Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Cenla Meditation Group has been participating in the 28 days of meditation challenge and book study of Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg. This is a guided lovingkindness meditation and talk by Lyndon Marcotte on “Week 4: Lovingkindness” Recorded 02/26/2013.

Cenla Meditation Group has been participating in the 28 days of meditation challenge and book study of  Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg. This is a talk by Lyndon Marcotte on “Week 3: Dealing with Difficult Emotions.”

I was first exposed to Bishop Carlton Pearson on NBC’s Dateline “To Hell and Back”in the Fall of 2007, and did a little internet reading on his story. I saw him again as a panelist in March of this year on ABC’s Night Line Face Off “Does Satan Exist?”. A lot of what he had to say resonated with me and peaked my curiosity to learn more. I recently got his book The Gospel of Inclusion and finished reading it last night.

I enjoyed the book, but it left me unsatisfied. I have a lot of sympathy with what Carlton went through. Like him, my conclusions and de-converting did not begin with an epiphany but was rather the result of a process of wrestling with questions and answers and more questions. True to his disclaimer the book does represent the collective of his post-evangelical sermons and is heavy on Biblical references. I think I was hoping for a little more biographical narrative and less sermonizing, even though I appreciate the difference in tone and aim in the message. I think the book was written primarily as a message to evangelicals, starting where they are and taking them through his theological transition and reasoning making the case for the Gospel of Inclusion.

It’s funny to me that some of the things that many people consider “liberal” seem oddly conservative to me still. Perhaps that’s a measure of how far I’ve come or evidence that I don’t use a yard stick anymore.

I admittedly speed read through the first two-thirds of the book, because he was “preaching to the choir” where I’m concerned. I need no de-converting from evangelicalism. I appreciate the last portion of the book most, where he talked more about life on the otherside of his “coming out” of evangelicalism. I relate to that more. I’m still looking for a book that wrestles more with reading the Bible again for the first time or rethinking faith and practice on the other side of evangelicalism.

I really like Carlton Pearson as a person and have not seen or read anything that would lead me to doubt his motives. If he was out to make money, he surely wouldn’t have thrown away a profitable and high-profile ministry. I think this book is a good bridge for people who are questioning and wrestling with their evangelical background. This book and message won’t lead you away from Christian faith altogether. There’s no brain washing going on here. Just one man’s candid and very personal journal of his faith journey.

  1. Recognizing that I am not separate from all that is.
  2. Being satisfied with what I have.
  3. Encountering all creations with respect and dignity.
  4. Listening and speaking from the heart.
  5. Cultivating a mind that sees clearly.
  6. Unconditionally accepting what each moment has to offer.
  7. Speaking what I perceive to be the truth without guilt or blame.
  8. Using all of the ingredients of my life.
  9. Transforming suffering into wisdom.
  10. Honoring my life as an instrument of peacemaking.

Taken from Jean Smith’s The Beginner’s Guide to Zen Buddhism

I just finished reading Frank Schaeffer‘s memoirs Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back. I knew of Frank and his father Francis Schaeffer but arrived on the evangelical scene after the rise of the religious right was in full swing. I could not put this book down for a week. It details the childhood and adolescence of Frank in the Schaeffer home of L’Abri in Switzerland where he grew up and the rise of his family in the evangelical community. It is brutally honest, eye-opening, at times laugh out loud funny, and heart breaking.

I enjoyed the book most for being a personal story of someone else on a similar journey as my own, for the same reasons I enjoy de-conversion.com. It is incredibly helpful and psychologically healthy to know that I am not alone in my questions and struggles with faith, doubt, and reason. While all of us end up on different ends of the theological spectrum between devotion and atheism, we share a common journey, common experiences, and a common voice.

I appreciate most from Frank’s book his acknowledgement that this is his life’s story as he sees it now. He recognizes that all our perspectives are skewed knowingly or unknowingly and always written or told from the vantage point of the moment. He says asking the question “who are you?” is insufficient. The necessary question to follow that is “when?” He realizes that as individuals we are in a state of flux throughout our lives and likely to be very different from even ourselves at various times in our lives.

