Hey Bono, Did You Ever Find What You Were Looking For—’Cause I Still Haven’t.

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I have climbed the highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you

Hey Bono,

I remember the first time I heard those words ringing out from the speakers of the suitcase-sized silver boombox resting in my lap on the afternoon school bus. They cut right through the din of my classmates and the roar of the wind through the windows. They spoke with eloquence the cries of my young heart; that straining to reach something to fill the holes that never seemed to get filled—ones I didn’t even realize were there until that very moment.

I have run, I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you.

This was my church music. It was tenuous communion with the invisible Greater. It was a seductive dance with the elusive Divine. I could own those words and sing out every bit of longing and incompleteness without feeling any more alien than I usually felt. 

I found solidarity in that song, a sense that someone got me in my all my oxymoronic glory; my faith and doubt, my confidence and vacillation, my arrogance and insecurity. It was the ragged hymn of a fellow flawed pilgrim seeking a home he believed was just around the corner.

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for

What I never imagined that afternoon, is that I’d still be singing this song almost 30 years later—that I’d still be looking, that those holes would be as massive as ever.

Yes, there have been fleeting moments when I thought I’d figured it out, brief times when everything turbulent within me seemed to settle and I no longer felt the nagging unrest in my spirit like a burr in my shoe. But whether it was love or faith or sex or stuff or success or achievements or praise—they eventually all left me wanting and returned me to searching again, to singing once more.

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her finger tips
It burned like fire
this burning desire

I heard this song again last night, and I thought about you. I got to wondering whether you did indeed did find what you were looking for. I wondered what song you would sing to the much younger man who wrote these words; what you’ve come to know about the search now, after so much climbing and running and crawling and scaling.

I started to imagine what I would say to the me who sat on that crowded school bus, with a boom box in his lap and seemingly endless miles of road ahead of him to figure out everything he didn’t yet know.

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone

The boy I was when I first heard these words was sure he had plenty of time, and so there was no urgency in the search. Now, even by my most optimistic estimates I’m halfway through this life, and likely the days I have left are fewer than the ones I’ve already lived.

The scar tissue of my disappointments and failures and betrayals has formed tightly around my heart, and I’ll confess that on some days it can be difficult to keep singing at all. Yet despite the wear and the miles, in so many ways I am still that 18-year old wide-eyed young man, still hoping to make sense of it all; still fully expecting to find a clearing of peace and rest just off in the distance.

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for

I grew-up believing that the Sunday School answer to all this striving was God; that Jesus was the elixir for everything that afflicted me, but frankly my results over the past thirty years have been decidedly mixed. With every seeming pure revelation there has been a misread sign, with every blinding flash of beauty in the Church an equally ugly darkness, with every ounce of love received there’s been a pound of flesh taken.

For as often as religion has been the balm for my soul it has been the source of its wounds. And so on many days I sing these words not a quiet, confident psalm—but as a pissed-off protest song to the heavens; an impatient plea for more solid ground to stand on, to a God who seems to be hiding.

I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colours will bleed into one
Bleed into one.
But yes, I’m still running.

Maybe I’ve too often I’ve fashioned the people of God into an idol; allowing their hatred, their bitterness, their darkness, and their cruelty to become God and to keep me at arm’s length from what is shaped exactly like the holes within me. Maybe that’s still where this search is headed, and I’ll learn how to overcome Christians to get to this Jesus.

Or maybe I’ll make peace with the fact that even the best evidence I have just isn’t convincing enough, and that what I can see and touch and kiss are the truest and surest things I’ll ever know here. 

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame
Oh my shame, you know I believe it.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll get to sing this song. I wonder if thirty years from now I will have figured it all out. I wonder if I’ll look back and realize I was as close right now as I’d ever be. Maybe I’ll just be more content with all that I don’t know.

And maybe that’s the answer; to keep climbing and running and crawling and scaling. Maybe the whole point is to keep singing while we still can. Maybe the beauty is in the search and the refrain.

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.

 

*words in italics by Bono

A Funeral for My Christianity

 

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“You seem really angry lately.”

Someone said that to me recently—and at first it really pissed me off.

I instantly mounted a spirited, vigorous defense laying out the reasons she had assessed me incorrectly, but soon found myself trailing off and resigning myself to a harsh, unwelcome truth:

She was right—or at least she was in the ballpark.

