Reading Scripture Sideways: a new take on a very old book

I’ve been slowly, as in snail’s pace slowly, working my way through Rob Bell’s latest book, What is the Bible. I actually want to read it like the pages are on fire and I have to finish before it consumes them. I want to gorge myself on the clever, gentle, insightful ways of considering an ancient library. Scripture. I used to love it. Even now the word feels so weighty and mysterious when it sits on my tongue. I believe that’s because it is  weighty and mysterious, wrapped in thousands of layers of meaning and interpretation. Yes, I used to love scripture. I was so much more certain of everything then. Now, honestly, I’m afraid of the Bible, and that fear is holding me back from enjoying not only Rob Bell’s book, but scripture itself.

I know what you’re thinking: here comes the crazy again. It’s true. I have all the issues when it comes to church and church business. But through all this great big hairy church mess, somehow, I never believed that God lost her faith in me. Even when I stumble and flail and fall and swear, even when I push her away like an over tired toddler, she loves me still. She’s been faithful in every way and for that I am so deeply and powerfully grateful.

Religious institutions have not been so merciful or forgiving in my experience. Now I’m what old cowboys refer to as ‘gun shy.‘ Churchy words and situations make me anxious. I seldom measure up to expectations, and when I do it’s because I’m not being true to myself. And then there’s the Bible, the weapon most often used against me in religious altercations (also known as rebuking, church discipline and spiritual authority).

It’s true, I’ve used the Bible as a weapon myself, back in the days when together we were infallible. I can accept that about myself even if I don’t like it very much. Had I known how quickly that weapon would turn on me, I might have thumped more gently, perhaps not at all. For as long as I can remember, we’ve elevated scripture with superlatives: inerrant, inspired, ineffable. Words so high, I cannot attain them. I’ve learned to defend it, uphold it, revere it and memorize it, as though tongues of fire straight from Heaven itself licked words upon papyrus scrolls with nary a misprint or mystery in the process.

What I didn’t learn was how slippery millenia old stories of the Divine become as they slip through time. Or how entirely human the men and women who recorded the stories really are. Sometimes a very human agenda superimposes itself over a very divine story. I didn’t learn context, or layers or culture. Truth may be eternal, but the expression of Truth isn’t so easy to nail down in concisely neat terms once and for all.

So I’ve floundered.

My experience of God doesn’t fit so neatly on the pages as it used to. It keeps sliding off, bursting out, growing bigger than the neat little boxes I learned about. The God of my deconstruction is endlessly forgiving, but God out of the box can get you excommunicated (or perhaps even crucified).

I’ve avoided wrestling with scripture for fear it will disappoint me. It has a lot to live up to when you look at it as the very word of God. But recently, I’ve started to see it a bit differently. Jesus, Himself, is the very word of God, and to date, He hasn’t failed me. I think for me it’s time to let the words of the Bible be what they truly are – a very human attempt to describe a very indescribable God.

An immutable, inerrant Word of God is far too dangerous in the hands of someone like me. But a human attempt to unravel the Universal Christ in ways we can understand and embody, with all the mistakes and course correction that entails? That might just be the right fit for a heretic like me. And if it isn’t, I have a God who’s waiting to fill in the gaps. Because that’s the kind of God she is.

Bruce Hornsby makes me happy; an unlikely path to holiness

Right now I’m listening to Bruce Hornsby on Spotify. Do you remember him? He slips off my radar for weeks at a time sometimes, and then one of his songs pops up again. I think to myself, “Why don’t I listen to more Bruce Hornsby and the Range? He always makes me so happy!” So today, even though I have no idea what I’m going to write about, I’m happy.

I spend quite a bit of time thinking about happiness lately. Not just my own happiness (though I’m frequently the subject of my ponderings), but the nature of happiness.  I think happiness gets a bum rap in religious circles. We subscribe to dying to self, sacrifice, and piety but often at the expense of our own happiness. We say really holy things like, God is more concerned with my holiness than my happiness. It sounds good, very spiritual but honestly, I don’t believe this is an accurate picture of God.  The creator of quarks and sub-atomic particles is more complex than such a binary holiness equation. I’m not denigrating piety or sacrifice or even suffering. But maybe we’re cheating ourselves out of something by believing they are the singular signs of higher level spirituality or perfection.

