The Myth of “Facts Not Feelings”

In recent years, there has been a surge of certainty that I feel has led to an utter breakdown in communication regarding very important topics. I keep seeing posts and quotes pointing to supposed critical thinkers offering a snide remark to the effect of “facts don’t care about your feelings.” While this sounds great (not at all jerk-ish), denying our inherent biases (emotional or otherwise) in a debate is a really… really bad idea. Why?

We trick ourselves into believing we are objective.

Despite what we’d like to think, when it comes to abortion, religion, LGBTQ+ rights, Israel, economics, and pretty much any other policy or issue that affects us personally, no one is objective.

Everyone has feelings that surround and inform their understanding of particular topics. But when we want to be “right” all the damned time, we rationalize and find whatever argument we need to prop us up. We pretend we have no bias driving our perception… and we are quite wrong in doing so.

Our denial of our own bias makes us less compassionate toward that of others. We believe we are right, and that is a truth that cannot and should not be altered no matter who it hurts.

After all, if facts don’t care about feelings, why should we?

This is the hypocritical move that makes steam shoot out of my ears. What B.S. statements like “Facts Not Feelings” actually provide is a means of dismissing other people and making ourselves feel more secure in our own perceptions. However, should the same move be used on us *gasp* we are stunned by the lack of understanding and tolerance on the part of others.

“How dare they go after our beliefs and what I think?!”

My question is: When did feelings become so bad? How did we arrive at a place where we are so willing to find any way to make someone feel stupid so we don’t have to be bothered with their “baggage?” Is there another way?

Of course there is.

CARE.

My point here is that maybe instead of whipping out one-liners that dismiss each other, we should actually listen and respond to one another. Even if someone’s belief doesn’t match your reality, it matches theirs, and as such it needs to be respectfully received and addressed if any headway is to be made toward a more productive conversation.

We all have biases. Most of us have feelings that guide our decision making, and all of us have emotions tied to our positions on particular subjects. I’m not saying that all of those feelings are always “right” or factual, but they exist and need to be handled with concern and compassion.

Will it be difficult? Yes.

Frustrating? You bet.

Worth it? Without a doubt.

Peace be with you!

Right Place, Right Time, Weird Day

Trust in him, and he will help you; make your way straight, and hope in him — Sirach 2:6, RSV

As an Episcopalian, I read the Scriptures according to the Catholic canon, which include books like the Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach, quoted above. In fact, I was reading this particular quote when a truly powerful moment came upon me at a local Catholic Church. It was a moment I needed, and God, in God-like fashion, provided so much more than I could have asked for.

I have made it a habit to go sit in the sanctuary of this church when I have down time between personal training clients. It’s somewhat “out-of-the-way,” darker, and very quiet. Say what you will about Catholics (unless it’s unnecessarily rude), but they tend to leave the doors open more than anyone, and they also know how to craft a sacred space. On this particular day, I found myself drawn to the Pieta statue, depicting Jesus in the arms of His grieving mother, Mary. I didn’t know why, but I just followed the feeling and took a seat, pulling out my Bible and journal.

I read my “secondary canon” book in the afternoon, so I turned to the chapter of Sirach I was on and read.

For the past few days, I had been vexed. Was I doing enough with my life? Am I really doing anything to change the world for the better? Has my past rendered my present and future minimally effective? These questions had been plaguing me, but as I arrived at the quote above, I closed my eyes in prayer, and a thought came to me.

Jesus didn’t set out to change the world. He focused on what was assigned to Him, what was in front of Him. The only thing I am responsible for is dealing with what’s in front of me in a Christ-like manner, and the rest is for me to entrust to God.

This powerful teaching came upon me, and as I opened my eyes, I kid you not, a woman was kneeling a few rows in front of me, crying. I felt the pull to go and offer to pray with her.

Now.

I also felt the pull to be my usual introvert self and keep to my own business. “I can just meditate like I planned and pray for her from here, ” I thought. But something kept tugging on me, and I realized that this is always the temptation, to help from a distance, not spending too much time actually being with people in their suffering. So, reluctantly, I got my awkward butt up and walked over.

I offered to pray for this sniffling woman, and she immediately broke down and made space for me to kneel beside her. We exchanged names, and without being prompted, she shared a heartbreaking story about the divorce she was suffering through. Many tears and tissues later, we prayed together. She likened her experience to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus with a kiss, and I gently reminded her that this was not the end of the story. We reminded each other that the image of Jesus suffering on the cross is there to remind us that God knows our pain, and we are not alone.

