When most people find out that I’m a former pastor, they wrongly assume I have walked away from the faith. I chuckle to myself each time I politely explain that “former pastor” doesn’t always equate to “former Christian”. The truth is, while I am no longer on the payroll at a local church, I feel more in-tune with the teachings and example of Jesus than ever before. Sure, stepping away from employment with the Institutional Church ignited an enormous shift in my personal theology. But it hasn’t driven me from Christ, it’s actually caused me to sift through the excesses of man-made religious constructs and find what parts of the faith truly matter to me.
If you’re a Millennial like me, chances are pretty good that you’re doing some shifting and sifting of your own.
Spiritual belonging is finding people who welcome you for who you are and encourage you to own your own spiritual journey, wherever it might take you. Finding people that appreciate being real and honest about life in general. I would encourage everyone to trust themselves and trust their heart.
My dear friend and fellow blogger, Sarah Robinson, added her own spin:
I’ve experienced both…the loneliness of being in either a really shiny and slick church, where it feels like people don’t let down their guard, and a church that lacks a theology of suffering, where there isn’t room for honest expressions of pain and doubt. The environments look really different, but the end result is the same – isolation and fear of honesty.
These days, I feel more consumed by the Love of God than ever. And while I’m truly not bitter at the church, I am setting boundaries with toxic people and theology. When it comes to Millennials and Church, many of us have accepted the invitation of people like Ed Bacon, Rachel Held Evans, and Brian McLaren, to stand up for a new kind of Christianity. I am turning my back on the House of Fear, and bursting through the doors of the House of Love with joy and gladness. No turning back, no turning back.
“…known and loved.” The words make my stomach twist and knot. I cringe and my insides curdle at the thought of being known. I shrink back in fear of being seen as I truly am. I’ve been scared of God for years. And yet, somehow, I feel drawn to the concept of being loved by this same God.
Are You Scared of God, Too?
Fear tells me I could never be known and also loved. Guilt says they are mutually exclusive for someone like me. Someone with a past. Someone with dirt under his fingernails and cracks in his armor. Shame says there is no way Love could ever know me.
After a few deep breaths, choking back tears that I fear might drown me, I hear the words of my friend, Ed Bacon. On today’s episode of the #AskSteveAustin Podcast, Ed says, “I’m an atheist to that kind of God”. The “kind of God” who sits upon a throne of power, controlling His minions with fear, shame, and guilt. My friend said he is an atheist to the God of such toxic theology.
“That kind of God” tells me I couldn’t possibly love Jesus, and also margaritas.
“That kind of God” only demands 10% of my money, but 100% allegiance to dogma.
“That kind of God” appeals to straight white males who were born with power, but thirst for more.
“That kind of God” says you can either be Christian or crazy. Not both.
But the truth is, “that kind of God” isn’t God at all. An idol, maybe. It looks a lot like a golden calf. A man-made power structure. The Christian Machine, for sure.
Anne Lamott says it like this, “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
It’s “that kind of God” I shrink from. And that kind of toxic theology wounded me deeply. I was judged by the followers of “that kind of God” for growing tired of performance-based Christianity. The Church of “that kind of God” excommunicated me for my questions and lack of faith. It’s “that kind of God” who told me that to be known wasn’t possible, because a perfect God couldn’t get near my dirty secrets or dare fellowship with the kind of company I keep these days. “That kind of God” couldn’t allow me into even the outside of the circle, much less love me as I am.
If Jen Hatmaker is right, and the Christian Machine isn’t the body of Christ, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. And if that’s true, then who is the body (or family) of Christ? The Bible says we’ll be known by “…compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, and discipline.” It goes on to say that we’ll be “quick to forgive” and “clothed in love”.
If so, I have found the body of Christ in unexpected places and in the faces of people who have been hiding in the shadows for a lifetime. I have broken bread and sipped wine with those who wouldn’t dare darken the doorways of traditional churches. I have found God in the middle of a gay bar. I have formed beautiful friendships with people who felt they had to move away from America in order to live their best life.
And in every story and situation, I have tasted and seen that God is actually good.
To be known and loved used to frighten me to tears. I was constantly scared of God, but these days, I am experiencing the Light and Love, the Peace and the Presence of God on a deeply personal level. It happens in ordinary conversations with people who are anything but ordinary. I am learning that to be loved is to be known – one doesn’t happen without the other. Each day, I am allowing myself to be more fully known by people who find my faults to be flawless and love me without condition.
