Posted on Leave a comment

Love will Never Vote You Out

Love Wins
“It’s funny, isn’t it? That you can preach a judgmental and vengeful and angry God and nobody will mind. But you start preaching a God that is too accepting, too loving, too forgiving, too merciful, too kind…and you are in trouble.” -Bishop Gene Robinson (Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire)
Love Will Never Vote You Out (Even if the Methodist Church Does)

When You Believe You are Bad

Ryan wasn’t out when we were in Bible college together. I’m sure people had their suspicions, but he never told anyone he was gay until years after he was expelled. While they officially dismissed him for smoking, I’ve always wondered if it had more to do with their suspicions about his sexuality. So did Ryan.

That experience turned Ryan’s world upside-down. If our little Bible college didn’t want him, how could God possibly love him? My friend’s dream of working for a church was crushed. Over time, he internalized the rejection, until he believed he was intrinsically bad. I watched his life spiral out of control as he desperately tried to numb himself.

We have remained friends through the years, and I’ve been privileged to hear more of his story. Once, I asked Ryan why his life got so rough after Bible college. He said something I won’t ever forget: “When you believe you are bad, you don’t act good.”

Ryan was desperate to accept himself as a gay man, to believe that God could love him for who he is. He wanted to know there was room for him at God’s table, too, but toxic theology and leaders who voted him out told him otherwise.

Why Love Will Never Vote You Out

Of course, Ryan’s not the only one. I’ve had similar, heartbreaking conversations with several dear friends. Through their tears, each confessed that trying to “act straight” was like living in a prison of secrecy and fear. To this day, many are scared to death of being disowned by their families and shunned by their churches.

The fears aren’t unfounded. We’ve all heard horror stories about someone coming out and experiencing rejection, being shunned, and sometimes enduring outright violence, simply for being real about who they are.

Today’s news drives that point home. When the largest mainline Protestant denomination in the United States puts the worthiness of an entire group of people up for a vote, is it any wonder people struggle to believe they bear the image of the Divine?

If people believe the lie that their lives don’t matter, it damages the soul and sometimes kills the body. People don’t want to live in a world (read: a family or a church) where they aren’t known, accepted, and loved. Perpetuating hate and fear through destructive theology or political ideology is damaging the collective soul of this worldwide community of humans.

Please hear me: whoever you are, whatever you’ve done: you are not bad.If you’ve received that message, know it’s a nasty, hideous lie. Your dreams, your experiences — your joys and pains and sorrows and traumas and successes — are as unique as the stars in the sky, as varied as the number of hairs on your head. God and healthy communities have great big hearts and wide open arms. There’s plenty of room for everyone to fit.

Anyone that makes you feel devalued or ashamed because of your lived experience is not coming from a place of love. When you finally recognize that you are of intrinsic value just because you are a human being, you won’t allow anyone to diminish your worth any longer.

Love is Universal

This “be like us or you’re not welcome here” tribalism is why I left the Evangelical church. In the circles where I used to spend so much time, people were conditioned by years to believe that they are intrinsically evil. At the core of their being, people think they were born damaged, and horrible things like, “God loves me, but must not like me.”

But that’s not what real love says. My favorite thing about Jesus is that he promised that the underdog would have a front-row seat in His radical new kingdom, that the last would be first. The message of Jesus was a big “hell no” to the way things had always been and the lies we’ve always believed.

When religious people stop expecting people to fit their mold, agree with their politics, or live up to their social expectations, they extend freedom and joy to all of God’s people. And isn’t belonging what we all want? Isn’t that what Christ offers us?

At the end of the day, isn’t it more important to love my neighbors than to expect them to pass a litmus test on morality or religious fervor?

If you’ve felt ostracized due to your race, religion, sexuality, gender, disease, or disability, hear me again: you are not bad. If you are a part of any setting (religious or otherwise), that is more obsessed with perfection, cleanliness, and cultural norms than making everyone feel welcome, it is toxic. If real people don’t feel safe enough to enter a sanitized sanctuary, place of business, or home, it’s missing the point.