I’m pretty sure Jesus was a laugher. I like to imagine a great, ringing belly laugh, the infectious kind. I can see him now, head thrown back, eyes twinkling, or bent forward, grabbing his knees and trying to catch his breath as His followers chortle around him. I’m not a historical scholar, but I know few things about life in Jesus’s time. First of all, for your typical Jewish man (which most followers were), life was hard. You worked hard; you paid a lot of taxes, and sacrifices, and offerings. I won’t even begin to detail the hardships women faced. As an oppressed people, day-to-day existence was fairly scrappy for the people of Jesus’s time. Anyone peddling more of the same- suffering, hardship, sorrow- probably wasn’t gaining a huge following.

So when Jesus spoke to them of something different, better, new, the expectation was a path that led to a better life, including, you guessed it, happiness. Here’s where I lose some people because you’ll say, well obviously Jesus was talking about HEAVEN, not life in the Roman Empire (insert eye roll if you’re feeling sassy). Except, Jewish people didn’t have a construct of Heaven the way we do today. That’s a pretty modern construct, and not entirely Biblical.

What Jewish followers believed, and a large part of what we need to understand is the Kingdom of God takes place here, on this very earth. On this very good earth as Abba has declared it, we usher in the Kingdom. Not an army of scowling, self-righteous followers, but a smiling, gracious, self-effacing welcome crew, pulling out chairs and passing out refreshments. When our joy is contagious, when what we offer is beautiful, we reflect the very heart of God. Those of us sitting around waiting with sour faces for the sweet-by-and-by are missing something – a very large piece of the Jesus picture.

This is what I am coming to believe as I deconstruct and reconstruct this wild and woolly faith. Happiness is part of the divine package. We were created in joy, for joy.  I simply do not believe the God who handcrafted penguins and kittens and sea turtles didn’t delight in the creation process. Why? Because it made Him happy and He knew it would make us happy as well! Why are strawberries so sweet? For our pleasure! Why does the autumn breeze smell divine? For our pleasure! Why are hand-holding, and hugs, smiles, and a gentle caress part of the universal human experience? Because the universal human experience is rooted in happiness. From the beginning of time our Abba, whose greatest joy is expressing His love, meant for love to bubble over with delicious, delightful happiness and joy.

Oh but the fall, you say?

But the CROSS, I respond.

If we are restored to our former glory (if we ever actually lost it), then why are we afraid to be happy? Why do we feel guilty when we pursue the things which tickle our souls? Why wouldn’t I turn on a little Bruce Hornsby and the Range simply for the simple thrill of delight it brings to my soul?

I’ve wasted too much time trying to twist myself into some pious image I cannot be. I’ve despaired to the marrow that I’ve failed to live up to some ideal I simply will never attain. But I’m learning now. Learning I can pursue happiness and be closer to the Man from Nazareth than I have ever been. My smile makes Him smile since no one across the universe desires my happiness more. Holiness is overrated if it comes at the expense of a belly laugh, a warm hug, a space at the table. I choose happiness, and I believe with all my heart, that holiness will follow quickly, if it can only follow the sound of my laughter.

Waiting on the wind to change

I met an old friend at the post office today. She is moving soon and was eager to tell me the news. While I tamped down my jealousy, we shared moving tips and ideas. She talked about her basement, and told her the best place to unload her stuff in town. we discussed packing and purging, two of my favorite things to do. I’m excited for her that everything feels like a whirlwind of change and newness. The smile on her face was absolutely contagious.

I’ve experienced change in the whirlwind fashion before. It’s equal parts exciting and terrifying, and often leaves you gasping for breath the same way running a hard mile will do. Given a choice I will always choose the rapid pace over the slower one, at least where big change is concerned. Right now, however, I clearly don’t have a choice. We’re on the slow train to change and there is no speeding this process along until the moment the pieces fall in to place. This month? Probably not. This year? Who can say.

Limbo, limbo, limbo.

Meanwhile we’re doing the things rooted people do: meal planning and school enrolling. We’re looking ahead while letting go, acknowledging the ends of seasons in healthy ways. I’m grateful for this. Grateful for the natural turning of time rather than the unexpected emptiness when the rug is yanked out from under you.

But gratitude doesn’t change the fact that I’ve got bag to haul to Goodwill in the back of my car.

We’re being stripped, right now. Down to the bare bones, the essential elements, carrying only the most essential parts of our soul – the ones we cannot give away and still remain ourselves. There’s a vulnerability and a rawness to this process. It’s damn near excruciating most days. Other times it’s wrapped around with golden threads of anticipation. Even when you don’t know what’s next. something is…something is.

