I had been pondering all week what to write about for today when I suddenly remembered – it’s Good Friday when I’m scheduled to post. $&%#!!
And suddenly I was afflicted with writer’s block.
See, I have some seriously conflicted feelings about this whole weekend. I know I am not alone in this, either. For many people who have deconstructed and/or lost the faith they once had, major holidays like this can bring up a LOT of complicated feelings. We used to make a big deal out of Easter and Christmastimes, and now we don’t really know what to do with it. For me, there’s this hint of a feeling I “should” do something, but I do not think I really want to do something. I don’t want to force it. Yet many of us struggle with this void of what once was. We are not yet sure how to make new meaning out of something that we’ve experienced as harmful, or what (if any) rituals we might want to replace with what we once had.
My husband is a pastor (which by the way is different from me saying I’m a pastor’s wife), so it’s not like I have an option of pretending nothing is going on this weekend. I’m forced to grapple with it, at least to some extent.
It hasn’t always been like this, even after I began deconstructing my faith: for a good while I still wanted to experience the fullness, the religiosity, of these holidays. I’ve written a bit about Good Friday before (see that post here, which will actually also be part of my upcoming book). I’m not in the place I was then, but it is part of my journey.
A lot of ex-evangelicals end up throwing religion as a whole into the garbage can, never to be seen or heard from again. I totally get that impulse. Honestly, the beliefs I hold are probably pretty similar to anyone who identifies as secular, dechurched, ex-religious, etc. But I constantly walk this line of what I believe (religiously speaking, not much) and what I find meaningful. And whether I can engage in the meaningful without rolling my eyes too much or getting triggered.
Somehow there is something in me that longs for good story, for bigger purpose and connection. I’m not talking beliefs about God (or not), heaven (or not), divine purpose (or not). It’s more a feeling I have of how I engage in the world and how I think about my own life. It’s the things that inspire me and spark my soul.
I feel it when I read Gareth Higgins’ How Not to Be Afraid, and the way he talks about changing our stories about fear to move through it toward love.
I felt it last night when I started listening to an On Being episode where Krista Tippett interviews Serene Jones, public theologian and author of Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World. A wistfulness. A pull in my heart towards outside.
I felt it today when I read Kaitlin Shetler’s poem “State” about the killing of Jesus. When I read my seminary friends’ (they’re pastors) reflections about the crucifixion. Witnessing other people find ways to tell stories in ways to re-enliven them with some significance.
I haven’t believed in the standard Christian line about what happens on Good Friday for about a decade now. I don’t believe Jesus had to die as a sacrifice for God to forgive humanity. I don’t believe that’s why Jesus was killed. I’m tired of people assuming that believing this is what it means to be a Christian.
I think he was killed because that’s what the System does with people who are different, Other, who buck authority. The religious and political systems generally want power and control, and will kill – symbolically or literally – those who stand in their way. I believe Jesus knew this would be his fate (not because he was clairvoyant but because he knew the patterns of the system), and he took the risk anyway because he believed in a bigger purpose. People like him know they’re making enemies everywhere they go, and that their enemies are threatened by their very existence.
You don’t have to believe what I do. And trust me, if I could believe differently, I think life would feel easier. But I discovered long ago I can’t just will myself to believe something I don’t.
But what I have discovered is that the pieces of religion – or even of spiritual practices – that I want to hang on to are not about beliefs. Communities that emphasize “right” beliefs are not ones I can or will make my home in. No, the shreds of religion I want to hang on to are much more about a sense of beauty, of connection (to self and to others), community, purpose, values, ethics, envisioning a better life or a better world. Many times I find these things outside of religion. And sometimes I find them inside.
And I think that’s okay. It’s a weird place that makes both religious and ex-religious people uncomfortable. Maybe it’s not the best marketing tool, but I’ve found this is how I am true to myself. I would prefer to live authentically than live pretending to be something I’m not. So here I am.
May this day, this weekend, this season, be something meaningful to you – whatever that may look like.