God In A Box

Preface:

I’m not the easiest person to get to know. There’s a lot that goes into that–I’m introverted, I’m analytical, and I’m a critical thinker. To get to know me typically means that I’m getting to know you first. I’m establishing a base in which to work from.

That doesn’t mean that I’m judging you exactly; I’m just trying to figure you out.

Once we’ve established a relationship in which I’m able to reciprocate my thoughts and feelings, I’m not quite as reserved.

You’ll rarely if ever, hear me speak intellectually in quick reaction during a conversation; rather, I’m studying the conversation. My thoughts and opinions are deeply calculated.

My wife is about the only person who ever gets to hear me just start talking. (That comes back to bite me in the ass. I say stupid shit when I don’t think it through completely.)

In my blogging world, I’m really stepping outside of myself in order to share what I’m learning.

What I share is partly based on life experience, hours of research (reading books, listening to lectures, watching documentaries, etc.), and conversations with people I’ve learned to trust.

I do not enjoy speaking, listening to, or writing about things that have little interest to me. When I do speak/write, I’ve made the calculated decision that it’s worth my time.

This website is worth my time; however, over the last couple of months, there’s been less I’ve felt compelled to speak to. I just don’t have the energy–or time–to whip out a new post every day, but what I do write doesn’t come to you frivolously.

God In A Box:

Many of you have come to know me through my writing here. Some of you have known me personally for a period of time. There are also those of you who have known me all my life and those who don’t know me at all.

Those who are just getting to know me now are getting to know the new me.

I’ve always been sort of the “black sheep” who wasn’t afraid to question the status quo. But the questioning of who I was and what I’ve believed my entire life didn’t begin until around 2014.

Most of my friends and family had no idea I began down that path. Being the reserved person I am means I internalize my critical thinking. The only person who truly knew my journey every step of the way was my wife.

Because of that, I can see that everyone who has known me for an extended period of time may want more details about my shift. This comes from a place of genuine concern and love for me, I know that.

I know this because if the roles were reversed, I would have those same feelings and thoughts–only mine would remain unspoken (I think you’re beginning to understand how truly reserved I am).

I’m genuinely grateful for your love. I don’t want you to feel like you have to “sweep things under the rug,” or like things are now awkward between us.

I do not feel awkward with my evolving understanding of God, and I’m clearly not sweeping it under the rug.

I also don’t want you to feel like you’re obligated to pray me back to righteousness; I haven’t departed. Respectfully I’m asking that you don’t try to convince me of the “errors of my ways.”

What I’m learning, the positions I take, and the views I hold of God in my journey will not be evangelized out of me–just as I cannot convince you to believe as I do.

My discoveries aren’t something that I can forget or be prayed out of. I’ve made the reference to the movie “The Matrix” a few times before, and that’s how I feel about what I’m learning about God, religion, and my journey (like I’ve been unplugged from the Matrix).

I don’t mean to say that I have a greater understanding of who God is than you do. I’m simply saying that I haven’t come to these conclusions lightly.

There’s no way I can jot down everything that’s happened to bring me to the place I am now, especially in one blog post. Instead, I will speak to the concerns I know some of you may have and summarize where I am now in my journey.

I know the concerns, believe me, I know them.

My son, brother, cousin, nephew, friend is walking away from God. He’s listening to lies. Satan is warping his understanding of who God is. What about his family? He’s supposed to be the ‘spiritual leader’ of his wife and kids! What about his kids? What are they going to grow up believing? Why aren’t they in church? Why doesn’t he believe the Bible? How can the Bible possibly be anything but ‘inerrant?’ He says he’s agnostic now–what is happening? How does his relationship with Jesus tie in with all of this? I’m afraid for him. I’m concerned he’s going down a path that will lead him directly into darkness. What if he or his family were to die and go to hell? What if he’s wrong about everything? What if Love isn’t enough? How can Love be found outside of Christianity?

I think that’s about the size of it. Those would be the questions and concerns in my mind if the old me were staring at the present me.

The simplest way I know how to answer the old me is to do it like so: If “fear” were a person, I would say to go back and begin every question/statement above with “Fear,…”–as if you were having a conversation with Fear.

What I can tell you is I’m unafraid. I’m not shaken by my discoveries, nor is God.

That wasn’t the case for me when I began my journey, but as I’ve gone along the way, I’ve only known complete peace and trust.

There was a small stint in which I felt very alone. That was primarily due to our move away from Texas to Minnesota. We knew nobody, and for a person who is as reserved as I am, that is a daunting place to be.

It didn’t last long, however, and I can say now that we love being in MN! We have a new tribe of people that we’re doing life with, and they’ve made this transition easier.

I’ve also made friends with folks the world over via Facebook and through this site. We speak of God often and carry invigorating conversations. They make me a better person, and I’m grateful for their friendships.

I’ve come to know people of other faiths, atheists, and those on journeys like my own. Doing so has expanded my understanding greatly, and I have greater respect for those people now–where prior to this journey, I was completely opposed to listening to their stories.

Where I am now is difficult to put into words, but I’ll try to explain it some.

I’ve come to understand that I’ve been wrong my entire life to believe that Christianity wasn’t a “religion.” I remember regurgitating phrases like, “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.”

It really doesn’t matter what gift wrapping you put on the box, the box is still a box. In this case, Christianity is a religion; it’s a box.

There are so many different varieties of religion–let alone varieties of Christianity–but what I’ve discovered is that it’s impossible to put God wholly inside a box.

Fear and manipulation are also found in religion, and I don’t believe God to exist in those places either; therefore, I cannot be a part of it.

Belief in hell, a place of eternal torment, is fear driven and anti-Love. It’s also a man-made idea that is only found within the confines of religious traditions passed down. I don’t believe it to be an inspirational writing given by God–ever.

Sure, there are great things we can learn from sacred texts and teachings passed down, but I don’t view them as I used to. I see them now as man’s attempt to explain God.

Taking the Bible as “God’s literal word” is bibliolatry, and no different than idol worship. Even the authors noted that their writings were inspirational. It’s an attempt to gift wrap God between a front and back cover, and he doesn’t fit.

From the earliest points in history, we have records of people groups giving their ideas of who God is. I’m grateful to those people for expressing their thoughts, but in the end, that’s all they are to me.

