My Crisis of Christianity

I spent a long time angry at God because I was angry with other Christians.  I couldn’t understand how, if they spoke to God as they seemed to, and heard from God as they claimed to, they couldn’t understand God’s heart for other people.  How could God let Christians get away with the kind of cruelty they espoused towards others?  Towards me, my friends, strangers whose stories I’d heard?  Christianity seemed, to me, to be a big farce.  A way of slapping an “I’m okay” sticker on people’s most virulent behaviors.  It was okay to gossip in the name of God, judge in the name of God, castigate in the name of God.  It was okay to torment people as long as you were doing it to save them!

There had been a time that I had embraced the Evangelical lifestyle.  Handing out “Jesus Pamphlets” at the park, demanding that my friends recognize and leave their sins, burning all my non-Christian music and trying to read the right things.  The thing was, it made me miserable.  I had gone from a suicidal depression into a grudging last-resort relationship from God.  And that depression had deeply colored the way I viewed God.  I had seen God as wanting my life, but wanting it because he was the possessive Jealous God of the Old Testament.  I didn’t truly understand God’s love for me.  And the Christian lifestyle I’d adopted seemed to reinforce the idea that God didn’t particularly care for me.  Living without all of the things I loved- my fantasy novels, my music, my pride, my inert sense of what was and wasn’t appropriate behavior at the park…  These things all were impossible for me to deal with.

I took to forcing myself to live with Christianity with the same kind of zeal I attacked everything in my life.  I viewed my distaste for the lifestyle I was living as a challenge, a test of faith.  Sarcastically saying “Jesus is my boyfriend” as a way to justify my inability to have a relationship with the opposite sex was supposed to fulfil me.  I didn’t confront the fact that I ran away from relationships because I was terrified- I justified it with my faith.  Burning all of my old music and devoting myself to only pursuing what was “good and holy” was supposed to reinforce my devotion to God.  So burn the fact that it was leaving me bored, that all I had to listen to was what I saw as falsely cheerful tripe.  It was supposed to fulfill me, so it would.  I would “fake it till I made it” if it killed me.

And by the time I hit my late teens, it was certainly killing me.  I was back to listening to the music I liked.  So DMX and Staind and Nirvana weren’t on the approved list?  Oh well.  I was back to wearing the clothes I liked.  So tight tops and black lace skirts and leather knee high boots and pink hair weren’t a good Christian look?  (Not to mention the huge tattoo on my lower back…)  Oh well.  So being depressed and angry at God and thinking “Jesus will never fill this emotional hole in my gut” wasn’t the right attitude towards God?  Screw it.  So refusing to Evangelize and telling the people I was hanging out with that I didn’t care how they felt about Jesus, that was their business, is shirking my Christian duty?  By the time I started wrestling with that one, my attitude was to reply, “F***  IT.  I want to be able to be friends with my friends, get out of my faith.  I don’t want to talk about it!”

And for several years, I confused the above with having a crisis of Faith.  But, in the end, it wasn’t really a crisis of faith I was having.  It was a crisis of Christianity.  There is a famous Buddha quote that reads:  “Believe nothing merely because you have been told it.  Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be kind, conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings — that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide.”  That quote affected me profoundly.  So many of the tenats of faith I’d been raised with simply went contrary to my internal compass.  And who gave me that compass?  Who gave me my conscience?  Would God have created me to react so adversely to Christianity if he wanted me to be a Christian?  What in the world was going on here?

Then I realized something else.  The Bible has this to say:  (Romans 2:14-15)- Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. This verse has been used, for some time, to demonstrate that God guides man’s law by guiding his heart.  That written inside of each one of us is a code that can guide us to God’s heart for our lives.  And I, by trying to be what other people percieved as a Good Christian, was denying that code.  I was denying who God made me to be by trying to be who other people wanted me to be.

