Monday, February 27, 2012

Did I Slip Off the Slope?

I haven't posted in quite awhile, but considering my readership is very small, I don't think anyone noticed or minded.  :-)

When I started this blog, it was a way for me to process all of my thoughts and questions about the Christian faith. I called it "Slope Sitter," in reference to the adage that once you start abc, it's a slippery slope leading to xyz. I set out to prove (to myself, mostly) that it was possible to ask the questions, search for the answers, and perch somewhere in the happy middle on the side of the slope.

Interestingly enough, popular Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans recently posted about this very thing:
Yes, the slippery slope brought doubts. Yes, the slippery slope brought change. Yes, the slippery slope brought danger and risk and unknowns. I am indeed more exposed to the elements out here, and at times it is hard to find my footing. 
But when I decided I wanted to follow Jesus as myself, with both my head and heart intact, the slippery slope was the only place I could find him, the only place I could engage my faith honestly. 
So down I went.
Ms. Evans took on the slippery slope and found herself a ledge to cling to, making her feel more alive in her faith than ever before.

I was at that point for awhile. I loved asking the questions. I loved letting go of all the silly, memorized, trite answers I had grown up parroting and replacing them with reasoned, thoughtful responses.

But I kept asking.

It began to feel more like the analogy blogger Aaron Hildebrandt uses to describe what happened to him once he started asking questions:

The result of this can be tricky. Religion is like a life-long game of Jenga. You start with a nice little tower, built with the help of your friends and family, and you’re told that it’s totally fine to poke and prod it a bit, but only because it will result in discovering ways to make the tower even stronger. However, it’s vitally important that you not actually alter the tower too much, lest you fall into the sin of redesigning it to suit your own needs. So, you sit there with this tower. Eventually, you start to notice that a couple blocks are out of place — sometimes God is okay with divorce, it’s a little nonsense to take a stand against evolution, and homosexuality isn’t the result of the devil’s lure. You pull out a few blocks and reposition them. Everything’s still okay. But you keep finding blocks that need to move, more and more. You start to realize that things you were taught were wrong, assumptions were incorrect. You keep changing and tweaking, but every time you do the tower becomes less steady. Over time, it starts to lose its structure, until you see that if you make any more changes the tower will fall completely. And then you sit back, look at the tower, and suddenly understand that there never was any tower, just a number of meaningless blocks cleverly arranged. And yet, this was something you’ve been working on your entire life. Simply pushing the tower over, letting it spill to the ground and walking away is… a difficult action.
So where am I at now?  I don't know.  Will I keep blogging about it?  I don't know. There are so many other wonderful blogs out there that do a much better job of describing the process I am (and apparently so many other people are) going through. But it is therapeutic to write it out, so maybe I will keep it up... 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Election 2012 on the Horizon: A Plea for Peaceful Politics

It's that time again.  We spent August maligning the "incompetent" politicians in Congress and their inability to reach a budget agreement.  Now we can go back to picking apart presidential candidates after every public appearance or criticizing the President after every perceived misstep.

Have you ever said you're sick of politics, politicians, and all the bickering and posturing that goes on between the parties?  Have you then gone on to verbally malign a political party or politician?  Ever see the dichotomy there?

I'm guilty of such hypocrisy, much to my shame.  It is possible to have reasoned debates and disagreements without maligning the character or intent of your opposition, but it is very difficult.  It's much easier to say someone is uneducated and backwards (or conversely, say someone is part of the ivory tower intellectual elite) than to say you just look at an issue differently.  It's easier to say someone is unpatriotic, or anti-American,  or heartless, than to give specific reasoning as to why you disagree with their stance.  We learn it very young on the playground-- name-calling gets results.  As adults, we learn that nothing rallies people to our cause quite like getting them royally pissed off at the other side.  So we malign our opponent's character.  We ascribe to them evil intentions.  We consider ourselves the reasoned, tempered ones, while considering our opponents evil scum bags out to destroy our country.

I've been active in both major political parties at one time or another.  This habit goes both ways, because I've done it from both sides.  And it is completely and utterly pointless.  Democracy lends itself to the power of the majority and while the minority is out of luck. But any hope of compromise requires us to see our "opponents" not as our enemies, but as fellow citizens who just happen to look at the problems differently and see different solutions.  It's probably naive to think the tone of our discourse could change on the national level, but at least this change in thinking can temper our political conversations with friends, family, and coworkers.  It can dictate what "news" sources we feed into our minds-- do they inform, or do they agitate?

