On Doubt & Growing up in the Church of (women) “Shouldn’t. Wouldn’t. Couldn’t.”

My daughter pushes me.  She demands.  Before coffee and time to wake up in the morning, she throws out at me like spittle in my face a withering challenge. She says, about my faith, my beliefs, something like ….

You follow some concocted foolishness, if only to comfort yourself, to be a part of something, to be less alone, to feel consoled by the idea you won’t spend eternity in hell.

Ouch.  She’s fourteen.  I listen.  And take another sip of coffee.  Silently wishing that I was more awake.  Wishing that I had time to go to seminary and get back to her.  Hoping that I can remain calm.  And mostly, I am hoping that I am lucid.  Does she not know this is not my best time of day?  Of course she does.  I am not freaking ready for this!?!

And what sort of religion would sentence people to hell?” she continues.  I’m thinking “Where in the hell is she learning her ideas about hell?”

Yes, that’s the sort of girl we’re raising. 

Questioning.  Doubting.  Testing and pushing.  And I love it, even as it scares me and I long for more preparation.  No, I don’t fear my own doubt, because I have known the One who gives me peace beyond my comprehension.

But I fear her doubts.

She has a wonderful, active intelligence.  How to answer the questions rattling about in her brain— which she throws out with such vivid scorn.  How to answer, when it closely echoes the shadows of my heart and mind?  One might think this would make it easier, but it isn’t because I don’t fear my own doubt I pursue it. I have even grown comfortable with it, mostly.

But her doubts loom bulky and cumbersome, large in the room.  I feel them physically as she lurches toward her future.  Away from me.  Yes I feel her doubt pulling her away from me. This is what I must trust, that the One I know will make himself known to her and to each of them, my children.  I only possess them for a short season, if at all.  I once thought they were “mine” like a precious possession to be held on to tightly.  Now I know I don’t. I can’t keep them for my own.

The day she came squealing into the world, so strong and perfect I should have known then that she was not mine.  In the early months I was uncomfortable letting someone else take her from me, to hold her tight against their own chest in church.  I fought letting her infant body be pulled away from mine.  She was my first and the toughest, impossible, to let go of—I thought that I couldn’t do it.  I began to trust others just a little.  Our nanny.  A nursery caregiver.  Kindergarten teacher, first grade, second and up, over the years.  And now she is learning from pastors at church and from leaders in youth group that are young and barely out of school themselves.  And she learns from her friends.  How much she is learning from equally fallible, impressionable friends

I am reminded again, I can’t possess her.    

I look at her speaking this morning, so sure of herself, and  I think “I would hold you in my arms forever, if possible, so enormous is my love for you.”

A mother’s love and possession of her children is irrational.  At first I trusted no one.

And she always resisted me.

She struggles, fights me.  Argues about whether I like her outfits even when I say I do, she says I don’t; her hair, the shape of her nose which I think is quite perfect. But no, she is angry even as she tells me how very wrong I am.  “My nose is not perfect” she wants me to know. And I marvel at the thought.  To me, you are.

Perfection.

This is what I want to tell her.  

You have always questioned.  You were impatient, always.  I couldn’t teach you fast enough — the alphabet, or to read.  All of this could not be conquered quickly enough for you, in the midst of other babies coming along.  Just fourteen short months after you a brother, and he was physically large but quiet, careful and followed you everywhere; happily occupied by his admiration and awe of you.  My job and its demands getting me home at night exhausted, and there you were, already reading, even before I had the time to teach you.  You are ahead of me in so many ways.  At forty-five, I am just barely allowing myself to ask the hard questions, the ones that our faith community wouldn’t allow when I was growing up, somehow my doubt might mean that all of it isn’t true. 

I am only just learning to accept my own questions, to seek the answers out myself.  Yes, I learn from you my girl.

Your mother isn’t sure.  I doubt myself all the time  because I was told long ago in bible class in college (a Christian college) not to question.  As the Bible was opened for me in class, and I began to learn as never before, my heart fluttered and sped up with the dawning, comprehension that I could know the actual Greek words for myself.  I wouldn’t have to take anyone’s word for it.  Just. Like. Anyone. I could study and know for myself.  But when I sought this knowledge out, my professor asked “what would you do with it?” as if, I shouldn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t learn for myself.  There would be no purpose.

Indeed, what purpose would it have served?

