Tap tap tug tug

image

It’s happening again. It’s this dance that is both boring and dizzying. And embarrassing, humiliating, humbling. I am feeling this tap tap on my shoulder, this tug tug on my heart.

It’s God. Or perhaps it is just my desire for God.

There are certain things that will trigger it, and oddly enough they are generally to do with the Bible. I have a friend on social media, an old friend of my son’s actually, who posts photos of her husband with a Bible on the table in front of him, a pen in his hand, a notebook to the side. Yesterday I went to breakfast with my family, and there was a young man in the restaurant with the same, Bible open on the table, well used and underlined, a pen and a notebook. I couldn’t help myself. I kept turning to look at him. There is simply a very visceral reaction that occurs when I see these things, a deep, deep longing, a desire.

Sarah Bessey writes:

“I open my Bible, just like my father did every morning of his life. I know that this very morning, he was also in what he still calls ‘the Word.’ And I am my father’s daughter. I am in the Word, just not quite in the same way anymore. I spend these moments reading Isaiah and I pray. I write and I refill my cup, I bow my head over these sacred words that i love all the better for the wrestling to release them from the prison I built for them…. I cling more to the Bible now than I used to; I lean more heavily on the stories and promises, on the visions and the hope. I am challenged and changed in ways I never was when I took every word literally — now that I take them so seriously. Now the Bible places a demand on both my mind and my heart; now I finish with my hands open and prayer in my throat, a fire in my bones and worship rising up, and the ferocious appetite to be transformed, even more, into the likeness of Jesus, into the heart God has for humanity.”

Sarah, Sarah, Sarah what are you saying? How did you do this? How do you divorce the oft times viciousness of the ancient tribal understanding of God from the reality? Where do you draw the line? What is God and what isn’t?

And if it is not all true, why oh why would we spend so much time and energy on it? If there are cracks in the foundation, how can you build on it?

I am still angry. I feel kind of like a wife who is continually lured back into a relationship with a husband who is just slightly abusive. What is it? Why is it? I have been down this path before. I have said, no, no, no, I don’t want to go. Yet I have been slowly drawn back. Each time, though, there has been that little bit of extra distance. I have never forgotten the betrayal, so that when I see the signs again I may choose to not give attention to them, but I can’t just ignore them. They are big, black, glaring spots on my field of vision.

I don’t see the point really. It’s just that this desire keeps stirring in my heart, and desire is beyond reason.

First do no harm

pour water on the fires of our fearsI posted an entry recently on my blog for my missing daughter, http://www.DearMichaela.com, in which I talked about my feelings of my faith in God having been betrayed. When I posted it on facebook I received a reply from someone I care very deeply for, who said she had been having some of the same kind of feelings. I immediately felt a deep sadness, because I was afraid that I might have influenced her in this way.

It is a well known fact that I like to post my thoughts on the internet for everyone to read. I’m not always sure exactly why I need to do this. I think sometimes I am looking for validation, and at other times I am actually looking for answers. I am looking for people to tell me I am right or I am wrong, and why, because anybody who has known me for any length of time can tell you that I go back and forth a lot. I may be very adamantly strong in my faith one day and a rabid unbeliever on another day, with a number of very painful steps in between. When I am strong in my faith, however, I still always have questions that bother me, that have never been adequately answered. And when I am a rabid unbeliever, I still sometimes feel that mysterious tugging at my heart, tapping on my shoulder, that calls me to belief. I can’t tell you how much I hate this back and forth back and forth. Wherever I am, I feel like a fraud. Wherever I stand, the ground always seems ready to open up for a fall. And because I talk about this on the internet, everybody know this, and everybody, I’m sure, thinks I am dumb, unstable (double minded in New Testament parlance), and they don’t want to talk to me anymore.

Oh well.

