Aug 252011
 

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Most of the questions I get from readers are about my faith, my weight, my addictions, or my marriage.

Today-faith.

My relationship to God is the most important thing in my life. I say to instead of with because I experience my faith journey more like an effort to align myself rightly with Him than to be friends with Him. I don’t get Him enough to try to be friends. I find Him entirely too unpredictable. To be friends with someone, I gotta be able to predict with some confidence what she’s going to do next, so I’m not constantly sweating. God makes me sweat profusely. Guessing God’s next move is like trying to make a casserole…no matter how closely I try to follow directions, I NEVER KNOW WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT. Scary.



Still, aligning myself correctly to Him is my only real goal down here. My relationship to Him is what sets right all the secondary relationships in my life – my marriage, my friendships, my parenting, my writing. And so I am constantly thinking about God. Truth, you can call it if you’re uncomfortable with the G word. I am always considering - What am I supposed to learn about God, about what is True… from this argument, this seashell, this tragedy, this rainbow, this friend, this enemy, this child, this disease? I believe that everything that enters my life is an invitation further into the heart of God, and if I accept the invitation, and step closer instead of hiding, I learn and grow and my perspective broadens ever so slightly. Things get lighter and clearer.

Drinking and smoking and binging and purging were all my ways of rejecting Life’s Invitations. I still reject them now, through over-shopping and overeating and talking too much and zoning out on the internet and TV, but my rejections are less frequent and less dramatic, and I call that progress.



You know, it’s a tricky thing- writing to a specific and incredibly diverse audience about my particular faith. Especially because I have never, ever, in my whole entire life, met anyone who agrees with my faith ideas. So please, don’t worry- I don’t expect you to, either. It is certainly okay if you think I’m wrong- as a matter of fact, I am certain that I’m wrong. How could any of us be “right” when guessing about God? I agree with whomever said that we have as good a chance of understanding the mind of God as a colony of ants has of understanding the minds of humans. And I’m just an ant, but so is everyone else. Even the most educated gals, even the guys behind the pulpits . . . they’re still ants like me. And I’d rather make my own mistakes about God than someone else’s. So I think and listen and write and pray and read and try, try, try to learn, to receive. And I trust that God can speak to me, and that it’s okay if I write about it.

A minister once wrote to me and said, “Isn’t this privatization of faith that you discuss dangerous? Everyone cannot just believe whatever he wants. What keeps people from deciding then, Jesus is a cantaloupe!”

Well, I guess I believe that things get more dangerous when faith is not privatized. When people are not encouraged to study and listen and think for themselves. It seems to me that things get dangerous when people blindly follow religious leaders. Because leaders can be good or they can be bad. And so I think that we can ask for counsel from educated religious leaders, yes. But as with everything else important in our lives . . . our health, our parenting, we must ultimately be our own leaders when it comes to faith. Because we can each read, we can each pray, we can each think, and we can each sit silently and listen. We cannot count completely on others to have the answer for us, ever. God is speaking to each of us, always. And I don’t necessarily want to know what He’s saying to you, I need to know what He’s saying to me.

And so I told the kind minister that while I respected him and his vocation immensely, I didn’t believe in mediators between God and man. I told him that I do believe in teachers. And I told him that I was a teacher too, and that I considered my most important role to be teaching students how to think for themselves.

And I told him that when I die, I expect to sit down with God to discuss my life. I expect that only She and I will be at that meeting – not She and I and my minister. And so I live that way now, too. It is not a lack of respect, it is just respecting everyone equally, including myself.

*As a side note, since receiving this email I have considered at least twelve ways that Jesus is just like a cantaloupe. But that’s for another day.

In general, my faith revolves around questions rather than answers, and I think that’s okay. I am very wary of people with too many answers about God. Faith is supposed to be a mystery. If anyone tells that you they’ve figured it out, they know all the answers, the rules, the system or equation that will set you right with God, run. If someone makes God small enough to fit inside her head, she’s made Him too small, I think.

