You can have anything you want if you want it desperately enough. You must want it with an inner exuberance that erupts through the skin and joins the energy that created the world.
– Sheila Graham
In terms of philosophy, I am fond of Thomas Aquinas. He is the one that came up with the theory of the first mover, that something put the universe into motion, and whatever that *thing* is, he calls God. I once saw a t-shirt to that effect that made me laugh: “I believe in the Big Bang Theory. God said ‘bang’ and it was.” Whether Aquinas was right or not is neither here nor there. In terms of the divine, I cannot concentrate on facts. It is as if the stories are true, without necessarily being factual (I see what I did there…). Do you understand the difference? Ruth Reichl, the longtime editor of Gourmet Magazine, says that she has a way of never letting facts get in the way of a good story. That is how I approach the Bible, as a living document, a lens through which to see the world, but the facts will never line up. The Bible is a reflection on the divine. Whether God is there or not, in a sense, does not matter. It is where the rubber meets the road to me with atheists. When they say to me that God does not exist, I simply say, “what does that matter? Facts feed the brain, and universal truth feeds the soul.” In that vein, I do not believe in the classic “father in the sky” interpretation. I believe in the forceful, violent wind of the Holy Spirit, which, ironically, comes to me in Will Smith’s voice in MIB… that NYPD stands for Nock Yo Punkass Down. The Holy Spirit is remarkably similar.
As I have said before in My Jesus, he is not there so much to comfort me in my distress but to distress me out of my comfort. When the Holy Spirit beckons me to do something, I turn to the Gospels for inspiration. Asking what Jesus would do is not a bracelet, but a lifestyle. Those bracelets drive me up the wall because Jesus cannot be reduced to a soundbite. He is not 11 seconds at 11:00. It’s a more complicated answer than that, evidenced by the Biblical scholars that spend a lifetime working out the meanings of the parables. There are hundreds of respected authors on the topic that would agree with me. Reaching out for answers from Jesus is work. Real work. The kind where you feel exhausted at the end of an hour because your mind is moving so fast.
It is that drive for exhaustion that leads me to the Holy Spirit. The need for understanding of the divine and our reactions to it. What might we accomplish if we recognized a higher power, not for control but to get our fucking egos out of the way? I am not saying that atheists are not important to our society. What kind of faith would I have if I could not discuss it intelligently with the other side (and I often do)? They are not my enemy, they are the ones I lean against to strengthen my belief. In fact, I have one friend, Andrew, that I worked with at Biddy McGraw’s. When we weren’t on the line, we were sitting and talking, sometimes about God and Not God. I began to call him “Christopher,” after Christopher Hitchens, and he began to call me “Rowan,” after Rowan Williams. It was an interesting dialogue, because we recognized our love for each other. He was my “work husband,” and to get heated about an argument was to damage that relationship, not worth it to either of us. However, we were both passionate about our beliefs, and as I have learned over the years, fire does not burn you if you won’t let it. You can choose it to temper you and make you stronger.
That’s what I did… I used “Christopher’s” fire to make me more solid, to be able to argue my beliefs intelligently. I used it to decide what mattered to me in the Bible and what didn’t. For instance, I am not sure whether Jesus’s miracles ever happened. I am shaky on substitutionary atonement. I think transubstantiation is a little bit gross and entirely morbid. But here is what I do believe, wholeheartedly. It’s a quote from C.S. Lewis that I picked up in the movie “Shadowlands:” I don’t pray to God because it changes God. I pray to God because it changes me. For me, prayer is everpresentlovingkindness, a way to center myself when I feel weak. It is a spot inside me that tells me I am right and good, and it is where I lean in order to keep going. It organizes my thoughts in a way that I do not get anywhere else, and the surrender is in asking for help… because when you ask the universe for help, it takes your ego and your pride and moves it over so that you can see the world differently.
I believe in the power of ritual. That the remembrance of Christ is essential to faith, and communion is a representation of it. Every time we go to the rail and kneel in submission, we are sitting in the Upper Room with Christ, sharing the last meal of the disciples, home in a single sip. Even if you cannot believe in miracles, you can believe in the message. I believe that nearly every parable boils down into believing in yourself. Believing in your ability to change the way you react to the world. Kneeling in calm and peace as you wait for the bread and the cup to come around to you is acknowledging the man who helped you achieve that peace in the first place.
I believe in the power of the newborn Jesus, that the story is a call to renew our faith every year. Hope and new life wrapped up in turning inward to wait for the baby and rejoice when he arrives. Who doesn’t believe in the power of a baby? That, in a sense, when the baby is born we all receive a little of their tabula rasa, their clean slate? We remember what it was like to be children, their innocence calling to us with their first ventures out into the world.
I believe in the resurrection, whether it bodily happened or not. The message is clear even if the facts aren’t… the power lies not in Jesus’ resurrection itself, but its example that we have the ability to resurrect ourselves. We can recover from the bad beats, either created for us or by us. Resurrection happens in ourselves and in our communities. In our churches and in our world. There are so many real-life examples of this. The resurrection happened after September 11th. You could feel it. There are so many other instances, but I choose to focus on this one because it was so readily apparent that it was palpable. As a country, we came together in support. We mourned together, openly and loudly. We rebuilt. We survived, even though it was hard work.
What I want, so desperately I can feel it, is to help these resurrections happen. I want the training and the resources to guide others to wholeness, because I know that I have a lot of work to do before I am whole myself. Choosing a church where I could thrive was the first step. Choosing a school where I could go all the way to my MDiv without stopping was the second. Choosing a therapist that could guide me in all of the ways I have failed so that I could put them behind me in order to succeed was the third. I am measuring my steps, because in the future I am liable to have lots of people that come to me for help, and the last thing I want to do is hurt them. If I’m going to be a shepherd, I want to be a good one. I have said many times that being a pastor is only being in front of people 10% of the time. The 90% is people being in front of you.
I cannot hide in my crystal tower and write people into wholeness. I need to give up my bag, my extra tunic, and my huge fucking ego. Healing people by the power of the Holy Spirit does not come from above. It comes from getting down into the problem and working up. When I kneel in prayer, I ask for the guidance to do all of these things, because if I don’t, I will become one of those people who get others to follow them instead of following Christ. There’s plenty of them out there, and I won’t mention names, but you know who they are. I am never going to ask anyone to buy me a private jet………
What erupts through my skin is the power of knowing. I am this person. I am this shepherd. I have the ability to lead, because the energy that created the world is asking me to serve. I have run long enough. If God is the Great I Am, then I am the little one. I know myself, and that is the best gift the Holy Spirit has ever endowed.