Monday, September 10, 2012


I owe a great debt to Barbara Brown Taylor. I've never met her, but I have been irrevocably changed by her words.  I'm working my way through her books, experiencing a sort of rebirth as they pierce my heart.  When I read her thoughts, I feel something I haven't felt in a long time.... a stirring in my spirit.  It's something that, if I'm honest, I had thought I may never feel again.

I know I've written before about my conservative upbringing and how, over the past few years, I've diverged from that upbringing quite a bit.  I would imagine that at least part of my experience is similar to anyone who has been raised in a certain tradition, become disillusioned with that tradition, and then found themselves feeling lost and unsure of how the frame their life from there. The process has been extremely awkward, like some kind of spiritual adolescence.

At the beginning of this experience, I was focused on shedding the old beliefs, walking away from where I was before.  It was painful and difficult, as I was not sure how much of the old had to be stripped away. I doubted everything.  I was worried that clinging to too much would feel like being weighed down with baggage.  I think once I'd made up my mind that I no longer believed so much of what I'd grown up thinking, the old way seemed bad.  I was so frustrated with my "before" that I began to see most of it as wrong.

Some of those "before" things had to do with how easy it is to have the appearance of certain aspects of faith, without really "meaning" any of it.  It is ridiculously simple to go through the motions of many faith traditions because you know people are watching you and expecting you to behave a specific way, yet without any of it changing your life.

Once I realized that I did not "mean" some of these things, I didn't know how my faith experience should look.  At the risk of being associated with some of my old ways of thinking, I restricted any faith experience to philosophical discussions with people I deemed safe and I kept everything else to myself.  When I did try to open up to people outside my safe little circle about what I was going through, I can see now that it had to seem like I was lashing out -- not from my own struggles (as was the reality), but at those people for not being in the same place as me.

I've only recently begun to feel that I'm moving away from that into a new realization of my faith.  This involves the awareness that I must have grace for the faith process of others which may or may not lead them down the same path I've traveled.  It also includes having grace for my own process.  This has been a long time coming, but I feel like I'm right there, on the cusp of freedom.  I can think and believe what my own journey has taught me while accepting others right where they are.  I can understand and appreciate that the minds of others work differently, based on their personalities and life experiences and environment.

Thanks to my introduction to Barbara Brown Taylor (as well as to several other authors and bloggers), I'm realizing that I am not alone and that growing to a new place doesn't have to mean abandoning my faith out of distaste for some of the ways I had framed it in the past.  Neither does it mean rejecting others who may still be where I was before and may never be where I am now. I can be cognizant  that the right place for me is not necessarily the right place for everyone else, and vice-versa. 

In her book, "Leaving Church" Ms. Taylor discusses that when your journey takes you to a place away from your roots, it can be difficult, but freeing.  It also allows you to connect with people you otherwise would have been completely isolated from. Life on the fringe of your tradition can be scary and lonely, or it can be rich and affirming.  We don't have to rely on clichés and dogma; we can be at peace with uncertainty.  She explains:
I have learned to prize holy ignorance more highly than than religious certainty and to seek companions who have arrived at the same place.  We are a motley crew, distinguished not only by our inability to explain ourselves to those who are more certain of their beliefs than we are but in many cases by our distance from the centers of our faith communities.... This wilderness experience sets up a real dilemma for some of us, since we know how much we owe to the traditions that shaped us.  We would not be who we are without them, and we continue to draw real sustenance from them...
I will keep faith - in God and in God's faith in me, and in all the companions whom God has given me to help me see the world as God sees it.... We may be in for a long wait before the Holy Spirit shows us a new way to be the church together, but in the meantime there is nothing to prevent us from enjoying the breeze of those bright wings.
 All this is to say that I feel like my spirit is emerging from the dark place where it has languished for so long.  This isn't any sort of Now-I've-Arrived statement, but more an attempt to convey the hope I feel that I'm catching glimpses of a way forward. Connecting with the stories of others has contributed to this hope and given me a sense of belonging.  I find myself reaching for my Bible and feeling my spirit stir as I find new meaning in passages that had seemed flat and confusing before.  I know I have a long, long way to go.  I know this journey will likely take me to places I would never expect, and that a year from now (or even tomorrow) I could look back on these words and wonder what the hell I was thinking.

I'm still questioning and learning and growing and emerging and changing.  I don't know where I will end up or if I will at some point feel like I'm back where I started.  But, for now, I feel like the pieces of my tradition are coming back together in a way that awakens my spirit.

And for that, I am grateful.

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