The Desert Sanctuary

Spirit * Soul * Body

 “In every walk in with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” John Muir[1]

When I was younger, my friend and I would shoot birds out of the trees.  After night church, me and the pastor’s son would shine flashlights up into the trees and shoot the birds with our pellet guns.  It pales in comparison to what we pay for others to do in factory farms these days, but it was still cruel!  Before I had a pellet gun, I burned ants on the sidewalk with a magnifying glass.  It was just part of being a typical kid in the time and place that I grew up.  I’ve given up hunting all together, but there is a part of me (even as a vegan), that still respects hunting for food. 

So, given my past, it surprised me the other day when I was warming up my car and listening to a bird singing.  It was most likely the same type of bird that I pelted with lead not that many years ago.  I realized that this bird is the first thing I hear when I awake every morning.  It is most likely a robin, because this pair have been building a nest about 10 feet from our bedroom window for the past few years.  The first year, we watched them build the nest and now they come back every year to tidy up and get ready for the new arrivals.  It’s pretty exciting and we look forward to it every year.  It’s not only one of the signs of Spring, but it’s an example of new life!  I like to think they trust us, but we know they are mostly just doing their thing and trying not to get eaten by another animal. 

The rabbits and squirrels are a little more elusive.  Every once in a while, we see the squirrels scamper across the porch or chase each other up a tree.  The bunnies move around and don’t let us see them too often but we appreciate it when they do.  There is a family of foxes in town, the occasional snake and the moles that migrate around just below the surface.  In our area, it would be easy to spot deer, wild turkeys, racoons, opossums, and coyotes. 

The main thing I miss about hunting is sitting in a tree stand in the very early morning.  As the sun would creep up to the horizon, the animals would make themselves known.  Before the white noise of civilization rang out, the birds began their singing.  As light began to emerge, the creatures that roam the land began moving.  Some were gathering food, some were coming home from the night’s hunt, and others took flight from their perch just above my head. 

There is great diversity in nature, but there also seems to be a steady rhythm.  It is almost like a drumbeat—it is persistent and predictable.  Nature doesn’t have to be coerced into living.  It follows an ancient pattern that seems to me like authenticity.  Everything I observe in nature has this in common:  every part seems to know what it is and where it is.  Nature doesn’t long to be somewhere else or to be something else.  It is in session with the present and at peace with its identity.  These two things are what I long for – presence and authenticity.

When the robin’s nest was dislodged last year, we helped them re-establish it.  But even before we were able to help, they had already begun rebuilding.  Nature reacts to disturbances and changes, but not with a panic or despair.  It simply alters its course or adapts.  The fact that we have a dog drove the moles out of our yard, but I’m sure they simply relocated.  The rabbits moved nearby for the same reason.  I’m mindful that everything I do on my property affects the parts of nature that are there.  But nature doesn’t seem to get angry or depressed.  It seems to adjust its course without missing much of a beat.  I don’t always respond this well to change.

Another interesting aspect of nature to ponder is the soil.  In the dirt and clay and sand that lays beneath my feet are all the nutrients for most of living things on this planet.  As plants grow down into this “earth,” they draw up into them the vital minerals and vitamins that they need.  Calcium, Zinc, Iron, Magnesium, and other minerals are all there ready to be extracted and used by all of creation.  The amino acids that form into proteins, the carbohydrates that break into energy and the phytonutrients that provide fuel and function to most everything here, is found in this soil.  But how does it get there? 

This question led me to my compost pile.  I keep a container near my back door.  It is where we discard all our plant scraps including peelings, expiring fruits and vegetables and anything plant-based that we can’t use any more.  It reduces our trash load and eventually get’s moved to an upside down bucket that serves as our compost pile.  I mix in some leaves and yard waste and even our coffee grinds and over time, the waste becomes something useful—dark rich, compost that feeds the soil.  It’s a small model of what happens naturally all over the world.  When things die, they are acted upon by nature and repurposed into life giving forms.  You might call it the circle of life, but to me it seems like one big choreographed dance.

