Sometimes, you’ll tune into a podcast, a sermon, a song, a poem or a story, and you will be surprised by tears. And as those tears wet your tender cheeks, you will realize you’ve been sad, sad, sad, for so very long.
When my son was battling cancer, I rarely cried. This is because I wanted to face the evil disease. I wanted to fight it. One day, when we were all at home resting between treatments, I read a Facebook post about another boy my son’s age passing away from the same type of cancer. My tears were instantaneous.
I could cry for that little boy and his grieving mother, I could feel all the shock and horror, for her, but I had been scooping all the same feelings for myself to the side, out of range.
I believe this was my body’s way of coping with a trauma powerful enough to break me. I’m grateful for that moment of grieving; like a mirror, it forced me to see all of me.
I didn’t realize until a few weeks ago that I had been subconsciously-not-seeing heaps of personal grief over the breakdown of my former faith: I was listening to a message given by Sarah Bessey at the 2020 Evolving Faith conference and her words brought a sudden flow of tears.
And it wasn’t just grief I’d been holding; it was also pain, and hurt.
Realizing I’ve been grieving, well, I think that’s why I’ve felt so dead on the inside- because though I was grieving, I didn’t own it. I was living numb to my pain.
Brene Brown says, “You can't numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.”
As I’ve begun to allow grief, I’ve felt a lightness in my soul; there were just too many things hidden there, tucked away, haunting and taunting and clinging, little vampires suckling my soul.
Like, I didn’t realize how hurt I was that the faith which had promised hope, sustenance and unconditional love to all had fallen short.
You know Jesus? The one who hung out with sinners so much he was accused of all sorts of sordid behavior?
Why had my faith painted that Jesus as some sort of ornate emblem of white male perfection?
That Jesus really didn’t care about the hurting, the homeless, the rejected and the weak. He cared about being good and perfect and about being God’s son.
He cared about WHAT we believed more than about HOW our belief worked itself out.
He cared all about the FUTURE and the PAST, but not at all about the present.
He cared about whether or not we believed the right things; nothing else mattered. (But wasn’t that sticklerishness for knowing all the things what Jesus was so pissed at the Pharisees about?)
He separated people into “you’re in” and “you’re out”; he was the same as God but he also had to martyr his body to appease his angry father-God.
Also, he hated queer people even though they loved him and wanted him to love them.
That Jesus brought no hope or healing, held no love. I was deeply wounded by him. And quite frankly, I was pissed, at him.
How could he say something like, that he did not come to condemn the world, but then turn around and condemn anyone who didn’t believe in Him, and, also, anyone who identified as LGBTQ+?
That Jesus condemned hypocrisy whilst asking his own dear children not to be completely themselves.
What a fucking liar!
Jesus, God, love, embodied, condemning so many people to a literal living hell on earth.
Yah, I was pissed, but really I was sad, and wounded too.
I felt so disillusioned by a God who wanted me to agree to beliefs that didn’t concur with science. I was tired, oh so tired, of trying to follow circular arguments, battling evolution, round and round, same, same, never changing, never changed.
Why did God hate science when God admitted to actively engaging in divine revelation?
Heck, why was there so much truly bad science within the pages of that supposedly perfect book of god-words? Like, you know, how it asserts the world is made up of three layers when it isn't? Or, or, saying the sun actually stood still at one time when that would have had catastrophic consequences for the whole entire earth?
Why had I needed to shut off my thinking in order to follow God? I didn’t want the wisdom of God, the one that didn’t make sense to the world, to be all about rejecting science, I wanted it to be about showing radical love.
Deep down, I longed for a God who was pitted against the dark forces of greed, injustice and evil rather than a God pitted against science and anyone with bad doctrine.
Again, that God, that Jesus I had believed in, wasn't actually about love, he was only about do's, don'ts and shouldn'ts.
As I entered my late 30’s, I found myself grappling with a faith that was honestly fake and ignorant. And that made me lonely and churchless, and sad, deep down in my bones.