Craig and I are considering becoming official members of our neighborhood church. This is a big deal for us, because a few years ago we promised ourselves we wouldn’t choose a denomination. We couldn’t imagine the need for it. Still can’t, really. We considered ourselves religious rolling stones. But we’ve fallen for this little church, and we started wondering if our religious “freedom” wasn’t just another word for nothing left to lose (thank you Janis.) Because we know that any faith worth a damn is a faith worked out over a lifetime of relationships with other people. It’s a commitment to and with other people, is all. Church is just a commitment to try to live a life of a certain quality, a life of love, of humility, of service, alongside others whom you will care for and allow to care for you, even when you are difficult. It’s a group of regular old humans trying to love each other and the world in superhuman ways. And so it’s a hard way of life, but to me, the only way of life that makes any sense. When people ask me if faith, if church, is comforting to me, I say – sort of. But mostly it’s challenging.

Anyway -I was afraid to join. Because I don’t want to pretend to believe anything I don’t believe. And I don’t want to pretend not to have doubts. And I don’t want my children to be taught things about God that I’ll have to undo. Before I joined any church, I needed permission from whomever was in charge to be different.

So I invited one of the ministers of the church over to my house.

I was scared.

But we talked for two hours. And I told her my concerns. I told her that I thought I wanted to join her church, but that first, I wanted to make sure she wanted me. I told her that I am a troublemaker.

I told her that I love Jesus madly and deeply, but my problem in church always seems to be that I understand Him differently than many other Christians seem to. And I love these other Christians, and I don’t want to bother or offend them. So I just felt like maybe it was better for me to remain unattached to any particular church than to disrupt a perfectly lovely one. She seemed to understand exactly what I meant by this. She reads the blog sometimes, I think

I went on to admit that I had all kinds of doubts and questions and even negative feelings about the Church’s role throughout history. But I told her I still loved the Church so much, which I thought was weird and interesting. I felt kind of like St. Augustine, who said, “The church is a whore, but she’s my mother.” I told her that if I were to be a member of her church, I would need her permission to speak respectfully but freely and differently at appropriate times. To be myself.

Basically, she said she wanted me. She liked me, I think. She said our church would fit me just fine. She doesn’t mind a troublemaker or two in her fold.

So we’ll see. My biggest fear when entering any church is always…Oh, Jesus. What are they going to teach my babies about God? This worry makes me sweat, too. So guess what I did? I signed up to teach Sunday school. And I’ve already fallen in love with my Sunday School Team. I’m not sure they know I’m a troublemaker yet, though. God help them.

I realize I didn’t get to my faith-y questions and doubts yet, but this is getting long. Next time.

Love you all.

G







Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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  44 Responses to “Church”

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  16. […] Here i am reminded that we know that any faith worth a damn is a faith worked out over a lifetime of relationships with other people. It’s a commitment to and with other people, is all. Church is just a commitment to try to live a life of a certain quality, a life of love, of humility, of service, alongside others whom you will care for and allow to care for you, even when you are difficult. It’s a group of regular old humans trying to love each other and the world in superhuman ways. And so it’s a hard way of life, but to me, the only way of life that makes any sense. When people ask me if faith, if church, is comforting to me, I say – sort of. But mostly it’s challenging. […]

  17. G-Dog and Tri Mom,
    This post and these comments are all so good. you ALL help me to draw closer to Our God! I am right in the middle of everything that has been said. God is worth trusting, but His ways are not our ways. What I know for sure is that God loves us and He gave His only Son to us so we could be saved. After that the only thing I know is I don't know much… :)
    Peace Out!
    XoXo Susie M.

  18. Tri Mom,

    Thank you, I get this. All of it. I hear what you are saying. I think you are right, about the "running" thing especially.

    I just started a book in which the writer suggested that if we pray a certain way, our children will be protected, our marriage will thrive, etc etc. As if life and God were predictable, controllable even. I think that idea is what I was rejecting.

