Confessions of a Questioning Christian

Archive for June 2012

Growing up, I always understood exactly what the pastor was saying. Seriously, I got it. I remember explaining things to my sunday school teacher once. She was like, Whoa kid, you’re freaking me out.

My mom told me that the moment she first held me, God told her I was made for something special.

I was awarded “Camper of the Week” twice at the Christian summer camp I went to, and I was asked by the Camp to come back in college to teach a week of lessons (although I admit that I don’t think I did very well at that – or at least, what I said wasn’t what people wanted me to say, and I’m pretty sure I would have said things differently if I could go back).

I’ve always strove to give myself back to the church, keep myself involved, know people and be known by others at church. In college, I changed churches three times, more and more frustrated by the way churches were trying to control me and not accept me. I finally found a church that I truly love – Harvest Vineyard in Ames, Iowa. Since moving abroad, I have not been able to find churches that aren’t really strange to me. So I’ve stopped going to church. I also don’t have m/any Christian friends here. I married ¬†a man who identified as a Christian up until about a year ago. I have become liberal, which finds me at odds with (and often mercilessly judged by) the Christian friends I have from back home.

I keep thinking of a quotation I heard a while back: “She’s a whore, but she’s my mother.” (St. Augustine) He was talking about church. She is a whore, but I try not to slut-shame in regular life so I need to remember that with the church. I get so angry with stupid people who are so hurtful and cutting and using the church and Christianity to do and say things, and judge and push people away. I’d rather not call the church a whore – I’d prefer the words “Mean Girl.” She’s the Queen Bee, Regina George. She manipulates and rules, she’s a bitch and a cheater, and she acts like a victim when actually she’s the one telling everyone how to act and live and be. But I have to remember that she’s just a person, too. A person who can get hit by a bus and has to wear a neck brace to the Spring Fling Ball. (Sorry, I watched Mean Girls recently).

When my friends and I start talking (complaining) about Christianity, what we’re really doing is complaining about the Church. Just because PEOPLE are terrible humans doesn’t mean that the teachings of Christ are. At least, the teachings of Christ – whoever and whatever he was – have never been disputed in my heart. I may not understand who or what God is, what he wants with me, or if the person called Jesus said and did what the bible says he said and did… but the things written about him are still how I want to live my life. But I know that for most Christians, it all comes down to believing Jesus was what the bible says he was. To be honest, I do believe – or at least, genuinely want to believe, and do not disbelieve – that he was. That’s my choice. I don’t care what others think, whether they disagree with me or if they think that my belief isn’t strong enough. It’s all I have.

I know that you can’t make someone believe something, because faith is all in each person’s own capacity.

But I am having such a hard time relating to the sermons I hear, the Christian-styled words and phrases people say, and how they apply to current life on Earth.

And I’m sick of feeling judged for not being able to say what people want me to say.

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I just read this blog post about a former pastor and former Christian.

I sat here wondering to myself, if someone asked me right now, what do you believe in, what would my answer be?

  • I believe there is a God.
  • I believe there was a man named Jesus, and some people wrote things about him.
  • I believe that the philosophy created by (or attributed to) Jesus is good and worth forming a lifestyle around.
  • I believe that love is the strongest of human emotions and unconditional love could fix all social problems. Maybe all the problems in the world.
  • I believe I am being as faithful as I possibly can without turning off my brain.

Okay… now what don’t I believe?