To observe nature closely is to understand this parade of life through all its being born and dying and we briefly catch a glimpse of how death leads to resurrection and resurrection to new life.  I often resist change, but change is not only probable, it’s imminent!   Change will happen naturally, and nature is only delayed briefly by the disruptions.

Recently I started sprouting again.  I buy sprouting seeds from the internet that are made of broccoli, radishes, clover and alfalfa.  It is called “broccoli and friends.”  I put some seeds in a jar and keep them wet for a few days, and like magic it turns into these little tiny plants that are chocked full of nutrition.  When I watch this happen, I see the Divine contained in that little seed that quickly becomes a highly nutritious (and very tasty) sprout.  What I know from research is that all of the potential for that entire plant is found in that tiny little seed.  As scientists probe deeper into molecules, they find this majesty deep within all things. 

To be honest, I wrestle with whether a holy being would require worship.  I just don’t see God or the Creator or Source being that needy.  I think if any being is self-assured, I think it would be the one that created all this.  Most of nature doesn’t wait for approval before it proceeds.  Only those that we domesticate and tame seem to have the same delusions as us.  The plants and animals don’t have to have praise to continue doing what they do.  My assumption is that the creator of these beings simply IS and that is enough.  If the accounts are right, the revelations of God reveal him to say “I am” several times.  To exist is not only what matters, but it is enough. 

So, nature brings me back to a simpler and richer mode of existence.  It reminds me that being where I am and who I am is not only enough, it is also magical and mystical and teaming with life, death, resurrection and then new life once again.  As I start another new day, I have heard the bird sing.  His song leads me out into the yard where I catch a glimpse of one of the creatures doing it’s thing.  I peer down at the soil, and just for a moment, my mind is able to almost comprehend the universal and cataclysmic dance of the universe.  That’s where I find humility these days – that’s where I find truth – it’s where I draw energy – its where I find life!

Karl


[1] https://wisdomquotes.com/nature-quotes/

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These are some of my newer friends, but I don’t intend to give them up soon!

Derrick Day – Author of Desconsructiong Religion, opinionated asshole 🙂

Kyle Butler – New Jersey dude, former pastor and co-host of Too Many Podcasters

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We adopted Winston into our family when he was about 2 years old about three and a half years ago.  Miniature Australian Shepherds are trainable and by nature are herding, community kind of animals.  We often say they are smart, but what we mean is that they are about like an above average 3-year old child.  I know this because every time I ask him to get me the remote, he just looks at me like I asked him to solve world hunger and then he just lays down on the floor. 

Occasionally, I get frustrated with Winston because he does annoying things.  He tries to “herd” me by pushing up against my leg.  This kind of dog is happiest when everyone in the house is sitting in the living room together.  I tell him “One day, you are going to knock me down.”    Again, he just looks at my and seems to be thinking, “I don’t know what you are saying—I want a carrot!”  He also barks every time we put him outside because he is territorial.  He takes this role very seriously even when the mail person that comes at the same time every day shows up to deliver the mail!  He has very little discernment and I try to talk to him about it, but he just looks at me and then eventually lays back down. 

Often, we think he going crazy or declining.  Other times, we think he is intentionally not learning anything from us.  The only trick we have taught him is the go around the tree maneuver to untangle his chain when he goes out to pee.  He learned lots of tricks from someone else, but he refuses to learn anything new from me.  It just makes us both anxious to try to learn new tricks, so we eventually just go back to our recliners.  That’s right, he has his own recliner!  He’s very sensitive to some foods and especially frightened of storms.  He even seems to be able to anticipate that a storm is coming.  But the thing Winston the Wonder Dog does best is just being who he is. 

Maybe a lot of our stress is that we don’t know who we are.  How much of our waking hours is devoted to trying to reinvent ourselves or build our logo or brand instead of just being who we are.  What if we knew, from deep inside us, who we are, and we just lived authentically from that place? 