It’s an easy mistake to make. From the outside grief looks a lot like anger. The external markers tend to be similar; impatience, bitterness, violent outbursts, a loss of optimism (I’ll cop to those), but the difference is that the source, is a profound loss. Something or someone has died, and this is the mourning that has come to take up residence in your chest cavity in its absence. Yes, you’re all negativity and rage outside but it’s because sadness has fully saturated your heart, and carrying around that heaviness takes its toll after a while.

Looking around at my country right now I can’t help but grieve at the passing of the faith I used to know, the one I grew up believing was home for me, the one I once wanted to make my life’s work. I am witnessing the second death of Jesus here in American Christianity and no I’m not dealing with it well. When someone you love dies, the disorientation is profound, but when you lose your religion it’s an existential sh*t storm, so you’re going to have to excuse my unpleasantness while I process it.

Last night I came across a Facebook post from an old friend from a church I served at nearly two decades ago that crystalized it all. She and I have remained in contact all these years, albeit through the artificial closeness social media provides. In truth, we hadn’t had a substantive conversation in well over a decade, but she was one of those people I figured as a Christian, was some kind of sacred extended family and so I should keep the connection.

She was delivering a fiery political manifesto about the election, and sharing with great zeal why Jesus wants her to vote the way she intends. Beneath her heavily coded words I could see it all: a fully ignited fear of terrorists, Muslims, immigrants, gay folks, and people of color, mixed with some impending sky-is-falling spiritual doom that she believed only her candidate could rescue us from. Over the past few years these sentiments have become familiar in the circles I’ve traveled, and I’ve spent a good deal of time rationalizing them away, minimizing them, and looking past them. Today, reading my old friend’s words I realized that whatever this thing is that she and I used to share as a common thread has frayed beyond repair. Her Jesus and mine bear no resemblance to one another. I don’t belong in this tribe anymore. I am the outlier now.

That’s not to say that Jesus matters any less to me or means any less to me, it’s just that in so much American Christianity it feels like all that’s left of him are ghosts and fading memories—and this genuinely grieves me. It feels like a funeral.

I don’t say these things for hyperbolic effect or to curry attention or sympathy. This is just what is. It’s the clearest, most sober revelation I’ve had about the state of my spiritual union; that I feel like something is gone for good. I see what’s become of the Church here in America and it’s like a wake for the religion I once called home.

I’m not sure what all this angry, chest-thumping, bullying, “don’t tread on me” thing that we’ve come to call Christianity is, but it isn’t the Gospel. It’s isn’t Good News. It isn’t the Prince of Peace. It isn’t the perfect love that casts out fear. It isn’t Jesus. It’s a strange cocktail of power, control, fear, nationalism, and white privilege that looks much more like Rome than what the early Church was about.

Many times over the past few decades, my faith tradition has been life to me. It’s been the place I’ve found hope and rest. There was something bigger that I knew I was a part of, and in the people of Jesus I felt like I belonged. This faith isn’t giving me life anymore. I am no longer finding hope and rest here. I don’t belong in that gathering like I once did. This is cause for real mourning.

But as with all funerals, they are necessary to mark the loss and to pivot toward life beyond it, as uncertain as that may be.

So yes, it might seem like I’m angry, but you’ll have to take my word for it I’m not. I’m just finally accepting the grief that comes when something you loved is gone and you wish that it wasn’t.

 

 

Hillary Clinton is Running Against Far More Than Donald Trump

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If you’re out there and you’re wondering whether or not you’re a man, there’s a fairly reliable test:

If you watched last night’s Presidential debate and didn’t see the gender double standard on full, glorious display—you’re probably a man.

If you didn’t wince at Donald Trump continually interrupting Hillary Clinton to talk her down and derail her direct, coherent, and informed responses to questions—you’re probably a man.

If you didn’t notice moderator Lester Holt’s massive, marshmallow kid gloves in response to it all—you’re probably a man.

If you didn’t notice that the bulk of the critique of Hillary’s performance following the debate has consisted of commentary on her hair, weight, and makeup, or thinly veiled shots at her voice or her “likeability”—you’re probably a man.

Hillary Clinton isn’t only running against Donald Trump right now.

If that were the case, this election would already have been decided.

She’s running against a whole lot more than that.

She’s running against the idea that a woman needs to be soft and sweet and thin to be a woman.

She’s running against a rising, but still oppressive glass ceiling, guarded by lots of really scared dudes sitting on top of it.

She’s running against the idea that a woman’s contributions simply aren’t worth as much as a man’s, financially or substantively.

She’s running against beauty pageants and pornography and rape culture that reduce women to their physicality and disregard their intellect. 

She’s running against pink, taffeta covered toy aisles that tell young girls what they can and should aspire to.

