What If: I Can’t Find a Spiritual Path That Seems Genuine For Me?

This week, I sat down with the last 6 ‘What If’ Questions on my Numbers spreadsheet and I stared at this one. I know what I need to say. I know what I want to say. But typing it just seems to be a bit harder than I ever imagined. For those that have held tight with me the last 40+ days, you know that blowing up my boxed-up world is challenging for a single track thinker. In genuine vulnerability, this question asking series started from a place of fear of the ‘what if’. If I began to publicly say some of the things that have been rolling around in the depths of the deep, what happens? What I found is that I am still here. A bit more free. More empowered. Absolutely, more sure of myself than ever before. So, back to our question today.

The box we are exploring is one of the very square shaped boxes in my mind’s historical journey. Each “spiritual path” is a neatly packed box. We have the Jewish box, Buddhist box and the Hindu box. Can you see the acceptable “other religions” categories? We have the Christian boxes (each with their worthiness pre-determined) of Catholicism, Evangelicalism, liberal theology, protestant roots and traditional liturgically intense practices. And THEN we have the ones that I was taught are the no-fly boxes of cultish expressions of faith. All of the boxes.

I remember the first time I read a book on contemplative prayer practice that drew parallels to the meditation practices of eastern faiths. I almost closed the book. WE DON’T BELIEVE IN THESE THINGS. And by we, I mean that the brand of religious expression that I was buying at the time. But I began to explore these ideas of stillness and intention and I did’t combust. My next big boulder of struggle was literal biblical understandings, even going so far as to question heaven and hell. What if? What about…? As I began to study, the cardboard walls of my boxes began to soften with the water from my tears. On many days (let’s be honest, late nights) I would take a breath and say in my deepest spaces, ‘I don’t believe that anymore.’ And then I would cry. Sometimes the tears would be a glorious release. Sometimes the tears were from the pain of loneliness. In many seasons, I have felt like I was walking out on a wobbly branch of a forbidden tree, alone and scared.

The number of times that I have admitted that my box was inadequate for my truth is terrifying. If you have not guessed it from the last many days, I’m not sure I even have a box anymore. I have fully embraced that there is not ONE spiritual path that seems genuine for me. However, there is MY spiritual path. And that, dear friends, is very genuine. There is much of this season that is confusing, but there is one thing that is NOT genuine: to stop searching and exploring. Out of fear of doing it wrong or an unclear direction or any other speed bump, the thing that I cannot and will not shake is the journey. I am a spiritual person. I am deeply tied to exploration and question asking. I will never not be able to connect the dots of the Mystery with the revelations of truth in my own existence.

I love the question asking of the Jewish faith. I am obsessed with the deep history of the Orthodox Christian church. I find grace and peace in the openness of the modern Episcopal Church. I am learning and growing from the inner contemplation of the Buddhist faith. I read with great excitement from many spiritual teachers that would quickly tell you they are not religious. And most importantly, I have learned to listen, sit and discern my own truth. This single act of freedom has allowed me to let go of finding the ‘right’ in favor of the ‘best’ or ‘most true.’ If there is one thing that I have embraced in this season it is my full acceptance that the spiritual journey is a deeply personal one. Those that chose to judge or convince or manipulate with fear or threats of pain and judgement are not the ones that I’m here for. There is nothing “genuine” in that kind of spirit quest today.

May we find the holy spaces with genuine searching and learning. We are worth it.

What If: Faith Has Nothing to Do With Doctrinal Purity?

Deconstruction is a popular word that is used in the circle of recovering Evangelical Christianity to explain the process of unpacking old thoughts. My journey of deconstruction began in 2002. It was in a season of absolute desperation and spiritual death that I began to question all of the ways in which I had been taught to look for truth and hope in ways that no longer made since. I didn’t have a box for the reality that I wanted to commit suicide. There was no way to explain the truth that I was pastoring teenagers with the Good News of hope and joy and yet most mornings it was all I could do to get my head off the pillow and face the day.

I built a life that was based on a system of absolutes. The structure that gave me a job and a calling and a purpose was simultaneously feeding my need to cover my truth, deny my doubts and run from the soul spaces that were calling me to look for more. If I admitted that I did not believe in the story of Adam and Eve as a literal creation narrative how in the hell was I supposed to teach original sin – the root of the need for a savior? While to some this sounds like an overblown drama fest, to a person with only one experience of anything faith related, I feared that my entire existence could come unravelled.

Simple math would tell you that this has not been a quick journey. In so many ways, the last almost 2 decades have been quite the roller coaster. There have been moments of big, scary climbs – moments where I thought that the decent from that climb would actually kill me. One of the first biggies that I walked away from was the denominational church system of my childhood. I spent 30 years believing that the best expression of the Body of Christ was that system. And then that reality died. To say that a piece of my soul died with it is an understatement.

I wish I could say that was the hardest death. It only got harder as the stakes got bigger. The dismantling of my understanding of ordination did me in. The moment that I accepted that the work that I was doing was indeed pastoring…mind blowing. When I realized that me not being able to check the box of every profession of faith found in the creeds of the Church and yet that fact did not disqualify me from being a follower of Jesus – I was floored. The first time that I allowed myself to think about the possibility that sexuality was not something that needed moral policing, I was done. Flat out done. This list is not exhaustive, by any means. What I know today is that I am not done.

Here is the thing about deconstruction: it never stops. When you begin to live your life from a posture of leaning in, one of openness and space for new growth, the universe allows your heart and mind and thinking and loving to come from a bigger, more expansive place. In the process, my beliefs about doctrine and theology have changed. I took seminary classes in systematic theology. I still devour texts on historical shifts in church beliefs and makeup. These things are fascinating to me. But the process of deconstruction has wrecked my understanding of pure doctrine in the best possible way. No longer is the list about conforming. My journey is now about exploration. There is no fear in saying that I don’t believe in _______ or I can’t put the Divine in the _________ box.

I fully believed, for DECADES, that by altering my absolutes, by taking certain “fundamental” beliefs off the table, I was committing catastrophic damage to my own faith. Instead, what I found is that the “purity” factor is the lie. The box of believing that without certain certainites it all goes to hell, has been destroyed. I would instead argue that what I have found on the other side is a breath of fresh theological air. At the very essence of the Divine is great mystery, a big questioning mystery. We are not supposed to know and be certain. Certainty and absolute knowledge is the opposite of faith. If we find ourselves in a place where we have it all figured out, if we have all of the answers, we don’t need the Divine.