Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Up Close and Personal

Why do people always put themselves in boxes? I believe this and that so I belong in that group… Funny thing is, even if you don’t put yourself in a box there’s always someone ready and willing to do it for you. It is clear to me as I look back over my life that I’ve always wanted to have some sort of defining lines to govern my thoughts and actions. The problem is that eventually I would have to step out of the box.

I’ve been reading Militant Ginger’s blog here and there for around two months now. He is a regular poster so I haven’t read everything, but I find him rather interesting. He is not a U.S. citizen but is married to one. They are about to have their first child in the next week or so. He has a lot of opinions and shares them freely. He is very interested in our political system, current events and has a great grasp on our history. I always leave his blog mentally chewing on something. I started to respond to his last post in his comment section and then decided to respond to it here on my blog instead.

I am about to get up close and personal so if you are not into reading about someone’s real thoughts then you might want to click over to another blog. I’m also going to step out of the box.

Militant Ginger was raised Catholic but no longer believes. His wife, however, does. When he writes about Christians and/or religion in general he is very passionate in his disdain.

I was not raised Christian. My parents weren’t anti-Christian or anti-religion and they allowed me to go to church if I wanted to. It just wasn’t talked about. The first time I asked Jesus into my heart I was 8 years old and had been going to a Southern Baptist church in El Paso, TX. They had a little bus they sent through the neighborhood to pick up kids. I don’t remember my Sunday school teacher’s name, or even what she looked like. I do remember she made me feel special. I wasn’t interested in the Children’s Church so I would go sit with her in the adult service. I decided I wanted Jesus in my life and went forward at the end of the service and with the Pastor, accepted Him into my heart in front of the congregation. A week or so later, I was baptized.

Just before I turned 9, we moved to Seattle. I became instant friends with a girl in the neighborhood whose family was very involved in their Presbyterian church. Over the next 3 ½ years I often went to church with them.

In the middle of 7th grade we moved to San Diego. From that time until after I graduated from High School I was only able to go to church here and there. Just after I turned 19 I started going to church with my aunt’s family. I did not feel like I was a Christian anymore because I hadn’t been going to church regularly all those years. A couple of months later, we moved back up to Seattle and I met my husband at a new church. Just prior to meeting him I had gone through a dramatic experience with sect of the Pentacostal church that was really more like a cult. I decided to get baptized a second time. It was a painful time and it bred fear in my mind and raised a lot of questions. Rather than try to find the answers I focused on my new boyfriend. Within months we both stopped going to church and did not return until I was pregnant with our first child.
After a couple of years I started asking questions. I was told by someone on the church staff that I thought too much. And I wasn’t getting any answers. I didn’t understand why what I was reading in my bible was not always lining up with what was being said. There was also this expectation that you already knew certain things from being in church your whole life. I found it frustrating.

Eventually we found a church that made sense to me and where things lined up. However, there were still things that bothered me. Things that if you talked about them, people would question your salvation over. Like what exactly is a personal relationship with Jesus? What does that really look like? Does He actually sit and talk with you? And how exactly does the Trinity work?

You know what? I still don’t have those answers. I even decided to not believe anymore. I wrote about it here. But I do believe. I don’t know why, I just do. There are some that will have a problem with me sharing this. They may even question whether I am truly a Christian. It doesn’t matter. I know. I think one of the problems with churches today is that once you’ve been a Christian for a certain amount of time there is a stigma involved in sharing doubt. I really feel for the Pastors that fall from grace. I often wonder if they could be honest about their own struggles, doubts, questions and fears that those things wouldn’t grow in the dark and overtake them completely. But Pastors are supposed to have all the answers and they aren’t supposed to have any struggles, right?

One of the things that really bothers me is when thousands of people die in a tsunami, floods, or earthquakes. There are those that will stand up and say it was some judgment against them from God. It is like they all become one big thing and they cease to exist as individuals. I believe life is precious. Something inside of me yearns to make a mark. I want people to know I existed. I want to do good things and help people… love people. When I read history books I feel panicked because so many millions of people before are nothing but numbers in a book. They lived, they loved, they had meaning... didn’t they?

Our son turns 16 in a matter of days. He is our youngest child and the only one that will be left at home come August. Our parenting days are coming to a close. We are only 41 and 42 years old. Both of us have grandmothers well into their nineties. What are we going to do with the second half of our lives? Is it wrong as a Christian to want to leave something behind that says you existed? Is it wrong to have a hard time when great groups of people just die? Does God really care about the minute details of our life? If you admit to struggling with those things… is there some sort of judgment for it?