Yes that’s the lie I bought into, that I fight against (almost) every day as a woman in the Church, that we shouldn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t, learn and teach for ourselves.  It is a lie, but one that is so strong.   I beat it back.  It returns uninvited.  Reading the words in Blue Parakeet, I am once again liberated.  It’s a constant liberation required, when you are raised in the Church of women “shouldn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t.”   Scot McKnight liberated me again when he asked of scripture’s Story “What Did Women Do?”

What did women do I want to know?  We aren’t even to be allowed the stories in Bible of what women have done.  These stories of women have been silenced, ignored, overlooked and (not always with bad motives but still) they are missing!   As I have come into my own understanding of these things I have had to accept that to take a stand on this is threatening and provocative, and I am immediately perceived to be “liberal” and suspect, as if I don’t respect the Bible which I do, oh so very much from that moment in college when I had the profound thought “I can know this for myself. “ Oh what a sweet relief it was to read that even McKnight found it challenging to defend these things himself.

I am an evangelical, today anyway and I am only learning that I have read the Bible wrong.   I am learning to read the Bible as Story, even while “many of the traditionalists read the bible as a law book and a puzzle.  Traditionalists read the Bible about women in church ministries through tradition instead of reading the Bible with tradition.” (McKnight, the Blue Parakeet)

It is no small thing (to me) and I have spoken of this before.  My pastors never mention female theologians or even woman scholar’s writings about theology and the Bible.  I want my daughter to know that Christian women are thinking, can be academic, even scholarly, that we are wise and thoughtful.  Yes women.

And yet she doesn’t see that in the Church of  (women) “Shouldn’t. Wouldn’t. Couldn’t.”

What would it be like to grow up never hearing the old bible stories of what women did and are doing like Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah? To be a grown woman before you learn that these amazing legendary women spoke for God; they led the nation alongside men.  They sanctioned scripture and they guided nations.  What is it like to grow up never hearing from the knowledge and wisdom of women?   As my precious daughter shares her questions and doubt, I wake up and I listen, take it in.  I hope and pray.  She is strong and her soul and mind are powerful already.  Yes, I accept her doubts.  I know Doubt like a close friend, even if mine has different origins, nuanced by my upbringing and by mistreatment in my life by few strong men who abused.  I’m not afraid of my own doubt and I don’t want to be afraid of hers.  The Church needs girls like her who soon will grow into strong, articulate challenging women.  Her influence somewhere someday will be strong.  Perhaps even in the Church, if she stays long enough.  Are they ready her?  Or will they remain the Church of shouldn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t?

Is that what you want to tell her?

We live in a culture that doubts everything as a matter of principle. In such an environment, how can even faith be immune to doubt? Can I really trust in the gospel? Does God really love me? Can I really be of any use to God? We are taught to doubt but commanded to believe. Somehow we think that admitting to doubt is tantamount to insulting God. But doubt is not a sign of spiritual weakness–rather it’s an indication of spiritual growing pains. — Doubting,  Alister E. McGrath

I guess we are both having growing pains –this slowly waking, grown woman, and this young girl .  Is the Church ready for us?  Will they echo that women couldn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t?  Or will they tell us, yes, you can.

———————

These musings are like a journal and are not perfect.  As always, I hope you will extend me grace as I write to figure out what I think.

Developing a Habit of Abundance

I am sometimes wrecked by my unbelief.  “Lord I believe.  Help my unbelief.” scripture says Mark 9:24.  I am coming to see.

Must I always put on habits?  It seems that I must choose daily, sometimes moment to moment.  I have to wear my belief like an new sweater or twist the rubber band on my wrist  to remind myself of what I want, what I know, what I need.  I am so full of need, so empty.

Like the havoc of the wind, I am wrecked by my unbelief.  The slang definition of the word wrecked is to be drunk or intoxicated.  I have always gotten high on all the wrong things – shopping, my own panic, books and other “things”, easily addicted even to the lack in my core, in my soul.  I am even hooked on my own sadness. In this I know what I need.  As I come to depend on all these highs that I choose for myself – my inner core isn’t worthy of my own trust.

Have I always been a vessel in ruin?  Shipwrecked.  Does that mean that I cannot be trusted?  That is what some believe and say that 1 Peter 3:7 means : that women cannot trust themselves. That man cannot trust woman who are the weaker vessel. What does that mean?  Others say that “Both Peter and Paul wrote about mutual, reciprocal submission in Christian relationships.”  If I believe I cannot be trusted, I’ll never learn to trust myself.  I’ll never trust anyone.  Can I then learn to trust God?

