Tag Archives: faith

Waking up to questions you didn’t realize you had

This article in Relevant Magazine (Jul-Aug 2018) wrecked me today.

The Evolving Faith of Lisa Gungor – RELEVANT Magazine

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.

On Civic Trust: “Teach Us (How) to Trust” | Comment Magazine

Wise words from one of my favorite authors:

When suspicion is the water in which we swim, then power, might, and tyranny start to look like lifeboats.

Closer to home, though, the source of mistrust might be more quotidian and bottom-up. In some ways, our distrust is the outcome of our own perceived cleverness. We’re so smart and “in the know” that we end up not trusting anyone who isn’t us. We see through everything, cultivating a knowing distance above the fray, deflating any manifestations of passion and sincerity as scams and facades. So the enlightened posture of the hipster has more social consequences than we might realize. The cause in this case is subjective: a corrosive individualism swells our self-interest, with ripple effects of suspicion. Our loneliness—”bowling alone”—is not a result of mistrust, but a cause. Where cynicism and irony are the last virtues, the web of trust is torn. It’s lonely in the cage of wink-and-nod “authenticity.”

Source: Editorial: Teach Us (How) to Trust | Comment Magazine

Approaching the “Can’t Even”

I’ve been largely silent for most of the past several months both here and in much of social media. One part of that reticence flows from my growing feeling that I don’t have anything to say that’s worth taking your time and attention to read. That’s a complex set of feelings and thoughts which I will not take time to unpack here.

But for the past 2 months or so, the pall of the 2016 election has hung over my mind and contributed to my unwillingness to write.

The last time I gave much of a damn about politics, it was 1988 and I was a middle schooler fascinated by the race between HW Bush and Dukakis. I wrote a fun ditty making fun of some of Dukakis’s positions and mailed it to Vice President Bush. Probably because I was a kid, his office nicely responded on official White House stationery to thank me for the letter, and I stored the signed letter in my photo album for safekeeping. I followed politics voraciously from 1987-1988, then dropped it. I’m not really sure if it was just adolescent ADD or a wise-beyond-my-years intuition that politics is primarily bullshit and power-mongering, two things I hate more than nearly anything else.

I grew up in a household of former Democrats who found themselves voting Republican due to social issues, where soft racism was de rigueur but not supported by an ideology of hate to give it root. The Gulf War was good, for it was a show of American might; Bill Clinton was a lying scoundrel. As I moved into college, where Republican policy was equivalent to God’s own morality, Bill Clinton advanced to the status of Anti-Christ and “God’s judgment on America.” I remember Dr Bob in chapel exhorting us on the eve of the 1996 election to beseech God to spare America from having to endure four more years of that heathen in charge. God apparently didn’t see fit to intervene, or maybe He too was bored to tears by Bob Dole and decided to just let things run their course. Either way, the economy prospered during Clinton’s second term, Clinton shocked everyone with brazen denial of oral sex in the Oval Office (I really hope they fumigate those rooms before the next President moves in, you know?), and America survived to endure the 2000 “hanging chad” election debacle. Regardless, I’d moved on.

I’ve spent my life in education, not politics, on purpose. I feel like i can get somewhere in education; maybe not in the realm of policy (who the hell thought this assessment-driven disaster was a good direction for public education?!) but at least in individual lives.

For years I’ve avoided the political news cycle other than to stay informed as a citizen. I’ve written the occasional email to my representatives, usually for local or state issues, and watched the national circus from the sidelines. If America were to follow Britain’s example and limit the campaign season to 3 months, I’d cry with joy. This circus is shameful, self-aggrandizing. It’s everything that’s the worst of America’s adolescent age.

But Trump? this is a new level of horror. To watch a boorish, rude, egocentric, power-hungry narcissist step into the office of President and thrash about with his base appeals to the lowest common denominator of American culture … I can’t even.

I literally. can’t. even.

How do we live in the era of “Can’t Even”? That’s been the thought simmering in the back of my mind these past several weeks. A friend on Facebook added me to his “Resist45” Facebook group for local community organization and resistance to destructive Trumpism. Other than standing on a corner with a sign, nobody there has brought forward a concrete plan for change, for taking those baby steps out of my comfortable house into my neighborhood to “work for change.”

