A dear friend recently said to me “I don’t know if I can believe in God anymore.”
She said there is just too much evidence that a supreme being has checked out, or never existed – or worse – is dead.
“The whole ‘God is love’ thing is a crock,” said she. To which I agreed. “There’s too much suffering,” she continued, selling past the close. Her heart was in distress.
God is love has been embedded in us, we are taught nothing less all our lives, and where does that leave our idea of love those times we feel thrown to the wolves?
So I asked her:
“If you cannot believe that God is Love,” I replied. “Can you believe that LOVE is actually GOD?”
There is no denying that Love itself exists.
It swirls around us, and flows through happenstance and doubt, overcoming both.
It is in every hug, good wish, faithful intention. It is being seen. It is being valued. It is in valuing others.
It is sitting with the hurting, grieving alongside them so they are not lonely.
It is miracles, yes; but it is also in pain. Love often piggybacks on pain.
If your cognitive dissonence disallows you your old belief system, can you worship love and live by the tenants of a loving life?
Not just your understanding of love, but the truth that it is the force behind the details in the microcosm and glory in the vastness of the cosmos. That love?
Love itself is God. When app other things pass away, it’s still standing, open-armed.
Because whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – go towards that. Be willing to get messy with it. Spread that stuff everywhere. Dole it out like there is a never-ending supply. (Because there is.)
When you find manifestations of love, you will find a God who won’t tell you he’s running out for cigarettes, only to never return. Or say he’ll give you something to cry about. Or any of the other hurtful things human fathers do.
Yes, we are raised being told that God is love, but we have been taught incompletely. We are the incarnation of God on earth. When living out love has a heretical flavor, it’s time to take another look at ourselves.
Maybe you’ve been hurt by the “church. Perhaps you have trauma. “God is love” not ringing true to you as a whole? Old Testament giving you wrathful vibes of a vengeful overlord?
I understand. But can you believe in LOVE my friend?
Love that will sit in that dark hole with you, because it’s not allergic to our shadow selves.
Love that comforts the broken.
Love as a force that rises to meet the victim.
Love as the catalyst for every simple contact we have for the hurting.
Where there is confusion, it’s the thing we can hang our hats on.
Where there is bigotry, it’s the force that overcomes.
Oh yes. I believe that all things loving and lovely, and pure of intention, are of God.
And that includes US!
I wish you peace, joy, and comfort today, dear reader. I wish you rest in a safe, warm Source of Love.
“If you are spiritually deconstructing, you never knew Jesus in the first place.”
I hear this refrain over and over again. It’s the most invalidating thing you can say to someone who is rebuilding a faith life, because it requires no questions asked. A quick, pat explanation to justify one’s traditional beliefs that people who deconstruct are fallen. Deceived.
No fuss, no muss. Easy-peasy. If you are questioning the inerrancy of the Bible, you were never a “believer” in the first place. Which is both harshly judgmental – and frankly – nobody’s call to make about someone else’s person’s personal faith.
But that would be a wildly assumptive dismissal, because it’s for my love of Jesus I began questioning.
It’s because Jesus is SO real to me that I started this journey.
Either Jesus was who he said he was, or he wasn’t.
Either God is a god of warring, or of peace.
Either God is a god of unconditional love, or none at all.
Either God is a just god, or a corrupt one.
Either “it is finished,” or it is not.
And that’s far more important to me than believing a grown-ass man was swallowed by a whale and lived three days in its body “vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.”
We learn the Old Testament stories in Vacation Bible School, right out of the gate. Horror stories.
Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son, only to have God say just kidding! Just had to make sure you would snuff out the life of the child you prayed so long for, and I rewarded you with. Is God manipulative, or loving?
The nature of God is not – in my travails – sending a catastrophic flood to drown all of his creation – excepting one family he deemed righteous. For that righteous man who would later get drunk and have sex with his daughters to propagate the species (with even more beings that God knew good and damn well would also become corrupt in their humanity.)
I no longer believe it, because of the teachings of Jesus himself. The Bible contradicts itself in the most dangerous way, because it teaches that you’d better get your belief system right OR. ELSE. It’s the ultimate test of “getting it right.” And we humans are not so good at getting things right, as a general rule.
Does that sound like Jesus to you? Examine the humanity of Jesus; not just the divinity.
I am not at all anti-Bible. I am Bible-in-context of history and allegory. And the grace and justice and righteous table-turning of Jesus? I am definitely “pro” that.
“I guess you’ll find out when you die and spend eternity broiling in Hell,” they say, when you deconstruct.
To which I say, the Jesus I study and know is not about eternal conscious torment. “Turn or Burn” is loaded with law, as opposed to grace.
“You can question God about “x” but never “y.” and CERTAINLY not “z.” they tout.
