Tag Archives: journey

The God Box ~ Part the Fifth

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The saga continues. While living in southern California, I was introduced into another evangelical congregation. I name this church organization because I still admire much about it. After cautiously investigating the core beliefs, I determined to learn more. Eventually, I became a functioning member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. They should not be confused with Latter Day Saints or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their fundamental beliefs are very similar to mainstream Pentecostal beliefs, though there are differences. They do believe that the rules still apply, and that when God says keep the Sabbath, He means keep it. You know, just like you aren’t supposed to steal and covet and murder and such.

Adventists love to study. They have the second largest educational system in the world, and their students consistently score higher than the average population. They are also religiously zealous about health, both in the area of medical research, and in strict adherence to dietary laws. Some members are vegetarian, some not, but all follow some form of Biblically supported diet. Anywhere in the world they go, they first build a clinic, and a school. They have one of the largest disaster relief organizations in the world. First, they meet the basic needs of the people, then they build the church. This was an approach that resonated with me.

I grew comfortable enough that I became a speaker in the organization, and was sought after as a teacher in adult classes. I enjoyed my relationship with a group of honest, still-seeking individuals. Even those who were absolutely sold on one aspect of their faith or another. I still find it amusing that many pages of thought-provoking text were written on such topics as whether or not fermented wine was used in, say, the Song of Solomon. As much as I loved these people, I could not imagine the poet expressing a thought like, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth— for your love is more delightful than [grape juice].”

This organization also has a wide base of scientifically-astute people. Research in the medical field is something that a number of people are aware of (such as Loma Linda University), but there are those in other scientific areas, as well. It was through an Adventist minister that I met my late husband, who was a brilliant research scientist. These people take learning and exploration seriously. There was only this one little problem: there was still an element of control.

Some members buried themselves in church-affiliated reading material. They had little time for anything else. As in all organizations, there was an underlying “them and us” attitude. It never affected the hand outreached to teach or to heal, but there was still this need to belong to something with homogeneity.

I was, again, baptized. (By now I was beginning to feel like an Easter egg). In this instance, the pastor was very clear to the witnesses that this was a reaffirmation, a sign of commitment, and support for my then spouse. He was being baptized for the first time that day. I thought the pastor did a lovely job of clarifying the issue. Before we left the building one of our friends approached me and welcomed me “into the family.” But I thought I was a member of the family. I was speaking from the pulpit, teaching adult classes in biblical studies and aspects of theology and philosophy. Why did I need a bath to join “the family?”

Trapped in another box. A nice box with quite a bit of room, but a box nonetheless. I was still constricted by what others felt was, or was not, good and right. It was respectable to explore the universe, but one had boundaries. Predefined roles, if you will. We were still a group of bungling Homo sapiens writing a script for a sovereign deity that could create universes.

It was a cushy box, but it had to go.

One more installment, folks!

The God Box ~ Part the First
The God Box ~ Part the Second
The God Box ~ Part the Third
The God Box ~ Part the Fourth
The God Box ~ Part the Sixth

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The God Box ~ Part the Fourth

I was getting far more serious in my search for a shape to my faith. As part of my degree, I attended a few introductory classes in Old and New Testament studies. These classes were designed, and taught, within the evangelical theological structure. I found the material interesting, but much of it was no deeper than many Sunday School lesson plans. What I did find was an aroused interest in digging further. Was learning my true faith?

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Initially, my quest for a congregation of seekers led me to a small, non-affiliated church in the upper desert of California. The study groups were attended by serious explorers, and questions were not viewed as doubt. The pastor was a man who taught rather than preached. It was a refreshing experience.

It was the kind of church that knew it did not have all the answers, and the members felt seeking was an act of worship. When I approached the pastor with a conflict between my own convictions and the lesson assigned to my 6th grade Sunday School class, he was understanding. He gave me the freedom to arrive at a focus point that expressed the desired theme, but did not force me into a personal conflict. The instance that started this arrangement occurred one spring when I realized I was teaching the story of Easter a full month before Passover.

Most Christian churches never visit the disconnect between Easter and Passover, partly because there is shamefully little attention paid to the underlying history of our celebrations. Once a holiday becomes Christian, it always has been from the beginning of time. Easter is a good example. I go into detail here because it is symptomatic of the attitudes that drove me from institutional religion.

The “delivered word” is that Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. But it’s not. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. It is a holiday derived from ancient, spring fertility rites. The symbolism is still there. Easter bunnies, because they go forth and multiply, eggs as the symbol of birth, and feasts with all kinds of spring bounty. Even ham. Have you ever wondered how ham came to be served on a holiday celebrating the resurrection of the Lamb of God? A man who considered pigs unclean animals?

In contrast, we have the celebration of Passover. An observance that celebrates the release from captivity, and a reminder of the mighty power of God. If we are, indeed, celebrating the resurrection of the ultimate sacrifice—God’s Passover Lamb—well, shouldn’t that occur on the third day after the crucifixion? Shouldn’t the two observances at least superficially relate to each other?