All any of us wants is love. Rest. Friendship. Compassion. Most of all: acceptance. We aren’t necessarily looking for answers. Just a place to take off our shoes, bow our heads, and rest, as we breathe in peace that no one can take away. The most rebellious thing a follower of Jesus can offer another human being is Love.

Countless people are hiding in church pews and at dinner tables with their own families, fearful of being ousted, just like my friend Ryan. Church leaders only reinforce those fears with their statements and votes.

It’s time to loosen the death grip on our precious moral stances and open our hands and hearts to everyone around us longing for love and acceptance. We can’t depend on the church or the government to care for people exactly as they are. Grace is beckoning each of us to step out, speak up, and make room for everyone.

Love Wins

While conservative Christians use the Bible to justify their discrimination and bigotry, I see a command to love everyone. In today’s context, I think Matthew 25:35–36 would read something like this:

I was LGBTQ+, and you invited me to the Table.
I was homeless, and you gave me a room.
I was an immigrant, and you welcomed me.
I had HIV, and you visited me.
I was a divorcee, and you didn’t exclude me from fellowship.
I was a woman, and you told me my voice mattered.
I was black, and you listened to me.
I was depressed, and you held me close.

I wish we could find grace to be unique, to embrace the story of all of us. My prayer these days is Lord, bind us together. We need the weirdness, the history, the art, the passion, the music, the queerness, and the glitter.

Please don’t back down in your resistance to the lies. You can love and be loved in return, exactly as you are. You might have to try a few places and communities, but there is a place for you. Come. Let’s celebrate the ways we are alike, and glory in our differences. Let’s listen to the sounds of friendship, harmony, and grace. Grace has made space at the table for all of us. Love will never vote you out (even if the Methodist church does).

*This article includes excerpts from Catching Your Breathand has been edited for relevance.

Additional Reading:

  1. How Can I be Gay and Call Myself a Christian? (guest post by Trey Pearson)
  2. How American Christians Use the Bible to Keep Discrimination Alive
  3. I Found God in a Gay Bar

Recommended Books:

  1. Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity (by Liz Edman)
  2. Unclobber: Rethinking Our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality (by Colby Martin)
  3. 8 Habits of Love: Overcome Fear and Transform Your Life (by Ed Bacon)
Posted on Leave a comment

Pastors and Suicide: What Should I Know?

What do I Need to Know about Pastors and Suicide?

California has mourned the deaths by suicide of two beloved pastors in under six months. Although tragic and sad, the deaths of Pastors Jim Howard and Andrew Stoecklein leave many people—especially within the church—wondering what happened.

The recent deaths also point to the need for mental health care within the church. What can the church do to help?

Thankfully, the editor of the SoCal Christian Voice reached out to me for some perspective.

Click here to read my candid responses to these very important questions.

Posted on

Why No One Really Cares What You Believe

How to Be a Better Christian: Notes from an Ex-Pastor

“One of the great tragedies of life is that men seldom bridge the gulf between practice and profession, between doing and saying. A persistent schizophrenia leaves so many of us tragically divided against ourselves. On the one hand, we proudly profess certain sublime and noble principles, but on the other hand, we sadly practise the very antithesis of these principles. How often are our lives characterised by a high blood pressure of creeds and an anaemia of deeds! ”

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

How to be a Better Christian: Notes from an Ex-Pastor via @iamsteveaustin #exvangelical #lovewins #graceismessy

Click to Tweet

For the Bible Tells Me So

When my daughter was around the age of two, she slammed her chubby hand on the kitchen table like some sort of fire and brimstone preacher as she yelled, “For da Bible tells me SO!”

“What did she just say?” I asked my wife. I could barely control my laughter.

“Tell Daddy again, Cara.”

“For da Bible tells me SOOO!” She stretched the last word into at least five syllables, her round face red with fury.

Why was she so angry? She had been refused another snack because it was only half an hour before supper. Sweet Caroline didn’t like my rationale and continued to wail as my wife and I tried our best to keep it together. “Where on Earth did she come up with this?!”

