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Love is the Organizing Center of All that Is

Love is the organizing center of all that is.

— Rev. Ed Bacon

This week at AskSteveAustin.com, my friend (and frequent guest of the show), Rev. Ed Bacon, joins me to launch my Summer Series on The Sermon on the Mount. For the next several weeks, I will be interviewing pastors, teachers, and friends on selected verses from the Matthew, chapters 5-7. In Episode 70 of the #AskSteveAustin Podcast, Ed expounds on what he calls the contemplative interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount. Below, I’m sharing my notes from my conversation with Ed. 

On the basics of The Sermon on the Mount

  • You can read every sentence of the Sermon on the Mount, through love or fear.
  • Jesus said, “blessed are the pure in heart.” There’s also a thing called the “shrunken heart” (or the “shriveled heart”). It’s really important in our National life, to pay attention to heartedness. The heart is our gift for reading signals in the world. To pick up signals from another person, the times, etc. The heart should be the “reader” for what is going on. To the degree that we have a pure, open, full heart – literally, we are seeing God in all things. That is what the Christ (in Jesus) was telling us, through Matthew writing it down. When we have the mind of Christ, we can see what’s going on, and we can see Christ through all things.

On having the mind of Christ

  • If you really want to know what the “mind of Christ” is, just go word-by-word in the Sermon on the Mount.

  • My current translation of “Christ” is “love made tangible”. It is Love that you can feel, and Love that loves everything that is tangible. Christ is the part of the Divine One that loves everything that was ever made. Christ energy is in absolutely everything God ever created. Christ is in you and me, and everyone we admire, and everyone we don’t admire.

On loving our enemies

  • Donald Trump’s [theological] name is Donald Christ, because nothing that God made was made apart from love made tangible. In a lot of people, Christ is heavily disguised. Our job is to seek the Christ who is in absolutely everyone. Christ is asleep in a lot of us. We don’t have the awareness of Christ being the animating energy of our lives. Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

  • Love brings us oxygen to a religious stagnation. It brings tonic into a toxic situation, and it removes the poison. You can have a theology that is literally a toxic theology if it starts in fear and separation as opposed to Love and Oneness.

  • Christ is not exclusive. Divine Love (“Love made tangible” or “the Loving One”) always makes room, never divides, and never excludes, always is creative enough to include even the puzzle piece that seems not to fit it. That’s because it is a miraculous mind. Love has a miraculous mentality, awareness, and consciousness.

  • One of my favorite images for life is the mandala. You have all sorts of very disparate and differentiated colors and shapes, but because of the center that organizes it all, it organizes it all into a pattern so that everything belongs. That’s what Love is: Love is the organizing center of all that is.

On practicing love, while speaking truth to power

  • To pray for transformation is one of the most loving things.

  • We are called to be merciful, the same way our Loving God is merciful (or compassionate).

  • Contemplation has to be understood holding hands with community.

This was one of my favorite podcast conversations ever! To listen to the full interview, click here to go to Episode 70 of the #AskSteveAustin Podcast at AskSteveAustin.com, or listen on your favorite podcasting app today.

I am Steve Austin. As you check out my site, my goal is to encourage you to do things like: silence your inner critic, cultivate a lifestyle of self-care, and recover from whatever has wounded you. Fear, shame, and guilt have permeated our culture for far too long. It’s time to be embraced by Divine love, exactly as you are.

Whether you’re looking for a coach you can trust or a lifeline because your soul has been wounded, you’re safe here.

Welcome home.

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Why Purposeful Demolition is Good for Me

I barely recognize my house anymore.

No, I don’t mean the physical house I grew up in and have called home all 25 years of my life.

I mean the house of me, the metaphorical structure that embodies who I am and my existence in the world.

See, for most of my life, I’ve been building. Busy building my skills, building friendships, building my faith in Jesus, building family relationships, building my character, and building strengths out of my flaws. I’ve been pretty darn proud of the house I’ve made, this inner abode my soul calls home, where my mind finds refuge, and my heart finds purpose.

