Thursday, July 16, 2009

When belief changes

Social media is an amazing thing. On Facebook and Twitter I’ve run into people that if I lived at any point in history past I would have simply never seen or heard from again. So far I’ve reconnected with my third grade teacher, found out that Jason Chesnut married Ann Thames (who saw that coming?) and caught up with people living all over the world.

All this connectivity has an interesting effect on us though, especially for me. You see until now when a person moved half way across the map they were lost to you. If something about them changed dramatically your memory of them was unaffected. Meeting them now can be a little odd as you look into the face you knew  in elementary school connected to a 35 year old body. But imagine you run into the guy that baptized you advocating gay marriage. What if you stumble upon the preacher you listened to for 4 or 5 years and his photo albums contain images of him drinking a martini? Or what if you're the one that used to be the preacher and you open your inbox every day to friendly but persistent stream of emails requesting to know what changed.

I spent ten years as a Southern Baptist minister. Four of those years where in youth ministry, four in pastoring, and two years as a discipleship minister. In those ten years I managed to graduate college, finish about half a masters program, surpass every preaching mentor I could find, get married, have a son, and then divorce.

On April  28, 2003, my 28th birthday, I watched a black Nissan Xterra pull out of a parking lot and drive away with the only life I had ever known. Because of who and what I was there was no separating any part of my life, there was nothing to salvage. I had lived in a glass house for 10 years and when a glass house falls the failure is complete.

I don’t mean to suggest by this description that I have anyone to blame but myself. No divorce is only one person’s fault, however that statement misses the point. I lived by choice for 10 years hiding and manipulating my weaknesses instead of asking for help. It ate away at my soul and destroyed my marriage. It left me broken and alone to live with a calling I could no longer fulfill. There’s an episode of MASH where Hawkeye Pierce (an army doctor for those unfamiliar) stands over a patient on a gurney unable to heal…. unable to save the young man’s life because Pierce’s arms are missing. The scene in the show is a dream, but it happens in real life. It happened to me. But in my situation it was because of my own actions… And it wasn’t a dream.

I wandered home, back to the town I graduated high school from. I refused to preach. For a while I taught Sunday School but it felt dishonest. Not because I didn’t believe but because my beliefs were changing and to be direct most of the people in Sunday School classes are so lost when it comes to religious nuance that they never realized the differences.

The one thing I did have, that I don’t ever remember having before was freedom. I had the freedom to question, to dismantle, and to debate. I was no longer subject to the party line polemics of the church. I was no longer subject to the small handful of untrained theologically inept Christians that seem to inhabit every church with the desire to make intelligent discussion impossible.

There are a thousand stories to tell at this point in my life. Most involving alcohol and the active pursuit of my new freedom, personal not spiritual. There are things I’m not proud of. There are things I will not apologize for. But these things are not the point today. During this time I met a woman. God seems to like this type of plot line, because it shows up in most stories. To make a generally long story short she loved me in spite of myself. She is not traditional, nor containable, nor predictable. She is nothing short of exactly what I needed. She is the other side of my coin. We married and life began afresh.

So maybe you realize that I haven’t answered the question that everyone really asks….. What do you believe now? The answer to that question is only beginning to form . I can tell you that I believe in a god of love and forgiveness, of mercy and grace. I believe that our commandment is to love God and then others and that anything that takes away from that is abject failure. I believe that the Bible has been maligned and skewed to promote the prejudice and hate of a self righteous mob. And I believe that most of the things we believe about the Bible are absolutely false. I believe we’ve created a church so concerned with its own self preservation and glorification that it ignores the plight of people, the discipline of open study, and the narrative of history. As information becomes more and more accessible, the church is becoming more and more anti-intellectual. As the globe continues to shrink, Christians are becoming more and more self contained. What I believe is that the time is coming very soon for a new revolution within Christianity, one that ceases to dogmatically defend and prop up the outdated and useless icons of its dogma and searches to regain the spirit of God for its people. This movement will not be, I hope, a denomination, but a recognition of the need for change across the whole of Christianity and in fact the religions of the world. This is the passion that God is planting in my heart. This is what I believe.


Deanna said...

Bravo! I'm in my mid-40s and in the process of shedding so much of what those around me thought I should do/think/be/believe. The sense of freedom is a heady experience but at the same time, the condemnation emanating from family and some friends is palpable.

I've been planning to write a blog post about this very thing. When I do, I will be linking to your well-written post. Thank you for your courage.

Btw, I think we live in the same town.

Rusty said...

Wow, Mike! That last paragraph left me floored...bravo and thank you for putting it into words. I think a lot of us are feeling the same way.

You said it perfectly...Christian's seem unable to adapt. And there are some who would argue that truth is truth and it never did change. But I think as we all continue to live, learn, and love that truth is better revealed to us... We've got a long way to go and the solution is *not* to close in and collapse on ourselves.

"anything that detracts..." I like that a lot!

This has given me many things to ponder ;)

faithful said...

AGREED GREAT LINE "I believe that our commandment is to love God and then others and that anything that takes away from that is abject failure."