I need to be in community of some kind, and this is the community I know and am familiar with. But I am keeping my true self hidden for fear of being on the “outs” with nowhere else to go. What kind of community is that? I want the heritage, the security, the belonging – yet I’m secretly resentful that I need to keep so much of myself hidden in exchange for it. If I think about it too much, I realize that I’m trading a life lived out loud for approval and acceptance. That is the issue that won’t go away.
This is one of many responses to a recent post – “Why Do I Keep Believing?” The Biggest Obstacles to Staying Christian – on Peter Enns’ blog.
I like Enns’ blog for the simple reason he wrestles and he makes me wrestle.
In my former churched life I would have stayed away from his blog like the plague (okay, so when I left my former church life it was 1997 and I didn’t even know what a blog was, but that’s beside the point). And I certainly would have stayed away from a post like this that invites people to pour out their doubts, objections and obstacles. Or if I did read the post, I certainly wouldn’t have waded into that pool of swirling, toxic doubt. Surely it would consume or at the very least taint me.
Funny how we post anonymously before humanity’s critiquing eyes what is laid out on the table of our heart before the Divine that knows and loves.
Little is expressed in these responses that in thirty years of following Christ and pursuing vocational ministry I haven’t seen and felt in myself.
It was actually quite refreshing.
Before, I think I would have screamed, “Stop it or I’ll bury you alive in a box!” At myself as much as at anyone else.
Funny thing is that’s how all of these people posting feel or have felt: buried alive in a box.
I’ve felt that too. Still do at times.
Funny how we like our preachers, our mentors, our holy guides to have struggles…as long as they were all back then. Who doesn’t relish a juicy back story, the powerful testimony of past sins, moral flailings, doubts, searchings – all, now, of course, gloriously overcome and behind us. But present doubts? Present fears? Present suffocations? Not so much. For the most part acknowledging present suffocations leads to early terminations.
And so we stuff the angst and doubts and struggles and try not to make too much noise as we scratch at the lid of the box we find ourselves in. This boxed God. This boxed religion. This boxed book. This boxed life.
Do you suppose the very fact that we can’t and don’t openly acknowledge the struggle and allow others to do the same is what makes it all a box in the first place?
Why is it that we ignore the namesake of the entire Old Testament narrative? Israel. The holy narcissistic scoundrel who spent all night literally wrestling with God until he got a blessing (and a new name…and a new limp). Israel. He who wrestles with God and prevails and lives to tell the tale.
Why is it that instead of wrestling we are more interested in telling each other to lie down or line up?
Why is it our Bible studies create blanks we’re supposed to fill when all study, all thought, all pursuit of God and truth and life and spirit must of necessity create more blanks (and more blanks and more blanks and more blanks) that by definition are unfillable except by wonder?
As Enns states at the end of his post, “For those on the Christian path, looking into the dark places, honestly and courageously, is part of the deal (see Psalms or Ecclesiastes).”
What if instead of being religious societies of anonymous posters/posers quietly writhing and wrestling in our boxes we became open, blank-making communities of fearlessly self-confessed wrestlers with God?
Dare I say it?
Dare any of us say with Sister Aloysius in the final line of Doubt:
What remarkable faith might we find in choosing the wrestling of faith that embraces its (and others’) doubt?
What deepening wonder me might discover in resisting all supposed or suggested easy religious or irreligious three count pins? (After all, it’s not like the religious have cornered the market on pat answers to fill in life’s blanks or in demanding that we lie down or line up!)
What might we discover if we embraced the tension in the prayer, “I believe, help my unbelief,” rather than whitewashing over it with strident religious or irreligious assertions, suppressing the doubts that arise because we are living, growing human beings?
What might happen if we accepted that we are all Jacobs wrestling with God and life and truth, and that that’s what we are supposed to be doing? And what joy could it unleash if we actually caught a glimpse of a Jacob-wrestling God who isn’t scandalized by our questions and wrestling, but who loves it?