25May

Untethered

I don’t know where to start writing about this, even just for myself. It’s too big for me, too heavy, and my soul just wants to stretch out on a beach chair in some blissfully deserted part of the world and fall asleep to the sound of waves. How do I write through where I am now without coming across as fickle or, as more than one person has suggested, deluded?

It’s true—my perspective was warped by years of religious brainwashing and abuse in God’s name—but if nothing else, growing up with people who swallowed someone else’s ideology taught me not to do the same. I refuse to adopt a belief system just because others tell me to, and that applies to Christianity as well. Have I ever believed in God because my own story and experiences led me there? Have I ever even had that option?

I once thought that every good thing that happened to me was an act of divine benevolence. Scholarships, job offers, relationships, fast recoveries, relationships—each a personalized stamp of God’s approval and generosity.  What does that mean for my friends who had to work their way through college though? What of my friends living off of unemployment? What of those who didn’t meet Mr. Right or never recovered or had their homes destroyed by a natural disaster or went bankrupt or lost a child? Where I used to see God’s puppet strings, I now see coincidence because I can’t deal with the implications of an all-powerful benefactor playing favorites.

It doesn’t mean God isn’t good. Rachel Held Evans wrote about the same internal debate, and I’m relieved to know that the struggle isn’t confined to my own head and that others have found other ways of measuring God’s goodness. In nature, for instance, I can’t help seeing the beauty of its blueprint… but I don’t see perfection, and I don’t see personal intention. Whether the sky cooperates for someone’s outdoor wedding or a hurricane devastates thousands of families, I simply see a flawed universe set to random.

And I understand now more than ever why some Christians I know cling to their beliefs at the expense of everything else in their lives, even peace of mind. Coming untethered from a doctrinal picket line is a frightening experience, and there is only a hairline difference between feeling liberated and feeling lost (I tend to vacillate between the two). I can’t turn off my questions any more than I can turn off my instinct to breathe, but I wish I could. Some days, I am absolutely certain I would choose unthinking acceptance over this mind that tracks down holes more easily than it does happiness.

I have problems with a lot of people who claim to take their marching orders directly from God, and this casts doubt on the whole notion of a converted life (at least a life converted from assholery). I have even bigger problems with the Bible, questions that I fear have no answers aside from churchy platitudes, and as much as I might want to, I cannot sincerely subscribe to the whole traditional Christianity package. I cannot accept that a loving God created people for heaven and then set their defaults to hell. I cannot believe that a Jesus who taught turning the other cheek represents the same deity who went around wiping out heathen nations in the Old Testament. I cannot see my way past the violence or the inconsistencies or the staggering injustice of what some call the “Good News.” I just can’t.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where this leaves me. I’m not rejecting faith, but I can’t flash a denominational membership card either, and even the space just beyond the old tether’s radius is unfamiliar territory. My biggest hope is that God isn’t tied to the picket line either and that my uncertain journey forward will bring us face to face, maybe in an open-air café without closing hours where he can answer every question I’ve ever penned in my journal or posed to uncomprehending pastors or sensed without being able to articulate. More than anything, I want God to be real and different than I was always told, and I think this longing counts as faith for me right now. And if I am simply deluded, I  pray I’ll eventually stumble across that beach chair.

 

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19 comments

  1. Bless you for being willing to risk sharing this! It resonates with me–I was a not-quite-fundie evangelical for my whole life until I was well into my thirties, but secretly in my heart, I was hoping that Jesus and the economy of salvation was more like Aslan and Narnia. I don’t know if you’re ever read the Chronicles, but they were the underpinnings of my faith for decades, even as a sat in a pew and heard differently. You of course have your own journey to make, but I will let you know that after three years of gut-wrenching searching, I found my home as a Catholic. And the more I learn, the more relieved I feel, that what I so deeply wanted to be true, really is true. I wish you the best, wherever you find your heart’s home.

  2. This is an AMAZING post and I’m so glad you wrote it. I can’t seem to articulate my feelings on the subject without #1 humor or #2 sarcasm #3 criticism or a combination of the 3. If I felt inclined to write about it at length I’d like to write it just as you did here. Brava! And I now have a new favorite word: assholery. LOL

  3. Forgot to sub. . .

  4. So, so beautiful. This resonates with me a great deal. I didn’t grow up in a conservative church, but I did have a pretty traditional view of things until I took a theology class in college. I now like to call myself a progressive Christian — God IS love, and we are all embodiments of that love, as is the space in which we live.

    At church recently, I heard someone say that God has been writing the book of divinity on Earth for millenia in the canyons and rivers and oceans. The Bible is only a small slice that someone thought to write down – and chances are good they didn’t get it exactly right ;).

    You have a tribe! I’m sure of it. I’d like to be part of it. If you really want to hear someone from within the establishment who reaches way outside the box, read Bishop John Spong. “Why Christianity Must Change or Die” was the first one I read and it really spoke to me at a time where I was feeling exiled.

  5. Thank you for this! It was beautiful! You’re not alone!

  6. This is such a wise post, Bethany. I am in complete agreement, which I think is why I have not found a church to subject my children to…I can never find one that is not “churchy” and I wish I could. I may have to read the book Nicole suggested. It sounds fascinating. Thank you for sharing your wise, wise words! xo

  7. Thanks for sharing. It is unbelievably difficult to dwell in a place of not knowing; it’s nice to know that at the very least, I’m not standing here all alone. I’ve been struggling with many of these same issues (particularly surrounding the Bible) for nearly a decade now, and I can’t tell you how much I miss the feeling of certainty. I miss knowing what to say.

