Doubt: The Faithful and Doubting Community

March 27, 2021    Lent B: Sabbath of the Palms      Glendale City Church     Sermon 6 of 8

FOUR STAGES & BOOK

  • Stage 1: Simplicity.     Right vs. Wrong.  Good vs. Evil.  Safe vs. Dangerous.
  • Stage 2: Complexity.  How do I succeed?  How do I win?  
  • Stage 3: Perplexity.     What is true?  Who can I trust?  What is worth standing for?
  • Stage 4: Harmony.       Second simplicity—this time trusting in Mystery.  Make peace living with doubt.
  • Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It, Brian D. McLaren, 2021

Hebrews 12.18-19, 22-24, 28-29              You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm;to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them….  But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel….  Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

  • Touching Mystery
  • Faith cycles through times of certainty and times of doubt.  
  • Like Palm Sunday—it was the day where Jesus was publicly recognized as Savior and it was also the day that sealed his doom.  

Galatians 5.1, 4-6   It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope…. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

What Spirituality Boils Down To

  • The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself through love.  
  • God Loves Us.  We Love Others.  God Is Loved through Our Love for Others.    

M. Scott Peck: Characteristics of Harmonious Community

  • Inclusive—keeps working at removing requirements for people to be in relationship with each other
  • Committed—consciously choosing to stay in community no matter what.  Stick-to-it-iveness.
  • Consensus—coming to agreement while continuing to respect differences
  • Realistic—recognizing the light and dark that is present within the group and each individual
  • Contemplative—it doesn’t assume it’s reached perfection; it continues to be reflective and humble
  • Safe—Vulnerability is celebrated and respected.  We don’t fix people. We let the safe space heal people. 

Life-Long Learning: How a Church Can Meet People at Each Stage

At Vallejo Drive, I tried something with the youth and young adult ministry.  I tried doing a Friday night gathering with options for stages 2-4.  I had labeled each of the four stages with a word that ended in “x:”

  • Stage 1: Basix – God loves us.  Let us love others. Obey God and parents…
  • Stage 2: Practix – Family, Marriage, Sex, Career, Bible Study, 12-Step Groups…
  • Stage 3: Heretix – Comparative Religion, Science & Scripture Compatibility, Grief Support Groups…
  • Stage 4: Mystix – Contemplation, Spiritual Disciplines, Justice Ministries…

Mission of Glendale City Church: Revealing Christ, Affirming All

Our mission is to reveal the love of Christ in all its tenderness and grandeur to the community in which we live. We desire to embrace the wonder of humanity in its complexity, diversity, and beauty—and to do so without precondition. In short, we yearn to reveal the splendor of Christ and to affirm the worth of all people.

Doubt: Harmonious Convergence

March 13, 2021        Lent B4                      

Glendale City Church       Sermon 5 of 8

FOUR STAGES & BOOK

  • Stage 1: Simplicity.     Right vs. Wrong.  Good vs. Evil.  Safe vs. Dangerous.
  • Stage 2: Complexity.  How do I succeed?  How do I win?  
  • Stage 3: Perplexity.     What is true?  Who can I trust?  What is worth standing for?
  • Stage 4: Harmony.       Today
  • Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It, Brian D. McLaren, 2021

TODD’S STORY

CHARACTERISTICS OF STAGE 4 SPIRITUALITY: HARMONY

  • Stage 3’s triumphant march to certainty finally stops and you realize:
    • Ultimate truth cannot be attained—you can’t find all the answers
    • Relationships are risky—there will be pain, sorrow, loss and heartbreak
    • There are no superheroes—you can’t fight every battle and stop injustice by yourself
    • Brian McLaren—”But in the hot crucible of doubt we experienced in late Perplexity, we began to become cynical about our own cynicism, skeptical of our own skepticism, critical of our own critical thinking, doubting of our own doubtfulness. Our naive certainty, excessive confidence, and obsessive deconstruction began to burn away in a self-consuming blast furnace. We finally descended to a point so low that instead of looking down on everything, we had to look up at it from a humbled position of under-standing, you might say, and in so doing, we became capable of encountering something without needing to control it. Rather, we were able simply to see it, perhaps even to see it with love.” –Faith After Doubt, pp. 98-99
  • Embrace non-dualistic thinking and a universe where everything belongs.  Worldview shifts from either/or to both/and.  Binaries are swallowed by larger unities. Diversity is welcomed without division & difference is heard without dissonance.
    • M. Scott Peck: “Mystics of every shade of religious belief have spoken of unity, of an underlying connectedness between things: between men and women, between us and the other creatures and even inanimate matter as well, a fitting together according to an ordinarily invisible fabric underlying the cosmos.”  –The Different Drum, p. 192
  • Delight in the unknown and ongoing quest for new discovery of the unknown.  There is much less certainty and much more mystery.  Rediscover wonder and awe.  A second simplicity or second naivete. 
    • Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
  • Find community with the broad diversity of humanity.  A stage four mystic will have relationships with people that defy categorization.  
    • M. Scott Peck: “Having become practiced at emptying themselves of preconceived notions and prejudices and able to perceive the invisible underlying fabric that connects everything, they do not think in terms of factions or blocs or even national boundaries; they know this to be one world…and realize that what divides us into warring camps is precisely the lack of this awareness.”  –The Different Drum, p. 193 
  • What Matters: Faith, Hope and Love…and Mostly Love
    • “We must here make a clear distinction between belief and faith, because, in general practice, belief has come to mean a state of mind which is almost the opposite of faith. Belief, as I use the word here, is the insistence that the truth is what one would “lief” or wish it to be. The believer will open his mind to the truth on the condition that it fits in with his preconceived ideas and wishes. Faith, on the other hand, is an unreserved opening of the mind to the truth, whatever it may turn out to be. Faith has no preconceptions; it is a plunge into the unknown. Belief clings, but faith lets go. In this sense of the word, faith is the essential virtue of science, and likewise of any religion that is not self-deception.” –Alan Watts, as quoted in Faith After Doubt, p. 117. 
    • “Faith before doubt: it’s about correct beliefs. Faith after doubt: it’s about revolutionary love. By revolutionary love, I mean love beyond: love that goes beyond myself to my neighbor, beyond my neighbor to the stranger, alien, other, outcast, and outsider; beyond the outsider to the critic, antagonist, opponent, and enemy; and even beyond the human to my non-human fellow creatures. In short, revolutionary love means loving as God would love: infinitely, graciously, extravagantly.” –Faith  After Doubt, pp. 116-117