So I sink my roots in portable things, routines and digital words, pictures grabbing moments and memories as they happen, in case tomorrow changes everything.

Because it could. It could for any one of us.

Live lightly: When your soul says it’s time to let go

Today I did a wild and crazy thing; I spent almost two hours purging books from my digital library. By purge, I mean delete forever. Go ahead: gasp, faint, recover. Occasionally, I need to lighten the load by whatever means I can find. Honestly, it’s slim pickings around here in the clutter department. After all, I’ve been purging for awhile. Today’s activity is brought about by a need to live lightly. It’s term that’s clanging around in my head recently: live lightly.

I’m considering all the ways that may affect my life. My desire to live more joyfully is one way to live lightly. Also, My on-going minimalism quest constantly reveals things I grasp tightly which only serve to weigh me down.  Even though it seems I should be as minimal as a person can be by now, I can always find new way to consider and evaluate my life. Perhaps that’s the gift of introversion.

Sometimes I play a goofy head-game with myself: could I pack this room up in an hour or less? We all know my addiction to moving to new living places. When I play this game I also ask myself, would I take this with me when we go. If the answer is no, it’s not likely to live here any longer.

But as I said, I’ve been living minimally for awhile. When I get the urge to purge these days, I have to be even more creative than when I began this journey. In my reality, we don’t even have a junk drawer. I know. It’s crazy.

Usually this urge means I am experiencing a sort of spiritual purge as well. This morning I listened to an amazing podcast. (Yes, I listen to one almost every day. What can I say?). Listening to the story of someone else’s spiritual journey, has me thinking about my own. There are many things I drag along with me spiritually that have outlived their purpose and then some. Basically, my urge to purge physically is a manifestation of something much deeper happening inside me.

Since learning this about myself, I’ve noticed that my emotional and spiritual health often mirror my physical environment. When my house is cluttered, my soul feels cluttered. It’s likely my need to lighten up digitally reflects a deeper need to live lighter emotionally and spiritually.

A few days ago, I shared about my need to make some lifestyle changes. As I think about them now, I realize they also are manifestations of this need to lighten up. Interestingly, they also relate to my digital life. Apparently, my soul is willing to use any means necessary to get this message through.

How will this need continue to manifest itself remains to be discovered. It’s tied up with the Month of No, in ways I can’t see clearly yet. But I’m listening, and purging, and sharing with you as new ideas and concepts reveal themselves. Perhaps God is making room to do something new in my life yet again. I’m so very ready. I think I’ll go purge something else to really prove it.

Love: How I make sense of the world in violent times

Sundays tend to make me thinkful. Often I experience a sort of dissonance between the way I once understood God, and the way I understand God now. Much has changed for me over the last few years, a widening and deepening. I read something this morning that I love:

We must therefore, never underestimate our power to wrong about God, when imagining God –whether in prose or in poetry. – Brian MacLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy

I have been wrong, no doubt about many things I am still wrong. But over the last few years I’ve learned that when God strips everything else away, Love remains. The Spirit of God is love, and it does not change or fail or fall away. When Christ hung on the cross, it was not to appease the wrath of God. We already understood gods as wrathful and bloodthirsty and have for thousands of years. Instead, Christ came to reveal the true nature of God. Even when humanity seeks to put God to death, He loves. He forgives.

This is not the image of God I learned from my childhood. While this concept is not a new revelation, it is a new revelation to me. It is a facet of God I had not yet considered, but now that I have, it has entirely changed how I see the world and the people in it.

But it is a slow reconciliation.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to reconcile is the concept of original blessing. The congregations I have taken part with have always emphasized sin. We are born in sin. We live in sin. Mankind lost to Original sin. This sin is almost, always personal in nature: lies, swearing, greed…you probably know the list. But, there is a reality before Genesis 3. Somehow we forget this, or we’ve simply never considered it this way.

Before there was sin, there was blessing. We were created in communion and for communion. Even before His death, Jesus showed us there is still communion with God. He washed the disciples feet and He broke bread with them. This is the very face of God revealed in a way humanity had seldom imagined.

No other god has ever revealed themselves in this way.