After this powerful moment of mutual ministry, we prayed again, I lit my usual candle (with a new name attached to it), and I left.

The truth is, it is not all up to us to make the world ideal. We are not strong enough to bear the weight of the world on our shoulders, but God is. Our role in this story is to keep our eyes in front of us, as Jesus did, making our way through our lives and interactions with Christ-like love and humility, trusting in God to do what He does best. As Jesus teaches, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow with be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day” (Matthew 6:34).

I don’t know where you are on your journey. Maybe you feel like you don’t have what it takes. Maybe you are wondering if you even matter. Perhaps you’re unsure if you have any bearing on the course of the world or if you have anything good to bring. Allow me to share God’s answer on the subject.

You do.

Peace be with you.

“Don’t Talk Religion!”

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” — Exodus 3:14, RSV

You know “the rules.” Don’t talk politics. Don’t talk religion. Don’t talk sport (for some of us). For someone like me, though, these rules suck. I am bad at small talk. I don’t care what the weather is like or who won the high school football game on Friday. I want to know what you think about important stuff. I would also like to be able to share how I feel about said important stuff, and introverts like me are crippled by such nonsensical regulation.

GAH!

Anyway, there is a very serious reason I want to discuss these rules, especially the idea of not discussing religion. First of all, I understand. We are passionate about the things we believe, and any perceived criticism can come across as criticism of us if one is not careful. With that said, there is a word for the inability to discuss religion and spirituality.

Idolatry.

God is asked for His name in Exodus 3, and He instead tells Moses, “I am who I am” (3:14). When the Ten Words are offered in Exodus 20, the second word instructs:

“You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them…”

We all know of the obvious, surface-level implication of this teaching. Don’t carve and worship rocks or pieces of wood and call it “God.” Looking deeper, though, we find why our inability to lovingly and civilly discuss our faith with those who are different might be a violation of God’s instruction.

When discussing religion, we get angry. Why? Because our beliefs about God are being challenged. Notice what I said. Our beliefs about God are being challenged. God is not being challenged, only how we perceive Him.

God is a big Deity. He can take care of Himself.

God can also be a She. God can be whatever God wants to be, and He says as much in Exodus 3, remember? I use a masculine rendering for God because it is what I am used to, but I know I shouldn’t fly off the handle when someone discusses God in feminine terms, because, ultimately, what do I know?

Likewise, when we find ourselves being challenged on the topic of religion, and when we find ourselves interacting on a basis other than love and mutual respect, we are guilty of letting our images of God get in the way of treating our neighbor in the manner God asks of us. For all we know, God could have a powerful lesson waiting for us in the midst of a difficult conversation, and we could be spitting on it by being too enamored with our own ideas to be silent and listen.

This same teaching holds true for any of our “causes for stumbling.” Many can’t talk politics because their ideas have become idols that cannot be challenged, and that is not okay. We have become a society that cannot communicate because our own perceptions have become our gods. We cannot act righteously because we carry our idols with us everywhere we go, and we will do anything to keep them sacred.

My prayer for all of us is that we can set down our idols and turn to the One Who Is. In doing so, our hearts will become open and we can finally talk about the things that really matter. We should be talking about our beliefs, our thoughts, our feelings, and our concerns. We should be listening respectfully and carefully to perceptions of others, and we should all be looking for a way forward together.

Finding Hope In Judas

The Gospel of Matthew has long been my favorite. Mostly, I love the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7. I also dig the promise of God’s presence with us that bookends the entire narrative (1:23, 28:20).

Another plus for me, though, is the fact that Judas gets a fair shake. I know, I shouldn’t care because this is the guy that betrayed Jesus. Hang with me, though. It’s worth it.

In Matthew 27, Jesus has been betrayed and is about to be condemned by Pilate and the people (acting as puppets on behalf of the religious authorities). Before all of this, though, Judas makes one last appearance.

We are told that “he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders” (27:3, NRSV). Further, he openly admits that he “sinned by betraying innocent blood” (27:4). The response by those who were supposed to be his religious leaders, his pastors in a way, is cold and unconcerned.

What is that to us? See to it yourself.”

That is the actual, screwed up quote from 27:4. After this, with no hope in sight, Judas flees the temple and hangs himself. In the words of the chorus in Jesus Christ Superstar, “So long Judas. Poor, old Judas” (PLEASE watch this somewhat corny scene. It is disturbingly moving).

Judas repents. Do we really get that? The man REPENTS. He realizes his sin and tries to fix it, only to be partnered with Christ as a victim of the authorities.

