Life has a way of challenging our beliefs, and through dark valleys do we come to know ourselves and…our beliefs.
A few months ago, while the foliage in the cottonwoods and aspens were yet green and full, I passed by a dear neighbor while returning from a walk.
The weather was perfect. The evening began to close in with a cool breeze as the sun began its descent, and the temps hovered in the 70’s.
I barely noticed my neighbor, who I will refer to as R, sitting on her deck, almost hidden among the camouflage of the trees in her front yard.
R is a wonderful lady. Seasoned in years and rich with life experience, her hugs are warm and her smile infectious.
“Hello R! How you are you doing today,” I says. I was having a great day and had just mulled over my grateful list while out on my walk. I figured everyone was having a wonderful day like me.
“Oh, not so good,” she replied, a bit downcast. That stopped me cold in my tracks.
As I turned and began to navigate her yard through the trees, I asked in a soft voice, “Really? What’s goin’ on?” I neared the railing of her deck and noticed she wasn’t smiling but sitting slightly hunched over and asked me a question that caught me a little off guard…
With tears in her eyes, she asked, “Do you ever feel like you’re not right with God?”
This wasn’t a rhetorical question to trap me into a conversation about converting my soul; this was a self-mirrored question in which she was looking for an answer for herself.
I knew that R had been battling severe depression, and some of her struggle was questioning if God forgives her. And because we’ve shared a little about ourselves in the past, she knows that I am a man with deep convictions about faith and God.
So, our conversation began.
Are We Losing Our Religion?
The term religion has always had a funky taste in my mouth.
The word conjures up beautiful edifices with perfectly aligned pews with that particular sterile smell that once you’ve sniffed it, it kinda sticks in the memory. The memory also recalls boring services when I was forced to wear itchy and not-so-fun clothing because for some reason God wasn’t into Levis.
I grew up in a holiday Baptist / Lutheran home. That means that you go to church only on holidays and the where (the Baptist or Lutheran church) solely based on which parent wins the Battle Royale that Sunday morning; — reminds me of how it was determined which relative’s home we visited.
Religion seemed to have this dark side too after hearing about a venerated pastor, priest, or youth worker caught in a scandal with someone else’s wife, or hooker, or jailed because of violating a child.
Top it off with ridiculous incomes siphoned off from good-hearted people who still believe in tithing. To further my distaste in the term religion, I recently came across an article in the Washington Examiner that exposed Kenny Copeland’s private fleet of aircraft and his net worth of $760 million.
The article didn’t only curl my tastebuds; it wholly pissed me off. Not just about the wolf in sheep’s clothing, but the fact that it sends a ripple of mistrust through our lives, our generation, and into the next generation concerning Christianity as a whole.
Benjamin Sledge wrote an excellent piece on The Great American Swindling of Christianity in which he deals with the core of our cultural bias and substitution of the real deal. He’s writing a four-piece series on it, and his second part is found here. His series is an enlightening piece that speaks to the core of the hypocrisy, mistrust, and duplicity of religion and specifically Christianity.
Pew Research Center just released their findings; In The U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace, in which they discovered that over the past decade, those who describe themselves as Christians have decreased by 12%. Conversely, there was a 17% increase in the same period of those who stated they are religiously unaffiliated (atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular”).
Apart from the scandals and typical religiosity that seems to repel more and more every year, what I found is that my beliefs and convictions have been challenged with life events and the associated expectations I’ve placed on those events based upon what I believed.
In other words, my expectations did not meet with reality. And in my attempt to sort out what it is that I really believe, I fell silent on many issues that at one time I more than likely would have been first through the door to argue, fight, and debate for hours and hours.
But I never convinced anyone about anything by arguing. Once an argument sets in about whatever, people dig their heels in, and then it’s just a defensive game that no one will capitulate to. We humans seem to be programmed to want to be right all the time.
Yet, those life events caused me to face a slew of life-challenging decisions that not only tested my faith but would call into question many beliefs I dearly held.
Divorce, death, retire from being a cop, a major move across state, new this, new that, new way of living life. Coupled with the soul-grinding fact that blood relatives would later disassociate from me because I chose to move on after a divorce and begin to date, and figure out life without being glued to their way of thinking.
Mind-boggling doesn’t even come close to how I felt.
Hence, I have kept quiet in my writings about faith until now. Sifting through what I believe in the light of what has happened, what Christianity means to me, and how to live that out daily.
So…when my lovely neighbor asked me, “Do you ever feel like you’re not right with God?” my insides flipped over because it’s a question I’ve wrestled with for some time.
Daily Practice of Loving Our Neighbor
I leaned against R’s deck railing, and we had a nice, long, comfortable chat about faith, forgiveness, and a few other topics. I realized that R struggled with forgiveness, but not that God forgives, that’s the easy part, but we all have a hell of a time forgiving ourselves.
Our conversation also showed me that the confusion about Christian faith is exacerbated by the noise of so many telling us what we should do with our faith, how to, not do, or live here or there, and do it this way or that. Argument after argument, debate after debate…it’s endless.
And to that point, many, especially Millennials (stats confirmed by Pews Research) have said F-it; I don’t need that BS!
Well, after R and I finished up chatting, she gave me her smile, and I got that warm hug later on when she was off her deck and walking in the neighborhood.
We didn’t recite any Christian incantation, Jesus forgive me…yada yada (we’ve done that, been there, got the T), instead we listened to each other, truly listened. We shared our faults and a few of life’s experiences. We learned from one another. We encouraged each other’s faith and found solace in the fact that no one was trying to tell each other what to do or think, but provided loving support in a difficult emotional time.
When Jesus told us to be the salt of the earth, He didn’t mean for Christians to open up the Morton and pour the whole container down someone’s throat; then stand back and revel in how much good we’ve done by doing so.
The seasoning in life comes when added to those who hunger and thirst for something real more than just religion.
It’s a supporting word with no self-interest involved and a caring ear to listen without trying to convince.
It’s about helping others, emotionally and physically, in difficult times without worrying about another number added to the scorecard or making sure someone sees how pious we are.
So, don’t mistake my silence for a loss of faith…it’s more of quietly sifting through the issues of faith, life, love, and then practicing those tenants on a day to day basis.