allowing myself to wonder

When you fail at your religion, what do you do? Where do you go from there? These questions are ones I’ve sought to answer over the past decade and a half.

I used to think there were two options: be a religious zealot or be a militant materialist. No matter how much I tried at the first, some of the fine print of the brand of Christianity that was available to me didn’t resonate with me. My conscience couldn’t allow me to live peacefully with some of the core tenets of my (so-called) faith.

For example, I  couldn’t subscribe to the idea that there is one right religion or spiritual philosophy and everybody not in that group was going to hell to suffer eternal wrath. This idea was probably easier for people to believe when globalization wasn’t a reality. Instant access to information and communication through the internet has made us conclusively aware that we are all humans. Also, international travel has become so common too. We just book tickets online and get on a plane. We go to other countries, experience different cultures, and realize—it’s all one world. After traveling to Thailand and experiencing a largely Buddhist culture, I was convinced that Buddhists have God inside them.

I couldn’t believe that God thought being born gay was sinful. You can give me Bible verses all you want, even though there aren’t many that address this specifically—but even so, I can give you some about shellfish and women not having braids or speaking in church. Every denomination of Christians picks and chooses what they think is essential to being a true believer and what they dismiss as “oh, that was cultural back then.” I remember once someone telling me that people couldn’t drink water because of lead poisoning and that’s why Jesus was making water into wine. It was a party—a wedding—and providing your guests with good wine was considered polite and fun. Religion and culture are integrated and affected by one another and always have been.

I couldn’t believe that God had pre-ordained gender roles (i.e., God wanted men to be spiritual leaders and women to be subordinate). I just couldn’t believe that an all powerful, all wise Being whose infinite knowledge transcended time and culture and space would set up the foundation for Truth on such culturally defined norms–and bad ones at that. Or on such seemingly arbitrary biological terms. As society was evolving beyond such negative norms (now known as prejudice) I wanted to be on the side of history that empowered the socially weak, not oppressed or excluded them.

Throughout my childhood, I didn’t have exposure to ideologies outside of evangelical or pentecostal Christianity; I went through high school just before having a computer and the internet was a common thing. So at age 19, I stepped into my first anthropology class and my heart and mind swooned. I finally found a more similar tribe of people. Social and cultural anthropologists!!

Finally people with doctorates from reputable universities were not only saying that gender roles were all cultural but also giving me studies upon studies that suggested evidence of such. The importance of culture and how that affected everything one thinks and believes and experiences— oh, they were such kindred spirits on so many levels.

Except in as much as most of these kindred spirits didn’t think we had spirits. As time went on, I realized that I diverged from some of my most respected professors in terms of spirituality. Most of my professors thought the very notion of God was ridiculous and a relic from when humans were still fatalistic and far more at the mercy of predators, natural disasters, and crops.

So, as I aged into my later twenties, and was at that time working for a philosophy association I tried on atheism for a while. This was only sometimes in my mind, though. I was far too fearful to admit this on a social level. I was afraid of what people would say and think of me. “Oh, she’s so deceived. So backslidden” I could imagine people would say. And honestly, I had always related to God and was in the habit of relating to God constantly. I kept praying without thinking and then I’d have to remind myself I didn’t believe in God; it was a lot of work.

I quickly realized that atheism didn’t work for me. It, too, took more faith than I had. There was too much of a spiritual place carved out in my life that needed to be filled with something more than just what we see and touch. I needed meaning to be more than just life and death here on earth; I needed purpose, and I needed love to be more than just chemicals. I needed something bigger than I was to hold onto when life got scary.

But, I wasn’t convinced of anything specific like my parents had been when they had radical conversions to becoming Christians. Most of the adult leaders in my life had been hippies or at least partiers in the 60’s and/or 70’s and so had these drastic “come to Jesus” experiences where they honestly became like different people because of authentic spiritual encounters with God.

But I was 3 when I became a Christian. I didn’t have much of a past—at all—let alone a bad one. I didn’t have any radical conversion moment that left me convinced when my mind started to really criticize and analyze. So once I became a critical thinking adult who wanted to truly step outside of the faith to get perspective on it, I realized that I didn’t know anything for sure about my authentic, volitional spirituality. I really didn’t know if I believed all this—or any of this—at all.

Admitting I didn’t know meant admitting I didn’t believe what I was supposed to believe. And that felt like failure. So much so that I couldn’t think past the failure. So I remained stuck in this state of feeling like a failed Christian. But knowing what you’re not is very different from knowing who you are.

