UnGodly Critiques

Leaving the psych ward, I made my way to a city that I knew well, that I lived most of my adult life in, and was going to try and rebuild, or at least try to make sense of where life had landed me. I found a place to stay for awhile, and found a treatment center that I could work out some of the issues that had consumed me, and had driven me to consume alcohol.

The first mandate of treatment was that I had to attend an inordinate amount of Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings in a short amount of time, meaning I had a new goal. I was going to at least accomplish this, if nothing else. I made arrangements to attend a meeting for the very first time, doing my research on location, quality, and availability. I found the one that would revolutionize my life over the next few months.

As I walked into the room, for the very first time, head down, shamed, and guilt beyond words, these words were being spoken by the entire group, with their hands held together, in a circle.

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: 

For thine is the kingdom, and 

the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

I hate being late. So I thought I would come early, and be ready for whatever was going to happen to happen. However, I was an hour late and just a couple of minutes early for the end of the meeting. I was observing the last part of the meeting, meaning that I had missed my first mandated meeting. The folks in the room were behaving like they were part of a cult of religion, reciting a rote prayer that, as a progressive evangelical, I had often scoffed at. The Lord’s prayer was always seen as a way of teaching categories of prayer, that we needed to learn from and pattern our own prayer lives after, sequentially, but with heartfelt variance. As progressive evangelicals, we weren’t quite “Pentecostal” but we want to be free flowing in our prayers, not tied to any liturgy or rote-ness about our prayer life. I watched the prayer happen, and then decided quickly, I was not ready for this. I wasn’t ready to try out religion again. In fact, I was well on way to rejecting whatever religion I thought I was a part of, shaking off the dust on my feet of the ways that I had taught, preached, modeled, and faked for so long.

At the end of the prayer, the meeting was over. One of the old timers in the meeting walked over to me and tried to strike up a conversation. He knew me from a past church where he was a parishioner but with care and vague curiosity, asked why I was there. I explained, in few words, my last few weeks and months of hell on earth. He listened carefully, and at the end of my short biography, with a stab and a barb about the prayer I just experienced at the end of the meeting,  he said to me words that I will not forget.

He said to me, “You don’t know what you don’t know. You have tried to do things your way for so long. You have tried alot of different means of dealing with life, and they have all fallen short and ended you here. Maybe it’s time to try a different way.”

I swallowed hard. I didn’t respond. I just shook my head and absorbed the words that one of the members at my former church was saying. He meant no harm, had no malice, and seemed to understand exactly where I was. Angry, frustrated, and bewildered by my own actions seemed to resonate with his own experience and he paused, remembering what it was like to sit in my seat. He said to me, “You’ll make it.”

I pondered the “Lord’s Prayer” on my walk home from my first meeting. Why had that prayer been prayed? Was it prayed at every meeting? (yes, it is) What if I didn’t want to pray right now? There were so many different emotions that overcame my world during that walk. And I felt all of them. For the first time, in a long time, I felt. I didn’t numb the pain. I didn’t numb the anger. I didn’t numb the frustration or the sadness. I just let the emotion consume me. I had yet to learn some of the handling techniques as it related to emotion. I began to think through the prayer that I had observed. My motive through thinking through the prayer was to critique the practice that I had just observed. The outcome of my critique was a little bit of surrender. Surrender to my current circumstance, surrender to the reality of what I was currently facing, and surrender ultimately, to God.

I began my critique…during my walk home.

“Our Father which art in heaven…”

“God if you had been my Father the past several months, I wouldn’t be in the position that I am in. Had you been present, I wouldn’t have needed to be absent from pain. Had you been the Father that you say that you are in scripture, I would…

And I went on and on and on. A good father would not leave his Son where I was at. A bad Father might not even leave his Son where I was at. Only an absent father would. And that is where I arrived, during this particular critique. As I began to critique the second part of this phrase, it was confirmed to me.

The prayer itself acknowledges the absent Father that I was experiencing. He was in heaven. He clearly wasn’t where I was, and he clearly wasn’t doing the things that I thought maybe he should be doing. And what is heaven anyway? Is it a “feel good mechanism” that helps us when life is unbearable and we can tell ourselves and others that someday we will be in heaven? Is there really life after death and can it really be a place where all of the things that we experience here are different? Maybe. My theological training tells me that is true, though there is no amount of empirical data present to evaluate as it relates to ‘heaven.’ One has to take it by ‘faith’ that it even exists.

