Life: unmasked — I sleep while I meditate

There hasn’t been a time that I’ve read Joy’s writings and not been completely moved. Sometimes, I’m wrecked, challenged by her words. Sometimes I cry, because my heart breaks for whatever her words bring into my heart. Sometimes I concur with her opinions. This time, I’m encouraged to write, maybe more openly and honest than I ever have.

I’ve actually been writing this post for a very long time, because I’ve been thinking about it and struggling with it for a very, very long time. When I found Joy’s new Life: unmasked project, I couldn’t think of a better topic to begin the unmasking of my own heart…

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There’s something that’s been on the very, tip-top of my mind lately. It started with reading Chad’s post on homosexuality, then having a long-winded discussion about religion with @TalesFromthhood even more recently, then spending two evenings last week stress-crying. In between all that, Colin listened to me whine and complain (my usual 8pm ranting) about the church and Christianity and Christians (especially the kind that make me really angry).

The topic that’s completely consumed my mind and drowned my sense of confidence lately is… the things that divide the kingdom of God. Those things, at their best, sharpen us. And at their worst, they create cults and religious sects, doctrines and dogma, legalistic rules, the churched and the un-churched, the saved and the not-saved — all the things that make me stressed and sad, angry and disappointed in Christianity and God (since He is the reason for Christianity and all).

Of course, there are things that divide us — important, non-negotiable things — but aren’t those obvious? We spend tons of time arguing about whether or not Jesus was the actual Son of God, or was seriously born of the virgin birth. Did He die for all people’s sins? or just certain people’s sins? But those things, they seem worth arguing, don’t they? (And let’s face it, at the end of the day, we can agree on those answers). After all, what fun or interest is there in religion without a little debate?

But those things are not really the things I’m talking about. I’m talking about the other things.

Like whether or not you read your bible daily, or go to church regularly, or volunteer weekly, or take communion when you should. It’s whether or not you believe in sex before marriage, Obama as the anti-Christ, the demonic meaning of Harry Potter, and the redemptive course of homosexuals. More things in this category: pro-life or pro-choice (for an interesting discussion on this topic, visit the DeeperStory), tax cuts or cuts to the international affairs budget, church or state, the age at which a child truly understands the weight of accepting Jesus into their heart, and whether or not Mary is that special. [Add your own things here]

It’s the dogma, the doctrines, the legalism. It’s the rules and the non-rules and the in-between rules that are still consequential if you break them, even if you don’t know them. (Let’s not forget about the accountability things we argue about). It’s the culture and church and scripture and interpretation thing that bleed together so badly, I can’t tell which is which anymore (although I’m unsure if I’ve ever known the differences).

And it’s those things that divide us.

But they’ve also divided me.

I’m the person that’s annoyed when I hear someone talk too conservatively or pray too loudly (or slowly, or just plain annoyingly). If you mention church to me more than once in the day, I might assume you’re overly Christian — the kind of Christian that makes the rest of us feel embarrassed to be associated with. Your regular use of Christianese and theological terminology have no effect on me, other than the fact that I now think you’re kind of a Christian elitist. The kind that “bought” their Christian wisdom with schooling or extra hours at youth group. Not the kind that earned their wisdom badge, the kind I like and respect. (For more thoughts on Christian elitism: “Poverty tourism, poverty elitism, and grace“)

I am divided.

I am a Christian who spends half my time “being Christian” being frustrated at other Christians. It might be you, or some nonsensical, avid Christian tweeter, or it might be the senior pastor of some charismatic, emerging church.

I am divided.

I love God and am perturbed by his people. I believe in the words of the Bible, but I don’t always have a deep desire to read them or remember them (and I’m definitely not found quoting them all the time). I think the concept of the church is brilliant. I think the modern day church has somewhat failed, especially to welcome the millennial generation. I don’t really understand how my faith can or should play a role in my politics. I let my faith motivate my work, sometimes, and allow it to discourage my work other times.

I am divided.

I don’t read things like The Purpose Driven Life but I will read “Jesus Needs New PR.” I sometimes keep my eyes open when everyone else is praying. And I fall asleep nearly every time I try and meditate on the word of the Lord or silently await the promptings of the Holy Spirit. (I’ve actually resorted to believing that having God as the last thing on your mind before you fall asleep is a good thing.)

I don’t agree with all of God’s plans, but I do believe they are His plans. I don’t believe in using Jesus or Christianity or faith as a crutch in our decision-making or reasoning. Sure, it should influence our decisions, but should it be the sole factor that dictates them? There is so much unknown in the faith of Christianity and also in our own personal faith that allowing our faith to singularly dictate decisions like budget and overhead or Saturday night church or Sunday morning church seem quite silly to me. And “because Jesus told me so?” — does that statement actually fly with you?

