Posts Tagged ‘ christ ’

Lessons

11 September 2001 I was in the Placer County Jail awaiting trial for offenses arising from drug related activities. By 0550 hrs PDT the correctional officer assigned to our tank turned on the TV. He had been on the internet while we slept and received a news feed which reported the first attack, the first plane which flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York. Several of us got up to watch the coverage. My memory may be playing tricks on me, but as I recall we saw the second plane slam into the South Tower. We watched as the North Tower collapsed, then watched as the South Tower collapsed. We watched in disbelief. How could these buildings just collapse like that?

I have to admit that I am ashamed of my initial reaction to the attacks. Remember that just three months prior Timothy McVey was executed (11 June 2001) for his involvement in the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. At this time (2001) I had been of the opinion that McVey would have been an American hero had he timed his assault differently and only destroyed property. The killing of the children in the on-site day care turned an act of revolution into an act of terrorism. I was sympathetic to a new American Revolution. So, my initial reaction was one of hope that this was an act of revolution. I was in the height of my atheism, four years prior to my conversion to Christianity. I had no, initial, thought of the potential loss of life. Regret for the deaths of innocent people began sometime later. When it was discovered that al-Qaeda, an Islamic terrorist group, was responsible my initial reaction was one of disappointment. I so wanted it to be American revolutionaries. This disappointment gave way to disbelief, but that’s stuff for another post, maybe even another forum.

Now, as a Christian I am ashamed of my reaction at the time of the 2001 attack on America. I am ashamed because my initial thought was not sadness for the loss of life. I am ashamed because I actually cheered this horrific act of violence and hate. I am ashamed that I ever thought that armed and violent revolution was a viable option for reclaiming America from the evil, hierarchical power structures that marginalize and oppress. I am ashamed of who I was at that point in time. I am ashamed. More I apologize to all for having held these ideas, for these reactions to this horror that claimed so many innocent lives.

I read a blog this morning before I went to church, Jesus Creed reposting of Will Willimon’s portion of a Christianity Today article, How Evangelical Leaders Have Changed Since 9/11. This post is a mere three short paragraphs and has changed the way I think about the attacks of 11 September 2001 or rather our response.

The American response to the attacks has been one of violence, and for a secular government maybe that is not totally inappropriate. I do think that we went too far, even in the days of my atheism. We were duped into thinking that countries were our enemies, when that wasn’t true. So we went in and killed innocents in our pursuit of the criminals responsible. We shredded our constitution and stripped American citizen of civil rights. If you think I am wrong, consider this fair analogy. A criminal group commits a particularly violent and heinous crime in one of our cities or towns. Lets say that in a botched robbery they killed several innocent people. They get away from the scene. Lets say that one of them has a friend who lives in your neighborhood or apartment complex. Now the authorities get information that this friend of theirs may be harboring them. Now the authorities invade your neighborhood destroying your house, killing your friends and maybe even your kids just to get to this criminal group. Appalling isn’t it? We certainly wouldn’t stand for it, would we? Would we? Maybe we really would, because that is exactly what we stood for, albeit unwittingly, when we stood for our government’s response to the terror attacks ten years ago. But I digress.

As I said, I can almost understand a secular government’s desire for the retributive action, such as ours took. But what I cannot understand is the Christian response. The church in America supported and even cheered on this violent response. We have joined our attackers in an assault on the Kingdom of Heaven. We do this when we hate, worse we generalize our hate to entire people groups, to an entire religion, to entire races. We have responded with hate and violence towards innocent people, demonized them because they happen to share the skin tone and religion of those who hurt us. Is this truly how we think Jesus would want of us? Seriously?

Another fair analogy. Back in my daze of agnosticism and eventual atheism I would read of Christians who gunned down doctors who performed abortions, who killed women who had had abortions, bombed abortion clinics and killed people. I judged all of Christianity based on the actions of these few mentally deranged individuals and the extremist groups that bred and supported them and their activities. This is exactly how American Christians have treated Islam and its followers.

