Saturday, March 21, 2015
I should be an atheist. But I'm not.
Let me back up and explain, and hopefully my thoughts won't burn too many bridges.
I went to seminary and earned a Master's Degree in Theology. This may be my saving grace as well as my undoing. Before starting seminary a close friend pleaded that I not become an atheist after I graduated. She said she had a friend who attended a seminary and came out an atheist. I could understand that. I could understand learning about your religion causing so much disillusion that you abandon it all together. But me? An atheist? How absurd.
Here I am, though. I am disillusioned with Christianity, you guys. I want to quit. I want to throw in the towel, say "screw this noise," drop the mic, and walk away while mixing whatever metaphors I dang well please.
But I continue to trudge along through the muck and the mire of faith, disheartened and disgusted by my contemporaries and discouraged by my own inability to change anything, especially to change myself.
I don't really go to church much anymore. That sounds like an unexpected contradiction. One would think that a seminary grad would be enthusiastically involved in church life. I can come up with many explanations, or excuses, for this. Usually I brush it off by claiming I just get mad in church, which is true. The worship and sermons are usually so shallow, mindless, theologically abhorrent, or just plain wrong that I spend most of my time composing an enraged inner monologue countering the service.
Of course I was hurt once. Well, more than once. By a bunch.
That is initially how I suspended my regular church going attendance. Without retreading too much, it is the now infamous question in my life of "How can you be depressed when Jesus is the Lord of your life?" As much as it hurt at the time (and honestly still does when I dwell on it, but those periods are seldom now since I mostly focus on the outcomes), it sent me on a grand exploration of theodicy, doubt, and the rejection of religious certainty that occupies so much of my mind today. Indeed, now when I speak before a church I declare it is absolutely okay to be a Christian and be depressed. I am both things.
Okay, the "Christian" part might be up for debate.
So why have I not fully abandoned my religious leanings? Well, while more obvious outward displays of faith, such as going to church, are in shambles, in the quietness of my humble home I manically explore faith, doubt, and all those other forms of "God-talk." I am constantly shifting from reading theology, to listening to podcasts on theology, to reading comic books with theological themes. And where church and all those expected behaviors, which lead me standing completely alone in a crowd, feel like chores, my leisurely pursuit of, to borrow a line from Daniel Migliore, "faith seeking understanding," is both a delight and a compulsion.
I can't stop. I don't want to stop. But I don't want to do Christianity as usual, anymore. I don't know if I can. With that, a question might follow as to what type of Christian I currently am. I am not sure. I grew up Pentecostal, and while I would still identify with that, I'm not sure the Pentecostal camp would identify with me, or even accept me.
I have no fraking clue what I am. I am lost and afraid, filled with worry and anxiety, blessed with doubt and plagued by faith.
If my religion or my faith is currently broken, if I am filled with doubt, then what do I believe? Do I believe anything?
I believe in God the Father, creator of Heaven and Earth. But I have no idea how that act of creation occurred. I believe that when we spend so much time trying to explain the how of the creation narrative, we neglect the message that God did create, and he called what he created good.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only begotten son. How that works, I do not know. How the Holy Spirit also fits into the three Persons in One, I also do not know. For 2000 years we've been trying to understand and articulate the Trinity and while we may have a good idea, I believe the interrelationships of the Godhead are far more nuanced than we will ever be able to comprehend.
I believe that Jesus lived a life of radical love and compassion, providing us with an example to emulate. I believe that this life of love was the revelation of who God is and that it led to Jesus' execution by religious and state authorities. I do not believe that Jesus was brutally slaughtered because God behaves like a drunk bastard that is so pissed at you and me that he took his wrath out on his own son, beating him to a bloody pulp for his own vengeful satisfaction. I used to believe that, but now it sickens me to depict a loving God like that. I believe God must be at least as nice as Jesus.
I believe in the resurrection, the radical display that love conquered even the grave. I believe this event is more significant than the birth of Christ, but since we haven't been able to properly commercialize it yet, the resurrection lags greatly behind Christmas in importance. We should really work on ramping up the Easter shopping season, shouldn't we?
I believe that Jesus is coming again. I don't know when or how it will actually take place. I spent much time while growing up looking at those grand charts outlining the time frame of the end times. I'm not that interested in such things anymore. For 2000 years people have been predicting the return of Christ. They have all been wrong, often causing great harm to those that believed them, or even those that opposed them. I believe I don't know when Jesus will come again, and by the time he does, whenever and however that occurs, it will be too late for me to do anything about it. So I will do my best to be ready for that, and then carry on.
I believe we can be Christians without being willfully ignorant. I believe we can be Christians without being gullible and paranoid simpletons. We can believe in science and technology without it jeopardizing or opposing our faith. We can be Christians without unquestioningly believe every email forward that makes it way into our inboxes. We can be Christians without insisting the world, culture, and society are all doomed. We can be Christians without running around frantically exclaiming that Dungeons and Dragons and Harry Potter are evil and will turn your children instantly into witches and wizards.
I do not believe yoga pants are evil. I believe they can be distracting, but so can clown shoes or plaid shirts if you've got the right fetish. I do not believe yoga is evil and will cause you to be possessed by demons. However, I do believe yoga stretches are the most boring part of any workout, but dang it if I haven't been able to get this close to touching my toes since elementary school.
I believe that God created this world good, and there is still good in it. This universe we live in is wondrous, amazing, astounding, demoralizing, heartbreaking, boring, exciting, confusing, terrible, and terrific. I believe our personal lives can completely fall apart, yet so many incredible things still exist in the world that we can't help but smile. Surge is back. Community has a sixth season on Yahoo! They made a Guardians of the Galaxy movie and it was actually really good. Miracles do happen and they are very, very strange.
I am that rare evangelical Christian, if I even count as a Christian at all, that is optimistic about this life, this world, and this oncoming future.
I believe in a great many more things. I believe in far more than I can prove.
Maybe I've given up on religious life, whatever that means. Maybe that means that I am an atheist. Maybe my doubt outweighs my faith, but honestly I think my doubt only strengthens my faith. The more I doubt, the less I worry about losing my faith. In my youth, my faith was a certainty that all my rigid beliefs were absolutely correct. That is no longer the case. My faith is no longer a delicate game of Jenga, where one wavering belief will topple the whole structure. Instead my faith is more fluid and dynamic. It can withstand and engage doubts and rebuttals. It can change. It can adapt.
It can grow.
I believe in the humility of faith. I believe that I can be wrong. I believe that's okay. I believe that to some this may all sound wishy-washy and noncommittal. Maybe it is.
I have said before that my life is a series of crises of faith. I think that is good. I think that is where my faith thrives. Honestly, I would be worried if I found myself in a place where I was assured of all my beliefs. May that never happen.
Lord, I pray that I will continue to experience a crisis of faith.
Huh, how is that for a bizarre, perhaps even atheistic prayer? A prayer for doubt and for challenges to my faith.
I'm not good at church anymore. I'm not good at religion. I don't think I'm really that good at Christianity. Maybe that means I should be an atheist. Maybe that means I am an atheist.
Maybe it just means I'm working out my salvation "with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12)." Though, if I may be so bold, I'm rather tired of the fear and trembling bit. I would much rather work out my salvation with grace and love, gifts freely given, never deserved or earned, yes, yes, oui, oui, amen.
Blessed with doubt.
Plagued by faith.