Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Reshaping faith

It's been awhile since I wrote about my faith journey. I've been thinking things through, worrying, musing, blocking out, trying to ignore, becoming frustrated and angry and depressed, and just in general wishing I had it easy like in the old days, when faith was as natural to me as breathing and I could be one of the mindless drones I see in church. That is, if I were going to church. This whole summer Mikko's been sleeping through all the service times, and we've left it at that.

stained glass windowI've been reading atheist blogs and Christian rationalist blogs, trying to find someone else in my predicament. But the dividing line between believers and anti-believers seems drawn too sharply, and there are very few souls out there wavering and wishing to believe but not feeling able to. Well, if you are out there, speak to me.

I was telling Sam that I feel like my faith has been slowly eroded ever since college. I grew up with fundamentalist evangelical doctrines that I defended and didn't question. College, even though it was a Christian college, changed all that by forcing me to take a hard look at some of the superfluities I had blindly accepted. I reconsidered my stances on theological mainstays as well as hot topics like abortion, homosexuality, creationism vs. evolution, and the place of women in church and society. I became ever so slightly more liberal, a trend that continued as I felt more and more aligned with politically democratic ideals as a radically loving Christian who believed that Jesus' message of freedom for the oppressed and care for the downtrodden jibed with that party's general outlook. I maintained more conservative positions on "morality" issues like abortion and homosexuality, but even there I found myself becoming more ambivalent and "who knows" about the whole thing, and more accepting of people who held differing opinions.

And then I became a parent. And my focus shifted from being faith-focused to being parenting-focused. Maybe it's not as easy as all that, but I really do think it affected me. It coincided with a growing dissatisfaction on the part of both Sam and me with our local church -- we felt less and less connected there, but it had taken us two years to find it as a church home in the first place. We had been drawn to it by its stance on social justice and compassion while at the same time having what we considered a biblically sound theology. And, besides all that, it was just cool, and the people were welcoming. It met in a candle-lit coffeehouse/community center in the dark of a Seattle evening at an unconventional time, and at the first strum of the guitars in the worship band, we felt God's presence.

It's changed a lot. Change can be good or bad or neither, but its nature is that it's always different. We liked what we had before and felt we had a place there. As the church grew, it grew more conventional. A lot of people now, but not as much per-capita involvement or leadership. A move into a traditional church building with stained-glass windows, and a pull on families with an expanded childcare ministry. We now felt stranded in a sea of pew-sitting strangers. Maybe that's not fair. Maybe it is.

So, back to being a parent -- I have found that reading books as a parent is challenging. I rarely have two hands, I rarely have good lighting, I rarely have quiet. The best I can manage is a few sentences while I'm on the toilet, and only then if Mikko doesn't scootch in and start pulling toilet paper off the tube and yanking on my pants.

So I've had to concentrate my efforts. I've tried reading other types of books when I needed a break and managed a few here and there, but then it's usually back to the long list of parenting books I've been recommended. The kind of parenting I want to do doesn't seem supported by my faith tradition. Maybe it is and I just haven't found the books to prove it -- I know, for instance, that Dr. Sears is in line with most of what I believe both parenting- and faith-wise, but some of the more progressive parenting books and sites I've read have been on a spectrum from non-Christian to anti-Christian. They're atheist, or spiritual but in a murkier way. Some authors are former Christians, which is even more salient.

It's had an effect on my already fragile faith. To take one doctrine as an example, it's hard for me to believe in original sin when as a parent I can't live that way. I can't expect Mikko to be bad or to have a core of evil intent. I need to expect good from him so I can put the best interpretation possible on his actions. Otherwise, I would become unreasonable, angry, and capricious.

I told Sam yesterday that I feel like my faith was a coherent whole before leaving for college, and every new thing that challenged it poked a hole in it. I started patching it up as best I could. Women do have inherent worth? Well, then, Paul must have been speaking to a specific situation, not to women through all time. There! Solved that puzzle. Or, Science says the earth is billions of years old and wasn't created in six days? Well, the creation story is poetic and tells who created the earth, not how. Ok, safe. But now I have these huuuuge questions: "Does God exist?" "Who is he?" "Do our lives have meaning?" "Is God knowable?" "Did we just make all this s*** up?" and no Band-Aid is going to cover those holes.

Sam said something to me that was comforting and a call for action. He said that he's had the same experience but not the same perception. He sees the truth of God as a shining core covered over with crappy, tacky trappings. Layers and layers of schlock and irrelevancies and prejudices and misconceptions. And every time a doubt comes up, it chips away one more stupid human addition to the truth, so that we get ever closer to that glowing nugget at the center.

He proposed that I'm succumbing to peer pressure, trying to be like the cool atheist kids I've been hanging out with. So he recommended a few authors to explore: Brian McLaren, Frederick Buechner, Henri Nouwen, Kathleen Norris, Macrina Wiederkehr, Anne Lamott, Gary Wills, L. Wlliam Countryman, Rich Mullins, Sundar Singh, J. Philip Newell, Thomas Cahill Richard Rohr, Shane Claiborne N.T. Wright -- all the writers he's been engaged with these past several years as I've secretly worried that he's slipping from orthodoxy into heresy. But, at this point, I'm ready for a little heresy.

We'll see if I can reconstruct a faith system out of the dust of my old beliefs. I'm finally willing to try.

6 comments:

Brian B (Richmond, CA) said...