Please understand that I do NOT condemn you for believing the way you do. I do not think little of you, or think you’re stupid or any less enlightened than I am. I’m just looking at all of this from an entirely different perspective.

Love doesn’t fit into a box.

I choose to model my life after the life of Jesus, not because I believe he was the “son of God,” or because I’m “trusting him for salvation,” but because he modeled God’s love to me better than anyone else.

His life was more inspirational to me after taking him out of the religious box I had him in, and I’ll never regret making that decision. I might add that from my perspective, Jesus took God out of the religious box of his day.

My friend, John Pavlovitz, puts it this way, “You can’t go where God is not anyway, and so the most faith-affirming decision you can make right now is to trust that wherever you place your feet, even if it is outside of religion—it will still be holy ground.”

I’m leaving God in a new place I’ve never known before. I’m choosing to leave him in a place of mystery.

In this place, there’s no need to define heaven, hell, or sin. Honestly, there’s no need to have anything concrete. God is God, I am not, and I cannot possibly begin to define him or his character outside the frame of Love.

Outside of Love’s frame is wonder and mystery. It’s like exploring areas of space that haven’t been seen. Inside of Love’s frame is the beating heart of God. It’s all the security I will ever need.

I don’t need questions to be answered, nor do I feel the need to answer them myself.

I am content. I am happy. I’m loving those around me, and we’re exploring God’s wonder together.

I leave you with the words of Jesus:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Fear, Love, and The Forgotten Jesus

Love.

It’s not something that we can easily encapsulate in a one-sentence description. In fact, there are complete libraries on the subject. It’s an ambiguous subject, and one could spend their entire life trying to understand it — what a fantastic idea!

In a world wrought with hatred, indifference, intolerance, and so many horrible things, there stands Love, like a beacon of hope.

Occasionally I question why we don’t choose Love in every instance, in every circumstance of life. Maybe it’s just easier sometimes to choose something counter-Love. Perhaps getting angry and vocal is the path of least resistance. That’s something I have to check myself on often.

I’ve discovered that until recently, I had never fully given myself to Love. Granted, I’m still learning about Love and all its facets, but choosing to seek Love out has opened my eyes to a whole new dimension I never knew existed!

Loving Jesus wasn’t ever something I found difficult to do; that is until I uncovered just how deep that rabbit hole went.

I was content loving baby Jesus. I was content loving savior Jesus. Keeping “Christ in Christmas” was easy; keeping him on the cross was too.

Choosing to fill in the blanks of his life and modeling my life after this other Jesus who showed up wasn’t isn’t easy.

This other Jesus, who I call “the forgotten Jesus,” presented himself to me, and it’s when things got real.

Questions began racing through my mind:
“Wait, you didn’t mean to love everyone, did you? What about Muslims? They’re going to sneak into my house and slit throats — that is if our own government doesn’t do it first! This is why I need my guns! What about LGBT people? I can’t love and accept such willful disobedience! What about…”

You get the point.

Learning about the forgotten Jesus — the Prince of Peace, the great Lover, the guy not operating with fear tactics, the Heretical Lover — forced me to question my beliefs, my understanding, and my position on Christianity.

I was happy toting my gun, voting Republican, helping my wife to be submissive to me, and telling the world just how much I loved Jesus, while regurgitating scriptures to “help you” in your walk. That’s not difficult, and in fact it’s really the norm in the Bible Belt.

Most of you who’ve spent the time getting to know me over the last couple of years probably didn’t know that side of me — luckily. You may think I’m making this up, but I’m not. That was me. I was in my comfort zone…

But then, Love.

When I began to question everything — the Bible, God, Jesus, atheism, agnosticism, the American way, intolerance, etc. — and removed myself from the church system, I was suddenly face-to-face with the forgotten Jesus.

It was Jesus as I’ve never seen him before. If you understand what I’m saying, you’ve likely met him too. I’m still not able to adequately describe him or really put him into words, but I’ll try.

I’m not referring to the facet of baby Jesus, nor the one bearing a cross. I’m not even really talking about the facet of the one healing the sick, walking on water, or raising others from the dead. I’m certainly not referring to the warrior Jesus who’s supposed to come riding on a white horse and separate heads from shoulders.

Then who is this Jesus I’m talking about?!

Exactly.

I’m talking about the Jesus on the narrow path. The one who can walk a camel through the eye of a needle. The Jesus, who when robbed, will chase down the thief and give him his coat also.

The Jesus who introduced a new idea of who God is — an idea of God that hadn’t been expressed in scripture as Jesus was now presenting (his description of God is actually more counter-scriptural).

This is the Jesus who wasn’t blowing smoke about loving others sacrificially.

This Jesus would diffuse an execution of a prostitute because he had a genuine love and respect for life. This is the Jesus who understood that if others could grasp this message, it would literally change the world.

His isn’t a message of “my version of religion and name for God is the right one.” His message is obscure, but only because it’s been wrongfully smeared by bad Christian rhetoric and dogma.

This Jesus put a price on Love. True love will lay down one’s life for another — Muslim, gay, black, homeless, rich, democrat, republican, prostitutes, poor — all of these are inconsequential.

His focus wasn’t on conversions from hell bound to heaven bound. Jesus wasn’t a sin-focused or sin-driven person. He wasn’t driven by an afterlife, and he didn’t instill fear into the hearts of his followers to insure they remained faithful.

He was a love-focused, love-driven person whose intent was to show others how to do this life right.

If we don’t learn about this Jesus and begin to learn how to live like he did, then the status quo will remain the same.

Fear tactics will run their course, refusal to acknowledge all life as sacred will continue, and wars will be fought in the name of God — who, by the way, I don’t believe would ever justify blatant disregard for any living thing — at least not the forgotten Jesus’ version of God.

This Jesus didn’t give an assignment to save others from a damning afterlife. He gave the commandment to love others in this life.

He isn’t reactive, but with love, is proactive.

Finding this Jesus isn’t easy — following him is even more difficult. It’s not a popular place to be. I’ve found it to be cold and lonely here, but others are beginning to find their way here, and we’ve found community together.

In this community of Jesus followers you’ll find open hearts and minds. You’ll find people willing to love you exactly as you are, regardless of race, sex, age, sexual orientation, or creed. You’ll find others who know the price of love, and will unashamedly love you as their Jesus would.