Somewhere along the way, while I was hard at work hammering in nails and sawing two-by-fours, I noticed a creaky floorboard. While I was checking out the creaky floorboard, I spotted a big crack forming on the wall. Around the break, the paint was chipping, revealing a hideous layer of wallpaper underneath.

Before I knew it, I was staring at a house clearly falling apart and in need of some serious attention. I’d stopped building long enough to really see for the first time so many things I’d been overlooking: the cobwebs in the corners where I’d played as a child, broken windows where I used to look out at the world with sweet innocence. My hammer and saw fell from my hands as I dropped to my knees and wept for the only house I’d ever known, now seeing it as it truly was—a house crumbling and broken.

This is the best way I’ve come to describe what deconstruction feels like for me, this process of reevaluating the systems and structures I’ve built my life on thus far. It’s meant taking many of my beliefs, perspectives, and values and discerning which ones have weathered the seasons well, and which ones took a beating from the storms.

When I finally was no longer able to ignore the failing state of my house, I was left with two options. One, I could keep trying to ignore the issues and continue building as if they didn’t exist, or two, I could exchange my building tools for (deep breath) a sledgehammer and start gutting out the bad. 

Both options will cost you something, one being the freedom to live true to yourself, and the other being comfort and familiarity. When I considered the costs, I knew there was no faking it anymore. If life is worth living, it was only going to be worth it for me if I chose to live it authentically and wholeheartedly.

For the first time in my life, it was time to stop building. It was time to start something altogether new to me: purposefully demolishing.

Deconstruction has often felt like death. It’s meant living under a big blue tarp of shame for a while as I worked on tearing old, damaged shingles off my faith. It’s meant doing demolition on my own because I’ve been too afraid those who know me will hate the changes I’m making to the layout of my worldview. It’s meant agonizing over whether to let go of beliefs that have always patterned these walls or mustering up the courage to consider new, unconventional colors. It’s meant accepting some people may not want to stop over or compliment me anymore on how well put together and lovely my house is.

Change, even necessary change, can be really hard.

As I stand back and look at the progress I’ve made since first picking up my sledgehammer, my heart rate quickens from anxiety. The walls are bare and white, there are crumbled heaps of drywall scattered around, and a fine layer of chalky dust covers everything visible. I’m startled a bit looking around this house I’ve spent my whole life in, seeing it for the first time in an almost unrecognizable state.

Can you relate to ever looking at something so familiar and being taken aback by how drastically different it’s become? 

When you’re in the middle of deconstruction like this where, in some cases, you’re literally dismantling some of the core components of who you are, there can be a lot of emotions to process. There’s shame, doubt, depression, and anxiety, with bursts of excitement and sweet release mixed in. There’s sorrow and mourning over what’s being let go, yet joy and anticipation for what new things will occupy this freshly created space. Suffice to say, deconstruction can feel very emotionally exhausting.

That’s why thinking of deconstruction as a making over of my inner house has been so beneficial. It’s given me clarity on what I’m going through, a familiar real-world comparison, and a regained sense of control over this tumultuous process.

Reconsidering long-held beliefs, rewriting personal values, and redefining old definitions (not to mention revisiting the experiences that gave you these very things) is some of the most profound, laborious work you may ever do in life. Heart-work is never easy because it requires total honesty and complete vulnerability. It’s letting yourself be fully exposed.

Even in the messiness of deconstruction going on in my inner sanctuary right now, I can sense something new, something light settling in between these worn walls. The heavy labor is giving way to a promising feeling of freedom, and out of the debris, a unique design is taking form.

I hardly recognize what’s become of my house. But what’s becoming of it is shaping up to be wholeheartedly, unashamedly, and authentically me.

Other resources from Sara:

*Interested in submitting a guest post to iAmSteveAustin.com? Click here for details.

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God is Love. No, really.

