What are you leaning into? For me, 2018 is the year of intention. I'll be leaning away from fear and into my story. Will you join me?Read More
What would it take for you to create the life you’ve always wanted? What do you need to transform your wildest dreams into manageable projects? You do know it’s entirely possible, right?Read More
I'm not sure why you clicked on this story, but I feel like it should come with a disclaimer. The goal of this article is not to get you to say "Happy Holidays." I'm not a soldier in the "War on Christmas." Leave the baby Jesus in the manger and say "Merry Christmas" to whomever you choose. Go for it. I am not looking to pick a fight. I’m writing this because I’m struggling with the whole concept of Christmas for the first time in my life, and this blog has always been my safe place to air some of my inner-dialogue.
Christmas in the Grey Area
In most of the circles where I hang these days, people are actively deconstructing their Christian faith. It's humbling to hear the stories of lifelong Christians who have either walked entirely away from the faith of their childhood or much like me, feel trapped somewhere in the grey area.
A phrase I've been using to describe my current stop along the journey of faith is a Christian Agnostic - I just don't know anymore.
But people - it's Christmas! And for me, Christmas has never existed outside the Biblical story of the baby Jesus. Christmas has always been about that little Nativity scene my Mama stitched together when I was just a toddler. It's about memories of my Dad singing "Mary, Did You Know" and remembering how my Grandfather would gather us around the fireplace on Christmas morning to read the Biblical account from the Gospel of Luke, no matter how long it took, or how much his grandchildren squirmed.
During my earliest years, we were pretty close to poor. As such, it was never about the big presents or lots of money. We didn't go to movies on Christmas Day like other families or take elaborate vacations. For us, Christmas was about the miracle in the manger, the Star over Bethlehem, and a stocking full of my favorite candies.
This is the first year in a long time that I haven't written an Advent devotional or visited a local church to watch a Christmas play. I haven't even participated as my wife continues to light the candles each night, celebrating with our children and teaching them about the long-awaited birth of the Christ child.
There's a part of me that wants my kids to have the same experiences I had with a Christian kind of Christmas, but where does Christmas fit for the lifelong cultural Christian who suspects they may no longer buy it?
Did the Wise Men have their doubts? Did they question each other along the way, growing weary with each mile of the journey? Had Joseph faced a theological crisis of his own? After offering the Magnificat, did Mary still lack certainty?
Or should I just shut up and participate in the Advent story and light the damn candles and sing “Away in a Manger” even though my brain can’t quite figure it all out?
Christmas is full of red and greens, and for many people, an American Evangelical Christmas is also very black and white. But what about a Christmas in the grey area? Does it still matter when you no longer feel connected to the story?
I think what I’m really asking is this: can we live a life, full of doubts, while also being intrigued by (and even seeking) genuine faith?
This year, the Nativity speaks to me in a way like never before. I am not a deeply theological person, and I could be flat wrong, but I wonder if this picture of Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus is the perfect metaphor to my life? An image of the marriage of uncertainty and faith, but right in the middle of it all...is God.
No matter what name you give it, or what religion it's attributed to, for me, Christmas is ultimately about Hope being birthed in the dark. It's about Joy coming in the midst of despair. Christmas has never been about big presents or lots of money. And maybe my friend Ed Bacon is right, the magic of the Christmas story “is about our hearts savoring what our minds cannot comprehend”. Christmas is the story of wondrous, unconditional love that continues to choose humanity, even 2,000 Decembers later.
For more great discussion on the magic and mystery of Christmas, listen to this week's special Christmas edition of The #AskSteveAustin Podcast.
The Rev. Ed Bacon joins me for this one, plus Christmas carols with my kids and listener stories! Click the "play" button below, or listen at AskSteveAustin.com or on your favorite podcasting app!
I replayed the conversation in my head, over and over again, wishing I could go back to change my words and attitude. My stomach twists and twirls like a tornado is whipping around inside, my head cycling the lies I’m tempted to believe about my whole self: I am ignorant, I am arrogant, I am prideful, I don’t know what I’m talking about, I am a burden, I am not of value...in fact I hurt others so much I shouldn’t even have a voice.
Somehow I’m shoved straight back into multiple conversations that happened on the weekly years ago. We were on staff at a church at the time—my husband the Youth Pastor, me the Outreach-Hospitality-Youth Ministry-Office Assistant—and our pastor frequently reminded me of my pride. His words pierced into me in ways that altered me forever, compounding the lies I already struggled with.
Prideful. Arrogant. A burden. Worthless. Entitled.
These are the identities I’ve battled for years, walked through entire days-turned-weeks covered in shame. At times they’ve won, silencing me into depression and doubt, crippling my daily life and productivity. At other times I find strength to speak Truth over myself, to combat the swords of words turned into identity.
