A guest blog by Sara Sullins - “For the first time in my life, it was time to stop building. It was time to start something altogether new to me: purposefully demolishing. “Read More
My little boy is a Lego-maniac. He's only six-years-old, but he's got a brilliant imagination and is meticulous with the details. At least once a month, his grandmother takes him to a "build night" at the local Lego store. Forthe first few months, on build nights, Ben would get a small kit and follow the instructor's directions precisely. Eventually, he started bringing extra packages home, one of us adults would supervise and guide him as he pieced the characters, airplanes, and superheroes together. Building Lego's with Ben reminds me a lot of my journey as a spiritual misfit.
For Christmas, I bought Ben a Lego "blockhead" (great name, right?) of the Beast from Disney's "Beauty and the Beast." Sitting with my son through the construction was a great chance to have some quality time with the little boy I adore so much.
At first, things were going great. My son was following the booklet, section by section, piece by piece. The longer Ben worked, I started to notice an interesting tension between his excitement over what was coming to life, and his exhaustion over not being able to follow such detailed diagrams.
But if you give them a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you’ll soon wish you hadn’t. You’d be better off dropped in the middle of the lake with a millstone around your neck. Doom to the world for giving these God-believing children a hard time! Hard times are inevitable, but you don’t have to make it worse—and it’s doomsday to you if you do. (Matthew 18:6-7)
We were about 80% complete with building the Beast when Ben realized he'd put one piece in the wrong place. It couldn't have been any bigger than 2cm x 2cm, but that one out-of-place Lego messed up the entire construction. If you've been following my blog for the past few years, you know my spiritual journey has mirrored that of little Ben and the Lego's.
Eventually, Ben lost his temper and smashed his brand-new construction to bits. It wasn't perfect, and to my son, if it's not perfect: it's worthless. I've been there, trying to jump through the hoops of manmade religion. I've exhausted myself, attempting to live up to every unrealistic expectation of religious leaders and armchair theologians. For a while, I became an angry Deconstructionist, too.
If you've had a similar experience, stubbornly seeking the approval of the institutional church, but only becoming more disenfranchised and disillusioned, I hear you. If you have more questions than answers, me too. I have been angry, frustrated, and worn out.
As a spiritual misfit, I find solace in the words of Jesus:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me, and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me, and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Matthew 11:28-30)
After a while, my son calmed down and wiped his angry tears. In the process, Ben learned three lessons I hope he clings to the rest of his life:
- Manmade rules aren't for everyone.
- Whatever has been crushed can be restored.
- Everyone belongs, not everything fits.
Looking for more?
Jon Scott and I had a great conversation on The Holy Heretics Podcast today. The title of the episode is "Faith...I doubt it!" If you are looking for a faith that embraces the gray areas of spirituality, listen to this podcast episode today!
- Is Your Faith Water or Cement?
- I stopped praying months ago. Here's what happened...
- Wholeness in a Time of Polarization
In Episode 41 of the #AskSteveAustin Podcast, Steve Austin talks with David P. Gushee, author of the brand-new book, Still Christian: Following Jesus Out of American Evangelicalism. Tony Campolo says, “Still Christian takes us on the journey of a Christian leader who endeavors to maintain his integrity while navigating his way from a rigid fundamentalism with its right-wing political agenda into a progressive worldview.” Listen now at AskSteveAustin.com or on your favorite podcasting app!
A piece of my journal from March of 2016 says this:
I’m too liberal for the Republicans and too conservative for the Democrats. I’m a 30-something Southerner, born and raised in the buckle of the Bible Belt. I was dunked by the Baptists, spoke in tongues in the Assemblies of God, went to a Church of God college, returned to my Baptist roots as a youth pastor, became a Methodist, and now agree with about 80 percent of the Catholic Church’s teachings. I attended George W. Bush’s first inauguration as a senior in high school but have voted Democrat in the last election. I study the King James Bible with a concordance but I read The Message on my iPhone for enjoyment, while having a glass of wine and smoking a cigar.
I’m a walking contradiction.
