I only remember certain events from my childhood. I remember my fifth birthday when I got a hot wheel’s gas station. I remember our first dogs, Dutchess and Duke. I remember defending my sister once when someone stole her glasses. The same week, I remember seeing a dog die after being hit by a car. I recall about the same number of things from Jr. High and High School, mostly because there are so many things I’m trying to forget about the 70’s and early 80’s, not the least of which are bell bottoms and smokeless tobacco.
I remember a few things about my spiritual formation. I remember “walking the aisle” when I was about 7 and getting baptized shortly thereafter. That was a big deal for a kid that was terribly shy! I remember tormenting a Sunday School teacher in high school. And, about that same time, I remember a pastor in Lone Wolf, Oklahoma that preached in a way that I could understand. He also made hand-made chess pieces in his garage. I know my spiritual formation impacted me – mostly for the good; but at some point, I became an adult and assumed responsibility (or irresponsibility) for my own spirituality. Since I eventually became a pastor, most would assume that I handled it well. Even though my life is not over, I can say that I have some satisfaction, but also some regrets.
Before I get into this, let me be clear. I don’t blame my failure, misfortunes or shortcomings on anyone else in my life. Most of the people involved did the best they could with the resources they had. Some of them, like my mother, did a remarkable job under the circumstances. In the past, I could only control what was within my control; and now, I can also only change what I acknowledge. I hope you understand, this is a vulnerable position for me to take – so, even if you disagree with my conclusions, please be respectful of the situation.
As with all of us, some of my beliefs were handed down to me like the worn-out clothes I passed to my brother. The tricky part about tradition is that some of it is very valuable and some of it should have expired generations ago – it takes courage and wisdom to evaluate what is timeless and what maybe never should have been worn (like the bell bottoms). Some of my values and beliefs were constructed in haste (if I’m honest). When pressured, I decided “where I stood” on certain issues and later I learned to defend those positions. In some cases, it might have been better to say, “I don’t know’ than to hastily construct a value system that later would leave me with regrets. Some things I must admit that I was simply ignorant about until I gained knowledge that, for whatever reason, was shielded or hidden from me for many years. We often see this in areas like racism, class-ism and other forms of bigotry. It’s not that we don’t think some things are wrong, we just don’t see how they apply to us.
For me, many of the issues in this area stem from a need for “certainty.” It was taught and modeled to me that we need to know what we believe, and we need to be certain about it. While there is some truth to this idea, a strong commitment to certainty can cause all kinds of problems – at least it did for me. This attitude of being too sure about my belief crippled my growth and understanding. Recently, I developed a commitment to the idea that I might be wrong about a good many things. This opened a new world of discovery and I found more truth instead of just defending the truth I believed. I now can live without total certainty and actually have more peace as the Spirit leads me into all truth.
Although, I have found a new peace, I still have the residual regrets, sorrows, and disappointments that I feel I must address.
So, here goes…remember, mercy and grace, right?
The Things I’m Sorry For
I’m sorry if I ever enjoyed superiority because of the groups or tribes that I was involved with. When I helped promote the idea that men are superior to women, I now realize that this might have begun as a good intention, but it very quickly became a type of abuse. I also regret that I have occasionally acted upon a presumed preference of my race and nationality. Although this kind of nationalism is acceptable in the U.S., it should have always been just as detestable to me as the racism I often accommodated. I even allowed this same superiority to affect my judgement regarding sexual orientation. I now regret feeling the need to judge other people when they are not my servants to judge. I now realize these attitudes were destructive and I am sorry that I ever nurtured them.
I am also sorry to God for being cavalier about the world He created. I have had an active role in destroying this magnificent place that He crafted. By my ignorance and my carelessness and my choices, I have had an active role in the degradation of this world that I have been blessed to inhabit. I confess that I have not been a good steward (to use a New English term, just for old times’ sake). As I now know, even my food choices were part of my misunderstanding of the welfare of the planet. I am beginning to understand, but I am sorry for the damage I have done to the planet, the animals and my own temple.
This may sound redundant, but I want to be a little more specific. I want to individually apologize to all the minority groups in the world that I have, in various ways, mistreated. I acknowledge that I have not recognized my privilege. Even though I had a great number of disadvantages, I still had advantages by being born into the situation I was born into. Not recognizing this made me ungrateful for my situation and unaware and unsympathetic to the real situation of others. I am sorry that I judged and treated people with disregard that I had never met. Although I was probably never overt in my actions, I subtly formed alliances with my own kind and avoided relationships with people for arbitrary reasons. While I could point to black friends or my Native American blood, I only used this to dismiss my bigotry and racism that I kept just below the surface. I made progress over the years, but I regret considering a little more to be enough when it wasn’t.
I also am sorry for my arrogance while interpreting the Bible. I was very proud of the institution where I studied (which now no longer exists) and proud to be a pastor. But, I regret my attitude of interpreting the Bible with a sense of confidence and certitude that caused me to often ignore or downplay the works and words of Jesus Christ because I needed to be certain about my theories and beliefs of other texts. No one likes to admit that, but every fundamentalist must contend with this regularly to support the commitment to inerrancy. The realization I finally came to is that there were literally hundreds of other proud, Biblical groups that all agreed within themselves, but disagreed (at least somewhat) with all the other groups. I am sorry, that I was so certain about my view that I often diminished what should have been most important – the word and work of Jesus Christ. I said I had a relationship with Him, but I was often regulating Him to match my view of Scripture. I made Him into something that was rather impotent at times. Please understand this: I am deeply sorry for elevating Scripture over Jesus (the Word of God)!
