Trust That I AM; Be Not Afraid

In Matthew 14, Jesus says this:

"But straightway Jesus spoke unto them, saying, Trust that I AM; be not afraid."

I wonder if lately we're all too afraid.

We're afraid that God as abandoned America because same sex marriage is the law of the land, or we're afraid that half the country is never going to "get it."

We're afraid because black churches keep burning, and black people keep dying at the hands of our police. Or, we're afraid that our police will fall victim to hate crimes in a pressure cooker race culture.

We're afraid of climate change, or we're afraid the lie of climate change will crush a fragile economy. We're afraid that our military actions abroad will come home to hurt us, or that we're weakening our military too much for it to handle the threats to our security.

Fear. It's the most powerful human emotion. When fear lights up in our brains, our ability to reason or love goes out the window. It's the great motivator. Our leaders know this, and so does our media. Fear fills voting booths, sells newspapers and 24-hour cable news. Fear deepens divisions by sewing mistrust. Fear says it's black or white, gay or straight, us or them.

But Jesus, the broken God, says do not be afraid. Trust that I AM.

Do we trust that? Are we willing to cast off fear, to lay down our protective armor, and reach out to the world in love?

That is the road to healing. That is the work of the cross: to speak for the voiceless, to stand for the broken, to find strength in weakness.

Whenever I am afraid, I remind myself that I am not God. I remember I don't have all the answers.

When that makes me feel powerless, I remember that I can love my God and my neighbor today, right now. I remember that I have been invited to participate in the healing of this world.

And I am not afraid anymore.

photo credit: DoNotbeAfraid via photopin (license)

My website is a safe place for people whose beliefs about God are changing. Many are recovering from spiritual abuse or trauma. Please remain civil and kind in the comments section at all times.

LGBTQ

I'm spent. I haven't been this tired in a long time. There's no doubt that I'm doing too much these days, and that it isn't sustainable. I work full time in advertising, host six podcasts a month, write four blog posts a month, I'm writing a book, and I travel a lot to speak at events. Something's got to give at some point, but I've just been accepting that this is a season where I have to work a lot.

Yesterday, I saw why the work is worth it when we released Episode 20 - LGBTQ of The Liturgists Podcast. It's the best work I've ever been a part of.

It's the first time we've done multiple conversations in a single episode. It's the first time we've had more than 100,000 listeners in a day. It's a high-water mark for production values. But, most important is the way we handled a charged, difficult topic.

And most remarkable is the response. We've seen genuinely civil, productive dialog between people who disagree about a vital issue facing the church. That really gives me hope.

If you have't heard it yet (and it's two hours long), I encourage you to set aside some time and hear a variety of stories and perspectives on LGBTQ people in the church.

My website is a safe place for people whose beliefs about God are changing. Many are recovering from spiritual abuse or trauma. Please remain civil and kind in the comments section at all times.

Where I Find God

God has to be more to you than just where science has yet to tread.
— Neil DeGrasse Tyson

I find God in the unknown and the known,
in the far and the near,
in today and tomorrow, and yesterday as well.

I find God in physics and in scripture,
and at the end of the day, when my daughters climb up into my lap.

God is everywhere I look:
up in the night sky and the noonday sun;
in the wind that caresses the trees,
and all that teeming life, competing to survive.

Most remarkable, I find God when I look into my own heart;
in the miraculous spark that makes me move and breathe and wonder how I can.

photo credit: Soul's Window via photopin (license)

My website is a safe place for people whose beliefs about God are changing. Many are recovering from spiritual abuse or trauma. Please remain civil and kind in the comments section at all times.

An Airplane Won't Fly on the Moon: The Gift of Resistance

An airplane won't fly on the moon. The first issue is air: both pilots and airplane engines need to breathe air to work, and the moon doesn't have any air. But let's say the pilot has a space suit, and the engine compartment is pressurized, and there's a system to deal with the exhaust.

An airplane still won't fly on the moon.

And that doesn't make sense. Flight is tough on Earth because of Earth's gravity. Our planet is constantly tugging on us toward its center. The moon has way less gravity than Earth, so it should be a lot easier to take off.

Plus, most of the work in going fast on Earth is fighting resistance from the atmosphere–cars, bicycles, sprinters, and airplanes all spend a lot of energy just pushing air out of the way. The moon doesn't have any air to slow you down.

Low gravity and no friction; the moon seems to have the perfect ingredients for flight. But no matter how high a pilot pushes the throttle, an airplane on the moon will just sit there, expending lots of energy for no gain.

The problem is obvious: an airplane's propeller produces thrust by moving air, and airplane wings create lift via friction. The same atmosphere that creates resistance also creates motion and lift. An airplane has to struggle against the atmosphere, because it can't fly without it.

Just like us.

I was talking to my friend Jacob this week. He's done the best, most meaningful work of his life during those times he's struggled the most. His most painful experiences are the ones that have changed him the most, and given him the most personal growth.

It's incredible how true this is in my life. I've always tried to do everything I can to manage risks and minimize pain. I'm great at it. And whenever I engineer some multi-year oasis, I become a stagnant person–comfortable, but static. Happy, but shallow. It's not worth it. The view from the corner office can't compare to the passion of the street.

Fighting difficult situations, coping with pain, and working against adversity are the sunlight, rain, and soul for human growth. We don't like any of those things, of course. Most of us want an easy chair, a flat screen TV, and a cold beer. But running until it hurts makes us faster. And a low bank balance makes us motivated. A strained relationship is not one we take for granted.

We're most willing to take risks when we have nothing to lose. Somehow, success is a burden for most people. We become too attached to what we’ve gained to do the work that helped us get there in the first place. Those moments when our house of cards fall down are freeing because taking a risk isn’t so costly.

I've learned to savor those days when everything goes wrong, and those seasons when life is the most difficult. Climbing the mountain is what leads to the summit–that point when we can look out at the world from a new vantage point, with a satisfying ache in our bones from taking that difficult path.

The teacher in Ecclesiastes says it like this:

Everything on earth
has its own time
and its own season.
There is a time
for birth and death,
planting and reaping,
for killing and healing,
destroying and building,
for crying and laughing,
weeping and dancing,
for throwing stones
and gathering stones,
embracing and parting.
There is a time
for finding and losing,
keeping and giving,
for tearing and sewing,
listening and speaking.
There is also a time
for love and hate,
for war and peace.

Death makes way for birth. Reaping is impossible without planting. When you face the hard parts of life, find hope in the growth to come, and the work you can do thanks to that resistance. Like an airplane, you were meant to fly into the wind pushing against you.

photo credit: via photopin (license)

My website is a safe place for people whose beliefs about God are changing. Many are recovering from spiritual abuse or trauma. Please remain civil and kind in the comments section at all times.

Belong

Michael Gungor and I started The Liturgists because we were lonely. Sure, we talked a big game about creating beautiful, sacred art, and exploring how science and faith are complimentary lenses to view the world. More than anything, though, we were just lonely.

We were lonely because the Church is in the middle of a Reformation. It's been a few hundred years, so God knows it's past due anyway. The world is changing again. Science has pressed farther into the claims of theology than ever before. Culture (rightly) questions some of our most basic assumptions about what scripture teaches us and why it matters.

I see this as a good thing. The way church is done today works for hundreds of millions of people world wide, and I celebrate that. But, it's also true that hundreds of millions of people can't find a seat at this table because they can't read the Bible the way they used to, or because they're gay, or because they struggle to believe a good, loving God can be present among all the suffering and tragedy found here on Earth.

They are hungry. So were we. That's what The Liturgists is about–it's the work of the people. It was never meant to be a platform for Michael and I, but instead a table meant to welcome all, just as they are, to come and break the bread of Eucharist together. We want to help the spiritually homeless and frustrated find community and peace.

