I never wanted to be ordinary. I wanted to be magical.
I was tired of feeling like a victim of life and circumstances and men who did not think I was worthy of their love. I wanted to be untouchable, to be able to make things happen just by virtue of my belief in and relationship with the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The stories Christians told me throughout my youth and young adulthood had me convinced I should be able to do those things, and I became very disillusioned when that did not happen. I felt more and more like I was wasting my life and vitality on beliefs that were not producing. So, when I left Syracuse in 2003 I also left evangelical/pentecostal Christianity.
Nowadays I think I am magical, as in "a special person who brings a unique flavor to the world." But I don't think I can wave a hand or say a prayer and thus invoke a miracle, change the course of nature, or affect someone else's circumstances for better or worse. I am learning to celebrate ordinariness, rather than looking for miracles. However, I am amused that in celebrating ordinariness, I have crossed paths with people who are convinced that I am something of a miracle.
More amazing than that is the fact that I believe them.
On a loosely related note, I have lately been nurturing my innate sense of reverence. Reverence for what, I do not know. I only know what I feel. I get still and simply look inward. It is a calming feeling, not judgmental or scary in any way. I don't feel pressured to scream or shout or respond in any of the emotional ways I grew up seeing in the pentecostal church. I just feel like being still. I like it.
Yet I do not have any desire to withdraw my membership from The Riverside Church, a decidedly Christian church, in spite of not having attended a worship service since mid-summer, and in spite of not being involved in any ministries or classes there. I have no desire to find and join a Unitarian Universalist Church (UUC) congregation; because they are not decidedly Christian, it wouldn't feel like being a member of a "real" church to me. And I insist on defining myself as "Christian", though I am quite clear that my deep respect for how Jesus lived his life and my agreement with the things he taught is what makes a Christian, not belief in his divinity or the sometimes questionable teachings of his early followers.
I feel as though I am grasping at straws, and I do not understand why I am grasping.
When I look deeper, I realize this has nothing to do with believing fundamentalism or even Christianity is the One Right WayTM to live. This has everything to do with seeking others' approval...which is what had me repressed and miserable in the fundamentalist lifestyle in the first place. Everything about the lifestyle was about making lists of right vs. wrong and checking it twice an hour. What I felt was right was irrelevant; what everyone else thought was right, as dictated by the pastor, was the standard I was expected to live up to. Anyone who did not comply could find herself the subject of Bible studies, sermons, and silencing. (Silencing is when a person is forced to give up their positions/activities in the spiritual community as a form of punishment. It takes away from that person the very activities which make the community meaningful to her/him and forces them to the very bottom of the social hierarchy. They become a leper, in a sense. Once they comply with the community's expectations, no matter the cost to their own sense of self-respect, they are "restored to full fellowship".) The threat of being publicly ostracized was a real one, and for someone who could not see how she would survive such a humiliating experience, it was more than enough to keep me in line.
I will not go back to that...which means I need to get over the fact that some people from my past may look at my life now and, rather than be glad I am finally at peace through and through, shake their heads in scorn and make a life like mine the subject of Bible studies and sermons.
I am not a Christian because of the Bible....
I want spiritual community, but at what cost?
To be a follower of Jesus should mean that we were profoundly moved by his Life and ministry, not simply that we’re glad that he died so that we could go to heaven.
Read the rest. I most definitely could NOT have said it better, myself. If "Christian" means what this writer says it should mean, I am, most definitely a Christian.
Sometimes the most spiritual thing one can do is simply, mindfully live one's everyday life.
That makes reading this book quite the exercise in detachment. I have always had a tendency to read spiritual books with a sense of wanting to see myself in the person I am reading about, of wanting to find a sign for my own path in their path. But this time I instinctively remind myself, "That is her path, Wanda, not yours." What I am getting out of her story so far is the importance of validating and following my own path, spiritual or otherwise, rather than trying to fit myself into someone else's.
