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Previously:
I Come of Age
I Go To College
Death and the Televangelist
The Return
Finding My Way

Conclusion

It’s become clear to me I’m not going to finish the “My Pagan Soul” series in any consistent way. The chronological treatment doesn’t work all that well for my more recent years. So I’m going to conclude by starting from the present.

Right now, I’m a Unitarian Universalist and a new member of ar n’Draiocht Fein, also called, A Druid Fellowship – ADF, either way.

Ultimately, despite one more short return to Christianity at an Episcopal Church in 2008, monotheistic, exclusionary religion doesn’t ring true to me. I have tried to make it fit. I have stepped away from it knowing that that represents a break from my upbringing, which isn’t easy to do. But, try as I might, it just isn’t me.

Unitarian Universalism is a much more suitable place for my regular religious practice. I like the freedom of thought and belief it allows, and the people are far more likely to share my values and approach to life than any I’ve encountered in traditional Christian churches. We’re part of a small but vibrant congregation, and find it fulfilling.

ADF too is proving to be a good fit so far, although it’s a much newer involvement. Paganism in general, and the various kinds of modern-day Druidry in particular, feed my resonance with nature. And ADF offers a polytheistic view of deity that reflects the way everybody thought of the gods before monotheisms arose and took over. I have a little difficulty committing to that as a faith-statement, but as I become increasingly comfortable with it as an operating paradigm, I think that day may come.

I am happy with my present spiritual life, moreso than I remember having been in the past. I’m not going out of a sense of obligation to another person, nor am I constantly having to reinforce my commitment by trying to control my own thoughts, nor yet am I drifting along with no structure … and if you look at any phase of my life prior to the last couple of years, one of those three conditions would be in play.

This is good.

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Previously:

I Come of Age

I Go to College

Death and the Televangelist

The Return

Finding My Way

At the time I was wrestling with theological difficulties, I was also struggling with personal ones. My marriage had pretty well unraveled due to a number of factors, and we divorced one month before our third anniversary. At the same time, I was having some problems at work, partly due to the external stresses affecting my performance and partly due to a bad manager.
It all added up to, time for a new start. So I began looking for a new job in a new place, and within a few months I found one, in Maryland, a thousand miles away. So I loaded up a U-Haul truck and set out for the new location.
I settled into the new job and, with a fresh start and away from the sources of turbulence, did it well. I left it for a better one, and then when that one collapsed in 2002 with a mass layoff, landed in yet another good place. Meanwhile, I had new friends, a new relationship and no particular religious inclinations. Life was pretty good and getting better.
But there were twinges. I sometimes missed the sense of spiritual community in a church. I sometimes missed the comfort of ritual and the sense of spiritual connection to a larger reality. I sometimes wished I could believe what I didn’t really believe anymore. So 10 years or so after the move, I again picked up books and began reading and contemplating – but in new ways. Thanks to a few people I had gotten to know in the years since I left the old home, I had had my horizons expanded. This time, the books I sought out had to do with neopaganism and Unitarian
Universalism – paths I had been virtually unaware of before but that might have appealed to me years before if I’d known.
Unitarian Universalism appealed to me immediately, intellectually at least, because as described in the first book I pick up – A Chosen Faith, by John Buehrens and Forrest Church – it sounded like a good place for spiritual inquirers, people like me who didn’t have all the answers but wanted a place to ask and consider the questions. That was the idea, though – I had no idea yet if the reality would live up to it.
On the pagan side, things took longer to cohere. Paganism is a big world, but Lynda, my partner and co-author here, was a good guide through a few titles that helped put things into focus. I began to feel drawn especially to Druidry due partly to its connection to nature and partly because to the extent that I can trace my ancestry, I’m pretty sure that at least some of my distant ancestors were Celts.
After a few months of thought and discussion with Lynda, I sent in the money to join ar nDraiocht Fein, the largest American Druid organization. I also visited a few UU churches nearby and liked them all in various ways. At last it seemed like I might be forging a spirituality born out of my own awareness and intuitions rather than on someone else’s authority.
Next: Conclusion

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This is the sermon I preached on Aug. 7, 2011 at Davies Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church.

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Some of you probably recognized the music Denise played just now. It’s the theme to the British science fiction show Doctor Who. Anybody here a fan?

