I started teaching myself to crochet this past fall. I wanted to learn something crafty that didn’t involve a lot of money or tools, something I could do sitting on my couch if I felt like it. I started out making a scarf and, well, it was pretty rough. I got about halfway done (about 2 weeks of working on it, here and there) and it looked like I’d been drunk when I made it. While I don’t consider myself a perfectionist, I was definitely not pleased. But I was almost done! And I’d been stitching away at it diligently for 2 weeks, I didn’t want to just start over! I kept adding stitches here and there, trying to make it work, but at the end of one night, as I sat and looked at this wreck of yarn, I just started unraveling it. Just pulled at the loose end and before I knew it I had a ball of wiggly, tired looking yarn on my lap and thought “Well, here’s where we start over.”
I recently read “Faith Shift” by Kathy Escobar. It’s about going through changes in your beliefs…major changes where it feels like the whole world is collapsing beneath you. The last 5 or so years of my life has been a time of huge shifting in my faith, and while it has been uncomfortable and messy, it has also been incredibly freeing and a bit of a relief to let go of so many things. While I have often felt alone, reading books like Kathy’s along with other blogs, articles and posts have helped me feel less alone and less crazy. When no one in your life is going through something remotely similar, you need all the lifelines you can find. She uses the term “unraveling” quite a bit in the book, and as I thought about my crocheting, the analogy really fit.
Like my scarf, my faith was something I’d been working on my whole life, even as a child, even before (as the evangelical world would put it) I got “saved” or “born again.” I pieced together all these things, trying to make a faith that fit. I took things from many different traditions and denominations, from people who I looked up to and admired, added them all in to try and make something that would surround and protect me, to help me make it through this life somewhat unscathed. I was very fearful as a child, and I think I have always been looking for some way out of that fear, to wall me off from the fear of pain, loss, failure, rejection, isolation, from a God that seemed rather capricious and untrustworthy. So I knit together this faith and it sort of worked. It kept me warm at times. It gave me some warm fuzzy feelings and I sometimes felt like I fit in, like God was pleased with me, like I was getting it “right.”
But I couldn’t help noticing that, like an uncomfortable sweater, my faith never quite fit. It was too tight in some places, too loose in others. I was really having to work hard to make it fit. Additionally, it wasn’t keeping the fear out…I’d actually knit that fear right in there along with all the other beliefs, like a black thread that colored everything around it, it was kind of choking me right along with those things, those beliefs that I couldn’t quite make fit comfortably. Life started happening, and there were nicks and tears in my faith, whole chunks started to go missing. I kept pulling at those loose threads, adding new stitches, trying to make it right until eventually I was just left with a pile of loose ends, wiggly, wobbly, worn threads that sat in a sad little heap at my side. And I felt naked and vulnerable and alone.
That’s kind of where I sit right now actually, although I will say alongside of the vulnerable and alone I also feel so much freedom. Sometimes it’s a terrifying kind of freedom. I have no idea what to do next or how I’m going to make sense of the beliefs that I have cast off. Right now I feel like only thing I can say with any confidence is that I still believe in a God. (and trust me, there were days I wasn’t even sure of that!) The fear is still right there with me, but I am hell-bent on NOT bringing it along for the rest of this ride. It’s a sneaky bastard though and it keeps trying to weave its way in there. I have to keep ripping it out.
I started that scarf over again and was much happier with the final result. It is far from perfect; I’m sure my friends who crochet would smile and pat me on the head condescendingly if they looked closely at it. But it keeps me warm when I wear it, and it has a shiny purple thread running through it that sparkles when the sun hits it. And I made it. I think it’s beautiful. I have no idea what my faith will look like as I move through the days and years ahead. I imagine I’ll knit something and then pull it all to pieces many more times. But I finally am coming to accept (sort of kind of most of the time when it’s sunny out) that this is ok, and that the end result is not some perfect, impenetrable shield against life and the world. But something pretty, sparkly (LOVE is the sparkle, people) that brings a tentative, sometimes shaky beauty and warmth to the person wearing it and those they come in contact with.
