration, challenge, and encouragement from, regardless of what labels we carry around day to day.

So what about the name? Crossing Over is a loaded term. As a Christian person, I understand that my tradition builds itself upon the foundation laid by another tradition–Judaism. In the Bible the word used to refer to God’s People (in terms of ethnicity) is Hebrew. One of the ways that word can be defined is, “One Who Crosses Over”.

Standing at the foundation of my religious tradition is this term pointing to a disorienting journey. This feels significant.

I am no longer very interested in drawing lines in the sand. I still do it often, but I am less and less wanting to do it. Instead I am interested in studying, communicating, relating, etc. in ways that are truly helpful to all of us on this journey of life. I am looking for something universal–as in something meaningful and helpful to everyone regardless of belief, ethnicity, race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc.

That’s what I’m exploring. I’m digging into the stories of my friends in order to uncover this common thread of human unity–the experience of Crossing Over.

This is a literal experience. This moment is known/familiar, but I will (repeatedly) be crossing over into a moment that is entirely unknown/unfamiliar.

It is also symbolic. We cross over into new realities. We get married. We get divorced. We have children. We lose children. We fall in love. We experience deep heart-break. We get jobs. We lose jobs. We feel secure in our beliefs. Everything we believe falls to pieces. It is truly an unavoidable reality along the human journey. It is universal.

I hope you’ll listen. Below are helpful links to help you subscribe. Go in peace.

Visit the Crossing Over Website

Subscribe to Crossing Over on iTunes

Subscribe to Crossing Over on Google Play

“Like” Crossing Over on Facebook

Exploring Spirituality: We need to have a conversation

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Last weekend I had the chance to visit my brother in Omaha. While we come from the same womb, in some ways we couldn’t be more different. For the past few years, politics and spirituality were things we just pretended didn’t exist. I can’t speak for him, but for me the primary thing that maintained the silence was fear. I didn’t want to drive unnecessary wedges between us, so we talked about his latest hunting trip, my favorite soccer team, what our favorite beer was that week, etc.

Something really cool happened during my recent visit. We talked. I mean, we actually talked. We covered spirituality, politics, and obviously still beer. We didn’t try to convert each other as much as we simply opened up about our own convictions. I feel like I have seen my brother, and that he has seen me, with a new level of raw honesty. It was great and I really believe that it has pushed us deeper into our appreciation and love for one another.

It feels like we restarted the conversation. I have been thinking a lot about this idea of conversation lately. I listened to a podcast recently where Krista Tippett interviewed the philosopher and poet, David Whyte. Whyte sees conversation happening all around us–the conversation between the sea and the shore, between the sun and the moon, etc. I love that imagery. Everything in conversation.

But this also brings up a great tragedy for me. In the Christian household, the conversation has been feared for quite some time. It has been feared so much that in many instances, it has even been forcefully ended by silencing the “other side”. This has happened a number of times, but two specific examples come to mind.

1. Christianity got into bed with the Empire.

When the Christian Church was “Early”, there were many voices in the conversation. The voices ranged wildly and offered different perspectives, asked different questions, and forced the Church to constantly evaluate its beliefs and commitments in an effort to be sure that they were following Christ as closely as possible. Now I don’t want to romanticize this period. People were called “Heretics”. They were passionately argued against. They were told that they were wrong. But…they weren’t silenced. The early church didn’t have the power to silence teachers who challenged their interpretation of Jesus’ teachings. They simply had the power of argument and reason. Essentially, the conversation was lively!

Once Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, (4th Century) that little problem of not having the power to silence the “other side” was solved. It was during this period of the Christian story that Pelagius was excommunicated and branded a Heretic. He was forced to finish his days in exile away from Rome. It wasn’t the Church that eventually made sure of this, but Rome itself through the tireless effort of Augustine of Hippo. His was only one of several voices that were seen as problematic. And so, the inconvenient voices were no longer present. The conversation was silenced.