You’ll be in a community willing to lay down arms in hopes that life will be treasured, not squandered. This is a community that will choose to give their own lives when necessary, just as the forgotten Jesus did in order to magnify Love — not magnify gun rights, death, war, intolerance, and being “right.”

To those of you who are with me in this community: Be encouraged! You’re not alone, and you’re doing wonderful things! You’re loving others well, and lives are being changed because of it. Be bold by allowing others to see the real, forgotten Jesus. That’s who they desire — they need to be loved as he would love them, especially if they’ve been mistreated or share a different religious belief than yours (or none at all).

To the one with the heavy burden, the mistreated, the outcast: I’m sorry. I’m sorry if who you are has caused others to treat you with anything other than love. I’m sorry if your race, skin color, or religion has caused others to treat you like a terrorist or belittle you in any way. I’m sorry if your sexual orientation has encouraged others to tell you that God’s love and full acceptance of you isn’t yours; it is. I’m sorry if you’ve been told that being “unequally yoked” — be it with a person of another race, sex, or religion — is wrong. Really, what it boils down to is this: I’m sorry if you’ve been told that love is conditional in any way. God’s love isn’t conditional. His complete and total acceptance of you and love for you is yours — exactly as you are! You are his creation, and it isn’t the place of any other person to judge his creation. Be yourself, be awesome. Allow God to love you, and reflect his Love to others. They need that Love too.

To my atheist and agnostic friends: I love you. I accept you as you are. You probably roll your eyes at much of what I say, but I don’t care. A lot of what you say or post is hilarious to me! I’m sorry if you’ve been mistreated by Christians or anyone else (including me!). It’s not my place to tell you that you’re going to hell (as if you could, right? 😉 ). You’ve been shown a poor representation of the forgotten Jesus I represent. I have an unconditional desire to get to know you more. Heck, I’m one of you! I’ve admitted that I’m an agnostic who has chosen to believe. My promise to you is that I will honor you, respect you, and always treat you with kindness. I am genuinely excited to build a friendship with you!

To everyone: You want to know what our differences are? Insignificant! Our differences don’t change the character of Love. We warp Love’s character by interjecting our opinions, differences, and difference of beliefs. That’s how gun rights, war, terrorism, hatred, and intolerance are justified. Seeing a person as their race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, gender, or any other “difference” is an injustice to that individual or group. When we instead choose to see another person as a person by honoring, loving, and respecting them, LOVE WINS. That’s the character of the forgotten Jesus I’m talking about.

With Love,

David Dietz

Red-Letter Story

In my past life, I was a Worship Pastor. A lot has changed since then, but my love for music hasn’t.

I just finished writing a song (video & lyrics below) about this journey, and I want to share it with you. I gave away all of my recording equipment when I started this journey, so please forgive its raw nature.

First, a little background…

I have had much to say on the subject of “my journey” I’ve been on for the last couple of years.

I’m convinced that the life of Jesus trumps whatever else we may concoct during our spiritual lifetimes. It’s learning that which brought me to the place I am now.

I no longer worry about the battles and struggles over “grace vs. truth,” “sin vs. mercy,” or “love vs. death.”

The “truth” is that Jesus was “Love,” “grace,” and “mercy.” Arguing over anything regarding the Bible is a waste of time, in my opinion, and I’m weary of it.

I don’t have the energy to “define sin,” or anything else along those lines.

“Quite frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

If we all die and there isn’t anything beyond this life, I’ll die happy knowing that I wasted my life loving everyone. Honestly, that’s all that matters to me anymore.

Enduring the twists and turns of this journey caused me to question everything I’ve ever learned spiritually.

I don’t regret a bit of it.

In my “Deconstructing Faith” series, I elaborate more on that. The message I’m trying to convey in all of these posts is that it’s not worth getting bent on trivial conclusions about the Bible.

I think, as Jesus followers, if we were all really honest, we’d admit that we’d follow him anywhere — even if it were counter-biblical to do so.

That’s where I’m at. I feel that much of Jesus’ life is counter-biblical, and he’s more important in the end. But I can’t pretend that this is a happy, fun, or even crowded place to be.

Living out his life is a lonely place. It’s a painful place. But it’s the right place.

For those on a similar journey, I’m still here. I’ve loved being a part of your lives and having a window to your journey. If you’d like to share your story with me, please visit my “Contact Me” page, and shoot me an email. I’d love to get to know you more!

Red-Letter Story:

On this dark and lonely highway
My mind is fixed on you
You said come and do it my way
Walk a mile in my shoes

I’ve been walking it seems like forever
And I’m not making any ground
It’s getting cold out in this November
But I refuse to turn around

There’s graffiti all around me
With words resembling you
And the art is captivating
But the story isn’t true

I feel your love now burning inside me
Should I paint it on all these walls
Do I tell your red-letter story
Or not say anything at all

What do I say to the face of my enemy
Knowing that you would love them as you love me

I feel your love now burning inside me
Should I paint it on all these walls
Do I tell your red-letter story
Or not say anything at all

With your love now burning inside me
I’m gonna paint it on all these walls
Compelled to live your red-letter story
I can’t be silent anymore

Compelled to live your red-letter story
I can’t be silent anymore

BONUS! I just remembered this song I wrote about 3 years ago. It seemed even then that there was something in me about Jesus’ name being equated to “Love.” I didn’t realize at the time how much that would mean to me. At any rate, enjoy!

The Baby and The Bathwater

My wife, Lindsey, is an incredible human being. I cannot begin to tell you how many times she’s been right on so many different topics.

Last night she was right again.

My wife, Lindsey, is an incredible human being. I cannot begin to tell you how many times she’s been right on so many different topics.

Last night she was right again.

There are times when we sit down to have conversations that I get completely blindsided by what she says. Knowing I’m a stubborn ass, there are a lot of times when she has to come at me with righteous indignation. This conversation was one of those times, and boy did I sit there afterward feeling like a complete failure – that’s a great thing! That meant that I had heard what she said even though I didn’t want to hear it. But I’ll be damned if she wasn’t right, and I needed to hear it!

