A Spiritual Misfit's Journey: Faith Like Lego's

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.

Spiritual Misfit

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:

  1. Manmade rules aren't for everyone.
  2. Whatever has been crushed can be restored.
  3. 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!

Resources:

  1. Is Your Faith Water or Cement?
  2. I stopped praying months ago. Here's what happened...
  3. Wholeness in a Time of Polarization

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This Undeserved Life with Natalie Brenner

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.

From Amazon:

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:

  1. 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?
  2. Can we talk about the struggle with church hurts when all you really want to do is love Jesus and his people?
  3. Who is Jesus?
  4. Why is it so important to create a safe space for others to be vulnerable?
  5. What’s it like to parent a child of a different race?
  6. 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
  7. Compassion means to co-suffer. OMG. Yes, she said that.

Following Jesus Out of the Evangelical Church

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.”

Music: BenSound.com

“Hey Jesus” by Trey Pearson

You can also listen on iTunes.

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