A call for intelligence

Recently, in the whole Roy Moore debate, there was a clip of another elected official in Alabama who was trying to defend Roy Moore’s stance against Islam. The issue that was brought up was being a public official and swearing on a Bible, which this official said that a Muslim could not do. The news host quickly pointed out that Muslims (and people of other faiths) do not swear on a Christian Bible, and instead choose a text that is meaningful to them. The result was complete silence from this official, and a load of embarrassment.

I’m not going to link to the video, since I feel bad for the guy. You can google it easily. But, what struck me hard in watching this is that we’ve lowered our standards for basic knowledge and intelligence from our elected officials. Gone are the days when learned men took up the mantle of leadership, governing with wisdom and knowledge. Instead, we look for our elected officials to be entertaining and engaging, and most importantly, agree with our personal moral agenda.

The shift from knowledge to morality in our leadership is a sad turn in our politics. Running a government is hard work, and ensuring that all the needs of the people are met take real creativity. Government, at all levels, is filled with career civil servants who are trying their hardest to carry out ever changing mandates, and be good stewards of tax payer money. Unfortunately, many officials are elected because of their ability to inflame the passions of those who support them. Not because they have studied and worked hard to learn how to lead and govern.

It’s time for a renaissance in politics. We need to strip away all the money, all the glitz, and get back to the art of public administration. Smart people governing with intelligence and creativity, doing the best that they can for the betterment of society.

Gentle snow over downtown

After a few days of really heavy posts, I’m going to keep it light today. I had a meeting on a higher level floor in downtown Saint Paul, and it happened to be gently snowing. Instead of a picture I decided to take a nice little video of the snow falling over the new Treasure Island Center (formerly Macys). A gentle reminder today about how even a bustling downtown can be beautiful in the right conditions.

Faith of Christmas Future

This is a three part blog series that explains my current state when it comes to matters of faith and spirituality. This is one of the hardest things I’ve written, but hopefully it will be instructive to those who might have a similar background and journey as myself.

When a Christian hears of someone “losing their faith,” the instinctual desire is to do whatever you can to bring them back. When other friends of mine have made the transition to un-belief I’ve reacted in a very similar manner. I’ve pulled out all the arguments I can muster to try and convince them otherwise. I would even feel a sense of sadness that these people were no longer going to be a part of the same faith community that I was in. I’m sure from the outside my actions often seemed arrogant, like I was trying to correct a wayward child. I actually regret some of the ways I’ve behaved around these people, but I know that they forgave me and they realized that I was just trying to help.

Now that I have made the conscious decision to step away from the Christian faith, I know that there will be others who will have a lot to say to me about this, and I’ll listen with respect, and treat them as others have treated me. However, after years of contemplation on this, I know that I’m comfortable with my decision. I no longer count myself among those who consider themselves Christian.

So what does that mean? Does it mean that I could never again accept the notion of a divine being in the universe? Quite the opposite really. I feel that my mind is now much more open to accepting that there are things in the universe that I can’t understand. Some of those things might be some form of intelligence or divinity, but I’m no longer concerned with trying to make their possible existence a cornerstone of my life. Is there something “out there” in the universe? Maybe. However, I’m not going to hinge my life on one interpretation of how that divinity may or may not exist.

The term atheism is a loaded term for many people, and was very much so for myself. In my mind atheists were “anti” Christianity, and wanted nothing more than to see it destroyed. Although that’s true for some people, for many others atheism is simply the absence of belief in something divine. Although I haven’t given up hope that there might be something out there, I feel like I fall into this category of atheist. I’m less concerned with what may or may not be out there in the universe, and more concerned with how we treat each other here on earth now, in this life.

I also don’t want to see the church destroyed, or any religion for that matter. A person’s belief in a higher power can be a powerful thing, and I have no right to try and take that from someone. As long as their faith doesn’t cause harm to others, and in fact raises others up, I have no issue with it at all. I still respect much of what the Church teaches, and what the Bible has to say about how we act towards others. There is still much good and right in many different religions and faiths.