    Also, we are in the middle of an adoption that has been such a roller coaster. I think I have a bit of spiritual whiplash. That's what I meant…that we better buckle up, because when we start to follow our God given dreams…it can be a bumpy, unpredictable road. I know that God has a plan, but I can't see it yet, so it feels random and scary and our of control. Just like when I'm on a roller coaster…I KNOW it's been tested, I KNOW I'm gonna be okay at the end, but I still FEEL scared. Disconnect between the head and heart. And I think that's important to talk about.

    Thank you, Tri-mom. I hear you. Sometimes I seem to be so defensive about outside the lines color-ers that I insult inside the lines color-ers. Inside the lines is just as beautiful, you're right. Love wins.

    Love, G

  19. G- I've been following your posts since the start of the year and by and large I adore your writing, your perspective, and your "Love Wins" mentality. You have most certainly found your gift and I find your life's focus refreshing and renewing.

    However, there have been a few times that I've read your posts (this one in particular) where I've found myself disappointed on some of your commentary re: Christian faith. I haven't spoken up before but wanted to offer an alternate perspective on this particular post. Your comment about finding Him "unpredictable" I found amusing, given some of your other posts seem to indicate that it's the very predictable nature of God that keeps you coming back to your faith – the predictable nature of his Steadfast presence – the predictable nature that he has a Good plan for you – the predictable nature that he is in your heart and my heart – the predictable nature that he loves us all and wants LOVE to win in the end. If anything, I think the "complication" or "confusion" surrounding God are caused by us humans, not by God. We are muddying the waters, we are chosing to not love one another how He intended, not Him. I would say, ask the question differently in times of confusion and see what answer you get: It's not how could "God let this happen", it's how could "We/I let this happen".

    I think it's unfair to say that someone who appears to have God all figured out is someone "worth running from" — what happened to LOVE wins?? If someone has found a belief system that works for them in understanding God and how he works in their life, why should I run? Why shouldn't I stay and listen? Maybe there's something they've learned that I haven't. Maybe there's a story or experience to be told that I should hear? To me, it's the simplicity of God – the black and white nature of his existence while on Earth as a human, and his infinite presence as the risen Lord- that I find straight forward and comforting and something my little brain has been able to wrap my head around. :-) I don't think God would have made himself so complicated as to make Christian faith and understanding seem unattainable, or otherwise that would run counter to His mission and make following him seem too impossible for most to answer his call.

    I appreciate your need to color outside the lines, to make sure the hot pink in your life's quilt has room to shine, but I think it's worth noting that sometimes the simple anchors of Christian faith are to be embraced and appreciated. In a world where uniqueness and self expression seem to be the main social currency these days, I find God's unchanging makeup and presence comforting, uncomplicated and pure.

    Just some food for thought for an alternate perspective.
    -TriMom

  20. Your blog was recommended to me by a friend and I just found it today. So although I don't know much about you, I loved what you said about church and faith: "Because we know that any faith worth a damn is a faith worked out over a lifetime of relationships with other people. It’s a commitment to and with other people, is all. Church is just a commitment to try to live a life of a certain quality, a life of love, of humility, of service, alongside others whom you will care for and allow to care for you, even when you are difficult. It’s a group of regular old humans trying to love each other and the world in superhuman ways. And so it’s a hard way of life, but to me, the only way of life that makes any sense. When people ask me if faith, if church, is comforting to me, I say – sort of. But mostly it's challenging."
    I am living in a Mennonite intentional community in rural Illinois and I am daily aware that this way of life is challenging. But, in my mind, church is the only way I know how to live this life of faith. I am often disheartened by the example we set as Christians to this world. I understand why people would be turned off by the discord they see amongst people who follow a man who told them to love each other. But the way you describe church and the reason for it, is encouraging to me because it is messy and hard. But faith in community is the best way I know how to live. And it also brings tremendous joy. I think God expands our hearts when we choose to live such messy lives together with Christ as our common bond. So thanks for that little bit of wisdom on this restless night. I too search for those tiny minutes to write, sometimes squeezing them out during naptimes or late at night when I should be sleeping.

