I’m Digging Out Religious Shrapnel
Religious moments and teachings – set by others and left to detonate – have left shrapnel deep under my skin.
The more I view the faith I grew up in from the outside, the more I question my place in it.
I’ve experienced some truly beautiful, miraculous moments of faith. I’ve endured deeply disturbing displays, too. Religious teachings have set me free and bound me up. These moments and teachings – set by others and left to detonate – have left shrapnel deep under my skin.
It’s hard to root out religious shrapnel.
This morning I watched a man in Toronto yell out like a martyr as he was arrested while protesting a drag queen story hour. His partner taunted the police screaming that he was just speaking god’s word. It appears that plenty of other protesters were not arrested.
I also watched Bill Nye tour a hundred-million dollar creation science museum and smack founder Ken Ham with some cold hard science using more respect than deserved.
Then there was the charismatic church service where a grown man yelled in tongues at the front of the room while another grown man whipped a massive sword around like the Star Wars Kid.
Seems TikTok is onto my crisis of faith.
Am I that obvious?
I spent four years of my life studying the the Bible and I feel less certain about it now than ever.
Ken Ham says it’s a science textbook. It isn’t.
Pastors call it a manual for life. It falls short there, too.
Is it the truth? Is the story of people wrestling with truth?
Growing up surrounded by mental illness and a family tearing apart, religion saved me in very real ways. My church gave me mentors. Father figures. Brothers and sisters. Purpose. Hope in despairing times. Likely (and perhaps not the best place for it), therapy.
Even in those early heady days as a young zealot, I’d spend the morning learning about divine healing and the afternoon in the mental hospital trying out prayers on my mother.
She was never healed.
Questions and cracks began to form.
Why are some people healed and others not?
Why are some prayers answered and others repeated for eternity?
Why are those people rolling around on the floor and babbling?
I was told that when God’s spirit visits you in a special way you’ll burst out in a language you don’t understand called tongues. I heard it all around me. When it didn’t happen to me I was told to fake it until it happened for real. Just let it come, they said.
So I did. Sometimes when I try to pray it still creeps in and I’ve honestly lost track of what’s a put on and what’s put into me.
I call this the Collateral Damage of Theology.
I don’t believe the harm caused in these spaces in intentional. Or rarely, anyways. I’ve known enough good people doing weird things to trust they believe in their own schtick.
But intentions don’t stop consequences.
I saw friends falling over on the fire-engine-red church carpet when the preacher touched their forehead. I fell over too. Real Benny Hinn action.
And maybe it was the Holy Spirit? Who knows?
I want to live in a world where this stuff can happen. Where our human understanding hits walls and weird and wonderful things still happen on the other side.
But who knows?
What do I believe, now? After all of that madness and the distance from it?
What do I believe? Can I even change what I believe?
Belief feels like the kind of certainty we just have no control over.
And then there’s faith.
Can faith and certainly share a room? Doesn’t faith require doubt to exist?
Is faith just acting as if I believe something I don’t know to be true?
I have so many questions now.
If God is love why did I feel I had to choose between him and LGBTQ people?
If God is in control why does everything feel like chaos so much of the time?
If the Bible is God’s word why is it leading insane angry white men to yell about child grooming cabals all the way into the cop car?
Like, seriously. WHY?
I don’t want anything to do with “Christianity” or whatever this is.
Deep in my bones. Shrapnel.
Maybe if it were in my leg I could just lop that off and limp on in freedom, so to speak. But it isn’t.
Religious shrapnel got into my mind. My very heart.
And you know what? Some of it – somehow – isn’t “religion” at all. Let’s call it God Shrapnel.
I don’t think I want it all removed.
There is a shaft of light that shone it’s way into the cracks of my darkness.
There is some sweetness in the bitter.
That’s what makes this whole thing tricky, of course.
Because not all religious people are crazy and not all religious teachings are evil.
We know that. We all know that. That would be too easy, wouldn’t it? If you could just write it all off?
But honestly? I mean, cmon. Nothing is ever so simple.
You know that one lady who believes in Jesus with all her heart and just shines love and makes you want to be a better human.
I have that man who still prays for me and has faced at least as much tragedy and chaos as I have and still believes and lets me work this out at my own pace and offers me nothing but grace for the journey.
I have my own story with countless chapters made better because God wrote something in margins.
So I’m doing some open heart surgery wide awake. Studying the shrapnel and the scars.
Some of that debris in my heart shines like diamonds.
Rough, hard little diamonds.
Former coal. Future pearls.
I’m not sure I believe in God anymore.
I mean – really believe in the way I know about traffic lights.
But here’s the thing. I want to believe.
I’m starting to think that’s all that faith can ever be.
All that to say what my friend, poet Stephen Berg, says better here …
Nothing To Do But Be
There was a time when you were almost content
with what you were taught;
a time you could almost believe
the popular deception
of creating your own unfading haven;
a time you were almost persuaded, through Sunday’s
cheerful affirmations, to claim a helium hope,
blaming any leakage on the weakness
of your faith.
But when that which is precious
and you stand at midnight’s window,
there is nothing to do but be,
in the weight, breadth, and depth,
of your emotion;
there is nothing to do but suffer that love
to pierce you, to
let the harsh sorrows of the world defeat you,
courageously shape you,
mysteriously prepare you —
for this is what it means to be still and alive
and be true.
– Stephen Berg (shared with permission)
Have your own religious shrapnel?