Monday, February 06, 2006

I Don't Know

Over the last year, I have been on a journey that is best expressed by the statement, “I Don’t Know.” At the beginning of 2005, I was part of a group of people that was attempting to launch a ministry called, “The Gathering”. We wanted to create a faith community that would have the ability to dialogue about faith, ask questions and create a community that had the ability to change the perspective about Jesus to people outside the “Church”. The word “Church” being defined as the institution that is best known for meeting on Sunday mornings in a building and carries a number of stereotypes by the general public who are outside its walls. We received some opposition as we were asking questions about certain Christian traditions and theological beliefs, to determine what values the Gathering would allow to define itself.

As I look back at this endeavor, I was trying to defend “the Gathering” and its need to reach out to a generation that has found the Church to be irrelevant and to some disgusting. But I think the expression, “I Don’t Know” is a better idea of what was going on in my mind than any thing else. But I was a paid staff member of a Southern Baptist Church, what struggles theologically am I able to state and not be seen as a heretic or a liberal. I was afraid of loosing my career. I was part of a leadership team that was truly open to dialogue on issues, so it was my inner struggle that kept me from laying out all of my questions not the community as a whole.

I was returning from a great trip of serving alongside 30 students for a week in the inner city of Philadelphia. We studied and experienced Christ for a week and tried to understand the radical version of leadership that he modeled in the gospel. I was reading, “Generous Orthodoxy” by Brian McClaren, which if you have read Brian, you know he asks a lot of questions and does not give a lot of answers. I had so many things that I wanted to process, but as this weeklong experience ended. I new life-long experience began, on April 9th or 10th, my wife of almost 9 years and a relationship that counts back to November of 1996 informed me that she no longer loved me and wanted a divorce.

“I Don’t Know” is the only phrase that can express my personal emotions at this time. My parents have been married for over 40 years. I am a pastor and I help lead a faith based organization that is helping urban leaders around the country. My wife wanted a divorce. I had no logical reasoning for this in my life. If my current theological struggles would end my life. This would definitely end my life. We have two kids. I have worked for the last 10 years with young people from divorced families and never thought my children would have to deal with this experience. “I Don’t Know” was my thought. I beat myself up for a number of months on the inside. I tried to change my wife’s mind, but this seemed hopeless. She filed for a divorce, and becasue of other circumstances that I will leave out of this, I finally realized that their was no longer any hope to turn the ship. “I Don’t Know” was the continual thought of the long term affects on my life, my children and the other people who I love. I was so uneasy with “I Don’t Know” as my realty. As a pastor and a spiritual leader in the lives of many people, I directed them to stay close to the person of Christ and their community of faith to help them overcome the obstacles that life can force us to face.

But let me jump back to my faith questions, my wife was the person I felt comfortable discussing these issues with. I felt safe. I felt that she was the only person that could allow me to struggle with these questions and doubts and not feel like she had to give me an answer. Anytime I expressed any question or doubt about my conservative view of faith, she did not attempt to give me answers to the questions but allowed me to wonder for awhile in the question. It is now a new year, I will never forget 2005. It has changed my life forever.

I am now back to my theological questions. I am back to struggling to understand what the Bible says on certain issues. I want to question things and I do not want safe answers that allow me to go back in a cave. I have reconnected with life long friends. Jose, Johnny, Dio, Chris, Larry, Hector, Juan, and others who are truly life long friends. They love me unconditionally. When I was in the middle of this personal crisis, I received phone call after phone call. The word had got out in La Habra (my old neighborhood) what had taken place. People who are not Christian (according to the definition I grew up with), reminded me that we are all family and they are their for me and if I need anything, they are only a phone call away.

As we began to catch up on life, they did not give me any answers to my theological questions, but carved more questions. We do not talk about faith much, but every once in awhile we will engage in some spiritual conversations. These conversations at first frustrated me, because they do not think about faith in a “conservative theological” way. They have never taken classes from Dr. Saucy or Walt Russell at Talbot Theological Seminary. They have no systematic theological stance. They have no idea if they are liberal or conservative. But I know they love me and I love them.

