“I’m pretty sure you told us that we were going to hell,” my college roomate told me over lunch last weekend.
“Yeah,” my other roommate said, surprise lining her face. “You were reeaally Conservative. But you’ve definitely changed a lot — probably more than both of us.”
I winced as they echoed my words. I looked into the faces of these two women who have known and loved me since I was eighteen. “I’m really sorry,” I said. “I’m sorry for any harm I caused…”
I say those words often lately. Not just out loud to people that I’ve hurt, but also to the girl I used to be.
I grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist household. As an adult, I willingly joined the Evangelical tradition. I spent a lot of my time utterly convinced that I had right and justified belief in God, that I knew exactly what was required to be considered a woman after God’s own heart. I knew that the Bible was a Rubik’s cube that you just had to have the “right” key to solve and I had that key.
I knew the “right” answers about marriage, and children, and homosexuality and grief and suffering and those answers always seemed to involve: more praying and more belief, less of me and more of Jesus. Which, to be honest, I never really understood. The New Testament proclaimed again and again, that there was Freedom-with-a-capital-f to be found in Jesus. “If the Son has set you free, then you will be free indeed!” John proclaimed. But I didn’t feel free. Christianity was a prison, a prison that I’d gladly — righteously even — entered, a prison where I had locked the door myself and handed the key to someone else, but a prison nonetheless. I felt like I was living in a box, stuck in my childhood home, abiding by the many rules my father imposed so that I would receive his love, but no matter how many rules I followed or how many propositions I believed about God, that love — that freedom– never came.
“What happened to you?” that was the question reflected in my friends’ faces at lunch that day. It wasn’t one thing, of course, (it never is). It was a series of small and large things over about a decade, it was other people living and loving God in ways that I couldn’t make sense of, but that were pathways all the same. It was my many unchurched friends who loved me enough to stick around and help me understand those things that I couldn’t yet see for myself.
I could go into excruciating detail (and I’m sure I will at some point) but the metanarrative –the through-line that runs throughout this heart and life change, that in the words of my sister seems to be a complete 180 — is that I met Jesus. Not the one who invites you into a prison cell of “right belief” and “right propositions”, not the White Jesus of the slaveholder’s religion, not the war-loving, American Jesus, but the Jew who met the woman at the well and told her “all she ever did” and loved her so much that she changed her entire neighborhood and town.
My theology doesn’t look anything like what my parents first taught me so many years ago. In many ways, I’ve become the heretic that I was always so certain everyone else was. I’m not sure I can tell you much about my beliefs; I don’t know which propositions about God I’m still clinging to or what orthodoxy I profess. But my life, as chaotic and unbelievable as it is, is lived out loud, in good conscience, in full view of the God in whose image I am created– a God who sees “all I ever did” and loves me always. It is a life where grace meets me daily, where God shows up, where my theology is found in my everyday waking. It is a life without imprisonment. A life of freedom. A lived-in life that is no longer dedicated to “being right” or unlocking some Rubik’s cube to get all of the “right” answers, but is instead, committed to living out the questions that arise out of daily living. It is accepting the grace to change my mind and pursue another path.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.” ~ Rilke