An Invitation to Doubt

The peak of my conservative, evangelical education included several weeks at a Christian apologetics summer camp while in high school and later as a freshman in college. Those weeks included hiking in Colorado, eating my weight in delicious frozen custard, and learning the conservative evangelical script for hot-button political issues. As the years went on and I lived a little more life, I ran into what some call a “crisis of faith” and was forced to again reconsider what I’d been taught, directly and implicitly, not only in summer camp but in Sunday school and my private Christian education thus far. The script wasn’t helping.

Admitting “I don’t know” can put you in hot water, especially in some evangelical circles. Knowing this, I quietly practiced those 3.5 words as I explored the rest of my college experience, got married, and worked a “real” job. Even as I entered my first few seminary classes I was desperate to cling onto some of that script I’d learned. I assumed that to admit uncertainty was to be either uneducated or too progressive, I might as well become an atheist!

“Most of us come to the church by a means the church does not allow.”

Flannery O’Connor

Turns out, I wasn’t alone. I found others who expressed concern or confusion over what was commonly accepted in the church. I was relieved and hopeful, but also sad. A faith crisis (or the act of doubting or deconstructing spiritual beliefs) is not usually linear. My faith has both peacefully and horrifically evolved over my brief lifetime with new questions, different experiences, and new perspectives. It’s been a cycle of death, lament, and new life.

Death and resurrection shape the Christian faith, literally and metaphorically. Doubt is a piece of this cycle. Are we not called to resist the urge to conform, be “transformed by the renewing of our minds,” and die to ourselves? Isn’t doubt necessary for death and transformation to occur? Perhaps like me, you had/have some idols that need to die, that you need to doubt.

Maybe white Jesus isn’t real.

Maybe Christian nationalism isn’t patriotic.

Maybe God isn’t male.

Maybe Christianity isn’t monolithic.

Maybe science and faith can work together.

Maybe the Bible isn’t clear.

I’m learning to hold the answers loosely and ask a few more questions with holy curiosity, as some might call it. “Always write your theology in pencil!” a beloved professor used to say. Even the most elaborate pencil marks can be edited or erased to make room for better theology and better practices. And because of my doubt, and the willingness to erase some “certainties,” my faith continues to grow deeper.

In my experience, faith isn’t certainty and doubt isn’t apostasy. Faith is the risk of finding joy, beauty and contentment while living in the midst of unanswered questions. Faith is vulnerable and messy, colorful and dynamic, not always chiseled in stone or black and white.

“…because sometimes we are closer to the truth in our vulnerability than in our safe certainties.”

Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

A note to the church.

I’ve let go of plenty of unhealthy beliefs (with more to go, I’m sure) and held on to some important ones. Perhaps these things are different than what you’ve held on to. That’s ok. And while I don’t feel like we should romanticize doubt or prolong it unnecessarily, I do think the evangelical church can do better by avoiding the all-or-nothing, black or white, in or out, us and them approach to Christian spirituality.

The church is not for those who are certain or sinless. The church is (or should be) a gathering of sin-sick people, even those with questions and disbelief, searching for wholeness and hope. Is there room in your pews for those experiencing seasons of wilderness? or lament? or silence?

“To a healthy faith doubt is a healthy challenge.”

Os Guinness, In Two Minds

We need to stop being so surprised by doubt. Jesus did not come for those who “have it all together” but instead came to offer healing and rest to those with heavy weights on their hearts, minds, and bodies. If we’re honest, these weights find us again and again in life in different ways. Suffering, pain, doubt, and grief are a reality in this world. Do our congregations, sermons, worship and outreach practices, and theology reflect this?

To those who are unsure.

If you are challenged by what you read in the Bible or what you’ve been taught in your faith community allow me to invite you to ask your hardest questions. You are not alone.

I recognize your church or family may not be a safe place to express your dissatisfaction or pain but please search for supportive spaces that are. (There are many, many online communities!) If we can learn anything from the Psalms, Job, or even Jesus’ disciples in the Bible, God is not afraid of our questions.

Read a bit more:

Living an Unhurried Life

What would it look like to live life unhurried?

When I thought of 2019 I had this question come to my mind, especially the last word. I haven’t made New Year’s resolutions in a hot minute but I was willing to consider this.