Yet somehow we still miss it. We let our focus settle on our imperfections (for me, those are many) rather than on the One who dwells first with us and then in us. We are not repulsive to God. Not a disappointment; not an abomination. Every single person who has ever lived and ever will live was created by love and in love. Every one.

Created by Love and in love. Created to love.

For so long I missed this. As I understood it, I was born in sin and redeemed to correct and save others. The strength of my belief was under-girded by how many people around me understood God the same way. Numbers meant power and power meant the ability to shape the world in our image.

But I do not need to save the world. The position of Savior is more than adequately filled. He declared His work finished, enough. Furthermore, I do not need to fix the world, since Love is already doing the restoration work. I can even let go of judging the world, God has judged it already and found it very good (He hasn’t changed His mind on this revelation either). My one and only job is to love the world. Love the world and it’s people, it’s features and cultures and forests and fields. Love with my words and my ways and my life.

I’ve come to believe the world doesn’t have a sin problem. If Jesus died once and for all, then sin only has power where there is not love. No, the world suffers from a Love problem. When we worship systems and power instead of God, the world suffers. Placing ourselves, our agendas, our desires above our neighbor, the world suffers. We create division between people groups and ideologies. We always belong to the good guys, and they always belong to the bad guys. And the world suffers.

But we have received a revelation that life doesn’t have to be this way. These systems and powers and principalities are shadows but we can bring the light. That light is Love. It looks different from the rule books, different from systematic theology, breaking down barriers religion has erected. It’s messy and unpredictable, and it’s breaking through. Here and now, all around  us.

We love because we are already loved. We have been since the dawn of time.

Kingdom come.
On earth as it is in Heaven.
For God so loves the world. This world.
He is love, and in Him, we are love.

 

Though I speak all the languages of earth and of angels, if I didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.  If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

 

Post traumatic growth: finding answers in experience

Yesterday I threw a question out into the universe: where do I go from here? It seemed that I had reached an impasse, one I’m not sure how to get past. As a person of constant questions, I often ask things without expecting a response. I certainly didn’t this time. But sometimes the universe is simply waiting for us to ask the right question. It’s as though God knows until we open our souls to the answer, She’ll only be giving a gift to someone with clenched fists. On so many occasions I have to wait and wait and wait some more for answers. But this time, the Spirit was only waiting for me to ask to whisper her guidance over me.

Yesterday, I listened to a podcast I listen to infrequently (It’s a lovely podcast, we just don’t always click personality-wise because I am a grumpy curmudgeon. This the episode on anxiety caught my eye). Very briefly in that episode, they mentioned this episode of On Being about resilience which I listened to on my run this morning.

Holy Malloy. HOLY MALLOY! (this is what I say when swearing is inappropriate)

I wish I knew the word for how it feels when you hear the click of answers falling into place in your soul. Even though I didn’t receive a neon sign or a carefully detailed map, with just a few words, I received clarity for the next steps in my recovery process. I don’t need specific answers about what may be next, as long as I can see part of the path that will get me there.

Do you ever have these moments? You know the ones. Suddenly we gasp aloud as an electric thought jolts us into wakefulness. We hear or see or experience something so sweetly tuned to our soul that likely no one else can hear it the same way. In fact, it’s often the case that these gifts are specifically meant only for us.

The summer after my friend Natalie died, everywhere I looked were ones. When Nattie ended an excited sentence, she used exclamation marks…like this!!! Except, she always released the shift key too soon, so instead we got this…!!!!11. Those ones were so much a part of her, and after she was gone, the world around me was filled with ones. Maybe it always is, but that summer they were for me and no one else. I was specifically open to receive those ones. They were reminding me when random terrible things happen, life still has meaning. We have the power to make meaning through our own experience. 

It’s easy for me, when I reach what seems to be a dead-end, to fall back into learned helplessness. Accepting that I don’t have the power to change things is a familiar neural path for my thoughts to travel. This morning, however, I was literally shoved from that path onto a new one. I encountered a new perspective, a new way of healing, and permission to take back my spiritual experience as my own. What a silly thing to need permission for, huh? But apparently I did need it, and this morning the universe poured permission into my soul at fire hose volume.

I allow the probability that a relationship can break beyond restoration. That happens sometimes in this life. Depending on the relationship, this unresolved stress cycle can continue to cause trauma – relational, emotional, perhaps even spiritual. But just as I can receive permission, I can also withdraw permission. I can close doors, declare an end, if not geographically than relationally, taking back whatever power I relegated into their care. I can own myself, and all the pieces of myself again.

