Faith Journeys: Why I am Still a Christian

There are many times that I totally empathize with author Anne Rice in saying that she has left Christianity yet still has faith in Christ.  For Rice it was the lack of love shown by the institutional church for people that are marginalized and treated as if they were unredeemable by often well meaning Christians.

I know what it feels like to be marginalized. After I came back from Iraq many of my Christian friends seemed, at least in my view to be tied to the absolute hogwash that spews from talk radio hosts and allegedly “Christian” politicians.  I remember having some Christians question my patriotism and even my faith because I disagreed with them regarding certain aspects of the Iraq war. This despite the fact that I had been on the ground in harm’s way serving with our advisors and Iraqis in Al Anbar Province. After I returned no clergyman, civilian or military, took time to care for me when I was in a major PTSD meltdown and crisis of faith.  Actually, I have to amend that, as my friends Greg and David, both priests of my former denomination afflicted with PTSD, TBI and Moral Injury from their Iraq service were fellow travelers in this journey. What was happening to me as a result of serving didn’t seem to matter to most other clergy, because their political agenda in the midst of a contentious Presidential election was given primacy over the simple truths and hard demands of the Gospel.

Yesterday I wrote about Chaplains that experience a crisis of faith after coming home from a combat deployment.  For me there is nothing more symbolic of the lack of soul left in many Christians and Christian Churches in how they treat those that have served faithfully. Those Chaplains that have served  God, Church and Country and come back spiritually wondering what happened, not knowing what to believe and feeling abandoned by God and cast off by the Church and the military simply because we have a hard time with the so called “orthodoxy” of some Christians.

I went through a period after Iraq where feeling abandoned and isolated from those of a like faith that I was for all practical purposes an agnostic.  That was a really difficult time in my life and if you think that anything sucks try to be a Chaplain when you no longer know if God exists and the only person asking how you are doing with “the Big Guy” is your therapist. I can say without a doubt that this kind of life “sucks like a Hoover” and I know that I am not alone in my feelings.  I have met others whose experience is similar to mine but those that are struggling right now, caught between our faith and the feeling of being abandoned by God and his people because our experience of seeing the human suffering caused by war has shaken us.

Let me talk about spiritual despair.

Did you know that in the past couple of years that two Army Chaplains and one Navy Chaplain have committed suicide? These were men of faith who had served in peace and war at least one that had served at the Battle of Hue City as a Marine before becoming a Priest and Chaplain.  Another Army Chaplain that had served in Iraq as a minister of a conservative Charismatic and Evangelical Christian denomination became a Wiccan and was excoriated by Christians.  I don’t know his faith journey but I have to believe that part was his experience in Iraq and experience on his return. I don’t know about you but those are all signs of spiritual despair and feeling cut off from their faith community and even God, his or her self.

I am still a Christian. I believe in the God of Scripture, the Creeds and the Councils. At the same time that belief is not as rigid as it once was. I used to consider those that didn’t believe like I did in relation to Scripture, the Creeds and Councils not to be Christians.  I cannot say that now. I am much more to have the Grace and Mercy of God be my default position and let other things fall out where they may. I have to say now that my faith is much more Anglican because I try to find balance in the Anglican Triad of Scripture, Reason and Tradition instead of Scripture and Tradition alone.

My practice of my faith has changed. When I came back from Iraq I attempted, as it were without success to keep my faith structure and practice the same as it was before I deployed to Iraq.  Within six months of Iraq I could no longer pray the Daily Office with any kind of faithfulness and by Lent 2009 give up the practice for Lent hoping to recover some authenticity to my faith. The authenticity has returned and after about a year and a half I am seeking a way to reincorporate what had been a very important part of my daily practice of faith into my life without feeling like I am a phony in doing so.

I went through a period of absolute spiritual despair even leaving a Christmas Eve Mass in 2008 to walk home in the dark, alone, looking at the sky and asking God if he even existed.  A year later after my life had completely fallen apart I experienced what I call my “Christmas miracle” where I was called to our Emergency Room to provide the “last rites” to a retired Navy doctor and active Episcopalian when I was the duty Chaplain.  As I prayed the last prayer of commendation and removed my oil covered fingers from the man’s forehead he breathed his last. His wife told me that he was waiting to be anointed before he died.  The young doctor, a Psychology Resident doing his ER rotation who called me to the ER would die a couple of months later of natural causes in his living room not long after we had taken the “fat boy” program PT test together.