Lindsey laughed and sang the first few words of “Jesus Loves Me.” I smiled wide and said, “I’m quite familiar with the song, but why is this the phrase she chooses when she is pissed off?”

It was funny at the moment, but it reminded me of this truth: no one really cares what you believe.

Love people. Use things. The opposite never works.

Defending Your Faith

As an ex-pastor, I promise you, no one cares how many Bible verses you’ve memorized. They won’t ask what Bible college you attended or how many times you’ve been to a marriage conference. They are less-than impressed by the fact that you’ve read Defending Your Faith or The Case for Christ. Your neighbors aren’t likely interested in your views on penal substitutionary atonement or anything else in the realm of stuffy theology.

When I was in Bible college, I was convinced that people genuinely cared about my theology. We regularly practiced defending our faith. Every theological hill was an acceptable one to die on. Rather than defending Jesus, we were trying to own God.

Before that, it was high school youth group. Every Friday night, we went to the Galleria and passed out Gospel tracts. The paper was printed and folded to look like a dollar bill. We would drop them on the floor or leave them on the bathroom counter, hoping someone would pick them up and be forever saved from eternal conscious torment. I wonder how many dudes lost their cool when they realized it wasn’t a real buck...

The most embarrassing part was getting into the “If you were to die tonight,” conversations with complete strangers. I’m still amazed at our boldness. We would approach total strangers - out and about with their family and friends on a Friday night at the mall - and blast them with our theological certainty. Our blessed assurance included the conviction that anyone who didn’t believe just like us was doomed to hell.

No question about it: in trying to be a better Christian, I did more harm than good.

No one really cares what you believe. Here's why. via @iamsteveaustin #exvangelical #graceismessy #lovewins

Click to Tweet

How to Be a Better Christian

The story might feel different if our Bible study and prayer time made us more loving, for sure. But a theology steeped in fear, shame, and guilt will never produce actions rooted in love.

If you want to be a better Christian, hear Jesus calling us to be humble, kind, generous, patient, loving, and gracious. Listen to the greatest commandment: to love God, self, and neighbor. Jesus is begging us to be better examples of the faith we so boldly proclaim by understanding that there’s much more to belief than what most of us hear preached on a Sunday morning. Rather than using the Bible to justify our judgment and exclusion, Jesus is calling us to engage the world around us with Love.

When we talk about becoming a better Christian, we’re talking about the kind of human you are. Are you going to be the kind of person who binds and heals the wounds of others? Or are you going to drive the knife deeper? Will you give a glass of water to someone dying of thirst? Or will you pour the cement of your concrete theology down their throat?

The world is full of hurting people. And sadly, hurting people have bet against church folks. They don’t give a damn about the rightness of our theology or the firm foundation of our faith. They’re just looking for respect. For common decency. For eye contact. For a hug. For someone crazy enough to admit they don’t have it all figured out. For a hot cup of coffee or a cold beer and some honest conversation. For safety and love and belonging and a place to rest their tired feet and weary souls.

How do you make people feel? When you walk into a room, do you shift the energy with your loving kindness? Or do you suck the air right out of the crowd with your judgment? You can spend every waking moment of your life, clinging to the Bible, exegeting Scripture, debating every nuance of theology, and policing the thoughts and actions of those around you, or you can give your life away, embracing those in need.

A theology steeped in fear, shame, and guilt will never produce actions rooted in love. via @iamsteveaustin #graceismessy #lovewins #exvangelical

Click to Tweet

A Thread of Love

If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both. 1 John 4:20

So, you want to be a better Christian? Stop expecting people to fit your mold, agree with your politics, and live up to your societal expectations. The world is so much bigger than your local church and your precious pastor. People are hungry for joy and freedom, but they’ll never find it through your rule-keeping: this is the essence of the message of Jesus.

In a society permeated by fear, shame, and guilt, the way to be a better Christian is to practice more love, vulnerability, and forgiveness. Now, more than ever, we should love the person in front of us, understanding that we are all connected. We are all the same. We are entirely woven together in a tapestry of diversity, and the thread that holds us all together is a universal desire for safety, love, and belonging.

