I’d like to tell you every detail, every moment that occurred during my time in that church. If I did, you’d be reading for years. The time I spent in that church provided me with more learning experiences, tears, and laughter than most people experience in their lifetimes. The larger point was that I came out of a tradition that was not strict, but closed; not unfriendly, just sure of itself. If I told you every story, you might soon think that it was a marvelous experience. If I told you every story, you might soon think that it was a horrible experience. I accept it as a part of my lived reality, something that constitutes who I am. I cannot change it nor deny it any longer, only accept it and use it for constructive purposes.
Off to college I went, where my life would be changed. The numerous experiences I had forever changed who I am. If you would have told me everything I would do in college, I wouldn’t have only questioned you, I would probably cry for the bad life I would lead. Indeed, it was a growing and learning time. From all faith to love I experienced it all, and it changed me. I worked in a progressive church, that wasn’t really that progressive. I was a philosophy major, and I thank God for that. It was during those three brief years I found my voice, and began to question all that was. I didn’t stop at questioning, and turn away thinking God would be eternally angry with me. No, I kept questioning because I soon found out that all I had been taught didn’t stand up. It lasted only a little while, before I had to find new tools, new beliefs.
I’m convinced that what I learned during my childhood and youth wasn’t really terrible. It me kept out of trouble, kept me engaged, and I helped a lot of peers in high school. But, those tools and teachings weren’t life-long teachings. They didn’t stand up in the face of suffering or the complexities of life. They shaped me and formed in ways that I am still discovering. For this purpose, I am thankful. Yet, for so many who never escaped the rigid belief, and obsession with salvation, I am sorry. I wish they could see the possibilities that I too see. Maybe they’re not the same, but I’m not concerned with a metaphysical rapture of the spirit, after all, if you can’t eat, it’s hard for your soul to feed. This community gave me opportunities, and love that I can’t verbalize. Yet, they missed out on love, and people to love.
I can’t point to a single moment in my life when I changed my thinking. I can’t tell you when I decided that the worldview I held wouldn’t work any longer. Perhaps that’s what made it work. I had for so long believed that everything hinged one a singled decision, a single point in time when it all worked, it all came together. I soon found that things change over time, and we grow into a new way of living through a continuum. Life changed slowly, not methodically, over time. There were times when I would float into nostalgia, and those were the hard times. I thought that to accept something meant abandoning something else. It would take a long to find that this wasn’t the case. Memories don’t have to be abandoned to embrace a new way of living. There were many people and experiences responsible for my evolution of thought. Yet, no one had as much influence as me, and my choices.
When I went back to those thoughts, those memories, and decided it no longer worked, I found that the ‘it’ was damnation. I couldn’t accept that some people went to heaven and others perished. I couldm’t accept that because some discovered the truth they lived, while others, living their lives the best they could, would perish forever. There was a fundamental breakdown between all the teaching and all the preaching. I was taught the Bible through and through. I knew quite well, and I especially knew the Gospels. Yet, I was preached to that there was a heaven, and a hell, and we would be judged accordingly. In one ear I heard that God loved everybody, and in the other I heard that you ought turn, or burn. I had been sold a bag of tricks, or so I thought, and it was my responsibility to figure it all out, to make it all right. I couldn’t. No one can.
I’m here where I am today because this is what I believe to be, not true, but honest. I don’t much about the truth. Frankly, I don’t think any person on this lush green planet can tell me any more about the truth than any body else. Unlike Jonathan Edwards or Martin Luther, I live it a radically globalized world. Thinking you have the truth lasts about as long as a flame in the wind: you can protect all you want, and even light it as many times as you would like, but it’s going to go out – quickly. I try to be honest with my experience, and I try to hear the stories of those around me. It’s hard to think you have what’s right nailed down, only to find that it doesn’t work. Sure, nobody can create any way of thinking that explains everybody’s experience. That’s just like advocating the “truth” all over again. Rather, I simply want to be honest with the complexities and mysterious nature of faith. We don’t come to faith because we have it all figured out. We don’t stay with faith because we have it all figured out. We live in faith because there’s a mysterious nature to our lives. Historically, we try to use our belief or tradition to explain our experiences. But, what if, we let our experiences inform our belief in God. We might soon find out that there’s the common threads of suffering and joy, the opposites that do not attract, but rather suspend the human spirit in an eternal angst that always and at once opens us up.
E. Frank Tupper, the Baptist rebel theologian, says:
Therefore, the theological viewpoint of each disciple—distorted and oppositional because of the combination and integration of theology with ideology in their respective interpretation of their heritage—had to be discussed, understood, and open to the tutelage of Jesus. Their unwanted dialogue face to face with each other under the gaze of Jesus engendered a new “experience” for each one, still experientially different but with mutuality available through their common discipleship following Jesus.
All of Christianity claims to be following Christ. I simply want to understand that the shame, hate, and close-mindedness preached by many does not bring about the kingdom of God. I am no longer in the right because I cannot stand not to love. I am no longer in the right because somewhere along the way I realized that a message that preaches condemnation is worthy of nothing.