  21. The history of Christianity is full of troublemakers. I think you're in good company.

    Also, the Quaker faith espouses as you do, that nobody can know god better than any other, and that we are all Her children, and have the power to speak Her word.

    The other thing I like about Quakers? The way they marry. Nobody officiates the wedding – you marry each other. You agree to be married, and thus, you are. I like that.

  22. I love coming back to these comments and seeing that there are more Catechesis of the Good Shepherd people among this flock. And Allison, yes, Godly Play is a non-liturgical take on CGS. Jesus was a troublemaker, and I am always a fan of embracing the questions and questioning the answers.

  23. Love, love, love this! I, too, am a bit of a church troublemaker (when I'm not too afraid, which I'm working on). I agree wholeheartedly with the other commenters who have noted that Jesus was a troublemaker, and I try to remember that when I'm struggling to find my voice (or to make trouble, depending on your perspective).

    At the church to which we belonged before a recent move, I facilitated (and I say facilitated intentionally; I did not "lead" or "teach"), an adult Christian education offering called "Living the Questions." The premise was not that it's OK to admit that we don't have all the answers, but that we SHOULD admit that we don't have all the answers. Our faith is a journey, and we should all be walking together, questioning, challenging, loving each other along the way.

    Incidentally, the young children's program at that church was called "Godly Play," and it sounds a lot like the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. It was fantastic, and my children (and I) miss it so very much.

    We have joined a new church in our new community, and I think they need some troublemaking, but I'm a little too afraid to start ruffling feathers just yet.

  24. Can't tell you that I read the other comments, but I know all the answers and all the answers are just one. He loves us. Period. (Not to neglect the fact that love is complex, but good news is that He does.)

    Sure, there are a thousand things that go into that, but I am 100% confident that troublemakers are His MOST favorite and also bear His witness like no one else can.

    As a side note, He shared with me that there is a very special place for you, not a generic you, but a very specific Glennon. You captivate Him…I am jealous, but in a good way. I want Him more because of what you share and show us. My favorite verse (next to "Jesus wept." :) is Is. 40:31.

    Thank you.

  25. Another plug for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Since becoming a catecheist myself (we don't use the word teacher because we believe we are just co-wonderers with the children), my relationship with God has widened and deepened into the childlike faith I don't remeber having as a child. To see the kingdom of heaven as a tiny seed and Jesus as my Loving Shepherd and allow the poetry and images and flickering candle to enter our souls together…this is an honor and a joy. I credit this philosophy of education with allowing my children to *experience God* instead of learning facts. My three year old daughter was on a morning walk with me and her two siblings this week. Suddenly she threw out her arms, lifted her head to the sky and shouted, "Thank you, God, for this beautiful day that fills my heart up with so much love so I can obey my momma!!" Nobody taught her that we must fill up with Love before we can accomplish anything. And nobody taught her that that day was a gift of Love just for her from her heavenly Father. And nobody taught her that gratitude magnifies joy. These are things she has experienced in her body. What else will she teach me?

  26. As a couple others have said, this is my first time commenting on your blog, though I've been an avid lurker for some time now (that sounds a little creepy, doesn't it?).

    I used to be a minister in a church, and I'm married to a minister. I, too, think about God A LOT. But I find that church is one of the loneliest places for me. Because I would like to be a troublemaker (and occasionally I am, though usually unintentionally), or at least be more open about what I believe (which would probably be troublemaking in our community) but we rely on my husband's paycheck to feed our babies. And I am not brave. So on the days when I'm not teaching kiddoes (and since my husband is the children's minister, at least I don't have to worry too much about what they're teaching my own kids!), I mostly sit quietly among adults, occasionally making a comment, but usually feeling very, very different. So I thank you for this blog, as my chicken-hearted soul feels a little of church here and reminds me that ultimately I am not so very alone.