All you need to know for our purpose here is that the principal character, the Doctor, is a super-intelligent alien with a machine that lets him travel anywhere in time and space. With his home planet gone, he is always traveling the universe, usually with human companions.

The show started in 1963 and ran until the late 1980s, and then was revived in 2005.

In the 2010 season, the storyline involved a disruption in time that was on the verge of causing the entire universe to not exist. And not only would it not exist, it would be swallowed into time and never have existed at all.

The Doctor eventually figures out a solution, but it will mean that in order to save the universe, he will have to let himself be erased – to never have existed.

He puts the plan into motion and as it begins to take effect, time starts to rewind for him and he finds himself at the bedside of his current traveling companion, Amelia – but about 15 years in the past when she is just a little girl.

Here’s the reason I bring it up. As he sits beside her while she sleeps, he says these words:

“When you wake up … you won’t even remember me. Well, you’ll remember me a little. I’ll be a story in your head. But that’s okay. We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh? Because it was, you know. It was the best.”

We’re all stories, in the end.

In this fantasy story, the Doctor’s real life with Amy will become just a half-remembered childhood tale.  And isn’t he right? We are all stories in the end.

When we pass from the world, those who knew us will tell stories about us from their memories. To those who remember us, the stories will bring vivid recollections. But to those who never knew us, we’ll never be more than characters in a story.

And in another generation, no one alive will have known us.

We’re all stories in the end.

There’s a lesson in that. If we’re all stories in the end, we’re all stories in the now. The story doesn’t begin only after our lives are done. We’re living our stories now, day by day, hour by hour.

A choice we make today, even a seemingly trivial one, can reverberate into the future, shaping some part of our lives a week from now, or next year.

Once we grasp that – when we can see ourselves as each the protagonist of a novel – we can become the author as well. We can live a story, to some extent shaped by other people and circumstances, but to a large degree within our control.

So how do we do that? How do we take our lives and see them as stories?  How do we see ourselves as telling a story, rather than being carried along by the stories going on around us?

The first step is simply believing that we can.

Your life is a first-person novel; you are both the protagonist and the author. As protagonist, you interact with all the other characters in your novel. Some are significant supporting characters, some are occasional bit players, but they all can steer our course in big and small ways.

So can events, things that happen unexpectedly that we must deal with.

We begin to write our stories, rather than coast through them, when we make choices that may change our course.

Often, the choices we make aren’t surprising, although they do set a direction. Sometimes, we do something nobody expected, that even we weren’t sure we would do. Whether the choices are big or small, we take up the pen when we choose a direction.

But can we really do this? Can we make true choices or are we prisoners of our genes? Are we limited by our circumstances? Is our free will only an illusion?

In fact, there are some limits on our choices, but they’re not set in stone.

In fiction, good characters are defined well so that who they are limits what they are likely to do,  limits that grow naturally from the character’s beliefs, ethics, desires and weaknesses. When a character we’ve become familiar with does something unexpected that’s not well explained as part of the story, our suspension of disbelief snaps because we know it’s out-of-character behavior.

Can you imagine James Bond running away in panic when the villain’s henchmen shoot at him? Would Michael Douglas’s Gordon Gekko from the “Wall Street” movies give all his money to charity without an ulterior motive?

Can you imagine Star Trek’s Mr. Spock cracking jokes and flirting with the women on the Enterprise if he wasn’t under the influence of some force that broke his devotion to unemotional logic?

When these things happen in fiction, we in the audience reject it because it’s out of character. The only way it could be even possibly acceptable is if the behavior represents a real change of heart for the character and becomes part of the story.

And there’s the limitation on the stories of our lives: we rarely behave out of character.

Theoretically, turning tail and running from danger is an option James Bond could choose, but because of who he is, fundamentally, he never would.

But in real life, as in fiction, there is a time for out-of-character behavior.

In fiction, it signifies an author wanting to make a serious change to a character’s nature, and will influence all future stories about that character.  It has the same significance in real life.

Our choices become habits, habits become patterns and patterns become character.

For example, imagine that someone insults you at a party.  In theory, you have any of a large number of reactions to choose from.

You can ignore it. You can walk away from the person. You can insult the person back. You can slap her. You can pretend to ignore it and then go outside and slash her tires. And so on.

