Confessions of a Questioning Christian

One of my dear friends, who is a Christian, encouraged me to listen to a sermon she recently heard about why church is important. Of course I’ve already known for a while that I can’t find a church (or even a like-minded Christian community) in the city I live in now, but when I get home I’d already decided that I would try to get back in to church. Do I believe there is God? I want to. Do I believe in Jesus? I want to. Do I follow his teachings? Jesus’s – yeah, I try. That’s the best I can do. But even if that sets me apart from every other person in the sanctuary, I like church because it’s a group of usually kind-hearted people who are good at encouraging you. That’s certainly not the worst thing in the world. And even though I absolutely hate when churches get political and I might not always agree with things that are even taken verbatim out of the bible (sorry, I just can’t swallow some things from the Bible, and I don’t think that’s bad or condemns me to hell for eternity), I still think there are a lot of valuable nuggets of truth and positive life lessons to take from it. Again – this is a good reason to go to church (as long as it’s not a bunch of super hypocritical people being “preached” at by someone with an agenda/small world view). The church I went back to met those requirements, with injections of social justice and serving the community. Just my style.

Anyway, I started to listen to the sermon (but it, as well as another one I tried to listen to, cut off about halfway through. Not sure why) per her request. And it made some similar points to those above, plus more traditional Christian ideology like “we need to surround ourselves with like-minded community to keep us disciplined.” Agreed, agreed. The thing is, this only seems to work out best for those who believe that the bible is 100% God-breathed. I can’t say I believe that because of the history of how the bible was collected, translated, and influenced. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not so cynical as to believe that means you can’t glean any of the author’s intentions or inspirations. It just means that I can’t just take verses at face value. And if I don’t take them at face value – and actively toss some things out (go ahead – call me Thomas Jefferson), where does that leave me with the community. If the goal of church is to keep people disciplined in their pursuit of knowledge for God, but that pursuit doesn’t question or ever consider ignoring (or at least interpreting things in non-traditional ways), then what good does it do  – especially for someone like me?

I guess it means I can sit quietly, like the polite, well-mannered, church-raised girl I was taught to be. And I can take what I can, and let the rest go. Is it still worth it then? I guess… I guess I’ll find out next time I live in America again.

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.

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?

Matthew 28

Posted on: April 12, 2012

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, andhis clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

I guess it’s fitting that I get to this chapter the week after Easter. I don’t have a church here in the country I live in. There ARE some English speaking churches, but their doctrine is so stale, and at times so far from what I believe is the heart of the religion (i.e. more prosperity, less social justice). Anyway, this is also the crux of Christianity, isn’t it? Did or didn’t he come back to life? Did or didn’t he save all of us from our sins (and if he did, what, then, do we have to do to “earn” that from him)?

If this chapter is true, which I choose to believe it was, then goddamn, right? Oh, is that blasphemy? Anyway, holy cow! Wait… more blasphemy? Let’s try this: alleluia!

11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

Perhaps this is the reason that nobody but the bible can corroborate the story? Or can they?

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him theyworshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[b] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 As a child I felt these dudes were so stupid – they DOUBTED him? How could they call themselves his disciples? But I do understand. I would want to touch his holes, too, just so I could tell others, hey, don’t believe it? I put my hand through his holes…
His beautiful, sweet, loving holes.

I just read a blog by a girl who said she and a couple of their friends were walking around in Queens, and they got lost. They were cold, and they weren’t sure which direction to go in to get to the subway. They could have hailed a cab, she wrote, but it would have been expensive. Suddenly, a man wearing all white and carrying a bible walked around the corner and ended up leading them to the subway station.

She believes he was an angel. This angel is proof to her in the miraculous existence of a loving God.

I just gotta ask these questions:

  • You were lost in a city where 2 million people live.
  • You saw cabs and could have hailed one, but didn’t want to pay for a cab.
  • Your angel lead you to the subway station – in essence, lead you out and away from this dark place you didn’t want to be in.

Do I have that right?

I have a few more questions:

  • Since you didn’t want to spend money on a cab, this somehow warranted you some divine intervention?
  • The angel couldn’t have been doing better things? Like helping out some of the sex trafficking victims down on the Track? Providing a mother with some food for her kids? Helping someone who was sick suddenly be well? This angel, who suddenly was given the authority to intervene in the lives of some humans – when billions of people on a daily basis need some divine intervention – choses to help you find the subway station?
  • This place was so dangerous that you pretty little white people didn’t deserve to have to be there – and you were cold, too, so another huge reason to need an angel to bring you out of it — but the 2 million people who do live in this terrible place (as she makes it seem) don’t deserve some miracle to bring them out of their suffering, too?

I guess I’m confused.

I see what I would describe as a miraculous existence in a God who loves us not by trivial things such as being lead to a subway station, but when good people help other people. When justice is brought on behalf of widows, children, and orphans. When people sacrifice comfortable, safe, pleasant lives to help those who would never have those options.

I only see Jesus, or his philosophies, when people choose to “suffer” on behalf of those who are suffering.

Real suffering. Not being lost in a city, unable to find a subway station but unwilling to pay for a cab.

I already know why. This article says it exactly.

Click on the image to go to the article.

I remember this article going viral a while back, but I didn’t read it – because based on the title, I knew exactly what the writer was going to say, and I already agreed with him. Then I read it yesterday.

Here are a couple of my favorite parts:

I’ve heard it, and I’ve heard it over, and over, and over again.

Hell, in the past (and to some degree in the present) I participated in it. I propagated it. I smugly took part in it. I’ll admit that.