In our unforgiveness, hate, and violence we have declared war on the Kingdom of God. In our unrelenting defense of Christendom we are wreaking destruction on the Kingdom of Heaven. Although I do not think that we are able to see this because we have so confused Christendom for the Kingdom of Heaven that we in our collective mind think they are identical. They are not! Christendom is empire, it is a part of the hierarchical power structure that oppresses. This happened when Constantine adopted Christianity as the state religion and made it a tool of the Empire. The two, the church and state, fused, Christendom was born, the Holy Roman Empire. This is what we try to defend so vehemently. Yet, Jesus brings in the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom is antithetical to empire, subverts the power structures that are empire. Don’t kid yourselves America is every bit empire as were the biblical empires of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Rome, and even Solomon’s Israel.

We have been conformed to the ways of this world, we have adopted the wisdom of the world (empire) and we think the wisdom of God foolishness. We twist the biblical witness to fit our worldview, to show how God is for empire, for the hierarchical power structures. When we think that God is for violence and hate. We may give lip service to love, but it is some perverted love that promotes the killing of innocents. A perversion of the Gospel when we believe that peace can be won through violence. This was the way Rome achieved Pax Romana, through superior firepower, oppression, violence. The way of Christ is true peace through love, forgiveness, non-violence.

If the events of 11 September 2001 have taught us anything it should be that the hierarchical power structures of oppressive empire are violent and lead to the escalation of violence. That violence is devastating in the lives of the innocent, their families, their friends, their communities, their countries, to the world. That it is devastating to you and me as well. When our consciences have become so seared that we support violence we too have become its victims.

So, on this tenth anniversary of the horror that was 9.11 lets us honor the victims by allowing ourselves to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Let us no longer think  like the world that the wisdom of God is foolishness, that Jesus way of love is NOT stupid or foolhardy, but is the only way for us to achieve real peace. Lets us stop defending Christendom and start promoting and living the Kingdom of Heaven.

Lenses

Recently my motivations were called into question. Specifically my motivations involving my stand on gender roles. Not just called into question, but evil intentions were assigned. This is something I have faced from Christians most of my life. But, I do not want to cast dispersions upon those that are doing this this time, for I think that these people have developed lenses through which they see the world based on past trauma. You see I have a past. A pretty terrible past. The specific incident which is fueling this demonization is child pornography. Yes, 27 years ago I took a single photo that was deemed pornographic by a jury of my peers. I served 6 years in prison. I have been regretful and remorseful. I am sorry if I just don’t sound remorseful today, 27 years later, but I cannot live in the past. It isn’t healthy for any of us. The past is gone, there is nothing any one of us can do to change it, not yours not mine, not anyone’s. If I could turn back the clock and stop the then me from doing this horrible thing I would. But, I can’t. This was a sole incident, this is not to minimize the seriousness of what I did, just a statement of fact.

This isn’t what this post is about, that was just background as to inspiration. No, I want to talk about lenses through which we see the world and those in it and at the same time give you some indication of why I support gender role equality, LGBTQ rights, am against these boarding schools that are abusive, why I oppose oppressive systems, and maybe even learn about my lenses at the same time.

I suffered childhood trauma. I will relate some of that here and why I believe that there is more than I recall. If you think that my trauma is not so bad, well that’s cool, but please don’t compare it to another’s in so doing. My trauma may not seem as bad as someone else’s to some and that may be from an objective point of view (something I kind of reject) but it is painful. My pain resulting from my trauma in no way diminishes your pain from your trauma and vice versa. Our traumas shape the lenses through which we see everything, including the Bible. It determines how we respond to the world, to others, to ourselves.

When I was 3 or 4 I was with a neighbor boy in his dad’s garage when he began playing with matches. You guessed it he set the garage on fire. Worse he trapped me in there with him as the garage burned around us. We did get out, the fire department put it out.I never told anyone. After the new garage was built I was with this kid again (I know stupid, huh?) when he finished off the old structure trying to trap me inside again.