Near the end of the book Frank discloses that he is plugging away at faith, in part, through his conversion to the Greek Orthodox Church mostly because he says, “the Orthodox idea of a slow journey to God, wherein no one is altogether instantly ‘saved’ or ‘lost’ and nothing is completely resolved in this life (and perhaps not in the next), mirrors the reality of how life works, at least as I’ve experienced it.” That makes a lot of sense to me, and while I vascilate daily between belief and unbelief, mystery and reason, life is, if nothing else, a journey on which I am trying to grow and learn and become all that I can while I can. This book is a welcome stepping stone along the way.

I recently finished reading Why is God Laughing? by Deepak Chopra with a foreward from Mike Myers. The book peaked my interest because I saw an episode of Iconoclast featuring both of them together some time ago. The book is also ficiton.  A comic comes to grips with the death of his father and all of the big questions that haunt us with the help of a spiritual mentor of sorts. Both characters seem like alter egos of both Chopra and Myers interestingly enough. I recommend the book as an easy, entertaining, and enlightening book. At the end of the book there is a section called “The Path to Joy: Ten Principles of Spiritual Optimism,” which I enjoyed as much if not more than the whole book. One section made me think more than usual:

Can a loving God  really supply us with life’s good things one day and pain the next? Most people who feel grateful to God tend to deny that he is also responsible for disease, calamity, and death. yet an all-knowing, all-powerful diety can’t be responsible for only part of what goes on. Either he sustains everything or nothing.

The way to escape from living under a God who brings pleasure one day and pain the next is to realize that God isn’t a person. We only call God “he” because our minds resist thinking of God as a total abstraction. In truth, being total, God has to be abstract. you can’t wrap your mind around the All. Instead, we wrap our minds around the things we notice, and choose to believe in.

I’m not really sure what to do with God anymore, as I’m sure he doesn’t know what to do with me either, assuming either of us are really real. This thought provoking excerpt challenges the assumptions that I grew up with. I have never read or heard Deepak say anything that would disavow the existence or presence of God in our lives, but he regularly challenges our preconceived ideas in order to stretch our imaginations. To think of God as a person like us completely baffles my mind. If he is a person like us, he is either powerless, ignorant, or a bigger prick than anyone can fathom. The problem of human suffering is one of the biggest hurdles to the argument of an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving God. K + P + L ≠ G in any conceivable way to me. Evangelicals reconcile the problem by blaming us for our own misery, i.e. sin. I don’t have the time nor the stomach to go down the road refuting apologetics at the moment. Suffice it to say that most of the classical theological positions don’t measure up to science, common sense, or even common decency that one would expect from an all-loving God. It seems that many of the problems I have and maybe others is that we think of God as a person and try to force our expectations and assumptions upon that image. 

In both this book and others Deepak talks about God as the All, the unifying force creating and sustaining everything we know as reality (my words not his). That helps me to think about God in a different way, albeit more distanced. I’m still not sure if I believe in a unifying force in the world that we tap into, ignore, or abuse at our peril, anymore than I do the Judeo-Christian view that many of us were raised with. The jury’s still out on the subject for me, but I appreciate being challenged to think about God in a different way before giving up on the idea altogether.

I’m working through the nuts and bolts process of research and planning for the book I’m writing. There will be many rewrites of everything, but here is the working draft of what the book is about and a brief overview. Comments appreciated. Free critics are the best.

 

A young Irish refugee begins her new life in the bayous of the Louisiana Territory.

A young girl flees the green shores of Ireland with her family for the murky bayous of the Louisiana. Sarah McWilliams tries hard to adapt to life in the Spanish territory, but she’s soon married off to an Irish immigrant approved by her father and moved north to start a family far from her own. Soon after adjusting to their new life together, Sarah’s husband is tragically killed leaving her a very young widow with three small children. Gabriel is fresh from Tennessee to make a name for himself, but soon befriends his fare red-headed neighbor and wins her heart and hand in marriage. Within a few years the sugar boom is calling and the vagabond packs up home and family once more to start over yet again in the foreign French-speaking bayous of south Louisiana. Together Gabriel and Sarah endure hardship and setback to carve out a life in the backwater wilderness for their family leaving a legacy of love and endurance known as the Wildwood Plantation.