Except that you can, because it’s the nature of humanity. And every good relationship requires excellent communication, why would this be any different?
I have no desire to throw “the baby out with the bathwater” – Jesus out with the organized religion. Lo, I say unto thee, in my quest of soul-searching, he came out on top.
“Love one another,” says he. And everything else he ever says orbits around that one concept.
So question, child of God. Let the Holy Spirit roam around free-range in your soul, unconstrained by thousands of years of human dogma, politics, and legalism. Ask the Spirit to show you what is true and what matters most in the ancient book. Sit with the Spirit as Jesus sat with his disciples, just chillin’ with the homies. Just BEING; not striving.
Oh, I did know Jesus “in the first place,” but not as I know him now.
Not as part of a Jekyll and Hyde spiritual pairing. Not as one whom I will have to hide behind when I get to Heaven, so as not to upset the father with my humanity. Not as one whose grace hinges on us “getting it right.”
But as One with us, whole in love; full of grace. One who sits with me in my darkest hour. One who set the example of turning the other cheek and made repeated declarations that “the greatest of these is LOVE.”
If we are eternal creatures having a physical experience for an allotment of years on Earth, it begs the question:
Why have a physical experience at all? Especially with all the heartbreak and tragedy raging all around us. What’s the value in being here?
No matter how crazy life gets, I truly believe there is purpose in our being Earth-side. And I recognize that having a human experience enables us to experience things others in the spiritual realm may not.
Take chocolate, for example. Do angels eat chocolate? We do. It’s delicious.
When they hear Led Zeppelin, so they feel the music in their physical bones? We can. (And it’s like climbing a stairway to Heaven!)
We have thunderstorms so rumbly, you feel the thunder in your chest.
Literal water falls from the sky, on the regular. That’s some legit Garden of Eden stuff there.
Water is one of my favorite parts of being human. How would we appreciate the Living Water that is our Creator, had we not known the concepts of thirst and satiation?
We can climb trees that have their own intelligence, and admire flowers that God didn’t need to make so pretty, but did.
We get to host the lives of other sentient beings – little furry forever friends. We get our faces kissed with slobber, and benefit from the vibrations of a purr, and although I know pets go to Heaven, I’m grateful for their pretense in this intense world.
We have telescopes to remind us how small we are, and microscopes to show us how intricately we are put together; for we are made of divine love, and stardust.
We have books – vast volumes of human history and human frivolity, ours for the ingesting.
And we have tacos, y’all. In all the universe, we get to enjoy tacos!
Best of all, we have one another. That’s really something – relationships. Just two Earthlings who took a shine to each other and become friends for life. What? That’s crazy! And I love it.
We have such grace and grief, both; double-edged swords that clear the rubbish of human drudgery to make room for the fruits of the Spirit.
If you are living under skin and over bone, you are on a quest. Get excited.
The world – even with its trials and tragedies – is one God so loves. It’s messy and painful and sometimes I’m not sure why he loves it. but I’m certain it’s loved because look around us.
May we find love, joy, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control in our human experience.
Better yet, while we are questing, may we BE love, joy, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.
And May the angels and eternal beings on the other side cheer us on as we throw down the gauntlet, anxious with anticipation.
I have always hated speaking in front of people. Since I was a child, it gave me the worst anxiety.
The top photo was taken several years ago at a ladies conference being launched by two of my church friends. I was to give my testimony as a recovering alcoholic and follower of Jesus to nearly 100 women. I was honored, but not at peace about it.
Everybody kept telling me that it was my duty as a Christian to share my story, and I was hearing the same thing from my 12 Step group: God wants you to do this as your “ministry.” If you don’t share, how can you reach people?
But there is NO flow to my speaking. If I am in front of more than five people, I stutter. I stammer. I break out in blotches and feel like I’m having a heart attack.
But God wants it, I’m told. He is trying to “grow” me. So I did, over and over again, but it was excruciating. And I never once had peace about it. The ladies still do the conference every year and it is a very popular event. They are wonderful humans doing stuff for God, so more power to them.
But that’s not me.
I didn’t fit in with that group, and was never invited back to speak. In hindsight, I now consider it a merciful act. I admire the women who can get up and speak to a large crowd without wondering what they are supposed to do with their hands (or the expressions on their faces) and deliver a riveting message. I’m just not one of them.
But I am no less than them.
And the question rattled around in my head for years – AM I doing the will of God? Well, that depends on who you ask.
“If you are scared to talk to groups of people and find it soul-crushing, and alarms are going off in your brain, that just means you’re on the RIGHT spiritual track because you’re making the devil mad.”
OR the other point of view,
“If it’s simple and there is a natural “flow” to what you’re doing, it’s because God is setting forth a clear path for you? There is an ease to being in God’s will.”
A jewel I’ve gleaned on this journey is that if someone else is telling someone what God “wants you to know,” take it with a grain of salt.