I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are

From “This is Me” (soundtrack for The Greatest Showman)

Have you learned to be ashamed of your scars? What about your secrets? Does stigma keep you silent? Do you fear being caught in your addiction? Or shunned if they find out who you love? What if your church friends found out that you have more doubt than faith these days? How would your tribe respond if you told them you don’t vote like they do?

How many brilliant children stay quiet because of the color of their skin, believing no one would care about their dreams? How many people hide in the back pew at our churches, attacked by the black dog of depression, scared to death for anyone to know? How many hurting people feel cut down by words of hate, disapproval, and disappointment?

I bet you probably have at least one minor indiscretion from your past you’d rather not discuss. The childhood abuse you’ve never confessed to anyone. The affair. The eating disorder. The child that isn’t his. The abortion. The suicide attempt. The addiction. The breakdown. The debt. The internet history. The criminal history.

“But how could I possibly tell this one piece of my story?” I hear you.

For the first ten years of my marriage, shame and stigmas had me bound. I clung to a secret that nearly killed me. If, like me, you’re holding on to that one big secret, it is likely the source of your most significant fear: how could you be thoroughly loved if you were also fully known?

I was a victim of childhood sexual abuse, and I was living with anxiety and depression. I had addictions and secrets and curiosities and night terrors that I couldn’t possibly tell anyone. I thought the only way to be accepted was to hide everything. My greatest fear in the world was to disappoint one more person, so I learned the expectations, and lived up to them very well…for a while.  I knew the words to say, I could quote Scriptures like all my friends, but my inner-castle was built on the shifting sand of other people’s opinions and approval.

My secret became the most profound contributor to my shame. It started when I was just a boy and continued to build right up until the night I nearly died by suicide.  I heard the call of Jesus to “come and rest” all my life, but I was almost thirty-years-old, lying in an ICU hospital room before I realized he was serious. I had permission to be human. To admit I was weak. To ask for help. To allow the power of confession to wash over my soul.

It took nearly eleven years for me to peel back the layers of shame and secret keeping and let my wife in on my truth. Because she was willing to meet my vulnerability with grace, the power of confession has changed my life and transformed our marriage.

Being fully known. It’s not easy. I know that fear tells you that you could never be known and also loved. Guilt says they are mutually exclusive for someone like you. A woman with a past. A guy with dirt under his fingernails and cracks in his armor. Shame says there is no way you could ever be known and loved. The truth is, being known happens little by little, in ordinary conversations with people who love and respect you exactly as you are.

In Brian McLaren’s excellent book, The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian, he shares a recurring message from the marquee in front of a local church he passes regularly:

“God loves everyone. No exceptions.

This is the message.

This is the Good News.

This is the Gospel.

This is it.

As I read those words, I smiled and choked back tears. In Ephesians, Paul prays that they may “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge…” (3:18-19)

Read: dogma, doctrine, theology – the love of God surpasses it all.

So maybe your doubts do outweigh your faith today – no biggie. Maybe you don’t have it all figured out – it’s okay! Good news: you don’t have to have it all figured out.

What if love was our entire theology? What if the goal of our lives was to live and love as much like Jesus as humanly possible? To listen to those who aren’t exactly like us? And to listen with the goal of learning – not converting or debating or convincing – listening to learn, so that we can love better? What if love was the goal?

Love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God…for God is love.

— 1 John 4:7-8

Love. God is love.

This is Me,” goes on to say:

Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum

I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me

In the past six years, since reaching my very lowest point, I have met the real Jesus: the one who accepts me exactly as I am. And just as important, I’ve started finding my tribe. I’ve realized that my wife actually loves me for who I am, not the persona I displayed for so many years. I am finding true friends and building a support system (in real life and online) of people who celebrate me, and don’t ask for me to conform to a certain belief system or political ideology. They don’t expect me to “go with the flow” or subscribe to the status quo.

They love me for me.