Now, as I allow the grief, I find myself ever so grateful to those Israelites who wandered in the desert for so many years, alone and wishful. They never entered the Promised Land. They complained and cried out, and it was annoying. But, like me, they wondered allowed whether or not God was even with them or for them.
And yet, there God always was.
Only, God didn't look how they thought God would.
God didn't act how they wanted God to.
They were being beckoned to see God differently, to see themselves differently and most of all, to endure emptiness with hope, not hope for happy times, but hope that good, and love, existed, despite their circumstances.
Maybe they wandered in the wilderness for the sake of all those future folks who would find themselves similarly wandering, lost, bored, hungry and thirsty.
Those homeless, landless drifters, they remind me- it's okay to be in the wilderness. And, it's okay to be pissed and cry out.
Because, even in the wilderness, God somehow still is.
The wilderness has its place, and we may very well find our own place, in it.
“Blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”
I remember the first time I had an objection to the Republican party. I was 18, driving down the road in my parents’ car, listening to good ol’ Rush Limbaugh.
I got to the part of the talk show where people called in. Every time someone offered a differing viewpoint, Limbaugh was quick to hurl insults at them. His implication was that they were idiots.
Impulsively, I switched to a music station.
And that was the last time I ever listened to Limbaugh.
It suddenly didn’t matter if Limbaugh was right or not. What did matter was that he was treating people who disagreed with him in an incredibly disrespectful way.
More than that, it bothered me that Limbaugh’s words were “right” and everyone else’s were “wrong”. How could one person claim to have such a strong hold on the truth?
Limbaugh was elevating his opinions too high- to an almost God-like status, in fact.
How many times in my life have I heard, “Because I said so! That’s why.”
I bristle at those words.
I bristle, for one, because I don’t like being told what to do.
I bristle because, well, I want to be trusted as a critical thinker, and I want to be allowed to ask questions.
I also feel instantly suspicious when, “because I said so, and you’re a complete idiot if you disagree,” is used as a reason not to question someone’s assertions.
Like, sir, why are you not willing to engage me in dialogue? Why are you scared of my queries?
I’m sorry to say that the “Because I said so” lingo follows Trump around like too much cologne. And it really repulses me.
I’ve struggled a lot with how to articulate my objections to President Trump.
I realize anything I say could be argued away.
I have had to ask myself, if I liked what Trump was doing for this country, would I turn a blind eye on some of the things I currently cannot ignore?
I hope not, but it's certainly something to keep in mind if and when there is a President I actually like.
The conclusion I’ve come to is that whatever I say about Trump will need to be with the caveat that it is all my opinion.
My opinion is certainly founded on things Trump has said and done.
But it is also colored by the visceral emotional reactions I have had to so many of his words.
Just as I decided not to listen to Limbaugh because he was someone whose words I couldn’t respect, so too, I have never been able to conjure respect for Trump.
Most of the time, my lack of respect has been due to Trump’s rhetoric and zany assertions, but recently I have been horrified by some of Trump’s actions as well.
Okay, So, What Wild Assertions?
Before I begin, I want to point out that we empower people by listening to them.
Trump wouldn’t make some of the assertions he does if everyone was like, “Hey dude, what the heck? What are you talking about?! What’s your source??”
We need to do what Chris Wallace did in this recent interview with Trump: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6XdpDOH1JA. We need to ask hard questions and then listen carefully to the answers.
Remember when Trump was running for President in 2016 and he got lots of people to question Obama’s citizenship? People should have called bullshit on that right away, but they didn’t.
I remember some folks being terribly worried about a “Muslim takeover” of our country. Do you?
Now, as we face a global pandemic, Trump has hinted that China engineered the coronavirus, in direct opposition to what his own intelligence officers have stated.
He also hinted that China does not want him to win re-election.
Is it just me, or does it sound like Trump is taking the coronavirus personally?
Like, China didn’t want him to be re-elected so, it tried to infect Americans with the coronavirus, and that would make Trump look really bad and he would lose.
Recently, I have heard many folks insist there is going to be a communist takeover of our country. Is the source of that rumor the President?
I don’t know...what do you think?
This leads to my next concern.
Who Says That?
