Reading Scripture Sideways: a new take on a very old book

I’ve been slowly, as in snail’s pace slowly, working my way through Rob Bell’s latest book, What is the Bible. I actually want to read it like the pages are on fire and I have to finish before it consumes them. I want to gorge myself on the clever, gentle, insightful ways of considering an ancient library. Scripture. I used to love it. Even now the word feels so weighty and mysterious when it sits on my tongue. I believe that’s because it is  weighty and mysterious, wrapped in thousands of layers of meaning and interpretation. Yes, I used to love scripture. I was so much more certain of everything then. Now, honestly, I’m afraid of the Bible, and that fear is holding me back from enjoying not only Rob Bell’s book, but scripture itself.

I know what you’re thinking: here comes the crazy again. It’s true. I have all the issues when it comes to church and church business. But through all this great big hairy church mess, somehow, I never believed that God lost her faith in me. Even when I stumble and flail and fall and swear, even when I push her away like an over tired toddler, she loves me still. She’s been faithful in every way and for that I am so deeply and powerfully grateful.

Religious institutions have not been so merciful or forgiving in my experience. Now I’m what old cowboys refer to as ‘gun shy.‘ Churchy words and situations make me anxious. I seldom measure up to expectations, and when I do it’s because I’m not being true to myself. And then there’s the Bible, the weapon most often used against me in religious altercations (also known as rebuking, church discipline and spiritual authority).

It’s true, I’ve used the Bible as a weapon myself, back in the days when together we were infallible. I can accept that about myself even if I don’t like it very much. Had I known how quickly that weapon would turn on me, I might have thumped more gently, perhaps not at all. For as long as I can remember, we’ve elevated scripture with superlatives: inerrant, inspired, ineffable. Words so high, I cannot attain them. I’ve learned to defend it, uphold it, revere it and memorize it, as though tongues of fire straight from Heaven itself licked words upon papyrus scrolls with nary a misprint or mystery in the process.

What I didn’t learn was how slippery millenia old stories of the Divine become as they slip through time. Or how entirely human the men and women who recorded the stories really are. Sometimes a very human agenda superimposes itself over a very divine story. I didn’t learn context, or layers or culture. Truth may be eternal, but the expression of Truth isn’t so easy to nail down in concisely neat terms once and for all.

So I’ve floundered.

My experience of God doesn’t fit so neatly on the pages as it used to. It keeps sliding off, bursting out, growing bigger than the neat little boxes I learned about. The God of my deconstruction is endlessly forgiving, but God out of the box can get you excommunicated (or perhaps even crucified).

I’ve avoided wrestling with scripture for fear it will disappoint me. It has a lot to live up to when you look at it as the very word of God. But recently, I’ve started to see it a bit differently. Jesus, Himself, is the very word of God, and to date, He hasn’t failed me. I think for me it’s time to let the words of the Bible be what they truly are – a very human attempt to describe a very indescribable God.

An immutable, inerrant Word of God is far too dangerous in the hands of someone like me. But a human attempt to unravel the Universal Christ in ways we can understand and embody, with all the mistakes and course correction that entails? That might just be the right fit for a heretic like me. And if it isn’t, I have a God who’s waiting to fill in the gaps. Because that’s the kind of God she is.

Love: How I make sense of the world in violent times

Sundays tend to make me thinkful. Often I experience a sort of dissonance between the way I once understood God, and the way I understand God now. Much has changed for me over the last few years, a widening and deepening. I read something this morning that I love:

We must therefore, never underestimate our power to wrong about God, when imagining God –whether in prose or in poetry. – Brian MacLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy

I have been wrong, no doubt about many things I am still wrong. But over the last few years I’ve learned that when God strips everything else away, Love remains. The Spirit of God is love, and it does not change or fail or fall away. When Christ hung on the cross, it was not to appease the wrath of God. We already understood gods as wrathful and bloodthirsty and have for thousands of years. Instead, Christ came to reveal the true nature of God. Even when humanity seeks to put God to death, He loves. He forgives.