I believe God is the final word. And that word, we might never know until the final days. (I didn’t mean for that last sentence to sound so cheesy Jesus). And because of that, I don’t believe in declarative statements about things we, as humans, will never really know — like why God makes certain decisions, or whether or not a particular scripture is literal or is a parable.

But I also don’t believe we can make statements about the eternal damnation of homosexuals, or the earthly damnation of non-church goers. This brings me back to the beginning of this post and the things that divide us and segregate the Christian faith.

A dear friend, Rachel Held Evans, blogged this recently after a visit to West Knoxville Society of Friends and St. Bernard Abbey where she prayed and sat in silence and chanted and hymned with the best of them:

As we sat in silence together, I remembered something William James said: “Our lives are like islands in the sea, or like trees in the forest, which co-mingle their roots in the darkness underground. Just so, there is a continuum of cosmic consciousness, against which our individuality builds but accidental fences, and into which our several minds plunge as into a other sea or reservoir.” 

It occurred to me that the distinctions between Catholics and Quakers that seem so pronounced on the outside are but accidental fences in the endless continuum of God’s grace.

…I think that ever since our church plant failed, I’ve been trying to recapture the sense of belonging…no, control… I had when I was such an integral part of creating our community’s identity. Now, when I visit other churches, all I can see are the fences—the doctrines, traditions, and idiosyncrasies that rub me the wrong way and make me feel isolated from my fellow Christians.

After reading those words, I silently vowed to write a post of my own on the very subject of accidental fences. It’s turned into this post.

Those accidental fences Rachel and William James talk about… I build those all the time. We all do.

But they are the same fences I long to tear down, with my bare hands if I have to. They’re the fences that I despise but continue to let come between me and the church, and me and other Christians (the kind that make declarative statements). But they are also the fences we, Christians, let come between us and non-Christians, or us and non-practicing Christians. Or us and other Christians.

I may be amazed at the little things that divide us, but I, too, fuel the problem when I let accidental fences arise.

I can’t remember where I came across this quote, but when I read it, I saved it particularly for this post. It’s a quote from Chuck Swindoll: “The problem with legalists is that not enough people have confronted them & told them to get lost. Those are strong words, but I don’t mess with legalism anymore. I used to know legalists, but they’re dangerous. They are grace-killers. They’ll drive off every new Christian you bring to church. They are enemies of the faith. If I’m trying to force my personal list of no-no’s on you & make you feel guilty if you don’t join me, then I’m out of line & I need to be told that.”

I confess, I’m out of line… most of the time. Thank God I’m blessed with the grace of Jesus to forgive me time and time again when I am out of line. Maybe that’s why I’m still a Christian… and why, for today, I’ll still identify myself with the same words as those whom make the declarative statements that make my salvation cringe — other Christians.

Life: UnmaskedThis is my Life: Unmasked — an honest exploration of finding God in my mess. Writing this post with this ideology in mind has been freeing. It’s a way I could write about all of this and actually feel free to do so, unmasking some of the deepest questions and tensions in my soul as of late.

If there are experiences and emotions that create burning tensions in you, I hope you consider sharing them in the Life: Unmasked project. Or if you don’t blog or don’t wish to blog this subject, I’d still love to share in some of your deepest struggles. Send me an email instead: lindsey (dot) talerico (at) gmail (dot) com

XO.

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  • Deb

    Good stuff, Lindsey. I think we are all searching in and through our messes. It’s hard to find the truth in the all of the clutter. The important thing is that we never quit searching. It’s soooo worth it. I am still a mess, but a blessed mess who will forever keep searching for answers. 🙂

  • Yeah… the church (like the rest of our world) is broken and messy. I think one of the best things I love about Christianity (besides that I’m convinced it’s true) is how God creates beauty from the broken. Even simply looking at the un-simply concept of the resurrection: out of death comes life. But for some reason, first comes death… and THEN life. Why? Because we as a human collective and as individuals choose death. We don’t know what’s good for us. That’s why these walls get built up. We hold on to certain ideals that sound good because someone charismatic told them to us… or we create ideals in our own mind that take hold of us because we want our own ideal to be the most true (I came up with it… I’d love to get some credit for that…). God knows what’s really best.