But in reality, you have a narrower range of choices, and those we’re most likely to take are influenced by our inborn personalities, the ways we’ve reacted to insult in the past, our relationship to the person who insulted us and even our mood of the moment.

Like the prospect of James Bond panicking rather than maintaining his calm demeanor, there are some reactions that are viable options in the abstract but not options we would ever take – at least not without awareness of the factors that influence us and a deliberate decision to defy them.

Whatever way we choose to react, that reaction will add to the patterns already in place. That will influence our actions in the future.

It also will add to the patterns affecting the person who insulted us (just as her insult added a new pattern to our own.)

And that’s where out of character behavior comes in.

When someone who is easily angered chooses to learn deep-breathing calming exercises to help control the anger, he’s changing his own story.

In the past it would have been in character for him to respond to bad service in a restaurant by yelling at the server.  But after he takes up the pen and writes a new aspect to his character, he’s more likely to patiently request another cup of coffee twice rather than grow angry when the first request goes unmet for ten minutes.

From then on, he’s telling a new story with his life, and affecting the other characters in his novel in different ways, a change that ripples out to the characters in the novels that star those other characters.

Those other people.

That’s the other dimension here. Our stories are not limited to ourselves.

They begin before we are born, with our parents. With their parents. And so on back.

We exist, and live the lives we do, because of thousands, tens of thousands of small decisions that people made before we were even here, and that we, and others, have made since then.

This is a concept that you find strongly in some neo-pagan traditions. In Asatru, a pagan religion drawn from Scandanavian lore, it’s called wyrd. W-y-r-d.

It simply means that who we are is shaped by who our ancestors were, and that wat we do, our decisions, continue to shape us, and ultimately our children and grandchildren.

It’s something similar to, but not quite the same as, the concept of karma.

It reminds us that causes of our decisions don’t start with us, and the effects of our decisions don’t stop with us. Our decisions affect those around us.

They affect our children, grandchildren and, as we affect them, they make choices influenced in part by us that will affect their own children.

Those of you who were here for Bruce’s Question Box sermon last week may recall what he said about his influences. He told us of his grandfather, who left Germany with his wife and daughter just before World War II.

He came to the midwest ofAmerica, and eventually became an enthusiastic Unitarian. Because of that one decision, and the decisions that flowed from it, Bruce’s mother found a husband in the heart ofAmerica, and raised her children as UUs.

They might have been German Lutherans instead, but one man’s decision to flee his homeland changed all that.  And all of it shaped Bruce’s early life and led to his becoming a UU minister.

That’s storytelling.

Bruce’s grandfather is, to us, a story. We’re all stories, in the end. But that story shaped Bruce’s story in profound ways. Our stories are driven by an interwoven thread that binds together what has been, what is becoming and what will be.

So how does this help us live a better story?

Recognize, when you have moments of choice in your life, that your first inclinations are going to be strongly affected by your past, by the accumulation of choices and habits little by little. Your natural impulse may be a good choice for your story but if it’s not, you have the power – with courage – to make another choice.

Here’s another example: Donald Miller, a Christian essayist, wrote a memoir called Blue Like Jazz, and later, some independent film-makers decided to make a movie of it. But first they had to turn Miller’s rambling memories into a tight, coherent plot suitable for film.

Miller wrote another book about the experience of editing his life, called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. In it, he tells about attending a seminar on storytelling taught by a writer named Robert McKee. And soon after that, he visits a friend whose daughter is dating someone the father doesn’t like or trust. Miller goes on:

Then I said something that caught his attention. I said his daughter was living a terrible story.

 “What do you mean?” he asked.

 To be honest, I don’t know exactly what I meant. I probably wouldn’t have said it if I hadn’t just returned from the McKee seminar.

 But I told him what I’d learned, that the elements of a story involve a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. Even as I said this, I wasn’t sure how it applied to his daughter.

 “Go on,” my friend said.

 “I don’t know, exactly, but she’s not living a very good story. She’s caught up in a bad one.”

Miller and his friend talked a while longer, about novels and movies and what makes for a good story, and the visit ended. But, he writes:

 A couple of months later I ran into Jason and asked about his daughter.

 “She’s better,” he said to me, smiling. And when I asked why, he told me his family was living a better story.

The better story in this case was a radical one.

