Thursday, January 07, 2010

Jesus and me.

I'm not in any doubt that there is a God of some sort keeping the Earth turning on its axis (also keeping the galaxies from bumping into each other, etc). I know that we can find strength and guidance and comfort by tapping into that force/power/God. I know that following the life of Jesus is a better way for us to live than pining for  wealth, power, beauty or fame. But I don't believe much the rest of what they teach at church. I'm not much for believing the water into wine and virgin births and resurrections. And God isn't a bearded king-type fellow running all our lives like a marionette's manipulator. I'm generally comfortable with my concept of the Divine and how it relates to life.

But here's the rub: I go to church. A lot. I sing in the choir. I serve as a deacon. I'm on the board. I take our kids to Sunday School so they can learn Bible stories. Several times a week I am assaulted by the glaring differences between what I know to be Truth and what others know to be Truth. Even in my very liberal denomination, I choke on words in the program nearly every week, not wanting to say things I don't believe. After all, no one wants to be a liar in church? That's tantamount to perjury, right?

But what's a girl to do? I love the community in my church. I think I'm an asset to the soprano section (the lyrics of most choral music make me cringe. yikes!). I'd miss it terribly if I didn't go. My family would miss our friends, too. So I put up with the gut-wrenching knowledge that I'm the almost the only one* in the room who fails to qualify as a Christian ("Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and do you accept him as your personal Savior?"). It's a painfully lonely place for me, there in that big beautiful room of believers. 

I am a little jealous of those who have all-powerful faith in a personal God who directs their lives through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I am not saying their lives are easier, of course, just that the whys and hows are not still questions at the end of the day. Those people get to sit down and just say "it's God's will" and be satisfied. They get to pull God's grace over them like thick woolen blanket and feel loved and cozy.

It's hard out here for an Agnostic. At least I think it is. I don't exactly qualify as one of those, either.

*I say "almost" because there's woman who has begun coming weekly with her husband, and I'm pretty sure she's even less Christian than I am. She's just a good wife who supports her husband.


Jennifer said...

You know, I have struggled with all of that as well. And I guess I have come to the realization that it just doesn't matter. For some people, the "magic" of the virgin birth and transubstantiation is crucial. For me, it's not. And there's room for all of us to be okay in that. I know I am a better person when I stop - whatever I am doing - and think of Jesus. I make better, kinder decisions. My world becomes a better place, not for me so much as for everyone else.
I'm afraid we live in a very literal age and I am not a very literal person. I hang out in the fuzzy gray gap most of the time. When I read the Bible and talk about it with my children, lots of times I don't find a lot of immediate inspiration there. But later, it pops up in my thinking and influences what I do.
If God made the world or not. If Jesus was the son of God, or an example to show we are all the children of God, or a complete fabrication, it just doesn't matter. I don't really care. It doesn't really change what I feel or think or believe. And I guess that's what faith is.

Sabra said...

If you believe that there is a god, but not necessarily the Christian concept of God, you are a Deist, not an agnostic. This actually puts you in some pretty good company--Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, etc.

I seriously doubt you are the only one in your church who feels as you do. A good church is for seekers anyway.

I don't have a good answer for your uncomfortableness, but to say that you absolutely have as much of a place in the church as you want to have. In its best incarnation, a church is exactly what you say you would miss--a community.

All God asks of us is that we do our best. You're doing it.

Melinda said...

Have you ever read "Reading the Bible Again for the First Time - Taking the Bible Seriously but not Literally"? You should check it out, it may help you feel less lonely.

Jennifer said...

Jesus for President by Chris Haw and Shane Claiborne changed my life. As did Velvet Elvis and Sex God by Rob Bell.

Alois E B said...

Thank you for your moving honesty and sincerity; I wish we saw more of this in the liberal churches. (Thus I agree that you are likely not alone.) I fear that churches, which ought to be a place for shedding complacency and affect--God sees all, and with love, no?--instead champion a 50s-era "accentuate the positive" dissemblance. It's astounding.

I can add little to the sympathetic responses of others. So let me be provocative. The church is both more full of error and more profoundly true than you realize. First of all, bless you for not believing God is a puppeteer, that 'it's all God's will,' that faith means feeling warm and cozy. Such are the confused graspings of Christians in the wake of the uprooting effects of modernity, the failure of the church to teach its theology, and the accommodation of Christianity to a blithely optimistic and consumeristic culture. I sympathize with them. But how exactly do Christians draw the conclusion that a world that killed God upon coming to earth and that has yet to be judged is in any sane sense running according to plan? I'm persuaded this mistake is from Leibniz, not the Gospel. And from people's need to believe that their world makes sense. It doesn't, because it has been sold into sin, if I may, and even more irrationally, redeemed by grace. Proof: why is health care reform so unpopular? Is it because of technicalities? No; it's because people are so selfish that they are easily led to fear that gee, their rates might go up--never mind the uninsured. (Ok, perhaps I should not take on both religion_and_politics.) These same people claim to follow the selfless God! Christians instead could believe that God has acted definitively in Jesus, rather than in their private string of good and bad luck, be it winning the lottery or suffering from cancer. Believing that these little events is how God chooses to define God's true being, that's downright blasphemous; or at least, way too focused on me and my life. We easily lose ourselves in Jane Austin, and Avatar, for chrissakes; why can we not lose ourselves in Scripture? Scripture--a very human assembly of documents pointing to the living Christ, who reveals God--is more real than our lives and our little stories. I wish Christians were more comfortable admitting they don't know what they are talking about. The more you enter into the depths of faith, the more words fail. Not because of a dearth, but an infinite demand. Not resulting in bemusement, but in the slipping away from words of their accustomed comprehension, so we don't know where to begin--like trying to describe a Coltrane solo. Don't trust theological platitudes, all too common today. And I know that my God does not leave me feeling cozy, but stripped bare and yet frightfully empowered (like that damn fool David). The god who tops off a cozy middle class life with 'comfort' and 'purpose' is an idol.

Alois E B said...

(When will the web accommodate itself to theological rant of a proper length?)
And what is this Truth that you are so sure of? This Truth that you are so comfortable with? What is this Truth so certain that it cannot even call itself Agnosticism? (I grant your irony in the capital T; let me have my fun too.) Everyone thoughtful and educated has good reason to doubt. But when do you ever know where good reason ends and convenience begins? Especially in our convenience-obsessed world? A God who stays busy juggling the planets is rather conveniently preoccupied. Convenient also is a god we keep to ourselves with a strange mix of pride and shame. A God who speaks through the mouths of those bumbling, blaspheming fools at the altar is something else. Now that's a miracle.
Our lives are nothing apart from grace. We cannot really know grace unless we acknowledge our nothingness, the vapidity and vanity of our lives, our American Idol--something very few churches are willing to talk about. (Some gleefully acknowledge those... gays, secularists, Muslims, etc., are worse than nothing.) Then we see that everything is grace. And amid the presto-chango of renouncing all and receiving all (think Kierkegaard), our lives slowly come together into something real. Don't envy milquetoast faith. Go deep, go radical.
Phew. Thank God the rest were so nice. I love to play Bad Cop.

Alois E B said...

Hmm. I think I should have added that I am one of those bumbling, blaspheming fools at the altar. And that often, the whole thing strikes me as unreal, just as it does you. And that's ok. Whatever God is, God doesn't need our faith--an odd but perhaps appropriate message on Holy Saturday.