40 days in the wilderness: branching out

porch-swing

40 days and nights committed to exploring the scary places in my mind, life, and faith in order to meditate on the question: What does it mean to trust in God?


The scary place: fear that my faith is illogical or doesn’t add up to enough of a whole

I was twenty-one or twenty-two, home for summer vacation from school. It was nighttime, and I was sitting on the porch swing of my parents’ home. I sat with my feet up, the swing swaying slightly, looking out at the quiet neighborhood around me. I had my first realization (the kind you only have when you start thinking for yourself) that I had more questions about Christianity than I had answers. More doubt than faith. The Christianity I’d grown up with just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

I started earnestly questioning how every other religion could be wrong. I couldn’t understand why women would need to be submissive to their husbands. And the kicker: why would Jesus have to die to fix our broken relationship with God? If we were so broken, didn’t God make us that way? Why was it our fault? The original sin argument just didn’t cut it.

And when salvation goes, what’s left? I remember thinking that if so little makes sense, why should I believe any of it?

I was afraid. Afraid of losing my faith. Afraid that I wouldn’t know what could replace it. Afraid both of being wrong and of not knowing the truth. The darkness around me felt safe and calm. But, looking back now, I would not consider this in my top five scariest moments.

And I think this is the case because there must’ve been such a short short moment between me wondering if and why I should believe at all, and then another small thought creeping in.

It also didn’t make sense to me to scrap all of my faith — everything that did make sense and start over. And with that thought, I felt an immense relief. I believed in that moment it was okay to fully question and believe at the same time.

What was left at that point was this belief that Jesus was a leader that inspired his followers to be more progressively-minded for the sake of love. I didn’t know just how progressive. And I didn’t know how other religions could fit into it. Or queer people. Or Jesus’s full heart for the disempowered. That would all come later. But I knew in a basic way that God loved all people, and that I could trust that love.

***

I met up with a friend recently who is also a progressive Christian. And I told her one of the things I’m really struggling with. My “faith heroes”: Brennan Manning, Marcus Borg, Thomas Merton, and Richard Rohr all emphasize this idea that the best anyone can possibly be is completely synced with God.

Maybe I’m misunderstanding them, and I’d love to ask Rohr about this some day (the only faith hero listed who is still alive). But it feels like selflessness to the point of an eradication of the self, and I can’t see how that is God’s desire. God who was supposed to have lovingly created each person to be so unique.

Whenever I come across this idea, I feel like I’m missing something. Like I’ll never have a GREAT faith because I’m not radical enough, not open-minded enough to get it.

I get stuck on this: I’ve fought so hard to love myself and be proud of who I am. I don’t want to erase this self-identity.

I asked my friend about this, and she said, “You want me to be honest?”

And I said yes.

“I think that is what happens when you center your theology around Paul and not Jesus.”

See, it was Paul who said

It was as big of a relief as I felt that night almost fifteen years ago. Because something I felt like was missing from my faith all of a sudden felt like a theological choice and not necessarily a faith step I was too small to make.

Maybe it still is, and I’ll grow into the idea some day. But I’ve been thinking about the theology that I’ve learned from my faith heroes. I’ve started growing consistently more uncomfortable with the fact that so much of my theology and, therefore, my ideas about God come from white cis-men.

I’m not attempting to hate on white cis-men or even poo-poo the theology taught by people with this identity. I still adore so much of what these men have taught me.

But there’s more to God that I’m missing. And I believe that the disempowered who are studying God will have more to tell me about what it means to trust in God than the people I’ve spent so much of my time reading.

I’ve ordered some books that I think I should’ve had on my bookshelf years ago. Indecent Theology by Marcella Althaus-ReidGod of the Oppressed by James Cone, and Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk by Delores Williams.

Have any other suggestions for me?

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