Hey, I’m linking up with Sarah Bessey today. The prompt is: “I used to think___ and now I think ____”. Sarah’s new book is out! It’s called, Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith and it’s all about this process of being recovering know-it-alls, and allowing our faith to be in a constant state of growth. It’s now available on amazon. Go get it. 🙂
“When I was a child, I thought like a child, I talked like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put my childish ways behind me. Now we see in part, as into a mirror dimly, then we shall see clearly. Now we know in part, then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.” – the Apostle Paul
Whether it was literal young earth six-day creationism, or women preachers, or strict gender roles, or gay people, or the gifts of the Holy Spirit, or Harry Potter—there were specific Bible verses that could be pointed to in order to back up my argument. When I look back at that time, it seems—well, childish. I don’t mean that in a belittling way. Just that I was naïve, binary, and literal in my thinking, just like all children are. I also thought that math was stupid (because it was hard) and that girls were better than boys (because I was a girl), and that everyone was either good or bad. It’s the way things go when you’re a kid.
And then, basically, I grew up.
I actually had a little bit of life. The rubber hit the road. And then my thinking started to shift.
Until you actually get married, have someone prophesy over you, read Harry Potter for yourself, have a friend who’s gay, or study biology—these thoughts you think are all just neat and tidy abstract arguments. Of course they sound lovely and hermeneutically tight, simple, and straightforward. But when you’re actually living, then it’s like….
“Oh, I thought this part was so essential, but it’s actually so peripheral. Why was I staking so much on that?!”
For example, before we got married, I was freaked out about gender roles. I was freaked out because I had consumed enough Christian marriage books to be like, “David has to be the leader in every single thing, and if he’s not the leader in everything then we are destroying God’s plan for marriage and we are doomed and our marriage will only last five minutes!” Basically, I’m an outgoing, bossy, idea- action-oriented person, and I’m married to someone who is super chill (except when playing board games). And in my head, it was all a slippery slope. If David didn’t instigate every decision in our dating relationship, then it was only going to get worse in marriage and eventually I might be leading or something (whatever that means) and our marriage wouldn’t survive one argument.
Yes, I think this catastrophically about most things, actually.
So I was all like, “What do you think about roles in marriage? What are our views on complimentarism and egalitarianism?! Where do we stand on this?! We have to figure this ALL. OUT. NOW.” And my super chill then-boyfriend was like, “I really don’t think it’s that big of a deal. It doesn’t matter because we’ll figure out what works for us. As long as we’re both seeking God, and both committed to serving each other in love, I don’t think it matters where we stand on this issue.”
We’ll figure out what works for us.
And we have. We did.
I don’t know what label to stick on our marriage, but I know we’re a team. I shouldn’t steamroll David in decision-making not because he’s a man and I’m a woman, but because I love him and we’re a team. He values my ideas and invites them, and I show patience and wait for his ideas. We come up with a system that works for us. When you’re married to your best friend, you’re their biggest cheerleader, and you sacrifice to see their dreams come true—he does that for me and I do that for him.
And I actually think most healthy marriages are like that. You can stick a label on it, but the contents are probably frighteningly similar: love, service, respect, humility, teamwork.
Just because you can point to one cherry-picked verse to back up your stance on an issue doesn’t mean it’s true. And equally, just ignoring portions of scripture because they rattle your assumptions or demand something counter-cultural or difficult from you isn’t any better. There’s a whole bunch more than just our experiences that go into making sense of what the Bible is saying. But our experiences are a part of it. I hesitate to say I’m just pragmatic when it comes to how I interpret the Bible…but in one sense, I am. If it doesn’t make sense of real life, it doesn’t make sense. Or, as Sarah says in her book Out of Sorts “If it isn’t true for a woman in Haiti, it isn’t true.”
I don’t think the Bible is wrong about anything. But I’m pretty sure I could be wrong about something in the Bible.
But then someone gives us one of those Christian marriage books, and I start to feel really guilty. Like maybe we’re doing something wrong. Sorting through isn’t easy.
