Monday, June 06, 2005

How hard is it supposed to be?


Sometimes when I wrangle with someone about faith issues, I'm told that I don't really understand the faith, that I've missed it in some key way. Perhaps, they reason, I never really did understand, never really knew God.

It's unthinkable to me that I could not have understood the faith "properly" enough to sustain it. I spent twenty plus years in it, teaching others about it, leading dozens and dozens of people to Christ, literally staking my life on my faith by moving to hostile places to share it, for example, with Muslims...

I prayed for healings, had words of knowledge, saw miracles (as we defined them), was slain in the spirit, led bible studies, spent hours upon hours praying (that deep meditative kind as well as the prayer journal kind as well as the breathing prayer kind), spoke in tongues, also railed against tongues (depending on what year you caught up with me as a Christian), attended weekly home groups, attended Bible studies for years, went to both John MacArthur's church and John Wimber's church (bastions of the two sides of evangelicalism), studied the Bible daily for years, read theology and the Christian classics (Lewis, Packer, Stott, Schaeffer, Yancy, and on and on), went to L'Abri, worked for a mission agency, lived as a missionary, listened to Christian radio, spoke at conferences, married a Christian, attended church every week, believed the orthodox tenets of the faith with all my heart, shared them and explained them to others, ghostwrote for John Wimber, wrote worship songs, worshipped, denied myself access to pop culture for ten years so that I would focus only on God...

I'm not sure what I didn't understand.

Some of my old friends are so slippery. They will read a list like the one above and find the crack - "Oh, she denied the culture. That's the problem. She didn't see God at work in the world." But if I had said that I had been in the world (which I was for ten of those years sharing my faith), then I would be told "Oh you were slimed by the world. You needed to remove yourself to get closer to God."

Is there no way to accept that someone went that far and deep into faith as outlined in most non-denom churches and then decided it didn't stand up to scrutiny, to testing, to reason? That it doesn't even hold together theologically?

I know one thing I never understood in all that time - that not everyone who calls herself a Christian sees Christianity through the expression of faith I outlined above. Christianity is much bigger than conservatives are willing to admit. They think they can just amputate whole groups and call them "non-Christians." It's galling.

Once you come to accept that other versions of faith may legitimately exist - wham. You are told: You never understood. You never really believed. You never really "got it."

Well, damn!

Why isn't it possible to understand and reject? What fear lurks behind that statement?

Is it possible that "understanding" is so shrouded that even those all the way in can't see it truly? Is that the kind of God we should worship - a God who plays mind games with his own children?

I don't mind if others continue to worship according to the creeds, according to the tenets of conservative Christianity. I'm on no mission to de-convert anyone. Rather, I'd simply like to be believed when I report my personal experience.

I was found and then I was lost.

I don't want my experience discounted just so the other person can protect herself from facing the fact that sometimes the three strand cord doesn't hold.


Dave said...

Those are hard-hitting but eloquent words, Julie. My own experience bears out the essential truth and insight that you've expressed here.

I don't have time to say much else but thanks for having the courage, the willingness to lay it out so plainly. I will probably have more to say on this subject, here or on the list, later.

Bilbo said...

Wow Julie,

Reminds me of the time my ex-wife told her brother that I was no longer a Christian and suspected I was probably never a Christian to begin with despite the fact I had done and experienced many of the things you mention here for over 25 years except for the mission work. He affirmed her suspicions by asserting that I had simply created god in my own image in order to rationalize my own selfish desires. At the time it was very painful to hear these words but these days I have come to understand that I don't have to accept how others define me and "I" believe their comments and conclusions were a by product of a subculture where fear, in large part, dominates in order to keep people in line theologically...

Didn't know you went to L'abri and didn't know you had connections at one time with MacArthur and Wimber. Never did care for MacArthur but found Wimber a gentle soul...for the record...I know it is painful and frustrating to hear what others have to say or conclude about our understanding of the faith but no one can discount the experiences you had. They are "yours" and no one can ever take away what "you" experienced or conclude about your past. No one. If they want to discount them that is their problem not yours...I know you know all of this Julie but thought you might want or need to hear these words from someone who has been there and done that before.....

australisa said...