Are you waiting on permission to own all the pieces of your life? It’s already yours. We can make meaning from our experience if we are open to receiving it.

 

 

Life in the margin: facing myself in the empty spaces

It may be harder than I thought, this month of No. I hadn’t realized how much I was using responsibility and activity to numb some of my more unmanageable feelings.  It’s easy to pretend things aren’t upsetting when you have to manage six errands in ninety minutes, or you expect forty friends and family to inhabit your yard and home for a weekend. When it’s a day to party and celebrate, it’s easy to say, I’ll think about this tomorrow. It’s harder to create margin and then meet yourself there. Which is precisely what I’ve done.

I’ve spent the entire morning prowling my house like a cranky lioness, unable to settle, not playing nicely with others. I’m rumpled and judgemental. My inner critic points fingers and levels accusations about them and those and the other.

I readily admit, I can be a difficult person to love. Just ask Hunky.

I can accept the fact that I am a prickly specimen until I’m feeling more secure. But I can’t accept my own inability or unwillingness to extend the kind of open mindedness I expect from everyone else. Guilty. Double, triple, quadruple guilty.

Obviously, I’m quite capable of putting on my own blinders in this world, narrowing my vision to a tiny tunnel of acceptability. Creating margin seems like such a lovely concept until you scrape all the distractions of the surface, and find your own undistorted image looking back at you.

I’ve already considered the possibility that thirty days may not be nearly long enough to embrace this paradox of working to make the world better while simultaneously loving it exactly as it is. Or maybe that’s the easy part. The world is a large and nebulous concept, easy to blur into an image more pleasing. It’s individuals and systems where I truly struggle.

So what do we do when we find the world unlovely and the people in it unlovable?

For me it means digging deeper to unearth the things I cannot love about myself. Usually those things closely reflect what I condemn in others. It means embracing the paradox that I can work to be a better me while loving myself entirely as I am in this moment.

It also means a lot less news and news commentary to pollute my mind with rage and accusation.

Time to step back even farther and stare my FOMO right in the face. And then kiss her between the eyes and welcome her into all the other idiosyncrasies who inhabit my soul. There’s probably a seat right next to the perfectionist. No one likes her very much.

I can accept that not every day of this margin space is going to be a zen paradise where I perform yoga while rescuing stray kittens and give world changing soliloquies on the true nature of love. It may be more about embracing the urge to pack boxes while not acting on it and resigning myself to finishing one more Georgia summer. (I’m sorry, but you cannot make me love that, though I may learn to surrender to it gracefully…maybe.) It may mean being inhabited by inner peace and roving restlessness all at once. Loving both sides of my personality the same rather than calling one “good” and the other “bad.”

This non-judgemental, non-dual path I’m traveling seems like it shouldn’t be so hard, but it’s actually the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Mostly because I am my own worst enemy. I sabotage my efforts left and right with my temper, idealism and sky-high expectations. This self-work in the margin isn’t for the faint of heart. But I know when I’m more practiced in loving the person I am, the easier it will be to love others as they are too.

 

Intelligence vs. Intellectualism: Permission to have the feels

This morning I was thinking about the difference between intelligence and intellectualism.  Lately, I explore activities I would have called “new-agey” just a few years ago. I meditate, do yoga, commune with nature and journal responses from my intuition. (Some people call this voice, my inner guide-how’s that for new-agey?) It all seems very touchy-feely from an intellectual standpoint. At least, that’s what my inner intellectual tells me.

I am a fan of intelligence who enjoys learning and exploring new things. More than anything, I love a good, in-depth conversation. I want to understand the world from various perspectives and ideologies, even if they aren’t the ones I incorporate into my own worldview. Seldom do I accept anything blindly, and I admit to being an information junkie. Intelligence and education matter to me, which isn’t likely to change, nor do I want it to.

However, at some point I shifted from enjoying the experience of learning to relying on intellectualism. Intelligence encourages me to acquire and use knowledge and skills, while intellectualism tells me only knowledge matters, at the expense of all else, especially feelings.

I don’t know when this shift happened, although I can trace some roots to growing up in dogmatic systems. I can distinctly remember thinking, well that doesn’t feel right, so I don’t accept it when hearing certain doctrines and traditions. But I did not accept unquestioningly, as expected.

