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Posts Tagged ‘agnostic’

The rain, the rain, the rain on the roof. Her seven-year-old questions, large and painful as my 35-year-old ones. My quavering replies – it’s okay to not know . . . I don’t know for sure if we’ll live again . . . there’s so much that no one really understands . . .

I talk about Jesus. I say that we have stories from people who knew him that after he died he lived again, that he said we can too. She asks, what if they were lying? How do we know the stories are true?

She asks, what if I never see you again? What if after one of us dies we never see each other again? She is crying. What if? she insists. I attempt no more words. I am crying too, and we face one another in love through tears. The rain, the rain, the rain in the room.

I tell her that I do know for sure that I love her. I do know there is much goodness and beauty in the world, that life itself is mysterious in ways that comfort me, that I am trying my best to believe and hope that all will turn out well.

But what if it’s all a lie? she persists. And then she thinks some more. She talks about the trees, the kitty (who has climbed up the bunkbed ladder and nuzzled in next to her), the planets, the sun. Nobody could make that stuff up, she notes. That makes me think there must be a God, she says.

I agree, and I tell her there are people throughout history who have spoken of their experiences with God. I tell her I think God did bring forth life and does care about us.

It’s the best I can do. Into the silence creeps the echo of the words she prayed a few minutes ago, entreating God to help our friends feel better, our friends who last week held their newborn baby girls as they died in their arms. I wonder if she hears it too.

She asks if she can tell Jesus she’s sorry for all the bad things she’s done and then go to Heaven when she dies. I say she can always tell Jesus she is sorry for doing bad things. I have more to say about my hope in neverending life bigger than the Sunday School notions of Heaven she’s heard. But she speaks again.

Why would people just invent Heaven if it’s not really true? she asks. If I find out it’s not true, I’m going to be so mad, she rages, and she cries some more.

I was seven once. I had questions like these. But I didn’t ask them; at least, not for long. My parents and my Sunday School teachers had a ready answer for everything, in the form of a Bible verse or a doctrinal statement, and I went to sleep knowing I was saved and on my way to Heaven.

Tonight I failed to give my daughter the same thing. She handed me her painful questions and I didn’t make them go away like my parents did – at least for the short term. My questions never did go away; they just burrowed deeper and lay dormant, only to blossom forth in a withering sort of spring in my thirties.

Maybe I’m doing alright by my seven-year-old, letting her keep her questions closer to the surface, closer to the nourishing light of the everyday. She was crying tears of pain, even darkness and fear. But I hope they are cleansing tears, and I believe it is better to openly express the pain and darkness and fear than to feel ashamed of it, to believe it is incorrect, a sign of disobedience, and let it fester in a deep hole where it can do serious internal damage.

David the psalmist wasn’t afraid to express these things. He said, “Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight. Surely everyone stands as a mere breath. Surely everyone goes about like a shadow. Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; they heap up and do not know who will gather.

“And now, O Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you. Deliver me from all my transgressions. Do not make me the scorn of the fool. I am silent; I do not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it. Remove your stroke from me; I am worn down by the blows of your hand.

“You chastise mortals in punishment for sin, consuming like a moth what is dear to them; surely everyone is a mere breath.

“Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; do not hold your peace at my tears. For I am your passing guest, an alien, like all my forebears. Turn your gaze away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more.” (Psalm 39)

Turn your gaze away from me, that I may smile again! Ironically, when I had no more words for Luthien, I sang her the “Barocha” blessing – “the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you, and give you peace forever . . . the Lord be gracious to you, the Lord turn his face towards you, and give you peace forever.”

But she did lie down in peace, soft kitty cuddled close, soft raindrops on the roof.

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This past week, my seven-year-old daughter asked me if I believed in Santa Claus. Not one of those parents too concerned about scarring my children for life, I told her, “no.”

“But, Mom, [neighbor girl’s name here] said that she got a present last year with a card that was in handwriting that was not her mom’s! Do you believe now?”