This is not the image of God I learned from my childhood. While this concept is not a new revelation, it is a new revelation to me. It is a facet of God I had not yet considered, but now that I have, it has entirely changed how I see the world and the people in it.

But it is a slow reconciliation.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to reconcile is the concept of original blessing. The congregations I have taken part with have always emphasized sin. We are born in sin. We live in sin. Mankind lost to Original sin. This sin is almost, always personal in nature: lies, swearing, greed…you probably know the list. But, there is a reality before Genesis 3. Somehow we forget this, or we’ve simply never considered it this way.

Before there was sin, there was blessing. We were created in communion and for communion. Even before His death, Jesus showed us there is still communion with God. He washed the disciples feet and He broke bread with them. This is the very face of God revealed in a way humanity had seldom imagined.

No other god has ever revealed themselves in this way.

Yet somehow we still miss it. We let our focus settle on our imperfections (for me, those are many) rather than on the One who dwells first with us and then in us. We are not repulsive to God. Not a disappointment; not an abomination. Every single person who has ever lived and ever will live was created by love and in love. Every one.

Created by Love and in love. Created to love.

For so long I missed this. As I understood it, I was born in sin and redeemed to correct and save others. The strength of my belief was under-girded by how many people around me understood God the same way. Numbers meant power and power meant the ability to shape the world in our image.

But I do not need to save the world. The position of Savior is more than adequately filled. He declared His work finished, enough. Furthermore, I do not need to fix the world, since Love is already doing the restoration work. I can even let go of judging the world, God has judged it already and found it very good (He hasn’t changed His mind on this revelation either). My one and only job is to love the world. Love the world and it’s people, it’s features and cultures and forests and fields. Love with my words and my ways and my life.

I’ve come to believe the world doesn’t have a sin problem. If Jesus died once and for all, then sin only has power where there is not love. No, the world suffers from a Love problem. When we worship systems and power instead of God, the world suffers. Placing ourselves, our agendas, our desires above our neighbor, the world suffers. We create division between people groups and ideologies. We always belong to the good guys, and they always belong to the bad guys. And the world suffers.

But we have received a revelation that life doesn’t have to be this way. These systems and powers and principalities are shadows but we can bring the light. That light is Love. It looks different from the rule books, different from systematic theology, breaking down barriers religion has erected. It’s messy and unpredictable, and it’s breaking through. Here and now, all around  us.

We love because we are already loved. We have been since the dawn of time.

Kingdom come.
On earth as it is in Heaven.
For God so loves the world. This world.
He is love, and in Him, we are love.

 

Though I speak all the languages of earth and of angels, if I didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.  If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

 

Intelligence vs. Intellectualism: Permission to have the feels

This morning I was thinking about the difference between intelligence and intellectualism.  Lately, I explore activities I would have called “new-agey” just a few years ago. I meditate, do yoga, commune with nature and journal responses from my intuition. (Some people call this voice, my inner guide-how’s that for new-agey?) It all seems very touchy-feely from an intellectual standpoint. At least, that’s what my inner intellectual tells me.

I am a fan of intelligence who enjoys learning and exploring new things. More than anything, I love a good, in-depth conversation. I want to understand the world from various perspectives and ideologies, even if they aren’t the ones I incorporate into my own worldview. Seldom do I accept anything blindly, and I admit to being an information junkie. Intelligence and education matter to me, which isn’t likely to change, nor do I want it to.

However, at some point I shifted from enjoying the experience of learning to relying on intellectualism. Intelligence encourages me to acquire and use knowledge and skills, while intellectualism tells me only knowledge matters, at the expense of all else, especially feelings.

I don’t know when this shift happened, although I can trace some roots to growing up in dogmatic systems. I can distinctly remember thinking, well that doesn’t feel right, so I don’t accept it when hearing certain doctrines and traditions. But I did not accept unquestioningly, as expected.

