Thursday, October 10, 2013

Seven months later..

I have struggled to pray. I can’t seem to find the right words to express the maelstrom of emotions and doubts I have swirling within me. I feel constantly torn between giving it all up or launching back into ‘leadership’ with vigour and just faking it until I make it.

I don’t even have a title or name for what I am feeling or going through. It’s been about a year perhaps since I left my home church. And yet the chronological time doesn’t make sense because in my heart, in my head and in my memories, the time is chopped up into huge blocks where I felt so hurt and so stung for what seems like months and months, when in reality it must have only been weeks. Then there are times when it has flown past, and it scared me to think that I could quite easily live a life without a faith community without even realising it, until I wake up one day at 65 and look back on what could have been.

My enrolment at Bible college has been my attempt to keep a link to my old community, to stay attached and connected to some semblance of people who do what I used to do; go to church regularly, pray, ‘connect’, serve, set-up etc.

I miss so many people and I miss that deep sense of belonging that I had for such a long time. I always knew it was special, I compared it to the friendships I saw around me at school and knew that what I had at church was unique, went deeper than common interests or common hobbies; we were a family. It kept  We had been accepted into God’s own extended family that spanned thousands of year and hundreds of countries. I felt grafted into a vine, as the Bible says, that was strong and alive and would keep me alive long after I felt dead.

And I had chosen to leave that place, that safe, all-encompassing community for what?

For a sense of deep discontentment. It seems such a waste, to have thrown it all away, but I can’t help but wonder that maybe I was meant to. Maybe it was my fate, my path, my journey. I still don’t know where the hell I am going; I know nothing anymore and I wish I did. It is really hard being so adrift, and being so unsure of who I belong to.

These feelings of loneliness prove to me that all along I had not been grafted into the vine that was Jesus himself, but simply into the vine that was his church. And that was okay for a while, but it is not where I am meant to find meaning and belonging, because the church is made up of broken humans just like me. And I think this would have happened sooner or later; I would have left, I would have been profoundly disappointed, but it would have been more devastating had I not left now, at the young age of 25 without children and with just myself to answer for.

Am I just rationalising away my decisions though? I can’t even confidently say it was the Spirit who prompted me to leave, as I should say, as any good faithful Christian should say. I am very aware of the rationalising that goes on when someone wants to live life without boundaries, without convictions, and maybe that is me. Actually, that is me. I want that. I want freedom from the controlling people and the authoritarianism that ruled my every thought. I was so scared of what the ‘leadership’ would do or say. Terrified that they would disown me, or see me as less than amazing, wonderful, brilliant.

But I don’t want to be free from Christ. He alone is the one that I want to be near always. It is just so hard to separate him from his church, from those who define themselves as his spokespeople.

I have decided to write because I sense that this is the way I make sense of my life. I have avoided doing this for months now, because I haven’t wanted to face what I have to face. I have almost wished that someone else would come along and magically, supernaturally, point out all my flaws and offer a solution, a potion, a chant or prayer that would eliminate them and change me back into who I used to be. But I know that I have to start typing, I have to start living and facing what I am going through and who I am becoming. Otherwise I will end up where I dread to end up; at the end of a life unexamined, lived only shallowly and full of regrets. And I don’t know if I want to go back to who I used to be.
I would serve diligently, oh yes, I would be there on time and ready to work, but always, always on guard and full of resentment at those who wouldn’t serve as hard as I did. Who wouldn’t pack up the chairs as quickly or diligently as I did after youth nights. I found no joy in it. In fact, it would incense me and stir me up to pure rage when I witnessed other ‘leaders’ of our little youth group standing around talking when I, I was sweating and heaving chairs about the auditorium. Oh, what a good little Christian I was. I deserved a reward, I deserved praise and affirmation and nothing would make me angrier than any semblance of unfairness. It’s been the same in my family. Nothing makes my heart pound faster than a sense of unfairness. Justice. I crave justice in an almost unseemly way and I know, I am so very aware, that if I was to receive justice from God, from my family, I would be cast out since I am riddled with sin and flaws like a leper.

Where did this come from? Why am I like this? When others seem to be fine with it?

I am the elder brother when the prodigal son comes home. I don’t want to be that elder brother anymore. Maybe I had to leave my childhood church to discover my true identity, as the prodigal daughter. I want to accept the Father's love and not begrudge it when it is handed out to those I deem 'beneath me'. Even that dichotomy is anathema to who Jesus is and what he came to do.

