My Cooking is Killing My Sheep!

Jesus told Peter to “feed my sheep.” That responsibility falls upon us as a believing community. Yet Paul reminds us that we all have different gifts.

One of mine is surely not pastoral care. Mind you, I did some graduate work in this area, but it’s not my forte.

I screwed it up, as they say.

You will remember that I spoke about finding some bloggers who were in transition, having freed themselves of fundamentalism. They were in deep pain, struggling to retain a faith that had lost it foundations.

I felt that my offerings were not helpful. Yet one commented on that post and I felt encouraged enough to continue. I should have left well enough alone.

I have not the right words it seems, or the right attitude, or something. In point of fact, I think I misunderstood the “place” of the other person. I negligently thought I saw a person still struggling to retain faith. Rather I think I found a person who rejected fundamentalism in its interpretation of the bible, but accepted its underlying threat: It’s all inerrant, or you have no reason to accept any bit of it.

This is the constant and insidious ugly side of fundamentalism. Not only does it convince that a book is God, it convinces that if the Book isn’t God, there is no God to be found.

Most of the other commenters on this post are agnostics or atheists, so they were challenging me as well as supporting the doubts raised by the poster. Trying to argue a person out of agnosticism or atheism, especially when it is newly acquired is a worthless proposition.

But it did get me to thinking. How very different my own journey.

While I knew plenty of Catholics in my young life, they were never ones to speak of their faith. It just wasn’t done. When I did learn anything about religion and God, it was from a fundamentalist point of view. This was true through my early 20’s and  through my 30’s.

I simply rejected it out of hand for this reason. I could never have believed in a God that was projected by a inerrant reading of the Bible. In fact, upon reading it, my reaction was, “what an evil and awful thing this God is!”

For, intuitively I knew this: God had to be at least as perfect and beautiful as ANYTHING I could create in my own mind. I suspected God was much more, but the Creator MUST be at least that perfect. I was merely a person, with a reasoning brain after all.

So reason, before I knew a thing about real theology, was a hallmark of believing. Remember, I am the one who, upon learning that there was no Santa Claus, placed God in the same category. Wispy magical imaginative whispers of non-reality. Nice, but not real.

Thankfully, God did not stop knocking at my door. And one of my first questions to Sister Doris when I explored entering the Roman Catholic church was, “Do I have to believe all this stuff in the bible literally?”

“My, my,” she laughed, “of course not. True, we do have tenets, things we accept in faith, but we don’t think God tricks us. The earth is certainly not a mere 6,000 years old, for instance. We have dozens and hundreds of fine Catholic scholars who study and examine the manuscripts and explain what certain texts mean.You will learn about myth and allegory and such in your preparation to join the Church.”  

We had a lively conversation, and I left assured that my common sense and reason would never be assaulted by the strange child-like machinations of fundamentalist demands.

Since that time, I’ve studied under priests and other nuns who were theologians and biblical experts, some in the Roman tradition, and recently in the Episcopal tradition. They, individually, studied in some of the most respected and intellectually rigorous universities in the world.

I was never asked to accept their beliefs. I had the benefit of their scholarly learning, but one thing that all of these fine men and women taught me, was that questions were never bad, God was big enough to handle them. And moreover, I understood, whether said directly or by implication, that the hallmark of a mature faith was one worked out individually.

I have come to see it this way: God is like a key hole. We are the key. Yet, we are a key blank at the beginning. Our experiences, study, prayer,  and so forth serve to try to create the key that we can place in the lock and turn. We work at this, making it sometimes jiggle, turn a bit, turn more, stick. We withdraw it at times and look it all over again. We hone, chisel, sharpen. Over time, with effort, we begin to unlock God.

Jesus, of course, was a perfect fit. Perhaps Buddha was as well. Others, those we revere as great mystics and teachers, have got the lock almost open. Once open, the kingdom is ours, today. Jesus tried to explain to us how to do this. He showed us “the way.” But there are other ways, I think, since I dare say the Dalai Lama thinks the Buddha’s way is such.

This is a God I can love, and revere and work hard to emulate. This God, who joyously provides all his sentient beings with keys, calling them to fashion themselves in his image.

Some wonder why it is hard? Should it be easy? What can we possibly learn if it is handed to us on a silver platter? No, we become Christ-like by the struggle. Study is my joy, teasing out the delicate threads of real value in sacred scripture. Sacred? Yes indeed, for all was wrought by believing minds speaking their truth as carefully and completely as they could.

Confound it, but I cannot speak this in a way that convinces the unbeliever. I preach to the choir only. It is my frustration. Is it yours?

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Like a child
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 21:50:15

    Sherry,

    The faith/doubt and a/theism issues are so terribly complex. At baseline, writing is a difficult media to convey feeling. I know it is for me, particularly when i comment (since often i am half-distracted anyways). There are so many emotional issues as well. I’ve been encouraged by your comments, not that i agree with everything you say (now), but it is always good to be encouraged by a thinking christian who still has faith. So your comments portray hope. I wonder if i am making any sense at all?

    I just looked over dma’s comment thread you linked briefly, and the one quote that resonated with me was where dma mentions that christianity shouldnt be so complex. I’ve been so exhausted with my investigations that lately, just the time-consuming nature of my “quest” often is evidence enough of christianity being a myth. Yet i remain searching, but not without a cost. Sleepless nights, tears, and exhaustion. I completely and utterly understand why people decide upon atheism.