It’s difficult to pinpoint when I made the shift to intellectualism. Somewhere in my early adulthood, the need to fit in overwhelmed my need to question. My codependency certainly plays a part here.  Perhaps what I heard sounded just good enough to make me squash my questioning nature. Maybe in the uncertainty of a cancer diagnosis, I needed answers I could always depend on. I’ll never know for certain.

What I do know is that so much of evangelicalism relies on a very traditional, intellectual stronghold. This certainty, the need to accept without question, the assertion of only one correct worldview, bled into every part of my life. As I’ve said, I am a spiritual being. I also have a deep perfectionist streak. The lure of spiritual certainty and spiritual correctness proved too much. I believed the lie that emotions shouldn’t be trusted, that my inner-voice is inherently evil, shoving them down and away.

This worked for awhile, until all the repressed emotions cause a spiritual earthquake. Whether it’s the concept of God as genocidal maniac when compared to Jesus, or the disparity of the Sermon on the Mount from the Christian Nationalism, eventually my emotions demanded a hearing. Biblicism and rationalism made fine walls but rotten counselors.

When I entered therapy, my counselor advised me to stop trying to make sense of everything. Sometimes we must simply feel what we feel and work from there. Two years later, I have to remind myself of this on a daily basis. True, intellect is important, but intelligence is more than my intellect. Emotional intelligence and spiritual intelligence also play an important role in well-being.

In fact, during the years in therapy and since, I have largely been swimming through a great big vat of emotional soup. I needed to relearn not only how to feel, but how to trust my feelings. And then I had to learn not to be ruled by them. I’m still working on this one with the help of meditation. My intuition, my inner guide, is speaking again. First with a whisper, but eventually louder. Sometimes now she even sings.

Learning to embrace questions and uncertainty has been a difficult battlefield. If something doesn’t feel right, I have permission to reject it, even without a rational alternative. I’m allowed to push-back against the rhetoric of certainty and tradition simply because it makes my soul feel dirty and twisted. Sometimes I’m wrong and I make big, messy, visible mistakes. But I can live with mistakes easier than I can live with cruelty, exclusion and blind acceptance.

My life currently, is very touchy-feely, but not without direction. I have a host of non-dual teachers and fellow questioners who willingly share from a vast well of experience and understanding. When all else fails we lean into love, kindness and empathy. We feel all the feelings in a world which makes very little sense. I am far less certain and far more happy than I can remember being in a long time. My soul fits in my skin again, even with all the feelings up in here.

 

Giving myself permission: How to break free from dogmatism

Did you know that perfectionists love dogmatic thinking? We do. Well, I do; it might be dogma to say that about every single one of us. When we work within a system, it’s very important for us to know the rules and abide by them – perfectly. We need rule which are constant and true. If we cannot measure or lives by a set of infallible, incontrovertible truths, we do not have a plumb line set our perfection against. Certainty matters when we don’t have permission to make mistakes or, even worse, fail and fall apart.

Growing up, I was exposed to many forms of dogma: religious, relationship, and educational. Most of my learning, formal and experiential, reflected the following equation: X+Y=Z, always.
Education + work ethic = financial success
Believe the right things + baptism = eternal success
Constant availability + self-sacrifice = relational success
Conform to norms + firm us/them boundaries = cultural success
Go to church + Serve selflessly = religious success

In every new experience and social setting, I searched for the rules to follow so I could be the best at everything. I sought acceptance, approval and popularity by making myself the best fit in any given situation. Failure was not an option. Intelligent, hard working people can do anything they set their minds too. Throw in a little Philippians 4:13 and no one has an excuse for coming up short in any expectations, our own or someone else’s.

These concepts made the framework for my world view for a long time. Until one day, they buckled, broke and collapsed. Reconstructing my world view has been an extended effort in erasing all the equations that made sense of my world and making room for new ones.

Perhaps, this sounds simple; for others maybe it is. I have only my own experience to draw on. Rewriting the mental narratives, the ones which help me be always right and never wrong, is difficult at best. Some days it’s outright terrifying. Finally, I’ve found a key that opens most doors when my mind locks up.

