Although I’ve written and spoken pretty openly about my departure from the ministry I have not spoken openly about my departure from the church altogether. Until now. Not that I haven’t wanted to talk about it but I wanted to talk about it from the right space. I don’t want to say anything disparaging about people that were kind to me and I also don’t want to lump everyone into one group. At the same time, I can’t be silent about some of the things that I witnessed as an “insider”. Truth be told, the further I got inside the less I saw any semblance of “God”, especially a god who was alleged to look like the Jesus of the Bible.
Truth is an interesting concept. We all seem to think we understand it. As if truth is an absolute for everyone. But if we’re honest we all have different truths. What’s true for me isn’t always true for you. If we dig deeper into humanity, we will find that we are inherently tribal. We find a people group that we fit into, “a tribe”, and their truths become our truths. The way this works in the religious context is pretty simple. You find the camp whose truth matches your truth and you become a member of that tribe. Your tribe is right and every other tribe is mostly wrong. One of the major problems with this line of thinking is that it makes everyone else wrong.
I could spend a lot of time unpacking the issues that arise from this way of thinking but I don’t believe I have to take the time to do that. I’ll simply suggest that you look around, turn on the news, scan through the newspaper and you’ll see the madness that is so rampant. Think about this, I’m sure I am going to piss some people off here but if you haven’t noticed I couldn’t care less, in large part the religious right, the moral police of this wonderful country of ours, elected a pussy grabbing racist because they believed he was god’s man of power for the hour or whatever nonsense tagline you want to throw out there.
You can’t claim to preach love and then set a definition of love that only suits your paradigm. You can’t point at the speck in your neighbor’s eye without first taking the plank out of your own eye. Sounds familiar, eh?
If you have paid any attention to my career as a pastor, you’ll know that I consistently challenged these paradigms. I consistently pushed against the system of hypocrisy, the system of bigotry, and the widespread exclusionism. Who was I to tell people who they could marry when my own marriage was failing? Who was I to tell people that God loved them but if they didn’t believe what I believed that same god would fry them for eternity in a fiery hell? Who was I to claim that of the 6 plus billion people in the world only my “tribe” was right and the rest of the world was wrong and destined for said fiery hell? A hell, by the way, that is more rooted in Dante’s Inferno, and a scare tactic of the early church, than it is rooted in the Bible. These are questions I asked. And every single answer I received was weighed and found wanting. Every single one.
If the system you’re tied to does not allow you to question the system, it’s not a religion it’s a cult. If turning from the doctrine of the church gets you ostracized, it’s not a church it’s a cult. If questioning the leaders gets you excommunicated or “disciplined”, it’s not a church it’s a cult.
My truth is that I never fit into the system. I never adapted to the rules. I never believed the right way. I was never satisfied with “reasoning” that left out all reason and logic to replace it with “God said”! Especially when there was no explanation when “god” got it wrong? Some even so weird as to say that god picked the winner of the Super Bowl (he actually picked the loser)!
I’m not an expert on “God” but if there is a God, and I believe there is some infinite power at work in the universe, isn’t “God” such a small word to describe this power? Is a god that we can define in theological terms really a god at all? If as the Bible says, keep in mind the Bible only says that “GOD” IS two things, God is light and God is love. If this is true doesn’t it stand to reason that where there is love, there is God? And where there is light, there is God? Love not predicated on beliefs or thoughts but on true connections experienced on a level unexplainable. Love that transcends race, gender, and socio-economic classes. Love that has no labels and isn’t defined by the loudest voices. When we bring light to dark places, when we clothe the naked and feed the hungry, when we love our neighbor and forgive the people who caused us pain, is God only there if you believe the right way?
I may be wrong, I am fully willing to accept the ramifications if I am, but I have seen God more in the so-called sinners of the world than I ever did with the saints. I have seen God in the face of the junkie and the prostitute, in the face of white men and black men, women, and children. I’ve seen God in a lot of places and few of them were a church. I know that writing this will lose me some fans, I’m okay with that. I know that my truth isn’t a popular one in my old circles, but it is my truth. My truth is simple, I have lost my religion, I have rejected and forsaken the “God” of the American church, I have turned my back on the American Jesus who nukes his enemy and closes borders, and excludes the least, the last, and the lost. In the process, I have found a God so loving, so inclusive, so welcoming, that even a heretic like me is accepted.
I’ve been in the gutter with the sinners, and high on the hog with the saints. The truth is I never fit in with the saints but I’ve found my home with the sinners and there’s no place like it!