There are some things about Winston that are common to most dogs.  The characteristic people use to describe most dogs are loyalty and unconditional love.  People use other words like faithful to describe them, but most of the descriptions mean about the same thing.  Winston is happy greeting us, being with us and anticipating our return.  As far as I know, he is relatively happy just being around us.  When extended family or friends come over, he receives their affection, but he doesn’t miss them like he misses us.  This loyalty is probably one of the main reasons we like dogs.

I was thinking yesterday about this premise.  I have always been somewhat of an introvert and I have never had a lot of close friends.  Also, Laura reminds me that when I complete a task, I am usually quickly on to the next task.  I think I am also like this with people.  Once I make a friend online, I am quickly on to finding another friend.  If one friend is good, two is probably better.  Some people are like this with pets and they accumulate more than they can handle.  But dogs seem content to just have about one or two friends in life because they are loyal.   What if I were more like Winston and just devoted more attention to people that are already in my life?  It’s okay to have a broader influence, but better to be faithful with what I have now.

I don’t know if dogs mentally think about forgiveness, but they seem to be good at it.  Maybe their memory is less advanced than ours or maybe their love for us is more important than keeping score.   Sometimes I yell at Winston when he doesn’t do things like I expect.  He will cower a little or just go sit in his chair.  Unfortunately, I feel like I’m doing my duty to mold him, but if I am honest, it’s just my pride or my ego that needs to have control.  Sometimes, it seems like he is pouting about it, but really I think he’s just waiting for me to get over it.  If I throw him the ball or pat him on the head, he is just as happy as if it never happened. 

Currently, we are going through a crisis with the COVID-19 virus.  We have simplified our meal plans because we can’t go out much and we can’t run to the store to get special items every day.  We usually go to the store about once a week.  Even with this restriction, we still eat a wide variety of things because I get bored eating the same thing every day.  But, Winston doesn’t seem to be bothered by this.  We give him a carrot and an ice cube once a day as a treat.  We feed him the same dog food every day and his tale starts wagging every time we put it in the bowl.  He seems to be grateful.  Maybe, he doesn’t have any choice, but that’s probably part of the point.

I don’t know what dogs think about.  Sometimes I hear Winston have a dream.  He seems to be wrestling with something in his sleep.  Maybe that’s true of all sentient beings—if there is memory and brain function, it must reset and process through what needs to be retained—or something like that.  He seems to be thinking about things, especially when I say a word that he has never heard before.  But there is one thing I have never observed him doing—he never is mentally somewhere else when I speak to him – he is always present!  Maybe it is because he doesn’t have a smart phone, but I don’t think so.  He is always here even when there is nothing to do.  He realizes doing nothing together is still doing something.  I seriously long to be more present like my dog. 

At the end of the day, Winston seems very content to know that he lived authentically.  He ate the food that he had and asked for a couple of carrots and ice cubes.  When I give him too many carrots, he just leaves the other one on the floor.  He barked at the mail person because that is what dogs do.  His warning call is alarming, and Laura is happy that he sounds fierce when I’m not home.  He rolled around on the floor and exercised a little (played with the ball), chewed on his bone a little, stretched out a couple of times, and drank water out of the toilet.  But he didn’t get obsessive or excessive about any of it and He didn’t regret that he did almost the same exact things the next day.   At the end of day, he follows us to bed knowing that he did what was normal for a dog of his breed.

As humans, we often honor and long for the exceptional.  We want to stand out from the crowd—to be recognized by our peers—to excel.  But being who we are is exceptional in and of itself.  Maybe this is called contentment—maybe it’s authenticity—but it’s certainly not a compromise.  Being who we are may be our single greatest accomplishment in life.  I hope to be more like Winston, but only to the extent that I act more like me.

Karl

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Join some more of my friends to talk about the Mental Health aspects of COVID-19 and the current crisis:

Dr. Paul Fitzgerald – Found of Heart Connection Ministries

Karl Forehand – author of Apparent Faith: What Fatherhood Taught Me…..

Laura Forehandwhole-brain teacher of a mother of 3

Ben DeLong – author of There’s a God in My Closet

Tood Vick – author of The Renewing of Your Mind

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Thank you for your friendship – let’s see what the future holds!