Theology has been really good for me at times, and at other times has been crippling. Studying the bible and gaining an understanding of what it says and why it says what it says has enriched the development of my spirituality through the years. But in this moment, the theological constructs that had crumbled around me had become a significant handicap in my ability to clearly understand or be articulate in anything that I had studied. Emotion clouded everything.

Hallowed be thy name.

“What the hell does that even mean?” 

If one is saying the word ‘hallowed’ over and over again, then it must mean something pretty amazing. During no other time during my life had I used this word, other than when reciting the Lord’s prayer. I knew what it meant, or at least what people much smarter than me, and who were making their living writing textbooks said that it meant. But in that moment, the only thing that I could really understand was that the bible was full of incredibly cryptic language that was held onto by my baptist friends in some cases more than life itself. I had seen churches split over the use of certain versions of the bible. The King James. The NIV. The New NIV. The ESV. I had seen good men sit in a room, fighting for hours over a stupid translation of words that meant very little to begin with, and even less, when it was not even scripted in a common language that I spoke daily.

Hollowed. I was hollow. There was very little dignity left in my undignified and even outraged soul. I knew that I had lost everything. And now I was supposed to recite a prayer giving God the dignity, supreme dignity, during a period when he had failed to show up. To be present. To be hollowed. There was nothing in me that wanted to give dignity to the name of God.

As I walked, I began to cry. I began to weep over the lack of meaning in my own life. Where I had ended up. How did I get here, with this “Hollowed” God looking out for me? Was “Thy Name” supposed to just be silence in the midst of extreme pain? My experience was shaping my answer, and had been for sometime.

God, if your name is so dignified, and if you really demand this title of a word that I don’t use or understand, you may have to clearly show me what that looks like in real life. And real soon. 

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

Sure. Bring your Kingdom. Do your will. It’s not like anything that I give any input on is going to change that. Do it here or do it there. And i’ll just deal with the consequences of your will. Calvin probably knew best when he decided it was good to write memoirs about the will of God. It seems pretty clear to me, in these phrases, that your will is non negotiable. I guess I will sit back and watch your will do whatever your will is going to do. I’ll compensate where I need to, to make it through. 

The Will of God is something else that I had seen split churches, make good Godly men fight, and entire leadership teams quarrel. But in this moment, it seemed pretty clear to me how the will of God was to be understood. His will is final. His action is supreme. And there is very little that I or anyone else was going to do about it. And now I was to embark on a daily, sometimes, multiple times a day, journey of saying this phrase over and over again.

I began my hourly dose of sarcasm with God, and sounded a bit like Job as he lambasts God in the middle of the book of Job. Okay God. Is this your will? Is this what you wanted? I tried for years to do what you wanted me to do, what I thought you were calling me to do. I tried to plant churches. I tried to share the gospel. I tried to be nice and do good things. Until recently I didn’t drink, chew, or go with girls who do. I obeyed all of the laws…And you were silent. Not only were you silent, but you seemed to dash all of the ‘visions’ that you had given me. I was going to be a Lead Pastor ‘someday’. I wasn’t going to Pastor a church that was rapidly growing with new converts. I was going to see 20 churches planted in the city that I loved, changing the spiritual landscape. I was going to give away the money that I made to those that needed, pay back my salary to the church, raise my kids the right way…And that is all gone. You steadily stripped away the things that seemed to be given by you as goals, ambitions, dreams, and desires to begin with. Were they not your will? Was I just drinking the “God Will” cool aid? Maybe.

Give us this day our daily bread.

God I’ve been praying for internal peace for years. I’ve been praying for an end to the turmoil that seems to go around in my head day after day, night after night. I have driven myself absolutely crazy trying to figure out how to attain peace. And you want me to pray for daily bread? What about the things that I thought you wanted me to pray for? Fine. I’ll pray for daily bread. I guess I don’t need peace. I’ll just pray for bread. Could I be specific and pray for Wonderbread? 

God had provided for my needs. He had provided for my wants and desires, and way beyond. I was reminded in that moment that I had everything and so much more than I deserved. After a moment of intense fit throwing, I came to the quick conclusion that God really did provide. And continued to provide. In weird ways, he provided for the next few months as I navigated a landscape that had been destroyed by my own stupidity and land mines. He never directly provided wonderbread. But I also never went hungry for more than a couple of days.