I give myself permission.

Ridiculous, right? How does a person in their mid-forties not know how to give themselves permission to disagree, to refuse, to fail or fall or make a big, sprawling mess? How do I not know it’s fun to explore, deviate and even completely diverge from a common practice or belief set? If  you know the answer to this question, will you share it with me, please?

Granting self-permission opens doors for me I never imagined opening before. Many weeks, I attend an episcopal service on Saturday night. I love the repetition of liturgy and the open-ended questions posed in the homily. Every day, I meditate. I use words like ‘zen’ and ‘mystic’. Sometimes I speak to the universe at large and I don’t end with the word “amen.”

I have permission, now, to quit something in the middle if it isn’t working for me. At last, I can acknowledge the end of a season instead of trying to beat life back into it, regardless of how badly it limps. I listen to my gut, write letters from my intuition in my journal, use colors to describe the state of my soul. When I’m tired, I take naps, even if the to-do list doesn’t get finished.

The crazy thing about giving myself permission, is the ability to write my own equations:

Doodle + silly music = calm. Except occasionally, it doesn’t. Then try something else. Keep trying, or read a book. Whatever you feel like.

Open-minded questions + experience = healing. Sometimes, I still get hurt. It’s hard to know when that might happen. Remember to be brave.

Self-care + saying no = peace of mind. But say yes too, when you know what you want. Yes is good. Until it crowds out your soul. Then say no. Listen to your intuition to tell you when. There’s no scale.

What I’m unlearning most is that rules aren’t always safe and freedom isn’t always scary.  Rules may guide me, but they may also stunt me. Freedom may result in disaster, but it may also teach me to fly. The only way to know any of this is to try and fail and fall and try again.

If you fall down seven times, get up eight times, or eight, or seven times seventy. There’s really no limit.

 

Monsters in the closet: Scary things I’m doing right now.

It was a dark and stormy day. No, really, it actually is a dark and rainy day, but that’s not scary. I love this sort of weather, quiet, meditative, peaceful. It’s the perfect day to think about plans and dreams, for puttering around, reorganizing the dresser and cabinets. The perfect sort of day for examining the monsters hiding in my closet, and maybe chase them away for good.

Scary monster #1: Writing every day

When I decided to do this one hundred day writing thing, it scared me. I stink at follow-through. I’m constantly distracted by shiny, new, exciting!!! Not to mention being terribly out of practice with writing. Also not to mention when I go public with my thoughts and feelings, it tends to come back and bite me in the…well, you know.  It hasn’t been a good experience. While I can’t control how people react to my online conversations, I can control whether or not I let those people scare me. I can control whose voice I listen to or whether I want to listen at all. If I show up and you show up, we can face scary things together. Monsters, and mean people, aren’t nearly so frightening in the light, I’m finding.

Scary Monster #2: Speaking up in public

As an introvert, I’d much rather handle all my communication in writing, after thinking about it for a a few days. But over the last year, I’ve been in a teaching/leading situation where more and more often, I find myself telling personal, vulnerable stories to an audience. The first time, I thought I might hyperventilate or throw up, or both. Even though I’d written a manuscript and practiced, practiced, practiced, it was scary. Yesterday I shared that acceptance is my drug of choice, but when you share the messy parts of yourself, rejection is always a risk. Fortunately my audience was grace-filled and understanding. They even laughed at my jokes. Some of the monsters in our closets are boggarts, they disappear when we laugh at them.

Scary Monster #3: Saying no to toxic people

Fortunately for me, I’m co-teaching a class right now which uses the book Boundaries as part of the curriculum. It’s my second time reading it, and it’s possible I’m learning even more this time. (Seriously there isn’t a single person who can’t benefit from this book. It’s amazing.) I’m learning to make peace with the fact that some people are simply bad for me, whether intentionally or unintentional. I’m stepping away from guilt, manipulation, control, and boundary tramplers. People may be upset or angry. They may react badly. My big, bad fear is a level of rejection like we faced years ago when we were excommunicated. I realize it isn’t likely, but it’s what I know. It’s all I know. Stepping away from that fear to do what is necessary for my own well-being is facing one huge closet monster.

