How have your friends and family responded to your book?
I’ve been asked that question more than any other since the release of Evolving in Monkey Town, and it’s a question I often receive from readers like Dave who are struggling to share their doubts and ideas with the people they love.
First let me say that my immediate family—Mom, Dad, Amanda, and Dan—have been incredibly supportive throughout this whole process. Even when they disagree with me on the details, they know that I love Jesus and want to follow him, and that’s good enough for them. The same goes for my current pastor as well as my former pastor. I try not to take these blessings for granted.
Unfortunately, I haven’t fared as well among certain friends and religious groups in the community. I've been the subject of gossip. I’ve been added to prayer request lists. I’ve been called everything from a cotton-candy-Christian to a communist. I’ve lost very dear friends and gained new ones. I’ve struggled to accept the fact that some of the most important relationships in my life will never be the same.
Along the way, I’ve made some mistakes and I’ve made some resolutions.
Mistake #1: I tried to make other people feel what I was feeling.
When I first started struggling with doubt, I longed for companionship so much that I tried to force my friends to ask the same questions I was asking. As I write in the book, “I grew obstinate and incorrigible, ready to debate family and friends whose easy confidence baffled and frustrated me and gave me an excuse to be angry at someone besides God. It bothered me that other people weren’t bothered. I couldn’t understand why no one else was stressed out about the existence of hell or angered by all the suffering in the world. I feigned surprise when my friends got annoyed that I raised such topics at bridal showers and poker games. Wherever I sensed a calm sea, I sought to rock the boat; I wanted others to share in my storm” (p. 113-114).
I’ve learned the hard way that if you aren’t careful, you can actually rock people out of the boat. At the time, I told myself that these were just fair-weather friends, that if they couldn’t accept the real me, then our relationships were superficial anyway. But now I miss these people. I want them back in my life and I’m sorry that I tried to make them understand something they have simply never experienced.
Mistake #2: I got defensive and judgmental.
Like most people, I tend to get really defensive when I’m feeling insecure, and there’s nothing quite like a faith crisis to make you feel insecure. As a result, I argued with people who were trying to help me. I interpreted their concern as condescension and judgment, and (being a decent debater myself), did all in my power to shut them down. Even when I “won” these arguments I lost, for I became a picture of the very judgment and hypocrisy I hated in the Church.
When I feel like I have something worthwhile to say but am not given the time of day, I like to imagine all the reasons why these people won’t hear me—they are so satisfied with their own salvation, they don’t care about anyone else; they are afraid to look critically at their elaborate theological systems because they find so much security in them; they are stupid; they are prideful; they are coldhearted. Ascribing motive is a way of protecting myself from the painful reality that deep down, I want these people to like me and understand me. When I sense that they don’t, I come up with clever ways to make them smaller and less significant in my mind so that their rejection won’t hurt as much.
Fortunately, these mistakes have led to some resolutions.
Resolution #1: I will show discretion when sharing my doubts and ideas.
It has taken a long time for me to accept the fact that some people have questions about their faith and others don’t. Some people are willing to talk about these questions, while others see them as a frightening threat to everything they hold dear. While I’m not ashamed of my ideas, I can show some discretion in how I share them and who I share them with. I’ve got enough self-control to hold back when in certain company.
Of course, the blog and book have helped tremendously with this because they have provided opportunities for me to share my thoughts with people who are receptive to them. And over time, I’ve actually developed some new relationships here in Dayton with people who are likeminded…(or who are different enough that being different gives us something in common). So I encourage others who are struggling with tough questions about Christianity to take advantage of online resources and books and also to seek out new friendships in their community without abandoning the old.
Resolution #2: I will love the people it is hardest for me to love.
Loving my sponsored child is easy. Loving the people at The Mission is easy. Even loving my abstract notion of “enemies” (the Taliban, Osoma Bin Laden, etc.) is easy. Loving fundamentalists…not so much.
I tend to be judgmental of judgmental people. But if I want to be like Jesus, I have to learn to love the people it is hardest for me to love. Otherwise, all this talk of judging not and turning the other cheek and making peace and loving enemies is just lip service to a good idea rather than a way of life. If I can’t approach hyper-Calvinists with the same love and grace with which I approach the poor, the homeless, and the oppressed, I’m nothing more than clanging cymbal.
Resolution #3: I will become more like Jesus.
It’s impossible to completely isolate ourselves from criticism, but when the fruit in our life grows more and more abundant—when we are filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self control—it’s harder for people to say that we’re sliding down a slippery slope simply because we voted a certain way or believe the earth is a certain age. Grace has a disarming effect, and if the questions we are asking and the ideas we are forming give us more of it, we will not only avert some criticism, but we will be more prepared to deal with it when it comes.
The most important thing I can add to this conversation is this: Let your good works speak for themselves. If we really believe that God is in the reconciliation business, then we will become people of reconciliation. God’s love is not something we can prove in an argument; it’s something we’ve got to prove with our lives. I’ve got a lot to learn on this front, and I need people to keep me accountable, but I’m convinced that my best “apologetic” is not an argument or a defense or even a published book, but a life transformed by the love and grace of Jesus Christ.
What are some mistakes that you have made in sharing your questions and ideas about faith? What are some resolutions you have made?
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