Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Friends on the Journey

I started this blog looking for a safe place to figure out my faith. I was desperate and scared--and I felt all alone in my crisis of faith. Turns out, I am far from alone, and I have more peace with my life and faith now than I did a few months ago.  So much has happened internally with me--it would takes months and months and years and decades to describe the inward journey I have taken toward God this past winter. So instead I will list the books that have been good friends to me along the way (in no order whatsoever other than the way I piled them on my desk to see all of the titles):
  1. Dear Heart, Come Home by Joyce Rupp
  2. Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans
  3. In Search of Belief by Sr. Joan Chittister
  4. Losing God by Matt Rogers
  5. Crazy for God by Frank Schaeffer
  6. The Early Church by E. Glenn Hinson
  7. Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith by Kathleen Norris
  8. The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd
  9. Loving What Is by Byron Katie
  10. Everything Belongs by Fr. Richard Rohr
  11. Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn
  12. An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor
  13. The Mosaic of Christian Belief by Roger E. Olson
  14. Spontaneous Healing by Anddrew Weil, M.D.
  15. Healing for Damaged Emotions by David A. Seamands
I'm also thankful for my real-life interactions with supportive friends. A turning point for me was meeting with my pastors a few months ago. Prior to that meeting, I found myself sitting in church week after week, and thinking 'What if I don't believe any of this--or if I'm buying some beliefs of Christianity but rejecting others? What if this journey takes me too far afield of 'Christian Orthodoxy?' Would there still be room for me here as I am? I'm exhausted from pretending that all is well with me week after week when it really isn't.' So I decided to lay it all out before the pastors--to be  honest with them about the depth and intensity of my crisis.

The thing is, I have been in a church community all of my life, and the thought of just quitting wasn't something I wanted to do. I love church. The place where I go every Sunday is so much more than a set of doctrines and beliefs that I have to a) Agree with at all costs  or b) Disagree with this or that, and therefore leave. The place where I go on Sunday is filled with people who love me and have supported me through the grief and awfulness of life. Regardless of my beliefs (or unbelief), this place is my community and my family--where I live and work and bring meals to friends who have babies and help a neighbor with grocery shopping when she is not up to going out and where we laugh and cry together. I guess I just needed to know that I wouldn't be cast out or burned at the stake as a heretic--I needed to know that there was room for me, too. And I was so afraid of the answer.

So I met with them and cried my eyes out and told the truth that has been eating away at me for so long--all the questions, doubts, uncertainties--about my anxiety about it all, and my loneliness. I needed to know that even though it SEEMS like everyone else is sure about this Christian life--surely I'm not the only one struggling? And can I still be a part of this church family even if my theology leans further to the left? And is this a place where I will be welcome as is for real, and not in words only?

And they heard me with compassion and acceptance and welcome and love. I am actually crying right now thinking about it as I type.  What I suspected was true: I am definitely NOT the only one in the congregation wrestling with intense faith questions. And I'm not the only one who has come into their office wondering if they are still welcome if their theology doesn't line up exactly with the tenants of the Wesleyan Church.

As we talked and met together a few more times, I felt the claustrophobic, frightened space that I had been occupying all winter open up. It felt so good to be authentic and honest--and to be accepted and understood. What I loved was that they didn't give me a list of Bible verses to look up (I probably already know them all, anyway) or tell me I needed to pray more or read more or do more stuff for God. What they did was give me space--space that I wasn't even giving to myself. Space to be confused and doubtful about the goodness of God. Space to grieve the loss of my sister, and what that meant for my faith--the whole question of why bad things happen to good people and where was God when the doctor made the mistake and she died? They gave me space to sit with the questions that have no answers on this earth, and to be a little more ok with this mystery called God.

I feel like I can breathe now, and where I am is exactly where I am supposed to be on this road.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Some days, when I think about my faith, I feel hopeless and lost. Being a Christian, a GOOD Christian was my sole identity for 25 years. Saving the lost was my true purpose--THE reason why I existed in the world. But now that pieces of my understanding of Christianity are falling away, I'm not sure what I'm going to be left with.

I'm sad and resigned because it often feels like all or nothing. Like I have to make this HUGE choice--either believe everything I have ever been taught or held to be true over a lifetime of 'evangelical zeal', or walk away entirely. Sometimes I really believe that those are my only two options.

