I’m getting more of these letters and can’t possibly put all of them on the blog, but this letter — used with permission with a few minor changes (name, where “Karen” went to school, where she did her internship) — is one I think many of us can enter into today for a conversation.
As you read Karen’s letter and, as if talking to a wounded soul, pray and offer feedback if you feel prompted. Please don’t preach.
This is me again. I wrote to you a few months ago regarding a question about the offensive nature of Christ’s message and you wrote back a very helpful response. But now I find myself in a rather weird place. I left my church internship one month earlier than I was supposed to, because I basically hit rock-bottom in the world of ministry. I loved the people I worked with, and their ability to think outside of the evangelical context was so refreshing. I read McLaren’s books while there and I think after that the seams of my faith that were falling apart were completely obliterated, so to speak. I began to have no idea what way was up or down as far as seeking Truth/Jesus. Ive always been analytical and skeptical (about all things, but increasingly the Church, doctrine, religion, etc.) But I had buried it until now.
All I have ever known is church work. I was groomed to be “in ministry.” Then in the middle of college (a Christian college) I began to question some doctrines which led to a myriad of other questions about my faith and the various interpretations of “Truth.” While at my internship I continued to “perform” ministerial tasks (teaching, planning events, connecting with people in the community) but increasingly found myself pulling away from my faith journey. I realized how efficient I had become at teaching the Bible but I know my heart was completely not in it. I basically cracked and told my pastor/boss that I couldn’t do it anymore.
I moved back home but the thought of being a part of another community of believers puts me on the defense so quickly. I don’t know how to trust leadership after seeing how phony I was and all the dogma I dealt with in college of one-sided doctrinal teaching. I don’t even know if I believe in God anymore. The idea is great, but I find myself wondering if its all just been a bunch of psychological jargon to help me deal with the roller coaster of life.
Yet I still look at Jesus and find so much to say about who He was and how he lived…. yet I just don’t have any connection with Him… I daily wonder if my ability to have faith has just completely disappeared… and that maybe all that is left is me to admit that I have moved on and away from my Christian journey. I don’t want that to be the case, but I feel like my questions and experiences have pushed me so far to the edge that I don’t know how to recover.
I obviously don’t expect you to have the answers or even the time to process my e-mail. But I truly appreciated your thoughtful response before and wondered if you had a word or two for this disillusioned ex-church brat.
While this is a hard place to be, and a place I absolutely never anticipated I realize this doesn’t have to be a permanent place, and while the answer for me doesn’t have to be to have all my questions answered or that I have finally ascended to a new spiritual high (like the things you want at church camp) I do wish to have some beliefs to hold on to again… I miss that. But even more than beliefs, I’d like to think there is something bigger than mere beliefs or propositional truths I can claim that I hold on to- I guess I mean God when I say “something bigger”. This is a lonely place to be.
thanks for your willingness to listen and be supportive.
You may be surprised to hear this, but I think you are in both a familiar and a thin place. Lots of our favorites in the Bible were driven to the depths of their hearts – Abraham in Egypt and with Sarah, Moses in the wilderness and in Egypt and then back in the wilderness, David in his own home, Jeremiah … and don’t forget Jesus in Gethsemane. These familiar deep places lead us to the core of who we are – and I had a similar experience when I was in college. When we see the bottom, we come away — and we all come away sooner or later – with only what matters most, what survives in the depths. And that is why I say you are in a “thin” place. A thin place, an expression the Celtic Christians liked, is a spot or a location where we meet God. Right now you may feel you are in a “thick” place but I want you to know that the wisdom of the Church is that thick places are often the experience of a thin place. My advice is ride your thick place in the very depth of your heart. I suspect you know what I’m talking about here; if you don’t, please write me back.
When we ride through the thick place in faith, there is only one central thing to do: face God. Talk to God; listen to God; read the Bible, not to learn something new but to hear God. Ask God’s Spirit to come your way afresh. And wait. Wait in faith.
Karen, here’s our rock-bottom reality: God loves us. The God who delights in that endless perichoretic dance is the same God who knows the depths of death in the cross. The cross, paradoxically, is a thick place that is simultaneously a thin place. God meets us in pain and in our pain we meet God. In fact, God enters the thick place in our place and for us. I believe our thick places give us the opportunity to enter into the cross in a special way.
I would also advise you to find a wise person who will listen to your story. Someone who doesn’t give you “answers” but “ears” that listen so well that you are drawn out into a fuller realization of both who you are and what our faith is all about.
And one more thing: sometimes young aspiring leaders are trying to “save the world” and so are eager to enter into God’s macro-story. Of course, we all want to save the world from AIDS and poverty, but sometimes the problems can overwhelm us. And, some of us want to “save the Church” from all its blunderings. Once again, the problems can overwhelm us. My suggestion is take it simply: love your neighbor, respond to those who come your way with grace, and ask someone near you how you can help. Sometimes concentrating on the micro-stories can take our minds off the macro-story’s mega-problems.
Well, I see I want to speak again about facing God: only this time see the face of God in Jesus. Try to read a passage, just one, from Matthew 8—9 and watch Jesus operate. If the day begins with a heavy thickness, it could be difficult but give it your best effort. Enter into that story with Jesus. Better yet, enter into the life of the person who finds Jesus’ healing ministries. It’s nice to be at the receiving end of Jesus’ ministries. Too often we “ministers” identify far too much with Jesus, thinking we are the ones doing the saving. See yourself in the paralytic who is lowered into the home suddenly to look up and find himself looking up at Jesus with his forgiving, gracious, life-giving eyes. Maybe you’ll see the eyes of Jesus in your thick place. When you do, you’ll learn that in faith our thick places can become thin places.
Blessings and prayers from me and the whole Jesus Creed community who blesses and prays for you today,