It’s difficult to pinpoint when I made the shift to intellectualism. Somewhere in my early adulthood, the need to fit in overwhelmed my need to question. My codependency certainly plays a part here.  Perhaps what I heard sounded just good enough to make me squash my questioning nature. Maybe in the uncertainty of a cancer diagnosis, I needed answers I could always depend on. I’ll never know for certain.

What I do know is that so much of evangelicalism relies on a very traditional, intellectual stronghold. This certainty, the need to accept without question, the assertion of only one correct worldview, bled into every part of my life. As I’ve said, I am a spiritual being. I also have a deep perfectionist streak. The lure of spiritual certainty and spiritual correctness proved too much. I believed the lie that emotions shouldn’t be trusted, that my inner-voice is inherently evil, shoving them down and away.

This worked for awhile, until all the repressed emotions cause a spiritual earthquake. Whether it’s the concept of God as genocidal maniac when compared to Jesus, or the disparity of the Sermon on the Mount from the Christian Nationalism, eventually my emotions demanded a hearing. Biblicism and rationalism made fine walls but rotten counselors.

When I entered therapy, my counselor advised me to stop trying to make sense of everything. Sometimes we must simply feel what we feel and work from there. Two years later, I have to remind myself of this on a daily basis. True, intellect is important, but intelligence is more than my intellect. Emotional intelligence and spiritual intelligence also play an important role in well-being.

In fact, during the years in therapy and since, I have largely been swimming through a great big vat of emotional soup. I needed to relearn not only how to feel, but how to trust my feelings. And then I had to learn not to be ruled by them. I’m still working on this one with the help of meditation. My intuition, my inner guide, is speaking again. First with a whisper, but eventually louder. Sometimes now she even sings.

Learning to embrace questions and uncertainty has been a difficult battlefield. If something doesn’t feel right, I have permission to reject it, even without a rational alternative. I’m allowed to push-back against the rhetoric of certainty and tradition simply because it makes my soul feel dirty and twisted. Sometimes I’m wrong and I make big, messy, visible mistakes. But I can live with mistakes easier than I can live with cruelty, exclusion and blind acceptance.

My life currently, is very touchy-feely, but not without direction. I have a host of non-dual teachers and fellow questioners who willingly share from a vast well of experience and understanding. When all else fails we lean into love, kindness and empathy. We feel all the feelings in a world which makes very little sense. I am far less certain and far more happy than I can remember being in a long time. My soul fits in my skin again, even with all the feelings up in here.

 

New spiritual pathways: Breaking free from dogmatism part 2

Yesterday I shared about giving myself permission to explore new ways of exploring and understanding the world and my place in it. As I wrote, I felt both excitement and trepidation. This spiritual path I’m traveling is exciting. I’ve anxiously peered down the way for so long, afraid to move forward lest I get lost. I’m finally walking, making my way forward, slowly. I’ve found surprising and pleasing companions along the way. It’s an adventure for sure, but I also still feel rather fragile and vulnerable about this journey, so I’ve been keeping it close and safe.

One of the hardest things about traveling a new way is the condemnation received from those who aren’t traveling with you. I’ve traveled long in religious circles, and, let’s be honest, religious circles can be more condemning than most. I’ve felt the hard edge of condemnation. It hurts every time, maybe the effect is cumulative. Or maybe my co-dependency plays a part. Probably both. Either way, in giving myself permission to freely share the spiritual part of my journey, I open myself to criticism and condemnation yet again. After all, it’s only ok to think heretical thoughts if you keep them to yourself.

In almost sixty days of writing, I’ve managed to avoid writing almost anything spiritual. I’ve touched on it, circled around it’s edges. Mostly, I keep those observations and wonderings to myself, though. Two decades in ministry have taught me well that Jesus forgives, but systems seldom do.

I’m afraid. That’s the long and short of this post. I’m afraid to be honest, afraid of the repercussions, of rejection, of condemnation. But I know I can’t continue to dance around the edges of something which is so deeply part of who I am. I’m a spiritual being. Although I’ve asked at least ten thousand questions these last few years, not one of them has been whether God loves me still. When no one else makes room for all my wonderings and wanderings, she does. In fact, the farther down this path I travel, the bigger and more beautiful God becomes.