But this posture of fear and disgust and indifference is ultimately a lack of faith on my part. I was thinking today, on this day when we celebrate the legacy of MLK Jr and his fearless pursuit of justice at a time when the prevailing culture had little stomach for it, that the people of God have usually lived in the Time Of Can’t Even. A remnant of godly Israelites wept by the shores of Babylon and sang David’s psalms with little hope of seeing their homeland again. The Romans, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Philistines all stomped through the land where the believers in Yahweh lived, and God’s counsel to them was never to despair. How dare I simmer in my own discontent?

Jesus came preaching that His Kingdom is not of this world. But understand: The heavenly reality of God’s rule does not absolve us from earthly work. Instead, it grounds us in a deeper foundation of Justice whose name is also Yahweh-Yireh, the God Who Provides. We serve El – Roi, the God Who Sees both Hagar, tormented and neglected by the man and woman who should have cared for her, as well as those whom we allow by our apathy to be eaten up by the powerful of this world in their pursuit of riches and glory.

There are no neutral decisions. Whether I get paper or plastic at BiLo affects the mountain of non-degradable trash sickening our planet. The choice forces me to consider the consequences of living in America’s “disposable” culture. I’m wasteful; I’m complacent. I buy more than I need. I buy clothes that could not be so cheap unless they were sewn in a sweatshop in Indonesia by people who’s lives are marked by misery and hunger and oppression.

And why am I even buying clothes? My closet is full, while my grandparents (and parents, when they were children) owned a mere handful of garments – so little that everything could fit in a “wardrobe” (if they owned one) with space for maybe 10 hangers and a few drawers. This consumption and capitalism of ours is foolishness, a chasing after wind. Go read Ecclesiastes. Even the king dies. What happens to everything he owns? A fool inherits it. It does him no good in Sheol, where he’s going.

I don’t know how I’m going to live in “Trump’s America.” The thought still turns my stomach, honestly. But to disengage, to indulge myself in the “can’t evens,” is faithless and cowardly.

A dear friend once commented that the Holy Spirit was challenging her on her addiction to peace, peace for herself at any cost. She was facing a difficult period with her sons and every day was a horrible battle of wills full of anger and fear and pain. In that context, no one could blame her for just trying to “keep the peace.” But that is where the Spirit pressed her. Doing what is best for others and for the Kingdom often requires sacrificing our peace, the longing we have to remain where things are comfortable and safe.

I do not know what it will look like for me to live in Trump’s America, but I’m confident that “loving my neighbor” will be more important than ever. And since “Grace always costs the giver,” I pray that I will have the courage to love. I invite you to challenge me, friends, to embody that sentiment in action, not mere words.

the-ultimate-measure-of-a-man

Article: “Goodbye Evangelicalism” | exhaleinexhile

This blog post really resonates with me right now.  Recommended. Feel free to dialogue via comments.

Goodbye Evangelicalism.

“Historically, this fixation on absolute certainty is a rather recent development in the course of Christianity. It is primarily the result of the Enlightenment and the evangelical response to scientific evidence. But for me, there is much more uncertainty in this world that has to be acknowledged within us before true transformation can occur. Being “right” rarely has anything to do with being true. And, the more I studied the earliest Christians, the more I found that they were less preoccupied with believing the “right” things and were primarily concerned with loving each other as an expression of the truth they found in a Person rather than fixed ideas. This led me to conclude that I could no longer exchange the essential art of critical thinking for foundationalist epistemology.”

Link: For the well-meaning Christian: humility in listening.

An excellent read for many reasons.I’ll list this one:

I think many of us Christians come across as more interested in “being right” than in truly loving other people. Dani’s post about how to really listen in humility to someone who has left the faith may challenge your long-held habits — an even better reason to read it.

For the well-meaning Christian: humility in listening..

Questions, Doubt, and Faith: Reading Faith Unraveled by Rachel Held Evans

Held Evans is a bit of a controversy in Evangelicalism these days.  She’s on Christian-world radar because of her posts that challenge commonly held opinions about gender roles in the church, Christian responses to homosexuality, the creation-evolution debates, and universalism.  I’m pretty sure I could go type her name into my status Facebook status bar right now and spawn about 15 comments.  I’d guess that at least half would be negative, and of those, 2 or 3 would be downright derogatory and dismissive without even considering whatever point I was bringing up.

RHE is a lightning rod.  No argument from me.  So I picked up her 2010 spiritual memoir Faith Unraveled and read it today. Straight through, one sitting.

I may not agree with everything Evans believes. I strongly doubt that I do.  But I applaud her journey through doubt, her willingness to ask hard questions without accepting pat answers, her desire to seek faith in the midst of ambiguity.

