Growing up I never gave religion any thought. My first memory of anything having to do with religion involved having a nightmare at about the age of 12. All I knew was that there was this lady named Mary who had become pregnant without ever having sex. I woke up one night in a panic, having dreamed that I had become pregnant, through no fault of my own, and while I begged for people to believe that I wasn't some sort of baby harlot, no one did. I was marked with a scarlet "W".
When I wasn't arguing with the Brothers about how birth control was fundamentally tied to gender equality or how wrong they were to believe that animals don't have souls, I was uninterested in what they had to say. They tried to teach me lessons on morality by giving examples of a man I felt no connection to, when people all around me did amazing, selfless and heroic things everyday. Alive people. People with families and friends and faults. I felt much more inspired by the man who ran to pull bodies out of a burning car or the random citizens who came together to help save a beached whale, than I did by Jesus. These people may not have had God, but they had love, compassion and courage. And my main problem with religion has always been this epically faulty notion that one has to have religion to have a moral compass. I reject this concept as much as I reject anything.
But at a time in my life when things are tough, when I feel pulled in 100 emotional directions and I'm as confused about things as I've ever been, it has given me great comfort to come across people such as Bishop Jim Swilley, Pastor Jay Bakker and Lubbock, Texas native Shelby Knox. Above all else these people talk about compassion and while I can't imagine ever using words like Christ and Grace and Scripture, I absolutely am in the "acceptance" and "love" bandwagon. They seem to have no hesitation in their honesty and sincerity, but unlike so many they do waver in their faith. And it's their admittance of doubt that I crave.They believe in God, so it is God that they doubt. Whereas I believe in me, and it is me that I doubt.
Recently Pastor Bakker said in an NPR interview that "Grace is unconditional acceptance. It's just that moment where you're able to say, 'I am accepted by a power greater than myself.'" I don't know that I believe in a power greater than myself, and so to me, grace would be unconditional acceptance of oneself. But this same notion of finding a personal peace within you, one that you can always fall back on, is something I strive for just like he does.
In the fabulous documentary "The Eduction of Shelby Knox" the film closes out with Shelby's comment that "I think some people never get their head out of the Bible to look at the real world. But I think that God wants you to question and God wants you to do more than just blindly be a follower. Because He can't use blind followers. But He can use people like me." It gives me comfort to know that questioning life and decisions is not something I experience alone, and that in fact being uncertain, even fearful at times, is probably a better and more honest place to be.
I believe so strongly in the good in people. People amaze me. Their strengths, emotions and abilities. Their innovation, creativity and dedication. Their vulnerability. Their ability to adjust, grow, evolve and change. To weather tough times and emerge stronger and smarter and better. And it is here that I find the common ground with the above Christians.
I love reading Bishop Swilley's blog. I find courage and peace in his words, and of the hundreds of his reflections I have read, The below words mean the most to me right now (I took the liberty of editing out the religious references because for me it takes on more meaning without them):
Today I will accept the fact that movement inevitably brings change. I will appreciate the seasons of my life. I will release from unrealistic expectations, those who cannot – or will not – change with me. I will be responsible for my own movement, and will allow others in my life to move at their own pace, without my judgment.
Today I will relish the excitement of not knowing every detail of my journey but will simply rejoice in the fact that I am in motion. I will welcome the adventure. My movement has meaning. My path has purpose.
Today I will not be distracted by an obsession with the past. Today is a day to clean house . . . to erase tapes . . . to delete files . . . to break ties with that which is negative and contrary to a now mentality. I will remember what needs to be remembered . . . pleasant memories . . . the lessons learned from past mistakes . . . traditions that do not make the Word ineffective – but my memory will not bind or hold me. I forget what needs to be forgotten.
Today I will not be preoccupied with the future. I will make necessary plans. I will speak prophetic words. I will call those things which are not as though they were. I will study. I will prepare. I will look forward to good things coming up. But I will not worry, fret, toil or spin. I can relax without anxiety.
Today I am not worried, anxious, fearful or depressed. My situation could totally change for the better today. I will keep things in perspective. I will not be negative. I will not burden others with the details. I will not exaggerate and magnify my problems. Today I will live in the now!
Lately I have found my own doubt to be overwhelming. The confusion and questions so persistent that I can't find any peace. This phase will pass. All phases do. I just hope that during this time I can learn something useful, that when I am again filled with the happiness and confidence that characterizes the usual me, I can say, "Here is what I know now that I didn't know before."