What I needed to do was seek after God’s heart for me, to leave behind the trappings of the Lindsey of Old and just try to be the best disciple I could.  But not a disciple of the church- a disciple of God himself, of Jesus.

(to be continued…)

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Hearing that elusive voice

I know I’ve heard God.  It was when I was little more than a child, barely even a preteen.  I was suicidal and going crazy.  I’d have these fits where I would hold my breath and hope to pass out because my insomnia was so bad I couldn’t sleep.  I was really losing it.  And there was this one time I got so angry, I was determined to get up and get a knife and just end it.  But there was this weight holding me down, and I started to panic because I couldn’t breathe.  A truck drove by and in the pattern of the light on the wall I saw an angel.

A voice said: “God wants your life, not your death.”

And I know God intervened.  At the time, I was trembling.  But it wasn’t from fear. It was anger.  I was so enraged that God wouldn’t protect me from being abused and he wouldn’t shield me from the torment of being thrown up against my abuser time and time again and he wouldn’t make it easier to talk to my family and he wouldn’t do a million things to make my life better when it could’ve spared me pain but THIS time, THIS time he intervened.  I hated him for it.

But I had nothing left to lose, so I gave him my life.  The action of an impudent child, sneering and saying, “yeah?  Well, PROVE IT.”

He did.  And I can call that my “burning bush” moment without even a hint of irony.  But the problem with burning bush moments is that you rarely get more than one.  You get that one moment, that one time when it will make the most difference, and then it goes away.  I have never in my life been as sure of God’s hand as I was then.  I’ve never felt his presence so keenly or heard an audible voice again.  There have been times I’ve begged him to be clearer, to talk to me the way he did that night.  But every time I sense the same reply, “you needed it then.  You don’t need it now.”

So I am left to seek out his voice however I can.  It’s maddening, sometimes.  It’s not a loud voice.  It’s very quiet, it’s very hard to truly listen to.  It’s hard to block out the noise and insanity.  It’s hard to put myself in the rate frame of mind and heart.  It’s especially hard to realize when I’ve STOPPED hearing it.

I spent most of the day yesterday fighting off tears, because I could hear that voice again.  Not as loudly as I did on my burning bush day, no, it was quiet and far away.  But it was unmistakable.  It was God telling me over and over that he loved me, was going to take care of me, I had to stop panicking, I had to do the right thing and forget about the cost, that he gave me my dreams and he didn’t do that just to kill them, that it was okay and I could trust him…

And I realized something.  I realized that it’s so easy to get comfortable with malaise and bitterness.  It’s so convenient to blame God!  Like a little toddler who throws a tantrum because she knows her parents will love and comfort her no matter how obnoxious she is, it’s easy for me to throw tantrums against God because I know he’s big enough to take it.  My relationship with God started off conflicted and in some ways it never stopped.

But today I am grateful.  I’m grateful that God spoke to me when he did, because had he saved me prior to my pain I never would have understand how badly I needed him.  He saved my life, he kept me alive, I can honestly say that I’d be dead of my own volition.  He allowed the world to use me badly because had I never been so broken I would never have become who I am today.

And I need to be this person, I need to use these gifts.

Everything is okay.

Now, can you hear that voice?  Listen.  He wants to speak to you, too.

the darker side of spirituality

One of my favorite books of the Bible is Ecclesiastes.  You know, the one that infamously starts with:

Meaningless, Meaningless, everything is meaningless…

When I first devoted myself to the pursuit of Christianity, I was suicidal.  I didn’t want to live anymore.  And (through a series of events I won’t delve into as they are deeply personal and this blog is not) I came to an agreement with God: he could have my life, because I didn’t want it anymore.

Thus began this grand adventure.  Not with angels singing and golden rain falling from the sky.  Not with exaltation and praise, not with tears of gratitude, not with love and hope and waking up in the morning feeling like a “new creation”- but with one very bitter pre-teen cursing at God and reluctantly offering him a chance to prove himself.  A chance, I might say, that took not hours or days or months but years to fulfill.  And then after the initial blush of happiness, I became highly dissatisfied with my fellow believers and regressed so fully and quickly I think I left bloody skidmarks at the altar.

