Re-Being Christian, Part IV
I’m transitioning from being a friendly, drifting Agnostic to being an earnest and fretful Believer. I’m wrestling with Christian faith and for the record that comes with a fair amount of thinking about things. Who knew? Did you?
What can I say about the journey so far? I have been praying a lot, reading more, and going to church with greater consistency – even to annual meetings, and we all know how boring those can be. Depending on whom you ask, I’m either on the right track, or else completely wasting my time as well as endangering my brain.
I spend a lot of time wondering if I’m good enough. I have been telling myself that I must be, because I would recommend everyone I know, and a very many I’ve never even met – all of whom are nonetheless imperfect in their own way – to God’s good graces. And that is no small thing.
I can’t hold myself to a different standard just because I’m not other people. I am a member of those other people’s other people, after all. If I am to hope for real peace in my life, and a general forgiveness for my sundry daily shortcomings, I should extend that peace and forgiveness to others, and then make sure to count myself among them.
My rational mind, in this endeavour to get back to feeling faith as an adult who has been told a bit too much at times, keeps looking for an enemy. It sees straw men everywhere, in the forms of how faith became religion, and then was used to justify prejudices and atrocities and crimes and things. Church is bad, m’kay? This is what a lot of us now say.
I could join in and beat the stuffing out of those giant straw men, but others have them quite covered, so I’ll move on and then hopefully forward. The same trick after all has been done many times with arguably good philosophical ideals that led to political theories, and then on to power structures, run by power-hungry people, and then all the fighting about who has the better structure to acquire and wield that power – as though that’s where the conversation had intended to go from the beginning. No, that’s where we made it go. There was a seed idea, once. The planting is often the problem. Finding good and common ground.
Careful of the babies you might toss out with your bathwater, is what my conscience sometimes says, when I have become a bit black-and-white judgey. There is nothing wrong with having an ideal- whether it be spiritual or political, embodied in a young person in the desert or a true statement or a keen observation made over coffee – but never forget how quickly we (Humans) can take something good and make it thoroughly not-so.
Hence the daily vigil against my own worst tendencies.
I wake up most mornings slightly angry with myself and the world, if you want to know the truth. Anger of course starts with fear (thank you Master Yoda), and that can all lead to the Dark Side, left unchecked. Pretty simple pneumonic to start with and then stick to.
I am afraid of losing our house; I am afraid of losing my job; I am afraid of losing my health; I am afraid of losing my loved ones to sickness and age; I am afraid of not making it through the narrow gate; I am afraid of wasting my gifts on sloth and indecision and a fondness for shiny new ideas; I am afraid of this burning in Hell for eternity thing some Christians like to consider an indelible part of the story of God’s eternal love. I am afraid of getting cancer. I am afraid of misunderstanding as well as being misunderstood. I am afraid of misspeaking. I am afraid of saying too little, too late.
If fear leads to anger then by my reckoning I must be a pretty angry man. And yet, I go through most days as though everything is fine, except it often is not. I smell a fish somewhere.
Here is what I know about this generalized anger I carry around: it is not justified, but just created in the crucible of a frightened life. I procrastinate my way into problems, and sloth myself around once in them, and then I deflect blame for my unsettling circumstances onto others, unconsciously or otherwise. Others have never really harmed me – I own that job most completely. Go away – I got this.
Some time ago, when I had finally gotten sufficiently sick of expecting myself to be my own rock – that is, when I realized that I couldn’t be that anymore than I could manage to pick myself up off the very ground I’d need under me in order to do it – I walked myself back into a church.
I had done this through practice runs in the past – walking into random churches. I wrestled at first with denominational ignorance. As a Catholic, would I be allowed to attend, or even enter, an Anglican church? Weren’t we at war with one another, somewhere in Ireland, or was that just an Irish thing? Will there be little breads there? Will I be permitted to take one? Would the Protestants be able to smell the Catholic fear on me? Could they do that?