But sometimes, in a teeny corner of my heart--I see a pinprick of light. I read Kathleen Norris, and I hear something--barely audible-- a whisper: 'hold on...' and I suspect that maybe my options aren't so limited after all.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Thank You Tony Campolo

I remember reading something that Tony Campolo wrote years ago about homosexuality. He said that he and his wife didn't share the same views as to whether being gay was a sin or not. (Maybe it was the book 'Adventures in Missing the Point?).

This shook me up--I was FLOORED by the nonchalant way he mentioned their difference of opinion. I thought (at the time) that the most important part of being a Christian was having the 'right' beliefs. I remember thinking, how on earth are they still married if they don't agree on something as fundamental as THAT?! What if that ever happens to Dan and I? Won't we be 'unequally yoked?'

Lately, as I have been seriously reevaluating my faith, I have pictured Tony and his wife--calmly, and with much love and deep respect--allowing the other to have a different view.

And that gives me peace.

Monday, February 14, 2011


Lately I've been evaluating the things I am telling myself. What I am discovering is that much of my anxiety about this comes from way deep inside me where all of my expectations and assumptions and filters and rules live--the ones I don't even think about. I have this invisible steel frame of 'shoulds' and 'supposed to's' that rule my life, with or without my permission.

The trick for me is to recognize when and where these 'rules' show up in my thinking (first clue: anytime I feel anxiety)--and then decide if I'm going to keep it or trash it, depending on what is actually rational and true. What is diabolical about this whole process is that these 'shoulds' and 'supposed to's' live just beneath my consciousness, and they feel REALLY, REALLY true--no matter how ridiculous they seem to my rational brain. (I should never fail or make a mistake. I should never annoy anyone. I am supposed to be perfect. I should be more efficient and enjoy domestic undertakings. I'm supposed to be a good mother and play with Sadie any time she asks me to...)

Deprogramming my automatic negative thoughts is a giant undertaking. My head aches with the sheer amount of lying thoughts I take at face value to be true at all points of my day. I'm trying to find a way to be gentle with myself, and to accept the truth about myself.

I think my struggle to 'figure out' my faith is ruled by this inner steel frame as well. Somewhere in the recesses of my subconscious,  I have a list of beliefs, 'shoulds', and 'supposed to's' that I MUST hold as absolutely true, no matter what. Even when I know they make no sense--even when I don't agree with them anymore. They still own me like a evil dictator, and their propaganda is piped endlessly into my thoughts. I wish I could blame something or someone--but I know my own thoughts are the source of my oppression. The only way to find peace is to make peace with myself--and do the work to tell myself the truth.

It's like I'm volunteering to be in prison when I'm actually free. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Wishful Thinking

Here's what I hope and wish to be true: that God is WAY bigger than I have imagined, and that God is the umbrella over every one and everything. I want Jesus to say to everyone 'You will have endless chances to choose me--if not now, then you have all of eternity to decide, because I will not let one of you perish.' Or that when He returns, and the trumpets blow, and everyone in the universe sees Him for Real, they all recognize Him instantly--even if they called Him by a different name while they lived on earth. I want to believe that if God is Love, (not to mention All Powerful,) then no one would be out of God's reach. And that it would be against God's nature to send any of creation to be tortured in Hell for eternity.

Believe me, I hear all of the verses in my head that would prove otherwise. In fact, I hear them all the live long day and I'm pretty terrified that I'm going to find out they are 100% accurate in the way I have understood them.  but I still have to tell the truth about my life. And the truth is, right now, the 'good news' I was taught in my conservative evangelical upbringing doesn't sound very good to me anymore. I want a new understanding of the love of God and the Grace that I keep hearing about. I realize that I can't just wish for God to be a certain way and then poof! He is.  But I'm holding out hope that there is MUCH I do NOT understand about how God loves, and how God works.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Maybe 'Crisis' isn't the right word...

I was talking to a new friend today, and we were discussing our spiritual questions. I was telling her about my latest 'faith crisis', and she was thoughtful and answered slowly "Maybe 'crisis' isn't the right sounds too negative for the journey you have described to me..."