2. The Celts were finally tamed.

There was one stream of Christianity that had somehow managed to exist just outside of the Empire’s reach. That was the Christianity practiced in the Celtic world. Largely inspired by voices that were no longer allowed in Rome, like Pelagius, the Celts were off-beat compared to the Roman Mission of Christianity. They held women in high esteem, they saw the essential goodness of all created things, and they had no interest in conforming their way of spiritual practice to the demands of Rome.

In 664, Rome had finally had enough and the head on collision between the Celtic Mission and the Roman Mission occurred. It is no surprise that the Roman Mission was victorious and the Celtic Mission was ordered to conform to the Roman practice of Christianity, including the silencing of the voices deemed “Heretic”.

The tragedy of this moment is not simply that the Roman Mission won and the Celtic Mission lost. The tragedy was that the two could not find a way to engage in conversation, but instead engaged in war–the fruitless fight to prove that I am right and you are wrong. Once again, the inconvenient voices were no longer present. The conversation again was silenced.

We live in an age where many of us are tired of this dualistic mindset. We are a people who don’t buy into the lie that if you are not Republican then you absolutely must be Democrat. We are a people that don’t buy into the idea that wisdom does not exist in the tradition and perspective of “the other”. We are a people who are tired of the silencing of the conversation. So, let’s reclaim it!

Let’s not be afraid to read the Heretics. Let’s not be too proud to embrace our friends with whom we disagree. Let’s listen to one another. Let’s hold our convictions with deep commitment and also deep humility. Let’s reclaim the conversation!

How Celtic Christianity Salvaged My Crumbling Christian Faith

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My “becoming a Christian” story is not unusual in Evangelical circles. I was 16 years old when my youth group took a trip to Denver–the big city closest to my small Nebraska town. We were there to attend a popular Evangelical youth conference complete with bands, speakers, and lots of corny Christian themed T-shirts. A vibrant and compelling speaker ended his speech with an “Alter Call”–an invitation to ‘accept Jesus into your heart’. I responded to this one similarly to how I had responded to the few prior ones I had experienced at Christian punk rock shows. Yup, that was a thing. The big difference this time was that I was immediately surrounded by a few of my friends and mentors who congratulated me on making the biggest decision of my life. They welcomed me into the “Christian Household.”

Looking back, those were some of the simplest and most incredible feeling days of my life. For the first time I felt as if I was a part of something bigger than myself. I very quickly became the ideal Christian youth. I spoke at youth events and was asked to be on a few “Ministry Teams” in my town. As I look back, I might describe those days similar to the way Paul described his Pharisee days. I was about as good a “Christian teenager” as you could find.

My friend Kathy Escobar would call this my “Fusing” experience. Everything made sense and no question would go unanswered. My fusing experience lasted for about 5 years. But eventually certain questions started breaking through my defenses in college and caused me to ask whether I really believed the things I said I did. I managed to convince myself that I did for another few years. Then I had my moment where it all came crumbling down. I was 26. My wife was pregnant with our first child. I took a shower and was struck by how “real” this shower tile was. I realized that it was infinitely more real than the God I had constructed in my head based on all the answers that had no questions.

After 24 hours of trying to convince myself that I was an Atheist, I gave in and admitted that I did still believe in God. But something was visibly different about what I was willing to say I believed. I had this image in my head of a large ship safely navigating the raging sea of questions. I felt as if God was inviting me to trust the questions and jump in. It felt unsafe. It felt uncertain. Many of those questions looked as if they had no certain answers. Still, I knew I needed to jump in and allow the waves to take me where they will–even if that means they take me away from Christianity.

For about 2 years prior to my “Shower Tile Experience”, the chaplain for our staff, Father Scott Jenkins, had shared a few things from this relatively new (to me) spiritual stream called Celtic Christianity. I remembered feeling a sense of warmth when he would share his insight based on how the Celts would view this Scripture, or this season, or this life event. Remembering these things, I went to Scott and asked him if he had anything he could give me on Celtic Christianity. I told him that it felt like something I would like, but that I really didn’t know much about it. He eagerly went inside his office and came back with his copy of “Christ of the Celts” by John Philip Newell.