But then, I moved to Topanga, an open minded mountain town in southern California known for being inhabited by eclectic and creative residents. Nestled in the dramatic Santa Monica mountains and overlooking the Pacific Ocean, it immediately captured my intrigue and quickly my heart. The open mindedness and vastness of opportunity there made it apparent that no one was going to care what I did or didn’t believe. It wasn’t going to matter to anyone if I wasn’t a Christian. And that was the first time I started to feel free.

There was no shame in Topanga. No shame. A culture without shame! How amazing. How freeing. As I started to really let myself live and be in this new reality without shame, I was able to move beyond what I didn’t believe and toward what I wondered. I was able to be curious. I was able to feel intrigued by the ideas and hypotheses I had about the Universe, Divine reality, and how humans fit into the greater whole of being. It allowed me to slowly feel free to leave the intellectual and spiritual prison I’d been remaining in for so long out of fear and shame. Just like the mountains and sparkling blue ocean stretch as far as the eye can see, the spiritual and cognitive space is also vast. And in that wide and open environment, I was finally able to emerge from my chrysalis of doubt and emerge into a state of curious, hopeful wonder.

Allowing myself to wonder led me to hold this thought in my heart and mind long enough for it to take root: what if we are all born with God in us? What if we all have a Divine spark inside of us? And what if, because of that, we also are born with an innate yearning to be reunited with the Higher source of that spark?

In Hindu religious thought this concept of innate Divinity and also a Higher Being is known at Atman and Brahman, God Immanent and God Transcendent. In Quaker religious thought, it is known as an Inner Light, or God within. In fact this very idea of God being within every person that comes into the world is what the founder of Quakerism, George Fox, suffered persecution to promote.

And that’s at the heart of my complaint with some sects of religious thought; religion, without love, can be exclusive and shaming.

Ideologies that focus on the depravity of the human soul are unhelpful at best. Shaming people about the core of their being is not an effective way to produce creative, inspired, and loving people. I know that for believers of Christianity, this way of thinking ideally all resolves in the good news that Jesus is the Savior. But it also implies an almost necessary self-hatred on the nature of one’s being.

I believe that there is light and dark, good and bad, in all of us. I don’t think we are born gods. But I do believe we have God in us and that if we foster that part of our being and find ways to plug into the God that transcends us and unites us all, then we can find Truth and Love and Life right here and now.

Richard Rohr calls this unitive source of Life the Cosmic Christ. And He is one of the only Christian-oriented writers and thinkers that I hear and think, “wow! I believe this! I can believe THIS!” He and many of the spiritual leaders from various paths that I respect suggest that the Divine reality, this transcendent Truth is all around us if we can only learn to truly see. And that’s the part I’m trying to learn now. 

Dusting off and practicing my spiritual skill set (meditation, prayer, and transcendent experience), however, is not the easiest task. I’ve been able to connect intellectually with these ideas about opening my mind and heart to hopeful, curious wonder about God, but I haven’t yet been able to get the spiritual muscles, so to speak, back in shape yet.

So, as always, I continue the journey.

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17 Responses to allowing myself to wonder

  1. Darby says:

    Linds…wow. I believe this. I can believe THIS.

    And you know I don’t say that often.

  2. Teri says:

    Wow Linds, that was deep. I love reading your honesty! Life is definitely a journey with many questions and many wonders. I believe God is happy when we truly search for answers. It is then when we find the true God and His plan and purpose in your own life. Happy journey Little Leaf

  3. Dad says:

    Keep searching! You have the intellectual, physical, and spiritual tools with which to find what you are seeking.
    Love, always and all ways,
    Dad

  4. Paul says:

    Some of this is so spot on for me, it’s unreal. Your line about atheism taking too much faith, is almost word for word something I’ve thought for myself.

    Also, recently I had a conversation with 2 former club club members and we were talking about growing up in a “theological prison” and how this in some sense has pushed back our normal spiritual progression. I am almost scared to stop deconstructing my beliefs and start actually forming them. Nothing against our parents, but at least for me and others I know, Christianity and in particular, their form (evangelical) of Christianity was the only served dish, and to continue the analogy, eating or even smelling other food was completely shunned.

    I enjoyed reading your post thoroughly.

    • Lindsay says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your impressions and thoughts, Paul. I miss having our club club conversations. That was one place I always felt free to discuss these kinds of things. There should be a club club west coast reunion sometime.

