A Risky Business This Thing Called Faith

It I couldI recently saw this photo on Facebook. More than the child’s face, it was the words that caused my heart to sink.

Yes.  One of the risks of believing in God is when tragedy strikes, when a rape has not been stopped, we feel as though God was somehow absent…uninterested…or  powerless to stop such a heinous act.

Even Jesus questioned his faith and his God when he uttered these words, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as he hung dying on a cross.

With the shocking and tragic bombing in Boston and horrible explosion in Texas this month, I know doubts have risen up.  Believers askWhy would God let these things happen? Why, God, do innocent people have to suffer or die?  Where were you, God?”

Meanwhile, others are saying,You foolish people. Where is your god now?”

And so my heart sinks.

When the only understanding of God is that of  some kind of superhero who is supposed to stop rapes, bombings, and explosions from happening, the transformational power of faith is missed.

When my own life takes a turn for the worst, I definitely ask “Why?” (with a few expletives thrown in, believe me). But I do not question, “Why me?”   I consider instead,  “Why now, God?”  And “What now?”  I do not believe that I suffer or struggle because God was absent in my life or knowingly allowed something to happen as a form of punishment.

Believing in God means instead that I am challenged to look beyond the suffering and to ask,What am I to learnHow am I to grow from this? Where do I go from hereWhat message of hope can I carry to others? How, with God’s help, will this darkness, this pain or this loss be transformed into Christ’s Light, Spirit’s comfort and God’s grace-filled joy?”

I make no assumptions that believing in God means that my life is going to be easy and without tragedy.  My faith is not that simplistic.  Violence happens. Accidents happen. Death and loss happen.

Which brings us back to the beginning.

Believing in God is risky.

Tragedy strikes and we question, with no simple answers to be found.  Instead we discover a long journey where doubt and anger, grief and pain await us.  We fall prey to the whispers of bystanders who claim we were alone all along and we wonder why God has forsaken us.

I meet many people in my hospice work who have gotten stuck at this part of the journey.  Their faith cannot bring them beyond their betrayal of the superhero God who should have been there in their time of need.

They are unable to move through the pain to experience God’s power of transformation.

This is why I am a person of faith.

In my own life and others, I have witnessed rage melt into serenity and bitterness evolve into forgiveness. I have watched the darkness of grief transform into brilliant joy.   I have seen people’s lives take on unexplainable changes for the better…because they took the risk to believe in a God who would  not leave them in a state of brokenness. I am blown away, time and time again, when I see these transformations.

It is a risky business this thing called faith.

But I encourage you to take the risk.  Go beyond a simplistic understanding of the Holy, release all the crap that is weighing you down (anger, fear, resentment, doubt, heartache, pain), give your brokenness over to God, and discover the beauty and grace of transformation.



Bet that got your attention!

Catching your eye was certainly one of the intentions of the creators of  WTF? (Where’s the Faith?).  (And you thought I meant the other WTF, didn’t you? It’s okay. I understand. It happened to me, too.) If I were still ministering in a church, I would have most definitely ordered this series a long time ago.

I especially like the title,  Oh God, Oh God, Oh God, in the series which “addresses issues of love, sex(uality) and embodiment from the perspectives of young adults who work for or are involved with the church”.

I get so excited when I witness people take the secular (like “WTF?” and the sexually suggestive “Oh God, Oh God, Oh God” ) and transform it into something that leads us to explore, challenge, or grow in our faith.

In the church I attended in Tucson, we had a fantastic tradition of using popular songs in each worship service. Songs like “Firework” by Katy Perry, “The Weight” by The Band, “Gravity” by John Mayer,  and “Paint it Black” by The Rolling Stones would be played in the service as part of a power point filled with inspirational pictures coupled with the lyrics to help send a message of faith home to the heart. Inevitably I would end up hearing a song on the radio from Sunday’s Digital Story, as it was called, and I’d be drawn back to the scriptural teaching. The song had been transformed from secular into holy.

Faith and spirituality can be that simple: Taking the common, the mundane, the ordinary and making it special, unique and extra-ordinary.  I have met people, however, who chose to forgo any spiritual practice or faith tradition because far too many “believers” out there complicate the whole thing.

The Westboro Baptist Church is a great example of “religious” folks who ruin it for the rest of us.  This congregation—who’s website address spells out “God hates fags”—has been convinced by their pastor that they should proclaim their religious beliefs at, in particular, the funerals of soldiers, believing God willed the death of these individuals to punish our nation.

