My word for 2018 was believe.
It was a word I really needed in January and a word I’ve lived out differently than I ever imagined.
Because I've been going through what many young once-Evangelical Christians are facing today. Some call it deconstruction some call it Faith crisis others call it Transcendence and Inclusion and some call it the second half of the Christian Life. Essentially, deconstruction (as I’ll refer to it from here on out) is the process of examining and breaking down your faith and beliefs to discover what it is you truly believe. It’s a common part of any faith journey and often happens in a person’s 20s. Ergo, my deconstruction, beginning at age 25.
You see, I was raised in a Christianity of boxes. Neatly organized little boxes that fit in perfectly next to one another every box in its place on the row in the row on the Shelf and in the Box we put things like
- life had a box
- death had a box
-heaven had a box
- hell had a box
-men were in a distinct box
- women had a separate box
- even politics had a box
-love and who is allowed to love and how in a box
- science had a box
- mystery had a box
- other people other points of view had a box
-other religions were in a separate box probably on a separate shelf
... everything perfectly arranged in little the boxes. and within the box were answers…always answers, so many answers. So much reason.
And this type of faith this secure organized structured predictable box-like faith gave me a lot of security at one point. Because as children, we all need structure and as adolescents we need stability and as adults we need order, sometimes we need black and white, we need neat boxes to know where our things belong.
I was “gifted” with faith at a young age.
I was always enthralled by God’s grandeur, and worship, faith and mystery, scripture and prayer. I was always drawn to God and the holy spirit.
When I was 5 years old, I chose psalm 23 for our speech meet and recited the 20 lines emphatically by heart.
And by age 10, I was challenging my dad's atheist beliefs through the apologetics I learned in Bible class,
by age 12, I was having religious debates at summer camp,
and at age 13 I was doing street evangelism with my classmates on the streets of Watts and Compton LA.
In junior high, I became close with my Bible teachers who would give me strategies for debates with my dad (who I was still trying to convert) and teach me to read Bible commentaries and perfectly transcribe Scripture with no errors. In High School, I continued to be a good Christian girl—following my eldest child birthright and goody-two-shoes nature—so by my senior year of high school, I was even awarded the Eagle award—the highest honor for spiritual leadership on campus.
And then I got into my dream school—a liberal college where I knew that my faith would be a fight, I thought, I can be a leader here too and I can be an evangelist and tell people about Jesus. This is my new mission field.
I not only wanted them to know Jesus, but I even grew arrogant and self-righteous believing that it was my personal mission to convert people from their beliefs to my beliefs. Believing that I needed to expand both the minds of my politically conservative christian friends and I needed to convict the hearts of my socially liberal non-christian friends. I felt that I needed to be an example through my actions of righteous behavior and be personally responsible for recruiting everyone in my dorm to go to church. At first, I was strong…I became discouraged, because people weren’t falling for my tactics and my debates were no longer working…in fact, they were pushing people away, and then I became curious…
Awakening to a new reality
I found out that one of my close friends was Muslim, and then I met amazing, kind jewish people and amazing, kind agnostics, and amazing, kind buddhists, and amazing, kind catholics! I was welcomed in for holy Ramadan with a Muslim family in Virginia and enjoyed a Passover Seder amongst Jews in San Francisco. And one of my best friends from high school tearfully came out to me as gay, and I befriended a lesbian girl and reluctantly fell in love with an atheist.
When studying abroad in Italy, my church became a yoga studio where I felt closer to God than in any cathedrals I entered. When my mom was in and out of the hospital, my church became the ICU waiting room and the congregation was the other people whose names I never knew but with whom I shared many tears.
Nurses became Jesus to me, little old Italian ladies who would hold my arm to stay steady on the bus became Jesus to me, my liberal host mother with her strong bent toward social justice and her exorbitant pasta dinners became Jesus to me, my roommate’s empathic tears became Jesus to me, my pastor’s daughters and their sweet poems became Jesus to me…
My concept of God was growing…
You see, for so long, I put God in a box on that shelf too. Believing that God was only accessible in the words of the Bible or within the structure of a certain Church service or a certain denomination or a certain set of values. Believing that I could only be a good Christian, if I changed those around me, rather than simply cared for them.
I forgot that God is also accessible
in the diverse things of this of world
in good food
in gentle touch
in my own body
even in my own mind
My faith crisis
…was initiated in the fall of 2016 by the Election of Donald Trump. For many young Christians the election revealed a part of the “American church” and Religious Right with which they no longer wanted to associate, for me…this was true as well.
But more so,
it reminded me of an older version of myself—
a five years ago version of myself—-a version of myself I was deeply ashamed of. A judgmental, closed minded, opinionated, arrogant, self-righteous version of myself that believed it was my mission to prove why everyone else was wrong and why I was right. You see, with those well-intentioned apologetics junior high classes, what I learned was, “you have to fight for what you believe. And if someone isn’t for your beliefs, they are directly in offense of them.” What I gleaned from that high school leadership award was “you have to lead everyone to the same belief and the same values that we hold here”…we even teach it in our Sunday school songs, “I’m in the Lord’s army, yes sir.”
An Army. But who are we fighting? And what are we fighting? Which box is the next target.
Earlier this week, a friend of mine reminded me that God used Astrologers to lead people to the Christ Child. The wise men, Magi were astrologers and interpreters of Omens and dreams and they followed a star to find the babe.
Even the galaxies hold answers to questions about God and love and life.