Spirituality has a dark side.  That’s the story that most non-Christians don’t hear.  We like to tell them the happy ones- the ones that involve people who prayed for their nicotine addiction to be cured and were smoke free from that day on.  The homosexuals that went to “reparative therapy” and immediately loved the opposite gender and got married and had babies.  The single mom who came to church, found love, and repented of her old ways.  All of the “I used to be” those things and the “I once felt like” thats.  Those are the stories we print out in ten foot tall letters and bludgeon people with, making them feel insufficient when they don’t give up smoking or suddenly want to make love to the right gender or immediately leave their lifestyle for the proper one.  People feel guilty when they find themselves still fitting into the old mold.  They feel like it should be easier.

And let’s be honest- they feel that way because of us.  We’re lying to them.  Is God capable of curing a smoking habit?  Changing your sexuality?  Introducing you to Prince Charming?  Well, sure he is.  Is God going to do any of those things?

Why would God save me, just to have me struggle for the next eight years or so?  Why would God save my life just to have my life be filled with pain after pain?  Why didn’t God make me into a success story?  You could tell me my faith wasn’t enough, that I cursed myself with my own bitterness- but I don’t believe that for a second.  I believed that God could wake me up the next morning with a touch of hope, and he did- and that’s all he needed to do.  God didn’t have to make me a new creation over night for me to get the point.

And, honestly, I think that my eight years of struggle and still coming out loving Jesus and wanting to make a difference in the Church and the world at large is a far greater testament than had I simply ceased to be suicidal and become one of those plasticine Happy White Christian Girls.  I struggled.  And God preserved me through that struggle.  And I could read Ecclesiastes and (ahem) get it, and appreciate it, and that was good.  It was good because it has made me capable of being someone to other people that I couldn’t be if my battles were less hard-won.

Sometimes you need to hit the trenches.  You need to get your hands dirty.  You need to be broken.  After all- we’re reaching out to the lost and neglected, the rejected and despised- what makes us think that we shouldn’t be there, where they are, at least part of the time?  What makes us think that we deserve to be saved, to not have to win our way through, to not have to learn dependency on God?  What makes us think that all we should have to do is be penitent for a few minutes for God to snap his fingers and fix everything?

When God does those miracles, that’s his grace and mercy.  It’s not standard operating procedure.

We need to be honest with ourselves.  We need to stop viewing periods of darkness and spiritual stillness as failure, and see them as phases that are necessary to our growth.  No one can sustain what Evangelicals call the “Mountaintop experience”.  No one is meant to live in twenty-four seven praise and giddiness.

Read Paul’s boasting about his sufferings in 2 Corinthians– do you think he felt that the Christian life should be one of success and prosperity?  Obviously he was being tongue in cheek and pretty badly lambasting the Corinthians for missing the point- but that is what fascinates me the most.  Because we’re missing the point, anyway.

Our success stories aren’t marriages fixed in a weekend seminar- they are couples bearing together for fifty years even when twenty of them are horribly difficult.  It’s not someone being “cured” of their alcoholism in a prayer meeting, it’s someone struggling with the temptation for most of their life and overcoming it a good percent of the time.  It’s not a homosexual whose orientation is “fixed”- it’s one who stays with the church despite feeling misunderstood and discriminated against, and keeps their love for Christ vibrant.  It’s not the prayer meetings where the “spirit comes down” that count- it’s people’s faithfulness for month after month after month, feeling spiritually dry and craving, feeling neglected by God, but showing up anyway- that’s success.

Success isn’t the sunny side of spirituality.  It’s holding on to the light, even through the darkest passages of our lives.

Next time you want to share your faith- don’t share the happy stories.  Talk about the struggle.  Then, talk about how it was worth it.