“Well, no.”

My four-year-old son chimed in. “[Preschool classmate’s name here] said that Santa came to her house last year, but he was very quiet. Do you believe now?”

“Sorry, no.”

Daughter whispering to son, something like, “if Mom and Dad don’t believe, Santa won’t come to our house!”

Then, aloud in ragged unison, “Please, Mom and Dad, believe in Santa Claus! Please!”

In his book Losing My Religion, William Lobdell says that Pascal’s wager just doesn’t work for him, because he can’t will himself to believe something he simply doesn’t believe. Lobdell says, “it seems to me that to indulge in Pascal’s Wager, you actually have to believe in Christ. The Lord would know if you were faking. I could no longer fake it. It was time to be honest about where I was in my faith.”

Christian apologetics seems to function from two underlying convictions – nonbelievers are either:

a) ignorant, and therefore needing to learn more information, or

b) rebellious, and therefore needing to repent.

There are other ideas, too, like the one I most easily gravitate towards. I can identify with wounded ex-believers, and think that the only thing holding them back from belief is healing and an introduction to the real God, the right God, i.e., my current understanding of God.

A truly difficult thing for believers to do is to simply believe nonbelievers’ explanations of their personal faith stories. When Lobdell, and others like John Marks (Reasons to Believe), tell us that they tried, they really tried, to hold on to their faith in Jesus, even their faith in God, and lost it in spite of their knowledge, their desire, and all – it is often incredibly difficult for believers to take that simple explanation and let it be.

It’s ironic that people who treasure a belief in the unseen can have such a difficult time believing what is plainly spoken to them. I know from personal experience that with enough practice believing “impossible” things, it becomes easier to discount obvious things, including the weight of doubt and unbelief going on inside one’s own self.

What good is a faith that feels compelled to ignore or explain away the disbelief it encounters in others and oneself? I think that sort of faith is rightly called blind faith. What I’m after is a wide-eyed, open-eared, expectant sort of belief that takes for granted that the world is bigger than me, that other people have wisdom I don’t, that if I feel my belief system is threatened by someone telling me the truth, then it’s time to do some reworking with that belief system.

Which reminds me of another post I promised recently and have not yet delivered – thoughts from The Myth of Certainty. That would be a counterbalance of sorts to this post. Belief systems are never complete, are always needing reworking, and yet – to gain some traction, one must take a point of view from time to time.

My point of view at this moment is that I have written enough and I need not bother with a tidy conclusion. Feel free to write your own conclusion as a comment!

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Here is a new song, and the first one we’ve recorded as a video and posted on Youtube.

Lyrics –

Maybe Not
copyright 2010 Julia Bloom

My life is a movie edited for TV, seething under docile mediocrity, and if you paint pictures better take a good look, if you like stories this would make a good book. Or not, maybe not.

I grew up in the back seat of the family Ford. My daddy was a preacher traveling for the Lord. My momma smiled sweetly and dressed us up well. We labored in the vineyards keeping sinners out of hell. Or not, maybe not.

I’ve gazed at stars until they burned my eyes, drunk living water till my throat was dry.

I had a hundred crushes but I never caught one, I had a couple boyfriends and we had a little fun, I had a couple babies with the man who calls me wife. We’ve been together twenty years, we’re bonded now for life. Or not, maybe not.

Sometimes under my feet I think I feel the world spin round. Is each day going faster now or am I slowing down? Once when I was concentrating, unafraid to see, speeding past myself I saw a lively younger me. Or not, maybe not.

I’ve kissed the hand that held me in my place, I’ve wiped each wisp of wonder from my face.

Every time I think of getting something off my chest, my barricaded broken heart cries, “citizen’s arrest!” I never can remember why I left the womb. I maybe lost my keys, I’ll maybe find them in the tomb. Or not, maybe not.

