Exodus Part 3: Hope


“I’ll be done with this post since I’m getting tired and my thoughts are not as clear and crisp as they could be.  But in my next post, in the future sometime, I want to touch on how my beliefs have changed in the last 5 years, who has changed my mind on certain things, and where I find hope now.  That last part, the hope part, is so important.  Because I get that there are a lot of disenchanted Christian church people out there who might relate with some of this stuff – but still love Jesus and want to find something to believe in.  I know. Me too.  And I think I’m coming out of the dark cloud pillar… but only to realize I’m wondering in a wilderness for the rest of my life. (I love the Exodus story for Moses and all that if you haven’t picked up on that yet… brilliant writing. Seriously. Brilliant.)”

Me – Exodus Part 2

A little something for you to listen to while you read the rest of this post. ^_^

Leaving “The Ministry”

Sometimes I stare off and wonder where the hell I’ve been the last 4 years. I mean after leaving my job in the church as a Youth Pastor in Thousand Oaks.  I wonder if it’s been worth it, or if I made some grand mistake.  It’s not that I am not happy with where I am today, but it is easy to look back and wonder “what if”.  For those who know anything about chaos theory, there are an infinite number of results to every decision made every single day. What if I went left instead of right?  What if I went 65mph instead of 45mph that one day?  A good example: just today there was a shooting at the Clackamas Mall (less than 10 miles from our house in Portland) and I can’t help but wonder… what if we were still there? What if we never left?  Only God knows if we would have been there today…  Ok, I encourage you to stop thinking about chaos theory if I got you started – it never leads to anything productive.  But it is definitely interesting to wonder…

And for this particular post, I am interested in where I have come spiritually over the last 4 years as a result of leaving the church (and friends) behind and moving on to other things.

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Exodus part 2: Movement of the People.

[edit: the original video I posted got removed, so I updated it with this version]

I decided to write this post while jamming to Marley’s 1979 live version of Exodus, which he performed in Santa Barbara.  I suggest you hit play on the video above while you read.  If for no other reason except that it’s amazing and probably way better than what you’re going to read here on this page.

On with it!

“Ja come to break down oppression.  Rule equality. Wipe away transgression.
Set the captives free! Set the captives free! Set the captives free! Set the captives free!”

– Bob Marley

It has been four years since I left the pearly gates of the church behind me.  Well, four years since I stopped working in the church and moved from my home town to Portland, Oregon – which could have been described as an exodus.

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Exodus: part 1

I have not written publicly about these things as of yet. I have hardly talked about them publicly. It has been hard to find the right words, or if not the “right” words, the words that I feel do justice to what I have been through and what I feel about these things. But the time has come to at least begin to publicly explain my personal exodus from the church and organized religion in general. This, I am sure, comes as a shock to some people – and to others they have but assumed it was true. I feel that for even myself, it is hard to summarize what has happened as an “exodus from the church and organized religion” – but in fact, that is what it is. So I will try to use words to explain what has transpired, why, and how I feel now. Please have grace as you read (if you read) these words. I am not claiming absolute truth (although that may be some people’s main problem with my words… not enough claims of absolute truth), but what I am trying to do is make sense of my experiences – mainly to see if where I am at is a legitimate place, or if I am just scared and running away. Because running away is not the same as an exodus. One is caused by external forces, the other is a personal choice. We will see which it has been: an exodus or an escape; or maybe both.

A Heavy Sigh

The Road Not Taken, From Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Below I will post the last stanza of this poem, but I encourage you to click the link above and read the whole poem (it is not long).  It ends with this:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Perhaps some people read this as inspirational to take the road less traveled (based on the final line “And that has made all the difference”, but I do not.

The key to the meaning behind this poem is hidden in the first line of this final stanza:

I shall be telling this with a sigh

I added the emphasis on “sigh”, for it is with this single word that I think the poem’s secret lies.  There is a heaviness in this foretold recolection of having taken the road less traveled by.  Just because it was this decision that made all the difference, does not make it a better decision by any means.  In fact, I believe that by adding the word “sigh”, the other is trying to warn us of something… that road, the one less traveled… it’s not as easy. It is hard. And it is hard simply because it is less traveled by.

Profound. Truly.

Some people want to be unique, special, an individual like no other.  To be a rebel and go against the grain, to travel the road less traveled.  But it is almost as if Frost is warning of the temptation to do what teachers are always telling kids to do – be an individual, don’t follow the crowd, stand out and be unique.  Really? At what cost?

I’ve been down that road, and I too shall be telling, with a sigh, that because I chose the road less traveled, it has, indeed, made all the difference.

But I should stop, for a moment of reflection.  Because my first reaction to the word “sigh” was to think that it was with some “regret” that the author reported that he took the road less traveled.  But perhaps “regret” is the wrong feeling or emotion.  No, perhaps it is simply what a sigh so often is… a pause, but a weary pause at that. A tired, reflective, introspective pause.  It may not be regret at all.  It may simply be a heaviness carried over the “ages and ages” from walking alone… seeing the woods around you in a way that the other travelers never did nor ever will.

It is like the man released from Plato’s cave – who sees the world as it is, outside of the cave of shadows, and returns to tell his friends that what they are seeing is not, in fact, real.  And he is booed.  He is insulted and told to leave.  He is called crazy, among other things, because they walked the road that the others walked – they saw the woods from that angle, and anyone who says there is even another road to walk – is downright insane.

