Because of Jesus…

Some may have noticed that I haven’t been blogging as much lately. I wish I could blame it all on the workload of being a full-time seminarian mixed with a couple of part-time jobs, but the reality is all of that busy-ness actually makes me want to blog more. Of course, it doesn’t suddenly create the time to do so, but nevertheless the desire to blog isn’t the reason I haven’t blogged.

Honestly, my lack of blogging is due more to the fact that there are heavier things to blog about. For example, this summer I took American Church History with one Professor Randy Woodley and while we would read speeches from Martin Luther King Jr., a news story would break about how another black individual (or nine individuals at a Bible study) was killed at the hands of white men (usually police officers). Or when the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages must be recognized in every state, how quickly many Christians responded with messages of mourning and lament even though the founders of many of the conservative institutions fought for equality of all. In those situations, my words would not do much to improve any situation or to lessen the pain within these communities. All anyone who is not directly involved can do is draw attention to the voices who are directly involved.

And basically that’s what I have been doing: re-tweeting and sharing the voices who have been speaking against injustice in these arenas as well as others. But sometimes that doesn’t seem to be enough. Sometimes it seems as though my friends on Facebook or Twitter won’t pay any attention to what I share because they don’t believe racism exists or they believe a “biblical marriage” has a simple, straight-forward definition contrary to what the Supreme Court thinks. What does it take for these perspectives not to be changed entirely, but to be challenged a little and given the space to think or process for themselves? What is needed in order for the voices of the slain black men, women, and children at the hands of police to be heard? What is it going to take to value each other’s life equally?

I will not even begin to pretend to have the answers, but I have a few hopes. One hope is that we would de-politicize these issues so that we might have a little more room to talk. Both Republicans and Democrats can be (and often are) seen as the enemy – as the group that is trying to ruin the country. Our political atmosphere has long been removed from the realm of equal dialogue and sharing of perspectives because it has become so fused with the need to beat one’s opponent that we’re reluctant to admit where we have agreements – or even worse, where our political parties are actually wrong. Removing the politics from the discussion enables for voices to be heard.

Which leads to my second hope: that we would de-politicize these issues so that we might have room to listen. This is by far the most important aspect of removing the political labels because in either political party the people who are less likely to be heard are the underprivileged black, Latino/a, Native, LGBTQ, and female voices. So the opposite of these categories – the cisgender, heterosexual, white male – is primarily the one who desperately needs to listen. But the same challenge can extend to others who are not this category and yet retain some aspect of privilege. For example, I’m not white, but I am a cisgender, heterosexual male, so in conversations revolving around sexuality or how women are treated, I desperately need to shut my mouth and listen. It doesn’t mean I can’t ask questions, but it does mean that I better spend more time listening than asking.

And this leads to my third hope: that we would sweat it out as we listen. Randy Woodley challenged the class with this idea in an (unpublished?) article he wrote, but the idea is basically that when it comes to “sitting at the conversation table,” we must remain seated as our privileges are exposed. And yes, we may even be guilty of abusing these privileges, in which case it is even more imperative that we remain seated and sweat it out. If we are seeking to be true allies and help those who are underprivileged, then we can’t say that we’ll listen and get up from the table after five minutes because we got too uncomfortable or we found the words directed at us to be offensive. Here’s the thing: if we are privileged, then we are not in the right to be “offended” when this privilege is called out. We’re merely experiencing what happens when our privileges are removed. So if you’re white and hearing about “white privilege” for the first time, remember that it is not racism to call out the dominant race for the systems their ancestors put in place that subordinate other races. Like John Metta talks about, race is a difficult topic because it is almost always centered around white feelings. We must sweat it out when our privileges are called out.

When all of the above is implemented, then comes one more hope: that the privileged do not suddenly become the leaders/experts in the issues of the underprivileged. An example comes from male feminists or white guys in the Black Lives Matter movement: they read a book by a feminist woman or hear a sermon from a black preacher about police brutality and think they ought to take up the leadership of those causes. This is not how systemic oppression changes. It is merely the reincarnation of the same systemic oppressions with new masks of equality. So when a man points out his own feminist leanings and proceeds to take over a conversation, that man then undermines his feminist values (because feminism seeks the equality of all specifically by focusing on the inequality of women). So yes, this means that I cannot take over the discussion about women’s equality; we must empower the underprivileged to have equal footing as the privileged.