But what has really bothered me over the years has been the fear of being a negative influence on other people. The first person I felt this with was my son, Robbie, who was a warrior in God’s kingdom, who was on track to become a pastor. We attended the same church, and I was very proud of him. Then I left my faith. And then he left his. And I was broken hearted about it. Over the years I haven’t impacted many people that I know of, for better or worse. I hope that I have not impacted my dear friend in this case.

Why this is, I can’t tell you. It’s one of the eternal mysteries to me, why I want to toss my own faith out the window but feel so devastated when someone else tosses theirs. But I especially don’t want to be the cause. At this point, on this particular day, I genuinely do not believe. But there are people I know who do believe, whose faith is a thing of beauty, something that makes me feel warm and safe and just plain happy.

I will undoubtedly continue to blabber on about whatever is going on in my head, and be forewarned that I may be prepared to argue for it like I know it to be true. I really appreciate it if you take the time to read my words. I appreciate it even more if you write back to me, whether to agree or disagree. I am always looking for thoughtful answers to all these things that bother me. But if you are considering being influenced by what I may have written today, read what I wrote on several yesterdays, and know that I don’t know, and also that I know I don’t know. In fact, not knowing has kind of become my go-to position on God, faith, belief.

So hear me, but don’t feel you should listen to me. Listen to your heart. And then, if you don’t mind, tell me what you heard it say!

Fallen off the edge (or more words to eat)

I have been quiet for awhile, because I have been thinking, feeling my way along this tunnel of doubt. Normally I have this urge to document the steps on my journey, but not this time. It seemed as though there was too much at stake, and I have done this too many times in my life already. It’s a journey I take over and over again, retracing my steps.

The difference is that this time, I was a really reluctant traveler.

For some reason, I actually want to be a Christian. I want to be a part of the church, the body of believers. I am so inspired by those who do believe, people I admire who take this faith into themselves and breathe it out like it is the only air in the room, whose hearts are committed. I look at them and say, hey, if they can, I can. They are intelligent, caring people, and they can believe, so there must be something there. There is just some key somewhere that I need to find.

I have been looking for it. I have been searching in the Bible, I have been listening, exposing myself to teachings that might contain that key. But it hasn’t been there.

What really trips me up in the Christian faith is the very thing that is supposed to bolster it, and that is the Bible. I actually read this book. All of it. Not just the gospels, psalms and proverbs. I am bothered very much by the sense of exclusivity. Why would a God who had created the universe choose just one single solitary nation out of all creation to be his, and to hell with the rest? This whole idea is anathema to me. And jealousy? Isn’t that a character flaw, something that makes people behave in unreasonable and unloving ways? Yet I am supposed to accept that it is one of the primary characteristics of God? That because of his jealousy, he directed “his people” to kill every man, woman and child who lived in a land he was giving to them, just so that “his people” would not be tempted by the religious ideas of those men, women and children?  Then because of this jealousy, sent against his own people sieges which caused them to cannibalize their own children, sent them into exile and slavery, and then said, “oh never mind, I really love you, so I will bring you back?” What did that do for those who died horrible deaths in this storm of anger and jealousy?

I think that what bothers me here is that the individual lives just didn’t matter. It was “the nation,” and to hell with the individuals, those who lived, loved, feared, perished. And how about God’s Law? The proper response to a rebellious teen is to stone him?

Death removes the possibility of redemption. It is a theft of possibility. All this stoning for all these various “sins” … this law administered by men, who without a doubt used it to kill people who had done nothing at all wrong.

I read these things and I think, this cannot be God. God should inspire me to be a better, more loving, more forgiving, more merciful person. This God I see in the pages of the Bible would encourage me to be destructive and vindictive.

Surely God must be more loving and more merciful than I am.

Yes, Jesus is a nicer guy than this Old Testament God. But still, he says that the road to salvation is narrow and few find it, while the road to destruction is broad. Even Jesus and his followers taught that only a few, only those who subscribe to that story, will be saved. And honestly, if it actually takes the blood of Jesus to atone for the sins of humans, in order to make them clean enough to enter God’s presence, why did God take so long? How about his chosen people, spending all those years slaughtering sacrificial animals, stoning their children, suffering siege, famine and exile because their sins could not be covered by the blood of the animals? God, all knowing, omniscient? He could not have known this, could not have hurried along this redemptive plan paid for in Jesus’ blood?

