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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The Umbrella

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.)man-hood-field

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.

 

The Women’s Issue

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’.