15Sep
Rainbow over Niagara Falls

A Signature Faith

Faith and I have hit a rough patch lately. It’s only the five zillionth time or so that I’ve found myself alternately doubting God and storming against him; my inner teenager is determined to become a proper heathen, I think. In these times when my thoughts about religion smolder and char, the Bible reacts like gasoline, every word going up in an angry blaze. (I’m a joy to have at church, can you tell?) And anyway, I’ve never bought into Sola Scriptura for the same reason that I don’t believe Fox News when it claims to be the only unbiased channel—conflict of interest and all. I just cannot bring myself to blindly trust a source alleging to be the only truth.

So I sift through experience and impressions, listen to my instincts, taste the air for clues. I don’t have God’s character figured out, but I have to trust at least this: that he left his imprint on creation, that some remote corner of me bears his signature. And when I tune out theology altogether, I can almost start to make it out.

The first belief I find inked onto my heart is heaven. Doctrinally, the subject has always made me feel homesick and even miserable—hard golden streets and individual mansions in the sky for God’s groupies. No, no, no, my soul whispers. You were made for trees, whole unscarred forests of trees, and waterfalls and snowcapped mountains at sunrise. You were made to climb inside of symphonies and breathe art. And the puzzle pieces lock together in my mind: the moments I find myself on the cusp of pure creative energy… the healing, cleansing effects of beauty… this drive for more, always more out of life… the profound sensation that this world is broken… These compel me more than decades of sermons could that we were meant for eternity.

The other thing I can’t help believing, no matter how I feel about God, is Jesus. Maybe this makes no sense considering the Bible and I aren’t on speaking terms, but everything he said and did resonates so strongly with me and has so little to do odious churchy representations of him that I feel I must have always known him. I believe in him, not because I was told to (which only makes me want to go vandalize something), but because he wasn’t repulsed by doubt or greed or prostitution or shame or immaturity or nakedness or insanity. Because his commitment to world peace and soul-honesty would have offended many of the uppity religious personas today who profess to follow him. Because he drew people’s perspectives away from materialism and perfectionism toward extravagant generosity and fierce acceptance. Because he was radically different from anyone’s expectations and had love strong enough to forgive the people who butchered him.

The idea of heaven is counterintuitive to our five senses, and a kick-ass Jesus is counterintuitive to our religious traditions, and somehow, this helps convince me that they are true. And if these two things are the shape of God’s signature, then this helps convince me that faith is worth every minute of struggle.

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6 comments

  1. Have you ever heard the expression “Jesus opened his mouth and out came God; Paul opened his mouth and out came The Church?” An old religious studies prof of mine (who used to be a monk, so he’s got his bone fides on both sides of the fence) said it once and it always stuck with me.

  2. Wow. How very well said. I cannot profess to a “struggle” more to indifference. I disregard so much of religion because of the hypocritical nature of the institution, and I choose to believe what resonates. You have put words to what resonates with me. I have never really been able to do that. Thank you.

    I also love Jennifer’s quote above!

  3. girl, seriously why are you on the other side of the world? you often are able to express similar thoughts/feelings about religioni (but way more eloquently might I add) I’ve gotten to a place where all things “christian” make me nauseous. And wait did you use kick-ass and jesus in the same sentence? :)
    on a completely different note, madi and I were looking at a map tonight and she wanted to know the names of the continents. After saying “Europe” she started giggling and said “mommy THAT is a silly word”. thought you might appreciate that.

  4. Did you ever try Transcendentalism or Buddhism? I personally am a mutt. I draw from Transcendentalism, Buddhism, Quakerism, and some of Carl Jung’s philosophies. You may think, “Carl Jung? He doesn’t have anything to do with religion”, but for me it works.

  5. You know, sometimes I wish I was able to simply trust ‘sola scriptura’ – it must be nice. It must be nice to not have question marks peppering your brain – and heart. I try to be grateful for whatever struggle I have, and I have to remember, always, that the gift of faith He’s given me is MY journey. He’s given me this lovely brain to think, and my heart to love what I love. I’m through fighting my heart and fearing that what I love is not enough, or good. I can’t define myself by others’ definition of what is Christian and what is not. (Such as, cussing in Bible study. I am pretty much considered Jezebel at this point, I think.) I know the truth that He’s revealed to me, and I try very hard not to get caught up in the fact that my journey looks so different from the template. Not to mention I think it takes great courage to be HONEST in our faith journey, to kick our feet against the rails, to say, “I am having a hard time.” I think your belief is in the essentials, and thank our loving God for that. I just adore the quote Jennifer shared. I swear – and I should know, as I dwell in the Bible Belt – that more Christians seem to worship the Word than Jesus, so many times. I’ve always – ALWAYS – had a hard time with the Bible. But I do love many things that come out of it, and yet I know that I personally can’t let it be the Alpha and Omega – that title goes to Another.

    Oh heavens. What a load of thoughts I’ve landed here, but I know you understand. I think we need a Skype Bible study. :)

  6. Profile photo of Bethany

    Jennifer – I like that quote a lot. I suppose it helps that I like both Jesus and Paul (now that I’ve found a Bible translation that didn’t make him sound like a misogynist jerk).

    Megsie – I really do get that. Religious institutions and traditions are so far from relevant to me — at least during this stage of life — but I’m starting to trust that God made our hearts resonate with what’s real and worth believing.

    Erica – I was getting to the “Christian” = nausea point before the elections, but the crazy religion-fueled hatred against Obama really pushed it over the edge for me. I’m pretty sure 50% of my Facebook contacts would happily join the Crusades tomorrow if given the opportunity. Oy vey.

    Maureen – “Mutt” is a pretty accurate term for a lot of us, I think… drawing what works best for us from different religious practices and interpretations (or even just different denominations).

    Jezebel – I have to think that if people are going by a template for faith, they’re missing the whole point of a “personal relationship with Christ” (religious buzzphrase, but still). I also have to think that if someone has no misgivings about the Bible, he or she is not reading the same one I am. I guess you could call us believing cynics? No, no, you cuss in Bible study — you’re a straight-up pagan. :)

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