Belief

Jesus doesn’t ride a magic carpet and other myths of American faith

A piece of my story that I don’t speak about much here is my days of agnosticism and the time when doubt spoke so much louder than faith.  These days unfolded slowly in the shadows of my mother’s cancer, the loss of several close friendships, and the dawning of the clash of cultures I had never encountered in my mono-cultural world.

Even though I had been loved well by so many, there were still days I felt I’d been lied to.

Even though I had learned many answers, there were still so many unrelenting questions.

Even though my childhood world had been safe and beautiful and rich and good, there was still sorrow to face that it, too, was a broken place.

As the questions of these days quieted, I grew into a new kind of faith, one that was less flashy and more rooted, less emotional and more perseverant, less starry-eyed and more observant, less notch-on-my-belt and more depth-of-my-soul, less-shine-Jesus-shine, more-candle-flickering-in-the-dark. To my great surprise, the questions didn’t just go away.  They hung in the air, following my faith around like a shadow. The betrayal of a broken world sunk deep into my soul, leaving me with a thirst for justice and a hunger for righteousness.

Like Donald Miller expresses in his essay on why he doesn’t attend church much, I still find that I don’t meet God very frequently in ways the modern day church facilitates, especially the never-ending ‘pop-corn’ prayers and endlessly repetitive singing.  My personality isn’t much built for these – I’m an ENTJ (aka ‘the executive’) on Meijers-Briggs and other such tests label me “Independent Thinker”, a learner, intellect, seeker of input and connection, always strategizing for the future.

So when I hear folks speak of how much they love Jesus, I grow a little sheepish.  Given my personal wiring, I don’t ‘feel’ all that much, at least not in the ways traditionally advertised by feelers. When I speak of Jesus, it’s hard to sincerely say that I ‘love’ him with the same kind of fiery passion to which I frequently hear others refer for my faith feels far more often like a candle flickering faintly in the dark.

Perhaps one dynamic influencing my hesitation in this business of ‘loving’ Jesus is American culture’s Disney-movie interpretation of love.  From the movies, I learned that love was a magic carpet ride full of wonder and adventure, a prince arriving to save me at just the right moment, or swirling around a ball-room in a place I didn’t really deserve to be.  I learned that ‘being in love’ meant swooning emotions, pretty dresses and palpitating hearts.  There were no Disney movies, however, about crying angrily on the way home from church or getting up with screaming babies six times in the middle of the night or being overly snippy with your spouse.  The Disney view of love wasn’t particularly sustaining through these moments.

When I cut to the core, though, I’m also hard-pressed to say that I don’t ‘love’ Jesus just because I don’t express my commitment like the enthusiastic-feeler-personalities. I just find myself using different words:

I walk with Jesus in caring for the stranger, in welcoming them to a new land.

I listen to Jesus as I create quiet spaces for myself and my family, refusing to run at the break-neck speed of the rest of the world.

I trust Jesus as I put one foot in front of another blindly, having given up one story and wait patiently as the next one unfolds.

I hope for the continual restoration of brokenness and healing of wrongs, even though some days feel completely hopeless.

I long for the days that will bring all those I love into one place together, no longer separated by airplanes or oceans or passports.

I dream of making the world right, of creating reflections of God’s kingdom here on earth, of making all things new.

I speak honestly and forthrightly, pushing through hard conversations toward wholeness, restoration and healing.

I walk toward the broken things, refusing to turn my head away just because they are ugly to look at or too complex to resolve by tomorrow.

While I no longer use the same words as the ‘Jesus Freaks’, I suppose I ultimately mean the same thing.  Since we’ve lived in many parts of the country, I’ve had the curse fortune to participate in a wide variety of traditions in the church.  We’ve visited a gamut of staunchly conservative, wildly charismatic, stiffly liturgical, and laid-back artistic churches.  When we’re in the evangelical churches, we hear a lot about loving Jesus.  In the charismatic churches, its all about the Holy Spirit’s moves. The liturgical churches wax quiet and reverent about the Father.

I actually find all these different perspectives quite refreshing because their diversity allowed my faith breathing-room just when I needed it most. Though I met Christ first among the Jesus-lovers, I returned to Him quietly among the Father-devotees. In the shadow of their liturgy, I bent on my humbled and aching knees, tasted the sweet potency of communion wine, and whispered time-tested words alongside the other voices. Their quiet way soothes my soul and allows me a pause-of-calm in the midst of a chaotic world.

It’s almost like God knew that some of us would need a completely different spin on faith for one reason or another, so He* allowed us to create spaces which differ wildly from each other.  Humans tend to see this as problematic and try to force everyone else to function exactly like themselves; but I think God grins at our bumbling efforts. Like we smile proudly at our toddlers when they stumble over themselves in their attempts to copy us, maybe He is simply grateful when we find paths that connect us to others and help us follow Him more faithfully instead of hurling our faith over cliffs instead.

Seeing this distinction changed everything for me – it meant I didn’t have to leave completely; I just needed to move around a bit.  And as I did, I returned to faith slowly with an awakening realization that I was just as helpless and broken as all the bumbling folks around me I didn’t understand. I returned because traveling the road alone was even bleaker than the doubts I had within faith.

Once I dug past the shallowness of our Disney-love culture, I found a sustaining faith rooted deep and strong in spite of its imperfect followers. It definitely lacked some of the enthusiasm of my youth, but easily made up for this in its substance and depth. When I hear all the raging debates these days about who’s-right-and-who’s-wrong, who’s-more-relevant and who’s-more-biblical, I wink at the sky, fall to my knees, and whisper a prayer of gratefulness that under God’s love, there’s a space of grace for all of our bumbling ways.

swirl

 * I’m not a huge fan of assigning gender roles to God, and find the English language disappointingly limiting in this regard.  If the use of God as He is hard to swallow, feel free to ignore these imperfect terms.  Personally, I don’t find she or it to work any better, and thus remain at a complete pronoun stand-off.

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2 thoughts on “Jesus doesn’t ride a magic carpet and other myths of American faith”

  1. I remember that moment when I “felt lied to.” It was so scary. My American (and really, “white, middle-class”) faith felt so small. Felt so foolish in a world filled with so much more than I ever knew. I felt foolish. I’ve been so blessed by diverse expressions of God that have helped me rediscover a big God… big enough for all the pain, all the joy, all the injustice and all the people. Great post!

    Like

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