When I was 13, as part of my religious confirmation, I had to write a statement of faith – a brief religious essay that was shared with everyone at my church. I absolutely hated it.
As Tolstoy might say, “Every unhappy 13-year-old is unhappy in their own way.” To put it differently – and I’ll go ahead and be the first person to quote both Leo Tolstoy and John Mulaney in a religious essay – “You remember being 12, when you’re like, ‘No one look at me or I’ll kill myself.’”
I was an exquisitely miserable 13-year-old. This was the period when my family had, as we like to put it, “jumped the shark.” (We “grew the beard” a few years later.) I was just beginning to realize that my brain didn’t work like most people’s, and that I was in more than the normal amount of psychic pain. But this was still being written off as “preteen hormones,” so I was left to believe that I was simply worse at coping with life than everyone else.
The only prayers I remember independently making at this time in my life were quite sincere bedtime requests that I not wake up again. Layer that on top of the idea that the subject matter – what you believe about God – is deeply personal, and that the audience was my church.
As an adult, I love church. As an adolescent, it was a mixed bag. You don’t get to pick your churches as a kid. I was 19 the first time I heard a pastor use female pronouns for God. I was older than that when I learned how to look for the code words “reconciling” or “affirming” when selecting a place of worship. And church is where I had some of my earliest experiences with creepy comments by men. (A middle-aged man’s eyes raking up my soft child-body. “You’re so beautiful. If I was your age…” like it was a compliment. I don’t even remember who it was anymore, but I’ll never forget the words.)
So at 13, I wrote something wildly insincere, and used flowery language as a smokescreen. I wrote nothing about why I actually believed or cared about faith, because honestly, I was a child and it wasn’t anyone else’s business.
Many years later, I’d like to try again. No one is standing over my shoulder this time. Here’s what I actually believe.
God is real.
I don’t know what to tell y’all. I don’t have a good reason why I believe this. I simply know it, with uncomplicated certainty. I’m actually on board for the entire Apostles’ Creed, and the Nicene Creed, and yeah, let’s throw in the Athanasian Creed too.
I love many, many things about the Christian faith. I love how Ash Wednesday determinedly forces us to remember our mortality. I love — love! — baptisms. I love praying for things, and I love the reckless absurdity of believing something that makes no apparent sense. I love the way that God calls us to draw together, to stay connected, to fight to see the humanity in each other, to treat each other as equals, to make servants of ourselves. All of this I know, deep in my soul, to be right and true. I love that Jesus has the gall to be like, “I’m just asking you to ignore all your human impulses, do the exact opposite of your inclinations, let go of all the things and money you love, and love people who are quite obviously assholes.” Like it’s no big deal. And it isn’t, really, I think, if you understand the rewards. But I don’t. I actually don’t understand a lot. Time for my second point.
I don’t get God, at all.
I don’t get why God made me mentally ill — honestly, it feels like a dick move on Her part. I don’t get why bad things happen to good people. I don’t get why Rachel Held Evans is dead. I don’t get why there’s so much weird stuff in the Bible or what the point is of having us spend time in a mortal, broken world at all. I’m not really a big fan of life in general, as previously discussed. But I’m not super bothered about not understanding God. If the being in charge of the universe weren’t way, way smarter than I can comprehend, that would be a bigger problem.
God’s love is enormous.
The older I get, the less I believe in any traditional concept of hell. It doesn’t jibe with the God I know.
I know that, as far as forgiveness alone is concerned, the tenderness of God is far greater than we will ever understand on earth or perhaps elsewhere. That is surely what it means to say that he gave his unique Son to die on our behalf. I am thoroughly convinced that God will let everyone into heaven who, in his considered opinion, can stand it.Christian philosopher Dallas Willard
My God is not a God of rules and punishment. My God would just like it if I would stop touching the hot stove, please. My God is just pointing out that I’d probably be less miserable if I stopped being so jealous and petty.
Oh, and let’s be very clear about something else: my God loves all of our vast and spectacular variety of sexual orientations and gender presentations, without reservation. (And get out of here with anything resembling the word “complementarian.” This blog does not have a comments section, and that is intentional.) My God will one day cut off every last artery, vein, and capillary of kyriarchy. My God is with us when we kiss someone new, when we try on a binder or a pair of high heels for the first time, when we marry and when we divorce. Even doubt — especially doubt — is sacred. Any moment or object can be holy if we choose to see how God inhabits it. I know this sounds hokey, because it is. God’s love is too big for me to get any ironic distance from it.
I tend not to evangelize. I don’t believe you can talk anyone into believing something so absolutely wild and beautiful. But if my incredible, wonderful God ignites a spark in your heart and you’d like to fan the flame, feel free to reach out. I would love to be a servant to you.