There aren’t many people in my life that have a place to speak truth to me. I’ve written about this here. That post talks about how Love trumps truth, and I stand by it completely. Lindsey is one of the few people that has the relationship with me to speak truth so I can hear it, and I treasure it dearly. She used truth to show me where I’d been missing the target in regard to loving others.

The topic of our conversation was simple: “You’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater – you’ve learned to love the outcast, but you’ve now written off the Bride.”

Damnit, that stings!

Of course, being the stubborn person I am, I immediately put up my defenses. I didn’t want to hear a bit of it! She pointed out how I’ve done well to learn to love those we feel are being rejected by the church, but at the same time I’ve completely rejected the church. This is a fine line to walk for sure, but it’s one that I can admit now that I’ve been on the wrong side of.

To those I’ve offended:

To keep this as short and sweet as possible, I’ll try to break it down as simply as I know how.

After reading Pagan Christianity, Lindsey and I discovered that there are many things that we believe the American church is doing wrong. That’s not a bad thing; it’s not even a negative thing. Learning about church history and why/if things ought not to be done a particular way can be a powerful lesson! The problem Lindsey pointed out is is how I took it to the opposite extreme. Instead of taking my newfound history lesson and righting our family’s ship, I opted for the liferaft.

RIGHT THE SHIP

I did that by assuming all pastors, churches, Christians are wrong. I know that’s not true, and I’ve even pointed out in some of my previous posts how there are a lot of churches doing things right and accomplishing awesome stuff! …Regardless of my knowing that, I still made a mistake. I mistakenly grouped all of them together and refused to be a part of the collective Bride.

The truth is that there are many churches doing great things and loving others well! There are churches that are accepting the outcasts – proving to them that there are bodies of believers that will openly love them and – without exception – allow them to take their place by operating in the collective Body. Even though I see the difference now between the institutional church and the organism that is the Bride, that doesn’t mean that the Bride isn’t or can’t fulfill its calling within the institution. That’s where I made my error.

As for my approach to my blog posts, I’d like to publically apologize if I’ve come across as an asshole – especially to those that are in churches. If I’ve offended you by making it seem as though you aren’t operating as part of the Body, I’m wrong in that, and I’m sincerely sorry. Throwing the baby out with the bath water wouldn’t be right here either. To that end, the meat in my posts will stay, but I’ll certainly attempt to use grace in my future posts.

It’s also my belief that if we choose God – if we choose Jesus, we’re dutifully called to gather together for the expressed purpose of worship. I feel like there are a million different ways to worship an eternal God, and gathering in a building that has an institutional title nailed to the door is definitely one of those ways. It absolutely meets the criteria, and I’ve wrongfully interpreted that by grouping that form of worship with what I feel the American church has gotten wrong.

Of course, you can gather together anywhere, any day, any time and accomplish this inside or outside of a building. I know that – I believe in that. I haven’t done that. Not even at home where it matters most.

So, to Lindsey, Ryan, and to Addie – I’m sorry. I’ve been wrong. You deserve better, I deserve better, God deserves worship – at home, with friends, in a church building…all of those things are inconsequential so long as it happens.

To those on a spiritual journey:

No matter what you learn, never get to the place where you make the mistakes I’ve made and outlined here. Choosing Love is always the right choice, defending outcasts is the right choice – but choosing also to love those you find yourself in disagreement with is also the right choice! It’s not that I didn’t love them in the depths of myself, but I didn’t reflect that properly. Instead, I came across as cynical and self righteous. When choosing to give Love away, choose to give Love to everyone.

My repentance:

Derek Webb has long been a favorite songwriter of ours. Recently, we’ve begun to listen to his songs in the light of our learned experiences, and they’re absolutely beautiful. Our favorite album of his is called “The House Show.” You can listen to it in its entirety here on Youtube. One of the songs that he wrote and performed on that album is called “I Repent.” I’d like to share pieces of those lyrics with you as part of my own repentance, and I’d also like to invite you to listen to the song here: I Repent by Derek Webb.

I Repent:
I repent, I repent of parading my liberty.
I repent, I repent of paying for what I get for free,
and for the way I believe that I am living right
by trading sins for others that are easier to hide, 
I am wrong and of these things I repent.

I repent of wearing righteousness like a disguise
to see through the planks in my own eyes.

I repent, I repent of trading truth for false unity.
I repent, I repent of confusing peace and idolatry.
I am wrong, and of these things I repent.

Embrace Your Journey

If you find yourself questioning the status quo, be encouraged! You’re not alone. In fact, I’ve come to discover whole communities of people that have done the same, walked where you’re walking, and learned/unlearned what you have.

As I’ve written the story of my journey, I’ve had lots of people email me and PM me on Facebook. They’ve been able to identify with me on many of the topics I’ve written about. Today, I want to encourage those that have reached out to me as well as those that haven’t, but maybe you’ve also read part of your story within my own.

I can’t begin to describe the overwhelming wave of emotions that are involved when you find yourself on a rollercoaster of a spiritual journey! Maybe this isn’t a fair assessment to make, but it seems to me that most people won’t ever find themselves questioning their faith – at least not to the degree at which I did. I find that most folks are content to chill in the raft of their upbringing on the Lazy River of mainstream Christianity. To be honest, I often find myself wishing I could just go back in time, sit in my own raft, and sip on a pina colada. On the other hand, I’m so grateful for what I’m experiencing.

If you find yourself questioning the status quo, be encouraged! You’re not alone. In fact, I’ve come to discover whole communities of people that have done the same, walked where you’re walking, and learned/unlearned what you have. If you’re reading this now, you’ve obviously found someone that fits that criteria, and just to show you know you’re not alone, I’ll share some of my emotional experiences and advice with you.

 

Before you begin…

If you’re married or have a significant other, talk to that person about your intentions! Going at this alone isn’t a good idea, but more than that, it’s not really fair to just go at something like this without fair warning. No matter how much you prepare, I can assure you that this journey will get a lot messier than you ever expected it would! If your partner isn’t aware of your intentions, that mess is going to pile up fast, and it’s only going to create a barricade between you. Not cool. I was upfront with my wife, Lindsey, from the beginning. That doesn’t mean my journey was a whole lot easier for her to handle/understand, but at least she wasn’t completely blindsided. Plus, if you go on the journey together, it will hopefully allow you to grow in your understanding and your relationship together.