     

Another Wildwood Plantation, in similar style to the Beasley home

 

 

 

 

Another Wildwood Plantation, in similar style to the Beasley home

There are a few things I’ve always wanted to do before I die, as they say. I learned how to fly and received my private pilot’s license a few years ago. Check. Learn to play the guitar comfortably, half-check. Open my own little coffee shop, no check yet. Sigh.

I’ve always wanted to write a book, as well as music someday. While I love to write and manage to sound coherent most of the time, I’m generally not the creative artsy type. I admire the free spirit and abandonment to risk that artists take. They expose their most intimate selves to the world and rise or fall on their merits. That’s admirable to me, but I’ve never considered myself the fiction writer type. The dialogue confuses me. I’m far too analytical and philosophical at times to write fiction, I think, but who wants to read an autobiography of a former preacher turned… well, something else? 

As it turns out, the book I’m going to write is fiction after all, well, fiction based on fact. That seems a safe enough bridge to cross for the first time. I’ve picked up my grandmothers love of family history/geneology and have been tinkering away at it for the last six years or so in her place. It fascinates me. I want to know who I am and where my family came from. Along the way I’ve discovered some amazing stories of love, loss, hardship, and even murder. There are at least three or four stories that beg to be told. I’m starting with the story that’s fascinated me the most.

An Irish immigrant finds love and heartache in the Bayous of Louisiana, or something like that. It’s a story from the oldest known ancestor of my grandmother’s paternal line, the Burns. I’ve always had a love of all things Irish. It turns out for good reason. There are at least two lines of my family that trace their roots back to Ireland.

The young Irish immigrant is Sarah McWilliams born in 1780 in County Cork, Ireland. She came to Louisiana at some time before 1800 with her family and married a young Irish-Scot, John Burns in Opelousas shortly thereafter. After settling in the pioneer region of Morehouse Parish and giving birth to their third child, John died, cause unknown. Within a couple years this young widow met a young North Carolina boy named Gabriel Beasley fresh off the trail from Tennessee and married him. They bought a plantation and expanded their family for 10 years in North LA, while the Louisiana Territory became part of the U.S. and sugar became king over tobacco and cotton. Around 1820 they moved near Napoleonville in Lafourche Parish and slowly carved a sugar plantation out of the wilderness of the Attakapas Canal, which later became Wildwood Plantation where they enjoyed a long life together. Sarah died at home of pneumonia at age 80 in 1860 and Gabriel died later that same year, just in time to miss the destruction of the Civil War.

There are so many questions that I have about the blanks in the story. Thinking about those questions for years now has fueled my imagination about why, what, and when. Their story is romantic, adventurous, and heartbreaking all the same. Sarah’s life in Ireland and coming to America is a great story. The first love of her life died way too young leaving her a widow in a strange land with three children. A young North Carolina boy fell in love with a young widow and took her children as his own. They worked hard and built a wonderful life for themselves and their children for generations, only to die oddly enough months apart.

I’ve been doing a lot research into life back then, people, places, history, social/economic conditions, etc. It’s been really fascinating and sort of like trying to solve a mystery with whatever clues you can find. You have to take a certain license of liberty to fill in the blanks of their life and make choices about what you think happened and why they made the choices they did. I’m trying to make careful decisions about what most likely happened and also what would make the best story. This will be a work of fiction after all, but I hope to honor their story as best I can, before its lost and never told again.

Sarah’s lifespan parallels the history of the birth of the sugar plantation, the state of Louisiana, and the arrival of the Acadians. There are several other things that make the story really interesting to me. They tie together the history and culture of north Louisiana and south Louisiana which are worlds apart. Half my family is from south La and half from the north. I’ve spent half my life in each and know them well, but there is a lot of the Acadian French-speaking world of the bayous that I only know through story. Gabriel and Sarah were like other Anglos that came to the bayous chasing the sugar boom, feeling out of place and working to adjust to a different kind of life. 

This is going to take awhile, but I think I’ll enjoy it. I don’t have any high aspirations of selling the book or of many people reading it, but I will feel especially accomplished when I finish it. I think my grandmother would love it. She was so passionate about her family history and took such pride in where she came from and who she was. 