Does God really exist? Everything around me screams of a creator… whether it be God or people. I cannot accept that it is all just some cosmic event with no intelligent thought behind it. Do I believe in a literal 6 day creation? The time frame in which the earth and the universe were created does not matter to me. God is God. It says in Genesis that those things were created in days. There is great debate over whether that is literal or figurative. There are those that believe that if you don’t believe in a literal 6 day creation then you don’t believe in the inerrancy of God’s Word. But what if you don’t really understand that? Can you admit that? Can you step out of that box and not step into another box?

What do I believe? I believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. I believe in the sinful nature of man. Yes, I believe we are born that way. I’ve had three children and they do not come out as moldable lumps of clay with which you can create what you like. Did I sit my babies down and tell them they are rotten little sinful beasts in need of a Savior? No. I taught my babies that they were wonderful gifts from God, that He loves them and that he made a way for them to be reconciled to Him through Jesus. I believe we are saved by grace through faith and that there is nothing we can do to earn it. I believe many Christians have totally messed it up by painting themselves and others into a box. The term Christian covers a wide array of Christians with wildly different views.

What do I believe about homosexuals? I believe it is wrong and goes against nature because they are not able to reproduce. Do I believe God hates them? Absolutely and unequivocally not! Do I hate them? NO. Do I believe it is a sin? Yes. Just like I believe overeating is a sin. I overeat all of the time. I try not to all of the time. Did I choose to struggle with eating all of the time? No. Do homosexuals choose to be homosexual? I don’t know. I don’t have that struggle. But… I don’t know why anyone would. I believe whatever struggles people have is between them and God.

I’ve tried to be a perfect Christian. I really have. I’ve gone through years and years of inner turmoil and pain because I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just be what I thought I was supposed to be. I’ve gone through years where I felt alone and cut off from God and searched my life continually for all the reasons it was my fault and I was unworthy.

We are saved by grace through faith. What does that mean? Jesus said it was finished when he was on the cross. None of us were around then. How could someone pay the price for us before we were even born? And what’s the deal with blood? Why the sacrifices in the Old Testament? Why does there have to be blood shed in order to reconcile us to God, the Father and Creator? If God is God then why can’t he just forgive us and save us without all of that? I get that He gave us free will. I just don’t understand why all the other stuff? And where did God come from?

It makes me wonder how time really works. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard that God’s time is not our time. If Jesus paid the price two thousand years before we were even born and it was finished then… wouldn’t that mean that when we accept that forgiveness that all of our sins are forgiven then and that means before and after the conversion moment? I don’t know anyone that has been perfect and sinless after they became a Christian.

Can I say I have all of these questions and still be a Christian? Yes, I believe so. Is life fair? Heck NO. I really did not like the story of the prodigal son for many years. I totally identified with the brother that stayed behind. I feel differently about it now. I often wonder if it’s a picture of when we get to Heaven and how the church going, law abiding Christians might feel about all the other people there.

The truth is I am a mess. I believe because I believe. I have questions and I don’t have answers. I don’t believe I am always right. It is what it is. A big mess.

And just to be clear... I do not believe that we are actually God ourselves in case anyone thinks I'm headed Oprah's way.

I hope that this will help Roland of Militant Ginger understand me, a conservative Christian, just a little bit better. I can only speak for myself, but maybe there are other Christians like me. But, please, don’t put us in a box.

**Note: Due to some of the responses I've gotten privately I wanted to come back to this post to clarify something. I am not in a crisis. Even when our oldest daughter left in January and turned our world upside down, I was not in a crisis of faith. I had a lot of questions. I didn't understand. But, I am beyond questioning God's existence. I've accepted that I have questions without answers. The above was my being honest with Roland of Militant Ginger about my faith. I wanted to reach him on a personal level to show him that Christians do not just blindly follow and not think. At least, I don't. And I don't think I am alone in that. To be honest, it was not easy to hang it all out like that. But, I did because I didn't think it would be authentic unless it was the truth... even the parts that might make me seem juvenile or too simplistic... or even stupid. I believe Jesus Christ was the messiah foretold in the Old Testament. I believe we are saved by grace through faith and that it was finished on the cross. It is not about what we do, it is about what was DONE. It isn't about rules and striving to live a sinless life. It is about acceptance and love. It is about freedom. I don't have to understand all of it. My heart aches for anyone trapped in the lie that once they are saved they must live a sinless life. Even those that might say that they know that, in their hearts they still struggle and feel unworthy because they don't think they measure up. It's already done! That is the simplicity of the gospel and the good news. We are free from the law of sin and death.


Brenda said...