Take some time to clear your mind. I don’t know what that looks like for you, but perhaps it’s prayer, yoga, exercise, meditation, listening to classical music, or whatever. In any case, know that you’re only going to be able to go as far as you allow yourself to go. To do that, it’s best to approach this journey with an open and teachable mind. Otherwise, you’re just going to get frustrated and quit. If you begin by bringing all of your predispositions and beliefs along with you, you won’t get far. So, take some time and empty your mind of whatever you’re willing to give up.

 

To start with…

I guess it depends if you’re the kind of person who likes to ease into the swimming pool, or just get it over with and jump in quickly. For me, easing in just creates more torture by prolonging the inevitable. I prefer jumping in all at once and getting the shock over with. But since not all people like taking the same approach as I do, I’ll give some recommendations for both options.

My way:
I began by watching lots of documentaries on the subjects that interested me. That was followed by/in conjunction with watching or listening to experts in their respective fields discussing said subjects. This approach is the quickest way I learn. I’m a visual and hands-on learner, so I can quickly grasp something when it’s presented in this manner.

After I watched or heard about all I could find, I then turned to online articles. I discovered people that I hadn’t ever heard of before writing on topics I was just beginning to learn about. That was awesome because their blogs also had communities of folks leaving their two cents in the comment sections. I was able to ask questions and get feedback rather quickly. That also led me to finding some of these authors on Facebook and connecting with them directly. Gold mine!

The bloggers and their followers were also helpful in pointing me to book authors. To date, I have a list of about 10 books that I highly recommend to every single person on a similar journey as mine. I’ll list the books at the end of this post.

The slower approach:
Really it’s up to you, but I think all of the options I listed above are great to use. You’ll obviously want to apply them in the order that best suites your tastes. If you’re an avid reader, start with the books I list at the end of this post. If you like ending your day watching Netflix in bed, maybe you’ll binge watch some documentaries. If you get free time at work, Googling some of the topics/blogs written toward your interests could be enjoyable.

Whatever your decision, I recommend a steady approach. Not only will you be able to retain more of the information, but if you’re not single, it will also allow you to communicate your progress better with your partner.

 

Mid-journey…

Awe and wonder, shock and amazement, and fear of divorce are all some of the emotions and thought processes that ran through my mind. I was wonderstruck by so many of the incredible scientific things I was learning, dumbfounded by some of the teachings I learned growing up (and even more so by what I hadn’t ever learned), and terrified that Lindsey was going to leave me for fear that I was becoming an atheist – again, I’m not.

I’m pretty certain that Lindsey’s emotional joyride was worse than mine was, but what she didn’t understand was a lot of what I was learning was definitely terrifying for me! It’s not an easy thing to do to let go of the safety net you’ve known your entire life! It’s not easy to abandon the comforts of spiritual rebuttals you’ve learned over the years. It’s admittedly an extremely vulnerable place to be when you lay down those defenses. Had I not grown up with any sort of religious background it may have been a slightly easier pill to swallow. Nevertheless, it’s not as simple as it sounds.

 

The end…

There isn’t one. What I’ve discovered is that every single person is continuously learning if they choose to do so. I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but I’ve been able to learn more about myself and what I’ve chosen to believe – more importantly than knowing what I believe is knowing why I believe this way. I no longer have to rely on handpicked verses and teachings passed around Christian communities for my dogmatic beliefs. The continual revelation and growth available is limitless – that is to say, I know now that I can always be a student and choose to learn.

There is at least a bit of a resolve when you come to the plateau. It’s not the resolution that you’re somehow now all-knowing, but rather you’re able to approach your continued learning process with the correct tools in hand.

Please remember that every person is on their own path – their own journey. You’re probably not fully aware of what that person has learned along the way to lead them to the understanding or beliefs that they now possess. For instance, if someone were to assume that I were ignorant on a particular topic that I’ve heavily researched along the way, making a snap judgement about it wouldn’t likely change my perspective; it would, however, probably usher in hurt. It’s totally possible that you’re able to recognize the place that someone is in along their journey, but if they haven’t asked you for your input, it could be harmful for you to give it.

NOT ALONE

Instead of being quick to point out what you perceive to be incorrect, you could inquire of that person what brought them to that conclusion. Perhaps you’ll learn something along the way.

As John Pavlovitz often reminds me, “What you’ve learned, the journey you’re on is your own. It’s your testimony, and it’s not up for debate.”

Remember that as you move forward in your own journey. Also, don’t forget to contact me to share your story, ask questions, and find a friend! I love hearing from you and sharing in your experiences.

Below is some reading material. I haven’t made it through all of these yet, but I at least know the material covered, and I can vouch for that. I’ve listed them in the order that I recommend reading them. To each their own. Hint: take a trip to your local community library to see if they have any of the books available or could possibly inter-library loan them from a nearby community. Owning them is totally worth it too:

1. Pagan Christianity
2. The Untold Story of the New Testament Church
3. Reimagining Church
4. The Irresistible Revolution
5. Jesus For President
6. Red Letter Revolution
7. What The Bible Really Teaches (This one is deep, and he’s so freaking smart it can be difficult to follow him, but worth trying!)
8. Interrupted
9. 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess
10. Love Wins

Deconstructing Faith – Part 2

You can say that I’ve “lost my way” with whatever words you want to. You can say that I’m hellbound. You can tell me that I’m dangerously playing with fire. Say what you want. I’m confident I’ve never looked more like Jesus. It’s “Heretical Love” that compels me. Now I can sleep at night.

Deconstructing Faith – Part 1 can be found here.

I guess it’s best to just start at the beginning. I was born and raised into the American Southern Baptist church. If you’re unfamiliar with Southern Baptists, think: hell, fire, and brimstone. In fact, our church (and thousands of other churches) even had this garbage performed:

https://youtu.be/zXSVgmDAll4

If you get the time to watch it, I highly recommend it. It may give you some insight about how NOT to be like Jesus – or possibly give you nightmares. Now that I think of it, Halloween is coming up. It’s appropriate for that. Other than that, it really has no value whatsoever.

Anywho, I left the Baptist denomination when I was 18 and never looked back. I went from the stoic Baptist ways to the charismatic church instead. There I received my “prayer language” – which I openly admit now that I made up over time (if yours is real, more power to you) – and learned all kinds of unhelpful theology.