My advice? Dont use the suggestions of others who purport to speak on God’s behalf in lieu of your gut. The feelings in your gut have ancient knowledge. It is not a hedonistic to trust your instincts. They were placed there for a reason.
I don’t do public speaking anymore. The truth is, God knew it wasn’t my jam, but I had to learn it the hard way. I had to learn that one size does NOT fit all.
The thing is: I DO speak up, in the written word, where I can communicate love as God placed the ability in me.
Why are we doing the things we don’t enjoy for God?
As it turns out, there is a flow to carrying out the will of God; an ease. We don’t need to panic or fret. The his world has enough panic and fretting.
Stop doing the things that make your soul panic. Our faith doesn’t have to be powered by the expectations of others.
It only has to be powered by love. Express yourself as you’ve been created to do, and never-mind the rest.
A friend I admire very much recently posted a prayer request, shortly followed by this sentiment: “Don’t bother to pray for me if you’re sending good vibes, good intentions, positive energy, etc. only God can heal me.”
It made me sad for her.
Although I am actually inclined to agree with her ALL healing comes from Source. Powers of darkness ain’t gonna heal you because you asked “the wrong way,” because darkness doesn’t heal. Ever. It can’t.
You’re either getting your healing from God or not at all, no matter how woo-woo your friends pray for you.
But advising your friends who may believe differently than you who are wanting to transfer light, love, and healing to you to “please don’t, unless you’ll do it the right way,”
It’s like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Especially when you consider that prayer IS “focused attention” – another human being imploring goodness and healing and mercy over you from the one Power who can handle it.
I’m religious circles, we call that “speaking life” over someone. And it seems a pity to reject how ever one can best send love and light for a letter-of-the-law incantation approved by the church proper.
Eastern religions have a much better grasp on this concept. We, on the other hand, almost take a Christmas Nationalist stand about it. “By GOD there is ONE way to pray for me and the Bible CLEARLY says how to do it, so don’t come in here with your weirdo ideas, which are surely demonic, since I don’t understand it.”
When we eschew good intentions that loving people bestow on us because their way of loving us is considered sub-par to your own religion, it’s a loss.
If “good vibes” won’t heal you according to your theology, where do you assume such vibes originate? Where would good, loving intentions for you come from exactly?
When we throw away their manifestations of love for us because they use the word “energy” rather “than prayer.” … we are losing something very important. The humanity of ourselves, and by proxy, the humanity of Jesus.
You are petitioning the Highest Power that exists in the entire universe for MY healing and wellbeing. And if you do so while on your knees, or with a pretty rocks in hand (even the rocks cry out, remember?) I would be honored.
In conclusion, and with a nod to Dr. Dre (wait, I mean Dr. SEUSS:)
We spend so much of our time trying to gain, when we should also deeply consider what is worth letting go of. Each thing you surrender makes more room in your being for love and light.
Maybe now is the time we let go of:
The weight of your own unrealistic expectations.
Okay, I’m really good at this one. Set the bar so high, I can’t even get a leg over, and then be disappointed in myself that I’m not “good enough” when I fall off the bar altogether and land on my face. Taaa-DAAA!
Believing the negative things others say about you.
This is especially hard to let go of, because I have convinced myself over a lifetime of anxiety that “they” must be “right.” But nobody gets to say what’s right about me, but me. Isn’t that liberating? You can completely ignore the BS people spread about you.
Penchant for people pleasing.
If I know you, I want to make you happy, at the expense of my own happiness, if need be. And frankly, that’s whack. I am not Chick-fil-A. It is not always “my pleasure” to put everyone else’s needs before my own.
That shitty little voice in your head is that keeps telling you you’re not enough.
It has played in a loop in my head for neigh on 54 years now. Whatever I can accomplish with my chronic illness each day is my best. Because giving my best is enough, always. It has to be.
Going beyond belief in angry God.
This shift was a game-changer for me. It reframes the entire gospel, and it is a balm to my soul. Not to mention the God of the Old Testament was very little like Jesus. Very little like Love. And my God is quite literally LOVE itself.
Wondering if it’s okay to have doubts.
Yes, it’s okay, of COURSE it’s okay. It’s faith-building, even.
Attempting to fix other people’s problems.
This is a toughie. But I’m learning. I am also learning to say, “what will be, will be,” and actually believe that things will work out just as they should, although I do this in fits and starts.
The soul-sucking monkey on your back. Or monkeys.
Our addictions hijack our focused intention, dull our shine, deplete our energy, and become a barrier to hearing from God within you.
…And the elephant in the living room.
That thing you need to address but keep stepping over, walking around, or ignoring altogether? Ask it’s name. Get to know it. And then politely show it the door.
A “Keeping up with the Joneses” mentality.
