Sunday, March 23, 2014

What I believe....

Last night I attended the closing night of my daughter's performance in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Earlier in the day I had posted on facebook that I would be writing a blog to update everyone as to what the waves have been washing up in my spiritual quest so I'd been kind of mulling it over all day. Even when I'm not actually writing, I tend to be writing in my head, so that's what had been going on. At the show, though, I looked around at all the people there, and I was kind of horrified by the fact that I write blogs. If there is one thing I really hate, it's for people to read over my shoulder as I'm writing, and suddenly that's how writing this blog felt. Not to mention, who am I to think that my thoughts are important enough to post?

It was actually a pretty frightening moment. The world of the internet tends to feel small and cozy to me, but I know it's not. When I think of the audience of people reading my blog, I think about those people who write to me, who comment on the blogs, or who comment on my facebook, and most of them are pretty nice. But the internet is really a huge and unknown territory.

I suppose these thoughts were coming at me also because I knew that what I was going to post would be kind of controversial. In fact, I figured it would probably offend almost everybody in one way or another. But I pushed past my reluctance. I don't know why exactly. It's probably primarily because I am a compulsive blabbermouth. I think it, I say it. I am a writer as well, and as a meme I posted on facebook the other day said, I write because I don't necessarily know, or understand, what I think until I have written it. And finally, I really value most of the comments I receive from others. In the end, I'm on a journey, and the insights and experiences of others help me along my way.

So anyway, this is an update on what the waves have tossed up in answer to my spiritual questions. I'm not planning on repeating the questions. For those you can read my two previous entries.

I have had several people make very valuable contributions to this quest. They have tried to answer my questions, and they have pointed me to various resources to help answer the questions. Some of the answers have been helpful and have made sense. Some things I really already knew in the back of my mind. But in the end, there is one conclusion I had to draw about the art of apologetics, and that is that it may bolster beliefs, but it doesn't really prove anything. When it comes to religion, it's all faith. If you could know, if you could prove, there would be no need for faith.

And my decision is to embrace faith, because underlying that is the one most important factor. Love.

I was raised in a non-religious household. My mother taught me to say the "now I lay me down to sleep" prayer, but that's it. As a child, I felt a really deep longing for faith. I was about nine years old when I first felt the desire to be able to read the Bible and understand it. At that time I asked my parents to take me to church, and they did, but only for a short time until my dad was transferred to a new station (he was in the Air Force). When I was in high school, I first developed an obsession with the nation of Israel. Then later on, inspired by the music of Jesus Christ Superstar, which was popular at the time, I started to fall in love with Jesus, knowing nothing at all about who he was. In my earth twenties, I began to know him, began to read the Bible, and that is when I fell deeply in love.

Over the years, I have departed from that faith a couple of times. My departures have been passionate, even venomous. There are a lot of things I could say about my motivations, like that I decided it was wrong, didn't make sense, and all that, but in my deepest heart of hearts I know that there were other reasons as well, and those are dark and sorrowful and probably even a little bit shameful judging by the fact that I am not inclined to share them even privately, much less publicly.

Honestly, I think that the last few years may have had some benefit, although I'm not sure everybody would agree. I have developed an aversion to judgment. This has come in part through the widening of my world through several avenues, including my job as a paralegal. I admit I have a problem with the concept of sin. In fact, I was listening to a worship song about washing away our sins and my thought was, "Hey, I'm not a sinner." And, well, for the most part I'm okay these days, but a little trip down memory lane reminded me that ... well, I am, yes, indeed, a sinner, even according to my own loosest standards. Just take my word for it. As for other people, I see most of the "bad" things that people do as the result of the wounds they have suffered. Recently when I was reading through the gospel of Matthew, I was put off by discussions of sin and judgment and all, but what came to me was the question of just who he was talking about when Jesus talked about sinners. He reached out with love and embraced most of those who would be traditionally thought of as "sinners" -- the adulterers, prostitutes, etc.  The ones I really recall him condemning were the religious hypocrites. And anyway, Jesus' guidance was clear. His instructions were to "judge not that you be not judged," and "love one another." "You have heard it said an eye for an eye," Jesus said, but his instructions were that if a man slaps one cheek, turn to him the other. More to the point, he says:
"...Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? ....And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? ....Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:43-48)
And what is the measure of this perfection we are to strive for? It is an all-embracing love.

There is one other thing I want to address, and that is the subject of suffering. People often assume that it is the fact that Michaela was kidnapped and never found that caused me to turn my back on God. This is not true. It is a fact that there have been a few occasions when people have talked about prayer and I have bluntly said, "God didn't save my daughter." But that is really, really not the issue.

I have been attending a small house church in Hayward. The first time I went there, people were talking about loss. Of the small group of people there, almost all of them have experienced devastating losses of loved ones, and several of children. I think at some point someone said that this is caused by evil. And yes, to an extent it is. It certainly wasn't out of the goodness of someone's heart that they decided to kidnap Michaela. That came from the evil buried there.

So where was God in this? First of all, I don't believe, and I don't think most people believe, that God micromanages everything that happens in the world. According to the Bible, we have been given free will.

But second, I do believe that even the terrible things that happen to us in life can be part of God's plan. I remember years ago Pastor David Silvey was giving the sermon at church and he was talking about visiting a silversmith's shop. He said the smith heated the silver over the fire until it was liquid, and then he poured it back and forth and back and forth and back and forth to purify it. Asked how he knew when it was done, the smith answered, "When I can see my reflection in it."

"That," Pastor David said, "is what God does with us. He refines us until he is able to see his reflection in us."

There is nothing like grief to refine us. It will make us or break us, will either kill us or make us stronger. It will change us always and forever. Every sunset will look different after we emerge from grief. The rain will no longer sound the same, and the crashing of the ocean waves on the beach will tell us stories we could never have heard before. We will be able to walk with God, and walk with others, into dark forests which would have terrified us previously. According to the Bible, God himself has suffered grief, at the turning away of his people, at the suffering and death of his son. How could he see his reflection in us if we had not experienced the same? How could he use us to heal the broken-hearted if our own hearts had not been broken?

Is the source of our loss evil? I don't know. But I choose not to credit evil with more than its due. I just remember that "All things work together for good for good for those who love God and who are called according to his purposes." (Romans 8:28) I have a friend whose daughter was killed in a car accident when she was 17. This week, in fact, is her birthday. I know how much her mother is still suffering, however many years have passed. But this mother has become a powerful presence in the world because of her loss, and honestly through her, her daughter has become a powerful presence. The same is true for me. I have said that Michaela had a light to shine in the world, and because she is not here to hold it, I am holding it for her. Who knows what she would have become had she not been kidnapped, but most people do not in their lives reach as many hearts as Michaela has since she has been gone. Perhaps these things, crime, disease, accidents, are due to evil, but if we are to ever be healed we also have to honor and find joy in the blessing God makes out of it, not only for us but most importantly on behalf of those we lost.

After I started going to church, my youngest daughter (age 20) sent me a text saying, "Mom, don't post about church on facebook." She told me that people were going to ask difficult questions. So here, my sweet girl, I have posted the answers so you don't have to do that. Yep, you are going to see me reading the Bible, and you are going to see me going to church and Bible study, praying and listening to worship music, and yes, I will post about it on facebook. You will also probably see me posting in support of the gay community as well. It's not my intention to change political parties. It's just to love God and to open my life and my heart to him. Be assured also, I have not lost any IQ points.

I know many people could be offended by this but please don't be. I love you.

One last word ... a couple of prayers were answered in the writing of this blog. Thank you, God.