Growing up in the narcissistic family that I did, it is no wonder I do not trust myself.  Everyone in my family fluttered around one person, my father.  We existed to ensure his happiness and help him succeed at all costs.  The costs were many.  The price was high.   All my life I was told what to do by him.  I learned to always seek my father’s approval.  He was my universe.  What do you become when your “god” is cruel, selfish and destructive?  You cower.  You play the supporting role.  Never learn how to live your own.  Did he really become my god?  I don’t believe that is what he really wanted.  How did it happen?

I’ve been physically “free” of my father for eight years.  I am only learning how to breathe on my own.  Jesus is reshaping my view of the world and myself.  I am starting to see that I may be wrecked, like a ship cast to pieces against the shore and torn to pieces, but I did not create the storm.  And I am slowly being healed by the Jesus who healed, he healed women as much as men.  He empowers me.  He trusts me.  He is teaching me.

I have been fighting him, Jesus, and God, the Father.  As I fight, I am wounded like Jacob who wrestled with God and I am afraid.

I am afraid of my life.  I have been fighting and demanding.

I read and wonder if it is true:

“The Lord has to break us down at the strongest place of ourselves before he can have his own way of blessing with us. “ (James H. McConkey, Life Talks)

As I have healed, I have slowly demanded a purpose for myself, a big dream, a significant place to contribute, and God has been quiet.  At least it seems to be so.

“This is the work (service) that God asks of you: that you believe in the one whom he has sent. ”  That means cling to Jesus, trust Jesus, rely on Jesus, and have faith in Jesus.

“God created the world out of nothing.  As long as we are nothing, He can make something out of us.” [Martin Luther]

Really?

I cannot lose this ever present need and instead of making me feel strong, it shames me.  I feel my lack of belief, my frequent anger and pain, absence of joy or gratitude; I feel powerfully this emaciated, hollow life.  Is this what I am known for?  I pray not.  I pray that I can surrender, even now.  Even today give up every part of me, the resilient and the faint fragments , to him.

I tell myself I do not fear my own flaws.  But I fear that it will be used against me to prove that women are weak.   I fear my own power too.

Jesus says, “Lay it all down.”   Let it all go again.  As I am developing the habit of abundance, I doubt that have never responded like Mary did.  “Let this happen,” she said, when told that she would mother the king of kings (Luke 1:38)

Whatever it is, “this life” for I do not know what it is yet.  For I cannot even imagine.   I am learning to respond.

Let this happen.

Melody

P.S. I am inspired by reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts.

God is With Us. But Can We Find Him?

I have marvelled at my doubt.  

I am going through one of my phases where I feel extremely disappointed by organized religion.  Like Michael Jinkins, in Called to Be Human, I don’t understand what spiritual means any more than I understand what it means to be religious — but I know that today they are a pale imitation of what they should be, could be and this must grieve God.  It is almost an insult to be called “religious” today whereas “spiritual” can mean almost anything and is somehow in its inclusivity found to be admirable.

“Faith is a matter of trust and reverence more than it is a matter of beliefs and belief systems.  This is not to say that beliefs are irrelevant.  It matters a great deal whom you trust and what you hold sacred.  But the older I get, the more I see that life is mystery and the less certainty I possess.  I take more of life on faith.  I trust a lot more than I know. So my beliefs have become increasingly modest in their claims while they have become more extravagant in their hopes.”

When troubles come, when I am still, when I feel most devastated by this life, deep inside I know that the Babe of Christmas is real. 

The Babe of the incarnation is not anything to do with sentimentality and materialism.  Though my whole being is crushed by this season and though it is too strong to say that I hate Christmas — what it has become — My heart and soul are dragged down this time of year.  And I know with certainty that I lack the courage to do something different with it. 

I am no longer a child — the wonder of the season is gone. 

I am so disenchanted by it all that I have trouble relishing “the silent and holy night, the sweet and heavenly peace” that the song speaks of.  The Creator God entered into creation which is totally wrecked by our sin and He doesn’t hate nor is he disgusted by you and me, rather God takes our inconsistency, and selfishness and betrayal — the mess of our human heart and what we have done to this season — and by becoming the Babe he took it all. 

That I can believe.

Christmas can be — Advent should be — about that recovery of our hearts.  But it is so difficult and intangible if we cannot slow down our spiritually corrupt minds and souls and be conscious of the mysterious and ancient ways of experiencing time and place in the spiritual realm.

