Friday, December 30, 2016

Journaling to Crack the Great Code

Where I'm at now spiritually, poised on the knife-blade of clamorous doubt, began innocently enough.  In February 2015 - almost a year ago - I started using a technique that I learned about in my education classes to tackle a particularly difficult book of literary criticism:  The Great Code:  The Bible and Literature by Northrop Frye (New York:  Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 1981, 1982).

The technique, a reader-response journal, has been useful to me in the past.  For me, it functions as a substitute for that serious friend or learned professor - that person who listens carefully and responds intelligently as you try to sort out what you're reading.  This journal enables me to ask the questions that will lead me to a deeper understanding of the text and to make connections to my own life, reading and experiences.  It forces me to slow down, look up terms or do research. 

Plus, I have a wonderful record of my reading.  Grasshopper mind jumps from topic to topic and leaves no footprints, but reader-response journal leaves a clear, consistent trail of thoughts and ideas. The reader-response journal transforms me from a person who can only focus for 15 minutes at a time (oh, yeah, did I mention that I am kind of ADHD?) into a real thinker and writer.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Grief, Longing and Anger

At a local performance of Handel's Messiah, I meet KL by chance; she recommends Keeping Faith: A Skeptic's Journey.  So I check the book out of the library, and what do I read in the opening pages?  Johnson's emotional response to church:
Here among believers, seated at the foot of the bloody Christ for longer than any time since the Lenten vigils of my childhood, I was stunned by the anger that simmered up from some repressed place.  I was possessed by anger - the pit in the gut, the quickening pulse; I recognized the signs.  I was angry at the institution of the church, any church; angry at myself for letting it get to me... angry at being so alone in my anger... (4).
It turns out that Johnson is not alone; he soon discovers that others attending this Christian-Buddhist conference feel angry too.  Johnson writes:

...the cause might be more accurately described as longing, with anger the result of its frustration (5).
Frustrated longing, leading to rage at the church?  Yeah, I totally get that. 

Epiphany - after weeks of fuming, I have discovered I'm not just grieving over the results of the election, the dismal moral character of our next POTUS, or even how most Evangelicals voted.  My anger is the result of feeling alone, of not finding an anam-cara among the people of God.

Many who belong to my church call it "home."  They refer to our local congregation as their "church family," and say that they feel loved.

I feel like a visitor from another planet.

Somehow, we've let each other down - badly - and I don't even know how, or why.

Johnson, Fenton. Keeping Faith: A Skeptic's Journey. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. Print. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A divine appointment in the foyer

Every year, our local community puts on a performance of Handel's Messiah.  It's the earnest, imperfect performance you'd expect in a small city, with an organist who slides off the beat whenever he can't fit all the notes in and soloists who are sometimes spot-on, and sometimes untrained or past their prime.  Nevertheless, it pleases me because it reminds me that perfection isn't everything.

All year long, but most especially at Christmas, generosity and community and giving our personal best matter.  So we go, we sing the Hallelujah Chorus enthusiastically, and we put $40 into the plate for the local food bank.  Afterwards, we feel stronger and cleaner, as if we did something that mattered.  We know that Christmas has finally arrived in our town.

This year, as my husband and I were walking in, I was muttering darkly (something I've done a lot, lately) when I realized that the woman in front of us looked familiar.  Apparently she had the same realization, because she stopped in the foyer and exclaimed, "I know you!"

It was our friend KL from college.  Her mother gave me bantam hens once, and her husband used to play bass in our Christian band.  The last time we had seen each other, a few years ago, was at a bookstore in Bisbee.

Turns out we're sort of kindred spirits, KL and me, hovering at the periphery of the organized church and searching for something that isn't really there.  She recommended a book which has figured prominently in her search: Keeping Faith:  A Skeptic's Journey by Fenton Johnson.

I immediately checked Keeping Faith out of the local library and began to read.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Trying Again....A Fresh Start???

Time to stop worrying about being successful, being consistent, being read.  Time to just write again.

This election has shaken my faith.  Not just the results, but the meanness of it, the hatefulness of it, the inability of people at my church to even comprehend what I'm upset about.  So I've been re-examining my faith, and the basis of my faith.

I know that I am no longer an Evangelical Christian.  I'm not sure if I am a Christian, an agnostic, an atheist, or something else. 

The central questions that I have to answer for myself are: 
  •  If the Holy Spirit indwells every believer, and if the Holy Spirit leads us into all the truth, why did so many Evangelicals fall for fake news, and why did the overwhelming majority of them vote for Trump?  
  •  If they cannot distinguish between fact and fiction, reality and lies in the natural realm, what authority do they have in the spiritual realm?  
  •  If they are wrong in the present, how can they be right about the past, and the authority of the Bible, the nature of God, the divinity of Christ, the basics of salvation, etc?

My husband, bless his heart, is content with the non-denominational church we've attended for the last few years,  He likes the music, and appears untroubled by the theological questions that have derailed me.  I can barely walk into the doors of that building; he doesn't want to walk away from the worship team.

I am caught, theologically and practically, between a rock and a hard place here.