My faith journey…lessons learned

This is a post discussing religion and faith, specifically my faith. If religion isn’t your thing, this might be a good day to skip BGIM…no hard feelings.

I make no secret of the fact that I head a Christian faith based agency and that prior to my taking the position I was in the process of applying to seminary. People often query me about my faith since to some I don’t exactly present as the “typical” Christian/religious person. After all, I have been known to use foul language, I drink, I practice yoga and I am pretty upfront about the fact that I am a deeply flawed human.

That said I am not one prone to discussing my faith because it’s just that, my faith. Yet this morning, I woke up with the thought that I needed to write about my faith and after spending all day trying to avoid doing so, here I am. In some ways maybe it’s the time of year coupled with recent events, I mean really, all one needs is five minutes of the news to wonder where exactly is God if God exists in the midst of such unspeakable horrors. Just last night in my community, two teenagers were shot dead by an irate landlord.

I found God for the first time at 22 though looking back I am not sure if I really had found God or more specifically taken out a God insurance policy since the idea of an eternity spent in Hell seemed like a pretty bad idea. In any event, after becoming born again after a series of events that made me glad to be alive and for the first time turned me on to the thought that there might be more to this world than what I could see. I threw myself wholeheartedly into serving the Lord. I went to church, I shared my faith, I paid tithes, read my bible every day, I even quit my job in sales and marketing to go serve the needy. That last one being one of the few things that has endured from that first phase of my meeting God.

For years I lived in my happy God bubble, silently judging others and parroting what I learned, all the while thinking of God and Jesus as my personal genies. The truth was I had no idea what was coming my way.

The first true bump in the road of my faith journey happened when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer not long after I turned 30. It was scary, but as a family of faith we just knew it would all be well. After all, hadn’t God spared my father’s life when told he had less than six months to live? Hadn’t he raised my father off his death bed, sent him to seminary and seen my father dedicate his life to the Lord. Surely, this was Satan testing us, testing my mom. I won’t go through the play by play but needless to say, when my father called me simply saying “Mama passed” after I hung up the phone I was in shock and kept expecting another call to say that she was alive. After all hadn’t Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead? Surely, he could raise my mother from the dead?  Despite the fact that ten minutes before his call for some unknown reason, I had crawled into a fetal position, cried harder than I ever had and literally felt a shift in my being. I would later learn that at the exact time I was in that fetal position that was my mother’s time of death. That detail would later come back to me.

For many people this is the place where it would be easy to just say, maybe this God stuff doesn’t exist. Trust me; I tried that later down the road. After my mother’s death, my faith started to feel hollow, reading the bible provided comfort but also left me with many questions. My questions continued to grow when in an 18 month period, I saw so many people close to me die that I could have just started answering the phone with a “Who died now” message.

It was several years after my mother’s death when I decided I needed to know did God exist and if so, why did bad things happen to good people. Were all the rewards simply on the flip side of this journey or are we who claim faith just delusional?

That need to dig deeper led to the decision to go to seminary. In preparation for seminary, I started reading any and all biblical scholars that I could get my hands on. I was stunned to learn that the Bible while considered The word of God had a lot of back story that frankly most preachers never get into. Many of the so called laws and things we shun such as gay marriage are in fact decisions the church decided on. I did a lot of reading and literally not long after interviewing at one program, I got a call about a job. Long story short, I wasn’t exactly looking for a job but in the end figured I could help out a small agency for a year while I figured out where I would be going to seminary.

Instead of seminary, the past four years have taken me to the deepest depths of my soul at one point I was pretty certain that I had walked away from the faith of my youth and at another certain I might be a pagan. In the end coming full circle though and secure in my belief that there is more to this piece of rock than what we see.

Suffering is part of life; there is no way around it. The Four Noble truths say it best and I am paraphrasing for length the doctrines of Buddha: all life is suffering, the cause of suffering is ignorant desire, this desire can be destroyed, the means to this is the Eightfold Path.” Once I realized that to get to the root of my desire to know whether this entity we call God exists, I gave myself permission to look outside of the Christian faith tradition and realized that in other faith traditions there is a lot more clarity around suffering and pain. In the Christian tradition, we look at the Book of Job when discussing suffering but by and large too many pastors use the carrot and reward method to deal with their congregations and it fails. We tell people they need a personal relationship with Jesus or else, so in essence we are selling spiritual insurance policies since no one wants to take a chance on dying and going to hell.

Instead of highlighting that Jesus can be a source of strength, joy or inspiration, he becomes this magical man and we miss his humanity. Most churches aren’t discussing the historical and known man of Jesus.  Frankly as a believer it doesn’t surprise me that so many are not interested in what we are selling, truth is if life circumstances were different, I might be turned off too.

Too many churches are hung up on “laws” and miss the heart, again even if we use just the Bible as a primary text, most Protestant and mainline denominations are missing the boat and in the end, lose people.

This New York Times piece made me stop and think; people aren’t interested in the church of their grandparents so churches are looking to reinvent themselves but really hasn’t the church always done that? After all what we celebrate as Christmas was really the ancient Pagan celebrations that predate Jesus’s birth.

In the end, maybe I am just a dreamer and when I leave this rock I will simply cease to be. But at this stage in life I have lived too hard and seen too much to believe that even science in all her wisdom can explain everything. I think that there are too many mysteries that can’t be explained, I believe the human spirit can’t be killed. I think that even in the unexplainable, there is a quiet still presence that connects with us and gives us what we need even when we aren’t aware of it. I think the church as a whole fails because it is unwilling to acknowledge what it doesn’t know and in the process loses people. When I look at the sun setting and the ocean, what I see moves me in the deepest place of my being and for me is more than what science says.

Ultimately though the greatest gift that the Divine gives us is free will, we can choose what to believe or not believe and that is indeed a gift.

If you feel moved to leave a comment, I would love to hear from you. However I don’t debate my faith because it’s mine, it’s a long standing policy that I have whether online or offline. The software I use is being wonky, so it may look like your comment didn’t go through but it did.


4 thoughts on “My faith journey…lessons learned”

  1. Wonderful piece you wrote today. It is a journey so many of us take. But there is the presence that we feel that reassures. I am in my 70’s and live in midcoast Maine and I really enjoy your blog!

  2. I would say that I am spiritual and not religious. I don’t follow the Bible, it has never brought me comfort or anything like that. Coming from a religious family, I had to come to terms with it and stand my ground about how I felt about Christianity. My children are not baptized and I don’t plan on doing. I try to expose them to as much as I can and when they get older they can decide on what they want to do. I am simply here to leave this Earth better than when I arrived.

  3. Thanks for sharing. The past several years have been a spiritual disarray for me after a pretty extreme Christian upbringing, and I share many of your thoughts about church, “spiritual insurance,” and suffering. I think I’m settling into a new outlook, but it has been a difficult transition, and there’s much more uncertainty to it than what I was told to believe all my life. Not to mention that I don’t think my family would condone my new beliefs, but I feel strongly that I’m doing the right thing for myself and my own children now. It’s worth it to me to set myself free to explore what I really believe about God, life, etc. Best of luck.

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