A Doubter’s Creed

A Doubter’s Creed

“We believe in God…”

The Creed is an ancient statement of belief that many Christians around the world recite each week. There are several creeds, and the Nicene version is commonly used. Most every line is the result of an argument – as much an assertion about what beliefs “we” don’t accept as of what “we” do affirm.

That history troubles me. I know too well what drawing those lines in the sand between “us” and the other does, what an insistence about what we know to be true of great mystery can become.

It comforts me that the Creed’s actual language is “I believe” rather than “I know” (though it seems it has been treated much more as a statement of the latter).

But what about when I am not even sure what I believe? Then it comforts me to remember that the Latin credo may be better translated “I trust,” than with our modern, enlightenment understanding of “believe.”

But credo has deeper roots than that. Its original meaning is “to place one’s heart.”

Where does my heart find its place, its rest?

Not always in the carefully constructed words of the Creed, words that sometimes revel in mystery and sometimes seem to wall it in.

There is an early tradition in the Eastern church called apophatic theology that says the only way to think about God, the Divine Good, is by asserting what God is not. Everything that we say God is falls short – incomplete at best and too often misleading altogether.

The best of the apophatic tradition leads not just to an intellectual exercise or sort of mental qualifier footnoting everything we assert about who God is. At its best, it opens us up to approaching God beyond our categories. It expands our ability to trust God beyond our understanding.

If Ultimate Reality is Love, definitions don’t come easily.

Love is messy and confusing and full of pain as well as joy. Too often I have experienced love as qualified and redefined past any recognizability or, in truth, any actual loving.

That is not love. Love is not an intellectual exercise. Love is not rejection, not alienation, not abandonment. It is not self-serving and doesn’t keep score. Love isn’t arrogant or presumptuous. Love doesn’t find satisfaction in being proven right. Love doesn’t look back, doesn’t hold back. Love doesn’t give up on people.

The old Anglo-Saxon word “believe” comes from the same root (lief) as the German belieben, which means “belove.”

When I’m not sure how to say the Creed, not sure what I think or “believe” about these things, it helps to know what and who I love. It helps to know I place my heart, my trust in Love.

And it helps to know that when he was asked what was most important, Jesus didn’t say anything about what we were supposed to believe. He said the most important thing was to love.

And when I don’t know what I believe, I do still know I love.

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Here (a monologue continued)

Here (a monologue continued)

So you’re here.

You’re supposed to be here. “Everywhere,” remember?

So where are you then?

Why do you show up in the bread and the wine (if you do), but not in the lives of people who sacrifice so much to do the kind of stuff you did? Who’ve done the good things, who’ve defended the vulnerable and gotten screwed for it? Who’ve not turned away from witnessing atrocious poverty and violence (the kinds of things you actually commanded of Israel)? Why don’t they get a healing touch? Why do they bear so much?

I just don’t get it. Where the hell are you? 

I don’t know what to think of you any more.

Who are you?

The silent one?

Silent in the face of so much.

The one great word that was spoken? The Word made flesh?

Jesus said that those who saw him had seen you. (I wish had seen him.) And he wasn’t silent much. When he was sleeping, I suppose, and when they accused him.

You were silent in the garden that night, when he prayed. When he was being betrayed.

He saw so much. And he didn’t stay silent about it. I’m trying not to either.

I don’t know much, but I think he knew something about Love, and I’m trying to figure that out.

I wish…

I wish Love would speak more.

Too Much to Bear

Too Much to Bear

“God won’t give you more than you can bear!”

No. Nonsense. Hogwash. As one of my heroes, Fr. George Clements, would say, bull excrement.

If you’ve ever personally told me something like this, I’m not holding it against you. I’ve learned to hear the care and desire to encourage it’s intended to express.

But…no. Just no.

God – or life – gives people more than they can bear everyday.

The ones bombarded and decimated by war, running from one nightmare to another? It’s too much to bear.

That child being molested by a trusted adult? It’s too much to bear.

The five year old whose mother just died? It’s too much to bear.

The child who knows their body doesn’t fit who they are, forced to pretend year upon year they are someone else? It’s too much to bear.

Those parents who lost their child in a terrible accident? It’s too much to bear.

The kid being vocally rejected, mocked, and bullied at school every day? It’s too much to bear.

The one watching their mother trapped in an abusive marriage by abusive religious rules? It’s too much to bear.