Somewhere around 8-10 I was molested by the adolescent neighbor boy while my mom was upstairs having coffee with his mom. My parents liked this kid and spoke of his respectfully, if only they knew. Another time I was at a kid from school’s house and he forced sex upon me. Then it happened again by another adolescent boy. In each case I felt trapped, powerless.

When I was 12 or 13 I was abandoned by my parents. Not like some. I still had a place to live, money was provided, but I was alone. My dad moved into the bar and my mom ran off with her boyfriend. And this abruptly, from my perspective, after being the idyllic church going family. I developed friends much older, quit school, hung-out, drank and did dope.

When I was 14 I committed a few burglaries with a friend. We stole things like records and stereo equipment, we liked our music. We got caught. I was deemed some sort of “ringleader”, an incorrigible corrupter of youth, at 14. I was sent to a psychiatric hospital by the juvenile court on the recommendation of the county child psychiatrist. It was here that I experienced beatings and torture, both physical and psychological. Nothing in my experience had prepared the young 14 year old me for what I was to experience. On the adolescent wards most of the kids had been sent there by juvenile courts. Although some “patients” had very real, very severe psychiatric disorders most of us were there as punishment. We were locked away from our families in a “hospital” with no doctors, at least I never saw one in my time there.

My first night I was severely beaten by two older boys. My face swollen for days. I witnessed the punitive administration of psychotropic drugs. I saw kids beaten by staff. We were not provided clean clothes. Food was meager. I had determined to escape after that beating. When a new inmate to this asylum, and that is all it could be called, arrived from my area, we made out plans. We were able to pick the locks that held the bars on the windows. Once the bars were opened we broke the window and jumped the two stories to the ground below. We were gone a day. My parents passed by me on their way to the beach for the day so I went to my brother’s house. He returned me. I’ve never been one to complain too much about my sufferings, so I didn’t tell him the extent of what was going on. Upon return I was locked into an isolation room with no toilet facilities and no furniture, only a thin mat on the floor. I remained in this room for several days, never to be taken out to use the bathroom. The guy that escaped with me was brought in several hours after I was. One morning we woke up to find the ward abandoned, they had moved it to another location. Another day in this cell before we were finally moved to the new ward, allowed showers, and placed into a cell with facilities. We were showered on the abandoned ward so that no one could see us with shit an piss all over us, stinking to high heaven.

After my escape what little contact I was allowed with my family before was completely cut off. My parents worked tirelessly to get the judge to remove me. that finally happened after a couple of us broke into an office and found documents showing that the psychiatrist, who was the judge’s neighbor, was on the board of directors and recommended all his patients with court cases pending to go to this “hospital’.

I said that I would explain why I think that these remembered traumas are not the only ones I suffered. When I was 7 or 8, Simon and Garfunkel’s I am a Rock came out. Immediately upon hearing it I identified with the idea of being a rock, an island. About this same time Star Trek first hit the airwaves. I identified with Spock and his insistence that emotions are illogical. Yep, I strove for apathy, I did not want to feel. I wanted to be logical. So, I began the long slow process of locking my emotions away and taking refuge in my intellect. Yes, emotion escaped every now and again in the form of anger and rage. But for the most part I just didn’t have them, I became cold and indifferent. Everything I learned as a developmental psychology major tells me that this is not the natural thing for a child who hasn’t suffered some sort of trauma, but there might be exceptions?

These are the things I remember. The thread that seems to me to to run through them is the power to decide was taken from me, I was rendered powerless. I denied my pain through my substance abuse. I rationalized as I created my own morality to try to make sense of the things that happened to me. Remember I did this on my own and as many other kids who have raised themselves my moral compass was off, way off. I do not tell you this to in anyway excuse any of my past behaviors. I am sole responsible for the things I have done, just as you are for those things you have done.

When I was in prison  in 1985 I was again in isolation, the hole for about a year. I had to spend a lot of time alone with me and what I’d become. I could no longer live with the abusive, extremely egocentric piece-o-shit that I had become. Someone had to go. I had to restructure my moral compass and make-up. Causing people pain was no longer an option. I had to rethink who I was, what I thought. Malcolm X said :

“I don’t think anybody ever got more out of going to prison than I did. … Where else but in a prison could I have attacked my ignorance by being able to study intensively sometimes as much as fifteen hours a day?”