Scary Monster #4: Being Myself

Listen, I love Jesus, but I struggle with church. That’s not news. However, church is my husband’s occupation, so this struggle is in my face daily. I’ve carried hurts and collected scars for a decade now. I’ve absorbed the message that I’m dangerous, subversive, not good enough, and that I need to sit down and be quiet all the way into my bones.

But no more. Just no more. Measuring every thought, word and opinion in case it makes someone uncomfortable is an activity I’m quitting. I’m done accepting I need to change, conform or contort my position in order to fit into a cultural construct I’m not even sure I like anymore. My deconstruction has been leading me back to the me I used to be before I got so bound up in all the rules and false constructs of who a “church person/pastor’s wife/ proverbs 31 woman” should be.  I am myself, and the flaws or changes I make are between me and the Spirit who dwells within me. I like the me I’d forgotten how to be. It’s nice being in her skin again.

 

 

 

MWF seeks spiritual community outside denomination

I was on Facebook today, you know, perfecting the fine art of procrastination. I saw some friends posting the results of a silly quiz, “What denomination are you?” Because I fit in no religious box lately, I decided to take it too. The results didn’t actually surprise me, Quaker. I mean, I am a pacifist who prefers a quieter, more introspective service. Then again, I’m not entirely comfortable with that label either. I’m a misfit who’s not sure how to undenominate herself, or how to find a new way to express faith in community when you do.

Maybe it’s easier to walk away when you’re disgusted by the religion show, but I this isn’t how I feel. Despite all my deconstruction, I still have a deep, abiding faith. I still believe in the importance of living faith in community. In fact, of all the things I am unsure about, these are the two things I can express with some degree of certainty.

I have faith, or faith has me, or both mixed together.

I’m in search of a community to give and receive support, encouragement, dinner, conversation, disagreement, accountability, joy, laughter, pain, tears, life and death.

I also need a community that’s comfortable with questions, doubts and difference of opinion, is more focused on the Kingdom than heaven and hell and practices radical acceptance.

I find glimpses of it here and there, friends who I know are searching too. But we seem to be all spread out, across cities and even across countries.  It’s a comfort to know they’re there, but it’s also difficult to deliver dinner when life is unkind.

Also, I don’t actually know any Quakers.

They don’t really make want-ads for this sort of thing: MWF recovering from trauma seeks spiritual community. Must have an open mind about vegetarianism, recovery, sexuality, politics and books – especially books. Liturgy preferred, kindness essential.

It doesn’t even fit on a t-shirt.

By the way, as a recovering codependent, I like to add to this sense of disconnect a layer of guilt for being too much, too difficult, too discontent, too picky and too unworthy to hope for this sort of community. Better for everyone if I just learn to get along with the moral majority instead of rocking the boat with my heretical opinions.

Ah, recovery: taking one day at a time, living one moment at a time, accepting that this is the pathway to peace…

So what will we do? We who wander and wonder, who cry when we meet a kindred spirit in unexpected places? How do we find each other without want-ads or t-shirts to identify us?

If I had easy answers, I wouldn’t need to blog.

I guess we watch, and listen. We extend as much grace as we hope to receive, and then a little extra just in case. I always end up needing more grace than I planned for, anyway.  And just for good measure, feel free to reply to my want-ad. There’s always room in the “we don’t fit anywhere” pew for one more.

Those who Journey with me: Voices in my Head Pt 2

Yesterday I wrote about finding the courage to tell my story, and why telling our stories matters.  I’ve been writing about the three boxes: order>disorder>reorder.  Until now, my journey through the box of disorder has been like my dirty little secret.  I don’t often talk about publicly about this because it makes people uncomfortable, or it looks bad, or it’s not what’s expected from someone in my position. Honestly, much of the pressure to not talk is internal. I struggle with a high level fear of rejection, for obvious reasons, but as I said, that’s not the narrative I’m accepting anymore.

Church is a funny sort of creature, both the theological construct and the various local tribes. In order to belong, we have to believe and practice certain things. Over time these things become sacred, unquestionable. They are the way things are, the markers which come to identify who is in the tribe, and who is not in the tribe.  When we start to question these markers, the push-back can be both cruel and severe. Or sometimes it’s more subtle, a quiet and gentle withdrawal, a dismissal delivered congenially behind closed doors. Whatever the method, it hurts, deeply. I’ve seen it happen in multiple ways in my own life and watched it happen publicly and terribly to others.

Which is why I kept my own counsel, mostly.  Fortunately, I’m a reader, so I relied on what came most naturally to me to find support. I went to books. Books turned to podcasts. I found a few lovely, courageous people who were also deconstructing, who could sit with the questions I asked, and who honored me by sharing their own. I may most often wish to be a hermit, but this process of deconstruction is nearly unbearable without some form of community. 

Today I want to share a few voices that have meant the most to me over these last few years. Perhaps you need them too, or maybe you will one day.  

7: an Experimental Mutiny against Excess by Jen Hatmaker and Beauty will Save the world by Brian Zahnd.  I credit these two books as the ones that started it all. Or perhaps it’s better to call them the books which finally gave permission for me to explore a different way of faith.  They gave voice to what had already begun to stir in my soul. They are spiritual catalysts.  Brian Zahnd went on to publish Water to Wine last year, a semi-autobiographical account of his own disorder/reorder journey, which I devoured in two days.

Faith Shift by Kathy Escobar.  This is the book which helped me believe I was not crazy.  All the emotional wreckage I was sorting through, I found in this book. I read story after story of those who also survived the journey. I learned how they did, and that no two journeys are exactly the same. Faith became mysterious, organic and impossible to predict. I learned there are paths for those of us who leave The Path too.

Peter Enns, The Sin of Certainty and The Bible Tells Me So.  I read the Bible Tells me so before I read Sin of Certainty, mainly because the second book wasn’t published yet. When I recommend them to others, I advise reading them the other way around though.  The Sin of Certainty is another journey of disorder story, encompassing faith from many aspects and embracing the idea of mystery, questions and the unknowable. The Bible Tells Me So deals specifically with scripture, introducing alternate perceptions and various accepted theological understandings.  For those of us who have learned there is only one way to look at scripture, this is a doorway to a whole new world, inhabited by more than just heretics and fringe lunatics.

Brian McLaren – A New Kind of Christian and A Generous Orthodoxy.  One thing I appreciate about these new-to-me authors and their stories is their overarching willingness to say, this is what I think, but I might be wrong. I’ve never lived in a spiritual space where the possibility of being wrong was tolerable. Being right has always been very, very important. But Brian’s is a voice willing to speculate, to have a conversation. He makes room.  It’s feels not only refreshing and lovely, but welcoming and safe.

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans and Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey. I could write for days and days the way these two brave, beautiful souls have ministered to me through their words and witness. I desperately needed women of faith who’d been on this journey too. Their pain and their passion mirrored my own; their desperation to know God in a way they hadn’t previously even known was possible, made it possible for me as well. Because they shared their story, I believed I, too, could reconstruct a living faith eventually.

There are others, many others, voices I am just discovering or ones that would take me down rabbit trails to a dozen other titles and voices if I listed even one more. 

I want to finish by listing a few podcasts which have also helped my sanity tremendously.

Rob Bell, the Robcast – Far and away the voice I have relied on most heavily in the podcast world.

The Liturgists – generally topical, this podcast provides the voices of several folks as well as guest speakers.

The Deconstructionists – A great podcast for those who are deconstructing, but who also want to connect and reconstruct in new and exciting ways.

Brian Zahnd – As the voice who started all of this, I seldom miss his weekly sermon. When I need a reminder to inhabit the Kingdom and reject the empire, Brian delivers.

Greg Boyd – Greg is new to my list of voices. I hear his books would probably also make my booklist above, but so far I have only enjoyed his podcast. Challenging, engaging and relevant. He’s currently at the top of my list.

The Box of Disorder: How I survived when I burned it all down

A few weeks ago, before I lost my brain to whole 30 and fourteen unexpected schedule crises, I wrote a bit about the three boxes: order< disorder< reorder. I learned about these boxes from Richard Rohr. Whether or not he originated the thought, I don’t know. I’m just glad I heard him speak of them. You can read about order here and disorder here. But I want to take a bit longer and talk about my own disorder story.

I believe everyone’s journey is unique; we don’t all walk the same path even when we are headed in the same direction. But I also know there is power in “me too”, and it’s very important for those of us on the disorder journey to hear this, because it can be an extremely lonely time.

I wrote earlier that sometimes the disorder starts with a simple question, and so it did with me. Back when I used to love to study scripture – a feeling it’s hard for me to remember now; the Bible and I approach each other gently now, like lovers who said too many horrible things in a fight and haven’t fully recovered – I read something which contradicted everything I’d been taught about Jewish people. Namely, they missed the boat in Jesus and so were lost to salvation. But what I was reading, didn’t support this idea at all.

Excited by my ‘discovery,’ I began to share with others. Their response is what you probably expect.

No. You’re wrong. God doesn’t work like that.

Their utter refusal to even entertain these, to me, exciting and beautiful revelations left me feeling diminished. Their tone when they rebuked me left me feeling ashamed. Questions open the doors to dangerous ideas; we sure don’t want to go down any slippery slopes.

Except I did.

I could write for days and weeks if I enumerated all the reasons the cracks in my iron-clad theology grew, personal relationships became strained and snapped. The dissonance in the doctrine I knew and what I was actually finding in scripture was too loud. I knew too much of what happens behind closed doors in churches (hint: people I placed unfairly on pedestals acting altogether human). All these things contributed their weight.  I struggled, floundered and pushed back.

Then we were kicked out of church.

I know now, after years of struggling with this huge, suffocating burden, that pushing back against the system was only part of the reason for our eviction. Ego, dysfunction, resentment and jealousy took part in the decision. I was not innocent of some of the uglier motives, but I no longer believe I deserved what I got. For years, I carried the weight of responsibility for this eviscerating event. When I took it upon myself, I also decided I would be the one to fix it and prevent it from ever happening again.

Obviously, the way to prevent pain was to be the best little evangelical pastor wife I could be. You can’t evict perfection, right?

I threw myself into my wifely position at our new church home attending all the services, promoting all the programs, keeping the nursery. I crossed all the t’s, dotted all the i’s and made countless covered dishes. The box of order was my security blanket, the thing that would keep me from ever being hurt again.

Except I kept getting hurt. Human relationships are messy; we can’t avoid hurt in this world unless we remove ourselves to a desert cave. Even then, we may still end up wounded. My wounds only added to the internal pressure I felt from denying all my questions and struggles from before. I couldn’t continue to embrace things I knew weren’t the final Truth and remain true to myself. If I embraced these dissonant doctrines, I was going to lose core pieces of my self entirely, and I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t.

The breakdown was not a lovely time. At all.

It was messy and painful. I ached and wept and railed in fury, isolated and shut down. I wounded people with sharp edges and anger. Honestly, I’m lucky to have anyone still withe me, who knew me before. I lost many along the way. Fortunately, despite all my fear of intimacy and strangers, I knew I needed professional help.  I spent many hours in the office of a therapist, a beautiful, open-minded soul who made space for my disaster and told me again and again and again that there was room in God’s love for even this.

That message, apart from religion or expectations or appearances or all the other things I hated about myself and everything else….Just God and space and LOVE…is the one thing I held, pressed right up against my heart, tight, tight, tight, tight.

Then I razed the rest.