From that moment the paradigm shifted.  Faith began to return and I began to experience the presence of God again, not is the same was as before Iraq but one that was more relational, grace filled and informal.  I will likely begin praying the Daily Office again in the near future but I will approach it from a different point of view.  I will no longer use it simply to fulfill my priestly vows and obligations but rather as a way to re-experience and if need be re-imagine God.  Now before the heresy hunters think that I am re-imagining God is some unbiblical manner they are wrong. I want to re-imagine God as he has been revealed to his people both in Scripture, Tradition and in the life of his, or her people today.

How have I changed? I believe again. I am no longer an agnostic hoping and praying that God just might be there. My faith has become much more deeply rooted and grounded in the “Crucified God” and my faith in the “theology of the Cross.”  My faith is no longer a slave to my politics and I refute any political ideology that attempts to use the Christian faith and the faith of well meaning Christians for purposes that Jesus himself would have condemned.

I don’t think Jesus was a big fan of his followers attempting to be the favorites of any political party or ideological system. In fact if I recall he really had pretty harsh words for his fellow Jews who were all wrapped around the axels with that kind of stuff. Jesus seemed to befriend and hang around with those that were not connected to the religious, political or economic elites of his time. In fact he seemed to reserve his harshest words for such people and he reached out to the outcasts.  Jesus seemed to have a pretty good relationship with those marginalized and rejected by the religious folks of his day. He welcome sinners and tax collectors to his table and praised the faith of gentile Roman officers and stopped the super-religious folks from stoning an adulterous woman.

This is the Jesus that I follow and the Jesus that I believe is present in body, soul and spirit in the Eucharist.  I believe like Hans Kung and others that this table belongs to the baptized community of faith and not to an exclusive Priestly class who dictate who can come to the table.  It is not the exclusive property of any denomination or Church organization especially those that most loudly state this to be the case.

Now if saying this makes me a heretic then a heretic I will be. It is better to be a heretic in the eyes of Pharisees than to be one that denies justice to the persecuted people of God.  I guess that makes this moderate a true liberal and to some an unbeliever.  Yet I believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Rahab, Diana, Esther, Mary, Martha and Mary, Pricilla and the Woman at the Well. I believe in the Jesus that defied religious systems to offer the grace of God to the people that those systems rejected and the Jesus that was far more critical of “believers’ than those rejected as unbelievers.

I guess that is why I can accept women as ministers, Priests or Bishops. It is why I can accept homosexuals as Christian brothers and sisters, and see Christ and the grace and love of God in people that are not “Christians.” That includes the Muslims in Iraq that treated me with respect and even if they had an “Aryan” view of Jesus, but still showed a greater reverence for Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary than many that claim Jesus for themselves in this country.

Why have I come to these beliefs, you might ask. The answer is simple.  I once was lost but now am found.  I thought that I knew it all. Now I know that I don’t know it all and that God is a God of surprises.

I have faith, but I doubt. I know that there are many answers that elude me and I cannot answer just by citing or using Scripture out of its historic, cultural and linguistic context.  I believe in the God who did not reject me when I didn’t know if he even existed.

Why am I still a Christian when I have so many problems with how many Christians practice the faith?

That is more complex. I believe again, and because  of that will not I tow anyone’s party line. I believe in spite of my unbelief. I believe in a fellowship of those whose lives have been changed by war and trauma.  I believe now because many times it was those marginalized by the “faithful” showed me the love of God when the “faithful” for pure or impure motives did not and in doing so abandoned me as they abandon so many others.

So, if I am to be a heretic, if I am to be considered less than a believer, I will quote the words of my favorite heretic Martin Luther. To my critics and those that refuse to understand, I say “Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God. Amen.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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28 Comments

Filed under faith, philosophy, Religion

28 responses to “Faith Journeys: Why I am Still a Christian

  1. Gary Spencer

    Steve…..
    Sounds like you are experiencing freedom.
    So, how are you doing with the Big Guy?
    On behalf of the part of the Christian community that does care and does love people, I’m sorry that this happened to you, but, in the long run, it sounds like you are in a better place with God. What Satan uses for evil, God uses for good. Its good to re-imagine God. I believe that we’ve kept Him in a box for too long and its time to let Him out. I’ve received two healings from the Big guy. 13 yrs ago I was healed of cancer and just this august, I believe I was healed of diabetes. I have not had to take any of my meds since then and my blood sugar is staying within a normal person’s levels. So I am being challenged by seeing God work in the miraculous. I’ve been seeing God do a lot of cool stuff in people’s lives. He’s amazing. I can’t begin to understand all that you went thru in Iraq, or when you came home. but thank you for sharing your experience with us so that we can remember that even God’s people are hurting and that we need to be sensitive to that. I believe that God speaks to us if we’ll only listen, and not just thru scripture.
    Keeping our spiritual ears open is important. Glad you are believing again and that God seems to be working not only in you but thru you.

