We've been faith-shifting at our house for a while now. Three years, give or take.
From the first scary days of wondering what we were possibly thinking, to the peaceful, grateful present it's been quite a ride.
A year ago at this time, I was having panic attacks in church parking lots, and last week I went to a contemplative prayer service on a Wednesday night.
Seriously, who is this girl?!
I talk to quite a few people these days who are faith-shifting in one way or another, and it's always interesting to hear how it happens.
Many times, there's some kind of painful or difficult event that sets off an eruption of questions that challenge the status quo: the death of a loved one, being the victim of abuse, walking with a friend who's suffering, living in the United States in its current political and religious climate.
The way we process the faith-shift itself varies from person to person.
I'm a big-picture person, completely satisfied with the bumper-sticker theology I came up with three years ago:
If it's mean and stupid, it ain't Jesus.
To make it sound more legit, let's call it a matter of Occam's Razor, a problem-solving tool used in philosophy: "Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected." (Source)
I can carve "not mean, not stupid" even closer, down to one word: LOVE.
Love, and everything else falls into place.
I think I have good Biblical support for slicing it this way: "Love the Lord your God, Love your neighbor as yourself; the whole Law and all the prophets hang from this one golden thread." (Jesus, in Matthew 22:40)
Andy, on the other hand, requires more information. And so we've learned that there are many, many smart people exploring many, many questions and coming up with many, many interesting answers. (They all show that if it's mean and stupid it ain't Jesus, but in more smarter ways than I can tell you.)
If you're having questions about the faith you grew up in, here's an Andy-approved booklist to help answer some of the FAQ's we hear.
What in the world is happening to me, and when will I stop freaking out?
- Falling Upward, Richard Rohr
- An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor
- Faith Shift, Kathy Escobar
- Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans
- The Sin of Certainty, Peter Enns
- Benefit of the Doubt, Greg Boyd
- Summary: faith-shifts are normal; you're okay. Also, go to yoga.
How can I read the Bible without losing my mind?
- The Bible Tells Me So, Peter Enns
- Disarming Scripture, Derek Flood
- The Lost World of Genesis One, John Walton
- If bible-reading triggers you, go to therapy and yoga instead. Pete Enns is funny and non-threatening, so he might be okay to read if you're really needing to know.
Can I still love Jesus?
- Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, Kenneth Bailey
- The Last Week, Marcus Borg & John Dominic Crossan.
- Short answer: yes. He's better news than we even knew.
Why is the church acting so crazy right now?
- Repenting of Religion, Greg Boyd
- Myth of a Christian Nation, Greg Boyd
- Spoiler alert: the need for power and control will mess the church up pretty fast.
What about hell?
- Hellbound (documentary film)
- Love Wins, Rob Bell
- Her Gates Will Never Be Shut, Brad Jerszak
- Guess what? It's not what all those scary tracts said. In fact, anybody who tries to scare you into believing is probably selling something besides the peace that passes understanding.
Can science have anything to do with God?
- Finding God in the Waves, Mike McHargue
- The Language of God, Francis Collins
- How God Changes your Brain, Andrew Newberg
- Excellent news! You don't have to turn off your intellect and ignore science.
What about the LGBTQ question?
If angels and demons can't separate us from the love of God (Romans 8), then some questions about faith systems are highly unlikely to have that power, either.
One of the things I hear most often is the intense fear that faith-shifters experience. It's so common that I've started to realize the fear itself is often part of the old religious system:
- Fear of punishment
- Fear of hell
- Fear of God's wrath
- Fear of abandonment, isolation, excommunication from families and faith communities
Why do religious systems employ fear?
One simple reason:
Fear is the easiest way to control human beings.
When fear kicks in and the amygdala revs up, the upstairs "thinking brain" goes completely offline, and we're susceptible to the people who will tell us how to control our fear.
While fear generally does its job of keeping us inside religious fences, it also makes us extremely vulnerable to mistreating others in perceived fits of self-defense. I think this is a terrible consequence that religious fear-mongers routinely rationalize away. As long as their salaries get paid, they're willing to let immigrants, Muslims, people of color, and the LGBTQ community suffer.
I'm a person who doesn't like to say "the Bible clearly says"--but when it comes to loving our neighbors as ourselves, and even loving our enemies...well, it's hard for me to read those words any other way.
If our religious experiences are making us so afraid that we can't Love, if our religious leaders are telling us we must fear and exclude others, I think we have enormous, systemic religious problems, and huge questions that MUST be adequately addressed. (See booklist!)
In order to get back into using the whole brain, in order to jettison fear and open up space for Love (and actual thinking so we can answer these vital questions): BREATHE.
I mean this literally.
Three minutes of good, mindful breathing is enough to produce positive brain changes, so put on your favorite calming song, close your eyes, and do deep belly-breaths or alternate nostril breathing all the way through.
If you need a mantra to help you, here are some good ones:
There is no fear in Love. I John 4:18
Perfect Love casts out fear. I John 4:18
God has not given us a spirit of fear. 2 Timothy 1:7
Power, Love, and a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7
Nothing separates us from the Love of God. Romans 8:38
God is Love. I John 4:8
God is present everywhere, big enough to contain all our journeys.
Don't be afraid.
Be filled again, and again, and again.
There is more than enough for us all.