  • I don’t believe that anyone can know anything about God. The bible gives us an idea, and even that idea is difficult to pinpoint, predict, or praise. The God of the old testament is scary, rash, and wrathful.
  • I don’t believe that anyone can know anything about whether Jesus was who the bible makes him out to be. There isn’t enough historical evidence. As with the existence of God, what type of God he is, and who and what Jesus was and wanted with me and my life or soul… it boils down to a matter of faith.
  • I don’t believe that believing in heaven or hell is necessary. The afterlife is a foggy subject even within the bible, and many verses are irresponsibly used to scare people about the afterlife. My afterlife should have no bearing on my life now, and I think Christians especially should understand that. I don’t care about what comes after this life… and I hope that I’m not wrong about that, but I can’t live my life forcing myself to believe something simply out of fear of what may or may not come later.
  • I don’t believe in the power of prayer – at least, not usually. If God is out there and if he enjoys our prayers, then I think that on occasion perhaps his ear can be bent and persuaded to indulge us – but for the most part, I have not seen God intervene. I don’t mind that – I actually appreciate it – but I am bothered by prayer because for the most part I don’t understand what good it does. When I do pray, and it isn’t me pathetically begging for something on my wishlist, it is simply an act of quick and quiet supplication for wisdom and humility and more love than I feel capable of producing on my own. Even if God doesn’t exist or he doesn’t listen or doesn’t care, prayer is a fine way to meditate on what I need/want/who I want to be.

So I guess people wouldn’t call that a Christian. A Christian friend of mine recently asked me how I could possibly believe in Jesus’ philosophy but throw out the rest of the bible (she cited the verses in Revelations that said we can’t add or subtract anything from the bible). I replied that the bible was only chosen and bound within the last few hundred years, and that different types of Christians have various books of the Bible that I have never had in a version of the Bibles I’ve been given or bought. Besides, if I believe in Jesus but don’t necessarily want to study or follow Paul’s teaching, how can that mean I am not a Christian? There are many people in remote places who only hear of Jesus and choose to follow him but never read or learn about many other parts of the bible. Are they not saved? Not that I care about that right now, anyway.

And why don’t I care about being saved? Because I believe that there are real problems in this world, and this is the world I have been given. Some problems – like political, governmental, or large scale financial corruption are beyond my realm of influence. But making waves and taking action on the majority of social evils – homelessness, prejudice, hunger, thirst, enslavement, etc. – is something I can and will do with my life. I am not going to try to convince anyone that I am good enough, nor will I act in a way only to “earn” my way onto some list. God knows my heart, and he knows that I am earnestly seeking truth and faithfully loving his people, even if I don’t go to church and even if I disagree with most Christians on lots of issues. If God looks at me and thinks I don’t measure up, what can I do? I will not stop questioning, processing, or critically thinking about my world or my place in it. I want to love God and I want Jesus to have been real because that story is beautiful and I believe that people are worth dying for. I cannot prove it, and I won’t spend my life trying. I will love based on the love that Jesus of the bible has exemplified; at least, I will die trying.

A lot of weird things have happened in my life in the last month, and without meaning to I’ve started praying again. I think it might be my brain’s strange old habit – of jumping into a prayer of pleading when I feel like there is nothing I can naturally do on my own. Or is it something else? I can’t short change myself – I do still believe in God. I don’t presume to understand him in any way, but I do hope that if he’s out there and he does care about me, that prayers still work. I also know that in the bible, it says we need to really have faith in our prayers for them to work… that kind of hurts my feelings. Ha! But it does, a little. I have as much faith as is honestly possible. Why can’t that be enough? It’s like I have to shut off my brain in order for my faith to work?

But anyway, I’ve been praying a bit lately. I’ve been praying for some family members who are going through a tough time – what else am I supposed to do for them? They are so far away, and they asked for prayer, too. Usually when people ask me for prayer anymore I just inwardly roll my heart and try to be there for them and hope for the best – mostly because people are always asking me to pray for them for the most trivial things. Like, dude, if you want to do well on that test, STUDY FOR IT. And then, when you studied for it, you can thank God, but you should also give yourself some credit, too! You want that house? MAKE THE BEST OFFER. Come on, now.

But I get it, in certain circumstances. When life is really difficult – when people have pushed you to the brink and then they push more. When you are ¬†homeless and your spouse is abusive. When you’re in the ICU. I get it. There’s nothing you can do anymore. And while I doubt that God intervenes on our behalves that often, it’s never going to hurt to ask for some divine intercession – or at least some divine wisdom.

Maybe it’s just a waste of my time if nobody is listening, though. Or if he is, but my faith isn’t strong enough. Is questioning an absolute faith damager?