And I did so under the blanketing term “Christian.” I did so believing that my actions were somehow justified because of my beliefs at the time. I did so, actually believing that such appointments were done out of… love.

and

“Oh, but you’re not gay? You’re clean, and well dressed, and you have a job? You look the way I think you should look? You act the way I think you should act? You believe the things I think you should believe? Then I’m definitely a Christian. To you, today, I’m a Christian. You’ve earned it.”

Then yesterday, a friend of mine posted this article, which is by the same author and is a follow up to the first article. It broke my heart, but it gave me hope.

I started crying and couldn’t stop for the longest time. I don’t know why I was crying exactly, just so many emotions came over me. I didn’t know what to do or how to respond. I finally stopped and went and read your article once more only this time I tried to read it through my son’s eyes and the whole thing was so different than it was a couple hours before. By the time I finished I felt as big as an ant and I realized just how much hatred I have in my heart toward others.

You see, Mr. Pearce, you are right. It’s not about what other people do. It’s about whether or not we are loving them. Nothing else matters at all. And it took all of this for that to finally sink in.

Now, I posted both of these articles on my Facebook yesterday, and I actually made the original article viewable by all of my friends (I have some pretty strict privacy settings, because I don’t like doing a lot of debating on my wall with people who I know I won’t be able to see in person in over a year or more). But I have a lot of very conservative (both politically and religiously) friends from back home, and I really wanted them to see this article, because I actually used to think a lot like them. It took some pretty emotional encounters, just like it did for the woman in the second article, for me to start to see this issue from a different perspective. And looking back on that time, I still feel so sad that I used to think that my hatred and disgust for gay people was just my way of showing them God’s love. What a laugh! What a bunch of bull shit! Love gets very specific responses from people you are showing love to – the responses I got actually shined a mirror on my own heart. I saw heartbreak in the eyes of both friends and strangers; my heart was finally broken, too.

Anyway, I posted these articles because, although they aren’t the most well written articles on the subject, I think they both cover something important and something that is severely wrong with the modern American church: love is absolutely conditional. Which is about as far from what Jesus preached about as you can possibly get, I think.

If Jesus DOESN’T conjure up a feeling of love, then Jesus isn’t anything at all.

So if you follow Jesus, you should hope that the image you are sharing is one of love. If it isn’t, you have failed, and nobody will be interested in becoming a Christian. It seems simple, but somehow, it’s gotten totally warped. It’s been broken and crudely taped together and then repackaged as something completely different. Something heinous. Something blasphemous.

These articles articulate that pretty well. I hope you read them.

Anyway, since it was there for anyone to read, I got a response from a woman who I greatly admire. She is very godly and has always been someone whom I respect. However, the argument she had was a little disappointing. For one thing, I can only assume she didn’t even read the article, since her problems with it are pretty baseless if you have read it.

I question if this is a bit …one sided…why is it OK to lump all “christians” into one category? and how is the “lack of acceptance(tolerance)” described different than what the writer is doing to “christians” in this blog ? the writer wants to come off as tolerant of all…yet he is not tolerant of those who don’t believe like he does.(or maybe doesn’t LOOK like him…or act like him…or dress like him…or take care of their children like he does…etc)Its like saying “If you don’t accept the same things that I think are acceptab le, then YOU need to change” and when you do …then i’ll accept you because you’ve earned it. I know that there many people in the church today who are wonderful, loving , accepting people . not saying the “gist” of the blog is wrong…just saying that you can’t preach acceptance and not be accepting of those you don’t agree with

My short was response was as follows:

First, the article doesn’t lump all Christians into one category. The title does sound like that, but once you read the article, you find that it isn’t the case. Second, the theme of the article is that people of all religions are guilty of saying that they are doing something because of religious beliefs, but if their actions aren’t loving, then they are lying to themselves and only hurting people/giving people a negative view of their religion. It isn’t about tolerance or intolerance of beliefs, but the hypocrisy of people who say, “I’m a follower of Jesus! (or whoever)” but then they only show Jesus’ love to people who look or act like they do. The reason I love Jesus is because he loved EVERYONE, the outcasts and “sinners” of his day. So why are today’s Christians so selective about who they love?

I wanted to go on, but a comment on a FB status just isn’t enough room. Like I said, some of her arguments don’t make any sense if you’ve read the article. And then, of course, is the old fall-back apologetics argument I’ve heard my whole life from Christians.

“How can people say they are being ‘tolerant’ if they aren’t tolerant of me being intolerant?”

Now, I’m not even going to try to unravel that mindfuck right now, but bare with me. This article has NOTHING to do with telling people to be more tolerant. The author doesn’t say anything at all about what people should or shouldn’t believe. He simply says that IF you say you believe in Jesus (actually, he broadens it to any of the major religions, which are all based on a foundation of love and doing good to people from all walks of life), and IF you say you want to follow his example (which was loving everyone, without exception – except, you could probably argue, those people who wear religion on their sleeves but miss the point entirely), THEN you MUST love people, even when they don’t meet any of your expectations. If they are gay. If they are deadbeats. If they are homeless. If they are addicts. If they have stolen from you. If they have cheated on you. If they have a weird look about them, or if they pray to some other god, or no god, or they say they believe the same things that you do but they don’t act like it (that last one is where I fall short), THEN YOU HAVE TO LOVE THEM ANYWAY.

And, as the author says, if you’re not willing to do that, where do you get off saying you are a Christian at all?

That’s not about tolerance. That’s not about telling Christians they can’t believe this or that interpretation of the bible. That’s not about telling Christians anything; it’s only reminding them of exactly what it is they are proclaiming to believe in the first place. That’s simply calling a spade a spade.

But, just like the woman who wrote to the author in the second article, sometimes you can’t see a spade very well. Sometimes there is a plank in your eye that obscures your vision.