My Spiritual Path to Virtual Community

My Spiritual Path to Virtual Community December 17, 2011

Upon receiving a welcome email with a username and password, I paused to reflect. A frighteningly wonderful realization surfaced: I’ve walked alone to discover a virtual community. This marvelous opportunity to join the writers of Emergent Village once again affirms what my life has been shouting for years — my peers truly dwell in cyberspace.

Despite my failures to connect at the local church level, despite the mundane state of all things Michael, my spiritual journey entails this virtual community. Maybe it’s my Type 5 on the Enneagram self that is way too introspective; or, maybe this is a common plight of us all?

Upon leaving the pastorate in 2005, I ventured into the boundless world of post-Evangelicalism. No more church walls to constrain what was acceptable to espouse. My story is not so unusual, as I’ve learned over the years since. This young man rises to the top of his local church bubble and crashes in humiliation. The resulting cynicism, isolation and confusion are the tale of many. What I learned along the way has kept my faith, whole and genuine. And, that is what makes this trek all the more precious.

My faith was a sham in many ways as I had been teaching and preaching what to believe without having first absorbed it as my own. Reiteration is the best term I can conceive. As I reiterated, others in power saw there was something there that they could use — take advantage of. I welcomed the attention and received the opportunity. Years passed.

Foreign missions in extreme environments. Social justice just before it was a navigation bar link. I didn’t know what I wanted but living among the Sudanese made things seem to make the most sense in my delusion. They believed through the rapes, the pillaging, the genocide. They accepted the “curse” of being Sudanese. They sang. They danced. And I watched.

Michael with his Sudanese students

Upon returning to the States, marrying and settling down I never lost those live changing times. My dark skinned brothers and sisters had so much more that was authentic and beautiful about them. I wanted it, too.

The church I labored and toiled over for nearly ten years changed. The reciprocal rejection stemmed from my own evolution. I couldn’t handle it anymore. The games. The face saving maneuvers. The obsession with identifying who is in and who is out. And, so I quit church. Submitted my resignation letter. Decided to work in a “secular” world that would ultimately redeem my soul. The profane holy world in which we all share life.

I faced a world where I needed to identify what I believed. In Seussian cadence I tried churches of all shapes and sizes. Big and small ones. Short and tall ones. Some were very, very rich. Some made me scratch and itch.  But no one fit my ever evolving soul. None for my wife and my son. Our pilgrimage has entailed the Generous Orthodoxy that rarely manifests at the local church level.

My spiritual path entails the only wilderness we know in America. The post-Evangelical kind as the late Michael Spencer aptly named it. My intense feeling of isolation diminishes through my virtual community. Healing through fiber optic cables. What a strange thing God has devised to distribute His grace to me!

As I tread through my own dry and thirsty land, I’ve met many precious folks along the way. Brian McLaren – who puts all my thoughts on print better than I could think. Shane Claiborne – who lives Jesus here and now. Christian Piatt – a fellow Christian atheist. Jordan Green and Penny Carothers – my patrons in the Burnside world. Stephanie – lover of the arts as I. And so many more: Kim, Sara, Emily, Steven . . .

Many thanks to Doug Pagitt for a refreshingly gracious and shockingly direct opportunity to share, to live and to believe alone together.

I write in appreciation for and because of these and so many more. Of friends. Of fellow pilgrims. Of mentors and teachers. My peers. Though you cannot live in the sprawl of Southern California as I do. My heart extends to you all in gratitude.


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