I have found this to be true. And I shifted, I grew.

Ten years ago I quit using drugs. In the years that followed I have begun suffering the symptoms of PTSD, something that has been with me all along, just hidden by the drug use. I accepted Christ and He has been transforming me. You don’t have to believe it, He does and that’s all that matters.

Yet, after the egocentricity, after the violence, after the criminal thinking, after the drugs have been removed, remaining is the sense of oneness with the powerless. I will never forget the damage done by the powerful, the pain of being stripped of any power and rendered powerless. It hurts emotionally and psychologically. It marginalizes and disenfranchises, it is oppression. I abhor oppression and oppressive structures and systems. Oppression oppresses everyone, no one is free as long as one lives under some form of tyranny! God knows this hence Isaiah 58 and myriad other passages in the Bible. Jesus subverts the oppressive structures with radical love, radical acceptance, and the most radical of all Love your enemy. For those that are my enemies, that’s okay do what you feel you must even if that is to wrongly ascribe evil intentions to me. I want you to know this, I cannot and will not be your enemy. Beat me if you want, I will not fight back, I will not condemn. No, I will just understand that you are seeing me through the lenses that have arisen out of the traumas you have suffered, out of your hurts and pains. We all see through our lenses we have gained through our lives and experiences. I see us as all hurting and oppressed and desire us all to be free.

“To have once been a criminal is no disgrace. To remain a criminal is the disgrace”
Malcolm X

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
Malcolm X

Neo-Fundamentalism, Immaturity, Men, & Abuse of Women

I started reading Rachel Held Evans blog recently because of her questioning of her fundamentalist roots. Through reading this blogger I was impressed with some of the comments and began following the blogs of several young women. As these young women began relating their stories of abuse, self-mutilation, addiction I began to see a common thread, neo-fundamentalist upbringing.

These women relate stories of being taught that women are to be subservient to men, that there are specific gender roles that they must adhere to. For several of them the gender role issue made them feel less than because they did not possess the so-called female instincts and their interests were more in-line with male roles. The women who faced emotional, physical, and sexual abuse were abused even further by their Christian communities when they told of their abuse. There seems to be a blame the female victim mentality within the neo-fundamentalist community. One young woman was told that being raped was no big deal and she should just get over it. What the fuck? Other women were as hard as the men.

I recently read about a home for wayward girls in Indiana, The Horrors of Hephzibah House. Seems that most of the girls in this “Christian” school are not really wayward, but that most of them had been sexually molested in their own homes. Rather than focusing on the criminal, the perpetrator, oft the girl’s own father, the idea here is that it was the victims fault. These girls are then beaten and psychologically tortured to get the harlot out of them. Yes, girls as young as 12 who have been raped by their fathers are convinced that they, not dear ol’ daddy are the real criminals. Go to the links in the article and learn what former “students” have to say. In the name of being a “good” “Christian”. I use quotes around Christian because I seriously have my doubts about both the people at the school and the parents who would send their daughters there. Some will say it is not my place to judge whether or not these people are actually Christian or not,and they’d probably be right. I can judge the behavior and ideas and they are definitely do NOT represent any Christian teaching or fruit that can be derived from the Bible. This is more in line with those forms of extremist Islam (I am coming to the conclusion that extremist Christianity is no different than extremist Islam except for a name) than Christianity.

Sarah Moon published a blog on the use of the label and slur, “slut”, That’s Not A Slut, That’s A Person. Sarah tells of the instances in which she has seen this slur hung on women and girls. None of the instances she relates does the woman in question fit any definition of the word. Sarah, rightly in my not so humble opinion, says that the use of this slur is abusive and is an example of the ages old and continuing war on women. Sarah calls for us to quit using this word against women, to remove it from the vocabulary, not unlike the use of the word nigger (Sarah doesn’t say this, it is my analogy) because it is hurtful, abusive, and anti-Christlike.

