Step 12. My name is Katie, I am a recovering evangelical and this one is for you. Yeah, and your friends.
One year and one month ago, I started this journey knowing I needed to understand who I believed God to be, how did that God see me or what did said God expect of me, and what in me needed to change. Did I check all those boxes? Nope. Did the last year change my life regardless? Yep. Do I think you should take a year to examine your faith and spiritual foundation? Hell yes and here is why: I firmly believe that a faith that cannot be examined or questioned or doubted, is not a faith worth having. No matter what religion or denomination within said religion you proscribe to.
But this is scary. Because being raised as an evangelical Christian I felt like I had to have all the answers or at least act like it, and when I didn’t, use the sanctimonious “Sometimes God says yes, no, or wait” or “You just have to have faith that God….” or if you were really daring, “I don’t know,” while really actually having a fool proof belief. And aren’t those really signs?? Consider Jesus who spent so much time asking questions, trying to teach his own disciples to ask questions. And when they did ask questions, Jesus gave super clear and not at all murky answers. Sarcasm… that was… you get it. I don’t have all the answers, but I am asking all the questions.
This is dangerous. As Richard Rohr wrote in his book about Francis of Assisi, Eager to Love, “Perhaps that is why so many religious, formally moral people, do not seem to be attractive or happy to us. To do a moral or virtuous thing however, with the right energy, is what I would call beautiful morality. Yet, it will often be judged by the same kind of people who accused Jesus. This is precisely the vulnerability of the faith position and why it takes the darkness of faith to be faithful. In other words, you must be open to the possibility that you are wrong.” I could be wrong!!! I probably am in practice if not in thought— just ask my husband, kids, siblings, in laws. My theology is shaky at best and a quivering mess at worst. But to put down all the laws and the rituals, that haven’t brought me one stitch of life or actual joy, and to pick up the single plan of loving people as they need it where they are, and by doing so love God, I have begun to feel as though I am actually standing on a firm foundation.
This is challenging. Because it means you sit yourself down and actually begin to ask the questions. The big ones. “If God is love, is there really a hell?” “What about people who have never heard the gospel?” “Why is there pain?” “What the heck are those genocides in the OT about??” “Is God even real?” So much of the Christian life is about escaping pain and the hard things (ex: Come to Jesus, for his burden is light, he gives life, removes death, etc.), but that is counter intuitive because Jesus went toward the hurt. He moved towards pain, towards the broken, towards the really uncomfortable, smelly, scary, dark, difficult, heart breaking stuff of humanity of which he was a part.
But the sincerest reason I recommend examining what you actually believe in the deepest parts of your soul is this: because it changes how you see yourself and the people around you. It moves a person from us/them to we. It changes the immediate response of “Either/or” to “Yes! And…” It removes the focus from saving someone else to working on your own stuff. It changes how we approach people. It changes how we see other religions. It will change how you see yourself. I grew up with a mentality that I have to become so small so that Christ can increase. That I can do nothing apart from God. That everything I do is because of God. But these mentalities really do two things: make God extremely egotistical and the human worthless. But as I have spent time actively working against those thought processes in my brain, I have come to appreciate how far removed they are from the design of life set forth in narrative story in Genesis.
I want to leave this first year long journey with one final point, partially to justify my journey but also to encourage you to join me on it. In Matthew 15 Jesus tells us that he came to save the lost sheep of Israel. This tells me one thing: Those of us that grew up in organized religions, we are probably getting/doing it wrong. And you only have to look at every Reformation or revival to see it happening again and again. Thich Naht Hanh wrote, “People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth.” Examining what you actually believe, what you are mindfully practicing brings us out of the clouds and plants our feet into rich soil.
Music that brought me comfort or joy this month: