In good faith: critical thinking, truth telling

I have a dish towel in my kitchen that shows the back end of a hen, with her head turned so she’s glancing back. It says, “Sometimes you just have to say ‘Cluck it’ and walk away”, and that’s exactly what I’m doing.

It’s been about a year now since I stopped trying to act like a Christian. I needed to take some time to be away from it and just live. I kind of wanted to know what questions would come up and what I would miss about it. It turns out, there’s not much I miss.

All my life, I’ve been some sort of evangelical, and there have been a lot of good things about that. My faith led me to places where I could serve people and love them in unexpected ways. I was very young when I learned that love is something you live, not something you talk about, and I certainly didn’t succeed in being loving all the time, but I sure can say I did my best.

It’s been about a year now since I stopped trying to act like a Christian. Share on X

My faith also taught me that change is difficult but part of growth, to look for ways to make a difference where I am, to get back up when I fail, and to be fascinated with the world around me, just to name a few things. My life so far has been rich and full of beauty and adventure, and much of that is due to the choices I’ve made because of my faith.

A God who loves

The good samaritan by William Henry Margetson

The Good Samaritan by William Henry Margetson

The more I studied the Bible and thought about what it meant, the more I loved it – not as a manual for living or a magic book of encouragement, or even for its component parts, but as a fairly comprehensive picture of what it looks like when people believe in a God who loves and they try to live up to it – and of what that doesn’t look like. People are complex, beautiful creatures but flawed and often stupid.

We do dumb stuff and then wish we hadn’t. We do weird things we think will make God happy only to find out that it was just weird and we were making things more complicated than they needed to be. Sometimes we do evil things and put God’s name to them just because it’s what we want to do and we think that God said he (/she/it?) would be with us so that just makes whatever we want to do the “holy” or “righteous” thing to do.

Sometimes, though, we just reach out and love someone else and work for the best for them, and that’s when it’s really transcendent. That’s what I love about the Bible. It’s mostly just the story of people acting like jackasses and still being given another chance to not act like jackasses. Even the good ones are pretty dumb. It’s just that they’re trying. So, my problem is not with the Bible.I’m a middle aged white American woman living in a rural area of the Bible belt in 2021 and I want so little to do with the church as it is here Share on X

My problem also isn’t flawed people. Obviously, I’m not perfect and neither is anyone else. We might like to pretend we’re not shooting in the dark but really, we all are. Many of the individual people in the church are trying their best, and many are doing wonderful things that I love to honor and support.

But I don’t want to be a Christian anymore.

Bible Belt: a new perspective

I realize that this has a lot to do with the time and place in which I live. That’s true, but the fact is that I do live in this time and place. I’m a middle aged white American woman living in a rural area of the Bible belt in 2021 and I want so little to do with the church as it is here, in my time and place, that just the thought of being called by the same name makes me feel ill. I’m well aware that there are other iterations in other cultures or backgrounds that I would have fewer issues identifying myself with, but the fact remains that I am not in those places, or living in those times. I am here. And I want nothing to do with it.

I’ve spent hours upon hours trying to piece out what brought me to this place, like putting together a puzzle where each little piece holds a clue to the whole picture that is not made clear until the end. But if this story were a puzzle, it would have at least 3000 pieces and I don’t know that I’d ever be able to get it all together. My anger is not with a person or disappointment from any one event, although I’ve been angry with people sometimes, and definitely been disappointed.

Members only?

My anger is with an institution. It’s an institution that offers a social club with eternity insurance – failure to join with the correct words and practices of initiation resulting in torture forever – and coverage continues then cost-free and regardless of other choices forever. It’s an institution that has proven itself, over and over again, to be more interested in doctrine than in love. It’s an institution that is determined to address the issues of “the world” instead of the issues of the church.

Jesus looked for the people his culture hated, and he loved them. He had mercy on the people his community saw as enemies. Share on X

It teaches children that popularity or looking the part is more desirable than kindness. It teaches the gifts of the spirit without emulating the fruits of the spirit. It has consistently confused political party alliance with religious devotion, explicitly or implicitly endorsing the use of Jesus’ name in acts of political violence. It has proven that the outward performance of devotion is of higher value to it than the quiet and meek solidarity with the weakest and poorest among human beings. It openly portrays the concepts of social justice, equity, peace, inclusion, and anti-racism as anti-Christian.

What would Jesus do?

