Tag Archives: Catholic

Heaven doesn’t have to wait

For more than two decades I believed ardently in God, and that belief colored my life in both good and bad ways. Yet for those two decades I was scared shitless about death and this “life to come” that I’d apparently spend with the God of my deepest faith.

I was not afraid of hell (though many probably assume I should have been and still ought to be). It was heaven that freaked me out. Every image of it I had ever heard was, well, awful. Singing nonstop praise. Clouds. Streets of Gold. Perfection. A gate where some get in and others don’t (and those who don’t seemed like my kind of people.

Who really wants to live here?

heaven

It’s one thing to feel out of place on Sunday mornings for an hour or two, it’s a whole nother thing to feel out of place for eternity).

It felt like that movie Pleasantville where heaven was the black and white people and I was determined to live life in color.

While I was in rehab Dr. Rev, my brother, introduced to me a theologian he met and admired named Tom Wright. He sent me the book Simply Christian (probably not in some small part due to him being one of those who worried about me and flames for all time). For the first time I read a mainstream Christian theologian who conceptualized heaven as a place I’d have even a remote interest in going. In fact, he helped me understand that God’s ultimate goal is not some super spiritualized transport to Conservative Christian Disneyland but the gritty transformative work of unleashing heaven right here on Earth. Happily, heaven began to look a little askew, like the beauty of Pisa, or something simple like this:

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Perhaps I’d best let Wright explain his own views, here. I readily admit I’ve taken his theology and let my not-so-notable brain take it where I needed it to go, places of theology Wright may no longer wish his name applied. But I’ve since read many of Wright’s books and allowed his notable scholarship to nudge my thinking of heaven into ways that reconstruct my faith while remaining consistent to my otherwise liberal, Catholic, Anabaptist, decidedly unevangelical bent.

Instead of being scared to death of heaven I began to seek it out here on Earth. Instead of worrying about a future I can’t imagine, I began to live a present consistent with how I best understand the plan of God moving forward. I started praying the Lord’s Prayer every day to remind myself of Jesus’ focus then and now: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, On Earth as it is in Heaven.”

On Earth as it in Heaven became my mantra, my jam, if you will. It became my job description. Most importantly, it caused the magic tumblers on the combination to my best life that I somehow could never get unlocked to click into place and let me in. I found the me and the point of me I had long sought.

Not coincidently that also became the working title of my latest novel, On Earth as it is in Heaven (more on that next post!) 

I think back to a book I read years and years ago about manhood by author Sam Keen called Fire in the Belly. He said we have two questions we must answer: where are we going and who is going with us. The key to being an adult is to never, ever get the order of those questions backward. I spent more than 40 years getting the order not only backward, but ignoring the first question all together. Where am I going? Heaven. Right now. Here on Earth.

It may not seem like much, but it has made all the difference.

My spiritual doppelgänger is (sigh) evangelical

I’m not a resident of Facebook, which means I miss out on 93.72 percent (I did a study and the math… well, no I didn’t. That’s a lie) of everything that is going on with my family and friends. Happily I might add. Note my T-shirt:

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From afar I hear so much drama, strife and angst of Facebook insult and intrigue I remain blissfully unaware of all but 6.28 percent.

But one degree of separation — in that 6.28 percent — I saw an article that I can’t help but think might have been just a little teensy bit intended for me. My brother, a true champ of a brother and genuine friend, couldn’t help but sense the connection when he posted this story about his colleague on Facebook. (Well, in actuality it may have just been because in his job as a Veep at Fuller Seminary he posts everything in the magazine and he never gave me a thought, but I like to believe big brother was thinking of me. I’ll stick with that.)

The point? Is there one now 172 words into this blog? Simply this: I never knew it but my spiritual doppelgänger is an evangelical. She’s also a woman, and she’s also pretty cool in my brief reading of her story, and she’s also a whole lot of other things that frankly remind me of … me (yes, I am one of the cool kids, at least in my own mind). Aside from apparently missing out on my scandals, alcoholism, rehab and general bottoming out, Erin DuFault-Hunter is, like me, a liberal-Catholic-turned Anabapist. She even had an older brother who helped her see the life-changing nature of a relationship with Christ.

We are truly both Generation Xers it seems.

“Given my strong inclination to independence and perhaps even idolatrous desire to be ‘unique’ and authentic, I am not naturally a joiner. After all, I was born in the 60s and now I live in the age of selfies,” she writes.

I can relate to Dufault-Hunter’s admission of her cringing association with some aspects of evangelicalism. I think my evangelical friends believe this is why I am no longer counted among them. It is in part. The brand is so tarnished I see it doing more harm than good.

But like Dufault-Hunter, I can readily admit less noble reasons for my shirking the evangelical label.