I’m No Longer Scared of God
Do you want to be known and loved? If so, join me. Consider this your invitation to pull up a chair and sit for a while. The table is larger than we ever imagined and there is room for everyone. Please, I beg you, come out of silence and secrecy. Being known and loved is possible and wonderful. It’s a place that feels like home.
Like this post? Check out these powerful resources:
Last week, I had the distinct honor of speaking to two groups of high school students in New York. My friend and colleague, Sarah Fader, and I talked about mental health, stress, self-care, bullying, and panic disorder. At the end of each session, we answered questions from the class (always my favorite part of any talk). The experience was good for my soul.
It was the first time I’ve spoken to a group of teenagers in nearly 5 years. I was apprehensive, walking the streets of Brooklyn, entering the albatross of a school, walking down their halls. I didn’t know if I still had it. I wasn’t sure if I could muster the courage to tell my truth again.
But the words of William Paul Young came to mind. Paul once told me something like this, “We are wounded in relationship. And it is in relationship where we find healing.” As I stepped behind the podium yesterday morning to deliver an inspirational message, God was taking me back to the place of my deepest wounding.
In the darkest days before and after my suicide attempt, shame and desperation told me I wasn’t good enough. I believed I would never speak again. That I would never sing again. That this dream I had of “messy grace” was all a big sham, a fake, just like me. But yesterday morning, I stood and told those kids that I was once right where they are. I was once an honor roll student who seemed to have everything going my way, but I’d been dying inside.
I told them about my first panic attack, and how I used to cry into my pillow. We talked about how I would cry in the shower because I knew no one would hear me. I owned my story, shared my truth, told them I remembered the pressure to perform, to be the very best at everything, and yet, I still remember feeling worthless at the end of the day.
I begged them not to be like me – holding onto secrets and pain for 28 years and nearly dying as a result. I urged them to find an adult they could confide in or a friend they could trust. Someone who would have their back, no matter what.
[clickToTweet tweet=”We are wounded and healed inside relationship. #stigmafighters #graceismessy #AskSteveAustin #MondayBlogs” quote=”We are wounded and healed inside relationship.” theme=”style3″]
Peace is a wide-angle lens in a world of tunnel vision. Peace believes there’s more to the story. Peace doesn’t ignore the gnarly details, but is confident in our own resourcefulness, so peace chooses to ride the wave. Peace knows there’s a big difference between stress and distress. Peace is stubbornness with a wild-eyed smile.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Peace is a wide-angle lens in a world full of tunnel vision. #graceismessy #AskSteveAustin #MondayBlogs” quote=”Peace is a wide-angle lens in a world full of tunnel vision.” theme=”style3″]
I was so encouraged during the Q&A portion of our time together yesterday. I introduced a coaching technique called “The Wheel of Life” and some of the students shared the highs and lows from their particular wheel. One student said his sense of happiness comes from eating right and exercising, another student talked about how it’s always been his dream to do something great with his life, and a young lady on the front row confessed that she could never speak to her parents if she did ever face a mental health crisis.
The kids were honest and hopeful, vulnerable and wise. They spoke their truth in front of their peers and looked me in the eyes when they spoke. One guy talked about his first panic attack and the way his breath became short and his hands shook for no good reason, but he was thankful he had a friend to call who had been through it before. Another young man said he was raised to believe that we shouldn’t deal with things like anxiety or depression, that we should just toughen up, but that he’s grown enough to no longer believe that lie.
Talking to these students yesterday was healing for my soul and hope for my future. The Light always conquers the darkness. And as we continue to educate, inspire, and empower a younger generation to speak up and be kind to themselves, we persist in shattering the lies of stigma and shame.
Let’s be resolute in constantly telling our children that their lives – pains, joys, traumas, successes, disappointments, and hopes – all matter. Their friendships matter. Their support systems are vital for a healthy and vibrant life. If we continue to do that, they will create their own sources of Light that no one can snuff out.
[clickToTweet tweet=”A Promise of Hope and Healing in the Next Generation #graceismessy #stigmafighters #mentalhealth” quote=”A Promise of Hope and Healing in the Next Generation” theme=”style3″]
And I wonder if God is even listening, or if He cares.
If She is even there.”
-from my journal
Everything is prayer.
