“What if it’s all bullshit?”
The question seemed to come from some disembodied voice inside my head. It was like any other Sunday church service, late summer, 2019, and I was the worship leader of a medium sized church. As the Pastor gave his sermon about Jesus’ resurrection and victory over death, I sat in the front row with that question bouncing around in my skull. “what if it’s all bullshit?”
This was not the first time I had questioned the tenants of the American Christianity I had come to identify with. However, it was the first time that the thought persisted. In the weeks that followed it kept appearing day after day. So I began pulling the thread, unaware that it would unravel the whole tapestry of beliefs I had sewn about a Western/American God.
To be clear, I did not grow up in a fundamentalist or dogmatic Christian household. In fact, most beliefs I held throughout my years in the church would be considered heretical by some Christian standards. I never believed in a literal Hell, always thought all sexual orientations were loved by God, and even believed that other faith traditions probably had it right as well (that is, at least Jews and Muslims). I attended a Christian college, and always enjoyed debating rationally about doctrine and orthodoxy with my classmates. When I discovered Friedrich Nietzsche in 2012 I was undone. For a few valiant weeks I was an “Atheist” which in reality meant I found it foolish to believe in things that had no physical evidence to prove them.
Over time Nietzsche was overthrown in my intellectual monarchy by C.S. Lewis and Tim Keller. They provided reason based apologetics and sound arguments for believing in a Judeo-Christian God, which brought me racing back to the Theistic structure I had sorely missed. So I stayed content in that place for years. Over time I acquired new allies in Saint Augustine and Rainer Maria Rilke. I consumed hundreds of hours of debates between the so called “New Atheists” and Christian Apologists. Over time I constructed what I thought to be an air tight, rational argument for the existence of the GOD of the Bible.
So what brought me to that front pew asking myself if the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a lie? I blame two things, a family death & podcasts.
My grandmother, or as I called her Nan, was a loving and adventurous woman. She had a phrase that became her mantra that “nothing is ever boring”. In 2017 her doctor began to notice signs of dementia. Over the next two and a half years we saw the gradual decline in her memory and self reliance. In the early summer of 2019 she suffered a large stroke, and was transferred to a hospice facility to depart in her own time. During those weeks I prayed more than I can ever remember in my life. I prayed “God please give us one more year, one more month, anything with her.” But they seemed to fall on deaf or nonexistent ears. She passed peacefully that June. This is when the first crack appeared in the facade of my faith.
In the months that followed, at the recommendation of my therapist, I began looking into meditation and eastern practices as an option to cope with the grief and anxiety that was weighing on me. I discovered the Hindu idea of the divine spark or Atman that all things possess. This idea presumed that all humans are not some fallen sinful creature as I’d been told in Christianity, but a sacred and holy part of the grounding of the entire Universe. More small cracks appeared.
I became a regular listener of the Making Sense podcast, hosted by the acclaimed and somewhat controversial neuroscientist and philosopher, Sam Harris. As well as the Liturgists Podcast, which was hosted by Mike McHargue, a science educator who teetered between materialist and mystic and Michael Gungor, an acclaimed former Christian artist turned Buddhist/Hindu/Eastern spiritual dude.
The Liturgists became my home. Each episode they talked about doubt, depression, racism and LGBTQIA+ issues. They had conversations with musicians, psychologists, activists and clergy about deconstructing bad theologies and not being afraid to explore other forms of spirituality or even non-spirituality. They provided a wealth of resources and reading lists and I took the plunge. I read Carl Jung, Peter Rollins, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Richard Rohr, Austin Channing Brown, Alan Watts & Ram Dass. I dove into Buddhist mantra meditation and read the Hindu Bhagavad Gita as a “devotional”. All the while not noticing the cracks splitting the entirety of my Christian identity.
Each week at church I looked around and internalized how our church was 99% wealthy white people. How the staff was concerned with hitting the offering plate goals and how the messages never addressed the hateful rhetoric of our president, the intensifying discussion around racial inequality and police brutality or the dismissive stance the Methodist Church continued to take towards Trans and queer individuals.
I was also continually reminded that the American incarnation of Christianity has become deeply intwined with conservative politics. I also began to learn how much White and Black churches differed in their understandings of grace, redemption and salvation.
Through the rest of last year I ran the full spectrum between full blown Atheist and hopeful Agnostic (even while still working at the church until November). But something remained even in my darkest days. That same inner voice encouraged me and met me in many of my quiet times of meditation. It sat with me in my grief and hopelessness. What was it? God? Jesus? Buddha? An illusion created by my brain chemistry?
In the next post I want to share with you how I came to rest in what I like to call an open-handed Mysticism.
I’d love to hear from you about what your year has been like or if you can relate to any of this. :)