I grew up in a Christianity that said, “if it doesn’t sound like us, if it doesn’t look like us, if it doesn’t talk like us, then it doesn’t belong.” But I’m learning that everything belongs. That if it catches us off guard or is surprising, then maybe it’s time to lean in and ask questions, rather than put up a shield. Because maybe it doesn’t belong to me, or to us, but it belongs to them or to her.
Yoga is one of the things that brings me closest into the presence of God, when I feel my feet on the ground, the holy breath in my lungs, the holy spirit in my chest, and God’s good earth beneath my feet, I feel deep connection to the source of life. I feel embraced and held and true. I have friends who still don’t agree with my yoga practice—they connect with God in different ways. I try to make space for the ways they belong and the ways they belong to God, and I hope they can find space for the ways I belong to God.
Growth & Gentleness
I’ve had to do a lot of reconciling with that strong willed debater in the summer camp cabin, and that little evangelist girl who asked a homeless man, “if you died tonight, do you know if you’d go to heaven or hell?” I’ve made my peace with the girl who scoffed at the sorority girls (which I myself was) and unconsciously labeled them as sinners and “lost”. And I realized that my seeking to prove others wrong was really a desire to belong…to be taken out of a box that even others put me in and to be known fully as I am.
So, I no longer associate with that evangelistic 13 year old, because my mission is no longer to convert those I meet or prove them wrong, but to connect with them and fully love them. I want to know them not change them.
I was taught to say, “I have an answer for that!”…I’m learning do say, “I don’t know the answer to that”
I was taught to say, “God has a plan for that”…I’m learning to say, “I’m sorry this is happening to you”
I was taught to say, “Jesus says to forgive”…I’m learning to say, “It’s ok to be angry”
I was taught to say, “Everything will be ok”…I’m learning to say, “I’ll be here even if it’s not ok”
Becoming the Ocean
Someone once told me that faith is like a fishbowl. That the fish inside wants to swim and it gets frustrated when it bumps into the edge of the bowl, but if it were to jump out of the bowl, if it were to leave the safety of its glass container, it would die. But, we all know a fish was never meant to be confined to a bowl, it wasn’t created to live there. Friends, what if our faith was about becoming the ocean?
This year, I feel like my faith became the ocean. It expanded and deepened, it gained new hues and ecosystems, it learned how to holds a variety of life and species that it never had before.
My faith became one of
mystery and openness,
but also science, doubt, healthy anger, simple kindness, tough conversations, lighthearted laughter and unshakable justice.
It is a faith that believes in miracles and in personal accomplishment.
My faith is about worship songs and yoga asanas.
My faith is about worship songs and yoga asanas.
Though I’m careful to use the word Christian, I still attend a church that reads from Scripture—and recites "secular” poetry, and does collective meditation and breathing practices, and talks about bringing down patriarchy and raising the voices of the marginalized.
From Nov. 2016-March 2018, I felt “untethered”—longing for something to anchor me back and feel safe. And though I didn’t exactly find a tether, I have found there to be truths that I stand by no matter what.
Truth #1 We are innately good: I held my new baby niece on Dec. 31, 2017 and I was overwhelmed with the realization that we are good. At our core, we are good, she was absolutely perfect. Not a hair on her head was made of hatred, or greed, or malice. I looked into that face and I thought, “If she ever does anything ‘bad’, if she hurts, or steals, or lies, or kills, it will not be because she is bad. It would be because something in her life told her that this is what she needs to do to survive.” Coming from a faith that talked about a sinful nature, this was a radical shift for me. And, it’s something I apply to everyone I meet now. I realize even the people who I detest (ahem, struggle to respect and/or love), they are good at their core. Something in their story has told them to act, behave or think in this way—sometimes I even envision them as a child, looking for love and approval, and my heart softens.
Truth #2 Spiritual searching is worth it. There were times on my journey that I just wanted to give up. It was so hard to look at my belief system and examine every stinking doubt. Did I believe prayer changes things? I don’t know. Did I believe Jesus really resurrected? I have no clue. Did I believe that Heaven and Hell are actual places? Or are they simply metaphors for life? Or were they just constructed to make people “behave?” These questions could drive anyone crazy. In the end, I have some ideas about these things, but I’m definitely still on the journey, and what I learned is that it’s ok for questions to beget more questions. And it’s ok to stop looking for answers when things get overwhelming. I’m ok saying, “I don’t know”…but I don’t know doesn’t mean, I don’t care.
Truth #3 Transcend and (don’t forget to) include. This week I was speaking with a friend about the process of deconstruction. She mentioned how she sees a lot of friends deconstructing their beliefs (transcending) and breaking things down, however, she doesn’t see much re-construction (including). I would agree. The process of deconstruction is a sense of taking back one’s power—sometimes from a “domineering” patriarchal church or God figure (one who rules every action in one’s life, and/or calls them “wretched”)—so I think this process of taking back power is actually very important. In order to move forward empowered and informed, we need to have some semblance of control; however, I noticed even for myself that this need for control blocked the allowance of any mystery or surrender. So, as I transcend old beliefs, I also find it important to include the things that I do want to carry on. For instance, miracles. I do believe. I can’t prove them, and I won’t debate them, but I’ve seen them in my own life. Reason gives way to mystery, and I include a part of my faith heritage that I want to continue. As I transcend, I also include—I include singing, and prayer, generosity, miracles, communion, joining hands in church.
In deep and mysterious faith,