Tuesday, March 3, 2009

how i roll

I've been thinking a lot lately about my faith--specifically, my expression of it. I've always been resistant to manufactured emotions--it's all too easy to persuade a room full of people of any age/income/background to start crying and raising their hands and emoting their fear/gratitude/love/adoration. Cue the music, start the tear-jerking testimony, I cringe when I'm in the midst of Cattle- Call Christianity. I don't roll that way. For the same reasons I don't enjoy graduation ceremonies, 9/11 memorial services or what SanDiego Momma Deb calls "Grief Porn." They're contrived events capitalizing on high emotions to make people say and do things we all know perfectly well they won't follow through on the moment they return to their normal lives. I don't enjoy faith based on feelings. Feelings are tricky things--they change on a dime and they're often empty. For me, faith is a choice and it has to be based on facts.

A good parallel would be my relationship with Mr. D. I love him. Every day. I wake up and I decide "I will love this man." It's so easy to look at someone else and think, "Oh, they make me feel attractive." Or special. Or younger. Or happier. But by choosing to love Mr. D, I take the good and the bad and my loving him is a decisive action--a verb. Verbs are action words. Love is a verb that requires my participation. Feel is a self-centered kind of verb that requires merely my reaction. I don't want to live my life reacting to my spouse. That's both unrealistic and dangerous--the very reason most marriages collapse (not all--abuse is a good reason to divorce somebody) is because somebody doesn't make somebody else happy anymore. I could say that once a week about Mr. D, but in the big picture my constant happiness isn't the only thing at stake. Likewise, I don't want to exercise my faith reacting to God and how He treats me. Because right there, folks? Is where most people fall off the Faith Wagon. Things go down the crapper and so goes their faith. Pretty weak, if you ask me.

I don't participate in most Bible studies because they're feeling-based--"How to have a happy heart" sort of stuff. Women join together to complain and convalesce (I can do that just fine with my friends, thank you very much) and while praying for each other is very nice, it always comes with fluff that I don't enjoy. Like getting advice on how to decorate for the holidays. Or having your colors done. Or taking a quiz to find out "Are you the mom of teenagers." I mean really. We know perfectly well I get more soul food from visiting The Women's Colony where authenticity abounds--and is embraced.

So how do you practice your faith, Green Girl?
Excellent question. I'm a reader. I've spent lots of time gathering the facts and lining up the arguments (C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite writers of theology). I pray. I compare my life to what I read in the Good Book. It surprises me how many people, women especially,who are all Gung-Ho God but they can't tell you a single Bible Fun Fact. I hoard them like Reece's Peanut Butter cups on Halloween night. Like this guy named Caleb who was sent into the Promised Land by Moses. In Numbers he comes back and tells the Israelites to go for it--conquer the land. He was 40 at the time. Moses promised him in return for his faith he'd get to claim some land. Later on he goes to Joshua to claim his promise--he's 85 years old. He sits on God's promise for forty-five years. In Joshua 14 you can read about how God blesses Caleb through Joshua and he claims Hebron as his inheritance. I often return to meditate upon that point when I'm feeling a little, well, ignored by God--when I'm frustrated with Mr. T and school or with my parents or with the big mystery of what my future holds I consider Caleb. He had to wait 45 years to bank on his promise--but he claimed it and it was his. That story gives me more confidence than any amount of Precious Moments plaques telling me God keeps His promises.

Because I don't fit the mold of Emotive Christian, it's really hard for me to find my niche at church. I'm looking for a Bible study for the rational thinker. A prayer partner to discuss the deeper stuff I dig up every time I reread the Bible. I'm not wired to get teary-eyed and speak in tongues, shout blessings at my neighbor or wear a WWJD bracelet--or slap a fish on the back end of the Momvan, thankyouverymuch. I do teach Cubbies, train leaders, work the nursery counter, cook and deliver hot meals to people needing a hand. I donate my kids' clothes to a family with 2 girls and a boy with no hand-me-downs. I discuss the Sunday School lessons with my sons and try to help them see God's got a plan for their lives. God cares more about the things I do and how my heart is while I'm doing them--I get that. I also understand that just as some folks aren't good at teaching Cubbies, I'm not good at hugging and sharing my faith with total strangers. He gets that because He made me the way I am.

Despite the fact that I'm not going around blabbering to everyone and their borther about my business with God, I'm becoming more at peace with the fact that on Judgement Day, He'll have plenty of other areas to hold me accountable. He created people with all kinds of gifts and talents, He loves me just as I am.

20 comments:

  1. Melissa,

    I teared up reading this post! (Okay. I'm kidding.)

    But, you have succeeded at writing authentically and well about a topic I can only really intimate about in my own work. The reason? Probably that I don't have the personal courage to put it out there.

    I'm glad that you do.

    I have always held tight to a concept of "gifts differing", meaning that I know there are people who are moved by faith to act in ways I would not act and to be swept away by feelings that I have trouble getting swept away in. Maybe I was born without water wings. But, I have always been a more boots-on-the-ground find-a-way-to-help believer.

    I guess what I'm saying is that I get where you are coming from. And I respect it.

    And the story of Caleb is one I had not paid attention to before. Looks like I have some reading to do.

    Thanks for this. - Julia

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  2. I! LOVE! THIS! POST!