I’m working near the southern site of the story and plan to spend some time there doing some research and getting a feel for the story. I hope to make a trek north to the earlier homeplace and do the same in a few weeks. I won’t make it to Ireland though, so books will have to do. I’ll be blogging from time to time about my progress, the challenges, and nuts and bolts of putting a book together. I hope it challenges you to step out on a limb and check off one of your boxes too.

Ok, so I’ve been gone for awhile. I’d say it’s been hard getting back on the horse after so long, but I just haven’t felt much like blogging. I’ve been a little busy I guess. It seems like getting things rolling with my job after the holidays is a bit like pushing a freight train up a hill. So I’ve been focused on work but still feel like I haven’t gotten back in my groove yet.

I haven’t been reading at all for a couple months. I am very excited about the arrival of Deepak Chopra’s newest book, The Third Jesus: The Christ We Cannot Ignore. It will be released February 19th. Mine is pre-ordered with Amazon. The basic premise of the book, as I understand Deepak’s description from his Sirius Stars radio show, is that the first Jesus was the historical Jesus who actually lived, which is fairly elusive to our grasp. Then there is the second Jesus, the one who has grown out of centuries of tradition and cultural bias and perhaps a largely mythical persona. The third Jesus would be the one we try to return to that speaks to us in our present reality with truths and grace that transcend dogma and religion. Let’s be honest folks, the church has effectively hijacked Jesus and twisted his words and intentions into a convaluted mess to promote an agenda of control through fear. Anyway, I’ll be blogging about the book quite a bit once I get started.

The bulk of my time has been spent at home with my family. The kids are growing and have been a lot of fun, all in all. I’ve enjoyed spending more time with my wife. We had a good Christmas. We came away with the resolve that next year it will not be about everyone else and will focus on our own little nuclear family. Things just seemed to get out of hand with buying stuff for everyone. By the time you get a ‘little something’ for everyone, it turns out to be a ‘big something’ in the wallet. It’s not reciprocated, and I seriously question that grown adults need someone to buy them something that they may not want that they could not better buy for themselves. Anyway, that’s my rant on Christmas gift-giving.

I have spent an inordinary amount of time on my newest addiction, World of Warcraft. It’s one of those Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG) you may have heard about. No doubt the most popular one. A high school friend of mine has been playing since 1999 and told me about it on more than occasion. I was always intimidated and never checked it out. My friend and I were working in North Mississippi in December, when a WoW South Park episode came on. It was hysterically funny and inspired me to try the free trial version of the game. Like I said, I’m hooked. That’s why I haven’t been reading or blogging. LOL. I’ve learned a lot and had a lot of fun. My six year old loves to watch me play and could probably take over my character should something happen to me. For you WoW buffs I’m playing as a Night Elf Druid and have made it up to level 55 since mid-December. Yah! It’s a definate indulgence, but it keeps me out of mischief.

The other passion that I’ve been enthralled with is presidential politics. I am a news junkie. Until recently I haven’t liked any of the candidates, but I love the process. It’s the Ultimate Fighting Championship. I’ll probably be blogging more about presidential politics in the future. I just didn’t want my first blog of 2008 to be a political one. Talk to you soon.

I’ve been enthralled by Brian Swimme’s book The Universe is a Green Dragon. I trust that you already know that we are children of the stars, literally. The planets, comets, moons, and even life on earth are all products of star dust. For that reason Swimme describes the universe observing itself through us:

We are the self-reflexion of the universe. We allow the universe to know and feel itself. So the universe is aware of itself through self-reflexive mind, which unfurls in the human. We were brought forth so that these experiences of beauty could enter awareness. The primeval fireball existed for twenty billion years without self-awareness. The creative work of the supernovas existed for billions of years without self-reflexive awareness. That star could not, by itself, become aware of its own beauty or sacrifice. But the star can, through us, reflect back on itself. In a sense, you are the star.

This got me to thinking. Often we live our lives trying to discover where it is we came from and wondering where it is we are going, not knowing either for certain. What happens to the world around us once we’re gone? Did our lives really count for something? Make an impact on others? All of those billions of stars had no idea of their own significance until we came along, formed from the leftover dust of their death. Just because we don’t know what will happen in the future doesn’t mean we won’t make a difference. One day we will become dust again, and in time we will return to our source, another star in another time that will one day too explode into a world of new possibilities. It really isn’t such a small world after all, is it?

