Thursday, May 23, 2013


There are a lot of different blogging paradigms to choose from. Some writers are disciplined and focused enough to choose a paradigm and stick with it. They write in such a way that connects with readers. As someone messily slopping through life, I appreciate the work that these writers put into their work to make that connection.

On occasion I can write like that. More often I am not that disciplined. I want to tell the truth about myself and my experiences, but in such a way that it is helpful for others and not just as an “online journal.” Even if it simply encourages someone to know they aren’t alone, that’s a success.

I’m currently struggling with something specific, and I THINK it is useful to share because all of us struggle with this issue. We all call it something different, but through years of therapy I’ve chosen a name for it: my SHADOW.

I previously wrote about the Shadow concept at length:

Any sort of exuberance, any sort of self-confidence, was not to be trusted and was therefore relegated to my Shadow. So, when I experienced other people exhibiting these traits (exuberance or self-confidence), a few things were happening, internally, in rapid succession:

  1. I was seeing something that I had rejected in myself as bad.
  2. I was projecting this “badness” or “wrongness” onto the exuberant/self-confident person.
  3. I had a strong reaction of distaste and judgment toward them (and, in effect, toward myself).
  4. I had a longing to be like this person because it was a part of me I had neglected long ago. (I didn’t know the reason why at the moment; I only could feel the longing.)
  5. I hated myself for wanting to have these traits; for the jealousy and envy I felt.
  6. Because of the intense feeling of self-hatred, I started hating the person even more for making me feel so horrible.

So, here’s the deal: I am still tumbling around in this cycle. There are times when I think I’ve overcome negative feelings toward “exuberant and self-confident” people. The Shadow sneaks up on me, though, and prevents me from being the type of person I wish to be (i.e., a person who loves well). Let me give you two specific examples. For both Shadow examples, I explain the Case History and my attempt at Integration.

Shadow File 01

Case History
I love to sing. Whether it was church, school, the car, the shower, you name it. I’m always up for a karaoke night. When I moved to Portland, I started singing with the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus. PGMC was a great find for my partner and me; we made great friends by being involved in the organization, and I loved being a part of a singing group again. HOWEVER.

As time went on, my Shadow grew. I became more anxious and more self-critical, and projected this critical nature onto others. Along with the social anxiety, I found myself easily irritated and annoyed by others. I held onto odd resentments. It eventually became too much, and I decided to take a break, perhaps permanently, from the choir.

Integration: In Progress
Instead of shaming myself into oblivion for taking a break from the choir (“you are a quitter,” “you are a loser,” “you are socially awkward”), I realized that by taking the break, I was honoring some very real, if misdirected, feelings. Stepping back also gave me some space inside my head to do some soul-searching, which led to writing this blog. Now that I have a better understanding of what was happening internally during the last year or so of choir, I am planning to rejoin PGMC in the Fall!

Shadow File 02

Case History
I’ve found some amazing new friends through blogging. Whether I’ve met them directly through interaction on my blog, on other blogs, on Twitter, on Facebook, or a combination, I have been so encouraged to find other strugglers on the journey of faith, spirituality, and humanity. HOWEVER.

There is one person on this corner of the blogosphere who brings my Shadow into focus. (Don’t worry! It isn’t anyone who reads this blog, or anyone that I read/follow on Twitter or Facebook! No, it’s not Tony Jones! And no, I’m not going to tell you who it is!) This person seems to trigger everything inside me about which I feel ashamed. I understand that some of my annoyance and irritation is rational, because this person doesn’t exactly exude grace and humility. But the feelings are very familiar. It’s an overwhelming cycle of loathing and shame, loathing and shame.

Integration: Just Started
This particular “Shadow work” is on the forefront of my mind today. I am experiencing some very negative emotions, and because they are so raw I don’t know how to process them yet. Here’s what I’m doing, though. (1) Writing about it, vaguely, here. (2) Telling a few close friends so they can help me process.

Readers: can you relate to these types of feelings? Do you know individuals who bring your Shadow into focus? What have you done about it? I’d love to hear your thoughts because I could sure use some advice!

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Old Voice

This blog post was originally going to be a reflection on the book The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck. (Highly recommended!) However, I found it difficult to write about the book without hearing that old Conservative Evangelical warning voice inside my head. So, instead of a book reflection, I offer an example of a typical inner dialogue that occurs whenever I process something that challenges my old way of thinking about God.

