nuggets of confusion

I want to first direct you all to Matt’s most recent post. Done reading? A few years ago, Matt, his wife Sara, as well as fellow blog-friends Mary, Jon, Cory and others were all students in Madison. At some point in all of our college careers, we were part of a large evangelical campus Christian group. This group’s main goal was to evangelize (convert) people on campus, and then disciple (train) them to become good Christians. I credit this group with a lot of stuff in my life. It helped me grow. It tore me down. It built me up. It produced severe doubts about my faith.

Here’s what I am really trying to express in this post — contradiction, confusion, a sense of no longer knowing what is right and wrong. A few years ago I was a person who fiercely defended what I believed to be right. I hope I was never a mean person, but I used to debate my newspaper friends about their lifestyles, beliefs, approaches to faith, etc. I would say things like, “God loves you infinitely and perfectly, but He doesn’t love that you underage drink.” And today, in March of 2006, I believe little of what I did back then to be important. I still believe in God, but probably not in the Bible the way many Christians do, as an inerrant document from which you can pick and choose phrases as they suit your arguments.

My relationship to faith and religion in the past few years is love-hate, black and white, completely gray and confusing as hell. I grew up in a world where discussing issues of the soul, faith, politics, inner issues wasn’t exactly the norm. I went to college and things changed a lot. Perhaps the world changed, people changed, but I can’t view things as black and white as before. I used to be so sure, perhaps because I was taught in church that it was very important to be sure about things of faith. Occasionally someone would speak in a positive light about “doubting” Thomas, but usually it seemed we were supposed to be take the Bible at what it said, love God, and do what was right. Perhaps I thought that if I had doubts that I would be that wierd person who didn’t fit in in church and therefore didn’t make friends with the cool church people.

What I have noticed lately is that a lot of people seem to be having a struggle related to Matt’s. So many people take issues with bits and pieces or big chunks of what they were taught as a child, yet still want an experience like church in their life. We want community, we want discussion, we want companionship, perhaps worship. But if the church is not a place where like-minded people with similar if not nearly identical beliefs gather, then what is it? Is it possible for the church to gather in all these stragglers, who can’t say they believe that the Bible is word-for-word true, or that all Hindus and Muslims are going to hell, but still want to be in that place? I understand completely that I could go to church. I am never going to be a “seeker” as we call people checking out the faith, and always somewhat of a cynic, but then I think, why go? If all I am going to do is judge everything that seems fundamentalist, why should I show up just to be disappointed? Then I think, maybe if I were to find a church with a lot of people like me, but that doesn’t exist, so I need to stop looking.

I grew up in a mega-church where there are a lot of amazing people and a lot of good things happening. I believe their priorities are generally in the right spot. There are many well-meaning, intelligent people there. However, I don’t really believe the same doctrine as their statement of faith. I crave authenticity and am not sure I want to involve myself in a place where I cannot express my real doubts about our society, the world, the church, the Bible without having people ridicule and disregard me. The ironic reason that I believe this will happen is because I know back a few years when I was quite zealous and caught up in “being a Christian,” that’s what I would have done with myself. I would have met me, figured out I had some issues with Christianity, and probably considered me someone not to be involved with. I know how judgemental I was (am?). I know that it’s hypocritical to say what I am saying, but I don’t know how the church works filled with people who believe their way is God’s way (the right way) and mix in a few people like me. If a church has a statement of faith and doctrines and things that they hold to that hold it together, how do you dissent from that and remain part of it?


4 Responses to nuggets of confusion

  1. Adrianne says:

    Hi Laura,

    I do believe that there are groups of people out there, maybe organized as a church, maybe not, who share your same desires. I wouldn’t give up looking. Every time I read what your thoughts are I wonder if your faith is deeper than those who just believe what’s fed to us on Sunday morning without thinking about it. Your struggles don’t seem to be related to God, just the American church institution and what they’ve taught you. I did hear of a group who was meeting on the East Side, and though I do think they are organized as a church, the format is more of a discussion group than a church service. I’ll see if I can dig up the name.