All of my doubts aside, there is still a strong yearning for spiritual connection in me. I want the spiritual realm to be real to me, finally. And like Alakananda Devi, I desire to find my own guru. But I don't want to give up my life in the United States to go on pilgrimage alone in India or anywhere else, in search of a teacher I may not find in yet another religious construct that may turn out to be a severe disappointment in the harsh light of reality.
Right now I have too many doubts to believe strongly in any brand of spirituality. I believe in community, which is why I am attempting to become active in my church, in spite of my doubts. I believe in helping others. I believe in striving to be my best self: that is, free from the anxiety, perfectionism, judgementalism, and bitterness which fundamentalist Christianity had a hand in planting in me. But I am hard pressed to believe in supernatural things like visions and the like, because I have never experienced those things. I have heard of others claiming to have experienced them; Alakananda Devi does in her book. I have wanted to have those experiences. I have claimed certain events in my life were those experiences. But if they were, the passage of time and the unrelenting impact of reality has eroded my surety, until I now doubt it was what I thought it was.
I was raised to believe there are answers, and those who seek them shall find them. All of this uncertainty troubles me.
What gave me comfort before still gives me comfort. What I hoped would give me comfort if I kept repeating it is what I finally felt free to drop when I left evangelical Christianity.
For example, I never felt thoroughly convinced of the claims that Jesus' death was redemptive and believing in him as God is the only way to eternal salvation. I would say I believed it and I would dutifully teach it to others, but I never felt it down to my core. I wasn't being a hypocrite; I thought I was supposed to believe it, and I hoped that I would eventually believe it, too, if I kept repeating it. But belief never came. Dropping the attempts to make myself believe it has been a relief.
It is also a relief to realize I did not walk away from what I know is true. I simply walked away from what I never believed in the first place. (30+ years of trying to believe something before walking away is more than giving it a fair chance.) Knowing that, I am convinced that I have the right to still take comfort and be inspired by what has always comforted and inspired me.
Deep down in my core, I believe Jesus was an awesome role model, a man of principle, and someone whose life I ought to use as a guide for how I should live mine. I am awestruck by the fact that he was willing to die for what he believed. I am inspired by the way he treated sincere people with sincere respect, whether they were women or "untouchables". I take great pleasure in the way he did not kowtow to hypocritical religious leaders or follow rules that made no sense to him. I have always felt that way about Jesus, and that has not changed just because I am no longer an evangelical/pentecostal Christian.
The musical structure of both gospel music and formal hymns comforts and moves me, even if some of the lyrics do not resonate with me. That has not changed.
John 1:1 stirs something at the bottom of my soul every time I read it. That has not changed, either.
Sitting/kneeling in quiet contemplation soothes my soul, especially when I do it in places revered as "holy" by people of that faith. Because of the baggage of my past, I cannot do it as readily in pentecostal, evangelical, or non-denominational Christian church buildings; I feel suffocated by the weight of expectations I can never meet and saddened by the loss of so many years trying. But cathedrals, chapels, temples, and shrines are fine. I no longer feel ashamed of that fact.
The bus continued its journey, and I breathed a sigh of relief from being suddenly free of a burden I had not even known I was carrying.
This is the first time I made the connection between my religious background and those draining, frustrating dreams.
The things I believe about God now are in line with what I used to believe about God when I was a very young child just becoming aware/curious of the divine.
God never misled me. God was simply being Zirself* all along. But people told me God was something else, something that turned out to be oppressive to me in many ways. That was not God's fault.
I feel I can befriend God, now. The thought of doing so no longer sets my teeth on edge.
*I don't usually use gender-neutral pronouns, but doing so when I write about God feels far more natural to me than alternating between the feminine and masculine or not using any pronouns at all.
To the woman [God] said, “...Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.”