Reading, thinking about, and writing about the first seven chapters of Matthew was a wonderful experience for me. I’ve stepped back from the Blogging the Gospels series for now; not because there was a lack of material to write about, but because there is too much. Currently I’ve felt the need to gain some modern context by reading writers who try to follow a Jesus or Jesus-like way.

Old Conservative Evangelical Voice (OCEV):
Ooooh that is an extremely dangerous and unwise! The Bible is where you will find absolute truth! It’s folly to choose to read others’ works over the Word of God!

Well, actually OCEV, I’m going to listen to my intuition and read things that are a bit more accessible to me right now: books and blogs that contribute to my spiritual growth and knowledge—that portray an honest journey of struggling with God and faith, and/or people who can share what they have learned by a lifetime of slogging through it.

More danger! Don’t listen to your “intuition”! Filthy rags filthy rags! Don’t trust yourself! Trust God!

Funny you should say that, OCEV. I think that trusting God is what I’m actually doing when I trust that intuition. I trusted your shaming voice for way too long. It’s gotten me nowhere except sitting in a corner, paralyzed with fear, helpful to no one.

Oh, so that’s what you’re doing now, huh? You believe your intuition is the voice of God? Sounds to me like you are going so far as to say you yourself are God. Hm. Guess what. That’s what Lucifer wanted: to be like God. No…even more than that: he wanted to BE God. This sin of pride was the beginning of sin and rebellion! These ideas you are beginning to trust? They are nothing less than Satanic! What do you say to that??

Heh, yeah I definitely used to believe that OCEV. And I agree with you, in part, that pride is a very nasty thing. When taken to an extreme—when one has lost all ability to listen to others, to question oneself, to possess intellectual humility—it can turn someone into a monster. Regarding your point about Lucifer, I believe that the myth of Lucifer and his fall have to do not with his desire to be God, but his desire to have the same power and authority as God without doing any of the hard work of spiritual growth. It is true that with spiritual growth there does come power. That power, however, is the power to love others and to love them well. This powerful love is personified in Jesus, as well as in others (Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. come to mind).

But spiritual growth isn’t “hard work”! That’s legalism! Spiritual growth is found only by submitting absolutely to Christ and the Bible alone! And what is this talk of “myth”?? You are treading on dangerous ground by labeling stories in the Bible as myth. And how dare you compare mere men to Jesus Christ! Gandhi wasn’t even a Christian!!

I’m having a hard time keeping up with you (as always), but let me address each of your concerns one by one.
  1. Then tension between “passive submission to God” vs. “take up your cross and follow me” and “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” has always been a stumbling block for me. I remember in a singles Bible study group one evening I asked, “so are we just supposed to hang limp and allow God to move us like a marionette?” Obviously not, but no one could provide a good answer as to the proper posture toward a God who was supposed to control everything and who pre-ordained the universe. This confusion was a big reason why I have looked outside of the Bible for answers, to other people who have asked these questions. This search has not narrowed my view of God, but expanded it. The journey has awakened a spiritual hunger for a God who is both bigger and tinier than my imagination can fathom. Most importantly, it has led me to understand the staggering importance of love and connection.
  2. What is wrong with using the word “myth”? A myth is a story that communicates a deep, core truth about humanity. You know what other word to which this definition applies? Parable. That’s how Jesus taught in the Bible.
  3. These individuals have come as close as anyone else to living out the ideals and principles of Christ. Observe how much has been accomplished through their love and humility. If there is an afterlife, and if there is a heaven/hell division, and these individuals aren’t living in the heaven-side? I don’t want to be a part of it.
Well, you’ve obviously gone off the deep end. I can partially agree with you regarding #1; I could even stomach your point in #2. But questioning the existence of heaven and hell? Of an afterlife??? Now I’m the one who can’t keep up…with your dangerously heretical “journey.”

You don’t have to keep up. In fact I wish you wouldn’t.

My voice may be fading, but you can bet I’ll continue to try to be heard. My voice can be heard everywhere: on the news, on the internet (especially in the comment sections of some of your favorite bloggers), and in the people you come across, just to name a few. I don’t give up that easily.