In times of crisis, our true character is revealed; what we really care about comes to light.
And our President’s words and reactions are often very self-focused.
Go back and watch the Chris Wallace interview, then tell me I'm wrong.
Trump recently reassured people the coronavirus would just “go away”, when experts were saying the opposite.
Why would we want a President to confidently make assertions about viruses he knows nothing about?
How is that comforting?
I want a President who turns virus-speak over to the experts, who gives them support and a microphone.
THAT would mean he cares about the American public.
Empty statements, especially ones that are obviously false, do nothing to comfort me; and in my opinion, they should do nothing to comfort anyone.
Currently, there is also this whole mask controversy.
I remember there being a lot of confusion in the beginning as to whether or not wearing masks was a good idea.
But even after it was becoming clear that wearing masks could slow the spread of the virus, Trump stated he would choose NOT to wear a mask.
I have read many angry, fearful Facebook posts asserting that wearing a mask is a violation of people’s rights and even that mandates on mask-wearing are communistic.
Now, suddenly, Trump is urging Americans to wear masks, stating that they do help slow the spread of the virus.
I wonder what all those folks who love Trump and who were sure masks were communistic are thinking now? Is he displaying a double-standard? Is he promoting a communist agenda?
Again, I want a President who sets a good example of caring for others.
From the beginning, even when the efficacy of wearing masks was uncertain and medical experts were asking that we wear them to (possibly) slow the spread of the virus, I wanted a President who displayed a love and care for the needs of others above his own.
Even if wearing a mask was shown to be non-efficacious, I would have respected a President who was doing something uncomfortable for the sake of those more susceptible to sickness, more than a President who was concerned with his own rights and choices.
Why Is Everything Painted Like Some Sort of Battle?
Okay, this leads to a third concern. Trump’s “us versus them” lingo, directed at anyone who disagrees with him or calls him out.
“Unlike the socialists, we believe in the rule of the people, not the rule of the unelected bureaucrats that don’t know what they’re doing.”
Let’s break this down a bit. “Unlike the socialists.”
Who are these socialists? I haven’t heard anyone claiming that name, have you? So who is Trump referring to? Who is he labeling?
Then, “We believe…”. Who is “we”?
Don’t all Americans believe in the “rule of the people”? Isn’t that the point of protests?
Friends, notice what Trump is doing.
He is inviting you into the lie that America is split into factions with differing ideologies, some of which are downright dangerous.
While there may be disagreements, and there always have been, about how things should be done, the disagreements hardly necessitate the label “socialists”.
Here’s another example of “us versus them” lingo: “Their leadership has...lost control of the anarchists and agitators...We must protect Federal property, AND OUR PEOPLE.”
Trump stated this about the protesters in Oregon. His claim that the protesters are “anarchists” is uncalled for.
Most protesters are peaceful. Yet Trump is slapping a violent label on all protesters. And that label causes you to get only one mental picture, doesn’t it?
To make matters worse, Trump goes on to say, “We must protect...OUR PEOPLE.”
Aren’t ALL people “our people”? Shouldn’t they be?
Are protesters suddenly not American?
Are they for some reason against everyone else?
Before you blow me off for reading too much into Trump’s words, let me ask you this, why have I suddenly seen a slurry of videos claiming Black people want to destroy and kill white people?
Where do you suppose those ideas may have originated?
Us versus them. And yet, we are all American.
Don’t we want a President who speaks to unity?
A further "us versus them" mentality I have seen is that when anyone speaks out against him, Trump finds a way to insult, discredit or label that person.
Here are just a few examples:
“...She’s a mess!” about Mary Trump, and,
“...lowlife dummy John Bolton, a war mongering fool, violating the law…”.
Fast forward to the recent video interview I shared between Trump and Fox News reporter Chris Wallace.
Trump is proud of himself for hosting the interview outside, saying, "I wanted you to sweat a little bit."
In the past, Trump had tweeted some mean words about Chris Wallace. He called him, "nasty & obnoxious" after an interview he didn't like.
