Monthly Archives: October 2011

Left Behind…Again

Like many people, I’ve missed a few deadlines; and as a result, I’ve been left behind a few times in my life. I’ve normally tried to credit these unintentional mistakes with aging brain cells. Fortunately, and to the best of my memory–remember, we’re talking aging brain cells here–none of those missed deadlines have been crucial or caused undue stress or harm to other people.

Unlike Harold Camping…

Camping, you may remember, has predicted the rapture numerous times–at least 12 dating back to 1978, according to an October 22nd, 2011 ABC News blog post. The latest doomsday deadline was October 21st, 2011,updated from Camping’s previously missed deadline of May 21st, 2011.

The May deadline caused the most public uproar. Millions of dollars were spent advertising the end of the world as we know it. These dollars came from contributions to Camping’s radio ministry. There were stories of people quitting their jobs to spread the word about the coming Armageddon, giving away their retirement funds, and so on.

And then…nothing.

On the weekend of May 21st, I was in Austin, Texas, enjoying pre-graduation festivities at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I was scheduled to receive my Doctor of  Ministry on the afternoon of May 22nd. While I don’t believe in a literal rapture and second coming of Jesus scenario as taught in some Christian traditions, I have to admit I thought it would be a real kick in the head if Camping was right. Let’s face it, the rapture could put a serious damper on the graduation ceremonies. Then again, maybe not, since Camping’s followers believe liberals like myself are destined to be “left behind,” anyway–and in Austin I was in some amazing liberal–and faithful–company.

On one hand I feel sorry for Camping and his followers. I want to believe they were–and perhaps still are–sincere in their beliefs and desires to help people avoid eternal damnation. And as someone who has been ridiculed for his beliefs before, I know the unkind comments and jokes have to hurt. Still, predictions like Camping’s are nothing new and the results are always the same. So why do people keep taking these predictions so seriously–especially when words attributed to Jesus in the bible say no one knows when these events are supposed to happen–and many of these folks claim to closely follow the bible’s teachings?

Perhaps all we have to do is take a quick look at the world around us. Economic instability, violence, greed, natural disasters, disease and so on are enough for some people to throw up their hands in resignation. So if you believe this world is screwed up beyond any hope for repair and restoration, then a literal rapture theology just might be for you. Get your ticket punched for sweet seats in the afterlife by saying the right things about Jesus–and Jesus only–then sit back, stay pure, and wait.

Of course by doing so, we essentially guarantee the eventual annihilation of the planet because we have absolved ourselves of any responsibility for caring for the planet, for the “widows and orphans,” and for engaging the other challenges of our time. You know, like the bible and other sacred religious writings and their prophets–including Jesus–instructed humanity to do. Seriously, I find it hard to believe that any religious system based on an eternal rewards and punishments system would actually reward adherents for ignoring its basic teachings on communal responsibility and social justice.

Again, while I don’t believe in a literal second coming of Jesus and rapture as interpreted by some traditional Christian groups, I think it’s possible Jesus actually returns daily. For me, Jesus “comes back” every time we do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to  do–and not to upgrade our seating arrangements in the afterlife. The kindom of Universal Life, Love, and Being comes into sight when we feed hungry people, house homeless folk, provide much-needed medical care to people who cannot afford it and address the systemic issues that allow these and other injustices to occur on a daily basis.

Who knows? In the end, maybe we’re  really “left behind” when we refuse to respond to and act upon the best that is within us–a best that some of us call “God.” And the good news is, this “best” is within and accessible by each and every one of us, so none of us need fear being “left behind” ever again.

Blessings on your journeys!

I Now Pronounce You…

“For as much as Richard and Danny have consented together in holy wedlock in the presence of Almighty God and these friends and family, and have pledged their faith in the love of each other, and have declared the same, by virtue of the power vested in me as a minister of the Gospel by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches and the state of Iowa, pronounce them married in the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and
Sustainer.  Amen.”

