Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Last Gasps of My Faith?

I was reading a little more this morning in "Faith on the Edge" ... basically it addresses the "dark night of the soul" and tries to bring a coherent theology to a season of doubting, or loss of faith, in one's life. Like I said before, it's really well done. I've underlined a lot.

But it's sad to me that I'm not totally buying in. As I read, I'm continually aware that my dark night of the soul may indeed be the last gasps of my faith in the God of the Christian Bible (although I doubt I'll ever lose belief in God altogether and don't think I can ever call myself an atheist. Maybe, as Hitchens says, I'll be a "Protestant atheist." Simply not believing in the Protestant God.)

I read a chapter on Mother Teresa today which addressed her own decades-long experience of God's total absence. It was very dark for her, yet she continued her mission, eventually coming to embrace a theology of God's absence that described it as God's way of bringing her into total communion with those she served. She was in pain constantly, longing, longing, longing for God, longing for the joy and consolation that His presence brings, and never getting it. She was unbearably lonely and sad. And this, she eventually believed, mirrored the constant state of the desperately poor in Calcutta... a life of total disappointment, little (if any) real joy, deep darkness, and of course, no relationship to God. (The book explains it better that I have.)

So she came to believe God was allowing this in her life so that she would be completely in sync with those God had called her to serve.

My epiphany was this: Mother Teresa was just depressed. Deeply, severely clinically depressed. She couched her depression in religious terms -- absence of God, dark night of the soul -- but if you take away the religious language you get DEPRESSION which, after all, would be a completely normal and rational human response to the poverty and desperation that marks life in Calcutta and many other places of the world.

If you work amongst the lowest of the low, see constant unrelenting pain and suffering all around you, devote your life to it, and yet never see any evidence of the situation changing, OF COURSE you'd be depressed if you had even the most basic humanity in you.

So where Mother Teresa finds "absence of a tangible experience of God," I find "evidence that the God you believe in never existed."

This is tough stuff.

I will leave the Mother Teresa topic now for another that I discovered in this book. The author talks about how Christians often treat God like the genie in a bottle, here to meet our needs. We pray and petition him because we need stuff. But when you have a dark night (experience total absence of God) you no longer have a genie. God is no longer at our beck and call. The author says this teaches us to put God back in his place—it forces us to remember who is servant and who is master. So the “dark night” can help transform a self-serving faith into a God-serving one.

But what if the dark night clarifies for me that my concept of a genie-God was so wrong because Christians taught me wrongly? And that in fact, the Christian God doesn’t exist and there is no genie anywhere, and I’m better off coming to terms with that fact?

Because of my work and my circle of friends, I hang out in groups of Christians all the time, and it amazes me how much people are constantly begging God for stuff: safe travels, and healing for illness, and wisdom for job decisions, and strength to deal with tough family situations, and financial miracles. The petitions are constant and unending and so many of them go unanswered… how can anyone possibly justify believing in a God who capriciously decides to answer some prayers and not others? How can you possibly believe in an interventionist God and actually think he’s “good” when it’s clear how often he doesn’t intervene?

I am so tired of the whole Christian “thing” of trying to make every argument go away. As Hitchens describes it, it’s a constant effort to fit square pegs in round holes. To make non-sensical things have the illusion of making sense.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

My Career in Christianity . . . Amidst a Loss of Faith

I am experiencing a deep and profound crisis of faith, and it is far more agonizing than I thought it could be.

However, the easy part is continuing to work in the world of Christianity. I can manage the disconnect between my work and my spiritual life just fine. I'm able to see that this Christian stuff is deeply held and more importantly, deeply needed by so many people I care about, that I have no need to take it away from them. In fact, I'm perfectly comfortable continuing to feed them what they need (which is my work).

But the crisis is so deep and so hard, and I don't get any opportunity to talk about it out loud without putting someone else at risk. My church book club last night was hard for me because the Chan book opens up so many areas I'd really, really like to discuss - with full, brutal honesty. And it would be brutal. But instead I had to figure out how to be "not me" in a major way as I led the discussion into this book. I had to lead them "deep" without revealing any of what my real thoughts were. It was a challenge, but mostly, preparing for it just reminded me how deep this crevasse is that I've fallen into, and I don't know how to find my way out.

Well, I do actually.

But anyway, it's not the disconnect between faith and work that's hard. It's simply the inability to be "real" in most of my conversations, and hence, it is all the more difficult to navigate the spiritual crisis.

I'm reading a little book now, "Faith at the Edge" by Robert Wennberg. It has a cool cover too. He totally validates my current experience as a true "dark night of the soul" and doesn't offer platitudes. He acknowledges again and again that part of what constitutes a true spiritual crisis is that it truly does bother you to the point of being agonizing at times. (That's me.) We cannot be accused of simply "not trying hard enough" or "not spending enough time in prayer or in the word." Spiritual crisis is real, and we did not cause it. But I think he ends up by saying, "Don't worry, you're still a Christian" and I'm worried  will not be a Christian as I find my way out of this.

I listened carefully as the women in our group shared what the bok Heaven is for Real means to them. And it was so powerful to see how they are moved and touched and encouraged by this story. Why would I want to take that away from them? (I was never the kind of mom to remove a security blanket or a much-needed thumb-sucking habit. I figured if they need the comfort, let 'em have it.) So I am encouraged that my work is still meaningful in that it helps people and encourages them. (But I really, truly detest the existence of that book Heaven is For Real.)

There is a huge disconnect. I have nobody to talk to, to share these thoughts with. And it's just not fun.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Crazy Love . . . Really?

I'm reading Crazy Love by Francis Chan because I have to lead a discussion of it in my crappy church-lady book club.


It's torture reading it. I hate it.

I keep asking myself how to take the "good" from these books and simply ignore the parts I don't resonate with. But it's like separating the coffee from the cream once they're mixed. Too hard.

Once I admitted to myself that I couldn't believe in a personified God, and that I truly believe all religions are human-created stories for the purpose of making sense of our experience, I was just "done." Christianity is awesome for giving people comfort and hope but it no longer gives me either one of those. I'm having a hard time figuring out how to land in a place like Borg or even McLaren, disbelieving parts of Christianity but keeping the heart of it.

I can't make it make sense. Sadly, Dawkins and William Lobdell have resonated with me stronger than anything else I've read.

Every argument that ends in "too bad - that means you won't be in heaven" feels so silly to me because I can't believe in heaven. And that's what Francis Chan does...he lays on the guilt really thick, saying basically most church goers are "lukewarm" Christians, meaning they're not Christians at all, and he says "and we won't see you in heaven."

Then he says - "but I'm not trying to make you feel guilty!"

Ugh. What a load of bullshit.

My challenge this Tuesday will be to lead this discussion in a way that is actually helpful for these women.

By the way, it's not that I don't believe in a "more." I've always thought there was a spiritual realm. But I think I'm pretty much a new-ager at heart and always have been.

If I'm wrong, I guess I won't get to see my friends in heaven.