Tuesday, November 13, 2007

If you knew me when...

In the last couple of weeks, a strange thing has happened. I've had dreams about people from my past - my best friend while I was in France, a pair of guys I knew during a summer project with Campus Crusade. Almost simultaneously, friends from my past have popped up on my phone, in my email. Apparently I'm one Google search away from being found by anyone who knows me. I tallied up the number of people I've heard from in the last two weeks who are from some earlier time in my life: six.

Suddenly I'm updating six different people on what has gone on in my life in the last 20 years. Has anyone else experienced this? It seems to be the combined impact of mid-forties and Internet search engines. Steve (who posts in the comments) and I met each other "again" through the Internet and as a result, I even went to visit him when I made my trip to LA. We hadn't talked or seen each other in 20 years.

One of the challenges of being "discovered" on the Internet is that my writings range from homeschool and writing advice to liberal theology and apostasy! Depending on when and how you knew me, the second set of writings might be a shock.

But so far, friendship has won out over orthodoxy in each of the recent six cases, and that is a gratifying experience.

Sometimes, though, it's hard for me to know where I left off in the retelling of my life. I get bored by my own story (I lived it and wrote so much about it as it was happening that I can't get up the enthusiasm to go back over and over it). Yet I know that when a person like me (radically committed to the point of inspiring others - so I'm told) makes a big change, it's one that creates that curiosity bug - what does it mean? How did it happen? (And the dark side: if it happened to her, could it happen to me?)

Remember those two guys I dreamed about last night? I Googled their names this morning. Both still work for Campus Crusade: one has his Th.D. from Dallas and the other is working with Human Resources in Asia. That makes a lot of sense based on my memory of them and what I knew about them before.

What would make sense to someone Googling my name who "knew me when" would be:

Jon and Julie Bogart are working for the Vineyard denomination, taking short term missions trips to North Africa, and writing articles about Muslim missions.

Instead, they stumble on my blog where I deconstruct prayer, explain the logical fallacies of soteriology and cap it off by saying that I'm totally sick of church. If pushed to say it, I even admit to being agnostic about God, believe theology is art, not the source of truth, and see Christianity more as cultural assumption than faith.

If you add Jon's journey, you wind up with two people who have abandoned all the trappings of our formerly committed Christian lives and we don't go to church (which is a Big Sin on the scale of homosexuality in the Midwest). What does it mean? What went wrong?

It's this. I suffer from spiritual exhaustion.

As I sat in evening meditation last night at yoga (our three minutes of silence), I realized that from the day I entered evangelical Christianity until several years past when I left it, I feel called upon to make commitments, to express conclusions, to participate in community, to work for good, to analyze and determine what version of faith would be "acceptable" to me in spite of my disenchantment with evangelicalism, to defend the process I'm in, to say nice things about my past and avoid saying critical ones, to find a church, to make use of my degree... in short, I feel called on to create and sustain a spiritual life that makes sense to others and can be classified as Christian on some level.

(I'm not aiming this post at any one of you. This is the collective sense of what I feel when I have had to interact about my faith (or serious lack of it) in the last five years.)

The truth is, though, I spent twenty years devoted, committed, seeking, open, worshipful, in a posture of prayer, relying on the Bible to convict me of sin, disciplined daily to share my faith, to pray for others, to seek to be used by God to heal, working to give to the poor as specified by my church...

I went on to give myself to equally devoted theological study over a five year period (four of which were in graduate school).

The "conclusion" (if you want to call it that) is that I must start over. There is no place for me in any of the current forms of Christian faith that I know about. As Spong says, I'm in exile. I live in midwestern exile from Southern California and I live in spiritual exile from Christianity. The interesting similarity between these two displacements is that I'm happy. I don't feel that I must rush back to Los Angeles to reclaim my identity, nor do I feel I must make sense of Christianity to include me in it.

Instead of passionate devotion and problem solving, I'm resting in the what "is" of my life. I wrote my first UPI column about the Freefall of Faith, something I still feel accurately describes me today:
My search for truth left me with something else instead: uncertainty — a total lack of confidence in any one theological position I had held previously, and as a result, a loss of confidence in God.

Still, though I lost faith, I never lost interest.

To exercise faith in the midst of so little clarity related to the things of God, I have discovered that I must leap into the unknown with humility, trusting that truth has less to do with propositions and more to do with dispositions. Interest has changed me. I am open to people and how they understand the world, rather than defending myself against them. I want to know why certain beliefs are meaningful in one context and not as meaningful in another.

In fact, without presuppositions and doctrines to support me, I feel a bit like I've jumped from a plane without any parachute at all. The view is gorgeous, though, as I look at the world from above, rather than defending one bit of turf as my own, as God's own. I don't know where I'll land. I don't know how fast I'm falling. But the air is chill and exhilarating, I sense the Spirit in the wind and I feel caught in a process of discovery that feels something like truth.

It's a freefall. I call it faith.
Seems I'm still living there, suspended in the air.


Maria said...

It seems to me your journey is still one of faith and seeking -- like the Psalmist who wonders where God has gone off to, but is still talking to God. Sure, many Christians might not recognize their brand of faith in your experiences, but that's their problem, isn't it? I'll admit to being uncomfortable from time to time, but there's something in your openness and honesty I find compelling.

Kacie Mann said...