The truth is, I haven’t prayed in months. I wonder if it’s all glass up there. Cries for help, for deeper understanding, asking for answers, they just echo chaos back down on me.
I was taught things about prayer like, “Ask and it shall be given to you, Seek and you shall find, Knock and the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7 (KJV)
I pictured God as a mix between Santa Claus and the Genie in Aladdin’s lamp, complete with the voice of Robin Williams (may he Rest In Peace). I believed if I did all the right things and followed after God’s will, God would somehow magically meet my every request.
But God’s not my bitch. God ain’t no beck-and-call girl.
You can’t just rub Buddha’s belly on your way out of the Temple or the Chinese restaurant and expect that things are now supernaturally going to fall into place and your whole existence will now make sense.
“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God.” John 4:24 (The Message)
You want to know the most powerful prayer I’ve ever prayed? It was September 24, 2012, three days after I should have died. I rolled over, sat up, and slowly placed my feet on the floor. The nurse rolled me down the hall, from the ICU room to the psych ward. When that looming metal door clanged shut, I whispered, “If you’re there, help me.”
The act of choosing to get better was more powerful than uttering those words. In that moment, I chose to live. I chose not to try to die again.
We are all recovering from something. We are all choosing, each day, to not live in the graveyard of yesterday, but to shake ourselves loose and breathe again. We are all echoing the song of Lazarus, whose life wasn’t finished when his heart stopped beating.
All of life is a prayer. Every word we speak and everything we do is an act of worship. A declaration of who we are, how we value our own life, and what we want to give to the rest of creation.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Everything is prayer. #graceismessy #AskSteveAustin” quote=”Everything is prayer.” theme=”style3″]
Each moment I spend with my son, listening to him, pouring my hard earned wisdom into him, laughing with him, teaching him – it’s all prayer. I am praying that he will live a better childhood than me. Prayers that he will feel safe and happy, healthy and whole, loved and at peace.
When I hold my little girl close and whisper, “You are so beautiful. I love you to the moon and back,”, I am praying, “God, let her know her value. Let her know that her worth is found in who she is. Let her rest in the knowledge that her father accepts, respects, and cherishes her, exactly as she is.”
When I push the kitchen utensils aside, grab my wife gently by the wrists, and spin her toward me, looking her in the eyes as I wrap her in a warm embrace, I am praying to the Almighty that her heart will never feel the need to wander. When I tell her, “I love this life we are creating,” I am praying. And when I wash the dishes or take out the trash or bring her the first cup of coffee in the morning, those are all acts of worship and devotion. Because I am in love with the divine beauty that inhabits her soul. My wife is a deep well, and in her eyes, I have met God.
So maybe you don’t know the right words. Maybe you haven’t mastered the language. But everything we do is prayer. When we treat others with kindness and dignity, our souls are singing to God.
We belong together. And we belong to God.
When you secretly pay your neighbor’s power bill, you are offering a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus.
When you gather on a Sunday afternoon to feed the homeless, your soul is crying, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.”
When you sit through an all-day dance recital or sweat in the noonday sun all weekend at a baseball tournament, you are praying that your children would know just how priceless they are to you.
Lindsey and I love to shop at garage sales and thrift stores. We both grew up going to them, so giving new purpose to old pieces of furniture is a fun challenge and reward for us.
Our current kitchen table is a wooden corner booth, which originated either in a camper or a house boat. I’m guessing it’s from the 60’s. It’s small and has little water marks and pencil indentations on the top, but we love it. It’s got character.
Recycling and repurposing is one of the things we do best. The only thing I don’t really like to buy from our thrift shop is clothes. There’s no dressing room, and it’s a real inconvenience to have to take it home, see if it fits, and if it doesn’t, return the item for an exchange.
And the only thing worse than recycled clothes is thrift shop faith.
Giving Up My Thrift Shop Faith
I haven’t written anything new in a while. I’ve republished old posts that did well in years past, when I was the Grace is Messy Guy, but I haven’t created new content in a while. I haven’t been sure of what to say.
I also think I have been so focused on self-care over the past year because self-care isn’t offensive. It also doesn’t require me to wax poetically about Jesus or God. I don’t have to use words like “destiny” or “faith” or “belief” or “plan” or “will” when I’m talking about things like meditation, medication, doctors, self-compassion, and breathing techniques. Self-care is pretty vanilla compared to something like exegeting Scripture. Anyone can appreciate and practice self-care. Christians, Buddhists, “nons,” you name it.
