What if there’s no heaven?

On the news this morning, I watched as a giant Christmas tree was brought to a local shopping center for raising and decorating. The radio is already playing Christmas music full time, and my choir is fully immersed in preparations for our Christmas concert music. For any of you who have read my blog in the past, you also know that for me, this season is a time of reflection and contemplation on what the year has been and what the future could possibly hold. Not uncommonly, this reflection and contemplation has directed me down some difficult paths.

You see, this year for me is a season of “without”. It’s the first year I will be without my dad.

Granted, he had been living in New York for the past 4 years, but I still knew that I could pick up the phone and talk to him or check on him or even jump on a plane and go visit him. But this year I no longer have that option.

Losing family members, even (or perhaps most especially) furry family members, is remarkably hard. It often feels like the rug of reality has been pulled out from underneath and the whole of our reality is now off-kilter and we hang on waiting for that one final gust of wind to push us over the edge. We become the physical manifestation of that cat in the poster desperately clinging on to the ledge to save ourselves from the final descent. Descent into what, I don’t know, but it feels like wherever it is, it’s terrifying.

If you have ever struggled with depression, I’m sure you can absolutely relate to these feelings of mine. And if you’re like me, the things that are necessary to overcoming the feelings of depression feel as challenging as swimming through one of the La Brea tar pits – not only incredibly difficult, but who wants to even try?? Besides, at least for me, the more I try, the worse things seem to turn out. I end up making mistakes at work, with my finances, with friends and co-workers…you get it.

And yet as awful and pitiful as this may all sound, I do have something to lean on that carries me through these difficult time.

I have faith.

Faith that God created me, that I have a purpose, and that God has never nor will ever leave me to wallow in my desperation.

So why am I struggling?

Because things are different for me this year. I am not surrounded by people of faith, being caught up in the whirlwind that is church and its structure and excitement. Instead, while I am seeking that new place to land, I find that I have not at all lost my faith in God and His place in my life, I am struggling with the way our modern culture paints the picture of God and faith.

I know that for many of us, even the words faith or God are challenging and the idea of actually leaning into these concepts is nearly impossible. There could be a number of reasons for this, but for me this year, I am struggling with the self-centeredness that has become the keystone of Christianity.

If you read my post a couple of weeks ago, you know that I am trying to find a new church and this process has been, to say the least, difficult. I finally realized one of the main reasons for this struggle is that I am tired of the modern focus of “Jesus did this FOR ME” or “God sent his only Son FOR ME”. Worship songs, sermons and Christian culture as a contort themselves to ensure that each person understands that they are reason that Jesus came, died and was resurrected. His ministry was all about saving “me, me, MEEEEE!” The church as a whole so wanted to help people understand that there is a purpose to this life and that our relationship with God is a part of that purpose that it has taken the focus off of God and put it squarely on each one of us. I daresay that we have so distorted who God is and what He has done that He has transformed from a God to be worshipped, respected, and at times feared to be our own personal genie.

I get it, I do. God, being God, is able to focus Himself on me as an individual and on the rest of the entire world at the same time. He does hear our cries, our prayers and our frustrated screams and is able to tend to them all and provide for us all more than we could ever imagine. At the same time, it is His will which has sculpted the past, present and future and we are playing our own individual roles in accomplishing the plan He has created. And it is that tension – that dichotomy – that often leads to feelings of despair depression. How is it possible for us to find our own purpose when it feels more like we are simply puppets in His great design? The idea of having free-will while simultaneously being a part of a great plan is nearly incomprehensible…and yet, it is.

The thing is that God’s plan is about us individually and us collectively. Despite what our current culture wants us to believe, God didn’t create all that is around us merely for our own enjoyment nor for us to do with as we please.

Additionally – and here I may lose you – God hasn’t created a new world in the heavens for us with streets of gold, waterfalls flowing with milk and honey, and a place for us to lie around on the clouds all day, enjoying a life free from trials and tribulations for all eternity. Again, I realize many of you may see this as blasphemy, but the thing is it is our human desire to be free from growth, learning and challenge.

God wants more for us than that.

God created us to live in community with Him but despite our human understanding, this doesn’t mean for us to necessarily be physically in the same place with Him for all eternity. Instead, God wants us to grow and learn, to develop beyond our early understandings and become beings that are a true reflection of Him – beings full of love, generosity, compassion and grace. And even if we were all Gandhi and Mother Theresa rolled into one amazing individual, there is simply no possible way in our brief time on this planet at this time that we can achieve God’s goals for us in the blink of an eye that is human lifetime. God is bigger than this present reality and He created us to be as well.

I hear you. How could I possibly suggest there is no heaven? Heaven is a central theme in the Bible – how can I possibly deny its existence? I clearly have fallen victim to the secular view of who God is and am dangerously close to being – gasp – Buddhist.