    All through my childhood I was told that the real struggle in life is to keep your mind on heavenly things, to avoid the distractions and temptations presented by “the world.” As an adult, I feel particularly stung by that lie. Maybe more than anything else, I miss the “higher” thoughts that gave my mind a break from the endlessness of food, shelter, sex, survival. I can’t give up my new understanding, but if I can find any way to jazz it up a with a sprinkling of minor miracles I will certainly jump on the opportunity. For now, the only truth that I am certain of is that reality is very, very boring.

  8. I think you said it best here: “I want God to be real and different than I was always told”…and it’s my belief that WE are “God”, that God is IN us and in OUR actions. It’s our hearts that matter. That’s faith for you. XOXO for this post, Bethany.

  9. Oh, B. I just wanna give you a big hug right now. My heart hurts for you. But I know you have to figure these things out on your own. What can I say that’s encouraging? You are truly seeking Him, B. And I believe you will find Him. Love.

  10. I keep leaving comments and then an error code comes up. Grrr. I am sure my previous comments were better than this one because now I don’t remember everything I already said.

    Thank you for this. This post is so full of wisdom and thoughtfulness and is a topic that I am sure resonates with so many – so many that don’t have the voice to do what you have done so well here. You are so inspiring Bethany, in so many ways.

  11. I thought Bono had some great thoughts on the topic of God, religion, and salvation. His thoughts on the Old Testament and how the OT God connects to the NT Jesus are particularly apropos to this post. Enjoy! http://www.thepoachedegg.net/the-poached-egg/2010/09/bono-interview-grace-over-karma.html

  12. Yes. Just yes. This is where I’m at. I don’t really believe, or know what to believe. But I have a strange longing for more, and a sense of mystery and happiness in my sons baptism this morning.

  13. oh dear friend, these rhythms throb and ache and i wish there was something magical to say to make it stop, transform, transcend…anything other than sit there and just torment. sometimes i hate the solitary routes this journey can take, and yet it’s here that we become stripped and bare and it’s a rite of passage, so to speak.

    let me share something i just discovered today that i think will resonate deeply with you (read what the artist writes about each one):

    http://www.etsy.com/listing/74985708/trapped-original-drawing?ref=v1_other_1

    http://www.etsy.com/listing/59559808/cave-print

  14. Yes. Absolutely. I am so with you on so much of this, and feeling this way together is something I wish we could share over coffee in the same time zone, not across the oceans and miles. I think that God is still Emanuel, with us, even when we’re walking alone. (Or like me, barely crawling.)

  15. This hasn’t been my journey, but I do appreciate it. Hence, in many ways I feel like I’m not much good in trying to relate, because my struggles have been the opposite. (A contented sense, if you will, that is sometimes just as terrible as not having it.) But this was in my devotional just the other morning, from Madeleine L’Engle, and it’s the best way I know how I could say that from someone who doesn’t struggle with this, I affirm your journey, your questions, and your desire to sit down in that cafe. In the very least, the last line may make you smile:

    “When our children were born, two things happened simultaneously. We cleaned up our language; we had been careless about four-letter words–I’d been rather proud of those I picked up from stage hands; we no longer used them indiscriminately. And we discovered that we did not want our children to grow up in a world which was centered on man to the exclusion of God. We did know that bedtime prayers were not enough and that it made no sense whatsoever to send the children to Sunday School unless we went to church ourselves. The inconsistency of parents who use the church as a free baby-sitting service on Sunday mornings, while they stay home and read the Sunday papers, did not have to be pointed out to us. I found myself earnestly explaining to the young minister that I did not believe in God, ‘but I’ve discovered that I can’t live as though I didn’t believe in him. As long as I don’t need to say any more than that I try to live as though I believe in God, I would very much like to come to church–if you’ll let me.’
    So I became the choir director.”

  16. Hi friend, I wish I could say something to make your journey certain, but I’m afraid I’m inadequate in that area. Sometimes people who are dear friends have completely different journies, and I’m pretty sure thats OK :). On a different note, your basil seeds sprouted and they are turning into lovely little plants! 🙂

  17. I myself have had similar thoughts. God does not micromanage the world. Theologian Greg Boyd put it best in “The God of Possibilities: an Open View of the Future”. The concept is called by detractors Open Theism, but by proponents merely and Open View of the Future.

    I am also exploring what is derisively called evangelical universalism. Both ideas are considered heresy by fundamentalists, but they also fit the both the Bible and the reality of life on this planet better than the fundie doctrines I was taught as a child.

    I was thrilled to know that other thinking people come to the same conclusions. You are not alone.

  18. Thanks for sharing something so personal! I hope you find helpful encouragement through this post and through the other posts you’ve written where you have been really vulnerable!

    As I read this post, it seemed like you were recording a lot of my thoughts from a few years ago. Our backgrounds are different, but many of the questions and struggles and feelings above sounded like they were straight out of my story. Since I read your post, I’ve pondered how to put into words my experience since that time or things I did to change the thoughts and feelings that were going through my head to somehow encourage you. All I can think of is that I had a lot of people praying for me. So that is what I will do for you. **Hugs**

  19. I’m in tears after reading this beautiful, honest post. Thank you so much for being brave enough to write these things. I too grew up with religious abuse, spiritual and emotional brain-washing. I too have a man who has helped me learn to laugh in true freedom and joy. 🙂 I’m so glad you stopped by my blog today. So glad you reached out. So glad to have found a kindred spirit who understands. 🙂

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