Devotional Doubt

I’m reading My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman. It might be the most beautiful non-fiction book I’ve read. It’s challenging me in ways I’ve never been challenged before, the way I think about God and the world. I like it. It makes me uncomfortable sometimes, and I’m having to take them into prayer.

I started reading the book shortly after I posted My Darkness, and it seems to fit my mood perfectly. All that being said, I’m going to quote a couple paragraphs from it here. I’ve never done this before, and I don’t know if it’s legal. So, Christian, if you somehow come across this, first of all, thank you for writing, and secondly, all credit goes to you.

You know the value of your doubt by the quality of the disquiet that it produces in you. Is it a furious, centrifugal sort of anxiety that feeds on itself and never seems to move you in any one direction? Is it an ironclad compulsion to refute, to find in even the most transfiguring experiences, your own or others’, some rational or “psychological” explanation? Is it an almost religious commitment to doubt itself, an assuredness that absolute doubt is the highest form of faith? There is something static and self-enthralled about all these attitudes. Honest doubt, what I would call devotional doubt, is marked, it seems to me, by three qualities: humility, which makes one’s attitude impossible to celebrate; insufficiency, which makes it impossible to rest; and mystery, which continues to tug you upward–or at least outward–even in your lowest moments. Such doubt is painful–more painful, in fact, than any of the other forms–but its pain is active rather than passive, purifying rather than stultifying. Far beneath it, no matter how severe its drought, how thoroughly  your skepticism seems to have salted the ground of your soul, faith, durable faith, is steadily taking root.

The Gospels vary quite a bit in their accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and the ensuing encounters he had with people, but they are quite consistent about one thing: many of his followers doubted him, sometimes even when he was staring them in the face. This ought to be heartening  for those of us who seek belief. If the disciples of Christ could doubt not only firsthand accounts of his resurrection but the very fact of his face in front of them, then clearly, doubt has little to do with distance from events. It is in some way the seed of Christianity itself, planted in the very heart of him (My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?) who is at once God and our best selves, and it must be torn terribly, wondrously open in order to flower into living faith.

But how does this happen? Here, too, the Gospel stories are helpful, Just as some of Jesus’ first-century followers could not credit the presence of the risen Christ, so our own blindness, habit, and fear form a kind of constant fog that keeps us from seeing, and thereby believing in, the forms that grace takes in our everyday lives. We may think that it would be a great deal easier to believe if the world erupted around us, if some savior came down and offered as evidence the bloody scars in his side, but what the Gospels suggest is that this is not only wishful thinking but willful blindness, for in fact the world is erupting around us, Christ is very often offering us the scars in his side. What we call doubt is often simply dullness of mind and spirit, not the absence of faith at all, but faith latent in the lives we are not quite living, God dormant in the world to which we are not quite giving our best selves.

There it is. These are the reasons I love this book.

Lord, if we are going to have doubt, when we inevitably have doubt, let it be devotional doubt, and not self-sufficient pride.


Quid Est Veritas?

This weekend, I found myself, unexpectedly, sitting next to a man I knew several years ago. He’s a minster, and has been an inspiration to many. I was surprised when he walked into the room where I was reading Wise Blood, but naturally, I stood to hug him. We sat down and began the necessary dialogue between two people who haven’t seen each other in a few years. As we talked I saw he was the same man I’ve always known him to be: passionate, prophetic, driven, ready to move, ready for the next big thing.

It was as he was telling me about the next venture for his ministry that I realized I had changed. I wondered to myself if the changes were for the better? I don’t think I can say with one sweeping statement they’re all good or all bad changes. Obviously, I hope they’re good, but reality is I can’t actually know. All I know is I have changed.

Some years ago, I found myself dissatisfied with my Christianity, realizing if it was going to be sustained, I would have to stop simply swallowing what was given to me by my teachers, as well meaning and genuine as they were and are, and seek truth for myself. I did just that.

I have tried my best to stay away from certain beliefs, or rejecting them, based on the mere fact of them being liberal, or progressive, or conservative, or ortho- or heterodox. It is tempting to reject old beliefs simply because they’re old or to adopt new ones simply because they’re new. I don’t want to be a partisan theology student. I have sought truth and have tried to hold onto it regardless of who does or doesn’t believe or disbelieve in it. I want to know and believe truth.

