When You Miss the Darkness

dark church
Photo by n3wjack on Flickr’s creative commons

Is it strange that I miss the darkness that sucker-punched my soul?

This was four years ago. I was living overseas, six months split between two continents, saturated in Christian community that was young and fiery and expectant. I was young and fearful and depressed, but this was my chance. This could be my cure.

One day, we left our drafty English manor with its roast dinners and familiar faces and small groups for the Midlands, for Coventry, for Evangelism Week.

During the day, we threw ourselves into creative evangelism and indirect evangelism and woo-woo evangelism. At night, friends and strangers slept beside me on the carpeted church sanctuary floor, but I couldn’t sleep.

Do I really believe what I’m trying to get everyone else to believe?

The door was opened, and oh what blew in! I lay on my half of the air mattress and tried to keep my breathing steady and my body silent. For the first time ever, I was seriously considering walking away from Christianity. And my soul gaped and gasped and trembled as it realized what all that would mean. This wasn’t a drill.

At the time, I would’ve given anything to close that door.

Now, I want to open it again.

The darkness was wild and terrifying and bleak, but it also blew away illusions and assumptions and meaningless hypotheticals, at least for a time. I learned how to be honest with myself and others, how to be awake to my own soul. What I learned in the dark, I carried with me into the light. The darkness was fierce, but so was the light, and I wonder if they needed each other.

Today, I’m so tired. The darkness is not a sucker punch to my gut anymore, but rather weights on my chest that keep getting heavier and making it harder to breath.

Every so often, something breaks through the fog. Every so often, a Lenten hymn or a line in the Creed will catch in my throat, catch on something inside me, and I won’t feel quite so tired that evening. But all too soon, I’m drifting off again, and it’s getting harder and harder for anything to rouse me.

The loop starts again, that cynical loop, whenever anyone bumps the “Play” button. But by now I’m bored by the sound of my own voice. I’m dragging, dragging, dragging, and experience tells me that nothing will happen unless I can somehow make it happen. Someone asks me if it’s faith or fear that keeps me here, and I don’t know, it’s all tangled together. I’m too tired to try anymore.

This is not the darkness that blows open doors and knocks me flat, for good or ill. Rather, this is the darkness of closed doors and stale air. Maybe one day I will find good in this too, but I can’t help but think that the door needs to open again, whatever may lie behind it now, even if it scares me. Even if I die a sort of death in the process.

Who knows what the morning will bring, or the evening.

 

This post is a part of Addie Zierman’s synchroblog to celebrate the release of her new book, Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark. Read other entries here.

I used to think _________, and now I think ________.

looking into the distance

I used to think in black and white.

There was nothing in the dark to be redeemed, nothing to be recognized, not even a smattering of stars to show me my own spindly hand in front of my face.

And in the white and bright and hot, I was always squinting and burning without realizing it. There was too much gauze and glare to illuminate anything of substance.

I sat in brown chairs on Sunday mornings, wearing dresses and facing a man in a suit. I memorized Bible verses word-perfect and dared to speak them aloud if it might earn me a ribbon. I wore a white gown and was dunked underwater, my ticket to start sipping grape juice from those little cups. I wrote down all the right answers in my terrible handwriting and spouted them to friends.

I had my private miseries, my looming darkness, but God was a wall of bricks, each one unmoving and painted just so and hardly attended to.

I don’t remember when the bricks started to come loose and lose their color. It happened so gradually at first, and for a while I was too sidetracked by the words I could never say and the boys who never liked me back. Then, I was too lost in a depression I could not name and fears I could not overcome.

I am 26 years old, and now I think in gray.

I read the Bible and I am confused. I wonder if we’ve been pushing the text to fit an all-encompassing Divine mold it was never meant to occupy. I wonder what Paul would think of his letters being considered Holy Scripture. And yet I still find many of these ancient words to be truth and life.

I listen to stories and I am awoken. Stories from real live people, stories told and written and photographed and adapted. Stories that break my heart and open my eyes. Stories that aren’t cleaned up or brushed off or tied up with a nice, neat bow. No longer can one narrative fit every face standing here, no longer is it “us and them,” no longer is there an implicit threat in his sexuality, in her culture. I do not know what it is like to be gay, to be poor, to be a person of color, to flee for my life. But give me ears to hear and eyes to see and a heart to understand.

