On Coming Home by Andrew Ford

When I left the church in which I was raised, I sat down with my old pastor and told him why I was leaving. I did not lay out my laundry list of comeuppances, but simply said that we were headed in two totally different directions. He was kind enough to share from his own life how he he left the Church in which he grew up because he felt stifled, only to eventually return after College. But, before we prayed and committed each other to prayer, he said something that surprised and angered me, "Don't be shocked if you end up back home."

I was a Junior in High School at the time. A few months before the conversation, I had a calling-to-the-ministry experience. Several in the Church (including the Pastor) were exceptionally supportive of this, believing that it was an authentic call from God. The people who had known me since the age of four, were present at my baptism and who had supported me for my entire life believed I was called to the ministry! The Pastor even began to talk excitedly with me about Seminaries and Bible Colleges.

A few weeks later, I had another experience. This time it was befuddling and rapturous, as I experienced what the Mystics call "ecstasy." This all happened when I was alone but things like this simply did not happen in the tradition in which I was raised; therefore, I didn't have a context or an understanding of it. So, I talked about it with those who had been so supportive of me. Needless to say, their reaction immediately cooled. Over the period of the next few months, some even passive-aggressively helped me to find the the door and make good use of it. I eventually did.

"Don't be shocked if you end up back home," he had the gall to say to me! I immediately hated it, as those words began to follow me like the lengthy shadows of evening, haunting my every step with lies of manufactured peace and illusions of safety. Was I the Prodigal, who after experimenting with the wiles of Christian Spirituality and Mysticism, supposed to return "home" a few years later with his tail between his legs? "Kill the fatted calf", the Pastor would proclaim triumphantly on my return (though whispering in my ear the entire time, "I told you so")!

What is home, anyway? If I am not careful, I think of home as a place, just as the Pastor meant it. Home is that balcony-ed Sanctuary, those familiar hymns in 6/8 time or the thin, gilt-edged pages practically dripping with yellow highlighter marks. Or that home is a Potluck lunch in a cavernous fellowship hall, Bible Studies throughout the week and Summer VBS with games in the parking lot. He seemed so sure at our little meeting that I would be back to this home. As much as I get passing nostalgia for all these things, I can never return to this home, for geographical and spiritual reasons.

But home is much more than just a place. If I'm not careful, those comfortable, safe ideas about the Divine become home. Those doctrinal ghettos born out of this generation, where I can lift up my Bible and say "This is my Bible, I am what it says I am. I have what it says I have." Home, if I'm not careful, is a place of exclusion of the spiritual-haves and the spiritual-have-nots. Home is a place of great fear of the outsider and the-outsider-within-ourselves. As well-intentioned as it is, Home can be a place of comfortable ignorance and spiritual complacency.

As much as I yearn for such a faith as I once had, for straightforward, self-evident belief that was good enough for Paul and Silas, I know that I cannot return to that Home of belief, either. It is not just because I know bigger words now or a broader concept of history. No, I cannot return to this home, because I have lived enough to know that that this kind of faith is of little use to you when you're in the sty, eating pig's pods. I cannot return to this home, because if I've learned anything in these eight years since that conversation with the Pastor, it is that Our Lord is a Mystery who is meant to be followed, not an idea for whom to build a house. He is outside my comfortable home of easy beliefs, calling me out into the streets. I must follow Him.

I am homeless with my Lord, as you are, too (even if you don't realize it!). I am trying to set my heart on the Pilgrim's way, replete with vain attempts to forsake all things, all ideas and all others for God. I try to follow the God who calls me in spite of myself. I am looking for the City of God that already riseth fair on the horizon. I am trying not to coerce the Divine work in my life into something I can understand. I am trying to busy my hands for those in the streets – who know they have no homes to call their own – working to show that in breaking of the Kingdom of God into our own day and age.

When the wandering days of this doubtful wayfarer are finally over, I hope to come to that true home. As Isaac Watts put it in one of my favorite hymns, "There would I find a settled rest, While others go and come; No more a stranger, nor a guest, But like a child at home." Much like a carefree child, I will run to that banquet, looking like a bride adorned for her husband. I will smile and sing all the old songs on my way. Hell, I might even skip.