Despite how it may sound, I don’t actually deny that “heaven” exists, I just think it looks significantly different than what you and I have not only be been taught, but what we individually want it to look like because in God’s heaven, it isn’t about us – it’s about HIM.

Heaven is about growth, maturing in our faith and our understanding, about truly becoming the individuals God created us to be without the barriers of a linear, narrow existence. After all, we are created in God’s image and God is far from linear.

And that is why, despite my feelings of loss and sadness, I can find joy in this time of struggle. I may not be the life of the party, but I can know that this struggle I feel is part of the growth that God created me to walk through.

The amazing grace of God is a gift that can be shared even as we walk through time of trial. In losing those we’ve loved, we gain empathy and greater capacity to love. In making mistakes and floundering, we gain the strength and wisdom to carry others who fall. And in seeing things in new ways, removing ourselves from the center of it all, we can come to understand that God’s presence is truly all around us creating joy and wonder in even the most challenging moments. All we are called to do in these times of struggle is know God IS. He is all that we need, all we could imagine, and His design of our lives is the very definition of perfection.

If you, like me, are struggling for any reason, I want to know that you are not alone. Ever. You can reach out to me here, you can find a furry critter to absorb your tears, and you can cry out to God, knowing that maybe that street of gold may not really exist, but the true heaven is so much greater and God will get us all there to be in community with Him in ways that are greater than that street of gold.

Peace to you all…

Enough

iamenough-brenc3a9-brown-largeThe Olympics have recently finished and I have finally gotten back to feeling a little less like the worst athlete on the planet. I mean, seriously. Where do these amazing people come from? I couldn’t qualify for an Olympic event unless the sport was Olympic power napping or procrastination. I tell ya, if those were events, I would ROCK!

It’s funny, isn’t it? Even with elite athletes like those amazing men and women there are those who returned home feeling as though their accomplishments were “not enough”.  While I can’t imagine how painful it would be to qualify for an international event of such esteem and then not bring home a medal, the mere fact that one qualified should feel like a success, right?

But it doesn’t. Living in a world where nearly everything is competitive, it seems that we have to always be striving to be more than what we are; that we must be challenging ourselves to be “enough” and sadly, our faith doesn’t relieve any of that pressure.

As Christians, we are told from the time we are babies that we are sinners and therefore “not enough” by ourselves; we are unworthy to be loved by the God who created us. The mere act of being born has made us unworthy and there is nothing we personally can do individually to fix this. We must rely on a Savior, Jesus Christ, to cover up our sinful nature; remove our sins from God’s sight so He will willingly admit us to His kingdom.

Now I know I am supposed to feel amazed and in awe of the fact that God’s only Son chose to die a horrible death so that my relationship with His Father can be healed and maybe it’s just me, but this doesn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy. Maybe that’s because I bring a lot of baggage with me to this whole being “enough” issue.

As a survivor of abuse, I often felt that being me was so “not enough” that I was really unworthy of better treatment from others. I was so convinced of this that I frequently put myself in situations that were abusive because I felt that was all I deserved. I had thought that attending church would make this better because church is where you find God and God is Good and God is Love.

But, at least for me, this was not the case. While the church didn’t tell me I deserved to be abused, it did say – and does still say – that I am not enough all by myself to be welcomed into God’s kingdom. I have to be more; different; changed. Now, while I understand the purpose of the message is to get people to turn away from doing things that are harmful to themselves and to the community, for a person like me, this just solidifies the internal belief that I and people like me are not enough. We never have been and we never will be.

And then it struck me.635936613667970449-1699337088_music-good-enough

This morning as I was walking and praying, I was reminded of some wisdom that I both read recently and has been shared with me in other ways in the recent past.

I am good enough just as I am because I am as God made me. Period. Am I perfect? Nope, never will be but then that’s not the point of my existence here. God placed me here to learn and grow in my likeness of Him, but because I am created by Him – in His image – I am good just as the rest of this earth and the beings on it are good.

Now before you get upset that and rant about how I sin and therefore make myself less worthy, let me stop you. I fully accept that I fail on a daily basis and am absolutely responsible for my own actions. God does not protect me from the consequences of my poor decisions but rather provides me with the ability to learn from these actions and make better decisions in the future. Additionally, God already knew that I would make these poor choices at the time I was sent down to this lovely planet. As I have said before, I do not believe that there is anything I have done – or you have done – that God didn’t foresee. The Bible says in Genesis 1 that God created the world and all that is in it and it was good. Period. Not it was good until; not it was good, but…nope. God created the world and all that was in it and it was GOOD.

Now, since I believe that God is good and because of His goodness He literally cannot create anything that is bad, that means that you, me, all of us are good just by being who we are. We may make bad decisions, we may do stupid things, but we are all good and therefore we are enough.