These so-called Christians had even considered protesting at the funeral of 9-year-old Christina Green.  She was one of 5 others individuals murdered here in Tucson while meeting with Representative Gabriel Giffords outside a local supermarket last January.  The Westboro church claimed young Christina “was killed for your rebellion when God sent the shooter to deal with idolatrous America.”   To that I say, “WTF?!”  (And I do mean the original WTF…).

With these kind of Christians making the news, no wonder scores more say “no thanks” to any religious or even spiritual beliefs.  Trust me.  When it comes to the actions of the Westboro congregation, I get the whole, “I’d rather be an atheist.”

But I also know from experience that life takes on so much wonder and beauty when experienced within a spiritual and yes, even a religious, understanding.  Despite all of the Christians who claim “You’re damned, but we’re righteous,” I still love my faith.

I want to send a message to friends and strangers alike who are hesitant to claim any faith whatsoever. Perhaps you’ve been rejected by people, even your own family, who claim to be religious.  Maybe you grew up in an environment where you were forced  to “believe” or the exact opposite, you were taught that religion was for the weak minded. Know that there are many of us who deeply believe and strive to make our faith fresh and relevant.  I have no doubt this is true of the authors of WTF? (Where the faith?).

I also know the folks at Darkwood Brew seek to bring a newness to the Christian faith.  Darkwood Brew “is a mind-opening exploration of Christian faith for the modern world. This weekly program (on-line) blends ancient worship practices developed by Benedictine monks with cutting-edge media technology.” Producer and creative director, Scott Griessel, recently posted the following “shameless plug” as his wife put it, on Facebook. I loved it.  Here’s just a bit:

What do you mean you haven’t “liked” Darkwood Brew, the Internet’s only television program dedicated to Convergence Christianity? You don’t have to be a Christian, or any certain kind of Christian, to like it. You can be an atheist and still like it…we have tons of atheist friends. Trinitarian, Unitarian, vegetarian, veterinarian – you will like the show… If you think Jesus is God, or Jesus was a guru, or Jesus was just some dude, you will like the show. You can be a deist, a theist, a pantheist, a panentheist, Buddhist, a Muslim, a Wicca, a Hindu, a Zoroastrian, a Pagan a Jew or none-of the above. If you are all of the above, let me refer you to a nice treatment center. If you are disenfranchised from church, hate religion and think you’ve been handed a pack of lies, you will like the show. If you are a thoughtful person on life’s journey, we are right in your wheelhouse. If you are interested in supporting a program that asks lots of questions and doesn’t claim to have all the answers give us a like.” (And I hope you do! “Like” them on Facebook and tune in each week for worship.)

If you have thought about exploring a faith tradition, coming back to your childhood religion, or if you are feeling life could use some more zest or purpose, don’t wait any longer.  Begin searching today.  I have no doubt that within each faith tradition, you will be able to find those of us who long to share our love of our religion without cramming it down your throat.

Peace to you on your spiritual sojourn.  May you find what you are seeking!

Truth is, you’re dying.

There are several typical reasons why hospice patients and/or their families decline my services as a chaplain.

Sometimes it’s simply a matter of gender. I may be a fantastic and effective spiritual counselor but being a woman, in the minds of some, discredits me automatically.

Others prefer to receive support from a clergy person out of their own faith tradition.  In both cases, I remind myself I’m here to meet their needs, not my own.

The most common reason I get from a patient declining spiritual care both humors and troubles me.  “I’m NOT dying YET!” I often hear.  Or “I’m not THAT bad!”   What I usually share with him or her, lightheartedly, in response is that I love visiting with folks when there isn’t a crisis.

I’m humored (and saddened) with the level of anxiety we chaplains (and clergy) generate in the hearts of others. (It can be quite the conversation stopper when you tell potential friends you’re a minister.  Only slightly better to share that you are a hospice chaplain. Slightly.)

Years ago while a hospital chaplain I witnessed a patient turn suddenly pale when I introduced myself. “Are you okay, Sir?” I asked noticing his look of panic. “Are you here to give me the news? he asked.”  “Excuse me?  What news?”  “I just had some tests done.  Are you here to give me the results?”

Clearly this poor man assumed that because I, the chaplain, was on the scene, I had come to tell him he was terminal.  (Sigh…)

Lots of education still needed on the role of a chaplain.

Here’s what troubles me. 

