Here is what I know: If we are to learn anything, if we are to see clearly where we belong in the world, if we are to love truly and deeply, if we are to learn mercy from our suffering, if we are to tell the best stories, if we are to laugh from our bellies- we must be truly vulnerable and honest. I wrestle with this lately, because being honest with myself and with you means sharing about how I’m deconstructing the ways in which I have always expected to find God. It means learning a new language to express who God is to me. It means stepping away from the current structure of my faith experience and starting again. It’s incredibly uncomfortable- incredibly uncomfortable- but it’s where most of my stories begin right now. It’s where my deepest experiences happen. I haven’t written much lately because I don’t yet have a very good grasp on this new language, and I’m walking around in the rubble of my faith life, just barely starting to rebuild. I’m trying to find my feet. When I wrote that last post, it was the first time outside of my therapist’s office that I was able to verbalize where I find myself right now, and it scared the hell out of me to post it. Here is what I have found, though: the posts that scare me the most to write (many of which I delete before ever publishing, a habit I’m ready to quit) are the ones that catalyze the most thoughtful, meaningful, and vulnerable conversations with you guys. Several of you wrote me after that last post. Thank you. Your stories and dialoguing with you helps me find my way and see that I’m not alone in the mess. Whether it’s about sex, God, love, body image, relationships, or otherwise, the times I am most honest are the times we have the best conversations.
Honesty ain’t pretty. It’s messy. It means saying things like “I’m feeling lonely,” “This scares me,” “I don’t know if God is real, anymore.” For me, right now, it means having conversations about sex and love and creativity and God and not being afraid of what people (read: the overwhelming majority of adults in my family who are preachers and teachers in the evangelical church) will think. These conversations that I so deeply, desperately want to have are not taking place on Sunday morning. The Sunday morning church dialogue is not currently the dialogue I want to be part of. I want conversations that flow freely, without fear of judgment or condescension. The conversations that are filling my soul happen around bonfires, they happen around glasses of wine and whiskey, they happen during the podcasts I listen to, they are peppered with profanity and colored with candor and the people I’m having them with don’t give a shit about who might find them insensitive. I’m spending time with comics, some of the most irreverent people on the planet, and learning about life with them because they seem not to give a single fuck about what might hurt my feelings. It’s refreshing. I’m listening to Christian teachers who have walked from conservative evangelicalism, through atheism, into mystical and progressive Christianity and their conversations challenge me SO deeply and help me see the other side of this thing. I’m reading as much Rob Bell as I possibly can because when he talks about God, something hums in my soul and I feel I’ve found a kindred spirit. I’m learning about science because she makes God bigger than any so-called historical record from the Bible. That’s another thing- I have released my expectation that the Bible must be literally true in order to be the Truth. The overwhelming majority of Jesus’ teachings were parable, myth, story. What if the Bible is meant to be the same thing? Not necessarily a record of historical fact (although some of it certainly may be- hello, Book of Numbers), but a narrative that points to Christ- God with us. I don’t need the Bible to be literally true, anymore, and that has liberated the way I read it. Was the Earth created in 7 literal days? Certainly not, but that is not the point. The point is there is a Creative Being who wants to know us, and this Being wants to express and design and paint and sculpt unimaginable beauty from the darkness, which is what Christ does in us when we love and forgive and show mercy. Was there a giant fish who swallowed a guy named Jonah and then spit him up again so he could preach to the heathens in Nineveh? Seems unlikely, but that’s not really the point, either. I do see in this story that God can act in incredible ways to make sure people know He loves them. I don’t need for there to have been a guy in a fish belly in order to see that Truth any more than I need Jesus’ woman searching for her lost coin to have been an actual lady or his prodigal son to have been an actual dude.
Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar who has some helpful insights, said in a conversation I heard today with Pete Holmes on You Made it Weird that “literalism is the lowest form of meaning” and I wrote it down and underlined it because that is so rich and good and AMEN. If all we ask of the Bible, or if what we primarily ask of the Bible, is that it be literally true more often than not because that fits our beliefs better, then we’re in for a boring, binary, exclusionist, punitive faith life wherein we get to be right and everyone else gets to be wrong. And that sucks, and I’m not interested in playing along.
I’m yet to visit a church addressing this stuff on Sunday mornings, even though LOTS of us are asking these questions. In fact, another podcaster I’m listening to, Mike McHargue, a former Southern Baptist minister turned atheist turned progressive Christian mystic, says he hears from clergymen and women daily who wrestle with this stuff but are terrified to speak it out loud in their churches. There’s a lot going on there- the idea that leaders must always have the answers, that they’re impervious to doubt, that they’re always going to have a good handle on the things the rest of us struggle with- but it really bums me out that we have, for the most part, a local church culture that has so latched onto the binary, black and white, good and evil, God and Satan, Heaven and Hell thing that we rarely if ever even acknowledge the tension that exists in the middle. Church is rarely even a place where the middle gets talked about at all. I’m desperate to live in the tension, because that’s where the best life is. I want to spend time with the people who are more interested in questions than answers. I want to surround myself with folks who are willing to say, “The hell if I know,” rather than make something up for the sake of defending the “Good Guys”.
When I talked about leaving church in my last post, I want to be very clear- it is not because I have been hurt or shamed or betrayed. I don’t think church is bad, in fact I think it can be a life giving place for community and companionship- if you’re inside the circle. Rohr says he is “on the edge of the inside” and I think I like that. More and more, I’m digging the fringe dwellers. What about those who have historically been excluded from church life? Why aren’t the people in church who curse like sailors on Monday over a beer with me doing the same thing in their conversations with their church friends? Why aren’t we talking about sex? I have sex. Hell, I smoke a little weed on the weekends. Tonight, I’m drinking an entire bottle of wine and it won’t be the first time (this week). I also spent two hours this morning deeply connected to God in a transcendent way, taking the Eucharist from a priest of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, inside of a beautiful Parisian cathedral. I looked into the eyes of God today, I think. And I also think there is a good chance that the sex and the weed and the wine could elicit a stronger reaction than the fact that I met God as close to face to face as I ever have in my life. This is a problem.
We are integrated beings. We are not fractionated, separated, or compartmentalized, as much as we may try to be. We are YES AND creatures far more often than we are EITHER OR creatures. We’re not black and white, and the world in which we live is rarely as binary as we want it to be. I don’t think we need to find all the answers, you guys. I just really hope we can show mercy, forgiveness, love, and kindness to one another while we live in the tension and ask all the questions.
Pope Francis defines Mercy as love in action. I have that word, mercy, tattooed on my left arm, so I see it all the time. What I really, really want, you guys, is to live it.