No matter your history, pedigree, life choices, or the way you were born, you were created with infinite value. There room at the table for you, exactly as you are. Jesus continues to call us all to “come as you are”. You are not a mistake or an anomaly, and your life is not a matter of “moral indifference”. You are a gift from God.

You don’t have to conform to the ways of closed-minded, cold-hearted people who know nothing about your story or struggle. God has the final word, and the final word is Love.

When people say, “Confession is good for the soul,” I hear, “You better tell everybody everything you’ve ever done if you really want God and those you care about to tolerate you.” But that’s not vulnerability or intimacy; it’s the toxic voice of shame. And let’s be honest – confession is good for the soul, no matter your faith or religion. As my friend Ed Bacon said, confession is like pressing the human “reset” button – it allows us to offload whatever feels too heavy and seek solace and clarity in the safety of a trusted relationship. To be loved is to be known – one doesn’t happen without the other.

God loves everyone. No exceptions.

(Download the free printable and share it on social media this week with the hashtag #underdogswelcome)

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I Need You to Help Me See God Clearly

We are all important parts of a much larger system, pieces of the universe’s puzzle that would not be complete without us.

— Russell Eric Dobda

At my office, there is a puzzle table. Some of my co-workers spend their break time over the period of several weeks, piecing together 5,000 scattered pieces. As you can see from the image above, this one is about halfway there. The previous puzzle didn’t look as complicated for an outsider, but even though I don’t participate in the puzzle making, I love watching the picture come into focus.

Separated, each tiny part of the whole doesn’t make much sense. In this particular puzzle, one piece contains most of the little boy’s ear, another is of the tip of the dog’s nose, there are several pieces of blue from the door frame, and the busyness of the area rug. It’s exciting to find a match for a singular piece, but even two or three pieces joined together, still doesn’t reveal much of that 5,000 part masterpiece. But as I continue to work, connecting piece after piece, the big picture starts to become more clear.

Life is a lot like this puzzle.

I need you, and you need me to make it all make sense. Sometimes, when I feel stuck with a particular situation, or frustrated by my circumstances, the best thing I can do is reach out to a friend, colleague, or mentor. We head to lunch, or out for coffee, or hop on Skype for a few minutes to hash things out, and before you know it, as their perspective brushes against mine, I begin to see God and neighbor more clearly.

“I am the Vine, and you are the branches…” are famous words from Jesus. He goes on to tell us that disconnected from the Vine, and disconnected from each other, our discord will cause all sorts of problems. But if we remain connected to the Source of Life and we work hard to embrace the diversity of our unity with others, we can do anything.

When I view myself as separate from others, either because of their lifestyle, politics, or religion, I miss out on the fullness of God. But if I keep my heart and mind open, willing to learn from others and be challenged by their understanding of God, I begin to taste and see that God is good. Diversity is the spice of life. It is in the richness of our various colors and shades and flavors that God starts to come into focus.

When I look in the mirror, I see just one piece of God. My personality tends to show others a side of God that is the cheerleader, the encourager, and the Good Samaritan. While those traits are not without merit, I need more. That’s why a community is so important. Desmond Tutu said, “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”

When I view those around me through eyes of love, I am better able to see the whole of God:

  • In my daughter, I recognize God’s whimsy.
  • In my son, I feel the refuge, safety, & gentleness of God.
  • My wife shows me the faithfulness of God – what Brennan Manning calls God’s “relentless tenderness.”
  • In my father, I witness the ways God wants to grow us.
  • In my mother, I see the way God delights in His children.
  • My friend Sue is a constant source – a deep well – of God’s wisdom.
  • In Rev. Ed Bacon, I see the table of God, where all are welcome.
  • My friend Chris shows me how God dances over us.
  • My Grandfather always embodied the mystery of God.
  • And my Grandmother lives out the Hope, which Hebrews calls “the anchor of our souls.”