Benediction: Give Me Doubt

The Brilliance

Give me doubt so I can see my neighbor as myself
Give me doubt so I can lay all my weapons on the ground
When the armor of God is too heavy for peace

Give me doubt, give me doubt

What be my courage now?
My shield from evil?
Love, be my courage now
I shall not fear

Give me doubt so I can see my neighbor as myself
Give me doubt so I can lay all my weapons on the ground
When the armor of God is too heavy for peace
Give me doubt, give me doubt
Give me doubt

Doubt: The Soapbox

March 6, 2021      Lent B3     Glendale City Church       Sermon 4 of 8

FOUR STAGES & BOOK

  • Stage 1: Simplicity.  Right vs. Wrong.  Good vs. Evil.  Safe vs. Dangerous.
  • Stage 2: Complexity.  How do I succeed?  How do I win? 
  • Stage 3: Perplexity.  Last Week and Today
  • Stage 4: Harmony.  March 13 and following
  • Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It, Brian D. McLaren, 2021

STAGE 3 REVIEW: Moving into a Full Existential Crisis

  • Lose faith in the Authoritarian Pastors of Stage 1 Faith and the LifeCoach Pastors of Stage 2.  
    • Lose faith in simplistic answers to mysterious and perplexing issues in the world.
    • Lose faith in any core truth or one true story.  Everything is relative.
    • Lose respect for leaders and institutions whose actions don’t follow their words.
    • And the wrecking ball begins to do its work.  Deconstruction has begun.  And nothing that you’ve believe in is safe from its catastrophic work.  Your church institution.  The people in your church.  The bible.  God.  
    • You’re all alone.  Any group of people with any leader and purpose is suspect.  You can’t trust it.  If you’re involved at all, you’re on the fringe watching for trouble.
    • You’re either angry, depressed, distressed or all of the above.  You hate that you were tricked into believing in anything or anyone.  You know you can’t trust anyone and yet you crave community and belonging even as you can’t truly belong to anyone or anything.  

LUKE 5.37, 38          No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking

MY STORY

  • Speaking and Acting on My Convictions
    • Adventist Teachings—lost members and friends
    • Accepted Part-Time Pastoral Position in a Predominately Black Church
    • LGBTQ Ally: lost most employment opportunities and all speaking invitations
    • Began journey towards changing churches but desperately grabbed a job in Southern California

THE IRONY OF STAGE 3

  • In one way, it is a deconstruction of everything you built up in Stages 1 & 2
    • Anti-authority, anti-groupthink, anti-easy answers, anti-dualism, anti-American Dream
  • In another way, it is the natural outflow of Stages 1 & 2
    • 1: Truth, righteousness, love, integrity—no matter what.  If it’s not true, it’s gotta go.  
    • 2: Dive deeper, follow the evidence and integrate what’s true—continue with devotion to curiosity, flexibility to change direction, wisdom to play the game ethically, change the game or leave the game behind altogether. 

THREE IMPORTANT STEPS FORWARD IN STAGE 3

  1. Speak & Act Truthfully: Objective truth & your truth. What’s right is right; what’s wrong is wrong 

JOSHUA 24.15.     Choose this day whom you will serve…. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

2. Renegotiate Relationships: With work, church and family

LUKE 14.26, 27       Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

3. Stand and Fight for Justice: Not for yourself, but for others

JOHN 15.12, 13       This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

LUKE 9.23-27          Then [Jesus] said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

You don’t understand what Jesus meant when he said, “those who lose their life for my sake will find it” until you’ve gone through existential doubt. Doubt takes almost everything away. It strips you down to almost nothing. And you feel like you’ve lost your life. But it is right there where the first signs of new life–glorious life–appear. 