The only thing people really care about is the way you treat them. If you want to be a better Christian, understand that you prove your faith by the depth of your love.

The Divine Call to Action

Looking for a daily reminder that being a better Christian means loving people? Click below to download my free printable, "The Divine Call to Action." Let's start loving God by loving each other.

People will never find joy and freedom through your rule-keeping: this is the essence of the message of Jesus. via @iamsteveaustin #exvangelical #graceismessy #lovewins

Click to Tweet
Posted on

Jesus was a master at practicing empathy. Here’s why.

Jesus was a master at practicing empathy. Here's why.

I was a pastor when my world fell apart. Lying in an ICU hospital bed, looking up at the ceiling, numb from the waist down, it seemed pretty clear to me that I only had a couple of choices: get out of the hospital and figure out how to heal, or leave the hospital, and make damn well sure I died the next time.

Thankfully, I chose to live, which meant everything had to change.

Over the past seven years, since the darkest day of my life, I’ve deconstructed and reconstructed my faith and deconstructed it some more. I nearly walked away from Christianity altogether for a while, but the same Voice that called to me in the hospital room, saying, “I’m not finished with you yet,”  continued to whisper hope, safety, and belonging through my dark night of the soul.

So I held on. Scared. Uncertain. Wobbly. I had faith, but it was full of holes.

I'm honored to share the rest of this story on Josh Casey's, "Dust Makers" blog. Just click here to read the rest of this story.

Posted on 14 Comments

Missing Jesus: The Death of My Childhood Faith

The Death of My Childhood Faith

“Isn't it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different...”

- C.S. Lewis (Prince Caspian)

Missing Jesus: The Death of My Childhood Faith

“I’m struggling hardcore, missing Jesus,” That’s the text I sent to my buddy Michael, three days before Christmas.

I’ve had to sit with the uncomfortable truth that exists in this story for the past couple of months. “Saucer and blow it,” as my grandma would say. This post involves some deep soul work that most would likely hesitate to share. Plus, I know how nasty certain fundamental Christians can be when it comes to talk of deconstructing your faith.

In the words of Barbara Brown Taylor, “...human beings never behave more badly toward one another than when they believe they are protecting God.” Even though this blog is my safe space, it’s difficult when you know there are some who prefer to lurk around the edges and throw stones rather than sit down for coffee.

As gracious as Michael’s response was, it still managed to piss me off, “It’s okay to like Jesus still. He didn’t do anything wrong to you.”

My reply? “No Michael. Like he's on the cross, dying. Or dead. Gone. Not coming back. It feels just like when my Grandpa died. Ugh. I think I’m grieving Jesus.”

My friend gently pushed back, “My grandma is gone too, but I can still like her. And remember the best parts. No shame in that. It’s okay to like the best parts of Jesus that led you to be caring. If it was real to you back then, why wouldn’t you mourn? Brains are funny. You don’t have to throw the 8lb 4oz baby out with the bath water. Don’t let your stubbornness get in the way of your process. Float in the river a bit and see where the water takes you.”

I have the very best friends.

“...human beings never behave more badly toward one another than when they believe they are protecting God.” - Barbara Brown Taylor via @iamsteveaustin #exvangelical #catchingyourbreath #amwriting

Click to Tweet

In the middle of what felt like a faith crisis, I also sent a text to Brad (a former pastor), “Do people still ask you to pray for them?”

To Melody, I sent a confession, “I think Jesus is the best of God. The good side.”

And to Angie? “I know he’ll never come back. But I sure wish he could. Just for a moment. It’s a real grieving process.”

This is how I roll when the spool starts unraveling, and I realize, yet again, that I’m losing more of that childhood script. You know the script - the one they give you in Sunday School or youth group, that makes everything easy because it’s the same script everyone else receives. When it hits me that I don’t have a faith script any longer, it freaks me completely out, and I need my friends to remind me that in the middle of my uncertainty, I’m not losing my mind.

Brad reminded me that I’m still “Pastor Steve” to most people, and I always will be. He even said something crazy like, “You can still be people’s pastor, even if you don’t believe in God.” (It’s true. Read my friend Brandon’s book, if you don’t believe me.)