Desmond Tutu went on to say, “We are, each of us, a piece of God.” Ephesians 2:10 says, “We are God’s masterpiece.” So when I feel that God is far away, unreachable, unclear, or hiding, all I need to do is connect with my neighbor. Red and yellow, black and white, straight, trans, Jew, Muslim, atheist and every other varied color of the rainbow: together, each of you helps my picture of God continue to come into focus.

*Click here for a free download of my “Pieces of a bigger picture” desktop background.


This post was inspired by a question on this week’s mailbag episode of the #AskSteveAustin Podcast. Check out episode 64 on iTunes, Spotify, or at AskSteveAustin.com today!


Only 35 spaces remain on the Launch Team for my upcoming book, #CatchingYourBreath! Members get early access to the e-book, plus a signed copy of the paperback, upon publication. Sign up here: http://eepurl.com/duGiH5

 

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How to Find Jesus When Life Sucks

We have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence (the refuge) of God.

— Hebrews 6:19 (The Message)

My 5th-grade teacher, Terri Nobles, had a 2×4 in our classroom. Written on it, in black permanent marker, was BOARD OF EDUCATION. And if you failed to heed her warnings, you’d find yourself at a picnic table during recess, with that 2×4 and a piece of sandpaper, trying to get rid of the black permanent marker.

Mrs. Nobles would grin, as she supervised you sanding that 2×4, saying, “Steve Austin! Life is hard, and then you die.” You laugh – or maybe you cringe at that story – but the principle isn’t wrong.

A friend of mine sent me a message recently that read, “Life sucks.”

And I responded, “Yep. It’s a promise from Jesus.”

During The Last Supper (John 13-16), Jesus is giving his friends and students some final reminders. This had to be one of the most hopeless and uncertain times of his life, but he persists in giving his life to those he loves most. Jesus begins to summarize everything he’d taught them over the past few years; stuff like:

  • washing their feet
  • reminding them that the proof of life-change is in our loving one another
  • promising to send a Comforter, after he’s dead and gone
  • And teaching that we are all connected to the Vine. We all belong. We all have a place of refuge. We are all one great big family – and God will continue to care for the Vine and the branches. Connected to the Vine, all things are possible, but when we view ourselves as separate – disconnected – we live in discord and can do nothing fruitful or universally beneficial. Almost the entirety of chapter 15 is about the love of God and neighbor.

Jesus leaves them with one of the most essential pieces of Scripture, John 16:33, “In this world, you will have trouble…”.

This statement from Jesus is a declaration – a promise – while you are living, you will have tribulation. My friend was right, sometimes life sucks. If you are a human, you will struggle. Other religions, in my opinion, do a much better job of emphasizing the fact that to be human is to suffer, but that is precisely what Jesus is talking about in this incredibly honest, and human portion of Scripture.

So many of us want to believe that Christianity is about the end of suffering and pain and hard times. We want to find that the successful Christian life means health, wealth, and happiness 24/7. But we forget that before Jesus ever resurrected, he was mocked, beaten to a bloody pulp, nailed to a cross, and buried.

In this world, you are going to suffer. Terri Nobles is standing there, leaning over the picnic table of your life, saying, “Life is hard, and then you die.” We think those truth-tellers along our journey have got it all wrong, but Jesus shows up on the scene and echoes the cry of all the realists. He hands us the BOARD OF EDUCATION while everybody else is playing, whispering, “Life is hard…”.

Life is hard! Yes! Don’t let any of these TV preachers tell you otherwise. Life is hard! Uncertain! Unfair! Unpredictable! “Life is suffering,” said the Buddha, and Jesus responded, “Amen.”

Here’s the Good News: as Jesus is walking away, he turns back to us and says, “PSST! But be at peace!” He winks at us and says, “I’ve overcome the world!”

Life has quite a track record of beating us down, disappointing us, shocking us, making us angry, and leaving us feeling hopeless for a time. But as I look back over the past thirty-five years, I see that hard times come and go, but we always have the opportunity to wrestle those painful seasons for a lesson (read the story of Jacob). Jesus promised that we would have hard times, but he also promised to never leave us in the middle of excruciating pain, dire circumstances, poverty, doubt, or anything else.