One of the most damaging things was thinking I needed to be in God’s “perfect will” for my life at all times. I didn’t shake that one until a little over a year ago. That’s the idea that somehow I’m supposed to “supernaturally know” which choice I should make in every situation. I can’t begin to tell you how much stress that put on me! As if the choice I made would either find me with great favor and success, or a ginormous failure. Remember the fear tactic I mentioned before? It applies to “God’s will” too. I’ve since discovered that if I’m living a life full of Love, It’s going to be difficult to screw that up too badly.

Fast forward a decade or so to Part 1 of this series. The brewing storm that began after reading Pagan Christianity had flashed a few lightning bolts, but it was about to unleash its fury! After reading the book, this thought occurred to me, “What if everything I’ve ever learned about Christianity is wrong?” I’m sure you’ve been there, and you certainly understand the sheer terror of that thought – along with the ramifications of exploring it.

Well, back to “The Matrix” we go; I took the red pill and decided to see just how deep that rabbit hole went. I informed my wife of my intentions, and I made sure to keep her up-to-date with everything along the way. Today, we’re nearly at the same place in our beliefs, but during this process she most definitely was not!

I was going to wipe the slate clean. I’ll just forget everything I’ve ever been taught, and start over – question EVERYTHING! And that’s exactly what I did. I questioned why atheists/agnostics believe the way they do, and why science is so important to them. I questioned why other religions believe the way they do.

I questioned the Bible.

That’s when shit got real. Suddenly, after seeing everything from an outside perspective, a lot of the Bible was really weird when read as a literal text. I mean, Noah and the ark? Really? Come on. God made the Earth in 6 days? Adam and Eve being real people – how do we know their names? Even more modern beliefs such as the Earth only being 10,000 years old… Seriously? That’s just silly.

Then I saw other things that didn’t make sense; even in the gospels. If you read them one to the next, there are some pretty clear inconsistencies – insignificant differences? Maybe, but enough to show the Bible isn’t “inerrant.”

About this time, a verse I remember hearing throughout my Christian upbringing came to mind. The verse, in 2 Timothy, said, “All scripture is inspired by God…”

It hit me. I can be inspired to write my blog posts, but God isn’t dictating the words I use on the page. Is it really possible that the writers were using metaphors and mythological stories to try to describe a God so big, one that they couldn’t see, a God able to construct all of creation? Is it possible that they wanted to paint Jesus – a rebel; a humanitarian that caused them to see the woes of the world – with God-like supernatural abilities; hoping that if they did, onlookers would want to love others and live accordingly? Yep. Is it also just as possible that Jesus really was fully as supernatural as was written about him? Yep. Does the historicity of Jesus raise some valid questions concerning Jesus? I think so. Is it 100% possible for us to really know either way without having been an eye witness to it all? Nope. Is hell a made up place to scare Christians into submission? Good question. Could it be that the book of Revelation is a mythological story that cannot be interpreted literally?

Wait. Should any of the Bible be interpreted literally?

I grew up thinking that everything about the Bible was 100% true; that it couldn’t be wrong. I believed all of the stories: Noah, Jonah, Adam & Eve, etc.  I also believed that Jesus was coming back for us anyday. It was also ingrained within my beliefs that questioning the authority of the Bible was sinful (that fear thing all over again).

Christians like to quote Revelation 22:18-19, “18 I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” – NIV

The thing is, the book has been added to, taken from, interpreted, misinterpreted, and jacked up for hundreds of years. All along, the plagues have left those alone who’ve added to/taken away. Fear tactics. The Bible can be wrong. It’s okay.

I happened upon a 2 part audio lecture about Fundamentalism soon after asking the question of whether or not the Bible should be interpreted literally. Part 1 and Part 2 – a combined runtime of less than 1 hour. That was my first exposure to Fundamentalism, and it finally consolidated everything I’d come to believe into something more finite.

As I began to unravel all of that and make peace with what I’ve come to believe, I wondered if there was anyone else out there who had come to these conclusions. I certainly didn’t know anyone personally. I’d be called a heretic for speaking such blasphemy! Enter John Pavlovitz. My wife, still struggling with the idea that I’m turning into an atheist (I wasn’t. I consider myself an agnostic that chooses to believe in God – John actually wrote on this topic recently), was the first to discover his blog. John is a pastor, author, and now a friend to Lindsey and I. We communicate often via Facebook, and even hang out via Skype occasionally. He was the first person that I found who was vocalizing things I was learning/unlearning.

During my “journey” – as we’ve come to call it – Lindsey made a discovery for herself! It dawned on her that her whole salvation experience was one of fear. She had been scared into the loving arms of Jesus through fear tactics. I’d say that most American Christians have “accepted Jesus” this way. She made the connection that God is Love, but fear was used to force her to God. Her revelation was mind blowing for me. I hadn’t thought of that before! She regrets that her salvation experience didn’t come through a tender wooing. Since then, I’ve made another heretical friend. Her name is Cindy Brandt. Lindsey and I, now determined to raise our kids without instilling fear in their hearts, found a series of Cindy’s of great value. It’s entitled, “Raising Children Un-Fundamentalist.” I’m excited to get to know Cindy more!

With a decent grasp on Fundamentalism in hand, the life that Jesus lived began to make more sense. The “red letters” of Jesus have inspired me deeply. This Jesus wasn’t a hell-damning person at all! Rather, he loved so passionately that it infected everyone he was around – except for most of the Pharisees that were so stuck in legalism that they killed him for his heretical love. I also discovered that I’m not the first to see Jesus in this light.

Thomas Jefferson – you know, the author of The Declaration of Independence, one of the Founding Fathers of America – decided to take a razor blade and glue to the Bible. He scoffed at a good portion of the writings saying that they were written by, “ignorant, unlettered men” who manufactured “superstitions, fanaticisms, and fabrications”, and so he cut away the parts of the Jesus story he felt were made up. He told John Adams what he was left with was, “as distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill.” Later, Jefferson wrote, “I am a real Christian, that is to say a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.” He said that Jesus’ teachings were “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” His piecing of the story of Jesus today is known as “The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.” There’s another version that’s easier to read called “The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth in Modern English.”

Why am I even bothering to bring all of this up?

