Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Statement of Faith

I feel very keenly that my personal pursuit of God has taken a significant turn in the past decade... I grew up in what was ostensibly a charismatic, fundamentalist church, with a puritanistic stepfather who sought to maintain order and limited what we were allowed to do socially. And like most little girls raised within a more restricted environment (and being fairly lazy and unadventurous), I did not think to question the validity of what we were taught and what was modeled for us. The books we read, the teachings of the church, the commands of our father... all of these constructed the building of our faith in Christ. I was baptized in a river at a youth retreat (like you do!), I was intimidated into REALLY receiving the Holy Spirit (which involved digging through my past life and getting all worked up and weeping copiously, which was VERY therapeutic!), and so forth.

Time moved on. I dealt with a series of bouts of depression every few years or so, which led me to seek comfort from a God that I realized I had built more or less in the image of my father; restrictive, punishing, cold, judgmental. I got counseling from a Christian family counseling ministry, which gently showed me that I could let go of all of those restrictions. I moved to another church, much like the first, but less hippy-dippy. Hands did not need to be raised during songs and prayers to prove you were a valid Christian.

Depressions and personal growth came and went. I started attending an Episcopalian church, which initially drew me because of the reverence and liturgy, but ultimately kept me because of the community and the realization that this church would thrive, almost regardless of who was in the pulpit. This, after 30 years of attending 2 churches formed by charismatic preachers, that declined when those pastors left, and which had their share of abuses.

Right before turning 30, I went through a nuclear explosion of anxiety and came out on the other side stronger and more self-aware than I could have ever expected. One of the lasting mantras I emerged with was that "God loves me too much to leave me as I am," which made every difficulty, every personal struggle into a big step forward in my maturity. Then in 2001, I woke up to the world around me. I think a lot of Americans did. I started paying attention to what was going on, in politics and world affairs.

In 2007, I joined a campaign to free a young man from unjust imprisonment in Central America. The entire year was taken up with the fight. And I woke up to the cruelty and reality of the world outside my comfortable existence, and I mourned our losses and the utterly irrational hate directed at this man. Finally in December of that year his sentence was overturned and he was commanded to be let go... and Evil fought to keep him there. He would likely be killed if he was not removed from that country. The evening I realized that we might not get him out of there, that Evil might win, was a tiny taste of Gethsemane for me, and I cried for hours.

I could no longer excuse or ignore the evil of the world, nor could I avoid the realization that the energy of the Church*, my community of faith, was being spent on fighting abortion, gay marriage, and evolution. To paraphrase the words of Marley in A Christmas Carol, "Mankind should have been our business," and it was not. We were more worried about these issues than we were about the suffering out there in the larger world. Our efforts to control our society and our supposedly virtuous way of life was more important than the tears of millions. Evil was slaughtering lives left and right, metaphorical blood pooling at our feet as feeble children cried and clutched at our legs, while the members of the Church fixated on a tiny box on the floor and argued over whether we were allowed to open it.

That night left me changed. The right and wrong, the sinfulness or virtue of those particular battles became a minor issue to me. My disappointment in my Church, although never enough to make me doubt the goodness and might of my God, did make me less and less inclined to spend my time within the structure we had built. The almost arbitrary rules and regulations of what Christian life should be began to crumble around me. But I knew God was real, and Jesus, and the Bible... so what guidelines should I live by? I focused on those specific things Jesus said (the red letter words), and in particular Matthew 22:36-40:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
While my innate laziness and fearfulness has kept me from flinging myself out into the world to do what I can to serve (particularly because I don't have an idea of what I should be doing specifically, and because I am still waaaaay too selfish and addicted to my own comfort), I trust that God is continuing to change me and mature me, so that one day I will be spending all my time and efforts in helping mankind in true service. Someday, I won't be afraid. I don't know what it will look like... but I am hoping I am ready when the time comes.

Some of the things that are becoming clear to me...
  • I am content for there to be mysteries of the faith, and don't feel the need to be obsessed with theology. 
  • I don't need to be utterly sure about whether the Bible is to be taken literally or not.
  • I need to stay within the community of the Church. I am part of a larger body, so I cannot go off and function by myself as, say, a little toe.
  • I am more interested in the truth than in preserving the Church with lies. If a congregation or denomination depends on lies to remain standing, then it needs to fall.
  • I don't get to judge the sins of others. (this is one I all too easily forget)
  • God is big enough for evolution. I don't see how he couldn't use it as part of his creation process.
  • While I think abortion is wrong, I also think that the life of an unborn soul is perfectly safe in God's hands, and he would prefer we take care of the mothers to-be who are already here and need our help.
  • Homosexuality is... too big for me. I am pragmatic and I like a tidy world, and homosexuality doesn't neatly fit within that from a biological standpoint. But I also think that God doesn't care. Plus that I like shrimp and scallops, and since God told Peter to start eating them, then by the transitive process, homosexuality is ok. The completion of Mosaic Law through Jesus' sacrifice, ya'll.
There are 3 primary prayers that I find myself repeating often;
  1. "Help me to be a good servant today... help me to serve others well,"
  2. "Please don't let me be led astray... don't let me be deceived into thinking contrary to your will." 
  3.  "Please teach me to love you more. I'm still scared of you most of the time. But I know you're good."
*The Church: the entirety of Christians - not just one church building and the people within it, but all followers of Christ across the world. Although now that I say that, I realize this essay is about the American Church primarily.


Kathryn said...

Oh Susan, what a gift you have given us here! I have tremendous respect for you, and reading this reminds me of all the reasons why. Thank you.

Susania said...

Thank you Kathryn... that means a lot coming from you!

engineer said...

Susan - I believe you have touched the heart of God. Jesus warned about making too much of the Book that pointed to Him while refusing to come to Him. I think you have found your way there. Thanks for your wonderful insight. Paul