Too often, people find themselves marginalized by their peers when they start to really wrestle with their faith. Sadly, many people find themselves passively ostracized or even actively cast out when they can't accept the same answers they once did. But we believe that the Gospel is messy, and that the Gospels themselves describe a community that didn't have all the right answers, and didn't always make the right choices, but was united around a love of a particular person.

Jesus.

And so, we welcome all those people who want to follow the one who was called the Son of God. Even if they don't know why–and even if they aren't sure he ever existed at all.

We've done a lot to build a community like this. We've done events centered around liturgy. We've created liturgies people can get on the Internet and practice alone or in small groups. We host a podcast to foster these kinds of open, safe discussions. But we aren't done.

We're gathering together in Atlanta for an event called Belong. It's our first conference; a two-day discussion of faith and doubt, science and art, safe community and challenging ideas. Some familiar voices from our work will join us, and we've got some really compelling ideas to share.

But most exciting to me is you. The listeners of the podcast, the practitioners of our liturgies. I'm most excited about sitting in a room with 100 of you and learning about your journey and your story. I can't wait to see what happens when a room full of people realize that they are not alone.

Here's what some of you have said about why you are coming to Belong:

Tyler said, "I've been trying for a while to find a way to facilitate open, honest discussion about spirituality and God in some forum in my hometown, for artists/musicians, while also bringing Christians into a place where they don't feel like they have to use their gifts to to make sterile, uninspired work "for he church" or otherwise. It's hard to do, and hard to figure out the best shape for such a thing to take. I signed up because I think Belong can facilitate my brain in that process, and because I want to spend two days talking about the most interesting and wonderfully confusing things possible with people I consider to be tremendously inspiring."

Emily said, "I'm basically in the middle of a faith deconstruction and have found it an incredibly lonely experience - a truly important one but lonely for sure. I found the Liturgists near the beginning of this journey and Science Mike's podcast about the same time. I find the ideas and discussion to bring freedom and breathe life into me in ways I didn't think were possible. Just knowing there are people out there who grew up in evangelical fundamentalism and have figured out how to step somewhat away from that and still love Jesus deeply is incredibly inspiring. I want to meet this community of people that love these discussions - to participate, be part of it, and hopefully, give a little bit back to the people who have given so much to me."

Matt told us, "I am a worship pastor in Texas at a (ready for it??) Southern Baptist church (don't worry, I'm not THAT kind of baptist) and I love the people and am always seeking how to love them better through pointing them to God (via music, art, etc.) beyond the concepts and language they may have used to close themselves off to a God that transcends modernity. I look forward to great discussion with some of the most influential people in my life and ministry on how to do this well, contextually, authentically, and pastorally; as well as be encouraged to be a better artist/creator. I am so thankful this is a thing. Its refreshing that we can talk openly and grow together."

Thomas said, "I am the science department chair at a Christian high school in the Atlanta area and the intersection of faith and science is the most fascinating thing in the world to me. It is my mission in life, to help kids see God through the study of the natural world."

Jillian said, "The Liturgists podcast was a lifeline for me in a period of traumatic loss of faith. When I started to regain my faith, I found great comfort and encouragement in your blog at mikemchargue.com. I have a wonderful support system at home, but they have no framework to understand or respond to the questions I want to ask now. I am looking forward not only to exploring my own doubts and beliefs with people who can relate, but also to hearing questions I may not have thought of before."

I was moved to tears when we opened up registration and thousands of people flooded our system from all over the country. We didn't really know what to expect, and we certainly didn't know people would fly to Atlanta from all over the country to be a part of this. This won't be our last Belong–we're going to experiment with event size and ticket price to make room at the table for as many people as possible in the coming months.

But this is the first, and the first one is always special. And there's something about a crowd of 100 that is remarkably intimate. There are a few seats left for Belong, and we'd love for you to join us.

My website is a safe place for people whose beliefs about God are changing. Many are recovering from spiritual abuse or trauma. Please remain civil and kind in the comments section at all times.