    Okay…it is late and i feel i am not making sense at all;)

    Reply

    • Sherry
      Jan 29, 2011 @ 13:26:10

      LAC, you make perfect sense, and as I was saying in the previous comment, I am just learning how very complex and emotional this letting go of fundamentalism truly is. It was just something my logical brain rejected from the outset.

      I’m not sure God is complex, but I agree, Christianity has become so. Jesus, I don’t think was so complex. I think christianity started getting complex when Paul’s expectation of a quick return by Jesus went unfulfilled. As you read later into the NT corpus, you start seeing the explanations for the delay. Until, of course, it is forgotten, and there is a new emphasis on this idea of personal salvation as the whole enchilada. Then of course, there is the push pull of whether Jesus is God, or through whom God is worshipped. There is much scholarship that suggests that the early Christians didn’t see Jesus as a deity at all. He was the venue through which they approached God, the pipeline, God’s favored one.

      But truly, I think we are meant to grow into our spiritual life. We are spiritual beings, having a human experience as I say. Thus we can’t be given the cake, we must become the cake if you will. God can encourage, but if he makes it perfectly clear, then there is no journey at all. We gotta do the work.

      I am sorry the journey is painful for you and others.That is a real sorrow for me, for I see it as the most exciting and exhilirating experience of my life. I can’t get enough of learning and reading and studying and hopefully becoming more ME.

      Thanks for helping me understand. I bless you all and will continue to walk with you if I may in this time. Being a bit more careful to keep quiet and listen more.

      Reply

  2. Zoe
    Jan 29, 2011 @ 07:13:54

    Like A Child…hi. You make sense, or at least it appears that way to me. 🙂

    Sherry, is it possible that you are being too hard on yourself regarding “trying to help” over at D’Ma’s blog? All any of us can do really is share our journey and understand that our journey may or may not be similar to another’s.

    As D’Ma pointed out, it’s true that if someone comes along with a system of belief that works for them and tries to explain it, questions are going to come up. And really, it’s not about taking sides. It’s that in this blogging journey, D’Ma has found various people who she’s connected with and who have connected with her, and we are varied in our Christian experiences. Yes, some have moved on, like me, from Christianity. Some haven’t. What I see are good people, with more in common than not, and we aren’t taking sides or trying to deconvert, we’re listening and understanding because we ourselves have been there, done that, and some are doing it.

    I didn’t let go of God because I wanted to. I let go of God because I felt the evidence did not support the existence of a God. I let go through my own research and study. I let go before I ever new the term “new atheist” or that it referred to Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett and Harris. I had never even heard of those men. I had not read any non-Christian books, and any sites I had read online were minimal and well, quite frankly, didn’t help me to deconvert. If I’m wrong I can only trust that a benevolent God knows me and understands that “I don’t know” and to expect a mere being like myself “to get it” is maybe a bit much on Her part? 🙂

    Reply

    • Sherry
      Jan 29, 2011 @ 14:46:54

      I don’t know if I’m too hard on myself or not. I definitely have opinions and I’m rather too swift in giving them. (I have a political blog (www.afeatheradrift.wordpress.com) that is very snarky and satire-laden. So I can argue!

      I just thought at a point,it was becoming about the debate on issues of homosexuality, inerrancy, liberal versus conservative and so forth and not enough about the issues of what does one do when they have be taught that all scripture is literally true, and now it isn’t. It’s hard to make sense of it, to be sure, but frankly, there’s plenty of good stuff out there that helps a lot. Much of it is pastoral, in fact. I have it on good authority that Jews have NEVER considered the creation stories as literal and they wrote them! But hopefully you see my point.

      I’m wondering. Do you see evolution as being in opposition to a belief in God? For me, and frankly for most all mainline Christians, it never has been, but I know for some it is. It intrigues me why, if that is the case.

      In all the years I was agnostic, I often said, that if God was as wonderful as everyone said, then surely he wouldn’t punish me for honesty. After all, could I hide my doubts? I would have no worries about whether God can accomodate your lack of belief. But then I think you really know that. 🙂

      Reply

  3. D'ma
    Jan 29, 2011 @ 07:53:15

    “I think I misunderstood the “place” of the other person”

    I think this might be a very apt statement. Yes I admit I’m having some difficulty reframing my Christian experience. I have to do some considerable tearing down left to do. I’m in the process of deconstructing everything I have believed to this point. I’m stripping away all that I have been taught and immersed myself in so that I can rebuild myself from the ground up.

    I think I’m in a place where I have to start without any presuppositions and let the evidence take me where it leads me. I’m intrigued at the very least by your faith and encouraged to know that there is indeed another way to look at the Christian faith. I’m just not through with the demolition phase yet. I’d encourage you to continue to comment when you feel you have something to add to the conversation and to please understand I’m going to have questions because the concepts you present are very foreign to me. In the fundamentalist view mysticism is akin to blasphemy(that’s not my position, I simply don’t understand it). I’m not sure how you feel about this but something that does come from my studies is that you can only present what the Holy Spirit lays on your heart and it’s His job to convict. So please don’t look at any questions by myself or even challenges from others as a failure on your part. You are fulfilling the great commission in a sense.

    As Zoe points out I have connected with people of varied experiences. I think I said somewhere in another post that I’d found a community of online friends who offered comfort. They don’t support me in my agnosticism, they support me in my spiritual journey and as a person because they know what it’s like. I think some may have been trying to help me articulate my questions better and some were truly inquisitive in their own accord. The sense that I have gotten from all of them is if there were credible evidence or at least evidence credible to them that they would entertain it.

    Reply

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