    I SOOOOOOOO get your way to handling religion. I have tried to go to churches. Even when I liked the people, liked the message, liked the ideas, there was something that made me hate the fact that it was "prepackaged" religion. I am not a religious person. I am a spiritual person.

    One of my favorite movies of all time, Dogma, makes a great point when it talks about faith as "having a good idea".

    I always knew you were one smart cookie!

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  3. Cue the music, start the tear-jerking testimony, I cringe when I'm in the midst of Cattle- Call Christianity.

    AGREE, AGREE, AGREE!

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  4. I can't tell you how moved I was by this post. You have expressed something that I have often thought about but didn't have the words to say. I agree that religion should be a matter of action, and that the best way to express it is through acts of justice, kindness, and compassion. And this holds true no matter what particular faith a person belongs to. Thanks so much for this post.

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  5. Thank you for this. I NEVER have the courage to talk about my religion (or probably more lack of religion) with others. I kindly nod as they share their beliefs but bite my tongue when it comes to questioning. I guess, I've always felt that churches are against the questions, and I have questions. I've even read books that are supposed to answer the faith questions except they don't.

    I am uncomfortable with cattle-call (great term) religion. I am uncomfortable with religion that is judgmental (what Conservative Repubs shout). I'm uncomfortable with religion that is not based on "goodwill toward men".

    Instead, I live my life following the religion of kindness (saw that on a bumper sticker today), but constantly wonder if I missing something.

    I appreciate your openness. You've got me thinking again.

    -Abby

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  6. I love this post. So honest. And what a GREAT reminder to me that I really do celebrate my faith by reading great books. I tend to go for "fiction". But maybe "faith" is where I should go first when looking for my next book.

    And I don't do well with "women's groups" either. Of course, it doesn't help that they are always occurring during the WEEK DAYS (does anyone else out there work???). But our homegroup filled with other families in similar life situations as us, is wonderful for me.

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  7. I like what you said about thinking of love as a verb.
    Great post :)

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  8. To an extent I am a "crier". Put me in an emotionally charged situation where someone I love starts crying and there's no stopping me.

    To an extent I am a "giggler". Put me in a christian cattle-call and the only tears you'll see are because I'm laughing so hard I'm crying.

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  9. Awesome post! Our pastor was just talking about this on Sunday. We are going through the book of Ephesians. It was perfect timing as my husband had just rented the movie "Religulous" the night before, where Bill Maher proceeded to interview the most KOOKY Christians I have ever seen, who didn't seem to use one iota of their brain power to explain their faith. It royally pissed me off...mostly because Bill Maher wasn't truly seeking information on Christianity, he was just looking to make a mockery of it (but I digress).

    Anywho, yep, God did design our minds, and made us to USE them. To seek Him out, to ask questions, to become rooted in our faith because of our knowledge of Him and His word.

    I must confess that I can be a hand raising, tear-spilling, person at times. But, I'm an emotional person by nature...and that's just how God made me. But I'm glad that He's also nudging me to have a balance between the two...between mind and heart...and that He's leading me to either hear things or read things that support that. So thanks for your post!

    And if you want to check out my Pastor's last message, you can go the website paradisechurch dot com and then go to Downloads...it doesn't look like it's posted yet, but it would be the one from 3/1 when it gets posted.

    (Oh...and I'm totally with you on the Caleb story, except mine is the Nehemiah story. I'm still working on a concept God gave me 10 years ago...wasn't ready for it then...things are gearing up now, and it's quite cool.)

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  10. Amen sister!
    I know there are plenty of women out there like you--I'm one of them too. Luckily I've found some at my church, all busy women who enjoy each other's company but are more interested in doing missions than social-ish things. We have try to get together monthly at night and discuss books and do mission projects and hear speakers, and it's really one of my favorite parts of church.

    I so agree. Emotion/feeling ebbs and flows. Faith has to be more than that.

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  11. "We have try" ?
    Maybe I'll blame it on cabin fever. Four inches of snow and my beloved South Carolina shuts down. My kids have had two days off from school and I feel like I run a restaurant/laundromat.
    How do you snow pros make it?

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  12. Evangelism is not necessarily about wearing a sandwich board, handing out tracts, or running about shrieking, "Turn or Burn!!!" Your testimony is in your life. And in the lives you nurture.

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  13. "Easy to look at someone else" - never!

    Okay my husband isn't looking over my shoulder now. So, I love the idea of commitment being a choice not an emotion.

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  14. spirituality is so personal, isn't it..?..and spirituality is definitely its own thing, sometimes, but not always, coincidental with 'religion'..! It sounds like you have a good relationship with both!

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  15. You are not alone. There is a big difference between proclaiming your beliefs and actually living them. Always, always, always remember that. As long as you walk the walk, you are okay in my book and in someone else's as well.

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  16. Well done you for saying this - I think it's more important to have 'faith' than religion -

    I believe in god...but although brought up Church of England, I wouldn't want to put a 'brand' to my faith that some greater being exists...I'm happy feeling that there just is.
    Fortunately our new village vicar can get her head round my catholic, jewish, buddhist tendancies!

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  17. Well done. Thanks for writing so candidly about a touchy topic. I'm all about being spiritual versus religious. I'm wary of anything prescribed. But hey, to each her own!

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Spill it, reader.