Maybe there was once room for people like me. Maybe everyone is like me, if we’re all honest with each other. But our culture no longer allows contradictions. I run from discussions with other Christians because it almost always ends poorly. A loss of friendship, a loss of faith, a loss of fervor. I’m tired of being burned.
When many people of faith force it to be an either/or battle of choosing sides, how do you find your voice without losing your soul? This is what today’s episode with David Gushee, author of Still Christian, is all about.
Some questions from today’s conversation:
- What’s it like to become a born-again Christian in 1978, during the Presidency of Jimmy Carter and the formation of the Religious Right?
- How has stepping away from American Evangelicalism impacted the way you pastor and parent?
- What is life like for you, as a pastor or Christian leader, when church life in America seems to be on the decline?
- Do you have any advice for folks like me, who are in the midst of a personal deconstruction of faith…on how to hold onto their faith, while not abandoning their intellect or ignoring the questions?
- Is the Bible literally true?
- How similar were the religious wars of the 1980’s to whatever we’re experiencing today with the marriage of President Trump and the Religious Right?
- If we look at life through the lens of American Christianity, politics, and culture in 2017 – when do we compromise, and when we do we stand our ground?
- Do you have any advice for Evangelical Christian pastors who feel stuck, Sunday after Sunday, with the obligation to support their family pressing right up against their secret affirmation of the LGBT community, or their support of women, or their disdain of the President?
- You have been described as “every liberal’s favorite evangelical” and you have also been described as “every liberal’s least-favorite evangelical”. Which one would you rather be, and why?
- You are an anti-torture, pro-environment, LGBTQ-affirming, academic…and yet you seem to still consider yourself a Baptist? If so, how and why?
- After all that you’ve been through, how is this not just a book about a disillusioned ex-Christian?
Favorite quote? “I’m disillusioned. But I’m not an ex-Christian.”
You can also listen on iTunes.
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I cohost the CXMH Podcast, along with my friend and fellow mental health advocate, Robert Vore. This week, we've had the honor of sharing our perspective on mental health and violence with Charisma News and Relevant Magazine.
Mental Health and Violence: The Truth
“This is a mental health problem.”
Every time another tragic act of violence sweeps our country, some variation of this statement gets tossed around. In 2017 alone, there have been 385 shootings in which at least four people were injured or killed. In response, politicians and faith leaders alike shift the conversation toward mental health. Pat Robertson, for example, announced on his popular television program, The 700 Club that we need to investigate links between antidepressants and violence:
There’s got to be a thorough investigation into the effect of antidepressants … There’ve been so many of these mass killings and almost every one, as I said before, has had some nexus to antidepressants. So, we need to see what we are giving people.
The problem with statements like this? They’re wrong.
Doctors, psychiatrists and researchers have repeatedly stated there’s no evidence of a link between mental health medications and higher rates of violence.
Other statements from politicians and leaders are less specific, linking mental illness with violence and mass shootings overall. Again, the problem here is that there’s simply no basis for these claims.
The truth is, there are many people in church with you every week who are faithful followers of Christ and who also have a mental illness. People with mental illnesses are singing in your choir, teaching Sunday School, keeping your children in the nursery, sitting in the pew next to you and even preaching from your pulpits.
People with mental illness are real people with needs and burdens, as well as gifts and talents and love to offer God and church community. Most of us aren't violent. Like you, we're just looking for a safe space to lay down our burdens and find rest for our souls.
And to read our article, "Dear Church, Stop Saying Violence Is a Mental Health Problem," just click here.
For more on this very important topic, check out the latest episode of CXMH: A Podcast at the Intersection of Christianity and Mental Health.
The false teaching that idolizes men, while subordinating and harming women has been allowed to run rampant in the Church in the name of “Biblical Gender Roles” for too long. This teaching reduces women to objects created by God as an afterthought to please and take care of men. It blames women when men lust after us or assault us. And it limits women’s gifts and calling in ways Jesus never did.Often when Jesus was addressing the legalistic false teaching of the Pharisee’s, He asked them, “Haven’t you read?” The Pharisee’s had the Scriptures memorized, and yet in many cases, they missed the point.
So, if you believe that women have subordinate gender roles in the Church and at home, I ask you:
Haven’t You Read…
- “Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time” (Judges 4:4)?