Neither do I, anymore. Bring it on.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Evil and Love

“The more clearly we see the reality of the world, the better equipped we are to deal with the world.”
- M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

On April 19, 1995, I was home (which at that time was Toledo, Ohio) watching The Price is Right. I was in the kitchen when I heard the news update: an explosion occurred in Oklahoma City with many feared injured. No deaths reported so far. It didn’t sound too bad, but because I grew up in Oklahoma, the news was jarring. I quickly switched over to CNN to see if there was more information.

At first, the news had an optimistic tone. CNN cut to a local Oklahoma City newscast, because they were on site. I remember vividly the news anchor’s shaky voice as he talked to the reporter on the street. The reporter said it was hard to see and couldn’t confirm anything specific, but they had heard of only 2 or 3 injuries and no fatalities. The news anchor was saying things like, “Oh, thank you Jesus” and “Oh Jesus please let everything be OK.” As he continued the commentary, he was talking about the “most important things in life” and all but led the audience in the Sinner’s Prayer!

Of course the scope of what actually happened was much worse than at first feared. 168 people died, including 19 children under the age of 6. And it was no accident. It was an act of domestic terrorism. Somebody did this on purpose. I was just over 20 years old when it happened—old enough to be aware of the world around me—but that event was really the first time I fully comprehended the devastation of evil.

What am I referring to, specifically, when I use the word evil?

  • An evil doer is one who purposely abuses, causes pain, murders, or otherwise harms other human beings (or, for that matter, animals).
  • An evil act is something that causes horrific, intolerable, unbearable circumstances which cause profound suffering and, often, death.
  • Therefore, evil is an adjective that describes something that purposefully and maliciously causes pain, suffering, and death.

That day was over 18 years ago. Maybe because I’m getting older; maybe because social media technology connects us, quickly, to a larger scope of information. But for whatever reason, ever since that day, it seems that bone-chilling, gut-wrenching horrors are happening one right after the other, with shorter lapses of time between each event. There’s barely enough time to catch one’s breath—let alone try to process—before the next tragedy or unspeakable discovery is breaking news.


PLEASE NOTE: in this section, I describe in some detail some horrible recent events including Newtown, Boston, and the Cleveland kidnapping. Skip to section III if you'd rather not read this section.

This year has been especially evil.

It was shocking news in Oregon (where I live now) when the report surfaced of a mass shooting in a mall near Portland. But not even a week had passed when we heard about the murders at Sandy Hook in Newtown, CT.

Honestly, the tragedy in Newtown affected me just as deeply and profoundly as September 11. Perhaps more so; children were specifically targeted and murdered. It’s still too much to take in. I don’t know how others process tragedy and horror, but I try to put myself in the shoes of those affected. I’ve tried to remember what it was like when I was in kindergarten, and how I would have felt hearing gunshots, hiding, or if I saw someone with a gun enter my classroom and then…hell. Although I’m not a parent, I’ve tried to think how it would feel if my children were inside; how it would feel if my children were murdered; how would I feel if my children survived.

Then another horrific act occurred—this time at the Boston Marathon. Not as many fatalities, but hundreds of serious injuries including the loss of limbs.

These tragedies affect us so deeply because we can’t imagine the pain, let alone imagine purposefully causing that pain.

Most recently, the news has been detailing the escape of the women who were imprisoned against their will in Cleveland. Unspeakable crimes were perpetrated against these women, held captive against their will for TEN FUCKING YEARS. How long is 10 years? It is 520 weeks; or 3,640 days; or 87,360 hours. Living in terrible fear. Being degraded and violated. Not being around anyone who loved them or held them or comforted them. In constant turmoil. Often starved. Often raped. Often beaten. Often chained.

** UPDATE: Since I wrote this post, there has been YET ANOTHER mass shooting, this time in New Orleans during a Mother's Day parade. Twelve were killed. **

Every year it seems to get worse and worse. When will it stop?


Why is there evil in the world? Being a good evangelical, I used to have a quick and easy answer for that: sin. It’s a short, quick answer to end what should be an agonizing search. Furthermore, it is an coldly theological answer to a question that cries out for a response from us that is much deeper and much more human. While there is definitely something broken about our world and within humanity—one could call this “sin” as the Bible does—simply labeling the problem (and then dismissing it as something from which we have been saved) separates us from those who suffer and prevents us from truly loving them. We separate and disconnect from them, labeling them the Other.

