Welcome to my second installment of What I Believe. In my last post I broke up with my church, the one I have loved, and been loved by, for a solid decade. The philosophical shifts that have brought us to this point are less about this church in particular and more about our entire understanding of life and truth. Most foundational in these shifts is what modern writers have been calling “embracing the mystery.”
It was a lot less fun to get here than you might think. But in the end, more rewarding than I expected. I’ve never felt so free.
As always, it’s not my intent to offend. This is my journey, mine alone. These are my thoughts and ideas, and for once in my life, I don’t need to convert anyone to it.
I used to live in a world that was black and white with a slim margin of grey. I shook my head at those who didn’t have quite as much grey as I did, and called them Legalists. I worried about those whose black and white was more smudged than mine, and thought them weak.
I remember being frustrated with these smudge-y people, who refused to play the game right. They would duck and weave their way past labels and positions and absolutes. Blithely shrugging their shoulders, as if “I don’t know” were an acceptable answer.
Until my husband – the missionary, the apologist, the solid, unswerving intellect of our operation – began wrestling, questioning and dismantling his theological boxes. Some that had never held water for him anyway; he’d always believed in evolution and women’s equality. But now it was all on the table. Hell. Gay rights. End times. Inerrancy of the Bible. Truth in other religions. Even the existence of God. It was scary and uncomfortable questioning the foundations of our whole world – in practice, the very opposite of weak.
It was hard for him to say anything, to anyone. He doesn’t like to think out loud. After years of chewing on revolutionary questions, conclusions had yet to emerge for him. Just angst. Layers of irritated, depressing angst. So he opened up to me anyway. Finally. Hesitantly.
As if I would be surprised.
I hadn’t read all the books on all the subjects like he had. I hadn’t agonized over all the issues for years. But I had felt the same restless discomfort. That the Jesus I knew from the Bible didn’t fit within the strictures of our evangelical traditions. That the “us & them” mentality pervading it was toxic and untrue. That the certainties we were expected to maintain at all costs were dishonest and unreasonable.
So I read the books and had the discussions and did my share of agonizing… I was surprised to find that the “other sides” weren’t ignoring the Bible or explaining it away, just filtering it through a different perspective. Sometimes it fit for me, sometimes it didn’t, but nothing was clear anymore. I slayed my sacred cows and the world kept on spinning.
Taking into account the width and depth of Christian perspectives, it is quickly apparent that sincere, intelligent God-followers – experts, scholars and the earliest church thinkers – have come to radically different conclusions about the same scriptures, the same Christ, the same questions, throughout history. Certain positions that seem foundational, non-negotiable within church tradition are eventually discarded as ridiculous: flat earth, racism, conversion by conquest, slavery… to name just a few.
The oft repeated “the Bible is clear about _______” begins to sound suspicious. Because more often than we like to admit, the Bible is confusing, even alarming, requiring a certain amount of mental gymnastics to harmonize. Because the Bible, set in both an ancient time and a foreign culture, is not easy to understand or apply in a modern context. Because the Bible, as meaningful and important as it is, requires human interpretation, something that is deeply fallible and hardly ever clear.
Could it be that “I don’t know” is the ONLY acceptable answer?
I have emerged from this haze of questions. Not with the conclusions I expected, clear positions and easy-to-read labels for new boxes. With freedom. With peace. That I might be, and most certainly am in some areas, wrong. That I don’t have all the answers. That I don’t have to have all the answers. That when Jesus summed it all up in one sentence: “love God and love others” He meant it.
Can it be that simple? To choose love. Every time. Every issue.
I know that this answer is too smudge-y for many of you, more poetry than equation. But our sacred book is made up of poetry, history, allegory, ancient laws and ultimately grace – not math. Jesus was always more interested in the heart of the matter, in the heart of a person, than in drawing lines and creating policy.
So I’m not sure anymore. About a lot of things. Not like I used to be. But that’s what faith is for.
So here’s my confession, I don’t believe what I used to. I don’t consider myself an evangelical or fit neatly into any denominational box.
But I still believe. In God. In Jesus. In learning from the Bible. In finding a spiritual community. In buying fair trade and wearing sensible shoes. In love, over and above, around and under, as the fabric of who God is and who I am meant to be.
Still to come:
Embracing a Bigger Gospel
What is Progressive Christianity Anyway?