Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Look Back at Where I've Been

There has been a lot of looking back this year. We look back and mark 10 years of marriage. As I arrive in Indonesia I look back at my childhood here and life as a tck. I have also been looking back at the story arc of my faith.

Funny, when I look back I know what made my childhood so wonderful and how profound that childhood faith was. I also understand my post-college resentment, my questions, the way I pushed back against so much.  I recently read a book called The Post-Church Christian, by the Nyquists, father and son. It's a dialogue between generations, reflecting the dialogue that has gone on between father and son in real life. Carson is trying to explain his generation's (and his own) disillusionment with the Church, Dr. Nyquist is responding. 

I, like Carson, am of the post-church generation, and much of what Carson describes is a part of my story as well. I grew up a part of a conservative evangelical community. My faith was deeply rooted, for a kid, practiced in daily disciplines and celebrated in relationship with others who were on the same journey. God was close, real, and deeply satisfying. Life was filled with joy. I was given a beautiful childhood.

When I started blogging just after college I was entering the journey of so many in my generation and pulling away from the childhood community. Most of the West is a post-Christian society, and my generation of those who grew up in a devoted Christian community are in turmoil, some leaving altogether, some becoming "religious" but pushing against the church, some finding satisfaction in a change of denomination, and some staying. I was angry with American Christians, cynical about missions, and frustrated with my evangelical alma mater. I pushed away from everything I had known and I blogged through my frustrations and my search into the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox church. Some of you started reading me then.

On the other hand, some of what Carson says my generation is angry about, I simply didn't experience.  My generation wants brutal honesty and reality, that is true. I was given that gift growing up and didn't feel like I had to hide flaws and be perfect. I saw that being true in Dallas, but it wasn't my story.  I do not feel that the church hurt me, or that the Christians in my life were hypocritical. There were some, sure, who were hiding addiction and sin, but most of the Christians I grew up with loved deeply, powerfully, sacrificially. If anything, that kept me and my friends closer to the church, loathe to hurt those that we loved and respected that had loved us. Most Christians I was around were not Sunday Christians, whose faith meant nothing to the rest of their lives. On the contrary, their faith informed their entire lives.

There were other complaints, mostly having to do with the culture of Christians in America in particular. In any case, I was wrestling, and so were many, many people around me. When I stepped foot back in Indonesia for the first time since highschool graduation, it was 8 years ago. I remember sitting at the watertower watching the sun set with Rachel and Isaac and saying that I felt like I had dug down and down, throwing out so much of what I previously thought was Christian and now saw as cultural. I said that I just didn't really know where to go from there, now that I was at the bottom of that well.

I suppose less has changed from those days than you might think. I couldn't care less about evangelicalism. Am I an evangelical, am I not? Don't care. Conservative Christian American politics? Still make me angry most of the time. I still get all angsty and ranty when the internet explodes over Baltimore or the legalization of gay marriage, usually because I don't like the way Christians are publicly responding. I still am okay with a well-placed "damn" and would be happy to have a beer with you – or more likely, a caipirinha. I still react with reservation to stories of emotional spiritual experiences,  I still roll my eyes at cheesy memes, and I often feel like the odd one out culturally and doctrinally amidst the various religious communities I am a part of.

Actually, my struggle with the wonderful communities I grew up with is that they were perhaps too faith-filled. Please understand. As I moved into a secular society the   between the Christians and the world was so stark. It seemed Christians, if anything, were so heavenly-minded that they were of no earthly good. They were unrelateable to the average person who was uninterested in the Bible or church. They were so involved in Christian activities, schools, programs, camps, and media, that they had no point of intersection or relationship with the rest of the world. That's a part of evangelicalism that I still dislike. In reaction to an increasingly secular society, they built a safe Christian counterpart. I didn't like it, or rather, I might have liked the Christian counterpart but I hated the division and separation it created.  The world doesn't need separated saints, they need love in their midst. They need Jesus. It seemed to me that Jesus wouldn't be in the separated subculture but ... in the world.

