This morning I was working through Danielle Laporte’s Desire Map. If you aren’t familiar with it, Desire Mapping is a process where you identify how you want to feel in your life and then using those core desires, you begin to set goals. As I was working through the process I wrote, “I want to live my truth without having to defend it.” And then I stopped cold. Wasn’t I supposed to be the defender of my faith? I began to get curious about where my need to defend my truth came from.
Why do I feel like I need to defend my truth?
I decided to do a Google search on ‘defend your faith’. Wow! There before my eyes flashed a large portion of my evangelical Christian experience. All those courses! All those apologetics ministries offering downloads including “Over 12 hours of teaching in Defending your Faith.” I even found a blog titled, 65 Apologetics Questions Every Christian Parent Needs to Answer. I didn’t even check iTunes but I am guessing there are some podcasts on defending your faith.
In my early spiritual formation I was schooled in apologetics. We had answers to every question we might be asked. My husband and I founded a cult information service in Toronto. We could break down religious systems for you. I specialized in Eckankar. I used phrases like ‘esoteric gap’ routinely.
Of course, like most evangelical Christians reading this post, I immediately started thinking about a verse in the Bible I had committed to heart (our word for memorizing) ‘Aways be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have’ (1 Peter 3:15). And because I am in the remaking phase of my faith I thought I would explore it. My spiritual director and I have discussed how one of my blocks in reconstructing my faith is how deeply I have internalized some of these things. In his words, “even though you don’t believe the same things any longer, you are still trying to do your faith the way you always have.”
I wonder if that verse actually meant having all the answers to all the questions people have concerning every possible facet of the Christian faith. I am not sure that is what the bible was teaching. I know that the word used here ‘ready to give an answer’ means an apologetic, a reasoned response. In our Western mind that means a rationale explanation. It means being able to scientifically, mathematically with complete accuracy defend our belief. I don’t know if that was what it meant.
Reading through different translations it seems that the intention of this verse was to focus on your own relationship with God. And if anyone asked you about the hope you have then gently with great respect explain it to them. I don’t think it means we have to be able to answer every question ever asked about the Christian faith.
Those questions are the journey of the person asking them. I’ve been trying to live in the questions instead of having all the answers. I want to live my truth and not defend it. And if I get questions, I’ll do my best to explain the hope I have as irrational as it may be.
The alternative title to this post was Bullshit I Once Believed but I realized that could be the title of almost all of my blog posts. Maybe it will be a book title instead! I am still trying to put together some sort of belief system having torn down most of the old one I had spent 25 years constructing.
Occasionally, I have memories of a teaching that I either embraced or didn’t think critically enough about to question. This post is about one of those beliefs. I was just talking to my spiritual director about this one and so it is right at the top of my mind.
Last week I was away for a few days on a mini-vacation, and as it happened, the first two days it rained all day. Not wanting to let the rain slow me down I decided to borrow an umbrella from the place I was staying and go for my morning walk and explore the area. I discovered an old church with a labryinth nearby and after walking it I was in a reflective mood.
I started thinking about the umbrella I was carrying and then a memory came rushing into my mind. I recalled this phrase that used to be tossed about in my slightly charismatic evangelical church. (What that church desciption means is that they thought they were “balanced in their teaching about the gifts of the Spirit.” The denomination had an expression for it: Seek Not/Forbid Not. As I write this post I think it is a version of the military’s phrase: Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell. But I digress.)
The phrase I recalled was “the umbrella of God’s protection.” It was a phrase that was used in a variety of contexts generally relating to authority. In my memory, it was specifically linked to teaching on women and submission. To challenge your husband meant you were out from under the umbrella of God’s protection. And that, for evangelical Christian women, is a scary place to be.
One of the administrator’s at the church told me once she didn’t wear her favourite colour because her husband didn’t like it. And she didn’t want to be out from under the umbrella of God’s protection by not being submissive. Yeah. Truth.
As I was walking and thinking about the rain and the umbrella and this teaching that I as a woman would not be protected by God’s love if I didn’t submit to my husband, I felt that familiar sadness that I have wrestled with these past few years. I find it hard to believe that I could get it so wrong. That I, an intelligent woman, allowed myself to be so controlled by these doctrines and beliefs without critically examining them.
I closed my umbrella and walked in the rain. Grateful for the awareness that here, in the midst of the storm, God’s love is present. Her love is bigger than any umbrella.
I was scrolling through my Facebook feed today and as well curated as it is, (read: I’ve tried to limit the crazies on my friend list) someone had posted an article about women in leadership. It was an article citing six famous Christian theologians who endorse the position that women can be in church leadership. I suppose the article was published with the intention of swaying or influencing the opinion of those who continue to see women in church leadership in conflict with their deeply held interpretation of the Bible.
My first thought was, “Why is this still an issue in churches today?” I experienced a lot of emotions when I saw the post. I was simultaneously both angry and sad that people still think this way. I was happy that I am no longer part of any religious community that supports directly (or indirectly through denominational ambiguity) the view that women are not equal to men. It was a lot of feelings for someone having breakfast!
It reminded me of an article I read recently in a denominational magazine that celebrated the opinion of a young woman who saw herself as a gifted teacher but was willing to put aside her own gifts so she could be part of a church that didn’t agree with women in leadership. Apparently she thought she was doing a good thing for the community and was being held up as an example to other young women. I was so sad when I read the article. Talk about burying your talents!
And then I thought about the word ‘issue’. According to the dictionary, an issue, as I understand it being used in this situation is defined as: a point in question or a matter that is in dispute, as between contending parties in an action at law. And there it was, when we use the word issue, we are talking about something that is in dispute. I wonder if that word itself polarizes us. When we discuss a topic for example, it doesn’t seem as loaded. I am just thinking this use of language through. I know that this topic is not an issue for me. And I hope that more women choose to leave systems that hold women back. You aren’t doing anyone any favours by perpetuating the idea that women in leadership is an ‘issue’.
Yesterday someone asked me about my earliest church memories. I didn’t grow up in what I consider to be a ‘religious family’. It was the sixties in Toronto and my parents, as I recall, were like the families I saw on TV. My parents were like Ricky and Lucy Ricardo or Ralph and Alice Kramden although I thought they looked like Don and Betty Draper. Have you ever noticed how much those couples fought? My parents fought a lot and those shows normalized some of the conflict. My parents were also quite young. By the time my mother was twenty she had two children. And I think getting the kids out of the house on Sunday morning was probably her motivation for sending us to ‘Sunday School’.
I remember on Sunday morning, my brother and I walking to church. It seemed a lot further away to me then but I just looked at a map and it was under a kilometer from our home. My brother and I would take our offering and walk to church. I was probably about 6 years old and we went to a church called the Salvation Army. I remember all the adults in uniforms. It was like we had gone to war. We learned songs like ‘Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus’ and as kids we would march around and stand at attention taking this battle metaphor quite seriously. Attendance was a big deal. We were in God’s army and we had to fight the enemy. If I didn’t show up how could we win the fight? I’m not sure how long we went there. Long enough that I received a certificate for attendance and the assurance that achievement had earned me a place in heaven. And long enough for me to figure out no one noticed if I didn’t put my offering in the collection plate. I could buy a lot of candy with that 25 cents my mom gave me. I can’t say for sure if my faithful church attendance had anything to do with the stop at the corner store on the way home.