Our world is in turmoil. People can be assholes and honestly, we know it. Jesus was different. He walked around in a world full of turmoil and divisions and popularity contests and religious rules and political posturing, but he was kind. He looked for the people his culture hated, and he loved them. He had mercy on the people his community saw as enemies. He broke the religious rules if he could show love instead. He chose to sacrifice himself instead of pursuing political power.

Christ of the Ozarks in Eureka Springs

Christ of the Ozarks in Eureka Springs

In fact, our world is hungry for the kind of stubborn kindness that Jesus showed. We’re all desperate for a promise of something that makes it all worthwhile. People (myself included) are looking for examples of lives worth living. In the church we see people screaming for their own rights – to own guns, to move freely without regard for the health of others, to sing their songs, play their games and abuse those with whom they disagree, to hold hateful signs and scream hateful slogans when others demonstrate peacefully against acts of violence.

It’s not that there are no people serving the poor without regard for reward, or caring for the sick or taking in the refugee, but those people are largely hidden away where they do not have to embarrass the ones who are not doing those things. No, the church is not where the world around me finds its kindness and acceptance and justice and peace in the storm. A tree will be known by its fruit, and the fruit growing from this tree is division and jealousy and sorcery and contempt for others and misogyny and spiritual posturing, and open racism and love for violence and rivalries and magic thinking.

I’ve been standing in front of a door, thinking that inside is where I need to be... but what’s really happened is that as I’ve tried to work from inside, it has actually pushed me further away. Share on X

Love is something you live

The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. These are the very things we all look for when the world around us is in turmoil, and they are things that are there to be found. I can think of a few people who have defied the odds to become the pop heroes of our culture, and they are anything but perfect. Dolly Parton is revered by diverse multitudes, not directly for her music but for playing the long game in her investment in bettering the lives of those less fortunate than herself, and for doing that without fanfare or great publicity but simply, as the opportunity arises, and with faithfulness.

Brené Brown is a superstar for teaching people to accept their own vulnerability and love truly and expansively and with humor. Michelle Obama became, in a way, the Proverbs 31 woman and Esther to Generation X – caring for her family while utilizing a position she would not have sought for herself as a springboard to serve and encourage others she would never have a chance to meet. Fictitious as he is, Ted Lasso inspires millions to choose to turn to others with cheerfulness and kindness and a healing hand when possible. In each phase of my life, I’ve known people whose kindness and true compassion has set them apart and made them an example to others. There are many more pop culture figures who have come forward to fill the hole left in our hearts by the church, and that’s great, but the fact remains that they are doing a job the church is leaving undone.

No place for me

Several months ago, a relatively new friend was talking about the many friendships she used to have that have been destroyed by the political turmoil of the past years – from the vindictive political campaigns that started nationally but have spread to even the tiniest elections, to the racial upheavals, to the politicized response to the pandemic, and on – and she asked me if I could relate. I thought about it for a moment and realized that yes, I had lost friendships, but more than that, it’s been the final blow in robbing me of my religion and my faith community.

I’m no longer going to pretend this is all okay with me, or implicitly endorse what I see as blasphemy with my participation in its programs or my identification with its name. I find that for years now I’ve been standing in front of a door, thinking that inside is where I need to be. That if my faith is real, I would stick to the church and change it from the inside, but what’s really happened is that as I’ve tried to work from inside, it has actually crowded me out and pushed me further away. So, my decision is not to walk away from my place, but to walk away because I no longer have a place, and it was making me crazy to keep feverishly trying to find it in an institution where there is no room for me.

Making peace

Nothing much has changed in my everyday life. I’m not exploring alternative lifestyles or joining a coven. I’m getting up every day and loving my kids and my husband. I’m trying to be a loving family member, a good friend, an advocate for peace. I want my kids to be diligent and kind and passionate and successful adults so I cheer them on as they try those things out and encourage them to try again when they fail. I want to love others, so I try to approach each person with honor for their humanity. I’m trying to learn what I can about the world around me.

Please don’t misunderstand my purpose in writing this. I’m not writing to ask you to join me. We each occupy our own space in the world, and I trust you. I’m not even asking you to agree with me. I’m asking you to remain my friend and as my friend to be with me in this – to trust me that I’m doing my best. It’s hard and lonely and kind of infuriating to be me right now. I need my friends. If you have questions or want to talk about things, I’m here for it, but please don’t try to evangelize me. I don’t know what will happen with my faith, but if God is God, then I am safe, and if not, I am at peace.