Life with Jesus

Surely I Jest: A Faith Juggling Act

We did not prepare adequately for this last eclipse. I mean, it was The Kid’s first day of school and they had glasses for them, which is great. He was impressed by the eclipse. I didn’t have any glasses for myself and, truth be told, 1:09pm is right smack dab in the middle of The Baby’s nap time (which coincidentally is also my nap time) and so I didn’t think I’d be awake for it.

But, awake I was, and so I tried the little pinhole thing in a sheet of paper thing (and was underwhelmed). I even, dare I say it, made 2 quick glances directly at the sun to see if it looked any different.

It didn’t.

So, then I just sat on my porch until 1:09 expecting something to happen.

It didn’t.

Alex asked me what I was expecting and I couldn’t really tell him. Darkness or at least a dimming? An earthquake? SOMETHING. Instead, I waited until 1:12pm and then went inside, grumbling about how I skipped my mom-nap for this.

Such a disappointment, EARTH.

It brings to mind something that I read in Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Learning to Walk in the Dark”. She makes a distinction between solar and lunar Christians. Solar Christianity is defined by lack of doubt. If solar Christians find themselves in the darkness, they do whatever they can to get back in the light- no doubt, only joy, faith, peace. Light is their jam.

Lunar Christians, on the other hand, wrestle and struggle and doubt and brood. They are the voices in the wilderness, the ones asking, “WHY?” They are the emo kids of the Christian world.

Hearing someone put that distinction so plainly and not obviously saying one is good and the other bad was so liberating for me. Lunar Christianity is my jam.

I don’t think I was always a lunar Christian, or, at the very least, I played a very convincing solar Christian. I have prayer journals full of prayers imploring God to forgive me for missing my quiet time. I had a very innocent, but sincere, faith.

However, I did have a friend who was in youth group with me and she was vocal about her doubts and questions. The adults in our youth group bristled at her questioning but I found it refreshing. Her faith was deeper and more real than anyone else that I knew. She seemed totally engaged, even if that engagement looked different than how it “should” look. Now that I think about it, she was probably one of the most influential faith leaders of my youth (and she was younger than me!)

***

My first deconstruction of faith happened after I went to Syria and experienced a house church for the first time. It was all the faith stuff without any of the fluff and I found it completely intriguing. When I got back stateside, I started to pick apart everything that I believed about church and I eventually put some things back together but it left me with a cynicism about church that has haunted me to this day.

And now I think I’m in my secondary deconstruction.

There’s a phrase in Spanish that’s been pinging around in my head. No sirve. Colloquially, it means, “This isn’t functioning the way it’s supposed to. It’s not working. It’s useless.”

And that’s how I feel about many of the building blocks of my faith. They’re no longer working the way that they used to. No sirven.

It’s hard to describe this shift or why it’s even happened. I think partly it’s age- the older I get the more I realize that I don’t really know anything and asserting that I do is silly. It should also come as no surprise that I’m disappointed in the church’s response to the racial injustices that happen in the US. The same church that gave me my building blocks either ignores or refuses to believe that the world’s on fire. So, maybe I need new blocks?

My current spiritual status is that of juggler, or court jester.

It’s almost as if I’ve taken all my to-do lists, my “Beliefs that Qualify You as a Christian”, the lists of “things that I should have done but didn’t and now I’m ashamed” and I’ve tossed them in the air.

All my questions- What even is God? Is there a hell? Is there a heaven as we think of it? Who’s in? Is anyone out? Do I think the Genesis creation story is literal and historical? What’s up with substitutionary atonement?

All up in the air. Floating around. Certainly not clenched in my hands like they were in the past. Historically, I’ve leaned away from doubt and questions and things that make me uncomfortable. Now, it’s as if I’m leaning into them. Instead of running away, I’m staring them in the face and realizing that the teeth of doubt aren’t as sharp as I thought they were. It’s a little unnerving to go from CERTAINTY to the faith equivalent of a shoulder shrug, but at least I know I’m being honest with myself. Authenticity is one of my core values and it would be disingenuous for me to hold onto things simply because I was scared of what would happen if I left them go.