The litany could be endless. The things life does to us – the things we do to each other – can be unspeakably brutal. Adults and children in this world are given too much to bear every day. And it’s different for each of us – what destroys me may leave you relatively unscathed. But whatever the cause, pain, unrelieved, is too much to bear.

It crushes us. It kills something in us, part of who we are. Something goes dead to avoid the pain that is too much to bear.

Jesus felt it. In Gethsemane, praying again and again for relief, for a way out. But he didn’t get it. His friend betrayed him. He died excruciatingly, and in the end, while he didn’t lose his love for others or his compassion or his ability to forgive, he did lose his faith that God was with him.

It was too much to bear.

Even for Jesus.

The Bible says that eventually angels came and “ministered” to Jesus in Gethsemane. I don’t know what that means. I know it didn’t change anything. But maybe, when his friends fell asleep on him, it just helped not to be alone.

Too many of us stay alone – because either no one comes or because we’ve been so hurt we refuse to let anyone get that close.

But we can try. We can try to stay with each other.

And then there’s Jesus’ resurrection three days later. Too many people never get that either. Never get to feel the pleasure of the breath of life filling every inch of their lungs again. Never get to feel a heart beating for all it’s worth again.

But sometimes they do. Sometimes things that were dead come alive again. Too many times they don’t, but they can. We can hope for that, if we can bear to. And we can work for it.

The longer I live the more I think that if Love and Life show up in the face of what is too much to bear, in the face of all the deaths, it’s because we show up for each other and bring them.

Because, yeah – sometimes it’s just too damn much to bear.

Turning Blue Babies Pink

Turning Blue Babies Pink

In the summer of 2013, a doctor died in Memphis named Sheldon Korones. He was 89 years old and had dedicated his life to fighting infant mortality in that city.

He was once asked, what gives you the most pleasure? He answered, “Turning blue babies pink.”

Brett Trapp relates that story on his blog, “Blue Babies Pink” (I listened to the podcast version). Brett is a gay Christian who grew up as the son of a conservative Baptist preacher in the south, and the blog explores what that was like and relates his coming out journey.

When I heard Dr. Korones’ answer, I started crying. Distracted by the stereotypical colors of gender, I’d missed the significance of the blog’s title until that moment.

As a straight, cisgender woman, I’ve never had to struggle with so many of the things Brett and my LGBTQ friends have had to face. I listen to their stories and I am heartbroken, awed, and humbled.

But I do know what it is for a part of who you are to be invisible, smothered by contexts that don’t know how to acknowledge who you are and don’t particularly want to. And I know what it is to face rejection and pain so deep that part of you dies, because it truly is too much to bear. Sometimes that isn’t even a choice – particularly when we are children.

Sometimes it’s how anything at all survives.

I also know what it can take to let yourself come to life again. The pain is still there, waiting to devour you, and beginning to come alive again means feeling it. All of it. It can look endless and impossible. Unthinkable even.

But there’s no other way to life but through it, and for me at least, there came a point (a series of them actually) when finding life was worth it, even if it killed me.

Too many don’t make it through.

There is one thing stronger than death.

Love is stronger than death.

As I have walked alongside LGBTQ friends, over and over again I’ve watched love turn “blue babies pink.” I’ve seen so many find the courage to face the pain and come alive.

A friend of mine said once that courage is doing really scary things really scared. It was the first time I could relate to “courage.” And the only times I’ve ever seen real courage in action in my own life or anybody else’s, love was behind it.

Because love is stronger than death.

Death keeps us locked up – afraid and numbing ourselves to all the pain we can’t bear. It keeps us isolated and lonely, even with friends, because there is so much of us they can’t know. It makes us pretend and protect, because we can’t bear to think of the consequences if we don’t. Death will eat us alive.

But love won’t stay locked up. It won’t stay silent. It will stare down pain and death of every kind, if we can find the courage to let it.

I love the stories of “blue babies,” strangling on the hand life has dealt them, beginning to turn pink. Finding the strength to take deep, full breaths – the courage to love and be loved, with all the risks that entails. Coming alive to grow and thrive and walk and run and fall and get back up again and lose and try again and grieve and keep moving forward.

Where the Spirit of Love is, there is freedom. Where the Spirit of Love is, there is joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Where the Sprit of Love is, the dead walk out of their tombs.

Where the Spirit of Love is, an army of dry bones – blue babies – are covered with pink living flesh and breathe again.

Where the Spirit of Love is, there is life.

Messy, complicated, painful, glorious life.

Like Dr. Korones, I will fight to see blue babies turn pink.