One can see this separation in evangelical Christianity today. There is little regard for the poor, the oppressed, or the marginalized. There is little regard for making the world a better place than when we found it. Since we have been “saved,” we are going to heaven and we don’t need to worry anymore about all the horrible things in the world, because somehow God is going to make everything right again. This view blinds Christians to the injustice in the world, and prevents us from truly loving. Being unloving means that we either hate the Other or are indifferent to the Other.

If we don’t love people, we do not have connection with people. This lack of love and connection is a primary reason that there is so much evil in the world. When we feel a connection with someone, it means that when they hurt, we hurt. Who would bully those with whom they felt a true connection? Would we ever purposefully cause pain to them? Would anyone denigrate, violate, rape, torture, and murder those they love?

Please know that I am NOT equating evangelical Christians with bullies, sadists, murderers, rapists, etc. I know many Christians, evangelical and otherwise, who are full of love for others and for the world. They mourn heartache and loss and suffering. They question why and struggle daily. What I am referring to is a potential hatred/indifference for the Other that can occur (and often do occur) in people who call themselves Christians.


As Christians, when presented with the reality of evil, we have some choices on how to deal with it:

1.  Accept It
Our basic humanity doesn’t allow us to be completely cold in the event of disaster, so there is still some mourning that takes place when we choose to simply accept the reality of evil. However, this choice also involves repressing more intense emotions such as rage, confusion, and disillusionment in the name of “submitting” to God. For a long time I tried to follow option #1. I thought it was the right thing to do, following Job as the ultimate model of submission to God and his seemingly-random-like wrath and non-intervention.

2.  Blame Something Other than God
There are many things we blame for evil in the world. We’ve already talked about the concept of sin, where mankind’s rebellion incurs God’s wrath. Reacting in this manner helps to ease the existential blow: no matter how good and moral one is, everyone deserves God’s wrath (insert proof-text Romans 3:23 here). Specific “sins” and/or “sinners” can also be cited, such as homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, feminism, other religions, or an opposing political party or politician, just to name a few. Other times, the blame is placed on Satan and demonic activity. Often, both the devil and our sin are blamed.

3.  Rage Against God
Because our world is riddled with evil, many (if not most) Christians do find themselves at this stage occasionally. In our rage, we are fully connecting with our emotions and our humanity, and crying out to God to stop suffering and injustice. Being “mad at God” is, in actuality, an emotion that can bring us closer to God. God is big enough to handle our rage.

Most Christians react to evil using options #1 and #2. Many try option #3, yet with reservations and withholding of their truest, rawest emotions. Others just can’t make themselves believe anymore, so they are forced with a decision. Do they stop believing in God or adjust their view of God?

4.  Stop Believing in God
One reason someone stops believing in God is the inability to reconcile the reality of evil with what one has been taught about God. (There are other reasons people stop believing in God, but the problem of evil is the focus of this piece.) This choice does not make someone a bad person. It is an honest, human response to available criteria.

I do not know much about atheism, and I hesitate to describe what an atheist actually “believes” for fear that I will oversimplify or explain atheism incorrectly and/or condescendingly. I have a large handful of friends who are atheists (and probably more that I don’t know about), and of these people none of them are nihilists. They have moral and ethical codes by which they live; some call themselves spiritual. For one reason or another, the label of atheism fits them most comfortably.

5.  Adjust View of God
Still others go through periods of adjustment in their view of God. I believe that options #4 and #5 are iterative in that they can often be repeated and merged.


Because none of us have actually had a one-on-one, face-to-face conversation with God, anyone who has ever believed in God constructs a view of God in their minds. Because we are finite beings, the construction of God in our minds is inevitably limited.

An evangelical Christian may argue that Jesus and/or the Holy Spirit tells us exactly what we need to know through the Bible. Our view of God must be constructed by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, they say. However, how do we know what interpretation of the Bible is correct? How do we know when the Holy Spirit is speaking? There are thousands of denominations of Christian churches alone. There are thousands of different religions that claim truth. I believe it is necessary, as Christians, to continually alter our view of God based on new information and experiences. We must continue to question what we think we know. We have to courageously face reality.

By becoming more aware of the reality of evil in the world, my view of God has adjusted radically throughout the years. I chose option #4 for a number of years; for me, that was a necessary step in my own spiritual journey. If I was to believe in God again, option #5 was also absolutely necessary. My view of God today is one of much more mystery. For example, it’s very difficult for me to believe that God is an interventionist, based on the horrors that continue to plague humanity. In the face of evil, I still often go with option #3. More importantly, evil reminds us how much this world needs true love and connection. It is a call to follow the way of Jesus for both inner healing and eventual healing of our world. It is the hope of the Kingdom of God. It is this concept of love that helps me continue to choose to live as a Christian.

