Faith After Unraveling

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*Today I am finishing my Faith Shift blog series, where I unfold my own story of faith shifting as laid out in Kathy Escobar’s book, Faith Shift. The first week, I talked about fusing my faith, a time in my life when I found security in the certainty of my faith, and the gifts evangelicalism gave me. Next, I recall everything I learned at Fuller Seminary and began a process of shifting my faith. Then my faith came completely undone and I tell that story of When My Faith Unraveled. Here is where I am at now:

My days of telling sanitized stories are over. Apologies to those who may be looking for the way God plucked me out of darkness and thrust me back over to the light, because this isn’t the story I’m telling today. My mighty fortress of belief, the certainty of faith that once stood tall and strong, has crumbled, and I have zero interest in building it back up.

When I sat among the ruins and the rubble, the aftermath of my faith unraveling, I found fellow vagrants digging around with me. We are a disenfranchised, disillusioned, broken crowd, putting one foot in front of another while being careful with our wounds. They aren’t celebrities on platforms, they are silenced people – marginalized by the majority, too hurt to speak, and discarded by their community. And the only reason they became visible to me was because I wandered into the shadows myself.

The church calls these people sinners. We cannot consider them brothers and sisters because of how far they have strayed from acceptable boundaries of orthodoxy. They say the work of these people cannot be blessed by God because of their personal choices. In the past I would have agreed. But my deconstruction has removed the log in my eye and revealed astounding beauty. I see their faces, their resilience, their love, their brokenness, their wounds, their courage and vulnerability, and I hear the voices of mainstream Christianity saying they are to be shunned and feared when all I want to do is to draw closer.

I am reminded of my transgender friend who tells me he sits in the pews to learn about God and “closes his ears” when the pastor preaches transphobic hate from the pulpit. And I think to myself, I would rather sit at his feet for a thousand days to learn from him than spend one moment with the spiritual leader up on stage.

So this is what I do these days. I don’t go looking for God in steeples and conferences and performances by Christian establishment. I find God in the shadows, among the outcasts, in those who know suffering. I bear witness to their pain. I put one feeble hand on their shoulders. I sidle up next to them hoping to rub a little bit of their beauty off on me. Some of them have walked away from God never to turn back, and because I have kissed evangelism goodbye, I don’t try to re-convert them. Some of them love God, more than ever because of their brokenness, and we praise God together, looking to the wounded One on the cross. We don’t rush to find redemption, because we know how sometimes hope can be manufactured and we care too much about our souls to pretend we are well when we still hurt.

If rebuilding my faith means I have to leave my people on the margins, then I will live with a stumbling faith forever, because I am not leaving. If standing ground with rejected people means I am rejected by the church then so be it, and that is my final answer. I may not ever regain a certainty of faith in the existence of God, but I am more sure than ever in the presence of the trembling bodies I can see, hold, touch, and cry together.

If standing ground with rejected people means I am rejected by the church then so be it, and that is my final answer.

Although I am more tender than ever, I also feel stronger. What I found at the bottom of my slippery slope of faith deconstruction was clarity. I sorted through the spiritual baggage of my past and found the bad bits, so I am working hard every day to discard the shards from my soul. I am teaching myself to trust in my own intuition again because bad religion taught me to fear the sin that supposedly rot me to the core. I am letting myself feel exactly the way I do, undoing years of discipline to “guard my heart” and to reject my “fleshly desires.” Under no circumstances do I allow people to have authority over me unless they have earned my trust. This, after a lifetime of being told I needed to submit to authority of men and those in power.

And I tell my stories. I tell them despite the fact that people from all walks of my life can read it on the internet. I open myself up to criticism, judgment, and disapproval. This is hard and remains hard, but I have found the act of creating beautiful words counteracts the poison of my cynicism. Giving other people vocabulary for their journey, having an impact on the public sphere through my writing, becoming a thought leader in Christian ideas reassures me that complementarians are wrong. Women can and should have a voice to teach and preach. I feel power surging in my words, a vulnerable strength I never knew I had.

As for my personal relationship with God? I don’t pursue a robust life of individual piety anymore. Mainly because I no longer believe it is a mark of spiritual achievement. Some of the most pious people I know are the biggest jerks. I may be open to trying meditative practices at some point in time but a lifetime of feeling guilty for not doing devos has really put a bad taste in my mouth for introspective spiritual disciplines. This does not mean I don’t encounter God, I do. I see faith in the irreverent, miracles in the ordinary, and beauty in the margins. I encounter God every day in the snarky memes from Unvirtuous Abbey, in walking my too-cute-for-words puppy, and in my Facebook inbox filled with stories of my people.

Life after unraveling is learning to move about among the ruins of my faith, finding pockets of love and hope sprouting in unexpected places. It is whimsical, surprising, and authentic. I breathe a little bit easier every day having left behind the fundamentalist effects of my past. I feel more like who God has created me to be as I continue exercising my gifts. I still feel broken, because life is hard and I keep living more years of it. But I don’t feel alone anymore. Because out here in the Land of Broken People, there are so many of us—you know who you are.

We aren’t like a strong, bright, beacon of light. We are more like tiny candles, flickering with small flames of earnest faith but also in terrible danger of being snuffed out at any moment by doubt and betrayal. My promise is this: I will offer my feeble light to re-ignite your candle if you’ll do the same for me. In this way, we can go dark sometimes, knowing there are others who will light the way for a while and lend us a spark when we are ready.

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  • Thanks so much for your brave words, Cindy. And for sharing your brave and tender heart. I too think one of the best things about the deconstruction of my faith has been all of the surprising places that God shows up–in places and people I never would have thought to look before.

    • Thank you Jessica, you are such a kindred spirit.

  • Craig Anderson

    Wow. Amen. Thanks so much.

    • Thank you for reading!

  • LornaBethS

    Are you sure you’re not building a relationship with God. “I encounter God every day . . .” sounds to me like spiritual practice is going on. The practice of opening and noticing should not be undervalued!

  • Julia Bishop

    Everything about your words gives me hope in the unraveling. Your candle is bright, to me, and you are a companion re-igniting my feeble flame. Feeling alone in the doubt and confusion has been the deepest pain, but knowing you and others are “out there” is a comfort. Heartfelt thanks and gratitude for your courage to speak your truth and walk it out my friend. I want to find Him afresh as well. Journey on in the margins…

    • Julia, those are such kind and compassionate words. Thank you for extending them so graciously to me. So, so grateful to have you on this journey with me as well. Much love to you, sister.

  • Hello Cindy, have been a silent lurker at your blog for so long. In some ways we are the same. I, too, grew up in an Asian culture (Malaysia), became an accidental Christian (long story -it’s on my blog if you’re interested), was exposed to American brand of Christianity and was summarily confused after that 🙂 Your blog series inspired me to start writing about the journey and I realised that Kathy Escobar’s gives one a really structure to look back and make sense of what happened. Talking about this stage of our lives is indeed very cathartic. Also, it helps people understand that they’re not crazy! Thanks for the post 🙂

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