It Works (Until it Doesn’t)

I was sitting in a workshop a couple of weeks ago learning about personality theory, and the trainer said something regarding self-awareness:

“Things work for you right up until they stop working.”

What she meant is, we all see ourselves in a particular way, we all move about the world with a particular lens through which we interpret and interact with the world. And we will continue to use our lens until the lens stops working. But when that way of being doesn’t get the love we long for, or a person or situation confronts us, pointing out the myopia of our lens, only then will we change our lens to allow for a more holistic picture, a new way of being in the world.

Here’s what this looks like in life:

You take a job at a new company. And you love the new job, and the new people, and the new company. But then, over the course of months/years, a series of things happen, you change, and the new job stops “working” for you, so you dust off your resume and start looking for another new job.

-or-

You have a relationship. And in the beginning, this relationship just worked. When you first started seeing each other, you loved every new thing you learned about the person. And then circumstances changed – sometimes quickly, sometimes like quick sand – and it didn’t work anymore. So you go through the painful process of breaking up.

Jennifer and I were talking about this a while back, and we came up with the analogy of pulling at the threads of an old sweater. Sometimes you start to pull at something – a belief, a idea, a major life change, a career path, a relationship – and the whole thing just comes apart and you have to get a new sweater.

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With all apologies to my Baptist friends, this is what happened to me, starting in my final year of my undergrad at a Baptist college. I started pulling at the threads of my understanding of God, the Bible, and the church. Recently – over the past couple of years – I’ve been pulling at the threads of my own self, trying to understand the lenses I use to interpret and interact with the world.

At some point along the way, thinking about God as wrathful just didn’t work for me anymore. It wasn’t a conscious choice, it wasn’t “disobedience,” it wasn’t that I just wanted to believe whatever I want. Rather, it’s been the slow pulling of threads. One thought led to another, led to a book, led to a teaching, led to a reflection, led to an experience, a conversation with a trusted friend or spiritual guide, and pretty soon the sweater of my Baptist upbringing fell apart. What used to work, for the first 20 years of my life, didn’t work anymore. It worked, right up until the time that it didn’t.

This doesn’t mean I hate Baptists. (I know, if you’ve known me over the long haul, you know I went through a deconstructive stage where I was full of piss and vinegar…but that was only one stage of the process. A necessary stage, I believe, but only a throughpoint, not the destination.) I know a lot of people who are still Baptists – it still works for them, and that’s okay. And if they ask me questions about my beliefs, I’ll gladly have a conversation – but I don’t need to convert them, or make them see things my way. It still works for them.

And yes, there have been moments (probably all of them) when I’ve questioned the path I’m on. There are times I feel like I’ve let people down in my life because I’ve taken a stance different than their own. And at times I’ve been admittedly ungracious and unfair to my traditions as I “kicked against the goads.” But, I’ve come to believe that complexity, vagaries, dualisms and doubts — not certainty — ARE the essence of my faith.

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I was listening to a podcast in the car yesterday, driving home from Chicago, and the guy talked about how he was a Baptist, then he was a Charismatic, then he was into Eastern Religions, and then he referred to his current belief system as “whatever the road I’m on now is.”

I like that.

Baptist worked for me (until it didn’t). “Seeker church” worked for me (until it didn’t). Calvinism, Pre-Tribulation Eschatology, Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory, Dispensationalism all worked for me (until they didn’t). Progressive worked for me (until it didn’t). And now, I don’t know what categories to use. I’m pretty happy just being on “whatever road I’m on now,” trying to learn from all the traditions.

And I want to find God in the morning,

and in the tired hands of dusk.

At the mouth of the river and down by its feet.

Anis Mojgani, For Those Who Can Still Ride in an Airplane for the First Time

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Here’s the point of this post: I frequently hear of people who are starting to pull at the threads of their faith and and are scared, because the sweater feels flimsy and they fear the loss of their childhood God and the rejection of their faith communities. And I just want to say it’s okay. It’s okay to pull at the threads. It’s okay to raise your hand and say, “This doesn’t make sense anymore,” it’s okay to read books that are outside your tradition. When you do, you’ll find a whole community of us happy to be on “whatever road it is we’re on now.”

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