The Alphabet for Recovering Evangelicals (check back – it “grows” by a letter or two each week)

A is for Ambiguity

I am going to begin to resist certainty. Not everything has to be so absolute. Things are not so black and white, so for or against. It is acceptable to have unanswered questions. If I am just a little less sure of myself, I might be a little easier to get on with, the “lost” might not feel quite so lost in my company, and I might not have to think the cold shoulder I get is part of being persecuted. I repent of Certainty, of alienating others by being so Good, so decided, and so Right – and embrace the many Ambiguities all around me.

B is for Beautiful / B is for Brutal

I know that life is beautiful, – and brutal. I know that the “bad” (the unrepentant) see and experience the beauty of life, and, I know that the “good” (the pious) experience the brutality of life – just as much as each other. Life is Beautiful and Brutal, they go together like a “horse and carriage.” But, the miracle of a “With-us God” is not that faith becomes a ticket to life’s beauty and a “free pass” from its brutality. The miracle is in learning to courageously, maturely, embrace both, and to see both as inevitable, despite my so-called goodness, or rebellion, and despite anything I have done or have not done, believed or rejected, obeyed or disobeyed. Life was both Beautiful and Brutal to Jesus and it is unlikely it will be any different for me.

C is for Care

I want to indiscriminately care for people, regardless of age, gender, race, language, denomination, sexual preference, house of faith (or the lack of it) according to the energy and grace afforded me. I repent of indifference – indifference to suffering, the hungry, marginalized, disenfranchised, and alienated. I repent of indifference to victims of war, and indifference to those whom life itself, because of their own choices, has humiliated. I want to care more than I have ever cared, and I want that caring to drive me to acts of kindness and generosity so that the love and the truth of the Gospel may be tangible to those who, as a result of misguided evangelical zeal, have become victims of religious scorn.

D is for Domestication

I will not pray, or speak, in any manner so as to suggest that God is at my beck and call, divinely appointed to carry out my every whim. I will repeatedly remind myself that, like all other people, I am here for the good and worthwhile purposes of God, and it is not, to the surprise of some, the other way around.

(THOMAS DOANE) D is ALSO for Dialectical Thinking. There are questions whose answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ at the same time from different angles. Get used to it.

E is for Endurance

I need endurance and patience to be kind to those for whom faith in Jesus has become a weapon, a means of feeling and thinking of oneself as superior, “over and above” ordinary, lesser mortals. Being “in touch” or “touched” by the Grace of God, instead of rendering some persons profoundly humble and grateful, has given some a sense of entitlement, of superiority, – and it is for these persons that I need endurance.

F is for the Failure

When the preacher, the teacher, of even the parishioner, imparts his or her wisdom, insight, teaching, without also first becoming part of the fabric of the group, the congregation, or the larger family of faith, – then he or she stands in waiting to become its judge. He or she will ultimately regard the group of persons with whom he or she has a “ministry” not as equals, as mutual sojourners on a shared pilgrimage, but rather as a group in need of his or her tolerance, guidance, and correction. And when this group is wayward (as groups are prone to be) he or she, who has failed to become part of the fabric of the group, the congregation or the larger family or faith, will move on, to where he or she may judge more effectively, where people are more “open” to his or her guidance, – to where the grass is, of course, greener.

G is for Grace

Grace helps me to overlook what I think is my due, my just desert, my right. It assists me to forgive, to turn the page, and to move on and let go. Grace empowers me to live with an open hand rather than a clenched fist. When under the spell of divine grace, I can forgive, even when forgiveness is not requested. I can write off debts, even offering gifts in place of the repayment of the debt. I will seek to enrich the lives of those try to hurt me knowing that grace is evidence of divine intervention, of growth, goodness, and spiritual maturity.

H is for Humility

Humility is recognizing, acknowledging, then doing – what I am good and gifted at. It’s stepping up to the plate to do what I am called to do with the gifts I have been given. I know it is false humility, worm-like, to claim I am good at little or nothing. To deny my talents is poor stewardship of my life. Like every person, I am gifted and talented, and when I hide my skills in order to appear humble, I am wasting valuable time.