    I’m reminded of this excerpt:

    “People sometimes ask if we are scared of the inner city. We say that we are more scared of the suburbs. Our Jesus warns that we can fear those things which can hurt our bodies or those things which can destroy our souls, but we should be far more fearful of the latter. Those are the subtle demons of suburbia. As Shane’s mother says, “Perhaps there is no more dangerous place for a Christian to be than in safety and comfort, detached from the suffering of others.” We’re scared of apathy and complacency, of detaching ourselves from the suffering. It’s hard to see until our 20/20 hindsight hits us, but every time we lock someone out, we lock ourselves in. Just as we are building walls to keep people out of our comfortable, insulated existence, we are trapping ourselves in a hell of isolation, loneliness, and fear. We have “gated communities” where rich folks live. We put up picket fences around our suburban homes. We place barbed wire and razor wire around our buildings and churches. We put bars on our windows in the ghettos of fear. We build up walls to keep immigrants from entering our country. We guard our borders with those walls – Berlin, Jerusalem, Jericho. And the more walls and gates and fences we have, the closer we are to hell. We, like the rich man, find ourselves locked into our gated homes and far from the tears of Lazarus outside, far from the tears of God.”
    -Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, Jesus for President (Zondervan)

    Maybe God just creates beauty… and he works with what he’s got…

  • Gosh Lindsey … I hope I’m not that “avid Christian tweeter” who annoys you! 😀

    Nice post. I love the way you wrestle your way through life.

  • Whenever we’re aiming for perfection, we’re bound to come up short. Yet we keep aiming for it because we can be confident that we’re heading in the right direction. Persevere.

  • I knew I liked you! 🙂 We have a lot in common. And it’s really nice to know other people are just as messy and messed up. 😀

  • Although Paul is certainly often misunderstood by the absolutists (and me if I’m really honest), he sure did get this right:

    “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

    Even so, I am grateful for the reflection when I see it, which isn’t really all that often, but it’s so astonishing when it’s there.

  • I am so lucky to know you, Joy. (And between you and Carla, I have much to look up to).

  • Hmmm… good thoughts. (And I appreciate the honesty)

  • Hahaa… you are not. But if you ever find out who it is (and who the charismatic pastor is)… I think you will be unsurprised.

  • Peter

    Very thoughtful, well-written post on internal spiritual discord. For some reason, it reminded me of these words from Paul in Romans 7. Hopefully they offer some consolation that your struggle is actually an age-old element of the human condition, and you’re hardly alone in it.

    In fact, your words are remarkably similar to Paul’s at some points:

    You: “But they are the same fences I long to tear down, with my bare hands if I have to. They’re the fences that I despise but continue to let come between me and the church, and me and other Christians.”

    Paul: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do…For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”

    Can we not all relate to that on some level as Christians?

    People sometimes ask me why I so enjoy going into the wilderness, away from anything civilized and away from all conveniences. Actually, it’s because in such places, I can glean the most profound insight into God’s identity and essence, and where we, as tiny, broken, mortal, finite human beings fit in the midst of that.

    And here’s something I’ve noticed: Creation, too, is full of contradictions, divisions, and even apparent dissonance. The tiniest insect or flower grows at the foot of the most massive tree. Barron deserts sit alongside lush forests. The lowest valleys sometimes sit alongside the tallest mountains. The fiercest storm is followed by the calmest morning. Nature destroys itself in different ways — volcanoes, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, and so on — and then carefully rebuilds on its own time.

    Isolate any one of the aforementioned traits, and you’d have an incomplete picture. Put them all together, however, and you’ve got a patchwork of indescribable beauty, created by the hands of a master craftsman whose love, grace, and ingenuity alone make such beauty possible. It isn’t a still image; it’s a moving story.

    So are we. Thus, the divisions and contradictions we see within ourselves and in our relationships with others, I would argue, are places where God is at work, on the way to making something beautiful.

  • One of my fears in actually writing this post (and publishing it publicly, and even acknowledging these thoughts) was the fear that anyone who reads this might think I’ve somehow backslid in my faith. I think it’s a common presumption that those who question doubt. But I don’t feel like I’m doubting, just questioning. But if you know me (and you do) then you know that my road to understanding or acceptance is lined with questions. Really, this isn’t me doubting, this is me learning.

    Another thought… It’s an odd thing for me to consider that one day, my faith would be described as a “beautiful” thing. It’s not that I don’t think it’s beautiful in the majestic, magical faith kind of way. I do. But describing faith the same way I’d describe a pretty dress is an odd thing for me to think about and consider.