Nope I don't want to be in a box either. First of all, the empty nest syndrome is what sent me back to get my masters! I am 52 however! In our theories in counseling class we are talking about cultures. In each culture there are no two people just the same. Just as Militnat Ginger's country of origin has people but no two the same, the church is made of many people no two the same. We can love each other, pray for each other and be there for each other even if we are different.

Karen Deborah said...

Wow. There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. Yes, at the cross the work was complete, and outside of time as we know it. That's what is so amazing. If Jesus wasn't God he couldn't have even borne what he took on Himself. But God,...does love us as He made us. It is a gift to be real, not a mess.
I've been barfing all my real boring stuff on my blog lately and reduced my 6 comments to 2, but that is ok. It's minor. It's really not about us, it's about what we do for others as we go through this world. We serve, we love, we share, we lift up. When we focus on other people our own stuff shrinks right before our eyes. God made you full of questions. There are other people like you who can be set free by hearing your thoughts. They now know they are not alone.
I can't answer all that hard stuff, like death of huge groups of people. I do focus on God's heart. God did not want to destroy Ninevah because of the children there. Those who did not know their right hand from their left.
Much of what happens is because of the enemy of our souls. God works all things, even tragic things for good. Not always right away, sometimes it's years later. I have to put those things that I don't understand under the category of mystery.
I'm so glad you are my friend, I love you KJ.

Junebug said...

I hear ya. That was a lot of questions and I am getting ready to go to bed. I don't have any answers but I think it's ok to ask and think and wonder why. I don't think God minds. I do believe in God and I do believe that Jesus is the only way. But I do feel a great sorrow for all the sad and inhumane things that happen every day. I'll be back later. :D

Kathy said...

HUGS! What great sharing you've done here. I don't share my spiritual stuff much on blog. I understand exactly what you say. I morphed from atheist to agnostic to finally hearing God say 'I AM' to me in my mid 40s. Questions? -yes,I also have many. But that is fine with me, I don't even understand how cell phones or computers work......

Roland Hulme said...

Hi Coffee Bean!

That was a brilliant and very moving post. It was very brave of you to lay yourself so open like that.

I actually think we're not to different - we both started asking the same questions and eventually came to different conclusions. You chose to keep believing. I chose not to.

Much of that's probably to do with our backgrounds. I'm a historian, or I was at university, so I have an inante need to make logical and reasonable conclusions based on the available evidence. Religion in and of itself can't exist based on logic and fact, since it's all about faith.

I still don't understand good/evil or the horrible things God did in the Bible. I'm yet to hear an adequeate explanation for these things that doesn't involve a politely worded 'shut up and believe.' It was refreshing to see that you, as a 'conservative Christian' have the same doubts I do.

Although I guess I don't consider you a 'conservative Christian' because you have questions, not religiously enforced answers.

I guess I rudely lump all conservative christians together, when I really only mean fundementalists, who believe that the word is 6,000 years old and that homosexuality is a sin. These people seem crazy to me. They pick and choose what scripture they like, ignore the rest and seem to live (and act politically) in total violation of anything Jesus believed in.

But you are VERY far from one of those, so you have definitely opened my eyes about labels and stereotypes. If somebody as open minded and kind as you is a 'conservative Christian' than I clearly need to be a little more open minded too.

Thanks for the thoughtful comments and post.

April said...

Wow CB, your story and mine are so eerily similar. From the bus to children's church to the pentecostal experience to the questions now. Like you, I continue to believe even though I have questions and no answers.

I decided years ago I will focus on my relationship with God and no one else's. I need to worry about my walk with Him and I will not judge others. I am not the judge, right?

It took a lot of courage for you to write this and put yourself out there like that. It's natural for us to question things. It's part of what makes us human. If we didn't question our beliefs, our surroundings, we may never have found redemption. Who is anyone to judge you for these thoughts?

Thank you for sharing your story. You are so not alone.

Mabunny said...

Hmmm. I like this post Kelly. Definitely some food for deep thought.
Hope to hear from you soon!
and Nicole is having a blast up there in CO. She leaves camp tomorrow but still doens't come home till the 8th!

Joyce said...

I am from Alberta,Canada,just stumbled onto your Blog. I too am a conservative Christian (Presbyterian). The book 'The Reason for God' by Tim Keller is a great read!

Just Me said...

My post was prattling on for a mile. I stopped it in its tracks because I could feel myself going in circles.

Carrying a blind trust in God is a beautiful thing, but CHOOSING to believe in the face of your questions means you truly are blessed with "the gift of faith."

Faith IS a gift, you know.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to leave a mark on the world. Maybe those you touch won't be able to put a name to your face later, but the kindness you share will hopefully pass from their hands to someone else.

