Losing My Religion – Part 11 December 9, 2010Posted by Matt in Losing My Religion.
Tags: church of christ, Episcopal Church, leaving church, progressive faith, spiritual journey
Or, On the Road Again
In case you are a relative newcomer to my blog, I wrote a long series on my personal spiritual journey in the summer of 2009, covering my sojourn from a small town fundamentalist Church of Christ to the where I was at that time, a questioning progressive constantly wrestling with life’s big questions and how they related to God and the church. Today, some 18 months after the initial series, things have changed in my life as my burgeoning spirituality continues grow and evolve, so it seemed appropriate that I post an update.
I knew for some time that our future was not going to be in the Church of Christ and perhaps not in any sort of Evangelical Christianity at all, but still we held on, clinging to the last remaining plank of the smashed ocean liner of our past religious lives. The longer we tread water, the clearer it became that the ship would never be repaired to its former glory, that it would never fully be home again. So, we turned and faced the biting wind and the rising waves with the expectation that we would eventually find another place to call home.
We held out for so long for only one reason: the people. We love them like family, but it was apparent that walls had been built and chasms had been opened and that it was unlikely they would ever be bridged. By the time we finally left, the feeling of isolation (except for a few families), whether real or imagined, became more than we could bear.
From my perspective, the root of the problem rested on two major issues: the claims of exclusivity made by most of Evangelical Christianity, and the belief in the Bible as the inerrant, absolute, and complete word of God. I cannot say I blame others who believe those things for pulling away from us, particularly someone as outspoken as me, because who would want to be around a person constantly questioning the pillars upon which their faith rested? Still, with the exception of a few people, we felt quite alone, so it was apparent that it had run its course and that it was time to move on. I had a few emails and one text message from concerned people (which did not go unappreciated), but given the exodus of Facebook friends, I think many others agreed and that was understandable and not unexpected. We have a lot of love for the people at the church and a great appreciation for the work they do and we only wish the best for them.
Now our family stands at a crossroads and the question of our future destination remains. I have a strong belief in God, but not necessarily the classic theistic deity, rather my inclination is more mystical and mysterious, toward something that cannot be readily defined by theologians. We’re looking for an inclusive community, one in which women share equal roles with men and where the gay community is welcomed with open arms. We want a place where the Bible is important, but not paramount and where the inspiration of God is recognized in a variety of places and people. We want a home where people don’t spend their time pining for the next world, but instead choose to change this one for the better.
Does that exist? For the past four weeks we’ve been attending an Episcopal Church that seems to embody many of these ideas, and we have quickly become friends with two families, but the question remains and it probably will for some time.
And really, I think that questions are what life is all about, for it is the questioning that makes us alive, that keeps us actively searching and learning. Once those question marks become periods, turning the living, changing questions into absolute, concrete statements, there is nothing left but to grow stagnant and die. So, we will continue to move forward, perhaps we will become Episcopalians or maybe we will find solace in some other, unexpected place.
Wherever the road leads, we will follow.
P.S. I added a few more books to the Influences entry and will probably continue to add them in the future.
Losing My Religion – The Series June 17, 2009Posted by Matt in Losing My Religion.
Tags: Christian Beliefs, church of christ, spiritual journey
Thank you all for joining me on this journey of self-discovery and spiritual formation. Over the past few weeks, I’ve written a total of 12 blog entries detailing the faith that I hold dear, from its legalistic beginnings to where I stand today. I thought about posting them in one document as David suggested in an earlier comment, but it would be a very long entry and I don’t know how cohesive the parts would be when placed end to end, especially since the vast majority of this series was written and posted during my lunch breaks at work. Nevertheless, I have placed the links to each selection below in case you would like to go back and read them.
Part 11: On the Road Again
Losing My Religion – Part 10 June 16, 2009Posted by Matt in Losing My Religion.
Tags: Christian faith, church of christ, spiritual journey
Or, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
I am a lot like most of you.
I’m in my 30’s, have a wife and kids and a dog.
I spend my days behind a desk, striving to enrich the soul-sucking corporation that employs me.
I have mounds of debt mainly incurred through high medical bills and a house that’s falling to pieces.
I’m a deacon at a church full of people that I dearly love.
I don’t have everything figured out and I’m okay with that.
Over the years my spiritual journey has covered quite a distance, climbing the highest peaks and descending into the darkest depths, yet still I soldier on, for there remains much ground to cover. Like it or not, change is coming. It is inevitable and it is needed. I have faith that Christians across the land will embrace this natural progression and take the next step forward, leaving behind their dark Platonic cave of the past and entering into the brighter future ahead.
I long for a time when women will no longer be second-class citizens of the kingdom of God, shuffled to the back of the bus.