I am a huge fan of the Public Library. I went years without darkening the door except in college when cramming for a paper. I’m trying to make up for lost time I suppose. I usually have way too many books out at any one time, but I’m a multi-task reader. I usually read at least three or four books at a time.

Here’s an update of what I’m working through, in order of pages read:

  • Searching for God knows what, Donald Miller
  • The Long Night of Winchell Dear, Robert James Waller
  • Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine, Deepak Chopra
  • The Sales Bible, Jeffrey Gitomer

Sitting next to my chair begging to be picked up: 

  • Come Be My Light, Mother Theresa and Brian Kolodiejchuk
  • Son of a Preacher Man, Jay Bakker 
  • The Spiritual Laws of Success, Deepak Chopra
  • Life Beyond Death, Deepak Chopra

If you’ve read my recent post Reading the Bible again for the first time, you would know that beginning this week I’ll be posting a weekly article on my study of the Gospel readings from the Revised Common Lectionary.

It’s been a while since I did any systematic study of a passage. I’ve enjoyed getting my feet wet again but have to go about it in a new way. I’m not preparing to write sermons. This isn’t a congregation. I’m trying to discover the impact of the text, reading through a new set of lenses, in hope of hearing what it says first of all to me personally and also to the broader faith community.

I don’t want this weekly post to be a mini-sermon, though you’re welcome to it if you need one, nor do I want to write a running commentary. I think I may include my personal commentary or behind the scenes work as a comment to the post for those die hard enough to want to read it.

It’s occured to me that you cannot have an honest dialouge about matters of faith and your journey deeper or farther away without first wrestling with scripture one on one. It’s easy to knock out theological lightweights and counter paper thin doctrinal diatribes, but it’s another matter altogether to wrestle with the angel until he blesses you, or in this case hear the text again for the first time.

You’re welcome to join the conversation any time. I always appreciate your feedback and comments, but as with everything on this blog it is a personal exercise in sanity that you are invited to eavesdrop on at your own peril.

“All relationship is a mirror to the self. Those whom you are deeply attracted to or repelled by are both mirrors of you. You are attracted to those in whom you find traits that you already have but want more of, and you are repelled by those in whom you find traits that you deny in yourself.”Deepak Chopra, Power, Freedom, and Grace

I didn’t agree with this when I first read it. I thought about the people who “repel” me, to be polite. No way, I’m not like them. After I continued reading and began thinking about specific traits in people that attract and repel me, I think he’s right.

  • What are some of those traits in people that attract me to them?  I enjoy being around people who are inquisitive, creative, independent, humble, selfless, positive, and enjoyable.
  • Those traits in others that repel me? I loathe people who are judgemental, narrow-minded, critical, elitist, negative, and sour in disposition.

I would like to think that I find some of those positive qualities in myself. I certainly hope that they increase, but I have a hard time confronting those darker qualities in me, “my shadow,” as Chopra calls it. Truthfully, while I have come a long way, I can look back and see many of those darker elements in my life history, and from time to time they try to raise their head and have their way with me again.

How does recognizing these familiar traits in others impact your relationship with them? First of all, it goes a long way to breaking down the walls in “us vs. them.” He may be a sorry, terrible, no good son of a bitch, but he’s really not all that different from me. When I was still pastoring churches, the phrase I used often to keep from judging others was “there for the grace of God go I.” Especially, when I worked with inmates for years in the state prison, I recognized that there was only one wrong decision between where they were and myself. Strangely, I often felt more in common with some of those inmates than the people in the churches that I pastored. That’s the subject for a whole other post, but mostly I identified with the inmates because their weaknesses were on display. There was no pretense about perfection, as there was on Sunday morning at church.

If I recognize those “repulsive” traits in others as being similar to those tendencies in me, I am less likely to judge and more likely to empathize with them. In doing so I come closer to accepting myself with all of my faults and shortcomings. I shared this other quote from Chopra’s book as a comment to a friend’s post earlier today: “Self-acceptance, total self-acceptance, means self-forgiveness. When you forgive yourself and stop judging yourself, then you won’t judge others, and there will be less conflict in the world.”