The Joneses have their own monkeys and elephants. Stay in your ring; they have their own crazy circus.
The belief that there is a separateness between you and God.
This one is a humdinger and will make all the other items easier to let go of. You are not disconnected to God, and frankly, you can’t do anything to become separate from him.
The belief that you’re all alone and we are separate from each other.
We are all connected. Every single one of us. And connected to our Source, too..
If you are struggling, it’s because you are doing the will of God and the devil is coming after you because you are doing the Lord’s work. If your circumstance is difficult, God ordained it. He is “stretching” and growing you. You are obviously on the right track, carrying out his will.
If you are doing what God wills, things will be easier. There will be a “flow” to it. That’s his way of letting you know you are abiding in his will. You won’t have to fight it. There will be a naturalness and ease, if you are operating in the will of God.
Well, which is it?
And please don’t tell me “the Bible is clear..” because it’s not. It’s actually contradictory on a lot of levels.
It’s a subject I’ve asked pastors about, only to be told to just keep reading the “word,” and God would make it clear. The implication of course being “you’re not spending enough time in the Bible.”
To which I say, how did the early church follow the example of Christ for the first four centuries? They did not have the benefit or encumbrance of a book to tell them how to live. Yet they set the world on fire with radical love. It’s all about the spirit, in my estimation.
Here’s the thing; This is life. Messy, wonderful, excruciating LIFE. Live it.
It is full of natural flow, impossible challenges, unexpected events, bursts of assurance, and waves of doubt. There is no one marker that determines if you are going against the will of the Almighty. In the process of deconstruction, I have learned that sometimes, I will avoid doing the “thing” at all, because all those years I NEEDED constant reassurance from Heaven and Earth alike that I was in his will. The paralysis of analysis, if you will.
If things were going great, the underlying sentiment is that God loves me and is pleased with me. But wait – when traumatic events happen, remember that he “chastens whom he loves,” (or if he just really has a cruel streak.)
And I have decided that my whole theology boils down to this: “Shit happens, but God is Love.”
Perhaps we can stop micromanaging the will of God. Perhaps we can marvel at it, wonder at the mystery of a grace so scandalous, we don’t even need to understand the whole plan to know it’s good. We people-please Abba because that’s how we win the approval of people.
Maybe God’s not testing us.
Maybe he isn’t “allowing” difficult, tragic things to happen in order to build up our strength as Christians.
Maybe the fact that everything is going smoothly just means that everything is just going smoothly.
He walks alongside us on the road to Damascus, and down Main Street at Disney World.
Over the fire and ice, both.
He stays near us when we feel robbed in this life, and when we have been given abundance.
Sometimes we get it wrong. But we will either succeed at what we endeavor, or we will learn from it.
As an adolescent, I was terrified of “making purple.”
Those of you in the evangelical world know that kids in youth group are warned on mission trips (lock-ins, religious rallies, the woods behind the church, etc. and so on) to not fool around with boys if you’re a girl, and girls if you were a boy. Blue + pink = purple (get it?) Many a time, a youth leader has been driving a bus full of kids and said, “SHOW OF HANDS!” and all the teens would have to lift their hands to show their hands were not in places they shouldn’t be. Purple places, I guess.
And of course, they weren’t in the wrong for monitoring the kids. They are liable and it is not the occasion for those kind of shenanigans. It’s the subversive idea that your sexual purity determines your worth as a young woman that bothers me.
The youth group I attended (religiously) as a teenager was quite the circus. I was a hand-wringing thinker of deep thoughts, and I wanted answers. At one point, I made an appointment with the senior pastor, (who was later revealed to be having affairs with three women in the congregation, Oh, the irony!) to talk about predestination. What I would later learn is severe anxiety propelled me to find answers, and I couldn’t let it go. I’ve always been a seeker. Plus also, I was scared to death of Hell, so I needed to know these things.
I also carried a Bible to high school with me every day, like an amulet. It served the dual purposes of making me feel holy, and keeping the “bad kids” away, lest I be tempted. I also wore a ring to signify my purity to remind me that I didn’t want to lose value as a woman by fooling around. How awful that is to me now.
All I knew was that the human heart is deceitful above all things – never trust it. And to love yourself? Sacrilege! That’s vanity and placing yourself over God, you dirty heretic. Jesus said to love everyone, but throughout 2,000 years of human dogma, a long litany of stipulations had been applied to loving self.
“That’s an awfully big question,” the pastor said at our appointment. And then he launched into a diatribe about how God chooses who will make the cut BEFORE you are even born. This was very disturbing information. Was I behaving for nothing? “But everyone gets a choice,” he continued. It made zero sense whatsoever but who was I to question? Questioning was especially egregious and rebellious.
I can tell you now, loving yourself is NOT a sin. In fact, it’s essential. You need to have the ability to be tender with yourself, which requires love. And these days, Love is quite literally my religion – I am learning to love myself and actively loving and accepting others.