The evolution of my faith looks something like a set of Russian nesting dolls. I began in the smallest possible construct, and every few years, my spiritual understanding emerges into a new and larger form. The thing about Russian dolls is that although each gets a little bigger, on the outside they look identical. Imagine my surprise when I emerged from my last evolution and found an entirely new image looking back at me. The God I knew turned out to be a graven image, looking more like my own heart than the actual heart of God. In fact, this new revelation is far more beautiful, broad and all-embracing than anything I’d dared imagined. She’s far less equation and far more mystery than I’d been taught to be comfortable with.

But oh, it’s exciting, awakening in this wide open space. Every way I turn, new images of a living God unfold before me, each one exposing more and still more of the wild and furious heart of God. I can no longer continue sharing about this journey without sharing this part of myself as well.

So yes, I’m afraid, afraid and excited and uncertain and joyful. I’m learning a new way of living which is an entirely different sort of new than simply changing geographic location. The restlessness I cannot shake is my soul longing to sing, if not without fear, at least without disguise.

Here’s my soul exposed, open, vulnerable, happy, anticipating what’s next. This beautiful spiritual pathway unwinds before me, cleared and made welcoming by those who have traveled before.

Giving myself permission: How to break free from dogmatism

Did you know that perfectionists love dogmatic thinking? We do. Well, I do; it might be dogma to say that about every single one of us. When we work within a system, it’s very important for us to know the rules and abide by them – perfectly. We need rule which are constant and true. If we cannot measure or lives by a set of infallible, incontrovertible truths, we do not have a plumb line set our perfection against. Certainty matters when we don’t have permission to make mistakes or, even worse, fail and fall apart.

Growing up, I was exposed to many forms of dogma: religious, relationship, and educational. Most of my learning, formal and experiential, reflected the following equation: X+Y=Z, always.
Education + work ethic = financial success
Believe the right things + baptism = eternal success
Constant availability + self-sacrifice = relational success
Conform to norms + firm us/them boundaries = cultural success
Go to church + Serve selflessly = religious success

In every new experience and social setting, I searched for the rules to follow so I could be the best at everything. I sought acceptance, approval and popularity by making myself the best fit in any given situation. Failure was not an option. Intelligent, hard working people can do anything they set their minds too. Throw in a little Philippians 4:13 and no one has an excuse for coming up short in any expectations, our own or someone else’s.

These concepts made the framework for my world view for a long time. Until one day, they buckled, broke and collapsed. Reconstructing my world view has been an extended effort in erasing all the equations that made sense of my world and making room for new ones.

Perhaps, this sounds simple; for others maybe it is. I have only my own experience to draw on. Rewriting the mental narratives, the ones which help me be always right and never wrong, is difficult at best. Some days it’s outright terrifying. Finally, I’ve found a key that opens most doors when my mind locks up.

I give myself permission.

Ridiculous, right? How does a person in their mid-forties not know how to give themselves permission to disagree, to refuse, to fail or fall or make a big, sprawling mess? How do I not know it’s fun to explore, deviate and even completely diverge from a common practice or belief set? If  you know the answer to this question, will you share it with me, please?

Granting self-permission opens doors for me I never imagined opening before. Many weeks, I attend an episcopal service on Saturday night. I love the repetition of liturgy and the open-ended questions posed in the homily. Every day, I meditate. I use words like ‘zen’ and ‘mystic’. Sometimes I speak to the universe at large and I don’t end with the word “amen.”

I have permission, now, to quit something in the middle if it isn’t working for me. At last, I can acknowledge the end of a season instead of trying to beat life back into it, regardless of how badly it limps. I listen to my gut, write letters from my intuition in my journal, use colors to describe the state of my soul. When I’m tired, I take naps, even if the to-do list doesn’t get finished.

The crazy thing about giving myself permission, is the ability to write my own equations:

Doodle + silly music = calm. Except occasionally, it doesn’t. Then try something else. Keep trying, or read a book. Whatever you feel like.

Open-minded questions + experience = healing. Sometimes, I still get hurt. It’s hard to know when that might happen. Remember to be brave.

Self-care + saying no = peace of mind. But say yes too, when you know what you want. Yes is good. Until it crowds out your soul. Then say no. Listen to your intuition to tell you when. There’s no scale.

What I’m unlearning most is that rules aren’t always safe and freedom isn’t always scary.  Rules may guide me, but they may also stunt me. Freedom may result in disaster, but it may also teach me to fly. The only way to know any of this is to try and fail and fall and try again.

If you fall down seven times, get up eight times, or eight, or seven times seventy. There’s really no limit.