I used to envy a woman I worked with who had a firm and secure grip on her faith when I had so many questions roiling around inside. I later understood that she had some of the same questions and chose not to worry about them. I'm not that easy, and I have to pick at things once in a while even if they get me nowhere.

MUD said...

Don't expect me to help bail you out here. I don't understand how god can love and then let so many people die in stupid ways. MUD

Trisha said...

You have such wonderful insights and wuestions. I believe that God wants us to question as it is the way that we grown in our faith- through searching for answers both in the Bible and in ourselves.

There will always be questions which we humans won't understand because we are not God. Why good people die and why natural disasters kill are two of them. I also believe that the question about why certain people get SD is up there with why certain people get cancer. It is not our time to know but, when we are with Him at the end, we will be enlightened.

It is through our faith that we live a christian life. The faith that God knows what He is doing.

Of course I do wonder if God is really a He or if God is a She or some other entity which is asexual.

Questions, questions!

Karen Deborah said...

READ "BLUE LIKE JAZZ" by donald miller. You gotta, and anybody else out there whose thinking and asking,....

Laura ~Peach~ said...

I love this post... needless to say our lives have not taken simular paths but looks as though our faith has in many ways.

I grew up in the methodist church, and felt totally like my time was wasted. I have many good memories of church events and friends and family but as far as learning to know God and what that means for me... it simply was not there.

The southern baptest church is where I first met christ at age 12 but the things I was told and believed only led to my lack of faith and lack of belief because I totally took what they said as what would happen and it absolutely was not.

In AA I learned to believe in a higher power... to begin with it was the mississippi river and an old oak tree... (powers much stronger than I) eventually I choose/ chose to believe in God and the bible.

About 8 years ago mike and I started going to a non denominational church and loved it but it was HUGE and we felt lost in the croud and at some point if felt as though they (the pastors) were rushing through the sermons to get to the next service and it was absolutely not what we wanted in a church relationship...

then we left and went to a apostilitic church which we absolutely LOVE the praise and worship and the teaching of the bible... BUT, always a but huh... when the pastor told us that we)the women of the church) needed to be like his wife, as in how we dress and behave, and that if we did not then we could not be saved... well that ended that ... and as of yet we have not found another church that we care to grace their doors...

However we very strongly believe in the bible and I found online pastor Greg Laurie and I absolutely love his daily devotions that come in my email and many times he answers "those" questions and every now and again I post about them.

the post for today I think you would like I will see if I can email it to you.

and I absolutely love and adore you and your openess and thought process

Anonymous said...

Hi Coffee Bean,
I think I'm probably in the minority here, but I'm going to comment anyway. I apologize in advance if I offend you or anyone else who reads this. I'm not only going to talk outside the box, I live outside the box. I don't know if you've read back in my blog but I've talked a bit about my belief and/or struggle to understand what I believe for a long time. I was raised in a Christian home and have since decided that I can not agree with many of the teachings that I grew up with. I believe in God but to me God is something very different from the Father figure that I imagined Him to be when I was a child. I believe that God is real, and important and that there are many paths to God, Jesus being one of those paths. I believe that the Bible is a "true" expression of the experience of God by the people who wrote it, but not The Indisputable Word of God.
I also believe that questioning is part of the human experience. I believe that faith is what keeps us coming back for more, and helps us to develop a clearer sense of God and ourselves. We are human, and we need to appreciate our humanness.
If asking questions is wrong then I say, who cares. I'd rather sit down to have a conversation with another open minded seeker than to be told how to believe, any day.

thislittlepiggy said...

A box? You can't even put me in a bag! :o)

There is no such thing as a perfect Christian.

Two Dogs said...

Since I am the very last person in the world that someone would quiz on religiousity and faith, I'll chime in.

On the comments, Roland, just as belief in God requires faith, the theory of evolution does even more. 'Nuff about that.

I was born Catholic and forced to believe from a young age. I'm cool with that and the more time that I spend contemplating, the more that I can literally prove the existence of God for my own purposes. I am a gambler (see Catholicism) so the odds are what continually point to the proof of a living God that doesn't interfere with the freewill we were given. Think about that statement and you will know what I mean.

Evil does exist and the choice between good and evil is always obvious to those that think about things. There exist no shades of gray in the differences between right and wrong, ever. Contradictions never exist, they cannot. The way that I live my life will certainly determine the outcome of my future. I try to choose wisely and that is all I can do. Will I stumble? I hope not.

Overeating or any other type of behavior that you deem to be less than ideal is a choice. If you do not want to overeat, do not do it. Weakness in character is what allows us to do the things that we determine to be wrong. Repair that weakness. Trust me, I know weakness of character better than most.