    • colin aulds

      Ex-Christian here: Why doesn’t god ever cure amputees?

      • padresteve

        Got me, I don’t know why God does or doesn’t do anything. Maybe you should ask one of those guys on TV who profit from alleged healings.

  2. David Buettner

    Steve,
    I have at times wondered too if they were real, but have decided to believe in God and Jesus of the Cross. It is Jesus who cares for the drunk driver and his victims both. It is Jesus who loves and cares for the young mother suffering the complication of abortion. It is Jesus who cares for the AIDS sufferer in the hospital for another bout of PCP pneumonia.
    I pray that God will continue to bless your life, words and thoughts.
    Thanks for your insight and honesty.
    David

  3. Randy Gee

    I thank God that he used a frail but determined vessel named Steve Dundas to confront me with the Gospel in the 10th grade. Little did Steve realize that God had used him to bring this lost lamb back into His fold. Jesus has a heart for the lost, and so do you, my Brother Steve. Lord bless you, Padre Steve, and may He, in all things, work for the good of those who love Him(like you) and are called according to His purpose!

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  9. I have found that those of us who have walked out of those barren places have a faith few recognize. One that is deeper and more profound then what we had known before. A faith that reflects the grace of our experience, and echoes with the freedom He has given us.

    Few ever find this place, and those of us who do seem to aliens to our brothers and sisters, but our testimony is vital. It provides hope to others wrestling with God, confronting their faith in the face of brutality, and seeking to know Him and not just know of Him.

    • padresteve

      Emily

      Thank you for your kind comments. Blessings on you and in your journey. Like you said it becomes very lonely sometimes when you have been in or are in those barren places, but they are places that we need to go and our testimony is vital.

      Blessings,

      Steve+

    • Beautiful beautiful reply. I agree wholeheartedly 🙂

  10. fellowtraveler

    Well put, Steve. You have been tried in a crucible and have come out stronger, refined gold. My experience of suffering was not the same as yours, but the deep questioning of my faith as a result was very similar (and the eventual meeting of God again after several years int he wilderness.) As you say, there are few things in life that are more difficult that being a in a Christian leadership position when you are no longer sure you believe. I highly recommend a great book called “the myth of a Christian nation”. It explores some of the points you touched upon in your blog.

    Eve

    • padresteve

      Thanks Chris. I’ve seen the book but not read it. I’ll have to pick it up. Thanks and blessings, Padre Steve+

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  12. John Rork

    Crises that blast the old bedrock to rubble, leave the soul naked in a desert. The desert is a naked space, a place where abrasion takes away the layers to expose an empty silent longing.

    Those who travel to the desert, who have the silent longing and the anguish exposed, can be destroyed or transformed. Going into and experiencing the desert, it is impossible to know in advance what the outcome will be. Even so, in the silence, naked, and vulnerable there is something which speaks without words, that resonates and plays upon the sinews of what remains a beautiful song of Presence and Light.

    Few go to the desert, and of those who do, fewer still go by choice. Of those who emerge, the old layers which have been abraded do not reform, but a new and more permeable set knit themselves together, and the silent call of the desert is for those few no longer a source of existential horror, but a special fellowship, one which is accessible in the empty spaces, in the quiet, and it restores a soul to the essential and naked Presence that is essential and intimate.

    Northern lights above Sarkofagen, Svalbard

  13. padresteve

    Reblogged this on Padresteve's World…Musings of a Passionate Moderate and commented:

    Friends of Padre Steve’s World. Tonight I have the privilege of posting an old article that it quite meaningful to me. I hope that it went through this time, evidently WordPress had difficulty uploading it. I wrote it and ended up being asked to leave my former church, which I had served for over 14 years. It was in a sense a coming out. I had gone through a terrible period of doubt, despair and unbelief, and when faith returned it was different. This article was a watershed for me. I re-publish it tonight for a couple of reasons. First, because it is appropriate since it plays such an important role in my life, and second because it helps explain to new readers a little bit of who I am and how I got to this point. A few edits have been are from the original to correct grammar and to ensure that what I wrote then actually reads like what I intended it to mean. Unfortunately first drafts are not always the best and when one reads what they wrote before it can be a rather interesting experience. So tonight I present to you “Faith Journeys: Why I am Still a Christian.” Peace, Padre Steve+

  14. You hit the nail on the head with this one, yet again, Padre.

  15. Thanks for sharing — this is a great post, and talking about the “Crucified God” there is a quote I keep in my wallet from theologian, professor, and author Scott Hahn: “For Christ Himself suffered great physical evils and even moral evils at the hands of the people He came to save. If that is our lot, He wanted it to be His lot too. So if that was His lot, we should be content with it as our own as well. For ‘we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him (Roman 8:16-17)”.