Faith Unraveled is a book about doubt and a book about faith.  Both-and, not one supplanting the other.  Her narrative about leaving the intellectually-driven Evangelical world-view Christianity and wandering in a desert of uncertainty doesn’t match my story, but it resonates with me.  We’ve asked many of the same questions; it’s just that mine came in a different order.

Rachel’s Christian faith unraveled when she smacked hard into the Problem of Evil but couldn’t swallow the easy answers — that we should overlook hard questions about genocide in the Old Testament, about hell and the afterlife, about the horrors of war or rape or abuse because God’s plan turns evil to good.   It’s easy to flip out that answer as if it makes rape not rape, or genocide not genocide, or Hurricane Katrina not horrible. (I created my own dust-up about this topic after reading N D Wilson’s book Notes from a Tilt-a-whirl.)

And Evans’s doubt-story centers in the heart of the painful, terrifying question — what kind of God does Evangelical Christianity offer if He destroys 200,000 humans in a tsunami or entire Canaanite cities without a pang of sorrow?  “They were going to Hell anyway” is hardly an appropriate response, but it’s what Evans heard from many of her Christian friends. And I’ve heard it too.

And all of my years of seminary coursework taught me there’s more nuance and ambiguity in the biblical texts than many of the hot Christian authors or preachers are willing to live with.

I could hand Rachel Held Evans’s book to my friends who are searching, doubting, agnostic, uncertain, wounded, or even hostile and I believe her words would open doors to good conversations about the difficult spaces within my Christian faith.

I’ll leave you with a few passages that stuck out to me, and a recommendation to read for yourself, whether the book or the controversial blog.

From Faith Unraveled (I read on Kindle, so I don’t have page numbers):

My friend Adele describes fundamentalism as holding so tightly to your beliefs that your fingernails leave imprints on the palm of your hand.

We would all like to believe that had we lived in the days of the early church or the Protestant Reformation, we would have chosen the side of truth, but in nearly every case, this would have required a deep questioning of the fundamental teachings of the time. It would have required a willingness to change. We must be wary of imitating the Pharisees, who bragged that had they lived during the time of the prophets, they would have protected the innocent (see Matt. 23:30), but who then plotted against Jesus and persecuted his disciples.

Evolution [as a believer] means letting go of our false fundamentals so that God can get into those shadowy places we’re not sure we want him to be. It means being okay with being wrong, okay with not having all the answers, okay with never being finished.

To Jesus, “by faith alone” did not mean “by belief alone.” To Jesus, faith was invariably linked to obedience.

Some Christians are more offended by the idea of everyone going to heaven than by the idea of everyone going to hell.

What if I’m wrong? It was a question loaded with uncertainty, possibility, and hope, and it was a question to which I often would return. To be wrong about God is the condition of humanity, for better or for worse.

In the end, it was doubt that saved my faith.

God’s ways are higher than our ways not because he is less compassionate than we are but because he is more compassionate than we can ever imagine.

I can never open my Bible without being aware of my own presence beside it. It reminds me that I’m always there, that I cannot read a word of this glorious, God-breathed book without bringing myself along, baggage and all.

Perhaps our love for the Bible should be measured not by how valiantly we fight to convince others of our interpretations but by how diligently we work to preserve a diversity of opinion.

I am convinced that what drives most people away from Christianity is not the cost of discipleship but rather the cost of false fundamentals.

Taking on the yoke of Jesus is not about signing a doctrinal statement or making an intellectual commitment to a set of propositions. It isn’t about being right or getting our facts straight. It is about loving God and loving other people.

Doubt is a difficult animal to master because it requires that we learn the difference between doubting God and doubting what we believe about God. The former has the potential to destroy faith; the latter has the power to enrich and refine it. The former is a vice; the latter a virtue

Sometimes Christians worry that if we don’t provide bullet-point answers to all of life’s questions, people will assume that our faith is unreasonable. In reaction to very loud atheists like Richard Dawkins, we have become a bit too loud ourselves. Faith in Jesus has been recast as a position in a debate, not a way of life.

Most of the people I’ve encountered are looking not for a religion to answer all their questions but for a community of faith in which they can feel safe asking them.

Yes.  The Truth is big enough to handle your questions. Your hard, agonizing, terrifying doubts and what-if’s about God and the Universe and How Things Work.

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Get a copy of Rachel’s book on Amazon (affiliate)