As I read Newell’s book, I felt as if God was gathering the pieces of my faith that had shattered in that shower. I felt as if God was telling me that some of those pieces would not fit anymore, but that I should hang on to the ones that do and allow Celtic Christianity to help construct a new container–one that might hold them with the tenderness their fragility called for in that moment. What I have experienced in the years since can only be described as life changing. There is so much about Celtic Christianity that I have found incredibly healing, but I want to take a minute to share the top 3 with you.

It honors the mystery
A huge part of what led to my “Shower Tile Experience” was feeling as if I needed to have answers. Ultimately the questions were piling up faster than the answers, and even the answers I had previously accepted as satisfactory were beginning to show weakness. Celtic Christianity invites us to embrace the mystery of God in a way that honors the questions as sacred without demanding that they be answered. Newell says that “Celtic Spirituality is more poetic than doctrinal. Belief is pointed to rather than defined.” As I found myself being beckoned out of the ship of answers into the sea of questions, this posture of poetic listening offered me life where I was beginning to believe there was none.

It teaches that God is present within all Creation.
Celtic Christianity teaches that God is within everything and that everything exists within God. This great mystery offered me a theological frame that showed deep concern and love for our environment, our neighbors, and even our enemies. For the first time, many of Jesus’ teachings felt as if they were being affirmed by my spiritual practice rather than pushed to the margins.

It honors the feminine
Marrying my wife created a tension within me thanks to the teaching of male superiority I had been trained to believe. For those of you who don’t know her, just take it from me, she will not sit by and allow anyone to tell her that she is subordinate to men, period. Celtic Christianity affirms (even throughout its history) not only the gift of leadership within women, but also the presence of a feminine divine energy in God. It recognizes within the pregnant woman the grace of being invited into the creative process in a deep and absolutely divine way. God is viewed as having “given birth” to all of Creation. My wife, Nicole, says that “Embedded deep within the feminine is a divine, creative force that beckons women to create. To create sacred spaces for community. To create homes. To create ideas and movements.” Celtic Christianity affirms that women should not be marginalized in our society or within our faith traditions.

I am grateful that you are still reading this. It took a bit of vulnerability to write it all out and I have a very important reason for doing so. I wanted to share my experience because I am wondering if you too might find life within the Celtic stream of Christianity. My dear friend Father Scott Jenkins, and his dear friend Teri Thompson, have started their own Denver area non-profit called The Celtic Way. If my story peaks your interest, please look them up. They are officially launching their non-profit on May 11th. John Philip Newell has graciously offered to help launch this beautiful adventure by teaching at the event. Please consider this your official invitation to grab a ticket and join me on the 11th as we explore this ancient, deep, and rich spiritual tradition.

 

Exploring Spirituality: “All right then. I’ll go to hell.”

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I was successful in stopping the questions for quite a long time. They would enter my mind and I would convince myself that even entertaining them would be wrong, so they would fall away before they had the chance to offer any real criticism of my ‘hanging by a thread’ belief system. If people offered an alternative understanding of the universe, theology, doctrine, or philosophy, I desperately looked for the “silver bullet” that I could use to silence them. “She’s a liberal.” “He’s a recovering alcoholic.” “He’s a universalist.” I was searching for anything to give me permission to dismiss them without feeling the need to engage with what they were saying. This method kept my fragile belief system safe…until it didn’t.

Much of my belief system came crumbling down like a house of cards. I had an experience that can best be described as a revelation. It was in my shower. I realized that my shower tile was more real to me than this idea of God I had in my head. I was sick and tired of pledging my total allegiance to a God, and a theological system, that couldn’t handle the questions. I felt like I spent 90% of my time making sure no challenges would find their way into the space that my beliefs occupied. This is what it meant to “defend my faith”.