As I read these blogs and articles and the stories of girls who have resorted to cutting, starving themselves, been physically, sexually, and emotionally abused I have to wonder about the culture in which these things arise. All the young women I am talking about have fundamentalist/neo-fundamentalist upbringings. They all faced further abuse when they dared to tell of their abuses. Abuse in the form of, “Oh it wasn’t so bad,” “Well you should’ve done this to your attacker,” “It’s all part of God’s plan,” “Well he IS the man,” “Boys will be boys,” “You need to submit to the males in your life.” When the women told them these things I could only thing of one thing, “The hypnotized never lie,” from We Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who. But that would excuse them? If they are adolescents or children, but it sure as Hell doesn’t get an adult off the hook.

Where does the attitude come from that makes it okay to perpetuate the war against women? Some will say that their attitudes are biblical. Have you ever even READ the Bible? I think not. Well, that’s not true I think that they have read it. I think that they have read it with presuppositions about God and the Bible and seeing what they are looking for, which isn’t all that hard. What they are not doing, because it is not possible to approach the Bible for the first time without presuppositions, is not letting the Bible and the Holy Spirit remove those presuppositions. They are not being shaped by their engagement with the Bible (maybe they are reading without engaging). These people lack maturity, Maturity of faith and intellectual maturity, many also lack emotional maturity as well. They hang on to cultural views of women and ignore the biblical view, worse and so very dangerous they bend the biblical view to fit their narrow, immature ideas. Their ideas are their idols and “I’ve got my reasons and to me they’re all true, and I wouldn’t change them, not even for you” Jesus, (quote from Mona Bone Jakon by Cat Stevens). They are stuck because they are immature and cannot engage their faith, cannot ask questions of it, they fear that they will lose it. It would be far better that they lose this narrow, bigoted, hateful, immature faith than to continue in anti-love, anti-Christlike behavior that arises out of such a faith. People will cite a couple Pauline passages to rationalize their beliefs, ideas, and idols. If you are telling me this, I am telling you that you are reading it wrong! Nothing in the Pauline corpus validates your ideas. The Corinthians passage is dealing with a situation specific to that church at that place in that time. The Ephesians passage, do not forget that most evangelical English translations wrongly places a section heading between 5:21 and :22 when in Greek the verb is in verse 21 not in 22. Verse 22 cannot stand alone, it continues from verse 21 where we are all instructed to submit to one another. The charge for wives is no more than it is for every believer. Look how Jesus treated women in the Gospels. Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, did you know that the place of a disciple was at the feet of their rabbi? Mary was a disciple. Martha comes along complaining that Mary is not following the custom of the time, not submitting to the traditional place of women, in the kitchen, what does Jesus tell her? Mary chose the better thing, to break tradition, to subvert the societal cultural structure and be a disciple. Paul in Galatians 3:28 tells us that there is no longer Jew nor Greek, neither Free nor slave, neither male not female. What is he doing here? The same thing that John does in relating the story of Mary and Jesus and Martha, he is subverting the social structures that separate. The three main areas of society are dismantled, the religious with no Jew or Greek, the political with no free or slave, and the social/biological with there is no male or female. In this and the narrative from John we see that our common understandings are not a part of the Kingdom of Heaven. So why do we persist in supporting the structures of this world? Satanic influence? Maybe, but I’m going with immaturity.

Men, when you think that women were created to serve you you are in grave error. Women are not your slaves! They are people endowed with Imago Dei. When you reduce them to objects, when you try to subjugate them you do violence to their Imago Dei. You do this because of your lack of self-respect, lack of self-confidence, because you feel so fucking small that you have to pick on those you deem weaker. Make somebody feel bad so you can feel good. Go get some therapy. And until you can change your attitude towards women you are not capable of a relationship so stay away from the women. And by all means stop abusing them in word, deed, and attitude.

Violence in the Name of Christ and Our Response (or lack thereof)

First I want to apologize to anyone who returned to read more about this in the last 2 days, I promised more later that evening, but didn’t deliver. Hopefully the adage of “Better late than never” holds true here.