Well these were all certainly questions. I had never been told much about other Christians, as a Catholic, after all. I knew about non-Catholicism by virtue of knowing about Catholicism. I assumed Other Christians also prayed to God, but had different ways of doing so that we must not have been in entire agreement about. I knew there were non-Christians too who believed in [G/g]od(s). I assumed they were like me in some ways, but not in others. Beyond that, I knew nothing really, and didn’t much think to ask. I decided instead in my twenties to just start opening doors whenever I felt that I needed to check in with God, whom I was otherwise on a break from, exploring life as a novice non-believer.
Can you believe that? What do you believe?
I have never really, really doubted that God exists, and so I have managed to be a terrible atheist for a while, and I have no idea what sort of Agnostic I’ve been for other whiles, since I can’t decide what Agnosticism is (should I even capitalize it, and would it want me to?), beyond seeing it as a desire to avoid commitment on the issue of Why We Are Here. I can relate to this, but the fence is no longer a comfortable place to sit, for some reason. I have been sitting too long.
I could follow trends and embrace another culture’s faith tradition, in the notion that mine is old and worn and therefore wrong, and the grass is always greener, you know.
I have no issue with that if that’s where you wish to go. We’re all born somewhere, but who is to say if any of us were born into the place we really belong? Maybe this Life is a path-finding exercise. In fact, I’m certain it is. We all come here to begin finding our way home. Some of us might feel we landed on the wrong continent, or in the wrong time, or in the wrong body. Some of us no doubt feel as though we belong among the stars, and the animals here would be better off without us. We’ve certainly done some things.
I have no idea where you or I are meant to end up.
So I did some yoga, and tried some meditation. I read some books about mindfulness, and other things. I tried therapy, via a few therapists. I took medication. And I understood that all of it was potentially valuable to any given person at some particular points along the way. I could use more exposure to how others in other places contend with the questions and concerns and angers and fears that I do, certainly. So I went out and tried a sampler plate.
But I was born into Christianity – why not continue from where I was, once?
I don’t feel like a Buddhist who was accidentally born a Christian. I don’t feel like a Muslim who was accidentally born a Christian either. I don’t feel accidentally born, or randomly shuffled into the wrong skin or place or time. I think I am where I should be, and in what I should be. I can’t speak for anybody else – maybe I’m wrong about me, or just happened to land close to where I was supposed to wander, completely by accident, and so am not looking for radical abandonment of my own history. Not without a proper and thorough examination, in any case.
Sometimes, when I consider what God might be – if She or He can even be described in human terms – I imagine They are a point in space where truth is. Not space in a conventional sense, but a spiritual space. A source of truth, a source of light. Where Hope must come from. Where Love is to be found. Is it Out There or In Here? Everywhere, maybe between our very atoms? The wrong question for a 3-dimensional mind to attempt to answer with 3-dimensional thinking, I’m thinking.
If I am within the Christian sphere, I am looking for this point of truth and light and hope and love through a lens and from a direction and from a point of view and from a heritage and a tradition that is different than that employed by a person coming from elsewheres in these other things. I accept that their truth, and their own faith journey (whatever they have faith in) is their own.
Truth then in this model is located in a place that can be viewed from different directions, and might therefore have as many different faces and facets as there are directions to seek it from. It must appear different to different people, since none of us occupy the same Here and Now – for me to claim to know truth as it appears standing in your shoes is for me to claim we are the very same, or that truth is exceptionally flat, or something. I don’t think one Human life and one Human body are sufficient to see God in its totality.
So as a Christian, I choose to keep looking, and then asking my nearest neigbours – some of whom are Christian too and some of whom are certainly not – how best to better look. I am learning as I look around that Christianity, although certainly not the only game in town, is a bundle of thoughts, intentions, and contradictions on its own, more than enough to fill up a lifetime of seeking and learning – and so a decent source of inspiration, if nothing more, for a blogger earnestly searching for something to say, that might make a difference in somebody’s else’s day.