A few weeks ago I was at the car dealership after receiving a recall notice for my airbags. While waiting to collect my vehicle, I sat in the waiting area reading How Jesus Saves the World From Us by Morgan Guyton. The employee I’d talked to on the phone asked what I was reading, and after noticing the title, he asked if I was a Christian. I told him yes, not going any further into detail. He asked me only because he was looking for a new church, and wanted to know where I attended. It was a short conversation, since he had other customers to attend to.
I bring these awkward moments on myself by my choice of reading material, I know. To cut down on excessive spending, I don’t read in coffee shops as often as I used to, but when I do, most people leave me alone. Other times – either because the book title is attractive, or maybe because I’m a young-looking woman whose wedding ring is hidden, I don’t know – people (mostly men, but not always) come up to me to ask me questions.
I don’t mind it all the time, because I have made new friends this way. It really depends on the motive of the questioner. Other times, people use my own reading material as an opportunity to preach to me, which can get really sticky after I tell them that I already know their shtick – I was a devoted member of Campus Crusade for Christ for three out of four years of college, and I went to seminary. There’s very little I haven’t already heard before, as far as evangelism pitches go.
At the risk of generalizing, these sorts of Christians tend not to like me. I don’t fit in their neat, organized boxes of what a believer “should” look like, nor do I follow their scripts – I was taught how to use them myself.
I ask too many questions: about hell, about Adam and Eve being literal people, about how they could “choose” to sin when they didn’t yet have the ability to discern right from wrong in the Garden. I’m not easily placated by “God’s ways are mysterious” or “Well, that’s just what the Bible says.” I don’t expect anyone to provide solid answers (no theologian has), but I do enjoy a good conversation. And that’s when it becomes very apparent, very quickly, what a person’s real motives are.
I find it’s really difficult for many Christians (of the fundamentalist sort) to express empathy for my doubts because they’ve never had my struggle. Maybe because they come from a tradition where doubt is treated like sin. Whatever the reason, they don’t want to hear why I disagree with X or have doubts about Y being true. Maybe they’re afraid of ending up like me.
I know many Christians (most, I’d wager) are not like this, but most of us have had a few encounters with the ones who are. They’re the ones who remind me that deconstructing is hard, on the days when I think I’ve reached a place of peace about uncertainty. The cycle of depression, the anxiety of not having answers, the grief for the faith I used to have…it all starts up again, an endless spin cycle of shame.
I still believe in God. I still pray and read Scripture, because there’s always more to learn. That’s enough for me…until I’m confronted by someone who feels it necessary to remind me that I have to follow their rules if I don’t want to burn for eternity.
The most accurate answer I can give about where I stand on faith (over coffee, I hope) is that I’m under construction. I have a faith in transit. “Agnostic” might be the most accurate, but to me it’s just another label with its own set of baggage. I’d rather not deconstruct a term that someone else came up with.
I would explain that I tend not to feel comfortable or fit in with a lot of churches, but I do fit in with weirdos and misfits with offbeat stories like mine – stories that don’t fit neatly in a box. I find community with people who love God but are uncertain about most everything else.
And I’m always open to hearing answers for the questions that I have – I just can’t promise to find them as satisfactory as maybe you might. And that doesn’t make me less faithful. It means that God is bigger than your box or mine.