I will say that I don’t believe “hooking up” habitually is good for the mind and spirit. But you do you, Boo. To each their own. It’s enough to take my own spiritual inventory; I surely cannot take yours.
But purity culture? I instilled that in my own daughters from an early age, as it was instilled in me. In retrospect, it’s janky. Not because teens having sex is a good thing, but because I basically taught my daughters without realizing it that a substantial part of their value hinged on being “pure” for your future husband. Not that I myself made it that far, I did not. (I discovered alcohol, which was a game changer, and is an entirely other story for another time.)
It’s the self-worth factor that ires me. You must stay pure, and none of my kids – all adults now – ended up that way, by the church’s standards.) The message that you are a commodity that has value, but your value can be reassessed if you do naughty things. Again, it seems so obviously wrong now.
The boys are told not to engage but are not held to the same standards at all. Where’s their purity rings? Where’s their chastisement? No bueno. Can you say “Patriarchy Jr?” (And yes, I have apologized to my daughters.)
I know this firsthand because in tenth grade, the youth leader for the church I attended – who had adamantly told us never to watch “The Breakfast Club,” because it was of the devil – had the idea to host a lock-in at the church that was also a TOGA PARTY. Yes, a toga party. We wore SHEETS to the lock-in, because what could possibly go wrong? Hoo boy. These kids definitely needed monitoring!
Animal House had nothing on our group.
I was so terrified of sinning, I sat in the sanctuary for most of the event. But many kids in the gathering space were a’sinnin’. The youth leader fell asleep around 11 pm, and (surprise!) the kids did not.
It ended up being a big scandal, because when parents found out what happened that night, they raised holy Hell. Lots of my friends got in trouble for doing things in the sheets IN THEIR SHEETS. We had a whole youth meeting to address the Purple and prayed the lust away for an hour. Or that was the idea.
And it was then that the seedlings of faith in the church started to grow in wonky. Because the way the church proper took on things was contradictory. ‘Do as I say, not as I do’. Or worse, ‘do as I say because I have the inside skinny on God.’
Still, I would cling to the church for another 30 + years because FEAR. Oh my God I was so afraid to trip up. That people-pleasing follows me around still to this day, if I don’t do my shadow work.
Churches are just made of people – many well-intentioned. They are trying to save other souls from eternal conscious torment (that a “loving” God doles out if your ticket isn’t stamped “Pre-destined” because they TRULY believe we are all bound for Hell at birth. And this is confusing because they very often DO care and harbor no ill will. They, like I was, are mired in the letter of the law.
But to paraphrase with the vernacular of youths today (and I’ll write about what I believe the issue of Hell later,) that shit cray. Also, I CAN’T EVEN anymore with the religiousness. I seem to be acquiring a repulsion of all things church that are not of Jesus. Like, on a primal level. “That’s NOT what he said!” I want to shout. “That’s not what he was about!”
I’m not saying sin isn’t a big deal. I’m just saying love is a bigger deal.
And I want to be what Jesus WAS about. I don’t want to follow rules of an ancient text. I want to accept all and love all. Period.
Truly, I refuse to throw the baby out with the bathwater though. I’m keeping my Jesus, because what you cannot learn from an entity like the modern church, you can feel in your bones. Yes, I know it sounds woo-woo, but we are equipped with spirits conjoined with Christ, he is already there, you don’t have to carry a Bible everywhere you go or bruise your knees hollerin’ on the floor of a prayer room. You are already destined for glory, even here as we travel Earth-side. This revelation is EVERYTHING.
Plus, Jesus came pre-installed in my hard drive before I was born. That was a really nice service he provides for us ALL, as redeemer of all.
And that, my friends, is part of the long and winding road that is this journey. Placing purity over people. Putting the kibbutz on shame and guilt of past mistakes, while showing yourself grace in the future. It’s doing the ultimate reassessment of you value through the eyes of a loving God. It’s revelation of identity.
Since opening my mind and learning to trust that conjoined Spirit, I realize that the church is just wrong about some things, but that doesn’t make them – or the Me of six years ago – bad people. They are just doing what I did as a young mother and for most of my life, a self-proclaimed Christian.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still angry about all the lies filtered down for ages, but I’m starting to see that it would be really easy for me to fall into giving the anger a permanent home in my heart, as I feel so deceived. That’s the very heart Jesus inhabits. If I am unkind to people in the church, I am no better than when I was a raging fundamentalist with nationalist leanings and an evangelical bent. (Oof. That smarts!)
I pray that the pain of your upbringing and living in religiosity is quelled. I pray that you break off the shackles of believing you are inherently “bad.” I hope you find safe friends to walk this out with you, and that you too try to remain kind to all. And I pray that you learn to love yourself, as you deserve.