      And yeah, the atheism requiring too much faith–haha. That’s pretty funny you’ve had that same kind of thought process. I’m finally in the reconstructing process but with the understanding and acceptance that I will always be open to wonder now. Good luck continuing on your journey. Portland seems like a great environment for wonder.

  5. Sare says:

    Love this and love you.

  6. Sarah says:

    Thank you. This was brave and true. I don’t know why these things are so hard to talk about, but they are. And if you were closer I would ask you to get together for coffee.

    Gary and I have both been doing a lot of deconstructing lately. (In fact I just told him last night that I am extremely grateful to be deconstructing with him. I imagine it would be an incredibly lonely experience otherwise.) I don’t have very many friends that I can discus these things with. I don’t want to scare anyone into praying for my salvation. Also, these are my people, who I love, respect and trust. We talk in terms of “core beliefs” and the rest not really mattering, but I don’t know that they are referring to the same core that I am.

    It’s been a slow process for me, over the past 10 yrs. Brought on mostly by suffering, first my own and then my people’s and then the realization of global suffering. And then my kids started their own line of questioning. (Parenting through deconstruction is so tricky, I just want to give them the Cosmic Christ without all the extraneous baggage.) One of them particularly, who is incredibly scientific and philosophical, is trying on atheism right now. I don’t think it fits because he’s very angry and depressed about it. Our prayer for him is that he finds that precious wonder place that you talk about. Gary is reading an incredible book with him, Finding God in the Waves, by Mike Mchargue of The Liturgist Podcast. (I actually can’t recommend it enough. It’s slowly giving us a common language to speak to him about these issues, and that’s been one of the hardest parts to all of this. None of us can speak Christianize anymore.) Mike was raised as a fundamental Southern Baptist, became a full fledged (albeit closeted) atheist for two years and then came through to the other side, not back, but through.

    I could talk for hours about this stuff actually, but I will stop here:). If you haven’t already, check out The Liturgist Podcast as well as The Deconstructionist Podcast. And I have a growing library of books to recommend if you are interested. There is a community of people out there who are deconstructing and wondering and finding God outside of rigid evangelical Christianity. My prayer is that they are forming the “Church” of the future.

    • Lindsay says:

      Sarah, thank you so much for reading and then sharing your thoughtful response. I love that you wrote it was “brave and true.” I have noticed through the years that you and I have been drawn to some of the same people (Brene Brown, etc) and so I suspected our journeys had some common themes.

      I am familiar with the podcasts and with science Mike 🙂 I have a lot of respect for people out there who are open with their questions and progressive social views while remaining in church. That takes a lot of courage and boldness. Pete Rollins, Rachel Held Evans, and of course Richard Rohr are a few more people I respect a lot who have that role.

      My favorite podcast right now is the One you Feed. It’s what I listen to when I run on the treadmill vs outside. It’s interviews with all sorts of interesting and encouraging humans who are dedicated to “Feeding the good wolf” inside us all.

      Keep shining your beautiful light.

  7. Stef says:

    Thanks for your honesty in this and for our conversation while you guys were visiting. I love that no matter how long it’s been, you and Collin have always made me feel that we can talk about anything, as if we lived right next door and talked every day. I love you guys.

    • Lindsay says:

      Thank you so much, Stef! I love you and talking with you too. It’s so true that the kindredness between us endures through time and space. Loved getting to see you on this trip and talk face to face about this in person.

  8. Peaj says:

    Lindsay. I have thinking about this post all week. I think that I found it distressing. Distressing that the dogma of your religion was a poor fit for your spirituality. Distressing that you have had such struggles, and that you only found assistance from those outside faith. Distressing – with respect to others who may be reading – that you were taught things particularly about gender roles that I feel result from bad exegesis and prejudice. Distressing that anyone would imply that your intelligence and gifts should be suppressed because of your gender.

    I feel sad that you also have tried on atheism, as I have, once again, over the past decade, though we have come to it by different routes. Atheism for me has always meant nihilism, which is a sad way to live. It denies the spirituality of others and contains only the thin comfort that comes from believing that we are noble enough to face hard truths. Have you also been reluctant to talk to other believers because you feel like you might infect them with your “dangerous” ideas?

    I am glad that you are coming to a recognition of what you do believe and not just of what you can’t believe. I believe in who you are, and I feel that in contrast to your assertion that you have failed in your religion (another familiar thought!) that if you can find your place in the Body that the “religion” will be the richer for it.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking read and for the gift of your openness.

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