~Genesis 3:16b, NKJV
In the later years of my identification as an evangelical Christian, I understood this account of God's word to Eve after Adam and she sinned to be a warning: God was warning Eve that because they were no longer sinless, men would oppress women, rather than women and men living and ruling the earth (not each other) as complete equals as Eve and Adam had done up to that point (Genesis 1:27-30). But it was only this afternoon that I realized God made no mention to Adam of a backlash against men because of the way they had oppressed women. It couldn't be because God (as the writer of this account knew God) did not know; according to the Bible, God knows everything. So was that part of God's word left out by the writers (or later editors), who were products of their misogynistic culture? Or, perhaps, did God not say anything to Adam about the inevitable backlash, because he knew Adam's sinful state would not allow him to hear and understand the danger of giving in to that sinful desire to rule over women?
Please don't ask me when was the last time I attended church, because I couldn't tell you. But when T told me she has wanted to get back into going to church and expressed a strong interest in all The Riverside Church had to offer, I was inspired to get my cold-addled behind (and other assorted body parts) up in time to attend Homecoming Sunday services. I usually attend alone, so it was very nice to attend with a friend. She was so impressed, she says she'll be back next week, which means I will be, too, all things remaining equal.
I had another reason for attending church: the Senior Minister Search Committed had presented Rev. Dr. Brad R. Braxton as the candidate to be our new senior minister. Today he gave his candidate sermon, and at the business meeting afterwards we debated and then put his candidacy to a vote. He was approved by an overwhelming margin of us. I had never been part of something like that, and it was interesting to participate in the process.
I have a new senior minister, and I have a friend who is willing to attend church with me. Let's see where this phase of my spiritual journey takes me.
For some months I've reluctantly considered myself agnostic. I cannot say for sure I know God exists, but I *can* say for sure that most of what I was told about who God is, what God does, and what God will do for me did not work out that way. I wanted to be a Christian, because that spiritual tradition is what speaks most deeply to me. But with my doubts, I didn't feel right calling myself one, so I settled for "agnostic"...though if pressed, I would say, "agnostic, with Christian leanings."
(I can already see that if I am to get these musings out, I will have to accept them being less than polished. At least they'll be honest.)
Yesterday I went to church. I paid special attention, because in addition to it being pentecost Sunday, it was new members and confirmation Sunday. I have been wondering if I can still say I am a Christian and, therefore, a member of Riverside Church, with all of my doubts about God's existence, etc. I listened carefully to what they asked the new members (paraphrased):
1. Do you profess Jesus as Lord?
2. Do you promise to be a disciple of Christ?
3. Do you promise to participate in the life of this Christian community?
I can honestly answer, "Yes," to all of those questions. That is a relief, because I didn't want to float around without any spiritual community, and I like what Riverside Church stands for. I may have questions about God and even about Jesus' divinity, but I believe in the things he taught and am a disciple of his. (I believe *Jesus believed* he was the Son of God, and that's as far as I can go with that, right now.) So I left feeling more confident that I can declare myself a Christian, a disciple of Christ, and remain a member of Riverside, rather than continuing to call myself agnostic.
(Granted, my discipleship looks very different now than it did years ago. Back then it was about making my life look the way other people said a Christian's life is supposed to look, and forcing myself to think the way other people said a Christian is supposed to think. These days my discipleship is about honesty, through and through, not forcing myself to fit in a box. I do what makes sense to me, and I am honest about the fact that I am doing it because it is what makes the most sense to me, even if it looks opposite what I had been told a Christian does. I figure if there is a sentient God keeping score, God is more likely to appreciate my honesty than my attempts to make myself into someone I am not. And if/when I change, it happens because changing makes the most sense.)
Now, replace "Jewish" with "heterosexual" and "Gentile" with "homosexual". If God had an acceptance of the Gentiles deeper than the Jews originally understood from the scriptures they had at the time, who is to say the same is not true of LGBT people vs. what heterosexuals have traditionally thought the Bible meant?
Listen. God is still speaking.