Some may not find any of this to be in accordance with Christian values, but the truth is that it has been my faith in Christ that has led me to all of these issues (and for what it’s worth, treating them only as “issues” is a privilege in and of itself). It was Jesus who led me to feminism and womanism. It was Jesus who led me to accept the marriages of the LGBTQ community as God ordained. It was the suffering and lynching of Jesus that led me to lament the suffering and lynches of the black community (yes, when a black child is shot dead for playing with a toy gun, that is a lynching). It was Jesus who taught me that every person was made in the image of God. All that I have been challenged with is really expanding my definition of what God looks like.

Even with this brief outline of why these things matter to me, I am drained. Why? Because it is quite likely that as I have written these words, someone in the U.S. has been killed because they’re black, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, Native, Mexican, Muslim, a woman, or some combination of these. Or some prominent Christian leader has said another racist thing about people he does not understand or care that much about to begin with (*cough, cough* Franklin Graham *cough, cough*). With as much as I could write about these issues, change still seems incredibly far off. But that does not mean that I can not hope in God who has poured the Spirit into us through Jesus of Nazareth.

May we all find the courage to follow where the Spirit leads and end oppression.

God bless.

Big Churches and Introverts…

Last night’s class discussion led to a talk about finding ways for big congregations to make everyone feel as though their voice is heard. Our talk began shortly after a Twitter exercise where we tweeted our thoughts whilst listening to an audio version of Esther, so obviously I was still reading/favoriting/retweeting everyone’s tweets. And before I could chime in about having been an introvert in a large congregation, class was drawing to a close (“having been” is in relation to once being a part of a 150-200 person congregation; not to the introverted part). I’d rather blog my thoughts anyway.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about for some time now; how our Christian sub-culture tends to be geared toward the out-going and extroverted. Of course, I’m speaking from my experience in the evangelical world; I have little-to-no idea how things are in the traditional settings. In said experience, though, church means weaving through the masses, “meeting” a bunch of people whose names I’ll immediately forget, and knowing that at any given point throughout the service, there is usually someone people-watching me (I know this is true because I’m usually the one doing the people-watching).

Granted, some of these things happen with smaller congregations (especially the people-watching thing), there is still something quite challenging for an introvert in a group of 300 or more people. Even 100 people in a single room is overwhelming for me; my class sizes are about my max. Like many introverts, I feel drained by the sheer number of people I’m pressed up against – and this is without talking to anyone or engaging in any type of service-level dialogue. If you add that element in, I usually feel pretty wiped after church.

It’s kind of like alcohol; I have a certain capacity for how much I can handle before I start “feeling it,” (even in that case, it’s not very much). But over time, one’s capacity tends to increase. Similar thing happens for introverts and larger congregations. But even if that’s the case, I still need my time alone. I still need my space – not only for “recharging” purposes, but to connect with God. So in churches with a bunch of people, you could imagine how it might be difficult to have that moment of connectedness – that moment that builds up the introvert, even amongst all the activity.

My introversion is my own, though; I know other introverts who enjoy larger congregations and are even able to grow in those types of settings. But I also know of a lot of introverts who are like me and are rather intimidated, overwhelmed, or flat out drained in places with a lot of people. Not to say that we’re anti-social, even though it seems that way; but to say we function better in smaller, more intimate settings. And this seemed to be a backdrop question to our discussion tonight: How do we grow bigger as a single congregation, but also smaller to provide a “close-knit” group for as many people as possible?

No, I most certainly do not have an answer. And since I’m not part of any congregation right now, I don’t know if I should attempt one. What I do know is that I tend to steer clear of the large congregations partially because of the exhaustion factor. It’s not the deciding element, but it carries some weight.

After leaving class tonight, though, I was actually feeling quite thankful for Twitter or WordPress (microblogging and blogging) or even the practice of journaling. As an introvert, I write to process things, which makes it much easier to “voice” my thoughts (share them with a larger group). Tweeting during class discussions is something that, strangely enough, helps me understand and grasp the concepts we’re learning in class (and also invites non-Seminarians to the discussion/lecture). If there’s a church out there that encourages live-tweeting, please let me know!

So I suppose I’m posing the questions to anyone who’d care to chime in: How does your respective congregation cater to the introverts (or extroverts, if your congregation is mostly introverts)? Especially if you have a larger congregation, how have you focused your ministry (or ministries) in order to create an environment conducive for genuine spiritual families on a smaller scale (growing bigger, but smaller)? What about on the Sunday mornings, Saturday evenings, or whenever you have your larger meeting time? Is there an atmosphere that seeks to build a bunch of smaller families within a large group of people that doesn’t require a separate day?

God bless.

New Blogging Adventure!

Although this is a couple days late, I’m excited to announce I’ve been added to the Near Emmaus bloggers!