    I have found this to be true in my own journey and the journey of others I’ve either read or talked to, and it is only in the “Crucified God” that you reference that I have found solace in much of the suffering of individuals and groups of people and the truth that the stairs to heaven are painted with the blood and suffering of the cross … “take up your cross daily” — I guess Jesus knew what He was saying with that one as well as pretty much everything else He said.

    It takes the suffering of the Cross and our crosses for the hope of the Resurrection, and you seemingly can’t have the joy of the Resurrection without the Cross I guess is what Jesus came to show — but how great that joy will be when we’ve “finished our race with endurance”!

    God be with and bless, and thanks again for your testimony, eloquence, and faith — it greatly encouraged me. I don’t think you’re a heretic, I think you’re pretty much spot on (for what my opinion is worth) but it is ok if you’re a heretic, isn’t that what Jesus was condemned for and ultimately crucified for by the high priest and Pharisees, “blasphemy” — sounds like you’d be in good company if that were the case, but hey what do I know — Peace be with you as well Padre.

  16. “I guess that is why I can accept women as ministers, Priests or Bishops. It is why I can accept homosexuals as Christian brothers and sisters, and see Christ and the grace and love of God in people that are not “Christians.”

    Your compassion is commendable, but your theology is heretical. There is no such thing as a female bishop or priest. It is clearly heterodox and has no precedent or authority in apostolic Christianity. We don’t get to make up our own “faith”. We are not our own magisterium. I too have been in a very dark place and if I had not found Eastern Orthodoxy I would have lost my faith entirely.

    Homosexuals are truly loved by God and deserve our love and compassion; enough love to explain to them that they cannot come to Christ on their own terms any more than alcoholics or fornicators can come on their own terms. Each and every one of us MUST repent of our own particular sins and homosexuals are not exempt. If they are willing to accept the clear, unambiguous, apostolic teaching of the past 2,000 years and struggle against their own particular sins then they are also my brothers and sisters.
    But remember: as one of the most famous of Anglicans said: “It is possible to have so much sympathy for a sinner that you join him in his rebellion against God”. C.S. Lewis

    May Christ our God work His grace in you, and may He grant you many years.

    • padresteve

      Robert,
      Thank you for your comments on my compassion and “heresy.” I also appreciate that you will “pray for me.” I am not going to take the time to argue with you here, frankly I don’t have the time or the energy to do so. Frankly, I would rather be a “heretic” than to troll peoples websites and tell them that they are heretics and need to repent.

      But again thanks for visiting.
      Peace
      Padre Steve+

      • Steve,
        You have quoted words as mine (“pray for me”) that I never wrote. That is part and parcel of an emotional response lacking veracity.

        I’m not in the least surprised that you don’t want to argue with me for you have absolutely nothing to argue with except your own opinion and those of other ‘free thinkers’ who have no patristic basis for their theological positions. I can choose to believe the 2,000 year old faith of saints like Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyon, Maximus the Confessor and Gregory Naziansus, OR I can believe the faith of Steve the chaplain.

        It’s interesting that you allow posts on your website and then call those who disagree with your opinion “trolls”. That’s a great way to conserve energy – it allows you to avoid trying to defend the indefensible.

        Robert, the sinner

  17. padresteve

    Robert,
    I really don’t know where to start. First I won’t apologize for calling you a troll. You came to my site, and without knowing anything about me or my journey condemned me as a heretic, accused me through a C.S. Lewis quote of joining sinners in their rebellion against God.

    When I called you a troll you got upset. You said, I admit rightly that I quoted you as saying that you would “pray for me.” Yes I was wrong on that. I merely assumed the best, and assumed that you would be praying for me when you said in your first comment “May Christ our God work His grace in you, and may He grant you many years.”

    Then you responded to my honest comment that “I am not going to take the time to argue with you here, frankly I don’t have the time or the energy to do so” by claiming that I won’t because I have nothing to argue with. You impugned my honesty, my integrity and my motives for not wanting to engage you. Frankly I have better things to do than to waste my time arguing with someone convinced that their church and tradition holds the claim to all truth. I don’t claim to be my own “magisterium,” and you insult me when you play that game because 15 years ago I was you. I relished to opportunity to condemn those who did not hold orthodox Catholic beliefs, and believe me I was quite good at it. If I wanted to I could do the same now, but as I said I neither have the time or emotional energy to do it.