For me, I’ve simply chosen to accept that I’m on a different path. I cannot say with 100% certainty what this means for my life going forward, but I know that my spirituality has changed. I’m no longer that 13 year old boy who wants nothing more than to stand up in front of a church and preach sermons. I’ve grown into someone who sees his life, and the world, as something more than what can be contained in a single expression of religion. I’m done with trying to rectify the illogic of matters of faith, and move on towards making this life the best it can be for those I love, and those I don’t even know, for as many years as I have to spend doing so.

From a practical standpoint this doesn’t mean much, as I haven’t been going to church for a couple years anyway. My hope is that it doesn’t mean much for those that know me either. Just because I consider myself among the “nones” now, should in no way affect how I treat people, or how they should be expected to be treated by me. To some extent my choice to reject the Christian story of the divine is a personal one. My actions, with or without faith, should always reflect my desire to want the best for people, to protect those in need, and to treat all people with respect and kindness.

I feel like I’m starting a new journey in my life, and I’m not sure where it will take me in the coming years. I do know that I have wonderful friends and family that support me, no matter my choice of faith. I’m excited to see where all of this brings me in the future, and I’m happy to finally have made a conscious decision to put pen to paper and share where I’m at with those around me.

I chose the story of A Christmas Carol for this blog series for a reason. In that story Scrooge transitions through a journey of reflection of the past, present, and future, and comes out the other side as a better and happier person. I’m hopeful that sharing this with everyone will do the same for me, and perhaps give some help to those who might also be struggling with matters of faith.

Merry Christmas to all!

Faith of Christmas Present

This is a three part blog series that explains my current state when it comes to matters of faith and spirituality. This is one of the hardest things I’ve written, but hopefully it will be instructive to those who might have a similar background and journey as myself.

In my last post I outlined the history of my faith since childhood. I had journeyed from the Salvation Army church through Lutheranism, Methodism, Evangelicalism, and landed in the Catholic church. My new wife and I started settling into our life and for a while church was a part of it. I still loved the “event” of Sunday mornings, with it’s ritual and liturgy. However, something in me was starting to change. At first I wasn’t sure what it was, but I started feeling less and less motivated to go to mass on Sundays.

At first it was missing a Sunday here or there, but eventually it’s grown to a point where I’ve only been to church a half dozen times in the past 2 years. Almost all of those times were with extended family for some manner of gathering. As I drifted away from church I started to notice more and more things about it that started to bother me. In particular I have developed a deep dislike of congregational singing in church. I simply don’t derive any joy from the act of singing mediocre songs with people who can’t sing, with a musical backtrack that is either the neutered organ, or a half-hearted attempt at a “contemporary” ensemble.

Sermons have become mostly uninteresting to me anymore, which leaves the ritual and liturgy. Strangely, I still find a great deal of comfort and peace in the liturgy. When we have attended mass I still enjoy and feel fulfilled from those acts. I still treat them with reverence and respect, despite my questioning. That questioning is also at the heart of where I’m currently at.

As someone who has studied theology for over two decades, I always assumed my faith was solid and could never be rocked. I’ve experienced multiple tragedies in my life, yet my faith never wavered. What has caused my faith to waver is an exposure to life without constantly being a part of a church. As I’ve stopped going to mass the past couple of years, my mind feels like it has started to clear, and I’ve began to question what I always took at face value before.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not trying to insinuate that there was any type of brainwashing or sinister intent. I simply can’t find the reason for why I believe what I believed anymore. Now that I’m not immersed in it on a regular basis, I struggle to find what it was that made me believe in it to begin with. I’ve studied esoteric theological concepts, preached sermons, written extensively about matter of faith, but when I look back at it now, I don’t really know what it was that I thought I believed.

My faith was something that existed and I didn’t question it. It was my worldview, and it (usually) shaped how I behaved towards others. But when I got some distance from it, I found I couldn’t answer the question of “why” I believed what I believed. I loved the community, the ritual, and the teachings of how to treat others. However, the belief in a divine being seems to have fallen by the wayside. I simply don’t know why I believed in God without question most of my life. When I actually take time to ask questions, I don’t get any answers that draw me back to Him. In fact I often end up moving further and further away from the faith of my childhood.

When I became a Catholic I uttered the phrase, “Catholicism or atheism for me,” and how prescient for that phrase to be coming to fruition. In many ways I feel like I’m reaching the inevitable end of a journey that was much longer than I thought, and has a much different outcome than I expected. In tomorrow’s entry I’ll unpack a bit more of what all of this means for me going forward.

