The more I spend time by myself, the more I want to spend time by myself.
I’ve reached a point in my life where the only thing I am certain of is that I have doubt. I doubt what I think, I doubt what I feel, I doubt what I say and do. I doubt my faith, I doubt my lack of faith.
I think, therefore I doubt. I doubt, therefore I think.
The clamor of my surroundings has moved from the external world into my internal one. Focusing is hard: when I start to move my attention to one area, another comes into focus: like seeing through broken glasses, discreet ideas keep fracturing and turning into new ones, brought in and out of focus by the smallest of shifts.
I am writing a symphony. Every day, I sit down at my computer and tear my ribcage apart. I then reach inside the gaping opening and dig until I find my heart, and then I pull it out, and squeeze every drop of blood out of my heart onto the digital paper, until my heart is dry and the page is wet. I replace my heart, and let it fill again with more blood as I attempt to arrange what is already spent into a meaningful sacrifice. And when I am done squeezing and arranging, and squeezing some more, I gently push my ribs back together and sew myself up until tomorrow. I am weary; I am poured out; I have become numbers inside a machine.
It’s an act of devotion, I think. To whom or what, I couldn’t say. My suspicion is that I am offering some devotion to humanity. Or maybe it’s a requiem, a mass for the dead. Forgive us, for we know what we do.
There’s a colorlessness that defies understanding, hidden in the deepest parts of the ocean. A whale that refutes all that we’ve ever known and believed. An apotheosis on open water, awaiting those intrepid enough to forsake the safety of land.
It’s calling me.
In my school’s chapel program on Friday, I got to see two of my friends lead worship for a gym full of regular students and visiting guests attending a racial reconciliation conference. It was a beautiful worship service, helped by the fact that these two friends of mine are music majors, gifted with trained voices almost as beautiful as their souls. As I was sitting there, thinking about how lovely these two friends are, I had a thought that I feel like sharing.
My mom has always encouraged me to become friends and emulate a certain type of woman. They tend to be extroverted, bubbly, carefree, with the sort of faith that comes easily and freely. From all external appearances, they have very blessed faith lives, with any crises of faith being minor or hidden away. They don’t swear, they listen to Christian radio, and they display all the other virtues of good, American, evangelical women. To put it simply, they are very much unlike me.
I struggle with my faith. It’s so far beyond messy, my extensive vocabulary fails to find an acceptable substitute. My faith is not the praise and victory of the Summer Christian; it’s much closer to the anguish, doubt, and pain of the Winter Christian, though I have briefly assumed to mien of a Summer Christian when social pressures exceeded my stubbornness (see particularly my time in YWAM). Even having experienced those things that Summer Christians emphasize (the activity of God in the world, the providence, divine intervention, and healing), my heart continually leads me to a posture of winter worship.
My faith could be best characterized by a series of upheavals, and I know my family sometimes worries about me because it doesn’t match the example of those role models I have been pointed toward. The truth is that I struggle with reconciling my faith and my life experience because I deeply, deeply care that what I believe to be true accurately and adequately explains my experience of a deeply broken, deeply messed up world. If I did not care about the truth, I would not struggle: instead, I’d end up tossing my faith to the wind as an irrelevant moral system incapable of addressing the problems of the world.
It’s been a major source of mental anguish and emotional turmoil that I could never even begin to approach that standard of the Summer Christian- I have been measured and found wanting. This feeling of inadequacy has prevented me from entering into relationship with those godly women, and while I’m working on leaning into that discomfort, I find that there is some fundamental gap in experience that often interposes itself when I find someone who has not been touched by winter.
So as I was sitting on the wooden bleachers, watching my two lovely, Summer Christian friends (who, as an aside, are engaged and are ridiculously amazing for each other), I was suddenly struck by a thought. It’s okay that my faith may never see Midsummer. If the seasons of my faith go from September to April, it is still as valid as those whose faith lives from May to August.
I don’t have some grand conclusion to the thought, just a little more peace.