Purity culture is really about finding out you are already pure in the sight of God.
My first exposure to religion was as a child was church, like most folks. My grandparents, who had custody of me for a while, were very religious people.
Religion is confusing because it really looks so dissimilar to what I now practice, but it was even more confusing as a kid. In the Baptist church we attended, red was the predominant color. The pews were red. The carpet was red. The embellishments on the pastor’s robe were crimson, as was the cloth over the altar. Still when I let my mind wander back, red is all I see.
Red is what I associate with church, and also sitting still in “big church,” and watching the grown-ups line up to eat the body and blood of Jesus, which was not alarming at ALL to a five year old. I was not allowed to partake. I must be too bad to participate in this ritual.
“It’s because of the blood of Christ,” I learned at Sunday School. The red signifies blood, and to a child who was afraid of her own shadow and full of anxiety, that really tripped me up.
Then I learned it is because I was so bad that I needed to bleed Jesus dry. And that he did it for me, because my heart was deceitful about all things. The Little children who worshipped may have been “red and yellow, black and white,” but it was because of the blood that we are precious in his sight. Every single person was born bad…. a sinner.
Was I a sinner? I did sneak a Mr. Goodbar from my grandmother’s secret candy stash drawer. Also, I really loved music. Did I love music more than God? You must love God more than ANYTHING. And if I did love music and climbing trees and eating candy more, did that mean I didn’t love God enough? Did that blood not cover me? What about the time I told my grandfather “no” when he asked me to do something?
And again, every week, I’d traipse down the hall of the church to Sunday School, excited for the crafts and terrified of the blood.
I learned a lot of things in church through the years. Multiple denominations. I’ve attended many a covered-dish dinner, and youth group activities. But it was what I observed, not was taught, that did the damage. It has taken me years to say the words “religious trauma” in the same sentence. It sounds awfully dramatic, unless you’ve had it instilled in you from birth and it’s all you know. And unless you were born with the anxiety level of a gerbil on crack naturally, and ergo: Your faith naturally becomes FEAR BASED.
Love everyone, but don’t be “yoked” with unbelievers. Yes, even though Jesus chose to yolk-out with the undesirables of his day. Don’t bother asking about this hypocrisy, because questioning God is tantamount to signing your own passport to Hell.
And Hell is what kept us all reined in, because it gets really hot in Houston in the summertime, but HELL IS HOTTER. And it’s forever. It’s suffering forever, so get your sh*t together, chir’ren!
And you must learn the “word of God,” i.e., the Bible. Never mind that the Word is actually a person, and not a historical text translated and translated again, and written by sinners just like you. But again, don’t question it.
Learn all the Old Testament Bible stories at Vacation Bible School! Here’s a synopsis of the acts of a “loving God” that I learned in church:
God-sanctioned gruesome deaths and horrific murders in his name. Including the death of infants. I learned that sometimes God tells you to murder a person you love more than anything because he is testing your faith. Yikes.
He caused a flood to “reset” the world with good people, all the while drowning hundreds of thousands of souls who didn’t make the cut. All the animals too, except for the ones on the ark.
“Thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt not steal,” were the rules, except buying and selling human beings as “servants” was sanctioned, and how they should be treated by their “masters” was also covered. So being either a slave or a master was completely justified.
Oh sure. They START with Jonah and the whale, because who doesn’t love marine animals? And camping out in a fish til you learn your lesson is much preferable to many of the other stories I learned. Those stories were:
Misogyny. Human sacrifice. Sexual violence. Infanticide. Genocide.
God caused a bear to maul 42 children, although admittedly, I didn’t learn this until middle school when I was already afraid to exist, so bears were whatever by then.
I kept finding out how harsh the Creator of the Universe is, yet how incredibly loving and inclusionary Jesus is. But they are the same person. So figure it out, kid.
In short, everything that Jesus was NOT, God was.
Jesus is who I called on when there was violence in my home. And there was, a lot. He was who I wanted on my team when I disappointed God. I could imagine getting to Heaven and spending the entire hereafter hiding from God behind Jesus’ robe, on account of surely he will smite me.
Even as a youngster, I fell in love with this Jesus, who caused the crimson tide in church, but also gathered the little children around him.
He had stern words for the religious of the day, which is REALLY confusing, because the religious are who I was taught to look up to. Jesus was hugs and kindness, while God was retribution and violence.
Jesus is who I conjured even when I was three, as one of my first memories illustrates. My parents were screaming at one another, and I hid in my toybox, shoving aside the toys and making myself small.
But I knew I wasn’t alone. I knew that kind and compassionate Jesus was hiding with me. I just knew that I knew, and I didn’t feel alone. I still never feel alone because I feel his spirit.