Beginning this weekend I’ll be contributing posts on Saturdays reflecting over life as a seminarian and on Sundays I’ll post my “Sundays With Paul” series. All of these posts will also be seen here, but I would encourage all my readers (all seven of you) to check out the other posts at Near Emmaus as well. I’m really excited for this experience because it draws in a much different blogging community than I’m used to – one full of dialogue and discussion regarding faith, theology, and biblical studies (among other things).

As for this blog, I’ll attempt to post more frequently than I have been. Homework has definitely been more demanding this semester than last fall, but once I find a rhythm, I’ll make room for more posts.

God bless.

Four Years Old Today…

In the spring of ’07, I started an electronic journal in my dorm room at the University of Oregon. Right around the same time (perhaps a few months later), I started writing Facebook notes. Much of what I write in my electronic journal (it’s a Word document) is what I’ve been emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually processing and when I started posting some those entries on Facebook, I soon found out that there was always somebody else processing the same stuff. On October 4th, 2009, I launched this blog.

I turned it into a blog to help open up various ways of connecting with people. After writing a few posts, I quickly discovered other bloggers writing about similar stuff or stuff that I hadn’t thought about. Seeing many other people processing the same stuff that I was went a long way in telling me that I’m not alone. This, of course, led me to recognize that none of us is alone.

Online communities will never replace the authenticity of in-person communities – like your local church, Bible study, book club, or even your workplace. Yet what online communities enable – via blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and plenty of other social media sites – is a space for people to share their thoughts, beliefs, and questions (in no particular order) in their own time. You don’t have to wait until your next Bible study to ask a question about Jesus or share whatever it is that God has brought you through. I’m not saying the internet is going to have all the answers, but I can say that it opens up the possibility of discussion. And more than likely, you’ll find someone who’s been where you are before.

Above all else, what I have found to be most beneficial from blogging is the depth of therapy in the act of writing. You see, journaling goes a long way to allow the individual to process the things around him or her. But until those thoughts are shared in community, the individual will remain as such: an individual. They will never hear what we all need to hear at some point in our lives: “Me, too.”

As I said above, blogging (and online communities in general) will never take the place of face-to-face meetings (Skype and Face Time kind of help, but being physically present is most essential). Yet in the last four years, I’ve seen how blogging has helped enhance those face-to-face meetings. It has helped formalize my thoughts and feelings so that I can more clearly and succinctly talk things out with my various in-person communities. And it has taught me that there are plenty of other people who’ve had similar experiences in life (growing up without a father, having suicidal thoughts, seeing your church community evaporate, etc.), but processed them differently.

All I can really say on my blog’s fourth birthday is that I would not be where I am without it. It makes me excited for what’s to come (especially being at George Fox Evangelical Seminary). I’m excited for the things I’ll learn and the people I’ll meet. I’m excited for the communities I’ll grow with. And I’m especially excited to see what God is going to do through it all.

Writing goes a long way to help the introvert and extrovert in their walk with Jesus.

Thanks for reading and God bless!

Blogging When Busy…

It was slightly alarming to see that I haven’t written a post since June 8th. Two weeks would have been more understandable, but three? Just ridiculous.

A couple things have happened since then, though. I started reading a lot more, which took time away from writing. And I also took up a second job working for the Eugene Emeralds as part of their grounds crew, which took time away from both reading and writing. With July right around the corner, I now have to make sure I have a place to live in Portland before I start school in September. I’m a little hard pressed to find time to write these days.

Yet it’s no excuse. I love to do it – partially because it seems to encourage others and mostly because it helps process things I learn from the Lord. And while journaling goes a long way, putting something into a blog takes a little extra effort. I can’t sit down, spill out all my thoughts, and expect people to understand. Virginia Woolf was good at that, but I don’t think I am.

Instead, I have to edit and rephrase. I have to say it out loud as I write it to make sure it sounds understandable (this is especially fun at Starbucks when I’m sitting alone). As my good friend Tyler once told me, I can’t just throw a bunch of letters on a document and see what sticks. Every word, sentence, and paragraph is there because I chose to put it there.

I say all this to point out that finding time to write is more than finding a mere hour there or half hour here. It’s finding a solid several hours without any other obligation to work on my craft – to fine-tune it to make it the best I possibly can. It sounds tedious and boring, but I love it. Because at the end of it all, when I see the post fully written, edited, and published on my blog, I don’t simply feel productive; I feel satisfaction in having to work hard and work well to create something.