So where did this idea come from that we had to be saved?

Man.

Well, ok, Satan started it, Adam jumped on board, and we’ve been in this never-ending pointing of fingers since. The point is that God didn’t need to send Jesus to die for my sins because when I was created, I was already forgiven. God already knew what my life was going to be, how I was going to live it, and what impact it would have on others. The same is true of each and every one of us.

I truly believe that God sent Jesus not because we aren’t “enough” as we are, but for two entirely different reasons.

One, Jesus came so that each of us can forgive ourselves and continue forward on the path that we were created to be on rather than spend time feeling guilty for bad decisions. Second, Jesus came to remind each of us that we all fail in order to curb the need to point out everyone else’s failures as being bigger or worse than our own in order to make ourselves feel more worthy.

We as human beings strive to feel better by making others around us feel worse and God knew this would be a failure of our independent nature and therefore sent Jesus – and the numerous prophets prior to Him – to remind us that none of us are superior to one another.

enoughHere is the bottom line.

We all have the same pluses and minuses on our scorecard but in the end, we were all created by a kind, loving God who’s mercy, love and grace are always enough and created us to be enough just as we are.

We need Jesus because we to remember this life isn’t about us.

We need Jesus because we need to remember that being enough doesn’t mean we don’t need to learn and grow.

We need Jesus because our time on this earth is not about becoming “good enough” but about being a piece of God here on this planet at this time for His purpose.

 

Aspen Trees

aspen_trees6I am a Colorado girl and as such, I love my Aspen trees. The delicate rustle of their leaves in the breeze somehow speaks to my very soul and this time of year, I anxiously await their beautiful gold colors as they cover the mountainside in prelude to snow.

One of the interesting things about Aspen is that each colony – regardless of its size – is a “clonal” colony. In other words, all of the trees in a given colony are identical in their characteristics and share the same root system. It’s a community that survives because of the nourishment of the whole.

I thought about this the other day when a friend and I were talking about the fact that there are 10 dreams that nearly all of us have at one time or another: dreams like falling, being chased, being unprepared for a test or exam of some sort and appearing naked in an inappropriate place. Somehow, though we are all raised differently, live in different parts of the world, and are raised to believe sometimes entirely different things, we are interconnected in our dreams.

So why is it that when it comes to faith, we ignore our interconnection and start putting up barriers?quote-all-human-beings-are-interconnected-one-with-all-other-elements-in-creation-henry-reed-152084

As communities of faith, we are supposed to survive by creating a “colony” – a group of people who support one another, nourish one another, and grow together for generations. On the face of it, this the exactly what we have done, but the divisions that we have created both within the Christian community and outside of it are not.

For those of us that attend church on a somewhat regular basis, we tend to migrate to a place where our ideologies and philosophies aren’t really tested or stretched. Sure, every now and then a little wrench will get thrown into the works, but for the most part, I have noticed that our churches become little “clonal colony” of their own; each of us comfortable with the teaching and beliefs of those around us and disconnecting ourselves from those who think and act differently. The Episcopalian church may sit next to the Methodist Church and they may even get along, but throw in a Unitarian Church? OMG – let the theological warfare begin!

I know. It’s human nature for us to seek like-minded people and congregate with them. I get it, but I don’t think it’s either right or God’s desire for us.

As a Christian, I am horrified by the way we have allowed our perception of what God wants to create this air of superiority that has helped to build the anti-Christian and atheist movements growing around us.What would happen if we all reached outside of our little colony and connected with that colony next to us that thinks things just slightly – or even significantly –  differently? What if we really stretched and connected our root system to the synagogue around the corner or the Buddhist temple down the street?

Eee-gads! Not that!

How could we possibly integrate with “those” people that don’t think anything like we do?

quote-in-this-interconnected-universe-every-improvement-we-make-in-our-private-world-improves-david-r-hawkins-103-36-89
Well, maybe I’m crazy here, but didn’t God create each of them as well?  And if we believe that God is good and that all of God’s creation is good, then it only follows that those who believe differently than we do are just as loved and just as good as we are just like oak trees, pine trees and maple trees are just as wonderful as the aspen trees that paint my horizon.

The thing is, I do believe that Jesus is my Savior, but to me, that is MY path – the path God created for me at this time in this life. That doesn’t mean that it is the only path; the right path for all of His creation.

My God is a big God that can – and has – created a huge universe and an earth that is covered with more varieties of living things than we could ever hope to glimpse in our short time here. I think it’s silly to think that God’s creativity ended when it came to faith and how to find Him.