During the interview, Wallace asked Trump why Trump didn't like it that Wallace interviewed Democrats as well as Republicans. And Trump explains that since Wallace asks Democrats questions, then Wallace is "toward the Democrat side".
I find this labeling disturbing. Because in essence what Trump is saying is, "If you listen to anyone except for me or people on my side, then you are playing for the opposite team."
This is "us versus them" mentality. It is divisive.
It also has a dark side. The implication is, "If you get your information from any source other than me, it is wrong."
What do we have to fear in listening to more than one side of a story or event? No one should be bullied or labeled for simply asking questions.
Do we want a President who is constantly insulting people when they say anything to question him or his integrity?
Let me let you in on a little secret: People who are confident of their own integrity rarely feel a need to defend it. Defensiveness and name-calling points towards guilt, in my opinion.
I Feel Embarrassed
I’m often embarrassed by Trump’s words and tweets, especially towards immigrants.
Having grown up in a foreign country, I have seen firsthand that not everyone considers America to be “the greatest nation on Earth”.
I have seen America and Americans from an outsider’s perspective, and I understand our culture is not perfect, nor is it above scrutiny.
In some parts of the world, Americans have done much more harm than good.
I remember a while back when a bedraggled immigrant caravan approached the U.S./Mexico border and Trump called it “an invasion”.
In his tweets and speeches, Trump has often promoted the idea that immigrants are “stealing” jobs from Americans, though this was disproved by a study done during the Bush administration.
The president has also made wild, unfounded, fear-inducing claims about Muslims, hinting at a conspiracy among Muslim immigrants to our country.
I can’t fathom the amount of hurt that has caused to the Muslim community in America.
Why are we okay with a President spreading false information and making demeaning statements about immigrants?
I would like to remind my Republican friends that not all Republicans support Trump: https://rvat.org/.
In my opinion, Trump has redefined the Republican party and turned it more nationalistic.
I would like to refresh Republican’s memories of the pro-immigrant, welcoming attitude of Republican presidents Reagan and Bush: https://www.boundless.com/blog/reagan/.
Honestly, I could write for days, breaking apart Trump’s words and actions, trying to help folks see my concerns.
In the end, whatever your opinion of Trump, I hope you will agree with me that no one in authority should ever be above a questioning or a reckoning.
Let’s hold Trump to a high standard when he makes bold statements, and question whether or not his words are actually true.
Let's not just listen to the President when he states things authoritatively; let's fact-check everything he claims.
Let’s keep our eyes on situations like the one in Portland where federal agents are operating outside the purview of local law enforcement. Let's make sure we cry out against these sorts of covert operations.
I will leave you with the words of Ben Franklin, “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.”
"God is always bigger than the boxes we build for God, so we should not waste too much time protecting the boxes." -Richard Rohr
I used to worry that if I asked too many questions about my faith, God would punish me.
I grew up hearing how illness in a Christian was God’s discipline: depending on a person’s “walk with God”, illness was either punishment for wrongdoing or a trial-like test of faith.
How can we know whether our suffering is a punishment or a trial, I wondered?
My son was born premature and had to remain in the hospital for six weeks. One night, the doctors were concerned about him. Not to be dramatic, but we spent that night terrified our son was going to die.
I searched my heart.
Was I not trusting God enough?
Had I sinned in a big way recently?
How could I know which types of behavior constituted punishment and what sort of faith warranted trial?
I heard many cautionary tales over the years: so and so was gay, and they died in a car wreck; someone was filled with faith-questions, and they were diagnosed with cancer; such and such a city was carnal, didn't care about God, and was hit with a hurricane.
I was taught fear was a good thing:
First, because fear of hell forced me to see I needed a savior. Fear was an excellent tactic for rescuing people.
Second, because fear kept me on the “straight and narrow”. It encouraged me to obey God without question.
What the people who instilled a healthy faith-fear in me failed to realize was that fear gave me a skewed view of God which kept me from fully experiencing God’s love and acceptance.
It also gave me a judgmental stance toward “others” who weren’t "walking with God".
Then I had children.
I vividly remember when my oldest child, a son, reached 18 months of age, the prescribed spanking age a la Focus on the Family.
