Sleep On It

Last night a young couple came and essentially tried to convince Nora she’s going to Hell.  I’m not going to name-and-shame what church they came from, but it was very close to home.  It made me furious that the version of the gospel that was being sold in my neighborhood, and because I was busy feeding the sheep I lead.

I am still furious, but I’ve decided to bite my tongue a bit on it, trying to figure out how best to respond.  I don’t know if a public response is best, or a conversation with their pastor asking why this is an acceptable mission practice, but what I’ve written is 95% of what I will say on the matter.

I am very happy I started writing my response last night and waited until today to post it.  It was poorly written, crafted out of anger and exhaustion, not helpful but rather condemning and accusatory.  My thoughts weren’t wrong – again, I’m still angry about it – but I couldn’t write it in a pastoral way.  As I sit in the office this afternoon, not able to focus on real work, I am having a hard time being pastoral again.

So instead of talking about that, I decided I was going to do something else: talk about how to be a mature adult.  Last night I was ready to send all sorts of e-mails and a “Letter to the Editor” and try to get a meeting with the other church in town and create a united front against the teachings of this church.  Today, my vision has cleared a little bit and I can see the folly of that.

Often times sleeping on it is the best option.  Responding out of blind anger would do two things: get my supporters in an unhealthy frenzy and break and line of communication or compromise between this church and my own.  That accomplishes nothing but making me feel good and righteous, which, in its own way, is what caused that brand of theology.

Feeling righteous feels really damn good.  Having people in a fury affirming your righteousness feels amazing.  Judging and condemning the other feels really good.  It all would have made me feel great.

And accomplishes nothing more than divide an already divided and spiritually struggling community further.

I wasn’t home last night because I was preparing for Bible study at the church.  We are studying 1st Timothy.  Last night was chapter 1, including a difficult conversation on verses 9-10.  This verse that includes a word whose translation we can’t guarantee and whose interpretation partially caused to the ELCA and the PC(USA) to both have a major splits and vocal proponents on each side of the debate risking their careers for what they believe God is directing them to do, including a professor I never got the chance to study under because firing him meant money was continuing to come in.

Last night I wanted to add my voice to the larger argument of scripture and sin in a way that furthered the frenzy and anger.  Today I want to share the message of the gospel that is love and salvation, not condemnation and growth based upon fear and guilt.  I want to provide community today, not provide a place to fulfill an obligation so someone can get into Heaven.

I slept on it, and now my anger has calmed so I can actually be light instead of darkness, as dim as my light is today.  I approached it with calm, understanding and love, and now I can respond with calm, understanding, and love.

I will close with this.  If anyone who is local to Cascade, Iowa reads this, know that the message in the church I am leading is not that message.  We believe that we are broken and need Christ, but we will not drag you in with the threat of Hell if you act differently than us or have sins that we don’t struggle with.  I am not ignorant of what has happened with this congregation, and I am not ignorant of why someone might not feel comfortable or welcome in the walls of that church – and that saddens me greatly – but the message from my pulpit is love, compassion, and hope, not judgement nor condemnation.  If you are seeking that, the doors are open to you (and everyone from every walk of life).

You are loved, and that is the message of the gospels.

And don’t respond to stuff out of anger.  It doesn’t help; it only feeds your ego and self-righteousness.

Peace,

– Robby

Matches and Gasoline

Note: The featured image comes from here.  I know I can use it how I like because of the Creative Commons license but I want to support the people whose work I steal. 

I posted a great conversation between Pete Holmes and Richard Rohr on Twitter the other day (HERE) and in part of it, Pete talks about his faith room, deconstructing it, and then reconstructing it.  It really is a great illustration, and I have spent a stupid amount of time thinking about it since I first listened to it.

As I was showering (the best incubator for creative thought) and thinking about what I wanted to write this week, I got to thinking about the three stages of faith that they talk about in that podcast – construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction – and their discussion of getting stuck in one of the early stages.  I especially thought of getting stuck in the deconstruction phase.

A lot of people, out of anger or frustration or whatever emotion they are feeling that causes them to deconstruct, just stay in that second phase.  They just want to burn it down, burn their faith down and dance in the smoldering ashes of what was before.  Someone gave them, or they created, something that became matches and gasoline to their faith, and they combined the two in the middle of their faith room and burned the mother to the ground.

And that’s fine.  Sometimes you have to just burn it to the ground.  Sometimes there is nothing good or healthy – especially for you – in your faith room and deconstructing it peacefully won’t work.  Like some abandoned houses or barns, the best option is gasoline and matches.