Usually, Laura has a better sense about social media than I do.  She tells me often that I need to “break up” with people of Facebook.  In the end I agree with her, but I still have some roots from past religious experiences that believes I can change people.  These people also believe the same thing about me.  Often, they are easy to recognize because of the religious sounding names in their Facebook profile.  I’ve learned to weed out those people early on because they often have agendas that either don’t interest me or would only take me back to spiritual infancy that I am trying to distance myself fun.  At the least, it will end in an argument.

I think I can say without reservation that I would never “friend” a person that garnered the name “prophet” in their Facebook profile.  These people generally want to “speak” into my life and they are hoping for an audience that fuels their narcissistic endeavors.  Maybe, it’s not always true, but my experience teaches me it is just better to avoid them altogether.  Engaging with them either ends with an argument or with them condemning me for some vague thing that isn’t even true.  With that said, I have nothing but admiration and respect for those that are truly prophetic and have something to say to the world.  I lump them together, the poets and the prophets.

These people, the poets and the prophets, are quite the opposite from the people I mentioned before.  They do not seek to be honored or recognized as much as they like to give what they have been given.  They have a song to sing or word to say, but because they don’t always understand what it is they are trying to share, it is always with a bit of reluctance that they share their treasure with the world. 

I believe Bob Dylan is one of the greatest poets of all time.  I recently discovered his song, “Every Grain of Sand.”  I think I understand about 10% of it, but I agree with other Dylan fans that this may be one of the greatest songs ever written.  I think it’s about the universe.  I think it’s also about the Divine.  It’s about nature and our place and significance and things like that.  But, even when poets are asked to explain their own creations, it’s often difficult for them to explain what they were trying to say. 

The Christian Scriptures (The Bible) is a 1600 years record of people struggling to understand God.  Many of them were prophets and poets.  Along with the authors of the Bible, there are probably hundreds of thousands of seekers that have written about their quest to understand God and the Universe and how it all works together.  They spoke in different languages and used different methods, but the way to recognize a poet or a prophet is that they don’t come to definite conclusions.  When someone writes to a definite conclusion, we can be certain that they settled for an elementary understanding of things and they probably were not a prophet or poet.  Poets and prophets are searching for something deeper—something more Divine.

In some ways, I am trying to put language to the things I am discovering.  In many ways, I try to share this with other people, hoping they will find words for the things that they are thinking.  That’s a lot of what connection, one of our deepest needs is about.  We want to hear a song or read a book that resonates with us.  That part of us that has an inclination that things can be understood is what keeps us scrolling and reading and listening to music.  But, the other part of us has an inclination that some things are very hard to describe.  We need the poets and prophets because some things only get muddied when we try to define them.  They are able to wrestle with thoughts and ideas without having to wrangle them into a belief or a system. 

To me, love songs are when a poet attempts to put something into words that cannot adequately be described with words.  In interviews, they say a lot of things like “It like…” or “It reminds me of…”  People often get mad at them because they seem elusive and unclear.  But, they are trying to describe something deeper and more mysterious that their language is able to define.  People want to nail down the prophets of the Bible to be some kind of fortune tellers, but they were really just people trying to put into words what they were discovering when they went deeper—when they went inside.

In the introduction, I mentioned the idea of “sinking” to get closer to the Divine.  It comes from the popular Bible verse that we usually interpret “Be still and know that I am God.”[1]  When we “cease striving” or “be still,” we are able to sink into the mysteries that are deeper and more ancient than our words can adequately describe.  In my book, The Tea Shop, I talk about Van Morrison’s song, where he encourages us to float “Into the Mystic.”  Many time, the conversation with mystics is stalled by the statement, “It’s very hard to describe.”  Most contemplatives I know talk about going inside, but don’t ask them for a formula!  It’s just a sinking, or a drifting that is hard to turn into a formula or prescription or even a belief.