On Friday 22 July 2011  a 1500 page manifesto outlining ideas on immigration and how Muslims were taking over Europe and plans to stop them apeared on the internet. A few hours later a massive bomb exploded in Oslo, Norway at the government center. A short time later a man dressed as a cop walked on to an island near Oslo where there were young people from the Labor Party gathered for a camp. The man approached the gathered youth and began shooting. The bomber, the shooter, and the author of the manifesto are one and the same, Anders Behring Breivik.

On a Facebook page he created as well as in his manifesto Anders claimed to be a Christian. News reports say that he has tied to Christian fundamentalism. His own lawyer has called him an Christian extremist. The police have said the same thing. Seems that Breivik was desirous of reviving the Crusades, that dark splotch on the history of Christianity. He claims to belong to an organization called the Knights Templar. Breivik has said that he is not alone that there are at least two more cells of these terrorists wanting to purge Europe of the Marxist-Islamic Alliance. In his manifesto Breivik stated that peaceful measuers were over and that it was time for violence. His manifesto has been compared to similar ravings from Al Qaeda. The terrorist violence is the same as well.

Breivik and the new Knights Templar (if they exist) claim to be saving Christendom from Islam, they act in the name of Christ. But what is the difference between these paranoid extremists and their Islamic counterparts? Nothing except a label. Neither represent the system of faith in whose name they act.

I am no expert on Islam, but I do not think that the terrorist extremist represent the whole or even majority of its followers any more than Breivik and his Knights Templar represent Christianity and the majority of Christians. I have a dear friend who is a Muslim. He and I were working together at the University of Illinois in 1995 at the time of the Oklahoma City bombing (by Christian extremists). Amr was the president of the Egyptian Students Association, a national organization, and I recall how deeply hurt he was when the bombing took place. He wrote a letter for national publication condemning such acts. It was only later that we found out it was American Christians who were behind that attack. Amr, his wife and their families are very loving, peace loving people and I believe that that is the majority of those with in Islam. It is no more fair to judge all Muslims based on the hateful, deplorably violent acts of a few who claim Islam than it is to judge Christianity and Christians based on the evil acts from terrorists who claim the name of Christ.

I hear Christians say that there is not a strong enough Islamic voice condemning the violence of the terrorists. Non-sense! I just don’t think that those Muslims who are condemning the violence are listened to, nor are they afforded the airtime of those who want to blame them too. But where are the Christian voices condemning the violence of this past Friday? Eerily silent. Does this silence reflect a tacit approval of this act of terrorism? I wonder I really do. The couple of blogs I read doubted Breivik’s claim to “Christian”. One said that he thought all protestants should return to the Roman Catholic Church and because of that he just isn’t a Christian. What the fuck? Catholics aren’t Christian? Ohters have said that Breivik’s acts are not the type a Christian would commit, I agree, but he still acted in the name of Christ and Christendom. If we demand stronger language from moderate Muslims shouldn’t we be willing to use stronger language to condemn evil done in the name of Christianity rather than rationalize away that the perpetrator for whatever reason isn’t a Christian?

What Breivik did was horribly evil! As a Christian I condemn any such acts in the name of the God who IS love. Christianity does not allow for such acts in any of its doctrines, scriptures, dogmas, etc. However, some people twist the meanings and interpretations and believe they are acting for God. They are deceived. Those who bombed abortion clinics, shot doctors, killed women going to clinics are no different than Breivik.

That said, I pray for Breivik. I pray that he can be brought to see the error of his actions, the error of thinking he could advance the Kingdom of Heaven with bombs and a gun. I believe that he needs to face the full consequences of his actions, his horribly evil and devastating acts. Yet, I pray that God gets through to him. I prayed the same for Osama bin-Laden while I condemned his actions. Neither, IMHO, represent the religions in whose name they acted.

Terrorism is terrorism. Extremism is extremism. Evil is evil. There is no difference between an Islamic terrorist and a Christian terrorist.

The Dark Night of the Soul

I want to take you on a journey, a journey of faith that seems near universal, yet never discussed in church. Our journey will take us right to the cross, the crucifixion, the most Christlike of positions.