She’s running against an ol’ boys club that is literally filled with ol’ boys who want it to stay that way.

She’s running against millions of men who won’t tolerate a woman telling them what to do, whether at home, at work, in church, or in the White House.

She’s running against far too many women who have learned not to question any of the above.

When we elected our first African-American President, that didn’t eliminate racism in our country. If anything, it nurtured it among those most resistant to equality, and caused them to double down to disgusting, abhorrent effect. It has largely birthed the very election we have in front of us and the ugly unrest in our country. It’s the reason so many white people can’t say that black lives matter, without a qualifier.

The same thing is happening to Hillary Clinton right now by those, who whether they can admit it or not, don’t believe women are as valuable as men are. They’re using all manner of deflection to conceal the fact, but it’s there just the same; the surface critiques, the gender stereotypes, the “know your place” condescension.

Regardless of our politics, we should be honest about what we’re seeing right now. We’re seeing an experienced, highly qualified, intelligent, confident woman, being treated as if those things are somehow liabilities.

We’re seeing men still trying to define womanhood for women.

I want my daughter to grow up believing she can be President. I want her to grow up believing she can be anything she damn well wants to; that she can be as tough or loud or overweight or abrasive as a man and not be unfairly penalized for it. I want her to grow up believing that she is a woman because she says so, not because anyone else consents to it.

I don’t know whether Hillary Clinton will win this election or not, but I hope the America we are becoming, will be one where women who want to run for President, need only run against their political opponents, and not their very identities.

 

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When Loud Christians Lose Their Voices

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I know lots of loud Christians, though these days I am finding too many of them are selectively loud.

They live at a high volume and know no inside voice—but only when it comes to the handful of sins they fancy condemning; those ones that reliably grab the headlines and consistently rally the faithful and generate easy Amens in the pews. Then they commandeer the megaphone and the airwaves with such regularity and relative ease; deftly marshaling their resources of pulpit and platform and political bedfellow, to brandish showy outrage at a failing humanity.

Then their brimstone tirades and finger-wagging crusades become ubiquitous. 

Yet there are times when these perennially loud religious folk suddenly come down with acute moral laryngitis; days when they lose their usual prophetic voices and are rendered conspicuously silent:

When black men die at the hands of police.
When area mosques are vandalized.
When shooters rampage gay clubs.
When Native Americans brave dogs and bulldozers to defend their graves.

When dark-skinned people seek shelter on their shores.
When the Presidential politics of fear come wrapped in stars and stripes and crosses.

In these moments the once ever-present Church suddenly disappears.
The perpetually loud Church says nothing.
The brazenly bold Church goes into hiding.
The freedom-loving Church seems less interested in freedom.
The pro-life Church becomes less passionate about life.
The For God So Loved the world Church shrinks down to the Red States of America Church.

And this silent sermon is preaching loudly to the watching world about what really matters to far too many professed followers of Jesus. It is once again reminding millions of people that there really isn’t that much Good News for them; that the Gospel is a white man’s luxury item.

Where are our timely Sunday sermons? Where is our collective righteous anger? Where is our visible presence on the ground and in the protests? Where are our perpetually zealous pastors and evangelists?

The world hears you, quiet Christians. I hear you. Jesus hears you.  

If you’re pro-life just as long as that life isn’t black or gay or Muslim, you’re not really pro-life, you’re pro straight, white life. You’re pro-babies—as long as those babies grow up to join the NRA and vote Republican.

If your idea of freedom is the kind reserved for only those who look or vote or worship the way you do, it isn’t really freedom you’re burdened with, it’s protecting privileged affinity.

If there is a border of nation or pigmentation or religion around those you feel most called to defend and protect, you’ve made God into your own image and crafted a special-interest Savior who lobbies only for “your kind”.

Because Christian, if as you so rush to proclaim, all lives really do matter to you—then you should be fighting for a whole lot more of them right now. You should be much louder than you are right now. You should be in the streets and at the pulpit and over the airways championing the sanctity of  life; in Tulsa and Charlotte and Aleppo and Pulse. 

You should be so loving the world in a way that more resembles Christ. 

In these moments, organized Christianity will be damned for its silence or redeemed for its volume. It will be proven to either be complicit in the wounds of the world, or it will become the balm that stops the bleeding. It will either look away or it will look into the mirror.

Today we who claim faith will either be a clear resonant voice of equality and justice—or a loud, clanging cymbal of selective, self-serving noise.

But know this, Christian: you are being heard in these days—whether you speak or not.