God chose a woman to lead His people, and no it wasn’t because there were no good men. That’s a narrative made up by people who want to limit women; it’s nowhere in the Bible, and it’s insulting to God.
2. “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy’” (Acts 2:17-18)?
Peter quotes the prophet Joel (Joel 2:28-29), and we see God affirming women’s callings in both the Old and New Testaments. So stop trying to silence women in the Church.
3. “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29)?
Jesus didn’t say, “If you lust after a woman, blame her, and tell her to wear more clothes.” Take responsibility for your own sin—stop shaming and blaming women.
4. “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:8-9)?
Both Paul and Jesus (in Matthew 19:11-12) say that if one can accept the single life, it is good for that person to do so. So stop idolizing marriage and pretending a woman’s ultimate calling is to become a wife and a mother.
5. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21)?
This verse sets up the “marriage instructions,” so often used to keep women subordinate in the home. God’s design for marriage is not female submission; it’s mutual submission.
6. “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground’” (Genesis 1:27-28)?
Patriarchy wasn’t God’s design. God created Adam and Eve with equal worth and the same responsibilities. Patriarchy is a result of sin entering the world. God warned us it would happen in Genesis 3:16, which was not a command or a part of the curse. It was a description of how sin would affect the relationships between men and women. As Christians, we should be moving away from sin, not elevating it as God’s plan.
Looking for more?
Listen to Stephanie's conversation on the #AskSteveAustin Podcast today! In Episode 28, Stephanie encourages Christian women to "Stop Trying to be the Proverbs 31 Woman". Click here (or listen below).
I’ve been thinking a lot about deconstruction: the changing of our beliefs, the loss of faith, the shift in our religious habits and behaviors, and the transformation of our inner and social selves. This is what I help people do. I’ve been doing it for many years.
Deconstruct Your Faith
One of the things I have come to realize is that while we deconstruct, for many of us, something else has to be happening at the same time. That is - the reconstruction of our self-esteem and confidence.
For many of us, we’ve been exposed to a religion that is anti-human. Inhuman. It is often to worm theology - you know - that we’re wretched and no better than a worm. Many beliefs ingrain into our minds that we are worthless sinners, broken, and bad. The only thing that can save us is the blood of a lamb that covers the sin but doesn’t remove it. We live the rest of our days in a state of shame, guilt, fear, and lowliness. We despise even ourselves.
This is reinforced by our families, friends, churches, and even our God.
But what happens when we start to question, challenge and even reject beliefs that teach us this about ourselves?Where do we go from here?
Deconstruct, Don't Self-Destruct
This is what I’ve come to realize: we need to edify ourselves. We need to start a new program of reprogramming our minds. We need to rewire our brains - and some claim this is physically as well - and train it to think positive thoughts about ourselves. We need to reconstruct (and for many of us it is constructed for the very first time) a self-image that is positive rather than negative.
How do we do this? For example, how do we start feeling proud of ourselves when we’ve been taught to be ashamed of ourselves our whole lives? More than that, how do we feel proud of ourselves when we’ve been taught that this is the worst sin of all, initiated by Satan just before he was kicked out of Heaven for his rebellion and sent plummeting into Hell?
Well, I know for one that it’s going to feel weird. It’s going to feel foreign. It’s going to feel wrong! But I’m here to tell you that you must do it.
Here’s where we can start: We can reverse the flow. Negativity is reinforced by ourselves, our families, our friends, our churches, and our God. Instead, we need to start by positively reinforcing ourselves.
There might not be much we can do about our family, our friends, our church, and our God. Or is there? Yes! As we boost our inner confidence, we can silence the negativity of those around us. Our inner voice can drown out theirs. We can distance ourselves from negativity if and when we can. We can surround ourselves with positive voices if and when we can.
Finally, as our new philosophy about life and ourselves is reconstructed, everything else will eventually fall into place. It doesn’t matter what kind of negative voices are around us, we’ve built ourselves up to the point where it doesn’t affect us like it used to.