I was not prepared to teach a fertility rite of spring. I wished to focus on the celebration of the central theme of Christianity: the risen Lamb of God. My understanding pastor told me to teach it as I saw it. Even with all the Easter festivities going on throughout the church, he freed me to find a path to the message I wanted to give.

I was again lulled into a comfortable box that allowed me some latitude for my need to study and learn. It gave me a forum to share my faith as a teacher. There were Bible studies where I could express my thoughts and not feel out of place. But as the church grew, things changed, and the nature of the communion I enjoyed with that church changed with it. By that time, though, I had already begun to make the connections that led me to my next spiritual encounter.

This series began a bit ago, so here are links to the other articles.

The God Box ~ Part the First
The God Box ~ Part the Second
The God Box ~ Part the Third
The God Box ~ Part the Fifth
The God Box ~ Part the Sixth

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The God Box ~ Part the Third

The next stop along my journey was a similar denomination but one with a slightly different point of view. You did not fall from grace with every odd transgression. Oh, no! You were safe and secure for all eternity regardless of the choices you made. Of course, you had to be a member. A baptized member.

“That’s very nice that you were baptized by immersion, but that church doesn’t believe the same things we do.”

Isn’t that interesting?

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Here was another box. As long as you were a member of this club, you were safe for eternity. There was protocol to follow to become a member, of course. It required an obligatory walk down the aisle during the church service and an agreement to undergo the ceremonial baptism into the church. Yes, that was my interpretation, and I openly shared that thought with the kind lady who was supposed to lead me into my “new life.” The poor soul became perplexed and worried about the requirements of man versus the requirements of God. Not a good start for a supposedly new convert. I tried to put her at ease, and silently vowed to watch my tongue in order to avoid unwanted controversy. Who wants to be kicked out before you’re even a member?

A weary sense of apathy crept in. This was an extremely trying time in my life, for a number of reasons. Not only was my personal and business life in a major tangle, I suffered the church’s opinion of divorced women. A professional woman in Texas working in commercial real estate. Living alone. Could I possibly be any more immodest?

How I could be safe in the arms of Jesus forever and yet, well, be a yet-to-be-defined fallen woman, was a bit of a quandary for me. Who I was and what my needs might be appeared to be the farthest thing from anyone’s mind.

As long as I presented myself as a modest professional woman, one who was not on the prowl for eligible, upstanding bachelors in the church, then my contributions to choir, school buses, and refinancing of the church property, where accepted gracefully. I was tolerated as a business person of some influence, but not as a woman who might be interested in friendship or companionship. It was a church attended by a number of influential business people, and eventually I viewed the organization as little more than a service club with a cross on the door.

Resisting the tide was beyond my strength at that time. It was easier to “go through the motions” of being a good Christian. I attended church, sang in the choir, offered professional services at huge discounts, or for free when appropriate. The only place anyone wanted my opinion was in the Sunday School class. I sought some blend of honesty, and non-confrontation. Now and then, I run across notes from that teacher in my old files and realize that someone was listening, and that I did have some small bit to contribute. All without realizing the influence I did have.

I managed to tolerate this state of affairs for several years. The church demanded little of me at a time in my life when I had little to give. Eventually, I looked inside this new box, and I found no God. In fact, I had a hard time finding me. I needed more. A great deal more.

That box had to go.

The God Box ~ Part the First
The God Box ~ Part the Second
The God Box ~ Part the Fourth
The God Box ~ Part the Fifth
The God Box ~ Part the Sixth

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The God Box ~ Part the Second

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Picking up where we left off, why was it so hard for me to follow the “delivered word?” Peer pressure was not part of my lexicon, and rebellion was not part of my thought process. Due to the circumstances of my childhood I was a loner, and I did not engage with people my own age. I was an observer, a patient planner towards the day I would be on my own. Somehow I was able to hide from the deeper impact of childhood abuse. Certainly, once I was grown up, I would be able to avoid these sorts of things. I just had to wait it out. That thought process was part of what made me question the theology I was being taught.

The problem began with the God of Job. Or, perhaps, the popular interpretation of Job. In the book of Job we see a man that God himself declares righteous, and without fault. Then all hell rains down on the man, and his so-called friends spend the majority of the book trying to discover what horrible sin he committed in deed or in thought. Toward the end, God steps in and tells them they are full of hot air. The debate about the real meaning of the text has gone on for centuries, but the vast majority of interpretations lean toward figuring out what evil thing Job did, what higher level of spirituality he obtained, or what lesson God was trying to teach him. My problem was that God said Job was righteous. There was nothing to “punish.”

Something simply did not add up.

If I were to take church doctrine at face value, God was something like a Santa Claus, watching my every thought. If I was a very good girl, good things would happen. If I was a bad girl, God would punish me. The trick, though, was that I might not always know what I had done that was bad. Just like Job, I felt there was something really important being left out of the debate. Was I being punished for something I didn’t know I had done wrong?