As my friend Sarah said recently, the boat we’re in may be on stormy seas, but hope is the anchor that keeps us from being dashed against the rocks and destroyed.

In this life, you will have trouble. But be at peace! I have overcome the world.

— Jesus

The tension of hope and pain, promise and struggle – it all works together in this beautiful dance of humanity – pushing us toward each other, guiding us inward to the Light that dwells inside, urging us to be honest about our wounds and not to leave anyone behind.

For more on this, listen to Episode 63 of the #AskSteveAustin Podcast with Sarah J. Robinson. We talk about hope, uncertainty, joy, and the compassion of those who care about us. Download the episode today!

Resources:

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How Should Pastors Respond to People with Mental Illness?

I grew up in the church, and we never talked about things like mental illness. We did talk about demon possession. We talked about sin. We talked about a lack of faith. And we told people to choose joy, but we never talked about things like depression, anxiety, bipolar, or PTSD.

The sad fact is that my aunt died by suicide when I was a young teenager. As such, I knew that mental illness did exist. Her death rocked my family, and we longed for a safe place to grieve and to heal.

I was honored to share my story on the Not Your Mama’s Christian Podcast recently. I’m so encouraged by the compassion and curiosity of Shane and Eric, the two hosts of the show. They’re both pastors who want to see the church do better. They asked important questions and allowed me to tell my story: the good, bad, and the ugly.

This interview includes the following topics:

  • self-care
  •  mental health
  • recovery from a suicide attempt
  • childhood sexual abuse

Click here to listen and subscribe today.

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There will be blossoms, too.

“The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing…”

— Galway Kennell

A few days ago, my wife and I were out for a brisk walk on our favorite trail. Buck Creek runs through a park near our home, and the city put in a walking path along its route a few years ago. The trail is delightful. Lindsey and I needed the fresh air as much as we needed the exercise.

As we were nearing the end of our three-mile jaunt, I spotted a sign for an extension of the path that goes out to a favorite fishing hole. We hadn’t been out to that spot in a long while, and my Mom was enjoying her time with our children, so off we went.

The sky was cloudy, and the wind was brisk; my favorite kind of weather. We paused for a while to appreciate just how green the limestone tints the water. On our way out, I spotted the most unusual, beautiful vine I’ve ever seen. Thorns, an inch or more in length, covered the entirety of the sturdy creeping plant.

What mesmerized me were the buds and blossoms on that very same vine. The blooms looked like dogwood blossoms, but this was just a vine. I’ve seen wild roses, but this wasn’t a bush. It was a thorny vine, and the thorns had blooms. I couldn’t stop staring.

Like the dewberry vine, my life has been riddled with thorns. These days, Grace continues to remind me of my loveliness. Standing on the trail last week, the cold wind at my back, tears welled up in my eyes. I held my wife close, closed my eyes, and whispered, “thank you for the blooms.” I’ve been there. I remember what it’s like to reach the end of the rope. People in power and those who seem to have never screwed up have discounted me. I know what it’s like to be labeled the underdog, but God says I am welcome. I am loved. I am Beloved.

///

I know what it’s like to feel worthless and wonder why the hell I choose to keep living. Until I started the recovery process five years ago, there were countless times that I considered driving my truck into the overpass. There were days I drank, not for enjoyment, but to desperately try to numb the pain and anxiety. I know what it’s like to write suicide notes. I can tell you what hopeless looks like.

“We are beautiful but also limited, rich but also poor, generous but also worried about our security. Yet beyond all that we are people with souls, sparks of the divine.”

— Henri Nouwen

I haven’t forgotten my failures, but mindfulness, gratitude, and grace have allowed my life to blossom in ways I never would have imagined. I have much to be thankful for, especially the three people I share a home and last name with. I’m not silly enough to think there won’t be more thorny patches along my path, but I trust that there will be blossoms, too.