One final word-  I remember after the 2010 elections reading reports that called the results a "bloodbath" and talked about the "carnage" of the congressional upset.  First world problems, baby, first world problems.  Talk a look at Zimbabwe or any of the many countries where elections aren't free and the price of voting for the wrong candidate can mean death.  We have a peaceful transition of government after every election--no fighting, no blood, no civil war.  So let's not act like we're going into battle in the ballot box.

Dangerous Thoughts or Pertinent Points?

I continue on my journey of undergoing seismic shifts in thinking, beliefs, questioning, and doubts.  It seems the more questions I seek to answer, the more questions I end up asking, with no answers in sight. While it leaves me somewhat disconcerted, I'm trying to make peace with the idea that some questions are just not going to have answers; or at least, no answers that I can cling to with 100% assurance.

I was discussing some of my doubts with a family member a few weeks ago, and while he acknowledged he too had doubts, he insisted that my approach to my faith conundrums was "dangerous."  Dangerous, because I pointed my finger at the church and held it responsible as the source of much of the pain and confusion I've undergone in the last decade.  In essence, he was saying it was okay to question God, but don't go blaming the church for my issues.

I admit, I was taken aback.  Sometimes in church we hear, "Hey, it's OK to express doubt. Ask God these questions. Wrestle with them.  It's normal to doubt and wonder."  Yet when you do those very things, people start to get nervous that you are "falling away from the faith" or bordering on the profane.  How is it "dangerous" to point out where the church has erred?  How is it harmful to reexamine past teachings and beliefs in light of new knowledge?  Do the doubters among us get pushed to the fringes of our faith communities because we think the whole thing will unravel by a question or two?

Asking questions about God, faith, the church--and more specifically, fundamentalist faith--is like a Pandora's box, in that once you start, you can't ever put those questions away.  When you realize you've believed wrong things, you can't go back to blindly believing them. "Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise."  In that sense, I suppose my thinking is dangerous.  I can't go back to the warm, fuzzy comfort of an unquestioned faith and assurance in God.  But blind, unreasonable faith--that seems to be a greater danger in the long run.

And so, I keep asking.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Apologizing for Hypocrisy

I used to think I had all the answers to just about everything in life, and I was quick to tell others those answers.  Difficult circumstances? Turn to God for comfort!  Marriage troubles? Obey the Bible's guidance for husbands and wives--love and respect and submit and all that!  Homosexuality? No, marriage is only for one man and one woman!  Abortion?  Murder in all circumstances!  Politics? Republican!  Science? Genesis!  And so forth and so on.

The problem with having a seismic shift in your religious beliefs is that you start to feel like an ass for how you've behaved in years past. Even though most of my attempts to win converts to my way of thinking were well-intentioned, I'm embarrassed and ashamed of many things I've said and written to other people.  Granted, I was operating under a genuine belief that if I loved people, I needed to do everything to see them get "saved." This entailed trying to win them to the faith through sound arguments and living in such a way that they would see that itty-bitty inkling of hope within me. Then the Holy Spirit would tip them over the edge of unbelief and into the arms of a loving God.  Or so I hoped.

The trouble is that I was not happy or completely satisfied with the very answers I was giving to everyone else.  I never presented the gospel as: "Believe in Jesus and then your life will be just peachy!" I know I was upfront with the "Life will still be very difficult" caveat. Still, I was naive and rather out-of-touch with how my message was being perceived by a lot of people. If they raised arguments, I could crush them. If they still wavered in doubt, I could convince them.  If they stubbornly insisted on holding to their sinful lives, I could condemn them.

Oh, silly, silly, sinful me. Can I take all of that back?  Can I apologize for my hypocrisy?  I know better now.  I really do.  I know I don't know much about anything. I don't have this figured out. I know now that no matter how one's life may appear to other people, other people never know the whole story. I didn't know their stories or their experiences. I presumed a great deal.  And for that, I'm sorry.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Julia Sweeney's "Letting Go of God"

A few months ago I bought Julia Sweeney's one-woman monologue/show called "Letting Go of God." I finally got around to watching it last night. She perfectly captures much of the confusion and frustration I currently feel with my search to understand God, faith, and the world. I haven't quite come to the conclusion she ultimately comes to, but I so appreciate her humor and honesty in describing her journey.