And with that I’ll stop before I take this metaphor too far 🙂
I have this group of imaginary friends. They’re pretty amazing too. And I know a lot about them…I know their names, where they live, their families. There’s Jamie, and her husband The Beard and her uber-cool cat Knives. And Rachel and Dan and her escapades in Biblical Womanhood. Kristen and her stunning family, and gosh, she is SO smart. And Glennon, with Husband and Sister and her nutty, funny kids. There’s lots of others too…and they keep pointing me to other imaginary friends which is kind of cool of them, right? I could tell you lots about them, things they think and believe, even some things about their past and their fears and insecurities…which is pretty incredible for imaginary friends. For people I’ve never met. People I sometimes wonder if they’re really real because I read their words and I want so badly for them to be real, I want so badly for them to be sitting here in my living room, one of them…all of them, like those god-awful paintings of all the presidents hangin’ out shooting pool…just sitting here drinking wine, telling me yes, it’s fine, it’s ok, you’re ok, it’s all going to be ok the world is not ending.
Because I read their stories, their posts, and sometimes-ok, most times-it’s like reading something from my own thoughts. It makes me feel less crazy. It resonates with me on the deepest level. As I struggle with my faith, my world view, the church I have claimed as my own for the past 25 years, they have made me feel ok. They have made me feel like no, I’m not alone. Like there’s hope.
The People in my life, THE people, the real people, my people…the not imaginary people…they don’t really get it. They tell me to stop thinking so much, to stop worrying, stop questioning. To stop reading about things that make me upset. Because, you know, it’s just that easy. The Church-y people in my life are like “Just pray about it! Just read the Bible! It’s all right there in the Bible! The Bible just says everything you need to know and questions aren’t worth asking and besides it sounds like you’re coming to all the wrong conclusions.” And the Non-Church-y people in my life are like “Well, we’ve always thought the Church sucked anyway. What took you so long?” And somehow neither of those seems fully right or true in my gut but the only people that say things that do seem true seem like imaginary people because I have never actually seen them in person I’ve just read their words.
The past few days with this whole World Vision bullshit has got me feeling like the world is imploding around me. I just want to give up on Christianity. Toss my label, my allegiance. Not to God, not to Jesus, but to the Church. Can you believe in God and Jesus and refuse to call yourself a Christian? Then I read the words of oh, Jen Hatmaker, who sounds so wise and thoughtful, and I think, ok, if I can just get around some of these people then maybe I can still claim this faith. Maybe I can still hang here. And then I make the mistake of reading some of the comments which I should. not. do, and for every 10 positive, “Yes! This!” comments there are the nasty, the self-righteous, the snarly, biting, vicious, “You’re wrong and isn’t that sad for you because you’re not really listening to/following Jesus and he has no room for you, no grace for you” ragged teeth that just tear at the delicate line that had been anchoring me to what little faith I have left that Christianity is a faith worth following.
I feel like everything’s collapsing around me. But I keep reading. Because my imaginary friends are pretty amazing, and I’m pretty confident I’m not just making them up, and they keep writing things that give me hope, that make me want to be better, that speak to my heart, that tell me I’m not alone even though I feel. so. alone. And in spite of wanting to just say fuck it! I’m done! I think God just might be speaking to me through them. My imaginary friends. Maybe someday I’ll get to hug one of them or listen to one of them speak or something. That would be…well, that just might be heaven.
Last Sunday, my husband and I went to see the musical “Rock of Ages.” It was a lot of fun, and afterward we both agreed that we should go to see more shows. We’ve definitely seen some musicals and plays in our time, but that kind of outing took a hiatus with 3 young kids. But now that they’re older (we should bring them with us now too) it’s easier to go do “grown up” activities, so we decided we definitely need to make that effort.
“The Book of Mormon” recently came through Baltimore, and I mentioned to Bill that I would like to see that one sometime. He said he wasn’t sure he’d be comfortable with something that was so clearly attacking/making fun of a particular religion. I’d read a review in the Baltimore Sun, and I countered that it seemed kind of like Saturday Night Live, in that they kind of poke fun at everything. And that at the heart of it was just an examination of what faith really is, and the questions that many of us naturally have about religion. That it was deeper than just an attack on one particular faith.