I realize now that something is wrong if I am spending more energy defending my beliefs than practicing them. 

When everything came crashing down I quickly learned what my belief system didn’t make any room for; what I was being drawn to embrace–Mystery.

In the realms of science, psychology, even mathematics, we have no problem acknowledging the presence of a mystery greater than ourselves. But when it comes to God that idea scares the hell out of us. The idea that we are immersed in that big a Mystery doesn’t offer us as much comfort as ‘knowing’ that we have the Truth. But I am convinced that failing to embrace that Mystery will always lead to a life of running from window to window ensuring that your house of cards is safe from the drafts of questions, doubts, and differing opinions. I am also convinced that failing to embrace that Mystery will only serve to further isolate us from our neighbors who don’t fit into our rigid box of being “Right”.

What we as human beings long for is connection–connection to God, Self, and our Neighbor. Letting go of our need to de-mystify the Creator of the Universe creates a plane that is theologically spacious. A plane were there is truly room for all. A plane where our (and God’s) longing for connection can be realized.

I believe that it is this plane that Mark Twain is pointing to when he writes the words, “All right then. I’ll go to hell.” Huck has felt a deep need for connection be met through is friendship with Jim. The only problem is that Jim was a slave. He was the ‘rightful property’ of someone else. Twain correctly portrays the societal pressure placed on Huck to ‘do the right thing’. He risked not only societal outrage, but according to the belief system that was so prevalent in that day, he risked damnation to hell if he dared not return Jim to his owner.

Huck is faced with the challenging of the house of cards belief system by the draft of the true human connection he had made with his friend Jim. This connection made no sense within the framework of his theological, philosophical, and moral understanding–yet it proved to be real. It is at this moment that Huck chooses to embrace the Mystery of his connection with Jim, a decision that he believed was ‘wrong’. Throwing the knowledge of the Truth to the wind, Huck resigns himself to his fate with that powerful sentence, “All right then. I’ll go to hell.”

Keeping Winter Solstice in Christmas

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“Keep Christ in Christmas” read the sign posted beside the Nativity Scene in my wife’s hometown. I have to admit that I involuntarily roll my eyes when I hear that phrase. It’s not that I have anything against celebrating Jesus’ birth on Christmas. I actually think we couldn’t have picked a better season! I just think that sentiment misses the mark and causes us to be blind to so much of the gift of this blessed season.

A little history might be helpful before moving on. Despite popular folklore, most scholars do not believe that Jesus was born on December 25th. The most common theory I have heard is that He was born sometime in the Spring.

You will read a variety of narratives if you google, “Origin of Christmas on December 25”. Each of them–while varying in detail–paints a picture that might help us understand this season a little better as we (Christians) celebrate Advent and the birth of Christ.

Before Christianity claimed this season for itself (or even existed), most of the known world celebrated the mystery of the longest night of the year, and the rebirthing of the light–Winter Solstice. It’s one of the ways that we see a deep connection between spirituality and the natural world in human history.

Some Christian streams have maintained this deep connection with Creation while others have dismissed it as “Nature Worship” and heretical. The impact of the latter has helped create the current above referenced sentiment around Christmas–dismissing all other seasonal celebrations and making it all about the birth of Jesus.

Celtic Christianity stands in the gap as a stream of Christianity that embraces a deep connection with Creation as an essential part of human spirituality. There doesn’t seem to be a desire to totally do away with the Paganism of the ancient Celts. Instead wisdom led many Celtic Christians throughout the centuries to marry the truth of Christianity with the truth of their Pagan ancestry. It is through the lens of this rich tradition that I have experienced this Advent/Winter Solstice–and it has truly been a gift!