It’s true that Luke and John (especially John) smear Judas pretty badly. He doesn’t repent in any other Gospel. That doesn’t mean, however, that we shouldn’t take this seriously.

Have you ever royally screwed up? Yes, you have. I have, too. We all have.

I am also willing to bet that all of us have tried to make up for our failings, only to be disappointed by the results. Like Judas, we know what it is to feel trapped by seemingly hopeless and irreparable circumstances. Often we fall deeper into our destructive spirals, fulfilling what appears to be the end of his story.

I want to propose we try something different, though. Remember how Jesus and Judas are both victims of corrupt authority? Well Jesus doesn’t stay that way. In fact, He defeats the deathly powers wielded by the Empire. He rises again, assuring those who repent of their sin and believe in Him that they will share in eternal life.

So if Judas repented and recognized Jesus as innocent, meaning He was who He said He was, perhaps the story of the traitor ends differently. I believe there is a chance Judas is at peace, reconciled to God. I also believe our stories can end this way.

Instead of continuing down the path of destruction, acting as though we are unworthy of anything good until we meet a miserable end, how about we repent? Why not turn around and realize that just as there is hope for the one who betrayed God in the Flesh, there is also hope for you and I! Our story is not over until we are gone from here, and even then, we need to remember Jesus’ resurrection promise.

As long as breath remains in our lungs, we can make a different choice and take a different path. I don’t know where you are in life or what spiral you feel trapped in, but I do know this: there is hope for you, just as I now know there is hope for me.

In Christ, even the darkest and most dismal circumstamces can be turned into occasions for repentance and positive transformation. A betrayer can become an advocate, a sinner can become a saint, and the lost can be found. No matter where you are in your life’s journey, I hope you will join me in learning from poor Judas. After all, the story may not end how we think.

Peace be with you!

Doubt: What I Wish I Had Known

Doubt isn’t a thing fondly spoken of in faith circles. James tells us that “the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind,” and this person “must not expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:6-8, NRSV). Such opinions abound in the Scriptures, but I can’t help but feel a little rebellion toward them. After all, it is unreasonable to expect humans to believe in what cannot be seen with unyielding resolve.

For some reason, though, this seems to be the standard for the religious of the world. Doubt means a lack of faith, which puts one in danger of a lesser standing in the eyes of the Divine. Anything that could cause a person to reconsider their faith, traditions, or core belief system is a threat to the fragile realities we tend to build for ourselves.

I witnessed this first-hand in college. I was part of two pretty conservative ministries, and as a history major with a geology minor, evolution was just a fact for me, as it still is today. Little did I know that when I got into a conversation about Genesis with my small groups, my invitations back to those gatherings would cease and I found myself in search of a new spiritual home.

When I presented the evidence for an evolutionary view of biology and history that conflicted with Creationism, I was met with anger that seemed… panicked. I didn’t understand it, and I also felt there was something wrong with me.

This feeling continued even through seminary. Why couldn’t I believe like all of my classmates? What was making me question everything? Where did this resistance come from that kept me from accepting everything as it appeared to be?

I sought out counsel and was told “the devil was trying to throw me off course.” That didn’t help. Other people said I just needed to “fake it” until I was convinced. That came across as basically being advised to brainwash myself.

It was only when I stumbled upon Søren Kierkegaard that I found something useful. Kierkegaard was a Danish theologian famous for his understanding of doubt and faith as realities that play off of each other, best summed up in his quote, “doubt is conquered by faith, just as it is faith which has brought doubt into the world.” For Kierkegaard, faith is something that always exists beside doubt, as faith, truly expressed, is a decision to believe in spite of a lack of what is considered proper evidence.

This changed the game for me. Suddenly, my doubting nature wasn’t a curse, but something natural to me. It was a characteristic that removed all pretense and forced me to decide whether I was going to live in light of faith or something else. Faith, hope, and love became conscious decisons rather than passively received and executed spiritual gifts.

Odds are that you’ve shared my experience in some way, especially if you come from a Christian background. Doubt can often be a source for guilt and despair, even outside of the religious world. The “go-getters” are the true believers who never seem to waver or step back for examination. To be successful, we must believe, confidently striding forward in all our glory, right?

Nonsense. Life takes all kinds, and your doubt is essential to making sure we don’t get too full of ourselves. When no one asks questions or challenges the status quo, growth and positive change become impossible.

Doubt serves to keep us all in check, ensuring that every decision we make about what we believe and do in life is intentional. While an excess of ever-present doubt can be disheartening, tempering our words and actions with the possibility that we might be wrong produces a humility we could use more of these days.