So, just the other day, I picked up a book from my local library. Philip Yancey’s ‘Soul Survivor’ seemed like just another book I picked up from the library, just another book in my pile of holiday reading. He asks the same questions that writers like Rachel Held Evans asks; where do I belong, when I am too secular for the faithful and too faithful for the secular?

I have rejected the simplistic faith of my youth, as it crumbled like a sandcastle in the face of real life, but I cannot reject the credo and creeds of my faith, which have withstood two thousand years.

People like Paul Brand, Robert Coles, Merton, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Buechner, Annie Dillard, Henri Nouwen are my saints alongside the Pauls, the Peters, the Mary Magdalenes, the Moses', the Deborah's.

Without them, my faith would be poorer and shallower than I can imagine. When prayer fails me, I turn to the words of others who have been on this same journey, as I know God would have me do, even though it seems blasphemous to not simply say ‘praying the Scriptures is enough’.

The words of people like this give me strength to go on;

(In 1965) “I don’t know why I said no to segregation. I’m just another white Southerner, and I wasn’t brought up to love integration! But I was brought up to love Jesus Christ, and when I saw the police of this city use dogs on people, I asked myself what Jesus would have done – and that’s all I know about how I came to be here, on the firing line.”

I read words like this and I realise I have been on the way to undoing and being untrue and unfair to the law of Christ in my classrooms and in front of my students. I have been swayed and tempted and weakened by my struggle and it has resulted in my adopting the attitude that Christianity and Christians themselves have done more damage than good, many a time. And this is true, I have wanted to be true to history and not be just another biased Christian who thinks that all that bear the title are beyond reproach. But I have swung too far the other way and I have neglected to show my students the truth, the beauty, the power of non-violence, of the way of Christ, of those whose lives have changed the world because of Christ. I must change this, now.

Martin Luther King Jnr

“A big danger for us is to follow the people we are opposing. Let us not try to put ourselves into one all-inclusive category – the virtuous ones against the evil ones, or the decent ones against the malicious, prejudiced ones, or the well-educated against the ignorant. You can see that I can go on and on – and there is the danger; the ‘us’ or ‘them’ mentality takes hold and we do, actually, begin to run the risk of joining ranks with the very people we are opposing”

Oh, truer words have never been spoken! This describes me and my crusades against the ignorant of the world. And yet how can I not crusade, when all around me those who hate and fear coloured people or women are the ones in power, the ones with the platform, the money, the attention. And yet how much more reason did MLK Jnr have to do this! He was killed for it! I am guilty of this crime, of joining ranks with those I oppose. My only recourse is to do what Jesus did, and bless them, pray for them. But how can I when I would be praying for and blessing the ones who blame the victim of rape, not the rapist? The ones who justify domestic violence? The ones who call others black dogs in traffic jams?

And yet it is my only option, if I am not to become just like them. Even my use of the word ‘them’ means that I have categorised them. We are the same.


“I belong, with Robert Coles, to a privileged minority. How do we, the privileged ones, act as stewards of the grace we have received? We can begin by ripping off the labels we so thoughtlessly slap on others, we can begin by finding a community that nourishes compassion for the weak, and instinct that privilege tens to suppress. We can begin with humility and gratitude and reverence, and then move on to pray without ceasing for the greater gift of love.”


MLK Jnr  “I have begun to realise how hard it is for a lot of people to think of living without someone to look down upon, really look down upon. It is not just that they will feel cheated out of someone to hate; it is that they will be compelled to look more closely at themselves, at what they don’t like in themselves, at what they don’t like in themselves. My heart goes out to people I hear called rednecks; they have little, if anything, and hate is a possession they can still call upon reliably, and it works for them. I have less charity in my heart for well to-do and well-educated people – for their snide comments, cleverly rationalised ones, for the way they mobilise their political and even moral justifications to suit their own purposes. No one calls them into account. Someday all of us will see that when we start going after a race or a religion, a type, a region, a section of the Lord’s humanity – then we’re cutting into His heart and we’re bleeding badly ourselves.”