UPDATE: Zack Hunt (a.k.a. The American Jesus) published a great piece at A Deeper Story called The Problem of Evil is Hanging in Your Closet. Something practical we can do to decrease the evil in the world!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Waking Up

When writing, talking, or even thinking about spiritual/religious matters, there are two things (held over from my evangelical days) that I am still terrified of doing:

1.  Attributing anything to the Holy Spirit
2.  Denying something is from the Holy Spirit

To be more precise, I have a latent fear that by doing or saying or writing something “wrong” about the Holy Spirit, I will get a non-refundable, one-way ticket to eternal conscious torment.

The Bible verse which causes this fear is Mark 3:29:
“But if you speak against the Holy Spirit, you can never be forgiven. That sin will be held against you forever.” (CEV)
In the last year or so, I’ve experienced an unexpected spiritual re-awakening. But how can I know if this experience is actually a work of the Holy Spirit as described in the Bible? It could be a phenomenon of what Jung calls the collective unconscious. Or maybe it has something to do with quantum physics--a completely natural occurrence that hasn't been fully decoded.

I don’t think it’s necessarily important to nail this down right now. What’s more important is to share the story of my re-awakening.

Quick note: I'm sharing my own personal experience here. It doesn't mean your experience is incorrect, invalid, or irrelevant if it doesn't "match up" with my own.


How did I "fall asleep" spiritually?

Looking back, I see the following: Christian elementary school, Christian junior high school, Christian high school, church youth groups, church singles groups, Christian college, daily chapel, Christian ministries, Christian bookstores, employment at a Christian bookstore, Christian music, Christian Living books, devotionals, Christian psychologists, accountability partners, constant prayers of praise/thanksgiving/supplication…

The question really should be: how could I not fall asleep? Keeping up with the behavior- and appearance-driven subculture of Christianity was so exhausting. Fighting against my sexual identity in this environment contributed much to my emotional and spiritual exhaustion.

Granted, if that were all there was to it—if I believed everything taught in evangelical culture except the view on homosexuality—I might have been able to move on after the encouragement I received from Peggy Campolo. At the time it was very helpful, but I still had questions about Christianity that went even deeper. How could an omnipotent and loving God allow such unspeakable horror in the world? How could He send billions of people to eternal Hell when He is “willing that none should perish”? How is it that I was born into the “correct” religion when there were billions of others whose religion were shaped by their own culture and who held the same level of belief in the exclusivity of their own religion? These questions are what ultimately brought me to a place where I rejected Christianity.

No matter how hard I tried to convince myself that there were satisfactory answers to these questions, I couldn’t do it. The gay thing, the problem of evil, the problem of Hell, the problem of multiple religions: I couldn’t defeat them. So I stopped fighting. And SISTER did it feel GOOOOOOD. I just laid my head down and drifted into blissful, spiritual sleep.


Of course, it wasn’t entirely blissful. I had relationships to consider; especially with my family.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to maintain an honest and open relationship with someone while not being “out” to them. I wasn’t out to them as either a gay person or as an agnostic person. Telephone conversations became more strained and stilted. Visits with the family (alone) during the holidays were tortuous. My partner, who was so loving, patient, and understanding throughout, also felt the strain. As year after year went by, I felt more and more distant from my family back in the Midwest.

You really need to know something about my family. Although some identify as neo-Reformed and others as simply conservative evangelical, they don’t fit many of the associated stereotypes. They are kind-hearted, intelligent, fun, and complex human beings. I am fortunate that although the environment we all grew up in tended to be legalistic and definitely homophobic, I never experienced them as hateful toward anyone. (OK, maybe Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, but I’m sure they would be respectful to them in person!) My hesitation to come out to them wasn’t a fear of being unloved; it was a fear of disappointing them, making them feel that they failed as parents, and making them afraid for my immortal soul.

Because I had (have) such love and respect for the people in my family, I missed them terribly. The pre-rejection I was doing was causing me emotional, and sometimes physical, distress. The spiritual slumber wasn’t blissful anymore—it was fitful.