We are not aspen trees. God has created us to be unique but has also interconnected us in ways known and unknown. As humans, it is our gift to be able to reach across our “colonies” and share our uniqueness; to plant next to one another and grow beside one another creating communities that are unique, beautiful, and supportive of one another.

aspen-roots-1

The Heartbeat of a City

tmp_1335_7-10-2013_114834_There is a heartbeat of any place where people congregate. It’s an internal rhythm that can not only be felt, but can be see in the movement of its cars and people; slower in rural areas, faster and more energetic in cities. I know this isn’t a new concept but I was reminded of it as I sat in an office on the 16th street mall in Denver looking down on those ant-like skitterings of humans and vehicles making their way through their busy – or not so busy – day.

The never-ending buzz of activity I could see from above took me back to my younger years when I worked downtown and experiences this energy for the first time but the energy had changed. Back then, the city had a freshness; a newness that reminded me that I was starting my life fresh. All of the hopes and dreams in my mind were yet to be either realized or shattered and I felt that in the mirrored-finish of the skyscrapers that surrounded me as well as the brand new pedestrian mall that ran through the center of the city.

The beat of Denver is different now than it was then. The state-of-the-art shopping complex was once the center of that pedestrian mall now houses offices (like the one I was sitting in ), a university and pizza joint. What was once a vibrant working and shopping community has more reminders of  the homelessness that is so pervasive in our country and the dichotomy of rich and poor seems less stark as the oil and gas industry has recently taken a hit and other successful businesses in town are working harder and leaner to get to the same place they were back then.

In a way it saddens me. I love my city and I love the memories of those “hay days” from the 80’s, but Denver, like many cities, has gone through some pretty significant growing pains as it has tried to overcome  its “cow-town”reputation. While the sidewalks don’t roll up at 10pm on week-nights anymore, Denver hasn’t quite found its way to becoming the great metropolitan center of the Southwest.

Don’t get me wrong. Denver, has a great deal to offer! But Denver, at least for me, will always have a sense of naivety that is more commonly found in smaller areas. I love that despite the growing pains it has suffered, Denver is working hard to overcome its past and present burdens and struggles.  It is works to keep the sense of history that exists here while building something new that will be great now and in the future.

Funny. That’s just what we are doing as Christians and members of other faith communities, isn’t it?

Each of us has growing pains as we move into our faith. We all start out fresh and “shiny”, thinking we have it all figured out and are ready to take on the world with our big dreams and bigger imaginations but in the blink of an eye, the ground shifts beneath us and those dreams crack or maybe even break. We falter, our identity as Christians and as individuals and we are left standing there like empty storefronts on a forgotten city block – holding the space that was once our glory but now is just a shell, a reminder of our failure. We begin to wonder who we really are if we aren’t the person we imagined ourselves to be in our “glory days”.

1932-storefront_3231The joy of being both human and a member of a faith community is just like the excitement of being in the middle of a city that is being revitalized. Like that city, we have the ability to recreate ourselves; to take what was once there and recreate it into something not just newer, but better. Who we were before only adds dimension to who will choose to be tomorrow. But just like those who are looking at the shattered windows and graffitied walls of the city, we have to make a choice to change and accept that the choice will take work.

The choice to change is a scary one. It takes risk, it takes strength, and it takes faith. I know this now more than I did before as I recently walked away from a job that was causing me physical and emotional distress. I had to choose to believe I was worth the risk, to believe that I had the strength to stand up and take the leap, and to have the faith that God will provide a way through.

Believe me, I didn’t take this step lightly or easily. I literally spent days sitting at my computer and crying, trying to figure out what I needed to do and being overwhelmed by the risks that were ahead.

In the end, though, I came to one very clear realization. I was, for lack of a better phrase, being called to step out in faith. To take a new journey of revitalization.

I could have declined, chosen the easier path of staying put, but for this, this was not an option. Not only would the stress kill me, but I would become a human representation of one of the ghost towns that litter that mountains of Colorado. I would become an empty shell of who I was created to be.

Instead I have chosen to do the hard work – to gut much of the structure of my current life and re-imagine what my life could be.

I have to admit that I am terrified.

What if I fail? What if I run our of money before my next job arrives? What if I completely misunderstood what God was telling me because it was what I wanted to hear?

Believe me, these thoughts plague my mind more frequently than I care to admit, but I am choosing to take a “city planner” view of my situation.

Like Denver, my life still has pretty good bones, as it were. I have good skills, a strong faith, and a good group of people around me that are helping me to look to the future rather than worry about the moment.construction denver

As I sat in the office in the 16th street office, I see myself in the cranes and construction sites around the city. I am like my beloved city. I will come out of this stronger, newer, and more in tune with who I am supposed to be rather than who someone else said I should be so many years ago.

What about you? Are you being revitalized like I am or have you already been through this process and can see the other side? Or maybe you chose to stay put and see that staying there has revitalized you in other ways. Whatever your story, I would love to hear it.

In the meantime, I’d better get back to building.