To be fair, I’m not grieving Jesus; he isn’t gone or missing. It’s the simplicity of my childhood faith that I miss the most. Christmas to Easter, the centrality of my faith was summed up in one miraculous dude I read about in the Gospels and saw on felt boards every Summer at Vacation Bible School. More than anything, I’m grieving the certainty of my childhood faith.

I’m grieving the certainty of my childhood faith. You, too? Read this. via @iamsteveaustin #exvangelical #faith #agnostic

Click to Tweet

Brad agreed. “Everything was black and white. It was easy to see the boundaries. There’s comfort in that. The problem is that the only way to grow is to leave the village, so to speak. When you leave the village, you leave behind everything that makes sense and gives your life meaning. That’s hard. What you’re feeling is totally normal.”

What I’m feeling is totally normal. I say it to myself again and again. I really don’t know what I’d do without my friends who are willing to check their judgment at the door and love me by listening.

Later that day, I was giving blood. The technician had interacted with me for less than three minutes, when she asked, "Are you a pastor?"

I smirked. Then I laughed and shook my head. "Seriously?!" I asked. It had been a while since I'd been asked; it used to be much more frequent.

"Are you a worship leader?" They'd ask.

"You must be a youth pastor." It happened all the time.

Is it the spikey hair? The incessant Dad jokes? I don't know exactly, but she said, "You're all pretty easy to spot."

When I responded, "Not anymore," she paused from prepping my arm and said, "Now, there's a story waiting to be told."

I asked her how much time she had, and she looked down at my chart before looking back up and said, "As long as it takes, Pastor - er - I mean Mr. Austin."

I laughed a bit more and said, "This one typically takes a while; there are a lot of gory details."

"Yea," she said, "I gathered that with the whole 'not anymore' bit."

So we talked about Pentecostal Jesus and how he was supposed to fix everything, until he didn't. We talked about how brains can break. Even pastor's brains. We spoke of ICU and the psych ward and getting fired and rethinking literally everything.

"Quick pinch," she said.


"You've lived through worse than that tiny bee sting, Mister," she said with a crooked little grin.

"So what's the rest of the story? There has to be more to a story like this one."

I drew a deep breath, and said, "Well, I'm not so sure anymore."

"About what?"

"About anything."

"So what do you believe?"

"To be honest, I'm still a huge fan of that Jesus guy I read about. The one who was really kind and gracious and generous. The one who called out religious people on their bullshit. I think he would have been the coolest guy to have a drink with, or just sit and not say much of anything. I'm not sure if Jesus was God, but he's the closest thing I've ever found to the kind of example I'd like to follow."

"So you're an Agnostic, just like me," she said, holding her head up high.

"See, Tina?" she yelled to the other technician at the front of the LifeSouth bus, "we're not all hell raisers and crazies! This guy's a pastor!"

I cleared my throat, "Was a pastor."

"There's plenty of us Agnostics who still need a pastor. Some of us even like Jesus - sounds like you do, too. And if you ask me, you still sound an awful lot like a pastor."

Hm. I guess Brad was right.

Brains can break. Even pastor's brains. via @iamsteveaustin #keeptalkingMH #exvangelical #catchingyourbreath

Click to Tweet

I got off the bus and had a text from Angie, “At times like this it can be beneficial to focus on the things Jesus represented and find those within humanity, within a larger view of God, or within the Universe. Love, humor, goodness: these are the things I'm hearing you loved about Jesus and things I see echoed all around us.”

So many spend their time trying to make the Unknowable knowable, trying to turn the Great Big into bite-sized pieces; yet, I see Jesus doing something a little different: he talks about how this Great Big God actually cares for the tiny sparrow. And how with just the smallest thing (i.e., a seed), we can connect with the greater whole. Jesus reminds us that the ordinary, small, and often overlooked things (and people) are actually the key to the whole Universe. With just a seed or a sparrow, we can tap into something much larger than ourselves.