But to talk about Easter? The birth of Jesus? Good Friday? The rapture? Holy Week? God’s will? It makes my stomach hurt.
You know my story: Church rat. Born in the baptismal. Sang my first solo at 5. Children’s camp. Youth leader. Star student. Ministry school. Youth pastor. Worship pastor.
Church, church, church.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.
And I believed it all. Even when I started having questions in my early twenties, I fought to continue buying everything I’d been sold for a very long time.
But I was only repurposing the faith of my parents and grandparents. I brought home a thrift shop faith and rather than taking it back and exchanging it for something that fit better, I thought it was too much trouble. So, for the first thirty years of my life, I held on to traditions and expectations that weren’t mine. They belonged to someone else and I was hell-bent on recycling those things and making them look better.
But when something just doesn’t fit, no amount of dressing it up will do.
I wish I could just accept things with “faith” and “because the Bible says so.” But that isn’t good enough for me any more. It just doesn’t cut it. I don’t buy it.
I’m not just talking about speaking in tongues or being “slain” in the Spirit. As I have mentioned in previous posts and podcasts, I’m asking things like:
To take it a step further, what if my parents and grandparents and most of my acquaintances are right? What if it is all true, but I can’t seem to make it fit my life? If I don’t believe it, then what? What happens to all these “promises” that have been made to me from the pulpit, week after week, all my life? Promises for the children of God?
The stressful part for me is the fact that I have no idea if I believe anything that marked my life for the first thirty years. And when your entire identity comes into question, when there’s a war within your own soul, when you are fighting against yourself, it’s no fun.
This isn’t a cry for help or attention. This isn’t about writing something controversial, just to get views (no matter what my brother thinks). This is just one person’s honest confession and a way to create space for others who are feeling quite stuck, too.
Millennial’s and the Church
I see why so many Millennials have left the church. If they are feeling anything like me, of course they’ve left. There’s no dialogue. No chance to say, “but what about…?”
There is no space to question or wrestle or doubt or punch holes in the walls. I need to punch holes in the walls, friends. Some people would call me a heretic. But what’s worse? A heretic or an unbeliever? A heretic or a Doubting Thomas?
And what do I do from here? Where do I go? Who can I talk to that doesn’t have some hidden agenda to try to “save” me or convert me to their brand of spirituality? Is anyone actually listening?
I can’t hide. I’ve held back on writing what I actually think because I live in the Buckle of the Bible Belt. But I’m not going to live from a heart of fear. I refuse. I did that for the first 28 years of my life, and it nearly killed me. I’m going to live from a heart of love. I’m going to accept myself.
This is the new leg of my spiritual journey. I don’t have it all figured out. In fact, I don’t think I have anything figured out any more. But this is my safe space. You are my people. And if, after reading this post, you decide you aren’t my people any more, that’s okay too. I hope you find peace for your own journey. I haven’t found it yet, but if there’s actually a Something in the Sky, I hope it is watching me and loving me and believing in me, or at least accepting me. Even when I wonder what I believe any more.
Click Below to Share on Twitter!
[clickToTweet tweet=”The Truth about This Millennial’s Struggle with Faith #AskSteveAustin #graceismessy #MondayBlogs ” quote=”The Truth about This Millennial’s Struggle with Faith” theme=”style3″]
[clickToTweet tweet=”Why I’m Giving Up My Thrift Shop Faith #graceismessy #AskSteveAustin #MondayBlogs ” quote=”Why I’m Giving Up My Thrift Shop Faith” theme=”style3″]
[clickToTweet tweet=”When You Don’t Know What You Believe… #graceismessy #AskSteveAustin #MondayBlogs #faith #doubt” quote=”When You Don’t Know What You Believe…” theme=”style3″]
The #AskSteveAustin Twitter hashtag is really taking off. I’m getting new questions, every single day, and trying to answer as many as possible.
What’s your biggest question?
What’s the question that keeps you up at night? The one that gnaws at your soul? The one you feel you can’t ask anybody else? Is it about your spouse? Your child? Your parents? Do you have a question about your faith that you feel would surely have you excommunicated if you uttered it louder than a whisper?
May you have questions about one of these…
Recovery from addiction
Recovery from a suicide attempt
Maybe your question is something completely different from the ones listed above. I’m so excited to launch The #AskSteveAustin Podcast for people just like you and me, who have questions but feel they have no place to ask them. This show is a safe space to come and bring that one hurdle you can’t seem to get over. If you feel stuck, I’d love to help!
