This is a story about the year I threw a rock through the heart of stained glass Jesus. I don’t want to write it. I’m afraid of the ways I’m wrong, the way your opinion of me will change, and maybe mostly, that you might take my questions for accusations, that my journey may feel to you, in the reading, like it is belittling or challenging yours. There is a powerful habit in me that is ashamed of this story, and wants to shame it for the harm it may do. I want to ask your forgiveness, even though I’m not sure why I should.
Wanted to put it that out there, just so we’re clear and also because I’m stalling obviously duh.
Okay. Here we go.
At a friend’s table on a summer night many years ago, I monologued defensively about how faith had never been particularly challenging for me. Sure, I’d experienced difficult times, but unwavering trust in the capital-G God of my evangelical childhood had pulled me through them, and I righteously bemoaned the way that other Jesus followers seemed to find this somehow shallow and suspicious and false. It wasn’t. Belief did come easily – I am hardwired for heart swells, I am a relentless glutton for awe and wonder, I am the gregarious cheer captain of team stubborn, unshakeable hope.
I wasn’t lying. My faith was the forked split in the lifeline of my left hand, my back row position in any group photograph, the constellations of freckles that populate my skin – a fact of my being. A permanent truth, as full and holy as anything else about me. The faith of my first 30 years was home, and fire, love, and joy. My god-house was not always made of glass.
This story is not a sermon. Your faith, however it lays on your soul at the moment, I celebrate and respect and admire it. I love your love for Jesus, for your church, for exactly wherever you are. I have struggled with the church, but the church built me, and the people and truths within its walls are among my truest loves. I spent 30 years in that love, and I AM because of it. This story is not a challenge or a decree. This story is not a sermon.
It’s a confession.
The ease, the solid sureness of god slipped away in small pieces. Conversations I grew weary of having, convictions I no longer felt in my bones, inconsistencies that curled their way up from a daring newborn place in my spirit like smoke signals, stubbornly undeniable against the clear sky history of my belief. I hated them. My mind and body raged against them, desperately insisting that I tuck back in, seek wise counsel, pray, read my Bible, read it MORE, read it AGAIN, close my eyes to the invading darkness which is only evil which is only doubt which is only destruction because far from God, baby, guess who moved, and shame on you, you self-centered millennial cliche lemming of the inevitable watering down of the truth YOU WILL LOSE EVERYTHING YOU KNOW YOU WILL LOSE EVERYONE YOU WILL LOSE YOU WILL FORFEIT YOUR SOUL HER SOUL FABLE’S PRECIOUS SOUL WHAT WILL YOU TELL YOUR DAUGHTER?
I am excellent at panicking. I am excellent at shame.
“No.” said the stubborn newborn spirit voice. “No, not this time. We aren’t putting these stones down until we try our damnedest to see if this thing breaks.”
She, the small place inside me, was no longer content with our definition of truth. For too long now, she’d been wearing shoes that didn’t quite fit anymore, praying to a god who felt fragile, limited, and cold, a god a new name or hard question could shatter, a god who depended on so many quivering breakable truths, a god-house made of stained glass windows, static and unmoving, and this time, nothing was stopping her from hurling every stone she could carry until she knew for certain whether or not he would shatter.
And he shattered. I hurled my desperate stones, and the god, the faith of my childhood, glittered away into a thousand faceless pieces of glass.
I want to take those words back as I type them, want to recoil from their arrogance and venom and the failure I feel in them. But this story is a confession, and that is the truth of the heart of what happened for me. My belief, my god, shattered, and for the first time in my lifetime, I stopped believing there was a god at all.
The word they use is deconstruction.
The reason I know that word is the reason I’m writing this story – because there were voices, holy, wise voices that whispered it to me as I mourned and panicked and dug bleeding through my mountain of glass that had been the god-home of my first 30 years. Those who had thrown their own stones before me gave me language, and tools – books, and a people, and a place to grieve. They gave me the outcasts and the questioners, they gave me grace and hope, and perhaps most precious of all, they gave me permission – permission to be terrified, permission to be angry, permission to continue slinging the stones that were breaking my own heart for as long as I needed to, permission – holy, wise permission – not to hide, or flee.
“You are still worthy, we still see you, you still belong here, even if you can never put this house back together, even if god never shows up to put it together for you. Take your time. Do the work. Long walks, babydoll. No pretending.”
Those voices lifted the weight of damnation from my shoulders. They lifted it so I could get up off the floor.
Here is what was lost: my sure, still belief. My clear place in a creed. My hard and fast definitions of self, of god, of Jesus, of salvation, of redemption. The clear-hearted way I called myself Christian. The part of me that was confident in her place in the world and her role. The part of me that was sure of her rightness. The part of me that was sure of heaven. The part of me that was sure.
Someone reminded me recently that we do well not to trample each other’s journeys – each of us has enough to manage trying to navigate our own. I know many people who I respect, trust, and admire who have stayed there – for whom god has died, and they’ve not needed him to return. I honor that story.
But me? I am hardwired for heart swells. I am awe and wonder oriented, and losing the magical god-force of pattern and intention behind the veil of this place has never been wholly in the cards for me. I am not me without god. I am not me without the part of me that is part of a bigger story.
Here is what remains: once I stopped trying to glue my shattered stain glass Jesus image back together, I started looking for Jesus in the stones. I started finding god in the sky on the other side of the window, in the fresh air coursing through the creaking frame that remained of my precious glass god-home. Waiting, patiently, at the end of every terrifying question, I found the same god, the same echoes of love and resurrection. Love and resurrection, with a thousand different names and traditions, love and resurrection written into the natural world, written generously and expansively into the framework of every taboo path I chased. I found god in atheist podcasts, and Buddhist proverbs, and celtic ceremonies, in moon cycles and hard questions and goddess lore and feminism and philosophy and the wrong places and the right ones, and yes, in the Bible and in Jesus and in the arms of the humans in our new church home, all of them humming the same unbreakable echoes of love and resurrection, all of them humming the same relentless songs. Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, it is well, it is well, it is well.
I found god there, too, in my own broken heart, in my self-shaming arms hurling stones, in the holy science of their velocity and arch, and even in the walls that came tumbling down.
I am wrong about many things, and this is a work in progress. I’m frequently finding new hurts to trip over, new work to do, and I’m not always particularly graceful about it. We have a LOT to talk about, and I have no answers. I am learning to be okay with not having any answers. I am learning to be okay with the sting of the words “I’m not really sure what I believe about god right now. I’m not really sure what to call myself. I’m not really sure at all.”
I don’t know what I believe about the details of the story, but I suspect the heart and the point of it remain the same – we are loved and made for it, we belong to love, and we are surrounded by achingly beautiful patterns of resurrection. I don’t know what to call this wide open great big god thing I’m finding, but I think the shattered glass god of my first thirty years might be within and part of it, and that is enough, and that’s okay for now. I’m not alone.
And maybe the only thing I know for sure, my love – neither are you.