As a good Protestant Christian, I was brought up to believe in the inerrancy and absolute truth of the Bible. The Bible is true and there may be some difficult things in there but ultimately it is God’s word and can not be questioned.
This may sound familiar to you.
My journey with Spirituality and my faith has shapeshifted into various forms throughout my life but certainly in the last five years or so I’ve found myself with a new kind of peace surrounding what Christianity looks like to me.
Because of the nature of Protestantism, I believe that much of my early experiences of faith was about whether I was included or not. Protestantism focuses a lot on what you believe or ‘doctrines’ and the more certain you are about what you believe, the more certain you can be that you belong.
So as I entered a new phase of my faith during my final year or so of Uni and the subsequent ones, I found myself engaging in discussions about what is true in a factual sense about God, the Bible and everything else that trickles out of this. Do I believe the ‘correct’ things or not and not only this, but do you believe the same?
This led to countless debates with people on and offline about how wrong they were and how right I was. If only you could see the truth, your life would be so much better was essentially the cornerstone of any discourse I had with people about God.
Now, I look back on those years as my wrestling with my own questions and doubts by transferring them onto others. I wasn’t really debating or questioning others to see if they were safe, I was debating myself. I wanted to know if God was safe and if you could believe the ‘right’ thing, then I could associate with you and therefore feel secure.
But like anything that we do that relies on others’ to feel accepted, it ultimately won’t survive long and didn’t.
Which is why, I find myself much more comfortable and at peace with where my journey currently has me. No longer do I feel the need to believe the correct ‘doctrines’ or truth but am free to explore my Faith and God and Spirituality, all of it, in a way that offers myself much more Grace with these things.
Consequently, I no longer require others to see my point of view as now my own security and sense of belonging is attached to something bigger than others’ opinions of where my journey is leading.
In the past 5 years or so I have began to engage in new Spiritual acts and tools that may seem at best a little wacky to some and at worst, downright dangerous to others. Tools such as meditation, Lectio Divina and emotional processing have given my faith a new impetus. Beginning to see the Christ and Biblical story through Eastern and ancient Celtic eyes has renewed my attraction to Jesus and his life. A spiritual awakening or maybe more aptly, re awakening.
I have given myself over to ideas that at first I thought were new but which now I see are ancient tools that have largely been forgotten by a Western idea of Faith that requires alignment with beliefs over an experience of something real. Ancient tools and ways of reading the Bible and understanding God, that as old as they may be, remain fresh.
I still believe in the Bible, in God, in Jesus, in the community that grows out of exploring all of this together but I do now with more openness than before. I don’t claim that these things are living only to shut down ‘weird’ ideas just because they make me uncomfortable.
Before, there was an underlying tension inside my body with church and God which followed me everywhere. I could literally feel it residing in my chest in church, with other Christians and most obviously when I ever allowed myself to be still long enough, when alone. It still shows up from time to time and I still have to remain present enough to find myself leaning towards old attitudes but for the most part, I feel more free and open than I ever have.
There is certainly an aversion to this type of thinking and engaging in church mostly because we have so Westernised, something so ancient and Eastern. But as I continue to explore new ways of experiencing God in my life with others, I have come to see how much we miss out when we ignore these things.
It’s strange when you stop to think about it. When we read a book that we claim was literally inspired by an invisible God, with stories of supernatural events and experiences but yet become uncomfortable when people experience God in ways today that are so much less crazy than the events we believe literally happened. Where stories of a Jewish rabbi using mud to heal people’s eyesight, removing demonic entities and where a story of a talking donkey isn’t even the craziest thing in there.
Trying to distill all these types of experiences and stories down to a neat list of beliefs that we can easily check to see where we are with, seems to me a futile project, one that prevents us from fully experiencing God. One that misses much of the point.
There is like all things, the danger of becoming fundamentalist even with this. Demanding that others see it the way we do. But as I contemplate the time in my faith where I demanded that others believe exactly what I do, I find myself careful to walk around this trap.
As a result, I am able to offer Grace to others that think differently than me because I have accepted that Grace first for myself. This is probably at least one thing that we all can agree with…hopefully.
In a time where the ways people interpret the ancient movement of Christianity seem to be more contradictory than ever before, we need to first heal ourselves from the wounds we carry because of our faith in order to connect with others. Otherwise we will continue to allows that tension to hurt others.
I have indeed found resistance to many of the ideas that I have been discovering the last few years from others who were brought up in the same Western Protestant idea of faith. But this post is not for them but for all of us who find ourselves in the Christian tradition but yet, often feel outside of it.
It’s a reminder that our Faith in Jesus is not dependant on others. You can agree with me or disagree. You can call me a Heretic or question if I’m heading to hell. But when we give Grace to ourselves on our own journey, we find less and less the need for others’ to validate our own experiences of God.
It is yours and it is precious.
And as I find myself with a new freedom from an old way of understanding Christianity that wasn’t working for me, one now heavily recognised by not requiring others to agree with or even understand me, I see this at least one small step that we all who claim the title Christian, regardless of Republican, Democrat, Unionist or Nationalist can first offer Grace to ourselves.
And then finally, when we need it as much as ever, to each other.