Last week, I was on staff at our church’s annual youth camp. With about 70 kids, all of whom were somewhere between ages 12 and 18, we had a full week of games, talks, small groups, camp fires, dancing, and general chaos. There are moments where I feel like I’ve outgrown this sort of thing, where my pride scoffs at the idea of youth ministry and all the silly games we play in our attempts to have fun without alcohol. But honestly, I’m still as stupid and naive as I was when I was camper, and I thoroughly enjoyed all the fun we had throwing water balloons at each other and eating whatever random crap was lying around in the cabin.
But there are times when I’m listening to someone up front preaching or when I’m singing a song that it just hits me: I don’t really believe these things anymore.
Not to say that I don’t believe in Jesus or that I’m always looking for things to disagree with, but in many ways, I’ve stumbled so far off the path that everything seems to ring hollow these days. “How did I get here?” plays like a news ticker across my brain. When did I step out of the comfortable confines of orthodoxy into this neverending darkness of evangelical wilderness? I have seen the slow and steady evolution of my beliefs and the ways that I’ve changed over the years. My faith sometimes feels like an over-inflated balloon. I wrestle with doubts constantly.
The scary part is that even my departure from traditional expressions of faith are somehow seen as good. “I want my faith to look just like yours” someone told me at the end of camp. Really? Do you know what kind of crap runs through my head and my heart? Do you really want to be angsty and complainy every Sunday? Sometimes I wish I could just undo all of it–the books I’ve read, the people I’ve met, Chicago, homeless folks, racism–because then faith would be back to how it was. Easy. Compartmentalized. Black and white. Worldly and Godly. Right and wrong, do and don’t.
So what do I believe?
Over the years, I have been blown away by a God who has transcended all of my simplistic categories of who he should be. I have found the most beautiful God in the ugliest, boringest, most human of things. He has destroyed the barrier between secular and holy. I have found that God looks even more glorious when he is seen through the lens of another culture, another denomination, another part of the world, and even another set of dogmas. God lives in people I disagree with. I am convinced that God is more concerned with justice and righteousness than he is with Christianity. And I believe that conversion has more to do with walking humbly than it does with believing correctly. I believe that we are consumed by things that God simply doesn’t concern himself with much. I don’t think that Jesus has to be fully understood in order to be fully followed and I think our rationalistic culture has spent way too much time looking for right answers rather than righteous hearts. I don’t think that God separates theology from experience, as if a dynamic, triune being can be systematized for every race, culture, and story; faith is not one-size-fits-all. We honor that which we can understand, but are we courageous enough to rest in the tension of a God who might not give us all the explanations and answers that we’re looking for? Faith in Jesus is infinitely simpler than we think. Faith in Jesus is infinitely more complex than we can admit. Are we ok with both of those statements being true? Are we ok with stepping forward when we can’t see the road ahead? So what if I have good values and all the right answers–if my feet have been in the same place this whole time, it means nothing.
So as I sat and listened as our retreat speakers expounded on their (/God’s) notions of truth, I was confronted with myself and the God who has changed me. I question sometimes whether or not I’ve simply gone down the wrong path; maybe I’m just wrong about everything. Maybe I’ve just fallen into the post-modern, emergent black hole. Regardless, this is who I am today, this is what I believe today, and my belief system tells me that God is the one who has led me here. So I see no point in beating myself up for it. I may not have asked for it, but this is where I’ve landed. I cannot believe in a God of simplistic answers and everything-is-gonna-be-ok prayers. As my favorite poet Joshua Bennett says, “There is so much we simply do not know, so much to be found in the depths of an honest question.”