It was three seconds after I finished writing an article on Biblical interpretation that I felt it. Regret. I’d spent the entire night thinking about how many different theories and theologies had been born from the Bible and how on earth anyone is expected to navigate it, so I wrote down my thoughts and went back to bed. It took only three seconds before my eyes opened again and I knew I wouldn’t be falling asleep.
Did I really believe in everything I spent all night writing? Did I really believe the Bible could be interpreted, even understood?
I can say that right now, as I’m writing this article, I have no idea. I look at the fundamentalist, evangelical upbringing of my life and I cringe. I look at everything I’ve ever believed, and for the first time in my life, have no idea what I’m looking at.
Once upon a time I was being groomed to be a youth pastor. I served at my local youth group and Church from the time I was fourteen til’ I was nineteen. I attended a Christian college with the sole purpose of getting a degree and a full time job in ministry. I used to teach kids about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Now I look back at my life and only one thought remains.
Is God even real? Was any of it ever true? What am I going to do?
These thoughts didn’t appear out of nowhere. They began quietly with the first revalation that I was queer. They grew as my dearest relative groaned and muttered about the apocalypse every time something gay or liberal came on the TV screen. “There will come a day when they’ll know how wrong they were,” this person would say. “All knees will bow before the glory of God.”
At the time I ignored the words and strongly believed that Christianity is not neatly confined to the Republican party. Now, I wonder about the existence of hell ( does it exist?), the glory of God (is God that vindictive?), and the existence of God entirely. Is he there?
I could live with my questions and doubts about God. I’d always lived with a healthy amount of doubt and wonder, so I could take the questions.
It all started to change after I came out when I was nineteen. I was “let go” from my ministry at church. It was soul crushing. I loved God and loved others, wasn’t that enough? It only grew worse as I received message after message from old friends looking to “save” me from my apparent sin. We would exchange words for hours before I realized no one was really listening to me. They were only looking for ways to shake my faith and make me change.
Well, they succeeded in only one aspect. They shook my faith. Hard.
They say one in nine people will read their bibles, but the other eight will read the Christian. If I wanted to know God, I wouldn’t simply read the Bible. I needed people, and the people I saw didn’t treat me very well. If they didn’t treat me well or love me well, how would God? Why would I want to follow a God that had such cruel people following him?
You can’t turn on the TV without seeing them. The pastors on their shows exclaiming clobber passages about gays never coming into the kingdom of heaven, about women submitting in silence to their husbands. The Christian films about rescuing the unsaved from eternal damnation. The Christian protestors who scream “God hates fags” and “get out of our country.”
If Christians are supposed to mirror God, I didn’t like God very much. In fact, I was beginning to hate him.
I struggled with going to church. I struggled knowing that I would never be let into a men’s bible study because I’m transgender. I struggled through sermon after sermon only to sit with my relatives later who would ask me with pointed looks, “So, what do you feel God was teaching you today?”
I’m tired. I’m angry. I’ve been angry for a long time, but it feels like the melting pot about to overflow. On the outside I feel like Bruce Banner, smiling, friendly, contained. Inside my head I’m the Hulk, always screaming, raging, and smashing everything in my mind to pieces. Every single second of every single day I’m wondering when I’m going to give it up. Stop fighting it. You don’t believe in God anymore, why are you still holding on?
The answer still surprises me.
Jesus. Just… Jesus. Even when I’m spitting and cursing God for all the hell he’s put me and the rest of the world through, a quiet piece inside of my whispers Jesus.
Jesus, who hung out with the minorities. Jesus, who flipped the Old Testament on it’s head. Jesus, who angered the “good guys.” Jesus, who healed the sick, the disabled. Jesus who took the eyes of onlookers away from the adulteress and brought them on himself as he drew in the sand. Jesus who made the angry turn quiet, who made the mob walk away.
Jesus defies so much of what Christians do today. I don’t think Jesus cares about politics. I don’t think Jesus cares whether we say certain words to get saved. I think Jesus is wild and so much bigger than we give him credit for. He says “let the children come to me” and “have faith like a child,” knowing full well that children ask questions. Children want answers. Children are wild and skeptical and point and ask, “Why is that?” Thank Jesus that he has the patience and the delight to hold us and tell us stories in response.
Jesus rarely answered questions with specific answers. He asked questions to make us think. It makes me wonder what the real answers are, what answers we’re supposed to come up with. It makes me feel secure in the knowledge that I don’t have to have it all figured out.
One thing I know, of all the laws at his disposal, Jesus said, “Love God and love your neighbor,” when asked about the most important law. I love him for that. Because the Old Testament feels like it lacks a lot of love sometimes. There’s genocide. There’s war. There’s the murder of innocent children in the name of God. There’s the stoning of a man collecting sticks on the Sabbath, a moment where Moses declared that God willed it. Yet later, Jesus tells a man to carry his mat and walk. Talk about Godly inconsistency.
I was reading the book “Out of Sorts” by Sarah Bessey, one of my favorite authors and inspiration for the title of this post, when she said something that still makes my evangelical, fundamentalist upbringing wince and scoff.
The Bible has inconsistencies. It can seem hypocritical. That’s because God didn’t write the Bible. People did. Flawed human beings inspired by God wrote everything down in the pages of the Bible and not all of it is good and wholesome and right. There’s rape in the Bible. There’s murder. There’s slavery. Much of it is even allowed under the “name of God.” But is it?
I’ve started doing what Sarah does. I’m reading the Bible through the eyes of Jesus. Jesus, who loved and made the mob drop their stones. Jesus, who called for everyone at the table, not just the “righteous.” Jesus, who loved and loved and loved.
I love that Jesus. The Jesus who raised the dead and the Jesus who stormed through a temple. The Jesus that said follow me.
I follow that Jesus. I don’t follow the God I was raised to believe in anymore. I don’t follow the religious structures that tell me I have to look a certain way, love a certain way, and be a certain way. I don’t follow the church’s politics or the church’s games.
I don’t believe in much of my old beliefs anymore. In fact, it feels like I’m starting all over again. I’m starting with Jesus.
I’m still “out of sorts.” I’m still kicking up dirt and shuffling my feet at times, but Jesus is ahead of me, and even in my faltering steps I’m following after him.
I’m going to stop calling myself a Christian for a while. I don’t identify with that word and all the baggage that comes with it. I don’t believe in that kind of God many Christians tell me to believe in.
But I do consider myself a disciple of Jesus. I will call myself a follower of Jesus. I believe in every word he said and I’ll kick and I’ll holler until everyone hears the truth.
Take another look at Jesus. Just Jesus. Read the Bible through his eyes.
He’s saving my faith. He’s saving my life. He’ll save everyone else’s too.
And until I can go back to church and not feel crushed under the weight of a false God, I’ll be here. Following Jesus. The best way I can.