Friday, August 26, 2011

"That is My Faith"

It's difficult for me to talk about the things that are really important to me right here. Or anywhere, really. I have to cover up my face or hide under a blanket to tell you how I really feel. I can't totally explain why but it has to do with the fact that it would be cool if my brains could just open up and fall onto the keyboard, hitting all the letters in the right order so that it makes some sense for you to read and I wouldn't have to do all of the work figuring out what the right words are.

And I don't want to say things in the wrong way so that you don't get exactly what I'm saying. Because I don't want you to misunderstand me. Because there's nothing in the whole world that I hate more than being misunderstood or misrepresented or misinterpreted or some other "mis" word. But I suppose that's what you open yourself up to when you limit yourself to letters and punctuation and then open it up to conversation. So, I guess here goes nothing.

The other day it was brought up in conversation that a friend of mine, whom I've known for a dozen or so years, seemingly out of the blue decided that she doesn't believe in God anymore and moved to another state with her boyfriend with the intention to join a little hippie commune, and live off the land. Honestly, my very first response to this news was, "what I wouldn't give..." But then I realized that after my many years of dorm living, my current living situation is about as communal as I'll ever be able to stand but the idea is the same. What I wouldn't give to have the opportunity and ability to leave. Start over: mind, body, soul. Get dirty. Sounds like a treasure. Obviously I am removed from the situation and I don't know the whole story so I won't pretend to. All I know is that when the situation was explained to me there was a lighthearted joke-- comparing her to another lifetime friend of ours. Implying that anyone who isn't buying the Sunday School crap anymore is just going through a phase. I beg that you forgive the cynicism in that previous sentence but I've been working on this blog for about six days and there's just not another way to make my point. I assure you, there is no more cynicism to be found here.

In the not too terribly distant past, Tamra, (aforementioned lifetime friend) spoke the words that her thoughts on God had changed as well--or hadn't changed, per se, but maybe never were? I'm certainly not going to use this space to tell you about what she thinks because it's not my place and also, all of the "mis" words that I spoke about earlier. I do know that back in October some friends and I went to Tamra's beautiful house in Kansas City. A house that she purchased and put back-breaking work into. A house with an enormous front porch looking out onto a street with other gorgeous houses with enormous front porches--a house where you can't help but feel at-home in. Totally loved. I never wanted to leave. Even to go for a walk. Tamra made us lunch and we sat down at the table and before we ate she said something along the lines of, "just because I don't think there's a God out there listening to all of my prayers doesn't mean that we can't hold hands before a meal." So we all held hands and we closed our eyes and Tam spoke hopes and wishes over us and in that moment I deeply felt, "finally, somebody gets me."

And there is suddenly so much misunderstanding. I can't even say that, really. It's conclusion jumping is what it is. A friend of yours (me) decides that she just can't pretend to be a part of the bandwagon anymore and suddenly there are conclusions drawn without any discussion. At the first mention of "atheist" or "agnosticism", "debauchery" is a synonym that comes to mind. Whether that's the case or not. Fact of the matter is that I'm not concerned about naming myself or anyone else because I'm quite sure that's what got us all into this mess in the first place.

It's just that... When I tell you that I don't believe in God the way that you believe in God, I hope that you don't think I'm simply ignoring some inflexable truth simply to gallivant or overindulge in all things sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. (Believe me, I went to a Christian university and there is gallivanting enough for lifetimes, and plenty of hung-over and probably-pregnant kids in Sunday School.) And then when I'm through with that phase I'll come back into the fold and then have this brilliant story of redemption. That's not the case. When I tell you that I don't believe in God the way that you believe in God, what I mean is that I am not buying this thing about there being a plan for my life with right answers and wrong turns. What I mean is that I'm not concerned with rules and tiny, stupid things that will never impact another person's life aside from "winning" an argument. I certainly can't argue against the concept of a God and I'm absolutely never going to tell you that it's wrong for you to believe and devote yourself to whatever it is that helps you along in this life. Because this shit is tough. I thought it was just me but getting along into my late 20's and talking to other people like me, I'm finding that it's a universal truth. It's the Human Condition.