That really got me thinking. I've always seen my questions and struggles with my faith as something I need to 'get over', or as a phase I'll eventually grow out of when I'm 'mature' enough.  I'm now considering that the process itself is good--(though it is pretty darn scary!) and that growing and changing and deconstructing and building my faith is lifelong. 

The 'crisis' part is more about my fear; and my tendency toward 'all or nothing' thinking. I have this idea that I can't just dip my toe in something--it's dive in the deep end or stay out of the pool. My 'what if's' are huge: what if I will be totally rejected by my family, friends and community because I end up worshiping Ra the Sun God? What if one day I wake up and realize that I have to hand in my Jesus badge because I've strayed just a little too far? In more rational moments, I remind myself that I am safe and tightly held by a really big God and that it's ok if I want to look into yoga--it doesn't mean I have to join an ashram.

It's funny--if someone had come to me 20 years ago struggling with these same doubts and questions about God, I would have said sagely, and with all certainty that 'God isn't afraid of your doubts and questions, and He will lead you into His truth.' (Can I just say it was SO MUCH easier when I knew all of the answers!....) The truth is I can't go back to where I was even if I wanted to. No matter where I'm heading, I have to go forward, and keep seeking--and trust I'm headed in the right direction--even if I panic once in a while.

I've been thinking about caterpillars lately--and I wonder if they call it a 'crisis' when they see themselves transforming. I mean, are they born knowing that at some point in their lives they are going to completely change shape, form, what they eat, etc. and CEASE to be caterpillars? I imagine they are pretty horrified when they reach that wet and shrivel-y in-between place of 'not caterpillar' and not yet butterfly'. And afterward, are they totally surprised, like hey, caterpillars don't have wings! What's all this? I don't know how to fly...wait...oh, here we go...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Just Be Yourself

I've heard it all my life, (and now I'm saying it to my own child) 'just be yourself.' As if it the easiest thing in the world to do. As if suddenly, it will become crystal clear which way I should go, or how I should behave. Here's the problem--what does that even mean? And which self gets to come out? The one that wants everyone to like me? (that person comes up short every time by comparison). The one my belief system tells me to be? (that person tries really really really hard to get it right, and ends up depressed and anxious). The one that is shaped by my family system, my socioeconomic status, my ethnicity or my education? (you get the picture).  Who is the person I am, underneath all of the layers and layers of perfectionism, negative thinking, self hatred, comparisons, and expectations?

Well, my doctor and I are working through this issue specifically by way of a stress-reduction program that focuses on mindfulness. Basically, I'm trying to get quiet enough inside my head to see what is really there. And then to accept what I see, and learn to trust myself. We're working through a book called Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It is EXACTLY what I need right now. Here is a quote that inspired me from the book:

It is impossible to become like somebody else. Your only hope is to become more fully yourself. In practicing mindfulness, you are practicing taking responsibility for being yourself and learning to listen to and trust your own being.

Friday, January 28, 2011

This One Feels Different

This is not my first spiritual crisis. I have been down this road before to some extent--in a way what I am experiencing is nothing new to me. But in another way, this feels giant, like my life depends on the outcome, like this is 'the big one.' Having a faith crisis on a Christian college campus is a little awkward. I don't broadcast my questions and doubts too loudly--I'm certain I'll end up on the prayer chain or worse: as someone's new Christian Project. (I suppose I deserve to become someone's Project--I have sure had several of my own back when I knew all of the answers, and believed that all my words came from God's own mouth.)

The truth is I have been afraid to talk about this--I mean really afraid to be  honest about where I am.  I have been so worried about what people will think of me if I tell the truth. Will I be judged? Will I be blacklisted? Being a part of the small community where I live and work and worship with many of the same people has its unique challenges. I love so much about living here--especially the way folks are committed to each other in times of crisis. I mean, bring on a serious illness, a death in the family, a new baby, a move into the neighborhood, and you'll have more food than you can fit in the deep freeze. If just feels a lot harder to me to talk about the more spiritual types of crisis: questions about the goodness of God, depression, grief, doubt, etc. It is not that people don't experience these things around here--it is just that as a community we don't talk about them very loudly.

My hope is that by being honest about my own questions, I can be the change I want to see. I know I am not alone, and I don't want to be afraid anymore.