Sunday, September 30, 2012

Me, Myself, and I

I've spent the past three weekends around family. Both my and my husband's parents each took a turn visiting our home to celebrate my oldest son's birthday and this weekend we were up in St. Louis visiting my grandma who is gravely ill. And this has brought to the forefront my indecision about how open to be about my current religious beliefs. Though it's been relatively easy to keep them to myself, given the distance I live from family, there is a limit to how much can remain hidden when my worlds intersect. And one interesting thing I observed recently is that I am less concerned about these worlds intersecting than I use to be. I noted this when my husband pointed out that I had neglected to put away several religious and science books laying in the living room, which have viewpoints contrary to those held by my mom. And on Sunday night, when my mom visited, my church combined services with another church. I asked if she wanted to attend the special event and she said we should just do what we normally would. So we didn't go. And nothing was said about that fact.

I have also found that some changes in my habits are impossible over time to hide. For example, I wanted my son to call and thank his great aunt for the gift she sent him. It was Wednesday night at church time. I have been very careful not to call family at this time, thus concealing the fact that we aren't at church. However, I knew this would be our only free time before leaving town. I couldn't justify failing to call and express gratitude, so we called. I knew she would be at home, caring for my grandma. And, as I feared, she asked my son if we were going to church that night. He said, "Why would we be at church?" I cringed at that comment and wanted to shrink into the couch.

It is clear that I'm still conflicted about it and I find myself ducking around corners from time to time in an effort to maintain the peace and my good standing. Writing about this makes me feel ridiculous for performing such evasive maneuvers. It sounds weak and immature and pathetic, really. I suppose I should write about this more in an effort to encourage myself to have the strength to live my life without regard to who is watching me do it. That is not to say that I feel I must share all my beliefs with everyone, but it feels like I'm in a sit com, trying to pull off going on two different dates at the same time. Eventually I'll be found out, and I'll look absurd in the process.

It would help if it were more clear about what I do believe. I've grown a bit weary of trying to figure it out. I also seem to be slowing down a bit physically and can't stay up as late as I use to doing my reading and blogging. However, I don't like the muddled, ambiguous place I find myself in.

I'd be interested in hearing how others negotiate this place in their lives.



  1. Honesty was the best policy for me. But I don't find it necessary or even helpful to be all "in your face" with my difference of perspective in religious matters when I talk to family and close friends.

    These are rude times in which we live. I don't care for rudeness. I try to cultivate a spirit of openness that will allow me to at least try to see things from the other person's eyes, and in doing that, I'm often able to get them to take a broader look, too. In no way do find it useful to try to convert anyone. I'm more about helping to find more wide-encompassing ways to understand things.

    I rather like the fact that some well-known physicists speak of "understanding the mind of God" when in fact they are thinking more about the basic grounding for a theory of everything. When you think about it, that is actually what the typical religious believer is doing, even though they have trouble working with myth and metaphor.

    All of that is why fundamentalism - religious or secular - bores the living hell out of me.

  2. Looking at it from my vantage point I wonder, why is the state of ambiguity so difficult for human beings? Okay, it's early That thought came to me and I need tea now. *grin*

  3. You know, they say faith is a matter of private, personal decision, but the ramifications are anything but private.

    I think what you're experiencing is completely natural and reasonable, even if it does seem weak to you. When I decided to tell my mom and immediate family, I was a little unsure of myself as well. Most of that came from thinking about how my mom would take it; how she might think that she had failed in raising me, or how she might have to think for the rest of her life how her beloved son is headed to Hell.

    Fortunately, my mom was not a fundamentalist, though. She can see the Bible in some of its true color. At a later point, in one of our discussions she commented how she thought it was amazing that the Jews worshiped God when all they had was the Old Testament (referring to how unloving and spiteful God sometimes showed Himself to be in those pages). But she still has a solid faith anyway, clinging to the loving side of God presented by Christianity. I think her perspective is a faithful belief that God will change my heart sometime before I go to meet Him.

    I think that Doug B and Zoe both have great points. Be honest, and comfortable if possible, about your ambiguity. Communicate how your doubts have come up, as that should invite discussion rather than leading them to draw erroneous conclusions.

    Personally, I don't think that it is necessary to hash out exactly what you believe, as doing so can become almost dogmatic and shies away from healthy skepticism. However, I do see great value in clearly identifying what you do not believe. It's kind of Sherlock Holmes' style: eliminate as many possibilities as you can, and what you are left with points you in the direction of potential beliefs, even if they are never finitely and concretely resolved.

  4. I wasn't sure if anyone would read this it's been so long since I've written!

    Doug, I do think more in terms of metaphor though it's clear that many around me are simply not. It gives us a similar language but we really aren't discussing the same things, such as when it comes to jesus, a personal God, and heaven and hell. However, I'm with you in that I still find the language meaningful and useful.