I yearn for a future in which my gay brothers and sisters will no longer be treated like lepers, but will be embraced as children of God.
I look forward to when those of different political persuasions can coexist in the house of God in harmony without tossing about meaningless platitudes and unfounded accusations.
I hope for a time when we will no longer turn the Bible into an idol, parsing each word in legalistic zeal, and will instead regard it as an important, holy book whose overall message points to the Divine.
I pine for the day when we will no longer do good works out of fear or selfish ambition, but will instead do righteous deeds for the sake of righteousness.
I patiently await the day when our churches will be as concerned with meeting the physical needs of the poor and downtrodden as they are with “saving souls” and adding names to the roster.
But, until then, there is much work to be done.
Losing My Religion – Part 9 June 15, 2009Posted by Matt in Losing My Religion.
Tags: church, church of christ, disappointment, diversity
Or, The Best of What’s Around
After leaving behind our Baptist experience with a large degree of disappointment and discontent, we were forced to face the question of where we would go next. Again we visited around some, but by that point I was pretty sure that “church” was not for me anymore. The whole exercise of gathering together on Sunday had once more become hollow and devoid of any sort of meaning.
So, we drifted about until finally, against my initial wishes, we ended up at the congregation where we are active members today in Memphis. Though I had long ago sworn off the denomination of my youth, this particular congregation fit, somehow, someway, it was right.
It is an interesting church and one that is deftly held in precarious balance between the more progressive side (including myself and others) and a more traditional, conservative side. The diverse makeup of the congregation is a characteristic for which I had longed for some time, but had pretty much given up on as impossible. The ideological mix of progressives and conservatives, racial mix of African-Americans and whites (as well as a few Hispanic families), and the combinations of soci-economic and educational differences give our body a distinct character that I would reckon is not often found. We quickly fit in and have made some very strong friendships over the past few years.
Because of the area in which we are located, there is much community work to be done and I am thankful to have been given the latitude to start service projects like our Community Garden. So, on the surface at least, things are going very well in our current situation, but, as always seems to happen, I cannot help but wonder just how long it will last, especially given my personal convictions on issues that stand in contrast to many (though not all) around me.
Next: What lies ahead…
Losing My Religion – Influences June 11, 2009Posted by Matt in Losing My Religion.
Tags: influential books, spiritual journey
In case you are interested, these are a few of the books I have read in recent years that helped me and continue to help me on my spiritual journey.
Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but not Literally
Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith
By Marcus Borg
Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile
Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture
A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith is Dying and How a New Faith is Being Born
By John Shelby Spong
The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical
By Shane Claiborne
Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality
By Donald Miller
The Politics of Jesus
By John Howard Yoder
The Cost of Discipleship
By Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard and Foucalt to Church
By James K. A. Smith
The Future of Faith
by Harvey Cox
Losing My Religion – Part 8 June 10, 2009Posted by Matt in Losing My Religion.
Tags: apologetics, belief, Bible, defense, existence, god, questioning, truth
Or, Is There Anybody Out There?
As has been previously mentioned in earlier posts, I was raised in a church environment that often proclaimed the ironclad truth of scripture and the perfect nature of God’s will. Thus questioning the veracity of the Bible or the supposed actions of God was often looked down upon as a sort of weakness that must be overcome. It was as if the slippery slope to militant atheism began with even the most innocuous of questions regarding the scriptures.
Later on, in my college years, many of my long-held, heavily fortified beliefs began to spring leaks. Naturally, as I began to see teachings that were bestrewn with folly, my thinking became more and more defensive and, as I tried in desperate futility to plug the leaks, it became clear that I would need outside help. My mind was filled with questions regarding everything from doctrine to Biblical events to the nature of God, Itself, and I knew, just knew, that there must be some form of absolute proof to be found. Thus began my obsession with apologetic literature.
Apologetics are certainly interesting reads as authors attempt to make a stalwart defense for things like the Bible and God and I rabidly devoured them one after another. I worked my way through authors like CS Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Josh McDowell, and the recently popular Lee Strobel, as I worked to build a concrete foundation of absolute truth using the various evidences touted by these authors and others.
But my reading did not stop with authors such as these, no, armed with the supposed truths and proofs of God, I began to tackle other works – some from other religions, some from humanist philosophers and some from the most stalwart of atheists – and as I read through these tomes proclaiming ideas that conflicted with those I had long accepted, confusion reigned. For every argument in support of the Bible or the existence of God, there existed others disputing them that seemed just as convincing. So, I began to realize that God was beyond proof. Belief was illogical.
And that was okay.
