This article in Relevant Magazine (Jul-Aug 2018) wrecked me today.
This was rock bottom, the point in Lisa’s life in which she felt the most desperation. And she says the core question—the thing it all boiled down to was love. “What do I believe about love?” she says. “Love is the whole story that I’ve bought into about Jesus Christ, so what do I believe in?”
The answer to this question arrived through a lot of labor. Lucy, the couple’s second child, was born with Down syndrome. “And it was kind of this painful, epic, beautiful, wonderful climax for me,” Lisa says. “This little girl is born into a world that our society says is broken, and needs to be fixed and at the same time, I’m feeling that within my self. I’m broken, and I need to be fixed because I don’t believe like I used to.”
The peace Lisa found in Lucy was not a resolution to her doubts but the understanding that she could live with those doubts and they didn’t change who she was.
I was already weeping, reading the article. But that passage just stopped me dead.
I can’t really tell you what I expected from my 40s, but it’s been a constant merry-go-round of surprises.
Just for starters — I never really expected that I’d be childless and thus was caught flat-footed in my late 30s without any career arc or plan (I’ve written a bit about that here). My husband and I have watched multiple friends move far away in the past several years, coinciding with shifts into work for both of us that doesn’t inherently create community. I feel like the world exploded in 2016 with Trump’s election, ripping the mask from a cesspool of racism and xenophobia and hatred that has been simmering unseen in American culture, probably since its founding. But seeing that ugliness on my Facebook feed from people I know? Painful.
And then there’s church. Hoo boy. Where do I start?
I didn’t mean to leave Fundamentalism in my late 20s, but it happened when what I was seeing in Fundamentalism didn’t match what the Bible says. I’d been taught in seminary at BJU to query the text and give priority to the text. When we realized the “doctrine of separation” was invented and unbiblical, we walked away from everything we knew.
That led us to the PCA, which was a good home to us for several years. Reformed theology gave me many gifts which I treasure to this day, not the least being an understanding of the Dutch Reformed stream thanks to our M.Ed. coursework at Covenant. But the PCA has a big problem with legalism, one that they acknowledge (sort of) but cannot solve because of the presumptions they bring to their understanding of faith.
Also, the PCA along with nearly every Evangelical group harbors a lot of patriarchy-in-the-name-of-Jesus which I can no longer tolerate in silence. If I’d had a daughter (or a son), I don’t know how I could raise her in an organizational structure that entirely deprecates the role of women in leadership. If anything, I’m more convinced now in the wake of #meetoo that women are endangered when they are powerless. Traditional Church structures are built to disenfranchise women and locate power entirely in the hands of male leadership, using God’s name to justify this system. I’m so done with that.
All that aside though, I didn’t mean to leave my church in 2016. It just ….happened. I was just as surprised as anyone else. I took some time off to change jobs and rest a bit, including absence on Sunday mornings for a variety of reasons. When I asked to get back onto the schedule for church musicians, my queries were met with….crickets. My husband had stopped going anyway (for several of reasons), so it seemed like a clear indication that our time there was done.
I consider my faith to be important and central to my life, but I have struggled in the past 2 years to see “church” as a central practice. At the same time, I deeply miss the sacraments and having fellowship with fellow believers. It’s just hard to know how to start “dating” a church again when I know how exhausting that process will be.
I haven’t been to church in nearly two years. When I was reading Lisa Gungor’s description of the questions she could not ask in Church, I nodded along. The Problem of Evil is lurking at the basis of her doubt, and any theologian who tries to hand-wave away the depths of evil, death, and pain in human experience loses respect from me immediately. The older I am, the more horrified I am by poverty, murder, school shooting, abuse, rape, discrimination, racism….. not to mention disease, cancer, death. The Bible doesn’t give any glib answers to this. Why therefore do so many churches refuse to allow its people to wrestle?
I have a friend who’s struggled to accept their sexual orientation. They have also – understandably – struggle with their faith, and with the idea that God answers prayer. This friend begged God to take away their same-sex attraction, but He has never provided relief. Is God a hateful Father to create someone who loves people of their own gender, and then condemn them as sinful? The most faith-rocking experiences in my world stem from knowing several people who are gay, lesbian, bi, or transgender who are also (sometimes) people of faith. My marriage to Evangelicalism fell apart when I realized I was being asked to act hatefully toward people whom I love, and whom I believe God loves.
To have faith, you must confront doubt. You have to lay it all out on the table and be honest about it. You have to own up to the questions. Look, if you’ve never wondered HOW you “know” that God is real, are you even a thinking human? Do you honestly just swallow anything anyone tells you?
I’m not saying “throw out your faith.” I’m saying, Recognize that ‘faith’ is subjective.
If God is in relationship with me — and I genuinely believe that He is — then I have to give Him the room to do whatever He decides He’s going to do. I also have to be honest about my own questions and acknowledge the ambiguity in that relationship and in the way the Bible uses many different genres to express complex and nuanced ideas that I don’t always understand. Every church I’ve been in cannot handle a Bible text that isn’t iron-clad inspired, sparklingly clear in its statements, and applied with gale-force wind to the lives of people sitting through a 45-minute lecture on a weekly basis.
If you think Christianity is some easy cut-and-dried process, then…. good for you? I think you’re nuts.
“My perspective is I’m trying to live in the way of love and the way of Jesus the best I know how. I know I don’t have it all right, but I love the way of Jesus. I don’t have a definition for that.”
I don’t know what to call it either, Lisa, but I’m right here with you. Whoever said that people get more conservative as they get older apparently didn’t live the life of a GenX woman who’s just now waking up to a whole lot of questions.