I hear you. I'm glad that you are holding firm to the truth of your experience.

For me, I am so tired of doing all that I know to do to have this elusive relationship-with-God thingy. It is most discouraging to hear that there is always something else that I could've/should've done.

No matter what, it is always my fault. OK, whatever. I give. Sigh.

SusansPlace said...

Hey Julie,

I think your story is hard for Christians to accept. How can one believe so fervantly in all those things and then just stop? I know you didn't just stop...many questions cause you to reevaluate.
I have listened to your questions for several years and know they have been gut-wrenching for you.
I wish I knew why some of us continue to believe, by faith because so little can be truly proved, and others do not.
When you were deep in Christianity, how would you have reacted to someone with a story similar to yours? When you tell a Christian your story now, what would you like them to do? Ask questions but not "contend for the faith"? I'm honestly wondering what you would feel is best.
I appreciate your sharing about your faith journey. It has caused me to rethink many things.


SusansPlace said...


I want to clarify that we SHOULD accept each other's stories as valid. They are real. My confusion, as a Christian, comes with how much to say when someone shares a story like that. You can't make someone believe but you can share what you believe if the person wants to listen. Julie, I know you have listened. Just talking in general here. I think maybe people question or try to figure you out Julie because you don't seem very happy about having "lost" your old faith...ala Wimber, McArthur. You weren't happy with it but you don't seem happy without it either. Maybe it's just my perception. Let me know if I am wrong. :-) However, so many of us try to "rescue" people when they are struggling. Not sure that is the right thing to do but it's often the first thing we do. Perhaps simply listening is the right course. Anyway, trying to understand.
Susan :-)

julieunplugged said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
julieunplugged said...

Hi Susan. (So many typos, I am reposting)

You said that my story is hard for Christians to accept. That is exactly my experience of how Christians hear me. But I don't see my story as open to acceptance or rejection. It just is.

What I don't like is the re-categorization of my experience.

When I was a committed evangelical, I knew a few Christians who "walked away." My thought was that they had not gotten the answers they needed to stay in. But I didn't say they hadn't been Christians. That's what I don't like - the idea that someone would say of me that I had never been a Christian to begin with.

If someone knew my story now, I would love it if the person would simply hear me without rearranging her image of who I am (reevaluating all she thought of me in the past in light of this new information).

It's almost as though the past becomes a place to dig around and find the holes that prove I somehow failed in my relationship to God because I was not sincere or didn't convert correctly or whatever.

It would be a bonus if the person were genuinely interested in what led to the changes, but I know that's a stretch. So I'd settle for the other.

You said that I don't seem very happy to have "lost my faith." I'm NOT! It sucks. I wanted with all my heart for the evangelical version to be true. I believed it was.

I am also not happy in my current state because it is like going through a divorce - like amputating an arm.

Staying in was not possible - that's like living with an estranged spouse or gangrene.

So basically the whole thing sucks.

But for some reason, I'm still interested and can't just dump twenty years of commitment and faith so I keep plugging away and figure some of this is mid-life angst.

I don't think most people want to rescue me from pain or sadness - they want to protect what they still believe from scrutiny/challenge. They see me as an example of the danger in front of them if they followed questions to their logical, eventual end. I then function like a warning against deep questioning. :)

And I understand that too. I really do.

SusansPlace said...

Re-catigorzation is a good way to describe what people have been doing. Got me to thinking about how I do that regarding a variety of situations that I don't want to accept. ugh Honesty in viewing what "IS" can be gut-wrench. I'm also wondering is the mind automatically goes into "re-catigorzation" as a protective measure. Well, I'm off on a tangent when I really wanted to say thank you for answering my questions.

A couple more questions. I have been taught that if one walks away from the faith they never REALLY believed. There are only a few things I believe make a Christian: summed up in John 3:16. How would you define a Christian? Not talking about an evangelical here. In your definition, have you walked away?