Reflecting on one’s faith or spirituality or considering how one understands life (if he or she is an atheist) shouldn’t be an only-when-I’m-on-my-death-bed kind of thing.  One’s attitude shouldn’t be life’s-GOOD-so-I’ve-got-no-need-for-faith-spirituality-or-the-search-for-meaning-and-purpose.

Life deserves—even demands—reflection long before we are in crisis or meeting death face-to-face.

Here’s some of the questions I believe we should ask ourselves:

Who am I  What am I destined/called/talented enough to do and how can I make the world a better place?  What DO I believe?  What does it mean to love and be loved?  How do I define justice?

How important is reconciliation or forgiveness to me?  Do I need to forgive or ask forgiveness of someone? What do I value in my relationships or in my life? What do I regret doing or not doing?

What do I want to accomplish still?  Have I done the best I can with what I have been given? Have I been too selfish? Or have I forgotten to take care of my self?


Like it or not, we are all dying, some just faster than others.

No matter how much we try to avoid this fact by dyeing our hair or undergoing the knife to nip and tuck away the signs of aging, time is slipping away.  And you know, it seems to be going faster every year.  Even as my own gray (or what I prefer to call silver, thank you very much) hair comes in, I have decided not to hide the obvious—that I am getting older.

I want to be reminded every morning that ultimately today is all I have.

So, please.

Don’t wait until you are facing a terminal diagnosis to reflect on your life.

Spend time considering, even wrestling with, the above questions or some of your own.  Long before the hospice chaplain calls for a visit, take an honest view of your life and make the effort every day to be at peace wherever you are on your journey.


Time and Perspective

Ever thought about your own take on religion or how your faith has developed?  Do you believe more compassion and less dogmatism is needed in the world?  That’s where my thoughts were this week.  Last Thursday I participated in an educational day for professional enrichment.  The program was called “Respecting Diverse Religious Traditions at End of Life”.  As we reviewed major world religions–Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity and Sikhism–and their approach to death and dying, I was taken back to my college days.

My freshman year at the University of Oregon, I enrolled in a year-long comparative religions course.  Although I found it interesting, the pessimist in me could only conclude one thing as our course ended.  Since the religions of the world had such different ideas about God, the Sacred, right and wrong, the after-life, etc., then clearly and logically they were all wrong.  God did not exist and religion was simply a tool for controlling the masses.  Religious beliefs and practices were for the weak who needed to depend on some form of hierarchy or rules for living to make it from day to day.  Religion seemed to bring more brokenness in the world than healing.   My resolve?  To abandon my Christian roots and deny any religious upbringing.  That lasted about 2 years.  By my junior year, I had become one of those so-called weak people. I was lost in the darkness of depression and could see no easy pathway out.  Unbeknownst to me, I was on the brink of embarking on an intentional spiritual journey.

My sojourn began at the 12-Step meetings where I admitted I was powerless and desired sanity in my life.  The pathway to wholeness became clearer at the Unitarian Church I attended where I was gently guided back into a religious life.  Every day my heart was opening back up to the Holy.  And with every Ah-ha I experienced, my depression lightened and faith grew.

There are many other landmarks along this spiritual journey of mine that have challenged and shaped me: my call to ministry, attending seminary, getting married, becoming involved with Kairos Outside Prison Ministry, having children, experiencing loss and struggling with health issues.  As my faith has deepened and become rooted in the Holy, I now see the beautiful similarities amidst the many world religions.  Instead of weakness, I now see the strength of individuals and cultures seeking through religion to make sense of this crazy thing called life. 

True.  Religions may not have the same interpretation of the mysteries of life.  Buddhism, for instance, can appear very different than Islam.  But there is an underlining goal of living a meaningful life that takes us beyond our small, self-absorbed realities.  We are called to ultimately shift our attention away from ourselves and direct it outwardly toward God (however that may be interpreted), Justice, Compassion—to name a few.

I am so grateful for all the spiritual growth I have experienced since my college days. Time and perspective have transformed my understanding of religion.  I now love my faith tradition and yes, depend on it.  I find salvation in the life and teachings of Jesus.  And I believe that I am called by my God to show compassion to all.  If you, too, believe you are required  by your religion or spiritual practice to live by the Golden Rule, I encourage you to check out this website:  www.charterforcompassion.org  Here you will find like minded people who want to push past dogmatism and remind us of the great need for compassion in a world that has become so divided.

May we all learn to appreciate the world religions

and strive to see our similarities above our differences.

May we make it a priority,

today and everyday,

to be compassionate towards one another.