If I knew
I was a butterfly
I would still question my lucidity.
What a sick joke it is
To be a
Losing its wings.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to have a simple faith. I know this is fairly ironic, considering that I’m currently attending a program designed to make me theologically precise and articulate. But really, the more I read about theology, the more I’m convinced I should be living out a simple faith.
What do I mean by simple faith? I mean one that is dominated by one commitment, to love as strongly and deeply as you can. In a world where Christians are increasingly gaining reputations for hypocrisy, judgementalism, and a whole host of other negative adjectives, every once in a while you hear something truly heartening. For example, the young Christian lesbian who came out to her very conservative parents who, while disagreeing, welcomed her and her girlfriend into their home. This friend of mine recounted to me that one day, her deeply conservative father looked at her and said that since sin is a thing characterized by bad or damaging fruits, and since her relationship seemed to be building her faith and building her character, he would stop preaching her sin to her when she came home. Her mom and dad decided to let the judgment be between her and God, and to continue loving her in all ways.
That, to me, exemplifies the heart of simple faith. When it comes down to it, my biggest aspiration is to know on my death bed that I have loved as violently as I can. I’m not so great at that right now. I’m judgmental and grouchy and really not all that interested in being kind to strangers. Every once in a while, I get a pang of conscience that I should look at someone and really see them, but those moments are few and far between. But I aspire to be someone better.
I think theology is important. I think it informs the kind of life you lead, because it informs your understanding of the way the world works. But at the end of the day, I would prefer to put aside the intellectually based faith I so often fall into when studying theology, and instead take up a faith that is lived daily, simply, and without ostentation.
Simplicity is, after all, a Christian virtue. But we so often interpret that as a call away from physical goods and to a life of austerity. What if that external simplicity is just a physical posture to represent the way our souls work? What if the call of simplicity is also a call to simple love, to acts of service, to a faith that informs not just the way you worship but also the way you ultimately make day-by-day decisions?
When I talk about this thought with some of my friends here at school, they frequently remind me of the adulteress whom Christ forgives, and then tells to “go and sin no more.” Isn’t it the Christian’s duty to love and to convict as well? Aren’t we to speak the truth with love into lives clearly in need of salvation? I think those are valid points, but I also think that Christ’s example should be looked at with the clear understanding that He is a unique happening in history. Christ was, well, Christ. God-Incarnate. Human and divine. And I have this feeling that Christ actually knew how to balance and convey both truth and love in His words, an area that I myself am sorely lacking in. I can’t do things perfectly. I can’t even do them half-well. So if I’m going to make an error, I would prefer to err on the side of too much love. If you speak with the tongues of men and angels, but have no love in conveying your message, then of what use are you to the good news?
I’m not sure I’ve articulated much of anything here. I want to be the sort of person who can say truthfully that the love of God compels me to love.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10
A few years ago, I went to a Discipleship Training School with YWAM. It’s six-month-long program aimed at missions work and spiritual formation specifically out of a more charismatic stream of Christianity. One of their biggest teachings was from John 10:10, teaching that you can always recognize the work of the Devil by his fruits – the works of the Devil steal, kill, and destroy, and the fruits of Christ is life. Like, not just spiritual life, but literal life as well. The DTS equipped me well, and the things I learned (and continue to learn) from their teachings are invaluable. They didn’t quite serve their purpose though – during the trip, I learned that I don’t have a specific call to missions, and certainly do have a call to the university I currently attend.
However, this teaching about fruit – that Satan steals, kills, and destroys, and that Christ restores, revives, and protects – has stuck with me as the most accurate barometer for understanding Christian ministry. And today I have a question for my fellow evangelical Christians.
I’m not a theologian. I’m not qualified to discuss the correct hermeneutic paradigm for interpreting so-called “clobber passages” in the Bible specifically denouncing homosexual sexual activity. Funny that I’m saying that, since as an honors student, you’d expect me to be more proud about it. But let’s be honest. I’m an undergraduate student whose emphasis is nowhere near theology.
