I am being profoundly transformed by the reality that I am one with all the Universe, Mystery and Life. I can do nothing but seek authentic, loving, peace-building relationship with and among creation.
My ancestors came to the United States from Sweden and Norway in the 1800s. They participated in cultural and religious violence in the woods and plains of Minnesota, replaying the Christianization of ancient peoples in the same way it had been done to their ancestors hundreds of years before in Scandinavia. They were farmers, working poor, victims of economic inequity and the depression. But when both my grandfathers and one of my grandmothers went to college, their social location changed in a way that it hadn’t in generations. They became professionals, academics and teachers. Their children went to college and graduate school in one case. The privilege of being Scandinavian Americans meant that access to loans, schools, grants and scholarships led to access to power that many of their contemporaries would not enjoy for generations more.
With a mother who was a respected school social worker in a small town that hadn’t before enjoyed such expertise, and a father whose charisma and communication skills as a pastor helped heal and grow a mid-sized Lutheran church, I was a favored son in our southeastern Minnesota bedroom community. I learned moderation and personal responsibility. I learned that violence was bad and had compassion demonstrated for me by my family and community. I learned that God loved me, Jesus saved me, and that all blessings came from heaven. I considered myself a Christian, was baptized and confirmed, and was called into leadership in my school, city, region and church by God through my friends, family and communities.
Spirituality for me has always been a mash up of ideas, emotions, bodily feelings, and suspicion that God is. As a young man I felt God in the emotion-filled songs of dimly lit rooms, proclaiming forgiveness from sin and shame. The word of grace spoken over me from a charismatic worship leader gave me goose bumps and often led me to tears. As I went through adolescence and was diagnosed with clinical depression and learning disabilities, these moments of deep feeling and sense of being loved were welcome reprieve from the self-loathing and loneliness that I felt most days. But the questions that I had about God’s forgiveness, grace, and compassion for the world and for me were not answered sufficiently by these charismatic leaders or their earnest collaborators.
When my family adopted a little girl who had grown up in an abusive home, I turned to these emotion-driven churches for answers as to how a six year-old girl could be allowed by a loving God to be hurt so deeply. I was told that it was for God’s glory, or part of His mysterious plan. I was warned not to question God like Job did in the Bible when he lost everything. I was rebuked for a lack of faith. But at my core I knew that I couldn’t have more compassion for my sister than God. If I cared so deeply, how much more sad and angry must God be over this injustice?
About the same time, the towers in Manhattan came down. I watched Christian leaders attack Islam and call for retribution and war. I was deeply confused by this reaction, not so much by the direct victims and families of that day, but by the justification of more violence by church leaders and from pulpits. I searched for the call for forgiveness. Where was the call for patience and investigation of what pain had caused such a violent lashing out? I remember a profound sadness and frustration with the Church.
It’s taken a lot of searching for a spirituality and theology that articulates my experience of God. I am someone who deeply internalizes ideas. I become profoundly oriented and deeply convicted once I am convinced of a truth. Studying communication named the power of narrative that I had seen in my life. The writings of bell hooks and Tim Wise helped me face my privilege and power in ways I had been oblivious to. Eboo Patel’s call to pluralistic collaboration and celebration liberated me from narrow dogma. Sarah Miles painted a picture of the communion table as the great inclusive feast of God. John Dominic Crossan’s articulation of God’s condemnation of empire and position with the marginalized and vulnerable grounded a theology that I hadn’t been able to concisely communicate. Kelly Brown Douglas and Mayra Rivera named for me the oppressive nature of substitutionary atonement and violence against women, bodies, and non-dominant ways of being. John Paul Lederach affirmed my conviction that the impossible and unknown be passionately pursued. Marcus Borg helped me to affirm my cultural stream of Christianity while deeply respecting and drawing upon the profound Truth of God found in so many of the great religions. And Desmond Tutu captured for me the truth of life in that “we are because we belong.”
All of these people and many more have accompanied me on a journey of blurring the lines of sacred and secular, belief and theology, spirituality and religion, flesh and spirit, science and philosophy. All of life has become a movement of the spirit and moment of grace. The head and the heart are not a duality, but have become for me a marriage of the energy of God as simultaneously embodied and immeasurable.
The heart of this journey has been a desire to know God and know my community wholly. As I face my privilege and power, my complicity in systems of oppression and inequity, my collaboration with violence, I find myself before Jesus as the Rich Young Ruler. I present myself as self-righteous to a God whose concern is more for right-relationship than the rule of law. And when Jesus tells me that I lack one thing, that I go and sell all that I have and give it to the poor, I am as shocked as that young man 2000 years ago. I too am tempted to go away sad as he did. And yet the God-infused compassion that I find in my core will not allow me. I am frozen. I can neither run away and escape my complicity nor present myself as better than anyone else for simply admitting that I have a problem. As wonderfully created as I am, I can be so selfish, so ignorant, so delusional as to believe that I am separate from the hurt and hunger present in this world. But I also bring many gifts to the journey of reconciliation. I am a thinker with strong intuition. And I have an ever expanding capacity for love and compassion. I am being profoundly transformed by the reality that I am one with all the Universe, Mystery and Life. I can do nothing but seek authentic, loving, peace-building relationship with and among creation. It is beyond me, but it is within Us. This is my way forward from and with Jesus, into Us and into me.