Now it seems we are digging close to the heart of the matter and must tread softly. Our ego’s are a many fragile thing, to turn a phrase. One of the compulsive reasons we have for judging others is that we do not accept ourselves. Chopra urges us to “embrace your shadow, understand your shadow, forgive your shadow.” I have come to believe that the driving force behind dogmatists that are bent on making everyone agree with them is that they are very insecure and need the agreement of others to reinforce their own shallow ego’s.

If we enlightened moderate types can be honest with ourselves, we too crave the agreement of others. We all need and want affirmation from others. I’d love to have ten comments to this post from people telling me that they relate to what I’m saying and support my opinion, but self-acceptance means that I am at peace within myself whether or not people agree or disagree with me. It means that my self-worth is no longer dependent on winning others over to my side. Dialogue and debate can be good and healthy. There’s nothing wrong with having different opinions, sharing them, or defending them, but there is a huge difference in conceding a point versus picking up a gun and killing your neighbor over it.

The greatest battles today rage inside the heart of man. The secret to peace in the world isn’t that everyone relinquish their positions and embrace uniformity. Perhaps the secret to peace in the world is that we learn to embrace ourselves.

Psss.. lean forward a little bit. Everyone is asleep, so we can’t talk too loud. Many of you night owls like me may still be up, but some of you early birds may be reading this before 7:00am. God bless you. I’ve always enjoyed being up early enough to see the sunrise, but I only do it if I’m going fishing. 99% of the time I stay up late and get up when I have to, which is usually when my boys are screaming in the living room or jumping in my bed.

I’ve always stayed up late as long as I could get away with it. Back when I had a bedtime, I would lay in my bed staring at the ceiling while my mind raced full throttle sorting the events of the day and the problems of the world. I love the night. It’s sooo quiet. I love silence. I crave it.

Most of my late night hours are whittled away watching television and surfing the net. Sometimes I read a book. Sometimes I do all three, and there’s always a snack involved. I get hungry after 11:00am. My favorite late night food is a bowl of cereal, cookies and milk, or ice cream, oh, and alcohol. I usually don’t drink straight spirits or mixers until after everyone else is asleep. Drinking makes me sleepy. For the nights when I’m stressed to the max or pacing over tomorrow I’ve found melatonin to be helpful in knocking me out.

Almost every night that I’m home, I watch the Evening Mass on the Catholic network EWTN that ends at midnight. It just ended. It’s a private personal ritual, at least till now. It’s very peaceful and helps me to find my center in a way that’s hard to explain. The music is often ethereal. I don’t let theology or doctrine ruin it for me.

Often after watching a movie I get very contemplative and philosophical, so I’ll blog, like I am tonight, or I’ll read a book before I close my eyes. Usually, I’ll read and pray the Evening Prayers and Complines from Celtic Daily Prayer.

Tonight I thought I’d share a few moments of the most sacred time in my day with you. I’m off to get a bowl of cereal to end my day but hoped that you might share these prayers with me:

My soul waits for the Lord
more than those
who watch for the morning,
more than those
who watch for the morning.

I will lie down and sleep in peace
for You alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety.

My dear ones, O God, bless Thou and keep,
in every place where they are.

Be it on Thine own beloved arm,
O God of grace,
that I in peace shall waken.

The peace of all peace
be mine this night
in the name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

I just started reading a new book. I couldn’t get into The Lord of the Rings as easily as I did The Hobbit. My second attempt to read Eugene Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places failed too. It’s not an easy read like his other books have been. I honestly tried though. I just wasn’t buying it nor enjoying it.

I picked up Searching for God knows what by Donald Miller at the library today. I just can’t put it down. I really enjoyed Blue Like Jazz. His conversational writing style is enjoyable and hysterical. I’ll blog more about the book a little later, but I thought I’d share the first couple quotes that jumped out at me:

“I realized the gospel of Jesus, I mean the essence of God’s message to mankind, wasn’t a bunch of hoops we needed to jump through to get saved, and it wasn’t a series of ideas we had to agree with either; rather, it was an invitation, an invitation to know God.

“If you happened to be a person who thought they knew everything about God, Jesus would have been completely annoying.”

