This is the one I have been afraid to write. The one that has been sitting in my heart and on my brain and itching to get out, but paralyzing fear has held me back. This is the one I have written a hundred times in my head, re-thinking, re-wording, trying to make sure I can convey what I am trying to share . Rewriting so I don’t appear to make sweeping assumptions and have to define every term so as not to offend someone. The controversial one. The scary one. The one that is me telling my truth but may lose me some friends. This is the one that should be a book but for now is 1500 words. This is the one about my faith evolution.
Not unlike the range of songs in my music library I have a wide and diverse range of friends. I think those who are very left-leaning would be surprised at how conservative I can be at times and those who are very right-leaning would be surprised at how liberal I can be. So, I am asking for patience as I try to share some backdrop and succinctly wind through this journey.
First, and possibly a surprising disclosure for my liberal friends….I was raised in a Republican Christian home. During graduate school I had a boss who was a Jewish Democrat tell me she was surprised that I was intelligent because of her perception of Christian Republicans – a perception that I think still holds true today. But later as I thought about this, I think it was the beginning of my questioning and evolution of thinking on faith and politics.
Growing up I went to church every week, went to a conservative Christian college and worked for a church as a youth group leader for a couple years. I did not think much about what I believed because I was surrounded with like-minded people. Now don’t get me wrong here, I was surrounded by loving and caring and faith-filled and generous people who are still friends today. I just wasn’t pushed to believe anything other than what I was raised with. And honestly it wasn’t just about going to church for me, I actually had a deeply personal faith that went along with that.
But somewhere along the way I lost my zeal for church. I don’t know if it was disappointment in some of the leadership or a questioning of why I believed what I did but I quit going. For a long time I felt guilty about that, but soon I just got out of the habit. Simultaneously I was starting to deal with some of the things from my past that I had never really grieved over – my parents’ divorce, my brother’s death, my own divorce, some unrealized dreams. I was smacked in the face with grief through a seemingly benign event and spent several years crying in closets. I learned that by not grieving these things and feeling that pain I was going to be stuck and not able to experience real joy and vulnerability. I lovingly call those early years of pushing down my emotions the “lost years” because it is amazing what you don’t remember when you drift through life trying not to feel and putting on a happy face. Despite not going to church through all this I clung to my faith but drifted from the hard line of what I thought it meant to be a Christian. I struggled with the fact that God actually loved me. I had conversations with friends, I started reading, I found authors and speakers like Jen Hatmaker and Anne Lamott -who loved Jesus and also used the “f word”. I started reading my Bible and questioned why people chose some verses to believe strictly and others were attributed to the times (e.g. women need to wear head coverings in church). I started digging into context. I realized that the Ten Commandments were put in place to show us that without grace and redemption and what Jesus did on the cross we are NEVER able to meet those standards and that the Old Testament was full of faith filled people that continually screwed up and God still chose to use them. And I realized that who Jesus was is completely NOT who and what the media portrays Christianity to be about. Jesus hung out with the lepers, and the prostitutes. His closest circle included doubters and deniers and still he loved them. He brought on criticism for challenging the Pharisees who were known for strict observance to the law. His first miracle included alcohol, the first person he told who he was, was a woman. A woman who had been married 5 times and was living with another man. I think Jesus was all about social injustices. (a hotly debated topic in the faith world) I think he made people feel loved. I know I don’t have all the answers about my faith, and I am still learning and studying and questioning but when I go to church now I am holding back tears all throughout worship songs because I feel Jesus loving me in all of my flaws and I realize the church is not a building but can be a collective of flawed humans trying to love people and love Jesus.
And so without getting too political, even though we are in a climate of deep political division and despite the fact that currently our faith beliefs seem to strictly align with political beliefs I have been thinking that we (I) often get so stuck in a comfortable belief system surrounded by like-minded people that we can’t be open to some new ideas that may have as much truth as things we believed in the past. At my conservative Christian college there were girls that had abortions – not because they didn’t want those babies but because a secret abortion was more tenable to deal with than someone finding out you were sleeping with your boyfriend before marriage. The perception and common held belief is that the extreme far right will say gay marriage destroys the family, that abortion is murder but killing unarmed kids isn’t, that immigrants are criminals and the extreme left says you can’t possibly believe in Jesus and be a good person (insert note here about first paragraph mentioning fears of making sweeping assumptions) But whatever extreme or space in between that you fall I think we have to learn to love people with all of our flaws and despite our oftentimes vastly different belief systems.
As I open my eyes to injustice, as I continue to recognize my white privilege, as I study and read and pray and listen, I find my faith evolving. I certainly have not arrived because I am not sure we ever do. I continue to try to keep my eyes open to those injustice and to understanding that white privilege and understanding different belief systems. I continue to read and study and pray and listen and watch the hard documentaries. I observe how my boys move through this world in this time. I listen to my black friend’s experiences without putting up a wall of white guilt and judgement and excuses for or assumptions about behaviors. I want to be the person that will hold your hand when you share your personal stories of judgement and discrimination and isolation and families who have cut you off because of who you are or what you believe. I want to hear about your faith and why you believe what you do. I am trying desperately and with much trepidation to be vulnerable with my friends, to be honest and flawed and open. I want to be a friend really a person, who will love you no matter what you tell me or what you believe, even if I don’t fully agree with it.
There are those of you who despite my caveat will say I have made sweeping assumptions and I have offended you. I may have and for that part I apologize, but I can’t let those fears of doing it wrong keep me in the lie of trying to please everyone in my life or from finding a way to use my voice in a way that I think God has called me to. So…. to my left leaning friends, I am an unashamed Jesus loving Christian who will still let my boys go to a shooting range and still loves this country in all its horribly flawed history (and present). To my right leaning friends, I can’t remain silent. I am a #BlackLivesMatter, stand at my gay friend’s wedding, support my friend who had an abortion , welcome those who weren’t born into a country as free as ours California girl. To most of you in the middle I stand with you in trying to figure it all out. All I know for sure is that I am still evolving and learning and listening and yep, I am still a little bit scared.