I wanted to come out to them because I wanted to heal the relationships. I wanted them to know me for who I really was. I also felt that it was unfair to them, to not give them a chance to wrestle with the issue themselves. I was robbing them of this experience by not coming out. Finally, I wanted to come out because I knew, deep down, that coming out (however over-dramatic it may sound now) was the only way to change the world.


The desire to come out to my family and communicate with them in the context of Christianity prompted me to try, once again, to navigate the labyrinth of Christendom.

One day at Powell’s Bookstore, I was browsing through the Christianity section. A book caught my eye called A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren. As I was skimming, some guy who was browsing nearby exclaimed, “Oh, Brian McLaren! I love that guy! That’s a great book!” I did an internal eye roll, but smiled politely and said, “Oh cool. Yes, it looks good.” Thankfully that put an end to the conversation, because I was NOT in a place to talk about Christian-y things with anyone.

I bought the book. I read about a fourth of it. It was interesting and a little different than what I had been taught, but I still cringed at some of the Christian-ese. I lost interest after a few days. It stayed on my bookshelf for about a year until I leant it to my friend Marguerite.


My partner and I have some wonderful friends, Bart and Marguerite, who are both retired college professors. We met them through their daughter, Annie, with whom we are also very close. They are kind-hearted, incredibly smart and well-read, and what I would consider (for lack of a better label) post-evangelical Christians. Throughout our friendship, which started shortly after we moved to Portland (2004), they have been a surrogate family for us.

Bart is passionate about music and about social justice. We’ve had many dinner conversations talking and agonizing together over politics and the general state of the world. Marguerite is an avid reader of fiction, history, philosophy, psychology, and a host of other topics. She has made many wonderful recommendations throughout the years, and we’ve had some lovely and profound discussions about books and authors.

Another topic we discussed often: the churches in which we were taught about God, and our thoughts about Jesus and spirituality today. They never discussed these topics in a proselytizing manner; the conversations were always companionable and never condescending. Although I was interested in discussing these things on an intellectual level, I thought that my days of being a Christian were over. I had too many doubts, too many emotional scars, and too much resentment.

Since our friendship began, Bart and Marguerite have given my partner and me unconditional love and care. They’ve modeled wisdom and experience for me, as well as a way of thinking and a way of life. Because of this relationship and the trust built over the years, I took seriously any thoughts or recommendations they had.

About 2 years ago I loaned Marguerite the Brian McLaren book. I told her about the book, about how it seemed promising at the time, but I just couldn’t get through it. She asked if she could read it herself. She read it, and gave it back to me about a week later. She said, “Kevin, I think this is worth reading.”


About 3 years ago, before my “re-awakening” occurred, I came out to my family as a gay man. My family had various reactions, but as I expected no one disowned me or told me I was no longer welcome or loved. In this post, I am not going to write about the circumstances and logistics of the coming out event. Instead, I want to reveal something that I haven’t mentioned yet in all the blogging I’ve done over the past few months. I find it very difficult to admit and write about.

As I mentioned earlier, in addition to being in the closet as a gay person, I was also in the closet as someone who no longer believed in Christianity or, possibly, God. And when I came out as a gay person, I remained a closet agnostic.

But it goes further than that. I carefully used words in order to stay a closet agnostic while making it easy for my family to assume that I still believed everything they did. Here are the words I used:
If God requires absolute holiness, then Jesus is my only hope.
Phrasing it as an IF-THEN statement, I could honestly say these words and mean them. In fact, this statement still holds true for me today. If everything that the fundamentalists say are true about God, Jesus, heaven, hell, and the Bible, then (by God) my only hope IS Jesus’ death and resurrection, and that he has chosen me to be a Christian (neo-reformed) and/or the prayer I prayed as a child is enough to count as belief in Jesus (conservative evangelical).


Are you lost yet? There are a lot of pieces to this story. Let me recap the timeline so far:

  • 2000 – Peggy Campolo Called
  • 2001-2004 – Continued Struggling with Spiritual Questions
  • 2004 – Moved to Portland
  • 2006 – Spiritual Slumber Begins
  • 2009 – Bought Brian McLaren Book
  • 2010 – Came out to Family
  • 2011 –Marguerite recommends Brian McLaren Book

So…after Marguerite’s recommendation, I tried again to read the book. I got a little bit farther than last time, but still…I couldn’t quite make it through.