Recently it’s been a fight with the former, using every ounce of excess energy to not fall into the drought of doubt and depression. Discouragement is defeating when it nags at you all day every day.
It’s exhausting, warding off the lies and false identities that like to attach themselves to our souls and selves.
It’s easy to be bogged down with the inner voice demanding: who do you even think you are? You deserve desolation and depression.
Once in a while I wonder if I’m the only one. The only one wondering about myself, believing the absolute worst, listening to the lies threatening to defeat me.
But I’d bet you struggle with doubt and false identities shoving their way into your head and heart.
I’d bargain shame tempts to creep in and cover you, becoming all-consuming, debilitating your every move because you cannot shove the lies from your mind.
I don’t know about you, but once in a very rare while I’ll catch myself protecting my heart by hardening it, writing off other people or putting the blame somewhere else, using every effort to avoid feeling the shame or lie pushing itself in.
But usually I find myself sitting so deep in shame, I am buried beneath it. False identity and lies heap shame on me, forcing me to own the shame instead of the Truth.
In the deepest parts of me I want so badly to share with others the grace that Jesus continues to drench me in. And grace is for the messy, right? His grace is scandalous and unending. If it wasn’t, none of us would need it.
I continue to uncover that I have no way of sharing something I don’t actually have. I cannot release and hand someone something I am not holding onto for myself.
If my greatest goal in life is to chase grace and drag people along with me, then I must intentionally sit in it for myself. Embracing grace for myself is where it all must start, but doing so is stupidly difficult at times.
In order to actually grab ahold of the grace being handed me, I have to actually acknowledge my actual need for it. This only happens when I have the courage to be gut-wrenchingly honest about my mistakes, missteps, faults, and false identities.
I have seven questions I walk myself through when I find myself bogged down with shame and false identities. I’m not a fan of formulas and strategies, but this is something I have done time and time again and it has yet to fail me.
Chasing Grace In An Ungracious World was created initially for myself, printed out and hung in my office, where I often journal and find myself face down crying into carpet fibers of the mess of brokenness I often find myself in. I turned it into an official document for anyone who wants it, walking through the very questions I answer with utmost honesty, as I wade through the trenches of shame.
Honesty is often scary, entirely vulnerable, and sometimes feels ugly. But it is the avenue to wholeness, to healing, to grace.
Let's shed your shame and walk in grace.
Here's 4 Ways to Keep Chasing Grace:
- What lie are you believing about yourself? “I am worthless,” “I am not good enough,” “I am a burden,” “I am prideful,” “I am annoying,” “I am nobody.” You are _____. Sometimes you'll know this immediately, other times it'll take a few moments of intentional processing. Try a naming few things if you’re unsure; when you speak the one you subconsciously believe, you'll know. You'll be overtaken with emotion and possibly shed a few tears.
- Speak the lie out loud. Speak it. Say it. Notice it. Grab it. You cannot empty your hands of something you are not holding.
- It's heavy, isn't it? That lie? The shame?It's so, so heavy. Too heavy to hold for very long. Allow yourself to feel the weight, the emotion, the heaviness. Where did the shame come from? This may be a voice in your head that began as someone else’s voice. Where is your lie coming from?
We have to process our brokenness so we can be whole, grab ahold of grace, and share it with every person we encounter.
Offering ourselves space to process our shame and our pain helps us become better parents, better spouses, better friends, better employees, better employers.
When we know where our shame stems from, we can fight the walls we are tempted to build. We can push back against hardening our hearts, and in doing so, we can love others far better.
When we aren't all about protecting ourselves, we are able to see the world more clearly. When we see the world more clearly, we are able to have true compassion and empathy.
I believe there are oceans of grace waiting for each of us, ready to swallow us whole so the shame doesn’t have a chance to.
So much love to you, dear friend. I hope to see you around.
Natalie Brenner is a wife, mom to virtual twins, and photographer living in Portland, Oregon. She is the best-selling author of This Undeserved Life. She likes her wine red, ice cream served by the pint, and conversations vulnerable. Like you, Natalie is a fierce believer in the impossible and hopes to create safe spaces for every fractured soul. She's addicted to honesty. You can love Jesus or not, go to church or not: she'd love to have coffee with you. Natalie is a bookworm, a speaker, and a lover of fall. Connect with her at NatalieBrennerWrites.com and join her grace-filled email community.
- Instagram: @nataliekbrenner
- Facebook Community Page: Natalie Brenner
- Twitter: @nataliekbrenner
- Pinterest: @nataliekbrenner
Check out more of Natalie's story and details about her new book, This Undeserved Life, on Episode 42 of The #AskSteveAustin Podcast:
Last Thursday on the #AskSteveAustin Podcast, I had the honor of talking with my friend (and best-selling author), Natalie Brenner about her fantastic new book, This Undeserved Life: Uncovering the Gifts of Grief and the Fullness of Life.