I'm much younger then you, but I relate to catching up with old contacts and wondering what they will think when they found out the journey I've been on since they knew me.

The result.... nearly every time I am honest with an old friend I grew up with on the mission field, I find a similar disillusionment. Normalizing the experience is important, I think. I hate it that the American church has historically attempted to scrub everyone free of "doubt" and "questions"

I found your blog a couple of months ago via Jesus Creed and appreciate your honesty.

R. Michael said...

liked the candor of this post...can you elaborate on the statement "trusting that truth has less to do with propositions and more to do with dispositions"? I understand the proposition part but not the disposition part...disposition to what?

The "conclusion" (if you want to call it that) is that I must start over....Start over in what direction?

A good friend of mine and I meet regularly to discuss such things as you talk about on this post. I think for the most part he would agree with much of what you state on your blog. However, when I asked him "why are you still a Christian?" his response was that he could find nothing better by which to live by...do you think this response is disingenuous or a well thought out conclusion of someone that finishing processing all of this "stuff"?

julieunplugged said...

Michael, I think more of my commentary on dispositions might be in that article (though I'm not sure). I was meaning that how we are (how we treat others) is more important to me than what I believe propositionally.

Starting over for me is the idea of not having an assumption (that I must figure out a way to save my faith or to salvage it). It's the willingness to allow for my spirituality to derive from new means or old means or come combination (not trying to fit into a predetermined scheme).

I don't know your friend so I can't say if he is speaking from a genuine place, but I would say that I think it is entirely possible to deconstruct the faith completely and still retain the identity of Christian. Being "christian" as an adjective (living up the ideals and principles of Christian living) is different (to my way of thinking) than being *a* Christian (identifying oneself by the proper noun and all the attendant beliefs implied).

I don't think it's possible to escape Christianity in our culture, even as a hardened atheist. Too much of our cultural baggage and moral assumptions are tied to that Judeo-Christian heritage. I don't see the need to jettison it either.

So in "starting over" myself, it was as if from the ground up - what is is about Christianity that I'd like to adopt, not what can I retain after I toss what I don't like?

R. Michael said...

helpful response...thanks

mariam said...

A couple of months ago we rented a huge dumpster to start clearing out the years of accumulation of "stuff" at my mother-in-law's house. She needs to move into a small apartment and currently has a 4,000 sf house packed to rafters. How freeing it was to start clearing out all that rubbish and how depressing that she/we had felt the need to keep all that useless stuff all those years. Newspaper clippings, empty yogurt containers, mounds of clothing that needs mending and broken furniture, some stuff that is a complete mystery. And yet, after filling a dumpster the size of a railway car we still have only made a dent in what needs to be thrown out. I have thought how much easier, more efficient and less painful to just burn the whole thing down and start again.

Theology can be like that. It can definitely be a weight of useless stuff that oppresses our soul and gets in the way of finding/experiencing the divine. Doctrine is mostly made up of stuff we don't need. I don't think God needs it from us at all. What God wants from us (and you know my definition of God is very vague) is authenticity, presence and acts of love.

My initial response to your stories about not being able to find a spiritual "home" were, well, why not find a church where your doubts and beliefs are not constrained by dogma, where reason and questioning are welcome - like, for example, Anglicanism :). But now I realize how important it is for you to completely break free, take a breather and start again - unfettered. I have never felt that weight of theological and societal expectations with regard to my faith - so I had to use a more material analogy to see it.

R. Michael said...


I am really interested to watch this "starting over" process for you. I have been thinking about this for quite a while about what this looks like. Some of my thoughts about this....any organization or institution is inclusive and exclusive at the same time. so joining up with a group that appears broad thinking and inclusive at some point has to be exclusive as well...just like the family unit. What really defines the organization will have points of exclusivity whether explicitly stated or not that we may or may not feel comfortable with. I say this because of your experience with "home churching". If that was not satisfying are you looking for a larger group with others who hold some of the same views as you? I think you may find this unsatisfying as well at some point. I clealy want to break out of the electronic phase of this spiritual journey (blogs, emails and websites) but am not really sure where to go with this.

The uncertainty of faith for me has spilled over to uncertainty in direction as well....perhaps why that friend of mine said that he was a "christian" for lack of any better direction.

julieunplugged said...

You know Michael, you make good points. There's a kind of spiritual community online that helps during this transition. But I sense that it won't always be enough (though it will always be a part for me I think).

Today's entry (De-centering the self) gets at why I find church dissatisfying (though I never state it outright). My experience of church is too much "right" and "comfortable" and not enough challenge to see reality differently.

I have some new thoughts about all of this (this has been a good week, thinking wise) and will share as I do over the course of the next several weeks.

Mariam, I agree that theology can be such an impediment to knowing God. :)


Steve said...


Belatedly for me, I find this post very good.


Kansas Bob said...


"The interesting similarity between these two displacements is that I'm happy."

..reminded me of that Sheryl Crow chorus..

"If it makes you happy
It can't be that bad
If it makes you happy
Then why the hell are you so sad"

..sometimes we have to be sad for a while to find those things that make us happy.. sad when religion makes us sad though.

Rob said...

Terrific stuff, Julie. I so identify with so much of it.

Gregster said...

Reading your blog, I sometimes want to scram, "Amen, Sister! You preach it!" Because there is such deep, heartfelt agreement. This is one of those times.