The Long, Messy Road

In Brennan Manning’s book The Ragamuffin Gospel, he describes what it’s like to have a “crisis of faith” and begin a new journey in life, what he refers to as a “Second Journey” (where the name of this blog comes from).   Here is how he describes it:

The second call invites us to serious reflection on the nature and quality of our faith in the gospel of grace, our hope in the new and not yet, and our love for God and people.  The second call is a summons to a deeper, more mature commitment of faith where the naivete, first fervor, and untested idealism of the morning and first commitment have been seasoned with pain, rejection, failure, loneliness, and self-knowledge.

Second journeys usually end quietly with a new wisdom and a coming to a true sense of self that releases great power.  The wisdom is that of an adult who has regained equilibrium, stabilized, and found fresh purpose and new dreams.  It is a wisdom that gives some things up, lets some things die, and accepts human limitations.  It is a wisdom that realizes: I cannot expect anyone to understand me fully.

Ironically enough, my turning point happened a few years ago when I started reading the Bible  earnestly.  When going through the Gospels, I was struck by just how little I actually knew about the life and teachings of Jesus.  My whole life I had been taught a very diluted version of Jesus, one whose only real purpose on earth was to die for our sins.  Left out was the radical message of nonviolence, inclusion, the dissolving of cultural and religious boundaries, loving your enemies, standing with the marginalized of society, and a defiance of the religious institution.  It seemed the Church cared more about Jesus’s death and resurrection than his actual life.  After reading through the gospels and everything else I could get my hands on about the life, teachings, and history of Jesus, I came away with the stark contrast that the Church of America at large looks nothing like Jesus.  It has been diluted by theology, politics, consumerism, and social idealism.  It has assimilated with the very culture it was suppose to challenge.    

After coming to this harsh realization, I began to wonder what other things about my faith begged for a second look.  I felt like I had been misled, even if not intentionally, by people who were simply trying to toe the party line and maintain the strict borders between “us” and “them.”  I began to doubt, to question, and to dump out all the contents of my belief system to see what was worth holding on to.

It’s a long, messy road when you start picking through your faith, when you start dissecting everything you’ve been taught and believed.  But,  if I’m going to put my flag on something, I need to know it has merit.  That’s not to say I expect to find concrete answers for everything, but I need to have things makes some sort of rational sense to me.  I’m fine with a little mystery in life, but I’m not the kind of person who can just “have faith” and accept things at face value, despite contradictory evidence.  It’s not the unanswered question I’m afraid of, it’s the unquestionable answers.

When you start down this path of deconstructing, it can be a rabbit hole that never ends.  There is just so much information out there.  One could spend years trying to debunk every common idea regarding God, the Bible, and Christianity.   Going down this path wasn’t getting me any sort of peace or happiness.  In fact, it was making me rather miserable, as the search for answers can be an all-consuming task.  When you look for the negative, it’s not hard to find.

And so, I’ve reached a fork in the road.  I can continue down the rabbit-hole, vainly seeking the answers to all of my questions, or I could start down a different path, one that leads to “fresh purpose and new dreams”.  I’ve also come to realize I need to “accept human limitations” and be OK with not getting all the answers.

It’s time to start rebuilding my faith.

I’ve learned a great deal over the last couple years, however, and once you’ve seen the man behind the curtain, it’s hard to ignore him.  I’ve found that I no longer believe much of the religious traditions and doctrines I’ve been taught.  As Manning puts it, I’ve “given some things up, and let some things die”.  I’ve let die the Fundamentalism of my childhood and I’ve given up the strict Evangelical faith I’ve known for 15 years.  To quote Phillip Gulley , I’ve decided to “put aside slavish obedience to antiquated faith claims and worldviews that no longer read true, and discover what we really believe rather then what we’ve been taught.”

I’ve decided to let go the fear that is a constant in Christianity.  Fear of an insecure,  tyrannical deity who is all to willing and eager to let people burn for all eternity for having the wrong ideas about him. Fear of doing the wrong things, saying the wrong things, believing the wrong thing.   For all the talk of grace and the wiping away of sins, it sure seems like no one believes it.   Life is hard enough without the stress of having to live life according to man-made rules based on a proof-texted Bible.

Throughout this second journey, Jesus has always been the landmark that I point my compass at.  He’s my “home base” when I get lost and can’t make sense of things.   Jesus sends out this message of hope to those of us who are feeling a lost and tired,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  (Matt 11:28-30)

For me, institutionalized religion, with all its rules, dogmas, and expectations is too heavy of a yoke to carry.  So, I’m choosing to take the yoke of Jesus instead.  While living a life like him may not be easy, it is simple, and the burden of it is light.  Without the burdens American Christianity imposes on its people, it becomes a lot easier to just simply love God and love our neighbor.  As Ben Corey puts it; sometimes you need to quit being a Christian in order to be a better follower of Jesus.

As far as finding the right answers, or the”truth”, I think it can be found in a lot of places if you’re willing to open up your eyes (and mind) and look for it.  Some people say that The Truth can only be found in the Bible, in the Church, in Christianity, etc.  I think God is much bigger then that, too big to be confined to any one religion or belief system.  

I find truth in the writings of Frank Shaeffer.  I find truth in the music of Switchfoot.  I find truth in the art of Banksy.  I find truth in the beauty of nature.  I find truth in giving neglected and abused dogs a better life (and receiving their unfettered affection).   I find truth in swimming with my kids.  I find truth in the love, grace, and patience that my wife gives me, despite what a pain in the ass I can be.  That’s my Truth.  That’s where I find meaning.  Those are the ways that I experience something bigger than myself, something that’s just beyond the grasp of my understanding- but can be felt and sensed, just the same.

We are all on our own personal journey.  Some will look at me and think I’ve completely lost my way.  I’ll look back on them and think the same.  But, we’re all searching for something, even if it takes us a lifetime to find it.  I think the bigger mistake would be giving up, and not searching for anything of meaning at all. Maybe we can choose to respect the others who are searching, and not be so invested in what they come to find for themselves.  Who knows what the future may bring?  In another five years I might think completely different.  Maybe I’ll be actively involved in a church again.  Maybe I’ll be an atheist.  Who knows?  Contrary to what Mr. Manning says, I don’t feel this journey ever ends, but I do hope to find some balance and equilibrium.  I keep coming back to what Frank Schaeffer says the real meaning of life is,  to “Give love, create beauty, and find peace.”  That’s a good path to start down.  Those are goals worthy of my pursuit.

(BTW, I realize that this post often varies from present tense to past tense.  I’m in that sort of weird transitional period, so that’s where my head is at.  Sorry if this makes it hard for the grammar Nazis to read)   

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