Natalie has served alongside her husband in ministry, been wounded by the church, had a miscarriage, and so much more. She knows a little something about grief and looking for life in the midst of hard times.
Is it okay to grieve? What about loss other than death? Can I be sad and still trust God?
Have you ever had the walls of your life shatter and feel you weren't allowed to be upset? Me too. The phrases, "This must be God's plan" and "It was meant to be this way" are often thrown around as encouragement but only deepen the wound.
Loss after loss, I felt these fix-it phrases stripped my consent to grieve and acknowledge sorrow.
This Undeserved Life invites you to honestly grieve your losses. You will recognize loss and brokenness are not a part of God's plan. It isn't weak to grieve; it takes courage and strength to choose to give loss the space it demands.
A few questions from this interview:
- You talk about Jesus in a very genuine and loving way – but your heart at times has nearly been crushed under the weight of grief. How do you reconcile the two? And what the heck do you mean when you say the gifts of grief?
- Can we talk about the struggle with church hurts when all you really want to do is love Jesus and his people?
- Who is Jesus?
- Why is it so important to create a safe space for others to be vulnerable?
- What’s it like to parent a child of a different race?
- Autographed book giveaway! Retweet this week’s pinned post on twitter @iamsteveaustin for your chance to win a personalized, autographed copy of This Undeserved Life by Natalie Brenner
- Compassion means to co-suffer. OMG. Yes, she said that.
Steve Austin has been interviewed several places this year, but these 4 interviews make the cut as the favorite conversations of the year. Miss them? Here's your chance to catch up!Read More
Your Christmas shopping just got a whole lot easier. Okay, Okay, I know you don't know me as a professional shopper, but if I was, these are the things that would make it on my must-have list for the year. There's something for everyone. Here's my favorite gifts of 2017.
If you're looking for a great way to support my work with graceismessy.com and the #AskSteveAustin Podcast, please click the links below when you're ready to purchase. As an Amazon affiliate, each purchase helps spread the message of messy grace!
If you're looking for great gift ideas, this list has something for everyone. Here's my 10 favorite gifts of 2017...
I can't get enough of this album! Do you have it? What's your favorite song? One of my biggest reasons for loving this one so much is because anyone, at any age, can appreciate these amazing Christmas songs. Click here to purchase your copy today.
My friend JJ gifted me this bad boy a few months ago and I love to use it as my run jam. If you're a history buff, a musical theater nerd, or just enjoy a good story - download this one today. Just click here.
We bought an earlier version of this super fun camera a couple of years ago and we still love it! It's even easy enough for our kids to use. This is a super fun way to create a collage or other fun photo project. If you love the feel of an old school Polaroid, get this camera today!
If you're tired of paying $3.50 per bottle for kombucha at the store, make your own! This is the kit we use at our house, and it's fun and easy! The kids feel like we're doing a science experiment every day, and I love being able to test out new and interesting flavors. The best part? It tastes good and is GREAT for your health! Order your kombucha brewing kit today. Just click here.
Now y'all know the Rev. Ed Bacon is my IRL friend and mentor, whom I adore. Want to know more about Ed's heart? Check out our conversation on my podcast:
My precious friend, Doris, sent me a copy of this amazing book recently. HOLY MOLEY. If you're a fan of Brene' Brown's book, Daring Greatly, this one is even better. Brene's raw honesty makes this deeply spiritual journey of finding the courage to stand alone one powerful book. Lindsey and I are reading a chapter a night together and it gives us much to talk about. Get your copy here.
If you love The Shack by William Paul Young, you're going to love his first non-fiction book. The one that spoke to me most is this: God loves me, but God doesn't like me. It's amazing just how many lies we believe about God. This is my favorite book of the year. I promise, you'll love it, too. Get your copy today.And buy one for a friend!Just click here.
Honorable Mention: Lindsey's Must-Have for All the Runners Out There: Polar A370 Fitness Tracker
Lindsey loves the Polar A370 because it consistently monitors her heart rate, provides GPS assistance, sleep monitoring, and more activity data (including average pace/mile) than you can imagine! Get yours today by clicking right here.
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.
JOIN THE EXCLUSIVE #ASKSTEVEAUSTIN FACEBOOK COMMUNITY FOR AS LITTLE AS $1 PER MONTH! DETAILS AT PATREON.COM/IAMSTEVEAUSTIN
ORDER YOUR COPY OF SELF-CARE FOR THE WOUNDED SOUL: 21 DAYS OF MESSY GRACE, BY STEVE AUSTIN TODAY ON AMAZON.