And I knew the God figure who was stuffed into a toybox with me giving me my first taste of spiritual peace, was not into mauling babies via bears or drowning his own creation.
Our religion, however, was about practicing 10 rules, being at the church every time the doors were open, excluding people who didn’t believe like we did to keep ourselves spiritually “safe,” and joining committees as adults.
So the genesis of my faith has been reconciling a belief system that never worked for me, because the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are the same God, just in vastly different moods because of something called a covenant. God is in a much better mood in the latter, even as it is draped and ensconced in red, focused on blood and sin; and making sure you presented a Christian front to everyone “worldly,” (even as not really following the creed of Jesus at all.)
It’s easy to lose the Jesus in the rituals and rules.
That’s not my faith anymore.
Hi. My name is Jana and I am a follower of Christ. I am still in love with him and try (and often fail) to emulate his actions instead of striving endlessly to please a God who – let’s be honest – cannot be pleased.
I’ve been threatening to write about my deconstruction / reconstruction experience (including the banishment of a literal “Hell,” inclusionary salvation, and all sort of other things I thought would doom my soul when I was younger.)
I used to pray for good parking spots, and HALLELUJAH in praise, as holy-rolled into my divine space at Target. Obviously, I’m super spiritual.
Why, just last week I won $5 on a scratch-off lotto ticket AND I caught that clearance sale at Kohls and the dress was just my size!
*Shaking my head.*
That was my theology… “I can do ALL things through Christ, who – before the foundation of the universe – willed me to receive shallow, trivial things to prove his majesty to me.
God is eithera benevolent dude who puts his pants on one leg at a time like all the rest of us and is moving heaven and earth to make sure you get that good parking space,
God is a cosmic force who knows all like omnipotent Santa Clause, spinning celestial bodies in perfect orbit, and from his mighty throne, waits to call you out on your peasant misdeeds.
God is like Jesus.
Passing out grace in scandalously copious fashion, all sweet and willy-nilly. Like honey, it sticks to everything and the sweetness cuts the bitterness of everything else in life.
Maybe God isn’t a “sky daddy,” reigning from a throne in there heavens. Perhaps he sits on the actual thrones that we know as our human hearts.
And if that’s true (and I know it is because my soul keeps elbowing me in the ribs to make sure I’m paying attention,) that changes EVERYTHING.
I’m not sure I believe God cares which parking spot I get anymore, and that can seem like a loss of faith when you’ve been begging God for things all your life – from parking spots to healing my illness which has no cure, to fixing my despair.
But it’s not a loss. I’ve learned God is just like Jesus. And Jesus is Love. By association, we are Love too.
And this is how 1 Corinthians 13 has revealed itself to me:
Love never gives up, not even when you can imagine no way out of the pain.
Love cares more for others than for self, and shows it.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. It in itself is plenty.
Love doesn’t have a swelled head, it is a pouring out, not a showing-off.
Love doesn’t strut; it’s prowess doesn’t say “look at me!” but reflects in a humbling contemplation.
Love doesn’t force itself on others, spreading the dry-bone, legalistic “gospel” for the sake of evangelizing.
It is rarely “me first,” but rather “how can I be of service?”
Love doesn’t fly off the handle, but keeps its calm.
Love doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, even when we are really sure someone deserves their comeuppance.
Love doesn’t revel when others grovel, it shall always be preeminent.
Love is pleasure in the flowering of truth.
It puts up with anything,
Love trusts its Source.
Love never looks back, it lives in h the now.
Love looks for the best, especially when nobody else can seem to find it.
Love keeps going to the end;
Way past the parking lot.
Long after our Earth Suits are finally healed.
Continuing until we are one with the celestial bodies in perfect orbit…
I once had a friend many years ago who embodied what I thought at the time was spiritual perfection.
She was, you see, a “Proverbs 31 woman” to the bone.
In my zeal to be like her (and thus, presumably like Jesus?) I kind of lost myself. Which is what many churchy folk will tell you is the whole point of being one. You’re supposed to lose your identity, or at the very least tweak it.
If you’re not familiar with the reference, it comes from the verse by the same name in the Bible and has become the litmus test of judging a woman’s “true” worth:
“….good woman is hard to find, and worth far more than diamonds. Her husband trusts her without reserve, and never has reason to regret it. She is never spiteful, she treats him generously all her life long. She shops around for the best yarns and cottons, and enjoys knitting and sewing….”
You get the gist of it.
I tried to emulate my angelic friend, which was problematic because it kept me feeling in a state of less than.
She was soft-spoken, where my nature is boisterous.
She was serene where I am neurotic.
She never cussed and I hold fast to my peppery language.
She was crafty and talented, but super meek and humble about it. She never raised her voice. She always had devotional time with the Lord every morning before all else. It would not surprise me in the least if Jesus sent actual sunbeams to fall in the pages as she read and kept her coffee miraculously piping hot until she is done. (That’s how valuable the studies and prayers are of a Proverbs 31 woman, according to lore.)