    The fact is that you come here under a cloak of anonymity, you attack me without revealing anything about yourself but a first name and that you converted to Orthodoxy at some point in your life, by your apologetic zeal I would assume it is within the past few years. However, thanks to the IP lookup I see that you hail from somewhere around Brandon Mississippi. Thus I have to make the assumption that like me 20 years ago that you are a former evangelical who converted to something that had more valid truth claims and was based on the Creeds, Councils and Scripture. I also have to assume that as a recent convert to Orthodoxy that your zeal to prove your faiths superiority ‘s based in some respect because you still have doubts, or that you need to prove yourself worthy. I have no problem with that and I welcome friendly comments and disagreements that are not issued as polemic statements against me.

    But in your second comment you mocked me, you insulted me and you accused me of things that were absolutely untrue. You quested my truthfulness and made the comment “It’s interesting that you allow posts on your website and then call those who disagree with your opinion “trolls””

    No Robert, if that is indeed your name, since you ensure that all I know about you is your doctrine, I took umbrage at both of your comments, not because of what you believe, but because you seem to be a total jerk. Only a troll would do what you did in the past couple of posts. I have been very nice to people who disagree with me and are civil in their tone, I deal with trolling jerks differently.

    The fact is I know the Fathers, probably better than you, especially Polycarp. I have great regard for all of them, but I also do not isolate what they wrote from their culture or from history. They are products of their time and their culture, and in the post-Constantine Church their pronouncements became not just church law, but civil law which was used to punish any unbeliever living under an Eastern Emperor, even other Christians. If you want to play the magisterium game, Rome has one too and they still consider the East heretical.

    Like you said. You don’t know me, but you accuse me. You don’t know how I got to where I am today, and what this post from over four years ago opened me to. You don’t know what I have suffered for writing it, but you still attack. That my friend is not the mark of a Christian, that is the mark of a troll.

    By the way, I am a Navy and former Army Chaplain who counts a number of Orthodox Priests as dear friends. They know me, they know my journey. They know where I disagree with them, but they actually care about me, and I them. You on the other hand seem like someone with an axe to grind. I don’t have an axe to grind.

    I open my life to others even you. If you want a dialogue I invite you to at least take the time to get to know me. If you are simply on a heresy hunt, you’ll find plenty here.

    So please, depart in peace. I have given you much more time than you deserve. Any future comments that don’t begin with you apologizing for your grossly wrong accusations about me will be delated. If you don’t like it you can go to all of your friends and tell them how you shamed a “free thinker” who has no patristic support for his beliefs. Beat your chest, because I couldn’t give a flip.

    Peace

    Padre Steve+

  18. I am not anonymous; you have my real name and my real e-Mail address. If you do a ZabaSearch you’ll likely find my address and telephone number. Feel free to contact me offsite. I’ll be glad to discus anything you wish.

    I did NOT insult you. I only pointed out your self-proclaimed heresy.
    I offered a word of warning suitable for ANY clergy in the vein of St. Paul.
    Your ‘bishop’ is a woman and your communion is held close to the ELCA and ECUSA – both openly, manifestly heretical. Their teaching on procured abortion is diabolically evil.

    In your initial response you didn’t address the issues I raised but INSULTED ME. I assumed you wouldn’t like being called out because I didn’t like it when I was called out, but now I offer prayers of thanksgiving for that one special person ( a woman by the way) who cared enough to tell me the truth and take the predictable blow-back. I consider it all joy to take yours.

    My conversion came after eight years of painful study when I finally gave up my Lutheran heresy and submitted to the Orthodox Church. I did so because I could not maintain intellectual honesty or integrity by doing otherwise. I believe the Orthodox Church IS the Church, is true and correct in EVERYTHING it teaches, notwithstanding the failure and scandal of some of its clergy down through this present age.
    I hope, and yes, I will pray, Steve, that you eventually come to that same conclusion.

    If you wish to delete this that is your prerogative, but it remains the truth, and
    I speak it in love for you.

    And peace to you,

    Robert Ainsworth

  19. Thank you, thank you Steve for your vulnerability, for sharing your heart with us. I know many will ‘connect’ with you. As one who dwelt in a spiritual desert (read ‘felt deserted’) for 26 years – I hear you !!! Keep on doing what you’re doing – it’s healing for you, it’s healing for us. Now I know, I will keep you in my prayers 🙂

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