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 🙂
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?
I typically hate cutesy church marquees as a rule. I think it’s ridiculous to try and parse out Christianity into a pithy little saying. I’m not sure what the point is or who churches think they are going to attract, but apparently someone out there things they are a real clever “marketing” tool. But I saw one yesterday that particularly rubbed me the wrong way:
“Faith Builds. Unbelief Destroys.”
Gag. The kind of absolute statement that means nothing to the majority of the population. It really bothered me because my life the last couple years has been marked by a pretty significant period of unbelief. Would this make me want to come to that church? Not in a million years.
But it got me thinking…I get what they’re trying to say, but I think they’re wrong. I think faith can build–and destroy. I think unbelief can be destructive–and a source of growth and strength.
Think about it. The faith of the 9-11 hijackers–they were absolutely 100% certain of their belief, their faith, in their god and the holiness of their mission. It was also 100% destructive. The “faith” of the Westboro Baptist Church–who clearly are sold on the beliefs they espouse–is totally destructive to the families they harass and the groups they choose to single out as hated by God. The faith of whites and slaveholders, who were firm in their belief that whites are superior, blacks and other minorities deserve to be subjugated and enslaved…that faith destroyed families, lives, cultures, and created a rift amongst humanity that has yet to be entirely healed.
And what about unbelief? Doesn’t it sometimes take doubt to build something new, to make important changes? Back to the slavery/racism issue–didn’t it take the doubt of African-Americans, their unbelief in the faith system that they were being sold, to begin to push for equality and freedom? To say “I don’t believe that this is how God wants it?” And the whites who began to doubt with them, to stand up and say that no, this “faith” was not a faith they believed in anymore?
I think that sometimes it takes doubt and unbelief to actually bring about change. I know for myself–I have struggled with unbelief and doubt for probably my entire life, but it’s only the last couple years that I have stopped trying to fight against it, to embrace it, and see where I end up. Honestly in some ways I feel stronger than I did before. I feel more sure in my doubt (which I know, makes no sense) than I did when I tried to pretend there was no doubt.
Because I think honestly everyone who has ever lived struggles with doubt and unbelief. Even the most ardent believer doubts, even if its just in the dark hours in the middle of the night where your head takes you to places you don’t want to go. So we craft clever sayings like the one listed above and try to stuff the doubts away and pretend they don’t exist and shame people into thinking that somehow their unbelief makes them “less than,” is a reflection on their worth in God’s sight, is a sign of their weakness.
Well hello–we are all weak. We are all helpless in the face of God, in the face of the universe. Why don’t we just admit it already and admit we’re scared and afraid and wonder what, if anything, it all means? Why can’t we BUILD something with our unbelief and our doubts?
I believe that God is big enough for my unbelief. For everyone’s unbelief. I think there is faith even in the middle of the deepest doubt. I believe there is TRUTH in doubt and unbelief. I mean, one of my favorite musicians, Frank Turner, is an unapologetic atheist. And yet his words and lyrics can speak to the deepest, truest part of me. How is that destructive?
Honestly I think words and phrases like the one on that church marquee comes back to trying to squeeze God into a very small box. To making him quick and easy and comprehensible. To turning him into a “tame lion.” And while that may make some people feel better about themselves, in the end I think it’s pretty destructive and not building anything.