Miller’s friend had thought about the conversation and decided to take deliberate steps to improve the story his family was living.  He hooked up with an organization that builds orphanages in third-world countries and committed the family to build one in Mexico, at a cost of about $25,000 they didn’t have.

Most of us would not consider such a step. I wouldn’t. But you have to admit, that’s a hell of a story.

It’s when we make those pivotal choices in recognition that we need not be limited by the choices we’ve made before that our lives can turn dramatically.

Donald Miller’s friend and Bruce’s grandfather are examples of people who made profound changes to radically alter their stories.

But it doesn’t have to be a big and dramatic shift. You don’t have to abandon your life and go build an orphanage to live a better story. You don’t have to flee your homeland and start a new life in a new place.

Often we change our patterns, our habits, just a little, in a way that will be in play as the threads of our lives continue to weave together. But that small course correction, almost imperceptible at the time, can eventually lead us to a place miles and miles from where we would have been had we not made it.

Another key ingredient it living a better story is clarity of ambition.

Remember what Donald Miller learned in the story seminar: a story is about a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.

Clear desires make for strong stories. Muddled, ambivalent lives make for muddled, ambivalent stories.

In any compelling drama, you should be able to point to any major character and be able to say, succinctly, what the person wants in that moment in the story.

Think of a film you’ve seen or a novel you’ve read that had a lasting impact on you, and it’s likely that part of the reason is because it was clear what the main characters wanted.

Think of a story that seemed uninvolving or left you feeling unsatisfied, and it may be because the characters lacked direction – we don’t understand why they do what they do, because a poor storyteller doesn’t know just what it is they’re trying to achieve.

A clear objective gives the character a path to travel, engaging the obstacles along the way.  Often those obstacles come from other characters, living their own stories. Sometimes they come from within, weaknesses in our characters or simple mistakes in our perceptions that we must overcome.

Living your life as a story isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s a way of thinking about life that can open new doors for us.

In the Doctor Who episode that we started with, Amy and her fiance Rory remember the Doctor just as  a story, as he said they would, until the vividness of the story starts to feel real in their minds and he’s able to return to existence.

It’s a metaphor of course, and it’s a powerful one: Stories matter.

Compelling lives make for compelling stories.

Compelling stories can have a power that lives on after the person at the center of them is a memory.

We have the power to write our stories as we go and, if the need arises, to deliberately choose to live a better one.

We’re all stories in the end. We’re all stories in the now.

Make yours a good one.

Make it the best.

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Ojo Taylor, former Christian rocker turned agnostic humanist, got into a long discussion on Facebook recently in which he said some things in his comments that resonate with me.

At one point the conversation turned to the value of intellectual evidences for Christianity vs. an “encounter,” that is, a mystical experience. Ojo responded:

 I want to acknowledge yet again your need for and experience of an encounter. I am glad to set the record straight by saying that contrary to what you wrote in another place, I am impressed, unless you meant impressed to the point of action. I accept everyone’s encounters but not everyone’s explanations or interpretations of them as factual. That seems prudent to me. I read your last post above earlier today but had to run to the studio for a long day of music, another of life’s great joys and honors for me, so I had time to think it over.

What immediately came to mind was an encounter I had just yesterday. I have them all the time. I was suddenly overcome, so full, so alive, felt so fertile, it was remarkable, and I can’t explain it or its origin. I told no one about it but it was beautiful. I have them all the time, very often. They are divine encounters if it is at all true that God is love. I don’t feel any need or compulsion to attach my encounters to a doctrinal cart and all that goes with that, nor is all that doctrinal baggage endemic to the encounter.

My own experience is that I have them much more often, more meaningfully and more intensely than I ever did as a practicing Christian, and I am more compelled to action as a result. I know that’s impossible for Christians to grasp, assent to or even consider, but it’s true. Now perhaps others’ encounters have been more ecstatic than mine. I truly have not had an ecstatic experience along the lines of a Lonnie Frisbee devotee or St. Paul. I can only point out that people of all faiths have those encounters and the families into which they are born has more to do with who or what that encounter is attributed to than anything else. I really think it matters little the god-ideal that people assign to their experience. If it is love, it is divine, by the Christians’ own Word (in a multitude of places).