*A side note here: the last couple of years have found me in a place where I am questioning almost everything about my Christian faith. Much of what I believed 5, 10 years ago has gone by the wayside and I am in the process of trying to figure out just what I do believe. So a show about questioning your faith would be right up my alley. 20 years ago I would probably have been outraged at a show like this. I wrote a very naive, overly-righteous, black and white critique of “The Last Temptation of Christ” my senior year of high school. The best part was that I hadn’t even seen the movie–ah, the surety of youth. Now I would likely appreciate that very movie on a whole other level.
Anyway. So then I mentioned that something I found interesting about the show was that Mormons have not shown the outrage at this show that you might expect. In fact, they actually have put ads for their churches, to find out more about the LDS faith, in the Playbills.
I said to Bill that, from what little I know about the LDS this isn’t really surprising. We spent 7 years in Laramie, Wyoming, where I was surrounded by more Mormons than I’d ever encountered in my life. (For obvious, geographical reasons.) And, to a man (or woman), they were all some of the nicest, friendliest, happiest people I have ever met. The very first weekend we were there, with the moving truck in front of the house, 2 elders came by and asked if we wanted help moving in. I was totally taken aback. It got to the point where I’d meet someone, think what an incredibly nice person they were, then find out they were LDS and think “Oh right. Of course.”
*Another aside…I’m well aware that not all Mormons can possibly be nice, friendly and happy. I’m basing this observation solely on my own personal interactions. I’m also aware that Mormonism is a controversial faith. I have read Under The Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer and was quite disturbed by it, and not just the fundamentalist/polygamous factions. I realize people have a lot of issues with the Mormon faith that are likely justified. However, this blog is not meant to address/judge the Mormon faith in any way, other than as a comparison on this one area. I don’t know enough to be qualified to do that.
Bill’s next comment though, was what really sparked my thinking. He said “Well, that’s because Mormons are pretty secure in who they are.”
I thought, wow. That is so true. Then I thought about my own faith, Christianity. If there were a “Book of Mormon” type musical about Evangelical Christianity, can you imagine the outrage?? Shoot, Christians cry “persecution!” if they get wished ‘Happy Holidays” for crying out loud. And maybe that’s because we’re not secure in who we are. There are hundreds of denominations, none of which agree on a whole host of topics. Are Christians pro-life or pro-choice? Are we Democrat or Republican? Do we believe in evolution or solely in a young earth theory? Can gay people be Christians? Do we tithe? Practice Lent? Sprinkle or immerse for baptism? You could compose a very long list of the things that Christians disagree on, from the banal to the more serious, with people falling everywhere on the spectrum from ultra-conservative to super liberal with many in between. And we love to claim that “our” particular brand of Christianity is the “true faith” and that “those people” can’t possibly really be a Christian. Perhaps that lack of true identity is what makes us feel so insecure, what makes some Christians feel like they are under attack and have to fight imaginary persecution at every turn, because we don’t have any idea who we are and what it really means to be a Christian.
Which gives us shaky ground where the rest of the world is concerned. When you ask the average person “What is a Christian?” you will get a whole host of answers, and I’d be willing to bet that a lot of them would be negative.
The Bible tells us to find our identity in Christ. And Jesus, over all things big and small, emphasizes “love your neighbor as yourself”. Love God, love your neighbor. Love is what our identity should be rooted in, what our faith should be rooted in. Not rules. Not politics. Not judgment. Not one-upmanship. Love is the bottom line.
The old song goes “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” I don’t think that’s true at all.
I wonder if we can get that identity back.
This morning I was reading some blogs on some of my favorite websites…Jamie, The Very Worst Missionary, Momastery, Rachel Held Evans, Jen Hatmaker…I love reading these ladies because it’s like funnier, better writing from my own head. On Jen’s I was reading some inane, funny story about her appearance on The Today Show, and then I saw it.