Most of my very best, most well rounded and understanding friends believe deeply in salvation and prayer and all that goes along with Christianity. And I admire it and I adore that part of them. I would never, even here, mean to imply that's the wrong thing. Because I certainly can't tell you that what I've got is the right thing. I know it works for me. I probably feel more gratitude and joy now than I ever did, before.

The load became heavy and starts weighing you down and when you start to sink and die, you start throwing stuff out of the boat. For me, that had to be all of the obligations that came with holding on to the Christian label. All of the guilt for not doing this enough or making this choice or for "screwing up" time and time and time and time again when in reality I was just a human being. That's grace. That's what grace looks like. When you can look at yourself and say, "give yourself a break--you're just a person." That's grace in action--not grace as some idea that you subscribe to and hope that it'll one day work out. And I started to breathe easier. I remember the first Sunday that I said I wouldn't be needing a ride to church anymore. And I walked around campus and I sat on benches and I felt the warm sun on my back and everything felt more real than it had in a long time. It was a sabbath, indeed. And I came home and nursed my hung-over roommates back to health with tall glasses of water and tacos. And that was love in action. And I will take love in action over faith as a concept any day of the week.

Just this morning, Tamra sent me an email and in it she said this and I'm going to share it with you because it is the most legitimate example of physical truth that I can think of. "This week I held/restrained a child who was screaming hysterically for ages. She was two inches from my face and I just kept rocking her and saying over and over again, 'it is okay I'm going to stick this out with you.' That is my faith."

So maybe it seems like "out of the blue" when someone that you haven't actually had a legitimate conversation with in half a decade moves away to do something that does seem a little surprising considering her upbringing (and, I might add--bless her for doing it when she's 21 instead of waiting until she's a wife and mother of three children and suddenly realizes that she never had a chance to get to know herself). Maybe it seems like late-stage rebellion when your friend or your daughter or your sister says "I can't do it like this anymore." But maybe it's a reality. Maybe it's a reality that you're not familiar with. Maybe it's a reality for them that would never ever work for you. But just please understand that it goes the other way as well.

I'm afraid that the thing that makes me happy is the thing that's going to make some of you sad. And I'm sorry for that. And I know that many of you will say that you are praying for me and I am grateful for that. I just hope that when you're thinking of us--when you're praying for us, you don't pray that we start to believe what you believe but that we live full, spiritual lives. And when you think of your friends and your family members--don't boil them down to this one aspect of their personality. Think of me as your creative, happy, kind, honest friend (I would hope--that's what I'm shooting for). Think of Tamra as a woman with perseverance, love and grace for multitudes--and hundreds of other things. People are people with bodies and spirits and minds and hearts. We are not the greatest difference between you and me.

And I love you. So much.


Ryan said...

"And I will take love-in-action over faith as a concept any day of the week."

This is so great. :)

AlyssaD said...

This makes so, so much sense. My husband and I have been grappling with something similar for some time now. Last year, most of our couple friends were lesbians. They invited us over for dinner, loved on us, served us cheap wine, took us to Chicago on a whim, learned to make Thai food with us, and missed us when we were gone.

So the day that we found out our church didn't care how much they loved each other and didn't care how much they needed to know that their community was going to take care of them and not discriminate against them in basic needs like housing, was the day we left. (We weren't expected that kind of thing at all--at least we were in a women-friendly church, why not the GLBT community?!) And we felt such a peace about the whole thing.

There's something to be said for doing what is right as opposed to what other people have been telling you is right but does nothing truly worthwhile.

I will always celebrate the real, and you are so real, girl.

Adam Parker said...

I wrote on the same subject a few days ago, but I tucked it away and was going to include it in a larger project when the time was right. Instead, I'll jump on your coat-tails and say that it sounds like we're both happy for our friend:

Though we're both happy for her in our own ways, I guess we've got radically different perspectives on the bigger picture here.

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