But here’s the thing: She hasn’t had my experiences in life either. To be fair, humans are complicated and wonky (I believe that’s the scientific term.) We are all unique and as such, God doesn’t expect us to be all the same.
My friend had never battled addiction, and was certainly never a slave to the bottle.
Or been rejected by her own family.
She hadn’t experienced abuse as a child.
Her kids never got into any trouble growing up, and are pillars of the community.
She represented everything the church expected of me that I was unable to be, and everything they expected me to give that I couldn’t muster.
I’m more than the sum of what’s happened to me, and so are you. But what’s happened to us inspires our outlook on life – even our outlook on God.
You see, I am not “less than” a Proverbs 31 woman.
I am much more than more than who I used to be. And that’s the only comparing we should be doing as women – contrast ourselves with our past behaviors so that we can better ourselves.
I am simply a person who has collected trauma after trauma and made the conscious effort to overcome on a daily basis. True, I am not my saintly friend, but growth trumps the illusion of perfection any day.
My Creator is not dissatisfied with me for not being her, or the legions of “hers” all through Christendom.
Authenticity over antiquated expectations.
Relationship with God over rules and regulations.
Raw-dogging life with an open mind and heart.
Because I’m not sure a good woman is hard to find, but I am sure she probably has some sass. And I’m sure that setting unrealistic expectations behooves neither male or female; husband or wife.
Spicy girls, don’t despair. God loves you exactly the way he made you – giving you the same leeway to be imperfect that he apparently has afforded men all along.
My concept of God as love means there’s no need to “smite my enemies.” Because our Source Is not on anyone’s “team;” he’s the owner and manager, working things to your benefit – but to theirs, also. We think people who have wronged us deserve wrath, and plead God to avenge us, only to demand forgiveness when we have wronged others. And it’s taken me years to accept that “if God is for me, who can be against me?” applies to every human, everywhere, who is lugging a body around on this plane of existence. More and more, I think this place is a University of sorts. We are here to learn how to love each other and how to love God, because obviously we still haven’t gotten the lesson. That’s okay. Everything in good time. Our Earth Suits (janky as mine may be) are vehicles and vehicles only. I forget that sometimes when they pain gets unbearable. And our assignment, I think, is to retain our kindness through the shitstorm, er, um…journey. Kindness does beautiful things to otherwise very negative people. If we do this leg of our journey and stay kind, that kindness chemically and spiritually changes a person. And if it doesn’t? You’ve ventured everything for love, and will have many more opportunities. We are all trying to figure out hard stuff here. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. Love to all today!
Sometimes when I pray, I’m not even sure what to pray for anymore. But when God brings someone to my mind, that’s the impetus to pray for them.
I don’t mean giving God “instructions” on how to help someone, which I used to call “praying with specificity.” I replaced elaborate prayers with simple trust in God, because the most eloquent prayers are “help help help” and “thank you thank you thank you” (as my favorite author Anne Lamott opines.)
Reconstructing my faith has evolved how I speak with God.
I ask and then I try to listen. Because there is no wrong way to pray, and prayer is designed to be communication from one sentient being to a supreme being, no holds barred.
Once I saw a movie that recommended having a “War Room” – a physical place to go to pray where the reception is clearest to God and where mighty battles are fought in the heavenlies, waiting for our next words to change the outcome in supernatural realms.
So of course I decorated my closet with scripture and crosses aplenty. But all I managed to do was feel guilty that I wasn’t praying more (or right?) every damn time I had to grab a pair of shoes out of the closet.
Was I praying enough? What if I don’t and when I get to Heaven, God informs me that he really wanted to do this magnificent thing, but I was two beggings short of getting the outcome I desired.
See, that puts the onus on me. And the onus is not on me – it is on Love.
I don’t make a big show for myself now, prostrate in my literal prayer “closet,” striving, striving, striving to be the person “God created me to be.” Building a tower of Babylon with my puny, pleading words (which are beautiful to him, by the way, but his love is not dependent upon them.)
No. I mean that if you come to my mind during the course of my day, I am simply asking God to love on you in a way that’s tangible. God loves n us through one another, nature, laughter, and hugs from friends.
If you have a need or a heartbreak, I focus my intention on your hurt as best I can, and believe in advance that he is walking alongside you, no matter what event is anguishing you. Being a very visual person, I picture you in a cloud of love, total acceptance, resolution, and peace. I can’t describe it any better than that, but trust me, it’s better than that.
Just like us, the Holy Spirit craves connection. That’s all prayer really is.
And I ask him to increase your awareness of him in and around us. Because he is always at work in and around us, even when we aren’t begging for his favor. I pray he uses me in any capacity he sees fit to convey his great love.