I used to paint pictures when I was a little girl. I used to write stories that could echo round the world. The colors are all faded now, the pencil marks erased – those scribbles of my childhood were nothing but a waste. Or not, maybe not.

I’ve lain awake just waiting for a dream. I’ve held my tongue until I want to scream. I’ve kissed the hand that held me in my place. I’ve wiped each wisp of wonder from my face. I’ve gazed at stars until they burned my eyes, drunk living water till my throat was dry.

Or not. Maybe not. Or not, maybe not.

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copyright 2/26/2010 by Julia Tindall Bloom

i thought
i knew
i learned
i doubt
i guess
i hope
i live

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I answered four questions over the phone recently, for a political survey. Question 1: Do you support domestic drilling for oil? My answer: No. Question 2: Do you consider yourself pro-life or pro-choice? My answer: pro-life. Question 3: Do you believe the current economic crisis would be better handled by cutting spending or raising taxes? My answer: cutting spending. Question 4: Do you consider yourself more in alignment with Democrats or Republicans? My answer: Democrats.

But I don’t exactly sound like a Democrat. Better get my ducks in a row and toe the line. Except I don’t want to be a Democrat. Or a Republican.

Labels get us stuck. If I know that you are an “evangelical Christian,” whatever I have learned to attach to that label gets stuck to you too. Therefore in my unfiltered thoughts you probably are a political conservative and an anti-intellectual, have rather poor taste in music and books, and scoff at or at least feel suspicious of efforts towards care of the earth and social justice.

I know better, of course, but my familiarity with evangelicalism (having spent many years under that label) has bred contempt. It’s become all too easy for me to remember well my disagreements with the subculture of my youth and ignore the many digressions from these negative stereotypes.

Then, to escape the negative side of the “evangelical” label, I want to stick a new label on me. “Liberal” sounds good, or maybe “Democrat,” though I want to be more radical than that, so maybe “revolutionary,” but that can be a bit off-putting so maybe I’ll go for “postmodern” because that’s more open to interpretation, but I also hate sounding too uppity, want to have at least a touch of “down-to-earth”-ness, so . . .

Off I go searching for the perfect label, unthinkingly assuming that there is a platform or agenda out there that perfectly suits me, a pre-fab perspective on life where I will be right at home. Once I’ve chosen my new label, I will all-too-quickly stop thinking things through on my own terms and begin making intellectual excuses to accept everything that goes along with my new label. I’ll dive into the subculture under the label, suck up the energy and life, friendship and inspiration I need, but then after a while, familiarity will again begin to breed contempt, as I reach a threshold of living inconsistently with my soul, that deep inner self that Parker Palmer calls a shy, wild creature.

A friend recently told me she is finished with labels, and I’m beginning to feel I quite agree. Classify this – I homeschool my children; think evolution is the best explanation for the origin of the species; believe God is the beginning and the end of everything and love Jesus who is God with us and the rightful ruler of the universe; think it’s ludicrous that my nation’s constitution still does not contain an Equal Rights Amendment; oppose abortion; oppose the death penalty; oppose war for any reason; oppose killing or oppressing animals for food and will gratefully eat a burger if you are sharing it with me; dream of a world without gasoline-powered transportation and love motorcycle rides; find it shocking that our ‘superpower’ nation can build superhighways and start wars it hasn’t budgeted for but still hasn’t made health care a universal right for its citizens; think my nation’s government is bloated, corrupt and ineffective; denounce blind faith and am attempting to authentically live in the question.

In Labelese, I may be something like a Christian agnostic pro-life feminist environmentalist libertarian Democrat evolutionist conservative vegan freegan . . . and that’s a silly mouthful, so instead, call me human and let’s talk over coffee. My list above is a sampling of the opinions I currently hold, but they are like rocks in a riverbed, continually being reshaped by the flow of thoughts, conversations, information and experiences running over them. It’s my own riverbed, completely unique and just too sloppy with life to keep any label stuck to it.

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