The Suffering Christ

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The common denominator between anyone and everyone in all of humanity is suffering. Suffering takes many forms, but it unites us in some shape and form. It is because of this, the Jesus I identify with is one who suffered.

Yet while I recognize when I look at crosses whether he’s on it or it is vacant, I identify with him suffering like us. It takes a God who is willing to hurt like us for me to love God that much more. If God was one who started the wheels of life in motion and walked away or backed out of the scene, I don’t think I could connect with such a God because it lacks warmth, it lacks humanity. There wouldn’t be that connection that I feel in my heart, in my mind, and in my soul if I had to somehow follow a God who couldn’t identify with my life and what I go through.
I know that in my personal life that some individuals I cannot truly identify with; I can’t identify with the issues a single mother faces who survives paycheck-to-paycheck just to put food in her children’s bellies, I can’t identify with being a young Gay man who grows up in a small conservative town where he’s told on a regular basis that being Gay is a sin and an abomination in the eyes of God, I can’t identify with a black guy who despite a rough upbringing he overcame odds and makes it in the corporate world only to suffer the duress of institutionalized racism…I can’t identify with these individuals, but I can empathize, and I can listen to them as they tell their stories, and I can BE with them.

I need a God in my life who can BE with me, which is why the face of God I so often see is a bedraggled, haggard, suffering HUMAN face. It is marred, it is ugly, it hurts like I hurt and yet…it is the face of love, the face of God-with-us, the face of a God who cared so much for ALL of humanity that he set forth to make things right between ALL of us, not just SOME of us.

In this Lenten season I am reminded time and time again of Christ and what he went through as he was with us, and it is encouraging in many ways but one that sticks to my mind regularly is the nature of “go[ing] and do[ing] likewise”. To be a part of humanity not apart from humanity, to love others and serve, to end paradigms that separate US and work towards bringing about perfect shalom and recognize the imago dei/image of God that we all bear. It is also within the context of the lenten season I am aware of where his end and resurrection is ultimately our beginning as well as our own resurrection. Easter brings it all into focus, it is about life and renewal, it is about order being restored and perfect shalom starting to take place with all of humanity.

Love won that day, and continues to win. Each day draws in a bit of perfect shalom for all of  us.
~Nathanael~

Of sushi and the unpackaging of prayer

Last week I made some sushi for myself for the first time ever from scratch. I bought the sushi rice, the seaweed, tuna, salmon, sweetfish roe…and as I made it, I mentally meditated and drifted into prayer, and within the centering of myself I saw in my mind’s eye prayer and how I should give praying a try.

I do communicate with God, which is for all intensive purposes what prayer is, communication with God. Yet I have a habit of thanking God in general terms, but as I rolled the sushi (which I’m actually pretty good at) I got prayer from a sushi point of view.

Sushi, as many of you know, is comprised of the seaweed/rice/some fish or shellfish or related and all of these ingredients make sushi what it is. You can’t remove one ingredient, say the rice, and still call it sushi…and so as I return to praying on a regular basis (to change myself, to change what I can’t via social justice, or even just to BE) with thanking God for all the parts that make for the whole and the whole itself. I’ve already entered in to this form of prayer and I find myself connected, I find myself in tears of happiness in doing this.
Prayer like sushi, who would’ve thought that one of my favorite foods in the whole world would serve me in a way of coming back to prayer? 🙂

~Nathanael~

Moving past our Sunday School theologies

It has crossed my mind more than once, but recently it has crossed my mind again; our theologies, from what we know about God, needs to move past the Sunday School stage.

The thing is, too often in the church (building) we share with kids at an early age stories from the Bible. We share with them stories of creation, the ark, David and Goliath, Jesus’ birth, life, and death among others…but too often we read and leave those stories in the context of Sunday School, as well as in the context of that time put upon our time rather our time put on that time.
Consider the context of the creation story; all that is the world and universe wrapped up in only 6 days. Yet as we learn and find out through technology and science, if taken literally 6 days is not how long it took to make everything, and if we keep pointing towards what we learned in Sunday School, it is possible we will stunt our theological growth or might flat out reject it because it no longer is a viable source for understanding the world around us.

