If I were to write a memoir, I imagine it would be very similar to this one.
Rachel Held Evans is one of my new favorite writers/bloggers (Check out her blog here!). I'm not sure, but it seems we might get along very well.
Held Evans' memoir is about her journey through faith, and as I mentioned, is remarkably paralleled with mine. She was well versed in apologetics throughout high school, could argue why her faith was so logical, went to a Christian college where it seems you would leave with a whole lot more answers than questions...but that was not necessarily the case. Eventually, she began to ask a lot of questions (as the title implies), and through confusion and ambiguity, her faith evolved into something completely different then where she had started from.
If you want to know the truth, I was waiting for a book like this. Because there's a certain part of me that wonders if there is any place for me in the evangelical church anymore. My ideas are often very different from those that I meet with, and it seems that there is no room for questions. I'm talking about the hard questions--what we think about creationism, the current political climate, abortion, poverty, etc. For a lot of people, these might be cut and dry issues. But I have found that the more information I get, the more perspectives I listen to, the more I realize that my very narrow experience is different from a large part of the world. And this shakes you. And if I've noticed anything, it is that when you disagree with general Christian culture, you are labeled a heretic. People smile nicely and nod, but wonder if you have a few screws loose. I know how to "blend in" well enough--that is, I know the jargon, I know what I "should" say. I know the line of reasoning, and I know what the response will be if I were to tell people what I REALLY think. I know how to play the game. And I imagine that is the scariest part--because where does "playing the part" end, and authenticity begin--where differences of opinion are celebrated and embraced and not feared? And why is difference so threatening?
My senior year of college I was beginning to learn about the social construction of gender and this whole idea of biblical equality. I was having a debate with a young man who believed very strongly in complimentary gender roles (the idea that men and women each hold a set of opposite traits that "compliment" each other). I had adhered to this idea for a long time, went to a church that strongly supported it, but when presented with the egalitarian viewpoint, the arguments for complimentary roles seemed, well like a bunch of hooey. During the discussion I raised a lot of my concerns with the complimentary viewpoint, but the end result of the conversation was "Crazy feminist-you're-only-mad-because-you're-a-woman and you're-not-really-a-Christian" sort of a feeling. UGH. I might not have taken it that way if this was an isolated incident, but it turned out a LOT of people I talked to had the same sort of mentality. I went and talked with my professor about it because I was so frustrated with the situation. It wasn't necessarily that he disagreed with me, but more so that he couldn't even fathom the possibility that things might be outside of what he thought. She told me that for some people, they are too afraid to ask questions. Because the possibility that they might have to let go, that they might have to give up everything they know, is too much. Their faith is brittle. Can you even call that faith if you can explain it?
But God is bigger than that.
My professor gave me permission to ask questions. And I did. I asked a LOT of them. And as a result, my faith changed in dramatic ways. And if you want to know the truth, Jesus' face became a lot clearer, but everything in the peripherals--the letters where Paul talks about women's roles, the origins of the human race, what God thought about homosexuality--they became a lot more fuzzy.
Shortly after, one of my other professors came in for a guest lecture in my Sociology of Gender class. He is a Mennonite. He spoke about how the Mennonites believe in a Christocentric theology. That is, Jesus and the Gospels are the center, and all truth and understanding is measured in light of that. They believed in doing what Jesus did. Evangelicals (while they might claim to be Christocentric) tend to be more Paul-centric. That is, so much of our rules and moral code is based off of verses out of Paul's letters (case in point: supportive verses for sex before marriage, women's role in ministry, homosexuality, swearing, etc. can be found). A student raised her hand and asked him what he believed about homosexuality. Was it right? Was it wrong? And he pointed back to the fact that the Mennonites believed that Jesus was the center, and that it was our job on earth to do what Jesus did. And Jesus never comments on it. He spoke in crowds to thousands of people, had ample amount of time to talk about it, or if he did it was never recorded. It all went back to Jesus--and He is the only place I found comfort when it felt like all my questions were going to make my faith-world unravel.
We spend very little time talking about giving up our possessions, feeding the poor, or leaving our families for the sake of Jesus--things Jesus actually spent a lot of time talking about. In fact, we spend a lot of time talking about the "wiggle room" for how to avoid these sorts of subjects--trying to explain them away, or ignore them completely. I imagine that is because it is a lot easier to sit around and condemn everyone else than get up and do something. I am guilty of this as much as anyone.
I understand that people could read the above paragraphs and write me off as full of blasphemy or hypocrisy or whatever code words you want to use for "not really a Christian." Do you not believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God you might ask? But that's the very point of Rachel Held Evans' book. Our faith must be able to ebb, flow, evolve. Once she began to ask questions, she found that she had a lot more. But the thing I have found is that the more questions I ask, and the more vague and uncertain the answers, it gets a lot less scary to live in ambiguity. In fact, it is so much more exciting. Because it you ask a question that might not have an answer in this lifetime, your faith is not shattered--it is flexible and fluid enough to sustain the impact of questioning. I nearly lost my faith, because frankly, God was in a very boring, explainable box. I find that through admitting I don't know, it takes a lot less work to try to separate myself from "those" people who believe THAT particular dogma (*gasp!*). Difference in opinion is less scary, and becomes more about what I can learn from someone then the "absolute truth" I have to defend at all costs (because we feel like we are at war). If God wants us to find it, we will. But sometimes I think God is a lot more interested in the process and struggle and journey we go through to find answers then the actual answers themselves.
I imagine that ambiguity is scary. But it can also be exciting, because it can be refreshing to know that you don't have to figure it all out. Thank you, Rachel for being honest about your questions, for being okay with the unknown, and ready to embrace what is to come.
"Doubt is a difficult animal to master because it requires that we learn the difference between doubting God and doubting what we believe about God. The former has the potential to destroy faith; the latter has the power to enrich and refine it. The former is a vice; the latter a virtue." (pg. 219)