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
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.
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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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!
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.
When most people find out that I’m a former pastor, they wrongly assume I have walked away from the faith. I chuckle to myself each time I politely explain that “former pastor” doesn’t always equate to “former Christian”. The truth is, while I am no longer on the payroll at a local church, I feel more in-tune with the teachings and example of Jesus than ever before. Sure, stepping away from employment with the Institutional Church ignited an enormous shift in my personal theology. But it hasn’t driven me from Christ, it’s actually caused me to sift through the excesses of man-made religious constructs and find what parts of the faith truly matter to me.
If you’re a Millennial like me, chances are pretty good that you’re doing some shifting and sifting of your own.
The Truth about Millennials and Church
My friend Andreas says it like this:
Spiritual belonging is finding people who welcome you for who you are and encourage you to own your own spiritual journey, wherever it might take you. Finding people that appreciate being real and honest about life in general. I would encourage everyone to trust themselves and trust their heart.
My dear friend and fellow blogger, Sarah Robinson, added her own spin:
I've experienced both...the loneliness of being in either a really shiny and slick church, where it feels like people don't let down their guard, and a church that lacks a theology of suffering, where there isn't room for honest expressions of pain and doubt. The environments look really different, but the end result is the same - isolation and fear of honesty.
These days, I feel more consumed by the Love of God than ever. And while I’m truly not bitter at the church, I am setting boundaries with toxic people and theology. When it comes to Millennials and Church, many of us have accepted the invitation of people like Ed Bacon, Rachel Held Evans, and Brian McLaren, to stand up for a new kind of Christianity. I am turning my back on the House of Fear, and bursting through the doors of the House of Love with joy and gladness. No turning back, no turning back.
The relationship with Millennials and Church is often a strained one. To read more about the kind of church I need, click here to join me at The Neighborhood Liturgies.
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. -Jesus
Why Everyday Faith Matters
There was a time in my life when matters of theology ruled the day. At any given time, you’d find me at my desk with multiple versions of the Bible (primarily KJV), plus a Strong’s Concordance, and various online resources on the computer. I studied the Bible line-by-line, through the lens of my very straight, white, conservative, evangelical upbringing.
The Bible was a tool, to be used to make a point. It was a resource. A double-edged sword.
But it seemed that the Bible was pushing more people away than it was drawing them in. I believed I had a strong faith, but what I actually had was a killer dogma.
A dogma that killed.
The words “faith” and “religion” were used interchangeably back then. And it’s only been in the past five years, since my suicide attempt, that I’ve learned those two words mean two very different things.
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Read the rest of this story today at BrianNiece.com!
“When you are fully known and loved you have a home.”
“...known and loved.” The words make my stomach twist and knot. I cringe and my insides curdle at the thought of being known. I shrink back in fear of being seen as I truly am. I've been scared of God for years. And yet, somehow, I feel drawn to the concept of being loved by this same God.
Are You Scared of God, Too?
Fear tells me I could never be known and also loved. Guilt says they are mutually exclusive for someone like me. Someone with a past. Someone with dirt under his fingernails and cracks in his armor. Shame says there is no way Love could ever know me.
After a few deep breaths, choking back tears that I fear might drown me, I hear the words of my friend, Ed Bacon. On today’s episode of the #AskSteveAustin Podcast, Ed says, “I’m an atheist to that kind of God”. The “kind of God” who sits upon a throne of power, controlling His minions with fear, shame, and guilt. My friend said he is an atheist to the God of such toxic theology.
- “That kind of God” tells me I couldn’t possibly love Jesus, and also margaritas.
- “That kind of God” only demands 10% of my money, but 100% allegiance to dogma.
- “That kind of God” appeals to straight white males who were born with power, but thirst for more.
- “That kind of God” says you can either be Christian or crazy. Not both.
But the truth is, “that kind of God” isn’t God at all. An idol, maybe. It looks a lot like a golden calf. A man-made power structure. The Christian Machine, for sure.
Anne Lamott says it like this, “You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
It’s “that kind of God” I shrink from. And that kind of toxic theology wounded me deeply. I was judged by the followers of “that kind of God” for growing tired of performance-based Christianity. The Church of “that kind of God” excommunicated me for my questions and lack of faith. It’s “that kind of God” who told me that to be known wasn’t possible, because a perfect God couldn’t get near my dirty secrets or dare fellowship with the kind of company I keep these days. “That kind of God” couldn’t allow me into even the outside of the circle, much less love me as I am.
If Jen Hatmaker is right, and the Christian Machine isn’t the body of Christ, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. And if that’s true, then who is the body (or family) of Christ? The Bible says we’ll be known by “...compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, and discipline.” It goes on to say that we’ll be “quick to forgive” and “clothed in love”.
If so, I have found the body of Christ in unexpected places and in the faces of people who have been hiding in the shadows for a lifetime. I have broken bread and sipped wine with those who wouldn’t dare darken the doorways of traditional churches. I have found God in the middle of a gay bar. I have formed beautiful friendships with people who felt they had to move away from America in order to live their best life.
And in every story and situation, I have tasted and seen that God is actually good.
To be known and loved used to frighten me to tears. I was constantly scared of God, but these days, I am experiencing the Light and Love, the Peace and the Presence of God on a deeply personal level. It happens in ordinary conversations with people who are anything but ordinary. I am learning that to be loved is to be known - one doesn’t happen without the other. Each day, I am allowing myself to be more fully known by people who find my faults to be flawless and love me without condition.
I'm No Longer Scared of God
Do you want to be known and loved? If so, join me. Consider this your invitation to pull up a chair and sit for a while. The table is larger than we ever imagined and there is room for everyone. Please, I beg you, come out of silence and secrecy. Being known and loved is possible and wonderful. It’s a place that feels like home.
Like this post? Check out these powerful resources:
- The Wonderful Truth about Heaven and Hell (with Ed Bacon) on the #AskSteveAustin Podcast
- MoreThanLeftovers - A Safe Online Self-Care Community
- Subscribe to Steve Austin's free weekly newsletter.
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