  • K-Y

    Heavy thinking! Several random nonsequential thoughts:
    Brian is right (well, he’s quoting Scripture, which despite it sounding absolutist you’ll grant is by definition right?): as long as we’re human, we won’t completely get it (“it” being God and His Truth and our appropriate response), and as long as we’re around other humans, we’ll be with people who don’t get it (that sounded redundant).
    Your quote “I don’t agree with all of God’s plans, but I do believe they are His plans.” is more profound and embarrasingly-accurate-descriptive of most of us and most people than you or we might realize.
    Discernment, realizing differences, is not bad; how we react to them (whether they become fences, or goals/bridges) is where it goes good or bad. You have high expectations; you’re wrestling with the difference between idealism, realism, and cynicism. But is it better to be frustrated by idealism (especially an idealism founded in God’s perfection), or to not have an ideal?
    Better you ask these questions than you don’t; most don’t (you realize you’re asking a variant of the ultimate question of life, not on the level of “paper or plastic?”). Of those that do, many never reach a point of resolution (“ok, good’nuf for me”, which is different from completely getting it) this side of the earth.
    We might not be able to say _x_ is bad, but God can. The difficult difference is are we speaking for God in humble constructive subjection to and collaboration with Him, or speaking for Him taking His place? Even intending the former, it’s hard to avoid the trap of the latter, as Peter quoted Paul at Romans 7.
    Ideals vs minimums: to do _x_ is good, but is not doing _x_ actually bad or merely less-than-ideal? Striving for the best vs avoiding the worst: which is the right principle? Both?
    Does human frailty validate, or invalidate, God? Difference between God and Christianity. I have to remind myself to choose God over Christianity, and I hope/pray my Christianity doesn’t give God a bad name.
    There’s some of how I juggle idealism (God is absolutely right, is absolutely good, and simply is), realism (I ain’t), and cynicism/resignation (so what’s a level that’s acceptable to me?). At least we have a real God to go to with these questions. You sure don’t want me to be your god.

  • Identifying with so many of your thoughts here Lindsey. Sometimes it’s hard to separate what Christ would have us do from all we’ve seen and been taught. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. You are certainly not alone.

  • K-Y, I was thrilled to see your comment here. Thanks for the additional thoughts of honesty. I value what you’ve shared very, very much.

    The problem for me right now is that I cannot separate idealism from legalism. I suppose I’ve let the idea of idealism have a negative connotation in my theology — like those who are idealists are simply not realists. And if you’re not a realist, well, then, you’re ignorant of reality. And those who are ignorant of reality are the ones that make things legalistic. The legalistic nature, for me, was founded in idealism.

    Of course, it’s not as black and white as I’m writing it. Instead I like the description of idealism you give at the end of your comment — idealism, God is absolutely right, is absolutely good, and simply is. I’ll try to remember that this type of idealism is a good thing. (Thank you for this, this could be some serious breakthrough in my theology.)

    One of your final thoughts about praying your Christianity doesn’t give God a bad name is one that I think of often. Granted, usually it’s in an outward perspective — are all you Christians allowing your version of Christianity to give God a bad name? Because if so, I’m not down with that. Unfortunately, I’ve neglected to see the other side… how is my Christianity giving God a bad name? By not being tolerant or accepting of other Christians and their ideals (we can agree to disagree about those), I, too, contribute to the bad rap God is getting.

    Thanks again K-Y. I’m sure I’ll have more posts like this to come, now very much so influenced by what you’ve taught me.

  • That’s a huge comfort and encouragement to me, Amy, that I’m not alone in these thoughts. Thanks for reading.

  • K-Y

    Glad to explore with you, Lindsey! I’ll say one thing, you’re way ahead of where I was at when I was your age, in terms of daring to ask questions and explore. It seems to me that you’re not doubting, more you’re asking “what’s wrong with this picture?” but the whole reason you’re asking is because you have a God-based point of reference by which you can make a comparison/evaluation (as opposed to judging). So, that much, right there, shows you’re on the right track.

    I hadn’t made that connection between idealism and legalism – a sobering trap to watch for. It might be that human idealism, as opposed to idealism based on God who is ideal, is what leads to the judgmental or legalist spirit, perhaps because it doesn’t recognize – I gotta be really careful how I word this – ok let me flip back to Christianity where we recognize that on one hand there’s human (ie, without God) effort and what’s possible with it, vs what’s possible when a person reconciles with God and is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Human idealism, I’d venture, doesn’t recognize that difference, and sees that some humans are capable of good idealism, then what’s the explanation why some people are like that and some aren’t if there isn’t that difference? It could become a difference of desire/willingness, of personal choice, rather than of capability. I could see that leading to both sides judging the other. (The trap I’m risking here is that there are people living “ideal” lives without Christ, so I’m not 100% correct to correlate good idealism tightly with being renewd by Christ.) (The other trap is this doesn’t explain Christians who get it wrong: are they not actually Christians? Are they real but have tuned out the Holy Spirit? Are they real but not yet mature enough to hear and follow the Spirit? Mirror check: am I all the Christian that God intends me to be, even if I was better than them?)

