Not too long ago, someone asked me, point-blank, what I believe. I did not know what to tell them. Mainly because I had no clue. Mind you, I had been in “professional ministry” in Christian churches for almost a decade (three years as youth minister at a small, rural church in Missouri, followed by five as pastor of another very small church outside of Waco, Texas). I had a Bachelor’s degree in Christian ministries (whatever that means) and a Master’s degree in church-state studies (don’t ask; nobody knows). Moreover, I am the son of Southern Baptist missionaries, a pastor’s kid–an MK/PK, for those in the know–and grew up surrounded by people who made religion and its transmission their life’s work. And with all that training, with that sort of resume up my sleeve, I had no clue how to tell someone what I believed.
This wasn’t always the case. For many, many years, I would have happily and concisely told you exactly what I believed. Just like I stood behind pulpits and in front of youth groups and told lots of folks exactly what I believed. I was absolutely sure, for a very long time, that I knew how things of faith worked, how a life of faith should look, who God was, how to talk to Him (Him, not Her–’cause that’d be wrong). I knew who was going to Heaven, who to Hell. I of course fell firmly into the first category. I had walked that aisle, the old Sawdust Trail, been through those cleansing waters, and come out a cock-sure, self-satisfied, born-again believer. I was in the Lord’s Army, sword and all.
So, what happened?
The short answer is, I started to think about things instead of just accepting them, instead of just doing and saying as I was told. When I did that, I began to realize what it means to believe, and to understand that “believing” is decidedly NOT what I had been doing for all those long, confident years. Because, you see, to really believe something, you have to test it, weigh it, roll it around on your tongue and get a sense for the bouquet, the vintage. You have to kick the tires, take it for a test drive. And when you’re out there on the highway and the fender falls off, you’ve got to seriously consider moving on to a different dealership.
Well, my fender fell off. And when it did, I had no choice but to start over from scratch, to go back to the drawing board. I was scared to death. I was also exhilarated, renewed. Excited at the possibilities; frightened at the prospect of a deconstructed worldview that, as it turns out, was inherited rather than chosen. And in the process, I was born again, again.
But this is not going where you may think. You see, I am now, as Divided Heaven would have it, a born-again non-believer–at least insofar as Christianity is concerned. I have been told time and again, by my former fellows, that I no longer have the right to call myself a Christian, and I’m tired of arguing with them. More importantly, whether or not I have the right to do so, I really no longer have the desire. For one thing, I’m not a huge fan of labels–more on that later; really, though, I’m tired of what that particular label has meant in my life, and of what I see it has meant in the lives of others, and I don’t care to be its advertising executive anymore.
Still, though, while I don’t believe a lot of the stuff I once would have claimed without a second thought, it’s important to me to know what it is that I do believe. For starters, I believe that life without belief is meaningless, purposeless, and a total waste of time. I also believe that we are defined by our beliefs, and when my entry comes up in the Webster’s, I want to be damn sure I can be proud of what it says. So, here I am on this journey of certain uncertainty, trying to figure it all out. And, since I think best when I think out loud (a fact which drives my co-workers bat-crap crazy), I’m taking you lot along with me.
I don’t know if anyone out there cares to meet this side of me, but here I am, in all my crazy, inconsistent mental milieu. I know where I’ve been. I’m not sure where I’m going. But, then, who ever is…?