The power of literature;

“Literature has its own power that takes over; novels pay respect to the mystery and manners of individual human beings. The novelists are not interested in theory, or in turning their brains into godlike pontifical organs. Instead they evoke and render complexity, irony, ambiguity, paradox. They discover, and acknowledge, that each person is a separate finite mystery, not something that can be contained in one category or another.”

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Community vs. Me, Myself and I

I went to church on Sunday.

One of the only reasons I went is because I wanted to receive Communion. I wanted that solemn sacrament that I hear other Christians talk about, the body and blood that reminds them tangibly of Christ-here-and-now but I don't think I'll find that outside of a Catholic or high Anglican church. That's ok for now, but I really want that.

Sitting in church is becoming less fraught with wild emotions as time goes on. I sat there without a tinge of anger, indignation or guilt, which is a nice change.

I'm learning to embrace the kaleidoscope of ways in which people act out our faith and structure their services. There were no pews, only tables with chairs all around the outside, like a dining room for the hungry souls that we are. It entailed lots of eye contact and back-and-forth conversations with complete strangers. I liked it.

One of the songs had a line that referred to god as 'faithful friend' and I had to stop myself from crying, although I don't think I succeeded very well. No other part of that song moved me like that one brief line.
A fantastic woman spoke about community, and our irrepressible need for one another. About how we get closer to god the closer the get to one another.

And about how the more we cling to religion, the further we get from one another, until we are both of us crouched in opposite corners of the room, isolated. Alone.
I totally get that. I get how religion can change people who would otherwise be free and joyful with one another into being suspicious and distrusting with all but the smallest words of greetings and how are you's.

And isn't that a shame? Isn't it shameful how our belief in one radical god-man who commanded love to be our banner has turned us against one another? It makes me ill and I don't blame the world for being repulsed when the religious discussion gets going, when the Facebook statuses get strident and verses get lobbed about like hand grenades.

Boom! The Bible says....................Boom! It is plain and clear............................Boom! A true Christian........................

.........and the shrapnel reaches places far and wide and lodges itself into hearts and minds and we go about our merry day satisfied that we have done the Lord's work. We have 'reached out'. We have 'not compromised'. I am guilty of this too.

So when that fantastic woman spoke about our need for one another, it pierced through my muddy thoughts and I knew I had to listen even though all I want to do is protect myself from the discussions and the arguments and the silent judgments but I know I can't.
I know that I need a community. I need people, messy, beautiful, crazy, difficult, hilarious people to live this life with. And I want that, I really do.

Friday, April 12, 2013

How I see God

I see God first of all as the stereotypical, stern grandfather of the Universe, the omnipotent, omniscient one who can see everything and anything He likes, including me, even when I'm not aware. A Santa Claus figure, a Zeus-like character.

My first words, in Romanian, was the name for God or Lord which is 'Domnu' and my baby talk translated it to 'Nomu', much to the delight of my church-going parents.
But then my first words also included the words for milk (lapte) and lollies (bomboane), so maybe I shouldn't read too much significance into them at all.

But then again, knowing this makes me feel less distant from God when I remember that he had been there since my birth, or really, my conception, and that he knows me.
This is radical stuff when these days I'm not sure what he's really like, since the messages about him from other Christians range from the God who pre-destines people to hell, all the way to the God who embraces every single human - the disabled, the homosexual, even.........women, as sons and daughters.

And they all have Bible verses to back them up, so it does mess with one's head at some stage.

I see God as the best-friend-Jesus-who-will-never-leave-me and the 'buddy ole pal' who I can stay up chatting to all night, like a girlfriend at a sleepover. He's the non-threatening God of my teen years, when perhaps I needed that most. He's the God that wants me to DO BIG THINGS and CHANGE THE WORLD and makes me feel less alone, more sure of the ground under my feet, and pity for those who aren't 'saved by the blood.'
I think I know this God inside out, and am quite happy feeling that there's nothing that will shake my faith. Until eventually I find myself doing less BIG THINGS and more ordinary things like loving my husband when it's hard, or being patient with that student who is constantly high and aggressive, or forgiving friends when it hurts.

My faith is rock-solid, my feet up on the rock, isn't it?
Until it gets shaken. Or perhaps stirred, like the wind across a placid, stagnant lake stirs the surface and causes ripples to fan out into faint whirls. And the fragile, shakily built house on the lake that was my faith is blown to pieces with a whisper, the walls crumble, the windows collapse, the roof folds in.

