When I woke up in an ICU room and decided I would keep living, one of the most significant changes was getting rid of the thoughts, theologies, and unrealistic expectations that were killing me. Moving forward meant letting go and choosing to accept myself, just as I am. Accepting myself allowed Perfect Love to do its work of casting out the fear that was entrenched in my heart, mind, and soul.
After receiving a scathing email this weekend, praising me for my suicide prevention work, and condemning me for my political views, I thought it was time to get perfectly clear about who I am and what I believe.
I am many things. I am not only a Christian or a mental health ally. I am a whole person, full of diverse views on everything from life to faith to politics. I need something more profound and more genuine than Sunday-morning Christianity. This is the new leg of my spiritual journey.
I don’t have it all figured out. And it’s okay that you don’t, either. If you disagree and you’re still clinging to the black and white thinking of dualism, that’s okay. I hope you feel safe here, too. This is a place where people are free to disagree, because we see the dignity in each person. As long as you are kind and respectful, always choosing to value the person over the issue, I won’t try to convert you, and I hope to God you won’t try to change me.
I am desperate for honesty.
I’m hungry for conversation and a celebration of diversity.
I’m stripping away fear and perfectionism to connect with my true self. This means I can show up with my success, failure, vulnerability, questions, and the core tenets of my ever-evolving faith.
I stand with underdogs (whether they are children, women, refugees, LGBTQ, black, hispanic, elderly, immigrant, refugee, differently-abled, or otherwise) and support equality for everyone.
I promise to listen to victims of abuse.
I will use my white privilege to make space at the table for everyone, to seek truth and redemptive justice for all who need it.
I refuse to dehumanize anyone, even those with whom I vehemently disagree.
I believe all people were created in the image of a God who loves us without condition.
Divine Love is at the core of our being, and this kind of love is a free gift, not a loan to be repaid with good behavior. I have been freed from the bonds of toxic religion, and I will do my part to help everyone understand that we have been wounded, but we are not broken.
I believe in nonviolence.
I am committed to following the loving example of Jesus and to respecting those on a different spiritual journey than me.
I refuse to follow the status quo of politics, culture, or religion when it means trampling those without a voice or a vote. I will not compromise my convictions to make someone else comfortable.
I believe Love wins.
I believe Fear is the enemy.
I believe all people deserve love and justice. If people think their lives don’t matter, it damages the soul and sometimes kills the body. People don’t want to live in a world (read: a family or a church) where they aren’t known, accepted, and loved. Perpetuating hate and fear through destructive theology or political ideology is damaging the collective soul of this worldwide community of humans.
No matter how we were raised or if we cling to a faith of any sort, genuine love doesn’t have prerequisites. Grace doesn’t have qualifying criteria. Compassion has no strings attached. At the end of the day, it is more important to love my neighbors than to expect them to pass a litmus test on morality or religious fervor.
I believe the only way to move forward is together.
I believe we must share our stories boldly. This is the way we overcome injustice, shame, and stigma. Talking about our traumas, fears, and disappointment takes back the power from our deepest wounds. Freedom comes when we begin to own our stories. Period.
It would be pretty hard to box me in because I’ve spent the past six years of my life saying no to labels and crushing every box I find. But if you’re wondering who I am, here are the high points: I am a Jesus-centric, liberal-leaning, mental-health-advocating, LGBTQ-loving, bourbon-drinking, cigar-smoking, cussing-like-a-sailor lover of God. I cling to Divine Mystery in myself and others, believing the very best of everyone I meet, regardless of our differences.
No matter who is in office, where I live, what church (if any) I attend, what job I hold, or how many books I sell…these are the things I hold most dear.
If you don’t agree with my views, it’s okay. Really, it is.
If you’re willing to disagree with kindness and respect, we can sit down over a cup of coffee (or a glass of whiskey) and talk about it. Because your humanity will always matter more to me than your faith, politics, accolades, or failures.
So can we please play nice? The truth is, NONE of us have any of this figured out. You don’t have all the answers. And neither do I.
We’re all just doing our best. So, let’s put down our guns and hatred and fear of “the other,” and learn to look one another in the eye when we talk. (Hint: there is no “other.” We are all made in the image of the Divine.) Let’s talk about issues rather than people. Let’s be decent, respectful human beings.
It’s time to loosen the death grip on our precious moral stances and open our hands and hearts to those around us who are longing for love and acceptance. Now, more than ever, we should love the person in front of us. We can’t always depend on the church or the government to do what they should. Grace is beckoning each of us to step out, speak up, and make room for everyone, regardless of what the institutions are doing.
I wish we could find grace to be unique, to embrace the story of us all, the great big circle that binds us together. We need the weirdness, the history, the art, the passion, the music, the queerness, and the glitter. We need the richness, darkness like the soil, the dancing, the rhythm, the soul, and the persistence.
Dr. Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
We need you. Don’t back down in your resistance to the lies. You can love and be loved in return, exactly as you are. We need you at the table. There is plenty of room for you.
I believe Love wins.
So I choose kindness.
Are you with me?
Grace and gratitude,
Steve Austin was a pastor when he nearly died by suicide. A second chance, a grueling recovery, and years of honest conversation allowed Steve to find healing and purpose. It’s evident in his writing, speaking, podcasting, and coaching: he helps overwhelmed people get their lives back.
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
Guest blog: It’s Depression, Not Demon Possession
Guest Post: When You Can’t Erase Your Childhood Religion
Finding God in Stillness
Pastors and Suicide: What Should I Know?
VIDEO: I was a pastor when I nearly died by suicide.
What the Hell is a Christian Agnostic?
13 Favorite Quotes from Catching Your Breath
It was Really Quiet the Day I Decided to Die