    Another Brian McLaren book recommendation for you – The Last Word and the Word After That. It explores heaven and hell and expresses some views that can rock the worlds of people who grew up being taught what we were.

    Hope you’re doing well!

  2. Laura says:

    Good to hear from you old friend… I don’t think my faith is deeper than anyone else’s, I think I just slowly realized that honesty was crucial to me remaining in any sort of faith. I completely stopped worrying about what other people thought and what was acceptable in our bizarre Christian culture and all that.. I guess that’s why I no longer fear questioning. I don’t feel disobedient to God, I just feel a bit distant, but I’m not sure how different it is from when I was super involved in Crusade and the church. Thanks for your thoughts and the book recommendation. What do you think of all this? Has your relationship to the church changed? Do you have doubts that you feel you can express in the church?

  3. Mary says:

    laura, i’ve been thinking a lot about what you wrote lately. i’ve had plenty of opportunities to examine my own doubts so i appreciate the honest expression of your own.

    honestly, i think your questions were made for the church. i wish i knew more, had some kind of degree that would fully verify everything i say, but i kind of feel like church is supposed to welcome questions. and it’s supposed to welcome answers. and it’s supposed to welcome yes’s and no’s and maybe’s and everything in between.

    i don’t think our churches are necessarily “safe” places to express doubts and frustrations and what-have-you. but is it ever totally safe with any one person? isn’t there some element of risk involved in sharing that? (am i getting totally off-topic?)

    but i think in a community that practices love (and by this, i mean practices loving the way jesus taught, that we are to consider others as better than ourselves, that we are to love our neighbors, that we are to lay down our lives for each other), i think that community establishes a base of trust, of commitment, of real authentic friendship – and that allows for those hard questions to be asked.

    i think about my own time with god here in chicago and me fighting against everything, refusing to pray because i didn’t think it “mattered,” rejecting community because i judged it to be insincere (because a few services of walking in and out the door will obviously give you a good idea of the hearts of the people), any of it. i think at the end of that significantly angry and frustrated and lonely period in my life, i felt that god and i had established trust, commitment and an authentic friendship so that i could wrestle against him, shout out my questions, run away, come back, run away again, and all that time, he never left me, he never forsook me.

    i guess what i think is that – and i speak to myself really when i say this – if we are going to call ourselves jesus-followers, then we ought be in community. cause if all the many, many, many people who have your same questions (and all the many, many, many people like me who don’t even know the questions to ask), if all of us LEFT the church, shit! dull. uninteresting. and then the “christians” become totally identified as ONE kind of person which is not the full expression of the beauty of the many that god created to reflect HIM.

    anyway, those are just my quick thoughts before i grab my plane to russia 🙂

    love you.

  4. adrianne says:

    Hi Laura,

    It’s hard to say that my relationship to the church has changed, given that I work at one, but I do think that I’m lucky to be where I am. This is a very safe place where doubts and questions are encouraged as people are on their spiritual journey. If our goal is to be in a relationship with God where we discover who he created us to be and to be in community as we discover that and pursue him, you’re going to wind up with a very diverse group of people and opinions.

    The more I grow in my relationships (with God and people), the more I realize that things are definitely not as black and white as I once thought. I think that there are certain things that one must believe and hold dear in order to be in a relationship with God, but there’s a lot that Christians have held on to that, maybe, just doesn’t matter as much as we thought.

    Take for instance, politics, one of your favorite topics. My team was at lunch one day and we started talking about the Bush/Kerry election. Half of us voted for Kerry, half voted for Bush. Does it matter? Does God have a candidate that he “picks” to run America, or is he more concerned with how we’re living our lives and impacting the community around us?

    Anyway, that was a long post to say that, yes, I still love and support the church, I think there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed, but I’m not willing to give up on it. And I don’t think that you are either. I don’t know…the discussion continues.

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