Owning the story I didn’t want

Ideas and creativity in business

It’s three days until my 26th birthday, three weeks until my wedding, and about six weeks until the end of the year. I’m sitting here at my desk sipping coffee and thinking…This isn’t how I expected my life to go. At all.

That’s a mixed blessing. I never thought I’d lose my father before he got to walk me down the aisle; no one asks for that. But I also never envisioned myself getting married in the first place. I thought I was one of those people who is “called to singleness,” and I was in the process of becoming okay with that right until I bumped into Joshua in the student center of Kent State, and was unexpectedly asked out on my first date in…well, um, ever, actually (that Sadie Hawkins date in 10th grade doesn’t really count).

Through all that, I developed a quarter-life crisis of faith, which didn’t happen overnight. There was seminary…bouts with depression and anxiety…personal crises…the usual stuff (well, maybe not seminary). That’s quite normal for anyone, but it’s especially traumatic when you go through the tedious process of converting, upsetting your family, finally reaching a mutual place of respect and understanding, and then having to wonder…was it all for nothing? Or is this just a particularly damaging pothole in the middle of the road?

I mourn the certainty I had in college. Man, I used to be so solid. I used to be this iron-clad woman of conviction. She had her problems, and could be quite annoying, but at least she was consistent.

Like a typical millennial, I’ve found some solace in the blogging community. I follow many Christian bloggers: funny, articulate, deeply intellectual people who remind me that it’s perfectly okay to pursue faith while deeply enmeshed in doubt. Then there are opposite perspectives, like this guy who grew up in the Bible Belt as a devout Southern Baptist. But at some point during adulthood he started to question everything he was taught, and ended up leaving it all behind.

You may be thinking: why are you reading this stuff if you’re still determined to remain Christian? This can’t be helping you. Well, it is and it isn’t. I’ve never met him, but I respect Neil. I like the way he organizes his thoughts so that discussion and alternative viewpoints are welcomed, not antagonized. He’s a breath of fresh air in the midst of stereotypes that say all atheists are angry about something.

But I’m angry, too. I’m angry because he raises important questions that many Christians prefer to sweep under the rug, doing more harm to the faith than anything else: like why a supposed good God doesn’t do a better job of warning his children about hell (and why is there even a hell in the first place?). Why did he order genocide of women and children? Why allow the tree of good and evil if he knew humans could eat from it?

(I’m still working through those questions, in case you’re wondering. So don’t ask me for my opinion).

Aside from the doctrinal debates, I’ve witnessed deep damage to the cause of Christ by Christians themselves: Christians who follow a “prosperity gospel” that praises God for close parking spaces and shiny new possessions while children all over the world die of malnutrition and other preventable causes. Christians who perpetuate the same tired rhetoric over and over when it would be so much more beneficial to drop the sales pitches and ask people to simply share their life stories. Sometimes I’m embarrassed to claim these people as my own, and admit I’m part of their tribe.

Which brings up another valid question: Why do I still care about being a Christian in the first place?

Lately I feel like I’m toeing the line between faithful and agnostic. But a big turning point for me was realizing I don’t have to choose between faith and reason. I believe literature can be used to communicate truths about humanity even if the story itself didn’t happen exactly as it’s written – and while parts of the Bible function as a history book, other parts of it are literature. I see traits of the kind of person I want to be in Jesus, for there is no one in history quite like him. And being Jewish himself, he is woven into the rich history of midrash – the practice of scholars expanding on specific aspects of Scripture that are commonly overlooked (like how did Sarah really feel about Abraham carting their son away to be sacrificed?).

The entire Jewish tradition embraces questioning without having to know all the answers. Because Christianity is born from Judaism, I don’t see why that aspect cannot be embraced in Christian tradition as well. It frustrates me sometimes, this Christianity with all its principles and doctrines that, quite frankly, seem ludicrous and unintelligible. But I so badly want to believe in redemption – the idea that broken things can be made new and beautiful again – and I cling to the hope that Christianity offers that.

Does that make my faith a crutch? Maybe. But for all the trouble I went through to claim it, I’m simply not ready to give up on it yet.


5 thoughts on “Owning the story I didn’t want

  1. Pingback: Hell, Judaism, mission trips, identity crises, and why I still bother with this whole Jesus thing | Sarahbeth Caplin | Author & Blogger

  2. Read your comments over on “Godless In Dixie” and found them thoughtful. Your conclusion to this post struck me:

    “But I so badly want to believe in redemption – the idea that broken things can be made new and beautiful again – and I cling to the hope that Christianity offers that.”

    I’ve been looking at woodturning lately, and have been amazed to discover that some of the most expensive and most sought after bowls and trays and such are those made from “imperfect” pieces. The irregular shapes testify to the skill of the craftsperson and the resulting item is unique, unable to be mass produced like “perfect” bowls that are made from uniform pieces of wood.