“Living out of the false self creates a compulsive desire to present a perfect image to the public so that everybody will admire us and nobody will know us.” ~ Brennan Manning, The Rabbi’s Heartbeat

I can’t say that there was a time in my life when I tried to portray myself as anything more than what I am, but there have been plenty of times when people have assumed me to be more than I am. While I have never intentionally embellished my persona to win the approval of others, I certainly never offered my weaknesses and failures for public consumption. No, we keep those close to our chest. So my silence indicts me still.

Our sense of what really matters goes through an evolution as we continue to grow. Like all humans I spent the better portion of my life hoping to be liked, to be accepted. Realizing what was required to be accepted by some people, I opted to be considered odd by those in hopes of counting others as friends. I grew more and more comfortable being my own person, but enjoying the favor of others never grew tiresome.

I lived too long with a flawed belief that if people really knew me, the real me, that they wouldn’t like me. Regarding some that’s probably true, but I came to painfully learn that those who despised me most were those that did not really know me at all. For the last few years it seems for me the sum of life’s purpose is to know and to be known. At this point in my life I would much rather be known than to be accepted. If those that take the time to truly know me also choose to accept me, I will not think more of myself but will think most highly of them.

A Hobbit's TaleTrying to describe the personal journey that I’ve been on for the last four years is like trying to nail jello to the wall.  I’ve gone through a thorough detox from vocational and institutional Christianity, plunged headlong into the “dark night of the soul,” and am slowly emerging with my head above unchartered waters. Bilbo’s story could well be my own, “There and Back Again: A Hobbit’s Tale,” yet the place to which I’ve returned is different and familiar all the same.

For those of you that don’t know I spent roughly 10 years in pastoral ministry, or I could say that I spent 10 years in pastoral ministry roughly. I broke from full-time ministry to become self-employed in healthcare marketing, a job I still have five years later. For 18 months I tried to be bi-vocational while building this new business, but aside from preaching on Sundays, my job didn’t lend itself to be compatible with pastoral ministry.

My departure from full-time ministry was against the grain of the church-growth mentality. I was capable and expected to move on to bigger churches to continue my “ministry.” Not only did I demote myself to a smaller pastorate, but I also went “secular.” There was a lapse of 9 months before I began the bi-vocational pastorate, leaving many to circulate rumors that my last church drove me from the ministry. Beginning with leaving full-time ministry I began to contemplate ways to reinvent the wheel. I had a deep gnawing awareness that something was wrong with the way we did church. I slowly began to peel back the layers of tradition trying to find something of an authentic spirituality worth practicing.

My earliest attempts at deconstruction focused too much on models and methods. I began to see small-group/cell-driven churches as a panacea. I even started a prototype group of potential leaders with the intention of duplicating into a small network of cells that would eventually begin corporate gatherings. One of the families went back into a traditional ministry role, leaving myself and a good friend of mine to discover that the root of our problems went much deeper than having the wrong model.

The reality we came to face was that we who had spent years in the ministry were completed isolated from normal people on the outside of the four walls of the church. You cannot reach people if you’re not with people. As we began to rethink our approach to reaching people, we became acutely aware of our own hidden agendas to “win friends and influence people.” There’s a powerful quote from the movie Big Kahuna with Kevin Spacey and Danny Devito that describes this well:

It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or ‘How to Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down.’ That doesn’t make you a human being; it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are – just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it’s not a conversation anymore; it’s a pitch. And you’re not a human being; you’re a marketing rep.

This realization has forever changed the way I interact with people and what I think of evangelism. I want to know people and value them for who they are and what they can teach me through their stories regardless of whether they agree with me or not.

It was about this time that I began trying to focus on being incarnational and became sympathetic to Celtic Christianity, in particular Celtic Daily Prayer of the Northumbria Community. I appreciate their focus on incarnation, prayer, contemplation, and service. It was a different, gentler form of Christianity that touched me deeply and sort of nourished me back to wholeness as a person, leaving one last link in my life to Christianity.

Aside from serving twice as an interim pastor for a few months following my bi-vocational pastorate, my wife and I quit going to church altogether. We felt no guilt whatsoever. We actually felt relieved and much happier. We didn’t disavow church for all time, but we were too well acquainted with the churches, parishoners, and pulpit personalities in our area to want to attend any of them. It was not long before a year had passed without darkening the door of a sanctuary.