I have, however, also been dissatisfied with the post-church community. I see blame, anger, rants, and a re-creation of God and the words of the Bible to whatever fit their own personal preferences. I don't want a God made in my own image, I want to know God, in all of His holiness and love and power, no matter how inconvenient and unsettling He is.

And, over time, what I believe became more important than what I disagree with. That need to separate myself, to make sure I proved all the ways I was different from what I didn't like about some Christians or churches, well, I'd say some of that was a sort of adolescence. As I moved into adulthood I could understand that of course I am different and there are disagreements, there's no need to be defined by it. For every Mark Driscoll or Franklin Graham that makes me cringe there's a Tim Keller or an N.T. Wright or Jen Hatmaker who gives me hope.  I echo Sarah Bessey. My life is "sacred and beautiful, sure, I'll say that, but also slow and daily and sometimes monotonous, too. But even in that ordinary work, I keep trying to give shape to the new world, to the dangerous possibilities of living our lives right now as if God saved everything, as if it is all redeemed or being redeemed."

8 years later and I am still a part of it all. A defining moment for me was listening to Christians sing the Nicene Creed. Thanks to a husband getting his graduate degree in early church history and my own research into the development of the Church, I knew that the creed had been held to by Christians since it was set up as a public definition of what the church believed in 381 AD. It wasn't just this small corner of emotional folks standing around me who knew little about history or philosophy or theology - this has been the creed of the church for over 1600 years. 

I listened and then joined in singing in tears, realizing that for all the peripheral issues that were so divisive to me at the time, this I believed, this WE believed, and this we always have believed. There was peace there, and joy. Because, for one thing, after discovering that underneath all that resentment of the culture, I believe and follow this Jesus, well, then anyone else who follows this man Jesus and the core of Christian orthodoxy is my brother and sister. And, it so happens, the communities I was in do claim Christian orthodoxy. 

And then, eventually, there was a humbling and a clearer view of my own heart, my own flaws. I saw how judgmental I was, how scornful of other people, how narcissistic, how unsubmissive in my heart. Now as I am amazed by the fact that through Jesus' death I am saved and made holy and pure and a child of God, and I am increasingly aware that all followers of Jesus will still be flawed humans. I am more amazed now that Jesus actually loves me and this mess of a church than that Christians are not, in fact, Jesus. 

8 years from that last visit to Indonesia there hasn't been a big epiphany, but because of God's quiet patient discipline of my heart, there has been a return to the disciplines of faith that move me beyond me and the concern about myself and towards the centrality of Christ. I wake up now before my kids and open the scriptures, because although proof texting still drives me nuts, these are the words of God and I want to know Him, not what I think He should be. I pray because I believe that God is a God who communicates with us. I sit in church services because this is the family of God and we come together to worship God even in the moments when there is no spiritual buzz, it's boring, or I feel like a misfit.

8 comments:

surpriseofunfolding said...

Thank you for this post! Very thoughtful and thought-provoking.

William L said...

i LOVE this post. - brittany

William L said...

i LOVE this post. - brittany

rachieannie said...

wow. i resonate so much with so much of this (not even close to being a TCK, but lots of the other things, yes!!!). thanks for putting it into words.

Jen said...

This is beautifully written. Thank you for so thoughtfully sharing.

Andrea Ward said...

Good words. I find myself in this weird middle spot so often. I'm not ready to give up on church and traditions, but I'm not willing to admit that the previous generation has done it all right. Sounds like there are more out there like me.

Andrea Ward said...

Good words. I find myself in this weird middle spot so often. I'm not ready to give up on church and traditions, but I'm not willing to admit that the previous generation has done it all right. Sounds like there are more out there like me.

Andrea Ward said...

Good words. I find myself in this weird middle spot so often. I'm not ready to give up on church and traditions, but I'm not willing to admit that the previous generation has done it all right. Sounds like there are more out there like me.