With these words, spoken in Davenport, Iowa on October 16th, 2010, another part of my identity was born—or at least legally recognized in the few states and countries that allow gay marriage, that is. Then on June 1st, 2011, Richard and I were officially “unionized” in the state of Illinois by virtue of our marriage in Iowa last year. In a nutshell, “unionized” means we’re “sort of married” now in the states that recognize civil unions. That is,
we have most of the same legal rights and responsibilities as heterosexual married couples in the state, and none of the federal benefits that come with marriage.

If I sound bitter, don’t misunderstand me. I’m thankful for the progress made on the gay marriage issue. At the same time, our marriage/civil union raised some interesting issues.
For instance, you can imagine how much fun it is now for us to fill out paperwork that requests our marital status, since most of these forms do not have a “unionized” option. I’m tempted to add a box and label it, “It Depends.”

See, in some places we’re married; in some places we’re unionized, and in most places we’re considered legal strangers. Then there is the whole question of what to call us individually: domestic partners? husbands? spouses, or perhaps “crazy”, as some of our friends have jokingly (I think) called us.

We’ve decided we like to be called “Richard and Danny.”

To be honest, however, Richard and I don’t dwell on these and other semantic issues too much; because even after 15 years, we’re too busy still learning how to navigate the joys and challenges of being a couple. Unfortunately, the marriage license didn’t come with a handbook on how to do this thing called “marriage.”

There is one question, however, we’ve discussed at length. Does marriage make a difference in our relationship? Well, no and yes. No, because I still “encourage” (read “nag”) Richard to follow our doctor’s orders about his diet and exercise, as well as his procrastination tendencies as much as I did before we were married. Richard
still “encourages” (read, “nags”) me to be more serious about my writing, about working too many hours, and not spending more time on my favorite hobby, cooking; which then usually leads us back to the whole diet and exercise discussion.

We still share the television remote—and we still roll our eyes at each other’s viewing selections. We still love the children and grandchildren we share, and debate what we think is best for them. Sometimes we even ask for the kids’ opinions. Lately we have been discussing how best to take care of my aging mother and stepfather. Oh, and we still love
each other even after saying, “I do.”

Marriage—and now, civil unions—didn’t change any of these things about our lives. When we were married, a light from heaven didn’t fill the church, and an angelic chorus didn’t break out in song —and fire and brimstone didn’t consume the church and wedding guests, either. We didn’t get married to set an example for the people of the church I pastor; and we didn’t get married so God would love us and recognize our relationship, either. The God of our understanding loves everyone and honors all loving relationships—whether governments recognize them or not.

At the same time, marriage—and now civil unions–did change something about our relationship. I just wish I could succinctly name that something. All I know is that “something”—whatever it is—feels good and peaceful.

Who knows? Maybe I should quit trying to analyze it, and simply enjoy the blessing that is
our marriage/civil union/domestic partnership/friendship.

Blessings on all your relationships!

21st Century Golden Calves

Like a lot of people, I’ve been watching the Occupy Wall Street movement unfold on television. To date, it appears no one person or group has emerged as its leader, which is probably a good thing. I say that because we humans have a tendency to deify our leaders, our movements, and our institutions. And when we do that, we forget the issues which these leaders, movements, and institutions were orginally meant to address.

Economic inequality in its many forms and practices seem to be at the core of the Occupy Wall Street movement and its supporters across the country. Of course, these are not new issues. Throughout history we read where greed has been at the core of many oppressive practices, policies, and institutions–including the church–and prophets have always risen up to condemn these practices and draw unwanted attention to the institutions, structures and people who lead and support them.  What remains to be seen is whether the Occupy Wall Street movement will become to the far Left what, in my opinion, the Tea Party has become to the far Right–a political “golden calf;” that is, a “deity” that a “chosen” people can both worship and control in hopes of gaining power, wealth and divine favor for themselves.