When I pull my chair at that table, Providence probably will have me sitting next to that Pastor who doubted the work of God in my life. We'll both look at each other, equally shocked at the proximity to each other's presence there. I did end up back home, but not to the home of his or my making. We ended up at that home that was prepared for us from before time. And, perhaps, we will remember the things we did and said. We will remember them and then, we will share a good and hearty laugh. We will laugh for a long time.

And, I am still a Christian because of that laugh of the world-to-come, the laugh of the world without end. I have faith in that laugh.

Andrew Ford is A Red State Mystic.

The Crew Has Killed the Captain by Anthony Dale Hunt

My initial response to the question, “Why are you still a Christian?” is a mild confusion as to the word “still.” The implication of that word could be interpreted to mean there are obvious complications – intellectual, moral, etc...- with being a Christian that I would need to overlook or deal with to 'still' be a Christian. I've yet to encounter such difficulties. Don't get me wrong, I deeply struggle with all the things that most people struggle with: The 'texts of terror,' the 'problem of theodicy,' the monstrous things Christians have done and still do; I often have long stretches of angry, fearful doubt; I often echo Job, begging 'God' to just leave me the hell alone - “Who am I that you are mindful of me?” But alternative options have yet to convince me that I must, as if I ever could, pass on from the faith that I have had since I was born.

Which leads me to my primary answer to the question, I just don't know. I have been genuinely attempting this lately, to answer the question, as if it formed the foundational justification for my remaining a Christian. But I've found myself profoundly opaque to myself. I am unable to find the proper exterior position from which adequately to grasp hold of my interior subjectivity and find the reason(s). Is it because I honestly feel I have found all the answers to my questions about Christianity? No. Is it because I have compared Catholic Christian theology with the explanatory accounts of the world offered by all other competing ideaologies? Obviously not. Is it because I so deeply love God? Well, maybe...but...what do I love when I love him, my God? This I cannot answer.

I'm still a Christian because studying theology has made God exciting. The world has become irreducibly complex and yet more reasoned. I've become aware of how much I don't know and yet I know more than I ever have known before. Every book I pick up, every passage of Scripture I fight with, has become, at least for now, a genuinely rewarding experience.

On a rather obvious level, but one often ignored (probably because it doesn't lend itself to “proper” justification for faith), I'm a Christian because my parents raised me to be one. I never really had a choice as to whether or not I would be one, I simply was one. I am deeply grateful for this and I'm grateful for my parents who have always encouraged me to appropriate my faith and not simply live forever off theirs.

But I'm also a Christian because of a grace-filled act of stubborn will. As I came to transform into a post-evangelical, as I sat weeping in parks wondering whether or not I was even a Christian anymore, as I saw my deeply held beliefs be refined, altered and even shattered; where many of my friends simply passed over into an indifferent if scarred agnosticism, I kept going to church, I kept 'leading worship,' I kept doing all the things I had been doing before – even admitting sometimes to God that I wasn't even sure if he existed. That might be a strange sentiment for the guy who was up front playing Delirious tunes on his acoustic guitar, but it was the defiant act of continued involvement in the work of God that helped me remain aware of God, even in my ever deepening estrangement from God.

Which gives me at least one more potential answer to the question. I'm still a Christian because I'm a wounded lover. The God of my youth, the God who I loved in rapturous innocence has abandoned me but I still hear his call. David Bazan puts it this way, “The crew has killed the captain, but they still can hear his voice.” The pull of desire unfulfilled drags me along and periodic respite from restless pursuit gives me just enough strength to move on and enough satisfaction to make it worth it.

But ultimately, maybe these are things I tell myself to maintain internal coherence. I can't say honestly why, but I most certainly am, if also an incomplete one.

Anthony Hunt blogs at Theophiliacs.

