I celebrated my birthday this past weekend, a time which always makes me look back at the last year of my life thus far and get a bit introspective.
There were some big things that happened – the birth of my son, a scary experience after his birth with an emergency surgery and multiple blood transfusions for me. Friends had babies, my husband’s law practice continued to grow, my daughter started preschool.
My Christian faith has done a lot of growing and changing in the last year. I was raised with Christian parents, going to Sunday school, AWANAs and youth group since before I could remember. And I was always into it. I heard from the church that I was made by God, and loved by God, and I believed it. I felt loved and secure in that love which greatly shaped my identity. In my youth, my faith was very inwardly focused – with an emphasis on my daily devotional times, Bible reading and individual prayer life. I went to church and youth group where we worshipped and prayed together, but the real “meat and potatoes” of my faith was private. I was supposed to be witnessing to the lost, but always felt a bit awkward about that.
From my church culture, I absorbed a very exclusive Christianity. It was black and white on who was in and who was out. I honestly didn’t even think Catholics were “real Christians,” (which is hilarious, since the Catholic church preceded my Protestant denomination by… a bit). Going to a Catholic University and meeting friends and getting involved in the University Ministry department there blew the lid off that line of thinking. Also in college, I met my first (openly) gay friend, learned about worldwide events and tragedies like Darfur, and had my eyes opened to economic and racial inequalities. I started to see that my little daily quiet times reading the Bible were not where my faith was solely supposed to be focused.
Since then, my faith has shifted and changed a lot. It feels like a lot of that has solidified over this past year, but truly most it has been a long time coming. Since watching a documentary called “For the Bible Tells Me So,” while in college, my views on homosexuality have 180’d. I went from thinking that being gay was a sin and a forbidden lifestyle, to fully embracing LGBTQ people as wonderfully made Children of God, deserving of all dignity and freedom in life, love and marriage. I’ve come to learn about the plight of LGBTQ people in our country – the higher rates of suicide and murder, bullying, homelessness, and discrimination in the workplace. It’s heartbreaking to me, especially, to see the Church be known, more often than not, as a place of judgment and closed doors to this group of people.
My attitude toward the Bible has changed greatly over the years, but most especially this last year as I’ve read several books on the topic. Rob Bell’s “What Is the Bible?,” Pete Enns’s “How the Bible Actually Works,” and Rachel Held Evans’s “Inspired,” were eye-opening to me. Growing up, I used to think the Bible was to be taken literally, I believed in a 7-day Creation story (which meant a young earth, not billions of years old), that a worldwide flood truly happened with 2 of every animal on the planet shoved into one boat, etc etc. I plan to write a whole post on this topic, since I’ve learned so much and want to synthesize and process that more here, but suffice it to say that my views have changed.
I no longer believe that the Bible was ever intending to be a science book, or even an accurate history book. The Bible is a collection of 66 books with over 30 authors, some books completely full of poems, or apocalyptic literature (which is highly symbolic). The various writers of the Bible were all limited-brained human beings, like myself, who were having spiritual encounters with God and trying to make sense of God. You can see, plainly, within the Bible itself, that they are figuring it out, and stories change over time. There are stories told repeatedly in the Old Testament of the same event, with details changed, showing a progression of thought and ideas into the true character of God. The original telling was later believed to be wrong, to have come up short, and over the generations a clearer picture of God emerged (however blurry it continues to be).
So I don’t take the Bible literally, but I take it seriously. A lot of Christians make the Bible an idol, and questioning it will get you cut out of the prayer circle faster than you can say “God bless you.” I read it without putting pressure on it to be a “How to be a Christian Guidebook,” or a science book or perfectly told history book. I look at the bigger themes, the stuff that comes up often and repeatedly, like God’s heart for the poor, the foreigner, the downtrodden. I look at it as a collection of people experiencing God and trying to figure out the great mysteries of life and spirituality, but not landing on solid answers. Then I don’t find myself awkwardly defending God’s supposed orders to kill people all the time in the Old Testament, like wayward sons, people who worked on the Sabbath, and full blown genocides of entire people groups who were unfortunate to be in the Israelities’ way. I don’t see it as picking as choosing what to look at or believe, so much as I see it as interpreting what I’m reading through a new lens. I believe that we are tasked with reading the Bible using our discernment and with wisdom, engaging with and challenging the text.
More than anything, my faith perspective over the last year has shifted to be much more outwardly focused. My parents had our family volunteer at soup kitchens now and then, out of our Christian beliefs, and I volunteered in college for various non-profits. But the major focus of my faith was always still on myself and my personal, independent relationship with God. Over this last year especially, I’ve come to believe that my faith is not about me much at all. Of course I still have personal things to deal with, and I try to invite God into those situations with meditation and prayer. However, I’ve come to see God’s great big, wide open heart for all of humanity, and I’ve realized that I need to be concerned for all of humanity as well.
The Bible talks often of reconciling ALL of creation to God, of restoring all the nations, even the cosmos, to God’s original plan for creation, with everyone living in harmony with each other and with the natural world. So I need to care about global warming, pollution and problems like deforestation (like we’re seeing so tragically done in the Amazon currently). I need to care about people outside of my groups – outside of my economic group (caring both about the super rich and what they’re doing and about those in poverty), outside of my ethnic group (caring about Hispanic immigrants, Black and brown lives and ongoing racial injustice), outside of my country, outside of my sexual and gender identity’s group, outside of my religious group. I care about everyone and everything in the world, just like God. Because I am moved by God’s particular, personal and individual love for me, and God’s shocking mercy and grace which I don’t deserve, I am driven to seek out God’s will and God’s heart for all creation.
And yes, that’s exhausting, and yes, I won’t come close to solving a single one of those issues. But I work at it in whatever small ways I can, knowing that God is at work in this world through God’s people. The Christian faith is meant to have legs, and to be constantly on the lookout for ways to spread the Good News of Jesus: that all of humanity is incredibly loved by God from the moment of our creation, before we ever open our mouths, and that God is quick to mercy and forgiveness and longs to bring us into wholeness and a fuller life.
I am solidly in my mid-30s now, and by no means have figured out this whole thing called life. But I’ve learned to hold onto things loosely. Both my material possessions, remaining unattached to things so I’m never too upset if something gets stolen/lost/broken, and my intellectual and spiritual beliefs, so I’m not so rigidly stuck to an idea that new information coming along cannot be processed and considered. Thank God for growth, for counseling, for more educated people than myself who write books, for my church and friends who push and challenge me.
Here’s to the next year!