My bro Ben put it well; “I think Sunday School theology is ok for Sunday school (well, but with less rigidity), because of the developmental stage of small kids, but if it never changes, never develops beyond that that’s really broken, short-sighted, and doesn’t reflect the reality of an adult (or teenager).  We talk about “grown up” movies and television. We need to talk about “grown up” theology.

To get to that place of “grown up” theology I think we need to reexamine the Bible and what is found within the passages in light of our present time. I know that I no longer give weight to a literal 6 day creation, but rather I lean to Theistic Evolution as a means to understand how this all came to be; I see the hands of God in creation, I see the hands of God in evolution. Science isn’t incompatible with faith, but sometimes science is looked at as being an attack on Christendom, an attack that could unravel everything we know. But here’s the thing, the Bible isn’t a literary bifurcation process, it isn’t something that can be summed up as either you believe it ALL of it or you believe NONE of it. There is black and white to be found in the Bible, but there is a lot of gray, and I think there’s more gray than we’re willing to admit to ourselves, corporately, and to the world around us.

~Nathanael~

The Hurting Church

Recently it has crossed my radar of the group The Hurting Church on Facebook. For many of us including myself, we have been hurt by the church once or multiple times, and stumbling across this group has been a breath of fresh air and a cold drink of water on a hot summer’s day. Their about section sums them up nicely;

Want to share you personal story?
Public or Anonymous.
Email The Hurting Church.
Description

The church at its best is an amazing, breathing, living part of it’s community. It has the power to do many wonderful things. The church at its worst is exactly the opposite.

It’s easy to make a page where everyone focuses on the hurt and just leaves it at that.

We want this to be a page that gives voice to the hurt but also celebrates the redemption that is often experienced during and after the hurt.

For those who have been hurt by the church:

We understand. We’ve been there, we have felt the loss, aftershock, and disconnect. You may feel like you are alone and without community. But, you are not. Through stories that are shared on here it is our hope that you find some sense of healing, community, and resolve.

For those who are hurting for the church:

We get it. We hurt for the church too! So many times the church can find itself “stuck” and “out of touch” with the world around it. It becomes isolated in an effort to maintain it’s purity. Because of that though, it remains stagnant and in steady decline. It can also be a machine that churns out mindless followers instead of developing free thinkers who bring change and progress. Our hope is that through discussions, questions, and stories we can see the church move in healthy ways towards becoming an integral part of its local community with no regards to creed, faith, gender, or sexual orientation.

Ultimately we pursue healing and balance in both arenas.

We pursue free thinking.

We pursue common good.

We pursue finding beauty and God in all places and in all people.

-THC

Have questions or concerns?

Please email: mail@thehurtingchurch.com to contact the manager, content creator, or any admin.

We would love to hear from you!

Having read all of this, I decided I would submit one way I’ve been hurt by the church in the form of spiritual abuse. They gladly read it over and posted it here. Since I put myself out there for their audience, I decided to contact the founder and pick his brain on some things. Our conversation went like this (my questions in bold, the answer isn’t).

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1. What is the purpose of THC? The main purpose is to be an outlet for those who have been hurt by the church and those hurting for the church. I want it to be a source of encouragement, challenge, and personal growth. I want people to understand that their story holds weight and the very act of sharing both the pain and redemption is something that will bring freedom. Not only for them, but others who hear it. Ultimately my hope is that people experience healing, balance, and beauty by being a part of our community.

2. What’s your tie-in to THC? I am the originator of THC. It was something that had been on my heart and in my mind to do for quite a while. I personally wanted an outlet where I could connect with other people who have gone down the same path as me. I was talking to a good friend of mine one day about my desire to do something like this. He not only encouraged me to actually do it, but also aided in helping everything look good in the process. He is someone I trust and someone who also has a lot of good ideas.