In that walk home, this one resonated with me the most. But it also caused the most guilt in me. He had provided. I had thrown it all to the wind. For what? For a moment of inner peace? For a moment of silence that I could simply check out from all that was terrorizing my soul? I had thrown away his provision. And whatever came next, however bad it was, was what I deserved.

I began to weep again. I began rolling deep tears of guilt. Shame. Disappointment with me. Disappointment with life and God. Provision was taken for granted.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

How could God forgive me? How could I forgive me? I could easily forgive others, because there was no worse sinner than me. And I knew that. I knew all of the things that I had done, all of the lies that I had told, and all of the things that I had covered in shame. God couldn’t forgive me, and I seriously doubted that he would, without significant retribution. The only way that I knew that a debt was repaid was if there was retribution paid. Discipline of some sort was in order, to repay the debt that I owed. Maybe I was experiencing some of that? Maybe I would get to the end of my spanking and there would be reprieve?

I still had to learn to forgive myself. Today, I’m still learning. Whether or not I am done with God’s spanking of me, I’ll never know. His will and his discipline work together in far more complicated ways than I’ll ever understand or even try to understand. When you have a construct of forgiveness that includes discipline and retribution, it’s difficult to self abuse enough. It’s hard to create so much pain for yourself, that doesn’t harm others, that creates freedom from past pain and sin that I caused. Self mutilation is not really a great way to figure out ones own self forgiveness, at least not in my case.

God didn’t really say anything in this line about forgiving myself. I had to learn how to do that, through other means. But the idea of forgiveness being in front of me daily, constantly was good for me to remember that I still had the step that I had to take to work through the self forgiveness exercise that proved to be one of the more important parts of recovery.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: 

Practical. It would have been helpful to have this as a practical application that God might have done in the last couple of years. Had he delivered me from evil. Had he stopped me from getting into temptation, I might not be taking this little, long walk to a place that is desolate of those that are my family, and is void of the normalcy of life.

For thine is the kingdom, and 

the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Again, this is well outside of my understanding. Thine is an odd word. What is this kingdom? Where is this power? And what Glory should I be looking for?  I haven’t seen these things, and have been hoping for them for awhile.

The best part of the prayer pondering of the night was the word “Amen”. It meant that I was done for the evening. I arrived back to where I was staying and went to sleep.

You might read the above and find the content void of any redemption. I wrote these words in my journal as I started my recovery journal during those painful days. Deep darkness had clouded my ability to see anything that was positive and the ability to be negative was far more natural in those moments than to try and see the positive in anything. Since that long walk home, I have discovered incredibly life changing power in the Lord’s Prayer. It has brought me to new places, with new people, with new hope. I say it each and every time I attend a meeting and even sometimes when I attend church and it is being preached about, and it means more to me now than it ever had when I was trying to share what it meant with my parishioners from some stage somewhere. If you are a religious person, you might have the urge, the tendency to want to correct all of the bad theological constructs that are represented in my story above. You may want to call me a heretic. And I guess I’m fine with whatever you want to call me. I have come to a place where I don’t really give a crap what you think of me, and instead will be fighting for the things that matter in life today. Today life is pretty good. God has revealed himself to me on a far deeper level then ‘visions’ or ‘dreams’ or ‘goals.’ He has given me far greater worth than I have ever experienced before, just in the very mundane things of life. Going to work every day is a treat. Getting to be with my family each night is a satisfying experience. Finding peace in the normal is something that I never expected would be gratifying. But it is. So, with that, I’ll end with ‘The Message’ version of the Lord’s Prayer, because then maybe I won’t stumble over the words that I fail to understand. This accurately reflects my thoughts regarding the prayer that has shaped my life over the past year.

; (and in the semi colon, there is so much yet to be learned, written, and experienced.)

Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are. Set the world right; Do what’s best—

as above, so below.

Keep us alive with three square meals.

Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. 

Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You’re in charge!

You can do anything you want!

You’re ablaze in beauty!

Yes. Yes. Yes

;

 

One thought

  1. Thank you, fellow sinner, fellow redeemed. Going deeper, like surgery, hurts. Recovery is painful and seems slow, but look back, now and then, and remind yourself of what is was like in the pit, the pig-sty, the valley, or whatever it was. In our meetings we end with the hokie-kokie – saying, “God, grant me the Serenity to accept what cannot bechanged, the Courage to change the things that can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.” That prayer for me is the humility of recovery. If you’re humble, he’s right – you WILL make it. Thank you for your openness and honesty.

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