So maybe you feel like you’re always the “Debbie Downer.” Maybe you feel like this world has no place for you because you don’t connect with our perceived cultural norms. Perhaps you feel flawed because you struggle to accept the dominant beliefs that surround you.

Well take it from me. You’re not flawed, broken, sick, or lost. You are gifted, loved, and here on purpose. So embrace the doubt in life, that the faith you choose to hold may mean all the more.

Peace be with you!

You Are Not Discredited By Your Past

Do not reproach one who is turning away from sin; remember that we all deserve punishment. — Sirach 8:5, NRSV

It just has to be forbidden to ignore a tiger face-palming when you see one, right?!

Anyway…

Hypocrisy is something that bothers everyone, including the tiger. When we hear someone issuing a challenging word of truth, and we are aware of their own disregard for that truth, we often throw away the entire teaching. After all, who are they to teach us when they fail just like we do?

I’ve thought this way before, and it was wrong for me to do so. It’s wrong for anyone to use your past to discredit a vital truth you try to bring to the world. After all, if only perfect teachers are allowed to teach, no one is going to learn anything. I decided after a very unpleasant experience yesterday to write on this topic. I hope you will forgive me, as I weave in and out of addressing readers as both those who are trying to speak the truth and those who try to stifle it. I think it is fitting, though, because at one time or another, every person has played each of those roles.

Moving on.

Even before my larger “fall” from pastoral work, people would find ways to discredit me based on my age, political views, or education. This only happened, however, when I was speaking a difficult truth. When I spoke of the necessity of forgiveness, generosity, or humility on a practical, daily level, I was met with resistance by people who did not want to do the necessary work to make those things a reality, even if all I did was simply draw attention to Jesus’ words on the subject!

People who are aware of my own transgressions have asked me, “What gives you the right to teach anyone now?” It’s a fair question, but it’s also a load of garbage. I’ve found that the best teachers I’ve ever had weren’t the “pure” ones who were unfamiliar with my struggles, knowing only enough to say I needed to do better. No, the teachers that had the most impact on me were those who walked the path I was walking, had the experience to know how disastrous the results would be for me, and loved me all the way to a different end.

This whole idea that only the “perfect” can instruct is rooted in fear. If you are speaking a truth that challenges others to look at their own mess, you can bet there will be resistance. It is important to keep in mind that this resistance is not your fault, but it is the result of their fear regarding their own transgressions. We would always rather point to the sinful faults of others rather than allow them to draw our attention to our own issues.

The Scripture for today’s post comes from Sirach, which I know isn’t recognized by everyone as true Scripture. Anyone who uses this to discredit what I am saying, though, simply proves my point. After all, Jesus warns us about looking to others before we deal with ourselves.

  1. “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” — Matthew 5:14-15, RSVCE
  2. “Judge not, that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get… You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” — Matthew 7:1-2; 5, RSVCE
  3. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” — Luke 6:31, NRSV

When someone with a painful past tries to share some wisdom, perhaps in an effort to make some good out of having screwed up royally (like me), that is a good thing. It could very well be a sign that they either are turning or have turned from sin, and the writer of Sirach is right to correct those who would “reproach” such a person in chapter 8, verse 5. After all, “we all deserve punishment.”

Sure, maybe you haven’t faced a temptation or addiction that caused you to fall in any major way. Perhaps you haven’t killed, cheated on your spouse, stolen, been involved in gang violence, dealt drugs, or any of the other sins upon which we come down so hard. But did you know that pride is sinful? Also, self-righteousness is sinful. True, we don’t punish or address these as harshly as the others… But Scripture indicates that God will.

If you are like me, odds are your mistakes have been held against you when you tried to make a positive change. I know how that feels, which is why I wrote this post. You need to know that the fault is not yours. If you are trying to make your mistakes or painful past into something that helps others and people are using those very things to discredit you, that is their bloody problem. People that act that way are scared to see someone changing, because that means they can change. Lord knows, nobody wants to have to look within and face their own darkness. It’s easier to point out the darkness of others.

I hope this post is both encouraging and instructive. Face your demons and encourage others to do the same, as this is the only way we can heal as individuals, as communities, and as a family of faith. The response of others is something for which they will be held responsible. The only responsibilities we have are to change our ways, tell our story, speak the truth, and listen to others who are trying to do the same. I pray we all realize we are on this journey together, each of us in need of and redeemed by that Divine mercy revealed in Christ Jesus.

Peace be with you.