No question is off-limits! Just make sure you’re ready for some stone cold advice from a guy who’s been there.
“I am a Muslim…I am Jewish…I am black, I am gay, I am disabled, I am a woman seeking to control her health and her choices because …we are one community and the …community is composed of all of the above.”
When I was in the seventh grade, I met a girl who would become a lifelong friend. She was a year younger than me, but we were in several of the same clubs and shared the same faith. She is a great balance of brilliant and funny. There was no young romance, we were just friends. But we were great friends.
And my friend is Deaf.
My freshman year in college, my roommate and I shared several of the same classes. We also pledged the same fraternity, played intramural sports together, and shared an affinity for extremely loud music. You should have heard the way the subs thumped in the back of his Saturn!
This friend is also Deaf.
I could tell you hilarious stories of my favorite lunchroom worker, whom I fondly referred to as “Spaghetti Betty.” Her skin was as dark as the soil her family had worked all her life, and her laugh reverberated against the cinder block walls of the school cafeteria.
There’s also my brilliant friend, Liz Edman, the author of Queer Virtue, who has spent years as a priest in New York City. I love when Liz’s Arkansas upbringing tells on her in an expected moment of Southern drawl. And my beautiful friend, Kevin Garcia, an author, worship leader, and activist, who happens to be gay. (Single dudes, he’s the most eligible bachelor in Atlanta!)
[clickToTweet tweet=”Do You Know What Really Makes America Strong and Beautiful? #America #diversity #lovewins” quote=”Do You Know What Really Makes America Strong and Beautiful? ” theme=”style3″]
Then there’s three of my favorites: the two Sarah’s and Robert, who all live amazing lives and freely share their struggles with mental health right alongside me. Sarah Fader is the founder and editor of Stigma Fighters, Sarah Schuster is the mental health editor for The Mighty, and Robert Freakin’ Vore is my co-host on the CXMH Podcast, plus a thousand other incredible things.
What about my brown-skinned sister, Ashley? Found by nuns after being abandoned in the middle of nowhere in India (true story). She’s just finished a Master’s program, is married to the love of her life, and is one of the kindest people I know.
Have you read Kashif N. Chaudhry’s story? Kashif sought asylum in the United States in 2008, due to religious persecution in his home country of Pakistan. He’s been active with “Muslims for Peace” and “Muslims for Life,” and in 2016, he began serving as the area director for “True Islam”, which holds “open forums where people come to have coffee, make friends with local Muslims and have an informal dialogue on Islam.”
Over 10,000 Americans have already responded to the call by visiting a mosque or by signing up as a #MuslimAlly at TrueIslam.com. This is not a mere gesture of solidarity, it is empowerment with education, compassion, and a clear message that we are the United States, and we will remain so against all attempts to divide us.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Disabled, black, females, #Muslim, mental health, & #LGBTQ: these are a few of my favorite things. #graceismessy” quote=”Disabled, black, females, Muslim, mental health, & LGBTQ: these are a few of my favorite things. ” theme=”style3″]
House Democrats are rallying behind a plan to make President Trump’s first speech to Congress as uncomfortable as possible by inviting guests they say will suffer under new White House policies.
The strategy means Trump will likely face a crowd including ethnic minorities, LGBT people, undocumented immigrants, the disabled and others when he addresses a joint session on Feb. 28.
This may be the most appropriate political move yet. Narcissistic as he may be, we should never stop reminding President Trump that he is called to be the President for all of us. I don’t find it disrespectful in the least. And if it is distracting to invite our neighbors who may not be straight, white males, I say keep it up.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Never stop reminding .@realdonaldtrump that he’s called to be the President for all of us. #America #lovewins” quote=”Never stop reminding .@realdonaldtrump that he’s called to be the President for all of us. #America #lovewins” theme=”style3″]
Let’s keep fighting the stigmas that seek to push us down, scale the walls that try to keep others out, and resist alongside our neighbors who experience phobias on a daily basis. May we not become weary in doing good, but stand firm in our belief that love trumps hate. In all our various shades and pigments, experiences, dreams, and struggles, we are America. Red and yellow, black and white, it is our diversity that makes us really strong and beautiful.
Love Grace is Messy Political Posts? Get them in your inbox!