And why is that? Because everything is sacred. Because everything is a smaller part of a greater whole. Because there’s plenty we don’t know, and as we learn to stop focusing on all the things that we may never figure out, there’s a whole world of beauty in trusting, embracing love, and connecting with those around us.

Stepping away from the Christian Machine left me reeling for a while. Shredding that childhood script was scary as hell, but in slowing down and prioritizing what matters, I'm finding meaning all around me: in cuddles and deep conversation with my wife, the wonder in my daughter's eyes, the joy on my son's face, and the mystery of a magenta sunset.

If you still find comfort and meaning inside the pews and surrounded by songs at a candlelight service, thank heavens for that - it's a beautiful thing. But if you’re currently finding meaning outside the walls of man-made religion, you can be grateful for that, too.

So this journey is about disconnecting from the Christian Machine and reconnecting with the Christ who is deeper and wider than even the God of Jesus. It’s about death and resurrection. (It’s always about death and resurrection.) It’s about something Universal - something with the power to connect us all, even if it blows our minds and shatters our certainty in the process. In leaving the faith of my childhood, I’m rediscovering childlike faith.

In leaving the faith of my childhood, I’m rediscovering childlike faith. via @iamsteveaustin #exvangelical #faith #doubt

Click to Tweet

What about you? 

Are you still finding faith inside the church? Have you left the childhood script behind for something different? What does spirituality look like for you these days? I'd love to read your story in the comments below. 

Posted on

VIDEO: 7 Ways to Use Your Spirituality to Help Your Business Thrive

VIDEO: 7 Ways to Use Your Spirituality to Help Your Business Thrive

Using all the resources at your disposal naturally brings you greater success in your business. Number crunching and data analysis are helpful, but you have other tools available. Your spirituality and instincts have been developing and growing since birth. It would be a shame not to use them to your advantage. Use these 7 strategies to enhance your business with your spirituality. Get 9 other free resources to help connect your mind, body, and spirit at

Posted on 9 Comments

When you’re tired of all the fighting.

My strongest desire of all? To belong.
“You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great…” -Maya Angelou
(from Braving the Wilderness, by Brene Brown)

The Worst Kind of Hangover

When I started writing Catching Your Breath, I knew I’d have to get really honest. No pretense. No masks. Strip it all away and get nekkid.

So I did.

And since the book released in October, I’ve had what Brene Brown would call a “vulnerability hangover.” So, I’ve been pretty quiet about my personal life lately, choosing to focus on creating courses and self-help topics, rather than the deep things that roll around in my soul on a regular basis.

It’s safer that way, I say to myself.

Just market yourself as the expert.

You won’t offend as many people if you’re not so personal.

You’ll ostracize yourself less.

Give the personal stuff a rest - you deserve a break.

As a result, I’ve been avoiding my emotions. I do it really well.

I’ve chosen to listen to and encourage others in their pain and confusion and sense of being “stuck,” while ignoring my own needs and watching my soul wither in the process. Pouring myself out, and wondering why my cup feels constantly empty. One friend calls it "compassion fatigue."

The emotions bubble up, and I swallow them back down and move forward.

Keep writing. Put your ass back in that chair and get to work, mister.

This might be a strange way to describe it, but my soul feels sad. Sort of like the grape that’s been left too long in the noonday sun without access to whatever gives it life and fullness, and all that’s left is a wrinkly raisin.

And who really likes raisins?

I’m not in a dark place. I’m mentally well. I’m healthy. I’m happier than ever in the roles that matter most in my life: husband and daddy. What I’m struggling with is my lack of feeling connected to a larger community. My friend Stephanie says the desire to belong is innate, and she’s right: I’m feeling like I don’t belong. And that makes me sad.

“You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great…” -Maya Angelou

Click to Tweet

Living in the middle is a real struggle.

The natural question that follows is, in the middle of what?

It feels like being in the middle of everything, and nothing. It’s a feeling of being “stuck”. Of fitting everywhere and nowhere all at once.

I feel in the middle politically (socially liberal AF, but fiscally conservative). One part of me is incredibly passionate about social justice and matters of equality. And the other part of me is so sick of the fighting and protests and all the yelling.

