Hold Your Truth Loosely

Photo by Josh Boot on Unsplash

“Hold your truth loosely, and appreciate the journey.”

If I could go back in time, that is what I’d tell my 18-year-old self. I used to be certain of my religious beliefs. I took pride in how little my beliefs had changed and how dogged I was in my ideological consistency. I felt I needed to protect the truth against the onslaught of doubt from the secular culture.

What I didn’t know was that seeking the truth would actually mean blowing up my theology time and again. Though I have wanted to write about my spiritual journey for a while, I’ve struggled to condense twenty years of belief and doubt into a 1200 word blog. Rather than crafting a cohesive narrative, I’ve decided to share brief snapshots of my experience. These snapshots represent significant turning points in my journey.

Snapshot One: Heart-to-Heart

One Sunday morning, in the fall of ’97, I sat in the back of a gymnasium-turned-sanctuary. As the service concluded, those that wanted to receive Jesus as their savior were invited onto the stage. I remained in my seat because I had gone to the stage the week before and felt nothing. No profound encounter with God. No salvific vision of Jesus. Just a prayer on a stage in a dark gymnasium.

The pastor invited those of us still sitting to repeat the words of his prayer, and I obliged and repeating the prayer word for word just as I had a week before. As I said “Jesus come into my heart”, I felt a warm, tangible presence enter my chest. I sat there shocked, excited and a bit confused. It was as if God was saying ‘I hear you, and I’m with you’. That was my introduction to the Spirit.

I had no real theology or belief system in place. I hadn’t taken communion or been baptized. I just believed enough to ask God to meet me, and God did. Honeslty, I believe God still does. More on that later.

Photo by Gabriel Barletta on Unsplash

Snapshot Two: Weeping Prayer

I don’t know exactly how old I was, but I couldn’t have been older than 15. I was kneeling on the stairs of the altar during worship one Sunday and as I prayed, I was overcome with deep sorrow. As the weight of the sorrow condensed, my shoulders began to shake and tears flowed down my cheeks. I sobbed uncontrollably for what must have been 10-15 minutes.

At the time, I thought I was feeling God’s sorrow for the world. I imagined he had let me glimpse the depth of his grief for those that weren’t christians. Looking back, I can’t help but wonder if God actually allowed me to experience my own sorrow that day. Perhaps it felt so far removed from who I was that I didn’t recognize it, and rather than showing me what God felt for creation, God was trying to show me what needed to be seen and healed within myself.

Snapshot 3: The Deconstruction

I remember the day I started to doubt my interpretation of the Bible. I had just heard my professor explain that the stories of the patriarchs in Genesis were a compilation of various tribal origin stories rather than biographical accounts of specific people. This may not seem like a big deal, but to someone who understood scripture to be infallibel, inerrant and literal, it was earth-shattering.

My mind was blown as I considered the possibility that what I had been taught about the Bible was wrong. This small anectdote by my professor, motivated me to continue exploring the history of the chrisitan tradition, and the more I learned, the more disillusioned I became.

As I continued to wrestle with history, theology and the implications of my doubts, I prayed something that was both dangerous and prophetic.

“God I want to know the truth. Strip away every belief that is false and build me back up”.

Over the next four years layer after layer of my theology was examined, found lacking and discarded. By the spring of 2015, my theological house had been deconstructed and I was ready to declare myself an athiest.

Photo by Diana Simumpande on Unsplash

Snapshot 4: God of Liberation

In the fall of 2016 for reasons unknown even to me, I entered seminary. Moreover, I was agnostic, yet for some inexplicable reason, I felt confident that was where I needed to be. As I began to take courses, read texts and dialogue with other students, I soon encountered a God more concerned with racism, homophobia and sexism than tithing, evangelism and premarital sex. I encountered a revolutionary teacher named Jesus who was neither white nor Christian. Most importantly, I was reintroduced to the Divine in ways that were logically consistent and personally meaningful.

One afternoon I found myself standing on a small rock, looking into the woods saying “God I don’t know if this is gonna work, and I may actually be talking to myself right now. But if you’re the God who came to set the oppresssed free and loose the bonds of wickedness, thats a God I can follow.”

Over the next two years I would rebuild my theology to the point where I had answers to the deepest questions one could ask about God. I thought I had constructed a belief system that was meaningful and logically consistent. Then, just as before, God showed up.

Snapshot 5: Angels at a Bar

The final semester of seminary was by far the most eventful for me, and it all started on a warm August night at a hotel bar. Hotel bars are underrated by the way. Free parking, comfy seats, smaller crowds, what isn’t to love? I digress. I was talking with my friends Kerry and TJ about the class we’d just finished. The conversation gradually shifted, as all convos with good friends do, and we were soon talking about our families and sharing personal stories. As my friend Kerry was talking, I felt a physical shift in the room.

I can’t really describe it except to say that I got the deep sense that I was experiencing time differently. More specifically, it seemed as though there was something present that existed outside of the space-time continuum…something eternal. As that was happenning, I also felt a deep, maternal love. It was a biological love that I hadn’t felt in a long time, but was somehow present in that moment. Needlesstosay I was freaked out at the specificity and intensity of what I was feeling.

I wondered if Kerry or TJ was feeling something similar, so I shared my thoughts with them. Outside of maybe some vague affirmation that I wasn’t the only one feeling something strange, I don’t know what I expected them to say or do, but this is what I received: “hmmm. I wasn’t gonna say anything, but there are spirits here and some of them are angels.”

Since I didn’t believe in angels, that explanation seemed far-fetched but I couldn’t doubt what I had experienced. Something had invaded my reality at that hotel bar, and I knew I had been changed. Over the next several weeks, I had more experiences, and I came to realize that God was forcefully expanding my paradigm.

It was as if God was saying “there is more that is true than what you can see.” I’m still putting the pieces together and learning what this means for me, but I do believe I was met by angels in that hotel bar, and that I needed to know they were there. My carefully thought out theology has been forcefully expanded, but I no longer feel the need for certainty.

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

These snapshots represent specific moments of my life. Between each are periods of self-doubt, intense criticism, crippling uncertainty and acute fear. No insight has come easy. I grew up believing the truth would set me free, and it has. What I didn’t know was that truth, and thus freedom, is discovered through pain. It is only known after deep uncertainty and can only be found by those willing to brave the darkness of their own souls.

As you’ve read through these snapshots, I hope you’ve gotten a sense of just how drastically my spirituality has changed over the last thirty years. Perhaps you too have deconstructed your belief system only to build it up again. Maybe you’ve just started asking uncomfortable questions, and you’re afraid of what comes next. Perhaps you’ve been told that you just need to believe, but no amount of clicking your heels together takes you back to Kansas.

Wherever you are, may you find the strength to press on. Seek the truth with courage and when you come face-to-face with darkness, step forward boldly. Above all else, hold your truth loosely and appreciate the journey.

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