You remember the story of the golden calf from the book of Exodus, right? If not, here’s a quick review. Moses headed up the mountain for a little one-on-one time with God. He was gone so long that the Hebrew people became concerned, restless, annoyed–you name it–and then did what humanity has always done when we perceive a vacuum in any area of our lives–they filled it with something. In Aaron, the people found someone who would give them what they wanted–a “deity” they could worship and control. Who knows? Maybe Aaron had his doubts about the golden calf project; still, maybe he thought, “If I can ease the insecurities of the people by giving them what they want, maybe they’ll elect me as their next leader.”

Aaron even declared a feast day to God to kick off the golden calf’s inauguration. So he threw on some pre-approved religious liturgy to add some divine legitimacy to the event. And then all hell broke loose. Later, when Moses confronted Aaron, Aaron tried to distance himself from the disaster by saying while he did throw the gold of the people into the fire, the golden calf jumped out all by itself.

Any of this sound vaguely familiar?

I don’t see this biblical story as a literal event, but as a cautionary tale regarding the moral chaos that can erupt when we are too quick to fill the various vacuums of our lives with yet another deity we hope we can worship and somehow control. If we believe God, the Inner Light, the Divine Presence–whatever or whoever you call It–is everywhere present, then the answers lie within us as we connect to that Presence, which brings forth our greatest selves.

I hope the Occupy Wall Street movement manages to keep what I see as its prophetic edge. After all, don’t we have enough “Aarons” around already? And if we think about it, isn’t the price of the gold we need to fashion our “calves”–be they personal, political, or religious–too high?

Just something to think about… 

Exile as Freedom

First things first. Welcome to Losing My Religion and Keeping Faith: Musings of a Believer in Exile. This is my first blog; so I ask for your patience while I learn my way around all the particularities of design, navigating the dashboard, etc. I also hope the posts I share encourage fruitful discussion and wisdom sharing on a variety of topics related to religions, spiritualities, and life in communities of faith.

With all that said…

I owe a portion of the subtitle of this page, “Musings of a Believer in Exile” to retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong. His book, “Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile” was one of the first books I read as I began to question much of what I was taught–and was then preaching and teaching others–about God, Jesus, and Christianity. This book, as well as Spong’s “Jesus for the Non-Religious,” “Eternal Life: A New Vision – Beyond Religion, Beyond Theism, Beyond Heaven and Hell,” John Dominic Crossan’s “Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography,” and Robin R. Meyers’ “Saving Jesus From The Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus,” made me feel less alone in my then-closeted questioning.

It would be nice if I could say I calmly read each of these books, reflected, journaled, prayed, etc., and then arrived at a comfortable decision regarding my spiritual path as it stands today.  It would be nice, and it would be dishonest. In his own way, each author encouraged me to question everything I have ever believed, professed, preached and taught about God, Jesus, the Bible, the afterlife, the Holy Spirit, and Christianity itself.

As a result of my reading, reflecting, private conversations with trusted colleagues (Christian and not Christian)–and yes, even through my spiritual and theological hand-wringing, at times–I can now say that, at this time on my spiritual path, I hold a non-theist view of God (Paul Tillich’s God as Ground of Being, for example); I affirm the unity of the nature of Jesus (human, not divine in the Trinitarian sense of the word); and I believe everything (and everyone) eventually returns to its Source through death. I also agree with Robin Meyers’ view of the bible as a conversation–not the literal word of God.

Even though I’ve reached this place on my journey through study, reflection and conversations, the statements above are my beliefs. I have no empirical proof for any of them–and I’m fine with that. I also know these beliefs may change over time–and I’m fine with that, too. Some people might say I’ve become a heretic. Some people might say I’ve deserted God and Jesus–or at least Christianity. Some people might say I’ve lost my religion (which may not be such a bad thing, after all). Spong might say I’ve entered the exile.

Exile is usually considered a bad thing–a punishment of some type. And it can be quite the painful experience, too. While this particular exile has had its painful moments, in the end, I don’t consider it a punishment at all. As a matter of fact, I am beginning to feel spiritually freer than I have in a long time.

And the best news is, I know I’m in some amazing company.