While honoring your encounter, I also find myself in a place to honor everybody’s including my own. There is no encounter, no experience, no sense, no emotion, no depth or practice of love, reason, no divine favor for the Christian that is any more valid, valuable, divine or legitimate than anyone’s of any faith or no faith. People have encounters all the time and attribute them to whatever and whomever they attribute them too. So yes, as you said, the encounter is paramount to the intellect. But when the intellect is invoked, then the intellect will surely have to respond, again by the Christians own Word. There should be no convenient moving of the goal posts back and forth between intellect and experience to serve one’s own needs though. Put another way in simpler terms, I think, nay, I “know” that love is more important than correct beliefs, more important than any belief at all. All peoples have and practice love, no sect more than others. That’s just my pagan view. I am not saying it to proselytize or confront, just to share. Isn’t Facebook grand? Thank you. I dearly appreciate your friendship too.

Later on, after someone expressed being sad that Ojo no longer holds his former views, he made a nicely worded declaration of universalism.

Jon, I agree with you in one very important way. I believe Love is at the heart of the universe, at least my universe. Of course we don’t mean that in nearly the same ways, but there it is. It is not blind chance at all, but as Einstein said, “What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.” Let’s not be reductionist here. It is not either love or chance, Yahweh or despair. There are many ways people access love, what they deeply and certainly consider divine, often rooted in the same types of Encounter you describe. I’m sure conservative theology will have none of that, but again, it is undeniably true as a survey of peoples through time and geography attest over and over. Whence conservatism when we’re talking about God? A god of correct beliefs is no god at all.

It seems, and I may be wrong, that you have built a bridge for yourself from your legitimate encounter to what even you admit is a conservative theology. How did that happen? The encounter is the easy part for me, but the bridge is where I run into trouble, especially when the encounter is somehow presented as any kind of evidence for anything outside your own “alone in this existence” experience (beautifully written, by the way). I accept it as your own testimony but cannot accept the explanation or interpretation as factual except that they are to you. Are we to think that the ecstasies of Padre Pio, Teresa of Avila, Francis of Assisi or any number of Catholic mystics require assent to transubstantiation, purgatory and the Immaculate Conception? What of the Sufi mystics, Buddhists, and all the others? Do they obligate us too?

I dated a woman for some time not long ago who also had a dissociative Encounter that lasted for many hours, changed her life immediately, permanently, changing the DNA of who she really was. That this came from an “old man in the sky” god-ideal was the farthest thing from her imagination and she chuckled when I asked. I have heard her story and it’s incredible. I hope she documents it sometime. But again, to take that to mean something beyond her own experience? No can do. Those of us who have not been given a bye on faith by the “knowledge” coming from an Encounter are left to other devices. I have to disagree with you; I do not loathe that sort of mysticism. But neither does that mean I feel obligated by it or accept it as divine revelation.

Perhaps finally, this sadness is on behalf of Jesus! You have suggested as much before also, that to move away from Orthodoxy is to break the heart of God. Again, there is no need! To any living, loving deities, Jesus, any, I am a resounding and unequivocal “Yes!” I call out to love, cry out with open arms for any way I can know and relate as intimately as I can! The heavens have kept their secrets well, so I am left in the absence of ecstasy to stumble along on my own, doing the best I can “imperfectly” with what I have at my disposal. I simply will not believe what I “know” is not true or what I even suspect is not true, what we have learned is not true. I’m done drinking the kool aid. If there is “sin” it is that, the denial of my conscience, my heart, and yes, my intellect. Nor do I expect you to violate yours.

You have pointed out before that I seem to you “data driven” or some such language. I have suggested that it is when objectivity is invoked that it must be met with the appropriate methodology and syntax. But here again, I relate most strongly to Einstein, who uses language similar to what you noted on Campbell:

“The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. It was the experience of mystery-even if mixed with fear-that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms-it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.”

Anyone asking me, also deeply religious in that sense, to travel that bridge from mystery to a dogma is going to have to do so with more rigor, elementary and primitive though that may be, than theology and poetry can muster. The myth is critically important, but cannot do the heavy lifting. The argument that A must be true because not-A is untenable seems so formally invalid that I can hardly take it seriously, but whether to despair or not is a choice, not a foregone conclusion. There are many good options, but that’s just my view.

 

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Back in the day when I was most active in the Christian church as an adult, I also was buying and listening to a lot of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM). There were dozens of artists I’d never heard of that I was having a good time getting to know. Some of it was passable entertainment, some of it was actually good in its own right.