STEVE AUSTIN IS A LIFE COACH, SPEAKER, AND AUTHOR OFSELF-CARE FOR THE WOUNDED SOUL. STEVE’S GOAL IS TO HELP YOU CREATE A LIFESTYLE OF FOCUSED EMOTIONAL HEALTH AND CLARITY. LOOKING FOR MORE WAYS TO CREATE SPACE? SUBSCRIBE TO STEVE AUSTIN’S FREE WEEKLY NEWSLETTER BY CLICKING RIGHT HERE.
In Episode 40 of the #AskSteveAustin Podcast, Steve Austin shares some encouragement from his own life for folks who feel hopeless. If you’re ready to give up, tired of running, or feel like you’re drowning, please listen to this very personal bonus episode.
A friend of mine started this hashtag, that many people use in solidarity, as we proclaim our faith, and also proclaim our sexuality.
That same friend also is the President of an organization called Faith In America, whose ultimate goal is “to end decades and centuries of using religious teachings to justify marginalizing and discriminating against others.”
We want Christians to stop calling homosexuality a sin. We want people to understand what kind of damage has been in done in millions and millions of people’s lives. People have not understood how harmful this is, and we want to see the world change.
So how can I be gay, and call myself a Christian?
I cannot tell you how many people have asked me, and are continuing to ask the question, of how to reconcile their faith with who they are as an LGBT person, or in wanting to support people in their lives, that are LGBT.
This is a huge hurdle in our time and culture, and it is one that we must continue to address to see change, although it is not the first hurdle we have had as a people of faith.
So where do I start? I start with what I think is the biggest problem in Western Evangelical Christian culture, today: Worshipping the Bible. I believe one of the biggest mistakes Christians have made throughout history, which has led to most of our troubles, has been worshipping the Bible as much, if not more, than we worship Jesus.
The Bible is beautiful… but the Bible is messy.
A beautiful way to see this big, collection of books, is to understand that it is something put together by different writers, over thousands of years, in different times and places, as they have understood God to move throughout history. There is so much to learn from that. A beautiful way to see the Gospel stories is to see the stories of Jesus, and how people witnessed The Divine move. That is what we have chosen to follow, and put our faith in.
Putting our faith in thinking that something put together hundreds, to thousands of years after each letter was written, or put together, was somehow done by God, inerrant, or infallible, is a terrible way to look at the Bible. In fact, it’s a whole different leap of faith, and different thing to put your faith into, which has nothing to do with what it means to be a Christian. A follower of Jesus.
You have to jump through a lot of hoops to try to pretend that there aren’t contradictions all through the Bible.
You have to jump through a lot of hoops, and take a huge leap of faith, to believe that God wrote every word in the Bible, and put it together the way it was.
But that is how most of us were raised in the church, and it has probably done more to push people away from the church, than anything I can think of. It has been the cause of what has torn apart families, and destroyed so many lives.
I think about what kind of effect it has had on me, and how hard it has been to be able to accept myself.
We probably all know stories, whether it came down to homosexuality, or something else, of how this Bible worship has torn apart friends and family.
I don’t believe that makes it any less beautiful. I actually believe this makes it feel a lot more real. They could have done a lot better job at swaying us against slavery, for or against predestination, etc., if the point was having the Bible be written by God, or without error.
But we have to start there before we are ever going to be able to fully understand why we have had so much trouble accepting LGBT persons in the church, condemning slavery, or believing that women were equal to men. I could go on…
For the sake of this in particular, from here, we will use homosexuality. Having Google as a tool now, anyone who is interested, can find out rather quickly that homosexual wasn’t a word until the late 1800’s.
So why is it that the Bible we were given, that was written thousands of years before that, is telling us that God calls it an abomination.
Starts to get confusing, doesn’t it?
The quick answer is that what those writers were talking about then, is not what we are talking about now, when we talk about committed, loving relationships between 2 people of the same sex.
Jesus never talks about it.
But if you were to ask Paul in his time and culture, I don’t know if he would have been for that. I don’t know if he would have understood enough to have had an insightful answer. But I also don’t believe, from his writings, that he understood why slavery was an abomination, or that women were equal to men. I still love Paul. I believe Paul was a huge advocate for the message of Jesus, and I believe we can gain a lot of wisdom from his letters, that we now deem Scripture.
If I would have understood this when I was growing up, I could have understood more about myself, been able to accept myself, and I would have been able to keep from making such a mess of relationships in my life. I truly believe we are hurting people by the toxic theology of condemning same-sex relationships, and I believe we have a chance to change this.
With all of that said, I’m still in love with Jesus. I love the stories of Jesus, and I love putting my faith into believing they are true. There is, of course, no proof. But I hope. I believe. I believe in his message. I believe that loving God and loving your neighbor are the 2 most important commands we have been given. I believe, as Paul said, that in loving your neighbor, you are fulfilling the commandment to love God with everything you have. That is my belief as a gay man, and as a Christian.
Grace & Peace, Trey
Originally posted at TreyPearson.com - Republished with permission.