Doubt: The Wrecking Ball

February 27, 2021     Lent B2    

Glendale City Church    Sermon 3 of 8

FOUR STAGES & BOOK

  • Stage 1: Simplicity.  Right vs. Wrong.  Good vs. Evil.  Safe vs. Dangerous.
  • Stage 2: Complexity.  How do I succeed?  How do I win? 
  • Stage 3: Perplexity.  Today and next week
  • Stage 4: Harmony.  March 13 and following
  • Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It, Brian D. McLaren, 2021

WHEN STAGE 2 GETS UNCOMFORTABLE

  • Start shopping.  Shift to the church on the other side of town.  Try out churches in another denomination.  
  • Some revert to Stage 1 Simplistic Religion.  Just tell me what to do.  Tell me how to read the bible.
  • Become cantankerous.  Start writing letters to the pastor.  Start a new bible study class that seems to always end up pointing out what’s wrong with your church, the denomination or Christianity.  
  • Become depressed and isolate.  Church attendance starts to slide.  You start dodging people. 
  • Drop out to do individualized Stage 2 work. Read self-help books, religious buffet, etc.
  • None of this is because you’re losing your faith.  You’ve just become dissatisfied with the faith.  BIG DIFFERENCE.  

MY STORY

  • Questioning my Adventist Beliefs in College.  It was frustrating and terrifying because I didn’t want to let down my parents and all the people who loved me.  But some of our beliefs did not make sense to me.  For a short period of time it felt like I was losing God, but for most of the time, it felt like I was with God, but was losing my religion.  It ultimately came down to my conviction that the death and resurrection of Jesus gave us a lot more freedom than the Adventist faith practiced.  
  • Made Peace with Being Employed as an Adventist Pastor while Growing through Evangelical Conferences, Books, Etc.  Youth pastor conventions, megachurch church growth conferences, evangelical preaching seminars, etc.  They inspired me to put Jesus at the center of everything I did in ministry and help my church members break free from legalistic, obedience-based religion.
  • But Bigger Questions Were Beginning to Gnaw at Me in my late 20’s and 30’s.  Adventism and Evangelicalism started to seem too small a box and their theology too limited and exclusive to the bigger world.  And I started to see that some of the real challenges of the world were almost completely ignored by my faith communities.  
    • Racial Division.  Not a concern.  Spiritual Needs of LGBTQ.  Can’t do anything until they stop being gay.  Poverty.  Problem of sin.  We’ll always have the poor with us.  War, crime and violence.  These are all signs of the end of the world.  Nothing we can do.  True goodness in people of other and no faith tradition.  Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Atheist—too many compassionate people who look like what my faith would call mature Christians…who weren’t Christians.  Science.  No room for adapting our beliefs to incorporate what science is learning about the world.  
  • When I Stopped Running from those Issues and Decided they Mattered: I Plummeted in Perplexity.  

PERPLEXITY

  • Look at Jesus as He Exhibits Full Stage 3

LUKE 4.16-30                      When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

          “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
          He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
          to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

  • Moving into a Full Existential Crisis.  This is Stage 3.  
    • Lose faith in the Authoritarian Pastors of Stage 1 Faith and the LifeCoach Pastors of Stage 2.  
    • Lose faith in simplistic answers to mysterious and perplexing issues in the world.
    • Lose faith in any core truth or one true story.  Everything is relative.
    • Lose respect for leaders and institutions whose actions don’t follow their words.
    • And the wrecking ball begins to do its work.  Deconstruction has begun.  And nothing that you’ve believe in is safe from its catastrophic work.  Your church institution.  The people in your church.  The bible.  God.  Everything is torn down.  
    • You’re all alone.  Any group of people with any leader and purpose is suspect.  You can’t trust it.  If you’re involved at all, you’re on the fringe watching for trouble.
    • You’re either angry, depressed, distressed or all of the above.  You hate that you were tricked into believing in anything or anyone.  You know you can’t trust anyone and yet you crave community and belonging even as you can’t truly belong to anyone or anything.  

THIS IS GROWTH.  THIS IS NOT REGRESSION.  WHEN YOU GIVE IN TO DOUBT, WAKE UP AND REALIZE YOUR FAITH IS NOT DEALING WITH THE BIG ISSUES OR ITS WORDS AREN’T FOLLOWED UP BY ACTIONS, YOU HAVE GROWN IN YOUR FAITH.  

  • You do not solve the problem by shutting off your brain, plugging your ears and screaming at the top of your lungs that you believe in the faith of your youth.  
  • You continue the journey of growth and spiritual development by taking the plunge into bottomless void of doubt and perplexity. And it’s hard.  Really hard.   

Contemplation: No One Is One Thing

The weekend after the 2020 Presidential Election, I make my attempt to share what I believe the church’s calling is during this time of unrest and division. View the sermon here. Sermon begins at 32:35.

In the sermon, I reference the film The Last Black Man in San Francisco, and how the Montgomery Allen helps his best friend, Jimmie Fails, see a guy from the old neighborhood, Kofi, not as a caricature of hate and cruelty, but as a human being of dark and light, someone who is more than just one thing.