Below is a transcript of one of Wayne Jacobsen’s podcasts on the God Journey which I have typed up word by word. I hope I have faithfully put down exactly what he says, but if I haven’t, I apologise in advance. Please bear with me. English is not my first language but I am also having to contend with a different accent to the one I am used to here in the UK. Please let me know if at any point during this transcript I have misinterpreted what was originally said and I will endeavour to edit it accordingly.
As this is quite a long podcast, I will divide it into various parts. If you wish to listen to the podcast instead of reading it here, please go to Wayne Jacobsen’s site at http://thegodjourney.com/2013/04/05/not-made-with-hands/. The title of this podcast is “Not made with Hands”.
Not Made with Hands – Part 1
“It feels like being able to have a relationship with God is akin to winning the lottery. It happens, people do win but the odds of winning are a million to one.” Hi, I am Wayne Jacobsen and I want to welcome you to this edition of the God Journey, and that line is one of the saddest lines I have ever gotten in an email. I will look at the rest of the email in just a moment. I think it will lead to a discussion that I hope spawns some conversation among us. I am going to today try to unpack some of the edges where I am thinking these days and it is not clearly formed in my mind yet, so we will see what comes out.
I have left out here a section from Wayne’s podcast which is not relevant to the subject discussed. Please feel free to go to the source and listen to the whole thing.
Back to the letter I read to you, I read the last paragraph of this letter. Let me go and pick up a little bit earlier on. It says: “First and foremost, I will take this moment to thank both of you (referring to Brad and I. I got this letter prior back some time in the fall) for shining as beacons in a tangled wilderness of thoughts, words, actions, dogma and chaos. Simply said, I had not come across the books and the podcasts. If I had not come across them, my journey would have been laden with more darkness and despair than I was capable of handling. At the very least without all these conversations I was able to listen in on, there was a good chance I would have embraced some of the rigid “Do good, get good, do bag, get bad” God paths.
For the past year I have toiled with at least writing something to you. Why? Because crushingly so I felt I was further from a relationship with God than ever. Over the past few years my thirst to listen to and ponder over the different topics I heard on your podcast and a number of others, has been fading, not because I find fault or flaw in what I heard, but rather I found the distance between me and God could still be measured in light years.”
Agh! You know on the one hand I hate email like this because I hate knowing that people are stuck there. On the other hand these are the emails I love, because I get these generally before there is some kind of breakthrough in someone’s life. I love the hunger. The sense of feeling lost in it all is a big part I think of somehow us giving up or looking elsewhere than where we looked in the past.
One of the things for which the religion that we have come to know as Christianity enrages me is because it creates hungers in people that it cannot fill for reasons we will talk about in a moment.
It says this, back to the letter, “For a long time I felt that God was the only thing that saved my life. My search for God had ranged full circle: believed as a small child, tattered and torn as I witnessed the judgement and warfare that Christians wedged on others outside the circle of belief. Gone as I raged through life as a full-blown alcoholic and as I began my first tentative steps towards recovery, I read everything I could find about religion, you name the belief, I checked it out. A spiritual experience I clearly felt heard, sensed that Gold told me that everything would be alright and I veered back towards Christianity. I was drawn to those who spoke with authority. God spoke to them and if I did the right thing, God would speak to me. There was the problem though. In AA I watched and saw that many who had been in the program for years and decades had not grown beyond “I had a crappy day, but I did not hit that first drink”. It made me wonder. They were just a drink away from hell on earth and obviously they’d not healed the wounds that had driven them to drink.
That is where Brad and Wayne came into the picture. I can’t describe just how transforming and min-boggling it was to hear the two of you tell of your own journeys. For a season I was buoyed to new heights. There was a God who loved his people, a God who wasn’t striking down folks left and right because he/she momentarily sinned. I had become increasingly alone and to compound the isolation, I had been hounded by a sense that God would strip me of everything, and no matter how hard I struggled to live one day at a time, no matter how responsible I tried to be, no matter how much effort I put into trying to devise a way to care for my family, it is all to no avail. Listening to your podcast had less and less meaning for me, more and more like it felt you were speaking of something I was never going to encounter. I’ve ran endless spiritual miles. I’ve searched countless spiritual havens, and it just never gets closer. And since there is nothing I can do or say to drive God away, I try to leave all the doors open and the welcome sign up 24/7. The results thus far, more has been stripped from me. I am far more aware of just how alone I am. To put it in other way: it feels like being able to have a relationship with God is akin to winning the lottery. It happens, people do win, but the odds of winning are a million to one.
Well, Jim first of all I want to say to you if you are listening to the podcast, don’t even know that you are, but thanks for your letter, thanks for your honesty and this is where my heart breaks. It breaks because Christianity promises people a meaningfull relationship with God, but then it can’t provide it, and that is not a slam against Christianity, it is just the reality. It cannot, not will not, it cannot, and I think that is what many of us at various stages, all the emails I have gotten from doing this God Journey over the years, so many people in religious systems, in Christian systems, hearing promises, having hungers tapped, even having experiences where God makes himself known to them, and then trying to redouble their efforts and trying to find a way into that reality only to watch it fade away and feel isolated and alone, just like Jim does here, and then trying to find another way to make it work, and trying even harder maybe at a different place and again being disappointed that it is not what it claims to be and then in the midst of those things we feel the futility and frustration of trying to work a system that can’t do what it promises.
Now this is not a diatribe against all Christian institution. As I said to you last week, that is a place where my hunger for God was tapped, it is the place that began to nurse a hunger it could not satisfy, but like many of us, there is just moments of coming to grips with the fact that this is not getting me where I want to go.
I was at a funeral last weekend at the Fellowship I pastored at thirty-five years ago, long time and I met people there that I knew back in the day. And do you know what was sad to me, spiritually? Many of them were just in the same place, and not that they are bad Christians. They are good Christians. They are conscientious people, very well-intentioned people, people who work very hard and committed, they spend their life serving the institution, hopeful that their relationship with God would connect, and I don’t know that most of them are disappointed today. They kind of swim in the sea of stagnation. I know because I hear it in their voice, the things they hunger for that they haven’t settled in their heart yet, and then I wonder: why is that so?
As I watched the new Pope installed in Rome a few weeks ago. I did watch it, just because I am intrigued by that whole thing, but when I see him sitting in that, if you watched it, there is one point before the mass, he is sitting in this canopied throne at the top of the stairs to St. Peter’s. An image of this ornate throne, and the Pope is sitting on it, and it is all covered in this red velvet gold canopy, or so it looked, with gold trim. What has this in common with Jesus Christ as he appeared to them? How did Jesus and his disciples, even after 2000 years, how does it get there? How is that recognised as the pinnacle of what religious authority is?
And I know some of us hearing this podcast are going to say “it is not that for me” and I know, I agree it isn’t that but it is regarded as that by so many people.
to be continued
(Please bear with me as this process will take me a long time, but I strongly feel I must do it to get the message out)