Advent, in the high church, was meant to begin the sacred year because it begins with anticipating the Babe.  The Church also uses the act of remembering those Saints whose lives are an example to us all.  For me, it is easy to look at those throughout history who were Saints and Martyrs of the church and believe.  The act of remembering, through liturgy and worship whether corporate or in isolation, is beautiful and sweet.  But it is the actions we take — today, now — “the physical gestures, prayers, or other customs — that make faith a tangible presence.”  This is the Babe — the incarnation — this is why we offer our worship. 

Advent is the time when we prepare for the mystery of the Babe — the arrival of God with us — God incarnate.  My heart wrestles with the truth as my actions seem to do something else.  It’s relentless — the gluttony of the Thanksgiving meal, then the shopping, endless carols playing on every radio, the searching for “happy” — that at a certain point I shut down. 

And that is where I find myself today.

Advent seems that is should be more solemn, a time of anticipating.  The mystery and miracle of Christmas is the Babe’s birth. We are challenged to be winnowing and sifting in our heart and preparing ourselves for when He comes.    And it becomes clear that we are simply searching for God in all of our flurry and activity. 

Almost a thousand years ago, St. Anselm of Canterbury said:

“God is that greater than which cannot be thought.” 

God is Inconceivable.  Incomprehensible.  Unbelievable.  That is our God.  That is (perhaps) why God came in the form of the Babe — Immanuel, which means “God with us.”  As I sit here wrestling with the truth that I have to work to find him, God is here.  With us.  Searching for us, some say.  God is not lost.  We have become lost — so distracted by the eating and drinking and shopping and giving and receiving, the singing and serving — lost by it all.

Advent means coming.  Christ came.  Christ comes.  Christ will come again.  In this Advent season, as we search for the Babe, we only need to understand more fully what that means.  “God is enfleshed in our humanity.” 

We only need to wake up and receive the gift that is already given, the fact that we are found by Emmanuel, God with us.

MH

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Called to Be Human: LETTERS TO MY CHILDREN ON LIVING A CHRISTIAN LIFE, Michael Jinkins.

GOD WITH US: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, authored by Scott Cairns, Emilie Griffin, Richard John Neuhaus, Kathleen Norris, Eugene Peterson, Luci Shaw.  Edited by Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe.

religion scares me :: a reflection

The Faith, sculpted in stone from Badajoz in 1...
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Religion.scares.me.

So quickly turning into actions. Deeds. Just notions. Before you know it you are doing religion. Lost is the element of the supernatural. The unknowable, powerful God.

A loosed grip on what I think I know is an opening for the Spirit. It is something I cannot control, something.Other.than.me.

Religion.scares.me.

With my notions. Deeds. So much acting like a believer. Our hearts are easily deceived. Something is missing there.  I am left with me, believing some days meanwhile disbelief is cloying at me around the edges of my mind.  Wanting proof I do not have. Yes, faith scares me and so I pray, out of my longing & need. I kneel. Partly knowing and equally hoping.beyond.hope.

You.don’t.scare.me.

Desire and awe hammering in my chest.  God of the universe. Far bigger than the galaxies.  Before time.  Outside of time. Why does my frail, faltering faith matter to you?

How.can.that.be? That you care about me? What about all that I misunderstand? Dogmas.Opinions.Deeds Actions. Words, the most hateful of all, words. Judgment. Just frenzy. Not peace beyond understanding. Fear not trust.  Is it belief or unbelief?

People.scare.me.

Adulterous. Pastors. Loving. Lesbians. Faithful. Wives. Controlling. Husbands. Generous. Partners. Fatherless. Children. Molesters.

“In the closet.”  Theologians. Out.  Writers. Wealthy. Community organizers. Greedy. Homeless. PhD. Arrogant. Janitors. Murderous.

Politicians. Drunks. Mothers. Indulgent. Parents. Spoiled. Children. Angry. Fathers. Cutters. Over eaters. Over drinkers. Liars. Sad.

Rebellious. Happy. Up. Musicians. Down. Mechanics. Lecherous. Students. Ignorant. Teachers. Store-clerks. Farmers. Academics.

Doctors. Drug Dealers. Nurses. Young. Old. Middle-aged. Scared. All.

Lost.Without.You.Who am I to choose what separates me.them.us from you?

I am equally confused & scared many days. Until I find that place of belief and then I settle down into my fear. My faith. I hear you saying:  settle down, little one. settle down.

Believe. Experience my Peace. Share my Love.  Hear me.

I do.

Hear you.

And today I believe.  Help me love.