When we first come to Christ we are like the Samaritan woman who meets Jesus at the well. We find ourselves outcast in one way or another. She says that her well is deep. The word she uses here is Phrear, which means abyss or dungeon, a bottomless space of emptiness. When we first meet the living Christ we realize that we, too, have this deep emptiness that we have tried to fill to no avail. But once we meet this Jesus we are filled and it feels great! We are ecstatic with joy and elation. So filled with joy that we cannot contain it we have to run to town and tell everyone we meet about this Jesus, tell them that He is the Christ and the way to salvation and eternal life. This is sensual and sentimental. We get happiness and good feelings from our new relationship with God.

Maybe we were introduced to the living Christ by someone handing us their faith, all wrapped up in a nice, neat, little package. “Here you go this is all that you need to have the life I have, to have eternal life and not burn in Hell.” Maybe this person was a parent, a friend, a stranger on a street corner, maybe it was a famous evangelist at some big rally and we went down for the alter call. Whatever, we recited some form or another of the so called “Sinner’s Prayer” and were told that we were good to go. We made a cognitive assent to a set of propositional statements, all very modern and neat. “Believe these things and say this prayer and you will have the life in Christ.” We are bathed in the Light and on-fire for the Lord, full of sentiment and sensuality. Here we experience the presence of God. We get good feelings when we obey Him. Almost as if God rewards us here and now for our obedience. Yet Jesus tells us through Luke in chapter 6 that we are to feed the hungry, lend to those in need, to love and expect NOTHING in return. Then in an aside He says, “And your reward in Heaven will be great.” We are not to do it for anything in return, not even that good feeling we once used to get, not even for the experience of the presence of God. It is almost as if God is using operant conditioning to help us change our habits until our minds have been renewed. This is the first stage in our journey to the cross.

Many Christians remain in this place. Never questioning that little faith package that they received. The feelings so great and good that the thought of questioning is very uncomfortable. These Christians can only take the milk, they are babes in Faith. Many of them live out this faith, helping feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless. But they do it in exchange for the helped person’s attention for a few minutes while they explain the Gospel to them, tell them that the way to avoid Hell is Christ Jesus. They have fruit and maintain the sensual and sentimental feelings of when they first met Christ. They have grown enough for this to be solid, they can take the storms of the world and their faith remain intact.

Some move into the next stage of the journey. This is the stage referred to by St. Gregory of Nyssa as being in the cloud or as St. John of the Cross called it, the First Night. This is the place where we become like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, we consider whether it is our will or God’s Will. We seek knowledge as we begin to question the faith that was handed to us in the nice neat little package when we first came to believe. We seek knowledge of God, who He is, what is faith. Sometimes we can’t feel our faith, it ebbs and flows. We have suffered some for Christ. In this part of the journey we are closer to the Cross than we were in the initial stage of the journey when all was sentiment and sensuality. It is here that we give up all for Christ, even some of our most tightly held as we begin to question our faith, our beliefs.

Like with Jesus many of our “friends” can’t handle the threat to their comfort zone when we begin to openly ask the questions that we have been asking within for so long. Gregory of Nyssa says that this is a time of inner reflection with the Holy Spirit. Like in a mirrored room, we begin to reflect and see through a glass darkly. So people flee from us, abandon us so to speak. Maybe they are still around, but make it fairly clear that it is not okay to ask these questions, not okay to question this faith package that we were handed. Maybe some actually do quit us. But we do begin to feel abandoned by those we once felt closest to. This becomes a time of pain and suffering. Just like Jesus on His way to the Cross. We feel tortured inside. Where can we turn? Where can we ask these questions? We seem to learn quite quickly that the very place where we should be able to openly ask these question, the place where we should be able to openly share our sufferings is the place where we are most condemned for them, so they go underground as we keep these feelings and reflections to ourselves and suffer in silence all alone, like Christ when His friends fell asleep then ran from Him on His way to the cross. I have heard pastors teach their congregations that this place of questioning and doubt, because we won’t question that which we do not doubt, a “Ministry of Demons”, what a guilt trip to place upon those sheep that God has given you. And what nonsense! This is not the doubt of mockers. This is not the doubt of those who do not believe. This is not the kind of doubt that a satan would inspire. No, this is a divine doubt, a divine atheism. An atheism which questions and denies the concepts of God that we have been handed. An atheism that puts us in the position of Jacob wrestling with God. An atheism that leads us to become Israel—one who contends, fights with God.

