Bitten By A Camel: Leaving Church, Finding God

 

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I recently decided to take a break from church. Maybe it is more accurate to say that I decided to take a break from pretending I go to church. I haven’t been to a service since January and I probably only went a handful of times in 2016.  I was still clinging to this facade that I go to church. I had this ‘loyal soldier’ attitude when it came to church. It was hard to admit I wasn’t part of it any longer. Twenty-five years as a ‘pastor’s wife’ in an evangelical church will do that to you.

I’ve been surprised at how vibrant my faith continues to be. I had been led to believe that if I wasn’t part of a local church that I would be on a slippery slope to self-destruction. Instead, I’ve been quietly pursuing my faith in a way that has been quite life-giving. I’ve worked with a spiritual director for the past four years, spend time in nature, journal, pray, and have a community of friends who are open to talk about spiritual things. It has felt healthy and grounded.

This week I read a book that has given words to the journey I have been on in the past five to seven years. Bitten by a Camel: Leaving Church, Finding God by Kent Dobson is a book that explores many of the questions I have had to work through in my Faith Story.

I’ve been planning to write more about my journey because I haven’t read many stories written by people in my generation (I’m in my late 50’s) who were once completely committed to the evangelical church and began to question some of the theology and practices later in life. It can be quite lonely and alienating. People ask, “Are you still a Christian?” and your answer feels like you are evading the question. Mostly because you aren’t sure if what they mean by Christian is the same thing you mean by Christian.

I discovered when I picked at one thread, the whole thing unravelled. So, for a long time I kept up the pretense of going to church. It made everyone more comfortable. Until recently when I decided the truth would set me free. And I wanted to be truthful about where I really was in my journey.

It seems accepted that post-modern millennials would walk away from the church, deconstruct their faith and push theological boundaries.  But not a woman my age. There are very few voices over 50 asking these questions. No one like Rob Bell, Pete Rollins, or Rachel Held Evans. Our leaders were people like Bill Gothard, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Kay Arthur or Henry Blackby. We were given the answers and we accepted them. We did it for the team. We didn’t question the role of women, the existence of hell or the infallibility of scripture.

I’ve discovered books have been a strong ally on this journey.  I’m slowly discovering voices like Barbara Brown-Taylor, Diana Butler-Bass and Sue Monk Kidd.  I’m grateful for each once. And today, especially to Kent Dobson for sharing his story.  I see my life reflected in so much of his experience and I feel hopeful as I continue this re-story-ation of my soul that I am not alone.

 

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Spiritual CPR

I was late getting to the Rob Bell party. In fact, it was breaking up by the time I found out about it. I know my kids were into Nooma videos back in their youth group days. I’ve never watched one of them. I thought they were just some trendy church marketing ploy to engage a younger audience. Maybe they were. I still haven’t watched them.

It was about the time I was fully into my faith crisis that Love Wins was pubished. I was so critical of anything related to Christianity by then that reading any book, even one that was polarizing so many people, had very little appeal to me. I wasn’t about to trust some hip pastor with a trendy eyeglasses and some well produced videos to tell me anything about God.

A few years later, I read What We Talk About When We Talk About God. I think it is funny now, because I know how much weight Bell puts on titles. It was the title that drew me in. I really liked Huraki Murakami’s book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I figured Rob Bell might be more informed culturally than my initial judgement if he was playing off that book title (and Raymond Carver‘s original title). I know I’m an idiot.

Now, I’m a fan girl. Well, fan woman. I really don’t like to be referred to as a girl. I listen to Rob Bell’s podcast as regularly as I used to attend church. Today was a world’s colliding episode. John Philip Newell was a guest. Newell and I share similar stories. His father was a big deal in the denomination I left. I went to camp with his sister. We were part of a group of Conservative Canadian Evangelicals.

It was so refreshing to hear Newell being interviewed and to have that feeling that I am not the only one on this journey. I’ve written before about my spiritual director’s challenge to me to not try and live my faith the way I used to live it. I’ve been rolling that around in my head for months. Pondering what I sensed was a deeper insight than I was grasping and not quite getting. Today, I found a bit more clarity.

Newell compared the idea of resucitation with resurrection. When Jesus died, his body was not found and resucitated. It was resurrected. Listening to this podcast, I realized that my faith has been resurrected. The new, that which I couldn’t possibly know, is unfolding. I have been invited to open up to what I don’t know. This is a theme for me right now. Something I am also seeing in business books, novels and movies. We are waiting for the future to emerge. Like pregnant women waiting to give birth.

I have stopped doing spiritual CPR on a faith that is dead. For too many years, I was like the town’s people in Waking Ned Devine. Completely aware that this faith I was dragging around was dead but if I could just be convincing enough I would get the payoff. If I could just keep going with business as usual it would be OK. There are so many religious institutions trying to sell us on resucitation instead of resurrection. So many people who are perpetuating the illusion because they don’t know what else to do. We have entire systems built on it. It is hard to step into the unknown but I don’t want to keep the charade going. I want to be honest and truthful about who I am. I want to be part of what is waiting to be born.

 

Make the bed, shake the bed and …

I am a bed maker. A routine person who likes order in her life. In my reality that means every morning I make my bed. I recently have thought about my faith in terms of bed making. Make the bed in the morning, get in it at night and then remake it in the morning. A cycle repeated daily in my home unless someone is sick or something unusual happens that disrupts my life so much I don’t get my bed made!

You get the point. Order/Chaos/Order. It’s a pattern I am both familiar with and comfortable with in 24 hours cycles. I like making order out of chaos. It must be the image bearer in me! It’s a good thing.

I’ve been thinking about my faith as a bed I was making every day.  My mom used to say when I was growing up, “You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.”  As a Christian I was pretty happy with my bed and I was OK lying in it. I could remake it when it got a little messy. I knew exactly how to chop the pillows for the right effect.

And then I had a moment like Ben Stiller in Along Came Polly.

I realized that I didn’t have to make my bed (spiritually speaking). I went a little nuts. Maybe even stabbed the mattress a few times in the process. And I stopped making my bed. In fact, I couldn’t make the bed. I didn’t want to make it anymore. I just avoided it completely. It was quite a mess with those feathers everywhere.

The spiritual making, unmaking and remaking of my faith has taken many years. In the past little while I’ve been remaking my bed. Some days. It’s been good. It definitely doesn’t look the same. It’s not perfect anymore but it feels good. It feels like grace.