I was pleasantly surprised when I came across this link to nakedpastor on Critical Mass, written by Darren, who is a professed atheist. He gave me a wonderful birthday present and I am very appreciative. Thanks Darren! He critiqued my blog for my birthday. He's a lover of single-malt scotch, specifically Laphroaig. I've promised him that if we should ever meet face to face, I'm going to buy him a glass. But it encouraged me in another way, and it has something to do with this: I am a part of a community that has come to a place where those who are a part of it can be very honest. People in our community hold a variety of opinions. One can't see the reason to be a part of the official church anymore, since it is one of the leading perpetrators of abuse. One doubt the existence of a god. One wonders if Jesus was just a man, and no more than that, and wonders, in accordance with Tom Harpur and company, if even the man Jesus existed at all. One can see no religious reasons to remain faithful to his wife, and figures divorce is a legitimate option. Another speaks openly about her gay orientation, though not without struggle. Another admits that even though he realizes the health-wealth gospel is wrong, he still clings to it because it helps him feel better. On and on. What a vast variety! And this is what I love. This kind of community doesn't happen overnight. It takes incredible energy, focus and attention to be authentic. Mostly, it is guarding yourself and others against judgement, condemnation and ridicule. It is providing a safe environment where people can express who they are and openly struggle and talk about these things. It cannot be manufactured. It cannot be programmed. It means being real, authentic, and gracious yourself. This is not a step to the real thing: a pious and healed people. This IS the real thing. This IS the goal. This IS the wholeness. Transformation of individuals and the community is the end. Don't consider it the means to the end. Until you've settled this in your mind, transformation will be resisted, and neither you nor your community can ever be authentic. The fine art photograph is the creation of my friend Howard Nowlan.