So, as you deconstruct, find ways to construct or reconstruct your positive inner voice and build yourself up. Strengthen your inner being, fortify your self-esteem and confidence. Again, it might feel weird and even cheesy, but it works! I can testify to that.
You’re awesome, and you’re worth it. I mean it.
Listen to Steve's powerful, honest conversation with David Hayward right now on the #AskSteveAustin Podcast. Check out Episode 26 on iTunes or at AskSteveAustin.com today!
David Hayward has a Masters in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, as well as a Diploma in Religious Studies and Ministry from McGill University in Montreal. He left the professional paid clergy in 2010, after almost 30 years of ministry. David helps people deconstruct without self-destructing. David lives with his wife Lisa on the beautiful Kennebecasis River near Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. They have three grown children. And a dog, Sophie. Got questions? Email David today!
This week marks five years since I nearly died by suicide. The truth is, I’m not alone. This year, approximately 44,000 Americans will believe they have reached the end of their rope, and die by suicide. And for each person who dies, another twenty-five will attempt.
You might think my story is a bit rare because I had a family. I had been married five years when I tried to die. But there are lots of married people who die by suicide. Maybe it’s the fact that my little boy would turn a year old the very next day. And yet, there are plenty of parents who end their lives.
The thing most people find rare about my story is that I was a pastor on September 21, 2012. I had lost all hope and tried to hang myself in a hotel bathroom that night. When that failed, I crushed the contents of bottle after bottle of medication and drank to my death.
When Your Brain Breaks
I was raised in the church. I served on youth leadership. I traveled with the Gospel choir in college. My feet had touched the soil of three foreign countries, preaching and spreading the hope of Jesus. I had two years of ministry school under my belt. I was passionate about the unconditional love of God, but I was just as determined to end my secret suffering.
I was a pastor and a lifelong Christian. I loved Jesus with all my heart. And I adored my family. I just despised myself. I was desperate to find peace, no matter the cost.
I didn’t know about counseling or therapy. I didn't know I had permission to tell my truth. I lacked the confidence that God would meet me in the darkness. I was exhausted from a life filled with shame, and a fear-based religion that left me shakily scared of appearing less-than-perfect.
My desperation was partly rooted in the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. I was also horrified at the thought of anyone discovering my twenty-year pornography addiction. And then I lost my job. That was the straw that nearly crushed me. Shame told me I was nothing more than the sum of all my unfortunate mistakes.
I knew people who had worked through unthinkable trauma. I had seen how Jesus could heal addiction. Those stories made the most inspiring testimonies during a Sunday morning service. But I had never heard a Christian (must less a pastor) stand up and tell the truth about their broken brain.
I've written extensively about the day I was supposed to die. I've told my story—the pastor who nearly died by suicide—countless times over the past several years. People are amazed, dumbfounded even, that a "man of God" could get so low that his desire for Jesus could only be equaled by his desire to end it all.
Today is National Suicide Prevention Day. So, I'm speaking up about my story once more.
People love to hear about the time Jesus showed up in that ICU room, during the days when I couldn't feel my legs. They weep when I share about how God whispered to my soul, "I'm not finished with you yet." Everyone loves a good redemption story. But what I haven't talked much about is the day I started living again—the day I didn't die.
Maybe I haven't covered the day I started living again as concisely because it isn't really a day, but a series of days. There have been 1,814 of them, to be exact. The first seven days were the hardest. Choosing to get out of that hospital bed. To take my meds as prescribed. Not to overdose again. Not to escape again. Not to run away to the grave and hide until Judgment Day.
Each day, I have to make a conscious effort to tell the truth. To go to therapy. To confess my mess. I'm not sure if you've noticed, but the church doesn't handle long-term healing very well. We don't do a great job with chronic illness. We expect people to recover from a hospital stay within a matter of weeks, because that's what we're told faith is all about.
But the truth is, I have faith. It's gritty and comes with claws, but if I didn't have faith, I would have given a long time ago.
I’m a social media fanatic because it supports my goal of being a bridge-builder. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have connected me with amazing people from diverse walks of life. I have formed incredible relationships with people from around the globe. From where I stand, the internet is a gift. I connect with many of these internet friends on a daily basis, but there are also folks I only hear from after I share a post about social justice, racial inequality, or affirming the LGBTQ community. My recent blog post, in response to the hateful Nashville Statement, brought the internet trolls out of the woodwork. I muted some, ignored many, and even blocked a few. Being a bridge-builder isn't easy.