If our practices can be succinctly described, we will remain in the kiddie pool of the spiritual world.  But when we can sink, we can discover more of the depts of the creator and this divine creation.  When we allow ourselves to float, we find not a slippery slope but a current of understanding that we may not be able to describe, but we will know much more deeply.  We can see more of the vastness of this mysterious, mystical, and limitless journey when we let the prophets and poets lead us there with their colorful versions of “It’s kind of like this…”

Even though it’s hard to go deeper with the prophets and poets, it’s not a waste of time.  When we ponder words and thoughts that are hard to wrangle, it deepens our understanding of the things that really matter.  History shows that most new discoveries and new understanding comes from these mystical people that dare to imagine what couldn’t be described at the time.  We found words for all their imaginations, but in many ways when we did, it put limits on them.  We built walls around their expanding ideas and tamed them. 

It’s time to be wild again.  Take a prophet or poet on the journey and float out into the mystic.  Dive deep into the mysteries of life and let yourself sink long enough to know what can only be imagined, not defined.  Take a step out into the desert with those that have ventured there and find mystery and paradox and nuance, not certainty and doctrine.  Listen to words of the poet:

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand.  

~ Bob Dylan, Every Grain of Sand

Karl


[1] Psalms 46:10

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As I write the words to this chapter, the world is amid what most would describe as a crisis.  It is described on a government website in my home state as, “an outbreak of respiratory disease caused by a novel (new) coronavirus that was first detected in many locations internationally, including in the United States. The virus has been named “SARS-CoV-2” and the disease it causes has been named “coronavirus disease 2019” (abbreviated “COVID-19”).[1]  COVID-19 is spread through contact and has quickly spread throughout the world even to my hometown of Rock Port, MO.  My Facebook feed today includes my mother’s disappointment that the virus has reached her hometown.  The numbers change daily, so I won’t bore you with the numbers, but it’s safe to say we are in the middle of a pandemic.

Of course, there are some that are blatantly dismiss it as a crisis.  They want to make it something spiritual or call it a conspiracy.  For the sake of brevity and because I’m part baby boomer, for now I will just dismiss them as idiots and move on with what I’m trying to accomplish here.  For me, I was just isolated from my job for 20 days, my daughter has been quarantined in her home for 2 weeks and we hear of new updates every day.  Most of the people that dismissed this pandemic have been slowing arising from their slumber, including me.

I don’t know about you, but people like me have a coping strategy we like to employ.  When something unique happens, we try to normalize or minimalize it.  If I can somehow tie what is happing to something that happened in the past or if I can make it seem smaller in my mind than it actually is, then it won’t be as scary or I won’t have to make any changes in my life to adjust to the changes that are impending.   Even though I like adventure, I like planned adventures and what I am discovering is that this is a living contradiction or maybe even an oxymoron.  And, to make it worse, Dr. Mary Jeppsen state the following:

              “There have never been times like these…unprecedented”[2]

The situation we find ourselves is indeed like nothing most of us have ever seen or experienced in our lifetime.  I have very few reference points for dealing with this crisis, so as I start to experience my part in this pandemic let me just state a few guidelines that I am building from.  Primarily, it is okay not to be okay and it is okay to feel what you feel.  Any time we shame ourselves or others for feeling what we feel, we just create many more problems and we have enough challenges.  We don’t need to add guilt or shame or more despair to the equation.  It’s enough on its own merit.   The other thing I would share with you is what my friend Dr. Paul Fitzgerald say, “Don’t waste a good crisis.”  So, hopefully that is what I am doing here.

Be where you are

Mrs. Beaty is one of the teachers I remember from private school.  I remember her as kind and compassionate.  She was probably patient also if she had to deal with me in those days, but every time someone talks about school, the classroom I picture is hers.  Back then, teachers took roll.  They would call out your name and you could either say “here” or “present.”  Both of them meant the same thing – you were in the seat that was assigned to you.   The word present didn’t mean what we now commonly refer to as at least some form of awareness and sort of a single-focus on something particular.