I recall gazing into that little boy's clear blue eyes and imagining the pain, betrayal and hurt I’d see there if I spanked him.
I stepped into his little world and pictured life from his point of view.
Here was his mommy, who he ran to when he was in pain, or hungry, or tired, or anxious. His safety net.
What if one day, Mommy hit his hand because he became curious or distracted and touched something mommy said not to touch.
He would snap to attention, smarting, stung, and look into mommy’s eyes, wondering why she hurt him, wouldn’t he?
He would still love mommy, but he would feel a teensy bit scared of her.
Over time, and multiple repetitions, he would either become terrified of accidentally not hearing his mommy’s commands and therefore getting punished, or angry and vicious and ready to fight in his own defense.
Fight, flight, freeze would become the rhythm of his childhood.
And though perhaps his mommy would tell him she always loved him, unconditionally, he would know experientially that unconditional love did not, could not, in fact, exist in the face of Perfect Justice.
Therefore, he would never feel 100% safe with mommy.
He would never fully rest.
Additionally, when he messed up, he would wonder if he needed to be punished first (or even punish himself??) in order to be welcomed back to his mother’s arms.
While I pondered my son’s emotional reaction to corporal punishment, a verse went ‘round and ‘round my head, a veritable ping pong ball spouting truth:
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4: 18)
So I chose not to spank my son.
Over the years, I was touched again and again by the vast profundity and power of God’s love as I parented my children without wielding fear as a parenting tool.
But some things still confused me.
Though I believed God’s grace was wrapped around me tightly and that God loved me unconditionally, God still scared me:
You see, I believed in a punitive God who demanded death as payment for my sins.
Yes, I believed Jesus paid for those sins by offering his life on my behalf, and that I was forgiven. It's just that some things didn't add up.
Why did Jesus have to hide me from God?
As I understood it, if Jesus ever so much as stepped out of the way, God’s wrath would be pouring like hot lava all over me, right?
This is the reason we sang songs every Sunday thanking and thanking and thanking God for saving us, wretched wriggling bottom-feeding worms that we were.
I couldn't wrap my mind around a Trinity seemingly at odds with itself, wrapped in a vortex of wrath and appeasement, bloodthirst and forgiveness.
Why were God and Jesus so different in their attitudes towards people?
The Punisher and The Martyr.
I felt as though I was in the middle of some ancient Greek myth.
Must I, should I, ought I be afraid of God?
When I was repentant and weary, I ran to the forgiving arms of Jesus, while simultaneously wondering where the punishing blow would land.
Was God really this punitive and bloodthirsty?
Did God demand my death in recompense for my sins?
Some scriptures seemed pretty clear on this subject.
Yet, what about this verse (John 3:17):
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him?”
This verse sounded like God and Jesus were about doing the same thing: saving the world, not condemning it.
In fact, if God was about redemption, renewal and restoration, and not about insatiable wrath, then I needn’t fear.
But how could I reconcile God’s wrath, which never stopped pouring out, with God’s redemption?
Not that long ago, I discovered there were multiple theories of atonement (aka why did Jesus die?).
The theory which I had always held to was called Penal Substitution, but that was not the oldest theory.
As it turns out, there were several other theories which were even older than Penal Substitution.
The most ancient theory is called Christus Victor. This theory depicts Jesus and God working together to defeat the powers of Satan, sin and death.
Here is a brief summary of the main atonement theories across the history of the church: https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2018/29-march/features/features/is-there-one-doctrine-of-the-atonement-ransom-substitute-scapegoat-god.
I urge you to study these theories and ask these questions (as well as others):
How were these theories influenced by the culture of their times?
What do they have to offer? What do they tell us about God? What do they say about us as humans?
What are their drawbacks?
When all is said and done and the dust of your queries settles, what is left?
For me, what was left was this: Jesus crucified and risen; the Godhead working to redeem me from sin, evil and death.
The more I read those New Testament books, the more convinced I became that the focus ought to be on resurrection, not death, on peace, not wrath, and on restoration, not judgment.