I pray and I am uncertain. What – if anything – is changing because I whispered “please” and “help” into the wind? Are the words carried back to me on the breeze from God or from my subconscious? What is rumbling in the depths beyond the synapses that fire and the blood that travels through my body? I know there must be Something.

I go to a bar and see glimmers of beauty and redemption in ordinary conversations.

I hear the phrase “relationship with God” and I’m not afraid to ask, “How?”

I sit in church and sometimes I feel nothing. I stand in church to participate in the bread and wine – the Eucharist – and I usually feel something.

They speak of Jesus, and I doubt and hope and can never quite leave.

Mostly, I am in the middle and on the margins and engulfed in never-ending mystery, my old assumptions of what is dead and what is alive turned on their heads.

But in this gray, I am searching and being found in ways I never was when I lived my life in black and white. I am more alive here.

I am a boat in the middle of the ocean; I am standing in the rain without an umbrella; I am trying to make out the contours of home through the fog. But every so often, I see a rainbow start to form in the darkest cloud, and it beckons me to follow.

*****

This blog post is a part of author Sarah Bessey‘s synchroblog based around the prompt “I used to think ______, and now I think ______”. Click here to read others’ responses. In the same vein, be sure to check out Sarah’s wonderful new book, Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith (you can read my review – and possibly win a copy of the book – here).

I might be a feminist

church in NorwayPart of me doesn’t want to write this, not yet. Part of me wants to wait until I have everything decided and sorted out and settled upon, until I am ready to perfectly articulate and defend it all. Then it would be less scary.

I’m not ready, but I have decided to come forward anyway.

Reading what women like Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held Evans, and many others here and there and in between have written is changing me.

Love is becoming more important. Grace is becoming more important. Justice is becoming more important. I am open to your stories and your viewpoints; I am ready to wrestle out in the open and be challenged.

And I might be a feminist.

I have always accepted the basic complementarian understanding of gender roles without giving it much thought: Women are to submit to their husbands, and preaching is for men. In this blog post, I’ll be focusing mostly on the second one.

It was never a big issue for anyone around me growing up. It was what it was, and people accepted it, and it seemed normal and uncontroversial. After all, I never wanted to preach, nor did I know any woman who did. It didn’t affect my life as far as I could tell.

Now, I’m starting to question it. I’m finding strict complementarians and those who take Paul’s words on submission to their literal extremes. I’m learning to walk in the freedom and love of Christ. And for the first time, I’m asking questions.

Why can’t a woman preach? I wonder. For the first time, it’s bothering me. Women can do this, but not that or that. Did you know that Wayne Grudem, cofounder of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, came up with an 83-item list detailing what women can and cannot do in the church? Why do so many people refuse to accept that a woman might have the gift of preaching (or try to find a way around it by calling it “teaching”)? Why is it considered okay for a woman to preach as a missionary in a developing country, but not here in American churches? Why are so many afraid of her sermons and her leadership and her voice? Why do they say his words are approved by God and hers are not, simply because she is a woman?

Why can’t a woman preach? She is just as much of a person as the man in that pulpit is. Her insights and understanding and voice are just as valid as his. Men and women are co-conspirators in sin … and co-heirs in grace. We have an equal measure of both.

I know many people could come up with Bible verses to “prove” there is no room for questions like these, that Scripture is plain and clear on the subject. Why can’t a woman do that? Well, because the Bible says she can’t, that’s why!

For example, I could say, along with Paul, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” but then you could counter me with this other statement of Paul’s: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”

But I think there is room to question, to wrestle, to allow ourselves to consider the possibility that, maybe, the interpretations many of us have grown up with, in one form or another, may not be the right ones.

In her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans showed me that there are strong, biblically based arguments for mutuality … egalitarianism … whatever you want to call it. Other people have also challenged my old assumptions.

One of those people is Sarah Bessey, whose book Jesus Feminist was released one week ago today. In this interview, she defines feminism as “the simple belief that women are people, too. At the core, feminism simply means that we champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance to those of men, and we refuse discrimination against women. That’s it.”

Her book is called Jesus Feminist because she became a feminist because of Jesus: “I learned about the Kingdom of God, I learned to look at my life and even the world through the lens of Jesus’ life, ministry, and teachings,” she says in the same interview. “And as I became more active in women’s issues, I began to see specifically how Jesus interacted with women in the Gospels. It was revolutionary. It was profound. It was just plain normal. And I loved it. Jesus thought women were people, too, and at that point, I decided that I wanted to be a feminist in the way that Jesus would be a feminist.”