Once I knew, really knew, God’s love held room for my disaster, I wanted nothing else. I wanted to rebuild my self piece by piece: likes, dislikes, theology, philosophy, relationships, dreams, hopes, all of it. Everything. Nothing was sacred, not even the sacred.

But first, I sat in the ashes. I mourned. I wept. God made space for it and me even as I railed against Him for my own decision. I cursed Him for my lonliness. I turned away from Him in my disappointment. But even in this, I found space. I found love.  Companions sat with me in the ashes, wisely speaking no platitudes, correction or rebuke. Simply bearing witness to the death of so many things.

Not everyone experiences disorder on this scale, but some do. I foolishly built my identity on something which couldn’t last, so when the time for disorder came, as it does for all of us, most of my identity disintegrated with it.

But there’s hope. Always hope. While we are still in the box of disorder hope does not leave us. In fact, it builds the bridge to the box of reorder, which is where we are going next.

Remember to Breathe: Sharks, faith and other things with teeth

Speaking of forgetting, last night we were sitting in bed, scrolling through Netflix, as you do, and Hunky ran across a new BBC documentary. Sharks. I cannot overemphasize how much I love sharks. Jaws is my secret favorite movie. For my 34th birthday, Hunky gave me an hour in the shark tank at Sea World for my birthday, arguably the greatest gift ever. When we still had cable, I treated Shark Week like a liturgical holy week.

Sadly, it’s been awhile since I watched or listened or paid attention to anything, really, about sharks. If asked, I will passionately exclaim, I LOVE SHARKS! And I’ll be telling the truth, even if my passion is more dry and dusty ancient knowledge than hands on, heart on, messy, wet, toothsome experience.

But last night, I remembered. As I watched the ragged-tooth shark on my TV screen, I remembered, ghostly forms swimming towards me in a shark cage. Oxygen sighed loudly in my ears as my very breath flowed into me, rather than being excessively available. I remembered the echoing, ghostly quiet as I watched a world in which I was completely foreign carrying on beneath and around me, entranced as living dinosaurs examined me, possibly a bit more hungrily than I examined them.

I can’t remember the last time I experienced something so visceral and full of wonder.

In the safety of my bedroom, I listened to the narrator talk about eons of time, 400 million years, as light slanted through the water and mysterious, alien landscapes burst forth on screen. Not too long ago, I fought so hard against those numbers, needing to be certain, desperate to be right.  I’m not that person anymore, but stepping away from certainty and those prescribed faith tracks is a bit like stepping into a cage over shark infested water.

More than a few decades ago, I earned my scuba license in a highly-chlorinated, basement, college swimming pool. The highlight of this experience would be diving the Crystal River during a weekend trip to Florida.  I remember squeezing into my farmer johns and lowering myself into the water, spitting into my mask and finally, adjusting the regulator, the thing tethering me to life when I enter the unknown.

The first time you lower yourself into the water you think, I can’t believe all of this is here, all the time. All this beauty and miracle going on all around me, and I didn’t even know it.  The next thing you think is Breathe. Don’t forget to breathe. Keep breathing. In and out.  Because while you are swept up in this utterly novel and foreign universe, your mind is yelling. You are in a place you don’t belong and cannot survive. It’s desperately trying to convince you if you breathe in, you will die.

During this dive in the Crystal River an alligator gar decided he wanted my mask for himself. He tried to take it from my face using only his teeth. In the moment I was terrified. Now I remember it as one of the most thrilling and unexpected moments in my life.

Faith is like this sometimes, too, entirely beautiful and safe inside the boat. You can go places you’ve never been and see things you’ve never seen before. It’s all completely safe as long as you stay inside the boat.  But underneath is completely different, beautiful and ancient, and mostly hidden beneath the surface.  Always there, as real as air and sunlight and flotation devices in case of emergency.  We can enter into it if we wish and see other, deeper things we’ve never seen. It feels lonely at first, but soon hosts of living creatures swim around us, as curious of us as we are of them. Some of them, maybe, a little dangerous.

It’s an experience both visceral and full of wonder. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s ok to breathe.