Jesus seemed to have this presence.  Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think he necessarily was always impressive, but I do believe he was always present.  As a boy, when he was in the temple, he was fully present with the teachers and didn’t realize that the caravan for home had already left.  He was fully engaged with what was most important and not distracted by other people’s agenda for him.  When he was in the boat, he was fully engaged in the task at hand even when the task was taking a nap.  When he was in the garden, he was in garden and not a million miles away.  When he went away to pray, he was fully present in prayer and not reliving the past or dreading the future. 

Over the past 18 months, I have been doing some very simple, physical work.  People often ask me, “So, what’s the plan?”  By this, I think they are struggling to see me as doing this physical work for anything more than a temporary stint.  I’ve been an office worker for much of my adult life.  The story of the last few years takes a long time to delineate and where I think this might be going is hard to describe, so I just say this:

              This is what I am doing today

I say this because that is exactly what I say inside my head.  If I look beyond the boundaries of the current day, or sometimes hour, I may become frightened of the future or regretful about the past.  The best place to be in in the present.  It’s really the only time we can live in.  Our minds typically are in a hundred places at once.  Often, we are absent from the moment we are participating in.   There is a time to plan, but even those plans are subject to change.  There is also a time to go back and do some necessary repair work.  It can be fruitful, we just can’t live there.  The only place we can live is in the here and now.

So, I say to myself, “This is what I am doing now” and “this is where I am.”  One of my new favorite theologians, Thich Nhat Hanh says, “The present moment is filled with joy and happiness if you are attentive, you will see it.”[3]   This is how I want to live the rest of my life—in the present moment, experiencing joy and happiness because I was paying attention.

When Mrs. Beaty would say, “Mr. Forehand” and I would say, “president” or answer in a funny voice, she would exclaim “Mr. Forehand just say ‘here’ or ‘present’.”  When Mrs. Beaty said present, she wanted to know if I was there.  When Laura says, “Are you here?” she means “Are you present?”  Let’s all come back to the present and live in the only time we can!

Be who you are

In the Bible, there is an incident described that I would describe as something similar to a drone strike.[4]  To make a long story short, Elijah the prophet and King Ahaziah get into a struggle about whether the king is respecting God.  Elijah responds to the king’s lack of respect for God with calling down fire from heaven (like a drone strike) and wipes out the soldiers in successive waves (50 at a time) until Elijah (and apparently God) finally shows some mercy.  It seems like a bit of an overreaction, to say the least, but it leaves me with lot of questions. 

The question I ask is, “Is this what God is really like—does he really end people’s life just for disrespecting him?”  To me that sounds like a gangster or a mob boss more than a loving, restorative God.  It seems retributive and even childish, not wise like I imagine The Divine to be.  The other big question I ask is, “Is this how we are supposed to be?”  Are we supposed to be retributive to those who oppose God or don’t consult him first or believe in him?  Apparently, the Israelites believed in the drone strike god because there is another reference to it in Luke chapter nine.

After the transfiguration, Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem and send messengers ahead to secure lodging for their visit.  When the Samaritan village was unwelcoming, James and John question, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaving to destroy them?”[5]  Apparently, the common belief about their identity was that when someone stands in our way, we remove them from our path in the quickest and most efficient way.  That’s was their understand of who they were.  Even though Jesus teaching was completely contrary to this, they still clung to the ancient misunderstanding about God and what the people of God are like. 

Jesus rebukes them.  In some manuscripts, “You don’t know what kind of spirit you belong to.”  If I could interpret a little, I would suggest that the battle is between the spirit of retribution and spirit of restoration.  Jesus demonstrated his love and mercy toward the Samaritans (the sworn enemy of the Jews) several times.   When Peter tried the way of retribution with his sword in the garden, Jesus rebuked him and basically told him, “that’s not who we are.”