    I wish ambiguity were easier to stomach. I'm not sure what our problem with it is, but we're wired for certainty without a doubt! I find it more difficult to find the strength to take a stand when I don't know what I'm standing for. If I'm going to bother with all the unpleasantness of conflict, I'd like to sound like I know what I'm talking about. There's also this fear: What if I do this for nothing? What if I keep searching and wind up somewhere near the starting point? If I could reach a conclusion, I would feel more confident that there was a point to being more open about where I'm at. This is definitely an area I need to work through. What I think I'm doing is holding myself to a standard of certainly that is an inherent part of the religion I come from. However, I don't believe that we can reach that level of certainty because I don't think the Bible is an infallible transcription of God's words. So basically I need the courage to share my ambiguous beliefs and my meandering course with family who will think I am rejecting obvious and certain truth for doubt, vague notions and and the path to hell. I think I need a therapist.

    I hope my mom responds like yours (should I talk with her like you did your mom). I have all the same concerns you listed. You're right that what I don't believe is a good starting point. Of course, even this list fluctuates from time to time. I have to say, it does feel like a relief to eliminate some possibilities, as it gets overwhelming to entertain too many possibilities at once.

  5. I lost my faith at the same time I was going through a terrible depression. I kept my friends and family informed of all of it as I was going through it, so everyone knows. However, my Dad, and my best friend keep waiting for my revival. They just don't have the ability to understand how someone could lose their faith. It makes no sense to them, and they think it's just a phase.

  6. This is such a hard question to answer, due to both personality varieties and vast differences in families. For some, coming out to family may be no big deal, either because of the person’s personality, or the family’s own approach, or both. Obviously for others, coming out may result in being completely ostracized.

    I chose the head-on approach (typical) and my family reacted in their typical fashion when confronted with a situation they were utterly incapable of dealing with—avoid discussing it with me, but discuss it amongst themselves.

    For a number of years, I attempted to accommodate their beliefs—avoid certain statements, topics, issues, etc.—even allowing them to pray at my house for family functions. (Although that is a bit of split decision, as my wife is a Christian.) Of course, I received little accommodation in return. Still got, “I will be praying for you” and all those idiotic e-mails about non-believers secretly taking over the US Government, and how persecuted Christianity is, etc.

    Now, I find myself completely apathetic to their feelings. (Perhaps worse, if I was honest with myself, I would have to admit, I sometimes laugh at their pain for not understanding why God seems so distant. Yes, I have become a terrible person.)

    DoOrDoNot—you have to wend your way with your family the best you can. Sometimes that means compromise, sometimes that means taking a stand; sometimes that means to stop caring what they think, sometimes it means you will continue to care too much.

  7. Evangelically incorrect , thanks for sharing. I don't know if I would want my family to take that hopeful stance or not.

  8. DagoodS, it's good to hear from you again. I'm glad to know you still frequent the blogosphere. This is definitely an individual decision, which is the difficulty of it. Given my aversion to conflict I'm not likely to be terribly direct.

    I think your evolution in terms of the way you relate to your family is fairly usual, don't you? I know as I become increasingly certain of a new perspective i'm less likely to be empathic towards the old one.

    If I observe how others in my family have been treated when they did or believed something contrary to the rest of the family, I have to concede that they are still loved and remain connected. Mainly they may be talked about from time to time and there are feelings of disapproval. So really I'm being a chicken about this. Also, I reluctantly admit I like the favored status I hold. I really don't deserve it so I should be honest enough to admit that I don't.

  9. "It would help if it were more clear about what I do believe. I've grown a bit weary of trying to figure it out. I also seem to be slowing down a bit physically and can't stay up as late as I use to doing my reading and blogging. However, I don't like the muddled, ambiguous place I find myself in. ". That describes me exactly. We've been attending mainline methodist churches off and on, b/c at least the church is more inclusive. But still, I do feel like I'm faking for the sake of belonging to a tradition that feels comfortable, even if I don't really know what I believe. And yes, my time is just too limited to read and worry over my loss of faith. With family, I just don't see how being 100% honest is going to work out. It will cause me more pain (and make my doubts even more pronounced) b/c my family is so far to the really has cultish elements. I'd rather keep a peace ful atmosphere! Easy to do when we live out of town!

  10. Re. phases and hope--I don't know how any of us can ever know that something we are going through is not a phase. From my probably-more-than-halfway-through-life standpoint, I can look at my life up till now and see many phases. New experiences, new information, new relationships all bring about the possibility of change, in whatever direction it may be. Unless, of course, I just choose that I refuse to change. Even in that case, I can imagine scenarios that could change that choice.

    Re. what to do with your ambiguity quandary, maybe Screamfree or IFS would be of help?

  11. Not long after leaving that comment above, I was reading for the paper I'm working on and found this. And at least in my mind it connected to the conversation, so I thought I'd share it--

    "God truth is, indeed, great enough to allow an infinity of approaches and entryways. And it is also free enough subsequently to expand the horizons of one who has chosen too narrow a starting point and to help him to his feet." --Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord, Vol. I, Introduction.

  12. Sheila,
    I enjoyed that quote. One can never have enough Screamfree, that is certainly true. Screamfree and yoga. Intertestingly enough, I may be embarking on some IFS, I'll keep you updated. And probably, it will surface on this blog.