As far as the accomplishments to be observed by later generations, a mother has the greatest power in that realm. None can compare. If you think that the impact of Dr. King or Hitler has a greater impact on your children than you, obviously you are mistaken. And your children are the most important people in the world.

As far as faith is concerned, the best that you can do is have a personal relationship with God, you cannot have that relationship for anyone else, but the fallout from yours affects your kids, affects their kids, affects their kids, (just keep looking in THAT dressing room mirror and you got it) to infinity plus two.

Or I could be wrong, but it doesn't hurt in the long run to think that I am right.

Coffee Bean said...

Hey Two Dogs!

When I used the example of overeating I was not saying that I do not choose to overeat. I was saying that I did not choose to have that be something that I struggle with. It is definitely my choice whether I give in to that struggle or not and I have had times in my life where I had victory over that area... I just haven't been able to maintain it in the long term... yet. I still hope to gain control and keep control in that area. However, I am done with beating myself up because I haven't gotten there yet. And I definitely don't think that my victory or failure in that area affects my salvation. If that all makes any sense...

I also believe that being a mother was my most important job in my life... that is why we made the decisions that we did in raising them. However, that part of our life is winding down. I am wondering about the next half of my life.

Deborah said...

Great post coffee bean, and what a response you got! I don't have time to make a long post but will just add one thing...In Romans 7:15-25, Paul talks about the struggles he had with doing what he knew to be right. As long as we are in this flesh we are going to have those same struggles. As someone else has already said, there is no such thing as a perfect Christian...we are all sinners saved by grace. As far a squestions go...I'm content to wait for the Lord to explain it all when we get home....after all we'll have eternity to get all our answers.
Oh, and I'm one of those fundamentalists that Roland mentioned.

Two Dogs said...

About the overeating thing, I was using it as an example as well. Goodness, I certainly hope you didn't think that I was saying anything about you personally! I know that I am dumb, but do you really think I'm suicidal?

Well, after the kids are gone the quick answer is: when they are out of the house for good and you know it, then is time to become the best skateboarder that you can possibly be. Tend to the things that those little monsters caused you to miss. And make steps to forbid them from ever stepping foot in the house again, especially at Christmas.

Then it should be that you and your husband get deeply involved with human role playing games. Personally, I like the idea of you being some type of sorcerer or something, HERE's a perfect example.

An absolute personal favorite of mine is watersports like THIS.

And if both of those fail, you seem to have a real soft spot for dogs, so THIS seems ideal.

Not only all of those things, when exactly was the last time y'all made a blanket and couch cushion fort? I bet it's been years.

I simply cannot wait for my son to be gone. I hope when he leaves for college I can actually kick him in the butt when he walks out the door. That little monster.

Two Dogs said...

The role playing is to make certain that the children never want to move back home. Yeah, you can picture them talking to their friends about their folks running around in the woods pretending to be medieval knights and such. Trust me, they will never come home or try to move back in. I've given this a lot of thought. It is definitely foolproof. True, you look like a moron, but we've been in that very place before many, many times in the past.

Flea said...

I think that a chunk of Christianity is milling around in the same place you (and I) are. Have you read Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz? Or Philip Yancey's What's So Amazing About Grace? Most of the same questions. Still being asked, not clear on answers. But less fuzzy than before.

I don't know that I can call myself conservative anymore. I call myself a liberal Republican, but I don't have a tag for my Christianity.

Anonymous said...

Nobody is perfect. Nobody.

Faith is a wonderful gift, and so is the gift of free will. If God did not want us to question He would not have given us free will.

Question all you want, but don't trust humans with answers. God will answer.

My faith has been there for me when all of my human failings have reared thier ugly heads. The devil works on those who seek, it can be hard. I always come back to God. I am glad he is always there for me to come back to.

Becky said...

I really enjoyed your honesty in this. So many people, Christians and Non-Christians alike, are afraid to say that they believe something but don't have all of the answers.

Believing and having faith are two different things. Faith is a gift that helps us to believe.

Over the years, I have had questions, and even doubts, but the conclusion I always seem to come to is:

Believe your beliefs, and doubt your doubts.

And believe me...I have doubts...but even when I doubt God, He doesn't doubt me. :)

Thank heavens!
The Maid

Anonymous said...

Oh, and to those who think that scientific evidence is proof that God is not real, I say this:

1) Scientific data can be analyzed in MANY ways. Data can be manipulated to prove or disprove some very opposite points of view.

2) Carbon dating? Ha. What a scam.

3) Lastly, the Bible has been proven to be a very accurate historically credible book.

4) There are areas of science that have no answers.

Angela said...

You are such a sweet amazing woman. I LOVED this post...