You With No Money by Zena Neds-Fox

I’m not a very good consumer. If I had more money I might be better at it, but as it is, I buy what I need and spend very little on stuff. There is much I can’t afford. To buy expensive items I must weigh the pros and cons of debt management. It’s not an equation I have to consider very much because it doesn’t cross my mind that often, this going out and buying more.

Come and buy. You without money. Come and eat, you who have no bread. There are things that have no price that belong to God. Peace. Love. Reconciliation. Justice. Eternity. Life. As far as I’ve seen there is no way to purchase these items. No wholesale warehouse lines shelves with anything you don’t have to return to and buy again. We don’t have the resources to lay hold of the commodities God deals in. Besides that, they’re free. On his terms, in his heaven. They are free.

I prefer free. Yesterday I was at the market and wandering amidst the new fall flowers and the discounted herbs of summer. The owner walked past and asked, “Hey, do you want a free plant?” Well yes. Yes I do. He led me to flats of big, beautiful mums that needed water and little else. “Take one.” It sits on my front steps. Its deep red welcoming friends, welcoming autumn, given to me.

Given. There is a way that seems right to a man but in the end leads to death. The religious time clock with its row of time cards has little to do with time at all. Only God can teach me to number my days with wisdom. I am told every morning and some days I hear it. This is the day. Ann Voskamp says time is a fast moving river leading into the ocean of time that is God. The one way she has found to slow it is to get wet. To step in and let the full weight of your body allow you to be present in the moment, living the life you have been given.

I remain a believer for two reasons. The free. I didn’t do anything to be given this. These friends who love past my defenses. These babies born and handed over to those with no training, no experience. The understanding that there are not just 80 years of life that we live. It was given, with more besides, to someone who has no ability to pay for priceless things.

The other reason I stay is the time. Its rushing towards God becomes audible the older I get. What should be done? Stockpile what will not last? Feast on the best of what is gone in three days time? In God’s community I’ve been forced to lift my life from the moment. With hands unseen God has taken the iron of my will and made malleable what I never would have consented to change. I am better for it and He receives attention for his efforts. I’ve learned these things walking with Him. Why would I stop now?

Zena Neds-Fox blogs at My Life is Good

On Commitment by Audacious Deviant

Why do I stay?

This is a question I ask myself every day and have done for many years. It’s part of the daily doubts I have about the very existence of God, let alone the need for a Church, especially one that treats many of her people with such contempt. But though I may have doubts, many of them, repeatedly, I still regard myself as a Christian. I cannot bring myself to claim a perfect faith, nor even a perfect hope – I struggle every day.

[Ruth & Naomi 12th c.]

I have always been moved by the stories of constancy and commitment in scriptures. The story of Ruth and Naomi comes to mind as a more appealing one. Past or present struggles for Ruth don’t lead her to put aside responsibilities. I’m a great believer in commitment. As a young man, my parish priest, a very kind and sympathetic man, told me that the problem with being gay was the lack of commitment. Really, he had a point, though of course he didn’t really understand that gay people have been denied the ability to properly make commitments and that it has had a devastating effect on gay people throughout history. Combine that with testosterone and it has been a recipe for the very kind of disaster that my generation saw full force in the 80s.

When I was a very young man as part of my Anglican preparation for Confirmation it was required of me, as with everyone else who knelt before the bishop, to affirm that I would “Worship God every Sunday in His Church and to work, pray and give for the spread of His Kingdom”. That was a promise, and I have kept it and strive to continue to do so until my life’s end.

I’m not the sort of man who thinks he has all the answers and in fact I am certain that I have none of the answers. I have only questions. I will leave the answers to others more brilliant and faithful than I. But what I can do is follow an amazing man, a carpenter from an obscure village in the backwaters of the Roman Empire. He lived a life of such compassion that I hold Him as the supreme example of commitment – something I’m still working on. His kind of commitment lead him to the cross where He offered up a life of such decency, such integrity – well, who am I to use a cheat sheet, or to cut the class? Maybe when I get to that level of commitment I’ll have real faith. In the meantime, I’m just sticking around.


Audacious Deviant is an artist and a gay Christian working towards audacity.