Because it’s part of me now. The Jesus that was so enslaved to dogma and bad theology in my mind isn’t the Jesus that I see anymore. When I look at him, I can’t see him through the fear stained, hell-damning, Where’s Waldo of God’s will, gay bashing, my way or the highway, right wing Republican glasses that I used to wear. I refuse to be bound up in debating the Bible; to be manipulated by others and their interpretations of it. It’s a waste of time and energy, and at the end of the day, more people are damaged by that than are loved.

Have I drunk the Rob Bell kool-aid? Have I become a blaspheming heretic? Perhaps, but I’m in fantastic company. Jesus was one too. He was persecuted/executed for his beliefs at the hands of the Pharisees.

Food for thought: I submit that most Christians aren’t the persecuted ones who Jesus talked about, but instead they may be the persecuting Pharisaical people who he warned others following his likeness about. The heretics that are speaking boldly sound much more like the Jesus I’ve come to know recently than the Christians damning them to hell.

Christianity today sounds like: LGBTQ? Hell for you (that rhymed). Blasphemer? Lake of Fire it is. Democrat? Weeping and gnashing of teeth. John Pavlovitz/Rob Bell? “There’s a special place in hell for people like you.”

Someone, possibly Mahatma Gandhi, once said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians.”

Ouch.

Can I tell you something? I’ve been wrapped in fear for “coming out” with these beliefs. Fearing that I would be ridiculed by Christians. Afraid for the non-stop bombardment of hate mail (disguised as “loving correction“) and rejection. There’s something very wrong with that. Knowing that there’s something wrong with that is what has given me great courage. If Love doesn’t win in everything, with everyone, every time, without conditions – even if it goes against your religious beliefs – then you’re doing it wrong.

IF LOVE DOESN'TTHEN YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG.

I’m no longer frightened by idle threats; rather, I’m broken by my previous inability to love someone because they didn’t measure up. I’m horrified by memories I have of making fun of people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. I’m filled with remorse for the ways in which I treated the social outcast, homeless, poor, atheists/Muslims/Buddhists/other religions, and the unpopular person.

Aside: I have LGBT Jesus follower/non-Jesus follower friends now, and I love ALL of them! Shout out to my LGBT Facebook friends! Ok, my LGBT friends I know in real life too. You’re amazing people, and I love you for who you are – just as you are. I’m so anxious to get to know you more! You’re all so fun to be around.

I’m disgusted by associating myself with a “faith” that puts the “sins” of others under a microscope instead of oozing with Love for that person. You can try to tell me what the (misinterpreted) Bible says all day long, but it’s no longer my authority. “The Word made flesh” is, and his life will be my testimony.

You can say that I’ve “lost my way” using whatever words/labels you want to. You can say that I’m hellbound. You can tell me that I’m dangerously playing with fire. Say what you want. I’m confident I’ve never looked more like Jesus. It’s “Heretical Love” that compels me. I’ve chosen to worship Love and live like Love, and I’ll never apologize for choosing it.

 

Now I can sleep at night.

P.S. If you’re reading this, and it sounds a lot like your story, and you’ve been afraid to speak out about it – maybe you’ve been looking for someone, anyone that feels the way you do, please reach out to me! I’d love to hear your story! I know how lonely it is in that place, and I desperately wanted another like-minded person that I could connect to. I’ll never uncover you or out you! I’m here for you. You will be safely loved here.

Deconstructing Faith – Part 1

I don’t know what the ramifications of writing this series of posts will be, but I honestly don’t care. My website is called “Heretical Love” for a reason.

Many of you know that I’ve been on a spiritual journey. I’m sure you’ve at least gathered as much by reading some of my posts either here or on Facebook. There’s a lot that I’ve learned, and a lot more that I’ve unlearned. I don’t know what the ramifications of writing this series of posts will be, but I honestly don’t care. My website is called “Heretical Love” for a reason. Please know that I know there are churches out there doing great things and helping lots of people. I’m just not onboard with it anymore.

deconstruct

It all started a couple of years ago when Lindsey and I read a book. The book, titled “Pagan Christianity” written by Frank Viola, forced me to think outside of my comfort zone. I hated it in the beginning. Lindsey can attest that I would interrupt her from reading the book aloud, sigh often, or just throw my hands up in the air in protest. That’s when it occurred to me that I wasn’t approaching this with a teachable mindset…like, at all. So, to avoid repeating the agony that was experienced in the reading of the Table of Contents, I decided to change my mindset for the actual book. Turns out, Frank had done his research. The information and historical background that he provides to our modern version of Christianity was invigorating. I honestly found myself floored by all of it!

Why hadn’t I heard any of this before? Why was I a full-time minister, and how had I come to that place without ever knowing any of this history? It’s simple, really. I was raised and taught what my parents were raised and taught what their parents were raised and taught. By the time I reached full-time ministry, like most of my family and friends before me, I was part of a well-oiled machine. I didn’t need to know any of the modern church’s history (or at least very little of it); I just needed to know how I fit in the machine.

After finishing the book, I realized that there is a drastic difference between the American church (the organized institutions) and The Church (the Bride of Christ, the organism). Now, I had always heard pastors say something like, “The building isn’t the church! If it ain’t happening outside of these 4 walls, we’re doing something wrong!”, but the disconnect from the organization wasn’t ever made. In other words, this building may be called 1st National Church of Divinity, but outside these walls we’re still 1st National Church of Divinity – the organized institution, not The Church. All of this may not be a big “AHA!” moment for you, but it was for me.

Here’s why: Jesus never referred to his Bride as the 1st National Church of Divinity. He never said, “Go therefore and build buildings, collect ye their tithes, pay thine pastors, woo unbelievers into thine programs!” That’s absolutely ridiculous.