It’s a heaviness.  A burden.  A lonely journey, but not necessarily a regretted journey.

I suppose it is as you want to see it.  Would you rather walk alone, seeing the world from a different perspective, having the masses not understand you or support your claims of a different viewpoint?  Or would you want to walk the weathered road, step by step with friends and family and familiarity?  A road where everyone agrees with you because you share the same experiences. It does seem nice.

But maybe there is a weight and heaviness to Frost’s “sigh” that is not a burden at all – but instead is just that – weight.  It is full. It is complete.  It is full of memories, experiences, stories, challenges, discoveries, disappointments, surprises, victory, defeat, loneliness, enlightenment, confusion, joy, sorrow, contentedness, beauty, darkness, light…. all the things life can and should be made of.  It is the finishing a very long book sort of sigh.  The finishing of a marathon sigh.  It is full of adventure, perserverience and fulfillment.

That is the road I want to travel, no matter how lonely it may seem at times.  And I hope the “sigh” in “ages and ages hence” is full of weight and fullness, and is not a sigh of regret or of giving up.

Adventures in Grace

The older I get, the more I realize what “grace” is all about.

Perhaps the older you get, the more you personally realize how fucked up you are, and how – for most of us – we never intended to be so dysfunctional.   When you are a teenager, or a young adult, you look at your dysfunctional family and lament how you wish your parents were “normal” and paid more attention to you and didn’t make so many mistakes.  It’s an ideal way of thinking, really, because you have NO idea what it is like to raise a child (or 5 children in my parent’s case).  It’s hard to forgive your parents (or whoever it is in your life) because you just assume they could have been better (and perhaps they could have been) but you never take the chance to weigh in the circumstances and the variables that played into why exactly they were how they were, or why a certain event played out the way it did.

As I grow older, and I experience lapses in patience, bouts of fatigue and sickness that leave me bewildered and hanging on by my fingertips (so to speak), all the while having to take care of toddlers whom I barely relate with, I am beginning to “understand” how hard it is to be perfect… how utterly impossible it is.  And it is, perhaps, out of a desperate need of grace (mainly from those I let down) that I am beginning to understand it more and more.

There are so many problems with the assumption that someone is “bad” and can be “better”.  

Well, no. Let me restate that.  Because it’s obvious that a man or woman who takes advantage of children in some hurtful way is indeed “bad” and needs to be “better”.  Or a man or woman who cheats and steals is in fact “bad” and hurting others and needs to get “better”.

No, that’s safe to say.
So let me try again.

There are so many problems with the assumption that the reason someone is “bad” is of their own “evil” doing and because they have brought this on themselves and they just need to “make a decision” and they will get “better” – the old “repent”, or “turn the other way”.  

Any assumption is dangerous, as every situation is different… but that’s exactly my point – every situation is different, and grace is needed in all situations because the fact is – we just don’t know.  You don’t know if the “evil” terrorist just loves hurting people and from an early age made a decision to hate people and hurt people (probably not) or if over years of misinformation, misunderstanding, prejudice, judgements and assumptions – they are acting not out of trying to hurt others or be “evil” or “bad” – but they are simply doing what they feel is right.

My point is this, the more you know about the history of a person, the details behind why they are exactly how they are, the more grace you can have for them.  

I think this perspective comes from having kids.  I look at my girls and think, there is no way any of them could grow up to intentionally hurt (even kill) another person… but I know, it’s possible.  Because it’s happened before.  Children grow up, and some children grow up to be awful human beings who take advantage of others and destroy other people’s lives.  But I DO NOT believe that these people wake up one day and make this decision to hurt others.  I would argue it is mainly other people’s influence and actions towards an individual that determines how that person will turn out.  Now, I don’t believe that 100% of the time, because I’ve seen people react differently to similar circumstances.  One child may turn away from their abusive parents and find peace in a life far away from the hate and pain of their childhood – while their sibling might grow up to resent and hate their parents and allow that hatred to infiltrate their souls and fill them with the exact same bitterness that they were shown.

Maybe what I am saying is that I am believing less and less in free-will.  OMG. I can’t believe I just said that… but more and more I am convinced that people are not to blame for the decisions they make, but instead they are lost, confused and ignorant to what is causing them to act a certain way.  We are so unaware, most of the time, of the stimuli that are affecting the way we are… our mental state, our bodies health, the shows we watch, the people we hang out with…  Grace is needed… grace is forgiveness, it is understanding, it is letting go of the “facts” of someone’s actions and looking beyond that to the person they could be if they were free from all the chains that entrap them, that shape (have shaped) them into what they are.

I believe there is a God that understands all things.  An all-knowing God who sees all and forgives all.  A God who displays grace to all people because that God knows exactly WHY they are the way they are, and exactly what they could be if the things outside of their control were different.

I’m not saying that people don’t get better, and that ultimately it doesn’t begin with an acknowledgement of “sin” or wrong doing, and a turning around / repenting sort of thing.  Sure.  But there is no path back to perfection (at least in this life)… and some chains are permanent… and I believe that, as followers of Jesus, we are called to be like him… to accept all people, no matter how they are, or how they are living, or the things they do – we welcome them and love them and accept them.  It’s not a behavioral religion – Christianity – it shouldn’t be at least.  It is a LOVE religion.  And love, and grace, covers a multitude of sins.

Live with more grace today.  Let things go. Try it. I’m going to.