What these last three weeks have taught me is that blogging in seminary is going to be tough. Not only will I be a full time student; I’ll also be working at least part time, which means there’ll be little time for much else. Strangely enough, though, I’m excited about all of this. I’m excited about spending hours upon hours studying and reading and then turning around to go to work. I’m excited about experiencing life in the largest city I will have ever lived in. I’m excited about taking a plunge into something that fully engages me. Such an experience will need to be processed, which means I will have to blog at some point.

A lot is going to change in the coming months and every bit of it is exciting. Despite how busy it will be, I want to commit to writing posts in here partially because they encourage others, partially because it helps me process things, and mostly because it honors God to practice the talents and gifts we’ve been given. It doesn’t matter how busy life gets; if you aren’t doing what you love (even if you aren’t getting paid for it), then you’re doing it wrong.

On to more posts!

God bless.

Accepted…

Most job interviews I’ve been in have been awkward, especially group interviews. People stutter, nervously tap their shoes, or have something stuck in their hair when they walk in (you know who you are). Wednesday’s group interview was incredibly different, for none of us was applying for a job; we were applying for school.

George Fox Evangelical Seminary was one of the first schools I had thought about back in ’09 and ’10 when I was figuring out my future. Of course back then I was also considering law school, but due to terrible LSAT scores, I wisely gave up that pipe dream. And in the fifth year of undergrad studies, I had the opportunity to take two more Religious Studies classes with my favorite professor, Daniel Falk, who not only wrote me a letter of recommendation to George Fox, but also thought seminary would be a good fit for me.

During those classes I read material, participated in group discussions, and wrote more than I ever have before for any of my English classes. It was stressful, uncomfortable, and nerve-wracking, but I loved every bit of it. When that winter term was over, Dr. Falk invited both of those classes (totaling maybe 20 people, tops, with three overlap students – myself included) to his house for dinner to celebrate a fun term. We watched The Life of Bryan with side commentary from Dr. Falk and ate Yumm bowls, which were surprisingly delicious. Afterwards we talked church, theology, and Scripture and it was then that I truly knew what I wanted to do next: Seminary.

At approximately 11:30 Thursday morning I received an email from one Sheila Bartlet, admissions counselor for George Fox Seminary, congratulating me on my acceptance to the Seminary for this fall. Even though it has been two full days since that email, it is still sinking in. An idea I had in the fall of ’09 has now become a reality; I’m going to be a seminarian. I have the opportunity of a lifetime waiting for me right around the corner. With a few more forms to fill out and some finances to gather together, the only thing I really need to do between now and September 2nd is show up. Somehow, I am dumbfounded by this.

And yet I have never been more excited about attending school and I know that the excitement will only increase the closer we get to September (I’ve always been one of those weird kids who gets excited about school not for seeing all my friends again or getting new clothes – though they’re a part of it – but for the new pencils, paper, backpacks, and other school supplies. I am a nerd. I was born that way). While the excitement is a great thing, I know (and hope) that this will be the most challenging academic environment I have ever been in. I will read, discuss, and write more than I did in those two classes with Falk or really with all the classes I’ve ever taken combined. Whatever social life I did have, especially on Facebook, will probably be non-existent. Yet I believe there will be one more thing, something I noticed while in the interview on Wednesday: Belonging.

Unlike any interview I’ve ever been in, I felt comfortable in that interview. I mean I still stuttered, tapped my toes, and I’m pretty sure something was in my hair, but none of those things kept me from being engaged in the discussion of the group surrounding me. I felt more than focused; I felt as though I was where I belonged.

A little under three months remain between now and September 2nd and there is a lot I need to prepare for: moving, finances, a potential car change, and refreshing my mind on the things I’ve studied with Falk. All that to say there might be fewer posts in July and August, but there also might be more posts because I tend to write more when I’m reading more. Those posts might also become more theologically and/or Scripturally based due to my reading material. But I hope to keep writing no matter what – even through Seminary – on the things God teaches me and leads me through. Some grow by talking about it; I grow by writing about it.

What I cannot help but acknowledge is how this feels like a major accomplishment, which it is, but it is only the beginning. It’s going to be tough and my mental, emotional, and spiritual endurance will be tested again and again at greater levels than it has before. But I believe I’m ready for it.

Thank you to everyone who helped encourage me in this pursuit, despite it taking me at least two years to finally do. Your encouragement, however small you might have thought it, proved to be enormous because it kept me thinking about it. It kept me asking God about it, which is always what encouragement should beckon one to do: seek God.

God bless.