That didn’t make sense. God had time to watch my every thought? A personal God is one thing, but one that follows you around and pokes you for every wrong—real or perceived, acknowledged or unknown—seems to be a tragic waste of creative power. If we are supposed to receive undeserved grace, then how could my being good influence the outcome one way or the other? Wouldn’t that be a reward system? Ask these questions of a church leader and they would smile, with a knowing look, and tell you that you just don’t understand.

Yes! I get that. So, please, explain it to me.

Silence.

Was it valid to pray for success? Perfect health? Or, say, healing when you refused to give up what was making you sick? Was is fair to accuse a dying patient of not praying hard enough? After all, “God wants to heal you.” Then bring it on, brother! Let’s get the show on the road! Was I subjected to years of mind twisting childhood abuse because I didn’t pray enough? Does an entire state or country deserve to suffer massive devastation because of the perceived infractions of a few? Is it fair or right that some people could tell lies in the presence of those who knew they were lying, and still be allowed to bear witness against another person?

Try as I might, I could not worship a sovereign that plagued His creation with constant earned, and unearned trials, and tribulations. Try the same program on a human teenager (or anyone except a fanatic) and watch the results. It just doesn’t fit with human nature. If a Sovereign Creator should know anything, it should be the nature of His created beings.

I had no choice. Even freed from a specific church body, the theology just did not fit. This God Box had to go.

Part the first can be found here.
The God Box ~ Part the Third
The God Box ~ Part the Fourth
The God Box ~ Part the Fifth
The God Box ~ Part the Sixth

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The God Box ~ Part the First

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Have you ever received a present that was wrapped up in ever larger boxes? Each time you unwrapped a box there was a smaller box inside until you finally reached the tiny, probably very precious, or very expensive, gift in the middle? That is how my spiritual journey unfolded. My perception of what God should be was the tiny, precious gift I thought lived in the smallest box. I struggled to set Him free, especially from the institutional constraints imposed on Him. It took me a long time to learn that the best box is no box at all.

I was raised in two opposite, and sometimes conflicting worlds. In one world, my family attended an evangelical church three times a week. The denomination was hierarchical, and authority rested with the church leaders. They were supposed to know how to interpret scripture as it applied to every facet of our lives. I attended the church school for a few years and became further indoctrinated into the “delivered word.” This was the church of my father’s youth.

In the other world, my mother taught me to read at an early age. My questions were answered with, “Go look it up.” “Think about it.” “Learn what we know for sure and why.” “Know when opinion is appropriate and useful.” My mother was a saboteur of religious conformity if ever there was one. She had been raised in an entirely different atmosphere than my father was.

I didn’t bother myself too much with the contradictions between what I was taught in church and what was evident to me in my own world. I believed these older, wiser people knew something I did not, and that I must read more; think more. By my mid-teens, all that reading and thinking began to make a substantial impact. In my world, those adults lost their firm grip on the “delivered word.”

At the age of 16, as a voting member of the congregation, I formally resigned from the church. The move was initiated by a squabble over the alleged behavior of our pastor. To this day, I have no idea what was true and what was not. What bothered me was that much of what was said about the man from behind the pulpit of our church was pure fabrication. I knew the sons and daughters of these leaders, and I knew what was going on in their homes. Throughout the debacle I would often watch the sons of these so-called leaders break down in tears and leave the sanctuary. How dare these so-called leaders use the pulpit to create the illusion of holiness, on a foundation of lies, while they massacred the reputation of another person?

My two-page resignation letter stated that I did not believe I knew it all, and that I was painfully aware of how much I still had to learn. I had, however, lost faith in the leadership of that church to show me the way. It was a letter that gained infamy. When my parents asked the new pastor for advice regarding a trip I wanted to take a few years later, the letter was used to defame me. Both of my parents rejected the assault on my morals, and ethics, and told me to do what I felt was right for me.

There was no going back after that. I was off on an adventure that would lead me through several Christian denominations in search of those who, like me, were less certain of the details but still firmly rooted in their faith.

Throughout my journey I have never lost faith. Faith is a quiet, warm campfire deep in my soul that lights the night around me, and occasionally retreats into glowing embers so I can see the brilliance of the night sky above. It has been my guide, my own personal Philosopher’s Stone.

Although blatant hypocrisy played a role in my initial decision to become a seeker, it was not the driving force. For me, the number-one problem with the faith of my youth was that God, as described within that faith, did not fit with my perception of the universe around me. In my opinion, the God of that faith was little more than a cosmic Santa Claus.

Join me, over the next few weeks, as I take you on my journey. It is a journey that may resemble yours, or maybe not. It is, however, a journey that might give you thought. At least I sincerely hope so. Just what kind of God do you believe in?

The God Box ~ Part the Second
The God Box ~ Part the Third
The God Box ~ Part the Fourth
The God Box ~ Part the Fifth
The God Box ~ Part the Sixth

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