  27. I've been reading your blog for a long time now, and when I describe you to people, I often say how wonderful you are "but also" that you're maybe just a WEEE bit "more Christian" than I prefer in a blogger. But reading this I realize I've been wrong. You are nearly exactly JUST THE RIGHT amount of Christian.

    Which is to say, Christian because you love and follow Jesus. Also NOT Christian because you don't insist that "the church" has it all figured out. This:

    "I love Jesus madly and deeply, but my problem in church always seems to be that I understand Him differently than many other Christians seem to." Me too.

    We also, eventually, found a "church" home we love. Quaker, liberal, lots of listening for God and looking for God in each other. Lots of tolerance and love. Almost no doctrine and certainly no minister. Worshipping means sitting around listening in silence for the voice of God together. Or singing slowly and sedately. Or sharing our troubles and our questions with love for each other and lots of long quiet pauses for thought.

    But it's not the only church we visit and love. There is also this one: http://curiositycat.wordpress.com/2011/02/15/learning-to-read-with-jesus/

    Where the hallelujahs shake the walls and booties are shaken to the glory of Jesus. Where echoing crescendoes of "praise the Lord" and "Tell it brother" rise and fall like tides. Where my son first learned to love reading. Where the face of Jesus lives in the plaster walls. Where the hungry are fed twice a week and every holiday. Where the doctrine is so foreign and strange to us that we just shake our heads in wonder. But where they've figured out the most important thing in the world is Love.

    And really, does it matter if we agree on the little stuff? The doctrine and the politics and interpretations, on the volume and the pace of worship, or the existence of weird miracles and the literal presence of Jesus in the room? Does any of that matter as long as we can agree on that one main thing?

    Love: It's enough, isn't it?

  28. So wish we still lived close….we would have a lot to talk about…love ya! I haven't been on your blog for a LONG time, fancy that I read it tonight….

  29. Glennon, have you read the children's book "Old Turtle"? It's such a great book (with beautiful illustrations) and has a nice message about God being different things to different people. I also love the the book sometimes refers to God as "She", sometimes as "He", which I think is important. The novel "The Shack" is a good one too.
    http://www.amazon.com/Old-Turtle-Douglas-Wood/dp/0439309085

  30. I agree with so much of what you say. I have always felt very lonely in my faith and find church communities challenging. But I forge ahead and join because I want the sense of community and challenge as well. I very much agree with your concept that fitting God into one's brain makes Her way too small. I am VERY put off by those who preach or tell me they have the answers. Faith is very much a journey to me and I am positive that I am getting it wrong most the time. But it is personal and I am searching. However, what makes me happy about organized religion is the bible stories for my three children. I want them to be familiar with the stories so that they can begin their journey and make educated decisions. I certainly do not have enough time at home to prepare the lessons!! I'm lucky to get dinner on the table!
    Thank you so much for your blog. It is an inspiration and a very happy place for me. Lots of love!

  31. oh my goodness. i am so happy that this made you happy!
    welcome new monkees!

    i am thrilled. here's to the troublemakers.
    and the ministers who love us anyway.

    :)

  32. Well Glennon, I must admit that I am an avid reader of this sweet little blog, but I have never commented. Until now. My jaw was ON THE FLOOR while I was reading your views on church, privatization of religion, and relationships to God. Everything you said is everything I feel and have felt for years, but have struggled to explain without offending. I've struggled with explaining to my husband why I don't feel right about joining a church. I just can't sit there and make myself believe something that I don't. And guess what? I think there are more of us "troublemakers" out here than you realize! Thanks, from the bottom of my heart, Glennon…for making me realize that there actually ARE people like me! :)

  33. Once again, you give voice to the things my heart didn't have words to express! I am so blessed to have found you, G. In your writing, I feel so KNOWN. I feel that sometimes God gives us these beautiful moments of understanding and connection to confirm that we're on the right path and we're right where He wants us to be. I've had that moment here with you tonight. Thank you! And I pray that I on occasion [and our Monkee community, on a daily basis] will give that back to you!
    Love you, G.
    -Julie P.