Sharing My Baggage: Reflections After Three Years of Blogging…

Entering into my fourth year in college back in the fall of 2009, I thought I should do something different. I had been writing Facebook notes for a number of years prior to that year, but felt the need to take my writing elsewhere. After some mechanical mishaps with Blogger.com, I posted my first blog on WordPress.com, thus beginning Cushman’s Chronicles.

Of course, though, I was alive for 22 years before this day in 2009, so this blog hasn’t really been a chronicle of my life in the strictest sense. But it has been a place where the public has been able to see my past being processed as I move forward with God and with life. It has been a place where I’ve shared my fears and failures, tears and heartaches, but also my laughter and joy. Reflecting back on this journey I’ve had with God, blogging has been a major part of it all.

Writing, in general, has been a major element to my walk with the Lord, but blogging has added something to it. Ever since the spring term of my freshman year, I’ve kept a digital journal on my laptop. Set at 9 point font, single-spaced, with half-inch margins in Times New Roman, I’ve accumulated over 700 pages of events (big and small), emotions, and downright boredom. And with the exception of a handful of people, no one has ever read any of that stuff.

What blogging does is force me to share my thoughts in a way that might be understandable to someone who doesn’t know me. Of course this means I’ve had plenty of conversations with myself as I sound out my words a little more carefully so that I minimize the amount of confusion (keyword: minimize). What’s also included – in fact, required – in a journal-esque blogging style is vulnerability.

In my non-fiction creative writing class in the spring of ’09, we were taught to ask ourselves “What does this piece cost me?” In other words, what do I share with my audience of roughly 900 people or more (between Facebook & Twitter) that is rather private information – or at least information that surrenders a large part of my pride? Of course, this is also honesty, but sometimes you can be honest with people and never show any sense of vulnerability. And if there’s no vulnerability, there will never be humility.

In a way, blogging has been a tangible practice of keeping me accountable – to God and to the people who read my words. If I write in here about how I constantly live a perfect Christian life, but then go from WordPress to a porn site, I would not be honest with my readers. And if a practice like this kept going for some time, I’d start to lose all sense of God’s presence. As far as I’m concerned, a life without God is no life at all.

No, it doesn’t mean that I’m supposed to share every failure I’ve ever committed – I think I’d have twice as many blog posts if it did. But what it does mean is that when I’m sharing my thoughts on God and how we’re supposed to walk with Him, I’m very much aware of my own humanity and my own tendencies to mess things up. It’s taken some time to develop – much longer than it should – but it’s there. It isn’t complete by any means, either, but it’s there.

What this has looked like in actual practice – this being vulnerable thing – is that when I talk about desiring marriage through what feels like a long season of solitude, I’m more than aware of those who’ve had longer seasons of being single. Or when I talk about more controversial subjects such as inerrancy and reveal how it’s not a major doctrine in my walk with God (not even a little), I’m more than aware of those who value inerrancy – who have a stronger faith in God because of it. In a way, writing for this blog has enabled me to see another’s perspective – much more than before.

When I first started this blog, I didn’t have much of a goal. I knew I wanted people to read my thoughts on a lot of different things, but I didn’t really have any agenda with it all. I just wrote. Over the years, though, it’s been my goal to write a message with each post. Like a sermon? Kind of. I think it’s more like a sermon that is publicly shared, but intended for myself. It’s a public window into my more personal moments with God.

Obviously, this can’t be done very effectively if I’m not out living a normal life – gathering with the church, praying with fellow brothers and sisters, and serving in other ways apart from writing. But like each of those things (prayer, fellowship, ministry), blogging requires commitment. Not only do I have to sit down and write out the post, but I have to edit it. Sometimes I may even have to rewrite it. As a byproduct, though, it’s caused me to become more diligent and disciplined in my private studies of Scripture and prayers with God.

Blogging hasn’t saved my life. I wasn’t on a dark and lonely road heading directly into depression when I typed up my first post. But there have been quite a few moments where blogging – sitting down to publicly share a personal part of my life – has kept me moving forward, toward God. There have been moments where I felt so guilty and ashamed of the things I had done that I wanted to give up entirely and walk away – from God, from church, from everything. And then I sat down, started typing some words in my journal, and received a blog idea as I typed. From there, once I started blogging, I was back on track.

Writing for this blog – and by extension anyone who reads this – has challenged me in ways I had never dreamed of. And I imagine and hope that it will for many more years to come. God knows that a lot of my emotions and fears and thoughts would still be pent up inside of me if I hadn’t started sharing them with the world. So on this blog’s third birthday, I’d like to thank all those who have read and/or continue to read the stuff I write. Sharing what’s in my baggage with you all has been, in many ways, therapeutic.

Thank you and God bless.