Probably several of my readers (I’m just kidding. There’s only one. Hi, mom.) are having heart palpitations. I know that this sounds scary. It sounds like I’ve become one of those weirdos who says they’re “spiritual but not religious” (sidenote: accurate). I would have sounded scary to me just a few years ago.

I think learning about the power imbalances in adoption and realizing that racism is still a thing really rocked my world. I thought FOR SURE that ADOPTION IS THE BEST, SWEETEST THING IN THE WHOLE WORLD AND THERE’S NEVER ANYTHING BAD and then I listened to adoptees and first parents and they poked holes in that belief. It’s not that I hate adoption or think that it should never be a thing- just that my views on it are far more complicated and complex than my simplistic adoption = good. Now that I’ve seen systemic racism, I can’t unsee it. It’s caused a huge worldview shift. Yes, I’m still figuring it out. Yes, I’m scared and overwhelmed alot of the time.

But I feel like both of these “awakenings” have given me a gift. The gift of uncertainty, which sounds like an oxymoron, right? “Uncertainty isn’t a gift, you ninny. It’s a curse!” Except that I think I had made certainty and knowing all the answers and finding the Truth an idol. It was more important to me to suss out whether or not people who live homosexual lifestyles were “right or wrong” than it was for me just to love them and let God sort it out. I thought I knew adoption was only good and racism was gone. If I was wrong about those two things, how can I be so prideful as to believe that I can (and should) know the Truth perfectly?

While my first deconstruction left me with alot of anger and grief and cynicism, this one feels joyful, lighter, free. How can you be angry if you’re juggling?! I’ve found that the foundations of the earth aren’t shaking because I might not happen to believe that the Exodus story is historically and scientifically accurate. I’ve been freed from having to provide proof that it’s accurate and freed from the fear of what happens to my faith if it isn’t accurate. It doesn’t have to be accurate for the story to have some truth to it.  God cares about us. He doesn’t want us living under oppressive systems. He provides ways out, even if they seem laughably implausible.

I know that God exists. I’ve had too many experiences with Her to know that She does. (What the? Oh, one of my juggling questions is, “Is God male, female, or genderless?” THROW IT IN THE AIR LIKE YOU JUST DON’T CARE). I believe that what Jesus did on the cross is significant, but just maybe not in the way that I always thought it was. I’m seeing scripture with new eyes, as if God has breathed new life into it. I’m finding new spiritual practices, like breathing and meditation, that make my faith feel fresh and new.

So that’s where I am. I don’t know how long I’ll be here. Maybe I’ll never leave, but I do feel a deep sense of gratitude for this gift of uncertainty, this gift of being free from clasping at things that might not matter (and maybe they do matter and, if they do, then I have faith that they’ll find their way back into my hands).

If you’re having a panic attack because of what I’ve written here, I know that you care about me. I know that you do. I can tell you that you don’t need to worry, but that probably won’t stop you from worrying about me. You can always pray for me. God has always showed up when I needed Her (breathe, breathe, take a deep breath) and I don’t doubt that She’s still there.

2 thoughts on “Surely I Jest: A Faith Juggling Act

  1. Beth, I love reading your posts. This may be my favorite, though I have your one on solidarity bookmarked so I can read it when I feel overwhelmed with the world. You have a way with words, girl. I am also in my second deconstruction, though I feel like I’m due for my third. You have expressed what I have begun to feel, but in a way I haven’t been able to articulate. Your post may freak some people out, but just know that you are also giving many others hope.

    • Richard Rohr and The Liturgists have helped me feel like i am not so alone. Maybe we should start a club, haha.

      I am struggling with how this stage looks like with parenting. I am thankful for the blocks I was given and I know that kids need concrete things to grab on to. They cant process my deconstruction like I can. So, how do I be honest but also allow space for them to hold things tightly, as they might need to

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