    I think my theology boils down to, “God is perfect and we ain’t, so how do we and God coexist?” (Actually the core of my theology is the answer to that question: “my judge sat in the electric chair for me, pulled the handle, then He got up out of it and took me with Him”, Romans 6) To the extent that we pick up how to be Christian from people rather than from God, a lot of it’s gonna look baseless and judgmental and arbitrary, and that’s even without the fact that some people – both sincere and not – will get God wrong. Ditto the nonbeliever who defines Christianity based on people rather than on God – that’s both the nonbeliever’s error and the Church’s error/fallenness. Yet it’s unavoidable that we pick up a plurality of our Christianity, our how-we-follow-God, from people, and to a large extent God wants it that way. As much as I might say “God you shot yourself in the foot with that plan of entrusting Your kingdom to people, I gotta think you made a mistake on that one”, I still have to come back to the theological faith-anchor that He got it right even if I don’t get it. Can I justify that? Not directly, but I can get widespread agreement that I cannot outsmart God. That point might be the point where logic runs out and we have to go on faith and empirical evidence (does what you see/experience match, or clash with, that supposition?). After all, if we analogize to courtroom evidence and corroboration/validation, there’s nobody that outranks God to certify Him, so some things will have no other option but to be articles of faith where we can correlate but not prove.

    FWIW, I might speak of faith and have no further explanation than that, but I’m trained as a skeptic through the worlds of science research and a little legal-related stuff. For someone with that background to be able to take something on faith, I can’t explain it, I can only say “I’m trained to question and doubt, and I feel satisfied”. So I’ll say, to you, myself, and anyone else, trust God as good, regardless of His bumbling people (like me), and don’t judge Him by them.

    Still, take it to God. You can ask Him “Hey God, is K-Y full of it or did he get a few things right? Which things? Better yet, just tell me what do You say?” Then you can ask Him the same thing I have to ask regarding my kids and most people I know: patience – not cynicism, not “ok I don’t care anymore”, because I easily swing to those or worse – to bear and at some point care for those people who don’t track with You, esp those who think they are. And God remind me that hundreds of people are probably praying the same prayer about me.

    ok I’m beyond seriously late-night rambling (and for me it’s not late yet). Bottom line: the ability to separate God from His followers, and the ability to deal with the latter His way (today’s sermon was, in part, forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors), and to include oneself among the latter. Simple, but not easy. You’re on the right track, you are indeed a dreamer and a thinker, and that’s good, keep asking, but mainly ask God, He’s the ultimate BS filter. Probably too many answers for you, not quite enough for me. I’m still in need of some myself. But looking forward to your next thoughts!

    Unrelated bonus: another part of today’s sermon: Jesus taught us to pray “give us this day OUR daily bread”, not MY daily bread: He wants us to care and intercede that others in need are provided for. Something I never realized before in that verse, that fits right in with WV.

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  • Tara Margheim

    What a great post! It’s so nice to read posts like this and realize that I am not the only one that feels this way and stuggles with issues such as these.

  • ARS

    I just love it!
    I question every single thing in faith and church (that is how I learn!). I believe people have decided questioning things is the less Christian action we can take. But if we read the bible and try to understand Jesus actions’ (and not only the words) we find out that He was questioning everything: the system, the words, the actions’ and the church! In one point he even said (in other words of course “if this could be different please make it different but your will be done in me” and I guess we take the same position. Way to many things we can’t understand right now, but soon we will, and yet we want God´s will be done in and through us!
    Great post friend! (but I do love to quote bible verses, hopefully you were not annoyed by that on the trip 😉 )

  • I could never be annoyed by you 🙂 You are my sister from another mister for sure. And I agree with you — questioning things has decidedly been the “less-Christian” action to take, but I do believe it’s absolutely necessary if we are going to be deeply convicted of our morals and beliefs. If we simply agree with any belief that is presented to us, then I don’t believe we can have the privilege of calling ourselves followers of Christ — because he was a digger and a question-er. To follow him is to fight our way through culture and questions. Thanks for your comment and thoughts, friend.

  • It’s affirming to me, too, to know that this is… normal? acceptable? Well, whatever it is, I’m glad we are in the same boat.

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