A writer I greatly admire is working on a new book and recently posed an interesting question:
“What is/was your biggest need as you crossed into a new kind of Christianity?”
This is such an important question and one I felt compelled to give considerable thought. Many of you understand that I’m going through a spiritual evolution of sorts. It’s been a bone of concern and dismay with some of my loved ones who feel I’ve strayed too far from my conservative roots. They aren’t wrong. I have, but isn’t this just part of growing up? Isn’t change an inevitable piece of what it means to be human, live, and experience the world? Rest assured, I have not undertaken this evolution lightly and I proceed with caution along it.
Some of those closest to me respond by lovingly proof-texting my assertions and quotes. Some of the most frequently utilized passages are Rom 12:2 (Do not be conformed to this world…), Matt 7:13, 15 (..the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, Beware of false prophets…), and 2 Tim 4:3 (…having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires…). I do appreciate that people care enough to try to turn me toward what they believe Christ taught, but I believe that G-D meets us where we are. I’d like not to conform to the things of this world, but I do LIVE in the world. God came to us as Jesus IN this world. We have to continue living in this world until we move on to whatever comes after it. It’s really all we have, isn’t it? All we know with any certainty is that we have to survive and live in this global community until we don’t.
Soul-searching and evaluating our hearts and beliefs is something that all people do at some point. It is integral to living. For some of us, re-evaluation leads us deeper “into the fold.” We lean into or fall back to what we were raised in because, perhaps, it makes the most sense. Others find this a time of leaving behind old ways and moving toward new. If God sees fit to meet us where we are (and I believe God does), then we have to accept the idea that we are all gloriously imperfect beings who are doing our best to grapple with a complex confluence of needs.
This is how I originally answered the writer’s call on his Facebook page:
I think my needs are/were emotional, tangible, and spiritual. I need/needed to find a sense of community, love, and acceptance coupled with compassion from all angles. I need/needed to have some way to articulate what I was feeling and thinking with some foundation in biblical texts in order to “defend” and/or validate those thoughts and feelings. And I need/needed to feel comfortable living in the tension that comes with really wrestling with both the biblical texts and with what it means for humanity and for my very understanding of God.
As I reflected on the question and my response, I realized I had left out a crucial component of the self. Our minds, given to us by our Creator, have needs, too, do they not? I contend it is intellectually dishonest to claim that anyone has a righteous monopoly on scriptural interpretation. Everyone is using human intellect to grasp scriptures that have been interpreted by human beings, translated by man, and originally recorded in a different time (several, actually), under foreign cultural traditions, and directed at specific audiences. It is impossible to strictly read the bible without “outside” influence. We are all subject to our own cultural, historical, and personal biases.
As a life-long student, it is incredibly disheartening to have that love and need to learn called into question and/or identified as a path to spiritual destruction. I know that God is big enough to handle my doubts and questions. I cannot fathom a God too weak to stand up to rigorous intellectual query. I stand in profound disagreement with the idea that the G-D who created me: mind, body, and soul, would require me to turn off my brain before engaging with scripture. I find it offensive that the same Jesus who sat among religious teachers listening to and questioning them as a child (Luke 2:41-50), would ask me to accept scripture at face value, checking my brain at the door of the churches I enter into. If the new Christian litmus test requires me to choose between believing every word of scripture is literally, factually true (inerrant) and throwing it all out the window–well, then I guess I’d have to throw it out the window and find some other way to connect to God. But thankfully, Jesus did not give this ultimatum. I can find truth and solace in God and the scriptures, believing Christ died and rose, without being excluded because of my questions and doubts.
I was once told that the more I spent time in the “Word of God,” the fewer questions I would have. The answers to my questions, the solution to my doubts, the elixir for my troubled soul–all of it–simply required more bible study. I have found the exact opposite is true. Over the last fifteen years, spending increasing amounts of time reading scripture has only posed bigger, more complex questions. I open, read, and prayerfully reflect on scripture now more than ever. I have grown into a person of complex faith, no longer needing to force myself to reconcile with Christian apologists.
For my faith to stay together, this evolution is a necessity. Every single day, this journey leaves me feeling closer to my Creator, my fellow human beings, and the natural world around me. There are days when I get too philosophical and begin questioning my very existence–fully embracing the proverbial existential crisis. And then there are days when I want nothing to do with biblical scriptures, but just want to experience the Divine in the mundane parts of life, in serving others, in nature, or in the smiles and giggles of my children.
I suppose that most of all, I just want to do right by God, by humanity, and by all that is good in the world. I try to do my best to follow Jesus. I know it is well with my soul if I seek to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with my God. I do not know all the answers, no person on this Earth does, and that is okay.