Faith of Christmas Past

This is a three part blog series that explains my current state when it comes to matters of faith and spirituality. This is one of the hardest things I’ve written, but hopefully it will be instructive to those who might have a similar background and journey as myself.

Anyone who has known me for a long time knows that the first half of my life was deeply intertwined with faith. I became a Christian when I was seven years old, after my mom sent me off to a summer youth program at the local Salvation Army corps. While I was there I came under the wing of some incredible people, including a man who would be my “big brother” for much of my elementary school years. He was a great friend to me, and a wonderful mentor for a boy growing up without a father.

It was at this Salvation Army church that I found a home. A place where I was accepted and friendships were developed. I was introduced to the Bible, and my geeky, child brain wanted to know everything I could about it, along with the history and traditions of the Church. I loved the community aspect of church and would sign up to take part in a many of different activities. Even though we bounced back and forth between a couple different, local, Salvation Army churches in my youth, I found a way to engage with the community of all of them.

In particular, Sunday mornings were special to me. It was the body of believers gathered to take part in a meaningful ritual. I got a metaphysical high while taking part in these community gatherings, which led to my eventual desire for something even more liturgical. As I learned and studied more, I started to understand the depth of the history of the Church and how it came to what it is today. In high school I decided to make the leap and leave my comfortable Salvation Army setting and join a Lutheran church that a friend of mine attended. I fell in love with the liturgy and sacraments, and found yet another home in my journey.

In college I attended the local Lutheran college, but struggled with certain deep, theological, aspects of the Lutheran faith. Throughout college I waffled between Lutheranism and Methodism, dissecting the minutiae with my professors and friends, trying to find a nugget of truth and fact. Since age 13 I decided that I wanted to be a pastor, and these exercises in theology were just steps along the path to finding where I wanted to eventually serve. However, when I left college I still wasn’t sure where I belonged. I took a brief respite from school, but eventually I enrolled in seminary to work on my Master’s of Divinity Degree.

As life is wont to do, things changed, and it was during this time that I met my future wife. As we got closer and decided to get married, school took a backseat. I took a job that eventually led to my technology career, and we bought a house and started having kids. Her family was a strong family of faith and we decided to attend their church. It was an evangelical mega-church, but it was a powerful example of the type of community that draws people together on a weekly basis. We found a small group of family and friends and made a place for ourselves among the masses.

After the birth of my second child I decided that I wanted to finish my seminary dreams. I enrolled in a night school program that was designed for working adults. For the next 5 years I would work on completing my studies, eventually settling on the Methodist church as the place I wanted to serve. We joined a local church near us, and once I was finished with the first three years of my degree I transferred to a different seminary to take the rest of my studies. It was there that things started to come apart for me theologically.

I had grown into a theologian that deeply loved ritual and liturgy. I started to question how many modern churches had abandoned these basics of faith, and through a long series of events I found myself looking at converting to the Roman Catholic Church. A good friend of mine had recently converted to Orthodoxy, and through talking with him and others, knew that I no longer had a home in the Protestant church. Through decades of study and growth I had come to the conclusion that it was “Catholicism or atheism for me.” For obvious reasons at the time, I chose Catholicism.

I wanted to connect with the historical Church. I wanted to engage in ritual and liturgy as part of my weekly, and sometimes daily, experience in life. At this same time I was going through a rough divorce, and being a part of something so large as the Catholic church grounded me. I found something stable that I could hang on to and keep me focused. It became a place of stability for me as the rest of my life erupted into chaos trying to find the new normal.

Joining the Catholic church meant that one aspect of my childhood dreams would not come to fruition. As a divorced parent of 2 boys, becoming a priest was not in the cards. Plus, I wasn’t really on board with the idea of celibacy for the rest of my life, as I wanted to get married again someday. What this meant in practical terms is that I stopped working on my M.Div and instead settled for a Master of Arts in Theological Studies. I continued to grow my career in technology and settled into a period of time where I wasn’t really sure what was next in my life.

I eventually married again, and my wife, although a professed atheist, grew up in a Catholic family and was very comfortable taking part in my religious life. We got married in the church and attended mass regularly for quite a while. Things seemed to be normal, but under the surface something was growing. That’s the story for tomorrow.