Most of us like Peter are just trying to fit in.  We want to be significant and we look to other people for models of how to get where we think we are going.  James and John wanted to be like Elijah that represented the prophets.  I can relate to that because I love the poets and the prophets and often lump them together.  But in our desire to be significant, we have to remember that the one basic requirement is we first have to be who we are.  We have to be authentic.  One of my oldest daughter’s favorite quotes used to be Oscar Wilde’s statement:

“Most people are other people.  Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their life is a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”[6]

I have tattoo on my arm of a couple of Chinese characters.  The characters are a Mandarin word about authenticity.  It literally means, “Real.”  That is my prayer for the second half of my life and my hope for the world.  I want us to be who we are. 

Maybe this pause in our lives will cause us to consider living differently.  Maybe we can get out of the patterns we have become accustomed to and decide what is important and what is not.  Hopefully our lives will become much simpler by determining what is truly necessary and what is window dressing. 

My hope is that we will learn to be where we are and be who we are! 

Karl


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[1] https://health.mo.gov/living/healthcondiseases/communicable/novel-coronavirus/

[2] Gleaned from an online conversation on March 28, 2020

[3] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/259142-the-present-moment-is-filled-with-joy-and-happiness-if

[4] 2 Kings 1

[5] Luke 9:54

[6] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/317-most-people-are-other-people-their-thoughts-are-someone-else-s

Got together with some mental health professionals and talked about the current crisis and how it is unique in it’s characteristics. How is this crisis unique? How can we cope effectively with the crisis. What is common to all of this? What did the participants hope for our near future?

Join our guests:

Dr. Mary Jeppsen – LIcensed Professional Counselor

Seth Showalter – Corporate Clinical Trainer

Michelle Collins – Accountant and Author

Laura Forehand – Elementary Teacher and Whole Brain Teaching expert

(Sorry, we forgot to record and had to retrieve it from Facebook – enjoy!)

Listen to the episode
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Richard stepped down from his role as a pastor in 2003. He now spends his time writing and making animated videos and creating cartoons. We had a great conversation about his thoughts around organized religion. This is good stuff!


(From the Facebook page)
Right now millions of Christians are opting out of today’s organized church system. But a lot of them aren’t leaving because they want LESS of Jesus. They actually want MORE!!! Does that sound crazy??? Then check out the FREE AUDIOBOOK version of the former Number One New Release, “Unchurching: Christianity Without Churchianity”.
LISTEN HERE: http://www.unchurching.com/audiobook

Check out these amazing free resources on the Unchurching website!

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A long-time friend confronted me by text message the other day.  He probably won’t read this and I’ll keep the details vague so you can’t tell who he is.  Most people that confront me about my beliefs do so with some level of concern, so I try to recognize their vulnerability and courage to do that.  My guess is that they feel they might be able to “save” me in some way.  Often the coversation reveals something about me and especially about my former beliefs.

Here are a couple of things this person said to me:

  • “There are many people that are worried about you and praying for you”
  • “Karl, you are not on a good journey”
  • “You may be finding worldy peace but not what God has intended for you”
  • “You have turned from the love you once knew”
  • “It brings me to tears to have to say this to you.”

I am sure this is how I would have confronted someone in the past.  Apart from the judgement and worry and fear, which aren’t prescribed in the Bible, I could tell he was genuinely concerned.  But,  why exactly was he “about to cry?”  The  more I thought about it the more I remembered the fear.  Fear was a natural part of the organized religion I was involved in.   We called it concern, but it was really just fear.  It was a natural part of doing business.

Using my conversation with my friend, I would like to tear this apart a little and talk about what I now understand as flawed in this type of fear-based regious system.  What does it say about our image of God?  What does it say about us?

It assumes no one really has peace.

I talked about peace when I was a pastor, but I’m not sure if I ever really experienced or truly understood it.  My friend told me that I didn’t have peace even though he can’t look into my heart of feel what I feel.  He asumes that because I don’t follow his specific belief system that all kinds of things have gone wrong for me.  After all, that’s a part of the sales pitch every week, “You bettter stay close to God and stay in his word and stay in prayer…”  The list goes on, and you never really feel like you’ve got it quite nailed down.  But you’re sure that others outside your circle couldn’t possilby have it together.