When all was said and done, what did the risen Jesus mean for this whole wide universe?
What did God want, ultimately? I'm still pondering this one.
Sometimes, while I was wondering about God, asking if there were things I had gotten wrong, I would have the strangest experience.
I would be thinking, and my muscles would all tense in anxiety. My stomach would ache. Fear would grip me so tightly, I’d lose my breath.
What was I so afraid of?
I could not put my finger on it.
I was talking about this fear with my husband one day when he said, “If God does not allow God’s people to question God, then God is a fearful God and not really all that powerful in the end. God should be able to handle our questioning.”
I sat with the questions.
I began to embrace the inevitable mystery that comes with “I don’t know” answers.
Meanwhile, I imagined God, holding all those answers.
I let go.
It was not my job to know everything, to have it all fit neatly into a box.
After all, if God could be perfectly explained, why should I pursue knowing her? Why should I ask her hard questions?
Didn’t God invite and encourage a yearning after him?
“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”
The truth was, I yearned after God more when I was questioning then when I was holding on to a God I could explain.
I realized my version of God had become a sort of idol.
For so long, I stood at the ready, armed with arguments to defend this god in case anyone tried to attack it.
I had forgotten that the true God was so much bigger than me.
God didn’t need my apologetics.
God needed me.
I decided it was time to let go of the god I had fashioned from my own limited understanding: the god who threatened me and scared me, the god who would be out for my blood if I went too far off the beaten path.
If God said God was love, it was time for me to embrace that.
If the Bible seemed to be wrestling with an issue, it was time to acknowledge that, to realize that faith involves struggle and dissonance, that there aren't always easy answers, but that the questions can lead us to wisdom.
There is this story about Jacob, who received a blessing and a new name after he struggled with God.
“Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
What if God didn’t ever want to be fully defined, other than with the fullness alluded to in the phrase, “I am who I am”?
What if God wanted endless quest, endless wonder, endless relationship-desire?
I had to let my version of god die.
Then I stepped back and gazed in awe at the shadow, the enigma, the great loving mystery before me.
Of late, I have been reading The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr. I have been in awe of the many ways God steps into our world to be known by us:
“Most of us understandably start the journey assuming that God is “up there,” and our job is to transcend this world to find ‘him’. We spend so much time trying to get “up there,” we miss that God’s big leap in Jesus was to come ‘down here’. So much of our worship and religious effort is the spiritual equivalent of trying to go up what has become the down escalator. I suspect that the 'up there’ mentality is the way most people’s spiritual search has to start. But once the real inner journey begins—once you come to know that in Christ, God is forever overcoming the gap between human and divine—the Christian path becomes less about climbing and performance, and more about descending, letting go, and unlearning. Knowing and loving Jesus is largely about becoming fully human, wounds and all, instead of ascending spiritually or thinking we can remain unwounded.”
One day soon, I will write a post about everything this book is teaching me, but for now, that is an excellent intro.
I no longer live in fear of what God will do to me because of all the faith-questions I have. I do not worry that if I’m wrong about something I believe, God will strike me with some sort of punishment.
God’s love has to be love in its purest form if it is really love. And I believe it is.
Breathe in, breathe out,
Focus on your breath as it enters and leaves
Allow distraction to flow past you like water
I am in a barren brown-dirt land
A peace rests in me and around me,
It sits in the air,
Mouth-watering and tangible
I watch as
Leafless gray vines knit a dome over me
Leaving gaps for the light
I feel warm,
So safe and secure,
My body tingles in anticipation
Then I hear it,
All my secrets,
All the hidden doubt and insecurity,
And the myriad things I haven’t yet discovered
The voice speaks.
Is it deep?
It is a well filled with water…
Is it soft?
Oh yes, yes it is,
Tender on my ears,
Mother with newborn babe,
“I know you,
I know everything about you,”
And though I understand The Voice sees my awful ugly
And all the hurt I’ve ever caused
I feel no shame
I swim in the ecstasy of
And I know something too:
This is what Love tastes like.
Hey, you. I'm glad you dropped by...
I'm a busy mom of three asking hard questions about my faith.