I am also sorry for my judgement. Even though Jesus even said that He didn’t come to condemn the world, I still felt the need to do this often. I could always justify it in one way or another. When I judged people, I inherently discounted their worth. I admit that I often felt better about my group or tribe because I could exclude others in various ways by categorizing them as IN or OUT or BETTER or WORSE, even though my system was usually whatever method I devised to suit my own purposes. I am sorry for occasionally being glad that certain people were out, even though I was the primary judge that sentenced them to this fate. I realize now that the main person I was punishing was myself and I am sorry for that.
One very recent development is my understanding of this world’s violent beliefs. Especially after 911, it became easier to be positive about violent responses to world events. But recently, I began focusing on what Jesus taught and lived concerning violence. Jesus stopped people from stoning others (an Old Testament law) and He never retaliated or defended himself or his disciples with violent behavior. He never assumed or taught that our lives are more important than the lives of others. He showed mercy, forgiveness and love, even to the people that murdered Him. I regret that I cheered in the past for military victories. More than ever, I now can see individual human lives that matter to God even if they have been categorized as “bad guys.” I now feel a mourning or lament for people all over the world not just our nation. Though this is difficult, I think it is more like Jesus—more like where I should be.
Along these same lines, I have been convicted about my nationalism. Nationalism is an exaggerated form of pride in our nation. It is the assumption that we are somehow more favored or more worthy than other nations. The notion that we are more holy or Christian as a nation is misguided. We may be more religious, but God does not have an exclusive love for any nation. When people believe in Christ in China, they don’t automatically become citizens of the United States (and they don’t become Republican or Democrat). Very little, if any, of our founding documents contain the teachings of Jesus. We murdered the indigenous people and enslaved Africans to build this country. We sometimes seem a lot more like Babylon than a new promised land. I am sorry that I saluted a flag and pledged allegiance to a country because it caused me to forget to worship my true King and pledge allegiance to His Kingdom first! That matters way more than patriotism. No one can serve two masters – that much is always true!
Recently, I have been sad that I have been hateful to those that oppose me. When I find new wisdom, I regret that I have not been graceful toward my detractors. Because their opposition seemed hurtful, I often lashed out with vile or venom instead of understanding. I wish I would have just allowed them to vent and been more understanding instead of defending myself (which, again, is not a quality of Jesus). I am sorry for hurting them before they could hurt me. Although, it is inevitable that standing up for things sometimes make enemies of friends I am sorry for not choosing my words carefully.
I Am Ready
I’ve been a Christian for a long time. I must admit that I have followed about as many traditions as I have fought to overcome them. Not all traditions are bad – not all new ideas are unholy. I have occasionally followed my own tribe or pledged allegiance to my country or my denomination or whatever seemed appropriate at the time. Believe it or not, I often used the Bible in such a way that it hindered me from following Jesus. Much like the Pharisees, I was so committed to my vow or my understanding that I missed the point of whole thing! I have criticized other groups and committed the same sins in my own practice.
I am ready to follow a more Christlike God. I now understand God to be more like Jesus – in fact, He is exactly like Jesus according to several verses of the New Testament and Jesus’ own testimony. Following Jesus demands that I model His compassion, love, mercy, grace and other-centeredness.
Even though I know that I will make mistakes and misunderstand some things; if I am authentic, I must respond to the things that I now know to be true. I know too much to go back to my old way of life. I am responsible for what I know. I know that God is like Jesus and I must respond to the Jesus I know.
I Have to Try
I know that gun violence is a huge, complicated problem. I can’t simplify the complex issues, but I also can’t be discouraged by its enormousness. Even if it seems impossible, I must try to make a difference. Even though issues like racism, class ism, sexism, etc. seem like they cannot be overcome, I must try to change the world by changing my heart, my speech and my actions. Even though ideas of war and peace are greatly distorted, I must try to speak and live truth into the lives of others. Although the idea of a more Christlike God seems to have lost to angry god or Santa Claus god or the god of whatever empire, I must at least try to overcome the bias in my own mind and, hopefully, help lead others to a God that looks and acts more like Jesus. Even though nationalism is heavily entrenched in most societies, I must try to remember that God is especially fond of all peoples on the earth, not just whatever tribe I think is favored.
The Apostle Paul considered the three virtues, faith, hope and love and concluded that the greatest of them was love. But the writer of Hebrews said, “without faith, it is impossible to please God.” In various ways, the New Testament speaks of a hope that doesn’t disappoint us because it comes from God. I don’t want to argue for any of these as better, because I need all three! It’s like a 3-legged stool that supports me as I try to live the life that God imagined for me. I need faith in God—I need love for mankind—and, I also need hope for the future.
I can’t control the outcome and I can’t manipulate the future.
All I can say is that I am sorry for the past and I am excited about where this journey may lead!