There is something beautiful about celebrating Christ’s birth around Winter Solstice. Jesus is often called the “Light of the World”. When we consider that mystery alongside the mystery of Winter Solstice we witness a beautiful dance between Creation and Creator. Life is born out of darkness throughout all of Creation. Consider the baby in the womb, seeds in the earth, birds in the egg, etc. It is from within the darkness that Jesus–the Light–is born into the human story. In that sense, Winter Solstice is the perfect time of year to celebrate the beautiful mystery of the Incarnation–God becoming flesh.

That simple intentionality around considering nature as I engage with the season of Advent has deeply impacted how I experience and celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.

I wonder what other gifts exist at the heart of other traditions if only I stop fighting against them and choose to learn their wisdom? I wonder what gifts of wisdom could be offered to other traditions from within Christianity?

Please keep Christ in Christmas if you are a Christian! Hold the mystery of the Incarnation with the utmost conviction! But also remember that long before Jesus was born, this season was sacred for humanity and there is a deep gift in learning the wisdom of those traditions while practicing our own.

Happy Winter Solstice / Merry Christmas

 

 

Advent 2015 (Week 4)-Consent & Simplicity

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I was literally doing all I could to not vomit. Somehow I had gotten the idea in my head that being transferred to the hospital during our home-birth meant that my wife and child were almost certainly going to die. I pulled out of the driveway and turned down the most convenient street to get us to the hospital. At that moment a train began to pass by, blocking my route. After uttering a colorful word under my breath I backed up on the one-way street, grateful for the fact that it was 3am and desolate. The second route got us to the hospital a mere 20 minutes before my son was born.

We are entering the 4th and final week of Advent. As we look at the events leading up to the birth of Jesus, the word ‘chaos’ comes to mind. I imagine Joseph filled with terror as Mary uttered the words that informed him the baby was coming. In the story they are in Bethlehem, they apparently don’t have a place to stay, and Joseph is desperately trying to find Mary a place–any place–to experience the miracle of giving birth.

Somehow the desperate couple found their way to a stable where they found shelter. It was in this stable that Mary completed the journey of labor and held her beloved Son for the first time outside of her womb.

Movement 1: Consenting to the Process

My wife works as a Birth Doula, and she has taught me a lot about the importance of consenting to the process of labor. As Mary is in a situation that is anything but ideal for labor, she is faced with the opportunity to consent to the miracle unfolding within her–she is being invited to give up resistance and trust the process (and herself) entirely.

Acceptance is not the same as consent. When a mother doesn’t truly give herself over to the process, labor can come to a stand still. Of course this is only a momentary pause, but it can cause what could otherwise be a beautiful experience to be much more painful and difficult. Either way though, the baby is coming.

It is my prayer that I find the courage within myself to consent to the life unfolding before me–even when that life is filled with sorrow, pain, fear, and disorientation. I pray that I remember that my resistance only stalls the necessary transformation. It doesn’t finally stop it.

Movement 2: Simplicity Through Necessity

Mary certainly had a vision for how her labor would happen. I would be willing to bet money that neither a stable nor a manger factored into that vision. As a poor couple they probably didn’t have expectations of grandeur, but I imagine they had a short list of things/people that they “needed” in order to usher their son into the world. I would also imagine that most (if not all) of those things/people were glaringly absent when labor surprised Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem.

We all have moments when everything comes into perspective. We realize that what we thought we needed, we in fact only found some unnecessary comfort in. Birth and death are particularly powerful examples of this.

It is my prayer that I become aware of what my needs actually are. I pray that as I encounter invitations into the truth of my experience, full of joy or sorrow, I will have enough wisdom to see what can (and maybe should) be let go of as I enter into that moment–as I consent to the transformation happening within me.

May you learn to willingly give yourself over to the experience of transformation in your own life. May you realize that refusing consent will only be a temporary relief–especially if the transformation is born out of a place of deep sorrow. May you find the courage and strength necessary to take the next step on your journey, realizing along the way how much you’re already capable of.

Are you just now finding this Advent series? No worries! Week 1, Week 2, Week 3.