I love Sam's list of authors. I would add Ronald Rolheiser to the list. He's written The Holy Longing: the Search for a Christian Spirituality; The Shattered Lantern: Rediscovering a Felt Presence of God; Against an Infinite Horizon: the Finger of God in Our Everyday Lives; The Restless Heart: Finding Our Spiritual Home in Times of Loneliness... among others.

Hobo Mama said...

Thanks for the recommendation -- I'll check him out. The titles sound just right!

Cindy said...

If you don't mind reading online, check out this page http://theearlychurch.com/english/index.html. Sound Doctrine and The Blueprint are entire books packed with tons of biblical insight. EXCELLENT reads! Then there is the recommended book list on there as well. The man who owns this site (Cliff) lives very close to me. I've been to 3 or so of his "home church" meetings, and it was so incredible! I really, truly felt like they were living out the New Testament church! Everything seemed perfect when we were together! (I just wished we lived a little closer.)

Just don't turn away because of this world or our earthly religions. I am on a journey right now as well, trying to find that "perfect" church for our family (that is also nearby). I know it doesn't exist, but I feel like it should! LOL! It's frustrating! But my point is, don't lose faith in God because of others around you who are not living godly lives. Does that even make sense? Look to God and His word. If you have a question about something you have always believed, test it against God's word. You may discover that what a particular church has always taught is actually NOT BIBLICAL! It will strengthen your faith. It has mine! :)

Wow, my comments are long tonight! LOL!

janasmama said...

Wow! I can really relate to all that you have written here. We also had a similar fellowship that met in an old (remodeled) barn in the middle of an orchard and eventually it grew so that we moved into a shared church building and things changed.

Throughout our time with the fellowship I was encouraged to use spanking with my child even though it never felt right for me. I wasn't to do it with anger though...I was confused because these women had similar views as me...organic foods, babywearing, cloth diapering, homebirth, etc...Such a fragile time for me and I followed them. Thankfully I did break away from the spanking but it has left an impression on me and because I practiced it, sometimes I have to really fight off the 'old habit' of using it as an easy way out.

Did you read any of the books that you have listed here? I am curious what has become of your feelings since writing this post.

Becky said...

I too struggle with religion and frankly spirituality as well. Lately I have been ashamed to tell people that I'm Mormon, but mostly that's because I live in Utah where the majority are Mormons. I don't want to be pinned as a follower, someone who doesn't think for herself. I married a non-Mormon and haven't been to church since August 2007. Now, I have a baby and I'm thinking of how we should raise her. My husband would be happy if our daughter never stepped inside a church. I want her to go to church and build a relationship with God and to gain an understanding of what I believe. But on the other hand, I feel that I could be pushing her into what I believe. It's a double sword... if I take her to church she will be influenced by that experience and if I don't, will so be ambivalent to religion and/or spirituality? True, my motivation for going back to church is for social reasons, to get to know the neighbors and get into a social network.

My back-and-forth thinking might be a bit more extreme than this post. I've watched the documentaries The Root of All Evil? and Religulous. I liked the first better than the latter, only because it was more respectful and had a scientific approach.

I'm whittled with guilt and I contribute that with my religion, either true or false. I don't want my daughter to go through the thoughts that have crossed my mind while growing up (and honestly it seems like this has only been my problem! My old friends and family are seemingly "normal"). I guess I'll introduce faith and spirituality to her and let her choose how much she wants it in her life. Now, I just need to decide how much I want it in my life.

lauren. said...

this comment is years late, but i totally understand where you're coming from. from my perspective, i essentially see so much artificiality & social construction in religion that i, too, have strayed from my church in the last few years. i, too, have not found a new one.

from what i can tell, sam & i seem to be close to being on the same page. i believe that the only truth i need to know is god's love & his subsequent gift of sending christ to us. further, i think that modeling parenting after god's parenting helps to eliminate many of the social restrictions & rules that have been placed on families in our culture. i think this may help you address your issues with original sin. god knows that sin is inherent in us, but he doesn't let it define us. he sees the good in us always, & he allows our sin to be forgotten & forgiven daily (even at every moment), just as we forgive children. (in all honesty, i believe that sin really only manifests itself in children as selfishness. we all know that babies & kids are selfish, but we forgive them for it, because we know they can't do any better yet. one of the biggest lessons parents must teach their children, in fact, is to step outside of themselves & let go of that selfishness.)

i must admit that i haven't read any of the authors that sam suggested, & i haven't really found anyone to discuss these issues with. they're simply things that i've been milling around inside myself & talking to god about. the more i recognize the artificiality of our society, the more i look to god for the essentiality of his truth. i believe that christians are one of the groups most blinded to the reality of social construction & one of the least accepting groups in general.

for these reasons, i've begun to think of my role as a christian in terms of being rebellious. god has asked us to be not of this world, & for that reason, i think we must rebel against it. against convention for its own sake. against oppression. against narrow-mindedness. against selfishness. against the idea that western culture is the way god wants us to live (this one makes me sick to my stomach - this country is so freaking ethnocentric!). i've charged myself with the task to love unconditionally & uncontrollably - & to rebel against the rest.

i'm not sure if any of these things are what you're really dealing with, & i realize that i have written way too much (as usual), but i felt that what you were getting at are the exact things that i have been pondering for the several years, as well. thank you for always being so open & honest - & for welcoming an open forum of expression.

& p.s. a late congrats on your pregnancy. i can't wait to learn all about him/her!

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