3. How have you been hurt by the church? I’ve been hurt by individuals in the church. More specifically those representing the church. I’ve been hurt to the point that everything I thought I knew and understood about God and the church went under the microscope. It was for the better though… I now have a deeper, more genuine view of who God is.

4. Have you hurt others in a Christian way that was unChristlike? Unfortunately yes.

5. How have you repaired the damage done? By going back to these people, apologizing, asking them for their forgiveness, owning my shit, and most importantly understanding that I am a person on a journey (as we all are)… continually learning, growing, and evolving.

6. What can Christians do to be more Christlike and less like Christians? Hang out with “sinners” 😉 Just teasing… but not really. I think the real question should be “What can we do as humans, labels aside, to love one another better?”

7. Should Christians concern themselves with political matters? whether party alignment-wise, or even playing a part in taking on some role in politics. Yes… but not to represent their version of God… but rather represent the attributes of God: Love, Social Justice, Peace, Grace, Beauty, Equality, and Freedom

8. When did you realize your views of God were too small and too comfortable and too compartmentalized? When the shit hit the fan. When the carpet was pulled out from underneath me. When it was just me and God. All of a sudden He became real. Again, everything went under the microscope. Everything I thought I knew and understood… changed. All of a sudden He became a lot bigger in all kinds of ways.

9. Every Christian, whether they want to admit it or not, cherry picks from the Bible. What do you cherry pick, what do you leave out? I hate to admit it, but, I don’t really read the bible all that much. It does sadden me though when people use the bible to support their own agendas. If and when I do cherry pick, and I try my best not to, it’s usually in an effort to win out an argument with someone who is confusing “Loving their neighbor” with being the judge and jury.

10. What is the teleological/end goal of The Hurting Church? the end goal is Healing and Progress. Our logo, that my wonderful friend created, is purposely in the Shape of a church with a capital H! The H stands for healing. We find healing in sharing our stories, seeing the redemption, and broadening our scopes to finding God and seeing beauty in places we may not have looked before.

11. Favorite pizza & beer combo? Easiest question yet! Lou Malnatis Pizza and any goose island beer.

***

So there you have my brief q&a with the folks of The Hurting Church, to God be the glory in their ministry and here’s the goals and end goal they have.

Onward and upward,
Nathanael

Getting raw before God – part 1

Raw is defined in many ways, but the one that sticks to me when I step into a posture of prayer is this one; c :  not protected :  susceptible to hurt <raw emotions>.

The other day I had a raw moment where I spoke honestly and succinctly to my mother. I answered some questions she had and I thought she would have done the same, but it didn’t happen. I was very tired having been up 20 hours running on caffeine and pizza and 4 hours of sleep. I felt betrayed, heartbroken even, that my questions weren’t answered but skirted. I also realized that within her lack of answers, she wasn’t ready to face the truth herself let alone share it with me. I left her with some advice, to clean the shit out of her ears because it was leaking into her brain.

And on the drive back to my apartment I had another raw moment, but this time it was with God. I put out to God what has been hurting me lately, what had been hurting me, and I got a sense of peace that doesn’t make sense.

All too often I get things with my head but not always my heart as well as I get things with my heart but not always with my head. So when I wrestled with my thoughts leading up to driving with God it was all on me, I took it ALL on. I’m the rock-em-sock-em disciple Peter and I am the doubtful-and-forgetful disciple Thomas, what some remember from day-to-day I need to be conscientious and conscious, breathe in and breathe out.
I meditate, as well as pray, but even in the stillness I realize that I am able to focus on God’s Godness. That God loves me, that God loves all of humanity, and it was in my raw and fragile state before God I found peace. A “I got this so you don’t have to go at this alone” wave of calm in my self-created tempestuous sea. I go with the ebb-and-flow sometimes, but this time as I drifted off into deeper currents, I was okay in my floating, I was okay with not being able to touch the rocky bottom, I was okay with being without land to draw security from. God and me out in the deep blue sea of life, of fragility, of rawness, of being okay with not being okay…

I need to allow these moments to occur more often, because too often I want external securities; a good job, a paycheck, friends, family, a roof over my head, etc. Yet sometimes I realize I leave God out of the equation, not vocally but in my actions, my be-ing as well as my do-ing.