In the process of deconstructing tradition and trying to be an honest broker of my motivations and convictions I became obsessed with trying to find answers to questions. Every answer yielded only more questions but better questions. It was not long before every truth I tried to stand on felt like mush beneath my feet. I found the most compelling answers not in theology but in the realm of science and reasoning. In particular my study of astrophysics and eventually quantum mechanics opened my eyes to a whole new way of seeing the world and my place in it. The Matrix is a definitive movie of our time for expressing the dynamic shift in worldviews taking place.

When your eyes are opened to see the world in a new way, there is a mixture of emotions ranging from anger for being hoodwinked to wide-eyed wonder in a new way of engaging life. Perhaps mainly for comfort I continued to come back to Celtic Daily Prayer and continually tried to rethink my way through all that I had been taught about God, the world, and who I am. I sort of came to a place where I was prepared to leave behind everything I had professed to believe in and go my own way. I realized that if I was willing to forsake it all, before I did I might as well try to start with a blank slate trying to reconstruct some semblance of a real world, liveable faith that worked for me. Demythologizing became a pathway out of the dark night of the soul for me. I began to find far more power and truth in looking through the lens of metaphor and symbolism than I ever did through literalism.

I suppose I’ve become theologically liberal. Although I never thought that was possible, I’m completely comfortable in my own skin for the first time in a long time. In no way do I consider to have to come to the end of my journey. I’m not dead yet. I find myself in a familiar place again. We’ve been visiting a few churches and found a church and a pastor with whom I can identify. I don’t have to agree with everything to find value in something. So I find myself retracing old steps but going in a new direction with a new way of seeing the road ahead. So I say with humility that I’ve been “there,” and I’ve come “back again.” There’s nothing to say I won’t end up “there” again before the journey’s over, but I’m sure it would not be the same as last I found it. I’ve discovered that I haven’t been wandering aimlessly in circles after all. I’m winding up A Spiral Staircase and though each turn around feels familiar I hope I’m gaining ground.

Gmail1. My friend started using it.

2. Outlook Express sucks.

3. Gmail is web-based and accessible anywhere.

4. Gmail saves me time by forwarding three addresses into one account.

5. There’s a Gmail app for my AT&T mobile for on the go access.

6. Gmail groups emails into conversation threads.

7. If I change IP’s again, my email address stays the same.

Rosie Defaces Photo of ElisabethRosie O’Donnell Defaces Photo of Elisabeth Hasselbeck During Speech on Gay Family Cruise

How can Rosie expect to have an ounce of credibility in the mainstream as an advocate for gays and lesbians if she’s going to continue to resort to this kind of childish behavior? She’s not helping anyone, not even herself. There are limits to pushing the envelope and being inflammatory for the sake of publicity. Is NBC seriously considering giving her a new show in the fall? Enough already.

If you are an information junkie and would like to get more done with less times, I’d like to share a couple tips that could help you. I’m fairly tech saavy but generally a late bloomer on assimilating the trendiest things. I finally broke down and learned about RSS Feeds, since moving my blog to WordPress, which is awesome btw. Your favorite blogs and many sites have Real Simple Syndication feeds that can be read by “aggregators” or feed readers. Basically, you can browse the latest posts from your favorite places in one place rather than having to go to each site. There are two feed readers that I’ve been enjoying a lot that you should know about, plus they’re FREE:

Google Desktop

Google’s desktop is a great floating tool with many customizeable widgets that simplify your life. Currently I have mine loaded with the current weather, a scratch pad for notes, clock/calendar, and my feeds. The options seem limitless of what you can with the desktop, but the feed reader is my favorite, because it automatically updates the headlines with the most current posts continuously. You can read the first few lines of a new post with one click of the headline then choose to open the site if you want to read the whole post.

Bloglines

Bloglines is my newest feed reader, and I have gotten a lot of use from it. I don’t want 100 different feeds constantly rolling down my Google Desktop, so I limit that list to my favorites. I have many more feeds in bloglines, which allows you to see a list of all your feeds with the number of unread posts in one pane with the selected feed appearing in the larger pane. It’s so simple “a caveman could do it.” There are also many more options in bloglines that enable you to share your feeds, create your own blog, etc. I’ve only used the feedreader so far, and unlike your Google Desktop, your bloglines feeds are accessible from any computer via their site.