When messages and conversations begin with fear, they are certain to end with solution that always leaves us with a little anxiety.   Am I doing it right?  Did I get the facts straight?  Did I perform well enough?  And, if we’re responsible for each other, did I warn enough other people?  There’s always a “slippery slope” or something to be afraid of.  Success in a Fundamentalist Evangelical world many times looks more like hide-and-seek and the performing arts more than a relationship.

Like I said, I don’t know if I ever felt real peace until I got outside of that environment and experienced some mystery and nuance and allowed myself to be uncertain.  I know it sounds like a contradition, but it’s not.

It makes God out to be a Jerk

When someone says they are praying for me these days, it causes me to go into a tail-spin.  I have to assume what they mean because I don’t use that language any more.  I’m assuming it means that they want me to do something different.  If they are assuming that I’m in some kind of peril, then they are also assuming that God could convince me of what would change my situation.   But when I was doing it, we assumed we needed more people to pray to make it happen.  That makes God out to be a cosmic jerk, waiting somewhere at a distance saying, “one more person — pray harder — I don’t think you mean it– you didn’t even cry.”

But, deeper than this is the underlying assumption that God is angry and retributive.  I’ve been angry as a father (occasionally), but the basic assumption to this type of religious system is that God is angry and retributive most of the time.  Since this type of system assumes original sin and that we are inherently bad, the natural assumption is that retributive God is mad almost all the time and it’s our fault.  Again, it paints a picture of a God that is waiting somewhere for us to mess up.  Don’t make a wrong choice in your belief system!  Don’t question the belief that you inherited!  Don’t step out of line or challenge too much!   The picture is of a God that has a short-fuse and is mostly retributive instead o the restorative picture we find in Jesus.

Many times I couldn’t hardly get the words grace, love or mercy out of my mouth when describing God, without someone adding, “but also judgement!”

What Really Bothers Me

The thing that really bothers me about the situation is that there is so much fear that the people from my previous life don’t want to talk about it.  They just really want me to know that they are uncomfortable with my change and they would rather me change back to be like them.  If I can fit into their belief system, they might accept me back after a little bit of shaming, but there would be great rejoicing at the Baptist church when one of their lost sheep comes home.

The other thing is when we do that religious thing of saying, “I’m concerned for you,” that’s not what we really mean.  What we really are tring to articulate is muti-layered.  First, it means that we are absolutely sure that the specific belief system that we have inherited 2000 years after Jesus walked the earth is absultely right, correct and the Bible that we carry is infallible.  Are we really that arrogant to think that the chain of custody for our faith is untarnished and pure as the driven snow.  The second assumption is if someone thinks differently they are in danger of hell-fire or at least of being unworthly of our fellowship.  They especially shouldn’t expect to be in leadership or have a voice in the group, especially if they are women.   Again, that’s a very arrogant stance to take, but almost universal when speaking about my former affiliations.

Do you know what the strangest part of my current belief system?  I don’t really feel the need to change what my former friends believe.   Do I wish they could see what I see? Yes!  But, for now, I understand that all of us are on different journeys.  And as long as we are inquitive and open, I think it’s good for us to be on different paths.  As I look back, I would love to bring my old friends with me and I’d be okay if they didn’t agree.  But, to go on the journey, it’s imperative that we begin learning to be brave.  And bravery requires that we begin to let go of the fear.

My friend took the first step to the desert journey by doing something uncomfortable and facing his fear.  The more he does that, the more he will have the courage to ask the hard questions and risk exploring the big question, “What if I am wrong?”

I wish you well on the journey that you are on.  I know that fear is tenacious, but I promise it gets easier to manage every time we face it.   Lean in!  We’re not wrong to question and to journey out into the unknown.  I can tell you for sure, it’s not a slippery slope and you won’t lose your soul — in fact you might find it.

Karl


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Of course, she is not only just my favorite teacher–she is my favorite in lots of areas.  I hope you appreciate how vulnerable it is to share our life with you.  Our hope is that it will enhance your life.

Did I tell you we also wrote a book together — check back later this year!

Find Laura on Facebook



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Thank you for your friendship – let’s see what the future holds!