I have a couple more threads to weave into this complicated story…

I’ve blogged before about my history of depression. Because it began at a relatively early age, I’ve been seeing therapists for years. At first the therapists were exclusively Christian and/or pastors. As the questions became too unanswerable, I turned to counselors who were increasingly progressive and decreasingly “religious.” I began seeing a Jungian therapist in 2006, and worked with him off and on for 6 years. (For full context, read more here.) Early in 2012, I felt that I had reached a place in my therapy where I was ready to move on. I stopped formal therapy sessions in May of that year.

That summer was fairly uneventful, but I found myself becoming more and can I explain it? What are the most accurate words to use? I’ll try these: irritable, volatile, and hungry. These words still don’t fully capture it. It was a different feeling than the same old depression. It was dissatisfaction without hopelessness. It was anger without nihilism. Rather than deadening me, it energized me. It compelled me to resume searching for…something.

These feelings began to really take hold by the Fall of 2012. With the background I had had with the therapy (especially Jung), I recognized it as my own awakening life. I HAD to pay attention. One thing I did in response to these new feelings was (*gulp*) give church another try.


Dan, the pastor of the progressive Episcopal Church I now attend, was raised in NE Oklahoma like me. He had the same kind of conservative evangelical background, but had somehow found his way to another type of Christian faith.

My partner has been a musician at this church since we moved in 2004, yet I had never attended. Dan became the pastor in early 2012. I met Dan and his wife Teresa one evening when they came to our place for dinner.

I never felt any sort of pressure to attend the church. Neither of them asked me if I wanted to attend, or if I attended church, or what I thought about God. We simply had a really fun time talking about our “case histories,” playing with the dog, and enjoying some good local beer. Because they didn't have an agenda that night, I felt comfortable a few months later trying their church on for size—when the time was right.

Even though I was ready to try, the thought of going to church still gave me an unpleasant feeling in the pit of my stomach. I knew that if I DID go back to church, it would have to be on MY terms. That meant I was not going to go based on anything related to shame, guilt, or obligation. I was going with my critical thinking skills intact. My heart was open, but my defenses were ready.

Since then, I’ve come to learn that Dan views church, and more specifically the communion table, as welcome to anyone no matter where they are on their journey of faith. There are no pre-requisites to attend or participate.

In the 7-8 months that I’ve attended this church, I’ve can’t help but think of the title of that McClaren book that I never fully read. What I’ve been experiencing is indeed a new kind of Christianity. One that takes seriously the words of Jesus and the Kingdom of God. One that elevates love and connection over hatred and judgment. One that sees many power structures of today’s American Christian church as oppressive and even hostile to those Jesus loved.


So, what can I say about where I am today? I feel awake and energized. I feel hopeful. I don’t, however, think I have all the answers. What I believe now is that my beliefs aren’t all that relevant. It’s about following the Jesus way. It’s about loving well.

Currently, I do not love well. I look at the culture of American Christianity, and I want nothing to do with it. It astounds me how arrogant and unloving some popular Christian preachers, teachers, writers, and other celebrities can be. And not just “conservative” Christians either. I’ve seen it in so-called “progressive” Christians as well. It’s very strange to share a descriptor (Christian) with people you find to be vile and deluded. I do not love these people, and I do not aspire to love these people. I simply do not know how to love these people. Perhaps someday I will catch a glimpse of what it means to do that.

I think my challenge these days is to love the people who follow these types of leaders, and who believe in most or all in what they have to say. I know many people like this, including family members. I know many of them to be sincere, loving, kind, and human. I have hope that love and connection is attainable with them. I do love them. At this point in my journey, however, I don’t love them well. I aspire to love them well.

My other primary challenge is to move beyond my own liberal guilt about the plight of the oppressed and to take action. As a Christian, what can I do to alleviate suffering, speak truth to oppressors, and be a force for justice? (Besides be a superhero.) Jesus’ heart was with the oppressed. He got angry on their behalf against the religious leaders of his day. He was among them and identified with them. He connected with them on a personal level. He loved them well. I don’t, yet, but I aspire to do so.

Looking back, I see how different circumstances have brought me to the place I am today. Something tangible did happen inside of me in 2012. Like I said at the beginning of this long story, I don’t know exactly what that something is. I’m more comfortable calling it a re-awakening rather than ascribing it specifically to the Holy Spirit. As long as it’s there, compelling and moving and energizing me toward a better and more meaningful way of living, I’m content to leave it unnamed for now.