I try not to react to things with cynicism, but it is difficult to continue to believe certain things after years of disappointment.

What is truth?

(I swear if someone says “The Bible!” or “Truth is a man!” I’m going to lose my mind. Those are the kind of answers that are not helpful at all. I get it. But there’s more to it than that, and those answers don’t lead anyone on the path of truth.)

I don’t believe truth is relative, subject to change, or vanity. I do feel like our grasp of it is often weak at best. We adjust our lives and believes as we discover it. At least, that’s what I (try to) do.

Christ does not change.
But we certainly do.

I certainly do.

I have changed. I hope I continue to change, and I hope it’s in the direction of truth. I hope it’s in the direction of Christ. Sometimes we discover that a road we thought led away from him actually leads to him. This is always a surprise, and sometimes it’s painful to grow into new ideas.

How much do we hold onto simply because it’s what we’ve always held onto? Is that reason enough to continue holding on? Is it reason enough to let go? Maybe these questions should not even be part of the equation. Maybe it’s the pursuit of truth itself that is important, without regard to old and new, same or different. Though, I don’t mean a pursuit of truth as an abstract concept, as something to be learned, but as an experience, made of many experiences, to be lived.

Maybe that is why it’s important that Jesus is called the truth. He is not a thing or concept to be accepted. He is a concrete…no…a flesh and blood person to be experienced. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands…we have seen it and testify to it…that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

To follow Jesus, I think, will mean to follow him “outside the camp,” to follow him where our fellow believers will often be unwilling to go. This is a painful thought because this entity called The Church is a communal reality, and any truth has to be lived in life with others, experienced with others, if it is to be truth. No person can be a Christian alone. No person can know truth in isolation.

My Darkness

During the winter of 2007, through the spring of 2008, I walked into darkness.

I’ve probably thought about that time every day since then. It at least feels like it. It has never left me.

In the winter of 1987, I was severely burned over a large portion of my body. I spent about six months at Denver Children’s Mercy Hospital, fighting for life in the beginning, and recovering for the rest of that time. I was released on April 4th, my birthday, which was also Easter Sunday. Seems fitting. Almost thirty years later, I still wear the scars from that moment on my arms and back. When I was in high school, my dad learned of a procedure that could remove my scars, significantly, if not entirely. He asked if I wanted to go through the procedure. Without hesitation, I told him no. He was taken back by my reaction. He couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t want to remove the scars.

I still feel the same way today I felt then. These are not just scars, these are my scars. They are as much part of me as my brown eyes, or my temperament. What happened to me that day shaped me, left its mark, literally, and is a necessary part of my being. To remove these scars, my scars, would be to deny and attempt to hide who I am. Though there are painful memories living in my scars, they are me.

Sometimes, while I am driving alone after a long day, or long week, or long month, I think about that winter, when God disappeared. It didn’t happen suddenly. Gradually, he faded from sight, vanishing behind the descending darkness. I remember the night I realized he was gone. I was in the living room of my parents house, watching an advertisement for a conference in Kansas City, and the cold reality of my lostness hit me full force. I quietly shut my laptop, went downstairs into my room, and begged God to come back. With tears making their way down my cheeks, I understood I was alone.

Without God, the only one I could look at was myself, and I didn’t see much. I had been very self-confident until then. There wasn’t much I didn’t know, or that I couldn’t learn. I thought that, until I could no longer see.

Existential atheism.

I thought I believed in God. I wanted to believe in God. I wanted Jesus to be what and who he said he was, but there was no evidence of that for me. Maybe he was, but without coming face to face with that reality, he may as well have been rotting in a grave somewhere. That was the Jesus I knew then, a dead, long forgotten Jesus who meant nothing to me. Yet, in meaning nothing, he meant everything. His existence still overshadowed mine.

God was gone, and in his absence, he was present with me.

He was the void I was falling into, without knowing it. We live most our lives in fantasy, trying to convince ourselves of things we don’t truly believe.

Had I ever believed in God?

I never thought about it. I never gave myself the chance to doubt, and in so doing, I never gave myself the chance to believe. There were times in the two years that followed high school when moments of unbelief would explode in my head, but I never confronted them. I simply told myself this was untrue, that God did exist, and I only needed to keep believing. But darkness grew like moss in my being, until one day, I could no longer deny it. Darkness became my reality, and it pushed out all the fantasies I called faith.