There are two outcomes to this.  One is the healthy one; the violent catharsis did it’s job and you are able to put out the flames and rebuild.  Maybe your faith room is just a grass patch without a belief structure, or maybe you rebuild with something completely different but still a faith room.  That is fine, as long as you don’t just stay in that burning stage.

The other outcome is that you really liked when you burnt down your faith room; you really liked the violence of the fire destroying your beliefs.  It felt good, and you thought it was the most moral thing you could do.  So you collect your matches and gasoline and force them upon other people, trying to watch the whole house of all belief rooms burn to the ground.  You really push them on those whose houses have the same furniture and decorations that you have, trying desperately to make them burn it down because you needed to burn yours down and no one else should have that faith.

Some people will take your matches and gasoline and burn their faith rooms down because they were searching for matches and gasoline, but you can’t make anyone do that.  You can’t burn the faith rooms down of anyone, no matter how much you want to.  Even if their room causes you pain, even if you can’t stand the sight of what they have put in their faith room, you can’t burn it down no matter how much you want to.

I kind of want to talk about my deconstruction and (hopeful) reconstruction to illustrate this.  I was raised Christian – Presbyterian in fact – and I haven’t veered from it much.

Actually, that’s not true.  I had a time where I just started tossing everything organized out.  Everything.  I didn’t have violent or fast deconstruction, I didn’t move everything out in a day; I just started taking things out that I didn’t think made sense.  I really found myself with an old but wonderful couch – the Apostles’ Creed – and a mirror.

But I started rebuilding from there.  I believed that there is a God, that Christ was real, and that a Holy Spirit works within me.  Everything else was fair game.

It is odd, but I find that the things that have made their way back into my faith room aren’t all that different than the thing that were in here before, just better or older or more intentional and personal.  The couch of depravity of humanity was once a cheap, Walmart pleather couch that wouldn’t last; I replaced it with black heirloom couch that was melancholy but brought me comfort, and then replaced that one with a brightly colored custom couch that is comfortable and great for sitting and talking and be with anyone and being truly comfortable.  The computer of loving God with all of my heart, soul, strength, and mind was replaced by a desk, bookshelf, weight bench, heater, and better computer of loving God with all of my heart, soul, strength, and mind.  The end table of loving God was from the Dollar Store but know is built by my hands, imperfect and flawed but strong and personal.

The thing I think a lot of people who want to watch the faith rooms of everyone burn miss is that I have the matches and gasoline in my room, too.  Some of the matches sit in a cupboard, some are used to light candles and start controlled fires.  Some of the gasoline became kerosene for a lamp, some is gasoline that I left outside while I contemplate what to do with it, some of it had no weight and became water as it entered my room.  But it’s all there; I just didn’t use it to burn everything down.

The thing about the reconstruction phase is it’s kind of like remodeling a house; nothing is ever permanent again.  I’m reminded of my friend Nathan remodeling his kitchen; he took out ten layers of flouring, with wood over and under multiple layers, and wood again under everything (not exaggerating).  The process of changing and rebuilding is never done, and is never permanent.  If I were to put a timeline on it, my deconstruction started in high school and got stronger in the beginning of college, and my reconstruction started at the end of college, but then I started seminary and a bunch of cleaning happened and a bunch of stuff got replaced with stronger and better stuff, some made by me, a lot made by people who make faith furniture that I customized after the fact.  And I burned the hutch of condemning individual sins and judging people whose sins are different than mine in a glorious fashion with fireworks and dynamite that brought the spectators (liberals) and police (conservatives) alike, all whom were disappointed.

Only I can burn my faith room to the ground.  You are welcome to give me the matches and gasoline – much of which I already have – but only I can strike the match.  Kind of like only you could strike the match of your faith room.  And only I can put things in my faith room, build the walls, and decorate the room.  No matter how much you want me to have your couch or painting or rug, I alone can choose what comes in and what stays out.

Everyone would be happier if we stopped trying to control and build the faith rooms of others.  All we can do is give them access to elements and love them; they have to do the rest, and because the only way faith and love work is if people are free to choose.  Love can certainly help move things in if requested, it can certainly let up the gasoline puddles and open the gas valves, but it can’t strike the match or force things in.

Each faith room in individual and personal and can’t be made by anyone else.  So give access to furniture and matches and gasoline and water out of love, and stop forcing them on people.

I hope that all made sense.  Now to do what I actually need to do today.  This isn’t a sermon, I don’t think.

Peace,
– Robby

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