Have you ever felt like you were being sold a bill of goods that was expected to deliver a needed result, only to have that small knot in your stomach pinch your spine sending sparks all the way to your brain hissing that perhaps… just perhaps… you shouldn’t sign on the dotted line?
Yup. Been there.
Too often I haven’t listened. More often lately, I have.
Here’s the thing: intuition is only as honest as our whole being. While some people insist on their graves that our intuitions *always* tell us the truth, and we should *always* listen to those little voices inside of us, I can’t sign on that dotted line. Not anymore anyway. It’s another bill of goods that doesn’t deliver.
The communal practice of faith sometimes gives way to fantastic expectations of God, other people and ourselves. And by fantastic I mean “God’s going to turn the sky purple at my request, simply because I believe!” (or believe correctly).
It seems like I lived in faithfulness on one end of the spectrum, believing God was going to perform for me. I mean, She died for ME after all. It never occurred to me that perhaps my perceptions of God were tainted more by the theology of the Middle Ages on down. Jesus really doesn’t literally speak of penal substitutionary atonement, but to be a good Christian meant to hyper-individualize Him, make Him my own, and be personally accountable for every single one of my sins.
Not only that, but I was somehow responsible for my sinful nature too. If I just accepted God’s forgiveness (as interpreted by Euro-centric, evangelical teachings), that sin supposedly disappeared. If I just believed the correct doctrine of the Scriptures, God would fulfill promises in my life because now I understood Her reason.
Some folks said I’d speak in tongues or see money pour into my bank account for no reason. If these things didn’t happen, it was my own sinful fault — not enough faith. If these things hadn’t happened yet, God was simply teaching me to wait. But believe you me, material wealth was precisely want God wanted for me. ME!
But the veneer wore off quickly when I was unable to speak in tongues or magically produce unexplained cash. I was on the outs. My fault. My sin.
Some folks said I needed to memorize more Scripture, highlight more Bible verses (because a worn Bible is the classic sign of a faithful Christian), listen to godly teachers, accept grace instead of legalism (except this grace was beginning to smell kind of legal… paper pads and all), pray, know my place in the church structure (a reflection of the created order), and doctrine, doctrine, doctrine.
Am I glad I learned Scripture?
Yes. I won’t deny it.
But for some it was never enough. There was never enough memorization, exegesis, godly hermeneutic, a ‘plain reading’ of the text, or adherence to strong Reformed, neo-Calvinist teachers. When I began to balk at much of the doctrine I had signed on to, I was met with more Bible verses proof-texting why I was sinning. My fault. My sin.
It’s difficult to write posts like this for many reasons. One reason is that I can come off sounding like a poor little victim. While I won’t deny true, genuine spiritual abuse in the lives of many, my experience has been more the backlash of fundamentalism after stretching my need for God. I was certainly a victim of some vicious email attacks, nasty comments, and people wanting to befriend me but really wanted little more than to bring me back into the fold.
The last thing I want is to give off a foul odour of false victimhood. However the flip side to nice-fying my story is I become at best vague and, at worst, dishonest. People aren’t coming at me with torches and pitchforks right this second, but neither will I cover up what happened to me either. Will I sound “Awww, poor me!” sometimes? Probably. Will I sound evasive and even supportive of systems I left? Yup. Striking a balance 100% of the time is impossible. Growth is anything but linear.
Another reason posts like this are difficult is because I can sound like I’m throwing a lot of precious babies out with some very questionable bathwater. As I said, I’m glad I was raised to learn the Bible at home, at school, in college. Would I say that the amount of memorization is directly proportionate to the level of osmosis into my system creating a stable foundation for faith (or F = oM2; Foundation = osmosis x memorization squared)?
But diving into history, poetry, narrative, letters… here is a part of my spiritual heritage. Here I find many words pointing to The Word — Christ.
I engaged in many forms and styles of music; I experienced the need for humans to gather communally; I learned to explore depths of God, even as a child; I encountered imperfect people who were kind, generous, and life-affirming; I learned that such things brought us to life together. Would I toss out these treasures because I became frustrated with the status quo?
Here’s where I am: drifting a bit, rootless in some aspects of identity. Some days I don’t want to have anything to do with God or Her bible. It’s been shoved up my butt too much. But then I wander about life for a bit, and God is… here. Not where I plan on looking but even when I deliberately shut out the painful aspects of faith, God shows up anyway.
Logic kicks in.
There is no God. No fairy godfather in the sky. How could there be? Be realistic!
And I am.
And that scares me.
For here’s the other end of the spectrum I seem to be swinging back and forth on: blind adherence on one end, and total cynicism on the other. If I’m seeing God in unexpected places, it’s because my brain has been taught to do so without question. If I’m intelligent about it, I’ll understand that God has nothing to do with these things, but rather the quality sides of humanity. (ah, logic does have its own air of hubris, doesn’t it?)
But I’m cynical even here. If this is all there is then, if humanity is the standard, wow… we’re through. How disappointing.
I think it seems to me that we all go through periods of Miracle Magic — religion, natural spirituality, science, whatever your story is. We want our deepest and most profound beliefs to result in tangible fruit for everyone’s eyes to see, including our own. We want to be right; we want to be affirmed; we want to prove we aren’t wasting our lives. When others aren’t producing, we shun and reject. When we aren’t producing, we wander. We reject ourselves.
I still want to believe in God. I still love Jesus.
I’ve said quarrelsome things about traditionalist evangelical doctrine, sometimes because I am hurt and angry, and other times because I am truly growing away from it. And like any birth, there is pain in the separation.
No answers here today.
No miracle magic.
Simple here together where we are.