I hated it then.
I am thankful for it now.

Obviously, I came out believing in Jesus. I’ve written about it before, so I won’t take the time here.

My heart wears scars from that time. Scars which are sensitive to certain temperatures and touches. Scars I can see whenever I look into my own eyes. Scars I hope never disappear. They remind me that I have lived and I am alive. They remind me that I am nothing, and in my nothingness, the reality of God can be a light in darkness, and my nothingness becomes Being in him.

There is a sadness in my heart that never goes away. Its roots are anchored in my atheism, in my dead God. But the leaves grow up into the brightness that is the Living God. There, where they bear fruit, is joy and peace.

My scars remind me what I have is faith in Jesus, and not a fantasy of God.

Oh Dear…

something needs to change.

I was in a conversation with some people today about their conservative parents response to their liberal ideas. Typical Republican answers to typical Democratic convictions.

What is upsetting to me is the reasoning I hear from the mouths of Christians supporting the Republican agenda.

“People in entry level jobs don’t deserve a living wage.”

So, what you’re saying is that a person isn’t worthy of a living wage simply because they’re somehow less educated, or less skilled? We’re not talking here about someone having a higher wage than another. If you think highly educated people deserve higher wages, that’s fine. But that’s not what I’m hearing.

What I’m hearing is that a person is not worth a living wage, a person isn’t valuable enough to be paid a wage with which they can support themselves, and say, maybe a spouse, simply because they’re doing “entry level jobs.” An entry level job is a job that only those who need money take because they have little or no other options.

But what is that person worth?

The way I see it, people who are working entry level jobs are as integral to society as those who work skilled jobs. Lord knows the doctor isn’t going to clean the restrooms in the hospital. I suppose the person on the operating table wouldn’t want the doctors hands in the toilet as well as in his chest.

The service industry is a vital part of our hyperactive, nervous, Capitalist society. Who wants to go to work in the morning without their morning cup of coffee? Think of the convenience you have because there are people out there who do nothing else but listen to you say what you want to eat, along with your idiosyncratic modifications, then run along and make sure the cook, who likely makes your meal to specifications, prepares your food, then runs it out to you. All in as timely a manner as they can.

Why does that person not deserve to live relatively comfortable, with all needs met with a little left over for entertainment?

A person deserves to live with their needs met and a little comfort simply because they’re human. Not because they’re educated, or put their time in, or citizens, or whatever other reasons you’re thinking. Maybe a lawyer should make more money than a janitor or a server (I’m not necessarily saying they should). But why does that mean a person shouldn’t make a living wage? (I am necessarily saying they should.)

The entire Christian faith is founded on the principle that people don’t get what they deserve, and do get what they don’t. In other words, God acted selflessly because he valued humans beings as human beings. Once you insert the idea of “deserving,” you invalidate the whole divine action. “Deserving” is not a word that is in the vocabulary of salvation.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. This isn’t addressing other anti-human systems at work. Let me be clear, I am not a Democrat, even if I lean liberal. I am a non-voter. I think the whole system is sham, a game that is played with the American people. But if I can’t vote Democrat because I disagree with the platform on two or three issues, I certainly can’t vote Republican since I agree with them on two or three issues, and not on any others.

I have much more to say, and I think this may turn into a series.

Queen in Gold

Corn in a Twilight Sky by KDB


I was thinking about the statements the Bible says about the Church, and some of the things I’ve heard said over the years about the Church becoming this powerful, holy force (see Ephesians 4:11-16). I was also thinking about the condition she is in now.

I didn’t know how to reconcile what I could see in the Church now with what I read in the Scriptures. And I certainly could not see how we are supposed to come into this glorious reality I was reading about, so I asked the Holy Spirit how it would happen, expressing my disbelief in it ever happening.

Suddenly, I saw a great, grassy field stretching as far as the eye could see in every direction. If you’ve ever been to Wyoming, and watched the breeze move through the grass like waves, you’ll know what I’m talking about. In the distance, I could see a single plant, standing above the grass.

I was rushed toward it, and saw it was a corn stalk. Just one. There were no cornfields here. Only the plains and the single stalk of corn. It grew high and straight. I could see the age in the sections toward the bottom. The older sections browned and peeled back to allow the newer sections to grown. What wasn’t browning and drying up at the bottom was a dark green.