I have more to say about this, but it’ll have to wait till next time.

~Nathanael~

My thoughts about Fred Phelps

Whether you want to keep Fred Phelps in your thoughts/prayers or not that’s up to you, but here’s one thing that crosses my mind; Romans 12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

I don’t like what the guy stands for, says, et al. But I do recognize that he is an Imago Dei, an image of Christ having been made in the image of God. Sure it can be hard to see much more than his bandwagon of hate and God-hates-everyone.
Some will see his passing as “about time”, I honestly will be sad and pray for him to finally reach out and embrace the grace and love God extends to ALL people. Because if you think of it, if God is a God of love, if God is a God of grace, then it is without exceptions, including Fred Phelps.

My perspective is this; my love for God is most evident in the way I love someone the least. Yes Fred & Westboro Baptist Church are the estranged redheaded stepdaughter much of the time, but I believe in an inclusive & loving & graceful & merciful God. In turn I choose to work at being inclusive, loving, graceful, & merciful. The phrase attributed to Jesus of “go and do likewise” centers me & restores me.

~Nathanael~

Sometimes I don’t like being alone with my thoughts

Now here’s the thing, I do have moments where I like being alone with my thoughts, moments where I’m able to tap into silence and my subconscious and dwell there and resolve things. But there are times where it really isn’t so, that I have mini panic attacks because I let my thoughts get the better of me.

I think some of it comes from being stressed out, which is only magnified 1000x when I don’t eat in light of being stressed and I drink copious amounts of coffee. I go from being caffeinated, jittery, to full blown dread. I worry, I fret, I think horrific what-if scenarios and I break down. Sure I might own up to some of it after the fact, but I hardly do it in the midst of it all. I think that has to do with my ego getting in the way, or at the very least the horrific “I-got-this” attitude that prevails in culture.
If you need help, you should ask for it, and I am speaking to myself in all of this because I certainly know at times I’m a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps kinda guy and yet I realize (especially in my line of work) help might not always be there but that shouldn’t stop you from asking for it until you get it.

I realize I have crossed the threshold, the very fine line between arrogance and independence. I am not made for me, I am made for community, and sometimes there’s a time and place for retreating from everything for a while (including one’s self) but so much of life is meant to be spent and invested in the lives of others. I recognize what I have to do, not what I ought to do; it isn’t out of societal norms that makes me want to live in community, it’s my personal desire and goal to live in community wherever I am planted. That’s another factor that might seem cliche, but I’ll state it here anyway;

Absolutely do this, failure is okay and if you constantly fail that’s also okay. But the moment you throw in the proverbial towel and give up, that is a far greater disservice to yourself and those around you than simply failing. I realize within the core of me I have dreams, desires, and ambitions, but too often they’re out “there” and not so much “here”. I’m getting to where I need to be in life, but I’m not ready to shift it into neutral, onward and upward I go and will keep going till I achieve success. Success as defined by me and success by what I give back to this world, after all, I do want to leave this world in better shape than when I first arrived.

So I realize that instead of dwelling on my head full of dreams, I need to make some obtain some of those goals. Primarily nowadays it’s working on a book about mental illness. I’m also working on a proposal for my work to revamp the system because the system is broken (Illinois is 48 out of 51 for a second year running when it comes to Social Services – whether on the receiving end of the services, or if you’re like me and work in this field). But I realize that my goals might not be accepted, and so I am mostly ready  to take my dreams and goals and implement them elsewhere. While this might seem contradictory to the above statement of “grow where you are planted” I assure you it only seems that way.

My thoughts do get the better of me sometimes, but I am getting better at expressing what is wrong with me with those I trust, in community online but also off. Writing here brings some solace and some comfort that things will get better, and sometimes I need to be the one to gears moving to make it so whether my thoughts bother me or not.

Onward and upward,
Nathanael