I’m not a theologian, but I do know that a good tree cannot bear bad fruits, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruits. And currently, the fruits of the common stances about homosexuality and other LGBT+ issues is not life, and life abundantly. It is condemnation, it is death, it is pain and suffering.
It’s time for us as Christians to get our heads out of the sand. However much we might declare “love the sin, hate the sinner;” we have never listened to the people we claim to “love.” We do not credit their stories of emotional abuse, abandonment, familial rejection, bullying, physical assault (the list could go on) as having anything to do with what we teach as a church to a nation with a 78% Christian population. Oh no, that’s just the result of loving the sinner and hating the sin.
This is not life. This does not bear the marks that we know, as Christians, show up when the things we do are from truth, from love, from God.
I can’t say what the right teaching in. But I do know that we are doing things horribly, horribly wrong. And unless the evangelical church as a whole recognizes this, we will continue to sin against our brothers and sisters in Christ as well as all Image-Bearers in our words, thoughts, and deeds concerning these issues.
The first step is to admit you have a problem.
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
It is almost exactly 365 days since I last put fingers to keyboard in an attempt to blog. The more I learn about myself, the more I realize that blogging is, for me, an essentially selfish act in which I chronicle thoughts I would not normally share in an attempt to remove them from my mind. A glorified type of journal, if you will. I’ve always found old-fashioned journals to be rather pointless: Why would I write down my thoughts if only I will ever read them? Do I really need to remind myself of the thoughts that simply won’t go away? It’s a redundant form of excising my thoughts, which is where a hypothetical audience comes in. If I frame this record in terms of an imaginary audience, I can justify lancing the abscess of my thoughts in an uncomfortably public medium.
However, as I’ve contemplated posting on my previous blog, I came to the realization that it no longer accurately represented where I am at now. After all, I first started that record in 2008, at the cusp of a rather dark time. Teenage turmoil is deserving of expression and respect, but I’ve come to realize that while I still live in a state of turmoil, it is of a more mature nature. I do not feel like my current struggles should be juxtaposed with my previous ones, and for that reason I have elected to move this fresh start to a new home on the internet.
Now that we’ve placed that explanation, I’d like to introduce myself (or reacquaint myself with previous followers). My name is Sarabeth, and I’m a 21-year-old autodidactic polymath. I’m currently in university, studying music composition to eventually enter a field relating to acoustical architecture or AV design. If there is a hard way to do something, chances are I will find it and then do it because I have a trick of making things unnecessarily difficult for myself. I was home-schooled in high school, and I’m still in the process of figuring out what things I learned, be it from my immediate family or from the community, are worthy of believing, and what things are truly harmful and should be ignored. Truth is very important to me, and as a result, I’ve also pursued a great-books program instead of the normal general education requirements. If you think I’m a hipster and pretentious because of this, that’s probably correct. My only defense is that I am extremely concerned with what it means to be human, and how to be good at being human. I figure I have a better chance of succeeding if I read the thoughts of people who have forgotten more philosophy than I’ve learned, than of finding it in the shallow, narcissistic society of my country. In addition to the Bachelor of Music I’m working on and the honors program, I also work as a TA for one of my professors and an audio technician. I can sleep when I’m dead.
In terms of personal life, I have a wonderful significant other who challenges me and supports me daily, even when I’m difficult. My family and my heart is in Seattle, as is my cat. I’ve traveled to Australia, Southeast Asia, and as of this last January, Rome. I’ll likely blog about Rome once I get my feet under me. I play violin and I’m beginning to re-explore my love of writing. I’m still in the process of figuring out who I am, really. All I know for certain is that I have occasionally felt a peace that overwhelms my ability to understand, and I am in desperate pursuit of that peace. I love peace, I love respect, I love wisdom, and I love the company of good friends, good tea, good conversations, and good music. Also, a cat.
If you feel inclined, please join me in this ramble. I’m trying to find my blind spots and my prejudices, and I don’t always succeed. But if you’ll bear with me, I’ll keep writing.