“I also hoped I could be hip—rather than merely another religious moralistic freak. At bottom, I often still crave affirmation and belonging more than I want an abundant life that costs me, even if that cost is merely embarrassment,” she writes.

She gets it. I haven’t met my spiritual doppelgänger, but I connect with her story. In some ways I could have been her had I better learned the staying power of discipline doused with a tad more morality. I was accepted to go to Fuller’s doctoral program in 1989, after all.

But as much as I think folks want to think the cringe factor is the obstacle between me and my past evangelicalism, all I can say is I wish it were. My neurotic fixation on feeling misunderstood flares here most. If my objections were just lifestyle things I wouldn’t have them, I’m certain. I had those same objections for years. While an evangelical I felt wholly outside the sweet spot of orthodoxy. I never put good wood on the ball.

Only later, much later, when the fall was so great and the destructive ruin of my life so apparent did I realize that I did not fail despite of my evangelicalism but in part because of it.

Evangelicalism, with all its certitude, fostered a hubris within me that left me unprepared for life’s realities. It’s like the photo on this blog, all neatly headed in one direction, with guide rails to keep you on the “narrow” road, but in the end are we so sure it doesn’t just fall off into an ocean with us all casting about?

Evangelicals don’t think so, at least not how I was taught. It helped set a false standard and helped establish a belief system of morality that proved insufficient when challenged. I don’t blame evangelicalism. Like many schools of thought, it offered a framework.The blame is all mine.

The flaw is not the belief system, but the certitude in which it is expressed. It requires loyalty in the method that I can not adhere to myself, much less pass on to others. That is the rub: to be an evangelical is to in some sense accept the need to evangelize. No thank you.

Here’s the greater rub I think: Can I both cling to a lifesaving exchange with T
he Christ of cross and then not expect everyone else to experience God in the same way?

That guided prayer changed my life because I met a living God who would love me enough to follow me into the gutters of my coming failures. What followed, my introduction into the dogma of evangelicalism is when things slowly ventured down an errant road.

My reading of Scriptures calls us to serve, not sell. When I serve, I find my best me. When I serve, I know God better and see Her interact with others in a way I couldn’t conjure up no matter who hard I’d try.

When Jesus says the wages of sin are death, he means right here, right now. Just look all around you. So my focus is on the here now– on Earth, as it is in Heaven. God seems to have heaven wired. My help is not needed there. I’ll stick to Earth.

We are called to enter into a loving relationship  with the divine. How we do this, I suspect, we will spend this lifetime — a relatively brief glimpse of the life ahead — figuring it out to the best of our humble abilities. I can’t be an evangelical because I can’t offer anything other than love. But I am confident the more I do just that, the more God will fill in the gaps.

Which is why I’m completely OK that my spiritual doppelgänger is an evangelical (albeit a reluctant one, who like it or not is one of us cool kids, I suspect). In fact, I like it. Because in the end we both may be right. Wouldn’t that be great?

Consider your role in structural sin this Lent

As a Catholic kid growing up Lent mostly sucked. It pretty much took the usual layers of fear and guilt and heightened it even more with obligation. Year after year during my childhood  my vows to “give something up for Lent” failed faster than my pickup lines during my teen years. Eventually I pretty much gave up giving something up and Lent hasn’t bothered me much since.

Thankfully dynamic communities of faith are recalibrating the ancient spiritual traditions that have fallen out of favor because of obligation, fear and drudgery, all things I am convinced suck to God as much as they suck to us.  The purpose of these spiritual calendar events get lost in the translation. Now some, like First Mennonite Church of San Francisco are bringing them back.

But don’t let me tell you, let Pastors Sheri and Joanna invite you:

Lent is a season during which followers of Jesus are traditionally invited to repentance and renunciation of sin — which means, literally, “to miss the mark.” But of what sin are we to repent? Christianity, as we know it today, almost entirely emphasizes personal sin — greed, sloth, lust, lying — with little notion of “structural sin” or “systemic evil.” Yet most of the sin in which we engage is structural or systemic in nature, encoded in unjust power arrangements that form our economic, political and cultural systems.

However, this structural injustice is relatively invisible to many of us. The first task of repentance is to literally see structural sins such as racism and classism. To see the children who do not eat because their farmlands grow our exported strawberries; to see the worker whose low wage keeps the cost of our goods cheap, forcing them to choose between paying for medicine or food; to see the criminalization and mass incarceration of African-American men and the detention of immigrant men, women and children.

Fortunately, the Bible sees structurally and gives us a rich understanding of structural sin. From the Hebrew prophets to Jesus, Scriptures cry out against the “domination system” of that day and proclaim an alternative kingdom based on “upside-down” power arrangements and nonviolent love for all of us enmeshed in these structures.