There is something about mankind believing in something bigger than themselves that just seems right, despite our scientific observations and logical conclusions. I do not have proof of God’s existence, nor do I have concrete reasoning of His/Her absence, and today I am fine with that. Belief and faith and love are abstract concepts existing outside of this supposed sphere of the concrete, but they are no less real. And so we cling to them and look above amid the storms plaguing this mortal coil, for that is all that we can do in the uncertainty of life. I might question the existence of God every day of my life, and sometimes I may even come to an near-agnostic conclusion of uncertainty, yet still I cling.
My view could probably best be found in this rephrased quote of Socrates: “The unexamined God is not worth following.”
Losing My Religion – Part 7 June 9, 2009Posted by Matt in Losing My Religion.
Tags: 2004 presidential election, church, church and state, George W. Bush, John Kerry, politics, Southern Baptist
Or, Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine
When we moved to the Memphis area back in early 2004 I was done with the CoC. No longer could I handle the judgmental attitudes or haughty replies to even the slightest questions. I had turned my back on the congregation in which I was raised a few years before then and, though we continued to attend another church in another town, the feeling of being an outsider could not be shaken. It was obvious that we did not belong.
So, we settled in a suburban area just outside of the city (a decision made in ignorance that I regret to this day) and we began our search for a new house of worship. There was a church on seemingly every corner, but, in matching the general homogeneity of the population, every building appeared to have one word in common – Baptist. Being only somewhat familiar with the SBC, we chose a large, nicely kept building that stood close to our house and began a very tempestuous year in our Christian lives.
At first things seemed to be going very well. We made friends and got involved in their program for young families and life moved along quite smoothly. Sure, I may have had a few differences in opinion with others, but it was nothing too extreme and soon we were full-fledged Baptists.
And then came the presidential election.
I’ve never been one to hide the fact that I lean heavily to the left on nearly every issue, whether they be political, social, or religious, and I had seen and been part of several heated disagreements in times past, but nothing had prepared me for what was coming.
Soon every class, every sermon, even every conversation turned political. Abortion and gay rights and a vehement desire to defame John Kerry in any way possible became the subjects upon which every person with voice to speak turned their focus. The Values Voter bus came and handed out literature that spent every word to defame policies (whether real or imagined) supposedly espoused by the Democratic party, all without ever mentioning the party or any individuals by name. As that great November day of reckoning grew closer, the fierceness of the attacks grew stronger and more heinous, finally culminating with this statement from the pulpit on the Sunday before the election:
“Now, I can’t tell you who to vote for in this election. But you know, as a Christian, who you should vote for.”
Then he proceeded to again run through the two or three issues sitting first and foremost in the Republican talking points that year. That same Sunday they dropped a huge American flag behind the pulpit, sang patriotic songs and said the pledge of allegiance.
So, every week I sat there feeling as though these heaps of abuse were being piled upon me and me alone and it was too much for me to handle (Diana had progressed to the position of political moderate by then, so she remained fairly unaffected). One time, our Sunday school teacher even took one of us to the side and begged us not to vote for John Kerry so that we would not damn our eternal soul to hell. Seriously.
Then, once the smoke had cleared and their zealous agenda had been fulfilled on a national level, I watched the pastor stand behind the microphone and say, “Let’s praise God that His man won. I couldn’t tell you this before, but now I can – we won.”
And so I broke my ties to the SBC.
Losing My Religion – Part 6 June 8, 2009Posted by Matt in Losing My Religion.
Tags: church of christ, eternal life, heaven, hell, plan of salvation, radical exclusionism
Or, Not For You
From an early age I understood quite clearly that the vast majority of the human race was doomed eternally, a sum which, while obviously including unbelievers and those of other religious (all of whom were actually worshipping Satan in disguise), also consisted of many who did claim Jesus as their Savior and did believe in God and the Bible. Despite their cries of “Lord, Lord,” these poor people were lost, for they had rejected the divine 5 step plan of salvation.
Those of you from a CoC background know what I am speaking of and you can repeat after me:
It is repeatedly beaten into one’s head from an early age that this the way to an everlasting life with God in heaven. It is through this checklist that we earn our golden ticket to walk through those pearly gates while everyone else in the history of the universe writhes in eternal, fiery agony.
This was the lone way to gain entrance to that heavenly party and, though everyone had been given the keys to the kingdom in the first century, it was only the Church of Christ who kept them. All others veered off the straight and narrow path, chasing their own selfish desires for instrumental music, while the CoC stayed on the course alone. Now, to be fair, we were taught that those of the denominational persuasions could possibly make their way to those streets of gold if they, despite the false teaching in their churches, followed the five point path to paradise. But, of course, that was highly unlikely.
As a college student, though, I began to realize just how hateful and self-aggrandizing this sort of radical exclusionism actually was and soon I completely turned my back on that way of thinking.
It would only be a few short years, though, before I realized that the CoC were not the only ones…
Next: My Life as a Disenfranchised Christian Liberal