If we survive this first night, this night of the purgation of the sensual and sentimental. If we do not turn back, and for many turning back is not possible because we ring a bell that cannot be un-rung when we first begin to doubt, question. Then God may take us into the next level, the next stage, to the mountain top.

Exodus 20:21, “Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.” When Moses reaches he mountain top he sees God in the darkness. This is where our journey from the first light of new belief to the position of the cross takes us. St. John of the Cross calls this The Dark Night of the Soul. It is here we cry out with Christ on the Cross, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?”

We often hear that it is a sin and wrong to think that God has abandoned us. “God never abandons us, there must be something wrong with you, you shouldn’t think that way.” Often people will quote, Hebrews 13:5 which echoes Deuteronomy 31:6 & 8 as well as Joshua 1:5 where God is speaking to the community of faith. It is a promise to the community and not necessarily to the individual. God will never forsake His church, His people. Yet, we hear this cry from many of the characters in the Bible. David, that man after God’s own heart, cries out in Psalm 22,

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
   Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
   and by night, but find no rest.”

Jeremiah echoes this in Lamentations 5:

20 Why have you forgotten us completely?
   Why have you forsaken us these many days?”

Then just before He dies on the cross Jesus repeats the lamentation of David when He too experiences the absence of God. It is in this experience when we are in the most Christlike position of the cross. We have entered into the divine experience, into the divine mystery. We find ourselves at the end of knowledge. The end of reason. Face to face with God in the deep darkness like Moses. Yet, we are in the midst of experiencing the absence of God. We have gotten here through much pain and suffering. People have abandoned us. Calamity has befallen our emotions and psyche. And now to add insult to injury God abandons us. The ultimate pain, the pain of Jesus on the cross the experiencing the absence of God. Can it really get worse than that? Isn’t that how Hell is described?

So here we are in this very dark night of the soul, abandoned, forsaken. Yet we can find joy in this. This is not the end of the journey but the beginning. It is from this place of not feeling the presence of God that we step out in true, perfected faith. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that faith is one of the three things that can be perfected in this life. He tells us that all our knowledge is but imperfect (not that seeking knowledge is bad, it is not it is actually necessary and good.) But faith and hope and love can be perfect in this life. This is the resurrection life. The life of faith when we obey in the middle of our experiencing the absence of God, in the middle of our divine doubt and divine atheism. When we are the sheep of Matthew 25, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, giving comfort to those in the hospitals and prisons, those dying and in chains absent the good feelings, the sentiments and sensuality of the early days when we first came to believe and seeing God in the midst.

It is from this position that we can have the mindset of Christ as Paul tells us in Philippians 2:5-8,

5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

From this position we find ourselves saying with Mother Teresa, “If I am ever to be a saint I will be one of darkness: I will continually be absent from Heaven—to light the light of those in darkness on Earth.”

Is there a place for us who are in the middle of this experience in church? Peter Rollins talks about church usually being thought of as an oasis in the desert. But in this oasis it is all about God as my therapist whose job it is to make me feel good. and songs that sing of Jesus is my boyfriend. That in this feel good church God is a theatrical device we wheel in, a Deus ex machine, the god of the gaps to relieve us of all suffering. In this church there is no place for the real feelings of the people. Feelings such as this divine doubt and divine atheism. Real feelings that as I alluded to before are driven underground, into the shadows. Rollins suggests that maybe church needs to carve out a space for the honest expression of the Dark Night of the Soul, a space that is the desert in the oasis. Maybe we here can create this desert in the oasis where we can come together and talk honestly about what we are going through. Maybe we as a community can find the joy in experiencing the absence of God in living in pure, completed faith.