This is still so new to me. I don’t know all the right definitions and terminologies, let alone how to argue for one side or the other. But maybe it’s not about sides. Maybe it’s okay to be right where I am, right now, with my wondering, questioning heart and my hands empty of weapons and tactics and “all the right answers.” Maybe that’s the best way.

I always want to be open. Even when I reach a read-and-researched-and-thought-and-prayed-through conclusion, I want to be open to the fact that that might change someday. That knowing Jesus might change me in radical ways. And I always want to save room to listen and learn from your story, your interpretation, your relationship with Jesus. I need your voice.

Interested in reading more on this subject? This blog post is one of many in a synchroblog about being a “Jesus feminist.” You can read more about the book Jesus Feminist here. I’m really looking forward to reading it; I hope you check it out too!

Quote from Jesus Feminist

Day 16: Was I Ever on Fire?

When We Were On Fire synchroblogMy hands are covering my face. Or they were before I removed them to type these words.

I don’t know where to begin this story of my life in a first-generation Christian family. There is too much, and there is too little. How can I bring it all together into a coherent whole?

Honestly, I don’t like thinking about my childhood. The bad memories overshadow the good ones. Memories of hiding and oh-so-much-guilt and shattered innocence and the ugly mess of my own angry words stick around as the good ones grow dim.

But those aren’t the stories I want to tell you, not now.

This is the story of how I played the perfect little Christian girl, and how, ultimately, that didn’t work.

I memorized the Bible verses, I did all the Sunday school and Awana assignments, I was the “smart, quiet one.” At home, I shouted, I refused, I glared with my fiery firstborn eyes. At church, I was good.

“Your knowledge of the Word always showed in your sharing in class,” my 6th grade Sunday school teacher wrote in the front inside cover of What the Bible is All About (the King James Version, of course) — a prize for my diligent performance.

I “prayed the prayer” at age 3 or 4, but I don’t remember it. I was baptized young and became a church member young. It was what you did. Baptism was supposed to precede communion, I knew, so I always looked down my nose at the unsubmerged kids who helped themselves to the holy bread squares.

I wrote letters to my unsaved grandparents full of Bible verses and the plan of salvation and matter-of-fact statements that they should become Christians and go to church.

My mom had grown up smack-dab in the middle of pain and brokenness, and her modus operandi in parenting was “shelter them!”

So my sister and I wore our matching jean jumpers to our non-denominational-but-basically-Baptist church, around which our social lives were centered. We were homeschooled. We sang, “Stop! And let me tell you, what the Lord has done for me!” until we were sick of it, we listened to Adventures in Odyssey on the radio most afternoons but never got sick of it, and we were not allowed to watch Pokémon or read Harry Potter or listen to ‘N Sync. But that was okay because we believed our parents when they said those things were bad.

In high school, I left my isolated homeschooling life in the woods and transitioned to a Christian school.

Again, I distinguished myself as the “smart, quiet one”; again I tried to please everyone; again I wore a mask.

It was worse this time, though. When I was younger, I sometimes slipped up and sulked at camp or insisted on my own way during a piano lesson. But in high school, I got better and better at adding mildness to my list of accomplishments. I was the “nice, smart, quiet girl.”

Life rolled along, and I rolled with it. I was living a fully inherited faith with a fully intact mask.

When the full weight of this hit me my freshman year of college, I felt like a failure. I had never “made my faith my own.” My testimony wasn’t victorious. I couldn’t think of any real spiritual turning points.

Insecurity had always been my faithful companion, but college was the worst. I never despised or compared or isolated myself as much as I did then. I was sure that if people knew the “real me,” they would reject me. I couldn’t open up, I couldn’t take off the mask, and I was depressed. I wasn’t the person I wanted to be, and I was starting to believe I never would be.

And today?

I have hope again. I took off my mask, and nobody ran away. I asked hard questions, and I didn’t shock anyone. But even if I had shocked or they had run, that wouldn’t have changed my identity as a person of worth. I’m finally learning who I am, and I finally like myself. But God … he seems so much more confusing and uncertain than he used to, and so does, well, everything.

I want to be on fire, I want to “taste and see,” but I won’t fake it again. I won’t be the perfect little Christian girl again.

The journey continues. I am here, and I am me, and right now, that is enough.

This is day 16 of 31 Days in the Word … and this is also a synchroblog to celebrate the release of Addie Zierman’s memoir, When We Were On Fire. Click here and scroll down to read the stories of others’ faith journeys.