I’m not talking about people who simply disagree with my views. There are plenty of those. When you’re a progressive Christian and a Southern Democrat, it comes with the territory. As long as someone wants to disagree respectfully, instead of turning it into a personal attack, I’m glad to continue to engage.
What is an internet troll?
According to Wikipedia, an internet troll is, “a person who sows discord on the Internet with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response”.
After three days of my Facebook page being overtaken by trolls, my stomach was in knots, and I was exhausted. That’s when I posted this on Twitter:
[clickToTweet tweet="I do not have to respond to trolls. I do not have to respond to trolls. I do not have to respond to trolls." quote="I do not have to respond to trolls. I do not have to respond to trolls. I do not have to respond to trolls." theme="style3"]
Josh Powers responded with this great reminder:
[clickToTweet tweet="'Jesus even had trolls.' @powersj_tx" quote="'Jesus even had trolls.'" theme="style3"]
I think my friend Charlie, from The Neighborhood Liturgies, said it best:
[clickToTweet tweet="Wherever somebody's trying to build bridges it's bound to attract trolls. @charlieporterr" quote="'Wherever somebody's trying to build bridges it's bound to attract trolls.'" theme="style3"]
140 characters of love and goodness.Thanks, Charlie.
Even Jesus had Trolls
Each time Jesus stood up against the social and political norms of his day, the Pharisees were there to call him on it. If he healed on the Sabbath or embraced someone caught in “sin”, it further ignited the fires of fear and hatred from the other side.
Jesus defined the trolls of his day like this, “They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” He goes on to warn against legalistic, closed-minded religious people who focus on small matters like tithe and religious titles, but neglect, “the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith.”
If you’re focused on being a bridge builder, just remember that there have been trolls since the days of Jesus. It can be exhausting. To be honest, there are times when everything in me wants to fight back. I want to defend myself, my views, and my friends against mean-spirited, angry people. But Paul challenges my human nature when it comes to dealing with trolls:
Bless your persecutors; never curse them, bless them...
Never pay back evil with evil...
Never try to get revenge...
If your enemy is hungry, give him something to eat; if thirsty, something to drink...
Do not be mastered by evil, but master evil with good.
My friend Ed Bacon describes it in contemporary language, as living in the House of Fear or the House of Love. Ed says, "The opposite of Love is not Hate, but Fear. Love and Fear are two competing energies in the wisdom and life of Jesus."
I think Jesus recognized how powerful Fear had become as he grieved Jerusalem, saying:
How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate.
The House of Fear seems to control much of social media these days, and sometimes it feels like the House of Love is more abandoned and desolate than ever. This just means we have to keep doing our part to build bridges and invite people over.
We know that Love casts out Fear, so don't give up! Even in the face of adversity and senseless anger, don’t stop sharing conversations like #EmptyThePews. Be persistent in telling everyone you know that there is room at God’s table for them, exactly as they are, no matter what the trolls say.
Steve Austin is a life coach, speaker, author, and host of the #AskSteveAustin Podcast. Steve's goal is to help clients and audiences create a lifestyle of focused emotional health and clarity. Subscribe to the free weekly newsletter and get Steve's Amazon best-seller, From Pastor to a Psych Ward, absolutely free!
The stigma surrounding mental health is worse in the church than just about anywhere else. The church lacks education and, unfortunately, compassion when it comes to those suffering with mental illness. Lack of compassion and education is met with an abundance of dangerous theology. What you're left with is a poison that is literally killing weary travelers, seeking refuge.
Bad Theology and Mental Health
Today on The Preacher's Forum Podcast, I have the honor of sharing my story of recovery from abuse and a suicide attempt, plus my frustration with the Christian Machine that continues to pummel people in the name of God.
Click here to check out my conversation with Clint Heacock and leave your thoughts in the comments!
If there's going to be any hope for the church today, we've got to continue to have these vital conversations.