A single ear of corn grew at the top.
The husk around the corn was light brown and dry. The leaves were starting to turn back at the top. The husk peeled back slowly, and revealed, not an ear of corn, but a woman of solid gold. She shone with a bright light and wore a crown.

This is a picture of the Church, Ecclesia, the Queen of Heaven.

I feel that God was showing me the growth pattern of the Church, because She is, after all, a single, living organism. There has never been a time in history when the expression of the Church was wrong, even if some practices or beliefs were. The Church has been exactly what it needed to be in order to fulfill the purpose God had for it at that time. Yet, a time would come when it grew old, and new growth had to come out from within. The old skin would peel back to allow the new growth. But the old was still alive, still part of the Church, and still necessary for the new growth to survive. In some ways, it protected the new growth.

This is all leading up to the fruit, the Queen of Gold, the Church in all her glory. All the growth. All the hard times, the sick times, the bad weather, the droughts, the explosions of growth, the hardening of the outer layers, is leading up to that moment when suddenly She will be revealed to be what God always intended. She will be full of the glory of God. She will be beautiful and pure.

She has to finish growing. Fruit should not be eaten until it’s ripe. As long as we’re here, fighting this out, figuring out how to worship and serve and love Jesus Christ, we’re still growing. We need to be kind to one another. We are all One plant.

And one day,
we will all
be revealed to be the One bride of Jesus Christ.

Black Hole


It tears the soul
deep inside
gnawing just below the rib cage

Like a black hole
Ready to consume
to destroy
to take anything
and drain what little life there is to find
Vampire thirst for blood

Is there light bright enough to overcome
the cavity
in existence
ravaging existence
ingesting existence?
Is there fire torrid enough
to warm the icy blackness
capturing a thousand stars?

Mercy drives the stake
into the void
where darkness lies
Drains black bile
liberating spirit


What Does God Know?

And they heard sound of YHWH walking in the Garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of YHWH among the trees of the Garden. But YHWH called to the man and said to him,

“Where are you?”

Genesis 3:8-10

The first question found in the Bible comes from the mouth of God, the Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. He spoke, and by his word existence was woven into being. But here he is, walking in a Garden, perplexed.

“Where are you?”

I’ve often heard it said, “You know if God is asking you a question, he’s not asking for his sake, he’s asking for your sake.” While I can appreciate that sentiment, I have a hard time believing that, especially in Genesis 3. That response is like the deus ex machina, the easy solution to a hard problem to which a writer couldn’t find a way out. I think these responses are born from fear, because we can’t have a God who is unpredictable. It’s easier to keep our minds contained around a God who knows every single detail. And a God we can comprehend is a God we can control, even if we wouldn’t admit it. It’s this fear that, I believe, led to doctrines like the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. We were so afraid of the possibility of Jesus having some sort of imperfection, that we had to invent in illogical, or at least unnecessary, doctrine about Mary.

When YHWH asked the question, “Where are you?” I think he meant it.

Adam and Eve and God shared a union that echoed Triunion. When Adam ate the forbidden fruit, that union was broken. Something within the fellowship of God and humanity was ruptured, and Adam was lost to himself, and to God.

Maybe he knew exactly which tree to find Adam and Eve cowering behind, but that’s not really important, is it? What does it matter if God knew, physically, where Adam was? In the moment they ate from the Tree, God experienced loss. Adam and Eve disappeared from his line of vision, and he went looking for him.

Adam, and through him, humanity, had run away from home, and God grew…nervous? Scared? Anxious?

The Fall was rebellion, but it was more than that. It was losing our way. Adam wandered away from Life, from Union, and into death and fear and loneliness.

And God felt it.

He knew that Adam and Eve were now in danger. Yes, they had done something wrong. Yes, they had disobeyed God. But these were children. They were learning about life and existence along the way just like we do. And God is a Father. He’s a good Father. And good father’s don’t unleash their full rage on their children when they make mistakes. Adam/Humanity would have to bear the consequences of that decision, but I don’t think God was marching through the Garden saying, “Adam! When I find you, so help me!”

I think God was scared for the children he loved so dearly because they were now lost in an existence that was bent on their destruction. And when they fell out of his line of vision, his heart dropped, and he did what any loving Father would do, he dropped everything and went searching for them.