After I left the church I also left behind a lot of the music. But there were a handful of artists that I kept in my collection and continued to like — and mostly still do — because whether or not I agreed with their theological stance, I found their music to be worthwhile on its own creative merits. And as I moved from indifferent agnosticism into my current universalism (more on that in the next installment of “My Pagan Soul,” which I promise is coming), I regained an appreciation for some (not all) of the lyrics, albeit from a perspective the songwriters might not have intended.

For the most part, the common thread among the artists that I continued to like was that they were older and had some life experience, and wove themes of faith into lyrics that were about the real struggles of life. The other side of the coin, those I liked for a time but didn’t keep going with after, were generally younger people whose songs were simply platitudes with no weight behind them.

In some cases, the artists grew in ways that kept me interested. The young Amy Grant’s work falls generally into that latter category, a kid who grew up in the church, didn’t know any particular hardship or pain, trying to tell us about life. But then she endured a painful divorce, and the scrutiny of a very judgmental fan base as her known friendship with Vince Gill turned into her second marriage, and then her songs became more reserved, introspective and painful. No longer a kid who thinks she has the answers, Amy Grant matured into a woman who’d been through some stuff and had discovered the value in questions.

Amy Grant was an aberration. I continued to like some of her earlier work, despite the lack of life scars that marked her later on. But the album she released in 1997, Behind the Eyes, is a raw and heartbroken work that rips away the veneer of superficial faith (which is what about 90 percent of CCM is), and exposes the rawness of human weakness and pain. It’s a remarkable album, easily the best of her releases. But because of the insular and judgmental nature of much of the CCM audience, it sold poorly.

DC Talk is another aberration. By all rights, I should have left them on the scrap heap when I left the church. Three kids who grew up in Christian homes, went to a Christian college and immediately out of that into CCM stardom as one of the most accoladed CCM groups of all time. They were essentially a CCM boy band. Hard to see where they had any great struggles to overcome, so when they sang about how Jesus brought them out of a past of sin and depravity (“Free At Last”), it was hard to believe they had ever really had such a life. And yet the mix of rock, soul and rap they achieved was so infectious, especially on their latter albums, it was hard not to enjoy a song of theirs when they came up now and then on the iPod.

I did not follow their solo careers after the group split up, though. The magic had been in the blend, and while I did pick up one CD from each member just to see if they were still doing interesting things individually, I had to conclude that they weren’t. Toby McKeehan (TobyMac) sounded the most like old DC Talk, but he was the rapper and his solo work was heavier on the hip-hop than I cared for. Michael Tait’s solo album was a decent enough rock record, but featured nothing that stood out. Kevin Max, the closest thing DC Talk had to avant garde, released an album that I sorta liked but had a hard time digging into.

So I didn’t really pay much attention to any of them for many years. And then recently, I read somewhere that Kevin Max had spoken up in support of Rob Bell, the pastor who recently wrote a book espousing universal salvation (there is no hell) and earning himself the scorn of much of the evangelical community in doing so. And in the Facebook post supporting Bell, Max said “I too am a Unitarian at heart.”

As you can imagine, this intrigued me. So I started looking around for more info and didn’t find much, just a number of web sites repeating the same quote and opining in various ways. I was forced (forced, I tell you) to ‘friend’ the man on Facebook so that I could read his wall posts.

And what I’ve found is a real and likeable person there. Whether or not he’s a UU I don’t know (he does follow UU World magazine on Twitter), but it’s pretty clear he’s been on a long personal and spiritual journey since the DC Talk days, one that is similar to mine in some ways. Whether this journey away from traditional Christianity started during or after his DC Talk days I don’t know, bu I suspect it might have been starting already while the group was going strong.

As a side note, while I was searching for information on Kevin Max, I found another old name from the CCM scene, Ojo Taylor, who’s now a full fledged agnostic humanist. Taylor was in a band I never caught on to, Undercover, but he also produced one I liked, and like, a lot: Adam Again.

All this is to say that people grow and change. My life wouldn’t have been significantly poorer had I not heard of the changes with these people, but I think being able to renew my fandom of people I liked a lot at an earlier time of my life in a very different context, and find that they have not been frozen in a time bubble the way others from their industry have been, is a validation for we who are ever on the journey.