  34. Come join the First Presbyterian Church in Garland, Texas!! The church ALWAYS needs troublemakers. Jesus was a troublemaker! Making trouble in church has always been sanctioned by God. boogitty, boogitty, amen.

  35. Carolyn! My littlest is off to Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in just 30 minutes! We love that program…especially for the preschoolers!

  36. When reading this, I felt like you were inside my head and heart. My beliefs seem to align so much with yours. And, I too fear a commitment to a church that may hinder a personal relationship to God for my son. And myself. Thank you for sharing your heart.

  37. I love what you've said here, Glennon. It just resonates with me. And the church NEEDS more troublemakers (if that's what you are.) We all have to come to God on God's terms, and call me a heretic, but I think those terms are always between God and the individual. I don't know yours, and you don't know mine. We both know, though, that God can't be contained in a belief system or in a single human mind. I rejoice that God calls all of us into the family, and then calls us into relationships with each other. I pray that your new church brings you JOY, and challenges you to new loves.

  38. I am excited to have my kiddies learn from a "troublemaker", i.e. someone who will teach them to question what they are learning and only to help them better learn/ love God.

  39. I used to work in adoption. One of the little girls, that one of my *favorite* families adopted from Ethiopia, said this the other day:

    "Dad, for Halloween do you want to be God?"

    He asked, "What would I dress like?"

    She answered: "A ladybug. Or maybe a cricket."

    LOVE! That is encouraging your children to think freely about who God is. I want to go visit them and take lessons :)

  40. God works in wonder-full and mysterious ways. So do bloggers and sunday school teachers and of course, trouble makers. Work that church G, work it.

  41. (First time commenting…never thought it would be on such a heavy subject!)

    I love that you touched on being wary of anyone who has God all "figured out". Anyone who claims that they know how God and faith work has always rubbed me the wrong way. Not that I mind people TRYING to understand God better, I believe we are all called to do that. I just mind those who seem to think they KNOW, beyond a shadow of a doubt. Besides, I kind of like Him being mysterious and miraculous. If I had everything all figured out, I wouldn't have much need for faith. Not to mention that faith changes over time. As I come to know God more (or at least attempt to know Him more) and figure out my own little journey here on earth, my opinions and views on what He is saying have definitely evolved and changed. I guess I would be more concerned if they didn't change. So even when I don't agree with exactly everything someone else believes, I don't feel that makes one of us "right" and one of us "wrong". I think it just means that we're trying the very best we can.

    I also love the idea of teachers…after all, Jesus Himself was called "teacher".

    Thanks for a post that made me think :)

  42. "We don't "teach" the children anything about God, we encourage them to wonder about who Jesus is and give them tools to begin thinking about this and talking to God."

    I want to come to your class, carolyn. how beautiful!

  43. I am a catechist for a faith development program called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd that uses Montessori based principals to help children explore and wonder about Jesus and God and develop their own relationship with them. We don't "teach" the children anything about God, we encourage them to wonder about who Jesus is and give them tools to begin thinking about this and talking to God. Then we get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit and the child work directly together. It sounds a lot like how you describe the way you approach your own relationship with God. There is a brief description of it on another church's website here — http://www.saintstephensrichmond.net/catechesis. Sitting with the children while they explore the mystery has impacted my own faith insights and journey enormously. Watching my own children be able to experience God in this way early on — unlike my rote Catholic Sunday School during my youth — is priceless.

  44. I think you'd be surprised to find how many people actually do share your beliefs…

    I love your idea of aligning yourself rightly with God. I'm of the mind that I need to work on a friendship with God, but mostly because that's an easily understandable way for us to get how important it is to focus on relationship with God. Just as we talk with our friends, play with our friends, and love our friends every single day, I think we need to do the same with God.

    And maybe we won't be able to ever predict God, but we may start to understand her just a little bit better each and every day.

    Thanks for this one, G. I can't wait for your uninterrupted writing time this coming year!

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