That is what Christianity is all about, you know. If it was just Jesus, the prophet, the Son of God, teaching us to be loving and kind and to do good and help each other, I could get behind that 100 percent. But that’s not it. The central message is that we have to accept Jesus’ death as payment for our sins so that we can be saved from the torment God is going to send on the rest of humanity for being sinful. All of Jesus’ teaching about being loving and kind and doing good and helping people was really for the purpose of showing us how miserably we fail, of showing us that we are sinners in need of redemption, because we do not, any of us, feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit those who are sick and in prison. Oh, maybe sometimes we do, but every single one of us turns our back most of the time. And that is the purpose of Jesus’ lesson here, to point out that we cannot be good enough for God. He told us that if we are angry, we are murderers, that if we look on another with lust in our hearts, we are already adulterers. Even if we control our negative impulses, we still have the impulses, and therefore we can never be good enough for God, and therefore we need to accept the blood of Jesus to make up for our falling short, of never being able to be good enough.

And if you don’t accept that blood payment, then you are on the broad road to destruction. You lived before Jesus? Too bad. You live in another culture where they don’t tell you about Jesus? Too bad. You just don’t give intellectual assent to the whole story, even though you do feed the hungry, visit the sick, love your sweet little heart out and shed oceans of tears for the suffering in this world? Well too bloody damn bad. Off you go into “eternal punishment.” (Matthew 25:46 for those who don’t believe the Bible says this stuff.)

Again I say, surely God must be more loving and merciful than I am.

I actually had to open my Bible to get that reference right. Opening it, its pages before me, honestly continues to just fill me with desire. I want to read it, to love it, to follow it. But I can’t. I just can’t do that any longer. It has betrayed me. If you can show me a better way, can help me understand what I don’t understand, please, you are more than welcome to do that. But I have struggled and struggled with these things, and this is where that struggle has left me.

I’m on the shore now. I do not, cannot believe. I recently asked for prayer for a loved one, and it kind of gave me prickles.  I prayed myself, and it made me afraid. This is a new thing. I have doubted, walked away before. I have been hateful and resentful even, but never before have I been afraid. Now that God chose to do awful, horrific things God to “his people” has made its home in my heart now. That God is a God to be feared.

I don’t believe this.

But the fact remains that when I pray, I don’t feel my prayers bouncing back to me from the ceiling, or disappearing into a never ending uncaring vacuum. God is real to me, will remain real to me. In the past I have referred to this god as “the universe,” and that is not inaccurate, but I can call this “God,” and I can even refer to this as “him.” They are words, conveniences. In this leg of my journey, I am setting out to discover who this God is.

This is my prayer, to know God. I think it may actually be beyond what is possible in this lifetime, but that is my prayer, my journey. There are some things that have helped me along the way, some things I have observed to be true, some I do feel innately to be true, apart from what I have been taught. I will share some of those things at a later time.

One of the difficult things for me about writing this is that I know there are a lot of people who will be disappointed, not only in me for not believing, but in me for not holding a standard up for Christianity. If my old friend Anonymous has followed me from my older blogs to here, I expect to hear some scathing judgment. It’s bad enough to not believe, but here I am potentially doing damage to others who might believe.

I’m sorry. I will try not to delineate the reasons I do not believe again. I will go on from here to what I do believe, to what I do discover along the way. I’ve honestly been living on the edge for a long time. I have been trying to fit in where I do not belong, and that is just too hard to do. But everybody has their path to follow, and their reasons for following it, and I respect that.

Let’s just try to build love along whatever path we are following. I will fail at this, and you will fail, but let’s try anyway, and let’s agree to forgive each other when we don’t make it.

This is something that is so central to who I am, this limbo has left me tongue tied. Hopefully now I will be able to get back to blogging.