I made the mistake of trolling through the comments section, and there it was. I imagine it in some prissy, church-lady voice: “I was very disappointed to see you use the word hell. I thought this was a Christian blog.” And suddenly I wanted to throw the iPad through a window.
Because (and I hadn’t even noticed it) apparently she used the word “hell” not in a “I went to tell my neighbor about Jesus because I didn’t want her to go to hell” way but in a “What the hell!” way. Because apparently cussing is a measure of your worthiness of admission to the kingdom.
Well if that’s true then let’s just say I’m totally f***ed.
I took a brief break from Facebook and internet stuff, other than my email recently, because I found myself getting way too agitated about people like that. I feel like so many folks now are entrenched in this cultural warfare, this “I’m right, you’re wrong”, us vs. them, take no prisoners approach to Truth. This is true in all sectors of culture right now, politics, health, environment, but when it comes to Christianity it’s particularly pointed because it all revolves around your admission to the Club. Your worthiness (or not) to get to heaven someday. I found myself getting so angry and fired up and spending way too much time thinking about other people’s thoughts and opinions–both similar and different to my own–than was healthy. I got sucked in. I wanted to craft the perfect argument to “be right”. So I took a break and stopped reading even stuff I enjoyed and agreed with for a bit. It helped. My brain slowed down.
And then I read this lady’s comment and spent all morning feeling angry and trying to craft the perfect witty response (because in this Internet age, don’t bother saying anything unless it’s clever and witty) to why she was such a complete idiot. To why I am right and she is wrong.
This train of thought continued into my morning run and I got myself thinking “Well, the Bible says that if we love God and love our neighbor as ourselves that that is the whole point! Not the words we say or music we listen to or…”
Huh. Then I got the old smack-in-the-face of “So how are YOU doing with those two things, huh lady???”
Well let’s see. Loving God. I think the fact that many days I question his very existence is well, not a real plus for me. Ok. Loving “neighbors” how about. Um. Hmm. I’m terrible at loving my friends. Not great at loving my husband or family. Hell, I’m not even good at loving my own children a lot of times. And if honoring my mother falls into the category of loving others, which, hello, of course it does. Well. Hmm. Awkward shuffling of feet and staring off into the distance.
Yeah. So screwed.
But you know, I have come to this conclusion quite a bit over the last year. That I am a mess. A god-awful mess. I have tried, I have tried! I have spent my entire life checking off lists and doing the “right things” and trying to be a good daughter, sister, girlfriend, student, teacher, mom, friend, Jesus-type person and yet I continue to fail miserably. I’ve worked the program, completed the assignments, talked the talk, and yet I continue to fail.
Christians would like you to believe that if you just follow this certain set of “rules” (white, middle-class, American 21st century evangelical rules) then you’ll be set. You’ll be good. Write in your prayer journal. Get up at 5 am every day for your “quiet time”. Go to church and take notes on the sermon. Only listen to K-love (barf!). Don’t drink don’t cuss don’t dance don’t watch certain movies Vote Republican. Christianity in America is the biggest “fake it so you make it!” club going, in my opinion.
Well, I’ve tried all of these things. And I continue to get it all wrong. In fact, I have come to the conclusion at the ripe old age of not-quite-41 (6 days!) that I am pretty much Wrong About Everything.
I have also come to the conclusion that, in light of this fact, God’s either gonna love me and have enough grace for me or he’s not. And there’s not really a damn thing I can do about it. I am me. I am here. I am who I am and I have the thoughts and beliefs that I have and I will continue to try and do better in all ways, (loving God and others ways, not Follow Some Arbitrary Christian Rule ways) but that inevitably I’m going to fail, inevitably I’m going to get it wrong, I am going to stay some form of f***ed up for the rest of my life.
And guess what?
So are you.
And I think (although heck, I am probably WRONG) that God’s love is big enough for all of it. For all of us. If it’s worth anything, it has to be.
So maybe we can stop trying to be right, stop trying to fit some other person’s mold, stop trying to be other than who we are, and just be loving of one another. Broken, messy, ridiculous, probably wrong as we are.