(THOMAS DOANE) I is for ‘I am the problem’

Not the economy. Not my boss. Not my employees. Not someone else. Not President Obama. Not even Glenn Beck. ‘I’ am blocking the way between my life and God.

J is for Jesus

Not King James. Not Joel Oesteen’s “Your Best Life Now.” Not Jerry Falwell. Not Jim Bakker. Consider the source.

K is for Kingdom

Jesus proclaims repeatedly that he is inaugurating the Kingdom of God. The Gospel is the Good News about Jesus: grace, etc. The Gospel is the catalyst for the Kingdom about which Jesus was always talking. The Kingdom of God is here, or the Kingdom of God is near. Either/or. Where it is not, is far away, somewhere else in a Platonic otherworld, where the dutiful will be admitted after death and not before. We continue to live in the always-already/ but not-yet. As an experiment, try behaving as if you lived in the Kingdom of God now, or as if it were dawning at this moment–where time meets eternity.

Support Group Anonymous (“SGA”)

Marsha is divorced. When she walks through the door her divorce follows her like a bridal train. Trampled, it catches on every door keeping her from new beginnings.

“Hello, I’m Marsha,” she says looking at the group, “I don’t think you could like me very much. I cannot get over my husband of six years. If I work at it you will also abandon me.”

She turned to the person next to her indicating politely that she was done introducing herself.

“I’m Kyle, thirty going on twelve. I don’t do relationships very well. It’s my dad. He drank a lot. Don’t expect me to be responsible, reasonable or respectful. If I get over him what will I do about my identity? It’s not very nice to meet all of you. You remind me of my dad.”

“Martin here,” he says, stepping into the middle of the room, “I had teachers who expected a lot from me. They gave me homework, expected me to read for myself. Cruel teachers. They are the reason I’m an underachiever today. They’re the reason I cannot hold down a job. I think I’ll sue.”

“Annabel is my name. I hate spring. It means summer’s coming. I’ll have to go outdoors and see people. Grandma had favorites. I wasn’t one of them. She’s why I don’t go out and I don’t like the sun. If it wasn’t for her, I’d be fun.”

“When I know you a little better you can know my name,” she says skirting the room, “Ok, I’ll chance it. My name is May. My neighbors made fun of me when I was growing up. It’s their fault that I cannot stay with one man. I need constant approval. Not like June over there.”

“Thanks May, I can handle this myself. I’m June. I have got to smoke to calm my nerves (dad smoked), drink to ease my boredom (mom drank) and cuss to get my way (my husband taught me to cuss). It’s the government. They do not treat me very well. Expecting me to work is the most unfair thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Move over June. I am Bob. I have got something to say. I’d be thin if it wasn’t for all those commercials for food all around America. I think I’ve got a case here. My health’s in trouble yet they keep advertising those tasty hamburgers. Anyone got a lawyer friend who wants to do pro bono?”

“I’m Anthony. What are you all doing away from your TVs? Get back in there. How will you ever know who survived, who died, who loved, who married their brother’s ex-wife the third time around. How do you expect to know anything if you keep getting away from the TV?”

“Dakota’s my name. I’ve got a very rare disease that cannot be named. But I am really tired of all this expectation placed on me. My dad just says I’m lazy, but what would he know, he’s worked all his life.”

Glen, who doesn’t talk, steps forward. Once he said something funny, people laughed so he’s never talked again in public. He’s waiting for an apology from somewhere before he moves on.

Norman doesn’t stand still. He’s high. He’s so high you do not want to get in his way. It’s the dealers who got to him. Drugs were just way too available and now he is not.

“I am Doug, I am the group leader. With introductions complete, let’s begin with our group meditation:

‘Keep me mindful of my woes
And all who stepped upon my toes
Let my life be full of blame,
So I can always stay the same.’”