So yes, sometimes I feel terrible, as if I’ve betrayed my parents’ faith because I’m letting go of some of the things I believed when I was thirteen. Like most kids, I came to most of my original beliefs because of my parents. We had James Dobson books, and creation science magazines, and Christian pop-culture kids devotional books. And so I worry, and I stew, and I think things, and then panic that maybe I’m going off the edge and down the slippery slope of poor hermeneutics and I’m going to be some kind of liberal something who thinks the Bible is just a nice story and Jesus was a fairy-tale and that’s it. Who wants their Bible professor Dad to call out their poor hermeneutics?
But then I wonder how much of what I’m so afraid of letting go of is stuff my family really believed, and how much is shadows blown up in my mind by the Christian media I consumed or my own memory.
I remember visiting a friend once when I was a kid, and her mother asking me in fascination if my family was Fundamentalist (I picture it with a capital F). I had heard the word before, but I asked her what she meant.
“I mean,” she said, with a sort of morbid curiosity, “does your family take the Bible literally? Like, do they actually believe those things happened and the Bible is the word of God?”
And I said, “Uh, I think so?”
This is what I think she heard:
“Oh my gosh, this person would actually would stone someone for sinning.”
This is what I meant:
“We don’t think the Bible is a made-up fairy story, we think it’s true. But the Bible has history and poetry and letters of instruction in it, so we don’t take the poetry literally, and we don’t apply instructions to ourselves that God gave to Israel at a specific time and place. We look at the context. And God didn’t speak words that magically appeared on paper, people wrote it under the inspiration of his Spirit.”
I think we were eating spaghetti at the time. I had most of these thoughts in my head, but I was thirteen and this was an adult, and all I had was the feeling I didn’t say the right thing.
My family always treasured true fundamentalists (in the etymological sense of the word: adhering to basic principles) – people who understood Jesus, who kept his death and resurrection central, who trusted him only for their salvation, and who strove to interpret the Bible faithfully.
When I start to worry that letting go of some peripheral belief might be betraying my upbringing, I remember the other parts of my childhood. The parts where Narnia and Anne of Green Gables was read with just as much enthusiasm as our children’s devotionals. Where every holiday we would wake up to breakfast and find a stack of books, fresh off the press, just our reading level, full of stories of Harriet Tubman and Jackie Robinson and Jo March and the Princess and the Goblins. I think of how imagination and empathy were encouraged.
I think of the times my Mom rounded us up to do science experiments, because our schools didn’t have as much hands-on learning, of the World Book Encyclopedias lining our bookshelves, of the way she would tell us, “Just go look it up, don’t ask me.” I think of how curiosity and experimentation and the scientific method were valued.
I think of all the questions I had: “Why does God make people if he’s only going to send them to hell? Where did Satan come from? Why did Jesus have to die? Why do we have free will?” And I remember how my Dad would lean back in his chair, and smile, and cock his head and fold his hands and say, “Hmm. Those are really good questions. There aren’t easy answers for those questions.” And then he would sit and think for a while and then he would say, “Well, what do you think?”
And I would tell him.
And then after that he would say, “A lot of good, smart people, disagree on these things. Here’s what some of them think…” He valued the questioning. He encouraged us to look at different perspectives. He was never an all-or-nothing kind of guy. When his students at the Bible college imitated him, they would always smile and pretend to be weighing something in both hands : “Well, on the one hand…. but on the other…..” I think of how intellectual humility, and an appreciation for grey areas were modeled.
So when I worry that maybe in my “sorting out” of my faith that I’ve let go of the faith of my childhood—I realize I haven’t. That’s a childish fear. I’m living firmly in what my parents gave me: an understanding of a personal relationship with a loving and fiercely good God who wants to rescue this world that’s hostage to sin, and sadness, and brokenness, and death. And as long as I’m growing, that’s what counts.
All that other stuff? It isn’t fundamental.
Like I said, the Bible isn’t wrong, but I might be.
PS. Sarah’s book is out now! You can buy it for yourself on amazon. I was lucky enough to get a free copy early on the premise that if I liked the book I would write about it. Um. I liked the book. A lot. I really think you’ll like it, too! (check out my “bookshelf” page to see a review).
PPS. You can head on over to Sarah’s blog and read other people’s thoughts on the book, too!