During Lent, we hope to hone our moral vision, to begin to see structural injustice and to develop a common language and understanding together. Each Sunday will feature a sermon plus two “mini-stories” of how people in our community have experienced structural injustice. Each Sunday will also feature special music and singing that will stir our souls and embolden us to resist injustice.

Adult Education during Lent will delve further into the content of each worship service using case studies, discussion, a “people’s history” tour and other learning tools. In addition, Joanna and Sheri will be sending out a weekly Monday email that will provide additional educational resources to engage the past Sunday’stopic. 

It’s not too late to find genuine spiritual motivation to make the world a better place and live out the Godly vision of unleashing the plan of God here “on Earth as it is in heaven.” For more about FMCSF click here.  Located in the Mission District on 16th street and Dolores, FMCSF meets in Congregation Sha’ar Zahav. Below is schedule for Lenten services.
Feb. 22: Introduction
Sheri will give an introduction to our series. Heidi Gray and Nathan Yergler will share stories.
March 1: Seeing Structural Sin
Sheri will preach on how we begin to see structural violence/sin — the physical, psychological and spiritual harm that certain groups of people experience as a result of unequal distribution of power and privilege. Rachel Stoltzfus and Joel Tarman will share stories.
March 8: Countering Moral Oblivion — the Problem of Privilege
Sheri will preach on the moral oblivion that hides or legitimates structural sin. We’ll look at the problem of privilege — how it blinds those of us with it to the privilege we have within the system, the ways we are diminished, and also the violence and harm experienced by those without it. Nigel Blackwood-Chirchir and Claire Haas will share stories.
March 15: Having Eyes to See
Since structural injustice works by being invisible to those with privilege, developing moral vision means that we need to perceive reality through the stories and experiences of subjugated people. We will wrestle with what it means to be an ally and “do our own work” as people of privilege.  Joanna is preaching; stories TBA.
March 22: “People’s History” Tour
Joanna, Rachel Stoltzfus and Ben Bolanos will lead us on a “People’s History Tour” of our neighborhood around the synagogue. The tour will help us to see some of the structural realities in this neighborhood and challenge us to continue this learning in our many contexts around the Bay. Worship will prepare us for the tour, which will take place during fellowship time and Education Hour. A time to debrief will follow.

Taking some time to be still

Do you remember the movie The Paper? Every journalist loved it. It captured the insanity of newsrooms. What I loved the most was the editor, played by Robert Duval, clearly ready to slip a gear. He paces around his office ranting about all the columnists and their non-stop opinions … He yells, “Everybody just needs to shut… the… F*#&… up!” I’ve been there. I could relate.

But I have to believe, so to can God. Imagine the incessant whining in his ears. Imagine the non-stop pestering. No wonder the Pslamists of antiquity wrote of God saying, “Be still, and know that I am God.” That’s his nice way of saying the same thing as Robert Duval.

It’s not something we do well. It’s something I had to work very hard to learn, and I still suck. But I believe God wants to just be with me sometimes and not have to be verbally assaulted by my narcissism. That’s why I made myself a set of beads. I call them Grace Beads.

Most ancient religions have a prayer bead tradition. I suspect its for a simple reason. They work. By occupying our fingers we can calm our mind and interact with God on a deep, meditative level. Interestingly, one tradition that has almost a disdain for beads is Western Evangelicalism, much to their detriment. Too Catholic, I suppose, despite the fact that without the Catholics safe-guarding the faith for oh, about 1,500 years, there would be no Western Evangelicalism.

If ever a faith need to quiet down a bit, its the evangelicals. They seem so busy doing for God, and talking about God, they rarely have time for … God… Herself, who simply wants to sit and be with Her children. Thus, I made these prayer beads for Christians of all flavors. Borrowing from ancient Christian meditations and the rich tradition of mystics along with a healthy dose of scriptural focus, these beads guide us through the simple process of settling before God, taking stock of ourselves, and then focusing our energies outward in love and gratitude to others.

In Alcoholics Anonymous the 11th step is to take a Daily Moral Inventory. These beads are like that – a pause to take a moment and diagnosis how you are doing before your entire internal engine overheats. Each set of Grace Beads is individually made. There are a couple of different setup. One, the necklaces pictured here, are based on an uneven circle, with the rougher stones signifying the look inward to our sins and the smoother stones coming back up through grace.

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The smaller bracelets, like pictured at the top of this post, are built on a symmetrical pyramid of 11 beads of confession and 11 beads of graceful interaction with the Holy Spirit.

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A prayer guide is available in PDF format. Feel free to visit our website under the Workshops page for a way to get your copy. You can make your own string of beads, or drop us a line and we’ll see about getting you one of ours. Whatever works to occupy those hands, calm your mind and give you some time with the greatest artist of all, the one who created you and called you fearfully and wonderfully made.

Grace and peace to you.