In Jesus’ tenure they never promoted him and put a pulpit in front of him. He was homeless. Paul’s (failed) attempt to supply the Church of Jerusalem through tithing was his idea. Cherry-picking the Bible to formulate a prosperity gospel through the damaging idea of tithing – or for any other reason – is wrong; however, giving freely of yourself to those in need isn’t. I have M-A-S-S-I-V-E issues with a “non-profit” taking in and redistributing more money to and amongst themselves than they what they give to those actually in need.

spending-priorities-of-Jesus

After reading Pagan Christianity, a few other books, and knowing what the Bible says – or doesn’t say – I decided that I could no longer continue collecting a salary working as a full-time pastor for reasons of conscience. Also, Jesus is completely capable of wooing his Bride unto himself! He doesn’t need the help of the 1st National Church of Divinity. He doesn’t need them strategically planning to target a group of 30 year old single moms with 2 1/2 kids. That’s called stalking, and Jesus would likely be quite jealous to find out how they’re attempting to steal his Girl. He just said to love her. Quit picking and choosing, and just love her. It doesn’t matter if she doesn’t look like you, speak the same language, worship God (or the same god) as you, if she’s atheist, or even in your same city/state/nation. NONE OF THAT IS YOUR CONCERN. Love her. Take care of her. That is all.

I could go on for days telling you more about what I’ve learned/unlearned after reading Pagan Christianity, but I’d rather continue with my story and have you read it for yourself. If you care to waken from your sleep, to become conscious of the machine you’ve been in your entire life, if you want to know that the matrix exists in the form of the 1st National Church of Divinity, read Pagan Christianity. Read it with your arms laid down, with a teachable mind, and with vigor to know who you truly are.

Quote from the movie “The Matrix”:
“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Part 2 and beyond of my story requires the red pill.

the-matrix

 

Truth vs. Love

Truth vs. Love
I’ve often wondered why people find me approachable. What is it about me that allows people to open themselves up, ask hard questions, and trust that I’ll be able to help them? Let me explain. Even in childhood, I can recall having friends and acquaintances come and ask for my advice or opinion about something. Sometimes it’s part of an on-going discussion we’ve had, but a lot of times it’s completely random. The questions come in a variety of different packages too. They’ll come in a text message, a phone call, an email, or through a Facebook message (sometimes public but usually private), or even face-to-face.

I believe I uncovered the reason why I get approached, and I’ll explain it toward the end of this post.

— Truth in love —

Growing up as a Christian you’ll often hear the phrase, “speak the truth in love…” thrown around. It’s pulled out of the passage in Ephesians 4 (verse 15), but what the heck does that even mean? I’ve heard it explained like this:

If you love someone, you’ll speak truth to them.
-or-
If you’re going to speak truth to someone, do so lovingly.

Until recently, I believed that either one of those answers was sufficient and likely correct. They’re certainly not wrong, but I feel as if they need to be expounded.

— Here’s my predicament —

Without getting into the apologetics of it all, truth is just that. It’s truth. It’s black and white, clear as day, plain and straightforward. There are, however, a couple of issues that I have with truth. It can be subjective and/or objective. What do I mean by that?

Well, truth being subjective is when a person takes their opinions, convictions, even their attitude, and they place those values as being true to him/herself or others around them. For example, a large part of the Christian community believes it to be wrong to consume alcohol. They’ve cherry-picked the Bible to formulate their doctrinal belief system; their *truth* that drinking is a sin.

Objective truth is impartial and impersonal to a purpose or goal. It is based on facts. For instance, if you’re in debt, and you continue to spend more than you make, you’ll remain in debt. The *truth* is that if you mismanage your finances, you’ll never know financial freedom.

The problem that I see is that neither subjective truth nor objective truth can express love. So neither of the statements that I mentioned before (If you love someone, you’ll speak truth to them -and- If you’re going to speak truth to someone, do so lovingly) really carry much merit. In the very least, they don’t give us anything to go off of.

Truth is void of love.

— So now what? —

Well, I think we have to establish what it means to, “speak the truth *in* love…”. To establish this, it might be easier to start by removing love from the equation. Just speaking the truth, or speaking truth *outside* of love can and likely will be hurtful. Unless you’re a counselor that has random people coming in to hear what you have to say on a topic, you probably shouldn’t open your mouth unless the person has approached you on the matter asking for your input. That person will probably feel judged, stupid, and humiliated. They won’t receive any love from your words of truth. In fact, they will likely perceive your *truth* as an attack.

Then how do you inject love, and when is it ok to speak the truth? I’m so glad you asked. One word – RELATIONSHIP. If you have a better relationship with your plumber than you do with this person, I can assure you that they don’t know that you love them. If you see this person sporadically, it’s possible that a loving relationship hasn’t yet been established. The absence of a relationship in which you can openly express your love for a person (telling the person you love them, showing them you love them, spending quality time with them) means you don’t have the ability to speak the truth *in* love to him/her.

I’m perfectly able to go to my wife and speak truth *in* love with her, and she can receive all of what I have to say. That doesn’t mean that the truth spoken is now rid of hurt. Remember, truth is void of love. Truth has never been equated to love. So, “…doing so lovingly” applies here. Your presentation is key. If you come across as a jerk, you are (at least perceivably).

I’m not able to approach a stranger or an acquaintance and give them my 2 cents without coming across as being judgmental or hurtful, so I won’t (writing my thoughts/observations here aren’t, and likely never will be, targeted at an individual). Nor should you. That relationship and standard of my love for that person haven’t been established (food-for-thought: knowing someone for any length of time does not equal relationship). What does that mean then? It means I need to think before I speak, and bridle my tongue. If you want to decimate any credibility you’ve established with someone, then open your mouth and tell the truth with your “tongue full of deadly poison” -or- truth *outside* of love. I can assure you that the poison will run its course and kill any relationship built to that point. Otherwise, refrain from expressing your thoughts until you both know you have a reciprocating love for one another.

— Why I’m approached —

I believe this is why I’m an approachable person: I refuse to judge individuals or the choices that they make. I’m eager, with every fiber of my being, to love someone where they are and for who they are. In fact, I desire to love and be loved in return! I also refuse to uncover a person’s flaws (real or perceived) unless that person purposefully does so him/herself. I’m confident that anyone I’ve had in my “inner circle” will speak of my loyalty and love. Unless that’s established in a relationship, you won’t find me going too deeply with a particular person. Why? Because I believe love trumps truth. I know a relationship is established when they ask the questions inviting me in. Then, and only in the confines of that established loving relationship, will I gingerly speak the truth that they’re longing to hear.

When contemplating truth vs. love, certainly seek the truth. But allow others to seek their truth for themselves, too. Perhaps we can lay our truths down for a while and focus instead on loving each other.