Because I think we’ve all got it wrong in some ways. In most ways. And maybe figuring that out is kind of the point. Cause when we’re so damn sure we’re right and everyone else is wrong, it makes for an awfully bitter and ugly way to live.
A few weeks ago we drove down to Myrtle Beach for vacation. After you get off of 95 you’ve still got a long back road to follow before actually getting to the beach. A long back road littered with churches of all shapes, sizes and beliefs. As we drove down this road passing church after church, all of whom differ on beliefs both big and small, I found myself feeling more and more discouraged with each one I passed. All of these people think they are right and the next church down the road is wrong. They think they have cornered the market on “TRUTH”. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Is anyone right here at all?
I came home from the beach and found a book at the library that I’d been wanting to read…it’s called “Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage to Find God in America” by Jeff Chu. It was a remarkable book. I was moved and frustrated. I thought, I really want to hang out with Jeff Chu because he seems terrific. It was hard to read.
One of the reasons it was hard to read followed directly with my observations from the road to the beach. The church in America (and the whole world I guess) is completely broken. In this book, Jeff visits Westboro Baptist Church (he is braver than I am!) at one end of the spectrum, and churches where pretty much the only members are LGBT and a whole bunch in between. I came away from his story feeling totally discouraged and wondering why on earth anyone would follow a religion that is so disjointed and sending so many mixed messages.
The problem as I see it is that all of these disparate sects think that they are RIGHT. And others are WRONG. They can interpret and use scripture to back up their positions. ALL of them. They accuse the other side of twisting scripture to support their own sinful position. They all think they are acting in love.
Even Westboro Baptist Church in some sick way firmly believes that protesting at funerals, calling people “fags”, and telling pretty much everyone they are going to hell is LOVE.
Here’s what really rubs me the wrong way about this: we’re not just talking coffee vs tea, Yankees or Red Sox, tomato/tomahto. We’re talking “If you don’t do/believe/follow what we say is right, you will go to hell.” Eternal torment and punishment or eternal happiness. Life or death.
Them’s fightin’ words if I ever heard any.
I honestly can’t make heads or tails of this thing called Christianity anymore. I can barely separate who I think Jesus is, who I think God is, in the midst of what all these denominations, all these churches are shouting at me and insisting is RIGHT and TRUE and THE ONLY WAY. It makes me want to say “the hell with it!!” and just forget it altogether.
I can’t do that though. I’ve been closer to atheism the last year or so than I ever have been in my entire life. But I can’t seem to quit God. I can’t look at the amazing way the world is ordered and not see him or her or whoever. The kids found a birds nest and in the incredibly intricate and sturdy way it was constructed-by a BIRD without HANDS-just screamed God at work to me. I can’t see the beautiful way people care for one another in need and love one another throughout the world and not see God. (of course depending on the day there are likely just as many things I see that scream “There is no God!!!” quite loudly but I just can’t go there. Maybe I’m just a chicken.)
I’m totally sick of church. I know there are churches around the world doing beautiful things but right now all I can see are the shattered pieces of an organization that claims to follow a guy who told us that next to loving God, loving your neighbor as you love yourself was the most important thing. Not what songs you sing. Or what building you hold church in. Or tattoos or clothing or race or financial state or even (gasp!) sexuality. And yet all those things are the “truths” we hold on to. We argue about. We kill over. I want to see the church universal as a beautiful thing but right now to me all I can see is an ugly, broken mess.
I don’t know what is “true” anymore. I have some thoughts that “seem right” to me (that’s in the Bible right there…”It seemed right…”) in my gut…a lot of people would tell me I’m wrong about them. Dead wrong about them. And you know…maybe I am. But maybe they are too. And God’s grace is either going to be big enough to handle my being wrong…or it’s not. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s not a hell of a lot I can do about it.
Maybe that’s why people shout so loudly about being right. Because it makes them feel like they’re in control of something they’re totally not in control of.
Ugh. This is really a depressing post isn’t it?