You can see most of her monologue via clips on YouTube, but I highly recommend purchasing the DVD.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Out of Misery and Into Joy

It occurred to me over homemade mac and cheese, a generous piece of store-bought chocolate cake, and a glass of wine. It was sometime last October or November, sitting in my new rental house all alone, watching PBS. The kids were with their Dad for the weekend, and while I missed them and was still getting used to the idea of them being gone, I didn't feel lonely. For the first time, I had the delicious thought that I was free to do whatever I wished. No one to judge me. No one to guilt me, boss me around, or look over my shoulder. Thirty years of life, and I finally felt like an adult. I could watch what I wanted, and no one would care. I could eat and drink what I wanted, and no one would think ill of me. I could talk to whomever I wanted without raising suspicions. I could go to the store at midnight, and who would even know?

It may seem a silly thing, but it was rather revolutionary for me. I'm not used to such a wide range of choices nor used to exercising the full range of my volition.

I've lost so much in the last year. Marriage, house, friends, neighborhood, idyllic dreams of things that probably never would have been anyway. But through it I've discovered the amazing love of friends who continue to minister to me while I sort through the random pieces of my life. Friends who give my kids and me a place to live. Friends who come and clean, pack, paint, move. Friends who give food and money. Friends who call me up just to check on me. Friends who anonymously leave gifts on our doorstep. And new friends at my new school as we train for our new careers, who offer me encouragement and inspiration as we struggle through together.

I hesitate to say that I'm a better person now. We have failed to keep a vow, and there is no way to glamorize or martyrize that. It is a failure, a sin, a breech of trust, a broken contract. But it is what it is. And life goes on, somehow.

With my newfound sense of freedom comes a lifting of the weight that has held me down for so long--the unspoken expectations I was so sure God had of me. Surely I must put myself through the spiritual wringer time and again to gain His approval. Die to self, die to self, die to self. Resistance if futile, and misery marks progress. Be miserable, for I am miserable.

The great thing about blowing the big stuff like marriage is that everyone in church loses their expectations of you. You move into the category of divorcee, whose only options remaining are to screw it up even further or play the single parent martyr. There is freedom in not having to try to impress people anymore.

Such a funny thing, then, to find that when I stop trying so damn hard to be holy--when I give up on the idea of guilting myself into spiritual fitness--I move out of misery and into joy. And while I've roughened up around the edges (when did I start swearing?), I feel more authentically Christian, more whole, more at ease with myself. For the first time in a long time (dare I say ever?), I found myself saying a phrase that felt foreign on my lips- "I am happy."

And wonder of wonders, God hasn't struck me down yet. Who knew.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Apathetic About Apathy

The other day I was telling a friend about my "spiritual journey," which was really just a roadmap of heartache at the hands of the church and the people in it. It was also a chronicle of my wide-eyed belief turned cynical-brand of belief. Telling the story in a condensed version, it made me sound rather fickle and wishy-washy, as if I'm easily swayed and change my opinions according to the latest bad experience or theological fad. "I'm a Republican! No, I'm a Democrat! No, I'm Independent!" "Young earth! Old earth! Theistic Evolution!" "I'm Arminian! No, I'm Calvinist! No, I'm both!" "Complementarianism! No, egalitarianism!" Etc. Etc.

When you see the world all in black and white for so many years, learning to distinguish the gray areas is a rather earth-shaking exercise. I'd like to think of it as a process of maturity-- learning to nuance and think through issues with more complexity. So if I'm changing my mind, it's only because I've finally allowed myself the freedom to think through an issue from more than one viewpoint. Nine times out of ten, I realize my previously held belief was inaccurate or incomplete at best. I'm embarrassed of much of what I believed before and even more ashamed at how it made me behave.

I feel like I'm at a crossroads in my faith. So much has happened to me that my rational mind can't reconcile it with evangelical faith as I've known it. But I don't think the answer lies in just some other form of church (as my visit to the Episcopal Church this morning confirmed). I have never known this level of apathy before. Before, being apathetic used to elicit a small voice of concern in my brain ("You really should care about this!"). Now I'm even apathetic about my level of apathy.

Maybe it's a phase. Maybe when life takes a break from kicking the crap out of me, I won't feel this way. But I find myself despising, deriding, and mocking much of what used to elicit feelings of conviction and devotion. I have no illusions that I can "work myself up" to feel a certain way, but at the very least, I would think these aspects of faith, church, and life wouldn't create such a strong aversion in me. But they do. Quite a lot. And I don't know what to do about it.