    Maybe instead of thinking of things as broken, they might be dirty or rusty or musty and in need of some cleaning or maintenance to achieve their full potential rather than needing recreation. Or maybe the beauty is already inherent and simply needs to be coaxed out through love caring and support to create another unique masterpiece.

    I work with people using education to make major life changes and its amazing to see what someone labelled as “beyond help” can achieve with the proper support and access to tools that they can use to create a new future. Many of the behavioural problems I would have focused on when working with them as a Christian simply vanish as they develop new meaning and purpose in their lives.

    Seeing actual change without guilt, without people building a false identity to make others happy, without having to accept an identity of “broken” led in a big way (among other things) to my departure from Christianity. But I have colleagues and friends who are still Christian who hold similar positive beliefs about people and they get similar results, so it’s not impossible to do so fro within the church as well, it just means questioning some core ideas.

    Just some thoughts that I find helpful and that keep me looking for new possibilities for people.


    • First I just want to say how much I love your user name 🙂

      I like that analogy with the bowls. It’s that very idea that lead me to Christianity in the first place. My theological “training” emphasized more on humans “missing the mark” than being intrinsically broken, damaged, etc.

      At the same time, I learned the same songs that Neil did growing up, which do focus heavily on humanity’s innate brokenness. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about that. I don’t think it’s solely because of Christianity that I no longer believe people are born “good.” Blame it on too many crappy experiences and relationships, I guess, that may have left me cynical and jaded. The real truth is that I don’t even consider myself a “good person” (and I don’t even know what that expression means. Everyone defines it differently). But that doesn’t mean I don’t think we’re incapable of doing good. I just think “being good” and “doing good” are two different things.


      • My apologies for taking so long to reply, real life has been kicking my ass this week. I still have things to finish, but it no longer feels like a pit of quicksand, so I took a few minutes off.

        Interesting that you like the username, in the past it’s only appealed to other Canadians. Thanks.

        I understand completely about the power of songs. I’ve always been a huge Dorothy Love Coates fan since hearing her music in”Ghost” and no one does judgement and damnation like the Gospel Harmonettes. Songs like “99 and a Half Won’t Do” create serious problems with self-judgement while being amazingly soulful at the same time.

        I guess my thinking has moved to feeling that there isn’t a “good” for people to be. Much as I don’t think someone 5 feet tall is bad because they won’t become an NBA basketball player, I’ve come to realize that it’s the same for other attributes as well. I have a good friend that I would never go into business with nor lend him my car, but who is more kind and loving to his nieces and nephews than anyone I know.

        So if I make “good” as having to check all the boxes, then he isn’t good. To be fair though, if I make him the standard for loving children, then the responsible people also fall short and shouldn’t get a gold star either.

        I’m terrible at estimating the time it takes to do things, so I’m always starting tasks that can’t be paused and finding out I didn’t give myself enough time for them, making me late a lot of the time and causing a lot of annoyance to people. I started to get better at it when I realized that I wasn’t trying to disrespect people, but I lack the skills to estimate task duration well.

        So instead of beating myself up about being “bad” I’ve been able to get help from other people who are good at it, or force myself to pad tasks with lots of slack time when I have important commitments. People are a lot less frustrated, but I don’t think I’m a better person, just one who’s compensating for a shortcoming.

        Just like I’d never have someone with muscle problems spot me with a heavy load, I recognize that people can have atrophied areas of responsibility or lack the skills to make good judgements and need to be responded to differently than others. I can still respond to the positive in them while protecting myself and others from the negative.

        But helping people to see in some cases that their problems stem from poor life lessons in early life, or lack of certain strategies, or even physical causes means there can be concrete solutions, rather than a helplessness in the face of “evil” or “sin”.

        I had a friend in university who was bipolar and built up an amazing support network around himself that enabled him to have a successful college career because he had put in place solutions to his failures before they occurred. He went off his meds, got upset and had many of the negative experiences that one can have with that condition, but the negative repercussions were always limited because he had made provision beforehand. People knew what to do and were empowered to do it and things didn’t get out of hand as they might have.

        I guess that’s why the bowl analogy struck me so much. Traditionally, these pieces of wood were labelled as bad and discarded. Some people had to use them out of necessity and developed a skill at bringing out the best in them, while recognizing their limitations. Now they are prized for their beauty above the “good” bowls that are all the same. Their use is smaller in scope, they aren’t as broadly versatile, but what they do, they do really well.

        I’m just trying to say that perhaps looking at behavioural variation in the same way we look at physical variation or skill variation might be more benefit to people and society overall than continuing the good/bad dichotomy, especially when it is scored like Jesus talking about the law, so that even 99 and 1/2 is bad.

        (Sorry for going on so long, that’s what being responsible and depriving my inner op/ed writer for a week does to me) 🙂


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