The paternal grandfather God and the best-friend Jesus don't quite match up, and the incongruence makes my head spin and my heart falter and the 'hallelujah' on my lips fall away.
But I am faithful, I am strong. I surround myself with Bible verses, prettily scrawled out on paper, blu-tacked to my bedroom wall and mirror, reminding me of everything I know.

And yet, it seems I know so much, assent to so many intellectual propositions, hear so many verses, but feel so little inside. What was once alive in my chest, a burning conviction, a simmering slow heat of certainty is now a smoking pile of coals and ashes (and already I can hear the phrase 'ashes to beauty' resounding my head from the Old Testament). But it's ok.

My faith isn't gone.

The god of grace and unfathomable welcome isn't dead - he just doesn't look the same anymore and it is scary. He is not scary, but the unfettered view of him is.
He is better than I thought, he's the best type of god I could ever imagine but the god I see now looks very little like the god of my childhood and it is not easy to adjust my eyes.

Even typing the word 'god' without a capital letter seems a tiny act of alarming rebellion, but it's not. It's a symbol to me of the freedom I've found. It's a reminder that he won't reject me if I'm not perfect, if I literally don't dot my i's and cross my t's.

I see God as the one who is the essence of goodness and beauty and truth and he is slowly letting me become acquainted with him the more I adjust my view.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

stuck in limbo land

It's funny how this blog has turned from a 'fashion blog' to a space where I can type out whatever's uppermost in my mind.

I guess that means that when I started this blog, I was much more preoccupied with fashion and exploring the world of vintage and op-shopping than I am now.

Now, all that keeps swirling around in my mind are thoughts about church, God, feminism, marriages, exclusion, theology, inclusion, purpose, truth, pastors, denominations, worship styles, sermons, change, brokenness, goodbyes, friendships, etc.

It's all I can think about and it's quite maddening at times. I can't stop.

Four years ago, I don't think I really ever questioned or spent much time ruminating on the whys of how I lived my life; I was quite content in knowing simply how and where. 

I was a 'leader' at church - specifically in young adults/youth ministry.
I was at church every Sunday, sometimes twice a day and at connect groups every second Tuesday.
I would pray and discuss and worship and sing and lift my hands - the higher the hands, the more pious the Christian.
I would view everything through the prism of middle-class, married, Pentecostal eyes.

I wouldn't ever really wonder what it was like on the margins. An outcast, someone not privy to the important and heavy machinations of the church service, or connected to the pastors, the leaders, the key players.
I never really cared how it felt for the long-time single person when a sermon focused on the glory of marriage.
I didn't consider how a gay person would feel during each service.
I was so sure of the rightness of this particular way of being a Christian, that this was the most authentic, historically true, faithful and correct way of living out Christ's teachings.

You don't have sex before marriage.
You don't drink.
You don't swear.
You preach to anyone/everyone and always be on the lookout for 'evangelising'
and you come to church every week without fail.

That's how you 'serve'. That's how you prove the truth of who God is and that is how people will be shown the light.

And yet.

There is so much more.

I never knew how much more there is !

But it is so frightening and so lonely at times. Because leaving that comfortable, familiar, familial tribe was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, and yet so viscerally necessary that I couldn't stand one more minute of exhortations to lift my hands higher to prove that I was really 'serious about God' or hearing about more and more programs to attend to 'grow in my walk'.

And if I sound 'bitter' or too harsh, I'm not. I'm not saying that it is wrong - only that it is too small. At least right now.

In our search to liberate Christians from old rituals, we created new ones. In our desire to create a free space for people to worship in, we suggested only one, or two, ways to do it - and any aberration outside this norm is either suspicious or simply not seen as holy enough.

Eyes closed, hands raised, clapping loudly, hearty Amens, one or two hallelujahs.............................. and there we have it!
The really faithful are separated from the not-so-faithful, the 'backslidden', the not-so-serious about God ones.
We all know what row you need to sit on, who you need to speak to, who you need to be friends with to be truly 'influential'. We all know that the value of 'excellence' is first and foremost, and your scratchy, flawed and very human voice is not needed in this ministry of excellence, thankyouverymuch.

......what am I saying.

I don't know. I know so little these days, and I have so many questions.

Four years ago, I knew so much and had so very few questions.

But I think, I guess, I feel, I intimate that this right here is going to force me to live a true life.