Over the last two months, I have begun to read again. The statement, “I Don’t Know” is where I land again. But now that includes my personal life… do I begin to date, do I stay single for life, will my boys survive this experience, how do I interact with my ex- and many more personal questions that I could list but you may not care about. But like back in April, “I Don’t Know” is what I believe about many theological positions, but I am ready to move forward to wrestle with these questions. The good thing that I do know is that God loves me and Jesus is the full expression of this love and I will allow these questions to be answered in this reality. I just finished a chapter called, “I Don’t Know” in The Last Word and The Word After That by Brian McClaren. The chapter challenged me on some issues and to possibly be ok with, “I Don’t Know” as the conclusion. It was a freeing thought, especially like I stated in my first BLOG that kade and evan are not very interested in these questions and I think my wife (or whatever i am suppose to call her) is not too interested in hearing these questions either. If this ends up on my BLOG, I am not sure if I will post it or not. It is to allow my community that I love that includes people from the Gathering, UYWI and La Habra do better understand me. My goal is love God and love people and part of my journey is to come up with a clear reason why … nothing else matters outside of that statement. I may come across that if you don’t believe what I believe that you are less than me… that goes directly against my struggle, but I know that is probably how I sound sometimes. I will try better at not sounding like that, if you can help by listening to my questions and not giving me the answers but pushing me forward in the journey. It would be much appreciated.



Sonia:) said...

I'm the type of person who likes to give an answer right away. Then Pablo tells me, "Are you talking out your crack?!" Many times I am. I can identify with your question about being okay with "I don't know". I'll try to be more like that.

Tiff said...

Thanks for sharing John, I think it does help the people who love you to understand you better. I hope this post serves its purpose. And for the record , right now and for a while now "I just don't know" either, except I'm not really good at not knowing, especially knowing that I don't know...leaves me dead in my tracks. (At least it feels that way) Regardless of how I feel or what I choose to do, life keeps going on day by day and I think it's a journey through "I don't know" that I'm going through. I don't know how it is for you, at least you seem like you're battling the "I don't know" taking it on full force to learn for yourself what you do know. I hope. Good luck with your journey. I am glad that you are okay with "I don't know" and still reading. Thanks for being real. ~Peace

pableezy said...

"I Don't Know" is a good place to stay. There are very few easy answers. What is that quote that Jose always says from Aquinas? "In things certain, unity; in things doubtful, liberty; in all things, charity." I think it spans beyond the church to the personal life too.

steve w said...

I think Christianity in the modern Western world is in many cases more of a system of belief than a relationship with God. I'm not saying Western world Christians don't have a relationship with God -- other than my own relationship with God, I really can't be sure about others', nor do I need to be. I'm just saying Jesus talked about Christianity in terms of loving God and loving people. Love is a word of relationship, not a word about beliefs. Jesus says in Mt 7, that he will tell some people on judgment day, "Depart from me, I never KNEW you." That's a statement about relationship.

Those of us that are parents want our kids to know lots of important stuff. But most importantly, we want them to know they are loved. God tells us in the Bible there's a lot of stuff we don't need to know or understand. We need to understand some things. And there are plenty of things about which our speculation only brings harm -- either to ourselves or to others.

So, John, if you can help us all say, "I know what I know, and I know what I don't know -- and I'm OK with that," that's good. If you can encourage us all to keep growing, that's good. But if you can help us all realize that we have a heavenly Father that knows everything, and he wants us to know more than anything else HE LOVES US... well, that's the best thing anyone could do for us.

You're loved John! And thanks for your love.

The Yepiz Zone said...

reading this before you posted and reading it again, I am amazed by how God has really been there for you when you needed him. It's evn more powerful the second time reading it. You are by far one of the most strong inividuals I have ever met. You are an inspiration to Amanada and I.

QueenTeresita said...

I don't know you very well but I know that there are many who speak highly of you. You have two adorable boys (who like swords =D) and you have a community that loves you. Even though I don't know you very well, All I gotta say is, WE got your back holmes! =)

loweyesah said...

Hi J-Lou,
I don't know you very well.
I guess I have known you from a distance, and I think that I have gotten to know you through what I have seen around you and what I have seen you do at Gateway.
I appreciate your openess and vulnerable sprit. I feel like I am getting to know you more by reading this Web-log. I know that you are experiencing a very dark time in your life right now. If you ever want to talk, know that I am available to you John. I have been communicating with Joe, and I would like to communicate with you as well.

In Christ's Love,
Frank Loaiza

J-Lou said...

Thanks for all the posts in response to my rambling. I do feel the luv and appreciate all of the support.