There’s a side of me that wants to shut down all my extracurriculars, work my predictable 9-5 job, pay my bills, and be left alone. No more sharing. No more trying to help. No more believing that I might have something to say. But there’s another side of me with a real desire to lead and encourage.

My strongest desire of all? To belong.

My strongest desire of all? To belong.
Insert Thrive Leads Shortcode

God Stuff

Theologically, I’m in the middle of not knowing. One the one hand, I’m desperate to believe in the Eternal Something that is greater than me. And on the other hand, I don’t want to debate theology. I’d really LOVE to belong to a small group of some kind, but I’m so scared of getting involved because we live in a time when everyone feels the need to poke holes in your perspective and try to “save” you. I'm not looking for that.

I just want to belong somewhere, just as I am, Billy Graham.

I’d really like to go to a Christmas Eve Candlelight service this year, but I’d like for no one to assume that it means I believe in a virgin birth or worship White Jesus. I’d love to sing, “O Holy Night” and embrace the beauty of Advent. But if it’s just for the sake of nostalgia, is that okay?

I miss the days when Brennan Manning's Ragamuffin Gospel was tangible and as refreshing as a glass of sweet iced tea. I could sense God with me all the time, even in the midst of the mess. And as much as I’d love for my spiritual life to feel that sweet and simple again, right now it doesn’t.

I know in the deepest part of my being that I’m still loved by God (whatever that means), that I am the beloved. I think my problem is that I get stuck in my head way too often, and don’t allow myself to live from the center of my heart. I really struggle to just let my mind rest. It’s not easy for me to let my spirit breathe. I’m always trying to figure out the formula. (And what if there isn’t a formula at all?)

I think this could be the greatest gift of a safe community: the invitation to get out of our own heads and live from a place of love. But people are scary!

Oy, the struggle is real.

Finding myself in the middle - more hungry for kindness than to be proven right - is a really lonely place. All around me, everyone is taking sides. Fighting for their particular thing, and many of them are just and worthy fights. But I don’t see many people being willing to simply stand in the middle, choosing to listen to the angry ones as well as the wounded ones. Yet that’s precisely the place where I feel called: to respect and embrace the humanity of everyone.

This shit is not easy.

I don’t want to fight anymore. I’m exhausted from all the ways we’re told to care about every single thing. I’m tired of every ant hill being turned into somebody’s mountain. I’m bone tired from all the demonizing of “the other.” My soul is weary because I genuinely believe there is no “other,” just a thousand different faces, born of the same Source. That we all belong.

 There is no “other,” just a thousand different faces, born of the same Source. We all belong.

Click to Tweet

All We Need is Love

I also don’t want to have to prove myself to you. I don’t need my theology or politics to be right. I also don’t have a desire to prove you wrong. There was a season when I wanted to fight, but these days I just want to love and be loved in return. I want to sit around the table and break bread and drink grape juice (or pizza with Jack and Coke) and embrace our shared humanity. I want to look you in the eyes and find our common ground. I want to love people til it hurts, but I’m not sure where I belong right now. I don’t know what to do with that.

Isn’t a sense of belonging central to our humanity? In the most tribal parts of our brains and heritage, don’t we desperately need the assurance that we belong somewhere? Is there a place, community, or shared conversation, for those of us who land in the middle?

In this wobbly, uncertain season of my life, what I’d love more than anything is to belong to a community where safety, empathy, and kindness are the foundation of everything that happens, where we have honest conversations around the issues that really matter. And sometimes we just sit and rest in the knowledge that every little thing is gonna be alright.

I’d love to have access to regular doses of honesty, stillness, and a community that embraces one another exactly as we are. No “man” with all the answers. Just friends who sit around on couches or at coffee shops or bars and listen. Listen with the goal of learning, not converting. Listen from a place of curious compassion. Listen so we can love better. Listen because we genuinely care about the soul of another. Listen, because we’re sick of all the talking points. Listen because everything and everyone belongs. Just listen.

I’d like to land there - softly, quietly - without a lot of fanfare. And just be welcomed, gently.

I don’t know where I fit. But could I sit next to you?