I wanted my second year of seminary to be different. I wanted to avoid burnout at all costs. Now a couple weeks into January and half way through this second year I’ve already been tempted to jump 3 steps ahead of myself. My graduation date is set and my mind can only think of all the factors involved for a post-grad move, the next apartment, the next job, the next set of bills, and so on. I ended up writing down all the things I wasn’t allowed to worry about on a post-it note and stuck it on the fridge.

If I rush through my classes, or dinner, or my conversation with a friend, then I’m really not allowing myself to enjoy that person or meal in front of me, no matter how simple the interaction seems. I want to be present with those I’m with and in the work I do, otherwise it’s all meaningless. Living unhurried is trusting God’s timing and faithfulness over my own.

morgan-sessions-6264-unsplash
Photo: Morgan Sessions

This isn’t to say you won’t find me late and rushing to a meeting or procrastinating from day to day. (My entire life!) My point in this is to say that life is quick. We’re finite creatures. I don’t want to get so busy or overwhelmed that I miss what God put right in front of me.

It takes serious discipline to tame all the worries and focus on the task at hand. And it certainly doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s a muscle you have to continue to strengthen over the course of your life since there will always be new things to do and people to see.

I working on using some of these habits to slow down and savor where I’m at. I’m not perfect at any of them, but I invite you to try them with me.

  • Going on a walk outside. (Or a few minutes of stretching. Because New England winters.) Fresh air is underrated, especially on cooler days.
  • Setting aside social media for a period of time. I deleted the Instagram app off my phone at the beginning of January. Before that I combed through my followers/following and deleted over 400 accounts that did not “spark joy” as Marie Kondo would say. It felt good. I kept Facebook, which is the next app I’ll work on separating myself from. Maybe for Lent.
  • Practicing a consistent Sabbath. Everything is finished on Saturday or I won’t look at it until Monday. Sundays are now a favorite of mine. I look forward to spending a full day unhurried with Aaron and engaging with our church community.
  • Call a friend on the phone. Yes, the actual telephone! Aaron is much better at this than I am, but I’ll get there. A perfectly good substitution for a phone call is a handwritten note.
  • Carefully crafting my week. My explanation is oversimplified and it takes some tweaking, but I started to visually organize my weeks in a way that allows me to focus on a task at a time and balances the priorities in my life. My mind and body are way more focused and I feel more “productive,” which really means I’m more satisfied with the quality of work I produce, not the amount.
  • Grocery shopping with a purpose. Since the new year our kitchen has been primary Paleo and meal planning has become even more important. It’s been a kick in the pants to plan ahead. (Have you heard the phrase, fail to plan or plan to fail?)
  • Reading book in the evening. Screens are awful. News is not a bedtime story. Get off the phone, Elizabeth. Read a damn book.

…and a (responsible) glass of wine at the end of a long day might not hurt either.

What helps you slow down?

 

Grateful

Thanksgiving can be a complicated holiday to celebrate. I’ll keep it simple. Here are 10 things I’m grateful for.

  1. My faith, which has more questions than answers these days.
  2. Aaron’s presence at home. Last year we weren’t as lucky.
  3. A family who embraces our polished & raw sides and still says, “I’m proud of you.”
  4. Books, books, books! Reading has been transformational for me this year. (Again.)
  5. Morning light.
  6. Meals shared with friends or family.
  7. A New England fall and the associated cozy, wool socks.
  8. Photo albums at Grandma’s house.
  9. Free laundry machines.
  10. My application to graduate has been submitted. The end is almost in sight!

What are you thankful for?

We spent our Thanksgiving holiday in California and Arizona. It was smokey from the fires, but we still explored Sacramento, Sequoia National Park and (somewhat) enjoyed the 10 hour drive to Phoenix. I’m happy Aaron was able to meet several of my cousins and almost all my aunts and uncles during this trip. For a fairly last minute decision, it worked out well.

As a wrap up this fall semester in the next couple weeks, I’m amazed at how fast these classes flew by. I’m working through one of my final projects, research on Dorothy Day’s spirituality, so please keep me in your prayers as I complete all the things on my metaphorical desk! I recently applied to graduate, which means spring graduation is right around the corner. I’m so grateful I’ve been able to work through these subjects and study in such a beautiful place.

Grace and peace,

Elizabeth