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We’re moving into summer season at Davies Memorial, which means nine lay-led services in 12 weeks. The new element this summer: I’m leading one of them.

I have a sermon in the works — written, actually, although I have some ideas for revising it — that I’m going to call “Once Upon A Life.” (At least I think I’m going to, unless a better title occurs to me soon.) It’s about the way our lives form narratives and how we can consciously choose to live better stories when we make deliberate decisions to act in certain ways. And it’s about the way each of our stories affects the other stories being lived around us. I’m drawing from a modern Christian author, some pagan traditions (including Druidry), fiction-writing techniques and Doctor Who.

It’s set for August 7, and while I’m a little nervous about it, I’m excited too.

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Previously:
I Come of Age
I Go to College
Death and the Televangelist

The Return

I already knew the new minister, Brad, although only slightly. He had led my father’s memorial service, and I’d met him briefly then. But now I was going with the purpose of revisiting questions I’d put away and trying one more time to get some answers.

I was emotionally open. My father’s death and then my more recent bout of serious illness had put a sharp fear of mortality into my head. I felt I was missing an anchor, adrift. And with my horizons still relatively narrow, returning to something familiar made sense to me.

Brad impressed me immediately. Tall, young and vibrant, he was a sharp contrast to the ministers I’d grown up under at the same church. The man in the position when we started going was impersonal and aloof (or at least that was the impression I got as a child) and later shamed himself with indiscretions. After him came a succession of bland and colorless shepherds, none of whom formed any personal connection to me. Whether they were any more effective with the adults in the church (remember, I dropped out in my teen years), I can’t say.

Brad and I sat down and I unspooled the story of my past few years, how I had left the church behind, the events that had compelled me to initiate the conversation we were having. He took my questions seriously – a first I think – and offered some thoughts, and some books. I remember one was “Mere Christianity,” by C.S. Lewis. I don’t recall the others specifically, but they were all apologetics.

This was more than 20 years ago so I no longer remember exactly how long it took, but it wasn’t more than a few weeks. I decided to return to church. I was living an hour away from my hometown, so that church wasn’t really an option even with Brad in the pulpit. But my city and his were in the same district, which meant he knew a lot of the pastors at churches close to me. He recommended one; I went, liked it and kept going back.

There was trouble nearly from the beginning, though. I found that I kept devouring books about the faith, and many more of those books were defenses of it, rather than devotional or practical. I saw myself at the time as a bold new believer, and the books were to build up my weapons against doubters and skeptics. I sought out debate and defended Christianity boldly. But in truth, I came to understand, I needed a steady stream of reinforcement for myself.

My return to the church was born in emotional need, and then it continued to meet emotional needs. I made a new circle of friends there, more than I’d had before and for the most part, fun and interesting people. I got involved in the choir and discovered some minimal ability to sing, with care and good direction. But intellectually, I was forever needing to be re-convinced.

I still wrestled with the old question of exclusion, but I’d grown sophisticated enough in thinking to add some new difficulties to it. How to square a theology that ultimately depends on a first man and woman falling into sin with evolution, for example? Or a vast universe with hundreds of billions of galaxies with the central importance of man?

So I put aside conventional apologetics and sought out works that addressed those questions. In particular, I remember “Genesis and the Big Bang,” by Gerald Schroeder, “Darwin’s Black Box,” by Michael Behe, and “The Faith of a Physicist,” by John Polkinghorne.

They helped in some ways, but it was hard to ignore that the closer one got to scientific truth, the more one had to modify and adjust Christian theology – beat it with a hammer into a different shape entirely in some cases – to make it fit. Still, it wasn’t really inhibiting me, at that point, from being an enthusiastic Christian. I went to church every week, felt spiritually fed, socialized with my church friends more than any others, and sought out venues to discuss it. I had not quite made it to online interaction at this point — that was still in my future, although very close — but I found local people willing to debate and discuss.

Around the time these thoughts were coming to the fore – three or four years after I’d been active in the church – I got married. My wife (now ex) was also a faithful churchgoer, which gave me further incentive to put my doubts aside and just go with it. I managed to do that for another three years, but eventually I pulled away again. My marriage ended, partly over our no-longer-harmonious religious outlooks, and then everything changed.

NEXT: Finding My Way

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