The State of Faith

Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth. — Alan Watts

Faith has played quite a role in my life. I’ve been all over the map — from naïve fundamentalist to psuedo intellectual Calvinist to seminary student to committed progressive to indifferent shoulder shrugger. I’ve read Jonathan Edwards and Julian of Norwich, Thomas Merton, Alan Watts, Ram Dass, and The Prophet Muhammad.

I’ve come to very few conclusions, and certainly no answers, but I have arrived at something that I believe to be generally true:

Whatever we’re a part of is on our team, and we can find that when we step into the currents that are moving us forward, toward more justice, more equality, and more harmony with the world.

I can’t write a statement like this without feeling like it’s an argument, especially an argument with the faith of my teenage years — the evangelical fundamentalism of the American South. I’m trying to stop living as an argument with that part of my life, and recognize that was a part of a story, to acknowledge and accept the part of played, and to move on. I also write know how people who entered my life at that part of the story might receive this. How, without ill will, they might worry about that status of my soul. If you’re one of those people, thank you for your love and concern. I want to let you know that, like the song we used to sing, “it is well with my soul.” I don’t write to invalidate or assail your story. I only hope to tell a bit of mine.

I think this story has to be about moving from dark to light. From bleakness to hope. From pessimism to optimism. From domination to freedom.

The faith of my youth viewed human nature and the world darkly. It was fundamentally broken. A woman succumbed to the temptation of a snake, and it all broke, and we all began hurtling toward eternal torture.

People were fundamentally broken. We couldn’t trust our natures. We couldn’t trust our feelings. Everything we wanted was suspect. We had to exercise dominion, over ourselves above all. This means other people are suspect too, subject to more intense corruption, and always out to do us harm. Our only recourse was God, who finally said, “Look what you made me do!” and sent his emissary to be tortured and killed in our stead.

The world was also fundamentally broken. Created by this same God, but as suspect to corruption as my body. It has its moments of beauty, but we broke it, and it’s destined for the fire, no matter what we do, or how well we steward it. It’s disposable, and the things it makes are suspect, to be feared and subjugated.

These days, I see far less darkness and far more light. People aren’t broken. That story about the lady and the snake isn’t about our nature. That story is about scarcity and supremacy. We all just want to be happy and free from suffering, but when you make us fear scarcity, and that we must dominate those around us, we’ll make horrible choices. We don’t have to resist ourselves. We have to resist systems of power that would exploit our desires for happiness.

The world we live in isn’t broken. It’s a beautiful, dynamic system. We impact that system and we’re responsible for maintaining that system, not just for ourselves, but on behalf of generations of people yet to come.

There have always been people who have been conduits of this, pulling us forward into something new. Sometimes, when we look back, they seem barbaric and small-minded, but when we understand them as they were then, they shined a light on what we could be — the beauty, the justice, the mercy, the peace.

There have always been those who would use scarcity and supremacy to appeal to our desire to be happy and without suffering. They have always had the ability to make us do horrible things. Even worse, they have always had the ability to make us indifferent, to turn us inward, to focus on us and forget about them.

And sometimes, those two circles overlap, and those who use scarcity and supremacy manipulate those who have been conduits of light to make us even more afraid.

Now, I believe in following the light. I believe that there are places of obvious good in the world, and they’re apparent in any place where we’re moving toward more humanity for more people, more equity, more justice, more mercy. I believe we can find those currents in our world, and that we should be always joining in with those currents where we find them. And where we see those who would use scarcity and supremacy to halt that forward motion, we should actively resist being drawn into that narrative.

I believe I’m enough. Just now. Just as I am. I believe that about you too. You don’t have to look, think, believe, talk, walk, dress, identify, have sex, eat, drink, or anything else like me to be enough.

I believe that those of us whom scarcity and supremacy has positioned at the top of the heap need to be working to eliminate the heap altogether, and that it’s the least I can do to use my power and privilege to create and maintain spaces where you can be completely use, and where you can feel safe and seen.

It’s tough to write things like this. I don’t need a gold star. The stakes are relatively low for me. But there are people that I love, a lot, who might read something like this and be afraid — afraid for me, afraid that they failed me. If that’s you — thank you. If you’re hoping to change my mind, your time is probably better spent elsewhere, but if you want to learn more, and you’re curious about what this means and how I got here, then we should talk.